Camelot was abuzz. Thirty or so knights had already returned from their quest. So soon? Didn’t they leave just three weeks ago? I’d lasted twice that long on The First Grail Quest, and I’d been the first one home. There were knights who’d been away for more than a year.
“We heard the Grail has been found.” That was the scuttlebutt, with theme and variations, everywhere I went. Starting about three days ago, in inns and taverns from Londinium to Lancaster, people had been overhead talking about it. Nobody seemed to know any more than that, although there was plenty of speculation about who and where and how.
Now how in the world could a rumor be that widespread? The odor of old smelt was growing stronger all the time.
The next evening Arthur rode in with an escort of six knights. They’d been searching the area around Mount Baden when they too had heard the rumors. Now of all the places in England to hide a cup, why would anyone choose Mount Baden? I suspected that Arthur, like me, had decided there was no real hope of finding The Grail and had used the quest as an excuse to visit the site of his greatest victory over the Saxons. Relive a little of the old glory, inspect how the desolated farms and groves were coming back, bask in the adoration of his grateful subjects. Visit the ghosts of old friends and old enemies both still walking the battlefield—there had certainly been enough bodies piled up there to have generated a few.
Arthur was surprised that no one knew any more than he did. “What in the name of Mithras is going on?” he demanded from his advisors. Nobody had an answer.
Nobody except Father Ignatius, who arrived the next day. “Galahad and Percival have found The Grail buried on a hill near Glastonbury. I saw it clearly in a vision. When they opened the chest containing it, the light struck it in such a glorious fashion that everyone was stunned. The blessed knights fasted and prayed for three days, after which they began their journey home.”
“So how did everybody find out about it so soon?” Arthur wanted to know. That was my question as well, but he asked it first.
“God works in mysterious ways, praise His holy name. I believe that he has sent the same vision out to men of faith everywhere, so that His good news would be known far and wide.”
Arthur looked a little dubious but let it go.
Father Ignatius went on the describe The Grail from his dreams. And if you can believe it, his description matched exactly what Emilio had shared with me a few days before at Wald-Ambara. What a striking coincidence. Ignatius’s God was more than mysterious; he was downright devious.
Sure enough, right on schedule, The Grail arrived. Accompanied by a gaggle of followers—well over a hundred—and led by a mounted herald with a horn. The battlements were packed as the parade made its way over the drawbridge and into the courtyard.
Galahad held up the small silver chest that he’d been cradling on the saddle in front of him. “Sire, The Holy Grail,” he announced to Arthur. Immediately the herald began blasting his best attempt at a fanfare as the crowd went wild.
“Well, bring it in, let’s take a look.” Arthur clearly was not any more taken in by this than I was. But among the throng of excited spectators, we were perhaps the only nonbelievers.
Galahad handed the box down to Father Ignatius, dismounted, and then knelt and prayed. The crowds of followers as well as most of the spectators followed suit. Guinevere, standing between the king and Lancelot, had tears streaming down her face as she clutched the golden crucifix she’d worn faithfully since the day of her baptism.
I took a step forward and leaned toward Arthur’s ear. “It’s a hoax, sire.”
“And a well-executed one, it would seem,” the King replied. “With the passion of their belief, having a king who expresses doubt could stir up dissent that ultimately damages the realm.”
When Galahad finally stood back up, Father Ignatius handed him the chest and he marched into the grand hall, holding it aloft. The court followed while the peasants clustered around the door, trying to get a peek at what was happening inside.
Ignatius loosed the two clasps holding the chest shut, eased the lid open, and gently reached inside. “Behold The Holy Grail, the cup of the Last Supper from which Christ our Lord and Savior drank. And he drew it from the chest and held it aloft.
As advertised, the bowl of the cup caught the sunlight coming through the open door. It was some pretty impressive theater. Galahad fell to his knees again—he was going to have serious joint problems if he kept this up—and the entire assembly followed suit. Save for Arthur and me, who remained standing. That clearly wasn’t to the court’s liking, and after a moment a low muttering of voices began. But Father Ignatius merely pressed his lips together and shook his head minutely as he continued to turn in a circle, holding his treasure aloft.
“Very impressive. I commend you, Galahad. And you, Percival. I can’t wait to hear your story about how you found it.” Arthur turned to Monsignor Dagrezia. “So, what shall we do with this greatest of all relics? Send it to Rome?”
“Good heavens, no. Why would we do that?” Dagrezia rose to his feet, and the rest of the crowd slowly followed suit. “No, we should build a shrine suitable to hold it, designed so that the thousands of pilgrims who will be coming to catch a glimpse of its glory shall not be disappointed. And when it is completed, the first mass said there should celebrate your proclamation that your kingdom is officially Christian.”
