Chapter 17a


Edinburgh, Scotland, November 3, 10 AM


Jon, Ivan, Tracy and Hapgood were able to sleep on the jet from Boston to Edinburgh.  The jet followed approximately the same arc as Lindberg had making the first solo flight from New York to Paris. Any serious traffic by air between the great capitals on either side of the North Atlantic does so because the great circle remains the shortest route.


As is often the case, the eastbound flight was almost empty, while westbound flights were full.  Even a casual observer could hardly fail to notice that he flew to London sprawled out across four seats with a blanket and pillow but flew back sitting bolt upright with his elbows and knees pulled painfully in.  It does not take a great deal of calculation to find that there must be more people flying west than east and that the drain of the United States on Europe in all probability has never slowed down. 


They were so weary, that even after a comfortable flight they had thoughts of nothing but a nice dry room.  For the next few days, it would seem to them as if they were living in a secure little bubble, privileged in their safety.  One of the things that contributed to this was the consciousness that they were well to the east of the great circle that had been following.  The line trended east and south, and they would rejoin it as they moved south.  But it was not to be the last time a great city drew them to itself, leading them east of their course and letting to rejoin it by going south.  Their path was to become a saw tooth pattern, for to the east of the line they had been on and parallel was another that connected Edinburgh, London and Paris.  It also passed through Woolsthorpe, the birthplace of Newton and passed fairly close to Cambridge. 


They found a hotel built down a ravine against the sheer rock face of a cliff.  They entered at street level and descended many floors.  When they looked out of their rooms they were looking at the stone face of the other side of the ravine not far away.  Below there was the sound of rushing water.  Autumn mist drifted in the chill air.  Even had they not been so tired, it was a place seductive with sleepiness.  They slept a night and a day before venturing out to look at the town. 


The city of Edinburgh was built among towering cliffs that would have dwarfed the hills of Boston or Rome.  But to the casual eye the cliffs were not visible.  They were sheathed in architecture.  At some places great bridges reached from cliff to cliff.  In the foundations of the bridges and behind many of the buildings was a labyrinth of tunnels and recesses.  In poorer times, people had lived down there.


The air in these warrens circulated poorly making radioactive radon emerging from the decay of isotopes in the walls an insidious and undetectable hazard to health.  On the other hand it was difficult to persuade people to leave because the temperature in the tunnels was always pleasant, winter and summer.


There seemed to the four friends to be no hurry, so sure was their protective bubble.  They walked the old town like simple tourists.  At one point as they walked they found an old house projecting defiantly in the face of the natural course of the street.  It was called the John Knox House, although it is as likely that the name reflects its similarity to the audacious preacher as that the great man ever actually lived there.  It was known to have been at one time the home of a royalist who was a goldsmith and who raised money for the unpopular royal cause by counterfeiting coins.


Inside they picked up a pamphlet and followed the tourist route until they reached the top floor, which sported a lavishly decorated ceiling.  Mostly the painting was a festoon of leafy grape vines rendered as if growing along the rafters.  And there was also …


Satan,” said Jon. 


They followed his gaze upward.  A painting of a fat devil grinned down at them.  He had the horns, legs and beard of a goat.  A second face leered out of his crotch.  Hapgood consulted the brochure. 


“It says it was a commonplace for rich houses.  They probably got it out of a catalogue and ordered it painted.”


“That would be strange,” said Ivan.  “They were still burning witches at the stake in those days.  I don’t know, but it seems to me that if I had a swastika painted in a back room, or a Star of David if it was the time of the Nazi’s, it wouldn’t be there to give me social prestige.  These people were serious.”


“This was the cult room of Satanists,” said Jon.  “What things these walls must have seen.”


“A bunch of drunk fat men thinking they were being sly,” said Tracy sarcastically.  Ver-r-ry unusual.”


