The Salvaged Account of Sir William Barrows
by I. D. Weis
Here be the salvaged account of one Sir William Barrows, master of the ecclesiastical sciences, histories and mathematics, Trinity college, of the year 1675.
I would to arrive that day at the destination. The communiqué sent to me by Sir Leibniz left little doubt in my mind as to the urgency of my arrival--- the tone of the written word was nothing short of animated--- a rarity in Sir Leibniz's demeanor. It spoke of a revelation of massive consequence, no less.
Traveling by carriage, I struggled to overcome the discomfort of movement inside the rocking cabin and bowed to glance outside the porthole. I could see already the destination beyond as a dark spot upon the bright landscape, somewhat easing the tension I had endured during the long ride.
The driver whom I had attained at Salzburg was a portly gentleman. How one can endure such voyaging atop that small cabin with the eastern iced wind lashing upon oneself is beyond me, but for a Ducat and two Dimachi not only did he perform this service, but did so chanting the "Thames-boat Mary". I was glad at this, I confess, as the Jura mountains can be a dismal spectacle at winter--- While the snowy peaks are majestic, the landscape in its entirety can be, for better words, too dim.
By the time the carriage wheels rattled upon the cobbled avenue that stretched beyond the mouth of the old bridge, night had already drawn it's darkly curtains upon us. The avenues had been turned muddy with the dying of winter, the remainder of snow left as dirty mounds upon the road.
I took use of the lantern that swayed so disorienting above my head to study the directions to Sir Leibniz's study. The kerosene light behind the lamp grill threw golden stripes of light across my lap and upon the crumpled parchment, and with some concentration I was able to direct the driver into a narrow alley off St. Leopold's.
Not a single soul could be seen on that long dim street, not among the closed shops, nor at the shuttered windows that dotted the high walls that loomed above us so, ending at angular edges at gray tiles. Another look at the letter sent to me by Sir Leibniz affirmed his study to be across the sunken yard at the rim of this alley.
Although rain has began to fall again, the driver was reluctant to carry on across the yard for fear of sinking in too deep a slush, and thus I thanked him, paid an extra for his troubles, and sent him on his way.
Can one have a presentiment of future events based upon an instance of eyesight? It is often (I suspect), and quite abruptly, that a future path might be laid before us by the light of a single instance of time, to be taken to mind, or rather, relinquished.
If this is the case, then what lay before my wind-teary eyes on that cold night could most fittingly meet the above conception:
For while crossing the yard, glancing above to the gathering moonlit clouds, I spotted at the edge of stone rooftop a weather vane in the shape of a dancing devil, slanted above the yard. The thin metal figurine was rocking and spinning at the wind as if the devil was truly inside it and was rejoicing upon its deeds.
Not thinking that an ominous sign at that time, I braced myself against the rainy wind and reached a small sunken doorway beneath a crumbled balcony at the narrowing edge of the yard. At first I thought myself at the wrong address, since surely one as exalted and prominent as Sir Leibniz in the fields of precision could not reside in such a lowly quarters.
And yet above that humble door was carved in Carpenter's stone the phrase "Leibniz, G. W., Study, Quarters".
With no summoning ring on the door, I succumbed to knocking upon it.
I knocked again. And again, hoping that the wailing of the night wind would not drown the sound to the inhabitants. (If there were such.)
There are long nights spent with the mind drifting to realities past and imaginations, sliding between the gossamer webs of sleep; Lives--- mine and others', played as a theater of ghosts over the winding clocks. In the agreeable of these night-dreamings, I find myself leaving a moment sooner, leaving to find a dry room and concluding to return to Leibniz the next day.
Such was not the reality. Just when I was turning to leave the rotting oak door swung open.
Leibniz, as I have come to recognize him from a journalist sketch, was standing there with an unlit lamp in his hand. He was wearing a stained white blouse and unkempt workman's pantaloons that seemed to be oversized for his measurements. His hair was un-wigged and in disarray, and his sagged face pale and staring under the light of the full moon.
I tried to speak and offer a greeting but my mouth failed to produce any words, or perhaps it was the wind that took them.
"Sir William, you seem to be soaked with rain."
"Come in then, I am not in the English habit of suffering the elements."
I knew of no such habit but entered nonetheless.
Leibniz led me to his quarters then, silently, and as though a demon possessed him and that demon wished to return to its study at the top floor in a hurry like no other.
There were books strewn on the floor--- in heaps, on shelves that held measurement equipments and devices with purposes unclear to me. At a glance I thought it to be the laboratory floor and the living floor to be above, but after climbing the narrow stairway we seemed to arrive in yet another library or study of sorts.
"Sir William, excuse my haste. I hope your voyage was a comfortable one."
"As might be possible in such-"
A thunder broke so loudly that I was almost certain lighting had hit the side of the house.
With that a window shutter flew open and sheets of paper flew from the table. Leibniz hurried to close the window, almost knocking off the table a carafe of brandy, just as another lightning whitely illuminated the room.
"You must excuse me--- Thunder is intensified through a device which I had installed at the side of the house. It is unnerving to the unsuspecting, I am sure." His face as he came back from the window was sagged and weary, but friendly, and with eyes that ran like a hare over a foxhole.
"I see. An experiment in sound conveyance?"
"I am eavesdropping on the proprietor."
I smiled and nodded. The room was as hectic as the ones below, filled with books and papers, pendulums, scales, flasks and containers connected by long spindly pipes. There was a vast diagram of some system spread on a wall, with spheres and lines--- in its center a drawing of the sun, with the face of the Sun King Louis drawn upon it. Next to it spread a parchment yellowed by time, whereupon were drawn peculiar instruments of war: One appeared to be a device mounted on a horse carrying a series of cannons whose mouths were shaped as trumpets; Another drawing portrayed a wheeled catapulting arm on which atop of, on a decorated cushioned basket, sat a hussar grasping a pike in one hand and, quite outlandishly, a brandy glass in the other.
I confess I had not been familiar with much of Sir Leibniz's less published areas of research before, and confess not to have understood much more from what laid around me.
Leibniz interrupted my thoughts.
"Mister Barrows, I will be short on civility, as my excitement, I fear, is taking the better of me".(The eyes that shone so--- they were the color of a dark moon.) He continued-
"I have summoned you since I trust you. Our correspondence over my work on ‘The indiscernibles of substance' has assured me you are a man of open mindedness."
I assured him I was. (It is discouragingly difficult to find that such minds are scarce exactly where they are most needed.) Another lightning brightened the room like a visiting specter.
"Mister Barrows ...", he parted his hair anxiously, "I seem to have stumbled upon a queer phenomenon. It is... inconceivable."
The wind was lashing at the shutters again, rain was pouring onto the floor by the window.
He stepped now towards a darkened side of the room where melted yellow candles had long ago lost their flare. Reaching towards a drape he pulled it to reveal a strange apparatus. It consisted of a metal arm bent level at a right angle, its horizontal part ending with a large brass orb. It stood atop an engine of sort.
"I call this a ‘Revolverium'. Its workings are described so: There is an arm which turns via the use of hydrostatics. By certain settings, on which I will not weary you with details, its motion is not fluent but rather confined to the four winds-" (He pointed) "North, East, South, West. When started, the hydrostatic engine turns the arm at great speed such that the brass sphere toggles its bearing equally between the four spirits. The engine is controlled by heat--- it is connected to this candle, and thus operates and ceases by its flame. Behold-"
Leibniz reached for one candle that was still lit and carefully put it to the wick of a candle whose base was connected by a wiry cord to the engine.
