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St patricks gargoyle, p.16
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       St. Patrick's Gargoyle, p.16

           Katherine Kurtz
 
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  "Not too scared," Paddy assured him. "Just stick close by me, and don't let anyone bully you."

  "Do gargoyles bully?"

  "They wouldn't think so - but you might."

  The room beyond was circular and dimly lit from everywhere and nowhere, something like a small amphitheatre with tiered benches running around the perimeter and a sheen of standing water in the center - in essence, a black mirror, for Templeton's benefit.

  Going in first, one scaly gargoyle arm curved protectively around his charge's shoulders, Paddy breathed a silent thanks to whichever of his colleagues had thought of the water. Though the forms ranged around the tiers were a rather ferocious-looking assortment of quite amazing gargoyle forms, the images dimly reflected in the black mirror of the central puddle were those of princely warriors clad in glowing armor, with bright swords belted at their waists and stars bound across their brows. The dark wings folded back from each set of broad shoulders trailed rainbows and starlight.

  Templeton's face drained of color and he swayed on his feet, gloved hand clenching the head of his cane. Then he sank trembling to his knees, sweeping off his fur hat to clasp it to his heart, averting his eyes. A mild ripple of consternation whispered through the assembly, and the Christ Church gargoyle moved a little apart from the others.

  "You must not kneel to us," he said gruffly, with a concerned glance at Paddy. "We are servants like yourself. If anything, we should kneel to you. Please get up."

  Cautiously, Templeton lifted his head, his gaze darting between the princely reflections and the more solid - appearing gargoyle forms crouched on the tiers. Apparently he found the latter less daunting than the former, for he showed no hesitation in accepting Paddy's offer of a scaly arm to lean on as he got back to his feet. He seemed not to know quite what to do with his hat and his cane as he lifted his gaze to the gargoyle who had spoken. Paddy, sensing that his friend perhaps had been overwhelmed by the sight of so many angels, willed the water away. Best, perhaps, if he simply helped Templeton deal with gargoyles.

  "Thank you," C.C. said, inclining his great gargoyle head. "You have shown yourself a man of great courage by even coming here. Has our brother from St. Patrick's told you what is needed?"

  Templeton swallowed awkwardly and fiddled some more with his hat.

  "Not a lot," he admitted. "He dropped hints about something creepy buried at Clontarf - something to do with the Knights Templar. Scared the hell out of me! He said that you need a knight to do something about it, something that... even angels can't do."

  "That is true," C.C. agreed. He nodded toward Gandon, the Custom House gargoyle. "Please tell our friend about the 'something creepy' buried at Clontarf."

  Paddy could sense Gandon restraining a smile as he moved a little nearer, but an earlier disclosure by the more junior gargoyle had made it clear why his particular expertise was being tapped.

  "Before I tell you what it is," Gandon said, "allow me to tell you how it came to be there. Forgive me if I repeat things you already know. You will have been told that all of us formerly served as avenging angels. In a previous assignment, before coming here, I was given the task of wreaking God's vengeance in the Holy Land. Often I was with the crusader armies, of which your Knights of Malta are descendants.

  "In that sense, you, too, are a crusader - and you, too, are now being called upon to execute a task given to some of your crusader predecessors: to assist in reinforcing the binding on a demon first subdued by King Solomon the

  Wise, who had been instructed by an angel. It was the Knights of the Temple of Jerusalem who were given this task, and who executed it faithfully for many years, until their order was betrayed and they were forced to disperse."

  Templeton's jaw had dropped at the mention of a demon, his gloved hand crushing the fur hat against his breast, and he glanced to Paddy for reassurance.

  "The demon was bound in a head-shaped reliquary which the Templars had brought out of the Holy Land," Gandon went on. "They possessed several such artifacts and treasures, all of which were taken out of Paris just ahead of the mass arrests and dispersed to places of safety. The reliquary containing the bound demon came to this land, and was hidden at the site of their largest stronghold on this island. It lies there still, but the binding has weakened over the centuries, and must be reinforced."

