Iacobus, page 1
Galceran de Born is a knight of a military religious order, the mortal enemy of the Knights of Templar. He has been commissioned by Pope John XXII to investigate the murders of Pope Clement V, King Philippe IV of France, and William of Nogaret. Helped by his son Jonas and Sara, a white-haired Jewish witch, Galceran finds incriminating evidence against the outlawed Knights of Templar, who avenged their master’s death by perpetrating these three murders.
On their way to Santiago, they also find a parchment which reveals that when the Knights of Templar were banned by the previous pope, they hid their gold all along the road, in places marked by the golden cross Tau. The Pope’s greed, however, is insatiable and so he entrusts Galceran with another important mission: Galceran has to disguise himself as a pilgrim and seize the treasures that the Knights of Templar had hidden along the road: more than a thousand five hundred chests full of gold, silver and precious stones. In an underground labyrinth, they will find one of the greatest secrets in history: the Ark of the Covenant.
Translated by Tina Hart
This is fiction. The names, characters, places and events in this book are the product of the author’s imagination and are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to real people (living or dead), companies, events or places is pure coincidence. The editor has no control over the author’s or third party’s websites or their content and does not assume responsibility for anything deriving from them.
Iacobus © Matilde Asensi, 2013
Translated by Tina Hart
Cover page image: © Jacobo Blasco
About the Author
Matilde Asensi (born 1962 in Alicante, Spain) is a Spanish journalist and writer, who specializes mainly in historical thrillers.
She has more than 20 million readers worldwide and has become the reference of quality bests-sellers in Spanish language. According to the magazine Que Leer she is the ‘Queen of the adventure novels’.
Her books, of an indubitable quality and proven historical documentation, have been translated to 15 languages. The English translation of The Last Cato won the 2007 International Latino Award in the category ‘best mystery novel’ and an honor mention for ‘best adventure novel’. The following year, Everything Under the Sky won the second place for the International Latino Award.
In 2011 she received the Honour Award of Historical Novel Ciudad de Zaragoza for her career in this genre. She also was awarded the Premio Juan Ortiz del Barco (1996) and the Premio Felipe Trigo de Relato (1997)
OTHER BOOKS BY MATILDE ASENSI
Everything Under the Sky
The Last Cato
Checkmate in Amber
The Lost Origin
To my little friend Jacobo C. M., who is convinced that this book is his
It is inexplicable that at this point, I, Galceran of Born, until recently knight of the Order of the Hospital of St. John of Jerusalem, second son of the noble lord of Taradell, who was crossed in the Holy Land and is a vassal of Our Lord James II of Aragon, can still believe in the existence of an inescapable destiny hidden behind the apparent hazards of life. However, when I think about everything that has happened over the last four years, and I think about it too often, I cannot get over my suspicion that a mysterious fatum (1), perhaps that supremum fatum spoken of in the Qabalah, weaves the threads of events with a lucid vision of the future, without taking into consideration our wishes and projects in any way. So, in order to try and clarify my confused ideas and wishing to record the strange details of this story so as they can be accurately known by future generations, I begin this chronicle in the year of Our Lord thirteen nineteen in the small Portuguese town of Serra d’El-Rei, where, amongst other jobs, I work as a physician.
Having just disembarked from the Sicilian nau on which I had made the long voyage from Rhodes — with exhausting stopovers in Cyprus, Athens, Sardinia and Mallorca —, and after presenting my papers at my Order’s provincial captaincy in Barcelona, I was in a haste to leave the city and go to Taradell to pay a quick visit to my parents, whom I had not seen for twelve years.
Although I would have liked to have stayed with them for a few days, I was barely able to stay for a few hours, as my real purpose was to reach the distant monastery of Ponç de Riba as soon as possible, two hundred miles south of the kingdom, on land that, up until not long ago, had still been in the hands of the Moors. I had something very important to do there, important enough to suddenly leave my island, my home and my work, although officially I was only going to spend a few years immersed in studying various books that were in the possession of the monastery and which had been made available to me thanks to the influence and requests of my Order.
My horse, a beautiful animal with powerful legs, made a real effort to go as fast as my haste imposed, while we galloped through the wheat and barley fields and passed quickly through various hamlets and villages. The year of 1315 was not a good year for crops, and hunger spread throughout the Christian kingdom like the plague. However, the long time I had spent away from my homeland made me see it through the blind eyes of a lover, as beautiful and rich as it had always been.
I soon spotted the vast Mauricenses territories, close to the town of Tora, shortly followed by the high walls of the abbey and the pointed towers of its beautiful church. Without a doubt, I dare say that Ponç de Riba, founded one hundred and fifty years earlier by Raymond Berenguer IV, is one of the largest and most majestic monasteries that I have ever seen, and its abundant library is one of a kind in this part of the world, as it not only possesses the most extraordinary sacred Christian codices but almost all of the scientific, Arabic and Jewish texts condemned by the church hierarchy, because luckily, the St. Maurice monks have always characterized themselves as having a very open mind to all kinds of wealth. I have seen things in the Ponç de Riba archives that nobody would believe: Hebrew cartularies, papal bulls and letters from Muslim kings that would have impressed the most imperturbable scholar.
