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XI. CHAPEL PERILOUS


Chapter 2

Excited crowds were queued at the entrance of the South Transept as the Clan trudged near. A black man nervously pacing nearby suddenly noticed them and stopped. “There you are,” Nigel said, hurrying over. “You’re late; it’s almost noon. If we want to –” he began and suddenly halted, relief turning to concern. “Whoa. What the hell happened to you?”

“Last night happened,” Skip said. “Followed by stranger encounters this morning.”

“Yep,” Gus agreed, “as you should know. Frankly, at the moment, I don’t give a damn for the Jesus Pot or anything. I just want a nap.” Allie didn’t look at Nigel; just shook her head.

“Sorry it all went pear-shaped, Gus. If your evening was anything like what I recall of mine,” Nigel, “I don’t blame you for being pissed. But hey, we’re almost there: Midsummer’s tomorrow!” Nobody moved.

“I don’t know what the deal is with you people,” he continued. “Once again, I apologize. But you made a commitment, not just to me or my publisher. What about Doc?”

“Man, that’s not fair,” Gus began, but Allie interrupted with quiet determination, “Damn it, he’s right, Gus. I don’t often agree with Nigel, but this time, he’s right. We know Dad was murdered; and I at least am now positive the Holy Tub is real. We can’t give up now.”

Skip added, “We know who the players are now, too.”

“Ah, I see,” Nigel replied. He glanced at the medal Skip wore and his shoulders slumped. “So that’s it. Fast work, old man.” He sighed. “I get it; there are bigger questions involved. Okay, now you know who ‘they’ all are, shall you willingly let any of ‘them’ have ‘it’?”

Allie looked at him fiercely. Her eyes were still puffy and red, but flashed an angry green. “Hell no,” she said. “Not any of them, any faction. We owe it to our parents – and those poor damned sinners – to make sure none of these crazy people ever lay hands upon it.”

“Yeah,” Skip said, “works for me, too. Gus?”

Squirming like an angry child, Gus kicked the pavement. “Fine; I’m with you. This trip has not worked out at all like I hoped, but I agree, we have to see it through.”

They got in line. The day before solstice, the South Transept filled fast, already crackling with excitement. Low conversations created a steady murmur in the background while people gawked at the attractions. A few security personnel strolled among them.

“What’s the deal with the floor, anyway?” Nigel asked as they made their way to the railing around the medallion in the pavement near the door.

“Look closely, and you can see why our parents thought this pattern is some kind of map,” Gus whispered, squatting. “Though they never actually saw it themselves. See, the whole roundel represents the Earth, the brown and green areas within it are suggestive of fields and forests. Those blue painted veins branch like streams, too.”

“The effect was said to be much more vivid at noon,” Allie said. “The accepted theory is that certain spots on the floor act like registration marks to align with light from the planets in the center of the rose window. An experiment by Heronimo to test the interaction of light through stained glass with a design upon the ground.”

“But they thought it was a map. And that the bright spots made by the planets, the so-called ‘golden apples’, lit up sites where Templar treasure or the Holy Tub is buried,” Skip added, pointing up at the window.

“The trick is that if it is a map, it’s turned sideways,” Allie said.

“You’re not having me on? That’s one of the more sensible theories?” Nigel asked.

“You tell me,” Gus said. “The other day, a tubby proposed the pattern of the planets up there marks a date. Too bad the arrangement was impossible.”

“Sounds typical,” Skip said. He checked his watch. “Okay, not long until we see for ourselves, if some of these people clear out for the Monumentum.”

“Mom believed the instructions on viewing are indicated by the statues around the medallion,” Allie said. “Alfini wrote extensively about them in his diary, too.”

“Oh great, so what did the statues show?” Skip asked with a sigh.

“Okay: there are six pillars in the South Transept, each with a statue at the base.” She pointed at each one in turn. “Closest to the Tomb on either side are angels reverencing it. Yet each looks towards the door. Past them, surrounding the Earth medallion are four saints. On the east side are apostles: St. Thomas the Doubter – patron saint of map-makers, by the way – holding an open scroll. Near the door is St. John with the Sacred Basin, kneeling, hands outstretched.

“On the other side are local favorites: St. Prunella the martyr, by the door, oddly twisted to face Thomas, and there’s St. Horrig, seated and staring east towards his chapel in Maureven.”

“You’re sounding like Gus now, Allie,” Skip warned. “Cut to the chase.”

“Basically, Alfini thought they talked with their hands and postures much like a typical Italian. The sculptor believed in the ‘secret language of statues’; which identities, postures, and especially gestures of posed figures encoded information.”

“Okay, so what’s it mean?” Nigel asked.

“The angels indicate the Earth medallion is the key. Thomas shows it’s a map. John that it shows the Tub’s location. Prunella turns, pointing at Horrig, who looks east, directly towards his hermitage,” Allie summarized.

“The observer is to look down and turn the image sideways to make a map?” Nigel shook his head.

