|Embodiment of Faith
Author: Scarlett Burns PM
Father Rochefort makes a startling discovery that threatens his idea of faith. It isn't every day that your past comes back to haunt you, unless you happen to be Nick Knight. Complete.Rated: Fiction T - English - Angst - Words: 8,757 - Reviews: 12 - Favs: 11 - Published: 02-06-08 - Status: Complete - id: 4057917
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
Embodiment of Faith
By Scarlett Burns
Forever Knight Fan Fiction
Summary: Father Rochefort makes a startling discovery that threatens his idea of faith. It isn't every day that your past comes back to haunt you, unless you happen to be Nick Knight.
Author's Notes: This takes place after the series ends and neither assumes nor denies "Last Knight"... I leave the existence of its events up to you. This story leans heavily on the episode "For I Have Sinned" from season 1, and assumes that you're familiar with its events and characters. This is a completed one-shot.
Thanks as always to my beta, Stella.
Enjoy, and please do let me know what you think!
It was the story of his priesthood, it seemed. Having sat in the confessional hundreds of times, offering a listening ear to those in need of one, Father Rochefort had a true knack for unburdening people and absolving them of their sins.
Sister Helena was only the latest example. She'd come to him for guidance before making her decision.
Now, here he sat at home in the small library adjoining his den, contemplating – not for the first time – how much he and his life had changed since the parishioner murders.
He never truly doubted his faith – at least that is what he told himself every time he donned his vestments – but he often doubted his ability to offer guidance to those in need of it.
"You absolve man of his sins and he walks away smiling…"
A man, a murderer, had once told him that in confession. He couldn't deny the ring of truth the statement held. The man's words still haunted him, years later. He'd thought he'd put the past behind him… had tried to move on. Yet all those questions and doubts remained unanswered, corrupting his Faith and eating away at his soul a little more every day.
It was the need to stop the corruption of his own soul that set him on a quest to find what answers he could. He'd started to write a book on the subject of faith. He never intended to publish it; the process of writing it was all he really needed, and in the course of doing so he'd done vast amounts of research on people who'd famously shown or lacked faith.
Inevitably his research had led him to Joan of Arc. Over several months he'd gone through everything he could find about her; from historical records and accounts, to the letters she'd received and dictated. It was in one of the letters addressed to her that he'd stumbled across something that had quickly become a personal obsession.
It was an obscure letter, dated 10th of March, 1430.
Nicolas, Knight of Brabant, to Courage, trusted confidant, greetings.
It is my understanding that you prefer to be called Joan the Maiden. I daresay that with a woman such as you, I have my doubts of the validity of the title. It would be a shame if it were true, for your current situation will beget only death.
Has St. Michael imparted any further wisdom to you, Joan? Have you not proven your Faith to him? Shall he request of you your life to save His Church? Your mission against the heretics is established in your faith that the Church itself is not corrupted by the very heretics you vow to conquer.
Presume not that you know me. It would be wise of you to remember that truth spoken across the generations becomes naught but legend – a mere shadow of reality hidden within falsehood.
While you read this letter, you must ask what madness and rage consumes my belief for I corrupt your true Faith with my very existence. I tell you honestly – though I know that your beliefs will not allow you to accept this as fact – as a man I believed in the true Faith, fought as I thought God willed to reclaim the Holy Lands, and served our Lord as a Templar Knight with honor.
For the final time I beseech you to consider most carefully that which I offer, for make no mistake, each day you come closer to death. With your answer, I shall not inquire or speak of the matter again.
Sir Nicolas de Brabant
Father Rochefort found the letter fascinating. He'd read the translation a hundred times since, grasping for any clues as to how this man knew Joan of Arc. He'd read nothing about Nicholas de Brabant in history books, or any of his Catholic teachings. Not in association with Joan of Arc, or elsewhere. Yet to speak so frankly to her of faith, this man must have been more than a mere acquaintance.
He also couldn't help but wonder what Nicholas had offered Joan a mere year before her death, and if she'd taken him up on the offer. From the sound of it, she'd declined.
Naturally, since such a contrast in faith was exactly what he was interested in, the two historical figures seemed the perfect pair to research further. Since Nicholas had signed the letter with his full name, he thought it might be possible to trace the man.
As it turned out, Father Rochefort's hunch had been right; Nicholas de Brabant was of noble blood, and the Duchy from where he hailed was well known, but the more he researched the man the more confusing things became. What he found didn't make any sense at all.
Indeed, he was able to trace the Brabant family back hundreds of years. He'd found a man by the same name, yet he was born over two hundred years earlier. There was no record of a man by the name of Nicholas in the Brabant family during the fifteenth century – at least none that he could find – and the family was well documented.
This in itself was not too surprising. Perhaps the man was not of the noble blood line. He could have hailed from England rather than the Duchy of Brabant. Perhaps he'd died young, and not been important enough to write into the family history. He could have been disowned by the family; a black sheep. Or maybe he only called himself Nicholas of Brabant, not using de Brabant as a last name but as a place of origin.
