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Mont Gisard

By David Hourani

Southern Palestine, 1177

Sweat and dust caked the young man’s hair and cropped beard as he rode the road north from Ascalon.

Youssef ibn Bakhus was the son of the Muqaddam of Ehden, the Maronite lord of the town. His father was a vassal of the Count of Tripoli, and as such, was a rear-vassal to the king of Jerusalem.

When the crusaders came to the Levant, they were surprised to find thriving Christian settlements in the mountains of Lebanon. The Maronites saw the benefit in having much needed allies in their fellow Christians from Europe, and homage was a small price to pay for security. The Crusaders recognized the asset having indigenous guides and translators would be.

Youssef and his men were trained with the bow, lance, and sword from a young age. Unlike the Franks, they fought in light armor, composed of quilted silk and hardened leather, with interlinked mail across the chest and torso. The horses they rode were slightly smaller, but were faster and had more stamina than the large European destriers their counterparts rode.

He had known the king since they were children. When offered the chance to join the king’s household two years prior, he had taken it, bringing with him thirty men from Ehden and the surrounding villages, but leaving his younger brother behind. The transition had been difficult initially. He had been looked upon with some suspicion by several of the nobles at court upon his arrival; however, over time he had earned their grudging respect, and the friendship of several.

As he rode, his mind wandered to what had led to this point.

Baldwin, the King of Jerusalem, suffered from leprosy and, as such, could not produce any heirs and the most likely candidate to inherit the kingdom would be a child of his sister Sybilla, who was recently widowed and pregnant.

Philip of Alsace, the Count of Flanders, and one of the most powerful nobles in Europe had come to the Levant on Crusade. On his arrival, he had demanded that Sybilla marry one of his vassals. Baldwin had not outright refused this as he could not afford to anger such a powerful lord. Instead, he simply did not answer and sought to form an alliance with the Greek Empire in Constantinople with the goal of striking at Egypt, hoping to threaten the base of the power and wealth of Salah al-Din, the Sultan of Syria and Egypt. When Salah al-Din learned of this, he began strengthening the defenses of Egypt and calling his levies.

Philip of Alsace had other plans. He did not want to share the wealth or crown of Egypt with the Greeks. He decided instead to move to attack northern Syria with several knights of the kingdom and the lords of Tripoli and Antioch.

With the Kingdom of Jerusalem weakened with many of its warriors in the north, Salah al-Din decided to invade from Egypt with the thirty thousand man army he had gathered for its defense. Baldwin had less than six thousand men with which to defend his kingdom.

The Frankish army had moved south to meet the Muslim threat, but as its numbers became known, they realized that a pitched battle would be futile and retreated inside the defenses of Ascalon, remaining there as Salah al-Din had moved north raiding Ramla and the surrounding villages.

Youssef now rode with three men, and they had seen no sign of Salah al-Din’s forces other than the occasional charred field or house. One of his men pointed in the distance at two riders approaching swiftly. He recognized two of his men he had sent forward with strict instructions to find Salah al-Din’s rear screen line and then return.

“Speak, Samir.”

“Lord, we came within sight of the rear-guard and baggage train.

“Were you seen,” Youssef questioned quickly.

“No, lord. There is no screen line.”

Quickly realizing the importance of this information he turned his steed back toward Ascalon. En route, he came upon more of his scouts with similar information, as well as others with information that the road south to Gaza  was clear of the Muslim army as well.

 * * * * *

When he arrived in the great hall in the Citadel of Ascalon, he found King Baldwin in quiet discussion with Joscelin of Edessa, his uncle, and Reynald de Chatillon, the lord of Transjordan and the newly appointed regent of the realm.

