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Maze of Moonlight

Gael Baudino

A ROC BOOK

ROC

Published by the Penguin Group

Penguin Books USA Inc., 375 Hudson Street,

New York, New York 10014, U.S.A.

Penguin Books Ltd, 27 Wrights Lane

London W8 5TZ, England

Penguin Books Australia Ltd, Ringwood

Victoria, Australia

Penguin Books Canada Ltd, 10 Alcorn Avenue

Toronto, Ontario, Canada M4V 3B2

Penguin Books (N.Z.) Ltd, 182-190 Wairau Road,

Auckland, 10, New Zealand

Penguin Books Ltd, Registered Offices:

Harmondsworth, Middlesex, England

First published by Roc, an imprint of New American Library,

a division of Penguin Books USA Inc.

First Printing, March, 1993

10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1

Copyright © Gael Baudino, 1993

All rights reserved

Registered Trademark—Marca Registrada

Printed in the United States of America

To my brave sisters,

Christa and Judith,

who left this world

28 January 1986

seeking the stars . . .

. . . who found instead

the arms of the Mother.

Lors li commence a faire saus

Bas et petits et grans et haus

Primes deseur et puis desos,

Puis se remet sor ses genols,

Devers l'ymage, et si l'encline:

“He!” fait il, “tres douce reine

Par vo pitie, par vo francise,

Ne despisies pas mon servise!”

-Tombeor de Notre Dame

Chapter 1

Massing in the east, dark above the restless and bare branches of Malvern Forest, roiling above the distant plains and mountains, redolent of storms, clouds surged westward across Adria like the cold hand of a miser greedy for another gold coin

Pytor leaned on the parapet of the curtain wall and squinted into the stiff wind. It had been a cold autumn, full of rain, and now, winter having sent in its vanguard of sleet and hail even before the crops had been gathered, the fields were damp, ragged with the marks of a harvest brought in hastily and in the midst of evil weather, turgid and muddy with the peasants' attempts at early sowing. The late afternoon sunlight held no warmth, and these clouds foretold yet another night of cold and damp, a night filled with rain and the drip of water from innumerable leaden gutters.

Worse than in Novgorod. At least there the boards in the street kept your feet dry.

But there was nothing in Novgorod for him save slavery and perhaps death, and if the streets were not boarded here in Aurverelle, he could at least afford good boots. Perhaps that was an improvement. Perhaps that was desirable. Perhaps not. God knew better than he. In any case, it was what he had, and he would have to be satisfied with it.

But he reminded himself that what he had might well not last for much longer, and as he had once walked from Russia to Adria, so he might well have to walk again: from Adria to other lands, other kingdoms. France, perhaps. Or Castile. Or even farther. For though Castle Aurverelle seemed solid and secure, its walls thick, its stores and its armories sufficient to equip and feed a thousand men and most of the surrounding town for a month, it was in actuality tottering precariously between one existence and another.

Castle Aurverelle had no master.

It would have been easier, perhaps, had Baron Christopher simply died in the carnage at Nicopolis. It certainly would have been understandable: most everyone had died, save for the French nobles who had organized the crusade, convinced the two rival popes to pause in their constant exchange of excommunications long enough to proclaim it, and finally led it to bloody defeat in distant Bulgaria. Christopher could have perished in the forest of sharpened stakes that had been planted by the wily Turks to foil the charge. Or fought to the death like Philippe de Bar and Odard de Chasseron.

But that had not happened. Christopher was, instead, missing, and had been so since the battle. Many had died, and a few had returned, but Christopher delAurvre had vanished, and the uncertainty of his fate had placed the entire estate of Aurverelle and everyone in it square in the weighing pan of teetering balances.

Pytor turned away from the battlements. God knew where Christopher was, but it obviously did not please Him to tell anyone. Pytor would have to be satisfied with that, too.

He had almost reached the entrance to the south tower when an apple core suddenly descended like a meteor and struck him squarely on the forehead. He looked up to see a mocking grin from the furry creature that was clinging to an upper crenel by a hand and a tail. Cursing in florid Russian, Pytor looked for something to throw, but the monkey had already vanished with a screech; and so the seneschal of Aurverelle was left to mop his face with a large hand and make his way down the stairs of the tower, plunking his heavy boots down deliberately on each tread, contemplating the satisfaction he would gain from stamping a certain apple-throwing monkey into jelly. If he could ever catch it.

He continued to murder the monkey down to the second floor, and then he gave up and entered the dark corridor that led along the inside of the curtain wall. The wind moaned in the shutters and doors, and he could not help but recall—with a shiver—the story of the village girl who had refused the marriage night privileges of the last baron but one. As a result, Baron Roger had chained her to a bed in an upper room, used her, and left her to starve to death. On days like this, Pytor fancied that he could hear her screaming . . . far away. . . .

Pytor shuddered, stopped at a door halfway along the corridor. Bright lamplight seeped out from beneath it. Did he hear moans? Screams? He banished them with a knock and a shout. “Jerome!”

“Come.”

The office of the bailiff of Aurverelle possessed the largest glass windows in the castle save for those in the rooms of the baron's residence, and the light they admitted, eked out this lowering afternoon by the lamps that flared brightly around the walls, gave Jerome the illumination he needed for his accounts, his tallies, and his records. Headless though Aurverelle was, it lived still, and living

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