Four Nights in St. Bartholomew

by Ruwen Rouhs

The Second Night

Jerusalem is Burning

The ringing of the angelus bell aroused Anselm from deep sleep. The boy with the pageboy haircut did not sit on the edge of the bed any more hypnotizing him with dark eyes. Anselm missed him!

He looked around trying to get acquainted with the room. The walls and ceiling were plain whitewashed and the wooden door dark. The smell of roses wafted through the open, uncurtained window. The room was so small that the bed on the long wall gave room only for a washbasin with an unframed mirror at the foot end. The other side of the room was furnished with a small working desk with a lamp, a wooden chair and a small locker. A crucifix decorated the wall above the desk. A room made was for monks, Anselm thought, it looks like a monk's cell.

Shakily he left the warm bed. The face greeting him in the mirror was pale, his dark hair was hidden by a tube bandage even covering his ears. The elbow on his left arm was heavily bandaged, and the shoulder patched up. Still studying his looks the soft creaking noise of the door alarmed him. However, the face reflected by the mirror calmed him. It was Friar Pius, clad in a ragged blue work habit, smiling cheerily. "You slept like a log. I have been here already two times to invite you for breakfast, but…!" pushing the door open, "May I enter?" without awaiting an answer, he came in grinning and closed the door, "Don't mind! I smell like a cowshed, but the milking has to be done. Your clothes are in the locker. Get dressed because Friar Arnulf will soon arrive to check on your wounds, especially the one on your head!" Leaving Anselm, "We will see each other later, because you have to stay in the monastery until we are sure you'll be alright!"

When Friar Pius was already halfway down the hallway, Anselm called after him, "Where is the boy who was keeping watch on me last night, the boy with dark eyes and a pageboy haircut?" Pius turned shaking his head, "There are no boys in the monastery with exception of you!" Then he started down the staircase of sandstone.

Barely dressed, a knock on the door startled Anselm again. A monk edged through the door soft-footed carrying a first-aid kid and some towels. Anselm guessed it was Friar Arnulf, the guest friar. He was taller than Pius, lean, looking nearly dried-out like a dead gnu in the heat of the desert. His features were pious, but Anselm wasn't sure if this pious look was genuine or a put-on.

He ordered Anselm to sit down on the chair and without further words he set out to remove the tube-bandage and the wound dressing, "Your head seems alright already. Young boys sport heads hard like rocks!" He commented doing his chore, "I was right. It was not necessary to take you to the hospital!" After he had renewed the bandage at the elbow and the plaster on the shoulder, he ordered, "Clean your face and then come to the main building. Breakfast time is nearly over! I will wait for you in the garden."

Slipping into his hoodie Anselm felt the pendant on the string he had found in the empty niche grave with the star-adorned stone slab. Cleaning it in running water he decided the safest place for his treasure would be around his neck. As soon the cold metal touched his chest a feeling of peace and lightness started to grow in his heart, and he was certain his endeavour would come to a good end. But he knew also he could not leave St. Bartholomew without finding the boy with the dark eyes and the pageboy haircut.

In the garden Anselm caught up with Friar Arnulf who was praying the rosary. "Do you have novices here in St. Bartholomew or boys on holiday?" he inquired, not trying to ask specifically for his nightly visitor. "I think I have seen a boy slightly younger than me, younger and smaller!"

"No! Certainly not! We would like to get novices. We really would, because those here are growing older day by day. But nowadays?" the friar shrugged the shoulders, "Students spending the holidays with us? No. I should know because I am responsible for the guests. I am not only the sick nurse but also Guest Friar. Now hurry up!"

Anselm crossed the hot court in front of the barn. The big dunghill buzzed with flies. The door on the far side of the barn was ajar, so he spied into the dark. On the left two big farm horses were nervously chasing off millions of tormenting flies with their tails. The big brown gelding turned his head greeting the unknown visitor with a snort.