He was about to chalk it all up to lack of proper documentation in the fifteenth century when he discovered that the Musées royaux des Beaux-Arts de Belgique – the Belgian Museum of Ancient Art in Brussels – had a portrait of the man. Or at least, they had a portrait of Nicholas de Brabant.
Having already spent months researching the family, he felt that it couldn't hurt to contact the museum that owned the portrait, ask for more information, and possibly get a picture of it emailed to him.
What information he'd obtained from the museum was both interesting and disappointing. The portrait was painted in 1226, by P. Gravois. The subject was Nicholas de Brabant; knight of the Temple mounted on a black horse. Unfortunately, the museum was unwilling to send him a picture of the portrait, even after he'd talked to the curator of the museum. If he wanted to see the portrait, he'd have to fly to Belgium, or order their art book from the museum gift shop for thirty-five euros, plus shipping and handling.
Needless to say, he ordered the book. Even now, he didn't quite know what possessed him to; it was just a feeling that this was somehow important. That in some way seeing the painting would help him find answers to Joan of Arc's mysterious confidant, and even answers to his own doubts.
So here he sat, holding the recently arrived book of art from the Belgian museum, anxious to look at a painting of a man who couldn't possibly be the same one who'd corresponded with Joan of Arc.
Setting the book on his lap, he took a sip of his hot peppermint tea before setting the cup down on the table beside him.
Flipping straight to the chapter appropriate for the time period of the portrait, he began thumbing through the pages. Whatever intuition he had, whatever feelings he felt…none of them prepared him for the picture on page thirty-four.
The scene itself was exactly as described; a knight sitting atop a dark steed. The knight looked to be about thirty, though it was hard to tell with the painting's style and the size of the picture in the book. Posed proudly, Nicholas de Brabant wore a white tunic and cape, with a large red cross on his chest signature to the Knights Templar. He had wavy blonde hair, and an eerily familiar face. It was hard to tell his eye color from the picture, but he could guess that they were blue.
He was crazy. He had to be for entertaining such ridiculous thoughts as the ones running through his mind right now. Nick Knight couldn't be Nicholas de Brabant, no matter how similar they looked; logically it had to be a coincidence.
He remembered to breathe, then took another sip of his tea. Getting up, he walked over to his desk. Opening up the top drawer, he sifted through the papers until he found a printout of the letter to Joan of Arc.
Logically, Nicholas de Brabant shouldn't have been able to write a letter to Joan of Arc either, because he should have been long dead by the time of the heroine.
He shook his head, sitting back down. He had explanations for the Nicholas de Brabant who wrote the letter… logical ones, and lots of them. But…
It was quite a coincidence that both men had been Templar Knights, both had fought in the crusades, and both bore the same name.
Then there was the amazing resemblance to Nicholas Knight. Nicholas Knight; who shared the same first name as De Brabant, and whose last name also just happened to be spelled with a 'K'.
He had no idea where all of this led. He wasn't even sure he wanted to know.
Looking at the printout, he reread the opening salutation.
Nicholas, Knight of Brabant, to Courage, trusted confidant, greetings.
Then he just reread the first two words.
He couldn't help but laugh. It was all so incredibly insane.
Could it be possible? Would he even be capable of believing all this if it were true?
He took another sip of his tea, forcing a steady hand as he placed the cup down on its saucer.
The question had to be asked, no matter how insane it seemed.
Could all three men be one and the same?
If this was – by something not short of a miracle – the same man, he had a strange sense of humor and a seemingly immortal lifespan. If he wasn't the same man, then this had to rank as the most bewildering and outrageous string of coincidences he'd ever experienced in his life.
His quest had led him full circle, straight back to where he'd started. The murder investigation that had lit a fire adding to the doubts already rooted in his mind.
He hadn't expected his doubts to lead back to the investigation, or Detective Knight. In a way, it was odd that he hadn't, since it all began with the case. The killer's words in the confessional had struck a chord, as did Knight's hours later.
"All right, Father. Tell you what. Next girl who dies, you come along with me when I notify the family. Better yet, notify the family yourself!"
Truth be told, it wasn't the killer who'd rattled him the most these past thirty years; it was Knight.
In all reality, it was ridiculous. The man clearly lacked faith, but he suspected that it wasn't necessarily faith in God that was missing, but faith in the Church.
He had to admit, though, that there had been something troubling about Knight and about his beliefs that went deeper than lack of faith. He hadn't had enough interaction with the man to figure out exactly what that might be.
Again, Father Rochefort looked at the portrait of Nicholas de Brabant, then remembered what he told Detective Knight the last time he saw him.
"Confession is good for the soul."
A small smile creeping across his lips, he tucked the letter into the art book before closing it firmly.
