Purgatory

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A quirky short story that blends history with Grail mythology. The story follows Sir Galahad after the events of the Fisher King and the disappearance of the Holy Grail.

For hours, Galahad sat on a stool with his back against a rock, cleaning blood off arrowheads before grinding them against a worn whetstone to make them sharp again. He shortened shafts that had splintered so they could be reused, and re-fletched them with cut bits of cloth, as his supply of feather had run out long ago. The arrows that were too damaged to reuse would be recycled as pins, caltrops, wedges or fire wood. Nothing ever went to waste. His work was meticulous. He had been doing it for so long that he could probably do it in his sleep, but that didn’t mean he found it tedious. Rather, he enjoyed the moments of rhythmic activity, and let his mind wander to times and places that should have been long since forgotten. Even as he scraped and inspected, he could hear the clang of sword on shield in distant battles he had fought side by side with two men — dead and buried by now – who he had once thought of as brothers. He could see their faces, as he could see the forests of almond, olive and pine trees surrounding Jerusalem. Some days, he could even smell the sweet scent of the almonds, or taste the salty ocean air on his tongue. Other days, he found himself lost in a miserable world of brown and grey rock walls, alone, and wondering why he persisted after all this time. On his worst days, it was a struggle to maintain his sanity. He had to focus on the importance of his mission, and persevere.

When he was finished, he trudged toward the back of the cavern where he came to his makeshift bedroom. Beyond that was another corridor, concealed by the angle it was cut on, which descended slightly before leading almost all the way back to the front of the cavern. Originally, Galahad had employed locals to dig the cavern out, a task that took almost two decades. This corridor, however, was one of the more recent additions to the cavern. One he had dug out himself, originally just a means of passing the time during an especially long lull – for a while, he had thought his original plan had worked and the Chalice had finally passed from human memory. But eventually the treasure hunters returned, and in greater numbers than ever. Over the years, he had collected a sizable stockpile of tools and resources collected from defeated hunting parties. With them, he constructed an effective though elaborate floor trap, which consisted of a series of floor tiles that spun on metal rods leading through a section of cavern with a low roof that had to be passed to proceed to the next area. Some of the tiles released tripwires when they were stepped on, which caused axes to spring from hidden wall cavities, rocks to drop from the ceiling, or spears to thrust up from below. The low ceiling made these especially difficult to avoid. Others were thin, designed to break when stepped on, allowing the victim’s leg to fall through where it would become trapped on spikes recessed beneath the tile space. The spikes were angled, designed to trap the victim, but sometimes they would be lethal as the spikes cut into femoral arteries. Other times, the unexpected drop would cause the victim to fall forward, often triggering other tiles. This cavern went underneath the floor, providing the means to draw the cranks back on the spears, remove trapped bodies and re-attach tripwires. 

By the time Galahad had finished refurbishing the arrows and resetting the floor tiles, he was exhausted. It would be better when he could replace all the arrow traps with the crank-loaded crossbows, but he didn’t have enough of those yet. They had only started appearing in the hunters’ possession over the last few years and they didn’t all survive the traps – the cranks on the spear traps had been salvaged from broken crossbows that were beyond his expertise to repair. In the meantime, he had to do it the old fashioned way, by the strength of his own muscle, which was tiring. The chances of another expedition to his cavern so soon after the last was extremely unlikely, but he didn’t dare take the time to rest until he was finished. Back up the corridor he went, and then down the main cavern to the entrance. He paused, as he always did, at the edge of the shadow cast by the light breaching the cavern entrance as he considered – not for the first time and far from the last time – walking the extra fifty metres or so and crossing the threshold back into the world outside. Bright and inviting, it called to him. It seemed wrong to have to renounce the outside world in order to save it. And for what? Being denied the very thing he was fighting to protect was only the beginning. The greater cost was the one he paid in blood. The very blood of those he was trying to save. If only they knew. But they did not know. They could not know. And they kept coming.

Shaking himself from his moment of tribulation, Galahad returned to his duty. The first trap of the cavern was a simple long drop pit. It had caused numerous deaths over the years as people had blindly fallen into it, but its real function was to deter idle wanderers from venturing any further, and to prevent treasure hunters from escaping easily after their comrades started dying in the traps ahead. It sickened him to think about sometimes, but his no survivor policy was key to minimizing unnecessary bloodshed. If the hunters didn’t escape, they couldn’t share the story and attract more of their ilk. There was a series of niches cut into the side of long drop’s walls like stairs, and Galahad descended these now to check for corpses.

