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2 Hawthorne Mystery- A to Z

The Eight

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The Eight Cover

 

 

Excerpt

THE DEFENSE

Characters tend to be either for or against the quest. If they assist it, they are idealized as simply gallant or pure; if they obstruct it, they are characterized as simply villainous or cowardly. Hence every typical character . . . tends to have his moral opposite confronting him, like black and white pieces in a chess game.

-Anatomy of Criticism, Northrop Frye

Montglane Abbey, France

Spring 1790

A FLOCK OF NUNS CROSSED THE ROAD, THEIR CRISP WIMPLES

fluttering about their heads like the wings of large sea birds.

As they floated through the large stone gates of the town,

chickens and geese scurried out of their path, flapping and

splashing through the mud puddles. The nuns moved through

the darkening mist that enveloped the valley each morning

and, in silent pairs, headed toward the sound of the deep bell

that rang out from the hills above them.

They called that spring le Printemps Sanglant, the Bloody

Spring. The cherry trees had bloomed early that year, long

before the snows had melted from the high mountain peaks.

Their fragile branches bent down to earth with the weight

of the wet red blossoms. Some said it was a good omen that

they had bloomed so soon, a symbol of rebirth after the long

and brutal winter. But then the cold rains had come and

frozen the blossoms on the bough, leaving the valley buried

thick in red blossoms stained with brown streaks of frost.

Like a wound congealed with dried blood. And this was said

to be another kind of sign.

High above the valley, the Abbey of Montglane rose

like an enormous outcropping of rock from the crest of

the mountain. The fortresslike structure had remained un-

touched by the outside world for nearly a thousand years. It

was constructed of six or seven layers of wall built one on

top of the other. As the original stones eroded over the centuries,

new walls were laid outside of old ones, with flying

buttresses. The result was a brooding architectural melange

whose very appearance fed the rumors about the place. The

abbey was the oldest church structure standing intact in

France, and it bore an ancient curse that was soon to be

reawakened.

As the dark-throated bell rang out across the valley, the remaining

nuns looked up from their labors one by one, put

aside their rakes and hoes, and passed down through the

long, symmetrical rows of cherry trees to climb the precipitous

road to the abbey.

At the end of the long procession, the two young novices

Valentine and Mireille trailed arm in arm, picking their way

with muddy boots. They made an odd complement to the orderly

line of nuns. The tall red-haired Mireille with her long

legs and broad shoulders looked more like a healthy farm

girl than a nun. She wore a heavy butchers apron over her

habit, and red curls strayed from beneath her wimple. Beside

her Valentine seemed fragile, though she was nearly as tall.

Her pale skin seemed translucent, its fairness accentuated by

the cascade of white-blond hair that tumbled about her

shoulders. She had stuffed her wimple into the pocket of her

habit, and she walked reluctantly beside Mireille, kicking

her boots in the mud.

The two young women, the youngest nuns at the abbey,

were cousins on their mothers side, both orphaned at an

early age by a dreadful plague that had ravaged France. The

aging Count de Remy, Valentines grandfather, had commended

them into the hands of the Church, upon his death

leaving the sizable balance of his estate to ensure their care.

The circumstance of their upbringing had formed an inseparable

bond between the two, who were both bursting

with the unrestrained abundant gaiety of youth. The abbess

often heard the older nuns complain that this behavior was

unbecoming to the cloistered life, but she understood that it

was better to curb youthful spirits than to try to quench them.

Then, too, the abbess felt a certain partiality to the orphaned

cousins, a feeling unusual both to her personality and

her station. The older nuns would have been surprised to

learn that the abbess herself had sustained from early childhood

such a bosom friendship, with a woman who had been

separated from her by many years and many thousands of

miles.

Now, on the steep trail, Mireille was tucking some unruly

wisps of red hair back under her wimple and tugging her

cousins arm as she tried to lecture her on the sins of tardiness.

“If you keep on dawdling, the Reverend Mother will give

us a penance again,” she said.

Valentine broke loose and twirled around in a circle. “The

earth is drowning in spring,” she cried, swinging her arms

about and nearly toppling over the edge of the cliff. Mireille

hauled her up along the treacherous incline. “Why must we

be shut up in that stuffy abbey when everything out-of-doors

is bursting with life?”

“Because we are nuns,” said Mireille with pursed lips,

stepping up her pace, her hand firmly on Valentines arm.

“And it is our duty to pray for mankind.” But the warm mist

rising from the valley floor brought with it a fragrance so

heavy that it saturated everything with the aroma of cherry

blossoms. Mireille tried not to notice the stirrings this caused

in her own body.

