A daughter's search for her captured father during the time of the Children's Crusades and the clash between Christianity and Islam. From the secrets of the Cathar sect to the unity at the heart of religion, this epic adventure deals with issues that are current in today's headlines.
The Baron's Daugher: The Saga of the Children's Crusade
Bertran had heard rumors of the presence of a holy man somewhere in the mountain slopes, but he assumed this was one more legend like so many other stories told among the peasants. The village priest, a humorless, grim individual by the name of Guilbert, had taken the report seriously enough to warn all his parishoners to stay far from such a man. He had spoken to the monks of nearby monasteries and discovered that none of their order had established a hermitage in the area. The priest therefore suspected that this recluse might be a "hereticus perfectus," an accomplished heretic, a Perfect One from the Cathar sect which flourished further south in the lands of Raymond of Toulouse. The cleric's fear only inflamed the imagination of his flock and accounts of the hermit grew into the most absurd fantasies. None of the pious villagers had any idea of the beliefs held by the powerful sect which had established a radical spiritual version of Christianity across the continent and aroused the Pope's furor. To the eternal shame of Christendom, Pope Innocent III, in the name of the Prince of Peace, called for a crusade against the Cathars which was tantamount to a war against the people of beautiful Languedoc who had long accepted the sect in their midst. In return for lands and indulgences, the King of France, Philip Augustus and his knights undertook the systematic slaughter of their fellow countrymen for the past three years. This bloodbath, occuring only two days journey from his hamlet, was one of the reasons why Bertran secretly renounced the authority of the Church. He was told that the papal legate, at the siege of Beziers, when asked by the invaders whether to spare the Catholics of the city, stated; "Kill them all, for God knows His own." Some twenty thousand men, women and children were massacred. Upon hearing Father Guilbert praise the genocide during the mass, Bertran swore never to set foot in another church. When he encountered the feared recluse during the blizzard, the independent-minded young man was unconcerned over rumors of heresy. Before heading home, Bertran gratefully handed him the meager catch he had hunted down. Then the strange solitaire with the gleaming eyes spoke his first words: "Your sister needs it more..." Amazed, Bertran begged the seer to let him return the gift of his life with some gesture. So the holy man accepted a loaf of his mother's bread. On the following day, when Bertran returned, there was no one to be found so he left his gift on a treestump, hoping that his savior would find it before the bears and wolves. Several months later, he encountered the solitary man again. This time, he came across him on the outskirts of the hamlet in the company of a beggar woman carrying a child who was near death. The hermit instructed Bertran to feed and shelter them until the child recovered. He reminded the reluctant young man that the great heroes of the era, King Richard, Godfrey of Bouillon, even Saladin the valorous leader of the Saracens, were men of compassion. The words and example of the recluse made a profound impression on the young man. Now, in the ancient ruins of the chapel, a guest of this rare man who had once again saved his life, Bertran listened with great intensity to his every word. Illiterate and starving for knowledge, he knew that this man was a fount of true wisdom, the only education of ultimate importance. He looked over at the kind old man who had befriended him. The old man had removed his hood and for the first time Bertran could distinguish his features. In the shimmering half-light of the fireplace, the hermit's face resembled that of Zeus, the Roman god whose statue Bertran had uncovered while clearing land for the Baron. His bony features were sharply chiseled and bronzed by exposure to the elements. A long thick beard lengthened his face and increased the emaciated pallor of one who often fasted. The nose was long and aquiline, almost in the shape of an eagle's beak. It was hard to identify the race from which he had sprung; perhaps a blend of Germanic and Mediterranean blood. The features were more those of fallen royalty whose kingdom had been overthrown than those of a solitary dweller of the wilds. It was the eyes, however, that revealed the true nature of the man. They were unusually large and protruded a bit from their cavernous sockets. The pupils were an arresting sky blue, almost transparent. But the most stricking aspect of this face was not physical. Living fire came from those eyes, an intensity of awareness that pierced through everything they looked upon. Yet a great calm also emanated from them, softening their energy with compassion. Bertran could not avoid a feeling of discomfort when they turned toward him for they saw into places within his soul which he had yet to explore.