Perhaps it was, at that.
After a minute without an answer, he knocked again, just a bit louder and feeling more foolish by the minute.
Just as he was about to give up and leave, he heard someone inside the small cottage-style home. After a short wait, the door opened a foot and a familiar looking head popped into the doorway, eyes squinting against the afternoon light.
He thought he was prepared to see Nick Knight as he stood before him now; that he'd convinced himself of the possibility. Now he realized that perhaps, deep down, he hadn't truly believed all his wild theories concocted from five-hundred year old letters, coincidence and decades-old occurrences remembered by an aging mind.
Well, he was a little closer to believing now as he looked into the ageless face of a man he knew only in passing. Now, he knew his best kept secret… or at least a miniscule piece of it.
"Yeah?" Nick asked after a moment, sounding and looking as if he'd just woken up. Father Rochefort realized belatedly that could be the case; in Toronto the homicide detective had worked the night-shift.
Pierre opened his mouth to answer, but not having a clue what to say, closed it again.
Perhaps he should have thought this part through.
Nick appeared to take in his appearance and priestly attire, and quickly came to his own conclusion. "Sorry, I'm not interested," he said, starting to close the door.
"It's not what you think!" Pierre blurted out, anxious to say something before Nick dismissed him completely.
Nick paused, rubbing his eyes tiredly. "It's not? Well then, I'm waiting to be surprised."
He could have said a thousand things, but instead of the dramatic, he opted for the most traditional; a simple introduction. "I'm Father Rochefort. I… don't suppose you remember me…"
Nick's hand dropped to his side and his eyes widened as all signs of drowsiness vanished from his features. He mouthed 'Father Rochefort", but the name never audibly crossed his lips. The reaction clearly indicated that Nick remembered him well.
Was that even a touch of fear in Nick's eyes?
Regaining his composure, if still looking shell-shocked, Nick gave him a funny little smile and stepped aside to let him in. "Well, you didn't disappoint. I am surprised."
As he stepped into Nick's entry hall the first thing he noticed was the darkness. No lights were on, and thick blinds were drawn in every window.
Nick immediately flipped a light switch as he walked into the living room, apologizing for the lack of light as he did so.
Gesturing for him to sit down, Nick also did the same.
Nervous and unsure of how to start an already awkward conversation, the burden of doing so was lifted after an uncomfortable minute of silence.
"How did you find me?" Nick asked.
Father Rochefort could tell that he was genuinely curious about the answer, and maybe a bit worried as well. However, he wasn't ready to tell Nick his secrets yet. "A mutual friend," was all he was willing to give up.
Nick nodded once, accepting the answer for the time being, and giving him a look that clearly told him to get to his point, whatever it might be.
Father Rochefort grasped the forgotten art book tucked snuggly under his arm. He thought that asking 'How can you still be alive?' might not be the most tactful or preferred opening remark.
But Pierre had something else in mind entirely, and he was sure it was something Nick would not be prepared for.
"I came to confess to a man who served God with honor.
There was a sharp intake of breath. "What?" Nick asked with disbelief, his voice nearly a whisper.
Pierre smiled a little. "You heard me fine, detective. I've come to confess. It's good for the soul. Haven't you heard?"
"This must be a bad dream," Nick muttered, shaking his head. "I am no man of God, and I certainly don't serve him."
"You did," Pierre said with a certainty that gave Nick pause.
Nick seemed to wrestle with his next words, unsure what he should give away. "That was a long time ago," Nick finally acknowledged; a stricken look crossing his features as his hands began to fidget uneasily.
Pierre looked down as he pulled out the book tucked beneath his arm and set it on his lap. "I know."
Suspicion quickly replaced Nick's startled expression. "Do you?"
Pierre nodded before lowering his gaze to his lap; hands clasped tightly together as he began. "Forgive me, for I have sinned…"
"Father, I…" Nick began to protest, jumping up from his seat as if he'd been set aflame. He looked extremely uncomfortable, and more than a little unnerved.
"Please, let me do this. I came all this way. I need this," Pierre interrupted quietly, before Nick could protest too much.
Nick looked as if he wanted to object, looking hard done by at Pierre's request. After a moment, he smiled sadly and slowly shook his head, sitting back down on the chair next to the sofa Father Rochefort was currently occupying.
"If you allow me this fiction, I'll allow you yours," Nick said at last, nodding once to let Father Rochefort know he could continue.
"Forgive me, for I have sinned. My belief has been tested many times, and now I am unsure not of God, but of my ability to serve him in the way he requires." He paused, making it clear that he expected Nick to not only listen, but act as a Priest.
"Why have you lost faith in your ability to serve Him?" Nick asked, his voice barely above a whisper.
"I unburden people of their sins, so they go on to commit even bigger ones. I cannot stop sin or evil, or even so much as make them see the error of their ways."
"It's not your job."
