Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Long Pilgrimage Home Pt. 1

Here is the first part of a long story originally published in Paradox. It was first written as an assignment for a historical fiction class at the University of Memphis. The main characters, Peter de Boulogne and Bernard de Vaho, were historical figures of the period, though their adventure perhaps was not.

I heard Pete rise beside me in the darkness. "Pray with me Bernie," he said. At first I didn’t know why. We always said our prayers as best we could, guessing the times, but there was no way either of us could know if it was matins, prime, terce, meridiem, or any other hour of prayer, and it seemed to me we had just finished saying our paternosters; I could still taste the moldy bread we'd had for dinner. No sunlight reached our dismal subterranean chamber, buried as it was deep beneath a crossroads in Paris, with a roof so low there was not even enough room to stand up, provided one had strength to stand at all. But perhaps Pete’s ears were keener than mine, for he heard them coming long before I. "Pray with me Bernie," he said familiarly. I suppose he expected to be taken away and burned like the others, and he wanted to prepare his soul.

A door somewhere wailed on its hinges, a brazen trumpet blast, a single note rising, quavering, like the call of last judgment. Golden spears of light groped through the grate in the door, awakening a sighing groan from the bodies lying around us and revealing them in all their naked angular shadows, their acute limbs, their bulbous stubbled heads nodding atop their necks and their gaunt bearded faces blinking in the new light. "Oh my God I am heartily sorry for having failed you..." Pete began. He prayed with eyes wide and head unbowed, his fists at his sides, trembling.

The light stopped outside the door, illuminating the dungeon like the sun through a rent in dark clouds. A key rattled in the lock. The bodies animated around us and crawled away from the door as best they could and as far as their irons would allow. The bolt shot with a bang; the door opened. Torchlight filled the hall outside.

Our gaoler lurched through the door as though pushed from behind. He fell at Pete's feet. In the hall two men stood, swords drawn. They wore white surcoats, white as the snow on Plomb de Cantal on Christmas Eve, with scarlet crosses stitched at the right shoulder, and beautiful unkempt beards, one copper-red and one graying-black, poking angrily from their mail coifs.

"Peter de Boulogne and Bernard de Vaho!" Graybeard shouted. "Are they here?"

"I am Bernard de Vaho," I said, crawling forward into the circle of their torchlight.

Both men staggered back at the sight of me. Redbeard crossed himself. They took a moment to steel themselves. Finally, Graybeard said, "We're here to rescue you. Where is Brother Peter?"

Pete still crouched in his chains, staring down at the gaoler who had not moved. But he looked up at the mention of his name. "That's him," I said. Redbeard ducked into the cell and grabbed Pete by the arm. "Come along, Brother. We must make haste," Redbeard said. He stooped and took the keys from the gaoler's belt and unlocked our chains. Graybeard stooped through the door and helped Pete into the hall, while Redbeard easily lifted me in his arms. The other men in our dungeon began to cry out, realizing that they were going to be left behind. Pete looked back at them, and I thought he was about to say something, but instead he turned and followed Graybeard. I thought my own heart would break, seeing our poor emaciated brothers straining at their chains, their beards wagging, their hands stretching out for us. I couldn't bear to look any longer. I hid my face behind Redbeard's shoulder.

They hurried us down the hall and up a flight of stairs past an open door. A guard lay on the floor beside the door, not dead but not sleeping, dazed perhaps, as though under a witch’s spell. Another lay in the chamber beyond. Pete stared at them in puzzlement as we hurried by. Redbeard cradled me like a child in his arms. I looked back over his shoulder at the guards. "What happened to those men?" I asked.

"No time to explain," he answered.

