In Honor of Halloween

Here is part of Chapter Sixteen of the Apprentice Diaries, Knights of Christ I:. The Journey Begins, which should debut on Halloween at Amazon for Kindle.

Chapter Sixteen

 

 

Christopher looked around the chapel with some measure of trepidation.  His talk with Hunter had gone down well with three strong cups of tea.  His review of the alchemical lab had been a sad affair, but no problem.  He remembered where everything was in the dusty, musty, smelly wreck that Sir Ramsay called his laboratory.  It looked very much like some of the laboratories Christopher had seen in old black and white horror movies.  Ramsay even had names for some of the spiders living under the shelf.  He was used to dealing with the ghosts that haunted the old cellar and the upper reaches of the house.

The Chapel of Glessyn was something altogether different.  Sir Ramsay had never brought him here before.  He had known all along about the Chapel’s existence.  It had been mentioned in Council a few times, and Sir Ramsay had usually told him when he was going to work at the little Chapel in the oak groves.  Christopher could see the oak groves from his bedroom window, and he had glimpsed the small stone edifice through the trees during his romps in the meadow with Luke and Matthew, but he had been strictly forbidden from exploring around the Chapel.  If he went fishing down on the river, he had to go across the meadow to the north and cut back through the woods on an old, well-worn game trail to get to the best fishing spots.

Now, here he was, standing in the apse of the church, staring up at the stained glass representations of various scenes from the Apocalypse of St. John, while his Master unlocked the heavy plank door leading into the bell tower.

The building was old, very old.  The apprentice guessed that it had been built in the fourteenth or fifteenth century.  It smelled of old wood polish, lemon disinfectant and glass cleaner.  The stone statues on either side of the double front doors were badly weathered from the harsh winters in Scotland, alternately freezing and thawing in the damp shadows under the trees.  Sir Ramsay told him that one of them was St. John, the Baptist and the other was the Holy Mother, but their features were almost indistinguishable.  Inside the church, however, the carvings and decorations were perfectly preserved.  The altar was made of a slab of polished marble and above it was a large wooden crucifix.  Behind the crucifix, a beautifully carved wall depicted scenes of the Creation, the birth of the Christ and John, the Baptist.  An empty niche once held a black Madonna made of ivory and ebony, according to Sir Ramsay.  There were no benches, no Holy Water fonts and no confessionals.  Even the stone dais, where a pulpit might have once stood, had been removed.

The windows were the most striking feature.  The late sunlight, dappled in the shade of the oaks, shown through a colorful rosette above the front doors, and the panels along either side of the sanctuary were expertly done by some long dead, extremely talented artist.  His Master had done an excellent job of keeping the Chapel clean and in good repair.

The door to the bell tower squeaked open on its polished brass hinges, and the sound echoed in the upper regions of the arches holding up the slate roof.  Ramsay turned on his electric torch and waved him over.  Christopher hesitated briefly, drew a deep breath and followed him into the small round tower.  A spiral stairway hugged the walls of the tower, ending at a wooden trap door that would open onto a sturdy, wooden platform under the bell itself, Ramay pointed out as they turned and headed down another set of stairs leading to the crypts.

The stairwell was rough cut stone, dark and narrow.  The walls seemed to close in on him at once, and the light from within the bell tower seemed to disappear almost immediately.

Sir Ramsay grumbled something in Gaelic when Christopher crowded too close behind him on the stairs and stepped on his heel.

“Sorry, Sir,” Christopher mumbled and heard his words echoed off the stones.

At the bottom of the stairs, Sir Ramsay handed him the electric lamp and removed a wooden torch from a rack on the wall.  Christopher watched as Ramsay dipped it in a barrel, twirled it around and stuck it back in the bracket.  The smell of kerosene struck his nose as Ramsay held a lighter up, and the torch erupted in flames and dark smoke.  Reddish, orange light flickered down the long, sandy passageway, giving the place a hellish look.  His Master took the electric light from him again and started down the corridor.  Christopher cringed every time the light’s beam flashed over the ruins of shrouded bodies lying in arched niches in the wall as they passed.  The niches were three high.  Some contained stone boxes with brief inscriptions on them.  All of them were old with the exception of the last two on the left hand side.  Some of them held shields and swords while others held various tools of their trade.  These were not ancient and probably more ornamental, like the modern US Marine sabers.

