The Last Cathar

by Kate Riley

1290, France, Renier de Beynac, the Papal Inquisitor ruthlessly hunts down heretics and a legend. India Serras is the last and protects a treasure so precious that Renier will stop at nothing to obtain it.

Jourdain LeTardif, a merchant wounded in the dark streets of Carcassonne, collapses at India’s doorstep. Against all odds, she realizes who he really is, the untold circumstances of his birth and the events that will ultimately change both their lives.




 “Caedite eos. Novit enim Dominus qui sunt eius.

Kill them all, God will recognize his own.”


Béziers, Languedoc region, Southern France

July 1209


Beranger Serras wearily prodded his mule farther along an isolated path, then, stopped at a slight opening around a bend. Parched and eager for a bit of respite from the heat, he slowly eased himself down, leaving the tired animal to nibble on a scarce patch of green. He winced as he rubbed his lower back, then pulled out a small leather flask from his pack, twisted off the plug and tilted back the last few drops of water. Closing his eyes, he savored every drop.

Wiping the sweat off his upper lip with the back of his hand, he edged closer to the cliff for a better view and swung his palm over his brow to shade his eyes from the sun. This made it easier to survey the vista before him. From the height of his mountain perch, the scorched, yellow scrub that sprawled across the stony land below was testament to the summer’s sweltering heat. The worst he had seen in years. But what he saw next sent shivers crawling up his spine.

In the far distance, long strings of barges jammed the great River Orb, while gaps in the forest canopy revealed a steady dark thread of marching troupes. Like an endless procession of foraging ants, the Crusader army twisted and wound its way along the dusty, ancient roads that led to the city of Béziers. His home.

Even though a group of that size could only move at a snail’s pace, he estimated that the army would reach the city in a day or so, and he felt an urgency to get back as quickly as possible. He pursed his lips and let out a long sigh. What lay before him explained the anxious feeling that had shadowed him all the way from Toulouse. The devil was on his way.

He knew, for the most part, this was about power, land and faith. Catharism was growing, and the number of Believers had become a dangerous challenge to the policies of Rome, as well as the French kings who both felt their power was being eroded.

He shook his head in frustration. He and his fellow Believers were simple Gnostic, spiritual people, no matter what their occupation or rank. Their “crime” was that their arcane knowledge of the bloodlines of Jesus and the Mary Magdalene was in direct conflict with the Church's propaganda of the Crucifixion.

To a few knowledgeable men in Rome, however, there was something far more desirable than the eradication of a heretic faith. They were obviously aware of the Cathars' sacred guardianship. He suspected they might even know the identity of the man entrusted with knowledge of where the great treasure was safely hidden. To this desperate and fanatical Church, the only one solution was to find the treasure and then kill them all.

He nervously wiped his brow one more time, mounted and booted his plodding mule to hurry onward through the dusty, parched landscape. The journey he had taken was long, especially at his age, but he was grateful that he had been prudent. What had been in his care was now in another’s safe hands.

* * * *

As he arrived through the gates, it was easy to see that in the months of his absence the town had filled with residents from the surrounding areas. All were preparing themselves for what they felt would likely be just another siege.

They were no strangers to these tactics, and a sense of camaraderie was in the air. Animals that had not been slaughtered were being led inside the city’s protective walls, while its citizens dug trenches and took in supplies. The town was alive with the sounds of hammering, of stones being piled up, and of food being stored. Small boys excitedly feigned death in swordplay as dogs barked and younger children threw sticks and stones at imagined enemies.

“Ah, Beranger! You have finally returned! Just in time my friend.” He turned to see a familiar face, Johan, a local blacksmith, walking towards him. Holding a hammer in one hand and slapping Beranger on the back with the other, he tipped his head to one side.

“Look quickly to your left. The old Bishop from Montpellier has ridden on ahead to negotiate with all of us good citizens and heretics of Béziers. Shall we follow and see what terms we are to be offered this time?”

Beranger turned to see an obese old monk nervously clasping the pummel for balance as he booted his sweat-laden mule through the city’s fortified gates. His unfortunate animal brayed under the strain of the monk’s wide girth. No formal announcements about who he was and why he was there would be needed. Word of mouth was swift enough in these situations. He turned back to his friend.

“I’ve seen the army, Johan. It’s unusually large. I have a bad feeling about this business. Let’s go quickly. I’ll leave my mule at your shed. There’s sure to be a crowd, and I want to make my way to the front. I want to hear with my own ears what the Bishop has to say.”

