JULY 3, 1863
Many men are dead; the mighty Virginians have been pushed back across the blood strewn field, back into the trees on the far side of that field. How far across the Emmitsburg road did they get? One Hundred yards? Two hundred yards? Certainly no farther than that. In the three years that Will Grey had been with the army, rarely had he ever seen the General make a mistake like this. Throwing almost all the Virginians into a head on charge through an open field. Why would General Lee be so willing to sacrifice his men? As Will watched, he thought about the past two days.
The march here had been like the hundreds of marches that Will had been on before and he was sure he would be on again. Something didn’t sit right with him this time though. He felt like this time there was a reason to be worried. He had been in situations like this before, but never had he felt like the secret would be found. They were all close now. So very close.
The fighting on the first two days of this battle in a small town in Pennsylvania had been grueling enough. Will had taken a piece of shrapnel in his arm as his cannons were captured. He watched as his gun crews were either killed or captured. He had taken cover beside a dead horse. As the Yankees stormed his position, he had decided that to protect the secret he needed to evade capture.
He had decided to cover himself in the blood that was coming from the wound in the horse. He had played dead all day and then escaped in the dark of night and now he found himself in the wood line, looking towards the Emmitsburg road. Looking on as the slaughter of General Pickett’s Virginians unfolded. As he watched, he found himself wondering if any of them would ever make it back alive.
He didn’t care about the horrors that were unfolding before him. All he could think about was the consequences the knowledge of his secret would bring if it got out. He had hidden it well though. He was sure no one would ever find out. The secret was safe as long as he was alive.
Whispers went up and down the line that the Yankees would be attacking and try to push the men in the wood’s back. Will could sense the fear of a hundred young men in the trees. Men wondering if they would ever get to see their loved ones again.
“We have to fall back and regroup!” he heard one soldier say.
“General Lee will know what to do, he always does! We have plenty of fight left in us!” said another.
As Will listened to this he started to wonder. Why him? Why was he chosen so long ago? Why could he not have left those damn things where he found it? What did he do to deserve this curse? All these were questions that he had asked himself thousands of times over the years. All these questions still had no answer.
“Will!” he heard someone yell.
He turned around and there before him stood a man. A tall man, of about six feet, with black hair and a full beard. This man looks like a beast, Will thought, but there is something familiar about him.
“Will! William Grey!” the man said again
“Yeah,” replied Will.
“It’s me, James, James McNair,” the man replied.
Will had known James McNair for ten years now. They were great friends back home. They had even joined the Army together. Now James stood in front of Will and wasn’t even recognizable as the same boy of 19 that he had been when they set out together for the army. His face was covered with filth and blood. He looked like a mad man. He looked just like another man that was also once very close to Will.
The years had changed James. He now looked like a roughed up version of so many people Will had known in the past. People he had loved and cared for. People who had been killed, killed by the weapons of his enemies. Now all Will could think about was James, standing there in front of him.
“I never thought I would see you again James,” Will said with a smile “I thought for sure you would be dead by now ya ol’ sonofabitch.”
“You mean you can’t pick up a damn piece of paper and find the time to write ta yer best friend?” asked James.
“I’ve been a lil busy what with the push north and all.” replied Will.
“We ain’t been pushin’ north much since ya left me to rot with these damn heathens” James answered quickly.
The truth was, he was afraid that James would die, just like they all had, and he didn’t want to be there to see one of his friends die again. He didn’t think that his old soul would be able to handle that.
Will had transferred to the artillery just after First Manassas and had then been sent to the Shenandoah Valley to lend a hand there because of the growing number of troubles that the artillery had encountered in their traipsing around the mountains. He had quickly moved up in rank and now commanded four cannons.
“Well I guess I just ain’t much of a writer to be writin’ letters” said Will as he turned back to watch the retreat, “besides, you can’t read anyhow ya dumb ox.”
“Yeah, I know,” replied James sadly “I reckon that I can’t.”
“Well if’n you’d just let someone learn ya then you could. Ain’t all that hard”
“I don’t know anyone who can read.”
“Do ya know anyone who can write?”
