The Knights of the Council
There are many stories, legends and tales of the famous and infamous knights who roamed Europe and the Middle East during the Dark Ages. Misconceptions, blurred historical references and romantic fantasy run rampant in the imaginations of writers and poets. Almost as soon as they disappeared from history, the epic adventures, ballads and poems about them began to entertain minds all the way from Spain to China and from Norway to Sicily. Their stories became bigger and bolder with the passage of time until some of the more famous knights fought and killed dragons single-handedly. They rescued maidens, ransomed kings and ransacked fortresses. Their reputations ranged from the status of saints to a level just above Satan himself. This depending on the bard’s, storyteller’s and poet’s points of view and ability to amuse and amaze their audiences.
The historians who chronicled the wars, families, crusades, popes, and kings struggled to keep all the dates, names, motives and campaigns in order. There is real history and real men who fought for their kings, their popes and their Christ. These men are either volunteers seeking fame, fortune or favor all in the name of God or the second, third and fourth sons of barons, lords and kings who were sent out in the world to make their own ways. The great families of the Middle Ages had ambitions for their numerous offspring. In light of the economic depression plaguing (pardon the pun) Europe at the turn of the first millennium, the various powers became inspired by God and the Holy Roman Church to gather their sons into armies and march off to save the Holy Lands from the Infidels. Oh, and don’t forget to plunder and pillage along the way.
Many fortunes were lost and made during those crusades. There was much glory, much gold and much power to be had if your crusade was successful. Eventually, enough land was taken in the Middle East and the so-called Holy Lands that pilgrims with pockets of gold began to make the long journeys from France, Spain, Italy, England and Central Europe in search of redemption or some proof that Jesus of Nazareth had walked the earth and died for their sins. These were the faithful. Some were poor clergy, others were of royal blood. Men and women traveled the trails and wild passages from west to east.
The trip was fraught with danger. Not only was nature waiting to kill any pilgrims caught unawares, there were also bandits, enemies of the Church, and wild animals waiting to kill the rest.
Back in France, some very clever men saw a great opportunity to rise up to the aide of the pilgrims in the interest of the Church with the Pope’s blessings. These men formed a new order of Knights devoted to the faith, loyal to Rome and concerned only with helping the pious pilgrims complete their journeys in relative safety. Apparently, everyone concerned thought it was a great idea. Of course, the knights were shrewd businessmen and well-informed students of the ancient arts.
Thus began the Order of the famous Templar Knights. Entire forests have been destroyed to make paper enough for all the books written about their exploits both true and fabricated. They are the stuff of legend as is often said. Thought to be fools by some and heroes by others. Lifted from rather humble beginnings, like any cult, they convinced their members’ families to pour land and money into their coffers to support their lofty goal: Defend the faithful and destroy the Infidels and on a side note enrich the Order, the Kings and the Popes back home.
No doubt some were pious men, just trying to get by until some misfortune or accident ended their lives making martyrs of them and assuring them a place in Heaven. In the Order of the Red Cross of Gold, the fictitious characters are members of an order within the order. They are the knights who knew the secrets, knew where all the bodies were buried and all the treasure was stashed. With the help of some highly regarded members of the Templar Order and friendlier regimes, they managed to survive the Templar massacre of 1307 and for the most part, the Inquisitors’ dungeons. While the outward vestiges of the Order died and faded into history, they continued.
Being endowed with mystical knowledge once used by King Solomon and the Ancient Egyptians, they possess the means of living long, healthy lives to carry out God’s plans until the return of the true Christ at Armageddon, where they will fight and win on the side of Right. Furthermore, some of them were endowed with much deeper and stronger abilities going back to the times before time when men lived in the Land of Khem and were nothing more than hairy barbarians. To put it succinctly, some of the Knights something about everything and some of them knew everything about something, but a few knew everything about everything.
Although immortality has been done a few times before (Vampires, revenants, gods, fairies, aliens, super-heroes, etc.) the Knights of the Council, the ruling twelve are commanded by a Grand Master elected to the post when necessary by the council. The members convened meetings at their headquarters routinely and on special occasions. Each Knight of the Council has certain immortality, but they are not indestructible. Whenever they sustain injuries beyond repair, they are retired. Retired means they are beheaded if they still have one and their souls are released to join the souls of those who have gone before. Allow me to give you an example of how this might occur.
