Red Cross, White Cross

by Andre Norton

 

all.cats.are.gray.1953 fantastic universe

 

1st Published ~ In Knight Fantastic (2002) Edited by Martin H. Greenberg & John Helfers, Published by DAW, PB, 0-756-40052-X, No.1220, $6.99, 317pg (pgs 19-36) ~ cover by permission of stock illustration source ~ 15 all-original tales of those valiant warriors sworn to serve and defend against all foes, whether mortal or magical....

 

Available Now ~ In Tales from High Hallack vol. 3 (2014) Published by Premier Digital Publishing, DM & TP, 1-624-67189-6, $22.95, 450pg ~ cover by Kib Prestridge

 

Bibliography Page - http://andre-norton-books.com/worlds-of-andre/short-stories/453-red-cross-white-cross




 

The land was the same. Below the hill upon which Michael lay, it stretched golden to the edge of the orchard. He strove to see any evidence of neglect, but none could be sighted from his resting place. Locksley-on-the-Marsh . . . he had worked in its fields during his novitiate, had ridden forth as a squire from the cluster of buildings half-ringed by the arms of an orchard. And here he was once more, spying upon a land that now might well be a trap set to close upon such as he.

Yet he had sworn upon the cross-hilt of a broken sword---a weapon not even his own. Fortunate indeed had been the brethren who had died at Acre in all honor, defending to the last a Christian hold against the infidels in the Lord's Holy Land. Michael was too late to march in that company, even as the least of fighting men.

The scene that lay before and beneath him wavered as though wrapped in shifting mist. He was feverish---his healer's training was enough to tell him that. And the pain had been with him always since---Michael forced himself up, nursing his right wrist, its bindings now filthy, against his breast. Wrist? Naught but a crushed stub answered to that description. Right hand---sword hand---wild laughter bubbled to his parched lips, and he held it back only with an effort. A handsome jest they had thought the deed: no sword hand, no sword! But some men in this world wielded blade with the left hand, as well, or even both with equal ease.

How many days had passed since Sir William, Senior Knight Commander of the Convent of Locksley-on-the-Marsh, died in a rough nest of grass among the bushes? Sir William, betrayed by a mob of villains in a stinking huddle of huts, his white robe with its blood-red cross torn from him. At least the old Templar did not die at the hands of that rabble who shouted for a fire to send to hell such a son of Satan. Those muck-crawlers had thought Michael dead from the wound he now nursed; but his commander's sword, caught up in his left hand, had driven them off. Then one of the wretches had sighted men-at-arms approaching from the castle, and the rabble had taken to their heels.

Michael had made no move against the soldiers of the castle guard, aware as he was that all hands were now raised against the Templars. Instead---he would never be sure how---he had managed to get Sir William down to the river and into the skiff he had earlier noticed there.

From the boat, the young knight could see the party from the castle heading toward the village and knew that he and his precious charge could be seen in their turn. As he paddled the unsteady craft out into the current, he murmured one of the prayers he had learned from much repetition: a plea for aid. The True God had answered, for the two men had crossed the stream without being sighted. And, once ashore, Sir William had been granted enough strength to work his way into a thick maze of brambles that grew near the water's edge.

Michael had not dared to try a fire, even when the chill from the river reached them. Fevered by the great gash on his head, Sir William rambled, repeating orders once issued in battle, fragments of the Divine Office, or mere wordless mouthings, and it was necessary at times to lay fingers across his dry lips as he raised his voice. His subordinate could offer no more ease to either of them than to apply crude bandages, torn from their shirts and wetted in the stream, first to his commander's gaping wound and then to his own wrist, lifting the latter to his teeth for knotting. Michael seriously questioned whether the older knight would ever raise himself out of this hole.

Sir William, standing tall, his hand resting on his sword hilt, the spotless white of his cloak making a frame for the great red cross . . . that was how the young man had seen his superior on the day he took his own vows. The Commander was a man of honor and a mighty fighter, yet at times---even as did the lowliest of the Brotherhood---he had tended the injured and ill, cared for the homeless and poor. To be his squire had been---Michael fought against a darkness that seemed to be rising about them both in spite of the coming dawn. Sir William, who had stood witness in his own hastily-held initiation and had thereafter been as much mentor as master . . . Sir William . . .

As if he had spoken that name aloud, the man he supported spoke, not in a mumble of half-consciousness but with the strength of the past.

"Michael?"

“Brother!"

"You must do it . . ." The voice faded.

