Canterbury

          Around 5:00 p.m. the train eased into Canterbury station and slowed to a stop. Tom and Sarah left their compartment and exited with the other passengers. While they walked up Dunstan Street, lampposts flickered on as the sun slowly dipped below the horizon.

     Named Durovemum Cantiacorum

          by the Romans in the first century AD, the ancient town of Canterbury has been an ecclesiastical pilgrimage site for religious travelers ever since Archbishop Thomas Becket was murdered in the cathedral in 1170 by four of King Henry II’s knights.

          Surrounded by centuries of architecture, the entire atmosphere conveyed a transcendent feeling of going back in time: old Roman fortifications and defense walls around the perimeter (200-300s); a Norman Castle situated in the center of town (1200s); Gothic church spires reaching to the heavens (1300s); half-timber Elizabethan homes (1500s); Victorian shops with large display windows and colorful facades (1800s); and modern concrete and steel buildings. Small rowboats skimmed along the River Stour, running under bridges and cutting through the town.

Tom and Sarah

entered through the West Gate and walked up St. Peter’s Street.

          “Look, that’s got to be it,” said Tom excitedly, gesturing to an enormous cathedral rising over the rooftops.

“Do you think

the Archbishop will be there?”

          “If he isn’t, I’m all out of ideas.”

          Glancing around, Sarah noticed people rushing back and forth carrying presents and Holiday gifts.

          “I almost forgot, it’s Christmas Eve.”

          Tom stopped for moment, moved by the comment.

          “This will be my first Christmas out of an orphanage,” he said reflectively.

          Sarah grinned. “I’m glad to be spending it with you.”

          “Me too.”

          “Now let’s get there before it closes.”

          “I didn’t know churches closed . . .”

          Before he finished, Sarah took off up one of the streets. Vowing never to be beaten by a girl, he trailed closely behind.

Designed in the

shape of a Latin cross, with a long nave and an intersecting transept, Canterbury Cathedral was awe-inspiring. Its three square towers and multifaceted pinnacles pierced the sky. The setting sun transformed the rustic, windswept stone into an angelic glow of pinks and reds. The greenish copper roof shimmered, and the stained-glass windows came to life.

          Tom and Sarah cautiously entered.

          The church was cold and empty. Rows of pews neatly lined the nave. The smell of incense filled the entire chamber with an almost hypnotic sensation. An endless sea of candles danced in the cool breeze. Slender alabaster pillars climbed the walls, securing the massive arches and ribbed vaults overhead.

          While Tom and Sarah curiously investigated, a bishop strolled over, hands clasped in front of him.

* * * *

          After twenty apprehensive minutes, Tom and Sarah heard a door creaking open. In the background, they saw a shadowy figure emerge. Back slightly bent, the man led with his left leg, slowly dragging the right; every step looked painful. Concealed in darkness, an occasional glimmer of light jumped across his elderly face.

          Sarah grabbed Tom’s hand, frightened by what they had released from the inner walls of this saintly sanctuary. Yet as the man gradually approached, there was a tranquil and peaceful manner about him. Dressed in a black robe with a purple sash around his waist, he was an impressive figure, old but wise. A simple gold cross dangled from his neck.

          When Tom and Sarah peered into his radiant eyes, they both felt a comfortable familiarity that neither could explain.

* * * *

          Tom looked at Sarah for confirmation; she nodded yes. It was if they had developed their own unspoken language and knew the other’s thoughts.

          “Alexander, we’re aware of the dangers, but it doesn’t frighten us. It’s worth any risk to find the truth,” said Tom with conviction. “I don’t care about titles either. I just want to find my parents if they’re still alive.”

* * * *

The wind

rustled outside, causing the windows to rattle. A draft circulated through the interior, making some of the candles flicker and extinguishing others. A moment later they heard the sharp patter of footsteps again.

     Tom whipped

          around and saw a silhouette approaching. “It’s just the bishop . . . right?” he tried to assure himself.

          “I hope so,” replied Sarah, her voice quivering.

          Now deeply worried, she stepped behind Tom for protection.

          He looked again, but the figure disappeared. “Bishop Carmichael . . .”

          There was the sudden sound of a thud, like someone had fallen to the ground…

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