- Jul 22, 2008
November 5, 1189
Neptune had raised cold wind from the north that was beating a light rain into the sails. Water struck canvas in persistent muted rhythms, echoing the drums from the camps of King Richard the Lion-Hearted, fading into the horizon off the stern. Flames played against the night sky above Messina and cast wavering shadows across sullen faces of Sicily's sons and daughters. Weary admirals of Tancred's fleet nodded grimly in consolation with wizened generals of King William the Good's army. These men had fought generations worth of wars together in a few short decades. First Greece and Cyprus, then Saladin and a horde of heretics. Germans from the Holy Roman Empire.
Tonight was neither the first nor the last time they would watch men die and cities burn. But tonight was supposed to be filled with music instead of flames; tears of joy in place of cries of anguish. Tonight was supposed to be peace and celebration. Richard's sister had married William, and it was thought that this alliance between England and Sicily would allow both Kingdoms to stand off against France and Germany, bringing a peace to their children that neither realm had ever known. On his way to the Holy Land, the Lion-Heart had stopped in Messina to celebrate. It would turn out that his Lion-Heart did not extend to finance, as a dispute over his sister's dowry (and perhaps a bit too much wine) threw Richard into a frenzy and he sacked and burned the city of his would-be ally.
Fewer than a dozen ships had escaped, running into the embrace of their beloved Mediterranean. Chief amongst the group was a hulk Christened Salacia, who had seen her captain grow from a Greek pirate to a Sicilian privateer and now – as of this evening – a landed noble. Margaritone di Brindisi, “the new Neptune” struggled to keep the joy from his face. Yet his eyes twinkled with the reflection of his wife and son, who he had left on the island of Cephalonia. Count palatine in name only, Margaritone had long ago realized that Cephalonia was an untenable holding against the Byzantine Empire. War holdings were transient and no true place to plant roots. Tonight, though, he had gained something worth the celebration his compatriots had been expecting. Taking one last glance at the Sicily he was leaving behind, the former pirate withdrew to his quarters to write his wife of his good fortune.
My father tilled the soil of another man's land. His son – my brother – served as steward for another man's coin. I raised my sword to fight another man's war. But our children will know the pleasures of court and country. Their children's children will sit the thrones of Kings and Queens. And their children's children will live to hear the name Brindisi ring from every corner of the Christian world. For today I have land. A rock to call my home. A castle in the restless sea. Malta.