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Authors: Kat Black

A Templar's Gifts

BOOK: A Templar's Gifts
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To all of my Guardian Angels

ometimes I think of the words of a great man I knew, and believe that the future is changeable. Like a boulder dropped into a stream, diversion can disrupt the future that might be, for the one that is meant to be. Other times I think that I am nothing more than the weeds washed up on the shore by the great tides of Mother Earth. It matters not. I am a Templar's apprentice in deed, if not in word.

It was difficult to move back into the life of before. I tried to be as I was once, just the seventh son of a large family, but things had changed in me, and around me …

From the journal of Tormod MacLeod,
Scribed in the month of August 1307



Rain beaded cold on my skin. Thunder rumbled through my chest. White-hot light blinded my eyes as a jagged rent tore the black of a velvet sky. The creeping shape of men flashed in the glare. Their dark intent shimmered in my mind.

“He's here. Quickly.”
The voice rasped. My heart beat furiously as I strained to see.

“Tormod!” My mam's voice was close, like the man from the vision, but I could spare her no attention. I was frightened to the core and growing more so as the moments passed. I could not break the hold.

Water crashed down over me, and the vision dropped away as if it had never been. In its place, confusion and fear remained. The room was dim and I shook with cold. A strange and awkward weight pinned my legs and panic unfurled within me. From all around the room, emotion lashed my unprotected mind.

I whispered the command silently to myself,
seeking the stillness within as I had been taught, but the feel of my sight was distant.

The lifeblood of the land trickled slowly beneath my feet. I reached for it, as I had so many times before. Yet only the barest tendril responded, slipping into my body to dull the crush of my family's fear and worry. Still, I was strengthened by it. Breath eased in my chest, and I was able to continue gathering the power that came sluggishly at my command.

With great effort, I forced the power I had called outward. It pressed against the inside of my skin, and a thin, soft barrier to the world beyond slid into place. The chaos dropped away.

The commands for shielding had worked, but these protections would not hold for long. I had to escape. Already the cry of my sister threatened my new control. Yet the sound brought with it memory, and for that I was grateful.

“I'm sorry, Caro,” I whispered, kissing the top of her head and squeezing her slight frame as she shivered. I'd been telling a story about the lands I had seen on my journey. Caro was six and could never get enough of the tales.

I had been talking about the sky and the way the top of the mountain had stretched clear through the clouds, but, in the midst of my description, a vision had descended and I dropped hard into the middle of a thunderstorm. I
had no idea how long I sat frozen, nor what had happened while my family looked on.

It wasn't the first time I had lost myself in the visions. There had been several incidents since my return, but this was different. This was worse. Usually the presence of the bairns kept me grounded, but even their innocence and purity, which I usually found balming, were of no help. I glanced over to Torquil and caught the awkwardness of his stare. I turned quickly away, but his animosity seemed to follow.

“Hush ye now,” said my mam, lifting the bairn. “Everything's fine.”

Caro's eyes were lost and frightened and I felt a beast. Without thought, I reached for the power of the land to soothe her fear, but it leapt at my call, far more strongly than I expected. I shoved it back down into the earth, alarmed. I could not afford to work with it when I had so little control.

“Let's get ye dried. ‘Tis just a puddle. Ye'll be set aright in no time.” She turned to fetch new clothes for Caro and over her shoulder spoke to me. “There's a sark on the wash line, Tormod. Be sure to hang that one in its place. James, put down some rushes and soak up the water. Torquil, build up the fire.”

I pulled the sopping material over my shoulders and hurried out the door. Lord, how would I explain this one? I could scarcely credit what had happened myself.
I'd been deep in a vision and my mam had upended a bucket of water on me. Things had gone from bad to worse in the short time I'd been home.

Why had I longed so badly to be here? During the endless trek from the caves, over the sea in the merchant ship, it was all I could think of. And yet, now that I was here, the need to leave again struck me stronger than ever before. I no more fit in now than when I'd left.

The sark made a slapping sound as I slung it over the line. It reminded me of the crack of thunder and the men in the vision. Who were they and why was I seeing them?

