Secrets and Truths – an Ivanhoe/Kingdom of Heaven crossover.
To the Umbrella, who gets her hopes up for all these crazy ideas of mine and is so very, very patient with me while I'm putting them off. She is the solution to all my rainy days as a writer.
Rebecca of York looked down the road through the lonely little French village and sighed to herself. Her father would ask to stop again, and she knew, before they had even begun to ask for the usual hospitality of the road, that any small bit of welcome would be refused them. Ten days they had been in France, ten days since crossing from Dover in marginally accepting England to Calais in less accepting France. And what a long ten days it had been – ten days filled with dark scowls and grudgingly given food, ten days of cold nights spent sleeping on the road because no inn would take them. Ten days, in short, of very lonely living.
But it is better than what we had at home. Anything is better than what we had at home, Rebecca thought to herself. His face still haunted her dreams, his blood-streamed face, nearly cloven in two because his order had made him fight against her cause in the trial by combat. And Ivanhoe, who had cloven it.
Oh, better not to think on Ivanhoe at all! He was safe at home, and happy with his lady Rowena. And I have Father, and France before me, and Spain beyond that, with a new life there for both of us. There should be some solace for me in that, Rebecca reminded herself.
Charm is deceitful and beauty is vain, but a woman who fears the LORD, she shall be praised, that was what the Proverbs had to say about the guile of women. And her beauty had only brought her to ruin, it seemed, to beguile a Knight of the Temple into thinking he loved her and bringing her to be tried for a witch. Lord the God and guide of my fathers, make me plain that I may cause your creation no further trouble, Rebecca prayed silently as the cart jolted back and forth, rambling over another set of ruts into this latest village on a long and slowly darkening road.
Issac of York slid from the seat atop the cart into the soft mud of the road, leaving his daughter with the wooded wagon that held their whole life to knock on the door of the nearest house in the village limits. A poor enough place – scarcely a window on the street. But they would ask, nonetheless. Fine cloaks and gold pins had been packed away in the baggage long ago, and plain homespun had replaced them. No good advertising a wealthy, elderly moneylender and his daughter were traveling alone. Times were troubled enough as it was, with crusaders on the road and hearts aflame to prove something to God about religious devotion. Who but men would prove themselves faithful by killing? Rebecca wondered as her father pounded the door again, waiting for an answer. Women always prove their faith in dying, it seems.
Finally there was an answer at the door. "This is no inn, traveler," the man said with a surly tone.
"Please, a drink from your well and a loaf of bread. We require little, and we will not stay long. We can pay…"
The farmer squinted out into the road, eyeing Issac's beard and the characteristic curls over his ears. Rebecca could see the scowl forming in his face, the words coming into his mind. A Jew. It was a look that pained her every time. "Got troubles enough without Jews in my house. Be off with you, and darken some other door!"
Issac gave a shortened smile and turned away from the door, shrugging to his daughter as if Rebecca hadn't heard the whole exchange, and took up the horse's lead, walking the animal to the next door and knocking again. The door opened, and a face appeared for a moment before a frightened gasp cut any introduction short, and the door slammed shut. "Go away, Christkiller!" came the muffled shout from within.
"Christkiller," Issac repeated, sighing to himself. "You would think I was Judas himself the way some of them go on.
"It's all they know, father," Rebecca soothed, "We have some bread from noontide left over. And there is wine, from that village outside --"
But Issac wasn't paying attention to his daughter – he was paying attention to the house across the way which, for whatever reason, was drawing open its door just as all its neighbors were shutting them tightly as if against a strong wind. A woman stepped forth, and for a moment Rebecca thought she might also be a jew, with her dark hair and dark eyes. When she spoke, though, her French was in a voice Rebecca had never heard before, a strange accent from a strange place, she thought. Nothing like the other peasants they had met along this road.
"If it is hospitality you require, our table is small but open to you. Your horse may drink there, in the smith yard."
