• Published 26th Feb 2018
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A 14th Century Friar in Celestia's Court - Antiquarian



Providence is an odd thing. Friar Jacques de Charrette, warrior monk of the Hospitallers, will learn this the hard way as a vision leads him to Equestria, where he and his newfound friends will face a diabolical threat.

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Dreams and Visions

The dream came again; the same dream he’d had the last three nights. But though he knew it was a dream, he was powerless to alter it.

The blazing Mediterranean sun beat down upon his head, sweltering under the best of circumstances, but an inferno under his chainmail hauberk and iron helm. Saracen soldiers surged through the streets, sweeping away what little resistance they met, scimitars flashing in the light. Brother Jacques de Charette of the Knights Templar knew the place well. It was Acre, gateway to the Mediterranean, the last great bastion of the Crusaders in the Holy Land, 1291 A.D.

Today was the day it fell.

Littering the street around him were the bodies of fighting men, both Christian and Muslim. When he’d first made his stand on the wide thoroughfare, he’d been backed by eleven other Templars and sixty men-at-arms. Now, fewer than a quarter of the common soldiers remained, and only four of the knights. It was a hopeless fight, and they all knew it. But they had been ordered to hold that street, and until that changed they would stand or die.

“Close ranks!” shouted Jacques over the melee, bashing the nearest Saracen with his kite shield and finishing him off with a strike of his longsword. “Don’t let them separate you!” An enemy thrust at him with a spear and he almost failed to deflect it as he stumbled over the corpse of a fallen comrade. The Templar spat a curse under his breath. “Withdraw ten yards!”

The remaining soldiers pulled together in a clump, shields to the front and polearms to the back. They beat an orderly withdrawal to a narrower part of the street, in part to make themselves more difficult to surround, and in part to stand on solid ground rather than bodies. Striking from a firmer footing, they forced the invading army to brave the uneven terrain just to reach the wall of iron and spears. The enemy advance slowed as they met the entrenched force.

Slowed, but did not stop.

“I don’t think they intend to leave, Jacques,” commented Brother Andrew dryly. The brawny English Templar spit his opponent on the point of his sword as he chatted. “Still, it’s been a good show, all things considered. I imagine we’ve made this quite a hassle for them.”

“You give up too easily,” retorted Jacques, hacking down a spearman who got too close. “We might still be reinforced.”

“Yes, well, they’ll be reinforcing a cemetery before long,” sighed Andrew, who paused his melancholy observations to shove a Saracen back from the line, where he was easy prey for the spear of a man-at-arms. “But I suppose this is our lot in life: to be abandoned by Europe, Rome, and now our own army.”

Jacques snorted. “Have a little faith, Brother.”

Andrew spared a moment to cock an eyebrow, a near pointless gesture given the full-faced helm he wore. “My, aren’t we cheery today. Anything to account for your unwarranted optimism?”

The French knight didn’t answer immediately, and the distraction of the battle had little to do with it. In truth, he knew the outlook was bleak; there were no reinforcements to be had, and the battle was a loss. Yet, somehow, he knew this would not be the end for them. “As I said, Brother. Have faith.”

No sooner had the words left his mouth than the Saracens pulled back, summoned by an urgent horn blow. Brother Andrew raised the visor on his helm to gape as the unprecedented occurred, then turned to stare at his old friend. Brother Jacques, for his part, kept his eyes forward and his helmet on. After all, since he’d made such a bold proclamation about having faith, it simply wouldn’t have done to let Andrew see his look of foolish shock on his face. “Deus Vult,” he said, as calmly as he could manage.

Andrew blinked. “Deus Vult indeed.”

There was movement in the Saracen lines, and a moment later a man emerged, walking alone towards the Crusaders. He was dressed like an Arab, and carried a scimitar and round shield. Reaching the mid-point between the two forces, he called out in French, “I seek to parley with your leader.”

Jacques glanced at Andrew, who shrugged, before stepping forward to meet the Arab. The man was tall for his people, with expressive features and a black beard. His arms and armor were of fine make, but there was no gaudiness about them, suggesting a man too busy with the business of soldiering to bother putting on airs. His deep brown eyes were those of a man used to hardship, but the wrinkles around them suggested that he laughed a lot.

With another half a foot of height and a lighter tone of skin, mused Jacques, he wouldn’t look all that different from me.

With an approving nod Jacques removed his helmet so as to better look the other man in the eye. As he felt his sweat drenched scalp breath in the fresh air, he reflected on the irony that it was an enemy who had given him the first chance to remove his helmet since the previous day.

