The Templar Legacy (Page 50)
DE ROQUEFORT STOPPED AT THE ENTRANCE TO THE RUINS AND motioned his men to flank out to either side. The site was uncomfortably quiet. No movement. No voices. Nothing. Brother Geoffrey stood beside him. He remained worried that he was being set up. Which was why he'd come with firepower. He was pleased with his council's selection of knights--these men were some of the best in his ranks, experienced fighters of unquestioned courage and fortitude--which he might well need.
He peered around a pile of lichen-encrusted rubble, deeper into the decayed structure, past billows of standing grass. The bright dome of sky overhead was fading as the sun beat a retreat behind the mountains. Darkness would arrive shortly. And he worried about the weather. Squalls and rain came without warning in the Pyrenean summer.
He motioned and his men advanced forward, clambering over boulders and collapsed wall sections. He spied a campsite among three partial walls. Wood had been arranged for a fire that had yet to be lit.
"I'll go in," Geoffrey whispered. "They're expecting me."
He saw the wisdom of that move and nodded.
Geoffrey calmly walked into the open and approached the camp. Still no one was around. Then the younger man disappeared deeper into the ruins. A moment later he emerged and signaled for them to come.
De Roquefort told his men to wait and only he stepped into the open. He'd already directed his lieutenant to attack if necessary.
"Only Thorvaldsen is in the church," Geoffrey said.
"The monks cut a church into the rock. They've discovered a portal beneath the altar that leads to caves. The others are beneath us exploring. I told Thorvaldsen that I was going to retrieve the supplies."
He liked what he was hearing.
"I'd want to meet Henrik Thorvaldsen."
With gun in hand, he followed Geoffrey into the dungeon-like cavity carved from the rock. Thorvaldsen stood with his back to them, gazing down into what was once a support for the altar.
The old man turned as they came close.
De Roquefort raised his gun. "Not a word. Or it will be your last."
THE EARTH BENEATH STEPHANIE'S FEET HAD GIVEN WAY AND HER legs were collapsing into one of the traps they'd tried so hard to avoid. What had she been thinking? Seeing the words etched into the rock and then the metal gate waiting to be opened, she'd realized that her husband had been right. So she'd abandoned caution and raced forward. Mark had tried to stop her. She heard him scream, but it had been too late.
She was already heading down.
Her hands went skyward in an attempt to balance and she readied herself for the bronze stakes. But then she felt an arm encase her chest in a tight embrace. Then she was falling backward, to the ground, which she struck, another body cushioning her impact.
A second later, quiet.
Mark lay beneath her.
"You okay?" she asked, rolling off him.
Her son raised himself off the gravel. "Those rocks felt lovely on my back."
Heavy footsteps sounded in the darkness behind them, accompanied by two orbs of waggling light. Malone and Cassiopeia appeared.
"What happened?" Malone asked.
"I was careless," she said, standing, brushing herself off.
Malone shone a light down into the rectangular hole. "That would have been a bloody fall. It's full of stakes, all in good shape."
She came close, stared down into the opening, then turned and said to Mark, "Thanks, son."
Mark was rubbing the back of his neck, working the pain from his muscles. "No problem."
"Malone," Cassiopeia said. "Take a look."
Stephanie watched as Malone and Cassiopeia studied the Templar motto she and Mark had found. "I was headed to that gate when the hole got in the way."
"Two of them," Malone muttered. "At opposite ends of this corridor."
"There's another grille?" Mark asked.
"With another inscription."
She listened as Malone told them what they'd found.
"I agree with you," Mark said. "That skeleton has to be our long-lost marshal." He fished a chain from beneath his shirt. "We all wear the medallion. They're given at induction."
"Apparently," Malone said, "the Templars hedged their bets and separated the cache." He motioned to the floor trap. "And they made it a challenge to find. The marshal should have been more careful." Malone faced Stephanie. "As we all should."
"I understand," she said. "But, as you so often remind me, I'm not a field agent."
He smiled at her sarcasm. "So let's see what's behind that grille."
DE ROQUEFORT AIMED THE SHORT BARREL OF HIS WEAPON DIRECTLY at Henrik Thorvaldsen's furrowed brow. "I'm told you're one of the wealthiest men in Europe."
"And I'm told you're one of the most ambitious prelates in recent memory."
"You shouldn't listen to Mark Nelle."
"I didn't. His father told me."
"His father didn't know me."
"I wouldn't say that. You followed him around enough."
"Which turned out to be a waste of time."
"Did that make it easier for you to kill him?"
"Is that what you think? That I killed Lars Nelle?"
