Home > Nightborn (Lords of the Darkyn #1)

Nightborn (Lords of the Darkyn #1)
Author: Lynn Viehl

October 12, 1307

Castillo de Loarre

Aragon, Spain


shout outside the barbican tower jerked Brother Frémis from his contemplation of the insides of his eyelids. He fumbled for the candle, finding only a cold stub, and entreated Saint Ambrose for patience as he stretched his stiff arm to take down the only torch left burning. The sputtering flame provided just enough light for him to see his way down the narrow stone steps to the portcullis. There he peered through the oilette of an old arrow loop in the stone. Seven men on horseback waited just outside the iron gate. All had dressed in dark hoods and plain, rough garb, and appeared at first glance to be nothing more than a group of pilgrims. Yet each man’s cloak only partially concealed the two-handed sword he carried, and did nothing in the slightest to disguise his mount. Frémis, who in his misbegotten youth had been a stable boy, knew horses.

Pilgrims did not travel by means of battle destriers. Killers did.

“Who are you?” he called out in Spanish. “Why do you come here?” When they didn’t answer, he repeated himself in French.

“God’s work,” an amused voice replied in the same. “Raise the gate, brother.”

No canny siege master would attack the castillo; all knew that King Sancho had given it to the Church only after everything of value had been removed from its walls. Nor would a band of Moorish raiders attempt to take refuge here or anywhere in Aragon; once sighted they would have been pursued by the road patrols until their mounts dropped dead of exhaustion.

Besides that, what manner of God’s work had to be attended to after midnight? Even by the French?


“Come back at dawn,” Frémis blurted out. “You may apply to the abbot after matins.”

One of the men dismounted and strode up to the gate. He did not snarl threats or brandish his sword, but simply stood there.

“There is no time for niceties.” His voice changed. “Raise the gate.”

Pain jabbed inside Frémis’s head, and he cringed. “Our order follows the path of Christ. We have nothing of value but the purity of our souls.”

A harsh laugh rang out. “Then you are infinitely wealthy, little monk.”

As the man pushed back his hood from his dark, handsome face, the scent of warm black cherries teased Frémis’s quivering nose.

“My lords,” he heard himself whine, “do not trespass here. I beg you. Nothing awaits you behind these walls but disgrace and damnation.”

“Of those, we have an abundance,” the knight assured him. “Let us in, brother.”

Frémis marveled at the air drifting through the slot, which had become as warm and luscious as a clafoutis delivered straight from the kitchen. Such was his preoccupation with the delicious scent that he ignored his feet, which moved of their own accord back to the steps and climbed up to where the counterweights hung. Rust from the old chains flaked from his fists as he yanked on them before he hurried back down to secure the ropes.

By the time the gate had been raised and secured, Frémis felt so weak and exhausted that falling to his knees seemed a blessing. “I beg forgiveness, my lord.”

A worn, scarred gauntlet landed on his shoulder. “We must see to the horses.”

As Frémis struggled to stand, the huge hand encased in the blackened glove provided assistance. “May I do this for you, my lord? I was born in a stable, you know. Just as the son of God was.”

“And every other poor nameless bastard whelped by a homeless whore,” one of the other men muttered.

The dark knight said something in English, which Frémis did not understand, but it served to silence his foulmouthed companion.

“This way, my lord.” Frémis stumbled over his own feet, such was his haste to lead the men to the stables.

Once more the knight’s gauntlet descended, this time to catch the back of his robe and steady him. A fold of his cloak fell away from a snowy white tunic, upon which the passion cross blazed in all its scarlet glory.

“Saint Ambrose protect us. You are God’s warriors.” Frémis, who had only heard stories of the Knights Templar, thought his eyes might pop out of their sockets. “Why did you not say, my lord? I shall summon the abbot at once—”

“Our business here is with your smith,” the knight said. “Brother Noir. Where does he keep the forge?”

Frémis blinked. “We have no forge of our own, and Brother Noir is not a smith. He works the stone.”

“Indeed.” The knight sounded exasperated. “Where is he to be found hammering rocks, then?”

“Our brother has given himself over to God, my lord,” the monk said. “He retreated to the crypts during harvest so that he might devote himself to prayer.”

“Or the rats.” The foulmouthed knight swore again. “Richard, he will refuse us.”

The dark knight eyed his companion, who ducked his head. “Have faith, Hugh. I believe our brother may be persuaded to once more take up his hammer.”

