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Authors: David Lee Marriner

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Vittorio took the notebook and peered carefully at it. “I
have no idea what these are,” he said and passed the notebook back to James.
Suddenly, his expression changed and he stepped closer to take another look at
the notebook. “I’ve seen something like that – two snakes in an upright
position. But that has nothing to do with the Church of Angels.”

“It would be helpful if you could tell us when and under
what circumstances you saw it,” said Irina.

“The circumstances I remember well. Even though this
happened about twenty years ago,” said Vittorio and then fell silent, looking
sideways while trying to unravel his old memories. “At that time I was still
studying to become a deacon,” he began. “I was in a Benedictine monastery
called Saint Ambrose. There I saw a similar drawing – by a sick monk, a former
missionary in Latin America.”

“Did he draw other things?” asked James.

“He scribbled other strange symbols, on paper, on tables,
walls. He also wrote down words or whole passages. If I remember well, most of
it was connected to his stay in Latin America.”

“You mean the subject matter?” asked Lino.

“Yes. There was a rumour that he had brought back many old
pagan texts from that mission. After his return to Italy he was assaulted. His
head was injured during the assault. Since then he lost his mind.”

James’ heart, which had just returned to its regular rhythm,
started to beat rapidly again. This time the reason was a strong presentiment.
They had stumbled across a clue.

“We’ll need the location of that monastery,” said Irina.

Vittorio wrote it down in the notebook. “That’s roughly the
address. You’ll find the place easily. Brother Federico – that old monk – may
not be alive. He was around sixty years old when I met him. Moreover, if he is
still alive and you want to meet him, you’ll need special permission.”

“I’ll take care of that,” said Lino with certainty, looking
at James and Irina.

“All right,” said Irina. “You should also check if he’s still
alive and residing in that monastery. After all, twenty years has passed.”

“If he is alive, he’s most probably there,” said Vittorio.
“The Benedictine monks have a stability vow.”

“A vow that they will belong to one monastery for life,”
James explained on seeing Irina’s questioning look.

They parted with the deacon and on the way to the car Irina
complimented James on his proficiency in Italian. He returned the compliment.

“I studied it in high school. But my skills are a bit
rusty,” she said.

Irina walked ahead and reached the Volvo first. She turned
sharply and pointed reproachfully at Lino. “You!” she said in a stern voice.
“If we’re to work together you have to follow the rules.”

Lino peered at her in astonishment, without a clue of what
she was talking about.

“We asked you to sit tight in the car. Instead, you got out
and showed up at the place you shouldn’t be at all. You got lucky this time.
Next time you may run into somebody who is not on our side.”

“I … couldn’t see any of you… I decided to check if the gate
was locked… Listen, I know I messed up with my wrong judgment about Vittorio.
But the encounter with him produced a good result, didn’t it?” Lino defended
himself.

Irina cut him short. “I’m not talking about that. It’s the
principle. We must rely on each other. Do you understand?”

“Irina’s right,” said James. “We need to act as a team.”

Lino smiled, stretched out his arms and tilted his head to
one side in a gesture of consent and repentance about the way he had behaved.

 

 

 

CHAPTER THIRTY-SIX

 

Bodh Gaya, India

 

The Jettavana guesthouse was situated a couple of kilometres
from Bodh Gaya, where Buddha Shakyamuny had achieved enlightenment two thousand
five hundred years ago. It was a white, two-storey building with neat rooms
that were offered to tourists and pilgrims at affordable prices. The owners, an
immigrant family from Sri Lanka and their two still unmarried daughters, lived
in the left wing on the first floor. In this early afternoon, despite the
strong heat, the three women sat on chairs in the garden holding umbrellas. The
man sat behind the reception desk reading a newspaper. From time to time, he
got up, climbed the stairs to the second floor, looked around and then returned
to his place. He looked serious and tense. The women looked the same. Their
unusual behaviour was because they were implementing an unusual task. They were
guarding an important meeting which was taking place in their house.

