Crusader's Torch Page 10

"May God guide you, then, for there is danger all around you if you occupy that house." He turned on his heel and walked away toward the servants' wing of the house.

This was a much grander establishment than the house Niklos had just inspected. It was three stories tall and had more than fifty rooms within its stout walls. Frederick Barbarossa himself had stayed here once, and had pronounced the place satisfactory. Doca Arrigo Benammo di Cruceclare was the fifth of his family to own it; he had doubled the family holdings in the last ten years as much through his astute political manipulation as through riches, and his title was secured not only through the endorsement of the Pope, but through the mandate of Frederick Barbarossa.

Doca Arrigo was in his study when his scribe and Niklos returned. His major domo escorted Niklos there as soon as the scribe had given his report. Unlike many of his contemporaries, Doca Arrigo was literate and read extensively, which was why his failing eyesight troubled him so much. "Ah, Aulirios," he said, when Niklos was more than a blur. "My scribe tells me that you were impressed with the villa he showed you today." He indicated a wooden chair for Niklos as he waved his major domo away.

"I was. Your scribe told me the place has a sad reputation, and that is unfortunate," Niklos said smoothly, aware that for Olivia's purposes the state of the villa was to her advantage. "However, it is by far the most in accord with the demands of my mistress, and for that reason, I wish to discuss purchase with you."

"Just like that?" Doca Arrigo raised his tufted eyebrows.

"No questions, no assessments, you simply wish to discuss price?"

"In a word, yes," Niklos said as he tugged at his slitted short cote as he sat down. "If that is agreeable to you. That way, I can commence implementing my mistress' instructions in regard to putting the place in order to her liking, so that when she arrives, she will be able to live as she… ought."

"Commendable, I suppose," said Doca Arrigo. "She is in Tyre, still, your mistress?"

"Her last letter said she had not completed all her arrangements for departure." This careful answer was deliberately vague, and both men knew it.

"My son Egidio is with the Emperor. He took the Cross when the Emperor called for men. They left for the Holy Land not long ago." He sighed. "Egidio is twenty, and passionate in his love of God. I pray for him."

Niklos hesitated. "I will send word of this to my mistress, if it pleases you. It may be that the Crusaders will reach Tyre before my mistress leaves it." He hoped that this would not be the case, but dared not say so aloud.

"I have another son, of course- But Andrea is so young—only ten—and his sight is as afflicted already, as mine has become." He leaned back in his chair. "Enough of that. You say you intend to offer for the villa. It is called Sanza Pare, incidentally."

"I will inform my mistress." Niklos thought the name would amuse her, for Olivia herself was "without equal."

"How much of the holding is she planning to buy?" Doca Arrigo asked as he drew out a sheet of vellum.

"The entire holding, I should think," Niklos replied in his most pragmatic manner. "And of course, I will need to make arrangements for proper repairs and rebuilding."

"Naturally," said Doca Arrigo as his brows rose again, like two inquisitive caterpillars. "The purchase of so much land, and those buildings as well, will require… a goodly sum." He had taken a wax tablet from the drawer in his writing table, and with an iron stylus, he started to figure.

"You have in your care the funds Bondama Clemens authorized me to bring for such a purchase. I doubt the cost could exceed what I have with me." His manner was nonchalant, but his brown eyes with the faint ruddy tinge, were not.

"Oh, certainly, certainly," agreed Doca Arrigo. "More than enough. The jewels alone are sufficient to buy Sanza Pare twice over, but—" He stopped abruptly, cleared his throat, and put the wax tablet aside. "Look here, Aulirios, if the fortune you brought with you is the sum total of her wealth, then she would be better served if you purchased half the land, so that your mistress could establish an income before risking everything. These are uncertain times, and it may be that crops will fail, or there will be more… more disruption."

"The Emperor will come back from the Holy Land and make new demands on Roma? Is that what you fear?" Niklos asked, coming directly to the point.

"In part, yes," Doca Arrigo said uncomfortably. As an Emperor's man, he was not inclined to speak to Barbarossa's discredit.

"Is there concern that the death of Henry of England changes things?" Niklos inquired.

"The death of Kings always changes things," answered the Doca. "His heir is already causing difficulties." He shook his head.

"But that is for the future," Niklos said, his voice softer. "What is sure is the present." He blessed himself and watched while Doca Arrigo did the same. "And what is the price for Sanza Pare today?"

"The casket of jewels will pay for the estate and all the work you wish done on it." He set the stylus aside. "I will call an advocate to record this in the morning, and copies of the deed of sale will be carried to Roma."

"My mistress will be most grateful," said Niklos with a quick smile.

"It is to be hoped that she will be, for in these times, finding another suitable estate in the vicinity of Roma might not be possible for some time." His face grew drawn as he spoke and his forty-one years lay heavily on him.

Niklos rose in order to bow with full courtesy. "That will not be necessary," he said. "She will be pleased."

"I trust she will," Doca Arrigo said. "It is a great expense."

"My mistress has a personal fortune, one that has yet to be touched." He kissed the thumb of the Doca's hand. "It pleases her to know that you were concerned on her behalf."

Doca Arrigo shook his head. "It is a bad time to travel."

Niklos bowed again. "All the more reason for her to come home."

* * *

Text of a note from a Byzantine ship's captain to Ithuriel Dar.

To the master of the Ondas del' Albor, the master of the Illion sends his greetings and thanks, and informs him that if at any time he might be of service, he need only ask.

