Chapter 21: Visite des Caves
The morning dawned and I awoke early. After the drama of the day before I was still thinking things over in my head, World War 2 had taken over from the expected medieval scenario but - hey it was an experiment! At least Roselinde was able to tune in to her subconscious memory. I hoped that today would bring a more expected result in line with our quest. It was however up to Roselinde, as simple as that. I shaved, showered and dressed. I then made my way down to breakfast to await the girls. I hoped that they had at least had a restful night, we would see shortly, I then text Lilly a cheery note whilst the waiter took my order, a light continental breakfast with a couple of soft boiled eggs. The eggs arrived and proved perfectly boiled, the sign of a good kitchen as it requires precise timing and organisation on top of the normal summertime routine to get it right.
The girls arrived after a lull of 15 minutes, they looked sleepy.
'Morning Yann, hope you slept well? We slept a bit but Roselinde had a strange vivid dream. I think it may have some bearing on our investigation today?' Lilly poured a glass of orange juice and left to checkout the buffet.
'Morning Yann, I had a chance to reflect on yesterday's events, it was quite a baptism of fire! We have to visit the basilica Saint Remi today it figured large in my dreams last night and I really need to get to the bottom of this immediate past life. I understand the mechanisms involved now and feel confident that I can control the psychosomatic effects. I don't think we are going to have a repeat of yesterday's extremes.' Roselinde seemed reflective and calm even though her neck bore mute witness to the incident she referred to.
I bade her sit and placed my hand on hers in reassurance. She smiled and we exchanged a knowing glance of empathy. It was a look that we had shared before in some other life of that I knew instantly. 'OK the ball is in your court we will follow your lead and support you in anyway we can.'
'Thank you I canâ€™t begin to tell you how happy that makes me, I am determined to get to the bottom of this black morass that is blocking my mind.' With that she studied the breakfast menu peering periodically over the top of her designer reading glasses. Lilly returned and smiled, the colour was returning to her cheeks as she found her appetite. We made pleasant conversation and finished with some strong French coffee. The girls then left the room and I sat making a mental note of our plans in my head. The large brown wooded fleur de lys all the time reminding me of our medieval mission.
Returning to my room I noticed the day was somewhat overcast with a possibility of heavy summer showers later so I packed my French army gore-tex light weight waterproof jacket in my bag. Handy and practical it was extremely easy to carry and totally weatherproof yet breathable. The threatening weather added a certain sort of dramatic emphasis to the darkness we had encountered yesterday. I shouldered my bag and camera, walked down the stairs, through reception to the pavement beyond the cafe, at the front of the hotel. The girls arrived at 8:30 on the dot and were eager to get going. Roselinde was determined to follow the clues in her dream and said straight away that we would head for the Basilica Saint Remi at the lower end of the town near the champagne caves.
We had a clear purpose and direction so I let the girls lead as I had done the day previous. The pavement was busy with cafes and hotels going about the early morning business breakfast trade. It was the height of the tourist season and Reims was very busy. Place Drouet-d'Erlon was a thriving hive of activity even on a cloudy day passing through we marched steadily onward towards la Fontaine SubÃ©. At the fountain we took the right fork into Rue des Capucins the scenery was more town like and less tourist orientated, traffic thronged the streets as the local populous made their way to work.
Roselinde seemed to know exactly where she was going despite her never having set foot in Reims. Straight as a die she continued until we reached Rue du Ruisselet which crossed our route at right angles immediately in front of the Saint Remi business administrative district. The large imposing buildings were obviously linked to the champagne industry of which Reims is the world centre. We took a left and walked the short distance to Rue Simon.
Roselinde immediately went right and continued her linear journey following her subconscious instincts. We didn't have far to go and soon passed the imposing gated entrance to the MusÃ©e Saint Remi. Just beyond that was the western facade of the basilica Saint Remi, its imposing twin rectilinear steeples standing tall either side of the classic quintuplet of porticos surmounted by five beautiful stained glass windows above which an enormous many spoke wheel rose window grandly sat, yet again above that was a trinity clover leaf window just beneath the apex of the roof gable end. The basilica Saint Remi was a master piece of gothic ecclesiastical design, its architectural perfection assailed the senses with a celebration of the masonsâ€™ art.