“Well there is this one feller, he is one them school teachers, but he keeps to himself and just writes all day. I think he would write while shootin’ at them Yankees if’n he could find a way.”
They both started laughing. That’s when it happened. Will could see it all, he heard the scream of the shot and then saw the dust and dirt fly, but when the dust cleared away, James wasn’t there. He could see the hole in the ground where James once stood. There was a cannon ball buried in the bottom of the hole.
Will stared in disbelief as tears welled up in his eyes.
“Not again!” he cried, “how could this happen to me again?”
He turned away from the hole that was now where James had once stood. He could feel the fear and anger inside of him. Anger he hadn’t felt in years. He couldn’t stand the cruelty of this war or this world any more.
“Yer bleedin’ Will” he heard a voice say.
Will turned around. Standing there before him was James. Will felt all his emotions give way to the relief. He could no longer hold the tears back. He felt like he had held them back forever as he started to cry.
“I said yer bleedin’ Will,” James said “ya don’t have to be a baby about it though!”
“I thought you were dead James” said Will.
“Nah, good thing I went behind that there tree to piss! That might have hurt a lil’ bit.”
“Yeah it would have.”
Will felt a sharp pain in his side and looked down. He saw that there was a piece of wood sticking out of his belly. He could see the blood on his hand when he touched it to the wound. A familiar feeling now overcame him, one that he had felt many times before. Will could feel himself falling, and then everything started to go black.
Will could feel them moving him and he could hear their voices, but they sounded so far away. He tried to speak to them but his lips wouldn’t move. Will thought the worst. Then he remembered that this is not the first time he has been in a situation like this. He has been much in much worse and he has always been ok. He stopped trying to fight off the darkness.
As he slipped into the black, he started remembering the troubles of his past, troubles that would lead him into a world that he often thought of as hell.
AUGUST 31, 1149
“They’re here, William” said a voice from the other end of the chamber.
“Who are, Matthew” asked William, Earl of Grey.
“The knights from the Holy Land. They say they are the Knights Templar.”
“Very well, show them in.”
The Second Crusade had been going on for two years now and these visits were frequent to the many Lord’s throughout England. They ask for men to fight or money for arms, but all the visits were the same. He could think of little reason that this one would be any different.
The door at the far end of the chamber opened and in stepped three men wearing chain mail armor with a white mantle over it. On the mantle was a large red cross. They were carrying their helmets and he could see the hilts of their swords on their sides. He noticed that one of the men was carrying a small chest. This was not like these knights; they never brought anything with them. He took a closer look and thought that they looked like they may be messengers and not the solicitors that normally came to see him.
“How may I help you gentlemen today” asked William.
“We come from the Crusades and the Holy City of Jerusalem,” said the knight holding the chest “we are in need of your services, sire.”
“Please, call me William. How may I be of service to the Knights Templar?”
“We are told that you have a gift. You have the ability to find things that need to be found. We have some items that need found.”
“What is this item that needs found?”
“The contents of this small chest will explain it all”
The knight handed over the chest. As William looked at it, he noticed a small marking on it. A marking that looked like the ring he wore on his thumb. An intricate design, one of a cross placed inside a pentagram. He had always thought of this design as blasphemous, but it was given to him by his father, so he wore it with all the pride that any son would.
He thought about the day his father had given him the ring. He could remember it so well. He was only 13 at the time, but he could remember it like it was yesterday. It had been a warm spring day. His father had taken him hunting along with a few of his father’s friends. When they had ridden away from the group, his father came to a stop and motioned for him to do the same. William stopped and looked at his father. He could see that his father seemed troubled as he handed William the ring.
“What is it father” he had asked.
“My son,” replied his father, “I want to give this to you. With this ring comes the responsibility of many generations of this family. My time grows nigh, William, and I shall soon die. My health is fading fast and I shall soon join my men in Heaven. I have served in the Crusades and I know that the fight shall not soon be over. I only pray that you will survive long enough to pass this on to your son. Remember these words when your king calls on you, which I have little doubt that he will. You are only as good as your men. Never ask your men to do something that you yourself would not do with them. Lead them into battle with little hesitation and do so from the front, not the rear.”