"What must be done, sir?" Michael prompted gently when the other did not continue.

"The safekeepings---for others." Again a pause.

"At Locksley?" Michael guessed.

"Yes---widow of Lord of Lauchon---needs funds. King Philip and Hospitallers must not take---no!" The old knight coughed heavily with his vehemence. "You must get---to Lady Gladden---what is hers." The next silence was unbroken.

Wordless, too, Michael cradled the cooling body against his own. The Templars had served not infrequently as custodians of the funds of merchants and nobles; in London, they were wardens of even King Edward's treasures. It was greed that had brought about their destruction---not the knights' own, but the gold-lust of Philip of France, who wished all the wealth they guarded---as well as their holdings---in his own hands. Vile lies had been fostered to achieve this end, some by the very Church that had once trembled before the Infidel and clamored for aid to the Brotherhood of the Red Cross.

But persecution did not justify the dereliction of duty to God---or men. The Templars had acted as faithful stewards, and such service must continue to be rendered even were the Order to be scourged from the Earth.

Michael's heart felt numb, but his mind was clear, and so was his way. Groping in the brush, thorns tearing at his flesh, he grasped the broken sword.

"Brother," he whispered, "it shall be done." Then he swung its cruciform hilt into the air and, as the morning light blessed it with gold, added fervently, "Upon this Cross I swear it!”

That same oath had brought him here. There had been no reverent burial within the shadow of any Temple for Sir William; maimed as he was, the young Templar could only heap a mass of leaves and drag loose branches over his commander's body. Prayers---yes, that much else he could do; but he was no priest to give rest to his dead master. Surely, however, that Lord whom both served, knowing the truest treasure coffered in a faithful soul, would accept this warrior long in His service.

Now Michael himself was near the end of his task. Three days it had taken him to reach Locksley since Sir William's passing. Hunger gnawed him like a beast, its pain near as bad as that tearing ever at his ruined hand. So far he had seen no sign of life below him; the convent might well be deserted. Doubtless---he grimaced at the thought---when the soldiers had swept in to arrest the brothers, they had done some looting. The safe-room, though, was always well hidden. When he had been here with Sir William during the months of danger, he had been shown the secrets.

It was common knowledge that King Edward and those descended from the families who had given rich gifts of land to the Order in the past opposed the Church's recent command that Templar holdings be yielded up to the Knights Hospitaller. But this convent had been hardly more than a grange, and as such it would be under the care of a custodian who visited it only at intervals.

He knew he must move, and soon, or he would not be able to move at all. Noting ahead the bushes that might afford him cover, Michael started down.

No noise could be heard of cattle or horses, and no watchdog gave tongue in warning. Crouching low, the knight approached the enclosed farmstead. At last he pulled himself to his feet, aided by the gate of the wall that encircled the main buildings.

The door of the inner one facing him had been beaten in, and nothing had been done to repair it. Michael drew a deep breath and lurched forward. Did its damage betoken plundering? He could only believe that it must. But who had wrought the ruin---king's men, villagers roused by a priest, or mere outlaws emboldened by the news that the Templars were to be taken?

Staggering to the broken door, he worked his way inside. All the simple furniture of the large meeting room had been smashed into kindling, and from the fireplace rose a greasy reek where half-bare bones had been thrown---the remains of a pig's carcass.

Food---the first in three days! Michael bent to twist free a bone that still held blackened flesh and clutched it possessively. However, the need to discover what had happened in this place was a stronger hunger than an ache in the belly, and, without eating, he moved on to the other rooms.

The chamber where Sir William, nigh on a year ago, had written his reports to the Grand Master had been stripped of all furnishings save a broken chair. Beyond lay quarters for knights or visitors; the dormitory for the sergeants was on the second floor.

At the door that led to the chapel, the young man hesitated. It was closed, and no signs of assault were evident; but creeping from within came a strong and evil odor---the unmistakable stench of death.

Entering, Michael pressed his shoulder against the right wall to steady himself and so made his way into the sacred chamber that was the center of every Templar dwelling. As he reached the altar, he stopped, rooted by shock at what he saw, unable to believe that any born in Christendom had committed such foul sacrilege.

He wheeled around, unable to fight down sickness, but though he heaved, there was nothing left in his stomach to void. Sliding down the wall that had supported him, the knight lay too weak to move, closing his eyes tightly to shut out the abomination around him. Then a deeper darkness mercifully veiled it from him.

"May they be damned into hell for this!"

