Henri closed the book with a heavy sigh and tried not to look at Sebastian. He hated being there, hated the life he was now living, hated the fact that Richard clearly knew something and was deliberately keeping it from him.
"You look troubled," Sebastian said as he watched Henri's face go from blank to angry in just a second's time.
"I'm fine," Henri said and shoved the large tome away from him. "All of this is easy enough to understand. I know all about the Eucharist already so I don't think I'll need coaching."
"And confession?" Sebastian said.
"Ah, will you be hearing my confession, Father Roget?" Henri sneered.
Sebastian bit back a smile and shook his head. "The Archbishop will have that honor."
"Of course he will," Henri said with a sigh.
Sebastian leant back in his chair and crossed his arms over his chest. "Is there something you wish to tell me?"
"No," Henri answered honestly. "I'd like to sit with Richard for a while."
"Ah, so you have something you want to tell Father LeBonne, then?"
Henri rolled his eyes. "He's not Father LeBonne."
"He is. He's been for many years. I know you know this," Sebastian said mildly.
"You know nothing of what he is," Henri spat angrily. "You know nothing about us."
"I know a lot more than you think, Henri," Sebastian said carefully. "I know that your father gave up everything he believed to make sure you existed. I know that your mother died to protect you, and I know you were the epitome of their faith."
Henri sat frozen in shock as Sebastian spoke. "I never knew my mother and father."
"Yes, you did," Sebastian said. "But they were killed before you could remember them." Sebastian rose from the table and gave a half-hearted shrug. "The God that didn't protect them that night has given you into the hands of the man that murdered them."
Henri's eyes widened. "The Archbishop?"
"It goes far deeper than this, Henri. But you have to wonder… why." Sebastian headed for the door and paused just before leaving. "Think on that when he's hearing your confession, and think on that when you have him to thank for your life."
Henri stormed into Richard' quarters, his face red with fury. "Why didn't you tell me that Laurent Pleutnoir killed my parents?" he hissed.
Richard gave a sigh. "Who told you?"
"Father Roget," Henri spat.
"Of course he did," Richard muttered and rubbed his hand over his face. "Henri, I'm not going to lie to you. He wasn't the one who ordered their deaths but yes, Laurent was the one who wielded the sword that night."
"Then why are we here?" Henri shouted. "Why are we still catering to his whims?"
"Because we need to stay alive," Richard said, his voice carrying just a hint of exasperation.
"I don't understand," Henri moaned and threw himself into a chair. "I didn't understand when I was being kept away from the world. I didn't understand when I was being tortured and I don't understand now. Please, Richard. Why?"
"I wish I had an answer for you."
Henri shook his head. "Why would God let this happen, Richard? Why, when we've served him so well… when we've dedicated all we are and all we have to him. Why am I now in the hands of the man who killed my parents?"
Richard clenched his jaw. "Because God never said life was going to be fair."
"Then he's not a very good God."
"Henri…" Richard said weakly as the younger man got up.
Henri paused. "Why did my father give up everything he held dear to make sure I existed?"
Richard let out a short breath.
"Why am I the epitome of what my parents believed in?" Henri asked just as quietly.
"Why is the cryptic information he's telling me far more than what you've ever said to me in the eighteen years I've known you?" Henri spat.
"I'm sorry," Richard whispered.
Henri turned on his heel, marched into his room and locked his door. There was a sort of empty darkness hovering just beyond the place of his faith. The darkness was ever-present now, and what Henri didn't know was that this was the place of No-Faith. And that was just the place Sebastian sought to bring him to.
"Father Roget," came the timid voice of the serving girl as Sebastian, Stephan, Henri and Richard were sitting down to breakfast.
"What?" Sebastian all-but snapped. The previous night had been a long one for Sebastian, dealing with a furious Laurent because DeMal had been displeased over something or other. Whatever it was, Sebastian had to clean up the mess and he was exhausted.
"There's a messenger coming up over the hill. He carries no crest. The Archbishop isn't here and you must give clearance for him to pass."
"It's probably Bertrand," Stephan said excitedly. "Allow him to pass."
Sebastian looked at the serving girl a moment before rising from the table. "I'll inspect him myself." Sebastian looked at Henri for a long moment before motioning the young novice along.
Henri pushed his bowl of porridge away, not really hungry in the first place and followed Sebastian down the corridor, keeping his head bowed. Sebastian eventually opened a door that led to a long flight of stairs.
"We're going up," Sebastian said and without waiting for Henri to answer, he began the long trek upward.
There were five hundred and eighty-two stairs up to the very top of the tower. It was the highest place of the Monastery and it contained a lookout room where any of the monastery's occupants could see who was approaching.
When Sebastian and Henri finally reached the top, Henri was slightly winded but did his best to hide it. Sebastian nodded toward the far window and Henri followed him across the room.
"That man is not Bertrand," Sebastian muttered under his breath.
"Could he be sending word from someone?" Henri offered.
Sebastian let out a slow breath and without saying another word, led Henri back down the stairs. "Keep on guard," Sebastian told the servants who were waiting for instruction. See that he has no weapon and I'll greet him myself."
As the man rushed off to do Father Roget's bidding, Stephan came bounding into the room. "Was it him?"
Sebastian shook his head. "It was not. I'll greet this man myself."
With dismayed eyes, Stephan turned and walked off toward the library. Henri debated whether he should go about his afternoon business but one glance from Roget told him he ought to stay where he was.
The moment of quiet as they were waiting was intense for Henri and he was burning with curiosity. Not only about the messenger but why Sebastian insisted Henri stay with him.
Before Henri could ask any of his questions, the servant returned and signaled for Sebastian to go out. Sebastian beckoned Henri along stepped out the front doors. They were met by a tall man with dark eyes, a scraggly beard wearing tatty clothes and bare feet. The man was carrying a large sack on his arm and it looked rather heavy.
"Father Roget," the man said with a small sneer and a slight bow.
Sebastian quirked an eyebrow. "You know me yet I have no idea who you are. Who sent you?"
"I've merely come to deliver a warning. It's not going to work." With that, the man dropped the sack with a heavy thud, jumped on his horse and sped off.
Sebastian stared at the sack suspiciously before prodding it with his foot. Whatever was inside was slightly squareish and seemed to be quite heavy.
"Don't!" Henri cried out of suspicious habit as Sebastian reached for the string on the sack.
"I'm sure I'll be fine. He's not trying to kill us… yet. This package is a warning, not a weapon." Sebastian kept his voice trained low and calm though his eyes flashed with a hint of annoyance.
Picking up the strap, Sebastian slung it over his shoulder and walked back inside, Henri following slowly after. Sebastian paused just inside, his brow furrowed in thought and eventually decided to head for the library.
It seemed everything important was conducted in the library and it was just the place to read the so-called warning.
Richard and Stephan were seated at the far tables, pouring over the Grail tomes and looked up when Henri and Sebastian entered.
"So what was it?" Stephan demanded, standing up and craning his neck to get a look at the sack on Sebastian' shoulder.
"A warning," Sebastian said and placed the sack on the table with a loud thud.
Stephan's eyes widened and he rushed over to Sebastian' side. "Have you opened it?"
Sebastian shook his head slowly. "I have not."
"What?" Stephan all-but shouted. "Are you mad? It could be dangerous!"
Sebastian rolled his eyes and cast a sideways glance at Henri before grabbing the opening flap. "It's a warning, Stephan, as I have previously stated." With that, Sebastian pulled the top off and revealed a large box intricately decorated in Arabic writing.
"Can you read that?" Richard breathed as his eyes scanned over the writing.
Sebastian squinted at it. "It's difficult to decipher. It's an older form of Arabic and it's clearly meant to be used as art, not to be read." Sebastian reached out and pulled the box from the sack. As he lifted it, a rolled up parchment fell onto the table and the four men held their breaths.
"Which is meant to be the warning?" Stephan demanded. He grabbed the parchment, unrolled it and found he couldn't read the writing.
"It's in Greek," Sebastian said with a bemused frown.
"Is that odd?" Henri asked quietly.
"A bit," Sebastian said, sounding distracted. His eyes skimmed over the wording and eventually he swallowed and then read aloud, "The Archbishop must learn his place. Perhaps this will help him find it. His plans will not work."
Stephan's frown deepened. "Rubbish," he spat. "My father knows his place. He's the Archbishop."
"I believe that's the problem," Sebastian said irritably.
"Let's see what this is, then," Stephan said and reached for the top. Before anyone could make a move to stop the blond, he popped the lid off.
And nearly fainted.
Sitting in a bed of red velvet, the Archbishop's most favorite, was a head. Not just any head, the curly-haired, brown-eyed head of the novice monk, Bertrand LeGarre.
"No," Stephan whispered as he staggered backwards. "No. It's… fake."
Richard immediately jumped into action, grabbed Stephan's arm and led him to a chair. "Wine," he commanded and Henri rushed over to the liquor cabinet and fetched a glass.
Richard took it and pressed the wine into Stephan's trembling hands, helping the blond raise the cup to his lips. Sebastian was still staring down into the box and only looked up when Henri placed a hand on his arm.
"Who is that?" Henri asked in a whisper.
Sebastian swallowed, looked back at Stephan and then shook his head. "Bertrand."
The shock of it h it Henri and he clapped a hand over his mouth. "My God," he gasped out from behind his fingers.
Sebastian shook himself out of his shocked daze, slammed the lid back on the box and wrapped it back up in the sack. "I'll send word to the Archbishop," he said and strode out of the room with the sack back on his arm.
Henri turned weary eyes back on Richard who was holding Stephan's shoulders tightly. The blond was staring off, slightly dazed, his grey eyes clouded. He was mumbling something under his breath but neither Harry nor Richard could make out the words.
"I should take him to his bed," Richard said softly.
Henri nodded. "Seems pointless to continue this," he said, gesturing toward the tomes.
"See if Father Roget needs help," Richard said with a short nod. "I think this has exceeded the importance of the Grail."
Henri licked his lips and then reached out to squeeze Stephan's wrist. "I'm sorry," he whispered.
Stephan did not acknowledge Henri at all. He merely kept his eyes facing down toward the ground and the wine glass gripped firmly in his fist. Richard sighed, shook his head and slowly eased Stephan to his feet.
"I'm not sure what this means, but it can't be good," Richard said and led Stephan out of the room.
Henri fidgeted for a moment, unsure what to do. Eventually he decided to seek out Sebastian and see if he could be any assistance.
Richard managed to get Stephan into his room and carefully helped the blond to the end of the bed. Richard pushed the cup to Stephan's lips and made sure the younger man finished every drop of the wine.
Stephan had not come out of his shock so Richard eased him into the bed. Sitting next to the distraught man, Richard found his heart filled with pity and a need to comfort. He carefully ran his hands into the other man's soft, platinum locks.
"For what it's worth to you, I'm here," Richard whispered.
Stephan gave a small whimper and suddenly latched onto Richard' arm. "I loved him," Stephan moaned. "I love him. That… that's not him. Can't be him. C-can't be. Shouldn't be. Not him."
Richard continued to run his fingers through Stephan's hair until Stephan's eyes slid closed and he drifted off. Debating what to do, Richard decided that the best place he could be was at Stephan's side.
Henri wandered round the Monastery for the better part of a half hour before he found Sebastian. The dark haired man was in the Archbishop's office, angrily penning a letter. Henri wasn't invited in but wasn't asked to leave when he took a seat across from the older man.
Sebastian didn't look up until the letter was complete and he was satisfied with the words. When he'd finished the letter, Sebastian rolled up the parchment, sealed it and then tucked it into his pocket.
"Is LeBonne with Stephan?" Sebastian eventually asked, his voice sounding rather hoarse.
"I think so," Henri said quietly.
Sebastian let out a long sigh and rubbed his hand over his face. "Things are getting more dangerous."
"I noticed," Henri commented dryly. "Was Bertrand innocent in all of this?"
"I'm not sure," Sebastian confessed. "The Archbishop has plans that even I am not privy to. He would be wise to include me in things but the Archbishop is not always a wise man."
"He is rather arrogant," Henri said.
"There is more to it, but you aren't wrong," Sebastian said. Eventually, Sebastian rose and fetched two glasses of brandy.
Henri took a long drink of the warm liquid before asking, "So what does this all mean?"
"It means," Sebastian said, "that none of this will end quietly or calmly."
Bertrand's funeral was held in the traditional manner despite the belief that the young man likely wasn't absolved before his death. Sebastian promptly ignored that rumor and conducted it as he normally would.
The Archbishop wasn't present for the funeral but he did arrive a few days later, accompanied by a few men that no one but Sebastian seemed to know.
Stephan was ordered to stay away from all company and his grief made it so he didn't much care. Richard spent the bulk of his time with Stephan, making sure the young man was fed, bathed and clothed on a daily basis.
Henri would have preferred the quiet solitude of the library in research, however, the Archbishop decided to employ Henri as his personal scribe. So instead of the quiet of the library or even the quiet company of Sebastian, Henri was forced to sit through several meetings and document them.
None of the information shocked Henri. It was all about the war, the Muslims and such not. He kept careful record of everything that was send and learnt a bit more about the illusive Tomas DeMal who was still in exile.
