Chapter 15a


Miriam’s Book Store, Boston, October 31, 9 AM


The five friends rolled along the limited access road parallel with Storrow Drive and the River Charles toward the downtown of old Boston.  The radio interrupted the music and announced, “Giga Corp, so much in the news recently, has had a boost today.  Inland security has announced the arrest of six Arab nationals who are thought to have been involved in the skyscraper attack several days ago.  The director of Inland Security announced he was pleased with the result and pointed to patient police work and steadfast resolve …”


James spoke up.  “Our old friends again.”


“Who?” asked Jon. “Giga Corp or the terrorists?”


“Both,” said James happily.  “At each others throats.”


Like Rome, Boston was built as a city on seven hills beside a river.  And while Rome in her prime ruled the Mediterranean, Boston in hers bid fair to rule the Atlantic.  Giving nothing away to British sea power in her own domain, she was at her peak during the most lucrative of trades – rum went to Africa, slaves went to the West Indies and sugar went to New England to be brewed and distilled into rum.  It was before the climax of sailing craft.  The great clippers built of southern hardwood sailed from Baltimore.  The extent to which Boston may or may not have been involved in the slave trade is a matter about which history has remained singularly silent. 


If Boston was the Rome of the New World, Cambridge across the river was the Athens.  Multiple great universities called it their home.  Thither flocked students and faculty from all over the planet.


The car left the spanking speed of the limited access road and entered the equally zestful downtown traffic.  They soon found the address.


Miriam’s Book Store was across the street from some construction.  A massive pile driver was sinking foundations to the ringing of steel and the hiss of steam.  If legend is true, Miriams began as a real book store.  It was one of many in that intellectually extravagant environment.  But during the prohibition of alcohol in the United States, it descended to become a speakeasy.  One would enter, browse among books and drop a name with an attendant.  One was then ushered into the back, where a small bar sold contraband whiskey.  Perhaps because if its more than usually respectable outer face, the speakeasy survived Prohibition.  At the end the people of Boston were unwilling to give it up, and the faithful patrons continued.  It became a restaurant with an added bit of flourish and atmosphere.


So splendid was the atmosphere that a large number of wags asked whether they had a copy of any number of rare or arcane books.  At last yielding to market pressure, the restaurant leased the store front next door and came full circle to start selling books again.  Reasonably, they specialized in the kind of things that had been requested in jest so many times.


The five entered the active book store and browsed around.


“Look,” said Hapgood.  “It’s an indenture.”


Displayed as if for sale, but at a forbidding price, was an ancient contract of servitude.  One edge of it had been cut in a zigzag.


“What?” asked Ivan.


“It’s a contract for service.  People, when they first arrived in the New World, often had no resources, and they would sell their work for a period of time.  This was the contract.  There are those who say that it was not entirely voluntary.  One might wind up indentured for a crime or even for debt.  So at a stretch you could call it slavery.”


“White slaves,” said Ivan.  “In Florida there used to be Black slave owners.  But never Seminole slave owners.”


“Why is that side like that?” asked Tracy.


“Those would be the indentations.  At the time it was a custom when you made a contract to copy it out twice.  Each party kept a copy, just as now.  But they would copy it on the same piece of paper or parchment.  Then they cut the page in two along a crooked line.  That way when the two copies were matched you could be sure it was the same contract.”


“I would think that if they said the same thing that would be enough,” said Jon. 


“It was an ancient custom.  Probably had a use at some time.  But a contract is based on trust.  It has little value under any circumstances if it isn’t entered into in good faith by both parties.”


They continued to browse until an attendant showed up.  Jon fought the impulse to say they had been sent by “Joe” and said they had been sent by Terra Lane.  They were soon in a back room chatting with a grey haired man who said his name was Brent Standish. 


“Yes, I knew Terra Lane well.  What brings you here?”


“We just heard somewhere that this was one of his hangouts,” said Jon.  “Said he came here for ideas.”


Standish laughed.  “The time Terra Lane needed to look for ideas was the time I never saw.  They swarmed around him as if they were flies and he was honey.”


“He was interested in the lost Ark of the Covenant,” persisted Jon.


“Yes, the ornate case that held the original covenant between the Children of Israel and God.  He probably got started on it by seeing some movie or reading a popular book.  It’s lost, all right.  At one time Terra Lane ran across a rumor that it was hidden in the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem.  But he looked into it and apparently there was nothing to the story.”


