The Hellmantle Testament

Old Spanish-built church on the west coast of the island of Luzon, the Philippines

This book is dedicated to M Z,

A friend who introduced me to

The reality of the Ten Lost Tribes.

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

Only thoughts reached by walking have value.

– Friedrich Nietzsche

A slave is he who cannot speak his thought.

– Euripides

Published 2006

©Copyright MMXX

Table of Contents

The Family of the Bible

Notes about the Abramic Line


1. Concerning the famous Hellmantle’s position, character and way of life

2. Concerning the ingenious man’s visit with his uncle Jack Grosseteste

3. Which relates to how Hellmantle is given his first adventure

4. About what happened to our adventurer when he goes to the Philippines

5. In which the story of our crusader’s journey begins in earnest

6. About Hellmantle’s time in the city of sin on Christmas Eve

7. About the brave Hellmantle’s success on his adventure to Baguio City worthy of happy memory


8. In which the courageous Hellmantle of Normandy journeys north into the Cordillera Mountain Range

9. About what happened to Hellmantle in the mission in the mountains and the crucifixion of Jesus

10. Concerning Hellmantle of Normandy in the land of the head-hunters

11. About the required riding techniques to reach the destination of Sagada and the church organist

12. In which the German artist is tracked to the Shamrock Café and dangers of the northeast of Luzon Island

13. In which Catharine is tracked to the Shamrock Café and an eerie coincidence of a reoccurring dream

14. About Hellmantle reaching the rice terraces and finding a way to the northwest

15. About what happened to our intrepid philosopher in the middle of the Sierra Madre Mountains

16. In which a record is given about the brave Hellmantle through uncharted territory on his trusted dirt bike

17. Which relates to Hellmantle of Normandy reaching the northern coast and the rubble of Aparri

18. About the final day of the motorcycle journey and discussing the Ten Lost Tribes of Israel in Vigan

19. About the sermon in Agoo Basilica and what they find at the church with the rouge bell tower

20. Concerning the Dutch Padre and what he knows about the hidden map

21. About the return to Manila and the coup that causes the Great Man from Normandy grief


22. Which brings Hellmantle of Normandy back to Hong Kong to re-evaluate the next step in his quest for truth

23. In which their journey is related to Jack Grosseteste and a new task is set before the Man from Normandy

24. Concerning the journey to northern Vietnam to track down the map hidden at a French prison

25. About how Hellmantle and D’Aqs compare notes on their task at hand in Hanoi

26. In which an account is given of the beginning of the journey of Hellmantle in Vietnam

27. About how Hellmantle and his brave squire ride north to the place where the four rivers meet

28. Concerning the French prison and what Hellmantle finds there

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

30. Concerning the journey to Dien Bien Phu in honor of their grandfather the Great Dane Hellmantle

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

32. Concerning the motorcycling required to reach Hanoi via the other side of the Da River Valley

33. Which tells of the final stage back to Hanoi and the discussion after their most beautiful ride


34. Concerning the visit with the knowledgeable Jack Grosseteste and the sally to India

35. Concerning the arrival and journey to Kashmir Valley

36. In which the journey begins in earnest through the checkpoints to the foot of the Moghul Fort

37. In which Srinagar is reached and how the houseboat was as it was hundred years ago

38. In which Hellmantle reaches the houseboat on the lake below the fort and beside the mosque

39. In which Hellmantle sets out for the Tomb of Thomé and his brother Joshua beside him

40. Which relates to the agreeable history of the journey north to the monastery on horseback

41. In which Hellmantle returns to Srinagar and finds the first translations of the black stones

42. Which concerns the deciphering of the discovery at the monastery and the need to go to the Ganges River

43. About Hellmantle of Normandy’s meeting with the holy man after taking a dip in the Ganges River

44. About Hellmantle’s meeting at Jack Grosseteste’s place with D’Aqs and Catharine the artist from Sagada

About the Author

Other Titles by the Author

•The Hall of Fame of Catholic Atrocities over Two Millennia

•Chronology of Historical Events According to Hellmantle



The Family of the Bible

Please see the endnote at the end of the book for more illumination into the above family tree, but be assured it is all explained during the course of Hellmantle’s adventure.



Chapter 1

Concerning the famous Hellmantle’s position, character and way of life

Lamma Island, Hong Kong, China, November 2001

Extremism in all its forms can always be justified by a partial mind.

In Hong Kong, recently designated as Special Administrative Region of the People’s Republic of China, lived an unusual man, non-conformist and rebel against mainstream dogma – an expatriate motorcyclist who loved history books and maps. Preferring movement to stagnation and curiosity to indifference, blind spots and lack of gumption were – to him – the scourge of humanity: an indolence offending his philosophical nature. Phoniness was the bane of man and ultimate embodiment of deception born from lies, a dishonesty of self, founded on shifting sands on an unstable underpinning. He believed one should have fidelity to their principles, and create their own morality discovered through truth, and that they should live by a code that embodied nobility and daring. This was the moral code of Roland Hellmantle of Normandy.

There is some dispute among scholars, and authors of past works written on the subject, that his original surname was Redmantel but had been changed to Hellmantel, and the spelling changed to Hellmantle due to his Norman roots. Suffice to say the following events are recorded with objectivity and no trace of hyperbole or subjective license. This is Hellmantle’s true story.

He lived on a mountainside above the shores of Aberdeen Channel where the sprawl of Hong Kong Island could be seen from his balcony. In his forties, wrinkled around the eyes, his face bespoke character one might say, lines showing experience and hardship from his inclination for adventure, enough to garner respect but not enough to be seen as marks of a sage. Something about his mouth was out of place, a stiffness perhaps or crookedness hidden by a drooping moustache and beard. When not writing for a magazine, Hellmantle spent hours reading history in cafés or hunkered down on Lamma Island, seldom leaving his hideout on the cliff overlooking the shipping lanes to the world’s busiest port. Religious history mainly, areas that touched on his family history, such as the Holy Grail, the Crusades and the life of Jesus. His interest in these subjects snowballed the deeper he went. Recent discoveries had come to light, such as the Dead Sea Scrolls and the Nag Hamadi Scrolls, which included The Gospel of Thomas, which threw Hellmantle into a feverish pitch during the summer months. The twelve disciples came alive as the entourage of Jesus the Nazarene, and His original message revealed new information after finding a code, bringing a hidden history to light of events that happened two thousand years ago. His magazine work soon suffered so he was hired as a freelance writer, the company realizing that it was cheaper. With more free time he read even more, his house soon covered with books. His mind grasped new insights, his imagination fueled, and compounded by his anomalous psychological apparatus. Hellmantle’s mind was infected by Asperger’s Syndrome, skewered, physiologically tweaked which made him semi-autistic, giving him a sharp, high-functioning mind but blinded him to emotions expressed by others that left him free to embrace ideas on a high level, and without fear to pursue his inclinations to extremes.

Once he engaged an interest his Asperger’s Syndrome, it enabled him to engineer his life so that he could dedicate himself to the pursuit without empathy of others, often leading him to dangerous and reckless behavior.

Our story begins with a telephone call from his uncle in Kowloon asking him to dinner. Hellmantle envisioned a grand adventure, sensing his time had come to put his vast knowledge into play, a door opening that would lead him to greatness he always knew he was destined for. His uncle, Jack Grosseteste, notorious in his own ways for his fervent interest in the family history of the Hellmantle clan, was a professor of economics but spent his time researching the more esoteric aspects of religious history, staunchly opposed to the interfering hand of Rome, and he was abreast of the prophecies and legends and hidden knowledge of secret societies. From his uncle’s research, Hellmantle had become convinced evidence existed that proved the stories and dogma taught by schoolteachers and priests weren’t entirely accurate so that he had made it his personal mission to right this wrong through his own industry and employing courage to take the step that would lead to a new understanding of the true message of Jesus, and the unrecorded events that Rome had suppressed to protect its power over the centuries.

And to undertake such a mission, he would use all his resources and acumen to set the record straight.

The day came to go to the uncle’s for dinner, so he readied his motorcycle kit, taking care to be prepared for any eventuality. The gloves with holes in the fingers had proven effective when riding the mountains of Taiwan years ago, as had his waterproof riding boots during forays into the jungles of Cambodia during the rainy season. His eyepiece scratched but not enough to mar the visual aspect, and helmet like those worn in hockey, a toy unable to protect against head injury, were chosen for their comfort over effectiveness for he insisted on comfort over infringement of his ride. The hat as he called it, epitomized Hellmantle’s motorcycle kit: light but enough to avoid ticketing or infractions against his insurance. Boots or Birkenstocks, hat or not hat, non-scratchy scarf and thick leather motorcycle jacket well-worn from countless miles of riding, were all selected based on how it enhanced the motorcycling experience. Even his Yamaha FZRR400 motorcycle was extreme, chipped and scraped and engineered for the racetrack, a rocket illegal for the roads of Hong Kong, a vehicle he loved like a man loves his horse. It was common for Asperger’s sufferers to give a disproportionate amount of love to inanimate object and Hellmantle was no different. His iron horse was named Sir Thighpiece after Don Quixote’s horse, caring for the bike by locking it with three kryptonite locks for added protection so he could sleep at night knowing his loyal servant was safe from theft.

Every time he looked at Sir Thighpiece a deep love welled-up in his breast as if there was a great debt owed by him for services rendered.

Once ready to visit his uncle Jack Grosseteste, he spoke thus:

“Perceval, thou hast conquered and art healed. Enter this ship and go wheresoever adventure leads thee. And be not dismayed by anything thou seest, for wherever thou goest God will be thy guide.”

How he loved to say these words! It was the first step towards affirming his destiny, and the first pen strokes in the story of his pilgrimage to discovering what he called The Cathedral of Truth.

South side of Hong Kong Island taken from Lamma Island

Chapter 2

Concerning the ingenious man’s visit with his uncle Jack Grosseteste


When he left for Kowloon Tong to visit his uncle, somewhere in his Asperger mind he knew he holy mission was upon him. After the ferry ride from his house on Lamma Island to Hong Kong Island where he picked up his motorcycle, Hellmantle cruised the south side of the island around the central mountains weaving his way through traffic to Victoria Harbor Tunnel riding under the harbor to Kowloon soon emerging into the thick underbelly of Tsim Sha Tsui. Taking an overpass right through the middle of the seventh floor of an office building, he passed the congested shopping Mecca of Mong Kok and entered a long tunnel under Lion Rock Mountain after which the number of cars dwindled. Hellmantle was in the mountains and forests of Hong Kong that no one ever saw, the part where nature still bloomed in full force. During the ride north through the green foliage and deep valleys of Kowloon, his ardent belief in his destiny of greatness deepened, so he couldn’t stop himself from saying:

“They will speak about me one day in the centuries to come! It will be a story for those brave enough to find meaning in a word! They will find a record, those armchair philosophers with the potential of being world leaders, who instead have chosen the practiced way of life of eating popcorn on their soft couches! The world will have a testament of a life lived outside the constraints that hinder modern man during this Time of the Great Change. I make no apology for the fundamental extremism of my empirical data because that is the cost of discovering truth!”

So lithe with his tongue, the words rolled out of his mouth like rainwater off a petal of a flower.


Parking Sir Thighpiece in the quadrangle of the academic compound for professors, Hellmantle walked up the stairs to his uncle’s apartment like Homo Robustus. When the door opened he saw before him a white-haired, white-bearded man of noble bearing. Perhaps due to the long time between visits, Jack Grosseteste was dumbstruck at the man in front of him: more a man than ever. A look of bewilderment lingered on his face for a moment.

“Good to see you Roland.” Grasping his hand, shaking it in earnest, his nephew looked different, older, somehow taller. Cheeks defined, he had become hardened by life. Jack Grosseteste now saw in front of him a scholar with a spiritual cast – he looked possessed – on fire and enlivened by purpose: a clear-eyed confidence born from knowledge. He had changed after his years in the Far East.

“Uncle, your timing could not be better. You call because of the Grail?” Jack Grosseteste’s laughter, uneasy at first, tested the waters for his reaction.

“In fact yes, I do.” Hellmantle, offended by the laughter because of the divine task before him, an event in history that demanded respect, could not let this offence go unaddressed.

“Ignorance is the fundamental cause if disharmony in the world! And the global populace can no longer remain in a state of ignorance!” he said, raising his finger in the air. “God will open a path for me fraught with obstacles to test my spirit. How I overcome adversity will challenge my belief and determine my fate but I am not a gimcrack! I am a man of my word through action, a seeker who sees life as an unfolding adventure. So! As a loyal member of the Hellmantle clan, I hereby declare my services available for hire.” Earnest, and lacking irony, he squinted, looking deep into his uncle’s eyes.

Jack Grosseteste, being a practical man who taught for a living, was confident that his nephew was suffering from a similar condition to that of his own father, Thomas Grosseteste. He suspected it was Asperger’s that caused this neurosis because he knew the behaviors associated with the Hellmantle and Grosseteste autism gene.

“You might very well be hired Roland,” he replied, choosing to acknowledge his words with sincerity for the serious nature of his visit. He was relieved to see Hellmantle relax.

“Ah! Since you’re fond of the grape.” Pulling out two bottles of wine for his uncle from his bag, he was happy to have the means to provide him with refreshments for dinner.

“You’re a gentleman. Shall we try one?” Hellmantle, in his delusional state, believed his uncle acted as if it was still British Hong Kong despite it being four years since the handover. Colonial Britain in the Far East had changed over the generations evolving from tweed jackets and Oxford wing tips to insulated Gortex windbreakers and desert boots with rubber soles, all made across the border on the communist mainland.

“Did you know that your cousin D’Aqs is living in TST?”

“D’Aqs Grosseteste?” Surprised. “I thought he was living in Japan.”

“No, not Japan. Burma. He’s in a residence beside St. Andrew’s church close to the harbor.”

“No, I didn’t know that.”

