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Authors: Stephen R. Lawhead

The Black Rood

BOOK: The Black Rood
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STEPHEN R. LAWHEAD

BOOK II
THE CELTIC CRUSADES

T
HE
B
LACK
R
OOD

For
Fred and Catherine

Contents

ONE

My Dearest Caitríona,

TWO

Torf-Einar had indeed come home to die. It soon…

THREE

“I think your Uncle will soon be standing before the…

FOUR

The birth pangs came on her early the next morning,…

FIVE

That night we welcomed Eirik home with a modest feast,…

SIX

The treasure room is a small chamber in the center…

SEVEN

I told no one of my plan. I wanted to…

EIGHT

I left Banvar
without speaking to my father again, and…

NINE

We spent the rest of the day, and most of…

TEN

Sailing on a river is more tedious than navigation by…

ELEVEN

Using the ropes with which we had towed the boat…

TWELVE

“Peace, father,” Padraig said. “We are pilgrims, and mean no…

THIRTEEN

We Laid up in a neighboring field under a rack…

FOURTEEN

The next settlement was two days downriver. We were hungry…

FIFTEEN

Caitríona, Dearest Heart of my heart, we must take courage.

SIXTEEN

I have seen the caliph. All praise to our Great…

SEVENTEEN

Roupen Returned a little after sunset, and we ate our…

EIGHTEEN

The Templars were ready to sail by the time Padraig,…

NINETEEN

Thus, from the very first day aboard ship I was…

TWENTY

Bohemond's palace put me in mind of a noble lady…

TWENTY-ONE

We waited uneasily for Commander de Bracineaux to appear. Padraig…

TWENTY-TWO

Dearest Caitríona, Something has happened which has me shuddering with…

TWENTY-THREE

We spent what little remained of the day in the…

TWENTY-FOUR

Yordanus Listened with half-closed eyes while I made a brief…

TWENTY-FIVE

Cait, you will not believe what has taken place. I…

TWENTY-SIX

We reached the mainland after dark and stood offshore during…

TWENTY-SEVEN

It was still dark when we left that homely house.

TWENTY-EIGHT

Eight days we were on the road, and in that…

TWENTY-NINE

Padraig and I returned to our room. I was tired,…

THIRTY

Prince Leo's Death immediately plunged all the members of the…

THIRTY-ONE

“Christ have mercy,” Sydoni gasped. Padraig began praying aloud in…

THIRTY-TWO

Cait, my light, I cannot contain myself. For the first…

THIRTY-THREE

So began the most wretched portion of my life. I…

THIRTY-FOUR

We stayed four days at Kadiriq, a baked-mud settlement on…

THIRTY-FIVE

Impetuous no more, Prince Bohemond appeared serene and tranquil, his…

THIRTY-SIX

That Once-Noble visage was bruised and bleeding, the high, handsome…

THIRTY-SEVEN

Amir Ghazi's arrival in Damascus was hailed as the triumphal…

THIRTY-EIGHT

I expected them to come for me in the morning,…

THIRTY-NINE

Still Dazed from the heady journey through the streets of…

FORTY

Unable to force open the door, I stood at the…

FORTY-ONE

De Bracineaux returned the axe to the Arab, and the…

FORTY-TWO

I stood in the darkness, listening to the whoops and…

FORTY-THREE

Our underground journey had taken us to a place on…

FORTY-FOUR

The Green-Bordered Nile spread its slow, gentle curves before us,…

FORTY-FIVE

I awoke to a cool touch on my forehead and…

FORTY-SIX

The people of Cyprus travel by donkey, and although exceedingly…

FORTY-SEVEN

“He went where?” I said, disbelief making my voice harsh.

FORTY-EIGHT

I flew to the house with Padraig two steps ahead…

FORTY-NINE

Dearest Caitríona, my life, my light, my hope. If not…

EPILOGUE

Paphos Glistens in the warm autumn light. The whitewashed houses…

 

PART I

November 10, 1901: Paphos, Cyprus

The summons came while I was sitting at my desk. The afternoon post had just been delivered—the office boy placing the tidy bundle into my tray—so I thought nothing of it as I slid the paper knife along the pasted seam. It was only upon shaking out the small cream-colored card that my full attention was engaged. I flipped the card over on the blotter. The single word, “
Tonight
” written in a fine script, brought me upright in my chair.

I felt my stomach tighten as an uncontainable thrill tingled through me. This was followed by an exasperated sigh as I slumped back in my chair, the card thrust at arm's length as if to hold off the inevitable demand of that single, portentous word.

Truth to tell, a fair length of time had passed since the last meeting of the Inner Circle, and I suppose a sort of complacency had set in which resented this sudden and unexpected intrusion into my well-ordered existence. I stared at the offending word, fighting down the urge to pretend I had not seen it. Indeed, I quickly shoved it out of sight into the middle of my sheaf of letters and attempted to forget about it.

Curiosity, and a highly honed sense of duty, won the struggle. Resigning myself to my fate, I rang for one of the lads and sent him off with a hastily scribbled note of apology to my wife explaining that an engagement of the utmost importance had just arisen and she must soldier on without me for the evening, and please not to wait up as I anticipated being very late. A swift glance in my desk diary revealed that, as luck would have it, the familial household was to be appropriated for a meeting of certain august members of the Ladies' Literacy Institute and Temperance Union, a gaggle of well-meaning old dears whose overabundant maternal energies have been directed to the improvement of society through reading and abstinence from strong drink—except sherry. Worthy goals, to be sure, but unspeakably dull. Instantly, my resentful resignation turned to unbounded elation; I was delighted to have a genuine excuse to forgo the dull agonies of an evening which, if past experience was any indicator, could only be described as boredom raised to the level of high art.

