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Knights of the Black and White Book One

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Язык: Английский
Год издания: 2018 год
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      Knights of the Black and White Book One
Jack Whyte

The exciting first book in a brand new fictional trilogy about the most important events in the history of the Order of the Knights Templar.The Templars represent a widely popular period of history, but the roots of their fellowship have been shrouded in contemporary conspiracy theory and media glamour….this trilogy tells the true tales of the Knights Templar; beginning with why they formed after the First Crusade and why they continued to grow in power and influence.Immediately after the deliverance of Jerusalem, the Crusaders, considering their vow fulfilled, drifted back to their homes. But some considered that the defence of this precarious conquest, surrounded as it was by Mohammedan neighbours, still remained. In 1118, during the reign of Baldwin II, Hugues de Payens, a knight of Champagne, and eight of his companions bound themselves by a perpetual vow, taken in the presence of the Patriarch of Jerusalem, to defend the Christian kingdom and all god fearing pilgrims who wished to visit the Holy Land. Baldwin accepted their services and assigned them a portion of his palace, adjoining the temple of the city; hence their title "pauvres chevaliers du temple" (Poor Knights of the Temple).

KNIGHTS OF THE BLACK AND WHITE

Book One of the Templar Trilogy

Jack Whyte

… fresh fields and pastures new …

To my wife, Beverley, as always,and to the other two women in my life,Jeanne and Holly

It has served us well, this myth of Christ.

—Pope Benedict VI

No other problem of our time is rooted so deeply in the past.

—Report of the Royal Palestine

Commission of Inquiry, 1937

It is difficult to distinguish fact from legend … I have found no consensus on what is fact; it depends on the viewpoint. Interestingly enough, legend— which is by definition distorted—gives a far more acceptable view of events. Everyone agrees on legend, but nobody agrees on facts.

—Michael Coney, The Celestial Steam Locomotive

Contents

Title Page (#u15985782-1FFF-11e9-9e03-0cc47a520474)Dedication (#u15985782-2FFF-11e9-9e03-0cc47a520474)Epigraph (#u15985782-3FFF-11e9-9e03-0cc47a520474)Author's Note (#u15985782-5FFF-11e9-9e03-0cc47a520474)Beginnings (#u15985782-6FFF-11e9-9e03-0cc47a520474)Chapter One (#u15985782-7FFF-11e9-9e03-0cc47a520474)Chapter Two (#u15985782-8FFF-11e9-9e03-0cc47a520474)Chapter Three (#u15985782-9FFF-11e9-9e03-0cc47a520474)Chapter Four (#u15985782-10FF-11e9-9e03-0cc47a520474)Chapter Five (#u15985782-11FF-11e9-9e03-0cc47a520474)Chapter Six (#u15985782-12FF-11e9-9e03-0cc47a520474)Chapter Seven (#u15985782-13FF-11e9-9e03-0cc47a520474)Chapter Eight (#u15985782-14FF-11e9-9e03-0cc47a520474)Chapter Nine (#u15985782-15FF-11e9-9e03-0cc47a520474)Awakenings (#u15985782-16FF-11e9-9e03-0cc47a520474)Chapter One (#u15985782-17FF-11e9-9e03-0cc47a520474)Chapter Two (#u15985782-18FF-11e9-9e03-0cc47a520474)Chapter Three (#u15985782-19FF-11e9-9e03-0cc47a520474)Chapter Four (#litres_trial_promo)Chapter Five (#litres_trial_promo)Chapter Six (#litres_trial_promo)Chapter Seven (#litres_trial_promo)Monks Of the Mount (#litres_trial_promo)Chapter One (#litres_trial_promo)Chapter Two (#litres_trial_promo)Chapter Three (#litres_trial_promo)The Temptress (#litres_trial_promo)Chapter One (#litres_trial_promo)Chapter Two (#litres_trial_promo)Chapter Three (#litres_trial_promo)Chapter Four (#litres_trial_promo)Chapter Five (#litres_trial_promo)Chapter Six (#litres_trial_promo)Chapter Seven (#litres_trial_promo)Chapter Eight (#litres_trial_promo)Confessions (#litres_trial_promo)Chapter One (#litres_trial_promo)Chapter Two (#litres_trial_promo)Chapter Three (#litres_trial_promo)Chapter Four (#litres_trial_promo)Chapter Five (#litres_trial_promo)Chapter Six (#litres_trial_promo)Commitment (#litres_trial_promo)Chapter One (#litres_trial_promo)Chapter Two (#litres_trial_promo)Chapter Three (#litres_trial_promo)Complicities (#litres_trial_promo)Chapter One (#litres_trial_promo)Chapter Two (#litres_trial_promo)Chapter Three (#litres_trial_promo)Chapter Four (#litres_trial_promo)Chapter Five (#litres_trial_promo)Chapter Six (#litres_trial_promo)Chapter Seven (#litres_trial_promo)Chapter Eight (#litres_trial_promo)Chapter Nine (#litres_trial_promo)Chapter Ten (#litres_trial_promo)Chapter Eleven (#litres_trial_promo)Epilogue (#litres_trial_promo)Standard Of Honour (#litres_trial_promo)Chapter One (#litres_trial_promo)About the Author (#litres_trial_promo)Also by Jack Whyte (#litres_trial_promo)Copyright (#litres_trial_promo)About the Publisher (#litres_trial_promo)

