The Crusader

(Stephen of Blois)

I lie on a hard bed, so I lie on my back, staring at the smoke blackened stones in the sombre morning light and think.  My wife is asleep, the harsh lines of her face are softened, but she was never the yielding kind and in sleep she only perturbs me.

Doubts and colours assail my mind these mornings, disturbing reason in the discourses I hold with monks and priests. I close my eyes and I am back there again, sweating and choking in the dusty tracks of war wagons.  She urges my return, backed by the cowled brigade.  She is ashamed, she says. Christ is my witness I never wanted to go.  I am a poor soldier but I’m an even weaker husband to this strong backed woman, daughter of the bastard conqueror of England.

I cry for help sometimes – a little over-dramatic perhaps – and the whispered cry disturbs me but would wake her if it were louder, and there is no joy now in waking her. She wakes with a list of things to prepare for my return east.

You would have thought, from her cries on our wedding night, I had proved my manhood to her, the way she clawed my back, but she was ever sullen afterwards, as if she had given too much away. She washes energetically in the mornings, splashing the ice cold water on the rushes.

The Lord knows I am a poor soldier, but an even worse judge of men.  The gangling Bohemond took Antioch.  How was I to know that he had the town’s fall arranged for months before – all that hot wearisome time we besieged it, he was just biding his time till he could be sure.  He dealt secretly with Christian, Jew and Moslem alike with his smooth tongue, while we grew exhausted and sick.

Christ is my witness.  I am now coward, though the world and my wife call me so.  Now Bohemond with his pale hair and handsome looks has Antioch that would never have fallen without treachery.  And Godfrey has Jerusalem – that’s only fair.

But I was weary and there seemed no hope.  I close my eyes, the sun blinds them.  I press my ear to the bolster and I hear the creaking of the mangonels. In an army of second sons, I had lands already. Green lands with sheep and cattle and apple trees. In an army of Christians I grew weary of  death – the babies speared on lances, the cries of their raped mothers before their throats were cut.  The Saracens were as fine fighting men as us and they made us sweat in the dust of their flying horse hooves.

I left my tent outside Antioch, in a shaking fever.  Had I stayed, I would now be dreaming in Jerusalem, far from her nagging tongue.