April, 1863 and relating to the Fall of 1836
Bernice pondered Worthington’s words, and then finally met his eyes again. The old soldier continued with a brief smile, “The master introduced me to Elias, and Elias stepped aside to allow me to stand before the open book. I crossed myself before laying eyes on the pages. ‘Just in case,’ I replied to my master’s look and then I examined the book. It was approximately 250 pages long, divided into 18 sections. It appeared to be an illustrated manuscript written with quill on vellum, and including a variety of figures, diagrams and drawings throughout that you would assume were related to the text.
“A cursory inspection suggested some sort of encyclopedia with sections on astronomy, botany, and biology. The latter section had several pages illustrated with unusual scenes of nude women bathing in pools or tubs connected by networks of pipes, the pipes themselves having an organic appearance. However, a detailed study of the writing presented several problems.
“First, it contained no obvious punctuation except for some sections divided into paragraphs. That would suggest an ancient language. But the characters were somewhat reminiscent of Arabic or Cyrillic script constructed with a few simple strokes. I could discern perhaps 28 different characters.
“The number of characters per word reminded me of Latin but there were very few two or three letter words; and some of the characters appeared to be used exclusively at the beginning of words, some exclusively in the middle, and some exclusively at the end. This latter detail heightened the resemblance to Semitic languages.
“Therefore its structure made no sense. Furthermore there were too many repetitions of the same or nearly the same word in several sentences. ‘Well?’ Lord Hallowstone asked.
“‘Garabatos,’ meaningless scribbles, was all I could answer.
“‘Eso lo veo yo.’1 He replied with a snort.
“I tried to explain that in my opinion it was nonsense, when Lady Masveh asked if an exposition of the alphabet would help. We both stared at her. She immediately owned that the text also made no sense to her but the alphabet was not invented.
“She stood next to me and ran her finger just under a line in the page I had open. As it crossed each character she sounded it out and then at the end of each word she spoke the whole word. There was a liquid quality to the tongue she was speaking, full of l’s, gl’s and sh sounds. Some of the words she translated as having an actual meaning but most had no meaning to her.
“‘You are speaking in the language of the Nippon empire.’ Lord Hallowstone moved up to the book. ‘Go over that line again.’ She looked over her shoulder at the master and repeated what she had read. At first I couldn’t place the faint throbbing I was feeling in my chest and then I realized from the proximity of Lady Masveh that it was her, purring. I know he felt the purring too, but he ignored it.
“‘The Japanese language is constructed of ideograms,’ Santiago explained, ‘each sounds out a syllable. It looks like that sound is being spelled out here with the letters of an alphabet.’
“I had never heard the spoken language, but in the library of Lord Hallowstone there were two books of Japanese poetry with an English translation. I was about to suggest we take the book with us, to compare it with those, when that bothersome repetition of words reminded me of my childhood lessons in Portuguese grammar.
“‘But listen to this,’ I said as I turned to the section around page 80, and read a line ‘ghottar, ghottec, ttaghotta cler tteg ghotta. This is not a sentence. It is someone conjugating verbs… or someone trying to figure out how to write down a word they are hearing.
“‘I think the drawings or some of the drawings are the real information, encoded in figurative imagery. The running text is the author trying to pin down the meaning of words associated with the drawings.
“I turned at random to page 17, a botanical illustration. ‘See, the root word ghotta is very rare here, but you see this other root word, otteshc, repeated over and over.’
“‘Someone is dictating.’ Lord Hallowstone was beginning to understand my train of thought.
“‘Or attempting to dictate.’ Lady Masveh concluded.
“‘A message was being transmitted to the author but it was garbled.’ Elias joined in. ‘And only the images are clear; as if visual communication were easier to accomplish than auditory.’
“Lord Hallowstone started flipping through the book. ‘Did you notice all these funnels?’”
“Several of the figures with the naked women, and some with what you could call animalcules, included interconnected tubs with funnels that continued as multiple pipes that seemed to run off the page. By turning back and forth through the pages, he found the complementary pages where the pipes from one page could be connected to pipes or stems of plants in the other pages. ‘It is out of order.’
“‘On purpose?’ I asked.
“‘Or the ramblings of a madman.’
“Lady Masveh stepped away, lost in her own thoughts. We undid the binding of the book and separated the sections. I crossed to the opposite side of the table and we spread the book over its entire surface. By following the figures we established the sequence in which the pages had been written. In that same sequence I followed the repetitions of the words assuming that the later versions were closer to the intended final word. The result of two hours of work was a crude lexicon of no more than twenty rudimentary sounds, all consonant vowel combinations, arranged into perhaps two hundred simple words. The consonant vowel combinations explained the aural resemblance to the Japanese language.
“‘You realize there are several pages that were excluded by your analysis.’ Elias turned over a few of them.
“I smiled. ‘There must be 19 sections to the manuscript, this is the final one.’
“‘And all these pages are astronomical.’ The master looked up at Lady Masveh as he made that comment. She had retreated far behind me to the other side of the room, where she was pacing nervously.
