Caution: This Sex Story contains strong sexual content, including Ma/Fa, Historical, Slow,
Desc: Sex Story: Chapter 1 - Another mystery for Cadfael. Murder, Byzantine politics and a storm at sea. A lot of story and very little sex
The cloaked figure stood motionless by the mast. He could hear the rain hammering on the wooden decks like gravel flung against an oaken door and hissing where it fell into a leaden sea. The wet sail above him dripped idly on his neck and shoulders. There was scarcely a breath of wind and to the north, up by the coast of Turkey, sheet lightning played through the iron clouds, too distant for the thunder to be heard. This same lightning was the only source of illumination as he peered through the darkness searching for a landfall on the island of Samos. Apart from the rain, there were none of the usual, reassuring shipboard sounds. No creaks of easing planks or hempen ropes. The wind had died when the rain came and now the ship ghosted fitfully, the lateen sail hung mournfully unruffled and there was no cheerful gurgle at the forefoot to mark even the slightest progress.
Despite this, and being soaked to the skin, Cadfael ap Meilyr, for it was he who stood the silent watch, was happy. He treasured these moments of solitude - there were few enough on a crowded trading vessel. Much of the ship's round hull was given over to cargo so the crew lived cheek-by-jowl under the foredeck. Even the Captain enjoyed no special privilege in this regard; the blunt stern housed no cabins or accommodation. It was here that the charcoal brazier of the cook stood and the long tiller. The ship was old. It was little different from the round ships of Ancient Rome and quite unlike the swift sea-dragons of the North. Built to carry cargo, it was neither swift nor particularly manoeuvrable but it suited Cadfael. In the seven years since he had quit the Holy Land, Cadfael had learned the seaman's arts.
One cargo followed another: back and forth across the Middle Sea, grain from Egypt, glass from Venetia; wine from Samos and copper ingots from Kyrenia. Bound for Malaga or Byzantium, Alexandria or Toulouse, it was all one to Cadfael, each voyage a new adventure, each port a new discovery. Now he was inbound to Samos once again, a cargo of hides to deliver and a fresh one of wine for loading. He smiled into the darkness. In seven years he had grown from landsman to mariner and, in those same years, risen from deckhand to Master. He looked forward to taking his ease in the pleasant little port. Experience suggested that the rain would blow through by mid-morning and he would have two days to feel the land under his feet once again. Another rivulet of water sped from the foot of the sail and insinuated itself between cloak and skin to run coolly down his back. It was strange, he mused, how here in the east, the rain seemed less wet than at home in his native Wales. It was warmer, of course, that was it!
He started slightly and dashed the water from his eyes. Yes, there it was, he could see it clearly when the lightning flashed again. The darker shape of the Island was looming slowly. There must be a slight current pushing them along. God knew there was little enough by way of tides in this landlocked ocean. He watched another hour and when he saw the first gleam of lanterns that marked the fishing fleet, roused the crew with a stentorian bellow. The sail was lowered and they dropped anchor to await the wind that would come with the dawn, no more than a half hour away by Cadfael's reckoning. The cook roused himself and rigged a canvas awning over his brazier. A porridge of chickpeas was soon in the making and Cadfael's stomach rumbled as he caught the scent of the unleavened flatbread that would accompany the dish. Sailors looked for two things when picking a berth: a lucky captain and a capable cook. Well, Cadfael thought to himself, on this ship they have them both. He little thought how soon he would come to revise his opinion of his fortunes.
The light grew very slowly, as if the heavy banks of clouds held back the sun's progress. There was still no sign of a wind and a chill mist rose from the slate-flat sea. The rain fell away to nothing, but now the fog thickened and left pearly droplets on every surface it touched. The sky grew lighter and Cadfael though he could discern a break in the overcast. If it were so, the sun would soon burn off this sea-fret and he could enter port. He set the men to cleaning the deck and had the cook fire doused. The morning wore on slowly but it was now perceptibly lighter and the first faint stirrings of a breeze marked cat's paws on the surface. A patch of sky grew brighter, denoting a hazy sun. It wouldn't be long now.
It still lacked an hour of noon when Cadfael brought his ship to harbour. A gentle breeze had risen and dispersed the last of the mist and in the clear light that followed, the World looked new-made. At this time of the year, Samos was a green isle. By autumn, the hot sun would have sucked all luxuriance from it and it would lie baking, sere and brown. The port itself was nothing grand. It could not compare to the fine harbours of Rhodes or Alexandria but, to Cadfael's eye, possessed a more welcoming look than either. An old stone mole protected the anchorage and a number of blackened wooden jetties afforded a place for ships to tie up and unload. White limestone houses fringed the docks and climbed straggling up the hill behind where the pale, dusty road climbed away from the town. In the distance was a scattering of small villas, each with its vineyard. Samos lived by the wine trade. Samian vintages were highly prized in Byzantium and the other great cities of the empire. In truth, the island could offer little else save stunted olive trees and ragged goats.
