The Seat of Destiny – Part 2

1177 – 1307 AD

The chair had served the Arabic alchemist, Faisal al Hamid, as a resting place from his labors in his laboratory. Faisal found himself drafted by the army of Saladin to succor the soldiers and at times Saladin himself with the healing draughts which he brewed. No physician in the army of Saladin could boast such skill.
In 1177 a battle was waged and the army broke. Men fled in every direction from the raving Crusaders. Faisal cowered in fear in his tent behind the lines. He prayed to Allah that the soldiers of the cross would pass him by. He knew he should run but he could not abandon his laboratory. The work of his lifetime was within the bottles and vials and to abandon it on the battlefield would leave him destitute and unable to pursue his calling.
Faisal sat in his chair, which always calmed him, and worked on new healing unctions and restorative draughts while awaiting the soldiers. He thought that perhaps the Christians would recognize the value of his art and not slay him. Allah did not call him to only heal fellow Arabs, Faisal felt that his gifts were for all mankind.
Faisal looked up from his work as the sound outside suddenly intensified. He could hear the screams and clash of steel; his fate was upon him, he prayed that it would be gentle with him.
Two young Crusaders, dressed in white with the large red crosses of their order strode through the door. Their eyes were wild with battle and they were spattered with the blood of Faisal’s countrymen.
“Masters,” Faisal said in the broken English he had learned from a trader. “I am not a soldier but a healer, please allow me to serve.”
The two men stared at the alchemist for long seconds then one of them barked a phrase in a language Faisal could not understand; his heart sank, he would not be able to convince these men of his worth through speech.
Faisal bowed and showed his hands to be empty and attempted to mime his intent to the two men. Smiling broadly, he gestured to the racks of potions and his work table. Thinking quickly he scooped up a bottle and sipped its contents, miming pleasure and health. The men lowered their swords and with quizzical looks began to examine the contents of the tent.
One man examined the meager furnishings of the tent and began to sort through the items on Faisal’s worktable; the other man examined random bottles on the racks, recoiling occasionally from the pungent odors within.
Faisal attempted to keep the men calm and happy with his idiot servant pantomime; if these men could be convinced that he was harmless, he would live to continue the expansion of his knowledge.
The Crusader studying the work table unrolled on of Faisal’s alchemical scrolls. The paper was covered in flowing Arabic script, numbers and chemical formulae. Faisal recognized it as one aligned with the power of the planet Mercury. The soldier stared in utter incomprehension at the fine script but suddenly started when he spotted the symbol for Mercury. The horned circle only meant one thing to the unlettered soldier.
“Diable,” he shouted backing away from the table.
The young man began rapidly speaking to his fellow, Faisal could tell by the tone that the man was frightened but also angry; he heard the word the man had shouted used again and again.
The two men stared hard at Faisal who scraped and groveled, all the while smiling broadly his innocent intent. In an instant Faisal’s world changed, the young man shouted more of his foreign tongue and kicked over the work table; the older man utilized his sword to smash the racks containing Faisal’s life’s work.
“No,” Faisal screamed as he saw years of work shatter.
The younger soldier stepped forward and rammed his sword into Faisal’s belly. Faisal was surprised, it felt like he had been punched rather than stabbed, but then the burning pain began and he felt the strength leave his legs. As Faisal crumpled to the ground the two men began to systematically destroy every bottle and scroll in the alchemist’s tent.
Faisal felt the darkness closing in. His vision blurred. Through his pain, he thought that he heard someone singing. Craning his head, Faisal saw his favorite chair; it remained unharmed through the carnage caused by the ignorant soldiers. He could see it clearer than anything in the tent; as his vision dimmed further, Faisal realized it was glowing and the singing seemed to be coming from the chair.
Through his pain, Faisal smiled, truly Allah was beckoning him. He began to crawl through the widening pool of blood until his hand lay upon the leather of the seat, soft as his daughter’s cheek. The singing grew to surround the dying man and through the darkness filling his vision he saw a point of light that grew. It was the most beautiful light Faisal had ever seen. The light soon surrounded Faisal and he was at peace.
The religious zeal and fear that had gripped Francois ebbed as he realized the Arab lie dead. He looked around the tent with its shattered bottles and furniture and knew that he had served Jesus well. The Arab devil worshipper was no more and his work would not taint the souls of the faithful.
His older companion, Claude, paused in his systematic smashing of the bottles to see what his friend wanted to do next.
“Francois, have you ever smelled anything so foul,” he asked waving the smells from the bottles away from his face.
