CHAPTER FIVE HUNDRED AND TWENTY-NINE
“Pierre Semaines,” Nelson said.
“Fuck,” Blane said. “Of course he is. God. No wonder he was so weird today.”
“Weird?” Nelson asked.
“‘How are things going, Blane?’” Blane exaggerated Pierre’s accent. “‘I’ve heard you’re doing really well.’ ‘Anything wonderful happening?’”
“He thinks you’re a miracle worker,” Nelson said.
Blane just shook his head.
“That man does not have a problem with gay people,” Blane said. “Says his best-friend growing up was gay. His father, too.”
“Yes,” Nelson said. “I learned that today.”
Nelson gave a heavy sigh.
“So running away from him really screwed up my head,” Nelson said. “Running away from you was dumb. I should have stayed.”
“It’s all right to leave a situation,” Blane said. “You can leave a room without blowing up the entire fucking house.”
Nelson sniffed and then cleared his throat.
“Yes, well,” Nelson said. After a moment, he sighed, “I’m willing to learn.”
Blane groaned and leaned his head against the head rest.
“My mother gave her life for me,” Nelson said. “I can do this.”
“My mother did as well,” Blane said. “How does that relate to this?”
“Something we have in common,” Nelson said.
The silence dragged. Nelson didn’t get out of the vehicle, and Blane didn’t know what else to say. Blane sighed.
“What the deal with all of the swords?” Blane asked.
“Swords?” Nelson asked.
“Your dad has an entire room of antique swords,” Blane said.
“That’s a long story,” Nelson said. He pulled his seatbelt down and locked it in. “I can tell you on our drive.”
Blane glared at Nelson for a long moment. Nelson responded by closing his door.
“It’s a long drive,” Nelson said. “We should go.”
They sat in silence as the SUV became unbearably hot.
“I am ready when you are,” Nelson said.
Shaking his head, Blane started the SUV. They rolled to the gate and waited for it to open. Before Blane could complain, Nelson leaned over and kissed Blane. Their faces were inches apart.
“I am sorry,” Nelson said. “I was too caught up in myself to realize that I hurt you.”
Blane snorted in agreement. Nelson leaned in to kiss Blane again but Blane pushed him away.
“Get off me,” Blane said. “I’m not a ‘kiss and make up’ kind of person.”
“Oh?” Nelson laughed. “What are you?”
“A grumbling, growling, bitter, resentful man until I figure out what I want to do,” Blane said. “But it’s up to me.”
Blane drove through the security gate to the street.
“You’d better have packed some cash,” Blane said.
“Why?” Nelson asked.
“It’s a long drive,” Blane said. “I’m not above kicking your ass out on the side of the road if you piss me off.”
Blane put on his dark sunglasses. He looked at Nelson when they stopped at the stoplight on Colfax Boulevard.
“You shaved,” Blane said.
“Yeah …” Nelson nodded.
“Contacts?” Blane asked.
Blushing, Nelson cleared his throat.
“I do have to wear glasses in the lab,” Nelson said.
“Good thing you’re not in the lab,” Blane said mildly.
“That’s what Fran said,” Nelson said. He shook his head and put on his sunglasses. “Do you know Fran?”
“What do you think?” Blane asked.
“Fuck,” Nelson said.
Blane grinned. They drove in silence from stop light to stop light as they made their way up Colfax Boulevard.
“You look good,” Blane said.
Nelson flushed with sheer joy.
“Shut the fuck up,” Blane grumbled.
“Put your safety belt on bitter resentful man,” Nelson said.
Blane shot Nelson a dark look but did what he was told.
“So, swords?” Blane asked.
“Oh what?” Nelson pretended to be surprised. “You hold the threat of being throwing out of the car over my head to get my family secrets out of me.”
“I might slow down before I throw you out,” Blane said.
Nelson swallowed hard and looked at Blane. With his sunglasses on and his focus on driving, Nelson couldn’t tell if Blane was joking.
“Fine,” Blane said. “I’ll slow down before chucking you out of the car.”
Nelson laughed. He was rewarded with a small smile from Blane.
“Swords,” Blane ordered as he turned onto Colorado Boulevard.
“Yes, well,” Nelson said.
Blane groaned. He pulled to stop at another stoplight and flicked open the locks on the vehicle. Nelson held onto the armrest. Blane laughed.
Nelson didn’t say anything.
“Ah fuck it,” Blane said.
He pulled into a fast food restaurant. He ordered for himself and then looked at Nelson.
“I never …” Nelson said.
“Bullshit,” Blane said. “Just order.”
While Blane rolled his eyes, Nelson gave a detailed, specific order and checked to make sure the person had it. They were on their way in no time. Blane mellowed out with some fat and sugar in his system.
