Crusader's Torch Page 33

"Templars, Templars," said Rainaut to Olivia as he looked out the window to the street below. "Gui de Lusignan is here in company with a good part of the Order, if the streets are any indication." He stood half in the room's deep shadow, half in the torchlight from the street which made the scarlike part of his face seem inflamed. "It wouldn't be wise for you to go out, not with the Templars about in such number."

"And you? What of you?" She had been assigned a room on the other side of the inn from his, but she had not set foot in it.

"I must go out. Reis Richard has done me the honor of inviting me to watch his mother's musicians perform." He held up a hand to silence her. "One of the pages will come for me soon. It would be unwise for me to refuse. It is bad enough that we were shipwrecked, but to have Sier Aueric missing…" His words trailed off to nothing.

"How long do you think this will go on?" Olivia asked, gesturing toward the street.

"All night. Another day as well, perhaps. Richard is out to show everyone how he is in the world; he will not be a vassal of Reis Phillippe." He rubbed his hands together. "I feel as if I ought to put on armor, the way they're all behaving."

"Drunk and capricious, you mean?" Olivia asked in a level tone. "You'd be spoiling for a fight if you did that. Cote and surcote, that's all you need. If there were any way you could leave your sword behind, I'd suggest it."

Rainaut sighed. "Of course." He stared across the dark room at her. "I would rather be here with you."

She smiled but shook her head. "Remember what I told you: what I am, you will become if you continue as my lover. It is hard enough that you have forsworn your oath for me—"

"I did that gladly," Rainaut interrupted her. "From Hell I will thank God for you." He came toward her, reaching out to her. "Olivia, as soon as we may, we'll be gone from here. You and I. The two of us. The rest doesn't matter."

"I hope you never change your mind," she said quietly, feeling his arms close around her.

"Why would I do that, when I have already given up all hope of Heaven and salvation for you?" He kissed her, tantalizing them both with promises. "I have traded one Communion for another," he whispered as they drew apart. He let go of her reluctantly. "I will not be any longer than necessary. I must show myself"—he indicated his family arms—"as the rest will tonight. I will also have to face the Master of the Hospitalers, or whoever is his deputy here on Cyprus. I cannot remain in the Order now." There was a tinge of regret in his voice.

"Must you do so at once?" Olivia asked, sensing again his keen sense of failure.

He nodded. "There is no purpose in delay. I have an obligation to my House and God, as well as to the Order, not to disgrace the Hospitalers." He took the edge of her long sleeve and kissed it. "I wish I could bring you with me safely, but you see what it is like out there. Even the harlots and camp-followers are staying off the streets, for good reason."

Olivia accepted his decision. "As you wish, then." She went to the corner, to the low bed. "I will wait for your return."

Suddenly and unexpectedly he grinned. "I will hurry," he vowed, bowing to her as he left the room.

The streets were as crowded this late night as they were at the height of market day. Everywhere the leopard banner of England flew with the red cross of the Templars above the vast celebration. It was not easy to make progress through the streets because of the constant jostling of the fighting men gathered to witness the wedding of Reis Richard to Barengaria of Navarre. The two names resounded along the narrow streets, occasionally with sly jokes added to the good wishes.

Rainaut had covered half the distance to Richard's headquarters when he came upon a troupe of jugglers performing with trained dogs. There were more than two dozen Templars gathered around the performers, all with the Pegasus badge on their shoulders; eight wore personal arms as well, though three were abated with a bar sinister. Most of the Templars were speaking Spanish, urging the jugglers to toss daggers instead of balls in the air.

"Here's an Angel!" offered one of the Templars, holding up a large gold coin. "Toss my mace, and it's yours."

The juggler pretended not to understand.

"Go ahead," urged another. "Take the money."

Two of the jugglers looked around uneasily, sensing the dangerous mood of their audience.

"For the honor of Sancho of Navarre," said one of the Templars, throwing two silver coins onto the ground. "Do not refuse us."

All four jugglers stopped performing and came together in the center of the circle. One of them spoke hesitantly in French. "We cannot do this. We are not allowed to handle weapons. It is against the law for us to do what you ask." He said this deferentially, his head lowered in respect to the knights, his manner as servile as the lowest slave's.

One of the Templars stepped into the circle. "Here. I say you will take this dagger and you will juggle it, along with three others. I say you will do this while we watch, that way you will not have to worry about breaking the law." He had put one hand on his hip just above the hilt of his dagger; now he drew it and held it out to the juggler, making it a challenge.

The Templars shouted approval, menace as well as encouragement in the sound; two of the jugglers exchanged glances as they watched their circle narrow.

"I say you will do this," the Templar went on, holding out the dagger to the juggler, daring him to take it.

"We are Cypriot, not one of you. We live here," said the senior juggler. "We must obey our laws." He backed away, but not far enough to encounter any of the Templars on the other side of the circle.

"Juggle the daggers, idiot, or you will not juggle anything again," said the Templar implacably.

"Bonsier," began the juggler, trembling now with fear.

"I will cut the tendons in your arms, fellow, if you do not juggle the daggers." There was no humor left in his words. He took a single step forward, eyes as hard as if he faced Islamites in battle.

"Bonsier, for the love of God—" the juggler said, then began to pray in Cypriot Greek.

A few of the Templars laughed, but the others, ready for a fight, were moving to hold the other jugglers.

Rainaut pushed his way through the crowd, drawing his sword as he went. "Good Templars," he said, coming into the center of the circle. "If you hurt these men, you do your Order and Reis Richard no honor." He swung the sword around once, and a few of the Templars stepped back.

