Three Priests And A Strange Pole

by John M. Joyce (October 2011)

I stopped feeding the unicorn and looked at our Armenian manuscript translator in some surprise.

It was true. Not one of our party had been unaffected by the screams and the other noises in the Tunnel of the Damned. It took almost three days to reach Lyonnesse through that awful cave and by the time we emerged into the golden sunlight and sylvan airs of that delightful country we were all in need of quiet and rest and spiritual succour.

As I looked up from the letter I had just finished reading the three priests sitting opposite me assumed an expectant air.




I returned to the Churchmen in my parlour just as Father James pulled on the bell for fresh tea. Archimandrite George was standing in one of the window embrasures gazing out through the trees to the gardens in the middle of the square.

They did not demur and I rang for Stevens, my butler, to show them out. After he had done so he returned to the drawing room.

The trouble with staff who have known you almost since the day you were conceived is that they all think that they know better than you do and, damn it, they are often correct in that assumption.

I just looked at him with a sort of stunned expression on my face.

With that, the most competent butler in the world lifted the afternoon tea tray and left me to my own devices until dinner.



The following morning I closed up the house and, accompanied by all my staff and the three priests, drove in a stately convoy down to B____shire. We arrived at the old ancestral pile just in time for a very late luncheon.

Over dinner, and after dinner in the state drawing room upstairs, we planned our expedition. In reality, little could be definitely arranged until the documents from the library were translated into a language we could understand. Just as the conversation wheeled back to that fact for about the thirtieth time the door opened and Stevens announced:

Hot on his heels my two footmen brought in the tea trays.

Six days later we all arrived in Lyonnesse. It was there in Lyonnesse that I could finally explain to Professor Hashtagian the nature of our expedition and its destination.


So, good readers, there you have it and you are almost up to date. Let me just tell you what I said to Professor the Prince Hashtagian of Hashtean in Lyonnesse and give you a few details of our subsequent journey to the East Pole.

He was not in the least put out nor did the idea of travelling such a dangerous route as we had embarked upon fill him with dread.

I was sure that Hugh would have loved to have joined us in that quiet, bosky glade in the midst of rich and fertile Lyonnesse basking in the peaceful reign of King Leodegrance XXIII but whether he would have enjoyed, or we were going to enjoy, the rest of our travels was, I felt, a moot point.



We ate our fill in Hyperborea, and restocked our commissary in that windless, no-night land. Eventually I was granted an audience with the Boreadae7 Abaris, the one hundred and forty-first ruler of that land, at the sanctuary of Apollo in the shadow of the Rhipean Mountains.

It was strange to feel the presence of one of the old gods and for a minute or two I felt sure that he would not help us to get to Lotos, but he too knew of the Mohammedans and their awful ways and, what is more, he had no reason to love them. Once, a long time ago, so the Boreadae told me, followers of Apollo were gathered peacefully one night at one of his sanctuaries in North Africa when the accursed Mohammedans set upon them and slaughtered them all, then despoiled the sanctuary, and the bodies, in vile and unspeakable ways. Apollo does not forgive things like that and his memory is very, very long indeed.

One cannot help but love unicorns. Of all the equines they are the most intelligent and the most gentle and they seem to enjoy the company of humans and other horses. There is about them a quality of innocence and purity. They can be ridden, if you ask them nicely, but they will never allow themselves to be harnessed to a vehicle.


The following morning we were all summoned from our tents well before dawn. The clergymen insisted that we have no breakfast, not even a drop of water, and that we pack up the camp immediately. Moaning and groaning we complied and having done so discovered that we were all, each and every one of us, expected to attend Mass and take communion. But the surprising thing was that we were not to allow the wafer to dissolve nor were we to chew or swallow it. A hard task indeed!

So, with the dry and seemingly insoluble wafer clogging our mouths we sat atop the unicorns and watched the dawn break over the Perilous Bridge. It emerged from the blue of the night as one single, fine strand of crystal that looked no thicker than a human hair. Once the sun was halfways risen the unicorns started forward onto the bridge and we riders had to hang on and pull the carriages attached to the ropes. Strangely, it was all much easier than I thought it would be and the Bridge, once one was on it, seemed infinitely wide. The priests, carrying the portable altar and holding the Host and the intinction Chalice aloft, were in the van and we all followed on unable to speak but listening to the gentle sounds of morning and the chanting of the priests as if we were all in some glorious hypnotic state.

I have no idea how much time passed in this way but eventually, or quickly, we reached the end of that beautiful Bridge and stepped off into a gathering dusk. Once we were all off the priests finished the mass and as they did so the huge dry wafers dissolved in our mouths with the most sweet and delightful of flavours.

As dawn broke the six priests began the celebration of Mass at each of the six separate altars that the Church contained. We laymen were the servers and the congregtions and nothing went wrong, you will all be glad to know. Six impeccable services of consecration witnessed and attended by laity. The Pole was safely Christian and no Mahommedan could gain ground here.

I was sad to leave that great basilica that we had spent the morning exploring it and its odd, but magnificent, architecture, but now we had to set out on our journey home, by a different route than that which had brought us here, before the first snows of winter trapped us in strange lands. On the final ride back to the Monastery just before luncheon Hashtag drew his horse alongside mine.

The whole party fell silent and we all drew to a halt without realising it.


  1. Philippine Fathers Burgos, Gomes and Zamora.
  3. See


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