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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
    Early Evening
    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; 12-31-2021 at 13:23.
    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.
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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.
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    Default Re: A Painted Shield of Honour

    Chapter V - Avignon Shadows

    Late evening
    16th of October 1313
    Avignon
    Kingdom of France


    ------

    Covered by a light moon, their arrival in Avignon was rather uneventful, slipping in unnoticed under the dark garments they bought from a group of merchants before their entrance. Reaching the Papal Palace was an easy affair with an empty town, the buttresses of the imposing palace shining against the orange glow of multiple rows of torches lit in their sconces. Pilgrims flocked to the palace yearly to view both the intricate design and countless towers but also hope for some absolution from the Pope, which was rather forthcoming, the Papacy locked in an endless war with the French crown. It made the palace more of a fortress to protect the Pope than a place of worship but to Raymond, the place was a source of guilt. And a chance at redemption.


    Raymond and the two brothers sidestepped into a small, dirty side street only a few meters away from the palace, leading to a narrow alley that ended in the back exit of a small rectangular stone building. The structure was a small keep built as a Templar post in the vicinity of the palace for ease of communication with the Papal legates. It looked like an adjacent building of the palace, the low walls surrounding it creating a small garden away from prying eyes. Raymond gave a cursory look to their surroundings, the alleyway desolate and dark, with only a few shuttered windows in the house beside the keep that posed an issue. With his eyes primed on the houses, he stepped backwards and leaned into the gate, allowing them inside the garden and the keep. Balian retrieved one of the torches from one of the nearby inns, giving them a window inside the building.

    Sparse, and most of all, dark, the stone building was shattered to pieces inside. Endless rows of wooden bits were strewn around the floor, pottery shards littering every corner, the heraldic ornaments either gone completely or broken into minute pieces. The dungeon of the keep, hidden in the basement, was just as empty. As they had hoped, truly, but Raymond was rather certain no one had set foot in this dungeon in years. Not even a broken chain link was scattered on the cold floor. Balian and Amalric came up to him by the entrance of the dungeon.

    “What now?” asked Amalric. "It looks empty. It's desolate. I don't like this."

    Raymond glanced at him. "Me neither but we have no choice. We have to try and insert ourselves inside the palace."

    "The palace?"

    "The one next door. The Papal palace."

    Balian startled expression shone in the orange glow of the torch. "For what?"

    "One of the Papal legates left us a note of approval, to put it like that. We know he's based from Avignon, we know on what floor, we know his name. Since we're here we might as well try and see if we can discuss with him. I've been told the Pope is not here, he's in Paris discussing with the King of France, so the Palace is empty."

    "At this hour? We can do it in the morning," countered Amalric.

    "At this hour. We wake him up, it does not matter, we have to talk to him."

    From the cold abyss of the prison, they dove back in the alleyway, slithering in the dark corners until they reached another back exit of the Palace that was on the other side of the Templar garden. With the Papal mission away in Paris, the Palace in itself was not closely defended, with only a handful of guards posted at the main entrance itself. The Palace itself was a maze of corridors, small entrances and intricate spiral staircases, some of them minutely decorated with various artistic motifs and a subtle taste for old Roman architecture which seemed in tone with the subdued nature of the Papal prison in Avignon. The private quarters of the Papal mission were in one of the towers, and they assumed it was heavily guarded, so the three of them tried to blend as they could in the shadows of the endless corridors linking the private quarters to the public working rooms. To their satisfaction, there seemed to be plenty of light inside the palace. Torches in their sconces lined up the corridors so using a number of them was not an issue to be noticed at this late hour.

    They reached the private quarters of the Papal mission rather easily, tucked away on the second floor behind large oak doors. One by one, the doors creaked ever so slightly from Amalric's finger push, the silence and darkness of the empty rooms until they reached the sixth door.

    Behind the heavy wooden door was a small, oval chamber, sparsely decorated, a thin man in his late forties sitting behind a desk with his eyes fixed on the opposite corner of the room. A small candle created a rather dim light throughout the room, rendering them almost invisible from the Papal legate behind the desk.

    “Who's there?” said Clement, startled at the sudden sounds in his cabinet.

    Raymond entered the room, Clement's expression hardening and then relaxing ever so slightly as he recognised the bearded man in front of him. Clement had met Raymond some years ago, tasked with maintaining a relationship with the Order and ensuring they followed the Papal rules. Raymond knew Clement was a supporter of the Order. The Papal emissary leaned back in his chair, casting an odd glance or two at Amalric and Balian who only stood by the now-closed door.

    "Seigneur Raymond, you saw my letter, I presume."

    Raymond nodded, his face and frowns visible in the double light of Balian's torch and Clement's own.

    "So I did. I appreciate that, Monsieur Clement, which is why I came here. What was that letter you sent to the commandery for?"

    "To warn you."

    "Warn us?"

    "To warn you of the arrests of the Templar members. And that will not go away."

    "Will there be more?"

    "Only of what you know."

    "But we knew, Clement, we knew what's going on."

    "Not the whole story."

    "All that matters is King Philip and his little personal vendetta against us. I don't think there's more to that and I do not think you know more either."

    Clement stood up. "Raymond, Philip is your problem, you are correct in assuming that. But do not think my liege and his Papal mission are in Paris to absolve you."

    Raymond sighed. "We know there is no quarter for us. We either fight or we run away."

    "Well, you might be pleased to know the King of Castille is interested in saving you. But only for his military interests."

    "So is the King of Portugal. Some of my brothers went already there to construct a commandery."

    "That won't save you. Or absolve you, Raymond."

    "I know. But I also think you know more, which is why I dared to come here to discuss your letter in person."

    Clement rose his hand ever so slightly, a trembling hand, indicative of his advanced age, his outstretched finger point to a stack of rolled parchments on the side of his desk.

    "One of the rolls is from King Philip arguing the incarceration of the Templar Order to the Papal mission. That will go into the official archives, I presume."

    "Philip's lies are official archive?"

    "Official documents. Regardless, they will be archived. The others are from other kings and legates arguing for your release."

    "And which one will you count on, Seigneur Clement?"

    "Philip's letter."

    Silence fell over the cabinet, an uneasy mixture of confusion and disbelief from the Templars. Clement walked around his desk, tapping his fingers on the parchments, then back to Raymond to perhaps judge his emotions. Clement's own emotions were perhaps a mixture, Raymond judged, but could not understand if there was any help forthcoming or whether Clement had truly given in to Philip's interests.

    "Philip?"

    Clement blinked multiple times. "You want him to send me to the gallows? Disrespecting his orders, and the Pope's orders as well, particularly when we are under the direct jurisdiction of the French king... well, that will surely send me to the gallows." Clement paused. "I will make a companion towards your brothers if I don't follow the orders."

    "Will you?"

    "Give me a choice Raymond. I have none right now."

    Raymond narrowed his eyes. "What do you need?"

    Clement turned his back to Raymond and sank back, slowly, into the leather chair behind the desk. He motioned towards the other Templars who came to the edge of the desk.

    “Public opinion is against you, Raymond, and you know that. And so is the King who wants your head. Or heads for that matter. For him, public display of your heads as trophies equals to a successful Crusade and this is what the masses want.”

    "How do we break this, Clement?" asked Raymond. "I need answers, I need guidance, I need a chance. I need to fight, give me something."

    "Your commanderies. How many do you have left? Not too many. Look beyond the kingdom's borders, look to Rome, look to Constantinople, look away from here. Find external help. No one in Philip's kingdom will so much as raise a finger to help you if they don't want his guards knocking at night. Go to Jerusalem even."

    "That's rather far, Clement, we don't have time."

    "And you have no one to help you either. Find something. Anything. Anything to get you out of here."

    "Portugal? They made a commandery there."

    "The King of Portugal won't raise a finger either except for his lands." Clement raised a hand. “Philip knows you are here, he constantly informs the Papal missions of his actions against the Templars. Since you have left the dungeons in Paris, something remarkable I must add, he had you followed by numerous messengers who happen to be loyal to some of the information holders, including me, so I gladly received the reports as well. They know you are here, and if you exit on the main entry, you shall be killed,” whispered Clement to the knights, who gathered even closer.

    Clement rose his finger again.

    “Leave my private quarters and head for the Tour de St. Laurent inside this palace. It is on the northeastern side. When you reach the base of the tower, there is a spiral stair leading towards the roof and the rooms used by the guards. Underneath the last stairs, there is a small protuberance in the stone, and that is your key. Strike it with your sword and it will reveal a lock. Pull the lock, and you will see underneath a steep stair that leads to the underground caverns which end up at the city walls."

    "There's a set of tunnels?" asked Amalric.

    "Correct. Tunnels that go right underneath the palace. Safety tunnels. We have them in Rome as well. From there, you are all alone. Go now, your brothers await.”

    Raymond and the other two did not need a second time to be told what to do. They bowed slightly to the Papal legate and scurried outside his personal chamber, switching it for the now eerie darkness of the palace corridors. The torches had been extinguished or extinguished by themselves, casting a long, dark gloom over the narrow hallways. A dim moonlight shone through the stained glasses, casting an odd refractory light that made it difficult to judge distance and width. They passed by the guards' post, scurrying away from the corridors leading to the courtyard, eventually reaching the tunnel stairs when they were spotted by the Papal Guards evening patrol.

    A sharp, booming yell burst through the silence of the Palace corridors, the echo of a deep voice bursting inside their minds. They were spotted but still some distance away, enough to ensure the escape. Amalric and Balian leapt for the hatch leading to the tunnels, striking the slab with their swords. Beneath the slab was a cylindrical hole, a pitch-black emptiness that forced both of them to stop for a split moment. The patrols yelled again at the end of the corridor. They saw the guards running towards them at full speed, their spears drawn, packed in a close formation with the sharp tips aimed towards their head. Amalric grabbed Raymond by the arm and dragged him to the tunnel entrance.

    "Raymond, what are you doing? We have to go, now!

    Raymond brushed Amalric aside. "No! We leave, they will sound the alarm and they will know it was us. We have to fight."

    Crouched at the edge of the slab, there was no time to think properly or talk it over. Acting from instinct, Amalric drew his sword from its covered sheath and joined Raymond, with a wavering Balian immediately behind. In a close formation, the three Templars charged the spearmen, levelling the sharp tips with easy sword blows, bringing the fight in a close hand to hand combat. The guards were no match for the honed skills of the Templars, scythed down by the sharp swords into a pool of blood expanding on the marble floor. Raymond dragged both of the men back to the stone slab.

    "Balian, pass me the torch. We have to jump. Go!"

    All that was below was an empty, cavernous black tunnel that had not been used since the Palace was built.
    Last edited by edyzmedieval; 03-07-2021 at 13:47.
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    Ja mata, TosaInu Forum Administrator edyzmedieval's Avatar
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    Default Re: A Painted Shield of Honour

    Chapter VI - Stirring Trouble

    Midday - 16th of October 1313
    Palace of Fontainebleau
    Paris
    Kingdom of France



    The October day was rather unpleasant. The biting cold struck underneath the garments, and not even a linen tunic with a leather jacket on top could spare the men from the pangs of the bad weather. A rare thunderstorm struck a few days ago, washing away the filth on the streets of Paris but leaving a heavy, winter-like weather over the city. The servants tending to King Philip's palace now had to endure the light rain and the cold, scurrying from pantries to the fields, catering to a growing list of ambassadors and diplomats anxious about Philip's actions over the Templar Order. Fontainebleau Palace in itself was an expansive residential building, just a few leagues away from Paris. Far enough for Philip to conduct his business in peace and close enough for him to return when needed. Philip had a certain affection for the palace and it was not surprising, considering that he was born and raised in the palatial rooms.

    Hidden on the grounds of a large forest, built by the earlier Capetian kings and named after the forest itself, the palace was Philip's favourite residence, used all year round and the main meeting point for his ambassadors and diplomats. Oak trees lined a small courtyard road that led from the rear entrance of the palace, the heavy leaves providing a light shelter from the rain and wind blowing through the forest. Dressed in a dark blue doublet, Philip breathed in the cold air, shadowed by his chamberlain Enguerrand de Marigny. Marigny handed the King a felt cap against the rain, which Philip accepted with a curt smile, silent and rather pensive.

    "Confortable, Sire?" asked Marigny.

    "Yes Enguerrand, thank you."

    Oftentimes when it rained in these lands, and it did so rather often, the roads would turn into a dark sludge, even around Fontainebleau. Philip was now stuck for a couple of days at the palace, unable to attend to his Templar problem. Enguerrand drew up to him and handed

    "What's this?" asked Philip, rather surprised, arching his eyebrows at the golden

    "A golden florin. We confiscated a cache of golden florins from the Templar commandery in Paris."

    "Impressive."

    "More to follow, I presume, your Majesty."

    One piece of gold would not do much, Philip's expression tried to say. He smiled to Enguerrand, appreciating the obvious attempt to cheer him up. Gold was very useful, needed even, but it did not make him an inch more popular to the masses. Worse, Enguerrand handed him a report a couple of days ago about some Templars escaping from imprisonment. He did not understand much of the report and who actually escaped from the prison but he gave it little thought then. Still, it worried him.

    He stopped from his walk and looked at Enguerrand who mirrored his movements. His minister's eyes locked his in a curious gaze that he tried to avoid but was now too late. Still, he took notice once more of Enguerrand's prominent masculine jaw and his aquiline nose, but most of all his weak, frail stature that seemed to oscillate in the rain despite a heavy doublet on his shoulders.

    Perhaps sensing the danger, Enguerrand bowed immediately and shifted his gaze away from Philip's.

    “Your Majesty.”

    “I do not like this at all, Enguerrand."

    "Is that what is ailing you, my King?"

    "That, and also because I cannot leave Fontainebleau."

    "A day or so, your Majesty, it should be fine soon. Your carriage is waiting."

    "The roads are mud, I'm stuck."

    Enguerrand hesitated. "They are, Sire. But we should be out soon."

    "What about those Templars, Enguerrand?"

    Enguerrand cleared his throat. "We, well, our men, our spies, they suspect someone from the Papal mission working against us."

    "I often thought about that. Maybe the Pope himself?"

    Enguerrand shook his head. "He is under our surveillance, your Majesty."

    A gust of howling wind blew through the oak trees, forcing both of them to huddle inside their doublets.

    "So not him. Someone from his mission. Someone here in Paris?"

    "We do not know."

    "Find it."

    Enguerrand hesitated. "It will take some time."

