1219, England. William Marshal, England’s greatest knight, is on his deathbed. He has sent a trusted servant to fetch the precious Templar silks he brought back from Jerusalem thirty-five years before; they will be his shroud. We follow him back to his youth in Jerusalem in 1183. He was there to fulfil a vow to his late master, Henry, son of Henry II. William expects the Holy Land to be—well—holy, but the internecine politics are treacherous as different factions manoeuvre to take over when the leprous King Baldwin of Jerusalem dies. William becomes dangerously involved with the beautiful Paschia de Riveri, mistress of Heraclius, Patriarch of Jerusalem. Furthermore, he distrusts Guy de Lusignan, his arch-enemy and Baldwin’s brother-in-law, who is well-placed to be the next King. William knows that Guy wants him dead. Can he navigate the double-dealing and return home safely?
My one niggle was that I didn’t get why William was so guilt-ridden about sleeping with Paschia. He’d viewed sex with a woman earlier in Templar Silks as mere fornication—a minor sin. So why was it different with Paschia? She was Heraclius’s mistress, but neither of them was married, so they weren’t committing adultery; and Heraclius, a man in Holy Orders, had no business to have a mistress, anyway.
Still, Templar Silks is, as one would expect from Elizabeth Chadwick, a terrific story. She has an excellent eye for the period: the sights, sounds, smells, splendours and horrors of 12th-century life in Outremer. I discovered a lot about who was who and what they wanted, as well as learning about the management of horses: war horses for soldiers and palfreys for ladies, etc. I swiftly became immersed in the time, place and action, and was happily gripped by a master storyteller.