“Resting after his stint as a missionary in Mandalay, he’s been living here for almost six months now. He’s on his way over here to have dinner with us.”

“Why?” Face showing anxiety at the possible disturbance from their business at hand.

“Because we’re discussing some family history. Sorry, perhaps I should have told you.”

“I haven’t seen him since I was a kid.” It was at that moment when the doorbell rang and in walked D’Aqs Grosseteste. Time treated all people differently, but when he saw his cousin, shock replaced the look of determination on Hellmantle’s face.

“My God! How long has it been Roland? Fifteen years?”

“More, I think.”

“Good to see you cousin. You look the same as you did during the boarding school years,” D’Aqs said. “Your beard suits you.”

“You poor devil! What have you done to yourself? You look a little sallow.” Prone to social gaffes and lacking social grace was attributable to Hellmantle’s illness. “A tad peeked.”

“I’m better than I was,” he replied, a bit taken back. Two months ago D’Aqs had been deathly ill, having a bluish-yellow pallor, but he thought he had recovered sufficiently to pass as fit.

“When I arrived in July I was fearing for my life.” He assumed Hellmantle had some idea of where he had been through his father.

“And now you’re a minister.” Distaste oozed, suspicion could not be masked.

“I am, but I’m not preaching this year. I-“

“What denomination please?”


“Well that’s a relief.” D’Aqs glanced at his father. “Though if one were to be a minister, Presbyterian would be my choice.”

“Good. I wanted to get away from the congested life of the West but I didn’t expect such a jungle. Perhaps I should have, but the Burmese are good people and I enjoyed the years I was there.”

“That’s what it’s like over here in Asia, but here in Hong Kong is a little better. But why are you in Hong Kong?”

“Because my father is here and because the Anglican diocese in Tsim Sha Tsui had an open room that they are providing for me. I am recovering from malaria after my posting in Mandalay.”

“That’s a tough lot. That will stay in your liver for the rest of your life you unfortunate soul! It is a shame about the mosquitoes and the water there.” Hellmantle then remembered to shake his hand. “Um, why a minister please?”

“I wanted something different, something meaningful.”



“Is it meaningful?”

“Yes, it can be very meaningful.” Hellmantle’s expression changed to satisfaction as he looked at the bookshelves. “You look well enough to me Roland.” 

“Indeed I am.” D’Aqs wiped his hands on his shorts. “Ah! My hands are still sweating from the motorcycle ride here.” He ran his hand through his long hair.

“You ride a motorcycle in Hong Kong?” Noticed his boots.

“I ride a fast motorcycle in Hong Kong. Yes.” Pointed at his hat on a chair beside the door. “An FZRR.” D’Aqs didn’t seem to grasp the meaning of the letters.

“That’s your motorcycle helmet?”

Hat, actually.”

“That’s a pretty risky proposition.”

“That’s what I said,” said his father.

“It is their inability to ride that is the only threat to my life,” in a serious tone, motioning to the spaghetti of roadways through the window.

“Do you have a death wish?” his uncle picked up his helmet. Hellmantle pensive, gazing out the window.

“Riding a motorcycle in Hong Kong can be a calming pastime,” he said, almost in a whisper. “I am not eager to graduate to the Great Café in the Sky until my work is done.” Both Grossetestes laughed. “Besides, it’s all right here. Taiwan is the place where it’s pretty hairy on the roads. Here in Hong Kong it’s like riding on a big go-kart track with no shoulders. But it was the first day that was the toughest. Riding on the left side of the road was an exercise of fighting my reflexes to go the other way. My mantra was: Stay left. Stay left!”

“Just don’t get yourself killed,” said Jack Grosseteste.

For D’Aqs it was eerie seeing his cousin after so many years. An aspect about him that he could not place, maybe something in his eyes, an intensity that gave him a pang of fear in his gut. Something loose in his person troubled him. Intuition told him that Hellmantle was on edge, like a revved up engine about to overheat.

“It is good that you are both here,” said the professor. “There is something from our family in Normandy that has come to me in the mail.” He eyed Hellmantle, who looked positively haunted by some Holy Spirit. “But we’ll look into this business after dinner. First we eat.”

The three of them went into the main room where all Professor Grosseteste’s books and encyclopaedias lined the walls. It was cold in the library where the air conditioner blasted, one of the many things that Hellmantle could never understand was so common in Hong Kong and in Asia in general. His shirt wet from his ride, he shivered in the cold air but his uncle and cousin were both reluctant to turn down the air conditioner. He didn’t think twice about putting on his motorcycle jacket to keep from shivering. For him it was irrational to shiver in discomfort and eat, so he wore it throughout dinner. Every time he brought food to his mouth they could hear the thick leather crinkling, elbow pads built into the leather stretching and bending as he ate. They spoke about family and about the Far East but Hellmantle for the most part was quiet. The only reason he was there was to find out what his task was in order to engage in his first sally.

Hellmantle’s Yamaha FZRR

Chapter 3

Which relates to how Hellmantle is given his first adventure

Kowloon Tong, Hong Kong


Being so dedicated to the pursuit of truth under the ever-watchful eye of God, Hellmantle hurried dinner and drank wine, hoping to get to the meat of why he had been asked to his uncles’ place. D’Aqs became increasingly aware of the unbalanced emphasis of his cousin on all things related to the Bible.

“Like so many noble families,” said Hellmantle out of the blue, “the history of the Hellmantle clan is at risk of being relegated to a dusty shelf in favor of watching television. For my part, I am proud not to have a television. It is winning the battle for people’s limited supply of time and has even more power over people’s belief systems than the Catholic Church had during its reign of terror for two millennia!” His eyed focused on his cousin. “It is for this reason that I have been able to get so much done in the family tree, and now, so close to finding the truth about what happened to Jesus, I predict it will profoundly affect our lives as well as the lives of mankind.”

As a trained missionary, D’Aqs was skeptical at first of his cousin’s outlandish opinions, but then realized that he was a bit off-centre in general. His father gave him a glance during dinner that said he too was worried about his nephew. 

The professor, seeing how his guest was itching to hear what he had to say, delayed no more after the maid removed the dishes from the table.

“As we all know,” he began, “our families left Normandy to escape the residual oppression from Pope Pius and his minions because our family, both Grossetestes and Hellmantles, bear the name of the coveted Merovingian bloodline of the Desposyni: the ancestral offspring of the family of Jesus and Mary Magdalene. And because of this, our family is a threat to the Catholic Church by virtue of being alive.” Hellmantle’s eyes beamed, loving the words that referred to the greatness of his ancestors, which gave him visions of his own greatness.

“Don’t forget,” interrupted Hellmantle, “that the Hellmantles in particular have been persecuted throughout the centuries following the First Crusade, when our forefather Owen Hellmantle fought alongside the Nine Worthies, such as Hughes des Payens and Godfrey de Boullion.”

“Yes, we must never forget our ancestor Owen Hellmantle, who distinguished himself during the campaign of the first of the six crusades to recover the temple from the infidels.” Hellmantle’s uncle, who, as mentioned, was something of a rogue himself with family history, knew his nephew had spent countless hours reading about their family past that had magnified his zealous devotion to seeking truth, unlike his son who had instead become a priest. This both scared and thrilled him because in Hellmantle lay the future of the family, and perhaps the solution to the unsolved questions that had dogged the Hellmantles and Desposyni for centuries.

Nodding in encouragement, the light of hope brewing in his heart, professor Grosseteste spoke thus:

“Remember the family story about how your grandfather Dane Hellmantle joined the French Foreign Legion and saw action overseas?” The mention of Dane Hellmantle – or the Great Dane as he was known within the family – brought a palpable reaction to Hellmantle.

Professor Grosseteste went to his desk and brought back a letter.

“What is it?”

“This is an old letter that…that should have found its way home sooner but didn’t,” said Jack Grosseteste with an edge to his voice. “It has to do with your grandfather. It was written by a soldier in the French Foreign Legion named Louis de Steward who happened to die just after the battle of Dien Bien Phu. Unfortunately the letter was left to Louis de Steward’s brother Godfrey, who recently died without knowing where or how to find anyone from the Hellmantle clan. Since we had fled to New France three generations ago when the jackboots invaded, and de Steward knew no relations of ours in Europe, he couldn’t find us.” A frown and shaking of the head. “Since your father has passed away,” he said motioning to Hellmantle, “I’m the eldest living male relative of Dane Hellmantle. It was de Steward’s lawyer who found the next of kin, which was me.” He handed the letter not to D’Aqs but to Hellmantle. D’Aqs felt a spicy mixture of guilt and shame for not showing more interest in the rich tapestry of his family’s unique past. A slap in the face.

But for Hellmantle it was the moment when all would change forever.

“The letter has our symbol on it.” Hands shaking as he opened the letter, handwritten scrawl on yellowed paper had faded over time. He read the letter aloud:

The Blonde Aquitaine Cross

December 1954

To the Son of Dane Hellmantle,

As a fellow Legionnaire, I impart this important message to you for safekeeping and execution. The brave Dane Hellmantle, whom I had the honor of serving with during the siege, and who now lies dead after weeks of intense fighting with the enemy’s guns, gave me the responsibility to make sure the story of the lost scroll may be kept within the Hellmantle clan and that one day a Crusader from the descendants of the Long-Haired Kings will complete what needs to be done to bring a very important truth to light.

Before he was killed in Indochina, the Great Dane said to me that if he were to fall in battle I was to tell his son that he had ‘found the map.’ I do not know where the map is because it was the Great Dane’s design that no one person knew everything. The secret of the lost map was left with a valiant Dutch preacher who he had met while on leave in Hanoi. All that I know about this Dutchman is that he returned to his church on Luzon Island in the Philippines, where ‘the bell tower rings and the color rouge glows.’ Find the Dutchman and you will find the map.

The Great Dane adamantly believed that this is a task for a Hellmantle. If he is like his forefathers, then he will have the spiritual vigor and undaunted courage to carry him forth to find the Dutch Padre and the map. These sacred scrolls are said to be from Jude Thomas – the disciple of Jesus. If these scrolls are found, it may change the course of modern religious history on par with his Merovingian ancestors during the First Crusade.

God bless you to whom this quest is bequeathed.


Louis de Steward

Hellmantle bolted up. “The hand of destiny touches me in the shoulder!” Eyes ablaze, sweat on his forehead, he spoke thus: “We must correct the fudging of the divine message that has been carried out by Rome for two millennia!”

Professor Grosseteste dipped his brow slightly at his son, who sat wide-eyed listening to the madman sitting across from him. But for Hellmantle the letter in his hand had finally brought the legendary Dane Hellmantle to life. This greater-than-life character from a foggy past was now bringing him into the fold of great adventurers that had served God for a thousand years. Hellmantle spoke thus:

“Time and perhaps my life might be the sacrifice required for this adventure, but it falls on my shoulders and I accept wholeheartedly the responsibilities of this assignment with God as my witness. I shall flourish while I find this Dutchman and come into the riches of hidden truths too long buried from our eyes. I seek to shatter the illusions that hinder mankind and bring back the treasures that are bestowed to us and our forefathers.”

D’Aqs watched his cousin with absolute curiosity. “Fudging?”

“Fudging, yes. Major fudging. At the Council of Nicaea in 325AD.” They both looked at D’Aqs.

“Yes?” His pale skin took on a rose hue.

“At the Council of Nicaea the Roman Emperor Constantine the Great decided to make Jesus the product of a virgin birth, and a number of other very odd tenets that still to this day rub people the wrong way because it goes against very basic intuition,” said his father.

“It was voted into existence, almost three hundred years after Jesus’ life, that He was a product of a virgin birth and that He was the Son of God, not the Son of Man,” Hellmantle, eyes piercing. “They also voted to adopt the belief of the Trinity.”

“I’ve always considered the virgin birth to be difficult to believe,” said D’Aqs, sheepish and embarrassed at his lack of knowledge.

“That’s an understatement! Even in the Quran there’s a passage that goes: ‘They surely lie against God those who say, “God is one of three in a Trinity. There is no god except One Allah. If they do not stop themselves from their word of lies, a painful penalty will surely fall on the liars among them.’” Hellmantle piqued, posture as if in fighting stance.

“From what I know about Louis de Steward,” said Jack Grosseteste, “he and Dane were stationed in Hanoi before the war and became friends. De Steward survived the war and lived in Laos after the surrender of the French until his death in 1956. There were many dedicated French soldiers who found it difficult to let go of a land they had ruled for 150 years. De Steward was one of these dedicated Frenchmen who believed the land was theirs. From what I know he was stabbed by one of his servants who was a secret communist.” Hellmantle listened but had his back to him, instead looking for an atlas in his uncle’s bookshelves.

“Damn shame,” he said.

“Your grandfather’s friend Louis de Steward was one of these soldiers who kept fighting after 150 years of colonial rule. And you know that the Grosseteste and Hellmantle possessions in Indochina were seized.”

“When I was in Cambodia a few years back, I could still feel anti-French sentiment, 50 years after the French leaving,” said Hellmantle. At last he found an atlas, opened it to a detailed map of the Philippines out on the balcony and found Luzon Island.

Meanwhile Jack Grosseteste confirmed with his son that Hellmantle had Asperger’s Syndrome and was precariously balanced on a precipice waiting for the slightest gust of wind to push the poor young man over the edge into the abyss. They agreed that his intentions were noble but he might be careless enough to invite danger. As family, and with his father dead and so far away from home, the professor asked D’Aqs to accompany him to the Philippines on his quest, insisting the fresh air and exercise of the trip would do him good and contribute to his full recovery. D’Aqs shared his father’s concern and agreed to join Hellmantle on his task as long as his father could cover the costs of the trip. D’Aqs thought it might be something he could contribute to honor his father’s interest in secret societies that characterized the families’ past.

