A Templar's Apprentice (3 page)

BOOK: A Templar's Apprentice
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His eyes were fierce and frightening. “A knight gave it to me two days past. I come from Berwick. He bade me bring it to the Abbot.”

The soldier's cold and steady gaze raked me from head to foot. “Two days past, you say. You've come a long way from home.”

I nodded, praying he believe me. I knew not why I lied, but for some reason my mind latched on to the point that these men were hunting the knight I had spoken to, and I had just made a fatal blunder in not getting the message in secret to the Abbot.

The lead man advanced on the Abbot with menace. “He will be found and brought to justice.”

The Abbot ignored the taunt, addressing instead the guard behind me. “See them to the stables then out of the gates.” He said nothing more.

I stood quietly as the door swung shut behind the men. “I'm sorry, I …”

He raised a finger quickly to his lips. My heart beat faster as I waited for his signal to resume speaking. It didn't come until the echo of the footsteps moved all the way down the stairs.

“Ye're a MacLeod, are ye not?” the Abbot asked.

How could he possibly know that?

“The resemblance to yer cousin Angus is remarkable,” he said.

O' course. I'd forgotten Angus.
His training was here. The Abbot would surely know him. Angus and I shared the same brilliant red hair and hazel eyes. It was a relief to think that I might turn out looking like Angus when a man. “Aye. He's my da's —”

“Ye're not from Berwick. What is this about?” he said with impatience.

“Aye, sir. I am from Leith, in the other direction. The knight arrived a' the croft before nightfall an' bade me come here an' tell no one. An' I did, sir, until just now.” I felt badly about that.

I could see in his eyes the truth that I had made a very bad mistake. Then, just as I would have apologized, the room began to waver. I bit down hard on my cheek, willing the oddness creeping over me to recede. Light burst behind my eyes.
I thought,
not here, not now!
It was coming, and I was helpless. The world seemed to slow to a crawl, as a dark hillside rose before my eyes and the smell of the ocean filled my nose. The sound of a battle echoed in my ears and still blue eyes stared lifelessly into mine.

“Lad, are ye unwell?” the Abbot asked with concern.

All at once the vision dropped away. I was back with a racing heart and sweat trickling down my neck.

“The Templar is in danger. There will be an ambush on the trader road by the sea.” I didn't explain how I knew and the Abbot didn't ask. “He must be warned.” I started for the door then turned back. “It was my fault.”

He looked at me, worry in his eyes.

“I recognized the road. It snakes out to the sea. If he left directly after seeing me an' travels on horseback, he would have to go around the hills. I can go over them an' reach him sooner.” I could not believe the words coming out of my mouth. And yet, the vision was so sharp in my mind I was terrified.

“It's late. Ye're a child. It's too dangerous an' ye should be home.” He pushed back his stool, stood, and began to pace. “An' yet, the soldiers will be watching. If I send a contingent out a' this time o' night, they will surely notice an' follow.”

His eyes narrowed and he looked at me closely. “Ye know the way, well an' truly?” he asked.

“Aye, sir. I will reach him. Ye can rely on me.”

He came to a decision then. Taking out a clean bit of parchment, he penned a message. “This missive must be delivered only into the hands o' the knight. 'Tis a matter o' life that I entrust to ye, lad. I will see that ye're rewarded for yer efforts.”

But Da will already be furious,
I thought.
Am I mad? The strapping will be bad.
And yet, the Abott's
eyes were bright with encouragement. “I will do it, sir. But will ye assure the family that I am well?” They still expected me at the bonfire. This was no quick trip over the hillside. “Perhaps …” I hesitated.

“Aye?” he asked.

“Do ye think ye could see fit to sending my mam just a bit o' flour?”

“Aye, lad. O' course. It will be taken care o'. Here. Take this for yer own troubles. Be careful. Be swift.” He dropped several coppers into my hand and stepped beyond the door, calling for a guard. I squeezed the coins, fretting. The guard popped his head in. “See that a pack is readied in the kitchens. Two days' fare,” the Abbott said. The man disappeared quickly.

