Crusader's Torch Page 13

"It would be if what we say is ever disputed by either you or me," Olivia contradicted him in as mild a tone as she could manage.

Fraire Herchambaut was growing distressed by this exchange and was about to stop it, when the scribe timorously made a suggestion.

"I could provide you with your own copy of what I have written, and you could sign each. I am certain the monk will be willing to determine the accuracy of the copies—"

"I read and write," said Olivia, not adding that she had more than twelve languages at her command. "That arrangement suits me very well." She looked back at Chartier, waiting for him to approve or disapprove of the recommendation.

"Very well, yes." He sighed. "Yes, I agree." He motioned toward his scribe. "I will want to read the two copies as well." He turned back toward Olivia. "Is that your only complaint about this proceeding?"

It was not, but Olivia saw the obstinate set of Chartier's mouth and decided to make the best of things. "The arrangements are acceptable," she said, not quite answering his question. "I wish to review my inventories with you, and determine when I am to be permitted to leave this place."

"It will be attended to," said Chartier with the appearance of boredom.

Olivia was no longer willing to go along with the delay and obfuscation. "When?" she challenged.

Chartier looked at her, mildly annoyed. "What concern is that of yours?"

"Good widow Clemens," Fraire Herchambaut said, in an attempt to divert her. "I pray you—"

"It is my concern," said Olivia, cutting off the monk and addressing the Bourgess with no trace of her earlier submissive attitude, "because it is my life. When I first requested permission to tender these forms, I was put off. When I asked for reasons, there were none. When I made a second petition through this good Cistercian, there were more delays, unconscionable delays. And now you cannot tell me when you will have the response from you Bourgesses. I find this inexcusable. I have been patient, I have complied in every particular with the requests made by the Court of Bourgesses, I have given documents to support every statement and claim. What more do you need of me? Do you require I die of old age?" She laughed harshly, as if in sudden grief.

"We will attend to it in good time," said Chartier with irate dignity. "You speak as if we have nothing better to do than to review the endless number of lists you have sent us."

"Lists you asked for," Olivia reminded him pointedly.

Chartier ignored this. "You come in here, bringing this monk and imposing on his good nature, and now you shout at me because you think it is inconvenient for you to wait a few days while we conclude the business we are chartered to do."

"If it were a few days, I would not be bothered," said Olivia emphatically. "It is almost a year, good Bourgess, since I first requested permission to leave Tyre. I explained then that I wished to be away from here in no more than three months, which was denied when seven months had gone by. I have arranged escort, as I have been told I must. I have submitted lists of those items I wish to sell, those I wish to donate, and those I intend—with your gracious permission, of course—to take with me. I have paid a shipowner for transportation. All that is left is for you to assess the taxes I must pay, and for the funda to accept those items I am selling. I am willing to leave the goods here and arrange for the payments to be sent later." She knew even as she spoke that if she did this, she would gain less than a third of what the goods had sold for, but that no longer mattered. "What possible reason can you have for denying me permission to leave?"

Chartier regarded her as if she had metamorphosed into an insect. "You are beyond your knowledge and authority," he said.

"If by that you mean I no longer comprehend the actions of the Court of Bourgesses, you're right, Bonsier Chartier," said Olivia with sarcastic politeness.

Fraire Herchambaut had come to Olivia's side and had taken her arm. "You are overwrought. You need time for prayer and reflection, and then you will wish to ask the pardon of this good Bourgess for the insult you have—"

Olivia rounded on him. "I am the one who is being insulted, not this insufferable sham of an official!" Her eyes were bright and her mouth almost square with rage. "If anyone has been insulted, I have been. Take your hands off my arm, good monk, or I will do you an injury." This last was spoken softly, but without gentleness. "Now."

Confused, Fraire Herchambaut stepped back, blessing himself as he did. "You are in error, Bondama, and will understand that presently."

"And this fellow?" Olivia demanded contemptuously as she pointed to Chartier. "What of him? What is his error that he cannot prepare three simple documents for one widow to leave this city? Or is it that this particular widow is wealthy, and there are those who want to wring every bit of gold and silver they can out of me? Is that it?"

"You're raving," said Chartier coldly, and reached for the bell that stood at the end of his writing table. "When you are cooler, Bondama, I will speak to your representative. Fraire Herchambaut or the Hospitaler will do. I will not permit you to enter my presence again." He rose as he said this last, ringing the bell as he did.

From his little table, the scribe looked up, white-faced, grateful to be regarded as invisible. He looked at the pages in front of him, at the point he had stopped copying what was said for fear of repercussions later. He moved closer to the wall.

The door opened and the guard with the maul entered the room with suspicious promptness. "Yes, Bourgess Char-tier."

"This woman is leaving now. The monk is to accompany her, because she is not responsible for herself." He held up both hands as Olivia started to speak. "No more. You have disrupted my work enough already."

Olivia took a deep breath and said quite steadily, "How strange, since you have accomplished so little." She turned abruptly and looked at the scribe. "I wish to watch you destroy whatever you have written. Immediately." Her stance was uncompromising and she folded her arms, her gaze fixed on the scrawled sheets before him. "There is a brazier near you. You may burn the sheets there."

"This is not proper," protested Chartier.

Fraire Herchambaut blessed himself again and said to Bourgess Chartier, "In this instance, given the heat in which you both have spoken, it is wisest."

"The monk's probably right," said the guard, giving Olivia his unexpected support. "It's what comes of trying to do business with women. Better to leave it to men, who understand it."

Olivia was tempted to rail at the guard, but her good sense told her that it would be useless. She lowered her head, telling herself that the interview would not be recorded to be used against her, and that given her difficulties, this was a reasonable compromise. Her face darkened, but she made herself say, "No doubt you are right. It was my impetuosity that drove me to this interview. But I am eager to be granted permission to leave."

