Crusader's Torch Page 61

Olivia did not join in the laughter, afraid that the timbre might give her away; she did smile broadly. "Or anything and anyone else."

His laughter tapered off, and he clapped his hands. "Wine. Bring wine!"

As a slave came from behind the hanging, Olivia said, "I do not drink wine. I haven't the head for it."

"I will have some," said Sier Amis with sudden and unexpected belligerence. He got up from his low-backed chair and began to pace. "Travel will be difficult. Many of the men I am to escort are badly hurt, some are ill. Most would not be able to travel if they had no help. It means that anyone attending them would have little rest."

"I do not sleep much," she said, not entirely truthfully. "I… I am one of those who is more awake at night than in the day." She hitched her shoulders, and looked toward the hanging as someone approached. "Your slave bringing wine," she said.

"Actually not," said a voice she had heard before. "The escort from Tarsus," said Orval, Sier de Monfroy, as he strolled into the front compartment of the pavilion.

Olivia half-rose from her chair; Sier Amis went to him and clapped him on the shoulder. "Well, you come in good time, de Monfroy. A cup of wine would be welcome, would it not?"

"Certainly," said de Monfroy, looking directly at Olivia. "By all means, let us drink."

There was no way that Olivia could withdraw from the pavilion now without causing suspicion, yet she was frightened of remaining. De Monfroy was too acute, too intent in his scrutiny and there was something about the expression in his face that increased her apprehension. "If you are to discuss matters private to your Order, perhaps I should not stay."

"Why not?" asked de Monfroy sardonically. "What could the two of us say that would embarrass or compromise a eunuch?"

Olivia lowered her eyes. "You are most generous."

Sier Amis slapped de Monfroy's shoulder. "You should have had this fellow with you, de Monfroy. By the sound of it he's worth half the physicians in the world. You would have made better time with Olivier along."

"Olivier?" he said with a speculative lift to the eyebrows. "Olivier. No other name?"

"No," she said quietly.

De Monfroy came and stood beside her chair. "Not even Clemens?"

Sier Amis chuckled. "The poor fellow doesn't know his parents—he told me so himself."

"The fellow," said de Monfroy with heavy emphasis, "the fellow is… most enterprising, most ingenious."

"If he's as good with medication as he claims, no doubt you're right, de Monfroy. Strange, though. He's had some odd teaching, not that it appears to have damaged him. But he was taught to boil his tools with herbs. Have you ever heard of so curious a practice?" Sier Amis laughed again, and swung around to meet the slave bringing wine. "Ah! At last."

"There are many curious things about this Olivier, I suspect," said de Monfroy, observing Olivia's discomfort with angry humor. He addressed Sier Amis. "Resourceful, I warrant: this fellow."

"You choose to make mockery of me, good Sier," she said, keeping her voice low. "For what reason do I offend you? In what manner? How is it that you speak to me in this way?" It was a dangerous challenge, but she made it with strong inner satisfaction.

"I will tell you directly, Olivier," said de Monfroy, deliberately slurring the end of the name so that it sounded like her own. "Let me come to it in my singular way."

Sier Amis was busy pouring wine into the two silver cups. He had a generous hand; when he held the first cup out to de Monfroy, a little of the red liquid sloshed onto his hand and ran like blood. Olivia stared at it and yearned for an end to her hunger. If only the man seeking her had not been Orval, Sier de Monfroy. "You are most mysterious, de Monfroy. I hope you will tell me what your great secret is."

"It isn't my secret," said de Monfroy smoothly. "But perhaps, in time, I will." He waited until Sier Amis had poured his own wine, then lifted his cup. "To his Grace, Reis Phillippe of France, the Champion of Christendom."

"Reis Phillippe," agreed Sier Amis as he drank. "God, that is good. No wonder we drink it for Communion." He reached for the winejar and topped off his cup. "It is sweet to be drunk, isn't it? It is sweet to forget this hideous place, the terrible fights, and the hardships and suffering."

