Captain Wissam despaired as he stared into the empty hold of his galley. The short swarthy man could see no hope in his future.
He was out of money, and out of luck; a bad combination, especially when in a foreign port. The lucrative cargo of olives he had brought to Marseilles from Tunisia was spoiled due to the fact of the rotten barrels they were stored in. Wissam cursed the cooper responsible for his lack of craftsmanship , and cursed himself for not being cautious enough to spot it. He had hoped to sell the olives when he arrived then flip the profits into caskets of wine before sailing back to his homeland.
Being the shrewd merchant that he considered himself, he might have been able to overcome such a setback a few years ago, but the current political situation made his situation hard to recover from. The disastrous fourth crusade made politics around the Mediterranean tense but more importantly dried up the passage of paying pilgrims into the holy land. Similarly the failed Crusade made the Templar money lenders tight with their purses. Regardless of how many crosses he could cover himself in , there will be little chance he could obtain a loan from that particular holy order.
Wissam shook his head at the very real prospect of poverty that faced him. He was far from his home in Tunis and the shame of returning home penniless loomed on him. He never considered himself a pious man , since favoring one religion or another was bad for business, but today he prayed for a miracle to save him from his fate.
"I forbid it! "Growled François. "You shall remain in the manor till all this nonsense is over!"
"But father…everyone else is going to the holy land, I can't stay home. It's my calling!" pleaded Nicolette. She was young , perhaps thirteen. A thin blonde girl that still looked more child than woman.
"Calling? Calling? Don't make me laugh. Some touched in the head farm boy thinks he hears the voice of god, and next thing you know , he has every child in France clamoring to join his crusade into the holy land. It's absurd and I will not allow you to participate in it!" barked Francois.
The portly middle aged merchant was shaking visibly from the argument and sat himself down to calm himself. He waved a servant over , who promptly poured Francois and his daughter Nicolette some type of steaming herbal beverage . The aroma of the drinks seemed to relieve the tension and seemed to calm the pair down.
As Francois sipped the hot drink , the young Nicolette cleared her throat and began her argument anew. "Father , its 1212 not the dark ages. As Christians it is our duty to bring enlightenment to the holy lands. The last crusade failed because they relied on strength of arms to conqueror their foes. Young Stephan from Cloyes is not just a farm boy, he's heard the voice of god and will bring peace to the holy lands through his message of peace and love. He will succeed where knights and armies failed."
Francois snorted. " The fourth crusade failed because they were more adventurers and plunders than holy warriors. They sailed all over the Med, from Egypt to Byzantium. I think a few hundred made their way to the holy land in the end. "
Nicolette smiled at her father's lack of reasoning. "Exactly ! Their hearts weren't pure. They were filled with thoughts of greed and conquest. My pilgrimage will succeed because our goals are noble and true."
Francois shook his head once again. " You cannot convince me with your words. Have you actually listened to what this Stephan is saying? He expects the seas to part so you can march to Jerusalem like he was Moses or something , and then you'll overwhelm the Saracens with words of peace spoken by thousands of brainwashed children. Get them to abandon their religion at the drop of their fezzes simply because you'll stare at them with big puppy eyes. Preposterous! ", spat the merchant to his unconvinced daughter. " The bottom line is that you wish to head to the holy land with no plans, no armies, no weapons. You want to subjugate the local satraps there with kind thoughts of love? They'll massacre or enslave you in a second. I hate the English, but at least they know how to fight. If that barbarian Richard the Lionhearted and his army of accursed bowmen failed, what chance do you think a hallucinating peasant boy and a legion of children have? "
Nicolette sighed," I have faith. Stephan says that's all we need, besides I'm not the only one who is joining this expedition. Every child in the entire county are getting ready to go as well."
Francois rolled his eyes, " Everyone huh? If everyone of your peers jumped into the river Rhone will you do so as well? Just because …everyone… is going, doesn't mean you should. It just means everyone is an idiot."
"If you recall, great grandfather Henri faced a similar situation. When Pope Urban called for the First Crusade into holy lands to liberated it for pilgrims, great grandfather answered the call. His father was against it as well. He did not shirk his duty and bring shame to our family , and I won't either, " replied Nicolette.
"Shame , duty? " scoffed Francois. " No one cares about such things when one of Saladin's Saracens are spilling your guts with one of those curvy sword things."
"Scimitars, "corrected Nicolette smugly.
"I care not what they are called," fumed Francois. He hated being corrected, especially by his own daughter. "Listen , I don't care about what anyone thinks. The bottom line is that you are my daughter and I am your father. It is my duty to protect you and I will not let go on this silly expedition. End of discussion. I will order the servants to prevent you from leaving the house till this silliness is over."
"But…but father! That is so unfair !", complained Nicolette , as all her confidence drained away.
Francois did not reply and simply turned away from his daughter. Nicolette was at a loss of words as she ran up to her room.
As Nicolette reached the top of the stairs, she turned once more to face her father. "I cannot believe you will treat your own daughter this way, "she hissed while choking on tears. " You can't hold me here, I will join the crusade regardless of your wishes . I will seek out Stephan and the both of us will pray you will be delivered from your ignorance."
Wissam was all smiles. The Tunisian captain had the wind at his back as his ship crashed through the waves. The hold of his ship was full and it would only be a few more days till he reached his home port of Tunis . Already he was merrily counting his profits. Everything was going his way , even the annoying singing had died a while ago.
Wissam faced financial disaster, but a miracle had happened. An army of vagabonds, waifs, and children had appeared in Marseilles. It was a curious sight to say the least, and even stranger when they marched to the harbor and seemingly stopped before the sea. As one , this group of misfits stared at the water for hours, seemingly waiting for a miracle to happen.
The captain chuckled as he later found out they were actually expecting the sea to part for them. Of course such a thing didn't happen except in the old tales, and the mob began to tearfully disperse. Fortunately, Wassim, as well as some other sharp eyed captains, was a businessman and he saw a golden opportunity.
It was not hard for Wassim and his fellow captains to convince their leader, some Steve or Stephan fellow to accept free passage on his vessel, and soon he had children packed into his galley like sardines. After a round of prayers from his cargo they were promptly stuffed in the hold. His ship then raised anchor and set sail.
Once they were well away from port, it didn't take much to subdue this flock of underage fools. All it took was a few beatings to the mouthy ones and the occasional dispensing of the lash , and the children were quickly cowed into submission. Wassim was surprised at their resiliency though, even after a diet of moldy bread they were still singing hymns of their faith. The captain was shocked to find out they still believed they would be ferried to the holy land.
Such a thing was ridiculous and unprofitable though. Wassim planned to sell the lot of them into slavery when he returned back to Tunisia. Most were young and relatively healthy. They would bring him top dinar he thought. The boys would most likely be bought and made to work the harsh sunny fields of North Africa, while the girls would become servants if they are lucky or sold into the cruel flesh markets if they weren't.
Wassim smiled once again. Although he wasn't particularly religious he gave thanks to whatever deities that were responsible for the turn of events that saved his fortunes.
Nicolette stared at the walls imprisoning her. Life was so unfair. Her dreams were shattered in this prison.
She had missed out on the greatest thing to ever happen to her generation. She imagined the adventures that all the other children were enjoying right now while she was stuck in her home, a virtual prisoner by her father. She could do nothing but beg her holy lord for deliverance from her fate.