“How I deal with my slaves is none of your concern.” Hatred flashed in Guy’s eye as he peered over Balian’s shoulder at Viggo. His fists clenched and released rhythmically. He looked like a bull ready to charge; ready to trample the prostrate man. His desire to harm Viggo seemed almost…personal. It was much deeper than a master’s compulsion to punish an insubordinate slave. “Stand aside, boy!”
Balian took a step closer to Guy, bringing him nose to nose with the other man. “No.”
Guy fumed. Balian could see the fire raging inside him. He growled deeply in his chest. “I should have know that mongrels could sniff each other out,” he hissed then tuned on his heel. “I will deal with the creature later,” he warned as he stalked out of the main doors of the hall.
The room let out its collective breath as Guy disappeared down the corridor. Balian turned his attention to Viggo who was attempting to stand. Balian crouched and took hold of Viggo’s arm. “Do you need a physician?” He asked as he steadied the older man and helped him to his feet.
“No, my lord,” Viggo shook his head and tried to shrug away from Balian’s grasp. “Please…I must clean up the wine.”
Balian removed his hand from Viggo’s person and frowned deeply. He searched the other man’s eyes and found sheer terror. “He’s gone,” he whispered so that only Viggo could hear. But this did little to soothe the servant’s fears. Viggo seemed to grow more anxious with each passing second. “Allow me to help you,” Balian offered and stooped to pick up a few shards of broken pottery.
“Lord, Balian…please…no.” There was panic in Viggo’s voice.
“Viggo…” Balian began but was interrupted by a soft touch on his cheek. He turned his head to in the Princess’ face scant inches away from his own.
She shook her head and gently chided, “No.” She stood and held her hand out to Balian. When he accepted it she pulled him to his feet. “Tend to your duties, Viggo, it’s all right.” Her tone was reassuring albeit condescending, as if she were speaking to a frightened child. “Come, Lord Balian, allow me to escort you back to your rooms.” She offered Balian her arms but this time he did not accept.
He watched as Viggo collected the shattered remains of the wine jug for a few more moments before resigning himself to being pulled away. “After you, milady.”
The Princess did eventually take it upon herself to link her arm with Balian’s as they made their way through the hallways of the palace. A satisfied smile curled her painted lips. She mover nearer to him as they walked. She was heavily perfumed. A spicy, musky sent that Balian guessed must have been created from native plants for he had never smelled anything like it before. It was alluring and he supposed that in heated moments it could become almost intoxicating. He swallowed hard before speaking. “Why does the King not dine with his court?”
Sybilla’s smile faded. “When my brother was a boy he was playing with the other children and his arm was cut. It was Godfrey, not my father’s physicians, who noticed that he felt no pain. Godfrey wept when he gave my father the news that my brother was a leper.” She closed her eyes and chewed on her lip, drawing in a shuddering breath.
Balian placed his hand over hers on his arm. “I’m sorry.”
Her voice trembled as she continued, “The Saracens say that this disease is God’s vengeance on our kingdom for its vanity. That no matter how wretched my brother is while he walks this earth, the torment that awaits him in hell will be far worse.” The pair came to a stop when they reached Balian’s chamber door. “If that is true, I say that is unfair. My brother is a good and noble man.”
“So I’ve heard.” Balian tightened his grip on Sybilla’s hand. “I’m sure that is not the fate that awaits your brother,” he assured her. He tried to let go of her hand but she twined their fingers together, stepping closer still until she was pressed against him.
“You really are Godfrey’s son.” Balian could feel her breath on his face as she spoke. “I loved your father.” Her smile returned, lighting up her face and setting a sparkle in her eyes. “And I shall love you.” A shuffle of footsteps very near to them caught Balian’s attention and he turned his head. A young boy ducked out of sight behind a heavy tapestry. Sybilla simply laughed. “Tiberius thinks I am…unpredictable.” She brought her free hand to Balian’s face and cupped his jaw. “I am unpredictable.” She brushed her lips again his.
“Thank you for walking me to my room,” Balian removed her hand from his face as well as the one still clinging to his arm. He brought both to his lips and kissed her knuckles. “Good night, milady.”
The Princess pulled her hands from Balian’s grasp and took a brusque step back. She said nothing to him before retreating down the hall, her long robes trailing behind her.
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