Read The Lafayette Sword Online

Authors: Eric Giacometti

Tags: #Freemasons;Freemason secrets;Freemasonry;Gold;Nicolas Flamel;thriller;secret societies;Paris;New York;Statue of Liberty;esoteric thriller;secret;secret knowledge;enlightenment;Eiffel tower

The Lafayette Sword (4 page)

9

Grand Orient Masonic Hall

Evening of the initiation

“E
ighty-six. Eighty-seven. Eighty-eight.” When Marcas was grand expert—twice a year—and went to get an initiate, he always counted the steps between the temple and the chamber of reflection. It helped him still his mind and focus on
his task.

It had been many years since his initiation, but he still remembered his relief at seeing the grand expert, of no longer being alone in the dark with the skull, and finally being able to enter the lodge. But there was also the fear of not being good enough, of being sent away by the
assembly.

“A hundred and twenty. A hundred and tw
enty-one.”

Marcas was almost there. Every Mason, without exception, had experienced this ritual, from the most famous government officials, artists, military leaders, and bankers to the most anonymous office workers. Each had waited for the grand expert in the dark, as vulnerable as the day he was born. Marcas remembered one minister of foreign affairs, a man full of himself who had left his ignorance at the door of the chamber. When Marcas arrived, he found a man transformed by the hours spent questioning the meanin
g of life.

“A hundred forty-three. A hundred fo
rty-four.”

He stopped and knocked three times. Without waiting for an answer, he turned the
doorknob.

The initiate was curled on the floor. Why? He should have been sitting in
the chair.

Marcas froze as the image came into focus. The man, his mouth gaping, was lying in a pool
of blood.

10

The banks of the Seine, Paris

March 13, 1355

T
he Tour de Nesle had a bad reputation. It was rumored that at the beginning of the century Queen Marguerite would have her lovers thrown into the Seine, which the tower overlooked, when she tired of them. The common people considered the area cursed, and the royal decision to build the pyre here fed speculation that anyone put to death in this place had committed a heinous crime possibly related to w
itchcraft.

The curious were gathering in clusters at the tip of the Île de la Cité. The guards, spears in hand, had barred access to the tower, causing a chorus of shouts. It began with teasing relayed by the women. The soldiers in chainmail remained impassive. After awhile, the more reckless paraded past the archers, shouting insults and making rude
gestures.

Men in arms had lost their prestige over the last half century. Successive defeats against the English, combined with growing insecurity in Paris and peasant revolts in the countryside, had killed any respect for men bearing swords. The soldiers knew it and didn't respond, for fear of causi
ng a riot.

Nicolas Flamel had ended up following his neighbor. They stopped near a chapel for bargemen that was under construction. Master Maillard had friends in the boatme
n's guild.

“My dear neighbor, is this not a f
ine spot?”

Flamel didn't answer. He had felt obliged to follow the furrier. Such spectacles revolted him, but in uncertain times it wasn't good to stand out. If the people of Paris rejoiced in watching a Jew being burned at the stake, one had to share in the dreadful celebration or at least give the appearance of sharing. Priests even invited their flocks to participate. It was a way for the Church to show its power and the punishment reserved for those who dared t
o defy it.

“Master Maillard, didn't you say the man was sentenced by the king? So this isn't about heresy, which is exclusively a Churc
h matter?”

The furrier leaned toward Flamel. “As I said, our good king brought this Jew from Spain into his court. It was an exceptional favor, and the man proved
unworthy.

“But Jews have been banned from the kingdom for
decades.”

“The king had his
reasons.”

“He must have been a doctor. It's said that in Avignon, where the pope resides, all the doctors are children of
Abraham.”

Master Maillard lowered his voice. “The truth is, the kingdom's finances aren't in go
od shape.”

“So he's
a banker?”

“Even a banker would have a hard time fixing the king's treasury. No
, he's a—”

The word was lost in the commotion of the guards building a pyre at the base o
f a cross.

The screaming grew louder when the executioner arrived, dressed in a black bodysuit, his face hidden under a blood-red mask. Flanked by his aides, he slowly made his way through
the crowd.