Head buried in the atlas, studying the minutia of gradients and shorelines and roads, Hellmantle suddenly erupted:

“Providence will show that this Dutchman is still alive and that we shall find him!” Confident, spoken with a proud posture.

“Will you be able to afford the time off work?” asked Jack Grosseteste.

Work! ‘Tis secondary to me uncle! This is everything! Finding the Padre is my focus now. Nothing will stop me and no one will stand in my way.”

“But it could be dangerous.”

Dangerous! I hope it is! I am fit to undertake this sally without help or advantage. The journey must be executed with vigor and valor, and integrity since God will witness our trials and hardships that will be the road to salvation!” D’Aqs went to take the atlas from Hellmantle but he grabbed it back, exclaiming:

None shall hinder my research nor obstruct my methods! Be not careless my cousin and get in my way!”

D’Aqs and his father exchanged looks again but this went unnoticed by Hellmantle, who, being inspirited, settled into studying Luzon Island on his map. D’Aqs, in an effort to keep things rational, asked:

“Do you even think that this Dutch priest exists?”

“Of course he exists!” exclaimed his indignant cousin. “The question should be my dear cousin, is he still alive?” He could see Hellmantle doing some swift calculations in his head, his hand going to his chin. “If he were 25 in 1954, then he’d be 72 years old, and priests never really retire, do they?”

“Well, they do Roland.” Using his first name was D’Aqs’ effort to reach out to the sane part of his mind, but this too failed to penetrate the wall of irrationality that had taken hold of his mental fortress.

“But he must be alive, don’t you see? We are part of a secret brotherhood that has remained together since the victorious find in Jerusalem when the original nine crusaders from Normandy led the First Crusade in 1099 and found what they sought under the Temple of Solomon in 1106. My poor D’Aqs! Do you forget that our family history recorded that the Nine Worthies were following a map?”

“No, but what were they looking for?”

“The treasure was the discovery – or rediscovery – of sacred geometry that has since been the foundation for building cathedrals throughout Europe for the last thousand years. Do you forget your history, man?”

“I guess I do.”

“Hughes de Payens changed history. He believed in the whispered secrets kept alive among the brotherhood to lead the First Crusade and persevere for seven years, digging under Solomon’s stables to find the buried booty. And nobody knows his name. But we do. And some of his blood stirs through our veins. Now it’s our turn to believe, to have faith, and to succeed.” Vehemence overflowed in Hellmantle.

Professor Grosseteste, savvy enough to seize the opportunity of his nephew being so committed, took his cue and spoke thus:

“That’s for you to find out, Roland. And when you go to the Philippines to discover the truth, you should go with your cousin because he can learn about our family history, something he has ignored his entire life. It behooves all people to know about their past and family history. Our story happens to be a little more involved than the average family.” He looked at his hands. “Believe me, I would go with you but I am not able. Remember, the only thing an older man envies of a younger man is the bounty of time that lies at his feet in the fullness of youth.”

With his chin high up in the air, Hellmantle replied:

Time is like malleable clay within the reach of a sculptor teeming with untested ideas,” proud of his philosophical acumen. “I am a man who goes forth into the world to press my thoughts against humanity with only Helios and God as my witness. For me curiosity is the sparkplug to action. I have learned through hardships of adventure that the bite is more profitable than the graze.”

“I’m afraid more goes on than can be explained by your little philosophy,” said Jack Grosseteste.

Tall words uncle,” he replied.

“How?” asked D’Aqs. “How are you going to find a Dutch priest in the northern island of the Philippines?”

“Motorcycles, man! The modern horse. Stop off at all the churches with a bell tower we see while touring the island.” D’Aqs thought it was a joke at first but then realized that his cousin was serious.

“It’s an enormous task.”

“I don’t have a choice. If you want to come with me then I encourage it because you ought to know more about where you come from. Can you afford it?” D’Aqs looked at his father and saw the subtle confirmation in his nod.

“Yes, I can.” It was at this moment D’Aqs committed himself to the challenge of finding a priest in the Philippines that started the chain of events that would follow, bringing them to countries he never thought he would see.

Aberdeen Harbour, Hong Kong Island

Chapter 4

About what happened to our adventurer when he goes to the Philippines

Manila, the Philippines, December 2001


Arriving in Manila was like stepping into a sauna full of dust bunnies. Fighting mid-afternoon traffic through exhaust-filled wisps of smoke didn’t bother Hellmantle because he was fully cocked for his quest, but D’Aqs suffered. Hundreds of Jeepnies, left over from the war, picked up people wherever they waved. But the Jeepnies never signaled. Mayhem. Non-stop beeping of horns, potholes, squalor, rivers of mud and excrement, stilted shacks falling down and odors pungent to make him gag.

After unpacking and consulting his Manila map, he and D’Aqs took a taxi downtown to a motorcycle rental shop near the US embassy. Security guards with guns poised, soldiers half-leaning against the embassy’s front wall, half-sitting in open lorries spanning the block that kissed Manila Bay, it was a peculiar time in Manila. The night before two bombings, one in a mall in the vicinity and the other an American-owned oil company headquarters, but even this did not deter the enkindled Hellmantle.

Walking past the military with his chest out and conspicuous, Hellmantle heard the hum of a two-stroke engine, like a beaver to the sound of flowing water. D’Aqs had ridden a motorcycle once when he was young but Hellmantle thrived on two-wheels. Knowing precisely the equipment required for their excursion, when he saw the red Honda CR250 plastic fenders curved over the front wheel with motor-cross hyperbole, he reached for the throttle to seize ownership.

A man without a motorcycle is a man in prison,” he said matter-of-factly. From a cluster of motorbikes shaded by palm trees a man handed Hellmantle the key, the extent of the salesman’s pitch. The man could recognize a motorcycle enthusiast when he saw one. As soon as Hellmantle felt the ripples of revs permeate through his wrists up to his heart, his passion to explore surfaced with oomph.

D’Aqs tried to sit on a CR250 but the bike was too big and unwieldy. Pointing to the smaller Honda XR125, the salesman handed the key to him.

“This one’s better,” he said. At first glance the bikes looked like they were in sub-par condition but upon close scrutiny the chains were tight and oiled, brakes crisp and clutch easy to clasp. Both engines purred. He knew the salesman was on the side of the rider, not out to exploit a man with a peppery bug for a bike.

To prepare for what lay before them, Hellmantle bought motorcycling gloves and bungee cords for D’Aqs. He had brought his compass, waterproof boots and eyewear but was forced to rent a small helmet. Hellmantle shrugged, attaching it to the strap on his knapsack preferring not to wear any headgear. With everything rented they rode away from the shop to the oceanfront. D’Aqs heard hysterical laughter coming from Hellmantle when riding side-by-side past the Manila Bay Yacht Club and palm trees that lined the waterfront. Then, to calm the roaring winds of his spirit that was on high alert at the pilgrimage before them, Hellmantle yelled:

Routine of the ordinary is the bane of the philosopher! All that is mundane is that which the dynamic innovator despises!” D’Aqs could not hear the words that his cousin said, the outburst swallowed by the Manila Bay breeze, lost to all but God.

For D’Aqs to get his bearings and some practice, they went on a tour around Manila, any adjustments needing to be made better tweaked in the city before departing tomorrow. Hellmantle only saw rot and decay that had pulled down this once pearl of the orient. Old architectural gems and colonial arches were falling as slow as molasses to thee ground in a scrum of thousands of motorcycles in a noisy cloud of pollution. He saw an infrastructure underutilized by neglect and mismanagement. They had overlooked the ingenuity and example left by the Spanish Visigoths, bringing the city to its knees. Since Hellmantle had lived in the Philippines in the past, he knew something about its culture and history, it governance of over 7100 islands a near impossibility, a region where corruption was rife. He thought of LeGazpsi, the read-bearded founder of the Far East Spanish colony, and how he built these architectural masterpieces to stun the indigenous peoples when they left the country and came to the city. Ornate buildings and intricate churches dotted the urban plot with parks and trees lining streets spoke once of a Southeast Asian utopia.


For dinner Hellmantle took his cousin to Heckles and Jeckles, a biker bar where the Mad Dogs Motorcycle Club hung out. Roused and thirsty sitting on bar stools, they ordered a round of cold beers and talked strategy for finding the church with the rouge bell tower. 

“This is quite a place,” said D’Aqs, eyeing some big bikers drinking beer and playing pool in their leather vests showing their tattooed arms. Hellmantle nodded at a few of them.

Better a full cheeseburger than a plain hamburger, if you know what I’m getting at.” Hellmantle, when working in Manila for another magazine, had been asked by a member of the motorcycle club to write a documentary about its initiation, working with a filmmaker to record the ceremony. He had come to know some of the members, many regarding him with suspicion. The music blared from the corners of the car. 

“I used to hang out here,” he said, casually scanning the bar, face a number of shades darker from dirt and dust and sweat. Two more bottles of beer arrived from the bartender who pointed at the billiards table. A massive bald man nodded at Hellmantle, who in turn raised his bottle and nodded.

“You know him?” D’Aqs was clearly unaccustomed to this rough milieu. One of the prostitutes approached Hellmantle and spoke to him in Tagalog, which he understood a little. Twenty pounds under weight and also thirsty, she asked for a beer and Hellmantle, perhaps forgetting that he had just received a free round the bald biker, ordered another round of San Miguel beer. She left him to talk shop with a new customer.

“Do you remember Nick Patton from Lakefield?” Hellmantle was still distracted by the woman.

“Nick? You mean the thick guy in the corner with all those motocross posters on his wall?”

“Yes, that guy. A few years after he left he lost his arm off-roading somewhere in Coburg where he lived.” Hellmantle thought back twenty-five years.

“I saw Asselstine running a chairlift during my university years. Stain looked the same.”

“Remember when you put that dead fish in Kerber’s bed? My word, that was funny! He didn’t notice until he climbed into bed.”

Shaking his head slowly, “So much Tom Foolery those years.” D’Aqs could see his eyes recollecting like a Rolodex of exploits and mischief. He wondered if he thought of the night they went out to play Space Invaders at the local pizza hangout and Hellmantle was the only one not be caught, but then Hellmantle’s brother came into his mind.

“Ramsauer thought you were the greatest after that dare.”

Seepage. He’s probably living in Spain off his trust fund.”

“That was a great nickname. Too bad he was only at Lakefield for one year. That guy needed a brother.” The words slipped out. They hovered there, tense. Until there was a break of the billiards balls.

“Dane Hellmantle is why we’re here, is it not?”

“Yes. It is,” said D’Aqs. Hellmantle pulled out his map of Luzon Island, D’Aqs studying the layout with him.

“We should ride up the middle through the Cordillera Mountains to Baguio City and Bontoc, and then around to the east if we can get through the Sierra Madres. If we can find a way across the mountains to the east, we ride north to Aparri and then west along the northern shores to Laoag City and down back to Manila.” Voice calm, even and dispassionate, as if talking about what kind of cereal to buy at the supermarket.

“It’s a long slog,” said D’Aqs, to get it out in the open and on the table.

“I don’t know if you are as good as me on two wheels, but since you’re a Hellmantle, er, a Gross Testicle, I’m guessing you’re not too bad on a motorbike. You seemed pretty steady today.”

“I think I can handle it,” an assured tone.

“Let me never beat around the bush. I have to say that I am among the best in the world when it comes to motorcycling in foreign lands with maps and a compass.” The directness and arid objectivity of his volley had D’Aqs wondering if it were a joke.

“So you won’t slow me down, eh?”

“I have lived here before you know. And these roads are different than the roads you’re used to. Debris and those Jeepnies can be dangerous.”

“It’s an opportunity not to miss.”

“As long as you don’t slow me down then things should be groovy. I strongly dislike waiting for a fellow rider. I don’t particularly like going fast. Going too fast on two wheels is like quaffing coffee. Better to savor the ride, like a good cup of the java bean. But for this I can only take a week off work so we will need to hustle.”

“And you speak the native tongue.”

“A small hit.”

“May come in handy, particularly in the north.”

“If we head to Baguio City then we can ride to the rice terraces, one of the Seven Wonders of the World, or actually the Eighth Wonder of the World. We should try to ride through it to the eastern highway if we can. Our only stop that isn’t part of our quest is in Sagada.” He pulled out a cigarette and ordered another round of San Miguel beer. D’Aqs located Sagada on the map.

“Why’s that?”

“Because I met a woman a few months ago from Germany who lives there as an artist. I said I would visit her. The only problem is that she doesn’t have a telephone so she won’t know I’m coming. She told me she could be reached at a place called The Shamrock Café.”

“It’s good that it’s on the way.”

Now, our seeker of truth had perhaps mistaken his beer for water. He drank bottle after bottle with alarming rapidity that resulted in his voice growing bolder. It was this that attracted the large biker from the billiards table over to the bar where the cousins sat.

“Hellmantle! You’re back.” The biker was three hundred pounds with scars on one of his cheeks, like a cascade of pink tissue. Not the prettiest face.

“I am though I am on a mission, my brother.”

“You’re not my brother,” he replied. “I saw that film that you wrote. You said some rough things, man.”

“Sometimes the truth must be laid bare despite the hue of color,” he said. The large biker didn’t like hearing that, and so motioned for another biker to come over, but Hellmantle continued and spoke thus:

“Fear of convention and normalcy is an ongoing impetus for drastic change. It is the cause for the manifestation of extremism – extremism in the evolution of self. Don’t you see, old man, that this is in the deepest nature of the philosopher? Evolution of self is that which motivates one to excel. A philosopher needs his space, his visual piece, and his sounds of nature to feel a sense of belonging to his environment. He needs his hue and his visual theatre to flourish!” The last words gaining volume and enunciated with relish that only offended the biker. His friend was big too and had more tattoos.

“I ain’t got no fear, man!”

