Crusader's Torch Page 54

"A very old one," said Kalere.

"If it is in that tongue, it must be," Olivia said.

"There is a group of pilgrims due here in two days," said Rafi as if continuing their discussion rather than changing it. "We will arrange for you to travel with them, if that is satisfactory to you. They are not inclined to ask questions."

Olivia hesitated. "It is… best if I travel at night." Without her Roman earth and with little blood to sustain her, she dreaded the sun.

Kalere glanced at her brother. "They would accept a scout to go ahead of them. Night travel would be acceptable, though a little unusual."

"I will consider it," said Olivia, already certain that she would refuse.

"You are welcome to stay here," Rafi told her.

"No," Olivia said at once. "I could not do that with Rainaut here as well. It… it isn't possible for me to be near him and not… I could not stay away from him."

Neither brother nor sister questioned this. "Where will you go?" Rafi asked. "You need not give us an answer."

"To Roma. I have a villa to the northeast of the city. It is called Sanza Pare. There are those who would hold a letter for me even now." She put a hand to her brow. "I would… want to know… when—" It was more awkward than she thought possible to speak of Rainaut's death.

"We will send word, Bondama," said Kalere.

Olivia nodded. "Thank you. If there is anything—"

"We will see he is tended." Kalere's eyes softened. "Do not judge yourself too harshly, Bondama. He has shut himself away because he can bear naught else. It is not to your discredit that he does this. If he cared nothing for you, he would accept your aid without a thought. It is his love that does this."

"I have… an obligation to him. There is a bond." She hoped that there would be no need to explain anything more.

Rafi shook his head. "He would fail in his oath as a knight to permit you to remain with him." He laid his hand on a page of the ancient manuscript. "Listen: 'Those who seek salvation through martyrdom thinking that the suffering is the salvation do not know the Living Christ. Those who believe that joy is meted out as reward for pain know nothing of the promise of salvation. Those who seek out torment in the name of God have cast the Father in the role of tormentor. Those who seek glory will not spurn the pain, but those who seek pain will not find the glory.' " He met Olivia's eyes. "Let him learn to find the glory. While you are here, he will know only pain—his own and yours."

Olivia was very still; finally she nodded.

* * *

Text of a letter from Gui de Fraizmarch to the Abbot of Sante-Estien-in-Gorze.

To the most reverend and worthy Abbot Eustache of Sante-Estien, my greetings and prayers for the benefit of your aid and understanding.

I have your letter written on the 11th day of March in which you describe what you choose to call the plight of my wife in her attempts to fulfill her penance in the Holy Land. You have described her efforts and the reasons she claims to have been unable to accomplish what has been required of her. You advise me to be willing to permit a change in the requirements so that she may act in accordance with prevailing conditions and enter Jerusalem on foot and unarmed in order to pray at the Holy Sepulcher.

The alternative, as you have set forth, is that she and her retinue must remain in the Holy Land until Jerusalem is once again in Christian hands and she would therefore be allowed to enter the city in harness and armed, her horse in bard and her escort similarly armed. The dishonor she has brought upon me and my House is such that I can permit no alteration of the terms of her penance, and if that means she is—as you have chosen to term it—in exile until Jerusalem is once again in Christian hands, then so be it, she is in exile, and may think herself fortunate that that is the worst to have befallen her.

This woman has disgraced me. Nothing else can be considered but the dishonor she has brought on me. While it is claimed that the disgrace was not intended and that she was under duress as my chatelaine, bound to protect my holdings during my absence, there can be no circumstances that would excuse her actions. To have sustained the siege of the Comes de Reissac was lamentable but still tolerable, though she took it upon herself to defend Castel Fraizmarch without consulting others as to her responsibility in this case. Much embarrassment might have been avoided if she had been willing then to seek some assistance so that a truce could be negotiated. That she mounted the attack and conquered the Comes in open combat is wholly unpardonable. She has abjured my oath of fealty and has compromised my House. Her actions, which she claims were only to preserve Castel Fraizmarch, were of so grievous consequence that you know I would be well within my rights to imprison her or consign her to a nunnery for the rest of her days.

You and the Comes himself were willing to permit this penance, and little though I approved, I did not want more ill will between myself and the Comes de Reissac. Now you ask that the severity of her penance be lessened, that she be allowed to modify the terms of her acts, and I tell you, after what she has done, after the inexcusable way she has conducted herself it is not possible or desirable that she be excused one item of her terms of penance. When she left here for the Holy Land, it was with the understanding that she would enter Jerusalem in harness, garbed for war and ready to fight, as she fought de Reissac. Nothing else will expiate her sins against the honor of this House, against her father's House and against the King. If she is forsworn in church, which she would be if she did less than she vowed before God to do, then she is worse than a heretic and deserving of all the torments and suffering that can be meted out to human flesh in this life. You may be sure that if she attempts to return with her penance incomplete, she will learn more than she wishes to know of those torments.

You say that you have addressed the Comes de Reissac on behalf of my wife and he is willing to have her accomplish her penance in these lessened terms. This is inconceivable, and I question the motives of this man, unless he is liverless. If that is the case, then I can well understand why he would be willing to mitigate my wife's penance. No wonder he was beaten in battle by a woman—he is no better than a woman himself. If the Comes has forgot himself so far that he is willing to deny his oaths, that is upon his honor and his soul. I am not so lacking in my purpose and I will defend his honor when he will not. Inform my wife that she is bound by the terms of her oath which she made before me, you, and God. If that is not acceptable to her, she will face worse than my wrath if she is reckless enough to return to France. You will tell her that my terms stand, and what will happen to her if she abrogates her duty in any particular whatsoever.