The job did not matter to Henri. What did matter was that every time Henri looked at Pleutnoir, he saw the reason his parents were dead. The reason the Order was gone and the reason he was now a slave to the Church he didn't trust. But to stay alive he had to keep quiet and Henri knew that his life meant something. He wasn't sure what it was yet, but he wanted to find out.
The Archbishop stayed for five days before departing again, this time for a promised three months. He was on a campaign with DeMal, petitioning for DeMal's reinstatement into the Church.
The day after Laurent Pleutnoir had gone, Sebastian ordered Henri to work on the tomes a bit more and eventually joined the younger man after a few hours.
"Have you made any progress?" Sebastian asked, sliding into a seat and readying his ink and quill.
"Not really," Henri confessed.
"I thought as much," Sebastian said with a sigh.
"We're not actually going to find anything in here, are we?" Henri asked.
Sebastian snorted a little. "At least you have some semblance of reason and intelligence, Erba."
"I don't see the purpose in this. Will this actually tell us who the Grail is?"
Sebastian looked at Henri with a strange glint in his eye. "I believe it could, though we could possibly find the Grail anywhere, if we know how to look for it."
Henri sighed and set his quill down. "This is pointless, then."
"True, but we do what we must."
"Why must we do this?" Henri demanded. "Why are we working for a man who was excommunicated from the Church? Who murdered people? Who is clearly not a man of God?"
"Because sometimes the power is not where it appears to be."
Henri bit down on his lower lip and gave Sebastian a long, dissecting look. "I do know what you mean, even if I've not experienced it."
"I know," Sebastian said softly.
Henri stared at him, understanding yet still very confused. It all seemed so wrong, against all he believed in.
"Things go far deeper than right and wrong," Sebastian said as though reading his thoughts. "There is no black and white to life or to the Church, Henri."
Henri swallowed thickly. "I still don't know what any of this means."
Sebastian reached out and closed his fingers round Henri's wrist. The younger man shivered at the touch but couldn't bring himself to pull away. "Some things aren't meant to make sense, Henri."
"Or lack thereof," Sebastian replied, sounding almost bitter. He fixed Henri with heated eyes before pulling away. "Yet I think what's made more sense in my life is the realization that God is not God."
Henri frowned. "You really don't believe God exists?"
"I am not saying that," Sebastian said. "I'm saying God does not care. Why should he care, when we are all human? Why should he care?"
"Because he's our creator," Henri replied automatically, but as the words left his lips he realized how strange they sounded.
"To care is a human thing," Sebastian replied, sounding weary. "To love is human, to hate is human. Beginning, ending, time. All human. God is not human and I can't expect God to comprehend the nature of humans."
"He created us," Henri said weakly.
"Yet he is not like us."
Sebastian shook his head. "And Jesus," he whispered. "A man who claimed to be divine… or perhaps he didn't. All we have are these texts written by men who never knew the Rabbi. These men who wrote down folklore and insisted that it was real." Sebastian' voice had lost all trace of bitterness. All that was left was a slight hint of weary finality. "But in the end, it's all still human. So the question you must really answer for yourself, when you die, will everything human actually matter?"
Stephan gave a loud groan, startling Richard from his slumber. The amber-eyed man hadn't meant to fall asleep and was immediately awake. The young blond reached out in the dimly lit room and fumbled for Richard' hand.
"Why?" he breathed.
Richard ran his hand up and down Stephan's arm gently. It was the first time Stephan had actually spoken since that first night. "Why what, Stephan?"
Stephan groaned again and buried his face in Richard' side. "He left me. Why? Why?"
"Some things we can't control, Stephan. I'm so sorry."
"But he's left me alone. No one else understands. He did, but no one else does."
Richard reached down and pulled Stephan up. The blonde's eyes were bloodshot, surrounded by dark circles and his skin was quite sallow from no sun and pitiful amounts of food.
"I'll try to understand, Stephan. And you're not alone. I'm here."
"You can't understand," Stephan sniffled and fell back against his pillow. "No one else will."
Richard bent his head down and pressed a kiss to Stephan's forehead. He'd grown utterly attached to the young man lying in the bed and wanted only to ease his grief. "I will try Stephan, if only you will let me."
Stephan slowly reached up and touched Richard' cheek with the tip of his fingers. "It could end badly."
Richard had no idea what that was supposed to mean, but in that moment he didn't care. "That doesn't matter," Richard breathed and closed his fingers round Stephan's.
Stephan swallowed and squeezed Richard' hand lightly. "Nothing does."
Sebastian tended to business in the Archbishop's place and name, though he kept most of it to himself. Henri was assigned random tasks that he completed without outward question, which pleased Sebastian a great deal.
Stephan and Richard were left alone for the most part. Sebastian didn't want to deal with Stephan in the grieving state so he left Richard to aid in the young monk's recovery.
Henri had a vague idea of the political unrest in the Church as well as the country, but he didn't know the details of it all. He knew that whatever it was, it had started to eclipse the fanatical quest for the Grail that DeMal and Pleutnoir had them on.
Henri wasn't about to complain about that fact. He didn't particularly enjoy betraying the men who raised him to be what he was, just to stay alive. There was more than that just changing, however, and Henri was starting to feel rather confused.
He could see Richard growing closer to Stephan and Henri didn't know what that meant. He also knew that Sebastian had information, which the priest was seemingly willing to share, provided Henri asked the right questions.
At first Henri was in Sebastian' constant company by force, then to try and pry information out of the man. Finally, Henri realized, he was staying with Sebastian so much because he was enjoying the company. Of course his feelings were rather conflicting on that matter as well. Henri had faith, Sebastian did not. But the man's opinions and theories made sense to Henri, which refreshed him and terrified him at the same time.
Still, Henri was a man of his own faith and he wasn't about to give up easily. He had a companion in Richard when it came down to it, and that's what kept Henri going most times.
It had been a particularly bad week for Henri just after the Archbishop had left. Sebastian had been easier on Henri but his small comments and the fact that he obviously knew the things Henri wanted to know was starting to wear down on the younger man.
Richard had been noticeably absent, tending to Stephan's needs. Henri didn't begrudge the blonde the attention either. Stephan had suffered a great deal, despite the fact that Henri thought Stephan's love for Bertrand was absolutely wrong. It hurt to lose someone, sinful or not. Richard seemed to be the only one Stephan responded to, so Richard filled the role of comfort and caregiver.
Now, however, Henri was ready to demand Richard' attention. His faith was stretched to its very limits and Henri felt as though he was on the verge of collapse. Richard was the only thing that could keep him together. The only person that shared his values, his morals, his truth.
Henri had spent a good portion of his night scouring the monastery for the tawny-haired man and turned up nothing. Stephan's room was empty as was Richard', the library, the parlor and the kitchens. There were a few unexplored towers Henri had yet to check and decided he'd best do so if he really wanted to speak with Richard.
Making his way though a quiet corridor, Henri paused when he heard hushed voices. The sounds were muffled so he could not make out the words but the tone was distinct. It was Richard.
Henri rushed forward until he found the door and slowly pushed it open, peering inside. He was not prepared for what he found.
Stephan gave a small whimper and pressed his forehead to the glass. The blonde was seated near the window, wrapped in a thick cloak, staring blankly into the cold night. Snow had covered the ground lightly, not enough to make anyone worry, but enough to cause a slight chill through the monastery.
Richard was seated near the fire, a thick blanket draped over his legs and he was watching the younger man with a mixture of pity and wonder in his amber eyes. They had been in the quiet, secluded room for the better part of four hours and not a word had been spoken.
Occasionally the blonde would let out a sob or a whimper but nothing more. Eventually, Richard realized he was going to have to force Stephan to talk. He clearly wasn't getting any better and Richard knew it would only get worse.
"Do you want to sit near me?" Richard asked, breaking the long silence. Words sounded strange after the long hours of complete silence.
Stephan didn't seem surprised by the words, however. He turned and fixed Richard with red-rimmed eyes and gave a feeble shrug. "Why?"
"Because clearly sitting with your face pressed to the window is doing you no good," Richard said with a sigh. Reaching over, Richard poured a glass of wine and held it out toward Stephan. "At least have a drink."
Stephan swallowed thickly and rose from his chair. He walked toward Richard at a snail's pace, took the glass and sipped delicately at the ruby liquid. "It tastes like vinegar."
"You always say that," Richard said with a small chuckle.
Stephan managed a small smile but it was cut short when he stumbled on the edge of his robe and Richard had to grab him to keep the blonde from falling.
"Christ," Stephan hissed and wrenched his arm out of Richard' grasp.
Richard gave a small sigh and took Stephan's arm once more. "Please sit," he said kindly and pulled Stephan down onto the chair next to him. With another small breath, Richard allowed his fingers to settle in Stephan's fine locks and stroke his scalp gently. The gesture was meant to be chaste, calming, soothing.
Both Stephan and Richard shifted uncomfortably in their seats. The gesture was what it was, though, and Stephan wasn't about to say no to it. He craved the older man's touch since Richard had begun to pay attention to him. Part of Stephan hated that it was all pity, but part of him didn't care. The part that didn't care was the broken part of him. The part that didn't want to go on now that Bertrand was gone.
Richard pulled Stephan away from the edge during some point in the blonde's mourning. Stephan was about to give up completely but something about the tawny-haired man kept Stephan firmly in place.
Now, however, Stephan wasn't sure if he could keep going should Richard disappear. He also feared that Richard was too much of a Godly man to love him the way he wanted to be loved.
But now, in that chair, hands and eyes were telling a different story. "Richard," Stephan whispered, tasting the name on his tongue. The word held no bitterness, no malice, no anger. It was nothing like the way Stephan spoke to Sebastian when they had their moments alone. Nothing like it at all.
Richard closed his eyes a moment and lost himself in the feeling of his fingers in Stephan's hair. He only turned his attention elsewhere when he felt slender fingers creeping up toward the side of his neck.
"Stephan," Richard eventually said, the name coming out louder than he'd meant it to.
Stephan jerked back and moved to stand up. "Sorry. This is not what you…"
Stephan's words were cut off when Richard pulled him back down almost roughly. "Hush boy," Richard breathed. "Hush."
Stephan turned confused eyes on Richard' face. "What is this?"
"What do you want it to be?" Richard questioned.
"You don't find it… wrong? These feelings… this?" Stephan asked and reached over, placing Richard' hand over the swelling in his robe.
Richard' tongue darted out and licked his bottom lip. "I'm not sure what to think anymore, Stephan. It all seems to be…"
"Crashing down around you?" Stephan offered.
Richard let out a short chuckle. "For all of us it seems."
"So it's not wrong, this?"
"Comfort in one another is never wrong. I think I'll always believe that," Richard said with actual conviction. Before Stephan could respond to that, Richard grabbed the back of Stephan's head, pulled him down and joined their mouths.
Hands began to roam gently, pulling, tugging, pressing, rubbing. Soft moans filled the room and eventually, after what seemed like an eternity, cries of passion were heard, echoing off the bricks. Then… it was over.
Had the two men lying on the cold floor been any more aware of their surroundings, they might have heard the soft click the door made when it slowly crept shut. Instead, in their post orgasm calm, all Richard and Stephan knew was each other.
Henri backed away from the door, utterly confused. His head was swimming at what he'd just seen and the words floated back to haunt him.
"Comfort in one another is never wrong."
But what did that even mean? What did it mean when it went against God? What did it mean when the one person Henri had left to keep the faith with was succumbing to the sins that surrounded them.
And why was the nagging feeling that none of it really was wrong so prominent in that moment.
Henri let his head fall back against the stone wall and he closed his eyes against the tears that were threatening to fall. It was becoming too much. Just too much. There were things he needed to know to keep his faith. Knowing Richard was always keeping true to the Word was one thing keeping Henri on track. Now this. Now this.
Henri didn't know what to do, so he fled.
Sebastian was sitting in the Archbishop's office when he saw a white-clad figure rushing past his door. Even in that split second, there was no mistaking who it was. Rising from his chair, Sebastian carefully made his way down the corridor and into the room he saw Henri rushing to.
Sebastian didn't bother to knock when he entered the parlor and took a seat near the window where Henri was standing. The younger man had his head pressed against the glass and his breathing was quite labored.
"Care to tell me why you feel the need to go tearing about this monastery?" Sebastian asked in a mild tone.
Henri let out a breath. "It's all lies, isn't it? All lies."
"What is?" Sebastian inquired, frowning in confusion.
Henri turned and fixed Sebastian with red-rimmed eyes. "Everything. Life, faith, the Church. It's all a lie."
"Why do you think that?" Sebastian asked, ignoring his inner glee and clasping his hands under his chin.
"Because even the most faithful fall," Henri said softly and leant up against the wall.
"That's been true of all things, Henri. Lucifer being the prime example in our lives."
Henri laughed bitterly and shook his head. "I just don't understand. We're living and dying for our cause but at the same time we are living against our cause."
"What cause would that be?" Sebastian pressed.
"God, the Church, the Word. Faith. Belief. We fight so hard for what we believe in. We endure unspeakable tortures and do what we can to stay alive so we can continue God's great knowledge and legacy. And then we fall into temptation. We let take over. We let it rule us. So what is the point of us all if we can't keep what we believe?"
Sebastian took all of this in. The words were rambling and Henri's thoughts were clearly here and there, but it was obvious something had happened. Before Sebastian could ask the question, however, Henri answered it.