AUTHOR'S NOTE (#u15985782-4FFF-11e9-9e03-0cc47a520474)

No other organization in history has captured the attention and curiosity of modern readers as completely and intriguingly as the medieval order of monks known as the Knights Templar. The beginnings of that popular fascination sprang from the 1982 publication of Holy Blood, Holy Grail by Michael Baigent, Richard Leigh, and Henry Lincoln. I know that my own interest in the Order of the Temple was kindled by reading that book, because although I had always been fascinated by the mystery and mysticism surrounding the Templars, it was only after reading Holy Blood, Holy Grail that I thought, There has to be a truly greatstory hidden in there somewhere, if a guy could just strip away allthe layers of obfuscation and find a way to really look at who thesepeople were and what made them tick. I had always believed that the Knights Templar were real, very human people, despite the fact that, back when I was a boy, the only pictures we had of them were stylized stone figures carved on medieval tombs, and the only reports we ever read of them told us they were a villainous and evil breed, condemned and excommunicated by the Church as heretics and apostates.

The grasping Norman knights in Ivanhoe were all Templars, as were the lowering, black-visaged villains in several other tales I read in boyhood, and one seldom heard, or read, anything good about the Knights Templar. They were always evil, threatening stereotypes. And yet a quiet, logic-bound area of my awareness recognized other, seldom listed and infrequently mentioned aspects of Templar history: they existed as an order for less than two hundred years, and for most of that time they were the legitimate standing army of the Catholic Church; they invented and perfected the first sophisticated, credit-and-gold-bullion–based international banking system, and they financed all the kings and kingdoms of Christendom. They also amassed the largest and most impressive portfolio of real estate holdings known to history, and to protect their enormous trading fleet they developed the largest navy in the world. Their black and white naval ensign, a white skull and crossbones on a black field, struck the fear of God into pirates everywhere.

Most impressive of all, however, to a storyteller, was the awareness that their meteoric career effectively came to an end in a single day, on Friday the thirteenth of October 1307, a date, to paraphrase Franklin Roosevelt, that will live forever, if not in infamy, then at least in mystery. And so were born in my mind the elements of my tale of the Templars: The Beginnings, designed and brought about, history tells us, by nine penniless men—two of whose names we do not even know today—who spent years digging in the bowels of Jerusalem and unearthed a treasure that made them the most powerful and influential force on earth for two centuries; The Middle, when a corps of monks, all of them wearing the equal-armed cross of the Order of the Temple, formed a standing army in the Holy Land and fought to the death, hopelessly outnumbered by the swarming legions of Saladin’s Saracens, in a vain attempt to preserve an impossible dream; and The End, when the order was overthrown in a single day by the sinister lieutenant of a grasping, ambitious king, and only a few escaped to foster and nurture a legend and a tradition of hope and regeneration.

In writing these novels for modern readers, I have had to deal with the French names of my major characters. All the original Templar knights were French and nobly born, which meant that their names all had a “de” in the middle, as in Geoffroi de Bouillon, André de Montbard, Hugues (Hugh) de Payens, etc. Family names, or surnames, as we know them today, were not in common use that long ago, and most of the identifiable names that existed came from the family’s birthplace or region. If a man called Guillaume (William) was born in a certain town or city, such as Chartres in France, he would be known as William of Chartres … Guillaume de Chartres. That makes for tough reading in modern English, and so I have made allowances, dropping the “correct” French names in many, although not all, instances, in favor of simplifying things for modern readers. I have given all my characters “modern” sounding names, simply by anglicizing their first names wherever possible and dropping the “de” between their first and second names. Thus Geoffroi de St. Omer becomes simply Godfrey St. Omer, Archambaud de St. Agnan becomes Archibald St. Agnan, and Payen de Montdidier becomes Payn Montdidier, but Hugues de Payens, the founder of the Knights Templar, becomes Hugh, yet remains Hugh de Payens, because that is his historical identity.