"My thanks, mistress," Issac said, setting to work on the harness and unyoking the beast to lead it to the feeding trough. The mistress of the house stepped out of the doorway, allowing Rebecca inside to a stool near the fire. The woman ladled up a cup of water from a crock near the fire and handed the plain clay cup to Rebecca, sitting down opposite her on the room's other stool.
Jews. It seemed so long since Sybilla had seen anyone besides the plain, judgement-day fearing Christians of France. Jews were anathema here, dispelled long since by an act of the king. And they were rich, or had been rich once. This was a woman who had known beautiful things – the princess still remaining in the woman who was now the blacksmith's wife looked with a sharp eye at the girdle that clasped the woman's waist, an embroidered thing that had once been fine enough to wear with a gown of much higher quality. And the jewess' hair, too, had been washed and taken care of once. Now, after long days of travel, it was bound back so as not to need combing, but it was long and thick, the kind of hair men love.
"Judging your garments you've traveled a long road. From whence do you come?" she asked, watching the other woman drink.
"England," came the reply.
England. My cousins rule in England, Sybilla mused to herself. I wonder how John is faring, with his brother away, making my husband's war. "And where are you bound?"
"Spain," the woman said, her tone evasive, defensive.
"Spain!" the Frenchwoman repeated, surprised. "That is a long road for two travelers alone. I would have thought Jerusalem, but that is longer still," Sybilla said, refilling the cup and rising from her seat as the man (her father, perhaps? He was too old to be her husband) came inside. He gave her a short bow and gratefully took the cup filled with water.
"Jerusalem is no place for Jews now," he said solemnly. "It seems to me beyond all men. There is holiness in the Holy City no longer."
Sybilla sighed, and seemed to the others to take this to heart more than a Frenchwoman should. There is truth in that, master Jew, more than you know. "There is bread here, and soup, master, if you want it," she said, ladling out a bowl from the pot over the fire – vegetables set to boil for noontide, should Balian want it, and dinner after that, which she would probably have to force her husband to eat. Sometimes she couldn't understand why that man refused to sit and take a meal. But there were still many things she did not understand of her husband.
The elder spooned the soup into his mouth with relish, smiling as the warm liquid slid down into a belly that had probably not seen a decent meal since leaving England. My countrymen are a suspicious lot, if they cannot find it in their hearts to feed two hungry travelers, Jews though they may be, Sybilla thought with an inward frown. And once I set such a grand table. Now I content myself with soup and bread and consider that hospitality. "Why did you leave England?" she asked. The woman looked aside, ashamed; Sybilla noticed now that she did not eat, but merely tore a wayward piece or two from the bread.
"Business troubles," the man said vaguely, his eyes not connecting with Sybilla's. Here's a man with secrets, she thought to herself. What troubles ever plague the money-lender? But he won't speak of money, and why should he? There's dishonesty enough along the traveler's way.
"There was … a knight," the woman volunteered suddenly, surprising her father with her boldness. "A Templar. He thought he loved me, but I …loved another. He made life difficult." She did not look at her father, and her father, poor man, did not look at her, though his frown deepened and he remained silent.
"A Templar, love a Jewess? Not even in the wildest stories do poets sing about a love like that," Sybilla said, laughing a little and cutting it short when she realized the truth in what was said. That is a cruel joke, if it is true. There are laws within that order binding a man to the celibate life. No man who took that oath was let to love after it. If, indeed, he ever loved before.
"I did not believe him, either, thinking it to be a spiteful jest of his. He was a spiteful man, who judged himself a man of God but who knew little of God's laws."
"I knew a Templar once cut of the same cloth. He thought himself a king at times, and played at ruling," Sybilla remembered, staring into the fire. Guy was never a king except in name. No poet thought so, or called him such, and no one whose word mattered.
"A madman, then?" the young woman asked, smiling a little as if to encourage.
Sybilla laughed and smiled ruefully in return. "Something like that." I'm sure some called him mad where they could not be overheard. Surely to try and take Jerusalem again was a mad enough endeavor. And now they let him rule over his little island and play at being a ruler where he can do no harm.
