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Authors: Alan Gordon

Tags: #FIction, #Mystery & Detective, #General, #Historical

Widow of Jerusalem: A Medieval Mystery

The Widow of Jerusalem
Alan Gordon

Copyright © 2003 by Alan Gordon. All rights reserved.

Printed in the United States of America.

No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles or reviews.

For information, address St. Martins Press, 175 Fifth Avenue, New York, N.Y. 10010.

www.minotaurbooks.com

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data

Gordon, Alan (Alan R.)

Widow of Jerusalem / Alan Gordon.—1st. ed.

p. cm.

ISBN 0-312-30089-1

I. Feste (Fictitious character)—Fiction. 2. Crusades—Fourth, 1202-1204— Fiction. 3. Crusades—Third, 1189-1192—Fiction. 4. Fools and jesters— Fiction. 5. Tyre (Lebanon)—Fiction. I. Title.

PS3557.0649 W53 2003 8I3'.54—dc2I

10 987654321

T
o my brother
, Joshua Gordon, for being there when I need him

Acknowledgments

The author respectfully thanks Sir Steven Runciman, Kristian Molin, Maurice Chéhab, Merton James Hubert, Nina Jidejian, Wallace Fleming, J. E. Tyler, Peter V Edbury, and the many contributors to A History of the Crusades, from the University of Wisconsin Press.

And Jesus sat over against the treasury, and beheld how the people cast money into the treasury: and many that were rich cast in much.

And there came a certain poor widow, and she threw in two mites, which make a farthing.

And he called unto him his disciples, and saith unto them, Verily I say unto you, That this poor widow hath cast more in, than all they which have cast into the treasury:

For all they did cast in of their abundance; but she of her want did cast in all that she had, even all her living.

—Mark 12:41—44

One

There once was a dwarf named Scarlet... well, that’s a long tale, and best left to another day.

—JESTER LEAPS IN

T
heophilos
,” intoned my wife as we rode along.

Portia looked up at her adoringly from inside the sling. “Theeeeophilos,” said Claudia again.

“Awooooo!” burbled the baby, dribbling for emphasis.

“Now, that was a very good try,” I said encouragingly.

“It’s a difficult name,” sighed my wife. “It would have been easier if you stayed with Feste.”

“Not much,” I said. “She won’t be using the
f
sound for at least a few more months. Besides, I’m back to being Theophilos for the near future, so stick with that. I think she’s starting to get the hang of it. Perhaps she’s inherited your knack for languages.”

“Speaking of languages, we should pick one to use around her on a daily basis,” said Claudia. “We’ve been changing with every country we’ve passed through. She’ll never learn anything at this rate.”

“Or she’ll learn them all,” I said. “But I see your point. Which one do you prefer?”

“Where do you think the Guild will send us?” she asked, trying to look unconcerned.

I shrugged. “Hopefully nowhere right away. We need to catch up on what everyone else has been up to. Tell you what. I’m Danish and you’re Sicilian. What say we split the difference and speak Tuscan for now? It’s the preferred dialect at the Guildhall, anyway.”

“Tuscan it is, Signore,” she replied, and we kept to that tongue for the duration of the journey.

W
e had left
Constantinople the previous August. Fled with the permission and encouragement of the Imperial Treasurer, grateful that he let us leave on our own instead of at sword’s point. Or in matching coffins. We traveled west to Thessaloniki, where our colleague, Fat Basil, awaited us. We tarried there for the winter rather than continue directly to the Guildhall because of Claudia’s pregnancy. Portia was born on Twelfth Night, appropriately enough for a daughter of fools. In late March, Claudia felt sufficiently recovered to ride again.

We took the Via Egnatia across the mountains to Durazzo, where we added the mule to our company, then headed north. Passing through Orsino was a difficult business, as I was officially banned from the city for the crime of sneaking away with the young Duke’s mother, who now rode beside me nursing his new half-sister. We solved it in part by removing our makeup and motley and donning the guises of a pair of returning pilgrims. We did have a clandestine meeting with the Duke in the dead of night. Mark had shot up a foot since we had last seen him, and it was clear that he was not far away from assuming his full title without the interference of a regent. Nevertheless, upon seeing us he became a boy who missed his mother, and tears were shed by all as the two embraced.

Yet she came with me once again, honoring the oath she made to the Fools’ Guild when she became a jester and the one she made to me when she became my wife. Maybe someday, when Mark has full powers in Orsino, the two of us will be able to settle there in safety.

Then again, maybe we won’t. A jester’s life can take some odd turns.

