Footsteps Of The Templar

Violence Is Golden

The atmosphere in Old Hall is iced with peril and cold, hard steel as neither Professor Duke nor Junior Bursar look set to give way. I half-heartedly brandish my redundant cross-bow in the vague hope that our adversary might flinch at the prospect of two against one. He does not. Bugger.

“Here, you chaps,” I say quickly “I am sure that there is no need for violence. Why are we fighting, anyway?”

“Well, I suppose,” replies the Professor, “Because he’s got a gruesome looking weapon and I’ve got a cool weapon. Battle is bound to be done now.”

am fighting because the very reputation of Old College is at risk of being calumniated!” Junior Bursar squeals. “I cannot allow that to happen.”

I sigh.

“Not that again. Listen. The reputation of Old College would be just fine if it wasn’t for the likes of you resorting to murderous methods every time someone so much as farts incorrectly…”

“There’s actually a right and wrong way to…?” muses Professor Duke. “I had no idea.”

“The current footing can hardly be compared to a fart, Deputy Head Porter,” it is difficult to tell if Junior Bursar is more annoyed at my comment or the fact he has been forced to say ‘fart’. “We are faced with the infiltration of a foreign agent who is unrelenting in his vocation to make fools of us with a fake Grail while all the time plotting to steal the real one away to his confounded motherland. And, yet again, I find you very much in my way. This simply will not do  Deputy Head Porter.”

I had quite forgotten how difficult reasonable conversation can be with Junior Bursar. He is a man who occupies a space somewhere between incongruous and lunacy, particularly where the prominence of College is concerned. At one point I thought I might have grasped the concept of handling Junior Bursar, but it seems I am woefully out of practice.

“Firstly, if you present the real Grail to The Master we will be forced to reveal that we have left The Bursar trapped in the dungeon,” I say, as reasonably as I can. “That won’t look good for us and, even worse, there’s a chance someone might try to release him. Secondly, he hasn’t got the real Grail anyway so I don’t see what the problem is.”

Junior Bursar is irritated, now. He relaxes his grip on the pole-axe in order to wave a bony bunched fist at me.

“And that kind of thinking, Deputy Head Porter, is exactly what keeps you as a College servant whilst the likes of my good self are elevated to the grand heights of academia!”

Ah, yes. The grand heights of thinking like an absolute idiot. But with a great vocabulary. Well, that’s academia for you. 

Taking advantage of the distraction of this brief oration, Professor Duke seizes his chance and strikes towards Junior Bursar, broad sword thrust boldly before him and emitting a terrible cry. I have to admit that I wasn’t expecting that. I drop my cross-bow in shock.

Junior Bursar is equally taken aback. The pole-axe briefly quivers in his grip and he stumbles several feet backwards.

“Time for you to shut your mouth at once!” roars the Professor, moving forward for another parry. “Your argument is rather insufficient, just like you. Let us do battle!”

Oh, for goodness sake…

I fear that I have lost the control of negotiations to a surge of testosterone as both Fellows take up arms with quite some enthusiasm. It crosses my mind to intervene, but the abundance of large, sharp pointy things ensure that the thought is quickly dismissed. After all, members of The Fellowship trying to kill each other is something of a tradition around these parts.

Professor Duke is surprisingly nimble with such a large sword and reigns blow after blow on the fearsome pole-axe, pushing ever closer to the soft and stab-able assailant at the other end. The business end of a pole-axe is no friendly thing and I cannot help but be impressed that the Professor barely flinches as it jabs about his head and shoulders.

“It’s like you have a giant toothpick, or something,” he says at the increasingly frustrated Junior Bursar. “I shall…break you!”

The portentous echos of clashing steel and guttural gruntings fill Old Hall and give the impression of a most terrible battle erupting within its walls. Heart in mouth, I can only spectate and speculate at who might have the upper hand. Professor Duke is younger and stronger but the reach of Junior Bursar’s pole-axe gives him quite the advantage. Every lunge of the Professor’s is met with a deadly swish of pointed steel, only to be returned in kind by the resolute broad sword. This really could go either way.

But then…

The malefic sound of metal through air.

Swiftly followed by the sound of metal through something much more solid than air.

A haunting cry, like that of a stricken animal.

My heart stops. Time itself ceases to exist.

The Professor is down.

With Professor VJ Duke

The Chase Is On

Before I can vocalise the stream of four-letter words that are forming with some vigor in my head, Professor Duke is already heading for the door with alarming alacrity. The Dean looks fit to burst with rage and confusion.

“Get after him!” he bellows, quite unnecessarily.

I join the Professor in sprinting down the staircase and out into Apple Tree Court below, a large portion of which is currently a perilous-looking excavation site. Junior Bursar is surprisingly sprightly for a man of such advanced years and is already within reach of the far cloister.

