Author: callalili PM
A collection of one-shots and supplementary material in the "Bitter Leaves" universe that don't belong in the story proper, so I've posted them here.Rated: Fiction T - English - Chapters: 5 - Words: 11,904 - Reviews: 30 - Favs: 20 - Follows: 17 - Updated: 08-07-10 - Published: 07-23-09 - id: 5243789
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
Appendix A: Pro Utilitate Hominum
He loved his children.
Why else would he care for them, when no one else would? Why else would he take them in, when the rest of the world had cast them aside? Why else would Sir Garnier de Naplouse, a Grand Master of the Knights Hospitalier, sully his hands with blood and grime, and all for this thankless, endless, wearying task? If he did not love them—the poor, the crippled, the ill, the unsound of mind—if he did not take them in, and care for them, then who would? No one else loved them so much as he. No one else loved them at all.
And it broke his heart when they screamed and begged. They were his children, after all, and when their blood was on his hands and their broken cries fell on his ears it was he who suffered the most. They would plead for mercy—but ah! he gave them mercy, and if he did not stop cutting it was because he loved them so! One man's death might mean a thousand more might live. One man's insanity might mean a thousand more might break free of the prisons of their minds. They could not see, his children; they were blind, they screamed at him to stop as he dragged them out into the light—
He loved his children.
What sort of father would he be, if he left them to rot in the darkness?
He saw her, one day, as she came in with a basket of food and bandages for the wounded soldiers—not his children, though he took them in nonetheless, and the extra supplies brought in by well-meaning city women were appreciated. She stood in a shaft of light, a little hesitant, a green veil covering her hair; there was a softness in her eyes that made him straighten up from his patient.
"Sire?" his assistant asked.
"Change his bandages, and ensure that he does not move that leg," Garnier instructed. "He is not to leave the bed."
He was barely listening. The girl was watching him as he approached, and she was beautiful, beautiful, even beneath the veil and shapeless gown she wore; the sunlight caught in her eyes, on her flawless skin, on the high cheekbones and delicate lips. "You," Garnier said, stopping before her. "You are not a Christian."
She blinked at him. For a moment he was afraid that she had not understood; Acre was home to many, after all, and most of them did not bother to learn the civilized tongues. He himself had had to learn Arabic to converse with his children.
But then she opened her mouth and replied in halting, unaccented Frankish: "I—no. I am not. But—I have brought food."
"Why?" he demanded.
She merely looked at him, unafraid. "Bismi-Ilahi ar-rahmani ar-rahim," she said. Her voice was very soft, like feathers, like doves. "In the name of Allah, most gracious, most merciful, who advocates compassion for all."
So she had come out of compassion? Garnier nodded to the corner, where his aides had set up a table and some cabinets to handle donations. "Put that there," he told her.
But she hesitated. "I—I wish to help," she said. "If there is anything I can do—"
"Do you faint at the sight of blood?" he asked.
She shook her head.
"What's your name, girl?"
"Sarah," she said, oddly, with all the accents on the wrong syllables; but then, he supposed, she was not French.
"Sarah," he repeated. "Put the food over there and come with me. I have work for you."
She carried water for him as he made his rounds. Garnier showed her how to change a bandage and check a man for fever, and she went very pale at the man who had lost an arm, but she did not faint.
"You didn't come with the city women," Garnier observed. He bent to check that the wound was not festering.
"The city women?"
"They come on Wednesdays, and Sundays after church service," he told her. "They bring food and blankets for the wounded."
"Oh," Sarah said, looking down at her pail of water. "I—I didn't know."
"You must be new here."
"Yes. I came here after the infidels—" She broke off and stared at him, wide-eyed. "I'm sorry," she whispered. "I did not mean to give offense—"
Ah! Such a kind soul she had, so gentle—and yet so misguided! "I am not offended," Garnier said, rising to his feet. "You cannot help what you have been taught, no matter how incorrect it might have been."
