White clouds drift by overhead, celestial puffs of wool against an azure-blue sky. Warm zephyrs blow over the city, off the deserts to the south and west. I am dying. I lie here upon the sun-baked roof, blood slowly trickling from my wounds, draining my body of strength, robbing me of the fountain of life. Memories flicker before my half-closed eyes, thoughts of home and love sweet upon my lips. It had been a day like this—when we left my native France so long ago. Who would have thought that it would have ended like this? The Holy Father had pronounced the blessing of God upon our mission. Deus lo vult. God wills it. Perhaps. Yet here we lie, upon the battlements of the Holy City, slain by the swords of the Mohammedan. Of the heathen once again possessing the land of Christ, the holy sepulcher, the cross upon which our Savior died. Sacre bleu! Our defense of the city had been a desperate one, a last gambler’s throw. And we had lost. I dare not open my eyes, but I remember, and the image springs fresh to mind’s eye—of my comrades lying dead to my right and left, their white surcoats spattered with red, their armor washed in their own blood. They have gone to their reward as defenders of the faith. I will join them soon enough. I can hear the screams drifting up from the street below, the cries of those unfortunate enough to still be alive. Death is a gift of God, yet my body fights it with every last ounce of strength—the instinct of survival overcoming the desire to rest, to slip off peacefully into that long night. My strength is fading fast, my sword lying just out of reach of my limp hand. No matter. I could not find the strength to lift it if it was close here by my side. Footsteps, on the roof near me. My eyes flicker open, ever so cautiously. A Mussulman strides past me, a flowing banner in his hand, its silken folds inscribed with the flowing script of the Koran. He passes the bodies of myself and my comrades and I close my eyes as he mounts the banner on the battlement, blasphemy fluttering over the Holy City. I hold myself still as he returns, praying with every last ounce of my strength for him to pass me by. I feel him pause, his eyes looking down on me, his gaze penetrating. The kick comes without warning, landing in my side with rib-crushing force. Taken off-guard, I scream, my face distorting with pain. My eyes return to the Mussulman’s face and I see him smile—the last thing I will ever see in this life. The sword descends and steel slices through my body, ending it all. Deus lo vult. . .
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