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Authors: Katherine Kurtz

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Eckhart realized he must have blanched at the outburst, for Imbert lowered his eyes as well as his voice.

“Forgive me—my patience has been strained of late. As for Margaret of Hainaut, she was a poor, deluded pawn in the game of chess between Philip and Clement. Like the Templars themselves. Not that she wasn’t dangerous. Those who preach freedom of the spirit are always dangerous. She was also utterly sincere, Eckhart. And such ones are the most dangerous of all.”

“Was she truly a heretic?”

“Her writings were judged to be manifestly heretical by the theological faculty of the university. Even Friar Berengar agreed. But what is heresy? If fragments of your teachings were detached from your commentaries and made to stand alone under the scrutiny of men with narrow but penetrating minds, you, too, might be called a heretic. Oh, yes. Writing down your thoughts is dangerous, Eckhart. Even more dangerous is having them written down by others.”

“But why her? Were not others more guilty of error?”

“Undoubtedly. But she was there, Eckhart. She wandered into our midst like a fawn among wolves.”

“And so deserved to die?”

“Does anyone deserve to die? Did those Poor Knights of Christ
deserve
to die?” For a moment, the Grand Inquisitor fell silent, his reddened eyes staring into the distance, as if seeing again the flames of the field of Saint-Antoine. “They would not gainsay their retractions, you know. They died protesting their innocence.”

“And were they innocent?”

“What is innocence?” Imbert laughed feebly, perhaps aware that his rhetorical question too closely paralleled Pilate’s jibe. He coughed, then continued.

“They had to die, Eckhart, as she had to die. They chose to die. Thus the king wins. And the pope wins, also. Philip removes more enemies from the board and again proves himself the church’s most loyal son. He acts from the purest of motives. The Templars must be destroyed because they are a threat to the faith, not because they are rich and powerful and accountable only to the pope.”

“And Margaret of Hainaut?”

“Her prosecution was an act of selfless concern,” Imbert said with a wry smile. “A pruning necessary to save the injured tree.”

“And to demonstrate that Philip’s prosecution of the Templars was similarly prompted only by disinterested zeal for the faith?”

“But she
was
a heretic, Eckhart! Here—”

Reaching behind him into the shadows, Imbert foraged among the books and parchments.

“Ah! Yes, read it, Eckhart. You are a master of theology. Read it and tell me if she was not deluded herself and dangerous to the simple faithful.”

He held out the little book, crudely bound between boards. Eckhart took it and opened the cover.

“Miroir des simples âmes,”
he read. “It does not sound dangerous, this mirror of simple souls.”

“Read it, my friend. Then come back and tell me whether or not it is as harmless as it seems. And then I think I shall have it burned. It needs to be burned. It should have been burned long ago. … You had a request?”

“I do, Bruder Wilhelm. I wish to enter the Temple.”

Imbert’s rheumy eyes darted to meet Eckhart’s steady gaze. He seemed alarmed by the mention of the Temple.

“No one is allowed to enter or leave except by special writ of passage. Why would a master of theology want to visit such a place of infamy?”

“I wish to see for myself what has become of the Templars. If possible, I wish to speak to one of those who are held there. It is a matter of conscience, Wilhelm.”

The thin eyebrows arched slightly. “Conscience? Yes, I can well imagine you have a conscience, Eckhart. It is part of my work to assess consciences. Did you know that?”

“Of course.”

“Nothing is more seductive than freedom of conscience. And nothing is a greater cause of suffering. Who is it you wish to see?”

“It is said that the Grand Master is being held there.”

“Is it? Are you sure he is in the Temple itself?”

“I am sure.”

“What you ask may be impossible. It will surely be difficult. I have had nothing to do with the case of the Templars for over three years … at the pleasure of His Holiness and the consent of the king.” This last he said with bitterness. “And the Temple is under royal control.”

“But its prisoners remain under the jurisdiction of the Inquisition. Surely it would not be considered strange if representatives of the Inquisitor General of France were to pay an official visit.”

Imbert stared at him curiously. “You would need a writ of passage.”

“I know that.”

“Do you also know what you will find there?” Imbert shook his head disapprovingly. “A foolish old man, failing in mind, broken in spirit, and short of whatever courage he may once have had. He has twice confessed to heresy and blasphemy and tolerating sodomitical acts. He withdrew his confession before the papal commissioners, then found himself retracting his withdrawal. Grand Master, indeed! He wept like a child when shown the
instrumenta.