It is obvious that a Knight Hospitaller such as myself had no place, at least on the surface of things, in a sacred place devoted to study and prayer but my case was unique, because besides the real, secret reason that had brought me to Ponç de Riba, my Order, who for the general good of our hospitals was particularly interested in learning about the terrible eruptive fevers, the smallpox which had been so magnificently described by Arabic physician, and the preparation of the syrups, alcohols, creams and ointments that we had heard about during our years in the Kingdom of Jerusalem.
I was especially eager to study the Atarrif by Albucasis of Cordova, a book also known as Metodus medendi following its translation into Latin by Gerard of Cremona. The truth is, I fully understood the language in which the monastery’s copy was written, because, like all knights who have had to fight in Syria or Palestine, I speak many languages fluently. In this book I was hoping to find the secrets of painless incisions and cauterizations on living bodies — which were so necessary in times of war —, and learn everything about the Persian physian’s marvelous medical instrument, meticulously described by the Great Albucasis, so as it could be accurately replicated when I returned to Rhodes. So that same day I would be abandoning the doublet, the coat of mail and the black cloak with the white Latin cross and would be swapping the helmet, the sword and the shiel
It was still an exciting project, of course, but as I said it was not the real reason I was entering the lands of the monastery; the real reason that had taken me there — a purely personal reason, that had been protected from the start by the great seneschal of Rhodes —, was that I had to find somebody very important there who I knew nothing about: not their name, nor who they were, what they looked like, not even if they were there at that time. However, I had faith in myself and in Providence to be victorious in that delicate mission. There is a reason they call me the Perquisitore.
I went through the wall’s large gate and quietly dismounted my horse so as not to give a violent impression in a place of peace.
I was met by my cellarer brother who had been forewarned of my arrival — I later found out that a novicius always keeps watch of the surrounding area from the church’s lantern, a practice that they had kept in force since the not-so-long-ago time of the Aceifas Moors —, and holding my horse by its reins and accompanied by the tiny cellarer, I entered the enclosure, observing the perfect distribution of the monastery whose annexes and buildings were very well laid out around the main cloister. There was another cloister, the smallest and oldest, located to the left of a small building that looked like a hospital.
At last we stopped in front of the main door to the abbey where I was courteously greeted by the sub-prior, a young and serious monk who had a noble appearance and, without a doubt, was of exalted birth which I could tell by his manners and posture as he promptly introduced me in the abbot’s very beautiful house. Both he and the prior greeted me very politely and it was clear that they were accustomed to greeting illustrious visitors but they were even more welcoming and friendly when they saw me leave my new cell, dressed with the closest thing to a Mauricense habit that I could find without violating the respect of its Rule: a full length white tunic with a cloak, no scapular or belt, and for my feet, undyed leather sandals, very different from their closed black shoes. Walking through the cloister I could see that those garments were very appropriate for the cold, much warmer than my wide-sleeved doublet and my coat of mail, so my hardened body, accustomed to great hardships, quickly got used to that outfit which from then on would be mine.
Winter was approaching, and although snow isn’t rare in Ponç de Riba that year was especially hard not just for the fields and the crops but also for the men. On Christmas Eve the inhabitants of the monastery were besieged by an endless white blanket.
During the weeks following my arrival I tried, whenever possible, to remain on the borders of the life and intrigues of the monastery. Although of a different nature, the captaincies of the Knights Hospitaller also suffered from very stressful situations, mainly because of petty reasons. A good abbot or a good prior — just like a good master or a good seneschal —, are in fact distinguished by the control they exercise over their community to avoid these problems.
However, I could not entirely distance myself from monastery life because as a Hospitaller monk I had to attend the religious and community ceremonies, and as a doctor I spent a few hours every day at the hospital with the sick brothers. Naturally, I skipped the chapters that were of a private nature, and I was under no obligation to perform tasks that were not to my liking. Lauds, Prime, Terce, Sext, None, Vespers and Compline regulated my study, eating, walking, working and sleeping schedule with mathematical precision. Sometimes, seized with anxiety and the nostalgia of my distant island, I restlessly circled the cloister, looking at its unique capitals, or I went up to the church’s lantern to keep the novicius watchman company, or I walked aimlessly between the library and the chapter house, between the refectory and the bedrooms, or between the bathrooms and the kitchen, in an attempt to calm my mind and temper the urgency I felt to finally meet with the person I had secretly named Jonas in my head; not like the frightened Jonas who was swallowed by the whale but rather the one that came out of it, free and renewed.