"Richard was the only one I was holding on to. He was the only truth in this place. And now he's fallen."
"Stephan," Sebastian said in a slight whisper and gave a shudder of disgust. He and Stephan had done those sinful, unspeakable things. They had done them for years. Sebastian hated Stephan for it, and hated himself more. But it didn't really matter, not in the place of no-faith that he lived in.
At the sound of the blonde's name, Henri gave a bitter laugh. "Why can Stephan do that to you all? I've seen the looks you two share. I know what has gone on. You and Stephan. Stephan and Bertrand. Now this. Now Richard, the only one that was keeping truth in this place."
"And you?" Sebastian questioned with a little more coldness in his voice. "You are not keeping the truth? You, who is so adamant about your beliefs in God's Word."
Henri chuckled angrily and shook his head. "The thoughts I have… the things I feel. I am not worthy of God's truth."
Sebastian reached across the short space between them and grabbed Henri's shoulders. "You are more than worth it, which is why I think it's so empty. One such as you, Henri, so worthy yet so unable to see that. It's why I can't believe."
Henri looked into Sebastian' eyes. "I want to believe the way I did as a child. To just know. To just feel it all. It's gone and I don't know how to get it back."
"But in that blind faith, Henri, you were more lost than you are now. This place you are entering is the first step to finding yourself." Sebastian sat back and tucked his hands into the sleeves of his robe. "Don't you see this all, Henri? The truth of it. You've endured torture, pain and fear beyond many others in this world and you've kept yourself. Not your faith, but yourself. That is what's important in all of this. You are what is meant to live."
"But why me?" Henri groaned. "Why?"
"I wish I could answer that."
"But you know," Henri hissed. "I know you do."
Sebastian lowered his eyes. "I know, but there are many promises overlapping promises that prevent me from telling you."
"Will I ever know? Why do I have to be special, Sebastian? I don't want this!"
"No one does. If you want my honest opinion…"
"I do," Henri said in a rush.
"I don't believe in the reasons you are so special. I think you are like the rest of us, except perhaps you are closer to where you need to be than most people. But I've made a vow to hold you dear, just like everyone else has made that vow. People have died for you, Henri, that much you know."
"I suppose so," Henri said in a low, frightened tone.
"The only thing you can do is to be worthy of it in your own self." Sebastian paused and then quietly asked, "Why has Father LeBonne upset you so?"
"Because he was the only one to really believe it all. And then I see him in the arms of another man. Man. Against all of what he believes."
"Is it so wrong to feel that connection? What is it beyond the gender that bothers you?" Sebastian pressed.
"Nothing beyond gender. It's not right."
"Suppose it feels right, Henri?"
"It would only feel that way because it is a sin!" Henri hissed.
Sebastian slowly slid from his chair and crept over until he was kneeling eye-to-eye with Henri. He brought his face in so close Henri could feel the hot breath ghosting over his features. "How do you justify comfort being wrong? How do you justify wrongness in love?"
"Love?" Henri whispered and gave a short shake of his head. "Not love. They can't be in love."
"From the moment Father LeBonne arrived here, I could see it in their eyes," Sebastian whispered. "It was the same look I saw in your parents that last night, when their love for you eclipsed all danger and they were prepared to die for you, and for each other. It was the eternity look. No God, no faith, no promise can go above that look, that feeling."
Henri felt his face flush and he shook his head. "No. I don't believe that."
"I think you do. Your fear is trying to take over but you will realize it in the end."
Feeling a rush of anger, Henri pushed Sebastian roughly and stood up. "It's not true! It's not the truth. It's a sin."
With that, Henri tore out of the room and began to run again. He didn't stop until he reached his quarters and hastily slammed the door, collapsing on his bed.
Bitter tears coursed down his face. Not out of sadness, but out of truth, because Henri knew the look. He knew the feeling. And he didn't want it.
There was a long time before anything happened. Henri cried it all out and just as be began to doze off, the small click of the door shutting jarred him awake.
Sitting up, Henri looked over and saw Sebastian leaning against his door, a guarded expression on his face.
"You have blood in you, Henri. A very special sort of blood. They want you for their purposes and I think it's wrong." Sebastian' voice was low and toneless, but the words were clear. "I can't stop them, I haven't the power. If you wondered why I stayed like this for so long, now you know. I can't let them hold you like this. You aren't a weapon because this blood was neither powerful nor purposeful. It wasn't ever meant to be a weapon. The Church has altered the myth for their own purposes. They believe it's true, I'm sure, but I know it isn't and I can't let you continue on like this. I'm so sorry."
Henri got up and approached Sebastian carefully. "What sort of blood."
Sebastian shook his head. "My willingness to tell only goes this far. But you should know that inside you lies the thing they want. It's useless to anything but you, this blood, but they won't see it that way. I want to help you find the truth, Henri, so you can escape them. And so you can know."
"Know what?" Henri breathed.
Sebastian reached out and gingerly took Henri's face between his hands. Locking eyes, Sebastian ran his thumbs over Henri's cheeks. The gesture was the most tender and wanted thing Henri had ever felt. Just as fear began to grip him, Sebastian brought his mouth down and joined it with Henri's.
The kiss was deep but short, just a small swipe of the tongue and a squeeze of the hands on Henri's cheeks. Then it was over. Henri was breathless as he looked into Sebastian' face.
"So you can know the truth that this is not wrong. And in this blood," he said and gripped Henri's arm, exposing the inside where the small bluish vein was showing, "there is nothing more than that love and the ability to see things for what they really are."
With that, Sebastian let Henri go and made his way out of the room. In a daze, his world turned upside down, Henri collapsed onto his bed and felt his life crashing down all around him.
Sebastian wasn't sure who was knocking at his door. When he answered he was utterly shocked to find Stephan standing there. The tears were still ever-present in his eyes and he said nothing as Sebastian stepped aside.
Roget didn't bother to offer Stephan a drink and the young blond stood in the middle of the room, his gaze trained on the fire.
"What do you want?" Sebastian eventually asked.
Stephan turned and looked at Sebastian. "He's gone." Stephan's tone was empty, so dead that it tugged at Sebastian just a little.
"There isn't anything I can do about it."
"Richard comforts me but the emptiness is still there." Stephan reached out and grabbed the front of Sebastian' robe. "I need something else." Stephan brought his face in for a kiss but this time Sebastian found himself able to push the blond away.
"No," Sebastian hissed.
Stephan was shocked for a moment but clung on still. "Father Roget…" he whispered.
Sebastian gave Stephan a violent shove back, sending the blond toppling over the chair. "No, Stephan. Not this time and not again. Ever."
"I need…" Stephan moaned.
"You've got what you need in Father LeBonne. You don't need me anymore." Roget turned his face away from Stephan and said nothing until the door slammed shut. When Sebastian looked up again, he saw the room empty and wondered when he'd got the strength to turn the blond away.
Henri, for his part, had lost all strength. All will to believe in himself, or God, or any of it. He stayed alone in his rooms for days, refusing to answer any calls, fasting and praying. And he felt so lost. When he closed his eyes he no longer had the sense that God was listening. He no longer had the sense that God had a purpose for him. That God was really there.
The blackness of the no-faith was swallowing him whole.
Eventually, after three days, Richard came to the door and knocked. "You've fasted enough, Henri!" he called, worried for Henri's state of mind. He didn't know what happened to the younger man but he knew it was something dangerous.
When Henri heard Richard' voice, a fiery anger built up in him so fiercely that he could barely contain it. He thought it was all Richard' fault. The man had shattered his belief that someone still believed in it, that someone still held true to their life's purpose, to their vows. His hand searched through the darkness of his room and found the first hard thing he could move. The water basin. He chucked it as hard as he could.
The shattering porcelain sounded through the chamber, startling both Henri and Richard. Eventually Richard' retreating footfalls sounded on the stones and Henri was alone again.
The only person who could have possibly drawn Henri from his chambers only arrived after Henri had been in isolation for seven days. And he didn't come for Henri because he wanted to draw the young man out of his isolation, out of the blackness that was engulfing him. No, he summoned Henri out of necessity. The Archbishop had arrived once again and requested Henri as a scribe.
Sebastian knocked on the door and when he received no answer, he called out, "It's Father Roget. Your presence has been requested by the Archbishop."
There was thick silence and then the door creaked open. Henri appeared, clad in his white robes, looking disheveled and half-starved. "Why does he want me?" Henri croaked.
"He wishes you to serve him for the night," Sebastian said. His voice was cold and distant.
"I don't wish to," Henri said.
"You have no choice in the matter, Henri," Sebastian said.
"Why should I bother, Roget? It's all a lie. All of it. Faith, God, morality. There is no purpose for any of this. The Archbishop uses God to further his own means, his own power."
"None of that is new to me, Henri," Sebastian replied with a shrug. "You knew about Laurent from the start. How has this changed?"
"Because I was doing it for God, for myself, to live. Now there is no point. Not when faith no longer exists."
"I have no faith in God, Henri. You know this."
Henri gave a slow nod.
"Yet I continue in this service."
"But why?" Henri pressed him. "Why? I've worked out so much in my mind but I can't work out why you are still here."
Sebastian sighed. "There is so much more to understand, Henri, and now is not the time to give up on life."
"I don't want to serve him, Sebastian," Henri pleaded.
"If you don't, you will likely die," Sebastian said plainly.
"Why should I care?" Henri spat bitterly.
"Perhaps you can't find reason to now, Henri, but eventually you will."
"How can you be so sure?" Henri challenged.
"Because I have." The answer didn't seem to be enough so Sebastian reached out and grasped Henri's wrist lightly. "And because I want you to live."
Henri shivered at the touch. The touch comforted him so intensely that it frightened him and he pulled away roughly. "I can't…" he said.
"Go to him," Sebastian pressed.
Henri bowed his head. "As you wish."
Henri's fate was sealed in Sebastian' black eyes.
Fifteen minutes later, Henri had freshened up and was sitting in Laurent Pleutnoir's chambers, writing down the important parts of the meeting. Henri kept his eyes trained on his parchment but he could feel Sebastian' eyes burning a hole in him. He desperately wanted to look up at the man but he was afraid. He was afraid to see desire in the eyes. Afraid that the desire would surface in him. Afraid that the other 'Men of God' would know something. There was too much in jeopardy for Henri to dare a glance.
The meeting lasted for hours. It was well into the wee hours of the morning before Henri was allowed to retire. He didn't glimpse Roget as he passed out of the room but his thoughts were full of the soft voice and the green eyes.
After everyone had gone, Laurent poured a drink for himself and for Sebastian. The two men retired onto a sofa and Laurent simply stared at Sebastian for several, long moments.
"Did you want to ask me something?" Sebastian eventually snapped.
"You want him," Laurent said.
"Who?" Sebastian asked with a frown.
"The Erba boy. You want him."
Sebastian glowered but didn't deny it.
"I've not told DeMal about him yet. DeMal was never sure about Erba's child being the one. I've seen this boy enough to know he's likely not."
Sebastian clenched his jaw and then relaxed. There was too much at stake, including the fact that he wanted the boy to be his, and the only way to ensure that was to keep DeMal from learning Henri's true identity. "He was never certain that Jacques Erba descended from Jesus," Sebastian said.
"And that's what all your lovely and helpful research is for," Laurent said with a laugh. "How is that going by the by?"
"Slowly," Sebastian said. "Especially with the war. The growing threats are taking its toll on us."
"I know how you feel. Our campaign has been attacked numerous times. DeMal only just escaped unscathed last week."
"Have you cut it short?" Sebastian asked.
"No," Laurent replied. "I've only stopped to work out a few things here. DeMal and I will be gone for at least six months this time. We reach Rome and we plan to stay until he is reinstated into the Church. His rightful place is Pope, you know."
"So I've been told," Sebastian muttered.
"You have such little faith, Sebastian," Laurent said with a laugh. He drank the rest of his wine before asking, "And my son. How is he faring after the nonsense with Bertrand?"
Sebastian gave a small shrug. "I can't be certain. I see little of him."
"I never expected him to be of much use to you, Sebastian. I merely keep him here so he is away from me."
Sebastian allowed a small chuckle. "He's safe here. Here he can cause little damage."
"I'm trusting you to keep him safe," Laurent said.
"I shall," Sebastian promised. He didn't mention that he no longer needed to. That Stephan had found warmer, more comfortable arms to fall into. Arms that would not reject him later. Sebastian finished his own wine and excused himself from Laurent' chambers.
By morning, the Archbishop had gone, leaving no orders except to continue on the research. Sebastian intended to make some progress, both with his outside task and with the now-broken Henri Erba.
Two days later, rains had begun over the land and didn't show any signs that they were going to cease. Stephan had yet to make any sort of public appearance, but that brought little worry to Sebastian. The afternoon found Sebastian and Henri in the library pouring over the tomes.
"This is useless," Henri eventually said, slamming one closed. "Albert wouldn't make it so easy to find. This is going to take a lifetime."
"For your sake, I hope it does," Sebastian replied.
"Why do you say that?"
"Laurent may have murdered your parents, Henri, but DeMal ordered their deaths. Do you not think that perhaps, for those same reasons, he might want you dead as well?"
"So why am I alive?" Henri challenged. Sebastian' words chilled him to the core but he didn't show it.
"Because you are useful to Laurent right now."
