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Chris got to his feet, peered cautiously around the pillar. "Oh no," he said. And he started to run down the corridor.
Marek staggered to his feet, saw that the Abbot was still alive. "Forgive me," Marek said as he lifted the Abbot onto his shoulder and carried him away to the corner. The soldiers in the courtyard loosed answering volleys at the bell tower. Fewer arrows were coming down at them now.
Marek took the Abbot behind the arches of the covered passageway and placed him on his side on the ground. The Abbot pulled the arrow out of his own shoulder and threw it aside. The effort left him gasping. "My back . . . back . . ."
Marek turned him over gently. The shaft in his back pulsed with each heartbeat. "My Lord, do you wish me to pull it?"
"No." The Abbot flung a desperate arm over Marek's neck, pulling him close. "Not yet . . . A priest . . . priest . . ." His eyes rolled. A priest was running toward them.
"He comes now, my Lord Abbot."
The Abbot appeared relieved by this, but he still held Marek in a strong grip. His voice was low, almost a whisper. "The key to La Roque . . ."
"Yes, my Lord?"
". . . room . . ."
Marek waited. "What room, my Lord? What room?"
"Arnaut . . . ," the Abbot said, shaking his head as if to clear it. "Arnaut will be angry . . . room . . ." And he released his grip. Marek pulled the arrow from his back and helped him to lie on the floor. "Every time, he would . . . make . . . told no one . . . so . . . Arnaut . . ." He closed his eyes.
The monk pushed between them, speaking quickly in Latin, removing the Abbot's slippers, placing a bottle of oil on the ground. He began to administer the last rites.
Leaning against one of the cloister pillars, Marek pulled the arrow out of his thigh. It had struck him glancingly, and was not as deep as he had thought; there was only an inch of blood on the shaft. He dropped the arrow to the ground just as Chris and Kate came up.
They looked at his leg, and at the arrow. He was bleeding. Kate pulled up her doublet and tore a strip from the bottom of her linen undershirt with her dagger. She tied it around Marek's thigh as an impromptu bandage.
Marek said, "It's not that bad."
"Then it won't hurt you to have it," she said. "Can you walk?"
"Of course I can walk," Marek said.
"I'm fine," he said, and moved away from the pillar, looking into the courtyard.
Four soldiers lay on the ground, which was pincushioned with arrows. The other soldiers had departed; no one was shooting at the bell tower any longer: smoke billowed from the high windows. On the opposite side of the courtyard, they saw more smoke, thick and dark, coming from the area of the refectory. The whole monastery was starting to burn.
"We need to find that key," Marek said.
"But it's in his room."
"I'm not sure about that." Marek had remembered that one of the last things Elsie, the graphologist, had said to him back at the project site had to do with a key. And some word that she was puzzled by. He couldn't remember the details - he had been worried about the Professor at the time - but he remembered clearly enough that Elsie had been looking at one of the parchment sheets from the pile that had been found in the monastery. The same pile that had contained the Professor's note.
And Marek knew where to find those parchments.
They hurried down the corridor toward the church. Some of the stained-glass windows had been broken, and smoke issued out. From the interior, they heard men shouting, and a moment later a party of soldiers burst through the doors. Marek turned on his heel, leading them back the way they had come.
"What are we doing?" Chris said.
"Looking for the door."
Marek darted left, along a cloistered corridor, and then left again, through a very narrow opening that brought them into a tight space, a kind of storeroom area. It was lit by a torch. There was a wooden trapdoor in the floor; he flung it open, and they saw steps going down into darkness. He grabbed a torch, and they all went down the steps. Chris was last, closing the trapdoor behind him. He descended the stairs into a dank, dark chamber.
The torch sputtered in the cool air. By its flickering light, they saw huge casks, six feet in diameter, running along the wall. They were in a wine cellar.
"You know the soldiers will find this place soon enough," Marek said. He led them through several rooms of casks, moving without hesitation.
Following him, Kate said, "Do you know where you're going?"
"Don't you?" he said.
But she didn't; she and Chris stayed close behind Marek, wanting to be in the comforting circle of light from the torch. Now they were passing tombs, small indentations in the wall where bodies rested, their shrouds rotting away. Sometimes they saw the tops of skulls, with bits of hair still clinging; sometimes they saw feet, the bones partially exposed. They heard the faint squeak of rats in the darkness.
Marek continued on, until at last he stopped abruptly in a chamber that was nearly empty.
"Why are we stopping?" she said.
"Don't you know?" Marek said.
She looked around, then realized that she was in the same underground chamber she had crawled into several days before. There was the same sarcophagus of a knight, now with the lid on the coffin. Along another wall was a crude wooden table, where sheets of oilskin were stacked and manuscript bundles were tied with hemp. To one side was a low stone wall, on which stood a single manuscript bundle - and the glint of the lens from the Professor's eyeglasses.
"He must have lost it yesterday," Kate said. "The soldiers must have captured him down here."
"Probably." She watched as Marek started going through the bundled sheets, one after another. He quickly found the Professor's message, then turned back to the preceding sheet. He frowned, peering at it in the torchlight.
"What is it?" she said.
"It's a description," he said. "Of an underground river, and . . . here it is." He pointed to the side of the manuscript, where a notation in Latin had been scrawled.
"It says, 'Marcellus has the key.' " He pointed with his finger. "And then it says something about, uh, a door or opening, and large feet."
