“Raoul! Roger!” A distant voice came hurrying toward a certain Crusader tent. “Brothers!” Sir Godfrey exclaimed, rushing in. “Here you are!”
“Shh!” Sir Roger cried instinctively. He glanced at the reclining figure of his older brother Raoul. “Not so loud,” Roger muttered, sitting up himself.
Sir Godfrey looked at their older brother. “What? Is he sleeping?”
“Not any more, Godfrey.” Sir Raoul smiled without stirring.
“No, he has not slept,” assured young Roger.
Godfrey grinned. “Daydreaming again, is it? On the battlefield already?”
“Don’t you know Raoul by now, brother?” Sir Roger stretched. “He is back in Crequy.”
The knight in question looked down at a worn bag around his neck. “Part of me never left there,” he admitted.
Sir Godfrey nodded understandingly, “Thinking of Mahtilde again?”
“Praying, dear brother.” Sir Raoul emptied the little bag into his hand. “My thoughts alone would profit her little.”
Sir Roger leaned on his side. “You still worry for her?” he asked, looking down at the fragment of the ring in Raoul’s hand. His mind went back to the day of departure. “You fear she is still rapt in grief.”
Without a sound, Sir Raoul pressed the half-ring to his lips. “I pray for her,” he said simply, slipping the ring back into its bag.
“You wonder how she is taking it all?” asked Sir Godfrey.
Raoul nodded. “I cannot help it,” he confessed. “But I entrust her to Our Lady and leave the rest to God. He wills this sorrow now, that He may reward her later.”
“And what if He wills a respite?” Sir Godfrey strove to keep a casual tone. “What if some of the reward comes in advance?”
“Do you have something in mind, Godfrey?” Raoul asked, half-smiling.
In answer, Sir Godfrey held up a rough looking, thin rectangular pouch.
“What is that?” asked Roger, sitting up. But Godfrey’s keen eyes were fixed upon the young lord of Crequy - whose astute mind was rapidly surmising the envelope’s contents.
“Godfrey! Can it be?” Raoul exclaimed.
Satisfied with his surprise, Godfrey announced proudly “It just came by an express messenger from Crequy. See for yourself,” he said, handing the letter over to Raoul. “I would have opened it already, but there is the trivial detail that it is addressed to you first.”
“And it is from Mahtilde,” Roger shot an amused smile at Godfrey, who returned it with the correction:
“And it is from our father.”
In those days long past, correspondence was not a frequent or easy matter. Every letter that safely made it to its destination was a precious thing indeed. And in the several months that he had been away, Raoul and his brothers had already traveled over 2,000 miles from their home. They were at present temporarily stationed at the port of Satalia (in modern day Turkey). Keenly aware of the distance that lay between him and his beloved wife, the Lord of Crequy felt the bitter pang of separation. Grateful beyond words for this extraordinary surprise, Sir Raoul calmly, yet eagerly, read the letter.
As their leader fell, so too did the courage of the remaining Crusaders. The cry “Sir Raoul has fallen!” went up like the voice of doom, and the seven knights who still yet breathed life, turned back and fled.
Later, When they at last came bursting into the army camp, the seven knights announced their sad disaster. But they discovered that theirs was not the only tragedy. Countless others, caught in the perilous mountains, had been slaughtered and wounded by the ferocious infidels. But, by a mercy and miracle of God, King Louis the Young had survived and the French army regrouped.
But the further successes and victories of the French Crusaders could not bring back their valiant dead. And as was possible, various messengers were dispatched to carry the dreadful news to the appropriate relations.
Such a courier sadly made his long way to the solitary northern city of Crequy. With a heavy heart, he rode across the castle moat, knowing full well the grief that he brought with him.
An excited maid rushed into the Lady Mahtilde’s chambers.
“Come quick, my lady!” she cried breathlessly. “There is a herald waiting in the hall for you.” An instinctive smile spread across the young maiden’s face. “He looks like he comes from the crusades. Oh my lady, he may bring news from the Lord Raoul!”
The Lady of Crequy clasped her hands with joy. “An answer to my letter! Here,” she nodded towards the infant’s cradle. “Watch little Baudouin, will you?”
Her father-in-law, the Count Gerard, was already waiting for her in the hall. To her eye, he was stooping a little, but she could not see his face. She thought little of it though, as she sought out the courier.
“You have news, good sir?” she asked the messenger. Her gentle voice echoed in the somber hall. “You bring news from my husband, Lord Raoul of Crequy?”
The messenger glanced awkwardly at the count, whose face remained downcast. Seeing himself thus alone in his dreadful duty, the courier looked back at the expectant lady. Being what he hoped was gentle, he said at last “Not from him... But of him, my lady.”
