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More About The Hellmantle Testament
 
This novels takes place in four different countries and is full of extreme adventure. This is due to the unusual character Roland Hellmantle who has Aspergers Syndrome yet operates at a high level as a professional writer and extreme motorcyclist. When he is confronted by a letter from his great uncle stating there is a valuable map hidden with a Dutch priest living in the Philippines, he and his cousin D'Aqs go to the Philippines to find the Dutch priest. This begins a journey on motorcycles that takes them around the northern island of Luzon, stopping off at the colonial churches along the way. Hellmantle believes that by finding this map will change our understanding of the Bible, the Ten Lost Tribes and the cruxificion of Jesus.
 
Hellmantle's obsession with motorcycling matches his zeal for believing conspiracy perspectives, so his riding is high level throughout the journey, leaving his weaker cousin D'Aqs injured and sore. His cousin, a missionary who is recovering from malaria after a year in Burma, challenges Hellmantle with his ideas, which only spurs his cousin to more extreme exploits. When they reach the end of their search at the tomb of Jesus after traveling Vietnam and India, the reader has been overwhelmed by a new truth. Did Jesus survive the cross? Was Doubting Thomas the identical twin brother of Jesus? Dive into the fascinating world of a different history, the hidden truths that the collective inertia of belief is too slow to accommodate.
 

 
 

Chapter Sixteen

In which a record is given about the brave Hellmantle

through uncharted territory on his trusted dirt bike

Rising, Hellmantle put on his boots and went outside to see where exactly he was. The missionary inn was on the riverbank at a bridge that was the eastern boundary of Mayayao. An open area like a plaza with shacks facing the police station on the hill was the center of the mountain hamlet, an area for oxen and commerce. After an evening of wolfing down peanuts, crackers and the Book of Jeremiah, it was still too early to get gas but he was sure they could fill up when the sun rose a bit more. It was still the crack of dawn.

Keenly aware of the position they were now in, they had three days before they both had to return to Hong Kong but they still had to ride to the top of Luzon Island, west to Laog City, and then down the west coast to Manila: a total of about 1000 kilometers. Despite climbing to the northeast not finding a church with a bell tower that housed the Dutch priest, the truth was there hadn't been any churches in such remote places as the Halseema Mountain Trail, Banaue and the heart of the Sierra Madre Mountains. Hellmantle was confident that they would find what needed to be found because he had faith that he had been chosen to fulfill this divine mission and had read the signs. When D'Aqs came out of the missionary rooms and sat beside him on the riverbank he looked like he was in pain.

"Tu ne cede mails, sed contra audentior ito," Hellmantle said when he saw him studying his face. D'Aqs simply raised his eyebrows at him.

"What are you talking about?" Creases were etched in his face.

"It means ‘yield not to adversity, but press on more bravely.'"

"If we can get through."

"But does not pain make features hard, telling of an education into the deep-end of humanity and an exploration of the corners and crevices unseen? Acting without believing deeply can never yield a fruitful crop. Better it is to not act when purpose is built on a wobbly cliff!"

"Are you always this reckless?"

"To me it smells like a vacation here, but I know it's only a Viking's life I'm living."

"Or should I say ‘gung-ho?'" As usual, Hellmantle avoided looking directly into his eyes, but he sensed his frustration and worry.

"If you believe in God, don't you think that we've made a tremendous effort and that He is watching over us?"

"I do Rollo, but we're in a tight situation. What if the trail ends over the next hill? Then what?'

"See, you don't have faith that we are destined to succeed. I really don't get that. But maybe it's because you don't realize the profound importance of our mission. You see, it has always been prophesized that one of us, one of the descendents of Christ, will correct the wrongs that Rome has done by proving they corrupted His message. I feel it in my bones."

"Maybe I worry too much. Fair enough. I'll try to dispel my doubt. I'll have faith in you and God." D'Aqs patted him on the shoulder. He noticed that Hellmantle flinched.

He spread out a map at his feet.

"If the trail holds we should hit the rolling foothills of the Sierra Madres and the main highway north to Aparri this morning. If the trail doesn't end, we could make good time."

