Four Nights in St. Bartholomew
Chapter Four: The Fourth Night ~ Night Hike to the Third Country
Copyright © 2019 The Story Lover’s Home, Ruwen Rouhs. All Rights Reserved.
The night came and Anselm went to bed with a growling stomach. Tired from hiking he was already asleep when a knock on the door aroused him. Feeling his way through the dim room he found a bowl with strawberries in front of the door with a small note saying: Please accept my apologies. Fr. John.
Savoring the treat in the moonlight entering through the window a barely noticeable draught startled him and a kiss proved that Aenis had appeared. “Thanks, brother!” when Anselm shrugged his shoulders. Aenis explained, “Thank you for venturing to my defense. I am used to the ignorance of my monk-brothers. They only believe what is sanctified by their popes as my people only hold true what our imams are reading into the quran or the rabbis are reading it into the bible. But remember, there are as many truths as people are living.” Kissing Anselm again the boy from the Golden City took his hand and together they walked into the garden.
“We should climb the small tower to have a better look on the place Zeki is resting.” Anselm hesitated, then turned to Aenis requesting information. However, Aenis didn’t wait, instead begged, “Please walk on dear Anselm, I can’t carry you to the top of the tower.” Sighing in despair he added, “My physical strength is waning.” When Anselm looked surprised, “Look at the moon. He is always circling the earth, but two nights ago he was full, and his light was strong, but today he is already waning and his light weaker. Two nights ago, I gave you all I had, my strength! my vigor! my lust for life! But tonight, my task is almost accomplished.” Just now the waning moon hid his face behind a small cloud, “Healing you was my task, Anselm my dear Brother.” Aenis added with a smile shy as a deer. When the moon left the shade of the cloud Anselm had the impression that the fine features of his new brother had become transparent. The grip of his hand was still as strong as two days ago and the air he exhaled warm and soft like ever. “And your task, my brother?” Aenis stated embracing Anselm full of confidence and hope, “You will find your task in time, like I found mine!”
Up on the tower Aenis ‘ wistful mood suddenly seemed to blow away. “Look there, the town!” happily he pointed at the town downstream, “When I arrived, a long time ago, there was no cathedral, no bridge, no castle. There were just some small houses along the river and three monasteries. The one on the Heiligen Berg (Saint’s Mountain) and another one close by are gone now. Only the Niwenburg, now dedicated to St Bartholomew still exists and the mountains are looking down on it. The past is still there, and HE is still there.” Aenis held his breath for a moment, “Zeki is still up there on the mountain top! His head is pointing east, to the rising sun and the tip of his sharp sword is pointing west, to the place we all desired to go.”
Suddenly Anselm’s heart seems to break, and he had a lump in his throat. Clearing his throat, he asked the only question coming to his mind, “Shouldn’t we visit the place Zeki is buried? His bones may have turned to earth, but his sword and his spirit may still hover on the place.” Aenis nodded his assent, smiled one of his matchless smiles and whispered, “You may have found your first task!”
They crossed the dark river with a boat Anselm retrieved from a reed bed. Traveled the river without a noise and secured the boat at the other side. As they passed the railway underpass a late freight train scared them, but they didn’t abandon their plan.
The hike up the steep ascent to the top of the Königsstuhl started out on a well-lit trail between the lush gardens on the foot of the mountain. Soon however the well-trodden trail entered the dark forest, and they had to feel their way through the dark. Both had kept silent while they crossed the gardens out of fear to arouse the dogs in the neighborhood. Now Anselm posed the question afflicting him since their first encounter, “Aenis,” he asked in a small voice, “Aenis, how did you know about me, about my mishap, my injuries? Was it when I broke into the crypt? Was it when I plunged into the sacred place and lay unconscious on the ground? Was it when I discovered your gravesite, the sealed niche grave? Was it when I stole your pendant? It was yours, the amulet I am wearing around my neck?” The night was silent for a moment. No not completly silent, because the hollow hooting of a little owl sounded from the near village. It was so dark; therefore, Anselm couldn’t see Aenis shaking his head, “No! Every one of these single incidents could have been a clue to you, my dear Anselm. However, it was something else. It was the fear, the agony you experienced in the crypt!” “But I wasn’t afraid, maybe I was shocked!” Anselm retorted angrily, then however he swallowed his pride, “Yes, you are true! I was afraid, and I was desperate nobody would find me down in the crypt, this dungeon with the sealed off door. I knew even my mother wouldn’t miss me for days, as she was on a trip.” Slowing down he waited for Aenis to stop also, “Now I remember! The star on the lid of your niche grave energized me. Immediately I felt the impulse to open the grave and as soon as I touched the pendant it made my spirit raise, all weakness left, the pain in the head vanished and all my strength and curiosity returned.”