I also made a note to myself, back when I first started writing these stories, to be sure to explain a few of the things that were normal eight or nine hundred years ago but would seem utterly alien and incomprehensible to modern readers. For example, no one—neither the clergymen who planned the Crusades nor the warriors who fought in them—ever heard the words Crusades or Crusaders. Those words came along hundreds of years later, when historians began talking about the exploits of the Christian armies in the Middle East. And the Crusaders’ word for the Holy Land was Outremer—the land beyond the sea. In addition to that, medieval Europe was not called Europe. It was called Christendom, because all the countries in it were Christian. The name Europe would not come along for a few more centuries.

Even more difficult for modern people to grasp is the idea that there was no middle class in medieval Europe, and only one, all-powerful Church. There was no capacity for religious protest and no Protestants. Martin Luther would not be born for hundreds of years. There were only two kinds of people in Christendom: the haves and the have-nots (some things never change), otherwise known as aristocrats and commoners, and both were male, because women had no rights and no identity in the world of medieval Christianity. The commoners, depending on which country they lived in, were known as peasants, serfs, slaves, and mesnes, and they were uneducated and largely valueless. The aristocrats, on the other hand, were the men who owned and ruled the lands, and they were divided into two halves—knights and clerics. There were no other options. If you were firstborn, you inherited. If you were not first born, you either became a knight or a cleric. From clerics, we get the modern word clergyman, because all clerics were priests and monks, but we also get the modern word clerk, because all clerics were expected to be both literate and numerate. Knights had no need to be literate. Their job was fighting, and they could hire clerics to keep their records straight. Knights represented the worldly order, whereas clerics represented God and the Church, and there was no love lost between the two orders. On the most basic level, knights existed solely to fight, and clerics existed to stop them from killing. That entailed the most fundamental kind of conflict and led to anarchy and chaos.

The Knights Templar, for a multiplicity of reasons, became the first religious order ever entitled to kill in the name of God. They were the first and the greatest of their kind, and this is their story.

Jack Whyte

Kelowna, British Columbia, Canada May 2006

BEGINNINGS (#u15985782-4FFF-11e9-9e03-0cc47a520474)

ONE (#u15985782-4FFF-11e9-9e03-0cc47a520474)

“Sir Hugh!”

As the guards on either side of the doors ahead came to attention and saluted him, not even the rattling clatter of their armor penetrated the awareness of the frowning, mop-headed young man who walked towards them. He was deep in thought, head down and moving slowly, a heavy, sheathed broadsword slung across the back of his neck like a yoke, and his arms extended so that his hands hung loosely over both ends of the long weapon, at hilt and point. It was the guards’ movements that finally caught his attention as they stepped quickly forward and swung the wide, heavy doors open to admit him. He looked up, blinked, nodded cordially at the guard commander, and dropped one arm from the end of the sword, catching the hilt in his other hand at the same moment, so that the long blade swung upright before he allowed it to slope backward to rest on his shoulder again.

“Practicing, m’lord?” The guard commander’s question was rhetorical, but Hugh de Payens stopped walking and glanced down at the sword he held, then flipped it forward, gripping the thick steel hilt with both hands and extending the sheathed blade straight-armed until its weight made the muscles in his enormous arms, neck, and shoulders stand out like ropes. Then he released it with his left hand and twirled it effortlessly with his right until the blade returned to rest on his right shoulder again.

“Practicing, Sergeant? Aye, but not with the sword, not this time. I’ve been practicing with my memory … thinking.” He nodded to the other two guards and walked through the open doors, out of the bright afternoon light of the courtyard and into the castle’s central tower, where he paused, momentarily blinded by the sudden darkness. Then, his face growing solemn again, he moved ahead into the immense space of the room, keeping his eyes lowered to the floor ahead of him as his stride lengthened, the sword still angled casually backward, over his shoulder.