Something dawned on Henri and his eyes widened. "DeMal doesn't know I'm alive."
"He knows you live; he does not know you're here," Sebastian corrected. "Laurent will gain great favor with DeMal if he can bring DeMal the Grail. If you are here to search, you are useful to him."
Henri shook his head and rubbed his hand over his face. "And then what?"
"Then you must execute your plan before DeMal executes you," Sebastian said.
"What plan?" Henri asked.
"Create one. You can't expect the world to keep you alive. You have to fend for yourself."
Harry stood up angrily and stormed out of the library. He'd just made it to the top of the lookout tower when Sebastian caught up to him. Henri said nothing as Sebastian crossed the room to stand next to them.
The two of them stood in the window, staring at the black sky as it cried giant drops all across the landscape. The weather matched Henri's mood perfectly. Dismal, without a hope of clearing.
"What will you do when I'm dead?" Henri asked. "Will you stay here?"
"You'll allow them to kill you?" Sebastian asked, avoiding the question.
"It's likely I won't win against them," Henri said. "How could I?"
"The only one who wishes you dead, Henri, is DeMal. That problem can be easily solved."
"How?" Henri spat, "By killing him? By becoming like him?"
"By doing what you have to to survive."
"I can't become a murderer just to save myself."
"Why not?" Sebastian pressed.
Sebastian met that question with silence. The wind suddenly picked up, chilling them both and Henri gave a slight shiver. Not caring about boundaries any longer, Sebastian reached out and drew Henri close to him. Henri shivered now, not from the cold but from Sebastian' hot touch and he tried to pull away.
This time Sebastian held him fast. "Why do you pull away from me?"
"Because this is wrong," Henri whispered.
"Why do you feel it's wrong? Is it because it feels so right?" Sebastian' whispery words flowed over Henri, making him want to cling onto Sebastian and cry.
But he didn't. He merely stood there for several moments. "It's hard to let Him go."
"Who?" Sebastian asked, holding Henri a fraction tighter.
"God," Henri said. "I know he's not there anymore."
"Was he ever there?" Sebastian challenged in a soft tone.
"I thought so, once," Henri said. "I thought I could feel him listening, protecting, approving. Now there is just this emptiness and I don't know how to fill it."
"Maybe it was never meant to be filled. Maybe what you lost was the feeling that you were doing something right."
"Why would that feeling leave me now?" Henri asked.
"Because you realize there is no one to decide what is right and what is wrong in your life except yourself. You only have yourself to answer to. Only you can judge yourself now. That emptiness is a loss of a greater power and a gain of self."
Henri shook his head but somehow the words made sense to him. He fought it though, fought that rationality because he didn't want it. He wanted what he had believed in. He wanted his old world. The world where he knew what he had to do, why he had to do it and how. He wanted it all back. Because in that life he was comfortable. In that life he had purpose and no matter what situation he was in, he felt safe because God was there and God loved him.
And now that was gone. It was empty. Only he was left and it was so dark.
He found himself clinging to Sebastian tightly and when he looked up at the man, he saw the black eyes watching him. They were guarded but Henri could see something shining in them, something he didn't understand yet.
And as he stared at Sebastian, their faces drew nearer. Sebastian' hands found their way to Henri's neck and they rested there slightly. Henri wanted to fight what was about to happen but he found he didn't have the strength or will to do it.
And he also found he wanted it.
His eyes slipped closed as their lips met. The kiss was so warm, so soft and when Sebastian' tongue slipped into his mouth, Henri felt a violent rush pour through him. His head was spinning by the time Sebastian pulled away and he had to catch his breath.
Eventually, Sebastian touched his cheek briefly and then pushed him away. "We need to get back," he said.
Unsure what had just happened and what it was all supposed to mean, Henri nodded mutely and followed Sebastian back down stairs. As they began to work again, Henri caught Sebastian looking at him several times and a spark shone in his darkness. There was hope after all, and Henri suddenly found a reason to fight.
Henri felt as though he was struck dumb. As he followed Sebastian back down the flights of stairs, he could not form words. He stared at Sebastian but saw a different creature. Something beyond what had seen before, in Father Roget.
The afternoon passed with a strange tranquility and as the afternoon turned to night, Sebastian noticed that Henri wasn't taking it all very well. Dinner passed in more silence. The table was occupied by Stephan, for the first time since Bertrand had been killed, and Richard. Sebastian noticed that Henri could not look at Richard and that gave him a secret, wicked pleasure.
When the meal had been cleared away, Henri attempted to leave but Richard stopped him at the door. "Clearly something is wrong between us, Henri. I'd like to know what it is."
Henri looked up at Richard with reddened, heated eyes. His lips pursed a moment before he spat, "I do not wish to speak with you." Henri took a few steps backwards and found himself tripping over Sebastian. "Sorry," he muttered.
Sebastian stayed Henri with a firm hand on his shoulder. "Meet me in my chambers in one hour." He said the words clear and loud enough for Richard to hear.
Henri nodded. "Okay." And with that, the young man turned on his heel and left.
When Henri was out of earshot, Richard turned angry eyes on Sebastian. "What do you think you are doing with him?"
"Nothing more than he wants me to, LeBonne," Sebastian said.
Richard briefly lost his temper and grabbed the front of Sebastian' robes, shoving him hard into the wall. "If you even think to touch him in any way… if you even think to taint him, Roget-"
"Taint him?" Sebastian sneered. "In the way you've tainted Stephan."
"Stephan's purity has long since been destroyed… long before my touch. I know all about you, Father Roget. I'll not have Henri-"
"You are no longer in control of him," Sebastian interrupted and shoved Richard away. "You'll do well to remember who is in control here. Who controls the lives of the people in this Monastery."
"You don't frighten me, Roget," Richard hissed as he took a few steps back. "I know you want to keep Henri alive."
"That I do, but you serve no purpose to me. You are alive because Henri wishes it, and now I'm not so sure he wishes it."
Richard clenched and unclenched his fists before asking, "Why has Henri turned against me?"
Sebastian smirked a little. "For darkening the only light he had left in his life." With that, Sebastian turned and walked back down to his chambers.
The hour that passed seemed like an eternity for Henri. He was left alone, in his chambers, thinking about everything. About what he'd seen between Stephan and Richard, about Sebastian and the soft lips, the warm hands. He felt the emptiness that his deserting faith had given him grow stronger and stronger.
Henri was near tears by the time it was time to go to Sebastian' chambers. He wasn't sure what compelled him to make the trek down the corridor, because he knew what would be coming. If it wasn't more of the forbidden actions between them, it would be a discussion that Henri was utterly terrified to have.
He rounded the corner leading to Sebastian' chambers and saw the familiar sight of Richard LeBonne. His gut clenched and he tried to chase away the feeling of anger, the feeling of blame he was placing on the man who had practically raised him.
"Henri," Richard said softly.
Henri stopped, despite his desire to walk away. "Please don't," Henri said.
"I don't know exactly what I did, but I know you're about to walk into Sebastian' chambers and that is not the right thing to do."
Henri looked up, fury coursing through him so intensely that his hands began to shake. He couldn't bring his voice above a whisper when he said, "Who are you to judge? Who are you to judge my decisions? I thought you were the only one who believed as I did. But I was wrong. I know now, Richard. I know it's all a sham. That it's all worthless, that it means nothing." Henri didn't bother to explain further or give Richard a chance to speak. He turned and marched to Sebastian' door, entering without knocking.
Sebastian, who'd heard the altercation in the corridor, had been expecting Henri. He was sitting in his chair beside the fire and he looked up mildly when Henri entered.
Henri stared at Roget for several long, intense moments before walking to the other chair and collapsing in it.
"Your faith may be lost," Severus said quietly, "but the hatred in you will destroy you faster than any darkness could."
"I shouldn't be so angry," Henri confessed. "I shouldn't, because now I see why he and Stephan-" Henri trailed off, unable to say it. "But it still hurts."
"It hurts because your faith was ripped from your hands. You didn't have the chance to just let it go like I did."
Henri looked up at Sebastian who was staring down at his hands. "What made you lose the faith, Sebastian?"
"Assuming I ever had it," Sebastian remarked.
Sebastian sighed. "For a fair few years. I found my faith in Tomas DeMal, and lost it in Albert Duchamps."
"Albert?" Henri questioned.
"It's more complicated than I could ever dream to explain to you, Henri," Sebastian said. "Albert opened my eyes, but my eyes opening was the direct cause for this darkness."
"Is it still so dark?" Henri whispered.
"It will always be dark," Sebastian said. "It only matters how you hold the darkness in you, Henri."
Henri was silent for several moments. "What did Albert open your eyes to?"
"The corruption of it all, and the history," Sebastian said. "How can you possibly believe in something that is so utterly human? So utterly what we are designed to be."
"Designed to be?"
"Liars, thieves, murderers, cheats… sinners. Our religion was created to give us an excuse, a reason to sin and feel okay with it. Confession means nothing. It only gives you the feeling that you are clean. We are never clean, Henri."
Henri swallowed thickly. "I felt clean once," he said quietly.
"As did we all. But we eventually reach this point where we realize we are not clean and never will be."
"How can I live with myself?" Henri wondered aloud, his eyes growing dark with dismay.
Sebastian reached across the space between them and closed his fingers round Henri's wrist. "You must redesign what being unclean means, Henri. When you realize that clean and unclean are merely words, you will understand it."
"And have you done that?" Henri challenged, staring down at Sebastian' white hand.
"In some ways," Sebastian admitted. "In many others, I still struggle."
"Why do I have a feeling that the struggles will never end?" Henri asked.
Sebastian allowed one very small smile. "Because to struggle is human and human is something we will never cease to be."
Another silence fell between them and Sebastian rose, fetching two goblets of wine. He handed one to Henri and took a long drink of his. Henri merely stared down into the ruby-colored liquid.
"In the tower," Henri said, deciding if they were to talk about it, he was now ready, "did it feel wrong to you?"
"No," Sebastian said, his voice firm.
Henri looked up and searched the black eyes for honesty. He found them closed off. "Why not?" he pressed. "How can you not believe it wrong?"
"Because I long since stopped believing in what the Church says. Only the Church deems it wrong, Henri."
"Those teachings are all I've ever known," Henri said miserably.
"You are young, yet, Henri. You will come to decide on your own one day."
"But it felt-"
"Like a sin?" Sebastian offered.
Henri thought for a moment and then shook his head. "Different."
"And different feels?" Sebastian questioned.
"I don't have an answer to that." And it was true. Henri merely felt lost. He was without answer and without purpose for that moment.
"The answers will come; you just have to give them time."
"I feel like I have no time," Henri said. His voice grew hard with frustration. "These things, these secrets that you and Richard have, this whole mess with DeMal and Pleutnoir, and it all seems to involve me in a way I don't understand. I feel like my time is short."
"It is," Sebastian admitted. "Or it may be, depending on how you react to it in the end."
"React to what?" Henri asked. "I don't even know what's coming to me."
"You will. I promise you that soon you will know everything and the decisions from then on will be yours."
Henri bowed his head and then took a long drink of the wine. He drained half the goblet and set it down beside the chair. "Is that what you asked me here for?"
"No," Sebastian said. "Two reasons and we've discussed neither."
"Why am I here?" Henri pressed.
Sebastian paused and then said, "The first is I wish for you to forgive LeBonne. Not blindly, not without reason, but I wish this animosity to end."
"I'm still so angry."
"I want you to speak with him about what you saw. Your anger could complicate things and we can't afford any more complications." Sebastian' tone was business-like and commanding. Henri wondered how this Sebastian and the one in the tower could be the same person.
"I'll try," Henri admitted.
"Do you fear telling him of what you've done?"
"No," Henri said, but that was a lie. He was afraid of being a hypocrite. How could he be angry at Richard, for what Richard had done, yet feel what he did towards Sebastian?
"Speak to him. That is an order."
Henri nodded mutely.
"The second," Sebastian said and then slipped from the chair to kneel in front of Henri.
Henri looked into Sebastian' face and felt his breath catch in his throat.
"Do you hate me for bringing you to this?" Sebastian asked.
Henri didn't know. He hadn't even thought of hating Sebastian, of blaming him. The blame just didn't seem to fall on the dark-eyed priest. "No," he eventually said. He was almost certain he didn't.
Sebastian reached a hand up to Henri's face and let his fingers caress the skin. "There are going to be trials for you in the near future Henri. I think you should know now that all I've done for you and Richard were for my own selfish reasons."
"What do you mean?" Henri asked, leaning in to the touch.
"I wanted you. The moment I saw you, I wanted you. When I saw you in that house, I knew I had to keep you with me." Sebastian paused and then asked, "Do you hate me now?"
Henri's eyes were wide with wonder. He felt both confusion and flattery. His entire life he had known that somehow he was different. It was the way Albert and Richard guarded him, spoke to him, taught him. But never in his life had he thought another human could feel this way about him. He had dedicated his life to God; his purpose was to serve God. Now God was gone and Henri realized there was so much more to life.
"I can't possibly hate you," Henri eventually said.
Sebastian rose higher on his knees and brought his face in. "It's all I ask, that you never hate me. For what I've done and how I feel."
"I don't think I could ever feel that way about you," Henri said. He wasn't even sure what he was saying anymore. His head was reeling from the closeness of Sebastian, from the smell of his robes, from the heat in his touch.
