Bk 1, Pt. 1: Book 1, Ch. 3, “An Aspect of Fate”
Chapter Excerpt from The Codex Lacrimae: The Mariner’s Daughter and Doomed Knight
by: A. J. Carlisle
An Aspect of Fate
A month before Ibn-Khaldun arrived at the Krak des Chevaliers, Clarinda Trevisan ignored Genevieve Stratioticus’s elbow as it nudged deeply into her side.
She shoved her friend back and cast her gaze upward to the vast dome of Hagia Sophia, a great basilican church in Constantinople. In a golden gloaming through the windows of the upper galleries, the late afternoon sun shifted from a cloudless cyan sky into the dusky indigo color of evening.
“Clare!” Genevieve hissed.
Clarinda continued to disregard Genie, caught up in looking upward, even if her neck ached because of the golden Egyptian collar that topped the green silk dress she’d borrowed for this evening’s mass. Clarinda’s friend, Genevieve Stratioticus, had chosen it, assuring her that the garment was in keeping with current fashion of the upper classes.
As a sailing merchant’s daughter of seventeen, Clarinda gave little regard to what anyone thought of her personal fashion tastes. She preferred the home-sewn, loose linen tunic and trousers that she wore while aboard her father’s ship. Even if this heavy plate was the kind of collar that Genevieve called “very fashionable,” the metallic curves that covered her shoulders and breasts were simply too heavy and hot to bear in these closing weeks of August!
“Clare!” Genevieve again prodded her, her voice an urgent whisper. “For once, could you please just look at the priest?”
Clarinda acquiesced, clasping her hands dramatically together in a steeple beneath her chin. The pious action allowed her to give attention again to the dome. Thousands of oil lamps rested upon flat silver disks above the assembled crowd, their flickering flames glinting off gossamer wires that descended from the roof like dew-laden spider-strands.
When combined with the sunlight reflecting off the gold-gilt mosaics on the dome’s interior, the sight became hypnotic.
Dio omnipotente,she thought, the workmanship that wrought this place!
Her thoughts strayed to other glorious sights she’d seen while sailing with her father — the pyramids in Egypt and the Acropolis at Athens both vivid in her memory.
At thought of her father, Clarinda’s mind turned to the sea, and tears flooded her eyes at his uncertain fate.
“Clarinda, please! I’m serious. You’re now officially embarrassing me!” the teenaged girl next to her hissed, giving another nudge.
“Forget them. What about God?” Clarinda shot back, finally irritated enough to speak. Sometimes her friend didn’t know when to shut up. “Do you think God cares if I’m watching a priest or looking at candles?”
“God isn’t what this is all about, you mule!” Genevieve’s expression was tortured.
“We’re in a basilica, Genie,” Clarinda whispered. “I think God might have something to do with it.”
“Only if He’s going to come down and dine with those who are here tonight. I know some of these people, Clarinda, and we can get invited to the best dinner parties if the person I bring can be trusted not to gawk at every beautiful thing like…a…a…commoner! I swear, sometimes….”
Clarinda let her friend’s words become a meaningless hum and returned to looking up at the ceiling.
The tears came back at the thought of him.
In her blurred vision the entire domed area became the celestial heavens that had hovered protectively over her family’s ship, the Maritina, for the thousand nights that she’d been aboard the vessel. Where in this moment of sea yearning could she make out the North Star among the burning oil lamps? Where could she find the guidance to learn what had happened to her father?
Clarinda and her father, Angelo Trevisan, had arrived a fortnight ago in Constantinople. They’d departed Venice a month prior, with stops along the Adriatic and Aegean coasts for some minor trading, sailing into the Harbor of the Golden Horn late in the afternoon with the five ships that belonged to their family in Venice.
Various goods from the West were on board the ships that her father wanted to trade in Constantinople, the Holy Land, and a couple large consignments bound through Russian lands for the overland route to Scandinavia.
Clarinda thought the cargoes in the ships were generally unremarkable, typical freight that the Trevisans had traded during the two centuries of family involvement in mercantile endeavor.
