Monday, November 19, 2012

The Templar and the True Cross IV

    It had been seven years since de Montpellier had seen Paris. The last time he was here he had to flee for his life under cover of darkness. Today he entered the town with mixed emotions, feelings of both nostalgia and resentment. To Sir Jean-Marc, the city had not changed much. Paris was situated on the Seine River. The city was divided into three main sections; the town or ville on the right bank of the river, the university on the left, and in between the Ile de la Cité. This island on the Seine was the true heart of France. Notre Dame, Sainte-Chapelle and the Royal Palace were all recent additions to the Cité, making Paris the most modern city. The many universities were advanced and highly prized, attracting people from all over Europe.    Sir Jean-Marc entered the town from the north on the right bank of the river. The city appeared even more crowded than he remembered it, as more people moved away from farms and into urban areas. He recalled an adage he had frequently heard in his travels; ‘Town air make men free’, the saying went. For Jean-Marc, who had known both the open sea and the open land, he could not make much sense of the adage. Towns were offensive to him. Not only the unsightly manner in which the buildings were huddled tightly together, but even more offensive was the smell of animals, rotting refuse, and open holes used as privies.  

      The Templar passed two and three-storey houses that doubled as merchant shops. The second storey overhung the ground floor, allowing more living space in the former than the latter. Shutters on the front of the house closed up the shop at night, while in the day the shutters pivoted down to serve as a trestle on which goods were displayed. In the living quarters at the rear was an open fire for cooking and warmth. The smoke from the fires found its way out of the house through open windows and cracks. Since these merchants catered to the predominantly illiterate class, their shops were often identified with pictures such as a boot to indicate a cobbler, a fish to indicate a fish store or the red and white pole that was the mark of a barber. Many, if not all, of the merchants and craftsmen belonged to guilds who rigidly controlled their own trade. 
    Sir Jean-Marc de Montpellier crossed one of the four bridges that joined the town and Ile de la Cité. Here on this island, a primitive Celtic tribe had built a fortification, holding the island until the Romans drove them away in 52 B.C. The Romans had abandoned the island nearly five hundred years later, and soon Paris welcomed her first Frankish king. The Viking raids in the 9th Century prompted the Capetian kings to rebuild the city and make Paris the capital of France.    
    On Ile de la Cité, the houses were finer than in the town— some were even made of stone—but still lay cramped and crowded. These were the homes of rich merchants who vied for the king’s attention and bought it with rich sums that provided arms and armies. Also on the island flourished some of the finest craftsmen in all France, such as silk weavers, furniture makers, silversmiths, makers of musical instruments, and those who produced illuminated manuscripts.

    Once on the island, Jean-Marc went immediately to the Royal Palace. He was able to enter the palace of the king by a prearranged signal that accompanied the message he received weeks ago ordering him to return to France under the king’s protection. Seven years had passed since Sir Jean-Marc had fled to escape death at the king’s hand, and if the knight had a sense of humour, he might just laugh at the irony of the situation. He did not, however, have much of a sense of humour, and nor could he find anything amusing about the entire matter. Whatever light-hearted feelings he might have possessed he lost on Friday, October 13, 1307, a date that would forever live in perfidy, and one he himself could never forget. For Sir Jean-Marc, it was a date that would forever be accursed in his heart of hearts, and one he would ever consider the epitome of infamous dishonour. For it was on that day that King Philip IV ordered the arrest of every Templar knight in France. At the time, Jean-Marc de Montpellier had been twenty-seven years old and only a Templar for six years, but in those six years he had felt more vital, more a part of something noble and righteous and Godly than he had in his entire life. He had served closely under Jacques de Molay, leader of the Knights Templar since first joining the order, and aside from his own father, Jean-Marc had never loved or respected a man more. Jaques de Molay was thirty-five years Jean-Marc’s senior but the two became close friends and were seldom seen apart.
    They had been on the island of Cyprus when a message reached them to return to France in 1307, at the order of the king. Jean-Marc’s family had been loyal to the throne for generations and none suspected any treachery until it was too late and all the Templars were placed under arrest. Regardless of Jean-Marc’s association to the king, he could expect no preferential treatment, and when an opportunity to escape presented itself, de Montpellier had been forced to take it. Naturally he did not wish to leave his comrades, but de Molay and the others ordered Jean-Marc to flee. He would carry the guilt of that action to his grave.  
         * * * * *

    In a small audience hall, King Philip le Bel sat upon a high-back throne of intricately carved wood and inlaid with precious stones. The room was small in comparison to the king’s official audience chamber, but this meeting was to be anything but official. It had not been an easy nor a rash decision to recall Sir Jean-Marc de Montpellier back to France, but Philip felt he had little choice. Things could not go on as they were. It now seemed inevitable that this day would come. They had known, of course, where de Montpellier had been. They had known for over two years. Philip le Bel had been content to allow the knight to live out his days in exile. That fool de Nogaret had wanted to send assassins to kill him when his whereabouts had been discovered, but the king could not allow that. And what if he had? What if Philip had taken de Nogaret’s council and had sent assassins to kill the knight? Where would they be now? There was a very good chance the assassins would have failed. De Montpellier was no ordinary man, no ordinary knight. There had always been something special about that one, the king knew. But what would happen now? How would de Montpellier respond? Would he come to his king’s aid? Of course he would, Philip concluded. The man was the epitome of honour and duty. After all, patris est filius.
    “I advise your Majesty not to meet him alone. Allow me to stay by your side. If not by your side, then behind the tapestry.”
    The King of France gazed up from his musings. The words had come from Sir Gwayne de Chartres.
    “You would hide behind the tapestry like some common ...” the king could not imagine what he could compare it to, and shook his head in disgust. “He would find you out, Sir Gwayne. He has ways of knowing things. He would never hide behind a tapestry.” 
    The words were not meant to belittle the knight, but they served that result, and so Sir Gwayne grew silent.
    “He has too much honour,” the king continued as if speaking to himself. “He would potius mori quam foedari—rather die than be dishonoured. That is his weakness, and if the time comes, it is something we may use against him.
    “No,” the king said, taking on a less introspective tone, “if I am to meet Sir Jean-Marc, it must be alone. I must show him my trust if I am to take him into our confidence.”
    “Perhaps de Montpellier has no love for his Majesty,” de Chartres posed.
    “Perhaps he has no love for you, Sir Gwayne,” the king came back, and before the knight could protest further, the king dismissed him with a wave of his hand. “Leave us. Signal that he is to be sent in.” 