"Wait a minute," he said. "No, that's not it." What Elsie had said was coming back to him now. "It says, 'Feet of a giant.' A giant's feet."
"A giant's feet," she said, looking doubtfully at him. "Are you sure you have that right?"
"That's what it says."
"And what's this?" she said. Beneath his finger there were two words, one arranged above the other:
"I remember," Marek said. "Elsie said this was a new word for her, vivix. But she didn't say anything about deside. And that doesn't even look like Latin to me. And it's not Occitan, or old French."
With his dagger, he cut a corner from the parchment, then scratched the two words into the material, folded it, and slipped it into his pocket.
"But what does it mean?" Kate said.
Marek shook his head. "No idea at all."
"It was added in the margin," she said. "Maybe it doesn't mean anything. Maybe it's a doodle, or an accounting, or something like that."
"I doubt it."
"They must have doodled back then."
"I know, but this doesn't look like a doodle, Kate. This is a serious notation." He turned back to the manuscript, running his finger along the text. "Okay. Okay . . . It says here that Transitus occultus incipit . . . the passage starts . . . propre ad capellam viridem, sive capellam mortis - at the green chapel, also known as the chapel of death - and - "
"The green chapel?" she said in an odd voice.
Marek nodded. "That's right. But it doesn't say where the chapel is." He sighed. "If the passage really connects to the limestone caves, it could be anywhere."
"No, Andre," she said. "It's not."
"What do you mean?"
"I mean," she said, "that I know where the green chapel is."
Kate said, "It was marked on the survey charts for the Dordogne project - it's a ruin, just outside the project area. I remember wondering why it hadn't been included in the project, because it was so close. On the chart, it was marked 'chapelle verte morte,' and I thought it meant the 'chapel of green death.' I remember, because it sounded like something out of Edgar Allan Poe."
"Do you remember where it is, exactly?"
"Not exactly, except that it's in the forest about a kilometer north of Bezenac."
"Then it's possible," Marek said. "A kilometer-long tunnel is possible."
From behind them, they heard the sound of soldiers coming down into the cellar.
"Time to go."
He led them to the left, into a corridor, where the staircase was located. When Kate had seen it before, it disappeared into a mound of earth. Now it ran straight up to a wooden trapdoor.
Marek climbed the stairs, put his shoulder to the door. It opened easily. They saw gray sky, and smoke.
Marek went through, and they followed after him.
They emerged in an orchard, the fruit trees in neat rows, the spring leaves a bright green. They ran ahead through the trees, eventually arriving at the monastery wall. It was twelve feet tall, too high to climb. But they climbed the trees, then dropped over the wall, landing outside. Directly ahead they saw a section of dense, uncleared forest. They ran toward it, once again entering the dark canopy of the trees.
In the ITC laboratory, David Stern stepped away from the prototype machine. He looked at the small taped-together electronic bundle that he had been assembling and testing for the last five hours.
"That's it," he said. "That'll send them a message."
It was now night in the lab; the glass windows were dark. He said, "What time is it, back there?"
Gordon counted on his fingers. "They arrived about eight in the morning. It's been twenty-seven hours elapsed time. So it's now eleven in the morning, the following day."
"Okay. That should be okay."
Stern had managed to build this electronic communications device, despite Gordon's two strong arguments that such a thing could not be done. Gordon said that you couldn't send a message back there because you didn't know where the machine would land. Statistically, the chances were overwhelming that the machine would land where the team wasn't. So they would never see a message. The second problem was that you had no way of knowing whether they had received the message or not.
But Stern had solved both those objections in an extremely simple way. His bundle contained an earpiece transmitter/receiver, identical to the ones the team was already wearing, and two small tape recorders. The first tape recorder transmitted a message. The second recorded any incoming message to the earpiece transmitter. The whole contraption was, as Gordon admiringly termed it, a multiverse answering machine.
Stern recorded a message that said, "This is David. You have now been out for twenty-seven hours. Don't try to come back until thirty-two hours. Then we'll be ready for you at this end. Meanwhile, tell us if you're all right. Just speak and it'll be recorded. Good-bye for now. See you soon."
Stern listened to the message one final time, then said, "Okay, let's send it back."
Gordon pushed buttons on the control panel. The machine began to hum and was bathed in blue light.
Hours earlier, when he had begun working on this message machine, Stern's only concern was that his friends back there might not know they couldn't return. As a result, he could imagine them getting into a jam, perhaps being attacked from all sides, and calling for the machine at the last instant, assuming they could come home at once. So Stern thought they should be told that, for the moment, they couldn't come back.
That had been his original concern. But now there was a second, even greater concern. The air in the cave had been cleared for about sixteen hours now. Teams of workers were back inside, rebuilding the transit pad. The control booth had been continuously monitored for many hours.
And there had been no field bucks.
Which meant there had been no attempt to come back. And Stern had the feeling - of course, nobody would say anything outright, least of all Gordon - but he had the feeling that people in ITC thought that to go more than twenty hours without a field buck was a bad sign. He sensed that a large faction inside ITC believed the team was already dead.
So interest in Stern's machine was not so much about whether a message could be sent as whether one would be received. Because that would be evidence that the team was still alive.
Stern had rigged the machine with an antenna, and he had made a little ratchet device that turned the flexible antenna to different angles and repeated the outgoing message three times. So there would be three chances for the team to respond. After that, the entire machine would automatically return to the present, just as it had when they were using the camera.
