Crusade of Tears
By C.D. Baker
SHADOWS SHROUD THE MANOR
The timeless Laubusbach coursed quietly toward the Lahn River in the
early summer of the year of our blessed Lord 1212. It flowed westward
over the soft Tonschiefer, ever shaping the wide and gentle valley
as it had since long before the primeval Frankish tribesmen hunted deer
and fox on the long slopes and broad backs of the forested hills rising
easily from its waters. A pleasant day’s saunter from the stream’s
mouth the valley abruptly cramped into a cupped nook where more stubborn
bedrock, the Diabas, had narrowed the insistent waters. This
deep hollow now served the good folk of the village of Weyer as it had
for nearly twenty generations, adequately sheltering them and their squat,
steep-thatched huts from cold and storm. And even so, the ancient, dark-stoned
church perched atop the hollow’s rim offered similar sanctuary from
the wiles of the spirits feared to prowl about the surrounding forests
In this particularly dry and hot month of June the usually cheerful Laubusbach
did not bubble and dance over its stony bed, nor did it turn Weyer’s
mill-wheel with its common vigor. Instead of laughing in the bright light
of summer solstice the stream seemed, instead, to weep under the dark nights’
stars. And such melancholy did not escape the notice of the simple village
Volk who paid careful heed to such messages tendered by the forces present
in their world. For them the sorrow of the Laubusbach was cause to ponder
and perhaps to pray for it seemed, indeed, a likely foreshadowing of a season
A brief walk from the water’s edge stood the modest hovel of the
baker of Weyer. Its sturdy walls soundly bore a well-thatched roof and
provided fair shelter for its household. On this dull and languid night
the frail light of ashy coals and a single candle dimly lighted its two
In the corner of the larger room—the common room— sat the baker’s
younger son, Karl. He squatted by the mound of loose straw that was his bed
and stared sadly into the neglected hearth which was placed within a ring
of flat stones in the room’s center. Karl was usually a happy child,
quick to dismiss the distress of life with the wide stretch of a ready smile
across his ruddy, round face. Bright and curious, pleasant and cheerful, the
thirteenyear- old was a friend to all and enemy of none. Scattered all about
him lay the unruly red curls he had cut from his own head in order to pass
the time. He had been sternly reminded by a village elder that only noblemen
and princes should allow their hair to grow—and Karl wanted to accommodate
things as they should be.
In the adjoining bedchamber, the baker’s wife, Marta, lay upon her
straw mattress, perspired and damp, and failing with fever. On the crude table
by her side was a pear-wood bowl half-filled with cool water. Her five-yearold
daughter, Maria, stood nearby, faithfully bathing her mother’s pale
brow with a linen rag she held in her one good hand.
Outside, under the bright stars of a warm night, an angry older son, Wilhelm,
retied the loose fence that hemmed the peasant family’s vegetable garden.
Wil was a thoughtful, sometimes brooding boy of nearly seventeen years with
a fair complexion and pleasing features. His light blue eyes were sometimes
gentle, but often blazed like two fired iron swords, readied to defend the
hurt and guarded soul within. He rinsed his large hands in the bottom of the
rain barrel and dried them through his long, blond hair. He grumbled to himself
that he ought not be burdened with a dying mother, a bothersome brother, a
deformed sister, and the duties of an absent father.
The lad walked to the doorsill of his home and grumbled on his way to his
mother’s side. As he passed the hearth he tossed a small piece of kindling
onto its smoldering embers and he watched a swarm of sparks scramble to escape
through the smoke-hole above. He paused, wishing he could fly away with them.
In the brief burst of light, he looked at his brother Karl and, with some
annoyance, rebuked him for his tears. “Stop crying like some woman.”
An embarrassed Karl looked at his feet, quickly blotted his tears on a rough
sleeve, and offered a gentle defense. “They are for Mother, Father,
poor Maria, and you.”
Unimpressed, Wil brushed past Karl and entered his mother’s room where
his sister greeted him.
“Wil,” Maria whispered, “could y’fetch us more water?
Mutti may be some better.”
Wil nodded and took the bowl from her hand, glad for a reason to retreat
out-of-doors once more. He escaped quickly to the refuge of starlight and
paused alongside the rain barrel. He leaned against the wattled siding of
his hut and cupped the bowl against his belly. With his fingers drumming lightly
on its bottom, he surveyed the silhouetted hilltops enclosing his village
and closed his eyes with a weary sigh.