On the right side of the stable eight cows were chewing their cud unimpressed by the invader, while a baby calf turned its heads immediately in his direction. As a city boy Anselm had great respect of the big horses and stayed away. However, he immediately felt affection for the small calf. Looking into its sky-blue eyes he started petting it while it began to lick his bare arm. Anselm started laughing. "Hey Sweetie, do you like my sweat? You are so cute! Your eyelashes are longer than a girl's and your eyes bluer than the sky!"

"Hey! And you young man! You look fresh like a lily and the dark hair fits you better than a tube bandage!" Anselm turn around scared, not knowing if he was welcomed, "You are welcome! Little Annie likes you already! She's just two days old. She was born when we rescued you. Your name is Anselm, I understand. Not every young man has such a great namesake!"

In front of Anselm stood a very tall, very lean, already balding monk, cleaning his hands on a grey apron and smiling down on him. "I don't mind if you don't know about him. It's Anselm of Canterbury, a Benedictine Monk like me, but unlike me who is a humble monk, he was the greatest philosopher of his times and the Archbishop of Canterbury. He was living just around the time this monastery was in full swing." Patting Anselm on the shoulder, "You should try to equal him. Curiosity as well as persistence is the basic requirements of a future scientist! And I already know you have both, curiosity and persistence!"

As Anselm blushed with embarrassment, the Friar changed the subject, "I have heard you will stay with us for now." Back on safe territory Anselm found his courage, "Yes, I was permitted to stay despite my…!" then he hesitated, because he didn't like to declare his endeavour a crime, "my secret visit to the crypt!" When he realized the good-tempered look in the monk's eyes, "I didn't want to disturb the dead! I trespassed! I am aware of that." Then looking up, "You must be Friar Johannes, Friar Pius' senior!"

"Sure, that's me, the master of the stables! Do you like animals and helping by hay-making? We always need a helper and manual work clears the mind. I will show you around, let's go."

At the end of a tour through the stables and the big hay-barn, Friar Johannes suddenly tensed up and looked around, as to make sure there was no undesired listener around. "Pius told me of your visitor last night." He hesitated and scanned again the hot stable. "Your visitor, the one with the dark eyes and the pageboy haircut. Did he also wear an old-fashioned velvet blouse? Did he?" Then after a long break he announced with a solemn voice, "You are chosen!" Then repeated again, looking around carefully, "You are chosen! You are a chosen one."

He muttered under his breath. "Not anybody has the chance to meet him, the mysterious boy. He appears only to severely injured persons, like wounded soldiers. Last time he manifested himself it was at the very end of World War II." Pondering if Anselm was grown up enough for to know of this period, "It was in wartime. A young wounded Hitler Youth was hunted by the chain-dogs, the cruel men of the military police. He was accused of condemning the Nazi-pogroms of innocents, like for example deserted boys.

The Hitler Youth knocked at the monastery's gate one stormy night in March 1945. He was severely wounded. The old doorman noticed the blood-soaked blouse at first glance and knew he had to give him shelter. In secret he ushered the weak youth to the crypt, keeping the hiding place secret because he did not want to endanger the other monks." Anselm got big eyes and his toes curled in horror, because he knew about the atrocities committed by the Nazis at the end of WWII. Friar Johannes noticed Anselm's fright and tried to comfort him. "The doorman did his best to keep the presence of the boy secret, he even shared his meager meals with the young man. Not until the war was over, then he told the other monks about the guest in the crypt. At his departure the young men thanked the doorman and asked him to give his special thanks to the boy with the black eyes who had guarded him every night giving him confidence and strength to survive."

Now Friar Johannes' voice became even more conspiratorial, "However, neither did the doorman know of a boy with black eyes in the monastery, nor did the abbot nor any of the monks. The abbot decided the apparition was a miracle he had to keep from the public. Only his Holiness the Pope was informed. That's why only his Holiness knows about the boy and some of us monks. However not one of us has seen the miracle working boy despite our prayers. You are the first one here to see him! You are a chosen one!" After a lengthy pause of thoughts, he disclosed, "Friar Pius knows about the black-eyed boy also and he believes you. So, do I!"