Sarah cast her eyes downward. "My father has an estate in the countryside," she said softly. "But after the Englishmen came through, he feared for my safety, and so he sent me to Acre to live with my cousin."
"The English." He shook his head and wiped his hands clean on his apron. "Some of them are no better than dogs. I am sorry you suffered at their hands."
"You are very kind, my lord." But her lips were trembling, as though she were afraid.
"Do not fear," Garnier told her kindly, taking the pail of water from her hands. "While the Knights Hospitalier are in Acre, no harm will come to such a gentle maiden as you."
But she was backing away from him. "I—I must go," she stammered out. "Before my cousin grows angry with me." She turned and fled.
Garnier watched her go.
An estate? So she was noble of blood, as well as noble of heart—
"Sire?" One of his guards broke him out of his thoughts. "Should we have her followed?"
"Let the lady have her privacy," Garnier said sharply.
She returned a few days later, and a few days after that, gracing his hospital with her presence, and he was drawn to her for her beauty and her compassion and her gentleness; she was an angel, a flower of chastity, a delicate desert bloom that trembled when he drew near—
And Garnier resolved that he would not let her soul be cast down when Judgment came. There was much work to be done yet—his children were undisciplined and unruly, trapped within themselves as so many men were; Saladin marched back and forth across the land and spouted his unenlightened philosophies; the assassins perched on their mountaintop fortresses and did evil in the misguided name of freedom. The Templars had not won. The world was not at peace. Garnier was a busy man, and there was so much he had to do.
But he would free Sarah. She was a dove, beating her wings helplessly against the iron cage of her mind, and Garnier would lift her out and take her above these petty men and their petty squabbles over morality and virtue. He would make her see.
He brought up the matter on her fourth visit. She followed him about like a shadow, listening wide-eyed as he showed her how to set a bone, and when he was through he rose and said, "I would like to show you something, Sarah, if you would allow me."
She followed him to his study, but lingered at the threshold and would not enter. "I should not be alone with you," she said, twisting her hands together. "It is not proper."
"I swear on my honor as Grand Master of the Knights Hospitalier," Garnier said, "that I will not lay a hand on you in violence or in lust. Please, come in."
Still she hesitated. "My cousin," she said. "He is—very powerful. If he knows I am here, with you—"
"I will send my guards away," Garnier promised, and did so.
Sarah stepped inside at last. "Thank you."
"Come." He drew a book down from the shelf. "I want you to have this—"
She took it gingerly, black leather and yellowed pages and a gilt cross emblazoned on the cover, and when she looked upon it he could almost see the light of revelation already in her eyes; "The holy book of the Christians," she murmured.
He would have taken her hand, but he had promised not to touch her. "I knew yours to be a noble soul from the very beginning," Garnier said. "I could not accept that you would be consigned to hellfire, simply because you did not know the true way. Take it."
But she was shaking her head. "No," she whispered. "I cannot take this. My cousin would take it, he would lock me up—"
Yes. That was true. "Stay here, then," he offered. "You can read it here, in my study, and when you go no one will be the wiser. No one enters here without my permission."
Her eyes were bright. "Oh, yes," she said. "Please. I—I think I would like that very much."
"I shall leave you to it, then," Garnier said, and bowed as he left the room.
She came more often after that, every two days or perhaps three, and sometimes after Garnier had finished his rounds they would sit together in his study and discuss theology. Sarah was a willing student; she listened, wide-eyed and silent, while he explained passages to her and introduced her to the vagaries of religious texts. Garnier had high hopes. She was so eager to learn—already he could imagine her as a convert to Christendom, and then—well, if one religion could be proven false, then why not all of them? And he would show her how false the precepts of men were, how wrong their ideals, and she would open her eyes and see the world for what it was and how it should be.
And Sarah would understand him then. He would show her what he had done for his children, and she would understand.
Of late he had been experimenting with opium. It was not a new drug, but it was potent, and so he was careful not to inhale too deeply as he placed lumps of it on the burning brazier scattered around the room. Between the braziers were rows of beds. A man groaned as Garnier passed; he stretched out his hand, his eyes fever-bright, and pleaded for water.