The lad paused to let his mind carry him to the strange lands he had heard
of from travelers who told amazing stories of the Holy Wars. He imagined himself
a mighty knight upon an armored horse, galloping boldly across the bloodied
plains of Palestine. With his red-crossed shield before him, he watched the
enemies of Christendom flee the fury of his thunderous charge. A light tap
on his shoulder returned Wil to Weyer.
“Could you hurry with the water?”
Wil, startled by the voice, cast a perturbed look at Karl.
“Mother’s waiting for the water and, uh, a kind word, methinks.”
Karl grimaced, waiting for an angry rebuke.
Wil stormed past the redhead to deliver the water to his mother’s room.
He snatched the moist cloth from Maria’s hand and ordered her to the
corner as he plunged the linen into the bowl.
Karl followed, brushing close by the tallow candle that cast a yellow light
within the room. Its tiny flame danced on a looping wick and bent the shadows,
revealing tiny drops of blood oozing from the corner of Marta’s pursed
With sudden concern, Wil wiped his mother’s brow and stared at the
blood. He summoned his brother to the corner and whispered, “We’ve
need of Brother Lukas.”
“Nay, she hates him. She heals more each day and Father Pious says
to have faith. If you cannot believe, you ought leave Maria and me
care for her.”
“Believe as you will, I’ll fetch the monk.” Troubled, Wil
left the bedchamber and crossed the common room where he paused for a brief
moment to rest his eyes on a clay bowl sitting atop the wooden table. It was
his mother’s favorite, he recalled, one an uncle had fashioned for her
when she was a young girl. He reached for it and ran his long fingers over
its smooth brim before setting it into the warped cupboard where it belonged.
He stared at the neatly arranged assortment of reed baskets, clay jars, and
candles. “And nothing off its proper place,” he grumbled. Taking
a deep breath, he stepped into the night air where he turned his face north,
toward the Abbey of Villmar which ruled his village. There he hoped to find
its herbalist and an old friend of his father’s, Brother Lukas.
Wil began the two-league jaunt at a trot. He passed by the silhouettes of
the sagging, thatched roofs of his quiet village and his melancholy mind began
to drift. He thought of his mother lying near death and his legs felt heavy.
But he quickly resurrected the haunting sounds of a lifetime of endless demands
and he shook his head. She simply can not be pleased … never. And
the beatings … for spilt cider or a forgotten chore. He spat.
His thoughts then abruptly narrowed to the memory of a distant October morning
when the village priest, Father Pious, had urged his restless father to join
in service against a far-off peasant rebellion threatening the interests of
the Archbishop of Bremen and the Count of Oldenburg. The temptation of free
rents and the need for a mighty penance had yielded a reluctant, though willing
assent from the baker and he accepted a fortyday commission to join as a knight’s
servant in the alliance against the obstinate Stedingers. Wil recalled his
mother standing with her hands folded on her apron grumbling a dispassionate
“Forty days?” the boy groused out loud. Forty days indeed;
almost six years! He thought of his father and rage filled his chest.
Leave us, will you? Well, stay away and die; Mother says you deserve to.
Maybe you already are dead. I’ll do your duty and mine own—and
I’ll do it very well.
Maria held the damp cloth limply in her tired hand and looked fearfully at
her sleeping mother’s paled and perspiring face. She bent forward to
wipe the woman’s neck but recoiled at finding more droplets of blood
beaded in the corners of her mouth. “Karl,” she whispered frantically.
“Look, Karl, there. Please, help poor Mama.”
Karl, bravely masking his own fear, took the rag confidently and quickly
dabbed the blood away. “See, Maria, ’tis gone.”
Marta’s eyes suddenly opened wide and round as if startled. She began
to cough violently; her body became tense and taut. Then, struggling for air,
she lurched forward, flailing her arms and stretching her fingers toward her
terrified children. At last, she sucked a wheezing breath, only to bend forward
and spew blood across the patched quilt.
Karl put a trembling arm around his mother’s heaving shoulders and
offered what comfort he could. He glanced nervously at his horrified sister
who had retreated once again into the safety of a shadowed corner. “Mother
shall soon be better,” he choked. “Just believe and so it shall
Marta’s coughing subsided and she eased herself back into the deep
soft of her feathered pillow. She reached weakly for Karl’s hand and
squeezed it lightly. She then turned a hard eye to her quivering daughter.
