The classic team role-playing game of conspiracy and strangeness

The Blood In The Cup

6.00pm 1st October 1998

Phil rocked back in his chair for a moment, surprised at the vehemence of Father Murray's reaction. Only for a moment, though, as his anger rose at the interruption. He stood up between the two arguing parties, raising his own voice.

"Hold it right now! I've had to wait half-a-bloody-hour for you pair to finish your last argument. WAIT for you, mind. What I didn't do was barge right in demanding to be heard. Patience is a virtue," lowering his voice he turned to the vicar and added pointedly, "as is tolerance I believe, Father."

Without giving anyone time to correct him, he turned back to the archaeologists.

"My name is Phillip Harlow, and we are here making a documentary about the discovery for the BBC. I presume you're the archaeologists interested in the site? I was planning to contact you later regarding this, but you've saved me the trouble. However, I hope you'll give me the common courtesy to finish my meeting with the Father. It won't be too long." He looked pointedly towards the door and issued the somewhat surprised archaeologists out. Marie opened her mouth to speak, but Phil raised a silencing hand, "Later, later. If you wait for me downstairs I'll speak to you then."

He turned back to the priest, "Now father, what were we saying?

Rupert scratched his greasy scalp and turned to George, 'Come on old chap, let's get back to the hotel for a little liquid refreshment. I think that this librarian is going to have a fit if we don't leave soon and we won't be able to do anything more at the site tonight.' he shoved some of the papers into his pockets as George gathered up the rest, 'I'm sure that Arabella and Jo will have the whole thing under control!'

The librarian pointedly locked the door behind them as they stepped out into the dusk and headed back towards the hotel, George's stomach rumbling loudly as he spoke.

'I think we should return tomorrow,' he said, 'try and get a look at some old maps of the area, maybe find out who owns the spring.'

'Great,' said Rupert brightly, 'another day at the library is just what I need!'

Arabella studied Amanda Gudmunsdottir carefully.

"It looks like I'll have to be honest with you Amanda," Arabella said at last. "We're pretty new to this TV documentary thing. The story came up rather suddenly and the crew was put together quickly, so as not to miss the peak of the interest. It's actually the first time we've worked together as a team. Truth to be told we haven't fully decided how we're going to present the program, though the guinea pig scenario is favourite." She paused for a moment, thinking furiously, watching Amanda's reaction.

"I also don't think the Major would like you calling him a 'faggot', it sure won't win you any brownie points." Amanda snorted derisorily, showing that she obviously couldn't care less what the Major thought, but Arabella ploughed on, 'I've worked with him before, as well as Jo and Rupert, but the other three members of the team are new faces, so we're still feeling our way as it were. Myself I'm a professor at Nottingham University, I offered to help out if they needed me and here I am." Amanda looked somewhat incredulous, so Arabella decided to elaborate, "I'm a professor of Psychology, specialising in the Beliefs and Cultures of Ancient Civilisations. You'd be surprised how a people's beliefs can affect their view of life and the world. I'm here because I have a knack of seeing beyond the obvious, beside the fact that I got drafted."

Amanda snorted again, but this time with laughter, "You're no more a professor of Psychology than I am!' she paused to laugh, "Production companies don't hire university professors as mere researchers! And how the hell can a professor of psychology study ancient beliefs, you gonna dig up their pyramids and give them a questionnaire to fill out?" she laughed again and began to sling her things back into her music case, making to leave.

"All right," said Arabella hurriedly, "If you want an example of what I mean by seeing beyond the obvious, try this. Your surname, Gudmunsdottir. I can safely say it's Scandinavian in origins, possibly Viking, though it might be Finnish. Translated it would mean God-Man's-Daughter, or Daughter of the Rune-Priest, it's what they'd refer to as a 'use-name'. I would say there is possibly a strong link to or interest in the occult in your family, which would explain your interest in this story. How am I doing? The name itself, along with your blonde hair and aggressive attitudes, gives me the impression that your family hasn't been in England too long, two or three generations. There is very little Anglicising of the name, though I'd imagine the original to be Gotmunsdottir. I'd also say most of your ancestors were male, especially in your immediate family, for the name to pass down. It's possible you're an only child, I get the impression your father would have liked a son, hence again your aggressive posture. I'd also hazard a guess that you have some first hand experience of sexual discrimination. Are you gay by any chance?"

