Come Twilight

Part IV Ximene Chapter 1

The sound of his boot-heels was loud on the marble floor of the primary reception room; a fountain in the courtyard behind them softened the noise with a constant musical chuckle. The scent of lemon trees sweetened the afternoon breeze. It was warm for late November, and the light lay brightly golden over the hills; Toledom basked in it, although it clearly revealed the scars of war on walls and buildings. In the markets the last of the slim harvest was being sold to the highest bidder and to the forces of Idelfonzuz of Aragon and Navarre who were beginning to enjoy the fruits of their victory as well as the advantages of their occupation.

"I hardly recognize the place, with all that has been done to it. The street is no longer as it was, either," said Germanno, Comide Ragoczy in Byzantine Greek as he went into the next room. "Ah. This is more familiar." He had been surprised that his old house was still standing-although much modified by subsequent owners-and his inspection of it was reassuring and startling by turns. "It is half again as large as what I had built, five hundred years ago."

Behind him, Ruthor nodded. "At least it is not a ruin." He paused, glancing at the fireplace. "That should be cleaned and inspected before anything is burned. You do not know that it is safe."

"I was thinking the same thing." He passed through the room into a gallery that had not existed the last time he left this house. "I like the columns: red granite-and it is pleasant to be open to the garden. At mid-summer this must be a welcome haven from the heat."

"It is also good that the garden is walled," said Ruthor, looking beyond the courtyard to the stretch of trees and shrubs beyond. "And, if it comes to that, the outer gates are very imposing."

"I thought so, too," said Germanno. "What building did they take down to make this garden?" Before Ruthor could answer, he said, "It was that grain emporium, was it not? Yes, that and the barn of that carter." He smiled. "The garden is much handsomer, and longer, than either of the buildings were."

"That it is," said Ruthor, shading his eyes against the sun. "A fine place, this."

"It is," said Germanno. "The emporium was no great loss, but the carter had a family-" His expression darkened.

"After five hundred years or so, I doubt anyone remembers them," said Ruthor pointedly. "They surely must have scattered when the Moors came."

"Very likely," said the Comide, his voice level as he glanced at Ruthor.

"Yes. As my family certainly was when I had been away from Gadiz for several centuries," Ruthor said in a tone to match Germanno's.

Germanno nodded once. "At least we came to Burgoz from the Breton March port of Noirmoutier. Little as I like traveling by water, I am less eager to go through Chimena's territory, even now. Who knows what has happened there." He paused in the door that led to a wing of the house he had never seen before. "This must have been the women's quarters. You see those screens."

Ruthor paused at the mention of her name. "Do you think Chimena is still there? It is almost four hundred years since you saw her." He saw Germanno glance away. "Aragon is in the territory she held, is it not?"

"Yes, a portion of it is," said the Comide. "The rest is in Gotalunya, in the Comidie of Barzeluna. I must assume that she is where she was before, since she was disinclined to travel. I have no sense of her True Death, although it is remotely possible that she could die and I not know of it; the bond of blood with us has never been strong. I must admit I am curious about those around her, and I worry that there may be far too many of them by now. But I am not going to ask Idelfonzuz if he knows anything of a group of vampires in his kingdom."

"He might be offended," said Ruthor automatically.

"Or worse," said Germanno, and did not elucidate.

Ruthor came to the doorway and peered in. "That pool is very nice."

"If I can line its bedding with my native earth, I will keep it; I would like to have such a bath. If you will discover how it is fixed in the foundation and if there is room for my native earth?" He left the wing and went toward the corridor that had led to his laboratory. "I hope they have not ruined it."

"Why should they?" Ruthor asked, his curiosity piqued.

"I have no notion. I have not set foot in this city since we left almost five hundred years ago. It is unknown to me now." He went down the corridor carefully, as if to reassure himself that he had chosen the right direction. When he reached the door he opened it carefully, troubled by what he might find beyond. "By all the forgotten gods," he murmured as the door swung back, revealing a chamber with a ceiling higher than the rest of the roof with a circular staircase of metal leading up to a high balcony under a skylight hatch that now stood open. "An observatory."

