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Thread: A Painted Shield of Honour

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    Ja mata, TosaInu Forum Administrator edyzmedieval's Avatar
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    Default A Painted Shield of Honour

    It might surprise you a bit, fellow reader, to see such a title.

    After all, shields, honour, maybe an artist, that would not necessarily go hand in hand. Except it does - since the novel focuses on the infamous Templar Knights, the knights who guarded Jerusalem and who became one of the most infamous organisations in the medieval world. This is a project about them, focusing on the last days in 1313 and their war against King Philip of France.

    A new project, but not necessarily a new novel, as the entire work had already been written more than 10 years ago. The book is undergoing an extensive editing - or restoration if you will - to keep the story but to make sure that all of the sights, sounds, smells and impressions are evocating that very very turbulent period in 1313.

    A Painted Shield of Honour.

    May you have a very pleasant read.


    ------------------------------


    Chapter I – The Shadow

    13th of October 1313
    7:55 PM
    Paris
    The Kingdom of France


    Raymond heard them.


    A faint rumble echoed from down the street, a coarse clatter of hardened steel ringing off the cobblestones, reaching his ears in crisper overtones as they drew nearer and nearer. For a brief moment, he relaxed his muscles and waited in silence, releasing the silvered clasp of his heavy cloak. His finger slid down to the pommel, his hand closing over the gilded handle of his longsword. Raymond turned his head left, then right, glancing one last time for any unfortunate bystanders or drunkards in the darkness that engulfed the rest of the street. With the street empty, he jolted away from the dark wall and glided gently towards the crossroad to his left.

    Eerie silence it was just minutes ago, Raymond remembered, but the cobblestones rang deeper with the clangour of boots as they approached him. They broke into a patch of moonlight and stepped forwards with confidence, dressed in their brown tunics and their shaved heads, bared and barely visible in the dim light. They might have passed as two poor friars at any other moment of the day, even with the armoured boots, but Raymond knew they were not the friars they seemed to be. They came towards Raymond in their glacial pace, eyes darted downwards, gaze averted from any onlookers, slipping past him without a sidelong glance. Their footsteps echoed behind him for a couple of more moments but just as he turned his head to catch a glimpse, they were gone.

    Raymond frowned. Dark as it was around him, the alley caving an opening between the houses on the left side of the street was visible in the moonlight. Four thatched houses with one floor stood adjacent to each other, the alley right in their midst. The alley had a particular reputation, most of it due to a dubious inn hidden in its depths, but try as he might, Raymond could not remember one inch of it. Anxious, Raymond slowly unsheathed his sword. He slid sideways, hugging the wall of the squalid house to his left, gently padding over the cobblestones. Irregular patches of moonlight formed a trickle of light that guided his steps to the opening of the alley. Raymond stopped at the edge of the alley, swallowing with unease. He took a glance. Darkness. Jittery, Raymond gripped his sword and jumped into the alley.

    A long, narrow passageway bordered by faint outlines of thatched houses opened before him, a lone torch encased in the opposite wall meters from his spot the only light that blazed through the darkness. A broken door stood ajar underneath the torch, giving enough indication about the state of the infamous inn behind it. No sounds echoed from the door, nor the end of the alley. Nor for that matter were any sounds behind him. Uneasy, Raymond hugged the wall and glided forwards, the heavy sword clutched tight in his hand. His boots clicked, clanged and echoed in the darkness, or so his mind registered. Faint, but crisp enough to distinguish, the clatter of other boots trickled to his ear. He heard them again, and again, and again as the friars fumbled in the darkness.

    And yet the false friars had no idea he was there. Shards of broken pottery, splintered planks and bits of wooden barrels covered the end of the alley, faintly illuminated by the small torch they carried. The light was only good enough to show them the immediate steps ahead, too dim to illuminate Raymond behind them. They were sure Raymond went into this alley, maybe in that creepy and deserted inn where the other torch lay. But neither of them dared to enter it. One of them fumbled in the dark and tripped over a broken barrel, sprawling headfirst onto the pavement. He stood up, glancing around, but there was nothing to be seen. He backed off, kicking the barrel again, crunching the planks with loud sounds.

    The friar froze on his spot. A ghostly clatter of boots loomed towards them and steel scraped the near walls, sending a wave of butterflies inside his stomach. But in his desperation to track back and avoid the menace, he tripped over another broken barrel.

    It came out of nowhere and neither man had time to react. Raymond lunged forwards, the heavy sword slicing through the air with a vicious rotating movement. The steel edge ripped the man's neck apart, slashing his jugular into a red torrent that gushed on the pavement. The other man instinctively glanced behind him but it was too late. Raymond sliced his sword upwards and rotated on his heels, bringing the Damascus steel down in a blindingly fast blow that severed the man's head. There was no sound, no shriek, no wail, not even the slightest reaction.

    “Bastards,” muttered Raymond under his breath.

