War in Heaven (II)

They went from the dining-room to a small room next to Gregory's bedroom, which he unlocked with a key he carried on his own chain. There appeared in it only a cabinet in one corner, two or three cushions dropped beside it, and a low pedestal of wood in the centre on which lay an oblong slab of stone. On this slab stood two candlesticks, around the pedestal, at a good distance, had been drawn a white circle, in which at one point was a small gap. Before he entered the room Gregory had fetched the Graal from its corner; he passed through the gap, set it upright on the slab between the candlesticks, and turned to Sir Giles.

"You'd better sit down at once," he said, "and I should recommend you to keep within the circle. There are curious forces released sometimes on these occasions."

"I know all about that," Sir Giles said, as he brought two of the cushions into the circle, also taking care to pass through the gap. "I saw a man once in Ispahan who looked as if he'd been unable to breathe once he got outside. Atmospheric disturbances, but why? Why does your purely subjective industry disturb the air? Well, never mind. I won't say a word more." He settled himself comfortably on his cushions over against one of the shorter sides of the pedestal. Gregory went over to the cabinet, and there first changed from the clothes he was wearing into a white cassock, marked with esoteric signs. He then brought from it an antique vessel, from which he poured what was apparently wine into the Graal till it all but brimmed. He brought also a short rod and laid it on the slab in front of the Graal; he arranged and lit at what appeared to be the back of the altar a chafing-dish containing herbs and powders, scattered other powders upon it, and came back to the front of the altar. Lastly, with great care, he brought to it from the cabinet a parchment inscribed with names and writings, and a small paper from which he let fall on to the wine in the Graal what appeared to Sir Giles to be a few short hairs.

He considered the arrangements, went back and closed the cabinet, re-entered the circle, took the rod from the altar, and, bending down, with a strong concentration of countenance, closed the gap, drawing the rod slowly as if with an effort against the path of the sun. He came to the front of the altar, and immersed himself in a profound silence.

Sir Giles, curled upon the cushions, watched him intently, noting every change in his face and the growing remoteness of his eyes. Almost an hour had passed before those eyes, seeming to stir of their own volition, lowered themselves from the darkness of the room to the Graal standing in the steady light of the two candles. Very slowly he stretched his hands over the chalice and began to speak. Sir Giles, straining his ears, caught only an occasional phrase.

Charles Williams
War In Heaven - Chapter 7 “Adrian”

In Charles Williams’ supernatural thriller War in Heaven, an exquisitely constructed story pits three good characters against three evil ones in the protection and attempted destruction, respectively, of the Holy Graal (old spelling of Grail), discovered in the English village of Fardles, or Castra Parvulorum, the Camp of the Children. Caught in the center of this drama is a generic family: a worried father and husband; a cheerful mother and wife; their innocent four-year-old son.

As a prologue to this battle between Heaven and Hell, set in the inter-war years of Williams’ present day, we are introduced to a murder, a publishing house, and the murderer himself, with a nod to the conventions of the English mystery. The first line of the Prelude reads, with its underlying humor:

“The telephone bell was ringing wildly, but without result, since there was no-one in the room but the corpse.”

Soon, however, the characters gather around the body and we see into their souls, and the war begins.

(Christine Sutherland)

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