Crusader's Torch Page 29

"We will arrange it," he said distantly.

"When you do," she said, deliberately offensive, "I hope someone will have the goodness to tell me about it." She turned toward the door, then stopped. "I ought to warn you that I am usually seasick when I travel by water."

He looked up at that. "You?"

"Yes," she said, chagrined. "Those of my blood are often so afflicted."

"Seasick." He chuckled. "I pray not, but if you are ill, your slave can tend to you."

"How gallant you are," she told him sweetly, her hand on the door latch. "I will have my goods packed by the middle of the afternoon. That will give us the chance to leave on the evening tide, if it is required."

"It probably won't be until tomorrow," he said. "No matter what, the captain cannot leave until he has his cargo loaded, and that cannot be completed in a day."

Olivia looked at him closely. "You are glad to be leaving here, aren't you?"

"You know my reasons," he replied.

"Some of them," she said before she let herself out of the room.

Rainaut remained staring at the place she had been; the two swords he held he ignored. He had strayed farther from his oaths and his Order than he had realized and only now was the enormity of his transgression becoming apparent to him. He blessed himself and started to pray, addressing his words to Maria for her intercession. But when he reached the formal salutation—o clemens, o pia, o dulcis Virgo Maria—he could not see any face but Olivia's and his heart was touched by despair.

* * *

Text of a letter from Niklos Aulirios to Doca Arrigo Benammo di Cruceclare.

From Sanza Pare, I take the liberty of addressing you directly on behalf of my mistress, Bondama Atta Olivia Clemens, to extend her sympathy and our own on the death of your son and heir Egidio. To learn of so unfortunate a development on the eve of this great Crusade must be doubly sorrowful for you, and surely my mistress joins with me in expressing condolence for this most sad of all news.

The church at Ognissanti offered prayers for him at first Mass this morning, which is how I came to know of his death; I have taken the liberty of arranging for five Masses to be said on his behalf which is as my mistress would have done, had she been here. To lose so splendid a young man to nothing more than a mortified wound in the ankle is a great loss for any family. Yet such is the perfidy of bodily ills that none among us escape them but the dead.

To answer your inquiry of the other day, as far as I am aware, my mistress remains in Sidon, but now that Reis Richard and Reis Phillippe have sailed for the Holy Land at last, I trust it will not be long before she is able to see her new home and to be welcomed here by her staff, her neighbors, and the clergy. It is most lamentable that she will not have the felicity of meeting your son Egidio, as you suggested.

So great has my anxiety been for her welfare that I have sent messengers to those who own ships plying the waters between here and the Holy Land, to discover how quickly it might be arranged to carry Bondama Clemens home. With the Crusade underway at last, such travel is greatly restricted, and most of it is controlled by the Knights Hospitaler, which makes things especially difficult, for recently they have given preferential escort to clergy and other religious. Honorable widows like my mistress are relegated to one or two knights for escort, and such space in shipping that has not already been commandeered by order of the Hospitalers for more worthy pilgrims and more pious errands. My mistress, though doubtless well-served by her escort, is not in a position to request more assistance than what she is already receiving.

Should I or any part of the staff of Sanza Pare be able to assist or aid you in this time of grief, do us the compliment of sending word, and you may be sure your request will be filled at once. If you believe that a little time spent here might lessen your sorrow, you have only to inform me and the estate will be at your disposal. Do not fear that my mistress would countermand such orders; it is her way to keep to the ancient traditions of her gens, whose roots stretch back to the times of the Caesars. She has kept and upheld the old ways all her life. Had I not extended this offer to you, with all humility and sincere intent, she would reprimand me herself at the first learning of it.

Know that my prayers and sentiments are with you, and that your loss moves me and all of those of us who staff Sanza Pare. We respect your grief and share your mourning.

Niklos Aulirios

By my own hand on the 9th day of April in the Lord's Year 1191.

- 16 -

Four days had passed since Ithuriel Dar had landed on Sicilia, but the disorder left in the wake of the departure of the Kings of England and France continued everywhere and as a result Dar had made little or no progress in that time.

"It's bad enough," he said to the innkeeper in Siracusa as they shared a plate of broiled fish that evening, "that the armies were as rapacious as they were, but now everyone is in complete confusion and there appears to be no end to it. First Reis Richard hectors all his men into ships the first break in the weather, and then Reis Phillippe, outraged that Richard had taken the lead, attempts the same thing. You would think that Etna and Stromboli had gone off at once."

"Two Kings are something like two volcanos," the innkeeper agreed as he pulled a bit more of the sweet white fish off the bone and popped it into his mouth. "The same temperament, the same grandeur."

"And the same ruin, by the look of things," said Dar, and immediately laughed to turn his remark to a joke. "But which is Etna and which Stromboli?"

"Reis Richard is Etna, here in the middle of things," said the innkeeper after giving the matter some thought, assisted by two generous swigs of the strong white wine made half a day's ride from the inn. "I think that Phillippe must be Stromboli, sitting by himself in the sea, with little near him. Perhaps he is really Vesuvio."

"Vesuvio is over the water," said Dar, gesturing in a generally eastward direction.

"So are England and France," said the innkeeper, "or so the soldiers kept saying. Maybe it is the other way around, and Phillippe is Etna, with all of Sicilia around him, and Richard is Stromboli, out in the sea, like England. But Reis Richard has lands in France as well, which Phillippe covets. Of course." He had more fish and gestured philosophically with greasy fingers. "You might as well try to evacuate this city as move those damned armies of theirs."