His father had died just 2 months later, but these were the words that William of Grey had based his life upon. He had sent some of his men to join the Crusades and had only stayed behind because the bout of dysentery that was going around and had afflicted him. He had felt bad when they left without him. Now before him, in the box he held in his hands, may be his chance to join his men on the battlefield.
He opened the chest; inside he saw a two pieces of parchment and a key. Both of them were folded and both had wax seals on them, marking them as official. He assumed the key was the key to the chest. The key also had the symbol on it. He wondered of the significance of the symbol and why he had only now seen it on anything other then his ring. He placed the chest on the table in front of him and pulled out the first sheet of parchment. The seal on this one had the markings of the Knights Templar. He began to read.
William of Grey,
We have heard, from your men, that you are remarkably good at finding items that have been lost. We have need of your services to find some items that have been lost since the time of Christ. These items are very important and we believe them to be somewhere in the castle that we have just been given in Gaza. Please accept this, my invitation, and join us in the Holy Lands to search for these items. The young knight that handed you this letter shall be responsible for your safe arrival in Gaza as the others have other duties to attend to. His name is Gerard de Ridefort. He is very trustworthy and will see to your needs. I pray that you will accept this task which we have presented to you. May God bless you on your journey to the Holy Lands.
Your brother in Christ,
Robert de Craon,
Master of the Order of the Poor Knights Templar
After reading this he folded it and placed it onto the table. He took a deep breath and thought about what he had just read. He wondered why he even needed to think about his answer. He wanted to go join his men so badly, but yet there was something stirring inside of him, a bad feeling.
He pulled out the second letter. This one had the seal of Pope Celestine II. He thought that this letter would be like the first one, asking for his help with locating these holy relics. He placed it back inside the chest, without opening it. He then placed the letter from Robert de Craon on top of the letter from the Pope and closed the chest.
“What of my men” he asked no one in particular.
“They have already been sent to Gaza,” replied Gerard de Ridefort “to assist in the search and also in anticipation of your arrival.”
“Why in anticipation,” asked William “I have not given my answer?”
“William, we both know that no respectable man would send his men somewhere if he didn’t lead them. And if that man got ill, let’s say from the dysentery, he would join them forthwith.”
“How do you know so much about me Gerard?”
“Your men speak of you with pride. You inspire them all.”
He pondered over this for a moment. He was pleased that his men would speak of him in such high regards. He wished that he could be there now. He had made up his mind, and was pleased with his decision.
“Very well, Gerard de Ridefort, I shall join you on your return to Gaza. Matthew will see that your horses are taken care of and shall see to your accommodations for the night. Please join me in the Great Hall for a feast this evening.”
“I shall much enjoy that, however, my companions must leave at once.”
“Well then, Matthew shall see that they have food enough for their travels and that they have fresh horses to carry them to their destinations.”
“Thank you, William of Grey.”
With that, the knights followed Matthew out the door leaving William to dwell on the events that had just unfolded. He sat down at the table and stared at the symbol on the chest. He wondered how the Knights Templar knew of his ring and why they had the symbol carved into the chest. He opened it as he pondered his thought. He took out the letters again and re-red the letter from Robert de Craon. He then decided to read the letter from Pope Celestine II. He felt a chill inside of him as he opened the letter.
William, Earl of Grey,
It pleases me to know that your men are fighting in the Holy Land. Any soldier sent is greatly appreciated. There is no doubt in my mind that, by now, you have read the letter sent to you by the Master of the Knights Templar, Robert de Craon. He is a blunt man, but he is, by far, one of the best knights that the Order has. I do hope you accept his invitation to join him. I have taken the liberty of sending your men to Gaza to await your arrival; however, it is not as the Order thinks it. Your men are not there to assist you in your search; they are there to protect you and your findings. No others would protect you as they would. They are your men and they love you as they love their own brothers. I truly believe that they would protect you to the death.
I do not fully trust the Order and I know that the items you are searching for will enable them to take control of anything that they desire. This could ruin all of Christendom. I only hope that you find these items before they do. Great horrors will be brought about the world if these items fall into the wrong hands. Therefore, you are to report to me and only me. You will do so through a man by the name of Richard Cromwell. He is with your men now.