They visited the Scottish National Gallery.  Among the things they saw was a painting of Titania and Oberon from Shakespeare’s ‘Midsumer Night’s Dream.’  The quarreling king and queen of the Fairies were in a wooded glade surrounded by a galaxy of their subjects, who were behaving in a wild and free fashion.  One bare fairy was on hands and knees as she eagerly anticipated being taken from behind by an elf.  The dark boy, the cause of the royal dispute, peered out mischievously from behind one thigh of the queen.


In contrast of style was a painting of a magician.  While most magicians are represented in a cluttered environment, this one was working in a bare room with a large but simple diagram drawn on the floor.  He was making some sort of astronomical observation.  Through the casementless window one could see the ruins of a stone circle, where such sightings had been made in the unthinkably distant past.  There was an air of intense concentration and total futility in the scene.  It reminded Jon a bit too much of themselves.


From Princess Street they made their way around and to the top of Castle Rock, which dominates the town.  They heard that skeletons had been found in the lake at its foot, women accused of witchcraft and cruelly drowned in a past that did not seem quite distant enough.  They walked by a small building by the cemetery, where family members could sit at night after a funeral and watch for grave robbers, who at one time had been known to steal dead bodies and sell them to doctors for dissection.  The lookout roost seemed ready for use.


The mighty castle above Edinburgh would be an impediment even today for anything but motor driven weapons.  Inside they found much of history and much of memory.  The sword and ball, the royal insignia of Scotland, had been found by Sir Walter Scott and were on display.  The sword was larger than anything a man could use and had been carried so often that there was a considerable amount of wear on the handle.


“The point is in perfect condition,” said Ivan.  “Nobody ever rested this sword on its tip.  They must have loved something this sword meant to them.”


The common people had loved their independence so much that when the movers and shakers decided there was some sort of advantage in uniting with England there were riots.  The riots persisted so that the meeting in which the sell-out was concluded had to be held in secret.


On a parapet overlooking the city pipers were raising the skirling notes of the “Finlandia!”


They found Saint Margaret’s Chapel and inspected it. 


“It looks strange,” said Tracy.


“Romanesque,” said Hapgood.  “It was the style of cathedrals before Gothic.  The Gothic style permitted larger windows and let more light into the place.  This gives you a different, more sheltered feeling than Gothic.” 


“What I don’t see,” said Jon. “Is why they say they rediscovered it.  It’s the highest part of the castle on the highest part of the rock overlooking the capital of the country.  How do you lose something like that?  It would be like losing the Washington Monument in Washington.”


As the day waned, they rented a car and drove a few miles out to Roslin Chapel which had featured in a book, The da Vinci Code,  Hapgood had read.


The lavishness of the stonework fulfilled its reputation and more.  It would be hard to exaggerate the detail and complexity of the interior.  There were dozens of different styles of column.  Every square foot overhead had been worked into a design.


There was said to be a connection between this place and the Holy Grail.  But a lot of people have looked for it in vain.


“If I were the Holy Grail, this is the kind of place I would be in.  Was it built by Templars?” asked Jon.


“Some think so,” said Hapgood.  “Let’s say it was.  We were frustrated not to see that stone in Nova Scotia.  You want to see stone?  You’ve got stone.  There is even supposed to be a secret code up there somewhere.”


“O look up there,” said Tracy.  “Somebody’s tied up upside down.  Kinky.  It’s an angel.”


Hapgood consulted some literature.  “It’s supposed to be Azza being punished for having sex with mortal women.”


“Maybe so, but she’s pregnant,” said Tracy. 


“They say that column,” Hapgood indicated a very ornate one.  “It’s called the Apprentice Column.  The master is said to have murdered the apprentice for finishing it without him.  That wouldn’t be the first story of the builder of something incredible being put to death.”


Tracy thought to herself, “Roslin.  Roslin.”  It was like a premonition.  The name kept running through her mind.


They concluded their tour none the wiser.  If there was a mystery here, it was for someone else.  They went back into town and feasted on traditional Scottish haggis.  The reputation of haggis was not encouraging, but it was delicious.  They retired planning an early start on the trip south.


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