ABBEY DES FONTAINES
DE ROQUEFORT FACED THE GATHERING. RARELY DID THE BROTHERS don vestments. Rule required that, for the most part, they dress without any superfluity and ostentation. But a conclave demanded formality and each member was expected to wear his garment of rank.
The sight was impressive. Brother knights sported white woolen mantles atop short white cassocks trimmed with crimson orphrey. Silver stockings sheathed their legs. A white hood covered each head. The red cross patee of four equal arms, wide at the ends, adorned every chest. A crimson belt wrapped the waist, and where once a sword hung now only a sash distinguished knights from artisans, farmers, craftsmen, clerks, priests, and aides, who wore a similar ensemble but in varying shades of green, brown, and black, the clerics distinguished by their white gloves.
Once a consistory convened Rule required that the marshal chair the proceeding. It was a way to balance the influence of any seneschal who, as second in command, could easily dominate the assembly.
"My brothers," de Roquefort called out.
The room drained of noise.
"This is our time of renewal. We must choose a master. Before we begin, let us ask the Lord for His guidance in the hours ahead."
In the glow from the bronze chandeliers, de Roquefort watched as 488 brothers bowed their heads. The call had gone out just after dawn, and most of those who served outside the abbey had made the journey home. They'd assembled in the upper hall of the palais, an enormous round citadel that dated from the sixteenth century, built a hundred feet high, seventy feet in diameter, with walls a dozen feet thick. It once had served as the abbey's last line of defense in case of attack, but it had evolved into an elaborate ceremonial center. Arrow slits were now filled with stained glass, the yellow stucco coated with images of St. Martin, Charlemagne, and the Virgin Mary. The circular room, with two railed galleries above, easily accommodated the nearly five hundred men and was blessed with nearly perfect acoustics.
De Roquefort raised his head and made eye contact with the other four officers. The commander, who was both the quartermaster and treasurer, was a friend. De Roquefort had spent years cultivating a relationship with that distant man and hoped those efforts would soon reap rewards. The draper, who oversaw the Order's clothes and dress, was clearly ready to champion the marshal's cause. The chaplain, though, who supervised all spiritual aspects, was a problem. De Roquefort had never been able to secure anything tangible from the Venetian besides vague generalizations of the obvious. Then there was the seneschal, who stood holding the beauseant, the Order's revered black-and-white banner. He looked comfortable in his white tunic and cape, the embroidered patch on his left shoulder indicating his high office. The sight turned de Roquefort's stomach. The man had no right to be wearing those precious garments.
"Brothers, the consistory is convened. It is time to nominate the conclave."
The procedure was deceptively simply. One name was chosen from a cauldron that contained all of the brothers' names. Then that man looked out among the assembled and freely choose another. Back to the cauldron for the next name, then another open selection, with the random pattern continuing until ten were designated. The system melded an element of chance coupled with personal involvement, diminishing greatly any opportunity for organized bias. De Roquefort, as marshal, and the seneschal were automatically included, making twelve. A two-thirds vote was needed to achieve election.
De Roquefort watched as the selections were made. When finished, four knights, one priest, a clerk, a farmer, two artisans, and a laborer had been chosen. Many were his followers. Yet the cursed randomness had allowed several to be included whose allegiance was, at best, questionable.
The ten men stepped forward and fanned out in a semi-circle.
"We have a conclave," de Roquefort declared. "The consistory is over. Let us begin."
Every brother shoved back his hood, signaling that the debate could now start. The conclave was not a secret affair. Instead, the nomination, the discussion, and the vote would take place before the entire brotherhood. But Rule mandated that not a sound was to be uttered by the spectators.
De Roquefort and the seneschal took their place with the others. De Roquefort was no longer the chair--in the conclave each brother was equal. One of the twelve, an older knight with a thick gray beard, said, "Our marshal, a man who has guarded this Order for many years, should be our next master. I place him in contention."
Two more gave their consent. With the required three, the nominee was accepted.
Another of the twelve, one of the artisans, a gunsmith, stepped forward. "I disagreed with what was done to the master. He was a good man who loved this Order. He should not have been challenged. I place the seneschal in contention."
Two more nodded their assent.
De Roquefort stood rigid. The battle lines were drawn.
Let the war begin.
The debate was entering its second hour. Rule set no time limit on the conclave, but required that all in attendance must stand, the idea being that the length of the proceeding could well be a factor of the participants' endurance. No vote had yet been called. Any of the twelve possessed the right, but no one wanted to lose a tally--that was a sign of weakness--so votes were called only when two-thirds seemed assured.
"I'm not impressed with what you plan," one of the conclave members, the priest, said to the seneschal.
"I was not aware that I possessed a plan."
"You will continue the ways of the master. The ways of the past. True or not true?"
"I will remain faithful to my oath, as you should, brother."
"My oath said nothing about weakness," the priest said. "It does not require that I be complacent to a world that languishes in ignorance."
"We have guarded our knowledge for centuries. Why would you have us change?"
Another conclave member stepped forward. "I'm tired of the hypocrisy. It sickens me. We were nearly extinguished by greed and ignorance. It's time we return the favor."
"To what end?" the seneschal asked. "What would be gained?"
"Justice," cried another knight, and several other conclave members agreed.
