The Hellmantle Testament (Part 3)

A billboard of President Erap

THIRD PART

Ω

Chapter 22

Which brings Hellmantle of Normandy back to Hong Kong

to re-evaluate the next step in his quest for truth

Lamma Island, Hong Kong, China

After riding out the coup in the Philippines and listening to the Secretary of State about the plot to overthrow the President, Hellmantle and D’Aqs made it back to Hong Kong and immediately organized a dinner with Jack Grosseteste in Kowloon Tong to discuss their discovery. The get together was planned for the following weekend so D’Aqs used the time to let his ribs mend and the cut on his clutch hand heal, and was thrilled when Catharine called him from Sagada. Her interest was sincere and she planned to visit him in Hong Kong. D’Aqs was so excited he could think of nothing else, while Hellmantle ignored his duties at the magazine and threw himself into Holy Grail research. He was in a fever now and was now gathering the pertinent information required to crack it all wide open, so the night before his dinner with his uncle he invited D’Aqs over to compare notes.

Smoke, the waft of stale beer, heavy diesel fumes and faint body odor mixed with cheap cologne was what D’Aqs smelled with every breath on the ferry from Hong Kong Island to Lamma Island. He was on his way to Lamma to visit Hellmantle. It was his first visit to his place and first time to Lamma Island.

When he arrived D’Aqs could immediately understand Hellmantle’s reason for living here. To exist among the noise and pollution of cars, and the endless corridors of concrete was something Hellmantle didn’t want so he had elected to live on Lamma Island: a small southern island with no streets or vehicles or high-rises, only fifteen minutes away by water from one of the most expensive cities in the world. It was an oasis of South Pacific peace, un-infringed upon by oppressive laws and subtle manifestations of rat-race oppression. It was a satellite expatriate colony where the enforcement of law was lax. Some called it a hippie colony, but to D’Aqs it was a rocky island with sandy beaches and small villages and laidback cafés. Lamma Island was Aldous Huxley’s Greenland in a world gone mad. And it was on Lamma Island where Hellmantle had found his home. It was the only place where he could live. Poisonous snakes and pancake-size spiders didn’t seem to bother him.

The thick aroma of blooming Jasmine tweaked his olfactory radar as D’Aqs passed under white nettles that kicked out the rotting stench of decaying sea life hanging on the shores on his way to the small village of Pak Kok. Hellmantle lived on a rock cliff surrounded by bamboo shoots. He was happy to have crossed the choppy waters of Aberdeen Channel.

D’Aqs found himself out on Hellmantle’s balcony beside the sea listening to the birds and swatting beetle-sized mosquitoes. He tried not to judge but he had never seen a messier apartment. Asperger’s manifest. Books scattered, ashtrays overflowing, dust in the corners, sink with mould, papers all over the place and discarded clothes everywhere, the balcony was the only spot that was clean. Even the guest room was a mess. With Hellmantle busy on the telephone, D’Aqs took the electric-stringed mosquito racquet from the chair to defend himself against the mosquitoes. Popular here with the Chinese, the mosquito-killing device had a strong electric current running through the metal strings that singed the mosquitoes when you hit them. He had seen his share of Asian mosquitoes before, but indigenous Lamma Island mosquitoes were so big they bounced off the charged strings. Instead of swatting them he scooped them into the racquet face to thereby electrocute the plump mosquitoes between the wires. At first there was smoke, the singing of a wing and the initial struggle to get away from the electrocution. But the racquet had to be manipulated with enough technique to hold the malaria-carrying insect pinned against the strings. First the wing separated from the body with a spark, then came a burst of smoke when the wing caught fire, and then a few more sparks rendered the insect severely wounded, burning but alive, in a burnt-wing crucifixion. After a few snaps of orange and the smell of smoke, the torso of the deadly mosquito finally exploded. It wasn’t the exploding body that startled him; it was the sound. A bang was accompanied by a flash and dark slow-rising foul-smelling smoke. The crispy remnants of the aggressor party disintegrated into momentary confetti.

Only a few dangling bodies stuck on the strings.

It didn’t bother him because he regarded it as self-defence, but the thought he would always carry the dormant mosquito larvae in his liver that came to life every seven years for the rest of his life bothered him.

D’Aqs was cleaning the strings of mosquito debris when Hellmantle finally hung up the telephone.

“There’s a woman who wants to meet up later. Man, is she ever tenacious.”

“Is that not a good thing?”

“Perhaps in small hits but she’s an Australian steam engine.”

“This is a great utensil,” said D’Aqs, holding up the electric racquet.

“An effective unit for a few bucks. Smells like you’ve taken on the whole army.” He saw that D’Aqs was still sweating from the walk. “Here,” he said, wanting the racquet. “Careful not to…“ He pressed the metal strings on D’Aqs’ exposed hand, the sweat acting as conduit for the current.

Ouch!” Incredulous at the assault.

“…not to touch the strings or you’ll get a shock.” Hellmantle had to walk inside to expel the bulk of his laughter.

“Why-”

“Let’s go for a beer by the water where it’s cool,” he said. “But first let me change into some shorts.” After changing they walked twenty minutes along a trail to the cafés in the main village Yung Shue Wan. The path was dark already because there was a new moon and therefore no light for them to see the mature spider webs that hung low off the drooping branches with black spiders the size of baseballs.

As Hellmantle and D’Aqs sauntered towards Yung Shue Wan, D’Aqs noticed something black contrasting against the path ahead, a spider hanging from a single web dangling in the wind from a low-hanging branch. He could see its round web above his head where it was out of reach, but the spider had ventured down a thread bundled with its legs above it. He froze in his steps and tried to follow the movements of the spider. The problem was the wind was blowing it around and he couldn’t find the stabilizing thread in the darkness. The spider shook violently in the wind so he dragged his body low enough not to disturb it. He quickly ran a hand through his hair to make sure it hadn’t dropped on his head, and then walked with added spice along the path to the village on the beach. Hellmantle walked as if there was nothing dangling from any of the thousands of drooping branches along the trail.

“Why didn’t you warn me about the hand-sized spiders waiting to jump down my neck?” This struck a chord with Hellmantle. D’Aqs could tell from the cadence of his laughter.

“Don’t forget the different forms of poisonous snakes, especially the bright green Bamboo snake: the most poisonous snake known to man pound-for-pound.”

So nonchalant. For Hellmantle it was entertainment.

The televisions in the cafés on Lamma Island were a continual football match with each game getting the attention from its customers as if each match were a final.

“Never make the mistake of commenting about the competency of a team when you’re not sure where the supporters are from,” he said to D’Aqs, as they reached his favorite café called “The Spicy” by the regulars. It was a restaurant that served Indian food and had a little bar at the back. The bar was separated from the main restaurant with a foldable divider, and behind the divider was where the regulars sat on stools around the semi-circle wooden bar. Here was where the expatriates engaged in conversations with folks from around the world. For Hellmantl, it was where the real UN conferences took place.

“Mosquitoes are big enough to fuck turkeys,” a man at the bar said, all business. There were a number of red marks on his neck and hands.  

“Hey Norton,” said Hellmantle. “This is my cousin, D’Aqs.” They shook hands but Norton appeared to be a gruff man of few words. The bar was small and there were a number of regulars there so Hellmantle suggested they take their beer and sit outside on the patio by the shore.

“Your beard is coming in. Should be a fine beard.”

“Takes time.” He thought of Catharine.

“So have you been doing any reading?”

“Actually lots. I-“

“I have too, through my papers and some books in my library since we returned, and I’m now quite brushed up on things,” he said, settling into the chair and waving at the people he knew as they walked past them. Every forty minutes or so a fresh wave of people arrived from Hong Kong Island on the ferry. They were located right at the busiest corner of the walking paths so Hellmantle saw everyone.

“Like what?”

“I’ve been refreshing on the primary thrust of Jesus’ ministry vis-à-vis bringing the Lost Tribes back into the fold.”

“Yes, I remember your ideas of His primary thrust,” said D’Aqs, sitting up in his chair. “To gather His lost flock who were the Ten Lost Tribes. And His other primary thrust was to unite all Twelve of the tribes.”

“Nice one. So I asked myself: where did His disciples go? And this question yielded some insights. So I think I mentioned in that church in Vigan, the Ten Lost Tribes were taken captive to north of the Black Sea in modern-day Ukraine in southern Russia. This area that was by the River Don is also known to historians as Scythia. It was where the Ten Lost Tribes were held captive by the Assyrians. When they were in captivity they were known as the “White Syrians,” so there was the Assyrians and the White Syrians. Since the House of Israel had come from Palestine and what is modern-day southern Syria in old Greek terminology, they were called White Syrians because they contrasted against the dark-complexioned Armenians, or modern-day Syrians.”

“Where are you getting this information?”

“I need your Bible. You must have it with you?” He handed Hellmantle his crumpled Bible. “Here, in Peter’s first letter, he says: ‘To these people, the lost sheep of the House of Israel, the strangers among the Assyrians…’  And in Matthew, Jesus says after the Jews have rejected him: ‘I am not sent but unto the lost sheep of the House of Israel.’  The House of Israel – rather than the House of Judah – is further shown to be the target of the twelve disciples after the crucifixion.”

“But we are taught that His message is for all peoples of the world, meaning all the gentiles.”

“That’s how people read the New Testament. But His initial thrust was to get His old brethren back into the teachings of their forefathers. Again in Matthew it says: ‘These twelve Jesus sent forth, and commanded them saying: ‘Go not into the way of the Gentiles, and into any city of the Samaritans enter ye not, but go rather to the lost sheep of the House of Israel.’  And in the Book of James, it says: ‘James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ, to the twelve tribes which are scattered abroad, greeting.’ This is the first verse. It is not addressed to the Gentiles but rather to all the Twelve Tribes of Israel.” Hellmantle was a rock, unmoveable from D’Aqs’ suggestions and objections, so again D’Aqs leaned back and gave him space to let him speak.

“So where did the disciples go?”

“In about 256AD some of the tribes from Asia Minor from along the shores of the Black Sea migrated to the Cymbric peninsula – which is Denmark.”

“Why then? Why not some other time during the 800 years they spent in Scythia?”

“Because of the Persian invasion in 226AD. The Iranians basically invaded Assyria and pulled rank. And these peoples who migrated to Denmark were, as Peter wrote in his Epistles, the so-called “White Syrians” who came from Scythia. Philip was assigned the areas of Scythia and upper Asia Minor. Scythia was the name of the vast plain north of the Black and Caspian Seas. It was here that a great colony of Israelites migrated after the fall of the Persian Empire in 331, many settling in Northern Europe. It was in the extreme western part of Scythia in a place called Dacia, which was where the Scots migrated from. And Peter knew about these peoples because it’s where his brother Andrew went to do his preaching. Andrew taught in the Bosporus, and after he left there he took a ship and sailed across the sea to Sinope, which was north of the Black Sea in Scythia. It was where the ancestors of the Scots and Anglo-Saxons migrated from, which is why modern Scottish tradition holds the belief that Andrew taught the Scots.”

“I’ve heard that Andrew brought the gospel to the Scots but I assumed he went to Scotland.”

“To be honest, so did I until I read this.” Hellmantle was interrupted by some motorcyclists who asked him about riding with them on the weekend. Without committing, he said he would see them Friday night and let them know.

“An Irishman and a Scot: crazy about their motorbiking. And speaking of the Scots, have you ever wondered by St. Andrew’s cross on the Scottish flag is like an ‘X’?”

“No, not really.”

“Oh, well. So that’s where Andrew went to preach: Scythia. And then Philip-“

“Wait. Aren’t you going to tell me why St. Andrew’s cross is in an X shape?”

“Oh, because he was martyred on a crucifix but it was not the same shape as the one Jesus’ supposedly died on. Andrew’s was in the shape of an ‘X.’ That’s why the Scottish flag has the white ‘X’ against the blue background.”

“Andrew was crucified in Scythia?”

“I believe so. And his brother Peter was crucified upside down in Rome. Said he wasn’t worthy to be killed the same way as Jesus.” He stroked his beard. “There’s some irony that the first Pope was crucified upside down like that.”

“Didn’t know that about Peter. Sounds in character though, being a humble fisherman.”

“There were another people among the Assyrians known to history as the ‘Parthians,’ which in Hebrew means ‘exile.’ This people were also part of the House of Israel. They remained in captivity until 226AD. They were driven out by the Persians. The disciple Bartholomew preached in Armenia in Asia Minor, or so-called modern Turkey today, and Thaddeus taught also in the area Assyria, Mesopotamia and then Parthia – the ten lost tribes! Matthew also went to Parthia, and then traveled to Ethiopia. So many disciples went to this Parthian kingdom that was in fact a loose union of lost tribes of Israel that dwelt in central Asia, but when the Persians finally drove them out they all went to northwest Europe.”

“So where would Parthia be on today’s map?”

“Eastern Iran and modern-day Afghanistan.”

“What about Thomas? Where did he go?”

“Well, this is what’s interesting about all this: Thomas also taught in Parthia during his ministry before he went east of Persia into northwest India. As the Dutch Padre said, Thomas preached where the “White Indians” dwelt, or as they Greeks called them, the Nephthalite Huns. So it was the tribe of Naphtali that ended up in northern India, and when they were overthrown in the sixth century they migrated into Scandinavia. So that explains why Jesus would end up in India. Knowing what it’s like to have a twin brother, it makes sense to me.”

“So you believe Thomas was His twin?”

“I think I told you already that there was a belief, primarily in both Spain and in Ireland, that Jesus had an identical twin brother. This belief was held for centuries, where it was accepted teaching that Jesus was an identical twin. This is after His crucifixion so one can deduce that it was acceptable on the part of Rome up until the time of the Council of Nicaea.” 

“I was taught that one of the oldest heresies about Jesus was that he had an identical twin brother,” said D’Aqs.

“The point is that the idea of having a twin brother was a perfectly acceptable belief for centuries,” Hellmantle continued, trying to get this knowledge off his chest and on the table for discussion. “Now one is forced to ask: why is there so little information about Thomas, who also happened to be Jesus’ favorite? Did the Catholic Church purposely remove any and all reference to Thomas as Jesus’ twin brother because it would have complicated the virgin birth story? How could Jesus have had an identical twin brother? If so, wouldn’t there have been two Messiahs from the virgin birth? And why wasn’t he the chosen one too if his identical twin was? It becomes tricky. But in the theory about Jesus surviving the cross, they have Jesus going to northern India to be with Thomas, his identical twin brother. Right? Well that’s what this boils down to isn’t it? Did Jesus die on the cross? If not, did he go hang out with his identical twin brother in the Himalayas?”

“So how does all this affect us and our quest?”

“Because it explains how he was able to go to India, where He, according to the Blonde Aquitaine legend, buried his journals.”

Hellmantle finally leaned back, finished and proud of his sermon, and was attacking his pint with relish when Norton dropped by with more pints.”

“Seems like it’s my round again Hellmantle.”

I’ll say!” Sweat stains under Norton’s armpits. “Just because this guy is named after a great motorcycle maker he thinks he’s-“

“Better watch yerself Hellmantle, or I’ll have to give you the genital cuff!” A Hellmantle favorite, he bellowed laughter as another wave of passengers arrived from Hong Kong Island. A woman pulled up a chair who spoke with a loud Australian accent, carrying a plastic cup of beer.  D’Aqs sat there irked and rankled, not because of what was said but because he didn’t have a chance to talk about Catharine’s call he had had earlier in the evening.

Beach on Lamma Island

Chapter 23

In which their journey is related to Jack Grosseteste

and a new task is set before the Man from Normandy

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Hong Kong was a sprawling metropolis where vertical space dominated the little land available on which to build. Cars sped by with inches to spare on one-way streets that stood as a testament to man’s civil engineering ability. In cities like Taipei and Bangkok, traffic was a battle where the fastest scooter won and where traffic law took a backseat, but Hong Kong prevailed in the Far East like a beacon of what to do to overcome traffic woes. Where else could you fly through the very heart of downtown in a big city at 80km/h? That’s where D’Aqs found himself on the night of his visit to his father’s: on the back on Hellmantle’s Yamaha FZRR400 motorcycle whipping down the streets of Hong Kong. Despite being in a metropolis with the highest density in the world, Hellmantle still rode by his own rules.