Only one. If there was one thing Galahad noticed over the years, it was that the hunters were getting smarter. A timber ladder had been thrown over the gap, pegged down on one side to prevent it from sliding off – not ideal, but effective. The body was lying face down with one leg stretched out behind it. The other leg was folded in half, with the thigh sticking out but the lower leg trapped beneath the body, snapped at the knee. There was a swollen lump around a crack in the skull, and a clear liquid leaked from it. There was a rope carefully rolled up in the corner of the bottom of the pit, which Galahad took now and tied around the victim’s chest, under his shoulders. It wasn’t always that easy, as the bucket sitting in the corner of the pit that he used to collect limbs could attest. Satisfied it was secure, he ascended the stairs again, where he carefully leaned out over the hunters’ ladder and pulled the rope through a pulley concealed in the ceiling. He then pushed the end of the rope through another pulley on the ground. These were two more of his most treasured possessions, looted from a particularly professional and well-equipped hunting party a few years ago. They had been a curiosity for weeks. He had never seen anything like them before, and it had taken him that long to work out what they were supposed to be used for. Galahad pulled the rope over his shoulder and walked down the corridor as far as he could, and then hastily secured the rope to an anchor on the wall. Then he returned to the top of the pit and gave the rope a final tug so that the body popped up just high enough that he could pull it over the edge onto the cavern floor. Before the pulleys, he had had to carry the bodies up with nothing but brute strength and ignorance. Galahad dragged the body up to the back of the cavern, then returned to the front of the cavern with a shovel, replaced the leather skins he used to conceal the pit, then covered the leather with dirt so it would blend in under torch light.

That would have to do for now. Tomorrow he would finish resetting the rest of the traps, and then begin the grisly job of rummaging through the pile of corpses at the back of the cavern to salvage what clothing and equipment he could before disposing of the bodies. There was only one thing left to do, before he could lay his weary head down to rest. Another tunnel from the bedroom, this one leading the other direction. Toward the Chalice. The tunnel itself was part of the original construction, but the room built into it was constructed much later, an afterthought. Galahad stalked his way up the tunnel, dragging his legs, fatigued to the point where his eyes were closing as he was walking. He came to the room, which was separated from the tunnel by a motley gate of re-purposed iron – swords, shields, and anything else he was able to get his hands on. A makeshift prison. One of the prisoners was at the gate now, alternately kicking it and trying to pull it open. As Galahad approached, the man started shouting what could only be threats at him. Galahad stopped, momentarily confused. He wasn’t sure what language the men were speaking. It wasn’t one he had heard before, although some of it did sound similar to another language he was more familiar with, which he had learned to be French. It could even have been French. Galahad had been down here not for decades, but for centuries, and over that length of time even the core languages of the world had changed unrecognizably. He had witnessed his own native language, Bretonnic, evolve from an assortment of Gaelic dialects to a Germanic adaptation to the Middle-English butchery they called a language now. Three more men were in the cage with him. One was an older prisoner, the last survivor of the last hunt. He sat in the corner silently. The other two were from this hunt. One was curled up in a ball, sobbing pitifully. The other sat with his eyes closed, hurriedly chanting a prayer. Galahad’s eyes flashed in recognition. “Christ, Christ, Christ.” Now that word, Galahad understood. That word was the reason he was here. The reason he couldn’t just destroy the blasted Chalice and be done with it all.

Galahad opened the cage. The man who had threatened him while he stood outside the cage suddenly turned white and silent. The man who had been sobbing suddenly made a break for the opening. Galahad was ready for it. His arm whipped out, grabbing him.

“Stay where you are.” Galahad warned the other prisoners pointlessly – if he couldn’t understand them, there was no way they would be able to understand him. He just hoped the tone of his voice would carry his message.

To Galahad’s surprise, the supplicant suddenly leaped to his feet and charged, not at the door, but at him. Galahad could see the others eyeing off the opening behind him, judging the risk. He couldn’t let them escape. The supplicant had a knife, which he drove into Galahad’s abdomen. Galahad looked down at his attacker and, oblivious to any pain, took a step backward so as to block the exit. Then he calmly wrapped his free arm around the man’s neck and squeezed. He squeezed as the supplicant stopped attacking him and began trying to release Galahad’s hold on his neck. He squeezed as the supplicant started panicking, realizing he had underestimated Galahad’s strength as it became harder and harder to breathe. The supplicant went limp. Without releasing the supplicant, Galahad roughly shoved the would-be-escapee into the wall of the prison. The rest of the prisoners immediately became subdued. He dragged the supplicant’s body outside the cage, pulled the door closed, and dropped the bar back in place. A backpack sat against the wall near the cage. From this, Galahad withdrew a loaf of bread which he hastily ripped into chunks and threw into the cave, along with a bottle of water. If he was to survive, he would need these prisoners to survive, which was no mean task. Living conditions weren’t the greatest down here, and the prisoners usually died of disease long before they saw old age.

