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Authors: Katherine Kurtz

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BOOK: Tales of the Knights Templar
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The man cried out as he was hammered a third time and then shoved against the door while the pilgrim thrust his free hand into the folds of his tunic.

“Ach, you only forgot!” The pilgrim ripped loose a leather pouch and cast it to the floor, where it landed with a heavy, satisfying clank. Several coins escaped and skittered into the straw. “How blessed are the poor in spirit, brother!” the pilgrim observed. “Take what is yours, landlord. Then call for the provost’s guards. The Inquisitor of Paris will no doubt find this man of some interest!”

He turned back to his prisoner and stared mercilessly into his face.

“I pray you, pilgrim, let me go!” the man pleaded. “I will pay you!”

“I have no need of your money,” the Saxon said coldly.

With a shrug, he tossed the shrinking bully aside and returned to the table, where Robert sat transfixed. The bully abandoned all further thought for his purse and bolted for the door, throwing it open to flee into the deepening gloom.

After retrieving his damages, the tavern-keeper dogged the pilgrim back to the fire with the still-bulging purse in hand.

“Mercy, sire. But what shall I—”

“He was a heretic and a thief,” the pilgrim replied. “Give the rest to the poor.”

The tavern-keeper stood still, his eyes widening as if he had been struck again.

“No, wait.” The pilgrim extended his hand. “Let me see.”

Timidly, the tavern-keeper placed the bag in the man’s huge paw. The Saxon’s one blue eye turned on Robert.

“What are you lacking?”

“More than ten livres,” Robert groaned. “My tuition and keep for a year.”

Shaking loose the coins, the big man methodically counted out the sum.

“Here. The thief has made good your loss.” He slapped the silver, gold, and copper coins onto the plank table. “Be more careful when you travel.”

Not waiting to be asked again, Robert raked the money into his wooden bowl, then fished out a ragged kerchief from his sleeve, wrapped the bowl in it, and stuffed the precious bundle into his tunic.

“As for the rest—” the pilgrim turned again to the anxious publican and tossed him the bag, now considerably lighter, “take this to the parish church tomorrow and give it to the poor,” he ordered. “Not to the priest!”

“Yes, surely, sire,” the short man agreed over the laughter of the other patrons.

“Swear,” his benefactor added. “By God’s blood.” Glancing around nervously, the tavern-keeper crossed himself.

“I—I swear.”

“Now we will eat,” the pilgrim concluded, turning to his wide-eyed companion.

For some time, the Saxon silently studied the boy as he wolfed down his supper. Twice he signaled to the publican to refill the trencher.

“No more, sire!” Robert protested as the third steaming loaf was placed before him. “Please! I shall burst,” he added, quickly stuffing his mouth.

“How long has it been since you ate?”

“Three days, sire.”

The pilgrim grunted and waited patiently as the food disappeared, somewhat less rapidly than had the previous portions. When Robert had mopped up the final drop of juice, he looked up and found the clear blue eye regarding him intently. From the glint in the scar, he suspected the other was, as well.

“Well, young Robert,” the pilgrim said. “And what do you make of me?”

“Of you, sire?” Robert said warily. “That you are a brave and generous man. I am greatly in your debt.”

The pilgrim leaned closer. “And nothing else?”

“Ah … no, sire.” Surely discretion was called for. Robert swallowed hard, regretting the last cup of wine, for it had fogged his wits.

“I have a request of you.”

Had he been entertained by a sodomite? Robert wondered if he could reach the door before he found himself compromised.

“Sire?”

“Do you know the convent of the Preaching Friars?”

“The Dominicans? Yes, sire. Saint-Jacques is on this very street. Just—”

“Be still!” the Saxon giant hissed, glancing around. “Listen to me.” A gold coin appeared between his thumb and forefinger. “You are to go to the Jacobins and ask for one of the masters. His name is Eckhart. Can you remember that?”

“Yes, sire. Eckhart.”

“You are to tell him that a penitent pilgrim from Hochheim seeks to make confession. Tell him I will be at the church tomorrow one hour after terce.”

“Yes, sire. Hochheim. An hour after terce.”

“Do not fail me, Robert.” The pilgrim placed his hand palm down on the table. When he lifted it, a grosso gleamed up at the youth.

“By the Virgin’s veil, sire. I will tell him.”

“Go.”

