The Temple and the Stone
The Temple and the Stone
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In mid-September of 1290, under clear skies and with a brisk following breeze, a stout Norse-built cog set sail from the Norwegian port of Bergen, carrying to her wedding with England the seven-year-old Margaret Queen of Scots, known as the Maid of Norway.
The marriage had been arranged, in part, through the offices of the bearded, white-cloaked man standing at the taffrail of the Maid's ship. Frère Arnault de Saint Clair, Knight of the Temple of Jerusalem, had been among a number of outside negotiators whose assistance had facilitated the Treaty of Birgham; for the Temple's reputation for impartial arbitration was recognized universally, and the fortunes both of Scotland and of England were of great interest to all of Europe.
A singular array of qualifications commended Frère Arnault to his present assignment. Though a veteran of nearly twenty years' service as a Knight Templar, much of it in and around the Holy Land, he had been based for most of the past decade at the Order's Paris Temple, where he was regularly entrusted with sensitive financial and diplomatic missions on behalf of the Visitor of France, who was second only to the Grand Master, and the highest ranking Templar in Europe.
Landless youngest son of a prosperous Breton knight, facile in a handful of languages besides his native French, Arnault moved with equal ease among courtiers and churchmen as on the battlefield, as glib of tongue as he was quick of wit and fleet of sword. Coupled with the fortunes of his birth, an accompanying spiritual inclination might have led him to a rich sinecure as clerkly chancellor of some great house or even an eventual mitre; but a parallel excellence in the knightly pursuits at which his elder brothers excelled had directed him instead to a vocation as a Knight Templar.
These circumstances, along with an awareness of Scottish affairs -- by dint of collateral cousins in Scotland -- had earned him an appointment to the Birgham delegation beside Frère Brian de Jay, the English-born Preceptor of Scotland, who had knowledge of both English and Scottish law. The two had not met prior to their present assignment, and Arnault could not say that he had warmed to Jay in the months they had spent at the negotiating table; but the English knight did seem to know his business where the law was concerned. Having seen the treaty signed and sealed, the two men were now accompanying the little princess to Scotland, where she would be met by a suitable escort of her Scottish nobles. From there, she would travel south to London, where a new life and a new home awaited her.
The wind freshened, shifting a few degrees to the north, and Arnault breathed deeply of the brisk sea air, always welcome after the years spent in the deserts of Outremer. Unarmored here at sea, though his sword was girt always at his side, he wore beneath his mantle the formal white habit of Templar monastic profession, emblazoned on the breast with the splayed, eight-pointed red cross of the Order. His dark hair was barbered close to his head, as required by the Rule, but he had leave to keep his beard neatly trimmed, out of deference to the more fastidious circles in which his diplomatic duties obliged him to move.
He allowed himself a contented sigh as he swept his gaze around him. The royal ship was threading her way along the last of the deep fjords leading out to sea.
PublisherGrand Central Publishing
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