A ribbon of foamed blood drooled through her pursed lips. “Girl, fetch
me fresh water at once,” she hissed.
As Maria scampered through the outer room, Marta switched her attention to
her benevolent son. She stared at him for a moment, and then stroked his hair.
Her breathing was still difficult and uneven, and she forced a deep breath
to exhale hoarsely. “Karl, you have loved me most of all. Whatever I
have wanted, you have given. Whatever I have asked, you have done. You have
pleased me more than the others ever could. Now reach …” She struggled
for more breath and shook her finger violently at the floor. “Here …
here,” she rasped. “Look under this bed and you shall find a box.”
She coughed, her face twisting in pain. She then steadied herself, drew a
good breath into her chest, and released the precious air carefully. “Karl,
open the box and you shall … find a chain necklace … ja,
good … ’twas given to me by m’father for tending his old
age. I should like you to have it … a keepsake of your dear mother’s
love for a proper son.”
Karl stared wide-eyed at the steel necklace he had lifted out of the box.
He held it close to the candle and ran his stubby fingers along its squared
links. He was happier at that moment than any other he remembered.
Marta sighed and sank back into her pillow. Her complexion darkened once
more. “Now leave me, boy,” she growled impatiently. “Can
you not see that I am weary … so very weary? Leave me sleep.”
Maria was standing in the doorway with a tin of cool water and looked hopefully
at her brother. He smiled softly and tiptoed toward the doorway. “Everything
is in order,” he whispered. “’Tis time for Mother to sleep.
By prime Frau Anka will be tending her.”
Maria, content to trust the better judgment of her brother, snuffed the wick
of her mother’s candle and nestled into her own straw bed where she
was pleased to close her eyes with hope as her night’s companion.
Wil continued on his trot through the small hamlet that had been home to
him since the day of his birth. Weyer was an ancient village lying on the
edge of an ecclesiastical fief once granted to the diocese of Mainz by the
Emperor Friederich Barbarossa. The archbishop then founded an abbey in the
village of Villmar and endowed it with numbers of villages to create a modest,
but profitable manor.
Weyer’s residents were primarily bound men—men who were legally
obligated by the oaths of their forefathers to whomever held the land. Whether
they owned heritable fields or not, their status was one of servitude—they
could not leave the estate, marry, buy or sell, or perform any number of human
activities without both permission
and taxation by their clerical lords.
Much to the concern of Weyer’s folk, succeeding abbots had refused
to construct stockades around any of their villages, relying instead on the
strong hand of their contracted ally, the Lord of Runkel. Nevertheless, the
abbey generally administered Weyer benevolently and with a sternness that
rarely offended. Furthermore, in order to sustain the spiritual lives of its
flock huddled in the hollow, the various archbishops of Mainz had properly
maintained the old stone church, originally built by the great Charlemagne.
From here the diocese’s priests were to shepherd the humble parish:
They were to take the Eucharist on behalf of the folk, grant comfort in death,
hope in baptism, and refuge against the wiles of Satan and of men.
So, generations of ploughmen, timbermen, shepherds, and a few tradesmen lived
their unpretentious lives in submission to the abbey’s authority, content
with what few pleasures might befall them. Each endured their station without
complaint, willing to submit themselves to the order of their Church and the
rule of the manor to which they were born. These good folk were required to
toil many hours in the vast fields of the demesne—their lords’
land—struggling behind slow oxen with wheeledploughs, scything and flailing
grain crops, and performing sundry other services. But work for the abbey
was not their only work. Some owned livestock or fowl which needed management,
and some labored on their own portions of ides—units of land of about
one hundred and twenty acres. Many of the women carved spoons or spun wool,
plaited baskets, or wove fabric to sell. And, were that not enough, each family
also needed to tend small, wattle-fenced kitchen gardens where they grew each
year’s supply of vegetables and herbs.
Wil’s father was the village baker. Prior generations had served the
monks as shepherds near the village of Villmar, living as humble cottagers
sheltered in the shadow of the abbey walls. However, according to family legend,
Wil’s great-grandfather, Jost, had discovered the abbey’s prior
in a financial impropriety. The shrewd old man had quickly bartered his discretion
for some unusual considerations. Special occupations were granted to both
Jost and his sons, but a further promise had been made. Following the line
of the eldest males, his great-grandsons would be taught in the abbey school;
tutored by the monks in mathematics, astronomy, Latin, and rhetoric. It was
a promise kept and one now benefiting young Wil and Karl.
