Erin and Michael asked for directions to the old part of the city and tried to get as close as possible. The streets on the periphery were nearly empty, but the streets near the mountain were charged with mayhem. People of all faiths and ethnicities clamoured together in combat, each one declaring that Jerusalem belonged to them. There was some agreement about Abraham, but no one could agree on whose God was sovereign, so they fought over it almost to the point of destruction.
Historically, there had been thousands of years of war, infighting, abandonment, truces and breaking points, all in the name of peace, but the irony about “the mountain of peace”, was that its doors were jammed with suitors embattled in war.
Erin and Michael made their way to one of the main roads, but it was blocked with soldiers who would not let anyone pass. The crowds who wanted access to the area were so firmly packed together, that many were being crushed, and it was difficult for Erin and Michael just to stay on their feet. The crowd shoved one another back and forth against the mountain, like a wave of sardines washing up on a beach.
Erin and Michael decided to find another path, but as they made their way along back roads, they ran into a group of protesters who were being arrested. They tried to explain that they were not a part of the group, but they were arrested anyway, and pushed into the back of a van and taken to a holding centre. They would have been registered and released like most of the others, but one of the soldiers thought that something was amiss about them, and recommended additional questioning.
It did not take long to identify them as the suspects who were wanted in Ireland for stealing religious artifacts, and as the foreigners who were associated with the recent explosions in the desert. They sat in an interrogation room with their belongings spread out as evidence on the table. The first investigator was familiar with thieves and opportunists, and the display on the table of stones, scrolls, tablets, and the unnervingly black finger, said as much.
However, the second investigator was more interested in the explosion that had happened the night before, the one that had lit up the sky near Damascus and sent Jerusalem into chaos. He felt that Erin and Michael may be linked to possible espionage and terrorism, because they had been tracked by satellite travelling down the Tigris and across the desert.
“You have come to destroy my city?” mocked the officer with gritted teeth. He looked at them with disgust. “I am going to bury you in a cell so deep, you will never see the light of day again,” he declared.
He continued to ask them questions about their plot, over and over again for hours until they were exhausted. At first Erin and Michael defended themselves as tourists, but after several hours of interrogation they became weary of being so transparent. The problem however, was that they did not know how to tell a truth that they barely knew themselves. They had simply followed their hearts and clung to it for sheer survival. They had gone from one country to another watching their lives unfold, as characters in a story rather than authors of their own fate.
Michael cringed at being labeled a terrorist. How had he gone so quickly from being a priest, nestled in a small bay by the sea in Ireland, to being held underground in a cell and threatened with imprisonment? His stomach was in knots as he broke down and offered the investigator an explanation.
“These two pieces of stone belong to a Holy Chair …” explained Michael, as he pointed at the Irish Blue that sat on the table. “It has supernatural powers and it exploded in the desert last evening and created the light you saw in the sky. Anyone who sits on the chair has the power to rule the world, but it will only honour God.”
Michael felt relieved to have told the truth, but the investigator was not amused, and the radical story had made him even more furious. He had seen it many times before. Religious prognosticators who believe in their own mysticism. Hypocrites and extremists who hate everyone but themselves. As far as he was concerned, Michael and Erin were certifiably nuts, and their absurd confession was nothing more than the rant of lunatics who wanted to blow up the world.
Just then, the door opened abruptly, and in walked a senior member of the military followed by Aiden and Declan.
“That’s them!” confirmed Aiden with gusto as he pointed to Erin and Michael. He had finally landed his fish. “I don’t know ‘bout them being terrorists, but they took those stones from Ireland. They were stolen from the University of Dublin!”
“We’re taking them back with us!” added Declan.
Aiden took a good look at the Irish Blue stones on the table and then rubbed his chin. They did not look the same as when he had seen them before. The stones in front of him were shiny and gold coloured, and weighed a mere few pounds, whereas the stones he was looking for were matt brown and too heavy for one person to lift.