    King Philip did not reply to the remark. He kept silent and listened to whatever else his chamberlain had to say, absent and his mind fleeing to other thoughts. He did not have to say anything else. The palace rose majestically behind them. Philip turned for a couple of seconds to admire the Romanesque architecture.

    “Who else knows about this report?”

    “Just me, you, and the informants who made this report.”

    “Bon. Tell them to shut up or else their entire family will be wiped off. The public must not know about this, they are still criticising me for the loss at Kotrijk,” replied Philip. “And talk to the minister council as well, I would like to raise the taxes to pay for another war, I cannot accept such a defeat.”

    Enguerrand hesitated. "As you wish, your Majesty."

    "Enguerrand, speak up."

    “Surprisingly, I was thinking the same, my liege.”

    Philip threw him a curious glance but eventually smiled, pleased at the sound of those words. His ego was easy to satisfy, and Enguerrand knew what to do to please his king.

    “What was the true story of these three escapees?”

    “Nobody knows my King, nobody does.”

    “Apart from that report, do we have any other information about them?”

    “Not that I know of, your Majesty. Right now there is no more information available to us. The guards have been questioned but they did not give anything useful.”

    “We shall have to wait and see then. I hope the servants have prepared lunch."

    ***

    With his hand on the edge of a chair supporting his weight, Clement fiddled with his small golden cross that hung from his neck as he looked warily towards the servant who arranged the parchments and other items on his desk. He was not a very organised man, and he oft thought of what would it be like without his servants who made his life so much easier. Once everything was in perfect order, the servant took a particular scroll and ripped the leather binding apart, unfolding it so he could read out loud. The report indicated the latest movements of the three knights, but Clement motioned with his hand to stop the man.

    “How are they going?” asked Clement.

    "Heading to Marseille. They've managed to escape the palace unscathed but they did fight with some of the guards."

    "Philip?"

    "I'm sure he has been notified, Sire."

    Clement threw up his hands in the air. "Nothing more I can do."

    "They also managed to wipe five of Philip's men in an open confrontation.”

    “Yes, yes, I know that part. It happened before they came to Avignon.”

    “Right now as you know they are heading towards Marseille and are almost there. They contacted one of the local innkeepers so he can arrange a ship for them to leave at first light.”

    "So where are they off to?"

    "Rome. This seems rather likely, your Highness."


    ------

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

    Chapter VII - Escape

    16th of October, 1313

    Mid-day
    Port of Marseille
    Kingdom of France


    Seagulls shrieked above the wharves in the port, their damp white feathers sparkling on a rather cloudless sky. The brisk sun shone over the dockyards brimming with activity in the southern port. Rows of wharves were built inside the port bay, flanked by smaller jetties vying for viable spaces by the thick stone walls of the Marseille port, just enough mooring to satisfy the traffic flowing inside. Raymond peered from over a stack of large wooden crates, eyeing for any port guards. Or worse, King Philip's own gendarmerie. The deserted corner, hidden from view by those large boxes offered a perfect hiding spot for the three Templars as Amalric and Balian turned from the guards to merchant ships. Any merchant ship was a target. But there were few of them, and some were well guarded even.

    “Do you see anything?” asked Amalric over the top of the noise caused by the unruly seagulls.

    “Nothing. There are some merchant ships but they have returned to their port and their mariners are heading for the taverns and inns. It does not look like they want to be spending their night on their ship.”

    “Who would want to, after a long day?”

    “True.” replied slowly Raymond. “Try to calm Balian down, he looks a bit too nervous and I am worried about him.”

    “He's been like this all the time when he was going to battle. All scared and excited, but when the battle started, nobody could stand in his way.”

    Raymond did not reply to Amalric, continuing to look at the moorings and the places of the merchant ships. The French navy's ships were docked in the military harbour which was in a separate area of the port, so there would be no armed guards around the merchant port in theory. The reality was rather different. He reminded of something quickly, taking a small piece of parchment from underneath his cotton garment, reading it and then arranging it back in its designated place. He turned towards Amalric who was busy with his top-body armour and looked him straight in the face with a worrisome expression.


    “I suggest you two keep your swords close. We are being followed and watched closely, and a confrontation might occur any time now.”


    Amalric was more than taken aback by Raymond's sudden declaration, stopping his armour arrangements. It took him a couple of valuable moments until he could process what he had just heard. Warriors' experience kicked in, taking over his instincts.


    “How sure are you about this? Was it because of that parchment you read?”


    “Come forwards. Look at the Venetian merchant guild, the one with the golden lion on the background of the red flag. You can see a couple of men standing out within the crowd. They have been on us since we have left that barren field near Dijon a couple of days ago. And yes, the parchment revealed we are watched closely. Or should I say, I am?”


    Raymond was right. Standing at the edge of the Venetian building were two armed men chatting with another three stationed in different positions along the perimeter of the building. They were placed in such a way that they cut off any exit Raymond and his Templars had from the quay towards the Venetian building. Clothed in simple brown tunics but with exposed mailed boots and heavy long swords hanging from their belts, their message was more than clear. Around them, oblivious to their frightening appearance, the merchants and shoppers were going on with their usual activities in and around the building, preventing for the moment any confrontation should it ever arise.


    “Any plans?” jumped in Balian. His voice creaked, prompting Raymond to give him a surprised glance.


    “Yes. But we have to jump quays and wharves, as odd as it may sound. Come forwards once again and look at the row of the four Venetian merchant ships.”


    They followed Raymond out of their hidden spot, glancing towards a perfectly arranged row of four Venetian merchant ships moored at a wharf parallel to the small jetty the three were on. Beside each ship was a small wooden fishing boat, spotted immediately by Raymond as they went out of their enclosure. He pointed the finger towards the boats and nodded to his brothers.


    “We have to run towards those small boats. From there we turn our direction to the small wooden houses that overlook the Venetian merchant building.”


    The two brothers nodded in agreement. Raymond nodded as well and gave one last indication in a barely audible whisper.


    “Follow me and try to conceal yourselves as much as possible.”


    The Templars duly followed Raymond out in the open view but were somehow still hidden from the five soldiers. They stepped carefully on the quay without any discernible noise, covered by the incessant buffer of ships, seagulls and people roaming around the port. Raymond led the way rushing behind every large wooden crate in his path for concealment, with Amalric and Balian mirroring his actions. The crates bustled with cargo from all corners of the world, and some of them even had a particular scent emanating from underneath their protection, drawing faint smiles and deep breaths. Raymond signalled and they all continued to advance behind the cover of the wooden boxes, eyeing an old inn amidst the port facilities. The inn was a three-storied building that looked as if it was about to collapse on its own weight but somehow the sturdy timbers kept it upright.


    Moments later, grouped, they arrived at a small wooden house, parallel with the old inn, the outpost of one of the Venetian guards defending it. It was nothing more than just a defensive post and could pass as a larger storage room but as it stood, the post had a direct view towards the main merchant guild. The post was surrounded by a small garden and inside it housed something of a small arsenal of spears and javelins. They moved slowly inside, crouched and heads drawn to avoid detection but the path was clear for the moment. They entered a petite lush garden, inexplicably shielded by thick palisades which formed a strong concentric wall around it, one detail that proved to be to their advantage. Since he was the tallest one of the group, Amalric raised his body slowly and looked over the wooden stakes, noting down the position of the assassins. Five men were grouped in a star alignment, one of them leaning against the stone walls of the merchant building while the others were busy sifting through the crowds in a bid to spot the Templars. One of them however was missing, but it was not long before Amalric spotted him inside a small shabby shed further on from the guards' outpost, concealed from them as weeds and branches were covering almost the entire structure. The shed was the exact copy of the one they entered albeit smaller. He nodded forwards.


    “There's only open field up to that building. We risk an open confrontation and we lose the element of surprise in that case,” said Balian.


    “Go through it, we have no other option. Trying to blend in with the crowd will be somewhat impossible, Amalric will be spotted immediately,” replied Raymond.

    Balian frowned. With their hands on the hilts, they jumped the wall but to their luck, they were too far away for the guards to notice their advance. They stealthily advanced towards the shed with their swords drawn and half crouched, ready to spring at any enemy that might thwart their plans. Close enough to the shed they saw the guard enjoying a round of cold ale from a wooden cup, his back turned towards them right at the opening built as an entry. Their position concealed, Amalric fired off one of the javelins from the shed that pierced the man's neck. Crashed forwards, the three now had clear way inside the shed. Raymond was already looking at the other four warriors who were scanning the area around them without any interest whatsoever. Something went amiss in Raymond's mind, trying to piece the puzzle together. He noticed that both sheds were guard-less, and the guards themselves left their weapons behind.


    “One of them has fallen. There are four more,” noted Amalric as he peered through one of the shed's holes.


    “We run,” came the glacial reply of Raymond.


    Amalric turned around and looked at Raymond in disbelief. “Run? With this armour on? How can we run?”


    “We do our best. Other options we do not have. Or do we?”


    “I was thinking of something. Amalric can throw well it. Another plan might work after all,” said Balian.


    “What are you thinking of?” replied Raymond.


    “Taking one of these javelins and throwing it at the farthest soldier, so all of them will go towards him while we sneak in behind and enter the building. It will work if we hit him properly,” said Balian.


    Raymond took the javelin from the guard's neck, grasping it tightly in his hand. His sword was sheathed and carefully locked in its place so as not to impede him, his armour arranged, his iron coif gleaming in the sun.


    “I hope this works. When I throw the javelin and it hits, we all run as fast as we can. Hit or miss, we run.”


    The two brothers nodded in agreement and waited for Raymond to throw the weapon. The shed had two openings. They came from the right opening, and while Raymond was posted there with the javelin, Balian and Amalric were ready to sprint towards the building from the left side of the shed. Just as Raymond released the javelin, Amalric and Balian ran towards the Venetian building knocking over the people who were unfortunate enough to be on their way. By chance, the javelin's aerial path collapsed faster but not quick enough for the guard, the sharp head piercing the armour of his right shoulder. The guard collapsed to the ground, drawing the attention of the others who did not see the Templars rush them.


    They burst inside the building with a heavy charge, knocking down the rather shabby wooden door that splintered to pieces inside the inn's mess hall. Raymond exited the mess in a hurry and climbed up a narrow set of spiral wooden stairs in a continuous rapture of creaking sounds, leading his Templars to the top floor inside what seemed to be an old storage room. Blocking the door and securing it into position, Amalric sighed audibly as he rested against it trying to regain his composure. He was breathing audibly, the air coming in loud rasps, his hair all ravished covering his eyesight.


    Behind them, the stairs creaked audibly, sounds of broken wood echoing through the mess hall and the rest of the inn. Amalric jumped from the door towards the other end, drawing his sword and his Templars behind his massive frame. Philip's guards, or the Venetians, did not bother knocking. The door, blocked as it was with a log locked on each side, collapsed under the weight of the axes and swords. Four guards entered the storage room, arms ready and extended, charging towards Amalric with their swords outstretched. With the frame of Amalric acting as a shield, Raymond and Balian struck from the sides in coordination. Their blows were followed by Amalric's own charge, sending the guards to the floor without much of an effort.


    “Run!”


    Amalric and Balian did not need to be told a second time about what to do. They followed Raymond instinctively, trusting his orientation skills between the labyrinth of doors, sides, stairs, floors and people that was inside the old inn. After a short but wild run down the stairs and into a large hall filled with merchant clerks scribbling down the day's transactions, the three burst outside the main door and ran towards the jetties at the far corner of the Marseille port. The three lost their trail between the maze of the side streets, stopping dead in their tracks against a wall, exhaling deeply to calm themselves down.


    A brief break behind them, the three moved on and ended up back in the main area of the Marseille port not before long. Besides a packed wharf was their intended target, a member of the Genoese mercantile fleet, a war galley transformed into a civilian ship that fit the bill of the Republica Genoa. The triple decked ship was huge and looked solid on the outside, her hull constructed out of durable oak that would last for centuries on the rough waters of the Mediterranean. Men were coming and going over the large decks at pace, transporting wooden crates of cargo filled with exotic wares and precious metals ready to be transported further on to the coffers of the French kingdom. A short, barrel-like man with a belly that was about to burst his white cotton tunic came towards them with a curt smile, inviting them with his hands over on the main deck of the galley. Raymond drew closer and saluted him from the edge of the wharf.


    “Thank you for the offer. Where are you heading my dear sailor?” said Raymond.


    “We are heading for Roma, fellow traveller. The Republic of Genoa ordered us to deliver fine French wines from Aquitaine to the wealthy nobles of Roma. Those who still are foolish enough to live there.”


    “Do you have some space for us? We would like to travel with you,” replied Raymond.


    “You will be my cherished guests, gentlemen!”


    They hopped on board the ship, whiskered away by the captain directly to his cabin. Entering the sailor's cabin, it turned out to be completely different from the rest of the ship. The personal space of the sailor was immaculate and in perfect order, the navigation tools laid perfectly on a map created by a Genoese cartographer; along with the navigation logs, three beautiful swan quills were set beside, drenched in black quality ink. The trade with the Far East was booming in those times, and it was obvious judging by the quality of the objects even simple ship captains used. The chamber was opulent and lavishly decorated but with good taste and everything had an ergonomic and useful touch to it, no space wasted.


    Smiling, the captain noticed their particular delight once they laid their sight on the chamber.


    “I see you like my chamber, gentlemen.”


    “Very beautiful, indeed," replied Raymond.


    “Giovanni di Genoa.”

    “Raymond de Laon, Balian de Laon and Amalric de Saint-Dizier. How much will the trip cost us?”


    “60 florins, for all of you. You will get to rest and dine in the personal spaces of the crew or with me if you wish, so there should be no problem in regards to that.”


    “Fair. How far will the journey take us on your boat?”


    “It will take us one week to arrive in Rome, dearest Raymond. We leave tomorrow morning at first light,” replied Giovanni.


    “Very well. We are ready to board, and we are at your orders.”


    “I am glad to be of help, honourable men,” ended Giovanni with a slight bow of his head.


    The burly sailor exited the cabin along with the knights and returned to the main decks, shouting out orders as the sails were assembled properly and the galley slaves chained in their places. Final preparations were in full swing but it would take another evening until they were ready to drive the vessel out of the port of Marseille. Eight hours later and a couple of carefully planned moves the ship was free of its moorings as it sped down the exit with the sails turned towards Rome's direction.




