King and Emperor by Harry Harrison. Chapter 8, 9, 10

“And yet there is another gospel I have read.”

“Besides the four of the Bible?” prompted Bruno.

“Yes. It is the Gospel of Nicodemus. The fathers of the Church, in their wisdom, decided not to include it among those works called canonical. Yet it is clearly a work of great age. And what it tells us is the story of what happened after Christ died. And before he was resurrected.”

“When he went down into Hell,” breathed Bruno, face rapt.

“It is this gospel which allows us to have the words in the Creed, descendit ad infernos, he descended into Hell. So this Nicodemus saw Christ buried, knew of his Resurrection—and talked with those whom Christ released from Hell. How else could he know the story? He must have been a man far deep in the secrets of Our Lord. More so perhaps even than Joseph. Such men recognized Our Lord as the Son of God as soon, almost, as did the centurion Longinus, who kept his own lance as a relic. They had many chances to put by the things that the Son of God had touched, and one of them may have been the Grail. Some say it is the chalice of the Last Supper, some the jar in which the Holy Blood was collected after the Lance had shed it.”

“But that’s because they’re bloody French!” yelled Bruno suddenly, driving his dagger with his usual appalling speed and strength deep in and through the table in front of him. “They can’t speak their own bloody language! Just gabble gabble Latin till it sounds like nothing on earth! Take aqua, turn it into eau, take caballerus, turn it into chevalier. I ask you. What might a graal have been before those miscegenated bastards got their tongues round it?”

Two bodyguards moved into the tent, weapons ready, saw their lord sitting unharmed by the table. Bruno grinned suddenly, waved at them, spoke in his usual familiar Low German. “All right, boys. Just saying what I think about the French.” His men returned his grin, withdrew. Brüder of the Lanzenorden, they shared their master’s opinion: especially after today, when there had been Frenchmen on both sides, and when they felt their own had fought less whole-heartedly than the enemy’s.

“Well,” said Erkenbert, trying to answer the question. “A graal can be a sort of flat plate or dish.”

“Couldn’t keep blood in it, could you?”

“Maybe it is blood. Maybe when these people say sancto graale, or saint graal, Holy Grail, whatever the pronunciation, their ancestors were trying to say sang real, royal blood. It would be much the same in Latin, too. The one is sanctus graduale, the other sanguis regalis. Maybe the Grail is just the Holy Blood.”

For some time Bruno remained silent, meditatively touching the blister on his own tongue. Erkenbert watched his face with a growing interest. They had been over this ground several times, and what Erkenbert had not been able to understand was why Bruno seemed so sure of himself and his quest. There were indeed odd features in the Gospel of John and that of Nicodemus. There was nothing for the Grail, though, like the strong recent evidence there had been for the Holy Lance, possessed within living memory by Charlemagne. Nor was there anything like the centurion’s letter that Erkenbert himself had seen. Erkenbert had suspected before that Bruno was hiding something.

“How do you get ‘dish’ or ‘chalice’ out of graduale?” asked Bruno finally.

“It is from gradus, a—a stage,” replied Erkenbert. “So it comes to mean a course at dinner, and then what the course is served on.”

, “But gradus doesn’t mean a bloody stage,” snarled Bruno. “You’re just saying that. It means a bloody step. It means something you step on. And a graduale is something with a lot of graduses on it. And you and I both call that the same thing, whether we talk my German or your English. Same word both languages. I checked. You know what it is! It’s a bloody…”

“Ladder,” completed Erkenbert, his voice low and cold. For the first time he saw where his master’s thought was leading.

“Ladder it is. Like you-know-who wears round his neck.”

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Categories: Harrison, Harry