Jacques, Samuel, Richard and Pierre, all Knights of the Order of Templar, stood before Cardinal Duchamps. They had been summoned for one particular reason. The reason the Knights existed in the first place. Their only raison d'être.
"I believe we have found the Holy Grail," Duchamps said.
There was a collective gasp amongst the four Knights. "Where?" Jacques asked. "Where has it been all this time?"
Duchamps spread his hands and smoothed out his red robes. "That, my boy, has always been the question. Where. And the second question being what."
Samuel snorted. "We know what it is. It's the Grail."
The other three Knights looked horrified at Samuel's audacity, but Cardinal Duchamps merely chuckled. "Ah so we thought, my son, so we thought." Duchamps folded his hands into the sleeves of his robes and stood up. Taking up a slight pace, he said solemnly, "In order to understand this fully, you'll have to change your perspective almost completely."
"How so?" Jacques asked reverently, already believing.
Duchamps turned to face them and after a long moment's pause, said simply, "The Holy Grail, my sons, is a person."
After the initial shock and disbelief amongst the four men, Duchamps called a quiet meeting between himself and Jacques. Jacques was the Knight with seniority, though not much over the other three men. Jacques, Samuel, Richard and Pierre had all gone through their education, training and oaths together.
Still, Jacques had been the most dedicated, the most God-fearing one of them, and had always triumphed in everything he'd done.
And now, as it would become clearer to the man, there was a reason for that. Duchamps had tea served as they sat in his private quarters. Jacques was clothed in his common white robes, Duchamps in his red, and they looked quite the pair.
Jacques was a rather attractive man in his own right. His black hair was always neat, whether he was in his battle helmet or not. His eyes were a rich brown and his smile was friendly yet held a certain air of power in it.
"I don't understand how the Grail can be a person," Jacques said as he nibbled on the corner of a biscuit politely. "It honestly makes no sense to me."
Duchamps nodded and took a careful sip of his tea. "My son, I'm afraid when I said you'd have to alter your perspective almost completely…"
"You didn't just mean on the Grail," Jacques finished in a hollow tone. Then, shaking his head, he whispered, "Only you can shake the foundations of my faith to their very core."
Duchamps chuckled. "Yes I'm known to be quite good at such things."
Taking a deep breath, Jacques set his biscuit aside and looked the Cardinal in the eyes. "So explain it. I do not fear and have faith in my Lord."
"As well you should," Duchamps said. He took another long drink of his tea before he began. "Imagine, my son, that Our Lord and Savior was sent to this earth for a purpose. Imagine now, Jacques, that said purpose was far greater than living a few years, teaching a few obscure parables, healing men and then dying a spectacular death."
Jacques' eyes were wide and he gave a short nod. "Go on."
"Imagine that Our Lord was sent to this earth to continue a line of warriors so great as to save us all."
Jacques' face fell and he frowned. "Sorry?"
"Jesus Christ did not die on the cross as is so widely believed," Duchamps stated plainly. "In fact, he was a Rabbi, he married and had a family."
"Blasphemy," Jacques gasped. "It's not possible! That destroys the entire belief of the Church! How can you even think such things?"
Duchamps, having anticipated such a reaction, merely looked on calmly. "Because it is the closest thing to the truth that we can find."
Jacques let out a sharp breath and sat back roughly. "I suppose there is more," he grumbled. "With you there is always more."
"You know me all too well," Duchamps said with a grin.
"Oh what I would give to pretend you didn't just say that," Jacques muttered. "Well, out with it."
"The Holy Grail is not a cup, or an object with powers or the ability to heal or produce faith in unbelievers. The Holy Grail is a warrior who carries the blood of Jesus Christ, and is meant to carry on and save us."
"And you know who this Grail is?" Jacques asked in an almost fearful tone.
Duchamps nodded. "Yes, I do. The Holy Grail, Jacques Erba… is you."
In a quiet rage, Jacques paced the inside of his meager quarters. Duchamps was asking him, not only to give up everything he based his faith on, but that he was part of a bloodline descendant from Jesus Christ.
Impossible. It was just utter madness. And the worst part, something rang true. Giving up this faith was damn near impossible for Jacques, but when Duchamps explained how the bloodline had been traced, Jacques found his resolve wavering.
And it was true, the Knights of the Order Templar did have a slightly odd, if not unorthodox view on traditional Christianity. Their view of Jesus was different, seeing him as an entity rather than a man. But this entirely new twist was almost too much.
And Jacques had been sworn into silence. There were too many threats within the Church and Duchamps assured him he was not the sole carrier of the particular belief that the Grail was a person. They just didn't know whom.
After days of meditation, fasting and prayer, Jacques was ready to begin anew. It seemed surreal to him that he accept such a belief, but oddly enough, it was right. It was right for him.
Jacques met with Cardinal Duchamps after he'd rested, eaten and bathed. "I'm ready to accept your belief," Jacques said carefully, "if not for one small thing."
"Yes?" Duchamps asked, quirking a curious eyebrow.
"It can't be me," Jacques said simply. "I can accept the belief that Jesus, in all of his glorious humanity, took a wife and produced his own heir. But the heir can't be me. I am nothing more than a humble servant of God. I am not a great warrior."
"Ah but you are," Duchamps said with a slow nod. "In that humble nature is the very essence of the heir, Jacques. You are our warrior."
Jacques bowed his head and let out a sigh. "It's almost too much."
"It is worse in these dangerous times," Duchamps said. "The threat to the papacy grows stronger. Cardinal DeMal is growing more corrupt and the Pope is growing weaker. The nominees will be decided soon and we can't have DeMal assuming power."
"What's that got to do with me?" Jacques asked.
"The fate of our Order, of the Knights and of the Church is not to be decided in these times. It is up to a future warrior to lead us into the fight and destroy all those who would oppose us. That, my son, requires you to bear an heir."
Jacques gasped. "No! No! I won't, I can't. I will not break my vow!"
Duchamps clasped his hands. "I'm afraid there is no other way. You must bear a son in order to carry on this bloodline. Above all Jacques, the blood of Christ cannot die out. It is the only thing that will save us when the dark begins to take over."
"And how do you know it will happen?" Jacques demanded.
"Right now," Duchamps said solemnly, "Cardinal DeMal has been in talks with the Kings of the Lands. Pope Armondo is far too easily swayed by their influence and if my spy is correct, there will be an order of mass extermination of the Knights of the Order Templar within the next three years. I'm sorry Jacques, but this has to be done now."