Wil glided through the night, lulled by the rhythm of his padding feet atop
a roadway recently dampened by a welcome shower. He had climbed out of Weyer’s
hollow and was now steadily descending the long, gradual slope toward the
Lahn River and the village of Villmar which lay on its banks.
Soon after the bells of matins’ prayers, he entered the sleepy village
and headed to the walled abbey located at its far end. Wil paused to rest
under the clouded full moon and surveyed the edifice looming large and ominous
before him. A bit unnerved by a strange, creeping dread that was beginning
to crawl over him, he closed his eyes and let his mind bear him to the sanctuary
of midsummer days within the abbey walls. He pictured himself under the tutelage
of good Brother Lukas, sitting upright on his hard wooden stool in the shade
of the linden tree with Karl and a group of oblates. He calmed.
Wil knew the abbey well and could find what he required at any hour of any
day. His mind quickly sketched its design. Its walls encircled large grounds
containing, at the center, the abbatial Kirche—the single-
naved, gray-stone church which served the brothers. Around the church were
the monks’ graveyard, orchards, and several large gardens. Along the
edges were numerous buildings including the abbot’s chambers, the priory,
the dormitory, refectory, the scriptorium, the granaries, Lukas’ fragrant
herbarium, the guest house, the garrison, apple press, and sundry sheds and
The boy strode to the locked gates of the eastern portal and he viewed the
slumped figure of a guard dozing on a stool at his post. Wil approached the
sentry carefully and immediately recognized him as none other than the quick-tempered
Ansel of the night watch. He muttered to himself, certain of the welcome he
was about to receive, but mustered his courage. “You there, Gatekeeper.
I’ve need of your help.”
The man jerked in his sleep and grumbled a few indiscernible unpleasantries
before repositioning himself against the stone wall that served as his headboard.
Wil drew an impatient breath and took a firm hold of the man’s large
This time the disoriented guard awakened indeed. He bounded to his feet and
jerked his sword from its scabbard as he stumbled backward against the oak
gate. His helmet clanged against the iron hinges. “Halt,” he ordered
as his eyes flew about the darkness. “Halt or I strike!”
Wil hastily retreated a few steps. “I need the herbalist. Can you call
for Brother Lukas?”
“Who … who speaks?” growled Ansel, still gathering his
composure. He narrowed his eyes at Wil. “Whose waif be you to come here
by matins? You’d best begone ’fore I scatter yer bones.”
“Nay, mein Herr,” answered Wil defiantly. “I’ll
not take my leave without the monk. My mother lies sick and may not see morning.”
The guard put the point of his sword at the stubborn boy’s throat.
“You know the brothers don’t leave the cloister. Now, peasant
dog, turn and scamper home, or by God, I’ll strike you dead where you
Wil swallowed hard, uncertain and anxious. The corner of his eye caught a
menacing glint from the flat of the long sword just beneath his chin. Wil
was suddenly confused; he needed God’s help and inside were God’s
“Well, why do you stand, brat? Go—begone at once.”
Wil retired one step, only to set his jaw. “Nay, sire, I’ll not
leave without Brother Lukas. Wake him or may my mother’s death be upon
The huge man said nothing but reared back his sword and swung with terrific
force at the resolute lad. A startled Wil tried to elude the heavy blade but
cried out as its flat side slapped across the back of his broad shoulders.
He fell to the ground, writhing in pain, then scrambled on his hands and knees
toward the cover of some bramble.
“Go!” yelled the guard as he ran toward Wil. “The next
time I turn my sword on edge.”
Wil had not yet stood to his feet when the man’s thick boot landed
hard into his belly. He gasped and rolled onto the dewy grass by the path,
desperately gulping for breath.
The sentry, contented for duty done, sheathed his sword and muttered to himself
as he returned to his stubby stool. He adjusted his steel cap and belt, tugged
at some uncomfortable clothing, folded his arms, and laid his broad head against
his dubious headboard for few more hours of sleep.
Wil retreated to just beyond the edge of the village and veered off the path
into a small wood to gather his wits. He touched his bruised shoulders lightly
and cupped his painful ribs as he bent over to breathe. He lifted his face
toward the abbey’s steeple now moon-washed under a broken sky. He was
ready for another try.
