“Let me take another look at that.” Dane reached into the back seat and accepted the skull from Angel. He sat it in his lap, its face grinning up at him. The Magi, the Wise Men who visited the baby Jesus in Bethlehem. Could it be true? He had to laugh. How many times in the past few years had he asked himself that very question? Either the world was jam-packed with mysteries and secrets, or he and Bones were very lucky– or unlucky, depending on how you looked at things.
“I don’t know what to make of it.” Jade leaned over his seat to get a better look. A moment later, Angel’s face joined hers.
“Hey chicks, we’re driving on a snowy highway. Put your seat belts back on!” Bones shook his head. “And they say I’m reckless.”
Angel laid a hand on his shoulder. “We just trust your driving ability, that’s all.”
Bones rolled his eyes but dropped the issue.
“Does that light ever go out?” Angel pointed to the stone set in the front of the crown.
“I think it’s just reflecting light from the dashboard,” Jade said.
“I’m not so sure.” Dane remembered his first impression when he removed the skull from its reliquary. The light seemed to come from within the stone. “I could see a glimmer of light in it from the very start.”
“A stone that generates its own light? Maddock, that’s impossible.”
Dane and Bones exchanged a quick glance, both remembering an underground temple, its walls lined with stones that could absorb and amplify light.
“I once saw something along those lines, though not quite the same.” He told them about what he and Bones had found in the Holy Land a few years earlier. “I have an idea. Bones, can you pull the car over and kill the lights?”
A few minutes later they sat on a dark, deserted stretch of highway. They all huddled around the skull, blocking any ambient light, and peering intently at the opaque gem.
“I see it!” Jade gripped Dane’s arm. “There’s a faint sliver of light there.”
“It’s almost shaped like a triangle,” Angel mused. “See how it’s narrower at one end?”
“But is it generating its own light, or is it like the stones we saw before, and just using the light it absorbs?” Bones asked.
“This isn’t like those stones.” Dane shook his head. “Those took a little bit of light and multiplied it. This is just a sliver that seems to come from within the stone itself. Weird.”
Just then, Jade’s cell phone rang, interrupting their quiet contemplation. She glanced at the screen and smiled.
The conversation was brief, and Otto must have done most of the talking because Jade’s contribution consisted primarily of “okay” and “uh-huh.” When she hung up, she was smiling ear-to-ear.
“What was that all about?” Dane asked.
“Otto thinks he’s solved another of the clues. Paderborn Cathedral has a well-known three hares window. That by itself wouldn’t help us out much, but it also houses the remains of Saint Liborius.” She paused for effect.
“This conversation is already feeling laborious.” Dane grinned while the others groaned. “Cut the suspense. What’s special about this guy?”
“He was a bishop of the late fourth century during a time when paganism was strong in this part of the world. Legend has it, when the relics of Liborius,” she emphasized the correct pronuciation, “were brought to Paderborn, a peacock led the procession.”
“The peacock be your guide.” Dane quoted the passage from the clue. “Well, I guess we’re headed for Paderborn.”
The west tower of the Paderborn Cathedral rose above the ornate Romanesque-Gothic church like a sentry on the lookout for intruders. At least, that was how Dane felt as he gazed up at the structure that stood three hundred feet tall. It was, to him, the cathedral’s most impressive feature, though he was also blown away by the many large arched windows that contained within them smaller, narrower arched windows topped by round, highly decorative portals. No matter how many cathedrals he visited, the architecture and craftsmanship never ceased to amaze him.
“So, what exactly are we looking for?” Bones asked.
“There are two key connections to the clue,” Jade said. “The three hares, and the peacock. Paderborn Cathedral has a famous three hares window. Let’s start there.”
They circled the cathedral examining all the windows for the three hares sign. They drew a few odd glances, but probably due more to Bones’ presence than their interest in the stained glass. They searched for a half-hour before Jade decided to ask for help. They were directed to an inner courtyard where they found the three hares window and more.
“This has got to be it!” Jade exclaimed as soon as they were alone. It was not as impressive as Dane had expected. The three stone hares in a circle were set atop a stained glass window and in front of it stood...
“A peacock!” Angel brushed the snow off of the dark stone fountain surmounted by an ornately carved peacock. “This must be what the clue was talking about.”
“Could be,” Dane said. “Bones, you keep an eye out in case somebody comes this way. The rest of us will see what we can find.”
They scoured the courtyard, paying particular attention to the area around the stained glass window and around the peacock fountain. The window offered no promising leads, so they focused on the peacock, but no amount of poking, prodding, pushing, or twisting uncovered any hidden compartment or passageway, nor did they find any telltale three hares images like those they had found in Cologne and Hildesheim.
They expanded their search, checking the walls around the courtyard and scraping away snow and ice from the ground in any likely spot. Dane scrubbed rough blocks until he wore holes in his gloves, but with no success.
“I don’t think this is the right place.” He looked at Jade, who nodded. “What else did you find out about this place when you researched it last night? You know, hares and peacocks and stuff.”
“If by ‘stuff’ you mean the Magi or the Wise Virgins, I didn’t find anything. Nothing else about the three hares either.” She screwed up her face in concentration. The expression made other people look constipated but, on her, it was cute. “There is supposed to be a lot of peacock imagery inside the cathedral.”
“The clue talks about the peacock being the guide. A peacock supposedly guided the relics. Considering where we found the first skull, I’ll bet that’s the connection.” He’d had a feeling about the relics, but they had wanted to eliminate the obvious first, and thus had checked the area around the three hares window.