Let’s assume some terrific misfortune has befallen one of the Brothers. Sir Dumdoofus has ridden his horse off a cliff. On the way down, he loses an arm, two legs and breaks most of the bones in his body. Imagine how many compound fractures might be collected in five hundred foot fall down a rocky incline of about 35o. As if that were not enough, when he lands at the bottom, he breaks his neck, severing his spinal cord. These injuries would be sufficient to require more than a simple healing coma assisted by the Knight of the Serpent, who is essentially the council’s priest and healer. Once the extent of Sir Dumdoofus’ injuries is determined terminal, the Knight of Death is summoned to the scene much like Sir Kavorkian. If there is any doubt about the condition of Dumdoofus, The Knight of the Golden Eagle may be used to determine whether or not the fallen Brother’s soul is ready to pass on.
Anyhow, du Morte, brings out the mystical golden sword performs a short ceremonial speech, and removes the head of the victim. But wait, there’s more. Before he decapitates them, but after the speech, he kisses the Brother on the lips, places his right hand on his forehead, and transfers the downed man’s Mystery into his own head for safe-keeping. Then he cuts off his head and either transports the entire body to his estate in Scotland where the dead Knight is given a proper Christian burial. Sometimes, this is not possible and only the head is returned to the Grand Master, who approves the kill and the head is disposed of in a less than Christian manner not discussed in this series. This is left to the reader’s imagination.
Since the series takes place over a period of thirty-plus books, the characters will be explored in-depth for the most part; however, the Knight of Death, his best friend the Golden Eagle, and the Healer are the main focus of the story along with the lovely lady, Meredith Sinclair.
In the first book, a female character is introduced into the realm of the decidedly male stronghold. As the series unfolds, her role gradually increases and as a result, the entire face of the Order becomes re-ordered. Her presence causes much trouble in the long run. Since one of the tenets of the Rule of Order for the knights is worded the company of women is a dangerous thing, the knights learn the truth and wisdom of those words the hard way. But to say they actually learn anything at all is debatable.
Do not worry, she does not destroy the Order, nor does she deter them from their purpose. She just puts kinks in it from time to time. Some will like her, some will hate her and some will wonder what the hell she is doing in the book at all. Rest assured, however, without the leading lady, the series would be too boring to endure.
The story starts out as an action/adventure, twisted romance with elements of fantasy and magic sprinkled in. As the saga continues, more and more fantasy, magic, mythology, and incredible elements emerge. The characters come and go, lots of alchemy and magic get done. One thing for sure, there is a lot of suffering, a lot of blood, a lot of human failing and redemption, and a measure of humor on top like sprinkles on a sundae. The Knights are into everything, everywhere as fate and the winds of fortune scatter them abroad and then pull them back together.
By the end of the series, the reader will have experienced a wild ride through time from the present, to the distant past, back into the future, and onto one version of Armageddon, perhaps even twice. Many things will be explained and many things left unknown. In the end, if there ever is one, all things will have changed. Some for the better and some not so good. And if it could turn out some other way, only God knows.
Mark Andrew Ramsay, le Chevalier du Morte, Knight of Death, MD, PhD, Alchemist for the Order of the Red Cross of Gold
I have known the Chevalier du Morte (aka the Knight of Death) since the day he was born, one cold day in December in the year of our Lord 1162 in the house of Sir Timothy Ramsay. He was the younger of twin boys. Almost identical, they were. Unfortunately, the second twin even smaller in size than the first did not seem to be ready to be born. Perhaps it was too cold for him. Unfortunately, the difficulty of the birth left their mother little chance of survival. Sir Timothy, though he never admitted it, blamed poor little Mark for his mother’s death.