The harbour, usually a bustling place, was empty of ships save one. Like Cadfael's own command, it belonged to Ioannis of Adrianopolis. Ioannis was a fat, jolly man who presented a habitually smiling face to the world. This jovial exterior concealed a shrewd and calculating mind tinged with avarice. Ioannis of Adrianopolis was far from being any man's fool. He had something of a reputation for sharp dealing and was regarded by not a few traders as being only as honest as he needed to be. Such things did not trouble Cadfael unduly. He did his duty and sailed his ship from port to port. Ioannis never asked anything of him that might trouble his conscience and, if the man himself drove a hard bargain, that was not Cadfael's concern. It was enough to contend with the sea in all its moods, and there was a satisfaction to be had in this, the sense of a task well done.
Thus it was little surprise to Cadfael to see another of Ioannis's ships tied up at the mole. He was hailed by name as his vessel eased its way through the narrow harbour entrance.
"Ho! Cadfael! Come aboard as soon as you've tied up. I have news!"
He waved a hand in acknowledgement and eased the helm a touch to bring the little ship into the wind. A one-handed signal brought the sail swiftly down and they coasted the last few feet to the landing. A crewman leapt ashore and secured the warps while others dropped fenders between the dock and the hull. Cadfael surveyed the activity with mild satisfaction. It was good to see the crew do all that was needed without a word from him. The sailors were a mixed lot, mostly Greeks with the addition of one Egyptian and a boy from Tyre. Cadfael had long since mastered Trade Greek, the lingua franca of the Levant. It was in that language that he now addressed the bosun.
"I'm going ashore for a bit. Look you to the cargo. I'll be back within the hour."
The bosun, a grizzled veteran from the Island of Andros, ducked his head by way of agreement and Cadfael swung easily from the shrouds and onto the rough surface of the mole. He paused briefly to steady himself and find his land-legs before setting off along the dock to where the other vessel lay. It was a mirror image of Cadfael's own ship and, as he approached, he saw a familiar figure waiting to greet him. If Cadfael had a friend in this part of the world, it was this man, Nicodemus of Varna, a man of middle years and vast experience. They had sailed together before Cadfael received his own command and Cadfael owed much to the Byzantine captain. It was Nicodemus who had taught him the lore of the sea, shown him how to navigate by the sun and the stars, how to use the lodestone and how to read the weather. He was a quiet, self-sufficient man and it was a measure of his regard for his younger protégé that he sought Cadfael's company when the opportunity arose.
Cadfael, for his part, held Nicodemus in the greatest esteem and knew him for an honest and plain-speaking soul with deep reserves of courage and wisdom in equal measure. It was with some foreboding, then, that Cadfael observed the lines of worry etched deep upon the older man's weathered countenance.
"Well met, Cadfael ap Meilyr. I had hoped to catch up with you here and my prayers have been answered. "
"What ails you, old friend? Your face bespeaks me of some misfortune yet it is barely three weeks since last we met."
"In truth, is it so short a time? Come aboard, for there is much to tell."
"I have sent the crew ashore that we may speak privily, my friend."
Cadfael could see the concern etched deep on the older captain's face. Nicodemus had been his mentor and friend for a number of years and Cadfael had never known him as a man given to flights of fancy. Whatever was bothering the veteran seaman was worth taking seriously.
"Not five days since, I returned from Adrianopolis with a cargo of grain, as usual. Ioannis's Factor met me here and we unloaded in good order. Then he bade me wait. The outbound cargo, he said, was not yet ready. I thought nothing of it - these things happen. Two, no, three, days went by and still there was no word. I sent to his villa in the hills. It was then I learned that he had been murdered!"
"Murdered? But why? This was ever a peaceable place."
"There lies the mystery, my friend. They say he was killed by Alexandros. You know him. He's the captain of the 'Star of Libya' and as sound a man as ever I sailed with. I cannot believe it of him."
"Even those we know well may yet surprise us, Nicodemus."
"That's God's truth, I know. But murder, Cadfael? Alexandros was a gentle man."
"Was, you say? What has become of him?"
"I do not know, that's part of the mystery. Alexandros has disappeared without a trace."
"And this Factor, Tyros, wasn't it? How did he die?"
"He was beaten something fierce about the head and his body thrown here, into the harbour."
"But why blame Alexandros? Did someone witness the deed?"
"None who has yet come forward. But Alexandros and the Factor were heard to argue violently that afternoon. Tyros shows up dead and Alexandros disappears. Thus do people reason him to be the killer."
"It seems little enough, Nicodemus."
"Aye, Cadfael, yet still enough for many, including the Port Captain."
"And do people know the cause of their contention?"
"Not with certainty. Word is they had a falling out many years ago when both were young and there was a rift between them that time could not heal."
"Where did Tyros live?"
"I was going to go there this morning until I saw your ship. It would please me if you would bear me company there this afternoon."
"Gladly! I have to attend to the cargo but 'tis only bales of hides and will not be long in the unloading."
True to his word, Cadfael returned an hour past noon and he and Nicodemus set their feet on the road that ran up from the port into the hilly interior. The heat was fierce, even this early in the year, and soon both were blowing hard and sweating freely.
"A life at sea does little for a man's wind!" Nicodemus gasped as the road took a turn up a steep defile. "Still, it can't be too much further. "
Cadfael, who had been more than ten years a soldier, grunted by way of reply and saved his breath. It was true, he thought, that a stroll such as this would have barely made him breathe more heavily when he'd followed the Cross. Seven years at sea had shortened his wind; there was little enough room for a man to exercise upon a trading ship. The road turned hard to the left and they emerged out into open country of rolling hills and shallow valleys studded with olive groves and vineyards. Cadfael stopped to survey the scene.
