Chapter 30a


Rennes le Chateau, November 18, 8 AM


They got an early start and reached Rennes le Chateau while the sun was still low. 


The night before they had puzzled over the crossword.  It had been immediately apparent to Tracy that the words went in four directions and that numbers appeared in all four corners of the squares and had to indicate the orientation of the words.  There were several down words in the lower right corner and down the right side.  This was the Achilles heel of the puzzle, since it was one place where the length of the words could be known without knowing any other words.    She had guessed that “likes a threesome” was an irreverent reference to Athanasians.  After that it was much like any other crossword puzzle.


Once the “1” was interpreted as an “I,” the message was read as the across words.  Ivan, Poisson shepherds indicate grotto.  Ignore sarcophagus, Baal.  Finish Gotterdamerung.” 


Jon said, “‘Finish might be the end of the message or it might mean, “Finish Gotterdamerung.”


“What would that mean?” asked Ivan.


“‘Gotterdamerung, as the clue mentions, is the Twilight of the Gods,” said Hapgood.  “It’s a Norse myth.  At the end of time, the heroes and gods go out to do battle against the Midgarth Serpent, which wraps around the middle of the world, and against Fenris Wolf.  When Fenris Wolf charges, his upper jaw scrapes the sky and his lower jaw gouges the earth.


“It isn’t just a little thing like the ultimate battle between good and evil.  Even if evil won there would be something left and good might be able to arrange a rematch eventually.  But this is the battle against chaos.  It’s for all the jelly beans.  After chaos wins there is nothing.”


“You mean like the extinction of the human race,” said Tracy.


“That would be about it,” said Hapgood.  “You can imagine worse things, like the dismantling of reality itself, but for us it comes to the same issue.  It means end of story.”


“So it’s ambiguous,” said Jon.  “It could mean we should ignore the word Gotterdamerung or it could mean we are right in the middle of it.”


“That’s about right,” said Hapgood.  “It’s ambiguous.  It could even be a hint after the message, an easy one to decode like we’ve seen before.”


“It’s a strange crossword puzzle,” said Tracy.  “A good puzzle lets you know how many letters are in your word.  And nobody uses diagonal words.  I guess they didn’t send their best talent.”


Jon said, “Ten words for the clue.  We have our work cut out.”


“I guess it’s not under Lake Baal or the shepherds’ grave,” said Tracy. 


They took out the print of the painting that Lanier had given them.  The painting showed a small group of shepherds examining a tomb and looking puzzled.  They were pointing at the inscription on the tomb, which said in Latin, “I Am in Arcadia, Too.”  In fact two of them were pointing at the inscription.  One of them did not look puzzled.  It was a woman.  As Tracy pointed out, she was pregnant.  She seemed to be about to explain what a tomb was and what “I” was to these people who had lived so long they had forgotten about death. 


The terrain was rather dry and barren, like the original Arcadia of Greece and unlike almost all of the rest of France, so lush and green except in the winter.  But it was France, all right.  Mountains named la Pique and Pech Cardou, were visible on the horizon and Rennes le Chateau as well.  The names were not helpful.  Rennes le Chateau meant, “Queen, the Castle,” to distinguish it from Rennes in the north.  La Pique simply meant “the summit.”  Pech Cardou was a bit difficult.  The word ‘pech’ looked like either the word for “peach” or the word for “go fishing.”  Cardhu was Gaelic for “Black Rock.”


“So we’re looking for a cave, right?” asked Ivan.  “And it ought to be somewhere in the landscape of that picture.”


They got out their books.  There was a book named Genisis by a man who had puzzled over this area at great length.  He had discovered that many places, churches and physical features, seemed laid out in a deliberate pattern for all the world like a giant crop circle.  Jon called up a map from the internet on the laptop computer and identified the landmarks.  Then, using a graphics program, he verified that the pattern existed.  He used a scanning wand and scanned the picture in. 


As Jon worked, Hapgood had an idea and strolled down to the front desk, where he talked with the concierge.  He asked if there was a cave in the region, and the concierge gave him a brochure for a cavern called the Cave of the Magdalene.  Hapgood brought it back to the room, but upon examining it found that the cave was far to their north and not known to be of historical interest. 


Then he turned to the Michelin Guide and found that there was, indeed, another cave associated with Mary Magdalene.  It was outside of their immediate area, but it was the cave where her relics had lain for so long and where they were still the object of an enormous annual pilgrimage.  There was no way the locals were unaware of the real cave, but they probably had no interest in the idle curiosity of tourists poking around a holy site.  Still, it was not what they were looking for.


Buy now Jon had three images on the laptop.  One was the local map.  One was the crop circle, and the third was the print.  There was a clue in the book indicating that the layout of the painting was determined by the same crop circle diagram as the layout of the landmarks.  So he superimposed the diagram on the painting and marked where the shepherds were pointing.  Then he transferred it back to the map.  The shepherds were pointing to the southern slopes of la Pique. 


Hapgood told them what he had been able to find and then remarked, “It’s like the fairy tale tradition.  Everything in fairyland goes by reverses.  You can’t get there except when you are trying to walk away, and when you walk toward it, it isn’t there any longer.  The cave I was asking about is to the south and east, and they give me a brochure that says go north.”