Sharp as the sword that had severed his hand, the curse cut through the inner night that had held him. Michael was forced to open his eyes. Light from a torch struck them, flaring and fading, but enough to show him two men standing close by and to glimpse others in the shadows behind.

The companion of the torchbearer drew a step closer. Fire glinted on well-kept mail, though much was hidden by an over-garment. A cloak, a cross---not white with a blood-scarlet sign, but rather black with white. Hospitaller! Come to see what the Church had declared now belonged to his Order, was he?

The Templar's lips flattened against his teeth. Let them cut him down here and now, he thought savagely; to the end he would keep the oath he had taken. And he would not die like a cringing slave. Bracing his arms to raise himself up, he struck his mangled wrist against the floor. Agony lanced through the wound, and he screamed.

In the moment it took for the fiendish torture to subside, Michael found himself fronted by the cloaked knight, who knelt swiftly beside him and steadied him with a strong arm. Then the torchbearer came forward and, in spite of pain-blurred vision, the young man had clear sight of the mail-framed face now close to his own.

"Ralf---?"

Perhaps no one heard that whisper save himself, or what he saw was but a cruel delusion born of the fever he carried. Yet new-kindled hope made him strive again for an answer:

"Ralf---brother---"

"Michael!"

The arm about the injured man tightened, holding his body more securely than before; but the wave of weakness and relief that washed over him swept his mind away into darkness once again.

"Michael---here!"

A whisper, then a tug at his hand. He was back in the great hall at Colmount, and someone was striving to draw him into the shadows near a tapestry that hung on the wall behind the high table. Ralf, of course.

"What---" he began, realizing as he spoke that a strange glamour seemed to be holding them both. Ralf looked as he had the last time they had been alone together---a boy in a rumpled smock. And he---he was in the same state.

"Be still!" commanded his brother. There was only a year between them, but Michael was the elder and did not take kindly to such orders. He had just opened his mouth to protest when he heard another voice---one he hated. Scowling, he edged still closer to the dais and the tall-backed chairs that held and hid the speakers.

"Have you thought upon Stephen's advice, my lord?"

"Yes." The single word was a grunt.

A moment of silence followed. Michael could hear his brother's quick-drawn breaths as the two rubbed shoulders in the small space.

"You would be choosing well, my lord." The first speaker's light voice carried a trace of impatience. "They would bring honor to themselves and their house, and you have another son---"

Michael wanted to spit. Oh, yes---Udo!

So he and Ralf stood and listened to the decision that would change their lives forever, removing them from the world they knew and taking from them all they had, to favor the half brother they despised.

That their father was under the will of their stepmother the boys had learned even before the marriage. With the birth of Udo, they had also become aware that the Lady Anigale wanted the heirship for her own stupid cub.

And her scheme had borne fruit true to its seeding, for Michael and his brother were separated. Ralf had gone to the Hospitallers; he, to the Templars.

"Michael---"

Faint and from far away came that voice, but it was enough to break his dream. He returned to himself enough to sense that he lay not on stone now but on a softer surface.

"Drink!"

A rim of metal was pressed against his lips as his head and shoulders were lifted. Unwilling to open his eyes, he drank, and his mouth filled with a taste of blended herbs; then he was allowed to lie down again. The darkness was waiting, but this time he made no return to the past.

When at last he roused completely, Michael found himself staring up at a white ceiling like a cloud, cleft by the lightning of a jagged crack. This was not the chapel---it was one of the rooms of the infirmary, his torpid memory supplied that much. Two burning torches were thrust into rings on the wall. By their light, as he slowly turned his head, he was able to bring into focus the back of a man who stood by a table, counting liquid drop by drop as he held a small flask above the mouth of a larger.

As though sensing his patient's gaze, the other turned; then, with one long stride, he was beside the Templar and on his knees. Again Michael was looking up into the face of his brother.

"I am meat for the sheriff." He was able to think clearly again, and his voice was stronger. "Best let me go---"

Bound as Ralf was by the Hospitallers' rules, could he---or would he---do otherwise, or did too many years lie between them now?

"No!" The word was spoken with force. "How came you here, and---"

"---why?" Michael could readily guess that second question. "Tis simple enough. I am under oath to the Senior of this holding, which is now---" he strove to keep his voice free of passion, "---sealed by Church and King to your Order. But what brings you to this place? Is not Rhodes the land where the White Cross holds sway?"

