Crusader's Torch Page 43

"No," she said with great determination. "You know what others want you to believe and you haven't the courage to trust me." Her hazel eyes snapped. "Not that it matters now. We have lost our place on Alhim's ship and it will be some time before I can find us other passage." She tossed five gold coins onto the mat beside him. "At least you need not starve while we wait."

He stared at the coins as if they glowed. "Where did you get these?"

"I earned them," she said bluntly.

He was very still. "How?" He motioned her into silence as' soon as he asked the question; he stared at the coins so he would not have to look at her. "They're Persian," he said, making his identification an accusation.

"So they are," Olivia agreed. "I have enough to purchase us passage again—or I will have in a short while—if there is a ship that will take us."

"Us? Us? There are ships that will take you," he said, closing his eyes again. "That's what should concern you, Olivia, not how much you can bribe a captain to put me aboard."

She did not trust herself to speak at once. "What absurdity is this now? I thought we agreed."

Rainaut swallowed hard, but still the tears came. "You can leave. You ought to leave. Here I can do nothing for you but cause you more misery than I have brought you already." He rolled onto his side. "If God were merciful, He would let me die."

As she listened to this outburst, Olivia tried not to rebuke him, for she knew how much it pained him to make his confession. She waited until Rainaut was silent, then knelt beside him and took his hand. "I don't want to leave you. But I promise you this—if we find those who can offer you better care than I can give you, and are willing, I will see you are established with such aid. Otherwise, I cannot abandon you. Don't bring up your arguments again: we have said it all before now and nothing has changed. Your blood is still part of me, and that's the end of it."

Rainaut listened to her without moving. "I will hold you to your word," he said when she was finished.

"Certainly," she said, unable to keep the aggravation out of her tone. "And if," she went on after faltering, "you think to force me into turning away from you, you will have to find other means. I am bound by blood, as you are by your vows." She reached out and took his hand in hers. "Whatever was in the documents, surely has happened already. You can't undo the damage and you give yourself needless pain."

He pulled his hand away. "I must reach someone. I have to find someone who will listen. Until I do, I will have to remain here. That should not hamper you. Find another ship and return to Roma, where you belong. You don't need to tell them about the Requiem. You are clean, that's apparent enough."

Olivia sighed. "There's no point in argument. We do not and will not agree. Here. I have cheese and fruit for you," she said, refusing to be drawn into the dispute that had almost become a habit for them.

"I don't want them." His hunger was sharper, more demanding as soon as he spoke his denial.

"But you do, you know." She offered him a small, firm, hard-skinned apple. "And there is water, which you also need."

"And you don't," he challenged.

She refused to be goaded. "No."

He took the apple and sniffed it. "Where did you get this?" He did not like the reproach he heard in his voice, and he was ashamed of the anger he felt, seeing her whole. The smudge of dirt on the edge of her jaw did not detract from her loveliness, and her fawn-brown hair, tied back as simply as a farmer's, was shiny and clean. "And where did you wash your hair?"

"At the same place," she said. "There is an inn, catering to those who are not pilgrims, not far from—"

"I know the place," he said condemningly.

"I've gone there to serve as translator. The owner pays me, allows me to use the baths, gives me food. Those I translate for pay me… whatever fee we agree upon. I have Persian and three different forms of Egyptian, two forms of Greek—which was what I was using today—Roman, Latin, Frankish, French, both Norman and Parisian, a little German, Armenian—"

"You are a most remarkable and accomplished lady," Rainaut said, cutting her recitation short. "A treasure for the innkeeper, no doubt, who has plans for you."

"He does not," said Olivia with a slight smile. "If I were fourteen, a golden-haired Venetian, and a boy, he might change his mind."

Without thinking Rainaut blessed himself. "What creatures live in this part of the world! How does such perversity flourish? What does the heat do to them, that they are disposed to such usage?" He felt his own outburst with astonishment, amazed at the shock and disgust he heard.

"Perhaps that is why your Reis Richard came here?" Olivia suggested gently.

Rainaut held up his hand. "I cry you mercy," he said, nodding to her. "I do not know why I… It is a sin, a very great sin, but there are those who are ruled by it, as others are ruled by gluttony or wrath. Only God is incapable of sin."

"On that you and the Islamites agree," said Olivia, once again moving the food nearer to him.

He did not answer at once while he munched on the apple. When he did, some of the animation which had been gone from his eyes had returned. "Do you think that any of these guests at the inn would be willing to carry a message, in exchange for your service as a translator?" He no longer had eyebrows, but the expanse of silvery skin above his eyes moved as if he had lifted them. "And would you be willing to try it?"

Olivia poured out a cup of water and offered it to Rainaut as much to give her a little time to think as from any sense of courtesy. "Urgently?"

"If at all possible." He had finished the apple and set the core neatly aside.

She watched him, and knew she could not refuse. "All right, but I cannot assure you that the message will be carried or received." How much she wanted to touch him, to hold him for consolation and kindness and love, yet she did not dare, not while he dreamed of his final expiation. "What shall I tell whomever will carry the message?"

He sat a bit straighter and took a long drink from the cup. "That it must reach as high as possible among the Hospitalers, so that I need not trouble myself with pages and heralds any more."

"Very well," she said. "Tell me what you want the message to say, and I will write it."

Rainaut began on the cheese. "If we don't succeed now, then God has willed that I not succeed. But I know someone will pay attention, and then that false Hieronomite will be caught and shown for the traitor he is, to his country and his God." He chewed steadily, persistently. "In all my prayers I thank you, Olivia." Then his manner softened. "I've been a poor bargain, haven't I?"