After a long while Aenis voice chanted the answer, “Kindred spirits do not need one special incident. Kindred spirits are connected since the beginning of all things. Our spirits got in touch the moment Friar Pius awakened your interest for the crypt. He was just the guide marked out from fate. The whole plan to unveil the secrets of the crypt has its origin in our kindred souls.” Anselm didn’t fully comprehend Aenis revelation. Yes, he and Aenis were kindred spirits that he knew from the very first moment he did bend down to him in the first night. But Aenis’ talk about destiny and fate? Anselm didn’t comprehend; he didn’t even want to comprehend. He threw his arms around Aenis, pressed him to his breast and placed the head upon his shoulder. As Aenis did likewise, Anselm could hear the blood rush through their veins. He felt the synchrony of their knocking hearts.
When the hooting of the owl came closer and a second owl tuned in the nightly song the brothers set out for Zeki’s final resting place on top of the mountain, taking step by step the steep trail holding hands. Soon they puffed again and had to rest on the bench beside the steep trail. Resting there Aenis spoke up with pain in his voice, “Now it’s time to tell you the rest of our adventures:”
Aenis’ tale of the double-dealing of Pope Paschal and the abduction to St.Bartholome as recalled by Anselm
“Remember, my dear Brother Lethalde and we his Pagan Jongens were hired as lansquenets by Roger the respectable Count of Sicily. Lethalde was appointed captain of a troop, Zeki became his squire and I, after making a vow never to kill a man, neither in a quarrel nor in combat, became the apprentice of a famous Muslim feldsher. Later I joint my father’s troop because I wanted to stay with my Zeki.”
The times were cruel in the dark middle age and Lethalde’s task was to pacify and secure the borders of Roger’s principality, which comprised not only the island of Sicily itself but the southern part of the Italian peninsular. In no time the boldness and trustiness of Lethalde’s small army spread and became known not only in Roger’s realm but also in the neighboring Duchies and last not least in the counties constituting the essentials part of the Pope Paschalis’ area of influence.”
“Pope Paschalis had followed Pope Urban, the instigator of the first crusade. However, neither the regime of Pope Urban nor that of Pope Paschalis was beyond dispute in Catholic world. There always were other church dignitaries contesting the legitimacy of the bishop of Rome as the head of the Christendom. These adversaries called each other antipopes. Pope Paschalis’ antipope was Pope Sylvester and vice versa. While Sylvester was supported by the Emperor of the German Empire and aristocracy of Rome, Pope Paschalis was backed by the Norman-French monarchs, the count of Sicily and the countess of Tuscany.”
“Pope Sylvester, the archpriest of St.Angelo was enthroned in the Lateran in the absence of Pope Paschalis. Receiving this message Paschalis returned immediately to displace the usurper from Petri’s chair. Immediately he was not successful as the Emperor’s troops, essentially the soldiery of the Count of Acona and of his captain Berto, defended the antipope Sylvester. As soon as the count’s lansquenets joint forces with the soldiery of the nobles of Rome Paschalis had to take shelter in San Bartolomeo all’Isola, a monastery on an island in the river Tiber. There he held court in the gloomy premises waiting for the troops of his allies to relieve him and secure his regime.”
“Patrolling the northern border of Count Roger’s kingdom Lethalde and his troop was immediately dispatched by his sovereign to relieve Pope Paschalis and to oust Antipope Sylvester. Count Roger wasn’t the only ally of Pope Paschalis. While the Kingdom of Sicily was in the South of the Papal State, Tuscany was in the North. The Countess Mathilda of Tuscany was an enemy of the German Emperor and supported Pope Paschalis.”
