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My Sun, My Stars, & the Whole of My Sky

Chapter Text

 

 

Chapter 1: Starting on the Path of Destiny

 

|| NICKY ||

 

            For as long as he could remember, Nicolò di Genova had been a man of God.

 

            Even as a young boy, with no comprehension of any true hardships of the world, Nicolò had found solace and inspiration within the majestic rituals of Church.

            As the youngest child of a fairly significant noble of Genoa, the fifth son of seven children with features as delicate as his sisters’, Nicolò was well educated by some of Genoa’s greatest scholars and doted upon by the entire household. He was instructed in Latin and Greek and even one variety of the merchant Arabs’ tongue. He received lessons in literature, art, and mathematics as well as sword-training, dancing lessons, and archery and music instruction. His interest in ecclesiastical studies was not only indulged, but broadly encouraged— particularly when he showed promise with being able to maintain the stillness, silence, and studious mindset necessary for a priest.

            Nicolò formally joined the clergy when he was ten years old, serving first as an alter boy and then as a fully instituted acolyte when he relinquished all his earthly ties to serve His will among the most wretched of His children. He was fully ordained as a priest by his 20th year and spent his days proving aid and solace to Genoa’s poor out of the Duomo di Genova, San Siro[1].

            Attending the Archbishop directly, Nicolò became a priest of considerable prominence at a fair swiftness compared to many brothers of his Order. That swiftness caused the other brothers to like him rather less than optimal, but when Nicolò took his vows to rescind his bonds of familial blood, he was not given any expectation that his new brothers would truly act as a Family to replace the one he’d given up to take the cloth.

            God was his Family now, and His children were Nicolò’s flock.

            While he mourned the loss of such familial closeness, Nicolò found he didn’t truly mind the imposition of solitude all that much. He’d know love a plenty as a child, and while a piece of him yearned to feel such warmth again, it was simply part of his holy struggle to be tempted to crave more of a close connection to his brothers than was freely offered. Nicolò managed to best his own desires with an exertion of acetic masculinity[2] and settle fully into his new life.

 

            Instead of allowing himself to wallow in the sinfulness of yearning, of wishing for things not automatically or freely given (even something so seemingly simple as a warm, familial connection to his new brothers), Nicolò focused on accomplishing his mission as a warrior of God’s good will on earth.

 

            His role was to help Genoa’s people and Nicolò threw himself into his work.

            He had ample strife to work at easing.

 

            The Saracens[3] had been growing bolder over the last few decades, taking their piracy deeper inland and daring to attack larger targets. Various points along the coastline claimed by the port of Genoa had been sacked a dozen times a year, every year, since Nicolò was old enough to be afraid. His family had been fortunate, and powerful enough to ensure their own protection, but Nicolò knew that many families had lost everything.

 

            He knew that many families continued to lose everything.

 

            It was the call of the Divine that lead him to take up this cause as his own, and using his significant position at the Archbishop’s right hand along the judicious press of his sparse words to secure resources for the victims he served, Nicolò was able to alleviate much of his city’s suffering.

 

            He has spent the last ten years helping his people in the wake of the Saracen plague—sometimes even fighting off the pirate invaders himself using the long sword of Damascus[4] steel that Nicolò’s father had given him as one last gift to commemorate his filial piety upon formally tying his Fate to the cloth in being fully ordained.

            The long sword, the Genoese knife[5] he’d received as a child upon his first communion, and the beautifully crafted Genoese crossbow[6] he’d received upon his Christian confirmation… three weapons of godliness and beauty, weapons he’d been trained for all his life to wield.

 

            Each day Nicolò wakes and prays and helps his fellow man, sometimes by killing those who would harm the innocents, he feels a resonance with Divine and knows with utter certainty that the path he walks is the one his fate was meant to let him find.

            His life is sparse and cold in some ways, as he has few close friends and fewer personal possessions, but it is rich and warm in others as he basks in the heady relief he inspires in those innocent, wholly devout people he can aid directly and as he pursues yet more knowledge of the world and how it can be helped.

            His days are divided between handing out alms to the desperate, rations of food and woolen blankets and household goods, and mercilessly thwarting Saracen raids.

            Nicolò grows evermore cool and calculated as his days drag on in Genoa. He doesn’t understand these Saracens, doesn’t understand how a whole culture of people could seemingly be arranged around the concept of taking what is not theirs to have.

            He doesn’t understand how it seems like so many other people in this world seem content to simply let them continue to pillage instead of taking this fight to them

 

            What Nicolò does understand is that the Saracens have taken his God’s Holy Land away from the children who would worship Him in pilgrimage.

