Further down into the bowels of the castle we descend. The light from Doc Kate’s lantern throws shadows into the corner of a vast, stone room with a vaulted ceiling. To either side lay many stone sarcophagi. Atop each bier rests a stone effigy of a knight. Most are fairly typical, clasping a stone sword to their chests. Eventually though, three of the effigies stand out as somewhat different.
One knight’s head rests atop a small chest, with seraphim in all of their glory adorning the chest, wings swept forward. It matches certain descriptions we’ve seen of the Ark of the Covenant. Yet another knight has had his sword replaced with a scroll emblazoned with an Egyptian Ibis. Finally, a third knight grasps not a blade, but a cup to his bosom. Could this depict the Holy Grail?
Doc Totem scrambles up to the ceiling, like a creepy man spider who’s begging to get shot, and declares “Be careful.” I can hear his heavy sigh of resignation as I shrug and amble into the center of the room. If anything’s going to get us, it’s going to get us regardless of preparations. I don’t think today’s the day my ticket get punched, but if it is, I’m not going out like a cringing wallflower. I’m walking headlong towards my fate like a man.
I finish reloading Nora as Totem scrambles back down. We’re going to need to get in these stone sarcophagi we decide, so Alpha, Doc and I roll up our sleeves and put some shoulder into it. With a slow, grinding noise, and a sucking gasp of musty air as the seal breaks on the coffer, the grail coffin opens, revealing a skeletal knight in rusted chain. Alas, there is little else there and we move on to the Ibis scroll.
Inside we beheld a skeleton bearing a silver medallion, untarnished with the ages. The familiar Templar symbol of two poor knights on horseback emblazoned on one side. Doc Totem lifted it from the coffer, watching it glimmer in the lantern light.
“You know,” he began, “the history of the Poor Fellow-Soldiers of Christ and the Temple of Solomon is an interesting one. The knights officially were dedicated to protecting the pilgrims making holy voyages to Jerusalem. One of their symbols was of two knights on horseback. It was meant to symbolize their brotherly devotion to one another and their commitment to poverty. Their detractors would later make other…less savory accusations about the position of the two knights. It didn’t hurt that their Order prohibited contact with women. Still…”
“What’s it say on the back?” Ms. Barnes interrupted.
“There are letters on the back…what. Does. It. Say?”
“Oh! Yes…there they are, very well. Right then.”
The inscription read –
TRANSIERUNT GRANDO ET IGNIS ET IN TERRAM FRATRES, EGO HOC VERO OCCULTUM OCCUBUIT. FRATRES VERO NAVIGAMUS, MAGNI SECRETI CLAVEM PRAESIDIO RELICTUS SUM. FECI OFFICIUMQUE MEUM. DEUS SUSCIPIET ME IN GRATIA. AMEN.
Given the preponderance of classical scholars in our midst, it didn’t take long before we translated that to –
My Brethren have gone to the land of fire and ice, but this secret I take to the grave. While my brethren sailed away, I was left to guard the key to the great secret. I have done my duty. May God accept me into His Grace. Amen
“Arrêter!” A shout came from the doorway behind us. “Stop! Nazi thieves!” the heavily accented voice called out.
A tumult of Frenchmen poured into the room, brandishing MAT pistols and shouting. About here everything got confusing. Everyone was shouting at once. Both Docs, Miss Barnes, Alpha. I heard shouts in French and English. Eventually things settled down and gun barrels were pointed back towards the floor.
A man in an immaculate white suit stepped forward, identifying himself as Pierre de Molay and extending a hand in friendship.
“It seems we have both mutual friends and mutual enemies. It is my sad duty to report to you that your friend and mine, Professor Dickenson, is as we speak being taken by the foul Huns to their masters in Berlin by train. We, my compatriots and I, we would like to extend our aid in helping you to reach your friend and free him from his German captors.”
After a brief spate of back slapping and handshaking, we were all headed back topside, although upon entering the exterior courtyard of the castle, we were in for an unpleasant surprise.
