If Throop Mill lacked inhabitants it was not lacking for neighbors as Minerva and Irma discovered when they awoke. Outside, nature was generous from the white swans drifting through the reeds to the tit marshes, robins and finches that flitted and sang in the trees. Floating over descending gushing waters, hardy mallards paddled fearlessly through the long-rusted turbines arranged in a horizontal row across the river. This pleasant nature-filled morning was a well-deserved antidote to the dramatic happenings of the night before.
Standing on the rough deck in the mill's rear overlooking the river, the two witches felt refreshed despite their late night. Minerva transfigured two rotting wood barrels into serviceable chairs.
"I dreamt of my comfortable rooms at Hogwarts last night, a toasty coverlet, inviting pillows, a warm fire," Irma mused stretching her arms out and releasing a single long yawn.
"Is that an oblique way of saying that we're too old for adventuring?" Minerva crouched on the deck running a hand into the water testing temperature and speed of flow. In the full glare of daylight, her eyes scanned the river bank, the running river and the surrounding forests missing little.
"Not at all. However, I have learned my lesson. I assure you that in future my purse shall be well-stocked with creature comforts." Irma laid out her notebook on her lap, opened to a blank page and began to write.
Minerva stood up arching her back working some kinks out. "Some basic supplies may be advantageous."
"Perhaps we shall find ourselves in Ireland before this quest is completed. We must buy tea at least and maybe biscuits for emergency rations." Irma duly added said items to her list.
Minerva looked up at the sun not quite at its zenith yet but midway in the sky. "Midmorning already. We overslept but no help for that I suppose. How are you feeling?"
"I need coffee then I can tell you how I feel. You're looking quite energetic on very few hours of sleep. How do you manage? I feel wrecked."
"Practice, Irma. My house seems to attract the mischief makers. Interrupted evenings and unexpected emergencies in the night are almost routine." Minerva sat down in a chair and looked out over the river.
"Where do the children get the energy from?"
Minerva laughed then sobered. "I was thinking of our progress last night. I know I said last night that I was worried but now I am less so. What we're doing feels right. I can't explain why. It simply does. I feel like a marionette on a string being led across a stage."
"Hmm, yes, I'm terrified I admit but eager just the same." Irma turned her book to the page where she had written the translation. "Shall we plan our next move?" They quickly read the translation.
Let not wisdom fail at Rivers End,
O'er dark and light, see true.
Brother Sion do thy duty well.
Let not Baphomet cross the path
O'er fear and valor, feel true.
Brother Sion do thy duty well.
Let not her wending stray and darken
O'er chance and fate, be true.
Brother Sion do thy duty well.
"The first mentions or points to a location. A location that we must be at or close to." Minerva gestured to the river. "How convenient that we appeared close to one."
"The quest cannot be made impossible, can it?"
"No, not impossible merely difficult, very difficult. We will follow this river until it ends or joins another. I believe I spied a city or town to the south lying by the river." She pointed at the translation. "Brother Sion has to be important to be mentioned as often as he is. To me, Brother Sion suggests a person, a monk, a monastery, religion, a Templar, a man not a female. We need to look for appropriate associations."
"Dark and light, fear and valor, chance and fate," Irma said softly. "Two sides. A positive and a negative. True or false. And Baphomet is the reverse of Mohammed - the negative version - as in the destroyers of fate against the wielders of light."
"And Brother Sion is the sentinel we must pass." Minerva concluded.
After erasing any sign of their presence from the mill, the two witches disillusioned themselves and took to the skies cloaks flapping wildly behind them. As they streaked towards the southern city mirroring the river's flow, they took careful note of the landscape passing below them. A passing sign gave them the name of the river : Stour.
Minerva pointed to the distance. "Irma, look there, to the east, another river. And further along they join."
Irma nodded. "They would have to have used clues that would not change over time. Geographic landmarks are rather permanent."
Minerva rose upward a few meters to gain a wider vantage point. "Lo and behold, the rivers do end in the city."
