'What is it?'

The Abbot lifted his head and barked, “What is it?”

His voice was sharp and snappish out of self-​​defense; he felt vaguely confused, as if some time had passed without him, and he feared he had been napping in his chair. It was one of the axioms of Abbot Adalbert’s existence that it were better to be found disagreeable than be found at a disadvantage.

Brother Simon opened the door only widely enough for his body and snuck through like a thief.

Brother Simon snuck through like a thief.

“Begging your pardon, Lord Father,” he said in a shrill whine. “There’s a brother asking to see you tonight.”

Adalbert scowled. “Who dares it? Let him speak to his prior!”

“Not one of ours, Lord Father, I mean,” Simon said. “He came up from Lothere…”

The word alone was enough to make the Abbot’s lips curl back from his teeth. There was no Lothere in his world – only a foreign body that had swelled up in the last few years: a cancer growing at the center of his diocese, pressing painfully against his own domain.

Brother Simon ventured, “It’s a very old man… says he has a message about the Abbot…”

“If that–Abbot–has a message for me,” Adalbert snarled, “he may write me a letter, and I shall read it in my own good time!”

'I shall read it in my own good time!'

Simon cringed. “Not from the Abbot, Lord Father, but about the Abbot, he says…”

An idea shone down into Adalbert’s foggy head like a ray of divine light. “Is he dead?”

“No!” Simon gasped. “Praise God! He is well. I asked the brother what it was about,” he said, almost wheedling, “but he said it was a Church matter… He wouldn’t speak to a prior…”

Adalbert’s mind went blank again, like the damp heart of a cloud. Fretfully he gnawed the side of his tongue between his remaining back teeth.

Simon took a step back, as if he thought his lord was preparing to spit fire. “Should I make an appointment for him to see you tomorrow at a convenient time?” he quavered.

'Should I make an appointment for him?'

Adalbert said nothing for a moment longer, but he quickly realized he would not be able to guess.

“No!” he huffed. “Send him in now, Brother! It is too late now, thanks to your poor judgment. I shall sit here wondering till morning if I don’t see him now!”

Simon folded his hands obediently. “I apologize, Lord Father.”

“Send him in to me! I shall not go down.”

Simon tried to slip out like a thief again, which only infuriated Adalbert all the more.

“Brother Simon!” he barked before the door had quite shut.

'Brother Simon!'

“Yes, Lord Father?” the small voice called.

“Brother Magnus shall serve me my supper. You shall take the scraps out to the geese instead.”

Simon’s head dipped through the cracked door and rose away again as he bowed. “Yes, Lord Father.”

Simon fumbled with the door and pulled it shut with a bang. Adalbert winced, but the exchange had, at least, sufficed to wake him. He snorted and ruffled his robe over his shoulders, grimly relieved.

The “very old man” Simon had promised proved to be no exaggeration. The “came up from Lothere” seemed almost impossible, however: the frail man could only have come up in a padded wagon over a several days’ journey. His body was so stooped his beard hung almost free of his bowed chest, and so thin that his flesh seemed to have withered into a tight sheath over his knuckles and the twin bones of his forearms.

'Thank you for seeing me, Lord Father.'

“Thank you for seeing me, Lord Father,” the old monk said, smiling softly. “It is an honor and a relief to me.”

“What is your name and what is your business?” Adalbert snapped.

“My name is Myrddin, Lord Father,” he said respectfully, “and my business is perhaps a small matter to you, but grave to me.”

Adalbert sniffed. “Myrddin? That’s a Welsh name.”

“So I am,” the old monk smiled. “It is mine.”

'So I am.'

“Hmph. I’m a Welshman, too, for that matter,” Adalbert said.


“I was born here, of course, but my parents came up from Wales.”

“Ah, you have the Welsh blood,” the old man said dreamily. “I thought I heard an echo of the accent in your words, but I should have seen the spirit in your eyes.”

Adalbert was pleasantly surprised to learn that he still carried enough of his mother’s accent to be recognized by a fellow Welshman, and his heart warmed slightly.

Adalbert was pleasantly surprised.

“What can I do for you, Brother and countryman?” he asked. “What is this grave matter?”

Then he remembered that it had something to do with the Abbot of Lothere, and his lips curled into a scowl.

The old man slipped a book out of the hollow breast of his robe, but he shuffled around to put himself between the Abbot and the fire before Adalbert could see what it was.