"Even if that were so, if I cannot bring God into the hearts of others, then what is the point?"
Nick smiled and clasped his hands together. Pierre thought he looked both boyish and incredibly old at the same time; an impossible combination Nick somehow accomplished.
"When your parishioners confess to you Father, what do they believe?"
"That they are being forgiven."
"By whom? You, or God?" Nick asked.
"By God, of course."
"Then perhaps it is your job to make sure this forgiveness reaches God's ears. It's the belief that you're there to feed; their belief in you and God. Whether or not those people sin again is of no consequence to you. It's the Faith that you support, and by that service you allow them to talk to God."
"They could do this on their own."
Nick cocked his head to the side. "God is an intangible figure. He doesn't speak to most mere mortals directly, does he? They cannot see or hear him. You offer them that solid, material figure to confess to."
"Have you ever confessed?"
"No," Nick answered, perhaps a bit too hastily. "Not to a Priest."
"I don't believe in it." Nick stood and walked over to the window, cracking the blinds and allowing some sunlight to filter into the living room. "I could just as well ask forgiveness right here if I wished to do so. There is no need to go to a mortal man in the belief that he will somehow make your voice louder in God's ears."
"Then why should others confess?" Pierre asked. Of course, he'd heard all this before, albeit in a different way… and he knew logically what a priest's duty and purpose was and to whom. It didn't make his incompetence in guidance any easier, but he understood some of the psychology behind the confessional. Yet, he was incredibly curious as to what this man before him thought; this man that may have seen and experienced countless lifetimes… that may indeed be a miracle of God himself.
"Because they believe," Nick answered with a heavy sigh. He turned back to Pierre, his face hidden in the shadows surrounding him. "But that is only my opinion, and my opinion counts for little, especially in the eyes of God."
Nick's last comment left Father Rochefort more than a little bewildered, and he found himself searching Nick's expression for a little more insight into what he was thinking.
At Pierre's inquiring look, Nick turned back around to look out the window. "I have only one real question for you… why me?"
"I thought that I should practice what I preach."
Nick smiled slightly, his head half-turned towards Pierre. "But that doesn't answer my question. Why me? Why not another priest? Or a friend or family member? Why would you track down a homicide detective you barely knew thirty years ago to confess your fears to?"
"Because I believe that you understand loss of Faith better than anyone; better than me, even."
He stood with his back to the cross, as he did each evening he waited for her. They did not meet often, and had seen each other only twice before, yet here he waited in the place she desired to meet.
Joan always requested to meet in the Church of St. Maurice, and for reasons even he did not want to fully understand, he always acquiesced.
The sun had set a few hours previously, and at this time the church was quiet and empty, save for one human heartbeat belonging to the woman standing before him.
A smile graced his lips and for once it was not tainted with sarcasm or iron or bitterness. This time he smiled with acceptance, for he needn't ask Joan what path she'd chosen; it was clear to him from the moment he'd seen her enter the church.
For all his talk and cajoling to the contrary, a part of him would have been disappointed if her answer had been 'Oui'.
She had not chosen his path. She'd not be tempted by Lucifer, and least of all he – Nicholas de Brabant – whom she saw as nothing more than a creature to be pitied.
Why should she think him such an unfortunate creature? He had what he desired; life without death and age, power, eternity.
However, it didn't seem like much when he stood in her presence, though he'd never admit it.
He took a step closer to her stone-still form, and seeing she was about to protest, signaled for her to silence herself with a cold, solitary finger pressed against her lips.
Those fingers found their way to her cheek, and gently traced the outline of her jaw.
"Then God be with you in your quest, Courage."
Joan, whose stern composure could leave much to doubt, gave him a look that could be nothing but disbelief. She regained her composure quickly, and then said both softly and confidently, "He shall be, as He shall be in yours."
"As I compel Him to be," Nick answered gently, and without his usual ire, before leaving Joan to her beloved church once and for all.
"Does that not make me a coward? Faithless? Those are mortal sins," Pierre said desperately, leaning forward as if pleading his point. "Where does that leave me in the eyes of God?"
Nick laughed unpleasantly. "You have nothing to worry about, Father. You've served Him all your life. A short crisis in faith is hardly enough to damn you, and I shouldn't like to meet the God that would do so."
"But isn't that how the path to wickedness starts?" Pierre asked, with a tone that suggested Nick should know.
'Just how much does he know?' Nick wondered, not for the first time. "What makes you think that I know?" he asked with an edge to his tone that said he would not be put-off again.
It came through. Pierre grasped the book tightly as he looked down, almost as if it rooted him to reality. "You can't deny that you don't look a day older then when I last met you. I don't pretend to know how, or why, but I believe that you are far older than a man can naturally live."
Nick was silent, but he stepped out of the shadows and returned to his chair as the sun began to set.
"You can't deny it… can you?"
"Perhaps I just have good genes," Nick answered flippantly.