At the noon meal in the refectory and during the recreation in the garden the attitude of the convent cheered Anselm up. All day long and whenever he met a member of the convent, a Father, a Friar, or a hand, he got questioning glances and friendly smiles. Even Arnulf, the stern Guest Friar, and Father John, the harsh cellarer, gave him a friendly nod.

After the Angelus prayer the air was still hot. Anselm was too excited to go to bed already. First he visited the Wolf's Glen with the trout pond, checked the entrance to the crypt in the wall, and finally walked back to his cell in the guest wing of the monastery still humming Gregorian Chants. In his small room he didn't even switch on the light, just undressed, slipped under the covers and dropped off to sleep as soon he hit the bed. With heart and soul, he wished the boy with the pageboy haircut would visit him again, despite that his wounds had nearly healed.

After sundown the sweet scent of roses aroused Anselm from his sleep. Beams of moonlight seeped in through the open window. Out of the dark a gray shadow materialized beside the bed. First a small face framed by black curls became visible, then a slim body clad in a velvet vest. "The boy with the pageboy haircut is back", Anselm immediately knew it, "the boy with the silvery voice!"

"Can I sit down?" the voice asked. When Anselm didn't reply right away, the voice repeated urgently, "Can I sit with you, my brave Zeki?" Anselm squinted into the dark to assure himself that it was the visitors from the night before. "Yes! Sure, go ahead! But I am not Zeki! My name is Anselm. Everyone calls me Anselm." He moved over towards the wall to give place to the visitor. "I know the others call you Anselm!" the boy with the silvery voice brushed off the response. "I know better, you are Zeki, my brother, my prudent brother Zeki, my dear helper in times of need." When Anselm tried to object again, "But…" the visitor interrupted him, "Yes, I know everybody is calling you Anselm, I know! I however know you are Zeki in the body of Anselm. You are my beloved brother Zeki. I can look in your heart, you my prudent brother, my strong brother, my brave brother." Stroking Anselm's hair affectionately, "Trust me, trust your brother Aenis, your brother, who loves you more than his life."

Anselm closed his eyes. He was incapable to comprehend this proposition. He was Anselm! He always had been Anselm. He just couldn't be an incarnation of someone gone. Only Buddhists believe in incarnation and he was Christians. The silver voice however was thus intriguing, thus conjuring, the clear light of the moon thus radiant, the scent of roses thus overwhelming Anselm wasn't able to fight Aenis' revelations. Aenis must be true! And now he even felt the hand of Aenis stroking his hair. He stroked it like his mother had done it when he was a small boy. Aenis hand was real. Aenis wasn't an apparition.

Timidly Anselm touched Aenis' shoulder. It felt like the shoulder of Chuck, his boyfriend in school. Aenis was real! Real! Real! Real! He just wanted to cry out loud: Aenis is real! In the blink of an eye, he wasn't alone any more, he had a brother, a fair and sweet brother.

"Please Aenis, please, lay down on my side, come closer take shelter from the night-wind." Aenis' declined to do so with a silvery laugh, "I can't lay down beside you, as much as I desire, my dear Zeki. If I lay down beside you, I will become invisible in the next moment." Breathing deeply, he explained with despair in his voice "In my first life I didn't fade away when I did lay down on a bed. I enjoyed snuggling with my brother and my playmates. The first time my body began to fade away was after the monks laid me down on the funeral bier, scented my body with chrism and send songs of mourning to heaven. When my body was laid out in the crypt it still was there. When it was housed in the narrow niche grave it was still there. However, after the niche was sealed with the slab with a star my body case slowly began to wither away and finally passed into oblivion."

"But you are real again Aenis. I can touch you like I can touch like my friend. You are real! Your body is real and warm like mine!"

"I know, dear Anselm, dear Zeki! But let me what happened then.

Next time I woke up, I met the reincarnation of Zeki, my brother the first time. At his time Zeki was a knight in the army of Frederick II, the Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire. I had joined the army also. Together we passed many adventures fighting evil. Zeki was wounded, but recovered while I nursed him back to health. My body faded away and I vanished into oblivion. Next time we met was when the Thirty Years' War divided Europe. Zeki was wounded again, however I could help him, he survived and recovered while my body withered away after short time, an even shorter time than before. Now every time I am helping the wounded body of my Zeki to recover, my body fades away after a shorter time than before. I can only prolong my stay with my brother if I doesn't lie down to rest. I am afraid, if I lie down with you and my body touches the sheets of the bed it will only last for moments. Please my Zeki, let me sit on the edge of the bed and enjoy our exchange; enjoy our love."