At first nothing happened, and all that could be heard was the hiss of the wind and the spit of rain. Then, slowly, the arm began to turn, the sphere of brass orbiting its axis, clicking between the four winds in a metallic singsong, gaining slowly in velocity. By a few heartbeats its movement had become fluid and its rattle a constant grind of steel upon steel as its gears were whirling as storm.
Over the deafening hum, Leibniz closed the curtain and turned to me.
"Are you familiar with the theorem proposed by Mister Tycho Brahe of the nature of certainty entitled ‘Indoles de liquido naturalis'? I believe you have met him?"
"He has been dead for sixty years now," I answered.
"Yes, rather. In any case, it speaks of the notion of certainty in a closed system--- the proposition is that physical behavior, for instance the outcome of a trial, is not set in the sense that until a cognizant mind is witness, all possible outcomes exist in our plane. Are you following me, Mister Barrows?"
The wind was strong at the windows facing the yard and most of the many candles in the quarters had been extinguished, leaving us in silhouetted half darkness. Leibniz did not seem to notice.
"I believe I do. You wish to say this contraption puts the notion of certainty to the test, that is, that beyond the curtain when the flame is extinguished, the sphere is in fact at four places at once?"
Sir Leibniz bore the hint of a smile. "Mister Barrows, your quickness precedes you. But tell me this--- what is the principle by which fire behaves? In other words, when will the fire die, and hence the instrument cease to operate?"
I looked at the candle now--- its thick yellow body was nearly all but melted. The flame was flickering, but holding.
"Depending it does not douse in the wind, and its substance of wax remains unexhausted, I believe there is no way for us of knowing," I answered.
We waited then. As I write these lines it seems in my memory that we stood in silence only a few moments. My thoughts were lost to that single flame that burned still, its dance drowning out the drone of metal, the thunder, the wind.
I was about to inquire Sir Leibniz about the conclusion of this experiment when a particularly strong gush of wind cooled my cheek. The candle's flame flickered, flickered and remained. And then, quite unexpectedly, it was extinguished. With that, the clamor of the machine came to an almost instant halt.
What followed then haunts me to this day--- for as Leibniz first drew the curtain I felt as if my mind was deceiving me, and such an impression engraves itself upon one's memory indefinitely. The arm which bore the brass sphere that pointed to one of the four winds had quadrupled--- four arms were standing from the axis of the device, each pointing differently.
The strange sensation was more so intensified since to witness the duplication of the arms was to feel an aching is one's mind. Let me correct myself--- It was not that my eyes were aching, nor my mind, but my mind's eye, or rather, that which is behind it. It was as if had my mind been a carriage, the thing that ached was its jockey.
"Mister Leibniz, explain to me that which I am witnessing."
Considering how I was visibly distraught, Leibniz could not hold himself from laughing. There was something unnerving in that laughter.
"You have explained it yourself, Barrows, without your noticing. I do not blame you--- It is an obscurity of thought, of mind, that we all suffer from. Fire is of the divine, is it not? Man himself was created by the divine fire--- It is the destroyer of life, but no life can exist without it, just as no life can exist without our sun. Nothing but the divine is certain, but our God is certain. Furthermore some suspect, as Tycho Brahe did, that since fire has of the divine substance, it holds some of its character."
My mind was a haze but I began to reach the conclusion Leibniz was aiming at.
He continued--- "In other words, it holds some certainty. About the flame, you have said there is no way of knowing when it will die--- that is correct. And yet, by its divinity, the instant of its extinguishing is most certain and pre-established, unknown to our mortal souls."
I looked at the burnt candle. A certain memory was still fresh in my mind--- of flame consuming London, eating away at its core as a sun in the heart of the sky.
"Do you see?" Leibniz said and waved at the ungodly device. "By its unique property, fire introduces certainty into the equation--- with certainty satisfied in the closed system, it is passed over the Revolverium itself, and we have the result before us--- The universe fails to decide to which direction to point the sphere. No choice is made."
I pondered upon this. There were four bearings--- four globes of brass, hazy in my mind, yet all painfully there. Fire indeed was the creator of life (Cannot the sun be but an ocean of fire left by the divinity for this purpose exactly?) and the destroyer of it.
It was the same terrible duality, I felt, as that of which when one dreams of the dead, the dead dream of him.
But still, it was a thing of wonder!
II. Green man
That night I dreamt strange dreams.
In my dreams I was standing on a great surface, as vast as a world. Mountains and valleys stretched before me, with hue of a man's flesh. To either sides of a steep mountain, two great ponds, round and blue as gems, glimmered beneath a low sun. Beyond them heavy clouds rolled slow and sweet, forming a judge's wig of foamy white upon the land.
I turned to see a deep gorge of basalt rock, dark and long and pitch black as the mouth of volcano whose reach does not stop short of the core of the earth. As I did so, the world shook with a rumble so low it was more felt than heard: from the mouth of the earth came such a roar that would have sent shattering flocks of geese to the ends of the world.
I awoke at dawn with a dry mouth. Sir Leibniz's study was a short walking distance from my inn chamber and I had in my mind to dress and meet with him there, for I had many questions left unanswered, and I felt that if I would not ask them soon they would be lost somehow, to remain uneasy axioms in the basement of my skull.
Then, without warning, Leibniz burst into the room. His façade was in greater disarray than the night before, and his expression was that of a child whose mother was taken from him abruptly.
"A man came," he muttered, "I was sleeping; He came at the dead of night, frothing at the mouth, like a feral dog; He set in motion the device, grinning, always grinning; I can still heed its workings in my mind; He spoke in tongues, do you understand?"
I admit I understood nothing. Not for the first time I worried over Leibniz's sanity (as I worried since that night over my own). I believed him to have lost his mind, rendered a lunatic by many a night by the light of the wolf moon, weaving by the blood of his pen a calculus that governs the fabric of being, where no such math does govern.
I searched for a bottle that I carry with me always and handed him a saucer--- a concoction to sooth the spirit. This calmed him enough to be able to give me an accurate account of what had transpired: The man that came to his study at night activated the machine, deactivated it, witnessed its conclusion, and left, all the while thinking Leibniz to be sleeping. Nothing was taken, nothing destroyed. Leibniz had then waited (out of fear, no doubt) until dawn, and then rushed to the inn.
In addition to his foreign tongue, the intruder had another peculiar character--- Sir Leibniz could have sworn to me that through the darkness he could see that the man had the color of pale green.
I sat on the bed, pondering. "What will you have us do now?" I asked.
Fortunately, Leibniz regained by then his composure.
"Possessing the comprehension you have gained yourself, this flaw of logic in our world, if you will, might prove dangerous in the mind of a man of less morality than ours."
I asked him how so and this trigged at once irritation.
"Mister Barrows, at this moment there are four brass orbs where one had been before. Until one sets them to turn again, this time stopping them by snuffing the candle with his own mortal fingers, they will remain there, painful to behold and yet very real. I do not care to fathom how larger and more eminent realities can be rendered thusly by the whim of a madman--- what is that expression on your face?"
"Clearly I am not the first person you had conversed with regarding--- the discovery." I said.
"But you are."
"Perhaps you have mentioned this to an associate and you fail to recall? The description of the man's entry suggests he knew where and what to search for."
Leibniz's mind seemed to go elsewhere. He thought lengthily. Finally--- "I tend to associate at a local tavern when my mind is... when it is so occupied with the higher spheres that it becomes troubling".