"So it is," said Ruthor, astonished by the discovery. "What an extravagant addition. The former owner must have been a wealthy and educated man."

"Or he employed a teacher," said the Comide, assessing the room with narrowed eyes. "You see that there are pigeon-holes in the north wall for scrolls, and chains by that book-rest, so there were Arabic and Roman books here." He looked about, a wistful turn to his mouth. "A pity I will not have more time to use this place."

"Do you think you will not?" Ruthor asked in some apprehension.

"Idelfonzuz did not order me here so that I could study the stars," said Germanno.

"You are to assist in the running of his Courts," said Ruthor, sounding unconvinced.

"So he has told me. I am sure there is more to it," said the Comide.

"But if he expects you to deal with the Moors and the Jews, would not this room serve that purpose admirably? Could you not show that it would increase your acceptance by their learned men? Most of them would be pleased to have such a place as this in which to work." Ruthor pointed to the high desk against the south wall. "If you offered the opportunity to study here to many of the scholars in the city, might not you earn the respect and trust you need to fulfill the King's mandate? Your library could be brought here, as an added incentive."

"It is possible, but that will depend on the King," said Germanno, making himself turn away from the wonderful transformation of his long-ago laboratory. "My books are the least of it; I will need to have at least half the rooms suitably furnished. That means in Roman fashions, or Frankish ones. Idelfonzuz would not appreciate divans and carpets in the Moorish style." He shook his head as he closed the door. "Perhaps I can use the observatory to explain my nighttime habits. It will be more readily understood why I am up late if this room is known." Going back down the corridor, he added, "It would be wise to do a full inspection of that room."

"Why? Does anything seem amiss?" Ruthor was troubled by this remark. "Do you suspect something has been done to the room?"

"No, but I remember the scorpion, and I would not like to have such a surprise again." He paused, listening to the fountains. "Be sure the water flowing in the wells is wholesome. A few of the cisterns in the city had dead rats sunk in them, as a departing token of the Moors who have gone. Those who have stayed may still ally themselves with those who left, and seek to do mischief to all of those here with Idelfonzuz."

Ruthor stopped still. "If you are so apprehensive about such ruses, how can you enjoy your homecoming?"

"But this is not a homecoming," said Germanno, Comide Ragoczy rather sharply, going on in a gentler tone, "it is a return, and one that has been long in coming. I would be soft-witted if I mistook this place for the one we left so long ago; think of all the work that must be done on Villa Ragoczy in Roma. This is not much different, except that it appears never to have fallen to ruin." He resumed walking, this time bound for the part of the house that once held his library, and faced a solid wall of jasper and malachite. "I want to know what is on the far side of this wall. Then tomorrow morning, when it is appropriate, I will dispatch you to Idelfonzuz to tell him the house suits me very well."

"Because it is your house. You had it built," Ruthor said, annoyed and not knowing why he was so.

"The King does not know that," the Comide said gently. "He will want to be thanked for his magnanimity."

"Which you will do," said Ruthor, smiling in spite of himself.

"Of course." He went back to the courtyard where the larger fountain splashed over large white stones into a large marble basin. "If the wells have not been tampered with, you may start hiring servants tomorrow; do not hesitate to pay well for quality. I would prefer not to purchase any slaves unless it is absolutely necessary. Find me good servants and offer them decent wages; a bit above the usual, but nothing so high as would imply we are naive in such matters. If those you hire have families, offer a little extra for housing, and make the servants' quarters available to those who are alone in the world." He paused, staring in the inlaid frieze of Qran text that filled the wall of the main reception room. "Peace be upon you, for you have endured patiently; how splendid a recompense is paradise," he read aloud, translating. "From the Chapter of Thunder, I think. Noble sentiments, and yet I would rather have a painting of the city. Shameful in Moorish eyes, but tempting to me."

"Will you hang paintings?" Ruthor asked.

