Crusader's Torch Page 60

"God, God, God, not that again. Oh, God."

The secular officer then put the screw on the thumb of Eleus' left hand and tightened it somewhat.

"I've told you I—ah, no—I have done nothing!"

The secular officer increased the tightness so that the nail was livid where it could be seen.

After screaming oaths, Fraire Eleus declared again, "I have done nothing, nothing."

At the next turn, the skin of his thumb split and the nail burst in half. Fraire Eleus swooned and was revived with vinegar. When asked again what his deeds were, he answered, "I am falsely accused. I have committed no sin."

Of the three participating in the examination, Fraire Conon was the one who spoke the questions this day, as Fraire Alain did previously. He asked, "How is it that you were observed speaking with Islamites?"

"I swear by the Cross I have never spoken with Islamites."

"Then why has an honorable knight declared that you have?"

"He was mistaken."

The thumbscrew was tightened for the last time, and Fraire Eleus was again revived with vinegar.

Due to his obstinacy, the secular officer brought in the boot and explained how it was used to crush bone so that the marrow spurted out with the blood. Fraire Eleus was transfixed at what he heard, and had to be held by three secular officers while the boot was placed on his leg.

"Why does an honorable knight denounce you if you have done no wrong?" Fraire Conon asked as the secular officer placed the first wedge at the top of the boot.

"It is a mistake," Fraire Eleus replied. "God, no, don't."

At a signal from Fraire Conon the secular officer struck the wedge two blows.

When Fraire Eleus stopped screaming, Fraire Conon recommenced questioning. "What reason would such a knight have for denouncing you if you are innocent?"

"A mistake, a mistake," answered Fraire Eleus.

The secular officer struck the wedge three times; the third time there was the sound of a breaking bone.

Fraire Eleus swooned a third time.

"Why are you accused of aiding the Islamites?" Fraire Conon asked when Fraire Eleus opened his eyes.

"No. No. Stop. No." There was more of the same; Fraire Eleus did not seem to hear the question. Vinegar was poured over his head.

"For what reason would you be accused if you were not guilty?" Fraire Conon asked.

"Not guilty. Stop."

"Tell us why you are accused."

"Not. Not. No. No. No."

The secular officer struck the wedge three times again, and this time Fraire Eleus did not open his eyes for longer than it would take to recite four Salutations to the Virgin. When he did open his eyes he was not wholly in his right senses.

"For what reason are you accused?"

An indistinguishable answer.

"For what reason are you accused?"

Fraire Eleus shouted a terrible oath.

"Why are you accused?"

"Not! Not!"

The secular officer struck the wedge three more times; blood and shards of bone spilled out the sides of the boot. Fraire Eleus shook with palsy, during which time his tongue was bitten through, and the questioning was discontinued due to his inability to answer.

Submitted for the examination of members of our Hieronomite Order and for the benefit of those making inquiries of a similar nature, I swear before God that this is a true record of the interview.

Fraire Folgore d'Orbicciani

Hieronomite monk

By my own hand and under seal, on the anniversary of the founding of the Premonstratensians by the Blessed Norbert, the 6th day of June, in Our Lord's Year 1192.

- 15 -

Sier Amis de Meun was camped outside of Iconium, his pavilion larger and less vermin-infested than most available rooms in the town. The black Maltese Cross of the Hospitalers flew above his personal device: argent, a fess azure, radiant, indicating that Sier Amis was in his pavilion and not within the town walls.

"He has agreed to speak with you," said Magister Vergier to Olivia as they approached the pavilion. "He is taking over the escort of the wounded men here, and if it is suitable he will be willing to have you join his company."

"And why would it not be suitable?" Olivia asked, pleased that it was late in the day and the summer sun had declined far in the west.

"That is for Sier Amis to determine," said Magister Vergier stiffly. "He has been here for almost a week; he must know the needs of his company by now."

"What of the escort from Tarsus?" Olivia asked.

"They are continuing to Attalia, to take ship for Rhodes," said Magister Vergier. He gestured to some of the other pavilions erected behind Sier Amis'. "Most of them are staying outside the town."

Olivia wanted to say how sensible she thought they were but feared that would lose her the help Magister Vergier had been coerced into providing her. "How large was the escort?"

"Just three," said Magister Vergier. "Since the wounded men are all Hospitalers themselves, more were not deemed necessary." He paused. "We are a little short of men."

"I suppose it is because of all the fighting," Olivia said carefully.

"Yes. There has been much fighting." He stopped at the closed flap to the pavilion. "Let me speak with him; then you may."

Olivia bowed. "You are gracious, Magister Vergier."

"Pere Savaric is the one who deserves your thanks, Olivier. He has done this, not I." Magister Vergier's mouth puckered in distaste. "I am merely his tool." He lifted the flap of the pavilion. "Sier Amis," he called.

"Magister Vergier," came the response. "A moment and I will be pleased to receive you." There was an exchange in lowered voices.

"If there are others with you—" Magister Vergier began and was interrupted.

"Nothing significant," Sier Amis responded. "The escort from Tarsus. He has brought documents to me." There was another sotto voce exchange, and then Sier Amis raised his voice. "You are welcome to enter."

Magister Vergier nodded to Olivia once before he entered the pavilion. "God give you good evening, Sier Amis," he said.

"Thrice welcome, Magister Vergier," was Sier Amis' prompt greeting. "Be seated."