We went there at once.
The streets were slick with rain and the cobblestones were a patchwork of gleaming puddles that splashed under wheeled carriages. The rain had ceased and yet the damp frost that came with it persisted. We walked not a long distance beneath the towering black spire of the cathedral of patron Saint Abilius into a narrow forum whose northern border was the broad corroded brick wall that extended above to form the back of the cathedral; its gargoyles loomed above, dripping residues of rain as blood from their contorted maws. Along the alleyway's southern border dilapidated shops had been erected out of canvas and wood and many vendors and shoppers mingled. Beyond them ran the river Vistuhcza, upon its slow heavy stream stretched a low bridge that was our destination.
There were many street performers of sorts among the crowds, some of whom apparently sought to swindle rather than to entertain--- as one such man who was eccentrically dressed almost utterly in crimson: pantaloons of the royal kind; a silky embroidered blouse with a whisked collar beneath a heavy Justaucorps; a wide officer's hat adorned with goose feathers (dyed red!). This man stood with an eagle's nose pointing to the heavens, a false air of superiority about him while two elderly women were demanding of him, from what I could hear, to return their money at once. A small table had been thrown to the ground beside them, spilling a deck of playing cards to the wet cobblestones. To my left, someone was yelling words of persuasion and fluttering a white umbrella. I thought at first its design impractical--- but then he opened it and it was pleasingly transformed to a wing-spread stork with an imitation beak protruding from its spine.
Just as we were leaving the commotion behind the corner of the bridge column someone tugged at my sleeve. I turned to see a figure dressed in shabby rags, with a dark bearded chin and wild sunken eyes. He held a wooden cup and brandished it at a visibly vexed Leibniz.
"I have a cup, sirs--- its flesh of magic. Look into it and see the wound of night as lightning; t'is black on black and darker still; witness the death of kings--- an entertainment!"
"Leave us, man. We seek no entertainment at this hour."
"Still--- a romp? a jolly romp?" he said, his hunched figure trailing us.
We quickened our steps and left then, through the bridge over gray waters, into a darkened tavern situated at its base on the other bank of the river, beyond narrow steps that led to a secluded level, beneath the bridge road but above the waterline, and as though somewhat disturbing as it was, I paid little attention to that incident.
I do not spend many of my days at hostelries, for I am not of the associating types, (Indeed I felt Sir Leibniz was neither, which added to my surprise when he led us to this place) and so I do not know how to judge such a place in the same terms a drinking man would. Nonetheless it seemed to me a particularly bleak milieu--- it served very few patrons in its darkened corners, and most of these were visibly intoxicated and were slouched in such a manner that did not suggest a cheery disposition. Together with the cavernous interior, which suggested it was burrowed into the existing bridge base, it appeared most fitting to its name--- "Inferus pons", which in Latin means "Under a bridge" but also alludes to the underworld.
We went to the server of drinks, a thin and surprisingly subtle man who immediately set a fat opaque bottle of liquid on the oak tavern bar and poured for us into two low glasses a drink--- a dark auburn ale that was too thick and too sweet. I thought he recognized Sir Leibniz, but if so he made no attempt to show it.
"Have you long been a servant in this establishment?" Leibniz inquired.
"Long enough to recognize you," he answered with a soft voice. "You are a man of the sciences."
"Indeed I am. Let me enquire this--- Do you recall my discussing certain matters here, with... scholars, an apprentice perhaps. My memory is not great for these sorts of matters."
"Will you turn this ale into gold, Would I Recall?"
The servant thought this amusing but Leibniz did nothing as even to blink. Finally he said-
"What you refer to is not a science but an art--- that of deception. If you wish for the occult you might find it in the dens of wolves; in darkened backrooms; in such things as those who occupy the haze over the rim of the world. Alchemy is not among them."
"Indeed, you would seem to know of the occult." The servant replied.
Leibniz's brow rose in either irritation or puzzlement.
"Sire," the servant averted his soft gaze to the bar, "I do not wish to embarrass you--- but in fact I have seen you here before, and although not with companionship I did vaguely hear you discuss some matters."
"Now how is that possible?"
"Well, sire... you seemed to speak to yourself."
Leibniz said nothing then. It was not entirely unlikely that he had mumbled to himself, in a state of mind which he sometimes calls "the higher spheres". I have seen him do this strange practice myself, and admit it to have reinforced my suspicions regarding his mental peculiarities. It was entirely possible, then, that someone nearby had overheard a tidbit of information.
I felt asinine then to ask, but I had to-
"Was there ever a client with skin... with a shade of skin, not darker, but rather... green?
The servant shook his head and at the same time another servant that seemed to overhear us approached--- a fair skinned lady with dark hair and an antique-looking black apron. Both did not seem surprised by the question.
"We do not serve his kind. It has been the tavern's policy for many years now."
I asked what kind was his.
"There is a type of absinthe wormwood that is grown in the south. It has been much used for the preparation of the drink named after it. When consumed at an excessive manner, it can lend the skin a hue the color of greenstone."
I asked why they did not sell it, as I had known it to be a fashionable drink among the bohemian crowds. At East-End alone I witnessed it poured by the gallons on a given night, and the green fairies were everywhere.
She smiled wryly, "Indeed it is. But you refer to the common type of wormwood, that which together with anise and hyssop forms the commonly known drink. The drink prepared from the special type is also more potent and long lasting in its... aftereffects. Why do you seek this man?"
I turned to Leibniz who turned to me and did not know how to respond. I said only-"It is a matter of great importance to us that he is to be found."
With that the woman smiled again faintly, and beckoned us to come with her. She led us into a backroom and closed the door behind us.
There was a silence then and I understood at once what it meant, and reached for my purse, taking out a sum of Ducats that I felt was appropriate; although clearly I had no idea in such matters.
"I know of such a man, although I have not seen him here for many months. His name is Drafian --- We used to acquire his facilities to protect the tavern from harassments from our competition. He is a member of the Murderer's guild. We no longer use his conveniences, both because our competition is no more (I was not sure want she meant by that) and because his behavior was--- unpredictable. For this reason alone I advise you not to seek him, and if so--- to do so without mentioning my part. Say only this--- that you were guided by the mice."
By her request, we left by a back door then, into a narrow stone stairway that was musty with the scent of the river. It took us right to its bank and from there back to the street by a steep dirt walkway. Once there, Sir Leibniz and myself instantly reached a resolution. We headed then south by carriage, towards the old part of the city, towards the area known to inhabit some of its lesser qualities.
While we traveled I could not help but think of this green man--- a man grinning at a most inappropriate circumstances. I was reminded of a place I had seen among the docks on the Isle of Dogs--- a lunatic asylum where the guards laugh at the patients and the patients laugh at the moon.
III. A nightly stroll
The old Byzantine city is like a town dislocated by the black arts, planted as a black rose in a wild garden. That is to say that by itself it is not an oddity, and yet when entering its gates through a crumbling wall, one cannot help but see the dissimilarity of its features from the surrounding Gothic architecture: its wide broken arches and round towers; the yellow crumbled buildings low and complex, forming a maze of stone wherein a variety of characters move like shadows upon the parapets. The surrounding wall that had once kept the conductors of siege at bay (or was it to keep the dwellers within at bay?) is all but gone, but parts of it remain between the newer buildings around it, some almost slanted over the narrow pathways.