He shall report your findings directly to me and will also take care of reporting to Robert de Craon for you. He has been instructed how to do it. He will inform you of what you are looking for when you arrive at Gaza. If you run into any troubles William, run, run fast and far and come to me. Only fight if you must. These items are far too valuable to let them fall into the wrong hands.
May God bless you in your travels,
Pope Celestine II
William pondered over this letter for a moment and then, placed both letters back into the chest and locked it with the key. He stood up and walked over to the fireplace behind him. There he stopped, looked around the chamber. When he was satisfied that there was no one in the room he reached above the hearth and pushed on the center stone. The sound of the movement of the wall startled him. He had forgotten how loud it was. When the wall stopped moving, he stepped into the door that was now where the wall had once been, into a small room. He placed the chest on a shelf at the back of the secret room and removed a stone from the wall beside it.
He had been in this room many times before and he was sure that he was the only person alive who knew about it. He had hollowed out this stone, along with four others, when he was a child. He used them to store small items such as the necklace he had stolen from his mother when he was nine. He remembered how mad she was when she found out that it was him who stole it. He now placed the key inside the stone and then placed the stone back into the wall.
He turned to exit the room when he saw his father’s sword. He decided to take it with him. After all, he would need a sword in the Holy Land and he figured that taking this sword, instead of his own, might give him the strength and courage he would need to fulfill his task. He thought of his father and the stories that had been told about the gallant battles that he and his men had fought in. William wanted to honor his father’s memory by using the sword that his father had used in the Crusades. Tears started to form in William’s eyes. He clutched the sword close to his chest and exited the room.
He thought of the day he watched as his father pressed the stone and entered the room. William had been curious of the room and crept over to look inside. He had tripped over something as he had gotten close to the room and fallen to the ground with a large thump. His father had turned around and laughed when he saw William.
“William,” his father said “come here and have a look inside this room. I was the only one who knew of this room. I guess that we both now know. Now that you know of this room, you must swear an oath to me that, no matter what, you will never tell anyone about it.”
William had swore the oath to his father and to this day, had not told a single person, not even his closest friend, Matthew. He had been true to his word and would be, until the day that he decided to show the room to his son. He wanted to pass the ring to his son and show him the room in the same day. He had planned that day since his son’s birth. That day was far away though, and he knew it, as his son was only an infant.
William then pushed the same stone he had pushed to open the door and again he heard the sound of stone scraping stone as the door closed. He did not take notice to the person waiting in the shadows as he walked away and exited the chamber in route to the blacksmith to have the sword repaired and sharpened. He walked out onto the narrow street and turned left, down the hill towards the blacksmith shop.
AUGUST 31, 1149
As the feast began, William noticed that his guest, Gerard de Ridefort, had not yet arrived. He wondered if Gerard had gotten lost when he remembered the strict religious schedule that the Knights Templar adhered to. He guessed that Gerard was at the chapel in prayer.
William said a silent prayer for his men and then for the safe travel of the voyage he was about to embark on. It had been a long time since he had last prayed. He remembered that it was the day his men left for the Holy Land without him. He had prayed that God would keep them safe in their travels. He learned a week later, that two of his men had been killed when a large group of bandits attacked them. He had lost his faith in God that day. How could God let this happen if his men were on their way to fight in the Holy Lands in his name? Tonight, however, he felt compelled to pray.
Just as he finished his prayer, Gerard de Ridefort entered the Great Hall and walked over to William. He had a solemn look on his face as he began to speak.
“William,” Gerard said “forgive me for my late arrival. I was in your chapel at prayer.”
“It is fine, Gerard,” William replied “I will not ask you to stop your religious duties just because you are here with me. Who am I to do such a thing? Every Man is entitled to his prayers.”
“Thank you for your understanding, William.”
“There is no thanks necessary, Gerard. Now, come, sit by me and we shall feast on this most wondrous meal that has been prepared in your honor.”
“That is very kind of you, William. I assure you that it is greatly appreciated.”
