The Mdina Touch by Edward J Kelly


Way off to one side of the square a lizard basked on a stone trying to absorb as much warmth from the sun as possible before the shadow that was drawing inexorably closer eventually cut off the source of heat like closing an oven door. The ferocity of the sun heated the stone to the temperature of a griddle and the lizard lifted one foot at a time, in careful rotation, to prevent its feet from frying.

Streaming through the portals, the crowds crammed into Freedom Square. Belying the liberty suggested in the title of this open space, it only served to compact and funnel the mass along Republic Street.

The paving of the square transmitted the vibrations of every footstep up through the stone and into whichever three of the lizard’s feet were resting on it at the time. Occasionally a slow, steady tread would make its way past the lizard. As long as the footsteps continued it was safe. The lizard had become adept at assessing a person’s intentions by their footfalls. At the earliest sound of the dreaded quick, light footsteps the lizard would dart away in fear. Once before it had suffered the penalty of letting those footsteps get too near. It had taken a whole year to re-grow the new tail that curled behind it, a slightly lighter sandy colour than the rest of its body.

Its tongue darted in and out repeatedly, seeking moisture from the air. The moisture these days seemed rancid and had unnatural fragrances that made the lizard suddenly twitch its head in disgust. It was thinking of moving to a new territory.

Valletta, the capital city of Malta, began to succumb to the annual trend at the start of the summer holiday season. The busloads of people increased by the hour and the tourists redoubled their annual siege. The narrow streets afforded some welcome respite for the multitude of people as the intense heat relentlessly boiled the life juices from their bodies - the moisture carried off in the arid air.

A young girl caught sight of a movement through the corner of her eye. It was a lizard basking in the sun and she squeezed her father’s hand in delight and to attract his attention. That strange telepathy that sometimes exists communicated the glee to her brother who was not as timid. The quick, light footsteps alerted the lizard and it darted away, forcing itself into an impossibly small hole beneath the steps of the old Opera House.

Concealed behind its once elegant facade is the bomb-damaged interior. The fractured sandstone columns still supporting the grand gallery echoed the splendid majesty of a bygone age. A time when ladies were resplendent in long dresses fashioned from expensive chiffon. A time when gentlemen would wear a cape and carry a cane, their status determined by the quality of cut employed in the tailoring of their eveningwear - A time before Hitler’s bombs destroyed this magnificent building.

The boy, dashing on ahead as boys always do, distracted his mother from her window-shopping. The girl, happy to stay by her father, continued to hold his hand. The family drifted along in the crowd, treading the hand quarried paving slabs placed there by an ancient order of knights and polished smooth by the countless thousands of feet who had trodden the same path over the centuries.
The boy had gone too far ahead! At first his mother blew her cheeks out in mild annoyance as she was forced to resist the endless shops, their modern frontages vying for the tourist’s money. The money weighed heavy in her purse and the desire to spend it was strong.

Stretching up high then crouching to peer between the closely-knit bodies, trying to keep him in sight, she fought a losing battle. The voices of doubt whispered dreadful things into her mind.

Signalling frantically to her husband she pointed to where she thought the boy was. Unsure of potential dangers and fighting down the panic that made her want to fling the people aside in frenzy she struggled to control her breathing that sobbed in her throat.

Tugging on the neck of her blouse, as if to release the restriction of air, she wanted to shout his name but resisted in order to avoid portraying the image she had in her mind of an hysterical mother making a foolish spectacle of herself. Instead, she willed her son to slow down.

The little girl hurried behind her father, struggling to keep up as he forced a way through the crowd. Her brother had disappeared from sight!

Bursting from the bottleneck of Republic Street into Palace Square they found themselves confronted with the deceivingly plain exterior of the Grand Master’s Palace. Taking up the whole of one side of the quadrangle the flaking, yellow-ochre, walls fading to a dun colour at the base gave the appearance of neglect. A multitude of green shuttered windows battened against the outside world became monotonous. Covered verandas, supported on elaborately carved stone brackets turned the corners at each end of the building and the only relief to the monotony is two columned doorways providing tantalising glimpses of lush foliage, in a myriad of greens, set out in the unrestrained opulence of the shadowed inner courtyards.

The girl squeezed her father’s hand even tighter and the tremor in her voice betrayed her fear. ‘Daddy, I don’t like it!’