            What Nicolò entirely understands is that when the Pope calls for the Milites Christi[7] to fulfill an even higher calling, Nicolò’s Faith and warrior skills could serve the Crusade[8] well— he understands that serving in the Crusade is to enact God’s will on earth in a broad sense that could inspire millions of lost souls to find their way to the True Faith.

 

            The day the Pope’s recruitment missive arrives, when the sermon calling all good Christians to arms to fight the encroaching plague of the heathen horde, Nicolò packs his bags.

 

            Within a few weeks, he has made his pilgrimage to Rome and heard Mass at the Vatican. He has been blessed and pardoned by the Pope himself. There, Nicolò is soon given the heavily quilted chausses and gambeson provided by the Pope to his noble soldiers, and he’s fitted the material and the mail hauberk underneath a laminar chest plate gifted to him by his mother.

            On top of all of it, he wears the white surcoat with the red cross of holy purpose as found in the flag that flies above the Duomo di Genova, a symbol of home and hope and divine agency emblazoned on his chest[9]. He has his long sword, his knife, and his crossbow. He is given a great sword to carry, as well. Nicolò is armed to the teeth, and already well-schooled in death.

 

            He has a holy purpose and the Fateful guidance of the Divine.

 

            A month later he’s on a well-appointed ship with another new band of brothers[10], of brothers in arms, and they’re facing the desert where Jesus Christ himself once walked.

 

            It’s a land that his people have been too long barred from by the threat of heathens.

 

            Nicolò knows it in his bones that it is God’s will he be part of what makes this land, once more, clean and free and peaceful. He does not for a second question this conviction, never for a moment believes his vision and his inspiration might be false.

 

            He does not even question it when he dies in the late hours on the final day of the siege.

 

 

            This is the Path his God means for him to walk in glory.

 

 

 

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|| JOE ||

 

 

            Yusuf ibn Ibrahim ibn Muhammad ibn al-Kaysani was born into a merchant family in Tunis[11] while the city was under the full embrace of the Fatimid Caliphate.

            He was raised to love art and music and stories from both near and distant lands.

 

            Yusuf has spent his thirty-three years of life that Allah has graced him with, thus far, travelling and learning and experiencing the full majesty of Allah’s miraculous kaleidoscope of Creation.

            He has found many things, many people and places and pieces of art and poetry, that he loves with heartfelt depth. He has also found a few things he hates.

 

            Ships crowded with sweaty, unwashed soldiers is one such thing that Yusuf has found he hates… As a merchant’s son, he shouldn’t be so seasick as he is, but the crush of his fellow soldiers— the others who have answered Governor Iftikhar ad-Duada’s call to arms to defend the Holy City of Jerusalem[12]— is enough to put a sick and cloying scent in the air.

 

            And even after departing the ship, the situation for Yusuf does not improve.

 

            Antioch is a large enough city, but it was never meant to host 17,000[13] soldiers in addition to its normal, civilian population— especially not when that population is bloated by refugees streaming in from stolen cities and razed country villages...

            Life is cramped and uncomfortable and putrid, with awful smells, awful food, and the awful company of soldiers who’ve never been raised to know their own short-sightedness.

 

            He does not want to be here, to be in Antioch or Jerusalem or any of these lands, at all.

            But he also could not bear to leave.

 

            He is here to defend the homes and holy sites of his people. He is here to avenge his father and brother, innocent merchants slain without provocation by Byzantine swords, for his eldest brother slain ten years earlier by blades dipped in Genoese greed. He could not even retrieve their bodies for proper funerary rites.

            Yusuf had failed them and has resigned himself to never being able to correct that.

            This is his penance.

 

            Allah is merciful, and Yusuf’s dedication to His service would surely earn his father and his brothers their places in paradise despite Yusuf’s failure to perform the proper rites.

            So, Yusuf will Serve.

            And he will not complain aloud.

            He will not dwell on how desperately his misses his mother and his sisters, or his youngest brother… How deeply afraid he is for the security of their futures.

            He will not wallow in the ache of how much he misses the long days of studying at the knee of the masters collected by the University of Al-Azhar in Cairo[14].

            He will not mourn the invaders he slays, no matter how well he knows that the lives of all humans are precious to Allah. The invaders, these self-righteous Franks and Byzantines, they come to these lands with hate in their hearts and seek little more than to sully the holy sites of Islam with their vicious, sanctimonious blood-letting.

 

            Yusuf steels himself as the invaders set up camp, obscenely close to Antioch’s walls.

 

            It’s a show of confidence that leaves the invaders vulnerable to skirmishes and even projectile attacks from Antioch’s walls. It’s clear they don’t mind the losses as more and more soldiers from the West arrive with every day that dawns.