"At least we tried the obvious," Donald said, by way of comforting Jo who looked rather disappointed, 'Perhaps we'd better try and find the others who claimed to be healed next? I'd like to start with this Declan Aldridge and find out what he's really up to. But I'm quite happy to go along with what ever you think."

Jo had never really expected the healing water to work. She watched the two men who had been watching them move away into the twilight, they had begun to leave as soon as it had become apparent that Jo wasn't going to start screaming, 'Miracle!' and hurdling all of the nearby trees.

"We need to try and talk to them," she said, indicating their departing backs.

"I'm sure they'll be back another day," said Donald, "if they're that interested."

"We should find out who the foreign buyers are, and try and make an appointment with Doctor Bord, though I suppose he'll have left now," she rubbed her aching leg, the cold water had set off pangs of convulsive pain and she was really rather desperate to sit down, "Let's get Sam and go back," she said, "we can return tomorrow, too."

"Joy will have some leaflets about the Grail Trust,' the security guard, John, told Sam, "you'd probably better ring to make an appointment to see Bord, he's a busy man."

"Thanks," said Sam, "it must be pretty lonely work here, especially if it's just you."

"I work the days and there are plenty of people around to chat to, and everyone's always friendly. And I've got all the comforts of home," he indicated the tiny shed behind him with a sardonic expression on his face, "TV, fridge and kettle, even my own toilet so I don't have to walk right over the other side of the site. There are two blokes and a dog on the night shift, the trust thinks it's more likely that any attempt at theft will be made then, they'll be coming on in an hour or so."

"Cheers," said Sam, "well, it looks like the others are ready to go, I'll probably see you again!"

"Just one more thing," said John, altering the peak of his cap, "don't your feet get sore and cold with no shoes on?"

Sam just laughed, scooping a handful of leaflets off Joy's table as she packed her things into boxes for the night. Donald and Jo were waiting for her and they headed back to hotel together.

"Well, I can see that they're not going to come off too well in this whole matter," Phil said conspiratorially to the priest, "I think we'll just make them look like inconsiderate scientists on film, trampling on the wishes of the local community. The public love an underdog, and you'll have plenty of support - and free publicity."

Father Murray looked thoughtful, "I think you're right, though I can't give you Mr Aldridge's number," he held up a hand when Phil began to protest, "the best I can do is ring him and ask him to contact you, then the decision is his." He picked up the phone receiver and began to dial the number. Phil tried to subtlely strain his head to catch the number, but the priest's fingers were surprisingly nimble and fast, "where are you staying again?" the priest asked. Phil told him. The priest began to speak and Phil realised than an answer phone had picked up.

"Er, hello, yes... This is Father Murray with a message for Mr Aldridge... The BBC are with me at the moment, they're hoping to make a documentary on the whole... er... matter and they thought you might like a chance to put your side. If you would, you can contact them at the Royal Cup Inn in Glastonbury, ask for..." he looked to Phil for a prompt, who gave it, "Phil Harlow of Acorn Productions. Goodbye." He replaced the receiver, "And I'm afraid that's the best I can do, along with the contact numbers I've already given you. But, I am happy to co-operate with any further matters. Now, if you don't mind, it's late and I've had a rather tiring day,' he indicated towards the door and Phil stood, realising he'd got as much as he could today. Perhaps the archaeologists would prove more enlightening.

Amanda took a pack of cigarettes from her bag and lit one before she spoke again, "Is that a proposition?" she asked casually, "I'm afraid it's rather wasted if it is. My last boyfriend's performance was so bad that I almost turned to lesbianism, but then I met a nice, burly squaddie who managed to persuade me otherwise. Sorry to disappoint. Now then, you've analysed me, it's my turn now." she paused, staring at Arabella with icy blue eyes, "Daddy paid for your university education, but you dropped out because you weren't clever enough to go the course. You saw an episode of Cracker, thought Robbie Coltrane was rather dishy and decided that's what you wanted to do. Either that or become a fortune teller."

