Crusader's Torch Page 12

"They say we came with the men of Charlemagne, and that we gave good service, and were rewarded. We have lived at Saint-Prosperus-lo-Boys for eleven generations, or so the records of the monastery show. God is good to us. In my generation, only one of us died in youth. Another two have died in battle, but still, there are seven of us, my father's children, alive and well." He blessed himself. "My father was a younger son, and my mother was his second wife."

"Then your lands have already been divided. It is difficult to cut up an estate into many pieces; younger sons fare badly. You have others to consider. No wonder you have come to the Hospitalers," said Olivia.

"It isn't quite so bleak. I have lands from my wife," said Rainaut, feeling his face grow hot.

"Then you are married?" Olivia said without surprise.

"I was. It was some time ago. My wife died less than a year after we… There was a fever, and she took it. Three of my cousins died of it as well." It seemed to Rainaut that his hands were shaking; he looked at them and was astonished to discover they were steady.

"That was unfortunate," said Olivia sincerely. How long ago it was that Sanct' Germain had warned her about the terrible brevity of the lives around her! And how keenly she sensed it now.

"It was nine years ago, and my wife was over thirty." He continued to stare at his hands, as if some reason might appear between his palms. "The physicians at the monastery said that at her age she…" He raised his head as Alfaze came into the room with a tray.

Olivia got to her feet and moved away from him. "I am sorry about your wife. It is… painful to lose those you love."

"It was not a question of love, Bondama," said Rainaut, the words soft, indistinct. "It was a good marriage."

"A good marriage." She waited, her hand raised so that Alfaze would not yet present the food.

"For both our families. And she was not displeasing to me. I have known others who fared less well than I did." He knotted his hands together. "We knew our duty."

"I see," said Olivia, thinking of her own long-ago marriage that was supposed to serve family expediency. She no longer shut the memories away, as she had done once, but she did not want to remember Justus while in Rainaut's company. "While you eat," she told him in a different voice, a trifle breathlessly, "I will find the records you will need for my departure."

"And Roma?" asked Rainaut, his attention divided between her and the lavish supper Alfaze had brought. Six different dishes were laid out on brass plates, and two different sorts of breads were wrapped in thick cloths. The meals served to Hospitalers were austerely simple; this assortment of exotic viands intrigued him. Little as he wanted to admit it, he was hungry.

"I will inform you as soon as I learn something. My major domo is authorized to purchase a house and lands for me." She hesitated, realizing she did not want to leave him. "Sier Valence?"

His blue eyes grew more intense as they met her hazel ones. "Yes, Bondama?"

"I thank you for… for coming to my aid." He was so tempting. It had been a long time since she had felt her special need become longing, and that alone confused her. If only she was intrigued, or only he, it would be so simple. She knew he would welcome her in what he would recall as a dream, for there was no mistaking his ardor. With a start she realized that for once that would not be sufficient for her; she would need more than his satisfied dream to fulfill her.

"What is it?" he asked, seeing some reflection of her thoughts in her eyes. He took a step toward her, then held off. "Bondama?"

Her smile faltered. "Nothing, Sier Valence. Nothing… important." She shook herself inwardly and went on in a brisker tone. "Enjoy your meal. I will return when you have done."

He indicated the meal with a sweep of his hand. "This is most gracious, Bondama. It is hardly necessary."

"It is hardly necessary that you appoint yourself my champion, but you have," she rallied. "The least I can do in return is… feed you." Before he could speak again, while she was able to ignore the implications in her own words, she turned away and left him alone with his meal and the turmoil of his thoughts, sensing that his were as distracted as her own.

* * *

Text of a letter from Arrigo Benammo di Cruceclare to the bishop at San Jacoppo degli Agnelli.

To the reverend Bishop Niccolo Sassi at San Jacoppo degli Agnelli, the Doca Arrigo Benammo di Cruceclare sends his greetings and requests that the bishop will be kind enough to record and keep this notification, and for that service and the honor of his family, the Doca sends six golden angels for the benefit of the work of the Duomo.

You are familiar with the extent and nature of the various holdings and estates of mine, and you have documents of title at your chapter house where such records are maintained. The accuracy and veracity of these documents are beyond question and are deemed correct in every particular. Therefore this letter will serve to be placed among them as legally binding on me and mine, as well as on the purchaser.

I have accepted payment from one Niklos Aulirios, a Greek bondsman who is major domo to the Roman widow Atta Olivia Clemens, for the purchase of the house, attendant buildings and lands of the estate known as Sanza Pare. You will find it among those lands obtained by me within my period of tenure as Doca. The full nature and extent of the sale accompanies this letter, as well as the current condition and state of Sanza Pare, the buildings and the lands. The price of sale is based upon the current agreed value of the estate with additional money for the requirements of the purchaser. Further, I have provided artisans and slaves for the renovation of said house, buildings and lands, against the arrival of the Bondama Clemens from Tyre, where she is currently living. This transaction is complete with the payment received, and no further claim from me or mine can be recognized as binding.

My assurance has been given to Niklos Aulirios that the funds given are sufficient for the work that has been ordered, and I relinquish all further claim to money for work being done providing that the terms laid out in the enclosed statements are not exceeded or altered. The instructions of Bondama Clemens have been copied and are appended here.

In case of dispute, I pray that you, good Bishop, will be willing to adjudicate the matter; I state now that I am willing to abide by any ruling you make at that time, and I further bind my heirs and their heirs to honor this condition. Should you not be available for such a decision, your successor is hereby deemed worthy to be your deputy in these dealings.