            Their people did not prepare for the might of Islam as they ought. Disease seems prominent, from what Yusuf can see, as well as the lethargy unique to starvation[15].

            And yet, still the battle rages. The relentless tide of new arrivals from the West inevitably begins to drown the storm-tossed city.

 

            Months roll on in the siege and Antioch’s own stores of food and water begin to dwindle.

 

            The siege is a constant slaughter, on both sides[16].

 

            Yusuf leads the men he has been entrusted with as well as he is able, and his men do sustain less-than-average losses while claiming twice as many invader lives as any other unit, but it is not enough.

            He is proud of how he’s served his men. He is proud of all the invaders he has stopped.

            But there are always more of the enemy arriving at each dawn, and always fewer of his own men surviving at each dusk… It wears on him terribly and he grows to hate the invaders with the ferocity of something utterly inhuman.

            This war, and all its senseless slaughter, is their fault, they brought this to the Empire’s[17] peaceful shores. This land they claimed as holy ground, that they believed they found holier than the people who currently held it sacred, is drenched in blood and viscera in their hateful ‘cleansing’ meant to purge it of those they consider ‘infidels’.

 

            Yusuf screams that sentiment at the enemies he faces each time he engages in their senseless fighting.

            He screams at them of Allah’s love and how their bloody, vicious God has no place inside the hearts of any man with civilized intentions.

 

            They scream back.

            Yusuf knows enough of their words to pick up bits of meaning in the language hurled at him in the cacophony of battle.

            They snarl petty insults and low-brow slurs.

            He replies with much more graphic and creative imagery.

 

            And then, months into the Siege[18] with the count of lives lost on either side too vast to even estimate, Yusuf knows the city is lost.

            He wakes to the realization with sudden clarity, about mid-day.

            By evening, when the invader force does finally withdraw for the night as darkness seeps into the field of battle, Yusuf knows the other defenders suspect that something has changed.

 

            They do not realize what until the invaders are attacking them from within the city[19].

 

            Yusuf helps organize the retreat to the Citadel.

 

            He still loses nearly all the men he fights beside. Those of own command have all been killed before they reach the half-way mark.

 

            And as he covers the final escape, holding the path for as long as possible, he spies an invader stepping just a bit more recklessly than others.

            His armor is clearly good enough to make him feel confident in pushing harder than his fellows, and his bloodlust is more than evident in the stains on his once-white tunic.

 

            Yusuf despises him with a ferocity beyond all reason, with a venom he has not felt before.

 

            He shoves his bloody sword through his belt and picks up the bow of a fallen comrade—pulling an enemy’s arrow from his corpse. It’s not Yusuf’s smartest idea, but the gate to the Citadel is mere yards behind him and he desperately wants to kill this one last invader before he falls back into the dubious safety of the Citadel.

 

            Yusuf takes aim at the one clear weak spot in the invader’s armor: the lose hang of the mail coif about his head, exposing just a sliver of his bare throat.

 

            He draws and fires and knows that he’s hit home. This invader will die coughing on his own lungs— swiftly enough to be surely dead, but slowly enough to make his suffering sufficient for Yusuf to revel in the righteous vindication.

 

            But as the invader’s hand flies to his neck, he turns and spots Yusuf throwing down his borrowed bow. Their eyes meet and Yusuf freezes— stilled by an unknown force as the invader’s startlingly clear glass green gaze bores into his own.

 

            Time appears to slow from Yusuf’s perspective.

 

            The invader’s off hand drifts toward his back, pulls a cross bow around— already armed and primed to fire. The invader draws the heavy wooden object up to aim.

            His fingers squeeze the trigger as he falls to his final rest.

 

            The bolt flies across the distance between him and Yusuf— striking Yusuf in the gut, slightly to one side. Yusuf cannot believe the invaded aimed to hit his liver, but he believes that he aimed to kill as certainly as a dying man could hope to aim for.

 

            Yusuf’s last thoughts are jumbled. A prayer to Allah, full of something like relief. A flash of longing to see his family once more. And some chaotic strike of deep emotion resonating like a bell within him as fleeting images of perceptive green eyes fill his mind with glorious song.

 

 

 

            And as this world goes dark, a final prayer of thanks to Allah flits across his tongue.

