Lions of the Cross

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Cursed be thy Greeks

Damnation beset my fate.

The tower defenders dismantled the upper terrace, using the stone bricks to drop upon our heads. With burning oil and arrows, the misery brought on us by the Greeks plunged my fellow knights, my brothers, into despair. Heaven's determination to punish our great transgression with this fierce deluge of rain, sent us scampering like mud rats back towards the Bosporus.

To add to my humiliation, a limestone block struck my head. The helmet does me no good. The neck feels it, but tis the collarbone that suffers the true damage. My right arm weakened, I grip my sword with my other, lesser hand, vowing never to abandon it. It was all that was left of my pride as I witness my kinsmen in disarray, panicked like foiled thieves facing slaughter.

"We're going to require more knights," yelled Henry, a noble general, crusader, my brother. He seemed adamant to fulfil his plan to demolish the northern wall to allow us entry into Blachernae quarter - with its abundant churches and opulent palace. I could hear the bells echo from behind the rampart, toiling to galvanise the defenders, but also to mock us.

As I succumbed to the pain that flared greater than my shame, I longed for the homeland; the hills of Artois, the ports of Vlaanderen. I longed for my daughters, one of which I have yet to behold.

I resolved to fight on, but the sight of Varangians entering the fray along with my broken shoulder compelled me back to the water, where the burning remains of the Nordengeest lay sunken in the shallows. Wading into the water, I look out across the Golden Horn. A heavy mist had befallen upon us - a condemnation from God.

This punishment I accepted; we defied our creed, we had become mere pirates. How do I return to my country? A heretic? A barbarian? "My lord, I repent," I told the waves slapping at my belly, as arrowheads pierced the water. "Forgive me for entertaining the greed of man. For believing the lies of the Old Man, of pandering to the corrupt whims of the Duke of Montferrat, for my own beguilement by the young Greek prince."

A gust of cold wind pushed against my face. I heard shouts, not the jeering from the outer wall, but from the north. The sun broke through the clouds, for the first time since Easter.

"Your true Emperor is here," cried a voice. The fog dissipated and several galleys bearing the Lion of Saint Mark emerged from the fog. The Old Man had taken to the bow of the San Luciatia to proclaim the restoration of the Byzantine crown. Joining him was the golden prince with his band of loyal warriors.

"Behold Alexios Angelos the Fouth," declared the Old Man.

The fleet, using the northerly winds, surged towards the Queen of Cities, fearing not the shore's rocky jaws, for the Venetians were hastening to beat the Greek fire.

"Let the will of God bring justice back to the bastion of Christendom."

Above me, plumes of fiery smoke rained across the grey sky, but the waves pushed the fleet out of harm's way.

"God wills it!" The voices came from around me, from brethren lions, who once despaired, now witnessed redemption. I watched my knights raise their swords and turn back to the wall. My agony fled. I too raise my sword, my unclean hand now blessed, and marched towards the Gates of Blachernae.

"God wills it!" bellowed the Old Man, Dandalo.

"God wills it!" roared the Lions of the Cross.

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