Simon d’Ornan arrived right on time for Merry’s speech to Mark Andrew and Lucio. She had them sitting on the sofa in the library again like small boys at nursery school. They looked a bit flushed from their stay on the patio, but they were paying close attention to her... it seemed.
When Simon let himself into the library and stood looking at them silently, all three got up at once to greet him in the Templar fashion, hugging him and kissing him lightly on the lips. They hadn’t heard him come in. He almost cringed when Merry touched him and did cringe when Lucio Dambretti greeted him, but there seemed to be no lingering malice in the Knight of the Golden Eagle and Simon was greatly relieved.
“Please sit down, Brother.” Merry smiled and waved him over to sit by Mark Andrew. “I was just about to begin.”
Simon sat stiffly on the sofa and clasped his hands over his stomach. He leaned back against the cool leather and almost closed his eyes. He was past exhaustion and his eyes drooped.
“Now…” Merry said and sat down on the footstool facing them. “There will be a circle and each of you will be responsible for certain items which I will give you to carry. I will instruct you in what you will do with the objects and you must do exactly… exactly as I command when I say. Is that clear?”
They nodded in unison. Simple.
“Before we commence the ceremony, there will be a cleansing bath and suffumigation. You know what that is?” she asked.
“Suffumigation,” Simon repeated the word. “Incense.”
“Yes. Exactly,” Merry nodded. “No problem, right?”
They all shook their heads in unison.
“I will give each of you separate and individual instruction concerning your proper duties. Probably tomorrow. Today is the first day. Tomorrow is the second day. Thursday will be the third day and then on Friday morning, the first hour after sunrise, we will conduct the ceremony.”
They all nodded. Lucio yawned and stretched. “You did fast, didn’t you, Brother?” he asked Simon and the priest nodded.
“And you ate white food?” Mark asked him hopefully.
“White food?” Simon frowned and then looked at Merry. “I didn’t eat anything.”
“Nothing?” Lucio looked at him doubtfully.
“Fasting means not eating.” Simon turned a surprised look on the Italian.
“You can’t starve for three days, mon! Ye’ll nae be able t’ stand on yer feet!” Mark Andrew admonished him. “Merry, do ye still have some o’ those beans out in th’ kitchen?” Mark was truly concerned.
“It’s no problem,” Simon almost laughed. He had never been as fond of eating as his Brothers. Sometimes he even forgot to eat at all.
“I’ll check on it. Tonight, I will see each of you in private. I want to know that there will be no problems. I don’t want to get down to the last detail and then have one of you back out.”
Mark Andrew sighed and shook his head slightly. What was the big deal? He had been through many things. Certainly, this would be no more taxing than living as a dragon for twenty-one years and drinking nothing but water. Merry was worried for nothing. He wished they could just get on with it without all this waiting. Just do the conjuring or whatever it was and be done with it. Simple.
Lucio crossed his legs and spread his arms along the back of the sofa before smiling at her. He had no intention of backing out. Anything Mark Andrew could do, he could do. He could tolerate it and then he would be gone. They would find out where Lucia Simone was and he would be off to retrieve his daughter. Simple.
Simon wore a worried frown. What was so disturbing about this thing that Merry had to keep warning them that they could not back out? What was she so concerned about? Just what did this ceremony entail? Sacrificing water buffaloes and chickens? He had just had a terrifying nightmare on the plane from Italy wherein he was in a dark place with thousands of rats and someone had thrown a chicken at him. A chicken! Of all things! It had almost been laughable after he had awakened, but it had been very frightening at the time. He’d never dreamed of chickens and he’d rarely dreamed of rats. That was more along the lines of something Mark Andrew would dream. Mark Andrew hated rats! The only encounter he’d had with rats was when he had been in the Inquisitor’s dungeon and the rats had been the least of his worries there. He hoped that he would be able to get through this thing intact and then get back to France. He wanted to check on Orri and then plan his trip to America. Go to America. That was what his dreams told him to do. God was speaking to him surely, calling him out of this impossible situation and giving him a new direction. He would help Merry as he had promised and then he would be gone. Simple, except that he would have to try to speak to John Paul about the Ark before he left.
Merry was speaking again and he had missed what she was saying.
“Simon?” She held out her hand and he took it immediately, hoping that he had not missed too much. She pulled him up and he allowed her to escort him from the room. He glanced back at Mark Andrew and the Knight of Death smiled at him and raised both eyebrows. Mark Andrew did not understand what was happening here. Lucio sat gazing at him blandly.
Merry pulled Simon along the hallway to the backdoor and outside into the moonlight. She led him down the walk to the patio and he paused beside the flowerbeds he had tended with such care for so long. The amaranths, violets and lilies were gone now. They had been replaced by crocuses. Red crocuses. They were very dark, but the moonlight was so brilliant, he could see that they were red. He wondered vaguely why there would be red crocuses in his garden and then realized that it was not his garden, had never truly been his garden. Merry led him to the glass-topped table and pushed him into the chair.