Pierre looked down at the book in his hands, and Nick truly noticed it for the first time. He'd been aware of Pierre carrying it of course, but hadn't notice what it was, and it made his stomach feel heavy when he saw that it was an art history book from Belgium.
Opening the book, Pierre turned to the page that had the portrait, and then held it up for Nick to see. Even with a slight glare on the glossy page and the small size of the image it was clear to Nick that it was a portrait of him in all this knightly glory. It had been painted after his return from Jerusalem; his naivety gone, and nearly his life. He'd returned a knight of the Temple, a great honor and a far cry from his boyish days as an attaché for Lord De Lebarre. The homecoming had been a brief one, for on his next crusade he would not return alive – in the human sense at least.
Pierre's soft, shaky voice pulled him out of his own head. "Is this you?"
Nick couldn't quite tear himself away from the portrait to answer, and after a moment of bitter-sweet reminiscing he realized that he'd just given himself away.
With Nick's silence, Pierre lowered the book, unsure of how to continue. Perhaps he expected denial, or outrage, or drama at the discovery and didn't know what to do when he received none of the above.
Nick didn't know what to do either. Sure, there had been people who knew what he was and kept his dark secret, but no one had discovered the man he'd been before he stepped into eternal darkness; no one had made the connection.
Truly, what were the odds of Father Rochefort finding this portrait? Despite his discomfort at the subject he shook his head, and with a small grin asked, "How did you find that?"
Pierre's brow furrowed in frustration as he looked down at the book in his lap. Standing, he walked over to Nick and showed him the portrait up close, repeating his question more firmly. "Is this you?"
Self preservation seemed to prevent Nick from coming right out and confirming Pierre's claim, no matter how obvious it was that the priest had already put everything together.
The house seemed impossibly silent as Pierre waited for his answer.
Nick took the book from Pierre's hands and took a good long look. It was incredible; he'd had no idea the portrait had survived the ages... "How could this be me, and why would you think it is?"
"I know it sounds crazy," Pierre blurted immediately. "Believe me, I know. But… just too many things added up, and it all made a warped sort of sense. Please, I won't ask how, and I'll take your secret to the grave, if you'll only admit that this portrait is of you. I have to know that I'm not completely insane!"
Nick stood, book still in hand, and walked over to the fireplace in the corner. The image of a man swinging from a rafter in a drafty barn made his decision much easier. "It's funny; when this was painted I thought it would pass my image down through generations of my family, long after I was dead and gone. Now, I marvel that it has survived as long as I. Amazing."
He paused in reflection, and then remembering a poem, recited it quietly from memory.
"And though he was valorous, he was prudent and as meek as a maid of his bearing. In all his life he never yet spoke discourteously but was truly a perfect gentle knight," Nick quoted, turning to Pierre.
Pierre sat down heavily on the arm of the chair and asked for his own confirmation, "You're Nicholas de Brabant?"
Nick closed the book, and tossed it onto the sofa. He seemed to pull himself up, holding his head high before answering, "At your service," and finishing it off with a little bow.
Pierre wanted to ask so many questions – it was written all over his face – yet what he wanted to know the most he'd just promised not to ask. "What year were you born?"
"In the year of our Lord, eleven hundred and ninety-six," Nick answered, with some amusement at his phrasing. If only LaCroix could hear him now!
Pierre inhaled sharply. "That makes you…"
"Eight hundred and twenty-six," Nick answered after a moment of thought. "Now that I've answered your questions, I want you to answer mine. How did you figure it out? How could you believe that portrait to be me when all reason says otherwise? There had to have been something else."
Pierre took a deep breath, still reeling from the reality of Nick's admission. "There was, I…" He looked down, digging into his coat pocket and pulling out the printout of Nick's letter to Joan of Arc. "…found this first," he finished, handing it to Nick.
Nick looked over it with curiosity, then understanding. "Ah, so you researched Nicholas de Brabant and found out that it didn't quite match the date that it should."
"Yes, and then… well, this is incredibly stupid but the salutation had your name in it; or at least the one you went by when I met you," Pierre amended.
Nick glanced at the letter again, and realizing it was true, couldn't help but laugh. What were the chances of Pierre Rochefort – a priest he'd barely known decades ago – finding all this? The chances were as insane as the situation.
Still, it could be worse. The good Father could have found out how he'd survived this long… and he wasn't quite sure he was ready for that confession.
Nicholas dipped the quill once more, signing his true name with a flourish.
He had been startled when Joan had called him by his birth name. Was he truly such a nightmarish legend in France that his name had been passed down from mother to daughter like some macabre bedtime story?
It made him stop – not for the first time – and wonder at how he'd come to be the creature he was now. Looking back at the letter, realization dawned that he'd tried ever so hard to assure her that he too had been a man of God once, a long, long time ago.
LaCroix said it made him weak, and even though he tried desperately to accept his life now, there was still a part of him that refused to do so.
