Antioch

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Historical Fiction  |  House: Booksie Classic
This actually a peice I wrote for a school class about short stories.

Submitted: February 08, 2008

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Submitted: February 08, 2008

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 was young when I swore the oath. In the fiery passion that comes with youth, I took up the cross and became a crusader. I swore to God’s Holy church that I would take the holy land from the infidel, and pray in the holy sepulcher, the tomb where Jesus lay. That oath remains unfulfilled to this day.

I was the third son of my family, an old family of French knights going back to the wars of Charlemagne and Charles Martel. But, being the youngest son, I was left poor. My eldest brother, Raul, would get all of the money and estate. The only thing I got from father was the family arms, a green griffon passant on white. I fought as hard as I could in the little wars, no more than quibbles among rich men, and tournaments to get his attention. But he only had eyes for my Brother.

I was fervently religious. In the absence of my natural father, what could I do but turn to my spiritual one? He would love me no matter what number I was in the order of his thousands of children. When the Blessed Father, Pope Urban II, sent forth the call for Crusade against the heathen, I responded. I swore the aforementioned oath, and they gave me a white linen surcoat emblazoned with Christ’s Red Cross. I was so proud. My father was too. I was not his favorite, but I had done something worthy of his notice.

I strongly believed in the Peace of God. Knights ran rampant in days before, killing the innocent and robbing and pillaging at will. The clergy thought to tame them by instituting the Peace of God. Knights were made to uphold the innocent, and live by the laws of chivalry. I believed, and still do, that that is the way knights, and all people, should behave. I wouldn’t have mercy on God’s enemies, of course. I didn’t think at the time about them having families. In my minds eye I only saw heathen savages, on camels.

I set off on the mightiest venture of my age. I rode under the banner of Tancred, a Norman lord from lower Italy. He was the brother of Bohemund, one of the three great lords of the crusades. My childhood friends, Bernard de Bracy and Richard du Blois, had sworn with me. Having them along had the journey better.

I remember it quite well in my old age. We knights of France, Italy, Germany, and England coalesced from all over into one vast army, a sea of red crosses borne on white linen tunics. People all over gave us homage, as we were the holy army of the Lord. What could we do wrong?

We traveled through Italy, to a ship to Greece, and on into Constantinople. I loved that place. I would go back, were I younger. But I am doomed to be stationary now. The emperor of Byzantium greeted us with kindness. He was having trouble with the Turks on his borders, and was glad to see the reinforcements he had so direly requested from Rome.

We did not stay in his kingdom long, however. Soon the army of the Lord turned south, into Palestine, and engaged the infidel in battle. We pushed them southwards, from city to city, until we reached Antioch.

I pitched my tent outside the walls. The red and white striped palisade didn’t go up very well in the loose sand that surrounded the city, but I eventually forced it to stay put. Bernard and Richard placed theirs up on either side of mine. "I do hope this will be fast. Two years now, and we still are traveling to Jerusalem," said Bernard. I had to agree. Even my great piety was beginning to where thin with travel. I looked up at the towers crowning the invincible-looking walls of Antioch, and a look of dismay covered my face. Over the past two days, we had tried three bloody assaults. The ladders we used to scale the walls, or try at least, did not work very well. We had settled into siege.

The next day, and the next, our army assaulted the high walls and mighty towers of Antioch. We were repulsed again and again. Some knights ran to climb the wooden ladders to the parapets with glee, seeking glory. They were met with the Saracens dumping lime on their heads. Injuries were terrible. Their archers kept a constant hail of black-shafted arrows raining down from the walls. These didn’t present much danger to our camp, but once we got close on attack, they became deadly.

The men on the parapets could hack at the men climbing near the tops of the ladders. The crenellations on top of the walls were sheer, and hard to grasp with a gauntlet, or mail mitten. Only so many could follow you to the top, so you had little hope for reinforcement. The sea of enemy swords at the top slew any who dared come.

