April, 1863 and relating to the Fall of 1837
“To seek the assistance of that creature seemed, if not unwise, ill-advised at the moment. Even after the destruction of the critical chapter of that book she had expressed her displeasure to Elias in no uncertain terms. From the fragments of the conversation between them that I had managed to overhear, I learned that what bothered her most was Elias’ acquiescence to my master’s will. Her objections seemed to be on the grounds that Lord Hallowstone was but a man. That suggested there was truth to Elias’ comment implying that his life span exceeded two centuries and a half, and that the woman certainly thought herself to be beyond mankind.
“This had been indeed my first encounter with one of the fey. I had never doubted Lord Hallowstone’s stories, or my father’s. But still, I marveled at how resistant my mind was to accept that I was participating in events that any other man would describe as pure fantasy.
“When I asked what we were hoping to gain from the interview, the master’s answer was cryptic. He said it depended on where in the pack we fit. At my questioning look, he added, ‘There’s a feral quality to them. I’ve known this for a long time. It now seems obvious that that quality might extend to their government. Didn’t you see her struggle with Elias? I felt the force in those arms. It was not his strength that kept her in check; it was his position in her hierarchy.’
“Elias bar Ptolomeu was no less surprised than I was at the request but they met us the next night at the top room of Morgan’s Arms public house. Lord Hallowstone had spread his books on a table against the wall. Everywhere around the room he had lit candles, on shelves, on the mantle piece above the fireplace, on two chairs.
“Their eyes met briefly as the woman walked in behind Elias; but after that, he spoke without looking at her face. ‘How many of your kind are loose in the city?’ Her eyes flickered with interest and she slid to the right seeking his eyes. He turned at her motion and switched his attention to another of her shadows. ‘I am not in the mood to play games.’ She turned aside again and he responded by drawing his knife.
“‘I do not know what the gentleman means.’ Her reply drew an impatient shake from the Jew’s face and an angry snort from Lord Hallowstone. She shifted positions again, this time walking towards me and stumbling on one of the chairs. I instinctively reached out to catch her and found myself lost in the perfect blackness of her eyes.
“A moment later the master’s silver-bladed knife sliced before my face, cutting a gash in the flowing gray cloak that had covered my head and shivering into the wooden wall. Suddenly I could see again. Just inches from my face was the beautiful woman. She had pulled back out of the path of his knife without a second to spare and just as swiftly turned her face in the direction from which it had come. With a smile and a growl her eyes met his. In a second she was upon him, but Lord Hallowstone turned in place and in that same motion snatched the knife from her left hand as she missed him.
“In a dance of flashing moves they ended up entangled on each other, each holding one of her knives to the other’s throat. They stood frozen in mid slash, the blade edges a breath from their foe’s bare skin, each measuring the steel in the other’s eyes.
“‘Enough!’ Elias’ shout cleared my senses completely. I started to draw my gun. He motioned at me to put it down and I saw that the dark woman was relaxing her grip. They stepped away from each other at the same time, the master still on guard, the woman erect and almost dismissive. Before she turned away something on the side of my master’s face seemed to attract her attention. For a moment there was the hint of a smile on those impossibly red lips.
“With a flick of her head she tossed her hair, rearranging those ebony curls into flowing waves that reached to the small of her back. I caught a brief glimpse of her ears uncovered, and saw they were tufted, crowned with a shot of pointed fur, like the ears of the lynx.
“‘I met one like you once,’ she addressed the master as she reached Elias’ side. I could have sworn I saw fangs in the brief smile that crossed her face again. ‘That one too thought his destiny was to defend his land against all invaders. Just because he had military prowess, and allies from every race, he thought we too would accept his leadership. We suffer no man’s rule.
“‘Nonetheless,’ she went on, ‘I often wonder what Iberia would have been like if he had not been betrayed. Moor, Christian, and Jew living together in peace… Your history would have been quite different.’ Her eyes swept from him to me and then to Elias. ‘I find you amusing, Lord Hallowstone, nothing more. You have no inkling of where you are treading or what is at stake. You have,’ and she looked again at us, ‘gifted friends, and interesting lovers. Walk away. Deal with your own evil, I will deal with mine.’