“Fair enough,” said Jon.  “We reverse the directions.”  He clicked at the computer and flipped the diagram over left to right.  Now the location the shepherds indicated was on the opposite side, to the right or east rather than to the left.  The landmark at that point was called, The Spring of the Magdalene.


Tracy whistled.  “That’s got to be more than a coincidence.”


“Doesn’t have to be,” said Jon.  “Everything in this area seems to have some sort of spooky name.  There’s Lake Baal, for instance, and just south of the Spring of the Magdalene is the Devil’s Seat.  Somebody with a lot of imagination named everything it looks like.”


They looked at the secret messages, which were quoted in one of their books called Holy Blood-Holy Grail, but could make no more of them than had been made by others before.  It was getting late by the time they had done this much, so they turned in and were up before first light to arrive at the little town where the priest had found the coded parchments. 


As they drove up the winding lane from the highway to the village Jon noticed something growing on the bank beside the road.  He asked Ivan to stop a moment and got out to take a look.  There were grape vines growing wild, and two or three late grapes still hung drying despite the lateness of the season and the predations of birds.  Jon stared in amazement.  The others got out to see.


“They’re huge,” said Jon.  “And look at the color.  They’re almost black.  They must have been beautiful earlier in the autumn.”


“I wouldn’t suggest eating one,” said Hapgood.  “If the birds know better, it’s probably poisonous.”


Jon rested two fingertips on the bottom of one of the grapes.  A strange warm feeling, almost too much to bear was welling up inside him.  He tried to explain it.


“In the past few years, I have seen grapes almost this big in the grocery store.  But the color and taste aren’t much to brag about.  And that’s with all modern technology working to improve them.”  He paused so as not to choke.


Yes, and …?” Ivan encouraged. 


“They’re wild.  Don’t you see, they’re growing wild here.  But wild grapes wouldn’t grow this big.  They must be domestic grapes that have gone wild and developed chemical defenses so they all didn’t get eaten.  But they were once grapes such as the world hasn’t seen for a thousand years. 


“Look out there.”  The others followed his gesture toward the broad and fertile landscape so empty of humans.  “It must have been an empire of enormous wealth.  They bred and selected these grapes for century after century.  Ever since the time of Rome. from long before the time of Rome.  They brought ... SHE brought a vine from the Holy Land.”


It seemed incongruous that the sight of a weed could stir him after they had spent so much time dealing with what might be the salvation of the human race.  He whispered, “These were my people.  We did this.  It happened right here.  And then …” Emotion overcame him.  They got back into the car. 


The lane made a spectacular curve that offered a splendid view and then did a tight S turn before starting up the steep straight street of the town.  At the top they found a parking lot for tourists and got out to explore. 


Visible from the parking lot was a beautiful small building that the priest had put up as his study.  It looked like a castle about the size of a house, complete with a crenellated tower.  From its vantage point one looked far out over the broad lonesome valley toward the hillside where the shepherds in the painting had been depicted.  The tower was called the Tower of the Magdalene, and somewhere within view of it was, or the priest probably thought was, the location of the secret.  But the priest himself had apparently spent most of his life tramping over the entire area and in the end had not felt successful.  How they had a chance they had no idea.


Karst,” said Ivan.  “It’s a limestone landscape.  The shape of the higher ground is determined by where the erosion has been limited.  It can make for very dramatic hills.  Underground streams carry away the mineral of the limestone and the earth can fall, making sink holes like in Florida, or sometimes when the whole region is dropping, it leaves promontories like the one we’re on.”


“So the bottom may fall out of this at any time?” asked Jon.


“It takes millions of years, so we should be all right for the day,” said Ivan. 


“But it does mean there should be caves?” asked Tracy.


“Should be,” said Ivan.  “The problem the priest had was probably finding too many caves.  There is only one we’re interested in.”


In the basement of the building copies of the parchments were on display.  One of them was in Latin, but there were a number of letters raised above the line.  The code read out in French.  The other parchment contained a more difficult code as they had discovered in their reading.  Like the treasure of Oak Island, there was just enough promise and just enough clue to lead a person to spend far too much of his life in pursuit. 


They went in to the little ancient Church of the Magdalene, where the documents had been found.  It was Romanesque.  The first thing that greeted them at the door was a baptismal font shaped like a creature that could only be described as a demon.  There were stained glass windows and glorious paintings.  The priest had probably been an artist himself of no small accomplishment, and he had had the resources to hire the best talent.


One of the paintings had been interpreted as showing Christ being carried out of the tomb.  Since this was an event that according to scripture could never have happened, it was a daring image to say the least.  The image was intimately tied in with the tradition that Christ may have survived the crucifixion and been recovered living from the sepulcher.   That would have been a heresy of the first order, yet here it was darkly hinted at. 


The interior was grand and lovely, and the morning sun cast pools of color through the stained glass windows.  The air seemed to groan Bach’s “Dies Irae.”  But they wandered and wondered and came away no wiser. 


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