Manx Grail Chronicles
Mystery of the Templar Treasure is an intellectually intriguing mystery/suspense thriller, based on a true 1868 murder/suicide when James Killey kills three of his five daughters by throwing them down the 25 foot deep farm well, then committing suicide by jumping in after them. It is revisionist history at its most provocative, reinterpreting traditional beliefs in the Knights Templar, King Arthur and the Holy Grail.
Place: Doarlish Ard, Foxdale area, south-central Isle of Man
The story takes place on the Isle of Man where both ancient and modern lives become intertwined in Druid ceremonies and Celtic myth.
One hundred forty years later, James Killey's body is accidentally exhumed and two small artifacts recovered from his grave. Robert Corkish, the only present day living relative, is given the artifacts, but soon discovers there was a secret James took with him to the grave. Robert soon learns the artifacts contain concealed clues leading to an ancient Knights Templar treasure and the possible resting place of the Holy Grail. Investigating the puzzling relics proves more than he bargains for when he inadvertently draws the attention of the Dragon's Court, a secret religious society that will stop at nothing to find the Grail.
Robert, and the others he recruits to his aid, must spin a web of red herrings for the dangerous agent of the Dragon's Court in a perilous pursuit across the island. Just when things seem to be going right for Robert, some new problem crops up, turning the tables on the small cabal, starting the roller coaster ride again.
Date: April 3, 1868
James Killey waited in line with the other workers from the Rushen mine, eager to collect his earnings. The single column stretched back from a bulky wooden table positioned outside a stone blockhouse structure that accommodated the mine’s administrative offices. They were dingy quarters with a crudely made door centered between two small half-pane windows. The window openings were coarsely laid and looked as if they had been hastily hollowed out from the building’s front wall.
A thick-looking man with shoulders that seemed to erupt from the his ears sat behind the table reading the pay records from a large book, then dolling out coins from a metal box. At his back stood the mine captain, his heavy arms folded across his chest. He was a sturdy fellow with a thick mop of brown hair that seemed to stand on end. He had a square no-nonsense jaw, heavily covered with a growth of bristly whiskers.
James looked up at the brightening sky overhead and felt the sun’s warmth on his face. The change to clear weather marked April’s transition from winter to spring; the persistent overcast pall, so prevalent over the past few weeks, now absent this morning. He was reminded how the previous month’s conditions had been a blanket of mist melting into the islands terrain creating an indistinguishable grayish haze that covered the land.
The line nudged forward moving James with it, his heavy boots crunching the loose stones that made up the compound fronting the mine’s office. The dirt had been packed hard from years of mine operations, and even more so as the men milled about waiting to receive their wages.
A throbbing soreness in James’ head abruptly distracted him from the slowly moving processional. He reached up and felt the ache at his temple, wincing at the persistent hurt. He had injured his head a week earlier in a fall against a stone wall and ever since things had changed, becoming different and disturbing. His wife noticed it first, receiving the bluntness of his irrational and violent outbursts of temper. There appeared to be no motivation behind the sudden occurrences, they just happened.
Someone inadvertently nudged James from behind. He spun around and looked at the intruder in such a way the man had to raise his hands defensively. “Din’t mean nothin’ by it. Sorry,” he said and took a half step back leaving ample room between himself and James. James continued to hold his look as though he were a ravenous wolf about to attack, then slowly returned to face the front, inching forward as each man in line took his pay and departed.
When James reached the front of the queue, he shuffled up to the table and looked down at the man with no neck. “Killey,” he said to the paymaster. The no-neck man scanned the record book, then drew several coins and handed them to James.
“That’s not right,” James shot back, seeing the small amount of change in his hand, his anger suddenly bursting into flame. “I worked the deep adit operating the Jack Roller for much of the week, then scooped lead slurry in the doodle after that.” James was nearly yelling at this point, his eyes digging into the much larger man at the table. “You shorted my pay, and I want what is due!”
The mine captain moved from the doorway to stand next to the paymaster. “You got what you deserve and you’ll get not a farthing more,” he growled back, pressing his fists on the table and leaning into James.
“Check you records again, there’s been a mistake,” James’ tone was less challenging now.
The paymaster looked at the record book and slowly shook his head. “No. You got what the Captain said you’re owed.”
“God Damn cheats!” James yelled at the two burly men. But they simply grinned at the epithet. James wanted to strike out, but rethought the action when another heavily muscled man with a short wooden club appeared at the door and stood directly behind the captain.
“Best move along, Killey,” the mine Captain warned in a low growl that left no doubt what would happen if his request was not met. “Wouldn’t want to see you hurt over this. Take your pay and get along with ya. You got what’s due, and that’s all.”
