Lord Burgess sat back in his chair after grilling his butler about this strange, early visitor.
“He was a young man, you say?”
“He was, Sir,”
And he asked you to tell me, that this gift of a book, was from the author himself?”
“He did, Sir.”
“Did he appear mad to you, or deranged?”
“No, Sir. No more than our usual visitors.”
“Thank you, Judson.”
“One other thing, Sir?” He cleared his throat. “He spoke English as well as any Englishman I ever knew, but there was something there... the merest hint, of French.”
The older man opened up the package even more, studied that book, turning it this way and that, opening it slowly, getting a sense of its age from the binding and the printing within, and its leather cover. He handled it carefully. Reading the name inside, he swore, and then opened that letter.
I met your daughter, professor Anne Rossignol Burgess, two days ago in Paris, when she gave one of the evening lectures, on Ancient French, at the Sorbonne.’
His daughter had never used her full middle name; not ever, but had always called herself, Rose. She would not have told him her full name. How the hell had he learned of it?
He continued reading.
'Certain of her slides that she spoke from, that evening, and two days later in another lecture, are pages from this book I sent to you, starting from the beginning, and capturing the first ten pages with her camera, before she had to break away from the manuscript she’d found in the monastery at St. Denis. She was fortunate that no one saw her photograph those pages. They are very protective of such things.
This book, is the original.
When she went back, the Monks denied that such a manuscript had ever existed; that she must have been mistaken. She knew enough not to argue with them, but she had attracted attention enough, by what she’d found. The wrong kind of attention.
They do not easily forget.
I am sure you and she may have already discussed some of it; how she discovered that document, and how it captured her interest; how she met me, and what transpired between us after that.
What had transpired between them? It sounded risqué, and not something a daughter would discuss with her father. His daughter had told him nothing of any man in her life.
’She did not understand what happened that evening on her way to her lodgings, although she had her own view of it, but I, do know what happened.
I was instrumental in saving her from some violence, as she walked across the upper end of a notorious arrondissement, when she should have skirted it. However, I saw her safely to her home.’
He should phone his daughter and ask her. She sounded to be alright. Term would be over in a few more days and she’d be home by then.
‘Our two families are related, but I have yet to fill in, one or two gaps in our family trees where they branched way from each other in the early 1200s.’
That was the first he’d heard of it.
’This book... if you can decipher all that it says...was written by my ancestor in the year 1242. The Holy Inquisition was hunting him, so he needed to move around.
I am aware of your work in various parts of the world; how you have the reputation of an ‘adventurer’ (only in the best sense of that word) and a seeker after ancient relics and antiquities, and that you have been employed by several governments in the past to conduct such research.
I can suggest such an adventure to you and your comrades, while promising you nothing in return.
It concerns a piece of history from almost 1,000 years ago in southern France, where both of our families originated.
I am not sure if you are fully aware of your family’s origins. The family tree you traced back, and which I know almost as well as my own, begins about the year 1300, when your distant ancestor, The Marechal Cordellon, made his mark in history, from his home in northern France, near Paris, at Deux Églises, though you seem to have known him by another name.’
The writer seemed to know something of his family tree.
‘Prior to that time, your family and mine, once lived in a small village in southern France. I can trace both of our family origins back for some centuries before that.
I would be happy to discuss that with you sometime.’
That caught his interest.
’In the year 1222, there was a severe disruption which tore those families apart and all but destroyed them, with but one significant survivor from each; a male from my line, and a female from another. Your lineage descends from that pair.
I have been searching for that region and that family seat for some time now, without success. I fear the years, the forest and the foraging of wild pigs, have all but obliterated those traces, but I know, from all of my research, that sufficient trace of it exists, and that I would be able to find it once I got close enough, but to do that, I need your help.
Nearby, there is a cave... and early drawings... There are renditions of those at the back of the book but without any description that would allow them to be easily found, unless one was familiar with the area.
That time was a difficult one for both of our families, and with the following plague years, large segment of France were de-populated as people fled. The forest overgrew once good farmland, to hide many such dead communities.
There was also a co-ordinated effort by the Papal church at that time, to obliterate all memory of our families, so, what nature and family hostilities did not do, the church completed.
They uprooted all evidence of those two families, tore down their empty homes, suggesting that there was a curse on everything to do with them. They erased all names of those places from any map. We were excommunicated... in absentia, and all traces removed of our family name from the church, as they did with the Huguenots in later times.
It is all laid out in the book you now have.
May I suggest a coordinated effort.
If you agree and are interested, then I propose joining you in France. I will know, when you get there. I can recommend a base of operations from a family Inn, situated north of Marseilles.
Guillaume Justin de Vaillancourt.’
There was direction to a small pension, well off the beaten track and away from the usual tourist hordes.
That signature of his, and the one in the book, were identical in every way.
He swore. “Merde.”
Of course he was interested. He was hooked.
His phone rang.
It was his daughter.