Crusader's Torch Page 65

And then she touched the sword.

At the utmost limits of her pain-wracked body, Olivia strained to pull the sword close enough that she could take hold of it. Her fingers slipped on the blade, then closed around it. She knew that her hands were cut from the blade, but that did not matter. Olivia took heart from the steel as she dragged it nearer.

De Monfroy had his hand on her knee now, and was using his whip on her belly and flanks; his eyes were as glazed as those of a man wholly in the throes of passion.

Olivia grasped the quillons, then the hilt. She swung the blade horizontally, a hair's-breadth above the floor, shouting once as she did. The impact was so jolting that it was all she could do to hold onto the sword as the steel bit deep into de Monfroy's side.

He roared in agony and rage; he battered at her with the whip as his blood gouted across the room. Then the whip fell from his hands and a paroxysm shuddered through him. He coughed, blood running from his mouth.

Olivia slid away from him, hardly daring to breathe. She lay on the floor near the bed while de Monfroy thrashed once, twice, buckled as if in a seizure, then twitched and was still. The odor of dying filled the room.

Where had she struck him? Olivia wondered as she got to her knees. What blow could be that mortal? She moved a little to the side and saw that the sword had almost taken de Monfroy's right arm off from underneath, sliding up the ribs to the shoulder. She swallowed convulsively, her thoughts suddenly in disorder.

Forcing herself to act, she got to her feet. Her legs seemed as hot and brittle as charring wood. "I must leave," she said to herself in a voice she could not recognize. "I must leave."

Taking care not to look at de Monfroy's body, she made her way across the room. She was about to open the door when she realized that to leave the room was reckless and dangerous. "No," she muttered. "Not that way." Those hoarse, croaking words were oddly reassuring, and she listened to them as if they came from someone else. "Find a mantel," she told herself. "Cover the blood."

She opened the door that led to de Monfroy's chamber, and after a swift inspection, she went through, searching for his chest that carried his clothes. Once she found it, she rummaged in it for something she could wear. Trying not to giggle, she drew out his black-and-white Hospitaler's mantel and pulled it around her shoulders, securing it correctly.

There were four tall windows in the room, one overlooking the courtyard of the house, the other above the stable. "Not the courtyard," she ordered. "The stable. Who will notice? And there's bound to be a gate." She nodded, saying to her own remark, "You're right."

With as much care as she could muster, she opened the window over the stable and climbed out to the narrow ledge. Then, the Hospitaler's mantel flying behind her like wings, she dropped onto the stable roof.

* * *

Text of a letter from Gut de Fraizmarch to Sier Gace de Heaulmiere.

To that most worthy knight, Sier Gace de Heaulmiere, the gratitude and obligations of Gui de Fraizmarch are officially acknowledged. The many chivalric deeds Sier Gace has done in the name of that most dishonored Chatelaine Fealatie Bueveld have been revealed, and the devotion which has marked all of Sier Gace's dealings is shown for all to see.

How lamentable that Sier Gace was not able to persuade the disgraced Fealatie Bueveld to abandon her unworthy pursuit of a lessening of the terms of her penance. In returning to give report of her actions, he has demonstrated the meaning of loyalty and the nature of knightly oaths. It was not to the said Fealatie that Sier Gace gave his word, but to her offended husband, Gui de Fraizmarch. In acknowledgement of that responsibility, Sier Gace has brought word of the many grievous errors this Chatelaine has made in the supposed attempt to fulfill the terms of her penance, terms which she herself vowed to accept and to honor before she left with her escort for the Holy Land.

In recognition of the many services Sier Gace has done Gui de Fraizmarch, said Gui has petitioned Reis Phillippe on Sier Gace's behalf, so that a grant of lands will reward his fidelity, and an augmentation of arms will bear testimony to his worthiness. Said augmentation is a cross raguly vert in the dexter chief, in token of his time in the Holy Land. This augmented device is entered in the annals and rolls of Reis Phillippe's pursuivant herald. The land granted to Sier Gace by his Grace Reis Phillippe is apportioned from the lands of Bueveld, in recognition of the dishonor of the Chatelaine Fealatie Bueveld and the justice of the advancement of Sier Gace.

From the private purse of Gui de Fraizmarch, Sier Gace is offered ten golden Angels for the time he spent in the company of Fealatie Bueveld for the expenses he bore on her demand, as well as a ring of gold and chalcedony as proof of the obligation of Gui de Fraizmarch to Sier Gace, since the said Fealatie has not accomplished her penance and is not willing to do so, thereby disgracing her escort.

From this time until the Trumpet of Judgment sounds, Fraizmarch is ever a haven to Sier Gace and his descendants, the members of this House forever in the debt of de Heaulmiere.

Gui de Fraizmarch

At his behest by the hand of the herald Gaucelm de Excideul and under the seal of Fraizmarch and Reis Phillippe, on the 26th day of June, the Feast of the Martyrs John and Paul, in Our Lord's year 1192.

- 18 -

Wrapped in the black-and-white mantel of the Hospitalers, Olivia made her way through the streets of Attalia, starting at every sudden noise, but heedless of what way she went, for as much as she did not wish to admit it, she was lost. Once, as she crossed a small square, the doors of a little church burst open and a dozen Cassian monks filed out, singing the Hour. Olivia had shrunk back into the shadows, her throat suddenly tight-constricted, her head buzzing with ache. She leaned back against the stone wall of the building behind her and tried to calm her thoughts, to quiet her mind.

She took more care, going more slowly, behaving as if there was nothing suspicious about being on the street after dark, as if she was entitled to be where she was. In a still and distant part of her mind, she recalled growing up, when such fears, such doubts would have been unthinkable. At the same time, she began to think of a reasonable excuse to offer anyone who challenged her, though she knew there was none.