First in small groups and then en mass, the crowd began to follow the Bishop towards the Cathedral. The town consuls were summoned, and a public meeting was quickly called. By the time the consuls arrived, the Cathedral was already filled to capacity. Throngs of onlookers filled the doorways and vestibules, spilling outside into the street, desperate to hear the conversation.

Beranger managed to squeeze through to the front, losing Johan to the crowd in the back. The heat and stench from so many packed, unwashed bodies was rank, and as he struggled to breathe in the heavy air, rivulets of sweat dribbled down his back.

The old Bishop wiped his brow and took a deep breath. All eyes were upon him as he spoke loudly.

“Citizens of Béziers, I am here in good faith and as God’s messenger to advise you to surrender. The crusading army is massive; its strength is unbeatable. You cannot win this battle, nor is it for many of you, your battle to fight. The terms are straightforward. If those of the true faith of Rome, that is to say, our Catholic brothers and sisters, are prepared to deliver known heretics into the legate’s hands, their lives and property will be respected and spared.”

Beranger watched as a wave of angry outcries from the consuls drowned out any further plea from the bishop. As his words echoed back through the crowd, it exploded into a sea of enraged fists and defiant shouts.

The old bishop fearfully looked around as the ugly crowd shouted insults that were growing personal and deadly. Shouting as best he could over the noise, he pleaded to his fellow Catholics.

“I am begging you to save your lives and the lives of your wives and children. Leave Béziers in peace and abandon these heretics to their fate. This insidious evil has rooted too deeply in this city of Satan.”

As he expected, his terms fell on deaf ears. The consul members, having heard enough, did not need time to reach a decision. A big man with broad shoulders stood up. In a deep, loud voice that all could hear, he declared to the Bishop that he spoke for all. At this, a hush came over the anxious crowd as every ear listened to his words.

“Leave our city in peace old man, and take these words to the Pope’s henchmen. We would rather be drowned in the salt sea’s brine than surrender or betray our fellow citizens. No one will have so much as a brass farthing from us at the price of a change of allegiance.”

The crowd went wild. Shouts of partage and honor swept like a wave through the crowd. A siege it would be. These crusaders and their bloated army would see what the Bitterois were made of. The name itself echoed the ancient Roman courage that coursed through their veins. The crowd dispersed and with renewed and determined vigor returned to the business of fortifying its city. Beranger returned to his home and prepared his soul for what might be his last days.

No matter how confident his fellow citizens felt, Beranger could not shake the ominous feeling of foreboding danger.

* * * *

Jean de Beynac, a crusading knight, couldn’t have asked for a better situation. This Crusade was a Godsend. After completing his obligatory 40 days, he could easily return home with booty in hand and coffers replenished, all for doing his duty to God and to the Church. Whoever killed a Cathar was given an indulgence worth two years' penance and the protection of the Church as a crusader. The real pearl was that all of this could be accomplished without the bother and expense of ships and tedious travel to foreign lands.

He had, however, recently received an order from the Papal Legate that suggested a far bigger prize might be his for the taking, a prize held by a Cathar named Beranger Serras. Beynac had already traveled these lands years ago in his youth and was well aware of the secret treasure of the Cathars. There would be only one reason why the Vatican had ordered him to find and bring this man back alive. His identity, they said, would be proven by a certain mark on his body. Beynac was no fool. Should Serras disclose his secrets to him before an unfortunate “accident,” his future would be ensured.

Restraining his horse from nibbling on some parched grass, he indulged himself in the delicious knowledge of the untold power and riches that were at stake, not only for him but for his descendants. He meant all of it to be his.

* * * *

Early the next morning preparations at the camp continued: Troops lit campfires and settled down to a breakfast of stale bread and thin gruel. Garrison commanders were busy organizing their defense posts. The crusader generals were working out plans for their first assault. The army was at least a few days away from any attack, and the mood was casual. Chanting monks droned on over the sound of braying mules and barking dogs, as lifeless silk banners wilted in the already stifling heat.

Jean and a few of his comrades rode toward the city walls. Keeping a respectable distance from the ramparts, they trotted around surveying them for flaws. He grunted, satisfied with his assessment. The siege experts would have no choice now but to concede that, indeed, he was correct. Breaching the walls would be difficult. As the meeting convened, he let out a bored, vindicated sigh and rode off, leaving the others to finish their tasks. He had something far more important to deal with. He had to ensure that a certain Beranger Serras was his and his alone. The opportunity would come sooner than he expected.


"The Last Cathar" by Kate Riley


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Historical Fiction

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