This sample is a little different from what I usually do. This is part of a new YA series I am writing that is complementary to the Assassin Chronicles. The new series will be titled The Apprentice Diaries and the first book will be called Ars Academia. The POV will be mainly taken from the apprentices in a behind the scenes look at the events covered by the Assassin Chronicles. Projected release date is Mid-October. Enjoy!
The Apprentice Diaries:. Ars Academia
Sample: Chapter One
“Mon cherie! Wait!” the golden-skinned apprentice ran after Christopher as he disappeared down the alley behind the administration building.
Christopher sighed and slumped against the wall. His heart pounded as he waited for his friend to catch up. He had thought to make a clean getaway before anyone noticed him cutting class. If he got caught, the penalty would be severe for the third offense.
The French boy with golden hair that matched his skin and eyes panted to a stop beside him and leaned both hands against the wall, trying to catch his breath.
“What do you want, Muss yur Bloo Cheese,” Christopher asked and gigged the taller boy in the ribs. He dropped his arms too quickly and banged his forehead against the marble wall.
“Ow! Sacre bleu!” he cried and rubbed his forehead. “If Sir Barry finds out you are skipping class, he will flog you with his ugly stick.”
Armand clawed at his friend’s face, but missed.
“He won’t find out unless you tell him,” Christopher hissed. “Now go on back. I need to see Master Ramsay before he leaves.”
“You will be in big trouble when your Master sees you cutting class,” Armand warned. His English was severely accented by his French tongue.
“No I won’t. Master Ramsay didn’t want me to come here in the first place,” Christopher said. “I told you before. He needs me in Scotland. He has work to do there.”
“He doesn’t need you. He is the Knight of Death. Why would he need a scrawny… Yankee like you?”
“Just go on, now! Go!” Christopher frowned and pushed Armand back toward the sidewalk. “And don’t forget to sing out when the Padre calls my name.”
“Padre! You think you are Clint Eastwood, eh?” Armand said, but stepped away from him. “You had better hurry, my friend.”
Christopher waited until he could no longer hear his friend’s footsteps and then sprinted down the alley, stepped onto the top of a waste receptacle without stopping and then cleared the wooden fence and flowering vine with ease. He landed on the other side of the fence almost silently and then straightened up quickly. After checking the front of the building and the drive, he sprinted toward the parking lot where the Knights’ cars were lined up in an impressive array of Beamers, Peuegeots, Audis, Mercedes and Volvos. His Master stood at the rear of a sleek, black Mercedes with the boot open. Christopher smiled and waved when his Master squinted at him in the bright sunlight of sunny southern Italy.
The Chevalier Mark Ramsay smiled slightly and flipped his long, black hair over his shoulder.
“Master!” Christopher shouted. He closed the distance between them quickly and slid to a stop in the pebbled drive in front of him.
“Master! Sir! I thought I had missed you. Sir Barry would not let me out of class early. He’s such an ass at times.”
“Watch your tongue or Sir Barry will having it roasting on a spit,” Mark Andrew admonished him without his normally pronounced Scottish brogue, which indicated that he meant business.
“I’m sorry, Sir, but he knows I wanted to see you off. Are you sure you can’t take me with you? It would only be a few days. I could take my books and study while we travel. And I promise I would stay at the hotel or whatever while you do your… business.”
“I’m afraid it’s not possible, Christopher.” Mark Andrew licked his lips and looked up at the cloudless sky. “You belong here in school,” he said more sternly. “Brother Barry would have my head if I took you away again.”
“But you’re going to America. Please? You could talk to Sir d’Brouchart. It would only be…”
“I said no and that’s final.” Mark closed the boot firmly, brushed him aside and opened the driver’s door. “Now you’d best get yourself back to the classroom before he misses you and you end up in detention. I’ll be back before you know it. We’ll take a little trip together before I go back to Scotland. The Alps or someplace cool,” Mark looked up at the sun again and scowled.
Christopher nodded, but his disappointment was evident. He knew the place would not be cool as in ‘cool’, but cool as in cold. Probably Antarctica to look at penguins or Vladiwhatsitname to see some weird religious artifacts.