    ***



    At the break of dawn, on the third day of their presence on the ship, Balian found Raymond praying beside the guard rails of the main deck following his old Templar adage. Balian personally recited his prayers before as well, preferably alone and in utter silence and solitude, but he found it pleasantly surprising that his Order brother was doing the same. The latest events left them no time for proper prayer. Raymond had knelt with only half his body, his head touching the hilt of his sword as he recited his prayers in the style of the peculiar Templar tradition. He did not notice Balian, nor did he notice the sun's rays gleaming sheepishly over the galley's rails.


    Smiling, Balian came up to him and offered him a cup of wine, which Raymond accepted with a slight movement of his body. He left Balian to a couple of moments of solitude to finish his prayer, leaping to his feet once finished to take the silver cup of wine from Balian's outstretched hand.


    “We forgot to pray in the past days,” said Balian.


    “I do not blame myself. We had no time, we were unable to,” replied Raymond.


    “You have a point."


    "Thank you, Balian. I appreciate it."


    Balian nodded. "How far?"


    "Four days at most. Rome awaits us."


    "Any idea what we will be doing there?"


    "None. But at least it's away from France."

    -----

    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?

  8. #8
    Stranger in a strange land Moderator Hooahguy's Avatar
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    Default Re: A Painted Shield of Honour

    So I completely forgot this sub existed lol.

    But this is really good! I enjoyed reading it.
    On the Path to the Streets of Gold: a Suebi AAR
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  9. #9
    Ja mata, TosaInu Forum Administrator edyzmedieval's Avatar
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    Default Re: A Painted Shield of Honour

    Thank you Hooah, glad you enjoyed it!.
    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 VIII - Rome

    --------

    Mediterranean Sea

    Mid-day
    17th of October 1313
    Republic of Genoa


    The waters were calm, gently washing over the wooden guardrails of the Genoese caravel as she ploughed through the light blue of the Mediterranean Sea. Neither of them had seasickness so they took in the breeze and the salty smell of seawater wafting all over the entire deck. It seemed to be unusually warm for this period. It resembled summer in many ways, the knights down to their undershirts, soiled with water and sweat as they were, their armour and swords tucked away in the cabins below the main deck. With Amalric and Balian giving a helping hand to the sailors, Raymond tucked himself comfortable in the shadow of the main stair leading to the bow of the caravel. One of the sailors gave him a quick pat on the back and offered a bottle of what he presumed was alcohol, but he denied it with a curt smile.

    "You sure?" asked the sailor.

    "No alcohol for me," laughed back Raymond.

    The sailor was quickly replaced by Amalric and Balian who stood down on the stairs.

    "Feels like summer," quipped Raymond.

    "Feels like it, yes, but I have a feeling it won't be water we'll be feeling by the time we get to Rome," replied Amalric.

    "Anxious, are we Amalric?"

    "Rightfully so, I presume. Aren't you?"

    Raymond shook his head. "Not really."

    "Raymond, what have you done after your father chased you away from the estate? The Order, yes, but what exactly?"

    “I moved away. And I had no other choice, so that was that. I was a proud Templar, worthy to fight, but the petty kings of the Orient lost the Holy Land. I had nothing else to fight for so I continued to apply myself in training and follow the daily prayer like any other.”

    “Back to the Order, you mean?”

    “No. I never left the Order. I just returned from Cyprus after all was lost. I just moved to a more important commandery compared to the Orient.”

    “Where exactly?” asked Amalric.

    “Paris commandery, under the strict guidance of Monsieur Godefroi de Charney. He admired my dedication and so I was able to climb up the ranks quickly. Nevertheless, I had to endure the initiation rites every time I advanced,” said Raymond with clear annoyance in his voice.

    Amalric let out a scornful laugh at the sound of the words. Raymond smiled towards him with the corner of his mouth.

    “It gave me the chance to become what I am now. Without a family, who would take care of me? Charney has been the most kind towards me.”

    "You could have been a knight."

    "A mercenary? One crossbow bolt and your career is over."

    "At least it was worth a good amount of coin."

    "Possibly."

    “How come you advanced so fast in the ranks? You somehow were preferred over others?”

    Raymond smiled. "I was."

    “Fate has been kind to all of us, but what do we do now? The Temple has been disbanded forever by the Pope so we're forced to seek our fortunes now, are we not?” asked Balian.

    “We still follow what he says. We have no other hope but to join the Hospitallers, or some Templar monasteries in Portugal, or something like that. Or continue our journey, to see if it leads us anywhere. Perhaps it will, perhaps it will not, our duty to try at least.”

    “Remember what you read as a simple squire, Balian? Our texts? Always remember what Bernard de Clairvaux once said to us. We truly are fearless knights, and secure on every side, for our souls are protected by the armour of faith, just as our body is protected by the armour of steel,” said Amalric in a calm voice.

    "Did you follow that back in the dungeons in Paris, Amalric?" asked Raymond.

    "Tried to. A simple life of a squire turned a knight. It was easy for me. Back to my roots as they say."

    “You were always the one following the guidance of the Temple.”

    “I enjoyed being around with my brothers. My family left me, so what was I to do? You both shared the same fate.”

    “It seems so," quipped Balian. "What did you do before this, well, this month?"

    "Serving the Temple. I was the last one to be captured when the order came for us to be arrested, and I took down six of them until I surrendered, thinking it would be best for me to continue living rather than the prison.”

    Raymond glanced at him, narrowing his eyes. "They imprisoned you immediately?"

    "A rather swift punishment for refusing to stand down. Punishment for refusing to follow the King's orders. But I do not answer to King Philip."

    Raymond reached out to Amalric, grabbing him by the wrist. "Keep your strengths, Amalric, we still have a long way to go. Relieve your anger, we have more important things to do."

    Amalric smiled. "I always wondered how it would feel like to fight alongside other Templars in a battle,” smiled Amalric, a mischievous grin forming on his face.

    “You got your chance already,” quipped Balian.

    "That little skirmish?" Amalric laughed. "That was not enough."

    “Indeed. But hopefully, we will get more," replied Balian.

    “Be sure of that. Right now, since we all escaped, we have to plan our next steps. Rome is no longer what it was, the residences and cathedrals are now rather empty and desolate since the Pope is kept a prisoner in Avignon by King Philip. Odd times we live in but it's the first place we need to go to."

    “How sure are we of our success? Are we going to find anything of use in our next destination?” asked Balian.

    “We can only look and find out for ourselves.”

    “Perhaps we should enlist the services of some residents, maybe they can help us?” proposed Amalric.

    “I am wary, and we all know why. They will be on our tails right until the end, I won't be surprised if some of them are even here on this boat, so the less information they know about us, the better. Everything can be paid in this world, and unfortunately, we are part of the most evocative example.”

    Amalric sighed. "Can we count the Hospitallers and other monastic orders as friends? Or can we trust them at least if we would ever need help?”

    “I would, but it depends on what terms we will be discussing with them. Our problems are now widespread, even in the prison I heard that there is a public scandal within the French kingdom because of our arrest. It seems as if the merchants are having troubles without our financial knowledge,” replied Amalric.

    Raymond slid his hands under his white cotton garment and retrieved a scroll from underneath, showing it to the brothers who did not initially understand the writing. He rested himself against the rail and looked at the brothers closely, analysing their facial expressions.

    “It is the parchment I retrieved from one of the guards who attacked me in the streets of Paris. To sum it up, it says that we have been under close watch for the past two years by Philip's men, but it is only a simple mistake that you have been kept unguarded by the soldiers. And me for that matter as well. It was this parchment that I took out earlier.”

    “For all of our journey, we shall be followed by Philip's men. Makes it for an interesting call,” said Amalric, firmly grasping the hilt of his sword.

    Timbers creaked audibly behind them, straining under the weight of the burly captain who flung his weight across the deck. He saluted his sailors and drew close to the group of Templars idly discussing their matters on his ship. He gave them a curt bow and smiled, his hands outstretched, as if reaching out over the Mediterranean Sea into the horizon.

    “We are reaching Rome, Signor Raymond. We will be docking soon at the nearest jetty in the port of Rome. Surely nobody will be in the port, and I do not expect any problems.”

    Raymond saluted. “Thank you for informing us, Giovanni.”

    “With pleasure my dear friends. We shall be docking and then leaving quickly for the port of Thessalonika, and if you wish, you are more than welcome to join us.”

    “Very kind of you Giovanni, but we must decline. We are heading in a different direction.”

    “So be it, my friends. In case you need anything, I shall be in my quarters.”

    Giovanni turned around, his large belly flowing over his tunic, returning to his cabin just as the outlines of Rome crayoned themselves in the distance. Smoke rose from some quarters, but was it smoke from fires or was it just food being cooked?

    Raymond stood up and pointed in the distance.

    “Welcome to Rome.”

    ----

    Last edited by edyzmedieval; 05-05-2021 at 22:13.
    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?

  11. #11
    Ja mata, TosaInu Forum Administrator edyzmedieval's Avatar
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    Default Re: A Painted Shield of Honour

    Been a while, it's time to resume our journey through medieval Europe.

    Chapter IX - Jerusalem

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

    Early morning
    Early October 1313
    Jerusalem
    Fatimid Caliphate



    The sandstorm that blew from the Sinai peninsula reached the sunburnt walls of Jerusalem, blowing up mounds of heavy dust through the city gates. A rare gust of wind from the Mediterranean would sweep the sand over the city, away from the inhabitants huddled around walls and houses, but they were rare, so all they could do was brave the sand and cover their eyes. With a scarf wrapped over his nose, the merchant of this vast souq draped the entrance to his shop with a large cloth and returned to the cool air of his back office.

    The souq by the northwestern gate, an old Roman gate guarding the road to Damascus, was more than just a simple marketplace. The souq was almost a city inside the city of Jerusalem. Such a large bazaar meant that everything had a price in the small, boxy stalls, from basic goods to little luxuries, and even special information highly prized by the most dubious of characters. Even the value of one's life could be weighed in the large gathering of merchants into one single place bustling with activity and of course, money. The local black market thrived in this area full of shady dealers and noblemen eager to gain precious items nowhere else to be found without attracting the interest of the law. And for a coin, everything else that could be obtained was possible.

    The merchant slipped a hand over his exquisite white grey turban, adjusting it for a better fit. He was one of the Sultan's own, a shadow in the grey market behind the stalls filled with spices & other goods from the Far East. Asaf al-Shami was a merchant. And a racketeer. All for the Sultan down in Cairo. He knew what the recent fads in the business were and he operated accordingly, always eager for higher profits. There was nothing that separated him from the other wealthy merchants, apart from the knowledge of a real connoisseur when it came to fine goods and even small special services that would provide good profits for those who were able to make them. He was not that ruthless either, he never let others do his work, but he had the guile for great deals. Everyone knew him, most respected him, but over the years he made enough enemies who were more than eager to capitalise on his mistakes.

    Asaf rose from his chair and darted back into the bazaar, slipping through stalls and people until he reached one of the exits. Masses of people huddled around the exits and entrances, making it easy for him to hide between them. But Asaf was not there to hide. He was there for a specific item, a shining object on a downtrodden wheelbarrow in a place just three market stalls from the entrance. Looking around, it seemed that nobody was interested in what he has seen. Nobody even dared to approach that cart. A sad, rather confused teenager stood behind the broken wheelbarrow, confused by the mass of people shouting and roaring in the market. As he stepped beside it, Asaf curled his eyebrow and looked at him with an air of superiority. The teen was eager for customers and grinned widely, revealing a large toothless gap that made Asaf chuckle inside. He went straight for the object he was told of and took it in his hand, noticing a parchment scroll stamped with polished wax that gleamed in the sun. He weighed it and nodded accordingly, and motioned to the teenager.

    “Ten dirhams,” said the boy.

    “Take fifteen.”

    He threw a small bag of coins to the boy, who could not believe his luck. He bowed relentlessly to the merchant who dismissed the show and simply left, continuing his walk towards the other stalls in the market. A couple of small purchases later, the merchant left the big market and took a walk around the busy streets of Jerusalem enjoying the succulent dates he bought from a Mongol merchant. His villa was just several streets from the famous Dome, wealthy enough he was to afford such a prime estate location. Once inside, darted to his cabinet where his papers were neatly folded on the wooden desk. He noticed something strange while as he examined the parchments on the desk. They were not in the same order.

    “Farad!,” the merchant yelled.

    After a couple of moments, a tall Nubian emerged from the shadows as he brushed the silk tapestries hanging from an empty door frame.

    “Sadiq, you called?”

    “Has anyone been here lately?”

    “Yes, my master. A person by the name Henric de Joainville requested an audience with you.”

    “For what matters?”

    “He would not disclose. He would prefer to speak with you. I left him in your cabinet thinking you would arrive early, but as it seems, he left before you arrived.”

    “When did he come here?”

    “Around one clock ago.”

    Strange, Asaf thought. He never had any dealings with French merchants, nor he ever had enemies within the Christian world. The Christian merchants, particularly the Byzantines and the English, were delighted with his wares and constantly bought from him.

    “Did you see him leave?”

    “No, master.”

    “Did you hear him leave?”

    “No, master.”

    “Describe him to me!” snarled Asaf, infuriated.

    “Somewhat short, plump, with a round face and a long straight nose.”

    “Typical Frenchman. Anything else?”

    “He looked somewhat scary. He had two daggers hanging from his belt, and his smile was frightening. I did not wish to speak to him much.”

    Asaf suddenly became alarmed at hearing that his guest was heavily armed, and on top of that, had no particular purpose inside his house. An alarm rang inside his head. It now connected with the disorganised mess that was on his desk.

    “Lock all gates and all the doors tonight. Put the soldiers on guard inside the house, I do not want anyone outside. All of the slaves will rest tonight inside, and you must have your axe by your bed, understand? Get my sword from the basement and leave it by the door to my private chamber. Somebody coming with two daggers on view and looking through my papers is not a friend or a person to be trusted.”

    The Nubian slave bowed slightly and left the room, leaving the Asaf alone and baffled. He turned around immediately and stared out the window, seeing only the people bustling around the markets like ants at their colonies. Asaf let himself fall on his chair, bringing it closer to the desk. He took four small rocks from a bag at the edge of the desk and unfolded the scroll he purchased with the rocks set at the corners to prevent the parchment from rolling back to its original shape.

    Asaf narrowed his eyes at the dark, burgundy coloured seal. Inscribed on it were initials, and words in both Arabic and Latin, which Asaf knew both to rathe perfection. The miniatures, carefully inked on the parchment, were all the same and in all four corners. Two knights on a single horse. It was highly unusual for a scroll to have four wax seals stamped on it, and with the Templar Knights' too. Asaf continued to read the scroll and eventually observed that the two texts noted down the creation of a magnificent cathedral over the Dome of the Rock once full control would be achieved over Jerusalem.

