It is the year 1240. Sir Simon de Mountjoy, Lord of the manor of Eaststead and feudal overlord of Wessex, a deeply pious and Christian man, sat in his tent on the slopes of Mount Tabor in the Holy Land.
He had travelled many miles from the tranquillity of his country estate in England, leaving his affairs in the very capable hands of his loving wife.
With his small but loyal band of noblemen and peasants, he had embarked on a great crusade to try to rid the Holy Land of its Muslim invaders. This was just one of many crusades, which started towards the end of the ninth century. So far, none had been successful and many Christian lives had been lost.
Henry III was on the throne, his cousin, Richard, First Earl of Cornwall was already in the Holy Land negotiating the release of prisoners and the burial of crusaders killed in the battles against the Turkish mogul Saladin. The fact that he had to go cap in hand in this way revealed how dire the situation was.
Things were not going well for Simon’s men. Although not lacking in courage and determination, his gallant band was hopelessly outnumbered. They had managed to hold the breech until now but the Turkish hoards had increased in numbers. The outcome appeared inevitable.
The Christians could see the Turkish fires reflected in the skies just beyond the horizon and to them they appeared like a wall of flame.
Simon knelt at his devotions and prayed fervently to his maker:-
‘Mighty Lord. We thy servants are engaged in a holy and just war on thy behalf. We have seen many thousands of good and loyal faithful servants butchered at the hands of the infidels. If it be thy will, help us we pray to overcome them. I and my compatriots are ready and willing to lay down our lives for you but, if we fail, I fear that Christianity will no longer survive in the land where your son, our dear lord Jesus Christ, was born and died for us.’
The Sun was rising above the mountain, a great red fiery ball and in the shimmer of the heat haze Simon could see that the enemy was making ready to attack. The sunlight glinted on the blades of a multitude of sabres and the white turbans of the soldiers.
The crusaders took up their defensive positions each man fully aware that this could be his last battle and determined to fight bravely until the end.
To Simon’s ears came the sound of a distant drum. Turning he saw on a rocky outcrop four ghostly horses, one white, one fiery red, one black and one which could only be described as pale.
On the white horse sat a figure wearing a golden crown and carrying a longbow. On the red horse, the rider was carrying a long sword and on the black horse, he had a pair of scales. The sinister figure on the pale horse bore a long scythe.
Simon recognised them as the four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, pestilence, war, famine and death.
As he continued to gaze upon them he heard a sound like the rustling of leaves and the cracking of twigs. The noise grew louder and louder and suddenly, there appeared a mighty army surrounding the two combating sides.
But what an army this was. Some on horse, wearing antique armour and some on foot clad in nothing but a breastplate, carrying all kinds of weapons. There was row upon row of white blanched skeletons of men and horses .The men’s empty eye rockets burning with light and their lower jaws loose giving the impression of a ghastly sardonic grin.
The noise, which Simon heard, was the sound of their brittle bones rubbing against each other as they marched forward.
‘Praise be to God he has heard my prayer’. Cried Simon.
But, as he watched the battle he saw to his horror that the ghostly army was slaughtering Christians as well as Saracens. The humans turned to flee but there was no escape. They fought bravely for their lives. Many skeletons were decapitated and their bones strewn upon the battlefield. However, as soon as the rolling skulls or rib cages hit the ground they collapsed into dust and another skeleton took their place.
Before long all the Christians and Muslims were dead and the ghostly army disappeared as quickly as it had arrived.
Simon found himself gazing down upon his own lifeless body, pierced through with sword and lance wounds. I can’t understand it’ he thought.
Looking up he saw a figure with wings clad in golden armour. It was Saint Michael the Archangel.
He spoke. ‘
Simon you have found favour with the Lord who is waiting to welcome you into his kingdom.’
‘Thanks very much’ replied Simon, ‘But I am puzzled. Why did your armies kill Christians as well as Muslims?’
‘Know ye this’ replied the angel. ‘All men are the children of God and he loves every one of them. Death is not an ending but a beginning. All must die and God would gladly welcome all into his kingdom. He created earth as a paradise but Satan tempted Adam who succumbed thus giving the Anti-Christ the power to claim all sinners as his own.
Whether he is known as God or Allah or by any other name any man that believes and trusts in the almighty will be saved.
All men must die to be allowed to enter heaven and the pale horseman must ride. But the manner in which a person dies is determined by man himself. Pestilence is the result of war and famine. God provided ample food to feed all, but man’s inhumanity to man prevents this. Man wages wars, which solve nothing, and faith becomes an excuse for greed and covertness.
Your crusades will fail but I tell you that, in time, mosques will exist in Jerusalem beside Christian churches and temples, Christian, and Muslim will live side by side. It will be an uneasy peace but a peace nevertheless.’
Now, dear friend, the master is waiting to great you let us go forward together.’
The angel took his hand and together they walked towards the future.