Blane continued down Colorado Boulevard.
“Are we taking this to the 285?” Nelson asked.
“No,” Blane said. “We’re going to Moab and heading south.”
“That’s not the way to go!” Nelson asked.
Blane gave him an irritated look. He smiled.
“Just trying to make sure that we get there,” Nelson said.
“How did you get in this car?” Blane asked. “I mean, how did you know we were going?”
“Oh,” Nelson said. “Jake told me. After the piano recital while we were all standing around. I didn’t think I could go until Wednesday but I talked to Ava and … Here I am. I have to check in on Sunday night, but I can probably stay all week.”
“If they need me, they’ll call me,” Nelson said.
“Where did Jake tell you we were going?” Blane asked.
“Navajo Nation,” Nelson said. “Nadia Kerminoff called and asked if I could help her out at the clinic. I guess they transitioned from a rural clinic to hospital at the end of last year. They ‘ve been really overrun. We’re going to relieve the emergency docs and anyone else who needs help.”
Blane didn’t respond as he transitioned onto I-70.
“I was surprised when she called,” Nelson said.
“Why?” Blane asked.
“I’ve known Nadia for a long time,” Nelson said.
“Oh yea?” Blane asked. “Where’d you meet?”
“We have the same specialty and are about the same age,” Nelson said. “She applied for the same residencies and fellowships. I saw her at so many sites that we started planning to go on the same days.”
Nelson paused for a moment.
“She’s a really great person,” Nelson said. “I was surprised that she was connected to you and all of this.”
“Do you know who Ivan is?” Blane asked.
Nelson grunted and nodded.
“He taught Sissy ballet,” Blane said. “Sissy is Sandy’s sister.”
“Aren’t they dating?” Nelson asked. “Sissy and Ivan, I mean, not Sandy.”
“We don’t talk about it because she’s so much younger than he is,” Blane said. “How do you know about it?”
“Nadia sent me Sissy’s file after she was shot,” Nelson said. “Gunshots are kind of my thing. Nadia wanted to know what I thought the girl’s chances were.”
“And?” Blane asked.
“I’m glad she’s all right,” Nelson said. “Those shots were brutal, designed to kill her. And if she survived? They should have stopped her from ever dancing again. If I didn’t know better, I’d say that she had some kind of magical intervention.”
Blane kept a kind of stony silence. Nelson looked at him for a moment before continuing.
“Nadia’s in a weird relationship with one of the kids that lives at Jake’s house,” Nelson said.
“Nash,” Nelson and Blane said at the same time.
“You know about that?” Blane asked.
Nelson sighed and looked away. After a while, he turned back to Blane.
“Anyway, you’re going the wrong way,” Nelson said. “I looked it up this morning.”
“You looked up how to get to Kayenta, Arizona this morning?” Blane asked.
“Oh,” Nelson said. “No. Just to the Navajo Nation.”
“We’re meeting everyone at one of the hotels there,” Blane said. “Tomorrow, we’ll make trips out to the site to see if we can stay there or if we’d rather stay in the hotel.”
Nelson put the coordinates into his phone. After a few minutes, he nodded.
“Guess what?” Nelson asked.
“I’m right?” Blane asked.
Nelson laughed. Blane grinned.
“Here’s a question,” Nelson said.
“Don’t hold back on my account,” Blane said.
“Why are we going to the Navajo Nation in the middle of the summer?” Nelson asked.
“For the last year or so, there’s been a plan to go to Poland to investigate a salt mine,” Blane said.
“Wieliczka?” Nelson asked.
“No,” Blane said. He opened his mouth to continue, but Nelson interrupted.
“Bochnia?” Nelson asked.
“Not that one either,” Blane said.
He waited a few moments to see if Nelson had something else to say.
“Okay, I’ll bite,” Nelson said. “Where?”
“It’s a spot between those two mines,” Blane said. “Private land.”
“Mysterious,” Nelson said. “How did this get on the plan?”
“Sandy has a little project of buying old artifacts from people,” Blane said. “She has some money that she’s had since she was a child. For lack of a better word, she’s ‘laundering’ it through artifacts. Because she is Seth’s daughter, and so Bernie’s granddaughter, she has access to truly rare items from Holocaust survivors and their children. These elderly people or their children need cash to enjoy their last years. She can provide that.”
“What does she do with the artifacts?” Nelson asked.
“She’s found things that are on the register,” Blane said. “She’s returned what she can but, in some rare cases, the register was wrong. The object was in the possession of a family, just not the family members that reported it missing.”
“The artifacts would be worth a small fortune,” Nelson said.
