CHAPTER SIX HUNDRED and EIGHT
Nelson and Alex landed on the beach of what looked like a small island. They were standing on uneven volcanic rock. Where it was wet, the rock was a deep brown. Where it was dry, the rock was more ashen in color. There were places where the moss had grown on the rocks. Ahead of Nelson, there were shockingly green fields. He turned his head to see the coast of a larger land mass. The sea was white capped and rough, yet still a gorgeous blue.
“Bardsey?” Nelson asked looking at Alex.
Alex gave a slight nod. A moment later, Hedone and Artemis landed next to Nelson on his left. Hecate, Abi, and Aphrodite landed a foot on Alex’s right a moment later. Bestat walked out of the sea. As Nelson watched, the sea water steamed from Bestat’s clothing and skin. Her long braid was the last to dry.
“Are we ready?” Bestat asked, in her distinct accent.
She glanced at Alex and gave Nelson a smug look.
“Where must we go?” Bestat asked in a formal tone.
“We must walk the pilgrim’s path,” Nelson said in what he thought might be a knightly voice.
“Where might that be?” Hecate asked, irritated by the shift in Nelson.
Nelson’s eyes flicked to Alex. She nodded her head forward. He gestured ahead of him.
“To the lighthouse,” Hecate said.
The Goddesses and Titan started walking toward the lighthouse.
“Are we on time?” Alex asked, under her breath to Bestat. “No break?”
“What break?” Bestat asked, with a wink. “I haven’t been to the Isle of Man in an age.”
She started walking toward the lighthouse with Abi and Artemis. Mari appeared next to Alex.
“You’re late,” Nelson said, in mock irritation.
“I didn’t know that Manannàn would send you back in time,” Mari said in a loud whisper.
She gave Nelson a bright smile.
“Shall we?” Mari asked.
Alex gave a nod and Nelson started walking forward. Alex and Mari lagged behind a moment before coming up beside him.
“What was that?” Nelson asked.
“Checking facts,” Alex said. She leaned toward Nelson. “Her father will help us at any time. You remember what the word is?”
Nelson gave a slight nod.
Mari linked her arm with Nelson. He held his elbow out to Alex. She looked at his elbow and laughed. She hooked elbows with Nelson. The day was warm and bright. They walked across a slim path in the grass. After a few meters, Nelson felt as if he were on a picnic. He listened as Alex and Mari talked about nothing and laughed.
Hecate stopped at the lighthouse. When she turned, she and her companions had changed their dress. They were now wearing some kind of turn of the century costume. They had large pale grass hats, long shirts, and cotton blouses. The Goddesses and Titan laughed at their outfits. Bestat, Abi, and Aphrodite’s clothing changed as well.
“We are pilgrims,” Hecate said with a laugh. “Are we not?”
“We are pilgrims,” Mari said.
Mari and Alex’s clothing became this same turn of the century garb. With Nelson in his Templar gear, their little party took on the cheer of a party of pilgrims. After the lighthouse, the path turned to a flat two wheel dirt road. They walked past green fields. Happy hedge hogs scurried back and forth under the hedge rows and stacked slate walls.
For the first time in a long time, Nelson felt free and nearly joyful. He grinned at Alex and saw that she was feeling equally joyous.
“It’s the pilgrimage,” Mari said.
“It’s. . .” Nelson said.
“Like the effervescence of French champagne,” Alex said.
“Oui,” Nelson said. He gave her a genuine smile, and she grinned back at him. “When this is done, we will drink champagne from the deep Templar vaults.”
“Sounds wonderful,” Alex said with a grin. “You, me, John, and Blane.”
“Hey! I want to go!” Hedone yelled from the front of the group.
Everyone laughed and nodded.
“If we survived this, we will celebrate,” Nyx said as she appeared from nowhere. “But we must survive it, first.”
Nelson smiled at Nyx. Despite her dire warning, she grinned back at him.
“There is something about this place,” Nyx said.
Abi raised her hands and sea birds rose from the water to swirl above her head. The sheer joy of the birds’ calls and the flap of their wings made the pilgrims laugh. The birds swooped around them before heading off to their own adventures.
Not to be outdone by the birds, Bisso’s dolphins, harbor porpoises and bottle nosed dolphins began joyously romp in the waters ahead of them. The seals barked and the dolphins jumped.
For a moment, the humans — Nelson and Alex — felt as if the entire world was on display around them and that they were a part of it. The feeling lingered for only a brief moment before they were once again walking along the path. They walked past the bird observatory.
“Cave!” Artemis called.
“Any danger?” Hecate asked.
“No hermits if that’s what you mean,” Artemis said. “Shall I?”
Abi gave a slight nod, and Artemis disappeared. She returned a moment, landing next to Nelson.
“Why do human’s put placards on everything?” Artemis asked.
“What did you see?” Hedone asked.