  When he did not go on, Templeton glanced at Paddy, then said tentatively, "What makes you think that I can possibly help you with this?"

  "It is man's privilege," said C.C., "to share and assist in God's work on earth. But when a work has been delegated, He does not take it back. The binding of the demon Baphomet was delegated to King Solomon and the sons of humankind, and passed to the Knights Templar and their heirs. We can and will assist such heirs, but it is human faith which must provide the focus of the actual working."

  "But-I don't know how to do that," Templeton said.

  "If you are willing," said Gandon, "you will be shown."

  "I am willing," Templeton said, ducking his head, "but

  I - don't think I’m worthy." In his distress, he had twisted his fur hat into a shapeless ball.

  "Nonsense," Paddy said lightly. "I've seen your courage."

  Templeton had looked up at the sound of the more familiar voice, and slowly shook his head, though a faint smile was curving at his white moustache.

  "That was never courage. It was sheer desperation. You scared the shite out of me!"

  "Shite," Paddy pointed out blandly, "is not one of the requisites for the task at hand, so that won't make a difference." He glanced around at the others, folding his wings protectively around Templeton. "I think we may take that as an acceptance. We'll need the car for this. The two of us will meet the rest of you shortly at St. Michan's."

  If I’m dreaming all of this," Templeton said, as he and Paddy made their way back through the underground tunnels, "it's one hell of a dream."

  "It isn't a dream," Paddy said, "and it's got nothing to do with hell unless we really screw up."

  "What do you mean?" Templeton replied, in some alarm. "I thought someone was going to show me what to do."

  "They are," Paddy said. "It's just that when you're messing with the forces of Darkness, nothing is absolutely certain, at least in the short term. Oh, everything will work out all right in God's time," he added, at Templeton's shocked look, "but in finite terms, we could cause a lot of people a lot of grief in the short term."

  "Now you tell me," Templeton muttered, as they approached the end of the tunnel system, where Paddy would have to take them back through solid stone. "You know, it has occurred to me that you could have been lying to me all along. I mean, you say you and your buddies used to be avenging angels, and that you're doing God's work - but what if you were actually fallen angels, trying to trick me into serving Satan?"

  "What?!"

  "Well, you could be..." Templeton said stubbornly. "After all, the Bible says that Lucifer was the most beautiful of all God's angels before his fall - and it's well known that Satan is a master of deception.... Maybe you aren't trying to keep a demon bound after all," he blurted. "Maybe you're trying to get me to help you free it!"

  Paddy stopped dead and sat back on his haunches, propping himself with his tail, to stare at the old man incredulously.

  "That," he said emphatically, "is about the most ridiculous thing I've ever heard you say! You don't really believe that, do you?"

  "Well, no," Templeton admitted uncomfortably. "But I thought it. I had to consider it. And I’m none too happy about that hint that hell could be involved, if we were to screw up. What did you mean by that?"

  Paddy heaved a relieved sigh. "Oh, that. You needn't worry. What has to be done is not without a slight risk, but we'll all be there to back you all the way. Unless this were to turn into a major confrontation, a new war in heaven, I think the chances of screwing up are minimal."

  "You think?' said Templeton.

  "Francis. Trust me on this one," Paddy replied, as he swept h
is wings around Templeton and took him through the wall.

  They spoke but little as they made their way back toward the surface, threading along the steel ramps and stairs that honeycombed the excavations of the castle's medieval foundations to emerge in the base of the Powder Tower. Outside, under a canopy of frost - brittle stars, a pristine layer of new snow blanketed the upper yard.

  After a quick scan, Paddy darted on ahead, skirting the wall and arched gateway that divided the upper and lower yards. Templeton followed at a more sedate rate. They had rounded the Chapel Royal and were heading back toward the security checkpoint before Templeton spoke again, after glancing back at the single set of footprints in the snow behind them.

  "Uh, Paddy?" he said softly.

  "Yeah, what?"

  "Uh, you don't leave any footprints. If you were talking to me while we were passing those guards, could they hear you?"

