Chapter 19: Chess
It was early on the following Friday that Roselinde Saxonby made her way to the railway station at Saxmundham in Suffolk, England. She was taking the early train to London in order to catch the Eurostar to Lille. It was a journey into the unknown; a journey unlike anything she had experienced before, for it was only the weekend before that she had met an intense French journalist by the name of Yann Baillieu and his attractive young assistant Lilly Chevalier at the Devizes cropcircle lectures in Wiltshire, England.
There was a mysterious connection that deep down linked them through several lifetimes. The Saxon connection had played itself out on Adamâ€™s grave but there was much more to come, she could feel it deep down in her bones. Her subconscious memory was screaming the answers but as yet her conscious mind was still playing catch up.
The connection was so compelling, so forceful and so intense, that she found herself inexplicably on an early morning commuter train bound for the city. Something deep within her soul was calling her to France. It lurked dark and foreboding in the recesses of her mind and needed urgently to be exposed to the light of day in order to make sense of her life. She had embarked on a soul journey of discovery from which there would be no turning back.
It was a normal Friday for the commuters that boarded the 08:21hrs from Saxmundham bound for London Liverpool Street. The city was exactly 2 hours and 3 minutes away a fact that the zombie like commuters were all too aware of in their clockwork existence. Roselinde knew that there would have to be a short 5 minute stop over at Ipswich in order to change trains and make the connection with the mainline service; she nervously bit her lip as she contemplated the tight schedule and crossed her fingers that the journey would go smoothly and allowing for the short taxi journey required, get her to the Eurostar terminal at St Pancras on time to catch her scheduled departure.
Just then a text message came in on her mobile. It was Yann in Lille; he had managed to change and secure a cheaper ticket for her. The Eurostar would now leave London St Pancras at 14:04hrs instead of earlier as initially planned. She became agitated immediately, for she disliked last minute changes and would now have nearly 4 hours to kill. It was all so contrary to her normally well ordered yet Bohemian life. Roselinde text Yann to indicate her displeasure and the fact that she definitely, was not cheap!
Yann replied some 10 minutes later. He apologised profusely with the caveat that the paper was paying for it and that he was trying to keep within budget. It was also all such a rush. His reply did nothing to change her humour or indeed allay her annoyance.
After a subsequently seamless uneventful journey, the train pulled into Liverpool Street on time and Roselinde alighted with the grey faced commuters, who rapidly scurried to exit the station. She made her way to the taxi rank and hailed a cab. The connecting journey of some 3 miles was swiftly over in just 12 minutes. She exited the taxi, paid the driver and stood looking at the magnificent red brick gothic cathedral like architecture that was St Pancras Station. This was it; no turning back. Her stomach churned at the thought of returning to France. Her father had taken her there once as a small girl with her sister when he was an RAF pilot and they lived in Germany on the border with Luxembourg. She had never forgotten the dark misgivings she had experienced then and had quietly put them to the back of her mind but now they confronted her head on.
She entered the station through the new glass entrance and made her way to the Eurostar booking office with the intention of picking up her reserved tickets from the desk. Her attention, however, was captured for several minutes by a beautiful bronze statue of a man and a woman embracing under the clock. The evocative pose summed up something of how she felt for she was rushing off to meet a strange Frenchman that she had known for barely five minutes yet somehow she felt she knew him intimately. It didnâ€™t make a lot of sense, it wasnâ€™t normal but then again she didnâ€™t do normal. She was determined to follow up the coincidence, see the mission through to the bitter end and therefore steeled her resolve to face the challenge of returning to France.
With some 3 hours to wait Roselinde made her way up to the Arcade shopping mall above the platform concourse. She had always loved books since being a child, so instinctively headed for Foyles to pass some time. It was at that point and with that single decision, that the Law of Attraction seemed to come into play. For unknown to her the quantum universe of interconnectedness was about to make a big hit that would impact on her life forever.
Serendipity smiled as she chanced to enter the shop right by the promotional book stand. Normally she would abhor such commercial vulgarity and head for the more intellectual shelves but today was different. Today she found herself, quite out of character, sifting through the brash titles on offer. Under the third pile she unearthed a Trojan horse in the form of a large French paperback entitled Lâ€™Affaire Jeanne dâ€™Arc. The book had somehow inexplicably become entangled in the mÃªlÃ©e of popularly promoted titles. She thought momentarily about the probability of it all but was immediately captivated by the bright red lettering that made the edition standout and the portrait of a kneeling Jeanne dâ€™Arc. It drew her subconscious attention like a magnet.
