When the grand feast and celebration for Raoul's return first began, the one thought on everyone's mind was to hear the whole story, down to the last detail, of what had happened to their long-lost lord. And so, throughout the course of the Lord of Crequy’s speech, every soul in the Great Hall had remained spellbound, as it were, with riveted attention. Amazing as the story was however, it was the crusader’s own simple sincerity that gave life to his extraordinary tale and captivated his listeners. At last, after ten years, the mystery and miracle of the Lord of Crequy was coming to light.
There was, however, one person in the entire castle that stood unmoved by Sir Raoul’s adventures. Hidden just outside the Great Hall, the lord’s brother Baudouin had listened to the long discourse from a near and unused corridor. Proud and distant, the sulking knight looked on with disgust at the emphatic sympathies and reactions of the crowd. It was like an absurd drama! The 'oohs' and 'aahs' at his pathetic brother's tale were enough to turn his stomach.
"They would think the man a hero for enduring a little pain," Baudouin scoffed, though quietly and to himself. "What did Raoul expect when he joined the Crusade? To wage a bloodless war? Ha! At least I had the honesty and wisdom to stay home. I reserved my strength for where it was needed. Where it was useful." He sneered at his brother’s long, bitter and fruitless captivity. "Here I ruled and saved a land! I did not waste every waking hour of each miserable day feeling sorry for myself!" Sir Baudouin's head shook in mock dismay. "Oh what a child the champion has become."
There was worse, however, in store for the complaining knight. When the Lord of Crequy spoke of his bitter imprisonment in the tower, the 'performance' of the horrified crowd was almost unbearable for Sir Baudouin. It was as if none of the fools had ever heard of a prison before! Slaves do get chained up. And as for those terribly cruel tortures…
“No doubt his master was driven to excess,” Baudouin muttered to himself. “I do not fancy Raoul was at all humble in his stubborn refusals. More pride than piety, I am sure. The arrogant brute only got what he deserved. Well! He is certainly reaping his pity now…”
Thus the knight had continued to murmur beneath his breath. Every now and then, he had even risked an occasional closer look out into the banquet room. Such ventures were never long, though, and his cowardly head would quickly dart back into the shadows.
Although he would never have admitted as to why, the proud knight was terrified of being seen - by anyone. Baudouin masked his cowardice behind the excuse that it was not his time to act. Not when Raoul had such an advantage. There would be a better moment; a proper time when Sir Baudouin would be able to claim his rightful authority. Ten years he had ruled Crequy, and all had prospered beneath him. Let Raoul enjoy his supposed victory. The hour of illusion would pass.
"Crequy is, and will remain, mine."
Yet something deep within the treacherous man, despite his repugnance, compelled him to hear all of Raoul's speech. Somehow, he had to know what had happened to his brother. Hence Sir Baudouin had decided to remain and endure the entire tale. If he had known though what the reason was behind this resolve, he may have changed his mind. For he was being influenced by the long-forgotten, abandoned and despised voice of what he had long since betrayed: his conscience.
Thus Sir Baudouin remained. But at the end of the entire story, when the whole hall echoed with a triumphant chorus from the grateful throng, his proud face fell. He just stood there stunned, staring at the cheering crowd. For all of his disgust and mockery, he had not anticipated so strong a response from the people; and his disbelieving ears rang with their vibrant cry: “Long live the Lord of Crequy!” In that instant, all of the usurper’s clever, scheming plans were shattered.
Yet in spite of this apparent defeat, a smile broke out on his sullen face.
"Raoul was always a crowd pleaser," he smirked. "He knows how to manipulate the fools to get what he wants." Baudouin's piercing gaze swept over the hall. It was pointless now to deny it. All of Crequy would doubtlessly accept Raoul as their lord.
"Amidst tender and pitiful tears to be sure." A bitter laugh escaped Sir Baudouin’s lips. "They said I was cruel and heartless. Ha! I at least treated my people like people, yet Raoul leads them on like cattle. Oh, the deceit of it all! It's disgusting."
The knight was livid with anger, yet silent as a corpse. His hard eyes turned from the feasting mob to his brother sitting in the chair of authority and lordship; the one where he himself had once sat.
"This isn’t over, Raoul. A will of iron runs through our family. You are not the only one that is willing to persevere to the death!" He ran a thin hand over his pointed beard. “And now you finally have a match for your will.”