The man gave a polite bow and introduced himself. “I am Commander Karim ad-Din,” he announced in flawless French. “I have been charged with securing this passage.”

The Templar smiled, impressed by the other’s command of his language. “I am Brother Jacques de Charette of the Knights Templar,” he replied in Arabic that was admittedly worse than Karim’s French. “And I am charged with preventing you from doing just that.”

Karim gave a toothy grin. “Then it would appear that we are at an impasse, my friend.”

“It would appear so,” chuckled Jacques.

“We are both fighting men, Sir Jacques. We both know the inevitable outcome of this fight. I wish to press forward without losing more men or having to find another path, and you doubtless would prefer not to lose what remains of your company.” He paused, waiting for Jacques to interject. When the knight did not, he continued. “If you agree to withdraw now, I will order my men not to pursue you. It would serve no purpose to kill you for a battle that has already been decided. If you leave, you will live to rejoin the battle at a later point, or to return to your ships and evacuate with the rest of your army. What say you?”

Jacques dipped his head and, with genuine regret, replied, “It is a tempting offer, Sir Karim, but no. I am bound by my duty to hold this street until I am ordered otherwise. I cannot disobey without risking my soul. I trust that you understand?”

Karim nodded, also sorrowful. “Indeed I do. Our beliefs are not so different that I cannot comprehend the strength of your oaths.” He shrugged. “Still, there is no need for all your men to die. I have a proposition for you.” Cocking an eyebrow, Jacques motioned for him to continue. “You and I shall fight for this street. The loser shall withdraw his men, and the victor shall agree not to pursue them.”

The Templar considered the offer. While duels of this nature were seldom found in pitched battle, it was not unheard of. And, realistically, his men would be overrun eventually. The duel gave him the best chance of keeping them alive while still following orders.

Still, it did hinge on a rather vital detail. “And your men would withdraw were you to die?”

“You have my word on that. And yours?”

Nodding, he replied, “You have it.”

For a moment they stared in silence, reading each other. Karim was the first to speak, smirking as he did so. “And you’d trust the word of an ‘infidel?’”

Jacques smiled. “I trust the word of any true warrior, infidel or not, and I trust God to settle accounts if I am wrong. Do you trust my word?”

Karim shrugged. “The Caliph trusts you Templars with his money, and he is a wealthy man. Besides, as you said, true warriors must trust each other, and God will settle the accounts of the duplicitous.”

They stood in silence a moment longer. To Jacques, it felt as though even the roar of warfare around them faded into the background as the two men measured each other’s characters. At length he nodded. “I accept your terms.”

The Arab gave another toothy grin. “Then we are in agreement, my friend. I shall inform my men.”

“As shall I.” They exchanged a quick bow before returning to their lines. Not surprisingly, there were concerns.

“I don’t like it,” grimaced Andrew. “What makes you think this infidel can be trusted?”

Jacques shook his head. “I saw no deception in him. And, even if I did, what is there to lose?”

Andrew chewed his lip for a moment, then nodded. “Well, God has always blessed you with insight. If He wills it, you will have victory.”

“Indeed. And if not,” he reached out an arm to clasp with his comrade. “It has been an honor, Brother.”

Bidding farewell to his men, Jacques strode back to the open space between the two forces. Karim bowed again at his approach. “May God decide the victor, my friend,” pronounced the Arab.

“And may He grant salvation to the loser,” replied the Templar, returning the bow.

The two combatants took ready stances, swords and shields raised, and began circling. Jacques stepped gingerly to avoid trapping his foot in the littering of corpses. For a time the fighters simply moved, sizing the other up. Then, without verbal agreement, they charged. Karim’s warcry was beyond Jacques’ limited Arabic, but he suspected that his own bellow needed no translation. “Deus Vult!

They met with the clash of iron on steel. Jacques was swift, but Karim was swifter still, and his scimitar swung three times for every one strike of the Templar. Jacques was forced on the defensive, using his broad kite shield to absorb blow after blow. It was like a tropical storm beating against a rock: Karim’s hail of blows showed no signs of slowing, and Jacques’ defenses showed no signs of slackening. But the Templar knew that such contests ultimately favored him; if he could but weather the flurry of blows, eventually Karim would make a mistake or lose his strength.

Seeming to realize this, Karim shifted tactics, darting back and forth to strike around the shield and forcing the more heavily armored man to spend more energy maintaining his guard. Jacques countered with a feinting jab to break the Arab’s rhythm, followed by a heavy swing intended to remove the sword arm, but Karim dodged to the side without apparent effort. Jacques followed the dodge, shield up, attempting to use his superior bulk to overrun his enemy, trusting in his chainmail to protect him from anything that might break his guard. Karim narrowly sidestepped the charge, but could not escape the sweep of the knight’s blade which shattered his round shield.

