Darkness, like a malign shepherd, came striding out of the east, storm clouds dogging its heels. All of Toletum huddled down against the sides of the hills as if hiding from the approaching winter night; as the wind picked up a freezing mizzle settled over the city, promising snow before the night was much older. Drafts sniffled and moaned at the door and windows, while a leaching chill prowled the streets with a persistence that made many pray to Heaven to protect them from the insidious cold.
“When do you think this will let up?” asked Rogerian as he laid his hand on the shutters in the library. He looked more concerned than his master did; he was visibly fretting, which was unusual in a man of habitual composure.
“In a day or so, I hope,” Sanct’ Germain answered absently: he was standing over his athanor, waiting for the hive-shaped oven to cool enough to allow him to open its door. He was dressed in Byzantine fashion in a long-sleeved black silk paragaudion picked out with silver thread over narrow Persian leggings of knitted black wool. A thick-linked silver collar held his eclipse device, the workmanship his own.
“Then our departure will be delayed again,” Rogerian said. “I am sorry, my master.” He spoke in the Latin of his youth, a tongue that was now six hundred years out of date.
“No matter,” Sanct’ Germain said in the same archaic language. “The storm is a timely warning. I would just as soon winter here, safely indoors, than out on the road.”
“Not that we have not endured worse than storms,” said Rogerian with an attempt at humor.
“All the more reason to remain here for a while longer,” said Sanct’ Germain. “Our earlier experiences have shown us the folly of undertaking unnecessary hardships. And fortunately,” he added with a half-smile, “there is no pressing reason for us to leave, at least not yet. We have a few months before claims are made against us, or so the Episcus assures me.”
“I am sorry that I insisted we abide here for so long,” he said, his voice dropping to a near-whisper. “You tried to warn me, but…”
“I hoped you would not be disappointed,” Sanct’ Germain said, his dark eyes compassionate. “I know that I was when I made a similar attempt, long ago. You must not be surprised that you can find no trace of your descendants.”
“Yes.” Rogerian nodded his agreement, tugging at the sleeve of his old-fashioned dalmatica; he had augmented its warmth by adding a long tunica of boiled wool; both garments were mulberry-color, appropriate to a man of Rogerian’s position. “But winter is here, and that is a danger in itself. Those on the road may have the more obvious hazards, but a town has its own risks. But you seem worried about staying on here.”
“So I am.” Sanct’ Germain said calmly. “And I worry about the traveling, too. For many others than for us.” He glanced at the window. “Since it is necessary, I can arrange a delay.”
Rogerian looked startled. “With Episcus Luitegild’s safe conduct, shouldn’t we travel while—”
Sanct’ Germain chuckled. “We have no reason to think that he will withdraw his endorsement simply because we do not leave the moment it is handed to us. He is abrupt but not unreasonable. Who knows: waiting awhile before going might surprise the Praetorius enough to delay his claims; he could not declare me a fugitive if we do not leave at once. Episcus Luitegild may not have much power, but he could stop the Praetorius from seizing my property.” He studied the athanor a short while. “The Exarch might see it differently, of course.”
“You mean he might not accept an introduction delivered so long after it was issued? Do you think he would deny the Episcus the hospitality requested?” Rogerian was apprehensive. “Is there a good reason to suppose—”
“I have no notion,” said Sanct’ Germain. “But these Exarchs—and there are so many of them these days—tend to claim all manner of rights for themselves by virtue of having a Byzantine title, just as the town leader calls himself a Praetorius, to make it seem he holds his position from the time of the Romans.” He paused, his brows flicking together. “You were right, old friend. The longer the Byzantines have been gone from the region, the more of the nobles have claimed that title for themselves, and squabble over territories that overlap, and the townspeople have adhered to the Roman honors.”
“But they could return,” said Rogerian, his eyes very bright. “The Byzantines, not the Romans, could they not?”
“They might, if it were to their advantage,” Sanct’ Germain allowed. “But I doubt they have any interest in these barbaric places; they have barbarians enough of their own to contend with, and so long as the ports are safe, they can use their soldiers to better purpose.” He considered the possibilities in silence.
Rogerian looked at Sanct’ Germain, perplexed. “You have told the Episcus that Constantinople will surely reinforce Hispania if it becomes necessary.”
“And I meant it,” said Sanct’ Germain. “But I did not mean the necessity would be the Episcus’. If Constantinople sees its own influence being compromised, they will tend to instill the respect they demand; at least they have done so in the past. The Episcus might find the aid he desires comes at a ruinous price. It would not be the first time that the rescuers proved to be more unwanted than a foe.” He brushed his palms together and walked a short distance away from the athanor. “The Episcus is in an awkward position, having so little official authority in the world. If he has reservations about our remaining here a little longer, I will send him a pair of these new rubies I am making: that should smooth over any difficulties that might arise.”