Jacques swallowed thickly. "I can't keep this secret to myself. I can't."
"You must," Duchamps insisted. "We do not know where anyone's true loyalties lie. We can trust no one."
"We can trust Pierre, Richard and Samuel," Jacques insisted. "They would not betray me."
Duchamps scratched his beard. "For now we tell no one. I have found you an appropriate wife and you will break your vows and marry. The child must be conceived within the year, Jacques. It must be."
Jacques bowed his head. "If it is the only way."
Though Samuel, Richard and Pierre were mortified that Jacques had broken his vow and left the Knighthood, they found happiness for their friend. Jacques had been married to a Lady in Waiting called Aurelie and not too long after had conceived their child.
Jacques was quiet about things, but as the birth grew nearer, he began to crack and eventually decided to spill his secret. Choosing his closest friend, Samuel, Jacques let out the entire tale in one breath.
Samuel listened carefully and after a few moments of shock, accepted the story Jacques had to offer. "It does make sense," Samuel said with a shrug.
Jacques gapped at him. "If only you were me, Samuel. I could not accept it so readily."
"Well I've always had my own suspicions," Samuel explained easily. "And if it would have been any of us, it is clearly you. You are the most faithful."
"Not anymore. I've broken my vows," Jacques mourned. "I've married a woman I cannot love, a woman I cannot touch in a way she wants to be touched because I belong to God. I may have broken my vows to bring this child into the world, but I am a Knight, and I will always be one."
"No one will ever doubt that, my friend," Samuel said, clasping Jacques' hand.
Toward the end of spring, the child that now carried the title of Holy Grail was born to Aurelie and Jacques Erba. He was a healthy boy and Jacques vowed to bring him up to be exactly as he was meant to be. A warrior.
Times were not so easy, however. DeMal was gaining power with the Kings of the Land and the Pope could do nothing to stop him. The Knights of the Order Templar were thriving, but only just. The threat to their Order was growing steadily each day and Duchamps eventually went into hiding.
He kept in contact with the Knights as often as he could, ready to declare war when the time called for it. During these months, the child grew and developed just as any other child would have.
Jacques found that little Henri was worth breaking his vow. He was in love with his son as he never thought he could be. Jacques had an almost impossible time imagining that there could be a danger posed to his son.
The threat, however, became too real when the apprentice to Cardinal DeMal, fifteen year old Sebastian Roget burst into Jacques and Aurelie's home one night. Henri, just past his first birthday, was playing on the floor with Samuel and Richard whilst Pierre, Jacques and Aurelie sat round their small table chatting.
Sebastian, well known as being a notoriously bitter child and had a strange sort of rivalry with Samuel and Jacques, was out of breath and paler than he usually was.
"It's happened," he gasped out.
At the sight of Sebastian, Samuel was immediately on his feet, his sword drawn. "What are you doing here?"
Sebastian fished into the pocket of his robes and produced a letter. It was signed and sealed by Duchamps. "The Kings have given the order," Sebastian said in a flat voice. "The Knights of the Order Templar are to be immediately rounded up, questioned and executed. Duchamps's secured a place for Henri to go, but he must go now."
"With you? Not bloody likely!" Samuel hissed.
Jacques opened his mouth to speak but the sounds of horse hooves echoed through his stone walls. "We have to keep him safe," Jacques gasped out.
"Samuel, Pierre, you stay with me. Aurelie, you and Richard take Henri wherever Sebastian directs you."
Sebastian shook his head. "I cannot go. They will suspect me."
"I'll not leave the battle," Richard declared, drawing his sword. "I do not run."
"You must protect Henri," Jacques insisted.
"DeMal knows," Sebastian said in an urgent whisper. "Somehow he knows the Grail Child has been born. That's why he's here for you." Sebastian handed the parchment to Richard. "The directions are in this letter. They are printed in code."
"Please," Jacques said.
Richard nodded and bundled Henri. Aurelie, who was shaking far too much to be of any help, allowed Richard to carry the child out of the back door and down through the field.
Just before reaching the horse paddock, two men jumped out and grabbed Aurelie's arms. She screamed and in their struggle, they didn't notice Richard slip into the paddock with the baby. Fighting his urge to protect Aurelie, Richard knew what he must do. Tucking the baby close to his chest, Richard mounted the horse and galloped away as quickly as he could, never looking back to see if he was followed.
The last thing Aurelie Erba saw was the horse galloping off into the distance. She let out a breath of relief that her child was safe, and then the sword plunged into her belly and she was dead.
"Where is the child?" DeMal sneered as he paced in front of Jacques, Pierre and Samuel.
"There is no child," Jacques spat.
DeMal rolled his eyes and nodded toward an empty pram in the corner of the room. "Odd décor, that."
Jacques clenched his jaw and said nothing. They had not fought yet, and were unbound and armed. Jacques was looking for an opening in which to strike DeMal. The Cardinal was flanked by ten armed men, but Jacques had faced worse odds.
"I'm going to ask you again, and then I'm going to kill you and find the child myself. Where is the baby?"
"You'll never find him!" Pierre squeaked.
As Jacques and Samuel both shouted in dismay, DeMal's face melted into a twisted smile and he reached out, grabbing Pierre by the hair. "If you tell me, you will live. Where did they take the child?"
"I… I…" Pierre gasped. "He was taken north to…" was all he managed before Samuel dove and plunged his sword into Peter's back. The slightly podgy Knight gave a shuddering gasp and slumped over in death.
"NO!" DeMal shouted, dropping Pierre's limp body. "NO!"
Samuel backed away, a feral gleam in his cobalt eyes. "You're going to die tonight, DeMal."
"I think not," DeMal said and signaled his men to attack.
Swords flew through the air. Alone, Jacques and Samuel managed to fight them off until it was three against two. Sebastian had long gone, as was expected and Jacques was certain he was to win.
Until they pulled the dead, bloodied body of his wife into the room. In the moment of surprised distraction, one of DeMal's men, a higher ranking official with silver hair and cruel grey eyes, stepped forward and plunged his sword into Jacques' chest.
The last thing Jacques saw before his eyes fluttered closed was the dead stare in Aurelie's blue eyes.
