HENRY IN FINKLE ROAD
Normal life persisted in going on. The next day the crew was filming at Medeln once more, and Henry and Gavin had to be there. This time, it was Alastair Bannow in front of the cameras.
Not surprisingly, Henry was abstracted, hardly a good condition for the man in charge of the day’s interview. Lights and equipment were set up in the centre of the abbey nave, where Henry was to put questions to Dr Bannow. Henry’s side of the exchange would be replaced later by voice-over, leaving only Bannow’s answers to feature in the final version. Nonetheless, Henry’s role was more responsibility than he liked. What was worse, he at last possessed incontrovertible evidence that Bannow had been right all along, yet he dared not reveal his knowledge to anyone. He found it difficult to look straight into the man’s eyes.
‘Tell me, Dr Bannow. Why do you think Rothenia is such a special place?’ Bannow looked at Henry with some puzzlement, so Henry amplified. ‘Why do you allege that the True Face ended up here, of all places?’
‘It’s purely a matter of dynastic history, not even divine providence. A series of marriages brought it to this country. Here it has stayed, because the marriage of Fenice of Hungary produced a very long-lasting dynasty still important in modern Rothenia.’
‘And where do you suppose the relic might now be found?’ Henry was rather interested in Bannow’s possible answer.
Bannow shook his head. ‘I have no idea,’ he confessed. ‘I merely suggest the lineage of the counts of Tarlenheim may know the answer to that question.’
‘Oskar of Modenehem, the guardian of the present prince-count, has utterly denied any connection the family might have with such an object. Do you believe him?’
‘I think there is a case to answer, that is all.’
‘Can you tell us about the place of the abbey of Medeln in all this?’
‘As you know, St Fenice was commendatory abbess here in the fifteenth century. I have no doubt her Meditation on the Face of Christ was the result of her prolonged contemplation of the True and Holy Face which she brought with her to Rothenia. She must have had it beside her within these walls. I imagine it was concealed here after her death, and for all we know, it may be concealed here still.’
‘But a detailed survey of the abbey and its precincts has found nothing.’
‘It is not at all unprecedented for modern-day people to underestimate the talents and abilities of our ancestors. Just because it has not been found does not mean it isn’t here. What are we looking for, after all? It can only be a small, flat object, an ancient painting. Very easy to conceal, I would imagine.’
‘And this relic, would you say it has any supernatural power?’
‘The power to do miracles you mean? Oh, I have no time for that sort of thing. The portrait is an amazingly important historical relic, that’s all. It isn’t necessary to descend to superstition. The fact that it may survive is miracle enough for me.’
Henry put several more questions to the man before the producer whisked Bannow away to film in locations around the abbey. Henry and Gavin went for an early lunch at the caterers’ trailer. They took it into the cloisters and sat on the stone benches on the sunny north walk.
‘How are you this morning, baby?’
‘I’m alright Henry. I don’t feel so weak today. In fact, I feel quite vigorous, all tingly.’
Henry looked at Gavin. Indeed, he did seem full of life and, if it were possible, more robust and larger than usual. His dark eyes seemed to glitter, which all of a sudden caused Henry to notice one reason why Gavin looked so different.
‘Baby? Where are your glasses?’
‘Funny thing, Henry. My eyesight seems to have improved a bit. The glasses were beginning to make everything look fuzzy, so I stopped wearing them this morning. What do you think?’
‘What do I think? Gavin, this is really odd. You were short-sighted and needed corrective glasses. Yes, eyesight can improve, but for fifteen- and sixteen-year-olds, not someone who’s nineteen like we are.’
Of all the troubling things that had happened so far, this was the worst. Whatever powers had Gavin in their grip were changing him, not just in personality but even physically. Henry was aghast. Yet how could he stop it? Only by leaving Rothenia in a hurry, he concluded. He gave that option some very serious thought, though in the end decided it would not do. The thing, whatever it was, had Gavin in its power, and that power was plainly tremendous. Would it let Gavin leave? Henry thought not.
‘Baby,’ he finally said, ‘I’ve got to go for a walk. Don’t wander away from the crew, in case you have another of your turns.’
Henry paced along the cloister and took the door into the south side of the abbey church. The interior was empty, apart from the litter of the camera crew. He found his way to the ambulatory and sat in a radial chapel dedicated to St Michael and All Angels, as he later noted.