Sebastian touched with Henri, mouth-to-mouth, hands tangled in Henri's locks. Henri couldn't help but let out a moan as their bodies collided right there on the stone floor. It was pleasure Henri could never dream of. Pleasure Henri never imagined could exist in his own body. Sebastian' hands, his long fingers, were touching him in places that made his whole body sing, made it beg for more until he thought he might explode.
And then he did. Sebastian touched him there, in that place that was so forbidden to him before and he felt it hit him like a tidal wave. The feeling ripped through him and when it finally dissipated, he was shaking.
Sebastian carefully helped Henri clean up and adjust his white robes to the state they had been in before he came. Helping the younger man to the chair, Sebastian gave Henri the rest of his wine and let him calm.
"I didn't mean to take it further than you wanted to go," Sebastian said.
Henri shook his head. "I think I needed it."
"Why do you say that?" Sebastian asked curiously.
"Because it's given me some sort of feeling that I thought was dead to me. I'd heard about it from the servants and others who hadn't given their lives to God like I had. It all seemed like a myth, like some sort of tale that would never happen in my life."
"Yet it does exist to us," Sebastian said.
"There must be more of it out there. Everything I knew to be real is now dead and I must find the way to live again."
Sebastian allowed a bigger smile this time as he took Henri into his arms and said, "At last you begin to understand."
Later in the night, Sebastian explained to Henri that it must all be kept secret. It existed to them, yes, but they must preserve their lives until they found a way to live in peace away from the Church and the others that sought to destroy people like them.
Henri vowed that he understood and let Sebastian walk him back to his chambers. Inside, the door closed firmly, Sebastian kissed Henri once more. "You are what I was waiting for," Sebastian admitted.
Henri closed his eyes, feeling the words wash over him like cleansing water. "I'll do anything to keep us together, Sebastian. Anything you ask."
Sebastian kissed Henri once more and then left the room. Once he was back in his chambers, he poured himself another goblet of wine, sat down in his chair and allowed his smile to dissolve into a smirk. It was working at last, and in the end, with the help of the Grail, Sebastian would get exactly what he desired.
As Henri was slumbering in the most restful, comfortable sleep he'd ever had, Richard was pacing his chambers. Stephan was there with him, lying in his bed and watching. He said nothing for the longest time as Richard struggled with his thoughts.
"What's happened?" Stephan eventually asked.
"It's Roget," Richard said. "He's done something to Henri, told him something that he should not have heard."
"Roget," Stephan spat. He was still wounded by Roget's rejection. He did want Richard, only Richard, if he was to be honest with himself, but he had always gone to Roget. Now he no longer had that power. "What's he said to Erba?"
"I'm not sure but Henri is too angry to tell me. I fear this could cause a huge complication."
"In what?" Stephan asked.
Richard ran his hands through his hair roughly and let out a frustrated growl. "In everything. In life."
Stephan slid down from the bed and walked up to Richard, putting his arms round the man. "I'm sorry."
Richard looked down at the grey eyes and let out a soft sigh. "No need for you to apologies. I just don't trust Sebastian."
"Nor do I," Stephan said. "I know I've never been more than a nuisance to my father, which is why I've always been kept here, but I can still speak to him about it."
Richard ran his hands through Stephan's hair and kissed him before pushing him back to the bed. "That won't be necessary. Your father could cause a potentially worse problem. Your father vies for power and for DeMal to be reinstated with the Church. If we bother him with this, it could pose a threat to my life. DeMal won't be happy with my presence since I belonged to Albert for so long."
"But you took your vows with us," Stephan protested as he allowed Richard to put him into the bed. "They can't possibly hold it against you."
'They can, and they will," Richard said as he slipped down beside his new lover.
Stephan threw his arms round Richard. "I can't let them hurt you."
Richard kissed the side of Stephan's head before putting out the light. "We will deal with that when the time comes. For now I must focus on getting things right with Henri and removing the threat that Roget poses."
"Just be careful," Stephan muttered against Richard' skin. "I can't handle losing one more person that I love."
"I will do my best," Richard vowed. But he wasn't so sure how helpful his best would be when it came down to the end, when his life was at stake.
When Henri arrived at the table the next morning, he realized he was alone with Richard. The absence of Sebastian and Stephan was heavily felt as Henri took his usual seat.
"Sebastian and Stephan have gone into the city."
Henri looked up in slight surprise. "Is that wise with the recent attack?"
"Attack?" Richard asked with a frown.
Henri realized he was not supposed to have mentioned the attacks the Archbishop had mentioned in the meetings. Unsure where to place his loyalty, Henri just shrugged. "I meant the attack on Bertrand, the death."
Richard frowned suspiciously, not quite believing Henri but accepting what he said for the moment. "I'm sure they'll be fine."
Henri felt his insides twist at the thought of Sebastian being in danger. He still felt a white-hot anger towards Richard but some of that dissipated when he realized Richard was the only one who could placate his worries.
"Was Sebastian a Knight, Richard?"
Richard looked up sharply. "What do you mean?"
"I mean before all of this, before he was Father Roget and Father Roget alone. Was he a Knight?"
Richard sighed. "He didn't tell you?"
"He hasn't spoken much about himself," Henri admitted.
"He was a Knight."
"A good one?" Henri pressed.
"If you're fretting about his safety, then let me assure you Sebastian and Stephan, both, can handle their own. I'm certain they will arrive here safely and without injury." Richard kept his tone soft and neutral.
That seemed to calm Henri enough. He knew Richard had lied to him in the past but this was different. Richard, for the most part, was utterly honest. "Thank you," Henri eventually mumbled.
Richard stared down at his plate for a long moment before making a decision. He rose and walked round the table to sit in the empty chair beside Henri. "You care a great deal for Sebastian all of a sudden."
"Father Roget," Henri sneered, "has given me what others will not."
"And that is?" Richard pressed.
"Knowledge. Information. Comfort."
"I've given you none of that?" Richard asked, sounding a bit hurt.
"I thought you had, Richard," Henri said in a wounded tone.
Richard reached out and grabbed Henri's hands, squeezing them tightly. "What changed, Henri? What changed? I thought we were in this together, on the same side, surviving through this."
Henri pulled his hands away. "It was never about that, Richard. It was never about together. You said it yourself, I had to stay alive. Well I've done that and I'm in a safe place and I still don't know why it has to be me." Henri spat the last word and turned his face away. He remembered Sebastian' request from the night before, to make amends with Richard, but it was so hard.
Henri bowed his head in their silence and eventually said, "I saw you and Stephan." He looked up so he could see Richard' eyes. "I saw you in each other's arms. Doing what has been forbidden to us by God, between a man and a man or a man and a woman. You broke the only sacred thing left in our lives, Richard. Our vows to God."
Richard turned white as Henri spoke and eventually lowered his eyes. He had no excuses for what he had done with Stephan except that he believed the comfort couldn't be wrong. And perhaps that there was no God, and if there was, He had long since stopped caring what happened. "I'm sorry, Henri," was all Richard could say.
Henri slammed his fist down on the table, causing them both to jump. "Sorry? That is all you have to say to me? Sorry? I don't want that, Richard. I've never wanted an apology!"
"Then what do you want from me, Henri?" Richard stressed. "How do I make this right?"
"I want answers, Richard! I want reasons for your actions!"
Richard lowered his eyes, knowing he couldn't give the answers Henri so sought. "You are so quick to judge," Richard said softly, "despite the actions between you and Father Roget." Richard dared a look at Henri's eyes.
He expected to find guilt but instead he found a sort of dismal acquiescence. "I know what I did with Sebastian. I admit it and I have my reasons."
"The same sort of reasons you seek from me?" Richard asked.
"Yes," Henri said.
"And what are your reasons, Henri?"
Henri looked directly at Richard' eyes when he said, "God has abandoned us all." With that, Henri rose and stormed off to the library. He knew he wasn't going to get anything more out of Richard and he had to distract his mind until Sebastian arrived back at the Monastery safely.
Hours upon hours passed and dusk was just settling over the land when the sound of horses finally came through the windows. Henri jumped from his place beside the fire and ran to the window. He saw several men dismounting and in the small crowd he finally spotted Sebastian and Stephan.
They were speaking very friendly with the other men so Henri's worry eased. He was immediately calm and when Sebastian called for Richard and Henri to meet the other men, Henri was totally composed.
Sebastian introduced several of the surrounding lands' Cardinals and explained that they would be staying for a short while. They were waiting on word from Laurent about the council to have DeMal reinstated in the Church. All the Cardinals were going to speak at the council but it wasn't safe for them to travel to Rome until Laurent gave word.
During dinner that evening, it seemed more of a gala affair hosted at the house of a Lord rather than at a Monastery. Too much wine was consumed and the conversation was rather crude. Eventually Henri excused himself without looking at Roget and soon after, Richard and Stephan retired for the evening. Richard made sure Stephan was sound asleep before venturing back out into the corridor. He headed towards the library, and just as he rounded the corner, he heard voices.
Richard pressed himself against the wall, keeping to the shadows so his eavesdropping wouldn't be discovered.
"What do you think he means to do?" one voice asked.
"I'm not entirely sure," the second answered.
"I knew he was up to something when he killed Duchamps."
There was a long pause before the other man spoke. "Do you know of his plans?" The tone as accusatory and suspicious.
Another long pause before, "I do. Listen, Epine, I know you've sided with Pleutnoir before…"
"And I do so now," the man identified as Epine said. "Please, Voulet, tell me what this is about."
When Voulet spoke again, his voice was very hushed. "All I know is that DeMal and Pope Cornelius won't leave Rome alive."
Epine gasped. "Why? For what purpose?"
"The plan, so far as I know it, is to vote Pleutnoir into the papacy."
"How is that going to be possible?" Epine demanded.
"Think clearly," Voulet said angrily. "Why do you think all of us have been summoned to this council? There is a plan to promote Pleutnoir to Cardinal. When Cornelius dies, there will be a vote and we will decide who becomes the next Pope. I'm sure you can guess whom that is going to be."
"And what is in it for Roget?"
"I can only guess," Voulet said.
"What is your guess, then?" Epine pressed.
"I suspect Pleutnoir has offered Roget freedom."
"From the Church?"
"From the Church," Voulet confirmed.
Richard had heard enough. Panic flooding through him, he dashed back to his chambers and shut the door. Careful not to wake Stephan, Richard went straight to his desk and penned a letter. He knew he wouldn't be able to send it straight away, but if the plan he was forming in his head was going to work, he had a bit of time.
Three weeks passed before the Cardinals departed from the Monastery. Two days after they had gone, one of the ageing servants had fallen ill and passed away. This annoyed Sebastian to no end who immediately called for Richard.
"LeBonne, I want you to go into the village and summon a man called Williams. Tell him we are in need of a new housemaid. He'll supply you with the servant we need."
"Anything else?" Richard asked with a secret smile.
"One thing, hold the funeral for the old woman. I can't be bothered."
"As you wish it," Richard said. He took his leave and departed for the village.
It was a long ride, but by afternoon Richard had made it to the Williams house. He was immediately brought inside by a tall, redheaded man with a pleasant smile.
"What can I help you with?" Williams asked.
"Water for my horse," Richard said in a monotone voice.
"It's nearly dusk," Williams answered back.
Richard let out a breath of relief. Both he and Bernard had spoken the code for the Order. "Marion sent word to you?"
"She did," Williams said. He extended his hand. "I'm Bernard Williams."
"Marion spoke about you. She said you could help me. I had no idea Roget would send me directly to you. Does he have any idea?"
Bernard shook his head. "I joined the Order long after he left. Marion never fully trusted him with every member of the Order."
"I see," Richard said.
"Marion said you'd be needing to meet with a few of us," Bernard said as he led Richard through a small door.
"Yes, I've discovered very disconcerting news," Richard said. As he passed through the door, his eyes fell on some familiar faces.
The young woman sitting with her leg propped up on the table was Nadia Talliaver. She and Richard had worked together when they were quite young and Richard was more than happy to see she had escaped the extermination of the Knights. Next to her was a very tall man called Bonroi. Next to him was a brown-haired woman and a young redheaded man who looked to be the son of Bernard.
"Richard!" Talliaver said, rising immediately. "I can't believe you're really here. When Marion said you were on your way I was certain she was wrong."
Richard embraced his old friend. "I am here, though I come under terrible circumstances."
"She said you would be the bearer of bad news," Bonroi said. "We mustn't waste time. What have you discovered?"
Richard sat and accepted the tea Arthur's wife had made for him. "I believe I've discovered Sebastian Roget's plans."
Talliaver frowned. "We already know his plans. Bring down DeMal with the help of the Grail."
Richard bowed his head. "There are plans inside of his plans, I'm afraid."
"What do you mean?" Bonroi pressed.
Richard then explained the conversation he'd overheard. "I wasn't sure if I could believe them when they said he'd killed Albert…"
"Well that is completely fact," Talliaver piped up.
Richard looked at her sharply. "What do you mean?"
"I was there," Talliaver said simply. "Bonroi and I were both there. We were in the room above Albert' parlor when Sebastian and that young Pleutnoir boy paid Albert a visit. We were told to keep in the room until Albert gave us the signal."
Richard leant forward, his eyes intense. "What exactly happened? Spare no detail."
