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St patricks gargoyle, p.17
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       St. Patrick's Gargoyle, p.17

           Katherine Kurtz
 
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  Without further explanation, he turned to face the open coffin set along the back wall of the chamber, stretching forth a powerful yet graceful hand over the crusader's mummified remains. As he did so, Templeton caught a faint impression of silvery wings trailing from the shoulders of this very solid figure in a three-piece suit, and knew that he was in the presence of yet another angel.

  "I shall speak aloud for your sake, Francis Templeton," Death's Deputy said, "and in words that will be familiar to you from holy writ. I come at the will of the Logos, ever present, Who said to the daughter of Jarius, who was dead, Talitha cumi, which is, Damsel, arise; and Who likewise commanded Lazarus to come forth from the grave. In similar fashion, and in His name, do I now summon this man, known in earthly life as Richard of Kilsaren, to return to this mortal plane and arise and come forth."

  The faintest breath of breeze seemed to quicken within the dusty confines of the burial chamber, fresh with the tang of the sea and a heady hint of wildflowers washed by a summer's rain. The little cat stood up and lifted her head to sniff the air, ears pricked and whiskers all a-tremble. The gargoyles bowed their heads. Templeton seemed to feel a deep vibration stir beneath the soles of his feet and creep up his spine. His knees went a little wobbly, but Paddy braced him from behind. Even so, he actually stopped breathing for a few seconds.

  For a silvery mist was gathering in the crusader's coffin, rising up from deep within, curving tenderly around the mummified corpse it contained and gently shrouding a miraculous transformation. In the space of scarcely half a dozen heartbeats, before Templeton's awestruck and fascinated gaze, the ravages of nearly eight centuries reversed themselves, the corpse's leathery skin and shrunken flesh regaining the color and contours of mortal life. Even the cere brown of the rotting grave-clothes gave way to raiment of a soft white.

  As a restored hand stirred, lifting to rest on the edge of the coffin, Templeton gasped - which started him breathing again - and backed off an involuntary pace as a bearded, white-clad figure smoothly sat up to turn a piercing blue gaze first on the angel, to whom he nodded, then on Templeton himself. He appeared to be in his vigorous forties, and in the peak of health.

  "So, we are to be brothers-in-arms," the man said with a faint smile.

  The voice was deep and vibrant, confident. A detached part of Templeton caught traces of an unidentifiable accent to the man's speech, but he had no difficulty understanding him. It occurred to him to wonder if the man was even speaking English - or, for that matter, whether Paddy and the other gargoyles had been speaking English. Not to mention the elegant angel, who clearly commanded the power of life and death.

  Templeton gave a cautious nod.

  "And your name, I am told, is Francis," the man went on. "In mortal life, I was known as Brother Richard. Our orders, I believe, were rivals in those days. But we shall be allies now. You are of the Order of Malta, are you not, who descend from the Knights of the Hospital of Jerusalem."

  "You know about the Knights of Malta?" Templeton blurted, astonished at this revelation.

  Inclining his head in answer, Brother Richard heaved himself forward and stood up in the coffin, keeping his head ducked in the low space as he stepped out of it. His fair hair was clipped close to his head, in contrast to his wiry and rather shaggy beard. His raiment was the long white mantle and tunic of the Order of the Temple, with a red cross moline broad across the left shoulder and the breast. A goodly sword was girt at his waist, and long-shanked spurs adorned the heels of his boots, in token of his knighthood.

  As he straightened as much as he was able in the low vault, he spied the little catand smiled as he reached out to fondle an ear and then run a gentle hand down her back. When the cat arched against his hand, purring audibly, he picked her up and cradled her to his chest as he glanced at the angel and the gargoyles ranged behind him.

  "We had best be about our work," he said to them, glancing then at Templeton. "Please understand, Brother Francis, that I have come willingly, and freely offer such assistance as I may render, but I cannot say it pleases me to be here. In due time, you will know the supreme contentment of the next life. Were it not for your great need, I would not have chosen to return."

  Templeton managed to make his dry throat swallow, glancing at Paddy for guidance.