Without hesitation and as though in a trance Roselinde entered the basilica Saint Remi via one of the lesser porticos that had an open door; Lilly followed as did I. The outside gave way to a vast cavernous space of gothic limestone architecture which seemed to stretch to the sky. The air changed instantly, it was much colder and musty to the senses. The smell of dry damp and old relics pervaded the air.
Walking up the main aisle as though on a divine mission Roselinde continued, 'Jesus holds the key; Jesus holds the key; Jesus holds the key,' she kept repeating over and over still in a semi hypnotic trance. We finally reached the mausoleum of Saint Remi at the eastern end of the basilica. The stone frieze of five life sizes bishops from antiquity surrounded the large enclosed reliquary on the right side, kings to the left. It was an affirmation of holiness and the blessing for the bones of the saint within; a lesson for the ordinary people that proclaimed the authority of the church over them. Everything was designed to overpower and impress.
Having completed a circuit I peered through the bars of the sacred monument and came face to face with Saint Remi who had baptised the Frankish king Clovis I on December 24, 496AD. This eventually led to the conversion of all the Frankish people to Nicene Christianity, a seminal event in European history. The reason for this miraculous conversion was the recent victory of Clovis I over the Alamanni at the battle of Tolbiac earlier that year. I thought of the irony of how much blood had been spilt for the great Christian god in the name of peace and progress. Even the Nazis had 'Gott mit uns' on their belt buckles in World War 2, I baulked at the thought, perhaps this explained my own individual spiritual path as a rejection of established pre-revolutionary religious dogma.
My thoughts were swept aside as Roselinde came back around the tomb still chanting her monotone mantra, 'Jesus holds the key.' She continued without blinking back the way we came down the main aisle but this time she took a hard left into the transept. She continued onward and only came to a stop in front of the most beautiful life size stone sculptured tableau of medieval figures surrounding the body of Jesus lying on a shroud post crucifixion.
'Jesus holds the key; he shall set my children free.' The words came automatically out of Roselinde's pale lips as she stood observing the scene without blinking. She was literally like a blind woman feeling her way by tapping into her pre-programmed subconscious memory. The once familiar pattern of a previous incarnation was playing its haunting message for us to hear. Lilly and I stood back one pace on either side not wishing to disturb the process and trance like state. We silently willed her on - come on Roselinde, remember, you can do this! I kept repeating those words over and over in my mind as though joining in with her mantra and sharing my own ethereal energy with her. I guessed Lilly was doing the same.
Then she clicked into action like some automaton released from its mechanical bondage. She then ducked under the partitioning rope past the small tributes of flowers in pots of various sizes and disappeared behind the large plinth amongst the figures. In the ensuing pause I had time to take in the group of sculptures. Jesus lay supine on a shroud with two medieval renaissance figures at his head and toes. They showed some signs of fire damage as I could see the marble of the front two figures was slightly discoloured with the brownish hue of burnt residue.
A hooded Virgin Mary leant over the body praying and being supported by Saint John. I guessed this as the cross displayed on the plinth was of Knight Templar origin so the Knights of Saint John would not be far behind. A well dressed woman stood to the left of Mary and to the right was an extremely voluptuous Mary Magdalene who was most obviously pregnant with child, her arms up raised in distress with tears running down her cheeks, around her head was the inference of a halo denoting her heavenly status. She again was supported by another well dressed woman. From the life like quality of the statues and style of carving I estimated that the whole ensemble was from the renaissance period around 1530.
