Edmund Wallace had started on the search for the conversation and knowledge of angels so long ago that he had almost forgotten why. The spark had been when a merchant of poor repute had offered him a set up papers and books he claimed were taken from the personal library of Dr. John Dee. Wallace, still a young man at the time, had seen in the offer a chance to gain knowledge that could lead him to power and unparalleled fortune. Dee had worked hard within his lifetime to project the image of a scholar, a man of numbers, letters and learning, but Wallace had heard the stories and knew him for what he really was: the most powerful sorceror of his age. Even some hundred years after Dee's death, in some quarters his name was still synonymous with that of Dr. Faustus.
As the son of a minor noble Wallace lived comfortably and hence had the time and means to devote himself to the study of these manuscripts. What he did not have, he soon discovered, was the learning and intelligence to follow Dee's work. The manuscripts were filled with what seemed to be puzzles: tables of letters, numbers and strange sigils, with names and formulae derived from them in manners that defied understanding as well as words that fell completely outside the scope of the English, French and Latin to which Wallace had been exposed. These were then used in rituals to contact spirits and strange intelligences, or to gain visions of the angelic realms by scrying. The more Wallace studied the less he felt he understood. He realised, bitterly, that Dee really was the man of learning he had claimed. His knowledge of mathematics, language and the Qabalah had made all this possible. While Wallace thought himself able to copy some of his efforts he felt it would be no more than a child aping the actions of a wiser adult.
As the years went on his studies continued. He found a home of his own, in Richmond. The proximity to Mortlake, home of Dr. Dee, had been a factor in his choice, a fact he had admitted to no one but himself. His father arranged a favourable marriage for him and he felt no need to protest. He had no yearning to find a mate for himself and a wife provided for him would serve just as well. After some initial concerns, particularly relating to what Eleanor, Wallace's new bride saw as "ungodly practices" she grew to tolerate, if not understand her husband's obsession. She left him to his work, her time given over to wifely duties that, if pressed, Wallace would not have been able to describe. In time they had a son, Matthew.
As he grew out of infancy it became apparent that he was very much his father's son, but more. He had learned to read by the age of four and by seven could handle the simple mathematics that often escaped his father. He tried to involve himself with his father's work, but his mother resisted, saying it was not healthy for a child to be interested in such things. Eventually, however, she relented. Now at the age of eleven he showed every sign of growing up to be the scholar and magus that his father had always dreamed of being. As Matthew had learned more about Dee's manuscripts he found he could piece together some of the puzzles his father could not. It was still not enough, however. The only thing which grew out of their studies was a bond between them, scholar and apprentice. The work itself remained as unfruitful and frustrating as ever.
But even as the years passed Wallace never grew disheartened. The quest now had become an end unto itself. He could no longer truly say why, but the need to gain the knowledge of angels consumed him. The wealth and power of which he had dreamed were almost forgotten. He thought there was nothing he would not sacrifice to realise his dream. And then an opportunity arose that made him realise just what this might mean.
Even though he was private about his studies Wallace had acquired a reputation around London. He had let it be known, discretely, that he was interested in any information, papers or artefacts relating to John Dee. As a result he had been offered many forgeries, most too childishly executed to come close to fooling even so modestly educated a man as himself. He had even been offered a selection of crystals and shew-stones, all purporting to be owned by Edward Kelly, Dr. Dee's disreputable assistant. None of the stones had shown more than a reflective sheen and one proved to be no more than a common cobblestone, polished with spit.
When Wallace's manservant announced that there was another would-be peddler asking to see him he expected the usual filthy wretch. He was not surprised when an odorous, raggedly dressed Scotsman was ushered in. Wallace took him for a hunchback at first, but realised the man was only short and stooped. Despite having met many ugly men in his dealings with the more questionable members of the population, Wallace doubted he had ever seen a face so ugly as this man's: squinting eyes, broken deformed nose and a crooked, black-toothed grin that did nothing to inspire warmth. He introduced himself as Adam Brodie and said he had a book that may interest the kind gentleman.
Wearily, and ignoring the smell of the man's festering sores as best he could, Wallace indicated the shelves of his library behind him. "As you can see," he said, "I have no shortage of books. I have been offered more books, by such as you, than even a scholar of Dr. Dee's magnitude could hope to read in a lifetime. Why should I be interested in what you have to offer?"
