HENRY AND THE ESCHATON
‘I was looking for you, little babe,’ Ed Cornish complained. ‘I thought you’d disappeared.’
Henry had a brief coughing fit. ‘Er … mmm, yeah. Is there a problem?’
‘Not as such. Matt and Andy want a chat. Coming down?’
‘Absolutely. They need to be updated.’ Henry trotted after his lover to a downstairs lounge, wondering why he was so reluctant to talk to Ed about the latest developments. He thought he could work out some reasons. He was nervous about how Ed would take the news of his developing powers. Perhaps it would distance them. He also feared Ed would try to dissuade him from his next planned experiment. But for Henry it was critical.
Matthew White hailed him with enthusiasm. ‘Too early for a drink?’
‘Yes, Matt. Look, can we have a talk?’
‘I thought that was why we were all here.’
‘I mean, a one-on-one, you and I.’ He looked around at Andy and Ed. ‘It’s important.’
The others shrugged.
Henry indicated they should go out on the rear terrace by the empty pool, where they sat on two reclining chairs after brushing the fallen leaves off. ‘You’re not too cold?’
‘Depends how long we’re out here. Okay, Henry babe, shoot.’
Henry had a close relationship with Matt and Andy, although it expressed itself differently with each man. He tended to go for comfort, understanding and sympathy to Andy Peacher, but he deeply respected Matt’s intellect and judgement, and went to him for advice in tough cases.
‘It’s like this, Matt. My Mendamero role is getting out of hand. You’ve heard all about the meeting with Tobias and what happened?’ Matt nodded. ‘Well, the seraph left me with quite a legacy.’ He explained his dawning awareness of the transformation that had been worked on him, and the powers that had begun to appear.
Matt kept a calm face as Henry explained his latest suspicions about them. ‘Time? Well, well. If I hadn’t seen the letter which little Damien keeps in a bag round his neck, I’d have had trouble with that one, but the boy went back to the fifteenth century right enough. What I don’t get is this: Damien has no powers – well, not supernatural ones at least. Fenice too, although a remarkable woman, was not gifted as you are.’
‘No, she can’t travel through time. On the other hand, she can see across the years because of her connection with the Icon, which makes me think Tobias was involved in that little escapade with Damien somehow. There was an object involved …’
‘Oh yes, an iron chest.’
‘Any idea what happened to it?’
‘As it happens, I do. Justy went back and asked for it as a souvenir. The king arranged for him to have it on loan. Although it actually belongs to the Belvoir estate, the count of Verheltschjaen waived his rights. Damien uses it as a toy box, though Mattie tells me he keeps finding him in there looking for a door back into the past. It’s upstairs.’
Henry punched the air. ‘Brilliant!’
‘What are you thinking of doing, Henry? Why do you believe the box is important?’
‘It was this box that set everything going. I suspect Tobias transported Damien by means of it at Fenice’s request. And if I’m to go back in the past, I need it.’
‘Henry, can you do that?’
‘You never know unless you try.’
‘It sounds incredibly dangerous. Reality and time, so far as I understand them, exist as the expanding rim of an exploding universe. We all travel with that rim and can’t escape it, yet apparently, because of what Tobias has done, you have the option to step outside. If you do that, though, how can you be sure you’ll get back?’
‘Tobias could, and Damien’s the proof, so I know it’s got to be possible.’
‘But Tobias is older than the universe and in a confidential relationship with its creator. You are just … Henry.’
‘It sounds better if you call me Mendamero.’
‘What are you going to do?’
‘That box once was part of the furnishings of Countess Fenice’s chamber. I have a feeling I can use its time track like some sort of guide rope to draw myself back to the fifteenth century. It’s minimal risk, Matt. If my hunch is wrong, nothing will happen.’
‘But if you’re right, how will you know when to stop, and how to get back?’
‘That’s the point, isn’t it? If I get there, I can talk to one of the greatest seers of all time. She is the only one who can help me against the Antichrist. She knows what will happen because she can see it. She is, after all, the author of The Revelation of the End Time. If some publisher issued it at the moment in English translation, he’d make a fortune …’
‘… briefly. Very well. You’re determined on this. But tell Ed. He deserves that much.’