To his surprise, it was at this moment that Raoul suddenly rose from his seat. Sir Baudouin instantly and nervously stepped back into his black hole and watched his brother, a short distance away, quickly pass him by. The spying knight peered out from behind the corridor's entrance. From the back, he saw Raoul sit down at a nearby table. Baudouin's brow furrowed and a curious grin twisted his thin lips.
"The Lord of Renty?" He chuckled to himself. "My brother is even more vengeful than I imagined. It's that unconquerable spirit. Every opponent, even in defeat, remains a threat to his ultimate authority. And now the poor lord who nearly married Mahtilde and claimed her son will no doubt taste Raoul's powerful revenge."
Amused at the Lord of Renty's fate, Sir Baudouin only hoped that Raoul would be vocal in his punishment and rejection. Perhaps Raoul would dismiss the lord from the banquet in shame.
"Oh, if only Raoul would be that obvious in his conceit," Sir Baudouin squinted at the two lords. "But no. I imagine we'll get a show of mercy in front of the crowd, while the banishment is executed in silence. I do wish I could hear his heated rebukes now. It's only right that the - "
In an instant Baudouin’s words died on his lips; whatever they were. He could not even remember them. His mind went completely blank and his wide eyes, solely fixed upon his brother, blinked in stunned surprise… Raoul had unexpectedly clasped the Lord of Renty in a warm embrace.
For once, Baudouin stared in silence. He was trembling, yet he did not know it. A burning jealousy consumed him, but he would rather die than admit it. His guilty heart was encompassed by a seething hatred, fiercely repelling the remorse that tried to penetrate it.
"The wretch! The liar!" In a violent attempt to suppress his emotions, the knight broke his gaze from the lords and lowered his face, casting his icy glare on the stone floor. He did not see, then, when Sir Raoul rose at length from the Lord of Renty’s table. He was not watching when Crequy’s lord passed by… and spotted him in the corridor. Instead, Sir Baudouin had continued to stare at the ground, fuming within himself.
"Oh Raoul, you holy hypocrite! So you've caught another fly in your web of supposed charity. I don’t believe a word of it. Any of it! All of your pitiful tortures, your heartbreaking sorrows, your ‘miracle’ and escape! I don’t know where you’ve been hiding the past ten years, but you are not going to come back and reclaim the life that you have lost through your own fault! " Sir Baudouin was silently vehement. Hate swarmed through his mind like the blood in his veins, crushing all hopes for pardon.
“You will never ensnare me, Raoul!” Sir Baudouin raised his resolute face just in time to see Raoul walking back towards the head table.
Completely unaware that Raoul had just discovered his shadowy lair, Baudouin boldly glared after the crusader. So the long lost lord had returned to reclaim his title, had he? With a pitiful lie to enforce his claim? A cruel smile contorted Sir Baudouin's proud face. He would expose his wretched older brother for what he was.
“You’re a coward, Raoul, and a fraud!”
The menacing whisper had hardly left his mouth, though, when Sir Baudouin saw his brother’s firm steps falter. He continued to watch curiously as the lord raised a hand to his face. For the briefest moment, the wretched knight was frightened. Had Raoul heard him? He seemed too far away for that. Yet the reaction was so immediate to Baudouin’s threat. And Raoul did appear to be in some sort of distress… and even pain.
The next instant though, Sir Baudouin's anxiety gave way to a haughty pride. Embarrassed at his fears, the coward confidently assured himself that Raoul had not heard him! His actions were coincidence only. And as for Raoul’s distress… Perhaps his conscience was troubling him. Sir Baudouin nearly laughed at the thought, when his scornful glee was totally and abruptly shattered...
... An indescribable pain had suddenly wrenched his soul.
The shock was so powerful that it sent the mocking knight stumbling back, his hard eyes squinting in pain.
“Wha - what is wrong with me?” Sir Baudouin’s fearful whisper was barely audible, for the sorrow he felt was almost unbearable.
Yet these were not sudden feelings of remorse on his part. It was… strangely, and yet undoubtedly… a sense of grief coming from his brother. To his dismay, Sir Baudouin could no longer deny Raoul's agony. Somehow… he could feel it! All of it. Every crushed hope, every heartbreak and every bitter torment that the crusader had endured in his long exile now mysteriously flooded Baudouin's soul like a torrent. And at the height of all the sorrow, Baudouin felt Raoul's agony… and anger… at Baudouin’s betrayal.
