Authors: Katherine Kurtz
Becker didn’t like it, but he had no choice. “All right,” he said after a moment’s hesitation. “I should be back within an hour.” Holding the candle high and in front of him, Becker crouched down and went through the opening.
Inside the passageway, Becker was relieved to discover that there was room enough to stand up as he carefully made his way down the stone stairs. With his left hand resting on the wall, he slowly took each step, testing it first to be certain it would hold his weight. The candle threw off barely enough light for him to see more than a few feet in front of him, and it seemed like hours before he finally reached the chamber at the bottom of the stairs.
Dropping to his knees, Becker held the candle high over his head, searching in the flickering shadows for the lamp Leuprecht told him he would find. Finally, after more than a minute, he found an old oil lamp with a glass chimney. Carefully he raised the chimney and touched the flame of the candle to the wick. A dull yellow flame licked up, and Becker lowered the chimney, then turned up the wick. Pale ivory light forced back the darkness, showing Becker that he was at the end of a long corridor. Blowing out the candle, he placed it in his jacket pocket, then proceeded slowly down the corridor until he came to an iron-studded oak door.
Pressing against the door, Becker was surprised when it swung easily on its hinges, revealing an octagonal room beyond. The ceiling was high and elaborately vaulted. Shadows cast upward by his lamp darted and flickered around intricately carved gargoyles and found hiding places behind ornately wrought corbels. Arranged around the room were large coffers and heavy stone sarcophagi, and set into niches in the wall were pale white statues, indistinct in the feeble light of Becker’s oil lamp.
As he moved across the wide expanse of the room, Becker became aware of another presence. Of someone watching him. Finally, as the shadows retreated in the advance of his lamp, he could make out the dim outline of an ornate chair, a throne where sat a motionless hooded and white-robed figure.
For an instant Becker froze in his tracks, raw terror gripping his heart. One hand instinctively went to his pocket. The figure did not move. Reassured by the presence of his weapon, Becker advanced a few more paces toward the chair.
“Set down the lamp,” a voice commanded.
Becker nearly jumped out of his skin as the hooded figure spoke. With trembling hands he set the lamp on one of the coffers. Gulping hard, he tried to focus his eyes in the semidarkness to get a better look at the figure before him.
Peering past the dazzle of the lamplight, Becker now could make out the red patriarchal cross emblazoned on the front of the hooded figure’s white robe, tied at the neck with a heavy golden silk cord. As he watched, the figure raised parchment-colored hands and slowly drew back its hood, revealing an ancient face crowned with the crimson cap of the Grand Master of the Order of the Temple.
For a moment Becker thought he would faint. Then the silence was broken by the Grand Master.
“What is it you have been sent here to offer the Order?” The voice betrayed the age of centuries, but carried with it an authority that was not to be questioned. Soft, it pierced through to the very center of Becker’s being as if it were a spear hurtled by a champion.
Becker cleared his throat before speaking. “Heinrich Himmler, Reichsführer, commands me to inform you that, in exchange for your resigning as Grand Master of the Order of the Temple, he will return to the Order of the Temple the city of Jerusalem and create a new kingdom in the Holy Land, over which you shall reign as Regent.”
The Grand Master stared at Becker with glowing eyes, as though he could see through him and look into his very soul.
“And by what authority does your Reichsführer make such an offer?” The eyes burned into Becker. “Germany has yet to enter the Holy Land.”
Becker’s tongue seemed to thicken and stick to the roof of his mouth. He swallowed twice before he was able to reply. “The German army is virtually invincible. Within a week Cairo will fall, and then we shall push on to Jerusalem.” A burst of inspiration flashed across Becker’s mind as he spoke. “The
shall lead us into your kingdom.”
“So you propose a crusade?” the Grand Master asked.
“The crusade is begun already,” Becker said. “We offer you the honor of leading it.”