"You are not thirsty," Garnier said sternly. "Return to your slumber."
The man fell back onto his bed with a sigh. The air was filling with sweet smoke, and Garnier shut the door firmly behind him as he left the room.
"Give them three hours," he instructed his assistants. "Then bring in more opium, and coal for the fires. Do not forget to document the reactions."
"Yes, sire. Should we give them water, sire?"
Garnier considered. "No," he said at last. "No water."
"But sire, it has been two days—"
"Then I shall pray for their souls," Garnier said, and departed. They would be dead in the morning, but Robert de Sable would have his results—
Or rather, that would have been true if he hadn't tripped over a disheveled messenger in the hallway.
"Sire!" the man gasped. "Sire, I have news—"
"Clearly," Garnier snapped. "What is it?"
"Our caravans—one of them has been raided, and two couriers to Monsieur de Sable have been intercepted and their throats cut—"
"Merde," he said, and flung open his study door. "How?"
"Assassins—they must have been watching the roads—"
"What do they know?"
The man shrugged helplessly. "Whatever methods you have been sending to de Sable," he said. "They know that Talal is your supplier, at the very least. Thirteen slaves were taken in total. One died in the fight. The assassins left their crests written in blood on the ground."
Garnier cursed again. He reached for paper and ink; he would have letters to write. "I needed those slaves," he snapped. "How many guards did we lose?"
The messenger gulped. "All of them."
He brought down his quill with such force that it snapped. For a moment he stared at the ink splattered across the paper.
Then: "Get out."
"Get out!" Garnier roared, and the messenger fled.
A caravan raided, and all the guards dead. Two couriers intercepted, and the messages most likely taken. It was a warning. The assassins would not have left their crests otherwise; it was a warning, and they were coming for him.
Merde, merde, merde. How had they found him?
Sarah came by later in the afternoon as he was finishing his rounds, but the visit did little to soothe his troubled heart. "My lord," she said, and she would not meet his eyes. "My—my cousin has grown suspicious. I am afraid that he might forbid me to come—"
Garnier rose quickly from his patient. "Are you in any danger?" he asked, frowning.
"I—no—I do not think he would hurt me—" But then Sarah looked up at him, and her eyes were bright with tears. Garnier stripped off his bloodstained apron at once.
"Come," he said, kindly, and led her to his study.
She broke down at once the moment they were alone, and Garnier took her into his arms while she clung to him, trembling, and spilled tears all down the front of his shirt. "I want to keep coming," she whispered. "I—I have learned so much here. You have taught me so much."
Ah, he could not lose her now, not when he was so close, not when he could see her freedom in the misty distance. "My doors are always open to you," he told her. "If you need anything—"
"Oh, no," Sarah said, drawing back in alarm. "No, I could not—you are—you are very kind, my lord, but my cousin—" She bit her lip and fell silent.
"I am Grand Master of the Knight Hospitalier," Garnier said, showing her his signet ring. "Have you forgotten? Who is your cousin, that you are so afraid of him?"
Sarah gazed up at him. "I have been selfish," she said, her voice very soft. "I only thought to—to come here. I wanted to learn what you had to teach me. And—I wanted to see you." She dropped her gaze. "I'm sorry. You must think me terribly bold."
It was such a contradiction that he nearly laughed; Sarah was such a flower of chastity and womanhood as he had never seen, and likely would never see again, and he could not let her go. Such a treasure—she was a pearl beyond price, an Ark of the Covenant all on her own, a glorious, shining Piece of Eden—
"I do not think you are bold," Garnier said. He lowered his voice, so as not to frighten her. "I care for you, Sarah. I can protect you."
But she was shaking her head. "I will speak to my cousin," she murmured, looking away. "I'm sorry. I did not mean to—to make this so dire. It is probably nothing. I was merely frightened. But I should go now."