"I think not. It would offend any Moors visiting here. I may make an exception in my own apartments. There are those Byzantine mosaics, you know, the ones Olivia had commissioned for me when Justinian ruled." He went to the stairs that led down to the cellar and the kitchens. "I will probably have to choose my decorations carefully; a saint's statue in the smaller fountain, so that the Christians will not become suspicious, but I will keep the frieze from the Qran in place, so that the Moors will not be insulted by a slight to their scriptures. I will have to hope the Jews will be tolerant. Perhaps a prophet instead of a saint in the fountain would be better: Isaiah, I think; his prophesies are acceptable to both Jews and Christians." He looked around at Ruthor and said crisply, "This place is grander than when we left it. I suppose it would be foolish not to take advantage of the improvements."

"Then you will open it for scholars," Ruthor said, grinning his satisfaction at the notion.

"If the King will allow it, yes. Thank you, old friend." He began his descent into the kitchens, making note of the niches in the wall for oil lamps. "It seems that the kitchens have been expanded, too." He stopped at the opening to the cavernous room, looking at the two large open hearths where spits were in place for turning meat. "It would be wise to have more than one cook, judging by the size of this place."

"And assistants, perhaps two or three," said Ruthor. "If you have fewer than that, someone will remark upon it."

"I would not doubt it," said Germanno, walking through to the door leading into the small kitchen garden. "Herbs and squashes, by the look of it. That should suit any cook you hire." He closed the garden door and went back through the kitchen. "This is going to be an expensive household to run as the King will expect."

"Then you are going to refuse him?" Ruthor asked, wanting only to know why Comide Ragoczy would do such a thing.

"Of course not," said Germanno, ascending the stairs again. "I will have to build my athanor as soon as possible. I think one of the side-rooms will do for it. I will decide which one when we have taken up residence here in the house and may arrange to install it with a minimum of attention. I would rather not have it where everyone in the house-staff and guest-can see it; that could lead to questions I would not like to have to answer." Now that he had reached the top of the stairs, he set off moving quickly, walking with a deceptively easy grace that covered distance more swiftly than most men could run. "I wonder of my old apartments are still intact."

"Do you want to occupy them?" Ruthor found it difficult to keep up, but did not ask Germanno to slow down.

"That depends on how they have been maintained," said Germanno, starting for the stairs and climbing the narrow, steep steps two at a time. "If the occupants have used them well, I cannot see why I should-" He stopped as he reached the door and touched the latch.

"Do you not want to open it?" Ruthor inquired when Germanno did nothing more.

"Yes and no," said the Comide, and with that, lifted the latch and looked inside.

The room was in poor repair, with an uneven floor and scaley walls. What little paint had not flaked off the wood was so faded that its original color was nearly impossible to determine. A single stool lay on its side near the tall windows, and the door to the inner chamber hung askew on its hinges. There was no parchment in the windows, and the sill showed damage from weather.

"I am sorry to see this in such poor repair," said Ruthor after a brief silence.

"I have known worse," said Germanno. "This is not remarkable, considering how long Toledom was fought for. I am grateful that more has not been done. You saw what dreadful condition the old church was in." He pulled the door closed. "This will have to be repaired; I cannot use..." His words faltered as the skittering of rats was heard above them. "While the wells and rooms are being checked, the attic should be, too. If there are rats there, who knows what else we might find among the rafters." He rubbed his chin thoughtfully. "This will take money. I am in no position to barter for work."

"That will be expected of you, will it not? Servants are not peasants, to trade labor for a share of their harvest. They will expect housing and food, and some payment besides." Ruthor went down the stairs ahead of Germanno, not bothering to turn back to look at him. "You have more than enough gold to fill this house with servants, if you want, and to pay them double the usual wages."

"It is just as well that this is not generally known," said Germanno drily. "Foreigners with money are easy targets. Idelfonzuz or the Church would invent a new tax if they found out."

"Are you certain of that?" Ruthor stopped at the corridor leading into the newest addition to the house.

"As certain as I am that campaigns are expensive," the Comide answered with a wry smile.

"And this one is long," said Ruthor. "It has lasted for generations."

"Not as openly as recently, but, yes, it has," said Germanno, adjusting his black cote of Sicilian silk so that it swung more loosely around his legs, sheathed in dark-red bamberges; his black-leather solers were thick-soled and high enough to reach the base of his calves. "I will need my silver-embroidered surcote for this evening," he remarked to Ruthor. "The King has said he seeks to learn what I know of Toledom."