"You're no Templar," one of the knights growled.

"Hospitaler," sneered another.

"And as such," said Rainaut, grateful that his voice was strong and confident. The cold in his gut was spreading, feeling massive. "I am mandated to defend those Christians who are under attack. These jugglers are Christians under attack. These jugglers are Christians and you have… have tried to do them harm." He was able to meet the eyes of the first Templars. "Leave these jugglers alone. Find other sport."

"One Hospitaler tells twenty of us to leave?" jeered a voice from the crowd.

"Unless you wish to disgrace your badges, yes," Rainaut answered with a calm he did not feel.

A few of the Templars gave derisive laughter in response, but one voice cut through it all. "You are a fine one to speak of disgrace, Sier Valence Rainaut."

At the sound of his name, Rainaut swung around toward the voice, trying to place it. "Who calls me?"

The first row of Templars broke as one of their number pressed through from behind. "Ruiz Ferran Iñigo Foxa," said the Templar, bowing in an exaggerated and insulting way.

"Foxa," said Rainaut, staring at the man.

"We are not in Tyre now, Rainaut." He reached to his sword. "You have yet to answer to me." He gestured around the circle. "My fellow Templars are witness. We have a cause. You are defending these vermin. I am enforcing our request to them. We fight as champions then." He smiled, and a new, livid scar down his cheek puckered.

"Fighting now?" Rainaut asked, wondering how everything had changed for him so quickly. "On the night of Reis Richard's wedding?"

"What better time?" Foxa was proudly insolent. "I said to you in Tyre that we had much to finish."

It was foolish to remain here in such danger, Rainaut knew. It was stupid to fight Foxa in a crowd of half-drunk Templars. Disgraced as he was, it was dishonorable to battle on anyone's behalf. He brought his sword up, drawing a small dagger from his sleeve. Now he wished he had worn his chain mail, though it would have been a terrible insult to Reis Richard. Cote and surcote did not offer much protection from swordcuts.

Foxa indicated the Templars and the jugglers. "They can be our marshals. If that is satisfactory."

Rainaut's mouth was dry as old cotton. Not trusting his voice, he nodded, his whole attention on what Foxa did with his sword.

The senior juggler, terribly confused at the strange alterations that had occurred so swiftly, approached Rainaut only to be sharply warned back by two of the nearest Templars. Miserably the juggler got out of the way, muttering to the others in Cypriot Greek.

"I have wanted this," Foxa said.

There was no answer Rainaut could offer. He moved carefully so that there was less torchlight dancing in his eyes, then prepared to block the first, determined swing of Foxa's sword.

Metal rang on metal and the Templars cheered approval. The two swords, still pressed together, arced all the way to the ground; only then did the two combatants stand back, bringing their swords up once more.

"Ready, Foxa," Rainaut made himself call as he began to circle the small area where they fought, hemmed in by the Templars.

Foxa gave two experimental swings to his sword, then brought it in, low and hard, trying to slice into Rainaut's side.

Rainaut's sword slammed the Spanish blade aside, and then he turned, his sword still in motion toward Foxa's shoulder. As the sword struck, Foxa screamed and jumped away.

"You will answer for that," Foxa said, glancing at the spreading dark stain on his surcote. In the torchlight, his blood appeared almost black.

"I did not seek this fight; you did," said Rainaut, striving to get a little distance between himself and Foxa.

"What coward turns away from a true battle?" demanded the Spanish Templar.

"This is no true battle," countered Rainaut, moving cautiously, sensing the anger in his opponent. "This is merely pride." He chose the word knowing it would sting, hoping that the greatest sin would goad Foxa to recklessness and mistakes.

Foxa swore. "And God will roast you on a spit," he added.

"For my sins. As He will you for yours," said Rainaut, trying to calculate how far he could push Foxa. He changed his stance, crouching a little lower, his sword held angled across his upper body as protection.

This time, Foxa's blade ripped down the side of Rainaut's cote, rending the fabric and leaving his arm and side exposed. Foxa tried a second pass, but he missed as Rainaut slid away from the upward cleft of the Spaniard's blade. Foxa moved back a step or two, swinging his sword as a cat might lash its tail.

Rainaut tore away most of the cloth he could reach. He did not want to risk entangling himself in the trailing fabric or slipping on a dangling tatter. He flung the scraps of cloth away, and was surprised to notice that one of the jugglers picked all the cloth up, holding it with care as the fight continued. Rainaut did not want to be distracted, but this single act caught his attention, and for a moment he was lax in his attention.

In that instant, Foxa swung around, his sword moving as inexorably as a scythe, and this time, it left a bloody trail down Rainaut's back.

Rainaut bellowed from the pain, and this time when he faced Foxa there was a cold rage in his heart such as he had never known. In a remote part of his mind, he felt the pain from the swordcut, but it meant little to him beyond mild annoyance. He pressed the attack, his sword moving steadily, driving Foxa back into the living wall of his comrades. With a sound like a howl, Rainaut came after him, lifting his sword as he reached out to grab the front of Foxa's surcote.

Foxa dropped his sword and raised his hands, wrists crossed. His eyes burned at Rainaut. "In the Name of the Cross," he said, repeating the formula that would save him.

"Pax vobiscum," Rainaut responded, lowering his sword in a shaking hand. It was all he could do to keep from striking at Foxa's neck, no matter what the Spaniard invoked. He stepped back, cold and pain hitting him at the same time.

"It was a misunderstanding," one of the older Templars said as he came toward Rainaut. "We were misunderstood."

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