De Roquefort decided it was time to join in. "The Gospels say, Let one who seeks not stop seeking until one finds. When one finds, one will be disturbed. When one is disturbed, one will be amazed and will reign over all."
The seneschal faced him. "Thomas also said, If your leaders say to you, behold, the kingdom is in the sky, then the birds in the sky will get there before you. If they say to you, it is in the sea, then the fish will get there before you."
"We will never go anywhere if we stay the present course," de Roquefort said. Heads bobbed in agreement, but not enough to call for a vote.
The seneschal hesitated a moment, then said, "I ask you, Marshal. What are your plans if you achieve election? Can you tell us? Or do you do as Jesus, disclosing your mysteries only to those worthy of the mysteries, never letting the left hand know what the right is doing?"
He welcomed the opportunity to tell the brotherhood what he envisioned. "Jesus also said, There is nothing hidden that will not be revealed."
"Then what would you have us do?"
He surveyed the room, his eyes traveling from floor to gallery. This was his moment. "Think back. To the Beginning. When thousands of brothers took the oath. These were brave men, who conquered the Holy Land. In the Chronicles, a tale is told of one garrison who lost out to the Saracens. After the battle, two hundred of those knights were offered their lives if they would simply abandon Christ and join Islam. Each one chose to kneel before the Muslims and lose his head. That is our heritage. The Crusades were our crusade."
He hesitated a moment for effect.
"Which is what makes Friday, October 13, 1307--a day so infamous, so despicable, that Western civilization continues to label it with bad luck--so difficult to accept. Thousands of our brothers were wrongfully arrested. One day they were the Poor Fellow-Soldiers of Christ and the Temple of Solomon, the epitome of everything good, willing to die for their Church, their pope, their God. The next day they were accused heretics. And to what charge? That they spat upon the Cross, exchanged obscene kisses, held secret meetings, adored a cat, practiced sodomy, venerated some bearded male head." He paused. "Not a word of truth to any of it, yet our brothers were tortured and many succumbed, confessing to falsehoods. One hundred and twenty burned at the stake."
He paused again.
"Our legacy is one of shame, and we are recorded in history with nothing but suspicion."
"And what would you tell the world?" the seneschal asked in a calm tone.
"And why would they believe you?"
"They will have no choice," he said.
"And why is that?"
"I will have proof."
"Have you located our Great Devise?"
The seneschal was pressing his one weak point, but he could not show any weakness. "It's within my grasp."
Gasps came from the gallery.
The seneschal's face remained rigid. "You're saying that you have found our lost archives after seven centuries. Have you also found our treasury that eluded Philip the Fair?"
"That, too, is within my grasp."
"Bold words, Marshal."
He stared out at the brothers. "I've been searching for a decade. The clues are difficult, but I'll soon possess proof the world cannot deny. Whether any minds change is irrelevant. Rather, the victory is gained by proving that our brothers were not heretics. Instead, each and every one of them was a saint."
Applause erupted from the crowd. De Roquefort seized the moment. "The Roman Church disbanded us, claimed we were idol worshipers, but the Church itself venerates its own idols with great pageantry." He paused, then in a loud voice he said, "I will take back the shroud."
More applause. Louder. Sustained. A violation of Rule, but no one seemed to care.
"The Church has no right to our shroud," de Roquefort yelled over the clapping. "Our master, Jacques de Molay, was tortured, brutalized, then burned at the stake. And his crime? Being a loyal servant to his God and his pope. His legacy is not their legacy. It's our legacy. We have the means to accomplish that goal. So shall it be, under my tenure."
The seneschal handed the beauseant to the man beside him, stepped close to de Roquefort, and waited for the applause to subside. "What of those who do not believe as you do?"
"Whoever seeks will find, whoever knocks will be let in."
"And for those who choose not to?"
"The Gospel is clear on that, too. Woe to you on whom the evil demons act."
"You are a dangerous man."
"No, Seneschal, you are the danger. You came to us late and with a weak heart. You have no conception of our needs, only what you and your master thought to be our needs. I have given my life to this Order. No one save you has ever challenged my ability. I have always adhered to the ideal that I would rather break than bend." He turned from his opponent and motioned out to the conclave. "Enough. I call for a vote."
Rule dictated that debate was over.
"I shall vote first," de Roquefort said. "For myself. All those who agree, so say."
He watched as the ten remaining men considered their decision. They'd stayed silent during his confrontation with the seneschal, but each member had listened with an intensity that signaled comprehension. Dr. Roquefort's eyes strafed the group and zeroed tight on the few he thought absolutely loyal.
Hands started to rise.
One. Three. Four. Six.
He had his two-thirds, but he wanted more, so he waited before declaring victory.
All ten voted for him.
The room erupted in cheer.
In ancient times he would have been swept off his feet and carried to the chapel, where a mass would be said in his honor. A celebration would later occur, one of the rare times the Order engaged in merriment. But that happened no longer. Instead, men began to chant his name and brothers, who otherwise existed in a world devoid of emotion, showed their approval by clapping. The applause turned into beauseant--and the word reverberated throughout the hall.
As the chant continued he stared at the seneschal, who still stood beside him. Their eyes met and, through his gaze, he made it known that not only had the master's chosen successor lost the fight, but the loser was now in mortal danger.