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To Wear The White Cloak
By Sharan Newman
Tom Doherty AssociatesCopyright © 2000 Sharan Newman
All rights reserved.
Paris. Thursday, The kalends May (May 1), 1147; 30 Iyyar, 4907. The feast of Saint Philip, apostle, who had four daughters, all prophetesses.
Primo hoc ipsum quod cum plurimi judices viri in IsraeL fuisse referantur, de nullo illorum dicitur, quia propheta fuerit, nisi de Debbora muliere.
First of all, of the many male judges in Israel who are referred to, it is said of none of them that they were prophets, only of the woman Deborah.
—Hrabanus Maurus Commentary on the Book of Judges
It came as a shock to Catherine that the children had forgotten what their house looked like.
"Is it that one, Mama?" James pointed at every gate as they made their way through the twisty streets of Paris, toward the Grève, on the north bank of the Seine.
"No, James." Catherine patted her son's tousled curls. "Ours has the brass dragon that your father made. Remember? You lift its nose to sound the bell."
"Oh, of course," James said, his face wrinkled with the effort of imagining it.
"We've been gone over a year, Catherine," Edgar reminded his wife. "After all that time in Trier, we're lucky James and Edana can even remember how to speak French."
"We stayed too long." Catherine sighed.
She buried her face in James's hair as she fought to keep the tears from starting again. They had planned to come back in spring as soon as the roads were cleared of winter debris and the new baby was strong enough to travel. But the winter winds had carried a fever that took the month-old child between one dawn and the next.
Catherine had been sick, as well, and her grief at the death of little Heloisa had made her recovery slow. For weeks she had refused to consider returning to Paris and leaving the tiny grave alone in a foreign land. It had taken the scorn of her sister, Agnes, now married to a German lord, to recall her to the duty she owed her remaining family.
Catherine had thought that the rift between Agnes and herself had been mended when the family had come to save Agnes from being tried for murder, but marriage and security had brought back some of her sister's more unpleasant traits, among them an intolerance for emotional displays.
"You think that you're the only woman who ever lost a child?" she had told Catherine. "You have two healthy ones left. Be grateful for that and stop this moping. James and Edana need you more than the baby does. She's in Heaven now, after all."
"What do you know?" Catherine had snapped back. "You've never had children."
"I've never studied theology either, but I know it's a sin to grieve immoderately, and that's what you're doing," Agnes had replied firmly.
The fight that ensued had shaken Catherine out of her deep pain more than all the kindness of her friends could. Fury at her sister's coldness pulled her from melancholia at last. Agnes's scorn made her realize that it was time to return to life.
It was fortunate that Catherine didn't see Agnes's expression as she stormed from the room, or catch Edgar hugging Agnes in thanks. Instead, she went back to their house in town determined to prove to her sister that she wasn't being excessive in her grief.
So they had decided to come home.
Edgar was walking beside his horse, leading the way. His sister, Margaret, was riding and doing her best to keep three-year-old Edana from tumbling off in her excitement.
Catherine watched them as closely as she could while trying to keep James from jumping from his spot in front of her on the horse. She was more worried about Margaret than her own children. Edana had proven many times that she could survive a fall. Margaret was much more frail, and the trip to Germany had been hard on her in many ways. Catherine sometimes wondered if they had been wise in bringing Edgar's sister from her home in Scotland to live with them. If her life there would have been without affection, it would also have been safer.
"Almost there!" Edgar called out. "Now, James, watch for the dragon!"
"I see it!" James cried. "There! Is that it?"
The last words were in tones of doubt that Catherine echoed.
"What's happened here?" she said. "The gate is overgrown with vines. The windows are still shuttered. It looks as if no one has been here since we left. Where's Samonie? Solomon was supposed to tell her to open the house for us."
Catherine regretted the words immediately.
"Do you think something has happened to Solomon?" Margaret asked, her voice rising in fear.
"Of course not," Catherine answered too sharply. "Solomon has been to Samarkand and back and spent most of his life wandering through pagan lands. What could happen to him between Trier and Paris?"
She tried not to think of the pilgrims and soldiers who saw no difference between killing Saracens in the Holy Land and attacking the Jews living in France. Catherine wished again that her cousin would accept baptism but knew that only a miracle could change his heart. She fell back on her reassurance to Margaret. Solomon knew how to protect himself.
"But he should be here," Margaret said. "He said he'd wait for us. What could have happened?"
"We won't find out by standing outside," Edgar said. "Come along."
He lifted his daughter from the horse, and then helped his sister down. For a moment, they clustered before the house like a troupe of beggars, then Catherine took the keys from the hook on her belt and sorted through them for the large iron one that would open the thick oak gate.
She had to use both hands to make it turn, and, when she heard the catch click open, she and Edgar still had to push together to make it move.
The gate scraped open far enough for Edgar to enter. They heard him exclaiming at the state of the place as he tore out the encroaching vines with his one hand. At last they were able to open it wide enough to bring the horses and the pack mule in.
