Authors: Sigmund Brouwer
“Father?” Katherine asked, searching his eyes. “Is something wrong?”
Frère Dominic nodded. “Only for me,” he said. “You see, when I tell you my heart has been stolen, it is not merely the flattery of a man who
enjoys too much”—the priest patted his stomach—“your touch with our French recipes. I shall truly miss your presence here.”
Katherine stood quickly. She took one of the priest’s hands in hers and squeezed it tight. “He has returned?”
Frère Dominic nodded, then shook his head mournfully. “After an absence of six months, he refuses to accept the hospitality of one night’s stay here. Even now, that scoundrel is in the stable, preparing a horse for you.”
Katherine dropped the priest’s warm hand. “Travel? So soon? Did he mention …”
Once again, Katherine blushed.
“England?” Frère Dominic finished for her.
Katherine nodded, watched the priest’s face, and waited.
“Yes,” he finally said, then smiled at her unconcealed expression. “Your face again carries the look I interrupted moments ago. Who is he that captures your thoughts, Katherine? Were I three decades younger, I would be smitten with jealousy.”
Katherine and Hawkwood rode for two days to reach the harbor town of Dieppe on the French side of the English Channel.
She knew Hawkwood was anxious. He did not question the price offered for their horses in Dieppe, although it was scandalously low. And half an hour later, he did not barter with the ship’s captain for passage across the Channel.
Three days on the pitched and gray North Sea brought them to Kingston upon Hull. Once again, Hawkwood did not waste time searching for the fairest price of horseflesh and paid double what he should have.
They rode thirty miles, directly to an obscure abbey north and east of the town of York, stopping as they traveled only when the sun went down.
“Patience,” Hawkwood said, “is well known as a virtue.”
“Then I shall be nominated for sainthood,” Katherine replied. “For nearly a week now, I have waited for you to inform me of the reason for our mad haste.”
She waved at the land around them. “And now you ask me to sit here for hours, perhaps days, on the mere chance that Thomas might arrive in this remote valley.”
“Keep your hands still,” Hawkwood admonished. “He must have no hint of our presence.”
“He will not arrive.”
Hawkwood chuckled. “Your voice betrays your hope.”
To that, Katherine did not reply. For Hawkwood spoke truth.
His earlier promise—and only information—had been that Thomas would arrive. And Hawkwood had never been wrong.
So they had settled into the side of the hill barely a half hour earlier, just as the morning sun rose to show her the valley below. It was narrow and compressed, with more rock and stunted trees on the slopes than sweet grass and sheep.
Although they were near the exposed summit of the valley, Hawkwood had shrewdly chosen a vantage point among the shadows of large rocks.
Lower down, trees guarded the tiny river that wound past the abbey a half mile downstream.
Hawkwood had pointed at a jumble of rocks and boulders on the river, some as large as a peasant’s hut.
“There,” he had said, “is hidden a dry, cool cave, invisible except to those who have been led to its narrow entrance among the granite and growing bush. It is his destination.”
And now, long enough later so that the prickling of the sun’s first heat had coaxed out the ants that marched through the dust in front of her, Katherine brought the discussion back to her questions.
“Not only shall I receive sainthood for patience, but if ignorance is bliss, I shall be the happiest saint to have walked this earth.”
It drew another chuckle.
“Yes,” Hawkwood said. “I tell you little. But for your own protection.”
“No,” Katherine corrected. “For the protection of Magnus.” She then repeated oft-heard words. “After all, I cannot divulge what I do not know.”
That drew a sigh.
“Katherine,” he said, “not even I know the entire plan. We all have our tasks and must trust to the whole.”
Would it be fair, she wondered, to push him now for more?
She hesitated. Was it fair, she countered herself, to know so little?
So she decided to ask, almost with dread at his anticipated anger. “Yes,” she said softly. “There is truth in that. You fear that I might be taken by the Druids and be forced to betray us. But if something should happen to you? How could I carry on our battle without more knowledge than I have now?”
Hawkwood dropped his head. Instead of anger, sadness filled his voice. “There is truth in that. And I’ve wondered how long it would take for you to turn my sword of defense back upon me.”
She waited, sensing victory but feeling no enjoyment in it.
He continued. “In the cave below are books. In Latin, French, even Italian. But mostly Latin. Once, as you know, those of us in Magnus had the leisure to translate from all languages into that universal word.”