The sun was coming in through the narrow Romanesque windows high up in the walls. Henry meditated deeply on what was occurring to those he loved. How deeply began to be apparent to him by some strange external signs.
A vast silence descended on the great church, a silence that extinguished even the creaking and cracking of the ancient building. No sigh of a breeze and no footstep disturbed the profound calm. It was a sentient silence, in which Henry felt he was not alone. At its heart was a presence, warm and accepting. With a rising sense of alarm, Henry realized the presence was reaching out to him. Had this been what Gavin had felt?
Henry gradually became aware that an arm had taken his arm, without causing him to flinch, and that someone was sitting next to him where no one had been before. Warm lips kissed his cheek. He turned, and found a familiar handsome and Byronic face smiling into his.
‘Hello, dear Henry,’ his visitor grinned and kissed him this time on the mouth. He took his time about it.
Henry had to grin back. ‘Randy as ever, Jed?’
The boy looked puzzled. ‘Jed? Oh, you mean …? Well never mind, Jed will do for now. Henry, I think you can guess why I am here.’
‘Hopefully to answer some questions.’
‘Yes, some perhaps, but mainly I have to warn you of a decision you must make, one that is coming hard upon you. The hour is at hand. Do you understand what I mean?’
‘The hour of Mendamero.’
‘That is indeed what I mean.’
‘Who or what is he?’
‘Don’t you know? Time will tell you, dearest love. But principally you must not forget this. All too soon you will be required to make a choice. When that time comes, do not be afraid of the sacrifice. Remember, those who want to save their life will lose it, but those who lose their life for my sake, they will save it.’
Henry was badly disconcerted at those ominous yet familiar words. However, he managed to shake the fear off. ‘Tell me where the True Face is, please.’
‘It lies amongst my servants, where they have been laid for many generations. You know where it is. Look into your heart, Henry my dear child.’
At those words, Henry peered deep into the face before him, then straightened up in wonder. ‘You’re not Jed, are you.’
The handsome and boyish countenance smiled and seemed to fade out in the sunlight that suddenly flooded the chapel. All around Henry, the world had returned to life. He heard the buzz of conversation from down in the nave, and the scrape as chairs were moved across a stone floor. He looked at his watch with astonishment. A full hour had passed in what had seemed a few minutes.
Henry stood stiffly and gazed about him. He headed back to find Gavin, only to discover the cloister empty. He asked around, but neither the producer nor anyone else had seen Gavin. The boy could not have gone home without a car, and he could not drive. Henry reached for his mobile.
Terry, David and Ed Cornish were at the abbey within ninety minutes, which indicated to Henry that Terry had flouted quite a few traffic regulations.
‘So you think he’s been kidnapped.’ Terry was tapping his teeth, as he tended to do when he was concentrating.
‘I certainly do.’ Henry was impatient rather than distraught. In the Conan-Doyle phrase, the game was afoot. It was time to be up and doing. Despite having little clear idea what it actually was he should be doing, Henry was certain great events were happening and probably not too far away. He knew he was meant to be part of them, if only he could figure out what they were.
‘Who has kidnapped him?’
Henry took a deep breath. He really had no time for this. ‘There is a Rothenian organisation called the Priory of St Veronica which believes Gavin may be the key to a great secret. He isn’t, but that won’t stop them taking him apart until he tells them something.’
‘Who’s behind this organisation?’
‘There are a Master and twelve Acolytes. The Master is Piotr Bermann, remember him?’
‘Oh yeah. Now things are sounding more likely. But what is this secret?’
‘It’s the secret that Alastair Bannow is on about, the whereabouts of the Holy Face.’
David stared at Henry. ‘But that’s a pile of total crap!’
Henry took another deep breath. ‘I thought so once, but even before we got here I was turning up new evidence that persuaded me this thing really does exist. You remember that day at the British Museum, Ed? Not only does it exist, but over the past few weeks it’s been gradually taking over my Gavin. He’s changing and I can’t protect him. Oh God!’ Henry was suddenly in floods of tears, head in hands. He felt a familiar powerful set of arms embrace him and – half reluctantly – he nestled into the tall man who whispered in his ear, ‘Easy, little babe!’
Henry heard Terry’s voice say quietly and compassionately, ‘Where is this thing Henry? Do you know?’
‘No,’ he sniffed. ‘But Countess Helge does.’