“Can you spare them?” Rogerian was startled at this suggestion. “I supposed you intended them for our travels.”
“And so I do. But I will have time to make more, if the weather continues to worsen,” Sanct’ Germain pointed out. “If we wait until spring, I can amass a tankard of jewels; doubtless they can be put to good use, at least among those men who value jewels over weapons. There are many who would be glad of jewels, and would not mind waiting awhile for them.” He managed a slight, ironic smile. “The Episcus would not begrudge us a few weeks for such an exchange.”
“True enough,” Rogerian said, and went to the fireplace to add another log to the rest. Once the new fuel had lit, he turned back to Sanct’ Germain, saying, “I had not thought it would matter so much to me.”
“Finding your descendents?” Sanct’ Germain inquired. “Why should this surprise you, old friend?”
“I thought I had put that part of my life behind me. When I was made a bondsman and sent to Rome, my family was lost to me, in any case.” He shrugged. “After so many years. Why should it trouble me that our name has been forgotten? Since my grandchildren left Gades, it was likely that our family would disperse.”
“But you hoped they would not,” said Sanct’ Germain. “There was certainly no harm in looking.”
“It still troubles me,” Rogerian said quietly.
“That you have not found them, or that you wanted to look for them?” Sanct’ Germain asked, his dark eyes compassionate.
“Some of both,” Rogerian answered after a short, thoughtful silence. “I thought I had accepted that they were lost to me; I came back to that again and again, and it troubles me anew each time I grasp it.” He shrugged. “Repetition will not change anything.” He folded his arms. “I cannot keep from believing that I should not have undertaken this search.”
“Because it turned out in ways you did not anticipate?” Sanct’ Germain went back to the athanor, a slight frown between his fine brows.
“I suppose so,” Rogerian said ruefully. “More foolishness.”
“Hardly foolishness,” said Sanct’ Germain. “Loneliness, more likely.” He saw the shock in Rogerian’s eyes and knew he was right. “The peril of long life is loneliness.”
“So you have said,” Rogerian allowed. “And I thought I understood. I did not, not until now.” He took a long deep breath. “When did you go searching for your family? You have said little about that.” Over the centuries, he had found Sanct’ Germain’s reluctance to speak of that time of his life puzzling. At first he had not minded, but over time he had become both curious and wary about Sanct’ Germain’s taciturnity.
Sanct’ Germain’s single laugh was immeasurably sad. “I had not that luxury for many, many hundreds of years. I was enslaved, and then, when I took vengeance for what was done to us, I had no thought to find my family’s descendants, for the few there were had also been made slaves and their names lost, and I was consumed by bitterness and despair. Once I was captured, I was taken far away. By the time I returned to my homeland, thirteen centuries had gone by, and all traces of my people had been lost except as figures of myths. It is nothing like your desire to find your family.” He stared into the middle distance.
“Do you regret any of it?” Rogerian knew the answer from Sanct’ Germain’s demeanor, but needed to hear it spoken.
“Of course. There are many things I would rather now I had not done. No one lives long without having something to regret.” Sanct’ Germain lifted his hands in a philosophical gesture. “But that is what I believe now, and had I not done those things that I now deplore, would I have the understanding to regret the actions?” He shook his head. “It is the storm, I think, and the delay, that fill our minds with such fruitless reflection.”
“Fruitless, no doubt,” said Rogerian darkly.
“Thought is always of value, and memory, no matter how painful, can illuminate life. It took me centuries to realize these things, and centuries more to be convinced they were so, but I am persuaded now.” He touched the athanor gingerly. “Not quite.”
Wind screeched in the chimney, blowing smoke back into the house. Rogerian batted at the air with his arms, coughing; he glowered at the fireplace as if accusing it of deliberately failing. “Again!” he muttered. He made a gesture of exasperation. “This will not do.” Turning to Sanct’ Germain, he said, “I am going to climb onto the roof. I think the chimney-cap has blown off.”
“See you go carefully,” said Sanct’ Germain, who agreed with this assessment; that was one Roman invention he was pleased had not been forgotten. “The roof will be slippery.”
“I will take no chances: I have no wish to fall into the grain emporium next to us,” said Rogerian, and hurried into the corridor to the narrow wooden stairs that led to the loft in the rafters and the roof beyond.
