People Like Us
Buffy thought this journey couldn't end soon enough for her. It took longer in part to her having them stop along the way to take on additional supplies. She loved Godfrey and sent up silent prays in his memory, but he had sadly neglected Ibelin. Buffy remembered several occasions where Almaric had to remind Godfrey to send the necessary supplies to his lands.
She had always enjoyed getting away from the ever-watchful eyes within the palace, and having to guard her actions and words. It was just that she wanted to reach their destination, and begin her latest assignment. She couldn't contain her laughter even when it was at her own expense. Buffy wasn't one to bother with liars, and wasn't about to start becoming one, especially to herself. She knew she wanted to see Balian, to see if he was the man she thought he was.
She spurred her horse to go faster. Her laughter rang aloud as she heard her companions groan and shout for her to slow down.
They heaved exasperated sighs, as the princess wouldn't heed their warnings. The poor soul's whose turn it was to try to keep up with her pushed his mount into a fast trot before it smoothly transitioned into a run. Their horses were all desert bred, but it didn't mean that they weren't careful to take the necessary measures to care for them properly. A man without a horse was a dead man. They were painfully aware of that, even without the hot desert sun pounding down on them as an added reminder.
Buffy slowed her horse down gradually to a sedate walk to allow it cool. She leaned forward to caress its neck and murmur endearments. The stallion and her had become inseparable since Baldwin presented him to her on her twelfth birthday as a newborn colt. Her mother had objected, long and loud, as she remembered it. Maria Covina said she was too young to take care of a colt, and besides she should have a mare like a proper princess. Buffy smiled at the memory. She and Baldwin had chimed in unison that she wasn't proper. Her mother had thrown up her hands in defeat.
He was a beautiful courser with strong lines, who stood roughly sixteen hands high. His dark coloring had Buffy's mother calling him a devil horse, but she ignored her mother's mutterings. It was love at first sight between the two young and somewhat wild creatures. Buffy though searched long and hard for a proper name for her beloved friend. She finally settled on Kamil Ata to tweak her mother's nose. It meant "perfect gift" and he was exactly that to her.
Of course, she had to play the game
with him as she did everything else in her life. He was her brother's horse, which she spent time with due to Baldwin's condition. Tiberius' small, reclusive ghost was hand picked by the princess to exercise Kamil, since she, as a proper
princess, couldn't do so.
It was only under the blanket of darkness or when she escaped Jerusalem, they could ride freely. Buffy took every opportunity to do just that. The normally could complete the journey within a few days. It would take them nearly a week at their current pace.
She blew out her breath, knowing she had no one to blame but herself. Buffy couldn't help it. She simply couldn't show up at Ibelin expecting Balian's hospitality empty handed. He would have no choice but to give it. Crusader outposts offered their hospitality to traveling nobility, and their house.
Her hand automatically smoothed her blue tabard. It wasn't part of her makeup to impose on others, especially when she knew it taxed an already overburdened situation. Her brother had cautioned her always to give with the one hand whenever you must take with the other. It lightened the sting for both parties. Hopefully, neither would feel the other came out the loser, or the winner.
She hoped that was what Balian would feel when she arrived with her loaded carts, and able-bodied soldiers. Buffy had plans for the new Baron of Ibelin. She wasn't sure how he would react to them or
to her offer. Her pulse sped up in anticipation. The closer they drew to Ibelin, the more its owner filled her thoughts. She wondered if he would be as handsome in person as he was in her memories of their only encounter. Or, was it simply too long since anyone had caught her attention.
One more day and she would have the answer to her question. Buffy wondered if she would like what she found upon her arrival in Ibelin.
Sibylla fought the urge to throw the bowl her hands soaked in at the quietly closing door. Latif, Balian's houseman, had just told her his master would once again not be joining her for breakfast. She had been her for nearly a week, and had dined with Balian twice. Two times, two times he had ordained to grace her with his presence. He treated her, a Royal Princess of Jerusalem, as if she were some lowly servant girl, he would spend time with when he desired some feminine company.
