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St patricks gargoyle, p.14
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       St. Patrick's Gargoyle, p.14

           Katherine Kurtz
 
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  "Francis," he said softly.

  The sound focused Templeton's attention on what was actually being reflected in the glass behind him. Gasping, his face draining of all color, he whirled and did a double take, clutching at his chest as he staggered backward a step, for Paddy's gargoyle form was close enough to touch. A little strangled sound escaped his lips as, one hand upflung in a warding gesture, he caught his balance on the edge of the bookcase, then glanced back at the black mirror of the bookcase door, half in disbelief. Paddy had neither advanced nor retreated.

  "It's you!" the old man breathed. "It really is you! Jayzus, you gave me a fright! You'll be the death of me, if you keep that up - and me, with a dicky heart!"

  "I’m afraid I already have," Paddy said. "Been your death. Or will be. You shouldn't have seen me, before. I didn't mean for it to happen, but it did."

  Emotions ranging from astonishment through fear and denial to challenge flicked across the old man's face in rapid succession.

  "What do you mean?"

  "I mean that when humans look upon our true form, they die."

  "Then, why am I not dead?"

  "It doesn't always happen right away," Paddy admitted. "But it will happen - sooner, rather than later, I’m afraid. I know this is difficult to accept."

  "You're damned right!"

  Templeton eased back to his chair, feeling his way past other bits of furniture, glancing uneasily between Paddy's gargoyle image and his true form as an angel. Then before sitting, he deliberately turned the chair to face Paddy directly, very tense.

  "All right, you say I’m going to die soon," he said, chin lifted a little defiantly. "Tonight? Have you come to take me?"

  "No, not tonight," Paddy answered. "I've come to ask your help."

  "My help. Right. You've just told me that I’m going to die because I've seen your true form again, I might add! - and now you want me to help you?"

  "I’m sorry," Paddy said, a trifle uncomfortably. "You weren't meant to see me. I didn't think about the side of the car being a black mirror. I was concentrating on the little gargoyle."

  Templeton snorted, casting a glance at the Flying Lady hood ornament weighting letters on the table.

  "Humph. I suppose I shouldn't have changed the mascot. But who'd have thought that my little dragon would catch the fancy of a gargoyle, fer Chrissakes?" He cocked his head at Paddy. "Well, it's done now, and it can't be helped, I suppose. Anyway, what's this help that you say you need? Why me, and what did you have in mind? And could you hunker down or something, so you aren't looming over me? I’m getting a crick in my neck!"

  "Sorry," Paddy murmured. Even folding himself to a crouch, his head was at the same level as Templeton's. "Is that better?"

  The old man only gave him a somewhat wary nod, stiffly setting both hands on the chair arms.

  "All right," said Paddy. "I told you that my fellow gargoyles and I guard the city. Almost always, we work alone. That is, we only work with other gargoyles and with the Watchers I told you about. That's fine, for most things. We're given a lot of latitude in what we can and should do, and there's a fair amount of power delegated to us from Upstairs. But sometimes, only human action will suffice to accomplish what needs to be done."

  "But, why me?" Templeton asked.

  "Because what's needed will require great courage and great faith - in short, it will require a true knight."

  "A knight?"

  Paddy nodded.

  "You need a knight," Templeton repeated. "What for?"

  "A quest to strike a blow against evil."

  "But you're an angel. I don't see how I could possibly help you."

  "It's a little complicated, but remember that angels were created as helpers of various sorts. Mankind's salvation must be achieved through human efforts as well as Divine."

  "Isn't that Christ's job?" Templeton retorted. "No offense intended."

  "None taken. But that kind of salvation is on a much larger scale. You humans have to take responsibility for the day-to-day process of salvation. That's why I've come to you on this particular item."

  "And what, precisely, would that item be?"

  "Well. What do you know about the Knights Templar?"

  "The Templars?"

  Paddy nodded.

  "Uh, they were a crusader order, like the Knights of Saint John, the Hospitallers. That's where the Order of Malta come from, you know...."

  "Yes. Goon."