The ships carried salt, bolts of finished Flemish cloth, silver, amber, and furs to the Levant, with an expectation that the Trevisans would return from the eastern Mediterranean with loads of ivory, silks, dyestuffs, glue, pepper, wax, and medicinal and herbal spices. She’d heard her father’s navigator, Pasquale, promise Angelo that he’d take care of the two consignment ships by way of a contact in Constantinople so, as far as the teenaged girl was concerned, this voyage was business as usual.
The only exceptional parts of this particular cargo were two crates her father had kept in his spacious compartment on the lead ship.
Most likely, they were probably new chests that Angelo Trevisan bought in Milan for holding his considerable wardrobe — that is, they could be for clothes, if they hadn’t reminded Clarinda of coffins!
When Clarinda had inquired about the contents of the crates, her father had stared silently at her, and then covered the wooden containers with a broad blanket from his bunk.
“Perché non si può dire ciò che è in loro, Padre?” Clarinda had asked incredulously, wondering at her father’s reluctance to tell her the crates’ contents. “Really — I could just open them. Why won’t you tell me what’s in them, Father?”
An awkward silence greeted her question, broken only by the creak of boots on the deck overhead as crewmembers continued to load the cargo. She’d been leaning over the wide chart of the Mediterranean Sea, concentrating on the area in the easternmost sector to the south of Anatolia where there’d recently been increased pirate activity.
While agreeing with Clarinda that they should take a wide route to avoid the pirates, her father surprised her with the statement that he’d not make for Tyre. Instead, he intended to land farther south in a very strange place that lay out of their normal trade routes — Caesarea. Once a bustling port during the Roman Empire, Caesarea had fallen into disuse over the past centuries. There was still a remnant of a harbor there, but not of a size to accommodate five Trevisan ships.
“If you want to make for a city farther south than Tyre, why not Tripoli, or Acre? Either one has a large harbor,” Clarinda pressed. “There’s nothing in Caesarea for us. It’s a shallow port and unprotected.”
“I need to go to Caesarea, Clarinda…on some personal business. We’ll offload the rest in Alexandria.”
“Alexandria? What about landfalls in the northern cities of the Levant? We need to at least stop in Tortosa. Pasquale made a deal to get those Flemish bolts to Antioch, and the costs to transport from Tortosa to Antioch are neglible. You remember what those things cost –”
Angelo grunted, but said nothing. He’d crossed his arms across his chest, and Clarinda knew that when he took such a stance there’d be no defying him.
“It’s a personal favor that I’m doing, Clarinda. The fee for the bolts won’t be that much more if we ship from Caesarea – plenty of caravans that need the money. Don’t bother yourself with it.” Angelo Trevisan replied, but he knew his daughter well. She wouldn’t be satisfied with such an answer and, sure enough, he followed her gaze to the two chests in the corner of the cabin.
“Ah, sì. It involves those things,” he said curtly, “and, for your information, I wasn’t `sneaking them aboard.’ It’s my ship, I can lade what I want.”
“I didn’t say you were sneaking, Padre.”
“I know that look. There’s nothing to worry about, Clarinda, and nothing sinister here. I know their history. The crates came originally from Lubeck, then came overland through Leipzig before reaching Venice. They belong to the Templar Grandmaster in Caesarea and I need to deliver them.”
“Then we won’t be declaring them with the port authority when we reach the Golden Horn in Constantinople,” she mused, clarifying in her mind the possible black market transaction that her father must be engaged in.
Irritated, she returned her attention to the map sprawled on the table.
“I’ll deal with the harbor master, but let’s be done with this matter. Simply pretend that you never saw them, mia figlia.”
“Fine. I never saw them.”
“Clarinda…, please, don’t be like that.”
Clarinda said nothing, but Angelo remained foremost in her awareness as she peered at the cartography before her.
As it always did, her silence made him uncomfortable. After a moment of busying himself with putting charts back in their nooks, he turned to her. “I don’t want to fight. Look, Clarinda. Look at me, I say. If you want to go to Tortosa to get that cloth to Antioch, take them with the Viator after we leave Constantinople.”
