The last templar pdf

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The Sunday Express (UK) In a hail of fire and flashing sword, as the burning city of Acre falls from the hands of the West in , The Last Templar opens with a. The First Knights Templar Mystery For my parents and for Jane, my wife, for their So now this crowd was here to witness the filial humiliation, the last indignity. THE LAST TEMPLAR BY Raymond Khoury THE INTERNATIONAL BESTSELLER "Fast-paced, highly cinematic the perfect read for.

Is there anyone in the village who hated him enough to kill him? Simon and Hugh were given a hearty meal of mutton stew with fresh bread, all the while having to answer a stream of questions from their inquisitive 42 Michael Jecks host, who seemed to want to know everything about his new estates, how they had changed in his absence and how the people had fared while he had been away. De Angelis looked lost. She had begun calling to them before she had approached more than a few paces, her voice broken and her speech faltering, making the knights stop their meal in their astonishment and wonder whether she was mad as they heard her wailing tirade, but then her words hit them with the force of a hammer-blow. For two centuries they had been taught that the Order was unsurpassed in its godliness, ever since Saint Bernard had given it his support 6 Michael Jecks during the crusades. And, toward the end of his brief stay at the camp, she had sensed that maybe, just maybe, he had started to feel the same way about her, though just how attractive a seven-months-pregnant woman could be was, in her mind, highly questionable.

Hurriedly, he zoomed in on the guard's face. What was that look? Then he realized what it was. The crowd was now in a frenzy, clapping and cheering wildly. Instinctively, the cameraman zoomed out a touch, broadening his view to take in the horseman. Just then, the knight suddenly brought down his broadsword in a quick, sweeping arc, its blade glittering terrifyingly in the flashing artificial light before striking the guard just below the ear, the power and velocity of the blow great enough for it to shear straight through flesh, grisde, and bone.

From the onlookers came a huge collective gasp, which turned into penetrating screams of horror that rang through the night. Loudest of all was tiie shriek of the reporter who clutched at the cameraman's arm, causing his picture to judder before he elbowed her away and kept on shooting. The guard's head fell forward and began to bounce hideously down the museum's steps, unspooling a splattered, red trail all die way down behind it.

And after what seemed like an eternity, his decapitated body slumped sideways, collapsing onto itself while spouting a small geyser of blood.

Screaming teenagers were stumbling and falling in their panic to escape the scene, while others, further back and unaware of exactly what was happening but knowing that something big was taking place, pushed forward.

In seconds, there was a terrified tangle of bodies, the air ringing with screams and cries of pain and fear. The other three horses were now stamping their hooves, jinking sideways on the steps. Then one of the knights yelled, "Go, go, go! The otiiers bolted and followed close behind. Chapter 3 I n the Great Hall, Tess heard the screams from outside and quickly realized something was very, very wrong. She turned in time to see the first horse burst through the door, shattering glass and splintering timber inward as the Great Hall erupted into chaos.

The smooth, polished, immaculate gathering disintegrated into a snarling atavistic pack as men and women shoved and screamed their way out of the path of the charging horses. Three of the horsemen rampaged through the crowd, swords crashing through display cabinets, trampling on broken glass and shattered timber, and damaged and destroyed exhibits. Tess was thrown aside as scores of guests tried desperately to escape through the doors and into the street. Her eyes darted around the hall.

Kim—Mom—Where are they'? She looked around, but couldn't see them anywhere. To her far right, the horses wheeled and turned, obliterating more displays in their path.

Guests were sent flying into cabinets and against walls, their pained grunts and shrieks echoing in the vast room. Tess glimpsed Clive Edmondson among them as he was knocked violently sideways when one of the horses suddenly reared backward. The horses were snorting, nostrils flared, foam spilling from around the bits in their mouths.

Their riders were reaching down and snatching up glittering objects from the broken cabinets before stuffing them into sacks hooked onto their saddles.

At the doors, the crowd trying to get out made it impossible for the police to get in, helpless against the weight of the terrified mob. One of the horses swung around, its flank sending a statue of the Virgin Mary reeling over to smash onto the floor. The horse's hooves pounded down onto it, crushing the Madonna's praying hands.

Ripped from its mounting by the fleeing guests, a beautiful tapestry was trampled underfoot by both people and animals. Thousands of painstaking stitches, shredded in seconds. A display case toppled, a white and gold miter bursting through the breaking glass to be kicked aside in the mad scramble.

A matching robe drifted, magic carpet-like, until it, too, was stamped upon. Hurriedly getting out of the way of the horses, Tess looked down the corridor where, partway along, she could see the fourth horseman and beyond him, way back at the far end of the corridor, yet more people were scattering into other parts of the museum.

She searched for her mom and her daughter again. Where the hell are they'? Are they all right'? She strained to pick out their faces from the blur of the crowd, but there was still no sign of them. Hearing a commanding shout, Tess spun around to see that the police officers had finally made it through the fleeing mob.

Weapons drawn and shouting above the mayhem, they were closing in on one of the three horsemen who, from beneath his robe, pulled out a small, vicious-looking gun.

Instinctively, Tess dropped to the floor and covered her head, but not before witnessing the man loose a burst of bullets, moving the gun from side to side, spraying the hall. A dozen people went down, including all of the policemen, the broken glass and smashed cases around them now splattered with blood.

Still crouched on the floor, her heart pounding its way out of her chest, and trying to keep as still as she could even though something inside was screaming at her to run, Tess saw that two of the other horsemen were now also brandishing automatic weapons like the one their murderous consort was carrying. Bullets ricocheted off the museum walls, adding to the noise and to the panic. One of the horses reared suddenly and its rider's hands flailed, the gun in one of them sending a fusil- lade of bullets up one wall and onto the ceiling, shattering ornate plaster moldings that came showering down onto the heads of the crouching, screaming guests.

Risking a glance from behind her cabinet, Tess's mind raced as she evaluated routes of escape. Seeing a doorway to another gallery three rows of exhibits beyond to her right, Tess willed her legs forward and scurried toward it. She had just reached the second row when she spotted the fourth knight headed straight toward her. She ducked, darting quick glances as she watched him weave his mount among the rows of still undamaged cabinets, apparently uninvolved and unconcerned with the mayhem his three companions were wreaking.

She could almost feel die breath venting from his snorting horse as the knight suddenly reined to a stop, barely six feet away from her. Tess crouched low, hugging the display for dear life, urging her beating heart to quieten.

Her eyes drifted up and she spotted the knight, reflected in the glass displays around her, imperious in his chain mail and his white mantle, staring down at one cabinet in particular. It was the one Tess had been looking at when Clive Edmondson had approached her. Tess watched in quiet terror as the knight drew his sword, swung it up, and brought it thundering down onto the cabinet, smashing it to bits and sending shards of glass spewing onto the floor around her.

Then, sliding his sword back into its scabbard, he reached down from the saddle and lifted out the strange box, the contraption of buttons, gears, and levers, and held it up for a moment. Tess could barely breathe and yet, against all rational survival instincts she believed she possessed, she desperately needed to see what was happening. Unable to resist, she leaned out from behind the display case, one eye barely clearing the edge of the cabinet. The man stared at the device, reverently it seemed, for a moment before mouthing a few words, almost to himself.

He wheeled his horse around and for an instant, his eyes, though shadowed beneath the visor of his helmet, met Tess's. Her heart stopped as she crouched there, utterly and helplessly frozen. Then the horse was coming her way, straight at her—before brushing past and, as it did so, she heard the man yelling to the other three horsemen, "Let's go! She recognized the archbishop of New York, as well as the mayor and his wife. The leader of the knights nodded his head and the big man forced his mount through the knot of distraught guests, grabbed the struggling woman, and lifted her up onto his horse.

He jammed his gun into the side of her head and she went still, her mouth open in a silent scream. Helpless, angry, and afraid, Tess watched as the four horsemen moved toward the doorway. The lead knight, the only one without a gun, she noticed, was also the only one without a bulging sack tied to his pommel. And as the horsemen charged away through the galleries of the museum, Tess stood up and rushed through the debris to find her mother and her young daughter.

Despite the sobbing of the frightened and the moaning of the injured, it was suddenly a lot quieter and around them came shouts; men's voices, police mostiy, with random words identifiable here and there: Their movements were brisk but not urgent, contemptuous of the approaching police sirens sawing at the night, and in moments they had disappeared back into the marled darkness of Central Park.

Chapter 4 A t the edge of the museum's steps, Sean Reilly stood carefully outside the yellow and black crime scene tape. He ran a hand over his short brown hair as he looked down at the outline where the headless body had lain. He let his eyes drift down lower, following the trail of blood splatters to where a basketball-sized mark noted the position of the head. Nick Aparo walked over and peered around his partner's shoulder. Round-faced, balding, and ten years older than Reilly's thirty-eight, he was average height, average build, average looking.

You could forget what he looked like while you were still talking to him, a useful quality for an agent and one he had exploited very successfully during the years Reilly had known him.

Like Reilly, he wore a loose-fitting, dark-blue Windbreaker over his charcoal suit with big white letters, FBI, printed on the back. Right now, his mouth was twisted in distaste. Reilly nodded. He couldn't take his eyes off the markings of where the head had lain, the pool of blood leading down from it now dark.