  "Well, they got in trouble with the Pope. He had their grand master burned at the stake. They were heretics, weren't they?"

  "No, they were set up by the King of France, who wanted their wealth," Paddy replied. "But he didn't get it.

  Key Templars in Paris received advance warning that the king was planning a coordinated swoop - simultaneous mass arrests of every Templar in Franceso they got their treasures out ahead of time; packed them aboard their fleet at La Rochelle. These ships dispersed the treasures to various safe locations and then were never seen again."

  "So?" the old man said, when Paddy did not immediately continue.

  "So, the Templars had holdings in various countries all around Europe. Their main outpost in Ireland was right here in Dublin, out at Clontarf Castle. Not the one that's there now; an earlier one on the same site. One of the treasures was hidden there - and it's still there. We... think that the men who broke into St. Michan's may have been looking for it."

  "Aha!" Templeton said. "Hunting for buried treasure!"

  "After a fashion," Paddy replied. Unless there was no other way to secure the old man's help, he was determined to avoid specific mention of the Baphomet for as long as he could. No point in needlessly adding to Templeton's anxiety.

  The old man's expression suggested that he had quite missed the implications of Paddy's sidestep. His next question confirmed it, as he fastened, instead, on something he had some hope of understanding.

  "Then - are you saying that your crusader mummy was a Templar?"

  "He was."

  "But - that just isn't possible," Templeton said flatly. "I don't see how he could even have been a crusader. We talked about this before, and I didn't believe it then. Wishful tourist claptrap and fact are two entirely different things."

  "I assure you, he's a Templar."

  "But, St. Michan's can't be more than three or four hundred years old."

  "The present church is only that old," Paddy agreed, "but it was built on foundations of earlier churches going back nearly a thousand years - and that includes some of the vaults. Believe me, I watched them being built. And he is, or was, a Templar. Maybe it's stretching things a bit to say that he was a crusader," he conceded. ''The crusades were mostly over by the time he joined the order."

  "Right," Templeton said, looking a little dazed. "So... this-Templar mummy was disturbed when vandals broke into the vaults, and..." He shook his head impatiently. "Paddy, this doesn't add up. You said before that they were lager louts, that they busted up a lot of coffins. At worst, that suggests that they were maybe looking for valuables they thought had been buried with the bodies."

  "That's far from the worst," Paddy said, "though we're hoping that there's no direct connection between what happened there and any danger to what's buried at Clontarf."

  "And what is buried at Clontarf?" Templeton demanded. "What is it you're not telling me?"

  "I’m afraid that most of it will have to wait until you've agreed to help," Paddy replied. "I don't want to scare you off."

  "Don't you think I've been scared before?" the old man blurted, "There's scared - and there's scared," Paddy pointed out.

  "Nope, scared is scared," Templeton said stubbornly. "I fought against Hitler, more'n fifty years ago. Now, that was scary! People shooting at you, throwing hand grenades at you, trying to blow you up or stab you...

  "Nope, I figure that if you guys are asking for my help, you'll do your best not to scare me too much, if you can avoid it."

  "That's true," Paddy agreed.

&nb
sp; "So, what's at Clontarf?"

  "I'd really rather not be too specific just yet."

  "Then tell me in general. Give me a hint!"

  "All right," Paddy said, choosing his next words carefully. "For now, let's just say that not all of the treasures of the Temple were conventional riches of gold and jewels and plate."

  "Okay..."

  "Some of them were religious artifacts, relics, even some items relating to the control and subjugation of- let's call them negative forces, though I can assure you that no involvement of yourself in dealing with these items would endanger your immortal soul."

  Templeton's mouth opened and closed several times without anything coming out, his eyes round and wide, and he rubbed a somewhat shaky hand nervously over his lower jaw.

  "Guess I asked for that," he finally murmured. "Talk about getting in over my head... And you have scared me. But if I believe in any of this, I guess I've got to accept what you've just said." He grimaced and glanced aside briefly, still obviously trying to make sense of it, then looked back at Paddy, though he was much paler than he had been only seconds before.