    Bells chimed and rang in the distance as Raymond sheathed his sword. Hurried, he scoured through the men's garments and found a small cloth bag filled with golden florins and two small scrolls. Satisfied with the discovery, even with the scrolls rather useless to him right now, he glanced one last time behind him and slid back into the dark Parisian streets. It was right, left, left, right, right again and maybe a couple of more turns he forgot about until he broke into one of the main boulevards leading up to the city gates. Caravans at this time of the night would be rare but they were still leaving the city, or at the very least camping in a safe spot, away from prying eyes.

    “Somewhere,” muttered Raymond to himself.

    To his satisfaction, the main streets were mostly empty and desolate. The bitter October cold made short work of anyone meddling through the streets at this hour. Steel boots echoed in the distance, a dim shout breaking through the evening. Raymond ignored the sounds. He swaggered forwards, cloak drawn over his head, his eyes focused on every flickering shadow around him. It went on for a couple of streets until he reached the end of the boulevard. Pacing rightwards, he hugged the walls and their shadows, down the long empty street, a tingle of fear creeping up his spine.

    He reached the neighbourhood moments later. The Templar commandery was guarded by a cast-iron gate, housed within an expansive complex. Raymond pushed the gate aside but much to his annoyance, the only reaction he received was the scraping of the rusted lock. Raymond sighed. He knew he should have expected it.

    Constructed as a faithful copy of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem, the commandery of the Templar Knights in Paris was not impressive from the outside. To an outsider, it looked like a simple stone outpost with numerous buildings clustered around an oddly-shaped church. Stamped on the iron bars of the gate was a round symbol with two knights on a single horse. Apart from these particular details, there was nothing else to show that it was anything but another church.

    Raymond glanced around. With no one to disturb him, he jumped on the gate and hopped over the sharp spikes at the top. He landed on a soft patch of grass, rolling over to one side and into the shadow offered by the nearest chapter house. By now moonlight shone directly on the darkened complex, a mere ghost devoid of any soul locked with iron chains by King Philip's soldiers.

    Seeing no one, Raymond broke into the moonlight and rushed to the massive oak door a couple of feet ahead of him. Fearful, he entered the small cathedral, the imposing place of worship embossed with architraves and stained glass shining in the moonlight. There were no benches or furniture of any sort inside, spare for a large wooden counter near the altar and covered by black sheets. The wooden benches that were used by people to stand and pray were no longer there, wrecked to bits or taken away, along with the pulpits. Raymond stepped lightly inside the cathedral, the leather soles of his boots quiet on the marble floor.

    It was empty, devoid of any souls, silence the only company he had. Raymond had escaped the capture by King Philip's men, out to get any Templar they could get their hands on, the commandery in Paris locked, sealed and not even guarded. Sweat drops trickled down from his temple, exhausted, his throat as dry as he had ever imagined it. He heard that most of the Templar brothers were kept in the Saint-Denis prison. That was the extent of the information he had.

    "Not much to work with," Raymond muttered to himself.

    Raymond nodded at the darkness and was about to turn to the door when a crashing noise rang throughout the cathedral, other strange throbbing sounds following suit. The far counter collapsed to the floor, ripping the white sheets guarding the pulpits to shreds. Bits of masonry crashed along, echoing in the eerie silence of the small cathedral. Shards of broken metal collapsed on top of the counter, Raymond guessing from the hidden organ behind the sheets. Philip's men had destroyed the interiors but they held up, only collapsing when the wind current blew through what was left of it. Shaken, Raymond rushed back to the gate and into the Parisian streets.

    Jarring cold was the only thing he met once outside. As he slithered away from the commandery and back into the main boulevards, throngs of people started to appear, most of them souls of the night, the streets now lined up by drunkards, prostitutes and troubadours as if it was market day. Militia battalions patrolled in full combat gear, halberds clutched tightly in their hands, their eyes onto every shadow that seemed out of place. Raymond avoided them, switching from cover to cover, but the time lost could not be made up. Dawn approached with every minute and he could not afford to linger another day in Paris. Panting, he sped up his pace, closing in on the southern gate of the city towards Marseille.

    Cloudless, the moonlit sky cleared his path and shone directly above the boulevard plaza around the southern entrance, forming a three-way crossroad with the fortified city gate. Amidst the crossroad, a massive stone statue of Charlemagne on his horse stood guard. But just as Raymond was about to discard his idea of fleeing Paris, a long shadow crept around the statue, the shadow flickering slightly on the stone edges as it moved at snail pace towards the gate.

    “Caravans,” muttered Raymond.


    Raymond wasted no time. He jolted from his concealed position in the shadow and crouched in the shadow of the statue, advancing slowly towards the moving caravan. Using his legs as springing points, Raymond lunged forwards and trailed behind the last caravan guard, hoping to blend in with the group that approached the gate militias. He closed in with small steps, just as the caravan reached the control point.

    In their unmistakable clatter of chain mail and endless chatter, the French militias approached the caravan and inspected the carts laden with goods. They gave glances and quick nods, saluting the caravan master who came down to salute one of the militiamen. In the back of the caravan, Raymond watched the spectacle aghast, jittery under his armour, his hand shaking on his hidden sword, but his hopes soon turned to a subtle frown. Something seemed amiss. The militiamen did not notice him, no glance given, their eyes fixed solely on the caravan master.

