Götterdämmerung: First Crusade

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The Council of Clermont

Winter, 1095

Upon his raised dais, Urban pressed his fingers into the wrinkles of his flaking forehead. He tried a breath. And another one. The difference his efforts to calm himself made was negligible.

“The peasants have already taken up the call to arms to defend Christianity,” said Cardinal Ranierius, rising from his seat. “Why do the Lords of Christendom balk at the chance to do the same?”

“We do not balk, my lord Cardinal,” said some second son of a has-been baron whose name was totally unmemorable. “The rabble may behave one way, but it is precisely because we are lords that we must take it upon ourselves to duly consider any massive enterprise before committing.”

“What I read upon your face is cowardice, my lord.”

A wave of murmurings and hisses rippled throughout the cathedral.

You fools. I am infallible. Urban sucked in his lower lip. How I must appear to shrink and grovel before these kings of men, I, a king of kings. I am sickened at the role I need play.

When the same fool of a lordling stood and cried out to the assembly of hundreds, “Why need we fret over the fate of the Greeks?”

Urban snatched up his goblet and hurled it across the room. The wine sprayed some of the more notable attendees.

All did their utmost to mentally glaze over the tantrum.

Wheezing, the Pope inhaled through his mouth. He spoke slowly, “Ecclesiastics, laymen, brothers: do you earnestly believe that I care one lick for Alexius Comnenus? Or that I expect any one of you here to do so? His so-called ‘Roman’ Empire has been dying for centuries. And die it will. We owe him nothing. I would see the remnants of his farcical faction obliterated tomorrow. And perhaps such a fate might befall Constantinople when the Armies of Christ tear down its gates as the Lord thy God commanded Joshua blow his horn and so smite the walls of Jericho.” The Pope raised his arms. “But think, dear friends,” he smiled, “of the possibilities for consolidation, unification… expansion… And we would take from the Turks and their false idols, when all they’ve ever done is pry their sand-scarred fingers into our lands. How many centuries has the infidel Moor, the Turk, the Moslem scourge been allowed to run freely throughout, burning the borders of your kingdoms and sacking your cities? Think, my lords, of the revenge you might take and the lands you could seize from dying infidel hands.”

“I think of the cost of lives,” said a massive, muscular Frankish knight and lord by the name of Godfrey de Bouillon. He wore glimmering chainmail that hurt Urban’s eyes. But upon his vest was sewed the White Cross. This made the Pope smile. Overturning this one would require only minimal effort.

“Are we weak in the stomach, my Lord Godfrey?” said a runny-eyed, falcon-nosed runt of a man named Julien. He was barely more than a second generation lord but, by the way he ran his mouth, one couldn’t tell.

Better yet, his fealty he swore to Mother Church. Without her, after all, he’d be but another mercenary, just like his grandfather.

“Nothing of the sort. I do not believe any of the esteemed princes and bishops here present would dare claim I’m mousy.” Godfrey paused and laughed along with a large swath of those attending the council. “I have led many, many battles. And won more than most, actually.”

Lord Julien shriveled like a sun-dried mushroom. He curled his dry, wavy brown hair behind his ears and shut his trap. For that much, at least, Urban was grateful. Loyal or not, he usually did more harm than good.

“Can we return to the matter at hand?” said Ranierius.

Urban looked to his favorite Cardinal. The most excellent of servants, he’d always done what was best. At his words, the lords bowed their heads in acquiescence and the bishops were pleased.

“It is as I told the goat-faced, sheep-brained masses: ‘let robbers become knights’. The underlying meaning to this, if you care to seek it out, is that we will throw ten thousand—nay, one hundred thousand—low-born bodies at this fire if that’s what is required to quench our thirst for vengeance. The peasants are roused from their near-eternal torpor and their spirits are aflame! They arise to the challenge even now. They will run whole-heartedly into the abyss. And you, my lords, need only follow your own consciences. What do your hearts tell you? Nay, what does Almighty God say through you?”

“But I save myself from detecting a motive behind the obvious one of killing Moslems. You literally mean the lesser desirables of our societies shall be sent away, and that this was your purpose? Do you seek to purge the world of petty thieves and poachers?” said Godfrey.

For once, the Frankish knight’s shrewdness was playing into his hand.

“My Lord Godfrey, were that the case you’d be left with empty kingdoms all.”

The bishops and priests, all the clergymen, sounded their thunderous applause.