This time he slipped through the night’s shadows to the safety of
a large chestnut tree a mere ten paces from the snorting guard. He surveyed
the wall, the massive wooden gate—and the alarm bell high in the guard
tower. He set his eyes on the thick rope of the old bell hanging limply near
Ansel’s head and he smiled. He positioned his leggings, pulled nervously
at the hem of his thighlong tunic, and began to steal his way toward the gate.
Wil moved across the ground like a half-starved cat stalking its prey, his
teeth gritted and fists clenched; every sense was piqued. He was oblivious
to the pain in his belly and the aching bruises on his welted back. Instead,
he thought of nothing other than wrapping his hands around the stout stretch
of rope silhouetted against the stone wall.
Five paces yet, now four, now three. He whispered two quick prayers, one
to whatever benevolent angels might be hovering overhead and the other to
whatever spirits might be drifting through the woodland. Two paces left. Suddenly
the half-conscious Ansel jerked and twisted, wrestling with himself and the
old stool. Wil stood paralyzed, one leg lifted in the air. His heart raced
and he dared not draw breath. At last, the guard resettled himself and belched.
Then, as if directed by some unseen hand, Wil flung himself forward to seize
the rope. He grasped the worn hemp with both of his hands and strained at
it with all the power his young arms could muster. But the rusty bell barely
gave way. Its wooden supports simply moaned and creaked as if annoyed at such
a late-night intrusion. The alarmed lad stood and stared up at the high tower,
panic seizing his chest. He squeezed his sweating hands hard around the prickly
rope and cast a quick, nervous glance at Ansel, still comfortably asleep.
This time Wil pulled harder, as hard as he thought possible. But again, the
stubborn clapper refused to strike its iron and the obstinate bell yielded
no sound other than the rubbing of old rope on smooth wood. Desperate, brave
Wil squeezed the stubborn hemp one last time, now lifting his legs off the
ground and sum moning the spirits of his ancestors to pull with him. This
time a deafening clang resounded from the tower above and echoed loudly through
Poor Ansel rolled off his stool and fell to the ground, howling in confusion
as Wil strained on the rope one more time. The sentry clambered to his feet,
thrashing his arms like a flustered windmill in a raging storm. He spotted
Wil and furiously jerked his long-sword from his belt. Wil, all plans now
abandoned, scampered along the abbey wall like a frightened rabbit darting
from a mad dog.
The terrified lad raced toward the murky shadows of the distant southwest
corner. He paid no mind to the alarm within the awakened abbey for he could
only hear the angry shouts of the pursuing Ansel. He neared the corner of
the wall at full speed but suddenly tripped across a fresh-sawed firelog that
lay in the darkness of his path. He sprawled into the grass with a gasp.
Oh God, he’ll surely kill me now. He heard Ansel’s pounding
footfalls growing louder and louder. Without another thought, Wil seized the
log and stumbled around the corner. There he waited, his back pressed against
the cold stone, his chest heaving and his nostrils flared. Braced in the darkness,
Wil clenched his new weapon with both his hands.
The quick-footed soldier dashed around the corner with his sword half raised.
His legs took a mere three steps westward when the strong arms of young Wilhelm
swung the stout stick across his shins. With a loud cry, Ansel fell face-down
into a massive heap of leather and steel, his head striking hard on the earth
and his small helmet bouncing impotently forward.
Wil, overtaken more by instinct than reason, bounded over the fallen soldier.
His heart, once fluttering in fear, now surged with a strange, pleasing rush
of new life. “There, I’ve the better of you.” The boy bolted
several paces toward the gate but then stopped, still mysteriously drawn to
the pride of conquest. He turned back toward the man lying motionless and
silent. He stood over his fallen foe and smiled victoriously. His eyes caught
a shimmer of a worthy token tucked securely in the man’s belt at the
middle of his back. Wil bent forward curiously, and then snatched a dagger
from its silver sheath. He stood erect and held his treasure carefully in
both hands. He knew at once that he had indeed won a prize befitting the moment.
He abruptly stuffed it in his belt and hastily backtracked the wall toward
the chaos by the gate.
The peal of the alarm bell had created bedlam within the abbey and without.
A small detachment of lightarms was trumpeted to their assigned posts and
nervous monks scurried about in the moonlight slamming and bolting portals
and hatches. The whinny of startled horses, the cries of angry sentries, and
the distressed complaints of monks mingled poorly. The smoky flames of newly
lit torches cast an ill-timed glow over the dark edge of the high wall while
young Wil pondered his dilemma.