“Arriving in the Holy City and Lethalde and his troop forced their passage through the heavily guarded southern town gate. The troop got a hearty welcome from the citizen of the poorer quarters, like day laborers, craftsmen and farmers. The common people hailed the troop and offered water to the thirty soldiers and their horses. This changed as Lethalde’s troop made it closer to the center of the city. The small houses mutated to small mansions, to fashionable palazzi and finally to castles encased by walls and moats. With the size of the mansions the attitude of the citizens changed. Now the troop was welcomed by tirades instead of cheers, by rotten vegetables and dead cats instead of bread and of flowers and the jugs of water changed to chamber pots full of piss and shit. Disgusted and more than tired from the offensive welcome of the nobles of Rome the troop finally crossed the bridge to the Island of San Bartolomeo.”
“Now I got completely shocked. Instead of the expected clean and well-ordered military camp we had to move through an agglomeration of stalls and shacks and multicolored tents. Soldiers seemed to make up only a small minority of the population, most of the folks seemed to be peddlers, quacks, shams and what irritated me even more was the sheer number of common women and harlots identifiable by yellow ribbons. Some of the harlots didn’t seem to be older than eight- or ten-years others were old toothless wrenches. Even young boys did carry these yellow ribbons, marking them as available to everyone for a copper coin.”
Before we even could settle down Lethalde was ordered to appear before Pope Paschalis. I later I learned it was not because of his fame as the first knight to enter the Golden City but as the protector of the Pagan Jongens. This was the name known for Zeki and me throughout Italy.”
Anselm wondered, “They named you his Papan Jongens? Zeki and you? You still were not respected as Lethalde’s righteous sons? They still called you pagans, heathens? They still thought of you as monsters?”
After a second thought however, Anselm was not surprised anymore, because he remembered, Aenis was talking about the times of around 1100 AD and today this time is known as the dark middle ages. Therefore, Anselm shrugged the shoulders as Aenis just retorted, “Even so! Pope Paschalis held court in the basilica. The nave was murky as hell, with small darkened windows, illuminated by flickering candles only. At first, I could only detect his throne set up in the front of the high altar. The throne was high and looked empty. But then I could sense someone crouched in the dark hole of the throne and then I came aware of the reflection of the candle lights in the eyes of a dark shape staring at me like a sorcerer. Then a pale hand emerged out of the dark shape. The spidery fingers mentioned me closer, not Lethalde, not Zeki his squire, NO! The spider fingers waved me closer and closer and then touched my face. A squeaky voice asked, “You are the heathen declining our Lord mercy?” The squeaking voice and the icy fingers let my hair stand on end. I got even more frightened when then the voice uttered, “Your skin is soft!” When he started to ruffle my hair and his voice went on, “Your hair is soft like the coat of a newborn lamb!” I backed off an inch. The pope took hold of my hair. “You smell sweet and young and innocent! You have to share my bed tonight, pagan boy!” Then a head emerged from the bundle of cloth he had been hiding in and I saw the face of Pope Paschalis for the first time. A face with a crooked nose, like the peak of an eagle and lips so small you could hardly discern them in the face. He leaned over to a Cardinal by his side, “Make sure the little pagan shares my bed tonight! I need his blood!”
Just in this moment a horn signal drew the attention of the audience to the entrance of San Bartholomae. Through the open church gate, a company of colorful dressed soldiers approached on horseback headed by a boy of about 12 to 13. He was riding a white gelding on a saddle adorned by silver, fitting to his chain mail of silver. He didn’t wear a coif. Instead his blond hairs fell in curls to his shoulders.
Immediately I was of no interest to Pope Paschalis anymore. He shooed me away while his eyes lit up. Rising from his throne he rushed to the incomers and embraced the dismounting boy. He kissed his brow and patted him affectionately under the chin. Then Pope Paschalis guided the boy to the throne, where they took place side by side. From this moment on neither I nor Lethalde or Zeki were of any interest to Pope Paschalis. We left. Later I was told the boy was the nephew of the Countess of Tuscany and the popes preferred toy.”
