Crusader's Torch Page 62

It is possible that after so long a time of uneven fortunes we will at last have true prosperity. While I know that this is of little consequence to one whose treasures are the riches of the mind and the glory of Heaven, nevertheless I pray that God will grant us our trade and our riches. I have daughters to dower, and sons to establish in the world. With this proposed partnership, all that becomes possible. At the same time, Aulirios and his patron will have equal profit with us, so we will not be depriving them with our success. I do not look to grow rich at the expense of others.

My prayers and my thanks are with you at all times, and I know you will give me good counsel on the terms of this proposal. May God give you solace in the loss of your father and may your health remain robust now that you are recovered.

Your most affectionate cousin

Giozzetto Camarmarr

On the Feast of Barnabas the Apostle in the 1192nd year of Our Lord.

- 16 -

From Iconium de Monfroy went south and west, six Hospitalers and Olivia for company. They traveled as fast as they could, rising at dawn and going steadily until after sunset.

After four days, Olivia was weak and ill, her body so exhausted, so famished that she moved like a sleepwalker and fretted all night long. The one consolation was that de Monfroy had allowed her to continue her pose of eunuch; he took a malign delight in watching her with the men he commanded, and mocked them for blind fools when he had a few moments alone with Olivia.

"I will be happy when we reach Attalia," he said to her as they paused to let their mounts drink at a stream. "Things will be different in Attalia."

"That remains to be seen," Olivia said, her head ringing and her skin parched.

"They will be. Or it will be learned that you have been a leper in the company of lepers. The penalty for taking off your cowl and living in the society of men is stoning." He turned to watch her. "Surely I am preferable to that."

She said nothing, thinking how ironic it was that when she was almost at the limit of her endurance and had the greatest need for a lover, someone as intolerable as Orval, Sier de Monfroy should pursue her. If she were not in such despair, she might have found her predicament sardonically amusing; as it was, the realization only increased her hopelessness.

"You are at my mercy, Bondama Clemens," said de Monfroy, his eyes gloating.

"Mercy is a strange word, de Monfroy," she said without much feeling. She pulled Atlas' head up and absently patted his neck. "He needs to have his hooves trimmed."

"At Attalia you will be rid of the beast," said de Monfroy.

"If his hooves aren't trimmed he might not reach Attalia," she said, hoping to control the queasiness that would lead to useless retching.

"Tonight, perhaps. I will ask Arnaldos to attend to it; he has farrier's tools with him." He was disinterested. Negligently he fiddled with his whip. "It can kiss and it can flay," he said, watching her out of the tail of his eye.

Olivia said nothing; her lips were set.

"Well, Olivier," said de Monfroy a bit louder for the benefit of the Hospitalers around them, "how would you like to come all the way to Rhodes with us? The Hospitalers own part of the island, and there we are masters."

One of the other men laughed angrily. "We should have the whole island, as the Templars have Cyprus."

"Have, but cannot keep," the Roman knight said. "The tale is that they are going to sell it."

"They have only just bought it," said de Monfroy. "Have they tired of it so soon?"

"It's said that de Lusignan will buy it," the Spaniard Aroldos added.

"Why not? He has money enough." Again there was laughter that cracked with anger.

"What does de Lusignan want with Cyprus? Or is he afraid he won't get Jerusalem back, after all?" de Monfroy asked, and before any of the rest could speak, he signaled them to move on.

By the time they stopped for the night, Olivia knew she would have to visit one of the knights as he slept. She had learned long ago how to induce rapturous dreams that would bring her what she needed. If she had to ride another day in the sun, she would have to have blood. She began to study the knights more closely, for she knew the danger of embracing a dreamer who loved not for tenderness but ferocity—such as Orval, Sier de Monfroy.

At last she settled on Cino Forese, because he was the most gentle of this rough lot, and because he came from Roma. She was careful not to appear too curious about any of the Hospitalers, for she knew that de Monfroy was keeping near her, on guard against any attempt to escape or ploy to get help.

As they made camp for the night, Olivia was left with the usual chore of tending to the horses while two of the knights, who were more trusted than she, gathered fodder. Since Forese was one of the knights given that task, she had a brief chance to speak with him as he brought an armload of parched grasses for the horses and mule to eat.

"Do you miss Roma?" she asked.

"Sometimes," he admitted. "On nights like this, yes."

"I, too." It was all she dared say. She went on with securing leads to the tether line, and put hobbles on three of the horses who were known to wander.

"Two more days, Olivia. Three at the most," de Monfroy said as she prepared to enter the small tent that had been pitched between two pavilions. "Then we will be in Attalia and many things will change."

She looked at him, knowing how great his satisfaction was when she showed fear. "I have no desire for you."

"What does that matter? Resistance can be exciting. It adds spice." He put his hand on her neck, his palm against the nape, his thumb chafing at the edge of her iron cap. "Think about escape if it makes the time pass more pleasantly. Then remember that it is only a dream. There is no escape."

Olivia said, "But there will be more wounded for you to escort. You will have your duty to rescue me."

"Not I," he countered. "I have done my escorting for a time. One of these others will be given the work. I have done it twice, and so I am entitled to a rest." The last word became obscene as he spoke it.

Knowing that she would have sustenance that night made Olivia bolder than she had been before. "Take care, de Monfroy, that I do not reveal myself. Here. Now. You will not be able to convince your knights that I am an outcast leper, not until you reach Rhodes where your records are kept. They will think you have me here for your own purposes, you, a sworn Hospitaler, with a mistress disguised as a eunuch."

