Disclaimer: Bennet du Paris, Eobar Barrington and all related characters belong
to Marvel Comics. They are not mine. Historical characters are adapted from
source material. Written in response to a story challenge posted on CFAN'sOrphan Ideas board.
"Barbarians at the Gate" by Karen
The hauntingly familiar yet alien wailing echoed throughout the night shrouded city. The Imam in the highest domed tower was summoning the faithful to devotions. Bennet du Paris rested with his back to the stable wall that had once belonged to a textile merchant. He wrinkled his nose in distaste as the lingering blend of sweat, dirt and burnt wool wafted towards him mixed with the sweltering heat. From his vantage point he watched heavily veiled women lugging water from the tiled pools scattered across the city. Men, just as heavily cloaked, but with their faces bare, hurried along on business of their own.
Bennet was distracted from polishing his sword, as a troop of armed Saracen guards strode by. After they had passed Bennet glanced up at the evening sky; a velvet blanket someone had carelessly sprinkled with diamonds. He thought back to right before they had set
sail for Outremer.
"Was it only two months ago that Eobar and I sat in taverns dicing, drinking, and regaling the serving wenches with tales of our heroism?"
He wiped sweat from his brow. This heat feels like being baked inside a potter's firing kiln.
A droplet of sweat trickled down the side of his helmet, the tips of which were shaped to resemble an eagle's outspread wings. Bennet admired the intricate sculpting that had gone into its construction. He scraped the rust it had accumulated while on campaign. It was still as
beautiful as when he had been presented with it as an initiate had as a Knight Templar had. It had also saved his life more times than he count on the fingers of both hands. If Eobar were here, he no doubt remind me again of the vow of poverty, that paying for something as extravagant as this helmet was no more than a useless luxury.
Just then Eobar Barrington's cheerful refined voice interrupted his train of thought. Eobar strode around the corner half hidden by the building's shadow. "There you are."
His big war-horse not caring for the confined conditions, tossed its blooded mane and shuffled its feet. The harness jingled, Bennet who had been tensely awaiting his friend's return, nearly jumped out of his skin. He resentfully glared at Eobar as if blaming him for getting them involved in the Crusades.
"S, blood, Eobar. Do you want to wake everyone in the Quarter?"
"How are you?'
"I was worried something happened to you," Bennet replied, hoping his voice did not crack, somewhat mollified.
"Sorry for the lateness of my return. My task took longer than I had anticipated." Eobar wrapped his mount's reins around his wrist then tied it to
a wooden hook that had been wedged into the muddy ground, and then sat down next to Bennet.
"Pay it no mind. I just thought you had been waylaid by one of these infidels."
"Careful, my friend. I have been among those 'infidels', and they think much the same of us. Saladin is a canny old fox, he can keep himself and his troops holed up in Jerusalem for months, while starving Lionheart's army out. As for King Guy of Anitoch, Baldwin's chosen replacement..."Eobar shrugged and tugged at his gauntlets. When he had bared his hand, he then held it up in front of Bennet with the middle finger extended, "So there."
"You've actually been among the Moors? They punish a man who steals bread by cutting off his hand. To say nothing of what they would do if they captured a Christian knight!" Bennet said.
"What Lionheart does or does not do is none of my affair. As for the infidels they have a word I find particularly intriguing. In Arabic, 'jihad' means 'holy war.'"
"Lionheart does not strike me as the patient type. He's too impulsive. It sounds like you think this entire campaign is futile."
"Bennet," Eobar said as he placed a hand on his friend's shoulder, unsure how to soothe the younger man's nerves. "Regardless of what I think of the secular leaders of the Crusaders, as Templars our orders come direct from the Grand Master. We're both soldiers, knights. It is not our place to second-guess our leaders."
"I am not being entirely fair. Truth, as a knight sworn to the crown, I could not refuse the task laid upon me by His Holiness, the Pope; to free the Holy Land from the Moors," Bennet exclaimed, almost chanting the words.