"Here we go," Gordon said.
With flashes of laser light, the machine began to shrink into the floor.
It was an uncomfortable wait. Ten minutes later, the machine returned. Cold vapor whispered across the floor as Stern removed his electronic bundle, tore the tape away, and started to play back.
The outgoing message was played.
There was no response.
The outgoing message was played again.
Again, there was no response. The crackle of static, but nothing.
Gordon was staring at Stern, his face expressionless. Stern said, "There could be a lot of explanations. . . ."
"Of course there could, David."
The outgoing message was played a third time.
Stern held his breath.
More static crackling, and then, in the quiet of the laboratory, he heard Kate's voice say, "Did you guys just hear something?"
Marek: "What are you talking about?"
Chris: "Jeez, Kate, turn your earpiece off."
Kate: "But - "
Marek: "Turn it off."
More static. No more voices.
But the point was made.
"They're alive," Stern said.
"They certainly are," Gordon said. "Let's go see how they're doing at the transit pad."
Doniger was walking around in his office, mouthing the words to his speech, practicing his hand gestures, his turns. He had a reputation as a compelling, even charismatic speaker, but Kramer knew that it didn't come naturally. Rather, it was the result of long preparation, the moves, the phrasing, the gestures. Doniger left nothing to chance.
At one time, Kramer had been perplexed by this behavior: his endless, obsessive rehearsal for any public appearances seemed odd for a man who, in most situations, didn't give a damn how he came across to others. Eventually, she realized that Doniger enjoyed public speaking because it was so overtly manipulative. He was convinced he was smarter than anyone else, and a persuasive speech - "They'll never know what hit 'em" - was another way to prove it.
Now Doniger paced, using Kramer as an audience of one. "We are all ruled by the past, although no one understands it. No one recognizes the power of the past," he said, with a sweep of his hand.
"But if you think about it, the past has always been more important than the present. The present is like a coral island that sticks above the water, but is built upon millions of dead corals under the surface, that no one sees. In the same way, our everyday world is built upon millions and millions of events and decisions that occurred in the past. And what we add in the present is trivial.
"A teenager has breakfast, then goes to the store to buy the latest CD of a new band. The kid thinks he lives in a modern moment. But who has defined what a 'band' is? Who defined a 'store'? Who defined a 'teenager'? Or 'breakfast'? To say nothing of all the rest, the kid's entire social setting - family, school, clothing, transportation and government.
"None of this has been decided in the present. Most of it was decided hundreds of years ago. Five hundred years, a thousand years. This kid is sitting on top of a mountain that is the past. And he never notices it. He is ruled by what he never sees, never thinks about, doesn't know. It is a form of coercion that is accepted without question. This same kid is skeptical of other forms of control - parental restrictions, commercial messages, government laws. But the invisible rule of the past, which decides nearly everything in his life, goes unquestioned. This is real power. Power that can be taken, and used. For just as the present is ruled by the past, so is the future. That is why I say, the future belongs to the past. And the reason - "
Doniger broke off, annoyed. Kramer's cell phone was ringing, and she answered it. He paced back and forth, waiting. Trying one hand gesture, then another.
Finally, Kramer hung up the phone, looked at him. He said, "Yes? What is it?"
"That was Gordon. They're alive, Bob."
"Are they back yet?"
"No, but we got a recorded message of their voices. Three of them are alive for sure."
"A message? Who figured out how to do that?"
"Really? Maybe he's not as stupid as I thought. We should hire him." He paused. "So: are you telling me we'll get them back after all?"
"No. I'm not sure about that."
"What's the problem?"
"They're keeping their earpieces turned off."
"They are? But why? The earpiece batteries have plenty of power to go thirty-seven hours. There's no reason to keep them off." He stared. "Do you think? You think it's him? You think it's Deckard?"
"How? It's been over a year. Deckard must be dead by now - remember the way he kept picking fights with everybody?"
"Well, something made them turn off their earpieces. . . ."
"I don't know," Doniger said. "Rob had too many transcription errors, and he was out of control. Hell, he was going to jail."
"Yes. For beating up some guy in a bar he'd never seen before," Kramer said. "The police report said Deckard hit him fifty-two times with a metal chair. The guy was in a coma for a year. And Rob was definitely going to jail. That's why he volunteered to go back one more time."
"If Deckard's still alive," Doniger said, "then they're still in trouble."
"Yes, Bob. They're still in plenty of trouble."
Back in the cool darkness of the forest, Marek drew a rough map in the dirt with a stick. "Right now, we're here, behind the monastery. The mill is over here, about a quarter mile from where we are. There's a checkpoint we have to get past."
"Uh-huh," Chris said.
"And then we have to get into the mill."
"Somehow," Chris said.
"Right. After that, we have the key. So we go to the green chapel. Which is where, Kate?"
She took the stick, and drew a square. "If this is La Roque, on top of the cliff, then there's a forest to the north. The road's about here. I think the chapel is not very far - maybe here."
"A mile? Two miles?"
"Say two miles."
"Well, that's all easy enough," Chris said, standing and wiping the dirt from his hands. "All we have to do is get past the armed checkpoint, into the fortified mill, then go to some chapel - and not get killed on the way. Let's get started."