Galahad dragged the body further up the tunnel until he reached the Chalice, which sat atop an altar made from a piece of the very cross Jesus had been crucified on. He threw the supplicant’s body up on the altar roughly, then went about straightening the body up to prevent it from falling off, leaving only one arm dangling. This arm he tied a length of ripped cloth around, then sliced up the vein while holding the chalice beneath to catch the blood. His calm had been replaced with annoyance. He had planned on draining the remaining survivor of the last hunt in this manner; he had been trapped here for a couple of years now and there was nothing left to learn from him. This supplicant, however, he had wanted to speak to. He had wanted to ask him about the state of Christianity on the surface. And if he had been a priest it was likely that he would be better educated than the other hunters. Alas, it was too late now. Hopefully one of the others would know something worthwhile. If not, he should at least get a chance to learn their language.

The cup full, Galahad carefully placed it on the altar while he pulled the cloth tourniquet tight and placed the supplicant’s arm up on his chest so gravity would help stop the flow. He raised the chalice then, rapturing in its glory. Oh, there was nothing amazing about the appearance of the cup itself; it was a simple, unadorned piece of wood rounded out like a bowl, with a short stem and wide base. No, the cup’s glory came from its history. And it’s power. Galahad had learned a new name for it recently, which was strangely fitting. Like the languages on the surface, the story of the Chalice too had evolved over time. One of the hunters had called it Sangreal: Astoundingly, in French, San Greal translated to “Holy Grail” while Sang Real translated to “Royal Blood.” It was a deserving name for the actual cup that Joseph of Arimathea had used at Golgotha to catch the last of Jesus’ blood as Centurion Longinus drove a spear into his side.

“This cup is God’s new covenant sealed with my blood, which is poured out to you.” Galahad intoned reverently before drinking from the cup.

Immediately, he was filled with a profound joy.

Taking the knife in his hand, he yanked it free from his abdomen. He was in pain now that the adrenaline had worn off, and blood immediately started pouring from the wound. He took blood from the cup and rubbed it into the wound. Then, before the supplicant’s blood spoiled, Galahad hastily repeated the ceremony, drinking from the cup a second time before abruptly passing out on the floor where he stood.

When Galahad awoke, he was surprised to see the face of his friend Sir Bors peering down at him. “My friend!” Galahad cried with joy. “When we left Sarras, you were bound for Arthur’s Court. What tidings bring you to the Temple of the Crescent Moon?”

“Temple of the Crescent Moon?” Sir Bors repeated, clearly baffled. “Whatever do you mean?” 

Galahad rose awkwardly to a sitting position. He was covered in blood and sand. Sand? It was everywhere; he was on a beach. Beyond the beach was a hill, which extended out in front of him as far as the eye could see. There were very few trees a top the hill; grassland.

“Sir Bors,” Galahad said seriously. “How did I come to be in Norfolk?”

“Norfolk?” Bors repeated, bewildered, then let out a hearty laugh that carried across the empty countryside. “You must have lost more blood than I had thought. My lord, we are in Sarras!” 

That didn’t make any sense. It couldn’t be his blood – he was in no pain. Galahad frantically ran his hands over himself to make sure there were no wounds. “This cannot be Sarras.” Galahad declared.

But it could. A small rowboat was only metres behind him, pulled up onto the beach. Behind that, Solomon’s Ship loomed in the distance. Had the cavern been but a dream, then? Were they really still in Sarras? Admittedly, that made much more sense. He had dreamt that he had wandered the Earth for four hundred years, avoiding the armies of Christendom until he stumbled across the Hatay Canyon, where he had the locals dig a temple into the mountainside and then resided there for another hundred years guarding the Holy Chalice.

“The Chalice.” Galahad thought aloud in a sudden panic. “Where is it?”

“My lord?” Bors said with genuine concern, kneeling to get a better look at his friend. “The Chalice is in Corbenic Castle, under the guard of the Fisher King and the Grail Keepers, as it has been since the time of Joseph of Arimathea. Do you not remember?”