Sanct’ Germain stood beside the athanor listening to Rogerian work. He realized he had not offered Rogerian the consolation he sought; he stared at his athanor, his thoughts ranging far into his past, to the centuries alone, and the immensity of loss he had experienced over the thirty-five hundred years he had walked the earth. Rogerian deserved better from him, he knew; there was so little he could do to lessen the self-condemnation his old friend embraced. He was keenly aware of Rogerian’s grief, and knew beyond all doubt that time alone would mute its fury.
A clatter and scramble overhead announced Rogerian had completed his task; the smoke in the room began to dissipate as the chimney recommenced to draw properly once more. Clambering footsteps traced Rogerian’s progress back across the roof to the trapdoor, and the sound of him coming down the stairs to the attic. He came directly to Sanct’ Germain’s library, his clothes wet and spangled with melting snow. “It was the cap,” he said. “It’s taken care of.”
“So I perceive.” Sanct’ Germain rubbed his chin with his thumb. “How is the storm?”
“It is growing worse. The wind is as cold as if we were once again in the Celestial Mountains.” Although they were far away in the fastness of north-western China, the memory of the autumn a century ago when they had crossed that branch of the Old Silk Road brought back sharp recollections of marrow-chilling bitterness. “Not a good sign, such weather.”
“No,” said Sanct’ Germain slowly, continuing. “If there were no snow in the mountains, I would still try to leave now, but as it is, we must winter over somewhere until the passes are clear, and this is a better place than the villa of a Gardingio we do not know, and who may not be pleased to have strangers under his roof.” He sighed once. “So it is probably just as well that we wait here a few months.”
“You are not angry?” Rogerian asked, suspicion in every aspect of his demeanor.
“Not at all. In fact, given the severity of the storm, I am grateful; this would have been an unpleasant surprise were we traveling,” Sanct’ Germain replied with a trace of amusement in his attractive, irregular features. “I have no wish to be abroad in such weather.”
Rogerian did not say anything for a long moment, then remarked. “I do not like storms, either.” As if this concession was as much as he could offer, he turned, prepared to leave Sanct’ Germain to his alchemy. “I shall send a note to the Episcus, to inform him of your postponed departure.”
“Thank you,” said Sanct’ Germain tranquilly. “Inform him also that I will call upon him in a few days, to review my plans.”
“Of course, my master,” said Rogerian as he withdrew.
By the time Sanct’ Germain emerged from his library, the first, feeble glow of sunrise was struggling to disperse the clouds; the library hearth was cold, and the athanor had been emptied of its treasure; the house was cold enough to make him glad of his heavy tunica beneath his dalmatica. Despite his satisfaction with the accomplishments of the night, Sanct’ Germain could not rid himself of a vague, persistent unease that had taken hold of him as the storm came on; he had not been able to rid himself of it; he had stayed in Toletum longer than was wise, and might yet regret his delay. As he went along the corridor to his private apartment, Sanct’ Germain weighed the pouch he carried in his hand, trying to calculate the value of the stones he had made; five rubies, two opals, two sapphires, and an amethyst, more than enough to pay for the journey into Frankish lands. He had just stepped from his sitting room into his bedchamber when he heard a rap at his door. Slipping the pouch under the clothespress near the foot of his bed, Sanct’ Germain went to open the door.
“My master,” said Rogerian. “I do not mean to disturb you—” He stopped himself, unable to go on.
“What is it, old friend?” Sanct’ Germain asked after Rogerian fell silent. “Is something the matter.”
“I need a word with you,” he said. “I would rather not wait until you arise in the afternoon.”
“All right,” said Sanct’ Germain, no sign of dismay in his manner. He stepped aside to allow Rogerian to enter. “Tell me what is troubling you.”
“I had a most…disturbing caller,” said Rogerian, and then took a deep breath, delivering his news in a single rush. “Ithidroel came a short while ago, immediately after his morning prayers, to warn me that there was going to be an attempt to seize your house and goods after Mass on Sunday, because you do not attend the holy services. The Praetorius’ scribe told him the whole of it. Your apostasy is the excuse they intend to use.” He held up his hands before Sanct’ Germain could speak. “Ithidroel said that it is not enough that you come to the synagogue to discuss the writings of the Prophets and Patriarchs, for you are not a Jew any more than you are a Roman Christian. The Praetorius is short of money, and you are rich.”
