Crusader's Torch Page 41

"No," said Rainaut, starting to back away. "You are—"

"Heretical?" Bynum ventured with tremendous good humor. "Blasphemous? Anything you like." He laughed again. "Give yourself a year as a leper and see how you feel."

"I pray it will never come to that." Rainaut spoke distantly as he stared at Bynum, who had been an English weaver, with a wife and two sons, and was now blind, scarred and crippled, living on alms in this side street of Tarsus.

"We all do that at first, lad. We promise we won't forget our purpose, our vows. Oho, how we struggle to pretend we are still men among men." He hooted twice. "It won't last: believe me, Rainaut, it won't last."

"With aid and guidance—" Rainaut began, remembering all the admonitions he had received as a child.

"Aid and guidance." Bynum shook his head many times as he went on speaking. "Not for the likes of you or me. We're beyond it all now. We're less than the mules that pull the wagons, we're less than the onions in their soup." He paused. "You say that you want to warn the Hospitalers. Have you tried?"

"Yes," Rainaut admitted.

"You wear a yellow cowl, don't you? They won't let you into a house or a church or anyplace but the hospice of Saint Lazarus. That's worse than a bear-pit; have care." He began to feel along the doorsill, searching for his dagger. "No one speaks to those in yellow cowls."

"Do they speak to beggars?" Rainaut asked with a contempt that shamed him.

"When they notice me, sometimes they say a word or two, as if I were simpleminded. They pity me." He said this last with venom.

A year ago, Rainaut would not have understood why Bynum loathed pity, but now he shared the feeling. He straightened his shoulders. "I have a few pieces of silver. They're yours if you'll help me."

"Help you do what?" Bynum asked, immediately suspicious.

"Help me reach the Hospitalers," Rainaut said simply. "You may be right, but if I do not make some attempt, it will be a greater burden than my soul can bear."

"What nonsense!" scoffed Bynum. He laughed once more. "You are determined to have your cross, aren't you? You'll even hold the nails for them." Saying this, he scuttled closer to Rainaut. "What makes you think—even if you reach them—that they will be saved?"

"I must try," Rainaut persisted stubbornly.

Bynum turned his head heavenward, as if rolling his eyes. "What a fool you are." He paused. "You want me to help you, don't you?"

"If you will," said Rainaut quietly.

"To reach one of the Hospitalers or English knights, is that correct?" He rubbed at his jaw. "You wish that?"

"Yes," said Rainaut emphatically.

There was a silence between them while Bynum considered what Rainaut said. "I know only two men associated with the Hospitalers. The knights don't bother with such derelicts as I am. I know a page and a herald. If they will speak to me, I will try to get them to hear you." He fingered his dagger. "Not that it will do any good."

Rainaut was at once relieved and apprehensive. "Why do you say that?"

"Your yellow cowl. It means nothing to me, but it will distress them, you have my word on it." He made a sudden swipe at the air with his dagger. "Take care that they do not do for you when they find what you are."

"They won't," said Rainaut with faltering conviction. "I was one of them."

"So was I," said Bynum. He moved away and reclaimed his position in the doorway. "No one's talked to me in… oh, most of a year now. They said a few words from time to time, and all the rest of it, but you talk to me." He considered this. "You're not planning to put a knife in my back, are you?"

This sudden change back to suspicion baffled Rainaut. "Why should I do that?"

"For my place. It's a good place. You get alms here. They don't beat you very often and you won't starve. There've been others who tried." He touched his dagger. "I'm still here."

"I don't want your place. They wouldn't let me keep it, even if I had it," Rainaut said, desolation coming over him more deeply than before.

"True; true." He fell silent, and Rainaut wondered if he had been forgot or dismissed. Then Bynum spoke again. "I hear that Reis Richard is leading the Crusade. Is that true?"

"Yes, they say so," Rainaut answered.

"Even if they take it, they won't keep it. Jerusalem's too far from France and England. They'll lose it if they take it." He nodded his head several times, keeping cadence with his words. "They want it for the Glory of God, or so they say. But it's a rotten place, and it will consume everyone who comes there."

"Jerusalem?" Rainaut asked, not certain of Bynum's meaning.

"Jerusalem, Ascalon, Jaffa, Sidon, Tyre, all the forts and towns and monasteries. It's this place, do you see? It ruins us. We weren't made to be here, and when we come, it poisons us. Look what happened to me. To you." He chuckled angrily. "Still, if you want me to speak to those I know, I will. For honor, if you like. Can you read or write?"

"A little. Enough," said Rainaut.

"I never learned letters, but the Brothers taught me to count and to compute. I know my numbers well enough." His jaw came up defensively. "Not everyone who knows such things is a noble or cleric."

"You were fortunate to have teachers," agreed Rainaut once he decided what was best to say. "For a weaver, the skill must have been useful."

"It helped," Bynum allowed. "I have nothing to write with, nor anything to write on. Do you?"

"No," said Rainaut. "I can try to get them at Saint Lazarus. They may have no room for me, but they might do that much." He wondered if there were writing materials in Olivia's sack that she took such pains to keep by her. "If they will not, I will find it elsewhere."

"What you do is describe what you know. You do that, and I will try to arrange a chance for you to speak with the page or the herald. They aren't much, but—"

"They are more than I could have done alone," said Rainaut in a sudden rush of gratitude. "May God bless you for—"

Bynum held up his hand. "Oh, no. No, no, no. I've had all the blessings I can stand for a lifetime." He leaned back and directed his empty sockets squarely at Rainaut. "Come back tomorrow, after morning Mass, and meet me here."

"Why after morning Mass?" Rainaut wondered aloud.