The Fisher King. Suddenly, Galahad did remember. The Fisher King – King Pelles – and his experience in Corbenic Castle were things he would never forget. It was there that he learned the secrets of the Grail. The tale Sir Bors took back to Britain was that Galahad has requested that in return for delivering the Chailce to Sarras, he should be allowed to choose the time of his own passing and that, upon arriving in Sarras with the Chalice, Galahad was visited by an apparition of Joseph of Arimathea and was so overcome with rapture that he chose that moment as the time of his death, and that both Bors and Perceval had witnessed Galahad carried up by angels as he ascended into Heaven. The story wasn’t quite true.

The memories came in a flood.

Sirs Galahad, Bors, and Perceval had recently arrived at the Corbenic Castle when a procession had passed through. Amongst the jewels and other fine treasures, a young woman had presented King Pelles with a very simple wooden cup. The three knights recognized it immediately. They had been searching for The Chalice for three years now. After the procession, Galahad asked King Pelles if they could have a closer look at it.

“My lord,” King Pelles began, speaking directly to Galahad. “I will show you the Grail, but first we have much to discuss.”

Galahad chewed his lip thoughtfully, but nodded his assent. They went around the corner into one of the King’s dining rooms, where the King ushered him into a seat. The other two knights waited dutifully in the hallway.

“Sir Galahad, son of Lancelot and Elaine-“

“How could you know this?” Galahad demanded, reaching for his sword. Was this Fisher King a sorcerer then? Clairvoyance was the work of the devil. Or was he simply looking to stir trouble. Even now, Elaine’s seduction of his father, who had been betrothed to another, was a matter of some controversy.

“Be calm, Sir Galahad.” King Pelles said gently, placing a hand on the young man’s shoulder. “Elaine is my daughter.”

Galahad froze as he processed the new information, but he did not take his hand off his sword. “That would make you my grandfather.” Galahad said. “Except that you are too old to be Elaine’s father.”

“That is the other matter I wished to speak to you about. My lord…” the King hesitated, unsure of how to continue. “What do you know of the Grail?”

At that moment, a servant entered the room. Sir Galahad and the King immediately went silent. Before long, the servant determined that his superiors were waiting patiently for him to leave the room before continuing the conversation and promptly did so. 

“It is the very cup that Joseph of Arimathea used to catch the last drops of our lord and saviour’s blood at his crucifixion.”

“Aye. That much is true. Why do you seek the Grail?”

“It is a holy relic. I am the True Grail Knight, as foretold by the inscription on the Siege Perilous.”

The King smirked at that. “You are the True Grail Knight because you are my grandson. I am the last of Joseph’s line of Grail Keepers, and you are of my blood. But you did not answer my question.”

Galahad paused. If it were true, that actually did make sense. “I seek the Grail because it is a holy relic that must be brought to Arthur’s Court.”

“Use your head, Sir Galahad. The Grail Keepers have been the guardians of the Grail for four hundred and fifty years now. Why must it suddenly be brought to Arthur’s Court?”

“The Grail is a symbol. It will strengthen our army and help us defeat our enemies.”

“A cup will strengthen your army and help you defeat your enemies?” The King asked, gently mocking.

Galahad, however, was not in a light-hearted mood. Not so close to the object of his quest. “The Grail itself has no power.” Galahad admitted. “But it is a symbol. By showing that we have the Grail, we show that God’s Will is in our favour,” he finished matter-of-factly.

“But what if the Grail did have power? Real power?” The King asked.

Galahad’s anger subsided slightly and he waited quietly for the King to continue. The Fisher King was the Grail Keeper, after all. Descended from Joseph of Arimathea himself.

“My lord, the Grail is indeed the cup that Joseph used to catch the last of Christ’s blood, but what did Joseph do with the blood?”

Galahad was silent. He had never thought about it.

“Nothing.” King Pelles said, answering his own question. “Joseph did nothing with it. The cup sat above his mantle, and eventually Christ’s own Holy blood soaked into the wood. It is as Jesus said when he held the cup aloft during the last supper. Drinking from the cup is as drinking the very blood from his body. The blood has the power to heal, and to rejuvenate.”

Again, Galahad said nothing, trying to understand what the King was saying. “Are you telling me-” he began.

“My lord, I am living proof that the Grail has the power to give everlasting life. You said yourself that I am too old to be Elaine’s father, but nevertheless it is true.”

“Let us say that I believe you.” Galahad said. “What then?”

