April, 1863 and relating to the Fall of 1836
“Doctor, have you ever heard of a Cyprianus book?” Worthington asked. “In the traditions of your Danish relatives you would call the people who deal with such things cunning-men and cunning-women, warlocks and witches if you will.’”
Her shrug meant she had passing acquaintance with the stories. Worthington continued: “One of the stories about the Cyprianus book says that it consists of nine volumes on witchcraft and casting of spells. A monk once tried to destroy the only three existing copies but somehow one of the Dukes of Holstein, resident in the castle of Ploen, is said to have acquired a perfect copy.
“After having read through the first eight volumes he was so terrified that he fastened it with chains and buried it under the castle to keep the world from ever reading it again. But once opened, the book will refuse to be parted from its owner. Whether it be burnt, cast into the sea or buried, it returns. And the urge to open its pages is eventually irresistible. To refuse to open it is to bring disaster on your own family.
“Every passage of the ninth book that is read is supposed to usher into our world a demon who will not depart unless given a task to perform, the more evil the better. For a while the owners of the book fill their houses with gold and rid themselves of enemies and rivals. But eventually the evil assignments get closer and closer to home.
“Should the owner of the book die while it is still in his possession, his eternal damnation is ensured, with guaranteed torture assigned to a thousand demons. The only way to rid oneself of the book is to inscribe one’s name in blood on its front page and pass it on to another person who will accept it of their own free will.”
The doctor’s complete skepticism was plain. Worthington settled back into his chair. “Don’t you find it ironic that your reaction to the myth and Lord Hallowstone’s reaction were essentially the same?”
“Mr. Worthington, you know I do not deny the existence of supernatural evil. But it is a fact that the Prince of Lies has been exaggerating the extent of his powers for millennia.”
“Indeed,” Worthington smiled in agreement, “you would argue that macabre folklore of this type is really an example of well fashioned rhetoric. As Cicero said, the first part of the rhetorical process is excogitation of true things, or things similar to truth to render one’s cause plausible. Then follows the arrangement in order of the things thus discovered to lead to the desired conclusion, and this conclusion is assured by the accommodation with suitable words. The goal throughout is to successfully transform the listeners into believers.
“Yes,” he went on, “in going through Lord Hallowstone’s extensive library this is the conclusion I have reached. It explains why these kinds of stories change with time, fitting themselves to the period, intelligence, and level of sophistication of the contemporary society. Well, here we were seeing folklore in the making. The Cyprianus book story has changed again. There is a new twist: the book still has attached to it its curses but, as you have heard, now it is written in an indecipherable script; an interesting twist.”
“Doubtless to encourage the holder into a deeper exploration of the occult arts, as happened with these men.” The ploy seemed obvious to Bernice.
“Yes. But even in its Cyprianus book form the story had already been changed, for it is the retelling of a more ancient tale, as we were about to find out.” Worthington leaned forward again. “The businessmen kept the book hidden in an old country estate owned by one of them, at least five miles from the nearest neighbor, and surrounded by open fields that separated it well from the nearest country road. This man had hired several retired soldiers and sailors as sentries to guard that estate day and night.
“The master and I waited till the moon was low on the horizon to make our approach. We had spent the previous four hours timing the sentries’ watch, observing their individual idiosyncrasies: where they rested and which field they faced when they did so. As the moon dipped below the horizon, the deepening twilight blended our gray and black garb into the lengthening shadows, and we slipped into the darkened house.
“We found the door to the room with the book, unlocked. Santiago drew his knife as did I. As the door swung noiselessly inwards on its hinges we saw the hesitant light of a lit fireplace. There was no chance of that light being seen from outside, for the room’s curtains, made triply thick by the owner, were drawn and fastened over every window. But I did wonder why we had not noticed smoke issuing from the chimney.
“Standing on the other side of a table before the open book, were a man in a burgundy-lined cape and a woman in a thick, gray hooded cloak. The man, of average height and impeccably dressed, looked up from the table and met the master’s eyes with a smile. In return Lord Hallowstone straightened up from his crouch; but he kept his blade unsheathed as he started to circle around the table.
“‘Elias bar Ptolomeu, what brings you here?’
