Saturday, May 17
The monk felt the wind on his face as he plummeted to his death, a journey that started with a scream and ended with a thud.
Moments before, he had been standing near the railing of the Moni Agia Triada, the Monastery of the Holy Trinity. It was one of six monasteries perched on natural rock pillars near the Pindus Mountains in central Greece. Known for their breathtaking architecture, the monasteries had been built 2,000 feet in the air with one purpose in mind: protection.
But on this night, their sanctity was breached.
The intruders had crossed the valley and climbed the hillside with silent precision. They carried no guns or artillery, preferring the weapons of their ancestors. Swords stored in scabbards were strapped to their backs. Daggers in leather sheaths hung from their hips. Bronze helmets covered their entire heads except for their eyes and mouths.
Centuries ago the final leg of their mission would have been far more treacherous, requiring chisels and ropes to scale the rock face. But that was no longer the case—not since 140 steps had been carved into the sandstone, leading to the entrance of Holy Trinity. Its front gate was ten feet high and made of thick wood, yet they breached it easily and slipped inside, spreading through the compound like a deadly plague.
The first to die was the lookout who, instead of doing his job, had been staring at the twinkling lights of Kalampáka, the small city that rested at the base of the plateau. Sadly, it was the last mistake he ever made. No questions were asked, no quarter was given. One minute he was pondering the meaning of life, the next his life was over.
No bullets. No blades. Just gravity and the rocks below.
One of the monks inside the church heard his scream and tried to warn the others, but before he could, the intruders burst through both doors.
Brandishing their swords, they forced all the monks into the center of the room where the holy men were frisked and their hands were tied.
Seven monks in total. A mixture of young and old.
Just as the intruders had expected.
For the next few minutes, the monks sat in silence on the hard wooden pews. Some of them closed their eyes and prayed to God for divine intervention. Others seemed reconciled to their fate. They knew the risks when they accepted this duty, what their brotherhood had endured and protected for centuries.
They were the keepers of the book. The chosen ones.
And soon they would be forced to die.
With the coldness of an executioner, the leader of the soldiers strode into the church. At first glance he looked like a moving work of art. Muscle stacked upon muscle in statuesque perfection. A gleaming blade in his grasp. Unlike the others who had entered before him, his helmet was topped with a plume of red horsehair, a crest that signified his rank.
To the monks, he was the face of death.
Without saying a word, he nodded to his men. They sprang into action, grabbing one of the monks and dragging him towards the stone altar. Orthodox tradition prevented the brethren from trimming their facial hair after receiving tonsure—a symbolic shaving of their heads—so his beard was long and gray, draping the front of his black cassock like a hairy bib.
“What do you want from us?” cried the monk as he was shoved to his knees. “We have done nothing wrong!”
The leader stepped forward. “You know why I’m here. I want the book.”
“What book? I know nothing about a book!”
“Then you are no use to me.”
He punctuated his statement with a flick of his sword, separating the monk from his head. For a split second the monk’s body didn’t move, somehow remaining upright as if no violence had occurred. Then suddenly it slumped forward, spilling its contents onto the floor.
Head on the left. Body on the right. Blood everywhere.
The monks gasped at the sight.
“Bring me another,” the leader ordered. “One who wants to live.”