“The master replied evenly: ‘The time when the two could be kept apart is long gone. And your kind, for all your posturing, is ignorant of it.’
“‘What do you know of my kind?’ She challenged him.
“‘I know there are fey that can dip their bare hands into molten iron.’
“‘Indeed. You should not believe everything you see.’
“Lord Hallowstone tossed the knife he’d taken from her towards the wall, to what appeared to me to be just beyond the reach of the woman. But when she caught it she was there and not where I had seen her speaking. ‘I am fully aware of your powers of illusion.’ He removed the candlestick from one of the chairs, and placed it in the middle of the room.
“‘But I know what I saw, even if I’ve refused to believe it these many years.’ He motioned at the other chair and Elias cleared it and drew it back for Lady Masveh. As she sat, the master sat. Elias and I took our place on the bench by the table. Turning to Elias, the master went on. ‘The years of my absence, Elias, they were… wasted.’ He shook away a memory in disdain and switched to another one on which he lingered for a moment in silence. ‘But I did have a constant companion, my friend, a liquid companion, faithfully dulling the pain and the weight of the memories, and the drudgery.’
“He licked his lips involuntarily, and the purposeful closing of his eyes refocused his gaze into the room. ‘For months after, I could not decide what had been real and what had been delirium. Perhaps if I had gone back, sought out the Chief of the Chumash, perhaps he would have confirmed it all. But it seemed so… absurd. Perhaps I feared I had lost my mind forever. So I came back to rebuild and forget.’
“He stood up and handed Elias a slip of paper out of his vest’s pocket. It was a two-column list. On the left were the names of months for a sequence of years, on the right a number by each. ‘The Royal Observatory has month by month records dating back to January of 1749. Less reliable records exist as far back as Galileo’s time.’ He explained: ‘They call it the sunspot cycle. Some faithful astronomer counts the number of sunspots seen upon the disk of the sun and they tally it at the end of every month. By their count we will most likely exceed 100 this month.’
“‘I do not understand,’ Elias replied.
“‘She does.’ Elias and Santiago turned to the woman. She remained unmoved. ‘One, like her – well, not exactly, but of the same race – he told me to beware the days when the sun sleeps and the nights when the moon is full. Look at the list; the count drops to a minimum, sometimes as low as single digits, approximately every eleven years. The sun does sleep.’
“‘Describe this man,’ she demanded.
“‘No one would call it a man. Half again as tall as I, a waist as thin as yours, long muscular legs that are in proportion like a lion’s but not covered in fur. No, its skin was leathery, brick red. Have you seen the African chameleon’s eyes? Imagine them upon an oblong almost human face, faceted in scales and imagine a tail as long as its body.’
“‘Ha! You would have me believe you have discoursed with a Salamander? They cannot live – ’”
“‘Here? No,’ he interrupted her, ‘of course not; our world is deathly cold to them. I know. They inhabit another world.’ He paused on purpose to see the reaction in her eyes. ‘The planet we call Mercury. He claimed a chemical treatment of his skin allowed him to survive even the coldness of empty space for a time.’
“The impact of his words was evident on the face of Lady Masveh. ‘When?’ She mouthed that word.
“‘Ten years ago, almost to the day. The sunspot count was barely in the 50’s.’ He nodded towards us; and a look at the slip of paper verified his assertion. Her eyes widened with unbelief, and so he prodded ‘And you missed it?’ He drew near her. ‘This was your evil he came to deal with, not mine, not ours.’ He included Elias and me with a sweep of his hand. ‘Something came down, he told me, something that could not be allowed here. He came after it. I, the Chumash, we helped him to destroy it.’ The master turned away from her, and returned to his chair. ‘Ask me no more, my brain was addled with alcohol and worse. But I remember well his dying words; it was a question for his brethren: When was the last time you listened to the stars?’
“The master sat down as he cast that accusation at her. He had to minimize the adversarial effect of his presence on her reaction if he wanted the truth, at least the truth as these creatures could relay it.