‘It’s okay,’ he replied, standing on his tiptoes he could see his wife waving over the heads of the people. ‘Your Mum’s found him, he’s safe.’ And then he felt it too!
Was it his imagination that caused the fluttering in his stomach; the thrill of excitement to course through his veins? He turned and looked at the tightly shuttered windows, his gaze falling to the grilles of the almost insignificant openings at ground level that could so easily be the desperate light source of subterranean cells and he had the feeling that some dreadful secret of dire deeds was waiting to be revealed, just lurking beneath the surface, waiting... waiting for whom? He shook his head. Of course it was just a fantasy borne on a tale of myths...

In the concealed basement eight extremely powerful and influential men were planning what could be done to ensure their scheme would come to fruition.
‘So you’re staging a break-in to remove any notes made by Stewart Henlaw and destroy any clues he may have highlighted in his books that make any link to us or what we seek?’ enquired Khan Nomoone, the Grand Senior Deacon.
‘Is this really worth the risk?’ asked Duncan Argyle as he repeatedly spread his first finger and thumb from the centre outwards through the bristles of his neatly trimmed moustache. ‘We don’t know for certain if there’s any information that will be useful to us anyway.’

‘It’s too late for second thoughts, Argyle. The plan has already been put into action. I would like to know what we can expect to find out from our efforts as I’m sure the rest of us would.’ Nomoone gestured for George Braithwaite, the Surgeon Major, to give his report.

‘Well there is information in the house, but we don’t know how significant it is. He was tougher than we thought but he did talk a little before he died...’

Paul Harrison was indignant. ‘It was because of your blundering, Braithwaite, that he died. You overdosed him with the sulphonamide,’ he accused.

Exercising a great deal of restraint, George Braithwaite addressed Nomoone. ‘Senior Grand Deacon, I will not be cross-examined by anyone! However, it was necessary to give so much of the drug; he wouldn’t have talked at all if we hadn’t. Besides, I wasn’t aware that he should have been kept alive.’ He turned to Paul Harrison ‘You’re not going soft on us are you?’ he sneered.

‘Enough!’ shouted Nomoone, continue with your report.’

‘The Grand Inquisitor was there, as you know, and he approved the dosage. It was while he was actually being interrogated that he died. You know the Grand Inquisitor has some rather forceful methods of questioning.’

At the far end of the chamber the drapes that hung down either side of the Grand Master’s throne parted and Egon Johannes leant forward with his eyebrows raised in question.

Nomoone anticipated the question, as was his role, and addressed George Braithwaite, ‘Do you have a concern with the way the Grand Inquisitor handled things?’

‘No. Oh no. It’s just…’ He started again. ‘You’ve never been there. The methods he uses…’

The Grand Master spoke for the first time, the slight German accent reinforcing the immense authority he already possessed. ‘I will inform the Grand Inquisitor of your concerns. Continue with your report.’

George Braithwaite stood and turned towards the Grand Master’s throne and bowed low from the waist in acknowledgement, his hands held stiffly by his sides. A trickle of sweat ran down his temple. He knew he had overstepped his station.

Nomoone directed the Surgeon Major’s report onto the next item. ‘Did you get him to sign the codicil and was there any problem with the death certificate?’

Braithwaite hoped the tremor in his right hand was not visible to anyone else as he tried to finish his report as quickly as possible. ‘Yes he signed it and there was no problem with the death certificate.’ The tremor became worse and he held his hands in from of him, his right hand grasped in his left, as he tried to control it. ‘I carried out the post-mortem myself. It was necessary to have a second signature and I squared it away with a colleague to countersign. The body was cremated without any questions - this also destroys, shall we say, the evidence of our questioning.’ George Braithwaite nodded once in conclusion.

‘Good, it is no more than I would expect,’ said Nomoone.

Duncan Argyle leant forward slightly and caught the attention of the Senior Deacon. ‘Yes, Argyle, do you have something to add?’

‘I am rather concerned, as banker to this Grand Order, about the cost of this venture. It seems to me a rather frivolous outlay of capital when we have no certain knowledge that Stewart Henlaw holds the key to our quest.’

His hand moved momentarily in an automatic motion as he started to reach for his pipe and then he remembered he didn’t have it. Items from the profane world were not allowed in the chapter meeting.