“We are not nuns yet, thank God,” said Valentine. “We are

only novices until we have taken our vows. Its not too late to

be saved. Ive heard the older nuns whispering that there are

soldiers roaming about in France, looting all the monasteries

of their treasures, rounding up the priests and marching them

off to Paris. Perhaps some soldiers will come here and march

me off to Paris, too. And take me to the opera each night, and

drink champagne from my shoe!”

“Soldiers are not always so very charming as you seem to

think,” observed Mireille. “After all, their business is killing

people, not taking them to the opera.”

“Thats not all they do,” said Valentine, her voice dropping

to a mysterious whisper. They had reached the top of the hill,

the where the road flattened out and widened considerably. Here

it was cobbled with flat paving stones and resembled the

broad thoroughfares one found in larger towns. On either

side of the road, huge cypresses had been planted. Rising

above the sea of cherry orchards, they looked formal and forbidding

and, like the abbey itself, strangely out of place.

“I have heard,” Valentine whispered in her cousins ear,

“that the soldiers do dreadful things to nuns! If a soldier

should come upon a nun, in the woods, for example, he immediately

takes a thing out of his pants and he puts it into the

nun and stirs it about. And then when he has finished, the nun

has a baby!”

“What blasphemy!” cried Mireille, pulling away from

Valentine and trying to suppress the smile hovering about

her lips. “You are entirely too saucy to be a nun, I think.”

“Exactly what I have been saying all along,” Valentine admitted.

“I would far rather be the bride of a soldier than a

bride of Christ.”

As the two cousins approached the abbey, they could see

the four double rows of cypresses planted at each entrance to

form the sign of the crucifix. The trees closed in about them

as they scurried along through the blackening mist. They

passed through the abbey gates and crossed the large courtyard.

As they approached the high wooden doors to the main

enclave, the bell continued to ring, like a death knell cutting

through the thick mist.

Each paused before the doors to scrape mud from her

boots, crossed herself quickly, and passed through the high

portal. Neither glanced up at the inscription carved in crude

Frankish letters in the stone arch over the portal, but each

knew what it said, as if the words were engraved upon her

heart:

Cursed be He who bring theseWalls to Earht

The King is checked by the Hand of God alone.

Beneath the inscription the name was carved in large

block letters, “Carolus Magnus.” He it was who was architect

both of the building and the curse placed upon those

who would destroy it. The greatest ruler of the Frankish Empire

over a thousand years earlier, he was known to all in

France as Charlemagne.

THE INTERIOR WALLS OF THE ABBEY WERE DARK, COLD, AND

wet with moss. From the inner sanctum one could hear the

whispered voices of the novitiates praying and the soft clicking

of their rosaries counting off theAyes, Glorias, and Pater

Nosters.Valentine and Mireille hurried through the chapel as

the last of the novices were genuflecting and followed the

trail of whispers to the small door behind the altar where the

reverend mothers study was located. An older nun was

hastily shooing the last of the stragglers inside.Valentine and

Mireille glanced at each other and passed within.

It was strange to be called to the abbesss study in this

manner. Few nuns had ever been there at all, and then usually

for disciplinary action.Valentine, who was always being disciplined,

had been there often enough. But the abbey bell

was used to convene all the nuns. Surely they could not all be

called at once to the reverend mothers study?

As they entered the large, low-ceilinged room, Valentine

and Mireille saw that all the nuns in the abbey were indeed

there-more than fifty of them. Seated on rows of hard

wooden benches that had been set up facing the Abbesss

writing desk, they whispered among themselves. Clearly

everyone thought it was a strange circumstance, and the

faces that looked up as the two young cousins entered

seemed frightened. The cousins took their places in the last

row of benches. Valentine clasped Mireilles hand.

“What does it mean?” she whispered.

“It bodes ill, I think,” replied Mireille, also in a whisper.

“The reverend mother looks grave. And there are two women

here whom I have never seen.”

At the end of the long room, behind a massive desk of polished

cherry wood, stood the abbess, wrinkled and leathery

as an old parchment, but still exuding the power of her

tremendous office. There was a timeless quality in her bearing

that suggested she had long ago made peace with her

own soul, but today she looked more serious than the nuns

had ever seen her.

Two strangers, both large-boned young women with big

hands, loomed at either side of her like avenging angels. One

had pale skin, dark hair, and luminous eyes, while the other

bore a strong resemblance to Mireille, with a creamy complexion

and chestnut hair only slightly darker than Mireilles

auburn locks. Though both had the bearing of nuns, they

were not wearing habits, but plain gray traveling clothes of

nondescript nature.

The abbess waited until all the nuns were seated and the

door had been closed. When the room was completely silent

she began to speak in the voice that always reminded Valentine

of a dry leaf being crumbled.

