Geoffrey mounted the first two steps of the papal throne and waited. He was separated from the pope by no more than a yard. He could see that the pope wore white powder on his face and a touch of rouge. He smelled of sweet bath water. Geoffrey remembered that this was a man who openly kept a mistress – a noblewoman thirty years younger than himself.
“Monsieur de Preuthune,” the pope opened slowly, “you are a courageous man. You fought against the Saracen for your faith—“
“As did the Knights Templar for nearly two hundred years!” Geoffrey’s fervor, the unexpected hope that he might be able to influence the pope to intervene on behalf of his brothers, made him forget himself.
The pope scowled and lifted his hand in startled reproach. He had not expected the same impudence from this nobleman he had had to suffer from the king and his ministers. Geoffrey bit his tongue. “As we were saying,” the pope continued, “you fought against the Saracen for the sake of your faith, and we know that the Saracens outnumbered the army of Saint Louis many, many times.” Geoffrey nodded, and the pope continued, “But you do not seem to understand the nature of the enemy here.” He paused and looked sharply at Geoffrey.
“I was trained in the Temple, Your Holiness. We were trained never to retreat unless the enemy outnumbered us more than three to one. It was the Templars who were the vanguard of the Seventh Crusade. We attacked at Damietta, we attacked all along the advance, and – although King Louis had ordered restraint – we attacked at Monsourah. Do you think I should fear now?”
“Yes,” Came the blunt reply. “We see you are a man of simple, straightforward faith. As a man of the sword, you are not used to intrigue and the need for discretion. But you are a subject of the King of France, and if you do not wish to die a criminal, then you would do well to forget your Templar past.” The pope leaned back in his throne and let this sink in.
Geoffrey could not tell if he were being warned or threatened.
The pope leaned forward again and now he whispered, “We too are the king’s prisoner. The king would not hesitate to charge us with the same crimes he has leveled against our predecessor, Pope Boniface VIII. We are powerless against him. Neither excommunication nor any other spiritual sanction impresses him. Do you think we have not tried? Haven’t you noticed how the city swarms with his soldiers?” he demanded.
Geoffrey saw fear in the pope’s eyes and the trembling of his thin hands. This self-indulgent, frightened old man was supposed to be Christ’s vicar? Geoffrey’s disbelief gave way to contempt. This old man cared more for his own survival – his survival, his comfort and the trappings of power than for the duties of his sacred office. He was not willing to fight for the substance of his authority. He was prepared to live a sham.
Ah, I should have known, Geoffrey cursed himself. A pope who keeps a mistress could have no interest in moral authority. He is content as long as his creature comforts are provided and people pretend to respect him.
Geoffrey chose his next words with deliberation. He spoke softly and distinctly, his eyes fixed on the watery, pale eyes of the pontiff. “If you had not allowed the king to arrest all the Knights Templar in the kingdom, you could have called upon an army.”
The pope started. His pointed nose was running and a drop of water hung on the tip between the nostrils. “What—“
“The Templars owed their allegiance to no king, only to you. You could have surrounded yourself with the best knights in Christendom – and then you could have challenged Philip – or any king – to any test of strength you liked. They would have died for you, Your Holiness, with the same elan and devotion with which they died for Jerusalem and Acre. You could have made kings dance to your tune and set them aside – instead of letting them treat you like a pawn.”
The pope had gone pale as he stared at Geoffrey. Hastily, he brushed the drop from his nose with the back of his gloved hand and looked away. He swallowed; Geoffrey could see the Adam’s apple bobbing in his scrawny throat. “With your permission,” Geoffrey said coldly and he backed off the dias.
“Wait!” The pope cried and Geoffrey waited, but it was too late. They both knew it was too late.