“Perhaps I would have wept, too.”

“I doubt it. Whom would you take as your companion?”

“Perhaps young Nicholas from Strassburg. He strikes me as perceptive and discreet.”

Imbert shrugged. “Your new bachelor? A likely choice. I do not know him. But I have heard that he is circumspect and keeps his own counsel. I suppose it should do no harm so long as you both
remain
discreet.”

The old inquisitor paused, then seemed to smile very slightly. “Very well. Come back tomorrow and I will give you a writ of passage.”

5

Eckhart explained as much as seemed prudent to the young lector from Strassburg. Hesitant at first, Nicholas Minor nevertheless agreed to allow Friedrich to substitute for him and, as they were almost of a size, to provide him a habit and cloak.

“My second habit was recently washed. I will loan him this one, lest it appear too clean. But you must tell me everything when this is finished.”

Eckhart smiled. “A fair bargain. I hope to be able to do so.”

When Friedrich appeared the next morning, Eckhart was brief.

“Go to the church of Saint-Jacques-de-la-Boucherie off the Rue des Arsis. I will meet you there within the hour with another friar, whom you will impersonate. The Temple is only half a mile farther, but we must be quick in order to return if possible before sext.”

“God grant you a happy and peaceful death, Eckhart!”

“Amen, my friend. Now, go. And be wary crossing the bridge.”

The priest of the old church remembered Eckhart from years past, and agreed without hesitation to allow him the use of the sacristy, “for his kindness to the poor.” Hidden from view, Eckhart and Nicholas clothed the Saxon knight in the borrowed Dominican robes, which despite Nicholas’s own height, fit snugly.

“But it will serve,” Eckhart observed as Nicholas placed the black cloak and cowl over the white habit. “I’d prefer to see you tonsured, but there’s no helping that for now. Keep your cowl well forward. That will also serve to cover your face.”

“I catch your meaning.” Friedrich traced the path of the scar with his finger.

“Nicholas, hide yourself here to the extent you are able,” Eckhart said as Friedrich secured his disguise. “We should return in two hours.”

“I have brought a copy of St. Augustine’s
Confessio,
Master. With a candle or two, I should fare well enough.”

Eckhart patted a bulge in the side of his own habit. “A book is always a good companion. Even if considered heretical by some. …”

Although the streets leading to the Porte-du-Temple were far removed from the ordinary haunts of students, numbers of them clogged the way, some of them more than a little drunk despite the early hour.

“It is still two days until the Feast of the Holy Cross,” Eckhart explained, “but the students arrive early to settle into their lodgings and prepare. Much of their money for books and food will be misspent, I fear, on baubles and brothels.”

A small flock of young scholars turned suddenly off the Rue Saint-Jehan-en-Grive, singing raucously, only their linked arms keeping some of them on their feet. Finding the narrow street mutually blocked, the friars and the boys all halted abruptly.

“Good morrow, jolly preachers,” said one of the students, a robust lad whose hair seemed plastered to his head with vomit. “Join us in a pint!”

“I’d as soon join you in—” Friedrich began.

“Sire!” came a familiar voice as Eckhart laid a restraining hand on the Templar’s arm.

A slight youth stepped away from his comrades, none too steadily, and leaned closer to peer at Friedrich’s face.

“First a pilgrim, then a Templar, now a Preaching Friar!”

Startled, the ersatz Dominican pulled his cowl farther down over his forehead.

“And the holy Jacobin!” the boy continued amiably. He bowed to Eckhart and, using his arm as a baton, opened a gap in the wall of tipsy students to allow the friars passage.

“Thank you, my son,” Eckhart said, as he ushered the growling Templar through their midst. “And good day!”

Robert was not to be put off. Abandoning his friends, who closed ranks and resumed their bawdy song, he came alongside the friars.

“If you are seeking the road to Spain—” he began jovially.

Friedrich’s arm shot out like a viper and yanked the startled youth close to his side. He did not break stride as he dragged the boy along.

“There is a dagger in my other hand, Robert of Troyes,” he said in a low, menacing voice. “If you say one word more, I shall slit your throat and throw your body into a sewer.”