I stood momentarily transfixed by the sheer beauty of the workmanship. My mind connected to the Templar mind that had commissioned this masterpiece. The significance of the story of the bloodline of Jesus being transferred through Mary Magdalene down to the descendants of the Merovingian kings suddenly hit me. This was undoubtedly the reason that the remarkable sculptures had found their place of honour in the basilica Saint Remi, the traditional resting place of the holy ampoule containing the anointing oil of the monarchy of France. For had not Mary Magdalene anointed Christ with scented oil and thereby gained the disapproval of the disciples for wasting money. Legend has it that she died in Provence in 63AD giving yet another French connection.
My train of thought was disturbed by the sound of stone grinding on stone. I looked at Lilly; she had heard the same unmistakable noise. Roselinde must have found a secret compartment at the back of the plinth! Then a triumphant Roselinde stood up straight amongst the statues like a living carving being raised from the dead and holding aloft a large rusty iron key.
'Jesus holds the key; now he shall set my children free!'
Roselinde smiled a euphoric smile of both revelation and vindication all rolled into one. 'This is what I dreamt of. Itâ€™s all true! The rest of the dream must be too!' With that she ducked back down and we heard the now familiar grinding noise of stone on stone again. Lilly and I looked around to see if we were being observed, we were quite alone, so our dramatic discovery had gone unnoticed.
Roselinde crept stealthily back around to the front of the sculpture plinth and ducked back under the rope. She looked like a naughty school girl that had just broken the rules. A huge grin lit up her face. Lilly and I looked at the large intricate rusted key that was obviously several hundred years old.
'Wow, I wonder what it unlocks and what it has seen during its history?' Lilly was dying to hold the key as if she intuitively knew she could use her psychometric powers to discover its dark secrets.
But there was no time as Roselinde triumphantly declared, 'we shall find out very shortly, follow me!'
Using my iPhone I snapped a quick couple of pictures of the key in her outstretched hand and several of the sculptured tableau for reference. They would come in handy later for analysis during our debrief over dinner. Lilly did the same but with her much more expensive camera which she had expedited from her rucksack in an instant. Without waiting of us to finish Roselinde was off, she spun on her heels and headed back across the transept into the north wing.
'West to east, south to north; then underground that is our course!'. She repeated the words from her subconscious like a magical spell in a child's fairytale. We reached the north quarter of the cross shaped basilica that adjoins the cloisters of the abbey Saint Remi. 'We have to look downwards now.' Roselinde whispered in a hushed voice, 'the crypt, we must find the crypt.'
Lilly spotted a sign and we took a small doorway leading to some well worn stairs. Daylight disappeared and was replaced by a subdued subterranean hue composed of minimal safety lighting and flickering prayer candles burning in large black iron candelabras that illuminated the darkened alcoves and recesses. We had descended to the original level of the sacred basilica, the vaulted ceiling was repressively close compared to the airy cavernous space of the basilica above. Its forest of thick limestone columns were much closer together and claustrophobic.
'This is the site of the holy ampoule, it is all strangely familiar. I've been here before!' Lilly spoke in hushed tones to herself but it was audibly loud enough for us to hear given the perfect acoustics of the darkened crypt. My eyes lit up at this unexpected revelation. I knew she was right as I too felt the same dÃ©jÃ vu feeling; we had hit medieval pay dirt! My heart leapt into my mouth as I realised my initial intuitive feelings at the beginning of the day had come true. Perhaps Lilly and I had been involved in the fetching and the sacred procession ceremony of retrieving the holy oil and escorting it to the coronation of the dauphin Charles VII in 1429. It felt right every bone in my body knew the truth of that thought. Lilly smiled at me a knowing smile, I knew she felt the same and like me was remembering the same thought synchronistically. The medieval quest was back on track and somehow mysteriously entwined with Roselinde's World War 2 memory.
'What are we looking for?' I said quizzically as I snapped back to the present NOW moment. My, what I thought were whispered comments, boomed back in the echoing darkness of the void.
'Ssh not so loud! We are looking for the door which fits the key.' Roselinde said in a matter of fact way as if stating the obvious for she was totally unaware that Lilly and I had slipped out mentally for a moment and were only now rejoining the plot.
