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Authors: Amanda Forester

Tags: #Romance, #General, #Historical, #Fiction

True Highland Spirit (8 page)

BOOK: True Highland Spirit
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Morrigan could never be his.

Dragonet started to pace to clear his head. He was on a mission. He could not be caught in an entanglement with a local girl. It was unthinkable. Not with so much riding on his actions. His father… his father had trusted him with the mission, and Dragonet would not fail him.

It had been almost a year since he last saw his father. Dragonet remembered the day in his native France when his father had honored him with a rare summons. Jacques Dragonet bowed and kissed the ring of his father, the bishop of Troyes. The bishop acknowledged him with a slight inclination of his head and continued his meal. Dragonet stood before the bishop, his stomach rumbling at the smell of the feast.

“Did you find the silver chest?” asked the bishop, taking another bite of the savory, meat-filled pastry before him. Dragonet knew better than to suppose the bishop would invite him to join the meal.

“No, Your Grace. I do not believe it is in the monastery.”

“You believe it to be gone, or you know it,” the bishop glanced over his pastry, his eyes glinting in the candlelight.

“I have spent the past two years working with the master of the treasury. I have taken inventory of the treasures and relics they hold; none fits of the description of the silver box you described.” He had scoured the monastery belonging to the Hospitaller Knights, a warrior order of monks.

“Some treasures hold such value they are kept from the eyes of young monks.”

“Yes, Your Grace. I have come to be on most friendly terms with the master of the treasury and have supplied him with enough wine on occasion as to help him be forthcoming. He shared with me his secret stash of goods, namely whiskey. He also spoke of a silver chest once when he was deep in drink, but he said it had been so precious it had disappeared. Carried off by angels was his report.”

The bishop grunted and shook his head with disdain.

“He was heavily beset by drink at the time,” explained Dragonet.

“It was carried off, I do not doubt it, but hardly by angels. No, it has been stolen from me.” The irrelevant fact that the bishop had no right to the treasures held by the Hospitallers was not mentioned by either.

“I am sending you on a quest.” The bishop’s words struck deep and true. It was what Dragonet had been praying for, a chance to prove himself to his father.

“I am ready, Your Grace.” Dragonet had trained hard, studied hard, prayed and fasted. He had joined the Hospitallers as his father had asked, and immersed himself in their rigorous training. Dragonet wished to prove to his father that he had been worthy of his notice, worthy of the opportunities that had been given him.

“You know of the Knights Templar?”

“Yes,” replied Dragonet. Who did not know their sad history? “Their order was declared to be heretical and disbanded.”

The bishop gazed slyly over the rim of his wine glass. “King Philip owed the Templars money, and a lot of it. The Templars main heretical act was in not forgiving it. King Philip pressured the pope, who also owed the Templars money. The pope agreed to disband the order on charges of heresy, giving to the Hospitallers their assets, minus of course a substantial contribution to the king’s coffers.”

“So you believe the silver chest to be part of the Templars’ treasure?” Dragonet asked.

The bishop nodded and took a long drink of wine, draining the glass. He set the empty glass on the table and poured himself another. Dragonet wondered what he could do to warrant his father sharing a sip.

“Yes, it was found in Jerusalem and brought back to France. They were forced to hand it over to the Hospitallers locked in a silver chest. That much I have gathered from the records of the Inquisition.”

Dragonet shuddered. To fall into the hands of the Inquisition and their torturous ways was the stuff of nightmares.

“What is this thing for which you search?” Dragonet could not help being curious. The least his father could do was let him know what was in the box. Unfortunately, his father was accustomed to doing less than the least for his unacknowledged son and dismissed the impertinent question with a flick of his hand.

“We need to find the missing chest without alerting the one who holds it to its value or to our interest. I recently heard the confession of a dying knight who spoke of a group of Templars who returned from exile after the persecution and stayed with the Hospitallers before returning to exile. The relic must have been removed at that time.”