She did not look as though she wanted to go; still, he would only frighten her more if he pushed now. "You may stay here until you compose yourself," Garnier told her. "I must finish my patrols, but if you would like anything—water, or an escort home—"
"No!" It burst out of her, and Sarah put her fingers to her lips. "No. Thank you for your kindness, but I'll only be a moment."
"Very well." But at the door, he could not resist turning to look at her again. "Will you come back?" he asked.
Her eyes were limpid in the sunlight, soft and dark and wide as she gazed at him. "For you, I will," she said.
The situation with the assassins grew more tangled by the day. Talal sent him a furious letter demanding to know how Masyaf had discovered their association; Abu'l Nuquod's courier was intercepted on the road between Damascus and Acre, but Garnier assumed that he wanted to know the same thing. In any case, all shipments of slaves and spices and opium were delayed. Garnier considered asking for aid.
But it would be futile. The English would refuse, and Sibrand—well, Sibrand would only gather his guards closer about himself. Coward. He called himself a Master of the Knights Teutonic, but he was no true knight—he was happy enough to take Garnier's coin, but would not bestir himself to raise a hand in aid, no matter that the entire vision of the Knights Templar was at stake.
And then, when Garnier thought the situation could grow no worse, Sarah came to him and spilled out her secrets, like blood beneath the surgeon's knife.
On the two month anniversary of their first meeting, Sarah sent him a note.
My lord, she had written. I fear for my life, and yours as well. I would take your offer of sanctuary if it is still open; tonight, at midnight, I will come to the east gate of your hospital and await you there. Be wary. My cousin is a dangerous man.
Please, I throw yourself upon your mercy.
The grubby messenger boy had run off as soon as he'd delivered the note. Garnier folded it into thirds and tucked it inside his shirt. He would order the guard doubled tonight.
And of course he would await her at the east gate; of that there was no question.
She was late, as he had expected; running away would not be an easy maneuver for her. Garnier paced restlessly before the gate while two of his knights stood guard. He should have had her followed. He could have provided an escort then, and faced down her cousin himself, and she would not be in danger now—out on the streets of Acre alone, at night, perhaps pursued—
Footsteps against the cobblestones. Garnier whirled around. Sarah came dashing out from the shadows of an alleyway and flung herself into his arms, weeping, so distraught that she could barely speak.
"Sarah," he said, alarmed. "What is it?"
"My cousin," she gasped, pulling away to gaze up at him. "I am afraid—I think—"
"You think what?"
"—I think he is an assassin," Sarah said, and one of his knights let out a startled oath.
"Language, Reynard," Garnier snapped sharply. And, "How do you know this?"
"I overheard him speaking with another man—I do not know who—and he murmured that he wanted you dead, and such were the plans of the Hashshashin—" Sarah plucked at his sleeves, earnest and pleading. "I do not want you to die," she whispered. "So I ran away."
"It was very brave of you," he told her. "Where does your cousin live?"
Indecision. She was not entirely his yet—but he waited, and after a moment she lowered her eyes and gave him an address, as he had known she would; ah, he could be patient when he wanted to, and he would lay open her soul with his scalpel and cast light onto all her secrets, but she would come to the table of her own free will.
"Reynard," he said, nodding at the knight. "Take five men and go to the house. Do what you must do there." The man bowed and ran off. Garnier put his arm around Sarah's shoulders and gently steered her through the gate and into the courtyard. "You are safe now," he told her. "Your cousin cannot hurt you here."
She nodded, shivering, but said nothing.
"Come," he said. "Come to my room, and have something to drink, and tell me everything you know about the assassins and your cousin."
Once they were alone—in his personal quarters this time, with the door locked and all his servants sent away—Garnier opened his cabinet and took out a bottle of wine. He poured out two goblets, and Sarah suddenly gasped softly and said, "My lord, the window—"
He glanced at it. It was open. "Do not fear," he told her. "There are two guards on patrol below."
"Please," she said, trembling. "Shut it. For me."