Frémis helped the knights see to their mounts before leading them across the bailey to the old chapel. “There are other ways to reach the crypts, my lord,” he told the dark knight, “but this passage leads directly to the tombs. That is where Brother Noir has sought solace.”

“You will show us the way,” the knight urged.

Frémis took them to the door hidden in the panels behind the altar, and led them along the twisting steps, brushing aside cobwebs as he went. The air grew cool against his sweat-glazed cheeks, while puddles of water dragged at the rough hem of his robe and chilled his sandaled feet.

Another, faint light met that of the monk’s torch, and guided him the rest of the way to the penitent’s cell. The abbot had forbidden all contact with Brother Noir, promising severe punishment to whoever dared defy him. At the wooden door to the cell Frémis hesitated, not wishing to defy the rule of order, but the dark knight brushed past him.

Inside the room sat Brother Noir, his head completely shaved, his body shockingly na**d but for a length of threadbare rag wound about his loins. In one hand he held the Agpia, the book of prayers for each of the canonical hours. His other hand gripped a gleaming dagger of reddish metal.

The other knights filed in behind the dark man, taking up positions around him. The silence stretched out from there, thick with words unsaid. The air became unbearably sweet, until Frémis’s head spun and he stumbled to the other side of the passage, gulping in the cooler air.

“Have you no greeting for your lord, Cristophe?” the dark knight asked.

The bald head lifted, and dull gray eyes regarded each man’s face before settling on that of the dark knight. “No more do I trifle with scum such as you and yours, Tremayne. Begone with you.”

One of the other knights surged forward, but the clout he intended to give never landed. The dagger in Brother Noir’s hand pierced the knight’s wrist, driving him backward until the blade buried itself in—and pinned his hand to—the stone wall.

Horrified, Frémis shuffled backward and covered the scream that wanted to burst from his mouth. Despite the vicious injury his dagger had inflicted, Brother Noir himself had not moved a muscle.

“As I recall,” Tremayne said, “when you left England you vowed never to ply your gift again. I had hopes for your son, but his talents have proven to be quite the opposite of yours.”

“Did that bitch send you?” Brother Noir slowly rose to his feet. Surely the tallest man Frémis had ever seen, the reclusive brother stood a head above the knights. “Is that what you do here?” Before Tremayne could answer, he spit on the floor. “That is all I have for her and her little bastard.”

“Pity. The boy is the image of you, Cris.” The dark knight seemed unmoved. “A crime for which Blanche has punished him all his life. But no, that is not why I have disturbed your prayers.”

At that Brother Noir seemed to shrivel, his shoulders drooping, his chin dropping until it touched his chest. When he spoke, his words rasped with defeat. “Say what you would have of me and be done with it.”

“Tomorrow Philip the Fair intends to move against the order,” Tremayne said. “Every one of our brothers across Christendom will be arrested and imprisoned. The temples are to be seized and sacked. The pope has given his blessing.”

Brother Noir eyed the dark knight. “So at long last Rome makes a choice.”

Tremayne inclined his head. “I fear the king, however, has more earthly motives. He has finally emptied all of France’s coffers, and now owes far more than he could repay in a dozen reigns.”

“You should have turned him when you had the chance.” Brother Noir lifted a hand, and the dagger pinning the knight’s hand to the wall grew invisible wings and flew back to his fingers. “Now he will empty the temples of life and treasure.”

“Life, perhaps.”

The monk’s eyes turned the shade of a newly minted silver coin as they shifted toward the odd shape of the cloth sack one of the knights carried. He then regarded Richard Tremayne. “You dare bring this to me.”

“I dared bring this to no one else.” When Brother Noir did not speak, the dark knight spread out his hands. “Tell me, then, which mortal shall I entrust with our greatest treasure?” He swung a hand toward Frémis. “Perhaps the little monk cowering in the corridor there. He seems an honest if simple fellow.”

Brother Noir shouldered his way out to loom over Frémis. The weight of his silver gaze made the smaller monk sink to his knees.

“Forgive me, I beg you,” Frémis pleaded as he stared up. “I cannot tell you why I brought them here. It was as if demons possessed me. I could not help myself.”

A hand as wide as his skull settled over his bristled tonsure. “Peace, brother.” Brother Noir closed his eyes for a moment before he turned his head. “You and your men cannot remain here, Richard. Aragon is riddled with Philip’s spies, and doubtless they have been told to watch all of the monasteries.”

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