She was shrouded in a dark veil trimmed with a single band of gold embroidery that covered her head and body all the way to her knees. Standing, it was clear that she was both tall and slender. She took a coin from her purse, purchased a thin beeswax candle, lit it, and stood it upright in the box of sand. The light from a half-dozen candles already burned.
The lady turned and flung the lower right corner of her veil up over the opposite shoulder to partially cover her face, but even so she heard someone whisper in awe, “The Dowager Queen!”
On the steps of the church, two beggars closed in on her. One pushed his legless body on a wooden platform with little wheels that squeaked piteously. The other, more importunate, pressed in close, whining, “Alms, my lady! Alms! I lost my hand at Hattin.” He held up a stump wrapped in dirty rags.
“You’ll rot in hell for your lies, Peter of Paris!” a gruff voice barked out of the darkness, adding: “You lost your hand for cheating at dice ten years ago!” A burly man in chain mail under a voluminous cloak emerged from the shadows. The knight was no longer young. His mustache and hair were completely white, and his face was deeply lined by life, but the sword at his hip was not decorative, and he moved with the vigor of a man still capable of wielding it. The beggars melted away before him, and the Dowager Queen gratefully hooked her hand through his offered elbow.
“Thank you for waiting for me, Sir Bartholomew,” she greeted him. “I’m afraid I was longer than intended.”
The old knight growled back, “Plenty to pray for this night, my lady.”
The Dowager Queen stopped in her tracks and looked up at him in sudden understanding. “Your daughters and their children! Do you think they were in Jerusalem?”
“I’ve had no word from them at all,” Sir Bartholomew answered grimly. “None.”
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