“THE OATHS THAT BIND”
It was a glorious day.
The sun was slowly rising on the horizon, filtered through a stained glass window. It was all I could do to not smile at the fortune granted us by the Lord.
Six men knelt before a congregation armored in white. They were speaking solemn words, swearing an oath to do that which they had been trained to do.
“With this oath I state my strong and irrevocable intent”
My name is Solomon Rhodes, and I am one of many in my order.
The Knights Templar.
But today my order grows stronger by six. A smile draws across my face as my eyes meet that of the boy that changed my life.
“I declare to take freely and solemnly oath of obedience, poverty….”
I found him twenty years ago.
I stood in a burning building, covered in the blood of my foes and singed with the fires of their transgressions.
Because that is my duty. To bring the penalty for man’s transgressions. For over a hundred years, I have walked this earth, blessed by God to heal from any injury, to be able to endure any pain. To what end, I do not know.
But I swore an oath. And I will keep that oath until the day that I die.
“To pledge my sword, my forces, my life and everything that I own to the cause…”
Where my Commander bids me go, I go. And where I go, I bring death. Fire and blood nip at my robes even in peace time.
But twenty years ago, I stumbled upon a crying babe in my red rage. I had slaughtered all I had seen. Rapists, murderers, criminals. They had transgressed against the Church, and I took their lives as payment.
But that young boy…
That boy changed my life.
I spared him, watched over him, made sure he grew to learn our ways and customs.
“To love my brothers the Knight and my Sisters the Dames and help them, their children and their widows…”
The sisters healed him, raised him up. And I showed him what it was to be a man.
Pedro El Salvador is his name. And in him, I see the brightest of destinies.
“This oath I pronounce loudly before the Knights present at this Convent. I sign it and confirm it by my blood…”
I come to my feet at those words, as they finish their solemn oath. As do all the other Knights in the room. I have watched the boy become a man, and the man become my brother.
“Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Ghost.”
A room full of Knights Templar now, we all finish the oath, now a prayer, signaling the growing of our order.
Another shared smile with Pedro, my friend. My brother.
We swore an oath, and we would hold it until the end.
The sun stood high overhead.
Fire and blood.
It was my credo, would have been the motto emblazoned upon my coat of arms. Even now they both washed upon me as I walked through the small camp I had been sent to.
As soon as the knighting had concluded, my Commander had duties for me. Bandits had looted one of our local Church facilities. He ordered me to remove the pack of bandits, root and stem.
That is what I have done. My sword does not, and will not, miss its mark. Even as I descended upon their camp, the bandits did not know what fate was to befall them. They had stolen from the Church.
Their penalty was death.
With every stroke of my blade, I did them the only honor I could. I made sure their death was quick. No man should be forced to endure their last breath while so wracked with pain they cannot think. I hope when my end comes, when my watch ends, that it will be quick.
As the red began to leave my eyes, I became acutely aware that my side was bleeding. One of the bandits had struck true in their final moments. A normal man would have bled out.
But I am no normal man.
I beckoned to one of my brethren, seeing that the clean-up crew had arrived. Upon the completion of my work, my brothers arrived to give proper burial rites to these poor souls. They tried to hide their fear, but I could see it in their eyes, smell it in their sweat.
They could not do what I do. Nor could I do what they do.
We swore an oath.
As I stumbled through the encampment, I kept my eyes averted from the path I had made, from the blood staining my sword. I sheathed that sword, leaving the site. I knew there was a small Convent nearby, and the sisters would make sure I had no lasting injury.
Yet as I approached the doorway, I saw a familiar sight stepping towards me.
Pedro El Salvador.
Forgoing tradition, I embraced him. He smiled at the sight of blood on my robes, perhaps the only man I’d ever seen react that way.
It’d been years since he had been initiated into our Order, but he’d always understood my lot in life, even if he did not share it. Childish features morphed into that of a handsome young man, and the pure innocence I once adored gave way to battle-hardened maturity with an undercurrent of rage.
Yet I could see, just for a split second, fear in his eyes.
Before I could say a word, he took me by the arm and tried to lead me away.