“There is a plaque that says ‘Hermit’s Cave,’” Artemis said. “There was no hermit in the cave. Hasn’t been for a long time. If there was a hermit in the cave, I could see the point of the placard, but right now it’s more like ‘empty cave’ or ‘cave looking for an inhabitant.’”
Not sure is Artemis was looking for an answer, Nelson and Alex nodded and kept walking. After a moment, Artemis began to laugh.
“So that’s it? No defense of humanity?” Artemis asked.
“People can be really dumb,” Nelson said.
“There’s the truth,” Artemis said.
There was a moment of uncomfortable silence before Nelson laughed. They all shared a laugh.
“Some say that it’s Merlin’s Cave,” Aphrodite said. “He was trapped there in his glass tower.”
“Merlin?” Hecate asked.
The Titan bent over with laughter. Every time she said the word ‘Merlin’, she started laughing again.
“You know who was buried here,” Alex said with a glance to Hecate.
“20,000 saints?” Nelson asked.
“Along with them,” Alex said.
“Who?” Nelson asked.
Alex felt the attention of the group turn to listen to what she had to say. She swallowed hard.
“Dyfrig,” Alex said. “His roman name is Dubricius.”
Hecate spit at the sound of his name.
“He was an evangelical saint,” Alex said.
“Cadfan created the Abbey here,” Hecate said. “He was given the island by Einion Frenin, king of Llŷn.”
“Another asshole?” Nelson asked Hecate.
“You know it,” Hecate said. “They burned and. . .”
Abi put her hand on Hecate’s arm. For a moment, the questing party stopped to watch.
“It was awful,” Abi said.
“Don’t get me started on the Patricks,” Hecate said.
With tears streaming down her face, Hecate surged forward. They watched her walk off.
“These Romans killed millions of women and men. Followers of Hecate,” Abi said, softly. “I’m not sure that the world has recovered.”
“Certainly our Hecate has not,” Aphrodite said.
“The Abbey is ahead, Knight,” Hecate yelled from ahead of them.
Her voice bordered on real rage but he could see that she was heartbroken. Artemis and Hedone caught up with Hecate. Nelson and Alex held back as the Goddesses comforted their friend.
“You cannot imagine the strain of having lived a long time,” Bestat said to Alex and Nelson. “It’s hard not to hold past experiences against current day people who have no knowledge of what happened.”
“I hear this from my colleagues whose ancestors were enslaved,” Alex said.
“Yes, I bet you do,” Bestat said. “She hasn’t been back long. For her, these things happened yesterday.”
Bestat looked up at the sky.
“We need to keep moving,” Bestat said, almost to herself.
Bestat pressed past Alex and Nelson. She spoke to the Goddesses in a language neither Nelson nor Alex understood. Hecate threw herself into Bestat’s arms. For a moment, Nelson only heard to crashing waves and the wind.
“It’s time,” Bestat said.
Nelson gave her a bow and marched toward the ruins of Cadfan’s Abbey. Before he reached the walls, he felt Hecate’s hand on his shoulder. He turned to the Titan.
“Promise me that. . .” Hecate gulped back whatever she’d wanted to say.
“I will protect you,” Nelson said. He felt a rush of power and strength. “I will never allow anyone to ever hurt you or anyone who you love.”
Tears streamed down Hecate’s face and she nodded.
“Not ever,” Nelson said.
She kissed Nelson’s cheek.
“For luck,” Hecate said.
“Luck?” Nelson said in joking confidence. “I don’t need luck. I am the heir.”
Everyone laughed. Nelson smiled at them and stepped toward the Abbey. He looked at the structure and shook his head.
“They are not here,” Nelson said.
“There is a granite stone over here that says the souls are here,” Artemis said.
Shaking his head, Nelson dropped down in a crouch. He put his hand on the ground. With his touch, the ground seemed to open in front of him.
“Can you see this?” Nelson asked.
Everyone shook their head. Alex jogged over to him and dropped to a crouch. She touched his shoulder and scowled.
“Trench lines,” Alex said. She looked up at the group. “There’s some kind of trenching system here, either for agriculture or water or. . .”
“Battles,” Bestat said.
Nelson would never be able to describe what happened next. Bestat transformed into a long, cylindrical serpent and took to the sky. In a breath, she was standing next to him.
“You are correct, Alex,” Bestat said. “They are trench lines. They lead to. . .”
Bestat pointed. Nelson saw something that terrified him. Able to read his mood, Alex moved in front of his crouched form.
“What is it?” Alex asked in a low tone.
“Ghost,” Nelson said. “Spirit. Templar. Old, really old.”
Nelson looked down for a moment. It was now or never. Nodding to himself, he reached for the sword tucked in its scabbard on his back. He pulled the sword.
“Whoa,” Alex said, stepping back. “You’re pulsing with light.”
Nelson pointed the end of the sword at the spirit.
“Speak!” Nelson demanded.
“Et liberate,” the ancient Templar said.