As Robert de Troyes splashed down the Rue de Saint-Jacques, the thought crossed his mind that he might as easily disappear into his lodgings, hide for a day, and be no worse off. On the other hand, there was something about the pilgrim that made him reconsider. And he had sworn. His mother had warned him about swearing.…

His reverie was broken by the tramp of mailed feet. Robert dodged into an alley, clutching the bowl through his tunic and sodden cape. But he had been seen.

“You, boy!” shouted the sergeant leading the guards. “Stop! Come here!”

Meekly, Robert approached the squad. Students enjoyed great latitude in the Latin Quarter. Still, it was not wise to antagonize the royal police.

“Surely the bell has not rung?” he asked as amiably as he could. His heart drummed audibly.

“Quiet, brat. Did you see a man on the street clad as a pilgrim? A big fellow, half blind, speaks with a bad accent.”

“No, sire, I have seen no one. I have been at vespers myself—”

“Liar,” the sergeant snarled, shoving him briskly aside.

Purposefully, Robert slipped and fell backward into a puddle of filthy water. He cried out as if in pain. The guards laughed, especially when he convincingly slipped again as he tried to rise and muddied himself further.

“Come,” the sergeant said to his fellows. “The Templar can’t have gotten far.”

As the squad moved on, Robert scrambled to his feet, pleased with himself. A Templar? Surely not.

Then he noticed someone shadowing the troopers several yards behind. Although now wrapped in a dark mantle, there was no mistaking the bully of earlier in the evening, or the look of scorn and malice as he passed.

2

As it was a festive occasion, the prior had announced a
gaudium
after solemnly reading out the
mandamus,
the letter assigning Master Eckhart to the convent of Saint-Jacques for a second regency. The only other tenant twice to hold the chair for foreigners had died thirty-five years before—the Neapolitan genius and (not to be denied) troublemaker Thomas of Aquino.

Eckhart von Hochheim was no Aquinas. But, as the prior had droned on over the prone, white-robed figure making his
venia
on the floor of the great refectory, built a half century before by the Preachers’ sainted patron, King Louis IX, the assembled friars had had cause to reflect that at fifty-one, Eckhart’s career in teaching, administration, and diplomacy was as illustrious in many ways as Thomas’s had been. He enjoyed the trust of the Order, having held a host of elective and appointed offices. Twice he had been chosen by his German brethren to be provincial. But the most recent election had been canceled by the General Chapter earlier that year in Naples, when the delegates had chosen instead to return him to Paris.

“You have come back in tumultuous times,” said the corpulent friar seated next to him, when Eckhart returned to his place at table.

“All times are tumultuous.” Eckhart laughed. “It is good to see you again, old friend. Word came to me in Erfurt that you had preceded me back to Saint-Jacques.”

“Five years ago, by the kindness of the brethren at Oxford. I am being allowed to pursue historical quarry.”

“The English have evidently been kind to you in other ways as well—you have grown in stature as well as wisdom.”

Nicholas Trevet patted his paunch affectionately. “As Thomas properly reminded us, willowy one,
bonum diffusivum sui
— goodness naturally expands.”

“Is there no hope for me, then?”

“You walk too much. The administration of regions such as you have had assigned to you is excessively pedestrian. I prefer water voyages, myself.”

“But by God’s grace, Nicholas, like yourself I will now have the opportunity for study and teaching. It has been too long absent from my life.”

Trevet nodded in the direction of a lower table where three young friars were engaged in lively exchange. A fourth sat listening intently. “I understand young Nicholas von Strassburg will be your assistant. He is the dark, quiet one.”

“So I’m told. I met him when he was a beginning student at the priory there. He seemed quite bright, so I am not surprised to find him here as lector. But so far I have not had the opportunity to reacquaint myself.”

“I will arrest him for you after the meal. He is quite personable despite his reticence and, of course, something of a countryman. But I must confess that his German sounds a bit soft around the edges to my untutored ear.”

“We should have no difficulty understanding each other.”

“No,” Trevet said. “You appear to have much in common.”

While the serving brothers loaded the tables with a feast of unusual variety and quality, Trevet took it upon himself to recount the major changes that had occurred at Saint-Jacques after Eckhart had finished his first regency eight years earlier and left to become Provincial of Saxony. Older than the German by a few years and unrepentantly prolix, he was as well versed in rumor, gossip, and speculation as in history. Still, he maintained a critical air that somehow distanced him from the often sordid details of the events that so interested him, an attitude that marked him as unmistakably English and had endeared him to Eckhart when they first met as senior students over a decade earlier.