"If you wish." Garnier set down the wine, went to the windows, and pulled the shutters closed. When he turned back, Sarah was at the table, looking at him wide-eyed over the bottle of wine, with one of the goblets in her hand.
"Your knights," she said. "I mean no insult, but—"
"They are the best in the world," Garnier said, picking up his own goblet. He downed it in one gulp. "And if they cannot protect you," he promised, "I will."
She was still pale, even after she took a sip of her own wine. "But the assassins are everywhere," she whispered, setting the goblet down on the table. "My cousin is determined. He will not let me go."
Garnier knelt before her and took her hand. "I will not let him have you."
"You are so brave," she said, and shook off her veil. Her shining dark hair was coiled and pinned back neatly; Garnier imagined what it would be like tumbled across her shoulders, and drew himself back quickly from such salacious thoughts.
"Thank you," he said at last.
"And you are so kind to me," Sarah added, gazing at him. "Thank you—for everything you've done. For protecting me."
"How could I do otherwise?" Her fingers were so cold. But—strange. His were going numb.
"You could have cast me aside, but you did not. You could have left me to my cousin, but you did not."
"Of course I could not have done that." Now his entire hand was numb. Frowning, Garnier stood. The room spun. "You are quite safe here, I assure you," he said, grasping for the table.
"My lord?" Now she was on her feet as well, her eyes dark and worried. "Are you all right?"
He took a step toward her and tripped. "Perhaps you should lie down," Sarah said, catching him. She was stronger than he'd expected. Garnier let her help him to the bed; by the time they made their way across the room, he had lost sensation in his arms and legs, and the room was going dark.
"Sarah," he gasped out. "The wine—"
"Have you had too much?" she asked, kneeling, her fingers flying to his neck to check his pulse.
Paralysis, he thought fuzzily. The assassins—but no, he was safe enough, this would not kill him, and his men surrounded the hospital on all sides tonight—but how had he been poisoned? "No," he managed. It was growing harder to breathe. "Poison. Get—my assistant—"
But Sarah was not going to the door. She was watching him, clear-eyed and steady, with her fingers against his throat; why had she not gone to the door? He needed—something. An antidote. He was dying perhaps, he needed to impress upon her the urgency of the situation; a wave of dizziness, and when the dancing lights had passed he looked up and she said, "Can you move?"
He tried. His fingers twitched, and lay still. "No—"
"Good," Sarah said, and rose to her feet.
Good? He closed his eyes and opened them again, his breath coming in short gasps now, and Sarah was still not going to the door; she was reaching up to her hair, a pin coming away in her hand—long and thin and glittering needle-sharp in the fading light.
He needed an antidote, he tried to tell her. He needed his assistant. He needed her to hurry, before the paralysis overtook his tongue and stilled his breathing. "Sarah—"
She bent over him. He tried to move, but sensation would not come.
Everything had gone blurry, but he could see her face in sharp relief, all the lines and planes and angles outlined in light as though she were some sort of angel; "Go with God," she murmured, and her voice was soft, like feathers, like doves.
There was a sharp, stabbing pain behind his left ear.
A/N: Because Altair can't have all the fun, can he? Also, Garnier de Naplouse is crazy in too many ways to list and really, really creepy.
Three guesses for who Sarah is! Actually, you should save those guesses for figuring out where this goes in the Seduction Study continuum. All will become clear! But I couldn't resist posting this. I would love to hear wild theories if anyone comes up with any.
Notes: "Pro Utilitate Hominum" was the creed of the Knights Hospitalier, which means "in the service of humanity." "Bismi-Ilahi ar-rahmani ar-rahim" is the preface to most of the suras in the Qu'ran, and it really does translate to "in the name of God, most gracious, most merciful," which I thought very appropriate. Also, the theme of the innocent, virtuous heathen woman converting to Christianity because it is the One True Faith as seen from the POV of a westerner was just too, too obvious to pass up here. (If anyone wants a literary example, Cervantes does a particularly eye-rolling one in Don Quixote with his story of Maria and the captured crusader, though to be fair the entire thing was intended as a parody.)