Eobar philosophically noted the telltale look in his friend's eyes, he interrupted, "May I ask you something Can you justify a war in the name of faith? breaking Bennet's bout of feverish zeal. Not usually one to debate these matters, he decided to let the matter rest by simply asking, "Well, did you learn anything?" Bennet changed the subject, desperate to avoid a protracted debate, since Eobar was could outflank him on almost every issue, and as much as he disliked admitting it to himself, he did not stand a chance in arguments.
Bennet knew Eobar in almost every mood: in combat, in a tavern brawl, as they slept only in a tattered cloak as they waited out a desert storm. And he knew the sudden smirk; which Eobar struggled to hide, was the face of a man who did not want to admit why he had been out late.
"I'll put in a good word for with the Grand Master. Something to the effect that it was my fault that made you late for checkin. I wouldn't want us both in trouble with the Old Man," Eobar offered as he untied his horse and led out onto the narrow streets.
"I would appreciate that. I don't suppose you'll mention anything about your nightly activities?"
"I can come up with something."
The two men walked along in silence and ignored the sidelong glances of locals as they peered through their barred windows or through the slits in their veils as the hurried from one building to another. The chapterhouse loomed into view out of the dense fog that covered the city all day. Far above, on the crest of the hill, they could hear the clattering of metal as the gate wardens were forced to stir out of their heat induced slumber.
"Who goes there!"
"Eobar Barrington and Bennet du Paris!"
The wardens murmured to each other, as their voices carried on the still air. "Password"
Eobar nudged his mount toward the massive gate. Then raised a mailed fist to pound on the door, the distinctive clanging of metal on metal resounded eerily in the moonlight.
"You slugs, open this door immediately, or I'll have you written up for shirking your duty," Bennet shouted.
"That wasn't the password," one warden whispered to his neighbour.
"Nah, too many words," the other whispered back.
"Kyrie Elesion!" Eobar shouted.
"Okay, that's it, stand back," the head warden shouted down to them.
The gates slid back on oiled hinges as the chains scraped against their moorings. The slid apart wide enough to permit entry for Eobar and his horse and Bennet.
"Cutting it close, aren't we?" the guard offered as he pulled the levers which caused the gate to swing shut with a solid echoing thud. "The Old Man is expecting you," he added, accepting the reins Eobar thrust into his hand, as his companion pulled the brass handled lever. The gates slammed to, the noise starling Eobar's horse, he reared until he stood on all fours, pawing at the air. The closickenly sweet smell of sweat wafted to him, as the horse sweated in its panic.
"Whoa, boy," the guard tried, making a trying for the dangling reins A random hoof shot out and the guard went flying to land which a soft whoosh and a thud near the far wall.
Bennet knelt next to the fallen man, and checked him for injuries,
"Just a glancing blow, but still you should have the field surgeon check you out."
"Easy, easy, "Eobar whispered to his horse, as gently grabbed the rein and succeeded in calming him down.
"I'm sure the Old Man would be," Eobar said, nodding his head slightly to thank the warden for helping calm his horse down, which finally brought all four feet to the ground.
"Then we had better not keep him waiting," Bennet replied.
They entered the Grand Master's office, Hugh DePayens, whose chamber panelled in cherry wood with a fireplace burning near the back wall.
Oil lamps and a narrow window provided the only light. And everywhere was gold: on the lamps, the mantel, the ornaments on Hugh's
desk. In these impoverished times. Gold was something few would dare flaunt so openly, but as the Grand Maste; Hugh could afford a bit of social impropriety. Hugh ignored Eobar and Bennet as they stepped into the office, instead concentrating on the sheaf of papers he'd spent half the evening wading through. Eobar coughed a daring gesture in the presence of a superior. Hugh glanced while he took note of
his inferior officer's lack of decorum.
Having dispensed with pleasantries, he immediately launched into a prepared speech.