“Devil’s work,” the younger man said. “This heretic will not serve the Enemy anymore.”
The young man looked at what remained in the tent. The furnishings were rather well made; he thought that what had survived the cleansing of the tent would make fine war treasures. He noticed the folding chair the old man had spent his last bit of life dragging himself toward. The chair was a work of art. Francois could see delicate carvings and joinery of a quality he had never seen before.
“This devil worshipper had expensive taste,” he said to Claude.
“Gather the valuables and set them outside, we will cleanse the rest with fire. The Grand Master will be pleased with this piece of salvage. I will make it a gift, maybe I can gain that Captaincy yet.”
Claude laughed; he knew his young friend harbored ambition far beyond his own. He would do as he was bid and with luck, Francois would take him along as he climbed the ranks of the Templar Order and Claude could leave the slogging through the sand and blood far behind.
The finely made furniture became part of the greater looting of the Holy Land and found its way back to France and the Templar coffers. The chair so coveted by Francois was presented as a gift to the order’s Grand Master.
In time Francois rose through the ranks, eventually becoming the right hand of the Grand Master himself. His obsession with the chair grew over the years. He found himself staring at it with longing whenever he was in the Master’s presence. He swore that the chair emanated a faint light and he could often hear the faintest strains of angelic choirs when he was near the chair.
When the Grand Master died, Francois once more obtained the chair. He knew that this was a holy thing, a gift from God. Soon others in the order began to believe as he did and within a few years, the chair was installed in a chapel in the Templar stronghold where knights would gather to pray and bask in its holy aura.
The chair remained a thing of reverence, for generations until Friday, October 13, 1307, when King Philip IV of France ordered Grand Master Jacques de Molay and scores of other French Templars to be simultaneously arrested. The French soldiers stormed the Templar stronghold and either arrested or slew all within. The valuables were carted away to Paris to fill the depleted coffers of the French monarch.

2013 AD

Matthew Kendall fidgeted on the trans-Atlantic flight. He was already exhausted even though his journey had barely begun. Matthew had departed San Francisco a week ago and had made several stops at the homes of historians and at prestigious universities across the country to verify what he suspected.
Matthew’s life had been spent in pursuit of Templar history. Like most serious researchers, he believed that the tales of devil worship and adoration of Baphomet which had been linked to the Templars’ downfall to be a total fabrication. Every credible historian knew that Philip IV had decided that by betraying the Templars he could default on the loans they had made to him and steal their treasure.
Matthew obsession with the Templars strayed into outré territory in his pursuit of what many called the Holy Grail. He believed as many did that the Templars had brought a powerful religious artifact back from Jerusalem in the twelfth century and that it had become a central piece of their religious worship. For centuries, treasure hunters and historians had searched for this Grail, thought to be the cup with which Christ celebrated the Last Supper but all had failed in their search. Matthew believed that they were destined to fail because what they were seeking was not a cup at all. Generations of treasure hunters had fixated on the legend of the cup as Grail with no historical or written evidence to support such an item’s existence.
Matthew had come to believe that there was indeed an artifact of Christ that had moved through the centuries and been worshipped by the Templars but it was not a cup. He felt that it was another item altogether; something that would have been made by a carpenter—a chair. A chair made with the hands of a God and imbued with His power. The evidence was scattered through history and legend.
Matthew spent the last ten years following leads and legends about a chair that healed the sick and brought some men to power while destroying others. His search became more frantic during the last two years when doctors in Miami had told him that deep in his core there was what they called—with utter scientific detachment—an undifferentiated mass. The tumor was inoperable according to the oncologist and his recommendation was to enjoy whatever time he had remaining and make his peace with God.
Making peace with God was not on Matthew’s agenda. He refused to accept such an ignoble death. The doctors thought he should rest and prepare to enter a hospice; Matthew thought he should track down the Seat of Destiny—the Holy Grail—the one item that could cure the incurable.
His search had led him to the deserts of Israel and the catacombs of Rome and finally to the legends of the Templars where the trail had gone cold.
Matthew had spent the last year pouring through the collections of the greatest universities in search of any hint. His quest had achieved fruition when he encountered an aging historian who related tales of a coveted chair that had moved from owner to owner among the royalty of France and was eventually to be found in the possession of Maximilien de Robespierre, himself. The historian believed that it was the influence of the Grail that drove Robespierre’s policies related to abolishing the death penalty and equality for all. The Grail had again disappeared during the chaos of World War Two but a recent piece of information had launched Matthew on his journey.
