Author Topic: Chain 2 - The Sin of the Cross - An Exilian Chain-Writing Story 2020  (Read 1380 times)


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Chain 2 - The Sin of the Cross
An Exilian Chain-Writing Story

By Tar-Palantir, Eleonora, Pitys, BlackZebra, Caradìlis, Spritelady, Tusky von Tuskington III, and H. E. Strachan

‘Philip, I have a very special mission for you. As my personal physician, I know you will carry it out faithfully’
‘Your Holiness is too kind. How may I be of service to you and the Church?’
‘As you know, the pagan Saracens threaten the Holy Land. I intend to resolve this. You have heard of the great Christian Eastern king, Prester John?’
‘I and all of Christendom. Did he not write recently to the Greek Emperor?’
‘Indeed he did, proving that he exists and is most eager to assist the Church in our efforts to save Jerusalem for the true faith. I intend to reply to secure a great Christian alliance of East and West against the Saracens. And you must deliver it.’
‘I am not worthy to be the instrument of Your Holiness in this great undertaking, but I will do my best.’
‘I know you will, my son.’
‘Before I depart, may I ask one question, Your Holiness?’
‘Of course, Philip.’
‘Whither should I go in the search for Prester John?’
‘I know not rightly where he lives, but seek for the land of the Armenians; we know them to be Christians of a kind and they may have surer knowledge. Godspeed!’
And so I found myself leaving Rome for God knew where. All I had to do was somehow circumvent the Saracen kingdoms of Asia and possibly fight dog-headed men and Blemmyes to reach the Armenian lands. And beyond that, who knew what I would find?
Arranging the departure took me months. The sunset surprised me often as I sat in my library way after Vespers, with the sole company of the feeble light of a dying candle. The cool evening breeze was slowly invading the halls of the palace while I was still sitting at my desk, making my way through old charters. None of those obscure geographers indicated an accessible way to enter the land of the Armenians. The maps were seemingly unclear. Studying them, I came across traces of ancient cities, settlements whose names had been erased and became illegible. And was that an oasis there, possibly an old merchant base in the shade of the Anatolian mountains?
Although my aim was to secure an ally, I knew that I should have been extremely careful in venturing into Byzantium and moving forward to the East, up to the Great Wall that Alexander the Great built to stop the giants Gog and Magog.
One evening, shortly before my departure, my apprentice Mercutius came looking for me. He was not alone: Cardinal de Grimoard was sending an embassy. His layman lieutenant, Jaufrè Malebranche, was there to escort me, as His Highness requested to have a private conversation.
“And you, Doctor of Medicine, might use the help of someone well-versed in tracking down who’s very good at hiding, don’t you?” so sneered at me Malebranche, with a snarling laugh that proved me that he sensed how appalled I was by his presence. Indeed, he was right.
The sky was growing light but it was still before dawn when I first caught sight of our destination on the horizon. The finally calm sea and early morning quiet was soothing to my nerves. There had been little chance for sleep last night and even less inclination. I had long chased tales and rumours of a pious, Christian King of the Indians, was this finally my chance to find him?  My revelry was rudely interrupted, Malebranche had emerged from below deck and was coarsely addressing the captain much to his displeasure.
What had I got myself into by bringing him here? What was in it for him, or for the cardinal? The woman was probably little more than a wild goose chase. A royal princess, even a widowed princess past her breeding years, would surely not have been risked with such a desperate mission. And yet... I thought about the small, dark skinned woman who accompanied us. Her clothes did something to diminish the exoticism of her appearance; plain, and her hair covered not unlike any good sister who might be found in Rome. But she did not hold herself in the same subservient way. And how could I ignore the significance of the token she bore? The three magi, the gifts they bore had been replaced with three small emeralds. My hands had shook when the cardinal had triumphantly revealed it to me that night in his quarters. I could not simply dismiss it.
Finally, our ship arrived in the magnificent city of Constantinople. While sailing through Sea of Marmara my gaze fell upon the magnificent Theodosian Walls protecting the city for centuries. I wondered if these Greeks, despite their declining power, would be a better bet against the Saracens instead of this mythical king in the east. As we anchored at the pier and left the merchant vessel, which brought us over the Mediterranean, to our surprise a group of soldiers and a man in ceremonial clothing awaited us. Beside him a small figure emerged clothed in the simple robes of a monk. He addressed me in pristine Latin:
‘My lord sends you greetings and wishes to inquire about your journey. What brings the personal physician of the Pope to these lands?’
Surprised about the man knowing my identity, thoughts about possible betrayal crossed my mind. Was there an intrigue by the cardinal? Who was this man in ceremonial robes? It seemed as if the monk had read my mind.
‘You seem to be puzzled. May I introduce Katastaseos Arkadios. He is the ceremonial master of his majesty the Basileus. I am his humble servant and translator Konstantinos. Cardinal de Grimoard informed us about your impending arrival. Nevertheless, my lord wishes to hear himself what the purpose of you journey is.’
‘His holiness the Pope sent me on this journey in a secret mission. I cannot tell your lord.’
After translating and receiving an order from Arkadios, Konstantinos replied:
‘You must be tired from the long journey so please enjoy the hospitality of his majesty.’
I nodded and conveyed my thanks. Arkadios waved a hand and a young man appeared by my side almost instantly, beckoning me to follow. And so, I let myself be led away through several corridors and a small courtyard.
