The Templar Legacy (Page 45)



12:40 AM

DE ROQUEFORT SAT BEFORE THE ALTAR IN THE MAIN CHAPEL, dressed once more in his formal white cassock. The brothers filled the pews before him, chanting words that dated back to the Beginning. Claridon was in the archives, poring through documents. He'd instructed the archivist to allow the impish fool access to whatever he requested--but also to keep a close watch over him. The report from Givors was that Cassiopeia Vitt's chateau seemed down for the night. One brother watched the front, another the rear. So while little else could be done, he decided to tend to his duties.

A new soul was about to be welcomed into the Order.

Seven hundred years ago, any initiate would have been of legitimate birth, free of debt, and physically fit to wage war. Most were celibates, but married men had been allowed honorary status. Criminals were not a problem, nor were excommunicates. Both were allowed redemption. Every master's duty had been to ensure that the brotherhood grew. Rule made clear, If any secular knight, or other man, wishes to leave the mass of perdition and abandon this century, do not deny him entry. But it was St. Paul's words that had formed the modern standard for induction. Approve the spirit if it comes from God. And the candidate kneeling before him represented his first attempt to implement that dictate. It disgusted him that such a glorious ceremony was forced to take place in the dead of night behind locked gates. But such was the way of the Order. His legacy--what he wanted noted in the Chronicles long after his death--would be a return to the light.

The chanting stopped.

He stood from the oak chair that had served since the Beginning as the master's perch.

"Good brother," he said to the candidate, who knelt before him, hands on a Bible. "You ask a great thing. Of our Order, you see only the facade. We live in this resplendent abbey, we eat and drink well. We have clothes, medicine, education, and spiritual fulfillment. But we live under harsh commandments. It is hard to make yourself the serf to another. If you wish to sleep, you may be awakened. If you are wakeful, you may be ordered to lie down. You may not want to go where directed, but you must. You will hardly do anything that you wish. Can you suffer well these hardships?"

The man, probably in his late twenties, his hair already cropped short, his pale face clean-shaven, looked up and said, "I will suffer all that is pleasing to God."

He knew that the candidate was typical. He'd been found at university several years ago, and one of the Order's precepts had monitored the man's progress while learning the family tree and personal history. The fewer attachments, the better, and thankfully the world abounded with drifting souls. Eventually, direct contact was made and, being receptive, the initiate was slowly schooled in Rule and asked the questions candidates had been asked for centuries. Was he married? Engaged? Had he ever made a vow or pledge to another religious society? Any debts he could not pay? Any hidden illnesses? Was he beholden to a man or woman for any reason?

"Good brother," he said to the candidate, "in our company, you must not seek riches, nor honor, nor bodily ease. Instead, you must seek three things. First, renounce and reject the sins of this world. Second, do the service of our Lord. And third, be poor and penitent. Will you promise to God and our Lady that all the days of your life you will obey the master of this Temple? That you will live in chastity, without personal property? That you will uphold the customs of this house? That you will never leave this Order, neither through strength nor weakness, in worse times nor better?"

Those words had been used since the Beginning, and de Roquefort recalled when they'd been uttered to him, thirty years ago. He still felt the flame that had been ignited within him--a fire that now burned with a raging intensity. To be a Templar was important. It meant something. And he was determined to ensure every candidate who donned the robe during his tenure understood that devotion.

He faced the kneeling man.

"What do you say, brother?"

"De par dieu." For God's sake, I will do it.

"Do you understand that your life may be required?" And after what had happened the past few days, this inquiry seemed even more important.

"Without question."

"And why would you offer your life for us?"

"Because my master ordered it."

The correct answer. "And you would do so without challenge?"

"To challenge would be to violate Rule. My task is to obey."

He motioned to the draper, who produced from a wooden chest a long twill cloth.

"Stand," he said to the candidate.

The young man came to his feet, dressed in a black wool robe that covered his thin frame from shoulder to bare feet.

"Remove your garment," he said, and the robe was lifted over his head. Beneath, the candidate was dressed in a white shirt and black trousers.

The draper approached with the cloth and stood off to one side.

"You have removed the shroud of the material world," de Roquefort made clear. "Now we embrace you with the cloth of our membership and we celebrate your rebirth as a brother in our Order."

