The classic team role-playing game of conspiracy and strangeness
Et In Arcadia Ego Mission Briefing
Date: August 2nd 1999
From G. M. Blaize, Chief of Operations, SITU
To: Dexter Owara, Lady Judith Larch, Nathan Garston, Louis Tregalier, Elizabeth Petherton, Jefferson Hobart, Sonja Forrester
Subject: Strange happenings in Rennes-le-Château, France.
1. The Templars
Rennes-le-Château in the Languedoc valley is the centre of an occult conspiracy to preserve the treasure, knowledge and secrets of the Knights Templar, whose current face is known as the Prieuré de Sion (Priory of Zion). The story has been exposed in a number of TV programmes and books, notably a volume by Baigent, Leigh and Lincoln, 'The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail.' Here follows a summary of what is known or believed. (The beliefs for which there is little or no historical backing are italicised.)
· The Knights Templar were a mystic order of warrior monks, founded in 1118 for the purpose of policing the Holy Land, who became very wealthy and were destroyed, by order of Pope Clement V, inspired by Philippe IV of France, in 1314. Their Grand Master, Jacques de Molay, was burned to death.
· The fourth Templar Grand Master, Bertrand de Blanchefort, concealed a secret brought back from the Holy Land in the mountains near his home at Rennes-le-Château.
· Remnants of the Templars are thought to have fled elsewhere, particularly to Scotland, while others became Teutonic Knights in Prussia or Knights of Christ in Portugal, but the order had no formal existence after this point.
· The Templar treasure mostly went missing when the Order was put down, and much of it was concealed at Rennes-le-Château.
· Knowledge of the secret was passed down via the Prieuré de Sion, a society lying behind the Templars, including many prominent medieval figures.
· The painter Nicolas Poussin hinted at it in his famous picture 'Les Bergers d'Arcadie', in which a group of shepherds marvel at an ancient tomb on which is inscribed 'Et in Arcadia ego.' The tomb and landscape depicted are near Rennes-le-Château.
· Rosicrucianism and Freemasonry were inspired by the Prieuré as a means of perpetuating the Templars' esoteric influence.
· The Templar secret concerns the Holy Blood of Christ, from whom they believed the Merovingian line of French Kings were descended. This involves the once widely-held heretical belief that the wedding at Cana, mentioned in John's Gospel but none of the others, was Jesus' own wedding, to Mary Magdalene. This line is still extant today, and the Prieuré still foster it. What we call the Holy Grail is a mistranslation ('san greal' for 'sang real', or royal blood). Not an actual vessel but a symbol of Jesus' lineage, of which Joseph of Arimathea was the custodian.
· The last Merovingian king, Dagobert II, married his second wife in 671 AD, in the church - dedicated to Mary Magdalene - at Rennes-le-Château: at that time, known as Rhedae, it was an important capital of the local Visigoths (of whom she was one), although now it is a very small village.
· At the execution of Louis XVI, an unidentified man mounted the scaffold and cried out 'Jacques de Molay, tu es vengé!' (thou art avenged) Freemasonry was very important in the organization of the French Revolution: prominent revolutionaries such as Robespierre, Marat, and David were Masons.
· The Prieuré has been active throughout French history: organising the Fronde revolt against Cardinal Mazarin, organising the Résistance.
· The current leader of the Prieuré de Sion is Pierre Plantard de Saint-Clair - 'Monsieur Plantard' - an aristocrat, psychologist and mystic, intimate of de Gaulle.
· The priest of the church of the Magdalene at Rennes-le-Château, Berenger Saunière, entered into a voluminous correspondence between 1885 and 1896 with a range of occult and ecclesiastical figures across Europe about the decipherment of some parchments and inscriptions he had found in the church. Although not a man of means, he spent extremely heavily, the equivalent of several million pounds in today's money, building himself a huge villa (the Villa Bethania), a fortified folly tower (the Tour Magdala) and restoring the church extensively, without drawing on episcopal funds at all. His redecoration of the church was curious, including an inscription above the door saying 'Terribilis est locus iste' (this place is terrifying), and a large statue of the demon Asmodeus. There is also a set of paintings of the Stations of the Cross, each with some odd, unusual or disruptive feature - for example, the presence of a child in Scottish plaid in Station VIII. He also received a variety of distinguished visitors, including the French Minister of Culture and the cousin of the Austrian Emperor. He was suspended by the bishopric on suspicion of simony, but appealed to the Vatican and was reinstated.