"Yes," said the guard with sympathy. "For a widow, the talk of Crusades must be terrifying." He gave her an avuncular smile. "I tell you what, Bondama. I will have a word or two with the Court of Bourgesses when your representatives come again, and perhaps we can find a way to have you on your way in a month or two."

"A month or two?" Olivia repeated, trying not to let her outrage be too apparent. "Is that all?"

"It is possible," the guard said blithely, unconcerned with the disguised anger Olivia offered. "The Bourgesses are always much too busy, and they do not have enough help to work quickly, but still, I think two months may be—"

"Possible," Olivia finished for him. "I understand." She was relieved to leave the room. "I don't know what to say to you, Bonsier, for your help."

"It hardly warrants thanks," the guard replied, nodding in the direction of Fraire Herchambaut. "Give the monk a donation for me, and I will be well pleased." He indicated the galleried corridors of the funda. "This is the heart of the city, no matter what else you may hear, and everything passes through the funda, one way or another. That is why the Bourgesses are too busy and why you have not been granted permission to leave yet."

Olivia closed her eyes. "I wish I could…" Her tone changed as she began once more. "I wish I could persuade the Bourgesses that I have no wish to put them at a disadvantage, that I desire only to be allowed to leave without abandoning my house and goods here, in accordance with the laws that they have made. I don't want to… to cheat them."

"I'm sure that the Bourgesses know that," said Fraire Herchambaut before the guard could say anything.

"Perhaps," Olivia allowed sarcastically. "Come, good monk. I must ask you to help me to prepare yet another petition to present to the Bourgesses. I will see that you have a copy as well as Bonsier Dar and Sier Valence of the Hospitalers." She glanced at the guard to see if her intentions impressed him.

"An excellent plan," enthused Fraire Herchambaut. "Most excellent. I am convinced that this is the better way, for the Bourgesses will prefer to hear from your deputies rather than you yourself. It isn't seemly for you to press your own case."

"It isn't seemly," Olivia repeated. "There was a time, Fraire Herchambaut—it was a long time ago, but still—when no one would have thought it strange that I pursued my own interests for myself. There was a time when none of this endless circumlocution would have been warranted just because I am a widow."

Fraire Herchambaut chuckled indulgently. "What time was this, Bondama?"

"When the Caesars ruled in Roma, when—" She was about to say when I was young but stopped herself.

"Those are nothing more than legends. The Caesars were evil and Godless men who persecuted Christians." He folded his arms and tucked his hands into his sleeves. "If you have heard otherwise, it is nothing more than wild tales. After all, it has been said that the houses of the Romans were kept warm by hot floors. Warm floors!" he scoffed. "A foretaste of Hell, rather."

Olivia wanted to tell the Cistercian exactly how the Roman heating method worked, but knew there was no point. She needed this monk's help, not his censure. She loosened a corner of her veil and let the soft folds cover her face. "Fraire Herchambaut, I pray you come with me to my house. I need your guidance and assistance."

"Surely," said Fraire Herchambaut. "Your palinquin is over there, in the far corner of the courtyard." He pointed down to the ground level. "If we take that staircase…"

"Yes," said Olivia. She longed for the chance to move about the streets on her own. "My slaves are waiting."

"You do well by them," Fraire Herchambaut said as they made their way down the narrow, twisting staircase.

"Who?" asked Olivia, as she gathered more of the voluminous folds of the skirt of her bliaud into her hands so that she would not trip.

"Your slaves. You treat them very well, more as servants than slaves, in fact." He looked back over his shoulder at her. "Do you never think that your attitude is over-indulgent? Slaves that are permitted too much liberty become lax and corrupted."

"Really?" Olivia marveled. "And yet my father taught me that slaves were to be treated with respect, given all the rights to which they were entitled, and—" She saw that Fraire Herchambaut disapproved. "I honor what my father taught me," she said defiantly.

"As well you ought. It is fitting for you to honor your father, no matter how odd his instruction. But permit me to say that what you have told me indicates that your father lacked wisdom in the matter of slaves." They had reached the ground level; the noise was too intense to carry on conversation, so Fraire Herchambaut nodded toward Olivia's palinquin.

"Thank you, good Fraire," said Olivia, raising her voice to make herself heard.

Alfaze was the lead bearer, and he bowed to his mistress, the words he spoke lost in the babble around them. He lifted the curtain so that Olivia could take her seat in the palinquin, holding out his other hand to her for balance.

The streets were as noisy as the funda and only marginally less crowded. A caravan from Damascus had arrived at mid-morning, and the merchants were just completing their dealings with the customs officers of the funda; vendors of food and drink gathered near the funda, shouting out the prices and virtues of their goods. In addition to these, a group of thirty pilgrims—from Bohemia, by the look of them—were trying to reach the Court of Bourgesses before seeking the Hospitalers and a place to rest.

As she was carried away from the din, Olivia held her hands to her ears to shut out the sounds. Had the fora of Roma been this noisy? She could no longer remember. At least the Romans had bathed more often and had swept the streets frequently. Here in Tyre the smell of the place was as intrusive as its noise. No matter how long she lived here, or in what circumstances, it remained foreign to her, more foreign than Alexandria had been, or Fraxinetum, or Ortranto, or Tunis, or Phasis, or Constantinople, or any of the other far-flung places she had made her temporary home. Tyre had been a haven once, long ago, but that city had vanished as surely as if it had been covered over with desert sands. Now her house, Tyre itself, was a cage.

Prev Next
Romance | Vampires | Fantasy | Billionaire | Werewolves | Zombies