“Could the Templars have found it and hidden it away?”


“Anything is possible.  Buy why would anybody keep something like that a secret?  We know, or think we know, what it said.  It’s only value would be if people knew where it was.  It would be like kidnapping somebody and holding them for ransom but never telling any body you had them.  You wouldn’t make much money.”


“I guess you could say the same for the Holy Grail,” remarked Jon.


“Actually there you have more to work with.  Sorry.  I mean we have more books on it for sale.  Maybe a volume or two obliquely related to the Ark.  But we have a whole shelf on the Holy Grail, and there’s a big turnover.”


“But wouldn’t it be just another sacred artifact?” asked Jon.  “Something that would be valuable only if people recognized it for what it was?”


“Well that’s the common impression.  It would be like a sacred treasure.  But it’s more complicated than that.  The story of the Holy Grail is the story of a curse.  It looks like it’s a very old story, older than Christianity.  Our current imagery may be a sort of pious overlay.”


“So there are versions going back far into the ancient world?” Jon asked.


“By no means.  The first poet to mention it was named Chrétien of Troyes in France in the 12th century.  That’s pretty far back, but hardly ancient world.  No, the evidence for its age is the hold it has always had over people.  Like dragons and floods, it just won’t go away.  And in the story people always recognize it as something very ancient and very important.  People seem to know about it the first time they are told.  And then, of course, there is the nature of the curse itself.”


“And what would that be?”


“It’s the story of a land laid waste, totally depopulated.”  Standish looked around at ten eyes staring at him.  “Well I see that got your attention.”


“It was something like that that interested Terra Lane,” said Ivan.  “Do go on.”


“All right then, the land is laid waste and the prediction is that only the Holy Grail holds the secret that could save it.  But of course first one has to find the Grail, and then one has to ask the right question.  In the stories no one or a very few ever find it, and those who do never make it back alive to tell about it.


“Purity has always been thought to be an important element for anyone seeking the Grail.  But that is probably fairly modern.  Chrétien was a very innovative poet.  He used a form of poetry that had been developed by troubadours in southern France.  Male virginity was high style at the time.  So that got attached to the Grail story, which as I said is probably a lot older.  Still, purity and the Grail are hard to separate.”


“So nobody has ever figured out the right question,” said Ivan.


“On the contrary, the question is easy.  ‘Whom does the Grail serve?’”  There is a double meaning there, of course.  Serve could mean feed and serve could mean to be of assistance.  In some of the stories the Grail does indeed provide a lot of food, and in that way it is similar to the cornucopia of the ancient world or the magic cauldron of the Celts.” 


“So the land was laid waste because they were starving,” said Hapgood.


“Maybe.  In that case we have certainly found the Grail, and it’s called the Green Revolution.  With modern science we can feed a lot of people – over six billion by current count.  Without it, we could never have fed more than two billion.  But the Grail questers don’t seem to be just really good hunters or farmers.  There seems to be something else in people’s minds.  It’s something to do with the land mysteriously laid waste.”


“That happens,” said Jon.


“Of course it does.  And the very concept of fertility is a bit of a double meaning.  It means having children, and it means raising crops.  At a stretch you could suppose that both of those had experienced crop failures, so to speak, and the lack of children or the lack of food had leveled nations.  That’s another reason to guess that the story is very old.  There have been a lot of fallen empires.  It must have long been obvious to people that moved in that something bad had happened.”


“Well that seems to be the kind of thing we were supposed to look into,” said Hapgood.  “There was something else.  Something about a place called Rennes le Chateau.”


“Yes, of course.  And that takes us back to the south of France.  It appears to involve a shadowy group called the Priory of Zion.”


“Let me guess,” said James James.  “It’s a club of fat white men with a secret from Jerusalem.”


Standish laughed.  “That would about sum it up.”


“Tell us about it,” said Jon.


“Well in the eighteen hundreds a young priest was sent to the village of Rennes le Chateau in the Aude valley in southern France.  He found his church quite dilapidated and set about repairing it.  Under the altar he found a couple of ancient documents in secret code.  When the codes were broken the result was riddles.  There seemed to be a reference to the Frankish kings of Europe, to some hidden treasure and to a painting by a man named Poussin, who painted in the seventeenth century.  So the documents can’t go back farther than that. 