A column of hooded monks and men-at-arms suddenly burst through the gate
and into the darkness in angry pursuit of the mysterious cause of their night’s
confusion. Wil quickly drew his brown hood over his golden hair and pressed
himself hard against the black shadow of the wall as the anxious party snaked
past him. Releasing a quivering sigh, the lad moved swiftly
toward the open, unguarded gate and slipped, unnoticed, onto the abbey grounds.
I hope him fast asleep … oh God, let it be so!Wil thought
as he flitted deftly through the monks’ graveyard and over the short
wall by the infirmary. He crouched his way along the refectory and through
the shadows of the novices’ cloister, scampered quickly by the latrine,
and stepped gingerly into a dark corner to allow a group of nervous guards
trot by before slipping quietly into the hollow corridor of the musty dormitory.
By now the garrison was fully engaged and order was taking hold. Mounted
soldiers loped across the courtyard in proper form and the steadier commands
of sergeant and churchman alike began to restore calm. Wil listened nervously,
fully aware that no matter how merciful Brother Lukas might be, he could expect
nothing less than a terrible flogging if he fell into the harsh hands of the
monks’ lay bailiff.
The determined lad crept carefully through the long dormitory corridor toward
the sleep cell Lukas had been exiled to years before. His superiors had mistakenly
decided that such nightly banishment from the community might shame the free-thinking
brother’s rebellious spirit into submission. Wil could hear his heart
pounding and felt a cold sweat spread over his body. Good Brother Lukas,
he thought, I hope you drank your sleep potion tonight. A hopeful
smile twitched the corners of the lad’s mouth as he thought of the monk—his
father’s friend and once the faithful companion of the beloved old woman
by the stream.
In another moment his hand was resting squarely on the iron latch of the
narrow door and Wil lifted it. The door gave way with an unsettling creak
and the boy stepped lightly inside. He peered anxiously into the darkness
at the monk’s cot and, to his relief, found Lukas rolled securely in
his blanket. The boy carefully picked up the tongs and raised a coal from
the small, iron hearth. He touched it to the wick of the candle on the tiny
table alongside the monk’s rope bed.
“Wake, Brother Lukas,” whispered Wil to the monk’s back.
“Please.” The silent monk failed to stir. Wil took a gentle hold
of the man’s shoulder and shook it lightly. “Wake, please. Wake,
please, I need you.” The boy, now growing impatient, whispered in more
urgent tone. “Brother Lukas, this is Wil of Weyer.”
But the man lay motionless. Wil, aware of footsteps in the dormitory, now
shook Lukas more violently. “Wake, I say. Wake.”
Desperate and nearly frantic, Wil pulled the man on his back and raised the
candle just over the monk’s face. Straightaway, all speech left the
lad and he stood stupefied and numb, too stunned to react. His eyes stretched
in horror and he let out his air slowly. He stepped a quick-pace backward.
He had seen those eyes before— the dry, vacant eyes of the dead.
The boy’s heart fluttered and his legs felt weak. Nausea filled his
innards and he collapsed to the strawcovered floor. His mind raced. He closed
his eyes and breathed deeply, clenching his jaw and tightening his fists.
What to do … what to do?
He jumped to his feet and rummaged savagely through the monk’s tiny
cell. On the floor by the far side of the bed Wil spotted three uncorked bottles
of herbs, two opened root jars, and a spilled wooden bowl. He grabbed the
bowl and quickly sniffed the residue clinging to the inside. “Ach, what
a foul stink. By heaven, Lukas, we told you to stop trying things on yourself.”
A group of men could be heard rummaging about the dormitory just beyond Lukas’
cell. Now I’m in quite the fix—no help for Mother and none
for me. Wil’s legs went weak. I’ll surely be accused
of Lukas’ murder. He listened to the guards nearby. They seemed
preoccupied with something else.
Then it was as if some unseen presence urged him from task to task. His eyes
raced about, suddenly steadying on a small cabinet standing open in the corner
and he quickly held the candle to it. Inside he found dozens and dozens of
Brother Lukas’ treatments on rows of narrow shelves, and on a peg hung
the leather satchel the man had used for so many years to gather wild herbs.