The sudden pain was so stark that it pierced through the smothering shroud of his pride, totally disarming him. In a desperate attempt to defend himself, Sir Baudouin repelled the feelings with anger and tried to justify himself.
"It's Raoul’s own fault! He should never have left Crequy. He did not have to go on that crusade! He is the one who abandoned his family. It was his stubborn pride that kept him in exile! I had nothing to do with that! He's the one who was... that was... "
Yet with every excuse he gave, the crushing reality of his betrayal swept over Baudouin’s broken defenses and penetrated his conscience.
This inner turmoil, however painful, hardly lasted a minute; and when Sir Baudouin looked up again towards Raoul, the lord was standing hesitantly behind his chair. The lady Mahtilde, seated at their table, was scanning the room, about to inadvertently discover Baudouin’s hiding place. But the trembling knight took no notice. Sir Baudouin’s focus was fixed solely on his elder brother, whose tilted head and closed eyes showed that he was clearly dwelling in his own thoughts.
And then Sir Baudouin was touched once more with a powerful grace. He realized – though he did not know how – that Raoul was thinking of him. This final grace, at last melting his frozen heart, had come from the Blessed Virgin Mary’s Own hands, and had been won by the struggles of Her brave crusader who, in that moment, had conquered the temptation to despise his treacherous brother.
“Oh dear God!” The first true prayer in years fell from Sir Baudouin’s trembling lips. “What have I done?” The knight’s eyes fell. His soul was filled with a bitter contrition.
Now, in a new and painful light, the Lord of Crequy’s speech ran once more through Baudouin’s mind. And with each of his brother’s tortures came the echo of Baudouin’s own wretched mockery. A dark shadow covered his ashamed face. The fool and coward he had been was at last so clear to him, as well as the agony that he had unjustly caused his own family!
Speechless with disgust and grief, Sir Baudouin raised a hand to his closed eyes. He saw himself seated in Crequy’s chair of authority and power… while Raoul was chained to a bench of slavery. His vivid imagination brought to mind the countless tortures his brother had endured for years on end. To think that, for all the time that he had been living off the misery of his family, Raoul had been dying for his Faith!
Sir Baudouin's conscience reproached him bitterly for his countless denials of Mahtilde’s pleas for mercy and justice. Her tearful pleadings echoed through his guilty mind, as Baudouin sadly envisioned the bloody, trembling figure of his captive brother. Then it was as if he saw himself, heartless traitor that he was, holding the whip of torture in his own hand.
“What have you done, Baudouin?!” The knight angrily clenched his face, “What have you become! You wretch! It is you who have disgraced the house of Crequy! You are the one who has brought dishonor to our family’s name… to our father’s name.” Lady Mahtilde’s rebuke of ten years past returned to haunt him. What would Count Gerard have done if had he lived to see his youngest son’s betrayal? How would the noble father have handled his treacheries ...
Slowly, the anger that had given way to grief was replaced with a soul-gripping fright. Sir Baudouin realized that his crime would not go unpunished. Lord Raoul had returned, and Baudouin’s reign had ended. The same Justice that had rescued Crequy’s lord from the bonds of slavery would now condemn its usurper to the bowels of prison.
Breathing hard, the miserable knight lowered his hands from his face. Somehow, the coward was still convinced that no one had yet seen him. It was with this false sense of security that Sir Baudouin, in the depths of his fearful heart, was seized with a desire to flee.
Anxious and uneasy, the knight assured himself that there was still a chance of escape. He could easily slip away in the midst of all these loud and long festivities. Or could he?
“Even if I were to leave,” the knight thought to himself, “Justice would be swift to follow me. I have won too many enemies in the hearts of Crequy. And now that their lord has returned…” His hand instinctively went to his sword, as he fearfully glanced at the throng of cheerful faces. There would be no stopping the people of Crequy from avenging their injured lord and lady.
Sir Baudouin sighed impatiently. There was not much time to make up his mind. Sooner or later his hiding place would be discovered. "And then… " The guilty knight did not want to finish the thought; he only shuddered.