He continued without this small comfort to assist him. ‘It bothers me that Stewart Henlaw wasn’t even recognised in academic circles. He ended up proof reading books or some such thing. How can this man be credited with being the ultimate authority on the world’s darkest and most important secret?’

‘Those are reasonable concerns you have Argyle, but I can assure you our investigations are based on the strongest of evidence, mainly of a historical nature but also some very compelling facts of more recent times. Dr Le Mesurier is the person to allay your concerns. If I could ask you now, Le Mesurier, to present your findings.’

Dr. Albert Le Mesurier was a doctor of Ancient and Medieval History and one of the world’s leading authorities of his subject.

Speaking in heavily accented English with strong nasal overtones he began his report, ‘Stewart Henlaw first came to our attention when he wished to present a paper on his research. What his motive was behind this action I could, at that time, only speculate. However, I am now certain his motive was to expose our organisation to the world and further, to make the world aware of what it is we are seeking.’

Le Mesurier was getting into his stride and began pacing the black and white chequered floor, his hands clasped firmly behind his back as if he was giving a lecture to the Historical Society.

‘It was fortunate that Stewart Henlaw’s paper came to my attention for peer approval before it was delivered to a full assembly. I was able to influence the board and exploit the fact that most academics view their positions as precarious and will adhere to the popular theory rather than rocking the boat. Through my influence, Stewart Henlaw’s paper was rejected before it had a reading and his hypothesis was ridiculed.’

‘Get on with it you silly old sod,’ Duncan Argyle muttered in a barely audible breath as he became more frustrated by Le Mesurier’s posturing and self-possession.

‘I can assure you Argyle, that any expenditure is not frivolous and that Stewart Henlaw was the only person alive who had knowledge of the general whereabouts of the scroll. That fact cannot be doubted.’

Duncan Argyle wondered if Le Mesurier had heard his muttering and resumed stroking his moustache with renewed vigour – the expression on his face remaining impassive.

‘He was also the last person of his family line that knew where the information was that could give us the exact location. It has taken me many years of research to piece all the facts together. The Henlaw family had remained unidentified in all our investigations for the last century. It was very cleverly done. Against all human instinct not one member of the family sought fame or recognition for their achievements and eventually the family dropped out of the upper echelons of society. Put simply they became part of the common masses with no apparent desire for wealth and consequently were beyond our control or influence, or indeed, as some thought, not worthy of our attention.

The Henlaw family owned the ship that brought the information pertaining to the exact location of the scroll we seek to Britain. It was then lost to us. As a result of my careful research I can confirm that this information is somewhere in Liverpool, England but exactly where continues to elude us. We can, however, be certain that Stewart Henlaw knew of it. It was this information we hoped to gain from our questioning.’

Six heads turned towards the Grand Master expecting another rebuke if Le Mesurier was critical of the Grand Inquisitor, but against all appearances, he had a shrewd mind and erred on the side of diplomacy.

‘Unfortunately Stewart Henlaw was a stubborn old man who, by some means, managed to resist the Grand Inquisitor’s best efforts.’

The tension immediately went out of the air and Braithwaite’s baleful glance at Le Mesurier as he wished he had been as astute went unnoticed.

‘There are two main aspects that should be considered. The first, the historical one goes back to the time of the early years of our order. The documents written by Saint Paul, known as the Saint Paul Manuscript, led our early Brethren to excavate beneath the Jerusalem Temple and recover one of Moses’ scrolls. The manuscripts were later stolen from us in medieval times.

There have been many attacks on our Order by monarchs, dictators and the church in an attempt to possess the knowledge that is written on the Moses scroll that we have. It is only the people who took the Saint Paul Manuscript who would know that two scrolls exist and one is incomplete without the other. It is the same people who would have sole knowledge of the whereabouts of every ancient cache of esoteric secrets, including the exact location of the second Moses Scroll’

Le Mesurier paused for effect before announcing the result of his research.
‘It was a medieval ancestor of the Henlaw family that insinuated themselves into our Order and stole the Saint Paul Manuscript. It has been in the possession of the Henlaw family ever since.’

At this revelation Duncan Argyle sat more upright on his bench and listened more intently. He hadn’t realised so much had been found out and he was now keen to know where the trail would lead.