"There are two matters of import I which to discuss," Hugh began. "As for the first; Eobar Barrington I am seriously considering taking punitive action against you. Item: your casual way you treat your rank. You seem to regard yourself as no more than a commoner. A Templar of your rank in the Order should set a better example. I trust we understand one another," Hugh said, his voice
radiating all the warmth of a hangman's noose.
"As for Du Paris," Hugh turned his steel gray eyes to Bennet. "You have a great deal of potential, and perhaps I could have chosen a better
mentor for you. Your father... God rest his soul, would have been disappointed."
"You knew my father?" Bennet bristled, uncomfortable.
"Yes. A good man, a better friend. And as tragic as his death was, it is sad to say, good men are a rarity in these in these troubled times, and few and far between," Hugh whispered. "Be that as it may, " Hugh continued, what is done cannot be undone. In any case, there will be a reprimand on each of your service records."
"My Lord, if I am not overstepping my bounds,, why, could you help me understand why he...."Bennet trailed off, running his fingers through his raven-black, shoulder length hair. I wouldn't even be here if the Reynald de Chatillion hadn't told everyone that my father, nobleman that he was, married a commoner,
"I'll explain later," Eobar whispered.
"As for the second matter, a letter from St. Bernard. According to this Saladin is mounting an attack on Tiberuis' slopes.
"My Lord, I am only a low ranking knight. Why would you entrust me with this?" Bennet stammered, his face turning red as the firelight outlined the hollows of his superior's high boned cheeks. My father always said my fear would get me in trouble one day, so why is it that the Old Man looks almost skeletal in the firelight
"I have my reasons, young man," Hugh replied noncommittally as he tossed the letter onto the desk, causing a miniature dust devil to swirl up.
"Eobar, alert Reynald de Chatillion. Tell him to order a general militia. We ride for Mt. Tiberius at dawn," Hugh ordered, then waved a hand, dismissing them from his presence.
Morning dawned with clarity of sky and earth too brittle and dazzling to look at for long. It was said on clear days you could see forever. That is if the phalanx of both mounted and foosoldiers cared to notice. A series of rocky peaks hemmed them in on three sides, and on the fourth by the Sea of Galilee, whose waves restlessly broke against its slopes. The knights had no leisure to spare on the scenery as they were forced to maintain their footing on the winding path in the mountain's stony skin took all their concentration.
"Thrice damned, its nothing more than a rut created by centuries of travel and this awful climate," Bennet thought. He shifted in his saddle trying to ignore the heat. He looked around, watching stoically as his fellows urged their panting steeds along the trail, some sliding on loose rock, cursing as the horses refused to go any further. At least I'm having better luck them some. He patted his horse's side, grateful for its single-minded obedience. I suppose that's some comfort.
They had been marching since first light and with the hot desert sun glared shimmering and golden as the eye of a vengeful god, which it had since they'd set out that morning. From its position on its day ward arc Bennet guessed it to be around mid-day.
"If we were lizards, sunbathing in this heat would be almost pleasant," Eobar muttered, pulling up beside Bennet.
"But we're not," Bennet laughed. "No, we're just men in armor."
"Good for the lizards." Eobar grinned. "Sometimes, 'they'," he nodded towards the foot soldiers, "have it easier than us."
"Don't worry. We'll be sure to find water higher up in the mountains," Bennet grinned. "Everyone knows that."
"In the middle of a drought?" Eobar replied.
Just then both men twisted around in their saddles to watch the seemingly endless columns of marching foot soldiers and supply wagons trundling along behind them. "You know Saladin has more than twice as many men as us," Bennet absently remarked.
The Grand Master pulled up beside them, "I would not order the men to this, unless time was not of the essence, despite the risk of broken
legs, the pace must be increased."
"My Lord, caution is well advised, but let us not err on the side of rashness. As you recently pointed out to me," Eobar said.
"Time is of the essence!" Hugh shouted.