Brodie said nothing, but smiled and offered Wallace a thin parcel wrapped in a stained cotton rag. Hesitantly, but intrigued, Wallace took the parcel and unwound the cloth gently. There was a slim, leather-bound folio inside. The leather looked old and carved into the front and lined with flaked gold-leaf were the words "Liber Lux". If this was a hoax, thought Wallace, it was far more expensively and skilfully executed than he was used to. He opened the book and paged through it slowly and carefully. The pages were old, yellowing parchment, the writing small and crabbed - nothing like Dee's, but, judging by the age of the paper, predating him. Like Dee's notes there were tables and diagrams punctuated throughout, but less. There seemed to be detailed descriptions of rituals given, more complete and helpful than Wallace was used to seeing. From a cursory inspection it appeared that the detail of the rituals given did not differ greatly from work he had seen before, but somehow seemed more accessible and complete. He was still deliberating the book's value and worth to him when one particular heading caught his eye: "The Calling of the Light - The Embodiment of the Holy Guardian Angel". His hands started to tremble as he scanned down the text. His brow felt fevered and a small, sick feeling built in his stomach. This was it! The final key. A description in plain language of how he could bring an angel to earth, as real as the ugly little man who stood before him.
The important thing was not to let the Scotsman know the true worth of the book. If Wallace betrayed too much emotion the man would only drive the price up. Trying hard to keep his voice steady, he said: "I would know where you came by this book, friend."
Brodie's face took on a serious cast. "I fear you would prefer not, sir. Suffice it to say it is not stolen and I very much doubt anyone will come looking for it."
Wallace looked down at the book again, thoughtfully. "Yes, I see." He paused for just long enough, he considered, to avoid looking eager. "And how much would you be asking?"
A black-toothed grin broke across the little Scotsman's face. "I was hoping we would come to that soon," he said
Wallace started his study of the book almost as soon as the little man and his new-found wealth had been ushered out of the house. He paused only to open the windows of his study to let some clean air before sitting down at his desk to pore over his new purchase.
He lost himself in the book completely and only realised that many hours had passed when his maidservant told him that dinner was served. He instructed her to bring his food up to him on a tray and to ensure that he was not disturbed again. A while later he discovered that the tray had been left beside him and the cuts of mutton on it had grown quite cold. He picked at them thoughtfully and went over in his mind what the book contained. The majority of it was the usual ill-thought out fusion of alchemical and qabalistic thought, dressed up in Christian imagery to avoid the wrath of the Church. But some parts, particularly The Calling of the Light, seemed unlike anything he had seen before. Now that he tried to rationalise it he could see no reason why the ritual should work any better than the dozens of unsuccessful attempts he had had before, but he could not shake the feeling that he had found something real. The excitement he felt was only tempered by the horror of the ritual itself. He had never thought of himself as either a kind or cruel man, but the ritual described seemed hideous. He could not see himself ever performing it, but at the same time he knew, without knowing why, that unless he did his quest would never be accomplished. He would never have the knowledge of angels.
His moral dilemma seemed academic, though. According to the text the ritual could only be performed if the true name of an angel presented itself. This made sense to Wallace - no less an authority than Cornelius Agrippa had said that the true name of a spirit or intelligence was required before it could be summoned. Wallace had seen many lists of names of angels, planetary intelligences and dukes of hell, but knowing that as the works of others they could only ever be just lists of names. To know his own angel he would have to find out the name for himself and all his efforts to this end had failed.
It was almost with a sense of relief that he closed the book and went to bed, to join his Eleanor. He fell asleep sooner than he expected, comforted by the soft rasp of her snores.
The next morning, Wallace broke his fast in his study, still finishing the previous night's mutton. As he ate he stared vacantly at the cover of the Liber Lux. He did not hear Matthew come in. He looked up as he saw the boy enter his field of vision. He was still dressed in his night-shirt, his face pale and serious.
"I had a dream last night, father," Matthew said, his voice quieter and more childlike than Wallace could remember it being for some time. "It was not like any dream I have had before. I am not certain whether it frightened or excited me."
Wallace tried to put on a comforting, fatherly smile. He pushed his chair back and patted a knee, indicating for Matthew to sit. "Tell me all about it," he said.
Matthew sat and tried to get comfortable. He was getting too big for this. In only a few years he would be grown. "I saw a man at the foot of my bed. I did not recognise him, but his face did not seem wholly strange, either. He was lit all around, as if by the glow of a thousand candles. Father, I think he was an angel."
