Previous month:
January 2020
Next month:
October 2020

February 2020

Chapter Six Hundred and Twelve: The making of a Grand Master

CHAPTER SIX HUNDRED-TWELVE

Denver, Colorado

U.S. Army Lieutenant Alexandra Hargreaves awoke with a start. She was naked, tucked under her husband’s arm, in her own bed. She closed and opened her eyes.

How did she get there?

She tried to remember. They had been standing on the grassy field of Castle Ponferrada in the early dawn. “They” consisted of a bizarre collection of mythological creatures, Goddesses, and even a Titan. She had been standing next to Dr. Nelson Weeks, who turned out to be a good friend of her husband’s. Dr. Weeks was also Guy Semaines, Templar or possibly head of the Templars. Grand Master? He’d said as much but he was also. . . It was hard to keep track of all of the things the handsome man was an expert in.

She turned to look at her sleeping husband. His curly hair was clipped close. Knowing she wasn’t going to be home, he’d not shaved before bed. With his even stubble, he could give any sultry male model a run for their money. She loved him in a way she could never explain.

Feeling her eyes, he opened his eyes. In the dark light, his cobalt blue eyes looked nearly black. He squinted at her face and then smiled. He leaned his face forward to kiss her.

“What a wonderful surprise!” Dr. John Drayson said. “When did you get home?”

“Just now, I think,” Alex said, shrugging her eyebrows. “I seem to have been set into bed.”

“Lucky me,” John said. He stroked her face.

“How long have I been gone?” Alex asked.

“You left after dinner tonight?” John asked. “You don’t know?”

“Hecate said that we would ‘walk time,’” Alex said. “I don’t know what that means, really.”

“You mean that you’ve been off on a quest?” John asked, sitting up.

He turned on the light to look at her.

“More than twenty castles in Portugal and Spain,” Alex said with a sigh. “We spent a weekend at on an uncharted island that belongs to Aphrodite. We raised some saints on Bardsey Island. Met the real Merlin, even.”

“You were off the coast of Wales?” John asked.

“London, too.” Alex nodded as she sat up and leaned against the headboard.

“We spent time on the Isle of Man in the company of the Manannàn,” Alex said.

“What?” John asked. “The actual Celtic god?”

“You know him?” Alex asked.

“My mother’s favorite Celtic God,” John said with a shake of his head. “At least that’s what Rita used to say. ‘If you cannot worship the Catholic God, you can pray to Manannàn.’ I still do that sometimes.”

Alex grinned at him.

“He exists?” John asked.

Alex nodded.

“What’s he like?” John asked.

“Amazing,” Alex said. “Beautiful. Gorgeous to look at and. . . I don’t know, he has this sense of goodness about him. The goodness of the sea, I guess. I felt so safe, sort of like loved but more like this sense that I actually existed. I don’t know how to explain it.”

John gave her a searching look, and she shrugged.

“Why did you see him?” John asked.

“His daughter is Mari took us there without the Goddesses knowing,” Alex said. “Mari is Edie sister. Manannàn is Edie’s father, too.”

John fell back against the bed board. Edie was married to his just-older-than-him brother, James.

“Okay, my mind is blown,” John said. “You think Jimmy knows?”

“I do,” Alex said.

“Sneaky bastard,” John said, with a grin.

“Sometime in prehistory, Manannàn tasked his people to create a library of important documents from history,” Alex said. “I spent a very long time, felt like days, reading ancient books and maps about this quest for the Templar hoard.”

“Nelson has an eidetic memory,” John said.

“He’s amazing,” Alex said. “He sucked up the information like a vacuum cleaner. I have to tell you, we were right in the middle of this quest. I have no idea how I ended back here.”

John gave Alex a saucy grin.

“Oh yes,” Alex said with a smile. “I’m sure you’re right.”

He moved toward her at the same time their daughter, Máire, screams could be heard over the baby monitor.

“Mommy! Mommy! I want my Mommy!” Máire screamed.

Alex looked at John.

“She’s always inconsolable the first night you’re gone on mission,” John said. “But then, we all are.”

“It’s a huge sacrifice,” Alex said.

“One we are well prepared to make,” John said with a nod.

They slipped out opposite sides of the bed at the same time and began dressing.

“Wyatt was ill this evening,” John said. “He thought that he picked it up when he was at the kids’ school for reading time. Seemed like the flu. I would expect. . .”

Joey, Máire’s fraternal twin, squealed as Máire threw up.

“I’m glad you’re here,” John said with a grin as he pulled on his pajamas.

“Me too,” Alex said. “For vomit and diarrhea and all.”

