Sample Sunday ~ The Knight of Death

The Knight of Death is the first book in an epic fantasy series: The Red Cross of Gold. The series contains 30 books with 29 published and only one to go. The setting is mainly contemporary, heading into the future with flashbacks to the past and forays into fantasy time.  The books are available at Amazon, Smashwords, Barnes & Noble, KOBO.

At last, the imposing figure of the Templar Grand Master, dressed in a charcoal gray business suit, entered the room and stopped at the head of the table. His faded blue eyes were large and watery as if the sunlight bothered them, and on his head was a rather untidy mop of thinning, red hair. The men standing around the table watched him apprehensively as he surveyed each of them individually as if assessing them for proper attitude. He nodded in approval, and then sat in his chair causing them all to follow suit. At once, a tall, thin boy dressed in neatly pressed brown slacks and a white shirt brought a crystal decanter and filled his glass with dark red wine.

The Master drank from the goblet and clunked it loudly on the table in front of him. The meeting had been called to order almost an hour earlier by the venerable Seneschal, Philip Cambrique, Chevalier d’Orient, the Knight of the East. They had been forced to wait as always, just so Master d’Brouchart might impress upon them their subordinate positions.

He held out one meaty hand toward the empty chair on his left, and the young man stepped forward again. He reverently picked up the empty golden goblet and presented the cup to the Master, who accepted it with equal gravity. The young valet poured a bit of wine into the cup and stepped back quickly as the man up-ended the goblet in front of the empty chair, spilling the wine across the gleaming surface.

A murmur erupted around the table, and a muffled “No!” sounded from the far end of the long room, where eleven apprentices sat in two rows of heavy, medieval-style armchairs. Each of these fellows, ranging in age from fifteen to fifty, was there at the beck and call of his Knight, with the exception of one: Christopher Stewart had no Knight present on this day. His Master was the reason for this unscheduled meeting.

The ‘no’ had inadvertently erupted from his lips, and he had received a punch in the ribs from one of the older apprentices sitting behind him for the mistake. Apprentices did not speak, unless spoken to in Council. He looked about the table, searching for a sympathetic face and found the formerly dozing Italian Knight gazing at him with a peculiar expression on his face.

 “Sirs, Most Respected and Honored Brothers and Fellows,” d’Brouchart began his address in French. “You are all aware of the need for this assembly, the nature of our emergency and the grievous news, which has reached us from abroad.”

A stilted silence greeted him.

“Brother Dambretti.” The Master turned his watery blue eyes on the Italian sitting halfway down the table on his left.

“Your Excellency,” Dambretti answered and tore his gaze away from Christopher with the hint of a smile sparkling in his dark eyes.

“What news?”

Lucio Dambretti, Chevalier l’Aigle d’Or, the Knight of the Golden Eagle, pushed back his chair and the legs grated on the floor, echoing against the white marble panels covering the walls. He stood to address the assembly, glancing at each of them before beginning, indicating his ‘news’ concerned them all. He was tall, but not too tall and dark of complexion. His black, curly hair was cut short. A frown creased his brow and crinkled the pale scar on his left cheek.

“My news is no news,” he said slowly in perfect French, not his native tongue. “Brother Ramsay has not communicated with my office in over forty-eight hours.”

“What of the world?” The Master asked another question of the Knight.

“The world remains in balance, Your Grace. The wars progress, and the peace negotiations continue, though without much success. A new uprising is brewing between the Musselmen on the West Bank and the settlers, but should not break for another week or so. There is nothing noteworthy to report from Persia. The Gauls, as always, deny everything, and the Germans are innocent as usual. We have heard nothing from the Russians lately, and, even if we did, they would blame the Americans. My concern lie with the Chinese, Sir. I believe our little yellow friends are practicing global feng shui, if you will, and are currently investing heavily in the western colonies. What they intend is…”

At this, one of the men across the table from Sir Dambretti pounded his fist against the wood, demanding attention, effectively cutting off the Knight of the Golden Eagle’s report.

The Grand Master turned his gaze wearily on the man dressed all in black from head to toe. The Knight’s face was weathered and heavily lined as if he spent a great deal of time outdoors. His long hair was streaked with silver. His black eyes, deep set and somewhat sunken on either side of his long nose, burned with a smoldering fire. He locked eyes with the Grand Master for several long seconds before capitulating. The Master was not ready to hear from Konrad von Hetz, Knight of the Apocalypse who sees, harbinger of doom and gloom. They had enough problems already.