Oh my God - she thought, she looks just like me! The face, the pose, the attitude, they all collided with her subconscious which then connected head on in a single revelatory moment with her conscious mind. The connection had been made. All hesitation and inhibition was suddenly lost as she realised that the book was destined for her and that her subconscious mind had drawn it towards her in connection with this extraordinary journey. Opening the book with her delicate and now shaking hands she flicked briefly through the pages. Echoes of her school girl French illuminated the dark recesses of her mind as she started to hesitantly comprehend the foreign text. It was readable, concise in factual content and the information seemed invaluable to her emerging sense of identity. She also felt sure that Yann and Lilly could help her with the more difficult passages should she get bogged down in the detail. Decision made, she took the book to the cash point and paid the assistant. It was now hers to keep and study at leisure; the vagaries of fate could no longer snatch it from her grasp. She also realised that fortune in that very moment had smiled on her.
Feeling satisfied with her precious find she headed for the des Vins cafÃ© wine bar and ordered a pot of Earl Grey. Soon she was lost like Alice in an abstract world of medieval chivalry and violent bloodshed. She began to read the text and make sense of the key concepts. A quick glance at the back cover caused her to splutter on her tea; according to the two investigators Jeanne had not been burnt at the stake as told in the conventional history books!
The authors presented a case of classical heresy in declaring that the beloved French icon and saint had escaped her fate on May 30, 1429. They challenged conventional dogma with a presentation of evidence gathered from many original suppressed documents. It felt like a Da Vinci code moment and Roselinde revelled in the conspiracy of it all.
She felt like a blind woman that could suddenly see, as she lurched and waded through sections of difficult prose. She began to grasp the strange yet blurred facts. Certain keywords leapt off of the page at her and started to form concrete images in her mind. The details seemed to resonate with her soul and within minutes she found herself unexplainably emotional. The most amazing discovery beckoned, it was the picture of an old carved wooden door with two faces, it was tucked in the corner of a page, adjacent to a coloured picture of the illuminated chimney breast at Chateau Jaulny.
It was a face she recognised, she looked again in disbelief but there was no mistaking it. The mouth was so distinctive; it was Yann Baillieu the very person she was going to meet! She quickly glanced at her mobile phone and was surprised to see that the time read 13:33hrs. It was time to head for the platform and board the waiting Eurostar that would effortlessly speed her under the channel and onwards to Lille in just one hour and twenty minutes.
Exactly on time at 14:04hrs the train pulled out of St Pancras Station and started to pick up speed through the suburbs of London and then the Kentish countryside.
As she sat back in her comfortable seat Roselinde flipped open her mobile and text Yann that she had forgiven him for messing up the ticket arrangements. At the end she added the cryptic sentence; I know who you were! :-)
Abandoning thoughts of reading further Roselinde was content to gaze out of the window and let her mind wonder. The bright light stung her eyes so she pulled down the sunglasses that perched neatly on her blonde hair. After several minutes she found herself drifting in and out of reality. The journey continued and soon the Eurostar entered the dark womb like tunnel sous la manche. The hypnotic effect of the lights passing rapidly by the window only added to the deep altered state she was entering.
She suddenly saw Robert des Armoises sitting on a horse. He was dressed in blackened armour and wore a long black hooded robe. The solid black mass of his persona was broken only by the very distinctive radiating white cross that covered his left breast. It was a symbol of enlightenment, a beacon of hope in a dark world of ignorance, magic and superstition. It was an emblem that she recognised and intuitively knew from the past. He smiled at her, she felt herself smile back but only for a brief moment, then she raised her banner high and spurred her horse towards the fray. The image abruptly shattered and her altered state collapsed as the sound of a voice boomed out.
â€œTickets please!â€ The official said. She felt her body being nudged by sonic waves and immediately awoke. Reaching into her ethnic jute shoulder bag she withdrew the printed ticket and handed it to the inspector. â€œThank you, Madam. My colleague will check your passport.â€
Without hesitation Roselinde rummaged again and produced her claret coloured UK passport, the immigration officer checked the photo ID thoroughly.
â€œThank you, Ms Saxonby, have a pleasant journey.â€ He said as he moved down the carriage to the next group of people. Ten minutes later the train emerged from the dark tunnel and the cloudy grey defused light of France hit her eyes. She replaced her documents and adjusted her sunglasses to protect her sensitive eyes from the glare. Roselinde Saxonby was now on French soil and just 30 minutes away from meeting Yann at Gare de Lille Europe.
