The Templarby P. C. Doherty
“Resurrectionist magic.” —The New York Times Book Review
“Resurrectionist magic.” —The New York Times Book Review
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By P. C. Doherty
St. Martin's PressCopyright © 2007 Paul Doherty
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The Parish Church of St Nectaire in the Auvergne. The Eve of the Feast of St Ignatius of Antioch, 16 October 1096
Dies irae et vindicatae tenebrarum et nebulae. (A day of anger and of vengeance, of darkness and thick clouds.)
The Dies Irae of St Columba
Duelling eagles had been seen fighting above the black curtain of trees, whilst in the night sky javelin threatened javelin beneath crossed swords. Blazing marriage torches had turned funereal. Winds started lightning bolts out of the clouds, which terrorised the people with their slanting flames. Comets scored the sky. Summers burned white-hot. Winter came in sheets of ice. Satan was seen everywhere. In that remote and unknown part of the great ocean called the Sea of Darkness, which teemed with monsters, devils could be seen rising from the midst of the waters, the fierce black band of the Prince of Demons, an awesome warning of what was about to happen. The time of confrontation had arrived.
The words of the Holy Father, Pope Urban II, had been released like darts the previous November. Jerusalem had to be liberated from the Turks. It was God's will. Men, women and children began arming for war. They brought out shields, the paint peeling, their frames bare, javelins with their points forced back, swords, daggers and spears all blackened or rusting. Forges were fired in villages and hamlets, the hammering and pounding going on deep into the night. Flames leapt up against scorch-marked walls as the weapons of war were sharpened and refined ready to cull a bloody harvest. Horses were brought in, hooves and mouths checked. Sumpter ponies were trotted across icy meadows and carefully inspected. The Frankish world was about to move, to journey to Jerusalem and free the Lord's Holy Places from Turkish hands. The people of the west hastened to fulfil the prophecies and portents as the skies clouded over with steel during the day and were riven at night by the clash of mythical weaponry. Masses were chanted, candles and tapers lit before the ghostly statues of a myriad of saintly protectors. Aves, Pater Nosters and Glorias were recited. Sins were shriven, penances accepted. Men, women and children took the cross, lying face down in a thousand freezing naves with the winter mist boiling along the mildewed flagstones beneath them whilst the carved face of their tortured Saviour stared down at them from the rood screen.
The great lords mortgaged their estates, pledged their revenues to the cross, begged pardon for sins and took the money offered by the good brothers of St Benedict to turn their ploughshares into swords and sickles into spears. Husbands swore fidelity towards their wives and loyalty to their kin as they drew up their last wills and testaments. Jerusalem called! Christ's fief beckoned! God's warriors were to free it from the hands of the Turks. Deus vult! God wills it! The cry echoed like a trumpet blast through the lands of the Franks. God's will would be done! Nevertheless, the cross-bearers also dreamed of jade-green seas, of courtyards as wide as summer fields, of horses with manes the colour of the whitest wheat, of marbled porticoes, precious cloths of camlet, damask and brocade, of jewels as large as carbuncles, of warm, golden days well away from the cold, dank air of the forests or the gloomy mist-haunted woods of the west. The fire of expectation flared through the lands of the Franks; the flames of faith, hope and charity glowed alongside those of ambition, greed and lust. God's will must be done in these last days. Men claimed the Apocalypse was imminent, the sudden rapture of the Day of Judgement, which was about to be sprung on every man like a trap. Nobody must be found wanting!
Nothing had been the same since the previous autumn, when a misty haze hung heavy over fields black and bare after the harvest had been gathered in. The grey walls of Clermont had become a shrine drawing in the caped churchmen with their glittering crosses, and the lords, their banners and gonfalons of red, gold and lily-white snapping in the breeze. On a purple dais, a curly-bearded cleric, shoulders weighed down by a pure white gold-embroidered pallium, delivered God's message. Pope Urban II added his own summons. 'I speak to you who are present here,' he began in a ringing voice. 'I announce it to those who are absent that Christ has ordained this. From the borders of Jerusalem to the city of Constantinople, terrible tidings have gone forth. A certain race has emerged from the Kingdom of the Persians, a barbarous people who have invaded the lands of the Christians of the east and depopulated them by fire, steel and ravage. Such invaders, Turks and Arabs, have advanced through the empire of Constantinople as far as the Middle Sea and as far as the straits which are called the Arm of St George. The empire of Constantinople is now mutilated. Until this present year the empire has been our defence; now it is in dire need. These Turks have driven away many Christian captives to their own country. They have torn down the churches of God or used them for their own rites. What more can I say to you? Listen now, these pillagers pollute the altars with the filth of their bodies. They circumcise Christians and pour the blood of the circumcision upon our altars or into baths and fonts. They use our churches now withdrawn from the service of God to stable their horses. Yes, these churches are served not by holy men; only the Turks may use them. Even now the Turks are torturing Christians, binding them and filling them with arrows or making them kneel, bending their heads so their swordsmen can cut through their necks with the single blow of a naked sword. What shall I say about the rape of women? To speak of that is worse than to be silent. You in France have heard the murmur of agonies from beyond the borders of Iberia! The time may well come when you will see your own wives violated and your children driven before you as slaves out of the land.