But why? Did he not get everything he'd desired when he made his choice?
Nicholas scoffed at the word. It had hardly been a choice; he'd been played for a fool, tricked and dazzled by pretty words uttered on even prettier lips.
Now, he wrote this letter to Joan offering her the choice… she wouldn't accept. He was not dim-witted or naïve enough to think otherwise. Yet he still felt he needed to offer her this, because it was the only thing he could offer.
Cursing himself for a fool, he rolled and tied the message.
This would truly be her choice.
Nick shook himself out of his memory and looked at Father Rochefort. Pierre had a million questions in his brain, eager to be asked, and that fact was clear in his expression.
Closing his eyes, Nick allowed himself to drift back to his encounters with the legendary Joan of Arc. "She was beautiful, courageous, with a Faith in God so strong that it could not be dissuaded, even if it brought about her death. I'm not surprised that she's remembered almost five hundred years later. She told me that she would live forever …and she was right."
"Is that what you offered her? Immortality?"
Nick looked down, and picked up a remote from his coffee table. "It was such a tragedy. To die that way." He clicked a button, and the fireplace roared to life. "It's not a death I would wish on anyone." He placed the remote on the mantle. "She was courageous to the end, God rest her soul, but her screams of agony will haunt me to my grave," Nick said quietly, his eyes fixated on the fire.
"You were there?" Pierre asked, breathless. He could tell that Nick was no longer 'with him' but remembering a horror that happened in a time long gone. "I still can't fathom it; the things you must have seen and done… to experience over eight-hundred years of change? I can't comprehend what it must be like for you."
'Lonely,' Nick thought as he pulled his eyes away from the fire and back to Pierre. Father Rochefort might be ready to confess, but he was not. "To answer your previous question, I think wickedness can start in many forms. There have been plenty of evil people who've had faith, misplaced as it may have been," Nick said in an attempt to reassure the priest that he wasn't on the road to damnation.
Pierre was silent for a long time, before finally adding, "What I told you… wasn't all of it."
By the expression on Father Rochefort's face, Nick could tell that whatever he had to say would be difficult for him. "Would you like a glass of wine?" he asked, thinking he could certainly use a drink himself, even if it was of a slightly different variety.
"Yes, thank you."
Nick walked into the kitchen and took two wine glasses out of the cupboard. He filled Pierre's with some rather expensive red wine and his own with half wine, half blood.
Walking back into the living room, he saw Father Rochefort looking at a large canvas of his still propped up on the easel. The subject was one he hadn't painted in a long time; his more recent work in the last few decades being abstracts. This was different; it was a landscape of the Brabant countryside in full daylight… only, he couldn't get the sunlight right.
He could never get the sunlight right.
"Did you paint this?" Pierre asked, taking the glass of wine Nick offered.
"Yeah. Eight hundred years of practice and this is the best I can do. Guess talent really can't be learned, huh?"
"It's fantastic, Nick," Pierre protested, looking back at the painting in confusion.
Nick shook his head. "It's all wrong," he muttered, before turning away from the painting and walking back to the sofa, taking a sip from his glass as he did so. "So, tell me what it was that you left out."
"I confess that I lied to you."
Nick smiled, then sat down on the couch and took another sip from his glass. "You didn't come here to confess to me, then? Lying about wanting to confess… I think that is a new one, even for me… and that's saying something."
"I mean before today. When you asked if I knew who the killer was… I did know," he admitted, having turned back to the painting, unable to look Nick in the eye. He was still ashamed of his decision to keep quiet… and thirty years of guilt hadn't made the confession any easier.
There was a short pause as Nick thought back to the investigation. "Ah, but your Faith wouldn't allow you to speak. How does that make you feel?"
"I've regretted the decision every day since," he answered sincerely, noticing the odd portrayal of light in Nick's painting for the first time. It was beautiful, stylized, yet almost sinister at the same time. He turned towards Nick, and for a split second thought he saw the same golden, stylized light reflected in Nick's eyes... but it vanished so quickly that he wasn't sure he'd even seen it at all.
Nick swirled his wineglass, watching the light from the lamp beside him hit the liquid.
"You don't seem very surprised at my confession."
"I'm not," Nick answered matter-of-factly. "I thought you knew… why do you think I was so upset when we brought you in?"
"I never felt right about it, but as a priest I was bound to silence. I… never did make peace with that decision, and it's haunted me ever since. I truly understand where you were coming from now."
Cocking an eyebrow, Nick set down his wineglass. "Do you?" he asked, standing up.
His entire demeanor changed as he walked towards Pierre. This man, who'd seen nothing of the crusades, the inquisitions, Joan of Arc, and countless other holy horrors, had no hope of ever seeing things the way he saw them… and Pierre should pray to his God that he's that lucky.