'Not a buried treasure chest then?' I quipped in a desperate attempt at humour to lighten the moment and cover up my own appalling lack of grasping the blatantly obvious.
'No, certainly not!' came Roselinde verbal chastisement for my levity, 'we are not pirates!' With that she smiled as if to confirm that I was not totally obtuse. 'Treasure comes in many forms, mine is knowledge.'
She was right we were hot on the trail and might discover something of import; wise words indeed. By now we had come to the eastern most wall of the crypt underneath the reliquary of Saint Remi who lay in sacred repose just above our heads. A solid wall confronted us. This was obviously a very special place as several small tributes of flowers had been placed at its base. It was also highlighted with its own spot light. I knew it was the resting place of the holy ampoule and the baptism place of Clovis. Roselinde stopped in her tracks and started tapping the flagstones of the floor. They appeared pretty permanent and very solid to me. The sound was completely dead denoting solidity to the touch, chalk or limestone obviously lay under their shiny smooth surface. Lilly and I stood in complete silence as Roselinde persisted with her tapping, our collective ears strained for the slightest change in pitch. We instinctively knew what she was doing as it echoed in our minds for this was something we had done in another time and place.
Then we heard a distinct change in pitch that Rose from a dull thud to something altogether lighter in tone, almost metallic. Roselinde tried again several times just to make sure. It was definitely a different sound. She dropped to her hands and knees and produced a torch from her knapsack. Shining the beam on the joints surrounding the flagstone she examined the detail. 'This is it!' She excitedly exclaimed, 'see the joints are not solidly compacted with mortar, the stone is removable. It's been used many times over the centuries and still works for those with eyes to see!'
The penny dropped as Lilly and I both understood simultaneously, 'of course a trapdoor!' We exclaimed in unison, it had to be. 'But we will never shift it.' Lilly said with a tone of dismay in her muted voice, 'it must be way too heavy and I'm not breaking my nails for anybody!'
'Maybe not?' replied Roselinde stoically, 'I have just the thing.' she replied with a wink and a smile, then reached into her knapsack to retrieve a small crowbar! Was there no end to this lady's talents; a crowbar! Who on earth carries a crowbar in their luggage? Obviously this lady; came the silent reply in my mind. Roselinde never ceased to amaze me, much as Lilly did all the time.
Swiftly she inserted the flattened end into a small worn groove that would escape the notice of the casual observer, especially in the dark. Sure enough the flagstone started to move, it was indeed much thinner than imagined and the reason became apparent as the flagstone lifted. It was a dressing of stone veneer underpinned by a well oiled shiny manufactured iron sheet of armoured steel. Within seconds Roselinde had the slab up with the familiar ease of an operation performed many times. Lilly shone her torch into the gaping abyss, it was pitch black except for the remains of a simple iron ladder to one side of the opening that was just big enough for a single human being to slip through; it was in short a medieval manhole. The riveting and flaking wrought iron workmanship covered in rust stood testament to its great age.
'So a medieval bolt hole for the monks of the Abbey to be used in times of duress, very ingenious and very logical.' I said as I admired their handy work from long ago.
'Yes and used up until recent times if my memory serves me correct for this is where my dream runs out and I awoke!' Roselinde pondered the darkness of the abyss she was not scared but seemed apprehensive of what she might encounter below. Lilly had no such qualms. 'There's one sure way to find out where it goes; follow me!'. With that she sat immediately on the ledge of the gaping blackness, placed her torch in her clenched teeth and her feet firmly on the rungs of the ladder and deftly disappeared from sight. It was the perfect demonstration of the agility of youth, executed with all the swiftness of the magicianâ€™s art at making anything disappear.