He motioned and the draper came forward and wrapped the cloth around the candidate. De Roquefort had seen many a grown man cry at this moment. He himself had fought to suppress his own emotions when the same cloth had been wrapped around him. No one knew how old this particular shroud was, but one had reverently remained in the initiation chest since the Beginning. He well knew the tale of one of the early cloths. Used to wrap Jacques de Molay after the master had been nailed to a door in the Paris Temple. De Molay had lain within the linen for two days, unable to move from his wounds, too weak to even rise. While he had, bacteria and chemicals from his body had stained the fibers and generated an image that fifty years later began to be venerated by gullible Christians as the body of Christ.

He'd always thought that fitting.

The master of the Knights Templar--the head of a supposed heretical order--became the mold from which all subsequent artists fashioned Christ's face.

He stared out at the assembly. "You see before you our newest brother. He wears the shroud that symbolizes rebirth. It's a moment we've all experienced, one that joins us to each other. When chosen as your master I promised a new day, a new Order, a new direction. I told you that no longer would the few know more than the many. I told you that I would find our Great Devise."

He stepped forward.

"In our archives, at this moment, is a man who possesses knowledge we need. Unfortunately, while our former master did nothing, others, not of this Order, have been searching. I have personally followed their efforts, watched and studied their movements, waiting for a time when we would join that search." He paused. "That time has come. I have brothers beyond the walls searching at this moment, and more of you will follow."

As he spoke, he allowed his gaze to drift across the church to the chaplain. He was an Italian with a solemn countenance, the chief prelate, the Order's highest-ranking ordained cleric. The chaplain headed the priests, about a third of the brothers, men who chose a life devoted solely to Christ. The chaplain's words carried much weight, particularly given that the man spoke sparingly. Earlier, when the council had convened, the chaplain had voiced his concern about the recent deaths.

"You're moving too fast," the chaplain declared.

"I'm doing what the Order desires."

"You're doing what you desire."

"Is there a difference?"

"You sound like the previous master."

"On that point he was correct. And though I disagreed with him on a great many things, I obeyed him."

He'd resented the younger man's directness, especially in front of the council, but he knew that many respected the chaplain.

"What would you have me do?"

"Preserve the brothers' lives."

"The brothers know that they may be called upon to lay down their lives."

"This is not the Middle Ages. We're not waging a crusade. These men are devoted to God and pledged their obedience to you, as proof of their devotion. You have no right to take their lives."

"I intend to find our Great Devise."

"To what end? We've endured without it for seven hundred years. It's unimportant."

He'd been shocked.

"How can you say such a thing? It's our heritage."

"What could it possibly mean today?"

"Our salvation."

"We're already saved. The men here all possess good souls."

"This Order does not deserve banishment."

"Our banishment is self-imposed. We're content within it."

"I'm not."

"Then this is your fight, not ours."

His anger had risen.

"I don't intend to be challenged."

"Master, less than a week and you've already forgotten from whence you came."

Staring at the chaplain, he tried to read the features on the stiff face. He'd meant what he said earlier. He was not going to be challenged. The Great Devise must be found. And the answers lay with Royce Claridon and the people inside Cassiopoia Vitt's chateau.

So he ignored the indifferent look from the chaplain and concentrated on the crowd seated before him.

"My brothers. Let us pray for success."


1:00 AM

MALONE WAS IN RENNES, STROLLING INTO THE CHURCH OF MARY Magdalene, and the same garish detail gave him the same uncomfortable feeling. The nave was empty, save for a sol itary man standing before the altar, dressed in a priestly black robe. When the man turned, the face was familiar.

Berenger Sauniere.

"Why are you here?" Sauniere asked in a shrill voice. "This is my church. My creation. No one's but mine."

"How is it yours?"

"I took the chance. No one but me."

"Chance of what?"

"Those who challenge the world always face risk."

Then he noticed a gaping hole in the floor, just before the altar, and steps leading into blackness.

"What's down there?" he asked.

"The first step along the way to truth. God bless all those who guarded that truth. God bless their generosity."

The church encasing him suddenly dissolved and he was surrounded by a treed plaza that spread out before the American embassy in Mexico City. People rushed by in all directions, and the sounds of horns blaring, tires squealing, and diesel engines grew loud.

Then gunshots.

Coming from a car that had ground to a stop. Men emerged. Firing at a middle-aged woman and a young Danish diplomat who were enjoying their lunch in the shade. Marines guarding the embassy reacted, but they were too far away.