  "All right, say that everything you've told me is true- and I have no reason to doubt your word. Let's go back to what happened at St. Michan's, since I’m not sure I want to speculate further about whatever's buried at Clontarf - at least not now. Even if your man was a Templar, there's no way those lager louts could have known that. Most people wouldn't even believe he was really a crusader. And out of the five million or so people who live on this island, how many do you think are likely to know that Clontarf was a former Templar site? That doesn't even address the odds against anyone making a connection between the two. Couldn't it be just a coincidence?"

  "It was no 'coincidence' that you saw my true form in the car door, " Paddy replied, "even though no one has ever seen me that way unless I planned for it to happen - and then, only if I intended that they should not survive to tell of it. That certainly wasn't my intention with you. Angels don't make careless mistakes. But neither do we have all the pieces of the Master Plan, the way He does."

  Templeton swallowed noisily, obviously struggling to take it all in.

  "So, are you saying that, uh, He made the lager louts mess with your Templar mummy, in order to bring the situation at Clontarf to your attention?"

  "That may or may not have been an active part of the overall Plan," Paddy allowed. "What seems more certain is that you're being given an opportunity to assist the work of Heaven in a very important mission. Will you do it?"

  Templeton briefly closed his eyes, wetting his lips with a nervous flick of his tongue.

  "I dunno," he said very quietly, after a pregnant pause. "What would I have to do?"

  Paddy restrained a relieved sigh, for now it was almost certain that the old man was going to agree.

  "First of all," he said, careful to keep his explanation hypothetical, "I’m to assure you that you wouldn't have to do it alone. A human has to be the key player in this, but if things get nasty, you'd have all of us to back you up."

  "All the gargoyles."

  "Yes. All the ones in Dublin, at least. And remember that we are all angels."

  Templeton only nodded, clearly overwhelmed by the prospect.

  "They'd want to meet you first," Paddy went on. "Now. Tonight. In fact, my boss insists on it. If you agree to help."

  "Your boss? Not-?" Templeton pointed upward, with a queasy expression on his face, but Paddy shook his head.

  "No, not Him. The senior gargoyle here in Dublin. But one of His big deputies could show up, it's that important. One was here earlier this evening. Well, not here," he amended, gesturing around the library. "In the place where we meet in conclave. I have permission to take you there. I should warn you, however, that you could find it kind of... intense, with that many of us around."

  "If you're saying I'd be scared, I told you, I've been scared before."

  "I think it's safe to say that this will be different from anything you've experienced," Paddy said confidently.

  "Yeah, I guess you're right about that." Templeton cocked his head at Paddy with a strained little grin. "Back to this business about dying. How long have I got?"

  "Well, in general, if the first glimpse doesn't kill you, you get about a day for every hour you're with one of us."

  "Then, I've got about a week?"

  "Hard to say. It isn't exact. And helping us could extend it by a bit - or not."

  "By a day for each hour?" Templeton asked. "Remember, I was a banker. We like things to be precise."

  "Like I said, it gets complicated. I frankly don't know what it will do to you, to spend time with more than one of us."

  "Is that apt to kill me?" Templeton said.

  "I don't think so. But it won't stave off death indefinitely, either."

  "There's no way out of the dying part, is there?"

  "No."

  "I thought not. Can I think about it for a minute?"

  "Of course."

  "Could you - uh - go away for a few minutes, give me some space? You're kind of - uh - overwhelming."

  "Sure," Paddy said. "Just don't watch while I’m coming and going. I don't want to scare you any more than you are already."

  "Well, I’m not exactly scared of you...."

  Paddy only nodded, lest his gargoyle smile be taken for ferocity.

  "You wouldn't be human if you weren't," he said softly. "Turn your head."

  Templeton obeyed, and Paddy slipped back under the door to crouch in the shadows under the stair. All the house was quiet, except for the ticking of a fine Victorian grandfather clock over in the tiled entry hall.

  The clock struck two. When it chimed the quarter-hour, Paddy slid tentatively back under the door. Templeton was standing beside a handsome Georgian secretary desk, holding a photograph of his wife.