I smiled at Roselinde, 'it's what we do!' I said with an element of pride in my nimble assistantâ€™s Ã©lan, 'AprÃ¨s vous mademoiselle!' I extended my hand elegantly in a cavalier flourish as I helped Roselinde find her balance,' I will act as rearguard in this instance, for I am no match for you gals!' I gave a cheeky smile. After repacking her trusty crowbar into her knapsack she attached a thin but strong chord to its harness and lowered it with a smile and then descending into the darkness below shouted, â€˜and I didnâ€™t even break a nail!â€™ Roselinde emulated Lilly's deft movements with surprising ease as if polished by years of practice, she was an amazing lady.
Bringing up the rear I squeezed into the small gap and dropped down onto the rungs of the ladder to head height and then carefully dropped my bag down to Roselinde in the darkness below. I took a last look around, no one was there, so satisfied I eased the false flagstone back into place above my head much as a loft hatch cover, with a few jiggles it fell into place with a snugly fit. I was pretty sure that no one would be any the wiser above. I made a mental note in my mind that we should go back to check at the end of the day just in case.
The ladder dropped for several meters and then opened into a larger tunnel of rough hewn appearance. I switched my torch on. The ancient pick marks from the excavated walls could clearly be seen and it was obviously built for people of a much smaller stature as it was no more than a little over one and a half metres high. This was starting to give me dÃ©jÃ vu. I had experienced this before but not here for I had experienced no clear flashbacks as of yet which puzzled me. I could hear the girls up ahead talking as they went, Lilly was still in the lead. Both were in their element Roselinde seemed empowered in total contrast to the day before.
The tunnel went due east in a straight line. I estimated by pacing that it extended some 300 metres. Unfortunately the gps on my iPhone wasn't working due to lack of signal but I could work it out later by using Google Earth.
'We've found the door!' Lilly's muffled voice exclaimed from the dimly lit murk ahead. I caught up within a few seconds of the shout. The passage was still very narrow but I could tell that Roselinde was passing the key to Lilly in the dark by the shuffling. 'It's an iron bound oaken door with a lock. I'm giving it a go.'
An audible click and a turning noise could be heard in the oppressive stillness. Surprisingly it opened with ease. The door swung open with a creak into the space beyond. I guessed this as I had not received word to back up. I followed the girls through being relieved to finally stand upright and stretch my back. The girls were busy shining their torches around to investigate the dimensions of the cavernous space and check for obstacles. It was a fair size at least, I estimated that it was a good 3 metres high by 10 long and 5 wide. At the far end gaping black tunnels went off in 3 directions but there were no sign posts to indicate anything.
'Interesting, this does seem somewhat familiar, I must say!' Roselinde half muttered to herself.
'Right take a tunnel each, ten minutes to explore, all meet back here - agreed?' Lilly sounded decisive so we all agreed without question.
'I'll go straight on.' Roselinde said using her intuition.
'I'll go right then.' Lilly stated without hesitation.
'Ladies prerogative; guess I'll take left then!' I finished the sentence without blinking. Looking at my iPhone, I continued, 'synchronise watches, 10:13hrs exactly, on my mark, three, two, one, mark.' The girls checked their timepieces and then melted silently into the darkness like apparitions.
My tunnel ran on for some 50 metres overall but doubled back on itself at least tree times. Preceding each twist was a cavernous space some 20 metres in length of to the side opposite to the bend. I check for booby trap wires at each entrance before cautiously entering but they contained only discarded champagne racks against the ancient walls interspersed with neat piles of old woollen blankets folded with care. I examined them perfunctorily. They were full of moth holes for the most part and covered in dust and bat droppings so I knew that there was ventilation somewhere. I rapidly scanned with my torch and simultaneously drawing my lighter struck a flame and watched it flicker in confirmation but the draught came from the direction I had come from.
The labels on the blankets showed that they were of French manufacture mainly but there were also large numbers of German blankets. Then a breakthrough occurred I found a smaller than normal one with personalised hand embroidery in the corner, the blanket was obviously that of a child with the name and date clearly displayed next to a large faded yellow Star of David; Joseph Jakob Epstein 7-7-36. It was definitely of World War 2 origin.
