Month: April 2015

What We Found In The Crypt

My previous attempt to explore the Crypt was somewhat foiled by The Master and his partiality to sudoko puzzles so I am quietly delighted at the prospect of poking around this most ancient and unusual part of Old College. The final resting place of Old College Masters since the mid-1400s, I find it to be no coincidence that the Crypt is situated in close proximity to the wine cellars. The Fellowship elite are remarkably comforted by having a good quality claret close to hand.

Head Porter has remained behind at the Lodge, as apparently ‘we still have a College to run, you know.’ Such a minor point has not deterred The Dean, who was eager to lead the charge into the very bowels of our academic institution.

My eyes adjusting to the cloying gloom, I get the sense that the darkness in this place is something much more tangible that a mere absence of light. Rather, it is the presence of something else. I try not to let the fact that I am surrounded by tombs lead my thoughts to darker places than is sensible and try to think on something useful. In all honesty, a great deal of the sinister atmosphere has been somewhat diluted by the continued bantering of Professor Duke and The Dean. Evidently thrilled to be in each other’s company, their rapier-like wit and bawdy exchanges verge on being slightly disrespectful in such eminent company.

Breathing the centuries-old air catches my throat a little and the resultant coughing elicits the attention of my companions.

“Is everything alright?” asks the Professor. “Do you need some water or juice?”

I offer a thumbs up to signify the affirmative whilst a particularly vicious skirmish of dust assaults my windpipe. The Professor turns towards The Dean.

“Now, Mr. Dean, be a good chap and give her some water,” he says.

“What? I haven’t got any water,” The Dean replies. Professor Duke pats himself down as if some previously forgotten source of water might appear about his person.

“Dadblameit.”

“Never mind, never mind” I say, finally clearing my airways. “I’m fine.”

“Right then,” says The Dean, beginning to pace at little. A sure sign that he is thinking. “Obviously the sensible thing to ensue is to search for clues. It’s a tried and tested method, we always find something interesting when we search for clues.”

“Very true!” the Professor agrees with some enthusiasm. “Now, what is the usual form that these things take? I shall keep two eyes searching about.”

“There’s the rub, you see” replies The Dean. “They can be literally anything. Once, one of the buggers turned out to be a kettle.”

“That’s true, actually” I confirm. “Anyway. Let’s just take a look around, shall we? See what we find.”

Once some candles have been lit, I must say that the Crypt does have a certain macabre charm. The artfully fashioned marble caskets of rest are of the finest craftsmanship and their beauty still emanates through the layers of dust. I find myself thinking that I should suggest to Porter that he bring Detective Sergeant Kirby down here, before quickly putting a stop to that train of thought. I shouldn’t really be encouraging that kind of behaviour.

As we progress through the chambers there is a feeling of travelling back through time as I notice that the dates on the tombs hurtle further and further towards the past. The gravity of what we are doing, what we are searching for is punctuated by The Dean chortling at the more unusually named Masters and the Professor excitedly whistling what sounds like two tunes at once. Before long, we find ourselves in a chamber that feels positively prehistoric, even by Old College’s standards. The low ceiling drips something thick and undefined and the walls have a sticky sheen of an unworldly, reeking substance. The tombs here are not the elegantly carved sculptures of reverence that we have previously seen. There is nothing aesthetic about the lichen-ridden slabs of stone that nestle stoically in the fettering gloom.

I train the beam of my trusty Maglite on the crumbling stone to see if I can make out any inscriptions there. Running a hand along the rough and aged surfaces, the tombs feel a lot sturdier than they look.

“Now take a look here!” Professor Duke is boisterously buffing one of the tombs with his cuff. “I’ve found an interest.”

The Dean and I gather round and see what he is getting at. It is just possible to make out some sort of inscription on the tomb. It is not something I could recognise, rather a collection of symbols inscribed on the lid.

“Well!” exclaims The Dean. “What in buggery are those things?”

“Maybe clues, my man!” the Professor replies.

A hurried inspection of the other tombs reveals similar symbols cut into the stone, still visible after many centuries. But what do they mean? Enthused by this interesting find, we begin to search the chamber a little more carefully. All jovial banter has subsided, a keen focus now at the fore.