And D’Aqs could tell he loved it.

After sleeping over on Lamma Island for the night, the Australian beauty staying over after they had a nightcap on the balcony, D’Aqs was pillion on Hellmantle’s racing bike as he cruised to the Victoria Harbour Tunnel where they crossed under the harbour to Kowloon. Hellmantle dodged cars and chose a route that took them through the thick underbelly of Tsim Sha Tsui, where he purposely took the overpass right through the middle of an office building between floors. To D’Aqs’ astonishment, they rode through the parking level on the seventh floor! It was a labyrinth of roads that zigzagged through buildings and around sky-high apartments on their way north to Kowloon Tong.

After all the beautiful colonial buildings D’Aqs had seen in Burma, it saddened him that Hong Kong hardly had any colonial buildings left, especially in comparison to Manila and Hanoi. D’Aqs felt the familiar pang of regret and anger when he witnessed the abuse of old architectural gems through disuse and lack of maintenance. In Hong Kong since the handover a familiar equation emerged: colonial buildings were left to fall into disrepair by the Chinese government in Beijing so then it became more cost efficient to tear them down. In Hong Kong many of the old colonial buildings were on prime real estate in Central. Even Singapore had managed to keep the colonial flavor that in his opinion gave the city much more charm than Hong Kong. Privately on the back of Hellmantle’s YAMAHA, he feared that there will be a day when all signs of Hong Kong’s colonial past will be completely gone.

And for the first time he saw people sleeping on the street, homeless and destitute in one of the world’s most prosperous cities.

Soon they hit the shopping Mecca of Mong Kok where they entered a long tunnel under Lion Rock Mountain. The number of cars drastically dwindled after the tunnel when Hellmantle maneuvered his peppy two-stroke racing bike between the mountains to Kowloon Tong and the academic condominiums for professors and lecturers. For the first time D’Aqs felt relieved when they arrived at this father’s apartment, knowing he was a sane voice compared to his erratic cousin. It felt good to be able to discuss these unheard-of corners of religious history with a more rational and down-to-earth mind.

There were some books piled on the dining room table when they both entered. Jack Grosseteste had been doing some reading.

“Son! You look much better. The motorcycling must be doing you good!”

“Yes, I’m feeling better.”

Jack Grosseteste was in his usual good spirits, especially after Hellmantle gave him his grape juice offering.

“From the duty-free,” he said. “And one is from your son!”

Despite the fact that D’Aqs had told his father about the trip, Hellmantle insisted on doing his own recounting of what had happened. His passionate recollection made even D’Aqs laugh, but also concerned for how could two men do the same trip and have two different variations of the same series of events. Clearly, Hellmantle’s grandiose perceptions were beginning to take hold of his person. When he was done, he asked his uncle:

“So what do you think about the Dutch Padre Vander Poodre’s sermon about the Ten Lost Tribes of Israel?” It was a second before his uncle realized he had actually said aloud the nickname of the Padre. Uncle Jack appeared in thought for a moment.

Poodre?

“Yes. It’s the Canadian word for ‘powder snow,’ corrupted from the French poudre,” he said not missing a beat.

“I find it fascinating that he should be giving that particular sermon just as you arrive at that exact moment. When you arrived at 6pm, it was the culmination of your pilgrimage. I find it eerie that you found Agoo Basilica on New Year’s Day on your final day of motorcycling.”

“Sure, it’s destiny manifesting itself! I don’t understand why people think ‘providence’ is something that does not exist in real life. I am troubled as to why so many think it’s a fiction. God is showing us the way, to right this wrong done by the Catholic Church so long ago, spearheaded by that fat fuck Constantine the Great at the Council of Nicaea.” Jack Grosseteste was quiet for a moment letting Hellmantle simmer before he asked more questions about the trip. The omma put some freshly skinned pineapples on the table. The smell of dinner cooking in the kitchen cause Hellmantle to salivate.

“Why?” D’Aqs asked “Why is that interesting to you? Not ‘providence, but the sermon. What’s so special about the Twelve Tribes of Israel?”

“Because that great family story, especially that hidden part vis-à-vis the Ten Lost Tribes of Israel, is everything. It’s a story about us.” Hellmantle leaned forward in his chair. “It’s why northern Europeans even care about Christianity. It is the primary underpinning of the Bible, the reason why Europe converted to Christianity. Israelites are an extended family, part of the chosen family. It’s the whole point of keeping a record of this chosen family in story form, yet so few of us see that you and I are descendants of the Twelve Tribes of Israel, or more precisely the Ten Lost Tribes of Israel and the House of Judah.” D’Aqs again saw that theology spoke deeply to his cousin’s heart, as well as his own, but for perhaps different reasons.

Who exactly?”

“Well, that’s the question, isn’t it?” said Hellmantle, drinking his wine.

“Yes, that’s the crucial question,” Jack Grosseteste agreed. “This is what I know about it: Abraham had a son named Isaac who bore a son named Jacob. It was Jacob who fathered the twelve sons that came to be known as the Twelve Tribes of Israel. Abraham was willing to kill his only son Isaac by obeying God’s command until God stopped him at the last moment and declared Abraham blessed. It was Isaac’s son Jacob who was favored in the eyes of God that God re-named him Israel.

“I know that Dad,” D’Aqs a bit offended.

“Son, let me say my piece. Jacob’s sons were Reuben, Jacob’s first born, whose descendants are said to have landed in modern-day France. The symbol on their shields was an image of a man. The next born was Simeon, whose descendants are said to now populate Scotland and Ireland, who are known to history as Celts, and whose symbol is the sword. The third son was Levy who is the priestly tribe of Aaron who remained with the tribe of Judah thus being one of the two tribes that are today’s Jews. Levy’s symbol is a breastplate. Judah was the fourth son who bore twins: Pharez and Zarrah. It is not Pharez that is the chosen line but according to the Book of Genesis the royal line actually went to the twin with the red string around his finger, Zarrah, because he was the first out. There was a ‘breach.’ It was when the brave scribe Baruch took the last three offspring of the royal Zarrah line to Northern Ireland as described in detail in the Book of Jeremiah, that the throne of power left Palestine and migrated north, where it remains today. The tribe of Zarrah settled first in Ireland and then Scotland of course, and then with the Stewart line ascending to British throne. And of course its symbol is the red rampant lion. All four of these tribes had the same mother named Leah.”

“Interesting,” said D’Aqs, for the first time hearing these facts with a clear head.

“The fifth son was the tribe of Dan who were primarily mariners and adventurers. They mainly settled Denmark and Ireland (mainly via the Danish Viking settlement of Dublin) and were symbolized by an eagle. The next son was the tribe of Naphtali who settled in modern-day Sweden and their symbol is a stag. The seventh son was the tribe of Gad who is believed to have settled modern-day Switzerland, and is symbolized by a leader of troops. The next son is the tribe of Asher, who is believed to have settled modern-day Belgium and Luxembourg. It has for its emblem a covered goblet. The ninth son is the tribe of Issachar. This tribe landed in upper Germany. A donkey (under burden) is its tribal emblem.”

“It is believed that it is where the name ‘Saxon’ comes from.”

“Thank you Roland. The tenth son was the tribe of Zebulun, who were merchant traders and calligraphers who landed in the Netherlands. Its symbol is a ship. It is the only tribe that still exists today as its own country. Issachar’s and Zebulun’s mother was also Leah. The next son is the tribe of Ephraim, the son of Joseph, who settled Great Britain and her Commonwealth. Its symbol is an ox. The next son is the tribe of Manasseh, Joseph’s first born, who landed primarily in North America as part of its Manifest Destiny of settling the ‘Promised Land.’ Its emblem is the olive branch – thus the symbol on US currency. And finally the last tribe is the tribe of Benjamin who are believed to have been mainly mariners and merchant traders, but came to be known in history as Vikings. The tribe of Benjamin is believed to have settled in modern-day Norway and Normandy, and its symbol is the wolf.”

It was clear to Hellmantle that Jack Grosseteste should be teaching religious history in some small college in upstate New York, not economics in Hong Kong.

“And we are wolves,” said Hellmantle, clearly enthused by the topic.

“Yes, we are wolves,” his uncle confirmed. D’Aqs was fighting to gain an understanding of a subject that his father and cousin knew so much about despite the fact that it was him who was the missionary and lone man of the cloth among them. Jack Grosseteste showed some exasperation at his son’s ignorance so D’Aqs showed off some of his knowledge of history.

“The Normans are Danish Vikings that were awarded land after the Siege of Paris in 925. So we’re also from the Tribe of Dan?”

“Yes, mariners and adventurers the Danes were,” said Hellmantle.

“That reminds me.” Jack Grosseteste got up and took out a color print. “Have you seen your Grosseteste coat-of-arms before? I don’t think I’ve ever shown you.” He put the color print on the table. There in front of D’Aqs was the coat-of-arms of the Grosseteste family. There were two eagles in the top two corners of the crest that he now understood to represent the Tribe of Dan. There was also a wolf at the neck of the crest that he can only assume is from the Tribe of Benjamin.

“Dan and Benjamin,” D’Aqs said. He watched both his father and Hellmantle nod, and then Jack pointed at the two Stars of David on the chevron across the crest. A tingling went up his spine. An edifice of belief was about to crumble.

“The same Star of David that is on the Northern Ireland flag.”

“The mark of an Israelite!” yelled Hellmantle. “History is coming alive isn’t it? You’re finally catching up after forty years of ignoring your family tree. We grew up with knowing we are part of this living history and that it’s been systematically suppressed by Rome yet you never cared a damn about it, and only now, ye man of little faith, are realizing that it’s not a fiction. We are from a great bloodline! But there’s more to the story than just this, you’ll see oh Doubting Thomas. There’s more to the story than we have been told. My purpose in life is to find them and let people know!”

“Very interesting,” he conceded, interrupting his cousin from his self-righteous lecturing.

“And the cross in the middle,” said his father. D’Aqs could see it was the symbol of the Blonde Aquitaine. Jack Grosseteste looked at his son and winked his left eye. On reflex D’Aqs winked back at his father. For a moment Jack was surprised, but then it dawned on him that it was Hellmantle who had rightfully christened his son into the brotherhood of the Blonde Aquitaine. It was with solemn poise that Jack Grosseteste and D’Aqs then shook hands, slipping each other the grip.

“Son, welcome to the brotherhood.”

Hanoi

Chapter 24

Concerning the journey to northern Vietnam to track down

the map hidden at an old French prison

Hanoi, Vietnam, February 2002

Ω

It was agreed that D’Aqs should accompany Hellmantle on his tour of northern Vietnam, officially as a safeguard so that Hellmantle didn’t hurt himself more than anything, but D’Aqs’ father saw how the motorcycling had improved his health so he was happy to underwrite his trip to Hanoi. D’Aqs was both keen to hang out with his cousin so he would learn more about his own family history and also so he could taste that unbounded freedom again on his motorcycle.

For Hellmantle, who arrived a day earlier than D’Aqs, it wasn’t the two-hour wait to get through customs that caught his attention or the ridiculous number of airport employees who stood around in their Heineken-bottle green uniforms smoking; it was the awesome stretch of rice paddies in the countryside that spread out to the horizon with no other discernable roads running perpendicular to the highway that he was amazed at. He was immediately aware that something was missing in the outskirts of Hanoi: the utter lack of everything except peasants working in the fields wearing the classic Vietnamese sun-blocking headgear. There was only one main paved road for miles around. To deviate from the road was to walk or motorcycle along a narrow paths elevated between rice fields. With no stores or gas stations or anything else beside the road – except for the odd vertically built house or one-story brick shack – there were only fields. Very few cars, the main roads were dominated by motorcycles four-to-one.

Morning mist rose in wafts above rice fields kissing the horizon right to the outskirts of Hanoi. An old French Legionnaire citadel symbolized the entry into the old French quarter: a mixture of French colonial architecture and sprawling squatter huts on the sidewalks. The old quarter was overgrown by vegetation, yellow walls of les Francaise colon barely visible, people speaking French, residue of a past era. Cyclists and motorcyclists wore brown and blue communist garb, some sporting pith helmets and kepis. Some walked with daily wares balanced over their shoulders on a wooden stick. 

Three items Hellmantle needed were acquired in the French Quarter: a motorcycle, a UN map and a rock hammer. He planned to meet D’Aqs at the Continental Hotel, the place in the old quarter where the bomb scare caused havoc back in 1954. He spent the extra five bucks to stay in a room with some history: the big room at the front with overhanging balcony and high ceilings. It felt like Graham Greene himself had stayed in this room. It epitomized the les Francaise colon motif of Hanoi, which was basically the epicenter of French colonialism in Indochina.

He was to meet D’Aqs in the lounge in the hotel at 8:00pm.

He first tracked down Café des Artistes, the place where the Great Dane had met Leo Vande Winkle almost fifty years ago, but the prices were Hong Kong prices so he found a cozy place called Kaiser Kaffee. There were many Germans all speaking loudly to each other from table to table, laughing, so he chose to have lunch here because of an unprovable notion Germans don’t eat poor quality food. It kept his hepatitis concern at bay.

After some eggs, Hellmantle spent hours walking all over the city in awe of the colossal colonial effort by the French built during an epoch now known only through the distinct French panache for ornate structures embodying style and pride. As per his custom to explore at all costs, Hellmantle found himself stopping at many cafés to drink a Halida Export to cool down – the local beer that had an elephant on the label. The beer gave way to urgency to find a motorcycle, which he found through the hotel manager named Dung Kok by his fellow employees.

Despite his unfortunate name, and the nickname that Hellmantle gave him, Small Kok, he proved worthy phoning a friend who came by on a Vietnamese motorbike. Hellmantle was furnished with maps, a full tank of gas and more beer. Without a sleep the previous night, gravity weighed down as he mounted his motorbike for a trip around town. He cruised the crowded city streets to test the bike and adapt to riding Vietnam.

The streets embodied lawlessness and speed, and Hellmantle quickly learned the greatest danger, other than a head-on collision, was to put his feet down when stopped at intersections. There sheer number of motorcycles so close together exposed him to a wheel clipping his heel to send his Achilles tendon twanging up his leg to his kneecap. Even an experienced motorcyclist like him it took muster to adapt to the rules riding the streets of Hanoi, especially during the annual Tet Festival.

Without a doubt motorcycles were the most effective transportation utensil in Vietnam. At roundabouts they weaved by each other requiring quick skill in rapid succession. Swept by the Hanoi flow when he saw two guys on bright white 150cc scooters wearing black suits, black hats and sunglasses, he followed them to kill a few hours before D’Aqs arrived. Not knowing where he was going, the two black-clad riders took riding seriously so he tagged behind them to get his riding legs. They rode side-by-side in the slow part of the fast lane at exactly the speed of the flow. After five minutes he realized they were the flow. Their constant speed without stopping defined the flow.

All others were either going too slow or too fast.

For miles Hellmantle kept the Vietnamese Blues Brothers in his sights, adjusting so he rode with the flow. Balanced with constant speed they didn’t swerve or yield because other motorcyclists revolved around them. Riding the Hanoi Flow enabled the adventurer from Normandy to explore the terrain. Surrounded by motorcycles of similar models riders carried momentum around corners and roundabouts with grace by reading movements of others. He followed the scooters until they parked at a store so he stopped. When they sat at a table for tea, Hellmantle experienced a mild panic realizing he left his compass in Hong Kong. In touch with the flow he was also lost, though he termed it ‘momentarily displaced.’ Rice paddies behind the stores, he slipped it into neutral and let the flow go by without his bearings. It was an awful feeling being displaced in a strange city with no common language and no idea where you were, but also a thrill and challenge. Even his map didn’t help because he had no reference point.