“Returning his eyes to me, he saw my reaction upon examining again one of the astronomical diagrams. ‘Can you translate it?’ he asked.
“I nodded slowly. ‘There is information here… almost no repetitions. And Astronomical and Astrological symbolism require the description of relative positions in time and space.’ I focused on a diagram with four angels surrounding a sun and four sections of text. The words for left and right became obvious, will and happenstance, do and do not, water and earth and moon and darkness, the senses of man.
“The words started falling into place. I made a few hasty annotations on the back page of one of the sections. The months of the year were obvious in another of the figures. I jotted them down. ‘Yes, I believe I can. This first section is summarizing the appropriate conditions for commencing a… task.’ I stopped, read again and voiced my conclusion. ‘No, it is still nonsense.’ Their eyes demanded an explanation. I read:
“‘And at the appointed time when the moon is full and the Sun has slept for three days…’”
“‘No eclipse can last three days,’ Elias understood my objection. But the look in my master’s face challenged his conclusion.
“‘The Sun does sleep.’ Santiago replied brusquely, his eyes ablaze. ‘Read on!’
“‘The task is to be planned a year and a half in advance. It looks like there are restrictions on personal habits during that time. The next section is a recipe for an arrangement of letters in… a tapestry?’
“Elias mouthed that word, as an expression of incredulity started to take over his face. Lady Masveh summoned him to her side. There was a heated exchange of whispers between them.
“I skipped a passage I could not quite understand and then started again. ‘ –when this is done the door to all knowledge will be opened – Door and Vessel is all that is needed.’”
“‘We have heard enough, destroy it and let us be gone.’ Lady Masveh spoke in a tone that brooked no refusal. Santiago dismissed her with a shrug and motioned at me to continue.
“I did. ‘Speak the name of that that knows all things, for it knows itself, is itself: It who was all and again will be all. Speak and open the door for me: For I am that that only sees itself. Speak my name T–
“A sudden motion from my master raised my eyes off the page. I only heard the first syllable of his exclamation in French, ‘mer-’, the rest of it was drowned by a hissing growl behind me that my mind finally interpreted as a shrieking ‘STOP’. His eyes looked past me. With his left hand he tossed the table up into the air and spun under it. With one leg he knocked my feet off the ground, flipping me backwards just in time to see a blur fly over me and into the table that he was still pushing forward like a shield.
“Lady Masveh landed on the table on hands and knees, her twin knives buried to the hilt on its surface. Santiago flung the table across the room as he stepped over me but the woman let go of her knives and rolled over the wooden surface, tumbling in the air, instantly righting herself. Before her feet had touched the floor she had struck his face three resounding blows.
“Santiago staggered two steps back and drew his knife. This time the growl came from his throat. He started for her but Elias wrapped his arms around her, and dragged her back. Masveh writhed and hissed in his grip, screaming in her tongue, he replying in Hebrew. It was an inexplicable struggle. I was sure that at any moment she could have broken his hold but something else restrained her. He kept repeating her name; she kept hissing ‘We are not Masveh’.
“The woman eventually stopped struggling and Elias let her go. ‘You must destroy it,’ she called out.
“I started retrieving the scattered papers from the floor. ‘Are you going to keep your beast in check?’ Santiago waved the point of his knife from Elias to the woman.
“‘I am afraid she is right.’
“‘I don’t think so.’ Santiago took my pile of papers, and continued collecting the sections. ‘The Sun does sleep. It is an eleven year cycle; you can see it in the Aurora. I have been given a warning like this, once before. If the rest of this text explains what it means –’
“‘You fool!’ Lady Masveh stepped toward us again. But Elias interposed his body between her and us. She resorted to pacing behind him, back and forth, like a lion.
“‘There is no knowledge, only damnation in that book.’ Elias insisted.
“‘Elias, well you know I don’t care for the mysticism of my own religion; do you think I am going to listen to the nonsense of yours?’ Santiago tightened his grip on the stack of sections in his hand.
“‘My friend, I thought I destroyed this thing two hundred and fifty years ago.’ Elias replied, glancing back at Lady Masveh. The woman gathered her gray cloak around herself as if against a sudden chill. ‘The rumors that brought me here spoke of an illuminated grimoire. I expected childish nonsense, another Othijot ben Sira, not this.
“The Spaniard relaxed the grip on his knife, and Elias continued. ‘The eighteen months of preparation, the fasting, the abstinence from contact with women, this is all part of a ritual to cast the Abra-Melin spells. Surely you have heard of him in your research, Abraham the Jew, storm raiser, meddler in the affairs of kings?
“‘He started with Qabbalah and went beyond, claiming that angels taught him this magic. Angels indeed! If you believe his ramblings, demons created the entire universe under the supervision of angels; and these angels will subjugate those demons to you, and those demons will do your every bidding, if you but open the door to your very own… Guardian Angel. It calls itself: that that only sees –’”
“‘Silence!’ Masveh’s hand on Elias’ shoulder kept him from finishing the phrase.
“Elias changed his argument to an appeal. ‘Even if you kept the book, how do you expect to sift the truth from the lie? You know that this is the hallmark of these things, truth and lie interwoven so tightly that they cannot be separated.