"Why?" He looked at Hellmantle with puffy eyes.

"Because it's downhill. And when we hit the paved highway, riding will be quite crisp." Hellmantle constructed a betel nut in substitution for his morning coffee. Once it was complete he popped it into his mouth and chewed it until his saliva turned bright red.

"How can you chew that stuff?"

"Takes practice. Want one?"

"Maybe later."

"Later? I don't believe there is technically such thing as later. It might help you become impassioned and help buoy your sagging spirit." He looked at the river with a glint in his eye.

"All right. But you need to engineer it for me." And Hellmantle did just that.

"Just keep it between your cheek and gums. It seeps into through your gums, but whatever you do don't swallow. Spit the red juice out. Only when it breaks up and the taste has waned can you swallow a bit."

"Got it."

"And try to enjoy yourself out there today. This is fantastic riding."

D'Aqs managed to hold the betel nut in during the initial flood of bitter taste and spit out the juice. When they had packed up and ready to go his color had reddened.

They filled up with gas and left Mayayao on the trail hoping it wouldn't end. Arms and legs sore but the visual magic of rice terraces hidden deeply in the range eased the pain. Nagging pressures of time lay outside Hellmantle's immediate realm as he negotiated the line of the mud trail through small valleys and down winding slopes closer to sea level. Coming to a bridge with one of two wooden planks for tire tracks missing they were forced to balance precariously over the one-foot wide plank to get across. For D'Aqs this was a much more sensitive task due to his inexperience and injured clutch hand, He managed to cross with a scream to the heavens for help but when he reached the other side he had one leg up in the air to balance, running over a large stone that dislodged the direction of the bike. D'Aqs flew off his motorcycle and landed on a rock beside a tree. Hellmantle was unable to suppress his laughter but the sound of his engine covered his scheudenfreunden. D'Aqs sat up grabbing his ribs.

"Are you-" Laughing too hard, Hellmantle stopped.

"My ribs." As Hellmantle laughed he knew riding a motorcycle with a broken rib or two was not a good situation to be in, so to curtail his bellowing he put another betel nut in his mouth.

"Ah, can't be that serious. You weren't going that fast."

"I can't...breathe." Hellmantle dismounted to check his cousin's ribs. A slight indentation on his left side, a sure sign that two or three ribs were broken.

"Just don't breathe too deeply for now. Go slowly until we reach the highway and it should be better riding." D'Aqs moved very gingerly when he remounted his vehicle in obvious pain. When he began riding Hellmantle could hear his cries of anguish.

The sun overhead now very hot, after crossing the bridge they stopped on a crest of a hill where they saw a horizon of hills sprawling for miles as if anthills of pointed rock. Hellmantle pulled out his betel nut and made two, handing one to D'Aqs who took it without a word. They chewed and spat and knew that they would reach the highway going north to Aparri. For D'Aqs the vista looked like waves had been carved into rolling waves frozen on a rough sea of rock. It was too beautiful to breathe.

Hellmantle led the descent from the mountaintops through the valleys following rivers and crossing more decrepit bridges. Just as the sun was reaching the top of the sky he unexpectedly hit the paved road running north. Turning left without stopping, he rode the wide-open road with no cars to be seen. Stunned by the smoothness of the road, it was like riding along a carpet after the trail they had just traversed. He opened up the throttle to top gear rolling towards the Cagayan River, the rustic landscape empty like the road.

Hellmantle and his injured squire made excellent time through this no-man's land until they came to the first example of Spanish presence: a 16th-century church-fort. Both a church and fortification and still standing but without a roof, a rich rust-colored brick wall surrounded it with a side part that was likely barracks for soldiers. It was on the frontier of Spanish settlement from the north, like the settling of the American West coming from the Pacific. This colonial endeavor hit a barren and mountainous region too difficult to penetrate. Indicative of how the old colonial power built to both protect and worship even here in the forgotten outback of Philippines' northeast, it was an awesome and surreal in this frontier where local headhunters still practiced their traditions.

