Tangible Schizophrenia


Commend Me Unto Heaven

Author: Guede Mazaka
Rating: PG
Pairing: Slight Baldwin IV/Saladin.
Feedback: Good lines, bad ones, etc.
Disclaimer: Characterizations modeled on Kingdom of Heaven portrayals. No claims made to historical accuracy.
Notes: First-person pov. Historical tidbits taken from John Julius Norwich’s A Short History of Byzantium and James Reston, Jr.’s Warriors of God.
Summary: Baldwin IV relates a story.


Once upon a time, there was a boy. And he was beautiful and young, and very important for upon his shoulders had been laid the charge of the greatest city in the world. What he most wanted to do was to see it prosper, hear its people laugh and, perhaps, watch the sun go down over its gilted domes with his arm around someone who would make him happy.

It’s a lovely romance. My library is filled with many more tales of its like, and in all of them there are wizards and gorgeous princesses, great perils and narrow escapes. When I was young, I remember I enjoyed the stories where magic changed a man’s skin most of all.

I must have been very, very young, for the vicissitudes of ruling do not allow for much of a childhood, and the slow creep of sickness permits even less. What I have are a collection of moments, like so many tiny desert flowers springing up after the rain. Most of them are not so pretty. They immortalize moments such as when I realized that my teachers were not gods, but mortal men striving to push me about like the stones with which they showed me how to lay out a battlefield, as when I splashed my face with rosewater and saw the first flakes of dead skin floating on its cool surface. But there are a few. The day I first bested Godfrey of Ibelin—one of the few who still dared spar with me after the news had spread—with the broadsword. The day I saw my sister flutter onto the balcony, smiling and shining, and realized I was facing a woman. The day I was sixteen, and was sitting on my horse triumphant amid the corpses when he rode out to sue for a truce.

It amuses me, frankly. I’ve earned such a reputation among both Christians and Muslims as a man of peace—often used as an euphemism for weakling—and great learning, and yet my dearest memory is that of a wartime victory. I suppose my Frankish ancestry still shows; the greatest lord of Outremer still cannot rival the Byzantine Emperors for erudition. But that is as it is. They’ve been in a decline for the better part of a century while Jerusalem teeters, but my hands are still steady enough to hold it. And hold it they do, though my fingers be stained with blood and crippled with open sores.

Once upon a time there was a boy, and he grew up to become a man who did men’s things.

Such as shake in his boots, gripping uneasily at his sword while he sought within himself the words to hearten his men, to stiffen them against the massed horsemen of the mighty Salah ad-Din. And all the while his own blood was pounding heavy against his ribs at the sight of so many gay pennants, growing scarce in his head so he turned lightheaded as he tried to count the spears glinting on the horizon. He held onto his sword as best he could, but it suddenly seemed twice, thrice as heavy as before, and it slipped, twisted in his grip like a snake. But he had to keep his head up, and remember himself to God and his kingdom, and most of all he had to think about the fact that this once, if never again, he would ride and fight and possibly even die as other men did. In battle there would be no time to worry about whose blood splattered whom, who brushed against whom. If the gauze beneath his armor ripped, then there would be no time to fear for spreading the plague—there would only be time to pray and prove himself.

Another lovely little story. Cooped in here as I am, I’ve grown used to spinning such—they help pass the time, pretend that I really am as free as my mind. But oh, the mind is not free when it must descend once again to such a failing body!

I loved it. The fear, the blood-spill, the cannonade of horseflesh into men. Even the screaming, for I screamed as well while my sword rose and fell. Saintly I am supposed to be, but often at night I suspect that that was a gift of the leprosy. If I had been rid of it, if I’ve never had it and thus had the vigor to lead more battles after that one…or before it…then perhaps I would have hearkened further to the call of battle. Perhaps I would have turned into a ravening jackal such as Reginard, my lord of the Templars.

I like to think I would have not strayed so far, that I would have made myself instead into a true equal for Salah ad-Din. A man of peace and war in their turns, always preferring the former but unafraid to pursue the latter to its bloody end. When I met him on the field, I needed no herald to make introductions; it all lay in his eyes.

Once upon a time a man fought a great battle, and defeated his enemy. But when he finally laid eyes on his mysterious opponent, he found that he faced another man.

I’m afraid we spent more time talking of mathematics and literature than we did of the terms of the truce. The Arabs have inherited so much knowledge that was lost from Europe, so much that I think they rival even Byzantium. And Saladin has taken as full advantage of that as he had of the squabbles that had weakened his potential rivals within the Muslim world.

And I’ve gotten the story wrong. For when we rode out to meet each other and he made to greet me, and when I was recalled to myself just in time to prevent him from touching me—for the gauze wraps were ripped and the gore so thick on me that the sores were hidden—then I saw who he was. I adored him. I hated him. I knew him.

The priests would excommunicate me if they ever realized the man I envy most, and love most, in all the world is not Jesus Christ but the invincible leader of the infidels.

Once upon a time a man looked into a mirror and saw a man. Then he looked down at himself and saw only the remnants of a boy, with more pieces rotting away day by day.

Saladin looked old and careworn then, already having a touch of exhaustion to his wisdom. But I doubt he will die soon enough to avert this collision of worlds. He is whole and healthy, and he still has dreams to fulfill. Whereas I am dying and all of my dreams are silvering over, turning static and shadowy, as my sight fails me.

I fear for my kingdom. I would, I think, bargain with the lords of Hell themselves for just one more year—one more year to shore up the defenses, succor the generation rising from my knee to my waist. To settle my affairs, to see if I can add another glimpse of happiness to my memory.

But I will confess you something: part of me is happy. For I’ll die before he does. It does not seem fit for the pale reflection to die before the truth does.

I wonder if, after all these wars, Christians and Muslims share a heaven. If that is the truth of it, then that would be a true kingdom, and in it I could be the man I wish I were. The man who in the story could ride out to meet his other so they could be merely two men on horses.

Once upon a time, a boy died.