    Before Raymond had any chance to react, a searing pain shot in his back as he collapsed on one knee.

    “My suggestion is to you is to lay down the weapon, Seigneur.”

    The officer's smile waned, his eyes narrow as Raymond grinned back in return.

    ------


    Last edited by edyzmedieval; 12-01-2020 at 10:59.
    Ja mata, TosaInu. You will forever be remembered.

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    A Painted Shield of Honour - 1313. Templar Knights in France are in grave danger. Can they be saved?

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    Ja mata, TosaInu Forum Administrator edyzmedieval's Avatar
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    Default Re: A Painted Shield of Honour

    Chapter II - King Philip's Claws

    ------

    Dawn

    14th of October 1313
    Paris
    Kingdom of France


    Stripped of the hooded coat protecting it, the red cross shone in the torchlight, embroidered with particular care on the white silk tunic overlapping Raymond's mail hauberk. Some of the militiamen whistled at the sight of the symbol, rather surprised at their improbable discovery. Only the officer smiled, a wide grin imprinted on his face soon after, knowing very well he was in line for a fat bonus to replace his meagre daily wage. A Templar Knight, captured at dawn, wanting to leave the city in the most dishonourable of ways. The officer smiled again, his men jostling, laughing and cracking jokes at their new prisoners.

    At the base of the statue, Raymond winced and grimaced, struggling to free himself of the rope that chafed his hands. The rope was spiked in some places, biting his wrists, the blood slowly dripping on his hands. But despite the pain, Raymond maintained a sly grin, ignoring the odd jolt from a spear that shot through his body. A small portion of his plan went smooth even as the militias took turns to spear him for pleasure. Raymond hoped the rest would go just as smooth.

    With the jewelled sword stripped away, the militiamen borrowed a wooden wheelbarrow and shoved Raymond inside. Their rhythmic march to the Saint-Denis dungeon went without fanfare, save for the officer's curiosity.


    “What was your plan?”

    Raymond tilted his head in the wheelbarrow. “What did it seem to you, mon ami?”

    The officer slapped Raymond with his gauntlet. “I will ask you one more time. What was your purpose?”

    “It does not concern you the very least, my liege.”

    The officer slapped Raymond against with his scaled gauntlet, the Templar twisting painfully in a wicked grimace. The officer grinned at his men who japed in good-humoured fashion, much to his narcissistic satisfaction.

    “I am asking you one more time and pray I do not lose my patience with you. Speak! Why were you here in Paris?”

    Raymond kept his silence, receiving another vicious slap from the officer. He withstood that but the halberd blow to his right cheek almost knocked him unconscious. More drops of blood oozed from his skin, staining the white tunic. By the time they reached the dungeon, Raymond returned to his senses.

    A prison in itself with a square-shaped keep protected by round towers and crenellations, the dungeon was shadowed by a gloomy sky that painted a sinister appearance. Except Raymond found it far from imposing.

    At the sudden bark of the officer, the militiamen pulled Raymond from the wheelbarrow and dragged him inside, dropping him beneath a massive wooden counter inside a large oval-shaped courtroom that served as a makeshift tribunal. There were few people about, Raymond noticed, but all of them had their eyes honed on him. He fumbled as he tried to stand up, head titled backwards and thin eyebrows slightly arched. Much to his chagrin, there were no familiar faces.

    The militia officer had other thoughts.

    -------

    Thrown on the floor in the middle of the oval, the militias unchained and forced him to stand in an upright posture, his eyes facing their commander. The man, however, had other thoughts. Raymond dropped to the ground immediately like a rock, crashing with a loud sound at the commander's feet. Annoyed, the commander kicked him square in the jaw, drawing a chorus of disapproval from the jury. It took the guards some time to hold him in an upright posture, and when he felt it was the time to act, he simply shrugged off the hands of his guards and walked towards the judges at the other end of the courtroom. The commander stopped his guards from attacking the captive, letting him free to roam. Raymond only looked forward towards the people who would question him but saw nothing interesting or worthy of notice in their appearances.

    Seeing the knelt figures before the judge, Raymond recognised them and came immediately behind, kneeling as well. He bowed his head in respect, a deathly silence setting over the courtroom.

    "Your hands and feet will not be tied much longer,” whispered Raymond loud enough for both of them to hear.

    The courtroom was now silent after the guest's untimely and surprising actions. By that time the militias left the hall but their officer remained, joining the judge behind the massive counter-like wooden piece as the main witness to the trial. The two knelt brothers immediately turned at the sounds of the whispers behind their back and looked Raymond straight in their face. Their lost, grieving faces filled with unbearable sorrow sent a clear message to Raymond: despair. It was not the sign he was hoping to receive from them after the encouragement he gave, but this determined him even more to succeed. After all, it was better than nothing, they were still able to fight, or so he hoped.