Sir Timothy served King William, the Lion, and was rarely home. The boys were raised by the cook, the gardener, the stable boy, and their mother’s maiden sister. Needless to say, none of these people had much time or interest in two unruly Scottish boys in the latter part of the Twelfth Century. In fact, it was no little miracle they ever reached adulthood. But eventually, they did. But Sir Timothy had good intentions for his favorite son and sent them both off to England for proper schooling. They learned Latin, French, Spanish, and the King’s English. The boys were a bit unruly but he paid their way with gold and they received an education whether they wanted it or not. Once they had a good handle on reading and writing and numbering things, they returned to Scotland as educated barbarians. They knew how to behave in the company of ladies and their father’s friends and relatives, but that was not too often. They spent most of the time with the Ramsay clan’s young men carousing and learning politics and the history of their country and how to hate the English. They learned to fight and had a grand old time until one day…
As it happened one sunny summer day, a merchant from Edinborough showed up at the Ramsay estate. He had come to make a complaint about the Ramsay son. As it turned out, the Ramsay twins had paid a visit to Edinborough to see the big city as young men are wont to do. At any rate, the merchant’s only daughter, the betrothed of the magistrate’s eldest son was heavy with a child whom she said belonged to the son of Sir Timothy Ramsay of Lothian. The merchant demanded justice. Sir Timothy’s son would either be married to his daughter or be arrested for deflowering the virgin daughter of the honorable Master Bartholomew McInerny.
Sir Timothy called his two sons into the hall and had them sit across from the honorable Mr. McInerny. After his initial surprise, McInerny demanded to know which son was the father of his daughter’s child. Neither Mark nor his older brother Luke admitted to having had any knowledge of Mister McInerny’s daughter carnal or otherwise. At that point, the merchant drew a pistol and called them both out for daring to besmirch the family name effectively disgracing his daughter and calling her a liar.
Sir Timothy asked the Merchant did he not know who he had come to accuse, Mark or Luke? Which should she marry? Which should be arrested? Or should both share in the blame equally and both marry the girl or both be imprisoned for an alleged crime? The merchant was flabbergasted. The answer was Luke or Mark or both or neither. God forbid it was both.
The merchant turned his wrath upon Sir Timothy and promised to have his honor satisfied. Sir Timothy refused the challenge but told the merchant one of his sons would meet him at the appointed place and time to have out the truth the following day.
After the merchant left, their father told Mark that he knew it was he and not Luke who had brought this shame upon their house. Then sent them off to the chapel for confession and to make peace with God for he fully expected Mark to be killed the following morning. Both brothers knew nothing would have made their father happier than to have only Luke as his son and heir. While they were meditating in prayer, Mark received a sudden inspiration Luke identified as the voice of God.
He would leave the family home and not come home until after their father died. Sir Timothy would never let his only son… Luke, risk his life unnecessarily in an unfair duel. Nor would he allow him to go to prison. Timothy would appeal to the King and get a special dispensation from the Church. Luke would be exonerated and declared innocent simply because Mark had left. Everyone would be happy. Mark felt responsible for Luke in an odd sort of way. Luke was a steady hand, logical, even-tempered, and thoughtful. Mark was nothing of the kind. If either of them had known the merchant’s daughter, it would likely have been him. However, the truth of the matter was never revealed. Both brothers professed their innocence and never changed their stories. Perhaps one or both of them knew the truth. In the long run, it did not matter one whit because Mark’s plan fell apart when Luke refused to let him leave home alone.
And that is how Mark Andrew and Luke Matthew Ramsay of Lothian, Scotland found themselves recruited by the Knights of the Temple when they fell into trouble in Paris. The Grand Master at that time was an acquaintance of their father. He wrote to Sir Timothy and offered to take both sons into the Order in return for regular donations to the cause. Timothy agreed and the twins never knew their father had essentially paid their way out of prison and sent them off to defend the Holy Lands. He never saw either of his sons again.
The brothers arrived in the Holy Lands in time to participate in the disastrous battle of Hattin wherein Sala-a-din captured and/or destroyed all of the most important barons of the Kingdom of Jerusalem, along with their new King, Guy de Lusignan. Luke and Mark were fortunate enough to be among the ranks of an attempt to break through the Muslims’ siege lines under the command of Raymond of Tripoli. Cleverly, Saladin allowed them to break free which only served to weaken the forces inside the siege boundaries. When Raymond found he had accomplished nothing and could not help that part of the army left behind, his only recourse was to retreat back to Tripoli.
From Tripoli, the Ramsay brothers were shipped off with several troops, infantry, and cavalry to help defend Jerusalem from Saladin’s approach. And it was in Jerusalem that disaster struck. Saladin laid siege to Jerusalem on September 20, 1187. After a futile resistance, that lasted about two weeks, Lord Balian of Ibelin, worked out a plan of surrender and safe passage for anyone wishing to leave Jerusalem. During the siege and bombardment of the city, many lives were lost. One of them is Luke Ramsay.
