The Temple and the Stoneby Katherine Kurtz, Deborah Turner Harris
Originally formed to protect pilgrims en route to the Holy Land, the military order of the Knights Templar embark on a dangerous quest at the end of the 13th century to restore the magical power of Scotland's famed Stone of Scone, upon which all Scottish kings are crowned.
- Grand Central Publishing
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The Temple and the Stone
By Katherine Kurtz, Deborah Turner Harris
OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIACopyright © 1998 Katherine Kurtz and Deborah Turner Harris
All rights reserved.
In mid-September of 1290, under clear skies and with a brisk following breeze, a stout Norse-built cog set sail from the Norwegian port of Bergen, carrying to her wedding with England the seven-year-old Margaret Queen of Scots, known as the Maid of Norway.
The marriage had been arranged, in part, through the offices of the bearded, white-cloaked man standing at the taffrail of the Maid's ship. Frère Arnault de Saint Clair, Knight of the Temple of Jerusalem, had been among a number of outside negotiators whose assistance had facilitated the Treaty of Birgham; for the Temple's reputation for impartial arbitration was recognized universally, and the fortunes both of Scotland and of England were of great interest to all of Europe.
A singular array of qualifications commended Frère Arnault to his present assignment. Though a veteran of nearly twenty years' service as a Knight Templar, much of it in and around the Holy Land, he had been based for most of the past decade at the Order's Paris Temple, where he was regularly entrusted with sensitive financial and diplomatic missions on behalf of the Visitor of France, who was second only to the Grand Master, and the highest ranking Templar in Europe.
Landless youngest son of a prosperous Breton knight, facile in a handful of languages besides his native French, Arnault moved with equal ease among courtiers and churchmen as on the battlefield, as glib of tongue as he was quick of wit and fleet of sword. Coupled with the fortunes of his birth, an accompanying spiritual inclination might have led him to a rich sinecure as clerkly chancellor of some great house or even an eventual mitre; but a parallel excellence in the knightly pursuits at which his elder brothers excelled had directed him instead to a vocation as a Knight Templar.
These circumstances, along with an awareness of Scottish affairs — by dint of collateral cousins in Scotland — had earned him an appointment to the Birgham delegation beside Frère Brian de Jay, the English-born Preceptor of Scotland, who had knowledge of both English and Scottish law. The two had not met prior to their present assignment, and Arnault could not say that he had warmed to Jay in the months they had spent at the negotiating table; but the English knight did seem to know his business where the law was concerned. Having seen the treaty signed and sealed, the two men were now accompanying the little princess to Scotland, where she would be met by a suitable escort of her Scottish nobles. From there, she would travel south to London, where a new life and a new home awaited her.
The wind freshened, shifting a few degrees to the north, and Arnault breathed deeply of the brisk sea air, always welcome after the years spent in the deserts of Outremer. Unarmored here at sea, though his sword was girt always at his side, he wore beneath his mantle the formal white habit of Templar monastic profession, emblazoned on the breast with the splayed, eight-pointed red cross of the Order. His dark hair was barbered close to his head, as required by the Rule, but he had leave to keep his beard neatly trimmed, out of deference to the more fastidious circles in which his diplomatic duties obliged him to move.
He allowed himself a contented sigh as he swept his gaze around him. The royal ship was threading her way along the last of the deep fjords leading out to sea. The rigging was bright with pennons in the colors of Norway and Scotland, lifting gaily on the wind, and the princess's half-dozen Norwegian attendants made a colorful gathering around her on the deck below.
Margaret herself was almost lost in the midst of them: a diminutive, flaxen-haired doll muffled in furs, sheltering in the grandfatherly embrace of Bishop Narve of Bergen. To Arnault's discerning gaze, watching from the machicolated platform of the ship's stern castle, she appeared somewhat frail and not entirely well, her small face pinched and white under its rich coif of silk and gold netting.
Less than reassured at the sight, Arnault found himself uneasily aware how the welfare of the entire Scottish nation was now dependent on the indifferent health of this one small girl. Even as that thought crossed his mind, he was joined at the rail by his Templar companion, who nodded somewhat distractedly.
Somewhat older than Arnault, Brian de Jay was a big, muscled man with short-cropped blond hair, a white-toothed grin within his curly blond beard, and eyes of a glacial blue. Leaning indolently on the railing, he cast a sour glance upward toward the ship's rigging, where the freshening wind was fretting at the reefs in the ship's great square sail.
"I would have preferred the English ship that King Edward sent," he remarked. "Even more, I would have preferred to sail six weeks ago. I like not these fickle seas in the north."
Arnault shrugged. "No doubt King Eric preferred to entrust his daughter to a ship of Norse crafting."