The day before, a young Buddhist monk from the nearby
Mahaboddhy temple had paid a visit to their house. He had asked if they could
provide a room where three senior monks could meet. The request was made on
behalf of a most respected Sri Lankan priest – Nyanaponika Thera – who the
family had known for years. The young monk had asked for discretion and if they
could find a room where full confidentiality could be guaranteed. Such a
request was an honour for the family, so they had agreed.

The three monks were sitting at an empty table in a room on
the second floor which was separated from the visitors’ rooms. They wore robes
typical of the three main Buddhist schools.

“Let’s put aside the discussion about the Shield council’s
past decisions. Otherwise it will be difficult to find a solution to the current
problems,” said lama Tenzin.

“That’s true,” agreed Nyanaponika Thera. “We’ve talked for
more than an hour and still nothing.”

“I’m not against it,” said the Chan master Chao Lee.
“Although I don’t want us to repeat old mistakes. About two hundred years ago
our representative in the Council was the only voice against the change to the
old strategy…”

Nyanaponika Thera interrupted him with a pinch of irony.
“That’s why you disagree with me now when I advocate a return to the old ways.”

“We cannot change course every two hundred years. That’s not
our way. That decision was taken to be followed and to stay,” said Chao Lee
sharply.

“Brother,” began Nyanaponika Thera softly, “I belong to the
school of the ‘old’ – Theravada. We’re famous for stubbornly keeping the
tradition—”

The three monks looked at each other and laughed warmly.

“We do not talk about changing our methods,” continued
Nyanaponika Thera.

“I say we should keep up with the times,” said lama Tenzin.

“We had followed the original way for two thousand, three
hundred years. The last Council chose a new approach precisely because the
world had changed back then. We have followed this decision for only two
hundred years. That’s nothing,” said Chao Lee.

“One could say that the pace of modern civilization is
rapid. The world changes today ten times faster than in the past. Shouldn’t we
make changes in our strategy quicker nowadays?” said Nyanaponika Thera.

“What you say is only for the sake of argument,” interjected
lama Tenzin. “The overall strategy of the Shield is not our top problem. How to
protect the Heir – that’s the question.”

“We assume that some of our enemies have discovered his
cover. That way we may not see some other possibilities,” said Chao Lee.

“He may have become entangled in some mess. Because he lacks
our traditional upbringing and education. Therefore, they are his problems
now,” said lama Tenzin with a tinge of sadness.

Chao Lee looked straight into his eyes. “This, for example.”

Lama Tenzin lifted his hand. “Two objections. First, his personal
Protectors categorically deny such a thing. Nobody knows him better than them,
so I believe it. The second is the omen I saw. It’s described in our Book of
Signs. Someone wants to plunge the world into darkness. They have found a
shortcut to do that.”

Heavy silence fell over the three men.

Nyanaponika Thera broke the silence. “The truth is that
visionary monks have been warning of an incoming threat for years. I thought
they meant the general threat coming from the materialistic world we now live
in.”

“I have seen similar warnings in my dreams,” said Chao Lee.

“Thank you for sharing all this. I believe that now the
doubts have been removed,” said lama Tenzin.

“In that case we’re facing something really nasty,” said
Nyanaponika Thera tellingly.

“Yes. We have to find out who the traitor is,” said Chao Lee
and he stared at his interlocutors in succession.

“I’m not inclined to accept that one of our people has
broken his vow,” said lama Tenzin.

“It’s not easy for me to accept it either. But what is the
alternative?” asked Chao Lee.

“I do not have one,” Lama Tenzin acknowledged. “I believe in
the purity of the Shield. No treachery has been recorded in the Shield’s
chronicles.”

Master Chao Lee stroked his shaved head and said, “As I see
it, there is one way for us to come out of this situation. Each one of us has
to be honest about his people. The Venerable Tenzin said already that the
Vajrayana people are clean. What say you, Venerable Nyanaponika?”

“None of the old school has disgraced himself.”

“With no hesitation I stand behind every single one of my
brothers and sisters,” said Chao Lee.

“If someone here doubts anyone at all, say it now,” lama
Tenzin invited.

Silence followed.