Leaving the forest behind, they moved through a landscape of destruction. Flames leapt above the Monastery of Sainte-Mre, and clouds of smoke darkened the sun. Black ash covered the ground, fell on their faces and shoulders, and thickened the air. They tasted grit in their mouths. Across the river, they could just make out the dark outline of Castelgard, now a blackened, smoking ruin on the hillside.
Walking through this desolation, they saw no one else for a long time. They passed one farmhouse to the west of the monastery, where an elderly man lay on the ground, with two arrows in his chest. From inside, they heard the sound of a baby crying. Looking inside, they saw a woman, hacked to death, lying face down by the fire; and a young boy of six, staring at the sky, his innards sliced open. They did not see the baby, but the sounds seemed to be coming from a blanket in the corner.
Kate started toward it, but Marek held her back. "Don't."
They continued on.
The smoke drifted across an empty landscape, abandoned huts, untended fields. Aside from the farmhouse with its slaughtered inhabitants, they saw no one else.
"Where is everybody?" Chris said.
"They're all in the woods," Marek said. "They have huts there, and underground shelters. They know what to do."
"In the woods? How do they live?"
"By attacking any soldiers that pass by. That's why the knights kill anyone they find in the forest. They assume they're godins - brigands - and they know that the godins will return the favor, if they can."
"So that's what happened to us, when we first landed?"
"Yes," Marek said. "The antagonism between commoners and nobles is at its worst right now. Ordinary people are angry that they're forced to support this knightly class with their taxes and tithes, but when the time comes, the knights don't fulfill their part of the bargain. They can't win the battles to protect the country. The French king has been captured, which is very symbolic to the common folk. And now that the war between England and France has stopped, they see only too clearly that the knights are the cause of further destruction. Both Arnaut and Oliver fought for their respective kings at Poitiers. And now they both pillage the countryside to pay their troops. The people don't like it. So they form bands of godins, living in the forest, fighting back whenever they can."
"And this farmhouse?" Kate said. "How does that happen?"
Marek shrugged. "Maybe your father was killed in the forest by peasant bandits. Maybe your brother had too much to drink one night, wandered off, and was murdered and stripped naked by peasant bands. Maybe your wife and children were traveling from one castle to another and vanished without a trace. Eventually, you are ready to take out your anger and frustration on somebody. And eventually, you do."
"But - "
Marek fell silent, pointing ahead. Above a line of trees, a fluttering green-and-black banner moved quickly to the left, carried by a rider galloping on horseback.
Marek pointed to the right. They moved quietly upstream. And they came at last to the mill bridge, and the checkpoint.
On the river bank, the mill bridge ended in a high stone wall with an arched opening. A stone tollbooth stood on the other side of the arch. The only road to La Roque ran through the arch, which meant that Oliver's soldiers, who controlled the bridge, also controlled the road.
Above the road, the limestone cliffs were high and sheer. There was no alternative but to go through the arch. And standing by the arch, talking with the soldiers by the tollhouse, was Robert de Kere.
Marek shook his head.
A stream of peasants, mostly women and children, some carrying a few belongings, was walking up the road. They were heading for the protection of the castle at La Roque. De Kere talked to a guard, and glanced at the peasants from time to time. He didn't seem to be paying much attention, but they could never walk past him undetected.
Eventually, de Kere went back inside the fortified bridge. Marek nudged the others, and they set out on the road, moving slowly toward the checkpoint. Marek felt himself start to sweat.
The guards were looking at peoples' belongings, and confiscating anything that looked valuable, tossing it onto a heap by the side of the road.
Marek reached the arch, then continued through. The soldiers watched him, but he did not meet their eyes. He was past, then Chris, and then Kate.
They followed the crowd along the river, but eventually, when the crowd turned into the town of La Roque, Marek went in the opposite direction, toward the river's edge.
Here there was no one at all, and they were able to peer through foliage at the fortified mill bridge, now about a quarter of a mile downstream.
What they saw was not encouraging.
At each end of the bridge stood massive guard towers, two stories high, with high walkways, and arrow slots on all sides. Atop the nearest guard tower, they saw two dozen soldiers in maroon and gray peering over the battlements, ready to fight. There was an equal number of soldiers atop the far tower, where the pennant of Lord Oliver snapped in the breeze.
Between the two towers, the bridge consisted of two different-size buildings, connected by ramps. Four water wheels churned below, powered by the flowing stream, which was accelerated by a series of dams and watercourses.
"What do you think?" Marek said to Chris. This structure was, after all, Chris's particular interest. He'd been studying it for two years. "Can we get in?"
Chris shook his head. "Not a chance. Soldiers everywhere. There's no way in."
"What is the building nearest us?" Marek said, indicating a two-story structure of wood.
"That's got to be a flour mill," Chris said. "Probably with the grinding wheels on the upper floor. The flour goes down a chute to bins on the bottom floor, where it's easier to sack the flour and carry it out."
"How many people work there?"
"Probably two or three. But right now" - he pointed to the troops - "maybe none at all."
"Okay. The other building?"
Marek pointed to the second building, connected by a short ramp to the first. This building was longer and lower. "Not sure," Chris said. "It might be for metalwork, a pulper for paper, or a pounder for beer mash, or even a woodworking mill."
"You mean with saws?"
"Yes. They have water-powered saws at this time. If that's what it is."
"But you can't be sure?"
"Not just by looking, no."
Kate said, "I'm sorry, why are we even bothering to talk about this? Just look at it: there's no way we can ever get in."
