The fire in the broad hearth of the practical quarters of Markus, son of Edelstan, cracked and whined. It had been the only sound for the last hour, and its warmth was more than sufficient for the body. But Markus could not feed the flame enough to fight off the unnatural chill that clung to his bones. Upon a chair, he smoked a crude hand-made pipe and glared at the woven tunic sitting upon a coffer across the room; the Red Cross upon the chest shown brilliant in the blazing light.
The latch on the door lifted and fell. Markus got up quickly, moving in haste to the chest. “Come,” he said. By the time the door opened, he sat upon the edge of the box, the tunic sufficiently in his shadow.
Mairín presented herself plainly (as usual): a simple full-length dress of canary blue with a pattern of deeper blue swirling from shoulder to shoulder across the modest front. In her hands were clean blankets topped by a pouch of tobacco and fresh pieces of shortbread.
“And how is our guest?” Markus wondered aloud when the door latched behind her.
Mairín placed the items onto a small table near the fireplace. “He accepted only the necessities,” she responded.
Charle was a member of a Blessed Order, as Markus had once been. Of course he would deny all comforts not allowed by his station. Markus had always enjoyed the presence of the brothers of the Baptist saint. They were a Godly group of servants—excellent manners, skilled healers, clear wisdom, and deadly enough to any who would oppose them un-mounted.
Markus saw Mairín moving to exit, clearly interpreting Markus’s silence as a desire to be left alone. Or perhaps she had come for a different reason (at the behest of Charle to convince him of his duty?) and now thought the better of it.
“What is on your mind, milady?”
She paused, her back facing him, probably to help gain composure— “Why does a Knight of Christ hesitate to set foot upon a road laid before him?”
So she had heard the conversation, or been made privy to its basic nature. Mairín was not the prying type, so perhaps this knowledge she bore was the will of God. Or perhaps she was speaking in the context of lingering pain from an adolescent conversation long ago, when he showed no hesitance towards the East after her professed love to him. “What could be in Jerusalem that I do not already have here?”
“I know that you are distressed, milord. And it is said that Jerusalem can heal this; perhaps what is awaiting you there even moreso.”
“Ah.” Markus took a long draw on his pipe. “Well, at present the Saracen controls its sacred walls. Only a Christian who is expired, or very wealthy, is given leave to pass safely through its great gates.” Markus settled himself upon the chest behind him. “And good Percy was less than clear as to what awaits me in the blessed Church of the Sepulchre—a sanctuary that was reduced to ruin the last time its enemies took the city. Am I to brave all these things on a whim, for some trinket shackled to a dead man’s wisdom in a place that assuredly no longer exists in this world to serve men?”
She turned to face him now. “Even so, God has charged you there.”
Now Markus wondered if she was trying to rid herself of his person, so the memory would wane to nothing, as a wisp of smoke from an extinguished candle. “God, or the Church?”
She turned to him with a resoluteness in her eyes and posture that made Markus’s heart leap. “Are they not the same?”
Were they? Certainly in the early centuries following Christ and his disciples; like water on parched soil did the words of Ignatius, Clement, Polycarp, and Athanasius water the soul. But Charlemagne, in his efforts to govern the vast Kingdom of the Franks, fed dangerous fuel to the gorging fire-tempest that is the depravity conceived in every womb: his political manoeuvrings birthed lies and damaging rivalries, as much in the blessed sanctuaries as in the royal courts.
In the time that Markus had spent in the East, the things he had experienced as ‘Sir Honour’ were indicative of a Church ever more falling to the temptation of invoking the Divine to legitimize thrones (thus receiving immense tithes and reciprocal favours in ecclesiastical appointments); those counselling God-inspired wisdom in government and servanthood were finding a tougher audience. The perceived behaviour of the bishops and princes spoke well to the born nature excited to kill for its own sake, to the iniquitous flesh oft-revolted by repentance. Such lawlessness overtook some of his own Templar brothers, convinced none would condemn such elite fighting men; eschewing rebuke they falsely believed the promise of absolution was assured, without condition or the pain of humility, to ‘holy Knights’.
Despite all this, Markus had found that faith and penitence weighed upon the spirits of most of his fellows and the soldiers with whom he and his Order served daily. They appreciated the solemnity of their task to guard the Church, without thought of gain, dedicating their service with sincerity to the glory of Christ—like the chivalric warriors Gawain and Perceval (and others of Arthur’s court), Roland the Frank, and the Cid of Iberia, recounted so often through story and song. Thirsting for righteousness in the sight of Heaven, beneath the Cross of their salvation, these decent men embraced the preaching of Urban II (and the popes thereafter) that they would be relieved of all penance for their sins while they selflessly preserved the Christian kingdoms and defended pilgrims upon their pious journeys.
Markus, with all Christendom, agreed: the Saracen armies needed to be checked, the holy places protected from their hateful destructiveness. But there was something missing in the way the Church preached on this good work; the notion that one could make war in exchange for spiritual mercy had been fiercely debated ahead of Urban’s controversial speech at Claremont. Simple belief in Christ had become lost inside the great fortress of the Holy See: ‘right-action’ meant keeping alive Church traditions and rules without question; severe ‘miscreants’ were reprimanded, or even excommunicated, in the hope judgment on a few would keep the many in line to serve the uneasy peace among the realms and the ambitions of the papal Curia. Markus recalled being taught by his captain of Jesus rebuking the Jews for giving equal—even higher—value to the fallible laws of religious councils over the salvificus exhortations of God through the Prophets, for shaping their spiritual identity around foundations of sand instead of their distinctive character as ‘God’s people, mercifully chosen, to bear witness’ as ‘living stones built upon the Capstone, that is Christ.’