Crying out as Jacques fell to the ground, Samuel fought with ferocity, but in the end was struck down by the same, cruel, grey-eyed man. When DeMal walked away from the carnage, he had a slight smile on his face. The baby was a Erba and knowing Duchamps, the Grail would eventually turn up.
All DeMal had to do was bide his time.
In ten month's time, the entire Order Templar was dead or imprisoned. The remaining Knights left free had disbanded and joined other Orders or retreated into quiet seclusion. Pope Armando was growing weaker and the whispers of nominations had begun.
It was all going according to plan. Or so DeMal thought.
"Cardinal Tomas DeMal," he walked forward as his name was announced to the Pope. Bowing, DeMal straightened and met the withering old man's stare.
"I am frustrated with your actions. You were behind the exterminations of my most fierce and worthy warriors. The Knights of the Order Templar are destroyed and all it has done is make way for the Muslims to come through on their holy crusade. You have abused your power, DeMal. The time has come. You are to be excommunicated and banished from this land. Return is punishable by death."
Six months after that, DeMal waited on his quiet island, in his seclusion to hear of the Council's decision. With glee, DeMal sipped on his brandy as his right hand man, Laurent Pleutnoir read the decree. "The new Pope has been announced. This year Francois will take the name Cornelius."
DeMal threw his head back. "This new Pope will serve my purposes well.
The tawny-haired Knight leant on the windowsill overlooking the large courtyard. In the distance, a small black-haired teen was playing ferociously with his mates, all of them carrying wooden practice swords and shouting their curses at each other.
Giving a small chuckle, Richard turned round to face the room's other occupant, Duchamps, who had now become a Bishop. "He does look happy."
"He is," Duchamps said with a shrug. "Quite happy."
"That is supposed to make me feel better when you tell me he still doesn't know, isn't it?" Richard asked with a resigned sigh.
He and Duchamps had been going round the same topic for the past twelve years. To tell Henri about his blood or not. Duchamps seemed to believe Henri would not react well to it and Richard firmly believed Henri should have known right from the off.
"He's already begun his training. Give him a few more years," Duchamps insisted. "He's not yet thirteen."
"He will be in two month's time," Richard said. "He's barely begun his training and he has no idea of the political unrest due to that incompetent Pope."
"Take care of your words," Duchamps cautioned. "The walls have ears."
Richard rolled his eyes and tucked his hands into the sleeves of his plain monk's robe. The remaining Knights of the Order Templar had gone into hiding. There were twenty at best, all of them taking positions in the Church or with the Teutonic Knights in the other lands. They were all still loyal, however, and ready to be called back at any time.
It had been known for twelve years that Henri would begin training. That the Order would be restored and one day, DeMal would be removed from his quiet place of power at the Pope's ear.
But Richard was convinced the entire plan would fail if Henri did not know why he was being trained to do these things. "At least let me begin proper lessons," Richard insisted. "I can at least do that much."
Duchamps scratched his long, white beard. "If you think it would be wise."
"I do," Richard said. "Let me take him on as my pupil. He already believes he's to join the church and believes me to be a monk. I can explain the history of the Order and perhaps show him the truth behind the fabled Knights."
"Take care in your words," Duchamps cautioned.
Richard let out a slow breath. "I will not go against your orders, despite how wrong they are."
Duchamps let out a small chuckle. "Only you, my son, can make such audacity sound so kind."
Richard cracked a very small smile before making his bow and exiting the room. He knew Henri would just be off to lunch and thought it the best place to catch him.
The Monastery had once been a castle, belonging to a very prominent Royal family. The family had been labeled heretics, eventually captured and executed and the Church decided to purchase the property. An attempt at tearing down the castle was made, but the stones would not fall. In their frustration, the Church turned the giant castle into a Monastery and it was the place Duchamps had taken refuge.
Because of the Monastery's size and low occupancy, the Church hired several keepers to maintain the beauty of the grounds. It was an important Monastery, though perhaps somewhat ignored. Of course, that's what Duchamps was counting on. So long as the Pope paid him no mind, he was free to continue on with his plans.
Walking into the Hall, where all the meals were had, Richard spotted Henri sitting at the end of one long table with the other children eating in silence. Richard took a seat next to the young boy and offered him a smile.
"I need to see you in my office when you are finished," Richard murmured.
Henri frowned in confusion but nodded and went back to his meal. Richard left the Hall, not quite hungry, and waited almost patiently for the young man.
"Did I do something wrong?" Henri asked when he finally arrived in Richard' office.
Richard, who was sitting behind his desk, gave a small chuckle. "Of course not. There was something I wanted to discuss with you."
Henri lowered himself into an empty chair and looked at Richard. "Does this have anything to do with the wound I gave Rene?"
Richard frowned. "Wound? And who is Rene?"
"Rene's the cook's son, the boy with all the freckles," Henri said with a half-smile. "He and I were practicing and I sort of… er… hit him a bit too hard and he had to stay in bed for two days. I thought I would be banned from sword-play after that."
Richard shook his head. "You ought to know your own strength by now, but you aren't to be punished."
Henri let out a breath. "Oh. Well good."
Richard leant back in his chair and placed his clasped hands over his lap. "Henri, it's time you had a proper education."
Henri frowned. "But I've had a proper education, sir."
"You've had the meager offerings of a proper education. There are things you… you need to know. There is a lot of history you are missing out on. And there are things about this very Monastery that will be very important to your future."
"How so?" Henri wondered, his brows furrowed.
Richard paused, unsure how much to tell the boy just yet. "We'll be going over that tomorrow. Your routine will change, but it will be for the better."
"Okay," Henri said with a shrug. "I'm ready."
Richard smiled. "I know you are."
"How much are you going to let me tell him?" Richard demanded late that night.
"You may tell him most of what we know," Duchamps said, "provided he does not tell any of the other children residing here."
"He seems to be trustworthy enough," Richard mused. "I'd like to tell him his parents' history, the history of the Knights and so forth. I think he'd do well to know that I still am, and always will be a Knight."
"And that he is to be trained as one," Duchamps said. "Inform him of the importance of the order, the unrest that is surrounding our political structure and why it is necessary to keep such things secret." Duchamps rose from his chair and went to his small writing desk. After rummaging about a moment, he produced a key that was hanging on the end of a red ribbon. "I have a home nearby, yet hidden away in the hills. I'd prefer it if you took Henri there for the remainder of his training."
Richard took the key with a frown. "Why do I have the feeling there is more to this than keeping the secrets of the Knights."