The sun was weak, its rays barely warming the dew on the last of the season's grass. August was near at end, and the days had been unseasonably cold and damp. The cloth of my spare sark was stiff beneath my fingers — there had been no summer breeze to dry it soft. I gave it a good shake to knock away anything sleeping within and shrugged into it as bile washed at the back of my throat, and I felt a shakiness in my legs that had not been there before. The visions always weakened me. I sat on a stump of rotted oak, letting the images roll over in my memory. Who were they and what were they seeking? I prayed that it was not the Holy Vessel.

The ancient carving and beautiful bowl were no longer my responsibility, and yet I worried still. I'd done
what the Templar Alexander had charged and delivered both pieces to the Abbot at Balantrodoch.

The memory of that morning still had the power to warm me, even on so cold a day as this. When I drew the carving from my sack and placed the sacred bowl into the Lady's upturned hands, I had the feeling that I had become a part of something special, sacred, and holy. In the dim light of the study, with the heat and strength of the carving's light pulsing in my hands, I told the Abbot all that had befallen the Templar and me.

To say that he had been stunned would be putting it mildly. That we would be drawn halfway around the world following visions set forth by an ancient carving; that the King of France would set a legion of soldiers and mercenaries on our trail; and that I alone would escape the ambush that had taken the life of the Templar Alexander to return to the Abbot with an artifact of so great a power that it must be kept secret from the whole of humanity was astounding even to me.

I squirmed in my seat, thinking on the Abbot's response. The elder Templar leader had dropped to his knees and reverently whispered that I was the Protector, the Chosen of the Lord. He had actually crossed himself, taken my hand, and sworn fealty to me. “From this day ever onward I swear allegiance to ye, Tormod MacLeod. The light has chosen ye for its own. Be ever vigilant o' those who would subvert it for darkness.”

“Tormod! Stop yer gawpin'. I'll no' be doin' yer chores while ye sit about.” I glared at Torquil.

Protector. Chosen.
I scoffed at the idea. Not chosen at home, unless it was to protect sheep and bairns. No. Here I was just Tormod, the odd one, the lad no one could truly reconcile.

I stood and turned back toward the hut as the wind whipped up over the hillside. A shiver slid through me, and I quickly cast about for the source of my sudden apprehension.

“Tormod! Da could be here any time,” he warned.

“Aye. I'm coming.”
I thought, sighing. I would need an explanation of what had gone on before he arrived. All of this proved once again that the only place that I should be was with the Order. Da, though, had other ideas. Things between us, since my return, had not been the way they once were.


he battle raged around me and I was covered in blood. Soldiers were advancing. I tried to stand, to run. Off in the distance, there came a flash of white. I turned,
stunned. Riding toward me was the Templar Alexander, his mighty sword cleaving a path to my side.

I woke suddenly, thrust from the dream into the black of the hut, yet his image remained strong in my mind. I held it close, the joy of seeing him warring with the sadness of losing him.
A dream,
I told myself. Dreams did not come true. Visions did, at least in their fashion. The worst of these had come to me in the very beginning. I had seen blood, the blood of the Templar Alexander Sinclair, seep from a cross of red. My heart wrenched at the memory.

This vision had come true, though I had tried with all my might to avert it. My friend and teacher was dead. There would be no reunion, no one to save me. I was alone. A sob escaped without my willing it.

“Tormod?” My mam's voice slid softly across the darkened space. I felt her concern as if it was my own. Its strength was stifling, swelling the very air around me.

“Ye're home an' safe, Tormod,” she whispered. “It's over, lad.”

I reached quickly for my plaid and boots. She didn't understand. It was not over. It would never be over. Carrying my things and working hard not to step on the sleeping bodies of my family, I made for the door.


Her fear surged through me and I stumbled. “I just
need air,” I gasped, willing my voice to sound calm and my movements to appear smooth. The hard cut of her feelings was too much to bear.

It had been this way from the moment I'd returned. Being near people was impossible. The power of the Holy Vessel had opened my mind to the edges of their thoughts and feelings. Their sadness, worry, anger, and fear became my own.

