Crusader's Torch Page 14

"Bondama," said Fraire Herchambaut as he hurried along beside Her palinquin. "Who among the Hospitalers has offered to escort you to Roma?"

"A French knight, vassal of England: Sier Valence Rainaut. He has already spoken to the Bourgesses." Her own mention of Rainaut's name brought a strange longing to her, still unexpected in its intensity. At another time she might have sighed; now she discovered she was repeating his name over and over in her thoughts, like a prayer.

"I will find him," said Fraire Herchambaut. "The Court of Bourgesses are not entitled to delay your permission to leave unreasonably unless they have reason to suspect you are a criminal or owe monies in Tyre."

"I owe no money," said Olivia stiffly. "That has been made plain more times than I care to discuss."

Fraire Herchambaut did not find it easy to match the pace of the bearers and talk at the same time. "Bondama… I think it would… be best if you do not… press the matter."

"Why?" Olivia asked with deliberate bluntness.

"Because it is not becoming… for women to act so. You… are not the Queen of England… you are not… free to pretend to rule the world." He was panting heavily now, and Olivia took mercy on him.

"Alfaze, slow down a trifle," she shouted, and felt her bearers drop back to a walk. "As I recall," she went on to Fraire Herchambaut, "she was confined by her husband for some time. That is hardly ruling the world."

"Only because she had consistently tried to usurp his authority," said Fraire Herchambaut, less breathlessly than before. "Had she kept to her proper role in life, Henry would not have confined her. She gave favor to one of her sons and made no effort to aid her husband in his work. It was Richard who had her loyalty then, not Henry. Now that her son is King, she is showing again that she is unwilling to accept the place in life assigned her by God."

"Reis Richard," said Olivia, giving the King his preferred French title, "has made it apparent that he depends on his mother. That is what the rumors say."

"It is fitting that a son honor his mother," said Fraire Herchambaut, his voice carrying better now that they had turned off the main thoroughfare. "It is good that a King show favor to those who bore him. But… Richard is…" His voice trailed off.

"Yes," said Olivia dryly, "I have heard such rumors, too."

Fraire Herchambaut did his best to recover his composure. "It is only rumor, and therefore suspect. Foolish and malicious people will say anything about a King."

"Including that he has an aversion to women and a hankering for men?" Olivia asked with feigned innocence. "A strange rumor to spread, I would have thought, when there are others that might be more—"

"King Richard is about to be married," said Fraire Herchambaut baldly. "The arrangements are being made. Rumors of this sort and at so critical a time are worse than most others might be." He moved toward the rear of the palinquin as they neared Olivia's house. "I do not want to hear such scandalous allegations repeated," he said in a loud voice which carried to several others in the street and caused a brief fuss.

"If even part of it is true, I should think that his prospective bride would want to know of it," said Olivia, much more to herself than to Fraire Herchambaut. "If these rumors are heard in Tyre, what are they saying in England and France, I wonder?"

"What?" shouted Fraire Herchambaut as the door to Olivia's house was opened for them.

"Nothing," Olivia yelled back. "Nothing at all."

Then the door closed behind them and the palinquin was set down now that Olivia was once again safely inside.

"Gracious mistress," said Alfaze as he opened the curtains for her. He held out his hand in case she wanted to steady herself.

Olivia stared at the walls surrounding her and shuddered.

* * *

Text of a letter from Niklos Aulirios to Atta Olivia Clemens.

To his much-missed bond-holder, Niklos sends greetings from her house Sanza Pare in Roma.

First, you will receive a shipment of six barrels of Roman earth with this letter; you indicated that your supply was getting low. You have risks enough already without that hazard, and with Barbarossa so determined to reclaim Jerusalem, who knows what will happen in Tyre? Since there was no difficulty in getting the earth—especially with all the repairs at Sanza Pare—I have sent more than you requested, and I hope they serve your purpose. If you think I have done more than you required, consider my reasons, Olivia.

Every day there are rumors, and each of them is more ferocious than the last. Judging from what you hear in the market, the entire world of Islam is about to be eradicated by the pure vengeance of Christian knights for the intolerable insult done to the Holy Sepulcher. The people of Roma are in the mood for blood again, and they are no longer content to see it spilled in the arena. For that reason alone, I am horrified to learn of the continued and senseless delays which plague you. What do the Bourgesses want—a writ from one of the Kings? Or an endorsement from the Pope? Perhaps a command from the Emperor demanding your presence in his Italian territories? The New Year has already come, and you are yet in Tyre. Who would have thought it would take so long? I have asked Doca Arrigo Benammo di Cruceclare to send a copy of the deed of sale of Sanza Pare to the Court of Bourgesses, in case they are unconvinced that you have the land in question.

On a different note: the repairs to the main house of Sanza Pare are more than half completed. The place has a much different aspect now, not so abandoned and bare. I have requested that all the rooms be painted and that there be frescos in the major rooms, with the exception of the kitchen, of course. I have discovered four gifted artisans who have done such work before. I asked more than ten of them to give me sketches; the four are the best of the lot. They have agreed to begin work in the spring, and all of them will stay at Sanza Pare until their frescos are complete. The monies required are on deposit and all the artisans have seen the pouches sealed. As you instructed, each of them has been told to examine the mosaics left in the two ancient villas nearby. Whether or not they are able to capture the flavor of those scenes will be discovered when their works are complete.

And speaking of that, I have found two apprentice stonemasons who are willing to do the mosaic inlays for the floors in the rooms you have requested. I have also ordered the marble you wanted from the quarries in the north. I have seen samples of a rose marble, and one of pale green, and both are appropriate to your house, I am sure. I have already specified the rose-veined marble for your private baths. Incidentally, I have not mentioned the installation of the baths to any of the monks and priests hereabouts—they do not approve of bathing, and I do not want them curious about you.

