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Though I am called Tristan, I have no true name of my own. It was Brother Tuck who found me on St. Tristan’s Day, nearly fifteen years ago. He is a kind and gentle man, but a deafmute, and unable to even write down for me how I came to be here. The abbot, a much sterner sort, tells me that I was found that August night on the steps of the abbey. A few days old at best, hungry and crying, wrapped in a soiled woolen blanket.
I’m told the sound of horses could be heard riding away through the night, but since Brother Tuck was the first to find me, we know not if he saw or even glimpsed the riders. The abbot said that two of the brothers followed the tracks into the woods but soon lost the trail.
He also thinks I must be of noble blood. No peasant could afford to own such horses, and it is unlikely a poor farmer would abandon an infant that might one day grow strong enough to help him work the farm. Nor would any illiterate peasant likely be able to write the note that was neatly tucked into the folds of my blanket. On a simple scrap of rolled parchment, wrapped with red ribbon, it read, “Brothers: We bestow onto you this innocent child. His life threatens many. Remind him that he was loved, but safer away from those who would wish him harm. We will be watching over him until it is time.”
So whoever left the note must consider me safe now that I am nearly fifteen. For as near as anyone at the abbey can tell, no one has ever come here and asked about or “watched over” me in any way. Perhaps my parents, whoever they are, were unable to fulfill that promise.
The monks were always kind to me, but they were Cistercians and believed that one was never too young to work. I earned my keep there. However, I bore them no ill will, for the monks worked just as hard as I did. I lived at St. Alban’s for all of my life, and my earliest memories were not of the names and faces of the monks, but of chores. We were a poor abbey but grew enough crops and raised enough sheep and goats to get by. Our needs were few. There was wood in the surrounding forest to see us through each winter. The gardens provided us with plentiful vegetables, and the fields gave us wheat, which we turned into bread. If there was ever anything else we needed, the brothers traded for it in Dover or one of the nearby villages.
It was a quiet and calm existence, but the work was endless. The garden was my main contribution to the abbey. Brother Tuck and I tended it from planting in the spring to harvest in the fall. Working the hoe through the soil was quiet work, and gave me much time to think. The garden sat in a sunny spot behind the abbey, and once the rainy spring was over, the weather was usually fine and fair.
Our abbey was on the travelers’ road a day’s ride northwest of Dover. There were thirty monks in service there. Built many years ago it rose up out of the surrounding forest like a small wooden castle. It was simple in its design, because Cistercians are not frivolous, believing man is here to serve God, not adorn his buildings in finery.
Still, it was a comfortable place, inviting and welcoming to the few travelers who passed our way. The main hall where the brothers gathered to dine and pray was well lighted by the windows that rose high in the peaks. The surrounding grounds were neat and well tended, for the brothers believed that keeping things orderly kept one’s mind free to focus on God.
Except for the forest around the abbey grounds, and a trip to Dover three years before, I had seen no more of the world—though that was not all I knew of it. The monks offered shelter to travelers along the road to Dover, and from them I heard things. Exciting things happening in far-off places that made me wish for a chance to leave and see them for myself. Some told tales of wonder and adventure, of magnificent battles and exotic places. Recently, most all of the talk was of the Crusade. King Richard, who some called the Lionheart, carried out his war in the Holy Land, and it wasn’t going well. King Richard had been on the throne for almost two years, and had spent most of his time away from England fighting in the Crusades. He was called the Lionheart because he was said to be a ferocious warrior, brave and gallant, and determined to drive the Saladin and his Saracens from the Holy Land.
The Saladin was the leader of the Muslim forces opposing King Richard. He was said to be as courageous and fierce a warrior as the Lionheart, consumed with ridding the Holy Land of Christians. Even those who said that God was on our side conceded that defeating the Saladin would not be easy.
For the monks, the news from the east was of particular interest. To them, the rise of the Saladin was a signal that the end of days was near. Perhaps the Savior would soon come again.
These were my thoughts, on a clear and sunny day, as I worked beside Brother Tuck in the garden. Brother Tuck was a large man, strong and sturdy, with a generous heart. Though he couldn’t speak, he made a soft humming noise while pushing his hoe through the soil, moving to some rhythm only he felt. He could not hear the riders approach, or the sound of horses’ hooves pounding across the hard ground, or the clang of chain mail and sword as the knights reined up at the abbey gate.
Knights wearing the brilliant white tunics with red crosses emblazoned across their chests. The Warrior Monks. The famous Poor Fellow Soldiers of Christ and of the Temple of Solomon. Known to all as the Knights Templar.