The lord of Transjordan looked more like a common soldier than one of the most powerful vassals of the kingdom, more comfortable in a camp than a great hall. A tall man with auburn colored hair and beard, and skin turned dark tan by years in the sun of Outremer, he had a scar ran down the under his right eye, giving him an almost sinister appearance. The younger son of a Burgundian nobleman, he had come to the Holy Land twenty years prior seeking his fortune during the Second Crusade. He found it,  becoming Prince of Antioch through marriage to the then heir, Constance of Antioch. He ruled the Principality for the next eight years and developed a reputation as a man of prowess, ruthlessness and brutality on the battlefield. Captured by Nur ad-Din in 1161, he was held in captivity for fifteen years during which his wife had died. His stepson, Bohemond had become Prince of Antioch during his imprisonment, and so upon his release, he was again landless. He traveled south to the Kingdom of Jerusalem and offered his services to the young king. King Baldwin consented to and arranged to his marriage of one of the great heiresses of the kingdom, Stephany of Milly, who was heir of the Transjordan. Reynald had returned the king’s favor with undivided loyalty.

Youssef made his obeisance before the king, but the king quickly motioned him to his feet, recognizing the urgency in his expression and step.

“Speak, Lord Youssef.”

“Salah al-Din has split his forces. His vanguard has burned Ramla and is marching on Lydda, while a portion of his army has been sent to burn the hill villages,” he paused for breath, before continuing. “He has left no screen of scouts between Ascalon and the army. The road to Gaza remains clear as well.”

All three men were quick to understand the implications of the report. The other lords in the hall turned their attention as Baldwin quickly stood to his feet, waving aside the assistance from his servants.

“Send a messenger to Gaza, instruct the Grand Master to meet us on the coastal road south of Ibelin. Call the men to arms, call out the city levies as well,” the king ordered.

“Sire, even with only part of his army, Salah al-Din will still have more than twice our numbers,” Joscelin of Edessa reminded him, “victory is in no ways assured.”

Although always one for action, the lord of Transjordan looked unsure as well, as did several of the other lords; however, the king had no doubts.

The king’s face, scarred from his leprosy, was resolute as he stared coldly at his uncle.

“I would rather face try the dubious chance of battle with the enemy than suffer my people be exposed to rape, fire and massacre, while I remain safe behind tall walls. The kingdom is my charge and I will safeguard it.”

Before the king’s uncle could argue further, Reynald de Chatillon shouted, “To arms!”

With that, the discussion was ended and the hall sprang to life. Youssef quickly gathered the rest of his men who had not been scouting with him. He saw the stepsons of the count of Tripoli, Hugh de St Omer and his brother William gathering their household knights. The summoners were riding through the streets calling the feudal levies that had gathered to arms.

Youssef was surprised by how quickly Reynald had been able to organize their forces. They numbered around five thousand men in total, with six hundred mounted knights. They left late in the afternoon and headed north along the coastal road toward Ibelin and Jaffa.

Youssef had to bridle his impatience, the speed of their march limited by their footsoldiers. Despite having their left flank covered by the sea, they were still incredibly vulnerable on the march.

It was not long before an alarmed scout road up reporting mounted men approaching the rear of the column. Most likely it was the Templars from Gaza, but Reynald dispatched Hugh de St. Omer and Balian d’Ibelin with their household knights to the rear just to be safe. Because time was of the essence, the march would not be halted.

It was not long before a messenger arrived at the head of the column reporting the arrival of the Templars, shortly followed by Odo, Hugh and Balian at the head of their knights.

The Grand Master had brought eighty knights. He joined Baldwin and Reynald at the head of the column. As they neared Azotus, a rider approached where Youssef and Hugh de St Omer were riding with their men in the column. As the rider drew closer, Youssef was surprised to see it was the lord of Transjordan.

“Lord Youssef, I want you to take your men and scout ahead east of Ibelin.”

“Yes, my lord,” he responded, spurring his Arab courser toward where his men rode in the column, he called them from the formation.

They quickly rode out along the coast before turning inland to pass east of Ibelin. They were all armed in a similar fashion to Youssef. A hardened leather vest interweaved with quilted silk and steel plates guarded their torsos. They all had quivers strapped across their backs. When they had rode out from the column, they had all strung their bows which were now secured to their saddles. They were all armed with either a sword or axe as well.