Most young men his age would have strutted with such a magnificent sword, using its lethal beauty to enhance themselves, but Hugh de Payens did no such thing. He carried the weapon simply because he had set out with it earlier and thus had to continue carrying it until he could set it down somewhere without danger of its being lost, stolen, or forgotten, and now he headed towards his own quarters, where he could finally lay it down. He was so far removed from awareness of anything else that he walked past a group of brightly dressed, giggling young women huddled in one corner of the vast room without noticing them, despite their admiring glances and the greetings some of them called out to him.

He also failed to notice the tall, broad-shouldered man who came striding towards him as their paths converged almost in the exact center of the room, and it was left to the other to notice that Hugh was making no attempt to slow down or yield as they came together. The man stopped walking and drew himself up to his full height, his eyebrows rising in astonishment, then slowly raised one hand high, fingers spread, and stepped out of Hugh’s way. Only as Hugh drew abreast of the taller man, who now reached out to grasp his shoulder, did he become aware of him, and he reared back as though under attack, whipping the sword down from his shoulder and seizing the sheath to pull it off, before looking to see who was accosting him. He grounded the point of his still-sheathed weapon immediately, his face flushing.

“My lord St. Clair! Forgive me, sir. I was … woolgathering.”

The big man’s raised hand, even before Hugh’s reaction, had been a signal to the single, armed bodyguard behind him to remain where he was, and now as he looked at the young man in front of him, a hint of something that might have been either a smile or a scowl tugged at one corner of his mouth. “I could see that,” he replied, in a great, rumbling bass voice. “But even in the midst of grave concerns, young Hugh, a man should always try to keep one eye at least on his surroundings. What were you dreaming of, so many miles away?”

“Nothing, my lord … I beg your pardon. I was practicing words in my head, for the Gathering tomorrow night. There is much to learn.”

“Ah, the Responses. Aye, there is, as you say. Particularly for a young man in your position. But you have the best teachers you could have, and I know they are not unhappy with your efforts.” His eyes dropped to the heavy, long-bladed weapon. “But why the sword, godson? Do you remember better with a weapon in your hand?”

Hugh looked down in mild bewilderment at the weapon he was still holding point down on the ground. “No, sir, no, not at all. I went out to walk to the butts, to practice, but I never reached them. I merely kept walking … thinking about the work and practicing that instead.”

“Aye, well, that sounds like time well used, considering how close you are to the testing. Where are you going now, then?”

“Back to my quarters, my lord, to rid myself of this.” He indicated the sword.

“Here, give it to me and come and walk with me instead.” St. Clair reached out and took Hugh’s sword, then tossed it casually to the armored guard standing several paces behind him, bidding him remain and look after the weapon. As the mail-clad man saluted and stepped back, St. Clair turned back to Hugh. “I was on my way to visit the scene of your trial when you came along, and so I think your arrival might have been a signal that we should visit it together. Seeing the place thus, as sponsor and supplicant, might give us both food for thought, albeit different foods and vastly differing thoughts.”

Listening to the deep voice, Hugh de Payens thought he might have detected a note of humor in those words, but such was his awe of the other man that he could not quite bring himself to believe him ordinary enough to use humor, and so he merely nodded, his eyes downcast again, although this time in humility. He stepped forward to walk beside and slightly behind St. Clair, too abashed and unsure of himself to make any attempt to speak. Hugh was eighteen years old, big for his years and normally irrepressible, but he was awestruck by the fame and the worldly status of the man with whom he was now walking, a man who was also, beyond doubt, the largest, most physically impressive man Hugh had ever seen.

Without looking back at his godson, St. Clair now reached out a hand until his extended palm found the nape of the younger man’s neck, then urged him gently forward until they were walking side by side.

“Your father has high hopes for you, he tells me.” The hand fell away from his neck. “Did you know that?”

Hugh shook his head, swallowing the awkward lump in his throat. “No, my lord,” he said, his voice emerging as little more than a whisper.

“No, I thought not. Well, take it from me, he does. He is very proud of you. Prouder, I think, than I am of any of my own sons, although I like them all well enough. But like most fathers, yours will probably tell everyone else in the world about his pride and never think to mention it to you. It is a peculiarity common to fathers, I’ve been told. He will simply assume you know it, since you are his son and therefore so much like him—” He stopped, turned to look at Hugh keenly. “You have been down here before, have you not?”