‘The second aspect that we should consider is of a more modern time. It is well known that Napoleon raided this island of Malta on his journey to Egypt. It is less well known that this was yet another attack on our order, his intention to take from our possession the Moses Scroll that we have. Whether he knew of the second scroll and its believed location on Malta is not known.

More importantly, as a result of his expedition to Egypt his savants collected a large number of artefacts, amongst which were innumerable papyri.’
Unable to resist a patriotic remark he added, ‘you do of course realise that it was the French who were the fathers of modern Egyptology and we would not be as knowledgeable today if it were not for my ancestors.’

‘Yes, yes. Please continue Doctor, we are anxious to learn of your findings,’ said Nomoone, who was clearly becoming as irritated as Duncan Argyle had been.

‘Quite so,’ said Le Mesurier, bowing his head once. ‘The start of the nineteenth century saw Napoleon’s fleet blockaded by the British thus preventing it leaving Egypt. As was usual in those times an arrangement was made and the British seized over fifty tons of Ancient Egyptian artefacts, including the Rosetta Stone. Along with the numerous papyri seized was a single sheet that told of the removal of ancient scrolls from Egypt by a person we now know as Moses.’

Le Mesurier paused once again as he removed his pince-nez spectacles to polish them on his tie. Almost as an aside he continued to talk while he rubbed vigorously at a stubborn speck on one of the lenses. ‘If this papyrus dates from approximately 1800BC and describes the scrolls as being from “Zep Pet” or the first time then we can only wonder at how old these scrolls actually are.’

Replacing his clean eyewear it was as if he was seeing the room for the first time. He surveyed the outer temple with a critical gaze, his eyes roaming over the three rows of tiered benches down each side of the temple before they came to rest on the lectern that was flanked by two tall columns. Beyond was the Grand Master’s throne, raised on a dais and dwarfing the figure of the Grand Master as he sat and glared back, his patience stretched to its limit with Le Mesurier’s pontificating.

Regaining his thread, Le Mesurier continued somewhat chastened. ‘That aside, my investigations took a positive turn when I discovered that, once again, the Henlaw family had prevented our Royal Order from possessing what is rightfully and anciently declared as ours.

The Henlaw family had a large financial investment in the British fleet and as a result of this the papyrus ended up in their possession. It is this papyrus that Stewart Henlaw used to obtain much of the information for his paper. And so I end where I began with Stewart Henlaw, the Ancient Egyptian papyrus and his paper for the Historical Society.

I do not hesitate to conclude that somewhere accessible to Stewart Henlaw remained this ancient papyrus.’ Le Mesurier faced Nomoone as he finished his last sentence and nodded his head once.

Nomoone stood up from the bench on which he had been sitting. He was wearing black evening dress, as were all the members of the group. He also wore a richly embroidered lambskin fleece. Like an apron it was fastened around his waist and it hung down the front of him to reach his knees. The thirty-second degree lodge had closed and the brethren had retired for dinner. This was an extra-ordinary assembly of these eight people. The Sacred Chapter had been opened in the Ancient Order of The Knights Templar.

Some informality was allowed at these assemblies and none of the Knights donned the more formal white mantles and spurs. A simple sash with the red Templar Cross was sufficient.

An uninitiated observer would be forgiven for thinking Nomoone had a disability as he walked in a stiff-legged gait towards the centre of the black and white chequered tiled floor. This however was the prescribed step of the craft during an open lodge and he adopted it now as a mark of respect towards the person he was about to address. He turned exactly ninety degrees to his left and standing rigidly to attention nodded his head three times in slow succession.

It long ago became a tradition that the Knights Templar forsook the use of a gavel and signalled pronouncements and performance of ritual by silent nods of the head. This afforded them the necessity of being able to meet in absolute secrecy without the tell-tale knocking of the Grand Master’s gavel.

Nomoone was facing the Grand Master who normally remained silent throughout any discussion of business and reserved his judgement for the end. Egon Johannes casually raised his hand, but that simple gesture was almost like a priest giving a benediction.

Making an about turn Nomoone spoke to Sergio Ubertos. ‘Right Worthy Grand Guardian, what is the first duty of a Brother of the Royal Order?’

‘Worshipful Senior Deacon, it is to see the Chapter of the Order of the Temple of St. John of Jerusalem, Rhodes and Malta properly guarded, as well against Master Masons, Fellow Crafts and Entered Apprentices, as against the rest of the world besides,’ Sergio Ubertos replied.