"We have to get in," Marek said. "To look at Brother Marcel's cell, to get the key that is there."
"But how, Andre? How do we get in?"
Marek stared silently at the bridge for a long time. Finally, he said, "We swim."
Chris shook his head. "No way." The bridge pylons in the water were sheer, the stones green and slippery with algae. "We'd never climb there."
"Who said anything about climbing?" Marek said.
Chris gasped as he felt the chill of the river. Marek was already pushing away from the shore, drifting downstream with the current. Kate was right behind him, moving to the right, trying to align herself in the center of the stream. Chris plunged after them, glancing nervously toward the shore.
So far, the soldiers hadn't seen them. The gurgle of the river was loud in his ears, the only sound he heard. He turned away, looking forward, toward the approaching bridge. He felt his body tense. He knew he had only one chance - if he missed, the current would sweep him downstream, and it was unlikely that he would ever make his way back up again without being captured.
So this was it.
A series of small stone walls had been built out from the sides of the river to accelerate the water, and he moved forward more rapidly now. Directly ahead was a watercourse slide, just before the wheels. They were in the shadow of the bridge. Everything was happening fast. The river was white water, a rushing roar. He could hear the creak of the wooden wheels as he came closer.
Marek reached the first wheel; he grabbed hold of the spokes, swung around, stepped onto a paddle and rose upward, carried by the wheel, then was lost from view.
He made it look easy.
Now Kate had reached the second wheel, near the center of the bridge. Agile, she easily caught the rising spoke, but in the next moment she almost lost her grip, struggling to hold on. She finally swung up onto a paddle, crouching low.
Chris slid down the angled watercourse, grunting as his body bounced over the rocks. The water around him boiled like rapids, the current carrying him swiftly toward the spinning water wheel.
Now it was his turn.
The wheel was close.
Chris reached out for the nearest spoke as it broke water, and grabbed - cold and slippery - hand slid on algae - splinters cut his fingers - losing his grip - he grabbed with his other hand - desperate - the spoke was rising into the air - he couldn't hold it - let go, fell back in the water - grabbed for the next spoke as it came up - missed it - missed it - and then was swept relentlessly onward, back into the sunlight, going downstream.
The current pushed him onward. Away from the bridge, away from the others.
He was on his own.
Kate got one knee on the paddle of the water wheel and felt herself lifted clear of the water. Then her other knee, and she crouched down, feeling her body rise into the air. She looked back over her shoulder in time to see Chris heading downstream, his head bobbing in the sunlight. And then she was carried up and over, and into the mill.
She dropped to the ground, crouching in darkness. The wooden boards beneath her feet sagged, and she smelled an odor of rotting damp. She was in a small chamber, with the wheel behind her and a rotating set of wooden-tooth gears creaking noisily to her right. Those gears meshed with a vertical spindle, making the vertical shaft turn. The shaft disappeared up into the ceiling. She felt water splatter on her as she paused, listening. But she could hear nothing but the sound of water and the creaking of the wood.
A low door stood directly ahead. She gripped her dagger and slowly pushed the door open.
Grain hissed down a wooden chute from the ceiling above and emptied into a square wooden bin beside her on the floor. Sacks of grain were piled high in the corner. The air was hazy with yellow dust. Dust covered all the walls, the surfaces and the ladder in the corner of the room that led up to the second floor. She remembered that Chris had once said that this dust was explosive, that a flame would blow the building apart. And indeed, she saw no candles in the room, no candleholders on the walls. No sort of fire.
Cautiously, she crept toward the ladder. Only when she reached it did she see two men lying among the sacks, snoring loudly, empty wine bottles at their feet. But neither gave any sign of awakening.
She began to climb the ladder.
She passed a rotating granite wheel turning noisily against another below. The grain came down a sort of funnel and entered a hole in the center of the upper wheel. Then ground grain came out the sides, spilling through a hole to the floor below.
In the corner of the room, she saw Marek, crouched over the body of a soldier lying on the ground. He held his finger to his lips and pointed to a door on the right. Kate heard voices: the soldiers in the gatehouse. Quietly, Marek raised the ladder and slid it over to block the door shut.
Together, they removed the soldier's broadsword, his bow, and his quiver of arrows. The dead body was heavy; it was surprisingly difficult to strip the weapons. It seemed to take a long time. She looked at the man's face - he had a two-day growth of beard, and a canker sore on his lip. His eyes were brown, staring.
She jumped back with fright when the man suddenly raised his hand toward her. Then she realized she'd caught her damp sleeve on his bracelet. She pulled it free. The hand dropped back with a thunk.
Marek took the man's broadsword. He gave the bow and arrows to her.
Several white monk's habits hung in a row on pegs on the wall. Marek slipped one on, gave a second one to her.
Now he pointed to the left, toward the ramp leading to the second building. Two soldiers in maroon and gray stood on the ramp, blocking their way.
Marek looked around, found a heavy stick used for stirring grain, and handed it to her. He saw more bottles of wine in the corner. He took two, opened the door, and said something in Occitan, waving the bottles at the soldiers. They hurried over. Marek pushed Kate to the side of the door and said one word: "Hard."
The first soldier came in, followed immediately by the second. She swung the stick at his head and hit him so hard she was sure she had broken his skull. But she hadn't; the man fell, but immediately started to get up again. She hit him two more times, and then he fell flat on his face and didn't move. Meanwhile, Marek had broken the wine bottle over the other soldier's head, and he was now kicking him repeatedly in the stomach. The man struggled, raising his arms to protect himself, until she brought the stick down on his head. Then he stopped moving.