Why was it, he wondered, that being shot or stabbed to death didn't seem quite as bad as having your head chopped off? It occurred to him that official execution by beheading was standard procedure in some parts of the world. Parts of the world that had spawned many of the terrorists whose intentions had the country gripped by heightened alert levels; terrorists whose trails consumed all of his days and more than a few of his nights.

He turned to Aparo. It'd be a shame to see a good bruising go to waste. These guys knew what they were doing. They weren't waiting around for a cab. Well organized. As if amateurs couldn't do as much damage these days. All it took was a couple of flying lessons or a truckload of fertilizer, along with a suicidal, psychotic disposition—none of which were exacdy in short supply.

He surveyed the ravaged scene in silence. As he did, he felt an up-welling of utter frustration and anger. The randomness of these deadly acts of madness, and their infuriating propensity to catch everyone off guard, never ceased to amaze him. Still, something about this particular crime scene seemed odd—even distracting. He realized he felt a strange detachment, standing there.

It was all somehow too outlandish to take in, after the grim and potentially disastrous scenarios he and his colleagues had been trying to second-guess for the last few years.

He felt as if he were stuck outside the big tent, distracted away from the main event by some freakish sideshow. And yet in a disturbing way, and much to his annoyance, he felt somewhat grateful for it. As special agent in charge heading up the field office's Domestic Terrorism Unit, he had suspected the raid would end up in his corner from the moment he'd gotten the call.

Not that he minded the mind-boggling job of coordinating the work of dozens of agents and police officers, as well as the analysts, lab technicians, psychologists, photographers, and countless others. It was what he always wanted to do. He had always felt he could make a difference. No, make that known. And would. Reilly felt that a lot of things were wrong in this world—his father's death, when he was only ten, was painful proof of that—and he wanted to help make it a better place, at least for other people, if not for himself.

The feeling became inescapable the day when, working on a paper involving a case of race crime, he attended a white supremacist rally in Terre Haute. The event had affected Reilly deeply. He felt he had been witnessing evil, and he felt a pressing need to understand it more if he was going to help fight it. His first plan didn't work out quite as well as he'd hoped.

In a youthful burst of idealism, he had decided to become a navy pilot. The idea of helping rid the world of evil from the cockpit of a silver Tomcat sounded perfect. Fortunately, he turned out to be just the kind of recruit the navy was looking for. Unfortunately, they had something else in mind. They had more than enough Top Gun wannabes; what they needed were lawyers.

The recruiters did their best to get him to join the Judge Advocate General Corps, and Reilly flirted with the idea for a while, but ultimately decided against it and went back to focus on passing the Indiana bar exam. It was a chance meeting in a secondhand bookstore that diverted his path again, this time for good. That was where he met a retired FBI agent who was only too happy to talk to him about the Bureau and encourage him to apply, which he did as soon as he passed the bar.

His mother wasn't too thrilled with the idea of his spending seven years in college to end up as what she called "a glorified cop," but Reilly knew it was right for him. He was barely a year into his rookie stint in the Chicago office, logging some street duty on robbery and drug-trafficking squads, when on the twenty-sixth of February everything changed. That was the day a bomb exploded in a parking lot underneath the World Trade Center, killing six people and injuring over a thousand.

The conspirators had actually planned to topple one of the towers onto the other while simultaneously releasing a cloud of cyanide gas. Only financial limitations had prevented them from achieving their objective; they simply ran out of money. They didn't have enough gas canisters for the bomb that, apart from being too meager to fulfill its nefarious purpose, was also placed alongside the wrong column, one that wasn't of critical structural importance. The attack, although a failure, was nevertheless a serious wake-up call.

It demonstrated that a small group of unsophisticated, low-level terrorists with very littie funding or resources could cause a huge amount of damage. Intelligence agencies scrambled to reallocate their resources to meet this new threat. And so less than a year after joining the Bureau, Reilly found himself working out of the Bureau's New York City field office.

The office had long had the reputation of being the worst place to work because of the high cost of living, the traffic problems, and the need to live quite a way out of the city if one wanted anything more spacious than a broom closet.

But given that the city had always generated more action than anywhere else in the country, it was the dream posting of most new, and naive, special agents. Reilly was such an agent when he'd been assigned to the city. He wasn't new, or naive, anymore. As he looked around, Reilly knew the chaos surrounding him was going to monopolize his life for the foreseeable future. He made a mental note to call Father Bragg in the morning and let him know he wouldn't be able to make softball practice.

He felt bad about that; he hated to disappoint the kids. If there was one thing he tried not to allow his work to trespass, it was those Sundays in the park. He'd probably be in the park diis Sunday, only it would be for other, less congenial reasons. Chapter 5 A s he and Aparo stepped carefully over the scattered debris, Reilly's gaze took in the devastation inside the museum.

Priceless relics lay strewn everywhere, most of them damaged beyond repair. No yellow and black tape in here. The whole building was a crime scene. The floor of the museum's Great Hall was an ugly still life of destruction: Any of it was capable of providing a clue; then again, all of it could fail to offer a single damn thing. As he glanced briefly at the dozen or so white-suited CSIs who were working their way systematically through the debris and who, on this occasion, were joined by agents from the ERT—the FBI's Evidence Response Team—Reilly mentally checked off what they knew.

Four horsemen. Five dead bodies. Three cops, one guard, and one civilian. Another four cops and over a dozen civilians with bullet wounds, two of them critical. A couple of dozen cut by flying glass, and twice that number bruised and banged about. And enough cases of shock to keep rotating teams of counselors busy for months.

Across the lobby, Assistant Director in Charge Tom Jansson was talk- ing with the rail-thin captain of detectives from the Nineteenth Precinct. They were arguing over jurisdiction, but it was a moot point. The Vatican connection and the distinct possibility that what had happened here involved terrorists meant that overall command of the investigation was promptly transferred from the NYPD to the FBI.

The sweetener was that, years earlier, an understanding had been reached between the two organizations. When any arrest was to take place, the NYPD would publicly take credit for the collar, regardless of who actually made it happen.

The FBI would only get its share of the plaudits once the case went to court, ostensibly for helping secure the conviction. Still, egos often came in the way of sensible cooperation, which seemed to be the case tonight. Aparo called over a man Reilly didn't recognize, and introduced him as Detective Steve Buchinski. That's what we need right now," he said.

I'll borrow a few more shields from the CPP, that shouldn't be a problem," Buchinski promised. The precinct adjoining the Nineteenth was Central Park; horseback patrols were a daily feature of their work. Reilly wondered briefly if there might be a link and made a mental note to check on that later.

Most of the offices above were being used as makeshift processing rooms. Reilly looked over and spotted Agent Amelia Gaines coming down the stairs from the gallery. Jansson had put the striking, ambitious redhead in charge of interviewing witnesses.

Which made sense, since everybody loved talking to Amelia Gaines. Following her was a blonde who was carrying a small replica of herself. Her daughter, Reilly guessed. The child looked like she was fast asleep. Reilly looked again at the blonde's face.

Usually, Amelia's alluring presence made other women pale into insignificance. Not this one. Even in her current state, something about her was simply mesmeric. Her eyes connected briefly with his before looking down to the clutter under her feet. Whoever she was, she was seriously shaken. Reilly watched as she headed for die door, picking her way through the debris with unease. Another woman, older but with a vague physical resemblance, was close behind.

Together, they walked out of the museum. Reilly turned, refocusing. Can't afford not to. The whole damn thing's on tape. Part of the museum's security system.

Although, as the only cardinal-bishop present, Brugnone outranked the others, he deliberately avoided sitting at the head of the table. He liked to maintain an air of democracy here, even though he knew that they would all defer to him.

He knew it and accepted it, not with pride, but through pragmatism. Committees without leaders never achieved anything. This unfortunate situation, however, called for neither a leader nor a committee. It was something Brugnone would have to deal with himself.

That much was clear to him from the moment he had seen the news footage that had been broadcast around the world. His eyes eventually settled on Cardinal Pasquale Rienzi. Although he was the youngest of them all and only a cardinal-deacon, Rienzi was Brugnone's closest confidante.

Like the others seated at the table, Rienzi was speechlessly engrossed in the report before him. He looked up and caught Brugnone's eye. The young man, pale and earnest as always, promptly coughed gently. At the Metropolitan Museum. How foolishly otherworldly, Brugnone thought. Anything could happen in New York City. Hadn't the destruction of the World Trade Center proved that? They don't yet know who is behind this. Lunatics inspired by their amoral television programs and sadistic video games," another answered.

Red crosses on white mantles. They were masquerading as Templars? There it is, Brugnone thought. That was what had set off his alarm bells. Why, indeed, were the perpetrators dressed as Knights Templar? Could it be simply a matter of the robbers seeking a disguise and fastening onto whatever happened to be available? Or did the apparel of the four horsemen have a deeper, and possibly more disturbing, significance? The question had been asked by the oldest cardinal there.