The carriage had dropped us and left in a hurry, and we walked then along a low rampart that shadowed the alley. We sought to find some clue that would lead us to the door of the guild, although we were much aware of the danger in our mere presence there, especially of Leibniz's, who might be recognized by the green man. (But I dared not to go there alone.)
My eye caught a silhouette behind the corner--- it was an old raggedy man holding some object. I was startled to see it was a snake--- only a moment later did I realize the dead skin was simply stretched upon a crooked cane. I asked him as discreetly as possible to direct us to the guild and to my somewhat surprise he did so, pointing his finger towards a narrow alley to our left, and winking with an eye white with blindness.
There was a narrow door in the end of that alley, half concealed by a pile of rotting crates--- a crude eye was painted diagonally upon it.
I knocked at the door and a baritone voice answered immediately.
"Who is the banshee at my door?"
I said that we were clients.
"Does the bargain find you the recipient or the precipitate?"
In truth, I did not know. Before I could reply Leibniz said something that caused my heart to leap.
"Excuse me, dear sir--- We are but two affluent gentlemen in their best attires wishing to order an assassination."
"Are there great moneys to be earned?"
With that there was a longer silence, after which the door creaked open and we were admitted to a dark narrow corridor. The voice that came from no particular direction invited us to proceed to an opening on its right side which led, unexpectedly, to a large and lavish library room comprising of ornate cabinets of drink, an ornamented fireplace, and a golden divan fit for the halls of sovereigns.
While we waited (for what or whom I did not know) I studied a collection of horrible weapons hung over an entire wall: a series of blades of increasing lengths--- starting with an ivory dagger as short and thin as a finger, and ending with a bent scimitar of the Arabian kind that was so long it seemed a single man could not possibly manage it; an array of small and bizarre steel contraptions, things of blade and coil and wire, that I could not tell if were intended to be thrown, struck with, or made to swallow.
A few books were stacked on a small table by the fireplace--- One of which I recognized as a recent manuscript completed in London to establish various conclusions regarding incidences of death, titled "Graunt, John; Natural and Political Observations Made Upon the Bills of Mortality"--- it listed grim accounts of every possible demise in the district of London, with the dryness of a coroner's report and the ghastliness of his pale subject.
Yet a different book was that which caught my eye. It was a thick volume, covered in darkened leather, its pages ashen, some torn at various places. One such page stuck out and I absentmindedly leafed to it--- it was an illustration of the sun king of France, standing in splendid gala costume, holding the earth about his chest and lighting upon it as does the sun. The sheet appeared to have served as a bookmark, and the page beneath it was filled with obscure rhymes about imps and sprites and pixies, and of the poet king Lazarus the meek. (In reality there are no poet kings: poets reap words from the prairies while kings raze them with the hoofs of war.)
There was a particular poem there that someone had marked. It was titled "A nightly stroll" and in the place reserved for the author's name was written simply "Flintshire, 1361". I do not know why, yet I remember its words precisely-
Whilst on sheath of night thou amblest
to gaze upon the pond
to glimpse a face, a sunken dream
of nymph, or vagabond
Amid a frosted water, under lilies gathered free
thou find that thee art searching for
beyond the mist of see
But oh, the heart that leaps! the colder in thy bones!
such force that smites upon the night
such terror it adorns
When it dawns so slowly, surely
beyond the mist of see
no lie, nor dimly reverie
the face thou see is thee
"Do you enjoy our archives?"
I raised my eyes to a see a rather distinguished-looking lady standing at the doorway. She was robed in a long dark coat, almost like a minister's cloak; her hair white as milk but her features not as aged as expected from the hair's aged hue.
"Most interesting," I said. "Is there much scholarship needed for... well, I meant-"
"It is an art like all arts", she interrupted, "and as such demands knowledge and thought--- How does one implement an order without producing marks and proofs? What is needed for a flavorless poison? Where is the Carotid artery located and how does one sever it without an excess of blood? There is much to be learned from public autopsies--- have you been to one? Most enlightening! Do not touch that please."
Sir Leibniz put down a small ivory box he had intended to open.
"How may I serve you?" the lady asked, this madam of murder.
I cleared my throat. "We seek Drafian's service. We are-- guided by mice."
She looked at me suspiciously. We could not have been more at the lion's den than at that moment. They would have thrown our bodies to the lower reaches of the Vistuhcza where they would be found only by carrion scavengers. I had already half-planned a course of action that would lead me to the nearest blade when she spoke again.
"I am afraid he is fully engaged at this time. I have other professionals who might serve you, all skillful and discrete-- We know now of a hairline blood vessel that can be administered toxins without the client's notice"
"I'm afraid only Drafian will do." I said.
"Very well," she said, and with that turned and left by the same doorway she had come through, covering her long snowy hair with a fuliginous cape. The other door, which we had come through, opened, seemingly by its own volition, and we went through the short dim corridor and left to the street.
At this point of the narrative I feel an explanation is due. It is possible the reader of this account might find both Sir Leibniz and myself men of great dare and courage from what I will soon describe. Nothing can be further from the truth. I had felt ever since spotting the weather vane in the shape of the dancing devil that many and great ill-omened things were transpiring, some hidden from awareness-- the events at the Byzantine city alone had pulled me out of my element entirely.
So forgive me, reader, if the following might be considered as boasting, for what then happened was this:
As Leibniz and I were walking away from the Murderer's guild, past the point where we met the old blind man, we came across a tall hooded figure heading towards us. As our paths met both the robed man and Sir Leibniz instantly froze. Leibniz then shouted something incoherently and was at once knocked to the ground; the man who knocked him lost his hood-- it revealed a head bald and pale green. The man then grimaced at me and launched an attack, but I managed to dive away at the last instant and he crashed into the wall. By then Leibniz had sat upright but with a dazed expression on his pale face. Seeing Leibniz was currently not a worthy target the green man lunged at me again, but again missed me as I managed to escape his huge and somewhat gangling body. As he stopped himself from hitting a brick bulging from the wall I seized him by the waist in a futile attempt to knock him off his feet. His weight and build were so great (his advantage and disadvantage in that mêlée) that I stood no chance, but as I did this his grey robe flung open and out flew an object crashing to the floor-- At once I realized the opportunity that presented itself and dove for it.
What happened next is a haze in my memory, yet I do recall this-- at the end of a short skirmish I eventually found myself standing, astoundingly, with the pistol in my hand and the green man at its point. It was a silver flintlock pistol, not unlike the ones used by the cavalry in our civil war about a score before.
Leibniz stood beside me, clapping his appreciation quite inappropriately.
I asked the man about the reasons for his incursion on the preceding night. He only laughed-- a strange laugh broken and throaty, like the sound of a wounded beast, which eventually produced a seepage of saliva from the side of a crooked mouth.
"I believe his mind to be ruined by hallucinogenics, but not so much that the threat falls on deaf ears," said sir Leibniz. "Cock the pistol."
I did so. (I have seen such a pistol dueling once to settle a broken heart-- by its volition a young man was thrown upon a breast of hay, clutching the place where his heart had been.)
The man laughed again, the vicious mouth slowly turning to a frown. He proceeded to mumble unintelligibly, in throaty cries.
"I believe he speaks Farsi," said Leibniz.
Another long murmur.
"He met a man-- a woman? The face was obscure; in the pews of a cathedral-"
Leibniz translated as the man groaned again.
"The Sacrarium mortis. He knows nothing-- only reported; like a good Christian, a good Lutheran... the horns of-- how dare you use those words! I might strike here and now!"
The hoarse grunts turned into yells and he bared his green chest to reveal a tattoo of a goat with shrieking heads like Cerberus.