Catherine stopped in horror.
"What happened?" she asked. "Even the front door is boarded up. Edgar, we'll have to find someplace else to stay until the house can be aired. We can't take the children in among the foul humors. Where is Samonie? I don't understand this at all."
"Catherine LeVendeur? Is that you?"
The voice came from the road. An old woman was peering through the gateway, squinting to make them out.
"Hervice?" Catherine ran to greet their neighbor. "What's happened here? How long has the house been empty? Why is there no one here to greet us?"
"Your father was back sometime before the feast of the Nativity," Hervice answered. "He left around the time of the Purification. He told everyone he was going on a pilgrimage and that you and your husband would be along to take up his trade soon."
"But that was only four months ago!" Catherine said. "Things couldn't have got into such a state in that short time."
The old woman shook her head. "He didn't stay here, but on the Île with his Jewish friends. Odd way to start a pilgrimage, I'd say."
"Finishing his business with them, I suppose," Catherine said. She swallowed the fear and the shame that came every time she remembered that her father had actually abandoned Christianity to return to the faith of his ancestors. No one must know that he was even now on his way to join the Jewish community in Arles. It would put the whole family under suspicion, even though Catherine and her sister were both good Christians and their brother, Guillaume, had never even learned of their father's ancestry.
Hervice didn't notice her hesitation and continued her complaint. "There's been talk that he'd left a treasure behind in the house so he had the shutters nailed down and hired a guard. Sent your servants all up north to work for your brother, I think. Haven't seen the guard in weeks. Maybe he took the treasure."
"Father left nothing in the house," Catherine told her. "All of value that we didn't take to Trier, he left with my brother or the monks at Saint Denis for safe keeping."
Hervice seemed about to express her doubt about that but then looked at their tired faces.
"Fine welcome home for you anyway," she said. "Why didn't you send word? Here now, come across to my house. You can wash the dust off and have some soup and bread."
As they followed her, Edgar leaned close and whispered to Catherine, "How much gossip do you think we'll get with our soup?"
"A lot, I hope," Catherine whispered back. "How else will we find out what's been going on while we were away?"
Edgar murmured his opinion of the usefulness of kitchen talk.
"Nonsense," Catherine answered. "I'll wager Hervice knows things even the priest hasn't heard yet."
"Nor ever will," Edgar said. "But that's not the sort of news I was hoping for."
"Then just attend to the children and eat your soup," Catherine suggested. "I'll strain the truth from her tales and feed it to you later."
They settled on benches in Hervice's garden while she called a servant to bring soup.
"You'll want to slake your thirst after the journey, as well," she said. "Gilles! Fetch water for our guests!"
Edgar had been hoping for something stronger. He set down the soup bowl to take the water, ignoring the serving boy, who stared in shock at the black leather strap covering the tender skin of his left wrist where the hand used to be.
"Did a Saracen cut it off?" Gilles breathed, his eyes round.
Edgar smiled bitterly. "No, a demon in the body of a man."
"A demon!" Gilles's eyes grew even wider. "What did it look like?"
"Like my father," Edgar said bitterly. "Exactly like him."
It was clear that Gilles wanted to ask more, but Hervice ordered him sharply to stop gawking and drag out a table for their guests.
James and Edana, who had already set their bowls on the ground, fetched wooden spoons from Catherine's sack and were happily eating.
Catherine waited until the family had settled before she questioned Hervice about what had been happening in Paris over the long year they had been gone.
"Last year was a bad harvest." Hervice clucked her tongue. "Bread was dear and beggars on every corner. The wine was thin and sour. The spring has been too cold this year, as well. Not a good omen for this venture of the king's."
"We saw armed men wearing pilgrim crosses everywhere as we came through town," Catherine commented. "I thought they would have left by now."
Hervice shook her head. "I hear they're starting out any day, but it seems that the only pilgrimage anyone is making is to Paris. There are even Knights of the Temple, dozens of them, with all their squires and servants, doing God knows what. No wonder Edessa fell, if all of them are loafing about here in France!"
Catherine nodded. "I saw a group of them. I didn't realize the order had grown so. They must have come to guide the king and the emperor to the Holy Land."
"Well, I say if they're going, then they should go," Hervice snapped. "The place is overrun by men with swords. Warriors, knights, lordlings, even those who are supposed to be clerics. They say some of the knights are also monks, but I never heard of a warrior taking a vow of chastity and I have granddaughters. You give any man a sword and sooner or later someone will get run through. It's their nature."
Catherine reached a protective arm out to Margaret, who had been listening in silence. The men who had attacked her in Germany hadn't carried swords. Perhaps that was how she had survived. But what had happened to her was more brutal than a simple thrust and a quick death.
"It will be all right, cossete," Catherine assured her.
Margaret gave a sad smile. "Of course. We're home now."
Catherine kept her arm around Margaret as she turned back to Hervice.
