Book cover

Two Templar knights are ousted from the Order for sexual perversion but are then targeted because of their knowledge of an ancient artifact the Templars will use to control the papacy.

A.D. 1193. To avoid an arranged marriage, Rolant joins the Templars and is quickly transferred from France to Jaffa, the coastal city in the Holy Land that is the main port of entry for medieval pilgrims on their way to Jerusalem. At the citadel in Jaffa, Rolant, who is nineteen and only recently knighted, is paired with Audric, a more experienced knight, who cautiously introduces him to a secret brotherhood of Templars who commit “the sin which shall not be named” in the dense groves of tamarisk trees scattered among the dunes along the coast. The secret brotherhood considers their activity in the groves to be comparable to grappling or swordplay, but for Audric and Rolant, their activity takes on a different tone because love becomes an integral part of it.

One of the main tasks Templars perform in the Holy Land is escorting pilgrims to Jerusalem and other holy sites. While Rolant is among the Templars escorting a group of pilgrims to Bethlehem, they encounter Saracens digging a well just at the moment human bones are displaced by the digging. The Saracens abandon the well and the pilgrims want to see if the bones are those of a saint. While the pilgrims pray over the bones, Rolant notices an old clay tablet in a dirt pile. The text inscribed on the surface looks ancient, like no language he has ever seen. He takes the artifact back to Jaffa with him as a memento but must relinquish it because Templars are allowed no individual possessions.

Jerusalem detailWhen in Jerusalem, Audric has avoided sleeping in the unsanitary lodging of the pilgrims by staying with a married Saracen friend, Tariq. Audric and Rolant’s activity in the groves and with a Saracen in Jerusalem do not go unnoticed by a secret society within the Templars, Lucerna Corporis, whose mission is to purge the Order of vice. At the citadel in Jaffa, Templars who frequent the groves begin receiving cryptic threats astrological chart in the form of alchemical symbols drawn in blood on their bedsheets. A couple of Templars are killed, and when Audric and Rolant learn they are the next to be killed, they secretly leave the Order. They stay first with Tariq and then find beds at a boarding house, but their first night there they are attacked by Templars in plainclothes. They return to Tariq’s home, and Rolant realizes that the tablet he found—which, he has learned, is theologically damaging and what now would be called a “smoking gun”—can be used effectively by the Templars to threaten the papacy with disclosure only if no one knows about it other than a few Templar leaders. The Templars then target Tariq’s family along with Rolant and Audric.

Assassin’s Creed meets Brokeback Mountain

Brokeback Templars poster Brokeback Templars poster
Assassin’s Creed is a series of video games from Ubisoft in which one of the objectives of each game is to kill all the Templars. Secreta Corporis is a story inspired by the daunting sexual-identity conflict in Brokeback Mountain but relocated to the milieu of the Assassin’s Creed series’ origin in Jerusalem in the late twelfth century. The story takes place six years after Saladin’s armies returned Jerusalem to Muslim control after almost a century of Crusader rule. Jerusalem detailThe novel isn’t fan fiction or an extension of the story of Assassin’s Creed, but it shares the original game’s location, atmosphere, mood, time frame, and the historical events which occurred there.

Studying the detailed, evocative environment of twelfth-century Jerusalem created by the game artists and programmers significantly enhanced my ability to envision the setting of my own story as I wrote. So much detail in the windows and doorways and texture of the walls in the game world, enhanced beautifully by digital sunlight gleaming on weathered wood and stone or casting deep, realistic shadows in alleys and plazas. I actually spent hours just wandering through that environment, via the game’s central character, Altair. I didn’t play much of the game, which involved killing targeted game characters, and eventually I found a file online that allowed access to all areas of the game world. But I examined every pixel of every street, souq and minaret. So in the scenes set in Jerusalem in the novel, if you’re familiar with the game, you could imagine, as I did, the game’s bloody conflict between Assassins and Templars occurring simultaneously as you read, in the alleys and up on the flat rooftops all around you. Just for a little subversiveness, I added an Easter egg, a ufo. Can you can find it? Its presence in the novel can add a layer of ancient-aliens speculation if the reader is so inclined. Or not. It’s not essential to the plot, so the reader not inclined to speculations of that type can ignore it. I also added three ufos to The Talpiot Find, the sequel to this novel, along with the incidental mentioning of a fourth. Of the three, two are Easter eggs. The inclusion of ufos in my novels is a nod to Renaissance artists’ inclusion of what look like small ufos up in the sky in their paintings. Why were they there? Are we reading too much into them? Or were the artists winking to viewers who knew what they meant? Discuss.

The novel started out as a screenplay in 2006 when I thought it would be interesting to insert the Templars referenced in The Da Vinci Code into the conflict in Brokeback Mountain and see what happened. I loved writing the screenplay, which was titled The Enigma of the Templars, and it went pretty smoothly in spite of my having to do extensive research into the lives of French Templars in the Languedoc and Outremer in the twelfth century. But the potential market for an elaborate gay costume drama was too small for anyone to take it seriously, so I began rewriting it as a novel. While working on it, I decided that my next novel would involve present-day archaeologists finding disturbing ancient artifacts in Jerusalem. Because I was so interested in the premise of the next novel, and didn’t want to wait until I had completed the current novel before starting it, I thought I’d try combining the stories. That resulted in a tome of 169k words. Not a good outcome. I divided it into two novels and recently self-published the modern-day story of archaeologists as The Talpiot Find, the (non-gay) sequel to this novel. I was concerned that connecting the two stories would produce just an odd hybrid, but as it turned out, the actions of the central character in Secreta Corporis make the entire present-day story possible.

Jerusalem detail

Secreta Corporis is available for the Nook/iPad as well as in paperback.



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