The Sun had set and the Great Clock finished chiming the Evening Office as the Clan MacLantis trudged uphill to Chateau Bellegarde. It had been a hot day; the insects were humming, and a slight breeze began to cool the warm stones.
They passed through the rear gate directly into the chateau’s smaller courtyard which guarded the well. Across from the old water source stood the door of the castle’s small private chapel. Candlelight shone faintly through the stained glass windows.
Vines covered most of the façade, but a gargoyle stuck his tongue at them from the roof. On the stone arch above the portal amid rustling ivy, faded words were carved. Faintly lit from above by a small lamp, the ancient inscription read, “TERRIBILIS EST LOCUS ISTE.”
“Straight from a Gothic novel,” Gus said and looked at his siblings. “Ready? Remember, just as we planned. Skip, you’re as nervous as a cat. You’d think this was the first time you met with a cloaked conspiracy in the dark.”
“I can’t help feeling this is a set-up,” Gus said.
“I’m not worried, big brother,” Allie said. “We have information they don’t. The climb was worth it, Skip. Thank you again.”
You’re free of Sir Gordon,” Gus said. “But he’s not the one to worry about. Be brave and let’s get this over with.”
He tried the door. It opened easily. In the sanctuary at the end of the small chamber, three dark-robed figures waited before the altar, three flickering candles behind them.
“Who dares enter the Chapel Perilous?” demanded the voice of the Count.
“Three seekers from the West,” Skip replied.
“What do you seek?” came an unfamiliar woman’s voice with a sharp Germanic accent.
“We seek knowledge of the Pelluvium Sanctissimum Christi, the Most Holy Footbath of Christ,” Gus said.
“For what reason do you seek the Maundy Grail?” intoned Sir Gordon.
“For purification and the sake of true knowledge of God and Man,” Allie declared.
“Let us share the lore which has come to us: For its protection, the Maundy Grail was removed from the world by the Secret Sages,” Count Roland intoned.
“The marvels are but veils to keep the secret safe,” the woman said.
“It may only be approached through the realm of the dead,” Fawkeslorne concluded.
The three put their hands together and recited their oath. “To this quest we pledge our blood and honor. May whosoever breaks this sacred compact be crushed in body by heavy stones unto death, and be forever damned beneath the Earth. So say we in unity, Amen.”
“Enter and be welcome,” the Count replied. “We, the Chieftains of the Triple Knot do greet you in the spirit of seekers of Truth.”
He threw back his velvet hood, grinning. “Excellent, excellent! Come in, dear friends. Sorry to put you through the rigmarole,” he said. “Would anyone like wine? Fawkeslorne, grab a few chairs, would you? Aysha, you’ll find wine and glasses in the sacristy.”
“How invigorating!” Smedley said. “I do love that ancient rite.”
Gus asked, “Is that recitation everything you know?”
“Afraid so, my lad, as sure facts, anyway,” Smedley admitted. “Lots of legends, fluff and nonsense, not that it helps us anyway. When the Holy Tub was tucked away in the Vault, it certainly was in the realm of the dead, but who knows where it might be now?”
“What of the stories of it containing the Vials of Life and Death?” Skip asked.
“Mere bogeymen, humbug as the Maestro would put it,” Count Roland declared. “They are naught but fairy tales devised to frighten the devout and keep the timid far away.”
“But if the miracles are fake –” Allie said.
“Ah, we didn’t say that, but rather ‘veils’,” Sir Gordon began to explain.
Meanwhile, the other woman looked around uncertainly. “Oh, Miss Meyer, it’s you,” Gus said, offering his help to Lacnuit’s lab assistant. “I was an altar boy. If there’s wine in a church, trust me, I can find it. This way.” She followed him into the small room behind the altar.
As they poked through the dark wooden cabinets, he said, “I expected your boss would be here tonight.”
“He’s still at the South Transept, and should join us shortly.” She paused, looking at him in surprise. “Oh, you assumed Lucien is in charge of the order. He’s not, you know.”
“Really? Well, I’m not trying to judge your relationship either.”
“You think we’re lovers?” she sounded horrified, and grimaced. “That’s worse; he could be my grandfather.
“No offense taken,” she said, before he could apologize. “The Silent Sages were founded by Robert, Heronimo’s familiar as a conspiracy of lab assistants. Lacnuit was chief when he was Valdez’ junior associate, but not now.” She rolled her eyes. “What I do for a job.”
They placed the cups and bottle upon the altar while the old man dragged several gilded chairs over. “I find the ‘rigmarole’ rather enjoyable,” Sir Gordon huffed. “Ritual is important, especially when negotiating with former opponents. Safety lies in following the script.”
“Time-tested and true, indeed,” the Count agreed, as he finished lighting the candles. He gallantly offered Allie the first seat.
“So why do you meet in churches?” she asked as she sat.
“It’s a useful tradition to keep churches as sanctuaries, safe havens to meet.” The Count paused, smiling crookedly. “No good comes of violence in God’s House. The mere threat led to the disappearance of the Maundy Grail, and actually spilling blood brought the Scolding Madonna down upon the town.” Noting the label upon the bottle, he said apologetically, “As for the libation, I apologize: not our best year, but it will do.” He began to pour the wine.
Raising his chalice, Fawkeslorne offered their traditional toast: “To the light of wisdom, the cords of charity, and the Most Holy Footbath!” To which came a ragged response of “Amen.”