After an hour they could see Ibelin to the northwest. All around them they could see the devastation that Salah al-Din’s army had wreaked. The burned fields in the countryside surrounding Ibelin, with smoke rising in the distance from the village of Ramla itself. Night was beginning to fall and the distant campfires could be seen to the east.

They had yet to come across any significant Saracen force. It seemed as if the majority of Salah al-Din’s cavalry was north, raiding near Lydda and Arsuf.

* * * * *

When they reached the head of the Frankish column it was already dark. Youssef reported to Baldwin and Reynald what he had seen. He had left scouts out in the field and continued to get frequent reports as their host continued on through the night, driven by the will of their ailing king. Baldwin had acquiesced to riding in a litter, but only after much insistence by his seneschal and regent.

Their night was free of attack and by morning, their scouts reported they were within five miles of Salah al-Din’s camp. They had been heading inland for several hours, using the low lying hills to screen their movements as much as possible. The Bishop of Bethlehem had accompanied them with the True Cross. His face dripping with sweat even though the autumn air was cool and the sun was far less unforgiving.

One of Youssef’s men rode in out of breath about midmorning.

“Lord Youssef! Salah al-Din’s baggage train has become mired  in the mud. His rear-guard has not been able to keep contact with the main column!”

Without bothering to respond, Youssef spurred his mount to the head of the cavalry column motioning his man to follow him. Once to the king and Reynald, he motioned for his man to repeat his report. The effect was what Youssef had anticipated.

“Heavy cavalry to the center, have the infantry in the vanguard form the left wing, my lord seneschal, the command is yours,” the lord of Transjordan ordered, “my lords Baudouin and Balian,” he said, addressing the brothers Ibelin, “The command of the right wing is yours. Once the center charges, attempt to cut off their retreat south.”

The changes took place as they still moved forward. In the center a force of almost a thousand cavalry was the main thrust of the attack. The heavy Frankish knights in their full body mail, carrying heavy lances, and on their large steeds. Youssef and his men rode with the king.

They could see dust and smoke rising in the distance as they neared Ibelin and Tell Jazaar, or Montgisard, as the Franks called it. After rounding a turn, the Muslim baggage train came into view, mired in the mud of a wadi. The Frankish forces urged their horses to a high speed, leaving their foot soldiers behind. Salah al-Din’s rear guard realized too late their peril as they scrambled to form battle lines.

“Deus le volt!”

The battle cry of the kingdom rang out down the line of mailed warriors. The heavy cavalry charge crashed over the Muslim rear guard like waves against sand, killing hundreds in an instant. Horses on both sides broke their necks in the crash. Knights thrown from their mounts were quickly trampled; however, the majority of the Frankish cavalry continued on, as the Frankish infantry followed into the broken lines, killing what remained of the shocked Muslim troops.

Following the few fleeing survivors of the rear guard, they soon came into sight of part of Salah al-Din’s main body. Like the rear guard, however, the alarm was too late. As the Franks moved their horses to a hard gallop, Youssef glanced towards their center at the king who had insisted on riding into battle. Flanked by Reynald de Chatillon and his household knights, his illness seemed a thing of the past.

Looking back up, Youssef saw the yellow and green standard of Salah al Din, marking the Sultan’s presence in the field. The Frankish knights yelled their battle cry once more and pushed deep into the hastily assembled Muslim lines.

Youssef impaled a rider with his lance and unsheathed his sword. He pushed his horse towards another opponent, making quick work of him. He was in the vanguard, with the King, Reynald de Chatillon, Hugh de St Omer, and several other knights. Before he realized it, they had pushed to the center of the Muslim host, facing the elite Mamluk bodyguard of Salah al-Din.

The Mamluks were Eastern European, Slavic, and Turkish, soldiers, who had been taken from their families as young boys and sold as slaves into Muslim houses. Raised from a very young age in the art of war, they were the backbone of the Muslim army.

The fighting had slowed as the fleeing Muslims beginning to rally; however, the Franks knew that if the Sultan was to fall, the battle would be won. With this thought they threw themselves at Salah al-Din’s Mamluks.