Jacques gave a grunt of satisfaction, followed by a grunt of shock as he felt a sharp pain in his side. He pulled back from his foe, glancing down to see blood spurt from just below his ribs. The Templar’s eyes snapped to Karim, who had stepped back against a shop wall. The Arab discarded his now useless shield and took a two-handed grip on his sword.

On his Damascus steel sword! realized Jacques, knowing that any lesser metal would have been turned aside by his heavy armor. He gripped his own blade more tightly. But it won’t stop me. Even with that sword, the wound wasn’t deep. Knowing that he couldn’t give his foe a moment to rest, he charged again, his blade held up for a downward swipe. Karim started to shift to the side to deflect the downward blow…

Just as Jacques had known he would. Switching his grip mid-charge he thrust rather than hacked, spearing for the man’s heart. Karim swung his sword desperately to block the blow. He failed to stop the thrust, but did succeed in deflecting it. Straight into the wall.

By some ill-fated chance Jacques’ sword managed to lodge itself directly between two of the stones. Biting back a curse, the knight tried to yank the blade free, but Karim, once again, was faster. The Arab threw his shoulder into the blade just as Jacques pulled back. The result was a metallic snap as the blade was split in two. Jacques stumbled back, releasing the hilt and nearly losing his footing on the bodies as he swung his shield to protect his flank. It was well that he did, for Karim recovered more quickly and advanced with a flurry of blows, wielding his scimitar in one hand and Jacques’ shattered hilt in the other as a dagger. The Templar was managing to hold him back, but he knew that he wouldn’t last for long. Karim had the edge in speed, and was strong enough that Jacques could not simply beat him down with his shield without leaving himself open to attack. It’s just a chance I’ll have to take. He sent a quick prayer heavenward, tensed for the charge—

And then Karim tripped.

It was just a moment; an unfortunate slip of the foot that caught him fast between two bodies and temporarily unbalanced him, but it was all Jacques needed. He bull-rushed his vulnerable opponent, bludgeoning him to the ground with his shield and knocking the scimitar from the man’s grasp. Karim scrambled to stab at his leg with the sword hilt, but Jacques saw the strike coming and planted his boot firmly on the man’s wrist. He cocked his shield back, the edge aimed for a strike at the throat. Karim looked up, saw death poised above him, and closed his eyes.

“Yield.”

Karim’s eyes flitted open. “What?”

“I said yield,” Jacques repeated.

The beaten man blinked slowly. “I…” A slow grin spread over his face. “I yield, of course.”

His victory secure, Jacques stepped back and pulled the Arab to his feet, giving him a hearty slap on the shoulder. “Well fought,” he remarked. “If you hadn’t tripped I imagine you might have won that.”

Karim shrugged giving a toothy grin. “It would seem that God wanted you to win, my friend.” Jacques chuckled. Then Karim’s face fell, becoming deathly serious. “Of course, that is because you still have work to do for Him.” Alarm bells rang in Jacques’ head. Karim, what are you— Karim put a hand on his shoulder, his eyes sorrowful. “You were right to trust me at Acre, old friend. Those with integrity are to be prized, even amongst enemies. It is a shame that the same could not be for your allies.”

Before Jacques could ask what the man meant, he felt a sharp impact in his back. Looking down, he saw the tip of a sword protruding from his chest. The tip of a European longsword. With a cough he sprayed blood over the regretful Karim as the blade was ripped out. Jacques sagged to the ground, twisting as he fell to see the carnage behind him. Agonized screams echoed across the battlefield as faceless men garbed as executioners and wielding instruments of torture fell upon his comrades from behind and slaughtered them. The beleaguered Crusaders had no chance to fight as the torturous implements ripped them apart with inhuman swiftness. The last to fall was Andrew, whose broken cries echoed to the heavens as blood poured from his mouth, nose, and eyeless sockets.

No!” roared Jacques. He tried to rise to his feet, hand grasping for a sword, a dagger, anything, but a heavy boot kicked him in the hole in his chest. He bellowed in pain as the boot forced him to the ground.