“Ah.” Arthur turned over his shoulder and motioned for me to bend closer. “I knew there had to be a catch,” he whispered.
“Merlin once told me, ‘there’s a sucker born every minute.’ Too bad he’s not here to add weight on the side of the devils.”
Arthur straightened up and raised his voice. “Sir Kay assures me that tonight’s meal will be a feast. We can hear more then.”
* * * *
And hear more we did.
“Father Ignatius came to me early on the morning we left.” A flushed and slightly stumble-tongued Galahad related his tale to the assembled knights—over half had returned by this point—and the other noble guests. There had been a lot of toasts, and it would have been dreadful manners to refuse to drink when someone else is celebrating your success. “He told me that Joseph of Aramathea appeared to him in a dream the night before. Revealed the exact spot where he’d buried The Grail for safekeeping.”
Father Ignatius broke in. “It must have been about the Year of Our Lord Eighty. Joseph was an old man, although remarkably healthy for his age. Almost certainly due to the presence of The Grail, which he’d carried for years. But Joseph knew the end was near, and nowhere had he met anyone to whom he could entrust Christendom’s greatest treasure. And so he buried it in front of a boulder that bears the mark of the cross. Beside the rock, both to mark the spot and protect it, he planted a sprig of the same thorn that formed the crown that our Lord and Savior wore when he died for our sins.”
Galahad took up his tale. “I ventured forthwith to Glastonbury, along with the good Sir Percival. For many days we searched, but the spot remained hidden to our eyes. And so we prayed and fasted, and then started our search again.”
“When again we found nothing I began to despair, to believe that our faith was not strong enough,” Percival confessed. “But Galahad never lost hope. He is the true Grail Knight, chosen to sit in the Siege Perilous as it was foretold. So once more we fasted and prayed.”
“And behold, the third time we searched, there it was! Tucked away in a little depression on the hillside was a boulder of granite, marked with a darker stain in the shape of the cross. And beside it, the thorn bush.” Galahad idly brushed the silver chest as he spoke. “We began to dig beneath the mark of the cross. And in short order, we uncovered the chest.”
There was more to the tale, being stunned by the light and some more fasting and praying. The entire assemblage was totally enrapt with the recitation of the great miracle of which they were permitted to play a small part, but I’d quit paying attention.
When the telling was mostly over, Arthur spoke. “May we see the cup again, Sir Galahad?”
“Certainly, Sire.” Galahad gently lifted it from the chest and held it up to cast its light all about the room again. I had to admit, it an impressive piece of work.
I knew questioning wouldn’t be appreciated, but felt compelled to do so anyway. “It looks as if it was fashioned by one of Rome’s finest goldsmiths. Note the engraving on the lower half. Occasionally a piece like this turns up buried in the wreckage of one of the houses the Romans abandoned when they left. How do you suppose a poor carpenter in Palestine came to possess such a thing?”
Ignatius leapt to his feet. “Hold your tongue, lest you unwittingly commit the sin of heresy. No cup destined to hold the blood of the Christ was fashioned by the hand of man. Only God could form such a thing.”
“Ah. And the Roman goldsmiths later began to copy the style. Curious. I wonder how they did that, when it has been buried here so long that none could have possibly seen it. And look, although it’s been beneath the earth for more than four and a half centuries, the lining of the chest looks like it was only buried last week.”
“The same way I saw it, of course. In a dream. The Grail has been calling mankind to its service for years now. It just took the right vessel to hear the call and to obey. And its power protected the lining from decay, the same way it prolonged Joseph of Aramathea’s life.”
I felt a touch of begrudging admiration: Ignatius was quick at thinking on his feet and had an answer for everything. He announced a special mass at sunrise, with The Grail there on the altar during the entire service. Then, before I could ask any more troublesome questions, he tucked his relic away, snatched up the chest, and stalked off to his chamber.
Jesus and all your friends, protect us from your fanatical followers. One could only endure zealots like Father Ignatius when they were balanced by reasonable, cool-headed people such as Father Gascon (who had wisely chosen to absent himself). I’d never be able to remain in Camelot if Arthur declared the realm officially Christian, as Monsignor Dagrezia clearly intended to pressure him to do.
But this was a done deal unless somebody did something quickly. Worse, it looked like that somebody had to be me. The lightly-witted had already taken sides; who else was left? Unfortunately, like my situation with Elaine, I didn’t have a clue what to do about it.