Crusader's Torch Page 63

"Quite a precaution," said Olivia, urging Atlas to fall in behind Aroldos. She wondered what de Monfroy's plan was that could make Atlas move faster than a rapid walk.

By nightfall, Olivia was once again consumed with weakness, and her body was beginning to ache. De Monfroy had been as good as his word and had moved his little party as quickly as prudence allowed. On the flat stretches of road, he ordered the men to go at a trot, and to force the mule to cooperate, he had two leads tied to the bridle so that Atlas was all but dragged to the faster pace. Olivia, jolted by the rough gait, found herself wishing for one of her own horses or an old-fashioned Roman chariot instead of the saddle.

During the heat of the afternoon, de Monfroy permitted everyone to drop back to a walk, but rest periods were few and brief, and they were not ordered to make camp until the world was so sunk into twilight that they could no longer easily see the road.

By the next afternoon, they were within sight of Attalia; evening brought them through the gates to the hospice of the Hospitalers. De Monfroy took Olivia with him when he went to report to the Master of the chapter house.

"You won't be permitted in his chambers," said de Monfroy as he pulled her by her arm along the hallways. "But I do not want you roaming about on your own. That may have been your plan, but I will not allow it." He indicated two armed men standing before a large door. "Those who must be examined have to wait there. You will wait there. You cannot leave, not with those men to stop you."

"Is anyone else in that room?" asked Olivia.

"Who knows?" He nodded to the guards and pulled open the door. "Three men in armor," he said as he looked at the trio waiting at the far end of the room. "Surely you are not frightened by them?"

"I am not frightened," Olivia lied.

De Monfroy shoved her away from him. "Stay here until I come back for you." He was halfway through the door when he turned back. "If you make any attempt to leave it will be the worse for you. Do you understand me?"

"Yes," she said quietly, loathing the sound of the closing door. She sank down onto one of the short benches that were placed about the room, dejection engulfing her. She stared at the floor, as if she wanted it to open and swallow her up.

"Your pardon," said a voice at her shoulder. "I do not mean to intrude, but there seems to be some trouble here."

Reluctantly Olivia looked up and saw that one of the three harnessed men had come to her side. "Why do you ask?"

The man shifted from one foot to the other, awkward as a boy. "I… I know something of de Monfroy. It occurred to me that he is much the same as he was ten years ago."

"If you mean coercive and belligerent, then you are correct." Olivia knew it was unwise to speak this way to a stranger, but she no longer cared. "If you mean otherwise, I ask your pardon if I have given offense."

"And cruel as well," the stranger added grimly. "I am Sigfroit de Plessien, escort of the Chatelaine Fealatie Bueveld." He indicated the other two.

"Chatelaine?" Olivia repeated, looking from Sigfroit to his companions.

"I am Fealatie Bueveld, Chatelaine of Gui de Fraizmarch," she said, offering a bow. "You are?"

"Not a eunuch," said Olivia. "I am Atta Olivia Clemens, a widow from Roma." She indicated the male clothes she wore. "In good company, it would appear." She paused. "Why are you here?"

"We are attempting to find passage to Roma," said Sigfroit. "We require the decision of a Cardinal to modify the terms of a penance." He indicated the third member. "Giralt and I are the protection and escort for Fealatie." At that he stopped. "It isn't correct to speak of her by her name, but we have been together for so long, and comrades—"

Olivia nodded. "Comrades alone do not speak in titles, do they?"

"There was a third, but… he has returned to France." Sigfroit glanced at Giralt as if he expected him to break out in more imprecations. "We disagreed."

"I see," said Olivia, who inferred that the disagreement had been divisive. "But you go to Roma." She hesitated. "I have been trying to return to Roma for… for years. Or at least it seems that way."

"With de Monfroy?" asked Sigfroit, clearly shocked.

"No," said Olivia. "Not with de Monfroy."

"I don't wish to alarm you, but he is a dangerous enemy," said Sigfroit.

"So am I," said Olivia, adding, "But until I get away from him, he will try to—"

"I know his reputation," said Sigfroit. "It is best not to remain where he can find you."

The optimism that had bloomed for Olivia faded as quickly. "In Roma I would have… power. Here, there is nothing I can do. Here I am alone and… weak."

"No," said Fealatie. "You are not alone and you are no longer weak." She motioned to Giralt. "Come. The Bondama can aid us in Roma; we can aid her here."

Olivia looked at Fealatie, her thoughts uncertain. "Why would you do this? And what will you do?"

"Let us determine what you need. Then we will decide what we will do." She smiled with merry pugnacity. "I have been hoping for a worthy fight."

"Are you certain this is one?" Olivia asked, liking Fealatie in spite of her own inner doubts.

Fealatie clapped her hands. "If it defends honor, how can it be unworthy?" Then her face darkened. "There are no oaths of fealty here that can compromise the cause, are there? You are not a vassal of the King of France, or widow of his vassal, are you?"

"No," said Olivia, her curiosity increasing.

"Then it is worthy," said Fealatie in a tone that could not be challenged.

* * *

Text of a letter from Ithuriel Dar to Niklos Aulirios.

To my Roman Greek friend, greetings and a thousand curses. I am a man of the sea, a man of ships and water, not some mountain goat to go scrambling up cliffs and through passes on the backs of beasts. But I have done all these things chasing Bondama Clemens, and remarkable as it may be, I finally have something—though not a great deal—to report.

I have reached a sanctuary, a strange compound in the middle of the mountains, run by a brother and sister, Rafi and Kalere Navrentos. They are part of an odd religious group, Christians, but a sort I have never encountered. I mention this because it explains a little what they have done.