With that, Gerard de Ridefort took a seat on the right-hand side of William of Grey. The seat that was constituted as a place of honor. This was the first time Gerard had been asked to sit in such a seat, and it showed in the joyfulness on his face. William was pleased that this young knight was in such high spirits. In the little time that William had known Gerard, he had begun to like him. He could see that this young man’s intentions were true. He thought of the journey ahead. Then he thought about the letter from Pope Celestine II and thought that maybe the Pope was wrong. Maybe he could trust some of these knights. He reckoned that he would have to wait and see if his feeling about Gerard was true.
As the feast drew to a close, he stood and turned to talk to Gerard, who was now also standing.
“Gerard,” said William “will you accompany me to the blacksmith so that we may talk of the journey ahead of us?”
“Of course, William,” came the reply “I would be glad to.”
“Very well then, shall we go?”
“Yes. We have much to talk about William.”
As they exited the Great Hall, William felt like something was wrong. He turned to look and saw nothing that he hadn’t seen before he had gotten up . The table still had food and wine on it, the candles were still burning and there were people sitting around the table talking amongst themselves. He did, however, notice that Matthew was staring at him, almost in anticipation. William dismissed the thought. He had known Matthew his entire life and knew that Matthew regarded William as family just as William did Matthew. He then realized that he had had too much to drink. He dismissed the idea that Matthew was staring at him with anticipation.
William and Gerard began their walk down the narrow street. It was a lovely evening, with a clear night sky, showing the thousands of stars in the heavens. It was also quiet, a little too quiet for such a beautiful night. He felt a shiver of fear come over him as he thought about the silence. He then remembered that almost the whole town had shown up for the feast. He felt a little more at ease with this notion.
They walked the first few feet in silence before either of them spoke.
“Do you ever wonder what heaven looks like” asked Gerard.
“I have wondered it a few times, Gerard” replied William.
Just then Gerard waved his arm upward to warn William to stay quiet. Gerard unsheathed his sword and slowly walked over to the edge of the building, motioning for William to do the same. William unsheathed his sword and fell in behind Gerard along the wall. He could hear men talking on the other side of the barrier. It was hard for him to make out what they were saying, but, he could tell that there were five of them by counting the different voices that he heard.
Gerard must have understood it all. He stepped out from behind his cover and walked towards the men. They were all wearing cloaks and were speaking of the Holy Lands and the Crusades. William followed him through the alleyway. They were just five feet from these men, who had not yet acknowledged their presence, when Gerard spoke to them.
“Why do you speak of the Holy Lands in that manor” asked Gerard.
“Because I have seen them myself, Gerard de Ridefort,” came the reply from the man with his back turned towards them “and I wish to never see them again.”
Gerard seemed puzzled as to who might know him in this part of the land and even more puzzled about the deep Germanic accent.
“Well then good sir, who are you” asked Gerard.
“I am of no importance to the Knights Templar any more. Now leave us be or I shall send you back to the Holy Lands in pieces.” came the harsh retort.
“You shall tell me who you are and you shall do so at once” exclaimed Gerard.
The man turned around as the other four men fell in beside him. The hoods of their cloaks cast shadows on their faces. The men threw their cloaks off and William noticed that all five men were wearing the mantle of the Knights Templar. The men all unsheathed their swords.
“You’re Guy Cornwallis,” exclaimed Gerard “I should have known that it would be a coward like you who was speaking ill of the Crusades.”
William could hear the anger in Gerard’s voice.
“Yes, Gerard,” Guy said “you would think me a coward. But how can you think me a coward if you only know me by reputation? You speak of me as if you know who I am and what I have done. You do not know me. Do not pretend to know me.”
“Why are you here and why do you threaten us with harm?”
“I am here on business. Business that needs not be of concern to you, so move on or I shall make good on my threat.”
“So be it then, Guy Cornwallis. After I have disarmed you, I shall see you arrested and taken back to Jerusalem to be judged by King Baldwin III and Robert de Craon.”
“You shall not win young knight. You have neither the skill nor the men. You are but two, we number five.”
“Allow us to prove you wrong, Guy Cornwallis.”