He left the castle before she rose from her bed and returned when she long since retired. Sibylla was starting to think he spoke truthfully when he said he was afraid of her. She sat watching him through the screened shutter. Latif almost had a heart attack when he found her ensconced in this part of the castle. She waved him away, telling him she wanted to catch some cooler air.
Sibylla watched Balian practice his swordsmanship with Almaric. She admired the strong bodies and tensing muscles displayed before her. Her eyes wandered along their bodies weighing Almaric's much larger physique against Balian's slender one. She smiled in satisfaction as she planned for tonight.
Her hands clapped together loudly as she called out for her servants. They rushed into the room to do their mistress' biding. Their heads nodded as they listened to her plans then quickly scattered to put them into motion.
Sibylla's lips curled into a self-satisfied smile as a young handmaid came forward. The girl bent down to bathe the princess' hand in rose water, carefully drying and repeating the process with the other. She gracefully rose to retrieve the henna bowl and brush that she had already prepared. Sibylla nodded her head, giving permission to start the long and intricate application.
The princess allowed her thoughts to wander. She closed her eyes seeing the night come to what she saw as its inevitable ending. Her lips turned up into smile that had the servant girl's hand shaking.
Rahab quickly pulled the brush away to keep from ruining the pattern. She had seen that look on the princess' face before, and knew it meant trouble for the young lord. The servants whispered at night about how he eluded Sibylla at every turn, and her increasing temper tantrums. They knew it was only a matter of time before she became desperate enough to throw caution to the wind. Rahab guessed tonight was the night the Princess Sibylla would ensure the Baron could elude her no longer. Heaven help him.
Balian stepped into the castle where maidservants met him. One tried to removed his shoes; he thanked her and sent her away, while another waited patiently for his acknowledgment. He wanted nothing more than to take a hot bath and quench his thirst. It appeared he wasn't going to get to do either. The girl sent him a tentative smile as she waited patiently. He returned the smile and waved his hand for her to precede him.
He followed her onto the back balcony. His brow rose, since this was his private retreat. Balian heard the doors shut behind him, and couldn't help the instinct that had him wanting to turn and run. There was Sibylla waiting for him; she sent him an 'innocent' smile followed by an elegant half bow.
She stood dressed in some flowing white gown and from the evening sun silhouetting her body through the shear material, little if anything else. Balian had heard different accounts regarding the state of her marriage to Guy of Lusignan. He didn't care which were true and which were not as he had no intent to cuckold any man. What he might have done to give Sibylla the impression that he would welcome her advances he wasn't sure.
She gestured for him to join her. Perhaps, it was the way of royalty to completely take over people's lives without any thought to how it might affect them. She startled him when she suddenly appeared before him, and pulled him over to where a bowl of fragrant water sat on a small table intimately placed beside piles of pillow. Sibylla started to bathe his hands, which he quickly extracted from her slick grasp.
As if she could read his thoughts, she spoke for the first time. "My Lord, I am simply washing the dust from your busy day. This isn't adultery, its washing." He reluctantly allowed her to continue. She slowly rubbed on the dirt and grime on his forehead, before she picked up the thread of her conversation. "But if it were adultery."
Balian couldn't help himself, he jerked away from her ministrations. He felt dirtier than he had moments before.
"It's not, Balian. Listen to me, please," she softly pleaded, leaning closer to him. "The Commandments are for others, not people like us."
Her hand reached out to touch his face as her face softened, pleading with him to see things her way. Balian stood up, aghast, but quickly hid his feelings and put distance between them. How could anyone, especially a princess of Jerusalem believe God's law didn't pertain to her?
"Have you supped?" he asked at a loss as to what to say to her.
She mistook his question for concern and smiled brightly at him. "They said I needed to wait for the master."
"I will have Latif bring you sustenance while I become more presentable," he said as he bowed, then quickly walked away before she could protest.
If Balian had lingered by the lattice doors for mere seconds, he would have heard the tantrum Sibylla threw at his hasty retreat.
Much to Balian's dismay, she was still sitting waiting for him when he returned to the balcony. He had soaked in the bath then delayed as long as possible in hopes he would enjoy another night alone. It appeared tonight the princess had other plans. She lay sprawled along a divan he remembered seeing in the castle.
