June, 1192 AD. The Judean Mountains.
Byron looked upon Jerusalem. The large stone walls, the plain flat desert separating him from the holiest city on God’s earth. He wasn’t sure if it was worth all the fuss. That very thought was blasphemy, yes, and he certainly should not think it, but he assumed God would agree. The Lord would not want so much glorious death in his name, no matter how much men with heavy, weighted titles said so. Not that Byron would ever say so outright. ‘Twas not his place.
“Sir Henry.” A soldier called, approaching the knight from beyond. Byron grimaced at the use of his formal name, and turned to face the soldier clad in mail. The man saluted, bringing his arm across his chest quickly.
“Yes?” Byron asked tiredly.
“Your brother requests your presence, milord. He beckons you to his tent.”
Byron nodded and turned to face the soldier, letting the man escort him back across the ground, towards the generals’ tent.
A lone man clad in heavy plated armor, not unlike Byron’s own, stood inside, complete with the crown a top his head. He was leaning over a table that mapped out the plateau Jerusalem rested on.
“You requested my presence, brother?” Byron asked, trying to sum up all the respect he could, but he was far too exhausted for it. He asked in French, as that was Richard’ fluent language, and was likely to be the language they conducted whatever discussions that were to be coming in. French, primarily Richard’s dialect, was one of the three languages Byron spoke, along with English and German. He learned them all for courtly, diplomatic, and war time functions.
There were several guards in the room. Byron couldn’t help but notice that as Richard had more people assassinated, his own contingent of guards grew.
“Leave us.” Richard said, motioning to the guards. The men shuffled out obediently, without a word or any hesitation.
“I did so.” Richard said, sighing, running a hand down his face. “His highness,” even Richard couldn’t keep the irritation out of his voice, “King Phillip’s representative, the Duke of Burgundy, will be joining us soon.”
Byron pursed his lips, nodding, trying to remain emotionless. Even in private, with his brother, he couldn’t reveal what he truly thought. It was hard, as he was a soldier, and had a hard time masking his emotions, but did so for politics and chivalry. Hugh the third, Duke of Burgundy, was a hot-headed, but smart, man. Regardless, he was more of a “attack first, question later” sort of man. Byron preferred to approach a situation with more tact, as opposed to beating it into a pulp as Hugh would.
“There was no part of me that wanted to face him alone.” Richard added.
Byron nodded in reply, entering into the tent proper now, stepping over to the map table. This was a recent rendition of an old map, done decades before. It detailed the plateau Jerusalem sat upon and Richard’s commanders, including Byron, had drawn out some attack plans.
He surveyed the map with his hands clasped behind his back, bearing a neutral expression. Richard stood by, also observing the map, practically oozing regality. Richard was his only sibling Byron did not hate. Technically, they were all half-siblings, but Byron still couldn’t excuse their faults. Richard was everything a king was supposed to be, and more. Yet he was challenged quite frequently by the other siblings. The entire family practically squabbled for power. No, Richard had Byron’s utmost loyalty- not because Richard was his king, but because Byron respected him. That’s what mattered.
There was a rustle of fabric as the tent flap opened behind them. Both general and king, trained soldiers, calmly stepped around to see who had entered. Duke Hugh of Burgundy, flanked by two guards, entered.
“Your highness.” The duke greeted Richard, bowing to the king. The duke’s guards knelt, staying out of the way of their betters. They’d rise again once the king’s attention was off them.
“Sir Byron.” Hugh said with a slight nod in Byron’s direction when he rose. The duke knew that Byron preferred his middle name to his given one. If the man ever called Byron “Henry” the knight knew it was simply to get under his skin. Another thing that irritated Byron about Hugh. The man was conniving.
“Duke Hugh.” Byron replied, bowing slightly in return. “Your presence at this hour is an honor.” Byron found his own words ironic. The duke had been the one to call the meeting.
“Indeed.” Richard added. “Shall we get to business? I would rather not dally.”
“At once, your majesty.” The duke agreed, shooing his guards and circling around the map table. “But I fear we will have not much to discuss unless your mind is made up since we last met. Have you considered my proposal?” Byron frowned. Was the duke trying to guilt Richard into agreeing with him? Richard had dethroned his own father and slaughtered a thousand civilians last month. Byron was not sure guilt was an emotion Richard possessed/
Richard shook his head. “I simply cannot abide an attack on the city at this moment. Not while preparations are in disagreement.”
“Your grace, I would not normally question you, but why do you refuse to lead the army?”
“My duke,” Richard replied, looking quite weary, “we have already discussed this. A direct attack on Jerusalem would not have the effect you think it will. Saladin is not that desperate. The Ayyubids have miles of land behind them in reinforcements. An invasion into Egypt to cut off his access to the coast is the proper and correct line of action.” The king glanced to the silent Byron.
