The Western Gate

I believe in one God, the Father almighty, maker of heaven and earth and of all things visible and invisible-

Anjuron was thankful for the descending darkness as he made his way through Jerusalem’s streets, as the guards set the few Moslem prisoners to clearing the dead, washing away two days of blood.

In one Lord Jesus Christ, Light of Light –

Passing armed men and their followers from the camp carrying off their loot, down through the city toward the Tower of St. David. Anjuron had no plan to effect his entrance to the fortress, much less to reach Count Raimond.

But at the torch-lit portcullis of David’s Tower where he expected the banners of Toulouse, instead were Lorrainer guards, standing victorious under the banner of the cross, the red almost dripping like blood down the white canvas in the flickering light.

Who for our salvation came down from heaven, was incarnate by the Holy Spirit of the virgin Mary, and was made man: Who for us was crucified, suffered and was buried-

“Halt!” The Southern Franks regarded this ill-favoured youth with suspicion; a pale Northerner, ill-fitted in patched leathers and adorned with looted Saracen weapons. No tokens of allegiance; no red cross.

These same guards had rampaged through the city for two days; their desert surcoats still bore the stains. Anjuron’s hand was on the hilt of the Damascus blade, the spoils of war out of Antioch.

If you must have blood, bathe in the blood of the infidels. Soldiers of Hell, become soldiers of the living God-

“Count Raimond?”

“Not here. He has given over the Tower to us. Find him in the camp without the city walls.”

Anjuron left them, left Jerusalem through the Western gate where before, the Christians had paid their tributes, passing the lines of Christians returning to the city. Expelled before the siege, they gave their cheers and gratitude to the gate guards for this liberation.

He shall come again with glory to judge the living and the dead, and His kingdom shall have no end.

These Christians had not seen it; the headless bodies of the Moslem thrown from the roof of the Al-Aqsa, where Tancred’s banner should have protected them. Had not the smell of the synagogue with the Jews locked inside, as the Franks burned it over their heads, circled the flaming building while singing ‘Christ, We Adore Thee -‘

And in the Holy Spirit, the Lord and Giver of life, Who proceeds from the Father and the Son: who together with the Father and the Son is worshiped and glorified –

Thus was Jerusalem saved by the Christians from infidel hands.

Running down the dusty road away from the city, past the lines of those enslaved, beaten and ragged. Women and boys; none of the old; none of the infants. Heathen? Defilers of the God’s Holy City?

Anjuron reached the edge of the military camp and was forced to stop for a cart laden with barrels and ox skins; clean water dragger over six miles from David’s Well at Bethlehem.

Skirting the light of the camp-fires, he moved between the ragged tents, a spectre seeking the banners of the Count. There, rising higher than the rest, the pavilion of the Count, still lit after four years by lanterns within. Four years of heat, dust, famine, sickness; thousands of leagues, marching over mountain, mud and sand. Blood at Antioch, Ma’arrat, Edessa. Finally to the Holy City.

He set by, expecting to wait, but there – in his priest’s robes, the Count’s confessor left the tent. The Count would be at prayer, giving of his penance. Alone, for a few moments only.

Anjuron used the sharp Kris-knife to cut the seam in the outer canvas and drew the long, curved blade in his right hand. Moving inside, between the drapes and screens, toward the centre of the pavilion until –

At prayer, before his private alter, Count Raimond of Toulouse. One old man. It could be no sin, under orders from Rome itself. What was one more life in all this? A few more spots of blood in the sand.

Kill him.

Raimond’s back was unprotected, but kneeling before the holy cross, absolved of his sins after confession-

Do it now. Kill him.

Raimond raised his head and spoke.

“You stayed your hand too long, boy. You should have struck me down the moment you entered and my prayers be damned.”

To kill a man at prayer will send his soul straight to heaven and yours –

“Still you hesitate. Do I deserve death by your hand or not? Well, are you going to talk to me, boy, or stare at me all night?”

Raimond stood with difficulty and turned, his one good eye fixed on Anjuron.

“Did you think we did not know what you are – Philip Anjuron de la Mer? Impoverished fourth son of a Northern family, bastard sons of of the Northmen, scratching out a living on the coast. No inheritance, no lands and no fire in your heart for the pilgrimage.”

The Count was calm, so assured in his power, his right hand on the crucifix around his neck.

“I know you – Pope Urban’s hired blade. The Saracens have an Order of warriors – the Al-Hashshashin, the slayers in the dark. What are you, Anjuron – pilgrim or assassin?

Just a few steps. Kill him now-

“You call this slaughter a pilgrimage?”

“Ah! He speaks – in his barbaric northern tongue.”

Anjuron was not to be mocked.

“The Emir surrendered the tower and opened the Western Gate – opened this city – for you – on your honour!”

“Honour, assassin? Some I gave safe passage; some I sheltered.”

“How many thousands have died? Ten? Twenty? Forty?”

“We came to cleanse the holy city. To turn the tide. Shall we weep and pray on our knees while the heathen put us to the sword, our faith a vile superstition and we who fight for it – the ignorant or deceived?”