  "An appropriate response would be 'Thank you, Brother Richard,'" the gargoyle said. "He has left the Presence to come here. We should not keep him from it any longer than is necessary."

  "Th-thank you, Brother Richard," Templeton stammered, then looked again to Paddy. "Uh-what do we do next?"

  "We take ourselves off to Clontarf Castle," Paddy replied.

  "Let me come!" said the little cat, from within Brother Richard's embrace - much to Templeton's astonishment.

  "That's most irregular," said Death's Deputy.

  "No, 'tis fitting," Brother Richard said. "Besides," he added, with a glance at Templeton and Paddy, "I think her presence may be welcome, later on."

  Templeton didn't know what that was supposed to mean, but the angel inclined his head and Paddy nodded. The cat burrowed her nose harder into Brother Richard's white robes, purring and kneading his arm with her white-mitten paws, clearly elated.

  "And you'll see about that other matter we discussed?" Paddy said to Death.

  Death nodded.

  "We'd better go, then," Paddy said, urging Templeton back toward the steps leading up to the closed steel doors. "We have only a few hours until dawn."

  Chapter 19

  Templeton still wasn't sure how the gargoyle did it, but one second he and Paddy were standing on the vault's dirt floor, next to the steep stone steps; the next, the pair of them were back outside, sheltering in the angle of the church's transept. Brother Richard and the cat were already there, the latter perched happily on the big crusader's shoulder, and the doors to the vault were still firmly closed, the chain wound through the iron handles. Templeton wondered about the other gargoyles - and that angel in the three-piece suit! - but Paddy set off immediately across the old burial ground, the afterglow of his footprints clearly heading for the car.

  Quickly, lest the footprints fade before he could follow, Templeton set off after the gargoyle. New snow had begun to fall during their interval underground, crunching underfoot, but he could hear no other sound save a very occasional car passing on Church Street - and Brother Richard's footsteps, as he followed close behind. Glancing over his shoulder, it occurred to Templeton that if anyone saw the white-clad Templar moving through the churchyard, they would be quite justified in thinking they had seen a ghost.

  Phyllida was exactly as they had left her. The little gargoyle on the radiator cap watched with beady ruby eyes as they approached, but craned over its shoulder and started flapping its little wings when Templeton started to put the key in the lock to the front passenger door.

  "I think Brother Richard maybe ought to ride in the back," Paddy said, staying the old man's hand. "Junior has pointed out that the white robes would be somewhat conspicuous, if anybody should see us driving along. He can shelter under part of the tartan rug with me."

  Glancing at the crusader, Templeton realized that Brother Richard was far larger than he had appeared down in the cramped vault. (Indeed, few men looked very big beside a gargoyle.)

  "Right."

  Nodding, he moved to the rear door instead, opening it wide so that his knightly companion could get in. Brother Richard seemed quite unabashed at this introduction to a mode of transport that had not been conceived in his own time, and folded himself gracefully into the rear compartment, settling on the carpeted floor with his knees drawn up and the cat cuddled close to his chest.

  Gently Templeton closed the door, pushing it until it latched with a muffled click. But when he would have gone around the rear of the car to get to the driver's door, Paddy stopped him just abreast of the boot, motioning for him to open that as well.

  Templeton dared not ask why, for he knew his own voice might carry, even if
Paddy could not be heard unless he wanted to, but he gave the gargoyle a questioning look. Paddy merely touched the latch, then turned the handle and lifted the boot lid a few inches.

  Immediately, a dark rush of shadows surged down from the ancient churchyard and across the concrete terrace, flowing upward like a dark tide to fill the boot to brimming. Templeton gave a little gasp, for he sensed that, in some inexplicable way, it was the essence of all the other gargoyles, but Paddy only shook his head and gently lowered the boot lid, closing its latch with a soft click before motioning Templeton to get into the car.

  The low rumble of the big Rolls Royce engine starting up sounded like thunder to Templeton's tight-wound senses, but nothing stirred as he switched on the headlamps and guided the old car out the end of the street and into Hammond Lane. From there, it was a matter of two quick jogs to get back onto the quays, heading eastward along the River Liffey. In the headlamps' twin beams, it was evident that the snowfall was increasing.