"How close was I?" Arabella asked, sipping primly on her lemonade, "I was close wasn't I?"

"Nope," said Amanda, "good try with the name though, though it was obviously a second rate name dictionary that you used, a book on Scandinavian naming practises would have been more appropriate. My mother is Scandinavian, Norwegian in fact, her first name is Gudrun, hence my name, Gudrun's daughter, I use Gudmun because it's rather easier to spell out on the phone. Both of my brothers," she emphasised the word, "have my father's name, Tomson, because that's the way it's done where I come from. This," she picked up a lock of her yellow hair, "is out of a bottle, and I would have thought that most people have an equal number of male and female ancestors, considering it takes one of each to make a baby," she leaned forward, "or didn't you know that?" Her expression was not friendly.

"I'm a virgin," Arabella announced, trying to out-casual Amanda, "I've never had the opportunity to test either preference and to be honest I'm not sure I really want to. Some of my student think I'm frigid, I prefer the term voluntarily celibate. Another drink?"

To her delight, Amanda laughed heartily, "You are the weirdest person I've met in a long time and that's saying something in my profession!" she laughed again, "but that's not a bad thing, rather refreshing. I think I can work with you, at least if you stop trying to judge my sexuality from my hair colour!"

Arabella ordered some more drinks. "Now, why don't you tell me why you're interested in this story, and what you've discovered, then I'll fill you in on what I know, though most of it is background stuff. And by the way, I enjoy my job as a lecturer and teacher, so please, no putting me forward as a director. My students may drive me mad, but I wouldn't have it any other way. What say we work together on the research side, that way you'll still see what we're doing, but you can help me dig up more info at the same time?"

Phil walked out into the corridor, closing the door behind. The two rather angry looking archaeologists were waiting at the other end. He walked towards them, apologising for his earlier outburst.

"Perhaps it would be best to talk outside," he said, pointing back at the door, "more private." They filed outside in silence, where Phil proffered his hand, "Phil Harlow, Acorn Productions for the BBC, we're hoping to do a serious look at the object and what it means for the local community, emphasising the practicalities rather than any hocus-pocus."

"I'm Marie Pritchard," said the woman, "this is my husband, Richard. What did you want to say to us?"

"Just a few questions, "said Phil, "we wanted a serious academic view of the situation. So, what do you expect to find here then?"

"Well," said Richard, "from our preliminary investigations, it would seem that the dish could be a Syrian blue glass dish of the style used Christ's time, however, there is no way we can confirm this except by excavating it, and examining it. That's where the real problem comes in, it will be possible to carbon date the item, but there is a 200-500 year margin of error, so you can understand that it will be basically impossible to say whether the dish in contemporary to Christ's time period."

"Is there much about Glastonbury that piques your interests other than the Grail?" Phil asked.

Marie sniffed, "The place has been over excavated," she said haughtily.

"Besides," added Richard, "I've never liked this populist superstition sites, it all gets in the way too much."

"What do you actually know about the history of the Grail?" said Phil.

Immediately the pair looked insulted, "Look," said Marie, "You should do some research, Mr Harlow, Richard and I wrote the book on the grail, called The Blood in the Cup, tracing it's origins in mythology. What we don't know about the grail could be written on the head of a pin!"

"Sorry, sorry," said Phil, just one more question, "Which University is funding your dig then?"

"We're consultants," said Richard, "we scope a site and then promote it to the universities to get funding, we get to supervise of course. There's no point doing that yet though, not until we get actual permission."

"We'd really appreciate your co-operation on this, in fact, we could make your dig the focus of the program, we could show it from scratch. It would be astonishing television - a dig for one of the most legendary relics."

This seemed to massage their egos sufficiently, "We'd be pleased to," Marie said.

"Perhaps we could meet for a more extended meeting?" Phil prompted. "Tomorrow at eleven?"

"That would be fine," Richard said graciously, "perhaps you'd like to come to our home? We're renting it for the duration we'd be here." He told Phil the address who duly noted it and headed back t the hotel. Patting the small pile of addresses that had accumulated in his shirt pocket he smiled. He'd done rather well today.

