Crusader's Torch Page 40

"I told you you could not imagine what has been lost," she said remotely as she pulled her hand away from his.

"And did you hear Our Lord speak, as well?" he asked, daring her to say she had.

"No. He was dead before I was born—not that I would have known about him, in any case." A memory rose, unbidden, and she told him, "But there was a feast one night… Nero gave a feast in the Golden House. There were Messianic Jews to be punished, and he had them executed during the festivities." She remembered finding Sanct' Germain in the laurel grove, and how he had sheltered her while human torches were lit in the enormous garden.

"Nero was a tool of the Devil, sent to destroy all true Christians," said Rainaut, not at all sure he believed what she was telling him.

"Nero was a spoiled boy who didn't know the difference between a Farsi and a Jew, and didn't care," said Olivia bluntly. "The Jews were rebelling against the Roman garrison, and for that they were condemned to death, as were all rebels." She cocked her head to the side and regarded Rainaut with curiosity. "Do you doubt me?"

"Of course not," he lied unconvincingly.

She shook her head. "Of course you do," she corrected him. With a sudden motion of her hands, she shook off her reverie. "If you must reach someone with the Crusades, will you let me approach someone for you? You are identified as a leper—"

"So are you," he reminded her.

"—and one who has been a Hospitaler. More are apt to know about you and refuse to see you." In spite of the pain, she pulled herself upright. "Don't say no yet. Think over what you have said. If it is so important to you that the warning be given, let me help you."

Rainaut sighed. "If there is no other way, very well. Otherwise, you are to keep clear of what I do. They stone lepers who touch those who are not unclean."

"Just to make sure the leper is truly dead?" Olivia asked with a sardonic lilt to her words. "How providential."

* * *

Text of a letter from the Venetian Giozzetto Camarmarr to the Benedictine scholar Ulrico Fionder.

To my esteemed and learned cousin, whose name is praised everywhere, and who is known for his learning and piety, your less worthy cousin Giozzetto sends heartfelt greetings, and a small donation in thanks for your many prayers.

In the last six months, our ships have carried many more Crusaders and pilgrims to the Holy Land than we have carried sacks of grain or jars of wine. Truly this Holy War is a Godsend for the families of Camarmarr and Fionder. Our profits have trebled in the last year, and there is no reason to assume that our good fortune will not continue.

It is true that three of our ships have been lost to pirates in the last two years, but we have not only replaced them, we have added more ships to our fleet, and now we have a total of eleven ships wholly and completely owned by our two families, for which we thank God in His goodness. Even our dealings with the Islamites have increased as the pilgrims coming back from Jerusalem have wished for silks and spices and brassware that is found only in the Holy Land. One of our tarida bastardas brought back a full hold of ginger, pepper, Egyptian cotton and Damascus cloth: we have yet to reckon the extent of the profit we have gained from that single ship.

Therefore, we are now at pains to ensure our continued markets. We have dispatched negotiators—most of them Venetian Jews, so that the Islamites will not be offended—to make contracts with mercers and spice merchants—so that when the Crusade is over, we will not have to scramble for a place in the market, if you understand this.

Of course, I realize these considerations are of little interest to a great and holy scholar like you, but we are now in a position to aid you in your studies, for in such places as Jerusalem and Jaffa and Ascalon there are many texts that will be of interest to you and which you may wish to peruse. You have only to tell me what they are, and you have my assurance that every effort will be made to secure those writings for you, as a donation to your Order for the great good works you do in the Name of Christ. It will be my personal joy to present these to you on my return from my next venture into the Holy Land. Think, good cousin, of the treasures to be found, writings from the days of Jesus Himself, writings that might even have been taken down when He was preaching. Many cities boast rare texts from that time, and are treasured for their ancient worth.

We have decided not to purchase wood from what we have been told was the True Cross. It may be quite genuine, but a ship's carpenter has told me that he does not believe the wood we are being offered is more than a century old. Since we do not wish to perpetrate fraud, or to offer spurious relics—although there are many and many who are not so scrupulous—we have refused the offer, and will be content to find manuscripts for great scholars, which will ultimately have greater worth than any of the toys of less honest men.

May God reward you for your devotion and your prayers, may He guide you in study and sanctity. May Maria bless you with wisdom and mercy.

Your most affectionate and respectful cousin Giozzetto Camarmarr

By my own hand on the eve of the Feast of All Saints, in the 1191st year of Our Lord.

- 4 -

His long yellow cowl obscured his face as Rainaut pushed his way through the crowded streets of Tarsus toward the Church of Saint John where the Hospitalers had their chapter house. He had little hope that he would be received there; still, the attempt was necessary, he told himself.

When he reached the door of the church, a sarjeant blocked the way. "The hospice of Saint Lazarus is outside the eastern gate, leper. You must go there. You cannot be admitted here."

Rainaut resisted the urge to walk away. "I was a Hospitaler, before I became unclean. I have urgent information for the Master of the Order in Tarsus." Just for such defiance he knew the sarjeant could beat him with a cudgel if he decided to.

"Dead men know nothing," said the sarjeant with rough pity. "Leave, before both of us have to answer for you."

"But there is a betrayer—" Rainaut began, only to have his words cut short by the sharp blow of the sarjeant's long staff on his shoulder.

"I told you: the hospice of Saint Lazarus will take you. Only the living may enter here." He had moved to block the entryway completely, his stance determined and menacing.

"There is a betrayer," Rainaut repeated in an undertone as he walked away from the church, making sure that he remained in the sarjeant's sight for some little while. Only when he was certain that the sarjeant had ceased to watch him did he duck into a narrow alley, taking up a position like hundreds of other beggars along the way.