Youssef found himself fighting a giant of a man, armed with a long curved sword called a shamshir and a shield. He pushed his mount towards the man and at the last moment threw himself at the giant. Both ended up on the ground, but only a moment before they were back on their feet. Youssef gave the man no time to regain his bearings and immediately charged, parrying a strike with his sword, before bringing his fist into contact with the man’s throat. The shock was enough for Youssef to drive home the killing strike.

The king’s men pushed forward, giving no quarter. Youssef parried a spear thrust, closing with the wielder and killing him a fluid motion. The ground became slippery with blood as the killing continued, but Youssef could feel the wave of battle pushing them forward.

Thirty paces away, Youssef saw one of Hugh de St Omer’s household knights lunge at the Sultan, whose horse reared, taking the blow in the neck. As the knight was killed instantly by one of the Mamluks, Salah al-Din deftly rolled off the falling horse.

Another adversary occupied Youssef for another moment, before he was quickly killed by the now surging Frankish forces.

Cheering caught his attention, and he looked in time to see Salah al-Din fleeing on camelback, only a handful of his bodyguards behind him. His colors, left behind, lay in the dirt surrounded by the Sultan’s dead Mamluks.

Reynald was urging on them on, and Youssef knew he was right. A commander as skilled as Salah al-Din could still rally his troops if given time. Remounted, they pushed on, but found no formed battle lines, only fleeing soldiers, leaving behind weapons, armor, and other spoils of war. Those that surrendered were taken prisoner, others were quickly dispatched. As they came to a halt, Reynald sent out lieutenants to continue the rout of the Muslim army, pushing them back towards Egypt.

Their losses had been heavy.They would find later they had suffered almost two thousand casualties, with over a thousand dead. The eight hundred wounded Franks were evacuated to the Hospital of St. John in Jerusalem.

Despite this, their mood was euphoric, for their losses were nothing compared to the decimation they had dealt to Salah al-Din. The rout continued for the next ten days, as more of the Muslim soldiers were taken prisoner and killed. Salah al-Din evaded capture, eventually making it back to Egypt; however, only ten percent of his army had survived.

* * * * *

A great feast was held in Jerusalem, celebrating the victory and the king that had lead them. Youssef watched the revelries with pride in his king, whose determination and courage had done so much to bring them the victory; however, he could not help but feel a melancholy at the same time. It would only be a matter of time before the combination of the king’s failing health and the might of Salah al-Din’s empire would place them in jeopardy once again. He looked out on the laughing, smiling faces, wondering which would be missing in a year. He forced himself out of his mood. Worries for another time. Today, they would drink.

______________________________________________________________

Dr. David Hourani is a medical doctor and student of Middle Eastern and Crusader history.

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No Better Plenitude: 1685

By James McAdams

“I have wanted to kill myself a thousand times, but am still in love with life.” 

Voltaire, Candide

Francois M. said his garden was better—“But your garden is all well and good,” he added, striding around the garden crimping leaves and smelling with evident lack of impression the flowers, shrubs, and larger vines that comprised Herrenhausen. His inflection was slow and dispassionate, indicating a sort of distracted scorn.  “Although your garden is…je nais sais quoi…far from perfect.”

“It’s not my garden,” said the Duke of Hanover.  “It was built for my brother by our famous librarian and courtier, Leibniz. I assume you know of him.”

“I too have created a garden, an opus of negation, of hybrid plants and black vines, of flesh-eating flowers.  I could describe to you the most hideous and bizarre things.”  He coiled his hands in the air, as if searching for the proper phrasing.

The Duke observed him looking in perplexity at the sandbox.  Everything about Francois M. promoted a protest against the world and a corresponding cultivation of deformity, illness, and negation. He was tall and thin, with a long red face and carbuncular, flaky skin.  His hair was shorn in uneven patches like a peasant and uncovered by the Baroque wigs and perukes affected by polite society.  One of his eyes was completely covered by its upper lid, the resulting slit looking vaguely reptilian.  

