The Woman at The Gates

Chapter One: The Woman at the Gates

Polish 3-Chaos Cover

The Polish Edition, from Rebis Books, Poznan.

A man with no eyes could have seen that something was wrong up ahead, and Tam Sinclair’s eyes were perfect. His patience, however, was less so. The afternoon light was settling into dusk and Tam was reduced to immobility, after three days of hard travelling and within a half mile of his goal. The reins of his tired team now hung useless in his hands as a growing crowd of people backed up ahead of him, blocking his way and crowding too close to his horses, making them snort and stomp and toss their heads nervously. Tam felt himself growing angry at the press around him, a purely instinctual reaction that had nothing to do with logic. He did not like being among large numbers of people at the best of times, but when they were compressed together in a solid crowd, as they were now, his sensibilities revolted against the stink of their unwashed bodies, combining as they did to deprive him of the simple pleasure of taking a deep breath.
“Ewan!”
“Aye!” One of the two young men who had been lounging and talking to each other among the covered shapes of the wagon’s cargo sat up and reached to pull himself upright, to where he could lean easily with braced arms on the high driver’s bench, facing forward, his eyes level with the older man’s burly shoulder. “Whoa! Where did all the people come from, all of a sudden? What’s happening?”
“If I knew that, I wouldn’t have had to interrupt your debate wi’ your young friend—” Tam glanced sideways at the other man, quirking his mouth, almost concealed by his grizzled beard, into what might have been a grin or a grimace of distaste. “I need you to go up there to the gates and find out what’s going on and how long we’re to be stuck here. Maybe somebody’s had a fit or dropped dead. If that’s the case—and I don’t care whether it is or not—I’ll thank you to find us another route into the city before they lock the gates. My arse is sore and full o’ splinters from this damned seat and I’m pining to hear the noisy clatter as we tip this load o’ rusty rubbish into the smelter’s yard. So just find out how long we’ll be stuck here, and if it’s to be a while, see if there’s another gate close enough for us to reach afore curfew. And be quick. I don’t want to be sleepin’ outside these walls this night. Away wi’ ye now.”
“Right.” Young Ewan placed a hand on the high side of the wagon and vaulted over it, dropping effortlessly to the cobbled surface of the roadway and pushing his way quickly into the crowd. La Rochelle was France’s greatest and busiest port, and the high, narrow gates of its southern entrance, directly ahead of him, were fronted by this wide, funnel-shaped approach that narrowed rapidly as it neared the check points manned by the city Guards. Tam Sinclair watched him go and then swung himself down after the boy, albeit not quite so lithely. The wagon driver was a strong-looking man, still in the prime of life, but the ability to do everything his apprentices could do physically was something he had abandoned gladly years before. Glancing incuriously and intolerantly now at the people closest to him, he moved to where a small oaken barrel hung, securely fastened with multiple bindings of hempen rope to the side of the wagon. He took the hanging dipper in one hand and raised the barrel’s loose-fitting lid with the other, then brought the brimming ladle of cool water to his lips and held it there in front of his face as he looked about him, seeing nothing out of place or anything that might explain the blockage ahead. The only thing he noticed was that there seemed to be a heavy presence of guards with crossbows lining the walkways above and on either side of the high gates, but none of those appeared to be particularly interested in anything happening below them. In the meantime, young Ewan had moved forward aggressively, anonymous among the crowd and aware that he was not the only one trying to find out what was happening and why they were all being detained, and as he drew closer to the gates he found it increasingly difficult to penetrate the noisy, neck-craning throng. He was eventually forced to use his wide shoulders and young muscles to clear a passage for himself, elbowing and thrusting his way single-mindedly towards the front, ignoring the deafening babble of shouting voices all around him. But then, when he was almost there and could see the crested helmet of the Corporal of the Guard by standing on tiptoe and craning his neck, he became aware of louder, shriller voices being raised directly ahead of him, shouting in fear and alarm, and then three men came charging towards him, ploughing through the crowd, pulling and hauling at the people as they went, pushing and shoving and trying to run, their faces frantic and wide-eyed with fear. Something had terrified them, clearly, but Ewan had no notion of what it might be. One of them shouldered Ewan aside as he surged by, but the young man regained his balance easily and swung around to watch the three of them scrambling into the throng behind him, dodging and weaving as they sought to lose themselves among the crush, in the safety of the packed bodies of those who had not yet realized anything was wrong.
But even as the young man watched, wide-eyed and still not comprehending, he saw something remarkable: like a living thing sensing the terror of the fleeing men, the crowd pulled itself away from them quickly, people pushing and pulling at their neighbors as they fought to run backwards, frantically trying to keep clear of the fugitives and thereby exposing them to the guards in front of and on top of the gate towers.
The Corporal of the Guard’s single shout, ordering the fleeing men to halt, went unheeded, and almost before the word had left his lips the first crossbow bolt struck the cobblestones with a violent, clanging impact the that stunned the crowd into instant, terrified silence. Shot from high overhead, above the gates, and too hastily aimed and loosed, the steel projectile caromed off the smooth, rounded surface of a worn cobblestone and was deflected upwards again, somehow emitting a shrieking, piercing squeal, its speed and strength diminished yet still powerful enough to hammer its point through the wooden water barrel from which Tam Sinclair was drinking, shattering the staves and drenching Tam himself in a deluge of cold water that soaked his breeches and splashed loudly on the cobbles at his feet. Cursing in startled fright and consternation, Tam dropped down onto the wet stones, landing on all fours, and immediately threw himself sideways in a roll that carried him to safety under the wagon’s bed as the air became filled with the lethal, bowel-loosening hiss and sickening thud of crossbow bolts. His other apprentice, Hamish, dropped heavily to the ground behind him, having jumped from the wagon bed, and dived behind the protection of the wheel hub closest to the missiles, fighting off others who sought the same shelter.

The United Kingdom Edition, from Sphere Books.

The United Kingdom Edition, from Sphere Books.

The three fleeing men, whoever they were, ran without pattern, seeking only to escape capture or death, but none of them survived for long. The first was brought down by three bolts, all of which hit him at the same time, in the shoulder, the neck and the right knee. He went flying and whirling like a touring mummer, blood arcing high above him from a jagged rip in his neck and raining back down and around him as he spun and fell sprawling less than ten paces from where he had begun his flight. The second evidently changed his mind, deciding to surrender. He stopped running, almost in mid stride, teetering for balance with windmilling arms, then turned back to face the city gates, raising his hands high above his head. For the space of a single heartbeat he stood there, facing his pursuers, and then a crossbow bolt struck him dead, the sound of its meaty impact appalling the watchers as it smashed through his sternum, driving him backwards bodily, his feet clear of the ground, to land hard on his backside before his lifeless body toppled over onto its side.
