It seems that the Chevalier du Morte simply cannot stay out of trouble. His reckless abandonment of the Rule of Order pertaining to the company of women may get him into worse trouble than ever when it comes choosing his ladies with a bit more discernment. In Book 26 All That Is Fallen, things are still rumbling on toward the possible end of the world as we know it.
Book 26 is the latest novel in the Assassin Chronicles series: The Red Cross of Gold. Currently available at Amazon.com for Kindle.
“I missed you. Did you miss me?” She asked him as he collapsed in his latest favorite chair and began to pull off his dirty boots. Sophia sat down on the footstool and helped him with them. It seemed ages since he’d pulled them off and had a nice, long bath.
“How long has it been? Five years?” He asked her and then rubbed his right foot. He’d put a stone bruise on it the day before when he’d slid down from the horse in a rocky patch in a neighboring meadow.
“Nine.” She told him. “Nine years, three months and sixteen days.”
“That long?” He scrutinized her unchanging features. She was still as fresh as the day he had walked with her in the garden at Wewelsburg. “What did you say brought you here?”
“I have been waiting for you.” She told him again and then got up, carrying his boots to the hearth. She set the muddy boots on the stone. “Would you like some tea?”
“That would be nice.” He told her. Her presence baffled him. She should have been married by now, but then she was not exactly a normal girl… woman. And she had never answered his questions concerning her origins. Though he had thought of her many times, he had managed to push her out of his mind for the most part, hoping that the question of Sophia Cardinelli would either answer itself or simply go away. But, as always, neither had happened and here she was… yet again. He watched her trip lightly to the library door and then sighed as she disappeared.
Surely someone else was home… somewhere. Perhaps she had brought over a husband or a fiancée from the big island. Lavon would not be in the old laboratory. His new lab was in the old schoolhouse and was three times bigger than Mark’s had ever been. He had no idea when or how or why Lavon had taken up alchemy, but he thought it was probably because of his uncle, Armand de Bleu. Lavon had spent quite a bit of time with Armand when they had been isolated in the Abyss and the underworld directly after the war. Lavon had combined his own mystery of the Wisdom of Solomon with the alchemical knowledge he had learned from Ramsay’s attic and was a sort of genius at inventing and manufacturing everything that they could possible want or need in the absence of what had been simply a matter of picking up the phone and ordering from any variety of online stores. Lavon, Philip and Christopher had salvaged all the Order’s computers, but there was no Internet, no World Wide Web. Mark did not miss these things, but the younger members of the Order did. The only connection they had was the strange link to the computer in Paddy Puffingtowne’s home in Kilkenny. Some things never changed.
Sophia was back before he could decide what to do next. She carried a tray with tea and cookies which, ominously enough, indicated she had been expecting him. How she had known he was coming was a matter of speculation. He hadn’t even known he would be there until that morning.
“You like oatmeal cookies?” She asked as she set the tray on the table between the two chairs facing the hearth.
“Is there any other kind?” He asked and smiled at her in frustration. He had just made up his mind to disappear upstairs for a much needed bath.
Sophia put three cookies on a china plate and then poured him a cup of tea. In spite of his need to part company with her, the tea smelled wonderful.
“Is it real?”
“Is there any other kind?” She smiled up at him as she bent over the table.
“This is very nice. Thank you.” He accepted the cup of tea and balanced the cookies on his leg.
“You really don’t want to be here having tea with me, do you?” She sat down in the other chair with her own cup of tea.
“Actually, I think I would be better in the tub.” He said and then choked on the cookie he was trying to eat in one bite. “I mean, I need a bath. I would smell better.”
“You smell fine to me.” She laughed. “Like vanilla and oranges.”
Mark frowned at her. Could she smell him like Lucio could smell people?
“But of course you’ll want to clean up before supper. I made your favorites. Hotch-Potch, Bannocks and Black Bun.” She announced and his face darkened.
“How did you know I was coming home?” He asked her quietly.
“It is my business to know. My name is Sophia, or have you forgotten?” She raised one eyebrow. “Sophia, knowledge, wisdom. How could I not know?”
“Ye’d best change th’ subject.” He told her and reached for the last of the cookies, intent upon eating them all and then leaving. “Now tell me why ye’re really ’ere.”
“Waiting for you.”
“I know wot ye’re sayin’, but ye didna come oll th’ way from th’ oilands just t’ wait around me ’ouse fur me fur nae reason.” He set the cup on the tray and stood up.
“No, I came because I knew that you would never come looking for me even though you should.” She looked up at him and nibbled daintily one of the cookies.
“I fail to see why I should come looking for you.” He told her sharply. “I didn’t lose you. You weren’t missing.” He had regained his control and now headed for the door.
“That’s very funny, Saint Ramsay,” she rolled the R’s protractedly. “You have been looking for me for a long time, but that is another matter. I have a message for you from Lucifer.” She said as he stepped into the hall. He spun about and came back toward her angrily as if he would drag her from the chair.