He held her tight for a brief moment before they left their bedroom to help their twins with the flu.

~~~~~~~~~

Castle Ponferrada

Spain

“I know where it is,” Nelson said. “I’ll just need some help getting there.”

Or at least he thought he had. He remembered Alex Hargreaves laughing. The Goddesses too. But now. . .

He was standing in a long dark corridor that appeared to be underground. The hallway was made from hand hewn blocks of solid stone. He turned to look at the wall itself.

He was inside some kind of archeological. . . something.

“Hello?” Nelson called.

His voice echoed down the corridor. No one responded.

Where were the Goddesses? Where was Alex? Where was Bestat or. . .?

“Hello?” Nelson called again.

Nothing stirred. The air was completely still. The dark of the hallway pressed into his flesh. His nose picked up the scents of ancient incense, dust, and decay. In an attempt to confirm that he was underground, he touched the wall.

It was cold. Frigid.

He was buried alive!

Panic coursed through his veins. He fell to his knees to catch his breath.

“Hello?” Nelson asked.

No one, not even Bestat’s amazing attendants, responded. He was alone in the dark buried under hundreds of tons of rubble and dirt. He shivered with fear and cold.

His hands instinctively tucked themselves into the pocket of his tunic. To his surprise, there was a Zippo lighter in his pocket. He took out the lighter out of his pocket to look at it.

This lighter had belonged to his friend, Jax. It held the emblem of his Special Forces team on one side. It held a hand painted Templar cross on the other side. Nelson had painted the cross to protect Jax. Of course, it didn’t help when he was murdered. Nelson swallowed back the sorrow and rage that came with losing Jax. His fingers closed over the lighter.

He should have the light. The love of Jax’s life had kept most of Jax’s possessions. The last time Nelson saw the lighter, it was sitting on the mantle at the home they’d shared together. Nelson wouldn’t dream of taking it. Yet somehow, it was sitting in his tunic pocket.

Trying to sense if some magical being was with him, he looked around. Maybe he wasn’t as alone as it seemed.

He grinned at the thought. He’d missed the fact that there was a torch on the wall next to him. For a moment, the doctor in him debated the potential cancer implications of the torch.

He groaned at himself.

“Man of action I am not,” Nelson said out loud.

He took the torch down from the wall. Jax’s Zippo lighter sprung to life. The torch was ablaze in a moment.

“Love you, Jax,” Nelson whispered and put the lighter back into his pocket. “Here goes nothing.”

He took the torch down from the wall and took a step forward. And then another.

Nothing happened, so he kept walking. He’d gone about twenty feet when he was forced to make a hard left. Up ahead, warm yellow light spilled from a room or hall.

“Maybe the Goddesses are waiting for me there.” As soon as he said them, he knew that his words were not true.

He was truly alone for this phase of the quest.

“Oh Blane,” Nelson whispered. “I. . .”

His mind flooded with the joys of his current life — the light falling on Blane’s face, Mack and Wyn’s open love and laughter, Hedone in her cupid form, and Tres, the younger brother he never knew he needed. His work friends were more like family than friends. Hanging out with his father at the art museum, eating mussels and too much wine at some ridiculously priced restaurant, and. . . He smiled as image after memory reminded him of how much waited for him at home.

That is if he ever got done with this bullshit.

He gritted his teeth. His mother had given her life for him. His father had fought all of his life so that Nelson could live a free life unencumbered by this history. His father was right this moment fighting for his life.

This was something he simply had to do.

He was born for this moment. He pushed aside his panic and went down the hallway to the room. He paused at the doorway before stepping into the room.

He wasn’t sure how he knew what it was, but he knew that he was smelling ancient magic. His hand instinctively went to the talisman that Bestat had given him.

It was still hanging around his neck. Relief coursed through him.

He was still protected.

He took another step and the door behind him disappeared. He turned to look at where he’d come from. The door had been replaced by the same block wall.

“I was born for this,” Nelson whispered to himself.

He walked forward. The room around him transformed into a medium sized chapel. Ancient wooden benches appeared at either side of the aisle Nelson happened to be walking down.

Nelson squinted. There was a man kneeling at the front of this chapel.

In fact, the front of this chapel appeared to be a kind of altar to. . . He wasn’t sure.

As he walked forward, the scene in front of him became more clear. The kneeling man was wearing Templar garb similar to what Nelson was wearing. To the side, there was another man — younger, maybe a teenager. He held the sword of Jacques de Molay point down against the stone floor. This man was fit, strong. He looked like. . .

“Papa?” Nelson whispered to the man standing to the side.

The man’s stern face broke into a broad smile.

“Non,” the man said with a grin. Continuing in ancient Frank, the language of the Templars, the young man said, “I am your grandfather’s great grandfather.”

He put his hand on his chest and instantly withered to a skeleton. He removed his hand and returned to this young age.

“I am also Peddra, my son,” the man said.

“Ancient Frank for Pierre,” Nelson said. “My father’s name is Pierre.”

“He carries my name, my son,” Peddra said. “I am the Weapons Master to the Grand Master.”

Peddra nodded to the sword in his hands.

“This is only an illusion,” Peddra said. “I believe that you have the Grand Master’s sword, son.”

Nelson took out the sword.

“My son, the Grand Master,” Peddra said, his voice filled with pride.

“My mother gave her life for me, grandfather,” Nelson said.

