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Before the Crusades
“Dear, I’m home.”
The once glorious garden full of reflecting pools and botanical wonders was simply engulfed in death. Wispy mist entangled around the shriveling vines, and the water barely trickled down the marble lips of fountains. The man walked into the room, surrounded by metallic walls and clerestory windows high above him, and as if marking a territory, he struck his sword into the cold, dry soil. A silver gleam reflected off of the walls and lit the room brilliantly. Receiving this signal even through the mist, a woman walked out from behind a gray, metal column in a pale pink dress, and at first, she appeared to be the polar opposite of the gloom that clung to every commodity, if not life, in the room. But with clearer inspection, the man realized, she appeared to resemble a phantom, walking toward him almost ghost-like with sickly pale skin and washed out bluish green eyes that seemed to look through him.
“I liked your garden… what happened to it?” he reached forward; she was only a few steps away, and he put a left hand on her shoulder. Her skin was cool and almost translucent.
“Jakob,” she whispered, “someone came by.”
He knew this already - how else could the garden have been destroyed? But all these minutes before her news, he had kept calm and acted casually, routinely even though she was obviously out of the norm. He had heard from Ralfe that sudden excitement or anxiety could have negative effects upon the baby - every emotion she felt was transmitted and channeled immediately to the baby inside.
But now, his right hand, slowly but surely, reached down to his sword and made a firm grip on the steel. And he did this while still keeping his eyes on hers, watching her.
“Who came by, dear?” he asked. To which she did not answer but beautifully grabbed her protruding stomach and wept.
“Imagine,” she said, “I’ve never cried before in my life. And now I am,” she admitted uselessly. He watched her. “And now I cry every night and every morning. I hate it here. Why does our son have to live and grow in an environment like this? This is the wrong century. For God’s sake, I’m living in a metal cage, going insane, pretending it’s my own garden. I’m going insane!”
I hate it too. So that was how it was. Even after all his attempts to keep things calm and placate, to do his duty as quietly and promptly as possible, to bring his wife happiness, to do what he could do… she was still unhappy. It was inevitable, of course. But crying every morning and night?
The atmosphere was confessional, but he dared not say a word. Instead, he just embraced her oddly with one arm, still keeping his right hand on the grip.
“Just tell me who came, Roxane.”
“I don’t know who, so I can’t tell you. They were probably sent by the doctor’s orders. I don’t know. But I couldn’t do anything about it but hide. Hide! I can’t fight anymore. Not while I’m like this. This situation is ridiculous. I’m not staying here anymore.”
“You have to tell me what they looked like,” he calmly demanded. Roxane was most definitely not like herself. Where was his composed, witty wife with clear cut mannerisms and, well, sanity? She tore apart from his embrace and looked up at him. Then before she could speak, her eyes shifted gazes, and now she really seemed to be staring through him.
“Look behind you,” she whispered.
And then a blow to his right. He pushed her over with his left hand, careful not to shove her too hard. She did not scream nor was she in shock. Instead, she ran over to hide behind a metal column, clutching her stomach. He searched for her eyes, or rather, for the fear in them.
“Roxane! Call Ralfe!”
And then another blow, this time from the front. So quick were the movements that he could barely access any motion until his brain told him the person was actually far off, it was the weapon that was directly attacking him.
His vision was hindered by the mist - the fog that was thickening. He raised his left hand to push down his glasses from his head, only to find out that it wasn’t mist at all but something else that blinded him more by the second.
“Jakob, Jakob,” a low, male voice resounded through the room, and Jakob tried in vain to search for the source. Another blow. This time, he was unable to avoid it. A gash appeared promptly followed by his grunt as he tried to shift his feet. But by losing his vision, he was beginning to lose balance.
“Your wife is lovely,” the stranger was saying, “she blushed while asking me not to harm your little family. A growing family, right? A son.”
Jakob’s focus was entirely on balance now as he tried to keep calm and maintain his stance. A tear seeped out from the corner of his eyes as the mysterious mist begin to envelop his entire face. He thought of Roxane.
“What will be his name?”
And Jakob swung out. It took only a flick of his finger, and his light sword with its almost laser-like tips pricked the stranger, and Jakob knew this because he could hear the audible gasp and the audible sting.
“Let me tell you something. I admire your bravery. But it doesn’t outweigh an unanimous decision.”