The old man was peering short-sightedly at the circulated document. A multi-geared rotor encoder. Reference number VNS What is it? Again, he felt a shiver—the same shiver he felt the first time he spotted it on the list. He kept his face impassive. Without raising his head, he flicked a quick glance around the table at the others. No one else was reacting. Why should they? It was far from common knowledge.

Sliding the paper away, he leaned back in his chair. Make contact with the police and ask for us to be kept abreast of their investigation.

Brugnone was pleased to see that this elder appeared to have forgotten about the machine. People always had deferred to Mauro Brugnone. Probably, he knew, because the way he looked suggested a man of great physical strength. If it were not for his vestments, he knew that he looked like the burly, heavy-shouldered Calabrian farmer he would have been had the Church not called him more than half a century ago. His rough-hewn appearance, and the matching manner he had cultivated over the years, first disarmed others into thinking he was just a simple man of God.

That he was but, because of his standing in the Church, many proceeded to another assumption: He was not, but he'd never bothered to disabuse mem. It sometimes paid to keep people guessing, even though in a way, that was in itself a form of manipulation. Ten minutes later, Rienzi did as he asked.

He made his way down a sheltered brick pathway, across the Belvedere courtyard and past the celebrated statue of Apollo, and into the buildings that housed part of the Vatican's enormous library, the Archivio Segreto Vaticano—the secret archive.

The archive wasn't, in actual fact, particularly secret. A major part of it was officially opened to visiting scholars and researchers in who could, in theory at least, access its tightly controlled contents. Among the notorious documents known to be stored in its forty miles of shelf space were the handwritten proceedings of Galileo's trial and a petition from King Henry VIII seeking an annulment to his first marriage.

No outsiders, however, were ever allowed where Brugnone was headed. Without bothering to acknowledge any of the staff or scholars working in its dusty halls, he quietly made his way deeper into the vast, dark repository. He headed down a narrow, circular stairwell and reached a small anteroom where a Swiss Guard stood by an immaculately carved oak door. A curt nod from the elderly cardinal was all that was needed for the guard to enter the combination into a keypad and unlock the door for him.

The deadbolt snapped open, echoing up the hollowness of the limestone stairs. Without any further acknowledgment, Brugnone slipped into the barrel-vaulted crypt, the door creaking shut behind him. Making sure he was alone in the cavernous chamber, his eyes adjusting to the dim lighting, he made his way to the records area. The crypt seemed to hum with silence. It was a curious effect that Brugnone had once found disconcerting until he had learned that, just beyond the limits of his hearing, there really was a hum, emanating from a highly sophisticated climate control system that maintained constant temperature and humidity.

He could feel his veins tighten in the controlled, dry air as he consulted a file cabinet. He really didn't like it down here, but this visit was unavoidable. His fingers trembled as they flicked through the rows of index cards. What Brugnone was looking for wasn't listed in any of the various known indexes and inventories of the archive's collections, not even in the Schedario Garampi, the monumental card file of almost a million cards listing virtually everything held in the archive up to the eighteenth century.

But Brugnone knew where to look. His mentor had seen to that, shortly before his death. His eyes fell on the card he was looking for, and he pulled it out of its drawer. With a deepening sense of foreboding, Brugnone trawled through the stacks of folios and books. Reams of tattered red ribbon, bound around official documents and thought to be the origin of the term "red tape," dangled in deathly silence from every shelf.

His fingers froze when he finally spotted the one he was looking for. With great discomfort, he lifted down a large and very old leather-bound volume, which he placed on a plain wood table. Sitting down, Brugnone flicked over the thick, richly illustrated pages, their crackling loud in the stillness. Even in this controlled environment, the pages had suffered the ravages of time.

The vellum pages were eroded, and iron in the ink had turned corrosive, creating tiny slashes, which had now replaced some of the artist's graceful strokes. Brugnone felt his pulse quicken. He knew he was near. As he turned the page, he felt his throat tighten as the information he was seeking appeared before him. He looked at the illustration. It depicted a complex arrangement of interlocking gears and levers. Glancing at his copy of the e-mail, he nodded to himself.

Brugnone felt a headache forming at die back of his eyes. He rubbed them, tJien stared again at die drawing before him. He was quietiy furious. By what delinquency had this been allowed to happen? He knew the device should never have left the Vatican and was immediately irritated with himself.

He rarely wasted time in stating or thinking the obvious, and it was a measure of his concern that he did so now. Concern was not the right word. This discovery had come as a deep shock. Anyone would be shocked, anyone who knew the significance of the ancient device. Fortunately, there were very few, even here in the Vatican, who did know die legendary purpose of diis particular machine.

We brought it upon ourselves. It happened because we were too careful not to draw attention to it. Suddenly drained, Brugnone pushed himself upright. Before he moved to return the book to its place on the shelf, he placed the file card that he had carried with him from die cabinet randomly inside it. It would not do to have anyone else stumble across this. Brugnone sighed, feeling every one of his seventy years. He knew the threat wasn't from a curious academic or from some rutiilessly determined collector.

Whoever was behind this knew exacriy what he was looking for. And he had to be stopped before his ill-gotten gain could unveil its secrets. Chapter 7 F our thousand miles away, another man had the exact opposite in mind.

After closing and locking the door behind him, he picked up the intricate machine from where he had placed it on the top step. Then he moved slowly down into the cellar, his movements careful.

The machine wasn't too heavy, but he was anxious not to drop it. Not now. Not after fate had interceded to bring it within reach, and certainly not after all that it had taken to seize it.

The underground chamber, although lit by the flickering glow of dozens of candles, was too spacious for the yellow light to reach into every recess. It remained as gloomy as it was cold and damp. He no longer noticed. He had spent so long here that he had grown accustomed to it, never felt any discomfort. It was as close to being a home as anything could be.

A distant memory. Another life. Placing the machine on a sagging wood table, he went over to a cor- ner of the cellar and rummaged through a pile of boxes and old cardboard files. He took the one he needed to the table, opened it, and gently withdrew a folder from it. From the folder, he pulled out several sheets of thick paper that he arranged neatly beside the machine. Then he sat down and looked from the documents to the geared device and back again, relishing the moment.

To himself, he murmured, "At last. Picking up a pencil, he turned his full attention to the first of the documents. He looked at the first line of faded writing, then reached for the buttons on the top casing of the machine and began the next, crucial stage in his personal odyssey.

An odyssey, the end result of which he knew would rock the world. Chapter 8 A fter finally succumbing to sleep barely five hours earlier, Tess was now awake again and eager to start work on something that had been bugging her ever since those few minutes at the Met, before Clive Edmondson had spoken to her and all hell had broken loose. And she would get to it, just as soon as her mother and Kim were out of die house.

Tess's mother Eileen had moved in with them at the two-story house on a quiet, tree-lined street in Mamaroneck soon after her archaeologist husband, Oliver Chaykin, had died three years ago. Even though she was the one who had suggested it, Tess hadn't been too sure of the arrangement. But the house did have three bedrooms and reasonably ample space for all of them, which made things easier. Ultimately, it had worked out all right even if, as she sometimes guiltily recognized, the advantages seemed more skewed her way.

Like Eileen babysitting when Tess wanted to be out evenings, driving Kim to school when she needed her to, and like right now, when taking Kim out on a doughnut run would help get the girl's mind off the previous night's events and probably do her a world of good. Tess didn't look like she was in any rush to answer it. Eileen looked at her. Doug Merritt was a news anchor at a network affiliate in Los Angeles, and he was totally absorbed in his job.

His one-track mind would have linked the raid on the Met with the fact that Tess spent a lot of time there and would definitely have contacts. Contacts that he might use to get an inside track on what had become the biggest news story of the year.

The last thing she needed right now was for him to know that not only was she there, but that Kim was there with her. Ammo he wouldn't hesitate to use against her at the first opportunity. Tess thought again about what her daughter had experienced last night, even from the relative shelter of the museum's restrooms, and how it would need to be addressed.

The delay in the reaction, and die odds were there would be one, would give her time to better prepare how to deal with it. It wasn't something she was looking forward to. She hated herself for having dragged her tliere, even though blaming herself was far from reasonable.

She looked at Kim, grateful again for the fact that she was standing there before her in one piece. Kim grimaced at the attention. Would you quit it already. It's no biggie. I mean, you're the one who watches movies through your fingers. I'll see you later. Tess scowled at the device. The nerve of that creep. Six months ago, Doug had remarried. His new wife was a twenty-something, surgically enhanced junior executive at the network.

This change in his status would lead, Tess knew, to his angling for a review of his visitation rights. Not that he missed, loved, or even particularly cared for Kim; it was simply a matter of ego and of malice. The man was a spiteful prick, and Tess knew she'd have to keep fighting the occasional bursts of fatherly concern until his nubile young plaything got herself pregnant. Then, with a bit of luck, he'd lose the pettiness and leave them alone. Tess poured herself a cup of coffee, black, and headed for her study.

She rang the hospital and was told he was not in a critical condition but would be there for a few more days. Poor Clive. She made a note of visiting hours. Opening the catalog of the ill-fated exhibition, she leafed through it until she found a description of the device taken by the fourth horseman.