    "Odd. Not even a rumour circulated about this," said Asaf to himself. His grandfather would have known about it, working with the Templar Order, but he spoke no word of this. Was the parchment fake? He doubted it. Nobody would invest so much time in a forgery regarding a long gone monastic order.

    Folding it nicely and reattaching the seal, the merchant dropped it in a special chain-locked drawer beside his bed and exited the room. He looked back towards his desk and tried to figure out if anything was missing when he noticed a tiny scroll underneath his desk. He returned to his desk and bent over to pick it up. Somewhat worried, he unfolded it and read its contents.

    “You have something we need. You may make good money by giving it to us without force. Greed or your life, what will it be?”

    -----------
    Ja mata, TosaInu. You will forever be remembered.

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  12. #12
    Ja mata, TosaInu Forum Administrator edyzmedieval's Avatar
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    Default Re: A Painted Shield of Honour

    Chapter X - Rome by the Tiber

    Early morning

    19 October
    Tyrrhenian Sea
    Papal States of Rome


    Light sea fog drifted around the edges of the timber beams holding the heavy cog together, the faint contour of Rome sharpening ever so slightly as the ship pushed forward towards the city. Years and years of fighting took a toll, rather evident when they approached, the wharves dilapidated and the mood of the fishermen a sombre expression of defeat. Rome was a shadow, a gathering of broken buildings struck by vicious earthquakes and constant Papal squabbles. Worse, the Pope was no longer even in Rome. Most of the wealthier inhabitants left a long time ago after the rebellions and Italian wars had started, leaving it only with a fraction of the population it once boasted.

    With the honest folk barricaded in their houses, the streets were devoid of Romans, only a crackle of desolate fires and a seagull by the port would break the silence. Reaching the Papal quarters by the Vatican was not an easy task, concealed behind the sunburnt brick walls of the city. The Papal quarters, just like the city, were a ghost town. The guards were in sparse numbers and often Raymond wondered what were they even guarding. With the Pope a prisoner of King Philip, the only thing left to guard were the Papal documents. The library. And wandering inside the Papal courtyard, searching for that library, hidden between all of the adjacent buildings in the middle of the night was more than just plain annoyance. With only one torch, and intentionally dimmed, they nearly passed the building they were looking for until Balian caught a glimpse of a golden plaque shining against the flames. He blew a quick whistle and directed his brothers immediately inside the building. Without a door to pass through and without uttering a single word, the three stepped into a long, dark corridor.

    There was a library inside of sorts, so they judged, but there was no imposing decorated oak door. The door was destroyed, replaced by some haphazard planks nailed together to guard the entrance. They entered a secluded room, far away from the main Papal halls, slightly cooler and more uninviting than the rest. Or so they judged. The acrid stench inundated their nostrils as they entered, making Balian cringe at the repugnant smell. It reminded him of the incense purchased by some from the Far East that had a distinct, strong smell, and the more you burnt the worse it would smell. A rapid scan of the room with the torch in hand shone a light on a corner where the rats had found a permanent home. Scared by the sudden light, the rats fled immediately. Repulsed, Balian quickly left his comrades alone to take a breather, returning afterwards somewhat more eager and coloured than before, drawing a peal of quick laughter from Amalric.

    “Empty. The whole building is empty,” whispered Raymond. "What we expected."

    They looked at the stacked shelves at the side of the room, each holding hundreds of scrolls neatly placed one on top of the other in such a way that they would rest against themselves in a delicate balance. Upon a closer inspection, the scrolls were neatly bound and sorted by their size, arranged in three distinct lines which made little sense to them. The perfect arrangement of the scrolls contrasted with the rest of the room that was no more than a destroyed wreck. Shards of stained glass were spread all over, wooden planks were now smashed into tens of thousands of small splints and not only that but pottery, steel blades and even bits of gold indicated that something had happened in this room beforehand.

    “What are we looking for exactly?” asked Balian.

    “A small scroll, the Papal bull that enabled us to exist as an order. The papal bull of investiture, the Omne Datum Optimum,” replied Raymond.

    “There are hundreds of scrolls. How are we going to find them?” countered Balian.

    “The Templar records have been burned once the Papacy left these areas. They are only keeping one document – our investiture. That is the only scroll we are looking for. The original. The copy is in our Temple in Jerusalem.”

    “Only way we can find it is to look around,” said Amalric, dryly.

    “How sure are we it is in here?” asked Balian.

    “Geoffrey de Charney told me before the library is still intact. Look around us, there is nobody here, who would even look for this?” replied Raymond.

    “Somebody did look for it but they were more interested in everything else but the scrolls,” remarked Amalric with a dash of irony.

    Raymond took the torch from Amalric's hand and went towards the section containing the small scrolls, examining each row carefully. Any pattern that would shorten the time would prove helpful but a quick examination of two scrolls from each pile revealed they were not arranged in any specific order. He glanced a look at Balian and Amalric who were now creating makeshift support for the torch so the light could be shared between them as they took to their work. Once done, he placed the support and returned to the pile, ripping up every leather binder as he examined every scroll. Amalric however had other ideas as he took a very small ceramic pot from his leather belt, pouring the contents inside the torch. Sparked by the saltpetre, the torch-lit up powerfully inside the chamber casting a much more powerful glow.

    “Saltpeter,” said Amalric frankly.

    Raymond looked at him with a mixture of amazement and respect. They now had more light to work in, which considerably sped up their advance.

    “I find it strange that this place is empty, and no one is around. I suggest once we find the scroll we immediately leave this place, I do not like it here,” said Balian fearfully, interrupting the moment.

    In perfect coordination, Amalric and Raymond nodded gravely towards Balian. Prepared and eager, the three started their search through the scrolls, unwrapping them individually to examine their contents to avoid anything of importance that might slip through their hands. Minutes and eventually hours passed without any success, Raymond ready to call it a halt for a couple of moments of rest. He was exhausted, but most of all bored from the search so a couple of minutes were more than welcome. Rubbing against the walls as they let themselves fall on the cold floor, neither of them spoke a word. There were only a few scrolls left, so if it was not there they might as well leave the place. Not before long, Balian's loud shriek echoed inside the square room, disturbing the concentration of the other two knights as they mechanically looked through the last parchments.

    “Found it!”

    The knights forgot the unchaining sensation of relief and how it felt like. Raymond and Amalric drew closer to Balian as he unfolded the scroll under the direct light of the torch. The Templar symbol shone in the orange glow of the torch, a burgundy red seal alongside the privy seal of the Pope beside it. Scanning the Latin writing confirmed that this was the document they were looking for, the Templar investiture and its official creation. The Omne Datum Optimum was finally in their hands.

    “Omne Datum Optimum. Our creation”. whispered Balian.

    “Take it and let us leave this place, I had enough of this place. Who knows who is waiting for us outside,” said Raymond.

    Balian folded the scroll back into its original shape and slid it under his garments in a safe pouch. He glanced around at the mess they created, but that mattered little right now. Nobody would notice it and there would be no one to check up any time soon.

    “What now?” asked Amalric.

    “I have no clue. All of the Templar records apart from a few have been burned as I've told you, and I would not bother searching the rest of this library, we won't find something of much use to us,” replied Balian.

    Balian looked lost. “Then?”

    "We get out of here, out of this city anyhow. As far away as possible from Philip's mercenaries."

    "So we..." trailed off Amalric.

    “...head towards Constantinople," replied Raymond.

    Amalric was pleasantly surprised. “Already?”

    “Any better ideas?”

    Amalric replied with silence. There was nothing he could say either, so all he could do is nod forwards as he existed in the messy chamber. Raymond and Balian followed close, back now on the long corridor leading to the exit. The difference in the torchlight was now visible even with the last saltpetre added to the fire so Raymond sends a friendly nudge in Amalric's back to urge him forwards.

    “What about the library?” asked Balian.

    “What about it?” replied Raymond.

    “We left it in a complete disorder. Should we arrange it a bit, so nobody will notice that we have visited this place?”

    “Perhaps we should,” proposed Amalric.

    “No. We will lose too much time. Most probably Philip and his men know we are already here, so with the time we have, we can be a step ahead of them instead of cleaning up behind us. Let us go,” ended Raymond.

    The cold pangs of the chilly night sharpened its blade onto their faces as they exited the library, finding themselves in the small square piazza inside the building complex. It was unusually cold for this time of the year, steam coming out of their nostrils with every heavy breath. Raymond blew out the torch and threw it in a dark corner, casting them in almost complete darkness. Only moonlight lit up their path as they sidestepped against the walls of the buildings until they ended up back into the main piazza of the Vatican complex. Finding their way back towards the docks at the edge of the Tiber turned out to be a challenge.

    Eventually, they arrived at the port, only to find it empty and deserted. Not even the inns and taverns around it were alive, everyone was fast asleep. Neither of them expected it to have any ships waiting around for them just in case they showed up, but for the moment, they had no other choice than to return to the darkness of the city. Despite Amalric's serious protests, they went back in, this time to look for some lodging for the night and for some food to feed their growling stomachs.

    ***

    They sat down at a low, wooden table that did not look too sturdy, or solid, for that matter. Splints were shearing out of its sides, hurting anyone who dared to touch them and ripping any piece of cloth that managed to stick itself in its sharp end. Apart from a couple of travellers beside them frantically speaking in Italian and a table of wine-drinking sailors at the other end of the hall, nobody else was inside the tavern. Out of the Templars, Balian was the only one who knew the local vulgar Latin so he positioned himself as close to the chatters as possible, hoping to eavesdrop on some words. After they placed their order, Raymond carefully laid down a scroll on the table and unfolded it, using an empty bottle of wine as the support for the top end of the parchment. Balian kept his upright position to continue eavesdropping on the other guests but could not help but shift his attention from them towards the parchment. It did not pass the test of time too well, as they all could see upon a closer examination.

    “What is this?” asked Balian.

    Raymond unfolded the tattered scroll on the splintered table.

    “I took it from the room we were in. It's a simple map of Jerusalem, but somehow the focus is shifted towards our Temple. See these small details? I did not know they existed before. So, when we do arrive in the city of Jerusalem, we have to make sure we pass by and look at them. It might prove useful actually when we get there. There seems to be a connection with the tunnels around the Temple Mount. Hopefully, we will be able to trust a few commoners by then so they could explain this to us,” replied Raymond.

    Cheers and laughter erupted from the guests behind their table all of a sudden. Raymond and Amalric looked at them sympathetically, casting them an occasional smile, but Balian switched his attention to the drunken sailors rather restless in their corner. The wine bottles on their small table were dry, some of them smashed to bits on the ground.

    “Perhaps we should exit the back door of the inn? Somehow I feel unwanted over here,” whispered Balian to his companions.

    Two sailors pulled small daggers from underneath their garments, followed by a longsword attached to another sailor's belt. Three others tried to imitate their friends but their state of inebriation only made it look as if the local clowns were giving a free representation.

    “You're right. Let us leave, no need for useless fights,” replied Raymond.

    They immediately got up and rushed towards the inn's back quarters. Wasting no time, Amalric smashed the back door, leaving them free to run towards the Roman port.


    ------

    Last edited by edyzmedieval; 09-06-2021 at 14:51.
    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?

  13. #13
    Ja mata, TosaInu Forum Administrator edyzmedieval's Avatar
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    Default Re: A Painted Shield of Honour

    Chapter XI

    Early morning
    Burgundian manor
    Duchy of Burgundy
    October 1313


    Soft winds wisped gently on the hilly landscape, brushing against the majestic crenellations of the ducal mansion. The wind clung softly to the branches of the trees surrounding the castle, leaning their stocky branches close to the stone walls paced by armoured crossbowmen, their eyes honed on the horizon for threats. Beneath the walls, servants of the house frantically rushed about from kitchen to hall, in rather eager anticipation of the meal hosted by the Burgundian vassal. The manor itself was rather close to the Burgundian borders with the Holy Roman Empire, and yet, that was the perfect setting for such a meeting. Guarded by hoardings, crenellations, stone walls and a whole collection of arrow slits covered by crossbowmen, the manor was well protected. The dukes and vassals meeting under the V-shaped dome of the main hall were diplomats, at most, and belligerent vassals of the Kingdom of France at worst.

    One by one, small groups of nobles reached the manor, invited inside the grounds by the duke of the lands and the group of spear-armed guards posted at the main gate. Large numbers of nobles gathering at the manor, so close to the duchy's borders, would gather too much attention so invitees were required to have at most two companions. Most arrived with just one, a lowly squire. To the manor servants, the procession seemed most odd. They only saluted the duke and went straight inside the hall without any other words.

    Inside the main hall, an uneven, rectangular mess hall, the chilly air from outside swept over the table, rather sheepishly creeping inside the diplomats' heavy wool caftans. Industrious, the servants lit up the hall with dozens of candles and heavy wall torches, the tallow kindling the flame with an ardent measure. The dim light emanating from the greasy candles was strong enough for the men to discern the large round table in front of them, along with the cups filled to the point of breaking with ale. Beside them were plates made of hardened bread which upon freshly roasted game was laid, complimented by a large bunch of grapes scattered all across the oak table. An occasion for the host to boast about, but some of them knew him too well and good-humouredly cheered after he finished fiery his monologue praising his notoriously absent hunting skill. Philippe Posset, the Burgundian vassal, glanced at them for a couple of moments in silence.

    “Gentlemen, I will not bore you with the useless details. As you might know or heard from other travellers, three Templar brothers have escaped capture from our liege King Philip and as of the moment I have received the report, all three of them are on their way towards the Holy Lands."

    Posset stopped for a moment. No response.

    “So far nothing conclusive has been reported, and therefore we may be judged to think that they present no threat to us in our attempt to eradicate the Templar order, but I suggest we do not underestimate their abilities,”

    A small hand rose, decorated with golden jewels. The burly owner was a Venetian diplomat, Giorgio Romano, invited by Posset and his French masters through not so diplomatic channels.

    “What can they do in the end to us? That is my question," asked Romano. "I would also assume that we need to understand what do we need in return.

    “Nothing for the moment,” replied Posset.

    “Then why are we so concerned with them?”

    “They pose the problem of perhaps revealing our activities.”

    “Our activities? The serfs and the middle classes do not pose any problem to our rule, so why concern?”

    “The possibility of them conducting a revolt in the French kingdom is very remote. Therefore they do not pose any immediate threat to the integrity of our kingdoms and our estates.”