The lady’s charming smile was replaced by an inquisitive look.
“Of him?” she asked. Her voice did not yet falter - for whatever possibilities ran through her mind, nothing could have prepared the Lady Mahtilde for what she next would hear.
The courier stood tall and faced her squarely.
“Your lord was slain in battle, my lady,” he said. “Sir Raoul is dead.”
In a single moment, both terror and grief swelled up to consume her soul. Their torment was brief though, for the bitter and violent shock instantly sent the poor widow to the ground in a dead faint.
Several servants immediately rushed to their lady’s aid. Sir Gerard himself endeavored to help her, but he himself could barely stand. Stumbling back, he clutched at a chair.
“And Sirs Godfrey and Roger?” he forced himself to ask.
“Both perished, good Sir,” was the dreaded response.
“Oh no,” the old count whispered. “Say that it is not so.”
“Only seven survived the terrible ambush,” the courier went on to tell. “But you should have heard what they saw. None were more valiant than the three brothers of Crequy! And the Lord Raoul was the bravest of them all - leading them on in the face of the danger…” The courier continued the tragic tale, expounding for the grieving father the last moments of his precious sons’ lives.
He went on to describe every detail of the fateful scene up until the very moment when the seven knights fled the battle. Barely escaping with their lives, the Crusaders’ narrative ended… but for the victorious Saracens, the story continued, as they triumphantly watched their enemies flee.
Remaining masters of the field, the Saracens did not bother to chase down those few petty survivors. Instead, carefully descending the rocky slopes, they came down from their perch and began looting the defeated dead. Like spiders surveying their catch, the Saracens spread out among the fallen Catholics and scoured for anything of value.
One archer in particular hurried towards the body of the lead knight. It was my arrow that struck him down, he thought I shall get first say on his bounty.
Eagerly searching his lordly victim, the Saracen found a little bag hanging around the knight’s neck. Snatching it off, the short man emptied its contents into his dark hand. With some disappointment, he held up a small piece of jewelry. Though it appeared to be broken, the plundering Saracen merely shrugged his shoulders.
“Better than nothing,” he said to himself. “Though I would expect more…” He reached down again towards the knight, but then suddenly stopped short. Something had caught his eye.
“Wha-?” he said aloud. “What is that?” Rubbing his eyes lest they had deceived him, the short infidel looked around.
“Come here!” he cried out to a fellow Saracen. “Look what I found!” The strain in his voice hurried his comrade’s steps.
“What is it?” this second archer asked, “What have you found? Is it the king of France?”
“Oh stop it, no!” the archer snapped; then pointing to the coat of arms, “Although he is a great lord.”
“And what has the dead dog got on him?” his companion continued. Spotting the broken ring, he laughed. “That's all? That has gotten you so excited?”
“No!” the archer now grabbed the bleeding shoulder of the fallen knight. With a heavy shove, he rolled the Crusader over onto his back. The other Saracen shrugged his shoulders.
“Well, I don’t know him,” was his sarcastic reply.
The short archer, although in no mood for such humor, kept a proud and calm composure. “Then take a good look at him.”
Obediently, the Saracen leaned forward and peered at the young knight’s face. Then he suddenly stepped back and looked at his short friend. “Did he just…?”
The archer had a sinister smile. “Give him another look.” Both Saracens then turned towards the fallen Crusader.
“He is breathing.” the short captor said proudly. His friend nodded in disbelief.
There was no doubt about it. The Lord of Crequy was still alive!
“Well for goodness sake, aren’t you going to read it?”
“Aloud,” clarified Godfrey.
But it was as if Raoul did not hear them. Just the sight of his dear wife’s handwriting was enough to carry the young count back to Crequy. In his heart, Raoul was home. And he could almost hear Mahtilde’s gentle voice as she penned the words he read.
Hopeless now of getting his older brother’s attention, Roger sighed disappointedly. “Well will you at least tell us if Father is still alive?”
“Hush now, Roger, let Raoul read.”
Contrary to his intention, it was Godfrey’s mild rebuke that shook Raoul from his thoughts.
“Oh, I’m so sorry brothers. Here, let me see. …” He looked further down the letter. “Yes father is doing well. His spirits are high and strong. He feels youthful and glad, for his thoughts are always with us. And also because….” His voice trailed off, as his widened eyes swiftly scanned the rest of the sentence. His poor brothers’ curiosity was insatiable, but the look on Raoul’s face was enough to dispel any fear. The news could only be good.