Blane looked at Nelson.
“Sandy can prove provenance,” Nelson said. “That’s like the golden egg.”
“She tries to get them into museums, when she can,” Blane said.
Nelson nodded and looked out the window.
“Did Paddie get his sword from Sandy?” Nelson asked to the glass.
“The Sword of Truth was given to Paddie by Maughold when he and Katy were kidnapped on the Isle of Man,” Blane said evenly.
Nelson didn’t respond. Blane blinked. It was a weird enough statement that most normal people would, at the very least, ask him to repeat it. Blane’s eyes flicked to Nelson but Nelson was looking out the passenger window.
“Anyway, the trip was canceled because it’s too dangerous for the children to go,” Blane said. “Rather than have them all at home driving everyone crazy, Jake thought we could go dig some wells.”
“With teenagers?” Nelson asked.
“They’re really great kids,” Blane said. “You’ll see. They will jump right in and get to work. The little ones will do what they can. It’s just how it works in this family.”
“Good to know,” Nelson said. “So we’re going to Kayenta?”
“We’re supposed to go straight through,” Blane said. “Jake and Aden have the kids. The girlfriends are in Heather’s car. I think Rachel and Maggie are in with them.”
“I saw them leave,” Nelson said.
“The way Jake figures it, the kids are going to want their moms,” Blane said. “The moms are going to decide that the men are doing it wrong. The teenagers are going to fight. The little kids will have some unfixable need.”
“Like boredom?” Nelson asked.
Blane glanced at him.
“I was surprised that Jake didn’t have videos playing for the kids,” Nelson said.
“Jake doesn’t believe in that kind of thing,” Blane said. “He thinks kids get enough TV time.”
“Hence the switching cars,” Nelson said.
“Exactly,” Blane said. “Anyway, we have bets on what the cars will look like by the time they get to Kayenta.”
“You want to listen to music?” Nelson asked.
“I want to know about the swords,” Blane said. “Why did you ask about Paddie and his sword? Do you know who Maughold is? I didn’t when it first happened.”
“Oh,” Nelson said.
Nelson didn’t say anything for a good fifteen minutes. Blane cleared his throat and glanced at Nelson.
“Oh, sorry,” Nelson said. “You don’t happen to speak French do you?”
“High school,” Blane said. “My Spanish is solid. Some Russian, just from knowing Ivan. But my French is vague.”
“We’ll have to work on that,” Nelson said.
“Why?” Blane asked.
“Because this story is a story of France, if not the story of France,” Nelson said.
“And we live in the United States?” Blane shook his head.
“I am the culmination of this story,” Nelson said. “I didn’t tell you before because I … But now … Are you angry?”
“Why don’t you just tell me and we’ll see what we need to sort out,” Blane said. He surprised himself at how much he sounded like Jacob. “Go on.”
Saturday morning — 10:25 a.m.
Pierre Semaines awoke to the sound of a man’s laughter. The man standing next to his bed clearly thought that something was hilarious. He looked past the laughing man to see Perses the Titan God of Destruction. Pierre leaned against his elbow to push himself up.
“What is funny?” Pierre asked.
“He speaks French,” the man said, as he pointed to Pierre. “That wasn’t a clue?”
“I thought they were all dead,” Perses said. “Kill off by the jealous French king.”
The man spun in place and leaned over Pierre.
“What is it?” the man demanded. His tone was hostile, laced with disdain. “How did you survive?”
Pierre blinked at the man and then shot a look at Perses. The man near him had shoulder length sandy colored hair. His eyes were blue and his nose long. Pierre took a deep breath through his nose.
“You smell Greek,” Pierre said with equal disdain. “Minor God? Bastard Child?”
The man lunged toward Pierre. Perses jumped between the man and Pierre. He held the man back from the bed.
“Do not antagonize him,” Perses said when the man was under control.
“Why not?” Pierre asked.
“He is your in-law,” Perses said.
“I should have eaten your son when I had the chance,” the man said.
For the first time in a long time, Pierre felt a sliver of real fear. This man was threatening to eat his precious boy. And Pierre was too infirmed to stop him.
Perses turned to the man and growled in an ancient version of language: “Be silent.”
The man stopped moving. He looked at Perses and then at Pierre.
“Perses is correct,” the man said. “My granddaughter is married to your son’s love interest. We are family or will be soon enough.”
Pierre was still trying to work out who this man was and what he was talking about.
“Introduce yourself,” Perses commanded the man as if he were a petulant child.
“I am Ares, God of War,” the man said. “And you?”
“Pierre Semaines,” Pierre said. “Engineer. American. French national.”
“Already he lies,” Ares said.