“‘Santiago, this is not the first time these things have been written by my people. Elisha ben Avuya, who claimed to have beheld the Majesty on high, spoke like this. Sadducee by lineage, Greek in intellect, Pompeiian in morals, he went about claiming to know the way to Paradise. Thirteen times a child rebuked him from the Torah and the Prophets, and in response he tried to cut the child to pieces. The grave of that heretic smoulders under the ground to this day.
“‘But his words did not die with him. The Ophites, worshipers of the serpent, continued his work. Surely you have read their lies, who blaspheme the Majesty by calling him Yaldabaoth, a bitter creator, hater of man; who claim the tree of knowledge set mankind free to see the light that was entombed in our bodies of death.
“‘They turn light into darkness and darkness into light. They are to be hated with perfect hatred, they and their gilyonim.
“‘Fernando,’ Elias turned to address me, ‘it is not a tapestry of letters you read about. It is a geometrical arrangement of ‘azkarbt: letters and names and curses by which the lie can enter this world.’ He read my eyes and finding a glimmer of acceptance in them, he pressed. ‘You are a learned man. Haven’t you seen this before?’
“‘Santiago, your people and my people are not the only ones to be assailed with such lies. Josephus records that in the time of King Timaus of Egypt a race of strange men invaded the land of the Nile and without weapons or war subdued the entire country, suppressed their worship of their deities, and supplanted it with the worship of themselves.
“‘No, my friend,’ Elias drew a short sword from within the folds of his cape, ‘we destroy it here.’
“I turned to my master ready to plead the Jew’s case. And then I saw that he was not going to stand his ground. He hung his head for a moment and said, ‘Isaac Newton mentioned that story of Timaus. He called the invaders shepherds, placed their arrival just after the time your people left Egypt. Is this so?’
“‘Yes,’ Elias drew closer. ‘The defeat of the Egyptian gods at the hands of the Lord did not lead the Egyptian people to seek Him, they hated Moses too much. So as soon as another came, advocating new gods, their priests listened. They listened to the lie and paid the price. Any civilization that opens that door runs the same risk.’
“The sound of a physical door opening, silenced us instantly. It was Masveh who whispered first, ‘We have been heard.’ She did not wait for a plan to be formed. ‘I will take care of them.’
“Santiago glanced at the table he had thrown across the room. The woman’s twin knives were no longer jutting from its underside. ‘A trail of corpses is the last thing we need now.’ The master started to go after her.
“Elias stopped him with a word as he put his sword away. ‘She will not harm them.’
“We watched the woman disappear, bounding into the shadows outside the room, and then my master shook the document at Elias and spoke in a lower voice. ‘If we destroy this now, we will not know its purpose, why it is here and why now, why these businessmen are so desperate.’
“‘Demons attend the words of the spell. Believe me, innocent people will be hurt. I have seen this happen before.’
“‘But no one can read it.’ The master replied. ‘No one has read it, except Fernando here. And his gift is rare. Without your beast he would have had no clue.’
“‘And what is the connection to Crosse?’ I joined the argument. ‘We must let this play unfold until we know who the players are and what its end is.’
“‘And perhaps then we do not destroy it.’ The master added, eliciting a flash of menace from Elias’ eyes. But he insisted, ‘if we do, if the world knows this book has been destroyed, then whatever means were used for its creation could be used again.’
“I understood his reasoning. ‘But if we let it stand as meaningless… What better way to discourage those who think they have found the root of all knowledge?’
“‘We destroy the nineteenth section.’ Elias demanded. ‘But there is wisdom in what you say. I have read bits of a German text claiming to carry the true story of Abramelin the Mage. It is full of nonsense.’
“They reached an accord. I suggested it would be best if after it was over we made the rest of the manuscript disappear mysteriously, adding to the futility of the translation the waste of a quest.
“‘Easily done,’ my master agreed. ‘Send it to the Jesuits at the Collegio Romano. It will be lost for centuries.’ He put his knife away and listened to the silence for a moment. There were no sounds coming from the house. ‘You’ll have to explain some things later,’ he nodded past Elias in the direction of the returning Lady Masveh.
“He handed me the rest of the papers to reassemble the book while he took the nineteenth section to the fireplace and lit it. He held it up for Masveh to see and when the flames reached his fingers he tossed it onto the embers.
“‘There,’ he spoke to her, ‘your demons get to stay in hell for one more day.’
“‘Not in hell,’ she replied. The woman was still pacing from side to side but her presence felt… more human again. She turned her face away from her thoughts and continued in a more controlled voice, ‘That awaits the final day. But their prison is mete: barren, dry and empty, as hot as fire and colder than ice; and yet there are no flames or water in it.’
“She watched the fire carefully until the last trace of the last page had turned into ash. We traded the injured table for another like it that had held twin candlesticks and returned the room to its initial appearance. On the way out we saw the guards sitting in a circle on the grass, staring at the night through empty eyes. Lady Masveh assured us they would awaken before the dawn.”
1That, I can see myself! Spanish