“I was just checking in with the sisters here, my brother.” He began. “They are fine. I don’t see why you always insist on receiving medical treatment. We both know they will find nothing out of sort.”
I acknowledged his correct words with a nod, but pulled back towards the door.
“Nevertheless, I must check.”
I knew his tone would turn harsh if I spoke out of turn, so I quickly dashed inside. There were several sisters assembled in their main room, and I was only greeted by a fearful nod. I indicated my bloody robes, and let one of the sisters lead me through their halls.
Yet as I walked down that hallway, my eye quickly caught sight of something out of sort. I stepped backwards, and let my eyes take in the scene before me.
One of the sisters was laid upon a bed of blood.
A babe in her arms.
I rushed to the side of this woman.
She looked at me with fearful eyes, for she knew what I did to those who broke bond. But for some reason, I was taken with pity on this babe and its mother.
“My lord,” A sister said from behind me. “She tried to hide it from us.”
I barely took in the words, but it registered that she was trying to ensure my wrath did not descend upon the whole Convent.
“She told us one of your brothers came to her in the night. He forced himself upon her, and as the days drew on, she found herself with child.
This could not be true, I told myself.
The young woman cried out in pain, and I instinctively reached out to clutch her hand. One of the other sisters took the baby away as I leaned in to hear this dying woman’s last words.
She groaned out a simple word, and as the last air escaped from her lungs, I knew that my life had irrevocably changed. For it was not just a word. It was a name, and never had I felt a pain such as I did in that moment, holding the hand of a dying woman.
The sun had begun to set.
I didn’t even known her name.
Yet as her sisters performed her burial rites, sending a woman who I’d just watched die back to the dust, I knew that she had not chosen her words lightly. Several of my brothers had stayed in the area to assist with the manual labor needed, and I had stayed with them. Pedro El Salvador was not among those who had remained.
How could you? I cried out in internal agony. How could you betray your oath? We swore!
The young woman looked peaceful, and calm. The work of the sisters had disguised the hardships she suffered before death. No scars. No blood. She could merely be sleeping as we all looked on.
But sorrow filled my heart as I swiftly was reminded that she would never wake up.
As the woman had died, they lead me away to private chambers, where one of the sisters washed me and clothed me anew. When I returned to that bed of blood, it was barren.
The child, gone.
My brothers arrived then, stepping in for the same services I received, but they paid their respects to the fallen sister. Fever, they said, is what took her.
But I knew the truth.
She swore an oath.
And it was taken from her. By a man that I loved as a brother.
“Sir?” A voice called, shaking me from my reverie. “Sir? The Commander bids us all return to our Temple.”
I nodded in return. This was no longer a matter of following orders. I had to know what had happened, what caused my brother to fall.
“I believe a bandit may have escaped my grasp.” I lied, feeling sick inside. “I am going to do a perimeter check of the area, and then I’ll be along.”
The brother nodded in return. They knew that until my work was done, I would not rest.
But my work tonight is not the butcher’s work I carried out normally.
My eyes met that of the head of the Convent. She knew what I knew, and as I nodded to the side, resignation filled her eyes. She knew what was about to happen.
But she would not deny me what I needed to know.
She did not waste words, speaking freely of the story told to her by the now-dead woman as we walked down the dirt road.
Pedro El Salvador had come to the Convent several times, almost as if he were evaluating all who walked there. Often men of the Templar would come to judge the women they allied with, but El Salvador seemed to only have an eye for younger women.
It reminded me of one of our final conversations before I returned to the field.
Solomon, he’d said. It’s real. The book. The Prophecy. All of it. A forbidden union between brother and sister will bring about the Apocalypse. It will bring about all that we exist to guard.
He says he heard it from an angel.
I called him a fool, and we parted bitterly.
When we met earlier, he had visited to check on the birth of the child. He had arranged for the child to be whisked away to a hidden location. To what end, I don’t know.
But I know that he broke his oath.
I know the penalty for that.
I also knew where I’d find him.
Night had come.