With renewed energy and purpose, they increased their speed till the winds roared in their ears. Signs of habitation grew more obvious as they neared the river's end. As they approached the city the landmark foremost in their sight was the tall belltower of a magnificent Norman church. They alighted in a narrow alleyway not far from the church. They changed their clothing to nondescript blouses, skirts and overcoats. As they got closer to the church they spied the sign. It read "Christchurch Priory Church."
"House of worship, monastery and priory are synonymous." Minerva studied the entrance plaque. "They open at half past nine o'clock."
"Good. We have enough time for breakfast and coffee. And I believe, yes, I've spotted a shop over there." Without waiting for reply Irma crossed the wide church square and down into narrow Church Street.
They entered the Priory 17 cafe restaurant which fortunate for them did indeed have a breakfast service. Minerva ordered smoked salmon on a muffin with cream cheese and tea. Irma ordered a very large meal - two rashers of bacon, two sausages, two eggs, baked beans, mushrooms, hash browns, granary toast and a carafe of coffee.
At Minerva's incredulous look, Irma whispered sotto voce, "Supplies, Minerva, for later. If things prove to form, we will not have another restful meal today."
Minerva smiled. "Excellent thinking. That should serve even if we end up in Ireland."
Their waiter Teddy settled a carafe of coffee on the table. "Morning, ladies, from where would you be visiting from?"
"Are we that obvious?" Irma asked.
"Well, you're not one of my regulars. That much I know. You would hail from …?"
"Scotland," answered Minerva.
"Ah, are you Templar scholars?" asked Teddy.
Irma looked at Teddy closely. "Why do you say that?"
"We get a fair amount of Templar scholars coming here from Roslyn Chapel. They hear about our knight you see."
"Oh, yes, Sir Stephen, the last true Templar in Britain." Teddy poured hot tea into Minerva's cup. "His remains were found in the priory church some years back and his gravestone is on display in the church museum."
Unfortunately, Teddy could not provide further information about the Templar. After devouring breakfast, Irma and Minerva practically ran back to Christchurch. At the church entrance they were met by a gaunt but cheerful volunteer named Simon. Being informed of their interest in Sir Stephen, Simon guided them to the museum situated in the upper loft talking all the while.
"The gravestone of our Templar, namely one Sir Stephen de Stapelbrugge, is situated in the Priory Loft. The loft was once the Lady's Chapel and, very mysteriously, it was not available for use by the clergy. It's true purpose has been lost historically." Simon gestured the ladies to precede him up the spiral staircase.
"You're very well versed." Irma said.
"We do our best to meet the research needs of scholars and visitors here at Christchurch."
"We shall keep that in mind, Simon." Minerva replied. The attention she spared to Simon was inversely proportional to the attention she was receiving from him. With sure-footed grace, Minerva ascended the steps as they wound their way upward.
"Do you have further plans for other sites to visit?"
"Our plans are rather fluid, Simon." Irma breathed deeply a few times to stave off an attack of vertigo the higher she climbed on the heels of Minerva's rapid ascent.
"I am entirely at your disposal if you should need a guide to the area I mean."
"How … how very thoughtful of you."
"Few tourists ascend the stairs as surely and fearlessly as you do, Minerva." Getting no response, Simon cleared his throat loudly. "Seventy-five steps in all. I suppose then that you must be quite fit."
"Quite," Minerva replied.
"If I may ask, what other sites had you in mind to visit?"
"We're not at all familiar with the area." Irma murmured.
"Then I'm your man!" Simon announced.
"We would not want to impose." Minerva added firmly as she reached the topmost step.
Simon led them directly to the opposite side of the loft. "The grave slab was found in the crypts underneath Christchurch. Research led to its matching to a tomb in the south wall. The south wall cemetery is the oldest in the area dating as far as the 12th century and was designated for monks and clergy for the most part. The tomb was excavated and the results were rather startling."
"How so?" Minerva looked at him with genuine interest.
Simon smiled back. "The skeleton in the matching tomb was not what one would expect of a monk. It was of a man over six feet tall with a broad, muscular build. More a warrior than a man of the cloth."
"A Templar knight?" Irma asked. "But were not all Templars rounded up in 1307 by decree no less?"