“Of course you don’t my good man,” he replied, as if unaware of the danger brewing in front of him. “I am from a Grail Family of particular note and bear a coveted bloodline. We can trace our line back to the days of 925AD, when Rollo led the Danish Vikings to the Siege of Paris! His army surrounded the city for a year until the French king said ‘Enough! We’ll give you a little piece of land and call it Northmandy.’ The Hellmantle coat-of-arms still hangs in Rollo’s original castle in Normandy!” D’Aqs stood up in fear of the situation since he was now implicated with the last statement.

“Who cares?” said the biker, pushing Hellmantle. But he regarded the shove as a pat on the back among non-conformists and motorcycle brothers.

“You know sometimes I just don’t get it. When I look at the world, I cannot fathom why so many choose to be ignorant of their past! It is only in our past that we can make sense of where we are and where we’re going. And indeed where we should go. It’s incredulous when I think of all the people who never ask themselves: where did I come from? I believe it is the most fundamental question a man can ask. Where did Abraham come from? Who was Joseph? What happened to the Ten Lost Tribes of Israel? Where are they now? Who are they? Why isn’t-” He didn’t see it coming because the fist appeared in a flash of bones and skin and knuckles.

To the biker’s credit it was only one punch, enough to shut him up. If they had not known Hellmantle before, they would have thought him mad but they did know him and he had been the one who used dubious words to describe some aspects of their initiation that did not paint the Mad Dogs in a good light. When they saw the claret from his nose the only other jab was a kick in the shin by the other biker. They both needed to contribute. D’Aqs stood motionless with his cousin lying on the floor by his feet.

Chapter 5

In which the story of our crusader’s journey begins in earnest


After the assault of his person, Hellmantle was sore getting up the next day looking puffy and unsteady, limping to his motorcycle. As if to stay centered on his enterprise and ignore the soreness of his shin and swollen nose, he kept telling his cousin facts from history books he had read. D’Aqs, for his part, only nodded and tried to piece together this complex world that his cousin spoke of.

“Finding the map is imperative. We must do it for the Great Dane and for the Blonde Aquitaine. Our achievement will rival those of the Nine Worthies.”

“Can I ask you something?”

“You may Mr. Testicleez,” replied Hellmantle.

“Why are you so into this? The Desposyni? I mean, why does it all matter?” He couldn’t really describe the look on Hellmantle’s face, but after seeing his shock, he felt ashamed for asking. Hellmantle cleared his throat before answering:

“Why do some people like chocolate?” He shook his head. “There’s a lot you don’t know about, D’Aqs, but maybe in time you will come to know what I know – if you’re interested that is. The great story of the Bible is still happening. The Old Testament is really just a story about a family. A big family tree. And we’re part of this story. You’ll see in due course.” He let out a tremendous sigh that could be heard in the crosswinds and roar of honking horns of Manila’s city streets.

Under a blue sky and in the tropical heat of December, they could hardly see the road in front of them through pollution and dusty air. The gray-brownish hue of the smog hung like a skirt above the city, but on the horizon it petered out to the fantastic blue sky with no clouds marring its purity. Escaping claustrophobic congestion of Manila’s traffic was frustrating because potholes, lack of road signs and general disarray of streets slowed their speed. For Hellmantle, riding on the right-hand side of the road after riding on the left side in Hong Kong proved hazardous so he clung to the centerline because Jeepnies pulled over to the shoulder in quick movements never checking for traffic in their blind spot. Motorcycles with sidecars called Tricycles were also a menace on the roads because they disregarded traffic law in a reckless manner. But soon they found their rhythm, able to tackle traffic turbulence with little distraction. Hellmantle was giddy and could not help talking to himself as he rode his CR250, and spoke thus:

“Those who think for themselves have always stood on a slippery perch threatened with the punishment of death! Such is the fate of original thinkers since the beginning of time. Those that have a small mind dominate the petty, and by dominating the petty they exercise control over the other small minds that add up to a big voice. But not me! I break away and break out! I shall correct the mighty wrongs that have hurt humankind and injured those with sensitive antennae for truth!”


Volcanoes stretched across the horizon in a ridge of apexes, some bare as ping-pong balls. Palm trees covered the huge plateau that led to the apron of the mountains. After hours of dodging irresponsible drivers, breathing in leaded exhaust and enduring debris churned up on semi-paved roads, they pulled over for a drink of water in San Fernando that felt like liquid silk on their dusty palettes. Named after King Ferdinand II of Spain, St. Peter’s Church, with its massive yellow dome, dominated the city.

“Since the church doesn’t have a bell tower we don’t need to check it out,” said D’Aqs, making sure they were both on the same page.

“True, it is sans tower, but rather an attractive piece.”

“Classic colonial architecture.”

“I believe it’s where the Good Friday Flagellantes takes place every year, where peoples dress like Christ, prostrate themselves until their backs are raw from whipping, and re-enact the crucifixion with real nails. Serious devotion.”

“I’ve heard about that.” The church courtyard was void of life.

“To me the church looks like Saint Sulpice seminary in Paris; the place where Saint Bernard de Clairvaux lived.”

“Never heard of it.”

“Try not to be embarrassed about that,” said Hellmantle, the closest he could come to empathy. “Saint Sulpice is where monks and scholars have always worked with our forefathers; it was the spiritual nerve center of the First Crusade. If we find the map we could take it there for interpretation and safekeeping. Remember, the Catholic Church has its share of assassins who would try to kill any of us who wanted to reveal any of these secrets.”

The intensity in his eyes surprised D’Aqs. A man on a mission, he reminded himself he was there to make sure Hellmantle wasn’t killed by his own recklessness. D’Aqs remembered before the onset of Asperger’s that went untreated for so long, Hellmantle was every bit attentive to all practical aspects of life, from running his properties to managing his affairs with a balanced hand. Now his illness had clearly taken hold, particularly after his father had been killed in a car crash that some believed was instigated by Rome. But everything really changed after his identical twin brother Rheine was killed in a skiing accident during grade eleven when they were at boarding school together. D’Aqs wasn’t on that ski trip but from he had heard Hellmantle was the one who was egging his brother on to take a steep jump that he himself was too afraid to take. Rheine broke his neck and died two days later, Hellmantle consoling him on the ski hill in a frozen puddle of tears. Much of his jois de vivre evaporated after that, him soon leaving the school at the end of that year. He had heard through his father that Hellmantle had become an extremist in everything he did, as if he flaunted death to take him to his twin brother in the afterlife. The twins used to talk for hours after dark in the dorm with other Desposyni offspring about details of adventures in history that were handed down only verbally, generation to generation – all in a world of high adventure out there somewhere far beyond the steeples and spires of the private boarding school.

For D’Aqs the story of bloodlines was a murky one at best, often making him dizzy remembering where each family line descended, but for Hellmantle it came easily because he had been immersed in Grail history since he could speak. D’Aqs had been brought up with its history of intrigue and secrecy, but to hear it swallowed and spouted as unmovable fact made him uneasy. He knew secret societies had protected the bloodline of Jesus and His true message but none of it ever touched him until now. This man in front of him was a living representative of this belief system. But D’Aqs was still quite skeptical as to whether it was true. It was one thing to believe something but another thing to prove it true.

“I suspect,” he said, sensing D’Aqs skepticism, “that you have only a minimal interest in all of this, but I am the opposite. I began reading some books about this secret history many years ago, which has served to provide many missing pieces of the puzzle for me. Like the fact that the words ‘Holy Grail’’ describe Jesus’ bloodline, not a cup.”

“Oh, how so?”

Holy Grail comes from the French ‘Sangreal” or ‘Le Seynt Graal” or ‘le Saint Graal” meaning ‘Holy Blood.’ Sangre is Spanish for blood. To seek the Holy Grail is to try to find a woman with the bloodline of Jesus. That’s pretty important to know my preacher cousin! All those books of Grail lore were basically about knights going out to get laid!”

“That’s the first time I’ve heard it expressed like that. But it makes perfect sense.”

“The Blonde Aquitaine and the Prior de Sion maintained the belief that Jesus had children that were to be the hereditary kings of Europe for many centuries. Hey man, the fact is that Jesus married Mary Magdalene and that he had children – three to be exact. It was Jesus’ second son, named Josephus, who had children and it is from his line that the Merovingian families come from. And as a Merovingian family, we believe we have the blood of the royal line that flows in our veins. Because of this we have the responsibility to protect His untainted beliefs until the Catholic Church loses enough power so the public is ready for the corrected truth!” Soaking wet from sweat from his little speech, Hellmantle turned on the engine, slipped into first gear and left D’Aqs in a dusty cloud.

The church plaque in San Fernando

Chapter 6

About Hellmantle’s time in the city of sin on Christmas Eve

Angeles City, Pampanga Province


When they reached Angeles City, D’Aqs wanted to stay in the hotel and eat but Hellmantle insisted on dinner at a place called Margaretville’s. It also happened to be Christmas Eve. A mile or two of nothing but bars and nightclubs for thirsty travelers, the strip was just across the fence from the old American military base, which was now empty and barren. When the Americans left after Mount Pinatubo erupted in 1991, much of the city became a ghost town but it kept up its reputation as a city of sin with its strip of clubs and brothels. In such a staunchly Catholic country, it was like Tijuana during Prohibition.

Shin still sore, Hellmantle limped to the bar where they sat next to an old US Marine with cropped hair and deep lines in his face and neck. The Marine was a little unsteady from too much Christmas cheer. Finding good food was a bonus and the beer quenched their thirst, but things turned sour when the Marine became embittered. For a while they ate in silence, listening.

“They kicked us out in ninety-one and now they spend all this money – that they don’t have – to operate our old equipment. Everything we left them is falling apart!” Rock music pumped out of the jukebox, hookers at the bar and everywhere else, Angeles City had a dead weight cast over it like a blackened lung gurgling for its last breath. “Bloody Hell! Do people forget about Macarthur?” said the Marine, raising his voice.

“I’ve seen the statue of General Macarthur within the old walls of Intramurous and on the island of Corregidor,” said Hellmantle. “He was a great man in local Philippine history but his importance has diminished since the war. Nationalism now blunts the fine-tuning fork that was once Manila’s.” His words went some way to quell the old man’s temper.

“You’re a smart kid. Did you know that Clark Air Force base had the highest re-enlistment rate of any American base?” His ticked-off bluntness appealed to Hellmantle, which opened the gates to his own verbal tirade.

“Sure. There was a hierarchy of landed knights here who postured among the elite but slipped into the hedonism of vice, slanderous untruth and desperation. Regardless of whether they wore berets in battle or in cafés, these men all shared a common currency: the Angeles experience. It was the hard-man’s Hilton Head, a piece of ass they called their own.” D’Aqs watched the activities of old single men and their Philippina escorts sitting around the bar with long faces on the eve of Jesus Christ’s birth. If there was one night to see sorry faces, this was it. It sent a chill through him, motivating him to get an early start the next day.

“Society is going backwards here,” said the Marine.

“These men have earned their time and they aren’t about to apologize about anything.” The marine nodded, enjoying such an informed opinion from such a young man. “Perhaps the only Achilles Heel these hardened blokes have is smart-assed youths entering their world with a 21st-century attitude. But to be fair, like fathers long separated from their sons, guys here want to hand down their wisdom to the next wave of independent thinkers so that the muster of their overcoming won’t be lost to the silent ears of time.” Something in D’Aqs told him that his cousin was moving towards risk of injury if he kept talking in such a direct manner.

“I had always wondered: Where do they all go?” Hellmantle went on. “Where do all the good men go who had stepped up to bat during the sixties and seventies in Vietnam, faced divorce in the eighties and then retired in the nineties? Where did they settle, these worn men of action? They live here in Angeles City, close to the old base that I’m sure still conjures up memories of a lost time.”

“You’re not wrong son.”

“America is too sugar-coated for them and Europe is too culturally snobby, but here their monthly stipend goes far. The Philippines offers the ideal solution. It affords them relative wealth, fun, good climate and English. For historically mature Americans, it’s still a colony that they fought for twice in history: once from the Spanish, and once from the Imperial Army of Japan.”

Bloody Japs.” D’Aqs sensed trouble.

“There have been more than enough American deaths to justify the adopted posture of many who are here who believe that this country is still part of the American sphere of influence, or in other words, their own.”

“I’ll tell you kid, I do. This is still our colony.”

“Americans still permeate the ruling class of this nightclub den of sin. Here you can live with the buying power of kings. Now with grown children and long-lost wives, you guys can live out your bachelor lives of the early years. Angeles City is your turf, your home base; you have earned your elitism from your life’s work. So there shouldn’t be anyone depriving you of your personal space of jollification.” This boosted the vim of the Marine, leading him to rant.

“Why can’t those fat cats in government get some money together and fix the potholes and sludge on the streets? How difficult is it to fix a pothole?”

“Yes, basic maintenance of society is beginning to wane. A devolution backwards, it’s becoming a place where Marines are ridiculed as being part of the problem,” Hellmantle shot back.

“But if you have such issues like this, then why do you choose to live here?” asked D’Aqs.

“I live off my pension from the army, like your brother here said, just the same as many of these guys here. And the Philippines is one of the only places where I can live comfortably off that money. Otherwise I would be back in the States poor as a turd.” It wasn’t in D’Aqs nature to castigate those worthy of castigation.

“Why not in Thailand?”

“Because they don’t speak English. And in Angeles there are a lot of us vets who can relive memories from Nam as your brother said, and we can drink Tsing Tao, still made at the brewery Germans built in their old colony in China, in the north I think. It’s the best local number, second to only the premium-imported beers of Europe.” The Marine raised his pint glass. “Here’s to Christmas. It’s Jesus’ birthday after all.” Hellmantle didn’t raise his glass.

“Jesus was actually born on Sunday, March 1st in 7BC,” he said, all serious, and full of booze.


“The things you read Hellmantle!” said D’Aqs, trying to deflect. “Careful not to believe everything you read.” D’Aqs’ right eye twitched from fatigue.

