Sunday, 21 August 2011

Raymond's treasure - a short story

Raymond returned home to Montreuil from the Crusades. The strong, blond-haired man had been present at the siege of Antioch and at had taken part in the capture of Jerusalem, alongside Tancred of Hauteville. There, he had witnessed such slaughter of infidels – Moslems and Jews, old people, women, children – such scenes of unbridled butchery that his nightmares would be filled with horror and remorse for the rest of his days.

But all the way home from Antioch he'd carried, in a little sack, some looted treasure that he'd chanced upon in the rooms of a rich merchant's wife – a small chalice, silver, inlaid with gold inside, and a brooch, bracelet and necklace all finely wrought in gold. Back home in Montreuil, Raymond buried the sack and its contents in a deep hole behind his cottage.

Now was the third harvest since his return, his vows to re-take the Holy Land for Jesus had been fulfilled. Yet that year, 1103, the Good Lord did not grant him nor any of his fellow returning Crusaders a munificent summer. For it rained daily throughout June and July; by early August; the fields were sodden, the wheat was black, stunted and damp. Mildew spread through the crop. The harvest would be bitter; the winter would be hungry.

Raymond's beloved wife Mathilde looked at the field but did not despair, for she knew of her husband's treasure. Ever since his return, she had been beseeching Raymond to sell it. With all that gold, she could... they could... They both dreamed. A horse; two horses, maybe; fine clothes, more land; rich food, toys for their three small sons... Often they'd lay in bed discussing what the treasure could buy them – but these were only dreams. The treasure would first have to be sold, for money...

Ever since the sacking of Antioch, five summers earlier, Raymond had not uttered a word about his treasure; not even hinted of its existence – except to his wife. Could he trust Mathilde not to tell the other women about the manor? Did she talk about it so that she could seem more important to the others?

Selling such treasures and obtaining money for them would not easy for a peasant such as Raymond, even one that had fought bravely to reconquer the Holy Land. He knew what he was facing as he dug his treasure out of the ground and he took it to a local trader, Isaac, the son of Levi. Before getting down to the business, the two men silently took time to weigh up each other's respective bargaining strengths. Yet Raymond found that he could not gaze squarely into to the eyes of the other man; before he'd even shown his pieces to the trader, he felt in a losing position. He pulled his treasure out of the sack. Isaac examined them in great detail. Finally, Isaac made Raymond an offer. Raymond was shocked by what he heard; he felt belittled; personally offended. He'd long ago made up his mind as to what all this fine gold and silver was worth; the Jew was not offering him a quarter of that price. “What would Mathilde say, if I were to return to her with this paltry sum of money?” he thought, as he gathered up his treasures, put them carefully back into his sack and rose from the table.

His return home was not a happy one. Raymond the Crusader, the warrior-provider, the protector, had become in an instant the object of derision in her eyes. A weak man. “Take it to Lord Arnoul,” chided Mathilde, her heavy mass of flaxen hair shaking in anger. Let him offer you a fair price.” Raymond was doubtful. He did not like Lord Arnoul; a vain man; tyrannical and boastful. He looked at his wife's face; of a sudden it seemed small and tight, no longer that of the sweet maiden he'd married; but a face distorted by fading dreams of sudden, easy wealth.

With a heavy heart, Raymond took the sack with him up the hill to the manor house. He told the gatekeeper what his business was, and after a short while he was beckoned to the lord's presence in the great hall. Raymond was shown in to see his lord seated at a long table, surrounded by many knights, all clearly quite drunk. At first, Arnoul, who was a nephew of Tancred, appeared pleased to meet a man who'd been on the Crusades with his uncle. When Raymond told Arnoul of his treasure, the nobleman laughed. “Money? You want your lord to give you money? I'll give you no money! Leave the sack and be off with you! Just be grateful that I've spared you your life for your impudence!” Arnoul's retinue roared with laughter, considering their lord's rejoinder a capital joke.

[Part two of Raymond's Treasure will be published on Monday night]

This time last year:
Now an urban legend: Kebab factory under W-wa Centralna

This time two years ago:
It was twenty years ago today

This time three years ago:
By bike to Czachówek again


ktr said...

Hi Michael, these are pretty good stories you write on your blog. My friend Katherine is running a short story competition in London:
Perhaps you'd like to submit your stuff?


Michael Dembinski said...

Hi Chris, thanks for the link; however:

1. Can I send a story that I have blogged? Sorry, no. The guidelines say, ‘it must be original and unpublished’.
A blog = published.

Well there you go, I can't submit, all my stories have indeed been published.

But do keep reading here - it's my intention to write 60 stories on the theme After The War Was Over (14 done so far); whittle them down to the best 40; re-edit; and publish.

All the best,