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The Last Templar Khoury Raymond




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THE LAST TEMPLAR

BY

Raymond Khoury

THE INTERNATIONAL BESTSELLER

"Fast-paced, highly cinematic...

the perfect read for those for

whom Dan Brown was the start

but not the finish."

— The Sunday Express (UK)

In a hail of fire and flashing sword, as the burning city of Acre falls from the hands of the West in 1291, The Last Templar opens with a young Templar Knight, his mentor, and a handful of others escaping to the sea carrying a mysterious chest entrusted to them by the Order's dying Grand Master. The ship vanishes without a trace.

In present-day Manhattan, four masked horsemen dressed as Templar Knights emerge from Central Park and ride up the Fifth Avenue steps of the Metropolitan Museum of Art during the black-tie opening of a Treasures of the Vatican exhibit. Storming through the crowds, the horsemen brutally attack anyone standing between them and their prize. Attending the gala, archaeologist Tess Chaykin watches in silent terror as the leader of the horsemen hones in on one piece in particular, a strange geared device. He utters a few cryptic Latin words as he takes hold of it with reverence before leading the horsemen out and disappearing into the night.

In the aftermath, an FBI investigation is led by anti-terrorist specialist Sean Reilly. Soon, he and Tess are drawn into the dark, hidden history of the crusading Knights, plunging them into a deadly game of cat and mouse with ruthless killers as they race across three continents to recover the lost secret of the Templars.

RAYMOND KHOURY is an acclaimed screenwriter and producer for both television and film.

Educated in France and the United States, Khoury now lives in London with his wife and two children. This is his first novel.

For my parents

For my girls: Snellen, Mia, and Grade

And

For my buddy

Adam B. Wachtel

(1959-2005)

You would have gotten such a kick out of this.

I'm grateful that Victoria and Elizabeth shared you with us.

We're going to miss you. A lot.

Prologue

Acre, Latin Kingdom of Jerusalem, 1291

The Holy Land is lost. That single thought kept assaulting Martin of Carmaux, its brutal finality more terrifying than the hordes of fighters swarming through the breach in the wall.

He fought to block the thought, to push it away.

Now was not the time to lament. He had work to do.

Men to kill.

His broadsword held high, he charged through the clouds of choking smoke and dust and plunged into the seething ranks of the enemy. They were everywhere, their scimitars and axes ripping into flesh, their warrior howls piercing the haunting, rhythmic beat of the kettle drummers outside the fortress walls.

With all of his strength, he brought down his sword, splitting one man's skull clear to the eyes, his blade springing free as he lunged at his next opponent. Flicking a quick glance to his right, he spotted Aimard of Villiers driving his sword into the chest of another attacker before moving on to his next opponent. Dazed by the wails of pain and the screams of rage around him, Martin felt someone clutch at his left hand and swiftly clubbed the offender away with the pommel of his sword before bringing down its blade, feeling it cut through muscle and bone. From the corner of his eye, he sensed something menacingly close to his right and instinctively swung his sword at it, slicing through the upper arm of another one of the invaders before slashing open his cheek and severing his tongue in one blow.

It had been hours since he or any of his brothers had known any respite. The Muslim onslaught had not only been ceaseless, it had also been far worse than anticipated. Arrows and projectiles of blazing pitch had rained down incessantly on the city for days, starting more fires than could be tackled at once, while the Sultan's men had dug holes beneath the great walls into which they had packed brushwood that was also set alight. In several places, these makeshift furnaces had cracked the walls that were now crumbling under a barrage of catapulted rocks. The Templars and the Hospitallers had managed, by sheer force of will, to repulse the assault on Saint Anthony's Gate before setting it on fire and retreating. The Accursed Tower, however, had lived up to its name, allowing the rampaging Saracens into the city and sealing its fate.

Gargling shrieks of agony receded into the confused uproar as Martin yanked his sword back and looked around desperately for any sign of hope, but there was no doubt in his mind. The Holy Land was indeed lost. With mounting dread, he realized that they would all be dead before the night was over. They were facing the largest army ever seen, and, despite the fury and the passion coursing through his veins, his efforts and those of his brothers were surely doomed to failure.

