With You, I'll Be Only Sibylla
Smithy: Sibylla probably will give Balian an earful and chew him up about it after the emergency is over. Lucky Tiberias will be off in Cyprus by then, so he won't have to face her wrath; he's guiltier than Balian in this. Thanks for the review.
Disclaimer: I don't own Kingdom of Heaven or anything else that you recognize. It all belongs to Sir Ridley Scott, William Monahan and history.
Chapter 16: Coup d'état
Guy knew that Raymond was not listening to him as he stated the reasons why he had decided to go to war — the main reason being that he was king and if he wanted to start a war then he would do so— and he did not care one little bit. Raymond of Tiberias was the past; Jerusalem had no use for an old cowardly Marshal who would rather make peace with God's enemies than do his duty and eradicate them from the face of the earth. He had control of the army now, and he was going to use it as he pleased.
"There are some of you who might not agree with our succession," he said, looking at each and every one of the gathered nobles. No one said anything. They all knew what had happened to Guy's last opponent, and no one relished being left to die alone in the desert and becoming food for carrion birds. "But it is war!" continued Guy, his confidence swelling. This was what he had come to the Holy Land to do. "And I am..." Then his eye strayed in the direction of the desert, and his confidence evaporated like a puddle in the scorching eastern sun. "...the king," he finished, and he knew he sounded pathetic, but no one was paying him much attention.
Striding towards the gathered nobles was a man whom he'd thought he had been well rid of. How in God's name had Balian lived? Perhaps he really was blessed, as some had said. Or perhaps Templars made very poor murderers. Next time, he would hire one of the Hashashin. They were incredibly expensive, but at least when they killed a man, he remained dead.
Dark dried blood still clung to Balian's face and neck, but he was very much alive, if tired. All eyes had turned to him. He was covered in dust from his long ride in the desert, and they were all wondering where he had come from. Their spies near Ibelin had reported nothing, and he had not been in Jerusalem. So where had he been? Only Raymond knew, and if the situation had not been so dire, he would have laughed at the expressions of the gathered nobles. They all believed in resurrections, but to actually witness one was another matter.
"We march at once," said Guy loudly, trying to recover his lost confidence, but the presence of Balian made him so nervous that his throat was dry. "What say this council?"
"Aye!" said Gerard de Ridefort, raising his fist. Reynald quickly followed suit, and there was a chorus of 'ayes' as the nobles assented.
"No," said Balian, having finally reached the canopy. "If you must have war, then it would be best to stay here behind these walls. Saladin cannot move his army away from water. You have a chance if you hold the city. But if you go out against Saladin, your army will be destroyed, and the city left defenceless!" He, too, looked at all the gathered nobles, hoping that they would come to their senses and stop this foolish venture before the kingdom was entirely annihilated. If they could hold the city, then perhaps the Greeks in the north would come and help. The Roman Emperor certainly needed the Kingdom of Jerusalem to act as a shield between him and the Muslims.
"When I wish for a blacksmith to advise me in war, I will tell him," drawled Guy, drawing a few laughs from his faction.
Raymond clenched his hands into fists and willed himself not to simply grab Guy by the front of his surcoat; one did not do that to a king, after all.
Balian, to his credit, simply ignored the barbed jest. There were more important things to worry about, and he wasn't ashamed of being a craftsman. After all, Jesus had been a carpenter. "Saladin wants you to move out," he said. "He is waiting for you to make this mistake. He knows his men, and he knows us."
Silence reigned as the war council absorbed the full implications of what Balian had just said. The barons were deep in thought. No one wanted to risk their armies and their fiefs; property was more important than pride. And then, in this period of indecision, who should step up but Gerard de Ridefort.
"We should meet the enemies of God!" he declared, raising a fist into the air.
"Aye!" said Reynald immediately, and he was followed with a unanimous chorus from the gathered noblemen. Balian inwardly groaned. Had madness taken the kingdom during his absence? How were they supposed to retain their strength if they marched out into the scorching desert at the height of summer, and in full armour too? They would roast before they even reached the enemy.
"And so we shall," said Guy, giving Balian a smug grin.
"Then you do so without my knights," said Raymond. His voice was calm, resigned, as if he was waiting for the inevitable collapse of the kingdom he had fought so hard to maintain.