The mountains of Turkey were a faint bruise on the horizon and, below them, the little port drowsed in the afternoon sun. All was quiet save for the low hum of insects and the occasional harsher chirruping of the cicadas. Nicodemus gestured to a long, low villa down to their right. In common with most of such dwellings on the Island, it was lime-washed white with a terracotta pantiled roof that sloped gently from front to back. The two seamen made their way down a path scarcely wider than a goat-track to stand before a weathered cedar-wood door.
Cadfael had the distinct impression that their progress had been observed even though now, standing in front of the house with its closed door and shuttered windows, such a feeling seemed just so much imagination. Nicodemus gave a loud 'Halloo' but only a faint echo answered him. He stepped up to the door and pounded on it with the hilt of his belt-knife and, again, the only response was the slightly hollow reverberation from the empty vestibule.
"No one, it seems, my friend."
Cadfael held up his hand to silence his companion. His sharp ears had caught a small noise just as his friend had started to speak. Then out the corner of his eye, Cadfael caught a flash of movement by the solitary low outbuilding. He moved swiftly to the opposite side of this hut from where he had seen the movement and darted rapidly behind it. Someone crouched by the far wall, peering cautiously around the corner to survey the ground in front of the villa's main door. He had the impression of a slight figure even though it was impossible to judge the
intruder's height, such was their position. Neither could he tell the person's age, for some sort of cowl or cloak covered their head. He hurled himself forward and seized a handful of rough cloth as the interloper leapt up in alarm. The pair of them crashed heavily onto the baked earth and Cadfael was amazed to find himself straddling a young woman who stared up at him with wide, panic-stricken eyes. The cowl had fallen away to reveal a mane of dark, lustrous hair and skin tanned the rich colour of honey. He rose to his feet and pulled the girl up after him, keeping a sure grip on her wrist as he did so.
Nicodemus came up with them and his eyes showed his surprise.
"Ariana! What are you doing here?"
"You know this woman, Nicodemus?"
"Aye, that I do. 'Tis Ariana, Alexandros's daughter.'"
Cadfael relinquished his grip on the girl and was pained to see the red fingerprints he'd left upon her skin. He muttered a few words of apology but the girl wasn't listening. She'd recognised Nicodemus and flung herself at him, clasping her arms about his neck and hung there, sobbing deeply. The old sailor gentled her as one would an unbroken colt, stroking her hair and mouthing soothing, meaningless words. At length her sobbing eased and Nicodemus pried her gently away. He held her shoulders in both hands and looked into her face.
"Hush now, child, and tell us your trouble. I swear, Cadfael, that she's scared half to death."
Cadfael now had his first real chance to look properly at the girl, for girl she was, he decided. Her long hair was a mass of tangled curls. Her clothes and face were covered in dust and the latter was heavily streaked with tears. She had fine, strong features, a high forehead and arched brows above a straight nose and full, ripe lips. He guessed her age to be no more than eighteen or so. She matched him in height but was as slender as a lath. The cloak she wore had been quite clearly made for another and, where it gaped, he could see she wore a short tunic that finished an inch or two above her knee, revealing shapely and well-muscled legs. Her feet were clad in rope sandals such as seamen might wear. All in all, he found her pleasing to behold.
The girl composed herself with some difficulty and managed a weak smile at Nicodemus.
"Thank Our Lady you have come, Nicodemus. I am at my wits' end. It's my father. I fear they have murdered him and the other man, the Factor."
"Slowly, child. Start at the beginning. Who has murdered your father and why do you believe so?"
"I don't know. Some men - foreigners by their accents. They came for him three night's past and led him away. I heard raised voices, angry and frightened, they sounded. I've seen not a hair of him since."
"What of the Factor? You said these men had killed him too, or else you feared so."
"Two weeks gone, the Factor came to our house by night. I could smell the fear on him. He was closeted with my father for an hour or so then both left. They loaded a cargo of wine and took the 'Star' to sea that night but returned empty the following noon. The Factor told my father he was coming here, to his house, but would leave the next day. He wouldn't say where - even when Father asked him. I could see Father was worried but he wouldn't tell me why."
Nicodemus looked puzzled. He turned to Cadfael and gave an expansive shrug.
"What do you make of this my, friend?"
"Little enough, before God. You say your father took his ship to sea that night but returned by noon the next day. They cannot have sailed far, then."
"That's true, my friend. What would you say, the Turkish coast at best?"
"So I thought, Nicodemus, or Lesvos, maybe."
The girl nodded.
"I thought so, too, save it was a quiet night with little wind. I doubt they would have had time to make Lesvos and conclude such business as they had to still return by noon."
Cadfael raised an eyebrow at Nicodemus and the latter chuckled.
"Take the girl's word for it, Cadfael. She knows these waters better than I do. Ariana's mother died when she was a babe and she was reared shipboard. It is not for nothing that she is known hereabouts as the 'boat girl.' You would sail for many leagues before you'd find a finer pilot for these seas."
