The rest of the walk to the hillside proved uneventful. They skirted the bushes and piles of rocks along its edge until they came to a wide crevice. The Moon, sinking in the west behind the Hill of Sighs, did not illuminate within. Behind them stretched a lake of moonlit fog.
“Over here,” Gus called. Nigel played his torch around the hollow, jumping when it caught a three-foot tall statue of the Virgin protected from the elements beneath a rough masonry arch cut into the cliff. A meter behind the figurine stood a smooth, curved wall of reflective white plaster, filling a slightly-pointed arch of dressed stones.
Before the others joined them, Gus pointed at a scratched symbol on the rock – a small lightning bolt next to the arch, pointing upward. Nigel nodded, and they flicked off their lights.
“Local quarrymen made this place,” Gus said. “I heard about it while writing the guide, but never had a chance to visit.”
He shone the light above the arch. Cut into the coarse stone was an inscription in Latin within a rectangle. “Queen of Heaven, save us from the perils of the underworld,” he translated. “Amen to that,” Nigel muttered.
Behind him, Reuben breathed, “Cuidado, amigos: it sounds like a warning.”
“It naturally faces sunrise at summer solstice. The smooth white plaster reflecting the first rays is dazzling,” Lacnuit said. “I hope the fog lifts so you can see this at Midsummer dawn. Not nearly as spectacular as the Monumentum, but most impressive.” “Like Tobias said, ‘In Maureven’s shrine at dawn’s first ray,’” Gus quoted, “‘piercing deep on the longest day, behind the wall of light unbroken.’” He tapped the curved wall in several places, listening intently, his square head pressed against the plaster. “Hollow,” he said. “There’s an empty space behind it.”
“Excellent,” Roland said, “but I fear the alcove’s in the way.”
“I trust you brought tools?” Gus said. The Count gestured. His driver slipped his backpack off, rummaged briefly, and handed a folded pickaxe to Gus.
“Volunteers?” Roland asked. “You there, Reuben, isn’t it, yes? Would you help your professor? You, Nigel, give him a hand, okay?”
“Sure, Your Excellency,” Reuben said nervously, visibly shaking. “Glad to assist.” Nigel said nothing, but the whites of his eyes shone as he prepared to shovel with his hands.
“What?” exclaimed Lacnuit. “Oh my heavens, you’re not going to –”
Standing behind them, the Count nodded at Jesús, and both men stepped back.
“Lights, please!” Gus called. He squinted in the sudden glare from the torches reflecting off the white plaster. He looked at the terrified younger man. “Okay, Reuben, concentrate. I’ll dig. We’ll start in the middle, working out, nice and slow. If I say, ‘jump,’ don’t ask questions. Just do it. If you hear or see sand coming out anywhere, yell ‘jump’ and do so pronto. Got it?”
The man vigorously nodded, so Gus began attacking the plaster with care. The digging went quickly once past the brittle surface. Beneath it lay a thick layer of clay, and behind that, darkness. Soon they cleared most of the arch though the dust filling the air made them cough. Behind Gus, Nigel stooped, scooping the dirt away with his hands.
Gus hacked through the last large chunk at top center. It crumbled. Two rivulets of dirt began trickling from the tops of both sides between blocks. “What?” he exclaimed, startled.
“Jump!” he yelled, throwing himself to the side. Two rock wedges slid out of the arch, followed by other blocks as it collapsed. A flying chip sliced Jesús on the cheek.
Reuben turned, stumbling over Nigel. Behind them stood Sir Gordon, still craning his neck for a better view. “Bugger off!” Nigel yelled, heaving Lord Fawkeslorne forwards. Neither the old man nor Reuben could get out of the way in time. They disappeared in a cloud of dust.
No longer supported, the entire arch collapsed upon Sir Gordon. With a tremendous crash, the huge block above tumbled forward, smashing the statue of Mary into bits before coming to rest atop Reuben. Beside him lay the crumpled form of Sir Gordon Smedley-Fawkeslorne, bloody keystone by his head. Gus could not be seen in the shocked, sudden quiet.
“Nobody move,” the Count said, waving his huge automatic. Lacnuit and the other two men looked on in astonishment.
Moans and cries of help began to come from under the heavy square stone. Gus hauled himself up, coughing and covered with rubble but otherwise unharmed. His glasses were bent but intact. Nigel groaned and rolled over beside him. “Bloody Christ, my arm, it’s broken,” he moaned.
“By all the devils in hell, what happened, Excellency?” the doctor asked.
“The perils of discovery,” the Count said with no apparent concern. “Tend to him, would you? Get up, you two. The job’s not done yet.”
The physician began tending to Reuben. Crying in pain, the librarian looked bewildered. Pinned between the covering stone and one the pillars, his right leg was crushed.
“Madre de Díos,” Reuben screamed, “Why did I come? Why? Ayudame, por favor; help me, oh mother, mama…” He lapsed into incoherence. Gus helplessly knelt beside him.
“First thing we need to do is get the stone off him. Easy now.” The doctor directed Gus and Andre to lift the stone. With a heave, they dumped it to the side. Reuben cried aloud.
“Doctor?” Roland asked.
“Little I can do here under these circumstances.” Faustino shook his head. “He’s in shock and needs a hospital immediately. But it might take too long to get him there.”
“Can you relieve his suffering or at least quiet him?”
“As the innkeeper? Of course,” Faustino said quietly, “but your man would be faster. And I’ve others to help.” He nodded at Nigel, moaning through clenched teeth, holding his arm.
Count Roland looked at his bodyguard. With a jagged scratch across one cheek and the other swollen, Jesús looked more dangerous than ever. “May I take care of the filthy spy now, Señor Conde?” he offered.
The Count’s smile was hard but approving. He patted Jesús’ knee and turned to Gus.
“Give that poor soul your farewell; you can do nothing for him.” Roland said, helping Gus rise. “It’s up to Jesús now.”
They stared at him in horror as a sound like a stick cracking abruptly halted the moaning.