Friday, March 27, 2009

Thursday, March 19, 2009

the Children Crusades of 1212 AD:

an elaboration on something that really happened
(but maybe didn't)

In the summer of 1212, a mob of 30 000 children descended upon Vendôme, in north-central France, ready to crusade upon the Holy Land – in the name of their Lord - and retake it from Moslem captors.

A boy named Stephen had asked them to do it.

He had been tending to a flock of sheep one sunny afternoon in May when he came upon a wandering vagabond-type, who pleaded his thirst and despair to the young shepherd.

Stephen, being pious and chalk full of noble good stuff well beyond his twelve years, naturally fetched the man some water without prejudice. He was innocent to any notion that this man may mean him or his sheep harm.

As the vagabond drank - through dirt and shit encrusted fingers - he undertook a magical transformation, revealing to Stephen his true identity – that he was Jesus Christ; SAVIOUR.*

*(Note: Magical transformations did not at this date involve animated birds or fairy dust spiraling upwards around a flushing and arms spread subject, nor was there the added whimsy of a Danny Elfman track. Magical transformations were as such, not very magical).

Jesus gave Stephen a letter, and told of his wish that the boy bring it to King Philip II at his court in Saint-Denis. He asked Stephen to preach the crusade from that day forth, as only he was pure enough to do so. If he accepted, Jesus said God would be there for him when needed.

It’s not known if Stephen had parents or not, but he went to the King at once because it was totally insane that Jesus had spoken to him directly - and he was just a kid - so it was totally fucking insane, and amazing. He felt like a pretty big deal.

It took three days to get to the royal court. When Stephen arrived, he was exhausted but gleeful, having skipped much of the way. His throat was dry. His stomach was knotted. He probably shouldn’t have drank so much milk en route, as it was an unreasonably humid late-Spring.

The boy was too young and too dutiful to care. He entertained crowds as he marched to the palace estate.

Saint-Denis had been drawing in preachers and pilgrims since a bishop was martyred there in the 3rd century and it was not so uncommon for King Philip to dismiss a traveler’s spirited call to arms.

Philip had taken part in the 3rd Crusade, twenty years earlier - leading his people through the Alps to Moslem arrows, dysentery, English ridicule and retreat. He again rallied his people behind a 4th Crusade some years after despite his better judgment, and only to have the Pope smite his marriage –and the woman he loved - as void in return.

King Philip II of France was taking a break from crusades against Moslems to crusade against Britons. He wanted to reclaim dirty and known Normandy before taking any part in shiny-lost Jerusalem.

King Philip II didn’t concern himself with hermits and children, popes or letters from Jesus anymore. He wanted only to live in his royal court and to never bleed out his asshole again.

Stephen could not understand.

The many children who stopped to listen to the boy speak could not understand either. They began to spread his words to other children, and in other communes. Stephen would stand outside the abbey with his letter at his side, sometimes outstretched to show off the seal, sometimes unfolded and raised high above his head. Kids enjoyed the elegance of his oration, his impassioned glare and effeminate stance.

“God was going to part the sea and lay down enemy swords before them.”

“Their innocence was going to lead the way.”

Stephen of Cloyes and his minor prophets spent a month spreading their gospel and gathering their Children’s Crusade. In late June they met in Vendôme and traveled south towards Marseille and the Mediterranean Sea. Among them were young priests and girls; farmhands, troubadours and out-of-work labourers. They were orphans and runaways, but sometimes allowed-by-mom-and-dads.

As they marched from village to village, people of all ages would stop to line their windowsills, porches and roads. Crusades had been passing through many of these French towns off and on for the past four generations. People wanted to admire the beauty and character of the crusaders even when they wanted to scream and hit them too.

The kids marched for days and weeks. Skipping, singing, getting stomach aches, talking a lot of kid bullshit, thinking about God, thinking about the Holy Land, Stephen, how very hot it was getting, whether so-and-so liked them, wolves, illiteracy, grapes, whether or not Henry was a heretic for never ever wearing pants so that everyone can see his balls, serfdom, how lamp stands are made, apples, gold, et cetera et cetera…

Many of the crusaders were beginning to get discouraged when they finally arrived in Marseille. Some children got too hungry, sick or bored and decided to return home. Others died. Those still in wait were kindly set up with lodging by the locals in town.

After a long night of spirited revelry, the group met Stephen by the waterfront the next morning…

He stood and faced everyone while the dark blue waves crashed behind him. A lot of congratulatory things were said. He would occasionally hold up his letter for the other kids to see and remember. Sometimes he would pause for long periods to flail his arms or throw sand at the sea before starting into a new round of it. He would turn and glance at the Mediterranean every seventh word while looking petrified.

The sea would not part.

More children left, feeling betrayed.

After a few days of the waters not parting as Stephen had promised would happen, a pair of men approached the kids willing to provide boats without charge, so they could safely pass through to complete their mission.

The men were named William the Pig and Hugh the Iron.

After much deliberation, Stephen and his minor prophets agreed… and the Children Crusaders were crusaders again!! They boarded several worthy sea vessels and were off…

But, instead of destroying Moslem armies by the grace of their innocent faces in the Holy Land

They all got sold into slavery.

(And some were shipwrecked and drowned).


-- originally published 2008 in Pinnacle 001.