When they finally reached the huge Cagayan River, it was flooding over the shores overtaking shrubbery, trees half-submerged and the grassy plains covered with muddy water. Following this largest river in the Philippines they soon found another church beside the river that was like a fortified turret with a small chapel.

"Not quite a church is it?"

"But not quite a fort either," said D'Aqs.

"More like a small castle. Or a belfry with crenellations." Hellmantle wrapped another betel nut in a green leaf, sprinkled the white powder on the construction plus the mystery ingredient and then popped it into his mouth, twisting his nose.

"Yeah, sure, where Colonel Kurtz lived. And, while you've got your betel nut out, roll me up one will you?" He nodded and began to engineer a betel nut for D'Aqs. Plants of all kinds grew out of cracks between the stones, vegetation threatening its survival.

"This is the first Spanish piece built along the river. Must be the farthest point south up the mountains from the northern coast other than the other one we saw. Henceforth let's be on the lookout for any church in operation sporting a bell tower." He finished the betel nut and handed it to D'Aqs, who twisted his face into a tortured look.

"Ah!" He almost spat it out.

"Wait! Chew it for a minute and then you'll get the liquorices taste. It's okay actually, and it's a good balsam for riding pains."

"Good, because my ribs are sore, not to mention that cut on my hand." There were some things Hellmantle assumed others knew, and one of these things was that you were not to swallow the betel juice, but that was exactly what D'Aqs did, which promptly caused him to throw up. Of course Hellmantle couldn't help laughing at D'Aqs Grosseteste clutching his ribs and barfing. Almost fell off his motorcycle.

Once the bile was sufficiently expelled, D'Aqs gripped his throttle, revved his engine and took off ahead of him. Riding for ten minutes they encountered something very strange. On the riverbank hidden under thick foliage was an old stone pub. Its wooden sign hanging over the door was still intact. It read:

Fumes & Bubbles

"An old Spanish pub!" Hellmantle yelled. "Still standing but lost and forgotten! Amazing! Probably built in the seventeenth century when these other church-forts were built. Think about that: two-hundred years before the French Revolution!" The weathered stone and simple layout beside the water was an ideal setting for cocktails. It was even relaxing to look at.

"Location of many drunken Spanish nights," said D'Aqs. "What a great name for a pub." His motorcycle creaked as it cooled down.

"I wonder how many people have ever seen this." No people or huts or farms for miles, it was as if it were built, used and then forgotten in its total isolation, waiting here patiently to tell its story to the intrepid traveler who found it. Ivy had overtaken the pub so the stone foundation from the road was barely visible. Hellmantle tried to get close to it but the foliage was like a wall full of hanging green snakes frozen in time. The stones were worn by rain and storms but the pub's foundation was still solid. Brush too thick for him to reach the glassless window, there was a marking on one of the stones that caught his eye.

"D'Aqs come here! There's something here I want you to see." He followed Hellmantle to a carved insignia beside the missing front door. Hellmantle took out his knife and hacked some of the vines away from the stone but couldn't get close enough to touch the stone because of the sheer volume of foliage.

"No!" D'Aqs yelled. "It couldn't be!" There was a carved cross in the stone they both recognized. "Yes, it is! It's the cross of the Blonde Acquitaine!"

"What are the chances?"

"It's the same symbol on the letter from de Steward."       

 "Since we're here D'Aqs, at this relic of the past where such oaths to honor were discussed, I shall like to invite you to join our society, not because you have earned it but because you are entitled to it because you are a Hellmantle."

"I didn't know you were a member."

"Of course not. How would you? I'm aware that you are not yet initiated into the society, so telling you anything about the code will breach the secrecy laws of the society. But now, with the extreme unlikelihood of this coincidence, I can only interpret this as a sign from God and therefore offer you the opportunity to join our secret society."

"Okay." D'Aqs had heard of the society's existence but had never known anyone who was a member or had any contact with the group.

"Ready?"

"Yes."

"Okay. Whom do you serve?" 

"I serve God." Simply and calmly.

"Well, that was easier than usual. Good answer.

