Word of the strange encounter the night before had somehow leaked onto the street and the poor folk were suddenly afraid. Sure, the thief who had attacked Rachel was not to be trusted, but to hear of someone as strong as the White Shadow, as he was now called, protecting the Jews made them afraid.
“We must drive them out of the city,” someone screamed. A man jumped onto a table in the tavern and spread out his hands. In a few moments he had them quiet.
“Men of Villefort, listen to me!” he bellowed. “You have just heard what my friend said.” There were nods and murmurs of assent. “What happened last night clearly shows that the Jews are in league with the Devil himself. We must drive them out of the city before anything worse happens. Are you with me?”
“Yes!” screamed the crazed mob. Two people watched these happenings from opposite corners of the tavern, one with growing apprehension, the other with satisfaction. This is better than I had planned it, Pierre thought to himself. While the mob thrashed at the Jews, he would be able to get away with the lovely Rachel. He would convert her in his way, he decided with a wry grin.
The other man was Charles, a loyal friend of both Tristan and Claude and son of the baron’s head steward. This must be stopped. The baron must be warned, he decided and slipped out of the stuffy room.
The mob moved swiftly to the Jewish quarter. None of the inhabitants were ready for them and they were quickly pushed to the side, taken captive, beaten. They reached Hananel’s house just as he stepped out of the door to do some business.
“Stop, in the name of the baron!” he thundered. “What do you think you are doing?”
“Look,” someone roared, “it’s the sorcerer himself.”
“Crucify him!” someone else shouted. They pushed up to him and grabbed on to him, shoving him against the door. Several others, among them Pierre of Lyselle in disguise, pushed their way into the courtyard. In the same instant Rachel stepped from the doorway to see what the commotion was. She screamed and fled into the house. The Knight Templar raced after her and caught her just as she was about to start up the broad wooden stairs to the top floor. He grabbed her around the waist.
“I’ve got you now,” he laughed.
“Let me go!” she hissed, struggling in his iron grasp.
“I don’t think so,” he answered and hit her on the back of her head. She collapsed, unconscious. He moved her as if he was carrying a sleeping child and hurried out a back door. The girl’s yellow head scarf had come loose and lay on the floor by the stairs.
* * *
Meanwhile, the people in front of Hananel’s house were holding him against the door. Someone produced some nails and a hammer. One rough man spread the old Jew’s hand apart and rested the sharp point of the spike against his palm. He drew back the hammer.
“STOP!” a voice roared. The fellow jumped, the nail slipping out of his fingers.
“The baron!” came numerous screams. Many people tried slip out from the edge of the crowd, but they were quickly surrounded by armed men, some of them dressed in the white cloaks and red crosses of the Templars. Two of the white knights shoved their way through the crowd, swords bared. None of the people wanted to face the sharp blades and quickly made room. The man with the hammer and nails surrendered them to Claude, while Tristan supported Hananel.
“Are you all right, sir?” he asked. The Jew was dumbfounded to see such courtesy from his greatest enemies, the Templars, and merely nodded.
“I am desperately ashamed of you,” Bernard was thundering behind them. “You have forgotten that I am the protector of the Jews in this city, and I mean to be that. I am also the protector of the Christians, besides being their judge.” He paused, green eyes flashing with anger. “What got into you, you fools?” he demanded. “I could almost swear that you were possessed by demons.”
“If there are any demons here, they are sent by the Jews,” called the man who’d led the charge on the quarter. “You have heard about the White Shadow, have you not?”
“Yes, I have, and I commend that man, whoever he may be. He is no demon; he is someone with more sense than any of you fools have.” The baron leaned forward on his horse. “And one more disrespectful outburst like that and you’ll find yourself hanged, is that clear?” The ringleader just sullenly glared at his lord.
“Because you acted foolishly, I won’t punish most of you,” the baron continued, leaning back. That insolent young man who started all of this will be put in the dungeon without food for two weeks. If he and you behave yourselves then he will go free. If not, he will be hanged, is that clear?” The crowd mumbled its assent. “Aside from that you are commanded to repair any damage you have made, and this will not be figured as part of the labor that you owe me anyway. It is just punishment for fools like you.” He waved one hand. “Men, break up the crowd.” The mob splintered like a glass shattering on a marble floor and drifted off sullenly. Tristan gave Hananel an affectionate pat on the shoulder and left, Claude with him.
“I don’t know if we’ll ever get them to see that the Jews are people, too,” he sighed.
“They seem to forget that our Lord was one of them,” Tristan answered sadly. “Of course, they do not know our homeland, do they?”