"Then I will have the glory, Tiberias," said Guy. His confidence had returned now that his barons had agreed to his suggestion. "You had yours, years and years ago. It's time for mine." His smirk widened. Raymond clenched his hand into a fist and reminded himself that he was not supposed to hit kings, no matter how much he despised them or how bad they were. Perhaps there was still some of his younger, slightly feistier self left in him. Not that he had been the fiery one; that had been Godfrey.
Thinking about how his old friend would react to Guy's snide remarks right now made him feel slightly better. King or not, Godfrey would have taught Guy a lesson if he had been here. It was too bad that Balian seemed to be a much more withdrawn man than his father. If he hadn't, then this would have been a day to remember.
Almost growling with frustration, Balian turned his heel on Guy and walked away with Raymond close behind him. To turn one's back on a king was a great insult, and it did not go unnoticed by the nobles. However, Guy's declaration, and Gerard de Ridefort's intervention, had awoken their lust for bloodshed and victory. There was no turning back now.
Almaric had not expected Balian to return to the house so soon. Something must have gone wrong. The entire city was in an uproar. Apparently, there was hardly a soldier to be seen; rather unusual for a city which was almost constantly on the alert for invaders. "My lord?" he asked, as Balian rode through the door and into the courtyard. His horse was exhausted from the ride from wherever John had taken him. The poor animal was panting, and its flanks were caked with dust. Balian slid down from the saddle.
"Get every man-at-arms you can," he said. Almaric raised an eyebrow. Balian looked as if he ought to be resting instead of roaming the city doing God knew what, but the baron's tone brooked no argument, and Almaric knew better than to argue with an Ibelin. They were infamous for their stubbornness. "We're going to the palace."
"The palace, milord?" said Almaric. That had completely taken him by surprise. What did Balian want in the palace? He'd only just arrived. Shouldn't he rest for a bit first? Then again, Ibelins did not seem to understand the meaning of rest either.
"I must go there now," said Balian, as if sensing his sergeant's hesitation. "Get me a fresh horse."
"It will be ready in a moment, milord," said Almaric, hurrying to alert the other men-at-arms. As the big man left, Balian leaned back against one of the marble columns in his father's house—his house— and tried to will his throbbing headache away. Almaric was right He did need to rest; just not right now. Jerusalem needed him.
Soon, Almaric returned, with grooms behind him leading fresh horses. "Are you sure about this, milord?" asked the man-at-arms. Balian's face seemed awfully pale.
"I'm certain," said Balian. He climbed to his feet and tried his best to brush the dust from his breeches, without much success. The younger man gave up and hauled himself into the saddle. He sounded more confident than he felt. This was rebellion, and if he failed...No, he could not think of failure. He could not afford to, for if he failed, not only would he and his comrades die painful deaths, but all of Jerusalem would perish as well.
He glanced back at his men. They had all gathered, and they were waiting for his word. "Guy has taken the army to certain death," he began. "We must prepare to defend the city."
The sound of iron shod feet against stone shattered the silence of the night. Two factions of men were striding through the ambulatory of the palace courtyard, straight to confrontation. The two groups stopped. Flickering torchlight reflected off polished chainmail and bared blades.
Balian stared at the Patriarch of the Holy City. Disdain filled him. Heraclius was everything that a churchman should not be. Obviously, the bishop didn't think much of Balian either, for he sneered at the young baron's dishevelled appearance and crossed his arms, as if challenging him. That might not have been the wisest move, for Balian never backed down from a challenge. He spoke first. "Where is the queen of Jerusalem?" asked Balian. There was no point wasting time on niceties. He wasn't here to be polite.
"Guy is in charge of the army," said Heraclius, trying his best to look down his nose at the other man; a truly amazing feat, as the bishop was considerably shorter than Balian. "A husband has rights, even over a queen."
"Are you a man who looks to your own interests, my lord bishop?" demanded Balian, stepping up to Heraclius. "You have that reputation."