“You have a break coming for St. John’s Feast. We’ll go up to the monastery on the Aegean. You’ll like it there. Cool breezes, salt air, mists and sea cliffs. Very peaceful. A good place for contemplative thinking,” Mark continued as he checked his pockets once more, searching for his credit cards this time.
Not even Russia. Even worse. A monastery. Monks and gruel and prayers and chanting. Lots of prayers and chanting.
“I’m sure it sounds very nice, Master, but this is the first real mission that you’ve gone on since I’ve been your apprentice. How can I learn to be like you, if you don’t show me the trade?” Christopher held his breath and looked his Master square in the eyes and made one last plea, risking much. His dark blue eyes sparkled with a daring expression that had gotten him in trouble before.
Mark Andrew’s own blue eyes narrowed sharply and Christopher’s expression changed to one of instant regret. He had gone too far.
“Ye’ll nae be speakin’ loightly o’ such things, Christopher Stewart!” Mark’s face darkened as his brogue asserted itself. “Ye’ll larn t’ crawl before ye can walk and if ye think thot me wark is something t’ be amused aboot, ye’d bettar think again. If ye evar larn t’ be a gud alchemist, which I doubt, then we’ll talk aboot th’ oother.”
“I’m sorry, Master.” Christopher lowered his gaze and his face turned red. It was actually the strongest rebuff he had ever received from the Scot, but then he had never mentioned th’ oother before. Not directly. The Chevalier du Morte suddenly grasped him by the shoulders and he instinctively closed his eyes, fearing the worst, but when he looked up, Mark Andrew kissed him lightly on the lips in the Templar fashion and then ruffled his curly, dark hair playfully.
“Stop being impatient, lad. It’ll be the death of you yet… and me, as well. Now go on back to class and Christopher…” Mark’s tone changed as he shoved him toward the buildings. “Go with God.”
Christopher nodded solemnly, turned on his heel and ran back toward the Academy building where he would no doubt catch hell for being late to his next class.
Armand de Bleu, apprentice in training to James Argonne, Knight of the Throne, looked about the class room nervously. Christopher had not made it back yet, but there was still hope. The old padre in the previous prayer class had not noticed Stewart’s absence. Master Dambretti, the Knight of the Golden Eagle, was late again. Probably still getting his behind chewed out by the Grand Master, Edward d’Brouchart. Armand shuddered every time he thought of the big, red-haired fellow that ran the Order of the Red Cross of Gold with an iron fist. If he ever got summoned to d’Brouchart’s office, he would most likely die of a heart attack. Rumor had it that the congenial Italian Knight had shown up for a meeting earlier in the day soaking wet, smelling of wine and seemingly a bit inebriated. He had also overheard his Master speaking with Sir Champagne in the chowhall earlier about the ‘impertinent Italian’. Armand had no idea why Master Argonne did not like Sir Dambretti, but it stemmed from something that happened long before Armand had been born.
The Knight of the Throne was the Order’s historian and as far as Armand could figure, he’d been around for almost as long as the records he kept. Armand was chomping at the bit to read the Order’s archives. Histories of the Knights of the Council, some of them dating back to the twelfth century. The Crusades, battles and glory! And not only the Crusades, but almost every notable skirmish, war and insurrection that had occurred in Europe and the Middle East right up until the present day. But Argonne had a cruel streak and he knew that his apprentice loved to read and catalog the old records and battle and glory was not in the offing anytime soon. Currently, his Master was engaged in converting the hand-written and typed records to digital archives. The work was tedious, the archives were seemingly endless and the Knight of the Throne did not have the stomach for it. So, he had his apprentice working on the computer after school for four hours every day except Sunday. Armand wouldn’t have minded so much, but the records his Master gave him to convert were boring reports about supplies, casualty lists, maintenance records and accounting balance sheets. The only thing Armand knew after hundreds of hours spent pounding on the keyboard was that the Order of the Red Cross of Gold, Poor Knights of Solomon’s Temple was very, very rich.