‘Are you a brother of that Order?’ asked Nomoone.

‘I am so highly honoured,’ confirmed Sergio Ubertos.

‘Then do your duty,’ commanded Nomoone.

It was only now, with the temple safely guarded, that Nomoone addressed the seated figure. ‘Right Worshipful Grand Master, you have heard of our findings and our fears that the profane may soon possess the ability to read the ancient signs drawn by the Great Architect. What shall be done in this matter?’

When the Grand Master spoke it was in a rich baritone as he handed down his judgement. ‘Go and enquire what young Mr. Parker has found out.’
‘And if he has already discovered the information that will lead him to that which we seek?’ Nomoone interjected.

‘Then he shall pay the penalty no less severe than a Royal Brother or Knight who has not upheld his obligation,’ the Right Worshipful Grand Master concluded.
Nomoone nodded once to the Grand Master, turned and faced the other six Knights enquiring ‘Has any Brother or fellow Knight anything to propose for the good of this Order?’ After a short silence Nomoone nodded once more to the room as a whole and declared ‘All the business having been transacted, I declare this Grand Chapter closed.’

~ ~ ~ | | | ~ ~ ~

Millie had spent most of the day preparing the evening meal. She stood still for a moment and surveyed the dining room, it had to be set correctly and she had taken her time to ensure it was. The candlelight reflected from the silverware and colours danced from the crystal and such opulence seemed almost obscene for one man to dine.

He would only allow the villa to be lit by candles, and then not too many. The electric lights had been removed years ago - they didn’t leave enough shadows. She always felt that something lurked in the shadows when he was in the room, but of course that was nonsense, surely.

She tidied her tousled hair and wiped a smudge of flour from her face with the back of her hand and then covered over the mirror with the black drape that was kept bunched above it for this purpose. She made a mental check that all the other mirrors were covered over in the house and, as on most evenings recently, her thoughts drifted back through the years. When had all this started?

When she was first married he was a good-looking man, handsome with jet-black wavy hair and intelligent as well. He completely mastered the skills of brain surgery, his chosen profession, and then taken them to a higher level where they almost became an art. It was as if he performed miracles on the most hopeless of cases, delivered a healing power beyond any explanation offered by science. Almost too perfect some had said. Progressively, things had changed. He started to lose patients until it reached the stage where more died than he saved.

His whole personality seemed to change and the change manifested itself in his features. The changes were gradual, she was sure she was not imagining it but she didn’t have any photographs to judge against. He had insisted that there should be no wedding photographs and he always refused to have his photograph taken, almost to the point of violence if anyone insisted. She couldn’t pinpoint the changes, they were virtually imperceptible, but often when he was in a rage his face became an ungodly mask that made her blood run cold.

Rousing herself from her reverie she called to her daughter. ‘Annabella, have you got changed into your clean dress yet? He’ll be here soon.’

Millie normally tried to have her daughter in bed by the time her husband came home. His rages had been getting worse and he seemed intolerant of the tiniest thing. For some reason Annabella had insisted on staying up to see her father tonight.

‘Do you think Daddy will like the little cakes I baked for him?’

‘I’m sure he will, although he might save them for tomorrow. He’s had a long day.’

‘Does that mean he’ll be angry? I hoped the cakes would make him happy. I don’t like it when he shouts at you mummy.’

‘I’m sure he’ll be fine, now run along and brush your hair,’ Millie said clapping her hands in front of her and shooing her daughter towards her room like a farmer’s wife shooing hens.

With a dread that increased daily she anticipated her husband’s arrival home. She was tired. Tired of the constant belittlement, the ridicule and the tempers but most of all she was tired of the beatings.

He had received the summons that afternoon. A messenger had delivered it to his office. It would be a long night and this thought put him in a bad mood. He hadn’t had much sleep the previous night with his wife sobbing and moaning and he certainly wouldn’t get any tonight. The thought crossed his mind to phone his wife and tell her to have his black suit and shirt laid out ready but he decided she could do it after he got home. It would keep her out of the way while he enjoyed his meal, he thought.

Sitting upright, he never slouched or lounged, in the back of his gleaming Bentley, he stared vacantly through the blacked-out windows at the passing buildings as his chauffeur negotiated the traffic and the narrow streets of Valletta. He was going over what he had to do tonight. He had performed the procedure countless times before but that didn’t stop him running through the expected scenario in his mind’s eye. It had to be carried out correctly - there were no second chances.