James backed away from the table, shooting venom from his eyes at the bosses as he did so. He turned, pushing through a group of men talking amongst themselves, and began to run. In his mind he had no choice. He ran headlong toward his home, slogging through the thick grass covering the open pasturelands on the Manx highlands that separated the mine from his house. He sprinted in an effort to distance himself from his past, the humiliation of the mine just one more insult to add to his misfortune and miserable existence. It was a meaningless exercise, to be sure, but desperation blotted out all reason. The planets representing the circumstances of his life were aligning in such a way that escape was impossible.
The invective at the mine and the injury to his head were but small fractions of his imbroglio. A few days earlier, he had been turned down for a job at the newly formed Foxdale Railway Company. The job involved laying track from the Rushen Mine north to St. John's, then east to the coastal town of Douglas. James wanted the job. He wanted anything that might relieve the claustrophobia of working underground. Besides, the railroad job would have paid better than the mines, allowing him to make improvements to his small farm. But, somehow he was overlooked for the work, the jobs going to others. James was bitter and hateful, seething with rage and loathing.
His mind fumed with demons forged from his angry soul. Running helped, but he could not escape his tormentors. To make matters worse, dew-laden grass grabbed at his feet, making his legs sluggish; his shoes lead weights. Panting heavily, his lungs searing with pain, he stopped, bending forward and grabbing his knees, sucking in air.
James’ ragged panting gradually eased into steady breaths. He managed to right himself, scanning the ridgeline farther on. He'd wanted to run the whole distance from the mine to his house without stopping, but the effort was too much for him. Yet, the pain in his side felt intoxicating compared with the torment of the other problems in his life.
He began running again. It felt good to be cruising over familiar ground. It was his ground, after all. It was where he had planted cops and raised sheep. It was where his house stood. His farm was not far from the mine, a small fieldstone structure cemented into a bleak boxcar home with three drafty rooms and a large cooking hearth at one end, the only warm spot in the entire dwelling. The farm had been passed down through the generations with bits and pieces of acreage added from time to time when finances permitted, and given back when finances were meager, as they were now.
James had to get home and speak with Esther, his wife. He knew she would be waiting for his return. She had been the strength in their relationship, and he needed her in his moment of depression. But this time his homecoming would be met with disapproval. He had little money to show for all his work slogging tin ore, and hoped Esther would be conciliatory with his explanation. Nevertheless, he had to get home; it was all he could think to do.
Some distance from her house, Esther Killey sat on the grassy hillside at Doarlish Ard looking into the distance as if bracing for an approaching storm. She waited for James to return from the mine. Something told her he shouldn’t. She sat quietly, letting three-month-old Selina Emily doze in her arms. The fresh smell of spring filled the air; thick green grasses and gorse covered with blossoms dotted the hillsides where she sat. Something important was about to happen, the air seemed ionized by its pending implication.
Esther looked down at her nineteen-year-old brother, Archibald, seated at her feet, her thoughts filling with ominous premonitions of what the day might bring. She glanced in the direction the High Priest of the Druid Order would be coming, her face tense with emotion. Already other members of the Order had begun to gather near her house. One by one they had arrived, hunkering down next to the bleak stone building. Esther could barely make them out, their black hooded robes blending in with the shadows as they crouched near the dwelling’s stone walls; dark cowls pulled forward to mask their faces. She had been instructed to wear a white linen ceremonial gown, although she could not fully comprehend the reasoning for wearing the seldom-used dress. All she knew was the Archdruid wouldn't have called the Order together unless it was important; he had never convened the congregation in such a way before.
She tried to reason with herself the Archdruid’s coming. There had been other services performed at the house before; longstanding Druid mysteries regarding their farm well, mysteries that reached deep into the past. She had presided over dozens of sacred rituals. Their well served as an ancient sanctuary, the source of the Earth Goddess' power – her power. It had been that way forever. She tried to discharge the black thoughts creeping into her mind, stories of ancient traditions resulting in sacrificial executions. Things are different now, she thought. Her role as a Druid Queen had always amounted to reading incantations and making sacrificial plant offerings to achieve the Order’s spiritual goals.
Esther closed her eyes momentarily and pictured the Archdruid in her mind. He was a bellicose and truculent man who seldom smiled. She knew him well enough, she being the High Priestess of the Order and understood he would not make the trip to Doarlish Ard without a good reason. They held a common status most times, but on this occasion, there was no mistaking his authority. She was simply the Earth Goddess responsible for manipulating the natural elements, he, on the other hand, had dominion over all other religious administration, including the congregation, a fact he made perfectly clear.