It was called a multigeared rotor encoder. The description told her that it was a cryptographic device and was dated as sixteenth century. Old and interesting, perhaps, but not something that qualified as what one would normally term a "treasure" of the Vatican. By now, the computer had run through its usual booting up routine and she opened up a research database and keyed in "cryptography" and "cryptology.

Trawling through the hits, she eventually came across a site that covered the history of cryptography. Surfing through the site, she found a page that displayed some early encoding tools.

The first one featured was the Wheatstone cipher device from the nineteenth century. It consisted of two concentric rings, an outer one with the twenty-six letters of the alphabet plus a blank, and an inner one having just the alphabet itself. Two hands, like those of a clock, were used to substitute letters from the outer ring for coded letters from the inner one. The person receiving the coded message needed to have an identical device and had to know the setting of the two hands.

A few years after the Wheatstone was in general use, the French came up with a cylindrical cryptograph, which had twenty discs with letters on their outer rims, all arranged on a central shaft, further complicating any attempts at deciphering a coded message. Scrolling down, her eyes fell on a picture of a device that looked vaguely similar to the one she had seen at the museum. She read the caption underneath it and froze. It was described as "the Converter," an early rotor encoder, and had been used by the U.

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Army in the s. For a second, it felt as if her heart had stopped. She just stared at the words. Rotor encoders were strictly a twentieth-century invention.

Leaning back in her chair, Tess rubbed her forehead, scrolled back up to the first illustration on the screen, and then reread its description. Not the same by any means, but pretty damn close. And way more advanced than the single-wheel ciphers. If the U. Still, this bothered Tess. Of all the glittering prizes he could have taken, the fourth horseman had zeroed in on this arcane device. Sure, people collected the weirdest things, but this was pretty extreme.

She wondered whether or not he might have made a mistake. No, she dismissed that thought—he had seemed very deliberate in his choice. Not only that, but he took nothing else. It was all he wanted. She thought about Amelia Gaines, the woman who looked more like someone out of a shampoo commercial than an agent of the FBI. Tess was pretty certain that the investigators wanted facts, not speculation, but even so, after a quick moment's thought, she went into her bedroom, found the evening bag she'd carried last night, and pulled out the card given to her by Gaines.

She placed the card on her desk and flashed back to the moment the fourth horseman had picked up the encoder. The way that he had picked it up, held it, and whispered something to it. He had seemed almost. What was it he had said? Tess had been too distraught at the Met to make a big deal out of it, but all of a sudden it was all she could think of.

She focused on that moment, pushing everything else out of her con- sciousness, reliving the scene with the horseman lifting the encoder. And saying. Think, damn it. Like she had told Amelia Gaines, she was pretty sure the first word was Veritas. Veritas something. Veritas vos? Somehow, that seemed vaguely familiar. She trawled her memory for the words, but it was no use.

The horseman's words had been cut off by the gunfire that erupted behind him. Tess decided she would have to go with what she had. She turned to her computer and selected the most powerful metasearch engine from her links toolbar. She entered "Veritas vos" and got over twenty-two thousand hits. Not that it really mattered. The very first one was enough. There it was. Calling out to her. She stared at it. The truth will set you free. Her masterful detective work had uncovered one of the most trite and overused sound bites of our time.

He hated this part of town. He wasn't a big fan of gentrification. Far from it. On his own turf, the fact that he was the size of a small building kept him safe.

Here, his size only made him stand out among the fancy piss-ants scurrying along the sidewalks in their designer outfits and two-hundred-dollar haircuts. Hunching his shoulders, he knocked a few inches off his height. Even then, big as he was, it didn't help much and neither did the long, black, shapeless coat he wore. But he could do nothing about that; he needed the coat to conceal what he was carrying.

He turned up Twenty-second Street, heading west. His destination was a block away from the Empire Diner, located in the center of a small row of art galleries. As he walked past, he noted that most of the galleries had just one or maybe two pictures in dieir windows.

Some of the pictures didn't even have frames for chrissakes, and none that he could see had a price tag. How were you supposed to know if it was any fucking good if you didn't know what it fucking cost? His destination was now two doors away. To outward appearances, Lucien Boussard's place looked like a slick upmarket antiques gallery. In fact, it was that and a whole lot more. Fakes and pieces of dubious origin infected the few genuine, unsullied objects.

Not that any of his neighbors suspected as much, for Lucien had the style, the accent, and the manners to fit in seamlessly. Very cautious now, eyes alert for anything or anyone that didn't look right, Gus walked past the gallery, counted off tvventy-five paces, then stopped and turned around. He made as if to cross the street, still couldn't see anything that seemed out of place, and went back and was inside the gallery, his movements quick and light for a man his size.

And why shouldn't they be? In thirty fights, he had never once been hit hard enough to go down. Except when he was supposed to. Inside the gallery, he kept one hand in his pocket, wrapped around the butt of a Beretta 92FS. It wasn't his handgun of choice, but he'd had a couple of misfires with the.

He took a quick look around.

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No tourists, or any other customers for that matter. Just the gallery's owner. Gus didn't like many people, but, even if he had, he would not have liked Lucien Boussard. He was a smarmy little shit. Narrow face and shoulders to match, he wore his long hair pulled back into a ponytail. Fucking French fag. As Gus came in, Lucien looked up from behind a small spindly legged table where he sat working and faked an elated smile, a feeble attempt to hide the fact that he had instantly started sweating and twitching.

That was possibly the one thing that Gus did like about Lucien. He was always on edge, as if he thought Gus might at any moment decide to harm him. The greasy little fuck was right about that. Turning his back to him, Gus set the lock on the door, then walked over to the table. Lucien shook his head rapidly from side to side. Maybe they all did that. He glanced back at the door to make sure they were out of any passerby's sight line and took something out of die bag.

It was wrapped in newspaper. He started to unwrap it, looking up at Lucien as he did. Lucien's mouth opened and his eyes suddenly flared wider as Gus finally brought out the object. It was an elaborate, jewel-encrusted gold cross, around a foot and a half long, breathtaking in its detail. Gus set it down onto the open newspaper. He heard die hiss as Lucien sucked in his breath. He looked down again and, following his example, Gus looked and saw that the newspaper was open at a photo spread of the museum.

One of a kind. Come on, Gus, I can't touch thus. And he couldn't exactly wait for a bidding war either. For the past six months, Gus had had a seriously bad run at the track. He had been in the hole before, but never like this, and he had never before been in the hole to the people who were now holding his markers. Throughout pretty much all of his life, since the day he grew taller and heavier than his old man and had beaten die crap out of the drunken bully, people had been afraid of Gus.

But right now, for die first time since he was fourteen years old, he knew what it meant to be afraid. The men who held die markers for his gambling debts were in a different league from anyone else he had ever known.

They would kill him as readily and as easily as he would step on a roach. Ironically, the track had also provided him with a way out. It was how he'd met die guy who got him in on the museum job. And now here he was, even diough he'd been given clear instructions not to attempt to sell any of his hoard for at least six months. The hell with tliat. He needed money and he needed it now. It's not possible at all. It's too hot to touch right now, it would be crazy to—" Gus seized Lucien around the throat and dragged him halfway across the table, which rocked precariously.

He thrust his face within an inch of Lucien's. Gus let go and the Frenchman dropped back into his seat. So it might as well be now.

Besides, you know there's people who'll buy this because of what it is and where it came from. Sick fucks who'll pay a small fortune to be able to jerk off at the idea of having it locked up in their safe. All you have to do is find me one of them and find him fast. And don't even think of trying to dick me on the price.

You get ten percent, and ten percent of priceless is nothing to piss on, is it? His eyes darted around the room nervously, Ms mind clearly taking another tack now. He looked up at Gus and said, "Twenty. For something like this, it has to be twenty percent.

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Au moins. I will be taking a big risk on this. Instead, Gus calmly took out the Beretta and moved closer, jamming it into Lucien's crotch. I've made you a generous offer and all you do is try and take advantage of the situation. I'm disappointed, man.

With the guard. It was something. And I've still got the blade, you know, and, let me tell ya, I'm kinda getting into that whole Conan shit, you know what I'm saying? He knew that, if he had all the time in the world, Lucien's fear of him would work in his favor.

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But he didn't have all the time in the world. The cross was worth a small fortune, maybe even seven figures, but right now he would take what he could get and be happy about it. The upfront cash he had made by signing on for the museum raid had bought him time; now he needed to get those leeches off his back.

He was hooked. Lucien opened a drawer and pulled out a small digital camera. He looked up at Gus. Gus needed die money and the freedom it would give him. He also needed to get out of town for a while until the dust settled around the museum job. All of these things he needed now. It's got to be quick. A couple of days, max. Probably trying to figure how he could work a deal with a buyer, a fat fee for promising to barter the seller down, even though the seller had already agreed.

The slimy little shit. Gus decided that a few months from now, when the time was right, he would really enjoy paying Lucien another visit. He then put the gun into another. Lucien was still shaking as he watched the big man walk all die way to the corner and disappear from sight.

Chapter 10 "You know, I could've done without this right now," Jansson growled as Reilly dropped into a chair across from his boss. The complex of four government buildings in lower Manhattan was just a few blocks away from Ground Zero. It housed twenty-five thousand government employees, and was also home to the New York field office of the FBI. Sitting there, Reilly was relieved to be away from the incessant noise in the main work area.