“Why do you think that you are here?” Peddra asked with a nod. “Her sacrifice and love for you are the power that make all things possible.”

Nelson gave a slight nod. He gestured to the man kneeling at the altar.

“Jacques de Molay,” Peddra said. “We have been waiting for you for a long, long time.”

“For me, grandfather?” Neson said. “Why?”

The man at the altar turned to look at Nelson. As Nelson watched, the man’s visage shifted from some kind of marble statue to a living man. The man started to get up, but groaned.

Nelson instinctively went to the elderly man’s side to help the man to standing. The man sneered at Nelson and shook him off. As soon as he was standing on his own, the elderly man weaved until finally finding his balance.

“Jacques de Molay,” the man said. He looked Nelson up and down. “So you are the male heir of Bernard of Clairvaux.”

Nelson blinked. Jacques de Molay was speaking ancient Frank with a thick accent that Nelson couldn’t place.

Nelson realized that the man expected a reply.

“N. . .” He caught himself in time. “Guy Semaines, sir.”

“Your relative?” Jacques de Molay.

“As prophesized,” Peddra said, with a nod.

“Yes,” Jacques de Molay said. He looked Nelson over. “You are bigger than I would have expected. Softer. Stronger.”

“You are smaller than I expected, older,” Nelson said evenly.

Jacques de Molay laughed, and Peddra smiled.

“Why am I here?” Nelson asked.

“You are questing for the hoard?” Jacques de Molay asked.

“I am looking for an object that will save my father’s life,” Nelson said.

“In the treasury?” Jacques de Molay asked.

“Yes, sir,” Nelson said.

“What have you found so far?” Jacques de Molay asked.

Nelson took the jar filled with dirt from Bardsey Island from the inside pocket of his tunic. He took out the chain mail shirt from his backpack.

“This is mine,” Jacques de Molay said, softly. He looked up at Nelson. “May I?”

“Of course,” Nelson said.

Jacques de Molay pulled the chainmail shirt on. He sighed. As the air expelled from his lungs, he grew younger. In a matter of moments, the last known Grand Master of the Templars became a young man.

“Perfect,” Jacques de Molay said with a wide smile. “Now, we have a lot to do.”

“To do?” Nelson asked.

“How many quests have you been on, young man?” Jacques de Molay asked.

Nelson shook his head.

“By the time I was your age, I had been on more than twenty,” Jacques de Molay said. “I’d killed more than a hundred infidels. I. . .”

Jacques de Molay shook his head and looked at Peddra.

“You are not ready to be the Grand Master, my son,” Peddra said.

“I’m not?” Nelson asked.

Peddra and Jacques de Molay shook their heads.

“I don’t have time for this,” Nelson said. “My father is dying! I can’t. . .”

“You are not ready,” Jacques de Molay said. He stretched to his tallest and screamed, “You are not ready!

“How do I get ready?” Nelson asked.

“We will teach you,” Jacques de Molay said. “When you leave this place, you will be ready to find the hoard, ready to be the Grand Master of the Order of the Templars. Ready to replace me.”

“You must be willing,” Peddra said.

“Do I have a choice?” Nelson asked. “The Goddesses aren’t here. Alex either. Mari clearly couldn’t come. I am trapped here.”

“We are all trapped by our personal histories,” Peddra said. “You have a chance to become something great.”

“I’m not great already?” Nelson asked. “I am the only male heir to Bernard of Clairvaux!”

“You may be great, but you are not ready show your greatness,” Jacques de Molay said. “Are you willing to get ready?”

“Willing to learn from us?” Peddra asked.

Nelson looked down at the stone floor. Like the rest of the castle, these blocks were hand hewn from stone.

“The only way out is through,” Nelson said, softly.

“You are willing to learn?” Jacques de Molay asked.

“I am willing to learn,” Nelson said. “To get ready. Any idea of how long will I be here?”

“As long as it takes,” Jacques de Molay said.

“But. . .” Nelson said.

He found himself standing in a historic smithy. The heat was oppressive. There were nearly naked brutes of men stoking the fires. Peddra stood in the center of the smithy.

“Make me a sword,” Peddra said. “This is your first task.”

Nelson laughed.

“You’ve done this before?” Peddra asked.

“Since I was five year old,” Nelson said.

Peddra put his hand to his heart and then moved it toward Nelson, who bowed his head to receive the blessing. After a moment, he stood tall and got down to business.

“What kind of blade? Hilt? Material?” Nelson asked. “Special? Magical? Or just a sword?”

“It’s up to you. Use what you find,” Peddra said. “I will be here to assist, should you need it.”

“We are all here to assist you,” an obsidian skinned hulk of a man said in perfect Frank. “It’s our honor to help build a Grand Master.”

Nelson nodded to his ancestors and got to work.

While Nelson learns what he needs to know, this story line of Denver Cereal will be on hiatus. This story should return in July. In the meantime, we are rolling back the years to the origins of Denver Cereal.


Chapter Six Hundred and Eleven: The Sword of Jacques de Molay

CHAPTER SIX HUNDRED-ELEVEN

Spain

Standing at the bottom of a 3-foot hole, Nelson looked up and nodded.

They had found the last piece of the chainmail shirt at the Monzón Castle, located in Monzón, Spain.

The Goddesses cheered and the dogs barked. Alex held her hand out to Nelson and helped to pull him out of the hole. They landed on their rears and laughed.

They had slogged their way through nearly twenty Templar Castles to find bits of this chainmail. The completion of the shirt meant that they were one object closer to completing their quest. That was something that made everyone happy.

Alex and Nelson’s attendants appeared. They pulled Alex and Nelson to standing to check their clothing and give them cups of broth. Every two or three Castles, the attendants had appeared with this broth.

“We will need to stop for rest and a real meal soon,” Nelson’s attendant instructed Minerva.