    The French diplomat, Henry de Bourgogne, a tall, thin and rather surly noble, cleared his throat.

    “The threat is null, but we must consider the fact that perhaps the Pope himself is conducting activities behind our esteemed backs, said a curly-haired man in an irritated tone that suggested much more than he wanted to say to his interlocutors. He has been mumbling to my King for some time regarding the arrest of all of the Templar knights, and I am not too sure he can be foregone that easily considering he is the one complaining.”

    “If the escapees are on their way towards the Holy Lands, what kind of a problem can they pose to us?,” replied Romano.

    “We are not sure on this issue, Sire. What we can say however is that we think they might possess valuable information regarding where the Templar treasury is hidden.”

    “In the end, that is our main aim,” added Posset.

    “Indeed.”

    “What if search parties are organised as we have proposed before? Would not they be able to find their treasury?” asked Romano.

    “Most likely yes.”

    “So in this case, how do we split the treasury?” asked Romano.

    “First of all, we must make sure their treasure is found. So far nothing has appeared,” intervened Posset.

    “The port of La Rochelle has been sealed off immediately after the decree has been signed by my King. I can rightly assure you that no ship has passed through its gates to the outside world,” replied Henry de Bourgogne.

    “Very well. Then we can safely assume that their treasury is still inside the French kingdom,” replied Romano.

    “So it seems,” ended Henry with a slight nod of his round head.

    “What if there isn't any treasure?" asked Romano.

    “We may assume this possibility as well,” replied the French diplomat.

    “I highly doubt it. If so, then they would not make any effort at all to admit their guilt. With all the torture, we all know this has been only an excuse. Although the reports indicate that the three escapees are heading towards a precise destination, and this is most worrying,” said Posset, shrugging off any possible threats to his authority.

    Neither of the guests picked up on Bourgogne shifting uncomfortably in his heat. Somehow, inside him, he was worried they would eventually discover the truth that the Templar navy disappeared a long time ago from the La Rochelle port.

    “What if the three brothers are heading exactly towards it? They must know something.”

    “Yes, perhaps. But if they know, we must capture them first.”

    “Where is De Molay, Henry?” asked the Venetian diplomat, interrupting the conversation.

    “In the prisons at the outskirts of Paris, under close watch.”

    “Has he been interrogated yet?”

    “Thoroughly. By my King personally.”

    “Did he manage to get any information from de Molay whilst he was interrogating him?”

    “Unfortunately for us, that old fool resisted and was quite arrogant when posed the questions. He refused to answer to our demands.”

    “I understand,” replied the Venetian diplomat, his melodic voice cooling the tension escalated by the arrogant tone displayed by the French ambassador.

    The atmosphere was unpleasant, and it came as no surprise considering who was present. The cold that engulfed the whole hall made it worse. The doors clicked once more and opened slightly, inside a tall, skinny servant dressed in a colourful tunic holding a parchment scroll in his hands. The servant walked to the head of the oval table and handed over the scroll, closing the door once more behind him. Posset unrolled the parchment and started reading it. Brief moments of tension passed until the lord took his eyes from the writing and stared directly in front of him as if he was gazing in a crystal ball. The parchment was closed tightly in his hand, his fist clenched strongly like a pincer.

    “Is there any problem?” asked Romano.

    No reply. Posset's unintelligible sounds and a certain pallor that the landlord had led to a tense moment inside the hall which was defused after a matter of minutes.

    “The Templars have searched through the Papal buildings in Rome, and they have left quickly afterwards towards the Holy Lands on a merchant ship. Genoese.”

    Everyone except the French diplomat frowned their eyebrows and looked attentively towards Posset who spoke no more. Henry cleared his throat audibly once more.

    “Unfortunately, we have let them escape. Let us think of the repercussions and react accordingly.”

    King Philip's ambassador was already irritating to many, no less to both Posset and Romano, but his comment had the gift of raising the ire of those around him. Romano's attempts at reconciliation only hit an impenetrable barrier of ambitions and interests that rose between the ranks of the lords and diplomats.

    “How is it that they escape every time?” asked the Posset.

    “We cannot wage a war outside our borders just to capture those fools. The internal affairs of each kingdom do not concern us at all, we are just diplomats. Their swift capture is our only chance of ending this affair once and for all,” continued De Bourgogne.

    “And why did this not happen within the confinements of your borders, my dear Henry?” intervened the Genoese diplomat, Giovanni di Ferrara.

    A short and stocky man in his late fifties, Giovanni was a respected Genoese general, only for his career to be cut short by the wounds suffered in the frequent skirmishes up and down the Lombardian borders. Most of those at the table appreciated his ingenuity and his diplomatic skill at handling tense and delicate situations. Visibly affronted by the question, the French diplomat did not answer. De Bourgogne rose the cup to his lips and opted to only glance at Di Ferrara.


    "I'm waiting, Henry."

    "So am I."

    "Answer my question, Seigneur De Bourgogne. It's not such a difficult task, you know."

    Henry put down his cup. "It does not matter if they have escaped our relentless vigil within the borders of our kingdoms, what matters is the fact that they are free and are roaming in the world. We do not know what secrets they possess, if any, or even if they are a threat to us, but the escape of three brothers and their close examination of the Papal buildings in Rome leads us to think that they perhaps have some knowledge of great events,” said the French diplomat.

    “Very well. I will gladly listen to your proposals regarding this delicate matter,” replied Di Ferrara. "I'm listening Henry, I'm all ears, tell me."

    “I say we continue their constant watch and see where they end up. In case they threaten us directly, inform the spies to dispose of them. If it indeed gets dangerous, we might as well kill them to prevent any future problems.”

    “From our perspective, securing their treasury in our coffers is the greatest issue we have on our hands right now,” warned Giovanni.

    “Were search parties organised to look through their possessions?” asked Romano.

    “No, we have not done it yet,” replied Henry de Bourgogne.

    Di Ferrara let out an audible sigh of disbelief, clearly displeased at the sound of the words.

    “Is there any problem?” asked Henry.

    “We had a clear agreement. We agreed to help disband the Order in exchange for a part of their treasury. Almost all of them have been captured and handed over to you, and now you are telling all of us present here that there has not been any search party organised to take a hold of their treasury whilst they were chained? I find that most amusing. You were the one so concerned with the treasury, Henry. You and your diplomats. It seems to me that your attention switched towards those poor runaway souls who present no threat instead of the main point of our agreement, or you surely know more information than we do but you simply decide not to share it with us.”

    Henry frowned, surrounded by the sudden silence that engulfed the room. Henry thought otherwise whether to react to it but he kept his sharp tongue from getting the best of him.

    “I have no illusions regarding this issue, Signor Di Ferrara. But upon our agreement, the treasury is split, and the French king has total authority over the riches found in his domain.”

    “I must draw your attention regarding other issues which must be considered. Templar presence is still strong in central and northern parts of the German kingdoms, and in Poland, the Wallachian principalities and the Hungarian kingdom. As you can see, there are no legates from the Spanish kingdoms of Leon and Castille, nor the Portuguese kingdom of Lisboa. Their allegiance is clear, and will surely pose a hurdle in our attempt,” intervened Posset.

    “Templar possessions in Poland and Wallachia are not numerous, and in the Hungarian kingdom they have only had a moderate presence, so they will not present any threats. Offering trade agreements and other gifts to the royal families will ensure their allegiance and subsequent expulsion and torture of all Templar brothers,” replied the French ambassador.

    “So what are we afraid of?”

    “Nothing it seems.”

    “The three may pose a threat, and if underestimated, it can prove costly,” warned Giovanni.

    “Giovanni has my agreement on this issue. Dispose of them immediately, before they become a threat. It does not matter if they can provide us information or not, we have enough of their brothers to learn enough.”

    Once again the hall was silent at Bourgogne's words.

    “And if they have valuable information?” replied the Venetian delegate.

    “Most unfortunate for us. We shall find their riches anyway, with or without insider information.”

    “You are risking much, my dear Henry," replied Di Ferrara.

    “My King wishes to play everything on a single card. It is everything or nothing for him. He already risked much by arresting them, and now most of the merchants are threatening with serious revolts. If they are not put down soon it will escalate. Civil discontent in our kingdom is rife because of the Templar affair. We must put a timely end to it.”

    “But why are you so concerned with them?”

    “We are not, but it seems that everyone is concerned that we have an issue with them. They are the last of them, the less they are, the better it will be.”

    “Perhaps they can pose a threat by organising a public rebellion?”

    Henry snorted at the remark with an air of indignity that infuriated some of the ambassadors.

    “There are no such threats. Nothing will happen,” said Henry in a firm tone, dismissing the threat with a quick wave of his hand. For many the end of the discussion brought relief.

    “How will King Philip deal with it in this case?” asked Posset.

    “We shall see. We have not discussed our internal policies yet. And we do not intend to discuss it with the outside world.”

    By the time the discussions more or less ended the hall was in a deep state of semi-pitched darkness that made viewing the interlocutors almost impossible for a faulty eye. Di Ferrara and the Venetian diplomat looked at each other through the blackness and nodded slightly, as if in agreement. But this time it was different. The Genoese and Venetian bankers desperately needed money, and the Templars proved to be the key to restart their economies and encourage lending to the merchants and artisans.

    “Upon which agreement do we draw a line?” asked the Venetian delegate.

    “It seems to me that for the moment we do not have an agreement,” replied Giovanni.

    “Perhaps we should resume a later time?”

    “The more we postpone, the more time we are giving them. And the fewer chances for us to find their treasury, Henry.”

    “It seems we cannot agree then,” said Henry.

    “I'm sure it would be a benefit for your king, but unfortunately we must all agree on the terms,” replied Giovanni.

    “Why would it? We still need to find the riches first.”

    “A common effort would help speed up the process and increase the chances, but perhaps not. A team from all of our kingdoms would mean the riches would have to be split, would it not Henry?”

    "An agreement is an agreement."

    "It's still an informal one, just between us, Henry," replied Di Ferrara. There were no documents outlining today. Nothing needed to be signed. It would be inconceivable to sign something so in secret. And the pressure on Henry's shoulders seemed to significantly sap his arrogant attitude, making him more vulnerable to these verbal attacks coming from both Genoese and Venetian sides.

    Sensing his moment, Di Ferrara rose from the table.

    “The number of spies and reports regarding our convicts must be increased. We cannot risk any problems, however small they may be. They are three, we are many, and we are kingdoms. Nevertheless, we must not underestimate them. Along with that, the treasury can be discussed some other time. Our previous agreement still stands, and until further objections that can only come from the beloved King Philip, we consider it valid and enforceable by all parties concerned.”

    The sound of the withstanding agreement did not bode well for the French diplomat, but he could only swallow and take in the defeat. Despite any information regarding the Templar riches and the disappearance of the whole Templar fleet from La Rochelle, they had no leads to research. He had no choice but to nod in agreement.

    “So be it.”

    -----


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

    Chapter XII - Papal

    Midnight
    October 1313
    Papal Palace of Avignon
    Kingdom of France


    It was too small, far too small, much to Clement's dissatisfaction. The wooden cabinet and most of all his desk could not house all of the scrolls and parchments he received every day. Clement fiddled nervously through the scrolls, focused on a particular piece when he remembered the task set for the Templar escapees. He rose slowly from his wooden armchair, a slight wince over his face. His back ached, his knee joints aching as he walked away from the desk. A cane was more than necessary right now, but every attempt to even make him consider one was beyond futile. Clement was determined never to walk with any aid, but as time passed, even he realised he would need help to walk wherever he wanted to. He reached the door and slowly opened it, noticing the jovial figure of his servant who was already at his door whenever he needed something.

    “Gerard, give the news to Lorenzo and tell him to come to my cabinet.”

    The servant bowed to Clement and left the cleric alone, who closed the door behind him. Not before long, the door opened once more and a tall, gaunt figure made his presence inside Clement's quarters. His eager character and fast movements meant he was always suited for the job, and on more than one occasion he dodged the law of the king unarmed. He had no beard, and he kept his head shaved, despite having no connection with any religious order whatsoever.

    “Anything new from them, Lorenzo?”

    “Your Holiness, I managed to sneak inside Marseille and gather the last reports. It is three weeks late but it is the best one we currently have. As of then, they embarked on a ship from Rome towards Constantinople. The spies have not been able to get any closer to them, but they did hear some rumours of a fight with Philip's guards, so therefore they do not know any of their intentions. They did enter the Papal complex only to return many hours later.”


    "A fight?"


    "Philip's port guards found them, or so it is apparent."


    "Are they alright?"


    "They reported that a local inn was destroyed in the fight but it seems they escaped."

    “I understand. May you please leave the scroll on my desk? I wish to read it myself.”

    “As you wish, Sire.”

    “You may leave. There is nothing else I wish you to do for me for now.”

    Lorenzo bowed his head slightly and left for the door, opening it widely to let a powerful gust blow through the Pope's cabinet. A couple of parchments dropped to the ground but Clement ignored them, too old and too lazy to pick them up. As he looked to the parchment Lorenzo laid on his table, he felt a sudden wave of contempt and compassion for the three knights who were right now risking their lives for this useless quest.

    “Alea iacta est,” muttered Clement under his breath.

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

    Chapter XIII - Exploration

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

    Mid-day

    Golden Horn
    Constantinople
    October 1313


    The new was better than the old.

    Even in this dilapidated state, with barnacles on ship careens, crumbled bricks and broken sections of sea walls, Constantinople still seemed to be a more attractive place than Rome. It did not seem to fall under the waves of the Marmaris Sea. Pilgrims, travellers, merchants and even princes often made trips for a rapid holiday to the beautiful capital on the banks of the Bosphorus. With small waves crashing in the keel of the galley, the sea and the wind pushed the vessel ever so closer to the western port of the city. The oars dipped slowly in the calm seas, a soft gentle paddle over the white waves of October. Below deck, chained slaves manned the oars, using every ounce of strength they had to propel the ship sideways as it tugged towards its docking point beside other moored in vessels, some twice the size of the average Genoese merchant galley.

    Raymond bid goodbye to the galley captain, rushing together with Balian and Amalric into the busy port. By the time they docked in, it was already late evening; darkness set itself in and clouds lazily spread over the skies, covering the horizon where not even the sun's rays could pierce it any longer. The outlook was gloomy for that night so Balian's bold to look for lodging as soon as possible was an idea they all agreed upon.

