Saturday, October 29, 2005

Chapter 1

Chapter 1
July, 1515
The young knight hoped their group would not encounter any natives today. The trip so far had been fairly uneventful, with only a few sightings of the native people. Most of them were average in size with dark hair and skin, but not so dark as the one and only African he had ever seen and without the curly hair. He had seen drawings of people from the East in books and these new natives looked more similar to those exotic people. These natives had weapons, but they were mostly spears or bows and arrows. These had proven useless, so far, against the knights’ heavy armor and it usually only took one shot from Geoffrey’s weapon to convince those they had encountered that the travelers were not worth the trouble. Thomas was not a coward, but he hoped things remained calm. There was too much yet to do and the knights thought they might have others to worry about besides the natives.

Suddenly the horse in front of him stopped. The young man reined in his own mount, wondering why the group had stopped. He looked ahead and saw that the forest had thickened in front of them, leaving a passage wide enough to permit only one man to pass at a time. The knights sat silently and listened. He didn’t like it, though the lead knight motioned for the group to proceed, one at a time through the dense brush. The tenth man had just entered the pass when an arrow shot through the air, striking one of the knights in the throat. As the blood spurted from the wound in an arc the dead knight fell from his mount and his horse ran wildly out from under him. The horse reared, it’s hooves flailing at the air, dropping, and, finally, running straight into the dense forest, ripping its flesh wildly in the thick brambles, thorns, and underbrush, adding further noise and chaos to the sudden attack. In one of those strange moments of compressed time, the young knight could see that some of the stream of hot blood had hit the ground after the other knight’s body.

The remaining knights drew their swords, thick, curving blades that a cavalryman could stick into a standing enemy at a dead run, and count on the curve to pull the sword free as the mounted knight sped on by. The knights quickly spurred their mounts in the opening to put as much distance between one another as possible so as to make themselves more difficult targets. It would also give them room to maneuver and charge as a single mass once their foe was sighted. Two knights, however, converged together in order to prepare their new weapon.

The arrows then rained down upon the knights, all at once, as quickly as a cloud bursting forth, but, fortunately, most of them bounced harmlessly off of the their thick breastplates, the stone arrowheads shattering where they met Scottish iron. Finally, the strange new weapon was ready for use and Geoffrey, who carried the long stick-like instrument, touched the burning wick to a small amount of prepared powder and, an instant later, a huge booming sound filled the air. Instantly, the torrent of arrows stopped as the surrounding natives fled the immense sound. A minute later, Geoffrey repeated the process to frighten off any courageous stragglers.
The entire battle had lasted only a few moments, but it seemed much longer to the youthful knight, especially now that the only sounds that filled his ears were the crashes of the natives retreating through the underbrush and the heavy breathing of the other knights. At least that was all he could hear, anyway. His ears were also still ringing from the discharges of Geoffrey’s weapon. The smell of the burnt sulfur hung in the air.

A few of the other knights had dismounted and were beginning to care for their wounded brothers. Three of their number had sustained injuries and one man was dead. Those who were injured had their wounds temporarily dressed and the dead man was tied in his saddle while a prayer was uttered over his corpse. The group had decided to continue on in case the natives decided to return. The wounded and the dead would be properly attended to when the conditions were not as precarious as they were now.

***

During the tense ride away from the scene of the skirmish, the young knight decided to ease some of his own tension by questioning Geoffrey about his weapon. The other knight was happy to oblige. He told the younger man that the new weapon was called a gun or musket and that he had purchased the weapon from a Portuguese sailor for a considerable sum shortly before their current expedition had departed. Geoffrey pulled out the weapon for a more visual explanation.

“You see,” he said enthusiastically, wrapping his hand around the broad end of the musket and pointing to the metal shaft, “A small lead ball comes out of this end when you pull the trigger,” he pointed again. “The trigger causes the burning wick to come down on top of this bit of black powder, and BANG! out comes the ball, traveling very fast. If one of these should happen to hit you, it would leave quite a hole, probably break a bone, too.” Geoffrey patted the weapon admiringly before putting it away. “Of, course, in order to hit anything you have to be standing closer than you would with your average long bow, but then again, you saw those natives run when I fired and I doubt I hit anything. In a situation like that, it’s certainly better than a sword. Good thing, too, as we will likely run into more of those bastards.”

“What makes that immense noise when you fire, “asked the young apprentice.

“Black powder,” replied Geoffrey, patting one of his saddlebags. “It’s rather nasty stuff. Smells bad, tastes bad and, should you get it too close to a fire, it goes off in a flash. That’s what happened to Henry’s hand.” He gestured at the knight who had helped him during the battle, whose hand was covered with a large white bandage. Thomas noticed the expression of pain on the man’s face and decided he was more than happy with the large curving sabre at his side.

“Looks like we’re stopping,” said the young man as the rest of the group reigned in their horses, now many miles from the scene of their battle. He was ready to set up camp for the evening as he was very hungry and more than a little tired. However, before he could enjoy any of the comforts of hot food and a night of rest, he knew there were more important activities to be taken care of first. The sixteen healthy knights divided themselves into groups of four to handle the necessary tasks. One group tended the sick and fetched water for the party, another group set to gathering firewood and began preparing dinner, a third group moved to the perimeter of the camp to take the first watch and the fourth group, his group, prepared the solemn task of burying their fallen friend.

They carried their friend’s body deep into the woods and laid him out near what they thought was an appropriate location. Two of the knights began digging while the young knight and one other gathered large rocks to place on the man’s grave. When the grave had reached a sufficient depth that no animal would disturb the remains, the four lowered the knight into his final resting place, placing his hands across his chest, his sword in one, his shield in the other, as was the tradition of their order. They covered their brother with dirt and rocks, recommitting his body to the earth from which he came. A prayer was said and thanks were given for his bravery in battle. All that was left was to add the final marker to the knight’s grave. The man who had rendered it from native wood now placed the symbol as the others watched with reverence. It was a cross, but not the Christian cross.

In the silence of the undiscovered and unknown wilderness, the young knight whose Christian name was Thomas Wyclyffe gazed at the grave marker of a man whom only a few short hours ago had been his friend and called him Brother, his ears still ringing from the blast of Geoffrey’s toy. He felt a strange mix of reverence and sadness, of pride and fear. He gazed at the broken cross that, until two hundred years ago, had been worn on the red tunics of those in his order as they led the Crusades against the infidels in the Holy Land. Those who served God and the Pope faithfully until one infamous day in history, until Friday, October 13, 1307, when the King and the Pope conspired to have them all rounded up and arrested. Arrested. Tortured. Murdered as ones who have turned their backs against God, burned as heretics, they were the Order of the Poor Knights of Christ and the Temple of Solomon. They were the Knights Templar.

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