She gave him a concerned nod. He gave her a slight bow before disappearing again.

Nelson’s younger attendant was fixing something on his back when the spirit of Myddrin Wylit appeared.

“Where is my mistress?” Myddrin asked.

“She can’t be here because it’s a Roman site,” Nelson said.

“This is not a Roman site,” Myddrin said. “This site was built by the Banu Hud, an Arab dynasty.”

“Hecate hasn’t been able to come to the ancient Moor sites either,” Alex said with a shrug. “Some kind of curse. The Greeks, either. Only the Roman Goddesses have been able to attend the quest in Portugal and Spain.”

Myddrin gave a solemn nod. He sighed.

“I always look so forward to see her,” Myddrin said.

“You will see her again,” Nelson said.

“I was just thinking that,” Myddrin said, with a grin. “You know where you need to go next?”

“Castle Ponferrada,” Nelson said.

“Show me what you’ve made,” Myddrin asked.

Nelson held up the chainmail shirt. Now complete, the shirt was exactly Nelson’s size. Myddrin carefully looked it over.

“Should I put it on?” Nelson asked.

“Oh no,” Myddrin said.

“Why?” Nelson asked.

“It will likely kill you,” Myddrin said.

“We’ve been looking all over hither and yon to find things that will kill the heir?” Diana the Goddess said.

“Yes, mistress,” Myddrin said.

“Why are we collecting these things?” Alex asked.

“That’s a question,” Myddrin said. “But is it the correct question?”

Frustrated, Nelson just shook his head.

“What do we need to find next?” Nelson asked.

“The lost sword of Jacques Malloy,” Myddrin said.

“This?” Nelson pulled a sword from his back.

“Look at that,” Myddrin said. “It’s almost as if Jacques de Molay wasn’t the last Grand Master of the Templars.”

With that, Myddrin disappeared.

For a moment, no one said anything. Mari the fairy appeared.

“Where have you been?” Nelson asked irritably.

“Now, now,” Mari said, with a smile. “You’ve been cursed. We’ve been trying but we could come with you.”

“We’ve been here,” Minerva said.

Hedone as cupid flew over to them. Mari took one look at Hedone and burst out laughing. Nelson punched her on the shoulder. Mari fell over laughing.

“It’s pretty funny,” Hedone said.

Alex and Nelson smiled at her.

“What is our next task?” Diana asked.

“He said that I needed to go to the Castle Ponferrada,” Nelson said. “That’s in. . .”

The world spun and suddenly they were standing on a grassy field surrounded by intact castle walls. The grass covered dirt and rubble which had filled in much of the castle. In front of them stood what looked like an intact castle tower complete with a turret and a corner tower.

“. . . the capital city of El Bierzo in the Province of León, Spain,” Nelson said, finishing his sentence.

“Now that’s a castle,” Artemis said, having returned to her Greek form.

“Where are the dogs?” Alex asked.

“My brother has them,” Artemis said with a wide grin. “If we need them, they will come.”

“Nice to see you again!” Abi said.

Walking out of vapor, Aphrodite hugged Artemis.

“I’m so glad to be myself again,” Artemis said.

“Athena?” Nelson asked.

“She has other things to attend to,” Abi said. “She said that she had great fun and would be happy to help if we need her. I told her that I thought we’d be okay. She is so busy trying to bring wisdom to war mongers.”

“Her work is very important,” Alex said.

Nelson nodded.

Hecate arrived took one look at them and laughed. They rushed her and hugged her tight. Hedone appeared in her usual Goddess form. She touched Nelson shoulder and they hugged. Nyx stepped forward from the shadows.

“You have done so well,” Nyx said. Her gorgeous face broke into a bright smile. “But we must keep moving.”

“They need rest,” said Nelson’s attendant as he appeared right in front of Nyx.

To Nelson’s surprise, Nyx nodded and smiled at the attendant. The attendant blushed. Alex grabbed Nelson’s elbow, and he nodded.

“One more, good sir,” Nyx said. “And then I will take them somewhere lovely to rest.”

The attendant nodded to Nyx and disappeared.

“What were you told?” Hecate asked.

“He said that we needed to find the sword of Jacques de Molay,” Nelson said. He pulled a sword from the scabbard on his back. “This sword. It’s the sword of the Grand Master of the Knights Templar. Jacques de Molay is the last known Grand Master.”

“That’s not true?” Alex asked. “Who is the Grand Master now.”

“My father,” Nelson said. “Well, me. My father was holding the position until I was ready, able, or willing to take it.”

“You?” Alex asked.

She looked from face to face. Each of the Goddesses nodded.

“Wow,” Alex said. “Should I kneel?”

Nelson laughed, and she grinned.

“Okay, I have to tell you something,” Alex said.

“You told Jax to help me,” Nelson said.

When Nelson left home, he was assisted by Michael Scully and, later on, by Jackson “Jax” Theriot, both members of Alex’s original Special Forces team

“You knew?” Alex laughed. “Why didn’t you say something?”

“I love Jax,” Nelson said. “I’ve seen you at the yearly celebrations.”

“I haven’t seen you,” Alex said with a wide grin.

“You will this year,” Nelson said.

Nyx cleared her throat.

“If you’re done,” Nyx said.

Alex and Nelson looked up to see the Goddesses’ glaring at them.

“What do we know about this sword and this site?” Hecate asked, stepping back into her role as the quest leader.

“Site first?” Nelson asked. “Or sword first?”

“Let’s start with the site,” Hedone said.

The other Goddesses nodded.

“I’ve got that,” Alex said.

Nelson gave her a nod to continue.

“Do you know James the Great?” Alex asked. “He was one of Jesus of Nazareth’s original apostles.”

“Killed by Herod Agrippa?” Hecate asked.

“Him,” Alex said. “Herod Agrippa ordered Saint James beheaded. His head was buried under the altar of the Cathedral of Saint James in the Armenian quarter of Jerusalem.”

“Anyone there?” Nelson asked.

The goddesses all looked down at the ground or away. Mari laughed out loud.

“Anyway,” Alex said with a grin. “The Historia Compostelana says that Saint James preached the gospel in Spain as well as the Holy Land. After his martyrdom, James’s disciples carried his body by sea to Iberia where they took it inland for burial.”