"I was on caravan," began Ralf, then paused at the bewilderment on his brother's face. "Oh, yes---we are now wedded to ships, but a scouting voyage is still deemed a 'caravan.' Our vessel was dispatched out of the Middle Sea to London on matters of the Order---" Once more he fell silent.

Michael thought he had a good idea of what such "matters" might be. "You and your brethren are to survey your new properties here."

"You have the right of it," said Ralf, looking relieved at not having to speak a painful truth. "But, know this, Michael---" He leaned closer over the pallet and spoke in a near whisper.

"In the past there have indeed been times when the White Cross has differed in creed or deed from the Red. But the foul lies that have brought low the Knights of the Temple---have sent them to torture and death---those we do not believe. Some of your brothers have even taken refuge with us, have changed their white cloaks for black. Our Order still battles slavers; the blood of Turks---and not all who are of that cruel mind dwell in the East!---is drink for our swords. Yet we also labor to heal those struck down by either steel or plague."

“'Put not your trust in princes,' brother,” Michael quoted. Then he added with a bitter smile. 'Or in Church fathers; perhaps your day of doubt, too, will come.

"As to why I am here," he continued, "I gave oath to my leader, even as he died, to carry out a mission. You know that we of the Temple have had safe places wherein merchants, lords, and even kings have stored their treasures. These riches are not ours, yet much has lately been seized, and the true owners fear their wealth is gone beyond recovering."

Ralf straightened a fraction. 'Men's worldly goods pass not through our hands!" he retorted hotly. "Lands we will do with as the Church decides, but we claim nothing left in trust; we are sworn even to refuse those charges ourselves. You now seek such an object of safekeeping?"

"Aye---there is a lady very needful of what lies here. The Lady Gladden---"

Ralf stared, then drew back a little. His mouth set in an expression of truculence his brother knew of old.

"What mischief roils the kettle now?" Michael repeated the question that had been so often aimed at them by Dame Hannah, their mother's nurse, in those lost days.

Ralf ran tonguetip over his lips as though to open them for the passing of words that were hard to utter.

"Our father died six years ago."

"What of that?" Michael made answer to this news. "I have no thought of seeking out Colmount again. Udo may sit in the high seat there until his beard turns white, as far as I am concerned! Too well I know that the countess stands always behind him, quick with her suggestions---"

"Udo died of a putrid fever," Ralf cut in. "Our late lady stepmother gained nothing in the end from Colmount; she had to satisfy herself with another lord---Gladden! And he met with the Scots, to his swift undoing. She is now without lord or land; yet you say she has some treasure here."

Michael lay very still. His eyes met those green ones, so like his own, set in his brother's face, and saw them suddenly become hooded, withdrawn.

"I know what Sir William wished of me," he said at length into the silence, "and to that I must hold." He struggled up, Ralf doing nothing to help him, until he was sitting on the rough bed of cloaks and time-tattered blankets. "I must hold," he repeated, but he made the vow only to himself.

The Hospitaller rose to his feet and, once erect, gazed for a long moment down at the Templar. "A man does what his honor demands," he said formally. "Lady Anigale may be the witch we always deemed her, but she will still have your service, it seems---"

Michael had known the blinding pain of having his hand severed, the withering of spirit brought by the knowledge that his life had been shattered beyond mending. Those sufferings, however, diminished to nothing when compared with the thrust Ralf had just delivered.

"I have heard nothing of Lady Gladden." Ralf spoke slowly, giving each word more than its usual weight. "I have found one set upon by outlaws, and to him I have given aid, as my Oath demands. We await Sir Jean de Averele, the leader of our party who is to meet us here. I have seen no Templar, only a wayfarer---perhaps a merchant. Who and what you are you must decide for yourself. Understand this."

"I understand."

Ralf turned on his heel and was gone. And so their first reunion ended.

Nothing was left to him except, as Ralf had said, honor. After his brother had left the room, Michael crawled on hands and knees to a table close by and used its sturdy trestles to pull himself to his feet. At least he knew this building and the exact place of his goal.

Suppose he did bring what he had sworn to retrieve out of its safekeeping; how could he return it to---her? During the past few days, he had never thought beyond opening the cache. He did not even know how much was to be transported. And there was none to turn to---his younger brother's parting words had made it plain that there was little in common between them any longer. It was small comfort that no amount of planning could have prepared him for the ironic twist this tale had taken. He was now severed from everything and everyone more surely than he had been in that hour when the rabble had held him down to maim him in body and soul.