  "No, but they could hear you," Paddy said testily, "so please shut your gob until we get to the car."

  "Sorry, just checking," Templeton muttered.

  He did, indeed, keep his mouth shut for the next five minutes, only nodding with what he hoped was confident nonchalance when one of the guards looked up at his approach and then went right back to his newspaper. When he and Paddy were back in the car and he was going through the procedure for starting the engine, he glanced in his rearview mirror. His gargoyle companion was, once again, a tartan lump in the back seat.

  "Just for the sake of curiosity, did he really not see me, or will he just not remember that he saw me?" he asked.

  "Maybe a little of both," Paddy replied.

  "You're no help at all," Templeton grumbled.

  "Does it matter?" Paddy asked.

  "No, I suppose not. Where to now? St. Michan's, I assume?"

  "That's right."

  "May one ask what happens when we get there?"

  "One may ask..."

  "But one won't be told. Is that it?" Templeton said with a raised eyebrow.

  He imagined he could see the great gargoyle shoulders shifting in what, in a human, would have been a noncommittal shrug.

  "Okay, I can take a hint," Templeton said, as he pushed the starter button and the big Rolls Royce engine rumbled to life with a purr. "St. Michan's it is."

  Chapter 18

  "So, tell me why we're going to St. Michan's," Templeton said, as they emerged into Dame Street, heading west, after he threaded the big Rolls Royce through a series of back lanes that circled behind Dublin Castle.

  "We - ah - need to get some information before we head up to Clontarf," Paddy replied, declining to provide specifics just yet that might alarm Templeton.

  "But not from another gargoyle," Templeton ventured. "What makes you say that?"

  "Because I had the impression they were all there at the castle. If they'd had the information, they would have given it to us then."

  "That's true," Paddy said. Clearly, Templeton was no slouch, when it came to putting pieces together. "We're - ah - meeting someone else whose help we're going to need, before we go off to Clontarf."

  "I see," Templeton said. "And when you say 'we,' does that mean you and me, or you and me and all those other gargoyles?"

  "There'll be a lot of us," Paddy admitted.

  "In the car?" Templeton asked, in some alarm.

  "Not exactly. But don't worry about the details. Go right, as soon as you pass Christ Church."

  "I do know how to get to St. Michan's," Templeton said a little testily, under his breath.

  When they had passed beneath the arched overpass that joined Christ Church Cathedral with its former synod hall - the latter housing the Viking heritage center called Dublinia, so detested by several of Paddy's colleagues- they motored across the bridge that spanned the Liffey, around behind the Four Courts, and along a road that made a T with Church Street. The signal stopped them there, but off to the right Templeton could see the dark bulk of St. Michan's looming just on the other side of the street. As the signal changed and he made his turn, he heard Paddy stir behind him.

  "Turn left into that first little lane past the church," the gargoyle said. "We'll park around behind."

  "You're in charge," Templeton said in an undertone, casting his gaze across the front of the church and along the shuttered shop-fronts of the deserted street. "I have to tell you, though, this looks even less like the kind of place I want to park a car like this."

  "Quit worrying about the car," Paddy said. "Turn left again, when you get to the bottom of the street, and then go really slow."

  Templeton complied, craning his neck to gauge the clearances as he hauled the big car around the corner into Bow Street, for passage was tight because of the cars parked along both sides of the street, and the Rolls was very wide. Halfway down the block, however, he was hardly surprised to find a parking space big enough for two Rolls Royce cars the size of Phyllida, just outside a modest two-story apartment building that butted up to the burial ground of the old church. Without comment, he pulled into the space and brought the big car to a halt, setting the brake and then switching off the headlamps and ignition.

  "All right, try to be really quiet when we get out," Paddy whispered, the tartan lump of him suddenly looming right behind Templeton's head. "Everybody's pretty much asleep at this hour, but we don't want to roust any of the local dogs. They can see us; and there's already been a lot of coming and going."

  "Will I need my sword?" Templeton asked.

  "No, not until later."