“Templars,” spat a contemptuous voice in Jacques’ own French. “Never know when to lie down and die, do you.” Tears of pain and grief sprang to Jacques’ eyes as he looked up to see the face of his tormenter. King Philip IV, ruler of France, stared back, with the air of a man regarding an insect. “Troublesome little thing,” remarked the king. “A pity I didn’t exterminate your kind when I had the chance.” He punctuated the word by digging his heel into the wound. Jacques screamed as his body was wracked with torment that went beyond the physical wound. But, in the midst of his pain, he forced himself to look into the eyes of this traitor, this monster, and he saw—

Smoke. Purple-black smoke, pouring from serpentine eyes of red and sickly green. “You cannot stop what is coming, mortal,” continued king, his voice growing deep and echoing as though hundreds of voices had joined together in a perverse chant. “You never could.” He raised a bloodied longsword for the final blow.

Jacques forced his eyes to stay open in spite of the pain. I won’t give him the satisfaction of cowering, he vowed, resolving to take a martyr’s death. The blade swung down, and he prepared for the end.

But the end did not come. As the executioner’s blade sped for his skull, there was a flash of light, and a gleaming blade stopped the strike dead. The metal had the shimmer of Damascus steel, but though Karim held the blade it wasn’t his scimitar. It was Jacques’ longsword, reborn in a new form.

The king glared at the interloper. “You dare interfere?”

“His life has never belonged to you, demon,” came the reply. As with the king, Karim’s voice had become one of many chanting, but where the king’s voice was an unholy cacophony, the Arab’s had taken on an angelic tone, one which bespoke harmony at its deepest level. “He was claimed long ago, and shall not depart before his work is done.” The voice hardened. “In God’s Name, begone!”

The monster in the king’s form gave an inhuman shriek before vanishing in an acrid cloud of brimstone and ash. Jacques shuddered in horror, terrified to move. Above him, the being that wore Karim’s form sighed. “Your battles are not all behind you, Jacques de Charette.” The entity sheathed the sword with a flourish, and as the blade twisted in the air it flashed with a rainbow of vibrant colors, blues and purples, oranges and pinks, yellows and whites, and many more besides. “You will face challenges beyond your imaginings, and find worlds beyond your dreams.” Stepping to stand over Jacques, the being held out a hand for him to grasp. “It is an arduous journey that lies before you, but a rewarding one.” The Templar took the grip that was offered him, and the pain in his chest vanished at the touch. Karim’s face leaned in close. “But remember this, Jacques de Charette. God is the source of all harmony.” Jacques looked into Karim’s eyes, and there flashed a brilliant image of a female figure with lavender eyes and the countenance of the sun. “And where you find harmony, there you shall find God.”

Jacques sat bolt upright in a cold sweat, gasping for air like a drowning man. A hand snapped to his chest where he’d been stabbed.

It found only scar tissue. Looking down at his bare chest he saw dozens of scars, some of which were three decades old while most were more recent. His gnarled hands trembled as he reached for the crucifix that hung around his neck, fumbling for it in his nervousness. The injuries he’d sustained had been years ago, now, but in the dream they’d felt so real, so visceral. And then there’d been the monstrous hellspawn with the face of that animal Philip and—

Shuddering, Jacques clenched his hand around the cross and forced himself to look around the room. His cell at the monastery was small, and its furnishings spartan. The cot he lay on was little more than a plank; the crucifix that looked over his bed was plain and hand-carved; the small table by his cot was simple wood, as was the stool where he sometimes sat to pray. On it was folded a pair of black monastic robes, each emblazoned with an eight-pointed white Hospitaller cross.

All exactly as he’d left it the night before.

Jacques ran a hand through his greying hair and took a deep breath to calm his thoughts. What he’d just endured was no ordinary nightmare. It had started as simply a dream of that battle in Acre all those years ago, but what had come next…

He rose to his feet, ignoring the cold of the early spring air. He might not be able to make sense of the dream, but, providentially, he knew someone who could. Even in the darkness he clad himself without difficulty, moving with regimented purpose as he donned sandals, robe, rosary, and corded belt. Unconsciously, he mumbled passages from the sixth chapter of Ephesians under his breath. Reaching for his sword he—

Wait. Jacques looked down at his weapon. The longsword was leaned in the corner, where it had sat unused since he’d first arrived at this monastery. He hadn’t needed it, after all. His battles were all behind him. Better to leave it here as a memory of the gift it was and, besides, he had no business carrying a bladed weapon anymore. Yes, it’s better to leave it here.

So why did I reach for it?

The man stood for a moment, hand clenching and unclenching reflexively as he considered the best course of action. Well, he reasoned at length, perhaps old Methuselah will know what to do with it. He seized the sword by its scabbard. He thought about hitching it to his belt, but elected to carry it instead.

Taking a final deep breath, he left his cell to seek counsel for his dreams.

Little did he know that he would never set foot in it again.