We were in the right time frame. I visualised Jewish refugees fleeing Nazi persecution making their tortuous way across Europe trying to avoid the anti-Semitic killing machine that surrounded them, their only hope to make it to Vichy France and beyond; seasonal grape pickers were always in demand, so what better cover story.
In another cave further on I discovered a half burnt pile of documents and ID cards bearing Jewish names. Half mutilated photographs of children and adults lit up under the glare of my torch. Time was pressing so I hurriedly continued on abandoning some of my initial caution. Finally as time was running out I turned a corner and came face to face with a cunningly constructed large door blocking my way. It had several bolts and was spring loaded with an elaborate mechanism. I paused taking it all in to my memory, then hurriedly took several flash photographs on my iPhone to show the girls. My eyes stung at the brightness of the flash as they had become accustomed to the darkness. My time was up so I retraced my steps back along the rough hewn labyrinth to the room with the iron reinforced oak door. I was first. The girls returned in quick succession, each clutching some more pieces of the puzzle.
'Right, who wants to go first?' I said as I greeted their torch lit faces.
'I will,' Lilly said impulsively, 'as I didn't find much just caves and blankets and a ventilation shaft, it's narrow but navigable and I could see a faint glimmer of daylight up ahead after some 200 metres.
Roselinde spoke next, 'Mine was more fruitful, I found a cave with tables, old lamps, sewing machines, photography equipment, chemicals, sleeping quarters and a small printing press. The placed abounded with old blank ID documents and Nazi rubber stamps. It's worth another look as it must be the nerve centre of this underground complex, definitely World War 2 and very, very familiar.'
I repeated the details of my findings and I could see Lilly nodding in appreciation as the evidence mounted. I showed the girls the photos of the elaborate door. 'It must be the way out.' Roselinde surmised, 'its very elaborate, let's try it after we have explored the command centre and the ventilation tunnel, at least the air is breathable and their are bats!'. She smiled half expecting a reaction.
'Nice!' Lilly said stoically, 'they are a protected species now, such irony when you think of the extermination camps for people seventy years ago.'
'Interesting, so Lilly's ventilation tunnel must be a way out for them.â€™ I said.
'Itâ€™s definitely worth a look?' Lilly added nonchalantly.
We followed Roselinde into the dark. Her torch lit the way and we were soon in a very large cave with a breeze coming into it from the opposite end. Bats could be seen clinging in their hundreds to the ceiling and droppings covered the floor. We began searching for artefacts, anything that could tell us the story of what had transpired here some 70 years previous.
'It looks undisturbed,' Lilly commented from under a desk in one corner. 'Ouch! I've bumped my head!'
I giggled in mock sympathy, ' poor old you, good job you are thick skulled!'
'Certainly, it's one of my best attributes!' She laughed and carried on.
Roselinde had come to a grinding halt at the entrance of a small recess off of the main cave, the sleeping quarters as she now called it. 'I got this far last time, but I can't go in! I've got a terrible feeling, my mind is blocking the memory and I feel nauseous.'
'OK let me take a look, sounds like your subconscious has detected something of import?' I sprung to her side ready to defend her against the unknown. My response surprised me, for it intuitively felt natural and was the same as that I felt in my flashback at Patay. It was the overwhelming urge to defend the princess, the name echoed in my head.
Without questioning further, I plunged in, re-engaging with the NOW moment. There was a small bed with an old oil lamp on a battered desk next to it. I then spotted an old brown leather case half pushed under the bed together with a couple of mouldy canvas medical bags in Wehrmacht grey. I reached for it and held it up to the light of our combined torches. It felt important. It was a civilian medical bag with a large printed red cross on it. I opened the now green with corrosion clamp fastening to examine the contents.
Bandages, field dressings, scissors, forceps, and a small brown bottle that reeked of iodine despite its contents being long crystallised; all standard World War 2 Wehrmacht issue.
