Crusader's Torch Page 22

He opened the door himself, not waiting for Olivia or one of her slaves to do it for him. "I will return soon."

"As you wish," said Olivia, the wistfulness coming back into her face.

His eyes were like blue sparks. "If things were otherwise, Bondama—"

"Ah, yes, if things were otherwise," she said, crossing the vestibule to close the door.

* * *

Text of a letter from Fealatie Bueveld to the Abbot of Sante-Estien-in-Gorze.

To the Most Reverend Abbot, my strength and intercessor, I write to you from Antioch, where I and my men-at-arms are currently staying, waiting upon the decision of several of the authorities to continue the pilgrimage you have mandated for me.

For the last month there have been Masses every morning for the repose of the soul of the Emperor Frederick, who drowned on June 10th. So great a leader was he that his men are now in great disorder and it is said everywhere that no one will be able to take his place before the troops disperse and the Holy Sepulcher is lost forever to the Islamites.

Those who came with the Emperor have confessed they are at a loss without their great leader; they will not ally themselves with the Templars or the Hospitalers, for they do not wish to bind themselves for life or to bring possible conflicts of loyalties to their souls. So they wait, those that are not too afraid, for the decision of who is to lead them now. Some have already left the Holy Land, some have formed themselves into bands and have offered themselves under contract to various Christian Courts in this place.

We have had to remain where we are, my men-at-arms and I, because it is not possible to obtain permission to travel from the Court of Bourgesses here, which we must have if we expect to have protection and Christian hospitality on our journey. Of late there have been robbers and other brigands who have posed as Christian knights who have used their hosts badly, so without the proper permission, we would be counting ourselves among those numbers, so far as the Christians here are concerned. This land is too harsh for anyone to travel without the possibility of finding hospitality in the course of a journey.

The Holy Land is forbidding in its beauty. Nothing in Franconia can compare with it, and nothing in France. Here there is desert that stretches for farther than the German forests, and is nothing but sand and rock, and so hot that the rocks sing with it. The winds that come out of that furnace sting like a lash, and they scour the life from the land. Where there are wells—and there are very few wells—they are guarded and treasured more than gold and jewels. If this is the desert Our Lord fasted in, no wonder Satan came to Him, out of the inferno of the sands. What is wonderful is that in this trackless desolation, the words of Satan could make no impact on the Christ. That alone is proof of the deity of Jesus, for any mortal, offered the joys and bounty of the world in this place, would hardly be able to resist so desirable a reward.

You said when I departed that you would remember me in your prayers. For this I am especially grateful now, for our trials are greater than before. With each new hindrance or setback, I offer up my sins, praying that God will aid me. I pray, also, that my husband will forgive me; I never intended to dishonor him or his House; had I been told of his obligation to the Comes, I would have proceeded differently. All that is in the past, and if my pilgrimage is expiation enough, in time my husband may be willing to speak with me again, and give me the shelter of his House once more. If he cannot, I will seek your advice for what to do next, for I will be without recourse then.

It was not my intention to dwell on the past. I am not inclined to such useless thoughts, but there are occasions when I find my memories pile in on me, and then I feel I am in a world haunted by ghosts of what is past. Then I beseech the Virgin to come to my assistance, to cleanse my thoughts from such useless folly, and to direct me to the hope of Heaven. In this strange and harsh land, I know that I am at the mercy of God more than those who have remained safe in the fields and forests of home.

For your prayers, your intercessions and your great justice, I thank you once more, and thank God for sending you to me when my need was so great. This pilgrimage in penance for my sins is less of a burden than life in an oublette would have been. With the charity of Heaven, my husband will no longer wish to confine me in such a cell when I have come back from Jerusalem.

Fealatie Bueveld

Chatelaine of Gui de Fraizmarch

By my own hand and under the seal of the Castel Fraizmarch, on the last day of August, in the Lord's Year 1190; carried by a messenger of the Knights Templar.

- 12 -

Over Rainaut's strenuous objections, Olivia donned the enveloping mantel worn by Bourgesses and rode most of the way between Tyre and Sidon, helping to lead the seven mules, two harnessed to an enclosed wagon, that carried her possessions which had not been shipped to Roma, as well as her single body-slave who clung miserably to an old-fashioned saddle.

"It isn't seemly," Rainaut repeated as they drew within sight of the walls of Sidon. "You are a well-born lady, and for you to risk—It is bad enough that you have traveled the road this way, even with our escort, but to enter the city in such outrageous garments—"

Olivia looked from him to his companion, Aueric de Jountuil. "Sier Aueric, am I as shameless as Sier Valence says?"

"You are certainly unorthodox," de Jountuil said with his usual good-natured cynicism. "Rainaut is right. If you were discovered, it would be awkward. The laws are strict here and we are bound to obey them. Sidon is more Islamite than Christian."

"They would not tolerate this display," Rainaut insisted. "It is forbidden for their women to behave this way. It ought to be forbidden for Christian women as well. You might be imprisoned or… or worse." The black Maltese cross on his mantel was so dusty that it appeared to be gray. His face was grimy, bits of sand clinging to his beard stubble. "Bondama Clemens, please, for your sake if not ours, let your slave help you put on proper women's garments so that you will not be subjected to—"

"To being looked at," Olivia supplied for him. "Gracious, yes, who knows what dangers there might be in a single look." She met his gaze with irritation. "If that is what you wish, then I suppose I must do it, or lose your escort."

"It's not that drastic," de Jountuil said when Rainaut had not been able to answer her.