There is an ancient, primordial instinct that comes to the surface at times such as these. My conscious mind cannot even imagine what I might be looking for, but the unrelenting conviction that there is something to be found drives me on. That, and the over-riding urge to get to whatever it is before the chaps find it.

It would seem that today is my lucky day.

Near to the chamber’s entrance, where the wall meets the floor, is a most unusual thing indeed…

Wallcode

I call the other two over.

“Goodness me!” exclaims the Professor. “What on earth is that? A bunch of gardoobling letters, I think. What a confusing wonder.”

“I’ll tell you what that is,” replies The Dean. “That, my friend, is a clue.”

“Those are the same symbols that are on the tombs,” I say, barely able to form the words. “Underneath is what I assume to be a translation. It’s in Latin.”

“What does it mean?” The Dean asks. I clear my throat and hope that my schoolgirl level of Latin is sufficient. Just barely, it is.

“It says –

‘Remember fair Avalon, City of Harmony

Remember our queen, the sleeping jewel

Silent in the fair City of Harmony’

Or, as good as, anyway.”

“Awesome job, Deputy Head Porter!” the Professor claps his hands with glee. “As a side note, I’m wondering what sort of jewel the queen was. An emerald or a diamond. Anyways, all we have to do is find Avalon and the Grail is ours! Right! Right?”

I need some time to think. The realisation that the Holy Grail might really be hidden somewhere in this very room is something of a distraction.

Find Avalon. But how?

 

With Professor VJ Duke

Adventurers Assemble

Heading back to Old College, I am as happy as a bee. The sun is shining, Professor Duke is whistling a merry tune by my side and the prospect of adventure is beckoning us with a coy wink. A warm breeze tugging gently at my bowler sets a somewhat playful tone and it is only with the greatest of self-restraint that I am not skipping along the cobbled streets.

Although sunlight falls like shards of gold throughout the courtyards, Old College does not share the afternoon’s sunny disposition. Exams are looming large on the academic calendar and a miasma of anxious tension pervades the ancient stone walls and the sun-dappled cloisters. College rivalry is at its very peak at this time, the fight for academic superiority never more fiercely fought. To make matters worse, the boat races are but weeks away and the river is cluttered with noisy youths furiously practicing their strokes and threatening all sorts to their rivals. Often quite early in the morning.

Professor Duke and I return to the Porters’ Lodge to be met with an all-together different type of tension. Picking our way through a babbling crowd of students, we see a pink-cheeked Head Porter theatrically checking his watch. His wiry hair has unfurled itself and become stuck to his dampened forehead, a sure sign that he has had quite a day of it, by all accounts. I sense some stern words coming my way.

“Now, hold on a few and for a minute, Mr Head Porter, and give me a listen,” The Professor gamely approaches with a smile so amiable you would invite it to tea. “I know I have kept your Deputy away longer than I should have. Please accept my apologies. But I can assure you that she has been working very hard, all for the good of the College.”

Faced with the slightly vicious charm of the newest member of The Fellowship and coming to the conclusion that, actually, that did sound rather like an apology in a roundabout way, Head Porter relents.

“Well, I suppose it might be seen as College business,” says Head Porter, suppressing a little smile. “So then, what did you get him?”

“Hmm?” I reply.

“The Master – what did you get him?”

Oh, bugger! Yes. The Master’s gift.

“Ah. We haven’t quite got it yet,” I say.

Head Porter does not looked particularly amused.

“But we’re going to get it, and very shortly too,” The Professor jumps in. “In fact, we were just on our way to get it as of now!”

“Listen,” says Head Porter “I really can’t spare Deputy Head Porter for another minute. It’s been like Piccadilly Circus in here today and she still has her duties from this morning to attend to. I am sure, Professor, that you can manage the collection of a small gift by yourself.”

“But… but… but actually no! – I need the little scamp to help me with it” replies the Professor with alarming alacrity.

“Is it heavy?”

“Kinda not.”