                * * * * *

    Now in the palace of the king once again, Sir Jean-Marc was led by a servant to an antechamber. He had known the castle in his youth, but did not remember ever seeing this room. Wordlessly the servant bid Jean-Marc to enter the room, and just as silently he left the knight alone. Slowly de Montpellier paced about the room, not knowing what to expect or where all this would lead. After a considerable wait, a door that had gone unnoticed up until now, opened in the wall. A young knight Jean-Marc did not know approached him and bowed slightly. He asked the Templar on his word of honour if he carried any weapons. De Montpellier raised his hands from his sides and indicated he was without a weapon. Satisfied, the knight motioned to the hidden door in the wall. Hesitantly Jean-Marc approached it, and passed through.
    He came out into a familiar room, the king’s small audience chamber. Still, it was a large room, with a polished marble floor, and tall columns that led up to an arched ceiling. At one end of the room an elaborate tapestry hung upon the wall. The tapestry was of King Louis IX—who was canonized in 1289—as he sat beneath an oak tree outside the palace dispensing justice and healing sick subjects. Before the tapestry, twin thrones sat upon a raised dias. One of the chairs was empty— and had been so since Queen Jeanne I had died in 1305—yet upon the other throne sat Philip IV, King of France. As Jean-Marc approached the monarch, he recalled why the king was known as Philip le Bel,  for even at forty-six years of age, the king still presented a striking figure. Philip le Bel was the epitome of a strong and appealing leader. He was a tall, handsome fellow, with long blond hair and striking blue eyes. He carried himself with all the confidence and kingly bearing of a man anointed by God. Yet to de Montpellier, the king’s appearance seemed hampered with worry and a solemnity that rivalled Jean-Marc’s own.
    The Templar approached the throne, his footfalls echoed with a hollow sound. He knelt on one knee before the king with head bowed.

    “Rise Sir Knight,” commanded the king in a royal intonation. De Montpellier did as he was bid and the king spoke in a more familiar tone. “We are pleased to see you again, Sir Jean-Marc de Montpellier. Your presence fills a void in our heart that has long been vacant. Come, let me embrace you as a true son of France.”
    The king rose and descended the steps while de Montpellier took an awkward step forward. The two men put their arms about one another, but neither believed it to be more than a token gesture.
    The king pulled back, and taking the Templar by the arm the two walked the hall slowly.
    “It pains us to tell you of your father’s death,” King Philip spoke with genuine sadness. “He was our true friend and we miss him. But now you are here and it is almost like old times, my son. You wear your hair so short, now.” Philip le Bel stroked his own long, luxuriant locks, and when Jean-Marc said nothing, the king proposed, “Shall we talk of happier days; when you, as a boy would visit me here. Though I have three sons of my own, you were always my favourite. And not only mine—Isabella is married now to Edward and living in England. She would have been happy to see you after all these years.”
    Jean-Marc retained a solemn silence.
    “Are you waiting for permission to speak?” the king asked. “I do not remember you being so quiet. Tell me, how does it feel to be home again?”
    “It feels... strange, Sire” the knight spoke lowly. “It no longer feels like my home.”
    “But of course it is,” the king reassured him. “France can be the only true home for a true Frenchman. The monastery where we found you... where was it?”
    “Castille, Sire.”
    “Castille is not France,” Philip said with a suppressed chuckle. “Do you believe, my son, as I do, that God created France to be the centre of the Empire?”
    “Is that why you brought the papacy here?”
    “That was not entirely my doing,” the king said with conviction. “The Pontiff understood that for Christianity to survive, France must survive, France must lead. For France to lead, she must fight our enemies, and to fight our enemies we must have the finances. Do you understand?”
    “Finances. Is that why you brought about the end of the Templars?” Jean-Marc asked evenly and without emotion. “For money?”
    King Philip donned a staid countenance. “Stet pro ratione voluntas—let my will stand as a reason!  It is not for you to question the motives of the king,” he stated. “You were young then. You were not in the country to know what was happening. The bishops and the barons fought for the demise of the Templars. The Hospitallers gained much afterwards. Regardless of what you may have heard, I was not the prime mover that brought down the Templars.”
    “But you might have prevented it,” Jean-Marc insisted.
    “I was trying to hold a country together,” the king stated forcefully. “Can you understand that? Everything I did, everything I do is ex aequo et bono—according to what is just and good. My duty is to France. Your duty is to France. That is why I called you back. That is why you are here.”

The Templar and the True Cross on Amazon

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