Sanct’ Germain shook his head; his apprehension now had shape and meaning. “I suppose I must be grateful for that introduction Episcus Luitegild provided, after all; although it was probably one of the Episcus’ slaves who passed on my need of the introduction. The Praetorius’ intentions are not coincidental, I suspect, with our plans to depart. Praetorius Chindaswinth may not have a Byzantine garrison to protect him any longer, but he is not entirely powerless, either, and his coffers may well be empty. It is not surprising he would think of me, for I am a foreigner and he knows I have gold and property.” He fell silent for a brief moment, then spoke as calmly as if he were arranging for feed for his horses. “We will have to move our goods outside the city over the next two days, as unobtrusively as possible. We can explain our need to have the villa well-stocked in case the storm should cut it off from Toletum.”
“And if this is forbidden?” Rogerian asked without any significant change in his demeanor.
“I cannot be the only resident of Toletum who has to provide his country house for the winter,” said Sanct’ Germain calmly. “Everyone who keeps a villa will be doing the same thing; to refuse me would expose the Praetorius’ intentions before he can put them in motion. I doubt he would be so foolish. If he wants my property, he will have to justify his seizure or risk having his court rebel.”
“Would they do that to support a foreigner,” Rogerian wondered aloud.
“It has happened before,” Sanct’ Germain pointed out. “The Gardingi withdrew their men-at-arms from the city and taxed the Praetorius for it. No, we have a little time, and we must make the most of it.”
Rogerian had been with Sanct’ Germain long enough that this swift shift in plans did not astonish him. “What do I tell the servants here?”
“Tell them that they will not suffer on my account. I will pay them two years’ salary and grant writs of manumission for all slaves as well for when I leave. I want none of them to starve, so I will also provide—through the synagogue—to have money enough to maintain this household for some time to come. I suppose Ithidroel will be able to manage that for me, I will visit him this afternoon and make the arrangements, including a suitable donation to the monastery when I have settled matters with Ithidroel.” He strode about the room, stopping beside a red lacquer chest of Roman design where he kept his medicaments. “Choose such items as you know I will need, and prepare the rest for storage. This must come with us. I will attend to the athanor myself.” He paused. “A pity I did not have time to make more jewels. These, and the gold I made last week, will have to suffice.”
“Then you do not doubt that the Praetorius will act once he is ready?” Rogerian asked.
“Certainly not—if I did, I would expose us both to consequences neither of us wants. And the Jews have the most reliable information about such matters. The Episcus does not concern himself with the Praetorius’ authority; he cannot afford a clash of wills and purposes.” He flung up his hands to show his exasperation. “I should have known this was coming. I should have realized that as soon as the Episcus issued our introduction, that the Praetoris would be informed and would demand some price for my departure. Three days to depart—fewer than I would like, but it is better than no warning. It is my lapse. I should have been more vigilant.”
“The Praetorius is greedy, the Exarch is greedy; they are all greedy,” said Rogerian, his voice level; only the light in his faded-blue eyes showed how condemningly he meant this.
“As I knew, and as you reminded me,” said Sanct’ Germain, dismissing this. “This is not the first time we have ever had to deal with such a man as Chindaswinth.” He looked at Rogerian. “We will need to get the strongest horses out of the stable, and the best mules. At least we can move them to the villa without questions being raised.”
“I will see to it,” said Rogerian.
“Give me time to trim their hooves before taking them out of the city; if I leave such tasks until we reach the villa, someone will remark on it.” Sanct’ Germain pointed to the clothespress in the next room. “I will need my sturdiest garments, and so will you. Be sure you take some that are for ordinary wear, or the guards at the gate may report what we are doing.”
“Do you think they will bother with such concerns?” Rogerian did not wait for an answer; he supplied his own. “We must suppose they will.”
“You comprehend the matter,” said Sanct’ Germain, approvingly.
“I, too, remember,” said Rogerian with a hint of a smile.
Sanct’ Germain nodded. “I will rest for an hour and then call upon Ithidroel. I do not want to be so hasty that the servants remark upon it, not with our departure near at hand. I would appreciate it if you would be good enough to let it be known that I am planning to restock the villa as part of my winter preparations. That should provide a cover for our true purpose.”
“Certainly,” said Rogerian. “I will also choose two or three slaves to accompany us to the villa. That will show that we are not trying to escape.”
“We will make more than one trip to the villa and back in the next two days, so the guards will become used to what we are doing. Go and return at the same time of day, and they will accept the routine. When you return from the villa this evening—you are planning to go there today, are you not?”
“Yes. I think we might set out at mid-day, when the sun is highest. The storm is not diminishing, but we will have the most light then.” Rogerian waited, clearly anticipating the rest of Sanct’ Germain’s instruction.
