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XIII: SIGNS OF THE TRICKSTER


Chapter 4

Horrig’s ancient church was a small Dark Age bunker with a low, angled roof, and thick walls of rudely-dressed stone. A squat, round doorway allowed a single stooped person to enter at a time. Side windows were few, barely more than arrow slits. The interior seemed even smaller, not half as large as the South Transept. Crudely carved monsters writhing around the capitals and deep zig-zags cut into the thick pillars and piers were the only decorations.

Dimly lit by the last stubs of candles, people quietly huddled into several groups. No one looked happy. Yet the place was neatly arranged with carpets spread across the floor. Folded chairs for a service leaned in rows against the wall.

Standing before the small stone altar set with flowers and a small figure of the Scolding Madonna, Lacnuit spoke with exasperation. “As Miss MacLantis said, Sir Gordon, the refracted light from the Birdcage prisms might show where Alfini thought the treasure was concealed. But no-one never said it would show us how to find it. We must wait for the Count.”

“Maybe these clever fellows have ideas,” Smedley said. “Augustine, glad you made it. As you can see, we’ve already run into problems.”

“Where’s Allie? What happened to my sister?” Gus demanded.

“What? She’s not with you?” Sir Gordon said. “Perhaps she’s coming with the Count.”

Gus’ attention was suddenly distracted. “Angelique!” he exclaimed at the sight. She sat by an old man, a scowling, unshaved peasant in a paint-spattered smock and frayed beret. Gus rushed over and knelt, hugging her. “Thank God you’re not hurt.”

“Yes,” she said in a soft whisper. “But the situation is not good. You should not have come.” He noticed she, too, was garbed in black.

“Is everybody else safe? Your cousins?”

“Oui, the family is far away,” the old man said. “We stayed to keep an eye on things.” He glanced sideways at his grand-niece. “Thanks for your concern, MacLantis,” he said, rubbing his gray, stubble-covered jaw, glared at him, and spat blood upon the floor. “So, here to finish your father’s work, are you? I knew something like this would come of his tricks.”

“Do not mind Uncle Benoit. As for the others, they all left before these uninvited crashers arrived,” Angelique said. “All but these two; they didn’t make it.”

Gus said nothing but looked over. Next to Hélène squatted Reuben, pale with fear.

“Ah, our Secret Master has arrived,” Smedley said, smiling at Nigel, laying a hand on his shoulder. “I greet you in a manner befitting your rank.” He punched him hard in the stomach.

“Oof,” Nigel exhaled, and fell to his knees. “Thanks. Now let me return it,” he gasped. Lord Fawkeslorne gave him a wicked kick. “Shut up, you lying blackgaurd!”

“Good one.” Nigel doubled over. “But the High Council,” he gasped, “will hear of this.”

Sir Gordon raised his fist. “What do you know of any council, imposter?” he growled.

Gus grabbed his arm. “Skip told me Knights were supposed to be merciful, cousin.”

“Justice first; then mercy: that’s the rule. False brothers, pretenders, and traitors merit death by slow torture. Ask your brother; he treads close to the line himself.”

“Who gives a damn about your stupid club?” Gus said, his voice venomous.

Sir Gordon twisted his arm from his grip, “Let’s just get to work, shall we?”

“The Count didn’t try to give us the slip back there, did he?”

“What? Of course not, boy, whatever happened,” the old man said impatiently, his thick eyebrows frowning. “It was imperative to get here as quickly as possible as soon as Roland confirmed the location. Despite our preparations, we were already too late. These fanatics fired at us as soon as we drove up.”

“These people?” Gus glanced at the pair of Endurists. Veiled in black Spanish lace, Madame Hélène leaned upon her cane but stood straight. Reuben huddled behind her. “They hardly look capable of threatening anyone. The greatest danger they pose is to themselves.”

“Not hardly,” Sir Gordon said. “Tell it to Knight-Sergeant Timothy and my driver.”

“What were we supposed to do when these hoodlums barged in, eh?” Hélène spat. “We met here because we weren’t allowed where we belong. The Sorrowful Community has always waited peacefully among other penitent pilgrims awaiting the Miracle. Where should we hold our Vigil but at a site nearly as sacred? Fortunately for you, the rest already left.”

“Madam, I neither know nor care a fig for your weird rites,” Sir Smedley began. The iron gates outside gave a loud squeak. “Finally,” Benoit muttered, “Now this clown of a Templar can explain his crimes to the authorities.”

Minutes later, Count Roland strode in, Jesús following close behind. The aristocrat’s tiny eyes bulged out of his head. “Gordon! What the hell’s going on?” he demanded. “There’s real unpleasantness in town, roadblocks everywhere, but here I find a worse situation. Dead bodies! Unbelievable! What on Earth happened here?”