Mark survived the siege and traveled back to Malta and then to France with the Order. After losing his twin, he was a changed man. Upon spending another eight years with the Order, he fell in with Edgard de Brouchart. De Brouchart was putting together a sort of Black Ops division for the Templar Order. They were a special number with a special assignment and special dispensation from the Pope. Not even the Templar Grande Master Jacques de Molay knew of their existence.
When the King of France and the reigning Pope plotted to destroy and disband the Order and confiscate all their properties and money, Edgard was informed ahead of time. He was able to make ready part of the Templar Fleet in order to leave the city at moment’s notice. Unbeknownst to any but the Council Members, the entire treasury in Paris had been emptied and stored aboard the fleet. When the appointed day arrived, October 13, 1307 CE, Edgard and his newly formed Order of the Red Cross of Gold boarded the ships and set sail for Scotland and the rest is, as they say, history (and conspiracy theory).
Mark Ramsay returned at last to his homeland at the age of thirty-five with nothing but the Order as his family, a decidedly unfriendly demeanor, and a great burden to bear for many years to come.
Allow me to say a few words about Sir Ramsay as he appears in Book 1, The Memory of Death. He has suffered death a number of times over his lifetime but managed to stay relatively in one piece, at least physically. His mental condition has become somewhat jaded and withdrawn. As the world progressed around him, he tried to hang on to the past as much as possible. He does his job as an alchemist making gold to support the Order and he performs his primary duty as Knight of Death without complaint. The killing was never a pleasant task, but someone has to do it. He still feels guilt over his brother’s death even after 800 years.
He passes his time in peaceful eras living on his small estate in Lothian, Scotland. He enjoys the company of his Irish wolfhounds, his Apprentice in training, and usually, two or three retired Templar regulars employed as cooks, gardeners, and sometimes just visiting. His laboratory has a forge where he makes swords and knives and various other metal items for the members of the Order. In addition to drinking Scotch, brooding, and having nightmares on a regular basis, he cares for a small chapel located on his land where fallen Brothers come to rest at the end of their service. It is his duty to care for the tombs, the vaults, and the coffins as well as maintain the structure in pristine condition.
His life between wars is rather tame except for those occasions when his friend and former protege, Lucio Dambretti, visits him. They spend their time drinking in front of the fire on cold nights reminiscing about the old days. The very, very old days. His one goal in life is to keep everything as simple as possible, preferring to live his life on the surface of existence, rather than delving into the recesses of his mind.
Lucio Apollonio Dambretti, Chevalier de l’Aigle d’Or, Knight of the Golden Eagle, Keeper of the Secrets of Isis and Osiris, Egyptian Book of the Dead Scholar, Linguist for the Order of the Red Cross of Gold
Lucio Dambretti was born in Italy around the Spring Equinox in the year of our Lord 1177. When I first met him, his birthday and parents were mysteries even to himself. He grew up an orphan, working in the kitchen of a wealthy Norman family in Naples, Italy during the time it was part of the Kingdom of Sicily. When and how he came to be in the Kingdom of Jerusalem when it fell in 1187 CE, is unclear. Speculation has suggested that he ran away from his labors in Naples, signed up on one of the ships headed to the Holy Lands, and finally ended up living on the streets of the Holy City.
Lucio Dambretti fell in with Sir Marcus Andreas Ramsay, poor Knight of Solomon’s Temple, in Jerusalem during September of1187 in the besieged and broken City of Jerusalem. The Knight had fallen into a well while trying to escape from several Muslim warriors who had breached the wall. The young boy of about 15 helped Sir Ramsay from the well and led him to a safe place in the underground labyrinth where he lived.
At that time, Lucio learned one of the Knight’s deepest darkest secrets. Although Ramsay probably would have abandoned him, he felt he owed the street urchin for saving his life. He paid Lucio’s ransom when Saladin allowed the Christians remaining in Jerusalem to depart as free men in October of the same year.