The third man fell face down at the feet of a tall, stooped-over monk, one outstretched hand clutching in its death throes at the mendicant’s left sandal, beneath the tattered, ankle-high hem of his ragged black robe. The monk stopped moving as soon as he was touched, and stood there as though carved from wood, gazing down in stupefaction at the bloodied, protruding ends of the two stubby metal bolts that had snatched the life so brutally from the running man. No one paid any attention to his shock, however, all their own fascinated interest focused upon the dead man at his feet. The monk himself barely registered upon their consciousness, merely another of the faceless, wandering thousands of his like who could be found begging for sustenance the length and breadth of Christendom.
From some distance away, so profound was the silence that had fallen in the wake of the shattering violence, the sound of a creaking iron hinge was clearly audible as a door swung open or shut, and then came the measured tread of heavily booted feet as someone in authority paced forward from the entrance to the tower on the left of the city gates.
And still no one moved in the crowded approach to the gates. Travelers and guards alike seemed petrified by the swiftness with which death had come to this pleasant, early evening.
“Well, have you all lost your wits?”
The voice was harsh, gravelly, and at the sound of it the spell was broken. People began to move again and voices sprang up, halting at first, tentative and unsure of how to begin talking about what had happened here. The guards stirred themselves into motion and several moved out purposefully towards the three lifeless bodies in the open, unnatural space.
Tam Sinclair had already crawled out of his hiding place by then and was preparing to mount to his high seat, one foot raised to the front wheel’s hub and his left hand resting gently on the footboard of the driver’s bench when Fate tapped him on the shoulder.
“Please, I heard you talking to the young man earlier. You are from Scotland.”
Sinclair froze, then turned slowly, his face expressionless, to stare at the woman who had spoken from behind him, her voice a sibilant hiss. She was standing by the tail gate of his wagon, white-knuckled hands grasping the thick strap of a bulky, shapeless cloth bag suspended from her shoulder. Her shape was muffled in a long garment of dull green wool that was wrapped completely around her, one corner covering her head like a hood, exposing only her mouth and chin. She looked young, but not girlish, although the voluminous garment that concealed her left him no way of guessing at her maturity. She appeared to be comparatively clean, too, the skin on the lower part of her face fair and free of obvious dirt. He eyed her again, his gaze traveling slowly and deliberately but with no hint of lechery, from her face down to her feet, and then he nodded.
“I am of Scotland. What of it?”
“I am, too. And I need help. I need it greatly. I can reward you.”
I need it greatly. I can reward you. This woman was no peasant. Her whisper had been replaced by a quiet, low pitched voice, her diction was clear and precise and her words, despite the tremor in her low pitched voice, possessed the confidence born of high breeding. Tam pursed his lips, looking about him instinctively, but no one seemed to be paying them any attention, all eyes directed towards the drama in the nearby open space. There was something strange happening here, he knew, but now he sensed that this woman was somehow involved in it and he was favourably impressed by her demeanour, in spite of his wariness. She was visibly tight wound with fear, and yet she had sufficient presence of mind to appear outwardly calm to any distant observer. His response was quiet, but courteous.
“What kind of trouble are you in, Lady? What would you have of me, a simple carter?”
“I need to get inside the gates. They are . . . People are looking for me, and they mean me ill.”
Sinclair stared at her for the space of five heartbeats, his eyes fixed on the wide lipped mouth that was all he could really see of her. “Is that a fact?” he asked then, his Scots brogue suddenly broad and heavy in the rhetorical question. “And who are these people that harry and frighten well-born women?”
She bit her lip, and he could see her debating with herself whether to say more or no, but then she drew herself up even straighter. “The King’s men. The men of William de Nogaret.”
Still Sinclair stared at her, his face betraying nothing of his thoughts although her words had startled him. William de Nogaret, Chief Lawyer to King Philip IV, was the most feared and hated man in all of France, and the woman’s admission, clearly born of a desperate decision to trust him solely on the grounds of their common birthplace, invited him instantly either to betray her, or to become complicit with her in something, and complicity in anything involving the frustration of King’s principal henchman invited torture and death. He remained motionless for a moment longer, his thoughts racing, and then he nodded and his face creased beneath his short, neatly trimmed beard into what might have been the beginnings of a smile.
“De Nogaret? You’re running from de Nogaret? Sweet Jesus, lass, you could not have named a better reason to be seeking aid. Stay where you are. You are hidden there. I need to see what’s going on ahead of us.”
The woman inhaled sharply and something, some of the tension, seeped visibly out of her, and then she drew back slightly, concealing herself behind the rear of the wagon. Sinclair turned to climb to the driver’s bench, still apprehensive and curious about her, but feeling somehow that he was doing the right thing. In the act of reaching for the wooden grip to pull himself up, however, he hesitated and turned to look at her again, but she had withdrawn from view. He turned back then and used the grip to haul himself up onto the hub of the front wheel, where he paused on one foot to look over the heads of the crowd and across the open space on his left to where the monk still stood over the dead man. The cleric had not moved, standing hunched as though petrified, and after a moment Sinclair made a “humph” sound through his nose and dismissed him as he moved to swing himself up and onto his seat.
There, settled on his bench above the crowd, he gathered the reins of his team in his left hand, reached for the whip by his right foot and whistled piercingly, and his two lanky but strong-looking apprentices came running to his summons, swinging themselves lithely up into the vehicle, where the one called Ewan moved directly to sit by Tam’s left side on the bench and the other settled himself comfortably again among the covered shapes of the cargo in the wagon bed. But whip in hand, Tam Sinclair made no move to start his animals. He had nowhere to go. The crowd was moving, jostling and shuffling, milling around the edges of the space surrounding the slain men, but it was not moving forward. The guards were still intent upon discovering whatever it was that had set the trouble afoot and none of them had moved to marshal or direct the waiting traffic.
The three dead men had apparently been pulling a handcart with them, and from the garbled commentary of the people around him, Tam gathered that it was when the guards, their suspicions aroused for some reason, had set out to search their cart more thoroughly for a second time and moved to seize one of the men, that the trio broke and ran. Now, watching a handful of guards swarming over the high-piled contents of the handcart, he wondered idly what could have been in there that was worth dying for. He would never find out, because as he watched, the Corporal of the Guard ordered the cart to be taken into the guardhouse and searched there. Sniffing with disgust, Tam shifted his gaze then to the swaggering figure of the harsh voiced knight who had emerged from the tower and was now stalking about the open space that still surrounded the three dead men.
