William Marshal lies on his death-bed at Caversham surrounded by his wife, children and grandchildren while he awaits his loyal servant to bring him two pieces of silk he has secreted away from everyone for thirty years, so he can take his vows and die a Templar Knight.
While on his death-bed he thinks back to the time and circumstances that led him to get those pieces of silks.
When William is the Marshall in the household of the Young King Henry (oldest son of Henry II), they sack the highly rich and important church of Rocamadour to get funds to pay the Young Henry’s mercenary army. Young Henry soon dies of dysentery making William swear to a deathbed promise to take his cloak to Jerusalem and place it on the Holy Sepulchre to atone for his sins in sacking the holy Rocamadour. There starts a journey that changes William’s life and his lifepath.
William finds his judgments questioned time and time again while journeying through unknown lands such as Constantinople to the Holy Land. He almost dies in his attempt to get to his destination. When he finally gets there after months on the road, the Holy Land isn’t what he expects it to be. Instead of the morally upright and ethical citizens he expects, he discovers a nest of vipers, a worldly prelate with a concubine and political factions vying for power as the young King Baldwin dies of leprosy, leaving behind a tiny child as his heir.
Unused to the cultural differences William has a bit of culture shock. While lords of opposing factions try to recruit him to their political causes, including a former enemy, William has to dance a razor fine line of diplomacy to stay true to his honour and not be led down a dark path or fall on the wrong side of the political divide. That famous honour of his is sorely tested when he falls passionately in love with a lady he is forbidden.
It all goes horribly wrong, leading William to take refuge at the Templar Mound to be a secular knight of the Templars and get his two pieces of silk burial shroud. While all the while outside the gates, Saladin is attacking the Holy Land repeatedly to take it from the Christians, in ever more violent skirmishes, which he eventually succeeds in.
William Marshal’s tomb can be seen today at Temple church in London, opposite the Royal Courts of Justice.