Duchamps let his blue eyes flicker to the desktop where a rolled up parchment sat. "I'm afraid our era of going unwatched has come to an end. We're going to have a few visitors in two week's time and I'd rather not have young Henri here when they arrive."
"Who?" Richard asked in a subdued tone.
"The archbishop Pleutnoir and a few of his Cardinals."
Richard let out a slow breath. "The Pope really deems this necessary?"
"Heretical claims have been made against me and the investigations must be completed before a council is called."
"What are you facing?" Richard asked softly.
Duchamps shrugged. "If found to be guilty… excommunication at best, execution at worst."
"And the writings?"
"Hidden safely. No need to worry about those." Duchamps bowed his head and when he spoke, his voice was more serious than Richard had ever heard it before. "The purpose of keeping the Knights alive, Richard, the reason we exist today, is to keep the Grail safe. Keep the Grail intact and guarded until such a time comes as he is ready to fight… and to win. Can I trust you to do that, Richard?"
Richard put his fist over his heart and bowed. "I have never gone back on my vows, and don't plan to now."
Duchamps reached out and squeezed Richard' shoulder. "Take him tonight. I want him gone as quickly as possible."
Richard nodded and headed for the door. "Does anyone else know the location?"
Duchamps shook his head. "The only other person who knew is now dead."
Richard sighed. "And how will I keep in contact with you?"
"I will worry about that, and I will send for you when it's time."
With a shaky nod, Richard headed out of Duchamps's quarters and prepared to do what he had to.
Blue eyes flashed mischievously.
Parry. Thrust. Step, step. Thrust.
"HA! I win. Again," Henri declared as he pulled Richard up from the ground. Richard brushed off his shirt and picked up his fallen sword.
"Yes, you win again," Richard said with a small huff.
"And what do I win this time?" Henri prodded as they headed back for the small cottage.
"Washing dishes?" Richard joked.
Henri rolled his eyes and gave Richard a playful shove. "How about a brandy."
Richard scratched his chin. "Well seeing as it is your birthday…"
"Eighteenth birthday," Henri reminded.
"I'd say okay, one small drink."
"Thanks old man," Henri declared and dashed into the house before Richard could react to the comment.
Later, after dinner and two drinks into the night, Richard and Henri were sprawled out on a large quilt outside, looking up at the stars.
"Don't you ever get tired of waiting?" Henri asked softly. "Just sitting here, waiting to hear something from Duchamps."
"Our time will come," Richard assured him.
Henri shrugged and finished off the liquor in his glass. "But I've not even taken my vows yet," Henri complained.
"You live life as you should, as one who has taken his vows," Richard assures him. "There is nothing more besides a ceremony. You are a Knight, Henri. You are a defender."
Henri sighed and looked back up at the stars. "And do you think he's still alive?"
"Yes I do," Richard said confidently.
The sound of persistent horse hooves was what woke Richard from his peaceful slumber. Richard had spent the better part of five years in seclusion, without a single whisper of another human soul besides Henri. So hearing the sounds of another was terribly startling to the tawny-haired man.
Jumping from his bed, Richard threw on his outer robe and raced to the front of the house. Henri, who had woken in much the same state as Richard had, was already up, sword drawn.
"Go into the back room, Henri," Richard said in an urgent whisper.
"NO!" Henri shouted. "I'll not leave you here alone."
"You must be protected," Richard hissed and gave Henri a grate shove away from the door. "You must understand that. You have to be protected!"
"What?" Henri asked as he stumbled toward the back of the room. "Me? Why?"
"I'll explain later, Henri. But you must be protected. You must be kept alive."
Richard didn't bother to explain more. As Henri disappeared into the back rooms, the front door burst open and a slightly familiar, cloaked figure walked in. When the tall man removed his hood, Richard let out a small gasp.
Not been seen for over twelve years was one Sebastian Roget. He looked much the same as he did when he was fifteen. Tall, too thin, sallow and mean. His nose was still long and his lips still curled into a sneer.
Richard, who'd drawn his sword by then, took a step back. "Roget."
"LeBonne," Sebastian sneered in a slightly deeper voice.
"Might I inquire as to this unannounced little visit?"
Sebastian let out a small sigh. "Where is he?"
"You know whom I seek, LeBonne. Don't make this harder than it has to be."
Richard opened his mouth to argue, to remind Sebastian that once he'd been on Duchamps's side when a small, brown-eyed, frighteningly familiar young man waltzed into the room wearing a rather evil smirk.
"You," Richard said out of shock.
The blonde quirked a confused eyebrow but said nothing. Sebastian gave the slightest shake of his head. "We know he's here. Bishop Duchamps is dead and we're here to collect the Grail."
Richard clenched his jaw. "The Grail is not full," Richard said, invoking the old code they'd used when transferring messages. He needed Sebastian to know that Henri did not know of his bloodline.
If Sebastian understood, he gave no indication. "Where is the Grail?"
Richard bowed his head and lifted his sword. "I am sworn to protect the Grail to death, and I shall not break this oath."
"Don't do this," Sebastian said. "Don't. Just come quietly. No one wants you dead."
"I cannot," Richard said. He started to say more but Sebastian moved quickly and brought the hilt of his own sword down on Richard' head, rendering the man unconscious.
"Why didn't you kill him?" the blonde demanded.
"Because they're both to be brought alive, Stephan. Did you purposefully ignore your father's instructions?"
"Both?" Stephan asked.
Sebastian let out sigh. "Oh if I could only rid myself of you."
"But you can't," Stephan said. "There's someone else here?"
"Yes, and he is the one that must be taken unharmed."
"Well perhaps you ought to do it, then," Stephan said with a wave of his hand. "When I see a Knight alive, I want to kill it."
"He's not taken his vows, but that doesn't matter. I don't trust you anyhow. Bind this one, and I shall take care of the other." Sebastian drew up his hood again and slowly made his way into the back rooms.
Sebastian had been in contact with Duchamps before he was executed. He'd been given the location of the Manor where Richard was keeping Henri. DeMal still didn't know who the Grail was, and likely wouldn't recognize Henri. Sebastian had also understood that Henri didn't know of his own bloodline, which was lucky for the young man. If DeMal was displeased, he was likely to resort to torture, and DeMal was quick to break others.
Slipping into the furthest room, Sebastian trained his ears and managed to hear the sound of uneven breathing from the cupboard. Rolling his eyes, Sebastian moved soundlessly toward the door, threw it open and had Henri immobile in seconds.