“Well, then…”

“It’s the… Holy Grail!” I whisper with as much gusto as I can manage. Surely Head Porter will deem the quest for the Holy Grail more pressing than checking keys? Then again…

“The… what?” Head Porter is rendered almost speechless. It is nice to know that I can still surprise the old chap, even after everything. “The Holy Grail? Really? Oh, no no no no no. I’m not having this. I just knew this was going to happen.”

I exchange a puzzled glance with Professor Duke and shrug, willing Head Porter to explain. With a drawn out sigh and solemn shaking of the head, he looks me straight in the eye and continues.

“Just when things were ticking along splendidly, nice and quiet – no dead bodies, no mysterious happenings… not a sign of ancient shadowy organisations! Along comes your top-hatted friend and all of a sudden you’re off searching for the Holy Grail. Unbelievable.”

“Who’s off searching for the Holy Grail?”

Before I can even begin to defend myself, a familiar vociferous roar fills the Lodge, followed closely by The Dean, strutting along with a serious looking tome tucked under his arm.

“Aha! VJ! There you are!” he exclaims. “I’ve been looking for you. I have got you this book, here. I thought you might like to read it, because I wrote it.”

“Now that sounds awesome!!” replies Professor Duke. “What’s it about?”

“Well, I can’t remember now, it was a long time ago,” replies The Dean. “You have a read of it and let me know, there’s a good chap. Now then! What’s all this about the Holy Grail?”

A brief, yet spirited, account of our dealings at Templar Antiquities leaves Head Porter once more shaking his head in despair, but The Dean appears to be delighted. His dark eyes shine intently beneath bushy brows and he slaps his thigh with great enthusiasm.

“Well, this is simply marvellous!” he exclaims. “You know, I was only this morning thinking that we could do with a corpse or something to liven the place up. I was of a mind to kidnap one of the gardeners myself, so this is rather good timing.”

“The best of it is,” begins the Professor, getting quite excited now “That the Grail is here somewhere in Old College grounds! We can be done and dusted in time for tea, I’ll bet you. What fun this will be and not at all vexing.”

“Hmm! Quite!” The Dean scratches his chin thoughtfully. “Now then… ‘the Grail sleeps beneath the dragon, watched over by minds of fire.’ Rather makes me think that it would be underground somewhere, don’t you think?”

“Yes, Sir” I agree. “And the minds of fire could very well relate to the academics, The Fellowship.”

“Pah!” exclaims The Dean. “Minds of fire are all very well but in the belly is where you really need it. With a bellyful of fire a chap is unstoppable!”

“But The Fellowship are about all over the place,” says Professor Duke “Where would they watch over anything?”

“I think it refers to the very top end of the academic hierarchy,” I reply. “The Masters of College. And there is somewhere quite specific where all Masters of College find themselves eventually. Beneath Old College.”

From the corner of my eye, I can see Head Porter place his head in his hands, his hopes of a quiet life crumbling before him.

The Crypt!” The Dean roars. “Of course! I bloody well knew it, you know. Right, then! Everyone to The Crypt at once!”

 

With Professor VJ Duke

A Legend, Close To Home

The Antiques Shop Owner beckons us through to a room at the back of the shop. It is arranged like a drawing-room – the sumptuous personal quarters of a dignified academic, perhaps – but labels and tags hanging from the furniture seem to indicate that it is simply further stock for his unusual emporium. Dimly lit and cunningly arranged, this room feels rather like a staged set; darkly theatrical and other-worldly in equal measure, I must say that I am glad of the Professor’s company in this place.

“Please, make yourself at home,” says the Shop Owner, gesturing to the eclectic array of seating scattered about the room. Professor Duke heads for a high-backed velvet armchair with matching footstool, which he settles himself into with a cacophony of satisfied gruntings. Spying a tea set sat proudly upon an elderly looking dining room table, I pull up one of the accompanying chairs hoping that my proximity to the tea things will prompt an offer of refreshment.

I never know quite how seriously to take an offer to ‘make myself at home’. Probably not too seriously, I would think. Sometimes I wonder if it is merely a friendly way of saying ‘sit down’. Just as I am considering pushing the boundaries of ‘making myself at home’ into ‘making myself a pot of tea’, the Shop Owner joins me at the table. He rather rudely has his back to the Professor, although I soon notice that he can see him reflected in the highly polished surface of a gilded mirror situated on the wall close by. The Professor has already spotted this and is eyeing the Shop Owner with some intent.