Wiping the nervous sweat from his brow, Sir Baudouin strained to calm himself. If he was going to escape, now was the time. Yet despite his desperation, he hesitated. There was something within him that did not want to run away. The same conscience that had compelled him to stay before was now urging him to seek and obtain his one secret desire: Raoul’s pardon.
The young brother groaned. To even admit this desire was a great humiliation for the proud knight. He was torn between denying his feelings and believing forgiveness was possible.
"Oh don’t be a fool, Baudouin!" He thought to himself, "You will be doing well to escape with your life." His nervous grasp was still hard on the hilt of his sword. "Just leave while you can."
Crushed beneath the weight of his guilt, the miserable knight was on the brink of despair. Then, at the height of his indecision, grace penetrated his anxiety with a calming inspiration. For the first time, Baudouin's thoughts and memories turned to Raoul with hope.
“If Raoul is the man I remember, he will not attack a contrite and unarmed man.” Baudouin looked down at his sword. Slowly, he pulled the weapon out and held it in both hands. He stared at it for a moment, his mind struggling with the risk he was about to take. “If I surrender,” the knight thought to himself, “perhaps my punishment may be less severe…”
Slowly, he turned his downcast eyes towards the seated Lord of Crequy. Without any decision, his resolve was at last made. Breathing hard, with eyes fixed on Raoul, Sir Baudouin stepped out into the Great Hall.
For a moment or two, the cheerful chatter of the banquet continued. One by one, though, some of the voices began to falter as the keener guests recognized the knight who had just joined them.
Sir Baudouin, however, was purposefully ignoring any glances from the crowd. He walked firmly, like a man afraid to lose his resolve. Yet he was careful to not walk too quickly, lest he should seem afraid or guilty. With calm composure, he simply stared directly ahead. His full attention was on one man alone.
So focused was he on Raoul, that Baudouin did not even notice how the music stopped playing, or that the laughter was giving way to a stunned silence. He was barely halfway to his goal, when this somber air descended upon the party. It was, in fact, the strange hush that aroused Raoul’s attention. With nervous apprehension, Baudouin watched the tall lord raise his head and survey the quiet hall. The next moment, Raoul’s deep eyes turned and, for the first time in ten years, met those of his brother. In that same tense instant, Sir Baudouin suddenly heard a cry behind him:
“Hold there, you fiend!”
Every head turned, and Sir Baudouin’s as well, towards the author of the fierce command. With a mix between a groan and a sigh, Sir Baudouin found himself staring into the stern, angry face of the Lord of Renty who had leapt to his feet and was quickly approaching him. The angry pursuer did not mince words.
“I knew you would show yourself, you wretch! How dare you come thus armed into Lord Raoul’s hall!”
Sir Baudouin glanced down at the unsheathed weapon in his hand. He had nearly forgotten he was holding his sword. There was an awkward and sullen pause. Despite his previously honest intentions, Sir Baudouin looked angrily towards his accuser. His pride swelled. For years, a silent enmity had existed between the two knights, amidst a constant battle over the lands of Crequy. As Mahtilde’s chief defender, the Lord of Renty had ever remained a thorn in Sir Baudouin's side. There was no love lost between the two of them. Now, the mere sight of his adversary's face was rekindling Baudouin's ill will and anger.
"I have come on my own accord, sir." Sir Baudouin answered. "And I will speak to Raoul." His proud aloof tone, however, did not impress the Lord of Renty, who in no way attempted to restrain his feelings.
"Over my dead body!" was the threatening reply. "You will not take another step."
Sir Baudouin gently cocked his head with an ironic grin, "When last I looked, you were not lord of this land."
"Bold words for a usurper." The Lord of Renty's retort was quick and biting. He understood Baudouin's intended mockery. His burning eyes fell again on the wretched man's sword. "Are you not yet satisfied with your evil? What more pain must you inflict upon your kin?"
The accusation rang out like a peal of thunder throughout the dense hall, which was entirely fixated upon the confrontation. Despite the ominous air around him, Sir Baudouin simply shook his head.
"This time, my friend, you are wrong." With that, Sir Baudouin turned a cold back on him and continued towards Raoul.
