SIX HUNDRED and THREE
“This is Max’s jeep,” Nelson said.
“So he thinks,” Alex said with a laugh.
After dinner, Blane had dropped Nelson off at Alex’s home. They had walked through the backyard to the garage. Alex got into the driver’s seat of a Jeep CJ. Nelson got into the passenger seat.
“But. . .” Nelson said.
“It’s both of ours,” Alex said. “We share it. But we don’t drive it very often now because of the kids.”
Alex gave him a wide smile and started the Jeep. The Jeep started right up and they were on their way.
“Where are we going?” Nelson asked.
“My friend’s expecting us,” Alex said.
“How?” Nelson asked.
“I called her from the restaurant,” Alex said.
Nelson nodded and looked away. He was suddenly nervous. At dinner, he’d become comfortable with Alex and this entire ridiculous project. His heart was racing now. He wished he had never said he was going to find this stupid ‘treasure.’ He scowled as Denver flew by in front of him. Alex pulled up to a house.
“Come on,” Alex said. “It won’t be too bad. Plus, if anything goes wrong, your fairy bulldog will appear to save you.”
Alex laughed and got out of the vehicle. Nelson shook his head and got out of the Jeep. He followed her through a private front garden to a large home with a wide open porch. The porch was furnished as if it was a room in the home. Alex knocked on the door.
A tall thin bald man with tan skin opened the door. He looked at Alex and then at Nelson. He said something to Alex in a language Nelson didn’t understand. Alex argued back. The arguing got heated as the man gestured to Nelson. Alex’s words came fast and furiously. Finally, the man gestured to the couch on the porch. Alex relented.
“We need to stay out here,” Alex said.
“Why?” Nelson asked. “Is there something about me. . .?”
“Yes,” Alex said.
Shaking her head, Alex went to sit down.
“Is it too cold for you?” Alex asked.
“I’m okay,” Nelson said. “What’s wrong with me?”
“You’re a Templar,” Alex said.
“I am a dragon,” a woman said as she stepped out of the house. “You are a Knight.”
Two men came out of the house behind her. They dragged Nelson to his feet and searched him head to toe. They started to remove his clothing when Alex stepped in.
“I don’t know what this means,” Nelson said, angrily grabbing his shirt from the body guard.
“You are a Knight of the Templars?” The woman raised her eyebrows at Nelson.
The moment her eyes hit Nelson, he felt his entire body tingle. His head spasmed with pain. At the same time, he felt a bright energy flood his mind. Power pulsed through him. He was terrified and thrilled at the same time. His heart raced and his muscles pumped with blood. He felt taller and stronger. For the first time in his life, he felt whole.
“Whoa,” Alex said.
Mari appeared on the porch. She took one look at the woman and sucked in a breath. She moved to get in front of Nelson but seemed suddenly unable to move.
“Please,” Mari said. “He is a good human, kind, and funny. You will like him.”
The woman sighed slightly. The pulse of power flowed out of Nelson. He let out a breath and collapsed onto the couch. His head dropped into his hands while he tried to calm down. When he looked up, he saw a gorgeous tan skinned woman with almond shaped eyes and long black hair.
“I am Bestat,” the woman said.
“Nelson Weeks,” he said. “I was born Guy Semaines.”
“I knew this day would come, Mr. Weeks,” Bestat said.
“Doctor,” Nelson said. “Dr. Weeks.”
The woman grinned.
“I have known about you since the day you were born,” Bestat said.
“You have?” Nelson asked. “Why?
“Because you are the single male heir of that bastard, the one the call Bernard of Clairvaux,” Bestat said. “Are you not?”
“They stole something from you too?” Nelson asked.
Bestat laughed and nodded.
“Aren’t dragons always drawn to gold and jewels?” Nelson asked.
“Lazy dragons lie on treasure?” Bestat asked. “As in the Hobbit?”
Nelson nodded and looked up at her. Bestat smiled at him.
“Humans are the first creatures to trade objects for treasure,” Bestat said. She nodded to Mari. “Isn’t that true, Princess Marigold?”
“Yes, ma’am,” Mari said.
“Please do get up,” Bestat said to Mari.
“Dragons love to eat fairies,” Mari said. “I would not wish to be eaten.”
“Even you must agree that fairies can be incredibly annoying,” Bestat said. “Almost every creature on earth has wanted to destroy a fairy at one time or another.”
“I have.” Nelson raised his hand. “They tried to kill me and Blane and the kids.”
“My point,” Bestat said. “I have no quarrel with you, Princess Marigold.”
“Mari, please.” the fairy said as she got up. She went to sit next to Nelson on the couch. “I was charged by the mother to guard and protect this human.”
