The bible repairman and.., p.14
The Bible Repairman and Other Stories, p.14Tim Powers
“The jawbone was gone?”
Trelawny nodded. “I questioned everyone, and eventually learned that Captain Hamilton’s father-in-law had been present, and had been seen to take something out of the box, as a, a souvenir. My dead friend said that if I could break one of Shelley’s bones right in Mount Parnassus itself, and sever the Nephelim element from the human element, that might, I don’t know, constitute a rupture or defilement of the arrangement I’ve made with them.”
Bacon shook his head. “I know the Cambrian is in the Aegean Sea somewhere,” he said, “but it’d be God’s own chore to find him and then try to get this bone, just – I’m sorry! – to save one man’s family.”
“I’m not ‘just one man,’” said Trelawny, and to his alarm he felt the old pride welling up in him; “I’m to be the bridge,” he went on quickly, “they’re going to implant a fired-clay statue into my ribs, and then at this Midsummer’s Eve I’ll be consecrated as the overlap, the gate between the species! I’ll be – don’t you see? – the restoration of the link.”
For several seconds Bacon was silent in his booth. “No,” he said finally with a smile that made his gleaming face look haggard in the firelight, “I won’t gain anything by killing you, will I? You klepht will only find another racial traitor to do it with. No lack of candidates, I imagine.” He stared toward the fire. “I wonder if killing your bandit-chief would effectively prevent it.”
“His one-time ally and now chief rival, Ghouras of Athens, would step in. Already he’s trying to.”
“And others behind him, I suppose. The Greeks can’t forget Deucalion and Pyrrha or the Muses in Parnassus.” He sighed and stood up. “Write your letter, I’ll take it – and I’ll return with this atheist’s jawbone as quickly as I’m able.”
Trelawny stepped away from the wall. “Before Midsummer’s Eve,” he said, suppressing a shiver that might have been fear or shameful hope, “or you may as well give it back to Hamilton’s father-in-law to use as a paperweight.”
Behind him, the newcomer Whitcombe was staring in evident alarm at the three people by the table. The wind from below tossed his blond hair.
“Do it today,” said Tersitza. “You need time to heal from it. You don’t want to be carried down the mountain to Delphi on a stretcher, on Midsummer’s Eve!”
“I’ll have the surgery tomorrow, or the day after,” said Trelawny, wishing he didn’t have to blink tears out of his eyes in the glare. “Today you and I ride to Tithorea.”
“But Ghouras’s men have blockaded the gorge,” said Tersitza patiently. “Wait, and we’ll be able to ride right over them.” She laughed. “Fly right over them.”
“You’re not getting cold feet, are you, old man?” said Fenton. “Not the pirate prince of the Indian Ocean?”
“I keep my word,” said Trelawny stiffly. I did vow at our wedding to protect her, he told himself. That takes precedence, even if she doesn’t want protection.
“But – are you serious?”
“Ghouras will just arrest you both and lock you up with her brother.”
“Ghouras wants this cave, he wants the mountain, not us – and he knows he can’t take it by force. He’ll negotiate.” This is good, he thought – it almost makes sense.
“And you think it will help to take Tersitza with you.”
Trelawny could think of no plausible reason for that condition, so he only said, “Yes.”
Fenton frowned and shrugged. “Odysseus told us that you’re in command here while he’s away. If you’re confident you can come back, and if you want to be carried to Delphi with a bleeding incision …”
“I heal fast,” said Trelawny. He turned to Tersitza and said, “We can meet with Ghouras at Tithorea, I’m certain. We’ll be back here in two days at most.”
And I hope I’m wrong, he thought. I hope Ghouras’s men do simply arrest us, and forcibly take us to Athens, away from this monstrous mountain.
Tersitza’s eyes were shadowed by her turban, and Trelawny couldn’t tell whether she was looking at him or at Fenton.
But after a pause her shoulders slumped and she sighed, fluttering the cloth over her face. “Very well, my husband.”
“I would advise keeping your pistols handy,” Fenton said.
“Yes of course,” said Trelawny.