“Whoy did ye not tell me t’ start with?” He asked and refrained from touching her.
“I though you should relax a bit first.” She shrugged. “I know I wouldn’t want to just ride in and be assaulted with worries and woes before I even had a cup of tea! Why, it wouldn’t be civilized.” She tilted her chin up.
“Well, furget th’ civilities and tell me th’ message.” He leaned down to look into her face. They had not heard from Lucifer, Galen or Michael in twenty years. This was a monumental bit of news. Lucio had had Simon conduct a memorial service for his son, presuming him to be a casualty of the war. Luke Matthew on the other hand, refused to believe that Michael would not be coming home sooner or later. Mark’s anger toward the young woman was quickly replaced by a number of conflicting and overlapping emotions ranging from joy to dread. He had looked high and low for the elusive angel and his small band of warriors.
Sophia stood up slowly and looked at him closely.
“Are you sure you wouldn’t rather take a bath first? I could draw one for you and then tell you the news while you’re soaking.” She said and he drew back as if she had slapped him. Amazingly, his first inclination was to take her up on the offer. It sounded reasonable enough…
“I dunna think so.” He said after a moment’s hesitation. Too long!
“But you were considering saying yes, weren’t you?” She smiled at him. “No one is here, but us. Surely you are not concerned with what other people think of you.”
“Well, you should be!” He said irritably. “It would not be proper. Now just give me the message.”
“Hmmm.” She crossed her arms over her stomach and then tapped her thumb against her bottom teeth thoughtfully. “Now I seem to have the upper hand here. What if I refused to tell you unless you are soaking in the tub?”
“I could simply read your mind.” He shrugged and smiled wickedly at her.
“You would not do that. Not again. It would not fit your new image.” She shook her head.
“Wot new image?!” He frowned.
“Your image! You know, Mark Ramsay, the Prophet, the Sorcerer, the Magician, the Beloved Teacher and Healer.” She continued to smile at him. “I know you didn’t mean to do it, but you did it. Everyone talks about you. We may not have television, radio and newspapers, but word gets around. A bit slower, I admit, but it gets around and it grows as it goes. You are England’s miracle worker. The new Merlin to Luke Matthew’s Arthur. Didn’t you know? We’ve heard about your exploits even on the islands. You might as well grow a long white beard and wear a pointed hat! The children speak of nothing, but you. You are a legend in your own time… no, that’s not fair, you’ve lived too long for that to be relevant. But you are a legend, nevertheless. Some people think that your brother would not have been able to do what he did without you and you know that it is true.”
“I will not stand here and discuss the King’s business with a girl.” Mark Andrew began to grow angry again.
“A girl?” She laughed and stepped back, pressing her hand over her mouth. “I didn’t know you were chauvinistic, Sir Ramsay. I thought you were more enlightened, more… Celtic in your notions of the status of women. Isn’t that why you decided to make your home in Scotland? Because it was more Celtic? Isn’t that why the great Myrrdyn came to Wales and Northumbria? Because they were the last bastions of the Celts? The inventors of chivalry? You invented the Celts, Sir Mark! You raised them up from the darkness and set them on this great adventure. Do you now deny your own beliefs? Would you cast me aside simply because I am a woman? I hardly think so. Don’t you know what it is you are looking for?”
“Ahhh.” He shook his head and placed one hand on his hip, turning about and looking up at the ceiling. “You want to fight? You see yourself as Queen Boudicca? I thought you were Italian?”
“You know better.” She smiled. “I’m Scottish. A Celt. Or at least as much as you are.”
Mark placed one hand against his forehead and then dropped both hands at his side.
“All right! Come on upstairs and draw me a bath. A true Celtic woman would not shirk from such a thing. After all, how would you know if I am worthy of your attentions if you don’t sample the wares before you buy?”
“Oh, now you remember, do you?” She smiled at him and came to take his arm. “And you think you might be worthy of my attentions?”
“I think I might fit the bill.” He told her as they left the library together arm in arm.
“And what if I decide that you are not the legend they say you are?” She asked as they climbed the stairs.
“Then you can go back and refute all the tales.” He told her.
“I hardly think that it would be fitting to relate it in public.”
“You might change your mind and become an acolyte. You might go stark-raving mad and run off naked in the woods. You might want to write a book or compose an epic poem. You never can tell.” He glanced sidelong at her.
“And do you not think that you might compose some poem for me?” She asked him.
“I’m not very good at composing. I might recite one or two verses.” He smiled and opened the door to his room.
Sophia stopped at the threshold and looked about the very feminine room.
“Wot?” He looked about as well, trying to find whatever was wrong.
“It’s not what I expected.” She said quietly.
“Oh? D’ ye think thot th’ counterpane matches th’ panels or d’ ye think thot I shud use more mauve?” He pulled her inside and closed the door firmly.