Francois M. returned to the table where the Duke sat with two officers of the court standing behind him.  He eased himself onto a chair across from the Duke, issuing a bitter groan.  He rapped on the stone pathway with his cane and said, “I must admit, my knowledge of Leibniz’s present inhabitance compelled my response to your invitation.  The best of all possible worlds, c’est ne pas?”  He scratched a tuft of hair over his ear and continued.  “Leibniz is an unreliable advocate for a cruel world, an apologist for a non-existent God, a God whom, as I have famously said, we have had to invent since He does not exist.” 

The Duke scoffed. “My wife and daughter are amused by him, for that reason alone I bear him.” 

 “Il faut cultivre notre jardin, you must agree.

“We must cultivate our own gardens, yes, that is another of your elegant aphorisms.  Well,” the Duke gestured equivocally, “I am a man too busy for gardens, aphorisms, or such twaddle.  Such is the misfortune of high office: to order and rule, but neither to love nor be loved.  Love is accepting that what who we dream of does not dream of us.” 

Francois M. clicked his tongue on his superior palate (the white bacteria indicating the presence of Candida Albicans).  “You love your daughter?” 

“She’s my daughter.

“A daughter you have requested me to mort-er… c’est ne pas?

The Duke shifted in his chair, crossing his stockinged legs beneath the table. This kind of impertinence was to be expected from Francois M., a seditious philosopher and assassin from Paris whose curriculum-vitae and –mortui were known throughout Europe.  Consultants had warned him of the philosopher’s contrarian nature, but it was this attitude of contemptuous superiority that especially tired the Duke now.

 “Still, she is my daughter,” he said, “and duty directs polite words. However, now that we have arrived at the topic, allow me provide you with some materials.”  The two officers of the court approached the table and laid several parchments and manuscripts before the Duke, who began sifting through them with his eyes inches from the table.  Francois M. raised his good eye with interest, producing the impression of a nefarious wink. The Duke pointed to one of the documents and said: “This is her room at the auxiliary palace, and this is the basement, where it is said she often is found.” 

“And whom shall I say I represent and convey?” asked Francois M. 

“Don’t concern yourself with that.”  The Duke said this with a grimace of displeasure.  “There is such debauchery there, such lack of discrimination that even servants, witches, and those who speak vernacular are invited to attend. My daughter has surrounded herself with children and dreamers, credulous simpletons who believe in fairy tales.  They will not ask of you.”

Among the materials on the table was a portrait depicting Sophie Charlotte, the sixteen-year old daughter of the Duke and Duchess of Hanover, on her wedding day last year, to Frederick, the Elector of Brandenburg. Her face, still reflecting the delicate malleability of youth, was held in the composed mien demanded by conventions of the period—to smile in a portrait was then seen as indecorous. Frederick’s arm hooked her shoulder in a proprietary manner. 

 “And where is this Herr Leibniz?” Francois M. said, collected the remaining materials from the table. 

“In the Harz Mountains, working on a windmill.”

“A windmill?”

“Just another of his schemes.”  The Duke flipped his hand to indicate scorn.  “He considers everything possible,” he added.  “The operation is unsuccessful and I’ll soon recall him.  Do you have everything you need?”

Non.”  Francois M. creased the materials for the assassination of Sophie Charlotte into the central pocket of the briefcase he carried and, after removing a scroll and writing instruments from a distal fold, resumed his seat at the table.  “I require my payment at this time.”

“Which is?”

Francois M. leaned back and tapped his cane slowly on the stone floor: “Why, naturally.”

“Why what?”

“Why must your daughter die?” 

In her chambers, the Duchess of Hanover stood in a torus-shaped gown with a correspondence about Sophie Charlotte in her hand, looking down upon the geometry of Herrenhausen.  The design, preparation, and construction of the Garden Project had been supervised by Leibniz and informed by his love for all things and curiosity regarding foreign flora, about which he frequently read.  It took nearly ten years to complete.  What he could not grow natively, he imported; what he could not import, he simulated.  The Duchess remembered Leibniz’s speculative statement that the sandbox, of which he was most proud, represented the future of possibility (in the form of what he hypothesized were constituent silicone granules), but then her thoughts returned once again to Sophie Charlotte and the letter she had just received. 

