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Authors: Tom Harper

Siege of heaven

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TOM HARPERSIEGE OFHEAVEN

Contents

Cover

Title

Copyright

Also by Tom Harper

Map

History

Part 1

Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Chapter 6

Chapter 7

Chapter 8

Chapter 9

Chapter 10

Chapter 11

Chapter 12

Chapter 13

Chapter 14

Chapter 15

Chapter 16

Chapter 17

Chapter 18

Part 2

Chapter 19

Chapter 20

Chapter 21

Chapter 22

Chapter 23

Chapter 24

Chapter 25

Chapter 26

Chapter 27

Chapter 28

Chapter 29

Chapter 30

Chapter 31

Chapter 32

Chapter 33

Chapter 34

Chapter 35

Chapter 36

Chapter 37

Chapter 38

Part 3

Chapter 39

Chapter 40

Chapter 41

Chapter 42

Chapter 43

Chapter 44

Chapter 45

Chapter 46

Chapter 47

Chapter 48

Chapter 49

Chapter 50

Chapter 51

Chapter 52

Chapter 53

Acknowledgements

This eBook is copyright material and must not be copied, reproduced, transferred, distributed, leased, licensed or publicly performed or used in any way except as specifically permitted in writing by the publishers, as allowed under the terms and conditions under which it was purchased or as strictly permitted by applicable copyright law. Any unauthorised distribution or use of this text may be a direct infringement of the author’s and publisher’s rights and those responsible may be liable in law accordingly.

Version 1.0

Epub ISBN 9781409065524

www.randomhouse.co.uk

Published in the United Kingdom by Arrow Books in 2007

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Copyright © Tom Harper 2006

Tom Harper has asserted his right under the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act, 1988 to be identified as the author of this work

This novel is a work of fiction. Names and characters are the product of the author’s imagination and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental

This book is sold subject to the condition that it shall not, by way of trade or otherwise, be lent, resold, hired out, or otherwise circulated without the publisher’s prior consent in any form of binding or cover other than that in which it is published and without a similar condition including this condition being imposed on the subsequent purchaser

First published in the United Kingdom in 2006 by Century

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ISBN 9781844130290

Typeset in Minion by Palimpsest Book Production Limited, Grangemouth, Stirlingshire Printed and bound in Great Britain by Bookmarque Ltd, Croydon, Surrey

Also by Tom Harper

The Mosaic of ShadowsKnights of the Cross

so over many a tract

Of Heav’n they marched, and many a Province wideTenfold the length of this terrene: at lastFar in th’ Horizon to the North appearedFrom skirt to skirt a fiery Region, stretchedIn battailous aspect, and nearer viewBristled with upright beams innumerableOf rigid Spears, and Helmets thronged, and ShieldsVarious, with boastful Argument portrayed,The banded Powers of Satan hasting onWith furious expedition; for they weenedThat self same day by fight, or by surpriseTo win the Mount of God

–Milton, Paradise Lost

 

History

The fall of Rome was not the end of its empire: it lived on in the east, in the imperial city of Constantinople. A thousand years after the first Caesars, it remained the greatest power in Christendom. But new dangers threatened, and the old empire could no longer defend itself. In desperation, the emperor Alexios turned to the west – to the descendants of the same barbarian tribes which had overthrown the first Rome. He asked for mercenaries; but Pope Urban, seeing an opportunity for the papacy in its eternal struggle with secular authority, responded with something quite different. He preached a holy war, an armed pilgrimage that would fight its way to Jerusalem and free the city from the occupying Turks. All over Europe, men and women answered his call: knights and nobles, but also peasants in their ten-thousands.

The army reached Constantinople in late 1096 and, after negotiations which almost boiled over into war, swore anoath to yield up the lands they conquered to the emperor Alexios. In the summer of 1097 they stormed across Asia Minor, winning victory after victory, until at last they ground to a halt in front of the impregnable fortress city of Antioch. Eight months of gruelling siege followed until, on the cusp of destruction, the crusaders finally took the city. Not a moment too soon: within days, a vast Muslim relief army had arrived and trapped the crusaders in the city they had just laid waste. With no alternative, they broke out and despite overwhelming odds routed the Muslim army, breaking their power for a generation.

The battle for Antioch – the crisis of the First Crusade – had been won. But the Army of God was physically and psychologically exhausted, while its leaders quickly fell out over the division of the spoils they had won. The road lay open, but in August 1098, two years after the army had left home, Jerusalem still seemed as distant and impossible as ever.