“Indeed,” came the quiet reply. “And what sort of crusade is it? Let me tell you. Yours is a crusade of the blackest evil imaginable. You enslave nations, not liberate them. You destroy whole races and in their place breed the spawn of terror. And now you wish to enlist my connivance in handing over the Order of the Temple so that your petty Reichsführer can challenge the power of the dark one who now leads Germany into a maelstrom of destruction.
our Order has opposed for the last six hundred years. Are you really so naive as to think that we would shatter our knightly vows for the dusty streets of Jerusalem?” The Grand Master leaned forward, canting his head slightly to one side. “God will deliver us the Holy City in His own good time.” He then leaned back in his throne, his pale hands pulling his hood over his head.
Becker was rooted to the spot by the sheer power of the Grand Master’s voice, and for several heartbeats was unable even to breathe.
“Tell your Reichsführer that I choose to decline his offer,” the Grand Master said after several seconds of silence.
“With the greatest respect, sir, I think—” Becker began, once his voice had returned.
“Silence!” commanded the Grand Master. “I would no more trust your Reichsführer than I would trust any other godless pagan. Go from here, and go at once!”
Becker thought to himself,
it’s time for Leuprecht to become Grand Master of the Templars.
The thought of killing the Grand Master caused his stomach to knot and his mouth to go dry as he reached into his pocket for his pistol. But as his fingers closed around the grip, the gun suddenly became burning hot.
Jerking his hand out of his pocket, he could just smell the stench of scorched wool. As the first wafts of smoke reached his nostrils, the gun burned its way through his pocket and fell to the ground, where it glowed cherry-red. Its grips turned into pools of liquid brown plastic moments before the gun melted into a puddle of silvery metal on the cold stone floor.
Becker tried to take a step back, but found himself immobilized by fear. Perspiration poured down his face like drops of rain, stinging his eyes. Nervously he licked his lips, the salty taste of his sweat burning his tongue and mouth. His skin prickled with the heat, drawing itself tight across his body. As he stood rooted to the ground in front of the Grand Master, he realized that his clothes were beginning to disintegrate, as if rotted by some kind of acid. Raglike, they began to drop at his feet.
The Grand Master watched as Becker, terrified and bewildered, began to desiccate before him. Impassive, he slowly raised his left hand and began an ancient incantation.
“Non nobis, Domine, non nobis
A shaft of pale blue light streamed out of the palm of the Grand Master’s hand, turning to an oily smoke as it enveloped Becker’s body and ever so slowly wound its way around him. A wraithlike shroud, its color changed from a pale electric blue to silvery white, glowing brighter as it constricted around Becker’s body.
Becker tried to scream, but his lungs had become dry as leather and could not force the air past his throat. He felt his eyes turn gritty, stinging, burning as if his eye sockets had been packed with rock salt. His vision blurred and faded, and he could feel himself growing smaller, shrinking as his body transformed into some other substance, the smokelike shroud wrapping ever tighter around him. The last thing Becker heard was a deep-throated chorus slowly intoning the Grand Master’s chant: “…
sed nomini tuo da gloriam
Suddenly the cloud enveloping Becker darkened, turning black, drawing into it all of the light in the octagonal chamber. Then the sound began, the horrible screeching as Becker’s soul was pressed from him and consumed by the vapor that had changed him from man to thing. As the wail of Becker’s last torment receded to another plane, his shroud slowly vanished.
The Grand Master was silent. In front of him, Becker’s oil lamp guttered and went out, returning the chamber to its age-old darkness. Outside, in the courtyard of the ruined castle, Leuprecht struggled for more than an hour until he finally succeeded in replacing the stone slab over the entrance to the passageway that led down under the castle tower. Then, making his way to where he had parked the dark green Buick, he began his lone journey back to Brussels.
* * *
Vandenburgh did, indeed, succeed in transferring the archives of the Order of the Temple to safety in Portugal under diplomatic seal, where they remain to this day, under the care of the present Regent and Grand Master of the Order. Anton Leuprecht remained in Switzerland after the war and was involved in Templar intrigues until his death in the 1980s.
In 1946 French esotericist Roger Lhomoy discovered a hidden entrance to the crypt under the donjon at the castle of Gisors. Deep beneath the castle he found a large chamber that contained thirty coffers, nineteen sarcophagi, and twelve statues of knights carved from chalk, set in niches in the granite walls of the crypt. On the floor, in front of a crumbling ornate wooden chair, were the remains of another statue. The statue, which had been smashed to pieces, was unlike all of the others. When examined, it was determined that this statue had been made of salt.