“I would ask of you a boon,” said the Fisher King.

“What would you have me do?”

“Take the Grail to Sarras.”

“If you are indeed immortal, would it not be safer for you to protect it here? The Grail Keepers have kept it safe for four hundred and fifty years, as you said.”

“I am wounded.” The King explained.

“I thought you just said that the Grail was capable of healing.”

The King nodded. “Indeed it is, but I have suffered a grievous wound, Sir Galahad, that no power in this world can heal.”

The King stopped, and sighed deeply. Galahad waited for him to continue.

“I am a eunuch. You see, you are not the first Grail hunters to find your way to Corbenic Castle. A few years, a group arrived here. We provided them with hospitality for two days, but when it came time to leave, they became violent. They said they knew the Grail was here, in this castle, and demanded to know its whereabouts. When I refused to tell them, they-” the King broke off again. “They severed my genitals from my body.”

Galahad gasped in horror, and clenched his hand around the pommel of his sword to prevent it from instinctively moving to protect his own genitalia.

“That is why you must take the Grail, Galahad. I have no male heirs. You are the last of my bloodline. You must carry on the Grail Keeper legacy.”

“I will take the Grail, Fisher King. But why Sarras? I am already tasked to bring the Grail to Arthur’s Court.”

“Arthur must not have the grail. He is but a man, and power often drives men to sin.”

“Arthur is a knight.” Galahad declared defensively. “A Holy crusader.”

“Aye. I will not argue with you, Arthur truly is a good man. But even good men lose wars, and then what will happen if Arthur’s enemies possess the Grail?”

Galahad could not deny the logic in that. “Fisher King, Sarras is said to be a mystical island. However will I find it?”

“Worry not, my lord. Sarras is as real as you or I. It is the place where Christ appeared to Joseph of Arimathea as an apparition, and told him the secrets of the Grail. It is there that Christ asked Joseph to keep the Grail hidden, for he saw the dangers of leaving such power in the hands of even his own followers. No. Until Christ returns, only the pure of heart must know the secret of the Grail. It will not be enough to just hide the Holy Chalice, we must remove it from history altogether. It must become a myth, for man will never stop seeking eternal life.”

“I accept this quest, Fisher King.”

“Good. Go now. Take Sir Bors and Sir Perceval to the bay. There, you will find Solomon’s ship waiting. It will take you to Sarras. Promise me you will not return here, Sir Galahad. Without the Grail to sustain me, I will die. Leave knowing that you are doing the family proud.”

Galahad found himself weeping.

“Fare well, Fisher King.” He said as he embraced the old eunuch.

“One last thing,” King Pelles said. “I must warn you that eternal life is not a blessing, but a curse. Go now, Grail Knight. Go with God.”

The vision of his old friend was but a dream, then. They came every time he drank of the Chalice, but he had never gotten used to them. And with five hundred years between him and his memories, it was getting harder and harder to tell which ones were real. The realization roused Galahad from his sleep. Galahad had failed to tighten the tourniquet, and was covered in the blood of the supplicant. He tiredly reached one hand down to the rip in his tunic where the knife had been and felt his abdomen. The wound had closed, and the only indication it had ever been there was a slight raising of skin where a scar marked the entry. Another few hours and that would be gone too.

Galahad closed his eyes, but could not sleep.

Eventually, tomorrow came. Then another. Then ten thousand more. Then a hundred thousand. There was a wall in the back of the cavern covered in marks where he had once counted the days, but he had stopped long ago. He had counted the bodies once, too, but there were too many. Even the prisoners. One could not pour just any liquid into the cup. As was the Christian way, there had to be sacrifice. And drinking one’s own blood was too close to witchcraft and suicide. Too close to sin. No: For the blood to become consecrated, imbued with the divine properties of Christ’s own, the blood had to be fresh – blood that had lost the essence of life turned to poison. That was why he needed to keep the prisoners alive, but unlike Galahad, the prisoners did not live forever. Eternal life might have provided Galahad with a way of protecting the Grail, but it came at such a high price that he worried for his soul. In order to protect the world from monsters, he had become one himself.