“You’re saying that sweet James’s human body is buried here?” Aphrodite asked.

“That’s one story,” Alex said. “To many people, including my biological father’s family, this is considered to be as much of a holy site as Rome or Jerusalem. James the Great is the patron saint of Spain.”

She nodded to Nelson. He took over the narrative.

“The Templars defended pilgrims from just south of Lyon, France to this site, among others, on the Camino de Santiago,” Nelson said.

Aphrodite nodded to Hecate.

“The Celtic tribes used to travel the same pathway from the interior to the Atlantic coast of Galicia,” Hecate said. “They believed that watching the sun set over the endless waters was a spiritual experience. Not all this gold and swords and. . .”

“But the love of this planet,” Aphrodite said.

The Goddesses nodded.

“The Romans held Iberia from 200 BC on,” Nelson said with a nod. “They built roads from Bordeaux in modern France to Astorga in northwest Spain.”

“To mine the area’s gold and silver,” Hecate said with a sneer.

“Of course,” Abi said, rubbing Hecate’s back to calm her.

“Pilgrims use this trail today,” Alex said to finish her statement.

Knowing that they had to keep moving, the goddesses ismply nodded.

“I have recently learned a story that Jacques de Molay, the supposed last Grand Master of the Templars, was praying in the Chapel to James the Great at this location,” Nelson said. “This was his last trip on the Camino del Santiago. He is said to have left his sword inside the chapel.”

“People come to this site today to look for the sword,” Alex said.

“This sword,” Nelson said, gesturing to the sword in his hand.

“What happened instead?” Hecate asked. She looked at the others. “I have heard this story as well. I’ve been asked more than once to find the sword and return power to. . .”

She gestured her hand as if it could be anyone. She lifted an eyebrow and shoulder at the same time.

“What is the true story?” Athena asked.

They all turned with surprise at her appearance.

“I have heard the story as well,” Athena said. “Blade of great power. Could restore order. Blah, blah.”

Athena shrugged.

“May I see the sword?” Athena asked. “Touch it?”

“Of course,” Nelson said. “As far as we know, it’s just a sword. It has no great power — mythical or otherwise.”

“Not like the Sword of Power or the Vanquisher — both of which I believe Hecate’s father gave to children,” Athena said, with a dark look in Hecate’s direction.

Hecate held up her hands in acquiescence. Nelson scowled at Athena.

“There are a number of power swords,” Nelson said. “Having two found in the hands of growing humans is a very good thing, a hopeful thing for the future of all.”

Athena nodded in acquiescence.

“Shall I continue?” Nelson asked, holding the sword out to Athena.

Athena took the sword. She looked at it the sword and swished it around, before passing it to the others.

“It’s just a sword,” Athena said.

“That’s what I said,” Nelson said. He put his hand on his chest. “I come from a long line of Weapons Masters dating back to the beginning of time. We were the only creator of Templar swords and armor. There’s no one in the world who knows more about swords than I do. Just for the record, I happen to know more than Ares. But it is true that I haven’t talked swords with the esteemed Athena.”

“Let’s put that on our calendars,” Athena said.

Everyone laughed.

“Isn’t that what people say now?” Athena asked.

Nelson and Alex grinned.

“They do,” Alex said.

“Keep moving,” Nyx said, appearing from the shadow again.

“Moving on,” Nelson said. “The actual story is that the Grand Master set down his sword and his Weapons Master picked it up. The Grand Master could not travel back to France without his sword. He’d have to be a complete idiot. We have had the sword since that time. It was in my Templar gear when it appeared.”

Nelson nodded.

“Where does this sword fit in the realm of swords, oh Weapons Master?” Athena asked.

“It’s a sword,” Nelson said with a shrug. “I brought my own sword, which is sharper, lighter, and easier to use. I have knives that are better than this sword.”

“So why. . .?” Mari asked.

“I detect something in this sword,” Hecate said, looking at the sword. “But we’d need to walk back in time to activate it.”

Hecate looked at the sword again.

“I think,” Hecate said, shaking her head. “I don’t know. . .”

“Is it possible that this Jacques de Molay was attempting to activate the sword and was unable?” Alex asked.

“Sure,” Nelson said, with a shrug. “Anything’s possible.”

“It would explain why we needed to come here,” Abi said.

“I believe that we need to go back in time,” Hecate said. She passed the sword to Athena. “You?”

Athena looked at Hecate.

“The hilt?” Hecate asked.

Athena shrugged and shook her head.

“Give it to me,” Abi said.

Athena tossed the sword to Abi. Before the sword could reach her, Abi opened her hands and pulled them apart. The sword came apart by its minerals.

“What the. . .?” Alex started.

Nelson walked forward. He looked at Abi, and she nodded for him to go ahead.

“Okay, okay,” Nelson said. “All of these are not unusual for a sword made in this era. But this? This is amber. Amber is fossilized tree resin.”

“Is it?” Hecate asked. “That’s very interesting.”

The other goddesses nodded.

“I’ve never seen it in a sword,” Nelson said. “Can you put it back together? I’d like to see what the amber looks like in the sword.”

Abi pulled her hands together.

“It’s there!” Mari said.

She pointed to a thread of amber that ran down the entire shaft of the sword.

“This would be very hard to do,” Nelson said. “Very hard.”

“So it was a special sword,” Hecate said.

“Why is this amber special?” Artemis asked.

There was a moment of silence. Nelson looked up.

“Oh sorry, I thought that they would answer,” Nelson said.

“We wanted to hear what you had to say, Weapons Master,” Athena said.

