Meet The Masters’ Admiralty
He was the leader of the most powerful secret society in the world, with access to untold wealth and power. As far as Eric Ericsson was concerned that was no reason to waste money. Rather than remain in the London black cab, letting the meter run up while they sat in traffic caused by road works, he paid the fare and got out. It was overcast, the city tinted either gray if he was being realistic, or silver if he wanted to pretend dreary could be anything but depressing.
He was near the Chelsea bridge, and cold wind whipped off the river Thames. His hair, which he’d gotten in the habit of wearing shoulder length during his time as a semi-retired recluse, lashed against his cheek. He stepped into a doorway, out of the wind, and took his knit cap from his coat pocket and put it on.
He was traveling light and hadn’t brought any luggage with him on the short flight from the Isle of Man to London. He was carrying only a battered messenger bag. His wives had gotten it for him. The bag was leather and worn by age and time. They’d saved up to get it for him the first Christmas after they were married.
It had been fifteen years since they died.
Eric checked the street before stepping out onto the footpath. It wasn’t paranoia if there was someone out to get you, and now that he was the Fleet Admiral of the Masters’ Admiralty, someone was always out to get him. The same someone who had killed his predecessor not long ago. The last major attack against the Masters’ Admiralty had happened in London, resulting in the death of the Admiral of England, only days after the Fleet Admiral had been killed.
In the middle of that chaos he’d been tapped to lead the organization. If he could have refused, he would have. There hadn’t been a choice, and now that he was in command, he was responsible for every one of the nearly two thousand members of the society.
Eric had asked the new Admiral of England, Arthur, to join him this afternoon. Rather than meet at one of the Masters’ Admiralty various properties or safe houses in London, he’d given Arthur the address of a place Eric had once been very familiar with. A place he felt safe.
He and Arthur were meeting at The Garden. They needed to talk to Damon Knight.
It took him half an hour to walk the three miles to the nondescript building that housed The Garden. He was later than he wanted to be, but still early for the meeting. Damon was expecting him, though the coded response Eric had received to the request hadn’t seemed enthusiastic.
Eric looked at the camera above the door, staring into the lens long enough for it to capture a good image of his face. Then he positioned himself with his back against the wall. He unbuckled the flap of his messenger bag and stuck his hand inside, fingers resting on his folding karambit knife. The knife was based on an ancient Indonesian design, and could be flicked open while still in the bag and used either over- or under-handed.
He'd been waiting twenty minutes when a car pulled up. A dark-haired man climbed out of the front passenger side. A straight sword, like those carried by the knights of the round table, hung from his belt. The blade was incongruous paired with the man's slacks and button-down shirt, yet he didn't look awkward. He glanced around, taking in the footpath, the building, and Eric.
Eric tried to remember the man’s name, but he hadn't yet had time to memorize all the major players. The Masters' Admiralty had, at their founding in 1347, divided Europe and Scandinavia into nine territories. The borders of those territories had little to do with modern country boundaries, and most took their names from empires long-since gone. One of his wives had briefly been the Admiral--the current title for the leader of each territory--of Kalmar, the territory that covered Norway, Sweden, Finland, the westernmost edge of Russia, Iceland and Denmark. He had been one of the knights of Kalmar. He'd been Eric Riddari then. Each territory had six knights, who were the officers of law and order within their territory. Each knight took on the same last name when they accepted the position. Most names were the word for "knight" in one of the languages, either current or past, spoken in the territory. Riddari was the old Norse word for “knight.”
The man who'd exited the car was a knight of England. Eric recognized his face, and the sword was a rather large clue, but he couldn’t remember the man’s name. A second man, who stayed in the driver seat, may have also been a knight. Or he might be a security officer. If knights were law and order, the security officers were black ops, tasked with unsavory duties and exempt from many of the society’s laws.
He could try to guess the man’s name. In England, the knights changed not only their last names, but their first names. Each of them took on the first name of one of the fabled Knights of the Round Table. Lancelot? Gawain? Those were the only two Eric could remember.
The dark-haired man opened the back door, letting the passenger out.
Arthur Billings had only been the Admiral of England for a few months. He was tall and handsome, a bit slimmer than he had been in the photo Eric had seen of him. He’d lost weight during his recovery. Arthur wore a black sling supporting his right arm. What was left of it. Arthur had lost the arm in the attack that had killed the previous admiral.
