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Crusade of Tears
Paperback: 632 pages
RiverOak (Cook Communication Ministries)
ISBN: 1589190092

More from's In-depth look at the Crusades

Related article: A Journey of Souls: Interview with C. D. Baker on the Children's Crusade

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Crusade of Tears

By C.D. Baker

CBN.comChapter 1

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 and fields.

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 of tears.

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 rooms.

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 lips.

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 “Godspeed.”

“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 be.”

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 workshops.

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 forearm. “Gatekeeper.”

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 stand.”

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 your soul!”

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 the valley!

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 wall.

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'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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