"Other things are sweeter," said de Monfroy, looking at Olivia with hot eyes. "Taking, demanding surrender. That is far sweeter than any wine, and more—so much more intoxicating."

Why did it have to be de Monfroy who found her? Olivia asked herself in well-concealed desperation. She sought a willing lover, a lover who would welcome her and share the most profound touching with her, the touching of souls; instead she was in the hands of one whose lust was more for conquest and subjugation than touching or pleasure. With de Monfroy, there would be no shared delirium, no mutual joy, no exultation, no communion. She shuddered, remembering Justus; a millennium away and his memory could still shake her. She pressed her lips together and tried to keep her fright from showing in her eyes.

"You are silent, Olivier," said de Monfroy, leaning down to speak in her ear. "How is it that one such as you are so frightened?"

"You're provoking the fellow," said Sier Amis. "Leave him alone, de Monfroy. You're miffed because you could not have him to help you when you brought the men this far, and you're jealous because I'll have him to help me all the way to Smyrna." He had tossed off all the wine in his cup and had refilled it. "Drink, de Monfroy, drink. Here, have more. I'll tell the slave to bring us another jar of wine when this one's empty."

De Monfroy bent lower still, so that his face was almost on a level with Olivia's. He whispered to her, "You are not going to Smyrna, Bondama. I have other plans for you. You do not escape me so easily. You are coming to Attalia with me. You have been most unwise, taking off your leper's cowl and putting on this eunuch's disguise. You can be stoned for taking off the cowl; you can be… oh, there are a great many punishments you can suffer for your disguise."

Olivia's face grew hot; she could hardly resist the urge to take his winecup and fling the contents in his face. Had she not been certain that he would denounce her, she would have done it and welcomed their combat, where her unnatural strength would give her a formidable advantage. As it was, she kept still, her hands clutching the arms of the chair as if to grind the wood to powder.

"Here. More wine." Sier Amis refilled de Monfroy's cup and gave a stuttering chuckle. "I didn't know you were one for eunuchs, de Monfroy."

"I'm not," said de Monfroy with contempt. "This… fellow… interests me."

"I said you were jealous. Jealous, jealous, jealous," Sier Amis said in sing-song cadence. "It's because you're too sober, too ambitious." He clapped his hands. "Bring another jar of wine," he shouted. "Bring two jars. Now!"

De Monfroy stood up and moved a short distance away from Olivia. "No doubt you're right, Sier Amis. I have not tasted good wine for days, and now—"

"You behave as if you despise my wine," said Sier Amis, sulking.

"Never that," de Monfroy assured him. "It is the result of the journey. My body aches and my eyes are dry as old nuts in my head. Wine, by all means. Wine and more wine, and we will let Olivier here tend to us when we are swinish." He accepted the last of the wine from the first jar. "You're a good host, Sier Amis. Generous, libacious. A good host." He lifted his cup in ironic salute to Olivia.

Sier Amis' good humor was restored in an instant. "You're the best of company, de Monfroy. You have a barbed tongue, but you're stout-hearted." He wrapped an arm around his shoulder, only partly to steady himself. "If more of the Hospitalers were like you, we'd have a better Order. Too many men in the Knights Hospitaler are fainthearted, taking refuge in being defenders to hide their cowardice. Not you. Not I. We're the credit to the Order. That's why we serve as Masters." He beamed at de Monfroy. "To the Masters of the Hospitalers." He lifted his cup only to discover it was empty. "Where is the wine!"

Almost at once a slave came around the hanging, two large wine jars on a tray. "Good Master, your pardon."

Sier Amis kicked out at the slave, missed, and had to cling to de Monfroy to keep from falling. "Open them and leave them. Do you hear me?"

The slave bowed deeply and hastened to carry out Sier Amis' orders. He had the wine jars ready to open.