“My liege is correct.” Byron put in. “A forward attack would be disastrous on our behalf. They have adequate numbers to meet us with, and the support of the city walls.”
“Sir Henry,” Byron grimaced as Hugh used his given name. It appeared they were now this part of the meeting, “Why do you insist on this battle plan? It is well-known thou art the one championing this plan for the war council. One begins to question whether you fear an honest fight. Have you grow tired of championing the Lord’s cause? The Reclaimer of olde would not shy away from such a calling.”
Richard looked from Hugh to Byron, remaining silent and expecting a rebuttal. That amused Byron. The Lionheart expected Byron to back him up, but stayed impartial himself. There was most likely a kingly reason behind it. There usually was.
And Hugh had used Byron's epithet. It had fallen out of use recently, but was still well known.
Byron turned to face Hugh, fixing the Duke with a steely glare. Better, stronger men than the duke had crumpled beneath that look.
“Duke Hugh, one who begins to question such things should also question where I lead my army from. Even if I did fear an ‘honest fight,’ as you call it, one can find me on foot at the front of my contingent. Certainly your tent is not found at the front of yours? That would be most unwieldy.” Byron replied, causing Hugh to look away. Byron, like Richard, fought as a soldier, alongside his troops. Hugh, did not. While this wasn’t entirely his fault, as he was the leader of the entire French contingent and had to be available at all times, it did not go unnoticed or uncontested.
“You cannot deny me my glory forever, Henry Fitzroy.” Duke Hugh snapped at Byron, causing the latter man to raise a brow. A break in the calm façade? Shocking. “Your station is to be commanded by your king. Nothing more.”
Byron grit his teeth against the insults, not trusting his tongue. No one liked the fact that they were of illegitimate heritage being waved in their face. When pedigrees meant everything, being born of the family wet nurse, an attractive wet nurse, but still lowborn compared to the greats that Byron walked with was frustrating, and it was held against him quite often.
“I stand by Sir Byron’s decision.” Richard said calmly and coolly. “Now unless you intended this to be an actual meeting and not simply the charade it has turned into, I suggest you take your leave, lord duke.”
Hugh gave Byron one last glare, and then bowed to the king, before swiftly departing.
Richard sighed once Hugh had left, and went back to leaning against the table.
“I still detest that Philip abandoned the Crusade and left us with him.” Richard muttered.
“Careful, brother.” Byron warned, glancing about. These tents were certainly not soundproof and what Richard had said was dangerously close to slander.
“Oh you know it to be true, Byron.” Richard said, shoving away from the table and marching over to his wine stand. “This Crusade is coming to a close, and we still have not reclaimed Jerusalem. Saladin, despite his defeats, remains strong. If we do not come to a consensus on a strategy, this Crusade will end.”
Is that such a bad thing? Byron thought. Byron was a born knight, a man who thrived in the thrill of the battle, but there had been so much needless death. The massacres at Acre, the things he’d done…
He just wanted to go home. This wasn’t a holy cause any longer. There were other, greater wars to fight. Not this.
Regardless, Byron said nothing. Richard didn’t like being challenged by his own advisors. He listened to Byron, but the knight wasn’t in the mood for an argument at the moment.
“May I take my leave, sire?” Byron asked Richard. “If you have no further need of me.”
Richard nodded and gave Byron a dismissive wave.
As Byron left, he hesitated. “Richard, if I may?” He began, turning back to face his older brother. Richard turned as well to look at Byron, a curious expression on his face. He nodded for Byron to continue.
“Have you considered what you, as an individual, want to do?”
Richard frowned, “What dost thou mean?”
“Would you attack Jerusalem, if you were one man?”
Richard sipped from his wine chalice, considering.
“Yes…” Richard said, slowly nodding. “I would. But I would not lead my armies in such a foolish attack.”
“Then perhaps that will mean something to the Duke, if he knows you still intend to reclaim the Holy City. Perhaps if you even lead a skirmish.”
Richard nodded again, before meeting Byron’s eyes. “Thank you, brother.”
Byron bowed slightly. “Sire.” He said with difference, and then departed.
He headed outside, across the hard soil, back to where he had been contemplating. He soon stood alone, hands clasped behind his back, contemplating the majesty that rose to the skyline across from him. Jerusalem… what was it worth, really, if only of value in the eyes of men?
The air hummed around him, brilliant, and loud in his ears. Byron looked up. A single bluish beam of light shown about him, bearing down on his insignificant mortal form. He gasped and the light shot down, enveloping him.
Byron was frozen, unable to move. So much strength and power packed into one body, yet he was nothing compared to the might of God.
No! Byron wanted to scream with lips that could not move. I’m not ready! There is still work to be done! They need me! He was quickly pulled into the sky, vanishing into that blue light without notice.