Crusader's Torch Page 49

Food here has become expensive since much of the foodstuffs stored in warehouses and held for winter consumption has been confiscated for the use of the soldiers going to the Holy Land. There are many merchants and artisans here who have objected to the practice of turning so much over to the Crusaders just because they have a cross on their sleeves. It is true that many of these soldiers have added to their wealth by selling the various foodstuffs back to the populace at very high prices. If this means that they are abusing their place as Crusaders, no one has yet to reprove them for it except the merchants and artisans. No one in the Church has said that the practice must stop, and so I assume that it will not, at least not for a while.

Yesterday there was a ship arrived from Jaffa carrying some of the English and French wounded. Ever since Reis Phillippe left the Crusade last autumn, there have been more casualties among the French knights, and the French vassals of England. They praise Reis Richard, but they also say that he is not protecting his men as he ought. Word is that the fighting has not gone well and that some of the knights are suffering from the sweating fever, as Reis Phillippe has been rumored to have. One of the smaller fortresses was all but wiped out from the sweating fever. Between that and the bloody flux, there are more Crusaders dying from maladies than there are dying from wounds, although I have heard that the wounds are worse than you might expect because they so often mortify.

I will persevere in my search for your mistress. Someone in this city must know where she has gone if she has been here, and I will find that person and learn all that I can. Rely on me to complete this task for you. I pray that I will have better news for you shortly.

Ithuriel Dar

By the hand of the scribe Iakkobus on the Feast Day of Blessed Chrodegang the Frank, in the Christian Year 1192.

- 9 -

At the outskirts of Acre there was a settlement of hovels and tents where many of those who had lived within the walls had taken refuge when the Crusaders had reached the city. Families who had owned fine houses the year before were now huddling in flimsy shelters, hoarding what few belongings they had been able to salvage from the battles.

"The bishop will be within the city," said Giralt Esanne to Fealatie Bueveld as they made their way through the pathetic remnants of the people of Acre.

"I wonder he can bear to ride to battle with this all around him," Fealatie said, motioning her three mounted companions to keep close together.

At the gate there were Templars in full harness and surcotes, supervising the movement of people in and out of Acre.

"You are?" the Templar asked as Fealatie reined in.

"The Chatelaine de Fraizmarch," she said, making sure that the device on her shield was visible.

"And those?" He indicated the other men with her.

"Domestic chivalry, sent with me for my penance," she said, finding the words still galled her. "We're here to speak to the Bishop—"

"He's not here," said the Templar. "There's a Papal legate staying at the moment. Will he do?"

Fealatie nodded as much as her chain mail would permit. "Yes. He would be most acceptable." She did not yet know if she felt apprehensive or relieved at this news. There had been so many promising beginnings that had led to so many deep disappointments.

"I'll make sure you have escort." He glanced once at the three men with her. "Domestic chivalry. You sure you don't want to become Templars? We would be pleased to have you with us."

Giralt answered for himself and the other two. "If we joined, it would be the Hospitalers, since we are entitled to be in their number." It was a calculated insult and he waited for the Templar to show offense.

"There's nothing to being a Hospitaler; any coward can wear a Maltese Cross and say he is defending Jerusalem, but it takes a man of courage to be a Templar," the Templar informed him with ill-concealed mockery.

"Stop this bickering," Fealatie said to Giralt. "I want to see the Papal legate and I hope he will receive me. If we must await his summons, is there a place we may stay, or must we find accommodations outside the gate?" She was a bit lightheaded from fatigue and the constant irritation of wearing armor in this climate. "We are all in need of rest."

The Templar shrugged. "There are a few houses that might be willing to give you accommodation. Ask the Bishop if he will say which you are to use; if not, there are beds in the houses of the Genovese." He stood aside so that the little party could ride past into Acre.

The city looked more like an enormous barracks, with almost every person on the street a man in armor or a man-at-arms. There were farriers and armorers as well, and a few women, most of them the wives and followers of the soldiers occupying Acre. Almost every large house was adorned with banners. They flapped from windows and rooftops and hung above doorways, the leopards of England being the most frequently displayed. Since Reis Phillippe had left the Holy Land, few of his men flew either his household banner of bees or the Oriflamme of Saint Denis, substituting their personal devices instead. A fanciful menagerie flourished on the banners: the caboshed boar of Janos of Hungary, the naiant dolphin of a Sicilian Norman, the salient-countersalient white stags of Conrad's men, and everywhere the Templars' Pegasus.

"Where is this Papal legate?" asked Giralt, addressing Sigfroit de Plessien, who was vassal to Fealatie's father.

"Wherever the banner of the Tiara is, I suppose," he said, staring in fascination at the richness of the display that could not hide the marks of battle scarring the buildings.

A small procession of Cistercian monks came around the corner, proceeding in double file directly toward Fealatie and her three knights. They chanted for the dead as they escorted five figures in yellow cowls toward the gates of the city.

At Fealatie's signal the men moved aside and lowered their eyes in respect and fear. Only when the monks had passed them did Fealatie speak again. "One of the churches will direct us to the Papal legate," she told them. "Giralt, you take the Hospitalers; Sigfroit, you take the Hieronomites and the Benedictines. Gace, see if there are Ambrosians here, and speak to them if there are. I am going to try to find the funda, to see if any of the Bourgesses are here to aid us."

"If they see you, they'll tax you," warned Gace. He was an imposing figure in the saddle; dismounted as he was now, he limped on an inward-turning foot.

