“I saw the earth from the moon, Brother.” Simon looked up at him. “It is just as Nostradamus told. Great fires fell from the sky and the land was burned up. The earth turned to liquid and the seas boiled away into space. The surface of the earth looked like the surface of the moon…”
This sample is taken from The Red Cross of Gold I:. The Knight of Death. The first in the Assassin Chronicles series. Here we have the Knight of Death at the mercy of Cecile Valentino and her demented attempt to extract information from Sir Ramsay concerning his supposed immortality.
Valentino sighed and slid onto the desk facing him. He tried to focus on her, but his eyesight was dimming and blurring. He shifted his gaze to Merry’s face instead. A much more pleasant view if it was to be his last.
“Your Brother’s apprentice shared his secrets with me before he left,” Valentino resumed her speech. “One of them was of particular interest, but unfortunately, Master, Edgard d’Brouchart did not impart it to him in its entirety. It is Edgard d’Brouchart I want to meet. You know where and how he can be found. Just tell me how to find Edgard d’Brouchart, and I will cease bothering you.”
Mark found it very difficult to concentrate on her words. If he had not been feeling such pain in his stomach, he might have felt very good… very, very good. The poison was in the soup. She had not been joking. He tried to swallow and found even simple actions were becoming difficult. He continued to stare at the Pixie hoping inanely he would not drool on his shirt in front of her. She was beginning to look more and more angelic against the fuzzy haze behind her and certainly an angel would not mind if he drooled a bit, would he? She… he… it? What were angels after all? Male? Female? Did it matter?
He could no longer see their bodyguard and didn’t know if it was his failing vision or if the man had moved.
Valentino leaned into view. He blinked and drew his head back wobbly on his neck, trying to focus on her face. “You’re probably wondering what is wrong with you.”
He nodded though there didn’t seem to be much of a question about it any more. He just wanted her to move so he could see Merry again. At least he could die with something pleasant in his mind.
“You know full well I can’t kill you with poison, but I can still give it to you just for grins and giggles. Remember? We may be able to defeat death, but we will never be able to defeat suffering. I’ve already seen you can bleed like a mortal man and you can feel pain like a mortal man. Think of the unlimited research possibilities… the list is endless… and the subject would never die… at least not permanently. Just tell me where d’Brouchart is, and I’ll take up my inquiries with him, otherwise I know people who would be very interested in such a research subject.”
Mark looked at her whimsically, and then winced when she snapped her fingers in front of his eyes. He could still feel the pain in his stomach, but it didn’t matter anymore. Nothing mattered.
The heat abated suddenly, and he shuddered as the sensation of being dipped in icy water started at his feet and spread up his legs, finally gripping his heart in a vice momentarily before traveling rapidly up into his throat, choking him, making it impossible to draw a breath. He took a perverse consolation in the fact, once he was dead, he would have proven Valentino wrong about his immortality and Miss Meredith Pixie would weep over his body when they buried him. He was neither immortal nor rational. He would be dead and then she would feel foolish. He used his last few seconds of lucidity to smile at Cecile before he slumped in the chair.
“I know you are past answering me now,” Valentino continued talking to him.
He wished his ears would also stop working. Would he have to die with her voice ringing in his head?
“This is just a little preview of what is to come. I am particularly proud of this potion. I created it to kill rats. I do hate those bastards. Don’t you?”
Her voice was finally fading. He heard Merry call his name one time before his ears popped and then there was silence, though he could still see his lap through the fog. He felt something warm fill his mouth, and he thought his teeth were falling out.
“Sir! Sir!” A dirty ragamuffin’s face peered closely at him in the dim, filtered light.
He slung his head and water flew from his hair in all directions. New pain stabbed his side as he gasped for air.
“Up here. Give me your hand,” the boy spoke to him in Latin.
The urchin reached down one grubby hand and Mark stretched up to take it feebly, nearly pulling the scrawny boy in the water with him. The boy braced himself expertly against the rocks in front of him and strained with all his might, pulling Mark slowly up the rough wall toward the cramped opening in the side of the well. The sounds of shouts and screams echoed down the shaft from the street above.
“Sancta Maria! You must come out of there,” the boy shouted at him urgently in broken French. “They will be back for your body. They’ll want to hang it over the wall and put your head on a pike pole!” The boy was from Europe. Not one of the natives of Jerusalem.
