Shortly after sunset, as fireworks announcing the official beginning of the concert blossomed in the purple sky, the Clan MacLantis marched silently uphill to the church.
Crowds were everywhere, completely surrounding the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Reprimand. Since the Roman Theatre could not hold all the fans, giant television screens were set out upon the hill and in plazas and squares, before the church and in the fields outside of town. Food vendors, jugglers, and musicians worked the holiday throngs along with police and common criminals. The mood, like the air, was light and festive with few clouds.
However, there were already signs of potential trouble brewing. A large mob steadily grew outside the South Transept, whispering with unhappiness because they were refused admittance. Though the fireworks overhead distracted many, but a few muttered at the Clan as they wormed their way to the door. Agent Marcel in uniform commandingly blocked the way, radio in hand, with a squad of gendarmes manning the barriers behind him.
“How’s everything going?” Gus asked Marcel.
“See for yourself, Professor,” he said, standing aside to let him in. “I don’t like the look of this, and it’s early yet.”
“Hey, how come they get in and we don’t?” a fat man shouted.
“By special invitation of Cardinal Mortens,” Marcel addressed the crowd in a loud voice. “I’m sorry, due to potential damage to the building, attendance is strictly limited. The Cardinal has ordered no one but those conducting a delicate experiment to determine its safety will be allowed inside this evening. There’s nothing to see: the light happened last night. Now go, enjoy the show. At midnight, you may join Bishop Galliard for the Vigil in the central square.”
“Let us wait in there. That’s where the real show is,” the man yelled. “Let the people in!”
“Yeah,” another replied. “We want in!”
This led to a ragged chant of “We want in! We want in!”
Taff mounted the steps. “Easy, my friends!” he called, as he began to juggle three balls. “Let the scientists have their time! Think of the wonders they have found. Dragon bones in the earth!”
He suddenly switched small bones for the balls. “The marvels of alchemy!”
The bones were switched for glowing bottles of colored fluid.
“Ah, but can they breathe fire like dragons?” he asked. Producing a lit torch, he said, “I, Don Yago, can!” With that, he blew flame which made the crowd back away.
“Thanks,” Marcel muttered. “Keep them distracted as long as possible.”
Taff grinned, twirling his mustache. “I do love a captive audience, but it might not be easy,” he said. “Wish me luck.”
Gus said nothing, but the trio slipped in while the Welshman continued his patter. But only one door could be opened. The other was blocked by slowly-lowering lift. Lacnuit hopped off as it grounded. “Ah MacLantis!” he said. “Good to see you. You’ll be happy to note the lens assembly fit perfectly. I have no doubt it was originally part of the contraption up there.”
“And the settings?” Gus asked.
The elderly scientist shrugged. “All we can do is hope. The opening might be too small to allow any adjustment once it’s in place, so we’ll probably just get one shot at a time with this.”
Behind them the space between the Tomb and the altar screen was full of activity. Cables snaked beneath the clear floor. Tables were set to one side, already covered with monitors and scientific equipment. There, Allie displayed the bed sheet to Cardinal Mortens and Count Roland.
“I’ve marked this cloth with the information I could derive from the painting and the altar screen,” she explained, partly unfolding it. “The grid matches the scaffolding on the painting. As you can see, I’ve noted where the landmarks appear also. I’m curious as to which of these places the sparkles from the enclosure might highlight. Could be important.”
“So your grand experiment is a treasure hunt after all,” the Cardinal said with more sadness than sarcasm. “I expected better from you.”
“Your Eminence,” Lacnuit said, “we have an extremely limited window of opportunity, so we must strive to get as much information as we can.”
“Why are there two sets of marks on this?” the Count asked suddenly. “See, here you’ve indicated the Devil’s Chair and also here. Plus two for Horrig’s Chapel?”
“You’ve good eyes, sir, to notice that. I found that when the landscape was restored, it was offset. Bad painter guessed at it, I suspect. Various landmarks wound up in different positions,” Allie admitted blandly. “Curious, isn’t it?”
“Hmm, interesting,” was the Count’s gruff comment.
“That’s just one of the difficulties,” Gus said. “But we wanted to cover the alternatives, as any answers will likely spark a dozen new crazy theories.”
“So just to be sure, the painting is to be moved?” the Cardinal said. “You’re proposing this cloth be hung in its place?”
“Exactly so, sir,” Allie said. “See, here’s a hole cut so to expose the Star of Bethlehem. This might prove whether or not which produces the Vision.”
“Excellent, Miss MacLantis,” Lacnuit said. “I’m impressed. Let’s talk to the facility people and get poles to mount this upon. If that’s acceptable, Eminence.”
“Huh? Oh yes, have them ready to move the painting once it’s in place,” Cardinal Mortens said. He signed the clipboard offered to him by Sister Santarovel. She shot a quick glance at Gus and hastily but painfully retreated to the far side of the transept.
“Could I have a private word, Your Eminence?” Gus said, noting her anxious glances at them from across the room. She studiously looked at her clipboard.
The two men strolled to the Templars’ Tomb. “Cardinal, along with the mob outside, I’m pretty sure there’s another party nearby more concerned,” Gus explained.
“If you mean Those Who Wait Below, this fact is not unknown to me,” Mortens admitted. “They’ve been lurking down there like rats since the Middle Ages. But as you know, I’ve done all I can. I am assured they will be occupied elsewhere this evening.”
“That’s what I was informed, too, but they’re not just below, sir,” Gus said, deliberately avoiding looking at the nun. “Nor have all gone off to Maureven tonight. I’m pretty sure a few of your own people here right now are involved.”
“A fact of which I am keenly aware,” the Cardinal said. “But I’d rather deal with spies I can identify than worry over those I don’t suspect. But I have high hopes for our outreach endeavor. Fortunately Holy Mother Church is not without brave and faithful adherents of her own, as you know.” He smiled as contentedly as a happy Buddha.
“I should really like to talk to you about that sometime in depth,” Gus said darkly. “I hope you have not put anyone I care deeply for in harm’s way.”
The Cardinal’s smile faded as he paled. “As God is my witness, Professor MacLantis,” he said gravely. “I cannot deny sacrifices have been made and risks have been taken – especially by kind and generous souls. I assure you, they are necessary and have been offered freely for the honor of the Virgin and Her Holy Church.”
“I hope so, Your Grace,” Gus said softly, “but not for your soul nor the Church’s sake.”