I have used your authorization to sell off part of the stock at your stud farm near Canossa, and have an accounting waiting for you. The sum realized will more than cover the remaining work to be done here, and will also satisfy the requirements of di Cruceclare, who has been worried about increasing costs and the wages being paid. He informed me he had not expected you to use so little slave labor. Since the money is held by him in your name, he is more cooperative. I still have the authorizations for the canvas-makers in Ostia and the goldsmith in Verona, in case there should be reason to convert more of your holdings to ready gold. Also, there are the shares in the boat-building partnership on Sardinia, but I doubt this is a good time to sell those shares, either politically or financially. Once this latest Crusade is at its height, there will be a chance for profit and you may want to be out of the whirlpool.

If you wish, I can make arrangements with Ithuriel Dar to bring you here, and we can try to straighten out the rest of the confusion with Tyre at another time. Dar is willing to do this—in fact, I think he would enjoy it—but I realize how little you want to leave behind everything you own. Knowing you as well as I do, I suspect that part of the trouble by now is that you are in no mood to give up anything to the Court of Bourgesses. However, if you decide that you are too much at hazard there, you have only to tell me and I will make arrangements with Dar at once. I urge you, Olivia, to consider Dar's offer, for with the new Crusade, Tyre could become a slaughterhouse and even you are not immune to cold steel.

The winter so far has been a stormy one, and I have seen more heavy rain here than any time during our last prolonged stay in the Roman environs. Word has it that many of the smaller ships are not leaving port for fear of the storms, but most of the larger ships are setting out in greater numbers now that the chivalry of Europe is venturing to the Holy Land.

While we are on that subject, let me recommend to you that you accept that Venetian merchant's offer and buy into the dyes-and-spice business. I know you are wary of Venezia. The city cannot help it, Olivia, if it had the ill-grace to be founded after the end of the Western Empire. Not all cities in Europe have links to old Roma. Venezian or not, this merchant clearly needs more funding if he is to be able to expand his enterprise, and you will earn a good return on your silver. From what I have seen, the only worthwhile legacy of the first two Crusades has been a hunger for spices and for bright clothes and fine fabrics. Those two tastes will not be easily sated now, no matter who rules in Jerusalem.

Have a care, Olivia. You say you are not in danger, and that may be so, but you know as well as I do that Tyre is no longer a safe place for you or anyone. I hope you will be here by the Spring Passion; I will do all that I can to ensure it. In the meantime, know that my thoughts and good wishes are with you and that I miss you as I would miss my arm if it were struck off.

Niklos Aulirios

By my own hand the day before Epiphany in the 1190th Christian Year.

- 8 -

Her voice was still low and breathless, but the softness of a moment before was gone. "What did you call me?" Joivita demanded as she started to shove her lover off her.

Rainaut blinked, puzzled by her sudden change. "I… I said nothing," he told her, worried that perhaps she was right and he had let slip the name of the woman he saw in his mind as he possessed himself of Joivita's body.

"You said a name. It wasn't mine." She glared at him, her delicate vixen's face no longer tempting.

"I… I might have said… my wife's name." He knew it was not so, that her memory was as far from his mind as Joivita was, but any other admission would lead to more ire than she was showing now.

"Your wife?" Joivita asked sarcastically. "This is news."

"She's dead," Rainaut said quietly without mentioning how long ago she had died. He could feel his flesh change, his need growing as his organ shrunk.

"How unfortunate," Joivita sulked, showing no trace of sympathy.

"It was God's Will," said Rainaut, guilt making the words difficult to speak. He had no right to the sweet images that had haunted him only moments ago. He dishonored himself to use his wife's memory as a mask for his lust; he would have to confess it. If only he felt remorse instead of guilt!

"And you, a good Hospitaler, never question God's Will," said Joivita as she pulled her saffron-scented sheet up under her chin. She shook out the tousle of her hair in provocative defiance. "And when you're with your mistress, you think of your dead wife. What virtue! How devoted you are."

"I don't always think of my dead wife when I am with you," said Rainaut, not quite coaxing her. "Most of the time you fill my thoughts."

"But tonight I reminded you of your dead wife," she pursued relentlessly. "Grand mercie, Sier Valence." She made a movement like a courtsy, pulling the sheet aside to reveal most of her thighs. "What is it proper for a dead wife to offer her husband? Or do those in Heaven—you assume she is in Heaven, don't you?—offer bodies as a sign of respect and honor? Perhaps they only do such in Hell."

"Is that what you will give me now?" Rainaut asked, doing his best not to sound impatient or to goad her to more outrage. Out of his own guilty misery, he wanted to throttle Joivita for what she forced him to see. And how dared she calumniate his wife's memory: what a dreadful time for the little whore to take on airs! It would not do for Joivita to know how much she had upset him. He leaned back against the mass of pillows. "Since you are clearly insulted, though such insult was not my intent, will you accept my apology and forgive me?" It was a speech that might have been found in a troubador's tale, yet he said it as sincerely as he could.

"I am not a dead woman and I am not a priest," she said primly. "Though it appears you confuse me with both."

"Joivita—" He started to reach out for the curves her body made in the sheets.

She slapped his hand. "No. You treat me as if I am a common street woman, and I am not. If all you want is a way to remember your wife, find another." As she folded her arms, her breasts rose under the thin cotton. "You are no gentleman, Sier Valence, if you treat me thus."

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