This vivid report saddened Anselm and embracing Aenis he became aware his new brother was shaking. “Should we go back to the monastery? Look Aenis, it’s still a shorter way to go back, then to hike to the top.” But Aenis declined. “It’s time to visit Zeki’s last resting place. We have to hurry up to get there and greet the rising sun together with him.”
Aenis rose and Anselm had to drag him, because suddenly the strength of his body seemed to dwindle. They hardly made it to the next bench some hundred meters further up to the top of the Königsstuhl. While they paused for breath Aenis, let him know the next part for his adventure that finally ended on top of this mountain.
“During this night the island of St.Bartholomae was attacked from three sides. While foot soldiers attempted to cross the bridge to the island, boats manned with archers approached the island from the water. Pope Paschalis concerned with the security of his young guest, the Duke of Tuscany, appealed to Lethalde to rescue his toy boy, get him out of Rome and escort him back to the countess of Tuscany. Lethalde didn’t hesitate a moment and in the gray morning we took our way across the Ponte Cestio to take the road to the castle of the center of Mathilda’s realm.”
“Our charge was wearing the gray cowl of a novice with his hair covered by a hood. Nobody of our troop could see his face. Also, the white gelding wasn’t used therefore everyone watching us, should have been confident a common novice was riding behind Lethalde. Our troop counted about two dozen of lansquenets. Zeki, my friend Khaled, a black skinned giant from beyond the Mediterranean Sea and I took the rearguard.”
“While the fight around the island was raging, we crossed the bridge the hoofs of our horses covered with a soft cloth to deaden the noise. At first, all went well. The narrow streets were deserted and the only sound disturbing the peace of the night was the plop-plop of the bandaged hoofs of the horses on the cobbled paving.”
Aenis looked up to the nightly sky. Dark firs concealed the moon and only some stars were twinkling. He tried to smile as far as Anselm could observe. Anselm touched Aenis hand. The touch startled his new brother out of his thoughts. He cleared his throat. “When we were halfway to the gate in the city wall, horn signals alarmed the night. At first, the signals came from the northern part of the city only, soon however others were coming from the southern quarters as well. “They are coming!” Zeki warned us. “The hunt is on its way!” We tried to up the speed of our horses. Then, however, we came to a circular place with a fountain in its center and about five alleys running in different directions. We were lost. Which way was leading to the city gate? While he thought we were stranded, the young monk took the lead shaking down his hood and pointed to the second alley. “Let’s take this one, it leads us straight to the gate!” he hollered. Immediately we knew, the Pope had cheated us, he had committed a fraud. The alleged novice wasn’t the nephew of Mathilda of Tuscany, it was one of the boys earning their living as joy boy. None the less Lethalde took the road, just as the sound of our hunters was drawing nearer.”
The Porta Settimania leading out of Rome was closed for the night. Lethalde tried persuading the guards to open the gate showing a letter of Pope Paschalis granting free passage. It didn’t work. Therefore, he forced them to open up the small door beside the main gate with bare blade. While most of the lansquenets managed to squeeze through the narrow opening, the rearguard, that was I, Zeki, Khaled and two more lansquenets were still inside the city wall when the mercenaries of the Count of Acona arrived and cut us off.”
Immediately a tough fight between us and the count’s mercenary broke out. Zeki and Khaled tried to defend me, knowing that I never was rearing a sword or any other deadly weapon. While I was attacked from behind Khaled was deadly wounded giving me shelter by his body. ”
“What happened then I can’t remember. When I regained consciousness, I saw Khaled and the two other soldiers on the ground stabbed by swords and Zeki with bound hands and feet thrown over the back of a horse. Still, before dawn, Zeki and I were presented hogtied to Berto the Captain of the soldiery of Werner the Count of Acona. At first Berto tried to interrogate Zeki, however my dear brother had lost blood to an extent that he fainted continuously despite Berto’s men tried to keep him awake by pouring cold water over his head. Then Berto turned to me, asking with a harsh voice what our task had been. At first, I declined to answer, then I tried to fool him pretending we were on our way back to the Kingdom of Sicily. However, he knew better. A spy or Pope Paschalis himself had blown to him the purpose and destiny of Lethalde’s convoy. His only answer was, “Don’t fool me, boy, the famous Lethalde had to escort the Price of Tuscany safely to his mother.” I shook my head. Initially, I didn’t want to betray Pope Paschalis, despite his double-dealing. However, as Zeki’s health got worse and worse, I told him of the Pope’s fraud. Thinking over the details of my account, Berto decided, “Your brother is severely wounded, go ahead and try all you can to keep him alive! Dead hostages are not worth a bulrush to the Count of Acona.”
