So, he is alive, with the monks, protecting “the relic”. The Englishman was here, in Ireland, although I thought I got rid of him, once and for all, five years ago. I thanked my luck when he left Constantinople, his presence disturbed and irritated me. When I left that city for England, to offer my respects to the king, I found out that he was there, making trouble. Nevertheless, I decided to use his presence for my own advantage. I told the king that one of his brother’s men was inciting his people to rebellion, saying that King Richard Lion Heart was alive. I remembered his majesty that one of the many pretenders to the throne could use his testimony to brand him as unlawful usurper. I know who this “traitor” was; there were not many crusaders, survivors of the third, with a big black cross tattooed in the back. I warned king John, Dugald accompanied the soldiers and pointed at him. He was captured. But the king has failed me. He told me that everything was settled, but he lied. Of course, he thought that to abandon him in a small boat, without food nor water, with the flesh of his back whipped to the bone would be as good as to kill him without passing the sentence. The king has not been the only one to fail me, those painted beasts also. I gave them precise instructions: Fournier and the Englishman should die, the relic stolen. The other monks could live, I did not care for them.
I feel rage grow inside me. The bastard babe-slayer, as I called him that night in Constantinople, can ruin everything. I’ve worked so hard for his, all my life. I changed my destiny with my own hands. There can only be one Baron de Merville, our property cannot be divided. It is the custom that all goes to the elder brother, and the second is destined to the church. In our case it was my father who decided who was the older between my twin brother and myself. When questioned, the terrified midwife said she couldn’t say who saw the light first, covered with blood and mucosity as we were. She made a knot to our umbilical cords, but had to help also my mother. It was not an easy delivery; she had a heavy haemorrhage and was too busy trying not to die, she couldn’t care less about birthright those moments. Therefore, once cleaned and bathed, my father had to decide who would be the heir, and he chose Guy. On seeing me, he said that all that black hair in the head of a new born was surely a sign of the evil, and that dedicating my life to God I will clean, not only the original sin, but also that touch of evil in me. Poor father, equanimity has never been his forte. Thus, as my father thought me wicked even when I wasn’t, I decided to prove him right. For him I was only Guy’s corrupt copy. He was kind and generous as I was rude and selfish. Although we were identical, the pale blue of my brother’s eyes were, according to the baron, clear and bright, while mine were unsettling. His smile broad and honest, while I could only smirk, and his nose straight and noble, while mine menacing as a bird of prey’s peak.
We went to Ireland when we were boys. Growing up, my brother proved also meek and coward. How would he as Baron of Merville hold the lands that my father conquered with fire and steel? But he was not weak to my father’s eyes, of course. I was condemned to study my prayers and my Latin while he trained, without success. I was as good with books as he with swords. When I was fourteen I decided to settle the matter, once and for all. Despite our differences, my brother and I shared a passion: hunting. A dangerous sport. I confess it was not easy to prepare the accident. My father was particularly over anxious with everything concerning his favourite son. I managed, during a moment of distraction, to loosen his horse’s belts. I challenged him to a race inside the woods chasing a fox. As I expected, after a few jumps over some scattered trunks he fell from his horse. Providence lent me also a hand: he broke his neck on falling, although I had my dagger in my hand when I approached him, just in case I had to help him with the passing.
My mother did not put up with the mourning, and she followed his son a little time afterwards. Poor stupid thing as she was, I think she felt I had something to do with the business, and she always looked scared to death near me. My father spent a fortune in masses for Guy, started to use a hair shirt and to confess daily. The day of the burial he summoned me: “Raymond” – he said – “I will not deny you what’s yours by right, I will never cover the family with shame. But know that the very day you come to age you will not receive a single coin for me for your maintenance. When I die everything will be yours. Not before. Prove me that you deserve the name of Baron de Merville”.
I didn’t even argue his decision, I expected it. I went back to Rouen, and lived with some relatives. I considered the next crusade (there will always be another crusade) as my only chance to make fortune. Most of the knights searched in crusades money and recognition, but died in the East, or returned crippled and poor. I wouldn’t be one of them. I joined the flood of French knights headed to Venice, where we waited to embark. It took quite a long time to the pope and the Serenissima to establish the terms of the agreement, the amount of money that we were supposed to get and never received, and the number of galleys that would take us to the East.
I met him in Venice. He had a name, and a voice, there. An Englishman, knight of King Richard Lion Heart. He hoped to find him -or his body- near Jerusalem. But we were not headed to the holy city. Politics and religion make strange allies, and instead of fighting the infidel in Jerusalem we were to help the deposed king of the Byzantines to retake his throne. That was real good news to me. Constantinople busted with gold, and I wanted my share. I needed as much as I could get to achieve what I had in mind.
Things went better than I expected. The Englishman proved an excellent warrior. When we entered Constantinople we sacked together the house of a certain Genovese merchant, rich as Craessus. He seemed possessed by a demon. I took also that paste that he got from the Syrian merchant, much less than the amount he swallowed-up, anyway. It just quieted the bites of hunger in my stomach and gave me a little bit of euphoria, but it didn’t change me. I guess that the drug only liberates your real self. The Englishman reputes himself a knight, noble as King Arthur, but he is a monster, actually. I know that’s what I am. I’ve heard it all my lifetime.
The morning after, when the effect of the drug vanished, I did not remember him what he did in that house. I let him live in his righteous lie, condemning me from his high pedestal of chivalry values every time I stole gold, commerced with false relics, or sold prisoners as slaves. But one night, I made him face reality when we were playing dice: “your lucky will be over soon, you bastard babe-slayer”. How beautiful that moment was. The horror in his eyes, the abyss when he remembered everything: the red pulp of a child’s brain staining a wall that was white before we destroyed that family. I heard that he left the city some weeks later. I had to stay six more months in that shit hole before I got the money I needed to return to my dear father Baron de Merville with a small army of my own, richer than he will ever be. I’ve spent the last five years proving him to deserve my title, enduring his hypocrisy and cowardice, the masses before and after every manslaughter, trying to clean up his soul. It’s so easy to gain absolution: send a coffer filled with gold to the holy father, and he will send you back a nice parchment, sealed with lead and wax, pardoning you all sins imaginable. My father has not realised that the king of England is our only possible ally and protector. Not God. Who can not care less of us.
When I heard about Friar Geraldus’ mission I offered myself to escort him and the “relic” to Rome. With a small detour in England, hosted by king John. I’m sure Geraldus would have made a mess at the beginning, but not for long. I was determined to let him the glory of having convinced king John of England to deliver the holy relic to Saint Matthias to pope Innocence III.
I should be headed to the English court now. I’m not supposed to be here, hunting three monks and a “mute” in the bogs. If only he had died when he had to.
This is the backstory I have imagined for Raymond de Merville in his own words. It’s related with the previous post, the backstory of the Mute. I have placed it, in the timeline of “Pilgrimage”, when Raymond and his men are chasing the monks and the mute in the forest.