 

 

 

 

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Historical Notes:

 

 

 

[1] San Siro, later re-named as the Basilica of St Syrus, was founded as Genoa’s primary roman catholic cathedral (and the seat of power for the Archbishop of Genoa) in the 5th or 6th century CE. It existed outside the main defensive walls of Genoa and would have been in the midst of being viciously and routinely ravaged by pirates (primarily of Middle Eastern origin) when Nicky would have been working there. The threat was so active at this time that by 1110 CE, moving the seat was indisputably necessary. The title of Duomo di Genova was transferred to San Lorenzo (consecrated in 1118 CE), but San Siro would’ve been called the Duomo at the time Nicky served there. I’ve made him a sort of warrior-priest / monk in the fashion of the Milites Christi, a pseudo-knighthood that was an ideal more than it was an organization but served as inspiration and precursor to the Knights Templar (founded 1119 CE). Nicky serves the victims of an area of historically prominent high piracy and he occasionally fends off direct pirate attacks on the church itself, honing his warring skills (and stoking a hatred of the ‘Saracens’) in a historically plausible manner that could dig deep-rooted feelings.

[2] The Christian Dogma at this point in time was so unbelievable retroflexed, man… I can’t even begin to explain it all here. We will be getting into the ridiculous details of it all as things move forward and specific points become directly relevant to Nicky’s internal struggles. There will be angst.

[3] ‘Saracens’ is an aggregate term for all Middle-Eastern looking persons in contact with the so-called ‘civilized’ Western World. It does not acknowledge any variance between Middle-Eastern cultures, nor any variance in creed of Islam (or other religions). It was coined by Europeans who could not be arsed to tell the difference between various non-western peoples and it’s a bit like Americans calling their various indigenous populations ‘the Indians’. It is a historically accurate term and Nicky is using it with an accurately racist and xenophobic mindset. His example here is not to be followed and I do not condone it (even Nicky will come to hate such generalized dismissiveness).

[4] ‘Damascus Steel’ is a particularly strong and beautifully patterned variety of worked Wootz Steel, imported to the Near East from southeast Asia (it’s basically invincible, swords from the Crusades era can still hold an edge that can slice through a woolen habbard and leather laminar like butter, and bend with over 30 degrees of flex without snapping, to this day). Damascus steel was imported to places like Venice, Rome, and Genoa from the 5th century CE up to the 1700’s CE, though most crusader swords were of far lower quality. Most Damascus steel weapons were curved, Eastern weapons, but there are examples of such steel being worked into Italian ‘broad’ rapiers (more on that below). Nicky is the son of a wealthy noble in a State gaining power, it is a reasonably plausible gift.

[5]Genoese knives are really cool. They kinda look like awkward kitchen knives and are used in a very unique fencing style that is particular to the Genoa school; a hyper-aggressive, whirling sort of dual-wielding with a long sword that is essentially a fat, broad fuller rapier (prior to the introduction of the word rapier into swordcraft lexicon), about 2~3 inches across and 34~36 inches long, delineated from a long sword by the consistently narrowing grade between its hilt and its tip (most long swords have nearly straight lines from the hilt down to a triangular bend into the tip). In the Movie, Nicky has a two-handed, fat, triangular thing I think is a Frankish greatsword (admittedly I’m not as well versed in that particular weapon as I am in other elements of this history). He looks awesome wielding it, so he’ll carry that too, eventually, but also, I want some high style Genoese fencing for Yusuf to drool over.

[6] The Crossbow is another weapon particularly famous in relation to Genoa in the Medieval Period. There’s nothing particularly special about the crossbow manufacture or the training given to crossbowmen, but the crossbow was a staple of Genoese warfare in a way it simply wasn’t elsewhere. Every single trade ship leaving Genoa or flying Genoese colors was required to contract with Genoese crossbowmen for official protection. It was really more of a racket than an elite military unit, but it’s something so critical to the Genoese identity (and to Nicolo’s formation in becoming a sniper) that the crossbow could not be left out.

[7] Again, the Milites Christi, or ‘soldiers of Christ’ are not a real Organization, but an ideal of priestliness. It’s a little like being a ‘gentleman’, not exactly a defined class of people, but still a fairly rigid code of conduct in how one behaves as a priest that truly deserves to serve the Almighty God of Medieval Christians.

[8] ‘Crusade’ is not a term that was used to reference the First Crusade in any way until well after a hundred years had passed since it commenced. The war was known contemporaneously as a Pilgrimage, and the Crusaders were most-often referred to as Pope Urban’s Pilgrims. I’m using the term Crusade here mainly to highly Nicky’s early hyper-convictions. As there were several other terms for ‘by the cross’ or ‘for the cross’ that did develop contemporaneously to mark specific efforts against pagans and such, often cleared by Church dictum to be counted as active penance, the term is not entirely foreign and a zealot like Nicky could’ve possibly used one.