“The legitimate question from now on is who is behind the
attack?” said Chao Lee.

“As I mentioned, I don’t know. His personal Protectors are
unaware, too. The whole story is murky,” said lama Tenzin.

“If one doesn’t know who the enemy is, it’s difficult to
defend oneself,” said Nyanaponika Thera.

“That’s true,” said lama Tenzin.

“There are many radical religious groups today. Isn’t it
possible one such group has disentangled the secret?” suggested Chao Lee.

“The enemies know who the Heir is. That’s what matters,”
said Nyanaponika Thera.

“They know what he means for the world. And they most
probably know how to take him out,” added Chao Lee.

Nyanaponika Thera clenched his jaw. “The Shield’s strength
has melted away over the centuries. We have grown weak. We make wrong
decisions. Nothing depends on us. It was not that way in the past.” Regret
dominated his voice.

“Even if you are right, self-pity will not help,” said lama
Tenzin.

Nyanaponika Thera looked at him but did not answer
straightaway. He had allowed something impermissible for a monk of his rank to
happen. He had allowed anger to take over his mind. He needed a few moments to
purify his heart and clear his mind. When he eventually spoke, his voice was
completely calm. “We do not need an enemy to lose the light we vowed to
preserve. After three years he will not be able to have a child. Then the
bloodline will end.”

Suddenly, lama Tenzin laughed. The other men looked at him
in surprise.

“What’s so funny, Rinpoche?” asked Nyanaponika Thera.

“The Heirs have walked on this earth for two thousand, five
hundred years. Each one of them was a different man, with a different fate,
different character. Yet there is one thing all of them share—” Lama Tenzin
paused dramatically.

“And what would that be?” asked Nyanaponika Thera.

“None of them has had problems with women.”

The three men exchanged glances and then burst into
laughter.

Lama Tenzin waited for the cheerful moment to end before
saying solemnly, “According to the Shield’s Code, we take our big decisions in
Bodh Gaya. As a guardian of the Heir, I ask the Council to revoke his last
decision.” He stood up and joined his palms in front of his chest. The others
followed his example.

“I speak for Vajrayana. It’s time he learns the truth,” said
lama Tenzin.

“I speak for Theravada. It’s time he learns the truth,” said
Nyanaponika Thera.

They both faced Chao Lee. He half closed his eyes and was
motionless for a few beats. Then he said in a hard voice, “I speak for
Mahayana. It’s time.”

“Let it be, then,” said lama Tenzin. “Warn our people. They
must be vigilant.”

 

 

 

CHAPTER THIRTY-SEVEN

 

Saint Ambrose Monastery, Italy

 

The greyish stone walls and the bell tower of Saint Ambrose
monastery came into view once they had climbed the elevation below the one on
top of which the monastic complex was built. Lino was driving the Volvo because
of his knowledge of the local roads. After a short and steep descent, the road
climbed up towards the monastery and passed its Gothic main entrance. Most of
the buildings in the complex were of the same early Gothic style.

Lino turned into the short drive to the monastery and
stopped close to the gate, above which was carved the main Benedictine order’s
motto:
Ora et labora
– pray and work – the two pillars of monastic life.
Typical of medieval architecture, the monastery and its contiguous church were
joined and incorporated within a fortified square designed to shelter the monks
from their enemies and unwanted visitors. Outside the monastery walls next to
the parking area there were several smaller buildings that had been built
during the nineteenth century. They now functioned as hostels. There was a
multitude of people in and around the hostels, the shops and the only
café in the area, despite the fact that it was a normal working day.

James, Irina and Lino passed through the open gate beneath
the arch and followed the arrows to reception, which was the front room of the
right monastic wing. At its door two monks stood talking. One of them was
medium-sized, slim and wore glasses. The other was tall and lean like Lino.

The tall monk turned to them with a smile. “Can I be of
assistance?”

“Yes. We want to pay a visit to Don Federico,” James used
the title don’ which was a traditional way to address a monk who had taken
monastic vows. “Where can we find him?”

BOOK: The Gods' Gambit
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