“My daughters,” said the abbess, folding her hands before

her, “for nearly one thousand years the Order of Montglane

has stood upon this rock, doing our duty to mankind and

serving God. Though we are cloistered from the world, we

hear the rumblings of the worlds unrest. Here in our small

corner, we have received unfortunate tidings of late that may

change the security weve enjoyed so long. The two women

who stand beside me are bearers of those tidings. I introduce

Sister Alexandrine de Forbin”-she motioned to the darkhaired

woman-”and Marie-Charlotte de Corday, who together

direct the Abbaye-aux-Dames at Caen in the northern

provinces. They have traveled the length of France in disguise,

an arduous journey, to bring us a warning. I therefore

bid you hark unto what they have to say. It is of the gravest

importance to us all.”

The abbess took her seat, and the woman who had been introduced

as Alexandrine de Forbin cleared her throat and

spoke in a low voice so that the nuns had to strain to hear her.

But her words were clear.

“My sisters in God,” she began, “the tale we have to tell is

not for the faint-hearted. There are those among us who

came to Christ hoping to save mankind. There are those who

came hoping to escape from the world. And there are those

who came against their will, feeling no calling whatever.” At

this she turned her dark, luminous eyes directly upon Valentine,

who blushed to the very roots of her pale blond hair.

“Regardless what you thought your purpose was, it has

changed as of today. In our journey, Sister Charlotte and I

have passed the length of France, through Paris and each village

in between. We have seen not only hunger but starvation.

People are rioting in the streets for bread. There is

butchery; women carry severed heads on pikes through the

streets. There is rape, and worse. Small children are murdered,

people are tortured in public squares and torn to

pieces by angry mobs . . .” The nuns were no longer quiet.

Their voices rose in alarm as Alexandrine continued her

bloody account.

Mireille thought it odd that a woman of God could recount

such a tale without blanching. Indeed, the speaker had not

once altered her low, calm tone, nor had her voice quavered

in the telling. Mireille glanced atValentine, whose eyes were

large and round with fascination. Alexandrine de Forbin

waited until the room had quieted a bit, then continued.

“It is now April. Last October the king and queen were

kidnapped fromVersailles by an angry mob and forced to return

to the Tuilleries at Paris, where they were imprisoned.

The king was made to sign a document, the ‘Declaration of

the Rights of Man, proclaiming the equality of all men. The

National Assembly in effect now controls the government;

the king is powerless to intervene. Our country is beyond

revolution. We are in a state of anarchy. To make matters

worse, the assembly has discovered there is no gold in the

State Treasury; the king has bankrupted the State. In Paris it

is believed that he will not live out the year.”

A shock ran through the rows of seated nuns, and there

was agitated whispering throughout the room. Mireille

squeezed Valentines hand gently as they both stared at the

speaker. The women in this room had never heard such

thoughts expressed aloud, and they could not conceive such

things as real. Torture, anarchy, regicide. How was it possible?

The abbess rapped her hand flat upon the table to call for

order, and the nuns fell silent. Now Alexandrine took her

seat, and Sister Charlotte stood alone at the table. Her voice

was strong and forceful.

“In the assembly there is a man of great evil. He is hungry

for power, though he calls himself a member of the clergy.

This man is the Bishop of Autun.Within the Church at Rome

it is believed he is the Devil incarnate. It is claimed he was

born with a cloven hoof, the mark of the Devil, that

he drinks the blood of small children to appear young, that he

celebrates the Black Mass. In October this bishop proposed

to the assembly that the State confiscate all Church property.

On November second his Bill of Seizure was defended before

the Assembly by the great statesman Mirabeau, and it

passed. On February thirteenth the confiscation began. Any

clergy who resisted were arrested and jailed. And on February

sixteenth, the Bishop of Autun was elected president of

the Assembly. Nothing can stop him now.”

The nuns were in a state of extreme agitation, their voices

raised in fearful exclamations and protests, but Charlottes

voice carried above all.

“Long before the Bill of Seizure, the Bishop of Autun had

made inquiries into the location of the Churchs wealth in

France. Though the bill specifies that priests are to fall first

and nuns to be spared, we know the bishop has cast his eye

upon Montglane Abbey. It is around Montglane that many of

his inquiries have centered. This, we have hastened here to

tell you. The treasure of Montglane must not fall into his

hands.”

The abbess stood and placed her hand upon the strong

shoulder of Charlotte Corday. She looked out over the rows

of black-clad nuns, their stiff starched hats moving like a sea

thick with wild seagulls beneath her, and she smiled. This

was her flock, which she had shepherded for so long and

which she might not see again in her lifetime once she had

revealed what she now must tell.