Sometimes whole decades went between Grail hunting expeditions. Galahad watched with wonder as whole technological milestones passed him by. He had been born in the beginning of the middle ages. For four hundred years, he wandered the Earth until he came to the Hatay Canyon, where he had the Temple of the Crescent Moon – the Grail Temple – built. There he resided for time immemorial. The middle ages turned to the Renaissance, and the Renaissance gave way to the industrial era. The hunters’ bows and crossbows were replaced with flintlock pistols and muskets. Spears and halberds became rarer. Swords remained, but they had grown longer and skinnier, and were made of different metal. Stronger, but lighter. Armour got bigger and better, evolving from brigandine and scale male to chain and plate mail to highly sophisticated cuirass. Wooden torches had been replaced with oil and then gas lanterns. The hunters began to bypass traps entirely. Public schooling had made them far more intelligent than their predecessors, and they used primitive machinery. This presented a challenge at first, but with time Galahad learned how to utilize the salvaged machinery, and used it to create new traps.

The more time passed, the bigger the gaps were becoming between expeditions. It was impossible to tell time in the caverns but Perhaps Galahad’s plan was finally working. Eventually the Grail had to pass from legend to myth and the surface dwellers would stop searching for it. Surely. He would run out of warm bodies to keep him alive then, but he might finally find peace.

Galahad found the industrial age exciting. After watching the technology progress from the medieval to the industrial age over the course of a millennium, technology seemed to suddenly progress in leaps and bounds, as if centuries worth of advancement were taking place every decade. Muskets were replaced with rifles, swords with bayonets, and armour had seemingly fallen out of use altogether.

Then one day, something unusual happened. A small bell at the back of the cavern gave a quiet tinkle, alerting Galahad to the presence of something or someone within his caverns. That was one of his newest additions. Galahad heaved himself out of his bed. There had not been any hunting parties in so long that the last of his prisoners had long since died, and without fresh blood to consecrate, he was unable to sustain himself using the Grail and was beginning to grow weak. Part of him was excited at the prospect of fresh blood. Part of him was sickened by the thought. He had caused so much death and misery already. Part of him simply longed for the sweet release of oblivion. But there was no time for that now. As long as he survived, he had to protect the Grail. So he began the long familiar trek down toward the front of the cavern. In order to protect the Grail, there could be no survivors. Oft times, it was just animals wandering into the cavern, tripping his alarms and sometimes falling to their deaths in the long drop pit. That was such a waste, he thought. There were countless peasants starving on the surface; that he remembered all too well. Here, he simply ended the animals’ pain, skinned them for the leather, and then disposed of the bodies. He had no prisoners left to feed, and it had been nearly a thousand years since a morsel of food had crossed his lips. Not since the Grail sustained him. But what he saw when he got to the front of the cavern was neither animals, nor a hunting party.

It was a single man, dressed head to toe in a finely cut – no, tailored – overcoat, and long pants, with a buttoned shirt and a tie. No armour, although that was normal these days. His hair was cut short and he sported no facial hair. He wore no backpack, or even a belt, and Galahad couldn’t see a weapon. The man had paused just inside the threshold, apparently rummaging in his pockets. Galahad hid in the shadows and watched. The man found what he was looking for. Suddenly, Galahad found himself almost blinded as a bright light flashed into existence. It sprung from the man’s hand with no apparent source, and lit up the area a good ten metres in front of him as bright as day. There was no flame; the light didn’t flicker, and was brilliantly white. It was as if the man controlled the power of the sun itself. A demon? The man started walking further into the cavern then, alternately shining the light on the ground so he could see where he was walking, and then up to the ceiling and to the walls around him. He stopped when he came to the long drop pit. Galahad watched as the man reached out tentatively with a foot and prodded the leather skins. Realising they moved, the man then squatted down, and gave one of the skins a push. It fell into the hole. Calmly, the man then moved closer to the side and pushed another one of the skins into the hole. Then he stepped back, and shined his strange light into the hole. He found what he was looking for, and gingerly stretched out across the pit until he managed to get a hold of the step indents, then pulled himself across and up the other side.

Galahad cautiously walked back up the cavern then, so he could continue watching. The focused beam of the man’s strange light extended so much further than anything he had ever seen, and it was difficult to remain far enough away that he would not be seen himself while still being close enough to see clearly. The man, if he was aware he was being watched, paid no heed. He simply continued forward, stopping again when his light revealed the next trap. This too, he dodged deftly, then stopped again when he came to the tile trap. This he solved by shining his light carefully along the edges of the tiles. The light was so powerful that it clearly revealed the gaps in the tiles that were hollow beneath. These he avoided as he stepped carefully from one tile to the next. Occasionally he would come to one that had too much dirt on it to see clearly. These, he would throw rocks at to determine their safety. Within minutes, the man was across the tile trap. Galahad had never seen anything like it. Galahad was going to have to put an end to this. He raced back to his bedroom and, as quickly as he could, donned his now ancient armour, took up his sword and his signature shield, and marched back down the cavern. In that short time, the man had traversed another two traps, still unharmed.

