CHAPTER SIX HUNDRED and NINE
Alex landed alone. When Nelson appeared next to her, she was searching the grounds with her weapon out. They were standing on a sidewalk made from concrete paving stones. The paving stone gave way to grass ran up to the ruins. There was a series of short pylons to keep cars off the area.
The castle itself was fairly unimpressive and small. They were closest to a crumbling wall that grew out of the ground to reach a complete wall. There was an open space of what had possibly been a long hall. An original castle wall stood three stories high behind the crumbling wall. Visigothic windows cut through the taller wall to show an open area behind.
There was a wall that connected the taller wall with a square corner tower. On top of the Castle tower flew the flag of Portugal. The corner tower marked the end of the lot.
“Alex? Nelson?” a woman’s voice came in their ears. “Oh my God!”
“Who is this?” Alex demanded.
“Val, uh, Valerie Lipson,” the woman said. “Sami — wake up! Raz! They’re on again!”
“How did you. . .?” Alex asked.
“You guys just disappeared,” Valerie Lipson said. “Everyone’s been crazy worried. Finally, Maresol forced everyone to go to bed. I’m up at night because of the baby, so Mike and I came over with Sami to watch.”
“Alex?” Samantha Hargreaves, Alex’s sister, asked. “Are you okay?”
“We’re fine,” Alex said. “The magic of this thing and all of these Goddesses must keep us out of world time. Sorry.”
“Is Nelson with you?” Mike Roper asked. “How is he holding up?”
“He’s right next to me,” Alex said. “He’s okay.”
“It’s crazy,” Nelson said. “Ghosts and magic and all kinds of weird crap that you’d never believe.”
“Sounds like a night at the Castle,” said Alex’s work partner, Homeland Security Agent Arthur “Raz” Rasmussen.
“There’s the truth,” Mike said.
“I need a moment,” Raz said.
“We’re going to give Raz some privacy,” Samantha Hargreaves said. “If we miss you again, know that we’re here. Waiting to help if we can.”
“Thank you,” Nelson said, his eyes well up.
He looked away to hide his overwhelm. He walked a few steps away so that Alex could speak to her partner.
“How are you?” Raz asked.
“Good,” Alex said.
“Have you eaten?” Raz asked.
“Tuna fish sandwich,” Alex said.
“Your favorite,” Raz said. “Too bad I missed it.”
Alex laughed because Raz hated those sandwiches.
“We also had some amazing cookies and a royal blend of tea,” Alex said.
“Much more my speed,” Raz said. “You need to eat.”
“Yes,” Alex said. “We need to eat.”
“Do you know what you’re doing?” Raz asked.
“Not ever,” Alex said with a laugh.
“True,” Raz said.
“We stopped off in the Isle of Man,” Alex said. “You remember Edie?”
“Jimmy Kelly’s wife?” Raz said. “Your sister-in-law?”
“We went to Edie’s sister’s house,” Alex said. “Her dad hooked us up with this amazing library.”
“I’m listening,” Raz said.
“I read. . . I don’t know how many books,” Alex said. “A lot. Old Templar manuscripts. Diaries. Ancient maps. Absolutely fascinating.”
“And you learned?” Raz asked.
“The purpose of the quest is to find a variety of items that are tucked away at old Templar sites,” Alex said. “The items were left there by the Templars to assist the heir. Only the heir can find them.”
“How’s he doing?” Raz asked.
“Good,” Alex said. “Getting more and more confident. He has an eidetic memory. So he memorized everything. These Goddesses seem impressed.”
“I am,” Raz said. “How can we help?”
“It’s nice to know that you’re keeping track of us,” Alex said.
“Always,” Raz said.
“What can you tell me about this site?” Alex said. “We’re at Castle of Soure.”
“Give me a moment,” Raz said.
Alex waved Nelson over.
“Raz is looking at the scans,” Alex said.
“Small castle,” Raz said. “I see your location and Nelson’s. The castle appears to be exactly what it looks like. Nothing below or hidden. There seems to be some kind of area behind the castle. From the satellite feed, I’d say that there’s a chamber below the area, near what looks like a canon.”
“Got it,” Alex said. “Thank you.”
“Thank you, Raz,” Nelson said. “Can you check. . . I don’t see that old guy, you know, the Templar that we met on Barnsley. Do you see him, Raz?”
“Nothing,” Raz said. “Are the Goddesses with you?”
“No,” Alex said at the same time Nelson said, “Not yet.”
“Bestat?” Raz asked.
“She’s not here,” Alex said.
“I don’t like it,” Raz said. “Should I make some calls?”
“Let’s wait until we’re sure that we’re in danger,” Alex said. “I don’t think. . .”
There was a crack in their ear buds.
“Raz?” Alex asked.
She looked at Nelson and he shook his head. A Goddess appeared in front of them.