Outside the pavilion, Olivia waited, watching the shadows grow longer and less distinct as the day waned. She was torn, wanting to listen and fearing to hear any refusal, so she paced along the front of the pavilion, her shadow for company.

Finally Magister Vergier opened the flap once more. "Olivier. Come here, lad. Sier Amis wants to speak with you."

There was no reading his face, and Olivia wondered if she would be given permission to travel with the Hospitalers or not. She made herself smile as she bowed to Sier Amis. "God give you good evening and a pleasant night."

"And to you, good eunuch," said Sier Amis. He was younger than Olivia expected, no more than twenty-one or -two, yet his russet hair was turning white. There were hard lines around his mouth and his faded blue eyes were framed in a permanent squint. "Magister Vergier tells me that you wish to accompany us to Smyrna and from there take ship to Ancona or other Italian port." He indicated a low-backed chair like the one in which he sat.

"Yes," said Olivia. "If you will accept me I will do all that is in my power to show my gratitude."

Sier Amis apparently had decided to reserve his judgment. He said, "I am told you have some skill with medicines."

"Yes, some," she answered carefully.

Magister Vergier bowed to them both. "With your permission, I will leave you now. Whatever your decision, Sier Amis, send me word of it, I pray you."

"Yes, yes, certainly," said Sier Amis, irritated at the interruption. He waved Magister Vergier away and gave his attention once again to Olivia. "Tell me what you know of medicines."

Olivia sighed. "I have some skill with herbs, I know how to bandage wounds and how to set bones, if I must. I can make a salve for burns if I can get woolfat and aromatic oils. I can make a poultice for putrescent wounds with little more than old bread and water." She decided to stop at that, though her skill was far greater than what she described.

"Useful," Sier Amis said when he had considered what she told him. "Can you tend those who have lost arms and legs?"

"If it is required," she said, then looked up sharply as she heard a clang of metal from another part of the pavilion.

"Pay no heed; it is the other escort leader. He is sharpening his dagger," Sier Amis said, his gesture indicating that Olivia need not be concerned. "What of those who suffer from the bloody flux? It has killed more men than Islamite spears have."

Olivia did not answer at once. "It depends in large part on how serious the flux is," she said when she had considered her answers and chosen what she hoped was a prudent answer. "When the flux is prolonged and the sufferer loses flesh and the skin becomes yellowed, then there is little I or anyone can do but pray. If the flux is not so advanced, salt fish and millet porridge will sometimes help ease the condition. There are a few who sicken with the flux who must be kept from eating anything until the flux has abated. When the flux is watery, it can be more dangerous than blood, for it means that the body is parched and the thirst cannot be slaked." She paused. "Those with the flux ought not to be in harness, but—"

"But if there is fighting we have little choice," said Sier Amis harshly. "True enough. Tell me how you would treat a continuing cough."

"That would depend on its cause," said Olivia. "A cough that is part of a fever is a different matter than those who cough for dust or blooming roses." She rested the tips of her fingers together. "Those with fever must rest, especially if there is a flutter in the chest or much wheezing for breath. When that is the malady, then sleep is more useful than half the potions in the world, but there are a few which lessen the coughing, such as mead with oil of cloves. Where the coughing is from other causes, then the treatment must change. Arabian spirits of gum will sometimes help coughs."

"Yes," said Sier Amis. "What of congested humors?"

Olivia made a self-deprecating gesture. "I would need to see an individual case. Often there are diverse causes for congested humors."

"Of course," said Sier Amis in a tone of voice that told her she had successfully avoided a trap. "How would you treat carbuncles?"

"By cutting and cauterizing, if possible," she answered at once, then went on less certainly. "I would always boil my tools with astringent herbs." Boiling tools was a radical notion now, but when Olivia had been young, it was standard procedure for all physicians. "It is not done much, but I believe that it lessens contagion."

Sier Amis listened with interest. "Where did you learn that?"

Olivia answered honestly, "I had an instructor when I was… younger, who had trained as a physician in Egypt. He told me that boiling tools with astringent herbs improved the tools. I have followed his teaching." It was so long ago that Sanct' Germain had shown her how to care for patients.

"An Egyptian? An Islamite?" This was very nearly an accusation.

"No," she said quickly with a faint smile. "This teacher was not an Islamite."

"A Christian?" The question cracked like a mailed fist.

"Not at first; later." She considered Sier Amis. "Is it important? I was taught long ago."

"Long ago?" taunted Sier Amis. "You are ancient, then?"

"You know how it is with eunuchs; we do not show our age. I am no stripling." She heard someone moving behind the hanging and resisted the urge to look. "I am," she said, choosing a believable age, "about thirty-one."

"You are uncertain." Sier Amis favored her with a grin, no longer as tense as he had been.

"Yes." What would he do if she told him the truth, she wondered, that she was the child of Roman patricians and had died during the reign of Vespasianus? The notion brought a glint of laughter to her hazel eyes.

"Being unsure of your birth is amusing?" Sier Amis asked, his tone too light for criticism.

She covered her lapse well. "One of the few advantages of not knowing the circumstances of my birth is that I am free to invent whatever pleases me. I have met many another who would have been glad to trade places with me."

Now Sier Amis laughed out loud. "You are a funny fellow, Olivier. And your wit has truth. By Satan's Brass Balls—begging your pardon—I have known men who would have preferred an honest serf for a parent to a dishonored knight." He threw back his head. "And you can have both, or neither, as it suits you."

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