I hope you will look into your heart once again, good Abbot, and see how you have traduced God's purpose with your lax notions. If other religious were as spineless as you, we would have the Islamites hollering their curses from the rooftops of Roma. Pray for a return of faith and dedication, for it is clear that you have lost your zeal. My wife will suffer the pains of Hell if she is allowed to forget her obligations in this world.

Gui de Fraizmarch

By the hand of the scribe Jean-Colin, on the Feast of Saint George of Cappodocia, patron of soldiers, in the Lord's Year 1192.

- 12 -

On the evening Olivia left, Rainaut refused to talk to her. He barred the door to the room they had shared, and when she called her farewells to him, he was silent.

"I am sorry," said Rafi as he went to the gates of the compound. "It may be the only way he can let you go at all."

"I hope that's all his reason," said Olivia, trying to maintain her composure. She had decided earlier that she would not be upset by anything Rainaut did to her on the eve of her departure, but she was finding it difficult to accept being closed out of Rainaut's life.

"If there are others, he and God know of them, and he and God will know of them at another time." He looked at the little sack tied to the saddle. "Your belongings only, no provisions; are you sure you will not change your mind?"

"No provisions," she said, repeating what she had told them already. "I will manage as I go."

Rafi sighed. "We can give you water, at least. The well here is pure and sweet."

"Thank you, no." Olivia, dressed in men's clothing, her hair drawn back and tucked into a Greek iron cap, looked little enough like herself. She had deliberately smudged charcoal along her jaw and darkened her brows with it, so that a quick glance in the night would not betray her.

"We will tend to him, Bondama, and we will pray for you," said Rafi. "We read and write in Greek. Kalere knows some French, as well, so we will send word to the villa in Roma. If there is any word to send."

"I am grateful," said Olivia. "I will remember you, and when I am home again, I will see that a donation is sent to you."

"There is no need," Rafi assured her.

"But it is a thing I wish to do." Olivia spoke with purpose but without giving offense.

"We will be glad of it, if you send it, and will not be disappointed or cast aspersions on you if you do not. We do not offer this sanctuary for any earthly reward, but for the chance of coming to know with enlightened minds. We provide the haven for those who seek it, for those who find it. We gain understanding, which is enough." He blessed himself and her, then, as an afterthought, Atlas as well. "He may be a dumb beast, and an unnatural one, but he does the work he was made to do, and he goes in the world to accomplish his tasks, which is more than many others do."

Olivia patted the mule's neck. "He is a reliable creature," she said, gathering up the reins. "I will let you know I have arrived at Roma, and my thanks will come with that notification."

"As you wish. My sister and I will remember you, whatever the case." He started back toward the doors of" his compound, standing open, as always. "If ever you have need of us again, Bondama, we will be here."

"That is very kind," said Olivia, hoping that she would never again be caught in these mountains. She got into the saddle and tugged Atlas around so that he was facing to the north. "If he will listen, tell Rainaut that though I leave him I do not stop loving him."

"We will, when he will listen." He raised his hand. "Go now. Stay on the east side of the stream and you will find the pilgrims' road in a night or two. There are stations for rest all along it."

"I'll remember," Olivia said, clapping her heels to Atlas' sides and resigning herself to his steady walk. She looked back to the compound only once, when the bend in the road put it directly to her right. She saw the outline of the chapel and the roofs of two of the larger buildings, but otherwise the place was sunk in dusk, almost indistinguishable from the rocks around it.

That night Olivia pressed on as relentlessly as she could, permitting Atlas to stop for water only three times, and to graze only once. She considered taking a cup of blood from him, to give her some little stamina, but in the end decided that the mule had greater need than she.

Morning found her not far from a mountain sheepfold, and she paused long enough for a taste of blood from three of the sheep, not enough to weaken any of the animals, but enough to sustain her through the next day and night. She slept under a fallen tree, Atlas grazing on his tether line nearby. Her sleep was filled with dreams, often dark and frightening, and she was not much refreshed when she woke shortly after sunset.

That night she covered more ground, arriving at the pilgrims' road toward the end of the night. She could not see any of the stations where pilgrims could sleep and prepare simple meals, but there were crosses hammered into the trunks of trees, and crude signs in Latin, French, and Greek identified the wide, dusty track as leading from Iconium to Tyana. Olivia gave a tight smile and turned Atlas toward Iconium, hoping that she would find a protected resting spot before the sun was up.

Not long before dawn, she saw one of the stations for pilgrims, a small, square building with a tiny chapel attached. The station had only three high windows and a narrow door, which was firmly shut and bolted. Refuse lay strewn on the west side of the building, and a short distance away, a stone well supplied water and overflowed into a long, narrow trough. There was a donkey tied up outside the station near the trough and it started to bray as it caught the scent of Atlas.

Immediately the mule set up its own raucous greeting, and Olivia jobbed at the bit to try to quiet him. He stopped the noise but began his own version of bucking in protest, and Olivia had her hands full for a little while, until she and her mount were safely past the station and the attendant donkey. The nearness of pilgrims and the risk of discovery made Olivia a little nervous, and she took the precaution of leaving the pilgrims' road, looking for her shelter at a slight distance from the curious eyes of those traveling to or from the Holy Land.

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