The Grail had been removed from France by Ernst Binder, a Wehrmacht officer, and taken back to Germany as a trophy. Through exhaustive searches Matthew had learned that after the war, Binder had settled in Molln Austria where his grandparents lived; days later he was uncomfortably ensconced in a passenger seat in a jumbo jet.
It was late afternoon when Matthew’s plane landed at Charles De Gaulle Airport just outside Paris. Matthew blinked into the setting sun, stifling a yawn; he still had over six hundred miles to travel and he desperately needed sleep. Fighting exhaustion, he picked up a small but trusty Renault hatchback at the rental company and headed west.
Paris was an hour behind him when Matthew admitted to himself that he could no longer safely continue. He pulled off the highway into the town of Reims and located a hotel. The sign declared its name as Quality but in his current state, Matthew didn’t care if it was a cardboard box.
When Matthew awoke it was near mid-day; he felt refreshed but was upset at having lost so much time. Swallowing a handful of pain pills, Matthew pushed onward into Germany, racing toward what he hoped was his salvation at one hundred kilometers an hour.
Driving like a man possessed, Matthew reached the village of Molln just after 9pm. It was well past a civilized hour to be calling upon a stranger’s home, but Matthew was not feeling very civilized at the moment. The stress of the trip had increased his symptoms and he was wracked with cramps and alternated between sweating and feeling as if he were freezing. Ignoring the beautiful tree-lined streets and quaint old world architecture, Matthew motored into the center of the village and turned north. His maps and satellite images showed that the Binder home was a small farm, north of the town, nestled in the mountains. The streets became narrower and less populated as he traveled north. He finally left the street lights behind and began his climb into the hills outside of town. Sonnseite Lane wound past several small homes, aglow with soft lights and the flicker of televisions and then abruptly ended. Matthew stared at the rough gravel trail and consulted his maps and photos. The farm should be five miles further into the mountains. He was not sure that the little Renault would make it down the rough mountain road.
“Screw it, it’s a rental,” he muttered and pushed the tiny car onward.
The car bounced as it negotiated what Matthew was beginning to believe was nothing more than a goat trail; every jolt felt like a knife driving into his guts. As the car dropped into a rut and he heard a groaning sound from the suspension, he questioned whether the car or he would be the first to fail on this final leg of his quest.
The Renault exited the dense trees into a large clearing. The starry sky was a dome over the small circular field amid the trees. In the center of the field, Matthew saw a small farmhouse; the scene could have been a painting of Austria two hundred years earlier. Most of the house was covered in white plaster, in places the plaster had fallen away revealing the fieldstones that composed the walls. Matthew turned off the engine and stared at the beautiful scene. The only sounds he could hear through the window were crickets and the sigh of the wind. The farm seemed dark until Matthew noticed one window with a faint flickering light. The light seemed to be from a flame, he wondered if the ancient farm even had electricity.
Gathering his courage, Matthew walked up to the door and rapped.
“Herr Binder,” he called loudly.
Several minutes passed. Matthew was considered knocking once again when he heard a soft shuffling beyond the door. The sound of a bolt being drawn reached Matthew’s ears and the door creaked open. An old man, perhaps 70, looked up at Matthew with a combination of curiosity and annoyance.
“Was wollen Sie?” the old man asked—what do you want. His voice was faint and raspy with age.
“Vers-verzeihen Sie mir, Herr Binder” Matthew began in very bad German. He winced at his pronunciation; German had never been his strongest language.
“You are English?” the old man suddenly said in heavily accented English.
“No sir, American. I’m sorry to bother you but this is a matter of life and death.”
The old man cocked his head to the side and looked Matthew up and down with eyes that were surprisingly bright and focused.
“Yes, I would think it would be. Come.” He turned and beckoned Matthew into the dark house.
“You will forgive the mess please. It has been many years since I have had guests,” he said as he tottered through the house.
“No sir, it is for me to apologize. I have intruded, but as I said, it is very important,” Matthew said. “I need to talk to you about your father.”
“Mein Vater?” The old man stopped and turned to look at Matthew.
“My father has been dead many, many years. Why would you speak of him?”
“Sir, I have come a long way searching for something he may have brought here after the war.”
“The war?” the old man said. “My father was never in the war.”
“But sir,” Matthew began. “You are Herr Binder, yes?”
The old man nodded.
Matthew did a quick calculation. “It must have been about the time you were born. I have learned that Oberst Ernst Binder returned to this farm with something very valuable.”
The old man laughed, it was a wheezy wet sound.