2. The Ylid conspiracy.
Let me make it clear now that you are about to be given information that at one time would have been reserved for the highest level SITU agents. It is my belief, however, that in order for you to work effectively for us, we must entrust you with the full facts.
For thousands of years mankind has been subject to an unknown number of non-human beings who have sought through the ages to shape history and manipulate human lives for their own ends. We hesitate to call these creatures alien because the word suggests extra-terrestrial origin, and their origin is unknown. We call them Ylids, and in this century we have began to fight back.
Ylids are supremely powerful beings but, fortunately for us, they do not tend to co-operate in groups but work singly, each one having his/her own objective. So far we know of only one organised group, based in Europe. We have yet to locate all the Ylids present in the world, but we suspect that Rennes-le-Château is under Ylid control. This Ylid may or may not be part of the organised conspiracy.
Another of our investigative groups recently uncovered a link between the Ylid and the Templar cult (the mission briefing for 'The Blood in the Cup' is available to all operatives.) It is likely, then, that the whole Templar / Freemasonry movement is a front for whatever plans the controlling Ylid has in motion.
3. Rennes-le-Château, present day.
Little news comes out of the area. To all purposes, Rennes-le-Château is a typical small French village. There is one school, one catholic church, the priory itself, a small hospital. The wider area has seen some significant technological advances. Concorde was designed and built in Toulouse, the region's capital. It is in Toulouse that the French branch of the European Space Agency is based. Toulouse also boasts several biotechnology companies including a subsidiary company of the genetic engineering giant, Harvest PLC. Harvest are currently under SITU investigation in the UK following a spate of mysterious suicides or scientists linked with one of their projects. There is also a nuclear plant set in the countryside some miles from Rennes-le Château.
It may seem to you that we are sending you out to Rennes-le-Château on the basis of a patchwork of inaccurate histories, superstition and speculation. This is true; it is also necessary. The only way to sort out fact from fantasy and to find out what, if indeed anything, is really going on, is to send in a team to investigate. Your mission briefing is, then, to follow up all available leads and see where they take you. Specifically, investigate the rumours of hidden treasure at the priory. If there is something hidden there it may hold the key to other events. Find out whether there is an Ylid active in the area or not and if so try to ascertain his/her identity. Note: Ylids tend to shun contact with humans so this may be difficult. And finally, if you find yourselves in a position to take direct action against the Ylid, do whatever seems appropriate at the time.
Two warnings: first do not underestimate the Ylids' power. Operatives have been killed on similar missions. Secondly, all the normal provisos regarding extra-legal activity apply. We cannot sanction working outside the law. If you do and you are caught you will have to face the consequences alone.
Cover and travel arrangements
You will be posing as a group of academics researching a follow-up book to 'the Holy Blood and the Holy Grail,' and an accompanying radio program. Please dress and equip yourselves appropriately. It is of utmost importance that this cover is not broken. Our only defence against the Ylids so far has been their ignorance of SITU as an organisation. They must not become aware of us.
Please make your own arrangements to meet at Rennes-le-Château on August 6th. To afford you maximum flexibility and privacy we have reserved a house in the village for you for a period of two weeks initially. All reasonable travel and living expenses will be reimbursed. Please keep receipts.
Another of our agents will be meeting you at Rennes-le-Château. For security reasons he is unnamed on this report. He will introduce himself when he arrives.
Et In Arcadia Ego
Friday, August 6th
A deep pink AC Cobra is attracting a fair amount of attention on the narrow French lanes. Its occupants - a man and a woman - seem happily oblivious to the stir they are creating.
"Je suis anglaise," Lady Judith practises again in her best public schoolgirl French. "Parlez vous anglais, si'l vous plais. Je ne comprend pas. How was that?"
"Fine." It sounded like French, Nathan reasons. Somebody somewhere will probably understand her. He takes his eyes off the road a moment to look at her. Her chestnut hair, normally set in impeccable waves, is becoming windswept and it suits her. So does the pale blue dress she is wearing.
Since meeting Judith on the last mission in North Wales, Nate has made an effort to smarten his image. Which has basically meant getting his hair cut. A baggy white T shirt hides his stubbornly expanding waistline - entire days spent at the gym have yet to pay off - and his grey trousers are marked with oil and dark lines of sweat. His brown leather jacket lies in a crumpled heap on the back seat next to Judith's navy-blue blazer.
