Chapter One-Six. Here
“Her name is what?”
“Cendrella, Papa. That’s all she would tell me. Well, she did say that her brother gave her the name, not her father, so one could say that it is a nickname.”
Lord Leon smiled at his son. It did his heart good to finally see his boy back safe and unharmed from the war. Unlike his brother...well, he tried not to dwell on his oldest. Rather he rejoiced in the homecoming of his beloved Lucien or Luc as he was fondly known.
“This Cendrella, my boy, seems to have quite the effect on you.”
Luc looked apprehensive, “I suppose so. It’s just...she was so kind in the morning time and then when I saw her take on Reynard, something I have never witnessed before, I was struck even more by her courage to help those...” He stopped there. Unable to go on.
“People?” finished Leon, “They may be lepers, but they are still of human mind, body and spirit.
“Yes, Father, but they are lepers because of this war. These Crusades have torn countries apart, turned religion against religion and what do we bring back for our victory? Sickness and death that is inevitable.”
Luc’s mind went back to Jerusalem. The war, the fear, bloodshed, grief. He remembered the Lazar houses outside the streets. Beggars covered with white bandages begging for alms. They were kicked and cursed, treated like animals. The unbearable heat caused these poor creatures to collapse on the roadside only to be pummeled by Crusaders horses and left for dead. And when death mercifully took them not even the vultures bothered to pick their remains. There were hardly any remains left.
He remembered looking into the eyes of a young leper girl. Through her heavily veiled face he could almost picture what she might have been. Dark, beautiful, happy. However, her reality was a face that was being eaten away by this accursed disease that made her less human and more monster.
Lucien still had nightmares from war. Yet, what kept him awake the most were the lepers and their unmerciful treatment from the world. Where was humanity? Where was God? Or was leprosy God’s punishment for being involved in the Crusades?
“I can’t forget them, Father.”
“I can’t forget what I saw in Jerusalem. I have killed in the name of God, but where was God when innocent and sick people were being struck down by Crusaders that claimed to come in his name?”
“Oh, my son,” said Leon taking his shoulder, “I have been to Jerusalem and I fought by King Baldwin’s side. The great leper king who died trying to bring peace back to his country. He was Jerusalem in every measurable way. While his body may have been decaying, his mind certainly was not. The only act you can do is to give to these people what you can. Food and clothing. You can do no more.”
Part of Luc agreed with his father and part of him wanted to say that was more he could do. But what exactly? War was easy. You plan, you gather and you fight. The victory was whomever God favored on that day. War was easy and human. Humanity was not easy.
“Come,” said Leon, “Enough talk of war. We have your homecoming celebrations to discuss and what a glorious event for the whole of Vezelay!”
Luc tried not to groan. He knew this would happen, he counted on it, but the idea of celebrating his homecoming, when so many of his own comrades and brothers in arms would never celebrate theirs, seemed somewhat shallow and selfish. Yet, he would let Papa have his glory. He was his father’s only family. Mama died when he was young and Bayard, his older brother, was killed on his way home from war a year before. There was no other family except Theodore, his cousin on his mother’s side and Father’s ward.
Families were not very large in Vezelay. Every married couple lost at least two children to sickness and disease and many people were fortunate if they lived to see thirty-five. Father was already in his forties and was becoming a legend for his longevity. Luc loved him dearly, so much that once he feared his father’s death more than anything else.
War was the first time that Luc had been separated from his father. He had just turned eighteen and his once warm and sheltered life became a distant memory the moment he stepped foot in Jerusalem. Now three years later, Luc was no longer that frightened and unsure boy. War had forged him into a warrior. Pain, sorrow and suffering had opened his eyes to the real world. And personal loss and grief had broken his heart and his spirit. More than once he had wanted to throw down his sword, curse God and end his life, but something or someone always stood in the way.
Actually, there had been several people that had saved Luc from his anguish. Men he had not known a week before who would fight by his side and become closer than any brother of blood. Several of these men had no homes or families to return to. The least Luc could do was bring them back to Vezelay and let them begin new lives away from the East and the war.
“This is a kind thing that you have done for these men,” Leon said as he and his son walked through the gardens.
“I feel like I had to do something,” said Luc simply.
“This man that lost his memory, Olivér, I find him rather intriguing,” Leon remarked.
“And after almost six months he still knows nothing about who he is,” Luc said with a sense of guilt.
Last year, Luc had been saved by a young soldier but at a heavy cost. The soldier, whom he had never met before, had gotten between him and an enemies sword. However, the soldier had taken a fall and hit his head on a boulder. He was in a coma for several weeks and when he awoke, he had no memory of who he was or where he was from. Luc felt responsible and took the soldier into his care. He had taken the name Olivér after the doctor who treated him. Not many other people knew too much about him. He had kept to himself and was quiet and stayed out of the way.
Olivér was a mystery to everyone including himself. He was intelligent and courteous with a sense of humility. Yet, he was educated, could read and write and even knew several languages. Which suggested that he must have had a high upbringing. A nobleman or a merchant?
“This man may have a family, wife and children who might think him dead and he doesn’t even know his real name,” said Luc.
“You got him out of Jerusalem and out of danger,” Leon reminded him, “And that is more important.”
At that moment the mystery soldier appeared on the steps.
“Olivér,” Luc said, “I hope your first night here was restful. Well, as restful as a solider is able to have.”
“It was,” said Olivér smiling, “and oddly enough I slept through the night.”
“Fortunate for you,” whispered Luc, who still awoke in the middle of the night with horrors of war and bloodshed before his eyes and the screams of the dying in his ears.
“Actually it’s strange because I had dreams of this place when I was in the hospital after my accident. When we were riding through the forests or over the riverbeds, I would remember them from my dreams. Lord Lucien, I believe I might be from here...from Vezelay.”