“Have the dinner arrangements for our guests been accomplished?” asked the Duke, appearing in the doorway.

“We have received another correspondence about Sophie Charlotte.”  The Duchess walked across the room with her long chin held high, handed him the letter, and walked back to the window, whose surface she pensively palmed.  “From Mathilde.” 

Mathilde had grown up with Sophie Charlotte in Hanover and had been commissioned to accompany her to Brandenburg to assist with all who knew Sophie Charlotte’s temperament (especially Leibniz) predicted would be a difficult transition. Six months ago the proud parents received the first letter from Mathilde.  Its testimony was concerning: Sophie Charlotte had damaged her crown sliding down a banister drunk; she had lost ten pounds because she refused to eat; in the neighboring laborer towns, tales circulated of orgies between her and boys with thick foreheads and no knowledge of Latin, and the way the moon twinkled her ripped moiré fabrics when she climbed down from her balcony was local myth.

“Apparently our daughter has removed herself from Frederick’s love,” the Duchess said, and even out of the palace. “She now lives, if that’s the word, in an auxiliary palace ten miles south of Brandenburg. People attend there in various masks, imbibe various spirits, and parody all civilized form.”

“I know.”

“Should we intervene?”

“It’s taken care of,” said the Duke.

 “Did you send Leibniz?”

“I don’t see why he should always be involved in family business,” the Duke muttered.   

“Sophie Charlotte trusts him. I can’t think of anyone else we can say that of.” 

“That’s why she’s like this. She was raised on those fancies of his: logical possibility, romantic love, individual dignity.”  He noticed he was speaking too rapidly and cleared his throat.  “I implicate these beliefs as the cause of this decadence, all these rash deeds.”

“I’m writing him a letter,” said the Duchess, sitting down at her desk.

“I would not advise that.” 

“But she’s our daughter!

The Duke shrugged. “We are part of something greater.  I have taken care of things.” 

 

Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz removed his spectacles, squeezed the rounded cartilage in the bump of his nose, and murmured, “So much to do, so little time,” inventing an immortal phrase for which he would never receive credit—there would be so many things for which he would never receive credit.  His brown eyes looked severe glassed behind his spectacles, but contracted into vulnerable, almost melancholy points when exposed.  The spectacles rested on the inclined draftsman’s table he sat before; the table was covered by papers with graphs, equations, designs, and correspondences he was reading while eating his eupeptic supper of brown bread and milk. 

The table and chair he sat in were the only items of furniture in the simple wood cabin which had been improvised for his stay in the Harz Mountains, the altitude of which aggravated his gout and created sinal complications.  He blew his nose.  Leibniz’s rubicund complexion and flabby broad chin were typical of a German of that time, but the ostentatious wig he wore from his days in Paris was an affectation for which he was ridiculed behind his back by the Hanoverian court and to his face by the rude Thirty-Year War veterans who labored skeptically on the construction of the windmills. Leibniz was so short and his wig so affected that it looked like a knight’s plumed helmet attached to the head of an infant, the Duke had once remarked.

Leibniz sat at his table thinking of many things, some possible, some abstract, but one thing he most definitely thought of was Hanover.  He missed Hanover, although it is true that when in Hanover he spent most of his time and energy arguing for his presence in the illustrious cities of Europe—Paris (he would never forget his years there), London, Vienna. But what he regretted when traveling was the feeling of security Hanover provided him with, a feeling that settled his nerves, and a schedule which aided his research into mathematics, physics, the natural sciences, metaphysics, Chinese ideograms, exotic geography and geology, theodicy, and logical possibility.  Most importantly, the presence of his closest friend, the Duchess. No other human—from others he often felt separated as if by a plane of glass—cured his loneliness as she did, and learning, the love of objects and words, was insufficient to cure his sense of isolation and disconnection. 

