Crusader's Torch Page 6

"If my interests were being served, I would be allowed to leave in a week," Olivia said with asperity before she could stop herself.

"You must pray for patience," said Fraire Herchambaut, one hand lifted to admonish her. "Your husband's family would think themselves and you ill-served if you returned to Roma without the accounts that will indicate—"

"My husband's family, as I've told you already, is not involved in what I do." Olivia paused. "I did not speak to offend you, but in this instance I believe I know my circumstances better than you or the Bourgesses do."

"If you received less than proper treatment, you would discover otherwise," said Fraire Herchambaut as he poured the last of the wine into his cup. "Every family has the family's fortune in mind, from the most august to the most humble. You have an obligation, if not to your family, to the memory of your husband and his heirs to preserve your wealth and to account for how you have spent it." This time his three sips were noisy and rapid.

"Tell me, good Cistercian," Olivia said, feeling desperate, "once the Bourgesses have tended to their accounting, how long will it take to arrange for escort and a ship?"

"Not terribly long, unless another Crusade is called, of course." This afterthought was slightly slurred; the wine was taking hold.

"Oh, Lord," said Olivia, and remembered to bless herself so that she would not be upbraided for profanity. "Isn't another Crusade likely?"

Fraire Herchambaut nodded sagely. "Oh, yes, yes, I would guess that the Pope will preach another soon. We can't have Saladin in Jerusalem. It can't be tolerated."

"And if the Crusade begins, what then? How long will it take me to leave Tyre?" In her desperation Olivia felt an element of the ridiculous and had to bite the insides of her cheeks to keep from laughing.

"That depends if there is fighting here or not. If the Islamites come, then we will be fortunate to emerge alive and with our freedom." He blessed himself. "They make eunuchs of monks, you know? Because we maintain our chastity. They say they do it because we are eunuchs already." He belched. "It blasphemes chastity, castration. The point of chastity," he said with owlish intensity, "is to keep the ability and to offer up the sacrifice of not using it." His expression darkened to a scowl. "Now that priests cannot marry, monks are…" He lost the thread of what he was saying.

"Yes?" Olivia prompted. "What of monks, good Fraire?"

"Forgot," he admitted. "It doesn't matter," he went on ponderously. "You make that inventory. That's the first step."

"Yes; all right." She considered sending for fruit juices with peppers but decided against it; the monk would not be sober until morning no matter what she did. "And the escort."

"It will be arranged." He reached out to put his cup down and succeeded in oversetting the entire tray. The last of the honey cakes and five marinated dates sprayed over the floor. "Jesu," said Fraire Herchambaut in a bemused tone.

"My slaves will attend to it," Olivia told him. "About the escort? My escort to Roma?"

"You must have one," said Fraire Herchambaut distantly. "The Devil's in my head."

Olivia persisted. "If I will require an escort, cannot this be arranged in advance, so that once my accounting is approved here, all will be ready for my departure?"

Fraire Herchambaut rubbed his brow in concentration. "It's irregular," he decided at last.

"But is it possible?" Olivia had risen to her feet and was pacing the confines of this room.

"I don't know," Fraire Herchambaut said when he had considered the possibilities. "It might be."

She stopped, her hands locked together, her hazel eyes glittering in the flickering brazier light. "If it is possible, and if it is allowed, will you make such arrangements for me, Fraire Herchambaut?"

"Part of my task," he said to her just before his head lolled to the side and a stentorian snore rumbled out of him.

Olivia stood and glared down at Fraire Herchambaut. She would have to arrange for the monk to be awakened before dawn, and to be escorted back to his chapel by one of her slaves. As she clapped for assistance, she hoped that the Cistercian would be able to remember what he had said this evening. She looked up as one of the footmen came through the door; she indicated Fraire Herchambaut. "Something will have to be done with him," she said. "You see the state he's in."

"I will take care of it, mistress," said the footman.

"And the room must be cleaned, as well." She realized, as she said this, that this was only the first of many extra tasks that would be given to her household in the next days and weeks. The prospect vexed her.

"Do you wish him moved, mistress?" asked the footman, cutting into her thoughts.

"Yes, but you might as well leave him here until morning." She started toward the door. "Is my bath ready?"

"Yes, mistress, as you requested."

"Thank God," she said with feeling. "What ever convinced monks that not bathing was holy?" Without waiting for an answer, she left her footman with Fraire Herchambaut and went off to her private quarters.

* * *

Text of a letter from the Chatelaine Fealatie Bueveld to the Abbot of Sante-Estien-in-Gorze.

Most Revered Abbott, my deliverer in this unfortunate time, I will most willingly undertake the pilgrimage you have advocated, for it is acceptable to my husband's kinsmen, to the Comes de Reissac and his kinsmen, and to my family.

I pray you will remember me while I am gone, and will petition Heaven to give me safe passage, for it is agreed that I will travel with an escort of four only, since I am to travel in harness. We will leave from Sante-Ranegonde-in-Toul in a month. It is agreed that we will travel overland and not take ship at Venezia or Genova as some have. I am to offer prayers at every Christian holy place along the way, and am enjoined to bring back to the Comes de Reissac a rose from the walls of Jerusalem.

My cousin Orsin will replace me at Castel Fraizmarch, and will serve in my husband's stead until such time as my husband returns from the service of the Pope in Roma. I accept the decision to remove my authority since I have so greatly abused it.