Mark Ramsay took Lucio on as his squire after their escape from the Holy Wars with the Templars. When the Order of the Red Cross of Gold was secretly formed within the poor Knights of Solomon’s Temple, Sir Ramsay took up the duties of the Assassin and Alchemist for the secret order and made Lucio Dambretti his first Apprentice. The members of the Red Cross of Gold each had Apprentices in training to replace them if and when they were no longer able to serve the Order. Since the Knights of the Red Cross of Gold are semi-immortal and endowed with mystical skills to perform specialized tasks serving both the Order and God’s Will. Most Apprentices were either killed in service to the Order or eventually retired as an honorable lifetime member.
Lucio served about ten years as Ramsay’s Apprentice and was then oddly promoted by the Grand Master to Knighthood in order to replace the original Knight of the Golden Eagle who was killed in service with an Apprentice judged too young to become a Knight. This switching of Apprentices became the norm as the Order progressed mainly due to the Grand Master’s preferences for older, more experienced Knights as members of the Ruling Council of Twelve. Apprentices were normally required to serve as Apprentices to one of the Knights for 20-25 years. There are a few exceptions along the way and so, were taken on around the age of 14 or 15.
Lucio is a rather gregarious man, quick to laugh and smile, possessing a high pain tolerance which stands him in good stead on several occasions. On the other hand, his temper and impetuosity have become legend amongst the members of the Council. He is an expert with his broadsword and throwing daggers. He is not much on learning to use more weapons than required for whatever war or mission at hand. He loves his sunny Italy and is proud (a sin for members of the Order) of his hard-won status as a Knight, his self-education, including his ability to read and write several languages. He is a firm believer in the Will of God. This too stands him in good stead when his own actions are questionable.
He is somewhat vain and keeps up with the fashion of whatever time he is living. He does not venerate the Grand Master as many of his Brother Knights do, which causes him a lot of unnecessary pain. He leans toward being self-centered but has a big heart and love for children. His irreverent ways often get him banned from teaching classes at the Order’s Academy for young orphan boys.
His emotional reactions to perceived personal slights cause him to be arrogant at times and hopelessly hard-headed at others. His understanding of the Primitive Rule of Order for the Knights of Solomon’s Temple is a bit lax in comparison to some of his Brothers. He especially tends to ignore the ancient wisdom concerning the rules concerning the company of women and the practice of celibacy. His philosophy concerning sin and confession generally exempts him from personal guilt. Normally, throughout his career as a Knight of the Council of Twelve, he has kept a series of Sicilian women as lovers and outside the Order friends.
Over the centuries, the Knights have been very careful not to collect photos of themselves for obvious reasons. However, in Lucio’s case, his love for the ladies brought him a lot of heartaches. This particular photo may or may not be a photograph of him at a park in Sicily with one of his lovelies. He denied it of course during the inquiry, but several of his Brothers felt it was him. The only thing that saved him from serious consequences was the fact that half his face is covered. If the scar on the left side of his face had been visible, he might have suffered severe disciplinary action. Sir Philip, the Order’s Seneschal was unable to discern whether the photo might not be inverted making left right and right left. One photograph would not have normally caused such an uproar except that it appeared on the front of a fashion magazine headquartered in Rome. Not good, Golden Eagle, not good. Although the man looks to be wearing a wedding band, it is on the wrong hand. Nevertheless, it could have been his Templar ring fashioned for him by none other than his old Master, Sir Mark Ramsaywith only the band showing. So! It is up to the eye of the beholder whether this is Lucio or another sighting of the Loch Ness Monster.
Photo by Vlada Karpovich
In regards to his relationship with Mark Ramsay, one can only say it is a very peculiar situation. Lucio practically worships Ramsay, not only did he want to be like him when he was young, it seems he wants to be him later on. At the same time, he appears to despise and hate the Scottish Knight. He always feels inferior to Ramsay and wants to prove his worth to him despite his apparent dislike for him. Lucio feels he must protect him and at the same time persecute him. Theirs is not a friendly competition in life in general but rather a love/hate arrangement not easily explained or understood.
Mark, on the other hand, wants to kill the Italian and be rid of him sometimes. Yet, he never follows through on this desire even though many opportunities present themselves. Mark’s honor and unwillingness to admit he is an outright murderer always save Lucio from the edge of the Golden Sword. Lucio seems to have the same desire to kill Mark Andrew and be rid of him, but somehow he never quite finishes the job as if his heart of hearts will not allow it. Of course, he blames his failure to live up to or live down his conflicting feelings for the Scot on the Will of God.