“Now you know as much of our situation as I,” said the

abbess. “Though I have known for many months of our

plight, I did not wish to alarm you until I had chosen a path.

In their journey responding to my call, our sisters from Caen

have confirmed my worst fears.” The nuns had now fallen

into a silence like the hush of death. Not a sound could be

heard but the voice of the abbess.

“I am an old woman who will perhaps be called to God

sooner than she imagines. The vows I took when I entered

the service of this convent were not only vows to Christ.

Nearly forty years ago upon becoming Abbess of Montglane,

I vowed to keep a secret, to preserve it with my life if

necessary. Now the time has come for me to keep that vow.

But in doing so, I must share some of the secret with each of

you and vow you to secrecy in return. My story is long, and

you must have patience if I am slow in telling. When I have

finished, you will know why each of us must do what must be

done.”

The abbess paused to take a sip of water from a silver

chalice that sat before her on the table. Then she resumed.

“Today is the fourth day of April, Anno Domini 1790.

My story begins on another fourth of April many years ago.

The tale was told me by my predecessor, as it was told by

each abbess to her successor on the event of her initiation,

for as many years as this abbey has stood. And now I tell it to

you. . . .”

The Abbesss Tale

On the fourth of April in the year 782, a wondrous festival

was held at the Oriental Palace at Aachen to honor the fortieth

birthday of the great King Charlemagne. He had called

forth all the nobles of his empire. The central court with its

mosaic dome and tiered circular staircases and balconies

was filled with imported palms and festooned with flower

garlands. Harps and lutes were played in the large halls amid

gold and silver lanterns. The courtiers, decked in purple,

crimson, and gold, moved through a fairyland of jugglers,

jesters, and puppet shows. Wild bears, lions, giraffes, and

cages of doves were brought into the courtyard. All was merriment

for weeks in anticipation of the kings birthday.

The pinnacle of the festival was the day itself. On the

morning of this day the king arrived in the main courtyard

surrounded by his eighteen children, his queen, and his favorite

courtiers. Charlemagne was exceedingly tall, with the

lean grace of a horseman and swimmer. His skin was tanned,

his hair and mustache streaked blond with the sun. He

looked every inch the warrior and ruler of the largest kingdom

in the world. Dressed in a simple woolen tunic with a

close-fitting coat of marten skins and wearing his ever-present

sword, he passed through the court greeting each of his

subjects and bidding them partake of the lavish refreshments

that were placed on groaning boards about the hall.

The king had prepared a special treat for this day. A master

of battle strategy, he had a special fondness for one game.

Known as the game of war, the game of kings, it was the

game of chess. On this, his fortieth birthday, Charlemagne

proposed to play against the best chess player in his kingdom,

a soldier known as Garin the Frank.

Garin entered the courtyard with blaring trumpets. Acrobats

bounced before him, young women strewed palm fronds

and rose petals in his path. Garin was a slender, pale young

man with serious countenance and gray eyes, a soldier in the

western army. He knelt when the king rose to greet him.

The chess service was borne into the great hall on the

shoulders of eight black servants dressed in Moorish livery.

These men, and the chessboard they carried aloft, had been

sent as a gift of Ibn-al-Arabi, the Moslem governor of

Barcelona, in thanks for the kings aid against the Pyrenees

Basques four years earlier. It was during retreat from this famous

battle, at the Roncesvalles Pass in Navarre, that the

kings beloved soldier Hruoland had been killed, hero of the

“Chanson de Roland.” As a result of this unhappy association,

the king had never played upon the chess service, nor

brought it before his people.

The court marveled at the magnificent chess service as it

was set upon a table in the courtyard. Though made by Arabic

master craftsmen, the pieces bore traces of their Indian

and Persian ancestry. For some believed this game existed in

India over four hundred years before the birth of Christ and

came into Arabia through Persia during the Arabic conquest

of that country in 640 A.D.

The board, wrought entirely of silver and gold, measured a

full meter on each side. The pieces of filigreed precious metals

were studded with rubies, sapphires, diamonds, and

emeralds, uncut but smoothly polished, some the size of

quails eggs. Flashing and sparkling in the lamplight of the

courtyard, they seemed to glow with an inner light that hypnotized

the beholder.

The piece called Shah, or King, was fifteen centimeters

high and depicted a crowned man riding upon the back of an

elephant. The Queen, or Ferz, was seated within a covered

sedan chair embroidered with jewels. The Bishops were elephants

with saddles encrusted in rare gems; the Knights were

wild Arabian steeds. The Rooks, or Castles, were called

Rukhkh, the Arabic word for “chariot”; these were large

camels with towerlike chairs upon their backs. The pawns, or

peons, as we call them now, were humble foot soldiers seven

centimeters high with small jewels for eyes and gems flecking

the hilts of their swords.

