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Chapter Thirty-one 


 

About what the motorcyclists see on the fields in Dien Bien Phu

Dien Bien Phu, Lai Chau Province

שׂ

In the morning after many cups of coffee and Vietnamese cigarettes, Hellmantle was jittery from the volume of coffee intake so he again popped betel nut and chewed until his teeth were bright red. The visit to Dien Bien Phu was much more personal for Hellmantle, D'Aqs thought to himself. He knew so much about the battle and all the details surrounding the death of his grandfather Dane Hellmantle that he needed to take the edge off. His face crinkled in bitter distaste once again when he chewed it. After drinking more coffee his teeth were orange when he smiled.

"Don't give me that look. I'm master of my own vessel and I can do whatever I want in this country. You're not my mother. Nor are you my chaperon. You are my squire who is still getting his motorcycling legs. I need to look out for you on these roads, so it behooves me to have a calm state of mind."

"I didn't say anything."

"No, of course you didn't. But you looked at me like I'm crazy. We're on an archaeological espionage operation, an important one at that, so I don't want your shadows casting second thoughts on our holy quest."

"I know from experience that he who sticks his head in a beehive will get a face full of honey," he replied. He didn't say it but D'Aqs now had a guarded trust and an undeserved supernatural faith in Hellmantle, perhaps because he had taken them this far without as much as a scratch on him. He looked at the redness spreading around the cut on his throttle hand.

"I like honey," said Hellmantle. "Besides, I would have preferred something else but God brought that man with the betel to our table so who am I to disagree with providence?" It occurred to D'Aqs that he was acting the tole of the mother. Why should he confound this man in front of him who so obviously had belief and serendipity that appeared to override injury or misfortune?

D'Aqs patted him on the shoulder as if saying ‘it's all right,' but Hellmantle jumped back at the contact. Looked at him like D'Aqs had crossed a line. He took a deep breath as his cousin spoke thus:

"It's going to be kind of hard today for you seeing where your grandfather died and all, so just stay loose with it all." Hellmentle showed no emotion at this. Instead he put on his sunglasses so D'Aqs wouldn't scrutinize him. They sat in the shade at the hotel café and watched the day heat up from under slow turning ceiling fans, planning their day with the map outstretched on the table.

 

Ω

 

Dien Bien Phu was a small little town with a main street that seemed to have only motorcycle mechanics and garages. Hellmantle didn't waste any time following the map to the battleground. It was a strange sight seeing the artillery still strewn across the field a hundred feet from the main trench. Three big machine guns were still there, broken and battered but a testament to the history that had taken place here nearly fifty years ago. It was what made the sight so eerie, as if the battle had just ended last week. Hellmantle squinted under the glare of the sun looking for the remnants of French Legionnaires that had been lost on the field, but there were none to be found.

Parking his bike, he walked out onto the field and then stopped. The deep-green hue of the grass matched the weathered military green of the guns that had failed to keep the Viet Minh from overtaking the French forces fighting to the last man. The 50-meter trench was still exactly as it had been during the battle. The field fell away to a wooded field below but there was a ridge to the north that had been where the Viet Mingh hid. The trench was locked off so he couldn't open the door and walk in the trench. Just as well because Hellmantle could sense the spirits still stirring around the trench and it might be unwise to tamper with them. It was more than enough standing on the battlefield.

        Back on the motorcycles, they followed the road a hundred meters or so until they found some graves. They dismounted and together checked the tombstones carefully but did not find one with the name Dane Hellmantle.

"He only had two-and-a-half months left in his five-year commitment to the Legion before Grampa was killed. It saddens me that my father never had the chance to visit his father's grave," said Hellmantle, who was now emotional. He watched the birds flying from tree to tree all around them.

Hellmantle walked dejectly to a large memorial in the middle of the cemetery where a French flag waverd in the wind. D'Aqs followed.

        "No way!" he yelled, standing in front of the memorial. He pointed at the list of names etched into the marble monument. They both scanned the names to find "H" where they saw the surname Hellmantle.

        "There it is!" said D'Aqs, leaning over to read what was inscribed beside "Hellmantle, Dane G:"

Take this sword: its brightness stands for faith,
its point for hope, its guard for charity. Use it well.

"Do you know what that is?"

"No," D'Aqs replied.

"That's the Knight's Hospitaller Rite of Profession Oath."

"Are you sure?"

"Need you ask?" Hellmantle took out his flask filled with Jamieson's Irish Whiskey. "To the Great Dane," he said. "May you never be forgotten. Salut." He took a swig and handed it to D'Aqs. It was still early for a drink but he held the flask up in a toast to the Great Dane.

"With respect, to my great uncle I never knew but whom I respect. Salut." Swigged, held in a gag, and handed it to Hellmantle.

         "To the Great Dane's identical twin," he said, drinking again. "From one twin to another."

"Looking out to the battlefield I can feel it. Imagine the hundreds who parachuted in to save their countrymen."

         "Besieged, no supplies or ammo, dropping into almost certain death." The wind stirred and the birds fly overhead in flocks.

