ABBEY DES FONTAINES
WEDNESDAY, JUNE 28
MARK STARED OUT ACROSS THE CIRCULAR HALL. THE BROTHERS were once again adorned in their formal dress, convened in conclave, about to select a master. De Roquefort was dead, laid in the Hall of Fathers last night. At the funeral the chaplain had challenged de Roquefort's memory, and the vote had been unanimous that he be denied. As he'd listened to the chaplain's speech, Mark had realized that what happened over the past few days was all necessary. Unfortunately, he'd killed two men, one with regret, the other without relish. He'd begged the Lord's forgiveness for the first death, but felt only relief that de Roquefort was gone.
Now the chaplain was speaking again, to the conclave.
"I tell you brothers. Destiny has been at work, but not in the manner in which our most recent master contemplated. His was the wrong way. Our Great Devise is back because of the seneschal. He was the former master's chosen successor. He was the one sent on the quest. He faced down his enemy, placed our well-being above his own, and fulfilled what masters have attempted for centuries."
Mark saw hundreds of heads bobbing in agreement. Never had he moved men in such a way before. His had been a solitary existence in academia, his weekend forays with his father, then alone, the only adventure he'd ever known until the past few days.
The Great Devise had been quietly taken from the earth yesterday morning and returned to the abbey. He and Malone had personally removed the ossuary, along with its testimony. He'd shown the chaplain what they'd found and it was agreed that the new master would decide what to do next.
Now that decision was at hand.
This time Mark did not stand with the Order's officers. He was merely a brother, so he'd taken his place among the somber mass of men. He'd not been selected as one for the conclave, so he watched with all the others as the twelve went about their task.
"There is no question what must be done," one of the conclave members said. "The former seneschal should be our master. Let it be."
Silence gripped the room.
Mark wanted to speak in protest. But Rule forbid it, and he'd broken enough for a lifetime.
"I agree," another conclave member said.
The remaining ten all nodded.
"Then it shall be," the nominator said. "He that was our seneschal shall now be our master."
Applause erupted as more than four hundred brothers signaled their approval.
He was no longer Mark Nelle.
He was master.
All eyes focused on him. He emerged from the brothers and entered the circle formed by the conclave. He stared at men he admired. He'd joined the Order simply as a means to fulfill what his father had dreamed and to escape his mother. He'd stayed because he'd come to love both the Order and its master.
Words from John came to mind.
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. Through him all things were made. In him was life, and that life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not understood it. He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him. He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God.
Simon Peter recognized and received Him, as had all who came after Simon, and their darkness became light. Perhaps thanks to Simon's singular realization, they were all now children of God.
The shouts subsided.
He waited until the hall went silent.
"I had thought perhaps that it was time for me to leave this place," he softly said. "The past few days have brought many difficult decisions. Because of the choices I made, I believed my life as a brother over. I killed one of our number and for that I am sorry. But I was given no choice. I killed the master, but for that I feel nothing." His voice rose. "He challenged all that we believe. His greed and recklessness would have been our downfall. He was concerned with his needs, his wants, not ours." A strength surged through him as he again heard the words of his mentor. Remember all that I taught you. "As your leader, I'll chart a new course. We'll come from the shadows, but not for revenge or justice, but to claim a place in this world as the Poor Fellow-Soldiers of Christ and the Temple of Solomon. That's who we are. That's what we shall be. There are great things for us to do. The poor and downtrodden need a champion. We can be their savior."
Something Simon wrote came to mind. All of us bear God's image, all are worthy to be loved, all can grow in the spirit of God. He was the first master in seven hundred years to be guided by those words.
And he intended to follow them.
"Now, good brothers, it's time that we say goodbye to brother Geoffrey, whose sacrifice made this day possible."
MALONE WAS IMPRESSED WITH THE ABBEY. HE, STEPHANIE, HENRIK, and Cassiopeia had been welcomed earlier and given a complete tour, the first non-Templars ever afforded that honor. Their guide, the chaplain, had showed them every recess and patiently explained its history. Then he'd left, saying that the conclave was about to begin. He'd returned a few minutes ago and escorted them into the chapel. They'd come to attend Geoffrey's funeral, allowed there thanks to the integral role they'd played in finding the Great Devise.
They sat in the first row of pews, directly before the altar. The chapel itself was magnificent, a cathedral in its own right, a place that had harbored the Knights Templar for centuries. And Malone could feel their presence.