We ducked under a low arch and turned, entering another hall. At the end of the hall we could see another chamber, this one full of guards milling about, drinking and dicing and making a general friendly uproar. Our rescuers stopped about halfway down this hall. Graybeard searched the left-hand wall until he found a loose brick. He pried it loose with his dagger and pulled it out, then handed the brick to Pete. Brother Pete stared at it stupidly; he still had not got his wits about him. Graybeard then reached into the hole left by the brick, we heard a small click, and a low irregular section of the wall swung inward, revealing a secret passageway. Graybeard took the brick from Pete and replaced it in the wall. "Come on," he growled, dragging Pete into the tunnel. Redbeard followed, taking care not to knock my head as he pushed the secret door back into place with his shoulder.

The interior of the tunnel was black as an Egyptian night. I thought they would light a torch, but instead they hurried us along. Finally, Pete said something after his long unnatural silence. "Can you men see in here?" he asked.

"No," Graybeard answered. His voice was deep and growly, like that of a man long-used to shouting orders over the din of battle. "Hurry along and don't lose me. Put your hand on my shoulder, Brother," he said.

My back began to ache from being carried lack a sack. How those men found their way in the dark, I'll never know. At length, they stopped, and Redbeard set me on the ground. "Wait here," he said.

"Where are you going?" Pete asked in the darkness, for we still couldn't see. The air, which had been damp in the dungeon of the Temple, was much drier here, and the floor was clean and dry. Pete's voice echoed uncannily. There was no other sound. I hadn't heard the knights leave us, but they could not have been there any longer or we would have heard them breathing. It was as though they had vanished.

After a time, I asked Pete, "Do you think they were ghosts?"

He didn't answer.

"Mine seemed solid enough," I said. "Strong as an ox, he was."

Pete remained silent.

"Did you notice their antique armor?" I asked. Pete grunted, so I continued, "No one wears those mail coifs anymore, not with the new aventail bascinets."

Pete responded with continued silence.

"Perhaps they were from an outlying province, or even another country," I suggested. "Didn't their idiom seem odd to you?"

"Perhaps they were from Scotland," I concluded when Pete didn't answer. I couldn't just sit there in the dark and wait for God-knows-what.

"Why do you think they rescued us?" I asked.

"Please be quiet, Brother Bernard," Pete said, dropping his old familiarity now that we had apparently escaped the dungeon in which we had become fast friends, despite the vast differences between us. Pete had been the procurator of the Temple at the Roman Court, whereas I was but a simple priest of the Knights Templar. But who could tell the difference between us now in the gloom, except perhaps by the variances in our speech? "I am trying to think," he said.

"Sorry Pete," I said.

After a while, I said, "Do you suppose they killed those guards? Those were Christian men, after all, even if they were our jailers." I whispered a paternoster for their souls, just in case. While I prayed, I noticed a gray light beginning to filter down from somewhere high above. The light touched here and there a form in the darkness around us. One figure in particular took shape in the light, that of a woman standing with arms outstretched, palms toward heaven.

"Mary!" Pete whispered in awe and reverence as he looked up and saw her before him. Music floated down from above, the sweet resonance of a boy's choir. Tears sprang up in my eyes and rolled down my cheeks. Pete fell to his knees and I rose to mine, while the light grew, illuminating the other figures. Two knights stood to either side of the figure of Mary, while all around us lay other knights, some with legs crossed to signify service in the Holy Land. And I realized quite suddenly, and not without a touch of regret, that this was not a miracle, but a tomb.

Looking up, I saw a small grate in the ceiling high above, through which the light filtered, flickering intermittently now. Robed figures passed at regular intervals above, the singers whose voices resounded hollowly in our chamber, passing in procession, their sandled feet stepping on the iron grate, their robes whispering over it. No one looked down, nor could they have seen anything, I imagine, if they had.

I crawled over to Pete and touched his arm. He looked up, blinking back tears. "Now I know why," he said.

"Why what?" I asked.

"Why we were rescued. In nine months time in the city of Vienne, the pope will hold a council to decide the fate of the Temple. That is why I was imprisoned, to keep me from the council. But now, I will go there to defend the order before the Holy Father, and you will go with me," he said.