"Isn't it?" Olivia did not expect an answer. "Very well. It's maddening, all these restrictions. You're probably being more sensible than I am, so I will do as you wish." She indicated the empty track. "I suppose this is as good a place as any we will find. I will have Iyaffa help me change in it while you harness two fresh mules." She swung expertly out of the saddle, and handed the reins up to Rainaut. "Be good to him, he's the strongest of my horses," she reminded Rainaut.

"Another one of those bastard crosses, I suppose; part knight's horse and part desert pony, by the look of him," de Jountuil said, inspecting the bay more openly than he had before. "Rainaut told me you used to breed horses."

"I have, in the past," Olivia said, patting her bay gelding. "He's a little like some of the old Roman cavalry horses."

"Cavalry horses!" scoffed de Jountuil. "I wouldn't think he'd be much use for that. Not strong enough to carry an armed knight."

"True," she agreed. "But he was not intended to carry an armed knight; only me," Olivia went on sweetly as the two knights dismounted. She was already loosening her mantel, feeling the scrape of sand against her skin. "Tell me when you are ready." She moved a little away from the Hospitalers as they set to work on their task while Iyaffa watched from her place on the second mule; she strode out on a low promontory and squinted against the afternoon sun toward the west and the sea. The walls of Sidon rose up at the water's edge, with a cliff to guard them.

"Have you been to Sidon before?" Rainaut called to her as he helped de Jountuil wrestle with the disassembled wagon.

"No, not recently," she replied. Four hundred years had gone by since she had stayed in that city. It was somewhat larger now, and the harbor was improved, but it was still much smaller than Tyre, and it wore more battle scars. Olivia stared down at the harbor, at the rusting chain that was raised at the mouth of the harbor every night to keep out spies and pirates, at the three quays where the bustle was greatest.

"We're almost ready. There is no one near us on the road," Rainaut informed her, coming to her side. "I know you prefer riding, but truly, Bondama, you must not enter Sidon that way."

"I suppose you're right," she said, retracing her steps to where the young body-slave stood beside the curtained wagon, folded garments the same color as a freshly-sliced peach piled in her arms. "I will need my combs, too, Iyaffa."

The slave bowed stiffly, her careful movements revealing how sore her muscles were from the hours riding. "I have perfumes as well, mistress."

"Fine," said Olivia resignedly as she got into the wagon and drew the curtains closed behind her and Iyaffa.

"I will take your mantel, mistress," said Iyaffa as Olivia struggled to get out of the garment; the wagon was small and offered little room for changing.

"In a moment," said Olivia as she unfastened the brooch that held the garment to the shoulder of her short cote. "There. Put that aside and take hold of the top of the sleeves."

Iyaffa did as she was told. As Olivia wriggled out of the cote, Iyaffa properly averted her eyes. "I do not mean to offend, mistress."

"You don't offend me," Olivia assured her. "The precautions I have to take infuriate me, but that's another matter, and they have nothing to do with you. There is no reason for you to worry." She continued her dressing in silence, putting on her woman's clothes as if they were cerements.

"There are armed men approaching from Sidon," called out Rainaut. "Eight of them."

"Islamites or Christians?" Olivia asked, not particularly concerned either way.

"Pegasus badges," de Jountuil said in disgust. "Templars."

"Well, they're not here to fight," Olivia said. "That's a consolation with Templars." The fear she had held in check flared in her; Templars were known to be brutal with women when they found them unprotected: two Hospitalers would not prevail against a company of Templars. She continued to change her clothes, her features impassive, though she felt for the dagger strapped to her leg.

A short time later the party of Templars clattered up to Rainaut and de Jountuil, drawing in and saluting out of courtesy. "Good Hospitalers," said the Templar leader in a voice made rough with years of shouting.

"Worthy Templars," Rainaut answered. "God give you all a good day, and send you victory over your enemies." He did not touch his sword or make any other move to suggest that he viewed them as intruders; his behavior was courtly and impeccable, since the Templars did not wear their famous red-and-white battle cotes over their mail, but were distinguished only with their Pegasus badges.

"On escort, I see," the Templar leader said, his sneer unconcealed.

"A Roman noblewoman, bound for Sidon and thence to Roma," said de Jountuil.

"From?" the Templar leader inquired a trifle too casually.

"Tyre," was Rainaut's terse answer.

"And the woman?" the Templar pursued.

"A distinguished widow, Bondama Olivia Clemens." Rainaut said this with deliberate emphasis on her status and title, which was intended to mislead the Templars. "Her household goods are already on a ship bound for Roma, and she is eager to return to her home."

The Templar leader laughed raucously. "Poor fellows, to have to coddle a widow; better to fight Islamites."

De Jountuil bowed in the saddle. "For Templars, most certainly. But as you have your sworn tasks, so we have ours."

"And you're paying for it now," the Templar leader said, and his troops joined him in rough laughter. "Who are you, that I may enter your names in my records of this journey?"

Rainaut and de Jountuil made full, formal introductions, with titles and fealties, and de Jountuil asked, "Where are you bound now, good Templars, and what is your task?"

"We are to survey Belvoir, to find out how much of the east wall has been rebuilt. Since the damned Islamites seized the place—from you Hospitalers, as I recall—they have made changes in the gates and walls." He glared at Rainaut and de Jountuil as if the two Hospitalers were personally responsible for the surrender of Castrum Belvoir two years before.

"It was a sad day for our Order," Rainaut said, deceptively mild in his tone. "I pray that it will be in our hands again soon, with God's grace."

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