We walked quickly and in silence, only stopping, when my guide halted at a small wooden door. He opened it and gestured for me to enter. Behind the door was a small, but comfortable room. Light entered only sparely through small windows near the ceiling. There was a simple bed at the far side, a washbasin and a wooden chest next to it and near the door, a small table with a single chair and a candlestick holder with a nearly burnt down candle stuck within. My guide remained silent, as I looked around the room, but it was made quite obvious even through his silence, that these would be my quarters for the duration of my stay. It would do. Having done his job of leading me here, my guide turned and disappeared.
I sighed, sat down on the chair. This place, I was beginning to get a bad feeling about it. Hopefully, I would be able to complete my mission here soon and return home. I had an inkling that I was not wanted here.
The following day, I was summoned to the private chambers of Katastaseos. I had not informed Malebranch of this invitation; I was keen not to spend any more time with the man than absolutely necessary.
‘My lord would like to ask you to reconsider the secrecy of your mission. He and His Majesty are keen to aid the Pope in whatever way they can, especially if your mission concerns securing the Holy Land.’ As Konstantinos spoke, his hands twitched slightly, in anxiety perhaps?
‘I can only say that my mission is in the best interests of His Holiness and his goal to secure Jerusalem. I am forbidden to speak further and must decline your offer. We are prepared to proceed with our journey. But we thank you for your hospitality.’
Konstantinos appeared to pale at my response, and I couldn’t help but wonder why this was so important. Was he set to receive some punishment if I declined to reveal the information his lord sought? Or perhaps was it something more, an issue concerning Master Arkadios’ own standing with his Majesty? Whatever the answer, Konstantinos delivered my response and the reply came swiftly.
‘We would be grateful if you would stay another night and consider this request. Your ship has not yet been fully resupplied for the continuation of your journey. In fact, it may be some time before this can be completed’. Arkadios’ message was clear to me. He would not permit us to leave until we had revealed the nature of our mission.
The next day I enquired as to the readiness of the vessel, but I was told there was an issue with the ship’s rudder. My suspicions were confirmed. I was furious. My path was guided by God and I would not have it imperilled here.
With this in mind I decided to venture out into the city. Whilst I was free to move around as I pleased, some figure always followed me, probably hired by Arkadios. So, this time I headed out in the company of Malebranche. Whilst I did not like the man, I had thought of a use for him.
As we passed through a bustling market I had him start an argument with a vendor over something trivial. It was a ruse. The ensuing commotion distracted our tail, and I was able to slip away. Seizing the opportunity, I quickly made some enquiries about moving east. As luck would have it, I happened across a merchant from Ani, a city in the Bagratid Armenian kingdom. He told me his caravan would be heading there by land the next day, so in exchange for gold he agreed to escort us.
The merchant had given me a map, detailing the route we would be taking through the western Anatolian mountains, so I spent the afternoon familiarising myself with it.
I was reluctant to move on in this clandestine way. The Basileus himself might get wind of it and brand us fugitives, but what other choice did I have?
The next day I rose at Lauds for prayer, asking forgiveness for my coming deception and the certain missing of my more usual Prime prayers. In the pre-dawn, I, the despicable Malebranche, and our mysterious female companion, escaped our separate lodgings and hurried to the merchant’s caravan. God was with us: the man had not left and, facing the rising sun, we escaped Constantinople.
Or so I thought. Barely a mile from the ancient city’s wall, the camels and donkeys halted, my own included. Malebranche dismounted and approached the caravan’s leader, a wrinkled fellow different to the man I had paid. He turned his head so it was in profile and I almost fell off my mule: it was the face of Byzantine’s coins, the Basileus!
Malebranche, addressed the ruler boldly, “Cardinal de Grimoard sends his greetings.”
The Basileus made no answer. My merchant, a servant or a spy I now realised, acted as a translator to the Basileus and the grey man nodded once in response.
I thought of the map I had been given to study: was it fake or genuine? could I ride without a guide? did I have enough supplies on my mule? My indecision denied any of these questions being answered. The other men in the caravan, openly armed, took my donkey’s reins from me and hope left my breast.
We did not return by the same route. The dark woman who had courted my curiosity so long rode beside the Basileus, silent as ever. Malebranche on the other hand delighted in goading me with the details of his cleverness and double-dealing on behalf of his patron. He made jest of the tortures lined up for me in the eternal imprisonment which was my due.
“Why is it my due? I am innocent! You have betrayed the Holy Pope, the agent of the Almighty God. Hell awaits thee Malebranche!”
“Not if I’m serving the next Pope who will absolve me it won’t,” Malebranche countered. My jaw dropped at the audaciousness of Cardinal de Grimoard. Then my consciousness was taken from me and I knew no more.

This is one of three stories written as part of our summer 2020 chain writing project. You can read the other two here and here, and find the project wrap-up announcement here.

Editor's Note: A rich story with a winding subversion. Philip is sent on a dedicated mission, accompanied by someone who he would have preferred was not there at all, but what could Philip rightfully do? Even so, Philip continued on and complied with the requests of the royals, with a whiff that something just was not right. To get so far in his escape plan from the palace, only to be brought right back to where he was, how really very unornate.

The Editor Is Now Concerned About: Why Philip did not try to flee the moment he suspected his company of plotting and preparing to outmanoeuvre him, it’s a shame.
« Last Edit: August 07, 2020, 02:43:30 PM by Leafly »