“The Viator’s full of grain! You want me to bring that ship to the County of Tripoli?”
“Why not? We can sell its grain there as well as in Alexandria. Pasquale’s going to be delayed at the Golden Horn, anyway — he needs to handle the consignments from the Scandinavian and Frankish fairs. Si, this will work. We’ll all meet in Alexandria after I finish the…business in Caesarea.”
“As you wish, Padre,” Clarinda agreed, but she didn’t look at her father. It was obvious that he didn’t want her to accompany him to Caesarea. That bothered her. Although Clarinda had a dutiful nature, this would be the first time that they would separate on a voyage.
Upon maturing into womanhood – or, at least, turning fourteen and allowed to participate in the family business ventures — the professional side of her relationship with Angelo usually superseded daughterly devotion. Clarinda had earned her place as the Maritina’s second-in-command within a year of coming on board, so great an impression had she made on her father and the crew.
During the subsequent time she’d seen sides of her father that she sometimes wished had remained unseen and unknown, especially when he was around his younger brother, Verrocchio, and particularly after the two men had been drinking. Except when Angelo really irritated her, however, Clarinda frequently followed her mother’s example and kept silent about the mercurial nature of her father — to do otherwise would be an exercise in frustration because, like her mother, she knew that her father would never change.
So, when her father had asked her not to pursue the matter of the two wooden chests in his cabin, she nodded assent and pretended to focus on the map and the possible problem of Seljuk pirates on the high seas.
Now, a full four weeks after that discussion, while the priests and patriarch at the altar blessed the congregation in the enormous basilica, Clarinda desperately wished that she’d pursued the topic of the two chests when she’d had the chance!
Instead, she’d allowed both her father and herself to start making idle chitchat about the sea-route that the Maritina would take to Constantinople.
“Let’s go, Clare,” Genevieve whispered as the priest passed them on his way to the rear of the vast basilica, “we’ve got to get on with your plan to get away from mother and father.” The other members of Genevieve’s family — her parents and three of her five older brothers — rose to their feet with the rest of the gathered assembly.
“This is going to be so exciting.” Genevieve continued in a hiss. “I love adventures! Are we really going to the wharves at night?”
“After losing these dresses,” Clarinda clarified. “Alex brought our clothes to one of the guard houses on the way.”
The worshipers began moving into the nave and side aisles, some milling about to converse with friends, but most walking toward the many exits of the great church.
Clarinda remained standing with her head bowed and hands clasped before her face, wanting to say a final prayer for her father.
Alexander, the eldest of Genevieve’s brothers leaned on the polished wood of the pew and hissed quietly to Clarinda. The sound got her attention, and she looked at him.
“We’ll wait outside, Clare,” Alex smiled as he whispered. “The younger kids know what we’re planning.”
“That’s fine. I only need another moment.” Clarinda replied, and again bowed her head. Genevieve and her family departed from Clarinda’s view, and she exhaled deeply in relief when they were gone.
Clarinda’s thoughts drifted back to her father.
A few days after their discussion in the captain’s cabin, and the night before the Maritina made landfall in Constantinople, Angelo had joined Clarinda on the main deck as she watched the moon reflecting on the sea.
The illumination was so bright that they’d decided to keep sailing later than usual. Still concerned about her father, Clarinda took watch at the helm to relax, but that night there was no pleasure in the routine activity. She ceded control of the wheel to the regular navigator, Pasquale, and moved to the starboard rail.
Then Clarinda became mesmerized by the gently lapping motions of the water against the wood of the hull, by the slight flap of the sails high above her, and by the muffled sounds of the crew playing a drinking game in the galley below; all the noises gave her a comfortable, secure feeling that she yearned to keep for the rest of her life.
Nowhere in the world was she so fulfilled as when she was at sea, and to no one in the world was she more devoted at seventeen years of age than her father.