“Why not at least get in a bit of target practice, then?” Fenton said. “Just while the palikars climb down to get your horses saddled? Whitcombe here can join us.” He peered with apparent sympathy at Trelawny. “Though I must say you look a little shaky to compete this afternoon.”
“Even with a pistol I’m a better shot than you two with your carbines,” Trelawny muttered, “any day.”
Relieved that they had given in to his proposal so easily, Trelawny quickly called for the Italian servant he always addressed as Everett, and told him to set up a plank for a target at the far left side of the terrace.
Both Fenton and Whitcombe had rifles ready and leaning against the parapet, and now they picked them up and checked the flints and the powder in the pans.
Trelawny drew a pistol from his sash and stepped between them and the target to shoot first. When Everett had set up the board and hurried back into the shadows, Trelawny swung his arm up and fired, and though the smoke stung his already watering eyes and the boom of the shot set his ears ringing, he heard the plank clatter forward onto the stone.
He stepped forward to prop the board up again, but paused when he heard Tersitza shout urgently to one of the Greeks, “Fire the cannons!”
Trelawny knew the cannons were aimed out over the gorge, loaded with the fired-clay pellets that were to come alive at the next full moon – but it wouldn’t work now, the statue hadn’t been implanted in him yet.
He opened his mouth to ask her why –
And a sudden hard blow to his back and jaw sent him staggering forward as a rifle-shot cracked behind him; he caught his balance and straightened, dizzy and stunned and choking on hot blood, and then he coughed and spat blood down the front of his shirt and cried hoarsely, “I’ve been shot!”
Dimly he was aware that Fenton had rushed up and was supporting him now, shouting something, but Trelawny turned to Tersitza, who was waving at someone behind him; and a moment later the stone floor shook under Trelawny’s feet as the unmistakable boom of a cannon shot jarred the terrace.
Fenton was shouting, “He’s good on his own for another minute, at least! It’ll take! He’s –” The man’s voice choked off then in a gasp, and Trelawny blinked tears out of his eyes to see Tersitza.
She was pointing a pistol of her own at him, or at Fenton.
“Not me, not yet!” Fenton screamed, and then he wrenched Trelawny around by the shoulder and spoke directly into his face: “She’s pregnant, she’s carrying your still-human –”
Tersitza’s shot struck Fenton squarely in the chest, and he pitched over backward and rolled onto his face, his head against the base of the parapet.
Trelawny abruptly sat down on the stone floor and bent forward to let the blood run out of his mouth, and two teeth and an object like half of a big pearl tumbled out past his lips to clink in the widening red puddle on the stone. But his sight was dimming and he remotely realized that he wasn’t breathing, and his ribs and skull seemed to be shattered and held together only by the confinement of his skin.
As if from far away in a ringing distance, he heard the other three cannons being fired in rapid succession.
The clay pellets flew tumbling through the hot air, still moving out away from the cave terrace but already beginning to fall toward the treetops and the Kakoreme riverbed. Trelawny was leaping with them out over the world, though at the same time he was still sitting hunched forward on the stone floor of the cave terrace on the mountain.
His right arm was numb and useless, but with his left hand he picked up the half-pearl and rubbed away its coating of bright red blood. Now he could see that it was half of a ceramic ball,
He laid it back down in the puddle and moved his hand away.
Someone was kneeling beside him, and when he squinted he saw that it was Zela, the Arab princess whose marriage to him had been cut short by her youthful death – in his stories.
“Swallow it,” Zela said. “I – can’t force you!” Trelawny thought blurrily that she seemed surprised to realize that she couldn’t.
Trelawny’s consciousness had expanded as far as the mouth of the gorge to the east, and north to the three standing pillars on the round stone dais at the Oracle of Delphi, but he bent his attention downward over Mount Parnassus to look at the figures on the terrace of Odysseus’s cave.
He saw the sitting figure that was himself; two holes in the back of his white shirt, to the right of his spine, showed where the rifle balls had struck him.