“They must have painted them,” added Declan.
“Ahh, but what about the weight?” countered Aiden.
“Don’t tell me they switched them again,” concluded Declan. He had been so excited to finally get possession of the stones and impress the sarge back home, and now he was sure that he was looking at fakes.
As the Irish officers mulled over the situation, a din of loud voices could be heard approaching from the hallway, and soon an entourage of diplomats entered the room. They had learned about the “terrorists” and had come to see for themselves what country or group Erin and Michael claimed to represent.
The diplomats quarrelled over who was to blame, but they were soon outnumbered by a group of religious representatives from several faiths who had joined them. The priests were not interested in Erin and Michael or where they were from, but were deeply concerned about the stones that had become the centre of the investigation. They were hyper-aware that a potential religious uprising was growing in the city, and that in such tumultuous times, their most sacred relics needed to be secured from being targeted by thieves.
The religious leaders scanned the items on the table, some trying to deftly secure them for themselves, but the room went quiet when a Vatican Cardinal and a little, round, brightly dressed woman made an entrance.
Erin gasped when she saw Mrs. Mancinni march past the others on the Cardinal’s arm, as if she was the Queen of Ireland. She had one hand securely hinged to his crimson red sleeve, while her other hand caressed the large sparkling gems-stones that were draped around her neck.
Astor cocked her head in an ever so slight acknowledgement of Erin and Michael and said, “Good day Father.”
The hold-your-breath silence continued until Mrs. Mancinni announced that she had come to take “her” stone chair back to Ireland where it belonged, after which a melee of arguments broke out. Then Aiden, who was hoping that no one would notice, picked up one of the Irish Blue stones to abscond away with it. However, he was quickly pounced upon and thrown to the floor by a soldier and fenced in by the other dignitaries who looked like pointed finials of iron. As Aiden lay defeated on the floor, he held the stone up to their faces and yelled, “It’s a fake! It’s a fake!”
The others stood back and allowed Aiden to stand up. “Look!” he exclaimed, as he held the stone up with his two fingers. “It’s lighter than air!” he bellowed in frustration.
The cardinal grabbed the stone and tossed it like a ball of paper into the air and announced, “It’s a plaster cast of the original!” Then he gave it to the others to judge for themselves.
The religious leaders groaned in unison and left the room as quickly as they had come, because there was nothing else on the table of interest to them. Likewise the diplomats left after they concluded that Erin and Michael were lone wolves acting on their own.
Mrs. Mancinni however, who had a sixth sense about these things, stayed behind and calmly asked, “Where is it?”
Erin looked away and said nothing. Astor picked up the other Irish Blue stone in her wrinkled hands. She had already been tricked once by Erin and Michael when they swapped the real stones for decoys at the port in Turkey. She slowly put the “fake” back down on the table and stared at Erin, who refused to look her in the eye.
“There’s something fishy going on!” yelled Aiden.
“Get them out of here!” commanded the investigator, as he motioned for the soldiers to clear the room of unwanted guests.
“We’re not giving up!” quipped Declan as he was ushered past the door.
Astor clinched the Cardinals arm to steady herself, and kept her eyes on Erin as she turned slowly to walk away. “Good day Father,” she said with a nod as she tapped the doorpost on her way out. “We’ll see you back in Kinkerry,” she added with a wink.
After the door was closed, the investigator sighed heavily. He prided himself on his intuition, but sometimes it left him confused. It was telling him that Erin and Michael needed his help, not his confinement. He picked up Michael’s knapsack, and with one swoosh of his arm, he corralled all the scrolls, tablets, trinkets and the detestable black finger from off the table, and swept them into the open bag, and handed it back to Michael. Then he pointed towards the two pieces of Irish Blue stone, and casually said, “I guess I shall keep these for myself.”
Both Erin and Michael winced.
The investigator stared at his captives for a moment and then quietly declared, “They aren’t fakes are they?”
