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The Holy Land: Acre: 8 May to the evening of 25 May, 1291:
Gwyn ap Hywel and his brother, Gareth, turned to see Sieur Pierre de Severy, Marshal of the Order of Knights Templar, approach them as they were strolling through the cloister of the Temple Castle which was situated on the west side of the city of Acre, overlooking the Gulf of Acre and the Mediterranean beyond. The two brothers had been conversing in softly spoken Welsh, taking a rare moment to relax before attending to their duties.
“Marshal,” Gwyn answered, the two brothers saluting him. “What is your desire?”
The bearded Man gave them both a stern look. “Not my desire, but the Master’s. He requires your presence, both of you. He is waiting for you in the chapel.”
“Indeed?” Gwyn said, raising an eyebrow. “I was unaware that the Master knew of our existence. We are but sergeants and not even highly ranked.”
“It is his business to know everything concerning the Order, Frater. I have given you the message.” With that he turned and walked away, his posture military stiff, but the two brothers knew that it was anger more than anything that drove the man.
“He does not appreciate being an errand boy,” Gareth whispered.
Gwyn merely snorted in agreement. “Come. Let us see what the Grand Master wishes from us.”
“And why do we have to keep pretending that we and Guillaume de Beaujeu are unacquainted with one another or that he does not know who we truly are?”
“Because that is how he wants it,” Gwyn replied. “That is how they all wanted it, from Robert de Sablé on down.”
They continued to walk in silence along the cloister until they reached a doorway that led into the castle, the thick walls of the building blocking out the merciless heat and late afternoon sun. They continued down the cool corridor, nodding to the knights and sergeants and the occasional priest that they encountered, stopping before a large oaken door that led to the chapel. Without bothering to knock, Gwyn opened the door and the two brothers stepped inside, the dark interior not an impediment to their sight.
Inside they saw three Men. One was the Grand Master of the Order, Guillaume de Beaujeu. Like most of those of the Order, he was bearded, both hair and beard gone prematurely gray, for he was still a man in his prime. Beside him stood Thibaud Gaudin, the Treasurer of the Order and erstwhile Commander of the Land of Jerusalem, now nearing his sixty-second year. He was a spare man, almost gaunt in his features. He was known for his great piety and was often referred to (though never to his face) as the ‘Gaudin Monk’.
The third man was not a member of the Order. Gwyn and Gareth stopped in their tracks and then bowed deeply to Henri the Second, King of Cyprus and titular King of Jerusalem, who had arrived only days before with his knights and soldiers to help defend the city against the Mamluk army, which had been encamped outside the city walls since the fifth of April.
“Approach,” the Grand Master ordered brusquely and the two brothers obeyed.
“These are the ones you would send?” Henri asked quietly, giving them a hard glare, clearly unimpressed by either of them. “They are but boys.”
Neither Gwyn nor Gareth flinched under the king’s regard, returning his glare with cool stares of their own. Of their own free will they had accepted their lowly status as sergeants in the Order, but they never forgot that they were of the Firstborn. Henri was not the first king they had ever known. Gareth was tempted to compare Henri with Richard Coeur de Lion. Now there was a king for you, though the Man was also an idiot, but you couldn’t have everything. He almost sniggered aloud at that but controlled himself, knowing that Gwyn would not approve even if he agreed with his assessment of the Plantagenet. This Lusignan king was nowhere near Richard’s equal as far as Gareth was concerned.
“They are the only ones I would send,” Guillaume answered mildly.
Henri shrugged his royal shoulders. “It is your call, Grand Master.”
Guillaume, to his credit, merely nodded before addressing the brothers. “We wish to send you as emissaries to Khalil.”
“You would treat with him then,” Gwyn said, making it more a statement than a question. What he thought about it, however, none of the others could tell, for his tone was neutral and his expression was unreadable.
“Yes. The city is sure to fall. Already the towers are being destroyed one by one. We do not have enough troops to defend the city successfully, even with the help of His Majesty’s army.” He gave the king a gracious bow of acknowledgment, then continued as he straightened. “It is only a matter of time, weeks, perhaps, days, most likely, before the city is in the Sultan’s hands. We deem it necessary to ask for clemency for the civilians and safe passage out of the city.”
“We will, of course, do what we can to secure that safe passage for all, Master,” Gwyn said, giving the Man a salute. Gareth copied him.
“Good. You will go first thing in the morning. You are dismissed from your usual duties until then. Report to me after lauds to receive your final instructions.” He waved at them and the two bowed to him and then to Henri. Gaudin they ignored for all that he was the fourth highest ranking Templar in Acre after the Grand Master, the Seneschal and the Marshal. Then they turned and walked away, remaining silent until they reached the cell which they shared.
They doffed their black mantles, since they were no longer on duty but they continued to wear the black surcoats with the red cross patty on it that was the recognized emblem of the Templars. Gwyn lounged on his hard cot, but Gareth paced the small room.
“Why us?” he asked, speaking Welsh. “And what was the Gaudin Monk doing there? I would think the Seneschal would have been a better choice to be at that meeting. He is Guillaume’s second, after all.”
Gwyn shrugged. “Who knows? Guillaume is no fool. He knows who and what we are. He knows that if anything happens we’re more likely to win free than any of our Mortal fratres.”
“Still, the king was not impressed.”
Gwyn grinned. “Gareth, my brother, kings are not supposed to be impressed, certainly not by lowly sergeants of the Order of the Knights Templar. We are, to put it bluntly, beneath his notice. Only the fact that the Grand Master has chosen us for this mission stayed him from imposing his own will in this.”
Gareth stopped his pacing to stare at his older brother. “Do you think we were wise to remain with the Templars? I still think we should have disappeared after Salah el-Din captured Jerusalem. We should have just gone home. People would just have assumed we either died or were captured and sold into slavery.”
“Too late for that though, isn’t it? Tomorrow we will see what we can do to secure the safe passage of the women and children and other noncombatants.”
To that Gareth could only nod and then at Gwyn’s suggestion, the two settled down to tread the Paths of Dreams for a time, for Gwyn did not know how long it would be before they would have the chance for proper sleep again.
“Certainly not before the end of this siege, however it goes,” Gareth commented as he settled onto his cot.
After lauds, the two brothers met with the Grand Marshal again in his small office. The only other person present was the Seneschal, Jean de Grailly, a quiet Man of middling years, but a warrior as were they all. He stood silently in the corner, watching and listening.
The Grand Master was speaking. “Al-Ashraf Khalil is not an unreasonable man, but he is hot-tempered. Guard your tongues around him. My advice to you is to salute him on your knees.”
“Humility does not become a Templar,” Gwyn said.
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