“Amber holds a charge,” Nelson said. “That means magic. Magic is electricity, energy. You can put it back to original shape.”

The sword came back together. Nelson grabbed the sword from the air. He smiled from ear to ear and looked at the goddesses.

“We need to find the chapel of James the Great,” Nelson said. “There must be something in that chapel that will activate this sword.”

“Do we need to go through time?” Mari asked, excitedly. Everyone looked at her. “What? It’s always so fun to see the old days again.”

“I don’t think so,” Nelson said. “I think that he would have activated it if he could have. He would have done it then.”

“You don’t think that he needed you?” Alex asked. “The male heir of Bernard?”

Nelson shrugged.

“The heir is correct,” Hecate said. “We need to first find this chapel. If we need to walk time, we can do that easily.”

“Do we need the dogs?” Artemis asked.

Nelson shook his head.

“I know where it is,” Nelson said. “I’ll just need some help getting there.”

The Goddesses laughed. Nelson and Alex grinned, and the world started spinning again.

Denver Cereal continues next week...


Chapter Six Hundred and Ten: Friends help friends

CHAPTER SIX HUNDRED-TEN

Marlowe School

Denver

“Did you hear?” Nash asked while stifling a yawn.

“About the quest?” Charlie asked.

“Nelson, Alex,” Nash said. He leaned in, “Templar treasure. They appeared again. Portugal.”

Charlie raised an eyebrow at Nash. Scowling, he shook his head and looked away. Charlie had been sitting with his back to a school wall napping in the sun during their lunch recess.

“You’re grumpy,” Nash said.

Charlie shook his head at Nash.

“What’s going on?” Nash asked.

“You wouldn’t understand,” Charlie said.

“Try me,” Nash said.

Nash gave Charlie a moment to collect his thoughts. When Charlie didn’t say anything, Nash nudged his leg with his foot.

“What do you want?” Charlie asked, angrily.

“Today’s the anniversary of your dad’s death,” Nash said.

Charlie’s head jerked to look up at Nash. Charlie blinked at the bright sun. Nash moved over so that Charlie’s face was covered in shadow.

“Sandy’s still healing,” Nash said. “Sissy’s in France.”

Nash nodded.

“You probably feel like there’s no one around who could understand your pain,” Nash said.

Charlie nodded. Nash dropped to a crouch.

“I can’t say that I understand what your specific situation is exactly like,” Nash said. “But I know the feelings you are feeling all too well. I’m willing to listen.”

Charlie didn’t look at Nash.

“You can talk to me,” Nash said.

“And say what?” Charlie asked. “My dad is dead. He was dead yesterday and he’ll be dead tomorrow. I. . .”

Charlie sighed.

“Last year wasn’t so hard,” Charlie said. “I don’t know why it wasn’t hard. I was happy. We were all together in that stupid tiny apartment. Sissy was finally where she should be. Tink, too. I was learning to read. Everything seemed so exciting. Good. Hopeful. But this year. . .”

Charlie looked at Nash.

“You want to use,” Nash said.

“Fiercely,” Charlie said. “I did heroin for the first time right after my dad died. I know it sounds dumb, but I miss it, you know, like it was my best friend and not my worst enemy.”

Nash reached out to Charlie, and Charlie took his hand.

“I feel like such a loser,” Charlie said.

“Well, you’re not,” Nash said. “Sandy always says, ‘Your feelings are real. . .”

“They are just not true,” Charlie said in unison with Nash.

Nash nodded.

“Listen,” Nash said. “I don’t have any advice for you.”

“I don’t need advice,” Charlie said.

“What do you need?” Nash asked.

“I wish I knew,” Charlie said with a sigh.

Nash sat down next to Charlie. For a long while, they sat together.

“What are you doing?” Charlie asked finally.

“I’m just being with you,” Nash said. “You know, like heroin.”

Charlie laughed and put his arm over Nash’s shoulders.

“Did it work?” Nash asked.

Charlie looked at Nash. He grabbed Nash’s head and kissed his forehead.

“Not really,” Charlie said. “But somehow, I feel less alone. And that’s a very good thing.”

“There you are!” Tink’s voice came from around the wall. “We’ve been looking everywhere.”

Noelle and Teddy came around the corner just after Tink.

“Seth is here,” Tink said. “He wants to take you out this afternoon.”

Charlie shot Nash a look that would curdle milk.

“I didn’t know,” Nash said raising his hands. “I’ve been sitting here with you.”

“Come on,” Tink said.

Tink held out her hands, and Charlie let her help pull him up. Tink held him tight. Nash scrambled up after him.

“I’m so sorry about your dad,” Tink said. She scanned his face. “You look like you want to use.”

“I did,” Charlie said. He nodded to Nash. “I think I’m okay now.”

“You’d better get to the office!” Noelle said.

Charlie nodded and started toward the office. The other children followed him close behind. When they arrived at the office, they saw Sissy standing next to Seth. Everyone rushed to Sissy. Seth hugged Charlie.

“How did you get here?” Tink squealed.

“Seth was in Paris talking to Ivan and Otis about going to Russia,” Sissy said. “He suggested that that we surprise Charlie. I’ve just been to see Sandy.”

“How long are you here?” Noelle asked.

Unsure of what to do with her hands, Noelle clenched them in front of herself. Sissy kissed Noelle’s cheek, and Noelle threw her arms around Sissy. They held each other for a moment before Sissy stepped backwards.

“I’m here just today,” Sissy said. “I have to get back tonight.”

“So glad you’re here, Sis,” Charlie said, hugging his sister.

“Come on,” Seth said.

“Let’s get out of here,” Charlie said.

He raised a hand in good bye to Nash and nodded to the others. They walked out of the building and to Seth’s parked car.

“You think that he’s okay?” Tink asked.

“I think he’s going to be,” Nash said with a nod. “Hey, did you hear?”

“Alex and Nelson appeared,” Noelle said. “We know! We’ve heard you tell us about a million times!”

Nash grinned, and the others laughed.

“Hey, you kids need to get to class!” the hall monitor yelled.

They trotted down the hall to their classroom.

