Chapter 24 — Simon and Harry

Simon and Harry

It was expected that the first woman to ascend to Leiter of either England or the Band would be Ariel, but it was Esther, who in 1282 was selected as Leiter/Executor/Protector of the Band, following four men who had each served for four years each. Simon served two terms as Leiter of England from 1266 through 1274, and of the Band from 1274 through 1282. He appointed Esther as his first successor, under the rule that each selected official had to designate four successors to replace him in turn should he become unable to serve. That was influential in the choices made by the selection juries, although since there was still a lottery for the final selection, even with broad support, that was not certain.

Esther was celebrated for her role in discovering the New World and the great ocean beyond with all of the lands that surrounded it. Although she had named it the Western Ocean, others insisted on naming it the Esthern Ocean, and their will prevailed.

During the first three terms Simon served in both jurisdictions, he had designated as successors, Harry, Amaury, Ariel, and Esther, but moved Esther up to first successor in his last term in the Band. Harry and Amaury each served one four-year term as Leiter of England following Simon, but after that the Montfort family moved into the background, trying to avoid the appearance that they were a ruling dynasty. Ariel had suggested Esther be moved up and that she be omitted, as she had too many responsibilities in the field. Although Ariel had a large and growing following of devotees, she as also controversial, especially among the royalists and Roman clergy that lingered on in the Band and were still largely dominant in other nations, despite strong republican movements in almost all of them. Ariel became the leader of the worldwide movement, and was needed to visit supporters everywhere to guide and encourage them. In 1286, after Esther completed her second term, Simon and the others joined Ariel in that role, having cultivated a new generation of leaders in every field for the Band.

Throughout that time, Simon held to a desire to revisit the Holy Land, and 1286 seemed to be a good year to do that. It was agreed that he, Nell, Harry, and Ariel would make the journey, taking with them their three youngest children, visiting as many countries along the way as they could. Ariel’s oldest were busy as scientists, inventors, and educators, and both had recently married and were starting their families, so they remained in England. Esther remained with Yakov, Amaury, Beatrice, and others to continue the development of enlightenment in the Band and beyond. Ariel’s son David and twin daughters Dinah and Judith also traveled with them.

The planned route was from Bordeaux through southern France, then still called Aquitaine, to Barcelona, then to Corsica, Sardinia, and Genoa, where there was a need to heal strained relations. It would not do with Venice to show favor to Genoa, so they were next bound for Venice, then down the Italian peninsula, and then to Palestine and Caucasia, returning via Constantinople, Vienna, then to Livonia, Finland, Sweden, Norway, Denmark, and back to London.

Louis IX of France also wanted to make such a visit, since the Holy Land had been liberated without his participation. He decided to join the Montfort party along their journey, traveling incognito, with his grandson and heir Philip. He was friendly to making at least some of the Montfortian reforms, but his grandson insisted on ascending to the monarchy, so Louis thought it well to have Philip spend some time with the Montforts, so that, even if he held to his ambition, there might yet be friendly terms with the Montforts and the Band, and what better way than to visit all the lands along their path, and especially the Holy Land. He learned that Simon’s party undertook to visit Toulouse on the way to Béziers, where he planned to dedicate a new Cathar Church, in partial expiation for the sin of his father, Simon V, who had led in the slaughter of Albigensians there in 1209, before going to Marseilles for the ocean trip to Barcelona. Louis had decreed his consent to the establishment of houses of worship other than those under the sanction of the Vatican, and this would be the first. He wanted to be part of that ceremony, so he joined Simon at Toulouse, in the disguise of a merchant.

At the ceremony at Béziers Simon appeared in the raiment of a penitent, with a hair shirt, and with tears in his eyes asked forgiveness from the heirs of those massacred, and from God. The heirs and their supporters responded with tears and words of forgiveness. Pope Thomas had even sent an emissary to bless the new church, even though it would not be Roman, that the sins of the past might be put away and people of different faiths might live together in peace. There was a surly grumbling from an assembly of Dominican priests there, but they did not interfere.

It was while Ariel was watching the ceremony from the crowd that one of her men called her aside with some urgent news. “Lady, pirates have boarded our ship harbored at Marseilles, broke into its armory, and stolen one of our rifles, together with some ammunition!”

Was anyone hurt?”

The two guards were slain.”

Ariel knew what model of rifle was there. “How many rounds?”

Twelve.”

Ariel realized they would be no mere pirates, but enemies bent on assassinating their party, and some of her spies brought tales that indicated who it might be. She also knew the route they would be taking, which would afford a sniper several locations for a shot. They did not have enough ammunition for practice, but enough for one desperate attempt. “Tell no one of this, but deploy your men trailing behind our path, and also send scouts to either side ahead of us, with instructions not to engage but only make birdsounds. If they hear shots they are to advance and engage.”

