Matthew Burden, 2001
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Michael sat back, sipping
his wine quietly in the stillness of his chamber in York.
He had left the affairs of Newcastle
with some of his associates in the region and raced south again, glad to be
returning home after his long sojourn on the northern marches. He chuckled softly, throwing his head back to
quaff the last mouthful of the drink before rising from his seat. He stood and strode over to the
window, throwing the wooden cover back to reveal the darkness of nightfall. He shook his head, replaced the
cover over the window, and proceeded to where the fire was burning low
at the hearth.
As he bent down to pick up
the iron poker, the door of his chamber flew open and a young guard rushed in,
his eyes gleaming. “Sir!” he cried,
rushing over to where Michael was stooping.
The young noble smiled
cockily as he rose to face the guard.
Being the nephew of the Duke had certain advantages. “Yes, what is it?”
“I was in your uncle’s
audience chamber, sir,” he explained quickly, his breath coming fast, “I heard
that a group of travelers has arrived at the gate looking for Sir Justin.”
“It’s about time we had
news of this. Tell me, who was it that met them at the
gate?” When he heard the answer, he
frowned. “If this is true, then that
accursed Templar has already seen them.
Quick, go and post yourself near the gate to see if you can catch a
glimpse of them again. We will want to
The guard nodded, but
Michael spoke up once more before he left.
“What message did my idiot uncle give to them?”
“He merely said that Sir
Justin had deserted several months ago, sir.”
“Good,” Michael nodded. “It is a safe answer. Perhaps the old man is learning.”
The guard nodded and stepped
out of the room, closing the door behind him. As soon as he was gone, Michael stepped back to the window and ripped the cover off.
Gazing out into the darkness, he could just barely make out a small
grove of oaks on a distant hilltop. Nodding his satisfaction, he picked up a
torch, dipped it in oil, and set it in a sconce on the windowsill so that it
could be seen from outside. This
done, he held a flaming brand from the fire to it, setting it ablaze. The signal had been sent. Now all that could be done would be to wait
for them to come to his chamber.
~ ~ ~
Edward and Oswald were standing outside the
little house, listening to Malcolm tell about the strange encounter within the
“And none of them know
where he is?” Edward asked.
“Apparently not,” the Scot
sighed. “The guard gave me a message as
I was leaving. The Duke has apparently
claimed that Sir Justin deserted several months ago. The Templar gave me a more complete story. But…it still feels as though
they are hiding something. The Templar
was very vague, and I left with more questions than I had before.”
Oswald shook his head. “There are forces at work here that I don’t
think we want to become entangled with.”
Edward nodded, regarding the
loyal knight. “So should we just keep on
a course for London
Malcolm frowned. “I suppose that is what we would have to do,
but there's a problem. If anyone, even
a buyer we seek out, discovers that we have this robe,” he leaned in, speaking
in hushed tones, “then they might try to take it from us without compensation,
and Hannah’s uncle would die.”
“Yes, and we must be certain
it lands in the hands of a Christian who will be able to protect it,” Edward
added. “It seems likely to me that it
was the whole affair concerning this robe that trapped Sir Justin and
eventually overcame him. Hopefully the
robe’s claim alone will be enough to convince someone to purchase it.”
“Well, apparently we're not
the only ones who believe it could be the true robe,” said Malcolm. “I think we should
leave tomorrow and forget about Justin of York. Or else we will be in a situation where the
Templars know of it and your brother’s brigands know of it, and both are
seeking after it. And it seems there may
be even a third party, perhaps the worst, which is also seeking after our
relic—whoever it was that drove Justin away.
It's not an ideal situation for four travelers in strange country.”
Edward glanced over his
shoulder into the window of the little home, where he could see Hannah speaking
with the women of the house. Turning
back, he sighed. “Do you think the
Templars would aid us?"
The other two knights regarded him with raised eyebrows.
“Surely they can protect it adequately, and
their preceptories have enough wealth to provide the ransom.”
Malcolm shook his head. “I would consider it too risky. While they may be Christians, I don't know
that I would trust them with the knowledge of the robe. If they knew of it, they might attempt to
force it from us. It's better to seek
out a single buyer.”
“But what single buyer would
be able to adequately protect such a treasure?” Oswald wondered aloud.
At that instant, Malcolm
turned around, his neck craned to see the castle wall. “What do you suppose that means?” he
murmured, pointing to a torch blazing against the dark rampart.
“It’s a signal of some
sort,” Edward said. “But I can't imagine it would concern us. Come, let’s go
inside. I’m far too weary to debate
these things any further. And if we are
to set out tomorrow morning, we ought to get some sleep.”
~ ~ ~
Michael trembled, but
whether it was brought on by fear or excitement he could not tell. Three shadowy forms came into the room, their
dark cloaks blending in with the blackness of the night. The fire had long since died down, and it
added an air of mystery to the setting as the three men stood before Michael.
“We saw your signal,” one
man said, his voice soft, almost gentle in the still air.
“Yes,” Michael nodded. “I have news, my lords. I know my reports from Newcastle were of little use, but the robe
that Sir Justin brought may not be out of our hands yet. Four travelers were at the gate today asking
of his whereabouts. I thought perhaps they
might know of the robe.”
“And the Templar?” the
“I am quite certain he knows
of them as well.”
“That makes it more
difficult,” one of the other men said.
