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Son of perdition, p.14
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       Son of Perdition, p.14

           Wendy Alec
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  Now he asked himself whether it had all been worth it.

  He turned the letter which Lawrence had given him over in his fingers as heavy footsteps were heard coming up the stairs.

  Four muscular soldiers holding sub-machine guns materialized as if from nowhere. Their heads were clean-shaven and Nick immediately recognized the digital pattern on their uniforms. Jordan’s elite special-operations command. Jotapa’s Royal Guard.

  The professor placed his napkin on the table and stood up. ‘Your Highness . . . ’ He bowed.

  Nick turned. Jotapa, Princess of Jordan, stood in front of him.

  ‘I’m so glad I caught you, Nicholas. Professor – ’ Jotapa addressed Lawrence St Cartier. ‘Would you be so kind as to give Nicholas and me a moment? I have some pressing business.’

  Lawrence St Cartier picked up his computer and papers, then put on his panama hat.

  ‘The privilege is mine, Your Highness. Nicholas, I’ll retire early.’ He looked down at Nick in concern. ‘I suggest you do the same, dear boy. You’ve had quite a blow. See you for breakfast. Six a.m. sharpish.’

  And, bowing once more to Jotapa, he walked spryly across the roof and down the stairs.

  Nick pushed back his chair, his mind still churning with the evening’s disclosures.

  ‘Nick . . . ’ Jotapa frowned. ‘A blow? You don’t look too good.’

  Nick stared at her blankly, still toying with the document in his hands.

  ‘I’m okay,’ he said quietly. ‘Just some bad news that’s all. I’ll be fine by morning.’ He placed the document in the inner pocket of his leather jacket and studied her heart-shaped face.

  ‘You don’t look so hot yourself.’

  The princess seemed somehow different tonight. On edge . . . vulnerable. The unpretentious young woman in jeans and T-shirt had disappeared. Tonight Jotapa wore a pale pink knee-length dress of shot silk that clung to her slim hips, her long svelte legs were stockinged and she wore a pair of pale pink stilettos. She looked the epitome of a young Jordanian monarch.

  ‘Nick . . . ’ She placed her small slim hand on his, her wrists laden with gold. ‘You know I wouldn’t have come unless it was important.’

  Nick nodded. Jotapa motioned the soldiers away and they retreated to the edge of the terrace.

  ‘It’s my father – the king. He arrived back late last night from Jerusalem after meeting your brother.’ Tears welled up in Jotapa’s eyes. ‘He passed away at four this morning. A heart attack.’

  Nick grasped her hand. He could feel it trembling.

  ‘I’m so sorry, Jotapa.’

  ‘Look, Nick, I had to tell you in person. I won’t see you again.’

  He stared at her in disbelief.

  Jotapa lowered her eyes. ‘I feel as strongly as you. Nicholas, you just have to trust me.’

  ‘But we’ve only just . . . ’

  ‘I’m sorry Nick.’

  ‘It was my relationship with Klaus Von Hausen, wasn’t it? You found out.’

  ‘Nick, I have “Eyes Only” files,’ she said softly. ‘I knew who you were before I ever laid eyes on you. I knew what I was getting into.’

  ‘Is there someone else?’

  ‘No, there’s no one,’ she said. ‘No one at all. I’m quite alone.’

  Nick drew her nearer. He looked at her intently.

  ‘Are you in some kind of trouble?’

  ‘The entire course of my life is about to change.’

  Jotapa glanced around, clearly on edge. ‘My father was my protection while he was alive. My elder brother Crown Prince Faisal will be crowned king in a matter of hours. It was not my father’s wish.’

  She paced up and down in front of Nick.

  ‘Faisal was from my father’s first marriage. Two years ago, in front of witnesses, my father designated my sixteen-year-old brother Jibril as his heir. He knew that Faisal was both ruthless and cunning and would be a bad king to the Jordanian people.’

  She stopped, fighting to maintain her composure.

  ‘All those who witnessed this or who are loyal to my father have already been silenced by bribes or other means. The ones who could not be bought or blackmailed were executed this morning.’ Tears welled in her eyes. ‘The prime minister, my father’s royal aides, his trusted ministers. All dead.’