~~~~~~~~

Spain

Nelson landed in yet another Spanish site. A wave of exhaustion came over him. He collapsed on the grass and sucked in a breath. He was exhausted and could feel the sickness beginning to rise inside of him. He rolled on his side and vomited until his stomach was heaving. He passed out.

Sometime later — a minute? Two days? — Alex Hargreaves put her hand on his forehead.

“He’s burning up,” Alex said.

“I’ll take him,” a foreign voice that sounded like Bestat if she were speaking through a cardboard tube. “Stay here. Tell the others. We’ll be back.”

Nelson felt as if he’d been picked up by. . . His mind believed that he was flying on the large eagles like Sam and Frodo.

“I’m not done. I’m not done. I’m not done,” Nelson tried to reason with the enormous eagle.

“Sleep now,” the enormous eagle demanded.

And he did.

The next sound he heard was Blane talking to a woman. His eyes fluttered open.

“Sick,” Nelson whispered.

No one paid any attention to him. He felt a small body climb up onto him. He opened his eyes to see Blane and Heather’s son Mack standing on the table he was lying on.

“Sick,” Nelson said.

The child nodded. The child held out his hand, and his brother climbed up onto the table. A toddler, Wyn climbed up Nelson’s chest so that his head lay against Nelson’s heart. Mack climbed between Nelson’s legs.

Nelson fell into his first peaceful sleep since this entire ridiculous escapade had started. He woke when Wyn was crying. He felt the warm body of the toddler being lifted off him.

“But Dad!” Mack said. “He needs our help!”

“And you’ve helped,” Blane said. “He needs some adult help.”

“Can I stay?” Mack bargained. “I won’t get in the way.”

“No, son,” Blane said.

“But he can’t eat an apple!!” Mack screamed at Blane.

“Oh honey, you have the best heart,” Blane said, picking up his weeping and screaming son. To someone Nelson couldn’t see, he said, “I’ll be right back.”

“Of course,” a Russian accented voice said. “I will start.”

“Please do,” Blane said.

Nelson heard Blane carry a screaming Mack away from the room.

“Hello, Guy Semaines,” the Russian voice said. “We have met before but you likely don’t remember me.”

“Jill’s father,” Nelson mumbled.

“Yes, something like that,” the woman laughed. “I am Angjelika. My family comes from a long line of healers from. . .”

“Russia,” Nelson mumbled. “Jill. . .”

“I’m right here,” Jill said. She grabbed his shoulder. “We’re waiting for Mike and my sister, Megan.”

“Don’t trouble. . .” Nelson said.

“Friends help friends do their most impossible tasks,” Jill said. “We are your friend, your human family. We are here to help you do what is nearly impossible.”

“Where else would we be?” Anjelika asked.

Tears squeezed from Nelson’s eyes.

“I can’t,” Nelson said. “Too weak and the world will end and. . .”

“You will not fail,” a strong male voice said from the doorway.

“Perses,” Nelson mumbled.

“You know me?” Perses asked.

“I’d recognize you anywhere,” Nelson said. “Terrifying.”

Anjelika laughed.

“Shh,” Jill whispered. She put her hands around his head. “Let us help you.”

“Let it in.” Nelson heard Mike’s voice and it made him smile.

“I’m Megan,” a woman said, leaning over his body. “You are very ill.”

The woman reached up and closed his eyelids. He was powerless to open his eyes.

“AIDS,” Nelson said.

“It’s something else,” Perses said.

“Something older,” Bestat’s voice came from the corner of the room.

“Moorish,” Perses said softly.

“Sleep now,” Jill said.

“Are we ready?” Blane’s voice came into the room.

“Please,” Anjelika said.

Blane kissed Nelson’s forehead, and that’s the last thing he remembered.

He sat up with a gasp.

“Where am I?” Nelson asked.

“There’s a good question.” Alex Hargreaves’s voice was suddenly next to him.

“Blane, Jill, her mother and the rest. . .” Nelson said.

“They were able to help you and then you needed sleep,” Alex said. “Bestat brought you back here. Can you eat?”

“I’m starving,” Nelson said.

Alex held out a cup full of mouth watering broth.

“Drink this,” Alex said.

He swallowed the warm liquid down.

“Where is everyone else?” Nelson asked.

“Resting,” Alex said. “We pushed too fast and hard. Even the Goddesses are exhausted.”

“Not you?” Nelson asked.

“I’m used to it,” Alex said. “But I slept and have been eating. Just staying in one location feels like a luxury.”

“The bouncing around from place to place is a deadly,” Nelson said.

Alex made a soft, empathetic sound. She gave him another cup of broth, which he drank down. Sitting up, he realized that he was naked.

“Clothing?” Nelson asked. “My Templar garb?”

“It was filthy,” Alex said. “My clothes, too. The servants cleaned it.”

“I don’t know how I feel about servants,” Nelson said.

“I understand,” Alex said. “Bestat is taking over our care. Her people are more accustomed to helping humans.”

Alex nodded to the broth.

“It’s delicious,” Nelson said.

“Bestat’s people are not slaves,” Alex said. “They are paid with money, longer life, family good luck, and other things.”

Nelson gave a slow nod.

“Where are we?” Nelson asked.

