Crusader's Torch Page 50

Giralt cleared his throat. "How can we approach him? There must be a way."

"Conquer Jerusalem," suggested Sigfroit in a tone that was made rough with contempt.

Fealatie tried to resist the sense of defeat that was threatening to overwhelm her. "Is there another way?"

"There must be," said Giralt. "I will find some way to speak to him." He regarded Fealatie with concern. "What do you want us to do?"

She sighed. "It's been so long, and there have been so many delays. I want to complete my penance so that neither my husband nor my family will be shamed by me any longer. Since I cannot enter Jerusalem in armor now, I suppose I must speak with this Papal legate. The alternative is to chase after bishops and kings, and since Reis Phillippe is no longer Crusading—" The frustrations of the past months made her want to scream and weep, but neither was proper while she was in harness.

"We will get the attention of the Papal legate," said Giralt, his eyes including the other two knights. "We may be only domestic chivalry but we are not wholly unconnected."

"Take care that the Papal legate does not try to turn us into Crusaders," warned Gace. "They've lost a great many men and they need more."

"We're witnesses to the penance," Sigfroit reminded them. "They cannot order us to abandon that charge."

Fealatie made an impatient gesture. "Find out first if the man will speak with us. If he will not, then there must be some alternative." She looked at the banners hanging from the gallery of the funda. "With so much of the nobility of France and Austria and England here, surely there is someone who can aid us."

Sigfroit exchanged doubtful glances with Gace, but Giralt spoke with confidence. "We will find you that aid, Bondama."

"The question is, where to start," said Sigfroit, adding, "If we must hunt down bishops and the like, I will need a meal first."

"Of course; you're all hungry," said Fealatie, and realized that she was ravenous. "There must be some place we can buy food." She was acutely aware of the dwindling supply of coins left to them. "We need beds for the night and stalls for our horses."

Gace said, "I think I can make arrangements for the horses. I saw a device I know on one of the banners; we're cousins and that should count for something." He motioned to where their horses were tied. "We might learn something about lodging from him as well. He's with a group of Reis Phillippe's knights, over in the Pisan quarter."

"What bearing? What's his device?" asked Sigfroit, so they would know what to look for.

"Sable guttee de larmes," he said, indicating his own device which was argent guttee de sang. "There are five variations in the family. It started with our great-greatgrandfather." During their travels, Gace had regaled them with stories of his great-great-grandfather, and this newest information was met with knowing looks.

"Find us this cousin," said Fealatie. "The sooner we establish ourselves, the greater the chance we have of gaining the Papal legate's ear."

They got their horses, then started toward the Genovese quarter of the town. On the way they saw more signs of fierce battles, including two large houses that were almost entirely destroyed. There were more armed men than merchants on the street, and places where the people would usually hold market were occupied only by men-at-arms and their families.

"They say that another attack is being planned," Sigfroit remarked when they had walked some distance in silence.

"It's safe to say that; as long as Jerusalem is in Islamite hands, an attack will be planned." Fealatie stopped at the sluggish well where four streets came together. "Which way?"

"To the left. It isn't far." Gace let his horse drink before leading him on. "Is it a sin to want a bath, I wonder?"

"If it is," said Giralt with determination, "then I will confess it. Afterward."

They all laughed.

"There it is," said Gace, indicating a formidable house with huge, stout doors of thick wood. From one of the upper windows, a black banner sprinkled with tear-shaped silver drops flapped erratically in the wind.

"How do we get in?" Fealatie asked, her eyes on the door.

Gace found the bell-rope and tugged on it twice, nodding as he heard clanging within the walls. "They'll send someone."

The man who opened the doors was an imposing figure, the veteran of many campaigns with the scars to prove it. His grizzled hair and creased face made him forty at least; he carried a maul slung across his back. "Who comes and why?"

Gace motioned the others to silence. "You house a cousin of mine, Sier Quesnes de Thurotte. Pray tell him that Sier Gace de Heaulmiere is here and begs his assistance." He bowed to the man-at-arms, although courtesy did not require him to do this.

"And the others?" the man-at-arms asked with suspicion.

"I will explain all to my cousin." He made this statement a dismissal. "We will wait in your courtyard."

"I cannot permit it," said the man-at-arms. "If Sier Quesnes invites you in, that is another matter." His expression indicated he doubted there would be any such offer.

"Then we will stand at your door," said Fealatie bluntly.

The man-at-arms stared at her as he closed the door.

"What do you think?" Sigfroit asked when the man-at-arms had been gone for some time.

"I think my cousin is hard to find," said Gace, unwilling to be discouraged. "And I think that the man-at-arms likes making us wait."

The others muttered agreement.

Giralt was saying, "If we find nothing here, we must look for other—" when the man-at-arms again opened the door, not quite as grudgingly as before. "Sier Gace, your cousin Sier Quesnes awaits your company in the courtyard." He stood aside so that the four could enter, leading their horses. "The courtyard is through the passage to your left. There are grooms to tend to your mounts."

"Well, that's something," said Fealatie in an undervoice. She held out her reins to a man whose ears and nose had been cut off, and who wore the badge of Pisa on his shoulder.

The others turned over their horses to other grooms and then fell into step with Gace.

Sier Quesnes was dressed in barbaresque fashion, in a bournous of cendal shot with gold thread. His hair was concealed by a damask turban, and his beard was perfumed in the manner of the Islamites. He looked toward the newcomers and held out his arm to Gace. "Sweet cousin." he called. "Have you come to be corrupted by the temptations of the East?"