“When you come back into the city, take the occasion to complain of repairs needed. You may lament my strict requirements in such circumstances, saying that I will not listen to reason. Tell them that I insist on prompt repairs, and that I am not willing to be satisfied with less than full compliance with my orders. In weather like this, the rectifications must be done quickly or worse damage may ensue.” Sanct’ Germain was already pulling off his silver collar. As he set this down on a low wooden chest with a pair of Burmese dragons carved on its panels, he pulled the hem of his paragaudion up, tugging the garment over his head and turning it inside out with the same movement; he tossed it aside as he reached for his black linen kalasiris in which he slept. “If I have not risen, wake me in an hour; I cannot afford to lie abed very long, so be accurate in your timing. Use the old water-clock, in the atrium.” This relic of the Roman occupation had proven one of the most useful devices in the house; it was one of the things he would miss when he was gone from Toletum.
“An hour; very well,” said Rogerian, preparing to leave the room.
“Oh, and Rogerian,” Sanct’ Germain said, stopping Rogerian in mid-motion. “I will need a gift for Viridia; nothing elaborate, but enough for her to remember me with kindness.”
Rogerian considered the matter for a moment. “Would some of the silk do? There are six or seven bolts of it left in the storeroom. It does not promise too much, but few women in Toletum can boost of wearing silk from China.”
“An excellent notion. Perhaps we should take a few of the bolts with us. Not of fine cloth, but good, sturdy wool and thick linen. No doubt they would make welcome gifts for our hosts in our travels.” He bent to remove his leggings, and when he had put them aside, he added, “Cut them into generous lengths, enough for good-sized garments. They will be more easily carried off the bolt, and we will have more to give, having smaller portions.”
“As you wish, my master,” said Rogerian.
“You are very good, Rogerian. Thank you.” He watched the door close, then went into his bedroom, a chamber of such austerity that it might have been a monk’s cell; it contained Sanct’ Germain’s bed atop three large chests, the clothespress near the foot of the bed, and a stand for books which just now held an unlit lamp and Pliny’s Historia Naturalis. Sanct’ Germain pulled back the black coverlet and lay down on the thin mattress, falling into a sudden and profound sleep, taking restoration from his native earth in the chests below.
When Rogerian rapped on Sanct’ Germain’s outer door an hour later, he found Sanct’ Germain just risen and finishing shaving; clothes fresh from the press were laid out on the low couch in the sitting room. “You should have summoned me,” said Rogerian.
“You have more urgent tasks,” said Sanct’ Germain as he wiped the last of the oily soap from his face with a length of old cotton. “I have shaved myself for many centuries without needing my reflection to guide me.”
“Just as well,” said Rogerian. “I have taken a bolt of bronze silk from the storeroom; it is in the library. Your gray gelding is saddled and waiting for you in the stable.”
“How are the other preparations going?” Sanct’ Germain asked as he picked up the horseman’s dalmatica of black wool. This Roman garment was more than a century out of fashion but it was of superior quality, and no one would regard it as inappropriate for the foreign alchemist to wear such clothing. “I need my high boots.”
Rogerian opened one of the chests against the wall and pulled out a pair of tall Mongol boots lined in goat hair. The heels and soles were thicker than was usual for Mongols, a detail that no one in Toletum would know. “The preparations are going well. I believe we will have two wagons ready to go by mid-day.” He handed over the boots without comment.
“Very good,” said Sanct’ Germain, taking the boots. “I will attend to the horses and mules as soon as I return from my errands.” He continued dressing.
“Will that include Viridia?” Rogerian asked without inflection.
“I think so,” said Sanct’ Germain after a short silence. “I will present her with her gift, and the deed to occupy this house in my absence. Once I have seen her, there will be no way to keep my plans secret; her slaves barter every scrap of news they come by.” He gave a wry chuckle then added, “Fortunately Viridia does not allow them to watch her at her pleasure, or I would not be safe with her, no matter how accommodating she may be.”
“Will she say anything of that when you have gone?” There was nothing in his question to reveal his own uncertainties.
“With tenancy of this house settled on her, she would be foolish beyond imagining to do anything that would compromise me. She might, if there were advantage in it, but it would mean more danger for her than I think she wishes to bring on herself. If she speaks against me, no man after that would trust her enough to lie with her except by force. It is no easy life to be a woman of her station—better than a common prostitute, but not quite a courtesan. She will be very careful how she deals with all she knows; she has no wish to end up branded and in prison, and there are those who would be glad of a reason to condemn her.” Sanct’ Germain shook his head. “She is not inclined to play into the hands of the envious. That would be ultimate folly for her.”