Charlemagne and Garin approached the board from either

side. Then the king, raising his hand aloft, spoke words that

astounded those of the court who knew him well.

“I propose a wager,” he said in a strange voice. Charles

was not a man for wagers. The courtiers glanced at one another

uneasily.

“Should my soldier Garin win a game of me, I bestow

upon him that portion of my kingdom from Aachen to the

Basque Pyrenees and the hand of my eldest daughter in marriage.

Should he lose, he will be beheaded in this same courtyard

at dawn.”

The court was in commotion. It was known that the king

so loved his daughters that he had begged them never to

marry during his lifetime.

The kings dearest friend, the Duke of Burgundy, seized

him by the arm and drew him aside. “What manner of wager

is this?” he whispered. “You have proposed a wager befitting

a sottish barbarian!”

Charles seated himself at the table. He appeared to be in a

trancelike state. The duke was mystified. Garin was himself

confused. He looked into the dukes eyes, then without a

word took his place at the board, accepting the wager. The

pieces were selected, and as luck would have it, Garin chose

white, giving him the advantage of the first move. The game

began.

Perhaps it was the tension of the situation, but it appeared

as the game progressed that the two players moved their

pieces with a force and precision that transcended a mere

game, as if another, an invisible hand, hovered above the

board. At times it even seemed as if the very pieces carried

out the moves of their own accord. The players themselves

were silent and pale, and the courtiers hovered about them

like ghosts.

After nearly one hour of play the Duke of Burgundy observed

that the king was acting strangely. His brow was furrowed,

and he seemed inattentive and distracted. Garin too

was possessed by an unusual restlessness, his movements

quick and jerking, his forehead beaded in cold sweat. The

eyes of the two men were fixed upon the board as if they

could not look away.

Suddenly Charles leaped to his feet with a cry, upsetting

the board and knocking all the pieces to the floor. The

courtiers pushed back to open the circle. The king had flown

into a black and horrible rage, tearing at his hair and beating

his chest like a wild beast. Garin and the Duke of Burgundy

rushed to his side, but he knocked them away. It required six

nobles to restrain the king. When at last he was subdued, he

looked about in bewilderment, as if he had just awakened

from a long sleep.

“My lord,” said Garin softly, picking up one of the pieces

from the floor and handing it to the king, “perhaps we should

withdraw from this game. The pieces are all in disarray, and

I cannot recall a single move that was made. Sire, I fear this

Moorish chess service. I believe it is possessed by an evil

force that compelled you to make a wager upon my life.”

Charlemagne, resting upon a chair, put one hand wearily

to his forehead but did not speak.

“Garin,” said the Duke of Burgundy cautiously, “you

know that the king does not believe in superstitions of this

sort, thinking them pagan and barbaric. He has forbidden

necromancy and divination at the court-”

Charlemagne interrupted, but his voice was weak as if

from strenuous exhaustion. “How can I bring the Christian

enlightenment to Europe when soldiers in my own army believe

in witchcraft?”

“This magic has been practiced in Arabia and throughout

the East from the beginning of time,” Garin replied. “I do not

believe in it, nor do I understand it. But”-Garin bent over

the king and looked into his eyes-“you felt it, too.”

“I was consumed by the rage of fire,” Charlemagne admitted.

“I could not control myself. I felt as one feels upon the

morn of battle just as the troops are charging into the fray. I

cannot explain it.”

But all things of heaven and of earth have a reason,” said

a voice from behind the shoulder of Garin. He turned, and

there stood a black Moor, one of the eight who had borne the

chess service into the room. The king nodded for the Moor to

continue.

“From our Watar, or birthplace, come an ancient people

called the Badawi, the ‘dwellers in the desert.Among these

peoples, the blood wager is considered the most honorable.

It is said that only the blood wager will remove the Habb, the

black drop in the human heart which the archangel Gabriel

removed from the breast of Muhammed. Your Highness has

made a blood wager over the board, a wager upon a mans

life, the highest form of justice. Muhammed says, ‘Kingdom

endureth with Kufr, infidelity to al-Islam, but Kingdom endureth

not with Zulm, which is injustice.”

“A wager of blood is always a wager of evil,” replied

Charlemagne. Garin and the Duke of Burgundy looked at the

king in surprise, for had he not himself proposed such a

wager only an hour before?

“No!” said the Moor stubbornly. “Through the blood

wager one can attain Ghutah, the earthly oasis which is Paradise.

If one makes such a wager over the board of Shatranj,

it is the Shatranj itself that carries out the Sar!”

“Shatranj is the name that the Moors give to the game of

chess, my lord,” said Garin.

