Crusader's Torch Page 44

"What!" Niklos surged to his feet and in four long strides had seized Dar's shoulders. "Repeat that."

"She… she and the Hospitaler… the leper… they were smuggled off Cyprus." Seeing the expression in Niklos' ruddy-brown eyes, Dar babbled on, as if words were the only thing that would hold him at bay. "It was… just a small ship. It… is seaworthy… nothing to look at… not very fast… but Bondama Clemens was safe while she was aboard her. I vouch for that." He tried to lift his hands without success. "You frighten me, Aulirios."

Niklos snorted. "With reason." He released Dar and stepped back. "It's not your doing, I suppose," he went on more calmly. "No one knows better than I what Olivia can get up to. Bribed a smuggler, did she?"

"Yes… Magister," said Dar, when he had decided on an important enough title for Niklos.

"Magister?" Niklos made a gesture of dismissal. "I'm a bondsman, Captain Dar," he reminded his guest. "Where was the smuggling ship bound?"

"One of the men working with me found the captain—a rascal named Alhim—in Rhodes. He said that Bondama Clemens and her leman had gone ashore at Tarsus and never returned. It may be true."

"Yes, and it may not," said Niklos heavily. "Is this rascal of a captain known for slaving?"

"No," said Dar, visibly relieved to say it. "He is too small a dealer for that, and has too little money. Smuggling and some theft—"

"And piracy?" suggested Niklos.

"Not in that ship," Dar said with a quick smile. "You couldn't bring down a lily pad in a duck pond with Alhim's ship. But I wouldn't leave goods unguarded on the wharf when he's about."

Niklos nodded, sharing some of the amusement Dar felt. "Then you think she did go ashore?"

"Yes, and possibly at Tarsus. The captain had no reason to lie about it." He folded his arms as if facing into the wind. "I am prepared to leave for Tarsus as soon as the weather clears. You have only to order it."

"Tarsus," mused Niklos. "And by the time you get there, she will have joined a caravan or a troupe of mummers or stolen a horse and gone to Antioch or… anywhere." He pinched his nose between his thumb and forefinger. "Agh. I can't think about it. But I must."

"She is a… an intrepid woman," Dar offered, unsure how to respond to what Niklos said.

"Intrepid." He considered it. "She is that." The first flicker of lightning tweaked the sky, and shortly afterward a rumble of thunder. Niklos went to the window and stared out at the clouds. "At last. It's been threatening since yesterday."

"It'll last two days at most," said Dar. "This time of year, we'll have a little time between storms. I could set out for Rhodes and… backtrack from there."

"But backtrack to where?" Niklos wondered. "Try Tarsus first; see if you can find out where she is, or where she's been. Someone must have seen her, leper or no." His breath on the windowglass blocked out the storm beyond.

"Magister," said Dar, who had to use some sort of title for Niklos, "most people do not see lepers. Lepers are dead. They are… invisible."

Niklos nodded, blowing on the pane again. "It costs a royal ransom, but it's worth it when it rains," he said, tapping the glass lightly. "Invisible," he went on, indicating he had been listening. "Possibly. But people notice Olivia."

"She is a memorable woman," said Dar, recalling the way she handled the loose stallion on the docks at Tyre.

"Someone will have seen her, will have talked to her, and they will remember." He was more energetic now, and his attitude was decisive. "All right, let's try it this way: you go to Tarsus, and find out if that Captain Alhim really landed there. That's first. If he did, then try to discover if anyone has seen either Sier Valence Rainaut or her. Be careful. There are those who would embroider any fable if they thought it would gain them a sequin or two. If she is still there, find her. If she has gone elsewhere, find out where and follow her. I have letters here, somewhere…" He looked at the pile of parchment strewn on the floor. "Yes, well, I'll have to find them for you. The point is, I have them, and they are travel permits that will get her aboard the first available vessel bound for any port in Italy. You'll have them before you leave, two sets, in case you need them."

"Who authorized them?" asked Dar, astonished to hear that such plans had been made.

"A… a highly placed churchman," said Niklos with slight confusion.

"A friend of the Clemens family?" Dar pursued, both curious and apprehensive.

"Something like that," said Niklos as he sorted through the scattered sheets. "You will have them, and a safe-passage for both of you. That's in case you are detained anywhere. The wording is vague enough that it will cover most circumstances." He held up two folded vellum sheets. "The safe-conducts. That's a start."

Dar watched Niklos at his task, his canny features puzzled. "One of the slaves could do this, Magister."

"I will attend to it," said Niklos distantly. He had righted the inkpots and had used the corner of his cote to blot the worst of the stain. "But you put me in mind of another matter. My mistress owns several ships—"

"Owns?" Dar repeated incredulously.

"Yes," Niklos said evenly. "She owns several ships. She bought them and she owns them, though the law makes this difficult, and it is arranged through a number of… ruses." He gave Dar a thoughtful smile. "She would be very annoyed if she discovered I've told you this."

"I will say nothing." Dar was certain no one would believe him if he were foolish enough to reveal Niklos' information.

"You will need proper authorization to take over one or any of her ships and use them to bring her home. I'll have to draw that up and send it to… the churchman for signatures, sigils, and seals." He stood up, dusting off the folds of his cote.

Dar coughed delicately. "Is it so simple a thing to command a favor of a churchman?"

"For Olivia," said Niklos obscurely. "I will have that for you, and a list of the ships and captains. They will honor the authorization if they can read it, and I'll make sure it is in four or five languages at least."