The Eurostar glided silently into the station exactly on time. The canopy extended high above the train and gave a cavernous feel to the station platforms 43 and 45. Roselinde alighted from the train. She looked up towards the overhead concourse and saw Yann waving in an elegant yet informal way.
Roselinde gripped the extending handle of her suitcase and pulled it along behind her as she made her way to the escalator. Within seconds she was level with Yann who embraced her warmly and kissed her on both cheeks. She felt for an instant exactly like the characters depicted in the large bronze statue at St Pancras.
She was a little nervous and not a tad apprehensive to see her new old friend but his warm countenance and strong arms soon dispelled any apprehension she may have had. He was her protector, her rock, her saviour from many lives. The feelings coursed through her veins and filled her soul to bursting point. In his company she knew that she would and could conquer the Franco-phobia that had haunted her all her life. In one single smooth action he took her bag in tow and they headed outside to the Place FranÃ§ois Mitterrand. Roselinde was greeted by the sight of a large colourful surreal statue of two giant red tulips with white spots which took her completely surprise and instantly lightened her mood.
â€œWelcome to la belle France, mon cher.â€ Yann, twirled theatrically and bowed.
The modern stylish space age vista took her breath away. She then took in the quirky L shaped architecture of the Credit Lyonnais building which perched precariously on top of the Gare de Lille Europe. Together they walked along the Avenue Le Corbusier in front of the modern Euralille shopping centre towards the original railway station, Gare Lille Flandres. Roselinde admired the classical architecture with its stark contrast of the old within the modern space age setting that she had just stepped into.
â€œThe front of the station was once that of the Gare du Nord in Paris! Rather than waste the faÃ§ade, when they expanded that station at the end of the 19th century they disassembled it and rebuilt it here.â€ Yann was bursting with enthusiasm at seeing his princess back on home ground again. It wasnâ€™t boasting he just wanted her to catch up with some of the details of his life.
â€œFascinating, I feel at home here already. I have always had a phobia about returning to France but have never got to the nub of it. You have changed everything. I feel very safe with you around.â€ It was quite an admission for Roselinde to make for she was normal extremely strong and independent but she felt secure enough in his presence to be totally honest.
He beamed a smile at her, hugged her and took her arm as they turned right and strolled along the Rue Faidherbe towards his offices on the main square. Yann pointed out all the points of interest as they walked and shared his world with her. It felt like two soulmates reunited after a long period of absence; indeed he had experienced two lives in linear time without her since they last met.
Roselinde admired the classical French late 19th century architecture as she went. Her love of music and opera came to the forefront as they turned into the Rue de Paris and entered the Place du Theatre which sported the Grand Opera house.
â€œI promise you that we shall go to the opera before you leave. It is one of the finest cultural assets we have in Lille.â€
It was Roselindeâ€™s turn to beam a bright smile. â€œHow did you know I like ballet and opera?â€ She asked quizzically.
â€œI know you very well, more than you can ever guess,â€ was his cryptic reply.
Then they entered the main square the Place du General de Gaulle and she was immediately taken by the spectacular Flemish gable of the La Voix du Nord Offices.
â€œWelcome to my world of the past 30 years.â€ He said reflectively as he put one arm around her protectively.
Together they entered through the main doors. Yann filled in the guest details in the visitor book and Roselinde signed her name against the entry. They took the stairs to the 3 floor and immediately saw Lilly hard at work on her latest article. She stood up and came over to Roselinde, gave her a big hug and kissed her on both cheeks. â€œThe princess arrives! Bienvenue au Lille! We are so excited that you could come and join our quest at such short notice. Yann has talked of nothing else all week.â€
Yann blushed at the mention of his keenness and busied himself to avoid attention. Friday was traditionally a relaxed day in the working week and mainly consisted of tidying up loose ends from the other days. They all entered Yannâ€™s office as he disappeared to get some refreshments whilst Lilly made Roselinde comfortable in the guest chair.
â€œWell, this is our little world.â€ Lilly said as she pointed to the simple yet stylishly appointed room. â€œIâ€™ve only been here a few weeks, but I have really grown fond of all my colleagues and Yann in particular. It is like we have known each other in many times. I expect you feel the same way?â€
â€œYes, I do, strange to say. Even though, we have only just met.â€ Roselinde relaxed visibly in her chair as she now felt very comfortable and amongst friends.