Sier Valence Rainaut is here. He came here with Bondama Clemens. I have seen him and tried to talk with him, but it has done little good. I am informed that he rarely speaks, that he is far gone in melancholy, and that most of the time he sits rocking and staring. He is greatly disfigured. Had I not been told who he was and been shown proof of it, I would not have known him. His skin is now entirely white, like skin that has been burned and healed badly. He has no hair on his body and his eyes are a muddy color. I understand that his sight is failing and that he can see out of one eye only. I have tried to learn from him what happened, but I can learn little.

Of the brother and sister, I can tell you more. They have opened their doors to everyone who comes here, and they will turn no one away. They have said that if a man came here, armed, angry and dripping with pox, they would not refuse him entry. That they have taken in a leper tells you of their sincerity. They speak fondly of Bondama Clemens and have informed me that she left here bound for Iconium and Smyrna to take a ship to Roma, one way or another.

According to what they have said, she went on a mule and had disguised herself as a eunuch.

So I will leave this place and go to Iconium. And to Smyrna. Who knows, by the time this arrives in Roma, Bondama Clemens herself may be there to read it. I know no one in Iconium, but I have plenty of gold, and a man with gold is a man with friends. The four men-at-arms I have hired are reliable and sensible men, and I do not fear they will forget themselves or me in our travels.

I have left three gold pieces at this sanctuary to care for Rainaut. Certainly Rafi and Kalere Navrentos would care for him well if he were a pauper, but I did not want them to have to do so much without recognition and reward. They say that to render service in the name of salvation and the Savior is sufficient, and while I do not doubt them, I wished to be sure they would not be wanting on his account.

I will send word to you when I reach Iconium, if I discover anything. Then on to Smyrna, if there is nothing more to learn at Iconium. I would prefer to travel on the deck of my own ship; however, a good horse is the only possibility in these mountains.

Everywhere I have gone I have heard that the Crusaders will not succeed in taking Jerusalem, that there are not enough men left to carry on the fight and that many of them are no longer willing to continue the battle. Between disease and desertion, the ranks have been decimated—in the old Roman sense of the word, except that instead of one in ten being killed, one in ten remains to fight. If a truce is offered, it is probable that the Christian forces will accept the terms if they are not too severe. Even Reis Richard is not so thirsty for blood as he used to be, or if he is, he no longer hankers for Islamite blood. One day soon, we may have an end to the killing and the waste.

You may rely on me to do everything I can to find Bondama Clemens, Crusade or no Crusade.

Ithuriel Dar

By my own hand on MidSummer Eve, in the Christian Year 1192.

- 17 -

"What do you think of my chambers?" de Monfroy asked with specious courtesy.

Olivia gave a cursory glance to the room. "Where do you intend me to stay?."

"You are to the point, Olivia. I give you that." He touched her shoulder, the gesture a token of possession. "You will remain in this room. It has the smaller windows and the door can be locked from the outside, if that's necessary."

"It may become so," she said, her words bleak. It would be a matter of a week, perhaps ten days before her hunger would drive her to madness, and then she would have to be confined. She hoped that she could find some relief before then, for the thought of tasting such blood as de Monfroy's, even by accident, was repugnant to her.

"Desperate, are you?" soothed de Monfroy. "You will learn to accommodate me." He touched her again, less gently. "In time you will prefer what I do."

Olivia swallowed hard against the disgust she felt. Justus had told her the same thing, as an excuse for his debauchery, and had blamed her when she refused to bring increasingly violent lovers to her bed. She could sense the same cravings in de Monfroy, the same fascination with degradation, a need to instill fear, to humiliate and hurt. She moved away from him. "I am very tired," she said, and it was no more than the truth.

"I had other thoughts," de Monfroy said, almost crooning. "You are mine now, Olivia. You are as much mine as if you were my slave. I am entitled to use you in any way I want."

Olivia gathered her hands into fists but kept them at her sides. "I am tired," she repeated. "I need sleep."

"You will have sleep. All in good time." He indicated the bed with its heavy curtains. "Rest, if you want. A short rest. Then I will have what I have wanted for so long." He had taken off his leather gage and was slapping it onto his open palm. "I will wake you in a while, as soon as it is dark, so that we will not be disturbed."

"What house is this?" she asked suddenly. "Where have you brought me?"

"This is the house of a Pisan merchant. He allows me the use of this wing. In return, I occasionally let him know of cloth and spices to be had for a low price. It works well for both of us." He indicated the hangings of the bed. "Silk, Olivia."

Her courage all but failed her. How would Sigfroit or Giralt find the wing of a house owned by a Pisan merchant? They had had so little time to plan, and their scheme had been little more than a sketch. If they could not find her, she had no idea how to find them, for they had not yet known what quarters would be allotted to them, or where. If she managed to get out, where could she go? She looked at the silken draperies. "They are still bars on a cage, de Monfroy."

"Don't be ungrateful," he warned her, his satisfaction showing in the way he moved to open the bed hangings. "This, at least, is pleasant. There are cellars here that serve well as dungeons, as you might find out if you are not more reasonable."

She strolled around the room. "Where have you put my weapons? You took my sword and dagger and my iron cap. And you've taken the few coins I had left. Where are they?"

"You have no need to know," he said, weighting his words. "But since you ask me, I'll tell you. I've given them away."

"Given what? My sword and my dagger? You gave them away? By what right? To whom?" Her voice rose with each question.

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