CHAPTER SIX HUNDRED-SEVEN
Nelson and Alex landed in the front yard of a small home. Mari stood just off the side. With her sword drawn, she looked around to see if there was a threat.
“Where are the others?” Nelson asked.
“We’re taking a little beak from them,” Mari said, slipping her sword into its scabbard.
“What?” Alex asked turning quickly to focus on Mari.
“Why?” Nelson asked.
“Let’s get inside,” Mari said.
Mari looked around again.
“Are you expecting someone?” Alex asked.
“My father should be here soon,” Mari said in an obvious distraction from the question. “Inside.”
Mari opened the door, and they went inside. Much to Nelson’s surprise, the house was exactly what it looked like a small two bedroom, one bathroom home. It had hardwood floors and a wide open view of the Irish Sea from the back of the house.
“Nice,” Alex said. “My brother-in-law lives. . .”
“Next door with my sister, Edie,” Mari said.
“Edith is your sister?” Alex asked. “I guess I should have known that. You don’t look anything like each other.”
Mari nodded and went into the kitchen. Nelson leaned into speak to Alex without Mari hearing.
“Mari was raised to marry a man from another kingdom,” Nelson said, softly. “He was killed before they were able to marry.”
“My mother couldn’t find a role for Edie so she gave her to my father’s human family,” Mari said. “Edie was nearly a hundred before Abi started training her.”
“A hundred?” Alex said in a low voice to Nelson.
“They are ancient,” Nelson said in a low voice.
“Anyway, I’m also recovering from all the ‘crazy magic’ to change my looks to be suitable for some king or another,” Mari said. “My friend, Sissy, has been helping me become myself. Do you know Sissy?”
“Sandy’s sister?” Alex asked. “She’s a lovely girl.”
“I’ve met her but I don’t know her,” Nelson said. “She’s been in Paris since I’ve been dating Blane.”
“Why are we here?” Alex asked, moving into the kitchen.
“I needed to talk to you where they can’t hear you,” Mari said.
“They are goddesses!” Nelson said, taking a stool at the kitchen counter. “They can do whatever they want.”
Mari set a tea kettle on the stove.
“This is the Isle of Man. Man is short for Manannàn, my father.” Mari said, attending to a tea pot. “They can’t come here unless someone in the Queendom gives them permission. And even then, their powers are not effective here. Abi may come and go as she pleases, but she is not what I’m worried about.”
“What are you worried about?” Alex asked.
“Biscuits?” Mari asked.
“I’m still full from our London stop,” Nelson said.
Mari poured boiling water over the teapot and filled the milk pitcher. She carried it out to the sitting area.
“I’m sure you’re thinking that this must be gross because I’m never here,” Mari said. “My brother Keenan lives here most of the time so there’s a food delivery every three or four days. Some of my father’s heirs live on a farm nearby. They keep us in food and milk and everything yummy.”
“I’ve met Keenan,” Alex said. “He seems young to live on his own.”
“Technically, he lives with me,” Mari said. “But he is young and old at the same time.”
“You cannot imagine how annoying living a court can be,” Mari said. “That’s why we have these houses. They were originally built for my dad’s human family, but most of them moved away for jobs.”
Mari shrugged. She gestured to the living room and they went out to sit in the living room. In the doorway, they saw that Keenan was now sitting in a chair reading a text book.
“How was school?” Mari asked the boy.
“Good,” Keenan said, turning his eyes to Alex and Nelson. “I go to human school during the day and fairy school at night.”
“Sounds like a lot,” Alex said.
“I like to learn,” Keenan said. “At human school, I get to learn Manx and about computers. At fairy school, I get to learn about magic and being a fairy.”
“My brother, Fin, is pushing our little Queendom into the modern world,” Mari said with a nod.
Mari poured tea into four tea cups.
“Dad’s here,” Keenan said without looking up from his book.
The door swung open on an ocean breeze. The house filled with the smell of salt and open water. A dark skinned man stepped into the small house. His presence seemed to invade the very corners of the house and into Alex and Nelson.
“Knock it off, Dad,” Keenan said, still not looking up from his book.
“Sorry,” the man said. “Old habit.”
“No problem,” Alex said.
Mari poured her father a cup of tea. He sat down in a chair. They each focused on doctoring their tea. After a sip of tea, Alex set the tea cup down.
“While it is very nice to meet your little brother and your father,” Alex said, “I’m wondering if you can tell us why we are here.”
She looked at Mari’s father.
“We took a detour from our quest for the Templar treasure,” Alex said.
“We are aware,” Keenan said, setting his book on the table. “My father is the Manannàn.”
“The God of the Sea?” Alex asked.
“In the flesh,” Manannàn said. “We’ve met before, I believe, Alexandra Hargreaves.”
Surprised, Alex fell back in her chair. Nelson raised an eyebrow at her.
“You remember me?” Manannàn said.
“I do,” Alex said, softly. “Thank you.”
“Of course,” Manannàn said warmly.
Manannàn looked at Nelson.
“I have no idea what you’re talking about,” Nelson said.