If God wills, I will send word to you as regularly as I am able, and will entrust my messages to monks and priests alone, not to other pilgrims. Those who travel with me have agreed to send their messages with mine, under seal so that I will not know what they report. Whatever charges are contained in such messages I will answer upon my return to Castel Fraizmarch. It is my greatest hope that the infamy I have brought upon Gui de Fraizmarch and all the House of Bueveld will be forgiven, if not while I live, then at the Mercy Seat. All my faith and my pilgrimage is dedicated to that end.

Fealatie Bueveld

Chatelaine of Gui de Fraizmarch

By my own hand and under the seal of Castel Fraizmarch, on the last day of May, in the Lord's Year 1189.

- 4 -

"Most gracious Roman lady," the newcomer said as he dropped to one knee to kiss Olivia's sleeve, "I have greeting to you from a scoundrel in Roma who calls himself your major domo."

Olivia stared at this stranger, arrayed in carnival colors, and speaking with an accent she did not know. "Niklos?"

"In Roma, bribing officials with the best of them," said her visitor. "He approached me because I have a ship, a fast one, and it sails from Valencia to Sicilia and Cyprus and Tyre. Niklos has already purchased space aboard for you on the return voyage, assuming you are permitted to leave at that time." He glanced over his shoulder toward the front of the next house. "I have more to tell you." He spoke a strange version of Latin.

Called out of her thoughts, Olivia opened the door wider. "I ask pardon that my footman did not receive you," she said in a distracted way. "He and four other of my slaves are presenting the inventory to the customs officers at the funda."

"No matter—we Spanish Jews are used to improvising." He stepped inside the door and moved aside so that Olivia could close it.

"Spanish Jew?" Olivia repeated.

"I admit I look something of an Islamite. Most of Spain is part of Islam, and we have learned to take the look. My family is from Cadiz, if you know where that is." He looked around the vestibule and made a gesture of approval.

"Yes; a… close associate of my… oldest friend is from Gades."

"Cadiz," the stranger corrected. "It was Gades in Roman times."

"Of course," said Olivia, and indicated the entrance to the larger of her reception rooms. "Please, come in and tell me how it is you met Niklos."

"You are most gracious," said her guest, going ahead of her into the luxurious chamber. "First, let me tell you that my name is Ithuriel Dar, and my ship is the Ondas del' Albor, and she was built in Lixboa sixteen years ago. She has carried cargo safely ever since. No pirate has ever caught her and no storm has ever drowned her." He smiled, his deep brown eyes lit with true enthusiasm.

"And you say this paragon of a ship is in Valencia now?" Olivia asked, indicating he might be seated.

"Preparing to carry leather and honey to Sicilia," he said. "I came from Caesarea to arrange cargo for a return voyage. I often act as my own agent." He paused to look around the room. "How much of this were you planning to carry back to Roma? Not all of it, I hope?"

"No, not all," said Olivia, beginning to find Ithuriel Dar more amusing than perplexing. "Less than half of my goods will go with me. That is why my slaves are presenting my various inventories at the funda, so that taxes and customs and all the rest of it can be arranged."

"A necessary evil," Dar said, dismissing the process. "Every city on this coast has a funda, and each has its own idea about levying taxes. The Bourgesses' Court is even worse." He stopped and picked up a painted box. "This looks to be quite old."

"It is," said Olivia, and when it was apparent that Dar was waiting for more, she added, "It comes from the time of Heliogabalus."

"That was one of the debauched Caesars, wasn't he?" He put the box down. "Still, the box is very beautiful." As he approached the shuttered window, he said, "I wish I could show you what my ship is like. There are two similar merchantships at the wharves, and—"

"I have seen ships before, Bonsier." She smiled. "Niklos must have told you that."

"He said you had traveled and that you dislike the sea." Dar gave her a sharp look. "Well? Is that true?"

"Sadly, yes," said Olivia. "If I do travel on your ship, I will probably spend most of my time in my quarters, trying not to be sick." Even saying this made her feel slightly queasy.

"That is because you have not been on such a ship as mine," Dar informed her with a lavish gesture and a wide smile. "If you come on the Ondas del' Albor, you will change your mind at once. I promise you, it is not like the rolling buckets you see every day. This is a ship worthy of the name, fast as a good horse and with more heart than ten of those noisy beasts."

Olivia was tempted to tell Dar that her aversion had nothing to do with ships, but with water. Instead she remarked, "I have been on the Egyptian ships that ply the waters from here to Alexandria—"

"Niklos told me you had lived for a time in Alexandria," said Dar.

"And in other places as well," said Olivia. "For me, once I step off dry land, it is always the same."

"You will change your mind." He said it so confidently that Olivia could not restrain her laughter.

"Very well, let me summon my bearers and you can show me what makes your ship superior to all the others I have been on." As she said it, she knew she was behaving badly, but it did not bother her. She went to the door and called for Alfaze to ready her palinquin. "They will need a short time to prepare, but once they are ready, we will depart for the wharves."

Dar chuckled. "Niklos warned me you might do something of the sort. He takes great pride in how outrageous you can be."

"I know," said Olivia serenely. She missed Niklos so much; hearing Ithuriel Dar speak of him was at once soothing and hurtful. "Was he well?"

"He was the last I saw of him, but Roma is a city of miasmas in the summer. You know what the fevers can do in the heat of the year." He shook his head. "Niklos told me that it was not always so, that in the time of the Caesars there was less illness, and the wells were pure. They always tell such tales about the past, don't they? It was always better when no one can remember it. My mother used to say that milk never curdled when Moses was alive."

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