Crusader's Torch Page 1


Valence Rainaut

Text of a letter of the Venetian merchant Giozzetto Camarmarr from Cyprus to the Benedictine scholar Ulrico Fionder.

My dear cousin and esteemed teacher, I fear your apprehensions were well-founded. As you warned me, the situation has become worse. It is not only the presence of the Islamites that brings trouble to this island, but since the people reclaimed this place as their own, there has been an alarming increase in piracy, and the venture our united families were so hopeful of I must now recommend we abandon, at least until more order is restored here.

The great Islamite warrior Saladin has demonstrated his capacity for conquest now that Hittin has fallen and Jerusalem is in his hands. I am far from certain that this will be the limit of his expansions; one has only to think of Spain to know that Christian countries are not beyond his plans. I, for one, do not agree with those who say that the Byzantines will be able to hold his forces back. Consider that the Cypriots have already defeated them. The armies of Saladin are more formidable than the people of Cyprus.

Of course one hears rumors. When does not the world buzz with them, like bees and mosquitos? It is said that Isaac II Angelus desires the aid of his Christian brethren in the West. There are those who have denied the chance that there will be another Crusade. Most kingdoms cannot afford the expense, according to what I have heard. The loss of life in the last one has given many leaders pause, and the disharmony between kings has become so great that few kingdoms are able to sponsor such an expedition. However, it may be that with Saladin in Jerusalem, the Pope will decide that Christians must demonstrate their faith by restoring Catholic rule to that most holy of cities. Unlikely though many think it may be, I believe that the Christians must act; since the Byzantines are not inclined to fight the Islamites alone, we must assume that it will fall to good Catholics to defend the Holy Sepulcher.

I wish to make a suggestion to you and to our families: on the chance that there is another Crusade, rather than take the kinds of risks that are currently entailed in trade, we might instead invest in transport ships, for troops bound for the Holy Land will need our assistance, not only to carry them to Acre and Tyre, but to keep them supplied once they are there, for it can hardly be expected for the Catholic communities there will be able to supply an entire army.

It is true that many of the Crusaders are likely to take the overland route through Hungary, but many others will prefer the faster sea routes, and all will rely on transport ships for additional arms and supplies. I realize that there are those who frown on Venetians profiting from such holy undertakings as Crusades, especially since we do not take up the Banner of Christ. To those, I say that the Crusaders would be the worse for lack of our support, and that as long as la Serenissima trades with Islamite kingdoms and cities, then we must be careful to be sure our conduct does not worsen the conflict. By shipping and supplying the Crusaders, we fulfill the obligations we have as Christians as well as maintaining our necessary positions as Venetians.

You are more knowledgeable in these matters than I am, but if I have understood what you have told me, there is nothing in this proposition that is contrary to the laws of our Repubblica or the dictates of the Church. If I have erred, I pray you will tell me of it and aid me to correct my faults.

I solicit your prayers and instruction, and upon my return I will avail myself of your company. I miss the solace of learning and the joys of our families. To be two years away from wife and children is a trying thing for a man; I long to return. May God send me a swift and safe passage to Venezia. I will depart in two weeks. You will have this in good time so that our families need not delay in coming to a decision in this matter.

Your cousin and most devoted student,

Giozzetto Camarmarr

On the Feast of the Holy Anchorites, in the 1188th year of Our Lord, by my own hand and under my seal.

- 1 -

Most of the shutters had been closed over the windows by the time the squall reached Tyre. The few that were not secured banged and rattled until the household slaves tended to them, and then only the eerie wails of the wind and the spattering of rain disturbed the house that stood a little apart from the rest, between custom's station and the Genoese quarter of the city.

"I wish you wouldn't insist that I leave," Niklos Aulirios said to Atta Olivia Clemens as he left the slaves packing his belongings to speak with her in her private apartments.

"You know I can't take the risk of arriving in Roma without preparation. Be sensible, Niklos." She was frowning slightly, her hazel eyes vexed. "We've been over this; I won't change my mind because you repeat yourself."

He was about to protest when he saw the slave from Antioch standing in the door, hand raised to knock. There were two long copes folded together in his hands. "Not like that," Niklos told the slave. "I want them separate, and I want them in my saddle bags, so that I can reach them. If there's going to be more weather like this, I'll need them."

The slave gestured to acknowledge his mistake, and set about following Niklos' orders. "We can't find the leather chest," he said to Niklos, showing respect to the major domo by keeping his eyes lowered.

"I'll help you search for it shortly." Niklos turned to Olivia once more. "You don't know that there will be more fighting. I don't like to think of you taking unnecessary risks." He looked toward the slave in the doorway. "You have duties to attend to, haven't you?"

"I do," the slave said and withdrew quickly.

"I like the risks no better than you do," said Olivia. "Which is why I am determined to return to Roma. If I am wrong, there will be no harm in the change, and if it turns out that I am right, then the sooner we are gone from here, the better. Was the slave listening?"

Niklos made an irritated gesture. "Even if he were, he did not hear anything that has not been said before. And who would he tell?"

"That worries me," she said wryly. "I wish I knew. And all the more reason for me to leave. It isn't very safe here." She waved her hand toward the window. "Out there everyone is troubled. They expect the worst. I would as soon avoid that if I am able."

