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Linguistic notes at end of chapter.


Chapter Forty-Two


Schloß Rosenkreuz, 1869


"Do you know where you are, boy?"

"Hell."

The devil walked back and forth before him, sneering down at him. John waited patiently, seeing what the devil would do next. The room was neat and warm, with a fire burning in the grate, and he'd be happy to wait all night in such comfort. They didn't speak English in Hell he'd found, and he was surprised and gratified that the devil would be so polite as to talk to a gurrier like him in a tongue he could understand. The other devils had sworn and spat in the language of Hell when he'd fought them. He'd only stopped trying to draw blood when he saw they wanted him washed, not baptised. It was a pity about his knife, but he had an idea he'd be able to find another one easy enough.

"Do you know why you are here, boy?"

"You have a job for me to be doing," said John in perfect confidence.

The devil paused, then bent down to look him in the eyes. "Who has been telling you that? What have they told you?"

"Other divils. They say they want me to hurt people." John frowned. "Mam said hurting people was bold, but if I'd been better at it I could've saved her." He smiled up at the devil, cheerful again as he remembered the boy who'd thought a half-starved little Dublin lad was easy to bully. The other lads had only stopped laughing when they'd seen he wasn't going to stop slamming the eejit's face into the floor till he was good and satisfied. "I'm good at hurting people now," he said confidingly. "I'm yer man."

"He's Irish?" the devil said to the little devil in the corner.

"There are plenty of Irish in London," said that devil, shrugging. "No doubt his family were there looking for work."

"I got meself there," said John, wishing to impress upon them his resourcefulness.

"And how did you do that?" said the devil, looking not at all interested.

"There was a gang of orphanage lads being sent to England to work," said John. "'What's one more?' thought I, and on I got to the boat with them. There was little enough to be doing in Kingstown anyway. They went one way in England, I went another." He wondered if he should say anything about wanting to get out of Dublin fast, and thought he wouldn't. It was nothing important.

"That's when you found him?" the devil said over his shoulder.

"It was not," said John, worried that it would look bad to seem the sort of boy who was barely in a place when he was taken by force from it. "I was in London months and months before that."

"I see," said the devil, and slapped him in the face. "Do not interrupt your elders. Speak when you're spoken to. How did you survive?"

John stared at him sullenly. His lip was split, and it hurt, a dull pain that spiked sharply when he drew his tongue across it. "Like I did at home," he said, just before he was about to get another hand across the face. "I begged. I robbed what I could. I ran messages for people. The streets aren't paved with gold, you know. The stories are lies."

"How long did you survive in such a way in Dublin?"

"I don't know," said John in some bewilderment. "I don't remember some of it too well. A year, two years. I took soup from the Protestants, but what does that matter?" He paused, seeing the others look at him as if he spoke nonsense. "Two years," he said. "I'm nine now. Almost."

"Nine. Good. I'm told you see things," the devil said. "Is that true?"

"I'm not blind," said John. "I can see all right."

"You can see angels," said the devil. "Do they tell you things? Tell you to do things?"

John paused. It could only be a good thing to work for the devil. He'd get his own back on Heaven, surely. And he was warmer and better fed than he'd been for longer than he could remember. But what if seeing angels was the wrong thing to do? Perhaps it was a sign he could be redeemed, and he didn't want that at all. "Only good people see the blessed angels," he said carefully. "I'm not good."

"Herr Blumenthal found you in a church," the devil said gently. "Can you remember why you were there?"

"It was lashing out," said John. "The church was dry. I don't like the rain."

"Do you remember the priest?" the other devil said abruptly. "Mein Gott, you should have seen this brat's handiwork. You would find it hard to believe of an untrained man, let alone a child."

"Something bad happened to the priest," John said neutrally. It was hard not to sound satisfied. The sound of the rain had been so loud, and the church so dark.

"Did the angels tell someone to do something bad to him?" the devil said intently.

