Crusader's Torch Page 42

I ask you to speak with my husband on my behalf. Tell him what you think is best from the letter. It is my fondest hope that he will accept my expiation and will restore me to my place, and that the dishonor I have brought upon him will be forgot in light of what I have done. If he cannot do this, I will be guided by you in my actions, although I must warn you that I have no religious vocation and would not be suited to a cloistered life. Since I was trained to stand in the place of my husband, to protect and defend my holdings, I find that I cannot set that aside entirely. Whatever disposition is made, I beg you will hold in your deliberations the nature of my temperament.

For your guidance and prayers, you have my continued and abiding gratitude. For your wise counsel, you have my most profound respect. With the aid of God, His Son, and Holy Maria, you will be alive and hale when I return, that I may have the opportunity to acknowledge your righteousness and merciful judgment before God and our community.

Fealatie Bueveld

Chatelaine of Gui de Fraizmarch

By my own hand and under the seal of Castel Fraizmarch, on the feast of Saint Theodore the Studite, who is venerated here in the Greek tradition, on November 9th, in the Lord's Year 1191.

- 5 -

There was no doubt that the herald was nervous; he coughed and shuffled from one foot to the other, all the while plucking nervously at the cote-of-arms he wore. "I'm not supposed to be here," he said as soon as Bynum appeared. "If it's ever learned, I'll—"

"I won't mention it. You had the note I sent to you." He had propped himself up on the third step of the narrow staircase. "The fellow is determined to speak with someone."

"I shouldn't listen," Aimeri said miserably. "This is wrong." He took several steps away from Bynum, then came back. "This monk who is a spy? What of it?" Before Bynum answered, he went on, "It's preposterous. No monk would spy for the Islamites. It's unthinkable."

Bynum's ruined face was expressionless. "But perhaps you still ought to listen to the fellow, in case he has learned something."

The herald swore under his breath as he fretted. "A leper. He ought to be at Saint Lazarus."

"He tells me he used to be a Hospitaler. Like you." Bynum made his grimace of a smile. "That's what he says. Of course, all he is now is a leper."

"Oh, God," Aimeri murmured, blessing himself. "I can't do this. I want no part of this. I must not listen to someone who is unclean." He had turned on his heel and was about to walk away from the concealed meeting place when he saw a cowled figure at the far end of the narrow court. "Holy Christ and the Angels."

Rainaut moved to the edge of the shadows but avoided the open sunlight. "I must speak with you," he said, keeping his hands at his sides though he wanted to reach out and restrain the herald. He sensed the fear the herald felt, and he did his best to mollify it. "For the sake of all the Knights of Saint John."

"I shouldn't be here." Aimeri paced; he strove to avoid Rainaut, at the south end, and Bynum, at the north end of the narrow court. "Well, what is it? I can't promise anything, you understand. There's probably nothing I can do. I mustn't reveal how I have obtained this… information."

"Coming here on a ship not long ago—" Rainaut began only to be interrupted.

"How could a leper come on a ship?" The herald almost shrieked the question. "No leper is welcome on a ship."

"Through bribery and concealment," said Rainaut in a level tone. "There is no other way."

Aimeri blanched. "Oh, God."

Rainaut chose to ignore this outburst. "During a squall at sea, while I was in the hold, I chanced to overhear the meeting of an Islamite and a man in the habit of the Hieronomites, who passed information to the Islamite, and who gave his word to continue his spying. There could be no mistaking his intent. He was not drawing out the Islamite for the benefit of Christians, he was betraying Christians to the enemy. This Hieronomite gave documents to the Islamite, one of plans of the agreements between the Templars and Leopold of Austria, one of the names of pilgrims who would command ransom if taken. This monk encouraged the Islamite to act, and gave praise to the Islamite Allah. He is a traitor to his King and his God, and for his ill work, the lives of Hospitalers and many other worthy Christians are in danger." It was difficult for Rainaut to contain his emotions; his voice grew ragged as he spoke.

"What did this supposed spy give to the Islamite? Was there anything specific, or do you have only this… this fable to offer me?" Aimeri was taking refuge in disbelief and bravado now, replacing his earlier dread with scorn. "What ship was this? What Islamite took the documents? Or don't you know?"

"No, I don't know," said Rainaut, knowing he had been defeated. "And I could not identify either man if I saw him now, for the light in the hold was very low and the two of them kept to the shadows, as spies do." He crossed his arms. "You will not help me."

Aimeri blustered. "Well, with so little, and so much doubt, I cannot see how there is anything to help with." He waved one hand as if banishing a noxious odor. "The world is filled with spies, they say. There are always rumors."

"This is no rumor," Rainaut said quietly.

"And in a war, half the world seems to change sides," the herald continued as if Rainaut had not spoken. "There is no reason to think that even if a monk gave documents to an Islamite—which I question—that they were genuine. Most likely the monk was offering the Islamite faulty information, to lead the Islamites into error." He turned on Bynum, approaching him with subdued fury. "Why did you tell me to come here? Why did you want me to listen to this? There is trouble enough in the world without such intrusion."

"I asked him to bring me you," Rainaut said, stung to anger on Bynum's behalf. "I thought that you might have sense."

Aimeri continued to upbraid Bynum. "You are a disgrace! You have almost caused me to make a fool of myself. I will not forget this. Lepers! Monks!" With that, he pushed past Bynum and hastened away up the narrow stairs.

"I did warn you," Bynum said after a short silence.

"Yes," Rainaut agreed.

"A pity you did not listen," he said complacently. "But you understand now?"

Rainaut was staring down at his white knuckles where his long, blunt hands locked together. "Someone must listen. There must be someone who will listen."

