Crusader's Torch Page 57

The priest persisted. "All who serve God are worthy of aid from His servants," he corrected. "What was troubling you? You showed yourself to be worried even while revealing your piety."

It was obvious that evasion would lead to more, not fewer questions. "I am returning from the Holy Land, going to Roma," said Olivia, secretly pleased that what she said was the truth. "I have… lost my companions through misfortune, and I seek those who are willing to permit me to travel with them. But, as you have remarked already, not all pilgrims welcome one… such as I am."

"True enough," said the priest, his eyes hardening. "How many were in your company when you left the Holy Land?"

"Three. We took ship bound for Roma, with many goods and other belongings, but it was attacked by pirates off the coast of Cyprus. Most of those on the ship drowned, and all the goods were lost; a few of us reached shore." She looked away from the priest. "It has taken me some time to get this far."

"A terrible story," said the priest, his sincerity giving him a sternness that Olivia found disquieting. "And all for your faith in God."

"I doubt my faith is as strong as that," said Olivia, fighting a sudden and catastrophic urge to laugh. The unsteadiness of her voice was misinterpreted by the priest, whose mouth set in a grim line.

"There is many another Christian who would benefit from your humility," he told her, his hold on the crucifix tightening. "Have you applied for escort yet?"

"No. I have very little money." She was curious now, but also growing wary. "If I reach Smyrna, I will be able to find passage on a ship bound for Barletta or Ancona or Ravenna, and from there I can travel on foot to Roma."

"You are on foot now?" inquired the priest, looking at the high solers she wore.

"I have a mule," she explained. "Without him, I would not have found a way through the mountains."

The priest nodded. "They are worthy beasts for all they are unnatural." He focused his eyes on a point two or three strides behind her head. "You can be sure of my help," he said at last, as if he had read a message or instructions.

"Pere, that is not necessary," Olivia responded at once, feeling a rush of panic.

"But it is," the priest declared purposefully. "It is not right that one who has already endured pain and privation for the sake of his faith should be caused greater suffering. You have long since been forgiven your sins, whatever they are, and the agony given to those like you is more than acceptable in Heaven's eyes. Suffering expiates all sins. Leave such cruelty beyond all Christian reparation to the Islamites." He motioned to Olivia. "Come with me, good eunuch." At that he stopped and regarded her with narrowed eyes. When he asked, his voice was harsh. "What is your name?"

Olivia had prepared herself to answer. "Olivier," she said. It was a name she had used before, one that she knew she would not forget to answer to.

"Olivier. A hero's name," said the priest as if this confirmed some private impression.

"A name, good Pere, that is all. If a hero had borne it in the past, then it falls on me to maintain the high esteem the name has commanded from the past." She might have smiled, but she feared that it might give her away, and so her expression remained stern. "It is my duty to show the name to advantage."

"There is much worthiness in what you say," the priest promised her. He indicated the entrance to the chapel. "Come with me. I will see that you find company for your travels that merits your attendance."

Olivia bowed her head. "You are most capable, good priest. I am in your debt, now and in the future."

The priest once again blessed her. "Good eunuch Olivier, you are one of those who is most worthy of the praise of Christians and of those who are in Orders. Let me make you known to those who wear the Maltese Cross of the Hospitalers, so that you will be aided by their numbers as you cross the country toward the port of Smyrna." He started toward the door. "Come with me, good eunuch, and I will see to it that you are placed in the most respected company for the duration of your journey."

Olivia listened to him and tried to think of a proper way to answer him. "What is your name, good Pere? So that I may number you among the other Christian travelers in my prayers?"

"I am Pere Savaric, from Gascony, as it is called by those who live there. In this world I am vassal to Reis Richard." He made a gesture of blessing and once again indicated the entryway. "You must come with me so that I may speak with the Hospitalers on your behalf." He straightened himself and started toward the door. "Accompany me, good eunuch, and we will make certain that you are on your way to Smyrna. It is not a port that Crusaders prefer, but you are not one with other Crusaders, are you?"

"Not truly, no," said Olivia, trying to hold on to some little control of the situation which was suddenly out of her hands. "I am not a Crusader in the sense of one who has done battle, either."

"There are many who might reveal that, if they were honest in their souls and their confessions," said Pere Savaric. "You have demonstrated exemplary candor in what you have revealed of yourself. There are others who are less entitled to glory who have seized it for themselves. You are not of their company, but are part of those who bow to God in the company of Saints."

Olivia was so puzzled that she could think of nothing to say; she lowered her head and blessed herself, saying to Pere Savaric, "For your esteem, I thank God most heartily." At the same time, she wondered how long it would take her to break free of the priest and return to the kitchen in the hostel.

"So, be guided by me, Olivier, and come. We will speak at once to the Hospitalers, and if they are not willing to help you, then we must approach the Templars." He rubbed his hands together. "You will find that these men, though they are God's warriors, are also filled with devotion and will recognize your worthiness." He was already moving through the door, motioning to the men gathered there to get out of the way. "I will take you directly to the Master here in Iconium and you can be certain I will not let them refuse you."

Olivia followed after, a sinking feeling in her heart. She had intended to make herself unnoticed, as invisible as she could. Now this priest was making an exception of her, and was determined to bring her into much closer contact than she wished to have with the authorities of the Hospitalers. She tried to think of a reasonable objection, one that Pere Savaric would endorse, but nothing occurred to her. There was always the most desperate action—admitting that she was not a eunuch—but that would bring about greater dangers than she already faced.