"Who are you? Let me go!" Henri struggled.
Sebastian was impressed with the boy's strength along with surprised at just how much the boy looked like his father. "This might pose a problem," Sebastian said. "I need you to quiet down."
"No!" Henri shouted. "Richard!"
"He's currently unable to assist you," Sebastian said, still holding tightly to the struggling man. "I'll knock you out if I have to, but I'd really prefer you to be quiet."
Henri stilled and then twisted his head round to get a good look at Sebastian. "He's dead, isn't he? Duchamps?"
Sebastian let out a short breath. "He is."
"Did you kill him?" Henri demanded, allowing malice to color his tone.
"I did not," Sebastian answered.
Henri relaxed only slightly. "Where are you taking me?"
"To the Archbishop Pleutnoir. He'll have a few questions for you."
"And the Pope?"
"He doesn't deal in matters such as these," Sebastian said with a sneer.
Henri snorted. "No he wouldn't, would he. The coward."
"You might do well to watch your tongue, boy," Sebastian said as he quickly bound Henri's hands
Henri closed his jaw tightly and said nothing as Sebastian led him back into the foyer where Richard was just waking. Stephan had the older man by the arms and was leading him toward the door.
"Richard," Henri called out loudly.
Richard blinked, trying to clear his head and he turned toward Henri. "Just go," was all he said.
Filled with rage but unable to argue even if he'd wanted to, Henri allowed Sebastian to drag him outside and hoist him up on one of the horses. Sebastian climbed behind Harry and steadied him with a firm arm round his waist. Stephan quickly climbed behind Richard.
"We've a long ride," Sebastian said, "and you'd do well not to annoy me."
"Or what?" Henri snarked back, "you'll kill me. Why not now rather than later."
"I have more interesting things to do with you than kill you," Sebastian whispered evilly, and with a kick to the horse's side, they galloped off.
Being that they were riding animals through the countryside, Sebastian and Stephan were forced to rest and feed their horses and get a bit of sleep themselves. Stopping at an unfamiliar inn, Sebastian paid for two rooms and made sure Richard and Henri were kept separate.
Too tired and too confused to care anymore, Henri allowed himself to fall into a sleep whilst Sebastian took the watch. Stephan slept in Henri's room and Sebastian stood in the doorway, listening for any noise of possible escape.
Richard, who could not sleep even if he'd tried, merely fixed Sebastian with an unyielding stare.
"He's going to live through this," Sebastian said after some time.
"That's not what I'm afraid of," Richard answered back.
"Are you afraid of what will happen when he finds out who… what… he is?"
"No," Richard said. "I'm afraid what will become of him when he meets DeMal and loses his faith."
Sebastian quirked an eyebrow. "You're so certain DeMal will cause him to lose faith?"
"Yes I am," Richard said with a short nod. "You've lost it."
Richard gave a small snort. "You can't fool me. You were promising once, when you thought things would be simpler."
"I've never thought things would be simple," Sebastian growled. "Not once."
"Yes you did," Richard countered. "You believed that Duchamps would work it all out. That once you served your purpose he would give you sanctuary, a place and a reason for your faith. Instead he died and you are left with this."
"So are you asking if my loss of faith was caused by DeMal… or Duchamps?" Sebastian challenged.
"At times, they were one in the same," Richard replied.
Sebastian' dark eyes narrowed but he made no move to counter Richard' words. Instead he merely asked, "And you are still such a believer?"
"I believe that he is something special, something that must be protected."
"Do you believe in God, Richard?"
The tawny-haired man smiled softly. "I will not answer that."
"But you will answer for it," Sebastian said, "and that is something I cannot stop."
Gritting his teeth in pain, Henri felt himself unceremoniously thrown into his small cell. He let out a small grunt as he hit the stone floor and didn't move as the door shut firmly.
His eyes had swollen shut, his back was on fire from the repeated whipping and he was almost certain his wrist was broken where they had chained him to the ceiling.
Henri had no idea why they were doing this. Three demands had been made and until Henri could fulfill each demand, the pain would not stop. Until death.
Renounce the Knights.
Renounce his skewed belief that Jesus was a human and nothing more.
Tell them where the Grail was hidden.
Henri knew what the first two meant and he was as stubborn as any Knight could be. But the third, Henri had no idea. He'd no clue what they meant by a 'Grail' nor did he know where it would be hidden.
Many secrets had been kept from the younger man, including his bloodline or a possible bloodline descending from Jesus. So the inquisition would fail in the end, and cost Henri his life. How could he answer the question if he didn't know what the answer was?
The door to his cell opened and Henri did not react beyond giving a small, pitiful moan. When strong, yet gentle hands lifted the young man up from the floor and placed him on the bed. Henri tried to crack an eye open.
Henri was rolled onto his stomach and moments later, a warm, soothing flannel was being rubbed over the fiery wounds made by the whip.
"You should give them what they want," the soft, familiar voice of Sebastian Roget whispered. Sebastian tended to Henri after each beating. He nursed the young man back to a pseudo-state of health, fed him and kept him alive. Only so the others could torture him again.
"I… can't…" Henri gasped out against the stinging pain as Sebastian cleaned his wounds.
"Why not? I don't understand why you won't give them what they want." Sebastian knew damn well why not, but he wanted to break the boy himself. He wanted to bring Henri to that place of no-faith. The place where the boy realized that there was nothing left, there was no God inside and there was no God outside. Only then could Henri accept what he was and what he had to do. All in the name of a fraud. Because Sebastian did indeed believe that Jesus was a fraud.
"I can't give up my vows." Henri said.
"Which you never took," Sebastian countered.
"I can't conform to their beliefs," Henri bit out. "And I don't know what the Grail is. I've never heard of it, I don't know why they think I know!"
"Because Duchamps knows," Sebastian said almost soothingly. "Because Richard also knows."
"Richard would have told me," Henri hissed as Sebastian eased the young man onto his back.
"No he would not have. He would not have told you because he is sworn to keep it secret and protected."
"Even from me?" Henri demanded through clenched teeth.
Sebastian let out a small sigh and put a soothing salve on the younger man's swollen eyes. "He would keep the Grail from itself," Sebastian said and wondered just then if the boy would catch on.
He didn't. "It's all madness," Henri said in a now-sleepy tone. "It's all insanity and I will die before I give in to them."