Poussin was a landscape painter, and he did two versiona of a painting called, ‘The Shepherds of Arcadia.’  In one version there are some shepherds in the foreground puzzling over a tomb.  In the background the landscape includes Rennes le Chateau.  On the tomb is written, ‘I, in Arcadia, too.’  It is in the memento mori school of painting – reminders of mortality.  I guess it’s supposed to mean that life in the country is so wholesome that the shepherds have forgotten what death was, but they are doomed anyway.”


“Life in the country, healthy?” asked James.  From his tone they could tell that his own experience was different.


“Yes.  It’s always been known that cities have to recruit their populations.  There was a Greek city in Asia Minor that had a well.  Barbarians said that any man who drank from the well became effeminate.  The Greeks said no, that anyone who lived in the town saw the pleasures of civilization and accepted them.  Neither side seemed to think that the men in the city sired many children; the charge of effeminacy seems to have stuck.  Now, as then, the cause for the lack of children in cities is blamed on free choice and on pollution.  Recently we have blamed disease, but even with diseases under good control nothing changes.  Cities don’t make babies.  Anyway, yes, it has always been the country that produced the people.  In that sense the country has always been healthier.”


“So that’s Rennes le Chateau,” summed up Hapgood. 


“Well, it’s a start.  The Priory of Zion is thought to have some information relating to it.  They are said to have included such people as Leonardo de Vinci.”


“Isn’t it Leonardo da Vinci?” asked Jon.


“Well they certainly didn’t call him ‘da Vinci’ when he was growing up in Vinci.  It says ‘de Vinci’ on his tomb.  Lots of people say ‘da Vinci’ now, but the change is a modern affectation.  It’s almost as if people with a field of expertise routinely changed their terminology to keep the rest of us in the dark.  Your ‘fat white men’ again, Mr. James.  So if you see a list of names and it says ‘da Vinci’ you can be sure it’s very modern.


“We have a whole shelf on Rennes le Chateau.  I can show it to you if you like.”


They went out to the store, where Standish pulled down a few books for them: the one with the best information about the codes, the one with the best maps and the one with the best pictures.  While they were there Standish said, “Here’s something that might interest you.  It’s a book about Oak Island.”


“Where’s that,” asked Ivan.


“It’s in Nova Scotia.  Seems there’s some buried treasure there.  They dug down over a hundred feet finding a layer of wooden beams every ten feet until the got to a layer of wood with a stone framed in the center.  They tore that up and the next day the shaft was flooded.  The going theory is that the stone gave directions for how to proceed without flooding the place.  The stone used to be on display, so they say, but it was in some kind of code.”


“What’s that got to do with us?” asked Hapgood.


“Well most people think that it’s pirate treasure.  But a few think it may be the lost treasure of the Templars.  I suppose the one group wants to think it’s pirates because they think then its free for grabs.  I would hate to see the maritime law on that one.  Those who think it’s the Templars want to believe it because there might be really significant gold there, far more than any plausible pirate crew could have put together, even from Spanish galleons coming back from the New World.


“I suppose, though, that if you asked me I would say it was more likely Templars because the secret code and the ambitious engineering would be more their style.  What’s the point of burying your treasure a hundred feet down unless you are sure you will always have the resources to come back and dig it up again?


“Of course nobody ever said Templars never turned pirate, or no pirate belonged to one of your fat white men clubs.  So maybe there’s no difference in the end.


“If you are out for a drive and an explore, I don’t know if there is anything for the public to see, but you could have a go.”


Standish saw them to the door.  As they left he said, “One other thing, Mr. James.  One of the leaders of the Priory of Zion was supposed to be Isaac Newton.  And he wasn’t fat at all.”   


It was a gray autumn morning as the five left Miriam’s Bookstore.  At the same time the Land Rover was growling though the suburbs of Cairo.  Ali Kamali had worked through friends via his satellite downlink and had secured a meeting with an official of the Egyptian Department of Antiquities.  The official had agreed to meet them at the great pyramids, already becoming surrounded by the urban sprawl of the enormous Egyptian city.  They found him waiting at the entrance of the pyramid grounds.  The driver parked and lounged at the car while Ali went to meet the official. 


Arab etiquette under such circumstances required a good deal of inquiring about the health and welfare of everyone along the chain of contacts that connected them.  And under the shadow of the timeless structures they could see, rushing anything seemed improper.  At last Ali spoke his mind.


“I am particularly interested in the state of the records.  What are they like?”