He tried to find a store that sold compasses.

Leaving the two flow-masters to their tea, he searched in vain for a store selling compasses, not an item sold out in the sticks. The sky darkening with no discernable sun for reference, he needed to be careful not to go south when he should be going north. Finding the word for compass in his book he stopped a woman walking on the road.

Excuse ’moi,” he said. “Lo ban?” She shrugged her shoulders. “Hanoi?” She pointed towards a big river he had just passed. Thanking her, he rode through the non-French part of Hanoi, not prepared for the high number of elderly who had been wounded during the Vietnam War. Some with a dead leg or missing limb or had facial scars, he felt no hostility from them. Instead he saw a quiet dignity with proud posture, wearing their wounds with noble bearing, feeling compassion and respect for these white-haired soldiers. The French, Americans and even Canadians fought on this soil after World War Two. Hellmantle thought of the irony that Americans had funded the communists during the Japanese occupation during World War Two, the same insurgents who defeated the French and the Great Dane at Dien Bien Phu, and the same communists that fought the Americans during their effort to snuff out communism in Vietnam.

So much in world history was cloaked with irony.

Walking the sidewalk looking for a compass, he approached and old man and smiled: the international language of the good-hearted. Sporting a classic long goatee in the Ho Chi Ming-Uncle Ho tradition, he grabbed his white beard and pointed at Hellmantle’s Viking mantel. Both stroking their beards, smiling and nodding at each other, the old man held out his hand and drew “83” on his palm with his finger.

“You are 83?” he said, forgetting for a moment that there was little-to-no English spoken in north Vietnam. The old man wrote ‘83’ on his hand again and then said something in Vietnamese. Hellmantle then wrote ‘83’ on his hand and pointed at the old man. His face creased up in a smile and reached out to shake Hellmantle’s hand.

Lo ban?” Hellmantle asked him, pointing to a store.

Lo ban? Oui.” He gestured to a store that sold compasses. Hellmantle nodded and then found one that was plastic but appeared to work. Outside, he thanked the old man and rode due east on his motorcycle on his way towards Hoan Kiem Lake – the heart of old Hanoi where he found St Joseph’s Cathedral. There was a full service in progress packed to the limit with Christians sitting on the wooden pews. The plain square towers and eroded white paint revealed its 116 years of life. It appeared as if not a thing in the church had been changed except for the fact that it had been stripped of its riches, as per the custom of communist states overtaking lavish churches in the Far East. In front of the overhanging hardwood balcony and paintings depicting the crucifixion, the altar was massive and the stained-glass windows were striking.

Standing on the front steps of the church looking out to Hanoi, Hellmantle could see that this was the old church of French Indochina in the pearl of French colonialism. For Hellmantle it was the Old Quarter – the Cite Indigene – that captured his attention. It was full of classic architectural masterpieces from the French colonial era. Streets were lined with embassies and government buildings and parks and well-planted trees – everything you would expect from a proud and rich French colonial government. It was testament to an awesome display of power. But more, for his purposes, it had the makings of a motorcyclist paradise. There were no potholes and the Vietnamese were very savvy on two wheels.

Ω

While back in the lounge in the Continental Hotel waiting for D’Aqs, he thought about his cousin. Hellmantle knew he was resistant to the labyrinth of facts and conflicting theories of the Ten Lost Tribes of Israel, so he might need to field more questions by his missionary cousin. He felt guilty at his outburst accusing D’Aqs of not being savvy when it came to his family history and the Blonde Aquitaine, so he decided that he needed to do penance. It wasn’t D’Aqs’ fault for being ignorant of these subtleties of Christian history, since he had chosen to endorse the dogma of Christianity. It was his duty not to argue with D’Aqs or to attack his character, but rather to enlighten him as to this hidden history.

Then he spotted his cousin D’Aqs enter. His eye caught the odd rhythm of his loping gait. It was the family’s loping gait gene manifest in his cousin.

“D’Aqs! How are you mon ami?” D’Aqs looked like a new man. Well-rested and stronger rather than the wisp he had been when they first met at his uncle’s place in Hong Kong.

“Good to see you Mantlepiece!” He loved to hear his old nickname from school, the first time D’Aqs had called him that. He was genuinely happy to see his cousin, but something about that scared him. It was always easier to be alone.

“I could tell it was you from your loping gait. It’s unmistakable.”

“I don’t have a loping gait.”

“There is a certain slow motion and consequential grace that is both accidental and effortless, which is indigenous to the Hellmantle clan. It’s so nonchalant that it’s as if all Hellmantles walk on our toes, leaning back yet drawn forward by some secret force. You can’t tell me that you’ve never been told that you have a unique walk.”

“I have been told that, yes, but never a loping gait. No doubt you walk like that too.”

“I do, and am very proud. You look different, maybe less like a frail missionary and more like a motorcyclist.”

“Is that a good thing?”

“A step in the right direction. One could say there are different forms of being a missionary.”

“Could they? Such as?”

“Like what we’re doing, except instead of going out and preaching with words, we’re going out and getting that which we can then preach to the peoples of the earth.”

“Without a doubt, you have an unusual take on things,” he said, showing some spark.

“That is the best thing you have ever said to me.” Deep penetrating eyes, possessed by something Holy driving him.

“Hey, I try my best.”

“The motorcycling looks good here. Make sure you get a decent bike for what we have to do. Chain, clutch, gears, alignment; you know, the usual.”

“You’ve already been out riding?”

“Master Big Ball, you know me well enough to know it is against my nature to wait around and waste time. This is my bike here.” D’Aqs followed him outside and watched him start it, a clunky motorcycle that had a Harley Davidson cadence to the engine. Hellmantle had a mini-routine the way he always started his motorcycle. He sat on the bike first, then pulled the clutch and ensured it was in neutral, release the clutch, turn the switch on, balance the bike under him with both hands on the handlebars and then press the button. His life, which was anything but routine, was full of mini-routines.

“What does that say?” The name of the motorcycle was half hidden by his leg.

“This puppy is a Moc Chau. Sounds Chinese but it’s Russian made.”

“How powerful is it?”

“You mean how many horses? It has a hundred and fifty horses, but this baby should do the trick.” He turned off the engine. “Here,” he said, “I’ve just bought some UN maps. Let’s go in and check ’em out.” He spread them on the table as D’Aqs looked at the drink menu, but Hellmantle ignored the map.

“I wanted to ask you, how did you know about Barnes being shot down?” Having now spent so much time with D’Aqs, he had been thinking more and more about his time at boarding school thirty years before.

“I get the Alumni News every few months. It’s full of updates on people’s lives and obituaries. The school has changed a lot since we were there.”

“It’s co-ed now, isn’t it?”

“Girls are now half the student populace.”

“What house?”

“Ketchum House.”

“That makes sense.”

“You could subscribe if you want. It’s free but they do ask for donations.”

“But I left without graduating.”

“I know, but I don’t think it matters.” He thought about it.

“I think of those years a lot. We all knew those years would end but we never talked about the end. And you know what the most important thing was to survive the dorms?” D’Aqs took the question seriously.

“What mattered most was that you never narked on someone.” The old code of etiquette.

“Maybe. That was the golden rule. But when I think about those days I keep thinking of what happened to Lunny.”

“You mean at the end of the year?”

“Yeah, when he spazzed.” Lunny had been the leader of the dorm but when Hellmantle and his classmate Rheine gained power through their daring pranks and mischief, a power struggle ensued, only reaching a breaking point when Chris Lunny lost his cool.

“He certainly did spaz. I remember that day. Wow, I haven’t thought of him for a long time.”

“That, to me, was the most important thing: not to spaz. Because we all hazed each other to reach that point. It was if it was a test of character. You could stand up and fight but you could lose your temper. That was the unwritten test.”

“You and Rheine never spazzed, but it was your confidence in never getting caught that earned respect. Do you remember when Rheine crawled in the dumbwaiter and went down a few floors to the kitchen and then came back up? You were going to go next but Marc Hogan insisted so he went and was caught. Tottenham really made an example of Hogan for that. You know he ended up failing that year?”

“Yup, I remember. Rheine was a natural. It was him who had the gift, not me. Funny, the last thing he said to me on the ski slope was that I was the one who had the gift, that I was the one selected to bring destiny to its rightful place. Even when he was dying he had the guts to say that.” Hellmantle had never spoken of his twin brother’s death with D’Aqs.

“You looked up to him?” D’Aqs, careful and softly.

“I always did. He had this capacity to do things that boggled my mind.”

“He was a great hockey player.”

“That’s what people said. He was an exceptional athlete but that was only a smidgen of his greatness. Sometimes I really get sad thinking of the thousands of miles I’ve ridden alone knowing he would’ve been right beside me laughing and trying to push me off the road. It tears me apart.” He pulled out a cigarette. “His face was so pale when he was lying there. And his eyes were so scared. I wanted to hug him. I wanted to take away all that fear. I wonder how he felt when he died the next day. Damn it! I wish I was there! I had some stupid test that day I couldn’t miss. Fricken Grandfield! Damn it! I should have been there with him. Just there, you know? I’ve never forgiven myself for that. He needed me there.” Hellmantle rattled at the memory, he drank.

“Have you ever thought that the death of a twin is harder on the surviving twin? It must have difficult for him to know he was dying and that it would have such a profound effect on you.”

“You know something, no one has ever said that to me before but you’re right. I used to have these thoughts of dying when I was young and every time I ended up thinking how hard it would be on Rheine. I wish I was there to tell him that.”

“He probably knew.”

“I hate the thought I have of him lying there alone in the hospital thinking I didn’t care. That’s what burns my ass.”

Mantlepiece,” he said, enunciating clearly. “Get that thought out of your mind! The Wineman was your twin brother so of course he knew you cared the most of anyone in the world. You’re just…just hurting yourself.” Hellmantle looked out the window for a while.

“Yeah, you’re right. I should.” He kept staring out the window and thought about all the great times that could have had in life if he hadn’t dared him to take the jump on the ski slope.

Lots of flags in Hanoi

Chapter 25

About how Hellmantle and D’Aqs compare notes

on their task at hand in Hanoi

בּ

They left the Continental in silence for a cluster of cafés near Hoan Kiem Lake. On the flight to Hanoi, D’Aqs had been bothered by what had been revealed at his father’s apartment in Kowloon Tong – the stuff about the Ten Lost Tribes of Israel. When he attended church in Hong Kong afterwards he felt different when he heard the sermon from the priest. Even how he spoke to the abbot at his mission, he found himself now pondering the words of Hellmantle and his father. It was easy for him to dismiss it all as the product of an unbalanced mind, but to hear his father concur so matter-of-factly scared D’Aqs into doing some of his own research. His resistance to this revisionism caused him to spend time reading everything he could about this theory that the northern European peoples were in fact part of the Israelite nation. He did concede that it explained Britain’s prolonged and tenacious efforts in Palestine during World War One, vis-à-vis Lawrence of Arabia, General Allenby and the Sykes-Picot Accord, and its behavior during World War Two doing everything in their power to save their brethren of the House of Judah so they could establish a Jewish homeland by implementing the Balfour Treaty. What he couldn’t understand was why the Catholic Church for centuries had been so anti-Jewish. If the Jews were brothers of the northern European Israelites through Jacob, then why had there been constant persecution?

And he wondered why this wasn’t better known and promoted to the public to encourage tolerance of all peoples?

From the menu D’Aqs read a description of one of the German beers the pub offered: “Nothing like a strong, young one. This generation’s ale. Spiked. Bitter. Exciting. Simply the hippest hops on tap.” He placed the yellowed menu on the white tablecloth and shook his head.

“It sounds like you,” said D’Aqs in an effort to relax.

“Hey, who are you calling bitter?”

“I thought I was calling you hip.” D’Aqs ordered a Hoegaarten, the same beer as Hellmantle.

“Listen, I found something out about the Great Dane and the French Foreign Legion that I think takes precedence.”

“You’ve been doing your homework, have you?”

“Indeed.”

“So have I.”

“Good. Another week off work from the magazine, man! I need to make the most of it so why not brush up on those items affected, n’est-ce pas?” D’Aqs could see he was already wound up from his day in Hanoi. “How much do you know about the battle?”

“To be honest, not much.” This was what D’Aqs wanted to hear because of his lack of information about the French-Vietnamese wars in Indochina so he let Hellmantle unload his gunnysack. Hellmantle pulled out his journal full of notes, placing his finger at a paragraph.

“As far as I can see it, the French colon was in full force over here in its prime, so when all was lost at the battle of Dien Bien Phu in 1954, it made the French even more determined to keep oil-rich Algeria in Africa during the civil war right up to when de Gaulle held the second referendum in 1963, and handed Algeria its independence. But that wasn’t until the Legionnaires fractured and attempted a coup to keep their North African property, which failed and took France to the brink of civil war. That makes what happened over here ten years before all the more important.

“The French refused to cede Indochina and the Foreign Legion was behind that. As history would turn out, the day after the surrender of the French forces at Dien Bien Phu in September 1954, the Geneva Convention was established and in effect was the end of French colonial rule in what are modern-day Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia. There were twelve French battalions stationed at the Legion’s stronghold in Dien Bien Phu that was defending the centuries-old caravan trade route from Burma to China through northern Vietnam. After a 57-day siege of the French garrison at Dien Bien Phu, the Viet Mingh took over. And our man, the Great Dane Hellmantle, was involved in that.”

“Did you ever find out how the Dane found the map?”

“That’s what I wanted to tell you. From what I’ve heard through our society, the Great Dane found the map in a book that a fellow Legionnaire purchased from an old bookstore in Canton, in Guangzhou Province, China.”

“China?”

“The story goes that the Legionnaire folded the map back into the book and paid for the book without declaring the map to the bookseller. It was due to the expertise of the Great Dane in cartography that caused this Legionnaire to bring the map to Dane to see if he knew what the map was about. He learned that the book and map had been brought to Canton by an Englishman from British India.”

India!

“The coincidence that the map had to do with Jesus and the fact that he was part of the Desposyni made him think the map was destined to be his. Realizing the importance of his find, he told a white lie and convinced his fellow Legionnaire that the map was worthless and thus he secured it for himself. As we now know for sure, in order to ensure its safety, the Great Dane didn’t tell anyone about it except for the Dutch priest van der Goodies. See, the Great Dane knew from the brotherhood of the Blonde Aquitaine there had been a long-held prophecy suggesting a map existed that pointed to writings of significant religious importance. It was believed the map and writings would be found during the end of the second millennium. He was able to contact a monk at the Saint Sulpice Monastery in France about the map, and he learned that these journals of religious significance are said to be the secret wisdom of Jesus that will be revealed ‘at the End of Days.’ The prophecy says these buried journals would ‘come clean from the mountaintops’ on Jesus’ birthday, roughly 2000 years after his birth.”

“Jesus would be 2009 years old on March 1st, according to your dates.”

“Yeah, that’s what I calculated. And also Jesus was not His real name. It was Joshua.”

“Yes, in the old Hebrew. I was aware of that.”

“Nice one. “Hellmantle lit a smoke. “It is said that one of the things the original nine leaders of the First Crusade learned in Jerusalem was that there existed original journals of Joshua that had never been found.”

“The First Crusade? Okay. Those guys did a lot.”

“These scrolls have been subject of speculation for religious scholars and researchers for centuries but because there was never any tangible evidence, it was never fully accepted as historically valid, and certainly suppressed by Rome.”

“But from what I’ve recently been reading about the Crusades and chivalry and the knight’s code that these men followed,” said D’Aqs, showing a new keenness, “they were supposed to follow what the church said.”

“Rome or what the hidden, true message was?”

“I suppose that is what was in play during the First Crusade.”

“For a thousand years those who knew the message of Jesus was changed by Rome kept their cards close to their chest so they wouldn’t be killed.”

