A Game of Chess
Disclaimer: I don't own anything from the films. I wish I did.
Note: This has nothing to do with my Chance Encounter series. It is very AU in that Guy is smart.
Chapter 1: The Knight
I wonder what I look like, an old man sitting in a courtyard of yellow stone, hunched over a chess game with my two small tousle haired grandsons. My body, once hard and strong, is now as frail as a nestling. I lost my hair in my prime, so I do not mention its transition from some luscious colour to grey. My eyesight is beginning to fail me, but I can still play a decent game of chess. I have watched many others play a bigger and more dangerous game, on the board that is the Kingdom of Jerusalem.
I survey the board. My youngest grandson's hand lingers over a knight as he analyses his brother's latest move. He seems unsure of what to do with the carved piece and he looks to me for guidance. I pick up the piece. Since I am technically not a player in this particular game, I am allowed to do that. I turn the piece over in my hand. It is made out of cedar wood; a hard and reliable wood. The piece is beautifully carved; elegant, and yet it was simple. It seemed to give off an aura of strength.
"The knight," I say to my grandsons "sits between the bishop and the rook on the chessboard. He is a powerful piece. His moves are effective and lethal. He can topple kings. He holds an important place in the game. But when the time comes, when there is a need for sacrifice, he is also expendable..."
I trail off, losing myself in the dusty winding paths of my memory, wandering back to another chess game. I once knew such a knight. He was powerful, and he made risky and effective moves. I fought beside him, and I would've willingly died alongside him. He was a very important piece in the game of which he was a part, but he was not a very good player. And when the time came, he became expendable. They offered him up as a sacrifice...
Ibelin 1186 A.D.
'You are a princess, and I am no lord.' That was what Balian had told Sibylla and even as they revelled in each other's sinful touch and committed adultery together, he still felt that way. The fires of their passion died down, and the young man's mind wandered to the consequences of their actions. What would become of them? His fate was out of his hands now. He was no longer simply a player in this game of chess; he was one of the pieces to be played by someone else. Who would play him? The King? Tiberias? Sibylla? Or, God forbid, would it be Guy?
"You're a fool, Balian," he whispered into the darkness. Sibylla was a sleep and she did not hear him. "You came here for forgiveness, not to drag someone else to Hell along with you." The sheer curtains billowed gently in the desert breeze, revealing an obsidian night sky riddled with stars. They were like eyes; the many shining accusing eyes of the angels.
The baron fell asleep. Retribution would come in its own time, and he knew he would be unable to stop it. Nearby, another set of eyes watched. These were dark and human.
Guy de Lusignan looked out over his balcony with a golden goblet of wine in his hand. He downed his drink and tossed the empty vessel in the general direction of the servant. "You are sure of this?" he asked, not turning back to look at the man at whom he had directed the question.
"Beyond any doubt," replied Gerard de Ridefort, the Grand Master of the Knights Templar. "Do you not trust my spies, mon seigneur?
"Oh, I have no doubts about their prowess," said Guy smoothly, spinning around on his heel in one fluid motion. "I am simply a cautious man by nature and I do hope that my little inquiry has not offended you, my lord of Ridefort." He smiled grimly. "So, Godfrey's bastard moves in to take my wife, and I move in to take his life. A fair exchange, is it not?"
"That little runt of a peasant won't know what hit him, mon seigneur," said Ridefort.
"Not yet, Gerard," said Guy. "A viper must be sure of the distance between him and his prey before he moves in for the kill. I will not strike unless I have an absolute chance of success. After all, that is simply good business."
"There is, however, the little problem of your wife, mon seigneur," said the Grand Master of the Templars. "Sibylla is a strong-willed woman."
"Gerard, Sibylla is a mother."
Ibelin grew green and lush with crops, watered by Balian's irrigation system. The little hamlet would never be great, but it was his, and it was his duty to make it better. As Balian inspected his land, the commoners greeted him. He nodded in acknowledgement of the greetings. Children ran behind him, calling "Sidi" and waving as they passed him. He smiled at them, remembering his own days of innocence back in France. Life had been so simple back then. The baron desperately wanted a family of his own, with a crowd of noisy children calling him 'Papa' and begging him for sweets and stories.
He glanced back at the house. The balcony was shielded by white curtains, but he knew Sibylla was watching.
As the young baron and the princess lay in bed that night, sweaty from their lovemaking, Sibylla uttered the words which Balian least wanted to hear. "Balian," she said. "I must leave tomorrow. I have already stayed here for longer than is appropriate."
"Must you go so soon?" murmured Balian. Sibylla cupped his face with a delicate hennaed hand.
"It's been almost half a year, my Balian," said Sibylla with a wistful smile. "It's been the best half year of my life."
"Truly?" said Balian, moving to take her into his arms. He left a trail of kisses from the base of her jaw to the hollow of her throat. "It doesn't seem like so long. Have I ever told you how beautiful you are?"
"Try and stay on topic, my dear," said Sibylla, running her fingers through his tangled dark curls. She loved the feel of him resting on her, his hard body fitting perfectly against her softer one.