Hovering above the castle, a looming presence, was a massive zeppelin, with the crooked cross swastika emblazoned upon its tail rudder. Atop the walk surrounding the courtyard, amongst the crenellations, swarmed jack booted thugs brandishing Schmeisser MP-38 submachine guns.
“Hallo Americans!” shouted a voice in clipped, German tones, “The Third Reich thanks you for recovering whatever clue you have salvaged from this castle. Do not bother yourself with handing it over, we shall take it from your lifeless fingers. OPEN FIRE!”
Behind me I can hear Agent Alpha, incongruously with a heavy French accent he declares “You will die German scum! Just as your fathers fell at Verdun and watered the French soil with their blood!”
From the corner of my eye I can see a flash of movement as Doc Totem scrambles up the wall to get at the Nazis. If I live a thousand years, I will never get used to seeing that spider crawl. I cannot focus on that now, as the French and Germans have reignited their old wars and the night comes alive with gunfire.
Submachine gun fire rakes the courtyard, and a couple Frenchmen fall. I can feel them buzzing like angry hornets around us which is disorienting enough, until a grenade goes off somewhere behind me and the whole world feels like Hell has opened up. Doc Kate, Alpha and I all scramble for cover in the courtyard. I see the golden gun and Doc’s revolver booming and a couple of Nazis drop up on the parapets. One falls screaming into the courtyard as another shouts “Ach! Nein Wilhelm!”
All around us I see Ms. Barnes, the Doc and Alpha firing at the Germans, along with our newfound French allies.
“Hold together!” I shout from the center of the group, “They can’t take us if we stand strong together!” Nora helps me punctuate that statement with a round through the forehead of a sub gun toting Kraut.
De Molay wounds the officer commanding the Germans with a crack shot from his MAT pistol.
Nora is singing in my hands at this point as I fan off a half dozen rounds and drop two more Nazis, but the returning gunfire from the Krauts is withering and we all scramble for cover. I’m momentarily dazed by the ferocity of the gunfire, and so I’m a little off my reflexes when a potato masher lands in our midst. Ms. Barnes and Alpha are quick to get out of the way, but I see it shred one of the Frenchmen and a white hot shard of shrapnel burns a line of fire across my chest and knocks me to my knees.
As I stagger and reel I see another Frenchman ended under the withering hail of fire. By this time, crazy Doc Totem has surmounted the ramparts and is calling down the mumbo jumbo of the Hawaiian god Pele again. The battlements shake and shiver under the wrath of the mini earthquake, and two more Nazis plunge headlong to their death in the fall from the walls.
Alpha and Doc Kate both drill more goons with their pistols, and Ms. Barnes narrowly misses one, but he plunges off the walls anyway trying to avoid the shot, and the effect is the same.
Alpha and de Molay now are personally focused on the German officer. “You’re mine!” Alpha shouts in his faux French accent as he wings the Oberkapitan, and another shot from our French compatriot wings creases the scalp, causing blood to mingle with his white blonde hair.
I can see Doc Totem grappling with another Nazi up on the battlements, a flashing Hitler Jungend dagger gripping in his Hunnish paws as he slashes at Doc’s sleeve but doesn’t manage to find flesh. As grenades burst in the courtyard and the Germans and French exchange gunfire I finally manage to pull together and squeeze off a final shot at Herr Officer, he doubles over and disappears below the battlements. By that point Totem has finished off his knife wielding madman, and the rest is just mopping up.
Above our heads, the Nazis in the zeppelin wave the white flag and we form an impromptu boarding party with our French allies. De Molay orders his men to take the Germans prisoner as we secure the vessel and it occurs to us that a zeppelin under full steam just might have the juice to overtake the train to Berlin.
As Ms. Barnes steps in with needle and thread to sew up the flap of skin gaping open on the left side of my chest I take a healthy swig of the Old Overholt in my flask and start refilling Nora’s chambers. We have a Professor to save…