On arriving at the hotel, Rupert excused himself to go upstairs and George entered the tiny, dark bar, briefly wondering why horse brass was de rigueur in places like this. He immediately spotted Arabella with a charming looking young woman, who assumed was Ms Gudmunsdottir.

Going over, Arabella stood and introduced them straight away, 'Amanda Gudrunsdottir this is Major George Wellington, the director I was telling you about,' she was secretly nervous that Amanda might call him a faggot to his face, but was amazed by Amanda's response.

"Major Wellington!" Amanda said, her face suddenly girlish with glee, "oh, I am just so pleased to meet you, Arabella has been telling me all sorts of nice things about you!" she giggled and Arabella hid a grin. Amanda was a great manipulator all right, "I was wondering if it would be OK with you for me to cover your story for my local paper, it would be good publicity, but we... that is to say, Arabella and I, we thought we should get your permission first before going ahead."

George looked into the woman's pretty face, "Of course, my dear girl, whatever Arabella think is a good idea is fine by me, she's an absolute God send, you know, researchers these days are so unreliable!"

He sat in-between the two women who immediately continued their conversation.

"I'm afraid I probably don't know any more than you do," Amanda began, "I was thinking that publicity I can provide would be most beneficial. I've got Aldridge's address if you're really interested, but he's not there, infact nothing is there, the house is empty. There was plenty of press camped around his house for a while but they all went away when it became apparent that he wasn't going to show. I did think that perhaps the Grail Trust had something to do with it," she laughed again, "I'm not one for conspiracy theories, but it did occur to me that the Grail Trust would benefit most from Aldridge being incommunicado, if he wasn't around, he couldn't tell how he put it there. I'm not saying the trust hired a hit squad or anything, perhaps they found him place and asked him not to speak to anyone in return for a small cash sum..?" George and Arabella exchanged a secretive glance.

"May I get you two ladies a drink?" George said, rising to his feet.

"Oh no, thanks Major,' said Amanda, standing up and putting her things away, "I really must go, I've been here far too long, my copy should have been in an hour ago!" She handed a tiny, pearly-pink business card to George, "Here's my number, I'll try and do some digging, see what I can find. Let me know when you plan to treat the guinea pig so I can be there, oh and I'd like to meet her first, verify her injuries, as an impartial observer, y'know?"

As she turned to leave, Rupert sauntered in. Arabella hoped he wouldn't set the cat amongst the pigeons with one of his fruity comments.

"Hi," he crossed over to Amanda, he noted her proximity to Arabella and said, "I was wondering, do you have a banana or a cucumber handy, my dear?"

To the great surprise of Rupert and his companions, Amanda leaned forward, lightly cupping Rupert's crotch in her hand, "No," she replied, "but I can feel why you'd need one. Ciao!" Waving to Arabella and George she left the bar.

Rupert sat down and Arabella hid a smirk. "Oh, here's some more of us!" she said as Donald, Jo and Sam entered. They sat down together and immediately started swapping bits of news, Sam passing round the leaflets detailing the Grail Trust. It appeared that it had been set up in 1909 to look after the heritage of the site and over the years had purchased chunks of land around the area with the help of various fund-raisers, from English Heritage who actually owned the Tor and the Abbey, but allowed the Trust to manage the whole thing.

Eventually Phil walked into the now rather crowded bar and the next five minutes was spent ordering food and drinks and squeezing into seats around the rather small table. Donald shared a bench with Jo and George, Arabella had the pleasure of sharing with Phil and Sam and Rupert sat on chairs separately.

"Well," said Phil, looking rather smug, "anyone find anything out?" They all related their various findings, starting with Donald and Jo. They looked rather disappointed when Jo reported no change in her injury, but brightened considerably when Arabella, prompted by Rupert and George reported their findings at the library.