The windowless hall beyond the door was deep in darkness. Michael judged that day had passed into night, though he could not depend upon his perceptions, being unable to reckon how long he had lain unconscious. However, the Hospitallers had not ridden out, and they might still be in the process of evaluating their new holding. Yet, as the Templar scraped his way along the wall, he heard no sound and saw no further dance of torchlight. It might be that Ralf, knowing now what had brought him to Locksley, would be waiting to use him as a guide and thereby discover the safe-room without difficulty or danger.

Rounding a corner, he came to the entrance of the chapel. Even in this place, he heard and saw nothing to suggest that others were still present under this roof, though there could be no service here. Those who had despoiled the chapel had also desecrated it, and it would have to be cleansed before the Host could once more be brought within.

But there was light---moonlight; a portion of the roof had vanished not far from the altar. Michael took step by wavering step until he caught at the massive block, then used it for support as he steered himself around to the other side.

Once more on his knees, he sought the wall behind it. The effort to arrive here had winded him, but he breathed as shallowly as possible to avoid drawing in the air about, fouled as it was by what had been nailed to the Cross: the body of Nigar, Sir William's hound. The space behind the altar was pitch-black, and Michael, shuddering, had to run his hand down the besmirched stones, counting the mortar seams between them.

Twice he made that tally; then, certain, he spread his left hand flat on the block he had selected. With all the force he could summon, he set his weight against it. Again he placed his hand, this time at another section of the same stone. Four times, all told, he repeated the action---one he had performed before under Sir William's eye.

At first Michael thought he had failed; then the blocks gave a little. With renewed hope, he put forth the last of his strength, and suddenly the whole wall grated loudly and swung forward. Stumbling to get out of the way, the young knight fell again and lay gasping.

After a moment, he rolled over awkwardly and got back to his knees, an effort that made moisture run down his face until he tasted salt on his lips. Half-crawling, he pulled himself to the doorway, then through it. Just inside he hunkered down, breathing in stale air scented with unidentifiable odors, some of which surely arose from what lay in the chamber.

And where among its contents was he to find what he sought? This ignorance seemed, somehow, the final defeat. With its realization, Michael cast himself prone on the dust-carpeted floor. Once more he murmured prayers---not the ritual entreaties of any service, but broken phrases wrung from a soul near to the mortal sin of despair.

Then came the sound of boots, and fingers of torchlight probed within the treasure place. Those who approached had the glow at their backs, so Michael could not see their faces until one swung around and reached a torch into the room.

It was Ralf---and he was not alone in wearing the cloak of a sworn knight. As he brought the light closer, Michael could see his companion. The other man was much older, and his face was graven with the same lines of authority that had seamed the countenance of Sir William. Here was surely the superior of whom Ralf had spoken.

"Be this your invader, brother?" the elder knight asked. "It would seem that he is also a master of secrets---which is a curious thing, since the mighty among our brethren of the Temple were not wont to share hidden knowledge beyond their own tight-held circle."

Michael braced himself up on the elbow of his left arm.

"1 am Michael of Colmount, Knight of St. John of Jerusalem, and now prey to any enforcer of the law. Take me in to Dorchester and get the glory of it! I came here at the orders of the Senior Knight of Locksley-on-the-Marsh, but I have failed. There is no more to be said.”

Sir John de Averele stood beside him now. The two men were pressed close by the number of chests and coffers crowded into the small chamber.

"Sir William de Vere---you served him?" he asked. "He is with you, here---?”

The Templar's throat was thick with grief, but he forced himself to reply.

"He is dead," he answered shortly.

"So?" the Hospitaller glanced around at all the wealth that had been concealed in this place. "Your leader being dead, you came to fill your pockets? Such tales are now told of your kind in the courts!"

This offense against his honor gave Michael a last strength to front his accuser. He threw his maimed limb over a chest beside him and pulled himself upright; then another arm---a strong one---was about him, and he was held on his feet by a body solid as the neighboring stone in its aid. Ralf!

"Sir William died, yes, pulled down by the scum of a village," the young knight answered evenly. "I gave oath to complete his mission."

He wanted so much to strike that face, framed in its shining mail-coif, with his wounded wrist, to show what it meant when all the world turned against a man---one, moreover, who had sworn to protect that same world from the ravages of evil.

Sir Jean now tried another tack. "You name yourself of the House of Colmount. Another of that House stands beside you---does he speak for you and your presence here?"

“Ralf and I be brothers indeed by birth," Michael replied carefully, "but we have known naught of each other since we were children. What is warded here is no affair of his, nor is my purpose.”

