All Things Are Lights – Day 137 of 200

“The Tartars are warriors without peer,” said Guido gloomily. “They have conquered half the world.”

“Baibars spoke of ‘the late Sultan.'”

“Then it is true that Ayub is dead. His eldest son, Turan Shah, will claim the throne.”

They spoke in low voices. The men all around were sleeping, except for one who got up, stumbled to a corner of the room, and let go a stream of piss against the wall.

“I can understand poor Robert d’Artois wanting to charge into Mansura,” Roland said. “He was a hotheaded man. But how could experienced leaders like Longsword and de Sennac let Amalric talk them into such a disaster? It was plain madness.”

Guido said, “That madness is what gives knights their power over the rest of mankind. Being willing to ride straight into the arms of death — that is what makes knights different from commoners. You have more than a touch of that madness yourself. You rode into Mansura with the rest of us.”

Roland found himself thinking of Diane. “Diane was always ready for death. Sometimes she seemed to want it. But she did not want the kind of power over others that knights have.”

“Many of us are like Diane,” said Guido.

Something in Guido’s voice sounded strange to Roland. “Many of us? How can a Catholic Knight of the Temple of Solomon be like a Cathar preacher?” Roland remembered how he had once feared that Guido would discover that Diane was a Cathar. How long ago that now seemed.

“Solomon’s temple harbors more secrets than you might guess,” said Guido. His voice was so soft that Roland had to strain to hear him. “I have permission to share some of that hidden knowledge with you. Roland, not all Knights Templar are merely what they purport to be. There exists within our order, another, secret order.”

The light filtering in through the narrow window was brighter now, and the prayer callers in the towers of Mansura’s mosques began their cries, reminding Roland that he was the prisoner of people who hated his kind, with good reason, and might at any moment decide to kill him.

Guido’s words made Roland want to draw back. He felt almost reluctant to hear more. He might, he suspected, learn things he would be better off not knowing.

“Guido, are you telling me that you are a heretic?”

In measured tones Guido said, “I am not a heretic. A heretic disagrees with the Church over this or that point of belief. I have left the Church far behind. I gave up everything when I joined the Templars — the little wealth I possessed, the love of women. I vowed to follow the orders of my superiors. I tell you in simple truth that I do not miss my past life. With my fellows, I have known, through the light imparted by my secret order, such bliss as no other Christians — except, I imagine, a few saints — have experienced on this earth.” He gripped Roland’s arm and stared into his eyes with a burning intensity. “Roland, I live in that state now, even as I talk to you.”

Roland looked deeper into his friend’s eyes and realized that what he was seeing was joy.

“You are a troubadour yourself, Guido,” Roland said. “You must know that those who practice courtly love attain the bliss you speak of. But we find it through the love of man and woman, not by giving up love.”

“Of course. But it is also possible to achieve the heights by constraining the appetite for physical love. There is one Light, but we need a window to see it, and in that window are panes of many different colors. Courtly lovers, Templars, Cathars, the masons’ guild, and many others have their representatives in our order. We have even forged secret links among Christians, Moslems, Jews, and men and women of other religions in far-off countries most people have never heard of.”

Roland was astounded. A secret organization of so many different kinds of people spread across the world, yet all sharing the same hidden knowledge of the inner light he had discovered as a troubadour — the vision made his head reel.

He said, “Nicolette once told me that de Gobignon believes there is a network of heretical plotters who are working to overthrow the kings of Christendom and the Pope and his prelates.”

Then he caught his breath. In his excitement he had forgotten himself. He had never before told Guido that he had talked privately with Nicolette. Well, what matter now? If Guido could be trusted with Diane’s secret, he could be trusted with this one as well.

Roland went on, “I thought it was a fantastic tale Amalric had invented to justify his ambition. Are you telling me now that there is such a network?”

Roland heard voices and the tramp of boots in the courtyard outside the barred window, in that terrible garden. Was there to be more killing now?

Guido glanced at the window and sighed, as if he were thinking the same thing. He leaned forward to speak in a still lower voice.

“De Gobignon is partly right, but the truth is so different from what he imagines that he might as well be entirely wrong. There is an alliance, and it is secret. It must be kept secret, for if any king or prince of the Church learned what is truly at the heart of the Poor Knights of the Temple of Solomon, we would all go to the stake. But our goal is not to overthrow those in power, as the count imagines. We seek knowledge, we protect it, and we pass it on to our friends. Instead of a web of conspirators, you might think of us as an invisible university.”

Roland’s mind spun dizzily. Before his very eyes Guido had turned into a giant or a magician. I thought I knew this man, and I thought I knew the world. Now I find out both are so different I can scarcely believe it.

“We do act to defend ourselves and our friends,” said Guido, “and so may at times strike at powerful enemies. There again Amalric is partly right. Our order has watched over you from the time you were at the court of Frederic, who is also one of our initiates. That is why I took the part I did the night Perrin was attacked, and why I have aided you since then.”

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