“Blessed be God!” Raoul cried out at last. “I am a father!”
Instantly, Godfrey snatched the letter from his brother’s hand.
“My dear Raoul!” exclaimed Roger exuberantly. “I congratulate you! Tell me, is it a boy or girl? ”
“A son,” Raoul said, his face beaming as only a new father’s can. “I have a son.”
“And his name is Baudouin,” read Godfrey.
“Is it?” Raoul turned around with a smile.
“What!” Roger was most displeased. “Mahtilde named your son after our worthless younger brother?”
“Roger!” cried Raoul. “What on earth makes you say a such a thing?”
“What should I say? How else do you describe the only coward in our family?”
“Roger, that’s enough.” Raoul insisted. “It isn’t true.”
“Well then why is he not here with us? There's no good reason for him to have not taken up arms. Why did he stay home?” The words came out with evident vexation and frustration.
Raoul did not answer at once. “Baudouin is young…” he began slowly.
“And we are not?”
“Now, Roger,” Godfrey interjected, “I’m sure Father had a great deal to do with naming Raoul’s boy. You know the place Baudouin has in his heart.”
“Perhaps,” admitted Roger. “He is almost as bad as Raoul in such things. But then, I am sure that Mahtilde raised no objection! She knows how Raoul would feel about it.”
“And she is absolutely right!” said Raoul. “I look forward to when I kiss the brow of my own baby Baudouin.”
“I note they did not name him after me,” Godfrey looked teasingly at his older brother.
Raoul turned and smiled. “I plan on having more than one son, brother.”
But Roger would not yield the disagreement and he murmured aloud to himself. “I still find the whole business disgraceful.”
“My dear Roger,” Raoul’s words took on a tone of irony. “The way you talk of our young brother back home, one would think you were jealous of him. Would you like to go back and join him?”
“Jealous! Join him?” Raoul’s sarcasm had had its desired effect and Roger was quite indignant. “I am disgusted! It’s dishonorable to our family name!”
“Ah, now there,” Raoul said calmly, “That is your mistake, Roger.”
Finding himself without a prompt reply, Roger was glad that Godfrey intervened.
“Come now, Raoul and Roger!” cried Godfrey, taking hold of the conversation. Grasping the letter in one hand, he set the other firmly on Raoul’s shoulder. “This is a wondrous occasion! Can I not share the great news with our friends, dear brother?”
Raoul smiled. “Please, Godfrey, but of course! There is indeed much to celebrate… and be grateful for.” This last comment was added with a glance at young Sir Roger. The begrudged knight caught the look, and said nothing as Godfrey hurried off with the letter in hand.
“What did you mean by that, Raoul?” Roger asked. In answer, the young lord held out his hand.
“You forget that we are the ones to be envied, Roger.” Raoul pulled the knight to his feet. “If Baudouin chose not to join us, his lot is to be pitied not scorned. Who knows but that God did not call him to the task He has for us?”
“Now how would you know that?” Roger was skeptical at his brother’s kindness.
Raoul shrugged his shoulders. “I cannot know for sure. But it is not for us to judge that. Our only peace should come in doing God’s Will ourselves. We cannot let the faults or even the failures of others to destroy our good will. If our hearts are pure, what have we to fear?”
The younger knight found truth in the elder one’s words. But disappointment was clearly still written on his face.
“I doubt that Baudouin could do anything to displease you. You love him so!”
Raoul, taking the intended complaint as a compliment, shook Roger by the shoulder. “I trust that I would feel the same for any of my brothers.” He stopped and looked past his brother. A smile spread across his face in anticipation, as the sound of proud and congratulating friends and lords was drawing near. Roger heard them too and, with a grin, headed towards the growing commotion. Raoul followed.
“Besides, Roger,” he said, slapping him playfully on the back, “one can still love and be displeased with the same person.”
Roger smiled. “However unlikely it may be.” He was calmer now, as the sting of his anger had passed. He now began to feel foolish for casting a shadow on so joyous an occasion. How could he complain in the face of such a blessing? As they drew near to their fast approaching friends, one question yet remained in Roger’s mind. With a slight nudge, he whispered to his brother.
“What were you talking about before, Raoul? What was my ‘mistake’?”
With a discreet bow, the young lord of Crequy, returned the whisper. “Your focus on shame and disgrace. We are here for God’s honor, not ours.” Raoul answered. Then with a look at once both grave and tender, he nodded. “Remember that, little brother.”