"We are here for reasons of penance and cannot be taxed unless the Church permits," Fealatie reminded him. "Come, find out where the Papal legate is. I will await you at the funda." She went forward, leading her horse, watching to see that her men did as she ordered. Try as she might, she could not rid herself of the belief that her penance would not be completed and that her husband would disown her with the approval and sanctions of the Church because of her failure. The thought horrified her, and she tried to banish it from her mind, but without success. She followed the widest streets toward the merchants' quarter of the city where the funda stood.

A number of camels were being unloaded in the center of the courtyard of the funda, and clerks from the Court of Bourgesses inspected the cargo, making notations and haggling with the men from the caravan. Their disputes were carried on in competitive shouts and screams with extravagant gestures and posturing. Two Bourgesses stood in the middle of this confusion, gravely observing the transactions.

Fealatie secured her horse to the knights' rail, then started through the crowd toward the Bourgesses, taking care not to become involved in any of the arguments around her. As soon as she was close enough to be able to be heard, she bowed to the Bourgesses—an unusual courtesy—and said, "Worthy Bourgesses, I pray you will direct me to the lodgings of the Papal legate."

Both Bourgesses turned to stare at her. "Did you speak?" the older of the two asked after he had stared at Fealatie for a short time.

"I did," she answered, that sinking feeling taking hold of her again.

"A woman in battle harness," the younger Bourgess mused. "It is not correct."

"I am a chatelaine, and in that capacity, I have undertaken a penance which must be accomplished in harness." She had become used to the thoughtful pause her answer brought about, and the measuring looks. "I must speak with the Papal legate."

"It is not proper for a woman to approach the Papal legate in such garb," the younger Bourgess said in condemning accents. "In fact, it is not proper for a woman to approach the Papal legate at all. Who are you planning to speak for you?"

The older Bourgess nodded ponderously. "And traveling alone. Worse than a harlot. What explanation can you give for your conduct? It is against the law for a noblewoman to travel alone, no matter how dressed. It does not bode well."

"I am in the company of three knights, my domestic chivalry. They have been with me all the way from France to escort me and to testify to my penance. I have documents to vouch for this."

"Are they invisible, that you stand here apparently by yourself?" The younger Bourgess laughed at his own wit. "How can we question them if we cannot see them?"

Fealatie's throat was dry and her voice cracked. "They are praying." It was not quite the truth but it was an acceptable reason they were not with her. "They are to meet me here," she added, standing a bit straighter, one hand on the hilt of her sword.

"When will that be?" asked the younger Bourgess. "These merchants have brought goods that must be taxed, and it is our duty to inspect their goods and assess the value." He spoke carefully, as if he thought Fealatie could not understand.

"I will wait," said Fealatie with what she hoped was resolution rather than obstinacy. "When my men join me, then you will be good enough to tell me where the Papal legate is staying." She took three steps back and found herself a convenient niche near the animals' water troughs.

Both Bourgesses were relieved not to have to deal with the importunate woman in armor, and returned to their tasks with vigor and determination. Occasionally one or the other would glance over to see if Fealatie was still waiting, and each time was troubled to see that she was.

"There you are." Gace was the first to find her, coming up to her with his halting walk. "The Papal legate is staying at the church of the Premonstratensians, and his retinue is being housed by the Pisans; some of the merchants are still living in their houses, it seems." He looked around the funda. "The caravans come no matter what."

"Where is this Premonstratensian church?" Fealatie asked, unconcerned for the caravans. "How large is it?"

"Good-sized, old-fashioned, from what I could see of it. One of those round tower churches. It was probably here at the First Crusade." He wiped his brow with the hem of his cote. "I looked for an inn, but they all seem to have knights in them."

"We'll find something," said Fealatie. She pointed to the far side of the funda. "There's Giralt." She raised her hand to enable him to locate her, remarking to Gace as she did, "We may have to separate, but so long as one of you is with me, the terms of the penance are fulfilled."

"If it were up to me, Bondama," said Gace uncomfortably, "I would swear that you had been to Jerusalem, and that you had fulfilled the terms of the penance, so that we could all return home." He leaned against the edge of the trough to take some of the weight off his misshapen foot.

"That would be… dishonorable. I would abjure my oath. Any benefit that came to me for such a betrayal would condemn me more than my failure would." She could not conceal a degree of wistfulness. "If it were possible…"

Gace slapped his thigh with a mail-gloved hand. "You're as true a knight as any man, Bondama, I'll give you that."

"The Papal legate—" Giralt said as he made his way through the stacked crates and chests.

"Is at the church of the Premonstratensians," Fealatie finished for him. "Gace has just told me. All we must do is gain admittance to him and present our petition." She said it quickly so that she would not have to consider the enormity of such an undertaking.

"We will address him for you. Otherwise it could take months before you were permitted to speak, even here. There is no saying that the legate will still be here in a week, let alone a month." He pointed to another entrance to the funda. "Sigfroit."

The third knight came to join them, his face set. "You know where the Papal legate is, no doubt." He was disgusted, irritation shown in every line of his body. "He does not want to take any petitions before the capture of Jerusalem, or so I was told."

"What?" asked Giralt as Fealatie turned pale.

"That's what I was told. All petitions are being refused until Jerusalem is in Christian hands once again." Sigfroit made an emphatic gesture. "He is not willing to consider anything less important than the reclamation of Jerusalem. No knight wishes the liberation of Jerusalem more than I do, but for a Papal legate not to receive petitions from good Christians—"

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