They had paused at the top of the wide marble staircase that spiraled downward from the floor above and continued to the one beneath, and Hugh nodded. “Aye, my lord. Twice.”

“Twice, of course. I knew that, had I but thought about it. Your First Summons and your First Advancement. Come you, then, let’s make it a third time.” The big man started down the stairs, and Hugh followed half a step behind him, still unable to believe that he was actually walking with, and talking with, Sir Stephen St. Clair, and that the great knight had recognized and remembered him. It mattered not that they were godfather and godson, for St. Clair, one of the most famous knights in all of Christendom, had many godsons, and young Hugh de Payens, although nominally a knight, had done nothing since being knighted, less than two years earlier, to distinguish himself from the ruck of his peers or to make himself memorable in any way. Nor did it matter, Hugh believed, that Sir Stephen had come here to Payens specifically to officiate as Hugh’s sponsor at the forthcoming Raising—whatever that might be—for he knew the great knight would have come here anyway, on whatever excuse he could muster. He and Hugh’s father, Hugo, the Baron de Payens, had been the closest of friends since boyhood, enjoying one of those rare relationships that make true friendship utterly independent of physical, geographical, or temporal separation. In consequence of that, the two missed no opportunity, ever, to spend time together.

The last time they had met was two years earlier, when Sir Stephen appeared in Payens unexpectedly, accompanied by his patron, who had once been known as William the Bastard but had since become both Duke of Normandy and William I, King of England. The two great men had been on their way home from Normandy, with unencumbered time at their disposal for once, and the King had expressed a wish to see Sir Stephen’s family home in Anjou. Their route passed close by Payens, and so Sir Stephen had brought the King of England to call upon his friend the Baron of Payens, knowing that the two had met before, in 1066, when William invaded England.

William had died since then, in a riding accident, and his crown in England had been taken by one of his sons, another William, known as William Rufus because of his red hair and fiery temper. According to reports from England, Rufus was a tyrannical monster, detested by everyone, but somehow the lord of St. Clair, close as he had been to Rufus’s father, had also found credibility and acceptance in the eyes of the son, something that few of the old king’s favorites had been able to achieve.

Now, descending the stairs at St. Clair’s shoulder, Hugh was unsurprised that the new English king should show respect for the great knight, because Sir Stephen St. Clair’s reputation was stainless and his stature reflected his dignitas. Even walking one step below Hugh, the older man yet loomed over him, his height greater than Hugh’s by almost a full hand’s span. At the age of forty-two, he was barely out of his prime, physically towering above most other men but head and shoulders taller in moral stature, too. And he was here in Payens, in the flesh, to honor the son of his best friend and to make the occasion of his Raising a memorable one. This, Hugh had been informed, was a signal honor. It was an honor, however, that he accepted with certain reservations, for he had no idea, even at this late date, less than a day from the Gathering, what a Raising was or what it entailed. Yet he knew, because he had been told so very seriously and very convincingly, that despite its meaning nothing to him now, the Raising would be extremely important to his future.

When he had first heard his father use the term—the Raising—the sound of it, emerging from the Baron’s mouth, had been portentous, the emphasis he used setting it apart. That had been nine months ago, and Hugh had immediately asked what it meant, but the Baron’s answer had been no answer at all. He had blustered a little, attempting to dismiss it with a wave of his hand, and would say no more than that Hugh would find out all about it when the time came. In the meantime, however, he must begin to prepare for it, since it would be the most important event in Hugh’s life. Hearing the Baron say that had silenced his son, who had until then believed that nothing could be more important than his achievement of knighthood, less than a year earlier. He learned otherwise in a very short time, however, for so important was this newly announced ceremonial, this Raising, that both his father the Baron and his mother’s father, Lord Baldwin of Montdidier, had become his personal tutors, instructing him patiently and painstakingly on the matter of the Raising every day, and before he had even been permitted to begin working with them, he had had to swear never to reveal what he would learn, or even to mention the Raising itself to anyone.

Since then, for months on end, Hugh had worked harder than he had at anything else in his whole life. His task was to master, by rote and to perfection, the verbal responses required for the ceremony surrounding the Raising, and the doing of it was far more grievous and exhausting than the harshest weapons training. He had been struggling with the work for months now, achieving something close to fluency in his responses, but he had absolutely no idea of their meaning, at any level of understanding. And now he was within a day of the great occasion, when all the details and the mysteries—the Gathering itself, the importance of the ceremonies, the meaning of the rites and the significance of Sir Stephen’s voyage from England to be present here as Hugh’s sponsor—would be made clear to him.