'Reflect also on those fellow Christians who have travelled the seas as pilgrims. If they carry money, they are forced to pay taxes and tribute every day at the gates of cities and the entrances to churches. If they are accused of anything, they are forced to buy their freedom again, and as for those who have no money but trust in Lady Poverty, what of them? They are searched. They even have the calluses cut from their bare heels to see if they have sewn something there. They are given poison to drink until they vomit and burst their bowels to show if they have swallowed coins. More often their stomachs are cut open to be searched; their intestines pulled forward and slit so that what is hidden may be revealed. Who can relate this without sorrow? These are your blood brothers, children of Christ and sons of the Church. On who else will fall the task of vengeance and justice unless on you who have won such glory in arms? You have the courage and the fitness of body to humble the hand lifted against you.'
Urban, his voice thrilling with passion, now turned his anger on his listeners. 'You are girded knights, yet you are arrogant with pride! You turn on your brothers with fury, cutting down one then the other. Is this the service of Christ? Let us hold to the truth! To our shame: this is not our way of life! Orphaners of children, despoilers of widows, slayers of men! You reek of sacrilege! You are murderers awaiting the payment of blood- guilt. You flock to battle like vultures that glimpse a corpse from afar. This is hideous! If you would save your souls, lay down the guilt of such knighthood and come to the defence of Christ. All you who carry on feuds, go to war against the Turks! You who have become thieves become soldiers, fight the just war, labour for the everlasting reward! Let no obstacle turn you aside; arrange your affairs, gather together supplies, enter upon this journey when winter is ended. God will guide you ...'
Urban paused, leaning against the dais. He watched the assembled mass. Men burst into tears, faces in their hands, women turned away, and then the cry came. 'Deus vult!' The shout rose to a roar as men drew sword and dagger in a clash of steel, bellowing their war cry to the skies. Urban lifted his hands and motioned for silence.
'Where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them,' he intoned. 'Unless the Lord God had been in your minds, you would not have cried "Deus vult!" So I say to you, God himself has drawn this cry from you. Let that be your battle cry when you go out against the enemy. Let this war cry be shouted: God wills it! Moreover, whoever shall offer himself upon the journey must make a vow, and wear a sign of the cross on his head or his breast. The old and sick should not go, nor those unfit to bear arms. Women should not set out upon this holy pilgrimage without husbands, brothers or guardians, for such are a hindrance rather than an aid. Let the rich help the poor. Do not let possessions detain you, nor the love you have for children, parents or homes. Remember what the Gospel says: "You must forsake all to follow Christ." So go forth upon your path to the Holy Sepulchre, wrest that land from the invaders and keep it for yourselves, a land that flows with milk and honey! Jerusalem, fruitful above all other lands, where the Lord lived and died for us. In His Holy Sepulchre kneel and give thanks for your faith. Go, and fear not. Your possessions here will be safely guarded, whilst you will take from your enemy even greater treasures. Why fear death in a land where Christ laid down his life for you? If any should lose their lives, even on the journey by sea or land in this battle against the Turks, their sins will be forgiven. I grant this to all who go, by the power invested in me by God. Do not fear torture or pain, for that is the crown of martyrdom. The way will be short, the reward everlasting. Yes, I speak with the voice of a prophet. Take up your arms; it is better to fall in battle than see the sorrow of your people and the desecration of the Holy Places ...'
And so the summons went out. Adhémar, bishop of nearby Le Puy, Urban's envoy, was appointed to take the Voice of God and turn it into the Voice of the People. Urban was of Cluny, and his black-robed Benedictine brethren also carried the message out into the fields, villages and cities. They painted a picture of heavenly delight awaiting all who took the cross: Jerusalem, the eternal city, guarded by lofty towers, with foundations of precious stones, protected by gates brighter than the stars; even its battlements glowed with pure crystal. Inside, the streets were paved with gold and silver, its palaces of gleaming marble, lapis lazuli and precious gems. Crystal waters spurted through golden-mouthed fountains and silver- edged pipes to water health-giving trees, fragrant flowers and medicinal herbs. During a cruel winter, with the meat smelling rancid, the fruit and vegetables turning black and rotting, the bread rock-hard, not to mention the prospect of worse to come, the vision of such a heavenly city was more powerful than any psalm or hymn. Young men left horse and plough to prostrate themselves before the rood screen of their church. Two slivers of red cloth, sewn in the form of a cross, were clasped on their shoulders. A few days later they would stand in the same stone-flagged, hollow-sounding nave to receive the purse and staff, symbols of being a pilgrim as well as a cross-bearer.