"They cried," said John, unable to restrain his glee at the memory. "The place was only full of their whinging." He rocked back and forth, whispering to himself as the sitting room receded in his consciousness, hearing heavy rain and screams.

"John. John! Pay attention. Do the angels ever tell you about things that have not yet happened? You might find it difficult to understand what they mean, if they do that. We can help you."

He blinked up at the devil in surprise. He'd never considered such a thing. "They mostly speak in Latin," he said. "I only know Latin from the Mass."

The devil sighed in annoyance, and the little devil looked worried. "You know, sir," he said, "many oracles are said to interpret their visions through an obsession with religion. This could be trained out of him."

"His visions speak in a language he does not know," snapped the devil. "He is more likely a weak mind reader drawn to churches and allowing the thoughts of clerics to cloud his perceptions."

"I'm sure they're visions, rather than the thoughts of others," said the little devil. "Another oracle would be a rare prize, would he not?"

"An oracle who was not a madman would be," muttered the devil. "Look how he mutters and shakes. John! What do you see?"

"I'm not mad," said John at once, snapping his gaze away from the angel crouched in the corner, so lost and lonely in Hell. "I can work for you. I want to work for you. I'm not mad." Only when he sighed in relief at the devil's nod of agreement did he realise he had been holding his breath. He turned to go at the other devil's command, and was pulled up short by the next imperious words.

"Who did you kill in Dublin, John?"

"No one," he said in horror, whirling round. "No one!"

"Really?" said the devil, picking up a paper from the desk. John felt sick to see the familiar design of the title, and, though he was warmly dressed and wearing good stout boots, went cold from head to toe, as if he stood barefoot on freezing stone. "No one? What does this say, John?"

"I just sold them," whispered John. "I couldn't read them."

"No? That will be remedied. Let me tell you what it says. Some months before Herr Blumenthal found you in London - where you had been for 'months and months' as you say - there was a murder in Kingstown, that very place you say there was little amusement. An elderly nun, found brutally slain in the sanctuary of a church. "Butchered" the paper tells me, and "obscenities" are mentioned. I'm sure you can supply the details, John. How lucky for you that a ship was ready to undock. Well? Have you anything to say?"

John looked at him, obscure and inexplicable relief washing over him. Was that all it was? He gave his very best smile. "It was raining. The church was dry."

The devil shook his head, making a shooing gesture in vague distaste. "Take him away, Blumenthal, and let us see what we can make of him. Have him examined thoroughly, and give him to Dorfmann if you can't use him as an oracle. Teach him to read, teach him to speak German, and for God's sake, teach him to speak English with a less uncouth accent."


* * *



The ruined city, 1880


"Is there more coffee?" said Farfarello, looking warily at the pot. Micah held it out pouring a liquid that indeed resembled coffee into his tin cup.

"Schuldig made some more," said Micah as Farfarello raised it to his lips.

He paused, looking into the cup as if he might read therein his future for the day, then shrugged and drank. "I can hardly taste it anyway," he said. "Though I can tell it is as foul as ever," he continued. "Schuldig! What is it you do to the coffee to make it taste as it does?"

"I could not make it out behind the boulders this morning," said Schuldig idly. "Luckily the coffeepot was at hand. How you fuss, Farfarello! My coffee is perfectly all right - see Micah is happy to drink it, are you not, Micah?"

"Yes, yes, indeed," said Micah, pouring himself a cup and sipping at it gingerly in demonstration of this fact. "It will certainly wake us all up," he said, smiling as Nagi coughed at his first mouthful of the newly brewed drink.

"Nagi loves my coffee," said Schuldig, "don't you?"

"Yes," said Nagi in a dull and mesmerised monotone as if another spoke through him. "I - love - your - coffee."

"Brat," said Schuldig as the others laughed. "I'll get my revenge when you least suspect it. Possibly by getting Crawford to cook more often. You, at least, like my coffee, do you not, Crawford?"