“Three days later, Zeki’s condition had changed to the better, Berto ordered us to get on a small two-wheeled dungeon car. “It’s the Emperor’s will, not mine! It’s his order! He wants everybody to see with their own eyes the two pagan boys, who survived the conquest of the Lords City by our Holy Army. He has given order to put you on display in a dungeon car in every city, every village and at every fair all over his empire.”
From this moment on, my wounded brother and I were displayed behind bars like wild animals. We were displayed like the tigers, lions and bears. Even worse! The dungeon car did show the following inscription: HEATHENS! HUMAN TRASH! SCUM OF THE EARTH! We were exposed to the curiosity, the hatred and spitefulness of nobles, citizen, farmers and vagabonds on the way across the Alps and along the river Rhine River. Our guards had a hard time to defend our life. The ordeal ended when the Prince Archbishop of Mainz decided to give us into the custody of the newly founded Monastery of St. Bartholomew. That was our luck, my luck at least. ”
“In the care of the friars my body was able to recover from the deprivations of this ordeal but the health of my dear Zeki took a turn to the worse. His physical strength declined from day to day and on the thirtieth day in the care of St. Bartholomew Zeki was only the shadow of his own.”
“In the night following this thirtieth day he asked, “Dear Aenis before I wilt away, I have to see my hometown again!” I knew I wouldn’t be able to fulfill his last will. He was far too weak to master this dangerous voyage back to the Golden City. I racked my brain to find a way to fulfill his last wish. I tried to do the best in my power. I carried him to the top of the Königsstuhl to watch the sun rise in the east, in the hills behind the Golden City. I did it and he stayed at this place forever.”
Aenis’ body was shaking in black despair memorizing these details. Anselm tried hard to soothe him. He embraced his new brother in an attempt to calm him while he himself was close to tears. “Aenis, my brother, remember that was nearly a thousand years ago!” As soon as Anselm uttered these words, he became aware that this was no comfort at all. Aenis seeing it the same way, pushed him back. “No, no! This day will always stay in my heart! The day I lost my brother!”
After a deep breath he smiled at Anselm, a very weak smile indeed and pleaded, “Can you help me, dear brother, to reach the top of the mountain, where Zeki’s body is sleeping!” Then he paused, “You’ll find his resting place even if I am not more around. I marked it with a star, the same star you know from the crypt.”
Aenis and Anselm started for the last part of their voyage to the top of the Königsstuhl. But after about one third up the trail, all strength of Aenis’ legs was gone. Anselm took his newfound brother on his back and carried him to the top.
They arrived at the clearing on the mountain top just as the first rays of the morning sun gilded the stone slab beside an old oak tree. White flowering blackberry surrounded the slab and his face was covered by moss and liches. “That’s Zeki’s place!” Aenis gestured to the slab. “Thanks for carrying me up there! I have only one task now. I have to show you the star!”
Anselm put Aenis down on top the stone slab, where he immediately began to search its surface for the star. “Here it is my brother! Feel it with your own fingers. The star is there!” While Anselm traced the faint notches with his fingers, Aenis advised him, “Sit down in the soft moss by the stone, lean back and enjoy the sunrise above the Golden City.” After a long pause he added with a deep sigh, “I am so tired! I need to rest for a while! I need to sleep!”
Anselm didn’t turn around to look back at Aenis, because he sensed this was the end. He squatted down in the moss squinting towards the rising sun because his heart told him, Aenis would lay down on the bed of stone and vanish the way he suddenly had shown up in his room three nights ago. His beating heart told him; they wouldn’t meet again. Just before he fell asleep a soft hand ruffled his hair. It was Aenis’ a last farewell.
I would like to express my special thanks to TSL for doing a great job correcting the writing mistakes especially in use of commas.
Thanks for reading
Berlin, Germany, 2019
As always, comments and suggestions are gladly accepted at Ruwen Rouhs