Winter passed bleak and hard. Berries and roots became the staple of life, whilst the soft breads, fresh meats and plump fruits of summer grew to be only a distant memory. Many more began to envy the crucesignati, or cross-bearers. The prospect of bathing in the warm waters of the Jordan, of walking amongst a paradise of fruit trees and feasting on sweet, tender meats and the softest manna was almost as tantalising as that of everlasting life. Such dreams warmed the freezing cold of winter in draughty rooms filled with peat-smoke, which curled and cured the stale meat hanging from rafters or shoved into crevices above the hearth. God wills it. The message went out, seeping through the rain-soaked villages and frost-imprisoned hamlets with their rutted tracks, stinking animal pens and dingy houses. The cross, two slivers of red cloth, would transform all this.
God wills it – the refrain was taken up in halls and solars where the smoke-darkened tapestries ruffled and flapped against limestone walls in a vain attempt to keep out the sneaky icy draughts. Deus vult. A glorious path had been opened to salvation in this world and redemption in the next. Why, men wondered, wait for spring to break the hard soil, to stare up at the clouds and pray desperately for good weather? Why not journey east to the marvels of Jerusalem, destroy God's enemies, seize back the Holy Places and win the Lord's friendship for all eternity? No more hardship, no more war between neighbours, no more back-breaking work on the land or perilous journeys from one place to another as darkness descended and the wood-mists swirled. Other glories beckoned: the gold, silver and precious stones that adorned the fabulous cities of the Byzantines. Conversion to the call was swift. Even professional men of war hurried to take the oath. They too prostrated themselves before the altars of a thousand churches. They pledged their estates wherever they could, settled debts, made peace with enemies, drew up wills and turned to the business in hand. How many spears, how many arrows were needed? What armour? How many pack horses? They drew in others as former opponents invoked the Truce of God, which meant that a warrior dedicated to the cross was sacred – and that included his property and family.
The great lords were also lured, amongst these Raymond, the sixty-year-old Count of Toulouse, Lord St Gilles, or Sanctus Aegidius, to whom he had a special devotion. Raymond became a fervent cross-bearer. Small and wiry, his hard head shaved close as well as his grey beard and moustache, he had a warrior's face. Some said he had lost an eye fighting the infidel in Iberia. Others claimed he had been on pilgrimage to Jerusalem and had his eye plucked out for refusing to pay the tax the Turks levied on all who wished to worship in the Holy Sepulchre. These same people whispered how Raymond kept the eye in a special pouch and had pledged vengeance for it. Raymond of Toulouse mortgaged his estates, settled his debts, took the oath and sent out his messengers. The Provençals, the count's subjects, listened and marvelled at the portents that accompanied his proclamations. One night the moon turned blood-red. A shepherd saw a mighty city in the air. A star appeared and advanced by leaps and bounds towards the east. Torches of fire swept the sky. A sword of wonderful length was suspended from heaven and hosts of stars fell, each one representing the death of an infidel. Springs ceased to give water and spouted blood instead, indicating how the blood of their enemies was about to flow. Twins were born joined to each other; could that mean that east and west were to be united? The cross was seen everywhere. The stars themselves were congregating into one gigantic cross. A priest reported that the heavens had opened before his eyes and a huge cross had been displayed before him. Another priest maintained he had seen a vision of a knight and a Turk in combat in the sky. After a desperate battle, the infidel had been thrown from his horse and killed by the knight, who delivered his fatal blow with a cross. A sure sign that heaven was with them. God wills it!
Better still, they argued in taverns and alehouses, life would improve. They would be liberated from tilling the harsh fields in endless, grinding monotony. The journey to Jerusalem was an escape not only from evil-smelling dark alleyways and damp hovels but from the strictures of life. Women dressed in men's clothing and flourished spears with warlike threats. Priests, caught up in the frenzy, assumed the cross without consulting their bishops. Monks emerged from monasteries; some of them had not seen outside life since their youth and yet their abbots could not restrain them. Those who engaged in the sacred cause were, by papal decree, exempt from all taxation and relieved from duties if their lord did not take the cross. Debtors could not be held to account as long as they were a cross-bearer. No legal suit could be started against one who wore the sacred sign, whilst the cross was protection against almost any criminal action. Prisoners were released on the understanding that they would fight the Turks. Robbers who had been a terror to their neighbourhood for years were received into the peace with open arms. No man was so sin-laden that he could not be purged by merely assuming the cross and carrying out his vow. Women urged husbands, lovers and sons to enlist in the sacred cause. The man who held back was looked upon as a traitor to Christ and a coward to his community. Women's garments were sent to him. Men and women burned and cut the sign of the cross on their own bodies and even branded their children, including infants at the breast, with the all-important symbol. A priest appeared with a cross burned deep on his forehead and confirmed it had been accorded to him by heaven.
Excerpted from The Templar by P. C. Doherty. Copyright © 2007 Paul Doherty. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
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