“Hold, Brother von Hetz,” d’Brouchart said in a low voice, but he was finished with the Italian, whose comments had already caused a few raised eyebrows from the French Knights at the table. “I would hear from the Chevalier d’Epee, if you please, Golden Eagle. We will discuss Cathay some other time.”

Dambretti smiled tightly, nodded briefly and resumed his seat as another man stood; a tall, thin man with hazel eyes and wisps of blond hair on his balding head.

“Your Eminence.” Thomas Beaujold, also known as the Knight of the Sword, bowed slightly to the Master, and then glanced at every other pair of eyes at the table, lingering when he encountered the Italian’s steady gaze. “Pardon my bluntness, Brothers, but the Order of the Rose continues to bloom, especially in America.”

His expression revealed his obvious disgust at even having to pronounce the name of the Order of the Rose.

“It seems we may have underestimated their importance by a considerable sum. That we have ignored them merely because of their androgynous structure may have been a supreme act of pride for which we will now all pay dearly. This latest development calls for urgent, mayhap drastic action, no less than an undeclared state of war.”

“Preposterous!” The exclamation, totally out of order, emanated from the Chevalier d’Epee’s right, where a very sturdy man with curly brown hair and dancing blue eyes stared up at him in dismay.

“How so, Brother Argonne?” The Master allowed the breach of protocol in light of the gravity of the situation and recognized the Order’s historian. Sir Beaujold yielded the floor reluctantly to the Knight of the Throne, the Council’s historian.

“Your Grace. Brothers.” The shorter man rose from his chair to address the assembly. “Historically, all such androgynous orders are but ephemeral deviations. No order permitting women as members has survived, not since the elder days, and especially not in these so-called orders are nothing more than groups of businessmen and merchants masquerading as Knights of Christ. This profane rejuvenation of the Order of the Rose is nothing more than a social club for sexual perverts and libertines. A band of false knights dabbling in alchemy and the black arts. They worship Venus and Aphrodite, while devoting themselves to licentious activities and corruption of the moral codes of our honorable Order. They are hardly a formidable foe.”

“The idea of war, declared or undeclared, is ludicrous. They will fade and go the way of all pretenders, given time. It is my concern, begging Brother Thomas’ pardon if I may, that we are concerned with this matter at all. Begging his pardon again, I submit to you, they are of no concern. However, concerning Brother Ramsay, our concern should be centered on his redemption, rather than focusing on his association with this spurious order, notwithstanding our concern with the Chinese threat, of course.”

“Of course,” the Italian muttered, but had to smile at the normally stodgy historian’s attempted contempt.

The Knight of the Throne, whose sole duty was recording and maintaining the Order’s archives, glanced nervously at the Chevalier d’Epee, who glared at him angrily, as the Ritter von Hetz’s fist pounded the surface of the table again. His adherence to the archaic method of gaining attention grated on the Master’s nerves. Of all the traditions, which had fallen by the wayside, why did he always insist on retaining the most irksome ones? The Knight of the Apocalypse would not be denied.

“Brother von Hetz?” The Grand Master gritted his teeth. “What have you to say?”

Sir Argonne sat down, and the Knight of the Apocalypse who sees unfolded his considerable height from the chair. He addressed the Grand Master with utmost gravity, and then stared darkly around the table, causing the rest of them to shift uncomfortably in their seats.

“My Brothers.” His voice was deeper and more resonant than the Master’s. He did not speak to them in French, but in his native German, disdaining the use the common language normally reserved for Council.

“Behold! He was brought forth into the presence of a female like unto the great Whore of Babylon. She has ensnared our beloved Brother, the Chevalier du Morte, in her chaotic web of deceit. She has profaned his body with fornication. She has whispered the foulest heresies unto his ears, proclaiming she is at once High Priestess, as well as, High Priest.”

He paused and waited as another round of murmurs circled the table. When his Brothers grew quiet, he continued. “She has taken knowledge of both male and female in unholy union and she has murdered one of our own. She has given our beloved alchemist the liquor of the traitorous Anthony of Sardinia and has blinded him both physically and mentally to the truth of his purpose, the obedience of his vows and the fulfillment of his duty. She has brought him unto ruin and laid claim to his immortal soul through treachery and guile. She has set herself up to be Grand Master and lusts after the Mystery of Life.”