“You may continue in my presence,” Bestat said.
“Thank you, my lady,” Mari said.
“Bestat,” she said. “Everyone calls me, Bestat.”
A child came out onto the porch. She looked like her mother except for her shocking blue eyes.
“Teddy,” Nelson said under his breath.
“Yes,” Bestat said. “My partner is Teddy’s father. Does that surprise you?”
“At this moment, nothing would surprise me,” Nelson said.
“Teddy is inside,” Bestat said. “Would you like to see him?”
“It seems like we have a lot to discuss,” Alex said.
“You are correct,” Bestat said. “But first, I fear that I must make this point. Dragons have been on this plantet for millennia before humans were introduced,” Bestat said. “If we longed for treasure, we could have stolen it from every corner of the world long before the first human made a step.”
“You don’t love treasure?” Nelson asked.
“Don’t get me wrong, Templar,” Bestat said. “I like nice things. I like being able to pay for them. But no dragon I have known has ever lay around on some hoard of gold and jewels. We work for what we have. That is the law of this planet — what you give out will come back to you.”
“You know this,” Bestat said.
“What do you do?” Nelson asked.
“This and that,” Bestat said. “That is hardly the point.”
“Do you know where the hoard is located?” Nelson asked.
“Not specifically,” Bestat said. “Do you have maps?”
“I have some,” Nelson said. “My father has some.”
“Ben gave me all of his historic maps,” Alex said.
“Good,” Bestat said. “Fairy?”
“Mari, please,” she said.
“Mari,” Bestat said. “I forgot. Would you be so kind as to get the maps and bring them to us?”
Mari looked at Nelson and he nodded.
“Your father and. . .?” Mari asked.
“Mine,” Nelson said.
“Mine,” Alex added. “There’s also a stack of old maps from the salt mine.”
Mari looked at Alex and then at Bestat.
“I would be honored,” Mari said and disappeared.
“Let’s go inside,” Bestat said. “We will have tea while we wait.”
Nelson followed Alex and Mari into Bestat’s home. He was surprised at how modern it seemed. A female servant looked Nelson over before gesturing for him to go into a room. The female servant gave him what seemed to be a soft silken robe.
“For your protection, Knight,” the servant said.
“Thank you,” Nelson said.
When he returned to the room, Mari had returned. Two servants were working to unfold the maps onto a large table. Teddy appeared from a bedroom upstairs. He agreed to match the ancient maps to modern Internet mapping services.
Nelson sat down next to Alex.
“When we were outside and you said ‘whoa,’” Nelson said in a low voice. “What happened?”
“You started to glow,” Alex said in the same tone.
Nelson looked away.
“There’s a lot of lore about the Knights Templar,” Alex said. “I think you have to realize that magic is in your blood.”
“Like Gandolf?” Nelson asked.
Alex shrugged. Nelson shook his head at the entire thing.
“We are ready,” Bestat said. “Alex? Nelson? Shall we take a look at these maps?”
Nelson and Alex got up and went to the table. Within minutes, Alex and Bestat were deep in conversation about the maps itself. Hours passed. Eventually, Nelson went back to the couch and fell sound asleep. He woke up in his own bed when his alarm signaled that he had to get up for work.
Nelson was halfway through his morning routine when he remembered his evening and night. He looked around. He had no idea how he’d gotten home. He expected to see Heather or one of the other Goddesses when he left his home.
No one was waiting for him.
Shrugging to himself, he went to work. He had one thing on his mind — he needed to speak with his father. He waited until lunch time before calling Pierre to ask him to dinner. Pierre seemed thrilled at the idea of seeing his son. Nelson invited his father to his home for a meal.
After work, Nelson stopped at a local butcher shop and picked up steak for them to share. When he reached home, he found Blane waiting for him.
“Dad’s coming over for dinner,” Nelson said.
Blane held out his hands for the grocery bags. He looked inside the bag and laughed.
“Steak?” Blane asked.
“I can barbecue a steak for my father,” Nelson said defiantly.
When he grinned, Blane laughed. Blane nodded toward the front door. Nelson opened the door, and Blane went into the kitchen.
“Go change,” Blane said.
Nodding to Blane, Nelson went to change out of his work clothing. By the time he’d returned, the kitchen smelled amazing. Blane poured him a glass of wine and gestured for Nelson to sit at the bar stool.
“I just wanted to check in with you to see how last night turned out,” Blane said.
“How it turned out?” Nelson asked with a laugh. “Weird. We went to Alex’s friend’s house and. . . Actually, I’m not sure how much I should tell you. Do you know Teddy’s step-mother?”