With that, the fight began. William was immediately rushed by two of the knights; however, one tripped and stumbled, loosing his balance. He saw that Gerard de Ridefort and Guy Cornwallis had begun their fight and that they were already up the stairs on top of the outer defenses of William’s homestead. Gerard’s sword already had blood on it. William thought that this must be a good sign, a sign from God even. William then turned his attention back to his fight.
The second knight had gotten up and was now rushing towards him. He needed to find a way to fight them both. The first knight reached him quickly and began swinging his sword in a downward motion. William blocked the swing and quickly dropped to one knee and sliced across the knight’s stomach. William could feel the warm blood of the knight spray across him. The knight’s eyes got wide with horror as his guts spilled out of the wound. The knight fell to his knees, dropped his sword and fell forward, dead.
The second knight now lunged towards William. William parried the blow with a spin and struck the knight in the back of his head with the hilt of his sword. The knight, now dazed and angry, moved to strike again. William fell to the ground and rolled towards the now dead knight. He could feel the wind from the second knight’s sword as it thudded into the cobblestone beside his head. He grabbed the dead knight’s sword and, in one motion, pushed himself back onto his feet, just in time to parry another lunge from the knight. This time, he was not as lucky as he had been before.
He felt the tip of the knight’s sword tear through the upper part of his arm. He quickly checked to make sure that he still had full use of that arm by shrugging his shoulders. He was surprised to find that he did have full use of it. That meant that the wound was superficial and had not done any real damage. He watched as the knight lifted up his sword again and brought it down. William blocked the blow with the sword he had picked up from the dead knight. He thrust his sword as hard as he could and felt it go deep into the knight’s chest. He quickly gave the sword a twist to position it into the knight’s chest so it would cause a horrible wound. He recovered from his block, letting go of his sword then quickly spinning around, used the sword of the fallen Templar and sliced across the knight’s neck.
William delivered his powerful blow then he stopped, dropped the sword and watched as the knights’ head rolled off his shoulders and landed with a dull thump. It then proceeded to roll down the cobblestone street about ten feet, before it stopped. He retrieved his sword from the chest of the second knight, now lifeless and headless. He then quickly headed off into the direction of Gerard. As he quickly hurried up the stairs of the outer defenses, he caught himself praying that his new friend was alright.
When William reached the top of the stairs, he could see the sword arm of one of the knights lying on the ground in front of him. There was blood all over the ground and the wall, so much blood that William thought Gerard had already finished his fight. He looked over the edge of the wall and there he saw the body of a knight, missing his sword arm and nearly headless, sprawled out on the cobblestones of the street below. He could now hear the tell-tail clink of sword on sword ahead. He hurried towards the sound.
William arrived just in time to watch one of the knights be struck down by Gerard. He watched in amazement as Gerard lifted his sword above his head and, with the strength of ten men, sliced downward onto the knight, cutting him in two. Gerard had gotten his sword stuck in the ground after that blow and was having trouble getting it loose. William began to run toward Gerard and jumped, pushing him out of the way just in time to miss the strike of Guy Cornwallis’ sword.
“Thanks” exclaimed Gerard.
“You’re more than welcome my friend” William said.
“Let me kill you so that I may be on my way, you insolent swine” snapped Guy.
Guy Cornwallis lifted his sword again, this time; however, he did not move to strike, he kicked William hard in the chest. As William fell, he landed on Gerard and dropped his sword. Guy Cornwallis moved to strike this time. William closed his eyes believing the end was near. He wished that he had only fought better, for now Gerard and him were about to die.
He was expecting the death blow to be dealt when he heard a thwump-thwump-thwump and then the sound of metal hitting stone. This was followed by a scream. William quickly opened his eyes. What he saw amazed him. Guy Cornwallis had dropped his sword and now had three arrows sticking out of his arms. There were two arrows in Guy’s sword arm and one in his shield arm. One of the arrows had gone almost the entire way through Guy’s sword arm.
William wondered where the arrows had come from since he had caused Gerard to fall also and there was no way that Gerard had gotten up that quickly. He turned and looked to the street below just in time to see a cloaked figure holding a bow, with a quiver full of arrows slung over its shoulder, step back into the shadows of the alleyway from where they had came and where two knights now lay dead.