Anselm felt something he never had felt before. He suddenly had the desire to be close to Aenis, to hold him, to kiss him, to never let him go. He couldn't let Aenis slip away, slip into oblivion, slip into the unknown, into the third country. Anselm sat up, leaning forward he pulled Aenis into his arms, "Please Aenis, let's sit side by side. Then you can lean against my body and I can lean against yours." He wanted to kiss him so urgently, he had never wanted to kiss somebody this way, neither his boyfriend Chuck, his best friend since kindergarten, nor his late girlfriend May, the girl he had lost his cherry to. It was different with Aenis, completely different.

Sitting side by side Anselm took Aenis' hands and began to kiss his soft fingertips, one after the other, without rushing. Without looking up he knew Aenis was smiling, was happy. He grew bolder, he put his arm around Aenis and when their faces touched, he kissed him. Aenis resisted just a moment surprised by Anselm's display of affection, then leaned into him and answered the kisses, hesitantly at first, like having unlearned to kiss for times immemorial, after a tiny period however his memory came back, and he replied Anselm's kisses impetuously.

As soon as the light of the moon was displaced by the first morning light, they left the cell and enjoyed the dawn walking slowly along the garden alleys between roses hand in hand. When the sun appeared on the horizon Aenis turned to Anselm and claimed a last kiss "Zeki, please a kiss, a last one for tonight!" Then he vanished in the morning fog, the echo of his voice promising, "Tomorrow we meet again, dear brother!"

A faint scent of roses was still in his cell. Was it the scent of his nightly visitor? His brother? His Aenis? Was it the scent of the Damascus roses in front of the window? Anselm drank in the scent. He couldn't remember when he came back from their walk in the garden at sunrise. He didn't remember going to bed. Nine chimes told him he was already late for breakfast. But why would he need a breakfast anyway this morning. His heart was heart was full of what Aenis had told him. He had to relate it to Friar Pius or Friar Johannes or both. They would understand. But where to begin? Gathering all his strength Anselm rose, dressed and left the cell in search of the Friar Pius and Friar William.

Neither the full-faced Pius nor the slim-faced Johannes were in the stable. Studying the steeply ascending slop behind the monastery he saw a heavily loaded hay cart coming down the steep trail slowly, Johannes leading the reins of the draft horses, while Pius supported the wagon from tumbling.

Anselm arrived quite pumped out at the hay cart after flying up the steep road like a bird, "Friar Pius, Friar Johannes! I am so happy! Have you ever been so happy? Have you? I got a brother! I got a love! I got Aenis! He calls me brother! He calls me his love! He calls me Zeki! Zeki my brother!"

Surprised Johannes tightened the reins of the horses and Pius applied the brakes. After the hay wagon stopped moving, both asked in unison, "You are happy, boy? That's nothing new! You always are looking happy! But now you are beaming! You got a brother? Where did you get him? Out of thin air?" Then Pius smiled and gave Anselm a wink, "You are in love? With someone called Aenis? Aenis who is calling you Zeki?" And Johannes also smiled from ear to ear, "Who is Aenis? Where did you meet Aenis? Strange name!"

"Aenis? Aenis the unique! You know him! You have told me about him! You know him by hearsay! It's the boy with the pageboy haircut, the one from the crypt, the one who is soothing seriously injured boys, the boy who came to my cell and made me sleep off all my pain!"

"Are you sure, Anselm?"Friar Johannes shook his head in surprise and Friar Pius wanted to know, "You are fooling us! Are you still dreaming?"

"No, no! Aenis came again last night and told me of his story while we strolled hand in hand through the rose garden in the moonlight!" turning beet-red Anselm shyly bowed his head and confessed, "We kissed! We kissed each other! We love each other!" When both friars shook their heads in disbelieve, Anselm affirmed "Believe me!" noting their amazement, "I am not moonstruck, you will believe me after I have told you his story."