Another murmur started and quickly rose in pitch as the Knights made louder and louder declarations of disbelief, protest and/or anger. The Seneschal pounded the table for order in vain until the Knight of the Apocalypse finally stepped up on the table and raised both arms to the ceiling, throwing his head back. His long dark hair fell in strands down his back as he turned in a complete circle, causing the men to cease their babbling in fear of what might happen next. The dark Knight stopped and dropped his head forward, looking directly into the eyes of the Italian Knight before speaking. “He lives, he dies, he lives again. He lives, he dies, he lives again… for her pleasure. I am become a stranger unto my brethren. Thus saith the Lord, Behold, I will raise up evil against thee out of thine own house, and I will take thy wives before thine eyes, and give them unto thy neighbour, and he shall lie with thy wives in the sight of this sun.”

The Apocalyptic Knight ended with a scriptural quote and every eye in the room widened in horror at the meaning of his words. He lowered his arms and sank down upon the table, sitting in the center of the insignia with his arms crossed over his chest and his head down.

“I am the Knight of the Apocalypse who sees,” his voice trailed off as if he were going to sleep in the middle of the table.

His words seemed to echo in the marble enclosure much longer than they should have. The Knight of the Apocalypse’ fervor and pronouncements always left them breathless, puzzled by his cryptic riddles and shaken by his power to instill fear in their hearts. Even unto the hearts of the immortals. But these words, with the exception of the last scripture concerning wives, were not couched in riddles or vague innuendo. These words were as clear as spring water, and their meaning held a shocking revelation. They had lost their Knight of Death… to a woman, no less. The thought was inconceivable to everyone at the table with one exception.

Sir Dambretti was visibly shaken by the archaic manner in which the Apocalyptic Knight delivered his oration and the fact that the last, most enigmatic phrase seemed to be directed at him, personally. The Italian thought von Hetz’ use of the High German language, which was very difficult to understand even for seasoned linguists, was merely an attempt to intimidate them. Surely his grave pronouncements were a bit exaggerated and what had he, Lucio Dambretti, to do with wives? He had no wife!

“Bother Simon,” the Master’s voice softened somewhat as he addressed the youngest of the assembly when silence returned.

The man, who looked to be about thirty years old, stood nervously to address the group, never taking his eyes off the dark figure sitting on the tabletop. He was Simon D’Ornan, Chevalier du Serpent, Mystic Healer, Father Confessor for the Brothers and the Master’s favorite amongst the Council Members.

“Your Excellency.” He nodded to the Master and then bowed his head politely to each of them, smiling nervously, and then returned his attention to the Master, frowning. He had prepared no statement. He said nothing further.

“Is there a chance for healing? Is it possible our beloved Brother Ramsay is not lost to us?” D’Brouchart asked him.

“If by ‘liquor of the traitorous apprentice’, Brother Konrad means the potion of which the apprentice, Anthony, was capable of preparing, it is possible he is lost in a manner of speaking. However, I have no firsthand knowledge from whence to draw any valid conclusions. This potion is something beyond my sphere of understanding. You, Sir, would be more inclined to know of these things. Concerning Brother Ramsay, it is a most unusual circumstance. I would have to examine him in person, Your Eminence. It is unlikely Brother Ramsay would allow such an exam, as you all know. He is not and never has been the most amiable of Brothers among us. The very nature of his mission affects his demeanor profoundly. I believe the weight of his office lies heavily on his soul.” Simon licked his lips and glanced at the Knight of the Apocalypse again before continuing in a lower voice. “As for Brother Konrad’s prophecy, I hardly think Brother Ramsay would engage in such… such… licentious behavior, if he were in a normal frame of mind.”

“But what is normal, Brother?” Louis Champlain, Knight of the Golden Key, asked the question very quietly from across the table.

“Then there may be a chance for recovery?” The Master asked, ignoring Champlain’s question.

“Possibly,” d’Ornan answered gravely. “Anything is possible through God.”

“He has broken his vows!” Beaujold stood suddenly without being recognized. “He must be destroyed. He is the Knight of Death. He alone of all of us could bring about our destruction. He is Master of the Key to the Bottomless Pit, lest you all forget.”

“He is not himself,” the voice of Konrad von Hetz startled them, when he raised his head, and then slid from the table and back into his chair.