“Stop by the kitchen on yer way. 'Tis down those stairs an' through the corridor to yer left. Speak to no one. Not here. Not on the road. Go with haste, lad.” He laid his hand upon my head and made the cross on my forehead. “Go with God.”


hat have I done?
I left beneath the full dark of the night sky. I could scarcely believe the Abbot had agreed I
should make the trip. An odd sense of moving in a dream hung over me. On the one hand I felt the urgent need to find and warn the knight. But I also felt guilt and worry that my family, by now, must be wondering what happened to me. It would take a while for a runner to reach the hut to tell of my errand, and even longer to find my family still at the festival in the village. Unless … unless they were worried when I had not shown up and were, even now, hunting the woods looking for signs of my passage. “Please hurry,” I whispered to the faceless messenger.

For my part, I ran from the moment I left the preceptory, sometimes fast, sometimes not quite as quickly. It depended on the terrain. Scotia, and in particular this stretch of land I traveled, was a maze of hills and vales. I knew them like I knew my own name. My direction remained true to my inner compass — and yet my spine tingled. Everyone knew that spirits walked abroad in the dark, waiting to ambush unwary souls and drag them off to the underworld. There were certain days of the year when that was more a possibility than others. Tonight was one of those nights.

It was the time when the veil between the dead and the undead grew thin. Much as I would have liked to forget that bit of information, it hung around in my mind, popping out at every wavering shadow and rattle of branches. My fingers sketched the ward against
evil as I ran: thumb, pointer, pinky, all pointed toward the earth.

Even more frightening, I heard a cry in the night. There was no mistaking it — wolves — a pack from the sound of it. Their howls rent the darkness with an eerie, inhuman wail. The Devil was hunting abroad.

I ran faster. Tales of evil, voracious man-wolves who traveled with the Devil were Torquil's favorite way to frighten me.

It was hard to figure from which direction they would come. Their cries echoed off the hillsides: first before me, then behind. Keeping to the flat, marshy wetlands, I bolted, staying low and silent on the moors between the hills.

The wind blew strong on my face. Ordinarily it would not have been long before the pack scented me, but the rains had been heavy for much of a fortnight. The rivers and small, trickling burns were swelled, and the ground was spongy beneath my feet. My boots were wet and I could not run very quickly, but I was glad of the earth's fullness. The deep mossy smell did much to cover my scent.

I traveled the bogs for more than a candle mark with a long, loping stride that was far from comfortable. When finally I cleared their uneven surface and hit flat-packed earth, I settled into a steady pace. It was good,
not having to be constantly aware of my footing. My tread was light, my breathing regular. The sound of the wolf pack faded and my mind wandered.

I imagined the look on Torquil's face when he heard that I had been chosen as a Templar messenger. My mam would be fearful, knowing I was out unprotected in the night. I asked God to give her peace and also to make my da forget to beat me for delaying the Beltane festival.

Mostly, though, I thought about the map. It was of no place that was familiar to me. Though I knew nothing of the printed word, I was certain that the writing was scribed in a foreign tongue. It bore no resemblance to our native Gaelic. The landmarks on the map were strange, compelling shapes. I traced them with a finger in my mind as I ran, remembering them as if they were still strongly before me. The land's edge. The mountains. The waterfall.

It was the dead still of night when I came on the pass. I was up in the hills overlooking the beginning of the road that led out to the sea. There was no sign of the Templar, so I made my way down to an outcropping of rocks to settle in and wait.

I dug some dried beef from my pack and washed it down with water from the skin the Abbot had provided. In the pack was also some bread and cheese. We didn't
get bread often at home. We ate mostly bannock cakes of oat and water. In moments I was full and sleepy. I'd only ever stayed up when helping bring in the sheep. It was late and I had been on the run for a good long time.

The rocks I sat on were cold, but I was far too tired to stand. Though my body shivered, I found myself drifting off every few moments. Each time I caught myself, I jerked awake with a start. I could not afford to miss the knight. When my body adjusted to the hard seat and it grew comfortable, I forced myself to stand and pace. When that was not enough, I entertained myself by redrawing the map, both in my mind and with a twig in the dirt at my feet.