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In fact, the comparative tranquillity of his boss's private office was just about the only thing about Jans-son's job that was even remotely tempting. All five areas of major concern to the Bureau—drugs and organized crime, violent crime and major offenders, financial crime, foreign counterintelligence, and, the latest black sheep of that odious herd, domestic terrorism—were firing on all cylinders. Jansson certainly seemed built for the task: So where are you going? To Buckland? I am to become the new abbot of our monastery.

Catching the glance, Simon smiled again. You need not worry on your journey in these parts. Your journey should be safe. I know that way—the roads are good and there are places for you to rest overnight. The other would be to go to the east of the moors and down that way. The Oakhampton route would be my choice.

Then we shall take that road. I would be grateful for the protection of the bailiff on the road. The country is quiet here. His eyes were wide and staring, almost as if he was pleading with the young bailiff, and Simon found himself wondering what could have created such fear. He almost asked, but decided not to—he might cause offense. We must get to Buckland as soon as we can. You must come with us now. It seemed almost obscene to be so fearful in such a quiet part of the country.

Of course travel was dangerous, no matter where the destination, but to be so terror-stricken here in Devon. He thought a moment. But I will not stay there for long, so perhaps I shall overtake you on the road later. At least I can go with you as far as Crediton. Simon almost laughed, but then he saw that the abbot was serious and checked himself.

I must get to Lydford with my wife. There is no need. I hope I shall see you soon, abbot. For now, goodbye. As he turned he caught a brief smile on the face of the older monk, as if in gratitude for his offer.

The bailiff nodded to him and urged his horse into a gallop. At the lane, he found Hugh moodily sitting on his horse and waiting. The house had been built by the Furnshill family over a hundred years before when they had first arrived in Devon to serve their lords, the de Courtenays. It stood high on the side of a hill, almost hidden from the sides by the thick woodland all around.

It was a long, whitewashed cob building, with black timber to reinforce the single-story walls. It looked much like the farmhouses of the area, and sat as if peering over the lane that led to its door. Small windows were set into the walls just below the thatch and the door was almost in the middle of the building, giving it a cheerful and pleasant aspect.

This was not a fortified manor built in fear, a place constructed for defense. It was a family home, a strong and welcoming house.

Behind and to the right were the stables. They were a group of large buildings, similar to the main house, surrounding the trodden dirt of the yard. Here, as Simon knew, were areas for the horses and the oxen. There was even one large shed for the farm imple- The Last Templar 41 ments. Simon and Hugh ignored the entrance to the yard and rode up to the front of the house before dismounting, whereupon a pair of stablemen appeared from nowhere, making the bailiff smile to himself.

Obviously the whole household was trying to put on a good show for the new master. After Simon had got off his horse and handed it to the waiting hostler, he stood and took in the view. From here he could see for miles, over the tops of the tree-covered hills to the moors, lowering in blue-gray malevolence in the far distance. Tugging off his gloves, he turned to the door as Baldwin came out to welcome them.

Can you not teach your servant to ride a little faster? We came upon them at the end of your lane here. Or would you prefer some beer? Simon and Hugh were given a hearty meal of mutton stew with fresh bread, all the while having to answer a stream of questions from their inquisitive 42 Michael Jecks host, who seemed to want to know everything about his new estates, how they had changed in his absence and how the people had fared while he had been away.

At last, as they all pushed themselves away from the table and sat closer to the fire, he smiled and apologized. I have seen too many lords who treated their people badly and taxed them heavily. I want to be known to be fair to them, and to do that I must know all I can. It was not his imagination—he could feel that already there was some kind of bond between him and this grave knight.

The man seemed to be seeking his friendship and Simon found it flattering, even though he knew that it was likely to be only the interest of a lonely newcomer seeking the acquaintance of an important neighbor. So, Baldwin, your estate has not been so badly affected as some others. The rains have been very bad this year, but Furnshill is high enough to have missed the worst of the damage. The lower-lying areas were badly flooded, but your crops were not too badly affected, not as badly as some.

And I saw that the people in Kent were suffering when I passed through. Was it recently? Well, it would have been about nine months ago, I suppose. But I have spoken to many travellers since then and things do not seem to have improved. We all have to serve, whether it is our master or our God, and the people must work to serve us, although some are more harshly treated than is needed. When you see men being taxed too heavily, or the sheriffs taking money from the taxes to put in their own purses, or when you see robbers taking all the profit from a farmer who will have to try some other way to feed his children.

Is there a problem with the man in Exeter? He seems a good and honest man. Only a couple of years ago almost all of them throughout the country were changed because of their corruption. But I was out of the country at the time, so. There were 44 Michael Jecks many cases of false indictments, and you can guess who benefited.

I want to be known to be fair to the people in my area and known to be their protector. And I want to make sure that the people here can travel safely.

Thank God we are not yet plagued with outlaws here! We seem to be lucky in that. Apparently there are some outside Bristol, and another group at North Petherton. We can only hope that they fade away before coming down here. On our way here we heard of a number of farmers and merchants attacked—even one knight, I believe, but he managed to save himself. I think the outlaws are getting more desperate.

Catching a glimpse of his frowning concentration, Simon nodded. But what else can the villeins do? How can villeins survive? Life may be harsh, but outlawry is no way out. They must be taught that they cannot rob and murder without expecting to be punished. Where would we be if these men were allowed to escape? No, we must catch them and punish them. If a man has been an outlaw, he must be caught and made an example of.

What if the guilty man could still be useful to his lord? Being a fair man, he began to wonder how he himself would react if he found it impossible to live, if his livelihood was taken away and he still had to find a way of getting food for his wife and daughter. If Margaret and Edith were hungry and he could not provide for them, what would he not do?

If they did not have the small farm and its food, what would he do to survive? He had the uncomfortable suspicion that he too could be tempted to join a band of outlaws and try to survive that way. Shaking himself, he tried to force the idea out of his mind, but the awareness of the fear and despair that such poverty could cause would not leave him, and lowered his previously high spirits.

The movement seemed to wake Baldwin from his reverie. Looking up, he appeared to notice his guest again, and with a start he rose, his voice decisive. I will be fair to them all. I have travelled far and I have seen how many injustices there are in the world. I want to be seen and known to be a good master. By your leave. The two shook hands briefly outside while Hugh went off to the stables to fetch their horses. I hope to see you again soon. There will always be wine and beer for the bailiff of Lydford at my house while I am here.

Goodbye, and safe journey, my friend. When Simon turned at the bottom of the lane, the knight was still there, staring after them with that thoughtful frown still darkening his face.

After their lunch Simon changed his mind and decided to go across country rather than follow the main road. It was more direct, and now, it being the middle of the afternoon, he was keen to get back to his own house and see his wife. Although Hugh was silent as he rode along beside him, he knew that his servant would be as keen as him to get back home again.

He was also happy to be able to miss the monks. It was normal, he knew, for a traveller to be wary, but the abbot almost seemed to be in mortal fear of his life. It was much more deep than the usual nervousness that a wanderer through a new land would feel, it was an almost tangible terror as if the abbot knew that he would soon be attacked, and the company of a man so obviously scared was not relaxing.

No, it was easier to avoid the monks. As they left East Village and made their way down to their home in Sandford, following the tortuously winding lanes that led south and west, carrying them up and down the low and rolling green hills of the shire, Simon put the man out of his mind.

For the most part he rode contentedly, with a smile of satisfaction on his face. Here, close to home, he knew all the lanes around, and it was with a thrill of pleasure that he recognized trees and fields, as if he was seeing old friends again for the first time after a long absence. The wind 48 Michael Jecks was chill but not strong, cooling them as they rode and preventing them from becoming too hot, and the bailiff took delight in standing occasionally at the top of the small hills and staring at the views.

It was always the same for him with this country. Even from the lower summits the views were good, showing the gently rolling land and the hamlets nestling under the hills. From the higher rounded and soft hills he could see for miles. To the southwest was Dartmoor, to the north Exmoor, and he peered in both directions, contrasting the blue-gray ruggedness of the southern hills ahead with the softer, more gentle contours of the sweeping moors behind.

It was with relief that he climbed down from his horse and stretched his shoulders. Rubbing his rump, he walked over to help Hugh with the packs.

Then the door burst open and his daughter Edith erupted, running out to greet him, laughing and screaming her delight. Grinning, he swiftly dropped his bags as she came close, snatched her up and kissed her, feeling the pride and joy of fatherhood at her exuberant welcome. He had just set the six-year-old on his shoulders when Margaret, his wife, appeared at the door.

She stood quietly smiling as he walked over to her, a tall and handsome woman with a slim but strong body, and as he kissed her, holding her close, he smiled with the feeling of warmth and comfort she always gave him. Margaret was almost five years younger than him. He had first met her when he was visiting her father eight years before and he had known immediately that The Last Templar 49 she would be his wife, although he had no idea why the thought had come into his head.

At first he had been attracted to her serious smile, her slim, fair face and her long golden hair, so rare in the country around Crediton. Now, as he held her and she wrapped her arms around him, he marvelled again that she had agreed to marry him.