Ariana shot him a small smile and Cadfael bowed his head in acknowledgement. She was calmer now and Cadfael could see some of the tension had gone from her grave face. Cadfael turned to survey the scene. His previous wariness subsided and, satisfied that were no further intruders, he relaxed with a sigh.
"I cannot begin to guess what has happened here. Ariana, you said men took your father three nights ago and it was some ten days before that Tyros came to your house and they went voyaging together?"
"Yes. It was as you say."
"And have you seen Tyros since?"
"Not a hair! He returned with Father and then came here. At least, he said he was coming here, I didn't watch him up the hill so I can't be sure."
Nicodemus looked concerned.
"Tyros the Factor was found floating in the harbour two nights past. Where have you been, girl?"
"I - I was at my grandmother's in the south. I thought perhaps my father had gone there. She is frail now and he likes to keep a watch over her."
"I have worse news, my dear. Men say it was your father killed the Factor."
The girl blanched and her mouth worked soundlessly, unable to find the words to put the lie to Nicodemus's news. Her eyes filled with tears and she turned away from the two seamen. Cadfael thought at first that she was accepting of the words but, as her shoulders began to shake, he heard her say in a small voice:
"Then they have killed Father as well."
"People are saying they fought and your father slew Tyros and then ran away."
"Who? Who is saying such wicked lies? 'Tis true they disliked each other but not enough to kill. My father would never hurt anyone. Apart from the Factor, and that was an old trouble, I never heard him give a hard word to anyone, much less a blow."
"What was this old trouble, Ariana?"
"It stems from when they were young. My mother was promised to Tyros. She'd have none of him and ran away with my father to the Piraeus. They married there and didn't return here until I was born. Tyros hated my father for it."
Cadfael considered for a moment in silence. He glanced at Nicodemus and saw something akin to relief on the older man's face. He nodded and smiled at Ariana.
"Old trouble indeed and hardly cause to kill a man after all these years. What say you, Cadfael?"
"Thus it would seem, my friend. And yet they still maintained their wrangling."
Ariana broke in.
"No. After my mother died they were somewhat reconciled. They both loved her and were united in their grief. They each maintained a surly aspect towards the other out of habit, but there was no longer real feeling behind it. This later trouble had some other cause, I'll vow. Something about that night voyage."
"That seems possible. It is more common to have one mystery than two. Your father never gave a hint?"
"He wouldn't talk about it. Of course, I asked him and asked him more than once. He would only shake his head and say it were better I didn't know. Oh, please, Nicodemus, and you, sir. Please help me."
Cadfael was moved by her desperate plea. It went hard with him to see a woman so distressed. He saw a sympathetic tear glisten in Nicodemus's eye also and knew his old friend felt the same. Nicodemus placed his arm around the girl and smiled gently.
"We'll both do all we can, my dear. Your father was - is - my friend and I have known you since a babe. If there is some meaning we can unravel from this knot, we shall. You have my word. Now, since we are all here, we might as well look over Tyros's house."
Nicodemus slipped the blade of his knife between the door and the frame and prised up the retaining latch. He shoved hard once with his bulky shoulder and the door groaned open. The interior was dark after the bright sunlight and it took a few moments for their eyes to grow accustomed to the gloom. Nicodemus made to move further into the house but Cadfael stopped with a restraining arm. He pointed to the fine layer of dust of the floor. Two sets of footprints were clearly visible.
"It appears that someone else has had the same idea."
Nicodemus nodded and hunkered down to inspect the marks more closely. His finger traced the outline of one set of prints and then the other. He rose and edged carefully down the inner hall, concentrating hard on the footprints until he came into the central room. He cast about for a second and found a lamp, which he lit with his flint and steel. He returned with the light and held it low to illuminate the prints.
"Two men, without a doubt. One wears sandals like ours, the other something grander. See here, the sole and heel are separate. Our grander man drags one foot a little. See how the left print is blurred? The other is smaller and takes shorter steps."
Ariana looked in wonder at Nicodemus.
"I'd never thought you could tell so much from a footprint."
"It's a little enough, girl. I cannot tell who they were or why the came here and that I would dearly like to know. I'd also give a crown to know if they found that which they came for."
They searched carefully through the house but found it innocent of any clues. There was no obvious sign that the place had been ransacked but Cadfael had the strong feeling that someone had conducted a thorough search. Some small items seemed to be in the wrong place as if they been picked up and discarded on a whim. A small Egyptian figurine lay on a stool. A chess piece, carved from soapstone to represent a patriarch of the Byzantine Church, stood on the low table next to a stack of wax tablets and a stylus. There was no sign of the rest of the pieces. A small plaster saint stood on the floor at the edge of the room. It looked as if it belonged somewhere else.
Nicodemus scanned the wax tablets but they were either blank or were clearly cargo manifests; his own and Cadfael's were among them, he recognised the names of their ships, although he could not read. They searched the bedchamber but there was little to be seen. An aged clothes press stood in one corner. It contained nothing but tunics. The bed was little more than a pallet with a straw filled mattress. It was clear from the way that the mattress had been slit that the searchers had been there before them.
At the back of the house was a small cooking area with a simple rough wooden table, the remains of a meal still upon it. Mould was growing upon the heel of a loaf and the remains of a bowl of olives.
"Five days, at least," said Nicodemus and Cadfael nodded his agreement.