He was not a tall man, this knight, but his burnished half-armor, worn over a suit of mail and topped by a domed metal helmet, enhanced his stature in the late afternoon light, and the scapular-like King’s livery he wore, a narrow fronted, dingy white surcoat edged with royal blue, the embroidered fleur de lis emblem of the royal House of Capet centred on the chest, added to the air of authority that set him apart from everyone else within sight.
Gazing stolidly from his perch high on the driver’s bench, Tam Sinclair was not impressed by what he saw in the knight. He himself had been a soldier too long, had traveled too far and seen too many men in situations of dire, life threatening peril, to be influenced by a mere show of outward finery. External trappings, he had learned long years before, too often had little bearing on the true substance of what they adorned. The man he was looking at was a King’s knight, but that in itself was no indicator of manhood or worth in the driver’s eyes. People called the King of France “Philip The Fair,” because he was pleasant, almost flawless, to behold, but beauty, Tam knew as well as anyone, went only skin deep. No one who knew anything real about the puissant monarch would ever consider referring to him as “Philip The Just,” or even “The Compassionate.” Philip Capet, the Fourth of that name and grandson of the sainted King Louis the Ninth, had shown himself, time and again, to be inhumanly self-centred, a cold and ambitious tyrant, and in Tam Sinclair’s eyes too many of the knights and familiars with whom he surrounded himself were cut from the same cloth. This particular example of the breed had drawn his long sword slowly and ostentatiously and walked now with the bared blade bouncing gently against his right shoulder as he made his way towards the tall monk who stood isolated on the edge of the crowd, still stooped over the man who had died clutching his foot.
“Ewan,” Tam spoke without raising his voice, his eyes focused on the knight’s movements. “There is a woman at the back of the cart. Go you and help her climb up here while everyone is watching the King’s Captain there. Quick with you now, but do it easily, as though she is one of us. Throw her bag in and then help her climb up, on the far side, where you won’t be as easily noticed. Do it as the most natural thing in the world. As if you’ve known her all your life. Pretend she’s your sister, not a real woman at all. Hamish, sit you up here with me and pay no attention to Ewan or the woman.” As Ewan jumped down from the wagon and the younger Hamish moved up to take his place on the bench, Tam tipped his head backwards and sideways, drawing the younger man’s attention towards the tableau on his left. “I think yon monk’s in trouble, judging by the scowl on that other fellow’s face.” Young Hamish bent forward to see what the older man meant, and then remained as he was, watching closely.
As the approaching knight drew closer, the monk knelt slowly and stretched out a hand to lay his palm on the dead man’s skull, after which he remained motionless again, his head bent, obviously praying for the soul of the departed. The knight kept walking until he was within two paces of the kneeling monk, then he stopped and spoke again in his harsh, unpleasant voice. “That one is deep in Hell, priest, so you can stop praying for him.”
The monk gave no sign of having heard and the knight frowned, unused to being ignored. He jerked his right hand, flipping the long sword down from his shoulder, and extended his arm until the tip of his blade caught the point of the monk’s peaked cowl and pushed it back, exposing the scalp beneath the hood, the crown shaved bald in the square tonsure of the Dominican Order, the sides covered by thick, short-cropped, iron grey hair. As the knight’s arm extended farther, the monk’s chin was pushed up and tilted back by the pull of his cowl, showing him to be clean-shaven and pallid. The knight bent forward until their faces were level, and when he spoke his voice was no quieter or gentler than it had been before, ringing harshly in the absolute hush that had fallen at his first words.
“Listen to me, priest, when I speak to you, and answer when I bid you. Do you hear—?” He stopped abruptly and drew back until he was standing erect again, his sword held point down, resting on the ground. “I know you.” The monk shook his head, mute, and the knight lifted his voice louder. “Don’t lie to me, priest! I never forget a face and I know you. I’ve seen you somewhere, before now. Speak up. Where was it?”
The monk shook his head again in denial and when he spoke his voice was surprisingly high and shrill for such a tall man. Shrill enough to attract Tam Sinclair’s attention again, for he had been in the act of turning around to see how young Ewan was faring with the task he had set him, but now he turned his head quickly back and shifted around in his seat to watch the interplay between the knight and the monk.
“No, sir knight,” the monk brayed. “You are mistaken. I am new come here and have never been in this part of the world before. My home is in the north, far from here, in Alsace, in the monastery of the blessed Saint Dominic, so unless you have been there recently you could not know me. And besides,” his eyes, blazing in the late afternoon light, were a pale but lustrous blue that held more than a hint of fanaticism. “I would not forget a man such as you.”
The knight frowned, hesitated, then pulled his elbow back, raising his sword’s point from the ground and then swinging the blade back up to rest on his shoulder again, his face registering distaste. “Aye, enough. Nor would I forget a voice such as yours. What is your purpose here in La Rochelle?”
“God’s business, master knight. I bear messages for the Prior of the monastery of Saint Dominic within the gates.”
The knight was already nodding and muttering to himself, his hand waving the annoying Dominican away, his face betraying his dislike of the man’s strident voice while his altered demeanor indicated his reluctance to interfere with anything that concerned the Order of Saint Dominic, the Pope’s holy, hungry and ever zealous Inquisitors. “Aye, well, move on and finish your task. You know where the monastery is?”
“Yes, sir knight, I have instructions written here on how to proceed within the gates. Let me show you,” but as he began to reach into his robe the knight stepped back from him and waved him away again. “Go on with you. I don’t need to see that. Go on, go on, away with you.”
“Thank you, sir knight.” The tall monk bowed his head obsequiously and moved away towards the city gates, where no one sought to stop him as he passed through, and his passage seemed to be the signal for a general admission. The crowd surged forward in an orderly manner as Ewan and the mysterious woman climbed in over the right side of the wagon, and the guards scanned the passing throng with casual but passive hostility, plainly irate but expecting no further trouble. Sinclair noticed, however, that they were questioning every woman who passed by, allowing the men to pass unmolested. He straightened up in his seat and kneaded his kidneys with his free hand.