“No,” answered Michael simply.
“And you are a real priest?”
“For twenty years,” answered Michael, even though he was not sure of his future as one.
“I was going to be a rabbi, like my father and brothers,” explained the investigator, “but I joined the military instead. I thought I could bring peace to Jerusalem better than they could. Jews fight Jews. Moslems fight Moslems. Everyone fights everyone. What do ‘you’ want with Jerusalem?”
“I have to deliver the stones,” answered Erin passionately.
“To whom?” asked the investigator.
“I don’t know. I only know I have to.”
“Right now there are mobs of people, each one claiming that they alone own the city. They’ll tear it apart before they have peace. Like Solomon’s baby,” he mused. “Can your chair stop that?”
“The stones have no allegiance, except to God,” she explained.
“The one that made the stones.”
“Why should I help you? What good will it do?” he demanded.
“The stone chair will protect the city from being exploited,” explained Erin. “Whoever sits on it will only be able to make decrees as long as they are in line with God.”
“That’s some kind of power,” mocked the investigator, “but everyone turns to evil sooner or later.”
“That’s the whole point,” added Michael.
“Full circle then is it? Adam and Eve? A do-over?” laughed the investigator.
“Exactly. Please let us go!” pleaded Erin.
The investigator shook his head and despite his better judgement, he felt absolutely compelled to help them. It made no sense whatsoever, and he was upset with himself, but he somehow knew that he was a part of their quest. He could not explain his change of heart in logical terms, only that he was desperate to find a solution for Jerusalem.
“Alright,” agreed the investigator. “I will give you a chance.”
They gathered their possessions, and with the help of the guards, the investigator guided the group to a private garden away from the rioting. They entered a winding stair case and emerged onto a plateau that overlooked the city. Erin and Michael tried to blend in with the other tourists who found themselves trapped by the chaos, and at the perimeter of the historic peak, they could hear the shouts from the crowds in the distance.
They headed across the ancient stone courtyard but as they did, the soldiers scrutinized their every move. Michael slung his knapsack over his shoulder and Erin hid both the stones under her cloak.
They made their way to a small orchard of olive trees and stopped. It seemed uniquely soothing and tranquil. The canopy of leafy branches filtered the sunlight into a soft glow, and small birds sang cheerful staccatos that sifted away the turmoil of the world beneath them. Erin noticed that one of the songs was particularly beautiful and she looked around to see where it was coming from. As she stepped away from the others, a feather floated gently on the breeze in front of her face.
Erin looked up and said, “Hi there” to the little avian who perched on the branch above her head. “What are you at today?” Then with a flit it jumped to another branch and she followed it from one to another.
“We don't have time for this,” demanded the investigator.
Erin ignored him and continued to play hide-and-seek with the fluff of blue feathers. Frustrated, the investigator turned to Michael to get his support. He wanted them to hurry up and do whatever they had come to do. He felt that their mission was dangerous and that they should leave as soon as possible. However, when he turned back towards Erin, she was gone.
“Where is she?” he announced in frustration. He growled in anger under his breath for having trusted his intuition, and ordered the guards to search for her.
Then Michael and the investigator were surrounded by a contingent of soldiers, and there was a stand off as each side claimed to have the right to tell the other what to do. The tension in the city had made people suspicious of one another, and soldiers from each side were staking claim to as much territory as possible. Eventually, Michael and the investigator were escorted back to the main gate of the garden, where they were forced to stay and wait for Erin.
Ewin, who was Erin’s uncle, had received news that the Irish Blue stones were in the custody of the police in Jerusalem. He was told that they may be fakes because they were as light as paper.
However, this peaked his interest even further, because he knew that the destiny of Irish Blue stone, is to become lighter than air. He had already built a special case to display the sacred stones in, that is if he could ever get his hands on some.
Ewin packed as fast as he could, and hurriedly made plans to travel to Jerusalem.