“Athena,” Nelson said, under his breath.
“I am Minerva here,” the Goddess said with a roll of her eyes. “Abi asked me to come to tell you that this happens to be a Roman temple. Only the Goddesses who were acknowledged by Rome will be able to join you.”
“Bestat?” Nelson asked, surprising himself.
“She can only assist at Roman sites that she went to when Rome stood,” Minerva said. She shook her head. “Do not ask me. I don’t understand dragon magic. I just know what Abi told me.”
Two large hunting dogs appeared out of thin air. They rushed toward Nelson and Alex.
“Puppies!” Nelson said, with real glee.
He bent down to the pet the dogs. He received a lick on his face in return. Alex caught the second dog. They pet the dogs for a moment. Minerva cleared her throat.
“That’s Canus Major,” Minerva pointed to the dog Nelson was petting. “And Canus Minor. They belong to. . .”
A barely recognizable Artemis appeared.
“They are mine,” Artemis said.
“Meet Diana,” Minerva said.
Artemis’s shoulder length curly hair was now a fierce, matronly bun. As Artemis, her face was that of a young girl. She laughed easily and was up for a game or an adventure. But Diana was decidedly fierce and stern. Diana shifted her long bow onto her back.
A chubby, flying cherub appeared out of nowhere. Its hair was yellow blonde and skin creamy white. It was wearing a kind of toga that covered all of its delicate parts.
“Hedone?” Nelson asked in surprise.
The cherub grunted. She flew around in circles for a moment. Minerva offered her an arm and Hedone landed.
“This is the only way I was able to come,” Hedone said.
The Goddesses looked around.
“Well, knight,” Diana said, irritably. “Why are we here?”
“We think we might be in the wrong location,” Alex said.
“In the world?” Diana asked.
“No,” Mari appeared next to Nelson.
“Where have you been?” Nelson asked.
“The magic around this place is. . .” Mari looked up to see Hedone and she started laughing. “What happened to you?”
“Romans,” Diana said with real disgust.
Mari pointed at Diana and laughed. The dogs trotted over to Mari. The fairy held out her hand, and it filled with strips of meat. She dropped down to pet the dogs to feed them. She was smiling from ear to ear when she looked up a stern Diana.
“What?” Mari asked.
“They are hunting dogs,” Diana said. “For the hunt.”
“We’re hunting out items for this quest,” Mari said. “Maybe we should ask them where we need to go.”
“Knight?” Diana asked.
“It’s as good as any idea,” Nelson said.
Diana said something in some language to her dogs. They took off down the sidewalk. Nelson and Alex jogged after them. They went around the end of the square tower and behind the castle. They passed a set of trees honoring the Templars. Ahead, the dogs stopped at a decommissioned canon in a small park. The ground was covered with pea gravel. There were a few Roman columns lying artfully around.
Alex looked at Nelson, and he nodded. This was the area that Raz had spoken to them about.
Minerva and Diana appeared a moment later. Flying with her tiny wings, and out of breath Hedone arrived just after Mari. While the Goddesses looked around, Nelson, Alex, and Hedone worked to catch their breath.
When Nelson looked up again, he saw the elderly Templar standing on top of the wall. He pointed to the top of the wall.
“He’s there,” Nelson said.
The Goddesses, Mari, and Alex followed his finger. Hedone flew up to the edge of the wall to get a better look.
The elderly Templar pointed at Nelson.
“What’s next?” Nelson asked.
“Hunt for that which is hidden,” the elderly Templar said.
“What did he say?” Minerva demanded.
“He said to hunt for that which is hidden,” Nelson repeated what the man had said. Turning to the spirit, he asked, “What does that mean?”
The elderly Templar pointed at the dogs. Nelson spun around to look at the dogs. When he looked back, the Templar was gone and Hedone was flying to the ground.
“He suggested using the dogs,” Nelson said. “To find this hidden thing.”
The Goddesses, Mari, and Alex nodded.
“What do we know about this location?” Minerva asked.
“It was the castle was the first strong hold of the Templars in Portugal,” Alex said. “The land was given to the Templars in 1128 by Dona Theresa. They built the Castle out of old Roman buildings. The city of Soure had been over run a few times by the Moors. The Templars promised to fight the Moors for the city of Soure. The castle was razed — or at least destroy to this condition — in 1144 by the Moors. Is that what you meant?”
“Where are we standing?” Minerva asked.
“On the ruin of a Roman temple,” Nelson said.
“Hence the need to be our Roman selves,” Minerva said, irritably.
“Probably,” Nelson said. “They found a Roman sarcophagus here.”
“Is it still here?” Minerva asked.
“No,” Alex said at the same time that Nelson said, “I don’t think so.”
“That is not what is hidden, then,” Diana said, irritably.
