Finally, that's what he did as if he were in the presence of Jesus Christ.
"I waited until your arrival to place a call to Cardinal Perrault in Paris," said Lacaze.
"Forget Perrault." Mazzini looked up, moistening his dry lips. "We are going to call the Pope."
Alberto Mazzini couldn't take his eyes off the incredible artifact on the plain white sheet. This was more than just the crowning moment of his career. It was a miracle.
"There's just one more thing," said Ms. Lacaze.
"What?" Mazzini mumbled. "What one more thing?"
"The local lore, it always said a precious relic was here. Just never that it belonged to a duke. But to a man of far more humble origins."
"What sort of lowborn man would come into such a prize? A priest? Perhaps a thief?"
"No." Renée Lacaze's brown eyes widened. "Actually, a jester."
Veille du Père, a village in southern France, 1096
The church bells were ringing.
Loud, quickening peals echoing through town in the middle of the day.
Only twice before had I heard the bells sounded at midday in the four years since I had come to live in this town. Once, when word reached us that the King's son had died. And the second, when a raiding party from our lord's rival in Digne swept through town during the wars, leaving eight dead and burning almost every house to the ground.
What was going on?
I rushed to the second-floor window of the inn I looked after with my wife, Sophie. People were running into the square, still carrying their tools. "What's going on? Who needs help?" they shouted.
Then Antoine, who farmed a plot by the river, galloped over the bridge aboard his mule, pointing back toward the road. "They're coming! They're almost here!"
From the east, I heard the loudest chorus of voices, seemingly raised as one. I squinted through the trees and felt my jaw drop. "Jesus, I'm dreaming," I said to myself. A peddler with a cart was considered an event here. I blinked at the sight, not once but twice.
It was the greatest multitude I had ever seen! Jammed along the narrow road into town, stretching out as far as the eye could see.
"Sophie, come quick, now," I yelled. "You're not going to believe this."
My wife of three years hurried to the window, her yellow hair pinned up for the workday under a white cap. "Mother of God, Hugh . . ."
"It's an army," I muttered, barely able to believe my eyes. "The Army of the Crusade."
EVEN in Veille du Père, word had reached us of the Pope's call. We had heard that masses of men were leaving their families, taking the Cross, as nearby as Avignon. And here they were . . . the army of Crusaders, marching through Veille du Père!
But what an army! More of a rabble, like one of those multitudes prophesied in Isaiah or John. Men, women, children, carrying clubs and tools straight from home. And it was vast thousands of them! Not fitted out with armor or uniforms, but shabbily, with red crosses either painted or sewn onto plain tunics. And at the head of this assemblage . . . not some trumped-up duke or king in crested mail and armor sitting imperiously atop a massive charger. But a little man in a homespun monk's robe, barefoot, bald, with a thatched crown, plopped atop a simple mule.
"It is their awful singing the Turks will turn and run from," I said, shaking my head, "not their swords."
Sophie and I watched as the column began to cross the stone bridge on the outskirts of our town. Young and old, men and women; some carrying axes and mallets and old swords, some old knights parading in rusty armor. Carts, wagons, tired mules and plow horses. Thousands of them.
Copyright © 2003 by James Patterson
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