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The Mercenary | Susan Peek | From Chapter 1 of A
Soldier Surrenders: The Conversion of St. Camillus de Lellis (A Novel)
The novel, A Soldier Surrenders, is the story of the dramatic conversion and inspiring goodness of the soldier Camillus de Lellis who
lived in the late 1500's, and became the founder of the religious order known then as "Ministers of the Sick", and today now called the "Hospitallers".
The story of St. Camillus is one that is filled with an intriguing combination of drama, military battles, sickness and disease, conversion to
God, and great charity for countless suffering people, be they dying soldiers, prisoners or patients in the hospitals that he founded.
Camillus is a saint that anyone can identitfy with since he was a very worldly man, a huge man at 6 foot 6 inches height, a soldier who fought
against the Turks, and one who had a terrible addiction to gambling that continually reduced him to poverty and shame. He also suffered tremendously
throughout his life from various ongoing ailments including a crippling leg disease for 46 years, a rupture for 38 years, chronically painful
feet problems, and a distaste for food that caused him an inability to retain it. None of his own great sufferings kept him from always
thinking of others first, and striving to serve the many sick and dying people under his care.
He eventually conquered his personal weaknesses like gambling, but not without a long and constant struggle, an example of perseverance
that will inspire anyone with their own personal moral, spiritual or physical struggles. God rewarded him with many followers who joined
his order to serve the sick and dying, as well as great spiritual gifts including prophecy and miracles. St. Camillus was a forerunner
of the work of the International Red Cross, and he used that same symbol for his own religious order. Camillus was canonized by Pope
Benedict XIV in 1746, and was proclaimed patron of the sick and of hospitals in 1886 by Pope Leo XIII.
This excerpt is from the opening pages of A Soldier Surrenders.
ITALY; 1570 / Snow swirled around the two tired soldiers
as they trudged along the deserted country road.
Dusk was falling rapidly, and with it the temperature was
likewise dropping. The one in the lead pulled his cloak
tighter around him, for whatever scant protection it could
afford, and stopped to take a drink from his flask.
The other, several yards behind, was having difficulty
keeping up with his robust young son, all six foot six of
with the muscle to match, but he was unwilling to let on.
Giovanni de Lellis had always been a strong man himself,
but these last few days of traveling had taxed his
nearly to the limit. His chest ached, and every breath was
becoming harder. Well, he thought with impatience, he
wasn't growing any younger, and plowing into this
wind mile after mile certainly wasn't helping matters.
To his annoyance, a bout of coughing suddenly seized
him, and he was forced to step off the road and lean
a tree to steady himself.
His son spun around and eyed him with concern. "Are
you all right, Father?" he asked.
But de Lellis only dismissed the question with an
impatient gesture, and the harsh coughing eventually subsided.
With an effort he moved back onto the road, determined
to carry on.
His son, however, remained standing still, obviously
thinking otherwise. "Father, you don't look well.
we should rest for a while."
"There's nothing the matter with me, Camillus!"
toughened old soldier protested. But his staggering steps
and drawn face belied his words.
Camillus ignored the familiar pain that had started
throbbing once again in his own right leg. He reached his
father in a few strides and gently but firmly steered him
the road to a fallen log. Quickly dusting the snow from
he helped the older man sit down. Then he crouched in
front of him, trying to decide what to do.
Another violent round of coughing overtook the elder
de Lellis, and he struggled with the effort to breathe.
Camillus waited until the attack had ceased, then passed
him the flask.
"I think, Father, we should veer off up ahead and
a little detour to Signor Vitali's inn. There's no point
in such a hurry these days with nowhere to go. A warm fire
and a real bed is what you need tonight."
"A bed! Ahh... it's been so long since I've slept in
of those contraptions, I've almost forgotten what it
De Lellis drank, then returned the flask to Camillus,
who drained its contents and grinned. "To be honest,
Father, my motives are somewhat tainted. Actually, I
wouldn't mind taking advantage of Signor Vitali's
well-stocked wine cellar as well."
