Seeing the imminence of his doom retreating, the Hospitaller said, “Indeed our brother knew you of your choice to become mute and blind. This he explained as the necessary reason for why I had to commit his message to you solely to mind.”
The Knight’s heart wrenched at the appeal for mercy. He regained his feet and placed a hand on the shoulder of the Saxon lord. “Let not your attack on my person disrupt your peace. Of all your time with our Percy, did he not remind you that a heavy heart which need not be heavy troubles God as much as any transgression?”
Markus turned his gaze to look upon the Hospitaller, but the man had taken little hope from the absolution. The hint of a smile flashed briefly across the young Lord’s lips. “Perhaps God desires to save me after all,” he said with a nod. “What name have you?”
“I am called Charle.”
Markus picked up his sword: Charle noticed it had two small inset Crosses on either end of the cross-guard, a third, larger, was set within the pommel—all three were comprised of gold; there was writing along the guard and fuller of which the Hospitaller could not make out. “And where is your true and honourable blade?”
Charle indicated a place beside the entrance. “I put it there upon the bench, so as not to unsettle the servant girl.”
Markus looked at Charle briefly. “That was no servant girl. Her name is Mairín and she is a free lady on these lands as if she was my kin.”
“I beg your forgiveness, Sir Honour.”
“I will not judge ignorance,” Markus replied evenly. “And please, call me Markus. ‘Sir Honour the Templar’ perished with the rest of Christian hope for Outremer at Hattin.
He walked to the bench and placed his sword beside that of his guest’s: “Now if I should find reason to lose my wits again, you will have the fair chance to separate them from this body.” The moment, meant to be filled by the brief exhale of a laugh or some other manner of lightening the air, instead remained discomfited between the two weary Knights.
The lord ambled across the room, back to his place across from Charle. “So, what of this message from our brother, Hospitaller?”
“In brief,” Charle replied around a crust of bread, “Percy left a ‘token of great value’ to you at the Church marking the Most Holy Resurrection of our Lord Christ.” Charle reached beneath his cloak.
Markus sucked in a breath, loosed it again saturated with contempt, and dug a finger into the grain of the table. “Percy and his riddles.”
The forehead of the Hospitaller creased; he removed his hand from whatever he meant to retrieve. “Why do you perceive a mystery?”
Markus looked from beneath his cloak of irritation. “Brother Knight, we soldiers of the Cross are hardly allowed more than battle to help digest our food and fray our clothes. Along with our Creator, we share these common elements. There is nothing that Percy would have possessed of mine that was not also his, and of equal importance. If there was one thing we did not have in common it was his love of playful ambiguity. More than once I was witness to him sending a man on a road with little more than a proverb and God’s blessing. If they returned it was red-faced and ready to cuff our blessed Percy for sending them on a road that yielded little more than soulful reflection and sunburn.”
Charle watched him.
“Are you very sure this is all Percy intended for you?” the Hospitaller asked finally.
“As sure as God’s righteous Judgment,” Markus responded.
“So his purpose could not have been to compel these men to walk with their Lord a spell? Possibly to embrace penance in preparation of Mass? Or to simply appreciate the land, the people for which they fought, the good Providence from the Lord of Heaven?”
Charle waited for a response from his host, but none was forthcoming.
“Very well, Markus. The ‘common element’ of ‘equal importance’ awaits you at the Most Holy Sepulchre of our Lord Jesus Christ.”
The Saxon prince was immediately defensive. “You spoke that your intentions were not to uproot me, Hospitaller! I find it beyond curious that your presence so conveniently parallels that of the call by King Richard of England to form an army to liberate Jerusalem.”
The Hospitaller bowed and raised his head amicably, but his words were as darts. “A pardon for my lack of clarity. My hope that you would have stayed in this land remains. It is the words of Percy which confirms your road and the king’s are the same, even though your purposes are not.”
Markus took a chair before the hearth. For long minutes he sat there, losing himself to the rhythm of the fire as Charle watched, then joined him in a chair beside that of his host. He could imagine the conversations Percy must have had with this Templar, and he could picture Percy liking this young lord very much. Percy never made a man into something he was not; he took each of God’s creatures as they were and sent them on paths he felt they needed to walk, that God might do His Work upon them.
Markus would not be intimidated. “At present I must remain here until my sister returns.”
“And after?” Charle did not enjoy it, to push, but he knew Percy would have; there was much at stake.
“With Richard leaving I think it best if I remain here. My father liked Richard; he was convinced that for all the Plantaget’s foibles he was fair, and was owed our loyalty. But our good king is too little in his kingdom. This breeds enemies, lawlessness, injustice…”
Markus turned from the hearth with ferocity: “No one loved our brother more than I, Charle. But Percy was not a man with family, or land seen as ripe for plucking.”
“Knights of our Order take oaths, severing us from that which would bond us to this world.”
“Even without oath, men are warned by Christ to make no thing equal or above the LORD, Who is our salvation. Surely the well-being of the soul entrusted to you is considered before family, country, and the security of one’s temporal holdings.” Charle noted that the hearth was not responsible for the flame now kindled in the eyes of the Templar.
“I have freely given myself and the resources of this land to the service of God, Church, and man, Charle; I will not have my loyalty or love of God questioned! If God desires me upon the road you have made known to me then I shall be turned upon it as did God to Blessed Jonah!”
Nothing further concerning the matter at hand passed between them, and both used the time to consider what to do next.
It was Markus who finally spoke, in an even tone that might be considered friendly on another day. “Do you have lodging for the night, Charle?”
The Hospitaller indicated that he did not; “…if it is convenient for you.”
“Hospitality is not offered on this blessed land with the consideration of convenience. Consider this House your home.”
“You are gracious, sir. My stay must be brief as I am to be in Brittany before the moon is full.”
Markus nodded. “You will have full provision for yourself and horse when you see fit to depart.”
“Blessings on this house,” Charle replied after he had retrieved his sword. Then he departed, perceiving the Lord of Audaciter-Deus watched after him, even long after the he had disappeared into the deep shadows of twilight.