IWilderness

August – December 1098

Requiem

The crowds gathered early: they did not have long to live. They poured out of their hovels and their plundered homes, lining the street for a full mile to see the corpse. Infants who would soon be orphans sat on their father’s shoulders, while children who would not outlive the harvest chased each other on hands and knees through the throng. Some of the more cautious tied scarves over their faces or bound their hands with cloths, but most people did not believe the threat – yet. They climbed onto the cracked roofs of the old colonnades, raised themselves on broken pillars and crowded the upper tiers of the nearby houses to see better. Many would die in the coming weeks and months, but none would enjoy as grand a funeral as this. Many would be lucky to get even a markeron their grave. So they massed in their thousands, craning for the best possible view, and perhaps understood that this one, magnificent occasion would suffice for them all.

We knew the procession had set out when the bells began to toll. Mothers hushed their children and the crowd turned its eyes to the south. The August sun had climbed over the shoulder of the mountain above the city, and there was no wind to raise the dust that clung to us. I hoped the pallbearers would not linger with the body in that heat.

Four priests swinging golden censers led the procession. Clouds of incense billowed from the wrought aureoles, hazing the fresh morning air and sweetening it. Next came eight more priests with long candles, their flames invisible in the brilliant glare of the sun. Following them, all alone, an oddity: a tall man dressed not as a priest but a pilgrim, the sleeves of his robe falling back where he raised his arms in front of him. He carried a golden casket inlaid with crystal and pearls, and his narrow eyes were closed almost to blindness by its dazzle. All in the crowd crossed themselves as he passed, for the casket contained the relic of the holy lance, the spear that pierced the side of Christ on the cross, and it was only by its divine power that we had conquered the city. So they believed.

Behind him, four knights carried the body on a bier. A white shroud wrapped it, studded with silver light where the shroud-pins fastened it. The sun breathed through the cloth and filled it with radiance, so that it became a gauzy nimbus around the corpse. I could see the outline of hisbody beneath it, the arms crossed over his chest. A bishop’s mitre and a wooden cross were laid over him.

Unbidden, every man about me sank to his knees and joined the swelling antiphon chanted by the priests.

May angels lead you to Paradise,May the martyrs come forth to welcome you,And bring you into the Holy City,Jerusalem.

Elsewhere, I could hear pilgrims invoking his name in whispered blessings and farewells.Adhemar.God speed you to paradise.God bless you.Adhemar.

A cool tear ran down my burning cheek. I had not known Bishop Adhemar well, but I had been with him when he died and had heard his last confession. I knew the efforts he had made to shepherd the Army of God, to hold together the bitter rivalries and ambitions that drove it. I knew the anguish he had suffered in that cause. That was what had killed him – and why so many men and women who had known him only by his sermons now wept. They mourned him honestly enough, but more than that they feared for what would come after him.

The prayers died suddenly. The catafalque had passed: behind it came a procession of men, each trying to outdo the others in the opulence of his funeral dress. First in rank and precedence came Raymond, Count of Saint- Gilles: a grizzled, one-eyed man with a grey beard that seemed greyer still as he hunched over his staff. Heprobably meant it to appear as a pilgrim’s staff, a pious crutch, but it owed more to the illness that had recently threatened to speed him to the same fate as Bishop Adhemar. Behind him, almost treading on his shuffling heels and not hiding his impatience, strode a younger man, Bohemond. He stood a full head taller than any of the others; his dark hair was cropped short and his pale face was ripe with unencumbered pride. There was something about him that drew men’s eyes and held them, not just his size but some aura of power or danger. Certainly not love: faces hardened as he passed, and several voices took up another anthem in defiant counterpoint to the priests’ chants.The kings of the Earth are but dust. Bohemond affected not to notice.

The third man in the party walked a little apart from the others, a fair-haired man with broad shoulders and a full beard – Godfrey, Duke of Lorraine. By most men’s judgement he was the most powerful of the princes after Bohemond and Raymond, and more powerful still for being wise enough to keep out of their quarrels. He held himself stiffly, staring past the men in front of him and keeping his eyes fixed on the bier ahead.

The column passed on: counts and dukes, princelings and knights, bishops and priests. The crowds flooded in behind them as soon as they had passed. Ahead, the bier had reached the cathedral, and I could see the great, graven doors swing open to admit the body to the sanctuary. Above it, the church’s silver dome reflected the light of heaven. The priests now had a new song:

You made me of the earthAnd clothed me with flesh:O Lord, my redeemer, raise me upOn the last day.