  Jotapa walked over to the edge of the roof and looked up into the night skies over Egypt. Her voice dropped to a whisper.

  ‘I told them I had unfinished archaeological business here at the monastery. I was allowed one final trip. Safwat . . . ’ Her voice choked up.

  Nick frowned. He knew Safwat, Jotapa’s trusted head of security who had safeguarded her since birth.

  ‘Safwat had protected me since I was a toddler.’ She raised both hands in despair. ‘Executed at dawn.’ She turned to Nick, tears streaming down her cheeks.

  ‘Nicholas, my father was a great and noble king. Just. Courageous. Filled with wisdom. Without his protection my brother Jibril and I are in grave danger.’

  She stopped, struggling to regain her composure.

  ‘Faisal has given my hand in marriage to Crown Prince Mansoor of Arabia. Jibril is being sent there also in exile. We fly to Arabia at dawn.’

  Nick stared at Jotapa in horror, slowly comprehending.

  ‘But Mansoor is a criminal,’ he exclaimed. ‘His own father, the King of Saud, has renounced him publicly. The stories of his atrocities circulate throughout the Arab media. You can’t go!’ He caught hold of her arm. ‘I won’t let you.’

  ‘Nicholas, you are not one of us!’ She stared at him fiercely. ‘Our world is not like your Western world. Jibril is just and true, like my father. Faisal hates him. He will not dare kill me, Nick, but he will kill my younger brother – that is certain. As soon as Jibril disappears behind the curtain of black gold, his life is in danger. Jibril is the only challenge to Faisal’s throne. ‘I have to protect him.’

  ‘You’re the only one I have left, Jotapa!’ Nick cried. ‘You’ll never come out of that hellhole.’

  ‘He’s my brother.’

  A bodyguard came up quietly behind them.

  ‘Your Highness.’

  Jotapa held up her hand.

  ‘One minute,’ she said.

  The guard bowed and disappeared.

  Taking out the small silver cross that lay hidden under her dress, Jotapa hurriedly undid the clasp.

  ‘In Mansoor’s Palace, there is no place for this.’

  She took Nick’s hand, gently opened his fist and laid the cross inside.

  ‘Keep it always.’ Jotapa put her hand up to Nick’s face. ‘And remember me, Nicholas De Vere.’

  She walked away from him.

  ‘Jotapa!’ Nick shouted. He ran after her and clasped her to him.

  She raised her tear-stained face.

  ‘You don’t understand.’ His voice broke with emotion. ‘You’re all I have left.’

  She closed her eyes in anguish, then broke from his embrace and walked away.

  ‘Jotapa . . . ’ he cried in desperation.

  She stopped after eight steps and turned, tears streaming down her face.

  ‘Nicholas,’ she pleaded, ‘you must let me go.’

  And then she was gone.

  Nick clenched his hand over the cross so hard that it hurt. He opened his hand, hot tears stinging his eyes and watched it slip from his grasp down onto the stone floor.

  Jotapa was gone. He would never see her again.

  Everything he had known as truth had been exposed as a lie.

  Nick De Vere’s entire life was on shifting sand.

  Chapter Seventeen

  Dark Night of the Soul

  Nick tossed and turned in the small iron bed, mumbling incoherently. Sweat poured from his chest and limbs, drenching the sheets. Slowly, he raised himself on one arm, groggy. In pain. He sighed in exasperation.

  A brilliant white light illuminated the room, then faded.

  Weakly, he manoeuvred both feet onto the flo
or, then fumbled for his watch. The luminous numbers in the semi-darkness read 3 a.m. He’d been asleep for just over two hours.

  He felt for the bottle of pills on the wooden table beside him, unscrewed the cap and popped two in his mouth. Then froze.

  He heard hushed voices whispering in a strange language he couldn’t place. He listened intently. It wasn’t Arabic or the local dialect. Of that he was certain.

  Intrigued, Nick moved over to the small open window on the right-hand side of the chamber. As Lawrence had pointed out, Room 9 had a magnificent view of the desert from the front but a bird’s-eye view of the rooftop terrace from the back window. The hushed voices were coming from that direction.

  He watched intently as three figures walked in the direction of the watchtower on the cupola. The same blinding light illuminated the room again.