“Young man, Ernst Binder was not my father; he was my son.”
The old man turned and continued his shuffle toward the lit room leaving Matthew standing stunned.
Matthew shook himself and quickly followed as the old man disappeared into the next room.
“Herr Binder, you misunderstand,” he began as he came through the door. “I speak of World War two—my God.”
Matthew staggered to a halt in the doorway. The room was bare except for a small table placed near a cold fireplace. Beside the table was the source of light, a wooden chair.
The chair was fashioned as two X shapes connected by crossbars. Between the limbs, dark leather formed the seat and back. The chair pulsed with a gentle warm light that seemed to come from within the amber wood. Matthew could see pastoral carvings on the front legs of the chair. The scenes were so lifelike that he swore the figures were moving between the pulses of yellow light.
“Dear God,” he whispered, falling to his knees.
The old man stood beside the chair and rested his hand on one glowing arm.
“I do not misunderstand young man. Ernst was my son. I am Heinrich Binder, born in 1882. I believe this is what you have traveled here to see.”
“It’s true, it’s all true,” Matthew whispered.
Realizing he had taken an attitude of prayer, Matthew roused himself and focused on Heinrich.
“Herr Binder, you are truly the father of Ernst?”
“Ja, as I said,” the old man chided, settling into the glowing chair.
Matthew could see that the creases in the skin of his cheeks smooth, and the signs of pain ease as the man took his seat; obviously the chair was having some restorative effect on the ancient man.
“But how? How did you come by the chair and what happened to your son?”
“My dear Ernst was very broken by the war. The things the Nazi’s did sickened him; he was a soldier, not a butcher. He came home to find peace. He gave the chair to his ailing father as a gift but had nothing for himself. Oh, for several years he acted as if life was returning to normal but inside, oh my boy, inside he was suffering.”
“One day my Ernst walked up the side of the mountain, placed his Luger in his mouth and ended his pain. I prayed that God would show him the mercy that mankind could not.”
“The chair,” Matthew prodded. “Somehow this chair has kept you alive? You must be well over one hundred.”
“One hundred and thirty-one this past May,” the old man beamed.
Matthew realized that the old man’s voice had become much more steady and full since he was seated.
“Child, what is your name,” Heinrich said.
“Matthew sir, Matthew Kendall.”
“Like the apostle, fitting.”
The old man leaned back in the chair looking for all the world like a king holding court.
“Son, I am tired. My child committed suicide, my wife and family have all died of old age. I am alone and so very tired of life. I was promised a guardian to replace me and you have come.”
“Replace you,” Matthew was confused. “I didn’t even know you existed. I came here in search of a legend and a cure.”
“Matthew, the chair is powerful. It was made by the hand of Christ and brings grace to all who are near it. I have protected it for nearly seventy years. Imagine if the wrong man were to gain such power. I do not know how long the chair will keep me alive, I suspect as long as I wish. Imagine a tyrant able to live forever.”
“Why have you not sought out help,” Matthew asked. “Surely the Church would aid you.”
“Child, the chair is a blessing and a curse. It sustains me and heals me but I am a prisoner, destined to remain near it or resume my spiral into age and death. It exacts a great price of those who need it most. I guard it and am held prisoner by it.”
“But it could cure me?”
“If you wish to pay the price. Matthew, I am old and wish to join my Greta, my Ernst. I am too weak to continue my guardianship. If you will take this cup from me you will receive the grace of this chair and maybe Christ will show you the way to not be its prisoner. I have been shown many things seated here but never that.”
Matthew looked away from the old man and his glowing chair. He could feel the churning pressure in his gut. Nothing on Earth could stop what was growing inside of him; perhaps the grace of God was what he needed. To give up his freedom, his life; a life for a life. He began to laugh. Here he was about to become part of the greatest mystery of the ages and he’d never be able to tell anyone.
“All right Heinrich, I’ll become the new guardian; go to your rest.”
The old man smiled paternally at Matthew and raised his hand; farewell or benediction, maybe both. He stood and beckoned Matthew to the seat. Hesitantly, Matthew approached the object of his quest. The culmination of years of searching lay before him. He turned and gently lowered himself into the chair. Warmth and light filled him. He felt happier and healthier than he ever had in his life.
“Good luck my son,” Heinrich said, visibly weaker and seeming already older. “May you find what you seek. I am going to join my wife and son now.”
Heinrich tottered from the room. Matthew heard the front door close behind him and the old man was gone. Matthew closed his eyes and felt the light and grace of God fill his mind and his soul; he was home.


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