"Nous allons a France," Judith says. "We are going to France. It'll be fun." She meets Nate's gaze and smiles. Her green eyes glow with excitement.
Being a Frenchman, Louis Tregalier's French is, of course, impeccable. As is his English. As is his German, Spanish, Italian and - less usefully - ancient Egyptian, for that matter. He smiles to himself, leaning over the forward rail of the ferry to watch the sea move. Something of an irony, he thinks: to move to London and then have SITU send him back to France for his first mission. Still, the briefing mentioned a painting of an old tomb: that, at least, should be interesting.
He straightens up, smoothing back raven-dark hair. A ring on his left hand flashes briefly in the sun - an image of the Egyptian god Anubis. He turns his back on the sea and stands with his arms folded, enjoying the smell of the salt and the sense of open space around him.
No one takes any notice of the dark-haired woman sitting reading in the back seat of the coach. Average height, average features, her hair hanging in unruly curls well past her shoulders. Her jeans are plain blue, her shirt plain white, her shoes flat-heeled, basic and strong. She swings one leg to the motion of the coach and chews her bottom lip as she reads only raising her head occasionally.
The woman opposite her is on a business trip, she decides between chapters, taking in the leather brief case at her feet. Further down the coach two children, obviously spoiled, are playing some noisy game; an old man watches them disapprovingly. Sonja watches him a moment then returns her attention to her book. 'Snowdonia's Maiden by Josh Stone,' the cover proclaims. Sonja knows it practically by heart already. She typed the thing up, after all. But when your employer gives you a copy of his latest novel it's good manners to read it.
France, Sonja thinks. She smiles. She's never been to France. She's surprised to realise she's looking forward to it.
Liza Petherton has been attracting plenty of attention. A pair of teenage boys even asked her for her autograph on the plane over, convinced they'd seen her on television. She accepted the attention gracefully as always, if with a touch of resignation. Aged thirty-five now, it's been years since she's done any modelling but her slim figure, long blonde hair and blue eyes mean people still notice her.
Adopting the role of an academic she has tied her hair loosely back into a plait and chosen to wear plain trousers and flat shoes. It has only made people more convinced that she is someone famous travelling incognito.
The stewardess appears with the drinks trolley. Liza waves her on by and digs in her handbag for her sunglasses. Slipping them on, she sits back and closes her eyes.
Flying into Paris from Australia, Jake Hobart is wondering just what is so important that SITU are willing to fly him halfway around the world. All this talk of Templar knights and Freemasons is a little too modern for his tastes, he thinks; it's a pity they hadn't decided to send him to look at Egyptian pyramids or something.
He bought a copy of 'The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail' before leaving home and he leafs through it again now, pausing to mark a few sentences here and there. Et in Arcadia Ego. Jake frowns. That's Latin for 'And in Arcadia, I.' Maybe there's a hidden meaning to it, as the authors of the book seem to believe. He twists his shoulder-length black hair back off his face and sighs. That's the one problem with living in Australia - it takes so damn long to get anywhere else in the world.
Dexter Owara hitched his way from Aberdeen to Birmingham and booked himself on a train from there on. He sits, overflowing out of his seat, nodding his head in time to the Elvis track playing on his Walkman. He's looking forward to meeting up with Judith and Nate again - even if Nate was a royal pain in the arse. He runs a hand over his bald head and grins to himself.
Six foot two, seventeen stone, with skin the colour of polished ebony, no one would ever believe he was an academic researcher, he thinks. Only, of course, he used to be - lecturing in parapsychology before the latest round of cutbacks saw him redundant and then his Elvis career took off. He wonders if the folk in France like Elvis. Maybe there'll be a chance for an impromptu concert over there.
Nate and Judith pick up the key for the rented house when they arrive and by the time the rest of the group gather the cupboards are overflowing with food.
Then comes a knock at the door. Milky-grey evening sunlight floods into the hallway around a woman who stands nervously.
"Bonsoir - ah - good evening," she says. "My name is Marie Bernard. I am agent for this house. Anything you want to know, you can ask, yes? You are here to study?" She looks round at them all.
"That's right," Dexter agrees. "To study. We want to see the priory."
"Ah oui, I understand. Then you are here to visit Sandrine."
The group look at her blankly. "Sandrine," she repeats. "The poor girl has the " she trails off, muttering a word of French and touching her fingers to the palms of her hands.
"Stigmata," Louis translates. "'The poor girl has the stigmata,' she said."