Symbol of the OrderL. D. Dailey / History & Fiction / Thrillers & Crime
f the Order
By L. D. Dailey
Copyright 2014 L. D. Dailey
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Sitting in front of a sacked mosque, the watcher strained weary eyes against the rising sun obscuring the Temple of Solomon. A new day in the Holy Land did little to stave off the chill. The beggar-in-disguise pressed his rags, newly acquired from a deceased contributor, tighter around his slim frame.
The Byzantine cursed the name of Emperor Alexius, even while serving the man as his spymaster. "Jerusalem, the Kingdom of Heaven." A cynical snort answered his own mutters, "Nothing here but a den of thieves, murderers, and rapists. These fools pose no threat to the empire, just Christian wolves killing Muslim dogs, the whole lot of them."
Thoughts drifted to his wife and two sons back in the empire as a pilgrim strode by and tossed some coins in a cracked bowl. The spymaster lifted his face and met the eyes of the supposed benefactor, memorizing his features out of habit, giving a false smile of thankfulness, before returning to the mission.
Four men, squires and men-at arms exited the temple. The Knights Templar, the members fancied themselves, these pitiful warmongers of no standing or consequence in their homelands. A tattered standard rustled as the desert wind blew by, displaying two armored men astride one horse, an all too true sign of their wealth.
The spy found it odd that the men charged with guarding the Pilgrim Road would embark so early. A fifth, breastplate covered with an ivory tabard dyed with the crimson cross, exited the building. The watcher smiled at the unmistakable dark eyes and high cheekbones covered with an ebony beard matching his shoulder length hair. Grand Master Hugh de Payens, why would he embark on a simple escort mission? Most curious.
In silence, the spymaster, trailed the mounted Templar Knights on foot, keeping to the shadows of ruined husks that once housed Muslim families, a tattered remnant of life before the wolves came, before the Crusaders captured their prize. The party exited the St. Stephen's Gate and traveled a northwestern route.
The watcher raced to the nearby inn, tossing his disguise in an alley, displaying the garments of a wealthy Byzantine trader beneath. The master of disguise slowed his sprint as he approached the opening, smoothing his silks before crossing the threshold.
A slim proprietor, his angular face creased with a perpetual frown, greeted the trader with a mere creasing of thin lips. "Good day, Silvanus Moschus, breakfast?"
"My horse, and quickly, I have a client in the west. The fool wants to trade wool for olives - -- olives for God's sake!" Silvanus smiled as his blasphemy caused the dreary man to widen his mahogany eyes and rush to the stable himself, rather than rely on the stableman. Mentally, he chided the actions that would only bring more attention upon him, make the mission harder to complete, delaying the return home. Somehow, however, he could not help the antagonistic streak within. His loathing of God-fearing hypocrites ran deep.
Moments later, Moschus mounted a chestnut gelding and raced out to catch his quarry. Alone and unarmed, he kept a safe distance, following the fresh tracks churning up the dirt road in the knights' haste.
The crimson sun crested an azure horizon as he pulled reign atop a large rise, surveying a small city dominated by the ruins of a Byzantine monastery upon a large hill. "Mons Gaudi." Even in a shell of its former glory, the church awed him. "Then this is Arimathea." Silvanus thought back to his lessons, drilled into his photographic memory as an adolescent. "Nothing here but peasants, so why are the Templars here?"
"Because they are fools, as are you."
Turning to the voice from behind, he blinked at the Arab, stunned by his ability to speak Greek.
The man, donned in the golden garb of the Saracen army smiled, showing a row of gleaming teeth though his ebony beard trimmed to the size of a man's fist. "My knowledge of your heathen tongue surprises you. I learned Greek from our Greek slaves."
Silvanus offered the soldier silent congratulations for following him undetected, and on foot no less. "Why are you here?" Silvanus asked in fluent Arabic. "You're a Saracen. You were beaten, your people slaughtered."
The fighter replied with a nod, a sad nod, hidden behind angry eyes affirming Silvanus' recollection of events. "Yes, but a man must eat." With the practiced fluidity of a trained killer, he unsheathed a scimitar and raised it high, screaming to Allah for victory as the blade rushed downward.