Trevet’s most dramatic revelation concerned Guillaume Imbert, who had been appointed confessor to the king a year after Eckhart left, and shortly afterward was named Inquisitor General of France.

“I remember him well,” Eckhart said. “He was very … intense. And pious.”

Trevet delicately speared a piece of fish with his knife. “At the king’s insistence, he is now allowed to have his own apartment here in the priory,” he observed with evident distaste. “He conducts business there, takes meals there, and even entertains his friends there.”

“Is that why he is not here now?”

“Partly. Brother Guillaume has not been entirely well these last several months, if truth be told.”

“From what manner of illness does he suffer?”

Trevet touched his brow with a stubby finger. “Not of the body, my dear man. He rarely sleeps for fear of dreams. When he does sleep, his groans and cries fill the cloister.”

“A pity. No doubt the weight of so difficult an office.”

Trevet pursed his lips. “Having been raised by the hand of Nogaret, I should not doubt that he has cause for remorse.”

“Nogaret? The king’s viper? The pope-killer?”

Trevet glanced around warily. “He is truly a dangerous man. But he did not countenance killing Boniface. I am told that at Agnani, he in fact restrained the hand of Sciarra Colonna when he would have stabbed the old man to death.”

“Nogaret hardly meant him well,” Eckhart said flatly. “He did not prevent the Colonna from striking him in the face with his gauntlet. And what of our brother, Boccasini?”

“Pope Benedict was another matter,” Trevet muttered. “Like Gaetani, for whom he named himself, he soon made himself a thorn in Philip’s flesh. His death was sudden and unexpected, it is true. But there was no evidence he was poisoned, much less a direct link to Nogaret. Such rumors are untrustworthy.”

“Like all rumors,” Eckhart said. “I am told he died from eating poisoned figs on the day he was to pronounce against the attackers of Pope Boniface.”

Trevet paused, then returned the fig he had been considering to its basket.

“Struck down by the hand of God, according to Nogaret,” he said. “So now we have a pliant French pope, the council is about to begin in Vienne, we have no Master, and Friar Guillaume rots away in his private apartment haunted by dreams of burning Templars and that poor Beguine from Hainaut. Times have changed, Eckhart.”

He selected a small apple, stunted like most by the unseasonably cold summer, and polished it briefly against his white scapular.

“Is it not true,” asked Eckhart, “that Guillaume donated a valuable Hebrew Bible to the brethren at Bologna last February?”

“Oh, indeed. We have several here, too.” Trevet expertly split the apple and carved the halves into slices. “Since our good brother supervised the expulsion of the Jews from this wretched kingdom for his royal master, he could have endowed half the priories of Christendom with Hebrew Bibles. And a good deal else, I’ll wager, that most likely went into the king’s treasury. But it might be wiser not to speak of such things too loudly. To be known as an admirer of the Jews would not serve to endear you to some of the brethren even here.”

“But surely, Nicholas, you have read Rabbi Moses yourself.”

“Of course, and I know well of your fondness for his teachings. Frater Thomas was also enamored of his speculations. But times have changed, as I said earlier. Did I tell you about the case of the unfortunate bishop of Troyes, Guichard, now languishing in the Louvre? According to the charges, he is the son of a demon and a mortal woman who sold his soul to the devil in exchange for the love of Queen Joanna. That failing, he poisoned Joanna’s mother, Queen Blanche, and stuck pins into a waxen image of the queen herself and thus killed her. Nogaret also accused him of blasphemy, sodomy, usury, simony, counterfeiting, and inciting to riot.”

“What was his true offense?”

“He seems to have loaned the two queens quite a lot of money which he foolishly wanted back. There was also some unpleasantness about land. The usual, I fear.”

“Will he burn?”

“If the king and Nogaret have their way, he will. Thus canceling all debts.”

The conversation was interrupted by the prior’s bell. Silence returned as the reader mounted the lectern to chant the pericope from the day’s Gospel and seek the final blessing. Shortly afterward, Eckhart found himself again in the company of the English friar, now accompanied by a tall, well-built, but much younger brother who smiled shyly at the revered master.

BOOK: Tales of the Knights Templar
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