The thought brought a smile to the sick man's face.
"Nor I, my boy", he assured his son with a wink.
I suppose the inn's as good a place as any to find out if
there's an army looking for a couple of spare
Camillus nodded and pulled off his cloak. He stood up,
but winced as the motion sent a painful jab through his
right leg. Nonetheless, gritting his teeth, he carefully
draped his own cloak around his shivering father.
"That leg of yours bothering you again, Son?"
"It's nothing. Just the cold."
"We really ought to take you to a hospital one of
days. Get a doctor to look at it. Should've done that ages
Camillus shrugged. "It's not that bad. Don't worry
about it." He cast a look at the darkening woods
them, then offered his father his shoulder. His father
gratefully accepted, and the two men moved back out onto the
* * *
"Well, if it isn't Giovanni de Lellis and his
offspring resurfacing after all these months!" Signor
remarked with pleasant surprise as the door was flung open
and a gust of icy wind admitted the snow-dusted pair. He
moved forward and heartily shook hands with them both.
"Looks like I'll have to mitigate my usual policy
and serve drinks on the house for such a special
The only other occupants remaining in the room at that
late hour were two more young soldiers. They glanced up
from their game of cards, and one of them smiled with
recognition. "Aw!" he called out with mock
is it that every time I happen to be on one of my rare
winning streaks, you two always have to show up and spoil
it for me?"
Camillus grinned and moved over to join them. "Come
on, Antoni", he teased. "You didn't think you
away with a card game without us smelling it halfway
across the border, did you?"
Antoni shook his head ruefully. "Should've known
by now, I guess", he admitted. Then, indicating his
nent, he introduced, "Dario Tellini... Camillus de
Tellini rose and extended his hand. The two shook
"Haven't seen you and your father in circulation for
while, Camillus", Antoni commented mildly.
you been doing with yourselves lately?"
Camillus shrugged evasively. "More or less the same
you." He pulled up a chair and wearily sat down.
this time, well ... in a way we've just been doing it for
other side, that's all."
Antoni cocked a surprised eyebrow, but refrained from
comment. Tellini, however, shot Camillus a look of veiled
contempt. But before either had further chance to speak,
they were joined by the two older men, laden with drinks.
"So, Giovanni," the innkeeper was asking,
and mighty commander was it this time who could no
longer bear you two scoundrels in his ranks?"
De Lellis shook his head. "Ahh... the very sultan
himself!" he boasted with amusement. "The heathenish
Turk--doesn't recognize a couple of decent soldiers when
they're staring him straight in the face!"
Tellini lowered the goblet in his hand and eyed the
two with open disgust. "No Catholic soldier may be
deemed decent, signors," he ventured steadily,
willing to take up arms with the Infidel against God and
The elder De Lellis, not in the least bit perturbed,
dismissed the implication with a shrug and poured himself
a drink. Camillus, however, looked Tellini in the eye with
amused defiance and countered, "God and His people
didn't pay us enough. The Turks did."
There was an uneasy silence, as the two sized each other
Antoni knew Camillus' temper was one to flare easily. In
an attempt, therefore, to divert any possible
between his two friends, he quickly cleared his throat and
cut in. "If it's high-paying soldiering you're
after," he said,
"why don't you join us in Venice? Dario and I are
there now. My uncle's captain of a barracks stationed in
that area, and would surely know how to pay handsomely
two mercenaries of... uh... such broad experience."
smiled ingratiatingly and added, "As a matter of
just happens to be preparing to do battle with the
army come spring."
De Lellis' eyes brightened, and he glanced at his son.
"Hmm. . . the sultan. Perhaps he may regret his
"Well, Father?" Camillus queried. "To
The older man considered, then nodded with approval.
"To Venice!" he answered.
The two de Lellises looked at each other and smiled.
