Crusader's Torch Page 46

"He has betrayed his faith." Rainaut started forward, then held his place for fear of coming too near to de Monfroy. "He has—"

"Become an Islamite himself?" de Monfroy asked. "So have others. Monks are the worst of the lot. And perhaps he is still a Christian and still a monk and faithful to his vows, working now to deceive the Islamites." He tapped the end of his nose with one mailed finger. "There are a few foolhardy souls who will do that. We found one of them last week." He wagged his head in disapproval. "They'd spitted him and turned him over the fire. The men didn't like that; they wanted to even the score for him. So we gathered up a few Islamites and roasted their hands and feet off. So you see: one monk more or less isn't going to change that, no matter who he's working for."

Rainaut had been prepared for denial or argument but not for cynicism. He could think of nothing to say to de Monfroy, not even an apology for this fool's errand. Shaking his head slowly in disbelief, he moved toward the fallen wall of the chapel. "God save you for hearing me," he said without emotion.

"Amen to that," said de Monfroy with feigned geniality. "If there is nothing more?"

"No," Rainaut whispered. "Nothing."

"Then pax vobiscum." He started away, then looked once again at Olivia. "If the time comes that I may be of service, it would be my… pleasure to—"

Olivia's chin raised. "Thank you," she said icily. "Since I am a leper, I doubt it would be possible."

"Perhaps," he said, making the word lascivious. Then he strode away toward his tethered horse. As he swung into the saddle, he began to whistle tunelessly through his teeth.

Rainaut had flung back his cowl and braced his arms on the altar and was staring down into a darkness greater than anything night could conjure. His skin was white as marble in the pallid light of the waning moon. All his tawny hair was gone, from every part of his body, and his features were beginning to droop as his skin lost its suppleness. "How can he be a Hospitaler?" he asked eventually. "His oath of fealty to his King—Phillippe or Richard, it doesn't matter—should require better of him than this. I've never seen anything—"

"De Jountuil had similar views," Olivia reminded him gently. "Yet he was a good knight."

"He always spoke in jest. It was his way," said Rainaut. "De Jountuil would never—" He broke off, unable to find words condemning enough for what he felt for Orval, Sier de Monfroy.

"Not all men serve honor as you do," Olivia said, unwilling to debate the question.

"He is worse than the monk!" He punctuated the last by slapping his hands onto the altar, jarring himself in his outrage. "Will you write another letter for me? Someone must listen. There has to be someone who is willing to help me." He gave a single dry sob like a cough.

Olivia had come to his side, and she put her head on his shoulder. "No, I won't write another letter for you."

He rounded on her at once. "How dare—"

"I will not see you endure this again," she said, standing her ground and ignoring his clenched fists. "You are dissatisfied with the Hospitaler who answered your summons this time. You are insulted by his manner."

"And you are not?" Rainaut bellowed at her. "That I should have to stand and hear such things said to you! If I were not unclean—"

Olivia refused to be drawn into that battle again. "What if the next one you try is not worldly, like de Monfroy, but a zealot, who would have you burned or stoned or drowned?" She waited while he considered her question. "What then, my love?"

This time Rainaut did not answer at once, but lapsed into a distressing silence. "They'll die."

"So do we all in time, I'm told," she said, thinking of the countless times those she cherished had been lost to her.

"Through treachery," he added.

"The treachery, Valence, is not yours." Her manner changed subtly. "You have done all your oath ever required of you and more. No one could hold you"—she stopped, recalling other times, and amended—"no reasonable man could hold you accountable for Fraire Eleus' betrayal now. You have given your warning to an officer of your Order, though you are no longer part of it. What occurs now is in the hands of de Monfroy." She looked out through the crumbled wall. "It is night, and we can travel now. I will be strong, your eyes will not ache, and by morning, we can be gone from here."

"Without a guide, we'd die in the desert." His shoulders had slumped, his attitude enervated.

"There are guides to be had. I have spoken to a man at the inn, and he has agreed to take us, if we will meet him before midnight." She said this with a show of enthusiasm in the hope that he would give up the oppression that seemed to overwhelm him.

"A guide. More likely a thief." He held out his hands so that the moonlight struck them. "They don't look so bad at night, like this. You can't see how white they are."

"He is a guide, the innkeeper and two of the travelers vouch for him. He is expensive but he is reliable. And he asks no questions we cannot answer in good faith." It was difficult for her not to touch him. She wanted to take him in her arms and offer her nearness as comfort if nothing else. But Rainaut no longer wanted that, and when he felt her come near, he cringed, as if she were burning.

To cover his reaction, he said, "You say it is expensive."

Olivia was not fooled, but she said, "I have enough to pay him," not going into the price she had agreed to pay.

"I have no money." He drew his cowl over his head once more. "It is not fitting that you should pay."

"Since I have money and you do not, it's the only sensible arrangement, however." She knew he wanted to draw her into an argument, to provoke her into leaving him.

He shook his head vehemently. "I refuse."

At last her patience snapped. "Oh? And what are we to do, then? Remain here begging for alms until someone decides to stone you or you starve? Is that demanded by your oath as well?" Her hazel eyes were very bright, clear as water in the moonlight. "You behave as if you were guilty of a terrible crime, not that you are the victim of ignorance."

"God does not visit leprosy on—" he began only to be cut off.