“So then the first two commandments of chivalry were a double entendre?”

“Exactly. Do you know what they were?”

“Yes, I do actually. The first two of the Ten Commandments of Chivalry are:

Thou shalt believe all that the Church teaches,

and shalt observe all its directions.

Thou shalt defend the Church.”

“You have been doing some reading,” replied Hellmantle, smiling. “But don’t forget the commandment:

Thou shalt be everywhere and always champion of the Right

and the Good against Injustice and Evil.”

“So?”

“So again the commandment allows those who know the untainted message of Jesus to carry out the defence of the family bloodline and the pure message yet have the appearance of pleasing Rome. They knew there has been a mistake – or a fudging – of the real message from Joshua and in the recording of The New Testament by the founders of the church, namely at the Council of Nicaea. The trinity, the virgin birth and declaring Jesus as the Son of God were new inventions added by Rome to the religion that were not there before. I’m sure the Nine Worthies of the First Crusade were aware of this and thus created a knight’s code of chivalry that would not piss off Rome. They needed the Pope’s backing for the Crusade don’t forget.”

“Fair enough.”

“And of course the Council of Nicaea and its additions to the Holy message was reason for the Protestant Reformation and the subsequent Thirty Year’s War that followed, where roughly one-third of the European population was killed. Is this not enough to continue on our quest for the truth? Should our insights into this possibility of another suppressed truth not be explored? Wouldn’t everyone be better off knowing the real story? The truth?”

That, my friend, is the big question. I’ll mull it over as we ride, how’s that?”

“Mulling is good! So let’s head to Dien Bien Phu and look for a colonial prison. And as you know, let’s remember from the Code of Chivalry: Live one’s life so that it is worthy of respect and honor.”

“Okay.”

“By making the noble effort to determine if the map is fiction or not is in itself an act of honor. We are on the path towards fulfilling our destiny! Let nothing deter us in our task!” D’Aqs sat back in his chair and regarded his cousin.

“If being self-possessed,” he said in reply “is being in control of yourself and doing small precise pieces towards a bigger whole, then you are indeed just that.”

“No argument from me cousin. I have decided to do something and now I am going to carry it through. My religion is truth.”

The nighttime brought darkness so they bypassed their discussion about the House of Israel in order to get a good jump on the journey that began early the next day.

French colonial Hanoi

Chapter 26

In which an account is given of the beginning

of the journey of Hellmantle in Vietnam

אּ

In the morning the cousins from Normandy were awakened by the sound of solid metal banging on hollowed tin by one of the many old women who walked down the streets with a wooden cart. Hellmantle went to his balcony and watched her shovel raw waste into the open cart. Heaps of black muck, sullied vegetables, ash and every other possible refuse had been deposited along the edge of the road. Banging on the hollowed tin brought people out on the streets for their daily garbage purge. He was watching the frantic catharsis of people sweeping and shoveling the debris from the roadside puddles when D’Aqs appeared on the balcony.

“What’s the racket?”

“Garbage pickup. But alas! Let’s get on the motorbike and gazelle young knight,” said Hellmantle, getting right to the point. They packed up and Hellmantle doubled D’Aqs on his bike to the rental shop where D’Aqs rented the same model as Hellmantle. They now both had a Harley Davidson type of bike called a Moc Chau with a 150cc engine. Hellmantle insisted on getting this bike because he foresaw the need for something with power to ride through the mountains. 

“My motorcycle wisdom tells me it is a smart move. Simple. Reliable. Durable for the terrain about to be conquered.”

Outside roaming tribes of Moc Chau motorcycles cruised the road in a hum around them. Leaves fluttered from the thick boughs that lined the streets and punctuated the gaps between the colonial architecture – the yellowed walls of the French. With a full tank of gas and compass in hand, Hellmantle was confident that they would find their turn that led due west and upwards to the mountains. However it was almost noon by the time they found their way out of the spaghetti streets of Hanoi and hit Highway 6.

The road led to a new frontier of endless miles of rice paddies, squared beside each other like a grid. The rice fields spread out towards distant clusters of trees dotted on the horizon as the two motorcyclists from the Hellmantle/Grosseteste clan slipped it into top gear and opened up the throttle. They cruised towards Son-tay, past meandering cyclists and mountain women who waved at them as they passed. Many of the men had long white beards like their hero Ho Chi Ming. They rode through towns moving farther west with their helmets dangling from their knapsacks. Hellmantle’s long hair and beard was blown back by the wind. It stirred something within, so he yelled:

“Most people work to live and then wait to die, but we live to play on two wheels!”

For hours the cousins traveled west until they hit the first of the mountains just before Hoa Bin. Palm trees covered the mountains as they ascended the range along a well-paved highway. At the bottom of the Da River Gorge going to Mai Chau, they took the corner slowly as they gawked in wonder at the depth of the gorge at one corner. It was staggering with its rugged stone cut so dramatically that was at the mercy of a blue-water current.

A day in the country with no stops and an endless road that kept going way after sunset, darkness fell slowly for over an hour until Hellmantle found a little colony of huts on stilts built on top of rice paddies. The turn off from the main road took them along a raised dirt path right into the rice fields to an oasis of wooden huts. They both parked, checked-in and went to their hut that had bamboo branches for a roof.

When Hellmantle saw the tourists sitting in a group watching an aboriginal hill tribe dancing and singing in a choreographed ritual, he realized this was the ‘overnighter’ from Hanoi for the old fogies and armchair tourists. D’Aqs noticed that he didn’t resent them like he had in Sagada; he merely regarded them with curious interest.

Later, from under the mosquito netting on his bed and assuming a habit learned from Hellmantle, D’Aqs studied the maps. Upon locating where they were on the map he felt a tingling kick known to all adventurers. He tried to pinpoint a possible location of a French prison along their route to Dien Bien Phu.

Hellmantle was reading a book on Vietnam. There was only the sound of crickets through the windows. Neither of them wanted to see the tourists with freshly pressed pants, so they stayed in the room and drank beer while Hellmantle sampled Vietnamese betel nut.

“So what do you know about this big swinging stick, Ho Chi Ming?” he asked his missionary cousin.

“Communist leader and founder of modern Vietnam,” he replied with textbook accuracy.

“From the information I’m reading here,” said Hellmantle, “Ho Chi Ming had an interesting life. Want to hear about it?” D’Aqs nodded but kept his eyes pinned on the maps. “Born in 1890 and named ‘Bringer of Light,’ he worked as a teacher until the age of 21 when he signed on as a cook’s apprentice in 1911 on a French ship, which took him to North America, Africa and Europe. After working at a number of different jobs in cities like Paris and London, he was one of the founding members of the French Communist Party in 1920. The year before it is said that he handed Woodrow Wilson an independence plan for Vietnam to get out from under the French thumb. He was then recruited by the Russians who sent Uncle Ho to Canton in China as part of the Communist International. Uncle Ho then founded the Revolutionary Youth League in China, which ended up being a precursor to the Indochina Communist Party and the Vietnamese Communist Party.”

“Hmm, who would have guessed? Always labeled a bad egg.”

“In the 1930s Uncle Ho was imprisoned by the British in Hong Kong for his revolutionary activities and from pressure by the French. After eventually being released, he went to Moscow and Beijing and then returned to Vietnam in 1941, the first time in 30 years. He was again arrested in 1942, this time by the Nationalist Chinese. When the Japanese invaded Vietnam, he organized the August Revolution in 1945, which took over most of Vietnam. When the French returned after the Japanese fled, Uncle Ho took off into the bush where he then spent eight years conducting guerilla warfare against the Legionnaires and French colonialists. After the defeat of the French in 1954, he led North Vietnam until his death in 1969 and never saw the victory over the south. After some more turbulence with the Americans, the Socialist Republic of Vietnam (SRV) was founded in 1979, which is how things stand today.”

“Amazing. And today he is still revered as the founding father of agrarian Vietnam,” said D’Aqs, eating peanuts. “Strange as it may sound, from the riding today I was impressed with how well manicured the fields were, especially compared to what we saw in the Philippines.”

“Funny, I thought the same thing. Just from what I saw today, not one inch of land was wasted. The fields are cared for. It’s no wonder that Vietnam supplies China and the world with rice.”

“Aren’t they the largest producer of rice in the world?”

“Yep.” They both mulled these facts over.

“It makes you wonder if communism, which after all is an agrarian political system of governance, fits this type of geography and culture.” He shivered and climbed under the covers. It was cold on the rice patties at night.

“Seems to buck against what we were taught growing up, doesn’t it?”

“Makes it seem like simple Western propaganda.”

“Speaking of which, listen to this Orwellian national slogan for Vietnam: ‘Doc Lap – Tu Do – Hanh Phuc,’ which means: ‘Independence – Freedom – Happiness.’”

 “What was the last one? Hand fuck?” Laughter. But again D’Aqs was struck with an uneasy feeling. It was more truth discovered that unmasked the lies fed to them from the powers that be. So much was taught that simply wasn’t true. Guile. He hated that.

Hellmantle stayed absorbed in his little book.

“Did you know that over 3000 Legionnaires and French army were buried under rice paddies?”

“No, I did not.”

“It says here that in 1994 the Vietnamese government allowed the French veterans of Dien Bien Phu to restage their paratroop drop exactly forty years after the battle.”

“I heard about that. It wasn’t that long ago.”

“I think we had some family partake in that.”

“So, I know we spoke of this yesterday, and excuse my ignorance,” said D’Aqs, putting his map down, “but what exactly happened at Dien Bien Phu? You’ve read about it. What can you tell me about what happened?” D’Aqs found he had a keener interest the more he felt short-changed from what they were learning from going out into the world and seeing for themselves.

Hellmantle summarized from his little book.

“After failing with an initial assault, the Viet Mingh, backed by 33 infantry battalions, six artillery regiments and a regiment of engineers, camouflaged themselves and dug in on the hills overlooking the French position. They prevented vital supplies and reinforcements from reaching the Legionnaires despite six battalions parachuting into Dien Bien Phu to save their fellow Frenchmen.”

“They basically starved them.”

“Yep. Grampa Hellmantle and that chap Louis de Steward were two of the parachutists who landed on April 14, 1954. In their trenches and tunnels, the Viet Mingh were able to seize the Legion Citadel and kill or imprison over 13,000 Legionnaires and French regular army. Casualties of Viet Mingh are recorded at 25,000 it says here.”

Hellmantle turned off the light and he spoke from across the room.

“I have a theory. Well, it’s not really my theory but it’s speculation from what I heard when I was growing up.”

“Oh no,” replied D’Aqs, eyes now closed.

“France is Catholic. Yes?”

Oui.”

“The theory is that the French troops were in possession of important information relating to a treasure of a religious nature. And that this was a primary reason for the paratroopers’ descent into almost certain death. Of course it was hushed up because nothing was found.”

“The Legionnaires landed in Dien Bien Phu because of the map?” D’Aqs shook his head. “That’s a bit much.”

“No, no, wait for it. I had heard my father once say that all serious Grail scholars have heard the rumor that suggested that a map existed of a lost treasure that was said to belong to Jesus himself. He thought that the Legionnaires were played unwittingly as a pawn in the quest to secure the map. It was only after the Great Dane’s death that stories like this leaked out. That’s how we came to know the rumor that the Great Dane had succeeded in finding the map to the treasure but that it had been lost or buried during the battle. It was said that all those who knew of its whereabouts had been killed, and thus the secret of the map’s location had been lost forever. But the Blonde Aquitaine remained interested in its rediscovery.

“Remember, one of the commandments of chivalry is:

Thou shalt perform scrupulously thy feudal duties,

if they be not contrary to the laws of God.

“We must complete our mission and bring about a change in this misrepresentation perpetrated by the Catholic Church, and bring justice to our ancestor Joshua the Nazarene. This cone of silence has to be corrected, and this responsibility falls on our shoulders because we are the offspring of the Messiah and thus must make right what is wrong. Our chivalry is not to an earthly woman of love, but rather to God who lives in the empyrean above us watching us even now. We don’t have a choice D’Aqs. I know it is my destiny. Faith and hope guide me to the end of our course. Only those with the depth of belief can attain this impossible task before us, and those faint of will can never even approach the obstacles that lie in our path to bring the true message to all peoples of the earth! The research and new evidence that has come to light over the last twenty years is proof enough that now is the time in world history when this change must occur!”

Spittle was all over Hellmantle’s beard when he finished his little speech. A fear reappeared in D’Aqs gut when he thought of how easily a man like Hellmantle could get himself killed with such an unaccepted position and close-minded self-righteousness. But despite his concerns about his cousin, D’Aqs soon fell into a deep slumber there on top of the rice paddies.

Agrarian countryside

Chapter 27

About how Hellmantle and his brave squire ride north

to the place where the four rivers meet

Near Mai Chau, Hoa Binh Province

אָ

It was to the distant melody of bagpipes that Hellmantle woke up. Still in bed under the mosquito net, when he caught a whiff of Scotland he sprang out of bed, slipped on his boots and climbed down from the wooden hut. He walked out to the rice paddies along the trail of dried mud. He was soon soaked in the fog covering the mountaintops on the immediate horizon, looking for the bagpiper. The smell in the air was rich with moisture and the jungles of Southeast Asia, sending a chill of energy down his spine at the thought of the riding before them.

“Must have been a dream,” he mumbled to himself in justification for standing in the middle of a rice paddy at the crack of dawn.

After having a Coke and some salted crackers for breakfast in their wooden legged hut in the stilted colony amidst rice paddies, Hellmantle and D’Aqs hopped on their Russian-made motorcycles and rode past the pasty tourists who were on their way on foot to the Da River Gorge before they had to run back to their bus. As Hellmantle rode past the group of tourists, he said to the wind:

“Not for us! We are the captains of our own one-man, two-wheeled ship!” It caused him to think more about this phenomenon of soft-bellied tourists who walked in a country and then returned to their hometowns bragging that they had been to an exotic country and how amazing it had been. To him, most people spent their free time doing nothing, that is, watching an electronic box and thinking of their bank account growing. They say to themselves: “If I can just hold on a bit longer!” Slouched on a couch watching a sitcom is a slumbering “activity” to these soft peoples! Activities like taking buses to pre-arranged tourist attractions promoted soft tummies commonly found in slumbering peoples everywhere. These people seldom throw caution to the wind because their will is dormant. If these softies do have a will, then it should be called the Will to Slumber!

Mile and after mile Hellmantle and D’Aqs ascended into the mountain range of Vietnam, deeper and deeper into the thicker jungle around them. Fewer rice paddies the steeper the roads became. To Hellmantle, North Vietnam was different than other Southeast Asian countries he had been to. People up here in the north were strong and resilient; he could see it in their faces. The sheer work ethic was light years away from that of the Philippines for example, or Thailand. The endless rice fields that they passed were beyond count, and the number of people working on the fields was even more impressive. And the flags! Hellmantle had never been to a country with more flags. Almost every household had been given a free flag and flagpole in the towns they had ridden through so far. No man had ever seen more red flags in one place before!

Entire streets in Hanoi and the country towns were decked out in Communist flags.

It didn’t take Hellmantle long to see that motorcycles were ideal instruments for the long, never-ending French-built roads of North Vietnam. The lowlands had no discernable traffic law enforcement, but it didn’t matter so much because the Vietnamese were expert motorcyclists. Passing on the left with the slower bikes to the right was adhered to as the golden rule on the road. There was also a noticeable fellow-motorcyclist theme whenever a car pushed through. That was the thing about North Vietnam: there were hardly any cars in the countryside because they weren’t practical. And because trucks and cars hadn’t chewed the roads up, the pavement was smooth for the two-wheeled flow.

