Thursday, January 19, 2012

The Miracle in the Cave

Every once in a while, during the throes of research, you run across an anecdote in a primary source that you can't wait to use in your novel. In Ralph of Caen's book the Gesta Tancredi, there is one such anecdote burning a hole in my pocket...or should I say a hole in my keyboard? The setup is this: the First Crusaders are camped outside of Jerusalem, doing their best to take to take the city despite a dearth of men, food, and siege engines. Tancred, a young Norman marquis (and the hero of the trilogy I'm writing), is on patrol duty searching for wood to build siege towers. Take it away, Ralph!
Tancred, at this time, was suffering badly from dysentery. Although he could barely sit on a horse, he did not spare himself from riding. This sickness frequently forced him to dismount, to go far off, and to search for a hidden spot. Suffering for a long while in this manner and with feet tired out from the journey, he decided to give up this labor and to return ingloriously. But then the accustomed torment struck him. So he withdrew, and climbed down thinking to escape the eyes of his comrades. But when he looked back, he realized that he had not gotten away. Therefore, he searched even further for a hidden spot but again saw people wandering about everywhere. He changed his spot a third and then a fourth time. Finally, after a long walk under a rocky outcropping in a circle surrounded by tall trees, he found quiet.... After relieving himself and gaining back his strength, he noticed four pieces of wood on the opposite wall of the cave. One could not hope for anything more useful for the task at hand. For, it is said, that they were from the materials used by the king of Egypt in his conquest of Jerusalem. [The Egyptian Fatimids had just conquered Jerusalem from the Seljuk Turks prior to the arrival of the First Crusaders.] When he saw them, so great was his joy, that he could not believe it or trust his eyes. He got up and went over to touch them and see them more closely. Thereupon, 'Hey, hey, comrades, hurry here,' he shouted. 'Here,' he repeated. 'God has given us more than we sought. We were seeking rough wood and we have found it prepared.'
Poor guy! Dysentery is no joke, and when you've got to go, you've got to go! It is so amusing to me how he finally goes into the cave to "relieve" himself (a la King Saul) and finds the very thing they have been searching for.

My current WIP, Flower of the Desert, culminates with the capture of Jerusalem by the First Crusaders and the siege leading up to that event. I'm still working on the first part of the novel, however, and unless I jump ahead to the end, it'll be a while before Tancred gets to visit the cave outside Jerusalem. I suppose that part of the story will still be waiting for me when I get there though. That's the nice thing about tends to stay the same.

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