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A Knight's Tale: Lying in Wait

John is an actor, writer, and entrepreneur interested in the search for truth and meaning in the world.

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There is an extraordinary tale from the Middle Ages about the virtues of patience and wisdom. It was a time long ago when the Kings of the West went forth to war against the Moslem usurpers of the Holy Land. Pope Urban II had called for a crusade against Moslems who were attacking Christian kingdoms from Spain to North Africa to the Holy Land. Islam, a religion of conquest and violence, was spreading like a merciless plague. Since their prophet’s death, his disciples followed his instructions to spread Islam by the sword. Christian pilgrims and their holy sites were constantly subject to attack and desecration by Moslems. As a result, the Holy Land was no longer accessible to Christian pilgrims from Europe.

The story begins in Anatolia (modern-day Turkey), where two brothers, Godfrey, twenty-seven and his younger brother Baldwin, twenty-two—joint heirs to the crown of the Frankish kingdom—were preparing to enter the Holy Land. Papal encouragement, the hope of eternal merit, and the offer of indulgences motivated them, like thousands of others — mostly French and Norman knights of the main army—to enroll in the first crusade. The word crusade, which is derived from the Latin crux “cross,” is a reference to the biblical injunction that Christians carry their crosses. Crusaders wore a red cloth cross-sewn on their tunics to indicate that they had assumed the cross and were soldiers of Christ. The brothers, along with their armies, had endured an arduous three-week journey that started by boarding ships in Marseille and ended by disembarking in Constantinople. Constantinople was the primary staging area for Christian armies to obtain provisions before beginning the long march to Jerusalem.

Upon reaching their destination, the brothers almost immediately began quarreling about the best time to start the expedition. Godfrey argued that the spring was the best time to launch an invasion. Besides, he said, “The men need time to fully rest before commencing such an ambitious undertaking.” He reasoned that by the springtime, the narrow roads along the hilly Asia Minor roadways would be free of snow, provide better footing for battle formations, and allow their armies ample time to forage for food when rations ran low. Baldwin, always the undisciplined adventurer, believed that immediate action was their key to success. He believed that the combined crusader armies could overwhelm an unprepared adversary within ninety days. They just had to leave before it started snowing and the Moslems detected their presence. The dispute between the two brothers raged for weeks and became so heated that they decided to part ways. After thirty days of rest and provisioning, Baldwin left Constantinople with a small contingent of soldiers, headed for Jerusalem.

In the beginning of the march, everything went completely according to plan. The ancient roads built by the Romans went directly through major Anatolia population centers that afforded the men opportunities to replenish food stocks and receive supplies by sea. Then, as if courting disaster, the prince made a fatal blunder. Local inhabitants had told the prince about a shortcut that would take weeks off his journey. If true, his contingent would be the first crusader force to arrive and besiege Jerusalem. The new route required him to leave the well-built Roman roads and travel inland on rugged footpaths in the hill country.

Almost immediately, things went wrong. First, the chill of winter appeared in the air and snow started falling. Then, the heavy, armor-laden horses and men, struggling through a mixture of mud and snow, easily grew tired. There were no fresh provisions available in the remote hills and the men began to hunger. Day and night, they had to guard against ambushes. The supposed two-day detour turned into two weeks of utter despair. When the prince was at his wits’ end, a seeming miracle appeared on the horizon. In the distance, he saw a large caravan illuminated under the full moon. He at first thought it was odd that a caravan would inhabit such an indefensible position. The caravan resided in a narrow clearing that had ridges on both sides of it—an ideal place to spring an ambush. But, the hunger and cold made him discount his concerns. Little did he know that Moslem warriors were hiding along both sides of the narrow roadway expecting his arrival. They had sent spies to deceive the foolish prince into going inland where there was no chance of rescue. Now their reward was just west of Adana.

The foolish prince came marching down into the camp with an exhausted army in complete disarray. His men were cold, hungry, and sickly. The Moslems’ leaders, who were disguised as merchants from Armenia, came out of their tents and greeted them warmly. Gifts were exchanged that night, and a friendship was inaugurated between the leaders. A great feast was given in honor of the young prince. They heaped praise and compliments upon the prince, hoping he would divulge the crusaders’ strategy for conquering the Holy Land. He and his men were given the choicest wine and women to indulge their lust. Seemingly, nothing was too good for these men. However, this hospitality was all a pretense to gain his confidence. Because once the prince’s confidence was gained and his men were incapacitated, the Moslem leaders gave a signal, and their hidden comrades began the attack. They massacred the entire crusader army, save the prince, whom they held for ransom, and his young squire, who would deliver the ransom demand.

The young squire, upon release, made his way to the port of the city of Smyrna and boarded a ship headed for Constantinople. Upon arriving in Constantinople, he earnestly sought out Baldwin’s elder brother and told him what had befallen them. To the squire’s surprise, the elder brother did not hastily make plans to rescue his brother. He instead waited for spring. Then several months later, when winter was far spent, Godfrey and the squire, accompanied by the entire crusader army, galloped down the coast in full-battle array. Upon reaching the outskirts of the ancient city of Lycia, he ordered the army to stop and prepare for battle. He knew that trouble lay ahead, for his spy Alpho, a royal descendant of Axum (a former King of Ethiopia), had told him of his enemies’ plans and identity. The Moslems who were ransoming Godfrey’s brother were planning to impersonate local indigenous Christian leaders and offer their swords to the elder prince. Once they had intermingled themselves among Godfrey’s men and gained their trust, a main Moslem force would be given the signal to attack during the night.

When he reached the appointed place, the impostors lying in wait sprang out of their hiding places and asked the prince for an audience. However, he did not go with them. He had seen their true form. They were like snakes whose rattles were silent. Yet, they were much more deadly than normal snakes. For their kind creep in subtly, gain your trust, and lull you into a false sense of safety. Then their fangs, like daggers, strike those who sleep in a divided house. That prince was not foolish; for upon refusing their invitation, he ordered his men to charge. Great was the slaughter of the pretenders. The prince freed his wayward brother from bondage, and they together marched on Jerusalem to deliver it from Moslem rule.

Wisdom is truly its own reward. One prince trusted without a reason and was overcome by his enemies. However, the wise prince was more prudent and prospered by receiving guidance from an ally. So that you will not be overcome by evil, accept no person into your bosom until he is proven true. Even then, keep the secrets of the heart like a fragrance to be used sparingly.

Bible study verses: Proverbs 12:6 and 26:28.

© 2021 John Remington Pierce

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