Ariel turned to Harry. “Remind everyone that if we are attacked on the way they are to dismount and take cover behind their saddles and horses until the guards arrive.” Harry visited each of the party in turn with those instructions. All agreed readily except a surly Philip, who was not happy about being thus away from the pleasures of the court, dressed in the raiment of a merchant, and having to mingle with commoners.

As they rounded a bend in the road, Ariel spotted the flash of a facet in the polished and faceted surface of a rifle, at the top of a hill overlooking the road. She had Yakov make firearms that way so that they could be spotted by sharp eyes like hers. She shouted, “Beware! An attack!”, drew her long-barreled revolver and fired a single shot at the glint of light. She saw a spray of blood and the rifle falling back from the crest.

Immediately there were showers of arrows from both sides, high in the air without aim but from cover, not exposing the bowmen to gunfire. Most fell without effect but did hit a few of the horses. As they continued to fall they came closer to their targets, as the bowmen emerged from cover so they could take better aim.

On the ridgecrest she heard the sounds of combat. She caught a glimpse of one of her forward scouts raising the captured rifle and driving it into the earth to disable it, but he was then taken down by several of the enemy.

Glancing back she saw that her children and several of her guards were firing their rifles, but her son had an arrow in him. Harry was shielding his mother with his body, and Simon was shielding Louis with his. Both had taken arrows but were still moving. Ariel was now firing in both directions, a revolver in one hand and a rifle in the other. She never missed, so the ranks of the enemy were thinning rapidly. It appeared that some were withdrawing. Then one figure moved forward, a woman, exhorting the timid to return to the fight or face her terrible wrath. Ariel recognized the voice. It was Maude Mortimer, widow of Roger, whom she had slain at Evesham. This was the enemy Ariel’s spies had warned of.

Clearly Ariel was the main target. All the arrows were targeted on her. Then she ran out of ammunition, and had to draw her swords. She batted away the arrows as they flew at her. She felt one penetrate her side, through the light armor with the silk liner that would stop most arrows, but there was no time to think about that. Then after she deflected one arrow she heard a cry from Maude, and looked to see that the arrow had struck Maude in the left breast, and Maude sank to the ground.

Finally the rear guard moved up and engaged the remaining enemy. Ariel found more ammunition and reloaded. Between her and the guard the rest of the enemy were soon put down.

Maude cried out, “I will at least see thee die before I rejoin my husband!” Ariel then realized that though neither of their wounds seemed mortal, the arrows must be poisoned. She broke off the rear of the arrow in her side so she could raise her armor and inspect her wound. She drove the arrow through her body, past vital organs, and out her back, then broke off the head, and raised it to her lips. She could taste the poison. Aconite, called wolf’s bane. There was no time to lose!

Ariel pulled the shaft out of her body and turned to the others. She saw that Judith had also taken an arrow in her leg, but Dinah had already removed it and the one in David’s back. Ariel drew two arrows out of Harry while Dinah did the same for her grandfather, and David and Judith were already attending to others. Ariel was once again amazed at her wonderful children, who never cried out but did what had to be done calmly and rapidly.

Nell had no wounds, but Harry was nearing death, and Ariel could barely control her grief. She held Harry in her arms. Harry looked into her eyes. “The children?” “They are well.” Ariel knew that she and her mother were immune to aconite and most other poisons, and now realized her children were similarly protected. She glanced over at Dinah, holding Simon, who turned back to Ariel and shook her head. Louis was grieving over his grandson, who had been hit by three arrows, and was already dead.

Harry said, “I love thee.” And died. Ariel kissed his forehead and whispered “I love thee.”

But there was not yet time to grieve. A troop of armored mounted warriors arrived. They engaged the Montfort guard, but when some of them recognized King Louis among the Montforts, they turned and fled. Three others remained, determined it seemed to kill the king as well.

Ariel’s horse was dying, and she had launched all her arrows, so she lept onto the back of the horse of one of the knights, pulled off his helmet and cut his throat, almost severing his head from his body. She threw him down, then saw that a quiver on his horse had several arrows. She leaned down to grab her bow, and went after the two remaining knights. Seeing her coming, they panicked and fled, while she pursued. Before they could round the bend in the road, she paused and took aim. Two poisoned arrows found their marks. The knights continued to ride for a while before falling off their horses.

