The Greening of the Laurel

by Kate Riley

On the 16th of March, 1244, 220 Cathars descended the mountain fortress of Montsegur, voluntarily walking into a burning pyre. Legend has it that four believers escaped the night before with the Cathar treasure, containing valuable books, documents and the Holy Grail. The hunt to eradicate the Cathars continued for decades after.

The year is now 1940, France has been invaded by Germany, and in the Languedoc countryside, 16-year old Meli Durand, has strange dreams demanding that she remember who she is. Mysterious things begin to happen to her and as she tries to unravel the mystery, her grandmother Isabel clings tightly to the family myth and secrets too dangerous to reveal.

As the war unfolds, Nazi Lieutenant Colonel Wolfgang Koch has been assigned the task of finding the fabled treasure by occult-obsessed Himmler, who is determined to present the Grail to Adolf Hitler. Failure is not an option.

In the 13th Century, an anonymous troubadour wrote a prophecy that is well known in the Languedoc. "At the end of seven-hundred years, the laurel will be green once more."

Against the backdrop of a world at war, and with the 700th anniversary rapidly approaching, Meli will need to understand her own role in a family legacy, that one person will do anything to hide and another will do anything to find.





Languedoc, France


The mountain views from this height were breathtakingly beautiful. Dense, misty clouds clung to the mountain sides, offering the occasional glimpse of wild rocky gorges as they dissipated into ghostly vapour.

Sophie lightly stroked away a stray hair from her eyes and looked over towards Victor, quietly watching him concentrate on his driving. What a strange friendship they had forged. Not at all like the type of men that she usually hung around with. Victor was different and being friends with him meant that she had to look at herself differently. Take her life more seriously.

A self-taught archeologist and writer, he was passionate about the local history here in the Languedoc. He even looked like an academic with his short, slight build, frizzy hair and wire-rimmed glasses that he continually shoved back up the bridge of his nose. He owned four shirts, all the same shade of blue and two pairs of pants. When she asked him why, he looked surprised as if it was obvious. He liked the colour blue and didn’t want to be bothered with decisions he didn’t care about. It was functional.

She was a pretty, fun-loving Parisienne with long legs, blonde hair and dressed in the latest fashions. She loved jazz. What brought them together though and cemented their relationship was her family history. Sophie had grown up in this area and came from a long line of Cathar ancestors. He, strongly suspecting that the Grail legend was true, spent years researching and exploring this area for the treasure and anyone connected to it. This is what drew them together.

Lightly touching his arm, she smiled, took a deep sigh and softly said, “It’s become quite complicated hasn’t it?”

Taking a quick look in his rear-view mirror, he furled his brows and looked irritated, making Sophie wonder whether she should just stay quiet. His recent conversation with his German patrons had not gone well. He had not said a word since they had left.

“I’m sorry Victor—I just keep thinking how crazy this is.”

He looked back at her and then stole another quick look in his mirror.

“You’re right but it’s not that. It’s the car behind me. I keep making room for him to pass us, but he doesn’t and he’s driving too close.”

His dark brown eyes briefly caught hers before he looked and focused on the slick mountain road ahead. “What if we’re being followed?”

“What? That’s crazy!”

“Is it? Considering what they want from me and where we’ve just been?”

About to turn around to check on the car behind, Victor snapped, “Don’t turn around! I don’t want to let them know that we know something’s up.”

“Victor this isn’t funny.”

“I agree. If you want to check, take out your compact and see if you recognize who it is.”

“You think that it’s the SS?”

“You tell me.”

Pulling her compact out of her purse, she positioned it so that she could get a good look at the car that followed closely behind. It was a large black Mercedes with two people in the car, a driver and someone in the back that she couldn’t make out.

Snapping the compact shut, she shook her head. “I don’t know, but you could be right. It’s an expensive car.”

Suddenly, a heavy bump from behind jolted them both forward.

Victor swore, “What the hell?” Pushing the pedal harder, he gained some speed and distance from the menacing vehicle.

Clutching the seat, Sophie, tensed. “Be careful, the roads are wet.”

“I know, but we need to lose them.”

Checking his rear-view mirror again he relaxed a little having put a little distance between them and the Mercedes.

The mountain roads spiraled around making excessive speed dangerous, but he knew the area well, as well as the hairpin turn ahead. His plan was that he would continue with this speed until he got close and then would take the turn slower. But that was not to be.

As they approached the turn, the car behind sped up, forcefully pushing their bumper forward and over the cliff. The car crashed through the barrier, arched high into the air and then plunged down the mountain ravine.

In the minute before it exploded into a fiery mass of twisted metal and charred bones, Victor thought of the treasure and a lost opportunity. Sophie thought of Meli.

* * *

Once the car had gone over the edge, the black Mercedes pulled over and came to a stop. The chauffeur stepped out and opened the back passenger-side door where a smartly uniformed SS Officer, anxious to stretch his long legs, leisurely stepped out into the rain. Holding a large black umbrella over his head, the pair walked to the edge and craned their necks to see below. Black smoke billowed from the tangled wreck, leaving no doubt as to the fate of the two occupants.

The Officer rubbed the scar on his face, looked to the chauffeur and nodded a job well done.

“You are sure that there was nothing of value in the vehicle, correct?”

“Yes, sir.”

“Good. I think it’s time for a glass of that lovely Chardonnay they served me last night at the hotel.”

“Very good, sir.”

“Oh, and Klaus? Drive carefully. These mountain roads can be quite dangerous in the rain.”



The Greening of the Laurel by Kate Riley


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Historical Fiction

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