He had hardly taken a step, though, when there was the distinct sound of metal scraping as the Lord of Renty whipped out his own sword. A hushed cry immediately went up from the crowd and several of the noblemen quickly rose to their feet. Sir Renaud, too, glancing protectively at his daughter Mahtilde, had risen from his chair. He looked beside her toward Raoul, who stood staring with an intense focus upon the two knights. The Lord of Renty did not wait to speak.
"Your treachery is at an end, Baudouin."
At these words, the halted knight slowly turned around. Staring at the steady blade held inches from his heart, the young usurper whispered, with feigned decorum.
"Sir Baudouin, my lord."
Any reply, however, was abruptly prevented by a loud, brusque command from the head of the hall.
"Stay your swords!" Lord Raoul demanded firmly. "I will have no bloodshed in this castle." The Lord of Renty nodded humbly and lowered his weapon.
"I would not allow myself the pleasure," he answered. "Sir Baudouin's treachery deserves the gallows."
To Sir Baudouin's dismay, several bold and loud murmurs of agreement rose up from the crowd. Frightened, and with growing anger, he eyed his would-be executioner.
"My issue is not with you, my lord."
"No," the nobleman corrected. "It lies with all of Crequy, which has endured your tyranny long enough."
"I was never a tyrant to these people!" Sir Baudouin's voice rose in agitation, for more of the guests were now standing.
"You dare defend yourself! To what end?" The Lord of Renty had lost all patience with his lies. The painful memories of ten long years thirsted for justice. "Every soul in Crequy is a witness and victim to your crimes!" Then, before the entire hall, he continued briefly, but vehemently, to decry all of Sir Baudouin’s offenses of the past decade.
Wincing at this fresh humiliation, Sir Baudouin stood silent before his accuser. His anger turned to anxiety as he realized that each accusation against him was visibly exciting the sympathies of the crowd. He tried in vain to ignore the countless piercing stares, but soon his own nervous gaze hardened into a willful glare. His face flushed with anger and pride. How dare the Lord of Renty lecture him like this!
“I did not come, sir!” Sir Baudouin spoke suddenly, interrupting the diatribe, “to stand trial to your judgment! You have no authority here.”
“Neither do you!”
Sir Baudouin shot a glance out at the crowd, for the indignant cry had come from the throng. Sensing the Lord of Renty’s satisfaction, the usurper looked him boldly in the eye.
“So you’ve won, my lord. Is that not enough? What else do you seek?”
“Justice; which, thank God, has returned your brother as the rightful lord of this castle and its lands.”
“Yes,” Sir Baudouin’s anger made him blind to all danger around him. His grasp tightened on the hilt of his sword. “Crequy has thankfully been spared your lordship.”
“And has been freed of yours.”
“Are you not then satisfied?” There was a fearless indignation in his voice, “… or does Justice demand my blood as well.”
The Lord of Renty caught the look in his eye and noticed the grip on his sword. “I will not rest, Sir Baudouin,” he answered, raising his blade, “until I know Crequy is safe from you…. Forever.”
“You’re prepared to ensure that yourself?” was the challenging reply.
For a suspenseful moment, the two knights focused in a silent stare, oblivious of everything around them. Then both weapons seemed to quickly rise at once…
But they never touched.
Instead, Sir Baudouin found himself suddenly jolted back and away. Straining to steady himself, the knight caught hold of the arm that was pulling him. Stumbling away from the Lord of Renty, Sir Baudouin quickly turned to face the intruder. His jaw dropped when he saw it was none other than his older brother.
The crusader did not retract his grasp on the breathless knight’s shoulder.
“Sheathe your weapons,” Sir Raoul commanded. Fumbling, Sir Baudouin obeyed at once. Sir Raoul looked towards the Lord of Renty, who was staring in surprise. “Both of you.”
The humbled knight meekly lowered his head, and returned the weapon to his side. Sir Raoul was quick to clarify his rebuke.
“You spoke rightly, my friend,” the crusader’s firm tone was gentle. “I am lord of this castle. And you have defended my house well.” His noble friend gratefully raised his face at these words. Sir Raoul returned the look with a gracious nod before assuming a more serious tone. “But this traitor’s fate is in my hands now.”
“As you wish, my lord,” was the sincere and humble reply. “I desire nothing less.”
