In the dingy harbor-side tavern, despair hung in the smoky air. These men had survived to fight another day. They had taken heart when Conrad de Montferrat had sailed into Tyre harbor and spat defiance at the victorious Sultan. They had fought with him and for him, and they had believed that not all was lost after all.
But now Jerusalem was lost. The site of Christ’s Passion. The home of the Holy Sepulcher. Lost. What was there left to fight for?
A youth with a lute in his left hand shoved his way between the tables toward the serving counter. He was thin and bony. His light-brown hair was overlong, as if he couldn’t afford a barber, and his face was marred by acne. One shoulder hung distinctly lower than the other, and when he tried to hoist himself up to sit on the countertop, he gave a gasp and his face screwed up with pain. The innkeeper shook his head in annoyance and warned in a low growl as he helped him onto the counter, “This better be good, Ernoul.”
Ernoul didn’t answer directly. He sat on the countertop with his feet dangling and settled his lute under his right arm, grimacing slightly as he lifted his left to the neck of the instrument. Then his face cleared. He took a deep breath and played a few chords.
Some men were talking or dicing, but most had come here to drink themselves into oblivion. They were in no mood for entertainment. The young man on the counter elicited indifference at best and aroused hostility from many. One man called out resentfully: “Go back to your great hall, puppy! Your lord might like a love song, but we’re in no mood for it!”
“How can he? His lord was in Jerusalem!” the man across from the speaker retorted bitterly.
On the counter, Ernoul cleared his throat and began to sing:
“Salah ad-Din, you have the grave, And you have made our brothers slaves . . .”
Instantly the squire had their attention. Across the room a dozen desultory conversations stopped and men glared at the singer. Hostility hung in the air. They didn’t need to have their noses rubbed in it by the likes of this puny, shabby squire!
Ernoul appeared not to notice. He sang in a low, soft, melodic tenor:
“But we survived, we are alive . . .”
Excerpted from "Envoy of Jerusalem: Balian D'Ibelin and the Third Crusade" by Helena P Schrader. Copyright © 2016 by Helena P Schrader. Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher. Excerpts are provided solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.