Helena Schrader's Historical Fiction

Understanding Ourselves by Understanding the Past.


My biographical novel of Balian d'Ibelin in three parts is complete, but the saga continues. Follow me to Cyprus, where Lusignans and Ibelins struggle to put down a rebellion and establish a durable state. Watch for excerpts and updates here.

Friday, January 16, 2015

Black Friday, October 13, 1307 - An Excerpt from "The English Templar"




The crash that came from the courtyard made Percy fling off his blankets and grab his aketon. He could hear shouting, the imperative yelling of men giving orders, the thudding of numerous hooves on frozen ground, the pounding of boots on wooden stairs, the clunk of doors being flung open. He pulled his aketon over his head and tightened the laces at the throat.

Men were bursting into the dormitory. By the light of the two candles, Percy could see that they wore round “kettle” helmets over mail coifs and that they held naked swords in their hands.

Percy dragged his hauberk and surcoat together over his head even as the armed men were roughly kicking the serving brothers awake and herding the startled, bewildered men together.

Sergeant Gautier was on his feet and limping forwards in his underwear, calling out, “What is this? Who are you? What do you want?”

“You are all arrested in the name of His Grace King Philip IV of France!”

While some of the serving brother broke into a jumble of confused exclamations of disbelief, Brother Gautier protested in a raised, somewhat hysterical voice, “Why? On what charge?”

The thought that these simple brothers could have done anything to offend the crown of France was so absurd that Percy instantly dismissed the claim as either a mistake or a ruse. Philip of France could hardly know that St. Pierre du Temple existed. The Temple was, in any case, not subordinate to any king and owed Philip neither taxes nor obedience. Percy knew, however, that he no longer had time for his mail leggings and reached instead for his sword.

There came a shout, the sound of someone running and then he was tackled from behind and flung onto to pallet, pinned down by the weight of his assailant on his back. Even as he rammed his elbows backwards agains this attacker, he saw a foot kick out and send his sword skittering across the flagstone floor out of reach. Another man had joined the first on his back, pressing his knee into Percy’s spine. Another had hold of the back of his neck in a powerful grip and forced his face down into the blankets, nearly suffocating him. Someone was wrenching his arms behind his back and tying his wrists together. Percy knew when he was defeated since that too was something a good soldier learned to recognize and he stopped struggly instantly. The pressure on his spine and head eased at once. The men backed off, pulling him to his feet.

He looked over his shoulder and saw that the men holding him were indeed wearing the livery of the King of France. It was ridiculous! What could they possibly hope to gain by a breach with the pope? Did Philip of France want to start a feud with Clement V to match the one he had had with Boniface VIII? Weak as Clement was said to be, even he would not tolerate such a flagrant affront to his authority.

The King’s men were already herding the bewildered serving brothers and the priest down the stairs to the courtyard. One old man kept asking is brothers what was happening while Gaston kept looking anxiously over his shoulder to see what had happened to Percy. Serfs by birth, they had been born to docility and as monks they had vowed obedience. Such me, Percy told himself, could not be expected to distinguish between lawful and unlawful authority.

Brother Gautier alone was protesting to the captain in charge. He insisted that he and his brothers were innocent of all wrongdoing. Not one day in their lived had they ever been anything but loyal subjects of the king, he assured the king’s representative in a shaky, strained voice. Terror was written on the aged sergeant’s face and Percy felt sorry for him. Evidently, he was so frightened he had forgotten that the Temple was subordinate to the pope alone.

“It’s not for me to judge your guilt or innocence,” the royal officer told Brother Gautier matter-of-factly. “I have my orders. Take it up with the sheriff.” He was relieved that his mission had gone so well. The orders to attack a house of the Knights Templar and arrest all those within had made him break out in a cold sweat just six hours ago. He had been raised on legends of Templars defending their castles against tens of thousands of Saracens, their small bands matching great armies, their rescue of King Louis II from destruction, their heroic defense of Acre. The captain knew that they were not allowed to withdraw unless the enemy had more than a three-to-one superiority, and he could not know how many men they had in Saint Pierre — which was why he’d mustered his entire company of nearly fifty men. In the event, it was almost ludicrous how easy it had been, he thought shaking his head.

“You can be sure that we will take this up with the sheriff — and the pope! Someone — you, your sheriff or King Philip himself — has overstepped his authority.”

Percy’s voice drew the captain’s attention and he looked up startled at the man held by two of his subordinates.  He took in the chain mail hauberk, the muscular shoulders and thighs and drew the right conclusion. This man was a knight. “Are you the commander, sir?”

“No, I am the commander. This is just a poor traveler. Here for a single night. Whatever crimes we have been unjustly accused of, they cannot apply to him.” Brother Gautier spoke before Percy could get a word out.

The captain looked from Brother Gautier to Percy somewhat uncertainly.

“I am an Englishman, Sir Percy de Lacy of the commandery at Limassol on Cyprus, en route from Poitiers to Limassol,’ Percy confirmed. “And you have no business arresting any Templar since we are subordinate to one but our own officers and the pope himself.”

The arrogance of Percy’s tone angered the captain and he took refuge in the certainties of life: “I have my orders and they were to arrest everyone inside this house. I don’t give a damn if you are a bloody Englishman or the pope himself!”


They turned into the narrow alley leading to the city jail [of Albi]. Percy felt a shock go through his body as he saw that two wagons similar to the one behind him already waited there. Had they made raids on more than one commandery? In a single night? Of course in the same  night, he told himself, otherwise there would be no element of surprise. If was standard police tactics, but the increased pounding of his heard could not be calmed.

They stopped and at once someone came and untied his feet. The pain in his ankles as he moved them again was not insignificant but he was too proud to let it show. He leaned forward at once and vaulted to the ground. He had underestimated the impact of a night tied to the back of a horse. His feet were numb and he lost his footing at once. He staggered and, without his hands free to balance him, fell to the ground — to the general gratification and laughter of the guard. He flushed in embarrassment and anger, but also managed to get his knees under him and right himself. Meanwhile, the other prisoners from Saint Pierre were being pushed off the back of the wagon and into the jail.

As Percy was pushed past the porter of the jail, he turned and addressed the old man. “I demand to see the sheriff and a representative of the Bishop of Albi,” Percy protested.

“Oh, you’ll have ample opportunity to get to know the sheriff,” came the answer in a sneering voice. And then something particularly curious happened. The called him “an ass-fucking heretic!” and spat after him.

Percy had not recovered from the shock of such an uncalled –for and perverse insult when he found himself at the entrance to the public jail. Before him, spread upon the stale straw, with chains around their feet or chained directly to moldy walls were over one hundred Templars. It took his breath away. 








The English Templar is available for sale here.

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