“When the eldest son from the Royal House of David is born,” he said, slowly and clearly as if teaching a group of imbeciles, “he must be born in September. This is because the royal couple has marital relations for only one month every year: in December. Any offspring born outside of September would be regarded as illegitimate. Since Jesus was born on March 1st, He was never accepted by the ruling council of elders – the Pharisees – as the heir to Joseph. But since His younger brother James was born in September six years later, it was James who was accepted as the legitimate inheritor of the eldest son status. To inherit the title Joseph, that all eldest males inherit in the royal line, one must be born in September. And that’s why James came to be known as Joseph of Arimathea, why their father was known as Joseph, and perhaps why Jesus came to be known during his life as a bit of a militant revolutionary and rebel.”

“And where did you read this?” asked the Marine. “A comic book?” He stood abruptly, took his leave in a swoon of sin, waddling off with a Philippina forty years his junior.

“Why are you so adamant about all this stuff?”

“I have read the great books by authors who went forward with courage and wrote down the truth for the sake of truth-seekers like me. And as a Hellmantle, it is my duty to take the mantle and run with it. Now, my missionary cousin, does that make sense to you?” The thought of taking these books away from Hellmantle crossed his mind, but how?

“So then do you think you’re rational?” The question remained untouched for some time before Hellmantle answered:

“You mean you think I’m a little short of salt in the brain-pan? That’s funny, but I probably am. No matter. As long as I keep my business in front of me, my dear Sancho Panza, I shall be moving forward with my quest.” Acting as both friend and minister of the spirit, D’Aqs took issue with him gently as would a doctor to a mental patient.

The church in Angeles City

Chapter 7

About the brave Hellmantle’s success on his adventure

to Baguio City worthy of happy memory


Christmas morning Hellmantle led the way to St. Anthony’s Church in the middle of old Angeles City. It was busy with Christmas Day celebrations.

“Interesting,” said D’Aqs, whispering behind the back pews. “Like that church in San Fernando, this church also has a lot of emphasis on the Virgin Mary. Look at the sculptures and the symbols. It’s so…so-“


“Yes, that’s it.”

“That’s because Spain was one of the countries that kept a strain of the untainted message of Jesus. The best example was the Cathars who lived in Spain on the coast of the Bay of Lyon.”

“I think I remember that. Weren’t they massacred by Rome?”

Indeed they were. Since most of Spain had been taken over by the Moors in 711AD, there was a coming-together of ideas from Africa, the Middle East as well as from Europe. And so Gnosticism flourished, among other things like mathematics.”

“Yes, Algebra comes from the Arabs doesn’t it?”

Indeed it does. Algebra, like the word alcohol, is an Arabic word. The Gnostic beliefs of the Cathars were much closer to the original message of Jesus so this made them too much of a threat to Rome’s power so the Pope decided to wipe them out.”

“Yes, I remember that.”

“And one of the beliefs was the reverence of women, the creators of life, like most pagan religions before Christianity. Rome de-emphasized the importance of women when they tampered with His message. For example they invented the idea that Mary Magdalene was a prostitute. She was actually from a noble family.”

“But Islam also doesn’t revere women.” Hellmantle slouched his shoulders.

Au contraire my cousin,” he said. “I suppose you’re not aware that in Islam if you say a prayer for your father you must say the same prayer twenty-five times for your mother.”

“Are you kidding me?”

D’Aqs!” Some people in the last pews looked at them. “I never kid about religion. It’s a serious beefcake!” Startled, D’Aqs said he was sorry. “You know, it behooves you to read all religious materials to have a better grasp of how many religions overlap. You’ll see most fundamentally believe in the same monotheistic God. They just differ on the details.” Fire in his eyes.

“I suppose you’re right.”

“In the same story of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, the Quran says both Adam and his wife Eve ate from the tree, whereas the woman gets the blame in the Bible. Both Books give due time to describe a good wife, but what sticks in my mind from all of it is a line from the Quran: It is better to marry a slave who is a believer than a good woman who does not believe.”

D’Aqs looked at his cousin with a mixture of surprise and doubt in his eyes.

“Anyway, if you notice there is a lot of emphasis on the Virgin Mary rather than Jesus Himself in the churches here built by the Spaniards.”

“I have. It’s obvious.” He surveyed the images throughout the inside of the church.

“Spain has kept that belief, that Jesus was a prophet and not the Son of God. Subtle and smart, they let it be known through symbols they carved into their churches. It was at a church called Santiago de Compostela in Galicia that remained the center of Nazarene thought for centuries in direct opposition to Rome. In fact I have met some modern-day members of an ancient order that originate from this church: the Order of Santiago – in English it would be the Order of Saint James. It was on par with the Knights Templar and the Order of the Hospitallers.”

“Never heard of Santiago de Compostela.” Hellmantle looked at him firmly. “Unless it’s the church at the end of the pilgrimage in northern Spain?” Hellmantle, in muted disbelief, nodded. His cousin had not yet read outside the lines of convention and dictated thought.

“In most churches here Jesus is shown as the Christ child instead of the hacked up and bleeding martyr.”

Hacked up?” Hellmantle ignored him.

“It was near the Cathar stronghold on the southeast coast of Spain in Rennes-le-Chateau where the authors of that book Holy Blood, Holy Grail found the scroll in a church column that started this whole movement to expose the Catholic Churches’ efforts to suppress Jesus’ untainted teachings. It has ushered in a new period in history to expound what the Prior de Sion and the Blonde Aquitaine secret societies have known all along. The massacre of the Cathars and then the Spanish Inquisition just reinforced the societies to keep a low profile until the time was right in world history to reveal what they know is true. Now is the time in history to inform the public of this other world – a different way of looking at events. That is why we are destined to find the Dutch Padre. So chin up man!” Worried about the bite in his eyes, D’Aqs kept quiet. They remained at the back of the church listening to the Spanish sermon until Hellmantle gave his cousin a nod, leaving without disturbing the worshippers. Hellmantle was too itchy to find church with the rouge-colored bell tower.


The heat and dust in Angeles City were enough to choke even the most hardened traveler, but after riding roads with deep divots and crumbled pavement they reached the entrance of Clark Air Force Base just before the expressway. Ignoring a sign forbidding motorcycles, they cruised down the main street past barracks bare and looted, with shattered windows and peeling paint. Tremendous waste.

Ghosts stirred in the wind.

Riding was smooth as they moved north on MacArthur Highway, soon coming into range of Mount Pinatubo that had its moment of glory ten years ago. Without warning, Hellmantle turned off the highway flying along the paved road ahead of D’Aqs, past once fertile plains until finding an old trail that ran along a dried-up river. Mile after mile riding towards Mount Pinatubo, D’Aqs tasted the thrill of wide-open spaces on the foothills of the huge volcano. Sky blue, sun hot, and air fresh, he and Hellmantle hurled over the grass trail approaching the steep ascent of the massive mound of rock. Breathtaking. Until they hit ash. Sluggish and loose under the wheels, the gray ash was just like sand, forcing them to downshift. Hellmantle tried to persevere but the heavy ash was too deep.

“Did you see the land we passed?” No one around for miles.

“I did notice that.”

“Lots of fields but no production,” said Hellmantle. “Use to be called the rice bowl of the Philippines.”

“Now it’s all covered in ash.”

“From what I remember, a typhoon hit the area right after Pinatubo erupted, and that covered the land with ash and rivers turned to mud that flooded the plains. Over a thousand people died and over a million people were displaced.”


“Yeah. It was the biggest volcanic eruption of the 20th century.”

It felt like motorcycling on the moon when they hit the road again across the rice bowl, now a wasteland of volcanic ash. Riding the wave of freedom on the volcano’s foothills, Hellmantle thirsted to make the most of this adventure. Rather than just follow the road and stop at churches with bell towers like a Sunday tourist, he wanted to squeeze as much toothpaste of the tube as he could while they were in the Philippines.

Passing through Mabalacat they saw a Kamikaze memorial, where the Japanese organized the first kamikaze group in 1944 called the Shimpu Special Attack Corps, and then through Urdaneta and over the bridges of Dagupan City until the cousins reached the Cordillera Mountain Range, the backbone of Luzon. The higher they climbed, the cooler the temperature, so they stopped at the side of the road where T-shirts and shorts gave way to denims and jackets and gloves.

“I had a taxi driver once tell me there is gold buried up here in these mountains,” said Hellmantle. “He was certain that the rumors of the Japanese burying their gold at the end of the war was true. Didn’t want the Americans to take it from them.” Gesturing to the mountains around them, he raised his eyebrows. “They say there are hidden tunnels built by the Japanese in the area. Of course that stirs my Norman sensibilities.”

Shantytowns now without any sign of Spanish presence, palm trees fewer with pine trees becoming the dominant tree, air crisp as a dry spruce, after hours of riding up the mountains Baguio City appeared around a corner along a ridge that encircled a wide saucer-shaped hill, like a natural Roman amphitheatre. Cool mountain air smelled of cedar and ponderosa pine, a striking contrast to choking city smog that hung like a noose over Manila. No chaos here; only the feeling of calm, protected from the poverty of the south.

Down the main street past the turn-of-the-century façades of buildings that lined the sidewalks, it was quaint and sunny untouched by the hand of time. Like a small town in Colorado, it was the American choice of retreat from the oppressive temperatures of the city. Houses luxurious and spacious, with well-paved roads; it was an American haven in a country with very few havens.

“For some reason I had always been skeptical about its notoriety as the pre-eminent destination for heads of state and the wealthy,” said Hellmantle, “but now, being here, I can immediately see why. It’s steeper here than the streets of San Francisco and warmer than Aspen, and it smells like the Swiss Alps and has the quaintness of a town in upstate New York. Now it makes sense to me why it was the sight of Japan’s last stand. And it’s fitting that the Allied victory over Axis aggression was forever marked on this very soil.”

“It is very American, isn’t it?”

“The only thing missing are cars with ski racks. It’s like a sleepy ski town in the Rocky Mountains.” In front of Baguio Cathedral the air blew from peak to peak, wafting like a medicine carrying the hidden tonic for all forms of cardiovascular ailments. Dusty and tired, they decided to stay over in Baguio. Maybe it was his bruised shin or his sore nose, but from his body language D’Aqs guessed the Grail Adventurer Extraordinaire was in pain. But D’Aqs was slouched on his bike in need of rest for a few hours too.

Later at their hotel, D’Aqs found Hellmantle drinking hot tea reading his maps.

“Let’s go native up the Halseema Mountain Trail.”

“Isn’t that the old trail that the American missionaries took?”

“It is. It leads right to the rice terraces.” 

“And to your woman in Sagada I see.”

“Yes, that too. Very important to see her.”

“Is it rideable?”

“It should be with our bikes. You seem to know what you’re doing on yours and I’m certainly very fine with my own abilities so why not? It should save us some time, which we don’t have a lot of if we’re going right around the perimeter of the island. Otherwise it’ll be a bit boring taking the newer highway up to Sagada.”

His zeal to serve his family in honor, and his deep belief in the Holy Grail had given Roland Hellmantle a grounded sense of who he was; the world could not hand him enough adventure; he was an individual born for a Crusade. It was because of this that D’Aqs agreed to take the Halseema Mountain Trail 130 kilometers north to Bontoc via Sagada through the heart of the Cordillera Mountains.

Camp John Hay, the old POW camp in Baguio City



Chapter 8

In which the courageous Hellmantle of Normandy journeys north

into the Cordillera Mountain Range

Baguio City, Benguet Province


Hopping on his motorcycle in the morning without the restriction of a helmet gave Hellmantle a profound sense of freedom, like an intoxicant flowing through his veins. He rubbed his shin, the same bone that had been so fiercely kicked some days before, then eased the throttle out, bolting away from D’Aqs. He felt the urge to take his bike off road along the apron of the steep mountain range, similar in cut to the Rocky Mountains. Despite its size, the smooth grass surface from a distance made them look friendly to the eye, his CR250 motorbike ideal to tackle the terrain. It was difficult to mask his thrill of taking the trail, also known as the Great Mountain Trail, a name given for its importance as a link to the Eighth Wonder of the World. He regarded the other highway as antithetical to the spirit of his motorcycle journey, thirsting instead for a challenge, not an unadventurous point-and-shoot road. For D’Aqs the Halseema Mountain Trail was the hallowed route of his professional brethren – a Holy Pilgrimage where missionaries had once braved the elements and preached in these distant lands.

With persistent drizzle and rain gear on, the two cousins weaved through isolated mountain villages peppered with small huts, the few Jeepnies they encountered tore down the road with no regard for the dirt-bikers. Then they hit unpaved road: loose stones covering a slippery surface of rock carved out of the mountainside. Believing that most of the Halseema Mountain Trail was paved, they took the first stretch like a hiccup along the way.

With D’Aqs following timidly, his face showing alarm, Hellmantle bounced and slid from bump to rock over water-filled potholes and streams that crossed the trail. The trail scared D’Aqs but thrilled Hellmantle as they moved north towards Sagada into the low-lying clouds, shin-deep puddles soon soaking legs and feet. Hours of traversing the mountainsides, with his face showing determination and ease, it grew colder the higher they climbed – deeper into the interior. He was in his element, slaying gravity and overcoming rocks that tried to trip him with precipitous drops that flanked both sides of the road where no guardrail protected the careless motorist. Some moments Hellmantle literally caught his breath looking down the ridges. Numerous times D’Aqs was forced to flirt with the cliff-side because of the grain of the trail, but not Hellmantle. Fear of losing control of his high-revving dirt bike was not on the forefront of his mind; concentration on the art of riding took center stage – extremism of all sorts veiled under butterscotch-and-ripple hair.

Due to the slippery conditions on the rocks causing them to slow their pace, it was soon clear they wouldn’t be able to reach Sagada. With clouds becoming thicker, D’Aqs feared that they could be stranded on the trail after dark. Hellmantle pulled over to the edge of the road falling away into an abyss of dark green. He had a smoke and surveyed his unmatchable-to-his-map geography as he waited for D’Aqs.