"The wine is sweet, de Monfroy, but not so sweet that we must turn from it for the good of our souls." He shook his head and looked from his slaves to de Monfroy. "Tell me that you understand what has been asked of you, Sier de Monfroy, and I will approve the supplications that have been addressed to you. The summons of all Christian knights to account at the bar—"

The slave decanted the wine and bowed deeply. "Your drink is ready, Bonsier."

"Then leave us," Sier Amis said. He filled his cup sloppily and drank.

De Monfroy watched Sier Amis with a condemning eye. "Your head will not be fond of you if you drink much more." He drank the last of the wine in his cup and set it down.

"Drink with me, de Monfroy," said Sier Amis, his face flushing from choler and wine.

"I have drunk with you," said de Monfroy. "Now I am going to leave you so I can sleep."

"Wine eases sleep," said Sier Amis. "It soothes dreams and it softens memories." He had almost finished the cup. "Have more."

"Not this evening; another time." He looked to Olivia. "I am going to ask this fellow to come with me. I have some questions to put to him."

Coldness filled Olivia. She had hoped that de Monfroy would fuddle his wits with drink so that she could escape. When he had refused more wine, she knew she would not be so fortunate. "I will answer them here," she said.

"Not what I plan to ask. Your answers would trouble Sier Amis. Wouldn't they?" His mouth widened.

"Don't be silly," Sier Amis protested. "He's an amusing fellow. I'd like to hear what he has to say." He made a sweeping gesture. "Speak, Olivier."

"I… I do not know what to say," she responded.

Sier Amis laughed heartily. "Such an amusing wit," he said as he wiped his eyes with his sleeve. He sloshed more wine into his cup and all but poured it down his throat. "A good fellow. Good fellow."

De Monfroy bowed to Sier Amis. "I am going back to my pavilion. And Olivier will come with me." He laid his hand on her shoulder, deliberately making it a heavy weight.

"Oh, if you must," said Sier Amis uncertainly. He waved them both toward the flap. "Leave. Leave leave leave."

"Come, Olivier," said de Monfroy, his hand tightening.

Reluctantly she rose and went with him.

* * *

Text of a letter from the Venetian merchant Giozzetto Camarmarr to the Benedictine scholar Ulrico Fionder.

To my most reverend cousin and esteemed teacher, my loving greetings and thankful prayers that you have recovered from your illness. Fever has been very bad this summer, and it has come earlier than usual. There are many who say that the Islamites have poisoned the water, but I do not believe they are so foolish, for then the fever would take them as well.

I was saddened to learn of the death of your father. My uncle was a most worthy man, whose impeccable reputation was well earned and whose accomplishments were distinguished. I have arranged for Masses to be said for his soul every day for the year of mourning. My thoughts are with you in your grief, and I pray for my uncle's welcome in Heaven.

Three of our ships have been sunk, probably by pirates. They were commandeered by the Crusaders and have been used for the transportation of materiel from Venice to the Holy Land. They have brought the wounded and ill back to Venice, those who were not able to travel overland. Such ships acquire strange reputations, so it may be for the best that they are at the bottom of the sea.

However, this means that our resources have been lessened, and for that reason, I am considering accepting the offer made to us by a Greek factotum on behalf of his patron. I have had some contact with him in the past, and I know that he is a man of honest dealings and that his patron has wealth and good sense. I am willing to establish a partnership with them and use their investment to build up our ships once more. This is in accordance with the offer that has been made, which is most generous.

I ask that you take some time from your studies to review the copy of the agreement I am sending to you. I can see nothing amiss in its terms; it is fair to all parties, or so it seems to me. You, with your learning and your wisdom, will surely be able to detect any possible flaws or disadvantages that I have not been able to detect. If you agree that this is a most exemplary proposal, then I will enter into the partnership at once. With the Crusade losing ground, we will soon have our ships in our own hands once more, and from what I have seen, we will be able to increase our trade with the Holy Land, for many of the pilgrims and Crusaders have developed a taste for things oriental and will be eager to bring them home.

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