“Lady Masveh sat still for a long time. Her face finally turned slowly from the master to Elias and to me. There was pain in her eyes. When she finally spoke it was almost a whisper, her throat choked by what I felt distinctly was shame. ‘We cannot. We cannot listen to the stars anymore. We have forgotten how.’
“This time it was my master’s face that showed surprise. He had assumed it was the arrogance of the fey of the Earth that had led them to ignore the plight of that being, a being that had left his world behind, and indeed sacrificed his life, to destroy the invader on our soil.
“‘The affairs of the fey,’ she regained her composure immediately, ‘are not for man to question or to judge’.
“‘They are, when your kind intrude upon my world.’
“‘None have intruded save I.’ She stood up. ‘Destroy the book and I will leave.’
“‘You assume there is only one door.’ The master stood up slowly as the realization hit him, and he measured her face.
“‘All others have been sealed unto the end of the age.’
“‘Then how did the Salamander get here?’
“She refused to answer his question. ‘What makes you think my kind has intruded upon your world?’
“‘I have seen the things this Spring-Heeled Jack does, once before.’ He turned to Elias. ‘In 1809 Fritz Alswanger asked for my help in solving a series of brutal murders perpetrated on young women.’ Elias nodded, acquainted with Alswanger’s name. ‘I concluded my investigation in Barbados and joined him within the month. We eventually caught the so-called Bavarian Ripper, brought him to justice and saw him executed. Before he died, the man smiled, spat at us, and boasted that he would be back.
“‘On November of the same year, Alswanger called on me again. British diplomat Benjamin Bathurst, a friend of his, a young man barely 25, was on his way to Hamburg after completing a mission in the Austrian court. He was a mediator in the French-Austrian war. He and his attendants had stopped for dinner at an inn in Perelberg. A witness, another visitor at the inn, owned that that evening Bathurst appeared distressed, even asking for guards to protect him against mysterious pursuers.
“‘Upon finishing the meal, they returned to their waiting coach in the otherwise deserted street. Bathurst’s companions watched as the diplomat stepped over to the front of the coach to examine the horses, continued around to the other side, and then simply vanished without a trace. No one saw a thing, not his valet, not his secretary at the inn’s doorway, not the hostler who had harnessed the horses, not the soldiers stationed at the ends of the street.
“‘The street and the whole town were searched by the authorities to no avail. News quickly traveled up the diplomatic channels until Napoleon himself issued an official statement denying any involvement in the disappearance.
“‘By the time I arrived, two days had passed. I held little hope of discovering anything. The previous evening’s rain would have washed away all evidence. But given the importance of the young man, the authorities had kept traffic to and from that inn to a minimum. The imprints of the coaches’ wheels were still discernible. Around them, the outlines of the footprints of several men merged into each other.
“‘But then I saw among them a deeper set of prints, right next to where the coach’s door had been. Before the rain that set of prints must have been nearly three inches deep, and with an odd indentation in the center. I thought nothing of that detail.
“‘I spent the next month scouring through that area, interviewing residents and travelers, thieves, prostitutes, criminals highborn and low. There had indeed appeared in that region a man with wild vices, a man that supposedly could not be killed in a duel.
“‘I started to suspect a loup-garoux, having witnessed the prodigious leaps those giant wolves can take. The disappearance had taken place on November the 25th, under a full moon. That isolated street was so close to the forest, I convinced myself that Bathurst had simply been at the wrong place at the wrong time. The deep footprints were probably his own, evidence that something large had fallen upon him, and then carried him away. The report of missing cattle by a local farmer was enough to convince me, for I was looking to be convinced. You see, if there were no conspiracy against my friend then I did not care to chase those creatures any more.
“‘I told Alswanger what I had concluded and informed him that I would not serve the Prussian court anymore until the hostilities between Austria and France were completely resolved. I had other plans for my life.’
“Lord Hallowstone paused, looked into Elias’ eyes and said. ‘I turned my back on him, my friend. I had examined that whole field around the inn. I had seen no wolf tracks. What’s more, I knew the loup-garoux cannot appear or disappear into thin air.’”