Great Priory St. Gilles, Provencal, Commandry of the Knights of St. John, Anno Domini 1321

The halls of the Hospitaller Priory were empty with the lateness of the night, and so Friar Jacques met no one as he made his way down the stone corridors. His sandaled feet made little noise even in the stillness of the night. He was glad of the silence; it would have been difficult for him to explain why a priest was bearing a warsword in the middle of the night, after all. But, of even greater importance, it gave him time to think without being distracted by his Hospitaller brethren. He had great love for the men of his adoptive Order, but at that moment he needed the comfort of his own thoughts.

I thought it was the same dream. The same dream as the first two nights. It began the same. We held the street; I battled Karim; I spared him. And then, when we were to part ways—

He shuddered. Not since I was left to Philip’s tender mercies have I seen such malice. This was no mere dream; that much he knew. Angels and demons had contested in his mind, though for what purpose he could only guess and pray. Guess, pray, and seek the counsel of one who knew better than he.

And so he found himself outside the door to the Prior’s chambers. Raising a gnarled hand to knock, he hesitated a moment, not wishing to wake the old man at such a late hour. But this is not the sort of matter that may be delayed until morning, he resolved, and with that he rapped on the oak.

Much to his surprise, there was no delay before a voice creaked from the other side. “Enter.”

Jacques opened the door to see Prior Methuselah propped up in a chair by his cell window. The elderly priest no longer slept in a bed, as his back troubled him too badly. Jacques hadn’t been a young man for many years, but Methuselah looked positively ancient. His twisting white beard reached to his waist, almost obscuring the cross on his habit. The top of his head was bald, revealing a wrinkled scalp of dark brown that spoke to his Moorish ancestry. Methuselah appeared to be staring out the window, but Jacques knew his Prior was simply enjoying the cool night air on his face. Methuselah was blind.

“Come in, my son,” bade the Prior, gesturing with a wizened hand to the room’s other chair. “Have a seat and tell me what troubles you.”

The friar knew better than to ask how Methuselah knew that something was troubling him. “I’m sorry to disturb you, Father.”

Methuselah gave a wheezing chuckle and turned to face his monk. “Nonsense, my friend. I wasn’t sleeping. It’s strange to say, but as a man of ninety I seem unable to drift to the land of slumber for more than a few minutes at a time. You’ll understand when it comes your time to be old.”

Jacques cocked an eyebrow. “I am no longer a young man myself, Father.”

“You are thirty years my junior, are you not?”

“Twenty-five.”

The elderly prior waved him off. “Then you are still a young man.” Jacques smiled in spite of himself. “Now then,” continued Methuselah, his voice turning grave. “What ails you, my son?”

Jacques related the nature of his troubles, beginning with the dreams of Acre before telling how this night the dream had changed, and finally ending with his decision to bring his sword when he came to see his mentor. At the conclusion he found himself staring at the sheathed blade. “Honestly, I’m not entirely sure why I felt compelled to collect it. It just felt…right I suppose.” He shook his head. “I can’t imagine my reasoning. My enemies these days are of the spirit, not of the flesh.”

Methuselah stroked his beard. “That is the blade Karim gifted to you, is it not?”

“It is, Father,” confirmed Jacques. Karim had kept the hilt of the Templar’s weapon in 1291, a parting gift from the victor. Years later, he had returned it, the blade re-forged into something grander. Putting a thumb under the crossguard, Jacques pushed up, revealing an inch of Damascus steel. “The same as it appeared in the dream.”

“I see,” nodded Methuselah. “And what do you think it means, Jacques?”

Jacques shrugged reflexively, though the old man could not see. “In truth, I do not know. That is why I came. It is you who has the gift for interpreting dreams; not I.”

Methuselah tilted his head. “It is true that God has granted me the insight to read the dreams of others. But you would do well to remember that the Holy Ghost may guide any who allow Him entry.”

The younger man felt his shoulders slump. “Does that mean you will not tell me?”

“I never said that,” creaked Methuselah. “I only meant that you should be mindful that I am merely a man, the same as you. What wisdom I bring is not mine, but God’s. You must be able to seek Him out yourself when I am not there. Do you understand?”

“Yes, Father.”

“That is well,” said Methuselah with a sigh. “Because soon you shall be leaving us.”

Jacques felt like he’d been struck by lightning. “What?!”

“Do not shout, my son,” Methuselah chided him gently. “You risk waking our brethren.”

The former Templar felt his heartbeat quicken as his grip on the arms of his chair became vicelike. “Forgive me, Prior,” he said, pouring all his self-control into his voice. “I just…this is rather unexpected.” Unexpected? Unprecedented! “An aging priest like myself is seldom sent away to another priory.”