Stained glass windows frame the pale moonlight as I step into the local Church. Pedro chose to use the most ornate locales we could find to pray. Some said he should have been a priest.
In another life, perhaps.
But he swore an oath.
I did too.
And as I walked between the pews of this Church, I saw Pedro. He was not praying this night. Instead, he merely faced me with a frown.
He knew I was coming.
“Come home, Pedro.” I yelled, hand upon the hilt of my sword. “Stand trial for what you’ve done.”
He doesn’t respond as I thought he would. He just grins at me.
“No one knows what I’ve done, Solomon.” He taunts. “No one but you and I.”
I opened my mouth to protest, knowing about the other sisters, but he raised his hand.
“To so many people on this earth, there’s a greater power than even God. Those sisters, who I’m sure you revere as pious and worthy, will keep their silence in exchange for the money I am, even now, having wired to their account.”
My fingers wrap around the hilt as he approaches. The metal begins to show from the scabbard, still stained with blood.
“But the truth is that God is more powerful than even we could imagine. Yahweh on high, basking in the glory of the worship we bestow upon him. They say he no longer speaks to us, but I laid my eyes upon you, my holy rescuer. You cannot be killed. God has given you a power beyond any of us.”
Finally, I unsheathe my sword. Pedro doesn’t bat an eye.
“But not beyond the boy, Solomon.”
My heart breaking with every step, I walk towards my brother. My nose twitches with anticipation.
Or is it fear.
“There’s a light in his eyes, a light that won’t be quenched by the dogma of the Templar. Born of the fusion between brother and sister. Templar and Nun. God’s chosen people have produced the one who will bring about his glory.”
My nose twitches again, but this time I realize the truth.
“But my friend, I cannot allow you to stop me. One day, you and I will stand side by side once more, and you will know I am right. But until that day comes, you cannot intervene. Your destiny does not cross his yet.”
I whirl side to side, realizing as I do that the perimeter of the building has been lit on fire. Flames creep up the walls, dancing with the pale moonlight and melting the stained glass.
“You were my brother!” I yell out. “You swore an oath!”
He frowns, nodding to me.
“I am no longer bound by any oath. I have been set free.”
My sword hits the ground, swallowed by the ground.
Which is ground no longer.
Its glass, a sea of glass tinged with fire, a beast crawling at the edge.
“And it’s time for you to be set free, my friend. The time will come when the boy must choose between us, who lives and who dies. And when he chooses you, you must not return to him a broken man.”
My body begins to grow weak. It’s a new feeling, a strange feeling.
“John’s revelation speaks of a Dragon rising from the depths. You will be that Dragon. When he brings you back, it will be the man that stands before me now. Fire and blood shall rain upon your enemies once more, and you will break the wheel that has plagued mankind since the garden.”
My legs seem to sink down into the sea, the fire wrapping around, seeping into my pores.
Becoming part of me.
“You helped me kill the boy that I was, and become who I was born to be. It’s time for me to do the same for you.”
Agony rocks my bones as the fire seems crawl down my throat, scratching and clawing for every inch it can cover.
“I’m sorry, my brother. You have had my love since you saved my life. And you shall have it ere the end of my days. You are the one the boy will choose, so I must send you to him now.”
All I can see is fire.
My clothes have burned, my body is nothing but fire. All I can see are flames.
And a hand reaching down.
With all that I have, I claw forward. My body is spent, even my blood has burned. All that’s left is the fire.
And the hand.
As I reach up to grasp that hand, I feel everything within me being consumed. All of the rage, the pain, the desire, all of it manifests itself into that final grasp of my claw towards that hand.
And as I take it, I don’t see Pedro El Salvador.
I see his son.
As if I were laying on air itself, I find that all my senses have left me. There is no longer any pain, any rage.
Is this what death feels like?
The eyes of Solomon Rhodes slowly open.
“Fire,” he croaks out.
I turn my attention to my loyal lieutenant, a man beyond reproach.
“Godfrey?” I query. “You said he would have no memory left.”
The youthful Knight gazes down at the confused Rhodes, a man I knew he once idolized yet feared.