“‘Santiago, welcome. We appear to be hunting on the same ground again.’ The man’s dark beard and mustache framed once more an engaging smile as he continued. ‘From Masveh’s description,’ and he tilted his head towards the woman, ‘I surmised it was you who was searching for this.’
“Santiago passed the blade to his left hand as he reached the man. He eyed the woman suspiciously. ‘I do not trust her kind.’
“‘My kind, Sir?’ The woman drew the hood away, uncovering a beauty the like of which I had never seen. ‘The gentleman has never met me and already he judges me.’ She walked around the man Elias towards the fireplace behind them. Slowly and deliberately she took off her right glove. Reaching for the iron poker, she stirred the embers into renewed life. And then she handed the iron implement to my master.
“I asked him later what the meaning of that action had been. And he explained that the poker was indeed made of iron and yet the woman had shown not a trace of injury from its contact. Santiago examined it briefly and then held it out to her saying, ‘Now let us see you do that without your glove.’ At his words, I realized that her right hand was still gloved in spite of what I had seen a moment before.
“She smiled and swept the glove off her hand. Taking the iron from him with her bare hand she returned it to the fire. This time my eyes were fixed on her hand. I thought I heard a sound like the hissing of steam. For a moment I thought her hand had turned silver. Still, the woman showing no trace of injury returned to Elias’ side. Elias shrugged his shoulders. ‘You are among friends, Santiago.’
“He finally put his knife away but not his distrust of the woman. ‘You have not answered my question.’
“‘I am here for the same reason you are here, this book; if it is what I suspect.’ He returned his attention to the table. ‘Masveh sent for me as soon as she had traced it to England. I was in Constantinople.’
“As Santiago approached, the lady in gray stepped away. The mention of the capital of the Ottoman empire elicited a wry comment from my master. ‘You never have enough of that city, do you?’
“‘It is still one of the safest places in this world for my people. The reforms being instituted by Mahmud II presage good things for the empire.’
“‘Provided the empire lasts. I see he has been rebuilding his Navy after the Greek debacle.’
“Elias responded with a broad smile; that brief exchange reminded him of times past. ‘It is good to see you again, old friend.’ He offered his right hand. They clasped arms, hand to forearm, and Santiago returned the broad smile.
“‘I was concerned,’ Elias added. ‘I had not heard of you for over twenty years.’
“‘I was otherwise engaged.’
“‘But that was you in the southeast of France, Vivarais, 1813.’
“‘Yes, someone had to end it.’
“‘I prefer to keep my affairs to myself.’
“At another time Elias would have pressed him. The man he knew, relished verbal sparring almost as much as combat with steel, but in the eyes of the Spaniard he saw a melancholy he had never seen before. So he turned his eyes to the book at the table and motioned him to examine it.
“‘You don’t expect me to believe,’ Santiago spoke again, ‘that we just happened to choose the same night to investigate this book.’
“Elias’ face expressed exaggerated disappointment. ‘Some day the physicians will give a name to this strange malady of yours that finds a conspiracy in every coincidence of fortune.’
“‘I have given the malady a name; it is called a healthy skepticism.’
“Elias flashed a grin as he nodded. ‘Lady Masveh suggested we wait and let you find it for us.’
“Santiago glanced at the woman, and she returned that glance with a coy smile on the reddest lips I had ever seen. He then turned to Elias while he motioned at me to approach. ‘Is it true there was a Golem loose in the Left Bank territories of the Ukraine after the massacre at Uman?’
“Elias answered with raised eyebrows and a sharp nod. ‘A child of 12, a descendant of the Maharal of Prague, fearing the worst, had gathered all the necessary information. His Rabbi, trusting in his fellow Polish citizens, forbid it. But then within days the city was filled with refugees; and the haidamaky arrived. Almost 20,000 people were killed, Jews and Poles. The child was one of the very few survivors. A guard took pity on him and paid with his life for his. The child escaped and traveled west, night and day, until he crossed the river. On the banks of the river he completed the ritual.’
“Santiago shook his head slowly at another grisly chapter of history. ‘I had wondered what kept Zalizniak’s army from storming west.’
“‘The creature delayed their advanced long enough for Catherine the Great to make up her mind.’
“‘Small wonder the Cossacks believed the Russians came to help them.’