"Have you no sense of self-preservation?" Sebastian asked as he stepped back away from the bed.
"What would be the point in that?" Henri asked and then yawned. "What would I be for God if all I wanted was to live?"
Sebastian snorted. "You would be alive and better able to serve him. Think on that, boy. Think on that, because I want you to live. All they want is your words. They can never take what is in your mind or your heart. All they want is your words."
"And my actions," Henri spat as he half-sat up. "What of my actions?"
"Actions are nothing more, if your heart is not behind them," Sebastian said and left the room, closing the door firmly behind him.
Striding into the Archbishop's chambers, Sebastian fixed the older blonde with a glare. "You do realize that the younger one has no idea what the Grail is about, don't you?"
Laurent Pleutnoir rolled his eyes and elegantly lowered himself into his chair. "I'm aware."
"Yet you continue the interrogation," Sebastian said, crossing his arms.
"Well it is rather amusing to see him squirm," Laurent said lazily and picked up a goblet of wine.
"You really are the most twisted sort of man, Laurent."
"Why thank you," the blonde said with a laugh. "Are we any closer to having the other one break?"
Sebastian shrugged. "I'm not sure."
Laurent scratched his chin in thought. "My son seems rather fond of him. I'm hoping to get through this without killing him."
"I'm hoping you'll get through this without killing either one of them," Sebastian muttered.
Laurent' grey eyes brightened and he fixed Sebastian with a wicked smile. "Why Father Roget, you're fond of the young one, aren't you?"
Sebastian glowered. "That's ridiculous."
"No it isn't," Laurent said with a wave of his hand. "I've always known your preferences."
"I'm a man of God, Laurent," Sebastian snapped.
"You're also queer. I don't know why you deny yourself the pleasure, Sebastian. The Lord knows I haven't."
"Yes, Stephan is proof of that," Sebastian said, rolling his eyes. Truth be told, Sebastian had never denied himself the pleasure, and Stephan was also proof of that. But Laurent did not know, and Sebastian was in no hurry to inform him.
"Well I never intended for the whore to become pregnant, but no matter. Stephan has served me well."
Sebastian leant against the wall and shook his head. "Just let the younger one go."
"If he revokes his loyalty to the Knights and accepts our way of life, I will give him to you. If he does not, he will be killed," Laurent said and then shrugged. "DeMal's orders."
"Of course," Sebastian said. "But enough with the Grail."
"For the young one," Laurent said. "But the old one is likely to die, despite my son's protests."
"Let me talk to him," Sebastian said. "If I can extract the confession…"
"He will not die," Laurent agreed.
With a nod, Sebastian left the Archbishop's chambers, as always feeling just a bit dirtier than he had before.
Richard fared better than Henri in that moment and was sitting on his bed, gingerly nursing his wounded wrist. He had been beaten, but the treatment by the young blonde afterward often made up for the hours of torture.
Stephan meticulously cleaned each and every one of Richard' wounds, kept the man well fed and generally healthy. It was the strangest thing Richard had ever experienced and he wondered if he would actually live through this.
The only thing that kept him up at nights was his constant worry for Henri. He had no idea how the younger man was faring, though he had been assured Henri was still alive. For the moment.
At any time, that could change for either of them, and Richard realized how precarious their position really was. Richard may have been cared for by the blonde, but it was not the young man that kept him alive each night. No, that power belonged to someone far crueler and far more likely to revel in his bloodshed.
Richard had to think of something, and quickly. As his mind mulled over his recent revelations, Richard didn't notice the door to his cell open until a harsh light filled the room.
Wincing, the tawny-haired man looked over and saw Sebastian Roget, clad in his plain monk's robe standing in the doorway.
"Social call?" Richard asked in a hoarse voice.
Sebastian snorted. "Not likely." Closing the door behind him, Sebastian approached the bed and gingerly sat down. "It's time for you to confess."
"Am I to be absolved before I die? Tell DeMal that's rather kind of him."
"Not that kind of confession you idiot," Sebastian snapped. "The Archbishop is losing patience and he wants to know the whereabouts of the Grail."
"How amusing," Richard said, "that he could drink from the Grail now."
"You need to tell them that you don't know," Sebastian said in a low tone. "You need to tell them where the information is located."
Richard realized what Sebastian was saying. Duchamps had tomes upon tomes of information on the Grail Bloodline. It would be years before anything was discerned from it, and DeMal would likely believe that Duchamps didn't tell Richard who the Grail was, just where he could find the information. And DeMal would know full well that if Richard had been commanded to refrain from looking, he would obey.
"Perhaps it is time to end this," Richard said with a heavy sigh.
"I was hoping you would agree."
"Stubborn," Sebastian said quietly. "He may be wearing down."
"He doesn't know," Richard said firmly.
"They are aware of that," Sebastian said. "And I believe it's all going to end."
Richard reached out carefully with his uninjured arm and grasped Sebastian' wrist as tightly as he could manage. "He must be kept alive. He must. I will give my life, but his must be spared."
Sebastian nodded. "I'm well aware. As I told Henri, actions are one thing, just one thing so long as the heart is not behind them."
"You have not forgotten your vows."
Sebastian gave a short nod, rose from the bed and walked toward the door. "It's going to be a long process."
"But it will end soon, one way or another," Richard replied and gingerly eased himself down onto the bed.
With a last look at the beaten man, Sebastian left the prison quarters. Heading back up to his own quarters, Sebastian felt a renewed sense of hope that eventually it would all be over.
Halfway into his glass of nightly wine, Sebastian heard the soft knock on his door. With a short grunt, Sebastian padded to the door and found himself unsurprised by the caller.
It was Stephan. The younger blonde let himself in and flopped onto Sebastian' sofa. "Pleasant night?"
"No night is pleasant here," Sebastian snarled as he resumed his chair and his wine. "What do you want?"
"Company," Stephan responded. "What do I always want?"
"More than I wish to give," Sebastian muttered.
Stephan sighed, rose from the sofa and knelt before Sebastian. Reaching out, the blonde plucked the wine glass from Sebastian' hands and set it aside. "Father Roget," Stephan purred.
Sebastian felt nausea rise up in him and he shuddered. "Please don't."
Stephan reached out and caressed Sebastian' cheek. "Hear my confession."
"Stephan," Sebastian said.
"It's not you I love, but him."
Sebastian swallowed thickly. "Why do you do this?"