Armand’s musings were interrupted by a hissing sound and a billow of smoke rolled into the room from under the door. An alarm bell went off in the hall and the class was quickly evacuated out one of the windows into the yard. The boys milled around in the yard after being counted, speculating about where the fire had started and how long classes would be suspended while repairs were made.
The fire team emerged from the front doors and Sir Barry stepped out on the portico looking extremely angry.
The boys stopped to listen when he whistled to them.
“Classes will resume immediately!” the big Knight boomed at them. “And remember this, young sirs, I will learn who among you perpetrated this… joke and I will have the last say. If you believe yourselves worthy to join the hallowed ranks of this Order, then I expect you to act like Templars not snot-nosed street urchins and molly-coddled brats. Now get back to class before I get my rod and scourged the lot of you!” The schoolmaster turned and went back inside the building, slamming the door behind him. Two seconds later, the door opened again and Sir Barry stomped back outside. He raised one finger toward the heavens.
“And furthermore! If I find out you are allowing that cat to sleep in the barracks, I will have you drawn and quartered and feed your dead carcasses to the buzzards!” At that he repeated his exit as before, leaving the assembly in stunned silence.
No one said anything nor did they look at each other and then they filed inside quietly and made their way quickly back to their classses.
Armand resumed his seat and tried to imagine what Sir Barry was talking about. Joke? Someone had pretended to set the building on fir? Who? Why?
“Psst!” The tiny noise made Armand jump and brought him back to reality. He looked to his left and saw Christopher slide onto the bench beside him, looking out of sorts.
“You are lucky, mon ami!” Armand hissed at him. “There was a fire or something. You missed it.”
“Missed it? I did not! I am the molly-coddled brat,” Chris said indignantly. “And lucky for you, moi sweet, that I got here in time for you to cheat off of.”
Armand’s eyes widened. So it was Christopher who had faked the fire! The American risked much, but he admired his courage.
“I do not cheat, Monsieur! And I am not your sweet,” Armand hissed at him and pretended to be hurt. He had been really worried that Christopher would be found out and punished. “Your French is atrophied.”
“Oh, no?” Christopher objected. “I think you mean atrocious, by the way. I seem to remember that you made a 100% on that Eastern History test and you didn’t study. You said…”
“Whatever. Hush now!” Armand said and pushed two fingers against Christopher’s lips. “Here he is!”
Lucio Dambretti sauntered into the room wearing white pants, brown boots, an open-neck long-sleeved white shirt and a broad grin on his dark face. The long scar that ran from the outer edge of his left eye down his cheek to his jaw line crinkled and gave him a rakish look. The scar was old and though the wound that had caused it must have been horrible, the scar added credibility in the eyes of the would-be soldiers and apprentices attending the most exclusive private school in the world.
“Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen,” he started with his usual joke.
A faded fresco of the Holy Mother and Saint Cecilia adorned the back wall of the classroom and the Italian Knight always included them in his class. Sometimes even addressing comments to them directly or pretending to hear them answer his questions when the students could not.
He assumed a casual slouch behind the podium at the front of the room as the boys quickly stood to attention.
“Carry on, pip pip and all that,” the Knight waved one hand in dismissal and the boys resumed their places on the old, antique benches. The seats were hard and uncomfortable and the writing surfaces were connected to the backs of the benches in front of them.
“Today’s lecture,” the Knight began. “Will be the virtuosity of promptitude.”
A small shudder of laughter rippled through the room as the boys and young men, shifted on the hard benches. Sir Dambretti was by far everyone’s favorite instructor. Sometimes his classes were the only thing that made an otherwise dull day at the Academy bearable. Dambretti had a quick response for every question and a fine sense of humor. Likewise he was eloquent, arrogant and flamboyant at times to the point of creating much trouble for himself and others if they dared side with him from certain members of the Ruling Council, at any rate.
Major MacLaughlin’s hand shot up instantly and then back down again just as rapidly. Dambretti’s smile faded instantly.