Marek nodded, slipped the broadsword under his robes, and started across the ramp, head slightly bowed, like a monk. Kate followed behind.
She did not dare to look at the soldiers on the guard towers. She had concealed the quiver under her robes, but she had to carry the bow outside, in plain view. She didn't know if anybody had noticed her or not. They came to the next building, and Marek paused at the door. They listened, but heard nothing except a loud repetitive banging and the rush of the river below.
Marek opened the door.
Chris coughed and sputtered, bobbing in the river. The current was slower now, but he was already a hundred yards downstream from the mill. On both sides of the river, Arnaut's men were standing around, obviously waiting for the order to attack the bridge. A large number of horses stood nearby, held by pages.
The sun reflected brightly off the surface of the water into the faces of Arnaut's men. He saw them squinting, and turning their backs to the river. The glare was probably why they hadn't seen him, Chris realized.
Without splashing or raising his arms, he made his way to the north bank of the Dordogne and slipped among overhanging rushes at the water's edge. Here no one would see him. He could catch his breath for a moment. And he had to be on this side of the river - the French side - if he hoped to rejoin Andre and Kate.
That is, assuming they made it out of the mill alive. Chris didn't know what the chances of that were. The mill was crawling with soldiers.
And then he remembered that Marek still had the ceramic. If Marek died, or disappeared, they'd never get back home. But they'd probably never get back anyway, he thought.
Something thumped the back of his head. He turned to see a dead rat, bloated with gas, floating in the water. The moment of revulsion spurred him to get out of the river. There were no soldiers right where he was now; they were standing in the shade of an oak grove, a dozen yards downstream. He climbed out of the water and sank down in the undergrowth. He felt the sun on his body, warming him. He heard the soldiers laughing and joking. He knew he should move to a more secluded place. Where he was now, lying among low bushes on the shore, anyone walking along the riverside trail would easily see him. But as he felt warmer, he also felt overcome with exhaustion. His eyes were heavy, his limbs weary, and despite his sense of danger, he told himself, he would close his eyes just for a few moments.
Just for a few moments.
Inside the mill, the noise was deafening. Kate winced as she stepped onto the second-floor landing and looked down on the room below. Running the length of the building, twin rows of trip-hammers clanged down on blacksmith's anvils, making a continuous banging that reverberated off the stone walls.
Beside each anvil was a tub of water and a brazier with glowing coals. This was clearly a forge, where steel was annealed by alternately heating, pounding and cooling in water; the wheels provided the pounding force.
But now, the trip-hammers were banging down unattended as seven or eight uniformed soldiers in maroon and gray methodically searched every corner of the room, looking beneath the rotating cylinders and under the banging hammers, feeling the walls for secret compartments in the stone, and rummaging through the chests of tools.
She had no doubt what they were looking for: Brother Marcel's key.
Marek turned to her and signaled that they should go down the stairs and toward a side door, now standing ajar. This was the only door in the side wall; it had no lock, and it was almost certainly Marcel's room.
And clearly, it had already been searched.
For some reason, this didn't bother Marek, who went down intently. At the foot of the stairs, they made their way past the banging trip-hammers and slipped inside Marcel's room.
Marek shook his head.
This was indeed a monk's cell, very small, and strikingly bare: just a narrow cot, a basin of water and a chamber pot. By the bed stood a tiny table with a candle. That was all. Two of Marcel's white robes hung on a peg inside the door.
It was clear from a glance that there were no keys in this room. And even if there had been, the soldiers would already have found them.
Nevertheless, to Kate's surprise, Marek got down on his hands and knees and began to search methodically under the bed.
Marek was remembering what the Abbot had said just before he was killed.
The Abbot didn't know the location of the passage, and he desperately wanted to find out, so he could provide it to Arnaut. The Abbot had encouraged the Professor to search through old documents - which made sense, if Marcel was so demented that he could no longer tell anybody what he had done.
The Professor had found a document that mentioned a key, and he seemed to think this was a discovery of importance. But the Abbot had been impatient: "Of course there is a key. Marcel has many keys. . . ."
So the Abbot already knew about the existence of a key. He knew where the key was. But he still couldn't use it.
Kate tapped Marek on the shoulder. He looked over, to see she had pushed aside the white robes. On the back of the door he saw three carved designs, in some Roman pattern. The designs had a formal, even decorative quality that seemed distinctly unmedieval.
And then he realized that these weren't designs at all. They were explanatory diagrams.
They were keys.
The diagram that held his attention was the third one, on the far right side. It looked like this:
The diagram had been carved in the wood of the door many years before. Undoubtedly, the soldiers had already seen it. But if they were still searching, then they hadn't understood what it meant.
But Marek understood.
Kate was staring at him, and she mouthed, Staircase?
Marek pointed to the image. He mouthed, Map.
Because now at last it was all clear to him.
VIVIX wasn't found in the dictionary, because it wasn't a word. It was a series of numerals: V, IV and IX. And these numerals had specific directions attached to them, as indicated by the text in the parchment: DESIDE. Which was also not a word, but rather stood for DExtra, SInistra, DExtra. Or in Latin: "right, left, right."
Therefore, the key was this: once inside the green chapel, you walked five paces to the right, four paces to the left and nine paces to the right.