 

antiqueshop2

The Antique Shop Owner and my good self

 

“Tell me, my Old College friends,” the Shop Owner begins, his keen eyes flitting between mine and the reflection of the Professor. “What think you of mysteries? And, for that matter, histories?” There is an expectant pause, during which we are evidently expected to do more than gawp gormlessly, which is what we do. “What find you more compelling – the mysteries of histories or… the histories of mysteries?”

“Well, here it is,” the Professor replies testily, “Riddles vex me, overall. So, let’s not speak in riddles; otherwise, if you insist to speak in riddles, I shall need some tea Deputy Head Porter would like some, too.”

“The Professor is right,” I agree. “But back to your question – we at Old College are fairly well versed in both history and mystery. If you want our help, which I can only assume that you do, then you had better start with some straight-talk. And if you have such thing as a kettle, I should get it on, sharpish.”

The Shop Owner ignores us both and continues as if neither of us had said a word.

“Since I was a small boy, my interest has been held by arguably the greatest legend of these lands – or any lands, it could even be said! A legend so well-known that it has become intangible. That is to say, the legend of the Knights Templar and their quest for the Holy Grail!”

Professor Duke sits up smartly in his chair.

“Deputy Head Porter – I must be forward a bit – This guy’s mad!” he says, not even attempting to be tactful. “I say if there’s no tea to be had then we buy The Master the sparkly earring and be away with ourselves.”

“You would not rather present the most elusive treasure of legend to The Master of Old College?” the Shop Owner asks, although his tone suggests that this is more of an instruction than a question. “For I have reason to believe that it lay very close by.”

Professor Duke is momentarily distracted by this surprise announcement and I wish I could say the same. However, I am so accustomed to the unlikliness of the academic world that very little shocks me these days. An enigmatic antique dealer talking about the Holy Grail does not create quite the twang of anticipation that one might expect. In fact, I would go as far as to say that if there was ever a likely hiding place for the Grail, Old College could very well be it. Head Of Housekeeping probably keeps jellybeans in it, or something.

The Professor strides over and stands beside my chair, hand on hip – a sure sign that he means business.

“Now, I’ve got a question – or a few,” he fixes the Shop Owner with his very best stare. “What makes you so sure that the Grail is in Old College and why are you so keen to share this information with us? Speak up!”

The Shop Owner slides out a little drawer, artfully concealed within the table’s edge. He removes some carefully collected papers, tied with blue ribbon. He handles the small bundle as one would an explosive or deadly poison; as he does so, he speaks.

“All my life I have researched and hunted for the truth about the Knights Templar and the Holy Grail,” he says. “Along the way I have found many truths and of many things I can be certain. The Templar’s connection to The City, yes. And… the connection to Old College is all but cast in stone…” He gently pushes the unwrapped papers across the table towards me. A quick glance is enough to tell me that they are written in a form of old English that I haven’t a hope of understanding. The Shop Owner seems to sense this and is good enough to explain further.

“It says in here, amongst other things, that ‘the Grail sleeps beneath the  dragon, watched over by minds of fire.’ It is my belief that the Templar entrusted the Grail to the College founders, so that it might be hidden within the construction.”

The Order of the Lesser Dragon,” I reply, scratching my chin.

“Well, I wouldn’t put anything past those buggers,” agrees the Professor. Then he adds “Dadblameit!”

“I am certain that the Grail lies within the grounds,” the Shop Owner reiterates, a passion rising in him now. “But someone such as myself would never be permitted to search in such secret places. But you – you! You both could hunt for me, uncover the truth and take the gift that wants itself to be taken! The gift of truth and of legend.”

The Shop Owner is wild-eyed with fervency now and is a humble supplicant to our mercy and favour. I look over expectantly towards the Professor, who shrugs his shoulders.

“You know, the Holy Grail would make a brilliant gift for The Master,” he says.

“Oh, go on, then,” I say, resigned to the fact. “I suppose we could take a quick look around the old place.”

 

With Professor VJ Duke