In 1184 France, Balian, a blacksmith, is haunted by his wife's recent suicide. A Crusader passing through the village introduces himself as Balian's father, Baron Godfrey of Ibelin, and asks him to return with him to the Holy Land, but Balian declines. After the town priest (Balian's half brother) reveals that he ordered Balian's wife's body beheaded before burial, due to her suicide, Balian kills him and flees the village. Balian joins his father, hoping to gain forgiveness and redemption for himself and his wife in Jerusalem. Soldiers sent by the bishop arrive to arrest Balian, but Godfrey refuses to surrender him, and in the ensuing attack, Godfrey is struck by an arrow that breaks off in his body. In Messina, they have a contentious encounter with Guy de Lusignan, a Templar Knight and prospective future king of Jerusalem. Godfrey knights Balian, names him the new Baron of Ibelin, and orders him to serve the King of Jerusalem and protect the helpless, then succumbs to his arrow wound and dies. During Balian's journey to Jerusalem, his ship runs aground in a storm, leaving him as the only survivor. Balian is confronted by a Muslim cavalier, who attacks in a fight for his horse. Balian is forced to slay the cavalier but spares the man's servant, and the man tells Balian that this mercy will gain him fame and respect among the Saracens. Balian becomes acquainted with Jerusalem's political arena: the leper King Baldwin IV; Tiberias, the Marshal of Jerusalem; the King's sister, Princess Sibylla, who is Guy's wife and also mother to a little boy from an earlier marriage. Guy supports the anti-Muslim brutalities of the Knights Templar, and intends to break the fragile truce between the King and the sultan Saladin to make war on the Muslims. Balian travels to his inherited estate at Ibelin, and finds the residents struggling and the land almost barren from lack of water. He quickly gets to work using his knowledge of engineering to irrigate the dry and dusty lands, while working right alongside the workers. The land quickly turns into lush farmland which both improves the residents lives and earns Balian the love and respect of his people. During that time Sibylla visits him and watches him as he interacts with his tenants. They quickly fall in love and become lovers.