"Me? Go before the Holy Father and all! I wouldn't know what to say!"

"You don't have to say anything, brother. Just show him the stumps where your feet were burned off by the torturers. Show him the little bag they gave you to put your blackened bones in. You are greater testimony of our innocence than any poor words of mine, for despite your agony, you never confessed. Not like so many others," he said. His lip trembled. "Not like me."

I stroked the leather bag that hung around my neck, fingering the bones contained within it. It always seemed strange to take them out and look at them and to think they had once been inside my body, that I had once stood on them to say paternosters and walked on them from Albi to Rome on pilgrimage. In a way, they were like my children, those little bones that fell out of my flesh. And it comforted me to touch them, for they reminded me of what I had endured, and remembering it, I knew I could endure anything.

"God gives to each man a certain talent," I said to comfort Pete. "To me, He gave the strength to endure. To you, He gave the talent of oratory, to argue Law both secular and ecclesiastical, and to persuade people with your arguments. My talent might have saved my life, but your talent might save us all."

"We will go to Vienne, you and I," he said, smiling. He looked around. "If we can ever get out of here," he sighed.

Indeed, other than the grate high above, there didn't appear to be any exits from the tomb. We both wondered where our two knights had gone. Pete searched all around the walls for any sign of a secret entrance, while I crawled along the floor testing for trap doors. Near the base of the statue of Mary, I did find a loose stone with a plain, unadorned sword carved into it, but it proved to be a crypt containing the moldering remains of some poor knight long dead.

Pete, however, seemed very excited by the find, and he took the opportunity to cross the knight's leg bones beneath his skull, which the original builders of the tomb had neglected to do. Then he replaced the slab, only realizing afterwards that he had forgotten to return the knight's sword, but when he tried to move the slab again, it wouldn't budge. Pete awkwardly lifted the sword and turned to me as though to ask a question, but then his eyes froze in amazement and horror upon a point above my head. I turned to look, but I saw only the statue of one of the knights.

"Look Bernard," Pete whispered. "It's the red-bearded knight who rescued us."

There was a resemblance, to be sure, but from my angle on the floor, I couldn't see how Pete could be so sure.

"And here's the gray bearded knight," he continued, pointing to the other statue.

He stooped down to peer at the carving on the statue's base. "Saint Michael," he announced. I looked at the other one and found the words 'Saint George' chiseled into it. "Our rescuers men were St. Michael and St. George!" Pete exclaimed. "Don't you see it? How else could they have got past those guards, and how else could they have brought us here? They brought us here for a reason, so I could find this sword. I am to be the defender of the order. I have been chosen!"

"But Pete, you can't wield a sword. You're a priest," I said.

"Not anymore," he announced. "Don't you see? I've been knighted by St. George himself." He fell to his knees before the statue of the Blessed Virgin and crossed himself.

"But Pete," I said, "it's not proper. What about the Rule? You haven't been through any of the training. You're supposed to spend a night in fasting and prayer, and then be absolved by a priest. Then there's no grandmaster here to accept you, not even a preceptor, and certainly no witnesses."

"Forget the Rule!" he said excitedly. "What higher power do you want? You can absolve me, and as for witnesses, look around you. Here are dozens of witnesses, dozens of men more worthy than you or I to defend the order." He hefted the sword and swung it clumsily above his head. He looked like a overgrown boy playing at being a knight.


That first day in the tomb passed quickly. We were both so emotionally exhausted after our unexpected rescue that we fell asleep not long after Pete's finding of the sword. Pete dozed off first, lying by the feet of the Blessed Virgin and clutching the sword to his chest, while I succumbed not long after. When I awoke, they were saying the evening mass in the chapel above us. Pete paced the perimeter of the tomb.