The Bentley slowed and came to a halt for the first time during the journey and his vision focused on the portico of his villa. This was the usual way. Any police officer noticing the discrete standard on his car would stop the traffic and allow his chauffeur to continue the journey unhindered. The journey had taken exactly seventeen and a half minutes.

She knew he had arrived home. The atmosphere had thickened perceptively and a certain tension hung in the air.

He strode into the dining room where Millie and Annabella waited. ‘What’s she doing still up?’ he demanded, pointing to Annabella.

Millie moved to stand behind her daughter as she sat at the dining table. The innocent childish smile of greeting faded from her lips in reaction to his outburst and her eyes shone bright with tears.

‘I kept her up because she wanted to see you. You’ve been late home every evening this week,’ Millie explained.

‘Since when have I got to answer to a young child about the hours I keep?’ he asked, twisting her explanation to fuel his temper. ‘Well?’ he pressed.
‘Daddy I made you some cakes,’ Annabella said, trying to relieve the tension.
‘I wasn’t asking you. I addressed the question to your mother. It would pay you not to speak until you are spoken to.’

Since the birth of his daughter he had hated her. From that time onwards everything had seemed to go wrong.

The knowledge that he was a first-class brain surgeon had given him certain arrogance, until his license to practise was withdrawn. There were too many complaints and his record showed too many fatalities. Perhaps it was true that he didn’t hold life as dear as when he was a young man and that he found he wasn’t fighting for the lives of his patients as hard as he used to. It was almost as if something had possessed him, taken control of his body and given him power - the ability to know a person’s thoughts and a command over life and death in the mortal world.

His body was aging and he felt that his spirit, the Ancient Egyptians called it a Ka, needed a male heir to continue its immortality.
He blamed his wife as much as his daughter for the bad fortune. He had so much wanted a son.

While his wife was carrying his second child she had aroused his anger so much that he had to discipline her. Of course it was her fault. If she hadn’t incensed him so much he wouldn’t have had to strike her. It was the final blow to her midriff that caused the bloody mess to leave her womb and slip down her legs. And he remembered the form of the foetus, curled round, as Millie held it in her hands. Its entrance into the world was four months too early but it was just discernible that if it had lived it would have been a baby boy.

Every evening when he saw Millie it reminded him how easily she had given up his son, ejected him from her body in revenge for the correction she so deserved.
This poisonous thought flowed through his mind as he grabbed a fist full of Millie’s hair; pulling her head back and forcing her to look him in the eye. ‘Why don’t you answer me woman? Are you afraid?’

Millie closed her eyes, partly in resignation for what was to come but mainly to shut out the terrifying evil that emanated from her husband’s eyes. A hundred thousand tortured souls stared out from the black pools in screaming indignation at their eternal unrest.

The open-handed slap across her face served to focus her mind. It was always the same, breathlessness followed as his bunched fist penetrated the guard of her tensed stomach muscles. She could do no more than wait for the systematic beating to end. She couldn’t scream for she had no breath to do it.
Millie fell to the floor trying to control the spasm in her diaphragm. Her biggest emotion was shame. Shame that her daughter should see her in such a way; it was no sight for an eight-year-old girl. Resigned to her fate she waited for the pounding to begin.

He was taking his time, drawing out the anticipation. Millie could hear movement despite the distraction of her tortured lungs – then a scream; a child’s high-pitched scream. Her daughter’s scream. God no! Not Annabella! He’s never touched her before. She prayed that he wouldn’t now.

Something had snapped in Annabella’s mind. She couldn’t watch her mother continue to suffer; she wanted it to stop. She knew her father wouldn’t hurt her. She grabbed his arm. She was wrong!

Annabella’s attempt to restrain him was no more than a nuisance, but one that served to infuriate him and push him over the edge of sanity and beyond reasoning.

‘Don’t lay a finger on me you disgusting child. Do you need to be reminded of who I am? Does my authority not scare you?’

Shaking her off like a dog may shake a rat; her ineffectual grip was easily broken. He seized her - A firm grip with his left hand at the nape of her neck.
He wanted to inflict pain! Pain that would always make her remember how much he hated her.