Such are they whom God chooses for himself and gathers from the furthest ends of the earth, servants from among the bravest in Israel to guard watchfully and faithfully his Sepulchre and the Temple of Solomon, sword in hand, ready for battle.

"A quote from our spiritual father who lived in Saint Sulpice. Experience is the only teacher for the man of adventure, for it is the true revealer of truths hidden in the paragraphs of endless history books. After all, the difference between hoping and having is doing. The Royal Society used our motto: nullius in verba - take nobody's word for it; see it for yourself. But there is a cost for us men of experience. For the evolved, fitting in becomes a near impossibility. So a man of intelligence with a depth of empirical data must define his own category. A man who has evolved must always live on an island, or he must forever live in a castle surrounded by a moat cutting off all those who don't qualify for the key. Do you accept this fate?" D'Aqs understood the thrust of the agreement, giving it some thought before answering.

"Yes cousin, I do."

"In the famous words of the Duke of Burgundy many centuries ago:

You must adhere to our code of chivalry for the reverence of God and the maintenance of our Christian Faith, and to honor and exalt the noble order of knighthood, and also to do honor to old knights so that those who are at present still capable and strong of body and do each day the deeds pertaining to chivalry, shall have cause to continue from good to better; and so that those knights and gentlemen who have worn the order should honor those who wear it, and be encouraged to employ themselves in noble deeds."

With a warm smile, Hellmantle held out his hand. When D'Aqs shook it Hellmantle slipped him the grip and gave him a quick wink from the left eye. D'Aqs had now been initiated into the society and was now a brother.

            "Remember, that now as a brother of the Blonde Acquitaine, you are required to adhere to the Code of Chivalry, and employ all the etiquette and respect to all those who deserved fair treatment. All those who do not exhibit courage, justice, mercy, generosity, faith, nobility or hope, merely represent obstacles in your way to achieving the quest so bestowed on the shoulders of all brothers: finding the missing scroll." When D'Aqs smiled his teeth were red.

 

Chapter Twenty-eight

Concerning the French prison and what Hellmantle finds there

100km east of Dien Bien Phu, Son La Province

In the morning, instead of eating breakfast, Hellmantle chewed betel nut one after another while D'Aqs sat with the family and had eggs and bread.

"Umm, are you nervous or something? Why are you chewing betel nuts for breakfast?" asked his squire, who was still favoring his ribs on the left side from his wipeout in the Philippines. "Hungover?"

"No. But having betels for breaky isn't breaking any laws in this country." He tossed another into his mouth and bit into it. He moved it to his cheek and began the process of crunching it into splinters of liquorice tasting narcotic.

"Your teeth are now stained red."

"Good, just like one of the boys."

"What does it taste like compared to the ones we had in the Philippines?"

"Bitter," he said, crinkling his face when he found a spot between his cheek and gums. "Bitter and chewy tar it is." D'Aqs shook his head when he spat the red juice into an empty beer bottle.

"Is this normal behavior for you? Or I suppose not since there's a wake of destruction and mischief in your past."

"I consider that a compliment, thought perhaps destruction isn't the correct word. I'd say something like a wake of mischief and laughter with no one gettign hurt...most of the time."

"Someone always got hurt when you were involved. I used to watch and wait unil whoever you were sparring with would either limp away with a severe bruise or sprang, or getting the cane from Tottenham." It was a fact that had slipped his mind; and not once did someone commit the worst sin.

"Remember that time about six of us went out to play Space Invaders downtown that night, must've have been late Novmber."

"I how could I not? Grandfield..." D'Aqs didn't want to retell the shame of being caned for the first time, being a sportsman and A-student.

"I don't know if I ever told this to anyone before because I'm sure I didn't while I was still at Lakefield."

"How did you not get caught by the way? I remember, because it was one of those life-changing moments for me."

"Oh yeah?"

"Sure. Tottenham hitting me with the cane telling me I was better than this and he kept calling me Big Ball, which he called my Dad when he was there."

"I was never caned."

"Come on! Never? I don't believe it."