The days that followed were truly joyful ones for the brothers of Crequy. The wonderful news from Mahtilde of the birth of Raoul’s son was the cause of great rejoicing and celebration among the knight and his friends. Nothing, it seemed, could steal this happiness from him. With a beloved family awaiting his return, Raoul was prepared to face anything. But he could not have imagined what was waiting to face him…
Shortly after the message from Crequy had reached its lord, the Crusaders continued on their journey to the Holy Land. It was January, 1148, and the French, with hopes of refreshing their supplies, were headed for the city of Laodicea. On this journey they were forced to travel through the tall barrier mountains which cut between the regions of Phrygia and Pisidia. And it was in these deadly and perilous paths that the Crusaders were dealt a mortal blow by the enemy. The Saracens, constantly lurking and following their every move, had seized upon this occasion to trap them in the mountains’ treacherous ravines. It was during that terrible ambush which befell the unsuspecting Crusaders, that many a man’s life was taken or changed forever.
In this sudden battle that ensued, Sir Raoul headed a small band of lords and knights. In addition to his own brothers and esquires, he was followed by two small military units which were led by the lords of Breteuil and Varennes. These three companies together numbered only a hundred lances.
Spying a narrow path that could lead them to safety, Sir Raoul spurred his horse towards the passageway.
“Hurry!” he called out, as he rode ahead.
The other companies followed, with both speed and stealth. But had the brave men seen the hoards of Saracens that littered the mountains peaks, scrambling into attack positions - they would have known without a doubt that escape was hopeless.
One by one, the Crusaders entered the pass. And in the heights above, their enemy crouched and crawled out of sight… waiting. Slowly, the Saracens reached for their arrows, eyeing their unsuspecting prey far below. As they watched the last of the Catholic knights pass between the mountain walls, they silently drew their bows.
Then, without warning, they let fall their shower of death.
A sudden cry and confusion rose up among the Crusaders.
“My lord Raoul!” a squire cried. “What is happening?”
Sir Raoul raised his armored head towards the cliffs. “The Saracens!” he cried. “They’re in the mountains!”
“We are trapped!”
“There’s no way out!”
Sir Raoul’s determined eyes looked to the end of the passage. They were indeed trapped. Death lay at every side. But if they could reach the other end, they would escape the mountains’ grasp, and even bring warning of this ambush to the other Crusaders that were ahead. It was the only way.
“Forward!” Sir Raoul cried out. “For your lives! Make haste!”
It all happened so rapidly. In only a manner of moments, the Crusaders found themselves fleeing from a deadly ambush, with men falling at every side. But, encouraged by the example of the young lord of Crequy, every lord, knight and squire fought manfully to gain the passage. And each soul prayed as never before, for every man knew that he may not live to see the other side. Many of them were, indeed, correct.
Roger and Godfrey were two brave men among many who pressed on with their brother. Arrow after arrow struck them brutally, and the relentless Saracens did not cease shooting until the knights’ stricken bodies could take nothing more. They fell mortally wounded, along with twenty of the squires who accompanied them to the pass.
The remaining Catholics would not pull back. Although they saw nothing but death before them, they earnestly pressed forward.
God's ways are not our own, and to the human eye, the whole venture would appear miserably in vain. For in the encounter, besides Raoul's two brothers, the lords of Breteuil, Varennes, Montjoy, Maumey, Brimen, Bauraing, Esseike, Mesgrigny, Sempey, and Suresnes perished; and many a beardless youth lay stretched upon the ground.
The Lord of Crequy, breaking his gaze from the pass’ end, glanced anxiously at his men.
“Dear God,” he prayed, when he beheld with dismay how few men yet walked with him. His eyes fell too upon his dead brothers.
“Godfrey! Roger!” he cried. Another arrow came whizzing by and penetrated his shoulder. But it may as well have struck his heart - so pierced was he with grief. Shutting his eyes, he commended their noble souls to God. As martyrs, his brothers were already enjoying the joys of Heaven. But as Raoul stood there, bleeding, exhausted, and filled with grieving fear for his men, death took on a more earthly and dreadful countenance.
Yet, as a man of high and undaunted valour, Sir Raoul would not give in. Raising his sword on high, he summoned the courage of his surviving men.
Invoking our Lady's aid, with the same desperate perseverance with which he fought, the lord of Crequy led the Crusaders to their only hope and escape.
One of the Saracens peered over the jagged cliff’s edge. They had nearly finished off the miserable squall of Catholics. But his dark eyes were drawn to their staunch - and stubborn - leader. The obstinate knight was already riddled with arrows, and yet he not only stood tall, but he hastened to the pass’ end. Raising his bow, the Saracen pulled back an arrow. With a few moments he aimed for the brave man’s heart. The next moment, the arrow was sent flying to its victim.