“He would like you to reveal your titles,” Perses said. “I asked him here to see if he knew what or who you were. He says that you look like a Templar.”
Pierre gave a sincere nod and moved to get up.
“Could you help me up?” Pierre asked. “I’m okay in bed and good on my feet. It’s the transition that’s hard.”
Perses held out his forearm. Pierre pulled himself up to sitting. He rotated his legs around to the edge of the bed. With Perses’ help he stood. Pierre held his hand out to a walking stick in the corner of the room Ares gave Pierre the walking stick.
Pierre pulled at the ornate top of the walking stick and a long, thin sword appeared. He held it to his forehead.
“I am of the Order of Solomon’s Temple,” Pierre said.
In a swift, practiced movement, he moved the sword from his forehead to his side.
“You are a Templar,” Perses said with a suck in of breath.
When no challenge came, Pierre slid the sword back into the walking stick.
“My family,” Pierre said. “It is our sacred duty to protect …”
“You are a long way from Temple Mound,” Ares said, wryly.
“Yes,” Pierre said simply.
“How did you survive?” Perses asked.
“We hid,” Pierre said. “But you are correct. Most of our order were killed or forced to join other orders. Many were murdered outright for their land or possessions.”
“But not you,” Ares said. “How strange.”
“My ancestors were weapons makers, as am I. They were the order’s weapons masters,” Pierre said. “We kept the weapons. At home. In France. No one realized that we were there. When the order was outlawed, we continued about our business. Everyone needs a weapon or two. You don’t kill the weapons makers.”
“And the boy?” Perses asked.
“May I ask first,” Pierre said.
After time to think it through, Perses gave a nod.
“Which grandchild of the God Ares is my son involved with?” Pierre asked.
Perses’ gave Pierre a wide grin. Ares laughed. Pierre raised his eyebrows.
“Hedone goes by the modern name ‘Heather,’” Perses said, evenly.
Pierre was so startled that his hand went to his heart. Perses helped him to sit on the bed. Pierre stared off into space.
“She is one of my daughter’s best-friends,” Perses said. “So we are also related, as it were.”
“H …h …how?” Pierre asked.
“Her mother, Psyche, was horribly abused by Aphrodite,” Ares said. “So Psyche took their child and hid her through time. Hedone was human enough to pass as a human child. Every time Hedone was twenty or so, Psyche would return her to ten years old, the age the child was when Aphrodite released her mother. They would move to the next age. They did this… thousands of times.”
“But she is older than twenty now,” Pierre said. “I have met her. She’s 26 or maybe 28 years old.”
“Hedone convinced her mother that they were well hidden in the modern world,” Ares said. “Her grandmother adores Hedone, so she was able to convince her grandmother to leave Psyche alone.”
“Psyche and Eros have reunited in the last few years,” Perses said. “They are on a permanent break, somewhere out of time.”
“My son has given his commission to his daughter,” Ares said. “Hedone is now the Goddess of Love, like her Grandmother.”
Ares nodded to Perses.
“He got the ball rolling,” Ares said. “Of course, it was a great relief to everyone involved.”
“Why?” Pierre asked.
“My son lost his mind looking for his beloved,” Ares said. “He needs a long break.”
Pierre fell silent. After a moment, he looked at Ares.
“The child?” Pierre asked. “Hedone? She was born before …”
“Yes,” Ares said at the same time Perses said, “Of course. You cannot lie with a young woman and not have a child.”
“Your son?” Perses asked. “Who or what is he?”
“It’s a long story,” Pierre said.
“We have time,” Ares said. “But tell me first, weapons master, do you have the Sword of the Sacred Flame?”
“The Sword of the Moon?” Pierre asked. “That was given to Walter Raleigh by his Queen and lost in the Americas. I’ve traced it to something called the Lost Colony of Roanoke. It’s believed that the sword was lost with them.”
“But you don’t believe that,” Ares said.
“I don’t,” Pierre said. “I believe it’s in a private collection. I haven’t been able to get into see the collection. Yet.”
“Maybe we can help,” Perses said.
“Maybe you can,” Pierre said. “I have the Sword of the Sun.”
“The Sword of the Sacred Fire,” Ares said.
“It is a beautiful weapon,” Pierre said. “Gorgeous. Would you mind me asking? Where did the boy get the Sword of Truth?”
“Maughold,” Perses said.
“Maughold?” Pierre asked. “What?”
The men laughed.
“Why is that funny?” Pierre asked.
“You really should spend some time with your acupuncturist,” Perses said.
“It’s his family,” Ares said. “There’s an odd mixture of folks living at that Castle.”
The men looked at each other and laughed.
“What?” Pierre asked.
Denver Cereal continues next week…
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