“It’s the next best possibility, if not the best,” Jade said.” The relics are down in the crypt. Let’s check it out.”
The Paderborner Dom featured three parallel aisles, all reaching the height of the roof. The stained glass windows that ran the length of the side walls cast the interior in a warm glow. Christmas trees hung with white lights added to the cheer. Jade took Dane’s hand and leaned her head on his shoulder.
“It’s nice, isn’t it?”
He nodded. It was all too easy to get caught up in the mystery and not enjoy the moment. Bones and Angel seemed to feel the same way. Each was smiling and taking in the beauty that surrounded them. The cathedral, not one of Germany’s most famous or popular, was almost empty today, with only a handful of visitors wandering about.
Angel’s face suddenly froze. She ducked behind a column and beckoned to the others.
“The guys who attacked me are here. The dark-haired one is Uhlrich. I didn’t get the other guy’s name.”
Dane didn’t need her to point out the two men who stood at the crossing, looking around. Even if he had not remembered what they looked like, the black-haired man’s battered face stuck out like a sore thumb.
“What are they doing here?” Bones scowled at the men. “Do you think Otto told them?”
“No way,” Jade said. “He told them about the three hares, remember? They’re probably checking out any cathedral with a three hares symbol.”
“And considering what they did at Kölner Dom, they’re probably going for the shrine. You two,” Dane said to Jade and Angel, “get back to the car and wait for us.”
“Not a chance.” Angel shook her head. “You ain’t the boss of me.”
“Same here, Maddock,” Jade added. “Cut the chivalrous crap. You know I hate it.”
“Fine.” Dane eyed the men who were slowly moving toward the east end of the cathedral. “You two keep out of sight and look for peacocks and anything else that might be promising, just in case we’re wrong about the shrine. Let’s go Bones.” His friend nodded and they made their way through the nave, eyes on their quarry. The men were moving faster now, presumably headed for the crypt.
The columns that supported the roof were huge and it was easy to remain out of sight as they stalked the two men. Their quarry disappeared down a flight of stairs where a sign read DIE KRYPTA. A few lines in German followed. He recognized the name Liborius and the words “please do not.” At the bottom, “Silence Please” was written in English.
Not a problem, he thought.
At the bottom of the stairs, Dane peered around the corner, seeking the two men. What he saw took him by surprise. The crypt, Jade had told them, was one of the largest in Germany– more than one hundred feet long, but he still was not prepared for the sight. The ornate columns, arched ceiling, and tiled floor made the place look like a church beneath a church. Indeed, the space to his left appeared to be a small worship area complete with pews, a confessional, and an altar. To their right, a gated archway opened into a dark, gloomy place where the tomb of Saint Liborius lay and, directly across from them, a second set of stairs led back up into the cathedral.
The chamber in which the saint’s remains were held had a semicircular ceiling that reminded Dane of a quonset hut. The faint light danced off the ornate walls, casting the space in a bluish glow. A representation of the saint was carved on the lid of the stone tomb. Beyond the tomb, beneath a stylized representation of peacock feathers, an arched doorway led into a second, smaller chamber, where a low plexiglass wall guarded a golden shrine.
Dane was surprised at the lack of security afforded to Liborius’s remains compared to that of the Shrine of the Magi, but he supposed the Three Kings were just a bit more famous. As that thought passed through his mind, the two men appeared from either side of the doorway in the back chamber. One of them took a quick look around to see if they were alone, then nodded to his companion. They vaulted the plexiglass wall and approached the golden shrine.
Bones took a step toward the tomb but Dane held him back.
“We have to assume we’re outgunned. Take up positions outside the door to the first chamber and we’ll jump them on the way out.”
Bones grinned. He loved a good brawl.
They moved like shadows, eyes never leaving the men in the burial chamber, who were now lifting the lid off the shrine.
“Gottverdammt!” The dark-haired man with the bruised face swore. “Es ist hier nicht!”
Dane’s German vocabulary was sufficient to get the gist of the words– It is not here. He looked at Bones who arched an eyebrow and nodded. He’d understood too.
Inside, the men replaced the lid and clambered back over the barrier. “Das grab?” the blond man asked. His partner nodded and they moved to the tomb of Liborius. Dane moved back from the doorway so he would not be spotted and listened until grunting and scraping told him the men were hard at work trying to remove the lid.
A sudden crash shattered the silence.
Dane grinned. These two were having a bad day. He stole a glance into the chamber and saw that the blond-haired guy, apparently worried that someone had heard the noise, had drawn his gun.
His partner inspected the tomb for a long time, moving things around and muttering under his breath. Finally, he let out a long sigh. “Nicht.”
The blond man sagged visibly, pocketed his weapon, and indicated that they should replace the lid. They set to the task with angry expressions on their faces.
“Let’s go.” Dane mouthed the words to Bones, who nodded. No sense in picking a fight if the bad guys were on their way out. Before they could head up the stairs, though, he heard the lid slam into place and footsteps echoed in the crypt. He ducked into a nearby alcove, hoping Bones had hidden too, rather than let his usual fight response take over. He breathed a quick sigh of relief as the men passed his hiding place without so much as a sideways glance, and mounted the stairs up into the cathedral. His relief was short-lived, however, for it suddenly occurred to him that Jade and Angel were alone and unarmed in the cathedral. He had told them to keep out of sight, but this was Jade and Angel. With a grimace, he slipped from his hiding place and followed.