For Hellmantle, eight out of ten of the 80 million Vietnamese looked identical. There was hardly any genetic variation. As he cruised he considered the history of the country: for the last 2000 years, the Vietnamese, from their base in the north, had expanded their control to the Mekong Delta and Saigon. Apart from their skirmishes with Cambodians, Americans and Japanese, there was the Chinese. After Saigon fell to communism in 1975, the Vietnamese communists launched a campaign in 1978 against the ‘bourgeois elements,’ which ended up being a euphemism for entrepreneurial Chinese. Over a third of the Chinese population fled Vietnam back to China causing China to attack the country in 1979. He wondered how many westerners knew that, as he steered his bike around beautifully engineered corners.

Riding into the afternoon sun, they reached Son La where they filled up with gas.

“Ah, Dien Bien Phu: How many kilometers to Dien Bien Phu?” Hellmantle asked the guy selling fuel.

“Uh? Dien Bien Phu hah?” he replied.

“Yah, yah. Dien Bien Phu. How many kilometers to Dien Bien Phu?” The question finally registered as his free hand reached for his chin. The gas attendant shook his head and said:

“One thousand fifty kilo-me-ters. Dien Bien Phu hah.”

“One hundred and fifty kilo-me-ters? Yes?” Hellmantle confirmed. He then pointed to his wristwatch. “How many hours, hours to Dien Bien Phu?” Again the hand to the chin came into play.

“Eight” answered the gasman.

“Eight hours and Dien Bien Phu will be within our grasp,” he said to D’Aqs. “That sounds about right.”

“Let’s press on to the battle site due west.”

“And keep your eyes open for anything that looks like a prison.”

Hellmantle and D’Aqs cruised between Son La and Tuam Giao, through the pass in the afternoon fog. The road was just as smooth as the previous track from the colony on stilts in Mai Chau.

Since there was so much agrarian activity, there were spats of mud on the road that created some small slides and skids. They had to muster to overcome these hazards. Hammering mile after mile, it became a real life videogame where the motorcycle and the wind and the temperatures and the gears were real, and any wrong move did not yield a second chance. Hellmantle knew from experience that it was easy to think that the riding wasn’t real. It was too easy to think it was a videogame. If a motorcyclist did he would believe that if he crashed he could get up again and replay. But these skids were real and they shook Hellmantle’s tank of adrenalin. To him the groovy thing was that the civil engineers had created turns that were so well designed that he didn’t even have to turn the handlebars; he only had to lean. As a displaced Norman, he was pretty sure the engineers had been French trained.

With hardly any vehicles on the road, he led the way climbing in third gear and gliding down the descent on the other side like madmen hell-bent to get to the bottom of a mystery.

Ω

The sun began to set in front of them behind huge rocks protruding from a mountain lake. Hellmantle was too much into the flow of the ride to think about stopping. He could feel the windburn on his cheeks passing the mountains through the valley with fog and steep slopes. With warm and dry feet and the evening cool against his skin, he descended into the Tuan GiaoDien Bien Phu valley hoping to reach Dien Bien Phu. The roads were as smooth as silk but with the mountain fog, visibility was an issue.

Seemingly in the middle of nowhere, when they were still miles from Dien Bien Phu, Hellmantle and D’Aqs came across an old hotel with the classic yellow colonial façade and turret of les Francaise Colon, but the odd thing was that it was literally the only colonial building in the village. At an intersection of some rivers, there was a large fort on the hill overlooking the hotel. Hellmantle could only infer that the reason for the hotel would had been for French troops moving north to the border of Laos and China.

They parked their motorcycles at the hotel and got a room. The hotel was empty and run by a family who lived on the main floor. During dinner Hellmantle asked about the fort.

“It is a French prison that the Japanese used and then went back to the French,” replied the wife serving them dinner. Hellmantle and D’Aqs exchanged looks.

“Used during the Battle of Dien Bien Phu?” Hellmantle asked.

“They used it for French troops going there,” the husband answered. “They supplied them using this as their route.” The bread they ate was warm.

“And it is used today?” D’Aqs, interest perked.

“No one is there.” The man’s eyes were honest and his heart was good. Humanity was indeed planet-wide, Hellmantle thought to himself.

“And the rivers? How many rivers meet here?” The man laughed and shook his head at D’Aqs.

“How many rivers meet? I don’t know. There are two or three I think. And there are some waterfalls that run down from the tops into this river.”

“My God! Could it be!” exclaimed Hellmantle, startling the husband and wife. They moved away from them, now suspicious, cleaning up the dinner table swiftly.

Upstairs it was D’Aqs and not Hellmantle that couldn’t wait for sunrise to explore the prison. They both had their maps open each pinpointing where they were and seeing where there were two rivers converging. They both suspected there were more than just the two shown on the map.

D’Aqs was surprised that Hellmantle seemed more interested in smoking and drinking and chewing his betel nut than discussing tomorrow’s plan.

“You shouldn’t smoke in here. And why are you drinking so much? Doesn’t seem very…very Blonde Aquitaine. Remember, one of the codes of chivalry is exhibit self-control.” D’Aqs might have struck too close to the bone so he waited for a reply.

“Do you know what the Ten Knightly Virtues are?” he asked in a firm tone.

“No, not all of them. Do you?”

“Certainly. As members of the secret brotherhood we must commit these ten knightly virtues to heart, just as we have for the Code of Chivalry.”

“So enlighten me.”

“They are:

Chastity be free of sins of the flesh

Humilityto keep pride at bay

Rectitudeto remain objective and just

Charityto keep your heart full of the Holy Spirit

Chivalryto give respect to your fellow man

Courageto give power to your convictions

Fidelityto be loyal to your purpose

Truthfulnever deviate from a life of truth

Faithto always keep you within God’s realm

Compassionto know the soft side of mercy.”

“I see.”

“Now where in there does it say I can’t chew betel nut and drink beer now and again?”

“The one about sins of the flesh.”

“Chastity? I’d say it refers to sexual sins in the traditional definition.”

“Well, I guess if you remain objective and just then I can’t find anything that says you can’t have your smoke. If you choose to imbibe, then look sharp man!” D’Aqs showing backbone caused Hellmantle to sit up in his cot, but after a few seconds slouched again.

“If we find something tomorrow, it will be just like the original nine members of the Templars finding the buried sacred geometry under Solomon’s stables in 1106.”

“Why’s that? Because this map could lead to the discovery of religious scrolls that could send shockwaves through religious communities throughout the world?”

“Yes,” replied Hellmantle. “I did some research after hearing all that stuff last time at your father’s place and I discovered that during the fourth-century there was a man who taught Nazarene thought in Spain by the name of Priscillian of Avila, who, among other beliefs, taught that Jesus had an identical twin brother named Jude Thomas. It was believed for centuries that Jesus had an identical twin, but of course it contradicts the church in Rome because then there would have to be two Messiahs, both a product of a virgin birth. This belief was centered in Western Europe in modern-day Aquitaine, Gallicia and Brittany, all of which are on the sea routes between Egypt, Spain and Great Britain.”

“Now that is interesting. There has already been a precedent.”

“Because these places had a constant influx of new ideas that circumvented the power of Rome, these Nazarene beliefs remained for centuries. It ultimately culminated with the Spanish Inquisition nearly a thousand years later. Anyone who deviated from Rome’s tenets were persecuted and whatnot.”

“Rome has so much blood on its hands.”

“Of course the Prior de Sion brotherhood has been busy pointing out that Jesus had an identical twin brother since before the Renaissance. Most recently the President of the Prior de Sion – Berenger Sauniere – commissioned decorations in the Rennes-le-Chateau church showing Mary and Joseph holding identical baby Christ-Childs in their hands.”

D’Aqs thought about this untaught point of Christian history, again revisiting that discomforting twinge in his gut that he had been fooled.

“A twin is a problem for the church because why would one twin go up to heaven and the other identical not? It’s too difficult to justify.” In the silence D’Aqs went on. “Therefore take Thomas out of the picture and focus on the resurrection. Jesus and Thomas as twins and as old men together in Kashmir Valley shows that they are both men and not the sons of God but rather like the rest of us, men of the earth with a Holy Spirit.” When he stopped talking he could hear snores coming from Hellmantle across the room intermixed with the myriad of sounds coming from the jungles outside. In due course D’Aqs’ eyelids became like led and fell downwards to shut off his sight and put him to sleep.

Where the rivers meet

Chapter 28

Concerning the French prison and what Hellmantle finds there

100km east of Dien Bien Phu, Son La Province

אַ

In the morning, instead of eating breakfast – in anticipation of what might befall him in the day ahead – 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 Hellmantle’s 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, though perhaps destruction isn’t the correct word. I’d say something like a wake of mischief and laughter with no one getting hurt…most of the time.”

“Someone always got hurt when you were involved. I used to watch and wait until whoever you were sparring with would either limp away with a severe bruise or sprang, or getting the cane from Tottenham.” The reference to Tottenham – the headmaster of the lower school at boarding school – brought a flood of memories.

“Remember that time about six of us went out to play Space Invaders downtown that night, must’ve have been late November.”

“I how could I not? Grandfield…” D’Aqs didn’t want to retell the shame of being caned for the first time. It shamed him profoundly because he had been 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 bent and in pain like a broken piece of cold toast. Hellmantle was finally called in for dinner after twenty-one kilometers of running – the go-to form of punishment back in those early days of the boarding school experience.

“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.” Colour in Hellmantle’s cheeks there at the kitchen table in that dusty village in north Vietnam.

“We won that cricket 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 an English Lord.”

“He was a real Lord you know?” Hellmantle nodded.

“Yep, I remember that. He looked like a Lord.” D’Aqs, recalling these memories, looked like he was fifteen again, sitting on the bottom bunk in their dormitory 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 strolling down the hallways of the lower house in between 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, then that would be the best punishment solution for you. Only if!’ he said, raising his hand. ‘Only if you never get a twenty-four again! Deal?’ He put out his hand and I was nervous as hell, because his hand was so big!” D’Aqs laughed at the unknowing Asperger’s manifesting so early.

“What book were you holding?” Hellmantle shook his head.

Chaz said the book changed him after reading it.”

“What book?”

“And that happened to me too. It changed me. I didn’t know people wrote like that.”

“And the book was?”

“The book he asked me to read was Leaves of Grass.”

“Walt 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. I never knew writing could be that way – just words describing ideas and emotions in nature, without convention. That book of poems gave me a strong sense of new boundaries and new possibilities at a time when convention and conformism was beginning to wreck my buzz – especially at that age: grade eight. It didn’t rhyme and it didn’t follow the iambic pentameter structure; it was just flowing words.” D’Aqs felt admiration at his cleverness to deflect to the bookshelves before the business at hand of being caned for his misbehaviour, and envy at how his own caning had been horrible that had left emotional scars he felt still to this day.

“So you went in for a caning by the Lower School Headmaster but left 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 you 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, me and Grandfield.” They laughed 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. Rhodes scholar my ass.”

“So how do you think that saved you? Do you think he recognized your face?”

“I’ve been wondering that for 30 years. If I saw him how could he not 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 Dorm. 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.”

“Eccentric you mean. All started at boarding school.”

“Well you get an A-plus for consistency.”

“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 D’Aqs, “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.

The Russian-made motorbike

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

“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 intact 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. This part 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 Khmer 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 examined 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 down 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 Aquitaine.

“See it?”

It’s the Aquitaine cross!” said D’Aqs.

Hellmantle peeled 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.”

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 breathe. 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.

The old French prison

Chapter 29

Concerning the discovery of the bottle and what lies inside of it

French Prison, 100km east of Dien Bien Phu, Son La Province

שּׂ

The sky had clouded over and rain was immanent so helmets were preferable. Hellmantle started his motorcycle and tucked his hair away from his eyes under his helmet.

“Fortune favors those who help themselves!” he yelled. With his eyes like pee holes in the snow, Hellmantle popped a wheelie and they rode off north towards Dien Bien Phu. But in Hellmantle’s excitement he couldn’t wait to make it to Dien Bien Phu, so at the first decent waterfall, Hellmantle parked.

“Are you sure this is wise?” Hellmantle, looking very much like a boy who had been given a Christmas present by Santa Claus, bolted up the mountainside away from the road leaving D’Aqs standing there with his hands on his hips in the light drizzle. He threw up his hands and joined his manic cousin in a secluded spot where they sat down. The cork had been pushed in deeply so it was difficult to twist out. With his Swiss Army knife, Hellmantle edged around the cork and was able to loosen it. After a minute the cork dislodged from the bottle.

“Easy!” said D’Aqs, now just as giddy as Hellmantle. D’Aqs was in a state of suspended disbelief. Then with the tweezers from his knife, Hellmantle guided the rolled paper out of the bottle. There were two pieces rolled together.

“This one isn’t paper. I can tell from the weight that it’s papyrus. I have seen the same material from Egypt. It’s old! And maybe it’s from the hand of Joshua the Nazarene Himself!”

“No, no.”

“Do you see now, dear D’Aqs, that our destiny is such that we will find the missing documents and restore distorted truth with truth?” The edges were discolored on both but there were no tears in the material. Only some mildew on one of the corners of the papyrus marred its quality, and some of the ink had faded.

Gently Hellmantle opened the rolled papyrus on a rock. There before them was a small map with mountains and valleys and markings that indicated a place close to a mountain with an ‘X’. There was writing along the top that was illegible to Hellmantle.

“I’m not much good at anything other than motorcycling,” he said. “But you are good with languages, are you not?” 

That, my dear sir, looks like Arabic,” he replied. The map only showed geographical markings and was precise in its rendering but with little reference.

“I can’t tell what scale this map is in. If it’s just these mountains and this valley then it could be anywhere.”

“There are four peaks on either side of the valley. That’s distinctive,” said D’Aqs.

“We need to translate this Arabic so we know where we should look!”

“What about the rolled up piece of paper?” Hellmantle unravelled the paper, which was moist and yellowed with age.

“There is something written on it.”

“What does it say? There!” D’Aqs pointing to the handwriting. “It’s French.”

“Don’t tell me you don’t read French!” Hellmantle said, alarmed and surprised. D’Aqs blushed.

“My French isn’t that good despite growing up in Canada. I’ve never had the chance to really learn French.”

“But it’s your mother tongue, the language of the Desposyni! The most beautiful language in the world.” He only shrugged and again pointed to the writing on the soggy piece of yellowed paper.

“What does it say?” Hellmantle leaned over the paper and read:

‘Devant toutes choses quiquioques seit chevalier de Christ. Eslisant tant sainte conversation, toi entor la profession, covient ajouster pure diligence e ferme perseverance, qui est si digne et si sainte, et si haute est coneue a ester, que se ele est gardee purement et pardurablement, tu desserviras a tenir compaignie entre les martirs qui donernet por Jhesu Christ lor arms.’

“Unbelievable!” he said. “It’s a quote from the spiritual father of the First Crusade! Connective tissue to real history!”

“Can you translate it from the French into English?” Hellmantle, proud of his heritage and protective of all that was French, could not resist giving D’Aqs a look of pity.

“It is from our spiritual leader Saint Bernard de Clairvaux. It’s the Prologue to the Latin Rule. In English it means:

Above all things whoever is a knight of Christ choosing only holy conversation, you who have taken the vow should add pure diligence and firm perseverance, which are worthy and holy and recognized as elevated virtues, so that if you observe it in all its purity and eternity you will be worthy of keeping company with the martyrs who give their souls for Jesus Christ.

“My word!”

I bet it’s written by the Great Dane himself! It must be a message to whomever finds the map. Look!” Hellmantle pointed to something written at the bottom of the piece of paper that had faded from time. The words ‘Vale de Kashmir’ were written in pencil that were faded.

“What does it mean?”

“Kashmir Valley in French! The map must be of Kashmir Valley! That’s where Thomas is! And here, it says Heaven on Earth.” There was an eerie silence at the sound of these words. Only the sound of a splashing waterfall was heard as well as the mix of sounds from the jungle around them.

“In India?”

“Don’t forget cousin that we are the Desposyni, and as such have a responsibility to maintain our identity and honor our bloodline. As Saint Bernard de Clairvaux once wrote:

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.”