“Bestat?” Blane asked. “She was a part of that big rape case.”
“She was?” Nelson asked.
“Noelle was painting her in City Park when they were set upon by the thugs,” Blane said. He pointed a spatula at Nelson. “She won the case for the victims. All the rest were kids or runaways. But here’s this elegant woman, a diplomat no less, talking about what happened. The entire courtroom was enthralled.”
“I bet,” Nelson said.
“Alex said that she wanted to take a friend,” Blane said. “Was her friend Bestat?”
“When we were at dinner, Nyx came,” Nelson said.
“When you were standing?” Blane asked looking up from what he was preparing.
“She said that Alex and Bestat could come,” Nelson said. “After dinner, we went to Bestat’s house. It was kind of a lot of drama but in the end, Bestat and Alex talked about maps until. . . well I don’t know how long. I woke up here.”
“Why are you talking to your father tonight?” Blane asked.
“I have it in my head that talking to him is the final act before I go on this ‘quest,’” Nelson said. He snorted. “Like I’m some freakin’ knight going on a quest for his queen and country.”
Blane smiled at Nelson and kept cooking.
“What was ‘a lot of drama’ about meeting Bestat?” Blane asked.
“I don’t really know,” Nelson said. “It’s kind of weird but. . .”
He took another drink of wine.
“But?” Blane asked.
“I. . .” Nelson sighed. “I’ll just tell you how I experienced it.”
Nelson looked Blane in the eye.
“Don’t laugh,” Nelson said.
“I won’t laugh,” Blane said.
“Okay, so. . .” Nelson started. “It’s just that. . .”
“When she looked at me, something happened,” Nelson said.
“Something?” Blane rose his eyebrows.
“Not like that,” Nelson said. “She said that she was a. . .”
Nelson leaned forward.
“A dragon,” Nelson said. Blane gave a knowing nod. “And I was a knight. Then this thing happened. I felt. . . bigger, taller, stronger. Alex said I kind of glowed. I. . .”
Nelson shook his head.
“I felt whole,” Nelson said. “Completely whole and completely a knight. It was. . . exhilarating and terrifying. I. . . Well, today, I realized that my pants are a little short and. . .”
“You actually grew taller,” Blane said.
“Bigger,” Nelson said. “My mind today was like ‘boom, boom, boom.’ Like I was hooked up to some brain juice or. . .”
Nelson shook his head.
“I don’t know,” Nelson said. “I want to feel that way again, and. . .”
“Sounds scary to me,” Blane said.
“I think we’re going to be leaving soon,” Nelson said. “I don’t know when.”
“It’s not your question,” Blane said. “You’re likely to go when the moon is right or whatever else.”
“New moon,” Nelson said, softly. “I bet you’re right.”
“When is the next new moon?” Blane asked.
“Tonight,” Nelson said.
Blane gave Nelson a soft smile.
“I’ll give you the speech that I’ve heard Sam give Jake more than once,” Blane said. “Don’t take unnecessary risks. Coming home is more important than fulfilling any project or question. Just come home to us.”
“Thanks, I think,” Nelson said. “I just don’t feel. . . ready.”
“No one’s ever ready,” Blane said. “You just have to do your best. That’s enough.”
“Your dad’s going to be here in a few minutes,” Blane said. “I have some marinated mushrooms for the top of the steak. You just need to warm them up. The steak is in a light marinade, the one you like. There’s salad in the refrigerator. Some of last summer’s delicata squash is in the oven. Can you put all this together?”
“You’re not staying?” Nelson asked.
“I think that you’re right,” Blane said. “You need to speak with your father and then you’ll head out.”
Nelson grabbed Blane and hugged him tight.
“Heather will be there with you,” Blane said. “You have to remember — you and Alex are the only mortals on this quest. There’s no reason for you to risk when they are immortal.”
“I’ll be here with Tres holding down the fort,” Blane said.
Nelson grinned. Blane kissed Nelson’s cheek.
“Good luck,” Blane said. “Come home.”
With that, Blane walked out of the carriage house. He’d just crossed the street when he saw Pierre’s car pull up to the curb. Smiling to himself, he went inside the Castle.
“How is he?” Heather asked.
“Scared,” Blane said. “Excited.”
“He should be,” Heather said.
“You’re leaving tonight?” Blane asked.
“I’m not sure,” Heather said. “I’m just support staff. I’m not running this thing.”
Blane nodded. They hugged each other for support in their worry for their friend.
“I need to get dinner started,” Blane said.
Heather nodded and Blane walked into the kitchen. By the time dinner was ready, Heather was gone.
The quest had begun.
Denver Cereal continues tomorrow...
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