Geoffrey was seeing it again in his head. The confusion in a darkness lit only by the unsteady light of smoking torches. Wounded men and horses seemed to be staggering about everywhere, and the moans and cries of man and beast punctuated the night. Other men wandered about asking after one friend or another. Abandoned Saracen equipment, clothing, and weapons still littered the ground, tripping the unwary, while those with the strength left in them were trying to erect tents. The stench of open latrines and foul water combined in Geoffrey’s mind with the constant beating of the enemy drums as they shouted “Allah is Great!” from the ramparts of Mansourah. They must have lit huge bonfires, because the city appeared aglow from the inside; the men on the walls shaking their swords and bows triumphantly were silhouetted against that orange light.
Geoffrey had been dazed, unable to grasp what had happened in such a short space of time. All his brothers from Limassol ― knights, squires, and sergeants ― were dead. They had been one hundred strong when they sailed for
Egypt, a significant contingent of
the Templar force, and they were no more. Geoffrey had lost the one man who
gave him a chance when all others spoke against accepting him into the Temple. He’d lost the men
who’d taught him fighting and the ethos of the Temple. He’d lost his best friends ― and there would not even be a Mass
for their souls, because their bodies were all in the hands of the heathens
shouting “Allah is Great!”
Suddenly someone was tugging at his sleeve and saying he must come to the surgeon’s tent. The Grand Master had regained consciousness. He had followed numbly, without a will of his own. Sonnac, a bandage covering the gaping hole in the right side of his face where his eye had been, was struggling to sit up. “Geoff!” he called out in a rasping, ruined voice at the sight of the young man. “Geoff, come kneel and put your hands in mine that I may take you into the Order at last.”
Sonnac knew how much that meant to his squire. Sonnac knew that, unlike other squires, Geoffrey wanted to be a Templar. He understood that Geoffrey wanted to be knighted, not for itself, but because it was the prerequisite for joining the Order.
That night in the camp before Mansourah, Geoffrey knew that Master de Sonnac wanted to reward him with that which meant most to him, but he also knew that the vows involved saying the Lord’s Prayer. He knew that the Knights Templar said the Lord’s Prayer in place of Mass when circumstances made it impossible to hear
Mass. The Lord’s Prayer
was central to their devotion. But what had, until that day, seemed self-evident,
had abruptly been transformed into a demon standing between Geoffrey and what
he wanted most in the world.
As Geoffrey stood in the tent staring at the wounded Grand Master, he became conscious of the blood drying on the links of his chain mail, his surcoat shredded and soiled, but between him and the Master crowded the ghastly ghosts of his dead brothers: some headless, some limbless, some gushing blood from wounds to their heads, others clutching their gutted stomachs or clinging to their disemboweled intestines.
Suddenly Geoffrey thought: if this is God’s Will, then I cannot say “Thy Will be done!” I cannot say it!
Sonnac, seeing him hesitate, tried to smile encouragingly. “Come, Geoff. If this is the last thing I do, let me make you a Templar.”
“No!” Geoffrey screamed back at him. “No! I don’t want to be servant to a senseless God! If this is God’s Will, than he is a monster! And Christ ― Christ died on a cross in Jerusalem, but he was not God’s son, and was not our Savior!”
Still full of fury, Geoffrey had spun about and fled, leaving the astonished Grand Master struggling to rise. He heard the exclamation of horrified priests and surgeons, and he was shocked by his own words as much as anyone. But there was no place to go in the crusader camp. There was no escape except out into the desert to be killed by the Bedouins.
Geoffrey could not remember what he’d done next. He’d stumbled about in the dark until he’d found himself at the horse lines. There he sank down in misery beside the remnants of a once-great cavalry, and begged forgiveness from his stallion. The tall, dark gray had not only carried him and his armor all the way here, to the middle of nowhere; he had today taken the burden of two fully armored knights, and with the strength of an angel, he had jumped over a barricade to bring both Geoffrey and the wounded Grand Master to safety. But now he stood with hanging head and swollen fetlocks, covered in cuts and probably bruises, too. We can’t even give you a decent meal, Geoffrey thought. What right have we, he asked himself, to take these gentle, loyal creatures into so much misery and almost certain death?
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