    Lodging or not, Raymond had to admit to both of them he was rather clueless about what they had to do in Constantinople. Geoffrey de Charney's document was the only scrap of info he knew, so he had to drag both Balian and Amalric with him. The Genoese colony of Galata was locked from the outside world during the night so they only had the option to lodge in for the night. The street they were on, some steps away from a neighbourhood of markets, aside from being deserted and dark, was utterly silent. The same just like in every other city, but Constantinople added a different dimension to the dangers lurking behind you.

    “A tavern should be a good place to rest until tomorrow or a coach-house,” suggested Balian.

    Amalric nodded slightly in agreement, more for himself than the others. A couple of meters away a torch blew outside in the street, penetrating the lack of sunlight. Drawing closer and closer, the three could hear the loud sounds erupting out of the open windows at the top floors of the tavern. Sturdy, with just a floor atop the main tavern house, the inn looked solid even though the state of light darkness engulfed it. Loud sounds boomed from the inside. One might have considered it nothing better than a cheap bawdyhouse from the dark, dangerous outskirts of the city of Paris. It was spacious, and dare say it had once been an interesting room to live within, but that was about it. Piles of rotten fruits and vegetables were lying in the corners, a sign the innkeeper did not bother cleaning up after his clients left the local. Linen tablecloths covered all tables inside the inn but some of them were so dirty, flooded with wine and bits of food, that they caused repulsion for even the most inebriated man that happened to be passing by. The mice were roaming freely around, and some guests took great pleasure in aiming with their daggers at them, but in their state of drunkenness, they only managed to drive them away to other customers. The group of men who were most concerned with the mice caught Balian's attention, and it was him that motioned forwards to his brothers, eventually ending up at the table right beside the group despite the numerous other options. Tired, unkempt and somewhat dismayed, all they needed now was a good meal watered down with wine and a comfortable bed to rest their bodies on.

    “Anything?” asked Raymond.

    “Unfortunately not. All they talk of is a merchant fighting with one of the local militia in the market today,” replied Balian.

    “May I ask, what are we doing here?” said Amalric.

    Raymond glanced around. No one seemed to look at them.

    “Before I left, Monsieur de Charney left me with a list of the most important Templar documents. One of them is inside the Galata fortress on the other side of this city."

    "And what is it?"

    "A trade agreement. A secret trade agreement and alliance between us and the Genoese Republic."

    “And how does this help us in any way?”

    “The Genoese have given us large amounts of land in their territory, and through this document, they confirm the construction of churches, monasteries and large chapter houses on this land. A chance to prove our allegiance to the righteous cause.”

    “And by showing this as one of our main scrolls, it will acquit us in front of our Pope.”

    “Most probably. More politics than anything else. It shows we still matter. And Monsieur de Charney did not give me the document without reason. He knew what was going to happen.”

    “Have you been to Galata before, Raymond?” asked Amalric.

    “Never. I think it is new territory for us all.”

    Not able to gather any information, they paid their cups of ale and bode farewell to the innkeeper. By that time the four men behind their table were in a very advanced state of drunkenness and it did not take a bright mind to realise the poor sod would have a hard time with them sooner or later. The Templars wandered along the streets of Constantinople until dawn caught up with the magnificent city, blanketing an orange pallor above the pitch-black darkness. No chance for them to get into Galata right now, so they had to wait until the morning for a boat to slide them across the beautiful Golden Horn.

    Their evening walk led them onto the intersection of Theodosius' Forum and the Via Constantine, the gate to seemingly two different worlds. Heading on the boulevard large enough for three caravans wide lead to the infamous site of the city where all the brothels and coach houses were located. They all heard legendary stories about the infamous brothels of Constantinople when they were barely eligible to become squires, places where decadence and licentiousness were blooming like a tree during spring. Balian raised his hand. He pointed his finger towards the end of the road, splitting into a crossroad with multiple side alleys. Torches were placed at the end of each corner of a building, making the boulevard rather eerie.

    “Must we go there?” asked Balian.

    “There's no other way to get into Galata without finding out some information before. Namely, how do we even get into Galata as a foreigner? Keep your hand to your sword, we never know what we may encounter,” replied Amalric.

    Amalric led the way with his sword drawn and took the widest alleyway, looking at each house for tavern or coach house signs', the places spies and other informants usually stay and sell their valuable knowledge. Somewhat annoyed, Amalric forcefully grabbed the torch from Balian's gauntlet by its handle, moving in forwards to discern the road in front of them. Or perhaps what was in front of them, and that was not necessarily the road. A medium-height hooded figure stood upright in the dark alley, casting a mysterious glow partly because of his hooded cloak that covered his appearance. By the time they had their swords drawn, the man held his hand and uncovered a small golden symbol, grappled by his thumb and index finger.

    "You've been followed, gentlemen," said the hooded figure.

    Raymond drew up to him. The distance between was not too big, but Raymond could smell the acrid stench of burned incense emanating from his clothes."

    So it seems."

    "We know of the treaty, brother Templars. But I have no patience, therefore I must be quick.”

    “Shall I assume you have come here to help us?” replied Amalric.

    “The only place in this area that can be of interest to you is the Genoese library in Galata, and nothing else. The Podesta's quarters.”

    “I trust you are well informed,” replied Balian.

    “We shall not speak about those things. If you have to have any chance of success, you must go. But beware, Galata is well defended. Entering in broad daylight equals suicide, my friends.”

    “So you know,” said Raymond.

    “I am the Pope's man in Galata. Unofficially. When my leader orders, everything else is done. Small boats can be of small importance, but when everything is at stake, they can arrive in a matter of days from one point to another.”

    “Most interesting. You arrived well before us, I understand.”

    “No. I caught up with you. Your ship was four days ahead when I have left the Eternal City. And I have followed you until this point. It was not too hard to discover through the crowd.”

    "Can you help us?" asked Raymond.

    “My brothers, helping you in Galata would compromise my whole identity and cause public outrage in France, Genoa and the whole of the Catholic world. I therefore must make my trail lost in the maze surrounding this city. I have said what there is to be said. I do not judge or begrudge the Templars of anything but with this, I must bid farewell. May you be quick."

    The shadow became a slither of darkness, disappearing in the darkness around the narrow gangways beside them. Raymond blocked Amalric's initiative immediately as the massive knight leapt forwards to run for the man. A quick jolt of his head cooled off Amalric's bellicose impulses.

    “There we have it. Not much information, but we know someone is on to us. And most of all, nobody followed us here that we cannot trust. Or so I think.”

    “We must find a tavern or an inn, where locals know the area surrounding Galata.”

    “Drop the idea. We are running out of time. And this is not the only place we need to see. And get back to Avignon before it is not too late,” said Raymond.

    “Walking more than 10 leagues will not be enjoyable.”

    “Our only chance. Go.”

    ----
    Ja mata, TosaInu. You will forever be remembered.

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

    Chapter XIV - Merchantmen

    Early morning

    November 1313
    Near the souq
    Jerusalem

    He was jittering. The document was still with him.


    Strange events have happened lately to some of his merchant friends, and he was considering leaving the city for a couple of days, perhaps even weeks, to let those delicate, troubling affairs calm down and return to the apparent normalcy he had before. He doubled the number of guards at his house but that seemed to not be enough. Perhaps he was somewhat paranoid, he often thought, but extra security measures can only do good. He called for his servant who came rushing inside his chamber, only to find the strange gaze of his master. Why did he run towards me, I cannot understand. No, I must not let these thoughts get the best of me, I must calm down, Asad thought. Lately, he was becoming even more paranoid regarding this whole issue and it affected the clear judgement he had before. He was no longer ruthless and calculated, he was mellow and weak, giving enough leeway for his rivals to gain the upper hand in the negotiations. One such negotiation went bad for him, and he was to pay a hefty sum that affected his profits.

    “What is the latest rumour, Farad?” asked Asad, the Jerusalem merchant.

    “Sadiq, it seems to me that several market administrators have received a special scroll containing information about three Crusaders who may pose a threat to our integrity. Most odd, I must add, considering they are three men. And why us, it makes no sense.”

    “Do you think it has any connection?”

    “Highly unlikely.”

    “I do think so.”

    “You do, Sadiq?”

    “Yes. This whole business has been affecting me greatly. I must let it stop now.”

    The eunuch did not reply. He did not know what to reply, it was the first time he had seen Asad in this position.

    “Any other information gathered from the market?”

    “There seems to be an inflow of French merchants into Jerusalem lately, they wish to organise their guild.”

    Asad curled his brows and readjusted his position, somewhat worried. What are the westerners doing here again? They have been expelled some time ago, especially the French. The unwelcome visitor was French. Odd.

    “Their guild? In our kingdom?” he asked incredulously.

    “I believe so.”

    “Most odd. The Sultan will not grant permission I believe.”

    Asad gently brushed his moustache and beard, thinking at the same time about these recent developments. He was worried, and not necessarily because of his business. Something was amiss, and Asad was worried.

    “Where is Masruq, the messenger?”

    “He is in Jerusalem, enjoying the company of fine women.”

    “Bring him back and get on a mission for me.”

    “Sadiq, he will be most displeased about your decision.”

    “I do not care!” snapped Asad, yelling at the eunuch who immediately knelt in submission. The move seemed to calm down Asad somewhat, regaining his lost composure.

    “I want you to find out why the French merchants have set up their outpost in here. I have been dealing with foreigners a lot but I still do not trust them. Leave now, and do not come back without the proper information. And tell Masruq to report to me immediately once you find him!”

    Satisfied, Asad sat down at his desk just as his eunuch left his quarters. He took the dubious scroll once more in his hands. It felt rough and somewhat uninviting looking at the yellow colour of the parchment and the odd touch as he slid his callous hand over it. He rolled it in his hands until it fell back on the table, inert and lifeless, the yellowy colour matching the papyrus scrolls on his desk. The sun's rays peeping through the window behind him gleamed against the wax seal, drawing his diverted attention. There was something mysterious and sinister about the scroll itself as he looked at it, but the merchant could not pinpoint exactly what was bothering him.


    "What are the French merchants doing here?" asked Asad, a question only for himself.


    Asad took the scroll and unfolded it immediately on the table, placing small items on each corner to prevent it from reverting to its original shape. His grasp of Latin was perfect, but he still had difficulty in understanding the writing itself and the complex, formal grammar of the writing. It puzzled him to the point that he stood there staring at the document for a couple of minutes.

    “This seems to be the real reason the French merchants are setting up their guild in Jerusalem,” muted Asad to himself. He looked up and saw no one. There was only silence around him, the only sounds coming from the busy roads outside. Asad stood up and called for his servant.

    “Please arrange that I will have a couple of servants and my strongest guards with me tomorrow, I will go to a place inside Jerusalem where I will need protection and help.”

    The servant looked uneasy but complied, exiting Asad's cabinet without uttering a single word.

    “The Temple holds the reasons. Interesting supposition, I would have never thought that myself,” said Asad out loud, all alone in his private cabinet.

    Asad walked away from his desk, looking down towards his luxurious shoes, staring at the thin gold line stretching from the tipping point to his ankle. Stretching his limbs, he paced a couple of steps until he reached his library stacked with treatises and dusty scrolls, piled on top of each other like a knowledge pyramid. A small scroll with Maronite symbols stood out from the pile. He was a Maronite himself, but there was no need for that scroll's knowledge now. He needed a detailed plan. A building plan.


    Asad twisted open a lock with a golden key. The glass panel slid open to reveal a small stack of protected parchments and four vellum books. He took one of the vellum books stocked in a corner and opened it on the edge of his desk, the supple pages creating a wondrous feel that the merchant enjoyed even more. It was a local chronicle of the previous warring years, written by a Byzantine scholar. And particular detail was given to the Templar headquarters, the Temple of Solomon. And the building plan was there for him to see.

    “The underneath tunnels have not been mapped. But no matter, I shall see tomorrow for myself,” grinned Asad as he uttered the words to himself.


    -----

    Ja mata, TosaInu. You will forever be remembered.

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

    One of the publishing ideas for this project, A Painted Shield of Honour, was to transform it and publish it into a visual novel of sorts. Given that the action happens in the 14th century, getting in a couple of period-accurate drawings would have been perfect to set the tone and the mood for the reader, and enhance the overall reading experience.

    This is still a plan! And I hope to commission an artist to do some period-accurate drawings to make it a better reading experience, just as I envisioned.

    And speaking of period-accurate enhancements, one of the central points of this story is a not so known episode of what happened with the Pope in that specific period of time. During the 1313 Templar Knight trial, the Pope was not in Rome as was expected. He was in Avignon, in the south of France. In essence, the Pope was in fact a captive, a prisoner of King Philip the Fair of France, which some historians argue that this was what forced the Pope at the time to act so heavily against the Templar Knights. This is a strange moment in history, one that still elicits a lot of questions.

    Very recently, the famous Kings & Generals YouTube channel created a detailed video about this, which I invite you to watch below.

    Last edited by edyzmedieval; 01-13-2022 at 17:38.
    Ja mata, TosaInu. You will forever be remembered.

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    Default Re: A Painted Shield of Honour

    Chapter XV - Struggles

    Early Morning
    October 1313
    Galata Quarter
    Constantinople
    Byzantine Empire

    Secluded on an isolated side of the splendid city of Constantinople, Galata was the fortified Genoese quarter, a place rather skilfully obtained by the Genoese with their excessive demands for exclusive trading rights under the Byzantine restoration reign of Emperor Michael Palaiologos in 1261. With very few options left, the Emperor granted both the rights and the quarter, now surrounded by thick walls and a majestic tower right in the midst of it. Galata was a world within its own; its own leader, its own legislation and its own governing body. Entering the fortified Genoese quarter, even undetected, was a stumbling block. Each gate was heavily guarded and any side passage was closely monitored by armed spearmen, backed up by a troop of crossbowmen or militias.

    "Boat? We can take it from the docks over here," asked Amalric, pointing to the wharves filled with boats for Galata.

    "Might work. All three of us?" said Raymond.

    "One boat for each?" asked Amalric.

    "No use. Let's go together, looks like our only option. Keep your swords close," answered Raymond.

    A quick boat ride later, the three were right beside the guards checking all of the visitors from Constantinople proper. The checks performed by the guards were not intrusive, but they only served to annoy most of the people, especially those regularly exiting and returning to the colony. Large caravans were stationed in huge numbers by the side of each wall, waiting for the customs to be cleared so they could enter the city to unload their goods and leave for their next destination. For Raymond, the caravan trick was tried once and he failed, but this time he was not willing to take a risk and play everything on a single card. He had two other brothers with him, and it was virtually impossible to sneak in without being detected. Somehow, they had to get rid of their true identities and enter the city with totally different aliases.

