It was said everywhere that Ararat was the safest and most fortified city in the region. It was the center of trades, where hundreds of regions converged to exchange silk, spices, fruits, cereals, and grains. But it was not the safest because it had the strongest walls ever built, but also because it was the home of the great commander and Duke Orlando The Second; a title granted by the monarch of the province for decimating the enemy hordes that were scourging the territory and keeping the pagans at bay, who were threatening to become a powerful force.
Orlando came from a very ancient lineage of renowned representatives of the blue blood and it was even said that God himself had granted him his immortality in battle. His ability and strategy in combat only matched his great hatred for the enemies of his beloved God and obviously the city of Ararat. He never took prisoners during the contests, for all opponents of the king and his God were to be destroyed.
But like every human being, he succumbed to an accursed plague, sent from Hell itself, which struck his battalion in one of the hundreds of crusades he was undertaking to extend the kingdom of the Highest. But his iron determination made him immune to the ravages of the plague, and, driven mad by fever, he murdered all his generals and lieutenants by mistaking them for adversaries; thus destabilizing and decimating the power of his army before a mob of hundreds of heathens who took advantage of the opportunity.
Yet he did not fall before his opponents, but assessed the situation and gave orders for the withdrawal of the few remaining soldiers; during his flight, he fell into a river which dragged him to an unknown shore.
Fortunately, he was found by a widow who used to live near the river; she used to help the needy, although she recognized the military uniform he was carrying, and kindly rescued the duke. Thanks to the knowledge of medicinal plants transmitted as a child by her mother, inherited from her ancestors, she recognized the symptoms of the plague of which the duke was a victim. She soon prepared a concoction that gradually brought the great commander back to health.
The days passed and the fever and symptoms disappeared. Orlando was able to communicate with the woman because of his great knowledge of the languages of the region. He appreciated the details that she made for him, in the delicious meals she prepared for him, the fragrances with which she impregnated the tub for the baths with warm water that she prepared for him, and in keeping his clothes extremely clean.
He learned from her that blood was red in all human beings, including his. Even though he had been brought up under a male-dominated regime, where women had no rights, she made him see that she was more than just a maid.
Unfortunately, misfortune dawned one day, to his surprise and pain, Orlando found the woman kneeling in prayer before the pagan god. Full of anger, blinded by his frustration at having been deceived and confused by sweet words, he took up his sword. Surprised eyes looked down at the dawn when the fury of the cold steel pierced her chest for the last time.
"It is ironic to think that a poor, helpless, tiny woman could make you so afraid, great general"
Words that were engraved in his mind forever. Later, he was rescued by a squad from the shire and returned safely to Ararat.
No matter how much time passed, even in his most secret confessions and even paying the penances granted by the clergy for his atonement, he could never erase the words of the pagan woman. They tormented him continually. He began to wonder if his motives justified his actions. Did he do well to kill the woman? who only healed him when he was most vulnerable, but did not give him up to his enemies.
But she was a pagan, praying to the pagan god, the enemy of his belief, his king and his convictions. She had to be destroyed.
But a small voice inside him upset his thoughts with a word: Why?
Thus beginning to discern and abhor some common and sacred practices of the doctrine he professed and defended with his sword. Was he beginning to doubt his faith?
Was his concept of right and wrong mistaken?
One afternoon, among his belongings, hidden inside a saddlebag, an unknown book was found tied with a ribbon with familiar patterns, which evoked the stormy memory of the pagan woman.
For a moment he thought of throwing it into the fire, but his inner voice decided to know what made it different from his. Disturbed, he discovered that her belief was not far from being different from his. Perhaps they could even have some common bond. Faced with this revelation, he decided to confirm his suspicions in the books hidden by the priests and authorities of the dogma he worshiped so much.
His frustration reached its peak when he corroborated that both religions had a common origin. All this time his beliefs had been manipulated. Both his enemies and he were fighting for the same cause, defending their beliefs. But the irony was that both were the children of the same father and creator of all that was known. Streams of the same river.
The walls of the great Ararat fell as soon as Orlando, disappointed by the beliefs instilled in him, decided to abandon his belongings, his legacy, his title, and the fate of the region. The world needed to open its eyes to the understanding and reality that he had found, unfortunately, could only be obtained through bloodshed. But his sword would never be wielded to defend any religion or cause, but to do justice.
It was then that the tormenting words of the pagan woman left his mind.
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