“You misunderstand, my son. You are not being sent to another priory.” Jacques’ heart sank. Am I to be cast out of the Order, then? What have I done to deserve this? I cannot bear to lose my brethren a second time! Sensing his distress, Methuselah rose and crept along the wall to his side, laying a quivering hand on his brow. “Do not be troubled, Jacques. You are not being cast out. Rather, you are being charged with a great mission. One for which you have been prepared.”

Jacques blinked. “Prepared, Father?”

“Indeed,” replied Methuselah. “Your dream is the final sign for which I have been waiting these many years. But before I can relate to you the meaning of this dream, I must tell you of one which I had nine winters ago.” Jacques nodded dumbly. The blind man pointed to his cot. “Beneath my bed you will find a case. Please open it.”

Jacques did as he was bade, rising to pull the wooden box from beneath the cot while Methuselah sank into the chair he’d vacated. Setting the case on the unused cot, the friar opened it, and could not prevent an oath from escaping his mouth. “Adam’s bones!” he shouted.

Methuselah chuckled. “Language,” rebuked the old man. “Surprised by what you see?”

“It’s a Bible!” exclaimed Jacques. His astonishment was understandable. The Bible was an illuminated manuscript half the size of a man’s chest, bound in gold and wood. Crafted from thousands of pages of velum, taking decades to transcribe and requiring the patronage of a wealthy nobleman, an Illuminated Bible of this sort was worth a fortune. It was far cheaper to build a church than it was to furnish it with the Holy Book, especially one as well-crafted as this one.

“Yes, it is a Bible,” laughed Methuselah. “Among other things. A set of holy oils, a chalice, an altar stone, a breviary, and anything else a priest might require to fulfill his duties far from any church. And a satchel to carry it all, of course.”

“But…how? Why?!” demanded Jacques, struggling to process the fact that Methuselah had kept this all hidden away for the better part of a decade.

“Calm yourself, and I will tell you,” answered Methuselah. Jacques took several deep breaths and sat in Methuselah’s chair, his mind reeling. “Eleven years ago, I had a dream,” began Methuselah. “I saw a distant land, far across every sea known to Man, full of laughter and beauty. In the wide plains ran herds of ponies.”

“Ponies,” repeated Jacques.

“Indeed. But not the sort you find here. Such beautiful creatures they were, of the kind you would think to find only in Heaven. Of many colors they were, like that of a rainbow. At the head of the herd ran the sun and the moon, and many other lights of near equal brilliance.” The old man smiled at the memory. “T’was such a majestic sight; such magnificent creatures, and such a peaceful land. I could have watched them prance and play for hours.”

The old Prior sighed. “But, the peace was not to last. Creatures of shadow and hate prowled about the edges of plains. And any pony that strayed too far from the unity of the herd was swept into the Darkness, whence they did not return. And each time one was taken, the Darkness grew bolder, creeping ever closer to the herd, until I felt as though it might swallow them.”

“Then, in the midst of the herd, I saw another creature. A horse, I thought it from a distance. It was a sorry looking thing, brutalized and broken, with the marks of whips and chains upon it. For a time I thought it might die, but the herd gathered around it to protect and heal it. In time, the beast was healed, running first within the herd, directing them against the shadows, and then at the edges, guarding them from the shadows, and then at its head, with the sun, the moon, and the other lights, joining with them in a charge against the shadows.”

“I did not understand the dream at first; sometimes such things are made known only in time and with patience. God’s tales unfold in their own time, after all. I simply prayed that it would become clear in time and went about my day.” Methuselah tapped the arm of his chair. “Then, that evening, you were brought to us. Bruised; battered; broken; your body rent apart by the cruelties of a wicked king. Yet there was a fire in your eyes, the light of a warrior who would die before submitting to evil. And in that moment I knew that you were the one from my dream.” His sightless eyes bored into Jacques. “I knew that you would be the one to make this journey and fight this evil.” Jacques’ mouth went dry.

“More visions came in the following days, revealing to me that I was to prepare these items for you. The last piece, though, you were to bring to me when the time was right.”

Jacques blinked. “My sword…” he realized.

“Your sword,” confirmed Methuselah. “I must admit, as the years went by, taking my sight, my health, even my sleep, it seemed as though I would be a hundred before you came. But, like Simeon at the Temple, I knew that I would not die until the revelation had been fulfilled.”

His story ended, Methuselah sat in silence. And, for that, Jacques was grateful. I don’t know if I could manage anything else. Were it to have come from anyone but Methuselah, I would call him mad. But the Prior speaks with authority from God. Who am I to question? But even so…

“Jacques?” asked Methuselah. The friar did not respond. “Speak freely, my son. I may have the gift of reading dreams, but even I cannot guess the state of your mind.”