A cold feeling grew in Wallace's stomach. "What makes you say that? Did he have wings?"
"It was difficult to see. There was so much light. Yes, I think he had wings. I saw shadows behind him that might have been wings. But his face was so beautiful. I do not think an earthly man could ever possess so much beauty."
The sickness grew, branching out into fear. "Think carefully, Matthew. Did he say anything to you."
The boy nodded. "One thing only. It sounded like: 'Ged Don Un Pal.'"
Wallace buried his head on his son's shoulder and wept.
Had ever a man had to make a choice such as this? Wallace locked himself away in his study for the rest of the day and agonised over the options. For whatever reason his Holy Guardian Angel had decided to make itself manifest at last. The arrival of the book the day before and his son's dream seemed too closely linked to be anything other than destiny or divine intervention. But what was being asked of his to see it through was unspeakable. He felt like Abraham, faced with God's demand to sacrifice Isaac. If only the angel had not given its message to Matthew. In doing it it had marked him. He had hoped, if it ever came to the ritual, that he could find some substitue. Now it appeared this could not be so. He loved his son more than anything else in life, but could not free himself of the demands of his obsession.
Even with his poor understanding of Dee's work he had not been able to help but understand the angel's message. Four letters in the angelic tongue. A word. A name. The name of his angel. The only barrier left now was himself and he feared that would soon be passed.
By nightfall he had made a choice.
"A swan, sir?"
"That's what I said."
"Yes." If Wallace's mind had not been consumed by other concerns he would have been enraged by his man's insubordination. Under the circumstances, though the best he could manage was a quiet but strong persistence.
"And where should I put it, sir?"
"Find a crate, buy one if you have to, and place it in the back garden. Keep it fed and watered until I tell you otherwise."
"And what does a swan eat, sir?"
"Fish, I believe. And frogs. See if you can get some frogs."
"As you wish, sir."
Wallace arranged the ritual around the date of his wife's niece's wedding. Almost every magical ritual he had encountered required a strict set of astrological prerequisites, or at least a particular day of the week, but the Calling of the Light, specific as it was about its requirements, made no mention of such matters. Eleanor would be away for at least a week; she had to travel to Derby, attend to the wedding and other family affairs, and return.
The servants had been informed that they were not required on Wednesday and told to be elsewhere. Wednesday seemed appropriate - the day of Mercury, of magic and intelligence. Wallace wished there were a day for angels: that would make things clearer. The swan was ready and in good health, if not temper. Wallace had gathered and prepared his magical weapons. Everything was in order.
Whatever doubts Wallace still had he suppressed. He had made his mind up. There was no point in debating it further with himself. This would be painful enough without uncertainty.
They sat to dine on the cold meats the servants had left out for them before departing. Wallace hoped his son wouldn't notice that he was only toying with his food. Although the ritual had not called explicitly for fasting he had encountered few that did not and thought at least a day's worth should be adequate. He had poured two glasses of ale in the kitchen and brought them through to the dining room. He mimed sipping his, lips firmly closed.
Matthew seemed excited about the unexpected treat. Even at the age of eleven his mother frowned on him being given ale. Wallace hoped he would be unfamiliar enough with the normal taste of ale to miss the laudanum he had added in the kitchen.
"Matthew," he said, trying hard to sound conversational, "You once said that you would do everything you could to help me with my work."
The boy nodded. He took another sip of the ale. His eyelids were already drooping.
"What would you say if I told you that you could help me achieve everything we have worked towards? Better than that, what would you say if I told you that you could become an angel? Would that not be better than anything else in the world?"
Matthew looked up at him, a dim question in his eyes. His mouth opened slightly, ready to put the question into words. Before the words could take life unconsciousness won and his face fell gently into his plate.
Wallace worked quickly while Matthew was still asleep. He had already cleared his study of unnecessary furniture and chalked the relevant markings on the floor. He now lit the candles and the censer, adding to the latter incense that cost more than his servants' wages for a half year.
Butchering the swan had proved to be easier than he imagined. As violent and bad-tempered as the beast had proved to be, a couple of quick blows to the head and neck had put paid to it. Using his sharpest kitchen knife he had managed to cut the wings off with less effort than he had anticipated.
Anchoring the wooden frame in the study had been difficult, at least so that it would hold the boy's weight. He tied a limb to each corner, firmly bound by the wrists and ankles. The boy looked like he was crucified on a St. Andrew's cross. He bathed the boy's naked form with the purified water, as directed. Once he had done so he started attaching the wings.
