Crusader's Torch Page 66

"The Hospitalers. They would not be pleased to find me for more reasons than de Monfroy," she said, lifting her feet woodenly as she strove to keep up with Sigfroit. "I'm sorry. I did not think—"

"Quiet," ordered Giralt in an abrupt hush. "I hear someone approaching."

The three halted, Olivia leaning heavily against Sigfroit, her bloody face turned toward his shoulder. She wanted to think of reasonable explanations to account for their presence, but nothing occurred to her. To her amazement, Sigfroit began to hector her.

"It isn't enough that you decide to get into a fight with a sailor with a knife, oh, no. You have to do it when you have more wine in you than water, and with most of the men in the tavern sailors like the fool you fought." He kept his voice low but his vehemence was more stinging for it. "You're fortunate all you'll get for your idiocy is half a dozen scars, when the cuts heal. If we hadn't been with you, you'd be fishbait by now." He kept on in this manner as a group of Hospitalers came along the street.

"You there!" the sarjeant called out. "Stop and account for yourselves."

"Now what!" Sigfroit burst out. "Be damned to you, cousin, for the whole of this night." He shook Olivia, holding her so that she faced him and not the Hospitalers. "It was bad enough that you went to the tavern, but now this!"

Giralt hung back, confused and worried but appearing to be embarrassed. "We're sorry, good Hospitalers."

The sarjeant came a few steps closer. "Who are you?"

"I am Sigfroit de Plessien, and this disgraceful creature is my cousin." He let Olivia sag against him, saying, "I have not seen him for five years. The last time we spoke, he was a beardless youth still learning to handle a horse and a sword at the same time. I was told he would be here, and I look forward to our reunion. But see what I have found!" He made a gesture of disgust. "What can have happened? The first thing he did was drag us off to a seamen's tavern, where he had wine and more wine, and then challenged one of the sailors… well, I am amazed that we got out with most of our skin."

The sarjeant tried to look disapproving but there was a twinkle in his eye. "You know how young men are, Bonsier. They have to prove their mettle."

"On a tavern full of angry sailors?" Sigfroit asked. "He is fortunate we did not leave him to fend for himself. If I were not of the cadet branch of the family, I might have." He snorted. "The lad's hopeless."

"Wait until morning," said the sarjeant wisely. "Then talk to him while his head is numbering his sins for him." He gave Sigfroit a measuring look. "He ought to be reported, but since you haven't mentioned a name, there's no way I can do it, is there." He nudged one of the men-at-arms beside him.

Sigfroit looked up, seemingly surprised. "Why… Good sarjeant, I do not ask for any indulgence of this rash fellow."

The sarjeant waved this honest protest away. "Another time I might have made note of it, but tonight we're looking for more deadly game than a wild boy. There is a eunuch in Attalia who has murdered—" He broke off. "Have you seen a man, a eunuch, in the streets tonight?"

"I have seen sailors tonight, and the inside of a tavern. There may have been eunuchs there. I didn't try to find out." He suddenly lifted Olivia and slung her over his shoulder. "I had better take him back to his quarters before he gets any worse."

Giralt continued to watch in stony silence. He glared at the sarjeant, but said nothing.

"Well, God keep and bless you, Bonsier," said the sarjeant. "We won't get to our beds until lauds, by the look of it."

"Sarjeant," said Sigfroit, turning back after he had started away, "what has this eunuch done?"

"Murdered a Master of our Order. By the look of the room, de Monfroy put up quite a battle before the villain got him." He shook his head. "De Monfroy saved the wretch, too, and brought him to Attalia out of charity."

Sigfroit paused thoughtfully. "I suppose I have something to be grateful for—this one only brawls and drinks." He motioned to Giralt to come with him. "Good hunting, sarjeant."

"Good of you to say it, Bonsier." The sarjeant and his men continued down the street, away from Sigfroit, Giralt, and Olivia.

"Why did you—" Giralt began, only to be cut short by Sigfroit.

"Wait until they are gone." He craned his neck, addressing his burden. "I'm going to carry you this way, in case we encounter more patrols."

"And if we do?" she asked. She found Sigfroit intriguing; she had not suspected so quick a mind in the Franconian knight.

"I will tell them the same thing." He shifted his arm so that he held her a little more securely.

"You mean you will lie," said Giralt. "And expose every one of us to greater risk."

"There's less risk in this… diversion, than in trying to explain what we are doing on the street with a woman in men's clothes who is being sought as a murderous eunuch." He waited while Giralt considered what he had said. "You're worried for Fealatie. Aren't you?"

"She is our Chatelaine and we're…" He faltered and stopped.

"She is my Chatelaine. For you she is much more," said Sigfroit, giving Giralt no chance to deny it. "I won't endanger her, but I won't abandon this woman to the Hospitalers, not on de Monfroy's account." He patted Olivia's leg. "Have patience, Bondama. We'll win free. We have so far, and so have you. Together nothing will stand before us."

Olivia hesitated, then said, "I am in no position to argue."

"How true." He chuckled. "Come, Giralt. Fealatie is waiting for us. And we must be away on the morning tide."

When they reached the Three Sandpipers, only a sleepy porter was awake to unbar the door to them. He nodded toward one of the private reception rooms. "She's in there," he said through a yawn before he tottered off toward the back of the inn.

Fealatie sat with her unsheathed sword across her knees, her mail harness on, but her head uncovered, revealing tousled braids of dark reddish-brown, like polished rosewood. She rose as Giralt held the door for Sigfroit. "Is she—"

"Merely part of a small deception," said Sigfroit, bending to let Olivia off his shoulder. "We found her where you suspected she had gone."