"Will you tell him why you were interested in this house over many another?" Ruthor asked mischievously.

"I have already told him there were records that one of my blood had lived in this house many decades ago. It may incline him to accept my living here without question. He, himself, can make such a claim to other properties here in Toledom, and so he could be inclined to approve my request." Germanno frowned slightly. "I do not know how long he will expect me to wait upon him tonight. I trust it will not be too late.

"Do you think you might spend some part of the night with a woman longing for a dream?" This question was not lightly asked, nor was it lightly answered.

"I think it would be a tremendous risk to make such an attempt until I have had the opportunity to establish myself and learn something of the way the city has changed. It is not the place we left so long ago, and Viridia is long turned to dust." He looked directly at Ruthor. "I appreciate your concern, but I am not yet so desperate that I would hazard so much."

Ruthor said nothing for a short while, then said, "You will not neglect yourself again, will you?"

"It is not my intention," said Germanno enigmatically as he started to move again. "If you will use my absence to prepare notes for what we will require to furnish this place well, but not too lavishly, I would be most grateful." He went out into the courtyard to the larger fountain. "We must ready ourselves quickly, for I have no doubt that Idelfonzuz will have plans laid out for me by now. He will reveal them as suits his purpose, and we will have to respond quickly."

"Our host at the hostel will have men and carts to carry your belongings here, will he not?" Ruthor asked, knowing that such tasks were his to perform. "Assuming your occupancy is granted."

"Pay him enough and he most certainly will," said Germanno, sardonic amusement in his eyes. "There are any number of men searching for employment who would welcome a handful of silver for labor." He pulled his gloves from his belt and drew them on; it was a signal of departure.

"That is apparent," said Ruthor as they passed through the outer gates to where a youth of about twelve was holding their horses at the edge of the busy street. He averted his eyes, as he was required to do, as he handed the reins over to Germanno and Ruthor.

The Comide tossed the lad three copper coins, saying, "Thank you for your service," as he swung into the saddle and gathered up his gray's reins; the horse was still heavily dappled, revealing his youth, and he pulled restlessly, eager to be going. A moment later they set off through the rough-cobbled streets toward the hostel where they were staying.

Most of the streets were busy enough, but there was little camaraderie to be seen, for the peoples here were still uneasy in their dealings with the new masters of the city. Although the number of Moors in Toledom had decreased since the Castilians conquered it, there were still many of them about; artisans of all sorts remained when the military and nobles had fled, and now those artisans were busy expanding their businesses to accommodate the men from the north in spite of the uncomfortableness that still existed between them. The Jews were more apprehensive than the Moors, for they had been targets of Christian hatred before and were keenly aware that it could happen again; they tended to keep their businesses to their own parts of the city and were careful when they went into the central markets of Toledom. Ruthor remarked upon this as they passed a busy street in the largest Jewish quarter.

"Do you think they will be accepted now that the Christians control Toledom again?" He sounded uncertain. "They would have good reason to fear."

"Still," said Germanno as they approached their hostel, "given how long and bitter the campaign for this place has been, there is more sufferance here than I would have expected." His memories welled: the slaughter of his own family, the deliberate decimation of the Assyrian captives in Egypt, the comprehensive butchery of the Huns, the Magyars sending thousands of their captives off into the forests to starve...He put his hand to his eyes to stop the visions from coming.

"Would you remain, in their situation?" Ruthor asked as they entered the front court of the hostel.

"I might," said Germanno. "But it is not the same, is it?" He pulled his gray to a halt and dismounted, handing the reins to a groom who stood waiting to take them.

Ruthor did not bother to reply to the Comide's question. He came down off his horse and surrendered his reins to the groom, then followed Germanno through the confusion of the courtyard to the entrance of the hostel where the landlord was waiting to give them a message.

Germanno took the reverently offered roll of vellum with the seal of Idelfonzuz on it, tugged the seal off and read the message. "I will have to leave soon," he told Ruthor. "There is someone Idelfonzuz wants me to assist him with. The man is from the south and in need of someone fluent in the Moorish tongue."

"A spy?" Ruthor suggested as they went toward their chambers at the top of the stairs.