Yet, Angelo had been acting strangely on this voyage. He kept to his cabin more often than usual, and the few times he’d appeared on deck, his eyes were bleary and red, effects either of too much drink or exhaustion. Clarinda knew that something must be deeply bothering him, but she had her own concerns and wanted to give him privacy.
She herself had been having a strange dream recently, a recurring vision of a broad subterranean pool, whose slight ripples shifted in rainbow colors across the water’s calm surface.
In this dream, however, the beauty of the pool was marred by the startling sight of a head floating in the air above it!
No body was attached to the man’s face, and he shouted something at two cloaked women who were battling with a man in a black robe that had a boldly embroidered white-cross upon the chest. Just in the shallows of the rainbow waters, another man (clad in similar black robes to the first), knelt over a third cloaked woman who lay limply in his outstretched arms, her body in an awkward, broken, and seemingly dead position that sprawled half submerged in the pool.
Clarinda watched from a shadowed recess in the cave, and one of the women, grappling with the viciously fighting man, broke away from the battle to move toward her, extending a hand in a gesture of welcome or plea for help.
Then, Clarinda’s attention focused on the second dark-robed man. After laying the dead woman gently aside, he sprang upward toward the other robed man and drew a sword with such speed that it frightened Clarinda even though she wasn’t the knight’s apparent target. When he came to his full height, the pool’s lights revealed the second man to be a gorgeous youth, gigantic in stature, and close to her in age. She’d become increasingly attracted to him after weeks and weeks of the same dream (albeit from afar, for they’d never spoken to each other).
That young man sloshed quickly through the shallow pool and was about to strike the aggressive killer when everything disappeared in a blaze of fire that ignited the waters and dreamscape into exploding colors.
Inevitably, Clarinda would awaken in her own bed, sweating and greatly confused, but so intrigued by this handsome young man who tried to save the two surviving women from their nightmarish assailant.
Now, Clarinda wasn’t as religious as her father would prefer, but the consistency and repetitive nature of this dream made her think of the supernatural.
Trying to understand the vision, her thoughts repeatedly returned to the two mysterious chests that her father had tried to hide from her. In the dream, the caskets lay on the sandy beach beside the wailing women. Each time before awakening, Clarinda’s final sight was of the chests, as if within them were the answers to the mystery of the women, floating head, black-robed warriors, and the colorful pool.
A month ago, having given control of the Maritina to Pasquale the last night before the small fleet made shore in Constantinople, Clarinda was wondering how she might peek into those chests without her father’s knowledge. Then she realized with a start that he was standing on the deck beside her.
“I realize that things have been difficult these past couple weeks, mia figlia,” Angelo said without preamble.
He leaned forward on the railing of the deck, sharing her view of the moon. “And things are going to get worse once we reach Constantinople. Forget about our plans for taking the Viator to Antioch, or even splitting up the fleet. It won’t work.”
“Padre, qual è il problema? Can’t you tell me?”
“I’ve made a mistake, Clarinda. I need to somehow make amends before all is lost.”
“Before all is lost? Do you mean these shipments, or everything?”
“Everything, I think. They’ll have it no other way if they don’t get what they want.”
“Who? Our creditors?” Clarinda pressed. “But, we’re fine. We can pay the crew, and even divert part of our profits to do maintenance work at the glass factory over the summer. Madre would have loved that, and you’ll enjoy getting off the ship for a while. I spoke with Zio Verrocchio. He said he’s spoken with the Genoese, that they’ve extended the loans so we’ll make it to end of the season –”
“God, Verrocchio!” Her father groaned. “I feel as if my bad luck began with… . Ah, no, that’s not charitable. Would that he hadn’t come back two years ago. Clarinda, your uncle Verrocchio…he talks as if he knows everything, but he doesn’t know about certain things. Things I’ve agreed to.”
Clarinda smiled. “Come, now, Padre — you can’t be mysterious. Not around me. What have you done that’s so bad? It can’t be smuggling. There aren’t many places to hide things on this ship, especially since I oversaw the lading of inventory. We’ve got everything listed on the manifest. I mean, except for the precious items and those crates in your cabin. The amber and silver from Milan are a separate cargo, correct?”
