11921203 One Hell of a Scheme
|One Hell of a Scheme|
It's not the hour of any of the holy offices, being an indistinct point in a long and sultry afternoon, so the chapel of the royal palace of Acre is currently as private a shelter as it is cool. Were it busier, the presence of one lord very rarely seen within it at the proper occasions might be remarked upon - as well as that lord's decision to keep his head covered in the house of God with one of those oh-so-courtly and fashionable new Saracen turbans.
Apart from this headgear of pale and luxurious silk, though, Renaud of Beaufort - for it is he! - is much more plainly dressed than usual. He stands in the shadow of a statue portraying St John the Baptist - and it is a knight of St John whom he awaits, a fiery and promising young warrior, Renaud has been told. He's summoned him - nay, nothing so forceful, gently requested an hour of his conversation - by way of a little infidel boy who runs messages for him.
Into the chapel enters a scarred knight, wearing over his chainmail the black tabard with the white cross of the Hospital. Tristan moves towards the small altar first, making the sign of the cross as he kneels down for a short and silent prayer - a respectable conduct that may surprise any closer aquaintances. It is when he raises his gaze that it comes to linger upon the elderly Grenier and seeing they are alone, he rises to walk over at a leisurely pace. Raising his gaze to the statue of St. John and offering it a nod in mock reverence, his attention then finally turns to Renaud. "Good day to you, my Lord of Sidon." the Hospitaller greets, while he studies the man with curious grey-blue eyes. "You have sent for me?"
The notoriously lax Grenier makes a great show of surprise, as if startled from deep and pious reverie. His own eyes are small and warm and dark, combining the acquisitiveness of a pig with the acuity of a cat. "Good Sir Tristan! Tristan de Fontaineaux. A resonant name. I've often liked Burgundians, sensible folk, your nation. Loyal, too, and thoughtful, which is sometimes better...let me finish doing honour to your patron saint here, and then we shall talk, indeed, if you are not too taxed by the friendly ramblings of a well-disposed old man. Though indeed, I did not send for you, merely wondered if you would enjoy a little chatter, of this and that...if I HAD sent for you, though, I wonder if you can tell me why I would have done so..."
His cryptic courtesies to the knight concluded, the lord addresses a few more to the saint, but soon his brisk contemplation is over; he settles to a pew and motions for Sir Tristan to join him.
Tristan's brows twitch slightly upwards as he hears the Grenier's reply, the expression on his face looks a little undecided as what to make of the elderly Lord of Sidon, but as the other man continues the first cautious traces of a smile appear around the corners of his mouth. "The boy you sent must have made some mistake then, my lord. Or I did not understand him properly. But as I'm already here, I'd be glad to hear what chatter you might have to offer, my lord. As I surely have none, I'm afraid." After waiting patiently for Renaud to conclude his prayer, he follows him over to the pew, settling down beside him.
"You keep your chatter for the damsels, they say," the old lord slyly remarks, giving the ash-carven gargoyle at the edge of the pew a hearty slap. Of course old Renaud Grenier is hardly a slouch with the gentle sex himself, as repute has it. As for the blasphemy involved in such utterances upon their present scene, it's quite clear the lord of Beaufort cares not a fig.
"But you are famous for graver reasons too, young sir. It's said that you were among the first to lead the victorious charge that opened the affray at Arsuf. Against the King of England's orders, of course. Some of our mutual friends...the noble Lusignans, for instance, or our beloved Count of Champagne, have named that quite as rash as it was bold..." His tone is enquiring, mild, but just a touch judicial.
"They say?" Tristan repeats, unable to suppress a smirk at the mention of 'damsels'. "Maybe they are not completely wrong there." His caution seems to drop a little, even more so when the talk turns to the Battle of Arsuf. "I was among those leading the charge, aye. Those Saracens surely did not expect *that*. And it might have been against the Lionheart's orders, but there was no point in letting those Unbelievers slaughter us - and they would have done that, had we not decided to defend us and seized the opportunity. Noone can deny the battle was won, and that it was because of our charge." Tristan sounds pretty convinced of his own words as he gives this answer. His attentive gaze flits to Renaud and he adds a question: "So you are in need of a man of action, not words?"
The Hospitaller certainly seems to have succeeded in amusing his new acquaintance. Renaud laughs into his beard, a muffled but merry sort of gurgle. "Why, you are quite as...incendiary...as I have heard. Very piously spoken, too, Sir Hospitaller! How sound your doctrine is, that you denounce the 'Unbelievers' in a chapel that reverences our God...and theirs." The implied criticism is friendly rather than deep, nor, given Renaud's shocking reputation, is it much of a surprise. When the Fox of Beaufort pretended to embrace Islam, Christians and Muslims alike were taken in...
"How long have you been in the East, Sir Tristan?" Renaud now asks, apparently offhand, ignoring the Hospitaller's own more direct question. "What do you know of the war of 1187...how it was started...and by whom?"