Wallace had found the thickest thread and sturdiest needle he could, designed for sewing sailcloth, and now used them to stitch the swan's wings to his son's back. The resilience of the boy's skin surprised him. He had expected some resistance, but the difficulty of the task made the attachment very rough. The ritual had stated, though, that only the bare attachment was necessary: everything else would take care of itself. It was a testament to the strength of the laudanum that Matthew stayed in his stupor, only groaning slightly as the blood poured down his back.
Once the wings were attached there was only one more step of preparation before the ritual itself. Wallace turned to the table behind him and picked up the knife he had set to enchanting every night for the past week. He had sharpened it religiously, over and over, with a whetstone, hoping that the sharper the knife was the less pain there would be for Matthew.
He turned back and kneeled before his son, head bowed in silent contemplation. There was no point in hesitation. He had gone this far and turning back would be foolish beyond compare.
With quick, firm cuts Edmund Wallace castrated his son.
Even with all the candles lit the room seemed dark. Matthew's still shape hung in the frame, now dressed in a robe of virgin cotton. Even after cauterising the boy's mutilated groin with a hot iron there was still a pool of blood gathered around the crotch area.
The incense was thick and cloying, its sweetness almost masking the smell of blood. Wallace was still sick and shaken, but tried to press ahead, driven by the urgency of bringing the angelic spirit into his son's form before the boy died from his wounds.
He held the book in front of him, starting to read in earnest the words he had practised incessantly. He had been able to recognise some of them, words of the angelic tongue, but even as he spoke he felt even the unfamiliar ones charged with meaning. Zen - that was sacrifice - and Pashs, which was child or children. He felt again the chill he had felt when first translating those words. Faonts, Zizop and Ananael followed, indicating something about dwelling in a vessel and secret wisdom. His head swam from the incense and his throat burned as he chanted the words. There was much more he recited that he didn't understand at all, and then finally the word Gigpah - living breath. And then the name. Wallace read it backwards, heeding Dee's advice that names in this powerful, inhuman language should be spelt backwards to avoid the accidental summoning of demons. "Pal Un Don Ged," he read and then stopped, eyes stinging with sweat.
After the chanting of the words the room seemed unnaturally quiet. Unable to hear any sound of breathing Wallace looked at his son's still form, its head hanging down like a corpse's, watching for any sign of life.
Slowly, a sound built up out of the silence, starting from little more than a whisper. It sounded like a voice singing, just a simple, steady note. Another joined it and then another. The sound built up, sounding like a choir, each member trying to perfect an individual note. Wallace was aware that the room was getting brighter. He looked around at the candles, but realised quickly that the light was coming from Matthew.
Before his eyes Wallace could see his son changing. His body grew in stature, filling out to the size of a grown man. The wings behind him grew in proportion and then larger, flexing gently as if being tested. His dark hair grew blond, long and ringleted. The plain cotton robe he wore now appeared to be made of the finest silk, glowing with the same pure, white light, billowing in an unfelt wind. Matthew raised his head, his eyes meeting his father's, and the voices crescendoed. The light became blinding and Wallace thought he would lose consciousness, his senses burdened beyond their capacity to cope. He shut his eyes and put his hands over his ears. He thought he heard his own voice adding a scream to the unearthly choir.
Suddenly it became bearable. Peace entered Wallace's mind like cool water quenching a fire. He opened his eyes hesitantly. The room was still brighter than day, but it no longer hurt. The sound was still there, but it seemed natural now. Filled with an emotion for which he had no name, Wallace realised that what he was hearing was the voice of an angel.
An angel! He stood up straight and looked at the wondrous sight before him. Everything he had worked towards all these years was stood before him. The angel's face looked almost human, but possessed of a beauty that the human form could only hint at. Its body was tall and full, but androgynous, combining the strength of a man with the delicacy of a woman. Its wings spread out behind it like the sunrise of the first morning. It flexed its muscles and the wooden frame fell apart as easily as if it were rotten straw. The angel that had been his son smiled at Wallace, its eyes full of the knowledge and wisdom of the ages.
Wallace stepped towards the angel hesitantly. This is how a bride must feel on her wedding night, he thought. The beautiful creature reached out one hand to him. As Wallace felt the scrape of its talons across his cheek and smelt the corruption and brimstone that was its breath he realised too late that not all angels reside in heaven.
(c) 1997 XoYo
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