The smell of death over-powered him and he had to cover his mouth and concentrate hard on not gagging.  These shrouded bodies were fresh.  The latest in a long line of fallen Templars.

“These are the bodies of our lay brethren,” Ramsay explained.  “We place them here first and allow them to decompose.”

Christopher could only nod.

“When they have been here at least a year,” he continued, and then, stepped into a separate room carved into the bedrock.  “We must clean their bones and put them in a bone box.  Then we can store them here.”

Christopher’s eyes grew wide as the Chevalier du Morte played his light over the stacks of boxes in the room.

“There are four more sealed rooms like this one, but I have another one planned under the sanctuary.  This is the way the brothers decided they wanted their remains treated when we came here to help Robert, the Bruce.  We still honor that request.”

“How do we clean the bones, Sir?” Christopher asked.

“I send them to the bone pickers in Italy,” Mark Andrew said and smiled slightly at Christopher’s obvious horror.  “You won’t actually have to do it, but you will have to get the remains transported.  There are names and numbers in the index box in the desk listed under Chapel.  If you have trouble, ask Dambretti to help you with it.”

“But Master!” Christopher blurted.  “I don’t want to have these conversations with you.  Surely they won’t execute you!”

“They might not, but they very well may ex-communicate me or send me into exile for a few years, and if that happens, you will be expected to keep things in order here until I return.”

“Yes, Sir,” Christopher said and then jumped when something snapped in the darkness under a yawing black arch.

Ramsay turned his head toward the noise, but said nothing.  He continued his lecture concerning the bone boxes, how and where to get them and what to engrave on them.  The records of who was buried here, awaiting the ‘bone-pickers’, was also in a green journal in the desk.

Eventually, they approached the low-slung arch.  Ramsay ducked his head and stepped into the next room.  Christopher drew another deep breath and followed him.  He was struck at once by a much colder breath of air on his face, and the hair on the nape of his neck stood up.  Ramsay’s light seemed to lose half of its power abruptly.  The apprentice stuck with his Master as he crossed the wide open space and lit another of the ancient wooden torches and set it in its bracket on the wall.  The torch light only served to provide more shadows in the large, underground room.  Here was a second altar, rough-cut and devoid of decoration.  Above the altar was a huge wooden cross, suspended from iron fittings.

The room was almost filled from side to side and front to back with full-sized stone sarcophagi.  Each one covered with heavy slabs of stone carved with the likenesses of various broadswords.  Here were the fallen Knights of the Temple.

Christopher shivered involuntarily as he tried to estimate the number of coffins in the chamber.

“These are the fallen Knights,” Ramsay said quietly.  “There are a few empty coffins remaining.  Soon we will be forced to either expand this chamber or dig another one.  I dread the day when we are forced to bring in workers to accomplish that task.”

Christopher said nothing.  He knew that very soon, Sir Beaujold would take his place here.  He wondered how many of these coffins held the remains of Knights with their heads separated from their bodies.  How many of the Brothers lying here had his Master released from their ‘broken bodies’ as his Divine Mystery of the Key of Death required.  Christopher was startled from his thoughts at the sound of another of the loud snaps.

“Wait here,” Ramsay whispered and quickly walked away from the altar, leaving the apprentice in the crypt.

He watched helplessly as Ramsay’s electric torch beam bounced and skittered over the walls and then disappeared down the corridor.  He closed his eyes as the sound of his footsteps echoed through the chamber eerily and then subsided into complete and utter silence.

It seemed he could almost hear his own heart beating in his ears.  A skittering noise made him jerk his head around hard enough to pop his neck, but he could see nothing in the flickering firelight.  Rats!

The same noise a few moments later made him turn back the other way, straining his eyes in the dim light to catch sight of the rodent.  The same noise, a bit louder erupted behind him and he spun around.

“Alright!” he said aloud and his voice echoed back at him.  He walked as calmly as possible to where the torch flickered in the rack and took it down from the wall.

Following around the edge of the chamber with the torch held high, he called himself searching for the rat, but he knew in his heart he was not looking for the rat at all, but simply holding the torch as a weapon.  Whatever he was looking for did not want to be seen.