Stephanie sat beside him, Henrik and Cassiopeia beside her. He heard the breath leave her as the chanting stopped and Mark entered from behind the altar. While the other brothers wore russet cassocks with their heads sheathed, he was dressed in the white mantle of the master. Malone reached over and grasped her trembling hand. She threw him a smile and gripped hard.
Mark stepped to Geoffrey's simple coffin.
"This brother gave his life for us. He kept his oath. For that he will have the honor of being buried in the Hall of Fathers. Before this, only masters were there. Now they will be joined by this hero."
No one said a word.
"Also, the challenge made to our former master by brother de Roquefort is hereby rescinded. His place of honor is restored in the Chronicles. Let us now say goodbye to brother Geoffrey. Through him we have been reborn."
The service lasted an hour and Malone and the others followed the brothers underground into the Hall of Fathers. There the coffin was placed in the locolus beside the former master's.
Then they headed outside to their cars.
Malone noticed a calm in Mark and a thaw in his relationship with his mother.
"And what now for you, Malone?" Cassiopeia asked.
"Back to bookselling. And my son is coming to spend a month with me."
"A son? How old?"
"Fourteen, going on thirty. He's a handful."
Cassiopeia grinned. "A lot like his father, then."
"More like his mother."
He'd been thinking about Gary a lot the past few days. Seeing Stephanie and Mark struggle with each other brought back some of his own failings as a father. But you'd never know it from Gary. Where Mark became resentful, Gary was brilliant in school, athletic, and had never once objected to Malone moving to Copenhagen. Instead, he'd encouraged him to go, realizing that his father needed to be happy, too. Malone felt a lot of guilt about that decision. But he looked forward to his time with his son. Last year had been their first summer in Europe. This year they planned on traveling to Sweden, Norway, and England. Gary loved to travel--another thing they had in common.
"Going to be a good time," he said.
Malone, Stephanie, and Henrik would drive to Toulouse and catch a flight to Paris. From there, Stephanie would fly home to Atlanta. Malone and Henrik would travel back to Copenhagen. Cassiopeia was headed to the chateau in her Land Rover.
She was standing by her car when Malone walked over.
Mountains ringed them on all sides. In a couple of months winter would blanket everything with snow. Part of a cycle. As clear in nature as in life. Good, then bad, then good, then more bad, then more good. He remembered telling Stephanie when he retired that he was fed up with the nonsense. She'd smiled at his naivete and said that so long as the earth was inhabited, there'd be no calm place. The game was the same everywhere. Only the players changed.
That was okay. The experience of the past week had taught him that he was a player and always would be. But if anyone asked, he'd tell them he was a bookseller.
"Take care of yourself, Malone," she said. "I won't be watching your back anymore."
"I have a feeling you and I'll see each other again."
She threw him a smile. "You never know. It's possible."
He walked back to his car.
"What about Claridon?" Malone asked Mark.
"He begged forgiveness."
"And you graciously granted it."
Mark smiled. "He said de Roquefort was going to roast the skin off his feet and a couple of brothers confirmed that. He wants to join us."
Malone chuckled. "Are you guys ready for that?"
"Our ranks were once filled with far worse men. We'll survive. I look at him as my personal penance."
Stephanie and Mark spoke a moment in a quiet tone. They'd already said their goodbyes in private. She appeared calm and relaxed. Apparently their salutation had been amenable. Malone was glad. Peace needed to be made there.
"What will happen with the ossuary and testimony?" Malone asked Mark. No brothers were nearby, so he felt safe discussing the point.
"That will stay sealed away. The world is content with what it believes. I'm not going to mess with that."
Malone agreed. "Good idea."
"But this Order will reemerge."
"That's right," Cassiopeia said. "I've already talked to Mark about becoming involved in the charitable organization I head. The worldwide AIDS effort and famine prevention could use an influx of capital, and this Order now has a lot to spend."
"Henrik has lobbied hard, too, for us to get involved with his favorite causes," Mark said. "And I've agreed to help there. So the Knights Templar will be busy. Our skills can be put to great use."
He extended his hand, which Mark shook. "I believe the Templars are in good hands. The best of luck to you."
"You, too, Cotton. And I still want to know about that name."
"You call me one day and I'll tell you all about it."
They climbed into the rental with Malone driving. As they settled in and buckled their seat belts, Stephanie said, "I owe you one."
He stared over at her. "That's a first."
"Don't get accustomed to it."
"Use it wisely."
And he cranked the car.