"French, Latin, and Greek," Dar recommended for a start.

"Yes, yes," Niklos said, his mind already on other things. "You'll need gold as well, and"—his voice became suddenly very soft, very quiet—"you will need to carry several chests with you."

"Chests?" Dar echoed. "What is this? Perhaps you should speak to the smuggler and be done with it." From time to time Dar sensed something alarming about Niklos Aulirios, though he could never quite identify what it was. Now he felt more alarm than he had before, though he still could not explain it.

"You will carry them," said Niklos. "For Olivia."

Dar hid his unease in brashness. "Filled with jewels and clothes, no doubt. So that she can—"

"The chests contain earth," Niklos interrupted. "Roman earth."

This time Dar had the sense to keep his notions to himself. "With the Crusaders commandeering ships still, there might be difficulties securing even one of her own." It was a safe thing to speak of, and a legitimate concern.

"The churchman will take care of it." He found the other documents and tucked them into his sleeve. "Very well. I will tend to these matters this evening. For now, I want you to come here." He had gone to a tall, wide chest at the end of the study. There were maps of all kinds inside, suspended from wooden hangers to keep them flat. Most were recent, but a few were ancient, their ports identified by alphabets Ithuriel Dar had never seen.

"This is a treasure," Dar marveled as he looked at a frayed sheet of papyrus showing the Dardanelles and the Black Sea beyond.

"Olivia thinks so," said Niklos, handling the map with great care. "There's another one—she doesn't like to unfold it because it might fall apart—from well before Christ. Her friend Sanct' Germain Franciscus gave it to her, years ago. If you wish to see it, she will show it to you when she returns." As he spoke he selected a map on heavy parchment, with Latin names in fading ink. "This should be the best." He pulled the hanger from its rack and carried the map to a trestle table where they could work standing up.

Lightning scampered overhead, pursued by heavy-footed thunder.

Four beeswax candles were lit, and while Dar was amazed at this extravagance, Niklos bent over the map. "Now then," he murmured as he traced the outline of Cyprus, his finger not quite touching the parchment or ink, "we know she left from here, is that right?" He had indicated the town of Famagusta.

Dar shook his head slightly. "Not there properly. There's a cove, on the southern arm, named for Saint Spiridion. That's where Alhim brings his ship. I'm assuming they left from there."

"Why?" Niklos inquired. "Why that place? If Alhim is known to smuggle and to use that cove, why not choose another place?"

Dar shrugged. "It's easiest in waters you know," he suggested. "And there are many caves in the cliffs there."

"A good place to hide, you mean?" Niklos ventured.

"Smugglers have reasons to hide many things. And lepers—"

"And lepers live in them," Niklos finished for him. "Yes, you're right about that."

"We'll suppose they left from there," Niklos decided. "Bound where? Tarsus is to the north. You would think a man with a small ship would go east, to Tyre or Tripoli or upriver to Antioch. There's better trading to be done, and a shorter voyage." He tapped the table beside the parchment.

Dar, who had been staring at the names on the map, frowned. "What are these places? I know Sidon and Tyre and Caesarea, but see here?"—he pointed to a place between Jerusalem and Gaza—"Castrum?" He pulled at his belt. "With a number. And this, something about a red eagle?"

"This is a very old map. Some of the names have changed since it was made." The disinterest in Niklos' demeanor did not encourage more questions from Dar. "Why Tarsus first?"

"Possibly not Tarsus first," Dar allowed, riveting his atten-tion to the problem once again. "But Tarsus is not so far from Antioch. Antioch and then Tarsus, perhaps, working west." He cocked his head to study the map more closely. "Tarsus to Rhodes, with perhaps a stop in between." He started to rasp his thumb over his short-trimmed beard. "Alhim's ship does not carry much in the way of supplies. They will have to put to shore every five days at the most."

"So what does that suggest to you?" Niklos asked.

"Tarsus first; we're set on that." He looked squarely at the map, his dark eyes extremely blank. "She's going against the tide. We must make allowances for that."

"And what does that mean?" Niklos had stepped aside so that Dar would have a better view of the old map.

Lightning and immediately thunder.

Dar looked up, a bit dazed. "The storm?"

"It's rambunctious," said Niklos. "Tell me about going against the tide."

Dar scraped at his beard once more. "Everyone is bound for the Holy Land. As yet, not many are coming back. It is more difficult to move away from there than to arrive there."

"Indeed," said Niklos, a world of implication in the word.

"So she will not be able to move as quickly. We must remember this while we search for her." He had once again achieved the vacant stare of utter concentration. "We are assuming she is going to come by ship, though we both know she is a poor sailor. Might she decide to use the land route?"

"It's possible," said Niklos after brief reflection, "but not likely. It would take much more time, wouldn't it? And it would require her to pass through Constantinople."

"That's not necessary," Dar protested. "She could cross to Gallipoli, take the road to Durazzo, then cross to Bari or—"

"Another Crusaders' route," said Niklos. "Beset with the same problems."

Dar made a gesture of helplessness. "Unless she travels through Africa, I can think of no way to bring her from Tarsus to Roma that does not use Crusaders' routes part of the way." He held his hand over the map. "See for yourself."

"I see," said Niklos, barely glancing at the old parchment. He had studied the map before, and was always drawn back to the same conclusions. "All right, Tarsus, and then along the coast toward Rhodes. She is traveling with a man who has been cast out as a leper. Therefore they will not be able to stay in the usual accommodations, and that makes your work more difficult. The man was a Hospitaler, and they may have some record of him."

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