Nelson looked at Alex, and she shook her head.
“This is the knight?” Manannàn asked Mari.
She gave a nod.
“I like him,” Manannàn said. “I am glad you are guarding him.”
“Thanks, I think,” Mari said.
Manannàn turned toward Nelson. He gave a slight nod.
“I am an ancient God,” Manannàn said.
“Celtic,” Alex said. “God of the sea.”
“That would be me,” Manannàn said. “My daughter asked me to come and speak to you about your quest. Delicious tea, my dear.”
“Wonderful,” Nelson said.
“Thanks,” Mari said, blushing. “My own special blend.”
“You are on a quest for Bernard’s hoard of jewels and whatever else,” Manannàn said.
“We retrieved a collection of art and other items from a salt mine in Poland,” Alex said. “One of those items destroys light, including the sun.”
“Yes,” Manannàn said. “I am aware of it. Belonged to Nyx.”
“She said that it and its counterpart were stolen from her,” Nelson said. “The Templars took the object we call the ‘Adam’s Apple’ leaving this other item out in the world.”
“Do you know where it is?” Alex asked.
“I do,” Manannàn said. “I also know that without my help, your quest will fail.”
“Why is that?” Nelson asked, irritably.
The fairies and Alex raised their eyes to him.
“I apologize,” Nelson said. “I had no intention of going on this ‘quest.’ Now that I’m here, it seems to be a series of misadventures and a lot of waiting. I feel revved up and exhausted at the same time.
“Sounds like a quest,” Manannàn said with a nod. “When I was human, we shoved off from Africa in a skiff with my wives and children. We were looking for a better life for ourselves and our people. We landed here, on this island.”
Nelson gave him a slight nod.
“That was a lot of waiting,” Manannàn said with a grin.
Not sure how to respond, Alex and Nelson simply focused on their tea. Mari got up to refresh the pot. When she returned, it was clear that she was ready to get down to business.
“Dad?” Mari asked.
“Yes, Marigold,” Manannàn said. “I will get to the point.”
Mari poured more tea while Alex and Nelson waited for the God to speak.
“The rest of your party is on Bardsey,” Manannàn said.
When Nelson looked confused, Alex whispered, “It’s about 100 miles South of here. Couple of miles off the coast of Wales.”
“From this point forward, you will be asked to prove yourself as the heir,” Manannàn said.
“Haven’t I already done that?” Nelson asked with a shrug. “I’m here, in this get up, and. . .”
“A knight must prove himself at every step,” Manannàn said.
Angrily shaking his head, Nelson swallowed some of his tea.
“That’s not his rule,” Mari said. “That’s just the way quests go. The knight has to prove himself all the way through.”
“It’s why so many knights don’t survive their quests,” Keenan said.
Nelson and Alex turned to look at Keenan and then Mari. She nodded.
“I was thought maybe my dad could help us even out the odds,” Mari said.
“How would he do that?” Alex asked.
“The way most humans even out the odds — with information,” Keenan said, gesturing to his books.
There was a knock on the door. Mari got up to answer it. A dark skinned woman came into the house. The tall and thin woman reminded Nelson of someone but he couldn’t put his finger on it. Mari and the woman hugged. The woman held out a tin which made Mari grin.
“This is my niece, Ne Ne,” Mari said. “She is Fin and Abi’s first daughter.”
“You may know my daughter, Yvonne, or my granddaughter, Tanesha,” Ne Ne said to Nelson and Alex.
Nelson and Alex nodded in near unison.
“I brought some of the biscuits that my granddaughter makes,” Ne Ne said. “She kindly gifted me her recipe for what she calls, ‘Chocolate Crinkles.’”
Mari set the tin on the table and opened it. A wonderful chocolate smell wafted from the cookies.
“We have a lot to get through in a very short amount of time,” Ne Ne said. “I thought the sugar might help.”
Unsure, Nelson and Alex picked up cookies. Nelson took a bite and groaned.
“These are my favorites,” Nelson said.
“Yes, Tanesha said that you like these ones best,” Ne Ne said with a grin.
Ne Ne moved into the living space. Keenan moved to get up so that she could sit but she waved him back into his seat.
“It’s nice to stand,” Ne Ne said, standing near the hearth. “I sit too much.”
“Just let me know,” Keenan said.
Ne Ne nodded.
“My granddaughter is one of our chief librarians,” Manannàn said. “Did you bring. . .?”
“Yes, Manannàn,” Ne Ne said.
Ne Ne opened the bag she had slung over her shoulder to show that it was full of books. Alex held out her hands for the books, but Ne Ne simply smiled.
“As I said,” Manannàn started as if there had been no interruption, “from here on out, every step will be a test of your abilities and knowledge as the heir. According to my daughter, neither you nor your father have any idea what the stages of this quest look like.”
“That’s true,” Nelson said. “No one seems to know.”
“I do,” Ne Ne said. She looked at her father. “Have the Templars lost access to their texts?”
“Yes,” Alex said. “I’d never seen an actual Templar map until this week and the ones I saw were woefully incomplete and inaccurate. Primative.”