Amazed and overcome, D’Aqs for the first time envied Hellmantle’s zeal and dedication to the Desposyni cause. He saw that in his own life he didn’t have beliefs that were so passionate and unyielding. His cousin’s belief was so deep and his obsession with Grail lore so sincere that it had originally struck fear into gut, but now, with the discovery of the map, there was a newcomer to the mix of emotions stirring within him. It was a feeling of guilt that he had been too skeptical and disbelieving for too many years about this hidden history. Looking into Hellmantle’s bloodshot eyes, he felt shame for not having faith in his father, and that this history had some historical basis to it all. There before him was an ancient map proving that this legend was real and not a fairy tale. The map, the lost scroll and the legend of the Holy Grail might be as real as the cut on his hand. D’Aqs then made a silent vow before God to now put faith in his eccentric cousin and to follow him to the end of his holy quest.

North Vietnam

Chapter 30

Concerning the journey to Dien Bien Phu in honor of their grandfather

the Great Dane Hellmantle of Normandy

Along the Da River Valley, Son La Province

שּׁ

The Asian jungle covered the steep mountain range on both sides of the road that camouflaged its height. Trees were so lush that it looked like one prolonged colony of abundant moss covering a long stretch of rock. The mountains were so high up that the orographic factor kicked in. It was moist up here in the mountains of northern Vietnam but the sun still singed the treetops every afternoon. Since the valleys were so deep, a lot of the moisture from the rain remained unburnt in the underbrush.

The river narrowed as Hellmantle and D’Aqs climbed along the dugout side of the mountains. The engines hummed as they closed on the site of the battle. A sign saying Dien Bien Phu in English told them they were close. The vegetation was still as thick as it was a thousand feet below. Hellmantle enjoyed leaning into turns around slow corners as he pressed on past steep drops with only a token, broken-down guardrail as a buffer against a freefall a thousand feet down.

Arriving in Dien Bien Phu

It was past nine when they finally turned onto the main road in Dien Bien Phu. All the stores were shut but there were groups of people hanging around a motorcycle or two. Hellmantle rode all the way down the road until he hit the countryside on the other side of town. During the ride through the main road there was only one possible place he saw that could be a guesthouse, so he doubled back and found a dormant palm-tree laden inn that was open.

Hellmantle, feeling the effects of his bitter and chewy breakfast, barely had enough energy to walk to the kitchen and wolf down a half-dozen boiled eggs sans yoke with tough stale bread and water and beer. The still air caused him to feel the windburn on his cheeks. Sitting there at the table he looked down at his muddy boots. In that moment he yearned for his nine-year old pair of Arizona Birkenstocks.

“We need your passport sir,” said the hotel manager who had checked them in.

“Why?” Hellmantle asked.

“So I can enter data into the records.” He forgot how much paperwork existed in a communist system.

“Oh yeah, the passport,” he said slowly as he reached for his cold Double X beer.

“When sir?”

“I’ll get it when I merge up to my room when I’m done here,” he replied motioning to the pile of broken eggshells in front of him. Just as the small Vietnamese man was about to speak, Hellmantle gave him a nod indicating that he would prefer to eat in peace. He left the tall foreigners to their strict dinner of boiled eggs and bread and crackers and chips and packaged peanuts, choosing a diet that would avoid hepatitis from the locally cooked food. The cook was thoughtful enough to bring a side dish of salt that clung to the hot albumin effectively, but to D’Aqs it was a feast fit for a king. The road had worked him hard and had awakened a deep faith in their purpose.

The hotel’s café was empty so Hellmantle took out the papyrus map.

“If this map is of India, then what your father believes might be true.”

“Are we certain it’s India?”

“See, it shows the Ganges. And it says ‘Vale de Kashmir.’ It’s definitely India.”

“What theory of his may be true?” Hellmantle gave him a look. “Well he has so many!” They both looked at D’Aqs’ scar on his hand.

“It’s his idea that Jesus survived the crucifixion.” Instead of his usual rolling of the eyes upon hearing this, D’Aqs no longer considered it utter nonsense, which was new.

“Do you really think Jesus survived the cross?” Hellmantle took a long swig from his beer and tried to open his eyes a bit more from the slits they were. The bridge of his nose was already peeling from the ravages of the sun.

“If it hadn’t been for Simon Kokhbar’s unsuccessful rebellion in 66AD, then perhaps things would have worked out differently after Jesus’ crucifixion. But this was not the case. Instead Jesus’ original message underwent a transformation into what is known as Pauline Christianity, named after the efforts of the Apostle Paul.”

“Original name was Saul, was it not?”

“Yeah. The gospels went through an evolution where they changed the emphasis of the religion to ensure survival in a stricter, post-rebellion Roman province. That’s why so much of the New Testament is written in code, like the Book of Revelation. In fact it was from this rebellion in Palestine that lasted from 66-70AD that essentially outlawed all adherents of non-Pauline Christianity. The real inheritors of the message of Jesus went to Syria and Mesopotamia and Egypt, where they carried on their ministry. But they had become a target for Rome to persecute and oppress.

“So with the real descendants of Jesus’ message outlawed and ostracized, the stage was set for the gradual body-checking out of the adherents to the uncorrupted message. The eventual domination was in Rome’s favor. It wasn’t until the Renaissance that the cult of the Merovingians resurfaced in the form of rebellious art and symbolism in churches.”

“Leonardo da Vinci.”

“And other leaders of the Prior de Sion. Sure. These were expressions of rebellion against the dominant Pauline thought of Rome. So with proper Nazarene teachings branded heresy, Paul’s interpretation essentially hijacked the real message of Jesus, leaving it discarded and forgotten in history except for those descendants of the bloodline of Jesus. You and I, who are descendants of Jesus’ bloodline – the holy blood – represent the Desposyni. And some secret societies – like the Prior de Sion and the Blonde Aquitaine – carry on in secret against the monster power of Rome still to this day.”

“But the Roman Church is mammoth. Over a billion Catholics. Biggest religion in the world.”

“Yes. That’s why these secret societies called Paul the ‘pseudapostolorum,’ or a ‘false apostle.’” D’Aqs reached for the map and rubbed the bottom corner of what he thought was debris, but it wasn’t. It was very small writing that read: “Deuter 33.”

“Look!”

“I see it! Do you have your Bible here?” Hellmantle asked him. D’Aqs pulled out his mobile NIV and handed it to him. Hellmantle flipped to the Book of Deuteronomy, Chapter 33. “Here you read it. I know this by heart.

D’Aqs took the Good Book and read it aloud:

These are the blessings that Moses, the man of God, pronounced on the people of Israel before he died.

‘The Lord came from Mount Sinai;

he rose like the sun over Edom

and shone on his people from Mount Paran.

Ten thousand angels were with him,

a flaming fire at his right hand.

The Lord loves his people

and protects those who belong to him.

So we bow at his feet

and obey his commands.

We obey the Law that Moses

gave us,

our nation’s most treasured possession.

The Lord became king of his people Israel

when their tribes and leaders

were gathered together.

Moses said about the tribe of Reuben:

‘May Reuben never die out,

Although their people are few.’

About the tribe of Judah he said:

‘Lord, listen to their cry for help;

Unite them again with the other tribes.

Fight for them, Lord,

And help them against their enemies.’”

“See? It says unite them with the other tribes, as in the Ten Lost Tribes of Israel or otherwise known as the House of Israel. This isn’t fiction My Son! Are you beginning to see now?”

“I see it. I am having a whole new take on this.”

D’Aqs continued:

“About the tribe of Levi he said:

‘You, Lord, reveal your will by the Urim and Thummim

Through your faithful servants, the Levites;

You put them to the test at Massah

And proved them true at the waters of Meribah.

They showed greater loyalty to you

Than to parents, brothers, or children.

They obeyed your commands

And were faithful to your altar.

Lord, help their tribe to grow strong;

Be pleased with what they do.

Crush all their enemies;

Let them never rise again.’

About the tribe of Benjamin he said:

‘This is the tribe the Lord loves and protects;

He guards them all the day long,

And he dwells in their midst.’

“That’s us! That’s why you’re so reckless. He loves us and protects us!

“About the tribe of Joseph he said:

‘May the Lord bless their land with rain

And with water from under the earth.

May their land be blessed with sun-ripened fruit,

Rich with the best fruits of each season.

May their ancient hills be covered with choice fruit.

May their land be filled with all that is good,

Blessed by the goodness of the Lord,

Who spoke from the burning bush.

May these blessings come to the tribe of Joseph,

Because he was the leader among his brothers.

Joseph has the strength of a bull,

The horns of a wild ox.

His horns are Manasseh’s thousands

And Ephraim’s ten thousands.

With them he gores the nations

And pushes them to the ends of the earth.’

“The British Empire!

“About the tribes of Zebulun and Issachar he said:

‘May Zebulun be prosperous in their trade on the sea,

And may Issachar’s wealth increase at home.

They invite foreigners to their mountain

And offer the right sacrifices there.

They get their wealth from the sea

And from the sand along the shore.’”

About the tribe of Gad he said:

‘Praise God, who made their territory large.

Gad waits like a lion

To tear off an arm or a scalp.

They took the best of the land for themselves;

A leader’s share was assigned to them.

They obeyed the Lord’s commands and laws

When the leaders of Israel were gathered together.’

“The Swiss!

“About the tribe of Dan he said:

‘Dan is a young lion;

He leaps out from Bashan.’

About the tribe of Naphtali he said:

‘Naphtali is richly blessed by the Lord’s good favor;

Their land reaches to the south from Lake Galilee.’

About the tribe of Asher he said:

‘Asher is blessed more than the other tribes.

May he be the favorite of his brothers,

And may his land be rich with olive trees.

May his towns be protected with iron gates,

And may he always live secure.’

People of Israel, no god is like your God,

riding in splendor across the sky,

riding through the clouds to come to your aid.

God has always been your defense;

his eternal arms are your support.

He drove out your enemies as you advanced,

and told you to destroy them all.

So Jacob’s descendants live in peace,

secure in a land full of grain and wine,

where dew from the sky waters the ground.

Israel, how happy you are!

There is no one like you,

a nation saved by the Lord.

The Lord himself is your shield and your sword,

to defend you and give you victory.

Your enemies will come begging for mercy,

and you will trample them down.’”  

D’Aqs finished reading and took a long drink from his bottle of Double X beer.

“You see?” said Hellmantle. “The Lord is our defender and shield. We are protected by the divine force of the world, and are invincible in the tasks we set for ourselves. Our blood is blessed and our life can be as rich and rewarding as we design. In the name of divine chivalry, God succors us and gives us the moxie to persevere in the face of adversity. So cast off doubt my dear cousin! And be at my side when we find this missing scroll and right the wrongs that have reverberated for centuries from our sworn enemy: Rome!” There was madness in his demeanor, which caused D’Aqs to fear in his gut. Here, so far away from civilization, the madness was magnified. If Hellmantle were challenged he might trip over his own words and fall into the abyss where he couldn’t be retrieved.

“Yes. My doubt is quelling and I’m seeing the divinity of our mission.”

“The people of Israel, all twelve tribes, are the flock that Joshua the Nazarene wanted to unite under his leadership. He was the shepherd who was in search of his lost flock. And this flock was the scattered lost tribes. And he was crucified for it! This is my beef, D’Aqs! This is my biggie. Why aren’t we taught this? Why does one need to spend years reading and researching on one’s own to discover this truth? Why didn’t anyone ever tell us in school that this was what Jesus was all about? It’s high time that we present it to the world so people understand why the peoples of Northern Europe adopted Christianity. We are Israelites, the Ten Lost Tribes! Tell me this is not important to know! It’s everything. It’s our identity in history. It explains why the Bible applies to us. And it explains why the morality of the Bible is the very foundation of our legal system throughout the West. How can this not be taught?”

It was late now and not a single person stirred on the main street of Dien Bien Phu. Hellmantle went up to his room in a haze of betel nut without fetching his passport for the man waiting for it at the front desk.

The main street in Dien Bien Phu

Chapter 31

About what the motorcyclists see on the fields in Dien Bien Phu

Dien Bien Phu, Lai Chau Province

שׂ

In the morning after many cups of coffee and Vietnamese cigarettes, Hellmantle was jittery from his volume of coffee intake so he once again popped betel nut and chewed until his teeth were bright red. The visit to Dien Bien Phu was much more personal for Hellmantle, D’Aqs thought to himself. He knew so much about the battle and all the details surrounding the death of his grandfather Dane Hellmantle that he needed to take the edge off. He understood he wanted to numb the pain a little bit. Hellmantle’s face crinkled in bitter distaste when he chewed it.

After drinking more coffee his teeth were more orange than red when he smiled.

“Don’t give me that look. I’m master of my own vessel and I can do whatever I want in this country. You’re not my mother. Nor are you my chaperon. You are my squire who is still getting his motorcycling legs. I need to look out for you on these roads, so it behooves me to have a calm state of mind.”

“I didn’t say anything.”

“No, of course you didn’t. But you’re looking at me like I’m crazy. We’re on an archaeological espionage operation, an important one at that, so I don’t want your shadows casting second thoughts on our holy quest.”

“I know from experience that he who sticks his head in a beehive will get a face full of honey,” he replied. He didn’t say it but D’Aqs now had a guarded trust and an undeserved supernatural faith in Hellmantle, perhaps because he had taken them this far without as much as a scratch on him. He looked at the redness spreading around the cut on his throttle hand from the thorns at the prison yesterday.

“I like honey,” said Hellmantle. “Besides, I would have preferred something else but God brought that man with the betel to our table so who am I to disagree with providence?” It occurred to D’Aqs that he was acting the role of the mother. Why should he confound this man in front of him who so obviously had belief and serendipity that appeared to override injury or misfortune?

D’Aqs patted him on the shoulder as if saying ‘it’s all right,’ but Hellmantle jumped back at the contact, looking at him like D’Aqs had crossed a line. He took a deep breath as his cousin spoke thus:

“It’s going to be kind of hard today for you seeing where your grandfather died and all, so just stay loose with it all.” Hellmantle showed no emotion at this. Instead he put on his sunglasses so D’Aqs wouldn’t scrutinize him. They sat in the shade at the hotel café and watched the day heat up from under slow turning ceiling fans, planning their day with the map outstretched on the table.

Ω

Dien Bien Phu was a small little town with a main street that seemed to have only motorcycle mechanics and garages. Hellmantle didn’t waste any time following the map to the battleground. It was a strange sight seeing the artillery still strewn across the field a hundred feet from the main trench. Three big machine guns were still there, broken and battered but a testament to the history that had taken place here nearly 50 years ago. It was what made the sight so eerie, as if the battle had just ended last week. Hellmantle squinted under the glare of the sun looking for the remnants of French Legionnaires that had been lost on the field, but there were none to be found.

Parking his bike, he walked out onto the field and then stopped. The deep-green hue of the grass matched the weathered military green of the guns that had failed to keep the Viet Mingh from overtaking the French forces fighting to the last man. The 50-meter trench was still exactly as it had been during the battle. The field fell away to a wooded field below but there was a ridge to the north that had been where the Viet Mingh hid. The trench was locked off so he couldn’t open the door and walk in the trench. Just as well because Hellmantle could sense the spirits still stirring around the place and it might be unwise to tamper with them.

It was more than enough for him standing on the battlefield.

Back on the motorcycles, they followed the road a hundred meters or so until they found some graves. They dismounted and together checked the tombstones carefully but did not find one with the name Dane Hellmantle.

“Grampa only had two-and-a-half months left in his five-year commitment to the Legion before he was killed. It saddens me that my father never had the chance to visit his father’s grave,” said Hellmantle, who was now emotional. He watched the birds flying from tree to tree all around them.

Hellmantle walked dejectedly to a large memorial in the middle of the cemetery where a French flag wavered in the wind. D’Aqs followed.

“No way!” he yelled, standing in front of the memorial. He pointed at the list of names etched into the marble monument. They both scanned the names to find “H” where they saw the surname Hellmantle.

