AS THE STORM EASED UP, THE crew of the Venetian roundship was able to cut the broken masts free, but the cargo had shifted in the hold and so the ship only partially righted herself. She was still listing more than 30 degrees to starboard, and water washed through the shattered portholes into the accommodations whenever the ship sank into the troughs of the waves. Seawater sloshed about on the floor of the stateroom, like a saltwater stew filled with broken furnishings, garments, and household items.
Brother Bernard insisted on wading in to retrieve Patriarch Gerold’s prayer book, although the water came up over his knees at the far side. It had been stored on a shelf above his bunk and hadn’t been completely waterlogged. Nevertheless, in the course of the storm, waves had splattered it and many pages were curling as Brother Bernard dolefully presented it to the Patriarch of Jerusalem.
Gerold took the prayer book into his hands reverently and thanked Brother Bernard sincerely. “You didn’t need to do that, Brother. I–I would have withstood the loss.”
“Yes, but the book may yet bring us comfort,” Brother Bernard answered with a glance across the unsettled sea on which the ship bobbed as helplessly as a cork.
Since they had been dismasted some six to seven hours earlier, they had been adrift. That put them at the mercy of the winds, currents, and tides–or the Almighty. The Captain had explained that he had absolutely no means to steer the ship without masts or sails, his ship having no oars. A galley, he had added contemptuously, would have foundered outright and not survived the storm at all.
So, the crew was working to see if it could shift enough of the cargo to bring the ship onto a more even keel. If that succeeded, they hoped to jury-rig some sort of a sail, using one of the booms as an improvised mast. The work could take a day or two, the captain said, and in the meantime all they could do was pray they did not go aground or run into Arab slavers.
The Patriarch and his loyal companion and confessor Brother Bernard could do nothing but pray—which was why Brother Bernard thought the prayer book so valuable. “Our uninspired prayers might bore the good Lord otherwise,” he reasoned with a whimsical smile.
Gerold reached out and squeezed the monk’s arm. “There are times when I recognize that the greatest blessing He ever bestowed upon me was not the burdensome patriarchal crown of Jerusalem–which has brought me naught but care and worry–but your friendship. How long have we known each other now?”
“It will be 26 years this Christmas,” Brother Bernard answered without hesitation. Back then, Gerold had been a young monk and Bernard a new novice at the Abbey of Molesme in Burgundy. Bernard had been struggling to adjust to cloistered life and the abbot had requested that Gerold look out for the youth.
“Ah, yes.” The Patriarch nodded remembering. “You were singing the solo at Christmas Mass and were very nervous about it.” He smiled at the memory.
“Nervous? I wanted to kill myself! I was deathly afraid they’d like my voice so much they’d send me to Rome to be castrated.”
Gerold laughed, “A completely irrational fear.”
“So I know now, but only months before it had been on everyone’s lips that the entire choir of Hagia Sophia in Constantinople was composed of castratis—men mutilated in their very essence merely to preserve a childish soprano voice.”
“That is only one of the many deviant practices of the Greek Orthodox Church,” Gerold reminded him. “Yet, as these past years in Jerusalem have taught me, as many of our Greek colleagues have genuine Christian hearts as our Latin colleagues.”
“Indeed,” Bernard agreed somewhat absently, focusing on keeping upright as a wave caught the helpless ship and made it stagger irregularly.
Grabbing the railing to keep himself upright, Gerold noted that his friend’s cassock clung to his entire body and he was shivering.
“You must get out of those wet clothes,” the Patriarch concluded, looking about himself as if to find something dry in the wasteland around them.
“So must you!” Brother Bernard replied with a snort and a gesture at the Patriarch’s own wet robes.
Although they had remained below deck and out of the way through most of the storm, they had scrambled on deck in panic when the ship was thrown on her beams’ ends. Not being sailors, they had been convinced she was about to capsize and sink. After that, they had remained on deck, clinging to the stern rail of the sterncastle, which meant wave after wave had broken over them. Both men had become completely drenched long before the storm died down and the sun came out.
“Let’s see if we can find a prayer against freezing to death while awaiting rescue from a shipwreck,” Gerold suggested, hooking an elbow around the railing and opening the soggy pages of his beloved prayer book. The ink and paint were running where too much water had seeped inside and it made him want to weep, but he turned to pages that were more intact.
Bernard, however, asked in a distant voice. “Do you not wonder if this is His judgment?”
Gerold looked up sharply. “On what? The Venetian shipmaster for overcharging us? Or my refusal to submit to that man calling himself Holy Roman Emperor?” His voice was sharp and defensive now.
“It is my job to probe your conscience, Gerold,” Bernard reminded him gently.
“Fair enough,” Gerold answered evenly, “so hear me. If I die out here, it will be in greater peace of mind and soul than had I set my sails to match the winds of politics. I would not want to face Him after abandoning my convictions for the sake of some secular advantage. If I do not die, then I will continue to Rome to put my case before his Holiness in person. Most of his Holiness’ complaints come straight out of the mouth of our dear brother in Christ, Eustace de Montaigu. And his purpose in slandering me is clear: to get himself named Papal Legate in my place. That’s why I need to go to Rome.”
“God would appear to think otherwise,” Brother Bernard noted wryly, pointing at the wreck of their vessel awash with water and cluttered with the remnants of rigging and tackle.
“Is that what you think?” Gerold snapped back, feeling betrayed by his closest friend.
“To be honest, I don’t know. I just find myself wondering. . . . ”
“And I wonder more about why He allowed a materialistic cynic—an atheist—to become Holy Roman Emperor!” Gerold replied indignantly.
“Your Grace!” The voice was that of the Chief Mate, the captain’s eldest son, and he was waving from the windward side of the ship.
Gerold grabbed a fistful of his sodden robes and staggered up the sloping deck to where the captain stood with a spyglass to his eye. As Gerold approached, he brought the eyeglass down and turned to the churchman. “Your Grace, a galley appears to be approaching from windward.”
“From the West, or rather northwest.”
Gerold waited for further explanation but when this was not forthcoming, he prompted. “So, is she likely to be Christian or Arab?”
“We believe she is most likely Christian, although she is too far away to make out her hull, much less her banners.”
Gerold nodded mutely. In his own mind he admitted that he would indeed start to believe God was angry with him if he were taken by Arab slavers. That would be one indignity too many, but he refused to panic. Instead, he stayed where he was, grimly staring at the dark speck on the horizon that the captain claimed was an approaching galley.
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