It was apparent that there was nothing to be learnt from the house and the three made their way out and back down the hill towards the port. They walked in silence, in sombre mood. Ariana left them at the square, turning back up the hill along a narrow lane. Cadfael and Nicodemus continued downwards to the port. They parted on the dockside. Nicodemus placed a hand on Cadfael's shoulder.
"I'd really like to help her, you know. I've watched her grow from a baby. But I tell you, my friend, it's hard to know where to start."
Cadfael could only concur. He, too, wished to help the girl. He couldn't claim years of acquaintance but something about her stirred protective feelings in him. Both soldiering and the sea made for a hard living and he had become inured to the harsh realities of the world. He believed that most people had much good in them but he also recognised that there were those of whom this would never be true. There would always be a minority who trod a darker path; who thought the world owed them more than just the fruits of their own labour. Such men, and a few women, he acknowledged, would not hesitate before the prick of conscience. And if someone stood in their chosen path - so be it. They would stand there at their peril. Yet from all he could divine of both Alexandros and Tyros the Factor, and he would admit it was little, he did not feel that either was such a creature.
He knew both only slightly. He had met Tyros a few times, delivering and loading cargo, but had ever only exchanged a few pleasantries among the business. He had a vague memory of meeting Alexandros in the company of Nicodemus in some waterfront tavern. He dimly recalled a taciturn, sad-eyed man content to allow others to speak but still exuding a calm air of competence. The conversation, as always, was of seamanship. Alexandros contributed little but his few sallies had been sensible and authoritative and it had been clear that Nicodemus respected his opinion. Such brief acquaintance was not sufficient to declare a man innocent of all crimes but, and here Cadfael would own to prejudice, it seemed inconceivable that the man who reared the girl Ariana could be a cold and callous killer. It was not impossible, of course, but something rubbed against the grain to think it so.
They agreed to meet in a tavern later that evening to discuss what might be done to help the girl. Cadfael repaired back on board his ship and stood at the rail watching the sun sink into the fiery water on the western horizon. He felt weary to the bone and slightly depressed. His head ached and his wits felt dull. He stripped and poured bucket after bucket of seawater over his head and shoulders. He finished with a bucket of fresh water to remove the salt and went below to change his tunic feeling only marginally better for his ablutions.
Cadfael was up and dressed just before dawn. He shook the bosun awake and left instructions for the day before swinging ashore once more and heading down the mole towards Nicodemus's ship. They had accomplished nothing the previous evening but had talked round and round, trying to make sense of all that they knew. God knew it was little enough. Tyros the Factor had come to Alexandros by night. In great secrecy they had sailed and returned at noon the following day. A few days later, strangers removed Alexandros from his home under some kind of duress and, the very next day, Tyros's body was found floating in the harbour. Alexandros had disappeared and two people had made a thorough search of Tyros's home. That was the sum of it.
He felt it had to be bound with that unexplained night voyage. That appeared to be the start of the sequence of events. Nicodemus and he had agreed that there could have been no cargo. There had not been time to load or unload anything of substance. Logic said therefore that it was the men or one of them, at least, that was important. But why the secrecy? No matter how they had cudgelled their brains they could think of no reason that made any kind of sense. Even thinking about it now, in the clear light of day, made Cadfael's head hurt. He was both surprised and pleased to see the girl standing on the dock as if waiting for him. She greeted him with a shy smile and he felt his face set into an answering grin.
She reached into a satchel and handed him an object wrapped in a piece of cloth. He took it, puzzled, for she said not a word but looked at him expectantly. He unwrapped the thing carefully. It was a soapstone chessman - another carved in the image of a patriarch. Cadfael could feel the girl's gaze upon him. He looked up into two intensely brown eyes. He cleared his throat and asked:
"Where did you find this?"
"Among my father's clothes."
"It was hidden?"
"Yes, I think so. It was at the bottom of his sea chest with tunics and things folded on top. What can it mean?"
"That I cannot tell you. Was it wrapped in this cloth when you found it?"
Cadfael examined the figure and the cloth it came in. The piece was simple and didn't appear especially valuable. It came to him that it was not the object that was important but rather, what it meant. He turned the piece over in his fingers. There seemed nothing remarkable about it to his eye. Chess was popular throughout the Levant and such cheap soapstone pieces were ten a penny. Most of the seamen he knew who were addicted to the game carved their own sets. His own bosun would sit for hours contemplating a single move while his opponent stared in similar concentration. Cadfael didn't understand the game's fascination.
Nicodemus hailed the pair as he climbed onto the dock. He appeared in excellent spirits.
"Good morning, Cadfael, good morning, my dear."
They returned his greeting and Cadfael showed him Ariana's find.
"What do you make of it?" Cadfael asked.
"Not very much. It's wrong of course."
"There is no Patriarch in chess. You have the Shah and the Vizier, the Rhuks, the Elephants and the soldiers. No Patriarch."
"Perhaps it's supposed to be a Vizier?"
Nicodemus snorted and shook his head.
"No, look at the robes. It's meant to be an archbishop or something. I don't know, maybe someone is changing the pieces for their own amusement. I've seen others do that. They carve the pieces to suit themselves. I don't hold with it."
Cadfael shrugged. He didn't understand the game and cared less about its traditions.