Aenis' tale of the Fall of the Doomed City of Jerusalem and his Future Fate as recalled by Anselm:

"The first events Aenis could recall from his time as a small boy are houses burning like torches, is the stench of burned flesh, is the metallic taste of blood in the air, and is his brother carrying him on his back through rubble and dark smoke. The suffocating smoke made them both cough! He told of strange looking knights riding on gigantic war horses, wrapped in bloodstained white cloaks with big red crosses. The crusaders were brandishing naked swords, side by side with their squires. Hordes of foot-soldiers were waving lances, short swords or dangerous bludgeons. He recalled pack-mules stumbling over smouldering logs overloaded with bags filled to the brim with silver candlesticks, golden goblets and bowls of tinted glass."

Listening to this report Friar Pius' face turned red, he objected to Anselm's presentation by clenching his fists and grinding his teeth, but didn't utter a word. Friar Johannes tanned face turned pale and nervously he shuffled his feet. Just when he opened his mouth to express his disbelieve, Anselm shook his head.

"Please wait! Let me tell you more: "Then Aenis told me of Lethalde of Tournay, the famous hero, the crusader who was setting his foot down as the first crusader into Jerusalem and of the other Flemish knights. The Flemish knights had been slaughtering Saracens for days, Aenis told me, like all the other merciless knights of the pope's horde had. Wading in blood to their knees they burned down mosques and synagogues, broke into house, blundered homes, raped virgins, pregnant women, sweet girls and small boys. In their murderous frenzy the knights and their footmen didn't even hesitate to plunge captured women and feeble men off the roof the Al-Aqsa Mosque on to the pavement in front of the mosque."

"Aenis told of the pope's horde celebrating their victory by rounding up the surviving Saracens and Jews in mosques and synagogues, closing their doors and incinerating these houses of God. He still remembered the cries of desperation of the doomed victims, suffocated to death in the biting smoke or even worse roasted alive. He also told of the shouts of delight of the crusaders listening to the cries of dying women, men, girls and boys. The pope's men even tried to drown out the cries of the dying by stroking up songs of praise to their lord."

"With shaking voice Aenis gave the account of the order of their commanders, the Dukes Raymond de Toulouse, Godfrey of Bouillon, Robert of Flandres, Robert of Normandy, and Tancred of Hauteville, to collect the bodies of dead Saracens and Jews which were scattered in the streets, trenches, temples and houses and to stack these bodies to funeral pyres formed like pyramids and burn them. With breaking voice Aenis told of the nauseating smell of burned flesh mixed with the sickly-sweet stench of the dead and the smoke of the smouldering houses combining to an abhorrent plume hovering over the rubble of the Golden City, of the Lord's city, Jerusalem."

Anselm hesitated a moment and went on, ignoring the soundless protest of the friars, "It was on such a day that Zeki, the older brother of the four-year-old Aenis, had dug out the wailing kid from under the smouldering logs of their father's home. The fourteen-year-old teen took his young brother on his back, with the only one objective left, the objective to leave the doomed city, the Golden City of their Saviour Isa ibn Maryam."

Now both friars had grown silent, thinking about the immeasurable suffering caused by the Crusaders, but Anselm had to go on: "As fate decided, the suffering of the two fleeing youngsters was going to end in an unexpected way. Marauding Flemish knights looking for more booty caught got sight of the two fleeing youngsters in a demolished street. Lethalde of Tournay was one of them!"

Friar Pius sniffled and tried to hold back tears, hoping for a good ending. And he was not belied. "Now after long days of going berserk Lethalde of Tournay, the hero of the crusaders," Anselm continued, "was tired of all the evil deeds he and the other knights had committed in the name of Jesus Christ. When he noticed Zeki carrying Aenis on his back his heart was seized with remorse. "Jongens, where are you going?" the rough man shouted, "Bolting out of the beaten town?" When Zeki tried to escape into the ruins of a derelict house Lethalde clapped spurs into his horse overtook him, fished Aenis from his back and planted the wailing boy in front of him into the saddle. On command his foot-soldiers caught Zeki, pinioned him and hitched him to Lethalde's horse. Spurring the horse, the famous knight left the ravaged town at the head of his foot-soldiers and mules packed with loot."