"You will need escort for your journey. Have you thought about that?" Niklos did not wait for her answer. "Many of the Templars and Hospitalers are as rapacious as the robbers they are supposed to guard you against. Don't argue with me," he warned her before she could interrupt. "You know that it's true, especially if they're escorting a woman."

"I know it's true for some of them," Olivia conceded with a faint smile. "Why are you so angry with me, Niklos?"

He rounded on her, his burnished skin darkening with emotion. "Because I'm afraid for you, Olivia. After all these years and years, I dread what might become of you."

"I am not entirely defenseless." Her hazel eyes locked with his dark ones unflinchingly and she took two steps toward him. "You may take credit for some of my skills. You taught me well, Niklos. For that I thank you."

"If you think to distract me with compliments, Olivia—I know you too well. It won't work." He folded his arms and did his best to glower at her.

"Oh, Niklos, Niklos; old friend." She turned away from him, her gaze directed at a point some distance beyond the shuttered window. "If that were all there was to fear. If the only worry would be the venality of Christian knights, there would be no reason to leave Tyre. But that is the least of it, and you know it as well as I."

"It is enough," said Niklos, coming and laying his strong, square hands on her shoulders before he turned her toward him. "How are we to manage?"

"As we have in the past, I trust." She said it distantly, her attention divided between him and some unknown factor, a sound or a memory or a nameless impression. "The trouble is," she went on as she studied the bondsman's collar around his neck, "I don't like the necessity of separation any more than you do. With you I am safe, I have no secrets. Among strangers, well,"—she shrugged without dislodging his hands—"there can be difficulties. There have been before."

"You will take slaves with you, at least," he said, his desperation giving his words the force of a command.

"If I am permitted more than a body-slave, yes, at least as far as Greek territories. The Hospitalers and Templars do not permit extensive retinues." Olivia leaned her head against his shoulder. "I would rather travel with you. You know that. But I need you to arrange… everything. I rely on you to find me a place to live, one that is secure and where I will have to answer as few questions as possible. With Crusading fervor rising again, there are always greater risks. You've said yourself that if I remain here, eventually suspicion will develop, either among the Christians or the Islamites, and that would not bode well. I need to find a haven where the zeal of my neighbors is not a threat." She smiled faintly. "At least in Roma you will not need to import earth for me."

"Roman that you are," he said, his sternness giving way to affection.

"There was a time it was an honorable thing to be," she said, the words wistful.

"And now?" He held her off. "Never mind. We both know what has become of Roma."

"Yes," she agreed, and moved away from him. "That is why I am depending on you to act for me. I don't want to have to repeat what we endured when we came here from Alexandria. By comparison, leaving Constantinople was a simple… swim."

Somewhere on the floor below, a shutter banged once, twice, and there were muffled shouts as the household slaves rushed to close it once more.

"It's taken care of," Niklos said when the voices beneath them quietened.

"They're frightened. They know that there is danger. I hear them speak of Saladin, and they say he will not be content with Jerusalem." Olivia stared around her apartment, looking at the two crucifixes on the wall. "I hate having to stay here, especially now, to keep to three rooms on the second floor because I am a widow and I must not be seen abroad except to go to church."

"Will Roma be better?" Niklos asked, not quite concealing the cynicism he felt.

"It is where I was born," she replied obliquely. "If I have to remain here, waiting, until either the Crusaders come and butcher us all, or the Islamites come and butcher us all, I will go mad. I feel here I am walled up in a tomb." Her voice grew hushed and she caught her lower lip between her teeth. "I had help then, in Roma. But he is far away and I cannot wait for his rescue now."

As gently as he was able Niklos asked, "Do you think he will return?"

She smiled, her face world-weary. "What you are asking, Niklos, is do I think that he is dead, truly dead?" She shook her head. "No. I would know. There is a bond between us, and if it were broken, I would know."

Niklos kept his thoughts to himself, his eyes directed toward the very old Persian chair rather than Olivia. "How soon do you insist I go? I'll be prepared in two more days."

"As soon as weather and shipping permits. There are three Genoese merchants who are arranging transport; you could travel with them. The Hieronomite monk at the sailors' chapel will handle it if you ask him. My Confessor has spoken to him on our behalf already." She said this quickly, anticipating his reaction.

"You wish me to go by ship?" It was difficult to tell whether he was annoyed or upset at the suggestion.

"It is faster, and more direct. If you travel overland, it will be some time before you reach Roma. Going by ship, you should arrive at Genova in no more than a month." She spoke in her most sensible tone, but her eyes were pleading with him.

"Assuming we encounter no pirates and the winds are fair, that no Byzantine ship seizes us for invented taxes and no Christian ship demands that we be put ashore on some remote isle so that they can commandeer the use of the ship for the transportation of pilgrims or knights," Niklos added as he started to pace the confines of the room.

"Yes," said Olivia with asperity. "Assuming that. Overland there would be robbers and Islamites and slavers to contend with, and more time for them to strike, more places for them to take you, more ways for you to disappear. On the sea, you will be safer. Please, Niklos." She reached out to stop him and shook her head in exasperation as he pulled free of her hand. "You know how much I hate to travel by water," she went on, her patience wearing thin. "But if I had to leave today, I would arrange to go by ship."

"Then come with me when I leave. We'll make provision for you, arrange for you to be an invalid, so that you might keep to your quarters all day." He stopped pacing to address her directly. "Is this why you've been avoiding me, delaying this discussion—because you want me to travel by ship? I tolerate it better than you do, Olivia."

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