"Because I'm lost," Stephan said. "Bless me Father, for I have sinned."
"This is wrong."
"But we both need it," Stephan said in a low voice and brought his lips crashing against Sebastian'. "Need," Stephan muttered.
Sebastian found himself kissing back, like he did every time. He felt no remorse for God, for his vows. God didn't care. God wasn't this being who was watching over them, marking their sins. God was the artist that marveled at the grotesque beauty of his own creation. Nothing more. God scoffed, laughed at them as Stephan turned onto his stomach.
God found it amusing that as Sebastian loved with a fierce, frustrated rhythm, another man was crying for his failing faith. And another man believed that there was something to this figure called Jesus Christ and that he was fighting for something true. Something right.
As Sebastian pulled out and helped the young man to his feet, he was filled with the sense that they were all frauds, really. And then the blue eyes of the other young man flashed inside Sebastian' mind's eye and he knew, in the end, what he really wanted.
The chilled stone room was overly large, and looked even larger with the few things in it. The Archbishop Pleutnoir was seated elegantly in his high backed chair. The Archbishop's son stood at his elbow and they were whispering to each other. In the centre of the room stood a small, scrubbed wooden table laden with a quill, ink and several finely written documents. In the very back of the room, lightly bound and gagged, stood Richard LeBonne.
The tawny-haired man stood back watching as the thing he had sworn to protect, the Holy Grail, stood before the table, reading over the documents. Sebastian Roget stood behind Henri, so close they were touching, and he was whispering so quietly to the other man that no one else could hear his words, despite the quiet echo of the room.
"Just sign," the Archbishop eventually snapped. Henri had been reading over the documents for the better part of an hour.
He would be signing over his life. He would be signing a confession, stating he renounced the Knights of the Order of Templar, of his true beliefs, of his loyalty to Albert Duchamps.
He was to join the Church as a novice Monk. He would assume the white robes and begin his life serving God.
"I'm putting it all down on paper," Harry muttered.
"Yes, you are. I have done the same," Sebastian whispered.
Henri swallowed thickly. "I don't know if I can."
"Don't you want to live, Henri? Don't you want to be a defender? How can you defend what is right if you are dead? How can you say you have ever been a defender if you let men like Pleutnoir and DeMal defeat you?"
With a slow breath, in through the nose, out through the mouth, Henri picked up the quill. His hand shook, but with a steeled reserve, Henri dipped the end in the ink and scratched his signature over the six pages.
It was done.
"Excellent," Laurent said, clapping his hands together. "Now for the other."
Henri stepped back as Sebastian quickly untied Richard and let him to the table. The tawny-haired man needed far less time to mull over the pages. Within two minutes all six pages were signed. Richard had returned to what he had spent years pretending to be. A simple monk. A servant of the Church. No longer a Knight, no longer a fighter.
It was the only way to keep Henri protected, and Richard would do whatever was necessary to keep the Grail alive.
"We have the tomes," Laurent said, rising from his chair. "I thank you for that information, Father LeBonne. It will be of great aid to the Church."
Richard said nothing, merely making a low bow to the Archbishop.
"Well, Father Roget, why don't you show Father LeBonne and our new novice to their quarters?"
"Of course," Sebastian said, made his bow and led the two men out of the cold room. Heading down the corridor, Sebastian said nothing as he brought the two to their new place of living.
"This room will be yours," Sebastian said to Richard as he opened the door. The inside of the room was not unlike the cell the tawny-haired man had been staying in. It was chilled, stone and sparsely furnished. Still, the bed was far more comfortable and there was a writing desk and fireplace in the corner.
"Thank you, Father Roget," Richard said in a muted tone. With a last look at Henri, Richard slipped inside the room and shut the door firmly.
"You are down here," Sebastian said and led Henri four doors down. "You are next to Bertrand for now."
"Bertrand?" Henri asked softly.
"The other novice. He's on his pilgrimage to Rome, but he's due back in a week or so."
"Ah," Henri said and stepped inside his room. It was much like Richard', but Henri accepted it as he now accepted everything else.
"You'll be up by dawn and breakfast is shortly after. Your robes are in the wardrobe. Make sure you are properly dressed."
"I will," said Henri, hanging his head.
Sebastian hesitated before letting his hand drop on Henri's shoulder. "You did well."
"I did what I had to," Henri replied.
Sebastian gave Henri's shoulder a slight squeeze, turned on his heel and left the younger man to his solitary night.
Henri woke in a state of confusion. After six weeks of beatings, half-starvation and torture, warmth and comfort were foreign ideas. Yet, there Henri was, in a soft bed, surrounded by a heavy quilt and the smell of breakfast was wafting through his high window.
As Henri extracted himself from the warmth of the bed, he found his legs weak and trembling. With great difficulty, Henri managed to dress himself, wash his face in the water basin and leave his rooms.
Just as Henri was staring down the corridor, Richard emerged from his room. Pausing, Henri fought back a distressed sob as Richard approached.
"How are you faring?"
"I'm weak, but alive," Henri answered honestly.
Richard nodded and reached out to squeeze Henri's shoulder. "We'll get through this."
"I know, but at what price?" Henri demanded almost roughly.
"We do what we must, Henri. We do what we must."
Deciding not to respond, Henri pulled away from Richard' touch and headed to the hall for breakfast. There was no sign of the Archbishop anywhere but Stephan and Sebastian were already seated.
Henri and Richard took their seats, the prayer was said and porridge was served. Henri's stomach growled loudly and he quickly tucked in. Unfortunately, after a few bites, Henri felt ill and had to stop eating.
"It'll get easier," Sebastian remarked quietly. "Your stomach needs to get used to food again."
Henri clenched his jaw and refrained from pointing out that the only reason his stomach was unused to food was because they had starved him. Instead, Henri swallowed down a few mouthfuls of water and sat back until the others had finished their meal.
"Now what?" Henri asked. "What do we do now? I have no idea what being a novice entails."
"Normally there would be a routine, but right now is a precarious time for us," Sebastian explained as he led them into a large parlor. "The Muslims have been attacking with a ferocity we did not expect and the Pope is trying to stay them. There would usually be a few more people here but for the moment, it is just us. All routine is off until the Pope gives word that things are going to change."
"Oh," was all Henri said to that.
Sebastian peered out the window as he continued to speak. "You're not expected to do anything until you take your communion and vows to the Church. But I still expect you to behave properly."