Searching for a suitable implement his eyes roamed the table, first falling on the fork in his daughter’s place setting. Then his eyes shifted to the right slightly and his gaze fell on the bread knife. Thoughts of paring slices of flesh from his daughter filled his mind and he reached out his hand. He could already picture the blood oozing through the freshly opened pores in her subcutaneous flesh.

His fingers curled deftly around the handle and the old feelings came back. The feelings of power over life and death he had experienced a hundred times before with a patient laid out on the operating table and the burning question presented itself once again; - Shall he grant them the gift of life or condemn to hell as he took their souls?

Like a moth to a flame his eyes were drawn to the flickering light of the candle and a new evil possessed him.

At first Annabella thought he was going to use the candle to light the way as he led her to her bedroom. She felt the heat on her face and thought he had accidentally held the candle too close.

‘It’s burning me daddy!’ she exclaimed.

‘Yes, I know,’ he whispered. The strange inflection in his voice terrified her and she tried to break free of his grasp. His fingers pressed even harder into the flesh of her neck causing it to bruise. Like a naughty puppy he held her slender young body in the air and her feet kicked and struggled helplessly as she tried to escape the flame.

At first her cheek blackened and then like a ripe grape a blister of water hung from her burning face until it burst, revealing the tender flesh beneath and nearly extinguishing the torturous flame.

Annabella screamed once and then the agony became too much. She could only manage to groan and mumble, ‘sorry daddy, I won’t do it again – please stop, please.’

The strength of her kicks diminished and the skin on the side of her face seemed to melt and creep away from the flame. The pain reached a crescendo and stopped. Suddenly she felt nothing.

He threw her still body down on top of her mother.

Millie, still struggling for breath, reached for her daughter. She cradled the limp body in her arms, her tears fell onto the roasted flesh and she knew that her only reason to live had gone.

She held Annabella until her husband had left. Then, carrying Annabella’s limp body, blinded by her tears and stumbling into the furniture she made her way to her bedroom. After laying the child gently on her bed she took a bottle from its hiding place in the pocket of a coat in her wardrobe.

This was the last resort. She had been careful not to let her doctor become suspicious and out of the sleeping tablets he prescribed every month she had gradually hoarded a whole month’s supply.

At first there was no real intention to use them. They were almost like a safety net - giving a person confidence to continue walking the tightrope but offering a way out if they couldn’t go on.

She read the handwritten words on the label - two to be taken 30 minutes before bedtime, DO NOT EXCEED STATED DOSE. Filling the glass from the decanter on her bedside cabinet she swallowed as many tablets as she could. She did this again and again until the bottle was empty and then turned back to Annabella.
She lay down beside her daughter and hugging her closely, so tight that her arms ached, she waited for the pain that was in her heart to go, forever.

The black Bentley rode into the unlit courtyard of the Grandmaster’s Palace and slowed behind the statue of Neptune. Before it had completely halted a figure detached itself from the shadows and rushed to open the rear passenger door. It was a mild source of amusement to him that people were afraid to look him in the eyes; perhaps within them they saw their own fate.

‘Everything is ready for you, my lord’, the man said in barely a whisper.

‘Very well, lead the way’, he instructed.

The Palace was closed to tourists and the two figures made their way across the darkened room that housed the museum. Without any warning he stopped by an exhibit. It was a covered coach with black livery - the view of the interior obscured by the dark curtains drawn across the porthole-like windows but nevertheless he knew that the deep-buttoned seat was of red leather and he thought he remembered how comfortable it was to sit on.

In another age horses would have drawn him in this very coach as he arrived to carry out his duty - not here but in Mdina, The Silent City.
The usher hadn’t noticed he had stopped and had continued to walk on. Suddenly realising his charge was not following him anymore he rushed back with an icy dread for his neglect, just in time to see him glance down at the caption for the display. It said “The Grand Inquisitor’s Coach” and the man wondered what interest it held.

‘Carry on’, he said brusquely. And the man continued to lead the way toward the small spiral stairway at the far end of a disused corridor.

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The smooth white walls of the cell were entirely featureless. The only item to break the monotony was a stone ledge, formed by the limestone that had been left in place when this cell was first excavated.