“Mr. MacLaughlin? You have a question or a comment? Already?” Dambretti pretended to be upset by the talkative Scot’s eagerness to be recognized. He muttered something under his breath about some saint or another and then nodded.
“Sir!” Major stood up to address the class formally. “I have a question about Brother Anthony.”
Another murmur circulated around the class as everyone agreed that Brother Anthony was a topic of interest to all of them.
“Ahhh,” the instructor pursed his lips and squinted at a spot above the door. “That is a classified subject, Mr. MacLaughlin. Not open for discussion.”
“But, Sir,” Major continued in spite of the answer. “I heard that Sir Ramsay is going to bring him back.”
“Did you now?” Dambretti raised both eyebrows and his face darkened slightly. The Scot’s attitude really needed an adjustment. He was just a little too combative and bold to suit Dambretti’s tastes, but then Major was from Edinburgh. What did they expect? “Listening to rumors is strictly forbidden by the Primitive Rule of Order. Do you wish to continue in this vein?”
Major looked around the room for support. Most of the twelve other students in the room looked away from him. Only Armand de Bleu and Christopher Stewart met his gaze hopefully, silently begging him to continue. This instructor was not given to quoting the Primitive Rule or any other rules. Lucio Dambretti was known as the most tolerant of all the Knights and instructors. He normally answered all their questions and remained open for good jokes.
“Sir, please,” Major lowered his voice and looked down at the desk top in front of him. “Anthony was…”
“Brother Anthony was a good friend of mine. Everyone liked him. We do not wish to have him come to harm. Can you give us no encouragement? Surely, he will return to the fold. There must be some reason…”
“That is enough!” the instructor cut him off. “Now sit down so that we may get on with our lesson, eh?”
Major sat down dejectedly and propped his chin in his hands.
“Let me give you gentlemen some advice,” the instructor moved over to the desk and perched on the edge of it. “A young sheep once had everything going his way. His shepherd loved him and took care of him, fed him, provided him with fresh water and shelter from the storm. The shepherd asked very little other than loyalty from the sheep in return for his affection. The sheep, however, was not happy with his lot in life. One day, the young sheep found a hole in the wall and through it he went. Happily, he ran, free of his shepherd, free of the walls that surrounded him all his life. The shepherd grieved for him and pleaded with him to return, but the sheep paid no heed to the shepherd. He was free. He could do whatever he pleased. But soon, the sheep was dirty, hungry and frightened. He cried out for help and instead of help coming, wolves came to eat him.”
The boys sat in silence for some time. Each one had a frown on his face.
“Sir!” Baldemar de Jesus’ hand flew up and then down.
“Yes, Mr. DJ?” Dambretti used Baldemar’s nickname.
“Are you saying that Sir Ramsay is a wolf and that he is going to eat Brother Anthony?” The Spaniard’s chubby face was full of disbelief. Baldemar had led a sheltered life under the care of the Cistercian Brothers. He was a very literal young fellow and didn’t always understand English. At present, the classes were all being held in English except the French and Latin classes out of deference to Christopher Stewart’s mono-linguistic state. As soon as he learned enough French, the language of choice for the Academy would resume, but that would not be anytime soon. Chris Stewart did not like French! With Armand de Bleu’s help, he was doing quite well in Latin, but French? Not quite up to par.
Christopher cleared his throat loudly. DJ was treading on Holy Ground.
“Santa Maria!” Dambretti rolled his eyes. “NO! You have missed the point entirely. The people with whom Mr. Scalia is presently keeping company are profane pretenders and you should not be speaking of this subject. If word gets back to the Grand Master, we’ll all be in hot water.”
Dambretti knew why the apprentices were concerned about Anthony Scalia’s welfare. If Anthony was indeed a traitor to the Order, he would be given two options: come back and face disciplinary or come back in a box. It was a gruesome thought, but it was the way of things. No one left the Order without the permission of the Grand Master. Only soldiers were allowed to retire. The Knights and apprentices were sworn to serve the Order for life, duly initiated into the order as apprentices and expected to abide by the Primitive Rule of Order as written in the Middle Ages. Not all of the students presently attending the Academy would be apprentices and most of the apprentices never expected to become Knights. Becoming a Knight was a big deal.