"Yes, I know," Eobar replied. Turning his warhorse to face the army in a ringing baritone, he shouted: "Haste! Unless we already be too late!"
Bennet spurred his mount nearer in time to hear his friend's whispered comment:
"Alas, Lord God, the battle was never ours. The Kingdom is lost."
"What has happened to us?" Bennet muttered to himself.
"The Horns of Hattin," Hugh said, pointing towards the giant stone teeth arched skyward, and even Bennet's modest hope of finding water to quench their thirst were dashed. The well was dry and the only stream was blocked. To make matters worse they discovered Saladin's army waiting for them at the far edge of the plateau.
"No!" Bennet gasped.
Hearing his whispered protest Hugh glanced at him.
"Methinks the Old Fox has stolen a march on us. Why so surprised, young man? Did we not anticipate such a maneuver from our old foe?"
Squaring his shoulders, Bennet wordlessly agreed. "Hard pounding this, gentlemen. Shall we see who pounds the longest?" Bennet asked, snapping the chain on his eagle winged helmet.
"The infidels!" Eobar growled as he watched Saladin make a stylized gesture with his hand across his throat. It was a signal to a small group of soldiers armed with firebrands to set the remaining dry grasses stubbornly clinging to the mountain ablaze. Some of the men, unable to resist their thirst almost as bad as the relentless heat, rushed to the water, but were beheaded.
"There's no honour in that," Hugh grunted, puling his sword from it sheath.
"Attack! he ordered as the Saracens horns blasted forth a brassy challenge.
Bennet and Eobar fought back to back as the battle erupted around them.
The sound of hooftbeats pounding and churning up the hard earth beneath them boots slogging in blood. In the melee he had become separated from his friend, but there was no chance of locating him. One man in full armor looks much like another. Bennet gave up, cursing the helm that blocked his peripheral vision. He heard the scrape and hiss of arrows and remotely isolated that sound from the hundreds of others; the terrified screaming of men and horses, the pleas for mercy that went unheard, no quarter would be given.
The Bishop of Acre, who carried a piece of the True Cross-, was cut down and the precious relic captured.
However grievous the loss, Bennet did not have time to mourn or regret, for by late evening they had been completely enclosed in a ring of steel.
The Saracen forces began charging up the slope in endless droves and more and more knights fell to the curved blades. Suddenly some of the
Frankish infantry broke formation and clambered full tilt, leaving the army to its own devices. Taking advantage of the confusion, Reynald, who led the column, used the speed of his horses to create a bridge over the slain bodies of his own comrades, giving them a path to escape.
Noting the charge, Saladin did not order his army to meet the Crusaders head-on, instead he opened the trap to give them enough rope to hang
themselves. Once inside the trap, Saladin closed the opening, sealing their fate. He pressed his advantage, galloping through his own lines all the way to King Guy's red campaign tent, forcing the remaining Crusaders to fall back.
Meanwhile, at the fringe of the battle, Bennet had been thrown from his saddle. He stared glassy eyed up at a solid wall of granite when an obsidian needle thrust itself up from the mountain's skin. It was as black and as elongated as the peaks which gave the pass its name. It was like a fang of some beast and it shimmered in his sight from the heat it had soaked up.
"A mirage. I must have suffered a blow to the head and now I'm hallucinating. Eobar?" he called as a drowning man clings to a lifeline aboard a sinking ship, he clung to the familiar sound of his friend's name. Shouting over and over again, heedless of the danger.
"You're alive," Eobar grimly observed, dragging his sword, and wiped blood from his face.
"No thanks to you," Bennet replied. "Lucky I have a hard head. Excellent helmet, by the way," he added, holding up the battered piece of metal.
"It should be. I cost enough."
"What happened? Is the battle over?"
"Guy surrendered. Not that I blame him. We got slaughtered out there. This part I find hard to comprehend. Do you have any idea what the Moors do to captured enemies after a battle? NO? They've beheaded everyone they could, all the nobles and soldiers, except for King Guy and Reynald. The rest they are being sold," Eobar said.
