Bradley Schuster and the Holy Grail: Chapter 27

First thing Monday morning I made an ap­pointment for the next day with Dr. Gerry Giles. Dr. Giles was the newest, youngest, and most radical professor in the his­tory de­partment, our token New Age historian offered up by an oth­erwise stol­id and tradi­tional staff as an oblation to the times. I had taken his senior semi­nar entitled The Great in Great Britain: The History of Scotland, Wales, and Cornwall and had ad­mired his offbeat style, even while wondering if he was for real.

I could never have discussed any of this with my own thesis advisor. Dr. Cruthers was seventy-one and had occupied the same office, taught the same courses, and told the same anecdotes since before World War II. He was a fasci­nat­ing lecturer and I liked him—don’t get me wrong—but accept­ing a new idea would have been as impossible for him as changing his field of expertise to quantum physics.

Dr. Giles’ office was in the History building, and as I went by the department office I stuck my head in to get my mail and check up on Marcie. But Marcie wasn’t there, confirm­ing my vague memory that I hadn’t seen her the week before (the more likely option was that I’d been paying so little attention I hadn’t noticed her). At her desk, a wiry-haired undergrad that I recog­nized was attacking a type­writer with the alter­nating burst-and-pause style that marks the amateur.

“Hello, Dolly,” I greeted her (with an original salutation that she’d probably only heard a half-dozen times since breakfast. Who would name their daughter Dolly? Or Jean either, for that matter. “Hi Jean” may sound nice and squeaky-clean for the first few years, but surely you have to get sick of it after a while). “What are you doing working here? Where’s Marcie?”

“Oh, hi Brad. Marcie arranged to take all of her vacation and even an additional week or two without pay. Apparently nobody knows where she went. They’re fill­ing in with stu­dents while she’s gone.”

Curiouser and curiouser, as Alice said. Maybe she had gone forth from our conversation, found True Love, and eloped. Well, good for her.

Dr. Giles’ office looked like the inner sanctum of every other liber­al arts professor in the univer­sity, maybe in the Western world. There were two walls of books, with enough left over shelf space for maybe four more if they weren’t too fat and you crammed them in creatively. Then there were books stacked on chairs, strewn across the battered oak desk, and piled on the floor (I had finally learned that if you needed a book from the library that wasn’t there, it was more likely to be in some professor’s office than actually checked out by another student). Pa­pers and exams—some already grad­ed and ready to prove to hope­ful young undergrads that prayer is no substitute for study; oth­ers in neat ranks, as yet un­bloodied, ready to march into bat­tle and get their share of wounds from the red pen—add­ed to the gener­al clutter. The one differ­ence that made his office unique was a replica of the Viking helmet dug up at Sutton Hoo on a small table; student papers were not al­lowed to defile that shrine.

Dr. Giles was as friendly as any professor I knew. Professors like that tend to have extended office hours to accommodate all the students who come by to discuss this and that, mostly how come they couldn’t get their papers in on time. But his reputation as a tough sell helped keep the crowds down. “Gee, Johnny, I’m really sorry you’re not going to able to get your paper in by Friday,” he’d commiser­ate with the petitioner, never letting up on that winning smile of his. “It’s really going to put an onerous burden on the rest of your semes­ter to try to make up a zero on twenty percent of your grade in this course, and still do your other coursework.”

{Mild Tangent: I have a theory that anyone whose first and last name starts with the same letter grows up with latent clown tendencies ready to spring to the fore. Had I been named Sammy Schuster, I would have never gone into some­thing as serious as history at all, and wouldn’t be telling you this tale today.}

“Dr. Giles, I have a little problem. I don’t know if you can do anything, but I thought I’d come by to see if you might be able to help,” I said after a few pleas­ant­ries had been exchanged.

“Well, Brad, I’ll certainly do anything I can,” he said from behind that big smile, with only a tiny hint in his eyes of that look we all get when we’re approached on the street by a panhan­dler or in the airport by a Hare Krishna.

I had spent an hour off and on thinking about how to ask my question and still hadn’t come up with anything even remotely plausible. So my “plan” was to treat the whole question as hypothetical, using The Grail to add credibility as needed.

“Suppose a young history grad student were to stumble across a source of previously unknown historical facts, limited in scope but amazing in detail. Let’s say, for example,” pausing as if to think, “let’s say this student had access to a crystal pendant that had been worn by Merlin.” I fingered my t-shirt where I would have been wearing such a pendant, hoping the gesture looked subconscious. “And suppose further that if one looks into the crystal with the rising sun over his left shoulder, he can see visions of things that happened in the presence of the crystal.”

“Sounds like the makings of a good movie so far. Let’s hear more.”

“Let’s further suppose that our young grad student has tested the crystal sufficiently to believe it not to be a hoax. There is enough authenticity in clothing and weapons and armor to be believable. Further, another person that the owner of the crystal trusts has seen the same visions.”

Dr. Giles had an amused look as he played along. “So what sorts of things have you, uh, I mean this student, seen in the crystal?”