    Praying for himself in everyone's view, he looked oblivious in regards to the other men and women around him acting as the jurors. He was not planning to plead for mercy. No, he had other plans. Annoyed and without hiding his indignation, the strong feminine voice of the high judge broke the silence and grazed Raymond's ears, drawing a smirk of disgust on his face.

    “Raymond de Laon, I will spare thee of a biased trial. You do realise you shall not stand a chance before the will of our King. These fools before us have knelt for our mercy, but we shall give them none! Raymond, you know why we wanted you here so fast. And if you do not, we will tell you again why.

    Raymond looked up, his concentration broken by the irksome sound. He stood up and looked the judge directly in the eyes, an offence brought to his high standing.

    “Maybe I will. But perhaps I should not, God forbids me by the oath I have given to the Temple.”

    “The Temple exists no more.”

    “In your mind, it does not.”

    “Arrogant as always, Laon. It will only take me a word to send your brothers to the dungeons they deserve, maybe that will make you reconsider your position.”

    “The Order will survive even if we die!” yelled one of the chained brothers, interrupting the judge who was more than displeased by the sudden wail.

    “Don't be a fool. Spare your brothers and tell us the secret we are all waiting for.”

    “Continue waiting. I am not impressed by this.”

    “You leave me with no choice. Chain them!”

    Exactly as Raymond hoped. Sighing unhappily, his arrogant face disappeared, looking resigned in front of fate. He bowed his head down, speaking slowly but loud enough for everyone to hear him.

    “I wish to spare my brothers, and thus I will comply with your desires.”

    “Save the Order!” wailed the knelt men in unison.

    Raymond ignored them, seemingly impassible. He kept his gaze blank, staring in the distance, a rather curious expression with his eyes aimed at the judge. Except he could not see the judge, the judge was not there in his mind.

    “The key to what you are looking for is under the Templar church in Acquebouille. It is the commandery of Saint-Marc, and underneath the north-eastern side of the church what you seek can be found. At the postern beside the southern entrance, a path will lead you to a separate shaft that will end up in a large underground tunnel. Continue and you shall arrive at the sacred room where you shall find what you want. Everything.”

    The cries stopped. Raymond became immobile, watching closely with the corners of his eyes the reactions of everyone in the courtroom especially those of his Templar brothers. If they spoke a word, everything would be compromised. A silent hush fell over the gallery, immediately replaced by a swift rush of excitement and joy, especially from the high judge whose eyes were gleaming like freshly cut diamonds. Satisfied, he slowly nodded to Raymond in acknowledgement.

    “See my friends? Torture is not every time useful,” said the judge smiling to his companions. The militia officer was more than overjoyed to hear Raymond's words, sure his pay rise was now in line with the capture of another Templar Knight. Many moments passed as the brothers looked at each other, not knowing what to make of it or what to understand their situation. Their moment of calm and hope was immediately shattered by the judge's addition.

    “Take them all away and chain them in the dungeons! I do not want to see these scum any more.”

    The militias, who reappeared in the courtroom after a brief exit, took Raymond and the two brothers by their necks and dragged them down to the dungeons located at the ground floor. The prisons were damp and cool, a perfect breeding place for all kinds of creatures whose populations were booming beside the disparaged men. The three were thrown into a small rectangular shaped cell located at the edge of the walls right beside the back entry that led inside the prison-castle. Through the courtroom to the dungeons, the brothers kept wailing even when they realised that Raymond shared a blatant lie that everyone in the Order knew, but kept under utmost secret from the outside world. The Templars knew a day would come when they would use it; the church at Acquebouille was just a simple Templar commandery, but a couple of local children claimed they saw strange happenings and such was exploited by the leaders to their advantage. It was a sort of code for the captured and tortured, never to reveal the true nature and the secrets unless it would be the last possibility to save themselves or their brotherhood in front of grave danger.

    Left alone inside the rat-infested cell, neither of them dared to speak for many hours, too scared and too confused to react after the recent events. Raymond fiddled with his fingers nervously all the time, looking every ten seconds with the corner of his eye at his silent companions. Except the silence would remain for some hours as they all kept their heads bowed and their hands brought together in a sign of prayer. Time passed, and night crept slowly, but they did not know. For them, it was completely dark and all notion of time was lost the moment they were thrown in here. Before long, one of them started humming a nursery rhyme to relieve the boredom and the emotions, and yet it did not make much of an impact. With clear fear in his voice, he attempted a couple of words that resembled more of a jumbled, incomprehensible mess that only annoyed the other two men. Realising his mistake, he dropped the tune and instead faced Raymond, albeit fearfully.

    “Thank you for sharing that with the judge. Let us hope for the moment we are saved.”

    Raymond acknowledged the praise with a slight bow of the head, only for him to see. His reply was swift, he could not manage more.

    “For the moment yes, we are.”

    “Do you think they will come back and torture us?"

    “We have given them what they wanted. Or at least what they wanted to hear. I do not think that they shall return any time soon.”

    “Let us hope so.”

    Raymond instilled a bit of faith and courage in the shaken brothers, who now looked the knight directly in the eye no longer in a foetal position praying for forgiveness. Still, Raymond wanted to make sure they fully understood the implications of what was going on.