Esther pulled away the shoulder of her dress to expose her breast in order to nurse Selina Emily. No novice to nursing; Esther had produced four other girls in the past seven years. Life had been hard trying to bring up children while scraping together a living on the poor soil near the mines. They had tried raising sheep, the only real cash crop on the rocky terrain, but that had not panned out. James was forced back to the mines to make ends meet while Esther looked after the five girls. Life in the barren highlands had taken its toll with each passing year.
For some moments the brother and sister remained together looking at the trail. Archie glanced quickly up at her, an unspoken message passed between them. He then spoke what he was thinking. “I don’t like it,” he told her, taking in a deep breath. “The Archdruid hasn’t come for the usual incantations.”
Esther’s features tightened, sensing her brother’s trepidation. She didn’t bother with an answer; fearing he’d see the desperation in her eyes. She considered again her role as Earth Goddess. She was the Queen of the Druid Order, chosen to conceive the next generation of Archdruids. The Order demanded male offspring, and thus far, all her five children were girls. She wasn't to blame, that fell squarely on James' shoulders; he was her Consort and had not fulfilled that obligation. It was his duty and responsibility. She knew in the eyes of the Order he was wholly accountable.
She noticed a large man dressed in a white flowing robe walking up the trail. Her heart leaped to her throat. She gave her brother a quick nudge on the shoulder indicating the Archdruid’s approach. Although she couldn’t have imagined it, the events leading to his visit had been set in motion thousands of years earlier when the Druids first came to the British Isles. The culmination of all those years of religious rituals was speeding toward them, rituals involving divination, prophecies, and sacrifices. The Archdruid advanced, closing the distance with slow unwavering steps.
From their vantage point on the hillside, Esther and Archie watched the High Priest move steadily up the trail toward them. He walked purposefully, his white beard obscuring his dour expression. They could see the path was difficult for a man of his advancing years, his heavily burled ceremonial staff used to support each labored step.
They saw the Archdruid stop some distance away and cast a momentary glimpse at the mid-morning sun; he then continued on.
When the Archdruid reached the house and other men gathered there, Esther pulled Archie to his feet.
“This doesn’t look right,” Archie said, his words barely a whisper.
Esther struggled with Archie’s words. Throughout her life Esther had prepared for the obligations of her station as Queen, obligations she’d had inherited from birth. She was ready for just about anything, but now she felt like escaping.
The Archdruid was hot under his heavy robes from the long and difficult trek. An indomitable expression remained sculpted into the elderly Druid’s face as he looked up, confirming the planet Mercury's path across the sun's face. The celestial event reinforced for him his role as Keeper of the Druid mysteries. He had lived a long time and had earned the right to become the embodiment of Hermes: guide of souls to the underworld, lord of the knowledge beyond death, and patron of rebirth. Today, he would need to extract every ounce of authority to accomplish his solemn duties.
He completed his scan of the surroundings, touching the golden, sickle-shaped brooch holding his white robe in place. The robe seemed heavier than usual, he thought, adjusting it slightly under the weight of the April sun. More than the weight of his robe, the Archdruid felt the weight of his duties he had yet to perform. He began to walk again more purposefully.
When he neared the Killey house, the robed men waiting for him jumped to their feet. The Archdruid took a moment to lock eyes with each of them, than spoke in a commanding tone that validated his authority, "Do you know why you've been summoned?" the Archdruid asked.
None of them spoke.
"The time for a new High Priest is here," the Archdruid announced sternly. "James Killey was selected to father that child, but has failed, and will not be given another chance. The Earth Goddess requires a new consort to produce a rightful successor. With no son to carry on the legacy of the Brotherhood, James' time has elapsed, and another man will take his place. That man is among you now.”
The robed men exchanged fleeting glances.
“To ensure the union between the Consort and the Queen, a sacrifice must be performed. That means James and the children must die." The Druid’s words seemed to pierce the air.
There was immediate shock and protest, but the Archdruid waved them down with a menacing sweep of his staff. "We will do what is required of us," he shouted angrily. "Since the dawning of time, our cult has performed these rites of sacrifice. You will help carry them out and sustain the Order." The Archdruid left no doubt what was expected of them.
He turned away and began climbing the hill toward Esther and Archie, the others following dutifully. When he reached the anxious pair, the Archdruid stopped. Then, from somewhere deep behind the white beard, he rasped, "Esther, are you ready to do what is necessary?"
The words became trapped in Esther’s ear; words that seemed to buzz in a bottle, words without meaning or explanation. She looked at the old Druid with a sense of dread creeping over her.