"The docks," said Fealatie.

"Near them," Giralt confirmed.

"And was she pursued?" Fealatie asked, looking at Giralt for the answer.

"A sarjeant and men-at-arms stopped us. They were looking for her, though they called her a eunuch." He grudgingly went on. "It was Sigfroit who thought of a way to deal with them. And it worked."

"Behold us," said Sigfroit, who was still enjoying himself, "having to bring home a debauched younger cousin, a disgraceful fellow, given to fighting in taverns."

"Very clever," said Fealatie with approval.

Olivia had been trying to straighten her mantel and put some order about her appearance. She broke off these thankless tasks to speak seriously to Fealatie. "I am very much in your debt, Chatelaine. When we spoke earlier, I doubted that—"

Fealatie waved this aside. "If you are grateful, then your aid in Roma would be more than sufficient to fulfill any sort of obligation you might have for the service we have been fortunate to offer you."

"I don't know how fortunate you are," Olivia said, finding herself truly smiling for the first time in days. "I have no doubt that I have been very fortunate indeed." She took care to frame her next question precisely. "There was no reason for you to aid me: why did you do it?"

"For honor?" Fealatie said. "I have learned what it is to be without help and without friends. Sigfroit told me about de Monfroy, after you left. He is not one I would want to take orders from."

"No," said Olivia drily. She glanced inquisitively at Sigfroit. "What do you know of him, and why did you try to stop him now?"

Sigfroit folded his arms, the amusement gone from his face. "De Monfroy always keeps women. There's no fault in that; half the chivalry of France keeps women. The rest keep boys. But de Monfroy made prisoners of them, and hurt them for his pleasure. I knew one woman, just out of girlhood, and of a gentle and pious nature. She longed for the cloister, but her family had long-standing agreements to uphold, and she was supposed to marry. The man who was betrothed to her is my step-brother." He took a long breath. "It was at Mass that de Monfroy saw her, and wanted her. He had her abducted, and used her for his pleasure. I saw her, when he had finished with her." He fixed his eyes on the opposite wall where wooden trenchers hung from hooks. "Her father challenged de Monfroy, but de Monfroy would not accept a challenge from a man of such great age. My step-brother could do nothing because they had never been married, nor marriage contracts signed. Eventually she had her first wish, and was sent to the convent, where the Sisters care for those who are mad. I saw her when they took her there; my step-brother asked for my company. She was scarred like a soldier who has been thrown onto caltrops." His face was set. "De Monfroy said she had taken the pox, but no pox leaves scars like that, in long, straight grooves."

Olivia sat down, trembling. "It… it is nothing. It will pass."

"I should not have spoken," Sigfroit apologized.

"No; no, you're not to blame." She held her arms crossed, fingers fixed above elbows, cold spreading through her. "I knew what he was." It took more courage than she realized to say, "My husband was very like him."

Giralt swore, going to Fealatie's side.

Sigfroit stared at her, his face darkening.

It was Fealatie who was able to speak. "Many husbands are demanding and harsh. But what recourse have we?"

Olivia held back her first response. "You have a demanding and harsh husband as well, don't you?"

"I have a husband who has made demands; I believe they are harsh, but he does not." Her hand brushed Giralt's once, and she went on. "And because my husband has such demands, we must leave for Roma. If there is any way to mitigate my penance, it will be decided there. My husband will oppose any change, but he has not been to the Holy Land." This last was as critical as she would ever permit herself to be.

Giralt placed his hand on the hilt of his sword. "What do you want us to do?"

"There is an usciere leaving for Ragusa and then to Ancona. It is almost empty; our horses will have three stalls apiece." Now that she was discussing plans, Fealatie was starting to be enthusiastic once again. "They leave tonight, when the tide turns. They will carry us, but it will take most of our money to pay for the voyage."

"Once we are in Roma, there will be no trouble with money," said Olivia. "What accommodations are we to have?"

"Grooms' cabins," said Fealatie. "We will be able to have one apiece." She saw something in Olivia's face. "What troubles you now, Bondama?"

"I am a very poor sailor," she said, thinking that once again she was destined to be seasick.

* * *

Text of a coded message to Rets Phillippe of France.

To my most puissant lord, Your Grace Reis Phillippe, I have just returned from a gathering of knights called in Acre, and it is my estimation that all opportunity to reach Jerusalem has been lost. There is at this time no means by which the Christian forces currently on Crusade can breach the Islamite barriers and reclaim the city.

As you may have heard, Saladin recently found another means to insult Reis Richard when Coer-de-Leon was unhorsed in the fighting. Saladin, learning of this, had one of his horses sent to Reis Richard as a replacement. Richard's anger was only greater than the amusement of the Islamites, for none of the Islamite horses is large enough or strong enough to carry a man in armor, let alone wear the bard. This insult has caused more acrimony than a host of defeats, since it is now assumed that the Islamites are playing with us and hold us in contempt.

The flux continues to claim lives, as do the sweating fever and putrescent wounds. Recently an apothecary with the English was accused of witchcraft because of the treatment he had developed, which he said he was taught by an herb woman. He had been told that packing open wounds with mouldy bread would lessen the mortification, since the mould would take the pus to itself. However it was, he did save more soldiers than any other of his number, and this caused many to be jealous and suspicious. When he could not prove that he was not a sorcerer, he was burned for his demonic healings. The priests and monks have blessed this death, but there are those among the knights and men-at-arms who would prefer that they had left the apothecary alive. God offers salvation to the last breath of life; the apothecary gave some hope of life continuing.

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