“And what is ‘Sar?” asked Charlemagne, rising slowly to

his feet. He towered over everyone around him.

“It is revenge,” replied the Moor without expression. He

bowed and stepped back from the king.

“We will play again,” the king announced. “This time,

there will be no wagers. We play for love of a simple game.

There is nothing to these foolish superstitions invented by

barbarians and children.” The courtiers began to set up the

board again. There were murmurs of relief coursing through

the room. Charles turned to the Duke of Burgundy and took

his arm.

“Did I really make such a wager?” he said softly.

The duke looked at him in surprise. “Why, yes, my lord,”

he said. “Do you not remember it?”

“No,” the king replied sadly.

Charlemagne and Garin sat down to play again.After a remarkable

battle, Garin emerged victorious. The king awarded

him the property of Montglane in the Bas-Pyrenees and the

title of Garin de Montglane. So pleased was the king with

Garins masterful command of chess that he offered to build

him a fortress to protect the territory he had won.After many

years, the king sent Garin the special gift of the marvelous

chess service upon which they had played their famous game.

It was called ever after “the Montglane Service.”

“THAT IS THE STORY OF MONGTLANEABBEY,” THE ABBESS SAID,

concluding her tale. She looked across the sea of silent nuns.

“For after many years, when Garin de Montglane lay ill and

dying, he bequeathed to the Church his territory of Montglane,

the fortress which was to become our abbey, and also

the famous chess set called the Montglane Service.”

The abbess paused a moment, as if uncertain whether to

proceed. At last she spoke again.

“But Garin had always believed that there was a terrible

curse connected with the Montglane Service. Long before it

passed into his hands he had heard rumors of evils associated

with it. It was said that Charlot, Charlemagnes own nephew,

had been murdered during a game played upon this very

board. There were strange stories of bloodshed and violence,

even of wars, in which this service had played a part.

“The eight black Moors who had first conveyed the service

from Barcelona into Charlemagnes keeping had begged

to accompany the pieces when they passed over to Montglane.

And so the king had permitted. Soon Garin learned

that mysterious night ceremonies were being conducted

within the fortress, rituals in which he felt certain the Moors

had been involved. Garin grew to fear his prize as if it were

a tool of the Devil. He had the service buried within the

fortress, and asked Charlemagne to place a curse upon the

wall to guard against its ever being removed. The king behaved

as though it were a jest, but he complied with Garins

wish in his own fashion, and thus we find the inscription over

our doors today.”

The abbess stopped and, looking weak and pale, reached

for the chair behind her. Alexandrine stood and helped the

abbess to her seat.

“And what became of the Montglane Service, Reverend

Mother?” asked one of the older nuns who was seated in the

front row.

The abbess smiled. “I have told you already that our lives

are in great danger if we remain in this abbey. I have told you

that the soldiers of France seek to confiscate the treasures of

the Church and are, in fact, abroad in that mission even now.

I have told you further that a treasure of great value and perhaps

great evil was once buried within the walls of this

abbey. So it should come as no surprise to you if I reveal that

the secret I was sworn to hold in my bosom when first I took

this office was the secret of the Montglane Service. It is still

buried within the walls and floor of this room, and I alone

know the precise location of each piece. It is our mission, my

daughters, to remove this tool of evil, to scatter it as far and

wide as possible, that it may never again be assembled into

the hands of one seeking power. For it contains a force that

transcends the law of nature and the understanding of man.

“But even had we time to destroy these pieces or to deface

them beyond recognition, I would not choose that path.

Something with so great a power may also be used as an inthe

strument of good. That is why I am sworn not only to keep

the Montglane Service hidden, but to protect it. Perhaps one

day, when history permits it, we shall reassemble the pieces

and reveal their dark mystery.”

ALTHOUGH THE ABBESS KNEW THE PRECISE LOCATION OF EACH

piece, it required the effort of every nun in the abbey for

nearly two weeks before the Montglane Service was exhumed

and the pieces cleaned and polished. It required four

nuns to lift the board loose from the stone floor. When it had

been cleaned, it was found to contain strange symbols that

had been cut or embossed into each square. Similar symbols

had been carved into the bottom of each chess piece. Also

there was a cloth that had been kept in a large metal box. The

corners of the box had been sealed with a waxy substance,

no doubt to prevent mildew. The cloth was of midnight blue

velvet and heavily embroidered with gold thread and jewels

in signs that resembled the zodiac. In the center of the cloth

were two swirled, snakelike figures twined together to form

the number 8. The abbess believed that this cloth had been

used to cover the Montglane Service so that it would not be

damaged when transported.

