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Chapter Fifteen - Read Between the Lines
Professor Bernard Crozier's office was cramped. So cramped in fact that Xander had to stand out in the corridor and stick his head around the door. It was not that the office was small so much as full. Boxes sat upon boxes. Ring binders, bursting at the seams, spewed their contents on to the floor. Stacks of dog-eared books formed giddy towers spiralling skywards.
Professor Crozier was perched on the corner of his desk. A bronze bust of Wellington occupied his chair. Liz had found a wooden stool to sit on, having first shifted an overhead projector down to the ground. Riley had elected to stand. He was so rigid Xander wondered if he was even breathing. Every time Riley so much as twitched papers crunched beneath his feet, so Riley did not twitch. Xander was immensely relieved that he was outside. Besides, from here Xander had a good view of the woman in the office opposite, the one with the short skirt and the very long legs.
He was jerked back to reality by the professor's hacking cough. Each time he coughed, his spectacles jumped off his nose and then came to rest slightly further down it. By the time he had regained his composure, the spectacles were perched precariously right on the very tip.
The professor did not seem to notice.
'So, you're writing a book about Arthur, you say?' Crozier wheezed.
'Not so much about Arthur himself, more about the Grail,' Liz corrected.
The three of them had concocted their story while riding the subway - sorry, tube - from Heathrow to Holborn. Well, Riley and Liz had worked it out. Xander had just grunted in what he hoped were appropriate places. In fairness, the carriage had been too crowded to do much else. They must have caught the morning rush hour. Not that it had been all bad. There was this one girl he had been pressed up against and even an ex-vengeance demon could do terrible things to him if he continued this train of thought.
'The basic premise is that our protagonists are forced to go looking for the Grail,' Liz continued. They had also agreed that Liz should do most of the talking, in case the professor was more susceptible to a pretty face.
'Ah yes, the Grail,' Crozier mused. 'The object Arthur thought would restore the land. If that doesn't convince you that the whole thing's a load of codswallop, nothing will.'
'Maybe, but it's popular, um, codswallop,' Liz countered, 'and there's always a market for new stories.'
'Hmm, I suppose,' Crozier admitted. 'So how can I help you young people?'
'Well, for the purposes of the plot,' Liz explained, 'we're assuming that the Grail can be found at Arthur's grave in Glastonbury.'
Crozier stopped short of spitting on the floor.
'I'm guessing that you're not convinced by the idea that Arthur's at Glastonbury, then,' Riley remarked.
'Not by a long chalk,' he said. 'The whole thing's a publicity stunt.'
'A publicity stunt?'
'Let me tell you a story,' Crozier offered. 'Back in, oh, the late twelfth century - 1184, I think - Glastonbury Abbey was gutted in a fire and the poor monks were in somewhat dire straits. However, at the same time, by a remarkable coincidence, the monks discover Arthur's tomb just fifty feet from the Lady Chapel.'
'Wasn't one of the previous abbots told where the tomb was by Henry II?' Liz asked.
'Who was himself told by a Welsh bard who just happened to be passing through,' Crozier scoffed. 'You don't really believe this rubbish, do you?'
'I try to keep an open mind,' Liz admitted.
'Well try getting your mind around this,' Crozier suggested. 'Arthur wasn't the only medieval celebrity to be 'mysteriously discovered' in the abbey grounds following the fire. It seems our dear monks were hedging their bets, so to speak.'
Xander noticed that the woman in the office opposite was looking his way and he felt the colour rushing to his cheeks. He raised a hand in a half-hearted wave. The woman stood up and he was once more impressed by the length of her legs. She smiled at him and Xander opened his mouth to speak. Then she closed the office door between them.
With a sigh, Xander turned back to the discussion. Not that he was following much of it.
'Wasn't there an archaeologist who excavated the site in the sixties?' Liz was saying.
'Dr Radford, yes,' Crozier agreed. 'Now I admit that he claimed to have found evidence of a graveyard containing the tombs of distinguished personages.'
'And didn't he also claim that the grave had previously been excavated,' Liz persisted, 'possibly by the monks in 1184.'
'Even assuming that the grave had been excavated before, it doesn't mean that it was by the monks,' Crozier shot back, 'and it certainly does not mean that the tomb belonged to Arthur. He's a fictional character, for heaven's sake.'
'What about the cross?' Liz asked. 'I seem to recall reading somewhere that there was a cross in the tomb that confirmed that the body belonged to Arthur.'
'So the story goes,' Crozier said. 'You have a good memory. There was a cross buried with him and there was a Latin inscription on the cross, which read 'Here lies King Arthur in the Isle of Avalon with his second wife Guinevere'.'