"It seems to me that it might be a token."
"Of what, Cadfael?"
"That I cannot say."
Nicodemus passed the figure back to Ariana, who had remained silent throughout the exchange. She gave Cadfael a grateful look as if to say that she appreciated that he saw the significance of her find. He found himself wanting to reassure her but felt bereft of any idea how to do so and contented himself with a slight smile. Nicodemus suggested breakfast and then a visit to the Port Captain.
"He's new here. His name is Demetrius and he came from Constantinople about three months ago. Not exactly rising in the world, is it? I've met him but the once and found him pompous."
They agreed to the suggestion and after breaking their fast at the waterfront Tavern, repaired to the Port Captain's lodgings behind the warehouses. They were kept waiting for a good half hour. Cadfael found this to be the Byzantine way. It was to let the visitors know that the man they sought was important and that his time was more valuable than theirs. Nicodemus sat upon the step while Cadfael idly examined the surrounding street. They conversed in a desultory fashion and they were all relieved when a slave called them to enter. They were shown into a large room. A grossly fat man reclined on a couch. A small, dark-skinned woman stood behind him, her eyes lowered. Nicodemus made the introductions. The fat man peered at them owlishly before raising himself up on one elbow.
"Well, Captain, tell me what this is about. I'm a busy man."
"We are seeking news of this girl's father. His name is Alexandros and he was captain of the 'Star of Libya, ' a ship owned by our employer, Ioannis of Adrianopolis."
"Then we seek the same thing. This Alexandros is a killer and I will have his head."
Cadfael felt Ariana stiffen with outrage beside him. He surreptitiously took her hand and gave it a squeeze, hoping to forestall any outburst. He shot Nicodemus a warning glance before addressing the Port Captain.
"Might we enquire if you have made any progress in your, ah, investigations, Excellency?"
The man regarded Cadfael with suspicion. He sniffed pointedly as if to infer there was an unpleasant stench in his nostrils before replying.
"What business is this of a Norman?"
"My name, Excellency, is Cadfael ap Meilyr of Trefiw in the land of Cymru and I am not a Norman. Captain Alexandros is our fellow and we seek only the truth in this unhappy matter."
The Port Captain grunted and glowered back at Cadfael who held his gaze with steady eyes. The two men stared at each other with obvious mutual dislike. It was the Byzantine who looked away first. He gestured to the woman behind him and she stepped silently through the curtain behind her to return with a tray holding glasses of sherbet.
"Well, Cadfael ap Meilyr of Cymru, I have passed a description of the murderer to all Port Captains in the area. I have impounded his vessel and its cargo and have written to Constantinople to inform the authorities there."
"And may I enquire, Excellency, if you are certain that Alexandros is the murderer?"
The Port Captain clapped his hands and a slave appeared and bent low. He muttered something in the slave's ear and the man bowed and dashed away. The Port Captain settled back down on his coach and folded fat hands across his vast stomach. His small eyes rested on Ariana and he licked his lips with a surprisingly pink tongue. The slave reappeared, gingerly carrying a short oar. The Port Captain waved in Cadfael's direction and the slave bowed and presented the oar to Cadfael with both hands, as though it were a sceptre.
"Behold, the murder weapon! If you will examine the blade, you will find the unfortunate Factor's brains - or, at least, some of them. I think it safe to conclude the man didn't drown, what say you?"
At this he gave a wheezy chuckle. Ariana paled but moved to stand beside Cadfael as he examined the oar. He marked the traces that the Port Captain had alluded to and noted also that a small patch of hair was stuck to the wooden blade amid the dried blood. He handed the oar back to the waiting slave without comment. Cadfael turned back to face the Byzantine and found the man watching him with a sly smile.
"Excellency, I agree. It seems clear enough how the Factor died but I fail to understand how this oar proves who was responsible."
"Of course you can't understand. I would not expect a simple sailor to be capable of higher logic or reasoning. Who would use an oar to kill? A sailor. Why would a sailor flee? Because he is a killer. It is well known there was bad blood between them and thus, we have a motive as well. It is clear enough to me."
"And may I ask where the oar was found, Excellency?"
"Floating in the harbour, close to the man it killed. If that is all?"
Nicodemus made as if to protest but Cadfael silenced him with a warning look. He thanked the Port Captain for his time. The Byzantine struggled up from his couch with the aid of the small woman and exited through the curtain behind, signalling the audience was at an end. Cadfael watched his progress with interest; particularly the way the man dragged his left foot slightly as he walked.
Once outside, Cadfael led the other two away, gesturing for silence with a finger to his lips. The walked swiftly back down to harbour and he led them out along the stone mole before speaking.
"I think we now know who was before at us at Tyros's house."
Ariana interrupted. "That oar! It's mine!"
Cadfael and Nicodemus stared at her, shock clear upon their faces. She looked from one to the other with pleading in her eyes.
"What does it mean? I didn't know it had gone. I haven't been to the boat since Father vanished."
"Then we had better go there now," Cadfael replied.
