The Prophecy

Acknowledgements

As always, I’d like to start off by thanking my family. Without their love and support, I wouldn’t be the writer (or the person) that I am today. Thanks for putting up with me!

Professionally, I want to thank my agent, Scott Miller. Before we teamed up, I was a lowly, self-published author. Now my books are available in more than twenty languages around the world. How he pulled off that miracle, I’ll never know – but I’m guessing incriminating photos and blackmail were involved. While I’m at it, I want to thank Claire Roberts, my foreign agent at Trident Media, who landed my British deal. To say that I’ve been thrilled with Penguin UK would be an understatement. In particular, I’d like to single out my well-dressed editor, Alex Clarke. Working with him has been a wonderful experience.

Next up is my good friend Ian Harper, who gets to read my work before anyone else. Even though he’s strong enough to kill a rhinoceros with his bare hands, his suggestions and advice are surgically precise. If anyone’s looking for a freelance editor (or is having problems with large horned mammals), please let me know. I’d be happy to put you in touch with him.

Finally, I’d like to thank all the readers, librarians, booksellers, and critics who have read my thrillers and have recommended them to others. At this stage of my career, I need all the help I can get, so I would appreciate your continued support.

Okay, I think that just about covers it. It’s finally time to get to the good stuff.

Without further delay, please sit back, relax, and let me tell you a story…

Prologue

17 June 1566

Salon-de-Provence, France

The letter was written by an apothecary who had gained his notoriety in another field. Knowing the uproar it would cause, Michel sealed it and several documents inside a wooden box. He gave the box to his lawyer on the same day he signed his last will and testament.

The year was 1566. He was sixty-two years old.

He died fifteen days later.

When his possessions were divided among his heirs, the box was not mentioned. If it had been, the rest of his estate would have seemed inconsequential, for the contents of the box were far more valuable than gold or jewels or anything that he owned. Knowing this, he added a secret codicil to his will that only his lawyer knew about. The four-page appendix described in very specific terms what was to be done with the mysterious box and, more importantly, when.

To ensure that his wishes were followed, Michel established a trust fund that compensated the guardians of his secret from one generation to the next. None of these men knew who their benefactor was – otherwise curiosity would have overwhelmed them, tempting them to open the box. Instead, all they were given was a date and a simple set of instructions.

If they completed their task, they would be paid handsomely for their efforts.

If they didn’t, they wouldn’t see a cent.

Amazingly, the chain remained unbroken for over four hundred years. Decade after decade, century after century, they followed their orders like scripture and were rewarded as promised. Wars raged throughout Europe, but somehow the box survived. Cities burned to the ground, but somehow the box survived. No matter what happened, no matter where it was stored, the box always survived – as if it had a guardian angel. Or was protected by magic.

Those familiar with Michel might have suspected the latter, since he had been publicly accused of practising the dark arts on more than one occasion. But those charges never stuck. Partly because