"Him and Ernst Scoville."
"You know nothing, old man."
"I know you're a problem." Thorvaldsen motioned to Geoffrey. "I know he's a traitor to his friend. And his Order."
De Roquefort watched as Geoffrey absorbed the insult, disdain sweeping into the younger man's pale gray eyes, then just as quickly dissipating.
"I'm loyal to my master. That's the oath I took."
"So you betrayed us for your oath?"
"I don't, and never will."
De Roquefort lowered his gun, then gestured for his men. They swarmed into the church and he motioned for silence. A few hand signals and they instantly understood that six were to position themselves outside and the remaining six to encircle the interior.
MALONE STEPPED AROUND THE TRAP STEPHANIE HAD EXPOSED and approached the metal grille. The others followed. He noticed a heart-shaped padlock suspended from a chain. "Brass." He caressed the gate. "But the gate is bronze."
"The padlock and chain have to be from Sauniere's time," Mark said. "Brass was a rare Middle Age commodity. Zinc was needed to make it and that was hard to come by."
"The lock is a coeur-de-brass," Cassiopeia said. "They were once prevalent all over this region to fasten slave chains."
None of them moved to open the gate and Malone knew why. Another trap could lie in wait.
With his boot, he gently brushed the soil and gravel beneath his feet and tested the earth. Solid. He used his light and examined the gate's exterior. Two bronze hinges supported the right edge. He shone the light through the grille. The corridor beyond right-angled sharply a few feet inside and nothing could be seen past the bend. Great. He tested the chain and lock. "This brass is still strong. We're not going to able to pound it away."
"How about cutting it?" Cassiopeia asked.
"That would work. But with what?"
"The bolt cutters I brought. They're in the tool bag topside, by the generator."
"I'll go get them," Mark said.
"ANYBODY UP THERE?"
The words echoed from inside the hollow altar support and startled de Roquefort. Then he quickly realized that the voice was Mark Nelle's. Thorvaldsen moved to answer, but de Roquefort grabbed the crooked old man and clamped a hand across the mouth before he could utter a sound. He then signaled for one of the brothers, who rushed forward and grabbed the kicking Dane, a new hand sheathing Thorvaldsen's mouth. He pointed and the prisoner was dragged to a far corner of the church.
"Answer him," he mouthed to Geoffrey.
This would be an interesting test of his newfound ally's loyalty.
Geoffrey stuffed his gun between his belt and stepped to the altar. "I'm here."
"You're back. Good. Any problems?"
"None. Bought everything on the list. What's happening down there?"
"We found something, but we need bolt cutters. They're in the tool bag by the generator."
He watched as Geoffrey moved toward the generator and removed a pair of heavy-duty bolt cutters.
What had they found?
Geoffrey tossed the tool down.
"Thanks," Mark Nelle said. "You coming?"
"I'll stay here with Thorvaldsen and keep an eye on things. We don't need any uninvited guests."
"Good idea. Where's Henrik?"
"Unpacking what I bought and getting the camp ready for the night. The sun's nearly gone. I'll go help him."
"You might want to get the generator ready and the power cords unraveled for the light bars. We may need those shortly."
"I'll take care of it."
Geoffrey lingered a moment more then stepped away from the altar and whispered, "He's gone."
De Roquefort knew what had to be done. "Time to take command of this expedition."
MALONE GRIPPED THE BOLT CUTTERS AND WORKED THE TEETH around the brass chain. He then compressed the handles and allowed the spring-action to bite clean through the metal. A snap signaled success and the chain, with hasp, slipped to the ground.
Cassiopeia bent down and retrieved them. "There are museums around the world that would love to have this. I'm sure not many have survived in this condition."
"And we just cut it," Stephanie said.
"There wasn't a whole lot of choice," Malone said. "We're kind of in a hurry." He pointed a flashlight through the grille. "Everybody to the side. I'm going to open this thing slowly. It looks clear, but you never know."
He wedged the bolt cutters into the grille, then stepped to one side, using the rock wall for protection. The hinges were stiff and he had to work the grille back and forth. Finally, the portal opened.
He was just about to lead the way inside when a voice called down from above.
"Mr. Malone. I have Henrik Thorvaldsen. I need for you and your companions to come up. Now. I'll give you one minute, then I'm going to shoot this old man dead."
MALONE WAS THE LAST TO CLIMB UP. WHEN HE STEPPED FROM THE ladder he saw that the church was occupied by six armed men along with de Roquefort. Outside, the sun was gone. Inside was now illuminated from the glow of two small fires, the smoke rushing out into the night through the open window slits.