  There was no doubt about it. The activity was coming from the rotating telescope dome on the observatory of the Monastery of Archangels. Through the window, he could hear their conversation more clearly. He stepped back, astounded. It was precisely the same dialect as the mysterious Angelic language in the Secret Angelic Annals that he had discovered at Petra three years ago. He was certain of it.

  Silhouetted against the light, two tall figures became visible in the watchtower.

  Nick pressed his face up to the old panes of the cloister window and rubbed his eyes.

  They must be eight, no, more like nine feet tall.

  ‘Get a grip,’ he told himself.

  He could have sworn on his father’s grave that he saw winglike projections extending from two of the forms.

  It had to be his new medication. He must be hallucinating. He looked back through the window. The figures had disappeared.

  Hastily, he flung on his jeans and pulled a T-shirt over his head, then opened the door, scanning the cloister corridors. They were empty.

  He hurried down the winding passageway, following it through the terrace, past the monks’ refectory until he reached the cupola. The dinner tables and benches were stacked neatly against the wall and the cupola was bare. Nick stared up at the watchtower, now strangely deserted.

  Then he caught sight of a tall robed figure standing on the far side of the cupola, staring out into the Egyptian night skies.

  The figure spoke without turning.

  ‘You seek for ancient truths, Nicholas De Vere.’

  Nick stared, taken aback by the freakishly tall robed monk in front of him. They stood in silence on the rooftop together for a long moment. The monk was still staring at the spectre of the White Rider now risen high in the inky Egyptian skies.

  Finally he spoke again.

  ‘Yet these truths may lead you on a path you may not wish to follow.’

  A cold breeze blew. Nick shivered. He should have worn his jacket. He watched as the monk walked towards the very edge of the cupola.

  ‘This monastery is a Portal, Nick.’ He knelt and picked up a handful of sand in his palm. ‘A Portal that bridges two worlds. The world of the Angelic and the world of the Race of Men.’

  The stranger turned.

  ‘Lawrence.’ Nick gasped. It was unquestionably Lawrence St Cartier, but on reflection, Nick realized that this could never be the Lawrence that Nick had grown up knowing. Nick stared, his mouth hanging open. The Lawrence he knew was a spry five feet nine.

  The figure that stood before him, now literally towered above him and Nick was a lanky six feet two. ‘He must be . . . ’ Nick hesitated ‘ . . . at least eight feet tall.’ He rubbed his eyes with his palms.

  ‘I’m delusional,’ he muttered. They had warned him this might happen in the final stages.

  The monk reached for Nick’s hand.

  ‘Feel me, Nicholas.’ He placed Nick’s hand on his chest. ‘I am flesh and bone.’

  Nick stared, bewildered, into the ancient face. The wizened features were reminiscent of Lawrence St Cartier, the intense blue eyes glittered like an eagle’s from underneath his bushy white eyebrows. But the countenance before him was much gentler and exuded a deep compassion that was rare in the eyes of the old professor.

  ‘I am no hallucination.’

  Nick stared at the silken white hair that hung almost to the stranger’s feet. His skin glowed with a mysterious luminosity.

  ‘Who are you?’ Nick’s eyes flashed in fear

  ‘My name is Jether,’ the stranger said with a smile. ‘Ruler of twenty-four Ancient Angelic Kings. In worlds you do not yet comprehend, Nicholas De Vere.’

  Jether gestured upwards to the white image in the sky high above them.

  ‘The White Rider. It designates the opening of the First Great Seal of Revelation. The time of the great tribulation that comes swiftly upon your world.

  ‘It is also the ignition key to activate the Angelic Portals connecting the world of the Race of Men and the other worlds. Portals that have lain dormant since the inception of time are to be activated.’ He paused. ‘Both for good and for evil.’

  Nick stared at him in disbelief.

  ‘Doorways between worlds, if you will,’ Jether continued. ‘The wardrobe of C.S. Lewis. He was close enough.’

  ‘And Lawrence?’ Nick blurted in frustration.

  ‘We, the Angelic, appear in human form as needed. You know me in my human form as Lawrence St Cartier.’

  Jether smiled down at Nick, a great benevolence in his gaze.