Near the end of the second week the abbess told the nuns

to prepare themselves for travel. She would instruct each, in

private, regarding where she would be sent so that none of

the nuns would know the location of the others. This would

reduce the risk to each. As the Montglane Service contained

fewer pieces than the number of nuns at the abbey, no one

but the abbess would know which of the sisters had carried

away a portion of the service and which had not.

When Valentine and Mireille were called into the study,

the abbess was seated behind her massive writing desk and

bade them take a seat opposite her. There on the desk lay the

gleaming Montglane Service, partly draped with its embroidered

cloth of midnight blue.

The abbess laid aside her pen and looked up. Mireille and

Valentine sat hand in hand, waiting nervously.

“Reverend Mother,” Valentine blurted out, “I want you to

know that I shall miss you very much now that I am to go

away, and I realize that I have been a grievous burden to you.

I wish I could have been a better nun and caused you less

trouble-”

“Valentine,” said the abbess, smiling as Mireille poked

Valentine in the ribs to silence her. “What is it you wish to

say? You fear you will be separated from your cousin

Mireille-is that what is causing these belated apologies?”

Valentine stared in amazement, wondering how the abbess

had read her thoughts.

“I shouldnt be concerned,” continued the abbess. She

handed Mireille a sheet of paper across the cherry wood

desk. “This is the name and address of the guardian who will

be responsible for your care, and beneath it Ive printed the

traveling instructions I have arranged for you both.”

“Both!” cried Valentine, barely able to remain in her seat.

“Oh, Reverend Mother, you have fulfilled my fondest wish!”

The abbess laughed. “If I did not send you together,Valentine,

I feel certain you would single-handedly find a way to

destroy all the plans Ive carefully arranged, only to remain

at your cousins side. Besides, I have good reason to send

you off together. Listen closely. Each nun at this abbey has

been provided for. Those whose families accept them back

will be sent to their homes. In some cases Ive found friends

or remote relatives to provide them shelter. If they came to

the abbey with dowries, I return these monies to them for

their care and safekeeping. If no funds are available, I send

the young woman to an abbey of good faith in another country.

In all cases, travel and living expenses will be provided

to ensure the well-being of my daughters.” The abbess folded

her hands and proceeded. “But you are fortunate in several

respects, Valentine,” she said. “Your grandfather has left you

a generous income, which I earmark for both you and your

cousin Mireille. In addition, though you have no family, you

have a godfather who has accepted responsibility for you

both. I have received written assurance of his willingness to

act in your behalf. This brings me to my second point, an

issue of grave concern.”

Mireille had glanced at Valentine when the abbess spoke

of a godfather, and now she looked down at the paper in her

hand, where the abbess had printed in bold letters, “M.

Jacques-Louis David, Painter,” with an address beneath it, in

Paris. She had not known Valentine had a godfather.

“I realize,” the abbess went on, “when it is learned Ive

closed the abbey, there will be those in France who will be

highly displeased. Many of us will be in danger, specifically

from men such as the Bishop of Autun, who will wish to

know what we have pried from the walls and carried away

with us. You see, the traces of our activities cannot completely

be covered. There may be women who are sought out

and found. It may be necessary for them to flee. Because of

this, I have selected eight of us, each of whom will have a

piece of the service but who also will serve as collection

points where the others may leave behind a piece if they

must flee. Or leave directions how to find it. Valentine, you

will be one of the eight.”

“I!” saidValentine. She swallowed hard, for her throat had

suddenly become very dry. “But Reverend Mother, I am

not . . . I do not . . .”

“What you try to say is that you are scarcely a pillar of responsibility,” said the abbess, smiling despite herself. “I am

aware of this, and I rely upon your sober cousin to assist me

with that problem.” She looked at Mireille, and the latter

nodded her assent.

“I have selected the eight not only with regard for their capabilities,”

the abbess continued, “but for their strategic

placement.Your godfather, M. David, lives in Paris, the heart

of the chessboard which is France. As a famous artist, he

commands the respect and friendship of the nobility, but he

is also a member of the Assembly and is considered by some

to be a fervent revolutionary. I believe him to be in a position

to protect you both in case of need. And I have paid him

amply for your care to provide him a motive to do so.”

The abbess peered across the table at the two young

women. “This is not a request, Valentine,” she said sternly.

“Your sisters may be in trouble, and you will be in a position

to serve them. I have given your name and address to some

who have already departed for their homes. You will go to

Paris and do as I say.You have fifteen years, enough to know

that there are things in life more crucial than the gratification

of your immediate wishes.” The abbess spoke harshly, but

then her face softened as it always did when she looked at

Valentine. “Besides, Paris is not so bad a place of sentence,”

she added.