Ariel rode back to the scene of the battle, and slid off her horse before Maude, who still lived, intending to question her to find out who were her allies in this attack. Maude glared at Ariel with a combination of hatred, fear, pain, amazement, and satisfaction. She could see that Simon and Harry were dead, and gloated, “At least I was able to finish my husband’s work, but how dost thou live?”

My line doth not succumb to poisons.” Maude had also seen Ariel push through the arrow and remove it. Her wound now oozed only a little blood. Defeat swept across Maude’s face as she realized how formidable Ariel was. “But I have taken from thee those thou love most.”

Yes, but they live on now in my children and in the new order we have established. Thou canst not kill that.”

Who has been with thee in this treachery?” Maude could not say, as she had died.

***

David, Dinah, and Judith stood vigilant over the bodies of their father and grandfather. Ariel gathered them in arms and said softly, “Happiness is a choice, and only a fool would choose to be unhappy. It is difficult to choose to be happy in pain, or in grief, but it can be done even then. Remember that your father died for your happiness, and that you can remember him by choosing happiness now.” Then they softly cried on her shoulder.

***

The grieving party continued on to Avignon, where they were met by the King’s guard and some of the nobility that supported the King and the Montforts. The leading role of Maude Mortimer in the attack pointed strongly to the Lusignans as the main conspirators, but to prosecute such powerful barons would take powerful proof. Some of Ariel’s guard had captured two fleeing knights at Nimes, and they paused to interrogate them. The outraged Louis, usually a gentle man, was prepared to subject them to torture, but Ariel intervened.

Torture will only get us lies told to end the pain. Let me speak to them.”

The two men, obviously knights although they wore no colors, were bound and defiant. Ariel spoke no words, but merely bent down to peer deeply into their eyes in an unblinking gaze, first one, then the other, and back again. Gradually their defiance was replaced by fear and awe. In ages to come the minstrels and monks would say that she seemed to glow, although none of her family noticed such a thing. This went on for perhaps a third of an hour, before the first of the two broke down in tears, confessing their guilt and begging forgiveness. Louis was amazed by this. Ariel lost no time, but only asked them, “Who are the others?”

They named everyone they knew or suspected to be behind the attack, and provided damning detail. The accused included almost every member of the Lusignan family in France and several of their allies among the nobility and clergy. In the Band their testimony would not be enough to convict in court, but it was enough for Louis. He issued orders to his guard to arrest every man accused. In France justice was his to mete out.

But by the time they reached Avignon the word already began to come of the conspirators fleeing France, confirming their guilt. They were becoming bereft of places to take refuge, because no country west of Dalmatia or east of Anatolia would make them safe. Yet their influence was still strong, particularly in Aquitaine, so the sad fellowship had to make haste to the safety of Paris, where they left Louis and paused to bury Philip before returning to London, then to Kenilworth to bury Simon and Harry. Many remembered the prophesy of Bishop Grosseteste, at the birth of Harry, that he and his father would die on the same day, of the same hurt. Most thought the prophesy defeated by their survival at Evesham, but that battle had not been completed until this treachery had played out, twenty years later.

The death of Harry left the position of Duke of the North vacant, and without consulting her the Diet, meeting in emergency session, voted to split the Executive and make Ariel Protector of the Band, as she was still in line of succession.

The entire extended family gathered for the funeral. Simon and Harry were buried side by side in the garden, with a space left for Nell when it was her time. Both women were dressed in black.

It was raining gently as the funeral procession reached the gravesite, Ariel stood before the caskets,. She sung the mourners kaddish, then a shaft of sunlight fell on her and she raised her swords over the dead, pointed at the sky. Just as she did, there were two flashes of lightening, followed by two cracks of thunder. Then she joined Nell, who asked in astonishment what others were wondering, “Dost thou command the very heavens?” Then after a pause, “I see no grave space for thee.”

Ariel replied softly, “When I fall, there will be naught to bury.” A monk nearby noted her prophetic answer, and also that she had not answered the first question.

Late that night, after all had retired, Ariel went out alone to Harry’s grave, laid her body over the flowers covering it, and wept.

Links:

  1. Aquitaine https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aquitaine

  2. Avignon https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Avignon#Late_Middle_Ages

  3. Beziers to Avignon https://www.google.com/maps/@43.6296048,4.2373924,9.25z?hl=en

  4. Massacre at Béziers https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Massacre_at_B%C3%A9ziers

  5. Carcassonne https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Carcassonne

  6. Bordeaux, wine http://vinepair.com/wine-blog/british-paradox-invention-modern-wine/

  7. Toulouse 1200 AD http://www.euratlas.net/history/europe/1200/entity_2982.html

  8. Europe 1200 AD http://www.euratlas.net/history/europe/1200/index.html