The Templar Legacy (Page 16)
ABBEY DES FONTAINES
THE SENESCHAL STOOD BEFORE THE ALTAR AND STARED AT THE oak coffin. The brothers were entering the chapel, marching in solemn order, their sonorous voices chanting in unison. The melody was ancient, sung at every master's funeral since the Beginning. The Latin lyrics spoke of loss, sorrow, and pain. Renewal would not be discussed until later in the day, when the conclave would convene to choose a successor. Rule was clear. Two suns could not set without a master and, as seneschal, he must ensure that Rule was maintained.
He watched as the brothers completed their entrance and positioned themselves before polished oak pews. Each man was cloaked in a plain russet frock, a cowl concealing his head, only his hands visible, folded in prayer.
The church was formed as a Latin cross with a single nave and two aisles. Little decoration existed, nothing to distract the mind from considering heaven's mysteries, but it was nonetheless majestic, the capitals and columns projecting an impressive energy. The brothers had first gathered here after the Purge in 1307--those who'd managed to escape Philip IV's grasp, retreating to the countryside and stealthily migrating south. Eventually they'd convened here, safe within a mountain fortress, and dissolved into the fabric of religious society, making plans, pledging commitments, always remembering.
He closed his eyes and allowed the music to fill him. No tinkling accompaniment, no organ, nothing. Just the human voice, swelling and breaking. He sapped strength from the melody and steeled himself for the hours ahead.
The chanting stopped. He allowed a minute of silence to pass, then stepped close to the coffin.
"Our most exalted and reverent master has left this life. He hath ruled this Order with wisdom and justice, pursuant to Rule, for twenty-eight years. A place for him is now set within the Chronicles."
One man shoved back his cowl. "On that I challenge."
A shudder swept over the seneschal. Rule granted any brother the right to challenge. He'd expected a battle later, in conclave, but not during the funeral. The seneschal turned to the first row of pews and faced the speaker.
Raymond de Roquefort.
A stump of a man with an expressionless face and a personality of which the seneschal had always been wary, he'd been a brother for thirty years and had risen to the rank of marshal, which placed him third in the chain of command. In the Beginning, centuries ago, the marshal was the Order's military commander, the leader of the knights in battle. Now he was the minister of security, charged with making sure the Order stayed inviolate. De Roquefort had held that post for nearly two decades. He and the brothers who worked under him were allowed the privilege to come and go from the abbey at will, reporting to no one other than the master, and the marshal had made no secret of the contempt he felt for his now dead superior.
"Our departed master weakened this Order. His policies lacked courage. The time has come to move in a different direction."
De Roquefort's words carried not a hint of emotion, and the seneschal knew how the marshal could clothe wrongs in eloquent language. De Roquefort was a fanatic. Men like him had kept the Order strong for centuries, but the master had many times counseled that their usefulness was waning. Others disagreed, and two factions had emerged--de Roquefort heading one, the master the other. Most brothers had kept their choice private, as was the Order's way. But the interregnum was a time of debate. Free discussion was how the collective decided which course it would follow.
"Is that the extent of your challenge?" the seneschal asked.
"For too long the brothers have been excluded from the decision process. We have not been consulted, nor has the counsel we offered been heeded."
"This is not a democracy," the seneschal said.
"Nor would I want it to be. But it is a brotherhood. One based on common needs and community goals. Each of us has pledged his life and possessions. We do not deserve to be ignored."
De Roquefort's voice had a calculating and deflationary effect. The seneschal noted that none of the others stirred the solemnity of the challenge and, for an instant, the sanctity that had for so long loomed within the chapel seemed tainted. He felt as if he was surrounded by men of a different mind and purpose. One word kept ringing through his mind.
"What would you have us do?" the seneschal asked.
"Our master does not deserve the usual respect."
Rule required a vote, when demanded, on all issues during the interregnum. With no master, they governed as a whole. To the remaining brothers, whose faces he could not see, he said, "A show of hands as to who would deny our master his rightful place in the Chronicles."
Some arms went up immediately. Others hesitated. He gave them the full two minutes that Rule required to make their decision. Then he counted.
Two hundred ninety-one arms pointed to heaven.
"Greater than the required seventy percent are in favor of the challenge." He repressed his anger. "Our master shall be denied in the Chronicles." He could not believe he'd said the words. May his old friend forgive him. He stepped away from the coffin, back toward the altar. "Since you have no respect for our departed leader, you are dismissed. For those who wish to participate, I will proceed to the Hall of Fathers in one hour."
The brothers filed out in silence until only de Roquefort remained. The Frenchman approached the coffin. Confidence showed on his rugged face. "It is the price he pays for cowardice."
No need for appearances existed any longer. "You will regret what you just did."
"The student thinks himself master? I look forward to the conclave."
"You will destroy us."
"I will resurrect us. The world needs to know the truth. What happened all those centuries ago was wrong, and it is time to right that wrong."
"Good to who? You? I was treated with contempt."
"Which is far more than you deserved."
A grim smile spread across de Roquefort's pale face. "Your protector is no more. It's now just you and me."
"I look forward to the battle."
"As do I." De Roquefort paused. "Thirty percent of the brotherhood did not support me, so I will leave it to you and them to say goodbye to our master."
His enemy turned and paraded from the chapel. The seneschal waited until the doors had closed, then laid a trembling hand on the coffin. A network of hate, treachery, and fanaticism was closing around him. He heard again his words to the master from yesterday.
I respect the power of our adversaries.
He'd just sparred with his adversary and lost.
Which did not bode well for the hours ahead.