“Let robbers become knights,” Urban repeated with a forced smile. “But, more importantly, let knights become kings.”

He nodded at Ranierius who recognized his cue to shout, “God wills it! Let us destroy the infidels and forever enrich ourselves through faithful service to the Lord. Your infallible Pope has spoken and God wills it!”

“Well,” said Godfrey, leaning back in his seat and crossing his arms, “who here might remain concerned? New lands to acquire? New peoples to subjugate? New estates and new kingdoms—my God, what a pretty portrait you’ve painted, Your Holiness.”

“God wills it,” said Urban, piously making the sign of the cross in the air between him and the assembly.

And the call was taken up: Deus lo vult! God wills it!

With that, Urban knew he’d won them over. The rest of the council’s session slipped into tactics, semantics, logistics, and, finally, idle banter. Once through, hands were shaken and respectful bows made. The lords, knights and clergy, the pillars of society, left Urban to himself.

When the day was at last over, when the last of the lords and bishops had departed, the Pope turned to his confidant, Ranierius and said, “And sealed is now the first stage of our grand enterprise.”

“With the knights gone, the clergy will have free reign,” Ranierius agreed.

“Not quite, but near enough. We will take what’s ours.” Urban sighed, a wave of bliss sweeping over him. A shame that such feelings must be fleeting.

And yet, the twinkle in Ranierius’ eye suggested that the festivities were not yet through.

He kissed the Fisherman’s Ring on Urban’s hand and said, “We will chase our enemies.”

“And they shall fall by the sword before us,” said Urban, raising an eyebrow.

“Five of us shall chase one hundred.” The Cardinal’s hands touched the pontiff’s shoulders and glided downward.

The Pope gripped him by his haunches, grunting, “And one hundred of us shall put ten thousand to flight.”

The words were the purest comfort. Ranierius’ touch was like fire.

No longer able to contain themselves, they slipped into the shadows of the cathedral’s nave. There, they writhed in spiritual ecstasy and agony both, twisted and shuddering as they experienced deliverance.

Ours is the pure blood, Urban thought, as he stared into his favored one’s eyes. We are all the stronger for our Commune.

He gasped.

Urban fell fast asleep that night and dreamed he was crucified upon the hills of Golgotha, overlooking revered Jerusalem. Yes, in the dream he was Jesus Christ, which is why he could call it no nightmare. To relive his past life provided him with insight into what he was do in his present lifetime.

I must never forget the letter. I must always keep my most sacred of missions close to heart.

He awoke and laughed aloud. Ranierius nuzzled against his chest. Seconds later, Urban was asleep again.

He laughed even in his sleep, saying, Yes, go my lords, to the Holy Land! Pawns that you are, you misunderstand the most fundamental aspects of the Kingdom of Heaven, but I shall show you the truth. So, go, yes, go! Off with you. Break yourselves against the Turks and Saracens, while I build a monument that shall stand the test of time. With you fools gone, I shall be free to act, to bring to fruition my Second Coming.

The Commune will be primed for its glorious rise and our rule shall endure unto the Rapture. Hallelujah!

But even as he threw his head back and roared in triumph, the dream changed: the sun was snuffed out and he was ensnared by a thousand serpents. He’d fallen into a pit, though he didn’t know how or when, and the snakes wriggled and slithered up the length of his naked body, prying open his mouth, sliding inside his every orifice. He was screaming.

Snapping awake, drenched in sweat, he heaved dryly as he slid from under the covers.

The message of the nightmare was clear as day. He would have to keep watch over even his closest allies. Betrayal, after all, cost robbed him of his life when he first came to the Earth as Jesus Christ. Although, that was ordained.

Still, “care” was key. Urban could trust only Ranierius, sweet Ranierius, who would never betray him.

Yes, with you I can be simply “Odo” again. Yet, I must never allow myself to slip, to become lax for even a second. I must take action with the surety and poise of an avenging angel.

Swiftness was the order of the day. If the plans of Pope Urban II, Jesus Incarnate, were to be fully realized and the glory of the Church achieved, he must act soon.

Urban returned to his bed, hoping the better dreams would return and grant him peace again.

But first, to sleep. I must rest, so that I may be energized for what is to come.

His breath steadying again, he thought to himself, May God have mercy on the enemies of the Commune, for I shall be as indiscriminate as wildfire.

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