“Might her slaves decide to sell what they know…” Rogerian suggested, leaving the possibilities open.
“If they were trying to gain advantages for themselves at Viridia’s cost, they would be more likely to carry tales of her other lovers, men with position and power greater than any I could have here. They are far more vulnerable than I am, having place and reputation to lose. I am an oddity among her patrons, a foreigner with little influence in the city, and so I do not offer the advantages the others can.” He fastened the lacings of his boots and straightened up. “I will need my pluvial,” he said; the heavy cloak of heavy waxed linen would be necessary for many weeks to come.
“Yes, you wil,” Rogerian agreed. “It is in the vestibule.”
“I will take it as I leave,” said Sanct’ Germain as he gathered up his belt and pouch and buckled them into place. “How long are you going to need to pack the wagons?”
“For the first trip to the villa?” Rogerian asked. “As I have said, we should be ready to depart by mid-day. When I return, I will spend more time readying your goods for travel.”
“I need not have asked,” said Sanct’ Germain with an apologetic wave of his hand. “I am preoccupied, or I would not have done.”
For the first time Rogerian frowned; it was unusual for Sanct’ Germain’s attention to be distracted. “My master,” he ventured. “What is troubling you?”
Sanct’ Germain picked up his long Byzantine dagger. “I dislike being pressed,” he said curtly as he thrust the dagger through his belt. “Still, it is not the first time, nor will it be the last.”
Rogerian had to be content with this observation; Sanct’ Germain went out of his private rooms leaving his manservant to begin the task of packing his belongings for travel.
By the time Sanct’ Germain reached Viridia’s house, afternoon was closing in, the storm-clouds looming overhead, the wind whooping down the narrow streets; the people of Toletum had been driven indoors, so few curious eyes watched as Sanct’ Germain was admitted by Viridia’s single slave, a middle-aged woman from the north. “Is your mistress busy?” he asked as he removed his pluvial, letting it drip on the rough paving-stones of the entry. He took the large, brightly colored sack from under his arm, preparing to present it as custom required.
“She will be pleased to see you in her private reception room,” said the slave, taking care not to look at him directly, or the gift he carried.
“Thank you,” Sanct’ Germain said as he handed her a silver coin. He climbed the narrow stairs quickly, and stepped into the central hall of the house. The private reception room was on the left; he paused before entering the room.
Viridia sat on an upholstered bench near the fireplace; she was dressed in Byzantine splendor; her dalmatica of mulberry silk and fine woollen palla were heavily embroidered with gold thread, and her elaborate gold earrings—gifts from Sanct’ Germain—set off her lovely face and russet hair. She had been waiting for him, and now she smiled, extending her arms to him without rising. “I did not know whether or not you would come,” she said, chiding him gently.
“Nor did I,” he responded with more candor than she had expected. “The Praetorius is making matters difficult for me just now.”
“I had heard something of that,” she said, still waiting for him to approach her.
Finally Sanct’ Germain went to her and made a proper presentation of the sack. “I regret only that this is not sufficiently fine for you,” he said, as good manners required.
“I am sure you honor me too much,” she said, equally formulaically. “I am humbled by your high opinion.” Taking the sack, she opened it, and for the first time her smile was wholly genuine. “Oh, oh, Sanct’ Germain, it’s beautiful. Where did you ever get such silk?” she exclaimed as she ran her hands over it. “Let me look at it,” she went on before he could answer.
“I brought it from the other side of the world,” he said, recalling his long journey on the Old Silk Road.
She laughed as she spread out the shining fabric, measuring it with care. “There are lengths and lengths of it,” she approved as she caressed the silk as she spread it out around her. “Oh, thank you, thank you, thank you.” Wrapping herself in the fabric, she flung herself into his arms. “This is wonderful. Wonderful.” She kissed his chin. “How did you know to bring me this?”
“You have said you like silk,” he said indulgently.
“Well, yes; who does not?” She slipped away from him, almost dancing. “I will have the most beautiful dalmatica made from it. I have fifteen gold coins that can be sewn into a tablion for it. That would be magnificent.”
“I am pleased you are satisfied with my gift,” he said, making her a reverence.
“I am delighted,” she told him as she came back to his side. “You make me sad that you are leaving.”
Sanct’ Germain shrugged. “I am not wholly jubilant about it, either,” he said, his eyes enigmatic. “But it would not be wise for me to remain. It would be dangerous for you, as well.”
“The Praetorius is not interested in women like me,” she said, dismissing his concern. “If I sold myself in the marketplace, he might imprison me, but I am discreet, I have only a few lovers and I see them here. What danger is there in that?”