“The wheel! The wheel.” The cries rose up from the crowd and reverberated off the ston
e façades.

The people were calling for the supreme punishment, reserved for the most horrible crimes. They wan
ted blood.

11

Grand Orient Masonic Hall

Evening of the initiation

T
he thirty brothers, all in black suits and bow ties that matched the belts of their ceremonial aprons, were gathered in the hallway. The grand secretary was pacing. Before tonight, no murder had ever been committed in this sacred Freemason
building.

Marcas had shifted into police mode. He had shut the chamber door, run up the stairs, and told the tyler to close the temple, inform the worshipful master, and group the brothers together. Then he hurried to the entrance of the building to tell the guard, who hadn't seen any
one leave.

The killer was still in the
building.

Marcas elbowed his way through the group and took the worshipful master aside. “I'll have to call this in, of course,” he whispered in the man's ear. “But I think our killer's still here, and we don't have much time. We should split into small groups and search the building. I need to see the bl
ueprints.”

“The grand secretary has a copy in his office. I remember seeing them when we put in a wheelch
air ramp.”

Marcas gasped. “Wher
e's Paul?”

“He must still be in th
e temple.”

“He's in there all by himself? With a murderer on t
he loose?”

Marcas rushed into Lafayette temple. The room was silent and dark, but he could make out the w
heelchair.

“Paul, you should come
join us.”

Paul didn't answe
r or move.

Marcas felt his scalp prickle. He approached the chair. Then he saw it: a pool of blood on the black and wh
ite floor.

“Paul!”

His brother's chest was drenched in blood. And his eyes, full of terror, were fixed on the star-covere
d ceiling.

12

The banks of the Seine

March 13, 1355

T
he wheel was the most spectacular form of torture. It was used on rare occasions for those accused of the most heinous crimes. It always drew a crowd of fascinated and horrified
Parisians.

The scribe and manuscript seller from the Rue Saint Jacques shivered. Gossips still talked about the Aulnay brothers, who in 1314 were attached to the wheels of a cart. Their limbs were broken one by one. Then they were skinn
ed alive.

Master Maillard grabbed Flamel's arm and pointed to some people who were throwing stones. A riot wa
s brewing.

“You see, the good people want vengeance for th
eir king.”

“Let's just hope that their love for our sovereign doesn't cause them to pillage and burn our shops,” Fl
amel said.

The furrier's face filled with worry. “Do you think the crowd would do that? But we're
not Jews!”

“We're tradesmen. And thus profiteers. Haven't you heard the talk at the market?” Flamel was getting annoyed with Maillard's
ignorance.

“Now, now, neighbor Flamel, you're trying to scare me. I'm just a humble commoner like these goo
d people.”

“A humble commoner who has a fine home, a cellar full of choice f
urs, and…”

Maillard turned away from the pyre and scanned Temple Quarter. The city's beggars and criminals had been squatting in those dark alleys ever since the Templars had been wiped out. They would certainly be keen on joining the rabble
-rousers.

“…a very beauti
ful wife.”

The furrier sai
d nothing.

Flamel couldn't stop. He wanted to lash out at this ignor
ant bigot.

“Rumor has it that when the poor attack a bourgeois house, they take pleasure with the lady before they plunder the goods. What do you think
of that?”

Maillard didn't have time to answer before a joyful clamor rose from
the crowd.

The henchman had grabbed a torch and was inspecting the pyre, making sure that all the branches and logs were dry and that different kinds of wood had been used. These measures would make for adequate combustion. Vine shoots from the Montmartre hillside, chosen for their length, were piled at the foot of the cross, which needed to burst into flames imm
ediately.

Silence fell on the crowd. The prisoner wa
s led out.

13

Grand Orient Masonic Hall

Evening of the initiation

“T
his can't be,” Marcas said, touching his friend's hand. It was still warm. He closed Paul's eyes and stepped back. Two murders in a matter of minutes. It was insane. It was monstrous. The killer had used a venerated rite to execute an initiate and had then slain a disabled brother—in this very place. The person who did this was clearly out to humiliate and ridicule the victims and the Freemasons a
s a whole.

Marcas jumped when the door slammed behind him. He heard footsteps in the hallway and rushed after them, adrenaline kicking in. He would get the bastard who desecrated this temple and killed hi
s friend.

He caught sight of a shadow at the bottom of the stairs and took the steps two at a time, following the fugitive into Groussier Temple, the largest in the building. It could hold three hundred people and was said to be the most remarkable Masonic sanctuary in the French capital. Marcas stopped and examined the rows of seats. He heard a noise to the left and grasped the handle of his sword. The ceremonial weapon could possibly save his life. A shadow appeared among the deserted rows—a man in black, his fac
e covered.

Marcas made his way toward the sound. “Police! Stop where
you are.”

The masked man turned toward Marcas. He pulled out a knife and twirled it. Marcas stared at him. He needed to stall until the other brother
s arrived.

“There's no way out of this building. The exits are guarded. Set down yo
ur knife.”

The man stood still. Marcas advanc
ed slowly.

Instead of putting the knife down, the man used it to point at something he wa
s wearing.

Marcas stopped. He couldn't quite ma
ke it out.

The killer reached out with his left hand and hit a switch, filling the whole room w
ith light.

“So now you see, d
on't you?”

The man was wearing a white Masonic apron covered with splotches
of blood.

“You're on
e of us?”

The man lowered the knife again, and his voice rang out. “Of course, my
brother…”

14

The banks of the Seine

March 13, 1355

F
lamel watched as the prisoner, held on both sides, stumbled toward the pyre. He was wearing an immaculate white shirt. His thick long hair was tied back. The henchman's aids hoisted him atop the branches, logs, and vine shoots and tied him to the cross. The people were st
one quiet.

Flamel glanced at the window of the Louvre, from which the king and his family would be watching. The public accuser's voice rang out in
the night.

“Isaac Benserade, Jew from the Kingdom of León, you are accused of lying and committing perjury and treason toward King John, the second of
his name.”

A murmur spread through the crowd. These were extremely serious accusations, Was the man a spy for th
e English?

“Isaac Benserade, you are accused of committing fraud and counte
rfeiting.”

Cries of anger rose up from the crowd. It was no secret that pawnbrokers and other lenders were both needed and
despised.

“Isaac Benserade, you are accused of practicing black magic with herbs, philters, and other Devil
liquids.”

The crowd's anger rose to rage. Memories of the black death were still vivid. When prayers and processions had failed to stop the plague, the priests had turned their attention to heretics and Jews. The priests accused these so-called nonbelievers of poisoning Christians. Alembics and hellish liquids were discovered in Avignon's Jewish quarter. The children of Abraham were deemed murderous
renegades.

The crowd was crying out for vengeance now. The wanted a scapegoat to pay for their misery, someone to punish for the disasters visited upon
humanity.

Unnoticed by his neighbor, Nicolas Flamel pulled away from the crowd. He felt a hand on his shoulder and turned around. It was one of his customers, Baron Jean-Baptiste de Tuz, lord of
Pontoise.

“Well, Master Flamel, I never thought I'd see you at such a sorry s
pectacle.”

The man was in his forties. A black beard framed his chin. He'd been coming to Flamel's shop for two years. A benefactor of poets, the baron wanted to write down the words of the troubadours who performed in his castle. He was one of a minority of enlightened aristocrats pressing for reforms in th
e kingdom.

“Believe me when I say that I already regret having been led here
, milord.”

“You're a good man, Master Flamel. If only all Christians were
like you.”

Flamel smiled. The baron of Tuz was known for his kindness. On several occasions he had helped Jews and other people who had been forced into hiding. He had even had his guards thrash an overly zealous inquisitor. Fortunately for him, he was under the protection of the king'
s brother.

“It saddens me to see this poor man brought to the stake,” the baron said. “It reminds me of the stories about the Templars that my father told me. One day these dishonorable practices will have
to stop.”

“Baron, do you know why our king wanted him put to death? I mean the rea
l reason.”

“I see that you are as clever as always,” the baron said with a smile. “I heard the tale of the good king who was deceived. But John is not one to be easily misled. I suspect there's more to it, but we'll probably ne
ver know.”

A cl
amor rose.

“And the
re he is.”

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