Nelson repeated the words to Alex.
“Free them,” Alex whispered.
“Et sicut Christus. Omnis liberate,” the ancient Templar said.
“Be like Christ. Free them all,” Alex translated the words.
“So it shall be,” Nelson said.
With the sword between his fists, he held the sword in front of his chest. He whispered the words Manannàn had taught him.
His eyes flicked to Alex and she gave him the slightest nod. He had said it correctly.
Nothing happened. The Templar ghost closed his eyes. As they watched, the ghost began to disintegrate.
“So goes the guardian,” Hedone said, softly.
The ground began to shake.
“Hold on!” Hecate said. “This could get rough!”
Without warning, a few grayish spirits began to rise from the earth. They rose from the earth and faded into the sky.
And then, nothing.
The birds chirped. The seals barked. The ocean crashed onto the island. They waited.
“Knight!” Nyx appeared. “Set them free!”
Not sure what she meant, Nelson acted on impulse. He took his sword and impaled it into the ground.
“Don’t move!” Abi yelled.
“They’re coming,” Hedone said.
The ground jerked in one direction and then in the opposite. If Artemis and Hedone hasn’t been standing close, Alex and Nelson would have fallen over. Mari started to clap. The Goddesses and Titan clapped.
The flood gates opened.
From the graveyard, thousands of spirits began to ascend to the sky.
“Look!” Hecate yelled over the din.
Spirits began to rise from all over the island.
“My sisters,” Hecate said and disappeared.
They watched in awe as the Titan greeted those killed so long ago. The earth shook as more and more spirits rose from the bedrock. As fast as it started, it suddenly stopped.
Not sure of what to expect, the quest party moved around Nelson and Alex as if to protect them.
Another Templar appeared. He looked Nelson over from head to toe before grinning.
“Welcome to the quest, my son,” the spirit said. “You look very much like my beloved wife and our son, Bernard’s son.”
He nodded to Nelson.
“You will see me when you have successfully completed a task,” the spirit said. “Many have come to attempt to raise the 20,000 spirits and begin this quest. You have raised all of them.”
The spirit pointed at Hecate.
“Tell him,” the spirit said.
“The fires burned for days,” Hecate said.
“Years,” the spirit said.
“Killing millions,” Hecate’s voice came as a whisper.
“You have done what no one before you could do,” the spirit said. “You have done what Christ would do and with that, completed the first task.”
“Ask him where we go next?” Alex whispered.
“Where do we go next?” Nelson asked.
“First, you must receive the gift of completing this task,” the spirit said.
“These are the things Manannan told you about,” Mari whispered.
Nelson gave a nod.
“Take a handful of dirt from the saints’ graves and a handful from those murdered,” the spirit said.
Mari held out a glass container with a screw top lid. Nelson recognized it as one of the ones that Delphie put her honey into. He smiled at having something familiar. He walked to the placard for the 20,000 saints. Bending, he picked up a handful of dirt and put it into the jar.
“Hecate?” Nelson asked.
“He must grab the soil himself!” the spirit said.
Hecate grabbed Nelson by the waist. They landed on the top of the hill where a burn line was still etched into the soil. Hecate walked around until she pointed.
“Here,” Hecate said.
Nelson knelt and picked up another handful of dirt. He carefully put it into the jar and closed the jar tight. Hecate whisked them back to the abbey.
Nelson held the jar out to the spirit and the spirit nodded.
“Exactly,” the spirit said. “Your next stop is Portugal. You know where?”
“Good,” the spirit said. “I will see you if you complete the task there. Hold onto your collection. You will need it before the end.”
Nelson tucked the jar into his tunic.
“What shall I call you?” Nelson asked.
“I am. . .” the spirit said.
“Myrddin Wyllt,” Hecate said.
“My dearest,” the spirit knelt to Hecate.
She reached out to touch the side of the spirit’s face.
“He was a poet and a prophet,” Hecate said. “He was no wizard. Just a wise and beautiful man. Followed nature’s way. He was burned alive where we picked up dirt. On the hillside.”
“He was my friend,” Hecate said. “For that, they killed him. They had the nerve to reinvent him as ‘Merlin’ the beloved savior to a Christian King. Bastards.”
Hecate dropped to her knees in front of the spirit. They spoke softly back and forth.
“Was he a Templar?” Nelson asked.
“He’s dressed like that so that we would recognize him,” Hecate said. She looked at her friend. “I would know you anywhere.”
The spirit bowed his head to Hecate and disappeared.
“It’s a very good sign,” Abi said.
“Why?” Alex asked.
“It means. . .” Hecate stood up and wiped off her clothing. “We are supported by all of the powers of the world.”
She smiled at Nelson.
“That gives me hope,” Hecate said. She nodded. “Where to next, knight?”
“Castle of Soure,” Nelson said. “Portugal.”
In a breath, they were standing on the first Templar site in Portugal.
Denver Cereal will continue next week...
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