We tried pounding constantly on the walls with the giant rocks hurled by siege machines. We had trouble finding ammunition for our mangonels and Trebuchet after a while. But no matter how many we hurled at them, their walls stood still. The grey walls of Antioch seemed as mountains, utterly invincible to our feeble attempts to break them.

We tried a siege tower. It was a large wooden structure, tall enough to look over the city walls. It was wheeled at the base, so teams of men, horses or oxen could push it up against the wall. Once there, a little drawbridge would open onto the parapet from the top, letting the hundred-fifty men inside attack. Normally, we would douse it with water to keep the enemy from launching flaming arrows and quarrels, and catching it aflame. We had none. As I had feared, flaming projectiles leapt from the walls, and the tower burnt to the ground.

A relieving force of Muslims came to break our siege. The first time, they caught us unawares, and tried to hurl our embattled army against the city walls, like water breaking on a stone in the midst of a river. We hurled them back at great cost. Their light, fast horsemen with powerful bows could outmaneuver our heavy knights. But they couldn’t stand against us in pitched battle.

Weeks flowed into months. We tried to employ sappers, or miners to dig underneath the walls of the city and weaken them. They didn’t work quite well. I learned only after wards that the citizens set up bronze bowls by the walls, with small metal balls inside. When they vibrated, the people knew our sappers were underneath, and they dug towards our men and smoked them out or used some sort of noxious fume.

All of this did not dampen my crusader zeal. Even after my siege ladder was tipped over, and I was wounded, I still vowed with the same determination to make it to Jerusalem, and fulfill my oath. I would not return in shame, held in disdain by my father, and God’s Holy church.

Our already scant supply of food soon ran dry. Back at home in the north, our leaders would have prepared longer to siege. We were deep in Treacherous territory now, and had no way to gain supplies except by forage. Embattled Byzantium could not help us. The proud crusader army turned to eating their horses and mules. Camels were favored. When we ran out of those, we ate dogs and rats. There were even rumors of cannibalism of the dead.

If we had little food, we had even less water. Antioch lies in desert, and there is little to be had. We tried drinking from the sides of camels as we ate them. Holes were frantically dug everywhere, in vain searches for underground springs. The sun beat down anyway, caring little for our desperate thirst. The siege had turned desperate.

Three months had passed. Richard died, on top of the wall, skewered by a spear. Sunken faces showed cheekbones and chapped lips. The proud linen surcoats were splatted with blood, stained with dirt and dust. The grim specter of plague had raked its evil fingers through our camp, taking more lives than the Saracen arrows. We were weak, but I still held. My zealous pride and belief in the code of chivalry bolstered my falling spirit. The Lord would grant us victory.

Nobody knows quite why, but the Lord of Antioch one day opened the gates, without a word. I was glad. The steel hearts of Christendom had prevailed over the infidel. The visions in my mind could come finally to fruition. I saw the holy army of God, marching through the streets, sparing the inhabitants and turning them to the worship of the Lord. We rule just and fair. The converted would love us, and women would sing and children laugh. It seemed a fitting end to so great an ordeal.

Reality rarely ever matches our dreams. As the gates opened without struggle, the battle-weary crusaders streamed in, almost trampling each other. I had to move slowly because of my wound from the fall. I was horrified with what I saw when I finally made it in. The army of the lord had turned to rape and pillage. Buildings burned everywhere. The citizens of the city that begged for mercy, shouted to convert to Christ were slain in cold blood. The crusaders were laughing and looting, oblivious to the cries of children. I was more terrified to see Bernard joining in.

Tears streamed down my face. I couldn’t believe my eyes. All of my dreams of the crusade were shattered then and there. I could barely hear Bernard down the main street of the city, shouting at me to join in the pillage. In anger and much pain, I ripped of the linen surcoat emblazoned with the cross and threw it down in the blood soaked dust. I ran away, as fast as I could, away from the crusade and the city and the people in it.


© Copyright 2017 Martin Mackeith. All rights reserved.

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