Galahad stepped into the middle of the cavern, and called out to the man, his voice booming down the tunnel, echoing off the walls. “Halt! You shall go no further, hunter.” His sword was raised, ready to strike.

The man stopped immediately, but his face showed surprise rather than fright. “You’re still alive! How can that be?” 

The speech was unusual. Galahad knew it to be English, and it was similar enough to the English that he had learned from his last prisoners that he was able to understand it, but the speech patterns were different. Another evolution. It was his words that gave Galahad pause, however.

“Still alive?” 

“By the gods!” The man exclaimed as he shined his light directly at Galahad. The light glinted off polished metal, the result of a thousand years of meticulous polishing and very little use. Galahad’s coat of arms – the red cross on the white background – showed up starkly. Galahad was forced to shield his eyes. “It really is you!”

This encounter wasn’t going at all as he had expected. This was no ordinary treasure hunter.

“Who are you?” Galahad queried.

“I-” That gave the man pause. “I’ve gone by a few names over the years. I suppose the only one you would be familiar with is – Jesus, of Nazareth.”

“To pose as our lord and savior is blasphemy of the highest order! Step forward and pay for your sin.” Galahad turned side on and struck a battle pose. 

“Stand easy Sir Galahad, son of Sir Lancelot and Elaine! I have searched high and low for the chalice for two thousand years, and now I have come to claim what is mine. We have much to discuss.”

Galahad froze at the sound of his name. Whoever this was, Galahad intended to keep him alive. The prison was at the back of the cavern. It would be easier for this fellow to walk there willingly than for Galahad to carry his body, and he had a secret weapon. He had managed to get one of the muskets to work. As skilled as this man had proven to be so far, he would not be able to out-run a bullet. 

“Come, then.”

Jesus, if he was truly who he claimed to be, followed Galahad to the back of the cavern. He even allowed himself to be locked into the prison.

“You have me behind bars, now. Can I at least see the chalice?” 

“Talk first.”

“There’s much you don’t know, Sir Galahad. This story is a long one.”

“I have nothing but time.”

“Have you heard of the name Utnapishtim?” 

Galahad shook his head.

“I said before I have gone by many names over the years. Thousands of years before I used the name Yeshua – Jesus – I was called Utnapishtim. I was still mortal then, like you must have been once. One day, I was warned that a great calamity would visit the land. A great flood. And so I spent tens of years of my life building a great boat. I had barely finished when the rain started. It rained for forty days and forty nights, and if it had not been for my boat, humanity would have perished. To repay my services, and my time, the gods granted me immortality. Not just eternal life, but true immortality; when I die, I am simply resurrected. Over, and over. It seemed such a boon at the time.”

“Do you think me a fool? That is the story of Noah.” Galahad grew angry.

“Noah?” Jesus – Utnapishtim – asked, confused for a moment. “No, that’s not right. When I first began to spread Christianity, I had my apostles rewrite the epic of Gilgamesh. You see, I wanted to spread peace and love into a war-torn world by filling people’s minds with stories about goodwill, and sacrifice for the benefit of others. The great flood was just one of such stories.”

Galahad remained silent. Utnapishtim continued.

“All for naught, it seems. For the crime of spreading love and peace, the Romans had me executed. And now, the world is more violent than ever. After my death, thousands of years of war have been fought in my name. I did more harm than good, it would seem. Or perhaps violence is simply part of human nature. Did you know, Sir Galahad, that your own disappearance sparked a series of wars?”

Utnapishtim took note of Galahad’s stoic expression, and continued without waiting for a response.

“Oh yes. The crusaders even took up your crest as their own holy symbol. You see, you were the last person seen with the chalice. Then one day, the cup suddenly vanishes, and you with it. Tales of its power grew to legend, and Christian armies roamed the land for four hundred years, carrying out what they called the “crusades” as they searched for it. Eventually, the crusaders found Solomon’s temple, and inside it the Ark of the Covenant. But no Grail. It was thought lost to history, until one day a man by the name of Chretian de Troyes wrote a book called “Perceval, the story of the Grail,” based on a source given him by his patron Philip the first, Count of Flanders, and an old friend of Perceval.”

“Perceval?” Galahad scoffed. “Surely you jest.”

