Limassol, Cyprus April 1292

Looking out from the eastern parapet of Kolossi Citadel’s square tower, Jacques DeMolay gazed across the open expanse of the Mediterranean, his white mantle and thick auburn beard fluttering against a warm breeze. For a knight nearing fifty, his regal features—long nose, penetrating gray eyes, firm brow, and sculpted cheekbones— were surprisingly youthful. His cropped hair was thick and peppered with gray.

Though he couldn’t actually see the shores of the Holy Land, he swore he could smell the perfume of its sweet eucalyptus trees.

It had been almost a year since Acre, the last major Crusader stronghold in the eastern Kingdom of Jerusalem, had fallen to the Egyptian Mamluk’s. The siege lasted six bloody weeks, until the then Grand Master, Guillaume DeBeaujeu, had thrown down his sword and retreated from the citadel wall to the rebukes of his men. DeBeaujeu had responded: “Je ne m’enfuit pas...Je suis mort.”—“I’m not running away. I am dead.” Raising up his bloody arm, he had shown them the arrow plunged deep into his side. Then he had fallen, never to rise again.

Now, DeMolay wondered if DeBeaujeu’s death had foretold the fate of the very Order itself.

“Monsieur,” a French voice called over to him.

He turned toward the young scribe standing by the steps. “Oui?”

“He is ready to speak with you,” he announced.

DeMolay nodded and followed the boy down into the belly of the castle, the chainmail body armor worn beneath his mantle jingling as he descended the stone steps. He was led into a vaulted stone chamber where the new Grand Master, a haggard Tibald DeGaudin, lay in a bed positioned at its center. The fetid air reeked of physical neglect.

DeMolay tried to not focus on DeGaudin’s bony hands, covered with open sores. His face was equally appalling—ghastly white with yellow eyes bulging from sunken sockets. “How are you feeling?” The attempt at being cordial sounded forced.

“As well as I look.” He contemplated the bloodred pattee cross that decorated DeMolay’s mantle, just above his heart.

“Why am I here?” Regardless of the Grand Master’s unfortunate condition, he was first and foremost DeMolay’s rival.

“To discuss what will happen when I am gone.” DeGaudin’s voice was scratchy. “There are things you need to know.”

“I know only that you refuse to gather a new army to take back what we have lost,” replied DeMolay defiantly.

“Come now, Jacques. This again? The pope is dead and with him, any hope of another crusade. Even you can admit that without the support of Rome, we have no chance of survival.”

“I will not accept that.”

Pope Nicholas IV, Catholicism’s first Franciscan pope and an advocate of the Knights Templar, had tried in vain to garner support for another crusade. He had held synods attempting to unite the Templars with the Knights of St. John. He had raised funding to equip twenty ships, even sending emissaries as far as China to foster military alliances. Only days earlier, the sixty-four-year-old pope had died abruptly from natural causes in Rome.

“Many in Rome claim that Nicholas’s death was no accident.” DeGaudin’s tone was conspiratorial.

DeMolay’s face tightened. “What?”

“The pope’s devotion to the Church was undeniable,” he continued. “But he made many enemies, particularly in France.” The Grand Master raised a faltering hand. “As you know, King Philip has been taking drastic measures to fund his military campaigns. Arresting Jews in order to seize their assets. He’s levied a tax of fifty percent on French clergy. Pope Nicholas protested these things.”

“Surely you are not saying that Philip had him killed?”

The Grand Master shielded a cough with his sleeve. When he pulled it away, spots of blood dotted the fabric. “Just know that Philip’s ambition is to control Rome. The Church has a much bigger problem to contend with. Jerusalem will have to wait.”

For a long moment, DeMolay was silent. His gaze shifted back to DeGaudin. “You know what lies beneath Solomon’s Temple. How can you ignore such things?”

“We are only men, Jacques. What lies there, only God himself protects.

You would be a fool to think that we have done anything to change that.” “What makes you so certain?”

DeGaudin managed a thin smile. “Need I remind you that for centuries before we arrived in Jerusalem, many others had also fought to protect those secrets? We have only played a small role in this legacy, but I am certain that we are not to be the last.” He paused. “I know your intentions. Your will is strong. The men listen to you. And when I am gone, you will no doubt try to have your way.”

“Is that not our duty? Is that not why we swore an oath to God?”

“Perhaps. But maybe what we have hidden all these years needs to be revealed.”

DeMolay drew close to the Grand Master’s haggard face. “Such revelations would destroy everything we know!”

“And in its place, something better may emerge.” DeGaudin’s voice dropped to a whisper. “Have faith, my friend. Put down your sword.”


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