Bynum's strident laughter echoed around the little court. "You don't understand yet, but you will, my friend." He rocked back, bouncing on his heels. "They don't want to hear you, they don't want to be told of apostate monks and spies. All they want is the assurance that they can still take Jerusalem. The fools haven't yet realized that they lost Jerusalem when Saladin ordered Ascalon razed."

"There will be men killed and held captive." Rainaut said this with dire certainty. "I must—"

Bynum's patience was nearly exhausted. "You've tried, Rainaut. You made the attempt. That's all anyone requires of you, king or God. You can confess with a pure heart now." Once again he laughed. "Take me back to my doorway."

Rainaut obeyed, picking Bynum up in his arms and starting down the long, vaulted alley, feeling how pathetically thin the man was. As they went, he asked, "Does it bother you that you are touching a leper?"

"Saint George defend us! No. No, no. What can leprosy do to me that has not already been done? My toes might as well rot off for all the good they are to me, and how much more disfigured can I become?" He paused, then went on more seriously, "If I had not lost my eyes, it might be different, but since I can't see, what difference would it make?"

They were almost to the far end of the alley, and Rainaut took care to be certain no one had occupied Bynum's doorway. "I am in your debt."

"There is no debt, leper," said Bynum indifferently. "You have now discharged your duty. For the sake of the peace of your soul, let it go." He twisted in Rainaut's hold. "If you try again, it will be worse. They will end with stoning you." By Rainaut's silence, Bynum knew he was not convinced. "You were fortunate this time—Aimeri is only a herald. If you approach a knight, or a sarjeant, it could go badly."

"What is it to you if it does go badly?" Rainaut asked as they reached the doorway where Bynum lived.

"Nothing at all," said Bynum. He steadied himself with a hand on the doorframe as Rainaut put him down. "There are hospices for afflicted knights outside of the city. Find one and take what comfort you can there."

Rainaut had the oddest sensation that Bynum's empty eyes could actually see him. "And if I cannot do that?"

"You're already a living dead man." He pulled his dagger out, snicking it at Rainaut. "That should be cross enough to bear."

There was some justice in what Bynum said, Rainaut allowed. He straightened up. "Remember me in your prayers, Bynum, as I will remember you in mine."

"The only thing I pray for is death," said Bynum, and faced away from Rainaut with as much finality as if he had dropped a portcullis between them. "If you were wise, you would do the same." With a sharp gesture, he motioned Rainaut away from him.

The words of thanks Rainaut had wanted to speak would not come; he knew that Bynum had done with him. Feeling suddenly very clumsy and inept, Rainaut stumbled out of the alley into the busy street, remembering at the last moment to cry: "Unclean! I am unclean!" It still appalled him to see the repugnance and loathing in people around him. As several shoved and jostled to get away from him, he wanted to call out to them that he could not harm them, that he had no wish to make others unclean.

A shard of brick glanced off his forehead, then half a dozen pebbles struck his back. He heard a rock bounce off the wall behind him, and not far away, someone was shouting to bring stones. They would not kill me, Rainaut told himself. Not long ago he might have been able to convince himself; now he ran, arms raised and locked above his head to shield him and to protect his eyes from the sun. The cold, numbing fear that had shamed him so many times in the past settled just below his ribs, spreading out through his vitals as he ran for the nearest city gate.

Beyond the walls of Tarsus there were storage sheds and inns; beyond those, there were chapels and farmsteads. And beyond those, at the edge of the enormous wastes, there were hovels where the beggars and the afflicted took shelter. In one of those noisome three-sided huts, Olivia welcomed Rainaut back from his futile errand.

"You look tired," she said as she moved the long palm fronds from the entrance. It was hot inside, but not with the blind implacability of direct sunlight. "Be careful; I found three scorpions in the wall chinks this morning."

Rainaut hesitated before dropping onto his knees. "I think I would welcome scorpions after today," he said in a low voice. "Perhaps I'll look for them later."

As she adjusted the three woven mats that served as a floor, Olivia remarked, "There's a cut on your brow. Did anything happen?" She did not sound upset or even particularly curious; Rainaut had no idea the effort it cost her to do this.

"They tried to stone me as I left the city," he said, exhaustion in every aspect of his body. "After I saw the herald. That was useless." He dropped his clenched fist onto the mat. "No one cares, or they don't care enough to listen to a leper. If I could find a way to approach someone who is whole who would believe me and help me." He stopped; the futility of his predicament now felt overwhelming. "You've heard me say all this before, haven't you? Not that it has made any difference."

"It's to your credit that you still care for your comrades no matter how they have treated you," Olivia said in the same studied way. "The maimed one? Your English friend? Bynum? Will he not help you again?"

"No," said Rainaut softly, staring down at his hand. "The skin is changing. My hands are starting to turn white, too. And there's no hair left on my arms." He rubbed his forehead, wincing as he touched the cut left by the brick that had struck him. "I thought leprosy would kill the hurt, that I would be numb where it touched me. That's what I've been told. Everyone knows about—"

"If you were a leper, you would be," said Olivia, wanting to yell at him. The only indication of her feelings was the very precise way she pronounced each word. "Since you are not, there is no respite."

"Oh, yes," he said with weary sarcasm. "That fancy of yours. You know more of disease than anyone living, I suppose, and you know that I am not a leper. What is destroying me only appears to be leprosy and is actually something else, which is not a dangerous disease at all." He leaned back, his eyes closed. "Olivia, I treasure you, and I thank God night and day for your fidelity, but you need not maintain your lie for me, not now. I know what I am."

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