"Yes, that was decreed by King Philip of France along with forfeiture to the crown of all Templar assets in France. The Templars scattered. One of the last places they were rumored to be were here and in Roslyn." Simon stopped by a long shelf upon which lay a gravestone with an incised cross upon it. "This slab is believed to be engraved with the mark of Sir Stephen."
As Simon continued to speak, Irma and Minerva studied the slab and the faint but still legible engravings on its surface.
"Sir Stephen arrived here in 1319 nearly twelve years after the dissolution of the Templar order. His very survival of the purge is astonishing. Templars were labelled and judged as heretics and put to death by fire or sword. Sir Stephen was arrested in 1311 and was sent to serve in a St. Augustinian priory in Surrey. Two years later he escaped with another Templar and was recaptured in Salisbury resulting in another five years incarceration."
"How then did Sir Stephen come to be buried here?" Minerva sharp eyes found a familiar shape in the slab - seven concentric circles similar to the circles of Achanabrek. A sidelong glance at Irma confirmed that she had seen it too.
Simon droned on. "By 1312 a new Pope, Clement, came to power. He formally dissolved the Templar order but did not believe in its guilt. Any surviving Templars were jailed but no longer subject to inquisitorial torture. In 1318, Pope John XXII decreed that all Templars be given a choice of order to enter into be it as brother monks or staff lodgers. Sir Stephen was ordained an Augustinian novice at Braemore Priory in 1319 and then moved here. "
"Was that very usual? To be ordained in one place and then transferred?" Minerva asked.
"Not at all. We have deduced that in Sir Stephen's case his ordination was probably done in its manner to avoid publicity. Christchurch was even then a very visible priory. Perhaps the induction of Templar was deemed unfit for so public a place."
"But if the order was dissolved of what importance could there have been?" Irma asked.
"Based on research, we believe that Sir Stephen was a form of kept witness. He was quite young for a Templar having been ordained while still a child. Another unusual item in his personal history. And it would seem that he was aware of or witness to Templar business of interest to the King. His survival on the run from 1311 to 1313 hint at resourcefulness and means. Though born in France, his paternal family hailed from this area and he had relatives in positions of authority in the Church."
"Sir Stephen seems to have lived an interesting if mysterious life." Minerva pondered.
Before he could respond, Simon was waylaid by another curator and excused himself.
Minerva whispered. "Take a closer look at that slab while I distract Simon."
"That should not be too hard, Minerva. He's got his eye on you."
Minerva rolled her eyes heavenward. "You have an overactive imagination."
"He seems a good conversationalist. Very charming in a quiet intellectual way."
"Desist this line of conjecture." Minerva glared at her companion.
"You match well enough. Him being a few inches taller and slender."
"Immediately!" Minerva pursed her lips. "He's hardly my ... my type."
Her curiosity piqued, Irma asked a rather daring question. "And what or who IS your type, if I may ask."
"You may not ask. Now go on and look at that slab will you." Minerva bustled off to Simon and made to guide him to the opposite side of the loft.
Mentally, Irma filed away the few new tidbits of information about Minerva that had just landed in her figurative lap. The head of Gryffindor had inadvertently answered the question. She had not indicated any specific person but her indirect response was not an outright denial either. Minerva had a definite type. Irma, though she was not wont to gossip overmuch, was aware of the faculty speculations about Minerva's personal life or rather the vagueness of said personal life. Minerva was not a social hermit but no one on staff had ever known her to have a serious beau. Was that because there was no one or rather that there was no one Minerva cared to name?
After one last look to make sure that Simon was too far away to see what she was doing, Irma cast a reveal spell on the slab starting at the top of the slab and moving downward. She reached the middle and the Achanabreck-like symbol glowed red once. An audible hum filled her ears like the buzzing of bees.
Standing by the display of Augustinian robes, Minerva plied Simon with leading questions. Her sensitive hearing picked up on the humming and her eyes swiveled towards Irma. She was turning to return to the slab when all the lights blinked off. In the shadowy dimness, Minerva saw Irma collapse to the floor like a rag doll.
A/N: Christchurch, the Priory cafe, the museum and Sir Stephen are all real places and figures. Sir Stephen's bio in the story mirrors history. Real life is certainly more interesting than fiction. Enjoy!