Chapters:

Give Me That Old Time Religion

When the Papal Courier arrived near midnight, Raymond, le Comte de Toulouse, had been investigating a mystery he’d found within his family’s heirloom illuminated Holy Bible, which had been passed down from generation to generation for several hundred years.

He’d been intrigued when he noticed some faintly shining marks on the vellum in the margins, visible at certain angles in the candle light. Why had someone defaced the sacred book in this way, however imperceptibly?

It must have been someone in his family or someone trusted on the deepest level, and it must have been done deliberately. Only reasons of great import would have justified such. He guessed by the near invisibility of the marks those reasons were also secret. He couldn’t make out the nature of the marks in the dim candlelight in any case.

His seneschal, Alphonse, softly cleared his throat as he ushered a stranger into the library, rousing Raymond from his late night concentration. As he looked up in irritation he immediately recognized the newcomer as a Papal Courier.

The intense, dark eyed, and well muddied Courier, redolent of sweat and horses, bowed deeply, wordlessly presenting his bona fides for the Count’s inspection. Raymond inspected these minutely and curiously since they were the first real ones he had ever encountered.

He found the several telltale signs he’d been taught to look for, which satisfied him that the Courier was genuine. Because of the man’s legendarily incorruptible office, it was therefore conclusive that he carried a message that was truly produced by his master — Pope Urban II, reigning Primate of the Church in Rome.

Raymond nodded, meeting the man’s eyes and arched his brow. “Deus vult” (“God wills it”). Hearing these words, tension seemed to drain from the exhausted courier, who could now truly believe he’d completed the frantic quest given him by His Holiness only scant weeks before.

With exaggerated care, he withdrew from his Courier pouch a leather wrapped folio embossed with the vermillion and gold insignia of the Service of the Papal Courier and presented it to its intended recipient with an even deeper bow.

The man spoke in a reverent, officious tone. “Raymond, le Comte de Toulouse, I now deliver to you this message from His Grace, Pope Urban II, Primate of the Church in Rome, sealed by his Holiness Himself in my presence twenty three days ago and unopened since.”

Raymond’s heart beat more quickly as he accepted the proffered folio. He broke the pressed wax seal with some trepidation, despite the fact that the seal’s entire reason for existence was so that he — andonly he — should be the one to do so.

Inside he found a carefully written letter on smooth and expensively translucent vellum, clearly penned in monkish calligraphy by His Holiness himself in formal Latin.

Raymond, le Comte de Toulouse,

I write to you in this way in the strictest confidence, as I am certain you will appreciate as you study this further. Please take pains that the contents of this letter should be known only to yourself, and destroy it as soon as you have finished with it. I must reluctantly but emphatically caution you: disclosure of the contents of this letter to any other soul will be done on pain of death to you and to your family. By reading even this much, you are already bound by a most serious and permanent oath of secrecy.

Raymond took a deep breath upon reading that last. Nevertheless, he vowed to serve as was required of him. He continued.

No doubt you will see the reason we employ such outrageous measures as you read further. Consider the situation of the world at this moment. We live in grave and dangerous times. To the South, Saracens control Hispania and Portugal, having propagated with violence their profane, sacrilegious Islam northward from the Kingdom of Granada even to our great Continent. To the East, they gain ever greater range, including the Holiest of Lands of Christ, Jerusalem. Daily they threaten to overtake even more of the easternmost region populated by our argumentative but nevertheless Christian brothers, Alexius Comnenus among them, in the Byzantine.

We have before us at this moment, if we will only accept this gift from God, an unparalleled opportunity to spread the word of Christ and to forge a stable world founded on Christian principles. The nations of Islam are divided into two main sects known as Sunni and Shi'ite. It is of no consequence here to belabor in detail the properties of these un-Christian beliefs, but it suffices to say that those of these two Islamic sects hotly contest the rather trivial distinctions between one and the other. It will be through the exploitation and encouragement of conflict around these differences and the Saracens' own barbaric and warlike tendencies, that we, the righteous soldiers of Christ, may emerge victorious for the glory of God.

There are many ways over a long time to influence those who may view others with mild distrust such that that skepticism might grow into fully formed animosity and even hatred. This is our tool, given to us by God Himself, to be used to create internal strife within the Saracen ranks, and, thus, reduce the attention the heathens pay to expansion into the Christian world. When these internecine conflicts flame highest we may strike the armies of Islam to best effect. The long term nature of this enterprise requires that we form a circle of trusted leadership composed of ten nobles and religious leaders from throughout the Christian World, committed to these vital goals over a period of years, decades, or even lifetimes.

It is to this that I commit your ardent and most discrete dedication, and, if need be, that of a carefully selected one who is most trusted and worthy from among your descendants as our projects progress over time. This body will be known only to its members as Lux Mundi, as I believe we will, indeed, be the Light of the World.

Our rallying battle cry will be "Deus vult". The members of Lux Mundi will meet secretly during the coming Council in Clermont, to which you will soon receive an invitation through the leaders of the Church there in Toulouse. It is imperative that you come to Clermont and attend the Lux Mundi conclave.

In the service of God’s will,

(Papal Seal)

Otho de Lagery

When he’d finished reading, Raymond nodded gravely to the Courier. “I’m grateful for your service Monsieur,” he spoke in French. He noted the man’s look of understanding, relieved that his native tongue would suffice. “The hospitality of my castle is at your disposal for as long as you wish to stay.” With this, he nodded to his seneschal.

The Courier sighed, wearily, and stood, joining the seneschal, who had maintained a discreet distance. Together the two men departed immediately toward the library’s huge doors, leaving the circle of candle light with Raymond at its center. When they had closed the doors behind them, Raymond realized that he, too, was weary. He left a leather thong marking the page he’d been scrutinizing and closed the Bible.

The forced nature of his participation in this new cabal gave him only a small sense of resented imposition — mostly for his family’s sake. He was a good soldier and servant to his country and Church. He would do what was necessary to keep his family safe, to be sure, but it was the Lord’s work that must be paramount. As he completed that thought, he silently crossed himself, whispering Deus vult.

Standing, he stretched and yawned and extinguished all but one of the candles, leaving the chilly library dark but for the one flame, which he took with him to his bed chamber, creating a tiny ellipse of transient warm yellow light around him as he went. The books on the library’s shelves stood in rows with military precision, guarding the room against any incipient advance of ignorance.

Tomorrow there would be light enough for clear vision in more ways than one.