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Come What May

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"Do your duty, come what may" -Code of the Knights Templar

Have you ever watched the blood of an innocent boil in the blinding desert sun? Have you ever gazed out into the darkening skies and seen naught but the corpses of a thousand men? Have you ever wept for your fallen brothers even as the battle cries of the far-off warriors echo around the canyon walls? I have seen this and more; I have stared Death incarnate in its warped and twisted face and pulled away to yet live. It was not always this way, with the only true universal language existing in the blade and its only translator the journey into the afterlife. Once, this unspoiled paradise of God knew kind words, the love of those brought together by faith, and the sounds of joyous laughter. Now, though, in this one-thousandth and ninety-first year of the Lord, the Holy Land lays stained red with the slaughter, and no end seems within reach.

My men and I hail from Europe; the individual kingdoms of which we each called home, I could not recount. They call it the "Beacon of Light" in these dark times, the eternal civilization that will vanquish the demons of Arabia and restore Christ's justice to these sacred grounds, but I see no bright signal of hope among the Crusader armies. So many have died these past few days outside the walls of Acre, and the Saracens bring down more brave ones with every passing moment. These farmers-turned-soldiers, trading their plowshares for swords and their families for military rank... my heart aches for the terrible sacrifices they all shall make... the terrible sacrifices WE all shall make. I am no fool, after all, and I realize that my life is just as much a pawn for Richard's grand game as any other. That snapping crimson banner once gave me the strength to charge back into the spears and axes, with its golden lions roaring after me at the barbarian hordes, but not any longer. It can only serve me now as a grim reminder that the noble cause I once swore my soul to has faded under the piles of rotting bodies, men with stories and lives all their own reduced to little but food for the rats and skybirds.

What was it that the old women I watched die at Arsuf muttered before her god claimed her? She closed her eyes and knelt before my blade, all fear drained from her frail being as she raised her arms to the heavens. Neither the red cross emblazoned on my robes nor the cold steel of my sword seemed to strike her with apprehension, and when her mouth at last did open, words of such beauty I have never before or since heard filled the air between us. I do not profess to be any great scholar of the infidels, with their sweeping symbols and clacking tongues, but even I cannot deny that the passage she recalled then among the dying brought tears to my eyes with its intrinsic wonder. And when at last her voice quibbled and died, I stayed my hand, unsure for the first time as to what the true will of the Lord might be.

His intentions were soon after seen to be unchanged, of course, as the Crusader arrow with its cross-shaped fletchings pierced her heart and brought her tumbling to the cold earth. I sheathed my blade and quietly uttered a single line of the Creed, barely audible even to myself with the deadly clang of steel on steel so close-at-hand. I bent and collected the small talisman the woman had clutched in her hands as she left this world behind and slipped it within the folds of my tunic, not entirely sure what had taken hold of me. And then, as always, the harsh realities of existence tugged at my swordhand, and I returned to the work of the Templar proper.

That night, as the men celebrated the routing of Salah ad-Din and his army, I retreated to the shattered walls of the mosque where the innocent men and women of Arsuf had once come to beg for peace from their heathen god. I laid my sword upon the tilework of the strange altar and hung my helmet upon its pommel. Pulling back my cowl and allowing, for the first time in many days, for the brilliant light of the moon to fall upon my eyes, I bent over the alien symbols and retrieved the old woman's talisman. With the cheers and jubilations of the victorious Crusaders reaching me even here, I closed my eyes and spoke the words of the Lord's Prayer within a place never meant to understand its meaning.

When the last words had finally rung out in the desolate temple, I dropped the old pendant onto the altar and recovered my belongings. Jerusalem, still in the hands of the Muslim kings, waited for the unending waves of the Pope's holy war machine, and I knew that I had to be prepared to lead my men to its ancient walls. I left the broken mosque that night and have never returned, but it seems that something of it came with me, even now, to Acre. I find myself wondering what God sees when he looks down upon his servants, and if he would ever take up the barbarian talisman and enter the ruins of a condemned enclave to weep upon its polished floors.

A ship leaves this afternoon from our encampment, bound for England and its sparkling cityscapes, untouched by the horrors of war. As a Templar, I have the authority to scale the boarding ramp and make haste for home, but I think I have happened upon a new one here on the battlefields where Life meets Death. My horse is fed and watered, and I have heard that the monks of Christ in Jerusalem are permitted to worship in their own right alongside the heathens I have come to lay low with my blade. I will never again be allowed to set foot in the forgotten countrysides of England, but Richard can surely tend to them without me. Perhaps I can even learn how to speak those magical words passed on to me by a damned woman at the moment of her demise.

And now, as I mount my steed and take one last glimpse at the smoke curling up from the crumbling walls of Acre, I realize the most beautiful truth of all; I must do my duty, not to any cruel and manipulative God, but to myself, come what may. And now, for Jerusalem I ride... come what may.





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