This by itself would have been bad enough, but I found out quickly that when my own emotions mixed with theirs, both multiplied in me. It felt like a dagger being shoved deep into my mind and heart, and each feeling added was a turn of the blade.

My ragged breath hung on the air as I made my way over the rocky land. The damp clung to my skin. I hurried to don my plaid and step into my boots. It was odd that even after all this time, the feel of my left boot, looser than the right, surprised me.

It was the first of the many things that had changed when I left home. I'd lost two toes to the freezing sickness. At the time I thought it the most devastating thing I might ever endure. I was my da's runner. I delivered messages from one end of the village to the other and I feared I'd no longer be able to. It was a terrible thing, but I had seen true suffering, lost so much in the way of friends, that now it seemed as nothing in comparison.

My mam's worry reached out to me through the heavy stone walls of the hut and down the slope to where I sat near the road. After a moment it came on stronger, and I knew she stood at the window with the flap of the shutter pulled back.

There was nothing I wanted more than to walk away from the hut and her eyes, down to the beach and off. Distance alone would break the hold that kept me shivering, but I would not do that to her. Mam had enough to worry over without my adding to it. I had caused her enough heartbreak for a lifetime.

Autumn would soon set in, and the winter freeze would follow fast. There would be fewer trips to fish. Food had been set aside for the change in season, but it was less than usual. Fishing had not been plentiful this summer.

My insides churned with the memory of a conversation I had with the Templar so long ago. I'd asked if the village would be punished because I had not provided the flint and tinderbox to start the Beltane fire on time. I had chosen instead to deliver the message that began this strange path, my fate.

The Templar told me he thought God was not a vengeful being and that if the crops did not grow or the fish were few, it was because the growing and feeding cycles had somehow changed.

I wanted to believe him then. I wanted it to be true now, but more than ever I worried. I felt the stares and blame whenever the topic of a lean winter arose. The whisper of accusation shouted at the edge of their thoughts. It made me want to lash out, to scream that they could not understand what it was like. But I could tell them nothing. How could I openly admit that I could read their minds?

Stray bits of leaves and dirt swirled past me toward the beach. I focused on the pattern of power, saw the pulse of the air that lifted them and used my gift to shift their course. The wind turned, whipping with much more force than I had intended, and a small stripling uprooted under the onslaught. It lay on the ground, fragile and broken.

I dropped the whisper with a strangled cry and hurried to the plant.
Lord, I apologize. I am no' worthy o'yer gifts.
Shame scalded me. The Templar had taught me to do many things with the power, and I had excelled in the lessons. Yet now, even the simplest reach went horribly wrong. I knelt and dug my hands into the soil, saying the prayer to Our Lady that the stripling might once again take root in the soil.

Behind me, Mam's worry grew, and our feelings combined, spiraling into a frenzy. I called upon the shielding commands, but instead of relief, the horizon suddenly tilted. Before my eyes, the village square, the kirk, and
the scattering of huts grew hazy. Blinking, I tried to push the strangeness away, but no amount of effort changed what I saw. The familiar landscape had vanished. Trees and forest crowded the space, their tangle of rotted gray limbs askew and covered by a sickly green moss.

The healer in me felt the wrongness of the scene. The pulse of the land's power was in a tangle. The life-blood of the trees, the sap, was thick and congealed. I saw pools of stagnant muck leaching from the roots.

Horrified, I reached with my mind to heal the damage and suddenly it all dropped away. Quickly I laid my hand on the ground, puzzled when the pure and perfect thrum of the land rose to my touch. I sifted a handful of dirt through my fingers, dispersing the power and murmuring a silent prayer of thanks, wondering what the oddity meant.

I felt the weight of Mam's gaze, though she stood in the dark of the hut. Her mind had settled. The raw fear she had been sending my way was now curiosity.

It was an emotion, at the moment, I didn't mind sharing. What was I to think of
vision? I wished, not for the first time, that the Templar were here with me. I knew that although he might not have the answer, I would be the better for talking it out with him.

With a sigh I trudged up the slope. Mam had returned to her pallet.

BOOK: A Templar's Gifts
7.56Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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