dungeon

The Sins Of The Father

“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.”

 

With Professor VJ Duke

A Reputation That Precedes Us

As the sound of approaching footsteps grows louder I hold my breath, which is a rather unlikely thing to be doing when I might need to be running or fighting at any moment soon. It is a perfectly natural human reaction to such things, but quite a stupid one.

“I bet things are going to get pretty spiced up in here,” whispers Professor Duke. “I’m thinking I should put down my hat so it will be safe.”

“Never mind your blasted hat,” replies The Dean “We need a plan. Whatever it is that comes for us, I say we attack it all at once. I shall go for the head, since I am the tallest.”

“I’ll go for the neck, since it’s a softer target, I’m thinking,” says the Professor. “You can go for the head, if you must. Maybe the arms? They’re more lethal than the head, after all. Deputy Head Porter should concentrate on the knees.”

“Might I propose an initially non-violent approach?” I suggest. “We are British, after all.”

“Well, I’m something of an American, overall,” the Professor retorts. “Violence is a pastime where I come from.”

The Dean looks set to put forward his case for unfettered ferocity but there is no time. Our pursuer is upon as.

The footsteps come to an abrupt halt as their owner seems to be surprised at the sight of the three of us, just as he is rather a surprising sight himself. A shiny white dome of a head is decorated dramatically with a black leather patch that covers his left eye. An angry-looking purple scar snakes from the socket down towards a jaw that looks as if it is fashioned from granite. The right ear is missing. He stands at over six feet tall.

The Curator?

“Hello, there!” I say brightly. I offer a little wave.

“GET HIM!” roars The Dean and at once there is a fearsome rush of air as he and Professor Duke charge headlong towards the Curator. The element of surprise serves them well and our adversary comes crashing to the ground beneath a flurry of top hat and expletives. But the Curator is clearly a man well-versed in the art of war and it is not long before he is thrashing around on the floor, viciously fighting back at his attackers.

As the bellicose threesome tumble amongst the filth of the dungeon floor, I really feel I should be doing more to help. The Professor’s hat rolls off into the discarded moonshine and I quickly scoop it up before it gets too sticky. He will thank me for that later.

“For goodness sake, Deputy Head Porter, DO something!” shouts The Dean, wrestling with an arm the size of a tree trunk and evidently losing.

“Yes, blind him in his eye!” Professor Duke yells, fending off flailing legs and hobnail boots “The thing about being blinded…is you can’t…fight…what you can’t…see.”

Well. I don’t think I have ever blinded a man in my life. And he has only got one eye as it is, so that seems dreadfully unfair. Perhaps a temporary blinding of some sort is in order.

Now, it is well documented that in times of great stress and excitement, the human brain often does not function as well as it should. Which goes some way to explaining why what I do next seems like such a good idea.

With the intention of temporarily blinding the Curator at the very forefront of my mind, I gamely bound over to the seething mass of human flesh locked in mortal combat and place my posterior squarely on the face of our adversary, making sure to completely cover his one good eye. This obviously comes as quite a surprise to the Curator, who lets out a very unusual sound before, to my horror, attempting to bite my behind.

I am able to manoeuver myself so that my cheeks remain unchomped but it quickly becomes apparent that this is not a very good idea.

“I just think this is making matters worse, to be honest” I say to my colleagues. “Are you sure a non-violent approach would not be better?”

The Dean, red-faced and panting, turns his face towards the Curator’s (which is partially obscured by my bottom).

“What d’you say old chap, have you had enough? What say we talk this through like men, hmm?”

“I shall agree to whatever terms you suggest, monsieur!” rasps the Curator “But please remove this woman from my head!”

I leap up, pleased that my role in the action is at an end. The three chaps seem to have exhausted themselves with their battling and gingerly clamber to their feet, one by one. Once breath has been caught and balance restored, the questionings can begin. The Curator regards us warily with his one remaining eye and wears an expression of unease.

“Listen, I think we may have all got off on the wrong foot,” I say, attempting diplomacy.

Mon dieu! If you interfere with a man’s wine-making what is it that you expect??”

“That was wine?” mutters The Dean, eyeing the remains of the little stricken brewery.

“What are you doing with wine in a dungeon?” asks the Professor, accompanying his words with his second-best smile. “Too good for prisoners. But, here’s the thing: we didn’t do anything. It was a rat that did it.”

“Do not take me for an imbecile!” spits the Curator “I know that you are here to steal the secrets of the finest wine in France. You English wine-makers cannot compete, you know it!”

“I’ve never made wine once, let alone in a dungeon,” protests Professor Duke. “Promise. Double promise. We are adventurers!”

“And also academics,” The Dean chimes in, wanting to add some gravitas to proceedings no doubt. “From Old College in England. What we seek certainly isn’t wine…”

“Although, if you happen to have a glass to hand I wouldn’t say no,” I say quickly. Well, you never know. And besides, I’m parched.

“Old College? Old College?!” the Curator’s reaction suggests he might have already heard of us. The clenching of his fists and the protruding of his neck veins imply that whatever he has previously heard is not good. “You filthy, English pig-dogs!”

“Actually, I’m something of an American…”

Silence! You take from me the most precious thing that exists and now, all these years later you return! And destroy my wine! I hoped I would never again hear the name of your cursed College as long as I live!”

Someone from Old College has obviously rubbed him up the wrong way sometime in the past. I turn to The Dean.

