• By the Grace of God
    In the year of 1095 A.D., Pope Urban II proclaimed the start of the First Crusade, to regain the Holy Land from the Muslims. It raged on for nine years, trapped in a deadlock. Enter Madrileno, a knight from the recently established Order of the Knights of the Catholic Church, an order dedicated to creating a sect of expert knights controlled exclusively by the pope and the catholic church. These knights are seen as the way to a final and crushing victory against the Muslims in the near battle that will determine the final rulers of Jerusalem and the Holy Land.

    Madrileno sighed as he walked through the church halls, his footsteps echoing upon the flagstones with a dull thump. He was heading towards the pope's chambers to seek an audience with him, as he was to be blessed today. Madrileno was off to join in the crusade in the Holy Land, and he wished to have some assurance that he would indeed come back. Being a fresh new knight, Madrileno was twenty-two years old, but had proved himself to be an expert at the art of battle. He had long brown hair and a short beard, and he stood six-foot-two.
    Madrileno had heard stories of the atrocities committed by the Muslims in the Holy Land, and of the violent deaths that many had found awaiting them there. These tales had put his nerves on end, and he feared for his safety. Yet at the same time, he knew that God would protect him in his endeavor to retake Jerusalem from the Muslims.
    Madrileno finally arrived at the doors to the pope's meeting chambers, magnificent grand double doors, carved in the typical ornate style of the Italian wealthy, and decorated with gold and fine jewels. He raised his hand and knocked on the door, which soon opened up to reveal a small crowd of nobles and religious authority, with the pope sitting upon a throne.
    As Madrileno walked up to the foot of the throne, a man cried out “All here today witness the official recruitment and blessing of Madrileno of Rome by the great and holy Pope Urban II.”
    Madrileno finished his march up to the throne, and kneeled before it. As he did so, the pope raised his hand in the gesture of blessing and moved it over Madrileno's head. After he finished, he said “Rise, Sir Madrileno, Knight and official member of the Catholic Church! By the grace of God, I now send you off to fight in the crusade for the glory of your holy Father, that you might win the Holy Land of Jerusalem from the Muslim threat.” As he called out these words, the crowd burst into a flurry of clapping, and Madrileno stepped down and greeted his friend Alberto.
    “Look at you!” he said, “A full blown knight now, in the service of the holy Lord himself. It's about time one of us went off to teach those Arabs a lesson. Once we get there, those Muslims won't know what hit them. Just make sure you save me some, eh?”
    Madrileno laughed at his friend, “I'll make sure to leave you some to fight. I swear it on God's name.” he said as he laughed again. Alberto had been Madrileno's friend ever since they got into a fight when they first joined the order. Alberto was a year younger than Madrileno, and had short blond hair, with a clean-shaven face. They had grown up together, and trusted each other with their lives.
    Madrileno went back with Alberto to the academy where they met up with a few other friends. They all had a feast at Madrileno's to celebrate his knighting, and the prospect of finally being able to fight for God in the crusade. They spent all night out in the Vatican City, feasting, drinking, and enjoying themselves, secretly fearing the prospect of one of their own going out into the Holy Land, and possibly never coming back. Only Madrileno retained his ever present sense of complete assuredness in his safety, an assurance brought about only by a complete faith in his God.
    The next few days Madrileno spent in further intense training, learning the Muslim's battle techniques and how to conquer them. When not training, he spent his time in prayer or with a few friends. As his training neared it's end, he gradually shifted into spending more time with friends and the little of his family that he was able to see. Much of his family did not show up to see him off, as his grandfather, the family patriarch, had split him from the rest of the family for a long forgotten family crime.
    On the final day before he was to set off with a legion of other knights, his sister arrived from Venice to wish him luck. She and a few servants arrived at Madrileno's house in the evening, and he spent dinner with his sister, Evelina.
    “Big brother,” she said, “Do you promise you'll come back to see us all again? I'm sure that when you come back to Italy, grandfather will allow you back into the family.”
    He looked at her for a long time, thinking about what she had said. Finally he replied “I promise that I will come back from the Holy Land, even if I have to kill the Muslim leader to do it. And when I come back, I'll prove to everyone that I'm not some worthless object to be hidden away and forgotten. I promise that I shall have my honor.”
    After spending a few more hours with his sister that night, Madrileno went to bed. He awoke bright and early, and got ready in his full armor. It was a splendid silver, with an ornate golden cross on the chest piece, forged out of silver that had been taken from the Holy Land itself. He set off for the docks, where he and the rest of his legion, which he would be second-in-command of, would catch a boat to Greece. Once in Greece, they would march to join their brothers in combat in the crusade.
    When he caught up with the knights at the docks, they marched in procession to the ship, waved off by an immense crowd. Among the members of the crowd, he saw Evelina and Alberto. He quickly rushed over to them. “So, this is goodbye then.” he said quietly.
    “So it is.” replied Alberto. “I wish you Godspeed Madrileno, and I've never told you this, but you are like a brother to me.”
    “You have no idea how much that means to me, with no family of my own.” Madrileno said, then turned to his sister. “I will miss you, whether I'm part of the family or not.” he told her.
    “And I'll miss you too, big brother. Make sure to bring me something back from Jerusalem, okay?” she said with tears in her eyes.
    “I will.” he promised. He then stepped back and looked at both of them. “You two are the only family I will ever truly see as my family. I will return, make no mistake. I have the will of God on my side.” Then, looking at Alberto he said “I will see you soon, my friend. Make sure to hurry with your training. I can't wait to see you there.” And with that, he walked away and filed on board the ship with his legion, not knowing that he would never see his beloved Vatican as it was now again. “By the grace of god.” he whispered to himself as the ship set sail, heading towards Greece and the Holy Crusade.