True copies of this letter, as well as all attendant documents, maps and renovation plans, notarized and under seal, are being sent to Roma, as were copies of the original terms of the negotiations that have led to this letter culminating the sale of the estate.

In the event that I or my heirs perish before the completion of the ordered renovation, those who inherit my position and title are strictly enjoined to uphold the conditions of the agreement and to honor the commitment made by me, both in regard to the sale of the estate and its renovation as outlined elsewhere. Any failure to do so forfeits at once the sum of three thousand golden marks to Niklos Aulirios and Bondama Clemens, should she be in residence at the time, as well as bearing a penalty of a thousand golden marks to be paid to the Church for the cost of the dispute.

May God show favor to you, reverend Bishop, and to all those who serve God at San Jacoppo degli Agnelli, and bring you to His rewards in Heaven. May He preserve the Pope and all the Princes of the Church who serve Him on earth. Praises to our Emperor Frederick and to the Empire God has been pleased to give to him. May long life and victory attend him, and may the triumph of the Emperor be the triumph of our faith as well.

Arrigo Benammo di Cruceclare, Doca

By the hand of my scribe Eugenius, endorsed by my sigil, verified and notarized by Fra Marius, and under my seal, on the Feast of Advent, in the 1189th year of Our Lord.

- 7 -

At the door to the room of the Bourgesses' Court in the funda there stood three armed men, two of them with swords, one with a maul. All wore light chain mail; their surcotes had the blue anchor badge of the city of Tyre. Inside this guarded door there were three separate chambers, one of them large, the other two smaller but as impressive.

It was in one of these two smaller rooms that Jaufre : Chartier waited for Olivia to arrive. He had passed most of the previous day reading over all the inventories and similar documents which had been presented to the funda by the French Hospitaler, Sier Valence Rainaut. Now the vellum sheets were laid out in three neat stacks, and Chartier tapped his fingers over them. Although it was not quite the hour for the widow's visit, he was impatient to have the entire interview over so that he could return to his business, which he treated as a sacred calling. Born at Sidon forty-five years before, he considered himself wholly and utterly French, as did the rest of his family.

His personal servant came into the chamber carrying a small writing table with vellum and ink laid out for recording all that was said during the interview. He bowed to Chartier and proceeded to trim quills. He knew better to address Chartier directly unless the Bourgess required it.

"This is an unnecessary procedure," Chartier remarked to the walls. "It is an intrusion." He drummed his fingers more loudly. "Why did that Hospitaler insist?"

The servant said nothing, knowing that he was expected to remain silent. He kept busy at his task.

"What prompted her to involve the Hospitalers?" Chartier said, then slapped the high table where he sat.

From another part of the funda came the sound of a bell, two crisp notes that were selected more for their carrying quality than their beauty. There were clamors of opening and closing doors, and a loud cry from the direction of the customs rooms at the other end of the building.

"She's late, as well," grumbled Chartier.

There was a sharp rap on the door, and the guard with the maul stepped through the door. He bowed, his mail creaking and jingling. "May I admit the Widow Clemens?" he asked without a trace of inflection.

"Certainly, certainly," said Chartier in a weary voice. "We might as well settle things."

The guard stood aside. "You are admitted to the presence of the Bourgess Chartier."

The first person to enter the room was not Olivia, but Fraire Herchambaut, who bowed to the Bourgess and stood aside for his companion. "May God give you good day and wise counsel," he said as he motioned Olivia to join him. "Bonsier Bourgess Chartier, I have the honor to make the Widow Atta Olivia Clemens known to you." His strict and courtly formality was at odds with his unwashed habit and unkempt appearance; he treated Bourgess Chartier with respect usually accorded to a noble.

"Yes; get on with it, get on with it," said Chartier impatiently.

Olivia had dressed more circumspectly than usual; her bliaud was of simple linen dyed to the color of slate. Her hair was covered by a veil that was secured by a widow's black wreath. Her only jewelry was a bracelet of silver set with rubies, which was a keepsake from her oldest and most treasured friend. She showed courtesy to Bourgess Chartier before she approached his writing bench. "May God grant you favor," she said when she was sure she had Chartier's attention.

"And you, and you," Chartier said, casting a single, wrathful glance at Fraire Herchambaut. "I suppose you believe that we have been lax here at the funda in dealing with your petition."

"Not precisely," Olivia said, thinking that they had been a great deal worse than lax, but in such a manner that Chartier could misunderstand if he wished.

"Well, there are extenuating circumstances. These are not ordinary times, are they?" His expression dared her to contradict him.

"That is why I wish to leave Tyre," Olivia responded, refusing to be goaded into sharp speech. She looked toward the small table where the servant was busy scribbling. "What is that fellow doing?" she asked innocently.

"He is making a record of our conversation," was Chartier's curt answer. "He is required to do this."

"Is he in the employ of the funda, or is he your servant?" Olivia asked with deceptive naivete.

"My servant, of course," snapped Chartier, caught off-guard by her inquiry. "All Bourgesses of the Court must employ such a servant."

"Why does the funda not provide such scribes?" asked Olivia, not willing to let the circumstances go unremarked. "Why employ a man who must show favor to his master, when the funda could provide scribes who were much harder to influence?"

Chartier glowered, looking in the space between Olivia and Fraire Herchambaut. "That is a matter for the Court to discuss, if ever it is thought necessary. Each Bourgess of the Court is expected to provide his scribe a living, and for that reason—" He stopped. "This is not to the point."

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