Once upon a time – when Time was absolute and Earth stood at the center of all things -Godfrey had a dream and Frederick fell in love. The kingdom of Crossley Ho rose, then fell and rose again, young Harry achieved knighthood, while Isidore Witt delved into the secret works of nature until he, too, found love and fell into the arms of a tree.
Godfrey’s dream inspired these events, his dream and his ability to see in its afterglow a saving vision for his people.
Before the dream, there had been darkness. Before the dream, before the war, before Godfrey assumed its throne, the kingdom of Crossley Ho hung in doubt between a state of anarchy and a state of grace. Grace was evident in its supple green hills and golden haze at sunset, anarchy in its tangle of lawless villages, volatile treaties and violently disputed estates.
Godfrey’s father had driven the old alliances to ruin. Although he had earned the name Stout Gerald in his youth, in the latter half of his reign he came to be known as Gerald the Unsteady. As soon as the first inglorious symptoms of old age struck, and with them a sick fear of lingering death, Gerald fell under the spell of an anchorite monk who lived inside the palace walls, a bug-eyed hermit who crept out at night to take food from the king’s own hand and provide for His Majesty’s salvation in return. The result was a royal religious fervor that bordered on hysteria and tipped finally into madness with the anchorite’s demise.
Gerald the Unsteady began collecting relics – veils, teeth and bones – to the point of obsession while private skirmishes and public litigation gnawed at the peace and security of his realm. His neglect made war inevitable, although he himself was spared the consequences when he yielded to inevitabilities of another sort and died.
The line of succession appeared uncertain. Firstborn Godfrey had exhibited a monkish nature even before he could read. Since coming of age he had made himself scarce, absenting himself from political unrest at home with barefoot tours of Christendom in search of precious books. Gerald’s second son, Frederick, was presumed dead.
Although both princes astonished everyone by showing up in time for their father’s last rites, the neighboring states of Powys and Buckland had already taken advantage of what appeared to be a crisis in the affairs of state next door. They had framed an alliance and advanced against the green and fertile fields of Crossley Ho.
Their timing, calculated to exploit a weakness, revealed strength. Crossley Ho had a new king. And the king had a brother. Godfrey was a learned man. His brother was a master of the military arts. No one could explain how an idiot king had managed to sire two such brilliant boys. Nobody could have anticipated the vigor they displayed as they assumed their right places in the world. No one on the enemy side could have known how the people would rise. But rise they did, united by an oncoming foe and by the example set by two brothers who pulled together in defense of the realm and honoured the fealty they had pledged to each other as boys despite their fifteen years apart.
The threat of invasion forced the people to reflect upon the things they had in common. They became conscious of a national character, a matrix of affiliations forged in the distant past.
The deeds of swarthy, spear-bearing men whose names still marked the fields and glens where they had died were suddenly recalled. The vaulted halls of nobility echoed with heroic lays that lent distinction to cattle raids and reckless final stands. The simple folk recalled a shared wisdom in their own intuitive acts, such as falling respectfully to their knees when they saw the new moon or bathing in sacred wells.
As one people, they answered their king’s call to arms. Militias assembled overnight to fortify the towns. Wives whose men were needed elsewhere fortified castles and fiefs. Sheriffs and parish priests stood in readiness all around the countryside while burghers and guildsmen patrolled the city streets in search of traitors, looters and spies.
Meanwhile, the king’s brother mustered an army of knights, mounted sergeants and expert archers to repel the incendiaries and foragers of an invading foe. In less time than anyone had expected, the invaders fell back and asked for terms. The victors divided the credit for their success squarely between God’s grace and the shrewd battle tactics of the Warrior Prince, as the king’s brother came to be known.
The conflict ended well for Crossley Ho. Its only terms were that it be left alone to prosper and to pray. The royal brothers appeared content to have impressed upon their neighbors the limitations of their people and the importance of the law. Frederick advised against imperiling future relations by asking for more. Godfrey lacked the rancorous heart needed to degrade a conquered foe. He came to be known as Godfrey the Fair.
Crossley Ho had survived. Still, nothing yet had occurred to set it apart from the rest of the world. The clergy proved vulnerable to the temptations of life on earth, knights yielded to the lure of brigandage and rapine, while peasants marked the changing of the seasons with colossal bouts of drinking or malaise. As elsewhere, merchants turned ingenious when asked to justify their rates. Jewelers mixed gems with colored glass, butchers mixed tallow with lard and millers falsely weighted their scales. People went hungry because nobody seemed to care.
And then one night Godfrey had a dream.
He lay in the dark until dawn wondering at what he had seen: a golden city, a city on a hill. He had seen a world without hunger or want, a world peopled not with angels but with ordinary men.
A kingdom not in heaven but on earth.
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