Ariana led them back along the mole and then down some rough stone steps to the inner harbour. This part was too shallow for sea-going ships and was used by the fishing craft and smaller coastal boats. She indicated a brightly painted double-ended skiff with a short mast and furled ochre sail lying a little way in. It was clearly well cared for and to Cadfael's eye appeared a handy little craft. Ariana hiked up her tunic and strode into the water, affording the two seamen a view of long tanned legs as she did so. She seized the boat's painter and pulled it to her with a practised ease and slipped over the gunwale. They watched her stoop and search about before rising once more with a short oar in her hands. She stepped back into the water with fluid ease and Cadfael was struck by both the grace of her movements and her obvious familiarity with boats. The little craft had hardly rocked as she boarded and left it bobbing gently at its mooring.
Ariana reached them and presented Cadfael with the oar. It was immediately apparent that it was the twin to the one the Port Captain had shown them. Her eyes had a frightened look as she rested her hand on Cadfael's arm.
"I don't understand. How could my oar have been used to kill the Factor?"
Cadfael could find no answer but he felt that was the wrong question, somehow. One thing was certain, he thought. Someone had gone to some pains to obtain the weapon. There were a number of small boats nearer the shore and most would have similar oars aboard. Even simpler, one had only to cast about on the dockside to find a balk of timber. It made no sense to wade the several yards to Ariana's boat. He turned to the other two.
"I fear we are sailing through fog. Why use this particular oar to kill the man?"
Ariana turned the blade of the oar over in Cadfael's hand and pointed to the letters 'A' and 'X' carved into the wood.
"My father's mark."
"Ah, it gets a little clearer. Whoever killed the Factor wanted people to think that it was Alexandros."
"But why, Cadfael?"
"Of that we are still uncertain. But it's my guess that it was a good way of eliminating the pair of them."
"Why not just kill them both, if that was what was wanted? Why kill the Factor and then blame Father?"
"I think it was to close the matter. If you have two men slain, the hue and cry will arise for the killers. However, if one man is dead and another blamed, the matter is resolved and no cause for anyone to think otherwise."
"You think my father killed the Factor?"
"I am now certain he did not. What sort of man with murder on his mind would wade out to fetch his own oar and then leave it to be found in the aftermath? No, Ariana, your father is as innocent as a babe in this matter."
"Then where is he?"
Neither Cadfael nor Nicodemus could provide an answer.
They went their separate ways and Cadfael returned to his ship. He felt sure, now, that the key to the mystery lay with the chess pieces but try as he might, he could make no particular sense of them. The bosun was waiting to meet him on his return. The new cargo of wine was loaded and the ship had been re-provisioned for sea. There was no help for it but he must sail. He bade a brief farewell to Nicodemus and gave his mind to the business of seafaring. As the ship slipped quietly from the harbour, Cadfael caught sight of the girl standing on the mole. She made a forlorn figure, silhouetted against the setting sun. He raised an arm and waved and felt a touch of sorrow as she turned away without returning his gesture. He would confess he felt attracted to her but was loath to press the matter in any way. She was worried half to death for her father and any offer of assistance would have been met with gratitude. It would be wrong to take advantage of her present vulnerability and yet he could not deny that she stirred him.
The voyage to Antalya was uneventful. The ship had ghosted into the vast bay at dawn two days later. Cadfael liked Antalya. The magnificent backdrop of the Taurus Mountains, peaks touched by the first rays of the rising sun, took his breath away. White marble buildings stood out against the still-dark loom of the land. It would be a while before the sun climbed over the eastern horn of the bay. Even so, the port was abuzz as they tied up. Cadfael's feet had barely touched the dock before he was accosted by a stranger who demanded to know if he had the news.
"There has been an attempt on the Emperor's life!" The man was beside himself with excitement. "Some say it was the Ottomans and others that the King of Antioch was behind it. "
Cadfael was surprised to think that Count Bohemond, the self-styled King of Antioch, would stoop to hiring assassins and said so. The man shrugged.
"Haven't you heard? Bohemond has raised an army of Normans and had vowed to make himself Emperor. They say he plans to force the Church to submit once more to Rome. They also say that there are those within the palace who wish him all success. I dare say there are, if he has been generous enough!"
Cadfael nodded. The one thing he had learnt about the Byzantines was there were few limits to their venality. Bribery was endemic and favours traded like fleeces in Shrewsbury market. Neither was he surprised by Bohemond's stated intention to make himself Emperor. From what he knew of the turbulent knight, it was entirely in character and, given the man's military genius, entirely within his compass. However, Cadfael felt, Bohemond would make his challenge openly. There was nothing underhand about the man and Cadfael doubted that he would even stoop to bribery. Others may do so in his name, of course. Still, it was important news. A war would seriously affect trade and therefore his own prospects.
There was a fresh cargo ready to load so Cadfael had little opportunity to learn more until later that evening. He made his way to the tavern favoured by sea-captains and heard again the news of the attempted assassination. The would-be killer was a slave belonging to a highly placed member of the Emperor's entourage. The slave had been summarily executed but the master had taken poison before he could be put to the question. No one was any the wiser as to the forces behind the attempt. The affair was something of a nine days' wonder. Byzantines were inured to the regular round of usurpation and bloody coups. It was a constant theme of Byzantine politics. It ran like a flawed seam through the rock of the State. Talk soon turned to other things and two of the company set out their chess pieces and began to play. Cadfael watched idly for a while. They used the traditional pieces, which looked to be of their own making, carved from driftwood. Some of the others drew closer to watch the game and there was a deal of wagering on the outcome.