Nick said nothing at first. He was quite adept at being menacing; he had, after all, had hundreds of years of practice. Silent and imposing, he unnerved Pierre as he circled him. After a full three-sixty around the priest he came to stand in front of him. All the amusement and warmth that he'd exhibited earlier had vanished. In its place was a cold, calculating look that made Pierre's heart jump out of its rhythm.
"You have no idea who you're talking to, Father. You know nothing about me, or the things I've done or seen. How could you possibly say that you understand how I feel about the Church, or Faith?" Nick asked, his voice ice cold.
Father Rochefort looked away, taking a deep swallow of wine. It was damn good wine; exceptional really. No doubt it was exceptional too; exceptionally old, just like its owner. He bit his lower lip in thought. It had been a stupid thing to say, in hindsight, and he lowered his head, muttering a quiet apology.
Nick backed off, heading back into the kitchen and pouring himself another glass of 'wine'.
Pierre watched him, and then noticed a brass sun hanging on the wall above a cupboard as Nick passed by it. It got him to looking at the rest of the décor in the home, and he realized how eclectic it all was. There was everything from modern furniture, to what looked like – and probably were – priceless antiques. But there seemed to be a running theme throughout, tucked away here and hung there, and that was the sun.
The suns were in many styles, from many cultures all over the world, but there they were, spread throughout every room visible from where he stood. He couldn't help but wonder why, but dare not ask for the moment. He seemed to be walking a thin line as it was.
Nick returned with his wineglass full, and carrying the bottle of wine for Pierre. "Like another?" he inquired, his anger gone as quickly as it had come.
Pierre held out his glass, now nearly empty, and nodded. Nick topped it off, filling it nearly to the brim, and then set the bottle down on the coffee table. Nick took a deep swallow out of his own glass before saying anything more.
"I know what its like to be haunted by decisions made in the past," Nick said pensively, looking into the dregs of his glass.
Silence drifted between them, and Pierre saw that Nick had a far-away look in his eyes again. Allowing Nick his short trip down memory lane, Pierre turned back to the landscape. It really was quite beautiful.
Sensing that they desperately needed a change of subject, Pierre asked, "Where is this?" gesturing to the painting. He had the impression it was not a fictional place, but one Nick had seen at some point in his life.
Nick blinked a couple of times, having been completely zoned out, before turning to Pierre and answering. "It's the Brabant countryside. It's a view from our land that I remember as a child."
Nick moved closer to the painting and gestured toward it. "I must have been six years old, nearing my seventh birthday. Once I turned seven, I began my training as a knight and served under Lord de Lebarre as a page, then a squire. I did not see my home again until I was knighted."
"That must have been hard."
Nick shrugged. "That was how it was. It was not a bad life. It was an honor to serve your Lord… if you had a noble one."
"When I was young and naïve, I believed him to be so." Nick took another sip from his glass and gestured toward the canvas. "I'm afraid this is my ideal, not an accurate depiction. I was looking through young, naïve, curious eyes when I saw this, and now I'm trying to recreate the scene with… well, let's just say, not so young or naïve eyes. It's tainted by too many years passing, but at least once a century, I always try…"
"You've painted this before?"
"Seven times." He leaned in close and ran a hand across a portion of the painting where light filtered through the treetops. "I can never get the sunlight right. Not anymore."
"What did you offer Joan of Arc?" Pierre asked curiously, changing the subject again. "I'm writing a book you know."
Taken aback by the sudden change of topic, Nick looked at Pierre nonplussed for a moment before bursting into laughter.
Once Nick regained some of his composure, he added for Father Rochefort's benefit, "You could hardly put what I have to say down in a book and be taken seriously."
Pierre chuckled too. "It's not for publication."
"Then why write it?" Nick asked, moving over to the blinds and opening them wide. The sun had set, and he felt like he couldn't bear to be shut in any longer.
"I thought that perhaps it would help me better understand faith."
"The problem with faith, Father," Nick said, opening the second set of blinds, letting the soft moonlight filter into the living room, "Is that facts and history will never help you understand it."
No longer wanting to skirt around the subject, Pierre asked, "When did you lose yours?"
Nick became melancholy in a matter of seconds, moving back to the couch and taking a seat. He didn't answer until he took a good, long swallow from his glass. "I have faith, Father," he said seriously, trying his best to convince Pierre that it was the truth. Perhaps he was trying to convince himself.
"But your letter…"
"Not one of the finer moments in my life, I admit. But I never said, even in those letters, that I didn't have faith in God; I'll concede that at the time it wasn't strong, but it was there all the same. It was the Church and papacy that I thought the great lie; I still believe that at that time it was so."
Remembering his previous question, he asked it again. "What did you offer her?"
"Joan? I'm sure you've guessed it by now: immortality. I'd lived long enough to know the cost of the path she'd chosen, but in the end I came to realize that so did she. Courage had amazing faith, but she had more than that; she had deep insight for the future, and what actions would beget what consequences."
