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24 November 2005 @ 02:49 pm

The shadows had grown long and the sky was streaked with crimson as Viggo crossed the courtyard on his way back to the servant’s quarters. He was thankful to have made it through the day without seeing Guy de Lusignan. The knight did not attend supper, no doubt due to the presence of the young Baron of Ibelin. Viggo supposed that once Balian left Jerusalem to claim his father’s lands Guy would return to the King’s table with all of his strutting and boasting. He thought it was amusing that Guy’s absence from the meal was meant to insult Balian but instead, at least in Viggo’s opinion, it made him look more like a spoiled, brooding child. He was certain Balian could see through Guy as well.

It was not often that a man of Balian’s quality graces the royal court. Viggo thought it a shame for he remembered a time when only the truly righteous were worthy to bear the title of Knight of Jerusalem. That was before Guy and his cohort Reynald of Kerak, men who use their position and influence to insight discord where there should be harmony. They justify their wars by saying it is the will of God. But God does not will the murder of thousands of Muslims and Christians for the sake of stone monuments and buildings. At least not the God that Viggo believed in.

Balian’s father was a man of temperance and reason. He worked side by side with the King to establish a fragile peace with the Muslim leaders. With Godfrey dead, the only hope for sustaining that peace lay in the hands of his son. A man who had, until just recently, never given Jerusalem a second thought. But from what Viggo had seen of Balian, the young man was more then up to the task. He was a kind and compassionate man and did not put on false airs of virtue in order to mask a wicked soul. His heart was true. Viggo could see that much when he looked into the young man’s eyes.

Balian’s eyes. Viggo found himself haunted by Balian’s eyes as he went about his daily chores, many of which were mundane and afforded him with the chance to allow his mind to wander. And wander it did, each time returning to those dark brown eyes and the touch of Balian’s hands as he cradled Viggo’s face in his hands. It had been a very long time since anyone had touched him with such tenderness. The young man had been so very close that Viggo could feel the warmth of Balian’s breath against his cheek. If he had leaned forward just a hair their mouths would have connected. He shook off the thought. “Stop it, you fool,” he admonished himself.

He passed under an archway and entered the most servants’ wing of the palace; it’s mudstone walls left to crumble from years of neglect. He turned east, away from the direction of his own quarters and proceeded down a narrow, dimly lit corridor. An odor of mildew and decay hung heavy in the damp air. He counted seven doorways before stopping. A faint, flickering light spilled out from deep within the room. He peered inside to see an old man sitting at a wobbly wooden table surrounded by rows and rows of glass jars and clay pots sitting on uneven shelves. The old man sat with his head down, scribbling on a piece of tattered parchment with a quill. The small stub of a candle on the table beside him was the only source of light in the room and it cast the entire space in a warm, golden glow. “Good evening, Bashir.”

The old man looked up and a smile immediately split his weathered, leathery face. “Viggo, my friend!” He exclaimed and rose from his chair and crossed the room. “I’m so glad you decided to came and visit me.” He embraced Viggo tightly, making Viggo hiss in pain. “See, this is why. I hear tell that Guy did a number on you last night.” He motioned for Viggo to enter the room and take a seat on a small, straight back wooden chair. He then waved his arms in the air, indicating that Viggo should lift up his tunic.

Viggo pulled the garment over his head and balled it in his hands. “It hurts to breathe,” Viggo admitted.

Bashir stooped down and inspected the large welts and bruises that decorated Viggo’s torso. “He kicked you?” He asked as he pressed his palm into Viggo’s side.

Viggo hissed and gritted his teeth, “Yes…”

“Mmm…” Bashir nodded gravely, “your ribs may be broken.” He stood and walked to the opposite side of the room to fetch a pile of long fabric strips. “We chinch you up tight, hold the ribs together until the heal. Then I give you something for the pain, no?”

“Thank you, Bashir,”

“Lift up your arms,” the old man instructed. When Viggo did as he was told, Bashir nodded, “Good, good…” and went about the business of wrapping Viggo’s chest and midsection with the makeshift bandages. “Who tended to your head?”

Viggo snapped back his response, “I did.”

The old man stopped what he was doing and looked up into Viggo’s face. “Do not lie to me, my friend. You would have just washed your face in the fountain, let yourself bleed all night. Someone cleaned you up and bandaged your wound and I know it was not the royal physicians. Who was your good Samaritan?”

Viggo stared at the wall for a moment, trying to decide what the old man would say to the fact that a lord had cared for him the previous night. Perhaps it was not such an odd situation. At its core it was one person reaching out to help another out of the goodness of their heart. But that didn’t happen very often anymore in the palace, despite how all within the walls liked to proclaim just how devoutly Christian they were. The milk of human kindness was decidedly sour here in the Holy Land. Viggo cleared his throat and mumbled, “Balian of Ibelin. He…found me sitting by the fountain.” Viggo smiled now and chuckled, “Washing my face.”

The old man nodded as if this were old news to him. “I had guessed as much.”

Viggo’s brow knitted. “Did you?”

Viggo’s arms dropped a little and the old man clucked, giving him a light slap to his side to get him to lift them again. “Yes, yes. Fatimah told me the baron was watching tonight as you served supper. Very protective of you. Every time one of those sorry excuses for a knight would raise his voice to you or even look at you crossways, Balian was ready to lunge across the table at him. Even Tiberius noticed, she said, he had to hold the young man back when Raymond pushed you.”

Viggo frowned. He had tried to fill Raymond’s cup without first asking if the knight wanted more. Apparently he did not because he shoved Viggo away with a blow to Viggo’s injured ribs. “Fatimah is a gossip. People like that always make much more out of what they see than what there actually is.”

“Indeed,” Bashir finished wrapping Viggo and tucked the end securely down inside the other layers. “You need to tighten that when it gets loose. And you need to come back to me periodically so we can make sure you are healing.” He laid his hand on Viggo’s face gently then gave a firm pat to Viggo’s cheek. He crossed the room to one of the many wooden shelves that lined the walls and selected a chipped clay pot with a lid. He opened the pot and fished out a gnarled and dried piece of root that Viggo did not recognize. “Chew on a bit of this when you hurt the most,” He instructed as he handed the root to Viggo. “But don’t use it to much, it will be bad for your stomach if you are gnawing on it all the time.”

“Thank you, my friend.” Viggo tucked the root into a small pouch the hung from his belt. He then gently pulled his tunic back over his head. “I will leave you to your work, whatever it may have been.” He winked at Bashir then stood to make his leave.

“Viggo,” Bashir’s bony hand on his arm stopped him. “This young baron, he is different than the others. He is like us. He knows what it means to have nothing. And he knows pain. In France he suffered a terrible, terrible loss. He may need kindness…just as much as you do.”

“How do you know so much when you leave this room but twice a year?”

“Gossip,” the old man returned Viggo’s wink then gently pushed him towards the door. “Go chew on your root and get some sleep, yes. And don’t forget your way here, my friend.”