With a great groan and an even greater effort, he lifted his foot and planted it on the wall, reaching up with his other hand to grip the ledge where the boy waited frantically. The boy counted to three and he pushed up with all this strength while the child pulled on his arm. He fell into the passage on his stomach and the dagger pushed deeper, causing him to scream in the boy’s face.
“Get up! Get up! Come on, Master! Sancta Maria! In the name of God, hurry!” The boy shouted in his face and tugged on him, refusing to allow him to rest.
Mark struggled up on his knees and used one hand to crawl haphazardly down the dank, stone hole with the boy pushing him from behind. He could smell the stench of the dead, the newly dead and the long dead. His chain mail jingled and grated against the stone over his back. He clutched the hilt of the dagger in his hand to keep it from moving as much as possible.
The battle was lost. The city had fallen to Saladin’s warriors. The sounds of the fighting in the streets above were fading as he moved on as quickly as he could into the ancient stone foundations of the Holy City. The dagger burned as if it were super heated. Blood ran over his hand and dripped onto the rock beneath him. He realized the boy was no longer behind him, but pushed on as best he could. A few moments later, the boy was back with him, more frantic than ever.
“Hurry! Hurry! Don’t stop. The city is burning!”
Without warning, he was falling again in the darkness, deeper into the bowels of the catacombs to a lower level. He tumbled down rough steps, screaming with each bounce he took. He didn’t think he could make it to wherever they were going before the knife disemboweled him. The boy was suddenly beside him in the greenish darkness. The glow from the well’s hidden passage barely illuminated the child’s dark face.
How had the child come to be in the well? Who was he?
“This way,” the boy spoke perfect Latin, explaining they would be safe in the catacombs as he pulled and tugged him.
When he heard the echoing shouts of more assassins behind them, Mark hobbled after his unlikely rescuer. A distinctive scraping noise echoed in the passage. The boy had gone back for the weapon in the face of incredible danger and was dragging the heavy weapon along with them. Mark’s feet felt like lead in the wet boots and his armor felt as if it would crush him. He dropped the chain mail leggings and the gauntlets as he went. He still had his mace, his shield and two of his three knives. He couldn’t pull off the chain mail hauberk under the tabard due to the dagger in his side. Tangled in the small loops, it actually pinned his armor to him. He stopped and leaned against the wall, gasping for air.
The boy came back, taking his arm again.
“You can’t rest here, Sir.”
After a few deep breaths, Mark stumbled forward again. Soon they came to another ledge and below in the blackness, he could hear the sound of more water. He leaned against the wall again, supporting himself with one hand. There was absolutely no hope of making it down another set of stairs alive.
“I can’t,” he said simply in Latin. “Give me the sword.”
The boy bobbed about him like a small monkey squinting in the dimness at the dagger’s hilt protruding from his side. Presently, the glow of a torch illuminated their surroundings. He squinted at the clever boy, who was now examining the hilt of the dagger in the light of the torch. The child apparently lived in this horrid place. There were pots and blankets, leather bags and sacks strewn about the floor behind him. He jerked away from the child when he touched the knife.
“Stay still, Sir. You must be strong, Master,” the boy said and took hold of the hilt of the knife.
Mark Andrew knew what was coming next, and he knew it was necessary if he had any hope of surviving. There would be ransoms to be had. Negotiations to be made. He steeled himself, held his breath, wrapped his free hand over the boy’s smaller hands and nodded when he was ready. The pain was more than he could bear when the dagger came free. He instinctively took a swing at the street urchin, and they went over the side of the ledge, both screaming all the way down to the cold, black water below. The icy liquid enveloped him, freezing him instantly as he breathed it into his lungs. The world went black and then brilliantly white.
Mark snapped his eyes open. It took several moments for him to realiz he was still looking into his own lap. The blood from the wound inflicted by the Saracen’s dagger stained his clothes. The smell of the gory mess was sickening.
“Bravo, Sir Ramsay.” A woman’s voice cut through his mind like the Saracen’s dagger. “Twelve minutes. Twelve Knights. Twelve Disciples. Twelve months. Twelve signs in the Zodiac. What a coincidence. What else do you do in twelves, Mr. Ramsay? Truly remarkable.” Valentino was overjoyed.