Rahn had been the only German, to Hanna's knowledge, to ever excavate this cave, but no one knew exactly what he found. Rahn had died last year, taking yet another secret to the grave.
As strong as Himmler's drive was to unearth the Aryan roots of Germany, the man was also obsessed with finding this Holy Grail. A Christian artifact with mystical powers, he said, that could win the current war.
Hanna didn't obsess over power like Himmler and the Nazi leadership. Stories were her lifeblood, especially those from the past that could root a generation struggling to find its identity. After the \devastation—the humiliation—of losing the Weltkrieg in 1918, the German people were desperate to pour a new foundation.
In the past months, Germany had finally begun to overcome the defeat of this World War by expanding their Lebensraum—living space—into France. Now Himmler had commissioned Hanna's team to find the Grail. They could search this entire region without government interference.
He'd promised to keep the Holy Grail safe under the mantle of the home forces and his SS officers so it wouldn't be destroyed like so many of the artifacts of Germanic roots, just like he'd promised to protect every German who'd rooted themselves in a Christian heritage. Their team still needed to keep the work quiet, though, as many who lived along the Pyrenees weren't fond of the new government or its interest in holy relics.
Another light bridged the chain of shields, and Hanna swiveled in her military boots, almost stabbing her superior, Kolman Strauss, with her trowel.
He knocked the blade away swiftly with the handle of his tripod as if it were a sword. She'd learned plenty in her four years at the University of Berlin, but fencing was not a required class for her studies in anthropology.
"These were carved by the Knights Templar," Kolman said, his easy smile excusing her ineptness.
She picked her trowel off the dirt floor and turned back to examine the sharp lines of each shield beside him. "One of the many mysteries in this place."
"She'll share her secrets with us."
The Brylcreem in Kolman's hair defied even the temperament of the wind, and his Aryan blue eyes had secured him a lifelong membership as regiment leader in Himmler's Schutzstaffel. His gray sleeves were rolled up to his elbows as if he were warm inside this frigid cavern, ready to capture on motion-picture film whatever this medieval religious sect had left behind.
Some historians thought the Knights Templar had collaborated with the Cathars to guard the holiest relics, but these etchings might not be artwork from the Cathars or Templars. It was quite possible that others, like Rahn and Hanna's team, had scaled the mountainside in recent years to seek treasure or simply to commemorate the six hundred thousand Cathars who'd been massacred during the Crusades.
'"Kill them all for the Lord knows them that are His."'
That's what the abbot supposedly said to validate the bloodshed of Cathars and Catholics alike in 1209. Let God sort it out in the end.
How exactly, she wondered, did God sort those who'd vowed to serve Him?
Despite Kolman's confidence about finding the Grail, the contents of this cavern were a mystery to all of them, shrouded in centuries of legend and literature. No amount of threatening or even coaxing would force her to give up her secrets if she wasn't willing to share.
But Hanna and Kolman and two other archaeologists could work here for days or weeks if necessary, however long it took to unearth any artifacts left by the Cathars. They would spend their nights at a vineyard, and each morning, they'd use ropes and the mountain's footholds to bring their gear up into the cavern while German soldiers guarded the cliffside entrance and waited in the surrounding forest below, in case the local residents decided to rebel.
Hanna prayed no one would threaten them or the soldiers. It would be senseless for any more blood to be shed here while she and her team were trying to protect the holy relics from harm.
She pointed with her lantern toward the narrow corridor. "I'm going farther in."
The feet on Kolman's tripod punctured the ground. "I'll retrieve my camera."