“Thank you for coming, Brother,” she said and smiled at him in the moonlight and he thought he would have to leave. He even started to get up and she pushed him back down. “Sit.”
He sat down and looked about nervously, placing one hand over his mouth.
“Now I have to know that you will be suitable for this… experiment,” she told him. “Now listen to what I have to say and then we’ll see.”
“We’ll see?” He looked up at her and gave her a small smile.
“I am the master of this Art,” she began. “I beseech thee, I beg thee, I cajole thee that thou now by thy consent of thy free will submit thyself to my will in all things pertaining to this Art and by submitting that thou shalt set thy trust in me to perform only those things which shall be necessary to accomplish the purpose of this experiment and this invocation and this conjuration before God Almighty and to all His angels and all His power and majesty that by putting aside thy selfish interests thou shalt adhere to thy promise wherein thou claimest no will other than mine. By placing your hand in mine thou shalt seal this pact with me before God.”
She held out her hand and Simon sat looking at her, blinking rapidly. He raised his hand slowly and then put it in hers.
Merry had not expected anything to happen when she took his hand, but she began to see images immediately, as if his mind was emptying into hers. She saw an old black woman in a bed with a trickle of blood running from her nose and then she saw Mark Andrew lying in the cave after he had ignited the gas in the dragon’s lair. After that, she saw Louis Champlain with an arrow through his arm and then the Ritter von Hetz suffering from a terrible slash across his ribs. The visions continued and with each changing scene, she saw a different person with some terrible wound or injury. Some of them she recognized as the Knights of the Council. Some of them were strangers to her. With each glimpse, she felt the pain of each man, very briefly. Each time, she jerked back slightly on his hand, but did not let go. The images passed like still frame photos or a rapidly paced slide show. There and then gone.
Simon was fascinated. He could not let go of her hand. He could see her thoughts about him. He could see how much she loved him and how much she respected him and trusted him and honored him and revered him, but he could see that there was nothing more than the love of a friend for a friend and a sister for a brother, but he had never expected her to care so much for him in any manner. It was most gratifying and very enlightening and, at the same time, disappointing in a selfish sort of way. Then he saw something he did not want to see. He saw her feelings for Mark Andrew and then her feelings for Lucio. She let go of his hand and it was over.
She stood staring at him in the moonlight, her expression like none he had ever seen. She looked as if she had seen a ghost… no, perhaps hundreds of them.
“Are you all right, Sister?” he asked. He wondered if she knew what he had seen and then wondered if she had been able to see his feelings for her. His face went deep red. “I’m sorry.”
“For what?” she asked. “I had no idea, Simon. You really are a magnificent soul, a Healer.”
“I am?” He looked about and then sighed in relief. It had not been a mutual sight and he was thankful.
“Yes. I believe you will do quite well for the experiment,” she breathed and sat down in one of the chairs next to him to catch her breath. “Give me a minute.”
Simon sat looking up at the moon. It looked like the same moon they had seen in the underworld and just for a moment he could almost imagine the sounds of the spirits’ drums and the laughter of the elves. He longed to return there with her, but it was only a dream now, lost to history, but never lost to him.
“Would you please go and send Mark Andrew out?” She reached out hesitantly to touch his arm and he jumped.
Al Sajek al Hafiz dropped his water goblet on the table and spilled water into his lap. He stood up quickly and one of his servants came immediately to hand him a towel before cringing away from him as if expecting to be struck dead for allowing such a calamity to happen. He wiped at the water and then sat back down heavily. He had seen something unbidden. Flashes of things from somewhere else. Someone’s mind. Whose mind? He had seen an old black woman, a man with an arrow in his arm and another man with a wound on his ribs and more and he had felt their pain briefly. What was this? Was someone now sending him their thoughts? Could it be possible? He wore the amulet of Nodens. He was protected from such things. His first thought was the prophet, John Paul. He was the only one capable of such a thing. He left his meal unfinished and went into his chambers and closed the doors.
He sat in the middle of the floor on a satin cushion filled with goose down and stretched out his arms on either side of his body. The golden cup from the chapel sat on a small pedestal in front of him. He focused his concentration on the prophet.
John Paul was lying on his bed in his father’s house and his wife was sleeping next to him. The priest was not asleep. He was staring up at the underside of a canopy bed. His mind was full of turmoil. He was trying desperately not to sleep. More chaos. Good, but this was not what he expected. The images had not come from the priest. The Magician dropped his arms and frowned. This would take more work.
Merry stood up when Mark Andrew exited the back door of the house. He stopped on the steps and looked about before walking out the brick sidewalk toward the patio. He looked like a dream in the moonlight, but she had to shake off the thought of how much she simply wanted to go to him and take him back upstairs…
“Merry.” He nodded to her when he drew near and smiled slightly.