His eyes enlarged at the huge amount of food spread across the low table within her reach. It was a feast fit for a king, or should he say princess, but more importantly, it would easily feed ten people rather than the two of them. Balian made a mental note to have Latif reuse what he could, and share anything that would spoil.
Sibylla emphasized each bite as she slowly licked her fingers, ignoring the finger bowls. She smiled at Balian when she caught him staring at her. Balian thought she looked beautiful and seductive, but still felt she played some part as if she wasn't there from some undeniable urgency to see him again. It niggled at him, though he couldn't for the life of him figure out her reasoning.
Balian's thought had wondered, and now she had caught him staring at her. He said the first thing that came to mind.
"It's been a long time since I've watched a woman eat," he explained.
He worked hard not grimace at how utterly foolish that sounded. Balian decided it was time to change the subject. The sun had started its descent. Soft echoes carried across the gentle breeze carried the evening prayers.
"You've changed Ibelin into your own little Jerusalem," Sibylla complimented.
Her eyes took in the intricate watering system and carefully laid out gardens. They quickly returned to the man responsible.
Balian found he couldn't remain quietly seated across from her exchanging pleasantries. He stood and pretended to stretch out his overused muscles. His feet took him to the balcony's edge, before he realized he had even moved. He stood here many nights, enjoying the view and planning for Ibelin's future.
Sibylla grimaced at his stubborn stiff backed stance. This man acted as if he had never bedded a woman, or spent time alone in ones company. It frustrated and intrigued her; mostly it had her more determined than ever to have him in her bed.
"What type man does not endeavor to improve his own land?" he asked quietly over his shoulder.
She gracefully rose to join him as stared unseeing at the land and those kneeling in supplication. Sibylla decided to go another route in wooing Balian to her. She was Almaric's daughter after all, and although she kept from involving herself publicly in politics, it didn't mean she didn't know her way around them.
"They try to become one…one heart…one morality. Their prophet says, Submit. Jesus says...Decide."
He turned to her startled by her insightful words. Balian stared down into her beautiful face, and couldn't help but ask.
"And did you decide…on Guy?"
Sibylla paused thinking carefully on how to answer his question. She sent him a tentative smile, while allowing her lashes to fall against her cheeks. Her voice became barely more than a whisper.
"I became a widow soon after my son's birth. I had just turned fifteen. The Haute Cour decided I must remarry, and my mother chose Guy."
She gave him the facts, which were public knowledge. Only those within the family and the Haute Cour were aware that she had refused to have her marriage to Guy annulled. This version presented the more sympathetic light she wanted Balian to see, and that she worked hard to represent to the public.
Balian didn't bother to refute her words. He sent the Princess Isabella a silent thank you for telling him the entire story. This version reinforced his prior impressions of Sibylla.
"I had the honor of meeting your son when I met with the king. He is a child any parent would be proud of."
The memory of Bali and Buffy played back in his mind. Balian thought not for the first time that he wished the younger princess were here rather than Sibylla.
He bowed toward his guest and announced, "I apologize, but I must bid you good night, Your Highness. I've neglected my paperwork, with the hours spent in training."
Buffy pushed Akil onward even though dusk had fallen. Ibelin was just over the ridge and she was determined to get there today. Her heart pounded in tune with Akil's hooves. Yes. She pulled Akil to a stop as she broke over the crest. She looked down at Ibelin as she drew her breath in amazement. Balian had worked miracles in the short time he had taken ownership.
Her hand went up to pull her helmet down over her face. She wrinkled her nose in objection. Buffy hated having to lie to Balian, but knew no other way at least not at first. She needed to know him better, to know the inner man before she could trust him with her secrets…secrets that could destroy Jerusalem. Buffy prayed Balian was the man Baldwin thought him. She prayed he became a good knight. They were in desperate need of such a rare creature.
She kicked Akil into motion as she turned him down the slope toward Ibelin. Her men followed close behind, and they soon rode through the courtyard gates. Almaric strode out to welcome them. His brow rose when he saw pale blue tabards. Buffy held back her laughter, when his eyes grew wide at the wagons loaded down with supplies.
