This piece, once slated to be a preface, has languished in my Port. Still it calls to me.
|The First Promotion
If you are reading this journal, my soul will rest easy knowing that the descendants of the Master of Ste. Claire are still fulfilling the mandate. I have aged much this past week. For the past ten years I thought I had learned much. It was only a week ago that I found out just how much more there was to learn and do. I am afforded much privacy on this passage to the colonies, hired protectors watching my every move. The sanctuary of this room allows me to record the events that have placed me on this journey.
I was a young apprentice farrier in the employ of John of Sinclair, tending to the horses of the men he commanded at Sheriffmuir. We fought a good fight but were on the losing side of the Jacobite Rebellion. My master had thought that the cache of arms we stole from the Sutherlands would help turn the tide.
After the loss, we withdrew to the Barony in Caithness. We were aware we had a bounty on our heads from the Crown and would be pursued relentlessly. More pressing was the wrath of Clan Sutherland. We knew if they captured us, they would have been more than happy to turn us over to the Crown.
Ste. Claire was always prepared. When we arrived at the clan seat, preparations were already underway. As did some of his ancestors in the year 1307, Ste. Claire made ready to flee. The Ste. Claire family had extensive holdings in the Normandy area of France. It was to this area that a team of travelers was dispatched, well aware that Sutherland would pursue them.
No one would suspect two itinerant farriers traveling the countryside to ply their trade. It was this way that Ste. Claire managed to escape with a considerable amount of his wealth in tow. We secured passage to the Orkney Islands. We found refuge with the monks and clans that lived in the shadows of the henge at Stenness, our disappearance complete beneath the halls of their ancient temple.
After a few days of rest, my education began in earnest. Besides finishing my training in the ways of the farrier, I was schooled in the arts of agriculture and animal husbandry and the exacting arts of the stonemasons. This last training session, I am told, will be invaluable to me over time. All the while, the monks reminded me that while I was the beneficiary of the Master’s largesse, my chance to repay him would come in the not too distant future.
Some of my favorite hours in Orkney were when Ste. Claire and I would play chess. He said his main objectives were to teach me patience and the art of observing one's opponent. But while those were important he always reminded me, the thing to keep foremost in my mind was the ability to plan your future moves. He always stressed the need to never underestimate the power of the lowly. His two favorite playing pieces were the pawn and the knight. Having the title of "Sir" did nothing more than avail one of service in the employ of those who really held the reins of power.
After a game, talk always turned to the affairs of state from regions around the world. Despite our seemingly remote position, he had many excellent lines of communication. It was during those discussions that I began to fathom the depths of his disdain for the British Crown. It was a loathing that had its roots in centuries past. The family memory was a long one.
He most closely followed the burgeoning colonies of America, Communiqués from the new world hinted at the first faint whispers of unrest.
“Mark my words well, Alnwick,” he would say, “my revenge against the king will be satisfied when he no longer rules the new world.”
He was a man consumed by his hatred of monarchial power. He was also a man of advancing years. So I often wondered how he could be so sure of future events. He must have seen the unasked questions in my eyes.
“Oh, I will not see it with my own eyes, Alnwick, but I know the wheels of change are already turning. It does my heart good to know that the House of Ste. Claire will have a role in that downfall.”
I had no idea how to respond to that prophecy. My education at the hands of the monks was such that I knew that the Ste. Claire’s wielded much power and immense wealth and I knew the source of both. I waited for him to continue.
“I know that you think that these are the ramblings of an old man, Alnwick. Do not underestimate the House of Ste. Claire. Tomorrow is your investiture at the old temple. You will recognize many of the features of Rosslyn in this ancient temple. Many of the masons in our employ trained here. After the ceremony, you will travel to the family seat in Normandy. My spies there have informed me that Sutherland has given up his post of surveillance there.” He paused briefly here to replenish our wine goblets. I surmised he was gathering his thoughts.
“I have to admit, Sutherland proved more stubborn than I thought. He has returned to his lands and is now spying on my holdings in Caithness. He thinks I will return there to die. More fool he.”
I was really at a loss for words at that point. What came next astounded me even more.
“You will be given a new name and title when you arrive in France. You have been designated, my heir. Do not look so surprised, Alnwick. You have always been more than a son to me.” He smiled at the expression of disbelief on my face.
“Have you learned nothing during our games of chess,” he asked me?
I at least was smart enough to give him the answer he sought.
“Enough to realize that there is more to this strategy that you are about to employ, sir.”
“Excellent, you are more discerning than I thought. I mistake your silence for consternation, but you are correct. In the parlance of the game, you are the pawn lucky enough to gain its promotion.”
After my investiture ceremony the next day, in a private moment for the two of us, Ste. Claire gave me his parting gift.
“This chest contains a collection from the land of the Mages and is just as old. Inside is my seal and a formula for the protection of the contents. Protect it well. It will remind you of me and in the future, your progeny will use it to remember you.”
“But more than anything, it will many years from now, confirm the stories of what happened in the weeks before that fateful day in October. It will confirm that the treasure of the ages escaped the clutches of the French Crown and the Vatican and is guarded by those that hold it dear.”
“This is farewell, Alnwick. It now falls to you to find the next pawn that will be worthy of promotion.” Those were his final words to me.
Edmund Alnwick Sinclair
9 April 1725