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Chapter 2

“Can we talk later, Angelique?” Gus asked.

“You’re not staying for Mass?” she asked, unsurprised.

“Sadly, no. We’ve got to figure out what to do about this,” Gus explained, feeling guilty. “I’m so sorry. I totally apologize for going off on you but I didn’t understand what’s happening, and still don’t.”

“You think I do?” Angelique looked at him somberly, sighed, and drew them further apart to explain in a low voice. “Gus, Alix, I will explain, but only once so listen very carefully: I’m not a spy, I’m Cardinal Morten’s personal envoy to the Sorrowful Community, unofficial and very confidential. We’re trying to ease the Endurists back into the orthodox fold, or at least get an ecumenical dialog started.”

“From what I saw,” Gus cautioned, “good luck with that. Might not be wise or possible.”

“How much do you know of these people?” Allie asked. “What they really believe?”

“Enough to know that if someone has drunk from a drugged cup, perhaps it’s because they’re dying of thirst,” Angelique said. “But no doubt, their reverence for the Lady is sublime.”

“That I can confirm,” Skip said. “Although a few might be, um, confused.”

“To put it mildly,” Gus mumbled.

“Then they need help to see there’s nothing to fear; the age of burning is history, and so is any need for medieval practices,” Angelique quietly insisted. “With the Cardinal’s blessing, we’re giving them a chance. They need a place to hold their vigil tonight, so with Uncle Benoit’s permission, we’ve offered them Horrig’s Chapel.”

“You’re not kidding,” Gus said, astonished.

“No, not at all, Augustine,” she replied. “It’s already arranged. His Eminence and Madame Hélène both agreed. I promised Uncle Benoit I’d help him watch the estate tonight, anyway. These nights always worry him.”

“Maybe it would be safer out there,” Skip said, looking around at the crowd. “If there was reason to worry last night, it’s doubled or tripled now.”

“That’s doubtless part of the purpose. The fewer people in town tonight, the better.”

“I have a bad feeling,” Allie said. “I don’t think anywhere will be safe tonight.”

“Maybe so, sis. All the more reason to prepare everything carefully,” Skip smiled in anticipation. “Assuming they’ll let us, we have work to do.”

“Yeah,” Gus hesitated. “Angel, take care. Those people haven’t told you everything.”

“It’s in the Gracious Lady’s hands,” she said. “I’ll see you tomorrow at the Memorial.”

“Wouldn’t miss it for the world, honey.” Her farewell hug lingered, but her kisses were for his cheeks.

The Clan MacLantis headed for the exit. Inside, next to the door, a powered lift slowly descended. Professor Lacnuit lightly stepped off it, humming a show tune. Behind him, a much more nervous assistant followed. He handed her a clipboard and dismissed her, and for once, Aysha did not appear displeased.

Seeing Gus, he grinned. “Ah Professor MacLantis, so you heard? Isn’t it amazing?” They strolled outside into the bright morning light as the last of the faithful crammed inside for Mass. “It is, indeed, sir. How did it go?”

“Wonderfully, but it would have been better with proper instruments in place,” the astronomer said with no little regret. “As it is, I saw how the aperture functioned, and able to track the light for the basic parameters.” He turned and peered at the crowded façade uselessly as if looking for the opening amidst the stone figures and tracery.

“The exterior slot must be tiny, a degree or two wide and half as tall at best, so it’s no wonder the phenomenon is so rare and fleeting. I just hope that wasn’t our sole opportunity. We really must try for instruments tonight. Perhaps this will inspire the clergy to allow us.”

“What of the refractions from the glass on the enclosure, Professor?” Allie asked.

“Hmm? Oh yes, the so-called ‘stars’ again. They showed up, too. What about them?”

“I’m intrigued by their possible connections with the painting,” she explained. “So how will they will appear tonight?”

“Much like during most summer full moons and midwinter noons. However, they should be the highest they ever reach because of the Moon’s near its most southerly point due to the current lunar major standstill. That’s probably why Heronimo would have cleverly keyed it to that extreme: not only rare, but the Sun can never interfere with it.”