"I am at least used to it," said Crawford, sitting beside the young mind reader and briefly touching his hand.

Farfarello looked away to let them have even a moment's privacy. He was glad to see they had made up their differences, and was just as pleased to have Schuldig easily insulting and teasing him once more. "I should not have been cold to him," he thought. "He has not looked well over these last days. I will make it up to him somehow. Perhaps I will drink more of his nasty coffee." He thought for a while, the fact that Crawford had proclaimed it to be a day of rest annoying him a little, for it meant his easiest means of pleasing Schuldig, by taking on his work for the day, was now not possible.

"I think I will climb up the side of the valley and observe our work from above," he said at last. "I cannot bear to be idle, even if we all need the rest. It's quite a walk, so perhaps I should take a dov - Nagi," he continued, as if the thought had only just occurred to him, "would you like to ride up there with me?" As he had expected, the lad's face lit up at the thought of riding his beloved dov, and the boy eagerly agreed. "Will you come as well, Micah?" asked Farfarello. "I do not expect there to be any need for it, but if we should meet with trouble it would be good to have someone adept with the use of a rifle. A one-eyed man is not as good a shot as one with the use of all his vision!"

"Certainly," said Micah, smiling a little to himself. "Shall we go at once?"

"Why not?" said Farfarello.

"Are you coming, Crawford?" said Nagi. "Schuldig?"

"Someone will need to stay to guard the camp," said Micah. "Is that not so, Farfarello?"

"Yes," said Farfarello cheerfully, grinning as Schuldig and Crawford regarded him with dry amusement. "And we can't just leave Schuldig by himself - if the natives attack he'd just try to talk them to death, and his command of their tongue is nowhere near as good as Crawford's." He strove not to laugh as Nagi looked serious, as if this made some sort of sense. "Come now, let's hurry and get off before it becomes too hot," he said, urging the others away from the camp fire. "Nagi, fetch some water, Micah, please get your rifle. I'll get some food, and harness the dov." Within a short space of time he had them ready to leave, and they rode gaily from the camp. Farfarello looked back to see Schuldig lazily raise a hand in farewell, then return to his occupation of leaning against Crawford, drawing his friend's arm about him. Turning his gaze back upon the trail, Farfarello watched in amusement as Nagi urged his dov at obstacles so that it would rush over them in its queer scurrying gait. By the time they eventually reached the top of the valley side, Farfarello had to remind himself that not all men were as he, and accepted some water and a snack while Micah made them take refuge from the sun in a patch of shade cast by some rocks.

"It's a large site," said Micah, shading his eyes with his hand as he surveyed the valley floor. "I'm very thankful that Bradley did his research before coming here. We might have been digging for all eternity."

"Don't think he would not have made us dig forever," said Farfarello. "He's a thorough man."

"It's best to do something completely and well. Half-hearted tasks are a waste of effort and time," said Nagi, in the tone of one who has learned such maxims off as a lesson.

Both Farfarello and Micah hid smiles until the lad had turned away to busy himself with his dov. "My brother can do no wrong in the lad's eyes, can he?" smiled Micah then. "That is very certainly something he has taught Nagi."

"One cannot buy such devotion," said Farfarello. "Ah, we were all young once."

"To whom were you so devoted in your far-distant youth?" said Micah, grinning broadly. "I am surprised you can remember such ancient days!"

"There are times I feel old indeed," said Farfarello. "I used to think there were those in the Schloß who were worth a measure of personal loyalty. Those who would let me alone to fight the other students as I saw fit, those who did not laugh at what I said I saw." He paused, waiting until Nagi had drawn a little further away. "That was before I was given to Crawford to be used. And used up."

"You like fighting, don't you?" said Micah. "You were glad to have the chance to be useful, surely?"