"A pagan, he is of the damned. Claims the year of the dastards has just elapsed; its number will bear to mark the Archfiend. What? Yes... I see... But still, knows nothing. Did what was asked of him and left. Mister Barrows, we must find this person he met."
We left the green man as he was; he stood motionless as he watched us escape the narrow paths of the Byzantine city. I could swear he spoke something at last in the King's English, but I could not comprehend over the thumps of our feet.
It had begun to grow dark over the city, and rain resumed it relentless onslaught. We could find no carriage and so walked swiftly past the cobbled avenue of royal deliverance with its monuments of glory and war blackened by rain, into a sloped alleyway on the river bank, heading to the hill of the Sacrarium mortis, above it the clouds tore by its long spires and shed forth.
I noticed Leibniz and he seemed distracted with thought.
"Mister Barrows, I fear that brute's ungodly rant has installed dread in my heart. It could be the gloom clouding my judgment, but is it not possible that great evil can come from great grace? By the grace of fire we are made; by the grace of it consumed. But if fire can lead to conflicting realties by its divine power, who is to say the year past did not indeed bear a mark of evil? It is the very axiom of choice on which our world stands that is evidently flawed, either by the divine will or by its fault. If fault is the case-- did it arise at the very beginning or was it born when this mark of the devil was etched upon the world?"
I was contemplating this when a figure born of darkness bumped into me in the gloom-
It was the vagabond that had harassed us near the bridge that very morning. He still brandished his strange wooden cup.
"The cup sees no lies; to decline is unwise; Do not dare surmise-- cross your eyes! Cross your eyes!"
I tried to snub him but it was useless; He showed no interest in a coin I offered, only that I look into the cup.
"Perhaps we should consent so that he might leave us." Leibniz said.
I agreed-- just leaving a conflict, I did not wish to enter a new one, however inconsequential. I smiled politely at the bearded vagrant and leaned close to the cup.
A strange thing happened then. As I looked into the wooden cup I could not see anything unordinary-- only its plain bottom. Then blackness came over it gradually, as an eclipsed sun, accompanied by a thin hiss. I felt my being dissolved; my mind evaporating like vapor from the bowels of the hot earth.
I find myself standing by a moonlit pond. It is one of the two round ponds to the foot a steep mountain I have dreamt of before. A mist has settled over the still water-- water white with night and specked with dried lilies. A fat toad jumps into the water, and as the splash slowly calms I can see my own reflection condensing like mist into dew-- alas, it is not my face; for he who looks at me beyond the thread is the Sun king Louis, and he is illuminating the world with his shine.
IV. Behold a pale horse
I awoke with a massive ache in my head, lying on bare stone at the foot a man who was carrying a great lance and intently in prayer.
Only after a few moments when the clouds set upon my mind had dispersed did I realize the man whom I had just addressed was of marble, and his lifeless face was that of Saint Abilius at the diocese of Alexandria. When my vision returned to me completely the vastness of the great hall was unveiled-- the basilica ceiling of Sacrarium mortis was a sky of black and scarlet where angels fought men and men fought themselves, and where great and many sufferings were portrayed to the worshippers beneath to persuade to the truer ways. The pillars of the earth stood beneath it; I sat at their heart and the cold gloom stretched beyond them where I thought I heard echoes of canticles hymned. It was not so-- the wind played tricks on me from between the crevices.
"Ah... You have awakened," echoed a voice from afar, so distant that I presumed was addressing someone else. I could not tell if it was that of a man or a woman.
"A shame. I can trust no one but myself. Perhaps that is for the best."
I tried to stand but vertigo assailed me like a bolt of lightning, forcing me to slump to the cold floor yet again.
"You might join them still," said the voice of the figure moving about the distant altar, beyond the long nave of the cathedral. The figure waved upwards towards the domed apse, where through its cleverly terraced gaps the light of the pale moon bathed the marble of the ambulatory bone white.
There-- where the figure had pointed-- there around the steep dome-- there was the hiss, the faint shrill, as long tubes of crystal coiled around the curve of the dome; stretched along the painted walls; disappearing behind the vestry. A green mist drifted through them, through the intricately engraved crystal-- an emerald miasma that congealed at some places to thick fog; at others floated as a translucent haze around the apse, and all of it emanated a low whistle that was audible on the fringe of hearing.
These were the tubes of reverence-- the web that weaved like arteries across the great cathedral-- lending it the name Sacrarium mortis; where the souls of the dead in the catacombs beneath floated from the network of crypts as an emerald haze.
The figure drew closer to me now, through an aisle in the long column of pews.
"We are both men of science, Sir William. You believe in the scientific method-- as do I. You are undoubtedly familiar with this strange system-" he gestured at the green arteries, "it is more ancient than the both of us; it has given this city prominence, or notoriety, depending on what bank of the river one stands on, so to speak. And as a man of science you comprehend the workings behind it-- the engine that extrapolates mere gasses from the decomposition of cadavers: methane, ammonia, others; by magnetism and fire. But I see that look in your eyes-- the eyes see souls, Sir William, not gas. You can learn of gasses and pulleys and the attraction and repulsion of materials, but the eyes will see what they see. It is said there, above the sacristy-- that of which your educated mind dare not believe but your eyes give away."
He gestured towards the part of the cathedral where vestments and liturgical vessels are stored. There, above the stained glass and statues was engraved a phrase in Latin. I translated it in my mind to-
"What lie the crust doth sweetly tell"
When I lowered my eyes from the sacristy I realized for the first time that we were not alone in the great hall. A couple of shadows appeared from the darkness between the pillars to follow the figure as he passed me. I could even then not be certain this was a man, for his voice was very high (It was definitely not of a child though). When the moon caught the person's face I saw soft small features under smooth black hair. I could not tell anything else-- except that this was conceivably the person that had required Drafian's services-- the androgen that ordered the nightly entry to Sir Leibniz's study.
As for the two individuals that followed-- One was unfamiliar-- a heavy man dressed in martial uniform (French?) unlike that of a common soldier, and more like that of a garrison -- practical but imposing.
The other I recognized and recoiled at once-- I tried to crawl swiftly, for I could not stand without the spell of vertigo, but he caught with me easily.
"I'll finish the job sooner than later," whispered the vagabond in my ear, the stench of putrid fish on his breath. "Wouldn't be needing any cup this time-- your gun will do." He flaunted the cavalry pistol before me.
The three men retreated then into the darkness of the cathedral. I tried to stand but could not, and although the vertigo persisted it weakened in its severity; I tried to crawl on fours but could not find any reasonable destination-- the door to the street was not in sight-- I strived to find a hint of an egress in the maze of status and liturgies and darkened alcoves but could find none.
Finally they returned from darkness. The androgen walked passed me with a frozen face, leading the vagabond and the soldier, the latter pulling a horse.
The vagabond grabbed me the collar of my blouse and pulled me behind him nonchalantly while whistling a tune, dragging me on the floor, as our strange procession headed towards the altar through the aisle which stretched between the pews.
"Master wishes you to see this." He gestured towards the androgen.
When we reached the area of the alter, the soldier pulled the horse slowly towards a great sepulcher at the moonlit base of the sacristy, beneath the dome. By cue, the vagabond pulled a lever and the great crypt opened to reveal a vault which was almost empty, save for a giant spider web and a pile of human bones rolled into a banner.
The vagabond entered the sepulcher and cleared the spider web; he then crushed the bones under his foot-- they crumbled like puffed sugar.