Lord Raoul turned now towards the trembling man beside him. The Great Hall was churning with many angry whispers and threatening looks. The moment that Sir Baudouin’s eyes met Raoul’s, the miserable knight fell to his knees.
“I know my crimes are not hidden from you, Raoul” he said. “But if you will spare me, I will relinquish my authority.”
The Lord of Renty instinctively went to Raoul’s defense. “You have no claim to Crequy!” he cried. “Except to its dungeon.”
“All the easier for me to resign.” Sir Baudouin’s sarcastic reply was quick and aimed solely at his accuser. Then addressing himself to Raoul, he promised, “I will disappear, I give you my word.”
“And what is that?” Mahtilde’s father suddenly spoke up. “The word of traitor?”
Ignoring Sir Renaud, the kneeling knight again pleaded his cause. “My intent was not to challenge you, Raoul, but to leave in peace. I vow never to return.”
The Lord of Crequy did not answer right away. Instead, there was a thoughtful pause. Though not a quiet one. Distinct and threatening murmurs could be heard throughout the Hall, which felt more like that of an execution than a tribunal. A cold sweat broke out on Sir Baudouin’s thin forehead.
“Whatever scraps of pity I hoped for are impossible now. This mob will surely avenge Crequy to the degree that they feel Raoul’s justice is lacking.”
As if sensing his thoughts, Lord Raoul addressed him with an intimidating composure.
“Do you deny the evil you have done to my wife and son?” Even the crowd grew quiet as Sir Baudouin hesitated in his response.
Sir Raoul’s tone grew firm. “Then what have you to say for it?”
Again a heavy stillness descended on the Hall as it awaited the knight’s stuttered and breathless reply.
“I… I fear the dishonor I have brought u-upon myself, my family and… and you.” Sir Baudouin thought a moment, and then added, his face still lowered, “I abhor especially... the displeasure I have caused you.”
“Or rather you fear Lord Raoul’s power and punishment!” Sir Renaud could not restrain himself any more. He found this display of supposed contrition abhorrent. “Your remorse is all very well and good now that my daughter and grandson are at last free of your clutches!”
The comment raised Sir Baudouin’s face, and he looked instinctively for Raoul’s reaction. To his dismay, Raoul seemed affected by his father-in-law’s words.
“There is no punishment severe enough,” Raoul began, “that could repair what your crimes have cost, Baudouin. Much less, atone for the offense given to God, Whose Authority you violated.”
There was a strain in the crusader’s voice. To the guilty knight, the subtle tension only bespoke a seething anger that sent a chill down his spine. Overwhelmed with fear, Sir Baudouin boldly attempted a fervent appeal for mercy.
“All I ask, brother, is that –”
“– You have the heart to call me ‘brother’!” Raoul’s unexpected tone and words cut sharp and deep. “After what you did to my family… to your kin?”
Sir Baudouin stared speechlessly at the crusader. Slowly, the meanness of his cowardice dawned on him. How could he shirk the punishment he so justly deserved after all of the suffering he had inflicted on others? The pain in his brother’s voice rekindled the contrition Sir Baudouin had felt, and the understanding he had had for his betrayal. With downcast eyes, the knight silently repented, however imperfectly, of his past, and even current, failures.
Lord Raoul was carefully observing every feature of the traitor’s thoughtful face. When, at last, Sir Baudouin’s head silently hung in shame, the crusader raised his voice for all to hear.
“Too long has injustice prevailed in this castle. But today, no longer! God’s just authority shall not again be abused in my home. He has given me lordship over Crequy, and has returned it to me for the Honor and Glory of His Blessed Mother. Let it be known then throughout Crequy,” the lord turned now and faced the entire Hall, “that my judgment here is with God’s Authority. It shall not be defied by any.”
A respectful and awed silence filled the hall and was the people’s unanimous sign of assent. Lord Raoul looked back towards his brother. Sir Baudouin, sensing his stare, risked a glance at the crusader’s face. Their eyes unintentionally met and the kneeling knight gazed searchingly, yet briefly, at his elder brother. The look was returned, but none too gently, for the lord seemed to penetrate far deeper, as if reading the guilty man’s soul.
Deeply disturbed, Sir Baudouin broke from their momentary stare. With a silent sigh, his heavy head lowered once more, this time with resignation. He had not found what he was searching for. He saw no mercy in Raoul’s eyes.