Friar Pius was the first to recover. Still shocked he directed his question more the sky than Anselm, "Boy, do you really tell us the truth? Did the ghost really tell you all these atrocities? These monstrosities?"

Anselm couldn't do more then to assert, "Yes, that's was Aenis told me! I assure you I didn't neither dream nor make this up!" Friar Johannes just shook his head. He was more educated than his fellow brother, because he had attended the University for two terms before he decided to follow his vocation. He closed his eyes and did send a short plea of mercy to heaven, both for the souls of the murdered citizen of Jerusalem and the bestialized crusaders while Anselm continued Aenis tale:

"In the late afternoon Lethalde's troop arrived at the encampment of the Flemish crusaders, a city of tents along a nearly dried up creek. The small, poor tents of the foot-soldiers were scattered along the bare mountain slopes, while the comfortable tents of the officers were built along the trickling creek. Lethalde's tent was partially shaded by some crippled trees and its entrance pointed to the east, to Jerusalem.

Arriving at his present homestead the knight suddenly realized his new responsibilities. The older boy, Lethalde estimated him to be 14 or 15 years old, could make a first-rate squire and maybe even more, guessing from his physical appearance. Naturally he had to train the boy, to tame the heathen and exorcise his pagan beliefs. But what should he do with the wailing child sitting in front of him on the war horse? He sure had no use for a child of four or five during a campaign in a barren country like this. This crying Annoying child even seemed too small to be sold as a slave Lethalde pondered, while his fierce fighting dogs greeting his arrival by tail-wagging. Disparagingly checking up the shivering bundle of fear again he soliloquised, "I shouldn't have brought that child along anyway, he just annoys me!" Just when Lethalde decided to throw the small boy to the bloodhounds, Aenis turned his tear-stained face to him. Looking into the tear-filled eyes compassion kicked in and a thought hit the rough rider's mind: This child could be my sister's little son! No, I can't feed him to the war dogs! Lethalde opted to keep Aenis and ordered: Go into the shade of the trees, you two! You need to rest like I do.

The night came and with it not only nightmares but also foot soldiers looking for sex. Zeki was aroused from sleep, when two dark figures were trying to rip off his once white, long shirt and rape him. Zeki attempted to scream for help, but he was only able to utter muffled noises, because one of the assailants covered his mouth with a hand. These noises however were enough to awaken the defensive instinct of Lethalde's bloodhounds and they attacked the intruders. The howling of the dogs aroused the knight from his deathlike sleep. Stepping in front of his tent and watching the frightened boys he decided to take them inside. Huddling with the poor orphans in his camp bed his guilty conscience finally won."

Now Friar Pius seemed satisfied while Friar Johannes hinted, he wanted to know more. Anselm was able to satisfy his curiosity: "From this incident on the Flemish knight began to care for Aenis and Zeki like his own sons. Soon Lethalde, Aenis and Zeki, the two Saracens, became friends. In the encampment the two boys were soon known as "Lethalde's Pagan Jongens". The rough-looking knight comforted the distressed, orphaned boys and nursed the strange kids back to health. Falling for the dark-eyed boys Lethalde made Zeki his Squire and Aenis his substitute baby son. He didn't make them into his toy-boys as some of his lewd fellow knights suggested."

"Over the next two years Zeki developed into a proud squire, skilled with sword and lance, faithful to Lethalde and eager to defend his smaller brother. Aenis grew up to a beautiful boy affectionate and intellectually curious always trying to surpass his adoptive father's expectations. Being sick of fighting and killing the Saracens, Lethalde decided to return to Tournay taking along his Pagan Jongens and the wealth he had gathered in the service of the pope."

When the church bell stroke to announce the Vespers the three had to separate and Anselm had to promise to relate the next part of Aenis' tale as soon as possible.

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