"You shouldn't have fed me so much wine, then," he said huskily as he nuzzled her neck. "My mind is not functioning properly."
"Other parts of you are functioning just fine, my lord." Sibylla moaned as the waves of pleasure washed over her. Her fingers dug into the flesh on his back, drawing blood. He growled low down in his throat. It was a delicious sound.
Outrejordain, close to Kerak Castle
The desert wind whipped up a storm of dust, making the air hazy. It suited Guy. The dust hid their armour and furled standards. It was perfect for an ambush. The prey: a Saracen trade caravan, with some pathetic pilgrims tagging along. There were a few camels and horses; most of these people were on foot. And he saw a glint of metal from one of those slightly curved Saracen swords, so light that they almost felt as if they had no blade.
Guy dug his spurs into his horse's sides. The animal snorted and moved forwards. Reynald de Chatîllon followed. "This caravan is armed, Reynald," said Guy, raising one eyebrow.
"Good," said Reynald. Bloodthirsty, barbaric Reynald, with lots of bulk and very little brain. He was trustworthy in that he lacked the intelligence to betray anyone. "No sport otherwise."
"The rider is getting away," Guy pointed out. Reynald was unfazed.
"Let him run," he said.
"I prefer not to be hanged before my wife is queen," said Guy, only half joking.
"Don't worry," said Reynald. "Who but Reynald, they'll say. It's always me. You were at Nazareth, praying."
"You're a dangerous man, Reynald," said Guy to appease Reynald's ego. The lord of Outrejordain liked to think of himself as dangerous, and in a way, he was. Reynald was brutal; a man seemingly without a conscience. Life and death were a game to him, and the sword was an extension of his arm.
"If the war is to be now or later, I would have it now," growled Reynald. "How long can the leper last?"
Guy smiled like a cat that had eaten not just one canary, but a dozen of them. 'Not much longer,' he thought. 'Not long at all.' He drew his sword, signalling for the standard bearers to raise the standards. "God wills it!" he roared.
"God wills it!" chorused the crusaders. They charged in a flurry of sand. The caravan scattered, screaming in fear.
'Let the rider alert his sultan,' he thought disdainfully as his horse's pounding hooves took him closer and closer to the people who were no running and bleating like terrified sheep. 'Let Saladin call on his false prophet Mohammed to save him.' His blade thirsted for blood. He kissed it for luck. His first victim was a boy who was barely out of childhood. He stood stricken as Guy cut him down as if he was no more than a straw dummy in the practise yards, only straw dummied did not bleed. The boy's body was trampled beneath the iron hooves of Guy's horse.
The screams, like those of animals being slaughtered, filled the ears of the crusaders. Each new spray of blood on their faces increased their sense of triumph. They left none alive. The corpses were stripped of riches.
"Burn the bodies," said Guy.
In the cool dim interior of the palace, lit by scented candles, the Sultan sat on his throne. His advisers stood to either side of him as he read a report about yet another raid. Even a controlled man like Salah-al-Din could not contain his fury. "Reynald de Chatîllon," he snarled. His voice was rough with anger. He crushed the report in his fist. "I swear to Allah that you will pay for the blood of the innocents which you have spilled. I will stain the desert sand with your blood."
"Sai'idi," said Imad, the Sultan's close friend and adviser. "Kerak is a fortress unsurpassed. Its walls have never been breached."
"I will trample Kerak into the dust," said Salah-al-Din. His hawkish eyes burned with determination. "An eye for an eye. That is what the Holy Quran says." He stood and looked each of his advisers in the eye. "Assemble our forces!"
A cry rose. "Allahu akbar!"
Balian managed to delay Sibylla's departure for three precious days. For three more days, they lived as man and wife, enraptured by the mere presence of each other. All of Ibelin knew of their affair. Very few commented on it. They loved their baron. He was good to them. They felt that he deserved happiness, and at any rate, the business of the aristocracy was not their problem.
On the third day, as Balian was about to escort Sibylla out of Ibelin, an injured rider rode in on a bloodstained grey horse. He bore a message from the king, one which filled them all with trepidation.
They were at war. Balian swallowed his doubts and mustered all his men at arms. The king's orders were simple. Protect the villagers outside Kerak. Since they were at war, it was not safe for Sibylla to ride back to Jerusalem alone. Thus, she rode with Balian, escorted by the new baron and his men at arms. On their way, they came across the remains of a slaughter. The piles of burnt carcasses still smoked. Some of the carcasses had not even been thrown onto the fires. Vultures wheeled overhead. The brands had been cut from the horses to prevent others from identifying their owners.
"Reynald," said Sibylla in disgust as Balian dismounted to inspect the corpses. "It has to be. No other man leaves such carnage."
Her knight nodded, and said nothing. He was not a man of words. He put his foot in the stirrup and swung back into his saddle.
"To Kerak," he said.
A/N: Nope, this is not the sequel to Prelude to Heaven which I have been promising. That will be another crossover. To find out about my version of what happens to Sibylla and how Barisian comes into Balian's life, check out the third instalment of the Chance Encounter series, which is not yet out, but will be soon.
Sai'idi Your Majesty (Arabic)