The boy hastily collected what cruets, ampoules, tins, and wallets he could
grab and stuffed the satchel full. He tied the bag to his rope belt, wisely
snuffed the candle, and bade Brother Lukas a sad farewell.
Wil eased open the narrow door and peeked warily into the corridor. The sentries
were still rummaging about the main dormitory. The lad tarried in Lukas’
shadowed doorway for just a moment, then slipped into the darkness. He ran
along the corridor and ducked down a short flight of damp-slickened stone
stairs, and stooped into an oft- forgotten tunnel leading to an abandoned
root cellar. He crept across the dark, dirt floor, then ran his fingers over
the cobwebbed ceiling overhead feeling for the trap door which led to the
courtyard above. There … yes, I’ve found it.
The hatch gave way stubbornly, its edges bound by the creep of sod from years
of neglect. With a good, hearty heave, however, it gave way and the lad pushed
his head into the starlight. He peered cautiously into the courtyard and,
seeing no one near, slithered up and out the hole, placing himself flat in
the wet grass. He quietly lowered the trap door and crawled on his stomach
toward a small pile of neatly stacked beer barrels stored against the eastern
Wil was perspiring and his mouth was dry, but he felt a strange calm as he
arrived at the barrels. He glanced about, eyes sharp, ears cocked, and, seeing
no one, ascended the barrels with ease. After scaling the final barrel, he
reached his hands to the top of the wall and pulled himself upward. His arms
strained and he stifled his grunts as he hauled himself to his forearms, then
to his armpits and finally to his waist. He swung his lanky legs onto the
top and, with a final heave, rolled himself onto the wide brim.
The panting lad crouched in the shadows, pausing briefly to recover his breath.
He looked to the sky where a bank of new clouds drifted slowly toward the
setting full moon. Wanting every advantage, he squatted under his hood and
waited for the clouds to obscure the waning silver light. At last the moon
was darkened and Wil abruptly swung his body over the outside of the wall.
He hung on his fingertips, then closed his eyes and released himself into
the arms of the angels he hoped would carry him lightly to the earth below.
As misfortune would have it, however, his body plummeted like an acorn from
a high branch and the helpless boy landed with a heavy thud on the sun-baked
clay at the base of the wall. Wil rolled on the ground, whimpering and grimacing
in pain, but quickly composed himself and dashed through the village to the
cover of the nearby wood. He rubbed his ankles and feet and made a hasty note
of his surroundings. Content that he was safe enough for the moment, Wil took
time to consider his predicament and to listen to the sounds now ebbing within
the abbey. While certain he had escaped the first net, he knew the ways of
the abbey’s lay bailiff. Surely he’s sent riders along the
roads in every direction. The lad knew he would need to move warily and
circuitously home, but he also thought it best to wait just a while longer.
After an hour Wil reckoned his hunters to be spread thinly through the manors.
So, with a deep breath he began. Taking no chances, he maneuvered from tree
to tree, careful to check over his shoulder from time to time. Leaving the
wood he chose a wide route home by way of fallow fields. After struggling
through hard furrows for an hour, Wil finally took a brief rest by an enormous
beech tree near the road leading to the village of Oberbrechen. He set his
tired back against the smooth bark and slid down to calculate his condition.
As he breathed the summer night’s clean air, he felt a quiet defiance
take root in his young heart-a potent and invigorating sense of self-reliance
and independence that was quite pleasing. Like the feeling he had when he
dropped Ansel, Wil became aware of an even deeper change, a powerful metamorphosis
that was spreading through him. A sense of newfound manhood washed over him
and he liked it.
Wil plucked his hard-won trophy from his belt. He held the deer-foot handle
in the palm of his hand and lightly caressed the sharp, serrated edges of
its finely crafted blade with his fingers. He smiled. But the sound of approaching
horsemen startled the boy and he quickly tucked his dagger away. He pressed
his back hard against the wide tree, snickering as his would-be captors galloped
past. This quarry you shall not take. He retied Lukas’ leather
bag tightly by its cowhide thong and lashed it to his belt as he looked to
the nearly moonless sky. The gentle chirps of waking birds reminded him that
he must hurry.
More from CBN.com's In-depth look at the Crusades
Related article: A Journey of Souls: Interview with C. D. Baker on the Children's Crusade
Excerpted from Crusade
of Tears by C.D. Baker. Printed by permission. Cook
Communication Ministries, Colorado Springs, CO 2004.
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