Of Gods and Men

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Historical Fiction  |  House: Booksie Classic
A creative non-fiction take on the days just before the beginning of The Crusades.

Submitted: August 16, 2015

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Submitted: August 16, 2015

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It was a hot summer day. The sun bore down on the surroundings so harshly that none could escape its piercing gaze. Legions of men had assembled under the harsh sun, gathering in front of a makeshift stage of stone and wood. The men, oddly, wore heavy suits of armor. The majority of them were clad in mail made from hundreds and hundreds of tiny steel rings interlocked allowing for both mobility and defense. Some wore thicker armor, layers of plate-mail held together with leather. Movement in such an outfit was still possible, but far more restrictive. The one thing these men all had in common were the cloth garbs they wore over their armor; a tabard of simple design that bore a large cross. Some were white crosses on blue backgrounds while others were red crosses upon white. At a glance you might have even mistook them for opposing sides, were it not for the unifying factor, the cross. As the troops rallied, they spoke among themselves, gossip of their homelands, loved ones, occasionally even a sweetheart back home. None dared to speak though, of the thing that had brought them all here.
Moments later, the soldiers fell silent. The heavy thud of thick leather boots sounded throughout the area, announcing the presence of those whom the men had awaited.
 
The first to step center stage was a tall, imposing man. He, like the others wore chainmail and a large tabard bearing a cross. Though, this man's tabard was a golden cross upon a black background. Strangely, the man did not even have a chain mail hood to protect his head. His face was scarred, but two were more prominent than the rest. One began at his hairline and traveled down across the side of his face, grazing the side of his eye. Less than an inch over and he most assuredly would have lost the eye. The other seemed to begin at his nostril, where a small chunk was in fact gone completely, and traveled down across his upper lip, leaving a small bare spot in the midst of his glorious mustache. His hair was a salt and pepper blend, streaks of whites grays and blacks that were pulled back into a braid that reached past the middle of his back. The most notable feature though, was his long, full beard that went past his chest. It seemed meticulously groomed and well taken care of in spite of the man’s harsh appearance. As he stood in front of the men he began to stroke his beard idly appraising the lot of them.
 
The second man quickly came up behind the first. He was a great deal younger and seemed like he should be in the crowd with the rest of the group rather than on the stage. His skin was flawless, as though he had never seen combat. He too, like the majority of the crowd had donned a tabard of red on white.
 
“M'lord,” the second man began “I understand thine appraisal of the men, but we musn't tarry.”
 
“Ah, but thou dost speaketh the truth, Percival.” the hulking man replied.
 
“Men, on this day we will honor the request besought of us by our lord. These foul, wicked pissants of the east, they shalt feel mine righteous blade. Prithee, wilt you righteous warriors of our beloved almighty lord help carry out the holy punishment these fiends have wrought from him?”
 
A voice cried out from the audience in response. “Knave, thou art too callous, too rash, and too loose of tongue to lead thine troops anywhere BUT ruin. Thou speakest of righteousness, but thou knoweth NOT the meaning of the word. Nay, durst I suggest thou art not righteous in the least. How else would a holy man be known as 'The Butcher', Ser Alexander?”
 
Alexander narrowed his eyes at the accusation. “Strong words, canst thine pantaloons stay up without belt under so heavy a weight? You who accuseth so harshly, step forth.”
 
The crowd erupted into a sea of whispers and confused faces, nobody seemed to know who had actually made the statement. Nobody, that is, except Alexander, whose narrowed eyes had locked onto the culprit and pierced down to his very soul. The soldier in question felt those looming eyes upon him and knowing he had no other recourse he stepped forward.
 
“Ser Alexander,” began Percival once more, “Time is a luxury we possesseth not. I beseech thee-”
 
“ENOUGH PERCIVAL! Do NOT stick thine nose hither where it dost not belong!” he boomed in response. “This... 'Turk' filth and sin threatens to corrupt not just our lands but in time even the world. I have assembled thee, mine greatest warriors to cleanse our lands of this plague.”
 
Alexander took a step toward the soldier who had made the comments. “Thou durst... thou durst question me... durst question OUR LORD! Couldst thou wit the punishment to be wrought from thine actions?!” Slowly he reached for the hilt of his broadsword and rested his hand there. “How wouldst a holy man be known as 'The Butcher', indeed.”
 