“There could be, if the Praetorius believed you were…” His voice trailed off as he watched Viridia gather up the silk he had given her, put it into a chest against the wall, and then begin to remove her palla. “The Praetorius is not the only danger you face.”
She let the palla drift to the floor. “If you mean the Episcus, I do not fear him.”
“No,” he said as she slowly shrugged out of her dalmatica, letting it puddle around her feet in a shimmering mass; now all she wore were her felt house-shoes and her earrings. “I mean that I can be dangerous to you, that even if I were not leaving this place, it would not be wise for me to continue to…visit you.”
“What nonsense you talk,” she said as she stepped out of the pool of silk and came toward him. “You have done nothing to hurt me. You do not beat me. You do not tup me. Where is the danger?” As she reached him, she put her arms up to his shoulders and leaned against him. “I’m cold, Sanct’ Germain. You must warm me.” She glanced toward the curtained alcove where her bed was.
“This will be the fifth time we lie together. It is the last time, Viridia,” he said gently. “More than six times, and you would have much to fear.” His kiss was light and persuasive at once and it stirred her need as well as his own. Their second kiss was longer, more involved, and it left Viridia breathless.
“Come,” she urged him. “I am eager for you.”
“But not too eager to savor this time together,” he said as he lifted her into his arms and carried her toward the alcove.
She held onto him, a little breathless in anticipation. “I wish you did not have to leave,” she said as she nuzzled his neck.
“I would have had to, eventually,” he said softly, an expression in his eyes that was unlike anything she had ever seen before: longing and loneliness and compassion, and something more than all three—a kind of endurance that baffled her.
“Will you miss me when you are gone?” She asked it lightly enough, but there was apprehension in her voice that her flirtatiousness could not disguise.
He stopped still and looked down into her face. “Yes. I will.”
She snuggled closer to him, taking comfort in his surprising strength. “Then I will not be too angry with you for leaving.”
“Thank all the forgotten gods for that,” he said, and kissed her brow as he resumed walking. As he carried her beyond the curtain into the alcove, he felt her shiver. “Are you still cold?”
“A little,” she admitted as he put her down on the heap of woollined silk blankets that were strewn across the raised platform which two banded chests supported. She reached out for him. “I will be warmer in a little while.”
He sank down beside her pulling one of the blankets around her so that she was wrapped snugly in it. “Your cocoon,” he said. “You are about to emerge as a butterfly.” His smile was intriguing, and it roused her appetite.
“All because of you,” she said, and drew his head near so that she could kiss him. “When you kiss me, that is all you do. The world might well vanish and be gone. You think of nothing but me, and the kiss,” she marveled as she released him, beaming with delectation.
“What would be the point of kissing you if I did not pay attention?” he asked, almost playfully, as he began to explore her body, starting at her feet; he removed her felt shoes, tossing them away as he took one foot in his hand, stroking the arch with a firmly gentle touch. “You have such pretty feet.”
“Do you really think so?” She stretched the other, flexing the arch. “They say if a woman’s feet are too big, she will always stray.”
He laughed quietly. “It is not the feet that stray, it is the heart, and the soul.” There was no condemnation in his tone, only a kindly resignation that made her wonder briefly how he came to believe that. Then she stopped all contemplation and gave herself over to the enjoyment of all the sublime sensations he awakened in her, to the passion that she did not often experience with her other lovers. He moved gradually up her body, finding the secrets of her legs and thighs, and then the center of her flesh. He was elating and he was patient; nothing he did—no touch, no kiss, no caress—hurried her or seemed intended to force her response. His mouth was as inciting as his hands, and she succumbed to the luxury of his touch, from the stroke of his finger on her breast to the numberless kisses he bestowed all over her, now tantalizing, now tender.
Her ardor consumed every part of her, thrilling her to her core. Everything that Sanct’ Germain did—every kiss, every caress—summoned her most intimate rapture, and as she felt herself carried to the culmination of her exultant delirium, she clasped Sanct’ Germain more closely, holding his head to the curve of her neck; there was a moment of keenest ecstasy that made her tremble with fulfillment as she succumbed to rapture. When she came back to herself, she held Sanct’ Germain tightly, wanting to hang onto the ephemeral elation she had felt, but as cold needled her skin, the last of her bliss faded. Finally she released him, once again wrapping herself in the blanket. “Almost a butterfly,” she said at last.
Sanct’ Germain met her gaze steadily. “Surely, for an instant, a butterfly.”
Viridia sighed, “I want to think so,” she said, and blinked as he rose from her side. “I hate to see you go.”