And that would bring you to the secret passage.
He grinned at Kate.
What everybody was looking for, they had at last found. They had found the key to La Roque.
Now all they had to do was get out of the mill alive, Kate thought. Marek went to the door, peered cautiously out at the soldiers in the main room. She came up alongside him.
She counted nine soldiers. Plus de Kere. That made ten altogether.
Ten against two.
The soldiers seemed less preoccupied with their search than before. Many of them were looking at one another over the pounding trip-hammers, and shrugging, as if to say, Aren't we finished? What's the point?
Clearly, it would be impossible for Kate and Marek to leave without detection.
Marek pointed at the stairs to the upper ramp. "You go straight to the stairs and out of here," he said. "I'll cover you. Later, we'll regroup downstream on the north bank. Okay?"
Kate looked at the soldiers. "It's ten against one. I'll stay," she said.
"No. One of us has to make it out of here. I can handle this. You go." He reached in his pocket. "And take this with you." He held out the ceramic to her.
She felt a chill. "Why, Andre?"
And they moved out into the room. Kate headed toward the stairs, returning as she had come. Marek moved across the room, toward the far windows, overlooking the river.
Kate was halfway up the stairs when she heard a shout. All around the room, soldiers were running toward Marek, who had thrown back his monk's cowl and was already battling one.
Kate didn't hesitate. Taking her quiver from beneath her robes, she notched the first arrow, and drew her bow. She remembered Marek's words: If you want to kill a man . . . She had thought it was laughable at the time.
A soldier was shouting, pointing at her. She shot him; the arrow struck his neck at the shoulder. The man staggered back into a brazier, screaming as he fell into glowing coals. A second soldier near him was backing away, looking for cover, when Kate shot him full in the chest. He sagged to the ground, dead.
Marek was battling three at one time, including de Kere. Swords clanged as the men dodged among the pounding trip-hammers and leapt over spinning cams. Marek had already killed one soldier, who lay behind him.
But then she saw the soldier get to his feet; his death had been a pretense, and now he moved forward cautiously, intending to attack Marek from behind. Kate notched another arrow, shot him. The man tumbled down, clutching his thigh; he was only wounded; Kate shot him in the head as he lay on the wood.
She was reaching for another arrow when she saw that de Kere had broken away from the fight with Marek and was now running up the stairs toward her with surprising speed.
Kate fumbled for another arrow, notched it, and shot at de Kere. But she was hasty and missed. Now de Kere was coming fast.
Kate dropped her bow and arrow and ran outside.
She ran along the ramp to the mill, looking down at the water. Everywhere, she could see river stones beneath the hissing white water: it was too shallow for her to jump. She'd have to go back down the way she had come up. Behind her, de Kere was shouting something. On the guard tower ahead, a group of archers drew their bows.
By the time the first arrows were flying, she had reached the door to the flour mill. De Kere was by then running backward, screaming at the archers, shaking his fist in the air. Arrows thunked down all around him.
In the upper mill room, troops were crashing against the door, which was blocked by the ladder. She knew the ladder wouldn't hold for long. She went to the hole in the floor and swung down into the room beneath. With all the commotion, the drunken soldiers were waking up, staggering bleary-eyed to their feet. But with so much yellow dust in the air, it was hard to see them very well.
That was what gave her the idea: all the dust in the air.
She reached into her pouch and brought out one of the red cubes. It said "60" on it. She pulled the tab, and tossed it in a corner of the room.
She started counting silently backward in her mind.
De Kere was now on the floor directly above her, but he hesitated to come down, unsure if she was armed. She heard many voices and footsteps up above; the soldiers from the guardhouse had broken through. There must be a dozen men up there. Maybe more.
Out of the corner of her eye, she saw one of the drunken soldiers by the sacks lunge forward and grab at her. She kicked hard between his legs and he fell whimpering, curling on the ground.
She crouched down, and moved into the small side room where she first arrived. The water wheel was creaking, spraying water. She shut the low door, but it had no latch or lock. Anyone could come in.
She looked down. The opening in the floor, where the wheel continued its rotation downward, was wide enough to allow her to pass through. Now all she had to do was grab one of the passing paddles and ride the wheel down until she was low enough to drop safely into the shallow water.
But as she faced the water wheel, trying to time her move, she realized it was easier said than done. The wheel seemed to be turning very fast, the paddles blurring past her. She felt the water spatter her face, blurring her vision. How much time was left? Thirty seconds? Twenty? Staring at the wheel, she'd lost track. But she knew she couldn't wait. If Chris was right, the entire mill would explode any second now. Kate reached forward, grabbed a passing paddle - started to fall with it - chickened out - released it - reached again - chickened out - and then pulled back, took a breath, steadied herself, got ready again.
She heard the thump of men jumping down from the upper floor, one after another, into the adjacent room. She had no time left.
She had to go.
She took a deep breath, grabbed the next paddle with both hands, pressing her body against the wheel. She slipped through the opening - and emerged into sunlight - she had made it! - until suddenly she was yanked away from the wheel, and found herself hanging in midair.
She looked up.
Robert de Kere held her arm in a steel grip. Reaching down through the opening, he had caught her at the last moment as she descended. And now he was holding her, dangling her in the air. Inches away, the wheel continued to turn. She tried to twist free of de Kere's grip. His face was grim, determined as he watched her.
He held tight.