[9] The Classical Crusader surcoat would not have been something any of the First Crusade’s soldiers wore. It only came into play in the 12th Century CE as the Knights Templar took semi-formal control of the Crusading efforts and became the formal envoys of all of Christendom in the Holy Lands. However, they almost indisputably stole the image from the Genovesi flag. The Genovese showed up at a lot of pretty important battles in a manner that both seemed very Deus ex Machina and legitimately turned the tides of several struggles, so they honestly became a bizarre symbol of Faith and Holy Purpose nearly half a century before their flag was coopted. While it’s unreasonable to think that many of the other Pilgrims of this first Holy Trek, the Genovesi plausibly DID wear something reminiscent of what modern people picture as ‘Crusader’ garb.

[10] I’m having Nicky at Antioch only after a pilgrimage to Rome for plot convenience reasons, because I think Nicky would want to be blessed directly by the Pope prior to embarking on a Holy War. Genoese ships did arrive at Antioch in November of 1097, so I’m using those to date reference... My brain just wants them leaving from Rome.

[11] I’m saying Joe is from Tunis, Tunisia because as we collectively know his movie actor, Marwen Kenzari, is Tunisian. It’s also a place far enough away from Antioch to make a sea-voyage between those two points a very uncomfortable thing for a man who gets at all seasick. Tunis, as Tunis, DID exist during the reign of the Fatimid Caliphate, and the area had been a significant ‘way station’ of trade under the Roman Empire, so it’s perfectly reasonable to think that a prominent merchant family from within the Caliphate would have been based there. The Ancient Carthage connection will also impact Yusuf’s eventual conversations with Andy.

[12] The Arabic name for Jerusalem is Al-Quds, but they would have known that most of the other cultures with claims on the city called it Jerusalem, especially as both Al-Quds for ‘Holy Place’ and Shalem (from which Salam or ‘peace’ is derived) are words with etymologies traced directly back to Hebrew words for the region, so Jerusalem would’ve been a word with clear meaning to Yusuf in 1099 CE, and for clarity’s sake, I’ll keep the city’s name consistently ‘Jerusalem’ even when flipping between PoVs.

[13] I can’t remember the exact numbers, nor locate the papers I have with the more formal historical research involved, so this number is pulled from Wikipedia, but it //sounds// right from what I remember.

[14]Found in the mid-to-late-900’s CE, it was basically the Yale or Princeton of the Fatimid Caliphate, perfect for the second son of a noble merchant family to spend years and years in academia.

[15] If the 11th Century had prizes for understatement, Yusuf would win them all for that blithe summation. A ‘constant slaughter on both sides’ barely covers the horrors of depravity at Antioch.

[16] Seriously. Antioch did not go well. It’s claimed as a definitive Crusader victory, because they killed all of the defenders and utterly destroyed the relief force, but they still lost like 30~40,000 people and nearly every single horse they’d brought (and most of the ones they stole after arriving, too). The Crusaders, alone, lost more lives at Antioch than even participated (on both sides) in the Siege of Jerusalem the following year. And that’s without counting any of the civilian casualties, of which there were /thousands/.

[17] Antioch was located within the Seljuk Empire, as an imperial state under Emir Yaghi-Siyan. It was contested space prior to the Crusader arrival, as the various Caliphates who opposed Turkish rule wanted all the same cities for themselves. However, when Antioch fell to the Seljuks in 1085 CE, pushing the Byzantines out of Syria altogether, it was considered a great collective win for Muslim peoples. The Fatimid Caliphate had only just won Jerusalem back from the Seljuks in 1098 CE, but when the Crusaders arrived, the Muslim peoples all fought against them while semi-united in their goals, with the Fatimid Caliphate focused on Jerusalem, but sending support to the Turks, and getting support in turn (if a bit grudgingly). That ridiculously over-simplifies the situation, but I wanted to make it fairly clear that it IS plausible for a Fatimid fighter to have been at Seljuk-owned Antioch. I think giving Nicky & Joe a full year of dreaming about each other makes the transitions I throw them through feel more viable.

[18] The first Crusaders arrived at Antioch in late October, 1097 CE. The city was captured in the first days of June, 1098 CE (except for the Citadel at the city’s heart). The Emir Yaghi-Siyan was captured and beheaded, but his son managed to repel the Crusaders from the Citadel long enough for a relief army to arrive.

[19] The crack in the Siege at Antioch was a classic example of standard spycraft: Invader makes defender friend, promises to save defender’s family if defender leaves gate open for invaders, defender does so, invader proceeds to slaughter //everyone// including the supposed ‘friend’…

 

 

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