They were not terribly disappointed. Nothing so far had suggested that they were going to find a secret here in the town. But it was with a sense of leaving something very important, if not their own quest, that they made their departure from the town and drove to la Pique.
It was a mountain only by
local standards. Compared with huge
things like Everest and Sinai, or defiant ones like the Eiger
It was an old mountain, rounded on the top with sides that grew more steep as one descended. The young mountains familiar to American skiers are steepest close to the top and become more gentle lower down. From where they stood, the grade was modest. There was even a little dirt road running past. There and higher up the terrain offered no problem if one wanted to farm it. As it sloped off to the south, it became suitable only for pasture. A small tree stood roughly at the dividing line.
But it appeared that the land was being neither farmed nor grazed, simply being cared for against the time when it would be needed. So there were no mysterious groves, no dense hedges or brambles, and there were no changes in the surface or bits of architecture to give any hint of anything hidden. Their entire area of interest was exposed to a single sweeping glance. Even aerial photography could not have improved on their view point. There was nothing there.
They went to
That seemed to be the end of
the line. They drove about for hours
scouring the countryside, but there were not many roads so it could all be done
in a day. From time to time they would
pass members of the German motorcycled club flashing among the hills on their
black and chrome bikes. Eventually they
began to honk and wave; the motorcyclists would return a
thumbs up high sign.
Despite the fact that this had once been such a rich and populous land, there was no evidence for habitation going back before the Dark Ages. The church was about the oldest thing they had seen. Of the time of
Where were the troubadours? Where were the writers of the Cabala? Who wrote the Nicene code? There might be hints in towns like
They found the place where the painting had been made. There was no tomb, but everything else matched. There was a story that there had not been a tomb originally, but that one had been placed and later removed. They stood on the brow of the hill, where the cenotaph had been and looked out over the shallow valley back toward Rennes le Chateau. The panorama was utterly beautiful but lonesome.
“Where is everybody?” asked
“Couple of things, I think,” said Hapgood. “For one thing this karst landscape is unstable. It takes millions of years to develop, but on a smaller scale it is slowly being churned. Great building might have simply dropped into sinkholes over such time. Or they might have been built out of limestone and simply dissolved. Limestone has lasted well for the pyramids, but it’s a lot wetter here.
“Another thing would be the Albigensian Crusade.
Everybody was killed off. It may
feel unlucky, even though it looks so good to us. And maybe, if
“It’s the waste land of the
Grail curse, it looks like,” said
“I guess there is no
particular reason to think you would find the Grail and the
Late in the day they made their way to the Spring of the Magdalene.
The road skirted the shoulder of a hill. They found a place to pull off the road and park. They got out and looked down into a little wooded ravine. Through the bare trees they could hear and see a brook running by. There was a picnic table set up on the near bank, so they made their way down the slope to the shoreline.
There were enough stepping stones in the brook so that a child could easily have skipped across dry shod. None of them felt like making the effort. There were old stone piers where a bridge had once stood, long since fallen into disrepair and the spans removed. At one time people must have used it to cross from the thoroughfare to the other bank.
There seemed little point in going over. There was nothing on the other side but a sheer cliff and some brush. The only thing to do over there was to come back here. That was why the bridge, unused, was not maintained.
The spring itself was not much to look at. It barely amounted to some moving seepage from the base of the cliff. There was not as much flow as from the spigot where you brush your teeth.
Had they been school children on a summer afternoon, they would undoubtedly hopped from stone to stone for the sheer joy of accomplishing something that nobody else had planned for them. And had they done so, children would have noticed but not interpreted a clue. There was a subtle iridescence where the water was slowly moving over some matted leaves. It was the color of a soap bubble, of an oil slick or of mineral deposited in an unimaginably thin layer. The layer was a about the thickness of a wavelength of light. The area colored was less than a square inch. It was the accumulation of an entire summer. But it was there. And they missed it.
Instead they sat wearily around the picnic table as the shadow of darkness welled out of the ravine and began to fill the valley until only the tips of the highest hills sparkled in rosy alpine glow. They climbed back to the car and drove slowly back to Caracassonne.
While the four had been
scouring the countryside, Kamali had driven his
rental car around
Although it was not clear
from looking at the ground, the direction was obvious against the sky. There was a bold crag miles up and away,
dominating the horizon. The stories said
her relics had been discovered in a cave high on a mountain.
He reached a forest and began to notice landmarks that the guide had described. There was a broad path with stones worn smooth by the pious feet of centuries of pilgrims. The day was warm but the shade of the trees made it more bearable. He toiled upward and onward, alone at this time of year where so many had passed before.
At first the path had led
toward the right of the rock he had seen, but eventually it began trending
left. He passed an enormous bolder that
had split either when it had fallen or in response to eons of stress. The crack was wide enough for a man to
squeeze his body into, and narrow enough so that a younger man, fit and active,
could have worked his way up using alpine chimney technique, bracing himself
between the surfaces. But what pleased
Like the catacombs of
Shortly past the boulder, the path completed its leftward turn and proceeded horizontally toward the crag. Here there was enough room for a motor car to pass, although how one might get up here was something Ail did not know. At last there was a turn to the right and a sign that said in French that the shrine was closed for maintenance.
There was a stone building
nearby, that must have been built as a shelter for the pilgrims
long years past. It was ruinous and
roofless and did not offer shelter from the heat.
As luck would have it, he met a young priest who was in a good mood and disposed to break the rules. Together they went up to the church in the grotto.
The priest led him over to
look at the relics of the saint. She was
not as complete as the story about here suggested, that it was only the jawbone
being revered in
But there were some bones and a skull.
But even without formal
This was the face of unearthly beauty. Of all the unveiled women he had ever met, of all the images he had seen in his travels or in his life, this one was the loveliest. There was a subtle sense that it was a northern face, something about the cut of the jaw and the bluntness of the eyebrows. He was not certain. It lacked the grotesque length that so many Europeans must endure. But still it could be northern.
And the features had an expression. Although moment to moment, the bones force the soft tissues above to conform to the bone shape, yet over many years, the soft tissues shape the bone, just as the mild weather had cracked that mighty boulder he had passed.
He was looking at the expression of someone who had died thousands of years before, fleeting moments of feeling more evanescent than the wind, yet they had left their trace. It was a look of sweetness and joy beyond the normal reach of human kind.
“I think this was a good person,” said Ali.
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