Cadfael took the opportunity during a lull in the game to ask one man, who seemed to be an authority on the game, if he had ever seen the Patriarch used instead of the Vizier. The man frowned and shook his head.
"I've heard that some use Norman Knights in place of the Elephants but I've not heard of the Patriarch at all."
Cadfael let the matter rest. He drained his cup and bade the rest a good night. It was a warm, still evening and the air was close and thick. He soon found himself sweating as he walked and felt the oppressive heat might presage thunder. He was startled by a hand upon his arm. It was one of the captains from the tavern. The man had clearly followed him out.
"What do you know of the Patriarch?" The man's voice was a sibilant hiss in the darkness.
Cadfael shrugged. "I saw such a piece once, that is all."
"Some things are best unseen and better yet, not spoken of."
"And you say so?"
"That I do, Norman, and you'd best pay heed to my words."
"Who are you?"
"A captain, like yourself."
"And something else besides, I'll warrant! So, the truth, what does this Patriarch mean?"
"The truth is it? Then you tell me where you set eyes on such a thing and I'll give you your answer."
Cadfael drew the man out onto the dock where none could overhear them. He briefly explained what had transpired on Samos, leaving out only Ariana's part. The man gave him a grim smile that did not reach his eyes.
"Then it has begun," he said. "Well, you have given me your tale and I must now give mine. My name is Antonius. I am a Greek yet born in Sicily and a seaman for a score of years and more. I serve no man but own my own vessel and ply my trade between here and the west. Men count me honest and I give them no cause to think but so.
"Three months past a man came to me. He was seeking passage from here to St Simeon. I was bound thither with a cargo of ingots for the Normans at Antioch so saw no harm in taking him along. He fell sick on the passage and was delirious. In his ravings he spoke of the King of Antioch. Bohemond makes no secret of his ambition so I paid no heed, at least, not until he mentioned the Patriarch.
"At first I thought he was saying the Patriarch favoured Bohemond, but that made little sense. Bohemond has vowed to reunite the eastern and the western Church under the Pope's authority. So I knew I had not understood aright. He rambled in his fever but I learnt the truth.
"It's no secret that Bohemond has been in Italy, raising men and money for his adventure. Three ships sailed from Brindisium to St Simeon carrying Bohemond's treasure. Only two made safe haven in the port. The third was taken - some say by pirates - I know not. Now two factions search for the vessel, or, truth be told, its cargo, for it was the richest of the three by far."
"This is news indeed! But where comes the Patriarch in all of this?"
"The missing ship is called 'The Patriarch.' My fevered passenger was one of Bohemond's agents who sought her. He carried a chessman carved in the figure. I'll stake my life it was a token so others of his ilk could recognise him. I have yet to tell you the heart of this. The man believed he'd found that which he sought. At Samos."
"Did he say more?"
"No. When he recovered somewhat from his ague, he questioned me closely; asking what he had revealed. Like I said, men count me honest. I told him all he had let slip. He made me vow if I saw a man with a chess piece like his own I was to say there was grave danger; that others sought the Patriarch and would not balk at murder to achieve their ends. Three had died already in the search."
"And did he name these others?"
"The Scorpions. At first I thought it invective but 'tis, in truth, the name by which they go. They are a criminal brotherhood of the waterfront from Constantinople to Alexandria. Most are sailormen or work upon the docks. Their usual practice is barratry. They will place a captain on a ship with a few of their fellows among the crew. Once out of sight of land they seize the ship and sell the cargo where they may."
"And this befell 'The Patriarch'?"
"Perhaps. The man could not be sure. All he was certain of was that the ship was brought to Samos. I think they meant to trans-ship the cargo there and sink her, bringing the treasure home in another vessel."
Cadfael nodded slowly. It was becoming clear to him at last. He thanked Antonius warmly and returned to the ship. He was now resolved to return to Samos as quickly as possible. He prayed he would not be too late.
The next day dawned with leaden skies. An oily swell met them as they left the shelter of the bay and wind was chancy, one minute full and on their beam and the next, taking them aback. There was little doubt a storm was brewing. Cadfael hoped against hope that they would make it to Samos before the weather broke. Towards noon, the wind picked up and they were able to make better progress. Cadfael was wary of squalls and had a man sent up the mast to scan the sea around them. The waves were broken now and white caps flecked the water about them. The ship rolled with an uneasy motion and the Bosun looked askance at the full canvas they were carrying but Cadfael was resolved to keep on all possible sail until he was forced to reef. He could not explain why he had abandoned his usual caution and there were dark mutterings among the crew, unaccustomed to being driven so hard.
Cadfael reasoned that they were running before the storm. With luck, they would reach Samos before it overtook them. He spent a sleepless night pacing the deck. He had been forced to take in sail when darkness approached or face a mutiny. It was one thing to be scudding along in the stiffening wind in daylight, to do so in pitch black was more than the crew would stomach. He had reluctantly agreed to reef and had seen the visible relief on the faces around him. It was clear they believed their captain had taken leave of his senses. All the while he fumed inwardly at the delay. He had visions of Ariana's body, broken and bleeding, floating in the little harbour. Now he understood all that had transpired, he was doubly anxious for the girl and his old friend.