“It’s likely that the originals were burned when the Templars were burned,” Ne Ne said. She looked at her father. “This is why my father created our libraries.”
“To acquire and curate the knowledge of the world,” Manannàn said. “That’s the motto I came up with.”
“Catchy,” Nelson said.
“After Nelson and I talked, I tried to find information about this quest,” Alex said. “I was unable to find any information that wasn’t some kind of confabulation. If you have information — any information —, I would love to see it.”
“Of course,” Ne Ne said.
“Father? Will you speak to our knight?” Mari asked.
“I will,” Manannàn said.
Ne Ne, Keenan, and Alex moved to Mari’s dining room table. Soon, they were deep in conversation leaving Mari, Nelson, and Manannàn to drink their tea. Manannàn set his cup down.
“What do you know about Bardsey Island?” Manannàn asked.
“Nothing,” Nelson said. “I mean, Alex just told me that it’s an island off of Wales and about 100 miles from here. South.”
“It was a destination for people of the Christian religion,” Mannanan said.
“More than 20,000 saints are buried there,” Mari said with a nod.
“You will be asked to raise these 20,000 saints,” Manannàn said.
“What?” Nelson asked. “How. . .?”
Manannàn raised his hand and Nelson stopped talking.
“Please, there’s a lot for you to hear and we have little time,” Manannàn said. “Listen now.”
Manannàn’s voice echoed through Nelson’s head. He nodded.
“The penalty for not being able to raise the saints is death,” Mari said.
“This is why my daughter brought you here,” Manannàn said. “And called us together. I take it that you have no idea how to raise the saints?”
“None what-so-ever,” Nelson said. “No clue.”
“They might not want to kill you, but that is law,” Mari said.
“What do I do?” Nelson asked.
“Your human friend is learning everything there is to learn about Bardsey,” Manannàn said. “But you must memorize the incantation to raise the saints.”
“Memorize?” Nelson asked. “Easily. I’m good at that.”
“Good,” Manannàn said. “There’s more. Before you leave here, I must tell you that the actual location of the hoard is in the middle of the Mediterranean sea.”
“What?” Nelson asked leaning forward.
“You will only be able to find it if you know where it is located and how to get there,” Manannàn said.
“Another test,” Mari whispered loudly.
“That’s crazy,” Nelson said. “It’s a place that you can only get to if you know where it is? It’s like something out of a movie.”
“You’re on a Templar Quest,” Alex said, turning to look at Nelson from the table. “That is something out of a movie.”
Nelson shook his head in an attempt to clear what felt like cobwebs from his brain. Manannàn said something to Mari in a language he didn’t understand. Mari scowled. She put her hand on his head and the clogged feeling in his head vanished. She said something to Manannàn in the same language.
“You had a spell on you,” Mari said.
“What kind of a spell?” Nelson asked.
“One that clogs your thinking,” Mari said. “You’ve been acting odd. Like a petulant child.”
“I feel like a petulant child,” Nelson said. He put his hand on his chest. “I didn’t feel that way as a child.”
“I thought that you were just tired or upset,” Mari said.
Manannàn said something in the foreign language and Mari shook her head.
“May I?” Manannàn asked, holding out his hand toward Nelson’s head.
Nelson leaned forward and Manannàn touched his forehead. Nelson felt as if the water inside his cells rushed to celebrate the joining with this man. For a moment, Nelson felt a tremendous peace. Manannàn pulled his hand away. He said something to Mari.
“We can’t tell who or what put the spell on you,” Mari said. “Our concern is that there is a member of this party who is sabotage in you.”
“Why would they do that?” Nelson asked.
The door burst open and a figure stood in the doorway. Mari and Alex were on their feet in a moment.
“Because they want the world to end,” the distinct voice of the creature named “Bestat” said.
Manannàn was on his feet. He rushed toward the figure.
“Stop!” Nelson screamed. “She’s. . .”
Laughing and talking at the same time, Bestat and Manannàn held each other tight. Alex sat back down to read the book that Ne Ne was discussing. Mari remained standing. While they had been fairly hostile to each other in the quest, Mari and Bestat hugged like old friends.
“How did you find us?” Nelson asked.
Bestat gestured to the cookies. She went to the table to greet Ne Ne and Keenan with hugs. With the greetings out of the way, Bestat turned to Nelson.
“We have almost no time,” Bestat said. “I came to tell you that you, Guy Semaines, are in grave danger.”
“From inside the quest?” Mari asked.
“From the quest itself,” Bestat said. “This quest is designed to kill the heir. I don’t know why, but it is. Each time you succeed, you will become more stupid, more foggy, and less able to move forward. The heir must be able to withstand it all, but the magic is strong — too strong for one person.”
“The quest was designed to pick the best of a group of heirs,” Ne Ne said. “No one thought that there would be just one.”
“We have much to do,” Manannàn said.
“Then let’s get it done,” Nelson said.
“I thought you’d never ask,” Manannàn said.
Denver Cereal continues next week...
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