A disturbing grin slowly played across Alexander's face as he appraised the soldier once more. “Thou lacketh conviction. Look at how thine knees have begun to quake now that thou hast come to the front of the crowd. To wit, I had hoped thee a man of honor and convictions like mineself to trow such things and then yell them aloud. Instead, thou art another coward, unworthy of our lord.”
 
The man wordlessly stared at the ground as Alexander berated him in front of the legion. The conviction and courage he once possessed having been sapped away when met face to face with the man known as The Butcher.
 
“I wilt grant thee a parting gift, for I am naught but a giving man.” Alexander clenched his grip upon the hilt of his blade, pulling it free and slicing clean through the man's neck in one fluid motion. With his other hand he gripped the top of the man's head, holding it in place for one final moment. “THIS IS WHY I AM THE BUTCHER!” He proclaimed before kicking the man as hard as he could in the stomach, sending his body flying. He held the former soldier's head high before the stunned audience.
 
“Thine hearts must be filled with conviction. Satan will tempt thee in any and every way. To fight in the name of our lord, his wrath must be wrought against the wicked. I have been chosen by our lord Pope Urban II-” Alexander paused briefly to make a cross in the air before his chest- “to scour the lands from wickedness. If any of thee lack conviction, if any of thee would stay thine blade for any of these abominations, even the young, thou art not welcome amongst mine ranks. They hath wrought the wrath of God and now we, the chosen warriors shall carry out our Lord's vengeance.”
 
The crowd erupted into a roar of chants for the glory and righteousness of God. None lacked conviction, some were even disconcertingly enthusiastic about carrying out the will of the lord to slaughter these people. After their morale had been raised to such extraordinary levels, the next step was for the plan of attack.
 
Weeks of grueling marching, nights spent camping in the harsh wilderness, and finally the legion had found itself upon the outlying mountains of Antioch. A final base camp was established in the range, archers taking key lookout positions while Alexander, Percival, and a select few from the legion discussed strategy.
 
“We art on the brink of glorious battle.” Alexander mused, “On the morrow we cleanse Antioch. The months to follow shalt be just as glorious. Thine time O' worshippers of Satan, has come to an end.”
 
“Aye, m'lord,” Percival replied “We shalt offer redemption, but their refusal will cost gravely.”
 
“Nay, Percival,” Alexander took a slow sip of wine from a battered wooden mug. “Thou art too lenient, we must purgeth these heathens from the very grounds of the Earth. Once our righteous flames hath scorched Antioch to nothing, we shalt salt the smoldering remains.”
 
“Of course, m'lord,” Percival nodded, eyes lingering upon the wooden mug for a moment. “I too wist such a thing, evil must be cleansed. If I might be so bold, m'lord, we musn't tarry here any longer. The morrow shalt be a tiring day, let us rest until the dawn.”
 
“Thou art always so perceptive, Percival. 'Tis a good idea, truly, let us retire henceforth.” Alexander replied.
 
Later that night, Alexander awoke to an intruder in his tent. Yet, strangely, despite how much he tried to force it he could hardly move a muscle. Nearly paralyzed in his bedroll, his eyes fixated on the intruder.
 
“Thou hast... betrayed me?...” He weakly sputtered out.
 
“I do apologize, m'lord.” Replied a familiar voice. “Thou art savage... reckless... indeed to be feared, but thine methods...”
 
“Mine methods... they... art those... of... God...”
 
“Nay, God offers redemption, not purely execution. Our goals art the same, but thou art incapable of understanding the deeper issues.” Percival sighed, as he sat down next to Alexander “Thou art old, strong still but how much longer? Let thine death serve to embolden our men as they avenge the life of our fallen leader. Moreover, m'lord, let thine death serve to deliver thee to Heaven before thou art as lost as the savages we hath come to punish. You hath lost thineself in your later years. Still a warrior, but thou art also close to becoming a dotard-
 
“What... are you trying... to say...” Alexander interrupted
 
“Thou shalt die as a martyr to assure victory, m'lord. Every trace of Satan I will personally stamp out for thee in Antioch.”
 
Percival paused momentarily as he leaned in closer “In return, I ask thee to accept this, and embrace the gates of our lord before thineself is found unworthy.”
 
“And what of... thine own actions... shalt thee not... be doomed to hell... for such a thing?”

“Nay, m'lord” Percival whispered as he unsheathed a dagger and placed it to Alexander's throat “'tis God's will.


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