“Lads,” he said, speaking the Scot’s Gaelic in a normal, conversational voice, “you are now promoted to the nobility. For the next wee while, you will be my sons. Ewan, when you speak to any of these buffoons, make your Scotch voice thicken your French, as though you were more foreign than you are. Hamish, you speak only the Gaelic this day; no French at all. You are new arrived here in France with your mother, to join me and your brother, and have not had time to learn their tongue or their ways. Now move into the back and let your mother sit by me.” He turned casually and spoke to the woman behind them. “Mary, come here and sit by me. Throw back the hood from your face, unless you fear being recognized.”
She pulled back the hood wordlessly, revealing a handsome, finely chiseled face with wide, startlingly bright green eyes and long, well-combed dark hair as she moved to obey him, and Sinclair nodded in approval as he jogged the reins and set the wagon rolling slowly forward. “Good. Now hold on tight and be careful. For the time being you are my wife, Mary Sinclair, mother of my sons here, Ewan and Hamish. You are comely enough to make me both proud of you and protective of your virtue. And you speak no French. If any question you, and they will, look to me for answers and then speak in Scots . . . and speak not like yourself. Try to sound like a household servant, not like the lady you are. They are looking for a lady, are they not?”
The woman met his gaze squarely and nodded, saying nothing.
“Hmm. Then try you not to give them one, or we’ll all hang. Come around the end of the bench, there, but mind your step. Hamish, help her, and then stand behind her, at her shoulder. The two of you have the same green eyes, thanks be to God, so be not shy about flashing them, both of you.”
As the woman made her way obediently and carefully around the edge of the bench, supported by Hamish, Sinclair moved over to his left, leaving her ample room to sit by his right side, then nodded as he reined in his team, “Right then. Here we go. And here comes the popinjay who thinks himself a knight. Just be at ease, all of you, and let me do the talking.” He brought the wagon to a halt just short of where the guards stood waiting.
The knight arrived just as the Corporal of the Guard stepped forward to challenge Tam Sinclair, and for a time he stood watching and listening, making no move to interfere as the guardsman questioned Tam.
“Your name?”
“Sinclair. Tam Sinclair,” Tam responded truculently. He pronounced it the Scots way, Singclir, rather than the French San-Clerr.
“What are you?” This with a ferocious frown in response to the alien name and its terse iteration.
Sinclair responded in fluent, gutter French that was thick with Scots intonations. “What d’ you mean, what am I? I am a Scot, from Scotland. And I am also a carter, as you can see.”
The frown grew deeper. “I meant, what are you doing here, fellow, in France?”
Sinclair scratched gently at his jaw with the end of one finger and sat staring down at the guard for long moments before he shrugged his shoulders and spoke slowly and patiently, with great clarity, as though to a backward child. “I don’t know where you’ve spent your life, Corporal, but where I live, everyone knows that when it comes to the nobility, there’s no difference between Scotland and France, or anywhere else. Money and power know no boundaries. There is an alliance if force between the two realms, and it is ancient. I told you, my name is Sinclair. That’s the way we pronounce it in Scotland. Over here in France you say St. Clair. Same name, different way of saying it. But it’s the same family, in Scotland and in France.
“As for me and what I’m doing here, I’m doing the same thing in France that hundreds of Frenchmen are doing in Scotland. I’m doing my master’s bidding, attending to his affairs. The St. Clair family holds lands and enterprises in both countries and I am one of their factors; I go wherever I am sent; I do whatever I am told to do. Today I drive a cart.”
The answer seemed to mollify the man, but he was still determined to be officious, with his superior standing by. “And what is in your cart?”
“Used iron, for the smelters within the walls. Old, rusty iron chains and broken swords to be melted down.”
“Show me.”
“Ewan, show the man.”
Ewan jumped down and moved to the back of the wagon, where he lowered the tail gate and threw back the old sailcloth sheet that covered their load. The sergeant looked, shifted some of the cargo around with a series of heavy, metallic clanks, and then came back to the front of the cart, wiping his rust stained fingers on his surcoat. Ewan remained on the ground beside him as the guard pointed up at the woman.
“Who is this woman?”
Tam frowned. “She is my wife, mother to my two sons here.”
“Your wife. How would I know that’s true?”
“Why would I lie? Does she look like a harlot? If you have eyes in your head you’ll see the eyes in hers, and the eyes in my son, beside her.”
The guardsman looked as though he might take offence at the surliness of Sinclair’s tone, but then he eyed the massive shoulders of the man on the wagon and the set of his features and merely stepped to where he could see the woman and the young man behind her. He looked carefully from one to the other, comparing their eyes. “Hmm. And who is this other one?” He indicated Ewan, still standing close by him.
“My other son. Ask him. He speaks your language.”
“And if I ask your . . . wife?”
“Ask away. You’ll get nothing but a silly look. She can’t understand a word you say.”
The sergeant looked directly at the woman. “Tell me your name.”
The woman turned, wide-eyed, to look at Tam, who leaned backwards on the bench and said in Scots, “He wants to know your name, wife. Tell him your name.”
She bent forward to look down at the sergeant and the watching knight, glancing back at Tam uncertainly.
“Tell him your name,” he repeated.
“Mary. Mary Sinclair.” Her voice was high and thin, with the sing-song intonation of the Scots peasantry.
“And where have you come from?”
Again the helpless look at Tam, who responded, “This is stupid. The fool wants to know where you’re from. I told him you can’t speak his language, but it hasn’t sunk through his thick skull yet. Just tell him where we’re from.”
Tam didn’t dare look at the watching knight, but he felt sure that the man was listening closely and understanding what they were saying. “Tell him, Mary. Where we’re from.”
She looked back at the corporal and blinked. “Inverness,” she intoned. “Inverness in Scotland.”
The corporal stared at her for several more moments, then turned and looked wordlessly at the white-and-blue-coated knight, who finally stepped forward and gazed up at the woman and the young man standing beside her. He pursed his lips, his eyes narrowing suspiciously as he looked from one to the other of them, and then he stepped back and flicked a hand in dismissal.
“Move on,” the Corporal said. “On your way.”
Not many minutes later, having passed through the city gates and out of direct sight from them in the rapidly gathering dusk, Tam stopped and turned to the woman in the back.
“Where do you need to go from here, Lady?”
“Not far. If your young man there will help me down, I can walk from here with ease. I have family here who will shelter me. What is your real name? I will send a reward, as token of my thanks, to the Templar Commandery here, down by the harbour. You may claim it by presenting yourself there and giving them your name.”