“If it’s so bad here, why do you stay?” his friend remarked.
“Because it’s about as far away from Esther’s grave as I can get. It’s the only way I can somewhat forget her.” His friend nodded, understanding the dark knight’s plight.
“Dear God,” Tristan mumbled after they had mounted their horses and left the town, “why did I let her go that day? Why did we decide to go our separate ways? We would have been so much more effective together! Maybe then we’d have been able to come here, and people would understand that Jews and Christians can live together in harmony.”
“No, Tristan, not even your wedding Esther would have made that possible,” Claude told him sadly. “Your father and mother’s marriage proved that. Even though your mother was converted, people still despised her, and you know that. It’s the same, even out there.”
“But God calls us to love one another, even our enemies. Why can’t we just do that?”
“I don’t know.” And they were silent the rest of the way to the Temple.
* * *
“He did what?!?” Lucien roared. It was one of the few times the Knights Templar had ever seen their sovereign lose his temper.
“He brought a woman to the Temple, sir,” Simon repeated, his face pale. “He said that she was wounded on the road. I gave her one of the rooms in the tower. There is a guard...”
“Why wasn’t I notified of this immediately?” the Commander demanded.
“I tried, sir, but he insisted that we lay her down first—and you were away at the riot.”
“Where is he now?”
“Back in town, sir. He said he would ask around as to who she was, so we can return her as soon as possible.”
“Liar,” someone else muttered. Lucien pretended not to have heard it.
“Very well, we’ll wait until he returns and then get her out of here.” A squire entered the room with a bow.
“What is it?” the Commander snapped.
“Sir, the Grand Visitor will arrive within the hour. He demands to be greeted with all respect.”
“Holy Mother of God, why now?” the old man groaned, sinking into the chair behind him. “What will we do now?” Brother Simon stepped forward.
“Sir, if I may?”
“I would suggest that we lock the door to the chamber where the woman is, give her a guard of one squire and give her food. We can tell the Grand Visitor that there is a sick squire in there and that it is very contagious.”
“Yes, yes, that should do the trick,” Lucien mumbled. “Do it. And send me Brother Tristan as soon as he gets back.” The knights bowed and departed.
* * *
The arrival of the Visitor General was about as pompous as anything was allowed to get in the Templars’ “simple” abode. Unfortunately, with the order’s increasing wealth most of the Knights Templar ended up dressing themselves to demonstrate this. The escort of the Grand Visitor was decked out in the finest linen, the crimson crosses of some even sparkled with small red gemstones and sequins. Sword hilts were adorned with various precious metals and stones, as were the helmets, but the horses had no adornments whatsoever on them, just as the order commanded. Amidst all of this the Visitor General seemed poor. His robes and white horse were simple. His gray hair and beard were cropped short and still had hints of their earlier color, fiery red, in them. In his right hand he carried his staff of office, topped with a small cross. This was Roger of St. Juven, one of the greatest Knights Templar to ever live. His body was covered with scars and his left hand was missing the small and ring finger. It was known that he was zealous for the cause of Christ. Tristan, having been under his command as a young knight, knew that he was almost a fanatic.
The Visitor General regally reigned his horse to a halt in front of the assembled knights of Villefort, all decked out in their best clothing, the white robes with the crimson crosses on the chest. Long capes of white were attached to the shoulders of the more prestigious ones, who also wore their silver chain mail shirts instead of the snowy tunics. Though belonging to this number, Tristan had chosen to come simply dressed. Only his wide cape showed his status. All had their hands at their sides, one resting on the hilt of the sword. The Commander stepped forward and bowed.
“Visitor General of the Order of the Poor Knights of Christ and of the Temple of Solomon,” he said solemnly in his gentle voice, “I bid you welcome to the Temple of Villefort.” The man on the horse fidgeted somewhat. Tristan knew that it was the power of that gentleness that affected him.
“I accept your invitation,” he returned, a very cold note in his voice.
He hasn’t changed one bit, Tristan found himself thinking.
Slowly, Roger of St. Juven swung himself off his horse, stepped up to Lucien, and kissed him on both cheeks. Then they walked forward, past the knights and squires. Only once did the Visitor General look to the side. It was when he noticed Tristan. The knight calmly returned the icy gaze with a humility that shamed his superior.
The black-clad squires leaped forward to hold the horses of the flashy party who marched their way into the castle. The knights of Villefort followed according to their rank. They gathered in the chapel for a special mass in honor of the Grand Visitor and then each one was allowed to do as he chose, while the Commander and the Grand Visitor toured the Temple along with a few select knights. Among these was Tristan. They went through the building from the cellars to the highest towers—that is all, except for the western one.