Eventually she found her way toward the docks, in the hope that there would be a ship she might stow away on. Any lingering trust she had that Fealatie or one of her two escorting knights would find her had faded. Whatever the intentions had actually been, there was not enough time or opportunity to bring their plans to anything more than suppositions, vaguely explored.

As she stopped near one of the warehouses, Olivia found her thoughts turning again and again to Rainaut. Was he still alive, or had the insidious malady finally taken him beyond all help? She did not want to imagine him dead, no matter how much she hoped he suffered no longer. Quite suddenly she saw his device in her memory, the severed arm. She tried to put it out of her mind, but it remained, fixed with her last sight of Orval, Sier de Monfroy with his arm cut half off. Olivia had lived long enough to have lost any faith in fate or destiny, but she could not rid herself of the impression that the device had been an omen. She huddled in the side-street, a warehouse on one side, a chandlery on the other, and ordered herself to find some way to get aboard a ship bound westward. But her mind was sluggish, and the demands she had made on her lowered reserves were taking their toll now. No matter how sternly she admonished herself to act before her crime was discovered and the city sealed, all that was real to her was her exhaustion and pain. It was oddly amusing, she thought, that a vampire should not be able to deal with a little loss of blood. Her eyes were half-closed and she had slipped down the wall.

Though she was unaware of it happening, she assumed she must have dozed, for the sound of nearby footsteps wakened her abruptly. She sat up, biting her lip to keep from moaning at the pain in her back and shoulders.

"There's another footprint," whispered someone.

"I see it. And another, just beyond." Both voices were so soft that Olivia had to strain to hear them.

"Do you suppose they're hers? What if—"

"Quiet, Giralt," hissed his companion. "We've been following these from the stable of the house where de Monfroy was killed. Look how small the feet are. It has to be her." He held a shaded oil lamp so that only a small circle of light was cast near their feet.

"But considering where we've gone—" Giralt objected.

"She's hurt, by Christ's Winding Sheet. You should have come up to the room. It was a slaughterhouse." Sigfroit stopped. "There. Over there."

"Where?" Giralt asked, peering into the dark side-street.

Olivia could not believe what she heard. She lifted one hand to wave, and came close to fainting as hurt rolled through her. Steadying herself, she clenched her teeth and waved again, holding her hand up as the two men drew nearer.

"There she is," Sigfroit exclaimed. "There. Do you see?"

Giralt nodded. "Bondama," he called out in as low a voice as he could.

Olivia was on one knee, her shoulder pressed against the stones of the warehouse. "Here," she murmured. "Over here." The bobbing light swam in her vision and she reached out for the two men, hoping they would reach her before she toppled.

"It is good we found you," said Sigfroit, the first to reach her side. He lifted the shaded lamp to look at her and his eyes widened as his face went white. "Christ in Limbo," he said under his breath.

Now Giralt had joined him, and his expression was as horrified as Sigfroit's. "Saint Alexander! all that blood."

Olivia held out her hands to them, and for the first time saw them in the light. Even she was aghast. Her hands were caked red with dried blood. By the feel of it, there was blood on her face, and under her mantel she knew everything she wore was stained with it. Without thinking she started to rub her hands on the mantel.

Sigfroit stopped her. "No. Nothing that can be seen," he whispered. "If they see blood on the mantel, there will be questions to answer."

"Who sees?" Olivia asked, looking from Sigfroit to Giralt.

"They found de Monfroy. Shortly before compline," Giralt said. "We were at the chapter house when word was brought. Fealatie told us to look for you."

Olivia was pleased that she did not tremble or cry out. "Oh. And who else is looking?"

"No one yet, that we know of," said Sigfroit. "When we looked outside the house, the Hospitalers were searching it, top to bottom, and questioning all the servants. That will take time. Especially since it was known that de Monfroy had a eunuch with him." He held out his hand. "Come. I'll help you up."

Gratefully she took his hand. "You are very good," she said when she was on her feet. He did not release her hand but stood close to her until she was steady.

"Fealatie said to bring you to the Three Sandpipers. It is a merchants' inn between the chapter house and the docks. She has rooms there." Giralt hesitated. "Fealatie wants us to bring you to her. So that we can arrange passage together."

"And you don't approve?" Olivia said, watching Giralt closely, aware now of his ambivalence and something more, a deeper emotion that was the source of his reaction.

"I… I fear for her; I have sworn to protect her and to guard her. I have been with her—as has Sigfroit—from the start, and we know how much she has endured. I… we are seeking an alleviation to her travail. You, Bondama, make my task more difficult," Giralt said in a rush, obviously stating his side of an argument he had been having with Sigfroit.

"Would you leave anyone with de Monfroy?" Sigfroit asked sharply. "I've told you some of the things he has done in the past, things which have gone unchallenged because he… was Sier de Monfroy. He has not been treated in any way he did not deserve. This woman has avenged many others."

"True, whatever he did, he will not do it again," said Olivia, fighting new dizziness. She mastered herself and addressed Giralt. "I would not expose any of you to danger on my account. I thank you for your warning; I am grateful to the Chatelaine. You need not stay with me if you would rather not."

"We've been deserted by one already," Giralt said, his eyes on his feet. "If Fealatie wants to aid you, then aid you we will, for her sake if not for yours." He directed his next words to Sigfroit. "I will not do anything to endanger us—any of us."

"I didn't think you would," said Sigfroit. He had slipped his arm around Olivia. "Come. We must hurry. If we are caught here, there is nothing we can do to save you."

"Yes," said Olivia, needing all her concentration to walk with Sigfroit. "Who is looking for me?"

"The Hospitalers, of course." Sigfroit glanced at her in surprise at Olivia's single laugh. "What is it, Bondama?"

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