He reached for his gun and fired.

Bodies dropped to the pavement. Cai Thorvaldsen's head exploded as bullets meant for the woman found him. He shot two of the men who'd started the melange, then felt his shoulder tear as a bullet pierced through him.

The pain jarred his senses.

Blood poured from the wound.

He stammered back, but shot his assailant. The bullet penetrated the dark face, which once again became that of Berenger Sauniere.

"Why did you shoot me?" Sauniere calmly asked.

The walls of the church re-formed and the stations of the cross appeared. Malone spotted a violin lying on one of the pews. A metal plate rested on the strings. Sauniere floated over and scattered sand on the plate. Then he drew a bow across the strings and, as sharp notes rang out, the sand arranged itself into a distinct pattern.

Sauniere smiled. "Where the plate does not vibrate, the sand stands still. Change the vibration and another pattern is created. A different one every time."

The statue of the grimacing Asmodeus came to life, and the devil-like form left the holy water fount at the front door and drifted toward him.

"Terrible is this place," the demon said.

"You are not welcome here," Sauniere screamed.

"Then why did you include me?"

Sauniere didn't answer. Another figure emerged from the shadows. The little man in the brown monk's robe from Reading the Rules of the Caridad. His finger was still to his lips, signaling quiet, and he carried the stool upon which was written ACABOCE Ao1681.

The finger came away and the little man said, "I am alpha and omega, the beginning and end."

Then the little man vanished.

A woman appeared, her face obscured, dressed in dark clothing with no detail. "You know my grave," she said.

Marie d'Hautpoul de Blanchefort.

"Are you afraid of spiders?" she asked. "They'll not hurt you."

Upon her chest Roman numerals appeared, bright like the sun. LIXLIXL. A spider materialized beneath the symbols, the same design from Marie's tombstone. Between the tentacles were seven dots. Yet the two spaces near the head were bare. With her finger, Marie traced a line from her neck, down her chest, across the blazing letters to the image of the spider. An arrow appeared where her finger had been.

The same two-tipped arrow from the tombstone.

He was floating. Away from the church. Through the walls, out into the courtyard, and into the flower garden where the statue of the Virgin stood upon the Visigoth pillar. The stone was no longer a dingy gray, worn by weather and time. Instead, the words PENITENCE, PENITENCE and MISSION 1891 gleamed.

Asmodeus reappeared. The demon said, "By this sign you will conquer him."

Lying before the Visigoth pillar was Cai Thorvaldsen. A patch of oily asphalt lay beneath him, crimson with blood, his limbs stretched at contorted angles, like Red Jacket from the Round Tower. His eyes were frozen open, alight with shock.

He heard a voice. Sharp, crisp, mechanical. And he saw a television with a mustached man reporting the news, talking about the death of a Mexican lawyer and a Danish diplomat, the reason for the murders unknown.

And the aftermath.

"Seven dead--nine injured."

Malone came awake.

He'd dreamed of Cai Thorvaldsen's death before--many times, in fact--but never in relation to Rennes-le-Chateau. His mind was apparently filled with thoughts he'd found difficult to avoid when he'd tried, two hours ago, to fall asleep. He'd finally managed to drift off, ensconced in one of the many chambers of Cassiopeia Vitt's chateau. She'd assured him that their minders outside would be watched and they'd be ready if de Roquefort chose to act during the night. But he agreed with her assessment. They were safe, at least until tomorrow.

So he'd slept.

But his mind had continued to play out the puzzle.

Most of the dream faded away, but he recalled the last portion--the television anchor reporting on the attack in Mexico City. He'd learned later that Cai Thorvaldsen had been dating the Mexican lawyer. She was a tough, gutsy lady investigating a mysterious cartel. The local police learned there'd been threats she'd ignored. Police had been in the area, but curiously none of them were around when the gunmen emerged from a roadster. She and the younger Thorvaldsen had been sitting on a bench, eating their lunch. Malone had been nearby, on his way back to the embassy, in town on assignment. He'd used his automatic to take down two attackers before two others realized he was there. He never saw the third and fourth men, one of whom planted a slug in his left shoulder. Before he lapsed into unconsciousness he'd managed to shoot his attacker, and the final man was taken out by one of the marine guards from the embassy.

But not before a lot of bullets found a lot of people.

Seven dead--nine injured.

He sat up from the bed.

He'd just solved the Rennes riddle.