Chapter 11: Ben
Ben watched the neon lights flash across his darkened rooms causing shadows to crawl and retreat from the corners of the bedsit. He was finding it hard to sleep, and yet, his body ached with tiredness while his mind hummed. His bed had never felt more uncomfortable than it did then. It was as though the mattress had turned into a wooden board reminding him of his sins. Moving stiffly onto his side, he attempted to close his eyes once more.
Michael’s appearance had more than angered him. It had shaken him also. The priest’s arrogance was infuriating. He held Michael in contempt. Always asking questions and attempting to get him back into the Church’s fold. Ben had always been suspicious that Michael was sent by the powers that be to spy on him and make sure he never spoke about that night. But to come into his shop today with news of the twins, he couldn’t make out whether it was a test or whether he’d been wrong about him.
Michael had first come to his shop stating that he needed an old book. It was some dusty old version that talked about the gospels and before Ben knew was happening, Michael had made conversation and decided that Ben would be an useful acquaintance. He didn’t want friends or need them, but still Michael visited and talked and they’d developed an understanding between them of a love hate relationship. It was all fine until today.
Then, there was the young priest, Daniel. He was the last person the Church should have involved and the fact he was, disturbed Ben much more. If they were not careful the whole thing would become a dangerous weapon that threatened to destroy anything in its path, especially if in the wrong hands.
He thought back to the night the twins had been born. The screams of the young French girl, Marie still haunted his dreams. It was such a waste that she lost her life so early. With Father Thomas at his side, they were both lost in their prayers, so much so that only he noticed the doctors leaving with the two babies wrapped up in scrubs.
He had breathed a sigh of relief. He doubted Thomas would have the stomach to kill a baby and he for one, could not the reason he’d made the deal. Let the babies live and he would have his reward. After it was found out that the children were lost there had been repercussions, but he had been quicker and never returned to Vatican City. He left Thomas to take the consequences and Ben heard that Thomas had been found hanging in his bedsit a year later. He carried the remorse to this day and only attended the funeral hidden away. He didn’t want to or couldn’t face the man’s family. He should have let Thomas into his secret or at least protected him. The problem being that Thomas would never have given up the Church for anything and he believed ignorance would save Thomas. He was wrong, but he knew his time would come and now his reaping was finally arriving.
A noise from the shop caused him to sit up in bed. Slowly he pulled himself from beneath his covers and grabbing his walking stick, hobbled towards the door that led down below, picking up a fire poker as he did. He knew he wouldn’t have the strength to use it, but he prayed that the mere sight of it would be enough. Opening the door, he slowly negotiated the narrow staircase and as he descended, a large shape stepped out of the shadows causing Ben to jump in fright.
‘Damn it, Henrick, you could kill an old man.’
The man smiled thinly as he helped steady him. ‘Forgive me, Ben. I did not mean to scare you. I need to talk to you.’
The thick German accent seemed strained as he spoke and Ben could tell he was troubled. Ben allowed him to help him back up the stairs, where he switched on the lights that showed the bedsit in its true state. Apart from a scattering of furniture, the bedsit seemed bare. The walls were stained with damp and mould and the area that would be the kitchen looked just as tired and old. Henrick lowered Ben into the large old oversized armchair, before going to the kitchen and pouring a drink.
Ben gratefully took the steaming cup from his old friend. It was hard to believe by looking at them both that Henrick was the oldest. He was built like a power house and with his white hair and ice-blue stare he reminded Ben of a Norse god. Shifting his weight in the chair, Ben grimaced at his aching joints as Henrick sat heavily on his bed.
‘The Vatican have found the girl,’ he stated bluntly.
‘I know,’ Ben sighed. ‘Michael Roach came here. Apparently the boy was found first.’
‘Ah the boy,’ Henrick dismissed. ‘You know as well as I do the boy was meant to be found. The girl was not. Is this Michael Roach involved with the twins?’
Ben paused for a moment before answering. ‘Daniel is.’
Henrick got to his feet and Ben found himself flinching in his seat. ‘Daniel? How on... does he know who you are?’ Ben shook his head. ‘Does he know who he is?’
‘He’s no idea,’ Ben whispered
Henrick sighed in relief and returned to the bed. ‘Well that is one thing that is a positive. It is important now that the boy is steered away from the girl. Our heritage must be protected.’
‘Maybe this is a good thing. It’s time to replenish the bloodline.’
Henrick seemed to ponder on his words. Ben could see his forehead wrinkle as he weighed up the pros and cons. Ben knew the struggle that was going inside Henrick’s head. He knew it full well. It was a battle he’d also fought many times. Everyone had worked so damn hard to make sure the players were exactly where they needed to be, but something had gone wrong and there was no way of knowing if it could be repaired.
‘The Church was never meant to find the girl and our plans were based on that fact. Now she has, and involved with Daniel at this stage of the game, means we are all in danger. The Church wanted their saviour and we gave them Joshua. The girl belongs to us, but we cannot risk what we have to save her. Our family must be protected.’
‘What about the bloodline?’ Ben asked, his voice cracking.
‘Maybe there is another way,’ Henrick mused, ‘but then maybe it is time for it to end.’
‘A blood sacrifice? So then what was the point in me saving the girl? What was the point in me ruining my life?’
Henrick placed a hand on his shoulder to comfort him as the tears began to fall down his cheeks. He had been through so much and seemed to have lost more, yet it seemed it was all going to be for nothing. His heart had been ripped out in the cruellest way and though time had numbed the pain, it seemed it was going to return with a vengeance.
‘You know that if I could I would change everything. These things need to be timed correctly for them to work and the Church’s involvement is not an option. Ben, my dear friend, you know where my loyalty lies and you know where yours lies also.’
Ben nodded numbly. He knew Henrick was right. He just hoped that he had the strength to stay loyal to the cause.
The heat from the sun burned the ground from underneath her feet as she stumbled through the dry and dusty streets.
She’d fought the crowds before during market days.
The streets too narrow for the amount of people there.
But this was worse.
This was suffocating.
She tried to fight the ever increasing crowds, but after being stood on and crushed she had given up and chose to keep her distance instead.
They were all the going the same way anyway, following one man who was being beaten by uniformed soldiers.
Every now and then she would catch a glimpse of his dark curls over the heads of the crowd, but it was the sound of the whip whistling through the air before slicing into flesh that made her want to drop on her knees and cry.
She wasn’t sure that she’d even recognise him if she did see him.
The stench of the blood filled the air so much she could taste it.
That blood that was so special was being spilt for just anyone to see and touch.
People who did not deserve that privilege.
The last time she had seen him was the last time they had all been together.
They’re own group.
The group he’d travelled with had grown, and she felt honoured to be part of it.
They had eaten and drank to his wishes, but the food felt heavy in her stomach.
She had cried all night at his wishes; however, all that time he held her body tight, whispering to her that he loved her and she would be alright.
She knew she had to be strong for him, but every time the whip sang a piece of her died inside.
The smell of the crowd was so immense.
Smells of animals and body odour was usual, but right now, it was stronger than usual.
But still she was compelled to stay and watch.
It was her promise.
A promise that she would stand by his side no matter what.
She had witnessed cruelty.
It was a way of life for her where she came from and she had been the victim of such.
But these people here were supposed to be civilised.
The people that were to be followed and looked up to and yet, here they were torturing a helpless man who would never defend himself.
Too proud to defend himself.
That was his worst trait.
He’d deny it, but it was true.
She told herself.
She loved him.
He was hers and she needed to be strong and never doubt him.