"I will," Henri insisted.
"I also expect that the Archbishop will have us pouring over the tomes."
Stephan gave a yawn. "It will take up time until Bertrand returns."
Sebastian rolled his eyes and opened his mouth to reply but just before he did, a servant entered the room, her arms laden with the heavy books. Approaching the table, she piled them neatly and gave a short bow to Sebastian. "The Archbishop requests that you begin to study these."
Sebastian smirked. "As I suspected. Thank you."
The woman bowed and scuttled out of the room. "Might as well get started," Sebastian said and gestured toward the table.
Richard, who had remained quiet the entire time, pulled out a chair for Henri and fixed Sebastian with a pointed look. "Perhaps he shouldn't start on this just yet."
"Why?" Sebastian demanded with a smirk. "Can he not read?"
"I read quite well," Henri defended as he plucked one of the books from the stack. "I'm not a fool."
"That's not what I was implying," Richard said as he lowered himself into the chair. "I just thought perhaps he should concentrate on other things."
Sebastian waved his hand in the air. "This will be fine for him."
With no room to argue, Richard conceded and began to read in a tense silence. Eventually, Stephan grew bored of the assignment and wandered off. No one bothered to stop him, though Sebastian looked mildly annoyed.
"It's hard to believe he's a child of God," Henri muttered as his eyes skimmed over the ancient style of Latin.
"He's not a child of God," Sebastian said. "He's a child of Laurent Pleutnoir."
"How is that possible?" Henri asked with wide eyes. "The Archbishop belongs to the Church."
"He belongs to himself," Sebastian replied. "As do we all."
Henri opened his mouth to argue but Richard held up his hand for silence. "Perhaps this discussion is better suited for a different time."
Henri gave a small shrug and returned to his book. Richard and Sebastian locked knowing gazes before returning to their own task. An uneasy silence settled over the three of them, but no one brought attention to it.
After they'd eaten their last meal for the night, Sebastian took Henri into the library to show him what he needed to read before his communion and vows. It was boring but Henri needed a bit of coaching so Sebastian stayed with him.
Richard found himself in the parlor with Stephan, the two of them indulging in a bit of wine. There was a roaring fire and Stephan was seated lazily in a chair, keeping his soft gaze on Richard' face.
"I hated you," he said after a long silence.
Richard quirked an eyebrow. "Indeed?"
"You were a Knight of the Order Templar. How could I possibly like you?"
"I don't suppose I'll have an answer for that," Richard replied.
"Well you're one of us now, yet you aren't."
Richard chuckled. "Did you expect me to be?"
Stephan shrugged. "I'm not really one of us."
Richard shook his head. "No, you're not, though I suspect you have a separate meaning to those words."
"You'll understand when Bertrand returns," Stephan said and sipped on his wine. "Then you'll see what I mean."
"You love him," Richard said.
"Are you shocked?"
"I'm shocked by very little," Richard said mildly. "How long have you loved him?"
"Since the moment I laid eyes on him," Stephan said in a half-dreamy voice. "Father knows, I'm sure. I don't know why he's not said anything. I do suspect it's why he sent Bertrand on the pilgrimage, though."
"I think your father knows things are beyond the black and white of the Church, Stephan," Richard said, staring into the crimson liquid in his goblet. "I don't know anyone who sees things in the black and white of the Church."
"Henri does," Stephan pointed out. "Perhaps not the black and white of the Church, but he knows little else beyond his own small world. I could tell that about him right from the off."
"That isn't his fault. He's never seen beyond the walls Duchamps constructed for him, even before we left for the Manor." Richard' voice carried a hint of sadness to it and he shook his head.
Stephan stared at Richard and leant forward slightly. "You know, don't you?"
Richard stared back at Stephan, his face emotionless. "Know what?"
"I can see it in your eyes every time you mention that old man's name. You know. I can see it when you read those tomes. And you know those tomes aren't going to tell my father anything about the Grail, don't you?"
Richard let out a barely audible sigh. "Stephan, do you believe in the Holy Grail?"
Stephan leant back and shrugged. "Yes, I do."
"Does it matter to you at all?"
"Of course not," Stephan said. "What is the blood of a Rabbi to me?"
"The blood of a warrior," Richard suggested.
"All of the Knights are warriors. All were equally as brave. All spilt the same color blood as they were executed. What should it matter?"
"It shouldn't. It doesn't matter to me, not in that way."
"Is the Grail dead?" Stephan asked.
"Do I look like an idiot?"
"I suppose not," Stephan said in an almost bored tone and flicked a bit of dirt from underneath his fingernail. "Do you believe in God, Father LeBonne?"
"Do you?" Richard challenged.
Stephan shrugged. "I don't think so."
Richard was completely unsurprised by the answer. "I don't think many in the Church actually believe in God."
"What about you?"
"I belong to this Church by force," Richard reminded him.
"That doesn't answer my question. You were Father LeBonne long before my father made you sign those documents."
"True," Richard said and chuckled. "I suppose I do believe in God."
"And this whole idea of Jesus. The Savior? Do you believe in him?"
Richard took a small sip of his wine and looked into the warm flames of the fire. "I don't believe the human race needs a Savior." Richard paused and shook his head. "No, I don't believe humans deserve a Savior."
"Why not?" Stephan asked, sounding quite curious.
"Because we should have to find salvation ourselves. We shouldn't have the luxury of letting someone else die for us," Richard said.
"I've never thought about it that way," Stephan said curiously.
"Most don't," Richard said with a shrug and drained the rest of the liquid in his goblet. "Most accept the drivel the priests spit out, copying that arrogant fraud, Saint Paul."
"You have a problem with Paul of Tarsus?" Stephan asked with wide eyes.
"Don't you? How can you accept his beliefs? The beliefs of a man who just decided things without authority, without reason, without point. He just decided because he felt like it. How can you possibly believe that?"
"Because it's all most of us have ever known," Stephan said.
"And do you believe it all?"
"Of course not. By now you should at least understand that about me," Stephan said and rose from his chair. "You'll understand more after you spend a bit of time with us. Father Roget has long since lost his faith, Father LeBonne."
"And your nightly visits reaffirm why his faith is gone," Richard said.
Stephan blanched slightly and paused, his arrogant expression faltering slightly. "How did you know?"
"Because like you, I am not blind to the goings on of this place," Richard said. "Have a pleasant night."