    It was difficult to get in any fortified compound, quarter or city, and Raymond knew it all too well. It was difficult in getting out of Paris, but now getting inside a fortified quarter was even harder. As they approached the main gate, the guards only took a quick, glancing look at them and did not pay too much attention. They were routinely checked and were about to move on inside the city until one of the guards stopped with his hands on Raymond's back. The knight realised immediately that something was wrong and was about to switch his position when a sword came brushing his neck, the grey eyes of an officer staring directly into his. The same happened to Amalric and Balian, except that the three guards came and formed a perimeter around.

    "A kind suggestion, gentlemen. The Genoese Podesta is expecting you. And I will have the pleasure of personally handing you over to his guards," grunted the officer.

    In coordinated movements, a group of 8 guards circled them immediately with their swords and shields in full view, taking them by force inside their barracks, build right beside their guard post. Crowds quickly gathered around the commotion zone but were rapidly dispersed by the armed militias guarding the Constantinople gate. Raymond and his two brothers were ushered quickly inside a guard post, a square-shaped building constructed into the walls themselves, a bare, spartan interior, typical of military barracks. Scattered in all corners were the makeshift straw beds for each soldier, along with their meagre belongings resting against the wooden frames. Nothing was in the middle apart from a plain stone floor on which the three were thrown upon and held in position by the threat of the long pikes. One of the officers muttered something in Genoese and left the barracks, returning after a couple of minutes while everyone stood in their place, looking at each other, their pikes still aimed at the knights' necks.


    With one swish of his wrist, the guards retreated from the guard post and went back to the gate.

    Raymond knew that somehow it was the same arrest that had happened to them when they were back in the French kingdom. He did not like this at all, it seemed as if the guards knew exactly who to take. They had no one following them, and he checked routinely. Something was amiss. And not only him, but both Balian and Amalric realised it. Too late now, since they were in the custody of an officer who enjoyed seeing his prisoners locked and imprisoned.

    “There is nothing to be said to help you. All of you shall be here until our Podesta says you will be released. Or executed."

    By the turn of the hour, the officer returned with a different contingent of guards and marched them to a different prison, away from the western wall of Galata, their swords and daggers rather abruptly taken from them. They under lock once again, with only a number of small wall slits bringing slivers of light into the damp dungeon.

    “We end up once more in a filthy dungeon underneath the world,” said Balian with dismay.


    From the outside, it seemed like that. The massive iron bars that blocked their freedom were thicker than the Galata gate bars. Furious, Raymond rose up from the straw bed he was thrown on and kicked the dungeon bars with a force so powerful that it rattled them inside out, shaking them from their joints as they blew off an ear-splitting sound that reverberated powerfully inside the empty prison. Looking up and down the corridor, there was no one to be seen, apart from the despair in Raymond's mind that seemed to become a character itself that haunted his being. That image pounded harder inside Raymond's mind, slowly becoming an obsession that sapped his strength and his will to live. His breath was coming in raspy fits as every second passed, droplets of cold sweat forming at his temples. Raymond was slowly drifting into another world, his body and his mind unable to respond to the outside senses. He felt as if he was floating in a senseless void, but there was a sound that still echoed far in his mind, like a constant rattle that would never cease.

    Trying to discern, Raymond looked up from his palms, a faint sound seeming to emanate from his dreams. No, he thought, these are not my dreams. The sound was real and with every second it seemed to grow louder and louder until everyone in the cramped dungeon room stood up and looked down the corridor in expectation. The loud rattle from the halls from above started to echo inside the dungeons, breaking the sleep and reverie of some of the other prisoners, eventually erupting into a massive yell which burst powerfully inside the eerily calm prison. A whole contingent of people and some soldiers descended into the dungeon, going past every cell. Where were the prison guards? Where was the officer?


    Drawing a deep breath, Balian yelled in the dungeon and waved his hands.


    "Open the door, please! Break the locks if you must!"

    The guard looked for a moment towards them contemptuously, contemplating whether to help them or not. Deciding on the former, he rushed towards their lock, shattering it into small pieces as it broke upon the massive impact with his axe. Raymond did not waste a single second and burst through the opening, with Amalric and Balian immediately following in his footsteps. As they exited the dungeon itself, they realised they had lost the track of time. It was almost late evening, with the sun decidedly set, imprisoned as they were for more than a couple of hours in the dungeon.


    But to their surprise, they were surrounded again. This time by Galatan citizens, torches in hand, advancing through the streets of the quarter in open rebellion against the Podesta himself. Raymond and Amalric quickly dove into the side streets, but Balian was rather unceremoniously shoved aside when they realised he was not one of the Galatan citizens.


    “What is going on?” asked Balian one of the men, wrestling himself from the pushes of the citizens.

    “A merchant revolt! We cannot handle the Podesta any longer, we want him overthrown!” shouted a short, skinny man with a felt hat ornating his head.

    It all made sense now, Raymond thought. The ridiculous monetary policies the Genoese bankers were exerting on the merchants and artisans started to cause civil unrest, and much to his chagrin, it came at the perfect moment. He signalled to Balian and Amalric, the three entering a deserted alley that was adjacent to the main boulevard.

    “This is our chance. We march towards the Galata tower, take whatever we need, and rush out of here!” whispered Raymond.

    “Do you realise the dangers we face? The merchants will think we are one of the palace guards, and to get inside the palace guards will have to be defeated by us! We don't even have our swords!” replied Balian.

    “Balian, do you want to succeed? We either go inside and take what is ours or else we might return to Avignon and become simple peasants.”

    “But before any of that happens, we need to get our swords back. At least,” said Amalric.

    The swords. Their vital piece of equipment was now gone, so they had no other choice than to return to the dungeon. The empty prison now had every door and portico broken or destroyed apart from the one they needed the most. In a coordinated kick, the three smashed the door towards the quartermaster's storage room. Small but filled with weapons, the three had more than a wide choice to choose from. Once more, luck smiled to them, and in one corner their swords were neatly arranged one near the other, resting against the wall.


    Back outside, clutching his sword's grip as tightly as he could, Amalric finally erupted and drew his sword in front of the two men. He looked at them as if he would be looking at his enemies and left for the tower, marching along with the merchants at a steady pace as if he was on a military parade, proud of his achievements. The other two reluctantly joined Amalric, trying to keep up with his frantic pace through the streets and through the revolted citizens. Uncomfortable but without any other choice, Balian and Raymond had to endure the looks of everyone as they marched on the street alongside the rioters, Amalric's stature drawing side glances and dubious looks from the protesters.


    As the group closed in on the Podesta's palace, Amalric slowed down somewhat and grabbed one of the merchants that lagged, dragging him with no shame to the corner of a building. He pulled out the sword and edged the blade close to the man's neck, who was visibly frightened by the sight of the imposing knight.

    “How do we enter the tower without the guards spotting us? Your leaders must have told you,” Amalric asked.

    “You, you, go, go, go to the tower, and enter through the building on its right. Only a few guards are stationed, but there is an underground tunnel leading inside that will lead you to the stairs that will end up in the Podesta's cabinet and personal quarters. That is what I have been told."


    "Is that it?"


    The man nodded, shaking. "Nothing more! Release me, I beg you!”

    Amalric dropped the man to the ground, who did not even have the courage to look up. They reached the small, village-like fortifications surrounding the tower and the adjacent buildings, protected by heavily armoured guards. Raymond immediately spotted a cubic house with only a single floor extending to the left of the tower, with only three guards armed with spears and heavy shields protecting the entrance. The merchants were stirring up the masses inside and they were thankful as the guards' attention was diverted towards the civil unrest rather than three suspicious strangers looking through the gates towards the building.


    As they hoped, the cube was rather empty, but not in the way they expected. The cube was entirely devoid on the inside, with no floors, furniture or even people. It was an empty cube of a house and Raymond still had some doubts whether this was actually of any use. A cubic house, empty and deserted, with only twelve wine barrels, dusty and forgotten in a corner their owners. There were no floors inside, the windows on the first floor were there for decoration. Any sound they made echoed rather strongly between the four walls. A screeching sound soon boomed inside the cube, forcing Raymond to turn towards Balian who was pushing a trap door.


    "Is this what we're looking for?" asked Balian.


    Raymond looked down through the opening. "Not quite. I was more expecting to go inside the Podesta's house, but this will do."


    "Any idea where this goes?"


    Raymond brushed his beard. "Back to Constantinople. It cannot lead anywhere else. Grab a torch or two from outside and let's go."


    The Podesta's tunnel was narrow and nothing much could be seen inside the pitch-black darkness without a close-up with a torch. Every discernible object inside it was covered with different substances of unknown provision that emanated a rancid smell, making it a heavy assault on their nostrils. Neither of them even dared to touch the items, even out of simple curiosity. The stench was hardly bearable, but then again, so were the other substances inside. Raymond and the brothers ignored everything around them, shutting down their senses as they blocked any avenue of distraction that might lose their focus. They advanced slowly through the muck and peered up every couple of meters, spotting numerous air vents that led towards the basement or the underground of the Podesta's building. Underneath the building itself, the Templars stopped, inhaling deeply the new smell. It certainly changed the atmosphere, and the difference was easily discernible.

    “They are burning items, either in the house or in the tower. And somehow the smell is so powerful it reaches the shaft we are in.”

    Nudging forward, the three continued their journey until they reached a crossroad inside the tunnel, with a barely visible iron ladder just in front of them. They stopped and looked around, but there seemed to be no one, and there were no sounds apart from their mail chausses dipping inside. The three advanced further, peering carefully around for anything suspicious. Once again, there seemed to be no one except them, so Raymond grabbed the ladder and looked up the shaft. The knight shook it hard, but it seemed locked in place, immovable and well built. Satisfied, he turned to his brothers.

    “Alright, we need to think. Most of the guards are out on the streets taking care of the protesters. I do not like to say this, but we must split up if we were to achieve our goals. Amalric and Balian, distract the guards outside and join the merchants in the revolt. Stir them up if you must."


    "And you?" asked Balian.


    "I must go up and deal with the Podesta's men and take what we need from his own library. If I can find anything of use, that is.”

    “You are not going alone brother,” countered Balian.

    “It is clear for me that we have been followed even once more, and the spies have reported the actions to their leaders. All of Philip's allies know about us, and Genoa has always been a faithful ally of the French kingdom. And since the officer told us the Podesta knows what we are after, we have been betrayed by someone. I am not risking your life to reach our objective, so it is best if I go by myself to resolve this issue.”

    “You are still not going alone,” warned Amalric.

    “Somebody must go up. We will easily be spotted if we go two of us outside.”

    “Then one of us will come,” countered Balian.

    “I shall let Balian go with you,” said Amalric.

    Raymond took notice of Amalric's tone. “And where will you be in this case?”

    “Outside. The merchants already consider me one of them, so I might as well prove my fighting prowess against the Podesta's guards. That way I can engage in some fighting before the real ones get thrown at us.”

    Balian shuddered and looked shocked towards his brother, his eyes widening greatly. Amalric let out a low chuckle, seemingly amused by the knight's reaction. He gave a quick wink to Balian and shifted his gaze towards Raymond. Without much of a choice, he bowed to Amalric to signal his approval of the plan, despite the fierce objections roaming inside his head.

    “Alright. Go, Amalric, we shall see you at the gates in two clocks. If we do not come, leave without us. You know where to go,” replied Raymond.

    “I shall come after you. We fail together if we must.”

    Raymond nodded but ignored the remark as he bode farewell to Amalric, who wasted no time and turned the corner in the tunnel. Now alone, Raymond pointed towards the ladder and started the climb, making sure Balian was behind him.

    “Let us go, Balian. Draw your sword close to your chest and be careful.”
    Last edited by edyzmedieval; 02-16-2022 at 23:20.
    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?

  19. #19
    Ja mata, TosaInu Forum Administrator edyzmedieval's Avatar
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    Default Re: A Painted Shield of Honour

    Chapter XVI - On the Offensive

    -----
    Afternoon
    Late October 1313
    Galata Quarter
    Constantinople
    Byzantine Empire


    Afternoon
    Late October 1313
    Galata Quarter
    Constantinople
    Byzantine Empire

    Scraping sounds reverberated in the tunnel as the two unsheathed their swords, Raymond wincing in anticipation of retaliation. Fortunately for them, the only retaliation they received was silence. There was no one with them. And most of their sounds were muffled by the ruckus in the quarter. Wary, Raymond and Balian climbed the ladder towards the opening overlooking the main lower floor hall of the Galata tower. With no soul above them, Raymond grabbed the handrail of the iron stairs tightly with one hand, sword in the other, and pushed aside with the side of his clenched fist the covering that blocked their way. Encountering resistance, Raymond smashed the cover with the hilt of his sword, knocking it out of its hinges with a loud crashing sound that rang in his ears. The shield used to cover the opening broke into small bits littering the marble floor of the tower.


    Raymond peeked through the opening.

    “Surprising.”

    “What is?” asked Balian.

    He did not reply. They climbed out of the shaft and stood for a couple of seconds idle, expecting at least a guard to come forwards and check up on the sounds. No one. The two sheathed their swords back in their scabbards. Raymond motioned with his head.


    "Seems clear. At least for the moment. Let's move, Balian."

    Nodding, Balian lurched forward into the hall of the tower, at the same time as a guard sprang from the other corner, right in front of them. For a couple of moments, the guard stood pinned to his spot, his mouth agape, unsure of what to make of the two armoured intruders in the tower. Balian reacted faster than Raymond, leaping to the guard's neck with his sword and slashing the man's jugular faster than he could even manage to switch his neck's position. Cushioned by the Templar, the man fell to the ground with a soft thud on the marble floor.

    “I did not like it, but I had to,” whispered Balian.

    Raymond did not reply. He placed a hand on Balian's shoulder and urged him forwards. To their right, they noticed a large door blocking the entrance inside the hall, which Raymond suspected was locked from the outside rather than inside. The round handle of the door peered through the shadows, as did the unsprung lock, but neither of them wanted to test the door. Balian motioned with his fingers around the tower.

    “Do we take care of the guards now or do we do it once we come back?”

    “Forget about them for the moment. They are locked outside, they cannot get in and help the other guards. Upstairs is what we are looking for. Follow me closely, and be on the lookout for any other guards.”