Talliaver took a large breath. "Well, it was hard to hear much of what they were saying but it appeared that Albert and Sebastian were having a small argument. Pleutnoir then offered Albert a drink and about ten minutes later, Albert became extremely lethargic. Bonroi and I both worried that there was poison in the drink but before we could take any action, Roget grabbed the boy by the wrist and shouted, 'Now is your time.' The boy was shaking and he reached for his sword but didn't draw it."
Richard, who was listening intently, felt his body grow ice-cold. He loved Stephan. It was almost too much and he wasn't sure if he could hear the rest. But he knew he had to. "Go on," he choked out.
"Well," Talliaver said with another breath, "the boy kept shaking his head and Roget shouted, 'Do you willingly disobey your father?' The boy didn't say anything. There was this moment of extreme stillness and I was certain for a moment that Roget was going to leave. Then suddenly, Roget grabbed the boy's sword from the sheath and gutted Albert. Bonroi and I scrambled from the room but by that time Roget and the boy had gone."
Richard swallowed thickly. "Stephan poisoned Albert and then Roget finished him off," he said softly.
"It wasn't poison," Talliaver said. "It was a sedative of some sort. Likely something Roget concocted. I think it was meant to subdue Albert so he couldn't fight back."
Richard put his shaking hands over his face. "This is only going to get worse."
"Do you have the Grail?" Arthur asked suddenly.
"Yes," Richard said, "but it isn't safe."
All eyes were immediately on Richard. "What do you mean it isn't safe?" Bonroi bellowed. "That was your job and yours alone."
"I'm afraid Roget has compromised the Grail."
"How?" Bonroi hissed.
"By destroying his faith in God," Richard said numbly.
The entire room erupted. Talliaver let out a gasp, Arthur shouted, "No!" and Bonroi smashed his fist onto the table. Mary, Bernard's wife, was immediately on her feet to calm everyone down. "There must be more to the plan, calm down!" she shouted.
Everyone took a few deep breaths. "We have one choice and it's not going to be an easy one," Richard said.
"What is your plan?" Talliaver asked.
"Roget has sent me here to bring back a servant. We must use this to our advantage."
"And do what?" Bonroi demanded.
"Bring the Grail back to safety. We'll have to find another way to get to DeMal," Richard said. "If we don't secure the Grail here, all hope is lost."
During the time Richard was gone, Henri was in Sebastian' company. They weren't speaking much, but the shared looks spoke a thousand words between them. Henri's darkness was still there, still ever pressing on his soul, but now there was something else. There was Sebastian and a promise of happiness.
It was near dusk by the time Richard arrived and Sebastian brought Henri with him to meet him outside. Richard arrived on a horse accompanied by two young peasants, one female with brown hair and another male with fiery red hair.
Roget looked a bit annoyed and crossed his arms. "I asked for one servant," he snapped as Richard dismounted the horse and walked up to face Sebastian.
"Bernard's son is in need of work and he's offered him to us for grounds keeping."
"The grounds are well kept enough," Sebastian said, eyeing the boy suspiciously.
"We can send him back but he is in need of work. How will it look of the Monastery doesn't provide for the poor."
Sebastian rolled his eyes. "So long as I am not disturbed," he eventually acquiesced. "Take them to the servants' quarters and I will see you in the morning. Henri," he snapped at the last moment, "come with me."
Henri sent Richard a smoldering look before following Sebastian back inside. Once they reached the safety of Sebastian' chambers, Sebastian took Henri into his arms. "Did you speak with Richard?"
"I did my best," Henri muttered against Sebastian's chest. "It's still difficult."
"It will get easier. I want you to keep trying."
"I will," Henri promised.
Sebastian lifted Henri's face and planted a soft kiss on Henri's mouth. "Would you like to sleep in my bed tonight? Now that the other Cardinals have gone I believe it's safe."
Henri couldn't help but beam up at Sebastian. They shared in a long, languid kiss before slowly stripping off their robes and climbing beneath the covers. Sebastian' body was so warm, his fingers so giving that night as he brought Henri to climax. When it was over, Henri finally gave what he had been given and reveled in the loss of control Roget suffered. It wasn't often Roget gave into such pleasures and Henri savored it.
When it had grown completely dark, Sebastian put the lamps out and drew Henri close to him. He pressed a kiss to the top of Henri's head and whispered, "It shall be the two of us at the end of it all Henri."
So sleepy, Henri didn't respond but he let the words wash over him as though they were his new gospel.
Another fortnight passed before Richard knew it was safe to carry out his plan. He was torn because he was afraid to leave Stephan to Sebastian, yet he knew he had no other choice. No other feeling, no other desire was to get in the way of his mission. He had vowed to protect the Grail and this was the only way he could.
Speaking with Sabine and Remy, Richard set the plan into action. He knew Henri had been spending his nights with Sebastian, so his plan was a surprise attack. Earlier that night, Richard had slipped a sedative into Stephan's drink and before long he was completely asleep.
When he was certain Roget and Henri were both slumbering, he crept into Roget's chambers with Ron and Hermione at his heel. Sword at the ready, Richard crept round the bed, brought up the weapon and smashed the hilt down, hard, over Sebastian' head. There was a crack when the metal broke the skin, hitting the bone. Sebastian was alive but knocked out.
The commotion immediately woke Henri who sat up and gave immediate struggle. Remy was able to hold Henri down just long enough for Sabine to empty a bottle of liquid over a flannel and press it to Henri's face. Within moments the young man was unconscious.
The two, slightly tired members of the Order turned to Richard. "Now what?"
"Now, we bring him to safety," Richard said. Hauling Henri over his shoulder, the three Order members and their captive made their getaway on the Monastery horses.
It was completely dark when he woke, and for a moment he remembered nothing of who he was or where he had been. His head was throbbing and spinning and his stomach was queasy at best. Henri tried to reach up but found his hands were bound and it was then he realized that his mouth was gagged as well.
Struggling, Henri noticed that his legs were also bound and that he was lying on a soft bed. The air in the room was cool, signaling that it was either deep night or that he was being kept somewhere beneath the ground.
Henri tried to turn his head and he noticed a thin stream of light coming from somewhere. He arched his body as hard as he could, rolling to the side, and with a thud, he landed on the floor. Henri managed to sit up a little and he began to struggle against the ropes binding his hands.
He wasn't at it for long before the door to the room opened slowly and a dark figure walked in. Henri's eyes flinched against the sudden light and as they swam into focus, he could barely make out a familiar face.
Henri spat curses at Richard through the cloth in his mouth and he desperately wished he had a weapon near him. Richard knelt down and stared at Henri.
"You gave me no choice, Henri," Richard said. "I could not allow Sebastian' hold on you to cloud your mind."
"My mind?" Henri spat, or tried to spit, against the gag.
Richard sighed. "Will you promise to keep your voice low if I remove the gag?"
A man of his word, Henri nodded. Richard reached out and untied the gag, pulling it out slowly. Henri spat on the ground, still sitting only half-way up on the floor. "Where am I?" he asked. His voice was hoarse and his head was still spinning.
"You're in one of the strong holds for the remaining Order members," Richard said. "We've gathered together because the time has come.
"What time has come?" Henri demanded. He began to struggle again. "Why did you take me away from him? How could he have possibly clouded my reason more than you have, LeBonne?"
Richard winced. "There is so much to be understood, Henri. So much. But for now you must trust me."
"I will never trust you," Henri hissed.
"So be it," Richard said and bowed his head. Reaching out, he hoisted Henri back onto the bed. Walking out into the corridor, Richard brought a torch and hung it on the wall. "I will be back in a while."
Henri said nothing, determinedly looking away as Richard left. When he was gone, Henri curled up into a ball and began to work at the bindings on his feet. In only moments, he was free and he jumped up from the bed. There was nothing in the room save for the bed and the torch so he only had the one choice.
Gritting his teeth, determined not to cry out, Henri held his hands up over the flames. It burned but he didn't cry out and a few moments later, his hands were free. He shook them, trying to get rid of some of the pain.
He walked to the door, tugging on it, and was surprised to find it wasn't locked. "Fool," Henri muttered. He opened it the barest of cracks and saw a lone guard standing beside the door. Beyond the guard was a long corridor that curved round a bend.
Henri was still weak and weaponless, but if he took the guard by surprise, he could escape. Using every bit of training he'd ever been given, Henri opened the door and stepped out without a sound.
Unaware, the guard was not looking in Henri's direction. Henri took one, two, three steps forward, grabbed the guard by the shoulders and with a firm twist of his head, broke the guard's neck.
Henri caught the man before he hit the ground and soundlessly lowered the body to the floor. It was the first time Henri had ever killed anything. He felt a strange, sick feeling in the pit of his stomach.
Self-preservation, a will to live. It was what Sebastian wanted from him. Henri carefully stripped the guard of all weapons, took the guard's cloak and then padded quietly down the corridor. The curve in the path led to a stone stairway, and as Henri made his way up, he started to hear hushed voices.
He made it to a thick wooden door at the top, and a soft yellow glow filtered through the crack near the floor. Henri opened the door just a fraction and pressed his ear to it. He recognized the voice of Richard but no others.
"... another week or so," Richard was saying.
"A week?" came the sound of an aged woman.
"It's the best I can hope for," Richard said with a sigh. "It might take longer."
"We likely don't have longer," came another, younger sounding woman's voice. "Don't you think he knows where we're keeping the Grail?"
"Yes," Richard said, sounding resigned. "Yes, he likely does. He's been privy to all the same information I have been in the past. But the Grail has been compromised, as you all know, and I'm not sure if I can get him back."
"I will kill Roget," another man's voice said, "for destroying our cause so."
"He was never really working for us," Richard said. "He was in it for himself."
"That shouldn't surprise anyone," said the older woman. "I never trusted him."
"I think only Albert ever did," Richard replied. "But that's not the problem here. The problem is getting Henri back. He's our only hope."
"Does it feel wrong to you?" asked the younger woman suddenly. "We're putting all our faith in this boy who doesn't even know what he is. And imagine now how he will react when he learns that he's the warrior descended from Christ. I can't imagine he will be friendly to our cause after that."
"We need to make him see that it's not just our cause; it's his cause. He was born for that purpose and that purpose alone!" came the man's angry voice.
"Calm yourself, Bonroi," Richard snapped. "I told Albert long ago that Henri should know, but he disagreed. I don't know why, but I followed his orders to keep Henri in the dark. That has only brought us more complication and I have to figure out how to fix it."
Henri pulled away from the door and sank to his knees. It was him. He was this weapon. He was the Grail. And everyone had known. Even Sebastian had known. Sebastian had tried to tell him, although cryptically. And Sebastian didn't believe in him the way the Order did. Sebastian did not think him anything more than a man.
Or did he? Henri was now quite unsure what to believe about anyone, including himself.
Looking down at his hands, Henri saw the blood pulsing in his veins. It was red, just like anyone else's, wasn't it? Wasn't it?
Without thinking, Henri pulled out the stolen sword and drew it across his palm. He hissed as the blood spilt, deep red like any man. Sebastian' words came back to him then as well. Jesus was nothing more than a man. Just a man who had been given this great myth.
Henri closed his fist round the wound, put the sword away and put his ear back to the door. There was silence now and Henri was certain they had gone. Henri had only thing on his mind; get to Sebastian. He had no idea exactly where he was or how far away from the Monastery, but Henri had to get back to Sebastian. To the only man who would give him answers. He now knew the right questions to ask to retrieve the knowledge he sought.
Henri pushed the door open and crept out into a stone corridor. Just ahead lay a door and when he stepped through it, he was outside. He heard horses and before long, he was atop one, riding off into the night.
Henri was further away than any of the order imagined when Richard' cry rang out, "He's gone!"
A village nearby to where he'd been kept gave Henri direction and he was half-surprised to find he was but a day's ride from the Monastery. It was dusk when he finally dismounted from the horse and strode up the familiar pass.
There had been no guard to let him in and the gate was open. Henri was put off by that and wasn't sure what it meant so he drew his sword and entered with caution.
It was quiet. Everything was still in its place and when Henri approached Sebastian' door, he saw a light and heard the hushed voices of Sebastian and Stephan. Henri stopped, his heart clenching painfully with the realization of who he was, what he was, and what secrets had been kept. He felt angry, so angry, and lost.
Putting his hand to the door, Henri pushed it open and entered, weapon still drawn. Sebastian was immediately on his feet, his robes falling around him. His face was drawn and haggard and his hands trembled as he raised them.
"Are you alone?" he hissed.
Henri gave one slow nod. "I do not know for how long, Sebastian. I escaped but they will have likely found me out soon after I'd gone."
"Stephan, ready the guards," Sebastian said.
Stephan stood and fixed Henri with pleading grey eyes. "Where is Richard?"
"Soon to follow, I'm sure," Henri said.
Stephan bowed his head. "It was all lies, wasn't it?"
"I cannot answer that for you," Henri said.
Stephan hurried out and shut the door. Sebastian bolted the latch firmly and then turned on Henri. "What happened?" he demanded.
"I do not know. The last thing I remember is going to bed. I woke up gagged and bound in a cell somewhere north, just a day's ride from here." Henri's voice sounded so much stronger than he felt right then.
Sebastian looked at him carefully and then said, "You know."
Henri gave another slow nod. "I overheard them talking."