“It’s spectacular,” he said to his cousin when he arrived.

“We haven’t passed one vehicle in hours.” D’Aqs studied his hands, red blisters forming, his feet soaking wet while Hellmantle savored nature’s beauty all around him.

“I know we’re close to Mount Pulag. It’s the highest point in the Philippines. I think we’re over two kilometers above sea level.” Shacks on the slopes below vied for the last rays of sun in an open-air theater dotted with caves.

“I cannot even count the number of times I almost fell. This is not what I expected.”

“Never is from my experience. Let’s stop in the next town and see if there’s an inn.”

Inn?” D’Aqs faced his fear, and tried to tighten his collar as he looked at Hellmantle’s scarf with envy.

“Well, you know. A place to stay.”

“You mean someone’s hut?” D’Aqs couldn’t suppress a shiver underneath his jacket.

“I thank God I brought my waterproof army boots.” He looked at D’Aqs footwear, soaked and covered with mud. Asperger’s oblivious.

With stronger winds, nightfall was only a half hour away. Hellmantle led the way north along the rocky path. Highlander tribes couldn’t hide their interest at the two Normans scaling their mountains, children sitting under wooden roofs waving at the cousins riding the barren rock-strewn trail. Inhospitable terrain was the cause of their isolation, and with the road so difficult to ride, traffic was non-existent. Just as darkness fell they saw a village with a church spire poking up to heaven. Warming his heart to see it, Hellmantle turned down the dirt road where he parked his motorcycle. Made of concrete and weathered from the elements, the church was closed, which surprised him considering it was two days after Christmas. Walking to a little office beside the church without waiting for D’Aqs, he entered a warm foyer with handcrafted pine outlining several rooms. He heard footsteps upstairs and a nun appeared on the stairs. She must have heard his motorcycle boots.

“Good evening,” said the nun, middle-aged with a kind face. “How may I help?” She had the tranquil voice nurtured by the Holy Spirit.

“Ah, we were wondering if you could tell us when the church was built?” he asked, just as D’Aqs came in. Her eyes were attentive from behind her thick eyeglasses. Hellmantle saw her take in his windblown hair, muddy boots, and his face covered in dirt.


“You see, we’re looking for a Dutch missionary who may have come through these parts sometime after 1954.” Hellmantle removed his beret with a smile, encouraged her to say more about the church.

“Oh let me see.” She looked up at a plaque on the wall above the doorway.  “Father Albert de Rheume opened the parish in 1908 and was here until 1912,” she said, pointing at the wall and looking proud as pie at this fact. “Here’s a list on the wall.” Stepping towards the oak desk at the entrance, he read the list keeping his eye open for a Dutch missionary:















FR. JOHN RIJPMA1952-1962


FR. JOHN RIJPMA1963-1964



D’Aqs shook his head, amazed at so many Europeans who had lived in such a remote place, so far away from the turbulent wars of the twentieth century, right up to Father Watershoot.

“Who is that?” Hellmantle asked, pointing to an enlarged black-and-white photograph on the wall beside the list of names, which D’Aqs was reading with open-eyed wonder.

“Father Vande Winkle who was here in 1962 when I was a girl.” She admired the image of the missionary standing in is long white robe as if he were a savior from another planet. With close-cropped sandy hair, spectacles, and weather-beaten boots that could be seen peeking out from under his white robe, he held his posture straight with his hands clasped behind his back, speaking. The villagers looked at him with reverence.

“He was loved by the people,” she said, looking deeply into Hellmantle’s eyes. “He’s remembered for saving souls and for speaking Ibaloy dialect and making songs, and teaching and caring for the sick after the war.” Hellmantle took a step closer to the portrait and noticed on the wall beside it a small watercolor of a cross in a field with a scroll hanging from the right arm of the cross. In the silence Hellmantle read it aloud:

You did not choose me,

I chose you.

“That was what he always used to say to his flock,” she said, wistful and slow. He stepped closer to the nun as the rain became more robust.

“Only here for one year?”

“Yes. He was one of the main reasons I became a nun.” It looked like she might be in her fifties, but it was difficult to tell with her ruddy mountain cheeks.

“Why was he here only one year?” asked D’Aqs, seeing what Hellmantle was getting at.

“He filled in for Father Rijpma when he had to return to Europe for a personal matter. So he was posted here for a year, then returned to the old church he loved.” He glanced at Hellmantle.

“Where was he from? The Netherlands?”

“Holland I think. He worked very hard during his stay. He baptized almost every baby born through the valley.”

“Where was his posting after 1963, do you know?” Hellmantle took another step closer to the nun.

“It was on the west coast, I think,” she answered, motioning to the northwest with her hand. “He loved the church.” A soft, dreamy look appeared in her eyes. Nothing could be heard in the mountain village except for wind and splattering rain.

“Did it have a large red bell tower?” Hellmantle raised his right eyebrow. She laughed and said she didn’t know.

“Would you know of a restaurant nearby or a hotel?” D’Aqs was just about to rephrase his question when she answered.

“Rooms? Yes. Just down the street. They serve food and have rooms.”

“It’s not too far?” His shaky voice betrayed his shivering.

“Very close. I take you.” Disappearing for a minute, she returned to the foyer wearing a raincoat and carrying an umbrella, ready to show the soaking motorcyclists the way.

Outside, the pines and the steep mountainsides made it feel like Switzerland.

“It’s very windy here,” D’Aqs said, when they were walking outside.

“The valley is very deep,” she replied. “Sayangan is one of the oldest mountain villages in the Cordillera Mountains.” The rain aggressive, valley winds had picked up, making it feel on the verge of freezing rain. The nun led the way down a dirt path past a school and around a corner where they stopped at a café on the main road. A mother and daughter behind the counter washing dishes and preparing to close for the night stared at their muddy countenance when they entered.

Just before the Good Sister left, she handed D’Aqs an old booklet titled Fortes in Fide et Amore.

“There are some photos of priestly life in Sayangan you may enjoy seeing,” she said with a kind smile.

Halsema Mountain Trail

Chapter 9

About what happened to Hellmantle in the mission in the

mountains and the crucifixion of Jesus

Sayangan, Mountain Province


The mother and daughter served them a large chicken dinner with a number of bottles of San Miguel beer and then left for the night half an hour later, leaving the fridge unlocked and packed with cold beer. They ate as if they hadn’t touched food for weeks, Hellmantle quaffing the liquid bread like a sponge. Upstairs D’Aqs eased back on his cot in the corner of the room stretching his weary legs, putting on a dry shirt, and flipping through the booklet with blistered hands. Hellmantle had a smoke sitting at desk in front of a big window overlooking the storm brewing in the valley, hunched over a map without his eyeglasses in the dim light.

“This is the highest church in the Philippines,” he said finally, lifting his head from the map.

“You mean closest to God.”

“Yes! Closest to God!

“This booklet is full of things said during the ordination process,” D’Aqs said, looking at Hellmantle with interest. “It records what was said during the ordination of someone by the name of Reverend Elpido D. Silug.”

“Unfortunate name.” Hellmantle grunted, keeping his eyes on D’Aqs.

“On the opening page it says:

The Times Are Bad.

You Are There to Make It Better.

A Wise Man Will Make More Opportunities Than He Finds.

You Are the One Path to Lead Others to Find the Path,

You Are Chosen! Carry On!

Hellmantle took a sip of his beer and sighed.

“I like this one:

Not In Our Heads

But In Our Hearts

Lies the Strength

That Carries Us

Unto Great Deeds.

“And following the heart theme:

God Is a Friend Who Knows the Song

In Your Heart Who Will Sing It Back

To You When You Have Forgotten the Words.

The night air between gusts was quiet when Hellmantle asked for the booklet. D’Aqs gave it to him with the same page open.

Hellmantle skimmed the pages and then found something that he liked. He read:

You are the greatest of all God’s earthy creations.

Now, make the most of your wonderful gifts.

Rouse your mind and discover the powers that God has given you.

When the winds calmed down, Hellmantle could hear a waterfall from behind the café. Perhaps the air was a bit thin here in the mountains because with the amber nectar and the rev of the engine still in ears, the booklet struck a chord. He went on:

God’s chosen are not only a glory to His name.

They are grace and blessing to His people.

“It says here the priest reads these words to a newly ordained priest and to the people there in attendance:

A young man lives in the future,

An old man lives in the past;

For youth, time is moving too slowly,

For the aged, time is moving too fast.

A young man dreams of the glory

The before him will bring;

An old man dreams of the timelessness

When life held the magic of spring.

No matter how young or how old

The present alone can convey,

The only time we can harvest

Our blessings as fortunes unfold.

Therefore, once and for all, this short command is given to you:

Love and do what you will;

If you keep silent, keep silent by love;

If you speak, speak by love;

If you correct, correct by love;

If you pardon, pardon with love.

Let love be rooted in you,

And from the root nothing but good can grow.

“I like that one.” A strange tingling sensation rippled up D’Aqs’ spine that produced a shiver right from his center.

“That was written by our Dutch friend Vande Winkle,” said Hellmantle, face flushed, something stirring within him. “He was here just after the Battle of Dien Bien Phu.”

“Yes, I noticed that.” D’Aqs sat up from his cot. “Do you remember that guy Barnes in the next grade?”

“Yeah, the tall guy, always had a purpose.” Hellmantle hadn’t thought about the guy in 25 years.

“I know what you’re saying. He did always have a purpose during those boarding school years. Well he died during that NATO war against Serbia. He became a pilot.”

“That’s a shame; a real shame.” Hellmantle thought if those early mornings he used to get out to bed to sneak into the library to do work, and Barnes was there, quiet but with purpose. He and his twin brother used to laugh about the Barnian porpoise and the firm step he had inherited from his ancestors – Barnes being a descendent of one of the main men in the Sixth Crusade, the last and the most terrible of all the Crusades.

“One of the few Canadians to be shot down.” Hellmantle sighed.

“Why do you bring him up?”

“I don’t know. You always liked him and the mention of war made me think of it.” Hellmantle shrugged, and returned to the booklet.

“You probably know this but the ordination ends with:

You are a priest forever in the order of Melchizedek.

Psalm 110, verse 4.

Wasn’t Melchizedek one of the Three Wise Men who were present at the birth of Jesus?”

“Yes, he was,” replied D’Aqs. Hellmantle finally put the booklet down and closed his eyes, exhausted from the ride.

“He was a Magi, part of the West Manasseh Magi – a priestly caste of Samaritan philosophers headed by the disciple Simon Zelotes,” said Hellmantle, “who was also known as Simon Magus, or Simon the Magi.”

“Simon Magus? The disciple?”

“That’s right. He was known as the greatest Magi of his day, and was the oldest and most socially prominent disciple to follow Jesus.” Hellmantle opened another San Miguel beer. “The word Magi being the root word of the word we know today as magic. Compare being the head of the ancient Magi to Peter and Andrew who were fishermen.” D’Aqs could see that look of surety had come over Hellmantle again. “You know, the lion and the unicorn, the arrows and the oak leaves, he ended up dying in Britain. Simon Magus was also the disciple who revived Jesus after his crucifixion with a hundred pounds worth of myrrh and aloes, after he had put Jesus to sleep on the crucifix with the sponge spiked with snake venom. He was the agent provocateur to ensure Jesus survived the cross.” D’Aqs looked down for a moment, deep breath calming him for the maelstrom about to be unleashed.

“Can you explain to me why you think Jesus survived the crucifixion?” He had suspected this would come up during their trip.

“If you lend me your Bible I will, but are you sure you want to?” D’Aqs took out his Bible and handed it to Hellmantle.

“No I’m not sure but I do want to hear what you have to say, just…just be gentle.”

“Did he die on the cross? How many times have I asked myself that question? But how could he have died on the cross is the better question to ask. The crucifixion happened on a Friday. Then the disciple Simon the Magi gave Jesus the sponge with ‘gall and vinegar’ just before Jesus passed out. Indeed it is believed that the gall and vinegar was actually snake venom, which is like taking a serious Valium in today’s parlance. So it looked like Jesus was dead, but he was just severely drugged.”

“So you think there was some…tampering.”

“Yes, there was some serious tampering. But the bottom line here is that how can a 37 year-old man, who spent his time walking and moving around the towns and the countryside preaching, have expired so quickly? He wasn’t stabbed deeply nor did he have his legs broken. By the way, how does a man die on a crucifix?”

“He- Um, he dies of dehydration? That’s strange, I never thought about it.”

“The way someone dies on a crucifix is when he has his legs broken, he suffocates to death. But if you remember the Romans didn’t break Jesus’ legs. Only the guys beside him.” D’Aqs nodded, knowing this was plain to read in all four gospels. “So He was given a slice with a blade and bled in the abdomen but that wasn’t enough to kill a grown man in good physical shape. That poke or slice was administered to see if he was still alive but he was conked out from the snake venom concoction given to him by Simon Magus. The ugly holes in his hands and feet didn’t kill Him, nor did the cuts around His forehead from the Crown of Thorns. It was James, his younger brother, who is known in history as Joseph of Arimathea, who demanded the dead-looking, unconscious Jesus be taken down from the cross on the Sabbath – which happened to be the next day at daybreak – because it was part of the Jewish law not to have unburied dead on the Sabbath. James actually held up the scriptures to the Roman guards and demanded Jesus be buried immediately according to Jewish custom. It was because they stirred up this ruckus to bury Him on Saturday morning that they were able to get Jesus off the cross alive – but unconscious.

“According to the story, he was revived by Simon Magus with aloe and myrrh and used these ingredients as a diuretic and purge. Once revived, Jesus then left the tomb on his brother’s property. His tomb was discovered empty but this was after he left on his own two feet. Think about it: what better way to drop out of a failing rebellion than by being presumed dead? And he dies a martyr. So some time later, when the dust has settled, he leaves Palestine.”