"Mr. Malone, we finally meet in person," Raymond de Roquefort said. "You handled yourself well in the Roskilde cathedral."
"Glad to know you're a fan."
"How did you find us?" Mark asked.
"Certainly no thanks to that phony journal of your father's, clever though he was. He spoke to the obvious and changed the details just enough to make them worthless. When monsieur Claridon deciphered the cryptogram within it, the message, of course, was of no help. He told us that he concealed the secrets of God. Tell me, since you've been down there, does he conceal those secrets?"
"Never got a chance to find out," Malone said.
"Then we should remedy that. But to answer your question--"
"Geoffrey betrayed us," Thorvaldsen said.
Astonishment clouded Mark's face. "What?"
Malone had already noticed the gun in Geoffrey's hand. "That true?"
"I'm a brother in the Temple, loyal to my master. I did my duty."
"Your duty?" Mark screamed. "You lying son of a bitch." Mark lurched toward Geoffrey, but two brothers blocked the way. Geoffrey stayed rooted. "You led me on this whole thing just so de Roquefort could win? Is that what our master meant to you? He trusted you. I trusted you."
"I knew you were a problem," Cassiopeia declared. "Everything about you signaled trouble."
"And you should know," de Roquefort said, "as that's what you have been to me. Leaving Lars Nelle's journal for me to find in Avignon. You thought that would occupy me for a while. But you see, mademoiselle, the loyalty of our brotherhood takes precedence. So your efforts have all been for naught." De Roquefort faced Malone. "I have six men here, six outside--and they know how to handle themselves. You have no weapons, or so brother Geoffrey has informed me. But to be safe." De Roquefort motioned and one of the men frisked Malone, then moved to the others.
"What did you do, call the abbey when you left here to get supplies?" Mark asked Geoffrey. "I wondered why you volunteered. You haven't let me out of your sight in two days."
Geoffrey continued to stand, his face stiff with conviction.
"You're a disgusting excuse for a man," Mark spat out.
"I agree," de Roquefort said, and Malone watched as de Roquefort's gun came level and he fired three shots into Geoffrey's chest. The bullets staggered the younger man back, and de Roquefort finished his assassination with a bullet to head.
Geoffrey's body collapsed to the floor. Blood poured from the wounds. Malone bit his lip. There was nothing he could do.
Mark lunged at de Roquefort.
The gun was aimed at Mark's chest.
"He assaulted me at the abbey," de Roquefort said. "Attacking the master is punishable by death."
"Not in five hundred years," Mark yelled.
"He was a traitor. To you and to me. Neither of us has any use for him. That's the occupational hazard of being a spy. He surely knew the risk he was taking."
"Do you know the risks you're taking?"
"A strange question coming from a man who killed a brother of this Order. That act is punishable by death, too."
Malone realized this show was for the others present. De Roquefort needed his enemy, at least for the moment.
"I did what I had to," Mark spit out.
De Roquefort clicked the hammer of the automatic into place. "So will I."
Stephanie stepped between the two men, her body blocking Mark's. "And will you kill me, too?"
"If need be."
"But I'm a Christian and I haven't harmed any brothers."
"Words, dear lady. Only words."
She reached up and fished out a chain with a medal from around her neck. "The Virgin. She goes with me wherever I go."
Malone knew de Roquefort could not shoot her. She'd sensed the theater, too, and called his bluff before his men. De Roquefort could not afford to be a hypocrite. He was impressed. It took balls to face down a loaded gun. Not bad for a desk jockey.
De Roquefort lowered the weapon.
Malone rushed toward Geoffrey's bleeding body. One of the men raised a hand to stop him. "I'd drop that arm if I were you," he made clear.
"Let him pass," de Roquefort said.
He came close to the body. Henrik stood staring down at the corpse. A pained look filled the Dane's face and he saw something he'd not seen in the year he'd known him.
"You and I will go back down," de Roquefort said to Mark, "and you'll show me what you found. The others will stay here."
De Roquefort shrugged and aimed his gun at Thorvaldsen. "He's a Jew. Different rules."
"Don't push it," Malone said to Mark. "Do as he says." He hoped Mark understood that there was a time to hold and a time to fold.
"All right. We'll go down," Mark said.
"I'd like to come," Malone said.
"No," de Roquefort said. "This is a matter for the brotherhood. Though I never considered Nelle one of us, he took the oath, and that counts for something. Besides, his expertise might be needed. You, on the other hand, could become a problem."
"How do you know Mark will behave?"
"He will. Otherwise, Christians or no, all of you will die before he could ever climb out that hole."