Yannâ€™s desk was untidy and arranged in a chaotic way with many pile of different papers and books. Evidence of their medieval memory quest was strewn everywhere which caused Roselinde to laugh and make a joke about house-keeping. Lilly joined in with an anecdote about men in general that made Roselinde laugh even more.
â€œI see that I need have no worries about you two getting on!â€ Yann said as he re-entered the room carrying a tray of drinks and some Florentine biscuits. â€œThey are gluten free, I remembered.â€
â€œIâ€™m impressed. I only mentioned that once last weekend.â€ Roselinde smiled.
Yann placed the tray down on his desk after making a space with his elbow. The girls laughed at the comic procedure and were content not to help but rather to just enjoy the show!
Yann handed around the tea. â€œIt is very non-French Earl Grey just as you like it with lemon and no milk.â€ Finally he relaxed, â€œLilly has a spare bed for you at her apartment, plus you can share the hotel accommodation with her in Reims if that is OK? We have made all the arrangements.â€
Lilly smiled and sipped her tea which she had acquired a taste for in England, then filled Roselinde in on the itinerary for the Reims visit that would start on Monday.
â€œThat is very kind of you. I am sure that we will get on very well, Lilly.â€ Roselinde sipped her tea in a genteel manner as she related details of her journey from Saxmundham to Lille in response to Lillyâ€™s earlier enquiry.
A convivial hour passed and it was soon time to make our way out of the office and back to the MÃ©tro station to pick up the driverless VAL fully automated train for home. Roselinde was disconcerted to find that there were no drivers, so Yann explained that VAL stood for VÃ©hicule Automatique LÃ©ger which meant that the system was fully automatic with two unit trains arriving and departing every 1.5 to 4 minutes. Due to clever timing we were just ahead of the main weekend rush and so boarded without a problem. Lilly and Roselinde departed on their VAL train towards the Hippodrome whilst I took Ligne 2 to Mons Sarts. The short ride took only 15 minutes and then it was just a short walk to my house at Place Alexandre Dumas.
Lilly was making dinner for 20:00hrs sharp so I had plenty of time for a shower and a change of clothes. I checked the post and laid out my evening wear on the bed. It felt like having royalty to stay. Roselindeâ€™s presence engendered a behavioural pattern that I had never experienced before; it was automatic and accompanied the irrational urge to bow when meeting her! I was also determined that Roselinde should have an interesting and pleasant visit. With that thought I phoned the Carte Blanche restaurant in Villeneuve dâ€™Ascq to book a table for Sunday night. The restaurant was set in an industrial landscape close by but the atmosphere and food were superb; it would be just perfect because on Monday we would have to be up early to catch the TGV to Champagne-Ardenne and Reims.
On Saturday, Lilly and I would show Roselinde the site of the cropcircle and then give her a quick tour of Lille. In the evening Vincent was having one of his famous parties so the catering would be taken care of on that occasion; I also instinctively felt that Roselinde should meet Deborah Dubois the beautiful and clever mathematics teacher from Vincentâ€™s school as there seemed to be a connection there. It was a subconscious message, my intuition was on overdrive but as of yet I had no idea why?
At 19:30 hrs I left my house in Place Alexandre Dumas to walk to Lillyâ€™s apartment. The weather was cloudy and the temperature warm and humid. Everything seemed a lot easier in the summer months especially with the lighter evenings. I remembered to bring a chilled bottle of champagne that I had in the refrigerator as Lilly was doing the cooking. I rang her bell precisely on time and was greeted by Roselinde who looked very at home. We kissed on both cheeks and she asked me in. Lilly shouted hi from the kitchen and was obviously busy in the final stages of readying the gourmet meal.
As Lilly finished her preparations I popped open the champagne and poured out the Kir Royale aperitifs into the tall fluted glasses. Entering the lounge I found Roselinde toying with a chess piece from Lillyâ€™s classic set that sat proudly on her coffee table in front of the settee. It was a present from her father. I then noticed that she held in her delicate fingers a single black knight.
â€œDo you play?â€ I asked as I set the drinks down beside the chessboard.
â€œOf course, I love strategy games; my father taught me when I was a girl, just as Lillyâ€™s father taught her. We have so much in common.â€ Without thinking Roselinde instinctively placed the black horse back on its correct square.