The only way an apprentice could become a Knight was to spend a number of years in service as an apprentice, do everything he could to prove himself academically, physically and emotionally and then wait for one of the semi-immortal Knights of the Council to die. Such an occurrence was rare. The Knights of the Council were a long-lived crew; some of them well over 800 years old, but they were not true immortals in the sense that they were indestructible. If they allowed themselves to be physically or mentally destroyed by some means or another, they would have to be put to rest and their Mystery and title passed on to their apprentices. Only Sir Ramsay knew the secret of ‘putting a Brother to rest’. Another reason why his fraternal Brothers of the Order avoided him and an apt explanation for his ominous title: Knight of Death. Mark Ramsay was usually the last person they wanted to see, but was usually the last person they did see. A necessarily nasty job, but someone had to do it.
The quiet Scotsman’s appearance and demeanor seemed to match his title and this did little to help his reputation within the order. He was an enigma and a mystery in and of himself and spent most of his time in Scotland making gold for the Order’s financial support in his alchemical laboratory. Rumors abounded about that laboratory in the Academy and even though Christopher had seen it with his own eyes, he refused to relieve his classmates of their curiosity; rather he was inclined to allow them to stew in their ignorance.
All in all, the life of an apprentice under a good Master could be filled with adventure and the promise a comfy existence under the auspices of the Order even into old age. There were many perks to a successful apprenticeship, but there were also drawbacks. Avoiding the company of females for one thing was a bit hard for most of the young men to accept and was a subject strictly off-limits for discussion. The Primitive Order clearly stated that the company of women is a dangerous thing. The premise as initially explained to him by his Master was that involvement… serious involvement with women, be they mothers, sisters, aunts, girlfriends, daughters, nieces or wives could drive a man to making mistakes and a warrior in battle cannot afford to make mistakes. Chris understood the premise and had to agree that daydreaming about girls when he should have been paying attention had already cost him more than a few bruises during the more physical portions of his training.
Rumor had it that the ‘people’ with whom Anthony was living, were not only imposters and charlatans, but females!
“So! Let us speak on the merits of arriving on time,” Dambretti began again. “In 1534, I was waiting for a dispatch just south of Versailles and…”
The boys settled back on their benches, ready to hear another story. Sir Dambretti had plenty of tales to tell them. The class was supposed to be ‘Creative Living’ — whatever that was.
“Ay! DJ!” Armand de Bleu called after the Spaniard who was rapidly walking toward the mess hall. “Save some for us!”
“Yeah! Don’t let the wolves eat it all,” Christopher chimed in the ribbing.
Baldemar or DJ as they called him, short for de Jesus among other less friendly names, was really going to catch it now since the Ramsay/wolf question in Sir Dambretti’s class and his overt love of food and drink did little to help his cause. His stomach roiled and growled all day in class every day as if it were full of wolves indeed. The Academy was not treating de Jesus too kindly. Sir Barry of Sussex had him on a strict vegetarian diet, supplemented with fish and dairy, but without sugar, without fried foods and NO fast food. No fish and chips. No burgers. No pizza! The older boys made him run more laps at gym/rec and never cut him any slack for excess baggage. But one thing about DJ, he had money. Money of his own from a trust fund. The young student received a monthly stipend that kept him supplied with a trickle of crème filled snacks, which he hid in the springs under his mattress.
His fellow students actually liked him because he was not stingy with his reserves, but they could not pass up a chance to give him the blues for his mistakes and his appetite.
Baldemar glanced over his shoulder at them and made the sign of the cross, letting them know that he forgave them.
Armand used a new curse word that Christopher had taught him.
“I hate it when he does that,” Armand said.
“Why? You have a guilty conscience?” Chris poked him in between his shoulder blades, making him bow up his shoulders.
“Please stop touching me, mon cherie,” Armand grinned back at him. “The others are starting to talk about you.”