From Orsino, we rode north along the Adriatic coast until we reached Capodistria, where we managed to find passage to Chioggia for two fools, a baby, two horses, and a mule. We made a brief foray into Venice proper to look up Domino, but I was saddened to find that the old fellow had made good on his threat to retire once his long-standing efforts to stall the Fourth Crusade from leaving came to their conclusion. His replacement as Chief Fool was quite amiable, but we struck out the next day for the Guildhall.

So it was that we found ourselves on the old familiar beaten path that wended its way several miles through the forest south of our little patch at the feet of the Dolomites. It was the middle of June, in the Year of Our Lord 1204, and the sunlight streamed through the leaves overhead to make its own motley patterns around us. Zeus, my arrant steed, must have sensed that we were coming home at last, for he pricked up his ears and nickered happily. Hera, who carried my wife and daughter, plodded on, one part of the world being just as good as any other in her opinion, while the mule, whom we named Hephaestos for his ugly mien and iron will, brought up the rear, laden with provisions, utensils, instruments, props, and costumes.

“I’m a bit daunted by the prospect of finally coming here,” said Claudia. “I’ve been hearing stories about the Guild from you and Fat Basil and the rest of them for so long. It sounds like a fantastical place, all strange angles and hidden rooms.”

“It is larger than life itself,” I said. “But not that much to look at, if truth be told. The hall is high and deep, with wooden alcoves on both sides for classes. There’s a simple stage at the rear and benches for the audience or for meals. Stables to the right and sleeping quarters in back. I had my own little room as a senior fool, but they’ll have to come up with something a little larger now that there’s three of us.”

“I wonder what they’ll think of me,” she said.

“They will love you,” I said. “As I do.”

“Not as you do, I hope,” she said. “One husband at a time is enough for me.”

“Honored to be the current holder of the position, milady.”

“But won’t they resent my being made a jester without going through the formal Guild training? They all spent years at the Guildhall, most of them from childhood.”

“You’ve had training,” I said. “From me, and from Rico and Plossus in Constantinople. Combined with your own experiences and your abundant talent, that makes you as well-educated a fool as any in the Guild. And you’re not the first to be certified as a jester without going directly through the Guildhall.”

“I hope you’re right,” she sighed.

“Mind you, Father Gerald and Brother Timothy will probably want to put you through your paces,” I said, a bit maliciously.

She smiled. “As for that…” she began, then stopped as a bird sang out off to the right somewhere. She looked at me warily.

I drew my sword, and she quickly dismounted and had her bow strung and an arrow notched, all the while shushing the baby.

“You know the counter-signal,” I said.

She nodded, pursed her lips, and made a chirping noise that would have passed as a bird for anyone who didn’t know these woods.

The call we heard before was repeated, with two notes added. I sheathed my sword and dismounted.

“This way,” I said, leading Zeus and the mule into the woods. She followed. When we had come about fifty feet in, I handed the reins to her, went back, and brushed away signs of our trail. I saw no one on the path in either direction.

When I rejoined my family, another fool was standing there. It was my old friend Niccolo, in woodsman’s garb rather than motley and looking uncharacteristically grim. He touched a finger to his lips, reached for Zeus’s reins, then realized what horse he was reaching for. He snatched his hand back quickly before Zeus could get any carnivorous ideas and took the mule instead.

We walked as quietly as we could into the heart of the forest until we came upon a small hut and stable in a clearing. A young man I didn’t recognize stood in the doorway, bow and arrow at the ready. I spotted another high up in a tree.

“We can talk here,” said Niccolo, then he grinned and pulled me into a bear hug. “Long time, Theo. It’s good to have you back. And is this the legendary Lady Viola?”

“Claudia, if you please,” she said, coming forward to shake his hand. “I use my Guild name here.”

“Of course,” he said. “Forgive me. This is Jean, and the fellow up in the branches is Hermann. Forgive the rude reception, but we have a bit of a problem.”

“So I gathered,” I said. “What’s going on?”

“Jean, go watch the road,” he ordered. The man in the doorway nodded and disappeared noiselessly into the woods. Niccolo beckoned us in. There were a couple of pallets laid against the walls. He motioned us to one and plopped down on the other.

“We can’t risk a fire, unfortunately,” he said. “By David’s lyre, Theo, I never thought I would see you with a family. No offense, Mistress Claudia, but we’ve known this fool a long time. We knew he was mooning after someone all these years, but we never thought he’d catch up with her.”

“Were you really?” she said, looking at me with a teasing smile.

“Of course,” I said. “Everything this man will ever tell you is the truth. Now, Niccolo, what is going on? Why the lookout and diversion?”

He turned serious again. “The Guild’s gone, Theo.”

“What? What happened, a raid?”

“Well, a raid did happen. I’m sorry, I’m telling it badly. The Guild lives on, and everyone’s safe. But they’ve fled the Guildhall.”

“Why?”