“That Merlin was a power­ful druid who served as counselor to both Aurelius and Uther. That after Aurelius killed Vortigern, he united the nobles of southern England and was declared high king. That Uther drove the West Saxons back into their original treaty lands. That Merlin took a tour of the Middle East while Arthur was growing up. And I’ve really just gotten start­ed.”

“Well Brad, that’s an amazing story.” Sadness touched his smile as he sighed and came back to reality. “Too bad things like that don’t happen in real life. So what’s this problem that you were asking about?”

“The owner of the crystal refuses to let it out of her sight, or to publicly admit its existence, or to allow anyone other than a few friends to even look at it. So it can’t even be acknowledged. Not that any historian would ever accept it as real, must less factual. But our young student is driven to share all the fascinating bits that he’s learned. So the question is: how should he proceed?”

“Ah, I see your dilemma,” Dr. Giles pronounced. “Even if the owner relented and allowed you to bring it to the department, most of my colleagues wouldn’t even look into it. Unless it were a traditional source—some­thing written, something excavated, something conventional—you’d be just as likely trying to con­vince them that Jesus Christ was a wino. Con­servatism, thy name is tenure.”

Dr. Giles was staring off into space as he spoke, so he didn’t see me practically jump out of my chair at his mention of Jesus being a wino. I mean, those kinds of coincidences only happen in bad books or cheesy sit­coms. But appar­ently the bulls-eye that he had just made blind­folded was pure happenstance.

While he pondered, I slipped a finger into my pouch and touched The Grail. Jesus wouldn’t have needed my assistance to sell a story that believable, she chided me.

Quiet, wench. If Jesus had Dr. Giles for a historian instead of Lucas, we’d all be worshiping Odin. Or maybe Franca.

Dr. Giles interrupted our repartee.”Well, I don’t see any good solutions to the theoretical problem that you’ve posed. Any chance you can tell me the real problem?”

I looked him squarely in the eyes. “Dr. Giles, you have to promise to keep the details of the next part of our conversation confidential.” He nodded assent. “The crystal is real. I’ve spent the last month looking into it every weekend.”

“You’ve seen Arthur?” he gasped, grabbing my arm hard enough to be uncomfort­able.

“Well, I haven’t actually gotten quite that far yet. The early morning sunlight works for less than an hour after dawn, so progress is slow. But I expect to get my first glimpse of him on Saturday.” I shrugged. “And as you might expect, I have lost all interest in that buffoon, Louis XIV’s son. But I can’t see a way to do a thesis on the historical Arthur.”

He thought a bit longer, biting his lip in concentration. “OK,” he finally spoke. “I have an idea, although it’s going to seem pretty far out. You could write it as fic­tion.”

“Fiction! What good would that do?”

“It would get the truth into the body of legend that surrounds Arthur. You could write it as if it were fact. Invent a source if you don’t want to describe the real one. Most people who read the book won’t even understand that it is fiction, if you write it well. 850 years ago, Geoffrey of Monmouth did exactly that when he first brought Arthur to the forefront of British legend. In those days, the lines between history and legend were a lot blurrier than they are today. Perhaps in another hundred years or two we’ll evolve back to that way of thinking, and your novel will be taken seriously by historians as well as the reading public. Or perhaps traditional methods will uncover something that corroborates your account, once someone hears it and starts looking. If you nev­er present it as fact, it can’t be analyzed by historians, ripped apart, and discarded as wishful thinking.”

I thought about it for a long minute. “I guess I could try it. Write a chapter or two, and see how it goes. But I can see one big problem up front. If I’m not actively working on a the­sis, then I will lose my stipend and have to go out and work for a living. And launching into a new career as a part-time novelist while teaching junior high school or selling shoes does­n’t seem to be a likely formu­la for success.”

“Hmm. Perhaps I can do something about that. Give me a couple of days to sound out Dr. Cruthers and Dr. Sande­man, the head of the English department, and see what I can work out.”

All that evening and the next day I toyed with the idea Dr. Giles had suggested. A fictional account probably wouldn’t be any more difficult to write than a historical one, maybe easier. As long as I was basically just retelling what The Grail told me, only the trappings would have to be different. A side benefit was that it might actually make money, something a master’s dissertation had no chance of doing. But it didn’t feel right. Somehow it degraded the transcendence of the his­torical truths that I had discovered.

In between I teased The Marquis by considering the alternative suggested by the reporter: becoming a singer full-time. That path at least had the benefit of groupies.

Boomer had been out of sight all week, so I dropped by his place on Thursday evening to check up on him. When he finally answered my knock, just before I gave up and left, fatigue was evident on his face. “Brad, I can’t invite you in just now. I’m right in the middle of something I can’t stop. But I’ll touch base in a day or two. Promise.” And while he didn’t actually slam the door in my face, I hurriedly backed away before he decided to.

I also called Anne to confirm our date on Saturday. Again, there wasn’t a lot of chit-chat—well, truthfully, there wasn’t any. But also none of the cool hesitancy that had been so obvious the week before. Maybe even a hint of warmth, if it wasn’t just wishful thinking. So now I had two reasons to look forward to the weekend.

sutton hoo helmet


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