“Have you been here before?” I ask.

We are certainly missing something, here. What could it be?

 

With Professor VJ Duke

 

Footsteps Of The Templar

The lock releases and with some trepidation, I place an unsteady hand on the gnarled surface of the ancient door. It is almost as if the heartbeat of thousand years of history can be felt in the elderly wood, prickling my fingertips in a desperate attempt to make itself known. In a fleeting moment I feel the forlornly discarded liberty of the many, many unfortunate souls who have passed through this portal before me, on their final journey to the Chateau’s dungeons; the last vestiges of hope clinging still to the oaken frame.

Hope does not die. It may find itself swathed in darkness, but still it remains. The last spark of light that refuses to go out.

The realisation that I shall be treading the very path that the Knights Templar walked so many years before fills me with an overwhelming sense of veneration and it is clear that I am not alone in this. Professor Duke lays a reassuring hand upon my shoulder and even The Dean wears an expression of solemn reverence. No words are spoken. We have no need of words.

Deep breath.

I put my weight against the door and it opens with surprising ease into a dark, stone walled passage about eight feet wide. My hand fumbles at my side for my trusty torch, which is a familiar thing of some comfort in this foreign place. Once illuminated, I can see that the path ahead slopes downwards and slightly off to the left. The surface integrity underfoot appears good, yet proceeding with caution does seem to be a prudent measure. And so we proceed.

After several minutes of walking, the passage seems to become significantly narrower and the ceiling bears down upon us. The subtle change of air as we progress deeper beneath the ground unnerves me a little; the cloying dampness clings to my skin like spider webs and a tiny little voice at the back of my mind is suggesting that it is difficult to breathe.

Now is not the time to start listening to voices in my head.

Not one of us has any idea where we are headed, nor what we will find when we get there. I have a feeling in the pit of my stomach that I fail to identify. I am not sure that it is fear, exactly, nor could I swear to it being excitement. It is not entirely pleasant. Professor Duke is following directly behind me and this is of some comfort. A thought strikes me.

“Professor?” I call out, softly; my voice sounding alien and remote in this strange setting.

“Yes?” he replies.

“Um. Do you mind… if I hold your hand, just for a bit. I feel funny.”

“Not at all, not at all!” replies the Professor, reaching out and tucking my sweating paw into his own. “You should know, The Dean and I have been holding hands for the last five minutes.”

“That’s only because I can’t see where I’m going!” The Dean shouts back, curtly. “It’s very dark back here, you know.”

“You would be very welcome to be at the front with the torch!” I shout back. There is a pause.

“A sturdy rear defence is of the utmost importance, Deputy Head Porter!” he eventually replies. “Onwards, if you please!”

“Bugger.”

“Give me that dadblame torch,” the Professor suggests kindly. “I shall go at the front, since monsters usually take the people from the middle. Just kidding. Besides, someone needs to keep an eye on The Dean back there and you, Deputy Head Porter, have far more experience in that field than I do.”

We switch places and I do my best to suppress the growing nausea that is threatening the back of my throat. I cannot imagine what is wrong with me, I am usually quite brave in these situations.

“Let’s sing a song to lift our spirits!” says Professor Duke.

“Splendid idea!” The Dean replies. “I suggest ‘Paradise By The Dashboard Light’ by Meatloaf.”

“That’s not very appropriate, given the circumstances Sir,” I say quickly, before he can break into song. “Surely something like ‘Onward Christian Soldiers’ would be more fitting?”

“Does it have a guitar solo?”

“It could have!” the Professor chimes in. “It could go something like… Oh ho ho, what have we here?”

I walk straight into the back of Professor Duke, who has planted himself stock still in the centre of the passageway. In turn, The Dean crashes into me, creating a sort of Porter sandwich. Peeking around the Professor, I can see a squat, arched entrance to what can only be the dungeons. This is it!

The Professor strides forward with confidence, only slightly perturbed that he has to crouch a little to pass through the archway. There is a mumble of discontent as he takes off his top hat. I follow through with no such hinderance, what with me only being slightly taller than a small child. Rather unexpectedly, The Dean makes a surprisingly dramatic entrance involving a combat roll and a rallying cry.

Struggling to his feet, The Dean seems to have over stretched himself somewhat and is treating us to some of his more colourful expletives. The Professor sighs and sadly knocks dust from his topper.

“It’s a sad day when a gentleman has to involuntarily remove his own hat,” he says to himself.

My bowler remains defiantly in place. Slowly, my eyes adjust to the gloom and I look about as best I can. We are standing in a cavernous room, the ceiling concealed somewhere above in the murk. I think there might be things hanging from there but that could simply be an over-active imagination. This is certainly a dungeon. We are in the right place – in so far as, we are exactly where we wanted to be. But very little feels right about it.

“Well, then, gentleman,” I say, hands on hips and upper lip stiffened in the traditional British fashion. “Here we are.”

“And seeing as we are here,” continues The Dean “I expect we had better make ourselves useful and start searching for clues!”

Ah, The Dean’s love of searching for clues is unshakable. Although, often ineffective. It’s a good job the chaps have me with them, I tell you.

 

(Just in case you didn’t spot it… the solution to The Curator’s Puzzle can be seen in the way he has hung the paintings – the wood panelling which surrounds the paintings reveals three numbers… 289! This is the code for the dungeon door.)

 

With Professor VJ Duke