“Come out, you nasty little devil!” he called and slipped his pocket knife from his pocket.  He opened the knife with his teeth while scanning the darkness beyond the circle of torchlight for some sign of movement.  The skittering noise came again from his right, toward the door.  He turned and walked down through a row of stone coffins.

“Sir Ramsay?!” he shouted and received nothing back, but his own shout.  “K-rap!” he cursed and was surprised when no echo returned the word to him.  He pressed his thumb against his ear and rubbed it.  “Hello?” he called and, again, no sound returned to him.

The air grew warmer and seemed somehow more oppressive.  He walked forward slowly.

“Sir Ramsay?” he said the words.  They were flat, muffled even to his own ears.

“Sir Ramsay?” the words came back to him.  Too long delayed and not his voice.

He froze and his heart dropped to his feet.  The dark outline of someone moved toward him between the coffins.

“Who is there?!” he demanded and waved the torch in front of him.

“It’s me, Sir Ramsay,” the voice was feminine, young.

“Who?” he asked in confusion.

“Elizabeth,” she answered.  Her voice, though pleasant enough, was flat and muffled like his.  “You know who I am.”

“No!” he said and backed up a step.  “I don’t know you!  What are you doing here?”

“I came to help you,” she said and stepped into the light.

Christopher almost screamed, expecting a horrid specter from the depths of hell.  Instead, a young girl of about sixteen or seventeen looked at him from deep, emerald green eyes.  Her long red hair hung down on either side of her face.  She was beautiful and yet plainly arrayed in a flowered dress that reached below her knees.  Surprisingly enough, she was barefoot.

“You need to leave here,” Christopher told her.  “Get out of here now, before Sir Ramsay catches you.”

“Sir Ramsay?” she asked and turned her head slightly to one side as if listening to something.  “You know me, Sir Ramsay.”

“I’m not Sir Ramsay!” he said in growing panic, but he couldn’t afford to panic.  Sir Ramsay expected more of him than that.  He steeled his nerves, stood up a bit straighter and stepped forward boldly.  “Now, come with me, young lady.  We are going to leave together!”

She smiled when he approached her, but as soon as he reached for her arm, she disappeared and his hand passed completely through where she was standing.  The cool breeze sprang up again and he yelped as his momentum caused him to stumble into one of the coffins.  The lid on the coffin moved slightly under the impact with a horrid grating noise.

Christopher yelled again and jumped back.  A black strip was visible along the length of the coffin.  He yelled something unintelligible once more and bounded from the chamber.  At the foot of the stairs, he dropped the torch on the floor and took the steps two and three at a time.  When he reached the apse of the chapel, he did not stop.  He ran down the aisle and out the front door into the gloom under the oak trees, where he stood, hands on his knees, trying to catch his breath.

When he calmed down, he raised up and looked up at the trees above his head.  His eyes widened at the sight of a multitude of blue, green and white orbs the size of walnuts drifted in and out through the dark limbs.  He shrieked again and ran back toward the Chapel, up the steps and in the front door where he struck someone coming out.  His first response was combative and he tried to break away from whoever had hold of him.

“Christopher!  Stewart!” Ramsay shouted at the hysterical apprentice.  “Snap out of it!  Wot th’ divvil is wrong wi’ thee?”

The apprentice drooped physically and let out a long, ragged breath.

“Master,” he said and stopped, suddenly feeling ridiculous.  “Master.”

“Aye?  Yes?” Ramsay still held him by both arms.

“I… I saw… I saw…”

“Yes?” Ramsay prompted him.

“Lights.”

“Lights?  Like carlights?  Starlight?  Torchlight?  What did you see, Stewart?”

“I saw a girl,” Christopher gasped.  “In the crypt.  She disappeared.”

“Did she say anything?”

“She said her name was Elizabeth.”

“Ahhh.  Yes, well, pay her no mind, my son,” Ramsay told him and smiled.  “She won’t hurt you.  She died long ago.”

“You mean she’s a ghost?  You knew about her?  You don’t care that the crypts are haunted?  By a ghost?  A girl ghost?”  Christopher was astonished at his Master’s lack of concern.

“It is not the dead we should worry about, Christopher; it is the living.”

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