Dark Age of the Black Swan....
England's tyrannical Edward I decimates the Scottish freedom fighters led by Robert Bruce, while France's Philip IV usurps control of the papacy. But far more than political power is at stake in Europe's wars. For the French and English kings are unwitting puppets of Luciferian alchemists called the Order of the Black Swan. And the Black Swan's true goal is to capture the sacred relics guarded by the mystic knights Templar. Now from the Highlands to the Holy Land, the Templars must use martial prowess and potent magics to wage a desperate war to save humanity itself from eternal damnation.
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April 01, 2001
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Excerpt from The Temple and the Crown by Deborah Turner Harris
Late April, 1306
GOD SAVE KING ROBERT! HAIL, THE BRUCE, KING OF Scots!"
The roof beams of the smoky great hall in Castle Cupar reverberated with the cheers, and shadows leapt on the lime-washed walls, as men rose from their benches and lifted their tankards in honor of their liege lord, who occupied the seat of honor at the high table.
Robert Bruce, lately lord of Annandale and only a month ago acclaimed as King of Scots, returned the salutes of his followers with a flourish of his wine cup. As the cheering subsided to good-natured banter, he rose and turned to his host, seated at his right hand: the venerable and ever-faithful Robert Wishart, Bishop of Glasgow. Gradually, a semblance of order settled on the hall.
"My lord Bishop," Bruce declared, bowing slightly to Wishart and pitching his volume so that all could hear him. "I present my compliments again on your newly discovered skills as a man of war. In wresting this keep from English hands, you once again have proved yourself one of Scotland's staunchest champions."
The men signified their endorsement of this declaration by thumping cups and beefy hands against tabletops, and Wishart's gray head bowed in gratitude. For two tumultuous decades and more, since well before the time of John Balliol, he had spearheaded the legal and political battle to secure Scotland's independence. Now owning more than seventy years, he had only lately taken to arms in the field, with a degree of daring and initiative that would have done credit to a man half his age.
He gave a droll grin to the Bruce. "While you're handing out commendations, Sire, let us not neglect Edward of England, who so thoughtfully provided us with the means to breach the castle's defenses."
A roar of laughter rose from the hall, for the bishop's statement was precisely the truth. Having received a grant of English timber to repair the bell tower of his cathedral, Wishart had ordered the wood converted into siege engines, which he then had turned to less pastoral employment than the ringing of bells. Following a successful assault on the fortress at Kirkintilloch, the bishop had marched next on Castle Cupar, in the ancient kingdom of Fife, whose English garrison had offered only token resistance before surrendering, utterly daunted by the prospect of heavy bombardment.
"Well said, Bishop," said Christopher Seton, Bruce's close friend and brother-in-law. "But it doesnae hurt to have a pair of engineering experts on hand, either." He cast an admiring glance at the two white-clad men seated beyond Bruce and Wishart. "It seems to me that the good Sir Arnault and Sir Torquil also merit no small vote of thanks for their parts in our recent success."
A murmur of approbation rippled through the hall as all eyes shifted toward the two men named, both of them bearded and white-clad in a room full of mostly clean-shaven men dressed in the harness of war. The elder of the pair merely smiled and inclined his head in acknowledgment, but the younger, a Scot called Torquil Lennox, grinned self-consciously as he raked a big-boned hand through short-cropped red hair going gray. Though the two customarily went about in well-worn leathers and mail like those around them, tonight they had donned the distinctive white livery of their true vocations as Knights of the Temple of Jerusalem, in honor of the day's success. The crusader crosses splayed across the left shoulders of their white mantles much resembled splashes of blood.
"Och, anybody can build a catapult," Torquil said with a self-deprecating shrug. "Besides, Brother Arnault and I have been doing it for a long time."
"That's as may be," Bruce allowed, "but we haven't. Once you've built a siege engine, the trick is getting it to hit what you aim for. For that, we are much indebted to your crusading expertise--both of you."
Arnault de Saint Clair, the second Templar, chuckled good-naturedly. He also made light of their contribution, his manner much at variance with the pride and hauteur displayed by some of his more worldly Templar brethren.
"If the truth be known, my own experience lies more with trebuchets," he said easily. Though fluent in Scots and English and half a dozen other languages less useful on this island, he had never lost the accent of his native Brittany. "Fortunately, the principles of range-finding are pretty much the same. Consider any debt handsomely offset by Bishop Wishart's hospitality--and by the luxury of having a roof over our heads for tonight!"
"I thought you Templars made a virtue of sleeping rough under the sky," said Thomas Bruce, one of the king's younger brothers.
"Aye, but it doesn't rain much in Palestine," Torquil pointed out, "and never the way it rains here." He grinned. "Why do you think I joined the Temple?"