Crusader's Torch Page 5

"To say nothing of the body of the Christian," added Olivia.

"The body is not the concern of Christians, only the soul." He blessed himself. "You are a pilgrim. You know this."

This time Olivia made herself give the answer that the monk wanted to hear. "I care little for my body, but I despair of what would happen to it, and to my soul on its account, should I be taken by the Islamites."

"You are a woman of excellent sense," approved Fraire Herchambaut. "And a prudent one." He rose. "Do not rise on my account," he went on. "I have to prepare the Mass." He bowed to the altar and stepped into an alcove. "I will have to be silent while I prepare."

"Of course," said Olivia, trying to find a good reason to leave before the Mass began.

"Also, because only you are present, and you are a woman, I must ask you to leave. When women pilgrims attend Mass, there must be more than one present or we are not allowed… it is part of the new Rule, the same one that forbids priests to marry." He coughed. "I will offer prayers for you, and if you permit, I will visit you this evening. I am allowed to carry out the tasks of my calling after the streets have been closed."

"What of robbers?" Olivia asked, knowing better than most what desperate men roamed Tyre once curfew began.

"Robbers do not trouble themselves with monks," Fraire Herchambaut said with a laugh. "Saints and Angels, why should they? What we carry has little use in this world." He indicated his simple monstrance and a small silver pyx. "Neither is worth more than a few coins, if that is how you measure the value of such objects."

"Men have been killed for far less, Fraire." Olivia blessed herself and got to her feet. "You need take no risks on my account. And you will be welcome in my house whenever you come there." She bowed to the altar and backed the few steps to the chapel door. "God give you wise counsel, and aid you in all your deeds."

"And you, Bondama," replied the Cistercian, his attention more on his religion than on her.

Two of Olivia's slaves waited for her, sheltered against the wall out of the sun. The older, a square-bodied eunuch from Ascalon, indicated Olivia's small palinquin. "Mistress," he said as he drew back the curtains to help her into it.

"I suppose I must," she said. "Alfaze, the monk of this chapel has said he will visit me. I wish him to be announced and admitted at once." She adjusted one of the cushions so that she was more comfortable, then slowly pulled the curtains closed. As she felt the palinquin lifted by her two slaves, she cursed the laws that limited her. It was not so long ago, she thought—hardly more than a century—that she would put on Arab's robes and ride with Niklos through the countryside behind Alexandria. She had not dared to do that more than twice in the last five years, and with the Templars increasing their patrols, the joy had gone out of such escapades. How she missed those few, reckless hours of freedom! Had someone told her in her youth that she would have to live this way, she would not have believed them. But then, she added to herself, if she had been told at the same time the kind of husband she would have, she would not have believed that, either. "It's just as well I'm going back to Roma," she muttered, and then, in answer to her slaves' questions, said, "Nothing, nothing. I pray for our deliverance." In a sense it was true enough.

By the time Fraire Herchambaut arrived at Olivia's house, the streets had been closed for some time, and the Cistercian apologized for the lateness of his visit.

"You are welcome at any hour," Olivia assured him when he had been shown to her reception room. "My household has been told to admit you whenever you call, as I said they would. My footmen—there are three slaves who take that duty—will open the door to you at any hour."

"You have a slave at the door at all times?" Fraire Herchambaut asked, startled at such irregular courtesy.

"A Roman habit. My father always had such a footman at the door, day and night," Olivia said, refraining from adding how long ago that had been. She recalled, fleetingly, the few slaves who had been left to care for her mother, before Justus sent her away from Roma and Olivia. In those days, it was a footman's duty to be sure every person entering the house stepped over the threshold with the right foot, to avert bad luck for everyone.

"Romans have their own traditions," said Fraire Herchambaut vaguely, unwilling to admit that he was unfamiliar with them. "As do others."

"Yes," Olivia said, clapping her hands to summon one of the household slaves still up. "I'm afraid the fare here is very simple, but you are welcome to share—"

"A little bread and wine will be very welcome, and God will bless you for your charity," said Fraire Herchambaut. "I eat no flesh at night. Bread and wine are food enough for any true Christian."

Olivia did not speak at once, and when she did, there was an odd catch in her voice, as if she had been about to cough, or laugh. She addressed her slave, "Bread and wine for Fraire Herchambaut. And fruit."

The slave bowed. "At once, mistress."

Fraire Herchambaut had been looking around the room, and said now, "I had heard you are a widow of means, but I was not aware how…" Words failed him as he indicated the silk hangings on the wall, the Persian carpet underfoot as elaborate as a garden, the small gold crucifix over the door.

"I have been fortunate in some ways," Olivia said. "Pray be seated. I am eager to hear what you can tell me about the requirements for my return to Roma. The sooner I attend to whatever the Bourgesses wish, the sooner I may be gone from Tyre."

"Certainly," said Fraire Herchambaut. He chose one of the three Frankish chairs. "How did you come by these?"

"There was a French Bourgess who offered them to me some time ago." She thought back to the man, and the year of his persistent courtship she had endured. What an impossible creature he had been, she thought, all greedy for her body and her possessions as if they were the same thing.

"And the brass chests?" As soon as he had asked, Fraire Herchambaut waved his own question away. "No, it is not right that I should ask, or that you tell me. I am not your confessor, nor am I retained by your kinsmen. You are in an awkward situation, with so much to attend to on your own." He made a self-deprecatory sound between a chuckle and a snort. "You are almost a chatelaine without a castle, and your duties are more than most women expect. I see why you are careful about your move; it is wise of you."

