About how Hellmantle and his
brave squire ride north
to the place where the four
Near Mai Chau, Hoa Binh
It was to the distant melody
of bagpipes that Hellmantle woke up. Still in bed under the mosquito net, when
he caught a whiff of Scotland he sprang out of bed, slipped on his boots and
climbed down from the wooden hut. He walked out to the rice paddies along the
trail of dried mud and soaked in the fog covering the mountaintops on the
immediate horizon, looking for the bagpiper. The smell in the air was rich with
moisture and the jungles of Southeast Asia, sending a chill of energy down his
spine at the thought of the riding before them.
have been a dream," he mumbled to himself in justification for standing in the
middle of a rice paddy at the crack of dawn.
After having a coke and some
salted crackers for breakfast in their wooden legged hut in the stilted colony
amidst rice paddies, Hellmantle and D'Aqs hopped on their Russian-made
motorcycles and rode past the pasty tourists who were on their way on foot to
the Da River Gorge before they had to run back to their bus. As
Hellmantle rode past the group of tourists, he said to the wind:
"Not for us! We are the
captains of our own one-man, two-wheeled ship!" It caused him to think more
about this phenomenon of soft-bellied tourists who walked in a country and then
returned to their hometowns bragging that they had been to so-and-so country
and how amazing it had been. To him, most people spent their free time doing
nothing, that is, watching an electronic box and thinking of their bank account
growing. They say to themselves: "If I can just hold on a bit longer!" Slouched
on a couch watching a sitcom is a slumbering "activity" to these soft peoples.
Activities like taking buses to pre-arranged tourist attractions promotes soft
tummies commonly found in slumbering peoples everywhere. These people seldom
throw caution to the wind because their will is dormant. If these softies do
have a will, then it should be called the Will to Slumber.
Mile and after mile
Hellmantle and D'Aqs ascended into the mountain range of Vietnam, deeper and
deeper into the thicker jungle around them. Fewer rice paddies the steeper the
roads became. To Hellmantle, North Vietnam was different than other Southeast
Asian countries he had been to. People up here in the north were strong and
resilient; he could see it in their faces. The sheer work ethic was light years
away from that of the Philippines for example, or Thailand. The endless rice
fields that they passed were beyond count, and the number of people working on
the fields was even more impressive. And the flags! Hellmantle had never been
to a country with more flags. Almost every household had been given a free flag
and flagpole in the towns they had ridden through so far. No man had ever seen
more red flags in one place before. Entire streets in Hanoi and the country towns
were decked out in Communist flags.
It didn't take Hellmantle
long to see that motorcycles were ideal instruments for the long, never-ending
roads of North Vietnam. The lowlands had no discernable traffic law
enforcement, but it didn't matter so much because the Vietnamese were expert
motorcyclists. Passing on the left with the slower bikes to the right was
adhered to as the golden rule on the road. There was also a noticeable
fellow-motorcyclist theme whenever a car pushed through. That was the thing about
North Vietnam: there were hardly any cars in the countryside because they
weren't practical. And because trucks and cars hadn't chewed the roads up, the
pavement was smooth for the two-wheeled flow.
For Hellmantle, eight out of
ten of the 80 million Vietnamese looked identical. There was hardly any genetic
variation. As he cruised he considered the history of the country: for the last
2000 years, the Vietnamese, from their base in the north, had expanded their
control to the Mekong Delta and Saigon. Apart from their skirmishes with
Cambodians, Americans and Japanese, there were the Chinese. After Saigon fell
to communism in 1975, the Vietnamese communists launched a campaign in 1978
against the ‘bourgeois elements,' which ended up being a euphemism for entrepreneurial
Chinese. Over a third of the Chinese population fled Vietnam back to China
causing China to attack the country in 1979. He wondered how many westerners
knew that, as he steered his bike around beautifully engineered corners.
Riding into the afternoon
sun, they reached Son La where they filled up with gas.
"Ah, Dien Bien Phu:
How many kilometers to Dien Bien Phu?" Hellmantle asked the guy selling
"Uh? Dien Bien Phu
hah?" he replied.
"Yah, yah. Dien Bien Phu.
How many kilometers to Dien Bien Phu?" The question finally
registered as his free hand reached for his chin. The gas attendant shook his
head and said:
"One thousand fifty
kilo-me-ters. Dien Bien Phu hah."
"One hundred and fifty
kilo-me-ters? Yes?" Hellmantle confirmed. He then pointed to his wristwatch.
"How many hours, hours to Dien Bien Phu?" Again the hand to the
chin came into play.
"Eight" answered the gasman.
"Eight hours and Dien
Bien Phu will be within our grasp," he said to D'Aqs. "That sounds about
"Let's press on to the
battle site due west."
"And keep your eyes open for
anything that looks like a prison."
Hellmantle and D'Aqs cruised
between Son La and Tuam Giao, through the pass in the afternoon
fog. The road was just as smooth as the previous track from the colony on
stilts in Mai Chau.
Since there was so much
agrarian activity, there were spats of mud on the road that created some small
slides and skids. They had to muster to overcome these hazards. Hammering mile
after mile, it became a real life videogame where the motorcycle and the wind
and the temperatures and the gears were real, and any wrong move did not yield
a second chance. Hellmantle knew from experience that it was easy to think that
the riding wasn't real. It was easy to think it was a videogame. If a
motorcyclist did he would believe that if he crashed he could get up again and
replay. But these skids were real and they shook Hellmantle's tank of
adrenalin. To him the groovy thing was that the civil engineers had created
turns that were so well designed that he didn't even have to turn the
handlebars; he only had to lean. As a displaced Norman, he was pretty sure the
engineers had been French trained.