"Possibly, but I think it may be more complex than that." He rolled the message up and thrust it through his belt. "I will leave you to begin arranging the transfer of our belongings."

"Certainly," said Ruthor.

"I do not suppose I will return much before midnight." He went into their chambers and reached for the chest containing his clothes. "The surcote with the eclipse embroidery in silver, and my pectoral. This is going to be a grand occasion, from the tone of Idelfonzuz's missive." He unfastened the buckles holding the chest closed, and pulled out a camisa of black silk. "I will change as soon as I can wash the dust off. It is too warm for the full cote under the surcote: in such clothes you would think we were back at Leosan Fortress, not in Toledom. The camisa will suffice." With that he strode into the rear chamber leaving Ruthor to make his garments ready.

By the time Germanno emerged from the inner chamber, his short-cropped hair still glistening with water, the oil-lamps had been lit and his outer garments were ready for him. Ruthor held up the surcote so that Germanno could shrug into it, then helped him shake out his sleeves.

"Do you want the solers of red leather, or the black?" Ruthor asked, both pairs set out for use.

"The red, I think. They are more festive." He removed his dusty pair and donned the tooled-leather red ones, handing his riding solers to Ruthor. "The soles will need more of my native earth soon."

"I will take care of it," said Ruthor. He handed Germanno his device-pectoral-a black sapphire disk surmounted by raised, displayed silver wings depending from a ruby-studded chain of broad silver links-and watched as Germanno set it carefully in place. "Do you need anything more?"

"Probably," the Comide allowed. "But it is not so important that I can call it to mind." He took a fist-sized piece of red amber from a leather case that contained a number of jewels. "This should be a suitable sign of appreciation-Idelfonzuz will expect something of the sort. At least I did not make this," he remarked as he held it up to the lamp. "Good Baltic amber. Idelfonzuz will be pleased." With that, he put the amber into his wallet and straightened up.

"Have a care coming back; the streets are dangerous at night."

"So they are," Germanno agreed as he picked up the short staff given him by Idelfonzuz to secure his passage everywhere in Christian Spain. "I will bear that in mind. At least we are not in Gotalunya, or in Aragon." He had intended it as a wry jest, but Ruthor responded somberly.

"No. But that day may yet come." He held up a warning hand to the Comide. "Idelfonzuz is from Aragon. You would do well to remember that."

"And has made common cause with the Comide of Barzeluna. Yes, I know." He touched his shoulder with his baton in a gently ironic salute. "Still, old friend, we are not in the region of Holy Blood yet." Saying this, he nodded to Ruthor and left him in their apartments while he hurried down to the stable.

Text of a letter from Fre Carloz of the Monastery of Santoz Ennati the Martyr near Usxa, to Idelfonzuz, King of Aragon and Navarre at Toledom.

In the Name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, and in honor of our Santoz Ennati: Amen.

To the illustrious Christian King, Idelfonzuz of Aragon and Navarre and ruler of Castile and Leon in the name of Urraca, daughter of Adelfonzuz of Castile and Leon, the greetings of Fre Carloz of Santoz Ennati the Martyr, for whom you have a special devotion, and in whose name I now appeal to you.

You know how much strife we have seen in this place, and how much is soon to come. As Santoz Ennati battled the demons of Hell, dispatching five of them with his axe before he gained his martyr's crown at their hands, we, too, must stand and face the horrors of war as your valiant knights join with other good Christians to reclaim the land of Santiago for Our Savior. This is a most worthy goal, and one that we most heartily endorse, but we are cognizant of the dangers that can come from such enterprises. Those of us not schooled in battle are often the most damaged by it. Great clashes often bring ruin in their wakes, and for this, those who must live where the fighting has been are left to deal with the trampled crops, burned forests, contaminated wells and streams, and the confiscation of livestock and poultry as well as all foodstuffs for the purpose of feeding the soldiers of both sides.

