Authors: Alex Archer
reckoning that will destroy them all…
Trials, persecutions, false accusations, the Inquisition—for archaeologist and TV host Annja Creed, the current episode they’re taping for her show is a fascinating one. But while Annja is filming the last segment in France, a vicious “accident” nearly kills her. It looks to be unintentional…until a man calling himself Cauchon claims responsibility.
The name Cauchon strikes a chord in the exceptionally—some might say unnaturally—long memory of Annja’s friend and mentor Roux. Discovering the old man’s secret years ago, Cauchon wanted to blackmail Roux before fate put the matter to rest. Or so Roux thought. Now this powerful fanatic has turned from seeking out the divine to meting out “justice.”
And he will single-handedly resurrect the violence of the Inquisition to ensure that Annja and her friend are judged and found guilty. With so much at stake, Annja may soon find that friendship can be fatal.
The floor was cold and damp against her face.
There was a familiar smell.
“A crypt,” Annja said, without realizing she’d spoken the thought aloud.
“Most perceptive.” It was a woman’s voice.
The light began to move. The woman placed an oil-filled lantern on top of a great stone sarcophagus close to where Annja lay bound.
“How long was I out?” Annja asked.
“Four hours, nearly five. You must have the constitution of a horse. That dose should have put you out for much longer, unless he managed to screw that up, too.” The woman’s eyes flicked to a dark heap in the corner.
“Is he dead?”
She nodded. “I should hope so.” She made the shape of a gun with her fingers and thumb and mimed putting a bullet through his brain.
Did she really value life so cheaply?
“And me? Am I just another loose end to be put out of my misery?”
“Oh, no, not at all. You’re far more important than that. I am sure my brother will tell you all about it.”
“Enough with the questions. You’re almost as bad as your friend. The pretty one. Garin.”
“I suppose you killed him, too.”
“Of course not. He’s been most helpful.”
Annja thought of everything Roux had told her about the midnight visit and the theft from the vault and muttered, “I’ll kill him.”
“Not until we’re finished with him.”
Titles in this series:
The Spider Stone
The Lost Scrolls
God of Thunder
Secret of the Slaves
The Soul Stealer
The Golden Elephant
The Spirit Banner
The Bone Conjurer
The Dragon’s Mark
The Other Crowd
Tear of the Gods
The Oracle’s Message
Cradle of Solitude
Library of Gold
The Matador’s Crown
City of Swords
The Third Caliph
Staff of Judea
The Vanishing Tribe
Treasure of Lima
River of Nightmares
The Devil’s Chord
The Pretender’s Gambit
Bathed in Blood
Day of Atonement
DAY OF ATONEMENT
...THE ENGLISH COMMANDER TOOK
JOAN’S SWORD AND RAISED IT HIGH.
The broadsword, plain and unadorned,
gleamed in the firelight. He put the tip against
the ground and his foot at the center of the blade.
The broadsword shattered, fragments falling
into the mud. The crowd surged forward,
peasant and soldier, and snatched the shards
from the trampled mud. The commander tossed
the hilt deep into the crowd.
Smoke almost obscured Joan, but she continued
praying till the end, until finally the flames climbed
her body and she sagged against the restraints.
Joan of Arc died that fateful day in France,
but her legend and sword are reborn...
On a winter’s night
Twenty years ago
“You have my attention,” Roux said.
The young man who sat across from him had been insistent, refusing to be put off no matter how many times Roux ducked the meeting. His excuses had become more and more elaborate, but that only made the young man try harder. That dogged persistence paid off. Eventually. The old man had been tempted to arrange the sit-down in a very public space, given the personality type that kind of persistence hinted at. There were some people he didn’t invite into his home, but Roux was tired. The search for the fragments of the blade wasn’t going well, with what he thought might be the final shard eluding him still, so just this once Muhammad could come to the mountain, or, in this case, chateau.
He regretted that decision now. Something about the intense young man’s scrutiny was decidedly uncomfortable. It wasn’t so much the stare as it was the slight twitch
of his lower lip, like it was fighting back the urge to smile. It made his skin crawl. One thing the years had done for Roux was to offer an education in human nature. He liked to think himself a reasonable judge of character. This boy—because that’s what he was, really, a boy in man’s clothing—was somehow off.
So he waited, knowing the young man had something to get off his chest, and equally sure he didn’t want to hear it.
“I thought I might, eventually.”
“So how can I help you?”
“I suspect it’s more a case of how I can help you.” He settled a briefcase on the Louis XIV coffee table that acted as a barrier between them.
Roux winced as the young man pushed the case back an inch and thumbed the locks. It was all he could do not to reach out and slap the stupid boy. The table was a priceless work of art; the briefcase was not. “I wasn’t aware that I needed any help,” Roux said.
“Then allow me to enlighten you, Mr. Roux.” He drew a manila folder out of the briefcase. Roux had seen a million of these over the years. In his experience, they never contained good news when they were hand delivered like this. He sank back into his chair and feigned disinterest. The young man didn’t need to know his curiosity had been piqued.
Roux picked up the business card the young man had given him when he first turned up at his door. The name was the same as the one in Roux’s appointment diary. Patrice Moerlen, freelance journalist. After the seventh call he had done his due diligence and had some of his people run background checks on the man that would have made the CIA envious, and by the time he had finally agreed to the sit-down Roux knew everything there was
to know about Patrice Moerlen, and had his own dossier almost twice as thick as the folder the journalist pulled from his briefcase.
“I saw this picture of you in a magazine,” he said, handing over the first clipping.
Roux had seen it before.
He had been disappointed that the photograph had been published, but it couldn’t be helped. The photograph had been taken at a charity event organized by an old friend, and obligations to the social compact necessitated he attend, because that’s what friends did. He’d been promised it was going to be a low-key gathering, but the late addition of one of those Hollywood darlings with too-blond hair and an impossibly plastic smile and her politico beau had transformed it into an irresistible honeypot for the paparazzi.
“Not the most flattering, I’ll grant you, but hardly a crime against humanity,” Roux said. “I rarely accept invitations to events like that, but you know how it is. Sometimes it’s hard to say no.”
“I understand,” the young man said, smiling. “The thing is, seeing it, I couldn’t help but think your face looked familiar.”
“I have one of those faces,” Roux said, not liking where this was going. “Isn’t that what they say? It’s embarrassing sometimes because everyone thinks they’ve seen me before, or that I remind them of someone else.”
“Which is what I thought at first. In my line of work I see a lot of faces. So I decided to check, just to be sure.”
“So.” Roux offered a slight smile. “Who did you think I reminded you of?”
“No one in particular, not some celebrity at least. But I had this nagging feeling that I’d seen you in another picture.”
He picked the next piece of paper from the folder and handed it over.
Roux remembered the picture being taken, even if he had forgotten the joke that had put a smile on everyone’s lips a long time ago.
The young man picked out the faces one by one.
“Bobby Kennedy, JFK and someone beside them, a third man, who you must admit bears a striking resemblance to you.”
“There’s certainly a resemblance,” Roux said. “But I hate to disappoint you. I never had the privilege of meeting either of the Kennedys.”
He looked the journalist straight in the eye and lied, daring him to call him on it.
“That’s a shame. But maybe this one is a little more familiar?”
This one was slightly out of focus, but Roux remembered the night well.
He’d forgotten a lot of the others in the photograph, but knew the man on the right—Paul Reynaud, the president of France. It had been taken a few months before the outbreak of World War II. Roux stood behind Reynaud’s shoulder. He had been less cautious then, less concerned about being seen in public because the proliferation of cameras was nothing like it was today, and the chances of being caught and remembered from one image to the next were almost nil.