What Rainaut had thought was a heap of discarded rags suddenly erupted into life, and a man—grizzled, stick-thin, his face scarred, his eyes empty pits—shambled out of the tangled cloths on his knees. "Who's there?" he demanded in a querulous voice.

"I am," said Rainaut, staring at the man in hideous fascination.

The beggar groped toward him. "I won't have others here. This is my place."

"I'm not begging," said Rainaut in what he hoped was a soothing tone. "I don't want your place."

"That's what they all say," the beggar answered at once, reaching for a short dagger in the filthy ruins of the acton he wore. "But I'm too clever for you. I'm blind, but I'm no fool." As he said this, he crawled toward Rainaut.

"You're a fool if you fight me," said Rainaut. "I have both eyes, I have been a belted knight, and I stand on both feet."

The beggar stopped. "What of it? I've kept my place here for almost a year. I won't give it up to a French-speaking bastard who seeks to gull me." He inched closer to Rainaut. "I got both my hands yet."

Rainaut moved back two steps. "I am not a beggar. I do not want this place," he repeated, thinking that the man was scarred in his mind as well as his body. "I want to find a way to get a message to the Hospitalers, that's all."

"Hospitalers!" The beggar spat. "Every one of them is a liverless coward. They've no stomach for battle and no blood for glory." He dropped back, resting on his useless lower leg's. "What man wishes to address a Hospitaler, I'd like to know."

"One who has been one," said Rainaut, suddenly much too tired to fight about it.

"Oh?" The beggar considered this as he played with the hilt of his dagger. "And what are you now?"

"No one. Nothing." Until that moment, the enormity of his exile had not struck Rainaut; now it went through him like a cauterizing blade.

"Why's that? You deserted?" The beggar cackled. "Half the men-at-arms have deserted, and enough of the knights that none of the kings want to talk about it." He directed his empty eyes toward Rainaut. "Which is it with you?"

"None of those," said Rainaut wearily.

"Dishonored, then? They caught you with booty?" He tossed his head back and laughed. "Good thing if you got a little of your own."

"No; they say I am unclean." The words were vile in his mouth; it contaminated him to say them, and he spoke with greater feeling than he thought he possessed.

"A leper, are you?" If the beggar was distressed he showed no sign of it.

"So they tell me." Rainaut sagged back against the uneven stones of the wall. "I have to get word to the Hospitalers, or to Reis Richard. They will not admit me—"

"Small wonder," said the beggar. "You're a walking dead man. If you think they'll heed you, you're badly mistaken, young fool." He started to slip back. "I'm hamstrung," he explained. "As if I needed that along with the rest."

Rainaut, who had recognized the beggar's accent, asked, "How does an Englishman end up a beggar in Tarsus?"

"The same way a Frenchman ends up a leper here," came the answer without rancor. "The damned Crusade, of course. I came as a man-at-arms. I heard all the tales of glory they told, and when they said Gui de Lusignan needed men to support him, well, that was better than being a weaver in Kent, wasn't it?" He laughed once more. "The Templars aren't very nice in their requirements, and I knew enough about arms to qualify for their support men. It wasn't much money, but it gave me a praiseworthy reason to leave England, and excused me from paying absentee rents on my cottage. I had a harridan of a wife and two sons with no more understanding than a turnip between them. It was a greater temptation than I could resist to take up the Cross. My name's Bynum." This last was an afterthought. "Who were you before they buried you?"

"Valence Rainaut, from Saint-Prosperus-lo-Boys, in Aunis." It was only after he spoke that Rainaut realized he had not used his title.

"Another one of Reis Richard's vassals," said Bynum. He wagged his fingers in Rainaut's direction in an admonitory way. "Why do you want to seek out Reis Richard or the Hospitalers?" He was playing with his dagger again, but this time without any implied intent.

"To warn them. I have to warn them." Rainaut could see the disbelief in Bynum's expression, and he went on, "I have learned of a spy, a monk who is really an Islamite, who has documents that could—"

Bynum cut off this earnest description. "Why bother about that? What possesses you? You owe them nothing more than what they have already had of you—your life."

"I have my oath as a knight and as a Hospitaler," said Rainaut somewhat stiffly. The avowal had a hollow ring now, and he heard it with shock.

"Listen to me, Valence Rainaut: all that is behind you. Let it go." Bynum sat back once more and occupied himself tossing his dagger from hand to hand; in spite of his blindness, he rarely missed his catch.

Rainaut shook his head. "I cannot." He gazed away from Bynum toward the distant steps of Saint John's, wishing he knew a secret for gaining entry there. "The men who are in danger are my comrades-at-arms. If they are in danger, I must aid them if I can, even if they despise my aid."

Bynum laughed outright. "Straight out of a troubador's song, and better for the lack of a tune," he jeered.

"Think of how the Islamites have treated you, and consider what you may spare your fellow Christians," said Rainaut with feeling.

"Islamites have always treated me very well," said Bynum with a frown. "If it weren't for the Islamites, I would have starved last winter."

Rainaut was aghast. "How can you say that? Look at all they've done to you."

"Oh, you thought that Islamites did this to me, did you?" His laughter was so derisive that it sounded like a hail of arrows striking stone walls. "Oh, no, no, no, Valence Rainaut. No, no. It was good, pious Christians who did this to me, sincere and righteous men from Greece who feared that the Templars intended to capture half of Byzantium, and therefore sought a confession from me and two others. They—the other two—are in their graves. I am… as I am." He flung his dagger with sudden fury, and it was embedded in the wooden frame of the doorway where he sat. "You owe nothing to Christ and to God. You owe nothing to kings or Orders or any of the rest of it. They've tossed you out, my lad, and they won't be pleased to hear from you again, no matter what you have to tell them."

Prev Next
Romance | Vampires | Fantasy | Billionaire | Werewolves | Zombies