Buffy quickly dismounted and approached the large man. She had always liked his easy-going manner. Her hand immediately stretched out in greeting, and they braced forearms.
," she greeted (Peace be with you)
"Wa alaikum salaam
," he replied in turn. (And upon you be peace.) "What brings you so far from Jerusalem and my lord Tiberius?"
Buffy couldn't contain her laugh this time, although she was careful to pitch it low. She pulled her chin toward her chest so the helmet muffled her voice.
"My lord Tiberius sent us to escort the Princess Isabella and our youngest Majesty, Baldwin of Montferrat. The Princess in turn released us from our duty while she settles her nephew in Nablus. She sent us here to aid the new lord in making Ibelin habitable." She waved an arm toward the gardens. "Though, he seems to have worked wonders without any help."
A proud smile split Almaric's face. "He is truly ingenious. Tomorrow my lord will have to give you a tour of his watering system. His mind works differently than any man I have ever known."
"I look forward to tomorrow then. Where will I be sleeping tonight, my friend?" she asked.
His smile faded as he realized the castle was fair to overflowing. There was nothing else for it; they had to find room for Lord Tiberius' secretary in the castle. The others would have to take whatever they could get.
"Come with me, my lord, I will take you up to the castle, and place you in Latif's capable hands. I'm sure the young lord is still hard at work with some new plan for Ibelin."
They shared a companionable silence as they crossed the hard dirt. Latif swept the large lattice doors open before their feet touched the entryway. He bowed respectfully, the ever-present smile firmly in place.
"Has my lord retired for the evening? I would like to speak with him if you think he wouldn't mind?" Buffy asked Latif.
She hoped to speak privately with Balian tonight, rather than spring her and her men's arrival on him in the morning. Buffy also wanted to broach the subject of his possible training.
Latif hesitated, and then decided an interruption was exactly what the young baron needed.
"Come, he works on his papers."
The houseman turned to head further into the castle. Buffy said a quick goodbye to Almaric, and hurried to follow him. She stopped short when she almost ran into his back. Latif stood outside a sectioned hallway. He pointed toward the left, handed him
a candle then slipped back the way they had come.
Buffy started forward, her soft footsteps leaving no sound even against the hard floor. She stopped when she heard voices - her sister's and Balian's
"You're a knight," Sibylla said.
"Neither earned nor proved."
"I'm not here because I'm...I'm bored or wicked. I'm here because...because in the East...between one person and another...there is only light."
Buffy watched her sister blow out her candle and move toward Balian. She waited to see what he would do. If he accepted her advances then she had sadly mistaken him for another type man. He stepped back and Sibylla stepped forward. Buffy searched his face and found what she needed.
She purposefully walked loud enough for them to hear her approach this time. Buffy held up her candle as she cleared her throat.
"My Lord, Balian?" she asked softly as if she couldn't see clearly in the darkened room. "Are you there, My Lord? Your man, Latif, said you were still up and that you wouldn't mind me speaking with you. I can come back if the time is not convenient."
Buffy walked farther into the open hallway that led to Balian's private quarters. She held the candle up high to caste its light against the open doorway. Her lips titled upward at the sour look on her sister's face. Sibylla worked hard to get her emotions under control. Buffy could have told her she needed work on that, but it wouldn't do to overplay her hand.
"Forgive me, Your Highness, I was unaware you were visiting Ibelin," she said in a conciliatory voice.
Buffy walked across the hallway and stopped next to Sibylla. She bowed her head respectfully.
"Here. Let me relight your candle for you, Your Highness. There must be a draft in this hallway for you to lose your flame."
Sibylla grimaced in distaste at the chivalrous gesture from Tiberius' ghost. She sent the knight a small smile. Her head turned toward Balian who stood pressed against his chamber door. Sibylla's face softened as she held his eyes with hers for several long moments, before turning back to the ever-watchful ghost.
"Thank you. My Lord, it appears you have pressing matters to which you must attend."
She bowed her head toward them as she turned to walk back down to the hall.
"I will bid you both, good night."