As the nobles took their places by the open grave under the dome, the mob behind struggled to squeeze through the doors. I was among them. A spiteful frenzy gripped them, more like rats fleeing fire than mourners entering a holy place, but I had earned my living long enough in the crowded streets of Constantinople and knew how to wield my elbows to good effect. Jabbing and poking, I crossed the threshold of the church and jostled my way across the sanctuary until the sheer choke of bodies blocked any further progress.

At the far end of the church, the burial had begun. The body had been lifted off its bier and now lay suspended over the grave on silken ropes, while the assembled princes knelt by the grave. Count Raymond had clasped his hands tight before him and rocked back and forth on his knees; Bohemond bowed his head, though it still twitched with surreptitious, guarded movements. Beyond them, I could see two dark figures waiting in the shadows with spades upturned like reaping hooks – the gravediggers. They would have had an easy time of it, for the grave had been excavated only seven weeks earlier. The relic of the holy lance, now cased in its golden reliquary, had been found at the bottom of the hole, though some said it looked more like a roofer’s nail than the tip of a spear. Adhemarhimself had struggled to believe it, had been almost embarrassed to endorse its power. I did not think he would have chosen to spend eternity buried in its place.

A silent chorus of marble saints looked down as the body descended into the pit. A groan rumbled around the silvered dome as the lid of the sarcophagus was drawn into place. At the head of the grave, the patriarch of Antioch made the sign of the cross, then threw a sprig of laurel into the hole, while the congregation sighed a wistful farewell, like the sound of a sword sliding out of a dying man’s chest.

‘May God forgive his sins with mercy,’ the patriarch intoned. ‘May Christ the Good Shepherd lead him safely home. And may he live in happiness for ever, with all the saints, in the presence of the eternal King.’

Amen.

A spade rasped on stone as the gravediggers began filling the hole with earth.

α

They held the funeral feast at the palace, a sprawling accumulation of ramshackle courtyards and mismatched towers at the southern end of the city. A crowd of mourners had already gathered outside the gates, waiting for the scraps and crumbs to come after the feast, while a company of Norman knights leaned on their spears and glared at them. I was more favoured. I passed through the gatehouse into the outer courtyard, drawing mean glares from the Normans. I had my own place in the scheme of their enemies.

Priests and nobles of greater and lesser degrees thronged the courtyard, while smells of roasting meat and burning fat coated the hot air. I took a cup of wine from a servant and sipped it, keeping to the anonymous shadeby the wall. I had worn my best tunic and boots, trimmed my beard, oiled my hair and tied a fresh bandage on my arm, but I did not belong among these people. I was too common – and, worse, a Greek. That I was there at all I owed to the cowardice of better men. I had come with the Army of God as an observer – a spy – but when my superior officer, the infinitely more glorious Tatikios, had departed Antioch in haste I had become, for lack of alternative, the emperor’s ambassador. I even wore his signet ring, bequeathed to me by Tatikios before he fled Antioch in fear of his life. I would happily give up the role.

‘Demetrios Askiates.’ I turned at the sound of my name to see the patriarch of Antioch at my side. He had remained in the city throughout the Turkish occupation, even during the eight months that the Franks had besieged it, and he had paid terribly for his faith. At times the Turks had hung him from the battlements and invited our archers to attack; at other times they had caged him atop a tower, or burned him with hot irons. I could not imagine how he had endured it, but once we had driven the Turks from the city he had taken up his cope and staff and returned to his seat in the cathedral. Even the Franks, who despised and distrusted the Greek church, deferred to him.

He looked out across the courtyard. ‘How many more times do you think we will see all the Franks gathered together in peace?’

I shrugged. ‘As long as it takes to reach Jerusalem, I suppose.’

‘I hope so. With Bishop Adhemar gone, they have losttheir guiding compass. There are too many among them with power, and none with authority. And they still have far to go.’

‘Too far for me, Father.’

The patriarch lifted an eyebrow. ‘You are not going to Jerusalem?’

‘No.’ I was defiant. ‘By the time I get home I’ll have been away for well over a year. I have two daughters I have neglected and – God willing – a grandson I have never seen. The road to Jerusalem only takes me further from home, and into worse dangers.’

‘What will the emperor say?’

