Crusader's Torch Page 20

"Do you mean that?" Rainaut paused in the act of shaking out his cotehardie. His own arms were embroidered on the pectoral; his Hospitaler's badge adorned the sleeves. "About dying?"

"Certainly. If we must die passing between Heaven and Hell, then to die crushed in rosepetals… well, why not?" She let a handful of the petals fall over her face. "It isn't so unpleasant. Better than a sword-thrust, or the rack, or hanging in chains, certainly."

"Hanging in chains! What thoughts for a beautiful woman," Rainaut said as he reached for his belt.

She shrugged. "When I am left to myself I think of death. The troubadors call death the one faithful lover, and we all embrace him in time. If that is a sin, so be it." She rolled onto her side and braced herself on her elbow. "Do you leave me now?"

"I must, Bondama." He gave her the undeserved title out of habit, though now it grated more than it had a month ago. 'Bondama' for a woman like Joivita cheapened the word, so that Rainaut did not want to use it for Olivia once he had given it to Joivita.

"Go, then." She turned away from him and would not respond to him again, though he touched her shoulder and bade her good fortune. When he was gone, she rid her sheets of rosepetals in two angry sweeps of her arms.

Rainaut knew that Joivita was angry; he could not dispute the justice of her anger, nor could he find a way to lessen it. He stood outside the gate to her house until he heard the slave fix the bolt into place, then he made his way toward the chapel of the Hospitalers, walking quickly in spite of the engulfing heat of the night.

"Sier Valence Rainaut, of Saint-Prosperus-lo-Boys," called a voice from the darkness as Rainaut turned a corner at the edge of the Islamic quarter of the town, near the Jerusalem Gate.

Rainaut stopped, his hand dropping automatically to the hilt of his sword, first and third fingers hooked around the quillons. "Who calls me?"

There was a chuckle in the shadows, and then a man in the cote of the Templars strode into the moonlight. "I do. I have been at pains to learn about you since we met, Hospitaler."

"Why?" demanded Rainaut, staring at the Templar, trying to discover what about the man was familiar.

"Because you bested me once, and I do not permit such things to go unmarked." He came nearer, and Rainaut realized that this must be the Spanish Templar he had encountered his first day in Tyre. "I have a score to settle with you, Hospitaler."

"Not in honor," Rainaut said bluntly. "Alone, here? What true knight would do that?"

"Not all Templars are true knights, are they?" He strolled around Rainaut, his spurs ringing on the flagged street.

"If you care to speak of it." Rainaut gave a hitch to his shoulders that would have been a shrug if he had been relaxed.

The Spanish Templar barked a laugh. "Still, you are in the right: not here and not now, certainly. Your honor would not permit it. You wear no mail, there are no officers to observe, and we are both of knightly Orders, and so we are enjoined to fight only the enemies of God." He came a little nearer. "I am watching you, Hospitaler. I know what you do. I know you. I am watching everything you do, and when I have the means to bring you down, you may be sure I will."

"And who is my Nemesis? Or do you intend to act entirely in secret, with no name to disgrace?" In spite of the Templar's assurances that they would not fight, Rainaut kept his hand at the ready on his sword.

"Think of me as the Avenging Angel. I am Ruiz Ferran Iñigo Foxa. My father has lands near Burgos." He came within an arm's-length of Rainaut and stopped. "You will fall, and I will bring you down."

"Because of a street fight?" Rainaut asked with disbelief. "Because of a dispute between merchants?"

"Because we did not settle it," Foxa hissed.

"But there is nothing to settle," Rainaut protested, amazed at the fury he saw in Foxa's eyes. "At the most it is a misunderstanding, and for that I ask pardon in Christian brotherhood." As he faced the Templar, he grew cold in anticipation of battle, and hated himself for his weakness.

"Pardon? When you have offended me? You may be content, Sier Valence, but I am not," Foxa corrected Rainaut harshly. "But that will not last." He spat at Rainaut's feet, then turned abruptly and strode away into the night.

* * *

Text of a formal commendation from the Court of Bourgesses at Tyre addressed to the Knights Hospitaler, the Knights Templar, and Atta Olivia Clemens.

Let it be known by all those in the city of Tyre that we of the Court of Bourgesses agree, all and singly, that the charitable acts of Bondama Clemens in caring for Fraire Herchambaut in his illness and in paying for his burial upon his death have been noted and are held to be of singular importance to this city, for which reason we have caused these notifications to be made, and her name to be added to those of the civic Mass each morning.

Due to the continued petition of Bondama Clemens for permission to leave Tyre for Roma, the Court of Bourgesses has convened to decide what might be done to expedite this unfortunate tangle. The appropriate tariffs have been paid, the donations recorded and the customs records amended, which leaves only the arrangements for departure. The Court of Bourgesses, aware that most ships are being contracted for use of the armies of the Crusaders, may not be able to supply the requested transport that would carry Bondama Clemens to her chosen destination. We have statements from her bondsman and from a shipowner affirming that it is possible to carry her back to Italy. However, since the ship in question has been requisitioned by Crusaders, it is not possible for the ship to be used by Bondama Clemens at this time.

In lieu of such transport, we are issuing a safe passage to Bondama Clemens and her escort to go to Sidon and from there to Cyprus or Rhodes, whichever is the most appropriate once she has reached Sidon. The payments of tariffs will be appended to the safe passage; if further payments are demanded, they are to be assessed against the amounts already paid, and any adjustments will be adjudicated by this Court of Bourgesses once Bondama Clemens presents her complaint, or her duly authorized representative does so in her stead.

