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The Relic-Mongers

by Michael Díaz Feito

Table of Contents
Table of Contents
Chapters: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6,
7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14

Chapter 11: Acre

A castle squatted in the harbor. It was a fortified island of sandstone, struck by waves of foam in sharp sunlight. The brick and palm city clamorous with fanfare, neighing horses, and chainmail welcomed Manfred of Cologne and his retinue. They were triumphantly processed to Queen Maria’s court at the citadel.

Fèlix’s request for a royal meeting was denied by the seneschal. When he and Frater Luís disembarked, they went to the local Templar house instead, presenting an introductory letter from Manfred. It was a relief to be done with Manfred’s company and the galley’s gossip.

Magister Géza of the Templars was helpful. He accepted a token of appreciation, one of Saint George’s ribs, and then offered lodgings and advice. He told them how to circumvent Saracen restrictions on travel to Bethlehem.

After sharing a dinner of spiced rice and fried fish — non-copulating creatures that Fèlix could eat — Géza showed them a small yard. It was a patch of dirt beside the house where he practiced geomancy. He had studied it at the University of Paris.

“Ask me something,” Géza said. “Earth will answer.”

Fèlix scrutinized the Templar’s sunburned face as it pursed fat lips to express portentousness. He thought, “Earth may answer, but never with truth. Scholastic lies, playing sortes with the Prince of Shadows’ book.” He grunted.

“Well, I guess I’m doing the asking,” Luís said. “My question is... Will we do a good job?”

Géza bowed. Then, grasping a bronze rod, he closed his eyes and poked patterns in the dirt. He poked randomly, from right to left. He dug sixteen dotted lines of different lengths. He said, “Things move left in Outremer.”

Anger spiked in Fèlix. It was righteous in its familiar color and suddenness. He almost shouted, because such anger has to be displayed for the defense of the soul. If not, the soul will be lashed for cowardice. Irate at Géza’s idolatry and at Frater Luís who—

What else could he call her? Lies. He recalled the Cathar confiteor: Cum la gent mondana andam, cum lor essems estam, e parlam, e majam, e de moutas causas ofendem, si qu’als nostres fraires et als nostres esperitz nozem. And our sisters? I don’t have sisters.

“Okay. What’s next?” Luís said.

Magister Géza took up a wax tablet. He did rapid arithmetic, counting the dots in the dirt and calculating new figures from them. He shaped these into discrete clusters scored into the flaky, reddish wax by the stylus. He squinted. The chart did not look good.

“You, Dompnus Luís, the querint, have rubeus. Then fortuna minor in the ninth house, itineris, and amissio in the second house, lucrum. These are all feminine signs and bad for travel. Infected by choleric and melancholy humors and...

“Oh, no. Behold! in the eighth house, the house of mors. That’s the dragon’s tail. Neither testes nor the iudex save you. Fortuna minor, again, in conjunction with amissio.”

“So what?” Luís said.

“I hesitate to say,” Géza said. “The journey is unlucky. Money will be lost. The job will end badly. Possibly in painful death.”



“Any response, Dompnus Fèlix?” Luís said. “No? Of course not. Let me see that. What’s this one mean?”

Her pink hands pressed each waxy sign. Subtly vibrant, fearful. White cloudlets shaped other signs in her fingernails, spots rising from rosy cuticles into the tablet’s porous wax. Aroused, Fèlix thought, by nonsense, her anxiety makes and mingles meanings, so things touch which should not. Fire should lick her goddamn skin off.

Breath thickened in his throat. I’m so tired.

“What can we do?” Luís said.

“Pray,” Géza said. “Also grow out your beards, as I advised. Disguise yourselves as Nestorians coming home. Memorize a few words in their language. Like, shlamlak or ana—”

“No,” Luís said. “No beards. We can’t delay.”

“Not even little beards?” Géza said. He was puzzled, knitting his bushy eyebrows, and he looked to Fèlix for support.

“Dompnus Géza,” Fèlix said, “is that disgraceful theater still by the military stables? We’ll just buy the actors’ false beards and move on.”

Proceed to Chapter 12...

Copyright © 2017 by Michael Díaz Feito

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