“It is…a great deal to swallow, Father.” He rested his head on his hands. “I hardly know what to say.”

“That is understandable. If it’s any comfort, I don’t rightly know either.”

“Can you tell me more about this land to which I am to go?”

Methuselah shook his head, regret tinging his voice. “It has not been given me to say, old friend. Such things are given to unfold in their own time. Providence is not something easily read.”

“Of course,” answered Jacques, hoping that he did not sound bitter. He held tightly to the chair, as though the action would somehow prevent the separation he sensed approaching. “Will I ever return?” He knew the answer even as he asked it.

“No,” replied Methuselah gravely. “If you choose to take this journey, you shall never set foot inside this Priory again.”

Jacques was saddened by that. The Priory had become his home. It had welcomed him after his world had been brought crashing down around him; nursed his wounds; mended his loss. Leaving would grieve him. But to leave with a mission is better than to have it ripped away by a madman. A thought occurred to the old priest: a single word Methuselah had chosen to use. “If I choose, Father?”

“Of course. Our God is not one of slavery, Jacques, as you well know. The choice is yours.”

For the briefest of instants, Jacques was sorely tempted. He dismissed it with the conviction of a soldier and the wisdom of an old man who knew that his final reckoning could not be far off. “I made my choice long ago when I made my vows, Father. I chose to face the Darkness. If I am needed, I will go.”

Methuselah nodded in approval. “Yes, you will.”

Jacques rose and packed the satchel. His shoulders took the weight easily, and he offered a quick prayer of thanksgiving that he had kept up his strength over the years. He reached last for his sword, but hesitated before buckling it to his side. Methuselah seemed to sense this. “Why do you linger over your weapon, Friar Jacques?”

“A priest ought not to draw blood,” he answered.

“And yet the rule has been dispensed with for righteous causes before. Bishop Adhemar Le Puy bore a blade to the Holy Land in 1087. And many a chaplain has been given to bearing swords in defense of the Faith. You shall be in a foreign land, my son, and necessity will make claim to your actions. As David and his followers ate the bread that was reserved for the priests when they starved, so too must you adapt to the customs and needs of this new land. Thus, I give you a broad dispensation from the precise rigors of the Rule when courtesy or duty demand it. Let the Scriptures and the Holy Ghost be your guide and do not waste your time with worry. In the moment, you will be given what to do and what to say.”

The former Templar regarded his sword for a moment, then buckled it on. “As you say, Father.” This accomplished, he asked, “How shall I begin my journey? Where am I to go?”

Methuselah held out a hand. “Help me to my feet, and I will show you.”

The two walked through the corridors with companionable ease, moving at a snail’s pace to accommodate Methuselah’s frailty. “I shall miss having you around, Jacques. It has been good to have another old priest to talk to. So many of the young monks have no memory of the old days.”

Jacques smiled. “You mean the old days when the Templars and Hospitallers were fierce rivals and even the Pope’s urgings could not encourage us to merge our Orders into one?”

“Exactly,” smiled Methuselah. “Things were more lively in those days.” Jacques chuckled.

Their walk took them outside the building proper to the Priory grounds. To the younger man’s confusion, Methuselah was leading him not to the front gate, but through a line of shrubs towards the back wall. He was further mystified as to how Methuselah planned to show him the way to a land across every known sea by physically taking him somewhere. But he trusted the old man to lead him aright, and kept his questions to himself.

After a few minutes walking, they found themselves in a part of the Priory grounds that Jacques did not recognize. He found this odd, because he thought that he knew every part of the area. But then, Methuselah seems to be able to find his way around without even his sight. I suppose it’s no surprise that he’s explored it more thoroughly than I. The spot was a secluded patch of land where the hedges grew together to form a tunnel, at the end of which was a door set in the wall of the Priory. As they approached the modest opening, Jacques could sense an air of finality descending upon him. His confusion grew. Is Methuselah simply to take me to the door and send me on my way? Shall I find a map in my satchel?

They reached the door, and Methuselah grasped both of his hands. “Jacques, my old friend, this is goodbye for now. Though I am grieved to see you go, I rejoice that you go to do God’s will. And I rejoice that you shall perhaps find solace at last.”

“At last?”

“You’ve never truly healed from the torments inflicted upon you by that craven fool,” explained Methuselah. “I helped mend what I could, but there is still an ache within you.” He reached up a hand to rest against his friend’s craggy face. “You shall serve this new land well, of that I have no doubt. And, in return, they shall help you at last find peace.”