“Where is the treasure now?”

“Scotland.”

“Scotland!” Dragonet could keep neither the surprise nor the dismay from his voice.

“Some Templars escaped to Scotland years ago, but I have heard nothing of this box or what it contains. There are whispers of a hidden Templar fortune, but what is mere gold?” The bishop took another hearty bite of his savory pastry.

Dragonet said nothing. Gold was only meaningless to those who had never known want.

“You will go and find this silver chest,” the bishop commanded.

Dragonet again said nothing.
Scotland?
Did people actually live there? Wasn’t it terribly cold and populated by barbarians? The thought of leaving France was an unwelcome one.

The bishop stopped eating and gave Dragonet an appraising glance, as if judging how much to offer in order to gain compliance.

“Inside the chest is a relic so powerful, there can be none beside it. The old Templars are the key, they are where you must begin.” The bishop lowered his voice. “The Holy Grail itself is but nothing compared to this treasure.”

Dragonet waited for him to reveal what was the treasure of the Templars but the bishop merely took another sip of wine, waiting for Dragonet’s answer. The room was silent.

“I never wanted a child, but today I am glad to call you my son. Will you go on this quest, Sir Knight?” asked the bishop.

The corner of Dragonet’s mouth twitched involuntarily. His father had asked him in a manner that made it impossible to refuse. He was being manipulated. It was nothing new. And yet it was also his best chance at proving himself to his father.

“Yes, Your Grace. I will go where you send me.”

“Good. You will put aside your monk’s robes and disguise yourself as a traveling knight and join with the Duke of Argitaine on his mission to Scotland.”

“The Duke of Argitaine?”

“Yes, he goes to convince the Scots to make war against the English. You will travel with Argitaine. It will give you the perfect excuse to search the countryside for the Templars. I feel I must warn you that the previous monks I have sent looking for the relic have never returned. Some were killed, others…” The bishop shrugged. “The relic is not unprotected. Reveal to no one who you are.” The bishop paused, his eyes narrowed into suspicious slits. “I hope my faith in you will not prove to be misplaced.”

“I will bring you back the silver box, Father.” Dragonet bowed and kissed his father’s ring.

His father had asked him to find the silver chest, and he would. Finding the treasure was his purpose. His quest. Nothing must stand in his way.

Ah, but Morrigan… Dragonet flopped down on his pallet and pushed the traitorous thoughts aside. He was a monk. A monk! It did not matter he had taken those vows at such a tender age he had no idea what he was denying himself. It was done. He must banish the confusing feelings that emerged whenever he thought of her. His future was his mission. It could never be anything else.

He forced himself to evaluate the situation logically and focus back on his mission. In his travels, he had learned that Templar knights had come to Scotland and joined Robert the Bruce in his war against England. But that had been years ago. He had discovered the names of several knights, but all had died. A grandson of one of the knights had been found, but he was living in a poor crofter’s hut, drinking his way through day and night. Dragonet had searched the unassuming hut, and found nothing but squalor.

More Templar knights may have existed, but who and where he did not know. He did learn the office of the bishop of Glasgow had been traditionally sympathetic to the Scots’ cause. Could the Templars have found in him an ally? The bishop’s castle would make an excellent hiding place. What was the bishop’s agenda? And why did Morrigan point a crossbow at his back?

Thoughts of Morrigan flooded back, unbidden and unwelcome. He closed his eyes, but he could still see hear her voice… what would she say to him? Even in his dreams she insulted him.

The darkness in his room turned a softer shade of gray. Dawn would be soon. It was time to go back to the castle and determine whether the bishop was friend or foe.

Seven
 

By the time Morrigan dragged the carcass of the deer back to the bishop’s castle, the sun threatened to rise and her body threatened to collapse. Her back hurt, her arms hurt, her feet hurt, but she welcomed the pain that focused her thoughts on something other than a certain minstrel turned French knight.