    “We must not stay here any longer, we need to get out of this place by any means. I have a plan formed in my mind and all I ask is for you to trust me in the endeavour. For the moment try to get some sleep, a long day will await us tomorrow. I will deal with the problem myself.”

    “Non. Brothers help each other. We shall help you.”

    “This is dangerous work. You are not fit for this, please understand.”

    “Non. We wish to help you.” replied both of them in unison.

    Raymond looked through the darkness at his companions, surprised at their devotion and confidence.

    “I do not w...”

    “We are all in grave risk right now. What difference does it make anything more?” replied the taller man. He stood up, while the other did not. That sent a clear message to Raymond, and he could not ignore it. He fell silent, but his ears honed on an incoming sound reaching from the corridor. It grew with each moment and eventually a man appeared with a torch in his hand and his sword drawn, peering inside the cell. Light, it seemed miraculous now for all of them. He looked at his companion and then towards the man, silently. Raymond and the taller man headed for the iron bars blocking their freedom, grabbing the bars with their hands. They gazed directly into the man's eyes and stood there for a couple of long seconds, as neither of them spoke. Raymond could see the man was sweating greatly, and he looked old as well. Perhaps it was from the beard, but he could not discern in the light what made him so old. In some ways, the man was a reflection of the state his companions were in, and it only added more sorrow in their minds.

    “In two hours, I shall leave the door to the dungeon open, taking my subordinates for a cup of ale. And the lock will be destroyed right now.”

    They were gutted, all of them. With a quick blow of the sword, the lock was shattered into pieces opening up the small portico between the bars.

    “I pray you to make the right decision. The torch is yours to keep,” said the man, handing Raymond the glowing ball of fire. As the torch passed on, the man turned on the spot and left without saying any more words. Two hours passed by agonizingly for them, but when the time came, they rushed through the opened door and lost their trail in the maze of streets inside Paris. Still, Raymond regretted he did not ask the man for his name, or his station. He helped them out, and he did not know the man at all. Despite that, they all found their swords just outside the door of then dungeon resting against the wall. They need not be told what do, it was impulsive. After a couple of minutes of frantic running, they stopped for a couple of moments of rest and a quick flashback of their actions.

    “Where are we?” asked the tall man, the other still incapable of uttering other words.

    “Somewhere outside in the city. The dungeon is behind us, look, said Raymond pointing to a small castle-like building. We can't rest any longer, we must move on. The place is dangerous enough, we cannot risk anything.”

    “We got out of there as you have said. For that we are most grateful.” replied the man.

    Raymond did not bother to reply. Instead, he leapt on the small foundation of an unfinished building that was high enough to give him a complete look of the surroundings. The entire landscape in front of their eyes was more than desolate, wooden houses looking like matchboxes scattered all over the city with muddy roads filled with garbage and human faeces. It looked like a devastated war zone, just as if the Mongolians had passed through the area, raiding everything and bringing death and despair to the men and women living in those shanty buildings. All that was missing was the pyramid of skulls but Raymond was happy he did not have to see one. It did not take much time for him and the brothers to realise where they ended up. A hundred or so metres behind them were the dungeons, but it looked as if he had passed into a different world, the prison playing the role of a gate to another world. They ended up in the filthy slums of Paris, but this was more than good news as the walls were very close and they could arrange their escape just before the break of dawn. He motioned forwards to his companions who acknowledged the bleak outlook, following him closely on every street careful to avoid the beggars and the madmen trudging for trouble. This time they had no problems in exiting the city, the guards too tired to make any more checks at the gates early morning, leaving them open to everyone. As the sun's rays crept over the horizon blanketing the city of Paris with an orange morning glow, the three were far on their way towards the south of the French kingdom.

    ----------

    Last edited by edyzmedieval; 12-04-2020 at 23:15.
    Ja mata, TosaInu. You will forever be remembered.

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    Swords Made of Letters - 1938. The war is looming in France - and Alexandre Reythier does not have much time left to protect his country. A novel set before the war.

    A Painted Shield of Honour - 1313. Templar Knights in France are in grave danger. Can they be saved?

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    Ja mata, TosaInu Forum Administrator edyzmedieval's Avatar
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    Default Re: A Painted Shield of Honour

    Kindred Brotherhood - chapter 3 of A Painted Shield of Honour.

    -------

    Chapter III - Kindred Brotherhood

    Dawn

    South of Paris
    15th of October 1313
    Kingdom of France


    “My name is Raymond de Laon, my father was a minor viscount in the north of the Champagne region. Do you know me now?”

    Over the heat of a small campfire, the eyes of Raymond's kinsmen glowed in the dark, their gaze transfixed on Raymond as they watched him use a sharp rock to whet the edges of his sword. Raymond sat down by the edge of the fire and turned to his brothers.