Sinclair shook his head. “Nay, Lady, I’ll take no money from you. The sound of your Scots voice has been reward enough, for I am long away from home. My name is as you heard it, Tam Sinclair, and I have no need of your coin. Go you now in peace, and quickly, for William de Nogaret has spies everywhere. And give thanks to God for having blessed you with those green eyes, my lady, for beside young Hamish’s here they saved our lives this day. Ewan, go with her. Carry her bag and make sure she comes to no harm, then make your way to where we are going. We’ll meet you there.”
The woman stepped forward and laid a hand on Tam’s forearm. “God bless you then, Tam Sinclair, and keep you well. You have my gratitude and that of my entire family.”
It was on the tip of Sinclair’s tongue to ask who that family might be, but something warned him not to, and he contented himself with nodding. “God bless you, too, my lady,” he murmured.
She was a fine looking woman, judging only by what he had seen of her face, and now as she turned awkwardly to make her way down from the cart with Ewan’s help, Tam watched her body move against the restrictions of what she was wearing and tried to visualize what she might look like without the bundled blanket that enfolded her. He stopped that, however, as soon as he realized what he was doing. Beauty apart, he told himself, the woman had courage and a quick mind and he was glad he had done what he had.
He watched her go with Ewan until they were out of sight, and then he turned his team laboriously from the main thoroughfare into a darkening, deserted side street and traveled halfway along the narrow thoroughfare before hauling on his reins again as the tall Dominican monk from Alsace stepped out in front of him from the doorway of a building. Young Hamish stood up silently and jumped down to the ground, where he was joined by three other men who had witnessed the killings in front of the city gates and had since walked at various distances behind the wagon. They gathered at the tail gate of the wagon and began to rummage among the cargo there, displacing metal objects with much grunting and puffing. Sinclair thrust his whip into the receptacle by his right foot as the monk spoke to him, keeping his voice low so that the others would not hear him.
“Who was that woman, Tam, and what were you thinking of? I saw Ewan helping her up into your cart as I left the yard and could hardly believe my eyes. You know better than that.”
There came a grunt, a startled curse and the scuffle of feet as a length of heavy chain slithered and clattered to the cobbles from the back of the wagon. Sinclair glanced that way and then turned back, his eyes sparkling and a small grin on his face.
“What woman are you talking about? Oh, that woman. She was just a woman, as you noted, and in need of a wee bit o’ assistance. A Scots lass who spoke like me, and a lady, or I miss my guess.”
“A lady, traveling alone?” The question was scornful, but Sinclair shook his head abruptly.
“No, I think not. I doubt she was alone, at the first of it. I think those three poor whoresons killed out there were supposed to be her guards. She told me she was fleeing from de Nogaret’s men and I believed her.”
“From de Nogaret? That’s even worse. You put us all at risk, man.”
“No, sir, I did not.” Tam lowered his shoulders and set his chin. “What would you have had me do, betray her to the popinjay knight and watch her hauled off to jail and who knows what else?”
The other man sighed and straightened up from his hunched stoop, squaring broad shoulders that the stoop had effectively concealed. “No. No, Tam, I suppose not.” He fell silent for a short time, then asked, “What was her crime, I wonder? Not that de Nogaret would need one.” He looked about him. “Where is she now, then?”
“On her way to join her family, somewhere in the city. I sent Ewan with her. She’ll be well enough now.”
“Good. Let us hope she will be safe. But that was dangerous, aiding her like that, no matter what the cause. Our business here gives us no time for chivalry, Tam, and debate it as you will, you took a foolish risk.”
Sinclair shrugged, “Mayhap, but it seemed to me to be the right thing to do, at the time. Besides, she had green eyes.”
“Green eyes? Have you gone mad? What does that have to do with anything? You endangered all of us.”
Sinclair ignored the other man’s quiet anger and kept his own voice low. “No, Will, I did not. She had green eyes . . . exactly like young Hamish’s. The same colour exactly. I passed her through the guards as my wife, with Hamish as my son standing beside her. No one who looked at the two of them doubted they were mother and son, and every man there looked, including that popinjay of a knight. There was no danger. D’ you really think me that careless and untrustworthy? You were already through the gates and safe by the time I took her up, and you are the one charged with our task. The rest of us are but your guard.” Sinclair hesitated, then went on, lowering his voice even more, until it was barely louder than a throaty whisper. “Look, Will, the woman needed help. And she was Scots, not French. She had no one else to turn to and came to me only when she heard me speaking Scots to Ewan. I saw that you were going to be fine, then I weighed everything else and made a decision. The kind you make all the time. What’s the word you use? A discretionary decision. A battlefield decision. It had to be made, yea or nay, and there was no one else around to tell me what to do.”
The monk gazed at Sinclair for a moment longer, then grunted. “Well, it’s done now and we’re none the worse for it, by God’s grace. So be it. Let’s get on. Aha! My sword. Thank you, Hamish.”
Hamish and his helpers, working so industriously at the rear of the wagon, had unearthed a cache of carefully wrapped weapons from the bottom of the pile of rusted scrap that filled the bed, and had quickly stripped away the protective wrappings before Hamish himself brought the monk a sword that was clearly his own. The monk’s hand moved instantly to grasp the hilt with sure familiarity and he drew the blade smoothly from its belted sheath, holding its shining blade vertically to reflect the last light of the fading day. As he did so, they heard the sound of racing feet and the last of their number came rushing towards them.
“They’re coming, Sir William,” he gasped, laboring for breath. “The knight remembered you. It took him a while, but sure enough, he straightened up suddenly, right in front of me, and his face was something to behold. “Templar!” he shouts, and roused the guard again. Ranted and raved at them, then sent them after you. I didna dare wait too long, but I had to stay for long enough to see what he would do. Ten men at least he turned out, I saw that much before I left, but there may be more. But he thinks you were alone. He sent them to find you, the tall, black-robed monk, but nobody else, so they’ll not be expecting opposition. I watched them come in after me and they went off in the wrong direction first, along the main road.”
“Aye, towards the monastery, because they are looking for a monk, not for me.” The man addressed as Sir William was shrugging quickly out of his threadbare black habit. He pulled it forward over his head, then gathered it into a ball it and flung it into the bed of the wagon. “Quickly now, Watt,” he said, gesturing to the newcomer. “Arm yourself, quick as you like, and let’s be away from here.
“Tam, we’ll leave the wagon here. No more need for it, now that we’re inside.”