Then my heart raced for inside there were some old photograph and a nurseâ€™s ID card, printed on the white card were the words - Deutsches Rotes kreuz - Personal Ausweis
It was emblazoned on the front of the card in large black Gothic letters under a heraldic Nazi Eagle with a White swastika on its chest. I opened the card to examine the photograph and ID details inside and was stopped dead in my tracks as the torch light shone onto the face in the photograph. It was Roselinde! Roselinde in a German nurses uniform! Roselinde, yet it was not Roselinde? It was her, but not her, same face, same bone structure, same eyes, just younger and with much darker hair in a very different but contemporary for the times style! It was definitely her, I knew we had struck gold and held it up to her face as I turned around.
'Oh my God, Look at this, look at this!' Lilly immediately squeezed in behind my back to look over my shoulder, her reaction was instant.
'Wow! Same eyes, nose, chin everything, incredible!' She kept glancing backwards and forwards between the photograph and Roselinde's puzzled white face.
'May I see please?'. Her shaky hand extended to grasp the ID card.
Roselinde asked to see the photograph and tears rolled down her cheeks as she connected with her past self in the NOW moment. This was a moment of supreme healing and very necessary in order to progress spiritually. No longer would the past haunt her soul and hold her captive, she held the proof in her hands.
'This belongs to you I believe.' With dignity and quiet ceremony I handed over the brown case to her. With shaky hands she took it and replaced the Ausweis and photographs inside, finally shutting the clasp with a definitive click.
Undoing her knapsack she stowed the precious evidence and then re-shouldered her burden. With wet cheeks she gently placed a kiss on my lips, 'thank you,' her voice was soft and loving. 'None of this would have happened if we hadn't met at Devizes. Crop circles have a lot to answer for!'
I smile gently back and my eyes started to water as small tears formed and ran down my cheek. The emotion of the moment was something I could understand having had my own journey of revelation. I fully appreciated how she felt at this particular moment.
'Come on you two break it up we have work to do!' Lilly was firmly focused and in the zone. 'Right on to target two the ventilation shaft, follow me.' With a quick about face she spun around and left the small recessed bedroom. Roselinde and I followed. This time Roselinde took the rearguard position as she needed time to reflect on and remember her movements leading up to the discovery. For her the rest of today would be a blur as nothing could top the personal life changing experience that she just experienced in that single previous moment.
Lilly started up the right hand passage from the original room with the iron bound oaken door. It was narrow and rough much as the original passage way from the basilica. It also had a distinctive upward slope that made the going harder. We followed in hot pursuit torches illuminating our footing and the rough tool marks in the hewn limestone chalk. To the left after 50 metres I noticed a vent in the wall and surmised that it must be the conduit causing the draughts in the command cave. I continued upward and onward following Lilly, she could certainly shift when she wanted to.
'I've found the end!' She shouted from up ahead in the darkness for her body blocked the light. 'Yes, it's the light at the end of the tunnel!' She quipped and laughed at her own joke. This brought a smile to my face for I wasn't sure how to turn around in this tight space there had to be an opening, it was only logical, a ventilation shaft and an escape route, two for one. 'There is an iron grille I'm going to pick the lock, wish me luck, otherwise we are stuck!'
Suddenly light shone in my eyes, Lilly had exited the shaft and I could indeed see the light at the end of the tunnel! I squeezed through the small opening into green foliage and the overcast sunlight of a typical Reims day. It was grey but still bright as the sun was at its apogee in the summer sky.
Roselinde followed my lead emerging behind me into the same daylight. She blinked and shielded her light sensitive eyes then unslung her knapsack and reached for her von Zipper sunglasses. 'That's better, where are we?' She enquired in a ladylike tone.
'Looks like we are in a wood, but I can hear traffic close by. It has to be part of a vineyard as we are surrounded by famous champagne houses. Perhaps it belongs to the champagne house who own the caves?'. Lilly was busy scanning the wood with quick frantic movements and shielding her eyes. 'There is a beautiful statue over there and some large concrete works built like a wall with steps. It backs into a mound with trees'
I was just glad to be breathing clean air, unpolluted by damp, dust and bat droppings. I sat taking stock of events then took some photos on my iPhone. 'Drink anyone?' I held up my water bottle and offered it around to the girls who gratefully sipped from its contents. I followed and we all then stretched out on the grass in a clearing among the trees. It was nice just to enjoy a rest and appreciate the fortuitous burst of sunshine that pushed momentarily through the clouds.