"Sold? To whom? Never mind, I do not wish to know. What I want to know is: I am going crazy?" Bennet asked.
'Yes." Eobar grinned.
"I am serious. Do you see that black tower?" Bennet pointed towards a black obelisk he had been staring at, the base of which was one tenth of its height. The dome surmounting it was sheathed in copper. The open gates were incised with Egyptian hieroglyphics.
"My God!" Eobar gasped. "Where do you think you are going?"
"I don't know. I just feel drawn to it."
"Oh no you don't" Eobar grabbed a fistful of Bennet's cloak and dug in his heels trying to halt his forward motion. Bennet shrugged him off and ran towards the open gates.
"Wait! Eobar lunged forward the heavy weight of his armor bringing him to his knees. Cursing under his breath he tugged on the laces and removed it piece by piece. Down to his leather tunic, he picked up his ebony blade and ran after
his friend. Just like entering the lion's den.
Eobar caught up with Bennet inside the tower in time to overhear him shout.
"A quest for power. I know it resides within me. I can feel it!"
"That does not make it right," Eobar protested.
"This is destined, this is right. Don't try and stop me, Eobar. I have to do this. I did as My Lord beseeched, to whom do you plead fealty?"
"That depends greatly on which 'lord' issues those commands, and what he is telling you," Eobar replied. "I feel for you. The devil has surely taken in an interest in your fate."
Voice: "You have come too far to fail now, Bennet du Paris. Are you willing to sacrifice your very life to become one of the strong?"
"Then prove it."
With that huge boulders came tumbling towards him, forcing him back into a corner. Bennet threw his arms up to protect his face when suddenly a strange electrical energy course through his body. He tried to force it down, to deny it, but something inside of him would not allow it; the energy turned to a white hot light from his eyes. It lanced out towards the boulder causing it to explode.
Eobar could have wept when he witnessed the boulder explode, and the zeal that overcame his friend; he knew that the man he had once known own, the man that was closer to than blood brothers to him, was ever so slowly slipping away.
Inside the boulder was a woman that stood six feet high. In the center of her forehead was etched a tattooed sigil from some script in an unknown language. Her marble black eyes seemed to bore into Bennet's and her black skin gleamed with the same sheen as Eobar's ebony blade. She was dressed in red from head to foot and he would have thought her exotically beautiful if not for the claw-like hands and the scales covering her neck and shoulders.
"Greetings, mortals, I am Scarab," she announced and bowed to Bennet. "Bennet du Paris, you were born with a magnificent gift and the time has come for its revelation. For you must use it, or die."
"I don't understand." Bennet stammered.
"To fully gain access to your powers, you must defeat me," Scarab said.
Bennet rushed forward with his sword drawn, striking at the Scarab, drawing blood. The woman swept her arms out and knocked his sword
from his white knuckled grasp. The blow sent the sword spinning to land with a metal clang and snap of broken metal well out of arm's reach.
Bennet, responding to instinct, launched himself into the air and flipped over the Scarab, to retrieve his sword.
"You must use the power locked inside of you, that is the only way."
Again he felt the same energy coursing through him, like the blood in his veins. It engulfed his mind and he felt a sudden urge to release it, or
go insane. The white-hot energy played about his clenched fists from some source inside of him. He made an effort and it came out lancing straight at the Scarab. The light surrounded her in a blazing light too bright to look at, and moments later the Scarab was reduced to ashes.
Eobar was startled out of his dark thoughts when he heard an odd, jarring sound; someone was applauding. It echoed hollowly in the huge chamber.
"I am Shareed Well done, young man," addressing Bennet. "I suspect you savored every bit of that taste of true power? What would you say if I could tell you a way to keep that power?"
"How,...do I keep the power?" Bennet gasped.
"Don't do this, Bennet," Eobar whispered. "As we were once brothers in all but blood, I will keep my oath and tell no one what I have seen and heard here; the only escape I may offer is that which my little friend can deliver," Eobar said, gently laying the edge of his dagger against Bennet's neck.