“Sì, Clare, but –”
She didn’t like the look on his face, so she kept speaking, for some reason apprehensive about what he was about to tell her. “And the Egyptian fritware, the spices…even those amber pieces, they’re going to be taken care of by Pasquale. He’s promised that some traders in Constantinople can get them to the Baltic Sea by next summer –”
“Mio Cara, basta! Enough. I’m talking about a different consignment. Verrocchio knows the people I dealt with, but he knows nothing about this particular deal. It appears neither on the manifest from Venice, nor on the other ones we drafted three months ago in Milan.”
“You made another deal, then? Before we left Venice?”
“Sì.” Angelo finally turned toward Clarinda, his face a waxen shape upon which the moonlight carved shadows with each nervous movement he made. “Do you remember the Templar, Evremar of Choques?”
“The Grand Master of Caesarea?”
“Sì. I made a deal with two of his associates, men whom Verrocchio said I should speak with. I received what I thought was a letter-of-exchange just before we departed Venice. A letter-of-exchange that came with the largest promissory note I’d ever seen.”
“He mentioned nothing of this to me. Neither of you mentioned this to me.”
“Verrocchio knows some…shady characters, and I certainly wasn’t going to bring you to the part of town where they wanted to meet.”
“How many other side arrangements have you been making, Padre? We spoke of this, and you promised. I thought that we were partners, just as you and Madre used to –”
“Clarinda, basta. Basta. We are partners, but I deal with Verrocchio differently than with you. He helps us, but he is not us. Capisce? He was in Genoa for many years. There’s much about him, about his friends…well, much about the way he does things that I disapprove. I’ll not have you touched by that world. Capisce?”
“Si, Padre, si. Grazie. Go on.”
“It was a bad tavern, Il marinaio ferito, The Wounded Sailor. Two men met me for a drink, saying that they’d heard through Verrocchio that we were sailing to the Levant on the next tide.”
“Wait — why did Verrocchio arrange this meeting, then not accompany you to it?”
“He’s been having those headaches, the ones that cloud his sight. He hasn’t told you, but they’ve been worsening the past year, so much so that he sometimes can’t get out of bed.”
“I thought he was just drunk,” Clarinda muttered.
“He drinks to fight the nightmares…basta, basta. Your uncle is your uncle. I must tell you this…I myself find that I’m having trouble sleeping, and I must tell you this. As I said, these two men, they carried with them a promissory note that would pay for a full year’s trading, if the obligations were fulfilled. Then the agent…Morpeth, I think his name was. He showed me the two caskets, saying that Evremar of Choques was willing to pay a bonus amount of half again that note when we reached Caesarea with the cargo.”
Clarinda stared at her father. “I knew about the caskets, but what are these letters of exchange? What kind of deal is going on between Caesarea and Venice?”
“A devil’s bargain, I think,” Angelo muttered. “It’s not just between those two cities, mia figlia. Verrocchio’s in deep with the Genoese, and when we were drinking, he once mentioned Sicily and the papacy.”
“A lot of players,” Clarinda observed, but then got to the main point that was bothering her. “Father, what’s in those caskets? Can’t you tell me? No?” She took a moment to look at the sea. “This is unlike you. We don’t need money made in a suspicious way, and,” she chuckled, “it’s naive to think that if Verrocchio arranged the meeting, he didn’t talk to those men afterwards to see what arrangements you made.”
Angelo, too, watched the water, then laughed abruptly and shook his head.
“I fear you’re correct. I didn’t want to say it to myself, but I suppose…si, he must know. He must’ve known even before we left, and he let us go without saying a word. I pay for that now. I pay dearly. I think he’s given me his nightmares, Clarinda, passed them along like a plague. Ah…I feel old.” He turned to look earnestly at his daughter, paused, then continued. “Verrocchio’s not the only one troubled by nightmares. I’ve been having terrible dreams, too, Bambina. Perhaps this problem runs in the family, eh? Be thankful that they do not bother you as they do my brother and me. I arise every morning feeling as if my sleeping hours are more tiresome than the waking ones.”