As we all did.
But Godfrey’s eyes betray no wrongdoing, only hope.
“I did, Commander,” Godfrey finally comments, meeting my gaze. “But the will of the Lord trumps the will of man. He will have no memory of this place, of what has transpired here.”
Rhodes begins to wiggle his fingers, feeling slowly being restored. Godfrey had kept him restrained with the best injectable medicine the Order could provide. But a man of Rhodes’ strength would not be confined for long. Even now, the healing powers he has been cursed with are restoring him.
“But as I waited for his moment of awakening, he spoke in his sleep.” Godfrey continues. “He spoke of a fallen brother, of a child fathered on our sister. So driven with this knowledge is he, that I do not know if we could purge it.”
All they had found when they arrived was ash and dust. Solomon had been destroyed in fire and blood, nothing left of him but a charred husk of a body. But God had decreed he not die. As soon as they drew his body from that place, it began to heal.
As it always did.
I ordered the rescue of that husk. I commanded Godfrey, loyal to a fault, to tend to Rhodes, bring him back.
But I swore an oath.
Purge him, Godfrey. I had ordered. Remove any trace of the Templar, of who and what he was.
“Pedro?” Rhodes croaked again, strength entering his voice, almost drowning the confusion in his body.
“Not unto us, O Lord, not unto us…” I began, silencing Godfrey with my stare, waiting for the man on the table to finish.
No response. Only the confusing gaze of a man I once loved as brother.
With a nod to Godfrey, I turned to walk away, ignoring the pleas of Rhodes. Several sisters of the nunnery came to take my place. The ever-silent Godfrey joined me thereafter.
“Commander,” Godfrey whispered, his voice cracking. “I do n…”
I held my hand up.
Godfrey did not respond, instead following me outside of the small hovel that we had taken camp in. Before us sprawled a city, filled with people unburdened by what grips my heart.
“Rhodes will be treated and released from this place. His mind has been ravaged, split into shards and fragments of a life beyond his reckoning. But he has knowledge that drives him. Of a child fathered by a Templar on a nun. He speaks of an unspeakable prophecy.”
A deep breath fills my lungs. A certainty has overtaken me than I cannot describe.
“He will find them, Godfrey. In doing so, he will bring about the prophesized Holy War. The book will be found, the seals will be broken, and the bowl of God’s wrath will be poured. It’s a cruel destiny, full of fire and blood.”
My hand rises to wrap around Godfrey’s shoulder. Our eyes meet.
“But my service will end before that day comes.”
He’s a good man. He will do what I ask.
“You will take what is left of our host to America. Find the Temple, the one that we must protect at all costs. Wait for him, Godfrey. Once it’s over, once he’s sacrificed everything for us once more. Then you bring him back. This is his war, and he must command the very Templar Knights that betrayed him.”
A nod is the only response. It’s the only one I expected. Godfrey will obey.
“Goodbye, my brother. As you must go on mission, so must I.”
Before Godfrey could answer, I walked away. He did not follow.
They never do.
None except Rhodes ever have.
As I passed between several pillars, I began to shed the garments of my station as Commander. Even as Godfrey and the brothers would await the return of Solomon Rhodes, so must I, their Commander, do my part.
Their former Commander.
With my robes shed, all that remains are civilian clothes. Navigating the throngs of people, I find my destination. A single car, the driver at the ready.
“Sir, are you ready?” The driver asks.
I nod in return, climbing into the back of the car.
“We’ve got a long ride in store, sir.” The driver begins. “All provisions have been purchased. Neither of you will go hungry.”
With a smile, I open the bag he has placed in the backseat. I pull a bottle out, examining it.
“What’s your name, my friend?” I ask, taking the lid off the bottle.
“Rajah, sir.” He returns. “Yours?”
Small lips wrap around the nipple of the bottle I just opened as I smile back at the man.
The car pulls out.
“Pedro El Salvador.”
You see, Solomon Rhodes has a destiny. My son Lucas has a destiny.
It’s my job to ensure it happens. That’s my destiny.
I swore an oath.
Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Ghost.