    His family was large by any account, his father had to have one at the very least. Unfortunately for Raymond, he was a bastard born out of wedlock, out of his father's desire for one of the chambermaids, rather cruelly destined not to receive much of his family's belongings. After Raymond was born, his father banished the maid from the castle grounds but endeavoured to keep the baby. Keeping the baby it seemed was only to send it to the Templars. It was only when he turned twelve that he was sent to the local Templar chapter house for education, banished from the castle as well. His family name was no longer his. For a moment Raymond stopped his little story, hoping to judge the reactions of his listeners. There were none. All they did was listen in silence.

    Listen they did so for another hour, attentive to the details of Raymond's childhood between the Templar monks. He was now a senior Templar commander, twenty-four years of age, smiling through the crackles of orange light piercing the darkness of the field. It was deep into the night when Raymond finished his story, the flicker of the campfire dim, enough to sustain a small light to indicate his command for bedtime. Exhausted, the two Templars brothers went to bed, but not Raymond. He knelt and stood against his Templar sword thrust firmly into the ground, looking with his eyes over the hilt towards the orange flames cast by the burning wood.

    There was little sleep to sweep him to the land of dreams despite his exhaustion. An audible sigh passed once more by his lips, wisps of steam covering his eyes like an intricate cobweb spawn by a spider. Pressing a hand against his hilt, he felt the daggers safely tucked away, along with the parchments he took from the assassins. Only a few days before, Geoffrey de Charney, the commander of the French territories, informed him of his mission. Brittle peace of mind it was. Raymond smiled in the darkness, knowing very well there would be no peace. As he relentlessly thought of fate and destiny, he slowly drifted off to a dreamless sleep with the statue dropping softly on his chest.

    A cloudless sky was their companion for the next morning, fostering their journey towards the south of the French kingdom in full gallop. The next halt was Avignon in Raymond's mind, with a particularly dangerous target as well, but he had other issues that needed to be addressed before that. His new companions did not say much on the road, and he did not want them to either, but he felt a certain loathing for the decisive moment. Raymond had to get rid of them. And he felt it was justified to get rid of them. They would impede his mission into seeking the answers he was desperately searching for, doing him more harm than good. And he did not trust them enough, even if they were themselves brothers of the Temple.

    Ego and pride took over, however, blinding his clear, rational thoughts he displayed in every aspect of his life. He quickly returned from his dreams and concentrated on the dark road ahead, riding at a normal pace between the shadowy forests full of lurkers and mercenaries waiting to strike. Raymond realised he might need the brothers them at some points. An extra sword hand or two might prove handy. But have they fought? Were they even skilled? Were they even warriors in the Templar chapter of Paris?

    With one eye on the road, Raymond often drew a gaze backwards, eyeing any movement that he might have missed. Nobody seemed to trail them, however, leaving him to focus on more pressing matters. The three stopped in the fields once more, about a day left of marching to Avignon, setting up their camp but this time omitting the fire. They were too tired to even care, so all of them drifted off immediately.

    ***

    Raymond opened his eyes, his inner senses waking him up with a rush of adrenaline flowing through his body, his heart beating like the strides of a horse. He realised something was wrong, but he did not fully understand what was going on. His eyes adjusted slowly to the changing levels of light, a faint dawn sun breaking through the darkness of the night before. Autumn leaves crunched in the distance, a chill gust of wind sweeping easily through the empty field. He scanned the barren landscape but could not find any dangers that could cause such a powerful throbbing inside his injured body. But he heard it coming. And he was not the only one. There was nobody in the camp. And there was nobody to be seen anywhere near them so the sound was a complete mystery.

    “Can you hear it?” whispered the taller brother.

    Raymond looked at him blankly. “Yes. And it is worrying me.”

    “What do you make of it?”

    “Nothing. But if you'd ask me, I'd say King Phillip's soldiers are heading our way. Let us wake up and get ready. Find a sheltered place where we can hide”

    Oui, mon commandant.”

    The two gradually stood up without making any noise, careful not to attract any unwarranted attention upon themselves. Creeping rays of the sun provided the only light above the expansive plains, the sun hovering around the horizon with an orange pallor cast over the clear skies. Both of them glanced around. Empty. By now the danger disappeared, the sounds were no more. With the other brother still sleeping undisturbed, the two donned their heavy armour and coifs over their cotton undergarments. Perhaps their fear was unwarranted since there was no light to attract attention, but they were now prepared.

    The sounds restarted and soon intensified, becoming a rattle that grew slowly in volume. Raymond signalled with his head towards a small hole a couple of yards away that offered a good view over their camp, covered by tall weeds that shielded them from any view. The sleeping brother did not have time to get his armour on, taking only his sword with him that was beside his improvised bed. For seconds the three stood still without making a single noise, their ears honed on the incoming sounds. The tension was unbearable, Raymond forgetting to even breathe until he found himself with his vision blurred and shaking from all of his joints. Fully concentrated, they all stared in the direction of the sounds, but nothing came for minutes.

    Just as they thought the danger passed, five men erupted from the nearby wheat field with their swords drawn and in perfect coordination. Their attack immediately stopped at the sight of the empty camp, all of them looking baffled and surprised at their unpleasant discovery. Searching around frantically, they could not see anyone or anything except for the belongings the Templars left behind.


