Crusader's Torch Page 70

"Do we have any record of the Fraizmarch orders or requests?" wondered Cardinal Trivento.

"I will require it," said Cardinal dei Conti.

Fealatie's hands clenched. "That would be another delay," she said, doing her best to keep her voice level no matter how much she wanted to rage.

"This is a serious matter," said Cardinal dei Conti. "It cannot be decided on a whim. Therefore we must learn how your husband is disposed in regard to your penance. If we judge in haste, we court damnation."

Giralt shook his head. "We have been threatened with damnation since this journey began; that is why my Chatelaine is here, so that honor and salvation may both be served. If we must wait, then there is nothing to do but bow to the will of God and the wish of the Pope." As he said this, he watched Fealatie until he was confident that she had control of herself again.

"A most pious sentiment," said dei Conti in his imposing way. "And you?" This was addressed to Sigfroit.

"And I?" Sigfroit answered. "I am a sworn knight. What Chatelaine Fealatie requires of me I will do."

Cardinal dei Conti folded his hands in his enormous sleeves. "We will review this case and pray for guidance. If it appears that His Holiness is disposed to inquire about this, then you will be notified."

"Notified?" Fealatie echoed in disbelief.

"What?" Giralt demanded at the same instant.

Cardinal Trivento glared at them. "Are you questioning the conduct of the Papal court?"

Before Fealatie or Giralt could answer, Olivia spoke. "You must understand, Eminence, that they fear to give offense to Gui de Fraizmarch, who has laid this burden upon them. If they do not act with dispatch, it might be regarded by him as lack of zeal on their part, and would lessen the chance that he would agree to an alteration of the terms of the penance." She paused, and when she went on, she was more emphatic than before. "Without the assistance and succor of these good Christians, I would have perished. For that alone I am disposed to plead their case. But I esteem them as well, and count them my friends. I am beholden to them for many things, and none greater than the bonds of proved affection."

Cardinal dei Conti cleared his throat. "I will do what I can, Bondama Clemens."

"Deo gratias," said Olivia, with the accent she had learned so long ago. As Cardinal dei Conti swept out of the room, she genuflected with the others.

"I will do my utmost, Bondama Clemens, Chatelaine de Fraizmarch. There are many difficulties, but I will do my best." He seemed a smaller, more ordinary man now that dei Conti was gone; he lost some of his ferocity and gained a gentler mein.

"May God reward you for your charity," said Olivia, making a covert signal to the others. "We will be at the Regina dei Fiori," she added, naming the most luxurious inn near San Cristofo. "We will wait for your answer there."

Cardinal Trivento tapped his writing table with his stubby fingers. "It will take some time. You might wish to return to your estate."

Olivia concealed her irritation. "If that is what Your Eminence advises, then we most certainly shall do it."

The Cardinal chose his words very carefully. "Were it not that you, Chatelaine de Fraizmarch, are living under the roof and protection of Bondama Clemens, then there might be more reason for dispatch, for although your knights have accompanied you in the Holy Land, it is not fitting that you remain in their company without proper assurances of your conduct. As long as Bondama Clemens is prepared to extend her hospitality to you, there can be no question of your virtue or the virtue of those with you. If this were not so, it would be required of you that you enter a nunnery until your case is decided." He looked from Fealatie to Olivia. "Is it your intention to permit Chatelaine de Fraizmarch to remain with you?"

Olivia smiled; she was looking at Sigfroit as she answered, "Yes; for as long as desired."

"A most Christian sentiment," said the Cardinal with approval. "It is unfortunate that others are not as eager as you to obey the dictates of Our Lord."

"I thank God for your kindness," Fealatie said formally to Olivia. "I am forever in your debt."

"Nonsense," said Olivia affectionately. "No one is in my debt."

The Cardinal placed the flat of his big hands on his writing table. "So. It is settled then."

"If you must speak with us, word will reach us at the Regina dei Fiori," Olivia said, adjusting her veil and folding her hands piously.

"But you will return to your estate?" suggested Sigfroit.

"It seems wisest," Olivia said, her eyes once again meeting his through the tissue gauze that covered her face.

"Yes," he agreed.

Fealatie was the first to kneel to the Cardinal and to kiss his ring in obedience. "I was near despair. I thank God that you have listened to my petitions."

The Cardinal blessed her automatically. "God answers all prayers in due season, Chatelaine."

She took Giralt's proffered hand as she rose. "Yes," said Fealatie quietly, and for the first time her face bore no trace of apprehension or dissatisfaction.

"Give thanks then, for your guidance and deliverance." The Cardinal was no longer much interested in his visitors. He held out his hand as a gesture of dismissal.

"I give thanks every night," said Sigfroit, the last of them to kiss Cardinal Trivento's ring.

The Cardinal sketched a benediction toward his departing company; he was more intrigued by the legalities of Fealatie's predicament than by the woman herself: which was just as well.

* * *

Text of a note from Sigfroit de Plessien to Olivia.

To Olivia whom I cherish more than honor or justice or blood, my plea to you: you have warned me that the time would come when the Pope would make a pronouncement and when that happened, I would be obliged to follow the dictates of His Holiness. To be honest with you and with myself, I did not think it would happen. I was beginning to believe—wanting to believe—that the old man cared nothing for Fealatie's trouble and would pass to glory in Heaven without making a decision about it. It was a pleasant fable, and it has sustained me these last three years.

But now word has come, and I am bound by my oath and my allegiance to accompany Giralt and Fealatie to the Holy Land once more, for the purpose of visiting Bethlehem and Jerusalem on foot.