Then both raised their drinks and silently toasted their
Camillus could have taken his musket and shot himself.
Why on earth had he been so stupid as to let his father
continue traveling in such a weakened state? He should
have recognized the signs for what they were and insisted
on remaining at the inn for a few more days.
He could hear the hardening snow crunching beneath
their boots as the two of them staggered on alone through
the woods in the frozen darkness. He tightened his grip
around his father's exhausted frame, hoping against hope
that they would come across a farmhouse soon. The shallow breathing and
faltering steps warned him that his
father was just barely conscious. Camillus had seen those
same signs countless times before upon wounded comrades
in the battlefield and knew with a sinking heart there was
little he could do. That feeling of bitter helplessness be
always experienced at seeing the devastation after a
swept over him now.
He knew he should be hardened against witnessing
suffering. He had certainly seen more than enough of it in
his twenty years! After all, men lived and they died, and
pain was an inevitable part of all that. Especially in his
But for some reason, Camilus had never been able to
overcome his sorrow at beholding another man's misery.
Even if the fallen man at his side had been a Turk. There
was still some room for sympathy at seeing one of those
dogs in the throes of death.
Maybe he and his father shouldn't have hired themselves
out to the enemy, he reflected with some remorse. He'd
never felt comfortable about it himself. But his father
seen nothing wrong with the idea. Times had been hard,
and they had needed the money badly. A job was a job,
after all. Besides, it had only been for a short while.
Muslims themselves were loath to keep Catholic mercenaries
in their ranks for very long. Camillus sighed. Oh,
well... what was done was done and mattered little now.
Suddenly his wandering thoughts were jerked back to
the present by a low moan from his father. He scanned the
countryside with growing desperation and was relieved to
spot a faint light through the trees.
"There's a building not too far up ahead", he
encouraged. "Just a few more minutes, Father." With a
final burst of effort, Camillus half-carried, half-dragged him the
remaining distance and started pounding on the door.
It seemed an eternity before the sound of a bolt was
heard, and the door cracked open a fraction. A sleepy
woman peered out at them.
"What do you want, at this hour?" she yawned.
"My father's sick. I need to find shelter for
The woman hesitated.
"Look, I've got money", Camillus persuaded.
"I can pay
you for your trouble."
At that moment a man came up behind her and drowsily
took in the situation. Camillus' father, as if to confirm
unhealthy status, suddenly collapsed to the ground.
Pushing past his wife, the man rushed out to help.
Together he and Camillus carried the weakened soldier in
to what little warmth remained from the dying fire.
Camillus could see that the farmer's suspicions had been
aroused. "Traveling in such weather?" he asked
"With your father in this condition?"
Camillus thought, None of your business. But seeing his
situation, he said, "It all started, you see, during
with the Turks . . ."
There was no need to continue. His deliberate deception
hit the target instantly. Both the farmer and his wife
broke into eager smiles, and the man exclaimed excitedly,
"Against the Turks? Ah, God bless you! Mama, bring
blankets-yes! Yes! Quick, woman!"
"Si, Papa!" she agreed, with equal delight.
"And bring some wine, and some pasta, too!"
husband, clapping his hands to accentuate the order.
"And we'll accept not a lira for it!" the woman
Camillus in a maternal tone, as she dashed from the room.
Camillus bit his tongue to keep from laughing. To his
surprise, a shadow of a smile flickered across his
face as well, as if he, too, was amused by the irony of
"Signor and Signora Rocci--at your service!"
introduced the man proudly. "Defenders of the Holy Church!
God bless you! God bless you!"
Read the rest of story: Order A Solder Surrenders today.
Susan Peek attended St. Mary's Academy in Kansas, and after graduation entered the Carmelite convent for a short period, where
she learned about St. Camillus and developed a lifelong devotion to him. She later realized her calling to marriage and now lives in New
Zealand where she and her husband Jeff home school their ten children. She is the author of another historical novel, Crusader King.
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