Angelo looked left and right, and continued spoke low-toned, as if fearing eavesdroppers. “I’ve been seeing things that remain in my mind’s eye during the day. I dream of distant places that I’ve never seen, Clare, places in the earth that God’s forsaken. There’s a white tower in one nightmare, surrounded by snow, and a creature who is half-woman and half-corpse. She sits on a throne, holding court in a hall of dead men, ”
“Incubi, Padre? Nightmares?” Clarinda was speechless. Her father was having visions, too? This seemed a strange coincidence, even if the imagery he described seemed vastly different from her vision of the pool and handsome knight!
She blushed then, leaving unspoken the details of her dream, thankful that the moonlight didn’t reveal her attraction to the striking young man who always sprang into the fire-lit pool with sword drawn at an unseen enemy. “If you need help sleeping, perhaps there’s an apothecary in Constantinople who can concoct a potion for you.”
“No, no…I think I just need to be rid of these chests. They’re bothersome and unnatural. But, let me finish telling you of the dreams. I feel I must tell you. Other times the dreams are filled with fire. Smoke billowing into the sky, the lands blackened and scorched by flames that never die. Even the sea itself is blazing….” Angelo stopped, passion making his voice hoarse.
“Padre, what is it?” Clarinda didn’t understand the nature of the problem, but she’d never seen her father this close to tears.
Angelo took a deep breath and finished his sentence: “I tell you this, Clarinda, because I’ve seen you in some of these visions, both in the fire world, but at another time, with many women at your mother’s shop on Murano Island.”
“Then that’s a good thing, Padre, a memory of better times when Madre worked there –”
“No, no, no. It’s not a memory of her working with the hired hands. These women are different, cloaked and…there’s a cauldron where the furnace should be. I enter the house, excited that she’s alive again, but…when I peer closer — whey I try to see your mother again — the women turn into witches, Clarinda! Witches! E…e…Verrocchio is there. My own brother, and he’s trying to break through the back door with cloaked men behind him. They are strange men, who seem more shadow creatures than anything of this world. He…my brother turns into a monster as he bursts through the door, a twisted thing, with long fangs and eyes that burn fire, and you…” he paused again, staring at her in the half-light as if trying to verify something.
“You, Clarinda,” he resumed, “you stand in front of the witches against him, and then there’s a battle, a great silver light, and winged creatures that come from the sky. I try to run, but the water of the lagoon around your mother’s isle turns into glass, its surface so like ice that I slip and fall, then…,” he shrugged, made a popping sound as he flashed his palms at her, and finished by saying, “Poof! I’m awake and sweating like a child.”
He tried to smile, but failed, shaking his head as he looked again to the sea. “Simple wooden chests with a mundane cargo, and I’m driven to nightmares. Driven to thoughts of trying to join your mother.”
“Don’t fear, Clarinda. The thought passes almost as quickly as it enters my mind, but it’s there. I’ve never before, not for one moment, considered taking my own life, but when I rest my hand upon those chests, there it is, the thought that you and the world would be better off without me. Sometimes, it seems as if the only way to avoid those places is…to go beyond.”
“Stop this, Padre. I’ll not hear of suicide! We’re all we’ve got with Madre gone. You scare me with such talk.”
“I myself am scared, Clarinda, which is why I’ll do what I must at landfall tomorrow.”
“You’re not going to ….”
Angelo smiled with sadness in his eyes, and with one hand he gently moved a long strand of hair that had blown across her face.
“No, Clarinda, not that. We’re going to be rid of this cargo soon, but until we are, I want you someplace safe. I think, rather than have you sail anywhere near the Holy Land, you’ll visit Genie and her family.”
