The tournament continued without Tristan in the saddle. He chose to sit quietly in the stands with the simple people, who were disappointed at his not participating any more. Sophie had taken her place that morning, resplendent in a green and red dress to compliment the crown on her head. She watched the polished armor of the baron with sparkling eyes, oblivious to the hatred in the looks of the baroness. The Knight Templar sighed sadly and shook his head at the poor baron’s marriage, but that was life. Sometimes one has to give up something for the good of the many. If only it didn’t have to be a happy marriage, the knight thought sadly, thinking of his own fate.
A commotion in the stands next to him made him turn his head. One of the many Jews of the town was making his way through the rows, looking for a place for himself and his daughter. Tristan knew of this man, called Hananel. Many people borrowed from him, having to pay back with a good deal of interest. It was said that he had more money than the baron, perhaps even more than the king of France himself. But his religion brought only scorn and anger upon his head, the people seeing him as one of the hated Jews who had crucified the Christ. He stood tall and thin, his shoulders stooped, his square, yellow hat bobbing among the crowd. Finally, he came to the row where Tristan was sitting. He glared at the Knight Templar and was about to pass by him when the warrior rose.
“You and you!” Tristan ordered two rough characters next to him, taking up enough room for six people. “Move over and give the man and his daughter some room.” The two men glared at the knight for a moment, before recognizing the red cross on his shoulder and realizing his standing as a Knight Templar of noble birth. They scooted over with surly faces. Hananel stared at Tristan in disbelief.
“Take your seat, friend,” the knight offered with a smile. The Jew gaped, before sinking down on the rough bench. His daughter took a seat between him and the knight. They huddled together, trying to push themselves away from the other people, who were obliged not to have any contact with them. Only Tristan stayed where he was. The old man leveled a withering gaze at him.
“Are you not afraid that touching us will take away your holiness?” he asked, voice dripping with sarcasm.
“No,” came the friendly reply, “I believe that all should be treated with equal respect, be they Jew or Gentile.” He then ignored the two, realizing that they would not be interested in conversation with him, and watched the battle. The trumpets were blown, and the two groups of knights charged at each other, many falling to the ground. The two remaining Knights Templar were still in the saddle, as was the baron and one other knight of noble birth. A charge and the smaller of the Templars was on the ground, but up in an instant, his mace spinning over his head. The other knight fell from his horse as the iron balls pummeled his helmet. He rose slowly, dazedly, trying to draw his sword. The Knight Templar drew his and swung it in a deadly arc, only to come to a standstill against Claude of Rimneau’s blade.
“Not to the death, Pierre,” he thundered through his helmet.
“It is if I choose, Claude,” the other knight sneered, drawing his sword back again. The older and more experienced Templar swung one leg out and knocked him over, his sword tip resting at the crease between helmet and armor.
“I will not have you killing any of the other knights,” he snapped. “Now drop your sword and surrender to the marshal of the lists. I will have a word with the Commander about you.” The younger knight grumbled into his armor and then clumsily got to his feet and yanked off his helmet. Claude now had his visor open, his face burning with anger.
“This is not the last we’ve spoken, Claude of Rimneau,” Pierre sneered and marched off down the lists, right by Tristan, whom he paused to shoot an angry look at. The dark knight sighed to himself and shook his head. That boy would never learn, he knew that. He did not realize however that this one glance had supplied the younger knight with a view of the lovely face of Hananel’s daughter.
At that instant the trumpet called for the end of the battle and Claude was named victor. The baron smiled a bit sadly as he watched the Knight Templar kneel to receive the crown of victory from Sophie. The girl’s eyes rested on him for only a moment before straying to Bernard. He just cocked his head to one side and shrugged in his armor. Then the day’s action was over. Tristan rose and began to make his way off of the stands. Suddenly he heard a cry behind him, someone launched forward, slamming into the knight, who bumped into the girl in front of him, sending both to the ground. He picked himself up off her as fast as he could and extended his hand to help her up.
“I’m sorry, young lady,” he apologized, but Hananel’s daughter’s dark eyes only flashed with contempt. The yellow cloth had slipped off her rich, dark hair, which she promptly covered again, rising on her own. She simply turned on her heel and followed her father away. For an instant the knight looked after her, suddenly thinking of someone else with similar dark hair and brown eyes, only those filled with a sparkly joy and gentleness. The face receded slightly, and he recalled the clothing of a novice in a monastery and sighed, knowing that he could never have what he wanted.
By now the people were shoving up against him and he marched on, his thoughts in the holy land, about twenty years earlier....
* * *
The sun beat down on the children, playing in the dust of the small village of Magdala. Two boys of maybe twelve raced each other along the pathway, both with shining eyes and dark hair. The taller of the two was lagging behind, being also the one with more weight on his bones. Finally, the smaller skidded to a stop, his eyes scanning the hilly horizon. He then turned around, grinning at his friend.
“There, Nurettin, I beat you again!” he laughed.
“Of course you did, Tristan,” the heavier boy snapped, setting his winded paunch down one of the rocks and panting. His dark eyes sparked with exertion and good-natured defeat. “You Christians always seem to defeat us.”
“Oh, come on, you don’t want to start one of those discussions again, do you?” the Christian boy sighed.
“Maybe not,” his friend returned with a shrug. He glanced around the barren place. “I thought you said your brother and maybe your sisters would be here already.”
“We ran, they didn’t,” Tristan laughed, still breathing a bit harder than usual.
“Hey, Tristan!” came a call from a short way off. It was a girl, maybe two years younger than himself. She was dressed in tattered clothes, her charcoal hair blowing loosely in the wind, her shawl off and in one hand. She came to a halt in front of the two boys. The only jewelry she wore was a gold cross, signifying her noble birth, though nothing else would have revealed the fact. She looked too poor, but something in the big, brown eyes made one know that she was incredibly rich—inside. Her face told of her European heritage, which marked her as a hated conqueror, though most people of Magdala loved this girl more than any of the other children. Esther was the star of the village and a light to everyone there. Fathers and mothers were already saying how fortunate the man who married her would be. Young men were dreaming of having her for a bride. Few of them, however, noticed her special attachment to the Lord of Magdala’s younger son. They didn’t want it to be true. She fairly bounced as she stood in front of the two boys, slowly putting her shawl back in to place.
“What are you doing?” she asked.
“We were waiting for my brother and sisters. We’ll be having a picnic.”
“Wow!” The dark eyes sparkled with enthusiasm.
“You want to join us?” Tristan offered, oblivious to the grimace on his friend’s face. As they were speaking a small train of other children arrived, under the careful protection of Tristan’s older brother, Louis. There were still marauding groups of Saracens around and no one could be too careful. After the meal they played at different games such as tag and hide-and-seek, staying near the village and always careful to not go out of earshot of each other. Finally, they sat down on the colorful blankets again as one of Tristan’s older sisters pulled out a lute and began to pluck the strings, singing in her soft voice. The boy and the girl stared out at the sun that was slowly setting.
“Esther,” he whispered in the musical air. She just nodded in answer.
“Will we be friends forever?” She smiled.
* * *
Tristan smiled wistfully to himself as he remembered the shiny eyes that afternoon, the girl’s hair whipping around her shoulders and the laughter. They were only children, too innocent to know anything about the world that they were about to be thrust into, the world that didn’t care for feelings....
No, he thought, wiping the unhappiness from his eyes, face, and mind, I must be content with everything God gives me. He turned his mind back to the time at present. That was about twenty years ago. It was past. It was a nice memory, but unreachable in the present.
I am a Knight Templar, in the service of God Most High. I will be content with that. Somehow, though, he was certain that this was the greatest mistake he’d made in life.