    “They must be around here. Look! One of the armour plates is still there,” said their officer in French.

    The unarmoured brother cringed at the sound of the words, realising how exposed he was in this situation. With only a sword to defend himself, any blow would prove fatal.

    “If we stay more without doing anything, their chances of finding us are increasing with each moment. Let us strike, we have no option,” said the armed brother to Raymond.

    With one hand he pulled out two steel daggers from underneath the hauberk, handing one to his armed brother.

    “Can you throw?”

    The brother nodded. "I was a sergeant crossbowman, but I had to throw things first. Part of my beforehand training when I was with the Temple.”

    “Perfect. When I say, release the dagger towards the closest soldier. They're 5 of them, we can take two of them out using the daggers, they are sharp enough to break the armour plate around their coifs.”

    “Agreed. Who do you think they are?”

    “Look at their leader, the one closest to us. He is only three steps away from us, can you see the blue patch on his right shoulder?”

    “The Anjou flower?”

    “Indeed. Philip sent his men after us, we were followed after we escaped their dungeons. And they will not be too kind with us if we get captured again,” ended Raymond in a heaving whisper that sounded more like a raging bull without a voice.

    The Templar brother looked at Raymond with apparent worry but returned his gaze towards the assailants. Raymond winked and signalled for him to get the dagger ready, which he duly followed. Raymond drew his sword and planted a soft kiss.

    With a sharp move, both of the Templar brothers rose from the weed patch and charged the closest soldiers, throwing their deathly daggers towards the group with menacing accuracy. Raymond's dagger stroke the standing officer directly in the back of his neck while the brother's hit the eye of the other soldier standing beside his leader. Stunned at the sight of the raging knights, one of the soldiers forgot about the bountiful reward and jumped to his feet, running away from the field as fast as he could. But the last two men at arms stood their ground, farthest as they were from the initial attack, leaving them plenty of time to draw their halberds and shields. They stood less than twenty feet away, their halberds drawn and their teeth clenched in a violent grimace.

    Raymond drew closer, his sword outstretched, used as a makeshift pike.

    “We know who sent you. And we offer you and your comrade the chance to walk away unscathed. We follow the Templar brotherhood. And that includes the honour code.” said Raymond. He circled the last two halberdiers, followed by both of the Templar brothers now, his sword still outstretched.

    Philip's halberdiers knew they had no choice.

    “Bien. We shall walk away, and leave you alone.” said one of the soldiers.

    Slow, methodical even, their halberds trained on Raymond and his Templars, the two soldiers retreated from the battlefield and headed back to the main road.

    Raymond sheathed his sword. He nodded to his two brothers and headed back to his horses. By the time their clash with the French soldiers had ended, the sun was shining brightly on the blue sky welcoming a delightful morning on the huge plain separating the French and the German kingdoms. Raymond looked up disorientated and confused. The sun was hardly shining so powerful in October. It reminded him of his pilgrimage in the Holy Land and the powerful sun during middays.

    “Where are you going, brother?” asked the tall Templar.

    “To continue.” replied Raymond impassibly, continuing to load up his horse with the last items. He placed a foot on the saddle and mounted his horse, turning towards the man.

    “Continue?” asked the man, looking up towards Raymond.

    “This is only of me and Monsieur de Charney, the French commander of our brothers, to know.”

    “So you are leaving your brothers behind?” replied the Templar, this time shock and disappointment making way inside his tone.

    “I have no choice, brother. I have no choice. I have to do it. I have been entrusted with a specific mission by Geoffrey de Charney. I have saved you from your prison as part of my obligations but now I have to leave."

    “Brother Raymond... I." The Templar stammered for a couple of moments. "You saved us from clear death in those dungeons, and now you leave us?”

    “I must depart this place at once or the Order will be in grave peril.”

    “What kind of peril?” replied the other brother who came closer in the meantime, standing firmly beside his companion.

    “You all know what is going on with our brothers and our commanders. Repeating it will only twist the knife in the wounds caused by Philip's actions.”

    “Is there something we should know?”

    “Non. Everything has been said. Farewell.”

    Adjusting the leather harness, Raymond nudged off his horse at a slow canter. The chestnut horse set of lazily towards the horizon

    "Raymond!" shouted the brothers.

    "Raymond, what was that oath you took? Help every brother like your own?" asked the taller brother. "Raymond, we are homeless, we have no family willing to take us, and everyone is after us for rewards." He stammered again. "We owe you our lives Raymond, at least just allow us to be with you until we can find our way. The more the better. And we're two more sword hands for you. You couldn't have fought off that team without us. You know that."

    "Yes," replied Raymond.

    "Guide us, Raymond. We owe you our lives, please guide us further. We have no one left." He stammered again, his voice turning coarse, threatening even. "And you don't either."

    Both brothers bowed their heads, unsheathed their swords and kneeled with one leg, touching the hilts with their foreheads, symbolising the ancient Templar ritual.

    “Rise Knights of Templar, the Order needs you.” said Raymond solemnly.

