Much Fall Of Blood — Snippet 15
“You’re very dispassionate about it,” said Eberhart, impressed despite himself. His brief had been to teach Manfred something of diplomacy and statecraft on this journey to the Holy Land. At first he’d thought it hopeless…
Manfred shrugged again. “She said princes need to be.”
Erik said nothing, but he knew Manfred well enough to know that his charge was still a little hurt by Francesca’s departure. Manfred was deeper than he let people guess. And his armor was more complex too. Perhaps Francesca and Manfred had not been soul-mates, as he and Svan had been, and God knew how it still burned him even now to think of her, but Manfred had stuck almost faithfully to Francesca for longer than Erik would have thought possible. In a way he was comforted that Manfred was a little wounded. Dispassionate might be what princes had to be, but it was not what a man must be. And a prince needed to be a man, first, or he might become a monster like Jagiellon. Maybe errors in love were a small price to pay to avoid that.
But all he said was: “Time to ride before it gets too hot again.”
“To think I longed for warmth in Ireland,” said Eberhart, looking out at the cloudless sky.
“Too much of anything is a bad idea.” Manfred speared another piece of meat from the wooden platter on the table.
“Tell your stomach that also applies to breakfast,” said Erik. “The sooner we go, the sooner we’ll get there.”
The sea was near to mirror flat when they came in sight of Ascalon, gleaming as if some knight’s poor squire had just polished it, with reddish tints from the setting sun. Erik saw how the new horse boy — who had possibly the worst seat of any rider Erik had ever seen, bar Benito — gaped at it, his mouth wide open. For once, the scrawny foxy-eyed boy didn’t look like a thief looking for a target. He just looked stunned and very young.
“What is it?” asked the horse boy.
“The Mediterranean. They call it a sea,” said Kari, sneering, “but it’s hardly worth it.”
“But… what is it?”
“Salty water. The tear of the giantess Ran.”
“Can’t be….” The boy swallowed. “It’s even bigger than Jerusalem.”
“And has more fish too. Some big enough to eat a man whole.”
The foxy expression returned to the boy’s eyes. “I’m not some stupid Frank.”
Kari grinned. “You just thought you were a horse boy. Really, we’re keeping you for bait.”
“Kari,” said Erik.
“Well, he’s not much good as a horse boy,” said Kari with a shrug.
“And too scrawny for good bait,” said Erik. “Now, someone who hasn’t come to drill for the last few days is more likely to have a bit of fat on him for the sharks.”
David decided that they were all crazy. He ignored them. But he wanted to get to that “sea.” It called to him. He wanted to touch it. Tears… ha. There was not that much salt in the whole world. But to see it and touch it! The stories he would tell his older brothers…
The world was a bigger place than he’d realized. Bigger even than Jerusalem, although he would never admit that in public. Ascalon itself was barely worth calling a town, though, he thought, with a lofty sniff. They rode on into the gathering dusk, towards the port. The air smelled very strange. He recognized the garbage and horse-dung scent of Jerusalem. But it was overlaid with fish, tar, and a smell that he’d never come across before.
It smelled salty.
“The bad news is that going on to the Black Sea, let alone chartering a vessel to take Borshar there is simply a non-starter,” said Eberhart. “The Mongols are not welcome in Byzantium — with good reason, to be fair — and word is out that the Venetian traders on the Golden Horn are virtually under siege again. Alexius is not going to allow Venetian vessels to pass through the Bosphorus to the Black Sea. He may let the eastern trade convoy that has gone to Trebizond back out because to try and trap them again would mean war, but it’s going to take a fleet bombarding his palace to get the Byzantines to let Venetian vessels sail up the Bosphorus.”
“Get hold of the fleet in Trebizond and get them to transport these Mongol gentlemen to the lands of the Golden Horde first,” said Erik. “The Mongols have this very admirable system of pony-messengers.”
“It won’t work.” Eberhart shook his head. “I suggested that. It appears the eastern convoy did not make a long stop in Trebizond. Normally they stay for months. But this time… well, Venice may know something we don’t. The vessels unloaded, took on what cargo was ready, and put to sea. Ahmbien had them watched, and used that system of riders to keep him informed.”
“Then,” said Manfred, standing up. “I think we need to sail for Venice. I suspect Alexius’s capital is about to feel the weight of Venetian bombards. The question is what do we do with this Borshar Tarkhan?”
“I suppose we need to ask him.”
They found the Ilkhan delegation on the balcony. Borshar Tarkhan rose and bowed. “Greetings. I gather your endeavors have not met with much success,” he said in perfect Frankish.
He was expecting that, thought Erik. Their spies must make Francesca envious. “Yes. We plan to go to Venice itself…”
The Tarkhan interrupted. “I am ordered to accompany you if that is the case.”
Erik wondered why Eberhart looked as if he had just swallowed something really nasty. As they walked back to their quarters in the Inn Erik decided he’d better get on with learning some Mongol. It made him uncomfortable not to know what these people were saying among themselves. And he was, first and foremost, Manfred’s bodyguard. Anything that made him uncomfortable was a warning sign.