    With one quick, sweeping glance of the surroundings, Raymond realised the actual tower was only a wider and shorter copy of the Byzantine tower located at the south-eastern tip of the Galatan colony. It was a simple guarding tower used by the Genoese Podesta to make himself look more important in the faces of his subjects. It was not a square-shaped keep, nor was it as tall or as fortified as a citadel tower, but it provided protection whenever it was needed. They raced up the stairs and rapidly reached the first level, the dormitories of the guards judging by the items inside the chambers. Three other guards were sleeping soundly inside so there was no need for any disturbance unless they were looking for a fight. Motioning forward, Raymond and Balian left the floor and headed up the stairs once again, just about to reach the second level when they heard loud words coming from inside the dormitories.

    One of the doors however was slightly ajar, piquing Raymond's curiosity. Glancing through the door slit, Raymond could see no one until Balian barged him intentionally forwards, ending up both in full view of an armed guard with a tall, sharp halberd in his hands. Before both parties could fully comprehend the situation, a small puncture opened in the guard's neck that sent him sprawling to the ground with a soft thud. Raymond turned towards Balian in shock, only to see him smile mischievously and raise into view a small brown tube.

    “What is that? Where did you get it from?” whispered Raymond.

    “It's called a solenarion. A Byzantine invention, I bought it from one of the Greek sailors who were on the ship with us while we were heading towards Rome. He desperately needed some money so he sold me this. He also taught me how to use it.”

    “It resembles a tube.”

    “It is supposed to shoot small arrows with the help of a bow, as an arrow guide, but he reconfigured it when he saw some Venetian swashbuckler use the same method. Take the bolt, slide it inside the tube, and blow. The length of the tube ensures some accuracy, but more than a couple of meters it will not go.”

    “Alright. Let us leave fast, I do not want the guards to see us when they discover their man.”

    Returning to the spiral stairs of the small tower, Raymond raced to the top level and found himself in front of a large unlocked iron door. As Raymond peered through the door, Balian looked around but could only see blank white walls, the spiral stairs and a small oval-shaped window a couple of meters up on the wall where nobody could reach it. It was the only light that entered the tower on this floor, but luckily for them, the sun was shining brightly enough to eliminate the need for a torch.


    Glancing with one eye through the opening, Raymond could see one man with his back turned, dressed in ceremonial attire. Presumably, it was the Podesta himself but to Raymond's dismay, the man was not alone. He was flanked by two guards pacing the far corner of the chamber, sometimes advancing only a couple of paces away from the door. Ceremonious, the man turned around and easily paced through the chamber. Raymond could now see that he attentively examined a leather-bound book with gold insertions on the cover, a wide smile pursing his lips. The guards stepped away from the Podesta, heading towards the door that led to the stone balcony overlooking the Golden Horn, the opening right ahead of the Templars' position.

    Raymond shook his head to Balian.

    “Draw your sword and pass me the dagger.”

    Raymond took Balian's dagger and closed in on the opening. With his fingers clenched on the side of the blade, he threw the dagger towards the podesta but missed rather spectacularly, the sharp blade smashing into the stained glass beside the balcony door. The odd scraping sound drew the guards' attention but the Templars managed to squeeze through the door and hide in the left corner, shielded from open view by wooden racks filled with leather-bound books. In the opposite corner of the room, a rectangular wooden table held two potter amphorae placed atop, surrounded by pieces of hardened bread and bits of some kind of cooked meat beside it.


    Raymond glanced as the guards returned moments later, baffled at the sudden apparition of a silver dagger that smashed into the window of the office. Behind the amphorae, the Podesta himself looked rather crestfallen, his face a ghastly white with beads of sweat appearing at his grey temples. His hands were shaking and he was forced to put down the book he had in his hands to prevent it from crashing to the floor.


    "They don't seem to understand. They think it's from the protests, someone threw a dagger at his office," said Raymond.


    "What do we do with him? He's not a problem we want to deal with."

    “Distract him to his chamber and we lock him out. That way we have enough time to explore this whole place.”

    Raymond switched his positioned and tip-toed forwards, his head crouched beside the wooden racks, drawing closer and closer to the guards. As he closed in, the Podesta waved off the guards and retreated to his chamber, leaving the two armed men for him and Balian to deal with. All alone, the guards did not notice the incoming threat. The Templars were only a few feet away from them and had the element of surprise.

    In splendid coordination, Raymond and Balian burst from the cover of the racks and charged toward the two guards. With both of them turned towards the broken glass and balcony, the Templars had no issue in downing them rather easily. Remembering there was still one more task to do, Balian rushed towards the door and closed it shut, destroying the lock by a simple sword blow that jammed it outside of its position. With the Podesta and the guards now out of the way, they had a free hand.

    Raymond blocked the entrance to the apartment from the tower and went straight for the nearest bookshelf, hoping to find something of use. To his right, Balian took a moment and stepped outside onto the balcony, the breathtaking view too enticing to refuse for Balian. The whole splendour of Constantinople unravelled before his eyes, the natural port of the Golden Horn a bustling space filled with ships coming and leaving at an astonishing rate. The Bosphorus strait itself was filled with numerous warships and merchant galleys waiting to enter the other ports of Constantinople, manoeuvre space at a premium for every vessel ready to unload its cargo. Going to the edge of the balcony, Balian tightly gripped the iron rails as his heart sank inside him. He felt an invisible hand choke him slowly, an iron fist closing around his neck like the tightest of ropes, the sight shattering the calm moments from before.

    “Raymond! Amalric is in the midst of the battle with the Genoese guards!”

    Raymond dropped the golden book he held and rushed to the edge of the balcony, only to see that Balian's loud rasping was true to the word. It was not hard to spot Amalric's imposing stature delivering quick blows to each side as he tried to break the organised line of the Genoese guards. The more blows he lashed out, the more blows he received in return. At the existing pace, he was slowly crumbling underneath the organised defence of the hardened warriors in the pay of the Genoese, and with him whittling between the guards, the rebellion gave way as well. The merchants were no match for the guards even with Amalric's inspired leadership.

    “Rush!” shouted Balian.

    Raymond wavered for a couple of moments.


    “Somebody must look for the document while we are gone!”

    Raymond nodded. “We do it together. And we do it now. I know it is hard, but Amalric can manage it for himself for the time being. And the faster we do it, the faster we can help him. Move now!”

    Balian barged back inside the apartment and started scurrying all over the racks and shelves placed all over, skipping every book title to check whether it was the right one. Tens of minutes passed without any success until Raymond decided they needed a different approach. Balian let out a sigh of relief and looked toward his brother.

    “Most probably it is in a large and carefully decorated book that contains the political advancements of the Genoese republic. Check with care, it must be here.”

    Another couple of minutes agonizingly passed as they scoured through the racks. Nothing. It was either hidden, or it was not to be there. Balian's voice eventually broke Raymond's thoughts and the constant rattle from outside as well.

    “I found it,” replied Balian triumphantly.

    Raymond moved to Balian and looked closer at a somewhat worn red leather-bound book embroidered with gold letters that spelt out Respublica Genoa in Latin. They opened the heavy collection of treaties and scanned every vellum page with care until they found what they needed. The Genoese treaty dealt with the Templar Knights.

    “Genoese treaties, all the copies. The original is in Genoa most likely, but a copy that is reproduced exactly as the original will work for us.”

    “How sure are we this is going to help us?” asked Balian, somewhat suspicious regarding the real value of the treaty in front of them.

    “We have nothing better. We had to take something from Constantinople, and since there is nothing we could gain from these Romans, it had to be our old partners the Genoese. Take it, and keep it with the rest inside your garments for safekeeping.”

    “The whole book?” said Balian, rather surprised.

    “Rip the original treaty apart. Or cut it with the dagger so there will be no edges. Roll it carefully and slide it inside.”

    Balian took the dagger from his brother's hand and ripped the treaty apart, sliding the document with the utmost care into a small pouch underneath his armour. They scurried out of the Podesta's apartment and descended the stairs slowly and without any sound, checking every floor to see if the guards woke up and were on patrol. No soul in their way, they rushed to the entrance of the tower only to find the door broken at its hinges and the lock crushed into small bits by axe blows. Raymond frowned as he took a closer look at the sheared metal. It offered him no clues but it did tell him no one else was around, and as the situation shaped up, the merchant revolt was more than a simple uprising by now.


    Apart from a couple of sounds coming from the main boulevard which were probably from the rioters, everything else was silent. Only the seagulls were roaming around the mansion grounds, shrieking their playful wails from the top of the roofs they sat atop. Not waiting to be told to leave the place, Raymond and Balian sped up until they ended back in the side streets of the Genoese colony beside a large tavern that was bustling with people. They were safe for the moment, but they had to find Amalric.

    Leaving the tavern behind, they reached the main boulevard of the Genoese colony once again. Raymond spotted the large gathering of people coming towards them but did not discern much because of the distance. He did not realise what was going on until he felt his hand pulled heavily from behind that nearly threw him to the ground.

    “Run!” yelled Balian.

    Raymond had no idea what was going on and where to head, but he followed Balian without any questions. Balian somehow was running with incredible speed, Raymond barely able to keep up the pace on the narrow streets lining up cubic houses on one side and imposing Roman-style villas on the other. Balian stopped in his tracks and glanced around, spotting an old mansion between the villas that looked like a derelict ship about to sink. The boulevard was to their left, parallel with the narrow street they ran through, along with the house. He smashed the wooden door of the broken houses with the edgy handle of his sword and dragged Raymond inside, leading him to the first floor of the building. The whole house was deserted except for the shattered planks of wood, pottery and other items that littered the damp floor.


    "Alright, explain. You nearly threw me off the ground. What are we doing here?" asked Raymond.


    "Genoese guards. Those you saw. You know, the ones you did not react to. If we do not find Amalric soon we're going to be leaving this place just me and you."


    "Fair."

    Panting heavily, Raymond drew closer to the windows. He scanned the rows of houses but also kept a close watch on the ever-approaching contingent of guards who by that time were banging their swords and axes against their shields.


    “I hear it. Can you see him anywhere?”

    “I saw him from the balcony, and in that case, it was to our left. The guards are approaching from our right, and there is a possibility we might end up fighting the guards as well along with the rioting merchants. We are trapped in between them.”


    "Alright. Any other ideas?"


    "None. We fight both. Or find a way to just get Amalric out of it."

    “So it is. March!”





    Balian and Raymond raced down the stairs and out of the house, crossing the main boulevard, rather strangely devoid of people. They took to the side streets parallel with the boulevard on the right, running between houses, inns and taverns that were packed with people instigating a full revolt against the Genoese legate. With each street they passed and each person they knocked from their path, their desperation grew bigger and bigger as neither of them could see Amalric. Their lungs protested with each stride, their breathing aching their throats and their legs not far from buckling under the stress of the streets either. They wandered for another couple of minutes until they reached the entrance of the port, swarmed by a large group of merchants and the militias who joined their side were planning their attack on the Genoese guards. Raymond approached one of the merchants and hailed him, only to notice it was the same merchant who Amalric brusquely approached beforehand.

    “Have you seen the tall knight somewhere in these areas?”

    “Th-the one that has fought the guards with the merchants? The one that approached me before?” replied the merchant.

    The fear was visible in his grey eyes. He banked his whole body to the left and away from Raymond, afraid of any other aggressions.

    “Yes.”

    The merchant nodded, his voice almost a screeching yell.
    “He has disappeared after the fight was over, he headed for the main gate. He is injured!”

    He yanked his hand from Raymond's grip and slid away from the two knights as fast as he could. Raymond frowned. If Amalric had indeed left for the gate, then there would be no chance of them finding him before the guards got to him.

    “We go towards the guards. No other way. And look at the buildings and on each street, no matter how long it is.”

    Unseen and unheard, desperation slowly crept inside their minds. Once they closed in enough to the guards, Raymond and Balian could see the Genoese soldiers as they posted roadblocks and dealt with resistance pockets that were hurling stones and molten oil toward them from the rooftops of the houses. Fights erupted between the armed rioters and the soldiers who only managed to give more time to the knights in their frantic search.

    But they found Amalric, with a good dose of luck, much to their relief.
    Amalric rested against the corner of a building at the crossroads of the main boulevard, his face white as milk and his only eyes half open from the misery he was enduring. A gashing wound spread from his abdomen just over the appendix, a battle mark that impeded his movement and eventually forced him to drop to the floor at the corner of the building. Amalric ripped his tunic apart and knot it tightly around the wound in a makeshift attempt but it was not strong enough to contain the bleeding. Balian stood down and pressed against his wound, Amalric returning to his senses for a couple of moments. His sword was gone, and his face was full of bruises. He did not react when the Templars came to his side, and it took him some effort to even utter words.

    “Water,” said Amalric in a faint voice. “I want water...”

    “No, it will only make it worse. Can you walk?”

    A couple of long seconds passed agonizingly. “Yes, barely.”

    “We have to go back to Constantinople until he is ready to fight once more.”

    “I can fight,” protested Amalric.

    “Not by a long league. Let us head towards Constantinople and we see after what we shall do.”

    “And how do we deal with the guards? They will block our way path at the gate,” replied Balian.

    “Take the port. We can find a ship that transits Galata and Constantinople.”

    To their relief, and with Amalric on their shoulders, the Galatan port was untroubled by guards and it was certainly no longer swarmed by merchants either. Shortly before darkness set in, the three arrived in Constantinople, with Amalric in a worse and worse state with every minute that passed. With some disapproving grunts, the monks tending to the city hospital beside the Hagia Sophia took him in for treatment. With Amalric now in the hands of the monks, Balian signalled Raymond and the two left Amalric in the hospital for the night, heading back into the streets that were now almost empty.

    “At least he is in a safe place now. Should we go back to the inn we visited yesterday? I am sure the keeper would be more than delighted to see us,” said Balian.

    “Good idea. Let us go to it, we need to regain our powers until tomorrow.”

    They found the inn rather easily, by now accustomed to the streets of Constantinople, entering the now broken door only to find the innkeeper collapsed on the counter. The man was snoring loudly beside a couple of broken bottles of wine smashed to pieces just a few inches from his head. Raymond slowly came to him and gently placed a hand on him, shaking him enough to open his eyes cobwebbed from the deep sleep. Confused and dazzled by the sudden apparition of the men, the innkeeper brightened his jovial expression upon the sight of his favourite guests as much as he could but it was evident the dormant nature got the best of him.

    Balian smiled at him. “May we have a room for the night in your inn?”

    “Yes, yes, please go upstairs! We shall talk about the pay tomorrow morning!”

    “Thank you.”


    ****



    ****
    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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