Michael nodded, waiting in
silence as his visitors discussed the matter in low whispers. All three were wearing hooded cloaks, but the
center one bore a distinguishing mark.
From his neck hung a bronze amulet showing a three-armed spiral twisting
out from one central point. It was a simple
symbol, but it transfixed Michael as he watched them.
“Michael,” the first one
spoke up as soon as their hushed colloquy ended. “You must keep watch for us tonight, and
accompany us tomorrow. We will have to
trail them to ascertain if indeed they know of this prize.”
He bowed his head at the
command, and they prepared to leave, but he stopped them with another
question. “Do you think it will be
enough to restore Britain
to the ways of the Druidae?” he asked.
Silence hung heavy for a
“No,” the third one
rasped. “But it will give us somewhere
~ ~ ~
The next day dawned even
darker than the one before, with a full cover of dark clouds
blanketing the sky. Despite the
threatening elements, however, the four companions set off again, eager to draw
themselves away from the intrigue surrounding the fate of Justin of York. As they found their way back to the main
southbound road, a drizzle began to fall. It was not long before their
cloaks were soaked through, and they began to feel rather miserable.
Malcolm pressed them on, constantly checking the road behind to assure himself that there was no
one in pursuit. But their pace was slow,
and by the time they stopped in a small grove to take their noon meal, they had
not ventured far from the city. It was
only as they began to rise and make their way back to the road that they heard
the rolling sound of horses in full stride bearing down on them from the north.
Like phantom silhouettes,
six riders burst out of the fog and reined in before them. All six were arrayed in the white cloaks of
the Templars, their naked blades swinging at their sides.
“Sir Malcolm!” the head
rider called, and the Scot recognized him as the same Templar who had
greeted him the day before.
“Greetings, Count,” Malcolm
bowed. “What brings you here?”
“You have been followed,”
the Templar breathed heavily.
“So it seems."
“I did not mean by us, Sir
Malcolm. There is another group of
riders that has been trailing you. Have
you not seen them? They've been riding
along the roadside to the west and north of you since you departed the
“We've seen no one since
you appeared. How can you be certain
they're following us? Maybe they're just traveling in the same direction.”
“They ride cloaked,” the
Templar said, “and hold to the edge of the forests. If I had not encountered them before, I would
not have been able to distinguish their presence either.”
“And who are they?” Edward
addressed the preceptor.
He regarded the other five
knights, who each nodded in turn. “Very
well,” he sighed. “Not many people know
of their presence, and that is perhaps a good thing. They are the Druidae.”
murmured. “Of Druids I know, but only
from the lore of ancient times. So they
He nodded somberly. “They are a disease to Christian England,” he
intoned, “a grave enemy of the faith.
They are few in number, but great in power. Some of the lords themselves are members, and
the lords who are not are often intimidated by their cruel mystery.”
“I thought England was rid of pagans years
ago,” Edward said.
The Templar nodded. “The Saxon kings became Christian centuries
ago, it is true, but there are still some who wait, lurking in the
dark groves and longing to see Britain
restored to its former taskmasters.
They thirst for a Britain
of old, when their petty gods of nature ruled supreme. It is a delusion, and a dangerous one. And they are after you.”
The last words hung
menacingly in the air. “Why would
they want us?” Hannah asked.
“It was perhaps foolish of
you to inquire after Justin of York, my friends,” his voice was grim. “There is much to the story that you do not
know, and hopefully that you will never have the displeasure of finding
out. Let it simply be said that the Druidae
were the ones who hunted Justin down, and it was their treachery that forced him
to run out into the wilderness.”
“But surely they must be
after something,” Malcolm pressed, eager to find out how much the Templars knew. “What was it about
Justin that makes them so afraid?”
“Justin,” the Templar
sighed, looking at the four travelers, “had in his possession a certain…object,
yes, an object of great import. And
somehow he lost it, or hid it, no one knows which. It is something that the Druidae hope would
give them a wedge of power over Christians and perhaps begin the process of
back to their ways. Ever since
Justin disappeared, they have been searching for any scrap of information that
might tell them what happened to the object in question.”
Edward gave him a penetrating look. “And you—the Templars—what is your concern in
The Templar smiled. “We have been given a quest from
the Grand Master of our order to find and secure this object before they do,
and to obstruct them in any way necessary from finding it.”
“And you think we have
this thing?” Hannah pressed.
“No, my lady. I thought that at first, but after speaking
with Sir Malcolm I am fairly certain that you know nothing of the events in
which you have become an unwilling part.
Although I would like to know more of your relation to Sir Justin, my
primary concern is that you be protected from the Druidae on your journey. No, if I thought you had this object, my
friends, have no doubt that I would have called out every Templar in the realm
to find you.”
“Then I suppose we
have no recourse but to accept your protection, sirs,” Edward said.
The Templar nodded and
allowed them to take the lead down the road as they set off again. As they rode, Edward could
hear the Knights of the Temple
whispering among themselves.
Although he could not make out any part of the conversation, nagging
doubts kept surfacing in his mind, never giving him peace. Something did not seem to fit in with the
Templars’ story, but he couldn't pin down the feeling. It was just a premonition, an awful, terrible
sense that logic would not verify, but that would not leave him despite his
efforts to clear his mind.
Whispering to Malcolm, he
spoke nervously. “I'm not certain of
the veracity of these knights. They have something that they haven't told
us, something very important.”
“I know,” his friend replied
with an uneasy voice, “I know.”