“Not Sir Perceval. A distant relative, a crusader. Sir Perceval must have told his family the real story of the Grail, for it was in the book. The Fisher King, maimed by the Spear of Destiny. The disappearance – not the ascendance – of Sir Galahad. He died before he could finish the book, but there was enough in it to revive the search for the Grail. The story had persisted so long that people thought, it must be true. I had my doubts, but here you stand as living proof of the power of the Grail.”

“If you are immortal, why then do you seek the Grail?”

“The Grail was said to not just give eternal life, but also to have the power to heal. In my last life, I called myself Grigori Rasputin. I tried to spread peace in Russia by preaching directly to the people as I had in Jerusalem, but the monstrosity that Christianity has become held too strong a grip on the minds of the people. I was branded a yurodiviy, a fool, and cast out. But one day, the King himself became desperate – his precious doctors could not cure his son and so, with nowhere else to turn, he came to me. Poor Alexei. He suffered a horrible blood disease that I could do nothing about, but then I thought about the Grail. If the stories were true, it could heal Alexei. More than that, I thought that if the Grail could heal the King’s son, then I could use it to rally the people. Then the war started. The first world war. I tried to use my influence with the King’s family to prevent it, but the aristocracy had me murdered. The atrocities I witnessed… Men made new weapons. Not sword or axe but machine guns, bombs, poisonous gases-” Utnapishtim stopped, realizing that Galahad’s comprehension had reached its limit.

“Thousands of people were killed, Sir Galahad. Tens of thousands. More people died in the first year of that war than in all four hundred years of the crusades added together. I thought humanity would have learned their lesson, but there was another war not long after. They made a new bomb. Hundreds of thousands of people died in just two days.” Utnapishtim stopped again, unable to continue. His eyes were closed as he relived the experience.

Galahad didn’t know what bombs were, but that wasn’t the part he was trying to wrap his head around. Hundreds of thousands or people dead in just two days. It was unfathomable. Galahad couldn’t even imagine hundreds of thousands of people. It was no wonder the hunting parties had stopped. If people were killing themselves in such huge numbers, there must be no one left on the surface. If everything this Utnapishtim was saying was true, then he truly had done the right thing by hiding down here with the Grail. After a millennium of self-doubt, he had finally received some validation. Some proof that the atrocities he had caused, the innocent lives he had slaughtered and fed upon, truly were for the greater good. 

“If all this is true, then the Grail must never reach the surface. We must find some way to collapse this cavern. The Grail will be buried for eternity.” Galahad declared, full of righteous vigour.

“No!” Utnapishtim cried. “Now, the world needs it more than ever!”

Galahad was confused. “No, my lord.” He pleaded, bending to his knees. “The people will only use it as a weapon. Is that not why you came to Joseph of Arimathea, more than a thousand years ago, and commanded him to keep the grail hidden from those who are not pure of heart?”

“The people of this modern world have created great weapons and have a great aptitude for violence, it is true, but there is still more good than bad. Tell me, Sir Galahad, does the Grail have any other powers? Can it also heal?”

“Yes.” Galahad confirmed, reluctantly. “But the cost is too great.” 

Utnapishtim frowned at that. “What cost, the price of eternal life and the power to heal, Sir Galahad?”

“Blood for blood. The Grail requires sacrifice. I have lived for a thousand years, but the price was the lives of a thousand innocent men.”

“You did what you had to do, Sir Galahad. If you had not killed those who came looking for the Grail before me, there would have been many more deaths. For all the bloodshed, you are a savior.”

“You misunderstand me. The chalice requires the blood of living men to work its magic.”

“I see.” Utnapishtim paused as he mulled over the problem. “There may still be a way. Things have changed, Sir Galahad. The world is not as you remember it. People are living to a hundred years now.” Utnapishtim stopped, unsure how to continue. How would you describe modern blood transfusions and advances in DNA science to a knight from the fifth century? “We have new tools that can copy parts of the Grail.”

Galahad only stared back at him blankly.

“We may be able to … make new Grails. Grails that will not grant eternal life or require blood sacrifice, but yet retain the power to heal. Come, Sir Galahad. I have much to show you.”

“I cannot. I have kept the Grail hidden as I was sworn to do but now you have returned, and I am released from my geas. I do not wish to live in the world you have described. I have witnessed enough bloodshed for a thousand lifetimes. The Grail is in the back chamber. Take it, and do as you will with it. Without the Grail to sustain me, I will perish, and finally may I touch the face of God.” 

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