Once upon a time, there were three men. Two of them were friends, the third was not. In the winter, the council had convened and told them that they were now one, destined to be together until the task was done. The first nodded solemnly and stood steadfast. The second smiled at his friend and clapped his shoulder in a hearty grip. The third, however, boiled with rage, but nodded as the first had and stood, shaking, off to the side. The council detailed the standards which must be followed: timeliness, secrecy, hope. When the council was done with their pronouncement they left the chamber and the three men behind.
The first, called Barnaby, looked at the other two with doubt and fear. Barnaby knew the second man, Diarmuid, was as trustworthy as one could wish, and would stand beside him no matter what. Chances were, Barnaby thought with a smile, Diarmuid would be smiling the entire time. The smile on Barnaby’s face faded as his gaze reached the young Cormag. Cormag, who had been sentenced to this as punishment to make up for his father’s sins. Cormag, who shook with his anger and was holding himself together by the barest of margins. Cormag, whom Barnaby knew, despite his rage, would also be as trustworthy as any man could want. He gave Cormag a look, a sympathetic smile, and approached him.
Cormag looked up from his clenched fists and caught Barnaby’s sympathetic eye. Seeing the look on Barnaby’s face intensified his rage to the point where the fragile thread of control snapped, almost audibly, and naked pain and rage showed on his face. Cormag held up a hand to stop him and took a step away.
“I will do this,” he choked out, “I will do only this. Expect no more from me than exactly what those monstrous men have locked me to. No more!” Cormag lost hold of himself and stormed from the large chamber, every heel strike reverberating off the walls like thunder.
“He will be a weakness,” Diarmuid said softly, “He will cause us problems.”
“No, Brother. He will not. He is as much of this honorable order as we are. The council reaches far in sentencing this child…nay, do not grumble, he is yet a child,” Barnaby began again, “They reach far in this judgment. Who can say that their fathers or their children are free from all sin? To sentence one who is but a child to years, perhaps hundreds of years, of service because of what his father has done? It is doubtful.”
“Aye. Doubtful indeed. I do not agree that he is a child, however, he is a grown man. Able to enter into contracts, able to join the Brotherhood, able to fight. As long as he does not work against us, he is welcome, and will be one of us. We cannot allow him to falter though,” Diarmuid said sadly.
“I understand. I believe he will take his part as seriously as he should. I cannot fault him for his anger. In his shoes, I would be just as angered by their decision. Perhaps more.”
“I cannot figure out why the council did it. Why would they doom a young man who had no possible control over his father?” Diarmuid asked.
“To solidify his commitment to the Brotherhood. At least, that is the reason that they believe they did it. I think that, in fact, they were so shocked and enraged by Lugh’s actions that they unleashed their wrath at the only person left. Lugh had already taken his own life, so there was nothing left but to punish the son. I think, in some ways, it might have also been to remove him from this horror filled place.”
“Oh, aye. Leaving could do nothing but good for the poor wretch. To be here, day in and day out, knowing that his family’s graves lie over the hill. To know that his father had taken leave of the sane world in that way, every time he passed his boyhood home, would be too much. I could not bear that, and he should not be made to. This decision will not seem like a reprieve to young Cormag, and I cannot find fault either, ” Diarmuid said, “We should hold off our journey until he has had a chance to make peace. The Winter has hold now, and we will not be in full need for some time.”
“Agreed. I think that we should be there for him to complete the rituals. It can only help to further convince him that we are his brothers in this,” Barnaby nodded.
“I must ask, Barnaby, because you are closer to the council. What happened to Lugh? We all heard the end, but not the why of it. What pushed him to such a dark place?” Diarmuid asked.
“The crusades, Brother, though this is only speculation. We will likely never know for certain. Our order seeks only to learn from the people of Mohammed. The other orders seek to convert by force. The horrors they have inflicted on people in order to bring them to a Christian God make all the things we have seen in our time pale in comparison. When you remove a man from his home, put him in frightening conditions, and convince him that all but the few he travels with are the enemy, you make for men who are scared and quick to overreact. Make the conditions short on food, high on illness and heat, and those overreactions turn into vengeance and cruelty. I have seen formerly sane men do things that, prior to leaving our country, would have made them retch in the bushes. Lugh saw so much violence, and then his son readying to join a brotherhood terrified him. He felt that his family may be better dead than at the mercy of these people who lost their humanity so easily. Cormag arrived at the end of the slaughter, to find his family dead from the wee babe to the grandfather. Lugh only managed tell Cormag of his love for him before died from his wounds,” Barnaby told him. His voice became rougher as he progressed through the story.
“Oh, dear Lords and Ladies,” Diarmuid said quietly. “I thank the powers that be, daily, for the circumstances that prevented me from going to the Holy Land.”
“The horrors were innumerable. The the endless line of graves of the children Stephen and Nicholas attempted to lead to Jerusalem began the stress long before we reached our destination. When it ended with fighting our own brethren to keep the knowledge of the Muslims safe, indeed to keep the Muslims themselves safe, many men faltered. The men we fought, men from other orders, men who had taken vows similar to ours, were gone. We fought demons in their faces. Soon the traumas piled up into a load that not even Atlas himself could not have lifted without pain. I saw many men break under the strain, but none as horribly as Lugh,” Barnaby sighed, “And then, somehow, they – we – were expected to come back here, and return to what? Nothing can heal some wounds.”
“We will care for his son as he would have, had his mind remained, Barnaby. We owe Lugh that much. We owe Cormag much more,” Cormag said and exhaled heavily, “Vile council for punishing the punished. It was a mistake.”
“Indeed. We will care for him as though he were our own,” Barnaby said while leading Diarmuid through the doorway, “For as long as it takes.”
“Aye. As long as it takes.”
This is part three of a short story/novella. I will be posting parts every Tuesday until it is all here. It is by no means finished, so please share your questions/comments/suggestions.
You can find the previous parts here:
The story continues here: