Son of the Morning (Chapter 13)

"NIALL, I DREAMED ABOUT YOU AGAIN LAST NIGHT. FOR ONCE, you weren't either fighting or having sex, just sitting quietly in front of a fire, cleaning your sword. You looked – not sad, but grim, as if you carried a burden that would break most men. What were you thinking about? What makes you so alone? Do you think about the Templars, all the friends who died, or is there something else that made you so hard? Do you resent being a renegade, when your brother is a king?"

Grace lifted her hands from the keys, disturbed by what she had just typed. Dreaming about him was one thing, writing to him was another. It was unsettling, the way she felt as if she were truly communicating with him, as if he would read her words and reply. She knew the constant stress of the past eight months had taken a toll on her, but she hoped she hadn't totally flipped out.

She had tried to resume writing in her electronic journal, but somehow her brain refused to seize on the everyday detail that she had recorded before. For one thing, she had no routine life, and without a routine there couldn't be anythingunroutine . She would stare at the empty screen, her fingers poised over the keys, but in the end she had no comment to make about the day. She had no appointments to keep, no news to share, no one to share it with in any case. She went through the days silent and numb, coming alive only with hatred for Parrish or when she was translating the papers.

But however illusory Niall was, he was far more vivid than anything else in the grayness of her life. He seemed real, as if he were just on the other side of the door, unseen but undeniably there. His myth, his history, was her one bit of color. Through him, she still lived, still felt the hot rush of vitality and passion. She could talk to him as she would never again be able to talk to anyone living. The division between before and now was too deep, too drastic; there was too little left of the shy, bookish, rather innocent woman she had been. In her own way, she was as unreal as Niall.

She felt her aloneness all the way to the bone. Not loneliness; she didn't pine for company, for a sympathetic ear, for gossip and chatter and laughter. She was alone in a way she'd never before imagined, as solitary as if she were an astronaut comeuntethered from the mother ship, drifting unnoticed in an emptiness so vast it was beyond comprehension. She had found a whisper of companionship with Harmony Johnson, but remaining would have been too dangerous to Harmony, and during the six months she'd been back inMinneapolis she hadn't truly talked with anyone. She woke up alone, she worked in mental if not physical isolation, and she went to sleep alone.Alone. What a desolate, empty word.

In her dream, Niall had been alone. Alone inside, as she was. He could be surrounded by people and still be alone, because there was something untouchable in him; something no one else even knew existed. The golden glow of the fire had outlined the hard, pure lines of his face, shadowed the deep-set eyes and high cheekbones. His movements had been deft as he saw to the cleaning and repair of his weapon, his long fingers tracing over the razor edge to find any chips that dulled its effectiveness. His manner had been absorbed, deliberate, remote.

Once his head had lifted and he sat very still, as if listening for or to something that hadn't registered in the dream. Black mane flowing over his broad shoulders, his black eyes narrowed, he had been the picture of animal alertness, on guard and wary. No threat had materialized and gradually he had relaxed, but she had the impression of a man who could never truly ease his vigilance. He was the Guardian.

She had wanted to touch his shoulder, and sit silently beside him by the fire while he tended his tools of war, giving him the comfort of her warmth and presence so that he knew he wasn't alone after all-and perhaps, in doing so, she too would find comfort and companionship. But in this dream she had been locked into the role of observer, unable to go closer, and in the end she had awakened without touching him.

"If I were with you.. ." Startled, she stared at what she had typed. The words hadn't been consciously planned; her fingers had simply moved on the keyboard and they had appeared. Suddenly frightened, she closed the file on her journal. Her hands were shaking.She had to stop thinking of Niall as if he were alive. The fixation on him was too vivid, too powerful. At first concentrating on him had seemed reasonable, a way of keeping herself sane, but what if it were having the opposite effect and she was losing herself in fantasy? After reading her journal entries, any psychiatrist would be forgiven for thinking she had lost contact with reality.

But reality was seeing her husband and brother murdered, crouching in a cold rain too terrified to cross a street, going hungry and being cold, sleeping in storage buildings and fighting off attackers. Reality was freezing in horror at the sound of Parrish's voice. What did she have left except the escape she found in her dreams?

She looked at the stack of documents, at the pages and pages of notes she had scribbled. "I have work," she murmured, and the sound of her own voice was reassuringly normal. She might feel as if she were coming apart at the seams, but she still had the work. It had saved her for eight months and would continue to save her for a few days yet, though that damn Gaelic had nearly defeated her.

Just another week or two of work, and then the tales of the Knights Templar and the Guardian, of Black Niall, would be ended. When she wasn't spending hours struggling with the translations every night before bed, the dreams of him would stop.

Unexpected desolation swamped her at the thought. Without Niall, the spark that made her feel alive, even if only in her dreams, would be extinguished. There would be no more translations, because she was too well known by sight in her field to get a job with another archaeological foundation, even under an assumed name. There would be no more intriguing puzzles, not that any other work she had done had come close to fascinating her as much as did Niall and the Templars.

She would have nothing but vengeance. The need for it burned inside her, but she sensed that beyond vengeance there was nothing but bleak, gray nothingness, assuming she survived. She would be on the run for the rest of her life, her identity gone, nothing to look forward to, and never knowing the joy of having Ford's children and growing old with him, cradling their grandchildren, perhaps watching Bryant succumb at last to love and matrimony.

Being insane was better. She pulled the Gaelic papers to her, opened the Gaelic/English dictionary, and picked up her pen.

As usual, she was drawn almost immediately into the magic of the papers, the sense of reading something enormously compelling and important.

"Mankind shall not know the True Power," she read some minutes later. "The Cup and the Winding Cloth shall blind them to the sun, the Throne and Banner denied, but the True Power shall be used by the Guardian in the Lord's stead, to pass through the Veil of Time and protect the Treasure from Evil.

"None save the Treasure can defeat Evil, and none save the Guardian shall use the Power."

It read like a Bible passage, but she was certain nothing like this had ever been in the Bible. The Cup… that could refer to the Chalice, and the Winding Cloth could well be the shroud in which Jesus had been wrapped after the crucifixion. The Shroud of Turin was supposed to beJesus's shroud, but it was surrounded by controversy; there were references to its existence long before the fourteenth century, which was when carbon dating had placed its origin. Of course, the earlier references could have been to another shroud, perhaps the real one… which did nothing to explain how a fourteenth-century forger could have created a cloth bearing an impregnable negative image of a crucified man, five centuries before photography had been invented.

"The Cup and the Winding Cloth shall blind them to the sun," she read again. If the Chalice still existed, it had never been found. But perhaps the arguments about the validity of the shroud did indeed blind people to the true nature of faith; they were so busy making points and counter points that the argument became the focus and they couldn't see the whole picture.

The Templars were irrevocably connected to the shroud. They had battled the Moors and wonJerusalem for the Crusaders for a time, and themselves occupied theTemple on the Mount for longer than that. During their occupation, they had determinedly excavated as much of theTemple as possible, perhaps finding many artifacts dating back to the early years of theTemple , to the very beginning of Judaism. What treasures indeed had they found… what Treasure?

One of the charges against the Templars was that they had worshipped false gods, for in every chapel the Templars had built after occupying theTemple on the Mount, there had been the face of a man, a stem, strong-boned face-the same face that had been revealed centuries later on the Shroud of Turin.

It followed that they had unearthed the shroud; it also followed that its location in theTemple gave it validity. But what else had they found? The "Cup" and the "Winding Cloth" were listed, as well as the "Throne" and the "Banner," but the "True Power" was something else, something so far leftundescribed .

"The Guardian shall defend the world from the Foundation of Evil."

Grace sighed at the continued ambiguity. The Foundation of Evil was obviously Satan, but why hadn't the writer simply said so? Evidently even medieval scribes had been afflicted by wordiness.

Just the wordFoundation made her think of better days, with Ford and Bryant delicately and happily sifting mounds of dirt through screens, looking for the smallest shard of pottery; or sitting on the ground whisking a small brush over a half-buried bone. The three of them had loved their work, and the AmaranthinePotere Foundation had been one of the few places in the world where an archaeologist could be permanently employed. Independently funded, the Foundation hadn't concentrated just on the hugely important digs, but on the smaller ones that would provide detail rather than drama. Bryant had once said that the Foundation seemed determined to leave no dirt in the worldunsifted .

Grace stiffened, her pupils contracting with shock.Potere … Power.AmaranthinePotereFoundation , the Foundation of Unending Power.

Why hadn't she made the connection before? Languages and translations were her field of expertise. She should have seen it, should have realized

It was a stretch, a real stretch. It was ridiculous. A huge foundation committed to unearthing the Templar Treasure? The money spent would surely far exceed the worth of any gold found.

"The Treasure's worth is greater than gold," she whispered. Not money, then; the documents had made that plain. Power. The Templars had possessed some mysterious power, had dedicated their lives to protecting it.

She got up and paced, mentally feeling her way through the puzzle. Was it possible the Foundation existed toprevent people from learning about the Power, whatever it was? Could Parrish, in some twisted way, think he had to kill everyone who learned of the papers in order to keep the Power secret? Was he acting as Guardian?

No, she could drive a truck through the holes in that theory. For one thing, the Foundation hadn't had anything to guard. The papers had disappeared centuries before and anyone who knew anything about archaeology could not have reasonably expected the documents would survive. Paper deteriorated rapidly; that was why there were relatively few original documents left from even two centuries before, much less almost seven.

No, forget about any mystic power, any great struggle between right and wrong. She was tired, and fatigue was fogging her brain. The most likely motive was money, pure and simple. Parrish must have reason to believe the Templars' Treasure was enormous beyond belief, and as director of the Foundation he could expend any amount of effort he wanted in finding it. He must have devised some way of appropriating the gold for his own use. The Foundation was probably exactly what it seemed, an archaeological foundation, without any sinister motive behind its existence. Parrish was the villain, not the Foundation itself.

But the Foundation had been founded in 1802, and named "Unending Power," long before Parrish's arrival on earth.

Where had the funding come from, all these decades? Who had originally founded AmaranthinePotere ? How was it sustained now? As far as she knew, there hadn't been any fundraisers.

She did know that the Foundation had a very sophisticated computer system, far more sophisticated than she might have expected an archaeological foundation to have; after all, why should a list of contributors, assuming there was one, be either secret or sensitive? The Foundation was supposed to be nonprofit; presumably donations would be tax-deductible, so any list of contributors would be public anyway.

It would be nice if she could get into the system, just to see what she could find.

Doing so would require a hacker's skills, though, and she wasn't that good.

KristianSieberwas. As soon as the idea registered she discarded it. Not only was it dangerous to let anyone know where she was, but to involve Kris again was dangerous to him.

What could she possibly learn, anyway? A list of contributors, that's all. That wouldn't help her. It would be nice if she could learn Parrish's schedule…

She bit her lip. No. She wasn't going to call Kris. Grace sat down and forced herself to return to the documents. After a moment, she was engrossed again.

There had always come a time, while she was studying a language, when suddenly her brain seemed to "get" it. She would struggle with syntax and verbs for months, then the accumulated knowledge and familiarity would reach critical mass, the synapses would connect, and presto! From one moment to the next she would pass from struggling toreading, the language opening up to her as if the letters had rearranged themselves from gibberish into real words.

Three minutes after she sat down, the old language synapses connected.

"The Guardian holds the Knowledge to bring down theMotherChurch , and he Shall hold it Close, for the Power of our Lord God is Greater than the thought of Man, and so he Shall serve our Lord God all his days.

"To this End Shall he Journey through Time, his body Prepared by food and drink, and the Years shall be as nothing to him. Be it a Thousand years, yea, still he Shall go forth to Battle the Foundation of Evil, for he alone may wield the Power."

Journey through time?Grace blinked at the words. What was the Guardian supposed to be, a time traveler? She hadn't realized that bit of silliness had existed for so long. Medieval scholars hadn't even been able to grasp the concept of a round earth; they had still pictured dragons lurking around the edges, waiting to devour anyone foolish enough to falloff.

But evidently the Templars had not only believed it, they had devised a special diet to prepare the body for the trip. What else could the Diet of Time be?

Curiously, she pulled out the sheet on which she had translated the diet. At first glance, or second or third, there wasn't anything magical about it. First one precisely calculated one's weight by sitting in a barrel of water; ingenious of them, using water displacement as a measure. Then, according to one's weight, there was a formula for working out how much salt, calf's liver, and various other foods one must consume, and exactly how much water to drink.

It was a diet rich in sodium, iron, and all the trace minerals, she noted. Not a bad diet, except for the liver; that would be hell on a time traveler's cholesterol level.

She kept that page in her hand, and returned to the Gaelic documents.

"His body prepared then by striking Steel to Stone find the Spark of Lightning that will Carry him to the Chosen Time."

Grace almost choked. "What were you idiots trying to do?" she blurted, staring at the page. "Electrocute yourselves?" They had deliberately flooded their bodies with iron and water, then worked up some source of electricity. Who had been the guinea pigs for this experiment, and had anyone survived?

The rest of the page was mathematical formulas. Evidently, they had thought to control the number of years traveled by the amount of water drunk and the force of electricity applied. Interesting concept, but what had they known about electricity, much less controlling it?

She turned to the next page, and her blood ran cold. "And the Evil one shall be called Parrish."

"Oh, my God," she whispered.

"Kris, this is Grace." There was silence on the end of the line, then he said explosively, "Grace!"

"Shh," she cautioned. Nervously she twisted the steel cord of the pay phone, wondering once again if she had any right to involve Kris in this mess. She had been up most of the night, reading and rereading the documents, trying to apply common sense to the situation, but finally coming to the conclusion that extraordinary events called for extraordinary actions. Nothing about her life in the past eight months had been ordinary. Perhaps she would find something in the Foundation's computers, perhaps not, but she couldn't afford to leave any avenue unexplored. '

"It's okay. Mom and Dad are inFlorida . Where are you? Are you okay?"

"I'm fine," she said "Automatically.Fine was a relative term. She wasn't dead, she wasn't injured, she wasn't hungry. Physically, she supposed she was fine; emotionally was another story. "Did you have any trouble… after talking to me that time? Did Parrish or any of his men question you?"

"Maybe. I don't know," he said. "A detective came to the house that day, but he wasn't the one I'd talked to before. He showed me a badge,y'know , but how would I know if it looked the way it should? He asked me a lot of questions I'd already answered, and I stuck to the story. I'd worked on your modem, showed you a program I was working on, you paid me and left. That was all. You didn't mention anything about your work."

She breathed a sigh of relief. The "detective" could have been legitimate, and could also have been one of Parrish's men rechecking Kris's story.Kristian had pulled it off, protected by his computer wonk persona. No one meeting him would think him involved in anything beyond bytes and programs.

"Where are you?" he asked again. "It's safer for you if you don't know." "Yeah, well, so what?" He sounded older than before, tougher and more assured. "I know you didn't do it, so if you need help, all you have to do is ask."

His unquestioning faith hit her so hard that it was a moment before she could speak past the knot that formed in her throat.

"You'll be breaking the law if you help me." She felt compelled to warn him, because her conscience was still nagging at her for calling. .

'I know," he said calmly. "I broke the law by not telling them everything I knew about that night, and I broke the law when I got into the bank's computers so you could get your money out. What's one more felony between friends?"

She took a deep breath. "All right. Is there any way you can get into the Foundation's computer system without setting off any alarms?"

"Sure," he said, completely confident. "I told you, there's always a back door. All I have to do is find it. But if it's a closed system, I'll have to go on-site to get in. Any problem there?"

Grace took a deep breath, trying to remember what she'd seen of the computer system the times she'd been in the Foundation's offices, which actually hadn't been that often. "I think it's a closed system."

"Are we going to do somemidnight breaking and entering?" He sounded eager; Kris was a true hacker, willing to go to any lengths to perform his illegal art.

"No." Harmony hadn't given her any advice on getting into a secured professional building without setting off its alarm system, but she had given her some pointers about hiding in plain sight. "We'll go in during the day, as part of the maintenance crew. I don't know how we'll get onto the floor without being seen, but we'll think of something."

"I keep telling you," Kris said. "There's always a back door."