Angelique found Allie a short time later in the nave of the Cathedral, huddled in despair on a seat before the Marvelous Memorial. The morning light streaming through the stained glass painted her with glowing patches of color rather than the statue. She looked utterly wretched anyway.
Tourists strolled past examining the architecture ignored her; their whispered comments and stifled laughter echoing oddly in the soft gloom of the huge open space.
“Alix, what’s wrong? Are you crying?” she asked, sitting beside her.
Allie took off her glasses. Wiping them on her skirt was as futile as blowing her nose proved to be.
“Yeah, a bit,” she said, then, unexpectedly, “You believe, don’t you?”
“What?” Angelique asked and noticed Allie staring at the sad stone face of Mary. “Absolutely yes,” she said, “I do, you know I do. Why? What’s happened?”
“Have you ever had, any, really unusual experiences?”
“I’ve not seen the Vision,” Angelique said. “Nobody living has. But yes, I’ve had my share of emotional times. I’ve cried a lot, especially after well, you know, but I’ve been comforted too.” Her eyes searched Allie’s. “Please, you called me, I came. Tell me what happened.”
“It’s my own fault,” Allie said. “I got close enough to both of the bronze pieces from the Ark to feel their vibes.” She looked at her hands as they twisted the wet paper. “I thought I could handle anything but I was completely unprepared. It was overpowering; just blew me away.”
Angelique gently covered Allie’s hands with her own. “And?” she coaxed.
“The first one – from the road near your place – was confusing. Muddled. I need to think about that. But the other one,” she sighed, “dear God, like nothing I’ve ever felt before.”
Angelique waited as Allie searched for the proper words. “The feelings came like a flash of lightning, a huge confusing flood which seemed endless. Never have I felt so heavy a tidal wave of desperation. It came in a flood of poignant yearning, wild regret, and ecstatic hope mixed together, like a million voices crying in the distance. All those poor suffering people...”
“That makes sense,” Angelique said. “The Ark held the Maundy Grail as it went from town to town for half a century. Half the sinners in Europe must have come hoping for a glimpse. Think of the desperate prayers directed at it.”
“But there’s more,” Allie said, looking at her. “I sensed something else; calm, powerful, and caring – incredibly remote yet paying close attention. Whatever it was, it possessed a great sadness and a terrible resolve. It frightened me more than the flood of emotion.”
“Perhaps you felt the grace of the Blessed Lady,” Angelique suggested. “Oh how I could envy you your gift, were I not so happy for you, Alix! What an incredible blessing!”
“A hell of a blessing,” Allie snorted. “You call it a gift, but it’s not free. It carries a terrible price. As a girl, I realized others did not feel what I felt. Many did not like me feeling it either. My whole life I’ve held back, hesitated, hidden my feelings. I’m afraid to commit to anything or anyone. I became a watcher not a doer.”
“Yet, this fantastic ability is yours, and led you to this wonderful revelation. There must be a higher purpose involved here.”
“I’d like to think so,” Allie said, voice heavy and forlorn. “How can I be sure?”
“Let yourself believe,” Angelique offered. She gazed at the statue. “I know it sounds clichéd, but it works. I despaired of living at times. But I found help. I met people, highly spiritual people, and in an unintended way, they helped me find a purpose to my faith. I learned how to live again and believe.”
“Mystics,” Angelique said after a moment, “who know a great deal about the Holy Tub and deeply understand suffering. If anyone could relate to your experience, they might.”
“But?” Allie asked. “Why do you pause?”
“Because,” Angelique said with an odd somberness, “these are hard people, Allie; their way is fraught with difficulties and dangers, and not just physical. I know they would love to meet you, but approaching them is not something to be taken lightly on your part. They are extremely serious, even more secretive, and absolutely devoted to the Maundy Grail.”
“In this town, who isn’t?” Allie frowned, sniffing. “I don’t care. I just know it hurts.” Angelique nodded. “Suffering is not necessarily bad, if it’s freely chosen for a purpose. Properly handled, pain can be a great teacher if you’re willing to learn. You must be patient.”
“There’s something else,” Allie said. She hunted for words. “It called me somehow. I have to find out more. I think I need to meet these folks, the sooner the better.”
“Do you really mean that?” Angelique asked with a note of resignation. “If you truly do, I could take you to meet them right now. Maybe it’s best this way; certainly the timing couldn’t be better. If we go this instant, there’s a good chance you’d get to see something which would explain it far better than I ever could.”
“Fine, let’s go,” Allie said. She nodded decisively.
“Your awakening fills me with hope, my dear friend,” Angelique said. “Oh, I’ve wanted to tell you so much, but I didn’t know how.”
Allie pulled her close. Angelique stiffened, wincing slightly. Allie drew back, questions in her eyes.
“No, no, it’s nothing.” Angelique smiled. “A sunburn, nothing more.”
She rose and genuflected before the statue of Mary. She reached for Allie’s hand with a sly smile. “There’s a difficult saying but true: ‘Light and life can only be found through Death and Hell.’ As we shall shortly see. And afterwards, perhaps, something to eat?”