"What are you here to do, Henri? Kill me?" The question was very open, very honest.
Henri's eyes widened. "Kill you?"
"Did they not tell you of my plans to use you, the Holy Grail?" Sebastian asked.
Henri felt shock course through him. "You? Use me?"
Sebastian nodded. He walked to his cabinet and fetched two goblets of wine. He handed one to Henri and said, "I was going to use you, Henri, to further my own ends."
"Why?" Henri whispered.
"Self preservation," Sebastian said.
"Was everything you said to me a lie?" Henri asked.
"No," Sebastian replied simply.
Henri dropped the goblet to the floor and watched the wine spill out. "You said the moment you saw me, you wanted me. I thought you meant me, not the Grail."
"I did," Sebastian said. He crossed the room and took Henri's hands in his. Henri hissed when Sebastian' skin touched his wound and Sebastian looked down at it. "I plan to use your status as the Grail to strike fear into the hearts of those I wish to destroy, Henri," Sebastian said in a low voice. "I wish to buy us freedom. Freedom for myself and freedom for you if you choose it."
Henri looked into Sebastian' black eyes. "How?" he whispered.
"I will explain my plans to you in full, and answer any questions you have for me, Henri. But you must agree to come with me." Sebastian dropped Henri's hands and went to his writing desk, picking up a scroll. "I've been summoned to Rome and I wish to leave now, before the Order arrives. We shall do battle with them if we must, but I would prefer to save the battle for the Holy City."
Henri looked at the scroll. "Freedom," he repeated to himself. "What about Stephan?"
"I think, Henri, that Stephan was never meant to survive this. I think he knows it."
"Whoever is not for us, is against us," Sebastian said.
Henri nodded with understanding. "How long until we are ready do go?"
"This very moment," Sebastian said. He held his hand out to Henri who took it. Sebastian pulled the younger man close and looked down into his troubled eyes. He brought his hands to Henri's face, cupping his cheeks with firm fingers and brought his face down to capture Henri's mouth in a firm kiss. "This very moment, Henri, it is you and I against the world."
"Yes," Henri murmured. "Yes."
Sebastian pressed a kiss to each of Henri's eyelids and whispered. "Peace be with you, Henri."
Henri let out a slow breath and whispered back, "Peace be with you."
They had been in the carriage for hours before Henri woke. He was exhausted and as soon as they started down the path, Sebastian pressed Henri's head down into his lap and the younger man dozed off.
When he woke, the night was deep and it was quite cold. Sebastian had wrapped a large blanket round them both and he was absentmindedly stroking Henri's hair. Henri gave a yawn, sat up and rubbed at his eyes.
"How long did I sleep?"
"A few hours," Sebastian said. "Dawn will be nearing."
"Were we followed?" Henri asked.
"No," Sebastian said. "I do not think they can catch us up. I have left no evidence that you and I are traveling to Rome and they would not suspect I would dare bring you into the lion's den, as it were."
Henri nodded. "Good."
"Would you prefer to ask me questions first, or shall I explain to you my plans?"
"Your plans, I think," Henri said, wrapping his arms round himself. He felt vulnerable, confused and slightly frightened.
Sebastian looked at Henri for some time before he began. "DeMal is a powerful man, and he is a smart man, but his quest for power blinds him. It eclipses the little dangers and I intend to use those to my advantage. DeMal would never dream his most loyal would turn on him. He expects it from some, but not from me, and not from Laurent."
Henri's eyes widened a fraction. "Laurent?"
"The same," Sebastian said shortly.
"How did you get Laurent to work against DeMal?" Henri asked. "What would persuade him?"
"Have you no clue?" Sebastian asked. "Have you not known Laurent long enough to see what is behind every action?"
"Power," Henri said. "But how would it work in his favor, going against DeMal?"
Sebastian gave Henri a hard look. "Is it not clear to you, Henri?"
Henri shook his head. "I'm sorry, but no."
"Do you think, Henri, that any Cardinal has ever been elected Pope for reasons of faith?"
"Once I thought so, but not any longer," Henri said.
"It is deeply rooted in political gain," Sebastian said. "Alliances, favors, treaties, betrayal. Laurent would not work for anyone that did not offer him the highest power available."
"He's only an Archbishop," Henri said.
"He has been promoted," Sebastian said. "It is safe to come to Rome now, for he is a Cardinal."
"Cardinal," Henri repeated slowly and it dawned on him. "You don't plan to help DeMal into the Papacy, do you?"
Sebastian grinned almost triumphantly and it was a frightening grin. "You are catching on."
"You plan to vote in Laurent!"
"I do not have a vote," Sebastian said. "But I have allies deeper than DeMal imagined. Laurent will become Pope when Cornelius dies."
"When will that be?"
"I suspect not too long after we reach Rome," Sebastian said.
"Are you using me to kill him?" Henri asked.
"No," Sebastian said simply.
Henri looked down at his wounded hand which Sebastian had, apparently, mended and dressed while Henri slept. "I killed a man to escape," he whispered. "The guard. I broke his neck, stole his weapons and escaped."
"How do you feel?" Sebastian asked.
"Much the same as before," Henri confessed. "Only slightly horrified that it did not affect me as I thought it should."
"Does that disgust you?" Henri asked.
"I have killed," Sebastian said. He looked out the window and then said, "Once you asked me if I killed Duchamps and I told you no. That was not, strictly, the truth."
Henri looked at Sebastian sharply. "Tell me."
"Duchamps was dying," Sebastian said. "Stephan had been ordered to kill him and Duchamps knew this. He wished to die by the sword, but he did not want Stephan to live as a murderer. I think at this point it does not matter to Stephan, but at the time I also sought to protect him if I could. So I did."
Henri let out a breath. "And me? Would you have me kill again?"
"One man," Sebastian said.
"DeMal," Henri answered.
"Why me? Is it because of this supposed blood running through my veins?"
Sebastian sighed and said, "Every tome documenting your bloodline has been destroyed. I have put them all into the fire and watched each page burn."
"Why?" Henri asked.
"Because the blood dies with you. The answers will die with you, Henri, as they should. You may carry a speck of the ancient blood in your veins, but that blood is nothing more than mine."
"So why me? Why must I kill DeMal?" Henri asked.
"Because of his fear," Sebastian said. "DeMal has never lost his faith, Henri. He has been corrupted by the power his faith can offer, but he has never lost it. If he were to be faced with the man who was descended from Jesus Christ, he would crumble. He will act brave, Henri, and he will try to kill you, but in the end his fear and his faith will bring him down."
"Is that why you sought to destroy mine?" Henri asked.
"I did not seek to destroy it," Sebastian said. "I desired to bring you to a place that I had found. The truth. The self. What matters."
"Are you so certain of this, Sebastian?" Henri asked.
Sebastian nodded once, very slowly. "More than I ever have about anything. And it is this certainty, Henri, that will save us in the end."
He faced the tawny-haired man with his sword drawn, no hope of making it out of the battle alive. He saw the pain flare in those amber eyes, the pain that so matched his own.
"Just tell me where they've gone. There is no need for this, Stephan," Richard said.
Stephan's sword didn't drop. "My vows are not made to you, Knight."
Richard winced. "I've always known that, Stephan. Dear Stephan."
"I should cut out your tongue for the way you speak my name," Stephan growled, taking a step towards Richard.
"Do not make me do this," Richard begged. "Stephan!"
Stephan took another step. "I never had a choice, Richard. My fate was sealed long ago." Stephan lunged at Richard and the Knight had no other choice but to plunge his sword deep into the young monk's body.
Stephan crumpled with a small cry, the sword falling from his hands and clattering on the ground. Richard gave a roar of anguish as he caught Stephan in his arms and carefully lowered him to the ground.
Blood poured over Richard' hands as he held onto the boy and looked into the fading eyes. "I die with you, Stephan. My soul dies with you."
"You..." Stephan gasped, "never had... one."
"The city approaches, Father," came the voice of the driver. It jarred Henri wide awake. Henri had been dozing again on their long journey. He hadn't slept well since they'd left the Monastery and found he slumbered most peacefully when they were on the road.
Henri tried to stifle a yawn as he cracked open the curtains and peered out at the city he had heard so much about but had not yet seen. The road was quite well traveled and there were several carriages ahead of theirs.
"Does Laurent know I had been taken?" Henri asked, still looking out the window.
"No," Sebastian said. "I had a letter written but I was hoping to acquire you myself before I had to tell him."
"I see," Henri said. "And Stephan? Where is he?"
"He chose to say back at the Monastery, claiming to protect our whereabouts. I believe he has stayed back there to die. He had lost faith, Henri, not only in God, but in the world, and in himself."
Henri sighed and looked down at his feet. "Do you believe in Jesus, Sebastian?"
"How do you mean?" Sebastian asked.
"Do you believe he existed? What do you make of this man that I supposedly share blood with? Do you see him in me?"
"I cannot know if I see him in you, Henri," Sebastian said slowly, "for I have no idea what he might have been like. Do I believe he existed? Yes, I do. The evidence of such a man is overwhelming. Do I believe in the divinity of his nature? No. I believe he was a fanatical Jew, like so many before and after him, who were awaiting a miracle from God to save their people from oppression. I believe he died with that Biblical cry, 'My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me,' because he knew at that moment, he had failed."
Henri took it all in. "Just a man," Henri whispered.
Sebastian reached across the carriage and pulled Henri into the seat next to him. He brushed Henri's hair back almost roughly and kissed him. "Just a man, and no warrior. Nothing more than a teacher and lover." Sebastian' voice dropped at the word lover and he kissed Henri again. "A husband and a father, and the only reason I have to revere him is that his blood line brought me you."
Henri clung to the front of Sebastian' robes almost desperately and said, "Nothing more, Sebastian? You think him nothing more?"
Sebastian stroked his fingers over Henri's face a moment before whispering, "I know him to be nothing more."
"Have you heard the news?" The newly named Cardinal Pleutnoir was immediately at the carriage door when Sebastian and Henri arrived. He was all a flourish in his new, blood-red and gold clothing, his hair a stark-white contrast to his robes. "The news has just arrived."
"What news?" Sebastian inquired. He followed along next to Laurent with Henri trailing behind.
"The Monastery was attacked by what remained of the Knights of the Order Templar," Laurent drawled. They walked inside and down a long, tiled corridor. "My son was killed. His body is being tended to and shall be buried at the Monastery."
Sebastian paused only a second in his step and his face showed no emotion. "I am sorry for your loss."
"It was half-expected," Laurent said. "And perhaps for the best as it would not do for the world to know that I had produced a son."
Henri flinched at those cold words. His father had died for him and all Stephan had received from his was a mild thanks for not spilling the Cardinal's dirty secret. Henri followed along until he was separated from Sebastian. Laurent told Henri he was to be again employed as scribe but for now to retire to his quarters.
The Monastery in Rome was much more lavish than any other in the world. Gold and silver adorned every wall and door. His rooms were large and rich with a four poster bed and a private bath. Servants attended to his every need and he was brought food much richer than he was used to.
It was well past dusk when he was finally sent for. He was clothed in robes, still novice white, but thick and soft. His slippered feet made no sound as he was led into a huge drawing room. Several Cardinals sat round Laurent and they were speaking in hushed tones. Laurent indicated a spot at a low, wooden table for Henri to sit.
Henri made his way across the room and caught a glimpse of Sebastian sitting there, now clothed in white and gold priestly robes. Henri felt a strange sense of desire welling up inside of him and he had to look away. He sat down at the table, took up the quill and ink and waited for the meetings to start.
Nothing new came about in the meetings. If anyone else knew about the sudden appearance of the Order Knights, the topic was not approached. The Pope was in ill health and did not seem to be getting better. There was an air of excitement as the Cardinals discussed nominations and as Henri wrote, he had a feeling they were speaking in code.
When the meeting ended, Henri was ordered to Sebastian' quarters to take care of some final business. A servant led Henri back down the corridor and Henri found that Sebastian' quarters were attached to his by a slim door in the very corner of the room.
Sebastian was not yet there, but there was food and wine. Henri helped himself to a goblet, trying to calm his nerves before Sebastian arrived. It wasn't long before the dark-haired man came in, still clothed in the white and gold. He looked as though he belonged in a painting, the way the robes floated about him as he crossed the room and helped himself to a drink.
When he rounded on Henri, Henri could see desire in Sebastian' black eyes. "When is the vote to take place?" Henri asked.
"The moment Cornelius dies," Sebastian said. He sat down opposite Henri. "I am to conduct mass until Cornelius perishes. DeMal knows of my presence here but Laurent has not yet informed him of yours. You are to be a surprise attack."
Henri nodded. "With the Papacy at stake, I see why."
"I'm glad you are understanding," Sebastian said.
"I never asked what you'll gain in this, Sebastian," Henri said quietly. "What sort of power do you desire?"
"Not power," Sebastian said, "unless you wish to call freedom from the Church power."
"Freedom from the Church?" Henri asked.
"I took my vows by force and I owe nothing to God," Sebastian said bitterly. "I wish to be excommunicated."
"That would have been easily done without all of this," Henri said with wide eyes.
"It would have been easy to be executed," Sebastian corrected. "They would not let me live with the information I held, Henri. Do you not see that?"
"Yes, I do," Henri said with understanding. "Helping Laurent to power secures your life."