"Which is to plunder---"

"No!" the Templar's voice rose to a shout. "I take no man's goods for myself! There is a treasure here that does not belong to the Temple but was sent to this place for safekeeping. Sir William heard that the rightful owner was in great need and promised to find and deliver it to her."

The senior Hospitaller gave a strange smile. "This lady is also known to you, Sir Michael, and not happily. Oh, yes, Sir Ralf has told me a curious story, one almost too hard to believe; yet proof exists that it is true. Can you now find this so-precious thing? If you can, and it proves to be, as you say, the property of another, then it will be returned without any report to that owner."

The Templar turned his head a fraction to survey the chests, the boxes, the bags. He had no idea as to the nature of what he sought; he could only hope that the Lord in Whom he had placed his trust for so long would guide him---it might be for the last time.

He would have moved unaided in his search, but Ralf resisted his efforts to tug free and instead matched steps to his. Sir Jean, taking the torch, walked behind, keeping its gleam on the storage containers as well as he could.

Then there came an answer. The light showed it plainly: a small coffer, resting on a second, larger chest. And on the carven lid---an owl. The Owl of Colmount!

Michael did not hail his discovery by voice or touch, merely pointed. Sir Jean called, and the sergeant still at the door strode forward to take the torch, while the senior knight stretched hand to the wooden box. "We shall examine this in more suitable quarters," he announced, motioning to Ralf, Michael, and the others to follow.

The Hospitaller looked to the Templar as the group emerged into the gloom of the chapel. "You can close what you have opened?" he asked, indicating the door.

Michael nodded. "Swing it shut again and press three times on one block down from the opening at the top, then at the left edge and the right." He watched, fearing that his instructions might not work. They did, however, and the knights proceeded without hindrance to the room that had been Sir William's chamber. No chairs had been left there by the vandals, but saddles had been brought in to serve as seats. Ralf lowered Michael onto one and stood behind him to keep him steady.

Sir Jean pried up the lid of the coffer. Then, as though the age-bitten wood had been dead ash to be swept from living embers, a glittering fire was revealed at its heart. Jewels, as Michael had expected. The older man lifted every pendant, bracelet, and hair-band, examining each in turn.

"A fortune for the lucky, yes," he commented as he worked.

But when one necklet was drawn forth, Michael blinked. The ornament was a chain of silver, hung with what seemed drops of frozen moonlight. That was a Colmount jewel only by default, thought the Templar angrily; their mother had worn it once. He remembered, and, by Ralf's sudden clutch on his arms, his brother did, as well.

"A fortune for the Lady Gladden---"

NO! Michael wanted to howl. The fingers of his left hand balled into a fist. For a long moment, he fought within a battle such as he had never faced in the field---perhaps his personal Acre. But this time there was victory.

"Sir William deemed it her right." He thought the words would choke him.

"Very well, then, it shall go to her." Sir Jean closed the coffer. Then his full attention returned to Michael.

"And what will you do, loyal Knight of St. John of Jerusalem?"

"I can die like the rest," the Templar made answer, "and I shall if any take me. They have not yet laid heretic fires here, but God alone knows what will happen." With this final defiance, Michael felt as though all the strength that had upheld him through his ordeal had seeped away. He no longer cared for his fate, except that he wished to have it done.

"Brother---" Ralf was speaking to his superior. 'Others who wore the Red Cross have turned to the White."

'They were not cripples who would be pensioners." replied Sir Jean.

The maimed Templar was too worn to resent that truth. No, he would not appeal to be put into a hospital for, though his body might be tended in such a place, his mind and soul would shrivel for lack for purpose.

"Brother---" Ralf again, "---he is left-handed."

Sudden as lightning, the Hospitaller's sword appeared over Michael's shoulder. Instinctively, the Templar seized the hilt with his remaining hand. Ralf half-loosed his hold upon the blade, and it swayed for a moment, then straightened up.

Michael's head no longer drooped in defeat.

'Take me to your practice-field, if you will," he said, his voice firm, confident. "1 was blooded in Spain against the Moors, and I won my cloak with the consent of the Brothers in assembly, as is the custom. I was also trained to fight two-handed, a swordsman right or left. I can be so again."

Sir Jean studied him. "I cannot speak for the Masters," he said quietly. "But ride with us, and we shall see."

 

Thus, as had been perhaps ordained long before by a Power beyond both, the Red became White, and heart sworn to one Cross found service beneath another which was, in truth, the same.

 

 



 

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