Grenier's praise of his piety takes the Hospitaller a little by surprise, as words like 'unbeliever' have found their way into his terminology more out of custom than conviction. It is the other remark though that has him lower his gaze with a smile that shows his uncertainty at how to deal with the air of heresy that it reeks of. "Bold words to be uttered in a chapel as this, my lord. As you are aware my Grandmaster Garnier de Nablus certainly opposes this point of view, why, all in service of the Holy Church will not share it."
When asked about his view of the war of 1187, Tristan hesitates for a moment, considering his words carefully before giving his answer. "I arrived in the Holy Land in the autumn of the year 1182 - five years before Cresson. And Hattin. So? Wasn't it those Saracens after all that started it? Killing all of the Templars at La Fève, which *needed* to be avenged, with the skirmish at Cresson as a consequence? And given all the brothers - Templars and Hospitallers - that were killed there? We could not let those Saracens get away with that, could we?" There is a streak of bitterness about his demeanour now, as the Hospitaller turns his head to look at the Lord of Sidon, his grey-blue eyes darkening a touch and giving away that he is fully aware of the debacle that took place at Hattin, as he was there right in the middle of it - being one of its scarred survivors.
The old lord gives the young knight an avuncular, yet probably not entirely welcome, pat on the back. "You are a brave champion of Holy Church, sir knight, and few would fault what you say...but things are often more complicated than what men think prudent to proclaim abroad, even as a Greek mosaic is made up of many tiny stones. Had you read among the Arabic sages...misguided men, no doubt, but sage in their way...you would see my words are less bold, than true. The so-called infidels reverence Jesus Christ, under the name of Isa, and to them as to us there is no God but God. Only language divides us, at times. But perhaps I have garnered too many languages to rest comfortable in an old man's head...there is no need to take my maunderings to heart, young sir, if they disturb you. Suffice to say, whatever I may feel about the Mohammedan's doctrine...they are our kingdom's enemies. And they hold the city my fool of a father left me."
In the course of the past speech, the old man's soothing, gurgling voice and soft features have hardened to a much sterner cast, and he now stands up again with startling energy, and strides a pace or two apart. He adds, seemingly as an afterthought, "And never mind heavenly affairs - alas, your earthly battles have hardly informed you about earthly politics. Cresson was more muddle than battle, and besides it would never have happened - had a man called Reynald, or Renaud, not cast an acquisitive eye on a richly loaded caravan."
Tristan listens to Renaud's religious discourse with friendly politeness, yet he does not dare to show any agreement, at least not verbally; the shrug of his shoulders and the indifferent smile on his scarred face does hint though, that he might not be as pious as his profession would suggest, and does in fact care little about religious quibbling as this. And so his gaze wanders off towards the altar, seemingly contemplating his words, until the Lord of Sidon has finished.
The second part of the man's speech seems far more intriguing to him, as he turns his head when the name of de Chatillon leaves Renaud's lips. "So you claim it was all his fault? It's true, I have heard rumors about that incident, Sir Reynald attacking a caravan and confiscating all the goods. But I did not know if they were true. They were, obviously?"
Grenier seems to warm to his younger interlocutor again, a slow smile dividing his wrinkled face, as he turns and slopes back towards the pew. "Aye, sir. I was no friend of my namesake - his rise was a source of dissension between me and my late wife, the Countess Agnes. But this I will say for my fellow fox, the robber lord of Kerak; he knew how to start a war."
A rich chuckle is loosened from Renaud's flabby lips now. "Who'd have thought I'd ever have cause to miss Reynald de Chatillon...but so I do, now. This peace suits me ill, I confess, while the Sultan's nominee squats in Sidon with our young Count Henry nodding blandly on."
While discussing religious matters is certainly not Tristan's favourite way of passing his time - talk of political matters is nothing that he meets with more enthusiasm, cautious reluctance, rather. Folding his arms before him, he clears his throat, mumbling something to himself, which might be consent to Renaud's expressed opinion about Reynald de Chatillon - but is indeed very hard to grasp. The last part has him nod though. "Saracens on your lands... aye, my lord, I do understand your doubts, that you will be able to reclaim them while keeping the peace." They are not *his* lands, but... maybe there is still an old matter that he would like to settle - hospitality has to be repaid, has it not? And so there is a spark of keen interest in his grey-blue eyes as they come to settle once again on the Lord of Sidon.
"And yet, peace sounds well, doesn't it," the Lord Renaud admits in a tone which is so mournful, it's almost comical. "God - whichever god - knows my reduced lands at Beaufort bring me little enough revenue, so for now I supplement what I can with dealings among the merchant quarter of the city. Almost to a man, they welcome the truce...and I would be the last man to blame them for remaining chicken-hearted burgesses, grateful for the Lionheart's settlement. No, you know me for an honest fellow," he goes on cheerily, "and I would not care to disturb the treaty the realm has agreed with Saladin - a noble potentate, and one I count as a friend of sorts..."
There's something very unreadable about the sneer that accompanies the word 'friend'. Like Sir Tristan, Renaud was captured by the Sultan, but as befitted a great lord he was held luxuriously in Damascus. Rumour varies what happened to him there. Most reports say he was treated with honour and lived in sybaritic luxury; a few whisper he was tortured; and some sly politicians suggest he was threatened with a torture that was never carried through by the chivalrous Sultan. Anyway, he presses on with a secretive smile.