As the leader of great armies, I implore you on behalf of all those who live in this region to mitigate the demands of your men as best you can so that famine and dishonor are not the legacy of victory in this place. Think of Santoz Ennati and his valor in the face of an overwhelming enemy, how he strove to save his Brother hermits from any harm from his heroic action. He faced the demons alone, purposefully leading the group of them away from his hermit's cell and the monastery to which he was attached, so that none of his Brothers would suffer because of his battle. If that one good, holy man could be mindful of his Brothers when entering into a fight against the minions of Satan, should not you and your soldiers keep in mind this pious example, and strive to preserve the land and the people thereon as a show of Christian charity?

If you do not come this year, yet we know you and your armies must arrive before many years go by. When you do, we beg you to keep in mind our situation. The Moors have taken many of our trees and the great forests we are told once spread from the Ebroz across the mountains into France have been gone for centuries, leaving bare hillsides that cannot support anything but flocks of sheep and goats. The few forests that remain are small and remote. Your own Kingdom of Aragon has felt this privation for decades. Surely you can spare us the few things we must have to survive? Our vineyards have been our greatest treasure, but if we cannot save our harvest of grapes, then we will have nothing more than squashes and peas for sustenance, which would not be sufficient to keep the monks here from starving, let alone provide for others in need. We have opened our doors to your people when wars forced them to flee to us, and in the name of Santoz Ennati we have shielded them from harm and want.

The Church has called for the end of Moors in Spain, and we have, in fealty, sworn to assist in this effort in whatever capacity we can. To that end, we have gathered stores of cloth, foodstuffs, and bedding so that soldiers may be cared for in their campaign. If these things are seized indiscriminately by the first company of knights that comes this way, we will be unable to lend assistance to any of the others who may come later. For that reason alone, I beg of you, keep your knights from looting and raiding the countryside when they come here. Remember the inspired example of Santoz Ennati, the Visigothic warrior who would not bring misfortune upon those who could not defend themselves; surely he has shown the way that all good Christians should conduct themselves when going into battle for so great a cause.

Let me remind you that in this place, we are at the very border of the region known as Holy Blood, where no one can count himself safe from the predations of night-hunting demons. Over the years, their numbers have increased and their boldness as well, for their hunger is unrelenting. We are hard-pressed to manage this place against such foes, and no Santoz Ennati has come forward again to rid the land of those pernicious creatures that pursue all living things to the same contemptible end. Surely it is enough that we do our utmost to contain those vile beings. Were you to add the force of your armies to our humble attempts, the night-demons might finally be routed from our mountains, and we would once again live in the state of Christian hope that all devout souls seek. If you cannot rid us of the demons, then I ask you to remember the many trials we of Santoz Ennati have already endured in our stand against all the foes of our religion. Do not bring more burdens upon us, I beseech you even as I warn you of the dangers that wait in the mountains for all those careless enough to venture there.

You are King of Aragon and Navarre, and thus some of these blasphemous creatures are within your borders. Nothing you have caused to be done thus far has rid us of the blood-demons. If you cannot stop them, then do not increase their lusts by sending us, without food or shelter, into their territory, whither we must flee if your soldiers do not conduct themselves charitably toward all those who live here. If you cannot do that, send us another Santoz Ennati to defend us from the demons once our monastery has been razed by battle. It is not so much to ask, when the enormity of the trouble we face is weighed in the balance. Your assurances will bring us more relief than any guards or men-at-arms would do. Give us your Word that you will abide by our requests and we will offer thanksgiving in your name at the Feast of Santoz Ennati this year and every year to come.

We who serve you as well as the Church give you our most solemn oath that we will devote our labor and our prayers to your success in this campaign you have undertaken. Our doors will always be open to you and any deputy you deign to send to us. It is our most ardent hope that you will once again bring all of Spain back into Christian hands, as God intended it should be when he sent Santiago to minister to this land, in the days when all yearned for the true light of God, and welcomed His Savior and his Apostle Iago. For so long we have languished, torn between our religion and the Moors that despair stalked us as fatally as the demons from the region of Holy Blood. Now hope has sprung up again, and we rejoice that you have done so much to restore us to our position that our devotion has earned.

In the certainty of your triumph and mercy, I am your most truly faithful vassal, but for God.

Fre Carloz

Santoz Ennati the Martyr

By my own hand on this, the 14th day of February, in the 1117th Year of Grace, near Usxa. Deo gratias.
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