“What? No!” Clarinda exclaimed. Genevieve Stratioticus had been a friend from her youth, when she first visited Constantinople at age seven. “It’s been at least a year since we saw them. Besides, I’m needed here. We’ve got a plan, remember? I’ll take the Viator when we leave Constantinople. Even before then, I can’t go shopping in the bazaars with Genie like I’ve no care in the world. Those caskets aside, we’ve full cargos to unload and new ones to lade. Then we’ve got to negotiate transports, sign the last contracts for the overland shipping through Rus lands… no. No, Father, I don’t have time for this – it’d be like house arrest!”
“Don’t try to use your mother’s voice on me,” Angelo said firmly. “You’ll do as I say, partly because I’m your father, but mostly because I’m captain of our little fleet. E, ho una sensazione. I’ve got a strange feeling about this matter, Bambina, but be assured: Pasquale will take care of things — thanks to a lead from Verrocchio, we’re using a man named Kenezki as broker for the Rus goods.”
“I don’t like this, Padre.” Clarinda said, sensing much unspoken here. “Let me stay aft, watch the crew unload while you do all this. There’s no reason to send me away.”
Angelo opened his arms widely as he invited her to hug him.
“If I’m wrong, and there’s no reason to do all this, then you’ll be back from the Stratioticus household even sooner.” He held Clarinda tightly as he spoke, then pushed her gently to arm’s length, holding her shoulders. “I do this as much for the ship and crew as for your safety. The men respect you and know that you’ll take over if something happens to me. I need to trust my feelings. Something about Evremar’s agent felt…wrong.”
“Morpeth?” Clarinda recalled, never forgetting anyone’s name that could be a threat to her father or the family enterprise. “He was a Templar, wasn’t he?”
“No. Well, perhaps. When I saw him, he definitely was Frankish, with chain-mail armor under dark vermilion robes.”
“Vermiglio? That’s a papal color. What does the pope have to do with this? Is it those letters of exchange?” When he said nothing, she continued, hoping that some humor might distract him into revealing anything that might help her understand his thoughts. “More to the point, what’s a man doing wearing chain-mail in a Venetian summer? Please. Obviously he didn’t plan to stay long – the merchant league would’ve run him out for bad taste in clothes. They’re losing enough money to the new Templar banks as it is.”
“Who knows with these mysterious monk-knights?” Angelo smiled. “They wear armor wherever they go. We’re sailors and don’t need such things. That’s why we live on the sea, Fair One. Our armor is its vastness — remember that.”
“How could I not? You’ve said it often enough,” Clarinda tried to keep her smile, but it faltered. “Now I’m getting a strange feeling, too, Father. Please, keep me by your side.”
Angelo held his daughter’s hands together as he kissed her fingers. “I’ve said what will be done. Tomorrow when we land, I’ll send a runner to the Stratioticus family. You should look at this as some well-earned time off, Clarinda. Admit it, it’ll be good to see Genie, and I’ve heard that Alex recently got promoted to a new position in the imperial guard. He might even ask you to marry him, eh? You could do worse than him, and our families would have one more reason to get together. I might even buy a permanent slip at the harbor if things work out between you. Come, now, no pouting — you’ll have fun.”
“Abbastanza, Clarinda!” Desperation snapped his voice into something else, but he regained control. “You have your orders.” He said, his smile a ghost of itself. “Besides, tua madre — were she still alive — she’d have strong words for me if I exposed you to unnecessary dangers. I won’t have you near this matter. That’s final.”
She stared at him, frustration in her voice and eyes.
“Whatever you say, mio Capitano.”
“Oh ho, there’s the biting side. Buona notte, mia bella.”
Back in the present, Clarinda finally raised her head, her father’s chuckle still heard in the near-empty basilica of Hagia Sophia.
After another night spent dreaming of the underground rainbow pool and the young man, she’d risen before the dawn to find that Pasquale had brought the ship to the great chain that barred the Harbor of the Golden Horn when it closed each night.
That morning had been the last time she’d seen her father in over four weeks. She’d received various messages while in the Stratioticus house, but had yet to see him in person, or the Maritina, for that matter.
Clarinda turned at the voice coming from somewhere in the deeper shadows of the basilica. A group of worshipers stood talking quietly between Clarinda and some broad columns, but past the pillars she saw a cloaked person standing near the entrance to one of the side chapels. The figure raised an arm and beckoned, repeating her name so that it echoed loudly in the church.
