Disclaimer: I don't own KoH. It all belongs to Sir Rid and 20th Century Fox. I'm still working on obtaining ownership of Balian, but it hasn't happened yet, much to my chagrin.

A/N: This could also be viewed as a prequel to my other story, 'The Perfect Knight' which currently resides in the 'M' section. However, when I wrote this, I didn't intend for it to be. I wanted to delve into Balian's feelings about loving another so soon after losing his wife, since I thought that could've been improved upon in the movie.

I have a question about leprosy. Can Baldwin take off his mask around people? I thought they might catch the disease, especially if they touch him, but I remember Reynald kissing his hand in the movie. Answers would really help me write chapter 9 of 'The Perfect Knight.' Thanks, your help is most appreciated!

A Better Man

Here I am, a stranger in a strange land, which had been owned by my father's family for centuries. During the past three months, I was a bystander, helplessly caught in the whirlwind of life-shattering events: Maria's suicide, Godfrey's death, becoming a knight, accepting my new title, journeying to Jerusalem, and meeting...her. I am still trying to make sense of it all.

In the week after my wife had taken her life, I spent most of my time at the forge. Hammering the metal did nothing to assuage my grief or the hollow ache in my stomach, but it did serve to keep me busy. The evenings were the worst; I was most reminded of Maria's absence as I went to bed alone. The second night I had a nightmare of her dwelling in hell; she was being tortured as flames seared her flesh. She called out for me and begged for forgiveness. After that, I hardly slept anymore, not wanting to be haunted by my wife who only lived in my dreams. At first it was easy not showing any feelings, but my nihilistic state of disillusion only could last so long.

I tried not to wonder why she'd left me on this earth, all alone. Did my love mean nothing to her? Had I not been supportive enough when our baby girl was stillborn? Was there something I could've done to prevent her suicide? There must've been something I'd done wrong, something that drove her to claim her life. What a worthless husband I was. I shall bear the weight of her death for the rest of my life. There was no way I could ever find a happiness that could compare to what we had; I swore to never look at a woman that way again.

Still numb from grief, it was when that cold, heartless man invaded my forge that I felt a new emotion - pure rage. The bastard of a priest had taunted me about my sinful wife walking around headless in hell. I had successfully ignored him until he dangled Maria's silver cross in front of my face. He'd obviously stolen it from her grave. It had been my gift to her on our anniversary. Enraged, I shoved him into the flames, where they claimed his life.

I know I should repent, for "thou shall not kill" is one of the most coveted Ten Commandments. However, if I could do it over, I would still let him burn in white hot agony. Does this mean I'm headed down the dark path to hell? No one can know but God, if he even exists.

My small joy at being reunited with my long lost father was fleeting, as he died just days after we met. His death was my fault. An arrow struck his side, critically wounding him as he and his knights defended me from the villagers. They indeed had the right to take me to prison, for I had killed their priest. I miss him, and the friendship we would've had. Just before he died, Godfrey knighted me and proclaimed me the new Baron of Ibelin. I only hope I can nurture my fields and guide my people in a way that would please him. As for becoming a knight, I will uphold my oath and fight for wise King Baldwin if he ever needs me.

Not long after I'd arrived in Jerusalem, I met someone who started to draw me from my stoic state. This person had a lively personality, and like many in the palace, had known my father. Whenever we talked, my spirits always lifted, even if only slightly. Her name was Sibylla, and she'd enticed me ever since the moment that we'd met. She was beautiful, and I couldn't help but notice her womanly curves and alluring green eyes. Once, she'd reached out to hold my hand, and a bit of my coldness seemed to seep away. But I soon pulled away, as my late wife's image surfaced in my mind. Guilty from the responses my body was having at her soft touch, I had quickly turned and dashed away, leaving her standing there alone and confused. I'd been horrified at my reaction – hadn't I sworn to never again be involved with a woman?

Splashing my dirt-covered face with newly dug water, I came out of my reverie, appreciating the sight of the vast fields of Ibelin. This morning, the tenants had finally finished the irrigation system. I watched the men celebrate their accomplishment, and the children playing with their toy boat. They shrieked with delight as they prodded it down the lengthy trough. When the sun's last rays filled the skies, the children ran happily into their parents' arms and left for home. I was reminded that I'd lost the chance of seeing my baby girl play in the sunshine. Once again, the familiar pang of what might've been surfaced, but it was not as strong as before.

I went inside to work on some records and important documents that needed to be updated since my father's passing. Yet I couldn't concentrate on the task at hand. My thoughts turned to the princess. She'd arrived here about three weeks ago, and I obligingly offered her hospitality. Almost everyday, we spent some time together, which was the beginning of a wonderful friendship; one that I desperately needed. However, it was only after she confided to me about her awful marriage to Guy de Lusignan, that I began to truly open up to her. As we revealed our secrets to each other, and a bond of trust was formed. I was now dwelling on thoughts of Maria less and less.

Just last week, I sought out the princess in her chambers. As I rounded a corner, I walked right into someone - it was Sibylla! I caught her before she fell to the ground and steadied her on her feet. We stared at each other, as if bound by some unseen mysterious force. It was the first time I'd really touched a woman since my wife's death. I'd cleared my throat and asked if she wanted to go riding with me through my lands. That day I allowed myself to temporarily forget my sorrows and enjoy my time with her. Just before we parted, she'd pulled me into gentle hug, and I didn't flinch at the warm contact. Instead, I fought against my instinct to never let her go. My desire for her was growing steadily each day, it was frightening.

I was struggling with an inner conflict, and it was tearing me apart. Would I be betraying my wife's memory if I allowed myself to fall in love with Sibylla? Or could I move on? If I had died and Maria had lived, I knew that I wouldn't want her to spend her days alone, on account of my memory. My wife would always live on in my heart; that I knew was for certain. I would always look back fondly on the memories that we shared during happier times. Sibylla could never really replace her. Was it so terrible to give my heart to another? I did not think so. Startling me, Sibylla's familiar voice spoke from outside the door.

"Do you know why I am here?" I paused, hoping she was implying something more than just stopping by to say good night.

"I know that Ibelin is not on the way to Canae," I pointed out. Her piercing eyes held mine, and I knew right then there was no turning back.

She confessed, "I'm not here because I'm wicked or bored, but in the east, between two people there is only light." She promptly blew out the candle that had illuminated her soft yet striking features. We continued to stare at one another in longing, and she closed the distance between us, sealing our lips with a kiss.

As we embraced one another, my guilt was washed away. We needed and deserved each other; we had been given a second chance at love. I finally succumbed to my feelings of desire after I'd squashed them for so long. I firmly decided that Sibylla was my life now; Maria would haunt me no more. I gently carried my raven-haired princess to the bed, ready to share my love in the most intimate of ways. With her love and devotion, I truly believed that I could grow to become a better man.