When she tried to break the embrace, he held her, squeezing gently to hold her close, and smiling down into her blue eyes. How are you? So how was the journey? Free again, she stood, hands on hips, as she frowned at him in mock exasperation. What does that mean? Will we have to give up the house? What will we do about the farm? We can afford to while we live in the castle. She turned and went into the house, Simon following, and led the way through to the hall.

Here, in their living room, she walked over to the trestle by the fire and sat, chin on her fist, gazing into the flames. Simon slowly wandered over to the wall to pick up another bench, which he carried round to the other side of the fire, so that he could sit and watch her. Margaret was deep in thought. She was wondering about Lydford and whether she would like the new responsibilities that were going to be imposed on her husband as inevitable adjuncts to his job.

Looking up, she saw his gaze fixed on the fire, a small smirk of pride on his lips, and she sighed. She knew that she would not stand in his way—he was obviously delighted with his new position, so she would be too.

But it would be difficult, she thought as she looked around the hall of their house, it would be hard to leave this place that had been their home since they married, the home where their daughter had been born, where they had known so many happy times. As if it was the first time, as if she had never really seen it before, she peered around their hall, her hall.

The fire was in the center, sitting on a bed of clay in the solid, packed earth of the floor. Rushes, fresh each month, were liberally spread all over. The high windows were open to the air, letting in thin streams of daylight. At night they would be covered by the tapestries in a vain attempt to exclude the cold gusts of winds that came across all the way from the coast. Tables, long and heavy, were against the walls with their benches underneath, all except for the one that they used each day, the long one that could seat the family and their four servants.

That stayed out, close to the fire. The Last Templar 51 Would she really miss the house that much? It was only a house, after all, and a castle was surely an improvement. She thought of their solar, the little family room that lay hidden behind the tapestry at the far end of the hall, curtained off so that she and her husband could sleep away from the inquisitive gaze of the servants. Like the rest of their house, it was drafty and almost always cold.

Surely the castle would be, at the very least, warmer than that! But what about the new duties? That was the real trouble, she thought. As bailiff and wife they would have to be available to any of the local people whenever they wanted help.

There would be no privacy and little opportunity for rest. How well could their little family cope with that strain? And there was the town as well. Lydford was a stannary town, crucial to the tin trade. Tin meant money, and where there was money there were arguments.

She sighed. This was more difficult than probably even her husband had realized. After her father had been killed two years ago while he was out riding with the posse, she had kept hidden her awful terror—that one day her man would die while out trying to uphold the law.

It was so common—too common—for many outlaws were like small armies, like regiments on the march, taking what they could from the countryside and people.

Now, as he went higher up the ladder, Simon would be more obvious as a target to any trail baston with a bow and arrow. Did she want him to take on this extra responsibility? With another sigh she knew that it was pointless to speculate. Her father had only been a farmer, a local 52 Michael Jecks man called to the posse. So Simon was a bailiff, so what? Maybe it meant he would soon be promoted again, taken away from the risks of laws and control.

Would he be in any more danger than her father had been? She thoughtfully glanced around the room again, already beginning to estimate costs of removal and assessing what could be left behind. Simon watched her with a degree of trepidation as he followed her gaze around the room.

He could easily sense her feelings, and he knew he would do anything to stop her being depressed—even if it meant his rejecting the position at Lydford. If she felt that she could not be happy at the castle, they would have to stay here, at their home.

It could wreck his prospects, but he had decided, when he chose her for his wife, that she was the most important thing in his life. And any job could be no substitute for her happiness. So it was with absolute delight that he saw her eyes light on him again, with a calm acceptance. He knew without asking that she had chosen, that she had accepted. The next two days went by in a whirl as Margaret began organizing the move and arranging for a wagon to help them take their belongings.

Hugh was kept busy with the constant stream of visitors who arrived to offer their congratulations. The news had spread fast from the time that he and the bailiff had returned, apparently, and there seemed to be no end to the farmers and landowners who kept coming to pass on their best wishes.

It always astonished Simon how quickly news could travel in such an empty area. The whole of Devonshire only contained a few thousand souls, and yet it seemed The Last Templar 53 that no sooner had he been told than the whole of the county was aware.

He even received a message from Walter Stapledon, the bishop of Exeter, expressing pleasure at his new position. But Simon soon began to fret at being kept indoors by the continuous flow of visitors. After having to travel, and now with these guests arriving at every spare minute of the day, he felt as if his life was not his own. Three times he had promised to play with his daughter, only to have to stop to see another man come to offer his congratulations, and she had made him swear that he would spend a whole uninterrupted day with her after the last cancellation.

He complied, mainly to halt the inevitable flow of tears. He had not even been able to get time to go for a ride, and at last, on the third day after the announcement had become public knowledge, the day he was to ignore all visitors and stay at home with Edith, he saddled his horse early, before she rose, and went out for a ride to loosen his taut muscles and get a brief spell of freedom before honoring his promise.

It was still early when he left, only a little after dawn, and he started out slowly, warming up his horse and himself before taking any serious exercise. They rode quietly up the hill behind his house, following the old tracks between the fields in the early morning chill.

The night had brought more rain and he had to splash through puddles and small streams as he made his way along the narrow tracks that bordered the fields and woods. At the top of the hill he turned west and followed the ridge for a couple of miles until at last he was up on the tall spine of land that pointed toward the southern moors, a straight and easy canter.

He paused a minute in anticipation, he and his horse standing still, 54 Michael Jecks with a slight glow lighting his face from their ride so far. Then, with a grin like a naughty boy, he peered round behind him to see that no one was watching, and whipped his horse into a gallop. They charged down, hammering over the lane like a knight and his mount rushing into battle, with no thought for anything but the pleasure of the race.

At the far end of the road they slowed, Simon reining in gently to slow the great horse and stop the animal from over-tiring himself, and gradually eased into a comfortable walk. They sedately clattered into the hamlet.

It was an ancient vill lying some four miles out to the west of Crediton, at the fork in the road to Oakhampton where one arm led to the north and up to Barnstaple. But there were also several small lanes leading south, and he turned into one and wandered aimlessly for a few miles, his eyes fixed on the moors ahead. The local superstitions had always implied that the moors were unfriendly to people, and from here, looking up at them, he could understand why men should feel that—they seemed to be watching him as he rode.

Certainly they were impressive, looming like great beasts on the horizon ahead, but they were without the The Last Templar 55 aura of focused viciousness that he could sense in wolves and other wild animals.

There was a malevolence there, he could sense that, but it was the uncaring, unfeeling cruelty of a vast being that feared nothing for smaller creatures. It seemed to him as he rode that the moors noted him as a man might an ant, and, like a man, they seemed to know they could crush him without noticing. Shuddering at the thought, he quickly turned off, away from the moors and to the east. He would go as far as Tedburn St. Mary, then north and back home. Now, feeling more relaxed after burning off some of his frustration, and comfortable as he sat on his horse, he let his mind wander.

At first his thoughts were only of the coming move and the change in his circumstances that it would bring, but then, as he swayed along from side to side on the back of his horse, he started to think about the people he had met on the road. He was interested in Sir Baldwin. Simon longed to get him to talk about his travels, to discover where he had been, what he had seen, what battles he had fought in—because he obviously had fought in several. He had the arrogance and pride of a warrior; even though it seemed to be kept on a close rein and almost hidden, Simon had felt it.

Knights were rarely humble or pious—and if they were it was usually a calculating godliness. At Tedburn St. Mary he turned off to take the road back to Crediton, and a sudden similarity between this road and the one near Furnshill made his thoughts move to the party of monks. He was still thinking about the frightened abbot when he arrived back at his house.

He was surprised to see a horse tethered at his door when he arrived. His eyebrows rose in vague interest as he took his horse into the stable before going to see who it could be—no doubt it was only another visitor passing on his good wishes—and he had just removed the saddle and taken off the blanket underneath when Hugh came in and took over.

Inside, a man leapt up as soon as he entered the hall. He had been sitting on a bench with his back to the door, obviously warming himself by the fire, and he knocked over a pot of ale when the bailiff strode in, letting out an audible groan in mortification—though whether at seeming clumsy or at the loss of the beer, Simon could not be sure.

His visitor was a slender, almost effeminate youth with pale and thin features under a shock of thick, mousey-colored hair. His face seemed to redden under the fixed gaze of the bailiff, not from fear but from his embarrassment at knocking the pot over, almost as if he expected to be shouted at, and Simon grinned at him to calm his obviously frayed nerves.

When he smiled back, Simon was sure he recognized him—there was something about his thin, colorless mouth as it stretched tight across his face. Where had he seen that face before? Of course! He worked for Peter Clifford, the priest at Crediton. Simon walked to the bench and indicated that the young man should be seated before sitting himself and considering the man again.

Tell me your message. His place is out on the edge of Blackway, down south of Crediton. Why should I be told? There had seemed little need to hurry on the way, there were bound to be many people all around—not just the priest but all the villagers and, no doubt, quite a few others. The signs were obvious from a long way distant.