"This move needs more dispatch than wisdom, and that is proving to be hard come by. Everywhere I turn I am blocked or diverted." She made an effort to control her frustration, and in a calmer voice went on, "I am willing to sell some of these things, of course, and I plan to make donations to the Orders in Tyre, but there is so much—"

"And doubtless your family expects you to preserve these goods as well," said Fraire Herchambaut. "You have that obligation, of course."

Olivia was about to answer incautiously when her slave returned carrying a brass tray. "There is wine, dates, and honey cakes, mistress."

"Present it to my guest," she said, nodding toward Fraire Herchambaut.

The Cistercian tried to defer to Olivia, which was what courtesy required, but was more because he felt intimidated in her presence. He was not used to elegant, self-contained women who managed their own affairs. The Queen of England was said to be such a woman, but Fraire Herchambaut had never seen her. "It is not necessary."

"Of course it is. Zahdi, tend to my guest." Olivia concealed her impatience with what grace she could muster.

The slave obeyed, bringing a little table to the side of the monk's chair. He bowed as he put down the tray, then, at Olivia's signal, withdrew from the reception room, hoping that one of the other slaves would be called when the Fraire left.

Fraire Herchambaut looked at the food. "This is too lavish, good widow. I would be sinning in gluttony if I ate so much after my supper."

"Take what you want," said Olivia, concealing her annoyance at the satisfaction the Cistercian took at his self-denial. "If you want nothing, have nothing."

The monk nodded. "You have a sense of charity, which is most laudable. It is the virtue of women, isn't it?" He had lifted the wine jar, then said, "I have only one cup. Surely you would—"

Olivia held up her hand. "I do not drink wine."

Fraire Herchambaut hesitated and then poured for himself. "I must tell you that I think your abstention shows your good sense. Women are easily overcome by wine, and then they are prey to their lusts far more than any man." He held up the cup in salute to his hostess. "To your kindness and goodness, in Our Lord's Name."

"Thank you," said Olivia without inflection. How long, she wondered, would it take this tedious monk to tell her what she wanted to know.

"Excellent vintage," Fraire Herchambaut approved when he had finished the wine in three long sips, in tribute to the Trinity. "Now, let us turn our thoughts to the ending of your predicament." He wiped his mouth with the end of his sleeve. "I have considered carefully everything you have told me, and I am reasonably certain that you can leave Tyre in six to eight months." He folded his hands over his belt, obviously pleased with this declaration.

"Six to eight months? Months?" Olivia echoed, dismayed.

"There is, as you have said already, much to be arranged, and if you have goods to be disposed of, they must be handled by the authorities in a proper manner." He took one of the honey cakes and broke it into three pieces before popping the largest into his mouth and chewing vigorously. He went on, less clearly, "If you commence at once, you will be able to be finished before the end of summer, and once you have accommodated the requirements of the Bourgesses, you will be able to travel as soon as proper escort is available."

Olivia suppressed the urge to shout at her guest; instead she averted her face so that he could not see how angry she was. "Would it not be possible to issue an authorization for the disposal of such goods as I leave behind after I've gone?"

"I have made inquiries on that point. Unfortunately, you have said yourself that your major domo is in Roma, and not able to attend to such duties. To appoint another would take almost as long as the task itself." He was working on the second piece of honey cake. "I realize you wanted to be gone sooner, but with the Islamites abroad in the land, and danger all around us, the Bourgesses are more careful than ever, and more resolute. They have redoubled their efforts to protect all Roman Christians in the Holy Land, and we are wise to abide by their edicts."

"I see," Olivia said, clenching her fists in the folds of her bliaud. "How Roman, to seek a solution through complexity."

Fraire Herchambaut chuckled. "Roman women have great wit. It is not always appropriate in women, but I doubt you have given offense through yours."

Only, Olivia said to herself, because I am learning to contain my temper. "When I was a child, my father educated me as he educated my brothers. It was the custom in his family." She was able to keep her eyes lowered and her manner calm. "So," she continued more briskly, trusting herself at last to speak to Fraire Herchambaut directly, "tell me what I must do to satisfy the Bourgesses and be gone from here."

Fraire Herchambaut, who was starting on his second cup of wine, cleared his throat. "First, the Bourgesses will require that you present a complete inventory of your goods, indicating which you intend to sell, which to donate, and which to take with you. This is to prevent any pilfering or substitution of goods, you understand."

As the Cistercian drank, Olivia said, "Very well. Is that to include everything in the house, or only the moveables? Such items as the ovens and the troughs in the kitchen are not to be included, are they?"

"Another jest," Fraire Herchambaut said, wagging his head in mirth as he set down his cup. "You must have been the delight of your husband."

"His interests lay… in other directions," Olivia said carefully.

"It is often thus with men of affairs," Fraire Herchambaut said, turning abruptly solemn. He selected one of the dates and bit into it experimentally. "Preserved in syrup of… ?" He looked to Olivia for the answer.

"Raisins, I believe," said Olivia, irritated at the distraction.

"Superb." He finished the date.

"About the inventory?" Olivia ventured when she thought she had a chance of keeping Fraire Herchambaut's attention.

"Complete, of course, but not to include items that are part of the house as a building. Those items to be sold will be marked by an ancient of the Bourgesses, and then they will be catalogued for sale." He shook his head as he recited this information. "It appears over-complicated, I realize that, but it is to ensure that the goods are protected and that your interests are served."

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