A confrontation, and a rescue.
As Professor Burgess walked back to her lodgings, she had an uncomfortable feeling of being followed.
She’d sensed the same thing after her public talk on the previous Wednesday.
After she’d got home that day, she’d entered her apartment and looked down into the street before she’d put her lights on.
There was an older man there, bearded. He’d followed her. There had been a man like that in the back of that auditorium for her talk. He’d sat, exactly where that new student had sat, in the lecture she’d just finished.
Had he been sent from the Church to recover what belonged to them? She had removed nothing. Surely, that had nothing to do with her breaking those rules at St. Denis, about cameras and photographs?
Now, the same thing was happening again, but he was following far behind her.
She always walked. Paris was too dangerous to drive, and she needed to clear her head.
She must be coming down with something. For the last few days she’d had some blistering headaches... though they hadn’t been headaches as she known them before, they’d been voices in her head, and they’d been painful.
They’d got more painful, almost unbearable as she’d got deeper into her talk on both days.
They’d mostly faded after she’d got home, but now she sensed that same problem again.
She’d get an aspirin when she got home.
She slid the wooden rod from across the handle of her shoulder bag/briefcase, and carried it unobtrusively, low down beside her. She knew it was a risk to walk alone in this Arrondissement of Paris after dark, but she could run fast, even with her briefcase, and her father had taught her how to be very effective with this heavy, hardwood rod.
There was only this one dangerous place she needed to cross, to get to her rooms, but she was confident that she knew how to look after herself.
The headache got worse... the voices got louder; very loud, almost to the point of real pain. It must be something worse than what she’d thought it had been.
That was when a noisy kind of ruckus, erupted behind her, and an almighty scream of pain.
She turned quickly in surprise, not sure what was happening, and observed the violent situation that had just broken out behind her in the darkening street.
Four individuals had leapt out from the shadows upon that one man following her, and were taking him on. Maybe there was some justice in the world. Serve him right, but she’d better not hang around.
A large knife skittered to her feet from the lead attacker who was already lying on the hard ground, moaning in pain, at least forty feet from her. His arm was not in a natural position, sticking up in the air. It had been either dislocated or broken.
Broken, more like, and he was whimpering now, as that other man defended himself, and did it well. Doing much more than that.
She vaguely recognized the man being attacked… or who was doing the attacking now, after somehow turning the tables.
He was that most recent older student... if he had been a student. He really did know how to defend himself with some combination of Jiu Jitsu; using the weapons of the attackers against them so easily, and karate... using even just plain pugilism. He knew how to handle himself.
Another one fell to the ground; choking, this time after a straight-arm to his throat. She’d heard that hit.
Her first instinct was to run, but she couldn’t. She was rooted to the spot and had to watch. Maybe they'd intended to attack her, but needed to get him out of the way first, or he had intervened on her behalf as they’d approached her. Maybe she should help him, except the pain in her head was becoming truly unbearable now. She just wanted to sit down and not have to do anything.
He knew how to handle himself, that much was obvious as he put another attacker to the ground leaving only one of them, still coming at him as two of those others recovered and ran off. One was not moving.
He looked around, seeing where she was, as he backed quickly to where she was standing. Before she could stop him or respond, he had dropped a noose over her head, except it wasn’t a noose. The crippling voices in her head were turned off like a tap. It had been magical. She could think again.
He said but the one word, seeing the pain drop from her face, then told her more.
“Good. Keep that on, while I get you home.”
She touched it with her hands. It was not a noose, but a cross around her neck, nothing else, but a fairly heavy, wooden cross.
He quickly turned back to deal with the last of the attackers, but they had gone. All four of them had gone as though they had disappeared into thin air. Even the knife that had been lying at her feet, and the man with a broken arm had gone. Unless this man; this impossible man, had kicked it away. She couldn’t see it.
There was a cut along his shirt sleeve and some blood there. He’d been wounded protecting her. He may have other injuries.
For the first time she saw his face clearly, up close, and not with the breadth of a banked classroom between them, forcing her to look up toward the brighter lights, blinding her.
He was holding her arm gently. He had very bright eyes and such a wonderful smile, but what caught her eyes, was the scar that ran from his forehead in the hairline, down and across his pale face, ending at the side of his chin.
It must have been a terrible wound at one time, and he’d had plastic surgery done recently, to correct the damage it had done.
She almost reached up to touch it. She wanted to.
He had some other, recent scarring there too; very minor, from when he’d shaved. It was as though he’d just taken off a beard in the last day or so. She’d seen when her father had done that. His face had been pale too, just like this one.
“Thank you.” If she should thank him. She was still not sure of his intentions.
He held both of her arms as he looked into her face, into her eyes.
“Have the voices gone? They can soon become unbearable if you try to ignore them.”
How did he know about the voices?
“I felt them too. I think I may have caused them for you, brought them to you.” What he said did not make sense to her.
“I will try and explain it to you later. Come, we need to get out of here. There may be others like them. Hang onto me and I’ll get you home. I know where you live. I think you know I followed you the other night?”
“I was concerned for you. I attended your public talk, and like the idiot I am, I led them right to you.”
She did not understand. Who was he referring to? Them?
“Take my arm. We need to be close to each other, and in contact, or they will be back, and they will really hurt this time. They may soon be back anyway.”