“As vast as the desert beyond.  An army of scholars could never sort through them all.”


“But,” persisted Ali, “There is talk of a Hall of Records at the sphinx.”


They turned and looked toward the masonry head of the ancient monument thrust above the sand.  Its giant body was concealed from their vantage point in the small canyon from which it had been carved.


“Yes,” said the official, “The mythical Hall of Records.  An American mystic prophesied that it would be found beneath the front paws of the sphinx.  But believers have come and searched, and there is no evidence for it.  Even if it existed, it would probably be more of ancient deviltry, such as is found in the known records.”


The sphinx in Western mythology was a creature of riddle.  The riddle was solved by Oedipus, who said that the creature that walks on four legs in the morning, on two legs at noon and on three legs at dusk is a man, the crawling infant, the striding stud and at last the dodderer on his cane.  It was a very Western idea, embodying the blind workings of natural law and the continuity of reality across unidirectional time.  It was not surprising that the Western mind expected this sphinx, which was only named that after the Western myth, to embody a riddle or an answer. 


“And the known records,” asked Ali, “What do they contain that we know?”


“It’s mostly just the usual tiresome catalogue of devils and despots.  There are priestly incantations and references to an after world, but it is not the true afterlife of Allah.”


“There is no judgment?”


“Well yes, there is judgment.  The devils they call gods discern if a man has been godly.  And this determines his afterlife.  But it is not the true judgment of Allah.”


“And what else?”


“There is much of medicine and history.  There are the exaggerated accomplishments of their kings.  Royal bookkeeping.  Things like that.”


“But what of records of the common people?”


“Yes, there is much of their common problems, their conflicts and their lives.  This they do record.”


“I should like to know if there are records of the people.  Whom they married and whom they sired.”


“Ah, these were things of little regard for the mighty in that time.  The common people were as the mud of the Nile, deposited when the great river floods and then forgotten.  Where the mud lies and what grows from it they take an interest in.  But the individual specks are beneath their concern.  So with the common people.  A town had some existence.  Individuals, save those of considerable accomplishment, were not recorded.”


“I find that a pity.”


“It matters not.  Even if they had recorded carefully all the critical facts of the people the record would not have survived.  The Westerners, had the records been on papyrus, would have burned them in their locomotives as they did with so many mummies.  And had the records been in stone, they would have paved their gardens with them.  No one cares, Ali.  No one notices.”


“There is talk that the pharaohs, kings in this land, lived in incest.  Is that true?”


“So it would seem.”


“And the less lofty? Was it their style?”


“Again, no one knows.”


They turned toward the great pyramids, which were glowing red in the setting sun.  “I wish I had seen them when they were new,” said Ali.


“Yes.  The purest white stone cut with the precision of a fine watch.  It is a great honor to be so associated with their study and their preservation.”


“What happened to the smooth sides?  That one there still has some remaining.”


“Western scholars say we stripped them to use the stone in Muslim buildings.  But the rocks you see are squared limestone.  The missing stones were triangular blocks that fit into the steps.  If they were used for buildings we should have many buildings made of triangular blocks, but I know of none.  It remains a mystery.  Besides, the original quarries are not far.  It would have been easier to use them.”


“The past is full of mystery.  There is another mystery.  What of the builders, the architects.  Where did they come from?”


“We have recently discovered where a few of them lived, perhaps a tenth, during the construction.  But you ask where they came from originally.  Most probably they were local.  No other place would have any reason to develop such skills.  Still, there are things our ancient monuments have in common with even older buildings elsewhere. 


“The megalithic culture, those who raised the great stones in Europe, particularly Britain and France, they began earlier; Germany may have been earliest of all.  The post-and-lintel construction of Stonehenge, an adaptation of techniques they had used when building in wood, it would not look out of place here.  And the ranks upon ranks of vertical stones in French Brittany at Carnak much remind one of the array of stone columns of our own temple of Karnak.  There is evidence that between the beginning of megalithic times and the raising of these stones here that the same culture built in Malta.  So there is at least some thought that a tradition was marching southward.


“It may have continued.  South of here in the Sudan there is a ring of ancient stones, not very large but in all important regards like the more ancient stone circles far to the north.  And the blood type of people in the Sudan is rather reminiscent of blood types from the north part of Europe.  So the builders may have continued south after their work was done here.”


There have been 5,674 visitors counted so far.


Home page.