He turned away from all of them then, pulling and tugging in frustration at the tunic he had been wearing beneath the monk’s habit. He had tucked it up around his waist earlier, to safeguard against its being seen through his rent and ragged habit, and now it was gathered thickly in restrictive and unyielding layers around his waist and loins. He grimaced and cursed under his breath, squirming and wriggling until he eventually teased the bunched-up garment out of its constricting folds and wrinkles and arranged it to hang comfortably about him.
“My hauberk, Tam,” he said then, “but keep the leggings with you. There’s no time now to put the damned things on. I’ll do that later.”
From the bed of the wagon, before he jumped down himself to the cobblestones, Tam the teamster heaved him another, longer garment, this one a full coat of calf-length fustian, split to the groin in front and rear and covered in links of heavy mail.
“What about the horses?” he asked, vaulting down to the ground with a helmet and mailed hood in his right hand.
“Leave them here. Someone will think himself blessed to find and claim them. Here, help me with this.” The knight had immediately donned the mailed coat, but his impatience was frustrating his efforts to fasten the leather straps that would hold it in place beneath his arms, and now one of the other men moved quickly to help him, concentrating closely on feeding the straps through the buckles beneath Sir William’s shoulders. The knight felt the last of them being tugged shut and he raised his arms high and flexed his shoulders, checking that they were securely covered yet not too tightly bound for swordplay. He then took the mailed hood from Tam Sinclair and pulled it over his head, spreading the ends of it across his shoulders and tugging at the flaps that he would lace together later, beneath his chin. When he was satisfied with how it felt, he took the flat crowned helm from Tam and settled it on his brows. “My thanks, Tam.” He nodded tersely to the other man who had helped him. “And to you, Iain. And now my sword, if you will.”
He hefted the long, cross hilted broadsword and grasped it near the top of the belted leather sheath, then slung the belt aslant across his chest so that the sword hung down along his back, its long hilt projecting over his shoulder. “Now, quickly, lads. We’ve been here overlong already and they’ll be on our heels once they discover I am not ahead of them on the road to the Dominican House. Bring the bag, Thomas, and you, Hamish, bring the coats and hand them out as we go. The rest of you, stay together and make haste, but move quietly and be prepared for anything. Keep your weapons sheathed and your hands free, but if anyone tries to stop us, or to contest our passage, be he guardsman or citizen, I care not. Cut him down before he can raise an alarum. Come!”
They moved away immediately, the former monk and his attendant wagon driver striding at the head of the group while their companions positioned themselves protectively around and behind them, and as they went the tall apprentice called Hamish held a large, leather bag open in front of him, from which one of the others pulled out and distributed tightly rolled bundles of cloth, all save one of them a pale, yellowish brown. As each man received his, he grasped a flap of the cloth and snapped his rolled bundle open, shaking it until it was completely loosened, and then he shrugged it over his head, transforming himself instantly from a nondescript but strongly armed pedestrian into an instantly recognizable Sergent of the Order of the Brotherhood of the Temple, his ankle-length brown surcoat emblazoned front and back with the equal-armed red cross of the Templar Crusaders. Their leader’s surcoat, the only white one among them, marked him clearly as a Knight of the Order and he now walked ahead of them once more, his bare ankles and sandaled feet pale and strikingly evident beneath the heavy hem of the armored tunic under his white coat.
Tam Sinclair caught up to Sir William quickly, carrying a bulging sack effortlessly on his shoulder. “So, Sir Willie, are you going to tell me? Who was that popinjay knight? He knew you, plainly, but from where?”
The monk smiled for the first time, his previous displeasure forgotten. “Well, he did and he did not, Tam, but I’m surprised you even have to ask. Of all the people he might have been, he was the one I should least have expected to meet here. Did you really not know him?” There had been no trace of shrillness in the monk’s voice since he emerged from the shadows of the doorway earlier. It was deep and resonant.
“No, and I still don’t. But I knew there was something far from right when you started talking like that, braying like a donkey. Where did that come from?”
“From need, Thomas, from necessity. You really didn’t recognize the man. I find that unbelievable. That voice? How could you forget such a grating, swinish squeal? You wanted to gut him, less than a year ago, and I was hard put to pull you away. That was Geoffrey the Jailer. Don’t you remember? We crossed paths with him when last we traveled to Paris. He was in Orléans, then, in charge of the King’s prison there.”
At the words, the frown vanished from the other man’s face, the wrinkles disappearing as recollection came to him. “Of course! Virgin’s piss, now I remember him. It was the armor that obscured it. The torturer! He was an unpleasant whoreson, even then, without the king’s surcoat; too fond by far of causing pain to the people in his power. But never mind me wanting to gut him, he made you clutch at your dagger, too, at one point. I thought you were going to fillet him right there in his own jail.”
“Aye, that’s him, that’s the man. Jeffrey de something . . . Martinsville, that’s the name! I knew I knew it. But it’s the worst of chances that I should run into him here. He didn’t recognize me because my beard is gone and my head is shaved, but I remember him well and he obviously does have a memory for faces, as he claimed.”
“Here they come.” The voice, speaking from the rear rank, was toneless and unidentifiable.
“How many, and where are they?” Sir William did not even glance back to see who had spoken, and it was Tam Sinclair who answered him, his voice sounding tense.
“Three pair of them, behind us. A hundred paces, perhaps more. At the far end o’ the street.”
“Can they see us clearly?”
“No, no more than I can see them, and that’s but poorly.”
“Good, keep moving then, and don’t look back at them unless you hear them running. They’re looking for a monk—a single man. Bear that in mind. They’ll take no heed of us as a group, not in our coats and this close to the Commandery.”
The seven men kept moving steadily, walking as a loose-knit group and apparently in no particular haste, yet managing nonetheless to cover the ground quickly as they made their way through the twisting streets of the ancient town towards their destination on the waterfront, the fortified group of buildings comprising the regional Templar headquarters known simply as the Commandery. Five of the men were strangers to the city—only Sir William and Tam Sinclair had been there before—and as they walked they looked about them, straining to see the grey stone buildings now in the rapidly falling darkness while keeping their ears cocked for the sounds of running feet or raised voices. No lights had been lit yet in the buildings they passed, and it seemed as though they were the only people alive and stirring in the entire city of La Rochelle.
The white-coated knight did not look about him. He strode along with his head high, gazing straight ahead, the monkish sandals on his bare feet making no sound on the cobblestones, and his mind was filled to distraction with an image of a green-eyed woman. A woman of astounding beauty, with enormous eyes of glowing, lambent green that kept changing in hue, from sea water to new sprung grass and all the thousand shades between. She was no one he had ever met, for he had known no women in his adult life, celibate for so long that the condition was as normal to him as breathing. And when he tried to fasten on this woman’s face he could not. She had no features that he could define; nose, mouth, jaw line and chin kept changing, dissolving each time he sought to focus on them. Only the eyes were there, enormous and precisely shaped and edged, save that their colour shifted constantly.