"I've made worse ones," she said candidly.

"So much travail and so little joy," he said distantly, his blue eyes focused on something far away from that hovel by the desert road. "You should have remained in Tyre."

Olivia laughed bitterly. "That would not have answered."

"Still," he said. "You deserve more than this. I am no protector for you, nor lover now. I apologize, Olivia."

"There is no reason; you know that." She cleared away the scraps from his meal, humming occasionally, while Rainaut knelt in prayer. Only when he blessed himself and turned did she speak to him again. "Tell me: what shall I say in this note?"

* * *

Text of an unofficial letter from the secretary of the Metropolitan of Hagia Sophia to the Abbot of the Benedictine monastery on Rhodes.

To my reverend and most pious fellow-Christian, I take pen in hand again to share my thoughts with you and to hope that your prayers will aid me in this troublesome time, for all of us face a great test, and I fear greatly that we are failing in that test. Information has reached me that Reis Phillippe is in poor health and speaks of returning to France. Reis Richard wastes time at Jaffa and speaks of rebuilding a city the Islamites themselves destroyed: Ascalon. It is Jerusalem that is the goal, and all else is as nothing before it.

I would not say this to others, and I write to you in confidence, but this supposed treaty that has been discussed between Reis Richard and the vile Saladin has greatly shocked me, and I am filled with trepidation at the suggestion. How is it that so great a warrior as Richard Coer de Leon can be misled by this Saladin? Of all the Christian Kings who have come to the defense of Our Lord, none has been as diligent as Reis Richard, and none has brought such accomplishments on the field of battle as he. Now the rumors are that he is willing to hold back, with Jerusalem almost in sight. How can such a thing happen? Reis Richard has got near the most sacred walls, and now is content to retreat? What demon has entered his mind that he should consider such a thing at this time? Has not the sand run red with French and English blood that now cries out with that most sacred blood of Jesus for vengeance?

We of the Eastern Rite have been critizised for our lack of zeal in not joining the Crusades, and there are some for whom such condemnation is well-deserved. But many of our number have looked to you as our salvation, and we see that when faith must be most burning, most enduring, it is little more than a travesty. Where is the ardor that marked the beginning? Where is that eternal torch of sacred duty? Have the men of the Crusade quenched it with riotous living and plunder, or did they never have it at all?

Pray forgive this outburst, but I have such great feeling within me that I must speak out or succumb. The great fighting men of Christendom have been the wonder of all, and to hear that they are unwilling to press forward is more distressing than words can tell you.

We have seen some of those who have fought and paid the price—not the dead, but the injured, the maimed. Surely they have earned the respect of Christians everywhere. That many now live as beggars is a reproach to all of us, especially to those Kings who have brought their men to this distant place and then refused them succor when their usefulness is gone. Here at Hagia Sophia we offer prayers for those fallen in battle every day, and those who come for alms we make a daily donation of bread.

What may I do to aid you in bringing renewed purpose to the Crusaders? How can I evoke the stern glory of reclaiming Jerusalem if the knights and men-at-arms can do nothing themselves? Victory is being taken from us at the very hour it might be in our hands. I beseech you to exhort the Crusaders to extend themselves, to press onward into the very heart of the foe in order to gain the most precious triumph. Never has our need been greater than at this time, when our purpose is forgot or uncertain. Zeal will strengthen the might of the Crusade, and I beg God and you, good Abbot, to kindle it in the hearts of all Christian warriors for the struggle to come. For those who have fallen and will fall, be sure my prayers and the prayers of the faithful at Hagia Sophia are with you, and will be a sweet anthem when the Last Judgment comes. Be sure that in that hour, those who fought for Our Lord will be among those refulgent in glory, just as those who deserted Our Lord at His hour of need and neglect will be first amongst those cast forever into the burning abyss.

With the assurance that my devotion to your cause, which is also the cause of Our Lord, remains foremost in my prayers and meditations, and that my castigations are from an excess of dedication rather than the carping of a frightened servant. The victory of Christians over the might of Islam is my sole concern, and worthy of all sacrifice in that cause.

Alexios from Salinika

With the consent of my master, by my own hand and under seal, six days before the Most Holy Mass of Christ in the Lord's Year 1191.

- 6 -

Niklos' arm swept brushes, styluses, inkpots, and parchments onto the floor. "What do you mean, you lost her?" he demanded as he swung around to face his visitor.

"That's what I've been trying to tell you," Ithuriel Dar protested as he came into the study. "You wouldn't let me finish."

Loose slates rattled on the roof, making an eerie tattoo for their conversation. At the back of his mind, Niklos knew he would have to order repairs as soon as the rain slacked off. "As you wish," he said, trying to be patient and reasonable. "Tell me what happened."

Ithuriel Dar had a new scar on the bridge of his hooked nose and he was missing the little finger of his left hand. He paced down the study, then spoke to Niklos. "I told you about what happened on Cyprus."

"It's ridiculous. Olivia's no leper." He said that with such unemphatic conviction that Dar was almost convinced. "So you have completed a search of the island."

"For all the good it does, yes," Dar admitted. "I did get to speak to one of those apprentice monks at the monastery of Saint George of the Latins. He saw Rainaut and Bondama Clemens turned out." It was not possible to look at Niklos now. "He said that they… well, she took a few things with them. Apparently she must have kept some money, because she bribed a local sea captain—the fellow's known to be a smuggler—to take them off Cyprus."

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