MARK DESCENDED THE LADDER, FOLLOWED BY DE ROQUEFORT. HE pointed left and told de Roquefort about the chamber they'd found.
De Roquefort slid his gun back into a shoulder holster and aimed his flashlight ahead. "You lead the way. And you know what happens if there are any problems."
Mark started walking, his flashlight added to de Roquefort's beam. They eased their way around the staked hole that had almost claimed Stephanie.
"Ingenious," de Roquefort said as he examined the pit.
They found the open grille.
Mark recalled Malone's warning about more traps and took only baby steps forward. The passage beyond narrowed to about a yard wide, then angled sharply right. After only a few feet, another angle back to the left. One step at a time, he inched ahead.
He made the final turn and stopped.
He shone his light and saw before him a chamber, perhaps ten yards square with a high rounded ceiling. Cassiopeia's assessment that the subterranean vaults might be of Roman origin seemed correct. The gallery formed a perfect repository, and as his light dissolved the darkness, a multitude of wonders came into view.
He first saw statuary. Small colorful pieces. Several enthroned Virgins and Child. Gilded pietas. Angels. Busts. All in straight rows, like soldiers, across the rear wall. Then the glint of gold from rectangular chests. Some overlaid with ivory panels, others sheathed in a mosaic of onyx and gilt, a few gilded in copper and decorated with coats of arms and religious scenes. Each was too precious for simple storage. They were reliquary caskets, made for the remains of holy saints, probably commandeered in the rush, anything to hold what they needed to transport.
He heard de Roquefort slip off the backpack he was wearing, and suddenly the room was engulfed in a bright orange glow from a battery-powered light bar. De Roquefort handed him one. "These will work better."
He didn't like cooperating with the monster, but knew he was right. He grabbed the light, and they fanned out to see what the room contained.
"COVER HIM UP," MALONE SAID TO ONE OF THE BROTHERS, MOTIONING at Geoffrey.
"With what?" came the question.
"The power cords for the light bars are wrapped in a blanket. I can use that." He motioned across the church, past one of the burning fires.
The man seemed to consider the inquiry a moment, then said, "Oui. Do it."
Malone stomped across the uneven floor and found the blanket, all the while assessing their situation. He returned and draped Geoffrey's body. Three guards had withdrawn to the other fire. The remaining three were stationed near the exit.
"He wasn't a traitor," Henrik whispered.
They all stared at him. "He came in alone and told me that de Roquefort was here. He called him. He had to. The former master made him pledge that, once the Devise was found, de Roquefort would be told. He had no choice. He didn't want to do it, but he trusted the old man. He told me to play along, begged my forgiveness, and said he'd look after me. Unfortunately, I couldn't return the favor."
"Maybe," Thorvaldsen said. "But his word meant something to him."
"Did he say why he had to tell him?" Stephanie muttered.
"Only that the master foretold a confrontation between Mark and de Roquefort. Geoffrey's task was to ensure one."
"Mark's no match for that man," Malone said. "He's going to need help."
"I agree," Cassiopeia added, talking through her teeth, her mouth not moving.
"The odds aren't good," Malone said. "Twelve men armed, and we're not."
"I wouldn't say that," Cassiopeia whispered.
And he liked the twinkle in her eye.
MARK STUDIED THE TREASURE THAT SURROUNDED HIM. HE'D never seen so much wealth. The reliquary caskets contained a variety of silver and gold, either in coinage or as unminted raw metal. There were gold dinars, silver drachmas, and Byzantine coins, all stacked in neat rows. And jewels. Three chests brimmed with rough stones. Too many to even imagine. Chalices and reliquary vessels caught his gaze, most of ebony, glass, silver, and parcel-gilt. Some were coated with relief figures and dotted in precious stones. He wondered whose remnants they supposedly contained. One he knew for sure. He read the engraving and whispered, "De Molay," as he stared into the reliquary's rock crystal tube.
De Roquefort came close.
Inside the reliquary were bits of blackened bone. Mark knew the tale. Jacques de Molay was roasted alive on an island in the Seine, in the shadow of Notre Dame, shrieking his innocence and cursing Philip IV, who'd dispassionately watched the execution. During the night brothers swam the river and scrounged through the hot ashes. They swam back with the acrid bones of de Molay in their mouths. Now he was staring at one of those mementos.
De Roquefort crossed himself and mumbled a prayer. "Look what they did."
But Mark realized an even greater significance. "This means someone visited this place after March 1314. They must have kept coming back until they all died. Five of them knew about this place. The Black Death surely took them in the mid-1300s. But they never told a soul, and this vault was lost forever." A sadness swept over him at the thought.