“I fear I must,” he told her, bending down to kiss the corner of her mouth one last time, aware of her nearness with all the poignancy of loss.
She caught his hand before he could turn away. “Sanct’ Germain, what is it you long for?”
“Something those of my blood may never have,” he replied, the kindness in his voice making her want to weep.
“What is it?” She held his hand more tightly. “Tell me. Tell me.”
He shook his head very slightly. “It would not be wise for you to know.”
“You mean it could be dangerous to you?” she asked, hoping to provoke him into answering her.
“No, Viridia,” he said calmly. “It would be dangerous to you.”
“Oh!” she exclaimed, releasing him. “Oh!” She refused to look at him so that she would not have to see him go.
* * *
Text of a letter from Ithidroel ben Matthias to Episcus Luitegild of Toletum.
* * *
To the most respected Episcus Luitegild, the greetings of Ithidroel ben Matthias, spice merchant of Toletum.
In accordance with the instructions of Franciscus Sanct’ Germain, I am sending to you the sum of fifteen gold Apostles as his donation to your good works in the city, and your continuing protection of his former slaves, whose writs of manumission you and I both witnessed. It is the intention of Sanct’ Germain to continue his donations annually until he himself, or one of his descendants, shall return to claim his holdings. I have among the instructions Sanct’ Germain has given me the conditions of identification that must be met when and if one of his blood comes to claim his estate. I or my successors will be responsible for verifying the identity of anyone attempting to establish himself as Sanct’ Germain’s heir. This sum may not be taxed even though it is held and administered by Jews.
I commend you for your intercession with the Praetorius. Without your timely arbitration all of Sanct’ Germain holdings within the city walls would now be in the hands of the Praetorius and the fighting men who surround him. Your efforts have been noted by all who live here and are praised everywhere; you found an authority in your position that the Praetorius had to honor. Had you not succeeded, I would have been powerless to protect Sanct’ Germain’s holdings no matter how persuasive my position might be, for I would not have had the additional jurisdictional influence you bear by right of your position within the Church. The devotion of the Praetorius Chindaswinth to your faith has at least been of benefit to more than himself or his court. It is to your credit that you have been willing to extend yourself to the benefit of someone who is not of your flock.
Those of Sanct’ Germain’s servants who are continuing to care for his house and villa are now protected from any claims against their master. You will have no reason to fear that you might have to provide for them from the donations Sanct’ Germain has made to your Church. I have just received the necessary signatures on the deeds that ensure their position and their livelihood. Since money is not an object in this instance, the servants will not have to worry that their situation might be suddenly changed on account of debt. I am pleased to see how beforehand Sanct’ Germain has been in his planning. This speaks well of him, on that you and I can agree, I am certain.
In that Sanct’ Germain has granted lifetime residence to Viridia, a high-ranking whore of the city, you and I may deplore his decision, but it is as binding as any of his other donations, and to question his generosity would result in all his gifts being diminished; this is provided in the terms of the grant he has left in my keeping. He has stated that she has been good to him, and as such, deserves a sign of his friendship. As I have no desire to deprive my people of the beneficence of this foreigner, I will not endanger the good he is doing by questioning this one lapse in judgment, for that way lies many losses. So I will see that his wishes are carried out in regard to this woman and I will advise you to acquiesce in this, or face the prospect of having your donations cut in half, a result you cannot want.
I have taken the liberty, which has been granted to me by Sanct’ Germain, to make a contribution toward the repair of the Roman Gate and the public cistern. This will not diminish the donation made to your Church, but it may decrease the money to be given to the beggars of the city, at least for this year. I judged that water and protection were more urgent needs of Toletum than tending to those who beg; there are other places charity can be found than from Sanct’ Germain’s purse. I do not mean that you should carry the burden wholly, only that I am convinced that it is appropriate to put the welfare of the city ahead of the welfare of its beggars. If I have failed to do as Sanct’ Germain would have done, I will tender him an apology upon his return, and I ask you to record this letter in the archives of your seat, Sanctissimus Resurrexionem, so that his heirs might have the opportunity to read it, should the title to his holdings pass to them before he himself returns.
May the God whom we both adore guide and protect you, your wife, and your children. May you suffer no ills of the world. May you never know the sting of ingratitude nor the pangs of doubt. May you always be worthy of your high office, and may God prepare a place for you in His Sight.
Ithidroel ben Matthis
Merchant and teacher
the Red House, Roman Hill, Toletum, ten days after Christian Epiphany, in the Christian year 622
Copyright © 2000 by Chelsea Quinn Yarbro