The soldier looked at the androgen and the latter nodded. By his mark, the soldier and the vagabond led the horse into the sepulcher with some effort, the vagabond distracting it while the soldier pulled the lever, causing the sepulcher to slowly close.
When the door was shut the androgen hurried and disappeared behind an alcove of the sacristy. He returned shortly and sat on a pew by my side.
"The wheels are in motion, Sir William," he said. "Now you will see a great manifestation of the phenomenon that should be named after your dear, deceased colleague."
Great anger came over me but I managed to withhold it.
"See the horse-- it stands, living. But the gasses, the souls, will enter the sepulcher through vents. You can see them now-- flowing through the crystal tubes of reverence. They will flow until a certain mass is reached inside the sepulcher-- this is the key, you see. The exact amount of gas in that cloud will be determined by holy engine that runs under our feet. That holy engine runs on fire. Fire, Sir William-- the mother of life and anti-life. And by that uncanny principle which that thug managed to describe to me sufficiently, because it can breathe so much gas, after which it dies, the horse is either dead or alive. Both dead and alive."
He leaped to his feet-- "Witness it! Wonderful, are they not?" he shouted, possessed. "How wonderfully green-- green as the fairies at the bottom of a bottle of Absinthe!"
How a moment surfaced from the depths of memory can flood us in its murky waters.
That was the case as an early childhood memory assailed me on that moment; a memory that I had lost without ever knowing I possessed. By the time I write this account the two memories are forever associated in my mind, linked by a twine unbreakable. (As horses often are.)
It is of a sight that I had seen as an infant of a brown horse standing by a path behind a farmhouse. I remember contentment as I watched it standing still, grazing the tall weeds.
Then my mother had come to take me away, carrying me in her hands along the path, and I was overjoyed to see the horse growing near, and wished no more than to pet its brown skin.
Then a thing happened which etched itself in fire upon my memory.
As we drew nearer to the horse its skin, which was shining brown in my mind, turned blackened, and to my horror I realized the flesh of it was consumed and rotten; the skin hung loose on bones; the eyes exchanged by hollow sockets; the head a vessel of mold-
The horse was dead on its legs.
This was the vision that appeared as the vagabond pulled the lever to open the tomb. The emerald gas was already drawn from the vault, leaving only its distinctive heat; the horse inside was dead, standing as horses do when they sleep-
But it was also alive.
I could not tell if the throbbing discomfort in my mind was due to the effects of the vagabond's assault, or a result of witnessing what I had just seen-- for there were two horses in the sepulcher-- the one dead on it legs, the other very much alive, already pacing away between the pews, the knocks of its hoofs echoing across the cold hall.
An expression of some satisfaction spread on the androgen's smooth face, and for a moment he remained still, seemingly admiring the sight of the dead horse. Finally, he wrapped himself in a long fleece the color of dried blood, and gestured the soldier to follow him, grimacing at the vagabond as he turned to leave.
"Do your deed, you foul creature."
The vagabond tipped his tattered hat. "Aye m'Sir. Paid an' done for."
He seized my collar and proceeded to drag me to a nearby wooden door behind the altar-- I tried with my numbed extremities to struggle but he immediately and horribly subdued me with a boot to my side, and I believe I coughed some blood then-- such forceful was the blow.
He closed the door behind us leaving us alone in a dusty storeroom, wherein the air was suffocating thick with the scent of centuries.
"Nice and silent here, ye? Like the tomb." He began examining the pistol-- cocking it and squeezing the trigger. "Wouldn't want to wake any sleeping ghouls," faltered in his coat, retrieving a small round bullet-- a devastator of metal, which he carefully slid into the muzzle with two greasy fingers. A hope that had arisen in me that the particulars of loading such a device would be lost to him, alas vanished, as the fiend whistled a merry tune when the bullet slid in, when he poured the gun powder from the case in his jacket, when the chamber was locked, when I prayed for he who saves us, whom I had left for absent when the great death broke when the fire consumed all oh the greath fyre he who save us the gun is pointedd I shall know no fear shall kno no fear-
And when the door creaked open, and in came that darkened figure that children everywhere see in silhouettes when it is too late at night, and whistled until the very moment when the silhouette struck his back and cracked his frozen face into the floor-
Sir Leibniz saved my life.
"Quickly, there is a garrison outdoors. I snuck in but we both cannot repeat the feat-- we must make flight by other means."
The good sir helped me to my legs, and I noticed he was quite drenched with foul smelling water, and seemed shivering with cold.
"Indeed" he answered, "I was thought dead when I jumped to the river-- I could hear them converse over the bridge and think me gone when my head did not pop about for some time-- I myself was almost certain of it, under the black guise of the icy flow."
My legs were returning to some control; my senses slowly awakening.
"It was poison gas in the cup, you see, cleverly stored in the bottom. Slightly more would have you spent. You are lucky, sir.
The mere thought of that cup shivered me. The cup had become a well, and the sensation of falling down its dark depth was still upon me.
Escape was via the catacombs-- the long and narrow necropolis that stretches beneath the city, from the "Sacrarium
mortis" far to the eastern gates. We limped as a single mass, Leibniz supporting my failing legs, through a honeycomb of sealed tombs and broken vaults filled with bones assembled as the rib cages of giant beasts.
At the foot of a stone sepulcher shaped as a sea manatee, not a long distance from the stairwell to the cathedral, we stumbled upon a fresher pile-- half a dozen priests were lying neatly as if laid to ceremony, all dead beneath the brown shrouds. There was a cry, though, a short crawling distance from behind the stone manatee, where one priest of the sacrity was still living. We offered him help immediately, but his reaction was surprising.
Leibniz offered to carry him." Father, your wounds are reversible."
"It is surely not far to the street."
To this the answer was the same. I bowed to the man and asked if there was anything else we could do and he whispered in my ear what we already partly knew-- that we must be weary of the effeminate man. He is the plotter of great and terrible things and he will use the upcoming moment of celestial transformation to bring about his doings regarding the King Louis-- that he had managed to overhear.
We left the priest there by his request and continued down the darkening mausoleum.
"Mr. Barrows," said Leibniz, "The soldiers whom I had seen outside the cathedral were of a French attachment. Their monarch is rumored to be in the royal city on an imperial appointment regarding the war in the Low Countries. This ‘effeminate man', a castrato I believe-- I am certain I have seen his face on a parchment decreeing the entourage du-Saint-Germain-- he is of the king's court."
We ventured forth to the bowels of the earth (I write this and yet I know the catacombs must be horizontal!) until we found a tubular mouth in the wall which led by a dizzying stairway to the ground. Thus we emerged from a shallow well covered in shrubs and climbed its rim to a secluded garden where the stars shone between the high roofs.
As I looked at the heavy moon I understood what the priest had meant regarding the upcoming moment of celestial transformation. In a period of two or three days this moon, by then complete, would rendezvous the sun at its slow climb to the zenith. Above the Sun King of France, the castrato, and an affair which linked all these elements that I had yet to comprehend, a black disc rimmed by fire would reign-
A solar eclipse was due.
V. The death of kings
David Locke writes in his chronicle of the Versailles court:
"Renier Manassier of Württemberg (borne 1623) serves as the court alchemist, physician and astrologist of the recently appointed king. A close confidant to the king, he was trained at childhood as a Soprano castrato only to relinquish the profession at later years, partly due to mediocre ability and partly due to an incident when during a lead performance several of his fellow choir vocalists suffered spontaneous severe hemorrhaging of the mouth. The incident was later maintained to be an affliction caused by the so called ‘ethereal qualities' of a specific high vocal note, but this was never established.