“Stop!” cries the Professor. “Stop in the name of…the Professor!”

Junior Bursar throws us a vicious glare from over his shoulder and redoubles his efforts. We make after him, giving the gaping archaeological crevasse a wide berth. I glimpse, briefly, a clutch of vaguely attentive wedding guests perusing the hole with some interest. They glance briefly in our direction, but the pursuit does not seem to hold much interest to them. They must be police officers. They see this sort of thing all the time.

As Junior Bursar continues onwards, ever snatching a peek at our progress, a moment of delightful serendipity comes to pass. Emerging nonchalantly from the flowerbeds, paws caked in mud from some kind of digging, is a familiar back and white figure. Terry takes one look upon the unfolding scene and immediately deploys the classic feline attribute of being in the exact same spot as human feet are planning to be. The result of which is to send Junior Bursar toppling into the flowerbeds, with quite some grace, it has to be said.

“Oh goody goody!” whoops the Professor, heading towards the scene at a great rate of knots, legs pumping wildly and top hat bobbing up and down with fearsome ferocity.

I follow behind, my stomach protesting at such activity whilst attempting to digest an ill-advised selection of food and drink. I have often lamented the frightful regularity of meals being interrupted by College business, but hindsight is a wonderful thing and only now do I see the expedient nature of such a thing. Giving chase on a full stomach is a miserable experience, indeed.

Junior Bursar has sprung to his feet and, like a hunted animal, has resumed his flight. Terry gives his departure a cursory glance before turning his attentions to the serious business of tail and paw grooming. He pays us no heed as the Professor and I sprint past, diving into the cloister after our quarry.

“He’s heading into Old Hall!” I gasp, pointing towards the lithe figure vanishing into one of the grander parts of Old College.

“And so are we, I say!” the Professor replies, strangely chirpy.

The magnificent, towering wooden doors of Old Hall are slightly ajar and we soundlessly slip inside like ninjas, keen to maintain the element of surprise. There is a reticent hush about the Hall, a suspiciously reticent hush. Stopping for a moment to catch our breath, we cast our eyes around. I have spoken before of the great beauty of this place; the grand medieval fireplace is rather redoubtable when unlit, like an ominous portal to goodness knows where. Oil paintings of academics long since passed gaze down somewhat reproachfully upon us, retaining the pomposity they no doubt so treasured in life.

At the far end, bathed in the light of the late evening sun seeping through the stained glass windows, stand three suits of armour; the eternal sentries to the memory of the past. Their metallic limbs gleam as splendidly as the day they were forged and I must say that I do not envy the poor soul who has the job of keeping them that way.

“You know,” whispers Professor Duke, eyeing the armour. “If this were a film, the villain would be hiding in one of those over there. I might hide in one, too, the sudden.”

“This isn’t a film,” I reply “This is far more unlikely than that.”

“Let’s take a look, anyway, please.”

We tip-toe over to the far end, furtively looking about as we go. The silence is somewhat unnerving. In fact, this isn’t quite what you would call ‘silence’ – that is just an absence of sound – this is something else entirely. I can hear my own heartbeat in my ears but at least it goes some way to blocking out the worrying noises coming from my stomach. We approach the suits of armour with care, studying them closely for any signs of life. Nothing seems amiss.

“It’s a bit of a shame, really,” I say. “I would have thought that would have been right up Junior Bursar’s street, hiding in a suit of armour.”

“These fine fellows can still be of service to us,” the Professor replies, with that worrying look of determined mischief in his eyes. Oh, dear. What is he up to? “Here, he won’t be needing this…” the Professor gently releases a broad sword from the iron glove of the nearest hollow warrior.

“Is that even a real sword?” I ask. Professor Duke handles it thoughtfully for a moment before thrusting it towards my rear area, poking me rather abruptly in the bum.

“Ouch!” It is a real sword. “Why ever did you do that?!”

“It looked quite fleshy, I didn’t think it would hurt too much. But I am sorry.” Nonetheless, the Professor seems delighted that his weapon is effective. “You should get one, too—but no poking.”

Actually, that is not a bad idea. Junior Bursar may give the appearance of a feeble geriatric, but he has dispatched with an impressive number of souls, by all accounts. I look to the next suit of armour and relieve it of a crossbow. Nice!

But then I spot it.

The final suit of armour is bereft of weaponry. Its empty glove hangs redundant by its side.

Behind us, a voice…

“Well, well well! I wondered when you might be joining me. Let us keep this brief, shall we?” Junior Bursar wields his pole-axe with frightening dexterity. I don’t think that this is the first time he has handled one of these.

“We better not get blood on my suit, or I’ll gouge your eyes out once I cut your head off!” the Professor growls, readying his stance and brandishing his sword with equal aptitude.