‘Never mind. I hope he’ll try to talk you out of it – and succeed.’
Matt got up and kissed Henry on the cheek, then took his arm and brought him back into the lounge. He announced to Ed, ‘Henry has something to say to you.’
A little red, Henry sat down and began his explanation. He looked timidly up at Ed when he had finished, half expecting an explosion. Quite the contrary. Ed’s eyes were shining. ‘That’s my boy. Go for it, my little hero!’
Henry glowed, while scolding himself for underestimating his lover. Of course Ed understood. That was the great thing about him. He trusted Henry implicitly and defended him. That was why Henry loved Ed so much. He was always on Henry’s side.
‘That’s all there is to be said then,’ concluded Matt. ‘Now where are those boys? It’ll be time for tea soon.’
‘They were out in the paddock when I last saw them. Meanwhile, I’ll nip upstairs and look at the box. Damien’s bedroom, right? Er … see you.’
‘Best of luck.’
Henry went round and hugged each of them, reserving the last and longest one for Ed.
‘Love you, babe,’ Ed whispered in his ear. ‘Go and make me proud.’
Whistling happily to himself, Henry took to the stairs and searched out Damien’s bedroom. It was easy to find. A notice fixed to the door proclaimed in Reggie Mayer’s neat handwriting: WORLD HQ : THE MENDAMERO MEN : Director D. MACAVOY : Deputy Director M. OSCOTT : Hon Sec R. MAYER. BISHOPS F*** OFF.
Grinning, Henry knocked and went in to find the room empty. There was the usual litter made by boys at play: a PS3 had been left on and game boxes were scattered everywhere. The cleaning staff had not yet got to a scatter of empty crisp packets and sweet wrappers next to the play station.
The large black iron box was at the end of Damien’s bed. Henry approached and ran his hand over it. He was not going to empty it of Damien’s toys. It was mottled and pitted with age, but still strong and sound. What next?
He sat on its lid and thought. The key to everything, he was sure, was his mind. He relaxed as he had done in his previous exercises and let his consciousness go. This time, however, he did not let it expand, focussing it rather on the box under him. He sensed its shape, the throb of the dancing molecules that made it up, all the attributes that gave it a distinct signature as an object. He was aware also that it seemed to have a faint after-image to it, which faded away in one direction. That was the oddest thing, as the fade didn’t go up, down or in any apparent direction. Nonetheless it was there, like some sort of … wormhole in reality.
Henry’s consciousness seized on the after-image and pursued it. If he concentrated, it was visible as a thread of shadow. He let his mind follow it. He seemed to be rushing through flickering images which he desperately tried to slow but failed: rooms, trees, windows and strangely dressed people raced past him. Then he saw a medieval chamber and the image settled momentarily. He took advantage of it and, just as in his jump to Biscofshalch, sent his body and the box he sat on to join his mind.
He knew he’d done it the moment his stomach lurched and his head reeled in the same way as when Tobias had taken him to wartime Jerusalem. He was no longer in the modern house at Wenzelsberh. He sat on the box in a stone chamber high in a tower. There was no one about. The great room, lit by many candles and draped with tapestries, was full of dark heavy furniture. A bright fire crackled in its huge hearth. The windows were glazed and shuttered.
Henry stood. When was he? Not only was there no one to ask, it suddenly occurred to him that when he did ask it might have to be in a language not spoken in the twenty-first century.
Then the full significance of what he had done hit him. He had travelled in time! The past was now the present, and he was immeasurably distant from all he knew and loved. A chill gripped his heart as he contemplated the arrogance of his action. He had literally gone where angels feared to tread.
While he pondered this, a rustling and thumping noise came to his ears. His eyes snapped to the black box. He watched, astonished, as the lid was pushed up from inside and three small faces appeared in the crack: Damien, Mattie and Reggie were looking out curiously at him. They grinned, a little nervously. Unawares, he had brought the Mendamero Men with him.
‘Do you really need me for this trip, bishop?’ Anthony was packing files and notes in a briefcase for Bishop Jack’s departure.