That day, during prayer, I heard the cavernous cough of a child amongst the chants that made me jump: If it hadn’t have been for the fact that the cough did not come from my chest, I would have sworn that it was I who was coughing and spluttering. I looked eagerly toward the area from which, under the watchful eye of the very patient nursing brother, the pueri oblati continued with the liturgy between yawns but the only thing I could make out was a group of tiny restless shadows; the nave was in darkness, barely lit by a few dozen altar candles.
When I entered the infirmary first thing the next day, the nursing brother was carefully examining a child, almost an adolescent, who looked at everything around him grimly and with distrust. I stood discretely in the corner and performed my own examination of the patient from afar. His color was definitely off, his eyes and cheeks were slightly sunk and he looked sweaty but he didn’t seem to have anything out of the ordinary, just a common cold; his scrawny chest heaved with anxiety, producing a faint whistle, and he suffered with sudden attacks of a bad, dry cough. The best thing to do, I told myself, would be to put him to bed and feed him hot broths and wine for a few days and let him sweat it out …
“The best thing to do,” said the nurse, however, while tapping him on the back, “is to give him a bloodletting and a gentle purgative. Within a week he’ll be fine.”
“See?” shouted Jonas, turning towards the benevolent nursing brother. “See how he does want to do a bloodletting? You promised me that you wouldn’t let him!”
“That is true, brother nurse,” he said. “I did promise.”
“Fine, well the strongest purgative you have!”
It’s strange how nature plays with flesh and blood from one generation to the next. Jonas, who had not inherited a single one of my features, had however a voice that was identical to mine, a child’s voice that every now and again, as he was becoming a man, deepened, and it was at those times when nobody would have been able to tell the difference between him and I.
“If you don’t mind, Brother Borrell,” I said to the nurse while approaching the scene of the drama, “maybe we could substitute the purgative for an exudatio.”
I lifted up Jonas’ right eyelid and got close enough to see the back of his iris. His overall health was excellent. Maybe he was a bit weak just then but a good exudation and a long sleep would do him a world of good. I couldn’t help but notice that, like his mother’s, Jonas’ eyes were also light blue with flecks of gray, eyes that they had both inherited from a distant French ancestor. Although Jonas didn’t know it, his mother was of noble lineage, descending from the Leonese branch of the Jimenos and from the Alava lineage of the Mendozas, and his paternal lineage was ancient and royal, and although not as great, the Wilfred the Hairy origin was not to be forgotten. The blood of the founders of the Spanish kingdoms ran through his veins, and their crests — although he still didn’t know that he had crests —, were a mix of beautiful quarters of castles, lions and crosses pattée. If, as I suspected, that boy really was Jonas, he would never, under any circumstance, be ordained as a monk, however puer oblatus he may be. He had a much greater destiny and nobody, not even the Church itself, could stand in the way.
“I don’t like exudations,” grumbled Brother Borrell, standing his ground. “They have little effect on bile fluids.”
“But brother!” I protested. “Take a good look and you will see that this boy is not suffering with bile but from a cold, and furthermore, he’s going through puberty, he’s growing into a man. However, you can apply a poultice of pumice, sulfur and alum which will help with the exudation, and also prepare some pills for his cough with small amounts of opium, castoreum, pepper and myrrh.”
Convinced by this suggestion which would test his ability as a herbalist, Brother Borrell went to the pharmacy to prepare the mixture while Jonas and the nurse looked at me with admiration.
“You are the Knight Hospitaller who has been living in our monastery for the last few weeks, correct?” asked the old man. “I ha
Guests always arouse curiosity. I just smiled at him.
“The children do nothing but talk about you and I have had to pull more than one away from the library windows when you have been studying. Haven’t you noticed? This one for example, who seems to be more a cat than a boy, has gotten more than one slap for just that reason!”
It made me laugh looking at Jonas’ astonished face, who was looking straight at me without saying a word. Due to my height and the shape that the constant handling of my sword had given my arms and shoulders, I must have looked like Hercules or Samson to him, especially if he compared me with the shaven-headed monks in the community, always fasting and giving penance.
“So, you’ve been watching me through the window ….”
My voice woke him from his daydream and he jumped. Pulling the folds of his habit up to his waist, he jumped down from the table and ran, shooting through the door and losing himself amongst the buildings.
“Blessed be God!” shouted the nursing monk, chasing after him. “He’ll die of pneumonia!”
Brother Borrell, holding the foul mixture in his hands, sighed in resignation from behind the curtains of the pharmacy.
The heart of the library was the scriptorium, a heart that beat powerfully under the high stone-vaulted ceiling, breathing life into the beautiful codices that the scriptor monks copied and used to enlightened themselves with such devotion and patience. Anyone who lived at the monastery, whether they were monacus, capellanus or novicius, had full access to go there and be educated whenever they wished. Inside an annex, which was accessed through a low door, the main archives were jealously guarded, a great documentary corpus where the slightest incidents that occurred in the monastery were recorded, so I thought that I would find the information I needed about Jonas there and requested permission from the prior to look through the documents.