  "I can give you more time, if you need it," Paddy said softly.

  Templeton briefly stiffened, then gently set the photo back on the desk and moved back toward the bookcases.

  "You've already said you can't do that," he whispered. With steady hand, he reached out to slightly open one of the glass-fronted bookcase doors, so that he could see Paddy's true form reflected in the dark glass. He caught his breath as their eyes met, for even avenging angels are achingly beautiful. Then he managed a faint, brave smile.

  "I think I'll be ready to go. I told you, I've got a dicky heart. I've been expecting to go for a while now. They tell me it will probably be quick. I wasn't looking forward to some long, drawn-out affair that would beggar my family. After all, everybody has to die of something. When I do go, will I see my wife again?"

  "I think so."

  "Then, it sounds okay to me." Templeton gestured around the room. "It isn't as if I'll be that much missed. Most of the people I love are dead, and most of those left just don't understand. I’m eighty-two years old. Maybe I can spend Christmas with my wife-----"

  Chapter 16

  Paddy left ahead of Templeton to await him at the garage. After he had gone, Templeton sank back into his chair for a long moment - the chair that he and Maeve had bought together for their first anniversary - and gazed about him at the memories of a long and mostly contented life.

  It was coming to an end. Like all men, he had known this in a theoretical sense from a very early age, made aware of it increasingly as the years passed and his contemporaries dropped by the wayside, one by one. Maeve's death had underlined it. He had come to know it more specifically as his own health began to wind down - and when his doctors cautioned him about the increasingly fragile state of his heart.

  Now he knew it with a certainty not ordinarily vouchsafed to mortals - and had learned it by way of an angel!

  Well, a gargoyle - which he sensed, to the very depths of his being, was essentially the same thing. That his "angel" had come to him in a guise not anticipated in any of the teachings of his faith oddly gave him little anxiety.

  Nor was he even much frightened. N
ow possessed of angelic corroboration concerning his imminent demise, he also owned an unswerving conviction that, when an ending came to this life, it was, indeed, but the beginning of a new life, a new adventure. As a knight dedicated to the service of the Light, what better quest could one ask, than to pass to that other shore in the service of the One True Light, as Christ's vassal? Was this not what his knightly vows had always meant to him, first as an ordinary soldier of Christ, sealed before the bishop in the sacrament of confirmation, and later reiterated as he made his vows before the Prince-Grand Master of the Order of Malta and pledged himself to more specific service as a knight of that order, following in the footsteps of Christ's knights who had served Him for two thousand years?

  The light of adventure was in his eyes as he got up from his chair, and a spring was in his step as he went quickly upstairs. He must dress and leave before Aisling and Kevin came home, for he could never explain to them what he was doing, going out at this hour and in this weather. At best, they would shake their heads in indulgent forbearance, chalking up his behavior to yet another mild eccentricity of age; at worst, they would have him committed. He paused at the top of the stairs to look out at the darkened forecourt below, but he could see no sign of Paddy. Nor did he expect to.

  Switching on his bedroom light, he threw open the wardrobe doors and began rooting through his closet for something to wear, for he was still half dressed in his Malta uniform underneath his dressing gown. He had shed his scarlet tunic and exchanged the spurred black boots for soft slippers, and eyed these thoughtfully, but instinctively he sensed that an altogether different uniform was required for whatever extraordinary work he must perform tonight: warm and rugged, somehow linked symbolically with his knighthood, but nothing to do with earthly trappings.

  All at once, he knew what would be fitting. Rummaging far back in his closet, he pulled out the plain black boiler suit that Knights of Malta sometimes wore as an undress uniform. He had last worn his on one of the order's annual pilgrimages to Lourdes, when many of the knights served as attendants to the sick and crippled seeking healing at that holy shrine-pushing wheelchairs, helping the handicapped, feeding invalids and the like. The zippered boiler suits bore no insignia of rank; only a red-and-white-embroidered sleeve-flash on the left shoulder, declaring Knights of Malta, Ambulance Corps, with the order's white cross and Ireland below.

 
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