‘Helge? Good God!’
‘Yes, Helge. She is what’s called the Levite, the guardian of the Ark in which the relic is kept.’
Henry looked up through wet lashes at an astonished David. ‘Henry, you really have excelled yourself this time.’
As if in reaction, Henry gave a sobbing laugh.
Terry was his usual decisive self. ‘Alright, favourite babes, in the car and quick. We go to find the countess.’
The car tore off to the ridge road. It was a large and powerful BMW, which explained the speed with which Terry had covered the distance from Strelzen to northern Husbrau. Within minutes they were at the lodge of Templerstadt, and the porter was slowly pulling back the great gate. As they reached the house, Henry was already opening the car door. He pounded into the main range, shouting for Marek the chamberlain.
A surprised Marek eventually appeared in an apron stained with polish. ‘Mr Atwood, sir?’
‘Where is the countess, Marek?’
‘I believe she is here, sir. She was entertaining Professor Wardrinski, who was not filming today at the abbey. Have you tried her suite?’
Henry raced upstairs. He found the door to her rooms ajar and went in without knocking. There was no sign of her, but there was a chair knocked over, and her copy of the works of St Fenice was flat on the carpet. Glaring up at Henry was the phrase His Ark lieth amongst thee in its chamber of cypress wood. His servants lie wakeful around it, as Samuel in the Holy of Holies.
Terry quickly searched the room. ‘There’s been a struggle, Henry. It looks as though your friends have done more than one kidnap today. How did they get into the house unobserved?’
‘There is a cart track and a ride that leads up from the valley. A four-wheel drive could probably get quite close to the back of the house without being observed.’
‘So what now, sweet babe?’ Terry asked. ‘Have you any clue where they would go?’
Henry thought. The boy in the vision at the abbey had told him that he did know the location of the Ark. He looked wildly around Helge’s room. There were a series of watercolours on the walls. They showed places around Terlenehem and Modenehem dear to the countess. Directly ahead of Henry was a picture of the church of Terlenehem, with the Tarlenheim mausoleum behind it. His Ark lieth amongst thee in its chamber of cypress wood. His servants lie wakeful around it, as Samuel in the Holy of Holies.
‘My God!’ Henry shouted. ‘That’s it. How could I have been so stupid!’
‘What? Tell us, Henry.’
‘Once you know that the Levites were Tarlenheims, where else could the Ark be but in their mausoleum? That’s where its servants lie resting. That’s where Fenice was placed when she was moved from Medeln by Princess Osra of Mittenheim. The mausoleum was built at the same time as the abbey was renovated. It’s so obvious – so bloody obvious that those bastards in the Priory must know it too. That’s where they are!’
The streets of the small town of Terlenehem were deserted, though the Rose restaurant seemed to be enjoying a busy trade. A coach party of US tourists had crowded it out, probably doing the Bannow trip. If only they knew, Henry mused.
Several large cars were parked by the church gate, including a familiar black SUV and a big four-wheel drive. Henry heard a click beside him. Terry had drawn his gun and checked the magazine. Henry took a deep breath.
The four of them flitted from gravestone to gravestone, Henry in the lead.
‘Stop, Henry,’ Terry said, as they reached the corner of the church tower. ‘They’ll have posted sentries. Let me go first. David and Ed, keep back. If you hear a shot, call for the police direct. Ed, you’ve got enough Rothenian to make the call, yes?’ Ed nodded and bit his lip. ‘Henry, you’re with me.’
Terry was down on his belly, regardless of the fate of his suit. Henry squirmed after him. Terry paused behind an altar tomb to sneak a look. ‘One sentry, and he’s keener on trying to see what’s going on inside than looking out. He’s dead meat. Stay put, sweet babe.’
Terry was off on his belly at a surprising pace. Henry quickly lost sight of him. An instant later there was a thud as Terry brought the sentry down. He signalled and Henry came running, to find that Terry had already used his own tie as a gag, and the man’s belt to bind him with.
The iron gates of the mausoleum were open. The wreaths Oskar and Fritz had placed on them were still there, though fading.
Henry looked into the black arch that lay beyond. A miasma seemed to reach out from it and chill his heart. He sensed that death lay beyond the arch in more ways than one. He swallowed hard. ‘Terry, I’ll lead. Whatever’s in there knows I’m coming, even if Bermann does not.’