With hardly any vehicles on
the road, he led the way climbing in third gear and gliding down the descent on
the other side like madmen hell-bent to get to the bottom of a mystery.
The sun began to set in
front of them behind huge rocks protruding from a mountain lake. Hellmantle was
too much into the flow of the ride to think about stopping. He could feel the
windburn on his cheeks passing the mountains through the valley with fog and
steep slopes. With warm and dry feet and the evening cool against his skin, he
descended into the Tuan Giao - Dien Bien Phu valley hoping to
reach Dien Bien Phu. The roads were as smooth as silk but with the fog,
visibility was an issue.
Seemingly in the middle of
nowhere, when they were still miles from Dien Bien Phu, Hellmantle and
D'Aqs came across an old hotel with the classic yellow colonial façade and
turret of les Francaise Colon, but the odd thing was that it was
literally the only colonial building in the village. At an intersection of some
rivers, there was a large fort on the hill overlooking the hotel. Hellmantle
could only infer that the reason for the hotel would had been for French troops
moving north to the border of Laos and China.
parked their motorcycles at the hotel and got a room. The hotel was empty and
run by a family who lived on the main floor. During dinner Hellmantle asked
about the fort.
is a French prison that the Japanese used and then went back to the French,"
replied the wife serving them dinner. Hellmantle and D'Aqs exchanged looks.
during the Battle of Dien Bien Phu?" Hellmantle asked.
used it for French troops going there," the husband answered. "They supplied
them using this as their route." The bread they ate was warm.
it is used today?" D'Aqs, interest perked.
one is there." The man's eyes were honest and his heart was good. Humanity was
indeed planet-wide, Hellmantle thought to himself.
the rivers? How many rivers meet here?" The man laughed and shook his head at
many rivers meet? I don't know. There are two or three I think. And there are
some waterfalls that run down from the tops into this river."
God! Could it be!" exclaimed Hellmantle, startling the husband and wife. They
moved away from them now suspicious, cleaning up the dinner table swiftly.
it was D'Aqs and not Hellmantle that couldn't wait for sunrise to explore the
prison. They both had their maps open each pinpointing where they were and
seeing where there were two rivers converging. They both suspected there were
more than just the two shown on the map.
was surprised that Hellmantle seemed more interested in smoking and drinking
and chewing his betel nut than discussing tomorrow's plan.
shouldn't smoke in here. And why are you drinking so much? Doesn't seem
very...very Blonde Acquitaine. Remember, one of the codes of chivalry is exhibit
self control." D'Aqs might have struck too close to the bone so he waited
for a reply.
"Do you know what the Ten
Knightly Virtues are?" he asked in a firm tone.
"No, not all of them. Do
"Certainly. As members of
the secret brotherhood we must commit these ten knightly virtues to heart, just
we have for the Code of Chivalry."
"So enlighten me."
Chastity - be free of sins of the
Humility - to keep pride at bay
Rectitude - to remain objective and just
Charity - to keep your heart full of the Holy Spirit
Chivalry - to give respect to your fellow man
Courage - to give power to your convictions
Fidelity - to be loyal to your purpose
Truthful - never deviate from a life of truth
Faith - to always keep you within God's realm
Compassion - to know the soft side of
where in there does it say I can't chew betel nut and drink beer now and
"The one about sins of the
"Chastity? I'd say it refers
to sexual sins in the traditional definition."
"Well, I guess if you remain
objective and just then I can't find anything that says you can't have your
smoke. If you choose to imbibe, then look sharp man!" D'Aqs showing
backbone caused Hellmantle to sit up in his cot, but after a few seconds
"If we find something
tomorrow, it will be just like the original nine members of the Templars
finding the buried sacred geometry under Solomon's stables in 1106."
"Why's that? Because this
map could lead to the discovery of religious scrolls that could send shockwaves
through religious communities throughout the world?"
"Yes," replied Hellmantle.
"I did some research after hearing all that stuff last time at your father's
place and I discovered that during the fourth-century there was a man who
taught Nazarene thought in Spain by the name of Priscillian of Avila who, among
other beliefs, taught that Jesus had an identical twin brother named Jude
Thomas. It was believed for centuries that Jesus had an identical twin, but of
course it contradicts the church in Rome because then there would have to be two
Messiahs, both a product of a virgin birth. This belief was centered in
Western Europe in modern-day Acquitaine, Gallicia and Brittany, all of which
are on the sea routes between Egypt, Spain and Great Britain."
that is interesting. There has already been a precedent."
"Because these places had a
constant influx of new ideas that circumvented the power of Rome, these Nazarene
beliefs remained for centuries. It ultimately culminated with the Spanish
Inquisition nearly a thousand years later. Anyone who deviated from Rome's
tenets were persecuted and whatnot."
"Rome has so much blood on
"Of course the Prior de
Sion brotherhood has been busy pointing out that Jesus had an identical
twin brother since before the Renaissance. Most recently the President of the
Prior de Sion Berenger Sauniere commissioned decorations in the
Rennes-le-Chateau church showing Mary and Joseph holding identical baby
Christ-Childs in their hands."
D'Aqs thought about this
untaught point of Christian history, again revisiting that discomforting twinge
that he had been fooled. "A twin is a problem for the church because why would
one twin go up to heaven and the other identical not? It's too difficult to
justify." In the silence D'Aqs went on. "Therefore take Thomas out of the
picture and focus on the resurrection. Jesus and Thomas as twins and as old men
together in Kashmir Valley shows that they are both men and not the sons
of God but rather like the rest of us, men of the earth with a Holy Spirit."
When he stopped talking he could hear snores coming from Hellmantle across the
room intermixed with the myriad of sounds coming from the jungles outside. In
due course D'Aqs' eyelids became like led and fell downwards to shut off his
sight and put him to sleep.