Then she saw something change in his eyes - some instant of uncertainty - and the soggy wooden floor began to give way beneath him. Their combined weight was too much for the old wood planking, which for years had been soaked by water from the wheel. The planks now bent slowly downward. One plank broke soundlessly, and de Kere's knee went through, but still he held her fast.
How much time? she thought. With her free hand, she pounded on de Kere's wrist, trying to make him release her.
How much time?
De Kere was like a bulldog, hanging on, never letting go. Another plank in the floor broke, and he lurched sideways. If another broke, he would fall through alongside her.
And he didn't care. He would hang on to the end.
How much time?
With her free hand, she grabbed a passing paddle and used the force of the wheel to drag her body downward against de Kere's restraining grip. Her arms burned with the tension, but it worked - the boards cracked - de Kere was falling through - he released her - and she fell the final few feet toward boiling white water around the wheel.
And then there was a flash of yellow light, and the wooden building above her vanished in a hot roar. She glimpsed boards flying in all directions, and then she upended and plunged head first into the icy water. She saw stars, briefly, and then she lost consciousness beneath the churning water.
Chris was awakened by the shouts of soldiers. He looked up, to see soldiers running across the mill bridge in great confusion. He saw a monk in a white robe climb out a window from the larger building, then he realized it was Marek, hacking at someone inside with his sword. Marek slid down on vines until he was low enough to risk jumping, then dropped into the river. Chris didn't see Marek come to the surface.
He was still watching when the flour mill exploded in a blast of light and flying timbers. Soldiers, thrown into the air by the force of the explosion, tumbled like dolls from the battlements. As the smoke and dust cleared, he saw that the flour mill was gone - all that remained were a few wooden timbers, now burning. Dead soldiers floated in the river below, which was thick with boards from the shattered mill.
He still didn't see Marek anywhere, and he didn't see Kate, either. A white monk's robe drifted past him, carried by the current, and he had the sudden sick feeling that she was dead.
If so, then he was alone. Risking communication, he tapped his earpiece and said softly, "Kate. Andre."
There was no response.
"Kate, are you there? Andre?"
He heard nothing in his earpiece, not even static.
He saw a man's body floating face down in the river, and it looked like Marek. Was it? Yes, Chris was sure: dark-haired, big, strong, wearing a linen undershirt. Chris groaned. Soldiers farther up the bank were shouting; he turned to see how close they were. When he looked back at the river again, the body had floated away.
Chris dropped back down behind the bushes and tried to figure out what to do next.
Kate broke the surface, lying on her back. She floated helplessly downstream with the current. All around her, beams of jagged wood were smashing down into the water like missiles. The pain in her neck was so severe it made her gasp for breath, and with each breath, electric shocks streaked down her arms and legs. She couldn't move her body at all, and she thought she was paralyzed, until she slowly realized that she could move the very tips of her fingers, and her toes. The pain began to withdraw, moving up her limbs, localizing now in her neck, where it was very severe. But she could breathe a little better, and she could move all her limbs. She did it again: yes, she could move her limbs.
So she wasn't paralyzed. Was her neck broken? She tried a small movement, turning ever so slightly to the left, then to the right. It was painful as hell, but it seemed okay. She drifted. Something thick was dripping into her eye, making it hard to see. She wiped it away, saw blood on her fingertips. It must be coming from somewhere on her head. Her forehead burned. She touched it with the flat of her hand. Her palm was bright red with blood.
She drifted downstream, still on her back. The pain was still so strong, she didn't feel confident to roll over and swim. For the moment, she drifted. She wondered why the soldiers hadn't seen her.
Then she heard shouts from the shore, and realized that they had.
Chris peered over the bushes just in time to see Kate floating on her back downstream. She was injured; the whole left side of her face was covered in blood, flowing from her scalp. And she wasn't moving much. She might be paralyzed.
For a moment, their eyes met. She smiled slightly. He knew if he revealed himself now he would be captured, but he didn't hesitate. Now that Marek was gone, he had nothing to lose; they might as well stay together to the end. He splashed into the water, wading out to her. Only then did he realize his mistake.
He was within bowshot of the archers still on the remaining bridge tower, and they began firing at him, arrows hissing into the water.
Almost immediately, a knight in full armor splashed out on horseback into the river from Arnaut's side. The knight wore his helmet, and it was impossible to see his face, but he evidently feared nothing, for he placed his body and horse in a position to block the archers. His horse sank deeper as it came forward, and it was eventually swimming, the knight waist-deep in the water when he hauled Kate across his saddle like a wet sack and then grabbed Chris by the arm, saying, "Allons!" as he turned back to shore.
Kate slid off the saddle and onto the ground. The knight barked an order, and a man carrying a flag with diagonal red-and-white stripes came running up. He examined Kate's head injury, cleaned it and stanched the bleeding, then bandaged it with linen.
Meanwhile, the knight dismounted, unlaced his helm, and removed it. He was a tall and powerful man, extraordinarily handsome and dashing, with dark wavy hair, dark eyes, a full, sensuous mouth, and a twinkle in his eyes that suggested amusement at the foolish ways of the world. His complexion was dark, and he looked Spanish.
When Kate had been bandaged the knight smiled, showing perfect white teeth. "If you will do me the great honor to accompany me." He led them back toward the monastery and its church. At the side door to the church stood a group of soldiers, and another on horseback, carrying the green-and-black banner of Arnaut de Cervole.