Of all the princes, this one had come for faith. A believer in the Just War, without fear of damnation, waged under Due Authority to advance Christ’s kingdom.

“So we kill Moslems and Jews and Christians alike? Young and old?”

Inshaa’allah. If God wills it.

“You knew what holy war meant when you took the cross. Which I see you have discarded.”

Soldiers of God, put on your armour-

“You have your instructions from the Priest of Rome, himself, You took the silver from the hand of Bishop Adhemar. Surely your soul is safe, Anjuron?”

Adhemar, the priest with sword and armour, scourge of these princes. Dead like so many in the sieges of Antioch.

One strike, one good thrust –

Anjuron raised the Damascus blade and stepped forward – the Count took one step back before gathering his courage.

“If I shout out, there will be twenty armed men in here -”

“Then why don’t you? You will still be dead before me.”

“But you don’t want to die, Anjuron. Not here. Not for this.”

“The barons are going to offer you the crown, make you king of Jerusalem.”

“And I will tell them as I tell you, there is no king in Jerusalem save Christ.”

For all his reputation for war, guile, treachery, in this the Count was sincere.

“I have suffered excommunication – twice. Restoration – twice. I have resolved to die in the Holy Land or see it cleansed. What is it that Rome fears – me, or the miracles that we have seen – here.”

Anjuron followed where Raimond pointed. There, at the foot of the cross, on a low altar – the artifact – the Lance that had pierced the side of Christ and been touched by His blood. A broken and pitted shaft of wood no more than a foot long, topped with a plain, rusted iron tip. The Lance that had produced miracles, called forth Saint Andrew, carried them through the gates of Antioch and over the walls of Jerusalem. There before him.

“I saw a white rider on the hill-”

“ -and you believed!”

Anjuron had followed the Lance to victory on many battlefields. He reached out a hand –

“Is your soul is pure enough to lay hands on the Lance? Dare you risk judgement and righteous fire, Anjuron de la Mer?”

Anjuron halted. The Lance looked nothing but earthly; rusted and decaying, the stubby iron triangle stained red-brown, its’ edges long since blunted. The most devout among them, Peter the Seer had trusted in his faith and walked the burning path carrying the Lance. It did not save him.

Raimond reached down, paused a moment, his scarred and leathery old hand hovering above it. He snatched up the lance, tossed it across the space between them.

Without thinking, Anjuron caught it in his free hand. And froze –

In silence.

– and dared breath again. The lance sat in his clenched fist. There was no light, no righteous fire, only a broken shaft topped with rusted iron.

Raimond had turned away, poured himself wine into a goblet and returned to where Anjuron stood rooted before the cross, the lance clenched tight in one hand, the Damascus blade in the other.

Raimond gently reached out to take the Lance from him, laid it gently on the altar cloth.

“It seems the Holy fire has decided not to purge our souls this night.”

Anjuron lowered the Damascus blade.

Raimond crossed the pavilion to sit in his throne – not the ornate original they had dragged across Europe and Byzantium, lost in skirmishes over the mountains. A sturdy, high-backed chair, fetched from some merchant’s house in the city. Raimond lowered his damaged body to it.

“Tomorrow the barons will make a new crown of thorns for this land but I will not take it. You know what will happen then.”

Anjuron knew. The other princes, Godfrey, Tancred, Behomond would stay and fight each other for the new kingdom, with the adventurers, freebooters, landless sons and mere second-princes. For all the Christian blood spilt on the sand and beneath the walls. For earthly reward. As Raimond went on.

“I must renew my pilgrimage. Complete our mission, but not for Rome…”

Even now the news of this great Christian victory was being carried back to Rome, Byzantium, the kingdoms of Europe. The Holy Land restored.

No.

Anjuron sheathed the blade.

Raimond sat with his head back, eyes closed. The breath wheezed in and out of him. The goblet, still clutched in his hand, tipped outward. A black-red stain spread across the sand beneath it.

Anjuron had hesitated too long. Moving silently, he parted the drapes of the inner ward. No servants had yet returned. A few quick strides and he pulled back the canvas to exit the kings’ pavilion.

“Philip Anjuron de la Mer, you are charged with sedition, with heresy, with violating your oath to his Holiness and the Holy See! Lay down your sword!”

In priests’ robes, before the pavilion, Bishop Boellem, Adhemar’s deputy, his chief of spies. With him, what was left of the Papal Legate’s soldiers. A ring of steel. A dozen of Raimond’s guard approached from further off.

And I believe one holy, Christian, and apostolic Church.

“His grace Count Raimond still lives.”

For how long?

“It is immaterial.”

The priest raised a hand. The first time had been to give Anjuron money; the second, a blessing. This time he signalled his men at arms to move in. Condemned as a traitor to the holy oath and the Church, Anjuron clasped the hilt of the Damascus blade in readiness.

I acknowledge one baptism for the remission of sins and I look for the resurrection of the dead and life of the age to come.

Amen.

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About Robin Catling

Writer; performer; project manager; sports coach; all-round eccentric.
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