I sat again finally, for in truth I couldn't keep upright. I dreamt then of a great flow of water crashing down over a mountain of rock.

The clop of horses echoed among the hills, and I woke suddenly.


leapt to my feet. I couldn't see well. It might be the knight, but he was not alone. I opened my mouth as if
to shout, but before I did the lead man slowed. I darted behind the rock as he turned his mount and scanned the hills. All at once his eyes fixed on me.

“Lad, come!” he called.

I hurried down the incline. “How did ye know to look for me? In the darkness how could ye see?” I sputtered. My breath came in short bursts.

“It matters not. How come ye to be here, little man?”

“Tormod!” I said with exasperation. “My name is Tormod. I bring word from the Abbot. There is an ambush set somewhere in the hills on the road to the sea.” I handed him the scroll with the vision of what I'd seen fresh in my mind.

The Templar turned into the light of the moon, split the seal, and unraveled the parchment. He read the message rapidly; I saw his shock.

“The lad speaks true. The Abbot urges us to avoid the pass and seek the Archbishop Lambert at Dover Castle. Soldiers from France have been to the preceptory looking for us. They have taken the map.” The Templar motioned his group toward a dense clump of trees by the side of the road.
The pass,
I thought.
Aye. 'Tis good that ye not go there.
I knew not when or precisely where the ambush would take place, but I was still certain the fight was coming.

The thought bothered me. I turned away, studying the men in his complement. There were five: the Templar, a soldier, two monks, and an old man.

“France. Could they be from the Pope?” asked one of the monks.

“Papal soldiers rarely set foot beyond the residence,” said the soldier. “We have to assume others.” He scanned the landscape. “The pass is the only way in and out o' these hills.” He was, I estimated, about seventeen winters. He was tall, six hands for sure. His body was wiry, and not yet as muscular as the knights I had seen training, but he was on his way to becoming strong. His hair was a golden blond, and his eyes were bluish green. He wore the colors of a trainee: a black linen tunic with the cross of red, like my cousin Angus. He noticed my scrutiny and stared back, his eyes flicking over my thin form. It was a look I was used to.

“Aye, Seamus, 'tis the only road, but we dare no' use it.” The knight had dismounted and signaled the others to do so as well. From a skin bag that had been hanging from his saddle he watered his horse. The sergeant, Seamus, checked the hooves of his own mount. I sat on a rock by the knight, puzzling over the conversation I had just heard. The rest of the company spread out, taking their rest nearby.

“Do we still try for the ship?” the monk nearest me asked. He was a small, round man with a red face and a
nervous energy. He plucked at his robes and adjusted his seat several times before standing once again.

“Aye, Brother Callum. There is no' another due this way for many a day. We dare no' tarry,” said the knight.

“Neither do we dare go through the pass an' put ourselves at risk,” replied the second monk. He was a sharp contrast to the first. His voice was deep and seemed almost rusted, as if he used it infrequently. He was moderately sized, with a thin frame and the meek look of someone who preferred solitude to people. Still, he took some bannocks from his pack and offered them to me. I declined. I still had food in my pack that I had yet to investigate, but when he held out a skin of water I took it gratefully.

“There has to be another way through these hills,” the Templar muttered, stroking the muzzle of his mount.

“We thank ye, child, for bringing the message,” said the peaceful monk. “I am Andrus an' this is Douglas.” The monk motioned to the old man beside him. He was wiry and withered, and yet he seemed strong and able. “Over there as ye heard is Callum, an' that is Seamus.” He pointed to the other men in turn.

“I am Tormod,” I said, nodding to the nearest.

“Ye traveled long. Ye must be tired,” said the one called Andrus.

“I am well,” I said. “I am my da's runner. I am used to delivering messages. I know these hills and the shortest
routes for travel.” Suddenly I knew I had the answer they sought.

“Sir Knight, I know a way,” I said, climbing to my feet and moving to his side. “There are trails that wind up through the hills an' around the pass. I can lead ye. I'll not lie. 'Tis not an easy trek an' much o' it must be done afoot. The horses will have to be led. But it can be done.”

BOOK: A Templar's Apprentice
7.81Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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