“Why though? Why would He do that?”

“To fulfill the prophecies of the coming of the New Messiah. All the Hebrews were waiting and expecting Him. And since Jesus was from the Royal Line, why wouldn’t He?”

“I don’t know. It’s all a little far-fetched.”

“Not if you think it through. Ask yourself why He rode into Jerusalem on an ass rather than walk?” D’Aqs shrugged his shoulders. “To fulfill what was written in the Book of Isaiah. It’s clear in the New Testament how Jesus as a young man spent so much time in the synagogue reading the Torah and lecturing the scribes and rabbis! He knew the first five books of the Old Testament like the back of His hand! He designed it so He would fulfill the prophecy by riding into Jerusalem on an ass after gathering His disciples, and after He was baptized by his cousin John the Baptist in the River Jordan.”

“And the miracles? How did He walk on water?” Compassion appeared in Hellmantle’s eyes as if he were looking at a neophyte.

“Walking on water is not literal. It means applying your knowledge. The New Testament is loaded with metaphors and parables because at the time Rome was breathing down the neck of the Hebrews. Rome conquered them in 70AD after the failed rebellion from 66 to 70. And as you know the New Testament was written way after 70AD.”

“And miracles, like bringing Lazarus back from death?”

“The resurrection of Lazarus was not literal either. It was the spiritual rebirth of Lazarus. But His ability to heal I think was learned during what is known as the Lost Years of Jesus, after His Bar mitzvah when He left Palestine when He was thirteen years old. It is believed He went to India and learned the ways of his Indo-European ancestors.” D’Aqs hadn’t moved an inch since Hellmantle had begun on this tangent.

“Yeah, something like that. Listen, there’s obviously a lot of historical inertia at play in this discussion,” said D’Aqs. “The Catholic Church has decided what happened so this chat is essentially mute.”

“But it doesn’t stop us from speculating what actually happened.”

“That’s my point. There’s no way of knowing.”

“But from diligent research and studying the canon one can certainly have an informed opinion that can be defended by rational argument.” D’Aqs threw up his hands.

“So then what do you think really happened?” Hellmantle took a big swallow of the amber liquid, and sat up in his chair happy to have a chance to say his piece.

“I think Jesus was strong as nails actually, not weak, meek and humble. Likely ticked off that He wasn’t accepted by the ruling Pharisees because of He wasn’t born in September, I think He was a rebel and zealot, which is why He had so many zealots as disciples, like Judas Iscariot. He was the most fervent zealot. ‘Iscariot’ means he who uses the knife, a known rebel group at the time. Jesus must have had tested mettle from all the walking, traveling and preaching He did. I bet that when He was put up on the cross, He was a man with firm and able muscle and clean lungs so when He took those spikes through the wrists and feet, adrenaline was high and man’s great instinct to survive kicked in. He didn’t die of thirst in less than 24 hours. He didn’t die from a thin blade slice in his side, which as I said was likely a token swipe from a handy Roman guard to see if he was alive. It was barely deep enough to draw blood. And he didn’t asphyxiate because when the Roman guards came around to break the legs of those on the cross, Jesus was spared because he looked dead. But he was merely unconscious from Simon Magus’s potion.” He opened the Bible in his hands.

“In John’s Gospel they describe it:

Then the Jewish authorities asked Pilate to allow them to break the legs of the men who had been crucified, and to take the bodies down from the crosses. They requested this because it was Friday, and they did not want the bodies to stay on the crosses on the Sabbath, since the coming Sabbath was especially holy. So the soldiers went and broke the legs of the first man and then of the other man who had been crucified with Jesus. But when they came to Jesus, they saw that he was already dead, so they did not break his legs.

“At about three o’clock Jesus cries out with a loud shout: ‘Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?’ which means, ‘My God, my God, why did you abandon me?’ Some people standing there heard him, and said: ‘He is calling for Elijah.’ It is here that one of them ran up with a sponge soaked in cheap wine, put it on an end of a stick and gave it to Jesus to drink. Others said: ‘Wait, let us see if Elijah is coming to save him.’ Then Jesus gives out a loud cry and breathes his last.

“So Joseph of Arimathea, who was actually James His younger brother and James the disciple, took Him, wrapped Him in a new linen sheet, and placed Him in a tomb on his family’s property. The tomb was apparently recently dug out of solid rock.” Hellmantle lit a cigarette and leaned closer to the Bible. “It says:

When it was evening, a rich man from Arimathea arrived; his name was Joseph, and he also was a disciple of Jesus. He went into the presence of Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus. Pilate gave orders for the body to be given to Joseph.

“The next day, which was a Sabbath, the chief priests, or rabbis, and the Pharisees meet with Pilate and decide to make the tomb as secure as possible to guard against Jesus rising from the dead. They seal the tomb but it is unclear whether they see the body of Jesus when they seal it.”

“You would think so.”

“It isn’t mentioned specifically.”

“So that cheap wine, or snake venom, knocks Him out like a sleeping potion for…how long again did you say?”

“That was Friday evening. Right before Jesus drinks the ‘wine’ when He’s on the cross, in John’s gospel, it says:

Jesus knew that by now everything had been completed; and in order to make the scripture come true, Jesus said: ‘I am thirsty.’ A bowl was there, full of cheap wine; so a sponge was soaked in the wine, put on a stalk of hyssop, and lifted up to his lips. Jesus drank the wine and said: ‘It is finished!’ Then he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.

“Being an expert at potions and medicines, Simon Magus slips Jesus a very strong tonic, which as you can see is mentioned in the Gospels. Drinking the potion from the Magi knocks Him unconscious but ultimately saves His life.”

“If Simon Magus supplied Jesus with some sort of potion that was strong enough to render him out of it, so much that he could feign death, it must have been pretty strong.”

Very limp body for a day.”

“He would have had to be unconscious to feign death,” said D’Aqs.

“There’s no way he could pretend to be unconscious.”

“So what about the other two Gospels? What do they say about drinking this wine?”

“In Mark it says the wine was ‘mixed with a drug called myrrh.’ In Luke it says the wine was given to Jesus by Roman soldiers. But what’s interesting about Luke is what the two angels tell the two Marys after they discover his empty tomb:

Why are you looking among the dead for one who is alive? He is not here; he has been raised. Remember what he said to you while he was in Galilee: The Son of Man must be handed over to sinners, be crucified, and three days later rise to life.

That’s pretty blatant language isn’t it? Now, doesn’t that read differently, as if He had it all planned? And note the ‘Son of Man’ reference.” Hellmantle snuck a long sip of his beer and went on:

“Luke and John have the most suggestive endings in the Gospels in my opinion. Luke has a unique account of Jesus after leaving the tomb. In this story it is Sunday and just after He has spoken to the two Marys – so He hasn’t seen His disciples yet. He meets two of his followers on the road about seven miles from Jerusalem, who don’t recognize Jesus. They talk of the crucifixion but only come to recognize Jesus at night as they eat dinner. The way I see it, Jesus woke up and then left Jerusalem and bumped into these guys by accident.

“And when he does finally see his disciples, they are terrified. He says to them:

Why are you alarmed? Why are these doubts coming up in your minds? Look at my hands and my feet, and see that it is I myself. Feel me, and you will know, for a ghost doesn’t have flesh and bones, as you can see I have.

“It reads like he’s still very much alive,” said D’Aqs, surprised at this re-reading of the New Testament.

Exactly!” Hellmantle enthused at his cousin’s change of attitude. “Then he tells them he is hungry. Since when do ghosts say they are hungry and ask for food?

“Good point.”

Spirits are never hungry!

“So then Jesus leaves and sends his directives to his disciples?” said D’Aqs, exasperated and now cranky.

“Not quite. He commits to His faked crucifixion, retires from the Messiah business and lets history take over.”

There was too much on the table, and D’Aqs rubbed his head to try to alleviate the growing pain in his temples. The wind whistled across the windowpanes, but soon, after a final strong gust, there was only silence in peace and good fellowship.

Above the clouds n the Halseema Mountain Trail

Chapter 10

Concerning Hellmantle of Normandy in the land of the head-hunters


D’Aqs enjoyed the pungent smell wafting up from a freshly poured cup of coffee in front of him, but his mind was preoccupied. To honestly consider that Jesus survived the crucifixion had left him tossing and turning all night. He had to admit to himself that he had never considered it as a real possibility but now, having mulled over Hellmantle’s argument last night, he had to at least hear it out from him — if anything to let the poor soul get it off his chest. Two billion Christians couldn’t be wrong he assured himself.

But something about it all made him restless and uneasy inside.

In the meantime they ate a plate of twelve cold fried eggs stacked on top of each other. This, and the five cups of coffee he had consumed, appeared to have an effect on Hellmantle, making him philosophical about his mission.

“When one has earned a certain crystallization of knowledge and has attained an exceptional degree of life experience, the only way this body of insight can be delivered and appreciated is by being objective,”he said, showing no signs of fatigue or of being hungover.“Without an impartial delivery, all spouted knowledge must necessarily be held suspect.” D’Aqs listened and sipped his coffee. He couldn’t eat cold eggs like his cousin.

“When the young student of history and philosophy is first making their foray into the realm of truth,” Hellmantle continued, ”subjectivity appeals to their sense of individuality, but as years go by and he hears others spout their own version of history, the young student realizes that only the unbiased voice can hold court. One must present facts as only a regurgitator of what was and what has been determined to be true, without partisan inclination. Otherwise one is rendered a simple propagandist. At times there’s an irony in play so that the facts are presented objectively yet the recipient is in a state of disbelief. This is why knowledge experts feel the thrill of study: to shock the ignorant and unsuspecting. It enables them, these impartial deliverers, to feel a power that makes all their efforts worthwhile. For the amount of time they have expended harvesting the knowledge of the past, this opportunity to shock and thrill the listener makes the endless solo effort of learning worthwhile.” Hair dishevelled, Hellmantle had a piece of egg dangling from his moustache.

Some locals were beginning to enter the café but Hellmantle kept eating from the plate of eggs, and spoke thus:

“So a personal journey is a selfish pursuit unless it can be shared, but too often what one acquires through study is only an exercise in solipsism until it can be communicated to the outside world. When one is so rich in knowledge, one has a hidden responsibility to present it to those too occupied with their endeavors to put in the requisite effort to research. The key is to present without personal proclivity. One must not taint their presentation in order for it to be listened to and taken to heart. To learn the art of objectivity is not easy but it is necessary for all communication.”

D’Aqs knew full well what he was referring to. He was about to tell his cousin that he had presented his knowledge objectively last night and that it did shock, but Hellmantle was too absorbed in his eggs and coffee. Perhaps that was his way of easing the shock of a potential paradigm shift, which meant there was more of it to come…


It was still overcast but the view in the morning light was stunning. The ruggedness of the rocky trail prohibited tourists from reaching these heights to enjoy the glory of the Cordilleras – a unique terrain that had been left to nature, free from the exploitation of modernity. It hadn’t changed since the time the American missionaries first trekked through the mountains a hundred years before.

After letting the engines warm up for a minute, Hellmantle and D’Aqs hit the Halseema Mountain Trail for Sagada thinking it was easily reachable in the course of a day’s riding, and half expecting the road to regain its paved sheen. He worked through his aches and pains of yesterday’s long ride, particularly his shin, and then stopped for D’Aqs at a sign that read:

A road sign along the way

“See? I told you,” he said to D’Aqs when he caught up. Just as he had said this he took off down the road again. He vacillated between the beauty of the view and the demands of the immediate terrain but it didn’t take him long to find his groove in the mountains that gave his heart free range.

Passing alongside an ice-blue reservoir, it was plain to see how high up they were, as if scratching at the rooftop of the world. But despite the surrounding beauty, the Halseema Mountain Trail was still a surface of stone worn away to rock blunted by time and wear. Loose rocks on solid stone with no sand or mud cutting along the mountain slopes was what Hellmantle traversed on his knobby tires, curving around sharp corners hugging a continual precipice. Small waterfalls fell overhead onto the road that created washouts, which caused the most sliding on his bike. Knobby tires had little traction on the wet stone, one of the most challenging of all types of terrain for a motorcyclist. But it was freedom he felt stirring within his breast that trumped his attention. He was on the frontier where the word “civilization” was some obscure and misunderstood term.

The view became so breathtaking he almost hit one of the few oncoming Jeepneys.

D’Aqs, who was behind Hellmantle, passed him and then cut him off. He motioned to pull over so they both stopped.

“That was close!”

“He was on my side of the road!” replied Hellmantle.

“Well that’s how it is here. There is no sanity on the roads. Be careful cousin. Jeeze!” D’Aqs drank out his water bottle while Hellmantle lit a smoke. The sudden bottleneck with the Jeepney had shaken him up.

“I have never been pushed onto the outer boundary of a road that falls off a precipice as I just was,” he said to emphasize how unusual it was for him to have a close brush with death.

Back on their motorcycles Hellmantle took the lead, cross breezes blowing his hair sideways, his helmet dangling below his arm from the strap of his knapsack. They passed a spectacular ridge where the mountainside changed from the east to west that gave Hellmantle of Normandy such delight that he began talking to himself while riding:

“The degree of contentment in man is dependent on the perspective he holds in relation to his present situation. Man has the capability to endure unspeakable hardships in the face of adversity if armed with a perspective that things could be worse. But man is also burdened with the capability to turn heaven into hell by adopting a foolhardy perspective that things should be better when they are grand. It is the key to mental health and the secret to enjoying some degree of happiness regardless of circumstance!”

His pace grueling, and his arms and legs aching, he pulled over when he found a small hut by the side of the road at the end of a very long stretch of challenging rocks in one of the nameless villages along the trail. Overlooking the Cordillera Mountain Range, he gazed at the tops of the mountains protruding upwards to the blue sky above from the bellies of the clouds.