"And yours," Sebastian said. "You see, I've managed to convince Laurent that the Grail has perished a generation ago. I've convinced him that Duchamps merely wanted DeMal to believe that it was an Erba, to throw him off and keep him terrified. Laurent plans to use that to his advantage when DeMal arrives in Rome."
"When will DeMal arrive?" Henri asked quietly.
"When Cornelius is gone. Cornelius is being fed a slow-acting poison, Henri, and its work is nearly complete. Cornelius will be dead within a fortnight and then we must act. DeMal must be killed and Laurent will be voted into the Papacy without contest. You and I will be given a large sum of money and we will leave Rome for good."
Henri looked at his feet. "What if I die?"
Sebastian frowned. "What do you mean?"
"Will you miss me?"
Sebastian stood up, approached Henri and dropped to his knees to look Henri in the eyes. "Should you die, so will all my hopes of happiness. I will go on, however."
Henri nodded. "Do you think I will live to see the end of these plans?"
"If I can help it, yes," Sebastian said firmly.
"Would you die for me, Sebastian?" Henri asked quietly.
"No," Sebastian said.
That was painful to hear but suddenly Sebastian was kissing him and touching him and holding him. Sebastian was lifting him to his feet and pressing their bodies together and Henri couldn't think of anything else except having all of Sebastian right then. Sebastian pulled Henri with him bodily as he moved to bolt the door and then Sebastian began to pull of Henri's robes.
Henri was led to the bath which was still blessedly hot and before he could form a coherent thought, they were in the water with Sebastian' body pressing him against the cold tiles.
Henri gasped at the contact as Sebastian reached between them and touched him there. The ultimate sin, a voice in the back of Henri's mind said, but Henri didn't care. No, Henri cared, but he wanted it. Desperately. That was apparent as he clung to Sebastian in a way he had never clung to anything in his life, not even his faith.
Sebastian took full advantage of this. He did not give Henri immediate satisfaction. Instead he washed Henri and himself languidly, pausing every now and again to kiss or bite down on a sensitive spot. He poured the warm water over Henri's head and then dipped himself under for a moment before emerging, soaked and his eyes dark with wanting.
Sebastian pulled himself out of the bath and made a show of drying off. He didn't dress, but he extended a hand to help Henri from the bath. He took his time drying the younger man, kissing him in every place as he went over Henri's damp skin with a towel. When he finished, Sebastian pulled Henri up and slowly led him to the bed.
Henri fell down onto his hands and knees without protest and only gave a short, muffled cry into the pillow when Sebastian entered him. The pain was soon eclipsed by pleasure as Sebastian rode him hard and fast and before long Henri was crying Sebastian' name to God, crying it to himself, as he came.
Sebastian finished not long after and he carefully pulled himself off of the younger man. Sitting up, Sebastian fetched a cloth to wipe away some of the mess and then he pushed Henri back into the bed with a kiss.
"This is but a taste of our forever," Sebastian whispered as he put out the lamps. "Just one of many reasons we must survive Henri. Do you understand it now?"
Henri nodded, his head resting on Sebastian' chest. "I understand that better than I've ever understood anything."
And it was true. He understood now, the intense, beautiful comfort that was Sebastian' body as Sebastian encircled Henri. The night wore on and for the first time in a long time, Henri really slept.
It was a form of torture, Henri realized as he sat in mass. Sebastian at the pulpit was an enticing sight, the sound of Latin flowing form his lips was erotic in the worst ways. Henri could barely contain himself as he approached Sebastian to receive holy communion. The whispered words flowed over Henri's body and brought back images of their nightly activities.
Sitting and watching Sebastian conduct mass was a beautiful thing. He was elegant and if Henri hadn't known the darkness that lay within Sebastian, he would have thought him a truly holy man.
He was a holy man, in a much different way, when his passionate kisses and deep thrusts nearly brought Harry to tears each night and Henri could not have wished for anything more.
And then, just as Sebastian predicted, Cornelius was pronounced dead a fortnight after their arrival in Rome. The bells rang out for the fallen Pope and there was an immediate council called. Laurent knew he had to delay and wait for the arrival of DeMal and that was accomplished with the help of his allies.
Henri was on edge. He knew what was to come; he was to kill again, for the sake of his own life and his own peace with Sebastian. He could see Sebastian and Laurent whispering in the corridors together and Henri knew they were talking of both their plans and Henri's involvement.
Laurent never spoke to Henri about such things but often he gave Henri knowing looks. Henri wondered if he should come out to Laurent and ask, but he didn't dare.
"The Order are on their way to Rome," Sebastian said one night as he and Henri dined alone in his quarters. Sebastian took a sip of his wine as Henri gaped at him. "They hope to intercept DeMal before he enters Rome."
"Will they?" Henri asked.
"They are a day behind him, so it is doubtful," Sebastian said. "It's better that way."
"Yes," Henri said. "They are on some holy crusade and I only wish to bring him down to attain our peace."
Sebastian smiled at him and continued to eat. "It won't be long now. Just days. I'm going to have you start working on your swordsmanship. I've hired a trainer for you and he will push you to your limits. Your life will be on the line each time you fight him."
Henri nodded. He wanted to scream, 'And if I die?' but he knew Sebastian' answer to that. He knew what he had to do, so he succumbed to it with grace and dignity.
Henri killed the man hired to train him in their second session. It wasn't on purpose, but Sebastian hadn't lied when he told Henri that it was not play. Henri ran him through before he realized he'd done it and he spent the rest of the night locked in his chambers.
Only at Sebastian' insistence did he finally open the door and allow the other man to come in. "He knew the risks," Severus said as he force-fed Henri a goblet full of wine.
Henri swallowed down the liquid, tasting only bitterness. "I wanted to reach the end of my life with only two deaths on my head."
"Why?" Sebastian asked.
"I may not believe in things as I used to, Sebastian, but I do not wish to bring about death anymore than I absolutely have to."
Sebastian took a seat across from Henri and looked at him for a long moment. "Several knights we were tracking have disappeared," he said slowly. "It is our belief that they will enter Rome either just before or just after DeMal is dead. There is a good chance, Henri, that you will have to kill some of them. They will not rest your cause until you show them the darkness, or until you kill them all. If they manage to escape, it's possible Laurent will learn the truth of your blood and he's not likely to let you live, no matter how much indebted he is to you."
Henri let out a puff of breath. He had partially expected this, but he hadn't wanted to accept it. "When does DeMal arrive?"
"He sets foot in Rome tonight," Sebastian said. He pushed a plate of food towards Henri. "You will need your wits and your strength about you, Henri." Sebastian reached across the distance and took Henri's hands in his. "After all of this, do not let something so petty as death conquer you now."
Henri slept in his own bed that night, and awoke to a commotion in the corridors. Alarm bells were going off and men were shouting. Henri knew it could only mean one thing, DeMal had arrived and he was attacking.
Bolting from his bed, Harry threw a tunic over his trousers, snapped his sword belt to his waist and brandished his weapon. Barefooted, he rushed out of his room and followed the noise.
Henri could hear swords clanging and he had no idea where Sebastian could be. He followed the sounds of battle until he reached the large drawing room and he burst inside. Expecting to see DeMal and a slew of other men he didn't recognize, Henri was almost knocked back by surprise when he laid eyes on Richard.
Richard froze. There was no battle in this room, the noise was coming from the foyer beyond and he and Richard were the only ones in the room. Richard drew his sword slowly and said, "Henri, please."
"Don't make me do this Richard," Henri begged as he took a step towards the man who had all-but raised him. "Don't make me kill you. Forget about my blood, take your men and leave this city."
"Not without you," Richard said, taking a step forward.
"I am not going with you," Henri said. "I cannot go with you. I belong only to myself, Richard. The blood you believe runs through my veins is the blood of a man, Richard. It is not the blood of a warrior. It is not divine."
"Henri, I have spent nearly my whole life protecting you, and I cannot let this corruption take you!" Richard said.
"I will kill you, Richard." He took a menacing step towards Richard.
"No," Richard said. He lunged at Henri and managed to push him over a low table. Henri crashed into a glass vase which shattered on the floor. Henri landed on the glass pieces which cut deeply into his palms.
He hissed in pain but picked up his sword and held it firmly. He looked Richard in the eye. "You killed Stephan, didn't you?"
Richard bowed his head. "Like you, I do what I must."
"You killed the man you loved for me," Henri said. "I wish I could go back in time and make you see reason, Richard. But I cannot. Don't make me choose between my life and yours."
But the look in Richard' eyes told Henri that Richard was not going to let Henri go. His heart breaking, Henri lunged forward and gutted the other man. Richard grunted and fell to his knees, his hands flying to his opened belly. Blood dribbled from his lips as he looked up at Henri.
Henri kicked Richard in the chest, knocking him to the ground. The light left Richard' eyes as tears fell from Henri's. Henri stood there staring down at Richard' dead body for what felt like an eternity.
The door clanged open moments later, and a beaten but quite alive Sebastian Roget burst in. He was bloody but most of the blood appeared not to be his. His eyes fixed on Henri silently and then on Richard' body.
"Only one escaped," Sebastian said. "A woman named Nadia Talliaver. I am absolutely certain she was the last and she will not breathe a word. She values her life too much."
Henri nodded mutely.
Sebastian walked up to Henri and took him by the shoulders. He saw the blood dripping from Henri's palms. "Is that your only injury?"
"It's superficial," Henri replied, pulling away from Sebastian.
"DeMal is here," Sebastian whispered. "He's with Laurent. The other Cardinals have gone in fear of their lives and the guards with them to protect them. The four of us are alone and we must act."
"DeMal has come without guards?" Henri asked.
"DeMal believes it is God's will that he become Pope," Sebastian said by way of explanation.
Henri shook his head and followed Sebastian out of that room. He desperately wanted to mourn Richard, but now was not the time. Now was the time for action. Now was the time to secure his future.
Henri had a feeling it was going to be rather anti-climactic, which didn't help ease Henri's mind. It would have felt better if Henri had been fighting for his life, not running someone through with his sword without conflict. But he had to.
He followed Sebastian down the corridor until they reached Laurent' chambers. Sebastian opened the doors and stepped aside. A blood-covered Henri Erba walked in and looked directly into the blue eyes of Tomas DeMal.
Henri had never quite known what to expect of this man. He most certainly hadn't expected a very attractive man, face aging gracefully with soft graying, black curls.
DeMal's eyes were wide with shock as he got to his feet. DeMal recognized the Erba blood line in Henri immediately and he turned betrayed eyes onto Laurent. "What is this?" he hissed.
"This is securing the future of Rome and the Holy Church," Laurent said.
DeMal turned to face Henri. "And you?"
"The Holy Grail," Henri said numbly.
DeMal's eyes flickered to Henri's hands where the blood-flow had slowed to a drip. Henri realized then what the wounds looked like and he saw the fear in DeMal's eyes. "My Lord," he gasped. Falling to his knees, DeMal bowed his head low.
Henri looked at Laurent over DeMal's back and the blonde nodded. Swallowing thickly, Henri raised his sword and said, "You die for a myth, Tomas DeMal. Your faith was based on a lie." Before DeMal could look up, Henri brought his sword down hard and DeMal's head was severed from its body.
Henri gave a small gasp as blood splattered him. DeMal's head rolled off to the side and the body slumped forward. Henri fell to his knees and retched violently.
He felt hands lifting him and pulling him away and in the distance he could hear Laurent cry for assistance. Henri was dragged to his quarters, stripped and bathed by firm hands. He didn't dare look up as wine was given to him, fresh robes were put on him and he was shoved into his bed.
The lights immediately went out and although Henri thought sleep would be impossible, as soon as his head hit the pillow, he was gone.
With the sun came Henri's awareness and he sat upright in his bed. He wondered for a moment if it had all been a gruesome nightmare, but the bandages now wrapping his hands told him it had not been.
Henri's stomach gave a violent lurch as he tried to get out of the bed and he had to sit back down.
"The shock will not last long," came Sebastian' voice from the corner of the room.
Henri turned his head and saw Sebastian, clothed in his familiar black robes, sitting in a chair watching him. "Have you been sitting there long?" Henri asked.
"All night," Sebastian said. "You and I have been absolved of all wrong doing. DeMal was declared a madman and it is now known that he employed former Order Knights to make an attempt on Laurent' life in order to gain the Papacy. You, my young, novice monk, are a hero."
Henri wanted to throw up again. "Richard' body?"
"Will be burned," Sebastian said. "I cannot protect it."
Harry sighed and rubbed his face. "You and I?"
"Will be free to leave when the bells chime," Sebastian said, indicating the bells that would sound when the vote was complete and Laurent was named Pope. "I don't expect it will take long."
"No," Henri said.
Sebastian crossed the room and took Henri into his arms. "This pain will pass."
"He didn't give me a choice," Henri said in a hollow voice. "I begged him but he wouldn't let me go."
"I cannot take this pain away," Sebastian said as he pressed Henri to his chest and kissed the top of his head. "We will have sanctuary from the world after this, however. We will have sanctuary and we might never think on it again."
Henri nodded. He saw darkness inside of himself now, that he thought perhaps had always been there. A place of no-faith. A place of self. It was a liberating feeling mingled with the guilt of what he'd done and, as he felt Sebastian' warm, firm arms around him, he thought perhaps he had finally done the right thing.