January 28, TA 3019/AD 1200
In Hungary's beating heart, the duties of the King had now been taken up by the Archbishop, and now Job of Esztergom took faced his first task in such a position: bringing the city back under control. It was no mean challenge. Fear and terror ran unchecked through the streets, taking the form of screaming mothers and crying children, of rioting and looting. Bitterly, Job noted that the legions of hell may not be needed to lay the city to waste.
Pater Noster, qui es in caelis,
Restoring the peace through martial means would be all but impossible. The King had taken many of the city's armed men with him when he had marched out into the wilderness, and very few had yet returned. Those that did were almost always too wounded to fight, and carried with them horror stories of a demonic horde that had ambushed them in the night that only fueled the air of despair and hopelessness that engulfed the city.
Sanctificetur nomen tuum.
Already, the city guard had retreated back to a small perimeter encircling Esztergom Castle and a few other important points within the city, their backs pinned against the Danube. While they would be able to hold their own on the defensive, any attempt to push outwards had so far been crushed beneath the swarms of panicked and near-delirious citizenry.
Adveniat regnum tuum.
With force of arms not an option for restoring the peace, Job was forced to seek out other options. If order couldn't be reestablished, the city was doomed no matter what the monsters outside the walls did. There would be no hope for a defense, no chance for an escape, no way in all the world for the people of Esztergom to survive the storm that was surely coming for them all. This task, the Archbishop felt, was God's test to him, the weighing of his soul in what could well be the End Times. He could not fail it. He would not.
Fiat voluntas tua,
He was not a wielder of force. But there was another method, one that he had followed all his life, that had guided him from his childhood to this very moment, and never before had it lead him astray. But he could not do it alone. He alone could not bear this cross. Others would have to follow. He could assemble a few to begin, the rest of the clergy of the city, but still that would be too few. If the city did not follow...then all was lost.
Sicut in caelo et in terra.
He started with a mere two dozen, fellow Holy Men and a small handful of Sisters from the local convent. They began at the Basilica, the holiest ground within the city. They prayed first to the Blessed Virgin, She assumed bodily into Heaven, and to Adalbert of Prague, their other patron, bringer of the faith to this land and martyr on the shores of the Baltic Sea, far to the north. When those prayers were said, they began to march, ancient and familiar words spilling from their mouths.
Panem nostrum quotidianum da nobis hodie,
The nobles joined them first, as they marched past the castle. One by one, the highborn of the city fell into the small column, heads bowed in prayer. The words were repeated, on every lip and in every heart. Next were guards, forming up along the side of the formation. Their blades were drawn as the procession exited their all-too-small perimeter and into the chaos of the city, fearing any move against them. They, too, chanted the words, as they looked all about them in fear.
Et dimitte nobis debita nostra sicut et nos dimittimus debitoribus nostris.
The words grew louder. Those that prayed along the roadsides were the next to join, moving to join their voices with those around them, hoping with all their hearts that making the words sound as one would carry them up to the Lord, and that He would look down and deliver them. As they moved further away from the river and towards the heart of the city, towards the cries and shrieks that emanated from that place, the words grew louder still.
Et ne nos inducas in tentationem,
A great snake now wound its way through the city, coiling itself into knots as it turned left or right whenever the crowds or damages before it were too thick to pass. Whenever it passed a knot of people, it would grow, the crowds being absorbed into the procession. They marched through market squares and through the docks at the river, before the homes of the rich and the poor alike.
Sed libera nos a malo.
For hours they endured, continuing their winding course through the city. Ever so slowly, all other sounds died away, with only the words sounding out over Esztergom. The breaking of glass, the screaming of women and children, the roaring of men...all of them faded away into the darkness, replaced by either silence or the words. By themselves, in pairs or in groups, even the most crazed of mobs began to join with the march.
They chanted on through the night, thousands of voices joined as one. Candles and torches had been lit among the marchers as they trod on, casting an eerie glow on the scene. The rich and poor, the young and old, the strong and weak...on this night, there were no such distinctions, only a common home and a common cause. As one, the column turned for a final time, back towards the Basilica. There they knelt before the altar of the Lord, the words continuing on.