"Surely," said Farfarello easily. "There were plenty of people to kill, and I knew I was properly engaged about tasks that would benefit our people. It occurred to me finally, however, that I was not expected to see the new order our people would bring upon the world, that I would in the course of things be long dead, for I was a commodity rather than a valued member of our organisation, having no supernatural power." He took another mouthful of water, continuing quietly, "After another while I realised that was a disappointment to me, for I had grown accustomed to the company of Crawford and Schuldig - and then of Nagi - and was loath to leave it. And then I saw I was not a tool, a thing, to them but a compatriot and a friend. That was unexpected, but not unwelcome." He gave Micah his very best smile, thinking it would be a simple thing to send Nagi off about some task and have uninterrupted time alone with Micah. Then he told himself that the man was now one of them and he must not kill him. Crawford would not be happy.

"Why didn't they send you away from the Schloß?" asked Micah. "You should surely have been put in with the lesser students down in the village. They might have forced some ability from you, as they did with me."

"I interested them," said Farfarello. "Once I no longer felt pain I was a puzzle to be solved. I think they wanted to replicate what they had done to me, seeing visions of implacable footsoldiers impervious to pain for them to use. I was the perfect student, so quick to learn, so deferential." He grinned wolfishly. "So very obviously insane, a one-off fluke that the more cautious of the masters felt should not be used as a pattern for other boys."

Micah laughed shortly, a mere breath with no humour in it. "They will have tried their hardest to emulate their success with me," he said. "Perhaps they will have achieved their aim with other children. It was very harsh," he said, looking to where Nagi threw stones down the slope. "I thought it was necessary, that it would all lead to better things. I wasn't given anyone to grow close to, as you have grown close to one another. Farfarello, are you sure this plan of Bradley's is the right thing?"

"I trust him," said Farfarello simply. "He does not lead us astray. If he says we are but slaves and should seek our freedom, then he is right." He smiled faintly. "Or perhaps I am merely a weapon who cannot think for itself and is being deceived by a clever man for his own ends. Better to be used by one clever man than by a whole organisation of them, and at least Crawford feigns an interest in me." He looked more closely at Micah, saying, "I am cynical. He does not feign interest, he does not deceive us, his friends. Trust him, Micah."

"He was always a clever boy," mused Micah. "I hope he has only increased in guile and intelligence. We shall need that." He closed his eyes wearily, murmuring, "And he does not feign interest, you are right. He has not, from the time we met again, rejected the idea of my claims upon him as a brother. Many men would have done so, even those trained by our -- by those that were our organisation."

"He believes prejudice to be irrational," said Farfarello. "As do we all, though Crawford perhaps takes it to extremes. Why, he even thinks Germans have a place in the scheme of things! Speaking of which, perhaps we should go back. No doubt Schuldig is missing us as objects of torment. They'll be well rested by the time we return."

"As you wish," said Micah cheerfully. "Nagi! Come, let's get the beasts saddled once more, we'll go back now."

Farfarello watched them busy themselves with the tack for the dov, swinging himself up into the saddle and fixing his eye upon Micah's back as that gentleman led the way down the slope towards the valley floor. "No," thought Farfarello. "I must not kill him. I must not." Feeling that he should distract himself somehow, he called out to the others that he would race them, and, spurring his dov on, scurried past Micah, hearing both he and Nagi call out in amused outrage that he cheated, and order their dov to great speed in turn.

With laughter and catcalls the young men clung to their dov as the great beasts rushed down the hill at breakneck speed, as if they too wished to distract their minds from thoughts of violence and murder. It was exhilarating and terrifying, and suited Farfarello's purposes perfectly.


* * *



Some Hiberno-English terms:

gurrier: common brat (a very disapproving term)
bold: naughty
eejit: idiot
Kingstown: now Dun Laoghaire (a town outside Dublin from where ferries leave for Holyhead in Wales)
messages: errands (especially getting things from shops)
taking soup from the Protestants: a reference to ill-judged 19th century charity/famine relief that involved conversion to the Church of Ireland (a Catholic convert to the CofI I know was called a "Souper" only last year . . .)
lashing: raining very heavily
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