"Once I went in expecting one. I had over twenty-four quarters and it was only Wednesday."

"I think I remember that because you missed the cricket match." He recalled the image of the proud Hellmantle posture for the first ten kilometers, but when the afternoon sun began to set over the Maple trees along the edge of the fields, his body was like mashed potatoes. Hellmantle was finally called in for dinner after twenty-one kilometers of running.

"I only had three more quarters owing for the following Saturday so I did them in the morning and that was the afternoon I had my one-and-only-no out and century combo at Appleby."

"We on that match, too."

"Anyway, so when I walk into Tottenham's office to deflect I go to his bookcase and say: ‘Have you read all these?' He put down the cane - I remember that thing: long and thin wood like willow or something; and he walks up to me and says: ‘Mantlepiece, you remind me a lot of me when I was young. I remember the mothball smell of his tweed, worn and cut like a Lord."

"He was a real Lord you know?" Hellmantle nodded.

"How could anyone forget that?" D'Aqs looked like he was fifteen again, sitting on the bottom bunk hunched over feeling socially awkward. "So Lord Tottenham and I stood looking at his books until we both reach out for a book at the same moment. And that's when we both laughed, and I knew I would get a lecture instead." D'Aqs had an image of Tottenham running down the hallways of Eton or Harrow inbetween patrols by the master on night duty.

"So then what was the lecture? Do you remember?" Hellmantle brought his eyes to D'Aqs' in a rare moment of eye contact.

"Yes! I remember! It was a life-altering moment for me too." He recollected silently as he stroked his fluffy beard. "If you recall I started to wear a Herringbone tweed after that."

"So what did he say to you?"

"After some minutes flipping through books, he said: ‘You know Mantlepiece, if you can read that book in your hand than that would be the best punishment solution for you. Only if!' he said, raiisng his hand. ‘Only if you never get a twenty-four again! Deal?' He put out his hand and I was nervous as hell, because he hand was so big!" "D'Aqs laughed at the unknowing Aspergers manifesting it so early.

"What book were you holding?" He shook his head.

"Chaz said he had started to read in a whole other way atfer he read Leaves of Grass."

"Whitman?"

"I read most of it, enough to write a paragraph or page and hand it to him to read. Yeah, I could say it had a very similar impact on me too." D'Aqs felt admiration at his cleverness to deflect to bookshelves before the business at hand, and envy at how his own caning had been horrible that left emotional scars.

"So you went in for a caning and left confidence with the Lower School Headmaster with a book of poetry in your hand and a new flair for herringbone tweed?"

"That's about right, but back to that night when Grandfield caught all oyu guys. I remember so clearly when we had just got to the bottom of the stairs, you know-"

"Yes."

"I was the one who opened the door and for a full second at least we stared at each other, eye-to-eye." They laugh together. "I mean, what is this guy doing up at four in the morning by the showers? I still relive that moment sometimes out of the blue; his unshaven and coarse hair, his pale skin, his skinniness, his intensity."

"So hoe do you think that saved you? Do you think he recognized your face?"

"I've been wondering that so twenty-five years. If I saw him how couldn't he see me? So immediately we're all running for our lives, right? I knew exactly where Grandfield would go: it was either D Dorm or ours in B. So I ran after him listening to his footsteps, and when he went up the extra flight of stairs, I ran into the dorm and slipped under my covers maybe ten seconds before Grandfield arrived. Once the lights came on he could see who was still out there in the woods. I never understood that."

"What?"

"Why some guys ran back to the safety of the trees. It was so obvious you would get the cane." D'Aqs looked away, not wanting to admit that that was exactly what he had done. Hellmantle's red-stained teeth made him smile.

"Yep, you sure are weird, and get an A-plus for consistancy."

"Thank you. I never fall into the category of normal!. I never have and never will, and I'm proud I don't. It behooves all men to live an extraordinary life in my opinion. Never be normal because normal is unexciting and it has been done before."

"Yeah but it's not safe, you riding and chewing betel. It's reckless."

"Seems to me we both did it on Luzon."

"That was one. You've had what? Five so far?