It wasn't long before his superiors realized it too. His heart sank as he heard the fateful horn calling on the surviving Knights of the Temple to abandon the city's defenses. His eyes, darting left and right in a confused frenzy, again found those of Aimard of Villiers. He saw in them the same agony, the same shame that was burning through him. Side by side, they fought their way through the scrambling mob and managed to make their way back to the relative safety of the Templar compound.

Martin followed the older knight as he stormed through the throngs of terrified civilians who had taken refuge behind the bourg's massive walls. The sight that greeted them in the great hall shocked him even more than the carnage he had witnessed outside. Lying on a rough refectory table was William of Beaujeu, the grand master of the Knights of the Temple. Peter of Sevrey, the marshal, stood at his side, along with two monks. The woeful looks on their faces left little room for doubt.

As the two knights reached his side, Beaujeu's eyes opened and he raised his head slightly, the movement causing an involuntary groan of pain. Martin stared at him in stunned disbelief. The old man's skin was drained of all color, his eyes bloodshot. Martin's eyes raced down Beaujeu's body, struggling to make sense of the sight, and he spotted the feathered bolt sticking out of the side of his ribcage. The grand master held its shaft in the curve of his hand. With his other, he beckoned Aimard, who approached him, knelt by his side, and cupped his hand with both of his own.

"It is time," the old man managed, his voice pained and weak, but clear. "Go now. And may God be with you."

The words drifted past Martin's ears. His attention was elsewhere, focused on something he'd noticed as soon as Beaujeu had opened his mouth. It was his tongue, which had turned black. Rage and hate swelled in Martin's throat as he recognized the effects of the poisoned bolt. This leader of men, the towering figure who had dominated every aspect of the young knight's life for as long as he could remember, was as good as dead.

He noticed Beaujeu lifting his gaze to Sevrey and nodding almost imperceptibly. The marshal moved to the foot of the table and lifted a velvet cover to reveal a small, ornate chest. It was not more than three hands wide. Martin had never seen it before. He watched in rapt silence as Aimard rose to his feet and gazed solemnly at the chest, then looked back at Beaujeu. The old man held his gaze before closing his eyes again, his breathing taking on an ominous rasp. Aimard went up to Sevrey and hugged him, then lifted the small chest and, without so much as a backward glance, headed out. As he passed Martin, he simply said, "Come."

Martin hesitated and glanced at Beaujeu and at the marshal, who nodded his head in confirmation.

He hurried quickly after Aimard and soon realized that they weren't heading toward the enemy.

They were heading for the fortress's moorings.

"Where are we going?" he called out.

Aimard didn't break his step. "The Falcon Temple awaits us. Hurry."

Martin stopped in his tracks, his mind reeling in confusion. We're leaving.

He had known Aimard of Villiers since the death of his own father, a knight himself, fifteen years earlier, when Martin was barely five years old. Ever since, Aimard had been his guardian, his mentor. His hero. They had fought many battles together and it was fitting, Martin believed, that they would stand side by side and die together when the end came. But not this. This was insane.

This was . . . desertion.

Aimard stopped too, but only to grasp Martin's shoulder and push him into motion. "Make haste,"

he ordered.

"No," Martin yelled, flicking Aimard's hand off him.

"Yes," the older knight insisted tersely.

Martin felt nausea rising in his throat; his face clouded as he struggled for words. "I will not desert our brothers," he stammered. "Not now— not ever!"

Aimard heaved a ponderous sigh and glanced back at the besieged city. Blazing projectiles were arcing into the night sky and hurtling down into it from all sides. Still clutching the small chest, he turned and took a menacing step forward so that their faces were now inches apart, and Martin saw that his friend's eyes were wet with unshed tears. "Do you think I want to abandon them?" he hissed, his voice slicing the air. "Abandon our master—in his final hour? You know me better than that."

Martin's mind seethed with turmoil. "Then . . . why?"

"What we have to do is far more important than killing a few more of those rabid dogs," Aimard replied somberly. "It's crucial to the survival of our Order. It's crucial if we are to make sure everything we've worked for doesn't die here as well. We have to go. Now."

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