They'd spoken on the phone, but never met in person.
Arthur stepped into the shelter of The Garden's entrance.
"Arthur." Eric held out his left hand, the movement awkward. Arthur paused for a moment, clearly surprised, then reached out his one remaining hand. They shook.
"Fleet Admiral." Arthur bowed his head in a sign of respect.
"We can talk more in the lobby. Your knight will need to stay here."
The dark-haired man stiffened. "Admiral, I can’t protect you if I’m not with you."
"We're safe here,” Eric assured him. “This building is owned by Knight of McKay, Taggart and Knight Security Services. They have some of the best security money can buy."
The knight must have recognized the name because he gave the building another appraising look. "I would still prefer to stay with my admiral."
Eric was tired of discussing this. He was the Fleet Admiral. It may be a position he hadn't wanted, but he had accepted the responsibility and the burdens and power that came with it.
"This isn't a discussion." Eric leaned forward, waved once at the camera, his right hand still in his bag, and then stepped up to the door. Thirty seconds later there was the click of an electronic lock, and Eric pushed the door open. Arthur followed him inside. The knight did his best to glance around the lobby before the door swung shut.
The lobby of The Garden was tasteful, like that of a nice hotel. The reception desk was unmanned, but the recessed lights and sconces were all lit, giving the room a pleasant glow.
There were no windows.
"We don't have much time," Eric told him.
"Before?" Arthur asked, looking around with the wary, ready gaze of a fighter.
"Before our meeting. We're here to see Damon Knight."
"Knight?" Arthur asked in shock. “But how? I’ve never heard of him. Damon isn’t a knight name.”
Eric shook his head. "That's his real last name. He was considered for membership, but he had authority and control issues."
Arthur snorted. "So do most of our members."
Eric barked out a short laugh. "True, but Knight and his partners take control issues to alarming new levels."
"How do you know him?"
"He's former MI6. After..." Eric paused. Though it had been fifteen years since he'd lost his trinity, the two women he'd been ordered to marry as part of the membership requirements of the Masters' Admiralty, he still had trouble labeling what he'd gone through. He found it hard to say “after my wives died.” Instead he said, "After I stopped being a knight, I did some freelancing for various governments. That's how I met Knight."
From the way Arthur was looking at him, the Admiral of England must know at least some of what had happened to him. Eric had been allowed to step down as a knight after the death of his trinity, though he was only twenty-five at the time. The years following that had been dark, and he'd been more than happy to sell his services to the highest bidder, taking jobs that often had little or no hope of him coming out alive. Suicide mission seemed like a more noble way to end it all than eating his gun.
"Why are we meeting with him, and why the secrecy?"
"The fewer people who know about this the better."
Arthur stiffened. "I don't keep secrets from my husband and wife."
"You'll keep this secret," Eric commanded.
Arthur's jaw muscle clenched, but he nodded. "Yes, Fleet Admiral."
Eric thought he could hear footsteps, so lowered his voice and spoke quickly. "Damon is now a partner in a security firm based in the U.S."
Arthur inhaled, then blew out a tired sigh. "This is about the Trinity Masters."
"Yes. I want to talk to Ian Taggart. He and his team know how to keep secrets."
"What if they're members of the Trinity Masters?"
The Trinity Masters were a secret society based in America that was similar to the Masters' Admiralty. Many of the founding fathers of the United States had ancestors who had been members of the Masters' Admiralty who had passed along what it meant to belong to the organization. As such, when the fledging nation was being formed, some of the founding father modeled what they had learned and created a secret society meant to stabilize the young nation. The cornerstone of both societies was an arranged ménage marriage. Members gained access to wealth and power. Being a member was a virtual guarantee of success, but it meant giving up the freedom of choosing your spouse, and instead each member accepted an arranged marriage with not one, but two people.
"He's not. I've met Taggart a few times. If Damon has control issues, Big Tag has control paranoia. He would never accept the terms of membership."
"Exposing the Trinity Masters would risk exposing ourselves," Arthur warned. “We can’t tell them what’s going on.
"We're not going to expose the Trinity Masters, and we’re not going to tell them anything except what we want to know. We’re fighting on too many fronts. We need outside help. We need information."
“I know someone in the Trinity Masters. Give me time."