My dear Tony! What would I do without your efficiency? Of course you must come. Gareth said on the phone only yesterday how pleased he was that you would be with us in the Czech Republic and Rothenia.’
‘He did?’ Anthony couldn’t quite disguise his surprise at that revelation.
‘Dear boy, you shouldn’t underestimate the affection in which the staff hold you. No, the reservations are all made and I count on you for so much.’
Anthony inclined his head. ‘I’ve been in touch with Eastnet, by the way. Interviews are being set up in Bratislava and Strelzen. The latter is still pending, as Mr Atwood’s office has yet to confirm the date. Apparently he’s out of the city on business and can’t be reached.’
‘Oh yes, the Anglo-Rothenian journalist who came here. Interesting man, I thought. A strangely opaque character.’
‘Just an expression.’
Anthony’s heart sank. He desperately wanted out of his present predicament but knew he was trapped, both by the hold Enoch had over him and by his own fear of the bishop. And now this Terry person was forcing him into more active espionage. If only the bishop would have let him off this tour. He had a bad feeling about it.
The bishop was down in Cranwell on one of his increasingly rare family visits. Since the media scandals had broken he had more or less been living in London. He was making his farewells to Mrs Bishop, a blonde, stocky, strong-minded lady, the nature of whose relationship with her husband was more than Anthony was willing to contemplate.
Anthony recalled his last briefing from Terry O’Brien. ‘Sir? Do you remember North Carolina last summer?’
‘Ah yes. A very profitable trip as I recall. That’s when we sealed the deal with the Baptist leadership.’
‘Yes sir. I was just thinking of your prophetic trance at Thomasville, when you mentioned the Beast and that its name was Mendamero.’
The bishop gave Anthony a sharp look. ‘What brought that to mind?’
‘I was curious at the time, and it seems nothing has come of it.’
‘Nothing … yet! Be aware however that the Beast is prowling about. Surely you must see its deceits in the sudden troubles which have come upon the Faithful.’
‘Then these are truly the end times, and Mendamero …?’
‘He exists in human guise, I believe. He will reveal himself soon, perhaps in Rothenia, which may be his haunt. It’s a place of heinous vice and abomination, the sort of place the Beast would thrive. And that was where Colin disappeared, remember?’
‘Any news there, sir?’
‘Gareth and his colleagues are … working with the British and American embassies. The Rothenian government is under pressure from our prime minister, or was till he resigned. I rather fear the new administration will be less helpful. That’s another reason why I need to be in Rothenia. I must keep up the pressure on the investigation.’
‘An odd thing sir, but we’ve heard nothing from Colin’s family and friends about his disappearance.’
The bishop frowned. ‘Odd? He was … is … a dedicated worker. He gave his life to his job. Personal ties, alas, don’t thrive with such men. It’s the sort of dedication I value in you, Anthony.’
‘Er … thank you, sir. That means a lot.’
‘I realise some of the demands on you verge on the unreasonable. But I’ve come to depend on you, you know. I think of you as much family as my own children.’
Anthony blushed and muttered something inarticulate.
‘Now, now, no false modesty, Anthony. You’ve done well over the past eighteen months, with all sorts of difficulties and new challenges to overcome. And I’m aware that, for you, it is harder than for other men.’
Anthony’s eyes snapped to Bishop Jack. There was a particular emphasis on the word ‘men’ that made him think the bishop might have meant a lot more than he’d said. The level gaze he met confirmed it. Anthony flushed and felt shaky. He mumbled his thanks for the good wishes and made a rapid exit.
So Bishop Jack had known all along. What did it mean? He needed to talk to Enoch, but how to contact him?
Henry was struck dumb. The three boys clambered out of the box, looking around curiously.
Damien gave an appraising glance up at him. ‘Cool, Uncle Henry. I told the gang yer could do it.’
‘You deliberately stowed away?’ Henry groaned.
‘Well, yeah,’ continued Mattie. ‘We could hear you and Uncle Matt out on the patio from Daimey’s room. So we had an executive meeting and decided we would help ya with your experiment. It was a bit crowded in that chest.’
