A Shining Knight
Can a hard-bitten, horse-mounted fighting man adjust to the peaceful modern world? When nerdy medieval language scholar Gabriel Sussman finds himself responsible for two medieval crusaders stranded in the modern world, the whole question is complicated by his serious crush on the knight, Jordan De Courcy. Surely such a manly man could never be interested in someone like Gabriel. Or are Gabriel’s slim, pale-skinned good looks just the things to appeal to medieval tastes?
The lights were coming closer. Should I wake Lord Jordan? Such bright lights. When I had first seen them, I thought they were fallen stars or a burning village. But there were no villages in these dusty Holy Land hills and, anyway, the lights were moving. Bandits, no doubt. These hills were lousy with them. I should wake Lord Jordan.
When he lay down to sleep, he had been justly angered at me. My fault we were benighted, sleeping here among the stale goat turds, when we could have been safe behind the walls of Jerusalem in some cosy inn. My insolence, my disobedience. He had not struck me, though he would have been within his rights.
Instead, he had set his jaw and said coldly, “At times I wish I had a squire with less strong opinions.”
Instructing me to wake him for his watch, he had rolled over with his back to me and gone to sleep, leaving me to the fear that I might this time have gone too far, that he might dismiss me. For he had a strong will and no longer needed me as he once had.
So I watched, standing so as not to fall asleep and the night deepened, still but for the call of owls and wild dogs. Then as the evening star went below the horizon, I saw the lights coming up the hill. I reckoned on bandits or thieves and thought that if we lay quietly, they would probably leave us alone.
Except that the lights were bigger and brighter than any lanterns I had ever seen. I kept remembering the stories of supernatural lights from back home in France, the lights of ghosts or Fair Folk set to torment benighted travellers. How many ghosts lurked in these worn-out Holy Land hills? Or even heathen Djinns like the Arab house boys liked to talk of? If I woke my lord for mere phantoms, how much more angry would he be? But if they were real and I didn’t wake him...?
The lights came closer. The horses stirred uneasily and suddenly the dilemma resolved itself. With a sharp intake of breath, Lord Jordan woke.
Quickly I leaned close to him, hissing, “Someone’s coming.”
My lord was instantly alert, listening. He rolled stealthily over to peer at the lights.
“God’s death!” he breathed. “What is that?”
The lights were now as shining white as if two stars were moving up the hill toward us. I could see nothing behind them, but I could hear feet crunching on stony ground and a murmur of voices.
With a flick of his head, Lord Jordan motioned me to calm the horse. The light was now so strong I could read his face. As they came closer and closer, the cow shed lit up bright as day. Standing at Triomphe’s head, I pressed myself harder against the roof pole so that my silhouette might not be seen. Then, curse it, Jennet the palfrey, always such a quiet horse, let out a high-pitched whinny. The light turned toward us like some accursed eye.
My blood froze in my veins. Now we were in for it. The noise of a horse in a humble goat shed was always wrong.
A voice, a human voice, spoke. Another answered and the light turned away. Sweet Jesu be thanked! But why didn’t they look?
The gap between the top of the wall and the roof was wide, and as the direction of the light changed and the shed dimmed, I could see the shapes of the men passing close before us. Five figures in armour marched past the shed and turned up behind it. The light was streaming out of the lanterns that two of them were holding on their shoulders. Soldiers of some sort—two were wearing chain mail, coifs but no helms, two, a strange style of leather armour with helms, and the last wore a kind of metal jerkin over his mail. Saracens did not wear such armour, but nor did Franks dress so. Too well dressed for brigands. Byzantines? Venetians? Germans? They were coming away from Jerusalem. A scouting party?
Jennet whinnied again and Triomphe joined her. The men paid no heed but marched away into the hills behind us.
Lord Jordan watched them the whole time, creeping carefully from wall to wall. As the light disappeared and I joined him, he whispered, “King Raymond should know of this.”
“What was that?”
He stood upright and went for the door as if I hadn’t spoken. “I’m going to see where they’re going!”
Oh, Blessed God, have mercy. He was leaving me!
“My lord. That light! It can’t be natural.”
He turned and looked at me. It was dark again and I couldn’t read his face. But I saw his hand move as he crossed himself.
Then he said, “Even so, our liege should hear of it. Stay here if you’re feared.” He went out the door.
Christ preserve us from heroes! I realized that I was even more feared of his not coming back, so I stumbled after him.
So there we were, sneaking through the dry hills of the Holy Land, following a light that had to be supernatural because even though it was in among the hills, we could still see the glow of it above them. In between stumbling over tussocks and trying not to crunch on the stones, we were both of us crossing ourselves and saying the Paternoster under our breaths—which was all right for Lord Jordan, he was a crusader, but me, I hadn’t thought I had a religious bone in my body, what with all I knew about the church. Just goes to show. Fear makes good Christians of us all.