“I feel feather-light,” the big man said unexpectedly, speaking back over his shoulder as he swept nimbly down the wide, shallow stairway and bringing Hugh’s attention sharply back to where he was. “No armor, and no weapons …” He stretched his arms out to his sides at shoulder height, and the light material of the decorative cloak he was wearing billowed out behind him almost as though he were floating down the steps, so that Hugh thought, for the second time within minutes, of humor in association with the great man. “And no need of either of them,” St. Clair continued, “although I can scarce believe that.” He stopped suddenly, dropping his arms back to his sides, and when he spoke again all trace of levity had vanished from his voice. “I think I could never grow accustomed to not wearing armor, and I will certainly never be comfortable going weaponless, not even here in your father’s house, where I know it is safe … That is the difference between your life here today, lad, and ours in England.”

England! There, in a single word, St. Clair had encapsulated all the mystery and legend surrounding himself and his phenomenal prowess. It had been twenty-two years since he had first set foot in England, along with Hugh’s father, Hugo, landing on the south coast of the island as young, untried knights in the invading army of William, Duke of Normandy, in September 1066. Both young men had been Hugh’s age at that time, and they had conducted themselves with distinction during the great battle that had been fought at Hastings two weeks later, in mid-October.

Sir Stephen St. Clair had achieved more than any of his fellows on that occasion—an accomplishment he was to repeat time and again through the decades that followed—for his had been the sword that struck down and killed the English king, Harold Godwinson, that day. He had not known the name or rank of the man he had killed—in the heat of combat he had merely recognized a cluster of enemy officers and attacked them—but his single-handed attack had been witnessed by Duke William himself, and later, when the identity of the dead man had been established beyond doubt, the Duke had known whom to thank, for this single death had cleared the way for William the Bastard to become King of England.

Soldiers’ legend had it that Sir Stephen was reluctant to take credit for the victory, and that had it not been for the insistence of the Duke himself as witness, St. Clair would have accepted no reward. The battle that day had been fought between two very different armies. Duke William’s was made up mainly of heavy Norman cavalry, generally attributed to be the finest in Christendom, backed up by massed bowmen, whereas the English army was a disciplined infantry force, acknowledged far and wide as the finest in the world. Among the English, however, only the leaders and senior commanders were mounted, which made them easy to recognize, and St. Clair, finding himself close enough to a group of them to attack, had done so. The enemy officers had bunched together defensively at his approach, but after the initial impact of his one-man charge, their much smaller mounts had been scattered by the superior weight of his enormous war horse. Their act of bunching together to forestall St. Clair’s attack, however, had attracted the attention of a squadron of Norman archers, who had been trained to watch for sudden grouping of potential targets, and one arrow among the resultant shower of missiles had struck an English knight in the face, leaving him reeling in his saddle, weaponless and shocked, just as St. Clair crashed into their midst. St. Clair had seen the helpless man and struck at him in passing, sending him toppling to his death, but it was unclear later, and generally agreed to be unimportant, whether the fallen man—the English king, Harold—had died by the arrow or by the sword blow. What was important was that his death had cut the heart out of his army and resulted in the first conquest of Britain in hundreds of years.

Since then, through more than two decades of Norman settlement and occupation of a violently hostile England, Sir Stephen St. Clair had been one of King William’s strongest and most loyal supporters and had been consistently and royally rewarded for his services, so that he now owned several vast estates throughout the conquered country. Thanks to the harsh lessons in treachery and duplicity he had learned during his days as William the Bastard, the King would never permit any of his powerful nobles, even the most trusted of them, to grow strong enough to be able to threaten him, and so their lands and holdings were always kept far apart from each other and surrounded by the holdings of their own greatest rivals. That, to St. Clair, made eminent sense. He was more than happy with his lot, and, thanks to that attitude, he had prospered even beyond his own belief.

The two men reached the bottom of the spiral stairs and walked forward several paces to where narrower steps sank straight downward through an opening in the floor, and the sound of their footsteps changed as they passed beyond the polished marble flooring and between the two guards who stood motionless at the top of the smooth sandstone steps. Neither man paid any attention to the table-filled banquet hall surrounding them, their attention tightly focused on the way ahead.
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