"The king will have been affronted at the snub," Jay replied. "It makes for a less than auspicious beginning to the alliance."
"The Norse shipwrights take great pride in their work," Arnault said neutrally, surprised at this somewhat partisan statement regarding the English king. "King Eric evidently felt that a Norwegian-built vessel would prove the more seaworthy in the event of a storm."
"Well, the delay makes storms more likely," Jay said with a grimace. "I hope he doesn't have cause to regret his decision. Aside from the political repercussions, I'd hate to see all our efforts wasted — especially when we could have been putting our energies to better effect in defense of our domains."
He was referring, Arnault knew, to the Templar strongholds of the East: Acre and Tripoli, Tyre and Sidon, Athlit and Haifa — all that now remained of the former crusader Kingdom of Outremer. Since the fall of Jerusalem, over a century before, the great crusading Orders of the Temple and the Hospital had managed — just — to retain those strongholds, bolstered by sporadic infusions of aid from the West; but their position in recent years had become increasingly perilous.
"Look at us," Jay continued disparagingly. "We are meant to be men of war. Surely our place is in the Holy Land, where the danger is — not trailing like lapdogs about the skirts of these diplomats! Our proper vocation is fighting — not matchmaking on behalf of young children."
Arnault gazed out to sea, reflecting that these militant sentiments might have carried more weight if Jay had been speaking from previous experience in the East. As it was, the Preceptor of Scotland owed his present position of eminence to the favor of the Master of England, who had groomed him for administrative function and then sent him north to oversee the Scottish houses of the Order. Unlike Arnault, who had seen active service in the Holy Land and carried the scars to prove it, Jay had yet to match words with deeds on the field of battle.
"We go where we're ordered, and do as we're told," Arnault said mildly. "And don't underestimate the value of what has been achieved by the Treaty of Birgham. If this marriage succeeds, it could bring us a step closer to redeeming the Kingdom of Outremer."
Not that the auguries were good for such an outcome. Only a few months before, the delicate balance in Acre — most crucial of the Order's remaining holdings in the East — had nearly come unstuck when a band of peasant levies newly arrived from Tuscany went on a rampage and massacred a number of Muslim merchants in an unprovoked attack. The Mameluke Sultan Qalawun had been justifiably incensed by the incident, and only some frantic last-minute negotiations on behalf of the Franks had averted an outbreak of full-scale reprisals. A fragile truce was holding thus far, but the threat of war remained ever present. The Order's military strategists hoped that if hostilities could be kept at bay long enough, the sovereign powers of Christendom might be more readily persuaded to lend their aid to the defense and eventual reclamation of the Frankish Kingdom.
"I suppose the marriage might pry loose some support from King Edward," Jay replied. His expression turned speculative at the prospect of a new crusade. "He certainly knows the Holy Land from the pilgrim campaigns of his youth. Given the part we have played in securing this Scottish alliance, perhaps he will show his gratitude by returning to Acre at the head of another army. I'll wager the Mamelukes would find him a formidable opponent."
Arnault merely nodded his agreement. At his best, Edward Plantagenet was a strong leader, shrewd in his judgments and farsighted in his aspirations. But he was also capable of being unconscionably vindictive; and his appetite for power, once roused, was insatiable. Having set his sights on Scotland, he would stop at nothing now to acquire it. If this marriage compact were to fail — for whatever reason — Edward's next recourse might well be invasion.
The weather held, despite Jay's uneasiness. Princess Margaret, her female attendants, and the bishop and his clerk were quartered beneath the stern castle, where partitioning had been installed to create cramped shelter for sleeping. The princess's military escort, including the two Knights Templar, slept out on deck with most of the crew, under the sheltering lee of the forward castle.
Some time after midnight during their second night out from Bergen, Arnault awoke to an awareness that the ship's momentum had changed. Casting off his blanket, he rose quietly to investigate, bracing himself against the rail. They had emerged from the shelter of the Norwegian coast shortly before sunset. The stars had vanished behind a thick pall of cloud. Light from the ship's lanterns showed whitecaps building on top of the waves. The captain was up on the forecastle in close consultation with the ship's weatherman.
Making his way forward against the pitch and roll of the deck, Arnault clambered up the ship's ladder to join them. When he inquired about the ship's status, the captain's response was blunt.
"I don't like the signs. There's a storm moving in from the northwest. The currents in these waters prohibit trying to outrun it. We can only hold our course and hope to ride it out."
"How bad is it likely to get?" Arnault asked.
"I can't say," the weatherman replied. "The signs might be worse. But we will see rough winds and high seas not long after first light."