At roughly the same time Manassier began to pursue his interests in the sciences, namely Alchemy and supposedly the banned pagan studies of the highlands.
It is rumored that a Manassier first met the young Louis on a stormy midday at the battlefields of Westphalia. Serving an advisory role to the artillery brigade (a purely political appointment) Louis was seemingly frustrated when for several hours the battalion failed to suppress an infantry group in hideout in a nearby woods. Manassier, who was serving as the battalion explosives scientist, was approached by Louis to find a solution. It is said that Manassier, who was until then paying little attention to enemy movements, then imperturbably pointed to the sky at a vague position and ordered the cannonballs to be fired towards it. A single cannonball that was soon fired reportedly hit a patch of the woods and sent the remaining enemy infantry scurrying. The gun officer later remarked that the cannonball's flight had been so acutely parabolic it seemed "unnatural" even with the strong winds.
Following that event both Manassier's and the king's careers progressed correspondingly, and when Louis was proclaimed ascendancy he tendered Manassier a high commission in his court.
Not much more is known of Manassier, only that his physical characteristics are typical of castrati."
At Libeniz's study we found a volume of Roman solar observations, and by matching them to a diagram of the Earth's celestial bearings (a diagram I have mentioned previously in this account for a different reason) we were able to ascertain that indeed the sun would be wholly eclipsed in a day's time, and that is it not inconceivable that this event might be used by Manassier to induce a plot based on fear and fallacy.*
(*There is ancient myth of a science practiced by Druids, named Uru-Grianology, which I feel compelled to refer to (although I completely reject and believe has little to do with this tale).
According to this myth there exists a small group of people who research, by contemporary trial and error techniques, various occult capabilities of the ancient Pagan beliefs, and are able to do so only at the short periods when a solar eclipse is transpiring (While a full one is preferable, incomplete eclipses also suffice) -- that is when according to Druid belief the Sun discharges some of its dark energy which has been accumulated in the period since its previous eclipse, oozing the energy unto the heavens. Since there are extremely short periods for experimentation and great intervals between eclipses Uru-Grianology has been researched over many centuries, with knowledge secretly passed between a group of active scholars who must always number between nine and twelve.
While Manassier, a descendant of Gauls, might fit the profile of such a scholar, there is no reason to believe this is true.)
At the following day's noon we left by carriage to the royal courts-- a wide pavilion sprawled in the midst of many spires (like a forest) where guest dignitaries as the French king would likely dwell. By foot, anxious and weary, we crossed the part of the grounds open to the populace until and were stopped short by two local guards and a clerk holding a lush parchment. Our only hope lied in Sir Leibniz' growing reputation-- that perhaps it should suffice to give us entry to whatever royal function was planned for that day.
Leibniz introduced us and gave a bow of such false grandeur that I suspected the clerk would find it comical.
"Good sire, you must grant us entry. Our attendance is most needed."
The clerk surveyed the parchment, but with little forthcoming. He puckered his lips, shook his head while holding the plump tasseled hat upon it, as if the thing would fly off otherwise.
Leibniz mumbled-- "Still, still. Grave importance. Great things on the balance."
Nothing seemed to move the clerk. It was only by good fortune that a lord of the court identified Sir Leibniz and demanded the abashed clerk to wave us in at once.
The hall of sovereigns was a universe of lavishness and fancy. We entered at the height of the pageant, and the scent and squalor of the street were suddenly transformed to a feast of senses: Among the crowds in their carnival masks of dyed wood and feathers a couple staged a mock battle with ivory swords that clunked and clinked-- A man masked as comedy plunged his complicated sword towards a woman masked as tragedy-- hers was the upper hand and his sword flew to the hoot of the crowd; A tall woman with skin dark as cold basalt offered lilac wine from a thin carafe-- on her bare arm twisted a vine that ended in a wavy gown of flora that streamed to the floor; Above, a dancer clad entirely in black crawled on a canopy of rope stretched just below the vast ceiling-- she squirmed and drew in circles toward the central dome, apparently in a dance intended to mimic and welcome the coming of the moment of celestial darkening.
We tried to spot any sign of the French king or Manassier to no avail; we warned that the king is in danger but were only scorned and assured he is in safety.
When the time came (this was when the dancer reached the golden center of the dome and froze there, spread on its golden crest) the crowd was ushered outside the lush garden. I suspect some were informed and anticipated the moment while others remained in ignorance.
As the water clock amidst the canals of the garden reached near the mark of three hours after the noon, I was approached by a massive figure in a smooth, faceless mask. The eyes beyond the holes stared at me as the figure seized my arm gently but firmly, and when I glimpsed the pale greenish skin my heart bounced in its cavity.
Sir Leibniz reached to release his grip and had began to wrestle with the green man, yelling for help, when the man repeatedly groaned in his strange dialect of Persian and Leibniz stopped his struggle.
"He claims he means to help. Time is running out."
The green man continued to communicate intensely to Sir Leibniz, and by the time he seemed to say all he had to say the skies were already darkening and a low murmurs could be heard all around. He gestured to a low wall of shrubs at a wing of the garden where a wide tent was stretched and two French soldiers stood at its flap door, and with that he turned and disappeared between the spellbound crowds-- all standing with the eyes to the heavens.
Leibniz quickened me to follow him.
"The scheme is evident now," he said between short breaths, "Manassier has already claimed the king Louis is unwell. He has retired him to that tent-- there he will exploit their short time alone to poison him to temporary sleep; discreetly he will play with fire to duplicate the king-- Move, man! The hells!" he pushed a plump gentleman whose focus was set to the darkening sun with wide teary eyes.
"A dead body will remain, a sleeping one will be carried off, then-- We are too late!"
With the sun blackened and the crowd staring to the heavens, the small figure of Manassier emerged from the tent holding a copper syringe and a white blood-stained towel, his face pale and perspiring.
Already a group of dignitaries and royalty turned their attention to the open flap beyond him, where something seemed to have happened.
"I administered medicine... tardy, there was no life force."
The hush of the crowd. The shadows cast on the tent were already lengthening and light was returning. Mannasier was a figure of shadow and prophecy, standing in dim day.
"The brown of the sun has sucked his greatness' spirit to the ether; his magnanimity is gone. " He began to weep.
"We have lost his majesty."
The crowd all round us erupted to cries of shock. Leibniz was stopped by a soldier and lost his footing, slipping into mud, but in the confusion I made my way past Manassier into the tent, and I could see he looked at me as if he had just seen a ghost.
Inside was the king as I had seen him in dreams and drawings-- His fat body was slouched in a cushioned chair and around him what seemed like a dozen small wooly dogs were at a frenzy, barking and biting at the tails of his colorful garments; his face was broad and white as the moon. On the table beside the King's body and on the floor laid a few copper medicine tools and at the foot of the table the grass was scraped and prints were sunk into the moist earth. Before a soldier pushed me out I managed to observe a long tear at the back of the tent.
Outside I found Leibniz in the turmoil and explained what I had seen.
"We must hurry, then. If I understood correctly from the man named Drafian, they will force soon the surviving king to write at hideout a will decreeing his rule to his close confidant, Manassier. After the living king is rid of and his will retrieved, Manassier would gain the throne."
I told him of the torn back of the tent.
"But with prudence, sir. We must keep this all discreet-- Such an act on foreign soil, if exposed could plunge Europe into war."