Most of the apprentices jumped at his sudden reanimation, and one of them coughed loudly. Of all the assemblages they had attended, this animated behavior on behalf of the Knights was unprecedented in the presence of the Master. They had to wonder what would happen in the Council if something of enormous proportions should occur.

“He has been evilly influenced by powers beyond his control,” von Hetz concluded. It seemed he might smile at the commotion he caused, but it was only an illusion.

“He must die!” Beaujold glared at the Apocalyptic Knight and pounded one fist on the table to emphasize each word. The nearby goblets jumped on the lacquered surface, sending the nervous valet hurrying around the table, wiping at the spilled wine and beer, which sloshed out.

“Enough!” The Grand Master stood up and the men fell silent. The Chevalier d’Epee resumed his seat angrily, and the Healer sat down quickly as well, blinking rapidly, looking as if he would be ill. “The man is our Brother until proven otherwise. You will remember that, Chevalier Beaujold. If there is a chance of recovery, I want the opportunity to be had. He will be afforded the right to repent and be saved. Repent and be saved! Thus sayeth the Lord God Almighty!”

Each of the men and all of the apprentices crossed themselves and said ‘Amen’.

“Sir d’Ornan, Sir Beaujold and Sir Dambretti, you three will go to Sir Ramsay and bring him back. Tomorrow, you will leave for America. You will bring back our Brother by whatever means necessary. Sir Barry will see to the needs of your journey. Chevalier d’Epee?”

Beaujold bowed his head. “Yes, Your Eminence.”

“I trust you are up to the… mission? Perhaps I should call it a crusade as, indeed, the very fiber of our Order is in jeopardy at the hands of these… infidels. You will find Chevalier Ramsay a challenge, if he is unwilling to return with you.”

“I am prepared, Your Excellency.” Beaujold raised his eyes to look into the face of the Master with just the slightest a hint of defiance.

“You had better be,” the Master said doubtfully. The man would need his courage and perhaps his arrogance, as well, if he were to encounter the Knight of Death in a foul mood. Beaujold was an expert swordsman and strategist, though something of a hot-head, but he’d never gone against Ramsay. They were, after all, usually on the same side.

Another of the Knights at the table cleared his throat. William Montague, the most recent addition to their assembly indicated his desire to speak as his discreet British manner required. He was a quiet, reserved gentleman about forty years of age, dressed in a dark business suit. He had been an apprentice until 1944 when his master had been killed in Italy during the second Great War of the century. The Grand Master excused his strange, modern ways and beliefs, but had little faith in his untried abilities in the field. He was a good enough accountant, but had tasted little of the rigors of the battlefield other than his service in the RAF during WWII.

“Excuse me, Your Grace.” Sir Montague stood up.

The Master looked at him as if he had never seen him before, and then nodded. The Knight of the Holy City cleared his throat and spoke in perfect, well-refined English, also disdaining the French as his well-bred British upbringing demanded.

“The treasury is not what it used to be. Not that we are straitened by any means, but if we were to incur considerable expenses such as those recently discussed with Sir Dambretti for additional support facilities in Jerusalem, and expanded operations in Bhutan and Nepal, it may well deplete our reserves in short order. I would like to expand upon one item in particular brought up by Brother Beaujold, Your Grace, and that is Sir Ramsay does, indeed, keep the secret of the Philosopher’s Stone, as well as, the Key of Death. It has been over twenty years since he has added even one gram of gold to the coffers. Of course, he never lets us run short, but, as you know, we live… rather well. If anything should happen to him and the secret were to be lost… need I say more?”

Montague eyed Beaujold thoughtfully. Montague’s Master had been Beaujold’s friend, as well as, his Brother. They had both been present when Ramsay had dispatched Beaujold’s former Master into the ether. There had been no other choice. He would never forget it, but he also would never forget the scene between Ramsay and Beaujold after the ceremony. At the time, he had thought they were going to kill each other had it not been for the intervention of Dambretti and d’Ornan. Things had never been right between them afterwards. Montague felt the Master’s decision to send the Knight of the Sword to bring Ramsay home was an error in judgment. He doubted seriously Ramsay would be afforded a fair hearing, if Beaujold had anything to do with it, and he was sure only one of them would return with his head attached to his shoulders.

Both Books I & II are available in one volume for a discounted price of $3.99 here: http://www.amazon.com/dp/B004O0U1II

Most of the books are available in paperback format from Amazon.

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