Roselinde continued to expound her rationale, â€œI have always loved the knights; especially the way they can jump over obstacles and move in ways that the other pieces canâ€™t. It makes them very flexible and able to achieve impossible feats.â€
I knew that her speech was veiled in allegory. I was aware from her body language that there was far more to her informal observation than she consciously knew.
â€œShall we play whilst Lilly finishes in the kitchen?â€ She said as she smiled a feminine feline smile, caressed the stem of her elegant glass and then sipped slowly, allowing the champagne bubbles to tickle her nose. I accepted the challenge and took the two Queens from the board. Holding them up I allowed them to metaphorically eye each other and then placed them behind my back. After shaking them in my cupped hands I held out my closed fists to allow Roselinde to choose her side.
â€œIâ€™ll take the right one.â€
With that she tapped the back of my left hand. It was a deliberate tactic to wrong foot me and it worked. The electricity of her touch shocked me which added to the effect. I opened my left hand and the white Queen was revealed.
â€œLooks like I get to move first!â€ She smiled and took another sip of her champagne whilst smiling over the brim of her glass.
I replaced the pieces back onto the battlefield and slowly turned the board around so that she was in command of the white army. She was exquisitely balletic in her movements which made me lose concentration and I immediately felt incredibly clumsy. Then the battle royal began.
Roselinde opened decisively with a classic and provocative Kingâ€™s pawn move. I felt sure she was determined to use her infantry in a full on frontal attack. Responding, I decided to use my two black knights to counter and to cause a little mayhem in the ranks. Over the next 4 moves I moved them into open ground as she prepared her attack.
We eyed each other in turn as the pieces were moved into their initial battle positions and sipped the Kir Royale. Roselindeâ€™s blonde hair perfectly framed her delicate aristocratic cheekbones allowing her penetrating gaze from those soulful sea blue eyes to lock my thoughts into anything else but the game! There was something incredibly charismatic, almost hypnotic about her glance, it commanded my utmost attention so much so that I found myself losing the tactical plot fast!
My black knights penetrated the white defence and lived up to their name but Roselinde swallowed them whole with her trap of a deceptively weak defence then succeeded in capturing both of them in a devastatingly swift riposte. I was suddenly on the back foot and there was no let up. Her army attacked in multiple places with the precision of a surgical knife. I found myself rapidly losing several pieces to her relentless thrusts.
â€œYou are pretty good at this, arenâ€™t you?â€ I said as I scratched my head.
â€œOf course, I was taught well.â€ Roselinde replied in a matter of fact tone and with a coy angelic smile. â€œI am as you say, very tricky, no!â€
She giggled, flashed her perfectly white teeth and then slowly licked her upper lip with the tip of her tongue. It was a deliberately provocative display of feminine sexuality that confounded my senses. Her eyes sparkled like fire and I found myself sinking under her spell much as a drowning man in quick sand.
I counted with a few brutal but useless moves which were easily out manoeuvred and then tied up in knots expertly.
â€œCheckmate!â€ The coup de grace was administered with a delicate and painless feminine precision which finally put an end to my misery. She took another sip of champagne from her long tall fluted glass and sat back to relax.
â€œYou appear to have the better of me, Madame. I am in total awe at your strategic and tactical skill. I salute you!â€ With that I raised my glass and contemplated my summary demise on the field of combat.
â€œCome on Robert donâ€™t be too harsh on yourself, you confused me with those black knights of yours for several moves and very effective they were too!â€ Roselinde picked up the black horse, ran her index finger along its mane and then kissed it gently.
I was totally shocked. Her sensual display with the chess piece was obvious enough but she had called me Robert! Why had she done that? Words failed to leave my lips; how did she know?
I sat in stunned silence as she lovingly placed each piece back on to the board. Just as the pieces were reset Lilly came into the room carrying the starters.
â€œTime to eat; up to the table children,â€ she said playfully, â€œI can see by the look on Yannâ€™s face that you have well and truly kicked his butt. He just wonâ€™t accept that women are the superior race!â€ Her infectious giggle triggered a polite response from Roselinde who agreed in a demure sort of way.
â€œWell itâ€™s a good job we are all on the same side. I concede! With two dragon princesses in one room I have no chance!â€ With that I laughed and joined in the fun.
â€œExactement, we always know what you are thinking and are therefore always one step ahead!â€ Lilly grinned and poured the wine.
I laughed and joined in the fun. The ice had certainly been well and truly broken and the rest of the evening went like clockwork.