Dar nodded, permitting himself another cautious sip of wine before he had more fish. "When will the ships be returning from the Holy Land? Is there any news? Have you heard?"

"They have to get there first. And once they are there, they have to unload and deploy. That will take some time, for there are so many of them. They say that Reis Richard is fighting on Cyprus. Why he should bother to do that when he wants to reclaim the Holy Sepulcher, I don't know."

"They say he wants a base," Dar said, repeating what he had heard through his travels. "Cyprus is the best for his purposes. It is ideally located and has thrown off the Byzantine yoke they wore. The Hospitalers already have part of Rhodes."

"Well, that's another thing Reis Phillippe can covet, isn't it?" He chuckled and nudged Dar with his elbow. "They aren't like you and me, are they? Kings don't covet their neighbors' goods and wives, or envy their good fortune, they covet whole countries and envy their armies and kingdoms." He drank down the rest of his wine and refilled his cup, offering the same to Dar, who reluctantly allowed the innkeeper to top his off. "But, I suppose, if what they say about Reis Richard is true, he might as well covet countries, since wives don't tempt him."

"But he's about to be married." Dar knew the rumors as well as anyone, but he wanted the innkeeper to continue to talk, in the hope of gleaning some information from the chaff of words.

"To that poor girl from Spain, yes. Doubtless there are treaties and agreements and the rest of it to go along with her. It might be contingent upon heirs, in which case Reis Richard will have to put his pageboys aside or deputize one of his cousins. Still, who knows what the Spaniards are like, come to that. She might have some understanding already." He finished off the fish and wiped his hands on the rough, filthy cloth tied to his girdle. "Ehi! Arrigo! More food here. Don't be stingy this time." He reached for his cup and lifted it mockingly. "A happy bedding to Reis Richard and his Spanish Princess."

"Her name is Barengaria of Navarre," said Ithuriel Dar, doing his best not to sound offended.

"Whatever her name, seems to me she's got a poor bargain. Her family weren't thinking of her when they contracted with Richard, that's sure, no matter what contract they concluded." He looked up as his younger cook came up with a platter laden with more fish, small breads, onions and mushrooms, all covered in a pungent saffron-and-pepper sauce. "That's more like it."

Arrigo bowed once he had put the platter down. "Is there anything else, master?"

"Another jar of wine," said the innkeeper.

"If it is for me—" began Dar, only to be cut off by a dismissing gesture by the innkeeper.

"It is for the both of us, for the good of our souls, for it is in Scripture that wine is to be taken for the good of the body. It's in the Old Scripture, so it applies to Jews as well." He winked at Dar. "You're allowed wine with your fish, aren't you? Well, then." He grinned expansively, revealing several blackened or missing teeth. "Have all that you want."

Dar concealed a sigh and hoped he would keep a clear head through the evening. "You are most gracious," he said ironically, knowing it was true. There were some innkeepers who would not permit Jews to stay at their inns, let alone eat in them.

"Well, good fellowship is good fellowship, and after those damned men-at-arms with their camp followers and wives and God-knows-what-all carousing in here all the day and half the night, a sensible Jew is a treat." He indicated the improvised brace on one of the beams across the taproom. "They did that. And the dinner room is a shambles. I won't be able to use it until summer is over. Not only did they take half the carpenters on Sicilia with them, they made off with everything else. They took much of the timber, you know, and nails and hammers and any other tools they could find. They wanted to take the forge from the smithy, but it was too big to move. One of them made off with my best cleaver." He blessed himself, leaving grease spots on his shoulders. "But it's for the Holy Sepulcher, isn't it?"

Dar, who had a mouthful of fish, nodded vigorously.

"If you ask me, there's more going on than saving the Holy Sepulcher." The innkeeper wagged his finger at Dar. "You have eyes, Jew, and you show some sense."

"And some caution," Dar said pointedly, hoping the innkeeper might acquire some himself.

"But you can tell what is happening, can't you?" the innkeeper persisted. "Of course you can. You're capable of recognizing a lie when you're told one. Oh, that's not to say that some of those who've taken the Cross aren't inspired to aid Our Lord—though the priests say that He is in Heaven where He is supposed to aid us, not the other way around—but there are many who are eager for the adventure and plunder and glory." He belched. "And some are running away—from work, from families, from prison, it doesn't matter. I've had them all in this taproom, and I know what I know." He gave Dar a sudden challenging look, his stubbled chin jutting out and his hooked nose thrust forward.

"There is certainly some truth in what you say," Dar agreed carefully.

"God knows it better than I do," declared the innkeeper, his voice now quite loud.

A Hieronomite monk who had been sitting alone near the hearth making his required evening meal of two dried fish and a small loaf of bread, now looked up, his eyes narrowing as he watched the innkeeper.

"Then pray to God," said Dar, who was dismayed at the attention the monk was paying to their conversation. He had seen people stoned or burned for saying less critical things. "It is for God to guide us from error."

"Strange sentiments from a Jew," said the monk.

"What business is it of yours?" demanded the innkeeper, his face darkening with choler. "This good Jew and I were discussing things privately. I was not talking to you."

"You were speaking of religious matters, and that concerns me," said the monk, rising from his solitary place and coming toward them.

"We were speaking about Crusaders," said the innkeeper without any change in demeanor. "That's not a religious matter so far as I'm concerned. They were little more than rowdy hooligans in this inn; their conduct was no different than I'd expect of pirates from Tripoli. When they reclaim Jerusalem, then I will believe they are religious." He put his hands on his hips and stared at the monk. "I've said the same to my confessor; he has been here through the winter, too, and he knows I speak truth."

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