Paul Harrison had spent the time pacing the ten-foot square area in which he had to move. It was impossible to sit or lie still. The painful, hollow feeling in his stomach could only be slightly alleviated by moving about. To remain stationary was unbearable, his intestines writhed incessantly and his body squirmed in fear. Each minute seemed to take an eternity. Not that he was in any hurry to keep his appointment with the Grand Inquisitor.

Along with every other metal item he carried, his gold wristwatch had been taken away and this increased the torment of waiting, not knowing when they would come for him or how long he had left on this earth.

The only illumination in his cell was provided by an oil lamp, hung beyond the reach of his arm outside the bars of his cell door. The faint, flickering light cast eerie shadows onto the rough-hewn floor. Ghostly fingers reached out to snatch the life away from him and claim his immortal soul. The shadows of Hell encroached on his solitude and tormented his last hours of sanity before his tortured nerves would make him dance in the last spasm of his death.

I’m losing my mind, he thought. A draught had made the lamp swing and it appeared as if the shadows of the bars on the cell door were fingers reaching towards him. Something had caused the air movement that made the lamp swing.
The cell door was flung open and four men walked in. There was nothing about their manner to suggest they were nervous or strangers to the task they were about to perform. This was merely a formality.

The time for fear was past. There was only a mind-numbing realisation that he would face the inevitable. He would die!

It was not death he feared the most; that would come as a sweet release at the very end. Although Harrison knew he must not show any weakness, to do so would only result in the agony he had to endure being prolonged by his executioner. He tried to stand but was unable to. The ability to walk was no longer his.

Two of the men who had entered the cell took hold of Harrison by his arms and lifted him to his feet. The other two men stripped him; his clothes were torn from his body.

Harrison took pride in his appearance and usually dressed in suits tailored by the most skilled craftsmen of Saville Row. One of Harrison’s suits cost more than a salaried professional would earn in a month. It broke his heart to hear the hand spun and woven cloth being ripped from his body. It was strange how the mind avoided the notion of death for as long as possible and even at this late hour contemplate the ruining of a good suit. Then realisation returned; he would not need this suit or any other suit again.

Paul Harrison was hoodwinked and a noose placed around his neck. This was not the method by which he would die; this would only be used to lead him to his executioner. Feeling the rope of the noose become taught he was compelled to follow it as the two men holding his arms assisted him in walking.

His last walk was over too soon. He was in another room. Harrison sensed it was much larger than the cell he had just occupied. The presence of evil that existed here was palpable and he knew he could not face what he was expected to endure.
The timber of the door shuddered as it was slammed shut. The echo reverberated around the room and sealed his fate. This was finally it, he thought, as he tried to brace himself. The hood was removed from over his head and he squinted in the blinding light.

As his eyes adjusted, he identified the object that would be the method of his execution. Laid flat in the centre of the stone floor was a wooden Tau. Comparable to a capital ‘T’ shape this was very often depicted in mediaeval paintings as the shape of the cross on which Christ was crucified. It was a formidable, massive structure, over ten feet long, constructed from twelve-inch square baulks of timber. The side beams extending four feet either side, a far greater distance than any man’s outstretched arms can span.

A surgeon’s operating lamp that hung from the ceiling lighted the whole macabre scene. The white painted walls still held the ancient torch brackets that were now redundant and at the back of the room a shiny chrome hospital trolley stood ready to receive his dead body.

Laid out on an instrument trolley, like surgical tools, were three steel spikes exactly seven inches long and the instrument that would be used to drive these through his living flesh, securing him to the tau until death gave him the release, which by then he would so desperately be seeking.

In stark contrast to the clinical surroundings, a large oak table at one side of the room held relics from the medieval past. Branding irons, blackened and distorted by heat were systematically arranged. Thick leather restraining belts and harnesses, perfectly preserved by the dry atmosphere lay alongside them - neighbours to a hundred different tools of the torturer’s trade, the use of which has long since been forgotten.

All this was too much for Paul. A lesser man would have expired immediately on sight of this device by which it was intended he should die. Instead it was Harrison’s nerve that cracked.

‘No. Please, No. For God’s sake, not like this. Use your sword and make it quick. Please.’ He was sobbing. His tongue was dry and the words coming from his mouth were thick with the passion of his pleading and difficult to understand.

Without emotion, his jailers moved him into position and laid him on the tau, his arms outstretched along the side beams. The mental suffering was beyond endurance and Paul Harrison slipped into unconsciousness affording him a temporary respite from this terrible evil.