by Stephen R. Lawhead
“Pax Vobiscum,” said the strange monk in the white robe.
“Tell me, what is it you seek ?”
Murdo swallowed, “I seem to have lost my way,” he said simply.
The priest smiled, “Take heart. You are closer than you know.”
The year is 1095. Murdo Ranulfson has come to the Holy Land to find his father and brothers, who have taken the cross and joined The Crusades. The youngest of the family, Murdo was left at home to care for his mother, and to protect and oversee the manor farm which has been in his family for five generations. But in their absence from their Scottish island home of Orkney, the crusaders have been betrayed, their land confiscated, their family evicted. And Murdo means to bring them back to set things right.
On this epic stage of history, Stephen R. Lawhead sets his youthful seeker on a mission that will take him a world away from his familiar, cold, misty island in the North Sea, to the unforgiving desert of the Middle East and into the unknown crucible of war.
Never comfortable around priests, and ever suspicious of their motives, he is nevertheless thrown in with an unlikely trio of monks from the mysterious order of Cele De. Though their order is scorned by other clerics, and not sanctioned by Rome, the simple kindness, care, and humor of these unorthodox priests scale the walls of his defenses. They accompany Murdo on a journey that would break the minds and hearts of even the most veteran of men, their object ever reachable, but ever illusive.
He hopes to find his father and brothers in Antioch, but loses himself in the unfamiliar, winding streets, where no matter which street or which direction he takes, it brings him back to an ancient church and a white monk who asks what he seeks.
Back at the stables where he is billeting with King Magnus’s men, he learns that his family is with Prince Bohemond’s division, and chases after any hint of their whereabouts. Much later he hears details of the ill-fated battle of Dorylaeum.
“It was bad for us at Antioch,” a dying soldier told Murdo, “but Dorylaeum was worse. By God, it was worse.” He tells Murdo they had left the city of Nicaea behind them and marched on through a sun-seared path of enemy destruction — homes and farms abandoned, whole forests burned, all water spoiled. Their water gone, they decide to make two divisions, each to fend for itself.
The soldier rides with Prince Bohemond’s division. “Truly,” he said, “it is a God-forsaken place” though they finally come upon a river where they “wallow like pigs in it.” As they break camp the following morning and pass the ruined city, four hard-riding scouts report that the enemy is upon them with no time even to arm themselves properly. The soldier continues his eye-witness account:
The news from the scouts is so bad they hesitate to say how many enemy soldiers have been sited. ‘Answer me!’ demands Bohemond. ‘How many?’ Their answer is 60-70,000 strong to their own of perhaps 18,000 knights and 30,000 footmen. The rest are families and priests. ‘Ride to the other column,’ the prince commands the scouts. ‘Tell Count Raymond we will meet the attack here. He is to join battle at once. Get you gone, by God!’
“The battle line is only half-formed when the sultan’s army appears over the ridge: a hundred thousand strong. We tighten our grip on our spears and await the charge. We stand our ground unafraid. But there are so many of them. Clearly, we cannot endure forever. All the while, the enemy flies at us – always swarming, swarming like wasps . . . The day passes, and still Raymond’s army does not appear. God have mercy! Where are they? “. . .
Murdo’s faith that his father and brothers are still alive, drives him on. He searches for them through the carnage of the sacking of Jerusalem. The crusaders, in full blood-lust and battle frenzy, hack their way through friend and foe, Christian and infidel, woman and child, looting, pillaging, destroying. Murdo runs through the streets, encountering ever more bizarre and heinous scenes of butchery. He encounters barricades of fresh corpses three and four feet deep, mounds of bodies stacked ten or fifteen high.
“Even if his father and brothers were here, he would never find them in the crush of soldiers. There were too many people, too much confusion, too much noise. Overcome by the futility of his task, he faltered. . . Dazed, confused . . . He ran with no thought in his head but to get away . . . on and on he ran. He did not notice when the street grew narrower . . . rising sharply . . . nor did he see the first wine-dark trickle of blood coursing down among the paving stones. The blood . . . God have mercy! There was so much !
“Murdo turned and ran . . . When at last he stopped running . . . he moved like a man in a dream . . . feeling nothing . . . staggering on. He did not sleep that night, but roamed the darksome valley outside the walls, moving from camp to camp, restless in his search. However, Murdo no longer remembered why he searched. No longer knew what he hoped to find.”