"Selfless," Pierre added.
"Yes." Nick held up a finger as if just remembering something, set down his glass, then went over to a corner of the room and picked up a small box that sat on a shelf. Bringing it over, he sat down on the couch and opened it. A slightly pained look crossed his features before he set down the open box and slid it across the table to where Pierre sat.
Taking the box, Pierre saw that what nestled inside it was an impossibly old looking cross, made from wood and tightly bound together by strips of leather. Pierre moved to take it from the box, but then it occurred to him that it might be quite fragile. "May I?" he inquired.
Nick made a sweeping gesture with his free hand, as if to say 'be my guest' and took another sip of wine.
He took it into his hands, handling it with extreme care. "How old is it?" he asked.
"Over five-hundred years. It was Joan's," Nick answered, no longer looking at him or the cross.
"My Lord," he whispered, turning it in his hand. "This is remarkable. How did you get it?"
"She gave it to me. You see, she thought that courage would give me faith because it takes a courageous man – or woman – to trust in God without question."
"Did you believe it?" he asked, still staring at the cross in awe.
"Not at the time," Nick said, regarding Pierre curiously. "I do now."
"So, that makes me a coward?" Pierre asked after a moment of reflection. He set the cross gently back in its box.
"Maybe." Nick finished his wine, set the glass on the coffee table, and clasped his hands together. "Or maybe you just need to hear that it's happened to someone else and not destroyed their faith. Or maybe you need to separate your faith in yourself and your faith in God. Or maybe you thought that I had the answer."
"I think you just gave it to me."
"If you have faith in me, perhaps I did," Nick said, standing and walking back over to his painting. "I have faith that one day I'll be able to get the sunlight right in my painting," he continued, "Even if it takes another eight hundred years."
"Do you have faith that one day you will be in the kingdom of heaven?" Pierre asked.
Nick looked down at his hands, and did not turn to face Pierre. He thought of what a guide had once told him at the door to judgment. He remembered his mother's belief that he was a chivalrous and holy knight of the Temple on that last visit to home, and Joan of Arc's words of wisdom, and the day he entered knighthood, and when he was sworn into the Knights Templar… countless memories and events bombarded his mind and they ranged from his most virtuous to his most monstrous. How could such a life be judged? He still didn't know.
After what seemed like forever, he finally answered Pierre. "I have faith that God will do the right thing, and I've long since endeavored to do the same. The rest I leave in his hands." He turned to Pierre at last and let him see the man behind the mask for the first time. "I don't pretend to know what He may think of me… I don't even know what I think of me."
"So you do understand," Pierre said, realizing that Nick was a man much like himself, living under impossible circumstances.
"I might presume to know what you're going through." Nick smiled a little, but it was tainted with a sweet irony. "Who's doing the confessing here, Father?"
Pierre finished off his glass of wine, beginning to feel its soothing effects. "Maybe both of us. Thank you, Nick."
Nick looked at him slightly bewildered. "For what?"
"For listening. For telling me the truth. For understanding. I think I just needed to talk to someone who understood."
Father Rochefort smiled genuinely, said his goodbyes, and left as quickly as he'd come.
Nick stood in the living room beside his painting while Father Rochefort saw himself out. He heard the door close after a moment, and he was alone again.
"Thank you for allowing me to act the knight one more time," Nick said to himself out loud. He went over to his piano, and sitting on the bench he began pecking at the keys idly. "I guess there really is a first time for everything," he said with a small chuckle, thinking that he might be the first vampire who'd ever confessed to a priest. But then, what had he truly confessed? That he was immortal, yes… but he'd neglected to tell the Priest the most important and damning fact of them all.
Another day, perhaps.
His eyes passed over the small box on the coffee table, and he smiled as an idea struck him, and his idle pecking easily transformed into a passionate melody.
Maybe I will, at that.
He spotted it immediately, and stopped dead in his tracks.
On his desk was Nick's antique wooden box, with an envelope propped up against it addressed to him.
He let out the breath he'd been holding, and then forced himself to move, picking up the envelope with an unsteady hand.
No, it couldn't be… could it?
He opened the envelope first, and took out a piece of paper. It was a letter addressed to him, with old fashioned writing that belonged to a man from the sixteenth century.
Remember, the faith you've lost is always there to regain.
A woman wise beyond her years once told me that, and gave this to me as a reminder of her words. I think now, after so many years, it's my turn.
Nicholas de Brabant
His hand shook a little as he finished the short note, and he set it down so he didn't crumple it beyond repair. Taking a deep breath to steady his hand, he flipped open the box and nearly collapsed.
There it was. St. Joan of Arc's cross.
A priceless relic.
Yet Nick had just given it to him, nary a stipulation or care or word of warning for disclosing where he might have gotten such an artifact.
Nick, someone he knew only in passing, had faith that he would look after it well.
Father Rochefort knew that he would do just that.