“Books?” Katherine was incredulous. “Here in this valley? But that is treasure beyond value! Why here?”
“Well put,” he said. “Treasure beyond value. More than you know. These are not books coveted by the wealthy for beauty and worth. In that cave lies knowledge brought from lands as far away as the eastern edge of the world. All for Thomas to use in his solitary battle.”
“That is why you are so certain he will return,” Katherine breathed.
“The message told me Magnus has fallen. With no money and no army, he has no choice but to seek power from the knowledge in that cave.”
“Much as he did to first conquer Magnus,” Katherine said absently.
A sharp intake of breath from Hawkwood. “You know that?”
“His wings. ‘The wings of an angel,’ ” she said simply. “How else could he have had such a secret?”
“Of course,” he said. “You would not fail to see the obvious.”
Should she feel guilty? Her answer was not a lie, but she had not divulged to Hawkwood that Thomas had once told her of these books. And that he had regretted it later as he banished her from Magnus.
Katherine now realized the immensity of the secret Thomas had held, not knowing she was one of his watchers. But her new information only led to more questions.
“How did the books arrive here? When? Why?”
“The books arrived by horse. Along the path of the Crusades. And that is all I wish to say.”
There was a finality to his tone that told her not to pursue those questions further. So Katherine puzzled through more thoughts, then changed the direction of her query. “Why must we continue to watch? Surely he now needs our help.”
Hawkwood shook his head. “Not until we are certain to which side he belongs. Our only word was that Magnus has fallen. I had expected a letter from Gervaise to guide us further. Before sending Thomas back here, Gervaise was supposed to test Thomas, to find a way to know, finally, if we can trust him. Yet nothing has arrived from Gervaise. I pray he has only been imprisoned, not killed. For us, in this game of masks behind masks, we can now only wait.”
Katherine finished for Hawkwood. It was a familiar argument. “For if Thomas were a Druid, he would act as if he were not. Now, perhaps, it is convenient for them to assume open control of Magnus. And equally convenient for them to send him forth as bait.”
He, in turn, finished her oft-used argument. “Yet if he is not one of them, we can do so much good by revealing ourselves. Together, our fight would be stronger. If we could trust him.”
“And,” she added, “find a way to have him trust us.”
They both sighed. It was an argument with no answer. Too much depended on Thomas.
When he arrived, they almost missed him.
It was obvious he’d spent years avoiding the nearby harsh monks in his boyhood, slipping along every secret deer path in the surrounding hills. At times, Thomas would approach a seemingly solid stand of brush, then twist sideways into an invisible opening among the jagged branches and later reappear quietly farther down the hill.
His familiarity with the terrain, however, did not make him appear less cautious.
It was only the loud caws of a disgruntled crow that warned Katherine and Hawkwood. Even then, it took them twenty minutes to see his slow movement.
From above, they saw Thomas circle the jumbled rocks near the river once. Then he slipped into a nearby crevice and surveyed the area.
“He was taught well,” Hawkwood whispered with approval. “He has no reason to be suspicious, yet still he remains disciplined.”
Minute after minute passed.
“He counts to one thousand,” Hawkwood explained. “He was taught that this cave was the most important secret of all. Taught never to let anyone discover the entrance.”
Thomas circled slowly once more, sometimes visible. Sometimes not.
Katherine ached to see his face close, to discover if she still felt as she remembered when she looked into his eyes. But she, too, had been taught discipline and held herself motionless, with nothing of those thoughts crossing her face.
Then she noticed something.
“He walks awkwardly,” she whispered. “Not from the bag he carries. But as if hunched.”
Then she gasped as that hump on his back moved. And just before Thomas disappeared into the cave, she received a glimpse of his burden as it poked its nose out from the back of his shirt.
“A puppy,” she said in amazement. “An entire kingdom rides on his shoulders, and next to it, he carries a puppy?”
Two days passed.
Yet during the long hours of waiting, Katherine could satisfy little more of her curiosity through discussion. Hawkwood insisted on near-perfect silence. He also insisted on alternating watch duty. One must sleep while the other observed the rocks of the entrance.
The few moments they were both awake were spent sharing the sack of breads and cheeses they had carried with them.
At night they moved closer down to the rocks of the river and settled into a nearby crevice in the hill. They could not trust the light of the moon to remain unclouded, and Thomas might leave at any hour. Twice already he had alarmed them with sudden appearances, only to fill a leather bag with water and return to the cave.