Sometime after midnight mass, when everything had grown quiet and dark, a flickering yellow light appeared above us and stopped at the grate. Pete crouched behind the statue of the Blessed Virgin, while I crawled into the shadow cast by Saint George. We saw a dark figure kneel by the grate and open it. The figure then dropped several objects into the tomb, one of which bounced over and landed between my legs. I held my breath. Then the figure replaced the grate without saying a word and walked away, taking the light with him.

Pete and I searched the floor until we found the stranger's offering; they were two loaves of Gonesse bread, two skins of water and one of wine, and half a round Auvergne cheese. With much rejoicing, we devoured the heaven-sent meal. The bread was fresh and fragrant, the cheese mild, good solid food the likes of which I had not tasted in months. We saved some of the bread and wine and had our own little thanksgiving mass down there in the dark. It was pleasant and comforting to know we had a benefactor looking out for us up above, but after the mass Pete began to wonder aloud when they would get us out of the tomb. I enjoined him to whisper, as someone might hear us. He did, but not without much grumbling.

Every night it was the same. As regular as manna from heaven, our silent benefactor dropped to us food which could survive the fall, mainly breads and cheeses of varying sorts, and fresh skins of wine and water. Sometimes, a basket was lowered in which there was some sort of cooked meat (for which we were especially grateful) and some fruit or nuts as were in season. Into the basket we piled the empty wineskins and the rinds of the cheeses. On several occasions, Pete tried to speak to our midnight grocer, but only once did the man respond. "Soon," he said when asked when we would get out. "Be patient." We never saw his face, only the silhouette of his round head against the candlelight.

Our greatest problem, it seemed, would be the disposal of our bodily fluids. If we were to remain long in our crypt, it seemed the inevitable accumulation of nightsoil must surely draw attention to us by the very smell. This problem was solved, however, when Pete found a small hole in the floor near a wall which must have let into a sewer or ancient latrine, because as long as we used it (and we were down there for some time), it never filled. It was so efficient, in fact, that Pete suspected it to be of Roman origin.

Otherwise, it was not unpleasant living in the tomb. We listened to the masses and prayers and cantatas. It was mighty comforting and pleasant and regular, the very thing which first drew me to the church. There was something altogether peaceful about it, despite our being confined in a tomb. The activities of the church went on in perfect regularity above us, oblivious to us, yet benefiting us at the same time, for without that noise and bustle and life passing just overhead, we must surely have gone mad. I knew then what it must be like to die an excommunicate, buried in unhallowed ground, and I wanted more than ever to be interred within a church. In fact, I wanted that more than anything else. "How pleasant it must be to be buried here," I said one day to Pete. He gave me a horrified look.

If it were not for Brother Peter, I could easily have remained in that place. Poor Pete, he frothed at the bit. He wanted to be moving and doing, he wanted out, and he was miserable. For the first few weeks, he occupied himself with organizing the defense he would present on behalf of the Temple. He mentally rehearsed each point, then played his own devil's advocate and attacked each point to find its weaknesses, until he was sure each was solid and foolproof. But the difficulty of this task soon overwhelmed him. There were too many charges to defend against for him to mentally prepare himself without the assistance of notes, memoranda, and books of law. Each night, he begged our benefactor for pen, ink, and paper, candles, books, and news of the outside world, but none was ever delivered.

Inactivity galled him mightily. He was not used to waiting. His whole life he had been in the thick of things. Pete had gone to Outremer soon after joining the Order of Poor Knights. He was soon promoted to secretary to the treasurer Tibald de Gaudin and was with him at the fall of Acre. Together with some others, they fled with the Temple's treasure to the Castle of the Sea. There, Tibald de Gaudin learned of his being elected the new grandmaster, and he sailed to Cyprus with the treasure. Pete stayed behind. When it seemed certain that the Castle of the Sea must fall to Emir Shujai's forces, he fled to Tortosa, and then again to Castle Pilgrim when Tortosa was abandoned. Finally, he sailed to Cyprus with the last shipload of Christians to leave the Holy Land.

