The oil merchant was indeed there, just as he usually was. Francesco bought a flask of oil from him for his mother, but instead of heading back through the food merchants, he continued forward, towards the tools and implements. That was his favorite section of the market. He stopped to look at a knife: it looked like a soldier’s knife. It had a leather sheath and a no-nonsense, woven leather handle. Francesco always stopped for things that looked as if they could easily belong to a soldier.
I will be a soldier someday, and I will need things like this. I will be a soldier as soon as I am old enough. I will ride into Apulia on my big white horse and join the crusaders there. Little boys will run up to me to touch my boots and horse. People in the street will part formy passing and bless my mission.
Lost in his thoughts and daydreams, Francesco suddenly realized that some of the merchants were starting to pack up to leave. He quickly backed up – and backed right into someone standing behind him. He just as quickly turned around, eyes to the ground, and he saw before him white linen brushing sturdy boots. His gaze rose to a dark leather cincture that held a large broadsword on the man’s left side and continued up, past the large red cross that was appliqued to the linen covering the man’s broad chest, to the chainmail cowl that surrounded his thick neck. Above that was a very red beard, and above that, very blue eyes. Francesco could barely see that man’s head, as tall as he was. He stumbled back in awe and amazement. He had backed into a Knight Templar.
The knight reached out to steady the boy. “Are ye all right, laddie?”
Francesco didn’t understand the strange language and quizzically looked up. The knight, realizing he had spoken English, repeated the question in French, hoping to find a language they could both understand.
Francesco eagerly replied, “Oui, monsieur.” He was thrilled that this knight spoke French! Francesco’s eager reply drifted into awkward silence as his eyes settled on the sword in awe. That sword! It was so very large! In its scabbard, it was taller than him. He timidly reached out to touch it, but the crusader caught his hand in midair. “It is a dangerous move to reach for a man’s sword, laddie.”
Francesco quickly pulled his hand back, hung his head, and remorsefully said, “Je vous en prie, excusez-moi.”
The knight smiled and, cupping his hand under Francesco’s chin, gently lifted the boy’s head up. “Manners, laddie. Simple manners.”
No longer dumbstruck, the awkward awe wore off and was replaced with a torrent of words.
“M’lord, why are you here in Assisi? Do you have lodging? Are you hungry? Are you heading for the Crusade? Where is your horse? And that sword! I have never seen one so large! What kind is it? Wh–”
The knight smiled as he placed his hand on Francesco’s shoulder. “Slow down, mon petit chou! One question at a time! I am returning from the Holy Land, heading back to my home in Scotland. Have you heard of Scotland?”
“No, m’lord. Where is that?”
“It’s past France, across the water, north.”
“They speak that strange language there?”
“Aye, laddie, we do indeed,” the knight said with a laugh as he switched for a moment back to his native tongue. Francesco scowled.
The knight laughed again, this time a bit more heartily. “I think the next question you asked was if I had lodging?”
Francesco nodded eagerly.
“I just arrived this afternoon, and I ate at the tavern over there.” The knight half-turned to point over his left shoulder. “My next job is to find an inn for the night. I already boarded my horse in the stable – the one just inside the city gate.”
“Maman is French. You must come with me! You can stay the night – I am sure Maman will say yes. The cook is making dinner, and it smells delicious! Will you come and tell me all about the Holy Land? Did you fight the Saracens? I am going to be a soldier when I grow up! I am going to go to Apulia and join the pope’s forces there!” Francesco’s words were tumbling out his mouth with remarkable speed as he puffed out his chest and tried very hard to look older and larger than he was.
At this, the knight’s laughter turned into a hearty guffaw. “A soldier now! And what does your maman say about that?”
Francesco scowled again. “She wants me to join my father, selling silk. Selling silk!! No!” Francesco defiantly crossed his arms across his chest. “I want to fight the Germans and the Normans! And ride a horse and have a sword and shield, and maybe a mace. And a knife,” he added wistfully, turning to watch the tools merchant pack up his wares to leave for the day.
“What is your name, lad?”
“Francesco. Francesco di Pietro di Bernardone.”
The knight extended his right hand, and taking Francesco’s, he solemnly introduced himself. “I am Alan Fitz Walter, second high steward of Scotland, Knight Templar, dapifer to William the Lion, king of Scotland.”
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