But he had other concerns than the windmill, his loneliness, and his gout—there’s always something, another phrase he often used. Two correspondences had arrived, together but exclusive. The first from the Duke, terminating the windmill experiment and ordering that Leibniz return to Hanover; the other from the Duchess, intimating that Sophie Charlotte’s emotional problems had re-surfaced in Brandenburg. Three possible decision, therefore: to Brandenburg (as the Duchess wished), to Hanover (as the Duke wished), or to remain in Harz, in service to humanity and his intellectual responsibilities.

The foreman walked through the cabin’s threshold holding his hat.  “More problems, sir,” he said.  After waiting for a minute, the foreman cleared his throat. “Herr Leibniz?”

Leibniz looked from the correspondence to the foreman.  “Indeed,” he said, standing and creasing the letter from the Duchess and placing it in a fold in his long cloak. “Let’s take advantage of this opportunity to learn,” he said, taking the foreman by his arm and walking down with him to the wilted windmill.

Leibniz arrived at the castle later that same night accompanied by Lord Pangloss, a clerk of the court whom the Duke had ordered to convey Leibniz eastward. The Lord also had an additional document written by the Duke for Francois M.

Placing his briefcase on the floor of the broad entrance hall, Leibniz looked around the castle with his ubiquitous curiosity, coughing bronchially. There were bodies passed out like the dead in Brueghel paintings, furniture broken and wet with urine, things written on walls in exotic vernaculars. He walked quietly down the steps toward the mournful sounds of a piano’s repeating tinkled notes. 

From the threshold he recognized her hair, which had been dyed with some herb with bleach-like properties and trailed down to her waist as it had when she was a child.  She was slumped on the bench, tapping with one finger the same despondent note. After a few moments of reflection, he walked away sadly, wondering what it was about this generation that made it so prone to melancholy and anomie.  How could it not perceive the wonder of things, the pre-established harmony and collaboration within the universe—how could they not find one thing to love, even if they remained unloved themselves (as he admitted he himself was unloved)? 

 

Francois M. was exhausted; he was in his room at the castle preparing the lethal concoction for Sophie Charlotte.  He had no interest anymore in making murders look like suicides.  Sure, talk of suicide epidemics for which he was significantly responsible once made him proud, but the event itself now, the way the focus of dead eyes turned in on themselves like the wilting of petals and portrayed a boredom he met nowhere but in his own looking-glass—to these his heart had grown unresponsive.

He’d killed more than a hundred, but less than a thousand. The third edition of Burton’s Anatomy of Melancholy cited statistics partially determined by Francois M. himself. He knew this, but nobody else did, which made him feel lonely. The feeling of your true self being unrecognized by others—a feeling he’d felt since he was a young child, that there was him, and there was the world, and that the two were fundamentally incompatible, separated as if by a plane of glass.  His response to this was to declare war on the Other, on that to which he could not relate. 

Lord Pangloss walked into the room, stared in wonder, and cleared his throat. With a glance, he indicated the scroll he held in his hands. 

“The Duke has requested an additional operation from you,” Lord Pangloss said. 

“Leave it.”

“Of course,” he said.

Francois M. unwound the scroll and read its brief contents, and the hint of a smile appeared on his face. He read on, a rare excitement bumping his heart. It’s one thing to portray the false suicide of a maimed Thirty-Years War veteran; yet another still, a melancholy young princess. But it’s a whole other unprecedented thing to falsify the suicide of the foremost philosopher of secular happiness, optimism, and trust in the world.  “Murder Leibniz too,” the document read. 

 

When Leibniz awoke Sophie Charlotte stood in his room’s doorway.  Her stained nightgown trailed down over her knees, below her waist where her hands fluttered, unfisted, thumbs rubbing the hem. Her gaunt eyes followed him as he stumbled erect in the bed, reaching for his peruke on the bedside table and squinting into his spectacles. He lit a candle.  Her eyes glowed and hung in her face like captured things. She twisted her mouth into a pained smile resembling a grimace and said, “I knew you would come, but I don’t speak in Latin no more.”  She shut the door behind her. “I only speak in vernacular now.”  

“I don’t like your arms,” Leibniz said. “I don’t see why.”

“They remind me,” Sophie said. “I’m trying to remember.”

“No, I don’t like them at all.”

Sophie rubbed her arms, which were covered with scars.