"So it is not with the Sultan that I would have ado. But there is another course. I am not without friends...even Mussulman friends...in my rightful city. One such, a certain Abdullah, keeps me informed of the heathen who now rules there. He is not of kingly stock, but an atabeg, or military governor. Yet he is ambitious, ...and greedy. The key, as it seems to me, is to lure the atabeg into striking without his master's permission. Then I could act against him with my own private forces...and the help, I trust, of your Order, who would be richly rewarded if we attained our prize. But first, the insult must come..."
If Tristan is aware of those rumours about Renaud, it does not show in his features, although that remark about Saladin has him raise a brow. But what follows is even more a surprise to him obviously, his gaze staying on the lord with growing astonishment. "I wonder... why would you tell me of all these plots and schemes, were you not... considering securing my help in gaining the Order's support - this is your reason for asking me for this conversation, is it not?" The wary expression in the Hospitaller's eyes betrays that another, greater truth already is dawning on him, but still he hesitates, preferring to hear Renaud's intention from himself, in his own words.
The lord's amusement intensifies, and his very beard seems to writhe in mirth. "That fiery mind of yours has yoked a cart - a caravan, even - before a horse - a destrier, perhaps. Your Order's time in my preparations will come, do not doubt it, but for now, I only request you; you, and a small number of your brothers whom you trust to strike hard and discreetly in the dark.
"Serjeants would suit me better than knights, as long as they are seasoned, quick to act and apt to obey - that way your command will be unquestioned. You will join a band of Grenier light horse, Turcopoles and mounted serjeants, to attack a certain caravan near the castle of Montgisard - whose chatelaine happens to be a kinswoman of mine; I anticipate no trouble there. But your men and mine will all be attired as infidel bandits. One of my men, however, will leave evidence suggesting I have hired the attack. This atabeg may then be stung to act too fast...for this caravan is from Sidon, and his property. Half of its spoil shall go to your Order...and should they choose to join me in the little war that will follow, I promise them twice the quarter in Sidon they kept before."
His throat suddenly feels very dry, and Tristan becomes aware that a sip of wine would be most welcome - especially now, that he is confronted with the supposed entirety of the Grenier's scheme. But alas, there is no wine to be had at a holy place as this, and so all he can do is wet his lips while the thoughts are racing inside of his head.
Gasping a little when Renaud is finished with his speech, the Hospitaller ponders for a moment where to start in his reply. "I trust you have consulted my Grandmaster in this? And... what makes you request me of all? Thirdly,... what makes you think I will agree to such a plan, knowing that I and my comrades will be on our own, should it go awry?" The Fontaineaux studies Renaud attentively, more curious than actually intimidated by the proposed task.
However, it is not long before he adds: "There are two or three brothers I trust, they would follow me. Also a couple of serjeants that have served under my command now and then. I am sure it can be done. Although I need to know if this caravan will be guarded, and by how many, so I can decide the size of my troup."
The lord of Beaufort catches sight of the knight's tongue flailing about like a lizard's, and smirks, strolling lightly over to a point just behind the high altar. "The chaplain and I have had several amusing discussions, and I think...ah, yes." A quick root around and the old fox has procured a stashed bottle of wine that looks rather more sumptuous than typical communion fare. Renaud's eyes gleam as he uncorks the vintage with a little eating-dagger's assistance.
"You trust falsely, sir knight - old Garnier knows nothing. Nor need he. But you will rise in your Order when you inexplicably raise higher tithes than any other brother after the night's work; and when you have negotiated twice the Hospital's former properties in Sidon...a Mastership, even in Acre, would be a likely prospect. Wouldn't that surprise your big brother?" It seems once again Renaud knows more about his would-be recruit than he previously let on.
"As for the danger, why, that should scarcely concern the hero of Arsuf; but the caravan's guardians will be few in time of peace, lightly armed, and very much surprised. Them and Sir Hughes shall both be in for a shock, ha ha! Come, seal our accord in drink?"
The way Tristan's eyes stay fixed on the bottle as Renaud uncorks it, he seems either very relieved at the prospect of finally quenching his thirst on so fine a vintage, or perplexed by the Grenier's audacity to help himself from the chapel's own supplies. Little impressed as he is obviously of the missing involvement of Sir Garnier in this plot, the mention of his brother, even in that matter-of-fact manner in which Renaud lets it drop, make the expression in those grey-blue eyes harden at once while Tristan's jaw sets.
"You seem to know already a lot about me, my lord. Far more than most do." he remarks after hearing all of what the lord of Sidon has said, unsure if he should feel intimidated by that fact. "But I agree, it would serve Hugues well to find me far better established upon his return. His superior." This realization makes him break into laughter, with genuine amusement at the prospect. "It's agreed then. You can let me know about the particulars, until then I will prepare and gather my small force." And accepting the bottle from Renaud's own hands, he takes a deep gulp, leaving little fine red droplets of the wine on his beard. In a red reminiscent of blood that will flow, sometime in the near future.