The bishop did not move. Nor did he even deign to speak. Instead, he made a vague noise which sounded like an affirmation. It was enough for Balian. His hand moved to the hilt of his sword. "If you obstruct my way, I will kill you. There it is," he said. Almaric had to stop himself from laughing at that. This was not the way a courtier spoke. Then again, Lord Balian was no courtier; he'd admitted it himself.
"Well, there it is," said Heraclius. He turned to the few Templars behind him. "Do it," said the patriarch in a low voice as he scurried away from the bloody skirmish that was about to take place. Ecclesia abhorret a sanguine.
The Templar at the front was about to draw his sword, but Balian was quicker. With one fluid move, the baron had unsheathed his blade and sliced open the belly of the unfortunate Templar. Gleaming lengths of bloody intestines poured out from the wound and the man fell with a cry. The men at arms behind the young baron took this as a signal, and they rushed forwards as the rest of the Templars all charged. Blades flashed in the torchlight. Splashes of blood made dark stains on the stone. The palace was filled with the cries of men as they were cut down by the merciless blades of their adversaries.
Balian had no time for a prolonged struggle. He needed to find Sibylla. Although he had nothing to say to her, he wanted to know that he was there for her. The baron left the bloody struggle. His men were winning, and there was nothing more he could do here.
She sat in the room, singing quietly to herself. The dim flickering candlelight only served to enhance the shadows beneath her eyes and on her gaunt cheeks. In her hands, she still clutched the pewter knight. Sibylla rocked back and forth as she sang. Memories overwhelmed her. She could see Ibelin and its low walls as the sun rose above the little town. Balian's waterwheel continued to turn. People bustled about as they began their daily chores; gathering water, saying prayers, feeding their animals. Too bad the master of Ibelin would not see it again, this new Jerusalem which he had built with his own hands.
There were footsteps. Who was coming for her now? Whoever it was, his pace was quick and even; definitely not Raymond. A hand slowly reached out to drew back the translucent curtain which hid her from the world. There was a signet ring on the small finger. Sibylla's breath caught in her throat. She knew that ring. Her eyes travelled to the face of the man who wore the ring. He was covered in dust and blood, both wet and dry. His face was a bit pale, but there was no mistaking it. Balian was standing there before her, and he looked too solid to be a phantom. Somehow, he had come back to her. Perhaps there was hope still...no, there was no hope, at least not for her. She had done the unthinkable, and she was going to burn in Hell for her sins.
The two estranged lovers stared at each other. For a while, neither of them said anything. It was Sibylla who spoke first. "Do you know what I have done?" she asked. Guilt gnawed at her heart, and she was certain that he would hate her if he knew. What accusations would he throw in her face? Here was a man who had lost his child, and she'd killed hers because she didn't want to see him suffer. Would Balian blame her for her selfish weakness?
Instead of accusing her of anything, he simply nodded. "And why," he said. So he did not blame her for doing what she had done. That gave her some relief. But what of the troubles which loomed before them?
"When Salah-ad-Din comes, we're not defensible," she said. The princess gazed into the brown eyes of her knight; her perfect knight. "Save the people from what I have done." The last entreaty was barely a whisper, but it carried all her remorse and her pain. She'd betrayed Jerusalem when she'd let Guy take the throne, and now the burden of saving Jerusalem fell to someone else. She wished she could do more, but she was only a woman who did not even have the strength to lift a sword.
"I will," said Balian. His voice betrayed no emotion. He was so cold. Was this the same man who'd loved her in Ibelin? He let the curtain fall and turned to go. However, Sibylla still had more to say to him. He needed to know.
"If you had wanted the world, and more," she said. "I would have wanted you less." That made him stop in his tracks, but it did not make him turn back to her. His shoulders seemed to drop, and then he strode away. Sibylla stared at his retreating back. Even though she could see nothing but his silhouette, she could see his determination in the way he held himself, and she prayed that it would be enough to save them.
A/N: The confrontation between Heraclius and Balian is from the deleted scenes, as is the little exchange between Balian and Sibylla. There's not very much Sibylla here, as after her coronation, she does very little except grieve until the siege. I hope you enjoyed it anyway.
Ecclesia abhorret a sanguine-- 'Holy men detest the spilling of blood'. This phrase is actually used in reference to the disdain which was held for the art of surgery back in the Middle Ages. However, it applied well to this situation.