“The Sun can’t shine through the hidden oculus?” Gus asked.

“Never. No planets either, only the Moon, although certain bright stars in theory might – Fomalhaut will be in position in less than a hundred years from now due to precession, according to my rough calculations.”

“Why were there glows so often, instead of Visions?” Skip asked.

“For a reason I don’t understand, it must take the light of a full Moon to produce a good image, anything less is not bright enough to show the details. Also the entire Moon might not be visible in the aperture, obscured by clouds, or any number of reasons.”

“What next, Doctor Lacnuit?”

“If they let us, I’d like to install the lens tonight, if it fits, Professor. Keep our fingers crossed and see what happens.” He peered down his long nose expectantly.

“One way to see,” Gus said, reached into his bag and took out a box. Inside was the lens wrapped in a white cloth.

The astronomer’s eyes narrowed and his brows came together as he closely examined the artifact. “It looks to be the right size,” he said in a low voice. Turning it over, he smiled. “Ah, it has legs. Let’s see.” His free hand dug into his shirt pocket for a card with holes punched in them. He held it against the feet of the lens assembly. They fit.

“Merciful heavens,” Lacnuit said with a delighted smile. “An exact match with the holes in the device in the wall! I do believe this is the missing piece.”

“Maybe I was wrong,” he laughed. “Could this be the so-called ‘third eye’?”

“Why not?” said Allie. “It’s an oculus, in the way the aperture for the meridian and the rose window are oculi, too. Perhaps the mysterious ‘oculus occultus’ itself.”

“Yes,” Gus said, “like in Tobias’ poem: ‘The invisible third eye shall finally open, in the sacred silence of that flitting night, when Diana swooping low’… something about a ‘stained mirror’ and ‘a ghostly vision of heavenly light.’

The scientist sagely scratched his chin. “Not a reference to psychic powers but an actual aperture. How ironic that would be! But how could it have produced the Vision?”

“It looks a bit like a projection lens,” Skip said, “where both collimating and focusing lenses can be positioned separately.”

“True.” Peering at the lens, Lacnuit counted. “Three, maybe more separate lenses if that’s a compound one. But the mage was clever, maybe too clever. This, adjustability of the central lenses could be a problem. A static, fixed assembly would be much simpler.

“I suppose the Hermit Philosopher found angles and focus by trial and error over months,” Lacnuit said. “But we don’t have the time. How do we adjust it? More importantly, there’s no image like a painted slide or place to put one, so there still may be parts missing.”

“Aiming and adjusting’s not a problem,” Gus said. “See those scratches? I put them there myself as a kid – and you can thank Skip for that. They mark where the lens was set originally, or at least when I got my mitts on it. They should be sufficient, I hope.”

“What, me? Oh, you finally remembered, damn,” Skip said, reddening. Then energetically, “Still, it only projects a beam of moonlight. The trick has to be in the mirror.”

“The Star of Bethlehem?” Lacnuit mused, nodding. “But how? I’ve read the reports: it’s just a small, plain, flat silver disk, closely examined both by Alfini and before the painting was rehung after the last war. Certainly not ‘stained’ but the angles might possibly allow it to reflect light at the back of the Tomb. It would be fascinating to test, but…”

“But?” Gus prompted.

“But the painting is not simply in the way but a distraction. I’d like a plain surface I can plot it against to make sure.”

“That’s it!” Allie suddenly lit up. “I was wondering how to both check the painting and see the Vision. What we need is an overlay, hung in place of the painting, marked with the positions of everything. You could take pictures of it and drop it to expose the Star.”

“Ingenious,” Lacnuit said. An idea struck him, “Or a hole could be cut for the beam to hit the Star. It just might work: the full Moon will be at its lowest point close to the moment of solstice. Which means, if you’re right, the Vision could happen tonight!”



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“The real miracle is that
a spot of light
could produce
such showers
of gold.”

Abbé Michel Dupre
(attributed), 1912

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