"Most of what we found concerns the Grail's history, some of it you'll probably already know, if not all of it. Now, you'll probably know that the Grail is reputed to be the cup used by Jesus Christ at the 'Last Supper'. There is another legend that says it's the cup used to catch the blood of Christ as he hung on the cross. Supposedly the Grail was brought to England by Joseph of Arimathea, the actual date of this event varies depending on the source of the information. I'd guess it was early in the second or third century myself, but that is a guess. The only other well documented appearance of the Grail is in the Arthurian Legends, though account differ widely on its fate."

"Sorry to interrupt," said George, "but from what I've read, an estimate of second or third century would appear to be wildly inaccurate. Joseph of Arimathea was said to be Christ's uncle and brought the young Jesus to these very shores and eventually interred his body in his own personal tomb. If he brought the cup here in the third century he'd be over two hundred years old," he grinned, "I told you I read a lot!" he said, as if by way of explanation.

Arabella blushed to the roots of her hair, "You're right George, I should have thought of that! There are tales of its appearance in many texts, though obviously none are actually corroborated. There are rumours that the cup passed into the hands of the Knights of the Temple of Jerusalem and was lost when their order was destroyed. The Knights Templar were destroyed by a French priest who wanted their treasures. They spread word of witchcraft and devil-worship, hunting the knights down and burning them at the stake. It is possible, assuming they had it, that the cup fell into the hands of the French. As to the Grail itself, it would help considerably if we knew what it looked like, but accounts again differ. It has been described as a simple clay cup to a priceless gold and jewelled artefact of inestimable value. It is even rumoured that the Grail may actually appear differently to anyone who views it, so would you know the Grail if you saw it? To be honest what we don't know about the Grail is what intrigues us most. Oops!" she said suddenly, "I seem to be slipping into lecture mode. Occupational hazard."

The food arrived and everyone tucked in, Sam took the opportunity to tell what she had seen at the site, particularly the details of the guards movements. The others were very interested in the foreign buyers and agreed that they should try to interview them, and those people who claimed to have been healed.

"We should arrange to interview them as soon as possible," said Jo. "Hopefully tomorrow. Ask them for proof of their medical condition prior to healing, then talk about what it felt like to be healed - was there a discernible source of power and if so from where. To maintain our TV credentials we should explain that we want to conduct preliminary interview to collate all necessary information, and ask our subjects whether they'd be willing to be interviewed on camera later."

"I've got some contacts," Phil said, "Mrs Phillips, Ms Morris, oh and Declan Aldridge."

"What?" the others exclaimed.

"The priest left a message for him, he's going to contact me here." The others immediately congratulated him and he found that he wasn't short of drinks for the rest of the evening.

"We do need Aldridge's address, as well," put in Jo. "So that Sam can break into the house and look for clues as to where he might have gone. It is quite possible that he has been removed, rather than leaving of his own accord and if so we have to find out who might have wanted him out of the way, and why. Father Murray's office might be a good place to start looking for information." She looked meaningly at Sam once more. "And we should also find out any general information we can on Declan Aldridge. What sort of a man was he? Did he have any close friends. If so, we should make arranegments to see them too. Still, there's no point worrying over what we don't know yet; let's get on and follow up the leads we do have. Something's sure to turn up from that."

The food had mostly been finished by now and the group were knocking back their drinks, speaking in low voices.

"I'd like to say something," said Donald, "I want to apologise for my behaviour yesterday, I'm a very cautious person and unfamiliar faces make me very edgy. But after spending the day with some of you, I think I can start to relax now. My bag of peanuts didn't last very long last night,' he pointed at his plate, so clean it looked as if it had been licked, "This was much better! As for the site, well I'm interested in the Grail Trust and their motives, I think some of us should make an appointment to see Doctor Bord and I'd like to go along. But, before that I'd like to go on a surveillance mission to see what's going on round there. Anyone care to join me?"

Sam nodded, "Count me in!"

"It's better if there's only a few of us," Donald said, "easier to get us out of trouble that way."

Arabella told the group of what happened with Amanda, saying she thought that involving her would be a good idea, "There are a lot of reasons, but the main ones are that she knows the area, has had some contacts with the people we will want to speak to and she's already done a lot of ground work and made contact we would need to take time to find. I'm not suggesting we induct her into SITU, just use her to help us cut some corners, it's what a film crew would do."

