“Now, wait there just a minute!” The Dean is on fine form and displaying his prefered expression of outraged indignation. “You say someone from Old College has been here before?”
“Oui, it is true,” replies the Curator, glaring as furiously as a chap can with only one eye. “It was many years ago when I was little more that an enfant. My father was the Curator and I helped him in his work as best I could. Mais, he was a difficult man to please and the weighty burden of his disappointment was laid upon my shoulders each and every day.”
The Curator is lost for a moment in a bitter reverie and I can almost see the hurt little lad behind the leathery crags of a face that shows a life hard lived. Thinking back to the nervous and jittery Pascal, I wonder if history is not repeating itself.
“Yes, yes never mind about that,” continues The Dean. “What about our mysterious predecessor?”
The Curator spits on the floor and mutters something unintelligible in his mother tongue. I cannot help thinking that, although providing a suitably dramatic backdrop, the dungeon may not be the very best place to continue our verbal intercourse. There is a funny smell – either from the rat or the spilt wine – and the place is generally starting to become oppressive.
“Must we really stand around here in the dungeon?” I ask, my voice a little whiny I must admit. “I mean, surely there are far nicer locations we could have a chat.”
The Curator smiles a wicked smile and a sinister little chuckle echos around the oubliette.
“Aha! But what you forget, juene fille, perhaps I have good reason to keep you here in my dungeon!”
“Goodness!” says Professor Duke, patience evidently wearing thin. “Haven’t you ever heard? Once one starts threatening, one begins to be in danger of getting juiced. And now that you bring it up, I can’t think of any good reason to be kept in a dungeon. Perhaps only if you’re hunting rats.”
The Curator shrugs.
“The reasons are good for me, prehaps for you they are not so good. Pas mon problème.”
The Dean looks as if he might explode. The Professor is flexing his fists in the manner of a fellow who is absent-mindedly livid. The two chaps were very keen to engage in battle before and I think the persuasion might take them again, if I’m not careful.
“Okay, okay” I begin “Let’s keep this friendly, shall we? Now, as far as dungeons go this is really not a bad one. Let’s stay in the dungeon, then. But can we please come to the point of all this expeditiously as I am rather in need of a cup of tea. And, as it happens, a wee.”
This seems to move things on a little. Reluctantly, the Curator recounts to us a quite amazing tale. It would appear that decades ago, an unidentified Fellow from Old College did indeed come to Chateau Chinon. They too were searching for the Holy Grail and had also found themselves in this very dungeon. What’s more, the Curator says, they were rather more successful that us!
“You mean to say that the Holy Grail really was sequestered here?” The Dean exclaims.
“It would appear so, Oui,” the Curator replies, nodding sagely. “It seems that the Knights Templar cunningly hid the Grail in these very catacombs before they were executed. Your foregoer must have had such esoteric knowledge that none before could call upon as he found the Grail and stole it away, back to your cursed College! The swine.”
“Goodness me and then some!” Professor Duke is somewhere between astonished and bewildered. “I can’t believe—not for a moment, mind you—that the grail isn’t here, but rather back at Old College! I just tired my legs for no reason, it means.”
“But who was it who came here?” I ask, wondering if they might still be in The Fellowship.
The Curator shrugs.
“I do not know, I never saw him. My father refused to speak of it again, such was the shame that this thing had happened. Not even he knew exactly where the Grail was hidden and for it to be spirited away by an outsider, an Englishman at that… the dishonour was too much for him.”
“Then what happened?” I continue.
“My father took to the wine and was never the same again,” the Curator replies, melancholia dripping from every word. “Soon after, I left this place to join the army and become a man.”
“I can’t believe it…were you once a woman?” asks the Professor, innocently. I try to prevent the words coming out by employing a sharp elbow to the ribs, but alas I am not quick enough.
“That is of no interest to me,” snaps The Dean, waving a dismissive hand at the Professor. “What we need to know is… who took the Grail and where is it now?”
The Curator falls silent; whether the morose memories of sad times hold his tongue or the unusual line of questioning employed by Professor Duke, it is hard to say.
A sudden icy zephyr cuts through the dank air.
The hairs on the back of my neck prickle and I sense his presence before I see him.
What the devil is HE doing here?
When it comes, the voice is darkly familiar; the undertones of malice unmistakable.
“That is precisely what I intend to uncover.”