  "Can we talk now?" Templeton asked, when they had crept past the Four Courts and were approaching O'Connell Street.

  "Sure," came Paddy's muffled voice from behind the seat, under the tartan rug. "What do you want to talk about?"

  "Well, for one thing," Templeton said, "I want to know if I have a bootful of gargoyles."

  "Yeah, you do."

  "But - how do they all fit?"

  "Ever heard of that old debate about how many angels can dance on the head of a pin?"

  "Yeah....?"

  "Well, I can't imagine why any of us would want to do such a useless thing, but the answer is, As many of us as wanted to."

  "Then... as many of you as wanted to could fit in my boot," Templeton said.

  "That's right. We - uh - haven't exactly got physical bodies. Brother Richard knows what I’m talking about. Oh, we can be quite solid when we need to be. But we can also expand or shrink, according to need. This morning, we all need to come with you and Richard, to make sure everything goes smoothly."

  "I see," Templeton said. They were cruising past the Custom House, heavily veiled behind falling snow. Once the hub of financial dealings for the port of Dublin, it now housed civic offices - and, he suddenly realized, a gargoyle.

  "So, who's guarding the city, if all its gargoyles are in the boot of my car?"

  A low gargoyle chuckle rambled from behind Templeton.

  "We can sort of be more than one place at a time," Paddy said. "Kind of like the way Junior can deputize for me. Don't worry about the details and don't worry about the city. Just concentrate on getting us to Clontarf. How long do you suppose it will take?"

  "Maybe another ten minutes or so," Templeton replied.

  "More, if the snow gets worse. It's only a couple of miles from the city center-I've been there for weddings - but I don't want to bounce us off a curb or put us into a ditch."

  "There are weddings at Clontarf Castle?" came Brother Richard's surprised question from under the tartan rug.

  "Well, not the weddings themselves, but the celebrations for weddings - the wedding feasts. It's a hotel now. It's - uh - changed a lot since you Templars were there."

  "So it would appear," the Templar replied. "We were warrior monks, you know, under strict vows of celibacy. Once we had entered the order, we were forbidden contact even with sisters and mothers."

  "Well, a lot of things about the Church have changed, too," Templeton replied. "I can't say I like all the changes, either. Do you keep up with these things - uh-Upstairs? Do you know about things like the Reformation?"

  "You mean Luther, and Cranmer, and Wesley, and people like that?" came the reply.

  "Guess you do. What do you think?"

  "Well, a few of them got it mostly right - and some of them have totally missed the mark. But you'll see for yourself."

  "Yeah, I suppose I will," Templeton replied, with a quick, queasy little twinge in the pit of his stomach. It had suddenly occurred to him that this was not simply a casual conversation with an interesting new acquaintance, but commentary on things he was, indeed, going to see for himself - and rather sooner than he had hoped.

  But he found he really wasn't scared. A little apprehensive, yes, because he didn't know what was going to happen, or how - but after everything else that had happened in the last two days, he had already decided he would do his best to simply take things as they came. Not that he really had much choice in the matter.

  And not that he really minded, when it came to that. Actually, he was quite enjoying himself. Aside from knowing that there was a gargoyle and a resurrected Templar in his back seat - not to mention an unknown number more gargoyles in his boot - it was a grand night for motoring, even with the snow, with the silent city sleeping all around him and the streets not yet gone icy and no traffic to impede progress. And he had to admit that his companions were more fun than he'd had in a very long time, not since Maeve died....

  With a soft scuffling sound, Brother Richard poked his head out from under cover and rose up onto his knees, so he could peer out over the gleaming bonnet of the big Rolls Royce. It occurred to Templeton to wonder whether Brother Richard's resurrected body maybe wasn't as warm as a normal person's, because the little cat took that opportunity to wriggle from his arms and onto the back of the seat, from which she jumped down onto the seat beside Templeton to curl up in front of the blowers from the heater.

  Of course, cats always sought out the warmest place, so that didn't mean Brother Richard's body was cold; just that it wasn't as warm as in front of the heater. But as Templeton absently gave the cat a scritch-which elicited a contented wiggle of pleasure - other questions regarding the Templar's body popped into his mind.