He did not understand the gravity of the situation. In fact, he looked rather sheepish and nervous, as if they were having some sort of secret rendezvous. For once, she wished that his usual somber self would take over. It almost seemed as if he thought all this was some sort of joke.
“Sit down, please, Mark,” she said a bit too curtly and his smile faded.
He took the chair vacated by Simon and frowned at her.
“I need to see if you can be serious about this. I want to know your true feelings. Would you like to back out now?”
“No.” He shook his head and the silver earrings in his hair jingled. He reached up to place one hand on them subconsciously.
Merry began to repeat the same invocation she had said to Simon. As she spoke, he began to smile again. These were not baneful words. Not witchcraft. Not some horrible secret words of darkness. Just a request for his willingness to obey her. He had no problem with making a pact with her. He was planning, after all, to marry her very soon and was that not the ultimate pact? When she reached for his hand, he took hers readily. The shock of what he saw rocked him back in the chair.
The first thing he saw was Simon sitting on a great white horse looking down at him. “Why would you murder your Brother? Why would you murder your love? Why would I murder you, Brother?” He held his sword up in a salute before riding away. Then Lucio appeared on a dark horse. The Italian bowed his head slightly and then pulled his silver sword from its scabbard. “I am not the source of your pain, Brother. I have forgiven you. You must forgive yourself.” He pressed the sword’s hilt against his heart and looked away across the horizon. The Knight kicked the horse and also rode away.
The next image truly fascinated him. Another horse galloped toward him and on it sat a Templar Knight in full uniform and armor. At first, he thought it was Luke Matthew again and that he was about to hear more of his long-dead brother’s prophetic words, but as the horse drew nearer, the Knight smiled at him and he saw the white braid in his long, dark hair and the silver earrings. He smiled up at his own image. He pulled in on the reins and drew up beside himself. It was an odd feeling, like being in two places at once. He reached under his surcoat and pulled out a single red rose and handed it down to himself. “Keep true to yourself, Mark Andrew Ramsay. Don’t lose sight of your ultimate goal. What your Brothers do, they do for love.” Mark Andrew took the rose and looked down at it. When he looked up, he saw himself riding away.
Merry thought she was prepared for what she would see, but nothing could have prepared her for what poured into her mind. These images came much faster than the one’s from Simon’s mind. They were briefer and more numerous and much more horrible than wounded or injured people. The first image was Sir Philip losing his head in Mark Andrew’s entry hall. Then she saw many more such scenes so quickly she could hardly keep them in order. She saw Argonne, Champagne, Devereaux, the man in the blue turban in front of the chapel, Beaujold, the other Benedictine priest at Ian McShan’s house, Maxie on the hillside in Texas, a soldier in a Nazi uniform, a beautiful blonde woman, another Knight in full uniform, a man dressed in army fatigues, and then more and more and more. Most were men. Some were women. The greater majority were men dressed in the far eastern garb with turbans and dark eyes and long beards. By the time she let go of Mark’s hand she was crying uncontrollably. He pulled her close and held her head against his chest, stroking her hair and asking her again and again what was wrong. She wouldn’t tell him. She couldn’t speak. He led her over to one of the rockers and made her sit down. After a few moments, she wiped her eyes and frowned down at her hands.
“I’m sorry, Mark,” she said and looked up at him. Did he really have all these things in his mind? How could he live with these memories?
“For what?” he asked and shook his head again. The earrings jangled in his hair. “What happened?”
“Nothing,” she lied and then crossed herself.
“No lies,” he reminded her and smiled, but the smile was sad somehow as if he could feel her pain. “I’m sorry that you have to put up with me, Meredith. I don’t have much to offer.”
“You’re right. No lies,” she cut him off and returned his smile. “Just don’t ask me.”
He kissed the back of her hand and then pressed it against his face.
“I need to see Lucio,” she said quietly. “It’s getting late and I’m in danger of losing control.”
This was not going to be easy. She had thought that the hard part was yet to come. If it was any worse than this, she might not make it.
Mark dropped her hand and his shoulders drooped a bit. He scratched his head and then ran his fingers through his hair.
“I’ll send him out,” he said.
They still had to make their nightly confession according to the rite and repeat the required prayers before going to bed. The thought of the underworld came back to her and for a moment, she almost wished that she could go back there with Simon. Surely, it would be a wonderful place with the evil spirits gone and the serpent dead. She even missed the rich flavor of the fresh milk and the wonderful bread that had appeared on their doorstep everyday. What a simple life it could have been for them. And she could think of no better person than Simon to have been stranded with. Well, at least, the old Simon had been the perfect companion. She didn’t know about the new Simon.
The Red Cross of Gold VII:. The Wisdom of Solomon: Assassin Chronicles