“Endurists,” Sir Gordon said with a crooked smile. “Seems those long-rumored fanatics actually still exist. Those wretches outside shot us as we drove in, proving you correct about others upon the hunt, Roland. But now you’re here, we can get to business, yes?”

“Where’s Allie, Count Roland?” Gus asked. “Still in town,” the noble said with a careless shrug. “She changed her mind at the last moment and went looking for you but she was fine the last I saw of her. If we weren’t so committed to this, that’s where I’d be, too. But the opportunity’s too good to pass.”

He whipped his mobile phone out. “Both teams, abort. Go to the Chateau at once. Repeat, get to the Chateau. Guarding the museum is your sole priority tonight.” He turned to Jesús. “Tell Hugo and the rest of the men to return to the castle to protect it, too. Just you, Andre, and the doctor will stay with us.”

“Sir, are you sure?” Jesús asked, concern in his voice.

“What, you don’t think we can handle these?” Roland mocked. “Don’t tell me you’re slipping.” His manservant said nothing, just bowed stiffly and left.

“Now, what’s your story, eh?” the Count said, turning to the others in the room.

“We’re here to hold our vigil in peace,” Hélène said, head held high. “As invited guests of the Montcélances and with permission of Cardinal Mortens. But I don’t answer to you, sir. You’re the trespasser here: you should depart immediately before you cause more trouble.”

“Madame Hélène,” the Count replied, “I long suspected you harbored curious beliefs, but I’m surprised to find you so far from the café. Mademoiselle Montcélance, are you here merely as hostess, or is there more to it than that? This must be your Grand-uncle Benoit, is it not?”

“It is, Your Worship; I’m the official caretaker here, as you know. This place is closed for a private function, sir, and you are not welcome.” He looked as if he would spit in his face.

“I’m sorry to trouble you,” the Count said, his slight smile belying his sincerity. “Fate led us here but we’ll be gone soon. The less bother you make, the sooner it will be.”

He faced the final person, sitting with a bowed head, hugging himself. “Who’s this?”

“The name’s Reuben, sir, Reuben Rael Sanchez de Morino,” the pudgy white-faced man said, looking up with wide eyes. He was in his early twenties with a small goatee like Jesús’ and a slicked black ponytail. “I’m a visitor, just a guest from across the sea.”

“Reuben?” Gus said, startled. “What the Hell are you doing here?”

The Count raised an eyebrow, exchanging knowing glances with Jesús.

“I got left behind somehow. Sorry we departed on bad terms, Professor.”

“Take it easy, dude,” Gus said. “Don’t say any more, not a word. It will be okay.”

“Spare us the touching reunion,” Roland interrupted. “We’re burning candlelight. The problem is this: We have a general idea the Holy Tub is around here, but where do we look? Someone here must have ideas.”

“So far, everything has depended upon astronomical relationships of the Sun and Moon at summer solstice,” Lacnuit said. “Perhaps alignments are incorporated into this building also.”

They looked around. Unlike the airy, soaring temple of light that was the cathedral, this much older chapel was a thick, dark, massively constructed fort. The single round window was an unglazed opening upon the front wall above the altar, smaller than the oculus.

Lacnuit suddenly asked, “What are those niches along the rear?’ Along the far wall a row of indentations like pigeon-holes were set on either side of the low door.

“They held statues of the saints once, I believe,” Angelique said. “The stories say they were lit by the Sun on their feast days. It was a primitive calendar long predating the Rose Line.”

“Ah, perhaps a clue! This Midsummer Day’s dawning should show us,” Lucien said.

“Could it be?” Count Roland wondered. “‘Behind the wall of light unbroken, rests the truth of forgiveness given’? “Could this be the ‘wall of light’?”

“We can’t wait until dawn,” the Count growled. “You, old man, what’s so funny?”

“Sunrise will do you no good. I haven’t seen the Sun directly there since I was a boy.”

“Uncle Benoit’s right,” Angelique agreed. “The oak grove has been there my whole life.”

“No matter,” said Lacnuit. “If you’re right, the niche furthest to the left should be it.” He strode to the wall shining his flashlight, probing the hole with his finger. “Professor MacLantis, you’re the archeologist. Shouldn’t one of these do something? It always works in the movies.”

Gus cautiously poked at the stones around the niche. “I don’t see anything,” he said. “But Tobias lived here for many years. That verse could be memory – or hallucination. Who knows?”

 


 

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“The dreamer believes the dream is real.
Dreams may die,
but illusions
never bleed:
only dreamers do.”

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

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