Brother Peter de Boulogne won renown for his bravery despite his only being a priest, and high praise for his talent for organization during the four evacuations of which he took part. He was sent to Rome to be the procurator for the Temple, to defend it and represent it in matters of law before the Holy See, and to press in all quarters for the declaration of a new crusade.

Diverting Pete was a Herculean task. My mind was no match for his, so I couldn't occupy him with discussions of law or theology. I was but an ignorant parish clerk before the arrests. Sometimes, I got him to tell me of his adventures in Outremer, and this entertained us both for a while. I was thankful we could hear the prayers and could join in with them, so we spent quite a bit of our time performing the rites required of us as men of the cloth. Pete admitted he had never been a very strict observer of the hours of prayer. He had joined the Temple for the excitement it offered, while I had joined because I was too stupid and slow to become a Dominican.

One afternoon, while playing a game of aspik with my ankle bones (we were wagering paternosters to be said by the loser), I asked Pete if he had ever thought it would last this long.

"No," he answered. "And I cannot understand it. Why would God rescue us, then leave us down here in this miserable tomb to rot? It would almost be better if He had left us in the dungeon. At least there we could have kept up with what is going on outside, and I might have a chance to persuade them to let me speak to the Archbishop."

"You complain like the Israelites at the shore of the Red Sea," I said. "God will not let Pharaoh catch us again, not after delivering us from Egypt. But I was not talking about being in this place. I was talking about the suppression of the Order. Did you ever think it would last this long?" It had been over four years since the arrests on 13 October, 1307, a Black Friday if ever there was one.

"Never," Pete said. "Never could I have imagined it possible. I am only glad. . ." his voice trailed off as he looked at me.

"Glad of what?" I asked.

"Nothing. I am forbidden to say."

There it was, the abominable Temple secrecy which had got us into so much trouble in the first place. Pete immediately changed the subject by asking me, "How did you survive the first few days?"

"The torture, you mean? I don't know. I suppose I remembered the words of my grandfather. He was a Cathar."

Pete gasped in astonishment, but I continued. "He said that a man can endure any pain if his faith is strong. That was just before they burned him. My parents, of course, did not believe as strongly as he, for they admitted to heresy at the merest threat of torture and were absolved after penance. Grandpa was sorely ashamed of them before he died. That's when he told me to be strong.

"So I couldn't admit to heresy, not when I knew of no heresy within the temple. To falsely admit heresy is as grave a danger to one's soul as to falsely deny it. And so, when the torture began, I put my faith in God that He wouldn't let me die with sin staining my soul, and He didn't."

"I wish I had your faith, brother," Pete said. "I put my faith in a man, the Pope, and so far he has failed us. I never believed the Holy Father could let this happen to us. I will tell you a thing now brother that very few know, and I know because of what you've been through that you will never tell anyone. We knew of the arrests beforehand. The grandmaster knew of the plans of the king of France, but he believed the Pope would vindicate us. But that is where we failed, for we underestimated the power of Philip the Fair, and we trusted too greatly in the benevolence of Clement V."

"I suspected as much," I said. "Word came to us a few days before to tighten security and let no secrets slip. And the night before, our preceptor ordered several brothers to take a store of weapons and armor and hide them in the forest."

Pete nodded. "So it was in many places," he said. "Jacques de Molay told us that the Holy Father would have us released within a month at most. How foolish we were! If only we had pooled our strength instead of dispersing it, they never would have taken us. France would have been ours, once the authority of the king had been successfully challenged. The people would have risen behind us. We could have thrown off the oppressive regime of Philip the Fair and set up a truly Christian kingdom, ruled by Christian men. Other countries would have flocked to our standard, other kings would have paid tribute and become our vassals or been overthrown. A new and true Holy Roman Empire would have arisen under the Templar cross, first in Europe, then across the world."

Pete looked at me then and smiled. "Pipe dreams," he said and shrugged.