"Down this corridor," said Pere Savaric as he opened a side-door in the courtyard. "You see that there are dormitories on your left. The third door on the right is that of the Master of the Order. He always reads after worship in the afternoon. He will give us a little time." He prodded Olivia along with the encouraging grasp on her arm, his determination so palpable that it was almost as if his hand were a manacle.

"Is it wise to disturb him while he reads?" Olivia wondered, trusting that this might lessen Pere Savaric's purpose.

"For some it would not be, but I am his priest and he often seeks me for advice. There is no reason I would come to him in this way unless the cause was urgent." He reached the door and knocked. "Magister Vergier," called the priest. "I must speak with you."

There was an incomprehensible reaction from the other side of the door.

"It is urgent, Magister Vergier. You are one of the few who can resolve the problem." He knocked again, this time with more force. "Magister Vergier."

"A moment, Pere Savaric," said Magister Vergier, his footsteps indicating he was coming to open the door.

"You see?" Pere Savaric asked of Olivia, and she had the fleeting notion that he was showing off, making his position clear to her in a way he would not be able to do with most other pilgrims and petitioners.

"You have his ear: a great honor." Olivia hung back as the door opened.

"Well, Pere Savaric?" Magister Vergier asked, his fringe of graying hair in disarray, his cote hastily thrown on and not yet belted. "What is this urgent matter?"

Pere Savaric was not the least embarrassed to discover Magister Vergier in this disorder; he bowed slightly and said,

"I have learned that this eunuch, Olivier, wishes to join a party of pilgrims for his protection for his travel to Smyrna where he plans to take ship, bound for Ancona or similar port so that he can reach Roma." He cleared his throat. "There are those who are not pleased to have eunuchs in their number, but that is foolishness."

Magister Vergier had been able to follow this explanation without too much confusion. He frowned as he listened. "You," he said, glancing toward Olivia. "You're bound for Roma, are you?"

"Yes. I have a home there. I have been in Tyre. Pere Savaric has heard my story and has taken pity on me." There were few things Olivia liked less than being pitied, and some of her rancor echoed in her tone of voice.

"Bound for Roma and home." He rubbed his stubbled chin. "I have a party of wounded Hospitalers going from Tarsus to Smyrna. Most of them are able to ride, but a few need assistance. Do you know anything about tending the injured, eunuch?"

"I have some knowledge of medicaments," she said, trying to keep her attitude humble. "It would be an honor to aid those who have fought for the glory of Our Lord." She hoped that she had not overstated her attitude, for that might awaken suspicions. Her face grew slightly flushed, which Pere Savaric took as a good sign.

"There. A true servant of the servants of God. This fellow will be worth having along, I'm convinced of it. If you doubt it, then say so now, that I may take him to the Templars and see what they have to say." Pere Savaric shook a finger at Magister Vergier. "You know the Templars. You cannot trust them to use a eunuch honorably. They will see his beardless cheeks and will want him to do service as a girl. It would be an error for us to expose Olivier to that."

"Not that it probably hasn't happened before and will again, considering," said Magister Vergier with a resigned look. "I will speak to the escort. Doubtless another pilgrim with some skill with tending wounds would not be too much of an imposition." He raked his fingers through his hair in an effort to neaten it. "I will have an answer tomorrow before afternoon worship. Whatever the escort decides must be accepted." He folded his arms as he glared at Pere Savaric. "And you are not to search out this escort and plead this fellow's case. Leave that to me."

"I will pray, and repose my trust in God and you," said Pere Savaric, blessing Magister Vergier and beaming at him. "I am sure that you will recognize the wisdom of what I've suggested. You are sensible and steadfast in your faith."

Olivia wished there were a way to convince the priest to be less emphatic. "I will do whatever is required of me so long as it does not require me to take the life of a fellow-Christian," she said, knowing that the Crusaders were not above rampaging through local villages when the urge was on them.

"You see?" Pere Savaric said to Magister Vergier. "He's everything you could want for those wounded knights. All that would be better would be a dozen capable whores, but that would bring sin on their souls, so this eunuch is of more use." He put his hand on Olivia's shoulder again. "You will thank God for Olivier before you reach home."

Magister Vergier turned his eyes upward in silent and irritated petition. "I've said I'll speak to the escort. I can do nothing more. The rest is in the escort's hands." He stepped back, then added, "And Heaven's, of course."

As soon as the door was closed and the bolt firmly and noisily put into place, Pere Savaric beamed at Olivia. "You see? It is not so difficult. You will have your passage home, and the men will be grateful for the service you can render them." The light of fanaticism illumed his face. "You will bring relief to suffering, which is a cardinal charity, and you will do it in the service of those who are soldiers of God, which will add to your acts. God will look on you with favor."

"And upon you, for bringing it about," said Olivia, shrewdly guessing what Pere Savaric wanted to achieve.

"That is nothing," he said, though his wide, tight smile belied his denial. "There will be healing and God will be served. Thank Him every day for the opportunity and He will never deny you blessing."

"I will remember, good priest." She wished she had reason to leave now.

"Come with me to the chapel and we will thank God together for the blessings manifest and the blessings to come." He took her by the wrist and all but dragged her down the hall behind him.

Prev Next
Romance | Vampires | Fantasy | Billionaire | Werewolves | Zombies