“‘The timing was fortunate. When I found the creature, the life-madness was already starting. The destruction it could have caused might have rivaled the haidamaky bloodshed.’
“As I reached the table I realized that the master was finally at ease. What should have been obvious from the beginning, suddenly made sense. Here in the person of Elias bar Ptolomeu I had found my master’s peer, perhaps the only true friend he had ever had.”
Bernice reviewed her own memory of the elegant gentleman in the trimmed black beard and mustache. She would have guessed his age at barely 35. “This Koliivshchyna revolution they mentioned took place almost one hundred years ago.” Worthington nodded in the affirmative to her statement. There seemed to be only one conclusion. “Then this Elias, is he like Señor de Soray?”
“He is certainly not one of the fey.” Worthington pondered as he answered. “I do not know, doctor. I believe he is different.”
That answer just added more layers of mystery to the puzzle of Lord Hallowstone. She had seen Elias’ torso blasted apart by an explosion only to be instantly reconstructed seconds later. But just as with Lady Masveh she did not feel in his presence that dull revulsion that she had come to associate with occult forces.
She had finally confirmed to her satisfaction the origin of that oppressive feeling that had assailed her in the basement of the Hallowstone manor. Over the past weeks she had been reviewing her own journals, going over all that she had written during her service in Africa. She finally noticed the pattern, how days of intense prayer followed certain events, when she had faced inexplicable illnesses, useless tragedies, families that refused all help even as each member breathed its last in horrible pain. Each time, an instinct within her had warned her of the presence of the enemy. Even though, at the time, her desire to think the best of all people led her to deny it, to blame ignorance rather than outright rebellion. She could never judge; she could never condemn. But in hindsight, it was all too clear. She could tell indeed.
No, this Elias and Masveh, they were not demons… but what they could be, she had never been taught. Fey, fairies, elves, dwarves, they were the subject of folklore, stories believed only by the superstitious. Christians did not believe in such things. How could they? Scripture gives no hint of their existence.
“Gibborim, Gammadim,” she tossed those words at Worthington.
“That is ancient Hebrew,” he answered immediately. “The Gibborim are ‘the mighty’ as in King David’s mighty men of valor. It is also the word used in Genesis for the ‘heroes of old’, the descendants of the giants.” That answer sent a shiver through Bernice.
“The Gammadim,” he continued, “are mentioned in the book of the prophet Ezekiel, chapter 27 verse 11, as he talks about the city of Tyre: ‘The men of Arvad with thine army were upon thy walls round about, and the Gammadims were in thy towers: they hanged their shields upon thy walls round about; they have made thy beauty perfect.’
“Apparently they were a race of warriors that helped defend the walls of the great Sea Kingdom of Tyre, long ago.”
Bernice sat back in her chair. “Lady Masveh is one of the Gammadim?”
Bernice interrupted him as the realization took full form in her mind. “Then we have known about them all along? It is in Scripture and we just simply forgot?” There was a tinge of alarm in her voice.
“The translation of ancient languages is a difficult task, my lady. This is not to say that what we have is inaccurate.” Worthington understood the alarm in her eyes and voice. “The text of Scripture is written in plain language, almost as a conversation, man to man. Its meaning, its message is clear. You would have to do violence to the language to change the word that has been passed down to us.
“It is just that sometimes there are… details, specific things that the people of the time understood clearly but for us remain hazy, seen as through a glass, darkly.”
Bernice relaxed somewhat. “But what else have we missed?”
Worthington had never asked himself that question. It was indeed something to be pondered, especially because it was uttered by Bernice Vedeen. He had already noticed in the woman an uncanny intuition that seemed to manifest itself even before her consciousness could fully express her thoughts in words, like the way she ran to her cousin in the yacht.
“Perhaps, doctor, we just have not asked the right question of the text. After all, Saint Paul does mention ascending to the third heaven in a vision. Most people assume this is figurative language, that he is expressing himself within an abbreviated version of the Hellenistic cosmology, where our world is a sphere within a nest of spheres that describes their Universe.
“But Elias will tell you that Jewish mythology speaks of seven Earths connected to each other, and separated from Paradise by the flaming sword. And the word heaven itself, shamayim, is plural. Maybe just as there can be wheels within wheels, there are different worlds co-existing under the same canopy of the heavens, and we just cannot see them.”