“Rome, Theo,” he said. “There’s been pressure building up to quash the Guild. Our friends have been steadily losing their influence with Innocent, and what with the Feast of Fools and the troubadours associating with groups the Church has labeled heretical, it was only a matter of time. You heard this was a possibility when you were here last.”

“But I hadn’t heard about anything imminent,” I said. “Why didn’t we get word in Constantinople about all this?”

“I think Father Gerald thought you had enough to worry about,” he replied. “There was nothing you could do there to help the Guild here.”

“Does the Guildhall still stand?” I asked hesitantly.

He nodded. “We cleared out everything but left the building up. Just in case we ever come back. The village is still in the Guild’s name. I made sure they took your belongings, Theo.”

“Thanks,” I said, then I smacked my forehead in chagrin. “I had an iron box buried back by the cemetery..

“I packed that, too,” he said, grinning.

“That was supposed to be a secret,” I said sternly.

“Then you should have been better at keeping it one,” he replied. “Like I said, we were thorough.”

“What about the monastery?” I asked. “What happened to it?”

“It remains,” he said. “We filled up the ends of the tunnel connecting it to the Guildhall. No one should be able to find it, not that that matters.”

“Well, it will protect the monks from any connection. And Father Gerald?”

“Bundled safely and grumpily into an oxcart,” he said. “Brother Timothy, Brother Dennis, and Sister Agatha have gone with the Guild as well, so we should be able to start afresh without too much difficulty, you know where the haven is?”

“Yes,” I said. “How much of a head start do they have?”

“About a week,” he said. “But you should be able to catch up with them. They’re traveling as a group of pilgrims returning from Rome, and most of them are on foot.”

“Good,” I said. “Thanks for keeping an eye out for me. How long are the three of you going to remain here?”

“Another fortnight,” he said. “Until we’ve intercepted all of the troubadour routes and gotten the word out in every direction. There’s only a couple of fools unaccounted for now that I’ve spoken to you.”

“All right,” I said. “We’ll head out in the morning.”

“How disappointing,” said Claudia. “I’ll never get to see the Guildhall now.”

“We may get it back someday,” said Niccolo, but he sounded doubtful even as he said it.

“I wonder how the village will survive without us,” I mused as I stretched out. “Paolo the barkeep will miss my patronage, I’m sure. Did you fetch my tankard from him?”

“Yes, Theo,” said Niccolo, sounding weary.

“Good,” I said. I turned to Claudia, who was looking at me quizzically. “The jesters keep personal tankards at the tavern. Those who are on missions leave them with a coin inside on a special shelf, so that no matter how badly things go, they’ll have the price of a drink waiting for them when they return.”

“Will I get my own tankard?” she asked.

“Of course,” I said. “And once we get the new site set up, we’ll—“ I sat up suddenly. “What about the Scarlet Dwarf?” I asked.

“What?” said Niccolo in confusion. Then his face fell. “The Scarlet Dwarf,” he muttered. “We forgot about that.”

“What’s the Scarlet Dwarf?” asked Claudia.

I scrambled to my feet. She looked at me with dawning suspicion.

“Where do you think you’re going?” she demanded.

“I’ll be back,” I promised. “And I’ll be careful.”

“Wait a second, I’ve heard that before,” she protested. “And it’s never good.”

I walked out of the hut. She followed me. “We have a baby now,” she reminded me.

“I know,” I said, “You had better go and take care of her.”

I left her standing there, fuming. Not the first time I’ve done that. Probably won’t be the last, either. Part of the price for marrying someone like me.

I stayed in the woods, following the direction of the road. I came to the outer wall about a hundred feet from the gate and climbed a tree to survey the village. There was a guard at the gate but no patrols as far as I could see. That made sense. The village had no strategic importance to anyone who was not an angry pope, so there was no real need to make it into a sizable garrison. I suppose the Guild could have taken on the occupying forces with ease, had we chosen that course, but that would have done us more harm than good in the long run. We function better when no one pays us any attention.

The sun set while I perched there. A few torches were lit at the center of the village, mostly by the tavern. There were soldiers aplenty heading in that direction, of course. Our fickle barkeep needed to make up the business he lost from plying fools with ale. I waited until the noise of merrymaking was readily audible even from where I sat, then climbed along a limb overhanging the wall and swung down to the ground.

I took a deep breath, then dashed along the fields surrounding the town until I reached the back of the tavern. I pressed my back against the wall, and was about to make my next move when a pair of soldiers came out to relieve themselves. I ducked behind the rain barrel. Fortunately, they were more interested in the matter at hand than looking around. After a lot of ale passed through them, they reentered for a refill.

As soon as the door closed, I leapt on top of the rain barrel, then swung myself up to the roof. I crept quietly to the peak and peered down toward the front. No one was walking in the main street of the village.

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