I look down forlornly at my crossbow. I have never used a crossbow before, which is just as well because it doesn’t have a bolt in it anyway.

Well – it wouldn’t be a proper wedding without a fight, would it?

With Professor VJ Duke

Stuff Of Legend

Gathered in The Dean’s rooms, all eyes are fixed on the unassuming object placed with great care on the walnut coffee table. All eyes, that is, except for those of Head Porter – which are shut tight and watering slightly from the burden of inebriation. The ambiance is a strange, heady mixture of a thousand years of mystery charged with euphoric disbelief; the air tastes of electrified absinthe.

I tear my gaze momentarily from the quietly compelling item before us and glance across at Junior Bursar. He sits with a smile of smug satisfaction displayed broadly across his face, openly gloating over his newly revealed status as bearer of the Holy Grail.

Well, who can blame him? For centuries the Grail has been ardently hunted by all and sundry, the apparent impossibility of the task pushing it ever further into the realm of myth. And yet here it is. Although it seems almost more unreal before me now than when it was the stuff of legend. It exerts a magnetic vitality that draws us close; wordlessly it has gathered us to it in humbled awe. Professor Duke tentatively extends an exploratory finger.

“Don’t touch it!” Junior Bursar snaps.

“But why not?!” asks the Professor. “You’ve touched it, I warrant. I’m curious to see if it’s hot or cold or both or neither. I want to know what it feels like.”

“It’s the Holy Grail, not a cashmere jumper,” huffs Junior Bursar. “Besides, I do not wish for you to get your sticky fingerprints all over it. I shall be presenting it to The Master very shortly.”

The Professor looks reproachfully at his hands and wipes them vigorously on the hem of his jacket, scowling. “Not that sticky…”

“You will not be presenting this to anyone, much less The Master!” says The Dean, wagging a finger.

“I assure you that I will! Why, I cannot allow this so-called Bursar to come swanning in, taking the credit for ruining a perfectly good lawn in the pursuit of false idols.”

“Actually, The Bursar won’t be swanning anywhere anytime soon,” I say, feeling strangely satisfied about the fact. “We left him locked in the dungeons of the Chateau de Chinon. The Curator said that he would leave him there until he had forgotten about him.”

Junior Bursar’s eyes twinkle with malicious glee. This is very much up his street.

“I say, Deputy Head Porter,” he chuckles. “I am rather impressed, you know. I should recruit you to The Vicious Circle.

“Let’s not speak of such things any longer,” the Professor says, darkly. “We have enough dadblamery at Old College, don’t you know.”

Junior Bursar snorts.

“Says you, who are merrily dispatching Bursars left, right and centre.”

“It was just the one Bursar,” the Professor replies, sniffily. “But I could be quite tempted to dispatch with more, don’t you know.”

“Enough of this!” thunders The Dean, waving an arm furiously. “There’s a wedding in full swing just over there and the buffet is still out. I don’t need to be wasting time with this nonsense. Junior Bursar, you are an utter bugger and always have been. I say that you will return to Tuscany and continue with your retirement this instant.”

Junior Bursar draws himself up to his full height, which admittedly isn’t especially impressive. However, his stone-cold visage and general aura of menace gives him a level of gravitas beyond that which might be expected. Besides, I know exactly what he is capable of.

The Dean is squaring up for another verbal assault on his former colleague when Head Porter makes a belated and, it must be said, rather unpleasant, contribution to proceedings. A muffled gurgle draws our attention sharply to his nesting place on The Dean’s settee. This is followed a sort of wet, rattling sound from the back of his throat and immediately Head Porter is awake and wide-eyed. A heaving of his shoulders and swelling of his cheeks seems to confirm the worst.

“For God’s sake, man – not on the settee!” The Dean looks aghast at the potentially unappetising scenario erupting before him. “Deputy Head Porter! Open a window!”

As instructed, I rush to the nearest window and fling it open. Professor Duke gamely leaps across to assist a struggling Head Porter – quite clearly on the brink of gastric explosion – which is very brave for a man wearing a white suit, I think.  The Professor manages to dangle Head Porter’s top half quite expertly through the window, just as a substance that was not so long ago a wedding buffet escapes violently into the warm evening air. Said substance dutifully obeys Newton and finds itself artfully decorating the courtyard below, like something of a ventral Jackson Pollock.

“Goodness me,” the Professor says, slapping Head Porter’s back. “Hope you’re better now. Ghastly business, this. Hope you’re spicy again.”

Head Porter replies with a weak nod and soft moaning noises.

“I hope he didn’t get any on the window sill,” mumbles The Dean.

A small, tiny panic suddenly crawls up my spine and nips at the back of my brain.

I spin round, wildly looking about the room. Just as I thought.

The door ajar and the coffee table noticeably emptier than before, Junior Bursar has gone.


With Professor VJ Duke