“You were friends with Weston Anderson."
"Friends...yes." Arthur spoke through his teeth.
Eric shook his head. “We need objective information. We need to know their secrets. Even if you could convince Weston Anderson to tell you everything he knew, he doesn’t know all.”
Arthur looked like he was going to object, but a carved inner door opened. A lovely blonde poked her head out. "Are you Eric?"
Eric slid his hand out of the messenger bag. "Yes. You must be Penelope." He’d heard Damon had settled down.
"I am. Damon's call is running late, but I didn’t want to leave you waiting. It’s always a pleasure to meet potential new members. Please come in. I’m sure Damon will be done in a moment."
Eric nodded politely, making sure he didn't show any undo interest in Penelope. She was Damon's wife and his sub. From what she was saying, Damon was pretending they were applying to be members of The Garden.
BDSM was something Damon and Eric had in common, and for a while, when Eric was traveling to London regularly, he'd had Dom rights in The Garden.
"Club?" Arthur asked so quietly Penelope didn’t hear.
"The Garden is a BDSM club," Eric said quietly.
The admiral didn't react, except for a single raised brow.
Penelope moved back through the door, and two guards stepped through, frisking them before letting them enter the club proper. They took Eric’s bag, pulling out the knife and giving him a look as they did so. They caught the knife at the small of his back, and the gun strapped to his ankle, but not the backup blade strapped to the inside of his forearm.
Arthur was weaponless, and only gritted his teeth as they patted and prodded his sling. An expression of discomfort passed over the guard’s face when he realized that Arthur was missing his right arm from just below the elbow.
Penelope picked up a plate of biscuits. “Would you like one? They’re gluten free.”
Eric and Arthur looked at her, nonplused.
“I like to bake,” Penelope said, as if that explained everything. “And I’m sorry, I forgot. You’re actually a returning member?”
Eric nodded. That was technically true and was a good cover. Damon was still dangerously smart and adaptable. Good.
“Damon mentioned that you used to come regularly.”
“It’s been a long time,” he replied.
She tipped her head as she looked at Eric. “You’re Danish, or at least you grew up in Denmark, but now you live in…Stockholm?”
Eric nodded, and then it clicked for him who she was. He’d never met Penelope before. He’d stopped coming to The Garden long before she and Damon married, but he realized why he recognized the name.. She must be Penny Cash, the famous translator and code breaker for MI6. She spoke six or seven languages, and based on what she’d just said, could learn a frightening amount about people after hearing them speak a few sentences.
“I’m impressed. You know accents,” Eric said. “Yes, I’m Danish, but live in Sweden now.”
She shrugged negligently, and from the way she acted no one would guess she’d been MI6. People who didn’t look dangerous were always the most deadly.
Penelope held out the tray once more. “Biscuit?”
Arthur cleared his throat. “Thank you for the offer, but, uh, is there a tree growing in the middle of this building?”
Eric, Penelope and the guards chuckled. The Garden was well-named. The bland exterior and lobby hid the magical world within. The inside of the six-story building had been hollowed out to create a tall atrium full of night-flowering blooms. There was a retractable glass roof overhead. Eric had been here once on the full moon, when the night flowers all opened. It had been lovely and ethereal, the kind of night that made people believe in fate and ghosts.
“Isn’t it lovely?” Penelope said. “It’s not sunny today, but when it is the whole place is flooded with light. The roof can be opened when it’s nice out, and at night it’s filled with moonlight. It’s the perfect place to play.” Penelope’s gaze flicked to Arthur’s arm, and pity tightened the corners of her eyes. “Do you have a sub who will be joining, too?”
Arthur didn’t miss a beat. “Two, actually. A man and a woman.”
“You’re poly? How lovely.” Her smile was genuinely warm.
“Penny?” A rich baritone called out the woman’s name.
“I’m here,” she called back.
Damon Knight appeared, walking along one of the paths that snaked through the garden. He was tall, handsome and happy. The man had always been tall and good looking, but happy was a new addition since last time Eric had seen him. Eric wanted to be glad for his friend, and he was, but jealousy still panged in his chest. Damon’s gaze hardened when he caught sight of his wife standing so close to Eric and Arthur, but then he relaxed when he saw the guards flanking them.
“Knight,” Eric said.
“The Viking has returned.” Damon held out his hand.