“A home owned by Aphrodite, of all things,” Alex said. “It’s very quiet and so lovely. The grounds are filled with a bounty of flowers of mysterious origin. My room looks right out over the ocean.”

“We’re in the middle of the ocean somewhere,” Nelson said.

“Yes,” Alex said. “She swears that it is still Spain. I’ve never seen this island marked on any map.”

Alex shrugged.

“I’m glad that you are on the mend,” Alex said. “We have a lot more to do.”

Nelson sighed.

“You think we’ll make it?” Nelson asked.

“A couple of hours ago, I didn’t,” Alex said with a smile. “Now, I think we’re going to be just fine.”

“What changed your mind?” Nelson asked.

“You,” Alex said. “You’ve rebounded from some plague you picked up at one of these sites. It’s only a matter of time before. . .”

The door opened with a slam.

“It is time to leave,” Hecate said. “You will have to return to Spain with only the Roman Goddesses. Can you do it?”

Nelson closed his eyes for a moment before looking up at Hecate. He nodded.

“I just need to get dressed,” Nelson said. He looked at Alex. “Any else to eat?”

“Of course,” Hecate said. “I will speak with your attendants.”

Hecate nodded and closed the door.

“That was almost too easy,” Nelson said.

“They feel badly that you got so sick,” Alex said. “They’ve been pushing us really hard. It’s no wonder you got ill.”

“You didn’t,” Nelson said.

“I am immunized against everything,” Alex said. “Me and Max are ridiculously healthy.”

Alex shrugged again.

“Shall I leave you to dress?” Alex asked.

“Would you mind?” Nelson asked.

“Not at all,” Alex said. “I’ll be right outside.”

She stood up and started toward the door. She stopped and turned back.

“Don’t fight the attendant,” Alex said. “They are actually amazing.”

Nelson nodded. Alex left the room and two tall, thin brown skinned men came into the room. They helped Nelson from the bed. They gave him a cloth, wet with lavender water, to clean himself. They wiped his back and feet. They helped him into his cleaned undergarments.

He was standing in his boxer briefs when the attendant held up an amulet on a thin necklace.

“This is from the mistress,” the attendant said in Egyptian accented French. “She spent all night looking for it. It belonged to one of your ancestors. The mistress believes that it will help to keep you healthy.”

Nelson lowered his head and the man put the necklace around his neck.

“You must not tell anyone about it,” the attendant said.

“The other human?” Nelson asked. “I can’t tell Alex?”

“She has one, as well,” the attendant said with a slight bow of his head. “From her ancestors.”

“Good,” Nelson said. He nodded. “That’s really good.”

“Yes,” the attendant said. He put his hand on Nelson’s heart. “Listen to me now, I am going to speak very quickly. Nod if you understand. Shake your head if you do not. You must act like you are simply getting dressed.”

Nelson nodded. The attendants looked at each other. The younger of the two attendants handed Nelson his pants.

“This quest is designed to kill you,” the older attendant said. “More than you can know, you are to die. No one is to find the hoard. This is how it’s designed.”

Nelson gave a nod.

“You must complete this quest,” the older attendant said.

Nelson nodded. The other attendant passed him a cotton wrap around shirt. Nelson put it on as the older attendant continued.

“You allowed yourself to become too ill,” the attendant said. “You must not do that again. You risk everything. The Russians were able to bring you back. There’s no reason for you to get so ill.”

Nelson tipped his head to the side.

“Yes, I realize that I’m saying that the quest is designed to make you sick and that there is no reason for you to get sick,” the attendant said with a nod. “None.”

“Why?” Nelson asked.

“You have friends,” the attendant said. “Friends who are willing to help you do hard things. Friends who will help you stay healthy and well. You are loved. So loved.”

Nelson’s eyes welled with tears. The other attendant gave Nelson the over garments to his Templar gear.

“Never doubt,” the attendant said. “These Goddesses will kill for you. They risk themselves for the quest. They will help you.”

Nelson nodded.

“You need to ask,” the attendant said. He hit Nelson hard in the chest with his pointer finger. “Ask.”

“I will,” Nelson said. He nodded sincerely.

“You must know that this quest is different,” the attendant said. “No Templar ever went on a quest alone. No Templar went on a quest for reasons other than to line his own pockets.”

“I am not so different,” Nelson said. “I am here to save my father.”

“Doing something for someone else,” the attendant said with a nod. “This is why you’ve made it so far. No Templar has ever going out on a quest for someone else. They were just not like that. They simply were not.”

Nelson glanced at the younger attendant and he gave a nod.

“Yes, young man,” the older attendant said. “We both knew Templars.”

Not sure what to say, Nelson focused on getting dressed.

“We are your attendants,” the man said. “Call us. Any time. We will appear. One of the gifts of serving the Madam is the gift of a kind of magic — very powerful, very secret. No one would dare to defy us. We will protect you. Care for you. Until you reach the very end of this quest or die.”

Nelson nodded.

“Thank you,” Nelson said.

The attendants finished dressing him, including putting on his shoes. They left the room without saying another word.

“Ready to go?” Hecate asked as Nelson stepped into the doorway.

“I am,” Nelson said.

He looked at Alex, and she nodded. They were whisked off to the next Templar site.

Denver Cereal continues next week...


Chapter Six Hundred and Nine: Castle of Soure

CHAPTER SIX HUNDRED and NINE

Soure, Portugal

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...


Chapter Six Hundred and Eight: Free them all

CHAPTER SIX HUNDRED and EIGHT

Bardsey Island

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.

Nelson nodded.

“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?”

Nelson nodded.

“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.”

Hecate sighed.

“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...