Your warning arrived in time, and because of the information you provided, we were able to arrive in Cyprus without another battle with those pirates who have become the bane of all voyagers. I have been told that they have collected more than forty ransoms in the last year alone, and I offer thanks to God and you for our deliverance.

While it is true that we are supposed to obtain permission for dealings with Jews, let alone Jews from Islamite kingdoms, still, the debt I owe you is greater than the laws of the state. If you had not warned us, I know that my cargo would be lost, my crew would be in slavery, and I would be held for ransom or dead. I am beholden for so much more than my own life and fortune that the requirements of my faith make it necessary that I pay no attention to the laws of my King. The laws of God are the first that any man must obey.

My ship is the support of my family and the families of nine other men. Had it been lost, all would have suffered greatly, and if ransom had been paid, then it would have reduced us all to penury. Your name will be remembered in the prayers of everyone you have spared through your timely warning.

It has been suggested that you learned of this because you occasionally resort to smuggling. I am certain that every cargo you carry is lawful. I will say so to any Court officer in any port of the sea. A man who is so honorable, who saves the lives and livelihoods of so many, must be within the law. That some of those laws are reserved to Christians is clearly a question of misinterpretation, and one that I will gladly aid in setting straight, should the occasion ever arise.

Never doubt that my aid and the aid of my family is yours from now until the grave.

Ezekias of the Illion

By the hand of the pope of Hagia Irene at the end of August in the 1189th year of Our Lord.

- 6 -

When the eunuch showed him to the larger reception room, Valence Rainaut was shocked by the luxury he saw around him. He had heard rumors about the wealth of the East, but he had never thought that a Roman widow could live in such splendor. He took a deep, slow breath; the room was perfumed, and for once, he felt uncomfortable in his Hospitaler's mantel. His own arms were embroidered on his surcote: or, an arm bent erased at the shoulder gules.

"Hospitaler?" spoke a voice from the inner door.

He turned, feeling like a child discovered in mischief. "Yes?"

Olivia, in a muted gold samite bliaud, her hair covered with a tissue veil of golden gauze, stepped into the room. "God give you good day, Bonsier," she said, her eyes fixed on his.

Rainaut could not bring himself to speak; he hardly moved. Then he recalled where he was and his errand, and he dropped to his knee and kissed her sleeve. "Tell me what I may do to serve you."

"First, you may get up," she said playfully. "There are chairs—choose whichever suits you." She sank onto her favorite Persian chair and waited while he tore his eyes away from her long enough to decide where to sit.

"Fraire Herchambaut came to—" he began, lost the line of his thought and had to start again. "Fraire Herchambaut said that you wish to leave Tyre, that you have prepared the documents for the Court of Bourgesses and the funda, and that you lack escort."

"Yes; I trust he explained the circumstances to you?" When he said nothing, she went on. "The Court of Bourgesses have approved my departure only when I can demonstrate suitable escort for myself and my household. Without that, I will not be given permission unless I leave everything behind and bribe a captain to carry me away from here."

Impulsively Rainaut leaned forward. "You would not do that? Bondama, give me your word that you would do nothing so reckless."

"Probably not," said Olivia after a little consideration. "But it grows increasingly tempting. I feel I am in prison here. Everything conspires to hold me within these walls, like a dungeon. While I agree that it is a pleasant prison as prisons go, it does not alter the fact that I am confined. With another Crusade upon us, I wish to be gone from here."

"It is understandable," said Rainaut, his voice as soft as music; he was startled.

"Fraire Herchambaut has told me that one of the Hospitalers might be spared for this task." She looked directly at him.

"Actually, Bondama, two of us are required for proper escort." He flushed without knowing why. "It may present a problem, since at present I cannot be spared, not any one of us can, let alone two of us. It is the Emperor, you see."

Olivia, did not understand why that should interfere, so she said, "Barbarossa. What about him?"

"His army is at the edges of Byzantine territory, and because of this, there has been a great increase in pilgrims, as the mission to free the Holy Sepulcher is renewed. Monks and pious leymen come overland and by ship, merchants strive to make arrangements in preparation for the Crusade, and so all the roads are crowded, and there are more ships of every kind on the seas. We haven't enough men here to accommodate all the demands being made. There are more Hospitalers coming, and once they arrive it might be—"

"Coming when?" Olivia interrupted.

"With my King, Richard of England."

"The one they call Coer de Leon," Olivia said, frowning. All she had ever heard of the man made him appear to be hotheaded and impetuous. "He has not been King long."

"Yes, that is true, but he is my liege, and he has sworn to join the Emperor on Crusade," said Rainaut, putting his hand over his blazon in homage. "He and Phillippe of France have declared themselves Crusaders."

"It is September," said Olivia. She brought her hands together as fists. "When do you think these Hospitalers will arrive? How much longer must I wait? When will I be able to leave?"

"Surely by the end of the year," said Rainaut, gazing at her, taking in the lines of her face and the promise of her body in her silken garments. She captivated him as no woman he had met before had, and her nearness was dizzying. He knew he would have to visit Joivita that night, or he would not sleep for desire.

"The end of the year," Olivia echoed. "It will then be more than a year since I made my plans. My major domo is already in Roma, finding a house for me and attending to my affairs there. You tell me I must wait."

"I will explain the urgency of your—" Rainaut said with feeling. He wanted to perform a service for her, to show his devotion and his honor. "I will speak on your behalf."

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