The weatherman's predictions were borne out within the next few hours. Darkness yielded to an uncertain dawn, under ominously lowering skies. The ship's crew went grimly to work, dousing the lanterns and lashing down everything on deck that was not already secure. When the sail had been trimmed and the hatches closed, the captain and the helmsmen took to their stations fore and aft and braced themselves for the coming gale.
With the arrival of the first squall, the little Princess Margaret succumbed to retching seasickness and had to be confined to her bed while the ship plunged and rolled. By midday, most of her personal attendants were similarly affected, as well as a few of the crew. Bishop Narve and the young canon who served as his secretary were among the few to be spared, and set themselves to caring for those who were not. Meanwhile, the ship's helmsman fought to keep her headed into the waves, in the teeth of a blustering wind and a day that never really got light.
Arnault had been to sea often enough to be accustomed to stormy weather. When Brian de Jay proved equally resilient in keeping his sea legs and the contents of his stomach, the two Templars joined the crew in helping keep the ship battened down against the storm, which continued throughout that day and all through the night without any sign of abating.
By morning, the state of the ship's passengers was one of abject misery. Every roll of the vessel drew groans from those lying prostrate on their pallets. The air trapped in the makeshift sleeping accommodations smelled sourly of sickness as Arnault made his staggering way to the little princess's curtained alcove.
Here he found Bishop Narve and Freu Ingabritt, the little Maid's favorite lady-in-waiting, attempting to ease the child's sufferings with infusions of herbs and other folk remedies. The elderly prelate was cradling the little girl in his arms with a grandfather's tenderness, singing softly to her in the Norse tongue. The simple rhymes and melodies were those of folksong and lullabye.
"How is she?" Arnault asked from the entryway.
The bishop looked up, his expression grave. "Not well, Frère Arnault. So young a child is too delicate for rigors such as these. If this storm does not soon abate, I fear she may not survive the journey."
All that day and the next, the ship rode the storm like a leaf in a mill-race, making but little headway. Towering waves tossed the ship like a toy, often crashing over the prow and sending sheets of foam racing the length of the deck. Crew and passengers alike spent their fifth night at sea without heat or comfort. On the morning of the sixth day, the ship's timbers began to crack, and the hull began letting in water. As most of the able-bodied were set to bailing, others helped move Princess Margaret and her attendants out onto the deck, in case the ship should founder and they be trapped inside.
Oilskins and blankets were rigged to create a berth for them under the forecastle, but this was poor shelter at best. The little Maid herself seemed wholly insensible to her surroundings, and lay white and motionless in Bishop Narve's arms, with only the merest flutter of a pulse to show that she still lived. Arnault and Jay took their turns in the bucket brigade with the rest of those who were still on their feet, working in relays in a ceaseless effort to keep the hold from filling with water, but Jay clearly was unhappy with the arrangement.
"This is no fit occupation for a knight," he grumbled, as he and Arnault labored alongside the crew and the military escort.
Arnault was fighting the temptation to inquire whether Jay would prefer the alternative, when there came a sudden shout from the masthead lookout.
"Land ho! Land ahead, off the port bow!"
Abandoning their labors, the two Templar knights made their way forward. Peering hard through the rain and sea spray, Arnault was just able to make out a rocky headland jutting from the waves at the outer most limits of visibility. The deck shuddered underfoot as the ship came about, its prow bearing hard on this newfound landmark. Catching sight of the captain on the forecastle, Arnault clambered swiftly up the ladder to join him.
"Have you any idea where we are?" he asked, pitching his voice loud above the roar of the wind and waves.
The captain gave a tentative bob of the head, not taking his eyes from that speck of land. "By my reckoning, we've reached the Orkneys. I would guess this to be one of the outlying islands. There should be settlements, if we can make it to shore."
The land loomed closer. A ragged cheer went up from the crew as the ship cleared the headland and the fury of the storm somewhat abated, though rain continued to fall. Beyond, sheltered by a ridge of high ground, lay a stretch of calmer water fronting a beach of pebbly shingle. Even more welcome was the sight of a plume of smoke trickling skyward from what appeared to be a substantial farmstead, perched on the grassy slope overlooking the lagoon.
Details became clearer as they drew nearer the shore. Built Norse-fashion with walls of turf and roofs of slate, the compound encompassed several barns and a number of outbuildings, all clustered around a central dwelling, the source of the rising smoke, vented off by holes in the roof slates. Encouraged by these clear signs of habitation, the captain drew as near to the shore as he dared before ordering the anchor dropped and the ship's boat put over the side. While preparations were made to ferry the little princess and the sickest of the other passengers ashore, a delegation was sent ahead to commandeer assistance from the farm.
Excerpted from The Temple and the Stone by Katherine Kurtz, Deborah Turner Harris. Copyright © 1998 Katherine Kurtz and Deborah Turner Harris. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
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