Angry at his own folly in wasting time with such ridiculous meanderings, he shook his head as though he could dislodge the treacherous thoughts, and lengthened his stride, forcing himself to concentrate on the task he faced. The Commandery of La Rochelle lay mere minutes ahead of him and his mind was full of the things he had to say to the men with whom he would be meeting very shortly. He was struggling to review and, for perhaps the hundredth time, to reformat the arguments he would marshal and employ to convince them that he had not lost his senses and was not attempting to persuade them to behave irrationally. He knew that no matter how circumspectly he approached his explanation, and irrespective of the tact and skill he might use in laying out his tidings, his report, by its mere delivery, would cause anger, disbelief, dismay and concern among its recipients—and the last of those would be that most disconcerting kind of concern, born not of fear, but of doubts over his sanity.
The mere possibility of doubts about his sanity angered St. Clair. He had spent his life acquiring a reputation for service and dedication to the ideals of the Order of the Temple, traveling so widely and for so long upon Templar affairs that he was now more familiar with France and Italy than he was with his native Scotland, and now, as a man in the earliest years of mid-life, prematurely graying and grizzled yet still hale and strong, he took enormous pride in his newly acquired status as a member of the Inner Circle, the Order’s governing council. The last thing he had any need for now was the slightest hint that he might be delusional. And yet, despite his anger and his frustration, he knew that the information he was carrying would be unbelievable to him, were it laid baldly in front of him by someone else. His record of service, he knew, would prevent him from being laughed out of countenance as he delivered the unimaginable tidings he bore this day, but the truth was that the story he had to tell defied credence, even by simpletons, and his fellow Knights, if they were nothing else, were pragmatists, known for neither gullibility nor for inane credulity. To their ears his story must, and surely would, reek of delusion and outright folly. Their hard-nosed common sense and the fabled integrity of their senior elders were firmly grounded in a two-hundred-year-long tradition of probity and service to the Church and to Christendom in general.
St. Clair’s task in the hours that lay ahead of him was to convince the Knights Commander of the preceptory in La Rochelle that their world—the absolute power and influence enjoyed by the Templars throughout Christendom and beyond—would cease to exist within the week.
He knew, although he found little comfort in the knowledge, that he really had no need to convince them of the truth of his astounding message. He had the authority to enforce his mandate; to demand the full compliance and assistance of the La Rochelle commandery in prosecuting his own official duty, laid upon him personally by the Grand Master of the Order, Jacques de Molay. All he had to do was order them to withdraw all their forces and possessions inside the temporary safety of their gates and remain there, fortified against the deadly and treacherous approaches of the King of France.
Lost in his ponderings, Sinclair was nonetheless aware of his surroundings, and he felt a surge of recognition as he rounded one last bend in the narrow street and saw the spill of light that marked the end of his journey and the broad, cobbled plaza that fronted the main entry to the Templar compound.
The preceptory buildings of the Commandery here had been built by the side of the harbor, along the water’s edge, to accommodate the comings and goings of the vessels and the teeming personnel of the Order’s massive fleet of galleys, the majority of them cargo vessels that plied all the seas of the trading world. But a significantly large contingent of the fleet was composed of ferociously efficient war galleys, manned and commanded by brethren of the Order. This force, the Battle Fleet, existed for the sole purpose of exterminating pirates and precluding any possibility of successful, systematic theft of the Order’s assets at sea, actively protecting the property of the Order in the execution of its business.
St. Clair hitched his shoulders and moved both hands again to loosen his sword blade in its sheath, a habit so ingrained in him that he had lost awareness of doing it. But he expected no trouble now that he could see the lighted square ahead. The guardsmen who had been behind them earlier had moved on to search elsewhere, paying them no attention, plainly having accepted them for what they were. He flexed his fingers and grasped the sheath of his sword more firmly, straightening his shoulders and addressing himself once more to what he would say to the Preceptor, and as he did so he became aware of a dark, narrow, vertical slash marking a lane or alleyway between the high buildings on his left, mere paces ahead of him. He paid it little attention and strode by, followed by his companions, but in passing he heard a clamor of voices spring up from the blackness along the alley’s shadowed depths. They had been seen.
“Keep moving,” Sir William growled. “Pay no attention.” But it was already too late. They heard the clatter of running footsteps in the lane as whoever was in there rushed to challenge them.
“Halt!” a voice shouted, echoing from deep in the alley’s gloom. “You there! Halt in the name of King Philip.”
William Sinclair kept walking, lengthening his stride as he spoke over his shoulder. “Challenge them, Tam. Stop them, but no fighting if you can avoid it. Just keep them far enough away from me to keep them from seeing what I’m wearing. If they see that I am not wearing leggings and only have on the sandals of a monk, one of them might be clever enough to guess I’m the monk they’re looking for and we’ll have to spill blood. And they are King’s men, so that might not be a wise thing to do, under our current circumstances, so don’t provoke them beyond their endurance. See to it.”
He strode on, headed directly for the open end of the street less than thirty paces away, and soon stepped into the empty square that stretched as far as the Commandery’s main gates. Once there, he turned around and looked back to where his six men had spread themselves in a line across the road with their backs to him, facing the junction with the lane and holding their drawn swords point downwards on the stones of the street. As they stood there, each with sufficient fighting room to defend himself with ease, a group of unkempt garrison soldiers poured out of the lane and skidded to a halt, their clamorous shouting fading instantly into silence. There were only ten of them and they had clearly not expected to find a line of six Templars awaiting them with drawn swords.
As he watched the confrontation occur, Sir William became aware of running footsteps approaching from his left, from the direction of the Commandery, but when he glanced over quickly to see who was coming, he recognized the young sergent, Ewan, who had gone off to escort the Lady. The lad hesitated, then recognizing St. Clair, came forward again at the run, shouting his name. Sir William swung back to face the young man, chopping with his hand to quiet him, but Ewan was beside him now, and urgent with tidings.
“Sir William! I—”
“Shush, boy! Be silent.”
“But—”
“Silent! And pay attention here.” He waved his arm towards the street from which he had just emerged, directing the sergent’s eyes to what was happening.