Having shed this onerous domestic chore, new vistas of possibility opened before me. I considered dining at the club, but decided on taking an early supper so as to leave plenty of time for the cab journey to the chapel where the members of our clandestine group met on these rare occasions. With a contrite heart made buoyant by a childlike excitement, I contemplated the range of alternatives before me. There were several new restaurants in Hanover Street that I had been meaning to try, with a public house nearby recommended by a junior colleague in the firm; off the leash for the night, I determined my course.

When work finished for the day, I lingered for a time in my office, attending to a few small tasks until I was certain the office boys and junior staff had gone, and I would not be followed, however accidentally. I feel it does no harm to take special precautions on these infrequent occasions; no doubt it is more for my own amusement than anything else, but it makes me feel better all the same. I should not like even the slightest carelessness on my part to compromise the Inner Circle.

After a pint of porter at the Wallace Arms, I proceeded around the corner to Alexander's Chop House, where I dined on a passable roast rabbit in mustard sauce and a glass of first-rate claret before the cab arrived. As the evening was fine and unseasonably balmy, I asked the driver to pull the top of the carriage back and enjoyed a splendid drive through the city and out into the nearby countryside. I arranged with the driver to meet me for the return journey and, when he was well out of sight, walked the last mile or so to the chapel to meet the others.

Upon nearing the place, I saw someone hurrying up the lane ahead of me; I recognized the fellow as De Cardou, but I did not hail him. We never draw attention to one another in public. Even the Brotherhood's lower orders are advised to refrain from acknowledging a fellow member in passing on the street. For them it is a discipline which, faithfully applied, may lead to greater advancement in time; for the Inner Circle, it is an unarguable necessity—now more than ever, if such a thing can be possible.

Admittedly, these arcane concerns seem very far away from the honest simplicity of life on the Greek island where I now find myself. Here in the sun-soaked hills above Paphos, it is easy to forget the storm clouds gathering in the West. But the writing is on the wall for anyone with eyes to see. Even I, the newest recruit to our hallowed and holy order, recognize dangers which did not exist a year or two ago; and in these last days such dangers will only increase. If ever I doubted the importance of the Brotherhood, I doubt it no longer.

Our meeting that night was solemn and sobering. We met in the Star Chamber, hidden beneath the chancel, as it affords a more comfortable setting for discussion. I took my seat at the round table and, after the commencement ritual and prayer, Genotti asked to begin the proceedings with a report on the Brotherhood's interests in South America and the need for urgent intervention in the worsening political climate. “While the peace treaty concluded in the first months of last year between Chile and Brazil remains in force,” he said, “efforts to undermine the treaty continue. It has come to my attention that agents in the employ of Caldero, a dangerous anarchistic political faction, are planning an attack on the palace of the Chilean president. This attack will be blamed on Brazil in an effort to draw the two governments back into open conflict.”

Evans, our Number Two, expressed the concern of the group and asked Genotti's recommendation. “It is my belief that the presidential staff must be warned, of course, so that protective measures may be taken. I also advocate, with the Brotherhood's approval, monies to be advanced to fund the training of an agent to be placed within Caldero and bring about its self-destruction.”

Ordinarily, such a proposal would have engendered a lengthy discussion on the manner and methods of implementing a plan. This time, however, Pemberton rose to his feet and, before debate could begin, thanked Genotti for his industry on the Brotherhood's behalf.

“However,” he said, his voice taking on a sepulchral tone, “it is becoming increasingly clear that our ventures into the manipulation of political systems cannot continue. It is dangerous, and potentially destructive to the overall aims of the Inner Circle—not least because such meddling in the power structures of sovereign nations possesses a vast and unperceived potential to seduce us away from our prime objectives.”

Tall and gaunt in his red robe with the golden cross over the heart, Pemberton looked around the table to ensure that each of us understood him precisely. “Furthermore, gentlemen, it is increasingly evident that the world has embarked on a new and frightening course. And we cannot hope to remain uncorrupted by the increasingly corrosive powers beginning to assert their influence on the individual populations of this planet. South America is in ferment, Eastern Europe is rapidly sliding toward political anarchy and chaos, the clouds of war are darkening the skies in a dozen places.”

Citing example after undeniable example, our wise leader revealed to us not only the shape and form, but the vast extent of the wickedness about to fall upon an unsuspecting world. “New threats call for new strategies. In short, gentlemen, we must adapt our methods if we are to survive. We must prepare for a new crusade.”

He went on to lay out for us the battle plan which would shape our future from that night. When he finished, one by one, we of the Sanctus Clarus, Guardians of the True Path, stood to renew our sacred vows, and pledge ourselves to this new crusade.

Our ancient enemy arms itself and its countless minions with new and ever more powerful weapons of mass destruction, so that night we soldiers of the Holy Light likewise armed ourselves for the coming conflict. In the undying spirit of the Célé Dé, we summoned the age-old courage of those dauntless Celtic crusaders who have gone before us and, shoulder-to-shoulder, took our places beside them on the battle line.

The war will come. It is both imminent and inevitable. For the present, however, as I look out on the glimmering Cypriot sea, and smell the heady, blossom-scented breeze, and feel the warmth of the sun and the gentle, abiding love of my good wife, I will savor the last, lingering benevolence of a more humane era which, when it is gone, will not be known again.

Tomorrow's travails will keep until tomorrow. While the sun yet shines I will delight myself in this glorious season, and cherish it against the evil day.

 

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