“What do you mean?” she asked, her words laced with desperation.
"The time for you to face your destiny is at hand,” the Archdruid said softly. “The ritual of reciprocity must be performed.”
Archie stepped between the Archdruid and his sister. “What are you talking about?”
“Time has run out for James, he has not lived up to his duties,” the Archdruid glowered, looking past Archie to Esther. “Another has been chosen for you."
Esther wasn’t sure how to respond. She tried to look into the faces of those gathered there. She knew most of them by name. There was her neighbor Philip Corkhill, Thomas Faragher from Marown, John Kennaugh from Kerroodhoo, and a stranger she knew only as Oscar. Esther looked at the Archdruid quizzically. There was something he wasn’t saying, an explanation he was stepping around, but important and critical, nonetheless.
"You see," the Archdruid spoke more sternly now, “the hour of James’ death is near.”
“You can’t mean that?” Esther said, searching the old Druid’s face. Her features tightened, she knew in a flash what the ceremony involved.
“There is more to it than just exchanging one life for another,” the Druid continued. “The very core of our sacraments is at stake. Today, a gift in exchange for the curative waters from the sacred well is needed if there is to be an heir to the Priesthood.”
"No!" she yelled. "You can't mean what you're saying." Esther broke toward the house, but the Archdruid, showing surprising agility for his advanced years, leaped to block her path.
Archie sprang to help his sister, but the other men soon restrained them both. Selina Emily woke and began to cry.
“Mercury is passing in front of the sun. Look for yourself," the aged Druid shouted over the din.
Esther shielded her eyes with the palm of her hand and squinted into the sky. Barely perceptible was a small black dot; a shadow cast over the sun's lower limb.
“The last time Mercury eclipsed the sun, our Order performed this ritual. Then, like now, the Queen’s consort failed to produce a male heir.
“In 1784 when Hugh Kennaugh hanged himself at St. John's Chapel,” Archie gasped in a solitary breath.
“That is what people thought.” The old Druid pounded the end of his staff into the ground. “The Order arranged it to appear as if it was a suicide. The ritual was performed to make things right! They drowned a child then, too, burying both together at the chapel's west end, all part of the ritual. The ritual of reciprocity is sacred to us: to create life, another must be sacrificed
"You can’t expect me to offer the girls!” Esther shrieked. “They've done nothing wrong. It's not their fault," Esther pleaded.
"It's your duty, Esther!" the Archdruid demanded.
"Duty?" Esther shrieked with indignation. "What kind of duty takes the lives of babies?"
"A duty you were born to—your duty." The Archdruid’s eyes bore into her. "You are the chosen Earth Goddess, the giver of life, the inexhaustible source of life, the life to which the dead must symbolically return. Only through the ritualistic killing of a child can the spirit be released so it can be born again, born through the womb of the well's amniotic waters into you."
Archie wriggled to break free of the men restraining him. “Leave us alone,” he shouted, squirming to escape his captors.
The Archdruid jabbed the club into Archie’s chest. “You are one of us, or have you forgotten your vows? It is not for you to decide what the Order requires.”
“She is my sister. I won’t let you harm her.”
“Your sister will not be hurt,” he declared, slapping his staff against Archie’s sternum for emphasis. “It is only James and the girls that must be sacrificed. Do not feel grief for them. Their spirits will inhabit the bodies of Esther and her consort, and then live on together."
Archie began to struggle anew.
“Take the boy to the house with the children,” the Archdruid commanded. “Bind his hands and legs until the ceremony is finished.”
The Archdruid pressed into to Esther, close enough for her to feel his hot breath on her face. “You will remain with me until James returns,” he said, his eyes becoming narrow and dangerous. He then moved down the hill toward the house, pulling Esther after him.
Esther was unable to mask her agony as she watched Archie being carted off toward the house. She sobbed and struggled against the hands restraining her. Her extremities were numb and her arms throbbed from holding Selina Emily. Her legs went limp and she sank to the ground, barely holding on to her crying baby. She had no answers and didn't know how to stop what was happening. Her entire life was about to be ripped apart because of the obligation she’d inherited from birth, an obligation now coming due.
They all waited for James to return -- then the ritual would begin.
Reaching the crest of the hill, James looked to his stone cottage in the distance and noticed a group of robed figures. "Bloody Hell, what now?" he grumbled, and tore down the hill toward them. When he approached the knot of figures, he saw Esther in their midst, slumped down and crying. James caught the eyes of the hooded men as they turned. "What’s going on? What's this all about?" He scowled, lifting Esther to her feet, taking the baby and cradling her in his arm.