"Has no one come by recently asking for us? A friend was supposed to be here when we arrived."
Hervice shrugged and yelled for Gilles to bring more water. "No one that I know of. We can ask the rest of the street. But I'd have heard of it, I think."
Catherine agreed. For some reason Solomon had been delayed. It wasn't like him, but the times were unsettled, especially for a Jewish trader, and he might have had to change his plans.
"Messages go astray," Margaret said, following her thoughts.
"They do indeed," Catherine said. "All too often. He might have sent word to Trier after we had left."
She gave her bowl to the serving boy and stood.
"Thank you, Hervice," she said. "Now we need to find a place to stay until the house can be opened and aired."
"I'm feeding a houseful now, or I'd take you in," Hervice answered, endeavoring to look regretful.
"We wouldn't think of it," Edgar told her honestly.
He took Catherine's elbow and guided her out into the street.
"So where shall we lay our tired bodies tonight?" Catherine grinned. "I agree that Hervice makes a poor hostess, but with Paris so crowded, we might not be able to find anyone better."
Margaret spoke up. "I want to stay with Willa."
They both gaped. Margaret hardly ever voiced an opinion.
"Well," Edgar began, "I'm sure Willa would be happy to take us in. But deorling, she and her husband probably don't have extra space. He's only a felt maker. Likely they share a corner in the shop room of his master."
"I don't mind," Margaret said, never having slept surrounded by fresh felt.
Willa was the daughter of Catherine's housekeeper, Samonie, and still Margaret's best friend. A few years older than Margaret, Willa had comforted and cared for her both in Paris and before, in Scotland, through a dangerous, tragic journey. Not having been brought up at a proper court, Margaret didn't let the gaping difference in their status affect her feelings for Willa.
Edgar and Catherine, however, were all too aware of what people would say if they arrived in Paris and lodged with a felt maker, as well as how much their request for shelter would disrupt Willa's husband's life.
"There are the nuns at Montmartre," Catherine suggested. "Abbess Cristina would be happy to take us in and hear the news about Agnes."
Margaret's shoulders sagged. That would mean returning across the fields and up the hills. Edgar bit his lip. They were all exhausted. He didn't want his family going door to door hunting for a night's shelter.
"James," he said. "Help me unload the tent. Edana, you can carry the pegs if you promise not to run.
"The night is mild," he added to Catherine. "The garden can't be so overgrown that there isn't a space to pitch the tent. It won't hurt us to spend one more night in the open."
Catherine nodded agreement. She was as tired as the children.
"Tomorrow we can send for Samonie to come back from Vielleteneuse and help us open the house," she decided. "If it's too filthy and full of bad air, then we'll have to take the children back there. Since my brother has all our servants at his keep, he shouldn't mind taking us in, as well."
"Guillaume might be better pleased if we spared him more mouths to feed," Edgar cautioned.
"Well," Catherine considered this. "It can't be helped. He certainly wouldn't turn us away. And I know my sister-in-law will be delighted."
That having been settled, they made their way down a passage next to the outside wall through the weeds and vines to the garden. They all stamped down an area large enough for the tent, and then Catherine ran down to the corner tavern for a pitcher of beer and cabbage pies. When she got back, Edgar was pounding in the last stake, balancing the hammer easily in one hand.
The bells for Compline were tolling by the time Catherine fell asleep. All the churches of Paris! How she had missed their individual tones! Saint Jacques, Saint Merri, Saint Magloire. From almost over their heads sounded Saint Gervais and Saint Jean le Pauvre, across the river. Then the deep notes of Nôtre Dame on the Île and farther away the bells of Saint Germain l'Auxerrois. Dozens of churches, all telling her that she was home, wishing her a good night. She snuggled into the blankets, the warmth of her family surrounding her, and felt completely happy.
It wasn't Matins yet when she awoke. There was a light glowing outside the tent. She realized at once that it wasn't from the moon. The brightness grew, not as dawn approaching, but that of someone with a torch.
"Edgar," She whispered and felt the stump of his hand against her lips. She rolled over and pushed herself to her knees and elbows to see better.
He was kneeling before the tent flap, peering through the narrow opening. His right hand held a knife. She wondered how long he had been awake, guarding them.
The light flickered over the canvas and was followed by that of another torch. Catherine held her breath, wondering if these were enemies of her father, come to burn down the house. Perhaps someone had discovered that Hubert hadn't gone on a pilgrimage to Rome. What if he hadn't been as careful as he thought in hiding his intentions?
She put her arms over the sleeping bodies of her children and prayed to Saint Genevieve to keep them safe.
There was a rattling at the boarded door and muffled swearing. Then a voice came on a chance breeze, soft but clear.
"He said it was open last time."
The only answer to that was a growl and the sound of footsteps through the brush as the torchlight passed again, heading down to the stream.
Excerpted from To Wear The White Cloak by Sharan Newman. Copyright © 2000 Sharan Newman. Excerpted by permission of Tom Doherty Associates.
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