The Quest for the Altar

The quickest and easiest of the three quests is the quest for the altar. See how many riddles you can solve or adapt for your own home.

Upon opening the sealed envelope for this quest, the treasure hunters find the following instruction:

The Fellowship of Nine Talents prized a magical altar, older than they all, and kept it under lock and key. Each member of the fellowship had access to one of nine keys, all of which were required in concert to open the altar chest.

The keys would change hiding places from time to time, but the birds of the castle grounds sang a song, which likewise changed and provided clues as to the new hiding places.

The song is recorded in your handbook.

The keys are strips of celluloid (transparency). Each is printed with the insignia of the owner and several other marks. When all nine keys are assembled in a stack (one atop the other), the markings reveal the combination that opens the lock on the chest. (They’ll be used later for another purpose, so read the instructions on making keys for the altar chest.)

You can buy transparencies at an ordinary office supply store. You should only need one for this. I ran mine through an ordinary laser printer.

The song of the fellowship

Chiara’s verse:

Dear Mandragora’s sibling went
To dwell in dark with eyen yblent.
Though kith to deadly shades of night,
Interred by wont and out of sight,
It rests close by and in a bin.
‘Tis most benign of all its kin.

We keep our potatoes in a bin, and that is where Chiara’s key is to be found. Potatoes are relatives of nightshade (deadly shades of night) as well as mandrake (mandragora). Of course, they have eyes which do not see (eyen yblent).

(Unfortunately, I learned only after the treasure hunt that ‘yblent’ means ‘darkened’ in only a metaphoric sense (used as such several times in Edmund Spenser’s The Fairy Queen). The word is literally the past participle of ‘blend’. Coupling metaphor with an archaism was not a good move. My treasure hunters did not find the intended meaning.)

Adelmar’s verse:

Abode of visions, dreams, and such
    which lights and voice imbue
‘Ware faculties that see too much
    in time shall come to rue
The advents past and yet to be
    projected on the mind
Til all they ken and all they see
    makes oculi purblind

A late addition to our home is a movie projector. Adelmar’s key lies atop the movie screen in the theatre room.

Erasmus’ verse:

Retreated to a land of ice.
Cold wills of anchorites suffice
To keep ears numb and spirits frore,
Encrusting eyes and lips with hoar.
To be lord of such snappy land
Within death’s still and chilling hand
The necromancer took his path.
His heels described a frigid swath.

The first place you’d check for Erasmus’ key is the freezer, and you’d be right. It’s found within the frozen hand pictured here. (Tips on making a frozen hand.)

Aleister’s verse:

In dexter he holdeth a willow staff worn
And sinister grippeth a rich harvest horn
Betwixt them a string bearing stars of the night
And shoulders and back with a green cloak are dight
And when he stands still all the nimble folk probe
In hopes of gains lost at the skirts of his robe.

This poem refers to the Christmas decoration pictured here. Perhaps you can’t see all of the crucial details in the photo: his right hand (dexter) holds a willow staff; his left hand (sinister) holds a cornucopia; there’s a garland of stars over and between both hands; and his cloak is green.

Morrigan’s verse:

Its face, both sides, are sanguine red
    And forest green its pate.
Two horns upon its lofty head
    And claws that number eight.
A frigid glare, a cocksure mien,
    And spurs above its heels.
A creature now but rarely seen
    Except at eve’ning meals.

What manner of beast could this be? Well, the photograph gives it away: it’s a pheasant. Morrigan’s key lies beneath its stand. (See photo.)

Lorccan’s verse:

Longtime lab’ring for his bread,
    Seeking things to mix in,
‘Hind three gates and overhead,
    Underfoot of vixen,
Shall the wand’rer come again?
    — Except it be by hearse
Or necromancer’s eldrich wain,
    Can spirits he coerce.

My brother has a stuffed fox on a high shelf in his closet, which is separated from the corridor by three doors.  (See photo.) (Aside: I wish to point out that the “can” in the final line of this verse is meant to be subjunctive. I.e. it signifies “if [a necromancer] can coerce spirits.”)

Athanor’s verse:

The athanor eponymous
Stands far below, upon a truss
Of kind-l-ing which waits its turn
To start the furnace and to burn
While hunched above, indeed hard by,
Ye artful men your trade do ply.
All close attentive to your mission:
Seek the keys of erudition

I don’t expect any of my relatives to know the term “athanor,” but reading that it is eponymous (in this treasure hunt), they look at this definition to find that it is a variety of furnace. Our furnace does not use kindling but it is “far below,” and it does stand on something very like a truss.

Helmold’s verse:

A chamber lies upon the grounds.
Within, reflected sights and sounds
Their feckless mimicry do ply
Neath light conducted from the sky.
And yet no hole in any wall
Nor window sash nor pane at all
Makes aperture for daylight’s glare
Nor justifies the curtain there.
And to the floor is fixed quite tight
A shallow well of porce’lain white.

One of the bathrooms in the house touches no exterior wall and so has a skylight. It has no window, yet it has a (shower) curtain. It’s mirror reflects sights, and its tiles reflect sounds. And of course, it holds a shallow well of porcelain. Helmold’s key is in the tank.

Freya’s verse:

A wee resort far down the wall,
Unoccupied but by the small,
Aye, ye salon ye nook supplied,
A crevice for a beast to hide,
The first place where ye cat would seek,
Be drawn by scent or sight or squeak.

In the den (designated the “salon” on the map) is an outlet box that was never completed, just a hole in the wall and some wires. The cat has been known to peer into it as though hoping for a mouse.

The altar

Inside the chest is a vessel for burning alcohol for coloured flames. Make sure it can stand the heat and also not react with the pigments. (See How to make coloured flames and How to make a colour cipher.)

Too, a note:

Of the altar of the Fellowship of Talents

In the time before the chapel windows went dark, an inhabitant of the castle could interpret magical writs by the light of the stained glass. Every magically occulted document was accompanied by a vessel of aqua vitae which, when burned upon the altar, would tell the color of the glass by which to read the document.

Not only was light required to unlock the record, every  device was numerically  encoded in a cipher, well-known to students of magic.

Before each use, extract the font, clean and dry it.

This instruction and vessel will be used to complete the Quest for the Castle Treasure.

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  1. Fabulous poetry, Markham. I’m truly blown away by your craft.Is the “do ply” in Helmhold’s verse is meant to invoke “double ply toilet paper”?In the answer to Freya’s verse, I’m not sure what “hopteitesng” means. Was it supposed to be “hoping”?

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