There it is!” said D’Aqs, leaning over to read what was inscribed beside “Hellmantle, Dane G:”

“Take this sword: its brightness stands for faith,

its point for hope, its guard for charity. Use it well.”

“Do you know what that is?”

“No,” D’Aqs replied.

“That’s the Knight’s Hospitaller Rite of Profession Oath.”

“Are you sure?”

“Need you ask?” Hellmantle took out his flask filled with Jamieson’s Irish whiskey. “To the Great Dane,” he said. “May you never be forgotten. Salut.” He took a swig and handed it to D’Aqs. It was still early for a drink but he held the flask up in a toast to the Great Dane.

“With respect, to my great uncle I never knew but whom I respect. Salut.” Swigged, held in a gag, and handed it to Hellmantle.

“To the Great Dane’s identical twin,” he said, drinking again. “From one twin to another.”

“Looking out to the battlefield I can feel it. Imagine the hundreds who parachuted in to save their countrymen.”

“Besieged, no supplies or ammo, dropping into almost certain death.” The wind stirred and the birds flew overhead in scattered flocks.

“It’s like there are restless spirits here,” said D’Aqs, spooked.

“I thought if we found his grave then I would have closure and want to have a drink.”

“So it was worth lugging that bottle here.” They both had another drink from the flask in front of a sign that read:

Battle of Dien Bien Phu, May 6, 1954

Do you have closure?

“Not sure yet. I’ll let you know when we get back to Hanoi.” D’Aqs, who had compassion for those who honored the dead, left him there to have a private moment.

“Grampa, I don’t think I ever told you I loved you. I wanted to say it now. I hope you can hear me.” Just then a hummingbird appeared in front of him, stopped mid-air flapping its wings, and looked at Hellmantle. He raised his flask and drank. The hummingbird hovered, the fluttering sound crisp, and then moved closer. Looking at the hummingbird staring at him in the eye, he was sure it was the spirit of his grandfather Dane Hellmantle.

“And in acknowledgment to the pain you had from losing a twin. We share that. And that comforts me.” Another toast. When the hummingbird darted off, he experienced a new emotion, one that he could not put words to. He wondered if it was elation, or a deeper comprehension of what religion was to man. His heart fluttered with the rapidity of hummingbird wings, a feeling he embraced and knew would never leave him. Without a word he left the site of the Great Dane’s bones feeling uplifted, and having a new appreciation for the mystery of the afterlife.

French trenches

Chapter 32

Concerning the departure for Hanoi and the motorcycling required

to reach Hanoi via the other side of the Da River Valley

50km south of border with China, Lai Chau Province

שׂ

It has been mentioned so far in this narrative that our man from Normandy suffers from what is known as Asperger’s Syndrome, and as such he expends his attention on one thing at the sufferance of others. Having found the map and having reached Dien Bien Phu, on the intrepid traveler’s agenda now is the enjoyment of the ride back to Hanoi. His intensity is now focused on the art of motorcycling along the well-engineered roads of northern Vietnam. D’Aqs, who is now content that the business has been now taken care of, follows Hellmantle a few car-lengths behind somehow changed by the events of the last few days. But for Hellmantle, encountering the hummingbird against all odds of rationality or explanation, it is an event that is a turning point in his life.

After his visit to the field of battle where his grandfather had died long ago, the philosophy-trained Hellmantle became philosophical as he wheeled back to the main highway that ran alongside the Da River Valley. The long, lazy branches of the trees looked like weeping willows hanging sloppily over the river and the road. Always alone in his thoughts, Hellmantle hadn’t expected Vietnam to have so much charm. The road was paved and the mountains dominated the landscape with no rice fields to be seen. It was the other Vietnam – the country in the mountains in the north far from cities and civilization that so few had ever seen.

The wind elbowed Hellmantle to the north when he reached the swift current of the blue water that whipped past in the deep valley.

Finding an old French-built hotel in the town of Lai Chau, Hellmantle and D’Aqs stopped and passed the flask around, pondering the next two days of the journey back. Following his rule that he never took the same route back to where he began, only if the roads were smooth on the other side of the Da River running due southeast did they had a chance of making it back in time for their flight home on Sunday. They were faced with three days’ worth of riding to do in only two days. It was already Friday. He didn’t discuss it with D’Aqs since he trusted his judgment when it came to all things riding.

D’Aqs handed back the flask of Jamieson’s to Hellmantle.

“Not sure how the booze is working when riding. I think I prefer my non-liquid treats. You?” 

“No, not such a goodie I’m afraid.” D’Aqs replied.

“Riding and Irish Whiskey really don’t mix, do they? I wanted to know if I could do some swigging and ride my motorcycle at the same time and ride well, but I see now that it’s not such a good combo.” He took the last of the whiskey from the flask.

“The Jamieson’s is making me a bit sloppy with my steering.”

“Yes, I know what you mean.” There was a short man walking towards them on the road by the bridge where they had stopped. The sort man didn’t have a bag or anything in his hands. Like most Vietnamese men he was wearing communist-issue blue trousers and blue shirt with a communist cap. As he approached them, Hellmantle stepped towards him.

“Excuse me sir,” he said to the man in the communist cap. He held up his hand and gave the man an easy smile, knowing that the man didn’t speak English. “Would you like a bottle of Irish Whiskey?” The words didn’t register but his eyes took a liking to the tall foreigner with turquoise eyes before him.

“We give you this,” Hellmantle motioning with his hands and smiling. He handed him the large bottle of half-full Jamieson’s. The Vietnamese man, with very ruddy cheeks, looked at Hellmantle and D’Aqs suspiciously for a moment, so Hellmantle removed the cork and took a drink, groaning at the kick it gave him.

Firewater,” he said, smiling at the man and making a face. Then he gave it to D’Aqs who also took a last drink. Then D’Aqs handed the bottle to the man. The young man grinned, knowing it was being offered to him as a gift. Accepting the bottle, he sniffed it and then hugged the bottle as if it were a long lost friend. He took a drink and squished up his face like he had just tasted strong medicine. That was the cue for Hellmantle to start his engine. They both waved at the man as he sipped again from the bottle, and then walked away with the bottle under his arm.

“As the code of chivalry states: ‘

Thou shalt be generous and give largess to everyone.”

When Hellmantle put on his gloves he realized he still had the cork in his hand. They both watched the man in blue stop after twenty yards and take another drink from the bottle, but he was too far away now.

“With no cork the poor bugger will need to drink the whole bottle in one go!” said Hellmantle. He found this quite funny. With the severe sun, the height above sea level and the booze, Hellmantle, feeling the effects of the betel nuts, was tipsy. His enthusiasm was palpable when he gunned it forward. They would risk it and take the long way back, around the northern arm of the Da River Valley.

Giving away the bottle of Jamiesons

Ω

Going almost due north towards the border of China, they rode along a very good stretch of old French-built roadway that allowed maximum utility of riding time with minimal maintenance, carved through the terrain like butter. Without hardly any cars or trucks, the roads were well-cut through the mountains and along the higher parts of the river valley. They reached the tip of the Da River Valley, close to the border with China, and then turned due east back to Hanoi. For D’Aqs, the roads were easy compared to the roads in the Philippines like the Halseema Mountain Trail so he enjoyed the ride back to home base. But he couldn’t help but watch his cousin before him, noticing the zeal he employed on his Russian-made motorbike riding east towards the Gulf of Tonkin.

Images flashed at him like they had come from the recesses of an unidentifiable jungle on a map. Palm leaves the size of human beings mingled with the foliage of recent images of the trench and the artillery that surrounded the battlefield. Hellmantle felt the pride of having motorcycled to the scene of the most famous Legionnaire battle site in Indochina history, and it enriched the riding experience on the return to Hanoi. Knowing he had found the prison where the Great Dane had hidden the map infilled Hellmantle with a special spark because it was from his grandfather’s own hand that the map had been buried at the foot of the oak tree. Now, traversing east across the Da River canyon so far north and so close to the border with China, the return route was a gift from God: a present saying thank you and well done for retrieving this hidden piece of the Christian puzzle. The way Hellmantle saw it, it was only now that the hidden treasure had finally been put in play and destiny brought closer to mankind.

“We have found what we came for in this far-off land, and now it is a question of conquering the remaining way back to Hanoi – returning servants of God.” It was both an expression of his mirth and a prayer to God these words spoken by the man from Normandy into the winds as he rode east.

As far as Hellmantle was concerned, the beautiful riding he was doing was God’s reward to him for the effort he had given to the prophecies he had read. He rode today in celebration for following his own beliefs and a celebration of his own motorcycling prowess. At times, when the dialogue in his mind was quiet, he savored the view along the eastern flank along the river valley and the green blur of foliage beside the water and eddies. At a constant speed of eighty, he straightened his arms and enjoyed every second of the ride. He caught a smell of dried leaves in the breeze that blew from beside the road. During these moments he knew that he was using his gift. Unable to share his thoughts, he thought to himself that perhaps this – right at this moment – was the embodiment of the grace of God.

“Movement done with confidence,” he said aloud. “Is it not true that what brings us to this part of the world is a holy quest to verify an inheritance that shares a history with the grace of God? Finding Dien Bien Phu has called forth those talents that for the most part go unused during normal existence. Therefore this feeling right now must have significance.”

Always the philosopher, Hellmantle pondered this question and talked to himself while riding. “The warrior poet is he who seeks the joy in moments of the poetic divine. On my motorbike I seek the beauty of the moment riding. It is only while riding my motorcycle on a quest that my soul stirs with such deep reverence for the divine in man. It is only in this way can a man find his true calling; his true worth; the originality within his own person and his own way of living life! After all, what is the use of studying philosophy if you don’t find that thing that feeds the vitality of life?”

It was true that since his graduation Hellmantle had sought to learn his own philosophy of life by adopting philosophies of the greatest minds in history and applying their philosophies to his own life. He was a philosophy tester. So great was his study of applying philosophies of great minds to his own life that he had devised criteria for those wishing to do the same. Mulling this notion, he verbalized his thoughts:

“To become a philosophy tester like me, one must have the following requirements:

Philosophy Testers: Must be:

Adventurous

Daring

An abstract thinker

Motorcyclist

Have cartography skills

Thirst for learning

Knowledge of history, philosophy, religion and geography

Willing to travel

Mountain biking skills

Pubbing abilities

Willing to meet new people from around the world

Good health

Ability to write

Freedom to commit full time”

Hellmantle laughed to himself, perhaps a little drunk from the whiskey.

“Applicants are encouraged to submit an argument, in any form or shape, outlining how they are worthy of the position. All applicants must possess the raw material of person to conduct a sincere study in its application to living their life. Applicants are required to record all new heights of philosophical insights.”

The warmth welled up in his person as the winds cooled the sweat on his skin. He wanted to scream at the top of his lungs, declaring his happiness. He didn’t scream, but it was followed by the following words: “I know what it is to become part of the flow up here in these mountains in Vietnam!” When on a motorcycle, the flow took precedence over punctualities, because the flow was more important to the health of his spirit than the hassles of gravity.

Again there was an outburst from Hellmantle’s lips out to the ethers:

“It is while I am in the flow that I am surrounded by the ancient quiet of nature. I become one with my environment and the world, regardless of where I’m riding. This bite of freedom sustains me and gives me stamina, and helps me overcome the obstacles in my path. But it is for God whom I serve. He alone sees it. He alone is my love, my savior and my partner in this quest.”

Hellmantle, unafraid of what he knew, experienced that which could not be quantified, which warmed his heart between sounds of the hourglass in the orange hue of a setting sky. “When one is riding like this, there is no arrival. The now is the only splash of time man can own! Biking is more akin to an inner harmony of the soul manifested in the physical realm. Mine is a biking beef!” Spittle flew out of his mouth. His handlebars swerved.

There hadn’t been any traffic for hours so he was startled when D’Aqs passed him on the outside. D’Aqs could see a grin at the corners of Hellmantle’s mouth. After studying the map that morning D’Aqs thought it would be a good job if they could get from Lai Chai to Sapa in a day, but they had just passed both Sapa and Lao Chai. The roads could not be better. Never before had D’Aqs imagined riding a motorcycle to produce such a divine emotion within his heart.

The sheer scope of the terrain at hand, and the number of kilometers they had traveled from Lai Chai to Yen Bai amazed even Hellmantle. He sped up to overtake D’Aqs.

Finally, when the sun was setting over the mountains behind them, Hellmantle stopped when he found an open guesthouse in Yen Bai. It was only then that he felt his backache and a painful clutch-hand claw after nearly fourteen hours of riding. Soon D’Aqs approached and parked his motorcycle beside Hellmantle’s.

“How many men have ever done that before – ridden from Lai Chou all the way to Yen Bai?” Hellmantle asked.

“Not many I’ll bet,” he replied. Even to Hellmantle’s own non-modest perceptions of his motorcycling mettle, they had ridden about 350km.

“It’s a worthy question that only God knows the answer to.”

Riding back to Hanoi

Chapter 33

Which tells of the final stage of motorcycling back to Hanoi

and the discussion that follows their most beautiful ride

Yen Bai, Yen Bai Province

שׁ

It had been a while since Hellmantle had had such a vivid dream. He couldn’t really understand the importance of it. Like so many dreams, the setting had been an extraordinary combination of places he had been to, seen from afar and could piece together, creating an aggregate of images congregating in a melded whole. There was a rich man’s house that had been taken over and exploited by a son who chose a life of indulgence and whose house had been the scene of many parties. The house had vast acreage spreading out to an imposing fence that appeared like the home-run wall in a baseball park. Hellmantle had been part of the party that had begun in earnest when the rain began to fall and the wind picked up. For some reason he left his friends at the party and went out to the backyard where there was a foot of water covering the grass. Stepping out into the water, he found that when he pushed off he could glide along the top of the water. When the wind really began to blow hard in gusts he pushed off and proceeded to glide atop the water. He could use the wind to carry him like a windsurfer would use the wind, but he could also turn and carom with his feet pointing opposite directions, leaning into turns like a professional barefoot surfer.

It was a thrill in such crystallized purity that he could only marvel at how long the magic could last, wondering whether anyone at the house could see him or was watching him skim along the surface of the water that stretched to the very corner of the fence. Fearing that if he took his eyes off of what he was doing he would lose his ability, Hellmantle surfed and turned and glided and dipped sharply, playing with warm gusts of wind and leaning into corners that saw him flirting with wipeouts. But he didn’t fall; he just played with his newfound skill to ride the lip of the rainwater’s surface. He could feel the warmth of freshly fallen water in the arches of his feet, enjoying the tickling sensation and somehow knowing that the field was without danger. D’Aqs was there but he couldn’t see Hellmantle in the open fields, so when he finally became human again and sank to the ground, he returned to the backyard patio. When he saw D’Aqs, he asked him whether he saw him skimming along the water, he answered that he had but that was all. He was so uninterested. Having just finished surfing on top the water, leaning into gusting wind and playing with the laws of nature, D’Aqs was more concerned with getting on the good side of the host of the party rather than something remarkable; an event to happen once in a lifetime. Such an unbelievable experience to Hellmantle had been so easily dismissed as unimportant and of no interest by his cousin. He stood there in amazement while people continued to drink and talk about the most trivial trivialities. It was his amazement at D’Aqs complete lack of interest that stunned him to awake.

Ω

Hellmantle was up earlier than D’Aqs for the first time during the trip. The morning was quiet and full of moist smells. He sat there on the patio of the guesthouse under the palm trees pondering his dream. He had read somewhere that walking on water was not the miracle most thought it was; it symbolized applying ones knowledge to life. To walk on water was to do what he knew how to do. But what was the dream saying to him exactly?

“I’m going to miss these roads,” he mumbled to himself in a sleepy voice. Then D’Aqs appeared. “That was awesome yesterday.”

“I know. It was. I’d say it was pretty special,” replied D’Aqs, eyes still full of sleep.

