April, 1863 and relating to the Fall of 1837
“The master went on, ‘Five years later I decided to contact Alswanger again. I received a polite but curt letter in reply. Something about it bothered me deeply. I sent inquiries to mutual contacts and other agents with whom I had worked and soon found that the man traveling through Europe using his papers, from Poland to Italy, was not Fritz Alswanger but his valet, impersonating him.
“‘The last time a man answering Alswanger’s description had crossed a border, was into Bohemia. It was not long till we traced his body to a cemetery in a village near the southern border. The local surgeon had pronounced him dead of a brain aneurism. And from that day, this man, this valet, whom he had hired earlier that year, took his place. The man had come from northern Italy, his name was Diderici.’
“At the mention of that name I noticed a distinct change in the posture of Lady Masveh. She became intensely focused on the words of my master.
“‘We tracked this man to Posen and apprehended him. The resemblance to Alswanger was passing: same stature, similar build, but a Mediterranean profile, squarish jaw, dark eyes and a long scar in the middle of his forehead, disappearing into the hairline. We delivered him to the authorities. He put up no resistance and answered no questions. He seemed to show no concern; and, if anything, acted amused at the fact that we had come after him. For the crime of impersonating a Prussian officer he was sent to the prison at Danzig on the banks of the Vistula River, West Prussia. This was in May of 1815.
“‘I remained in Prussia and went through Alswanger’s records. Since 1809 his network of agents had been systematically decimated. A few could have been accidental, some were casualties of war, but taken altogether the conclusion was inescapable. An enemy was taking revenge.
“‘Hidden under the floorboards of his room I found his journals. He had sent for me twice in 1810, once in 1811 and then no more. The first two rejections he received had been firm. The last one had been laced with insults.’
“Lord Hallowstone looked up, ‘I never received his letters. I realized then that his enemy, our enemy, had been using our own methods against ourselves, intercepting our communications, misleading, falsifying. Two days later I returned to Danzig, to an incredible story. The previous evening the prisoner Diderici, manacled hand and foot to the inmates before him and behind him, simply vanished in full view of the prison guard. The next evening someone reported having seen him in the city.
“‘By morning, one of the men that had helped me apprehend Diderici was found dead at a table in a pub. No one saw, no one heard anything. I tried to reach another of our agents in Berlin. By the time I arrived there that man too had been murdered.
“‘I gave chase, exercising every connection I and Alswanger had garnered in that region. The slim trail we found in Berlin led to Leipzig. But it was as if the man had vanished from the face of the Earth. After a wasted month I left two men in Leipzig and widened my snare. In July he struck again, both those men were murdered, one, in the middle of a crowded plaza in the early evening; yet no two witnesses could agree on what they had seen, if anything.
“‘In September he was reported in Wurzburg. My men thought they had him corralled in an inn. But when I arrived, he had slipped out of their grip. He was never seen exiting the inn itself yet one of the men swore he saw him leaping across the rooftops towards the railway station. When I asked that man how he had come to notice him, he mentioned his attention was drawn by the fierce barking of neighborhood dogs and the wild neighing of the horses in one of the stables.
“‘From that point we added wolfhounds and bloodhounds to our hunting party. Diderici abandoned the cities and was reported heading for the Black Forest. I sent the men ahead by train to the cities west and south of the Forest and I went after him alone.
“‘I found his camps. By day, several times I sighted his form in the distance, coming as close as two kilometers. But each time, by nightfall, he had eluded me, even though I had a horse and he was plainly traveling on foot. Not once did I hear the howl of the loup-garoux; yet it was evident that something in the night gave him an advantage. I understood what that advantage was when I saw him leap clear across from one bank of the river to the other.
“‘There it became evident that this was no loup-garoux. There was only one kind of being I had ever seen move like that, move like they are insubstantial, to the point that they can even appear to dissolve out of existence at will: the fey. But herein was the contradiction. I had been in his presence. I had bound his wrists myself, and had sensed nothing unusual.
“He turned to face Elias. ‘You know full well the fey often consort with witches and sorcerers; but I always assumed they stayed away from the practitioners of the blood lust, the risk to their persons being too high. Apparently I had been mistaken.
“‘And there was another piece of information I did not have back then that is clear now, whatever that veil is that separates their world from ours, it becomes easier to violate when the sun sleeps.’
“Lady Masveh remained impassive. Santiago rose again and motioned at the piece of paper he had given us. ‘Look at the list; the sunspot count lingered near zero from 1809 through 1812. The months he struck in 1815 were also the months with the lowest count.’ He saw plainly on our faces that neither Elias nor I understood his reasoning. ‘The Sun! It pours out something into space, call it magnetic fluid, electric fluid, whatever you choose; it does something to the ether itself. When the Sun’s surface is stirred by these sunspots, when the count is high, the sky responds. That is why the Northern Aurora shines brightest and spreads farthest south when the count is high. You see the same in the Southern Hemisphere with its Southern lights.
“‘I conclude that whatever the Sun is doing at those times, it is deadly to the fey, that is, to the fey that dare venture into our world.’
“A flicker ran across the eyebrows of Lady Masveh. Santiago caught it too. ‘You will not deny me this.’ She refused to answer his direct assertion, the equivalent of a military secret discovered. Santiago addressed us again. ‘I don’t have the record of sunspot count before 1749 but if you extrapolate backwards from the first noted deep minimum I am willing to wager a minimum occurred on 1744, the year of the atmospherical phenomenon at Souterfell.
“‘You may have read about it. It started near Knott at dusk: troops of ghostly horsemen were seen advancing along the side of the fell, close in rank and at a brisk pace, until they disappeared over the mountain opposite the Blake Hills. For two hours they were seen by at least twenty six witnesses.
“‘Similar phenomena were seen briefly near Stockton-on-the-Forest, in Yorkshire, in July of 1792; the sunspot count was not negligible but still below 50. The summer of 1812 the sunspot count was near zero, and on June 28th they were seen again in Harogate. In the year 1820 the count was below 10 for most of the year, and they showed up again near St. Neot’s, in Huntingdonshire. England is not the only place so blessed. Such things have been recorded by Livy and Suetonius.’
“Lady Masveh finally spoke up. ‘They injured no man, we made sure of that.’
“‘Sylph, Faery, and Elf bear no ill to man; yes, so I’ve heard. But pity the man or woman who witnesses them alone.’ He approached her and expanded his accusation. ‘How many of the abject poor have stumbled upon your kind while practicing useless magic, seeking in desperation to allay the hunger of their family or save their ancestors’ land? And your – oh so harmless – fey play along, give them gold, show them wonders human eyes were not meant to behold. And then you leave them to swear what no one will believe, save the witch hunters.
“‘You claim they injured no man? How many of the 600 witches de Lancre burned at the stake were simple-minded fools, victims of the fey penchant for theatricals?’
“Before Masveh could reply, Santiago turned to Elias. ‘My admiration for the Danish jurists stems from their restraint during that time. Even as early as 1547 they had passed laws that forbid questioning by torture anyone that had not been already sentenced. Furthermore, any person accused of sorcery could not be used as credible witness against others. Would that the rest of Europe had followed suit.
“‘Indeed by the end of the 17th century the High Court Judge in Jutland had rendered an acquittal in most of the cases appealed to him, recognizing the feeble mental state of many of those brought before his bench.’ A cynical smile broke across the master’s face. ‘As you would expect, the populace, thirsty for witch burnings, started murmuring against the court.’”