"Because I often receive alms after Mass. They might even give you a coin or two, though most people won't go near lepers." He gave another sudden burst of laughter. "Back in Kent, I was always cold. England is like that, summer and winter. I felt that the cold had got into my bones. I thought that here I would flourish, like a plant in the sun. But now, I know that this is not the summer I longed for, it is a grill, and I have been left to parch and char on it."

"You could get passage back," Rainaut suggested to him uncertainly. "You fought as man-at-arms with the Templars; you are entitled to be carried home now that you can no longer fight."

"To do what?" Bynum asked in soft ferocity. "Weave? My wife was a shrew when I left, and I was a whole man. What would marriage be like now that I have no eyes and I cannot walk?" There was no trace of self-pity in him. "I am dead to them, and so I will remain."

"In fact, we're both dead men?" Rainaut said, trying to achieve some of the same mordant amusement Bynum had.

"Only I know it, and you deny it," said Bynum. He rubbed at the enormous calluses on his knees. "Bring me the writing, and I will do what I can."

Rainaut hesitated. "Why?"

"For something to do. Because you spoke to me. Because I know it's futile. Because I want to make amends before I die. For caprice, or honor, or vengeance. One of those may be the reason." His laughter was low and crooning. "And perhaps I am mad as well as blind, and nothing I have said is true." He grinned in Rainaut's direction. "You won't know that until tomorrow."

"I—" Rainaut began, then stopped. "I will be here after the first Mass. If you are, I will have messages for the page and the herald. You can take them or not, as you wish." He suddenly wanted to be gone from that narrow, hot alley. The walls seemed to press in upon him and his head rang with pain from his reddened eyes. He backed away from where Bynum sat, and almost fell as he reached the main street, which was a step higher than the alley.

Angry voices shouted at him to keep his distance, and one woman screamed.

Belatedly Rainaut remembered to call out: "Unclean! I am unclean!" In the next instant he had to dodge a blow from a quarterstaffand a small volley of stones and pebbles. He cringed as curses were yelled at him. Scuttling like a beetle he retreated along the wall of the fortified house that fronted the street until he found another churchyard. With a sob, he rushed through the iron gate into the peace of graves and headstones. Shading his eyes, he looked for the most protected part of the cemetery, and when he found it, he moved cautiously toward it, knowing that not even those who tended the graves would impede him. He would be able to wait until sundown to leave the city and rejoin Olivia outside Tarsus' gates. In the meantime, this was respite. Here, among the dead, he would be safe.

* * *

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

To the revered Abbot, my deliverer and my mentor in trial, I fulfill my continuing obligation to you by informing you of what has transpired in my pilgrimage. I fear that this letter will be long in reaching you, for circumstances are such that all the world seems in constant upheaval and no one can think himself safe.

There has been a great battle of Crusaders and Islamites. If half the tales one hears are true, all the coastal towns are now hip-deep in blood. I have spoken with knights who took part in the siege of Acre in July, and they are confident that by this time next year, Jerusalem will once again be in Christian hands. Reis Richard has made Acre his headquarters, although he is often in the field. In September, Reis Richard had another great victory over the Islamites at Arsuf. I have been told variously that he conquered Ascalon as well, but the most prevalent story is that the Islamites themselves destroyed the city to keep it from falling into Christian hands. What the truth of these tales is I hope to determine before reaching Jerusalem itself which I pray God will be after Christian forces have reclaimed it.

We are currently at Tour Rouge, which is like a keep. We have been denied escort south for at least two weeks until more is known about the actual progress and disposition of the Crusades. If Ascalon is truly in Christian hands, then the door to Jerusalem and Egypt stands open, and those who battle for the Glory of God will sweep the Islamites before them. If Ascalon was destroyed, then the course of the Crusade is uncertain, for without that city, only Jaffa is close enough to supply it from the sea, and it has no access to Egypt. I have yet to learn why the Egyptian access is as crucial as is said, but in time it will be explained to me, and I will pass the information to you. It puzzles me that the Islamites would willingly destroy their own city, but they bow to a fallacious deity, and possibly they are being misled because of it.

We have made application to the French, the English, and the Austrians for permission to enter Jerusalem, but so far this has been denied. It might still be possible to join with some of the other pilgrims and enter the city on foot and unarmed, but the terms of my pilgrimage would not then be fulfilled, and my husband would be well within his rights to declare me no longer his wife for the offense I have given the Comes de Reissac. Therefore I will remain here with my small company and await the time when we may join with Christian chivalry in entering those holy gates in full harness.

Two of our mules have foundered and I have purchased new ones to carry our goods. The expense was much greater than I had anticipated, and that now means that our return must be overland, since we will not then have sufficient funds to ship all our horses, our gear, and ourselves. Passage on ships is hard to obtain in any case, and the cost is high.

In following the conditions of this pilgrimage, I have prayed at every church and shrine along the way from Franconia to the Holy Land. More and more often, this has brought me distress, for I have seen for myself those cast-offs from the fighting—men who have lost hands and arms and legs to battle—men whose minds are no longer wholesome—families driven to the greatest extremities of poverty and misfortune. And there is disease everywhere. This is a pestilent land, where infection lurks in the very air we breathe. Luckily we have thus far been spared the flux, which has claimed so many others. The Bailiff here has informed me that in August alone, one hundred twenty-two men died here from nothing more than bloody flux. I pray God that no such catastrophe will befall those on Crusade, and that those men-at-arms who accompany me will be spared that deadly fate. There are risks enough, what with bandits and slavers and other scoundrels preying on those who have come here for their soul's salvation.

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