Silvanus leaped from his horse, sacrificing the animal to the killing stroke. The weapon stuck horseflesh and the beast whinnied in pain. The animal kicked and bucked, striking the bandit in the face before running off to die.
Silvanus recovered from the brush with death and scurried over to the corpse to make sure the assailant died. A snapped neck confirmed his thoughts. The naked desert before him offered no other surprises. Deeming it safe, Moschus removed his colorful clothes, displaying a filthy cotton robe and linen pants. Without a second thought, he trekked onward to Arimathea, leaving the weapon behind. A pilgrim strayed from the Pilgrim Road proved a poor disguise without the need of an Arabic weapon to heighten suspicion.
The beggar turned merchant turned pilgrim stared at the sights of Arimathea and beheld an odd assortment of Christians, Jews, and Muslims. A lone church bell rang in the distance. An Arab shouted the call to prayer from the heights of a domed mosque. Silvanus found the harmony difficult to comprehend. These peasants found some semblance of community within a province too unimportant for the new king to claim. The meager society offered hope for humanity to the spy's cynical mind. No wolves here – yet.
Silvanus approached an old beggar sitting in the dirt and queried about the knights' whereabouts in German, French, and Greek before settling on Hebrew. The old man shrugged knobbed shoulders, visible through a flimsy garment of stretched linen, and looked away. With a deep sigh, Silvanus tossed a pair of coppers into his bowl. The old man rubbed a clean-shaven chin, assuming a mask of deep thought that made Moschus roll his eyes while depositing a silver coin. Failing to hide surprise, the informant's thundercloud eyes grew wide as the silver rolled about the bowl. He reached for the coin, a cough from Silvanus gave him pause, and he deftly pointed to a steep hill behind Silvanus. "Tomb of Samuel."
Sparse outcroppings provided scant cover as the spy crawled up toward the tomb. He spied three men dislodging the boulder guarding the dead. Three? With the speed of a cat, Silvanus turned around, and found nothing but shanties to his back.
The sound of hooves racing along the ground turned his attention once more to the grave robbers. Five unmanned horses fled across the landscape. Four men gave a valiant chase before realizing the futility of it. Madness piled on madness.
One of the men-at-arms saw him and pointed. He turned to flee and almost impaled his neck on a sword aimed at his exposed throat.
"Why are you here?"
Silvanus understood the Frenchman and replied in German, "I don't understand you."
A shadow loomed over him and Silvanus twisted his head to see, scraping the swords edge along his neck. A trickle of blood stained his pale tunic.
Hugh de Payens stepped from behind the rock and spat at Silvanus' feet, "A Frank." The eerie sound of unsheathed steel caused Moschus to close his eyes in uncharacteristic fear.
Another Templar approached from the left, hard eyed and grimfaced. An arrowhead scar marred his sun-darkened cheek. "Do we kill him, my lord?"
Lord Hugh shook his head. "No, not here on holy ground. Your thoughts must be pure, sergeant. It is the only way." Payens looked down into Silvanus' eyes, "What do I do with you, peasant? I cannot kill you and I cannot set you free." He nodded over Silvanus' shoulder.
Pain against the base of his skull buckled him over, followed by darkness.
Darkness surrounded him as Silvanus awoke with an exploding headache making the simple tasks of thinking straight and moving difficult. Detaching himself from the pain, Silvanus focused of his plight. The darkness turned out to be a blindfold. His immobility came from binds against hands and feet. The spymaster refused to panic, choosing to fall into his training instead, determined to ascertain the situation with his remaining senses.
The ground felt cold, hard, and dry. A cell? No. I feel rocks, dirt, there's no wind -- the tomb? I'm in the damned tomb! Panic pricked through his mental shroud, but he tamped it back down as the inklings of a plan surfaced.
Silvanus crawled along the floor, looking for anything resembling a sharp object. After minutes of searching, he found nothing. Very well. Now it's time to panic.
A terrified scream echoed across the cave. The sounds of boots sprinting toward him caused Silvanus to squirm and crawl toward a perceived wall. The screamer tripped over his prone body. Silvanus heard a sickening crack of skull against stone. The screams died in an instant.
Silvanus acted without