I rolled the bones and scored a point. "That's another paternoster for you, brother," I said. I passed them to him and he took them, but he didn't roll. He held my bones in his hand and looked long at them. His eyes glistened with moisture. "There wasn't supposed to be any torture," he whispered.

He set my bones on the floor and turned away.


It was easy to count the days as they passed. I could tell the progress of the year by the services performed in the cathedral above us. The year crept by, and each day Pete grew more and more anxious. The date for the Council of Vienne was fast approaching and still no one came for us or even sent word. One grows weary even of peace after a while.

Finally, the night came when a basket was lowered to us, but in it there was only a swath of heavy cloth. Pete wrapped the cloth around my waist and tied it to the rope, and then I was lifted into the air. I ascended in surges, rising, stopping, rising again, without a sound. Below me, Pete watched with upturned face, and I waved to him until I could no longer see him. At the top, strong arms lifted me into a long dark cathedral and laid me on the stone flags. Four men, all robed in black and with hoods drawn up to hide their faces, greeted me with silence. They lowered the rope again and soon Pete stood beside me. He had brought his sword with him. "What is going on? Why haven't we ..." Pete began, but one of the men placed a long thin finger over Pete's lips, enjoining him to silence. Then he lifted me in his arms and motioned that Pete follow.

They took us into the street where, just outside the door, a cart waited. They laid me in the back of the cart and covered me with a blanket. Three of the men vanished into the night as silent as ghosts, while the fourth mounted to the seat of the cart and motioned that Pete should join him. He gave Pete a black robe to cover himself. "If we are stopped," he said, "keep your head covered and say nothing. The king's men have descriptions of you both. That is why we couldn't get you out until now." He turned and spoke over his shoulder to me. "If anyone comes near the back of the cart, keep hidden and say that you are a leper. That is our plan to get out of the city." With that, he whipped up the horses and we set out.

I did as I was told and hid beneath my blanket. It smelled of sweaty horses, an old familiar smell that I thought I had forgotten. It was comforting and warm and not altogether unpleasant. But the cart bounced most violently, and the ride was truly frightful, for I was ever in a terror that we would be stopped and discovered. I heard Pete try to ask questions of our rescuer, but the cart shook the words out of him so that he couldn't even speak.

After what seemed a very long time, long enough to cross France I thought, the cart rolled to a stop, and I heard men speaking. I crawled deeper into my blanket, if that were possible, and called out in weak voice, "Leper! Leper! Stand away!"

But a man tore the blanket from me. He wore a war helm with a long Norman nasal, and I thought we were caught. Instead, he smiled and greeted me, "Well met, Brother Bernard," and he lifted me in his arms and carried me through a gate and across a garden and into a small cottage. As I looked back, I saw the cart turning in the road and heading back toward Paris.

I found Pete already inside the cottage, sitting at a table and slurping at a bowl of stew and sopping up the juices with big hunks of brown bread. In the center of the table stood a large stone bowl of wine, and there were cups of turned wood to drink from, and a huge wedge of white cheese on a wooden plate from which another man was cutting slices and passing them around the table for the other men. In all, there were six men around the table, and there was a fine unwashed soldierly smell of leather and sweat.

"We leave at dawn," one of the men said to Pete.

Pete looked up from his bowl, his cheeks stuffed with bread. He swallowed. "To where?" he asked.

"South, through Aragon, to Portugal, then sail to Scotland."

Pete shook his head. "I have to get to Vienne," he said. He pointed at me with a crust of bread. "Brother Bernard and I have to see the Pope." While he said this, I was placed in a chair at the end of the table and a bowl of stew was slid before me. I looked around for the bread.

The men at the table began to mumble to one another. Several shook their heads. An argument commenced between Pete and the others, beards wagged, and there was much pointing and shaking of hunks of bread and sloshing of cups of wine; they used whatever was handy to emphasize their words. Gesticulating hands fluttered over the table like a gathering of butterflies over a field of clover. The stew was a galimafre, fragrant with cinnamon and ginger, and most invigorating, and the wine was Beaune from Burgundy. The bread, however, left something to be desired, for it was simple knight's bread and rather coarse. Still, one should not complain.