Lucio’s worst failing is his illogical sense of responsibility for Ramsay’s heart where the company of women is concerned. Whenever he learns of Ramsay’s affections for any female, anywhere, he feels that he must save Mark Andrew from himself. Unfortunately, his methods of protection leave something to be desired in the execution thereof. He makes it his priority to seduce the women away from Ramsay in order to show him the fickleness of the female heart. Apparently, this has happened several times over the years. Lucio feels vindicated when the women succumb to his superior practice of the romantic arts. He feels it was necessary to save Ramsay from himself and the underlying motives of the ladies concerned. Ramsay, on the other hand, is usually disgusted by his Brother’s betrayal first, but within a few months, he forgives the Italian chalking it up to jealousy and his own inability to win a woman’s true affections.
Simon Peter d’Ornan (aka Simon of Grenoble) Chevalier du Serpent, Knight of the Serpent, Healer, Father Confessor, Poor Knight of Solomon’s Temple, Order of the Red Cross of Gold
Simon d’Ornan is unique among the Brothers of the Council of Twelve. He was made immortal at about 30 years of age after suffering an almost surely fatal injury in the Templar Inquisition carried out in France, October 13, 1307 CE. His youthful appearance is marred by a perpetual sense of sadness and he suffers from a very weak stomach. In other words, he is perpetually in danger of becoming nauseous whenever he heard, saw, or did something that upset his sensibilities as a former priest. Fortunately, nausea usually occurred after the fact.
He is considered the Master’s favorite among the Knights. He usually gets whatever he wants from the Grand Master, though he is too humble to ask for much. Despite being the master’s pet, every one of his Brothers loves him and trusts him.
Simon was born in southern France around 1377 CE during a total eclipse during midday. At first, he was thought to be dead. He was not breathing and his skin was blue. But even after those present had given up on him, he took his first breath, causing them to be suspicious of his origins. It was said that a child born during an eclipse, when the stars were out of kilter, would have no soul and would be a servant of Satan. Some were in favor of throwing him from the parapets, but Dambretti was called in to observe whether he had a soul. Dambretti pronounced him a beautiful baby boy with all the normal characteristics intact.
Thus he was saved and shuttled off to a Cistercian Monastery where he was raised by the monks and often in frequent contact with the Brothers of the Order of the Red Cross of Gold. He grew up beloved by the Brothers as well as his caretakers, never knowing he was almost killed before his life had truly begun.
Simon is soft-spoken, yet very well-informed in the art of military warfare. He can hold his own with his broadsword and any number of modern weapons. His faith in God usually sustains his courage and he never fails to help a Brother or anyone else in need, except on rare occasions. Most of his Brothers think he is above reproach, and the one person they can depend on for spiritual strength and guidance.
Despite his youthful appearance, often sickly demeanor, and gentle temperament, he is nobody’s fool. He dabbles in the alchemical arts which are forbidden to him, he studies many things outside his areas of responsibility. His winning ways and powers of persuasion give him a distinct advantage when things get heated and he is often able to defuse hostile situations without bloodshed.
But the Healer is not beyond temptation and is as fallible as any other man. Only his mysterious infirmity (no spoilers here) keep him strictly in line with many of the Order’s Primitive Rule. He can be stubborn and if he wants to know something he can usually learn it or discern it. He knows his Brother’s pains more than anyone else in the Order.
His healing mystery is designed exclusively for the immortal members of the Council. He takes on some of their pain physically and relieves them of their suffering to the extent that his intervention could mean the difference between life and death. He was also endowed with knowledge of healing elixirs and tonics made from common ingredients found almost anywhere and everywhere. Therefore, he has more empathy and sympathy for his fellow Knights than most.
His duties as Father Confessor for the Knights and sometimes the Apprentices are a source of much of his distress. His Brothers are not as pious as they would appear to be to outsiders. Each one had their own brand of wickedness embedded in their souls. Things that they must constantly work to overcome. Some of them have much more darkness in them than others. One outstanding little vice he has, among others past and present, stands him in good stead as the story unfolds.
Eventually, he has to make some life and death decisions as the story develops. He must come to terms with his own desires and what he thinks should be. His life takes a number of surprising turns and he eventually learns more than he wants to know about his origins, and what is expected of him.