The man, however, was looking askance at her. "How does a peasant wife come to know a Templar?"
"He…he passed through here, once. A cousin of the lord in this place," she lied. That was true, Guy had been in France once. Perhaps he had been here in Bois-sur-Seine. "He took … something from me." The woman's eyes softened, knowing without the words being spoken what she referred to. Let her think what she does. It was often like that anyway. Her father, however, studied her a little from above his soup spoon.
"Who should I thank for the hospitality?" he asked, an innocent question with a dangerous answer.
"Sybilla, the wife of Balian. And who should I accept thanks from?" Sybilla asked, her question light but her meaning heavy.
"Rebecca and Issac of York," the older man replied. York…I know not where York is, Sybilla mused.
"We thank you for the gift of your fire and the food," Rebecca said. "And the company," she added for her own part, very quietly. "I have not talked of these things to anyone."
"Women are born of the same troubles," Sybilla said quietly, laying her hand on Rebecca's arm. She did not know why she felt a friend to this woman, who was a Jew and no acquaintance to the same troubles. But she had wanted to talk to someone, too, and it seemed, now that she thought about it, too long since she had found another woman to confide in. She'd taken nothing but her soul away from Jerusalem, and left all her friends behind in that place. Perhaps the certainty that they would never meet again had made them bold. "Take some bread for the road," she offered. "There will be precious few houses like this one on the road to Spain." No other woman I know was once a queen where they professed to keep their houses open to all peoples of the book. No other ruled a kingdom of conscience.
Rebecca nodded, taking the loaf and wrapping it in a corner of her cloak as her father stood, leaving his bowl, scraped clean, on the table.
"Sybilla. That is not a French name, I think," the father said, wiping his hands on his cloak and watching his daughter leave.
"Byzantine," Sybilla said before she could think to say otherwise. Rebecca had already passed through the door, and it was only her father who could hear now.
"There was a queen of that name, not so long ago, in Jerusalem," Issac observed, watching his hostess very carefully with a slight smile on his lips. "They say she died when her husband besieged Acre. Or that perhaps she ran away from that place. I heard she was a great beauty, with dark hair and eyes like my Rebecca's. Eyes like yours, mistress."
Sybilla gave her own smile back, as if laughing at the notion. "I've never heard of such a woman. I've never been outside this province, father. "
Issac smiled in that way Sybilla hated, the way of a man who knows he has found the truth, and nodded. "Of course. I only thought I heard something in your voice. A mistake, obviously. Thank you, again, for the meal and the water. God stay here with you and keep you safe."
"God go with you on your travels, Master Issac."
"Shalom Aleichem," the man Issac said softly, leaning in towards Sybilla to whisper in her ear, though his own daughter was far enough away not to hear. Her hand was open, and she felt him press a coin into it – large enough not to be a simple penny. "And now you know my secret, too," he said.
"Aleichem Shalom, Av ha-roeh be'seter," Sybilla said, letting the Hebrew slide off her tongue quietly, the words stealing out into the air like a traitor leaving his city. It felt good to hear something other than French on her tongue, which once had given out greetings for five different worlds of men to hear.
Issac smiled. "Lies? Rather see through to our secrets and truths, malchat Yerushalayim," He said aspulled his hood back up, and joined his daughter at the cart, flicking the reins to urge the beast back into a trot.
Sybilla looked down at her hand to see a large golden coin. Secrets and truths indeed, master moneylender, she thought to herself, smiling a little as she watched the cart trundle down the road. This she would put away, for a time when it was needed more. Then, perhaps, she would spend it like a queen.
"Peace be upon you."
"And upon you peace also, Father who sees through lies."
"Lies? Rather see through to our secrets and truths, queen of Jerusalem."
The translation isn't literal, nor should this be taken as good scholarship. It's not my best work, nor do I believe it has a plot in any form, but it was amusing to write and I hope you've enjoyed thinking about what could have happened had these two worlds intersected each other.