    The two knights stood up slowly, finishing the last part of the initiation ritual carried out hastily by Raymond. They both looked him in the eye and bowed their heads.

    "I still don't know your names, brothers." said Raymond.

    The taller brother stood up. "Amalric."

    The last brother stood up as well. "Balian."

    -----

    Last edited by edyzmedieval; 01-05-2021 at 00:07.
    Ja mata, TosaInu. You will forever be remembered.

    Proud

    Been to:

    Swords Made of Letters - 1938. The war is looming in France - and Alexandre Reythier does not have much time left to protect his country. A novel set before the war.

    A Painted Shield of Honour - 1313. Templar Knights in France are in grave danger. Can they be saved?

  4. #4
    Ja mata, TosaInu Forum Administrator edyzmedieval's Avatar
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    Default Re: A Painted Shield of Honour

    Chapter IV - Difficult Choices

    -------
    Dawn
    North of Marseille
    16th of October 1313
    Kingdom of France



    "Raymond, wake up. Dawn is here."

    Raymond groaned, his muscles and joints creaking underneath the leather armour they kept on them overnight. Despite their plans of running away as fast as they could from the battle scene, they could only muster another sixty leagues or so until their powers gave up for the day. They found a small, secluded forested area not too far from the main road, elevated at the base of a taller hill, high enough to give them a good notice in case Philip's men came back. But they didn't. Raymond was the only one with a clear sleep. Amalric and Balian took turns in doing the guard shift.

    Rather spirited by a cheerful morning sun, they loaded their horses and chased southwards in a rapid gallop, eager to mingle with the merchant caravans down south for added protection. Their chances of being rather inconspicuous were slim. Amalric, with his tall, imposing stature, was the easy subject of numerous looks. They were about four days of gallop away from the port of Marseille so while during the day they kept their interactions to a minimum, at night the group slept beside merchants, bankers, speculators, innkeepers and their like, travellers like they were, eager for a chat, maybe a beer or two and definitely for protection against highway bandits. Raymond was rather aware of their surroundings. It was his main task after all. A state of alarm and uncertainty had been installed over the kingdom, ordinary citizens aghast at this sudden appearance of endless rows of militias patrolling the streets and roads.

    Luckily for the fugitives, there were plenty of alternate roads which were going around cities and back onto the main road, roads not guarded by any of King Philip's forces. By now both Amalric and Balian, having spent the last 3 days in Raymond's company, still only had faint ideas about Raymond's plan. Raymond was dour. Silent even, only talking to his horse once in a while to calm down the poor animal whenever heavy sounds scared it. Balian, rather shy and timid as he was, nudged Amalric forwards as they trotted on the road, just about a day's march away from Marseille. Raymond only smiled at their questions, but returned the favour as he learned of Balian and Amalric's fortunes.
    A younger brother of three from a noble family, Balian was destined to be banished to the Templars as he was born out of wedlock just as Raymond had been. More than that, Balian was in fact Raymond's cousin, their mothers rather close sisters and both of them born with limited opportunities outside of the Templar chapter house. Since their family wealth would go to the legitimate heirs, neither of them had any choice but to seek their fortunes elsewhere. Balian was the shortest of them all, but well built and a good archer, a child like expression emanating from his petite eyes contrasted by his high cheekbones, with a visible scar from his left temple trailing down to his neck. Balian shrugged off Raymond's question about the scar. It was just a battle mark received from the blade of a mercenary on the streets of Paris after a drunken inn brawl.

    By the end of the fourth day, their trip was only an hour away from Avignon, the city's towers slowly rising as sunset blanketed the fields. A slight orange glow planed over the roads as the traffic thinned to just small travelling groups heading towards the city for the night. Amalric's personal story was put on pause as Raymond pointed towards the city towers.

    "Avignon, brothers. We need to make a little detour."

    They stopped their horses by the edge of the road, fed them and gave them the last water pouches they had.

    "Avignon? Why so, Raymond?" asked Amalric.

    "A little detour, call it like that. We need to see someone."

    "Someone?" asked Amalric.

    "Get some rest, Amalric. We will enter the city but only after the gates close."

    "After the gates close?" intervened Balian, sword and a rock in hand to sharpen the blade.

    Raymond nodded. "I have a small letter from one of the Templar commanders. I need to deliver it. In fact, no, I need to tell of it."

    "To who?"

    "You'll find it soon enough."

    "And how are we getting in?" countered Amalric.

    "We're going to pretend we're someone else." Raymond smiled. "Get some rest, you're going to need it."

    "What about you?" asked Balian.

    "Guard duty. You covered last night, I will do it this time."

    -----

    Last edited by edyzmedieval; 01-26-2021 at 23:39.
    Ja mata, TosaInu. You will forever be remembered.

    Proud

    Been to:

    Swords Made of Letters - 1938. The war is looming in France - and Alexandre Reythier does not have much time left to protect his country. A novel set before the war.

    A Painted Shield of Honour - 1313. Templar Knights in France are in grave danger. Can they be saved?

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