A figure that must have been young Whitcombe had snatched off its turban and tied one end of it to the crane boom at the edge, and was rapidly climbing down it toward the highest of the moored ladders on the cliff-face below.
The woman who was either Tersitza or Zela was speaking, and the hovering spirit of Trelawny discovered that he could hear what she said:
“Swallow it.” There was urgency in her voice. “You’ve only got half of the statue inside you now. Swallow it and it will reform itself, and reform you. I can’t force you! You’re dying, Edward, my love – you’ll die here, now, if you don’t do what I say. Or you can be healed, and live forever with us.”
He was able, too, to look in another, entirely unsuspected direction, and there he saw the Trelawny figure step toward the fallen target-plank, as behind him Fenton aimed a rifle at his back and pulled the trigger – but the gun didn’t fire; Fenton gestured at Whitcombe, who raised his own rifle and fired it at Trelawny’s back, and two balls flew from the muzzle in slow motion across the terrace and struck Trelawny just to the right of his spine. From this vantage point, the hovering Trelawny spirit could even see the balls – one silver, one ceramic – punch through his flesh; the ceramic one split as it glanced off his shoulder-blade and broke his collar bone, one half of the ball tearing up through his neck muscles to break his jaw and lodge in his mouth.
This was the recent past. Trelawny looked in the other new direction, but could see nothing in the future. Did that mean he would very shortly die?
You’ll die here, now, if you don’t do what I say. Or you can be healed, and live forever with us.
The direction which was the future must be blank because he had not yet chosen.
The Trelawny figure’s shocked lungs were at last able to take a spluttering breath.
The air smelled of tobacco, sweat, and the Indian rum known as arrack.
Trelawny was sitting at a table in a lamp-lit Bombay tavern he remembered well, and it was an effort of his unbodied will to remember too that the place had never actually existed. In a few seconds he was able to hear noises, and then he either noticed or it became the case that the low-ceilinged room was crowded. Slaves carrying trays threaded their way between tables full of young British midshipmen in blue jackets, but Trelawny stared at the man sitting across the table from him – he was perhaps thirty years old, with black hair pulled back from his high tanned forehead, and he puffed tobacco smoke from the hose of a hookah. Unlike anyone else in the place, he had a cup of steaming coffee in front of him.
The man pressed his lips together in a way Trelawny remembered well – it used to indicate impatience at an unexpected obstacle.
“You died,” Trelawny said to him carefully, “off the Barbary Coast, in a fight with an English frigate.” He realized that he could speak, and that his wounds were gone, and that he could flex both arms. He took a deep effortless breath, wondering if it might be his last, but forced himself to go on: “And in fact you never existed at all outside my imagination.” For this man at the table with him was the privateer de Ruyters, who in Trelawny’s stories had taken him in as a raw, wild sixteen-year-old deserter and taught him discipline and self-control.
“If you like,” said de Ruyters with a tight smile. “At that rate, of course, you’re about to bleed to death on Mount Parnassus, and your Tersitza will be a widow. And you and I will never have – oh, where do I start? We’ll never have stormed St. Sebastian, and saved your bride Zela from the Madagascar pirates. Zela, in fact, will never have existed.” His smile was gone. “Perhaps you’ve forgotten her already.”
Trelawny had not. He remembered, as if it had actually occurred, his first meeting with Zela: when de Ruyters’s French and Arab crew had routed the slave traders of St. Sebastian before dawn and burst into the slave-huts, where Trelawny had been only moments too late to save Zela’s bound father from being stabbed by one of the pirate women.
Trelawny had killed the woman and freed the dying old Arab, who as he took his last breaths had drawn a ring from his own finger and put it on Trelawny’s, and had joined Trelawny’s hand with his young daughter’s, and had then spoken a blessing and died. The Arab’s daughter had been Zela.
Later Trelawny had learned that this had constituted a betrothal, and he had devoted the next several weeks to the strictly chaperoned courtship that Arab tradition required; when at last he had been permitted to hold Zela’s hand and meet her unveiled eyes, he had known that this was, as he had put it to himself, the first link of a diamond chain that would bind him to her forever.