"It's like there are restless spirits here," said D'Aqs, spooked.

"I thought if we found his grave then I would have closure and want to have a drink."

"So it was worth lugging that bottle here." They both had another drink from the flask in front of a sign that read: "Battle of Dien Bien Phu, May 6, 1954."

"Do you have closure?"

"Not sure yet. I'll let you know when we get back to Hanoi." D'Aqs, who had compassion for those who honored the dead, left him there to have a private moment.

"Grampa, I don't think I ever told you I loved you. I wanted to say it now. I hope you can hear me." Just then a hummingbird appeared in front of him, stopped mid-air flapping its wings, and looked at Hellmantle. He raised his flask and drank. The hummingbird hovered, the fluttering sound crisp, and then moved closer. "And in acknowledgment to the pain he had from losing a twin. We share that. And that comforts me." Another toast. When the hummingbird darted off, he experienced a new emotion, one that he could not put words to. He wondered if it was elation, or a deeper comprehension of what religion was to a man, his heart fluttered with the rapidity of hummingbird wings, a feeling he embraced and knew would never leave him. Without a word he left the site of the Great Dane's bones feeling uplifted, and having a new appreciation for the mystery of the afterlife.

  

 

TABLE OF CONTENTS                                                                                  
                                                                                                                                             
          The Family of the Bible
FIRST PART
1.       Concerning the famous Hellmantle's position, character and way of life
2.       Concerning the ingenious man's visit with his uncle Jack Grosseteste
3.       Which relates to how Hellmantle is given his first adventure
4.       About what happened to our adventurer when he goes to the Philippines
5.       In which the story of our crusader's journey begins in earnest
6.       About Hellmantle's time in the city of sin on Christmas Eve
7.       About the brave Hellmantle's success on his adventure to Baguio City worthy of happy memory
 
SECOND PART
8.       In which the courageous Hellmantle of Normandy journeys north into the Cordillera Mountain Range
9.       About what happened to Hellmantle in the mission in the mountains and the crucifixion of Jesus
10.     Concerning Hellmantle of Normandy in the land of the headhunters
11.     About the required riding techniques to reach the destination of Sagada and the church organist
12.     In which the German artist is tracked to the Shamrock Café and dangers of the northeast of Luzon Island
13.     In which Catharine is tracked to the Shamrock Café and an eery coincidence of a reoccurring dream
14.     About Hellmantle reaching the rice terraces and finding a way to the northwest
15.     About what happened to our intrepid philosopher in the middle of the Sierra Madre Mountains
16.     In which a record is given about the brave Hellmantle through uncharted territory on his trusted dirt bike
17.     Which relates to Hellmantle of Normandy reaching the northern coast and the rubble of Aparri
18.     About the final day of the motorcycle journey and discussing the Ten Lost Tribes of Israel in Vigan
19.     About the sermon in Agoo Basilica and what they find at the church with the rouge bell tower
20.     Concerning the Dutch Padre and what he knows about the hidden map
21.     About the return to Manila and the coup that causes the Great Man from Normandy grief
 
THIRD PART
22.     Which brings Hellmantle of Normandy back to Hong Kong to re-evaluate the next step in his quest for truth
23.     In which their journey is related to Jack Grosseteste and a new task is set before the Man from Normandy
24.     Concerning the journey to northern Vietnam to track down the map hidden at a French prison
25.     About how Hellmantle and D'Aqs compare notes on their task at hand in Hanoi
26.     In which an account is given of the beginning of the journey of Hellmantle in Vietnam
27.     About how Hellmantle and his brave squire ride north to the place where the four rivers meet
28.     Concerning the French prison and what Hellmantle finds there
29.     Concerning the discovery of the bottle and what lies inside of it
30.     Concerning the journey to Dien Bien Phu in honor of their grandfather the Great Dane Hellmantle
31.     About what the motorcyclists see on the fields in Dien Bien Phu
32.     Concerning the motorcycling required to reach Hanoi via the other side of the Da River Valley
33.     Which tells of the final stage back to Hanoi and the discussion after their most beautiful ride
 
FOURTH PART
34.     Concerning the visit with the knowledgeable Jack Grosseteste and the sally to India
35.     Concerning the arrival and journey to Kashmir Valley
36.     In which the journey begins in earnest through the checkpoints to the foot of the Moghul Fort
37.     In which Srinagar is reached and how the houseboat was as it was hundred years ago
38.     In which Hellmantle reach their houseboat on the lake below the fort and beside the mosque
39.     In which Hellmantle sets out for the Tomb of Thome and his brother Joshua beside him
40.     Which relates to the agreeable history of the journey north to the monastery on horseback
41.     In which Hellmantle returns to Srinagar and finds the first translations of the black stones
42.     Which concerns the deciphering of the discovery at the monastery and the need to go to the Ganges River
43.     About Hellmantle of Normandy's meeting with the holy man after taking a dip in the Ganges River
44.     About Hellmantle's meeting at Jack Grossetests's place with D'Aqs and Catharine the artist from Sagada
 
o       Chronology of Historical Events
         
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