He turned and his light revealed crucifixes and statuary of ebonized wood dotting one wall, about forty, the styles varying from Romanesque, to German, to Byzantine, to high Gothic, the intricately carved physical undulations so perfect they seemed to almost breathe.
"It's spectacular," de Roquefort said.
The tally was incalculable, the stone niches that spanned two walls were packed full. Mark had studied in detail the history and purpose of medieval carving from the pieces that survived in museums, but here before him was a broad, spectacular display of Middle Age craftsmanship.
To his right, on a stone pedestal, he spotted an oversized book. The cover still gleamed--gold foil, he surmised--and was dotted with pearls. Someone had apparently opened the volume before, as crumbled parchment lay beneath, scattered like leaves. He bent down, brought the light close to the scraps, and saw Latin. He could read some of the script and quickly determined that it had once been an inventory ledger.
De Roquefort noticed his interest. "What is it?"
"An accounting. Sauniere probably tried to examine it when he found this place. But you have to careful with parchment."
"Thief. That's what he was. Nothing but a common thief. He had no right to take any of this."
"And we do?"
"It's ours. Left for us by de Molay himself. He was crucified on a door, yet told them nothing. His bones are here. This is ours."
Mark's attention was diverted to a partially open chest. He shone his light and saw more parchment. He slowly hinged open the lid, which only slightly resisted. He dared not touch the sheets stacked together. So he strained to decipher what was on the top page. Old French, he quickly concluded. He could read enough to know that it was a will.
"Papers the Order was safekeeping. This chest is probably full of thirteenth- and fourteenth-century wills and deeds." He shook his head. "To the end, the brothers made sure their duty was done." He considered the possibilities that lay before him. "What we could learn from these documents."
"This is not all of it," de Roquefort suddenly declared. "No books. Not one. Where's the knowledge?"
"What you see is it."
"You're lying. There's more. Where?"
He faced de Roquefort. "This is it."
"Don't be coy with me. Our brothers secreted away their knowledge. You know that. Philip never found it. So it has to be here. I can see it in your eyes. There's more." De Roquefort reached for his gun and raised the barrel to Mark's brow. "Tell me."
"I'd rather die."
"But would you rather have your mother die? Or your friends up there? Because that's who I'll kill first, while you watch, until I learn what I want to know."
Mark considered the possibility. It wasn't that he was afraid of de Roquefort--strangely, no fear coursed through him--it was simply that he wanted to know, too. His father had searched for years and found nothing. What had the master told his mother about him? He doesn't possess the resolve needed to complete his battles. Bullshit. The solution to his father's quest was a short walk away.
"All right. Come with me."
"IT'S AWFUL GLOOMY IN HERE," MALONE SAID TO THE BROTHER who appeared in charge. "Mind if we get the generator going and fire up those lights?"
"We wait for the master to return."
"They're going to need those lights down there, and it takes a few minutes to set things up. Your master may not be inclined to wait when he calls for them." He was hoping the prediction might affect the man's judgment. "What's it going to hurt? We're just rigging up some lights."
"Okay. Go ahead."
Malone withdrew back to where the others stood. "He bought it. Let's set 'em up."
Stephanie and Malone moved toward one set, while Henrik and Cassiopeia grabbed another. The bars consisted of two halogen flood lamps atop an orange tripod. The generator was a small gasoline-powered unit. They positioned the tripods at opposite ends of the church and angled the bulbs upward. Power cords were connected and run back to where the generator sat, near the altar.
A tool bag lay beside the generator. Cassiopeia was reaching inside when one of the guards stopped her.
"I need to hot-wire the power cords. Can't use plugs for this kind of ampage. I'm only going to get a screwdriver."
The man hesitated then stepped back, gun at his side, seemingly ready. Cassiopeia reached into the bag and carefully removed the screwdriver. By the light of the fires, she attached the cords to leads on the generator.
"Let's check out the connections to the lights," she said to Malone.
They casually walked to the first tripod. "My dart gun is in the tool bag," she whispered.
"I assume those are the same little darlings used in Copenhagen?" He kept his lips still as a ventriloquist's.
"They work fast. I just need a few seconds to fire the shots."
She was fiddling with the tripod, not doing anything.
"And how many shots do you have?"
She seemingly finished what she was doing. "Four."
They headed for the other tripod. "We have six guests."
"The other two are your problem."
They stopped at the second tripod. He breathed out, "We'll need a moment of distraction to confuse everybody. I have an idea."
She tinkered with the back of the lights. "About time."