Morrigan hoisted the carcass over her shoulders, ignoring the screaming blaze of pain spreading down her back. Focus on the pain. Better than thinking of Jacques or Dragonet or whatever his name was. Morrigan pounded on the door to the servants’ entrance and dropped the beast at the feet of a surprised maid.

“I caught a bastard poaching deer on the bishop’s land,” lied Morrigan. “I scared him off but no’ before he took down this buck. It belongs to the bishop. Is my brother McNab here? I need to speak to him. Where did ye say he was staying?”

The servant girl stared at the dead creature, then at Morrigan, then back at the carcass, but eventually led Morrigan down a narrow hallway. Morrigan was shown into a small room with a stone fireplace and two wooden benches. The fireplace was unlit, the walls were plain, and the only light came from a small window. The maid left without saying a word.

Morrigan sat heavily on a wooden bench. The room was so spare she guessed it was rarely used, probably reserved for guests of unknown class and origin, such as herself.

“Morrigan! By the saints, what happened to ye?” Archie McNab burst into the room with his long stride, but stopped short, his eyes widening. Morrigan glanced down at herself and noted with some disgust that the deer had bled down her side. She was not only dirty but half covered in blood and gore as well. She was surprised the wench let her in the castle at all.

“I am unhurt. I brought a deer for His Grace.”

McNab opened his mouth as if to speak but only shook his head with a shrug. “Ye’re daft. Always was.”

“Nice to see ye too, Brother,” Morrigan ground out.

“’Tis good to see ye, truly. But what are ye doing here? How is the clan?”

“Fine, no thanks to ye. Why have ye been gone so long? We took ye for dead.” Morrigan was not sure if she should be joyful or furious to find Archie in such good health.

“Did ye no’ receive the missive I sent? Sodden Sal promised to deliver it direct.”

“Nay, we received naught.” Morrigan stood and put her hands on her hips. “Let me understand, ye entrusted yer message to a knave named
Sodden
Sal
?”

“I am short o’ funds,” Archie said with a shrug. “But how is the clan? Why are ye are here?”

Morrigan glanced around. “Are we alone? Can we talk?”

Archie shut the door and they both sat down on the bench. Morrigan noted he appeared to be well fed and adequately dressed. There was also something different about him, something she could not name.

“What is it? Tell me the whole,” said Archie in a way Morrigan appreciated. Archie may have foolish notions, but when it came to the clan he took his leadership seriously. There was little he would not do for the clan. It was the one thing they had in common.

“The main fields were burned, we lost a third of the crop,” Morrigan said bluntly.

“Nay!” Archie shook his head, the haunted look returning to his eye. “We need it for the winter. How did such a thing happen?”

“It was set purposely. I was given this.” Morrigan reached down her shirt into the linen strips she used to bind her chest and produced the threatening missive with the odd seal.

McNab took the folded parchment and held it up to the gray light of dawn, but did not open it, a flicker of recognition crossing his face. “Please tell me ye did no’ harm the bishop.”

Morrigan shook her head. “What is happening, Brother? Who sent this? ’Tis time to tell me the truth.”

“I ne’er meant it to come to this,” Archie mumbled and closed his eyes for a moment, rubbing his face with his hands. “It started many years ago, before either o’ us was born. Ye recall the stories o’ Robert the Bruce fighting against the English?”

“Aye. What has that got to do wi’ this?”

“Around that time the Church declared the Templar Knights to be heretics and persecuted their members. Many fled to Scotland for safety.”

“I ken the history, what is yer point?”

“A group o’ these Templars was traveling in winter and got caught in a blizzard. Our grandfather found them and offered them shelter. They had some things wi’ them. Things they were anxious to hide. They paid Grandfather McNab handsomely for his charity and asked for something more, the ability to buy a portion of our land. The only condition was he could ne’er tell anyone he had sold the land.”

BOOK: True Highland Spirit
7.49Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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