“You lied,” she said. “I’m not angry,” she continued, approaching the foot of the bed, “I just think that you should stop saying stuff like that to people, stuff like rumors of what’s possible.”

“Rumors of the possible?  Everything’s possible.  You know this, Sophie.”

“To be a beautiful thing, a great person, that’s what I wanted. You said I could. You said I could be beautiful and happy, doing things with people on islands with citrus. Anything’s possible, you said, in the garden so long ago, remember? The sandbox, remember?”  Leibniz didn’t say anything. He just there upright in bed, his mouth silently moving.

She walked across the room, pulling a strand of hair behind her ear, and sat down on the bed beside him.

“I love you, Sophie,” he said. “A lot of people–“

“You love everything.”

“If you live as long as I have, you will too.”

“Well I won’t live as long as you, and that’s why I ran away, to here.”

“I can whisper you a secret that will make your life amazing. Can I tell it to you?”

Sophie Charlotte shrugged, but didn’t move away. 

“Lean closer…”

 

Francois M. snuck through the castle in darkness, his hips square to the wall for feeling. His sneaking was more of an adjustment to shadows and the feeling of walls. One benefit of granite-floors: no possibility of creaking.  Then he saw a beam of light bisecting the floor below. He strode down the stairs sticking in the shadow until he arrived at the door. He leaned by the door listening, clutching the killing materials. He was happy then.  A girl’s tearful voice spoke in vernacular, but the man, his voice calm and reassuring, spoke in Latin, rhapsodizing about concepts like love, possibility, and optimism.  It was Leibniz.  Francois M. stood there in the shadows, listening, his heart beating faster than it had since he was young, when everything seemed possible, before the betrayals, frustrations and loneliness of adult life had turned his child’s curiosity and trust into ennui and desperate rage.  He pulled out the potions, uncorking the bottles and approaching the door. 

______________________________________________________________

James McAdams has published fiction in Temple’s TINGE Magazine and Carbon Culture Review, serial microfictions in the Annals of American Psychotherapy, as well as forthcoming fiction pieces in per contra and Modern Language Studies. Before matriculating at college, he was a social worker in the Philadelphia suburbs. Currently, he is a Ph.D. candidate at Lehigh University, where he teaches writing, tutors, and edits the university’s literary journal, Amaranth.

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If I Never Get Back

Written by Darryl Brock

470 pages

Published by Plume Books

Review by Paula Day


I am a lifelong baseball fan. Growing up in southern California, some of my fondest memories of childhood was laying on the carpeting in the living room listening with my father to the Los Angeles Dodger baseball games as they were being called by Vin Scully. I have never left my love of baseball behind, and I was thrilled to discover the baseball historical novel If I Never Get Back and its sequel, Two in the Field.

If I Never Get Back is set during the post-Civil War era, the baby days of baseball. Samuel Clemens Fowler (named for Mark Twain) steps off a train and discovers that he has left the twentieth century behind and arrived in 1869. Sam soon finds himself joined with the Cincinnati Red Stockings, the first professional baseball team. As Sam joins his new teammates on their first cross-country tour, he meets his namesake Twain and inadvertantly invents the bunt.

Darryl Brock does a fine job creating the same fish-out-of-water feeling we find in Twain’s A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court. We have a strong sense of Sam’s outsidedness as he mingles with men with different opinions and different wordviews and even different rules for baseball. During the early development of baseball there were few, if any, rules to the game. It was each man for his own as the men played without gloves and the catcher wore no protective gear.

Fans of baseball will enjoy Brock’s realistic baseball scenes. You can feel yourself at the ballgames, watching the balls whiz by overhead, hearing the snap of the bats and the cheers of the crowd. Learning little-known details about the beginnings of baseball is a good thing for any baseball fan since baseball fans like to out-do each other in their knowledge of the game. If I Never Get Back is a great read for baseball fans as well as for those with an interest in post-Civil War America.


Paula Day is the Review Editor of The Copperfield Review and the Managing Editor of Copperfield Press. She lives in Los Angeles, California.

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