  He walked across the cupola, then motioned to Nick to follow him. He walked down the iron stairs through a walled garden of sycamore trees onto a small stone path that twisted past a vast pond filled with exquisite pink lotus blossoms. Nick stared after him in frustration, then followed, his mind racing with unanswered questions.

  Jether stopped at a rusted metal gateway, the entrance to the sprawling ancient wing of the monastery.

  ‘Your journey of enlightenment will begin this very night, Nicholas De Vere.’

  He walked straight through the iron gate, rematerializing on the other side, then raised his hand to the sophisticated security system.

  ‘It will be perilous.’

  The metal gates swung open directly in front of Nick.

  ‘But more glorious than you could ever conceive.’

  Jether bowed his head, then disappeared down the smallest of the numerous winding ancient corridors of the ancient monastery.

  Nick stared about him in exasperation. Hallucinations, riddles. Someone was playing games with his mind. He was going to get to the source of this madness. Lawrence was at the bottom of this. Where was Lawrence for that matter? Dammit!

  He walked through the open gate. It immediately clicked shut behind him.

  The lower crypt. He somehow knew beyond any shadow of a doubt that was where Lawrence, Jether – or whoever this monk was – was headed.

  Nick had been in the crypt with Jotapa the last time he’d visited the monastery and he vaguely remembered the way. He followed Jether’s path, walking through the narrowest of the winding ancient corridors. He recalled the distinct aroma of inks and leathers mingled with myrrh.

  He turned right and entered the enormous monastery library, usually occupied by hundreds of monks archiving data into computer systems. Tonight it was deserted.

  Portals . . . wardrobes . . . Angelic Kings. What kind of a fool did Lawrence take him for? Nick leant against the wall, suddenly exhausted, sweat pouring down his chest.

  He waited several moments until he felt recovered enough to continue, then ducked through a low dank tunnel, steadily descending a stone staircase.

  He continued down the winding steps until he reached the lower crypts of the ancient wing of the monastery then stopped outside a solid steel door, barely four feet high.

  The entrance to the Jordanian vault that housed the Royal Family’s priceless antiquities.

  Normally, the crypt was heavily guarded by the Jordanian Royal Guard. He looked up and down the corridor. It was eerily deserted. No sign of any Jordanian soldiers or Jether or anyone.

p; He examined the thick steel door. The only access was by a secret electronic code altered every twenty-four hours and accessible only to the two special-forces duty guards and one Benedictine monk. And to Jotapa herself.

  Nick suddenly doubled up in pain, as his body shook with violently racking coughs. He reached his hand out to the door to steady himself. It slid open before his eyes to reveal an ancient wooden crypt door, the sole entrance to the archaeological vault.

  Nick steadied himself, then gave the door a tentative push.

  He saw it immediately.

  In the far left corner of the chamber, resting against deep blue velvet under a glass dome. The small cross of acacia wood that legend said Jesus had carved as a child for Aretas, King of Petra, more than two thousand years ago when Aretas had aided the Holy Family in their flight from Egypt.

  The cross that legend said possessed strange magical powers.

  The cross of the Hebrew.

  The door swung closed with a loud thud. Nick flinched.

  The arsenal of sophisticated security devices employed by the Jordanian Royal family to protect their illuminated manuscripts and antiquities was state of the art. Unbreachable.

  But there was complete silence. No alarms.

  He stood frozen for a full minute, then slowly inched his way over to the glass dome.

  He surveyed the room once more. He was completely alone.

  It was now or never.

  Throwing caution to the winds, Nick grasped the glass dome with both hands and raised it.

  He held his breath. Incredulous. No alarm was triggered. The infrared and ultrasonic sensors must be immobilized.

  He lifted the wooden cross carefully out of the case.

  Jotapa had said that for centuries it had held a strange curative power.

  He clasped the cross tightly with both hands and waited.

  Nothing. He turned it over in his palm.

  A powerless piece of old wood. Exactly as he’d known it would be.

  It was all a legend. A farce. Nick stared down at the simple wooden artefact in disgust, seething with a sudden rage.

  He swayed, racked again by coughing, feeling desperately weak.

  ‘You stand in a sacred place, Nicholas De Vere.’

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