"I hope such desperate measures will not be needed." Bennet felt the cold hilt pressed against the pulsing vein in his throat. Eobar's eyes were slotted and hardly any trace of the friend he remembered reflected from them.
Shareed stepped between the two men, holding them apart from one another by the length of his own arms. A slight pressure and Eobar was forced several steps back.
"You are one of the few, the strong, Bennet," Shareed whispered into his ear. He glanced over his shoulder at Eobar. "Such as he cannot understand or they do not wish to," Shareed cocked his head as if musing on a thought that had just occurred to him. "This is not the time, in the future, perhaps
"Bennet you will be granted power like you've never dreamed, but in order to keep that power you must take the head of your closest friend with his own ebony blade."
"Why must I kill Eobar?"
"It is the only way to sever the ties that bind you to the life you once knew," Shareed said and held out Eobar's ebony blade to him, bowing in mock salute.
Drunk on power Bennet hefted the ebony blade, holding it out parallel to the floor. The cold hilt rubbed against his flushed skin, broke him out of the feverish trance he'd fallen into. He flinched from what he took to be a look of jealousy and hatred on Eobar's face. Suddenly he felt an overwhelming urge to kill. He lunged forward and slashed wildly. Eobar used his knife to parry the blow as best he could.
Shareed tossed Eobar a blade that had once belonged to Bennet and broken by the Scarab. Eobar was too preoccupied staving off some of Bennet's wilder blows to worry about how the blade had been whole again. They circled one another and Shareed shrieked madly at the sight of a gushing cut on his left arm. Suddenly Eobar slipped on the beaten earth floor of the chamber, and Bennet used the opening to bring him to his knees. Benet raised the ebony blade above his head, the muscles in his arms quivering with inheld strain. He was just about to deliver the coup de grace, when he looked down at Eobar's face. "I am not afraid to die," he whispered.
Almost every fiber of his beingwanted to keep the power that was being offered, but he heard that final whispered declaration and something in the back of his mind snapped. He couldn't do it. Heaving the blade away from him, he whirled around to confront Shareed. "I deny you! I will not succumb to temptation! I will not kill Eobar!"
"Ungrateful wretch," Shareed muttered under his breath. Just then the planes of his face began melting like candle wax, his body stretched and underneath a tall, angular man emerged, with cat slit eyes and black hair. With a snap of his fingers the tower disappeared and both men blacked out.
When Bennet regained consciousness, Shareed or the creature that had taken his place, watched him scramble to his feet inside a cavern with dripping limestone formations. "Where's Eobar? Who are you? Why have you brought me here?"
"How inquisitive. I am En Sabh Naur. Patience, your questions will be answered in due course. All you have to do is go inside that ravine."
"It's a solid wall, there's no way through," Bennet protested in confusion.
"Have you not learned by now; there are things in this world that cannot be explained, that appearances can be deceiving. Just like the promises of comrades, like loyalty."
Bennet found himself nodding stupidly in agreement with the syrupy, persuasive words of the other man. He pressed his hands against the solid
rock wall and felt it give. He applied more pressure and gradually his entire body went right through the rock wall. "Now what?" he called, his voice somewhat muffled by the intervening rock.
"My herald, thou art unfit for what I desire of you. Mayhap centuries from now, in the new age you will find a place as one of my own!" En Sabh Nuar shouted.
"No! You can't mean to leave me here, buried alive!" Bennet shouted.
"Calm yourself, I do not intend for you to die, not just yet, anyway. You will sleep and when you awaken once more, there will come an Exodus."
En Sabh Naur said. He made a stylized gesture over the porous rock wall and incised a Egyptian hieroglyphic on its surface. That task completed he nodded in satisfaction. Turning around he was swept up into a vortex. When it abruptly ended as suddenly as it had begun. It left behind only a pile of dust.