"I've come for your help," Gace said, going to embrace his cousin.

"Best not," said Sier Quesnes. "Your mail will ruin my silk." He leaned forward and kissed Gace on the cheek. "That will do: you're not a peach-faced boy, after all." He looked at the others. "So martial."

"We need lodging and food," said Gace, taken aback by what he saw.

"That can be arranged, if you don't mind close quarters." He turned this into a lascivious promise.

"There is a problem," Gace said flatly, and introduced Fealatie, outlining her predicament.

"It is very awkward," said Sier Quesnes when he had heard him out. "However, it would be worse if I turned you away. We're all vassals of France, aren't we? There are obligations." He twiddled the ends of the lorins around his waist. "Oh, very well. Since this is a manner of penance and honor, it would not be proper to send you away. For the time being you may stay here. We'll arrange it somehow. As to the Papal legate, that may be more difficult, but something will be done." He bowed in the Islamite manner. "You are welcome here. Take care, though. The place is alive with thieves." He grinned. "We cut their eyelids off and take them out into the desert." Then he clapped his hands, summoning slaves to tend to his guests.

* * *

Text of a letter from Hilel Alhim to Orval, Sier de Monfroy.

To the most illustrious knight, Orval, Sier de Monfroy, the humble shipowner Alhim sends greetings, with profound thanks for the generous sum paid for your requested information. It is rare for those in my position to attain so great favor, and with so little effort required. May Heaven reward you for your charitable nature and your good works.

To answer your inquiry as best as I am able: yes, the Bondama Clemens traveled on my ship from Cyprus, in the company of one who had been a knight. She said that he had been disfigured, but I feared that the man was a leper and had been cast out from his knightly company. Nothing was ever mentioned of that, but I saw his face once, without hair and white as spume. She insisted that they travel concealed, so I had not much opportunity to speak with him or to learn what their plans were.

Originally she arranged their passage to take them all the way to Italy. She gave sufficient money for such a journey, and spoke of returning to Roma. Yet at Tarsus she and her companion left the ship and did not return. You claim to have seen them near there, and certainly it is possible that they decided to go overland, for Bondama Clemens was not comfortable on my ship. There are those who cannot be at ease on a moving vessel, and it appears that Bondama Clemens was one such.

Where she came from before Cyprus I am not certain. She is not a Cypriot. The knight in her company referred several times to the Hospitalers, and if he had been once of their number, it might explain why he was with her, for if he had been part of her escort, he could remain with her. That is conjecture on my part, but since you are a Hospitaler as well, it may be that you can discover much in the records of your Order. Such a knight with such an affliction must be recorded somewhere.

Doubtless your inquiries are for the benefit of Bondama Clemens, for if they were not, I would be at fault in answering you. But since you are a sworn knight, it is not possible that you would intend anything dishonorable for the Roman widow. So I respond to you in good conscience and with the knowledge that you will show true chivalry to Bondama Clemens. If her companion is truly a leper, it is unfortunate that such an affliction should be visited upon so lovely and gracious a lady. I pray that you will find it in your heart to protect her.

There can be no question of your motives in this case; surely you are demonstrating again the charity that caused you to pay me so well. For that, may Heaven bless you.

Hilel Alhim

By the hand of the scribe Fraire Basilios on the 17th day of March in the Lord's Year 1192.

- 10 -

A distant bell roused Olivia from her stupor; she lay back in the covered nest of pine-boughs and listened to the tolling that accompanied sunset. Beside her, Rainaut shuddered and moaned, captured in a dream. She moved closer to him, her brow lined with worry; in the last week, he had grown worse. A sense of futility washed through her, and she put her hand on his shoulder, having nothing else she could do to help him.

Atlas grazed on a long tether, his ribs starting to show from the labor of carrying a double load through the mountains. His long ears moved at the sound of the bell, and he raised his head.

"It won't hurt you," Olivia said softly as she worked her way out of the makeshift shelter of leaves and branches. Some of them were still damp from the rain the night before and she felt the moisture in her clothes. Her ears rang as she moved and she realized she would have to take nourishment soon or be overcome with hunger. Memories of other frenzied feedings sickened her, and she resolved to catch a rabbit or a fox before the night was over.

Rainaut murmured incoherently, his legs thrashing through the boughs. He rolled onto his back and struck out with his right arm, then dropped back into deeper sleep.

He would need food, too, thought Olivia. The disease had its hooks into him irremediably, but she could alleviate the hunger for him, for a while. She picked up the sack that contained their remaining coins and few possessions and carried it with her to where the mule's saddle lay. Using one of the smaller knives, she went to Atlas and began to clean out his hooves, taking care to check the shoes, to be sure they were still fastened securely to the hooves. They could not afford a cast shoe while lost in the mountains.

For they were lost. She grudgingly admitted it the night before, when the trail they were following eventually faded and disappeared, leaving them on the side of a rising shoulder with no building or other road in sight. She had tried to keep going north and west, since the road to Smyrna lay in that direction, but they had covered little ground, and so slowly that Olivia had begun to wonder whether it would be best to backtrack and try to find the main route again.

Rainaut awoke with a shout, sitting up, his hands out to protect himself. He looked about wildly, panting, his red-tinted eyes glazed with fear.

Olivia looked up. "Valence," she said as if he had done nothing unusual. "I was about to wake you."

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