“Why are we not going up there?” Roger demanded.
“There is a sick squire up there, sir,” Lucien explained almost too quickly. “Fever. We’re afraid it’s contagious.”
“Who looks after him?”
“The doctors. They are the only ones allowed to see him. Food is passed through the door and there is always someone on watch.”
“I hope the entire Temple won’t get it,” the Grand Visitor said with concern in his voice.
“Oh, no, sir,” the Commander returned. “We’re seeing to that.” Tristan smiled to himself as they continued on, remembering how deathly afraid of sickness Roger of St. Juven was. He paused for a moment longer than the others before turning and his eye caught a knight dashing up the stairs to the tower. Wasn’t it forbidden to go up there? The dark man stopped for a minute and thought. There had been no sick squires that morning at mass, nor had there been any in the earlier week. Pierre of Lyselle had also been strangely apprehensive that day when he’d returned from town. Why? And then the Commander’s overly-quick answer about the sick squire.
I had better go and see Hananel before the day is over, he decided and trailed along behind the others.
* * *
The old Jew was genuinely surprised to see two Knights Templar standing on his doorstep. They were careful not to wear their crimson crosses, so as not to offend the old man.
“What do you want?” he demanded, eyes narrowing.
“We wanted to see how you were doing after this morning,” Tristan replied.
“And to demand a reward, I suppose,” Hananel added disdainfully.
“No, sir, we just wanted to see if you and your daughter were well.”
“What does my daughter have to do with this?”
“Could you call her to make sure she is in?”
“She’s not,” the old man snapped. Claude and Tristan looked at each other.
“Do you have any idea where she is?” the blond man ventured.
“No and it’s none of your business, now be off with you!” The door slammed in their faces.
“Are you thinking what I am?” Claude asked. The darker knight nodded silently.
“That squire isn’t sick, she’s a prisoner.”
“What do we do now?”
“We go back to the Temple and pray that we can get her out before she gets hurt—and especially before Sir Roger finds out.”
“Is he really that bad?”
“He was pretty bad in Syria,” Tristan said in a resigned tone of voice. “He’s probably gotten worse. There’s something about his eyes....”
“You always say that,” his friend muttered and they swung themselves on their horses.
* * *
Hananel had been listening from behind the door, leaving the peep hole cracked open just a bit. Now he could get Rachel back before anything bad happened to her. He did have enough money for the job and this old miser prized his only child more highly than his gold. It was all that reminded him of his precious Ruth. Slowly he walked back to the house, his mind in turmoil.
* * *
The dank tower cell was the last place that Rachel expected to wake up in. It looked out over the lovely French landscape, the late summer sun painting a picture that most people would be delighted to look at, but she was too angry to notice. Slowly she walked the length and breadth of the room. It was round on three sides with a straight wall on the fourth. Six paces from the window to the opposite wall, six paces between where the wall intersected with the two ends of the curve. Not large at all and a bit dreary. There were two torch brackets beside the door and one of them was burning with a sickly flame.
She’d woken up some time ago but had again simulated the unconscious maiden when someone came to see her. It was her kidnapper, she was certain, and he’d paced back and forth in the room for nearly half an hour before the dinner call drew him from the place. She got up and now silently sat on the edge of the bed, her black hair resting lightly on her shoulders, most of it spilling down her back. Most anyone would think her the picture of ultimate innocence. There was a knock and the door cracked open just slightly. Someone peered in before entering. It was a boy of perhaps seventeen, dressed in black and carrying a plate of food and a flagon of wine. He eyed her with suspicion as he put the food down on a table and replaced the burnt-out torches with new ones. He also set a small candle on the table after lighting it from one of the torches.
“Where am I?” Rachel addressed him.
“I—I’m sorry, my lady,” the squire stammered, “I’m not to tell.” He made to leave.
“Who are you?” The question held him back.
“I—my name is Philip. I’m the squire of Tristan of Magdala.” She was about to ask something else, but he slipped through the door, and she heard the key grate in the lock. Tristan of Magdala. Magdala, now where in Europe would that be? She remembered some stories she’d once heard from a friend about a woman named Mary who was called Magdalene. She had lived in Palestine—the Promised Land. Could it be that he was from there? Had she been taken all the way to the Promised Land in that instant of unconsciousness? The notion was absurd, but she wanted to find out badly where she was, and she wanted to return home just as badly.
“God of our fathers, Lord, please take me back to where I belong,” she whispered. Finally, the food on the table became so inviting that she could not resist and dug in.