“She,” said Trelawny, “died too. After not having ever existed either.”
After? he thought, impatient with himself.
“We can exist,” said de Ruyters irritably. “We do, in some branches of reality. Would you not rather have the adventurous life you had with us, than what – if you insist! – you actually had? – an undistinguished Naval career and a shabby marriage and divorce?”
De Ruyters reached across the table and gripped Trelawny’s shoulder, and a confident comradely smile deepened the lines in his cheeks.
“Look, man,” he said softly, waving around at the crowded tavern – which abruptly faded away, revealing a landscape that was deeper and clearer than anything Earth could provide: a remote horizon of green-sloped mountains lit by slanting amber light, crowned with castles whose towers cleaved the coral clouds; wide bays glittering in the sunset glow, stippled with the painted sails of splendid ships; parrots like flaming pinwheels shouting among the leafy boughs closer at hand. Faintly on the cool sea breeze Trelawny caught the lilt of festive music.
He couldn’t see de Ruyters, but a girl stood beside him now on this grassy meadow, her slim brown body visible under her blowing yellow veils, and he knew that she would be young forever. “All these things will I give you,” she told him, “if you will worship me.”
Trelawny knew that it was the spirit of the mountain that was speaking to him and had been speaking to him.
“You need not surely die,” the girl said earnestly. “When you swallow the stone, then your eyes shall be opened, and you shall be a god among gods, knowing neither good nor evil.”
And Trelawny remembered what this same creature had said to him a month ago, when he had tried to escape with Tersitza from Parnassus:
And I will purge thy mortal grossness so
That thou shalt like an airy spirit go …
For a moment he glimpsed again the pale, sweating, tortured figure sitting on the terrace-edge of the Parnassus cave, a string of blood dangling from its mouth to the spreading puddle of blood in which lay several teeth … and the half-sphere stone.
One image or the other would have to be erased – the bright sensual immortality or the suffering organic thing in the cave. The one was imaginary and the other was real, but what hold had real things ever had on him?
A god among gods, Trelawny thought dizzily, “king of kings,” as Shelley had written – “look on my works, ye mighty, and despair.”
But the thought of Shelley’s poetry brought back Byron’s words about him: he drowned deliberately
Trelawny had been proud to call Shelley his friend.
The young girl still stood beside him on the green slope, near enough to touch, but Trelawny made himself look away from her. “Tersitza,” he said, bracing himself and almost apologetic, “is pregnant with my child.”
Then, abruptly, he was in the reeking Bombay tavern again, and in the dim lamplight de Ruyters was staring at him across the table. “Zela was pregnant too. Is.”
Somewhere beyond this hallucination, Trelawny felt the cannon-propelled clay pellets clatter down onto the dirt and pebbles of the Velitza Gorge, bounding and skittering until they came to rest. They would germinate if the link between humanity and the Nephelim was established – if he swallowed the broken-off half of the little stone statue so that it could be whole inside him.
If I do it, he thought, Tersitza, with the wound of the gray metal knife in her arm, will change to one of them … and so will my child … supposing that I care about them.
Hating himself for his cowardice, Trelawny closed his eyes and reached out again with his left hand, brushed at the puddled stone surface that it encountered until his fingers closed around the split stone sphere, and again picked it up.
Torn nerves made a bright razory pain in his ribs, his neck, his jaw. He opened his eyes and saw Tersitza staring anxiously at him.
“Be healed,” she said.
And he flung the stone out sideways, into the abyss. “No,” he grated to Tersitza and the mountain.
“For the first twenty days after being wounded, I remained in the same place and posture, sitting and leaning against the rock, determined to leave everything to nature. I did not change or remove any portion of my dress, nor use any extra covering. I would not be bandaged, plastered, poulticed, or even washed; nor would I move or allow anyone to look at my wound. I was kept alive by yolks of eggs and water for twenty days. It was forty days before there was any sensible diminution of pain; I then submitted to have my body sponged with spirit and water, and my dress partly changed. I was reduced in weight from thirteen stone to less than ten, and looked like a galvanized mummy.”
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