I would rather remain here. I would rather abandon everything from my past and stay with you. But if I did that, you would not pardon me, would you? To keep you I would lose you. Olivia, do not despise me for loving you to distraction. I beg you to understand that if I did not dread your disfavor more than I fear the odium of the whole world and the might of the Church, nothing could take me from you.

Dar's ship will carry us away in two days, and I have only tonight to spend with you. We are long past the point where another night together would endanger me, for that danger was met and passed more than two years ago. Let me come to you, let me hold you beside me, beneath me, above me from sunset until dawn, and let me try to sate myself with you; I never will, but let me try before I leave you.

Olivia, Olivia, you are a fever in my soul, and my loving you trembles in me like the wings of angels. Nothing in my life has greater meaning than you, and without you, nothing else has any meaning at all. You are my touchstone.

Know that I will come back to you. I must go to the Holy Land, and then return to Fraizmarch, but then, when I am released from my obligation, I will come to you as swiftly and as truly as an arrow flies.

What will be the most awkward for me, being gone from you as I must be, will be to remain in the company of Giralt and Fealatie, for they are so consumed with their own love that it will make being apart from you that much more intolerable. How odd that I should think that I will never have enough of your love, and yet chafe at being around the love of others.

In the name of that treasured friend of yours who brought you to your life, may all the benign forces in the worlds visible and invisible guard you, and in token of that, I send you this ring. Wear it until I return. And if I do not return, send it to your treasured friend with my endless gratitude.


By my own hand on the 21st day of September in the Lord's Year 1196.


Text of a letter from Olivia in Roma to Saint-Germain in Lo-Yang. The mendicant friar carrying the letter to the merchant outpost in Turkestan was captured by deserting European soldiers from the Fourth Crusade; the friar and the letters entrusted to him were destroyed.

To Ragoczy Sanct' Germain Franciscus in the city of Lo-Yang, which may or may not exist, Olivia sends her most earnest greetings from Roma:

Your letter, which has been on the road more than two years, surprised me, and made me aware of how very much I miss you. Your memory has lain in the back of my mind, dozing, and needed only the sight of your eclipse seal to come fully awake.

Perhaps I should tell you that the last letter I had from you before this one arrived more than twenty years ago, at which time you informed me that you were going east along the Old Silk Road. It was shortly after the Jews were banished from France and that mob in Lyon put three of our blood to the torch. You told me that the knights were spoiling for another Crusade, and that they would probably practice on anyone they could label a heretic. Well yes, you were right about that.

Tell me, have you found the haven you wished for? When you were there before, you said that the people respect learning and put a high value on tolerance. But that was centuries ago, my friend. Is it as you remember? I confess that I hope it may be, so that you will not have to bear so much. The suffering endured by those of our blood is terrible to think of but is isolation the only alternative? I have lived in Roma a very long time and have learned, as you said I would, to live in a way that attracts little notice. Surely you could live here with me. After all, this is your house, and has been for more than a thousand years. Come here to me and return to a familiar place. I promise you that you will be protected—I will let it be known that an eccentric relative will be sharing the villa and your way will be smooth.

By the way, I think you will like the way the north wing has been rebuilt. You gave me permission to make alterations, and I think that what has been done will please you. The builders were most upset, but followed the orders they were given. The atrium has been widened and is a proper court now. There is a gallery around the second floor so that all the rooms have access to the court. It is not unlike the house we shared in Tyre. You see, I have never forgot. Though I have not seen you, heard your voice or your footfall for more than four hundred years, yet they are familiar to me, and I catch myself waiting for them.

You have probably not heard that the English King John has at last submitted to the Pope. Everyone in Roma is busy taking credit for this, and His Holiness is unbearably smug about it. I don't mention it, of course, but I feel sympathy for John. That brother of his was impossible. He put all of his kingdom in debt and went off to war with never so much as a moment's doubt that his debts would be paid. And to make it worse, he never made a wife of his Queen. If Richard Lion-Heart had been able to overcome his inclinations long enough to produce an heir, matters would be different in England. Certainly Richard was a splendid leader in war, very brave, a superb warrior, and so forth. But these Crusades are insanity, and Richard's devotion to war, I think, was at least partly spawned by his reluctance to touch Barengaria. It is an unfortunate prejudice in a king. Other men may have their pages and apprentices and students and urchins, but for a king to spurn his wife, that is another matter. If he could not endure her at all, he could have found her a discreet lover and said the child was his. That has happened often enough before. So England went to John and now Pope Innocent is preening like a cock on a dunghill.

Tomorrow I will give this letter into the hands of a Cypriot bound for Thessaly. He has promised to hand it to a merchant or a friar going east. He has warned me that there are not so many travelers now, as there are rumors of great wars in the East and devils coming out of the desert to plunder the land. For your sake, I trust that this is not the case, and that a small band of brigands has been improved upon in the telling until a handful of men have become an army. It will take time for this to reach you, but when it does, know it for what it is, dearest Sanct' Germain—the cry of my soul to you.

Perhaps it is true that we are doomed to live as outcasts much of the time, and perhaps it is true that if our natures were generally known we would be loathed, hunted, and killed by those who believe the worst of what is strange. But, Sanct' Germain, no one has loved as devotedly as you have. The bond that began that night when I watched you come into my chamber and was filled with terror has never been broken. Do you remember how kindly you used me that night? Without the strength of your love, I would have died before I was thirty. And do not remind me with that wry smile I like so well that I did die before I was thirty. It is not the same thing, and you know it. No one, my friend, no one has loved me as you have. That has sustained me for more than a thousand years, and will doubtless continue to do so until the true death claims me.

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