"With the amount of motorcycling experience I have under my belt I don't think you should worry about me. It's you I worry about with your riding technique. Watch me and learn My Son because I am among the best who ever lived when it comes to this. So let it go - your worries - and let's focus on the prison we have on our agenda this morning. When we go to the prison," he said more to God than to himself, "we need to be patient, so we don't miss anything. Only with patience and humility we will best serve God. Even contemplative warrior monks must perform some labor, and cannot live without devoting time to activities other than contemplation!"

Outside the colonial hotel immediately they both saw the convergence of several rivers that they couldn't have seen last night due to darkness.

"Look," said D'Aqs. "There are three rivers that converge here."

"Or four if you include that dried stream there." Hellmantle pointed to an intermittent stream. "It likely comes alive during the rainy season."

They warmed up their engines and clipped their helmets to their knapsacks, preferring the wind in their hair than the claustrophobia of a tight-fitting hat.

Heading toward the prison, they stopped on a bridge from where they could see the yellow walls on the prison up on a escarpment above where the rivers met.

"This must be it," said D'Aqs. No more words were spoken because Hellmantle knew in his gut that this was the prison where the Great Dane had left the map.

Reaching the prison above where the rivers converged, they stood in front of what was left of the doorway to the old colonial prison.

"Damn!" said D'Aqs. "All this way to find the thing smashed up!"

"Oh ye of so little faith," came the reply. They hadn't been able to see this old part from the road because it was way up on the hill. The prison had been completely blown apart but some walls and cells were still partially standing. There was a part, the main body, where there was a second floor balcony in tact right along a steep grade in the hill.

Parking their motorcycles they walked around to the main part but didn't see anything but the bars on the windows in the European style. The jungle was in the process of overtaking the old wall. The barracks where the guards would have slept was the only part of the jail that was still untouched, as well as the infirmary with old wooden floors. It was still in beautiful condition. It was now part of a museum with some rooms being used as offices. Everything was open so the two cousins checked out everything, not letting one single nook or cranny escape their inspection.

"Where is everyone? We're going have to pay to get in," said D'Aqs, looking around as if someone were spying on them.

"Those that run it must still be sleeping in the office." So Hellmantle led the way by checking each room on tiptoes to minimize suspicion from any wandering Vietnamese ladies who ran the museum. One eventually caught the two Normans and they paid the twenty cents for admission.

"You want tour?" the lady asked.

"No, it's okay. We will do a self-guided tour," Hellmantle replied. The Vietnamese lady nodded in approval and went about her business.

In the museum section the walls were covered with black and white photographs, each hanging crooked. Every photo was scrutinized efficiently with some deserving more attention than others. All the enlarged photos showed the French using the prison and many showed the abuses of the Vietnamese by the French officers clad in kepis. From these rooms Hellmantle was able to have a better idea of the original layout of the prison during French rule. At the end of the corridor they climbed creaky wooden stairs up one of the two turrets on the east side of the compound. What was likely once a gendarmes old personal living quarters with balcony and sectioned rooms spreading south down the hill, it gave a good view of the rivers below. From high on the hill on the second floor, they both could see the four rivers converging by the hotel. The small intermittent creek was too small for the map.

"Remember, the map is buried in the east tower lying at the mouth of four rivers behind the inscribed stone and hidden by an oak," Hellmantle said like a student wanting his homework checked when he knew it was right.

The way the morning sun reflected off the balcony directly into the room caused the wood beams to light up into something that looked alive. The rooms on the other side of the compound appeared to have been transformed into classrooms beside what was now a defunct kitchen. Walking out to the courtyard, Hellmantle could sense the history of it: the horses, the spit, the boots, the laughter and the cries of terror in the deep of night, and the smell of French coffee.

"The French were known for their sharp rule during their stay in Indochina, so it's not surprising that the Viet Mingh destroyed the prison after 1954. They were at least smart enough to keep the courtyard despite the lack of functioning kitchen facilities, unlike the Khymer Rouge who left no more than walls standing in the entire summer retreat town of Kep during their communist revolution in Cambodia."