'Second wife?' Riley asked.
'Yes, second wife,' Crozier confirmed. 'At the time, you see, there were two competing legends of Arthur with two different women involved. It's just another example of the monks hedging their bets and trying to please everybody. Not to mention the fact that when it became generally accepted that Guinevere was Arthur's one true love, the inscription mysteriously changed.'
'But doesn't the cross prove that the tomb is genuine?' Liz continued.
'The cross doesn't prove anything,' Crozier replied. 'According to some, the Latin is clearly not a sixth century text, while others say that if it's a forgery then it's a bloody good one - pardon my French. And since the cross disappeared in the eighteenth century - assuming it ever existed - we've no way to confirm one side or the other.'
'But ' Liz began.
'I think we're drifting a bit off the point,' Riley said hastily. 'People want to believe Arthur's buried at Glastonbury. For a work of fiction, that's good enough for us.'
'Well if you're not even going to bother to get your facts right then I don't know what you think you're doing here,' Crozier muttered.
'Professor,' Riley began, 'I'm sorry if we've offended you. We didn't mean to. You have to understand that what we're working on is a mass-market work of fiction and, as such, we have to aim it at the lowest common denominator and can't make it as cerebral as we might like. However, we don't like compromising our principles any more than you do, which is why we were hoping we could get some input from the world's foremost Arthurian scholar.'
'World's foremost Arthurian scholar, eh?' Crozier positively glowed.
'That's how you were described to us,' Liz added, 'and so far we've not been disappointed.
'I should hope not,' Crozier replied, puffing himself up like a peacock. 'Now, what is it exactly that you want my input on?'
'Well, we've written into the plot that several people have tried to get the Grail from Glastonbury, but they've all failed,' Liz explained. 'What we're trying to come up with is a method our protagonists can use to get around whatever force it is that's protecting the Grail.'
'Sounds to me like you're happily painting yourself into a corner,' Crozier remarked.
Another coughing fit shook the professor and this time his glasses did come flying off. Liz managed to catch them before the struck the floor.
'You might be right,' she confessed, 'but is there any way you can see to get us out of it?'
'Thank you, my dear,' Crozier said, taking back his spectacles. 'Now let me think. In the legend, Arthur sends out his greatest knights on a quest to retrieve the Grail, but Galahad is the only one that can find it. And what sets Galahad apart is that he was the purest and noblest of all the knights. So, if you really must go down that route, I would suggest that your hero can retrieve the Grail because he is pure of heart unlike those who have gone before him. Of course, that's just my idea. If I had any real talent for fiction I wouldn't still be here, would I?'
'And how would we - sorry, our characters - find out which of them was pure enough to get the Grail?' Liz asked.
'Do I have to do everything for you?' Crozier demanded. 'Oh, very well. Have you ever heard of the Stone of Falias?'
'The name sounds familiar,' Riley admitted.
'It's one of the four treasures of Celtic mythology, isn't it?' Liz said. 'Isn't that the stone used to determine the rightful king?'
'So you have done your research,' Crozier remarked. 'I'm impressed. Yes, so the story goes, the stone would sing when held by the man who would be king. It's believed by many to be the inspiration for the stone from which Arthur pulled Excalibur, thereby showing himself worthy to be king.'
'I'm not sure we're actually looking for a king,' Riley pointed out.
'Oh, use a little imagination, young man,' Crozier scolded him. 'That's what you writers are supposed to be good at, isn't it? The stone takes the measure of a man. You want a way to find your hero then there it is.'
'And where would we find this stone?'
'Why not try the other place associated with Arthur,' he suggested, 'his alleged birthplace and the site of his castle - Tintagel.'
* * *
The three of them stepped out into the sunlight illuminating the courtyard in front of the museum. A school party was disembarking from a bus by the gates. Xander shivered. Despite the sun, Xander had discovered that November in England was really cold and he wished that he had thought to bring a heavier coat.
'So we're going to Cornwall,' Liz said as the descended the steps, disturbing the pigeons as they went.
'We'll need transport,' Riley pointed out.
'We can hire a car at the airport,' Liz suggested.
'What about Spike?' Xander asked. 'Is he going back in his box?'
'If we set off as soon as it gets dark we should be there by morning,' Liz explained.
'Sounds like a plan,' Xander replied, weaving to avoid being mown down by kids. He was about to cross the road when Riley put a hand on his arm and pulled him in the other direction.
'Hey, what's up?' Xander asked. 'The station's that way.'
'But the crowds are this way,' Riley explained.
'And we want to get crushed to death because?'
'We're being followed,' Riley told him.
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