  Just how alive was he? Was his heart beating? Did he need to breathe? The big knight did seem to be properly resurrected - though Templeton sensed that much of what Paddy and his angelic colleagues made possible owed as much to illusion as to reality.

  Not that Templeton had any notion what reality was, after the past few hours. Looking in the rearview mirror at Brother Richard's bearded face, Templeton decided that, with the rest of him still covered by the tartan rug, the Templar probably wouldn't even arouse a second glance should someone happen to see him now. The car itself was far more likely to attract unwelcome interest.

  "Interesting," Brother Richard said after a few minutes, as they negotiated a roundabout at the Eastlink Bridge and headed north, leaving the river behind. "In my day, all of this was open, much of it marshland - and beyond the Pale, of course. Everything north of the Liffey was, other than our compound at Clontarf."

  "I suppose things have changed a bit," Templeton agreed. "Even in my time they've changed a lot."

  "Can you speed it up?" Paddy said suddenly. The gargoyle atop the bonnet had begun flapping its wings wildly, its blunt little dragon snout out-thrust like a pointer dog. "There's something not right at Clontarf. We may be not a bit too soon."

  Templeton pushed up their speed as they passed the entrance to the Port of Dublin and dog-legged back along the Royal Canal, cutting north again through a park and rolling through the red traffic signal at Clontarf Road as they turned east. Fortunately, there was no traffic, though the streets were getting more treacherous from the snow. A cautious dash along the bay shore brought them to Castle

  Avenue, where they turned north into a heavily residential area. A sign pointed to Clontarf Castle ahead.

  Templeton had to slow down then, for parked cars lined both sides of the snowy street, and there had been little traffic in the last few hours to disturb the snow. Behind him, still kneeling on the floor in the rear, Brother Richard was leaning on the back of the seat, the tartan rag around his shoulders, peering ahead in wonder; the trailing edges of the rug still mostly sheltered Paddy. The little cat had gotten up and stretched and was reared up on her hind legs to follow the Templar's gaze, white front paws braced on the burled walnut dash. Beyond an ornate pedestrian gate set into a handsome stone wall, they were beginning to catch glimpses o
f floodlit towers behind a range of modern houses in a gated close called Knight's Wood.

  Brother Richard made a little sound of dismay as they headed east to skirt the wall, formerly the boundary of the castle grounds.

  "Are you sure this is the right castle?" he asked.

  "It's the only Clontarf Castle / know," Templeton said, a little defensively.

  "It's been rebuilt a couple of times since the old days," Paddy pointed out. "This one is less than two hundred years old."

  "Dear God, will anything be the same?" Brother Richard whispered to himself.

  As they came abreast of the entrance to the castle grounds, which was guarded by a tiny Gothic gate lodge, Templeton slowed to a halt, himself craning his neck to look around as his passengers did the same. Beyond the gate lodge and a ran of very upmarket modern terraced houses, they could just see the main tower of the castle itself. The sign at the entrance said Clontarf Castle Hotel, and the name of the housing estate surrounding it seemed to be Castle Park.

  "Any suggestions?" Templeton said.

  Brother Richard shook his head. "Everything is so different. In my day, this was all open country, and the sea came much closer to the castle."

  "So, where would the head have been hidden?" Paddy asked.

  "In the vaults beneath the church that served the castle," the Templar replied. "Somewhere beyond here, I think. Can we go closer to the castle?"

  "We won't dare park in there," Templeton replied, "but I think it's safe enough to make a pass through the car park, at this hour. But be ready to duck down behind the seat, both of you. There could be a security guard, and there're probably a few security cameras as well. Don't ask," he added, at Brother Richard's look of inquiry.

  "Do it," Paddy said.

  Templeton put the car back into gear and turned in through the castle's entrance, eyes fixed on the castle as he eased his way down the narrow, curving avenue. He could remember a time when the castle at least had been surrounded by parkland, before its owners had sold off its land to developersas his own father had done on a smaller scale at the Templeton family home. What Clontarf had retained was only enough for the car park, a tiny garden, and the castle itself - which, in fact, was more of a castellated country house than a true castle, though several towers poked up from behind.

 
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