“Really?” Christopher ran ahead of him and took down a lanky boy with short brown hair. They rolled on the plush lawn until one of the lay brothers shouted for them to get off the grass. The two boys scrambled to their feet and were soon chasing each other down the walk toward supper and evening prayers.
Lucio Dambretti turned away from the window in the Grand Master’s office.
“Boys will be boys,” he muttered.
“That is as old as you are,” d’Brouchart said. “And it does not excuse du Morte for bringing an undisciplined street urchin into our midst. What was he thinking?” He rubbed his temples.
“The Chevalier du Morte does not like to think, Sir,” Dambretti said as he suppressed a smile.
“Yes, yes, I’ve heard that before as well. How much do they know? Does Angelo know about it?”
“That is hard to tell. Who can say what Angelo knows or does not know? Rumors abound in the academic setting. You know that. Boys need diversions. I was thinking of a field trip with your permission, Sir.” The Italian turned his dark eyes on the Master.
“You are evading the subject, Golden Eagle. We have a security leak in this camp and I want to know who it is. How did the boys find out that du Morte was going after Anthony? I want to know who told them.”
“You are not giving them any credit, Your Grace.”
“Primo: Your apprentice disappears. He is not dead or ill or anywhere to be found. Secondo: The entire Villa is in an uproar for thirty-six hours and then all is gloomy. Tertio: Without warning, Chevalier Ramsay shows up and no Council meeting is in the offing? What do you think? The Knight of Death never comes from his den unless poked with a stick. It is pretty obvious that you summoned him. He mopes around the Villa for a day and then leaves.”
“Well, I don’t know,” the Master said quietly. “It could be as you say, but I want these rumors quelled. I don’t want to hear anything more about… about… Anthony.” The big man leaned back in his chair and the springs squeaked in protest.
“Shall I take it down, Sir?” Dambretti asked and reached for a picture of Anthony Scalia hanging on the wall above the credenza.
“What? No!” The Grand Master stood up and then sat back down, waving one hand wearily at the Italian Knight. “Yes, please get it out of my sight.”
“What about the field trip? I think a trip to the farmer’s market in Naples would be a good exercise for the Survival Cooking class.”
“I don’t want anyone going anywhere, Golden Eagle. Not until du Morte returns.”
Dambretti nodded curtly and turned to leave the office. He knew very well that the Grand Master had become very attached to Anthony, treating him more like a son than an apprentice. The Old Man was not taking the loss of the young man very well.
“Oh, and by the way,” the Grand Master stopped him short of the door. “Have you heard from Ramsay perchance?”
Dambretti shook his head thoughtfully. Ramsay hated checking in, hated using phones, hated using computers. Even hated escalators and trains. Ramsay hated everything. He was grumpy and anti-social, but he was the Italian’s best and first friend.
“Do you think Angelo knows?” d’Brouchart asked again after a moment as he watched the old gardener pulling out weeds in one of the annual beds and frowned at the sight of Angelo’s huge gray cat lying in the sun atop the three-wheeled cart, preening itself. The cat had been around forever! Just how long did cats live anyway?
Dambretti shrugged and wondered why the Grand Master kept asking about Angelo. He had often wondered about Angelo Gamelli himself. It seemed that the old fellow had always been the gardener. He had to be over 90 years old by now. One thing for sure, as onery as he could be sometimes, Angelo loved to talk. Lucio had seen him talking to the old padre one moment, laughing and smiling and the next moment, he had seen him deep in conversation with Mark Ramsay with one arm wrapped around the Knight’s shoulders and the venerable Knight of Death never allowed anyone to get that close to him.
Dambretti left the office with the picture of Anthony under his arm and tossed it in the passenger seat of his car. A huge ball of iridescent soap bubbles drifted up over the Admin Building and floated on the breeze past his car. He turned and watched it disappear into the olive grove. Someone had put soap in the fountain… again.
“Boys will be boys,” he muttered, smiled and started up the sleek black Audi. Amelia would be waiting for him in Naples and he did not want to be late.