I was looking for divinity, yet I find myself at the gates of Hell. Still I may continue to walk, to fall, even in flames. If there exists a way towards Heaven then it crosses Hell. At least it does for me. Well then... I dare!
- SS Obersturmfuhrer Otto Wilhelm Rahn
Since embarking on this shaggy dog story, I have returned twice to Montsegur and found myself back on Rahn's trail with a vengeance, a process only marginally slowed by my own contribution to the mythos of the dark Goddess finally going into pre-production.
Since my last visit to Rennes les Chateau, the one restaurant in town, the 'Blue Apple' had been mysteriously burned to the ground and the shadowy 'Association' had taken control of the domain and forced Marcel to give up the cherished keys to the church. Celia took it all in her stride having bigger fish to fry. She had married Marcel and was pursuing her claim to the throne of Sarawak with some success. For the first time, she had begun to consider moving away from the plateau and dreamed of an airy long house somewhere in the tropics, where she might live out her days surrounded by her beloved Dayaks. Dagobert, the mountain dog, had sadly passed while Grace had moved to Paris and was a mother herself now, her son, Leandro, apparently named after the Telly Savalas character from 'Lisa and the Devil'. Given his heritage, I suspect he has a long and interesting life before him. The right-wing mayor is sadly still very much in charge of the town, although his attempts to enforce some kind of order have thankfully made little headway against the demented status quo.
Amateur treasure hunters still chip away at the church's leaky foundations and Danielle is still wearing a dress and massproduces ever more detailed and complex treasure maps, having developed a winning passion for cutting and pasting the covers of Italian horror DVDs and leaving them hanging from surrounding trees and fences as helpful clues to the initiated and warnings to the unwary.
Danielle's work has been getting more and more detailed over the years, but the appearance of the Italian horror material is a recent development. I suppose its reassuring to know that at least one other person out there seems to have figured out that the real problem with Rennes is that the town is built over one of Fulci's 'seven dreaded gateways.'
The exqusite choice of titles indicates that not only does Danielle have a thorough working knowledge of the genre, but considerable insight into the deep history of the area. The copy of Fulci's Beatrice Cenci, under its French release title The Passion of Beatrice, is a 'metatextual' gag par excellence... Beatrice, of course, accompanied Dante during his journey to Hell, where among other sinners, he encounters his own mentor, Guido Cavalcanti, who had been responsible for initiating the young poet into a heretical secret society known as the 'Brotherhood of the Faithful in Love', which traced its lineage back to the Nicetas himself, widely seen as the founding father of the so-called 'cathar' faith...
Dante studied the lost tongue of the vanquished nation (Romans) and seems to have coined the term 'Lingua Occitania' in his treatise De Vulgai Eloquentia in 1305, from whence we draw our name for what is now the southern most province of modern France - the Languedoc. In its original usage 'Oc' was simply 'Yes' in Romans, the equivalent of 'Oui' or 'Si', and the origin of the modern Anglo-Saxon use of 'okay' as an affirmative particle...
All of which connects on more levels that I have time to explain. 'Coincidence' perhaps, but I stumbled across the shrine to Beatrice Cenci on the same day that myself and my travelling companion, world class equestrian, Miss Scarlett Amaris, had gotten back from Ussat and a closer inspection of the natural stone pentagram in the Bethlehem Grotto closely associated with the continuing Rahn enigma. The outlines of a face are still faintly visible beneath the dust on the cave wall, allegedly the 'face of Beatrice', and needless to say, the shallow octagonal depression is rumored to be a 'gateway' of sorts...
The Bethlehem Grotto is so-named because of a natural shaft in the rock, that causes a beam of light to fall on the ancient stone altar before the pentagram on just one day of the year - the 25th of December. Members of Gadal's neo-cathar Rosicrucian movement undergo a three-year period of study, meditation, indoctrination, fasting and general reprogramming before undergoing their final initiation in the pentagram, possibly in the presence of the 'Pyrenean Grail', which, I believe, may be in the movements hands. Since the making of The Secret Glory, the grotto has been haphazardly fenced off by the neo-Cathars, destroying much of the site's natural beauty. Behind locked steel gates excavations continue in secret, yielding a steady trickle of fascinating, often contradictory artefacts.
I labored for some years to pitch a TV sitcom based on the Rennes area and its inhabitants - a format I felt richly suited to the 'cat-in-the-hatty' material - an esoteric hybrid of two British war horses Crossroads and 'Allo 'Allo!, set largely in the foyer of the titular Seven Doors Hotel, which happens to be built over... well, you can guess that part! A recurring character based on Danielle figured heavily in the treatment alongside a motley assortment of thinly disguised Rennes survivors. While the thought of slamming out a couple of low-rent seasons tickled my funny bone, the concept failed to raise any smiles from the powers that be and subsequently remained on the drawing board.
It's never been easy to actively profit from the mystery, as Michael Baigent and Richard Leigh found out when they lost their shirts trying to sue Dan Brown in London's high court over alleged 'similarities' between the Da Vinci Code and their one time 'groundbreaking' bestseller The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail, effectively admitting that the whole Sangraal/ Sacred Bloodline was more or less fictional, if not wholly their creation to begin with. Henry Lincoln wisely stayed clear of the legal fallout and still lives in the region of Rennes les Bains, where he ekes a stipend conducting esoteric guided tours for lazy conspiracy theorists, who can't be bothered to come up with a hypothesis of their own.