Was he talking about the thugs, or those voices. He had solved them both by what he’d done.
“I tried to back away when I sensed things happening, I thought they had come for me, but they hadn’t. It was taken out of my hands when those young thugs intervened to get to you. This is not a district you walk through of an evening.”
“You did, when you followed me before.”
She planted her feet and stood them both still. She needed answers. “Who are you?”
“You know who I am, Professor. You don’t want to believe it, but you will, soon. I know what you are thinking. That’s impossible’ him having that name. I may soon persuade you of the truth of it. Or not.”
They picked up walking again.
“I saw you turn down the terrace here, and knew I should not leave you.”
“So, you were following me. I thought you were.”
“Yes. I was.”
“Why?” He’d already told her. He answered her question in a different way.
“Let us say, that you had come to the attention of certain, individuals. The wrong individuals.
“You won’t need that rod anymore.”
He took it from her and slid it through the top of her bag where it belonged as they walked. She hung onto his belt, maintaining contact as suggested, as he picked up her arm once more.
“This is a bad area, but they don’t usually attack in daylight, as they did.”
“Who were, they?” She needed to know. She had never had a problem before, walking through here.
“You ask a lot of questions.”
“And you seem able to answer them so easily. You know much more than you are saying. How do I know you are not part of it?” Whatever ‘it’, was.
He smiled. “Think about it and you will know that I am not.”
The strange thing was that she did know that he was not part of it. She also was not so concerned about him now. He was not the kind of man one needed to fear. She knew that about him already, even though they had not spoken a single word until a few moments ago.
This man would never harm her. She did not know him; had never met him, but already she knew that about him.
“They wanted to relieve you of those slides you lectured from. Someone put them up to it.”
That caused her to pause again.
He did not answer immediately, so she asked again.“Why?”
“To stop this going any further. But they’d already failed. Those behind them. They cannot stop it now. Their intention was to ensure that we never met. They failed in that too.”
“Why?” She was one question after another, not understanding much of what he was saying.
He had to smile.
“I will explain it to you later, over a cup of your tea. I will escort you home... with your permission, of course... and if you feel you can trust me, we will go in, and we’ll talk there.”
“What about?” She was still full of questions.
“That, is yet to be decided. Miss Burgess. It depends upon you. I followed you on both occasions, because I needed to know that you were safe.”
“Why?” That was about the tenth time she used that word.
“Because we are connected, you and I, in some special way that I am just learning about. We are related. It will become clear to you soon enough, I expect.”
She did not understand that, and he did not explain any further.
“That name you signed in with...? That cannot have been... could it? Is it really your name or were you playing a game with me?”
“I do not play games with something so serious as my name. Too many men’s lives have been lost over it, as you will soon see."
“Why did they want my slides?” That hadn’t seemed likely. None of it did, but she would humor him.
“They wanted to know what you knew, and how you had learned about that document that they had suspected to have existed, but which they had not been sure, existed, until you uncovered it and publicized your talk, and gave my name.
“The manuscript reveals too much of the Church and its workings from that time, that it would have preferred remained hidden forever. The Church is already facing more internal turmoil than it cares to acknowledge. The moment you gave that talk, you put yourself in danger. It is hard to explain. You are dabbling in things you cannot understand.”
“I will, later. I wanted to approach you at the end of your talk to ask you more about St. Denis, where you had seen that manuscript, and photographed it, but I didn’t want to cause either of us any more pain. By just thinking about doing that, I’d made it worse; put you in real danger, but I didn’t know it until then, when we were both invaded by those voices. I should have known.”
She frowned. How did you know about St. Denis? I kept that a secret. I didn’t mention St. Denis anywhere in my presentations. How did you know that was where I got it?
“Who are you, really?” She had to ask. “You are not a student. You were in my class, yes, but you didn’t take any notes. The others did. You were too attentive to my words, reading my slides (no one can read that old French), or you looked at me the entire time... I was discomforted, at first... and you had to borrow a pen to sign in. It is a strange student without a pen or writing materials. You are also a little older than most of my students.”
She did not know how true that was, or how much of an understatement.
“I should say a similar thing of you. Twenty-four years old, is very young, for a tenured professor.”
They continued walking, arm in arm as he looked around them.
She didn’t let go of his arm. “You seem to know a lot about me.”
“I do. However, don’t worry. Our paths will definitely diverge again after this evening.”
“You say strange things. So, what should I call you, mister... man?”
“Guillaume, will do.”
I escorted her home.
“It is unfortunate that you showed that document so publicly as you did. It attracted the wrong attention. It is cursed, as is my name. I shouldn’t exist. It shouldn’t exist either, just like those places it referred to, and those families. They no longer exist, but not because of the Plague. Because of what the Church did. When you read the full document, you will see, and you will understand why they tried so hard to silence me.”
“But I cannot read the full....”
“Yes, you can. I have a copy of the original, full document for you.”
She was struck dumb for a moment. That, shut her up, and left her with a lot to think about, not sure she could believe me.
“You are a ‘seeker’, Miss Burgess. You seek to find the unknown, to advance your knowledge, but sometimes what you find is too dangerous; as with that memoir.
“You asked about me, who, what I am? I, am a ‘searcher’, I suppose. I am looking for something that became lost to me long, long ago, but I now know how to find it at last.”
She didn’t understand my strange words. She would have many more questions as she learned more about me.