“I—I meant no harm, good Father!” the student yelped, sobering quickly. “Surely I was mistaken. By Jesus’ tomb, I have never seen you before in my life!”

Robert attempted to pull free, but Friedrich did not relax his iron grip. The boy had seen too much.

“Walk with us, my son,” the Saxon advised in a pious tone. “It will benefit your soul.”

“May it save my life!” Robert groaned.

“It may also benefit your purse,” Eckhart said. “Friar, ah, Peregrinus, do you have a grosso somewhere on your person?”

Friedrich grunted affirmatively. “This lout has already benefited handsomely from my service. What would you have of him?”

“We will see. Yes, come with us, Robert.”

The great preceptory of Paris was built on a marsh northeast of the city and called simply the Temple. Its walls and towers were as secure as those of the Louvre or the Grand Châtelet. There Philip himself had taken refuge from the mob when riots greeted his debasement of the coinage a few years earlier. There much of the royal treasury had been deposited for safekeeping. As many as four thousand knights, priests, and serving brothers had been housed within its precincts. Taken, however, on that fatal Friday in 1307 by royal baillies armed only with writs of arrest and seizure, most of its inmates had been dispersed to other prisons, placed in chains, and its spacious buildings occupied by Philip’s troops.

Not all the royal, civic, and episcopal prisons of Paris could hold the number of Templars arrested throughout the Kingdom of France that day. They were assigned even to monasteries and private houses of rich burghers loyal to the king. As time passed, more and more of the Templars signed the confessions required of them, accepted their penances, and obtained their freedom (and pensions).

But not all capitulated. Scores perished in agony when put to the question by Guillaume Imbert and his henchmen. Some were said to have committed suicide to end the torture. Well over a hundred paid for their defense of the Order at the stake.

In the end, only a handful of important prisoners remained to be disposed of, including the Grand Master, the Visitor of Paris, and the Preceptors of Normandy and the Aquitaine. Their places of confinement were secret, but what could have been more appropriate than the vast fortress outside the city walls on the road to Belleville?

“Wait for us here,” Eckhart said to Robert, when they stopped near a small grove of willows and scrub oaks opposite the drawbridge and gatehouse. “If we do not return in the space of two hours, hasten to the church of Saint-Jacques-de-la-Boucherie. Tell the friar in the sacristy there to inform the prior at the Jacobin convent to have Friar Guillaume secure our release. He will understand.”

“I will, Friar Eckhart,” Robert said, more soberly. “I would not detain you, but should I not see you again, I would have you know that as a boy, I always wanted to be a Knight of the Temple. In my heart I already was. To protect pilgrims, to fight the Turk—but I was too small. Since I was good at letters, my parents hoped that I might find a place in the church as a minor clerk or better. Perhaps even a Preaching Friar.”

“You could do worse,” Eckhart said with a smile. “And so they saved and sent you to the faculty of arts in Paris.”

The youth nodded. “After a year, I think I forgot why I had come. It is a dizzying experience, being a student at the university. I never thought there could be so much wine.…”

“You may still find yourself serving both God and man, Robert. May we meet again soon.”

When the black-cloaked friars reached the sentry, Eckhart displayed the writ of passage with the seal of the Inquisitor General of France prominently displayed. The guard studied it, bowed respectfully, and stepped aside to allow them to enter, although Eckhart did not miss the young man’s furtive gesture as they passed him, pressing his crossed thumb and forefinger against his lips to ward off evil.

They were shown to the keep, and there, after passing through more doors and checkpoints, the warder unlocked the thick, reinforced door to the crypt. Again, the writ of passage worked like a magic spell opening a hidden door in some fabled mountainside. Down the narrow stairs, behind yet another door, lay the prison with its cages for men under dark, arched ceilings.

“Here are two friars to see you,” the warder announced, banging his keys against the wall.

“I have seen too many friars in my life,” replied a deep, sonorous voice. The cell was something like a monk’s chamber. Not inhuman, but stark. There was a straw-covered cot, a small table, and a chair on which the prisoner sat, his head buried in his hands. A hole near the peak of one of the thick walls admitted a modicum of air and light. There was another hole in the floor to relieve nature, and below, the sound of flowing water. But where three walls would have stood, rods and bars of iron contained the prisoner and deprived him at the same time of all privacy. There were six such cages, but only one was occupied.

BOOK: Tales of the Knights Templar
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