"You would not. You're not that foolish. Now you have a little protection. If you did that you would have none—not from me, not from these men, not from the Church, and not from the law." He enjoyed telling her this, reminding her of how she was in his power. "Perhaps I ought to do that. Perhaps I ought to tell the knights about you, and let them make their own punishment for you. When they were done, you would be grateful for anything I might give you. But then I would not have you." He stepped back from her. "Goodnight, eunuch. Dream whatever it is that eunuchs dream."

"God reward you for your wishes, de Monfroy," she told him.

"He will, He will," said de Monfroy, and sauntered off to his pavilion, whistling.

Olivia went into her tent and prepared to wait for the others to sleep. Only when she could lie still and extend her senses, testing to be certain every one of the Hospitalers was sleeping, did she move again, this time with silent grace that was as beautiful as it was uncannily swift.

Cino Forese lay on an unrolled padded mat; he had set his mail harness aside but was still wearing his acton. His one blanket was pulled halfway up his chest.

Olivia knelt beside him and began, very, very softly, to speak. "You are asleep, so asleep, and happy to be asleep. You are glad to be asleep, free of every care. You are so happy to sleep, to be at ease. You rest with a glad heart."

His half-smile made Cino appear absurdly young. He tugged the blanket a little higher up his chest.

"You are resting, sleeping, and you are happy. You are full of joy." She spoke just above a whisper and in a sing-song that had no stresses or emphasis. When Sanct' Germain had taught her to do this, a thousand years ago, the tones without stress had been the most difficult skill to master. "You are deeply asleep and dreaming of love, of the joys of love, of the endless pleasures of love. It pleases you to dream of this. You are very happy to be asleep. While you dream of the pleasures of love you have no wish to wake. You desire only to sleep and dream. You dream of love. You dream of embraces and kisses, of all the ways you touch in love. How happy you are to be asleep and have this wonderful dream, this dream of love and the delights of love." She risked touching him lightly on the chest, so that she could be nearer to him. "All the sweetness of love is in your dream, and your dream is the most pleasurable, the most passionate dream—you are filled with joy at this dream. Your dream is so rapturous, so passionate, that you know it is real. You feel the touch of hands on your body, the caresses and embraces you know in your dream." She moved closer to him still, rousing him with her hands as she continued to woo him.

Forese sighed, in the subtle web she had invoked. He was becoming aroused as his dream grew stronger.

"All of your desires are within reach. Fulfillment is yours for the asking. There is nothing that does not bring you joy and love, nothing that does not add to your pleasure. You have never had so sweet a dream; you have never known a dream like this one." She felt his passion in his flesh, sensed his desire take hold of him. Her sensuous litany continued. "You are surrounded with pleasure and you are filled with love. There has never been so much love, so great a passion in you. You want to exult, you are so wholly given to love. You and your passion are united in your love, and you surrender yourself to rapture. Your mouth is filled with love, your heart burns with love, your flesh trembles for love." With a pressure so light a feather would do more, Olivia kissed him.

He quivered at her kiss, and his head rolled back as his excitement mounted.

"You are joyous, you are ardent, your body and soul are bonded in love, and the love you seek is seeking you, seeking you with kisses and caresses, that your joy may be greater and greater." She lay beside him now, from lips to feet, her hands moving lightly as shadows. "You are so happy, so gloriously happy, so completely happy."

He moved again, this time languorously, as she rested her hand on his thigh.

"Your passion is wonderful. Your ardor is—" She felt him strain for release.

"Joy is yours." Her lips moved from his mouth to the curve of his neck as he gave a short, laughing cry and spasmed.

"Your rest is sweet, your dreams are happy, your love burns more brightly for your dream. Your sleep is a haven, your fulfillment a strength." She moved back from him, already experiencing the beginning of annealing power. As she adjusted the blanket around him, she smiled fondly down at him, regretting that she would never know more of him than this.

"Did you sleep well, Olivier?" de Monfroy asked sarcastically when they met the next morning as the sun was staining the eastern sky the red of rising wind.

"Why?" Olivia asked him, not wanting to have to speak to him at all.

"You seem more rested," he said, adding in an undervoice, "Good. You will need to be rested when I have you."

She continued to fasten the saddlegirths and asked, "Have Atlas' hooves been tended?"

"I don't know," de Monfroy said, for the first time letting his irritation become apparent. "If they haven't, you can keep up on foot for all of me."

Olivia lifted one eyebrow. "Are you willing to risk that?"

"Who could you turn to for help, if I did?" he snapped, unwisely.

"Someone like Pere Savaric or Sier Amis, perhaps," she said, her face thoughtful. "Someone will help." Being on foot in these mountains, she knew, would be more than she could manage on her strength, even traveling by night. None of this showed in her features.

"Or unmask you?" de Monfroy asked. He snapped his fingers and Aroldos came to saddle his horse.

As he mounted, Cino Forese gave Olivia a swift, covert glance with puzzled eyes.

"Where do you want me to ride?" Olivia asked as she mounted. Her iron cap felt tight around her head, and her solers were hot on her feet. She flexed her hands, satisfied that she would make it through the day.

De Monfroy came and took hold of Atlas' bridle. "Ride in front of me today. Behind Aroldos, where I can give you my attention." He let go of the bridle. "We ride fast today. So we will get to Attalia earlier."

"Not if my mule's hooves break," she said.

"If your mule fails you, you'll ride behind one of us." He glared at her. "Behind me."

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