As he came up to the old Weatherby Cross, where the road from Crediton was cut by the Moretonhampstead track that led down to Exeter, it became clear he was not the first person to pass there that day.

At the best of times the track was rutted and worn, being a popular route for travellers heading down to the ports on the coast. Now, in the early afternoon, it was even worse than normal. Usually the trodden dirt, with the deep ruts caused by the wheels of the carts, was solid enough, but now, The Last Templar 59 after so many months of rain, it was a morass.

Only the passage of a large number of people could have so quickly destroyed the fragile surface. Cursing under his breath, Simon steered his horse over to the verge, where the grass promised solidity and an opportunity to continue less encumbered. In this way, stepping carefully, they made their slow and painful progress to the hamlet. Blackway was a tiny village that lay straddling the road south as if it had fallen there, dropped like a disregarded plaything by one of the ancient race of giants that was supposed to have inhabited the area before man arrived.

The village had some seven or eight properties, one inn and a tiny church, which relied on a chaplain appointed by Peter Clifford, who was nominally the rector.

As Simon turned his thoughts back to the last time he had ridden through, he could clearly bring to mind the general layout. The hunter, John Black, had the first cottage on the right, a simple house with one large room like all the others, except that it was smaller than most. Black lived as a hunter, catching and killing his own food and receiving pay for destroying the wolves and other pests in the area.

He was known for his ability to track animals for miles over the barren waste of 60 Michael Jecks the moors, and when the de Courtenays were in the area they would often call upon his services to help them find their quarry.

With this life style he had little or no need for a large house, just a place big enough for his wife and their two children. Beyond his house was the inn, the first of the large houses. Simon did not know who lived there, but he believed that it had been owned by Brewer in the past. All of the houses surrounded the small area of common land, the road curving sharply round it like a meandering river—possibly because it followed the stream, the Blackwater, that gurgled down on its way to Dartmoor.

To the south the land opened to give views all the way to Dartmoor, and in the hamlet itself there was a cheerful balance between trees and open land. Most of the houses were to the west of the stream and the strips of fields lay to the east; an ancient clapper bridge led from one side to the other and also crossed the new sewer that led into the stream.

It gave the vill a pleasant, rural aspect as Simon rode in from the north, although he was struck by the sight of the great trees that crowded in from the forest behind the houses. It appeared to him that they were almost threatening in the way that they towered over the human habitation.

From a half mile away Simon could see the tall pillar of smoke that hung over the surrounding landscape, and he also became aware of the smell of burning, the stench increasing as he came closer to the village. It seemed outrageous that such a quiet and peaceful The Last Templar 61 little hamlet should have been so violated by fire, but it was, as Simon knew only too well, a very common occurrence.

The old houses did not have chimneys to direct smoke and sparks away from the thatch of the roofs, they relied on the height of the roof itself as protection.

If they all had chimneys the number of cottage fires would reduce dramatically, because the sparks would alight on the external and damp thatch. As it was, the glittering motes that rose from the flames were carried up into the eaves, where they often lodged. Every once in a while they would make the dry interior thatch catch fire.

And, when that happened, all the people inside could do was get out quickly and hope that water thrown at the roof would save the main part of the house.

Riding up through the center of the village, Simon could see that it had been too late for this place at least. To arrive at the house he had to ride past the inn, then follow the road round to the left as it lazily swung down toward the moors. As he followed the road through the village and turned to face south, the house became visible and he paused, motionless, as he took in the sight that met his shocked gaze.

The old building was almost completely destroyed. The roof was gone; presumably it had fallen in when the flames got too hot, or so he supposed. The wall at the side was still visible, but the far end of the house, the end farthest from the road, had collapsed, and taken down a large section of the side wall with it.

Even Simon, who knew little about building, could see that the damage was irreparable. He kicked his horse into a slow amble and continued up to the house. All around lay a covering of soot, lying surprisingly thickly underfoot. Looking up, he saw his old friend Peter Clifford standing with a small group, not far from what had been the main door.

Peter was standing and talking with some of the local men, one of whom Simon recognized immediately as the hunter, Black.

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The others he had not met before, he thought, and assumed they must be locals to the hamlet. Judging by the number of men walking all over the area, this made them fairly unique: There were people of all sorts standing and staring at the destroyed house, fascinated by the sight of the remaining walls standing up like the fangs of a massive beast.

He could see a family he knew from Crediton, a merchant and his wife with their young son, pointing and talking while their son giggled and played, as if this was only another place designed for him to enjoy himself and not the scene of a recent death. Snorting in disgust, Simon dismounted and strode over to the priest. What happened, then? He was dressed informally in a light tunic that came down to his knees, with warm woollen leggings underneath.

His dark eyes glittered with intelligence in his pale face, his skin soft and light The Last Templar 63 from the hours spent indoors reading and writing. The hair that Simon remembered being a light red was a faded straw color now and the face was worn, though not by troubles—the lines that creased it were caused not by pain and fear but by too much laughter and enjoyment of life.

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Now they wrinkled into furrows in his pleasure at seeing his friend again. Come, you know why you were asked here, I hope? The place was well in flames already then. The wiry frame of his body looked as if it could chase an animal from one end of the kingdom to the other on foot, and the litheness of his movements reminded Simon of a wolf, as if in hunting the wild creatures a little of their ways had rubbed off and been absorbed by him.

His face was square, flat and stolid, as uncompromising as a slab of granite, and his eyes gleamed darkly. Above thick eyebrows that formed a continuous line across his brow his hair was a deep black, almost raven, and hung in lank wings around his serious face. I thought he could be somewhere else. But when we started to try to put the fire out, when we could see inside, we saw the body. He frowned at his superstitious fancy and concentrated again on the evidence of the hunter.

I came straight here to see if I could help. By the time we arrived the flames were out. Black turned to follow his gaze. The soot and ashes under his feet seemed soft and yielding, not hard and crisp like the ashes in his fire at home. What could have produced such snowy-soft residue? There were several people standing and gawping nearer the walls, and Simon had to push some out of his way, glaring at them when they murmured angrily.

Ignoring their complaints, he walked up to the front door and peered inside. The door was a charred and broken mess, hanging haphazardly from its bottom hinge. Inside, the rubble was still very hot; he could feel the glowing embers warming his face, as hot as summer sunshine. At first The Last Templar 65 it was difficult to make out anything much, the inside seemed to be a mass of gray or black, with different shades all around, but with nothing to differentiate one pile from another.

The timbers of the roof must have collapsed brutally, he thought. If someone was underneath, there was no chance of surviving that huge weight when it fell in. He could see the massive beam lying where it had fallen across the center of the floor, one end still supported by the wall, the other on the ground. Suddenly, before he could avoid it, a sudden gust of wind blew air from the room into his face. Caught unawares, unprepared, so that it hardly even occurred to him to try to evade it, he inhaled the stench.

The wind was filthy, carrying the noisome odor of death almost as a solid, physical mass but that was not all. It was not just the nasal reminder of the body inside that caught at the throat and made the eyes water, it was the burned feces, the remains of the excreta of the livestock that had lived in the house with Brewer, the ordure of decades, that, now subjected to the fire, seemed to grasp at the lungs with invisible, poisoned tentacles of bitter virulence.

Gagging, he turned and coughed, soon wretching miserably. He could take no more and, turning away, he stumbled, choking, back to where the others waited. Still coughing, Simon gave him a baleful glare before hawking and spitting, trying to clear his throat of the viscous tang. It was while he was spitting with venom that Baldwin Furnshill arrived. He appeared on a huge gray horse, Edgar as usual just behind, and dressed in a white tunic with a small 66 Michael Jecks emblem on his breast, which even at this distance Simon could recognize as the de Courtenay badge.

Seeing the small knot of men, Baldwin kicked his horse and ambled over to them, his eyebrows raised a little as he saw a new coughing fit taking over the bailiff. The other men, he could see, were grim-faced and dour. Was everyone from all around going to come and stare? It seemed depressing that even his new friend was exhibiting ghoulish tendencies. We were out riding and wanted to make sure that the people here did not need help. How are the people that lived there?

He was always hard up when someone wanted money or alms, or at least he always said so. People here have wondered how he always seemed to be able to buy ale, how he could afford a full team of oxen, how he managed to buy his way out of his duties as a villein when he wanted.

Simon, would you like me to have a man or two placed here to guard it until we can find out whether there is any money here? Do we know whether he had any relatives?

I understand he was alone in the house as far as we can tell? The knight seemed to be staring at the hunter speculatively. But a knight was different. A knight was no holder of secrets, no minister of hidden knowledge. A knight was the most secular creature known: With this sword my sires took this land. With this sword I shall take what I want. With this sword I shall keep what I desire. As the hunter drew near to the end of his story, Baldwin seemed to withdraw into himself.

He wrapped one arm around his chest, rested his chin and mouth in the palm of his other hand and watched the hunter with a raised eyebrow, as if dubious of some part of the story. Black The Last Templar 69 stumbled in his account, obviously feeling the doubt emanating from the tall, dark knight, and seemed to finish on a defensive note, almost as if daring the knight to call him a liar.