She pointed to Canis Major and Canis Minor. The dogs looked up at her with love and loyalty.
“Find what is hidden,” Diana commanded the dogs.
They continued to look at her. Diana shook her head.
“They have no idea what I’m asking,” Diana said.
Hedone flew to Nelson. The cherub landed on Nelson’s shoulder.
“Try the dirt,” Hedone said. “Give them a scent of what we’re looking for.”
Nelson took the jar from inside his tunic. He opened the jar and knelt to the dogs. Both dog sniffed the jar with interest and curiosity.
“Find it,” Diana commanded.
The dogs looked at each other, and then their noses went to the ground. They worked the small area from side to side, in careful unison. The sniffed the entire area of what had been a Roman temple and went back to Diana. She furrowed her brow.
“Find it,” Diana commanded.
The dogs went directly to a corner of the left corner of the square area near the tall castle wall. Canis Minor gave a signal bark while Canis Major began digging. They rushed to the dogs’ side. Diana called the dogs back, and Minerva pushed Nelson forward. Mari set a shovel in his hands.
Nelson looked up at the sky. He remembered a warm day when Blane and Jacob were over at his house. They insisted that he learn to use a shovel. He’d laughed and told them he’d hire someone. He let out a breath and tried to remember what Blane had said.
Start slow. You don’t know how dense any ground might be. It could seem like a little bit and be heavy as hell.
“Use your knees,” Jacob had yelled at Nelson. “Flat back.”
In the end, he’d dug a perfect hole for the apple tree Hedone had gifted their family. They’d celebrated with beer and bratwurst.
Nelson grinned at the memory and started shoveling. He dug a foot down, and then another foot. He was about to ask if he should continue when he stuck his shovel into the ground. There was a bright flash.
“Magic,” Mari appeared next to Nelson. “You okay?”
“Fine,” Nelson said. “Look.”
He pointed into the hole. Alex, who had been standing with her back to him, turned to look in the hole.
“Chain mail?” Alex dropped to her knees.
She reached out for the mental rings, but Diana yanked her back. She fell on her butt and looked up at the Goddess.
“It would have killed you,” Diana said.
She gestured to Nelson. His face was bright red, and he was panting. He moved away to throw up. He was clearly ill.
“Minerva?” Dina asked.
Minerva grabbed Nelson’s arms. The color drained from Nelson’s face. The sweat on his forehead dried. He looked like himself again.
“The heir is tested in this quest,” Minerva said.
“Only the strongest can remain,” Diana said.
“They assumed that there would be a lot of heirs,” Nelson said. “Not just me.”
“They assumed that you wouldn’t be ill,” Diana said. “Have you asked Abi to take this thing away from you?”
“I can do that?” Nelson asked. “She can do that?”
Diana and Minerva rolled their eyes at Nelson.
“How would I know?” Nelson asked.
“Get your item and let’s get out of here,” Minerva said. “That is only a piece of a garment. I assume we’ll need to go to the rest of the sites.”
“Just those in Spain and Portugal,” Nelson said. “There’s a list.”
“May I?” Minerva asked.
“Of course,” Mari passed the a piece of paper to Minerva.
“You have the originals?” Minerva asked.
“Of course,” Mari said. “I am a child of the Manannàn and Queen Fand.”
“Ah, thing are making more sense,” Minerva said with a nod.
“Let’s just get it over with,” Diana said, irritably.
Nelson grabbed the piece of chain mail from the whole. As he stood up, he was whisked off to the next castle on the list. They bounced from site to site throughout Portugal. They went to Castle of Almourol, Castle of Idanha, Castle of Monsanto, Castle of Pomba, and finally to the Castle in old Tomar, the Convent of the Order of Christ and the Church of Santa Maria do Olival.
The dogs got better and better at finding the pieces of chain mail. Every new piece magically melded into the garment. They now had the entire back of the chain mail.
“We need food and water,” Alex said in the old town of Tomar. “We need to rest.”
“Fine,” Minerva said. “We take an hour rest. Let the humans eat and we will head to Spain.”
“We need more than an hour,” Alex said. “Nelson is exhausted.”
“You don’t have an hour,” Minerva said. “We must get to Spain.”
“I’m okay,” Nelson said with a nod. “An hour is enough.”
“Good man,” Minerva said. “Don’t eat too much or you’ll. . .”
“Yes,” Alex said, looking toward the closed restaurants.
When she looked back, there was a feast in front of them.
“Eat,” Minerva said. “Drink. Rest. When the hour is done, we are off to Spain.”
Nelson grabbed a hand held meat pie and lay down on the ground. He was asleep in a moment. Alex woke him before they were to leave. He ate and drank a liter of water. Nodding to Alex, they whisked off to find the rest of the chain mail at the Templar sites in Spain.
Denver Cereal continues next week...
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