After twenty or so minutes rest the cloud returned as did a sudden drop in temperate, 'Time to get moving again, I guess.' My suggestion met with approval so we got up dusted ourselves down and started to explore. It seemed to be a designated green space composed of trees in a park like setting. Lots of paths crossed the grass, following them we soon stumbled upon the strange Greek like statue of a bearded man sat on quarried blocks of regularly dressed stone arranged as a wall with his arms resting on skewed block either side of him. It was a stunning evocative statue to man the builder cleverly set juxtapose amongst a natural woodland setting. 'It says - Le 1er Architecte on the plaque by Paul Landowski. It was a triumph of modern classical art in the Greek style.' Roselinde spoke aloud. She was genuinely surprised and impressed by the find which turned a common semi-urban green space into a work of art.
'We are French, it's what we do!' Lilly shouted back as she ran up the concrete steps of the bunker like wall behind the statue. Two minutes later she returned into view. 'You'll never guess what? We are right next to a main road! In fact it's a major five way junction like a huge roundabout but with no centre. That's the traffic noise you can hear, amazing, we are in an urban landscape yet it feels so wooded!'
Roselinde and I climbed the zig zagged concrete steps to the top and looked around. We could see neat organised vineyards to the South east, woodland with an impressive Gothic inspired villa, but apart from that we were completely surrounded by buildings and roads. It was all an illusion! 'Incredible, I could have sworn we were in the countryside!' I added, 'just shows you how disorientating it is when you are scurrying around in tunnels. Time to head back, it's gone 2 o'clock now.'
With that we descended the steps and found ourselves once more in what we now knew was a small park. Back into the green foliage and amongst the trees to the opening to the tunnel. We entered and Lilly relocked the iron grille that prevented public access to the champagne caves below.
Daylight was replaced instantly with darkness and we stumbled on the rough passage floor. We soon returned to the tunnel nexus, paused and then continued onward towards the elaborate door and the final piece of the puzzle. Within 20 minutes we had reached the mechanism. Roselinde took over. She seemed to understand what she was looking at. Sequentially she removed the bolts and slid the door, it was stiff with age but with help it started moving. The spring mechanism acted as a counter to the mass of the door making it easier to move than it should have been. Once open Roselinde slipped through the gap. Lilly and I passed the knapsacks and my bag through and we followed.
We suddenly found ourselves in electrically lit dry modern tunnels and surrounded by champagne. The racked bottles lined the tunnel and the space between. Our mysterious door was in fact a rack filled with full champagne bottles hence its weight. We moved it back into position and Roselinde soon found the hidden catch that reset the bolts. We stood for a few minutes to admire the ingenuity and skill that had been put into the secret door; it was totally invisible to the uninitiated. 'Vive le resistance! Remarkable, if I had cracked under torture it would not still be here untouched! I took my secret to the grave.' It was a remarkable statement that only we could fully appreciate. Roselinde shed a tear.
Shouldering our baggage we set off to find our way out. As a working cellar, signposts abounded as did memorabilia. Following the sound of voices we soon stumbled across an organised tour and with care tacked ourselves onto the end of the group. We merged seamlessly and I even started to enjoy the tour guides dialogue. From the talk we learnt that we were in the Taittinger caves and soon found ourselves sampling free champagne at the end of the tour! 'How absolutely splendid, I feel I am celebrating my liberation from the past.' Roselinde smiled as she raised her glass.
After the tasting we made our way up a magnificent spiral staircase to ground level that led to the entrance. On the way out I glanced at the simple white washed wall, it simply said in large letters - TAITTINGER - VISITE DES CAVES.