Here’s an excerpt:
Liber Ignum Per Comburandum Hostes. Recipe 13: Take 1 pound of sulfur, 3 pounds of charcoal from linden or willow, and 9 pounds of saltpeter. Finely grind these on a marble plate. Then pour this powder into a cylindrical vessel of your choosing. Ignite with candle flame. Suitable for flying to reach into the heavens.
Marcus Graecus A.D. 1307
The harsh pre-dawn chatter of the starlings nested in the nooks and crannies of the Cistercian abbey’s field-stone buildings is stilled by the neighing of horses, clatter of donkey carts and the rustling of armed men moiling about the monasteries inner courtyard. Through his unexpected pre-dawn arrival, backed by force of arms, the King’s Inquisitor Knight known as LeCarte controls the Cistercian Monastery at Limon in the South of France.
In the sparse pale light of the newly risen Sun, several members of LeCarte’s bellicose entourage restrain four teenage novitiates who are clothed in server’s white cassocks for the morning liturgy. Sniggering in contemptuous mockery, the foot soldiers pin the frightened adolescents against one of the chapel’s buttresses, forcing the youths to stand arms extended crucifixion style. They taunt the religious acolytes and make fun of their clerical dress with insulting slurs.
The main body of LeCarte’s military contingent, wearing the Fleur deLise of Phillip the Fair embroidered on their mantles, confronts the remainder of the abbey’s cloister who are gathered for morning prayer within the monastery’s chapel. Only two of the orders members are missing from the morning devotion, the Abbot’s deputy priest, Ardilus, and the orders anomalous lay-brother, Teadore. The elderly prior, Ardilus, who normally sits in the chapel sanctuary to offer assistance to his youthful Abbot has not been seen since daybreak. A gifted theologian and the father confessor of the monastery, Ardilus is but one of four former Knights Templar who reside within the Cistercian community at Limon. Teadore, the enigmatic chief scribe of the order, is away. He is walking a pilgrimage to the Holy Land with a newly formed band of penitents. A duty imposed by him by his confessor’s absolution for the immoral sin of self- aggrandizement. Teadore is expected to return in late October or early November to resume his duties in the Limon monastery’s copy room. In his absence, while Teadore attends to his penance, prior Ardilus is watching over the abbey’s skilled calligraphers.
Hardly older than his novice acolytes, the priory’s youthful nobleman Abbot, Cahcac, stands rooted left of center below the high altar’s steps in the narrow sanctuary. His boyish, clean cut face reflects the golden glow of the twelve beeswax candles flickering on the communion table. In honor of the martyred Onesimus, patron of the Cistercian Monastery at Limon Cahcac is robed in a new, red chasuble, a gift from his maternal grandmother. He is wearing it for the first time to celebrate the annual October thirteenth Saint Onesimus day candle mass.
Before his solemn chant of Introibo ad altare Dei to begin the service is sung to the faithful he has been quieted; interrupted by the sudden appearance of LeCarte, who is flanked by his sergeants in the foyer of the somber chapel.
Feigning authority the young Abbot brushes at the circle of curly yellow hair surrounding his shaven head with his finger tips and then affects a nonchalant posture at the trespass into the abbey’s tabernacle. Against his will he began to shudder. His heart pounds wildly within his chest and his shaking hands start to beat against the fabric of his alb. To steady his nerves the cherub faced priest fumbles with the knots of the cincture cord girding his waist. He does not say a word.
Cahcac is neither a Templar nor a tutored Cistercian priest. He owns his position through his father’s nobility and the Cahcac family’s financial clout at Pope Clements’s court in Poitiers. He knows that there has been ill will recently, toward the Cistercian Order by the King because of their ties to the Knights Templar. Even though his secluded monastery at Limon does board four former Knights, Cahcac had been unconcerned. He believes King Philip’s ire to be manifest only toward the Templar’s Grand Master, Jacques de Moley.
Inexperienced in canon law and political matters, Cahcac tries to think of what to say or do. Nothing occurs to him. All of his decisions concerning the monastery are made for him by his deputy priest, Ardilus. Like a dying man clutching at a vile of holy water Cahcac searches the mornings assembly seeking his deputy for advice. His search is in vain. Ardilus is nowhere to be seen.
Unable to locate his prior, Cahcac’s gaze focuses on the statue of the abbey’s patron saint fixed in place behind the chapel’s lone bye-altar. He stares intently across the chapel at the carved figure. In return Saint Onesimus’ blank, marble face stares back at him reminding Cahcac that it was his own cunning idea to avoid military duty as a noble that brought him to become Lord Abbot of the Cistercian Monastery at Limon. In a moment of self-pity an expression of frustration washes over his face. He would have welcomed childhood tears. But he blinks them back to smile faintly at the fruit of his own conceit as though he had received a blessed dispensation from the marbleized saint. Like holy Onesimus himself, Cahcac is a born again believer. He accepts abstinent Catholicism only because of the social conditions affecting his personal safety and comfort.
Acting on the direct order of King Phillip to punish all Templars for the crime of practicing alchemy, LeCarte intends to deliver to the Knights Templar at the Limon monastery their just retribution for this profanation. Within the last fortnight the Order of the Temple in France had affronted their King by withholding their monetary support of his rule. In retaliation Philip accused the Templars of heresy. And Philip’s caustic pronouncement was quickly sanctioned by Clement the Catholic Pope as an illegal activity against the church’s sacred teachings, a mortal sin of blasphemy.
After placing his sergeants in position about the chapel the King’s Inquisitor Knight entered the sanctuary. Striding past the immobile Abbot, LeCarte moved through the consecrated area. He stopped short of the sacristy door.
Holding this pivotal position next to the closed door LeCarte stands at ease within the chapel’s inner sanctum. From this strategic location the fully armored Knight can watch the congregation and direct the action of his sergeants and foot soldiers. He rests one gloved hand casually on the hilt of a short-sword encased in a bejeweled scabbard that hangs from his knotted leather belt.
Flushed from the unseasonably warm October weather, LeCarte’s battle scarred face pokes out of the chain mail of his hauberk to show off a hawk like nose and reddish-brown mustache. Beads of sweat form along his forehead and drip from the edges of his bushy eyebrows. Perspiration runs down the inside of the close-fitting leather of a skullcap he wears under his metal tunic to settle in his beard. A veteran of nine years of crusade in Jerusalem, LeCarte is accustomed to the discomfort that warm weather brings to battle dress but he loathes the rancid smell that accumulated sweat produces in full body armor.
He intends to complete his task and be out of his heavy siege garb and into light riding clothes before the high heat of this Friday arrives.
In stark contrast to the worn and threadbare clothing of the monks, the King’s Inquisitor Knight wears a finely woven black surcoat over his chain mail. The silky garment is embroidered front and back with the white Pattee cross of the Sovereign Military Hospitaller Order of Saint John, King Phillip’s honor guard.
Once situated, LeCarte hesitates for a moment and then turns to issue a conditional request. “Brothers,” he calls out. “Honor your King and your Pope.” His base voice resonates with authority. It rolls like thunder off of the curved wall behind the main altar and reverberates down like hail from the chapel’s vaulted domes onto the intimate gathering of kneeling monks.
Justifying his behavior for his unannounced early morning arrival LeCarte continues to speak.“I seek the occult heretic Marcus Graecus.” Signify his need for assistance he moves his hands outward in a peaceful sign of supplication. “Who here knows of him?” he inquires.