“We could call it a confession, Lord Father, if you will,” he said mournfully. “I have sinned greatly in my mind, and even in deed. Behold a thief!”

'Behold a thief!'

He held the book briefly away from his body, but he pulled it close again before Adalbert saw more than a dull, red-​​brown cover.

He leaned closer, squinting to see detail in that shadow. “What did you steal?”

“In my vanity,” the monk intoned, “I believed I had the wisdom and strength of spirit of a holy man…”

'I believed I had the wisdom and strength of spirit of a holy man.'

“What is that book?” Adalbert demanded.

“…that my simple mind could perceive the mysteries that are given only to great men such as yourself to see…”

At last Adalbert’s curiosity obliged him to be far less disagreeable than he would have liked.

'Please sit down, Brother.'

“Please sit down, Brother,” he said. “What do you have?”

The monk scuttled over to the chair with surprising agility for such an old man, but to Adalbert’s disappointment, he sat and balanced the book out of sight upon his lap.

“You know that the Abbot of Lothere is said to be a very wise man,” Myrddin whispered eagerly.

Adalbert nipped at his tongue with his few back teeth.

Adalbert nipped at his tongue with his few back teeth.

“I have tried to read some of his works, myself,” Myrddin sighed, “but I must be a very simple man indeed, for I cannot understand them. They seem almost heretical to me.”

Adalbert nodded sharply. “You may be more clever than you realize, Brother. I have found much of what he writes heretical myself, and I am not the only learned man to say so.”

Myrddin said nothing for a moment, but he inhaled deeply, and his pale blue eyes went soft and hopeful as a child’s.

His pale blue eyes went soft and hopeful as a child's.

“I am heartened to hear you say so, Lord Father,” he murmured, “for I have been doubting my own mind since I saw this book. I confess, I have doubted my own faith since I came to that abbey and that abbot.”

“What is this book?” Adalbert demanded. “Give it to me.”

'What is this book?'

To his surprise, the monk handed it over willingly.

“Forgive me, Lord Father, and may God forgive me, for I have stolen it from a monastery. But – Lord Father…” The creased skin of his face drew tight with pain. “I was so desperate to understand! Our abbot has been so excited these past weeks – almost feverish – almost inspired. The brothers have all been talking about it… and I am so close to death, Lord Father, and feel so far from Heaven – I wanted to understand what so illuminates this holy man before I die!”

'I wanted to understand what so illuminates this holy man before I die!'

Adalbert grunted and glanced over the cover. The book was very old; if Aelfden had been writing another book lately, it was not upon these pages.

The finely wrinkled leather was shrunken with age and stretched tight over the boards, but the cords were still strong, and it opened with scarcely a squeak or crackle.

“So I followed him down to the crypt yesterday,” Myrddin continued.

“The crypt?” Adalbert asked idly – then he saw his first page.

He saw his first page.

“You see, Lord Father, several times we have seen him go down to the crypt and up to his office, and then go down to the crypt again hours later, and come back strange.”

Adalbert tasted blood in his mouth, and only then the pain. He had nervously gnawed down into the quick of his tongue.

“I think he must have been reading this book, Lord Father,” Myrddin whispered. “He keeps it in his own tomb.”

'He keeps it in his own tomb.'

The eye was drawn at once to the elaborate diagram in the center of the page. It was an explosion of strokes and angles and segments of circles, like an astronomical map of some sinister heaven, shredded with scissors and craftily rearranged.

“I didn’t understand any of it,” Myrddin lamented. “Just a little of the Greek – but it made no sense to me. Cleaver of skulls… Grinder of brains… Disemboweler of babes…”

The Greek annotations seemed like fly droppings alongside such a potent symbol, which might have held a volume’s worth of meaning to an eye that could read. However, the Greek told the Abbot enough.

The Greek told the Abbot enough.

“Tell me I misunderstood!” Myrddin pleaded. “Tell me I was wrong to bother you with this, Lord Father! I would rather steal and sin than behold evil and dwell in evil! Tell me I misunderstood!”

'Tell me I misunderstood!'

“You understand only in part, Brother,” Adalbert murmured. His throbbing tongue rolled heavily in his mouth, wallowing in its own blood. “Through a glass, darkly. But you did right to come to me. There is evil in Lothere.” He nodded grimly. “Now we see it face to face.”

'Now we see it face to face.'