“Gus isn’t the only one tripping, sis,” Skip said, shaking his head also.

“You want more? Okay, notice where the oculus is shining and what it would mark.”

Minutes now from noon, the circle of sunlight already touched the Rose Line at its southern end. “And east is actually north, if the map is of Maureven, and the Sun illuminates the town here at the top of the roundel,” Gus said. “Does it mean the Vault? What if Alfini also realized the floor is a map? Maybe the painting was made to match once the floor was covered.”

“Exactly; I think the painting could pinpoint the precise locations of the treasure,” Allie added with a proud smirk. “With a little help from the spots of light refracted off the Birdcage.”

“I get it,” Gus said, “that’s why it was defaced and later changed.”

“Perhaps those tricky Unknowns wanted to hide it again,” Allie said.

“So we match the floor to precise locales and dig,” Nigel said. “Excellent!”

“Not so fast, Hotfoot,” Skip said. “How do we match them?”

“What I want to know is, where’s the official photographer?” Allie said. “I can’t imagine they’re not documenting this.”

“Maybe there’s one at the other statue,” Nigel suggested. “I’ll go check.”

“Tell him to get here quick,” Skip said. “It’s getting more crowded.” He unslung his camera. The South Transept was already more packed with sightseers than their first morning. Allie looked around. “Can you get a good shot?”

Holding the camera overhead, Skip said, “No way. I’d need wings to get high enough.”

“Oh hell,” Allie said in despair. “I didn’t think so many would be interested in this. The Monumentum is so much more famous and spectacular.”

“Nobody’s seen this in a century, it figures: they know the stories, too,” Gus said. “Which means I suppose we should have expected him.” He pointed.

On the other side of the roundel stood Cosimo, with his own large camera, also trying for a shot. As they watched, he boldly climbed upon the statue of St. Thomas, steadying himself with an arm looped through that of the figure. Seeing Gus, he smiled and waved.

“Oh great,” Allie frowned, and tugged at Skip’s arm. “If there’s no-one else to document this, I guess we’ll have to do it ourselves. We must see if this really is a map with markings.”

“What do you mean, sis? What’s this ‘we’?” Skip demanded.

“In the missing pages Dad had from Alfini’s diary, Silviano wrote he looked down at the disk at midsummer and suddenly understood what Heronimo had done.” Allie craned her head around, but the crowd kept still steadily building.

“Where was he when he had this revelation?” Skip asked.

“Don’t know,” Allie said. “A high vantage. He just said he was looking at it from above.”

“Should I try one of the statues, too? There’s room to stand by Prunella.”

“Better than nothing, I suppose.”

They made their way to the pillar. Skip shook his head. “No, too far. I won’t get a good perspective on it from here unless I stand upon her head and maybe not then.”

Nigel squirmed his way back through the crowd. He looked glum. “Sorry, no joy, Allie. Lots of photographers, a few pros, but no one wearing official credentials.” He turned to Gus. “Didn’t see her either, mate. Sorry.”

“Too bad,” Allie shook her head and spoke in a low urgent voice. “Skip, we truly have to have a picture of this,” she said in a low voice. “From up above – it’s the only way to know. I hate to ask you, big brother, but…”

“Alright, sis, I’ll do it, if you’re sure it’s that important.” He began examining the walls as a climber. “I probably could make it to the ledge there,” he said, considering.

“In front of all these true believers here?” Nigel asked, fishing out his own camera.

Allie was insistent. “No other option; we’ve run out of time. This is the first chance ever to see the floor at solstice; we can’t let Fatamorgana get first crack at it.”

“Don’t look at me like that, sis, I said okay,” Skip mumbled, but her plea steadied his resolve. They went to the south wall. He touched the stone. “If I can get up the pier, maybe…”

“Holy cats, guys, are you serious? Have you gone crazy? Do you want to get arrested? Nigel, say something.” Gus couldn’t believe that he, of all people, was the voice of reason. “Yet you think I’m tripping.”

“No sweat: I almost got away with it before, bro,” Skip said with a shrug. “And Dad did.”

“He did?” Gus asked.

Skip smiled. “Who do you think inspired me to climb the pinnacle? I heard Doc telling someone how he scaled it during the War to see how far away the Allies were.” He leaned upon his brother to take off his shoes and socks, which he handed to Allie. “So I had to try it.”

“But you still weren’t able to outrun the flics,” Gus said. Skip just shrugged.

Allie anxiously checked the Sun’s position. “Better hurry, bro – and good luck.”

“Write me at Devil’s Island.” Skip winked, and worked his way to the wall. He hung the camera around his neck. “Wait,” Allie said, digging in her shoulder bag. She handed him a small camera. “Get a few with this, too, just in case.” He nodded and slipped it into a vest pocket.

 


 

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“The secret societies which rose above Bellegarde squabbling over the remains of the Holy Tub
have created a miasma which suffocated France.
God help the world if they should ever truly unite.”

– Jean-Baptiste Beauregarde,
Betrayers of the Red Cap, 1839

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