"We are here to perform the fertility ritual. You are needed," the old Druid commanded.
"That's bloody great," James snorted sarcastically. "We don’t want you here. Can’t you see what this is doing to Esther?" James said. “They haven't hurt you, have they? I'll kill them if they have." The distressed look on his wife's face told him there was more going on than an ancient reenactment of some forgotten ritual. He sensed the difficulties at the mine were miniscule compared to the trouble from the Archdruid.
Unexpected screams erupted from the house as one of the daughters was dragged through the front door and pulled toward them. The seven-year-old girl was twisting and screaming to get away, then roughly handed over to the Archdruid. The terrified child struggled to free herself from the Druid’s grip, pounding on his gnarled fingers, pleading for help. She managed to break loose and ran crying to her mother. The girl wrapped her arms about her mother’s waist, shrieking to comprehend what was happening.
Before Esther could utter a word, the Archdruid wrenched her loose and slung her to the ground.
James leaped to defend his daughter, but before he could reach her the Archdruid leveled a sweeping blow with his staff into the little girl's head, killing her instantly.
James grabbed the Archdruid’s arms and tunic, ripping away the golden brooch as he did. "What are you doing? Are you all mad?" he screamed. The Druid threw him back, then, with a single blow, cut him down, crushing his skull. Selina Emily flew from James’ arms, hitting the ground, and began screaming in fear and pain.
Esther ran to the three bodies on the ground, tears streaming down her face, all the while trying to comprehend what was happening. "You can't," Esther cried in protest, kneeling to cradle her limp and lifeless daughter. James lay at her feet; blood gushing from his head and Selina Emily lay in the dirt where James had dropped her.
Hearing the screams and cries outside, three-year-old Elizabeth ran terrified from the house to be with her mother.
“Go back!” Esther shouted in warning. They were words yelled in a vacuum.
Elizabeth was caught by the Archdruid and thrown down next to the screaming Selina Emily. Within moments the two girls were impaled with ceremonial swords, the blood from their fatal wounds collected into goblets.
Esther sunk down, powerless to save her children. She hid her eyes as the blood was mixed with water from the well to complete the horrible ritual. She tried to move away from the man approaching with the goblets that once held the life fluid of her husband and daughters. Her heels dug into the dirt, her legs struggled against the arms restraining her as she tried to break free.
The old Druid bent down and anointed her with the blood of her children. The red liquid dripped down her cheek onto her lap in crimson blotches, staining her white dress like measles. She felt the warm blood smeared across her forehead and drip into her eyes. Was the Order so important it needed to take innocent lives?
Esther's nausea erupted, vomiting in the tall grass. How could I have prevented this? she thought.
She struggled to her feet and launched herself at the Archdruid, grabbing his robes, smearing it with the blood. "You can't take them all," she pleaded. "I'll have nothing."
Only her desperate pleas prevented the glowering Druid from killing the two other children. The Archdruid pried Esther’s hands from him, then eased away. "We are almost done. You must now sanctify the union with your consort—an obligation to fulfill your duties as High Priestess, Queen of the Druid Order and Earth Goddess."
The Archdruid approached Esther until he towered over her. “All those present will learn their alibis. In spite of what the police might think, no one will discover the truth.”
Esther looked at the Archdruid with hatred and revulsion. She knew there was no escape for her. If she tried, her other daughters would be sacrificed out of retribution. No, she was obligated to do her duty and nothing to the contrary would allow her to escape from that.
She saw the Archdruid motion to one of the robed men and understood what was about to happen; she understood the implications of the sacrifice. Oscar stepped in front of Esther and extended his hand. She took it mechanically and rose. Her obligation to the Order would soon be over, a final sexual act for the longevity of the Druid priesthood.
Oscar led Esther to the house. She followed, only because she had to. At the last moment, she looked back heartbroken, as she saw James’ body tumble over the edge of the well. She entered the house longing to have James back.
As James’ body disappeared from sight, Esther never suspected he carried with him an heirloom that contained a family secret – a secret passed on to him from his father and generations of his forefathers. It was a vow to conceal erudition to a mystery so coveted, that countless men and women had given their lives to protect its secrecy; knowledge intended to be passed on, but now lost forever at the bottom of a well.
This book is fiction. Nevertheless, part of the fictional account is based on an actual historical event. The true account centers on James Killey who in 1868 murdered three of his five small children by throwing them down the farm well and then committing suicide by jumping in after them. The dreadful event shocked the tiny mining community where James lived as well as the entire Isle of Man. This episode forms the foundation upon which this book is constructed.