“Tea,” he said to the man under a wooden plank that acted as a roof. The man nodded and served him piping hot sugary tea with thick cream. It was so thick that it was like a food. Then D’Aqs caught up.

“Did you see how the road went from one side of the ridge to the other along that stretch?” he said, not bothering to hide his boyish enthusiasm. “It was like a world balanced atop a middle line elevated a thousand feet above anything on either side of you.”

“Yeah, it was good.”


“You know what it was? That ledge just after the highest point was thrilling!” Flush on the cheek, cheekbones defined, root-beer-colored hair disheveled, D’Aqs looked like a new man.

That’s the one. With the clouds so low, it was surreal.”

“How it shifted from one side of the range to the other with the clouds swirling right on top of your head. That image will stick with me for a long time to come.”

“I hear ya on that one Big Teste. Yes, it was the kind of imagery that will reappear in dreams.” He nodded and sipped his sweet tea, which warmed his center. “It was a tremendous morsel of motorcycle memory.” D’Aqs was starting to understand his cousin’s strange world of motorcycling in far-off vistas looking for the thrill and the unusual.

A dozen hungry-looking Philippinos sitting near the tables tried hard not to stare at them.

“You know about the mountain tribes around here?” asked Hellmantle. He bent his head over the cup of tea to let the hot steam swirl into the back of his raw throat in an attempt to moisten a persistent dry spot.

“No, I don’t.”

“According to the book, the three main tribes are the Ifugao, Bontoc and Kalinga. These are the peoples who built the rice terraces about 2000 years ago. They’re warlike peoples who are known to stage ritual attacks on their neighbors in the form of headhunting.” He waited for a reaction.

Headhunting.” D’Aqs unintentionally deadpan, an effort to keep his voice down.

“For the next hundred kilometer stretch I’m afraid cousin. And some say there have been a few reports that heads are still taken occasionally. It’s indeed a novel hazard but alas! We’re in headhunting territory man!” D’Aqs tried to dismiss it as unimportant trivia, but still it caused a stir in his gut. Another obstacle missionaries had to overcome.

“Let’s just make sure we have enough gas to reach Sagada.” He suddenly realized how much he was relying on his motorcycle.

“It’s a different animal up here in the mountain valleys than down by the sea. It’s real isolation with walls of rock and with only one road to civilization, so keep sharp on that iron horse on yours.”

“Will do, Master Motorcyclist.”

“You watch for natives jumping on us ready with a sharp-edged knife.” It was his playful tone that gave rise to D’Aqs heart, which made him think of the words they had read in Sayangan: Not in our heads but in our hearts lies the strength that carries us unto great deeds.

“Since you’re taking the lead today as chief navigator, you should be wielding the big stick.” His grin a novel change from his dour demeanor.

I always wield a big stick!” The self-belief in his eyes comforted D’Aqs for the first time rather than making him uneasy.

Hellmantle gunned it north along the bumpy trail north for Sagada, with D’Aqs now laughing behind him as he rode with hyperbole in front of him.

Closing in on Sagada

Chapter 11

About the required riding techniques to reach the destination

of Sagada and the church organist

Halseema Mountain Trail, Mountain Province


Back on the trail after riding alongside a river in a deep valley and around a corner, Hellmantle saw the beginning of the rice terraces. They were leveled rice fields that bordered old stonewalls a few feet high. No one on the fields with no sign of any agrarian activity, most were fallow. Looking down at the small terraces surrounded by jags of open rock, he imagined how they once were like a spider’s web in a giant salad bowl.

He and D’Aqs forced themselves along the outer edge of the trail so the times they encountered oncoming Jeepneys they were in position to avoid a head-on crash. Hellmantle developed his own technique by riding along the best available line of movement, like a skier would choose a path through moguls. Where there was no path, he steered to hit the outer edge of every pothole to careen off the indentation in the rock flatbed and shoot out of it ready to turn again back the other way, just as he had done while riding at the foothills of Mount Pinatubo. It was a technique to avoid wear and tear of the bike but also a way of enjoying the dips and grooves in the road. Motorcycling like this was a thrill sport like skiing. And with the wet rock, it was as slippery and dangerous as it could be. This way he used his inertia to his advantage.

D’Aqs watched his cousin as he trailed behind, how he never hit a pothole directly but rather hit its inner lip. He watched as Hellmantle leaned into a dip and came shooting out of a three-foot wide depression in line to carom off the side of the next big pothole, flinging out of the turn almost in the air. He knew Hellmantle had learned the technique after many thousands of miles of exploring in countries with rough roads, but D’Aqs still thought it was a gift from God.

D’Aqs tried it and almost took a spill.

Hellmantle encountered the first road sign since the highest-point-in-the-Philippines sign just outside of Sayangan. After so many hours riding without a sign, it was reassuring to them. D’Aqs had started to wonder if they had missed a turn-off. The lone road sign showed Sagada was within riding distance, but already darkness was beginning to fall. As soon as the sun fell behind the western ridge, they were passing through thick forest on either side of the road. In a split second, the grayness turned to black. When that moment came, a wave a panic struck D’Aqs’ solar plexus because there were no other cars on the road or any streetlights to speak of or any sign of civilization. And on top of this, it was a new moon. It was as dark as octopus ink.

Arriving at Sagada

Hellmantle knew that one of the best parts of the motorcyclist’s day was conquering unknown mountainous terrain in the dark. To see exactly how dark it was, Hellmantle turned off his headlights for a few seconds as he rode. Above the hum of the engines, D’Aqs could hear him laughing. His hysterics soon infected D’Aqs so he copied him. Both stared directly into complete blackness for no reason other than for the thrill. Hellmantle couldn’t even see his hand in front of his face. They spent over an hour riding through this sooty coal-black world, flipping their lights on and off, without seeing a soul. Fear began to take hold on D’Aqs’ newfound sense of freedom, but Hellmantle was confident that there was a way forward and that God would provide for their safe passage since their quest was a divine endeavor. After another hour the sleepy town of Sagada emerged as a small strip of guesthouses and cafés nestled between mountains.

In no time Hellmantle discovered there was no vacancy because everything was booked for the Christmas holidays. But as he was walking down the main street, he opened a gate to walk up a steep stairwell to what he thought was a bed and breakfast, when a man spoke to him from the top of the stairs.

“Good evening,” he said, thinking he was only being friendly, Hellmantle replied:

“Hope there’re some rooms available.” Hellmantle approached him on the stairs under the light of the house, slowly limping due to his shin.

“This is a private residence,” said the man. Hellmantle, with his most gracious demeanor, apologized for the misunderstanding, and descended the sixty-step stairs, the man following him to the road.

“Try the hospital,” he said. “As a last resort they take people in if they have the space.”

“Good idea,” said Hellmantle, looking down the street. “The Knights Hospitallers providing shelter in case a Christian pilgrim is in need during their way to Solomon’s Temple, is still in practice today.”

“And when was this?” asked the man.

“This would be under the first king Baldwin the First. First king of Palestine after the success of the First Crusade. The only good crusade.”

“And when would that be?” he asked, smiling at this stranger wearing motorcyclist gear.

“1099,” said D’Aqs, seeing Hellmantle exhausted and therefore more inclined to go off on a fiery tangent.

“Though I believe the Knights Hospitallers came into existence in 1065, after a large party of German pilgrims were attacked by Arab bandits near Ramla,” added Hellmantle.

The man, intrigued by this bearded motorcyclist, said:

“I’m the organist at the church,” he said, pointing across the street. “There’s a wedding in the church in the morning. That’s where I’m going now. Rehearsal.” The Episcopalian church under sprawling trees had a sign on the gate that read:


Hellmantle thanked him for his kindness, and then they tried their best to find a place, checking all the guesthouses and the few hotels. Quaint, sleepy mountain village.

“Do you know much about the Knights Hospitallers?” D’Aqs said he didn’t, happy to hear Hellmantle’s autistic-fueled mouthpiece take possession of that topic to paint ideas like pictures – like Lego pieces building up in a corner until he found it difficult to erase from his mind.

“Have you heard of our ancestor Red Mantle?” he asked, seizing the chance to talk. “He was a king descended from Joseph of Arimathea’s line. Our ancestor King Red Mantle wore a red robe with a white cross on it, since he was part of the Order of St. John of Hospitaller. The Knights Templar wore the white mantle.”

“So why red? As in blood?”

“That’s what some say, but the legend says King Red Mantle changed our surname because it symbolized Hell, that described the state of affairs with Rome having so much power during this time when the Merovingian line of kings ended with the murder of Dagobert the Third in 1307.”

At the hospital at the edge of town they were confronted with a woman who guarded the hospital like a sentry would a castle. It looked empty but she told them to walk a mile down the road to check one more place.

“Most unhelpful,” said Hellmantle, disappointed after conjuring the traditions of a long history of helping those in need when on a Holy Mission. But when they found The Shamrock Café, they parked their motorcycles and sat under old wooden shutters with a view of infinite blackness that felt like the edge of the universe.

Famished, they both made a beeline for the massive plate of curry chicken, vegetables with boiled eggs all topped off with the satisfying suds of San Miguel cerveza. They were both thirsty.

“Come to think of it, your surname Grosseteste was also changed during the same zeitgeist.” The pause meaningful because Hellmantle knew for the first time his cousin’s interest was sincere.”

“Well, what happened? Tell me!”

“Put it this way, none of our ancestors at that point in history were happy about the usurping of Dagobert the long-haired king, so your forefather Godfrey change his name from Grosjean to Grosseteste in an obvious stick-it-to-Rome choice of words.” D’Aqs laughed hard, from the gut, very pleasing to Hellmantle’s ears. “I mean think about it! Godfrey said: we have big cajones and we’ll breed with the de Barr family and the Sinclairs and keep on propagating!

“So he changed our name to Big Testicle!

It was the first time Hellmantle had heard a genuine laugh from D’Aqs since their boarding school years, when he was just as mischievous as Hellmantle, how by default they had both become ringleaders of their dormitories of twelve boys.

“Major brownie points with the boys of that one!”

“So our name was Big John?

Oui, an important family name within Grail lore by virtue of being the unknown true descendants of Jesus’ cousin John the Baptist!

“No way!”

Oui monsieur! Haven’t you ever wondered why you had such a unique last name?”

“Of course, but…but I’ve never known why.”

“Because you never asked the question.” They both looked out the window into the Great Blackness. “Yes, you’re seeing that there is a lot out there unknown in the darkness.”

D’Aqs pensive: “Yes, I agree.”

“So then your direct ancestor was Elizabeth, Mary’s sister!”

“Or Jesus’ aunt!”

“Or sister-in-law of Joseph!”

“And what about your first name?”

“It means from Aquitaine.”

“Oui, but more precisely it means of the water.”

“Amazing my friend. You have become an explorer in that darkness. A connoisseur as the French would say.”

“Or a maestro as the Spanish would say.” he said weakly. Clearly uncomfortable by the compliment, Hellmantle’s reaction surprised him.

Sagada became even more surreal when they saw other foreigners for the first time since they left Manila. Two couples sat speaking French to a couple of Frenchmen. D’Aqs noticed that it rattled Hellmantle’s sensitivities, so to drown out their chatter Hellmantle spoke thus:

“What strikes me as ironic is how some of these big travelers look so adventurous and worldly yet none of them drive here themselves, and if they did, they certainly wouldn’t have motorcycled here along the Halseema Mountain Trail! To me they are all lightweights – tourists – fooled by a hike or a small trek in the mountain forests instead of being true explorers by experiencing the primacy of mountain, motorcycling where any miscue could cause permanent disability. Riding a motorcycle is like shaking hands with your own mortality. There are no seatbelts on a motorcycle! Earning the right to be in Sagada by utilizing the two-wheeled balance is one toll these tourists haven’t paid. These talcum people don’t deserve to be here – not like us. We risked our lives to reach this peak. We haven’t dropped in on an overnight flight!” Darkness in his voice.

He approached the waitress after the meal to inquire about the German artist he was looking for.

“Um, I’m looking for a girl who told me that I could find her by coming here,” Hellmantle said to the manager behind the counter with an abacus. “She told me that she doesn’t have a telephone, señora.” The old woman had a severe face, hard from life but it suddenly came to life with a soft smile when Hellmantle smiled at her with respect.

“What’s her name?” she asked, causing Hellmantle to contort his face as if in pain trying to remember. Then he opened his eyes as if he had remembered:

“Her name is…Michelle,” he said. “Or Isabelle… or Anne… or Annabelle…or…Annalore…GabrielleAnnabelle! Some sort of elle. She’s from Germany, has long yellow hair and a bit of a ruddy hue on her cheeks I seem to recall. She’s perhaps a little shorter than you. She told me she hangs out here. No telephono. I believe she’s a painter of some kind. Una artista.” Unsure but making sincere effort to help, then the manager lit up like a firefly.

“Catharine, the artista? Si! Una painter? Is it Catharine?” He remembered immediately hearing her name.

Yes!” He slammed his hand on the counter much harder than intended. “Catharine! That’s it!”

“Some kind of ‘elle,’ eh?” D’Aqs said, jousting.

“But Catharine is away.” 

“No! She can’t be!” Hellmantle’s disappointment was tangible.

“She is home for Christmas.” The woman watched as he let out a long sigh with sub-woofer-like bass. The woman was very sympathetic, which caused her to think.

“Ah! Pero señor, Catharine comes back mañana.”

“Well that is groovy!”

After eating enough, Hellmantle decided their only option was to sleep at the hospital under the unkind looks of the woman, but as they passed by the Episcopalian church the man with the mansion was walking back from the wedding rehearsal. When he saw Hellmantle in his worked-in leather motorcycle jacket on the road, he asked him if they had found a room.

“Not yet. We are on our way to slumber at the hospital.”

“Why don’t you stay at my house? It’s big enough. My name is Dennis Faustino.” He put out his hand and with a smile on his face, Hellmantle couldn’t refuse. It was fate.