I did not answer. Any excuse would have sounded feeble – shameful, even – to a man who had endured what the patriarch had suffered. Mercifully, he did not judge me.

‘God calls each of us on different paths,’ he said. I could not tell if he meant it as a consolation or a warning. ‘But before He calls you back to Constantinople, I have a task for you. There is someone . . .’ He tailed off as his eyes darted across my shoulder; I half-turned to follow. A pair of Latin bishops were waiting there, evidently keen to speak with the patriarch. He gave them a pleasant smile and steered me aside with a gentle nudge of his elbow. ‘I will find you later.’

I had no one else to speak to: the patriarch and I were the only Greeks there, and I was too insignificant to attract anyone else’s attention. I could gladly have left that moment: left the decrepit palace, the city, the country itself, and run home to Constantinople. I longed to. ButI was the emperor’s representative, however humble, and that brought certain obligations. Antioch had been a Byzantine city until thirteen years earlier, when the Turks captured it, and the emperor Alexios had not called this barbarian army into being just so that they should possess it in place of the Turks. He coveted it: partly for the riches of its trade, partly as the key fortress of his southern border, partly for pride. But Bohemond would sooner hand Antioch back to the Ishmaelites than surrender it to the emperor, despite having sworn an oath to do so. As long as I remained there I reminded him of his obligation, a human token for the emperor’s claim. It was not a comfortable position.

I toyed with the signet ring on my finger, watching the sunlight reflect off its broad disc and play over the surrounding faces. I did not doubt the sincerity of their mourning but I could already see it fading, buried in the earth beneath the cathedral. One man looked to have been particularly quick to get beyond his grief – which perhaps explained why he stood alone. Tall, gangly and hooknosed, he might have taken pride of place in the funeral procession, but here he was shunned.

His eyes met mine, narrowed with hostility, then relented enough to decide my company was preferable to his solitude. I might have decided otherwise, but before I could slide away he had ambled over and was peering down on me, hunched over like a crane.

‘Peter Bartholomew.’ I greeted him without enthusiasm. ‘It seems we’re both beggars at this feast.’

He bridled, as I knew he would.

‘On this day of all days, they should remember me. Without the lance – the lance thatIfound – the bishop’s legacy would be nothing but bones and dust.’

It was probably true. It was Peter Bartholomew who had received the remarkable – some said incredible – vision that told him where the lance was buried, and Peter Bartholomew who had leaped into the pit and prised out the fragment with his bare hands when everyone else had given up. The same pit that was now Bishop Adhemar’s grave.

‘The princes have short memories,’ I said noncommittally.

‘So short they even forget why God called us here. Look at Bohemond.’ Peter gestured to his right, where Bohemond was deep in conversation with Duke Godfrey. Unusually, both men seemed to have dispensed with the hosts of knights and sycophants who usually surrounded them. ‘He has Antioch, and that is enough for him.’

‘Not if the emperor has his way,’ I said. Peter ignored me.

‘The army is greater than any of the princes. You saw the pilgrims at the procession this morning: they are already angry that we have not yet moved on to Jerusalem. With Adhemar gone, who will they trust to speak for them honestly when the princes meet?’

Unlike any army before it, the Army of God had not been summoned by kings or compelled into being by circumstance: it had been preached into existence for awar of pilgrimage. Knights and soldiers had answered the call, but so had peasants, in vast numbers. They offered no service save drudgery, and required far more in supplies and protection than they earned. Yet in the strange world of the Army of God they were esteemed for their innocence; they had a righteousness of purpose that none of the knights or princes could claim, and were thus endowed with a special sanctity.

I stared at Peter. The naked hope was plain on his crooked face, and pitiable. For a few happy days he had been the army’s salvation, the finder of the lance and the saviour of Antioch. Now the memory was fading and he was ebbing back towards obscurity. I could see how it wounded him, how desperate he was to snatch back his waning eminence.

‘Other men have tried to put themselves at the head of the pilgrims,’ I warned him, ‘and it has never ended well.’ The first man to do so, a self-styled hermit also named Peter, had led the pilgrims with assurances of divine immunity from swords and arrows. A single, terrible battle had proven the emptiness of that promise.

‘God made you a vessel for His purpose and granted you a wonderful vision.’ It was hard to believe that anyone would have chosen Peter Bartholomew for such a purpose – but perhaps it was ever so with visionaries. ‘That is more than most men can dream of in a lifetime.’

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