The impromptu service lasted until dawn. Over and over again, the Shepherd of the souls of Hungary had led his flock in prayer, calling for the intercession of the Lord to their cause, pleading to the Saints to pray for them, for the Virgin Mother to hear their prayers. The Primatial Basilica of the Blessed Virgin Mary Assumed Into Heaven and Saint Adalbert was packed to its rafters, as common and noble, guard and criminal, beggar and merchant sent their voices to heaven.
Eventually, the sun rose, and the dull grey light of winter began to filter in through the windows. With that, Job rose to his feet and looked out over his children. They looked back up at him, eyes full of fear and questions, silently begging him for comfort, for hope. He prayed that he could give it to them. This was the next part of his test. Sending a quick and silent prayer to the Holy Spirit, he began to speak.
“My children...there can be no denying it. Mountains of darkness rise from nothing. Hordes of demons and monsters strike against us. The sky itself tears apart. This...I fear that this is the End.”
A terrified murmur went up from the assembled crowd. Job raised his hands to silence them. Praying again for the Lord’s guidance, he continued.
“Be afraid. I do not hold that against you. There is no shame in fear of such things. But whether or not you are afraid...that is not the question asked of you on this day! No, the question is not of if you are afraid: all of us are! Rather, it is what you shall with that fear!”
He had their attention now. Some of the assembly were rising to their feet, trying to peer over those in front of him as he spoke. Holy Spirit, work through me. Guide my tongue. Let the right words flow from my mouth. Let me save your people.
“Will you burn down your own homes!? Will you sack your own city!? Will you let this fear rule you, like it ruled Peter as he walked on the water!? If you do so, then may you fall in, as he did! May you be swept away in the coming storm, and all who would let their hearts be ruled by terror with you!”
“No! NO! Be afraid, but do not give your life to fear! Do not turn to violence and desperation and madness, not at this hour! For this...this is the final test! The final challenge! God is pronouncing his judgements! How will he find you! Where lies your heart!?”
“That is what you must fear! The wrath of the Lord, that he will find you unworthy of paradise! Fear God! Fear his righteous wrath against you, you who riot and rape and rob and burn! Fear the Lord! Not the monsters! Not the mountains! Not each other! But that God, the Almighty Father, will find you wanting!”
“The task is before us! Our final test! Will you allow yourself to fail!? Or will you stand with me, and let the Lord see that you followed in his path, until your last and dying breath!? Our bodies are condemned to die, those that wish us all damned to Hell say! They say, ‘why care for the Law, for we are doomed to die in the coming hours.’ To them, whom I condemn to the deepest crag of the black pit, I say this: That we may yet save our souls! We may yet walk in the light and grace of the Lord! Is that not a worthy cause!? Would you not answer such a call!?”
“Yes, this is the End. The old world is coming to its conclusion, a death that will surely be in fire and blood. But we yet stand. Not yet are we dead! We yet breath, and see and feel! And while we still live, we must accomplish the tasks that God has given us! We must pass this final test! The old world is over. Will you be given entrance into the new?”
The people roared to the affirmative. Job looked once more at his flock. He saw in them hope, for the first time in three days. Common and noble, saint and sinner, man and woman, all of them raised their voices to the heavens once more, calling out that they would not bow before the darkness, that they would not lay down and die. The Archbishop smiled as he raised his voice with theirs.
By no means would this be the end to his task. He had sworn many oaths to serve the Lord until the moment of his death, and now he intended to fulfill them all. The people were behind him, at least, but they still needed to be set to work. Already, the gears in the Shepherd’s mind were moving. Esztergom itself would be indefensible, especially in the absence of the King and a large chunk of his men. The city would have to be emptied, its people moved away from the mysterious mountains and towards safer lands further west or south. Beyond that, he did not know what he would do.
But come what may, he would walk in the light.