“Today we’ll hit Hanoi and the riding will change into a memory. I doubt I will ever be this way again,” feeling alone in his now-fading dream.

“That’s usually how it goes.” D’Aqs looked at him closer.

“I’m troubled. I couldn’t sleep in.”

“Why?”

“Not sure. Maybe because it was such a pinnacle of everything yesterday, riding and thinking and existing on such a beautiful plane. I wish I could hold onto it in my hand but I know as soon as I try it seeps out of my grasp like trying to hold water in your hand.”

“Well then let it go.”

“Then it’s only a memory.”

“Maybe that’s all it ever can be.”

“I want to know what it all means. And we need to know what’s going on here so we don’t screw up. We have the map. We found the grave of Grampa. What’s our next step?”

“Let’s keep the plan simple. Keep your chin up. I’ve learned to have faith in your instincts Rollo. Stay the course. You’ve been correct on all of it when it seemed to me like a wild goose chase. You have a remarkable gift. It would be a sin for you to overlook what you have accomplished. I can understand why you feel this way because there’s no one to give you a pat on the back. So I am.” He didn’t physically touch him but he knew the words would get through to him. “You say that only God witnesses these moments of splendor but I have to disagree because I’ve witnessed them and I’m not God.”

“I’ll say.” Humor back in play. Good sign.

“I did hope that you would have had some closure with your grandfather because it’s obvious how much you look up to him.” Hellmantle remembered the hummingbird and instantly it uplifted his spirit. Uncharacteristically he looked at D’Aqs in the eye.

“Thanks D’Aqs. I appreciate that.” It was odd seeing his turquoise eyes penetrating through him but he didn’t look away. He nodded with solemn respect.

“Give it some thought while we ride the rest of the way to Hanoi. Motorcycling I think does something to you. Stirs something in you in a very healthy way. I only wish that I had something that did that for me. So count yourself lucky.” Hellmantle’s eyes shifted to D’Aqs’ red abrasion on his throttle hand.

“Hurt?”

“Yeah, and you don’t have a cut or abrasion on you!”

“Must be divine!” Just like that the glimmer was back in his eye.

Ω

Riding through another small town

The towns they passed through displayed red communist flags down every main road, all made of the same exact bright red. The red flags contrasted against the deep green of the jungles that was striking to the eye. The children were friendly waving as they rode by but older people looked curiously at them. Still choosing not to wear his helmet, Hellmantle’s hair blew long in the wind, protecting the back of his neck from the sun. His beard glittered blonde in the light. He wondered if Rheine was watching him right now, if he could take pleasure from living vicariously through these moments of expertise and freedom, knowing he would be doing the same thing if he were alive. The thought caused him to lift his clutch hand in the air and give the peace sign to the heavens above him, the cloudless sky reflecting light into his sky-blue eyes.

Kids saying hello to Hellmantle as he passed through town

Right before reaching Hanoi, the towns became more numerous. To D’Aqs, it was plain to see how effective the system of communism worked in this country. Without a doubt, Vietnam was a land of agriculture. Wherever the eye could see, there were rice fields all in some stage of fruitful production. Hats dotted the sectioned fields within larger fields defined by elevated walking paths. For D’Aqs, who had a constant need to categorize and digest the character of a country, it was rice production en masse here; no wonder Vietnam was the biggest supplier of rice to China. Communism here works. Compared to the arid and uncared rice terraces in the Philippines, every rice field was lush and fully productive, yielding crops that needed constant attention. To his mind, it was insane to say communism didn’t have some effectiveness in an agrarian country like Vietnam. Unlike the West, so few hung out at discothèques and watched MTV while doing drugs and watching TV. These young men and women were working the fields at a comfortable, state-sponsored pace. There was very little need for most people to have something that their neighbor didn’t have. The markets here in northern Vietnam he saw for himself were always full with fresh produce. Was that not the measure of a healthy society?

The hue of green was deeper here than anywhere else he had ever seen. No Big Macs or Starbucks to mar the landscape of its traditional beauty. Indeed, the woods were truer than the concrete jungles of modernity. There was a peace here D’Aqs had never experienced before.

Reaching the outskirts of Hanoi

Ω

Hellmantle and D’Aqs reached Hanoi and found the old French Quarter easily. When returning from such an adventure, one that called forth the hidden skills of gamesmanship and survival, Hellmantle could only see the other foreigners hanging out in the pub as superficial tourists. He saw their clean skin, well-slept eyes and unsullied clothes. Contrasting this, Hellmantle and D’Aqs were dusty and windswept as they stepped off their bikes and walked with a pronounced swagger to the pub.

“Some ginspotting is what we deserve, n’est-ce pas?” said Hellmantle, licking his lips.

“Yeah, I’m thirsty.”

They sat at roadside table by the window. The red hue that hung around Hellmantle’s face was like a tattletale of their mountain exploits, and was strangely incongruous with the pampered tourists sitting timidly behind him sipping cocktails and staring at the television with the same slouched posture that they had back home.

“Just because these wank-buckets watch the television from a café in Hanoi makes them think they’re worldly,” Hellmantle said, studying the menu. “These are the same people who take a bus up to see the country and come back experts on the sights, sounds and smells of this out-of-reach foreign land.”

“Beer?”

“Yes, of course, but let’s take advantage of this special deal of Margaritas that are the house specialty.” They ordered boiled eggs in the shell and Heinz beans on crisp toast as well as beer and a pitcher of Margaritas.

“Isn’t it reassuring to see the colonial façade of the buildings that line the streets here?” said D’Aqs.

“Yes, I know what you mean. After being out so far in the bush it feels like home just seeing them.” The Margaritas arrived and Hellmantle drank the first glass as if it was lemonade. He poured himself another.

Endless communist flags

“It tells me that communication to the outside world exists and that we are again safe. The world we have just returned from is a world unseen to most.”

“But it is there to all to see. People don’t have the balls to go out and see it. Most here don’t even have backpacks; they have suitcases with wheels! They have digital cameras poised for a quick photo yet the opportunity never comes. They spend the money to get to a place like Hanoi but then let their precious finite time slip through their fingers watching television in silent relief in a pub! This is why simply going somewhere ceases to solve the underlying problem. They return as they were before they left.” He sighed. “Look at the two of us for example. People could easily think we had gone native. We could be guys who have perhaps turned our back on Western ways and had married a Vietnamese girl, two wanderers in dusty clothes who had chosen to live among the villagers. But to the sporting eye, we may pass as photojournalists after an extended assignment, who had been forced to find our object of study and analysis very far away, perhaps a historical site or investigating a social issue. And some still, who may be partial to the military mind, seeing all the dust caught in our beards and hair, may prefer to think we are young retired military officers who had chosen to live in a cheap foreign land so our pension has more spending power, and who – through time – have adopted more and more of the native ways.”

“Or perhaps we’re Special Forces tasking incognito as travelers?”

“We are objects of interest to them all. Because all of them are asking: ‘Where the Hell were you?’”

“Sure, I can see that. All are possibilities. I see the way they’re looking at us.”

“For me it will be yesterday that will remain with me after many moons have come and gone,” he said. “French-engineered roads through the mountains of Vietnam. Who would of thought? I think I had a moment.”

Knowing the act of explanation of his flow could never truly be communicated to another, Hellmantle let his thoughts of yesterday’s ride reverberate within his own mind. D’Aqs saw him pondering something that took his eyes inward for a few moments on another autistic journey. In this moment D’Aqs realized that their trip to the highlands of Vietnam had made Hellmantle different in some way. Something had been proven because he wore the expression of distinguished accomplishment. Perhaps it was his chin that was raised slightly, or the mountain sun still emitting from his eyes, or the skin peeling on his nose, or the windburn of his face; this change attracted curious glances from those in the bar still planning their outing. These were the onlookers who Hellmantle believed talked a fat game but had little substance to back it up.

“I had a dream this morning that has stuck in my mind all day.” He described his dream but didn’t exclude his disappointment at D’Aqs disinterest.

“Why would you feel that way in your dream, that I wasn’t interested in your foot surfing?” D’Aqs asked. Hellmantle ruminated.

“Maybe because part of me doesn’t think you’re interested in all this stuff?” D’Aqs was careful with his reply.

“I am becoming more and more interested, Hellmantle. That’s the truth.”

“And I believe you. But having the day to ponder it, I wonder if there’s part of me that resents the fact that Rheine is dead. In the dream you would be the natural person I would direct my anger to, obviously having done nothing wrong. My subconscious mind wants Rheine to be with me, not you.” D’Aqs laughed at his Asperger directness.

“That could be true.”

“I think it is.”

“Have you come to terms with his death?”

“What does mean? Come to terms?

“Accepting it.”

“How?”

“By stop resenting it happened.”

“I can resent whatever I want.”

“No, you can’t. Because if you do it will kill you.”

“What will?”

“The resentment.”

“Resentment will kill me?”

“It’s potent enough to take down a man.” As Hellmantle contemplated, D’Aqs saw the aura around him.

“And how would a man overcome resentment at something so unjust?” The Anglican minister sat up and put his hands together on the table.

“By seeing the unjust event as destined, that it happened for a reason.” This penetrated the Hellmantle firewall.

“That it was fate?”

“Yes, out of your control.” This struck a nerve. He could see it.

“But it was in my control! I was the one who dared him to take that stupid jump when I was too scared to do it myself!” Like a shaken bottle, the restless carbonation exploded.

“Just because you dared him didn’t mean it was in your control. It was the Wineman’s choice. Think of all the times you did one of his dares, or all the times you chose not to.”

“What is this? Anglican sophistry?” D’Aqs didn’t take the bait. Kept his eyes firm. Hellmantle picking at a hangnail. “It’s true, we dared each other all the time.”

“I saw it Mantlepiece, firsthand for years. Boarding school is one of those special circumstances when you live with others and see them all the time. To be honest, it was fascinating.” Eye contact. Rare.

“So when you say it might have been meant to happen, what are you saying exactly?” He knew exactly what he was going to say but delivered it so nonchalantly that Hellmantle would make an effort to understand its full meaning.

“Perhaps his untimely death gave you the life that has led you to being right here, right now. Perhaps if you were both hanging out you would still be pulling pranks and ensconced in mischief so that it would have been impossible to have the time to read all those books, all those papers all over your apartment, and go so deeply into this realm of darkness loaded with knowledge, and achieve greatness.” Never had D’Aqs had such focused attention from him, eyes like laser beams, a window of turquoise dazzling with intelligence within, the fierce hunger to understand, a revelation of ignorance that overwhelmed and crippled, a yearning impossible to ignore that was always knocking on the door.

Hellmantle took the words with him when he finally looked away and thought.

“I-.“ A wave of his hand, drank his beer and then lit a cigarette. “I always. I suppose I skipped a step in my logic.” He laughed. Tremendous relief from D’Aqs. “I always said to myself, in my own mind, that I killed him. It was me who caused his broken neck.” Confession! Words rusty from disuse, cobwebs blown away in the Hanoi breeze. “But-.“ He stood up to retrieve an ashtray from the bar. “But it was his choice as you say, just like all my choices. Not to say it was his fault. But just to say I didn’t push him over a cliff, as it were.”

Right.” Eye contact again – for a brief moment.

“And maybe you’re right, that it happened for a reason. Being alone is the only way one can immerse oneself so thoroughly into a subject of this magnitude.” D’Aqs knew he had succeeded in withdrawing the festering thorn wedged in this man’s paw when he heard the way he enunciated his last word.

He nodded and drank half his margarita while marvelling at the healing power of confession.

“Give me one of those won’t you Mantlepiece?” Removing a cigarette from his crumpled Vietnamese pack, Hellmantle handed it to the missionary and flicked his lighter. “You’re a bad influence on me just like back in B-Dorm.”

Petite Testi-cleez having a smoke. Never say never.” Smoke stung his eyes like hot lead.

“And let’s get a pint. These drinks are too…too dulce.”

“They are sweet señor.”

“The last time I had one of these things was with you and the Rheine Man. Remember that? Beside the tennis courts? Must’ve have been in the fall of that year. I reeked like smoke for a week. And I was convinced I was going to get burned from the smell!” They both knew what had just happened and why D’Aqs was smoking; both aware of the danger they had avoided, relieved they had found the only narrow bridge that wobbled through the crosswinds over the abyss. D’Aqs had been able to remove the resentment that had been boiling within Hellmantle’s breast for decades.

“It was a bit of a kicker to go over the Da River Canyon when we were so close to the Chinese border,” said Hellmantle. “That’s when it all started really, the serious cruising technology.”

Bike-friendly (and motorcycle-friendly) bridge

“And then back down through Viet Tri.”

“Yeah, that was groovy too, man. Very groovy.”

“It was if I was propelled forward.”

“I felt pulled too, all the way down. Effortless.”

“Yes, pulled. Nice one.”

What the tourists don’t see

Holy.” They drank their margaritas and were resting their feet when beer and more margaritas arrived.

“Something has changed in you,” said D’Aqs. “Is it religious zeal?”

“Surely our quest has become holier now?”

“It has. With some physical expenditure.”

“But therein lies the pilgrimage. Through physical expenditure and flirting with mortal danger, we show God we are worthy; that we serve.”

“After that ride, I’m sure we’re pretty worthy.” They were both drinking margaritas at a swift pace, thirsty on their last night in Vietnam: dehydration feeding restless drinking.

“We showed the mettle required to find the map and the Great Dane’s resting place.”

“And you gave a stranger a forty-ounce bottle of Irish whiskey!” Hellmantle was back to his reposed, semi-listening state, if chewing on ideas, eyes averted, hand stroking the tip of his chin.

Rheine always said: To conquer is a skill; to continue to conquer is an art.”

“You both had a philosophical caste to you back as kids.”

“One can spout as much Carpe Diem philosophy as they wish but when push comes to shove, only action – or lack of action – indicates the degree one lives of their own life philosophy. This cleavage separates the ivory-tower philosophers and the thinkers who change the world.”

“Yep, nice one.”

“One talks a good game and the other lets their actions reveal their true self. One is soft and one is hard; they are two separate creatures. One makes history, and the other makes academic theory.”

“Yes.” Back to his comfort zone with illusions of grandeur was a good thing.

“It is to us that this monumental task has fallen. It is a quest to which I have dedicated my life, in the name of my fallen brother and for the unmatchable beauty of…of the artist Asher, to see if these prophecies are true. We can only undertake this quest if our will is pure and we keep proving that we are worthy vessels as we inch forward towards the final goal. We are prophecy testers.”

“Yes. And I’m starting to think that perhaps all this motorcycling is necessary so the candidate can prove to God that he has a worthy character.”

“Like Galahad. Not like Lancelot, who was not worthy.”

“I don’t know what to believe anymore.” D’Aqs took a deep breath of some of the Hanoi lush air. “This quest is causing me to have unsure footing, sort of dipping my toe into the realm of nihilism.”

“Well then comfort yourself by knowing that nihilism is the only path that enables you to think for yourself. As they say, sometimes it’s time to break open a new bar of soap.” When D’Aqs inhaled he coughed and gagged, smoke coming out of nose.

“’Bit of a dry heave in there.” Hellmantle’s laugh interrupting him. “I seem to recall you did that that beside the tennis courts last time we shared a smoke.” He grinned at the contrast between the trails of wetness below his eyes and the dusty veneer of his cheeks and the mucous on the edge of his nostril.

“My virgin lungs.”

“Here, you have-.“ Hellmantle pointed at his nostril. Instead of using tissue he always had in his pocket, D’Aqs wiped his nose with his sleeve. A change.

“I remember that because both of you had a good laugh.” D’Aqs drank cocktail-for-cocktail with his old friend, as Hellmantle opened the door to any memory linked to his twin – a gushing torrent of recollections that healed his embattled and embittered heart in that darkened pub on the streets of Hanoi.

Here ends the third part of the rich history of Hellmantle of Normandy, where new records of his deeds come into clearer focus, which will be resumed in the next and final part of this recounting.