"Diseases are not punishments for sins! Diseases are misfortunes. They are not the result of sorcery or spells or Heavenly vengeance, they come from impure water and foods, from miasmas and intolerances of the body; they come from wounds and congestion of the blood." She folded her arms. "I will tell you this again, since you seem unwilling to hear me: I know your blood and I know your disease, hideous as it is, is not leprosy. And you did not get it through an act of celestial pique." She stepped back from him. "If we are to meet the guide, we should leave here now."

Rainaut blessed himself. "God give me good counsel," he murmured to the Greek cross drawn on the wall.

"I have already given you good counsel," Olivia countered, "and you will not hear it."

"I am praying," he muttered.

"Quickly," Olivia advised him. "We have some distance to go." She walked away from him to the empty door. "I have warned the guide that we must travel at night." She gathered her courage and went on. "For we must travel at night, Valence. Your skin and eyes cannot take the sun; nor my nature. Without my… protections, the sun is very dangerous for me. And I have no… sustenance to revivify me."

Rainaut winced at that. "Olivia, it is not fitting—"

"I am a vampire, Valence, and I live through the taking of blood. I can get by on the blood of animals for a time, but it is less than bread and water. You have said you will not be my lover: I do not go where I am not wanted. There is no savor, no virtue, in blood that is given without love, without shared flesh. Therefore, I must now take precautions. And so must you, not because of me but because of what is happening to your eyes."

At last he blessed himself and raised his head. "How do you mean?"

"You tell me the sun hurts your eyes," Olivia said, coming closer to him. "The whites of your eyes have been almost red for some time, and the blue is… mottled with brown." She thought how much she had loved the deep, clear blue of his eyes and she ached for him. "Every time you are in the sun it is worse. So we will travel at night, and spare your eyes."

He put his hand to his forehead. "I thought the pain was just—"

"There is real damage being done," Olivia said firmly but with kindness. "I'm sorry."

"A leper and blind," he mused. "What a fitting end for a knight who is a coward in his heart." He bowed his head. "Very well, if we must leave, let it be now," He went on more lightly, "Does this guide have any idea where we are going?"

"For the moment, it is enough to be going west," she said. "If we go to Smyrna, we can cross to Thessalonika. I know a merchant in Smyrna who would carry us." She did not add that she had been in partnership with that family for over a century.

"I have no wish to leave the Holy Land," said Rainaut dreamily. "What is there for me in Europe, now I am unclean and made dead? It would be best if I went to the hospice of Saint Lazarus—"

"And starve with hundreds of others?" Olivia asked bluntly.

"Then a monastery—" He cut the word off. "No. They wouldn't have me." He shook himself. "For the time being, we'll go west."

Relief made Olivia brusque. "Very sensible. Now come quickly. The guide will not wait." She led the way out of the ruined chapel and to an old, unused road. "This is the most direct way to the inn, but watch how you go, for some of the road is worn away now."

He fell into step beside her, walking at a good pace but not rushed. They went with only the sounds of the night around them under the hard glint of the stars and the ghostly wash of moonlight. They were more than halfway to the inn when Rainaut spoke. "I wish you would not do that."

Olivia was so startled that she had to keep herself from stumbling. "Not do what?" she asked when she was back in stride with him.

"Call yourself a vampire."

"But I am." She wondered what had triggered that request.

"No, you're not. Not in the way we're told vampires are. You do not tear out throats and devour unbaptized children. You do not wear bloody cerements—"

"I should hope not," she interjected.

"—and smell of the charnel house. You do not turn into dust or smoke at the touch of the Cross or the Host." He was indignant.

"Yes?" she prompted.

"But that's what vampires are supposed to do," he said with a trace of exasperation. "My nurse and my confessor told me stories—"

"They were wrong. I explained that to you, remember?"

She had taken care to tell Rainaut about what she was and the risks her love posed before he was in any danger from her. "And I am burned by sunlight—you've seen it. Water is torture for me, running water the worst; I am immobilized by it. I do need my native earth. The blood you know about for yourself."

There was a silence before he responded. "Yes. Nothing was ever like it." He slowed for a few steps. "Olivia, you said that if we loved too often, too deeply, that I would become as you are when I die."

"It was not often enough," she told him in a carefully neutral tone.

"Oh." He increased his pace once more. "If we had, if I had died and not died, would I still be a leper?"

This time she did not correct him. "We are as we are when we die. I'm sorry."

"Um," he said. "Then perhaps it's just as well."

This remark stung, and it was a short while before Olivia trusted herself to answer in the same musing tone, "Why? Since you are counted among the dead already?"

But in the few heartbeats before she spoke, Rainaut had once again retreated into melancholy. "I would be damned twice."

* * *

Text of a letter from the Deputy Master of the Poor Knights of the Temple, Jerusalem, in Acre to the Chatelaine Fealatie Bueveld.

To the worthy chatelaine of Gui de Fraizmarch, I have seen your request for armed escort to Jerusalem for purposes of penance, along with the letters from your husband and from the Comes de Reissac, which makes it more difficult than it might be to have to refuse you.

The current progress against the Islamite Saladin has reached a critical point, and we are warning all pilgrims, even those who are religious and going on foot, to wait until the city is once again in Christian hands. As matters stand, we cannot assume anyone safe, either within the walls of the city or on any route approaching it. Sadly, there is as much danger from Christian chivalry as from Islamite, for there are sallies and skirmishes which cannot be anticipated.

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