"I'm happy to deal with her - play the role of hopeful guineapig," said Jo. "I'll tell her that getting a part in the TV documentary could be a big break for her and the more help she gives the more significant her role in the finished product, and then pump her for every scrap of information I can get." She looks thoughtful. "I suspect that Amanda's interest in the grail goes beyond journalistic ambition. Maybe she's mixed up with the foreign interest, or with another group altogether."

"If you've all done telling your bits, I've got something to say," said Rupert, pushing out his chest with pride, "I've got some theories to impart to you all. They aren't terribly profound, as I'm sure you'll all guess already. They don't call me Mr Profound for nothing, infact they don't call me Mr Profound." In the background a phone rang.

"Telephone call for Phillip Harlow," called the barmaid, "is Mr Harlow in here?" Phil quickly excused himself, heading fro the bar.

"Anyway," continued Rupert, "Firstly I think the grail is fake," several of the group nodded their heads, especially Donald, " So there must be something under the bowl more important than the fake grail. Why else would someone go to these lengths to prevent an excavation of the site? The discovery of the bowl prevented any excavation and therefore prevented the discovery of what is underneath. And I think that this object, not the fake grail healed the woman with the cataracts. Also I think that the timing is significant. The site was due to be excavated, then this was cancelled and finally Declan Aldridge said it was a fake, this might have been to prevent the discovery of something. The dates maybe significant, if we look we might find some sort of significant religious date. I say we should dig it up."

"An interesting idea, Rupert," responded Jo drily. How exactly do you propose carrying it out? All right, it would be a good idea to study the grail, but digging it up under the noses of the security guards and everything is not on. There are scanning devices we could get that would tell us if anything was buried underneath it... under the pretext of scanning the land area for 'artistic purposes' we could see if we can detect anything." She rose to her feet, wincing, and left the table.

Rupert sat down, still ready to receive his standing ovation, but Phil was destined to steal his thunder. He rushed back to the table.

"That was Aldridge, he wants to meet with me tomorrow at 10.30 in the morning in a pub called the Red Lion, problem is I'm supposed to be meeting the archaeologists as eleven. Can one of you do that instead?"

Any answer about to be made was cut short by Jo rushing back into the room. One trouser leg was rolled up and tears were coursing down her face.

"Look!" she cried, rushing over to the group and showing her leg, "the scar, the scar is gone! It worked, it is the real grail!" others in the bar looked over with interest, "it's not completely healed, it still hurts, but it feels much better and the scar is gone!" She was crying with joy.

The mood of the group changed and they were all genuinely delighted for Jo.

After an hour of celebratory drinks, Donald rose to his feet, "Sam and I should be leaving," he said, "It's dark enough now and I don't want to miss anything important."

The others said farewell and sat back down in the bar, to decide what the plan of action should be for tomorrow. Phil was to see Aldridge. Rupert wanted to take George to look at the site. Both Phil and Sam would be tired after their night of observation and so would probably sleep a lot of the day. That left Arabella and Jo to see the archaeologists.

Some discussion about Rupert's theory ensued, Arabella was enthusiastic about it, though not all of them were, hiding a real object under a fake to prevent excavation seemed rather a backward way to do it, when revealing the presence of the actual object would have had much of the same effect, without the need for fake objects, the others felt.

One by one, the investigators disappeared to their bedrooms, leaving only Phil to stare into the bottom of his whisky glass and would what Declan Aldridge was going to tell him.

The evening was rather chilly and Donald and Sam were glad of their warm coats. They had packed various equipment including torches in Donald's bag and their was an unspoken co-operation between them, born of two lives trained in covert actions. They soon reached the site and crept over to where the pool was. It bubbling noises filled the chill air and the two saw the light pouring out of the window of the tiny shed. Obviously the guards were watching some sort of sitcom as the sound of canned laughter emanated form the closed door. Sam and Donald found a good spot for observation and Donald opened the thermos of coffee he'd packed.

They'd been there around two hours and were cold and uncomfortable when something caught Sam's eye. They both looked together, it looked like a figure, in fact there were two, dressed in black and heading right for the pool...

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