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 …”
“Who?” asked Jon. “Giga Corp or the terrorists?”
The car left the spanking speed of the limited access road and entered the equally zestful downtown traffic. They soon found the address.
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.
“It’s a contract for
service. People, when they first arrived
“White slaves,” said
“Why is that side like that?”
“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
“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.
“Yes, I knew
“We just heard somewhere that
this was one of his hangouts,” said
“He was interested in the
lost Ark of the Covenant,” persisted
“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
“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
“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
“But wouldn’t it be just
another sacred artifact?” asked
“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.”
are versions going back far into the ancient world?”
means. The first poet to mention it was named
Chrétien of Troyes in
“And what would that be?”
“It’s the story of a land
laid waste, totally depopulated.”
“It was something like that
“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
“So nobody has ever figured
out the right question,” said
“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
“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
“Let me guess,” said
“Tell us about it,” said
“Well in the eighteen
hundreds a young priest was sent to the
“Life in the country,
“Yes. It’s always been known that cities have to
recruit their populations. There was a
Greek city in
“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
“Well they certainly didn’t
call him ‘
“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’s that,” asked
“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
“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.”
It was a gray autumn morning
as the five left
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
“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.”
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 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,”
“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
“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,
“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,”
“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
“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
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