Valentine smiled back at the abbess. “No, Reverend

Mother,” she agreed. “There is the opera, for one thing, and

perhaps there will be parties, and the ladies, they say, wear

such beautiful gowns-” Mireille punched Valentine in the

ribs again. “I mean, I humbly thank the Reverend Mother for

placing such faith in her devout servant.” At this, the abbess

burst into a merry peal of laughter that belied her years.

“Very well,Valentine.You may both go and pack.You will

leave tomorrow at dawn. Dont be tardy.” Rising, the abbess

lifted two heavy pieces from the board and handed them to

the novices.

Valentine and Mireille in turn kissed the abbesss ring and

with great care conveyed their rare possessions to the door of

the study. As they were about to depart, Mireille turned and

spoke for the first time since they had entered the room.

“If I may ask, Reverend Mother,” she said, “where will

you be going?We should like to think of you and send good

wishes to you wherever you may be.”

“I am departing on a journey that I have longed to take for

over forty years,” the abbess replied. “I have a friend whom

Ive not visited since childhood. In those days-you know, at

times Valentine reminds me very much of this childhood

friend of mine. I remember her as being so vibrant, so full of

life. . . .” The abbess paused, and Mireille thought that if such

a thing could be said of so stately a person, the abbess looked

wistful.

“Does your friend live in France, Reverend Mother?” she

asked. “No,” replied the abbess. “She lives in Russia.”

THE FOLLOWING MORNING, IN THE DIM GRAY LIGHT, TWO WOMEN dressed in traveling clothes left the Abbey of Montglane and

climbed into a wagon filled with hay. The wagon passed

through the massive gates and started across the back bowls

of the mountains. A light mist rose, obscuring them from

view as they passed down into the far valley.

They were frightened and, drawing their capes about

themselves, felt thankful that they were on a mission of God

as they reentered the world from which they had so long

been sheltered.

But it was not God who watched them silently from the

mountaintop as the wagon slowly descended into the darkness

of the valley floor below. High on a snow-capped peak

above the abbey sat a solitary rider astride a pale horse. He

watched until the wagon had vanished into the dark mist.

Then he turned his horse without a sound and rode away.

From the Paperback edition.

Product Details

ISBN:
9780345419088
Author:
Neville, Katherine
Publisher:
Ballantine Books
Location:
New York
Subject:
Non-Classifiable
Subject:
General
Subject:
Fiction
Subject:
Thrillers
Subject:
Suspense
Subject:
Puzzles
Subject:
Factacn
Subject:
Chess sets.
Subject:
Popular Fiction-Contemporary Thrillers
Copyright:
Edition Description:
Trade paper
Series Volume:
103-839
Publication Date:
19970631
Binding:
TRADE PAPER
Grade Level:
General/trade
Language:
English
Pages:
624
Dimensions:
8 x 5.15 x 1.31 in 1 lb

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The Eight Used Trade Paper
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$5.50 In Stock
Product details 624 pages Random House - English 9780345419088 Reviews:
"Review" by , "Readers thrilled by The Da Vinci Code will relish the multi-layered secrets of The Eight."
"Review" by , "A big, rich, two-tiered confection of a novel...a rousing, amusing game."
"Review" by , "A fascinating piece of entertainment that manages to be both vibrant and cerebral...Few will find it resistible."
"Review" by , "With alchemical skill, Neville blends modern romance, historical fiction, and medieval mystery...and comes up with gold."
"Synopsis" by , New York City, 1972—A dabbler in mathematics and chess, Catherine Velis is also a computer expert for a Big Eight accounting firm. Before heading off to a new assignment in Algeria, Cat has her palm read by a fortune-teller. The woman warns Cat of danger. Then an antiques dealer approaches Cat with a mysterious offer: He has an anonymous client who is trying to collect the pieces of an ancient chess service, purported to be in Algeria. If Cat can bring the pieces back, there will be a generous reward.

The South of France, 1790—Mireille de Remy and her cousin Valentine are young novices at the fortresslike Montglane Abbey. With France aflame in revolution, the two girls burn to rebel against constricted convent life—and their means of escape is at hand. Buried deep within the abbey are pieces of the Montglane Chess Service, once owned by Charlemagne. Whoever reassembles the pieces can play a game of unlimited power. But to keep the Game a secret from those who would abuse it, the two young women must scatter the pieces throughout the world. . . .

"Synopsis" by , Computer expert Cat Velis is heading for a job to Algeria. Before she goes, a mysterious fortune teller warns her of danger, and an antique dealer asks her to search for pieces to a valuable chess set that has been missing for years...In the South of France in 1790 two convent girls hide valuable pieces of a chess set all over the world, because the game that can be played with them is too powerful....

From the Trade Paperback edition.

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