The end of World War II did not put an end to speculation about the Templars, any more than previous wars had done. Protection of the secrets of the Temple is a theme that has run through Templar lore continuously in the centuries following their official demise. Carrying the mythology forward, out of their own time and place, can produce some intriguing quantum leaps of speculation, especially when the stories cross the Atlantic to lands where no historic Templar ever set foot.
avier saw him arrive: an old man, sitting upright on his scrawny old horse the way old men did. A real caballero, then, and not one of the touristas his uncle had told him about, who slouched in the saddle as if it were a chair. Man enough to ride across the big ranchos and not fall prey to the fence riders. Though perhaps he was a Kiñero. It was said they never left the vast spread, but it was also said they sometimes took their own way back to Mexico on family business. It might be such a one here, who would ride through town and find the ford across the river by night.
Xavier himself was evading his older brothers and his mother. His brothers had promised him a beating for what he had said about Juanito’s behavior during Mass. His mother had a list of chores that would keep him in range of his brothers all day. He had taken off with the goats at daybreak and now lay in the hot shade off a huisache.
The stranger would pass him only a length away, if he stayed to the obvious path. Xavier watched the horse pick its way down the gravelly slope. Bigger than it looked, that horse. Not a King Ranch horse, though a man returning to Mexico on business might not want one of the sorrel horses anyone in South Texas could recognize. And the man didn’t wear a
dress, and the saddle—
It was at that moment that Xavier saw the stranger’s eyes and felt his own mouth gape open to the heat. Blue. Very blue, and very clear, beneath gray-white hair. The stranger smiled and said something Xavier didn’t understand. Xavier felt his heart racing in his chest, felt himself collapsing inside, and wondered frantically if the stranger had cursed him so quickly. Evil eye?
He blinked, gasped, fought for steadier breath, and looked again. Now the stranger’s hair was not gray, but the pale yellow of cornmeal. He sat erect, tall, with a shining around him that Xavier was quite ready to take for a sign, whether from God or someone else he was not sure. The horse—tall, gleaming now, prancing under its arched neck and flowing mane—the horse was like no horse he had ever seen. Perhaps the charros he had heard about?
Dazed, Xavier crept out from under the huisache into the full light of an August midmorning. He glanced around and saw what he had seen every day of his life: Roma, Texas, and its surroundings. Brush-covered gravel hills capped with crumbling, cobbly stone; the straggle of little houses, some of old stone and adobe; the church, the school, the two-lane highway passing through from Rio Grande City to Guerrero and on to Laredo. The dirt road that straggled out northward, up into the ranches where bony cattle survived on manos with the thorns burned off. At the south end of the town, the rugged bluff above the Rio Grande—the Rio Bravo to those on the other side, in Mexico.
“Roma?” the stranger asked now, in an accent Xavier could not identify.
Xavier said, pointing. “There—Roma.”
The stranger stared, then shook his head. The horse pawed the path with one great hoof … bigger, Xavier, realized, than the plates in their kitchen.
“Roma is bigger than that, fool of a boy,” the stranger said. Then, as Xavier stared, uncertain, he seemed to shrink into himself, becoming once again the old, shrunken man Xavier had first seen. And the horse, too, now looked like any hard-ridden beast of no particular breeding—too shaggy for quality, too heavy of neck and head. The old man muttered something Xavier could not understand at all, then smiled. A surprisingly sweet smile, it was, but Xavier was not fooled. A true vision could come to anyone, even small boys—an angel or a devil in some unexpected guise. Father Patrick was always saying you could not trust the sweet words of men, only the justice of God.
So Xavier crossed himself and muttered a paternoster. And when the stranger joined in, both with the crossing and the Latin, Xavier was sure it must be an angel. Certainly not a devil. None of them could make the sign of the cross. Still, he did not come any closer, and he watched as the old man shifted his weight and the horse went on down the trail to the first street.