  Nodding taut agreement, Templeton quietly eased the door open on the driver's side and slipped out of the car, cane in hand, gently pushing the door closed instead of slamming it. Between one heartbeat and the next, Paddy slipped out, too, though Templeton didn't actually see him move. The gargoyle simply was in the passenger compartment one instant and beside Templeton the next.

  "I wish you wouldn't do that!" he whispered.

  "Sorry," Paddy replied. "Come this way now."

  Quietly he beckoned Templeton through an iron gate that should have squeaked but didn't, then through a small patio-courtyard that led past the building's entrance and up a short run of concrete steps to the level of the old burial ground, the back of which served as a quiet and picturesque garden for the local residents.

  Templeton hesitated at the edge of the snow-powdered grass, prodding with the tip of his cane, for the streetlights on the road they had just left did not penetrate this far, and he guessed that the ground would be very uneven in such an ancient graveyard. But as he watched Paddy set off along a narrow tar macadam path that meandered in the direction of the old church, he noticed that, unlike at the castle, this time the gargoyle left faintly luminescent footsteps. The glow was just enough for Templeton to see his footing as he followed carefully after, casting furtive glances back the way they had come and peering ahead with even greater concern, for the main facade of the church was quite well illuminated by the street lamps on Church Street beyond.

  But they did not go that far. Skirting the west end of the church, beneath its stubby, battlemented bell tower, they passed close along the south side of the nave, keeping to the shadows, until they came to the angle it formed with the south transept.

  There, faintly illuminated by spill from the distant streetlights that reflected off the snow, Templeton could just make out the darker shapes of two pairs of steel doors that, presumably, led into the vaults in the church's foundations. Set almost parallel to the ground, they reminded him of pictures he had seen of storm cellars built in parts of America that were prone to tornadoes. Each pair of steel doors had a length of heavy chain strung through its metal handles, secured with a hefty padlock.

  "So," he whispered to Paddy, crouching down beside him and lifting one of the locks. "Am I supposed to pick this, or do you make the chains fall away?"

  "Neither," Paddy replied. "Why, can you pick a lock?"

  "No. But it seemed like one of the options."

  "I have a better one," Paddy sai
d. "Just give me a second..."

  As he had at the castle, he folded his wings around Templeton and took him through, ignoring the steep steps beyond and dropping to the floor of the vault below. It was crowded with gargoyles, most of whom were clustered outside the last vault on the left, where the crusader mummy lay in his moldering casket. A soft bluish glow filled the place, emanating from the brick-lined walls and the iron grillwork across the fronts of the vaults.

  As the old man realized where he was, now in the shelter of one of Paddy's scaly gargoyle arms, he looked momentarily startled, but the procedure was beginning to be routine enough that he quickly recovered. The other gargoyles drew back to either side of the passageway as Paddy directed his human charge between, to where a brighter light was spilling from the vault where their long-dead Templar lay.

  Templeton didn't know what he had expected to see, but it was not the small grey and tan tabby cat crouched on the lid of a coffin set against the wall on the right - or the very handsome man standing amid the four open coffins in the little chamber, who was dressed in a dark three-piece suit of exquisite cut, and looked like he could have stepped from the boardroom of some major financial institution.

  "It's fortunate that I let myself be persuaded from my original intentions," said Death's Deputy, with a nod to Paddy. "The seraph informed me regarding what's required, and confirmed authorization." He shifted his gaze to Templeton. "I do hope you'll not be frightened by what you're about to see, Francis - for there's truly nothing to be frightened of. You will have heard or read the Latin phrase Mors non dominabitur!"

  Templeton's surprise that the man knew him by name was quite overshadowed by those last three words. Voiceless, he could only nod.

  "And would you speak their meaning aloud?" the man gently urged. "I wish to be reassured that you truly understand."

  Somehow Templeton managed to find his voice.

  "Death shall have no dominion."

  "Precisely. Humans fear that this may be but a hope, a dream; but I tell you in the name and in the power of the Holy One, whose servant I am, that all things are possible. You require instruction for the task set before you. Instruction you shall have, from one who, in his mortal span, also served this task."

 
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