The Healer of Montgisard
We were told before we departed that a man’s life cannot be taken, unless he gives it away; that if we wish to guard our souls, we hold fast to the sword, for the soul that dives to battle takes it wing from the limbs. But on the ship to Ascalon there was already the scent of death. The ones we loved we kissed good-bye and rode the waves as if there was no coming back, our long green mantles wafting atop our shoulderblades. We were sailing eastward to our dog days and in the final hours we stood abaft in a row watching radial Sirius rise and split the sky, the light slowly mooring us to this strange world creeping upon us like a crimson tide.
The year was 1177 and I, Bernard of Champagne, had embarked with ninety fellow Templars to honor Christ’s name in the Holy Land. As we approached the shore, we caught ourselves, as if by reflex, lifting our palms to shield our faces from the weather and the stun of a sun almost too close for the brightest eyes.
“Le soleil nous aveuglera en combat,” I murmured to André, my training partner. “Je crains le pire, une bataille à feu et à sang.”
“Lūx in nobis nōn in caelum lūcet,” he said. “It is the soul that sees.”
The first month we toured the settlements, savoring the delicacies of the Orient, and sapping to rock the acrid fruits of the olive trees; looking ahead to a Fall of valiant toils. The second month, we feasted in honor of roi Baudouin IV. The chill, brass goblets sparkled with wine, while the twilight charted a clear path along the ridges furrowing the visible half of the leper’s face–the second half having been masked in the thicket of his golden tresses–which we took for a good omen. Baudouin raised his left arm, palm tightly clasped around a wide-mouthed gilded chalice, and praised our valor. The third month, we headed for Blanche Garde to prepare.
Then in late November, five days before the battle, André and I were engaged in a fierce session with swords, when his blade snapped against my right forearm. The surgeon, a Frenchman who had arrived with us on ship, was immediately called. He vigorously shook a dark green bottle of vinegar before spilling the contents over my arm, tightly wrapping it in marble-colored linen. While the bleeding soon stopped, it was obvious that it was becoming infected. By the dawn of the third day, boils had sprouted horizontally along the edges of the open wound. The surgeon was called again. He washed it with warm water, spilled more vinegar, changed the linen, this time wrapping it tighter, but to no avail. By the early morning of the fifth day, just hours before the battle, the boils had grown both in size and in number. Those that had burst, released a dense, putrid pus. The sore site throbbed with a dull, intermittently piercing pain. Meanwhile, I was starting to develop a deep, quiet shudder, but there was no going back. A knight cannot retreat.
Dawn arose and so did the tune of clanging swords. Our opponents, who arrived heavy-bearded on Arabian thoroughbreds, immensely outnumbered us, but we refused to allow fear to take charge of our hearts. While our men held fast to sword, spear, and horse; their men were dropping corpses. I must have felled 30, perhaps, 40 men, single-handedly, before I met him–my match in battle. This man rushed forth toward me as one would rush toward vacant space; his sharp, aquiline gaze knew neither fear nor hesitancy. Even as I ducked under his attacks, I could tell that the way in which he thrust his sword at me was with the finest grace. Then it happened, he lashed his sword at me in his greatest might, and as I frantically swung to the side to evade a central blow to the crown of my head, his strike slid along forearm, undressing my wound. His eyes, which sunk to my wound, displayed, for the first time, a glint of hesitancy. I thrust my eyes toward the hand that almost killed me to find that, amid this odd moment of hesitancy, the grasp around the sword had loosened.
This, I thought, was my only chance to live. I lifted my sword and dug it through his ribs. He immediately fell to the ground. I thought he was dead, but he gestured to me to approach him.
“Your wound, I know the cure,” he muttered in the Saracen tongue, which I had learned to mastery before the journey.
For a moment, I thought it might be a ruse, that he was beckoning me to take revenge for his life and have me lie dead beside him, but his feeble voice sounded too authentic to render this probability realistic. I approached him.
“Enter Ascalon, and ask for Majd al-Ṭabīb. He will have your cure and you shall live. If you wonder why I help you, it is because I had pledged to God my duty as a healer, before my pledge as a warrior,” he said.
Perhaps these were the man’s final words, but I sensed his lips chant a prayer as his breath grew fainter to the point of absolute silence. I listened to his advice and, at the hands of Majd al-Ṭabīb, received the cure that held my salvation. What this fallen man of the enemy had predicted for me came true.
Produced by:Eugenio Zorrilla.