Tam Sinclair had given the King’s guards no time to rally themselves or adjust to the situation but had jumped right into confrontation, addressing himself to the lout who seemed to be their leader. The loud, hectoring voice he assumed, speaking flawless street French and betraying no sign of his true nationality, carried clearly down the tunnel of the street to Sir William’s ears.
“Well, filth, what would you have of us? Eh? What? By what imagined right do you dare challenge the Brotherhood of the Temple? You accosted us, ordered us to stand, in the name of the King. Why?”
None of the guardsmen made any attempt to answer him, their confusion and their ignorance of what to do next betrayed by the way they glanced at each other, avoiding looking at any of the Templars. Tam continued, raising his voice even higher. “Come now, it is a simple question. And it demands a simple answer. Why did you shout at us to halt? Are we criminals? Do you know what you did, making demands of any of our Order without due authority? Where did you find the stupidity to attempt to interfere in the affairs of the Temple?”
Still no one moved to answer him, despite the open insult in his words, and he gave them no respite. “Are you all mute? Or are you simply even more stupid than you look? You are King’s men—at least you wear the uniform—so you must know who we are. And you must know, too, that you have neither right nor the capability to call us to account, for anything. We are Sergents of the Temple and we answer solely to our Grand Master, who answers, in his turn, to the Pope. Your king has no power to bid us stay or go in our affairs. No king in Christendom has such a right.”
He paused, as though sizing up his crestfallen opponents, then continued, “So? What is it to be? Will you search us and die, or merely question us and die, or fight us and die? Your choice. Speak up.”
The leader of the King’s men finally found his voice at this. “You can’t threaten us,” he said, his tone more of whine than a complaint. “We are King’s men. We wear the King’s uniform.”
Tam Sinclair ignored his words completely and spoke as though nothing had been said. “On the other hand,” he said, “you have a fourth option. You may stand here, as you are, and without argument, and watch us as we walk away leaving your blood unspilled. Then, once we are gone, you will be at liberty to leave, too, and none of us, on either side, will breathe a word of this encounter. Are we agreed?” He was gazing at the man who had voiced the complaint, and he was impatient with the time it took to gain an answer. “Well, are we? Do we walk away, or do we fight?” He raised the point of his sword to waist height, not threateningly but emphatically. The other man nodded.
“We walk.”
“Excellent. Stand you there, then, until we be gone.”
Sir William St. Clair stood waiting as his men turned their backs on their hapless challengers and, swords still unsheathed, walked down the now dark street to join him. Only then did he turn to the young man beside him, and Ewan began to speak before he had even completed the turn.
“My lord, I have—”
“Hush you. I know you have something to say, but it will wait until later. I have other, more pressing matters on my mind. Rejoin the others, now, and don your surcoat.”
He watched the sergent walk away, crestfallen, and then he turned back towards the Commandery, knowing he had been seen from the gates as soon as he emerged into the open square, and that the senior guardsman on duty would immediately have sent his companion to summon the Guard Commander. Now, striding towards the main Gates, St. Clair smiled in recognition as a veteran sergent walked swiftly from the gatehouse, followed by four men, and then stopped short, frowning and strangely hesitant as he took in the bizarre, bare-ankled appearance of the beardless man marching towards him in the white surcoat of a knight and followed by an escorting group of sergents. He remained motionless, one hand slightly raised in a restraining gesture to his men, until the man in the knight’s surcoat approached the gateway and spoke.
“Tescar, well met. You look distrustful. Do you not know me? Or are you to bar me from the Commandery for a shaven chin?”
The sergent’s wrinkled frown smoothed out in astonishment. “St. Clair? Sir William, is that you? God’s Holy Name, what happened to you?”
“A long tale, old friend, but I have urgent tidings for the Preceptor, from Paris. Is he within the walls?”
“You too? Aye, he is, but you might have to wait in line. It’s first come, first served tonight, it seems, and you’re the third to come seeking him within this half hour.”
St. Clair frowned. “Then I must claim priority, Sergent. As I said, I bring urgent tidings from Paris, from Master de Molay himself. Is the Admiral, too, inside?”
Tescar grinned. “Aye, he is, and the Master’s tidings are well delivered. Your brother knight arrived not ten minutes past, straight from the South Gate, no doubt with the same message.”
“What brother knight?” St. Clair shook his head, frowning. “We came in through the South Gate just as it closed, and we had to wait. There was no other Templar knight there. We would have seen him. Are you sure he said the southern gate? Who is he?”
The Sergeant of the Guard shrugged his wide shoulders. “That’s what he said, the South Gate. As to who he is, he’s a new one on me. I’ve never seen the man before, but he and another are here, from Paris, bearing tidings from the Master for the Preceptor and the Admiral.”
St. Clair’s hands had dropped to his sword, one on the hilt, the other on the scabbard, and then he stepped forward and drew Tescar away by the sleeve, out of hearing of the others. He spoke low voiced, for Tescar’s ears alone. “Listen to me, Tescar. There’s something wrong here. There is no other messenger. I am de Molay’s sole messenger to La Rochelle. What did this fellow look like?”
“Like you, but better dressed.” Tescar was frowning now, too, beginning to look angry. “White mantle, white surcoat, full, forked beard. Said he came from Paris, with urgent tidings from the Grand Master. I passed him inside. Why shouldn’t I?”
“Did you ask his name?”
“Aye, and he told me. It was English. Godwinson or Goodwinson, something like that. But he’s a Templar, beyond doubt.”
“Nothing is beyond doubt, Tescar. Not nowadays.” St. Clair had started moving towards the entrance, his pace lengthening rapidly, and he waved a hand to bring Tam and the other sergents after him. “What did this fellow look like?”
“I told you. Like you, a Templar Knight.” Tescar was moving hurriedly to keep up with St. Clair, and the others followed behind them. “Big fellow, long beard, bright red with a pure white blaze on one side.”
“What?” St. Clair stopped in his tracks, turning to face the Sergent and reaching out to stop him with a straight arm. “A full red beard, with a white streak? On the left?”
“Aye, that’s the one.” Sergent Tescar, a veteran of many years, had learned to recognize urgency when it confronted him, and he wasted no time on useless questions. “I’ll take you in directly. Come. Your fellows here can go to the refectory. They’ll still have time for dinner.”
“No, they’ll come with me and I’ll make my own way in. You stay here and bar the gates. Seal this place up, right now. No one to leave here or come in until I say so, is that clear?”
“Aye, but—”
“No time for buts, Tescar. Seal this place tight and pray we’re not too late already. Tam, quickly, with me, and bring the others.”Order In Chaos