Now looking as if the betel nut had taken effect, Hellmantle examines his compass and identified what must be the east tower. It was the stairwell closest to the jungle side, where the land jutted upward. There was an opening in the south part of the courtyard so he went through the deep grass to the corner. Hellmantle thanked God that his motorcycle boots protected him from snakes. D'Aqs, who was not wearing motorcycle boots, walked stiffly through what could be a snake pit.

"We're looking for some sort of oak motif," said Hellmantle.

"Look at all the oaks though." They walked to the corner where there was an old oak tree.

"Look!" They both saw the cornerstone at the same time. There was an inscription or mark of some kind on the stone, but it had been painted over and worn from the elements. Hellmantle had anticipated this so he removed sandpaper from his backpack.

"Always have the necessary tools," he volunteered. He bent closer to the stone and saw that it was the cross of the Blonde Acquitaine.

"See it?"

"It's the Acquitaine cross!" said D'Aqs.

Hellmantle peelled the foliage away from the tower. Some of the weeds were barbed and sharp, so he slipped on one of his motorcycle gloves. Minute jagged barbs scraped the leather on the glove as he pushed the weeds to the side.

"Look, below the cross. It's an arrow!" The arrow pointed east and downwards to the stump of the oak tree.

"There's a hole." Hellmantle reached in with his gloved hand and pulled out debris of leaves and twigs. Down on his hands and knees, he took out a flashlight.

"I see it!" D'Aqs said from his standing position.

"Can you hold that foliage back for me?" Hellmantle asked. He was about to suggest the gloves but D'Aqs responded with alacrity grabbing the barbed weeds with his bare hands. Just then D'Aqs let out an involuntary cry.

"Damn!" he yelled to cover up his outburst.

"Nice one. Trooper." There was blood where his hand had been ripped by the barbed weeds. "Chin up." He tried in vain to repress his laughter, so in an effort to hide his mirth Hellmantle reached deeper into the hole.

"Is there something?" He pulled out the last of the grass and soil and then reached in deeper this time.

"What is it?" D'Aqs let go of the foliage and promptly put his hand, albeit a bit gingerly, into his pocket.

"There's something hard and smooth. Wait! It feels like it's a corner of a bottle." Hellmantle stood up from the stump and removed his knapsack and put on the other glove.    

"A bottle?"

"Yeah, it feels like a bottle. It's slippery. I need more space. It's buried in there."

"It's been there over fifty years."

"Yeah, yeah." Hellmantle knelt down again shining the light directly into the hole in the earth. When he bent his neck at a hyper-extended angle, his heart jumped into his throat. For a second he couldn't breath. From the light of his flashlight he saw a reflection of glass. He lied flat on his chest and reached as far down the stump as he could.

"There is something else that feels like a cork." This time Hellmantle was able to grasp the top of the bottle. Wiggling it a little, he finally had enough of a grip to pull it out.

"This!" unable to complete his sentence. Hellmantle was laughing hysterically. His eyes popping out of his head as he rubbed his hands around the bottle with noted care. He was on the verge of losing control.

"You've got it! I can't believe it!" The bottle was small like a medicine bottle. The cork was jammed in deeply so it required care to remove it. Hellmantle held it in his hand for them both to look at.

"There's something inside."

"I see it," said D'Aqs.

"Let's not open it here. In fact we should split."

"We should." Hellmantle made one final reach deep in the hole and found nothing more.

Placing the bottle in his bag, he covered the hole as best he could and they walked briskly together unseen to the prison's main compound and then under the gateway where old Frenchmen had once saddled their horses. There, Hellmantle lit a smoke. He was so giddy he could hardly stand still. D'Aqs stood there shaking his head with his mouth wide open. The missionary felt his edifice of belief threatened as if by an earthquake.

 
 
 
 
 

 


 
 
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A slave is he who cannot speak his thought.

- Euripides

 
 

The sedentary life is the very sin against the Holy Spirit.

Only thoughts reached by walking have value.

- Friedrich Nietzsche
 
 
 
 

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