Literary Upstart Finalist: Scatter the People 

Just after vesper prayers, our scouts return wearing grim and serious looks. One of them is wounded through the waist with our enemy’s arrow and must be supported by his brothers. Then the Bishop gathers us and we are told what we already know: that our enemy surrounds us like fish collecting around a sunken milestone.

It has been only three days since we took Antioch from the Turks, and already the whole of Arabia has come against us. From my assigned turret, I have watched gather an endless multitude consisting of Saracens, Azymites, Arabs, Kurds, Agulani, Persians, and many other peoples whom I cannot name. We are told that the Agulani wear iron armor upon their whole man, even on their horses, and fear neither sword, nor arrow, nor lance. We are told that the Saracens, upon discovering a priest leading the people at mass in Edessa, martyred him on the altar and drank of the blood. We are told that our enemy desires to lead us away in ropes and scatter the people of Christ among the pagans.

The Bishop concludes his speech by calling us to a fast lasting five days after which we will go and meet our enemy beyond the city gates.

My tent-mate, Raymond, has discovered the tobacco pipe and satchel of the Turk who previously occupied our turret. Raymond is a Gaul. We communicate, tenuously, in vulgar Latin. When he lights the Turk’s pipe and holds it in the Turkish fashion he insists that we call him Sultan Raymond. Some of the brothers begin crossing themselves profusely as though to ward off his pagan spirit. A priest passes and, believing their prayers to be sincere, genuflects and bows himself in prayer.

I am Henri of Normandy, a foot soldier in the army of the triune Lord. I have journeyed this far and will journey further yet—to Jerusalem—to fulfill my vows to the Holy Roman Church and to receive penance for sin that is not mine but, for which, I am the vessel. My son bears the burden of this sin, like a fateful inheritance accepted without choice. He is afflicted with fits. Among the people it is called the “falling sickness.” Women of childbearing years will not enter our home. Sometimes we find him curled like a newborn calf with his head thrown back at a shocking angle. His tongue fills his throat and my wife must retrieve it to prevent his choking. When the fits first began, we prayed for healing and petitioned the Church for help. The priest offered a blessed iron ring from Rome, which provided some relief, but, ultimately, we were told that God does not heal sin until it is first forgiven.


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