It is a sad day for this city when so worthy a widow as Bondama Clemens leaves it, but we cannot place our need over her desire to return to the estates of her husband. The selfless service that was rendered to the Cistercian Fraire Herchambaut commends her to us as well as to Heaven, and we are less than good Christians if we do not honor her petition and grant her requests with all reasonable dispatch. Although it is unusual, we waive the second appearance before this Court required of those Christian citizens who have been residents here and are now leaving Tyre. We also waive the presentation of the travel itinerary, for given the current circumstances, it is not possible for Bondama Clemens to offer such information, and it is not fitting that she should endure a protracted delay. For her generous act, we of the Court of Bourgesses allow her to travel without further hindrance. Our prayers go with her, and we ask Heaven to send her a safe journey.

For the Court of Bourgesses

Jaufre Ivo Chartier

Bourgess of Tyre

By the hand of the scribe Norbert, on the 11th day of June, in the Year of Our Lord 1190, affixed with Chartier's seal.

- 11 -

"If only Barbarossa hadn't drowned," Olivia said to Rainaut as they strolled in her garden. She was dressed in the lightest silk bliaud with huge, square barbaresque sleeves that reached the ground. "I might have had a chance to get away from here before winter. As it is—"

"As it is," Rainaut said for her, "you are well-advised to let us escort you to Sidon, and there, since you will have status as a traveler—"

"Assuming that the Court of Bourgesses honors the safe passage, and that there will be housing, because of all the pilgrims," she interjected quietly.

He chose to ignore her objections. "—it will not be as difficult to arrange passage for Roma. Away from here." The last was hard to say, and he stared down at his hands as he spoke.

"You will escort me there? To Roma?" She had stopped by a bank of Nile lilies. "Have you asked for permission? Sier Valence?"

"I… I am permitted to escort you as far as Rhodes or Cyprus. Beyond that, there must be other… arrangements." He would not look at her; his eyes moved from his hands to the flowers. "Bondama, it is an honor to escort you, though it be only as far as the Jerusalem Gate." He was relieved when two little finches flew over them, making high piping notes as they went.

Olivia sighed. "All right, I will not press you."

"You… you do not press me," he said, not wholly accurately. "I am not able to be pressed. I am bound by the rules of my Order, and they are strict." There was a kind of consolation in his admission, though it left him feeling like a recalcitrant child.

"Still," she said distantly, then made a quick gesture as if to shut her thoughts away. "It was not my intention to press you."

He bowed. "I would know I would fail to resist you if you pressed—you pressed the Court of Bourgesses until they capitulated, no easy accomplishment."

"It took the death of that poor monk to get the Court of Bourgesses to help me," she said. "I am sorry that his suffering was needed in order for me to leave." It was late in the day but the heat rose from the walls, shimmering, and the splash of the fountain gave little relief.

"It is not your fault he became ill. That he died in comfort and with care is to your credit." Rainaut tried to keep from looking at her; with the strength of a magnet turning north he found her eyes. "Olivia."

She smiled fleetingly. "Valence."

"I must not…" He ought to bow to her and leave, he ought to go to his confessor at once, he ought to insist that she find another Hospitaler to escort her.

"What is it?" she asked gently, reading trouble in his face. "Tell me?"

He shook his head. "You do not understand."

"About what?" she asked when he fell silent. "What is it, Sier Valence?"

That little formality was enough. "You know." He held her gaze. "It will be difficult to travel with you, Bondama."

"Only because you will have it so," she reminded him. "You wish our travel to be difficult, then it will be." The tension between them had been increasing steadily since they first met. Now it was a force that gave weight to every word they spoke, made each glance significant. "Do you seek—"

He held up his hand. "No. Nothing more."

"Why?" she inquired, catching his hand in hers. "Why, Valence? I am a widow, you are a widower, neither of us is promised—"

"I am a Hospitaler. I have given my word to God that—" He tried to pull his hand away without success.

"But you spend nights with a courtesan, and confess the sin," she said reasonably. "I would not turn you away, if you came to me." The wistful note in her voice was more surprising to her than to him.

"No." This time he pulled free of her. "It is one thing to succumb to lust, for men are lustful creatures. We are made in sin, and sin is with us always. God knows that sin and how men are; devotion is never in question when it is lust we sate." He pressed the hand she had held to his chest as he spoke, feeling the beat of his heart beneath it.

"What is the difference?" she asked, knowing full well what it was.

"I do not lust for you—or rather, I do, but for love." His face reddened, but for the burn-like patch on the side of his jaw, which remained pale.

"Lust is permissible and love is not?" she wondered aloud, not quite teasing him. "Valence, how does that make sense?"

More than a dozen angry answers buzzed in his thoughts, but he spoke none of them, realizing that none of them were more than excuses. "You have the opportunity to leave," he said, his determination giving his voice a hardness it had lacked before. "Even though Barbarossa is dead—"

"And half of his men are no doubt robbing the other half and any traveler they find," Olivia interjected, starting to walk once more.

"They are sworn knights—" Rainaut protested.

"All the more reason to worry; they're skilled fighters, and they came here for plunder." She saw the shock in his face. "Don't pretend otherwise, Valence. For every true Christian seeking salvation, there are a dozen soldiers hungering for battle and glory."

"Some Crusaders are not… devout," he allowed as he came after her.

"Some Crusaders are worse than the Islamites," she said roundly. "But you're probably right. Travel will be more difficult with Barbarossa dead. Once the word reaches Europe, every King and Prince will scramble for the chance to assume the leadership of the Crusade." She bent over the five-petaled roses and plucked one for him.

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