As he did every week, Father Michael made his way to the Leprosarium of St. Lazarus, located just outside the northern wall of Jerusalem. He had brought a couple of live chickens in a basket and some salted fish as a gift for the kitchens. As usual, after he had handed these over to the cellarer, he asked after his brother.
The cellarer sighed. “He’s doing penance again.”
“What for this time?” Michael asked. He had tried to warn Daniel that he was not suited to the life of a monk, but at the time Daniel had not been willing to listen to him. Indeed, Michael had concluded that the more he tried to reason with him, the more stubborn Daniel had become. So he’d given up, and Daniel had taken his vows as a brother-knight of St. Lazarus more than a year ago. The problem was that the longer Daniel lived among the Brothers of St. Lazarus, the more his rebellious nature came to the fore.
“He complained about the food and then threw his bowl across the room at one of his brothers,” the cellarer explained.
“I beg pardon for him,” Michael pleaded humbly and sincerely.
“He’s getting more and more aggressive by the day,” the cellarer warned, shaking his head.
“Then send him to me, for the King has requested his service, and it might be the best thing for everyone.”
A few moments later, Sir (Brother) Daniel emerged. He was wearing a sullen expression, a black habit without insignia, and sandals. The robes seemed incongruous on his tall and powerful body.
“What did they do?” he growled. “Send word to you about my transgressions so you could come and lecture me?”
Michael sighed. All his life he had tried to be a friend to his young brother, but Daniel insisted on being resentful of his wellmeant advice. “No, Daniel,” Michael answered steadily. “I’m here at the request of Lord Balian.”
Daniel stiffened. The happiest years of his life had been those three years as Lord Balian’s squire and household knight. He had felt he was somebody then. He had been proud and confident and buoyed up by a heroic vision of himself.
Until God had punished him for his pride.
“Let us go where it is quieter,” Michael urged. Some of the lepers were fighting among themselves, while women lepers were chattering and laughing loudly as they hung out the laundry.
Daniel fell in warily beside his brother, and they walked along the outer edge of the dry moat surrounding the city until they came to the road leading north to Nablus, Nazareth, and Tiberias. Here a number of enterprising shopkeepers had set up stands selling refreshments and souvenirs, and a little beyond them was a sheep market. The pilgrim season had only just started, so the shopkeepers had a shortage of customers and they called out to the brothers as they passed, trying to interest them in their wares. It was not possible to tell by looking at Daniel that he was afflicted with leprosy, for his skin was not yet discolored, much less ulcerous or deformed.
Michael was finding this conversation much more difficult than he expected. Lord Balian had charged him with finding out what Daniel wanted and had made him promise not to try to influence his brother one way or the other. But Michael knew that influence could be very subtle. Simply the way he approached the topic might affect Daniel’s response. “Lord Balian saw the King yesterday, and they spoke of you.”
“The King still remembers me, then?” Daniel answered in a voice that crackled with bitterness.
“He knows you saved his life, Daniel. He mentioned it again yesterday.” Michael paused. “Daniel,” he repeated and stopped, turning to face his brother. They were now beyond the shops and the sheep market, although the bleating of the sheep was still audible. “The King can hardly walk anymore.”
Daniel shrugged. “It was bound to happen.” Now that he lived in the leper hospital, he had seen many men far worse off than the way he remembered the King.
“Ibrahim is too old to carry him, and the King will not let anyone else touch him—because of what happened to you.”
“That’s silly!” Daniel answered, raising his head. “The healthy brothers of St. Lazarus often carry the lepers on their backs, and they are not afflicted.”
“But you were.”
“Not from carrying him. It came from handling the bandages when my own hands were covered with broken blisters and cuts from the battle. I know that now. If only I had known it then!” he blurted out wretchedly.
“Then you would not fear carrying the King again?”
“What is there left to fear?”
“How would you feel about being the King’s knight—a household knight, living in the palace, in attendance directly on the King, ready to carry him if needed?”
Daniel stared at his brother in disbelief. He was offering him an escape, the opportunity to live among healthy people again, to set eyes on beautiful people up close and every day, to live in luxury and eat the best food that money could buy. As a leper. That was unimaginable. “You’re sure he would have me?” Daniel asked skeptically.
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