When he had finally ground to a halt, the small group stood silent for a moment, as if aware that a silent challenge had been issued, although none of them was sure who had offered it or why. It was Baldwin who broke the quiet, speaking slowly and ruminatively. So the fire was first seen by you at some time after midnight, would you say?

From the moors, like I said. To raise the alarm, I mean. Who did you go to first? I came round the lane and saw the fire up here—well, there seemed no point coming all the way down to the village and then getting someone to fetch him later.

His house was nearest, so I went back to it and knocked him up. I came into the village, of course. I banged on the doors and woke up all the men, got them to help me put the fire out. The men would have hurried to help, keen to smother the flames before the winds could carry the sparks over to their own houses and put their properties at risk.

Baldwin seemed to agree as well, turning and looking at the building that lay, still smoking, so near, with his arms crossed over his chest.

As if he had been dismissed, Black looked from one to the other before slowly strolling off, walking over to chat with a little knot of villagers. Baldwin sighed and kicked at a stone near his foot.

A man at home and very probably asleep. To die like that! Shrugging, he thought it must be because it was such an apparently senseless death. There was no honor or glory to be gained from such an end, and it was a mean and horrible finish.

Thinking back, he considered the other black burned corpses he had seen and sighed again, recollecting the twisted and tortured figures, the way that they always seemed to have been fighting death, struggling to live. It was not the way he wanted to die. This might be a secular man, a warrior, but that was no excuse for blasphemy! Staring back at the knight, he was astonished to see a grimace of self-deprecating embarrassment, as though he knew that his thoughts had been picked up by Simon and wanted to apologize.

Your heriot. You own this land; he was your villein. You have the choice of his best beast, just as I have the choice of the next best for the mortuary. Simon watched him go, and as he gazed after the knight he wondered what Baldwin meant by that comment. Then, drawing his eyes away, he could not help a sudden shudder, as if of quick, chill fear, and his face was troubled as he turned back to the smoking ruins.

Why did he have the feeling that the knight was suspicious about this apparent accident? Black led the way, a small team of local men following, all with cloths tied round their mouths against the dust, and Simon, the priest and the knight waiting by the doorway, where they could watch the men inside.

The body was easy to find. At first Simon could see little—the haze from the heat distorted the view, small gray clouds of smoke rose here and there from the embers, and the beam itself with its accretions of burned waste obstructed the scene with its solid mass, seemingly unaffected by the flames that had destroyed the house around it.

Simon could hear the muttering as they came close The Last Templar 73 to it, a curse of disgust, a call for assistance. He could not help thinking how foolish this all seemed.

The walls over to his right had collapsed, were now simply a pile of rubble. The men had no need to enter by this door, by this old gap in the wall that had been constructed decades before.

Why did they go in here? Was it a politeness? Was it a sign of respect for the corpse that they should only use the door that his guests would have, as if in so doing they were receiving his approval?

Or was it simply force of habit that they should go in where they knew there to be an entrance, as if their minds could not quite accept the fact that the whole house had been changed? Beside him Baldwin stood, chewing on his moustache and frowning.

He seemed perplexed by something, Simon thought. Noticing his look, Baldwin grinned shamefacedly. But Simon could not help noticing that every now and again his eyes would drift back to that large doorway, as if dragged unwillingly. The men seemed to take an age to fetch the body out. They rolled it onto an old blanket, then with one man at each corner they hefted it and began to weave their circuitous way back to the entrance. They had to try to keep the blanket taut in order that the cloth did not touch the hot embers all around, and the force necessary was evidently great, making the men bend away from their load and each other as they struggled over 74 Michael Jecks the rubble and mess, stumbling and tripping as they went.

They had difficulties when they had to bend under the beam, at last reaching some mutual arrangement whereby one man went through—was it Black? Then, at last, they were making their way back to the doorway, and the others stood back to give them room as they made their way out, dropping the blanket with its unwholesome contents with irreverent haste as they grasped at the cloths covering their mouths, tearing them off so that they could breathe the sweet air again, away from the stench and dust inside.

The body rolled from the covering to lie on its back a foot or two from the waiting men. At the sight of the body, Simon could not help wincing in disgust and taking a short step back. The blackened and ruined body was clearly that of a well-proportioned man, broad in the shoulder and fairly tall. His clothes had burned away, or so it seemed, and the body was rigid and fixed, like clay that has been in the furnace.

But the bailiff recoiled and he had to turn away at the sight of the face, sucking in deep breaths in an attempt to keep his bile at bay. Baldwin grinned as he saw Simon spin away. It was natural at the sight of victims of the flames, he knew, but this was not the first time the knight had seen bodies ruined and burned, and he stared down, noting the position of the limbs with an impersonal detachment. The Last Templar 75 But when he studied the face his interest suddenly quickened. Where he would have expected to see agonized pain in the twisted features, there seemed to be none.

Puzzled, he stared at the body for a moment, then looked up toward the house. Then, like a hound on a scent, tense and eager, he strode up to the door, leaving Clifford and Simon gazing after him in their surprise.

Marching quickly, the knight strode through the door and, holding a sleeve to his nose and mouth, moved to the middle of the ruined house, peering through slitted eyes at the beam and the rubble all around.

Something was wrong, he felt sure. He stood and glowered at the door for the livestock, where the wood, at that end of the building almost untouched by the flames, still showed the scars from the horns and hoofs of the terrified oxen. Then he kicked at the ground a few times and crouched, apparently staring at some of the mess on the floor, before rising and leaving the room once more, coughing.

As the knight left the group, his departure made Simon turn and watch, and this sign that someone else at least was relatively unaffected made him determined to shoulder his responsibility with more dignity than he had so far exhibited. Squaring his shoulders, he forced his eyes down again. To his surprise, now, after the initial shock, he found himself less horrified, and he could look at the body with a degree of equanimity. At least, he felt, the man had no apparent signs of pain. His arms, he could see, were restfully at his side, not clawed to scrabble a way to safety, the legs were 76 Michael Jecks straight rather than contorted in an effort to crawl away.

It looked as if the man had passed away quietly in his sleep. Simon could sense a sadness, a fleeting empathy for the lonely end of this man, but little more. Then it struck him—why had the man not recognized his danger, awoken and tried to escape?

Surely he could not have slept through it? His brow wrinkled at the thought. The huddled blackened shape seemed to have no fears for Baldwin either. He returned and stood, arms on hips, glaring at the body as if daring it to argue with him.

Interested, Black wandered over to the group and glanced at the body, then at the men encircling it. It was not a question, it was a flat, dry statement, requiring no response, and Black saw Simon gazing back and nodding pensively. Clifford looked from one to the other with a frown of mild impatience. Of course he was relaxed.

He died in his sleep, I suppose. The smoke got to him while he slept. He too was frowning, wondering what the knight was driving at. All eight got out.

They would not have slept until the house was almost consumed, they would have woken as soon as the fire began. If they did, the man would have been woken by them—he was sleeping with them after all.

I think he was killed and the fire started to cover the murder. While the others gaped, the bailiff considered, looking up at the knight, peering at the building, then scratching his head and frowning at the ground. Baldwin shot a glance at Simon. Could someone have seen something?

He had only just been given his job—and now this knight already thought he had found a murder! If he had been asleep that noise would have woken him quickly enough, so he would not have been found in his bed. We would have found him near an entrance, or at least on his way to one. I cannot see any reason why he would have gone back to his bed after realizing that there was a fire—that, surely, is inconceivable.

So he cannot have been woken by his oxen. I refuse to believe that any man could be so heavy a sleeper that eight oxen stampeding nearby would not stir him. How could we be sure? You put fresh logs on it to keep it going overnight. It looked as if it had not been touched since the morning. That seems to show that he had not set it up for the night, but it also means that it would be unlikely that any sparks would have reached the ceiling.

The fire was too low. I am certain that he was killed. The question is, who did it? In front of them the road formed a red and muddy boundary to the small strips of the fields beyond, where the families of the hamlet grew their crops on those days when they had no responsibility to the fields owned by the manor. The sun was past its zenith, sweeping slowly across a sky that was, for once, almost miraculously free from clouds. Its brightness lit up the scenery with a soft splendor.

In front of them at the other side of the road was the sewer, but beyond it was the stream with the flat stone slabs of the clapper bridge crossing both, and over the ridge were the strips. They seemed almost to have been created to assist the inn by giving it a pleasant aspect.

It was as if they were radiating out with the inn building at their center, and their colors—soft red from the earth, white-yellow from the older crops, green from the grass—seemed to emphasize the rural nature of the scene. Beyond, the trees took over again. The great oaks and beeches, elms and sycamores dominated the whole area, lurking with indifferent ease at the edge of the habitation.

How long, Simon wondered, how long before these trees are removed and the strips expand farther into the forest? How long before new assarts are developed to push the trees back so that these poor people can have more lands for fields, so that they can have more food and not be so dependent on so little? But, looking at the ring of trunks, he wondered whether they could ever be pushed farther back. They seemed too substantial, too massive for puny humans to destroy.

Against his will, Black had agreed to join them, and he sat now in between Simon and the priest, while Baldwin had a stool, sitting in front of them. Edgar 80 Michael Jecks stood a short distance away as usual, his eyes flitting over the men with his master.