The little boy wove his way through the thickening crowd, ducking between legs and dodging grabbing hands. He knew many of the people in the throng and laughed gleefully as he spun past them. His success did not last long. A tight grip squeezed his upper arm, halting his movements. Twisting around, the tension left his body when he saw his father.
‘Enough of that’, his father growled; yanking the boy tight against his side. The boy pouted but said nothing. It never served him well to push back against his father. In fact, it often earned him a right whipping.
Leaning forward, the boy took note of his mother on his father’s opposite side, her face set in an expression he had never seen before. She appeared worried: her mouth was pursed and eyes misty with unshed tears. The boy frowned. His mother exhibited many emotions, mostly unconditional love for her children, and crossness for when he came home covered from head to toe in mud.
But never worry.
The boy’s attention turned to the front, craning his neck this way and that to see what it was that worried her. He could not see much from behind the backs and legs of the people. A cloud of conversation hovered over them; whispers that the boy did not comprehend.
Though he could not see clearly ahead of him, the boy, having spent his entire life in this town, knew he would be looking at the façade of their church. It was not as colossal as those he had heard of in other localities, but their house of God was nonetheless impressive. At least, impressive to a boy of nine.
‘Robert, tell me it is not true’, the boy heard his mother murmur to his father.
‘I cannot say for certain’, the boy’s father replied.
His father was the sort of man that kept his emotions guarded. The boy oftentimes did not know whether his father loved him, or tolerated him. This moment was no different. His father’s face was like the stone bricks of the community church: cold and blank.
A cry rose up from the front of the crowd, and then like a ripple in a pond, silence spread throughout.
A voice rang out, but the boy could not tell what it said. The tone rose and fell, reminding the boy of the church’s elderly priest during the homily. The priest scared the boy. His sermons always foretold of doom at the hands of God, declared everyone sinners, and spoke of salvation in only unattainable terms.
The boy did not understand the priest most of the time, but he did not have to. It was all in his tone. And that same tone crept towards him over the crowd, like a spectre slinking in the shadows to gobble up little children. A shiver raced down his spine.
The grip that had held so tightly to his upper arm shifted and his father’s arm snaked around the boy’s shoulders, dragging him closer; protective.
The boy’s father had not shown much affection in his short nine years, and every time in the past meant something was amiss.
The crowd began to chant, the rabble so loud, the boy could not make out the words.
‘It is the will of God! It is the will of God!’
To the boy’s left, his mother began to sob.
‘Father!’ The boy shouted to be heard over the din. ‘Father, what is happening?’ His heart thundered in his chest, nervous and scared, swept away in the fervor of the crowd.
His father knelt, taking hold of the boy’s shoulders.
‘War, my boy,’ his father said. ‘War in the Holy Land’.
War. Never a good word. The boy had heard it many times before, war as petty squabbles amongst local lords. But he had never heard of this kind of war.
‘Father, will you go?’ the little boy asked, emotions welling and salty tears stinging his eyes, blurring his father’s face.
‘I shall.’ his father replied. ‘While I am gone, you will help care for your mother’.
If his father wanted to be reassuring with the lilt of his voice, he would need to try harder to calm the boy.
‘Why must you go, father?’ the boy asked, sniffling. He grew vaguely aware of the crowd dispersing around them and his mother’s broken sobs.
‘It is God’s will, my boy,’ his father replied, as though the response could be none other. ‘As I said, you will help your mother and keep her safe.’
The hot tears came more easily now, flowing down the little boy’s cheeks. His father would have cuffed him by now at such a display, but all the boy saw on the older man’s face was fear. Fear, and a bit of determination.
The year was 1095.
And Christianity was going to war.
Written by Jenn Gosselin