Clarinda passed the altar and approached the figure by the columns. It was a woman, the contours of her body unmistakable even under the turquoise, ankle-length gown she wore beneath the black cloak. The woman pulled the cowl from her hair when Clarinda drew near and the sight made the adolescent gasp — the stranger’s deeply tanned and ovaline features, sea-green eyes, and slightly bemused expression reminded the Venetian girl of her mother.
“Καλό βράδυ,” Clarinda greeted the stranger in Greek. “Good evening, did you call me by name?”
“Sì, ho chiamato da uno dei suoi nomi,” the woman replied with a shake of her head. “I called you by one of your names, but, Child, no evenings shall be ‘good’ for you until your monk returns to the northern lands of his father’s father. Your meaning is understood, however.” A slight smile played across her lips as she gave a small bow. “Buona sera, Signorina.”
“You speak Greek, Italian and the language of the franj, yet with the accent of a Norseman,” Clarinda commented, noting how richly dressed and coiffed the woman was.
The linen of her gown seemed luminescent in the half-light, and Clarinda didn’t know if that effect was from silken threads twined throughout the patterned fabric or if the woman was, indeed, slightly glowing with an otherworldly aura. The tailor in her wondered at the strange material because she’d never seen its like. Perhaps the woman would tell her where she, too, could get a bolt. If she could return to Venice with that kind of cloth to share with her girlfriends, at least something good would have come from this interminable house arrest in Constantinople!
The glowing effect became accentuated when the woman raised her French-braided head to regard Clarinda with intensely green eyes. The stare brought Clarinda back to the moment — enough thoughts about her sewing and weaving! There was something strange in the woman’s knowing gaze, and Clarinda felt a need to solve this puzzle. But, the sensation of familiarity almost disarmed her completely. Rather than feeling awkward or uncomfortable, the girl felt as if she were meeting a distant member of her own family after a long absence.
“And you, Captain’s Daughter, you speak many languages, don’t you? More languages than all the looms at your family homes and ships combined?”
“I do,” Clarinda replied with a start. Did the woman know she’d been thinking about the nature of the gown’s cloth? Impossible. “How…how is it that you seem to know me, Signora?”
The woman chuckled, then beckoned for Clarinda to get even closer.
Surprisingly, Clarinda let the woman put a motherly arm around her shoulder as they began walking along the columns. She felt comforted at the woman’s touch.
“You’ve also been to Mimir’s Well, haven’t you? In your dreams.” The woman stopped and turned to look at Clarinda. “You’ve seen the Seer – well, his head, at least — and you’ve seen a Huntsman, as well as one who might become a Codex Wielder. Peculiar phenomena, but you’ll become accustomed to them if you’re to master the threads of space and time.”
“What are you talking about?” Clarinda interrupted. “How do you know these –”
“You saw my sisters, your Hospitaller, and even Morpeth at that pool, although I imagine that nasty one appeared in the vision as a dark shadow. All this is the future, which is rushing now to the present. I’m here to help you prepare.”
“Wait,” the girl said, recognizing the woman. “You’re the one lying in the pool! I thought you were dying.”
The woman nodded. “Perhaps I will be. I am Urd. You’ll take my place after that Huntsman takes his due.”
“I am you in that time which will be, as you even now are me in the triad of Fate, Being, and Necessity. Noi siamo il Norns, cara. We are the Norns, Dear. The time has come for you to take up the skein and assist in matters that have import in all the Nine Worlds.”
“We have called you in your dreams, Clarinda,” Urd said, “now listen in the waking.”
A.J.’s Note: I hope you enjoyed this excerpt from my new book, The Codex Lacrimae: The Mariner’s Daughter and Doomed Knight. If you’d like to purchase the novel, please use the links below (& a paperback version is on sale at Amazon!) Thanks for taking the time to visit my site, and feel free to come back often and check for updates, new blogs, and various other items of interest!
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