I was just settling back and enjoying a few sweet cakes which had just been brought to the table by a most delightful young serving girl, when the discussion finally reached its climax. Pete was determined to go to Vienne, and nothing they could say or do would change his mind. Finally, he stood and shook his spoon at them. "Our rescue from the dungeon was a miracle, brothers," he said.

"How can you say that?" one man asked. "Didn't we send the men to rescue you, as we've said before."

"Where are these brothers, then?" Pete asked. "Where is this Michael de Macon and this George of Kent, these brothers you sent to rescue me?"

"We do not know," the man mumbled. "They have disappeared."

"And why did they rescue Brother Bernard here? By your own admission, you told them to rescue me. You said nothing of Brother Bernard."

No one answered him.

"Have I not held the thorns of Christ's crown in my own hands and seen them flower? Am I not qualified to proclaim a miracle? I say to you, our deliverance from the dungeon was divinely ordained. Saint Michael and Saint George rescued us, and it was God's might that struck down the guards and opened the way."

"Why then did He not sweep you from Paris entire?" asked one of the men, a German by his speech. He had not spoken before. He was the youngest of the bunch, and somewhat shy among his elders.

Old Pete glowered at him until the poor fellow was forced to look away.

The leader of these knights, a brazen Scot if ever there was one, stood. "Don't you browbeat the lad, Brother Peter," he said. "Just you up and answer his question."

"All right, then. God took us to the tomb to make me a knight and to teach me patience," Pete said.

"A knight!" Several men laughed.

"That's right. I was knighted by Saint George himself, by his own hand, with this sword." He drew out the ancient blade from beneath the black robe he wore.

I opened my mouth to protest, but Pete shot me such a look as what froze the words in my throat. However, the Scot turned to me and asked, "Is this true, Brother? Did you witness this thing?" I shrugged, unable to speak, for Pete was staring at me.

"Brother Bernard was not allowed to see my transfiguration before Saint George," Pete explained, coming to my rescue. "He only saw the saint as a stone statue, and he did not hear St. George direct me to present our case before the Pope. But I know in my heart that I am a knight."

"But you are a priest. You have taken a vow to shed no blood," the Scot said.

"I have renounced my vow. I am now a knight, the same as you, better than you, for I have been to Outremer. Who else here can say the same?"

When no one answered, Pete crossed his arms. "Very well then, it is decided. We are going to Vienne. You men can go where you like. We thank you for rescuing us from Paris and for the hospitality of your table, but you cannot keep us from our quest."

"But we have orders to take you to Scotland," the Scot grumbled as he sat down. "What Robert the Bruce will say, I just don't know."

As the table was cleared and the candles extinguished, the knights dispersed to their beds in the loft. Pete and I were invited to sleep by the fire, as they had no other beds, and so blankets were brought. I rolled up in mine as close to the fire as I could, but Pete lay well back in the shadows, and I could see his eyes glittering in the red light. Soon, rattling snores shook the floor of the loft above. Pete rose and crept over to the fire. "Come, Brother Bernard," he whispered as he lifted me in my blanket.

"We are not staying?" I asked.

"No. They intend to kidnap us and take us to Scotland, despite what I told them. They think I can't read their hand signals, but it was plain enough to see if you know what to look for."

He eased open the door and, lifting me in his arms, we slipped outside. Dew lay heavy on the grass, and the trees were silver in the moonlight. Across the way, a low stable was built into the hillside. Thither we crept like a strange pair of assassins. Pete took a gray ass and set me on it. He then wrapped his sword in an old blanket and tied it behind me, and he took a stick to walk with. Then we set out, following the road toward the rising sun.

Part 2

©1998-2008 Jeff Crook

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