Jacques quirked a smile. “An odd thing to say, since I go bringing a sword.”

“A sword is but a sword, my son. True peace exists in spite of conflict.” He smiled gently. “I bid you well, old friend. We shall not see each other again in this life. But I look forward to welcoming you to the final stage of your journey when the time comes.”

Embracing the old man, Jacques felt tears stinging his eyes. “Thank you, old one, for all the kindness you’ve shown me. I shall miss you dearly.”

“And I you, my friend.” The two parted grasps, and Methuselah opened the door. Strangely, though the moonlight allowed Jacques to see Methuselah clearly, the outside was shrouded as though by a fog. “Go with God, Jacques de Charette. May Heaven guide your steps.”

Jacques wanted to ask where exactly he was going, but something stopped him. He felt compelled to simply pass through the door, and sensed that all would be made clear. With a final benediction to his mentor, he stepped forward.

As he crossed the threshold, there was a roar like a hurricane, and a mighty wind that seemed to grip his every sense and perception. He opened his mouth to cry out in shock, but the storm plucked the words from his throat as he was pulled in. There was a mighty thunderclap, and Friar Jacques de Charette vanished from the Earth, never to return.

Once he had gone, Methuselah retraced his steps, passing back through the tunnel into the grounds beyond. Finding a bench, he sat down and stared sightlessly up at the heavens. “I have sent him as you instructed, Lord God,” he prayed. “His journey is begun. Thank you for letting me help him this one last time.” His head dipped forward. “It has been my honor to serve the will of God.” Closing his eyes, he fell asleep.

Author's Note:

Okay, so a little housekeeping right at the start of this story. The Crusades are mentioned here as an important part of Jacques' backstory, but I don't intend to spend a lot of time with them. What I am using is pulled from a couple decades of research, including a stack of primary sources from Christian, Muslim, and Jewish sources. And, yes, I am well aware that I am taking creative liberties. If you want to read about the real deal, I recommend Jonathan Riley-Smith (the undisputed king of the Crusades within the historical community) or Thomas Madden (his heir-apparent). Madden is the more readable of the two. For the Templars specifically, I would add Regine Pernoud. Her work loses something in the translation, I feel, but she's worth reading all the same.

A few liberties that I've taken include the use of the eight-pointed cross, which didn't appear officially on the Hospitaller robes until the 1500s, and the use of the term 'Friar,' which may not have applied to their monks and priests until about the same time (sources differ).

If anyone's interested in the names, here are their origins:

Jacques is a reference to one of my favorite authors, Brian Jacques (though he was English, not French, so the pronunciation is different).

De Charette was a French officer who fought for the United States in the Revolution, and then died fighting against the genocide of the Vendee in his homeland years later.

Karim is a name that one of my Arab co-workers always liked.

Ad-Din is the surname of Baha ad-Din, a noted Qadi historian from the Crusades employed by Saladin. He was a zealous supporter of Saladin, but had a great deal of respect for the vigor and honor that was to be found in many of his enemies. He was one of many figures from that era (on both sides) who held firm to their own beliefs and allegiances, yet respected the enemies who conducted themselves well.

The original Methuselah of note was a Biblical figure, though I have a personal appreciation for the name from Brian Jacques. Both the historical and the fictional Methuselahs were described as being ancient and wise, and Jacques' version was, like mine, a monk.

EDIT: A number of things have been pointed out about weapons and fighting style in this scene (and, should note, most were very polite and informative, so I'm not inserting this out of annoyance... for most of you). I'd like to respond to a couple of them so that I don't have to keep responding in the future. 1) I'm aware that I took some liberties with armor penetration, the sword breaking, etc. for the sake of the narrative. Bad Antiquarian! Bad! 2) LONGSWORD IS THE CORRECT NOMENCLATURE BECAUSE LONGSWORD MEANT MANY KINDS OF WEAPONS. *ahem* So perhaps I was a little more annoyed about that one, but a lot of that is from getting 'corrected' in contexts outside this story. Hard classifications of swords are largely modern; medieval sources are much more vague because there wasn't the same obsession with terminology. Broadly speaking swords called 'longsword,' 'bastard sword' or 'two-handed sword' could be, and often were, wielded with shields. It depended on the specific sword and the strength and skill of the individual. Jacques is a big man and would have no trouble with this. His sword is a long-bladed weapon that could be wielded with one hand or two depending on his preference. Matt Easton from Scholagladiatoria (a renowned HEMA expert) explains in this video. Thanks, Matt! You're the best.

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