Regaining undisputed sway over the Domaine certainly doesn't seem to have done Claire Corbu or Antoine much good. I finally succeeded in getting them around the dinner table, but being Ascension Day, all the shops were shut and I was forced to turn to our old friend the Sufi Sheik for help with the ingredients. The Sheik's conviction that he could halt the growth of the cancer cells in his body by injecting ketamine into what he believed to be the tumours would seem to have been borne out, and he is still happily alive and kicking, albeit just a li'l confused about his current identity, having hacked apart the Mettarie door with his Templar Sword so many times during a recent spate of violent 'past life-related episodes', that the local handymen now refuse to take his calls, leaving security at the house on the hill a little wanting.
A deep-frozen experimental Manta Ray scavenged from the former neurochemists freezer, however, provided an adequate main course, fleshed out with local fruit and veg, a cheese selection and the Black Forest gateau we'd saved for the occasion, complete with the requisite chocolate sprinkles. All in all, it slipped down nicely, despite the uneasy, conflicted allegiances of the assembled guests.
Relieved of his formal duties in the graveyard, Marcel had not only found the time to completely redraw his graphic account of the plateau's history, this time boldly filling in the missing details, but had even found a new publisher willing to take on the poisoned chalice. As aforementioned, no one has ever really succeeded in making a dime from the Rennes mystery without losing their lives or their sanity, apart from Dan Brown anyhow, but considering the enigmas track record, I wouldn't rate his chances in the long run. Celia has recently completed a book of her own, her long awaited autobiography Muda Dayang, that I think will come as a true revelation to long-term mystery watchers.
After twenty years of foreplay, it came as something of a disappointment when Celia and Marcel finally dropped the other shoe and simply told us what was really going on. Doubtless their account will be hotly disputed and inevitably overlooked in favor of countless more fanciful, more inherently dramatic theories. It's an old story and a simple one. There are a million other stories just like it drifting through the zone, but I think you will find on further investigation it fits the known facts too snugly to be anything other than the truth.
And it goes like this -
The coded documents found by Antoine and Marcel's granddad in the hollow altar column were written in the 1780's by one of Sauniere's shifty predecessors, the Abbe Antoine Bigou. Among his duties as local priest, Bigou acted as chaplain and confessor to the noble Blanchefort family, who had counted at least one former Templar Grand Master among their illustrious forebears. They were amongst the richest landowners in the area and fearing they would lose everything at the time of the French Revolution, conspired with Bigou to hide their heirlooms and undeclared collateral in the family vault and the catacombs beneath the church itself, where they assumed it would survive the attentions of the rapacious, albeit superstitious Catholic serfs, who had forced the noble line into what they had initially assumed to be temporary exile.
With Boudet's help, Sauniere succeeded in partly decoding Bigou's cipher, only to find that subterranean waters rising from the cavity beneath the plateau had caused subsidence in the ancient vault that communicates with the chapel via that narrow stone staircase I first glimpsed all those years ago. Realizing it would be harder work than he thought, Sauniere was forced to recruit Marie Denarnaud's help and with her aid, they succeeded in retrieving and frittering away a good part of the Blanchefort family's lost fortune.
A continuing suspicion lingers in the area that some part of the hoard still remains hidden in the increasingly unstable foundations, and having gained full and unfettered access to the site in the early 90's, Celia and Marcel had set about the laborious task of pumping out the flooded vaults, only to eventually reach the conclusion that there was nothing left to find. They had since lost control of the Domaine to the 'Association', who were now saddled with a rickety old building with rising damp.
"That's it, huh?"
"Looks that way."
Miss Scarlett shook her head as we bade our hosts farewell.
"It's just... I dunno... a little disappointing, I guess. Too Scooby Doo..."
"So what were you expecting? Like, a space-time portal to beyond infinity would have been great but hardly likely. Ditto the Ark of the Covenant. And that bloodline thing. Human greed is something I can believe in."
"What about those bodies they found in the flowerbed? Who killed them?"
"Collateral damage. I dunno. What does it matter anyhow? It obviously wasn't aliens or little people."
"And that flashlight..."
It was just after three in the morning and the plateau was dark and still, the outline of the Tour Magdala rising before us in the starlight, the windows of the Villa Bethany blind and silent.
"Y'know - the one you found in the cave."
"What about it?"
I froze, sensing a stirring in the shadows at the base of the tower.
"You ever get around to measuring those bite marks?"
"There's something moving down there!"
A scuffling, sliding sound came from out of the dark followed by the unmistakable sound of trickling pebbles.
"The hell is that?"
"Sounds like more than one!"
We stood squinting into the blackness.
"Probably just some deranged treasure hunter having a go at the foundations or Danielle hanging out more Fulci titles to scare the tourists."
"It's not human."
"But it's not. Listen..four legs, not two."
There was a crackle of snapping twigs as one of the prowling shapes cut across the dry brush towards us.
"This place has no cryptozoological history whatsoever. It's not supposed to have a monster..."
"Maybe we should split before we find out."
"It's cool. I've got just the thing. It's never going to be expecting this!"
Slipping the Arctic floodlamp I had purchased in Akuriri for the previous seasons fact-finding excursion to northern Iceland, I flipped it onto full flood, bathing the base of the Tour Magdala in sudden violent wattage. But it didn't seem to surprise whatever was out there or even slow it down.
“That’s not stopping it – they’re still coming and quickly!”
I narrowed my eyes, deciding that it probably wasn't human after all.
"Let's just go, okay?"
Brandishing the floodlamp defensively I started back across the parking lot towards the car.
Big bugger. Some of 'em striations have gotta be at least three inches...