We flanked the section of the garden through the crowd until we reached a dried canal that drew past the back of the tent into the culvert. Down its mossy slope we found a burrow leading into the sewer.
The sewer seemed to run below the width of the royal grounds and in its midst we found a single paper mask, floating in filth. The tunnel eventually led us back to the river, and when we faltered up a mossy bank we found ourselves at the northern edge of the city where the wooden hovels of the poor overlook the swamplands of the river delta.
Like a celestial forerunner, the sun that had been eclipsed not an hour before was obscured again, now by a wall of clouds, and we sought refuge from the overture of rain.
With our white formal attire soiled and mucked to the knees we caught our breath under a shed by a pig pen.
By a few moments I had already realized our mistake-- that time and rain will clean any footprints in the mud and that if we ever hoped to gain on the sedated king and his abductors (A thing I was never certain was our business to embroil in) we must make hurry.
It proved fruitful, for while many prints of man and beast marked the narrow trail towards the inner part of the quarter, we found few and fewer as we walked towards the marshes-- a place where one could be swallowed in solitude and left to his own devices-- until at last before the earthy trail turned to slough I spotted a single trace of footfalls and short gullies of wheels heading to a open mound at the heart of the quagmire. There, at its top, was a wheelbarrow, and behind it was the king. He was slumped on the earth with his back to a flat stone-- one of a dozen or so arranged circularly around a stone base of an ancient pagan shrine which formed a holm in the swamp.
A figure clad in a white gabardine was leaning over him.
We approached under the downpour, unarmed and silent. The figure in white straightened. It turned.
A feeling of physical illness washed over me-- the face under the cope was that of Manassier.
"I saw you at the heart of a mob as we left," I told him, and myself.
He just stared at me, as he did when I passed him by the tent, with the exact bemused expression, I could swear. It was as if he had not seen me there.
His attention turned from Sir Leibniz and I, to the king, and again to us.
"I am surrounded by dead men," he said.
A heavy pistol, in his small hands like a musket toyed by a manikin-- he flung it from his stained gabardine, but rain had already soaked it to our great fortune and the mechanism could not possibly work.
From a figure of menace he was transformed to that of pity. To his feet the semi-conscious Louis, a sopping parchment on his lap, sat in a puddle of water and ink spilled from a toppled duvet.
"Look at him," Mannasier cried, "a fat ignoramus inflicting war and death to his whimsy. Can you not fathom what I could do if I rule? To the better of the whole of Europe, of the world-- how much can be done for the sciences!
"Look what can be fabricated with a mere flicker of divine certainty", he pointed to the king, "A man born, by all means, of ashes! You have wrote so yourself, Sir Leibniz, in your theorems on the notion of plentitude-- ‘This best of all possible worlds will contain all possibilities, and thus actualize every genuine possibility, with our finite experience of eternity giving no reason to dispute nature's perfection'!"
"Indeed I have," Leibniz said quietly over the pouring rain, "I have since rejected it."
Mannasier clenched his fist in incredulity.
"You damn fool!" he raged, "You have not only proved the principle of Plentitude, but with your own eyes you now look at its living and breathing instance! You have found a fissure in God's perfection, with which one can produce anything and everything-- a crack through which I have stared into and have seen the Elysian of all beauty-- and you wish to conceal it? To bury it?"
"It is an abomination," I said.
"An abomination to whom?" he laughed, "Here I stand, a doppelganger of my own self, yet where is the great rapture in the storm to lift me into limbo? Your great arithmaticator is sleeping."
We remained then silent, standing in cold rain as it washed the circle of ancient stones and poured into the thick green bogs.
"I am alone here," said finally Mannasier, after he seemed to accept he would not change our minds. "Then I bid you farewell. Let this swampland be my limbo."
And with that he dropped the pistol, turned outwards to the surrounding mire, and walked off.
He walked into the swamp up to his waist; Stopped; Then, wordless, he slumped into the murky waters until he was totally gone.
We waited for some time but all that could be heard was the pouring rain and the sounds of frogs and the marshes.
We carried the semi-conscious king the long way through the sewer canal back the royal grounds. After confirming we were unnoticed, I dropped the king on a garden meadow and we left again through the sewer.
When back out in the street Leibniz and myself concurred to keep any mention of the entire affair to ourselves (an agreement I have obviously broken) and I bid him farewell.
I left the following morning the long way for London.
By the time I write this account, some years have passed since the above occurrences at the city of-- (The name is erased), and I have yet been able to recreate the phenomenon on which I have elaborated here.
While at first I attributed this flaw to science and thought it a matter of untainted reason, it is my growing belief now that certain events beyond the reach of knowledge had enabled it-- the words of the green man named Drafian about hellion and evil haunt me still.
My belief in the scientific method has not faltered; the methodical study of the nature of things remains the end. Nevertheless the rules on which we build our edifice of wind and words are shaken, for if under no seeing eye reality can branch and thus exist concurrently but in contradiction-- if our mortal vision dictates choice and in its absence the god or gods make their doing by whim, who are we to dictate them our laws?
Is a horse still roaming the earth, living while dead? Is a king?
Forgive me-- I have neglected the conclusion of this tale:
The king Louis of France lives and rules still (At recent he has publicly ended the lasting war with England). The events of his death were quieted and as I understand explained in his inner court as temporary coma, caused by the celestial darkening. I am uncertain to this day whether we acted wisely by saving the King's life and reign. My feeling is that we did not. His personal physician, Renier Manassier, reportedly did not leave the royal grounds until nightfall on the day of the king's death, after which he was not seen again.
Lastly, Sir Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz has not distributed a correspondence since his essays commonly named "The principles". I have not met him since, and he has lately reported to be "reclusive" and his demeanor often "erratic". Since our mutually experienced events in the year 1667 he has published works on the notions of pre-established harmony and has complemented Descartes' interaction between mind and matter and elaborated his "Communication of substances."
I cannot help but think the phenomenon initially produced by the Revolverium inspired at least some of these notions.
How often memory is fashioned as history? In a sense the two are both depictions of reality; in another sense both are false, and falsified-- memory is not necessarily loyal to reality-- the two can differ by our own device; nor is history an accurate portrayal of reality but a blend of actual events and deliberate and un-deliberate imaginations and distortions. Both are as canvasses of painting upon which the colors has been smeared and faded by time.
If this is the case then I cannot blindly accept my memory of the ordeal. If I agree to accept my memory, I accept this:
I was dealt premonitions. I experienced foreshadowings-- of the Sun King in my dreams, and memories; of the devil, whirling in the wind on the night I reached the city; of the occurrences in the quagmire south of the city; and there were other, subtler, signs.
On this issue my willingness to believe coincidences is stretched.
I cannot forget the priest of the Sacrarium mortis who refused to be saved-
Despite personal hardships, and despite public disasters in the city of London, there is optimism in me. And yet on blacker nights an image comes to mind: the four horsemen of the apocalypse ride in my mind on copied horses-- war, pestilence and death ride as they do in the book of revelation; famine is replaced by fire-- a flame all-consuming on the back of a pale horse.
So forgive me again, reader, for I must now end this account-
The candle at my table is all but gone, and the flame is dwindling.
© 2007 I. D. Weis
Bio: I.D. Weis lives in Israel and works as a Software developer. He is an avid Humus taster and not a big fan of humidity. His story Quintessence appeared in the December 2005 edition of Aphelion and was selected as one of the Best of 2005.
E-mail: I. D. Weis
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