“Roxane?” he whispered softly.
This told Jakob that the stranger was near, and all it took now was just another flick of the finger at the right angle. His feet shuffled, and his stomach coiled, but with all his strength, his muscles spasmodically reacting to the mist clinging around him - he swung out.
A shout of pain, and a figure fell limply to the floor, but she was held by the stranger.
And the stranger pulled out a black tube. Suddenly, with a low grumbling sound, the mist disappeared, sucked into the tube.
Two things happened at once - Jakob noticed from the peripheral vision of his left eye that Roxane was on the ground, faint, with a red pool collected around her, and from his right eye, he noticed the stranger pulling out his weapon of choice.
”Who came by, dear?” the stranger mocked, “Who the f*** do you think!”
And Jakob dodged one blow after another, he struck one blow after another, but through it all, he knew, he had given up.
As a general, Jakob was well aware that he should not drive his army with revenge in his veins. In fact, his mind was used to calculating rapidly with alarming capacity - he calculated the chances, the profits, the losses all in a second or two.
And now he realized the loss - and he realized the defeat - and he realized that the sorrow of the loss far outweighed the desire for revenge. And because it would have been inhumane not to have felt any need to justify this sorrow, he charged at this stranger at full speed, questioning, at the same time, why this individual would have so much animosity toward Jakob.
It came from his guts. His sword found the pressure points mechanically. All his training, all his efforts, all his strength was directed toward this stranger. As a general, he was used to this of course, but nothing was clear. He realized the philosophical circumstance more than he realized the routine - which was the worst for any fighter.
Minutes later, the stranger was weakened. In expertise and skill alone, Jakob, without question, prevailed. With one more strike to the man’s backbone, and Jakob would not have to face the amber eyes again. The man would aptly crumble to the ground, literally, and his hands would turn into dust, reacting from the chemical instilled inside Jakob’s weapon. His heart would stop beating within moments, and the pain would be excruciating for those few moments, and his eyes would perform clear vision in those last seconds of life.
Jakob reflected on the uniqueness of this situation - he had never analyzed a man’s death before so insightfully, so methodically even after the many murders he had committed before. Perhaps - he mused in a split second - he thought this way after he had killed his own wife.
He didn’t have the time to contemplate. He forced the laser upon the backbone, slicing him open straight down the middle. And unexpectedly, a dark violet liquid poured out. Jakob reached down and touched the pool and lifted it up to his nose.
A drug. In a tube. A tube that Jakob cracked in order to kill this man who had been drugged. Mad.
But he had other things in mind; he was now kneeling before Roxane on the cold cement, apart from the garden.
She was moaning, clutching her stomach, peering below to see that the blood had collected all around her, surrounding her. She was trembling horribly.
“He’s dead, isn’t he?”
He immediately assumed the baby, and without further ado, he picked up his wife in both hands, dropping his sword onto the ground with a clatter.
“Did you call Ralfe?”
“He’s dead, Jakob.”
Still, she meant the baby. The baby.
“Did you call Ralfe.”
“I don’t remember,” she mumbled, and then she screamed in pain. “Jakob!” she yelled. He was afraid.
Yes, he was afraid. “Yes, Roxane?”
“The baby! He’s alive,” she was saying. Everything blurred. Everything melted in the chilly atmosphere. Everything was foreign. Then the door burst open before he could put down Roxane to open it, and Ralfe rushed in.
“What’s going on?” he was shocked.
“The baby,” Jakob said.
“The… the baby,” Ralfe was muttering. “What the h*** happened here?!” he was yelling. It was alarming. Roxane started sobbing. “We need a doctor!”
Thank you for the obvious. “Do we have any transportation ready?”
“It’s too late for that!” Ralfe shouted. Jakob wished he would stop shouting. It was hurting his brain. “But Alexa’s in the car! I was going somewhere with her when you called. Let me get her! Roxane has to have the baby here…”
And Jakob set Roxane down on the cold ground to which he could feel her nerves rejecting. He set her down and hugged her. He hugged her hard, careful not to squeeze her too hard. He hugged her and silently wept into her hair and then composed himself while Ralfe rushed back outside. He wanted to apologize - for everything but did not say a word. Roxane’s lips were now bleeding from biting on them too hard.