‘Which year is this, sir?’ Reggie inquired politely.
‘I need to sit down.’ Henry slumped on to a settle and stared at the disaster Fate had just sprung on him. He made a real effort and addressed Damien. ‘Is this the same room you travelled to before, Daimey?’
The boy nodded. ‘There’s more furniture and it’s in different places, but yuh, this is it alright.’
‘So we can forget 1438; this may be later. But at least we’re in Belvoir.’ Henry went over to a window and pushed back the shutters.
It was night over medieval Rothenia. They were high in the castle's keep. Torches burned from sockets down in the court below, while candlelight showed dim in several windows of the domestic ranges. Henry focused on the gatehouse arch, where in the flickering light he saw a genuine fifteenth-century man-at-arms on guard, wearing brigandine and steel sallet, leaning on a halberd. The scene might have been copied from a Dürer woodcut, but the man was real.
The boys gathered round to stare through the window. ‘Look how bright the stars are, sir!’ exclaimed Reggie. ‘No light pollution, I guess.’
Damien stared at the soldier below. ‘Fookin’ amazing!’ he breathed. ‘He’s got a real sword.’
Henry left the boys craning to see out and started searching around the room for clues. A table held several books, and another was open on a lectern. The books were in Latin, however, which Henry could not decipher.
There was nothing else to give any clue as to when they were. He must find Countess Fenice, but he had no idea whether she was in residence at her castle. He had somehow expected to find her sitting in her chair waiting for him, as she had been waiting for Damien. After all, she was the seeress and should have some idea when Mendamero was coming on a visit.
What to do? He could only go and see if he could find someone to talk to and seek information from. Henry was not without options. Medieval Rothenian was not as different from the modern version as the English of Chaucer was from that spoken in the twenty-first century. His garb, of course, would cause remark: pale chinos, a striped shirt and a rather cool short jacket he had picked up in Berlin.
It couldn’t be helped. He turned to the Mendamero Men and warned them they must on no account leave the chamber or lose sight of the iron box. If anyone came into the room, they must hide in it. They nodded their obedience, yet Henry knew Damien well enough to foresee that he would be out of the chamber like a shot if he thought he could ‘help’. Nothing more could be done, however. He left them gathered around the lectern with Reggie explaining illuminated manuscripts to his solemn-looking friends.
The door gave on to a spiral staircase leading to the floor below, where Henry discovered an unlocked chamber similar to the one upstairs, subdivided by partitions into smaller rooms. They were bedchambers, in one of which Henry found two young boys, perhaps the countess’s pages, asleep on a palliasse. They were clearly naked under the covers, which meant it would have been rather embarrassing to wake them.
Henry sneaked out quietly and tried the next level down, only to come across common soldiers sleeping fully dressed on the floor under blankets and cloaks. Henry paused, wondering what to do next. Belvoir was beginning to resemble one of those story-book castles where the inhabitants had been put into a deep sleep by a wicked witch. Nonetheless, the countess’s room had been prepared for her, so she was obviously near at hand. Where would such a woman be?
Henry had an idea. He retraced his steps back to the upper chamber, which appeared empty until he announced, ‘It’s okay, it’s me.’ Three heads emerged from the chest. ‘I need your help, Damien. You know where the chapel is, don’t you?’
‘Yuh, Uncle Henry. Iss down the bottom of the mound, there’s a sorta passage that goes from the cellar of this tower place where we are.’
‘You need to take me there.’
Damien looked at his mates. ‘We all better go then, Uncle Henry.’
Henry demurred at this, but Damien took on a stubborn expression. Henry recognised the inevitable. ‘Right. But do as I say. No haring off, got it?’
They smiled and agreed, all too readily for Henry’s taste. They were whispering to each other and giggling as he led them back down the stairs. ‘Shh!’ he hissed, causing them to become momentarily contrite.
Damien led them across the tower’s basement to a corner stair that took them farther through an intramural passage into the dark. Only a faint glimmer of light came from the depths. Damien went confidently ahead, however, and eventually they found themselves in a cellar stacked with barrels.
Now the way led upwards to a door with light on the other side. There was no helping it. Henry whispered at the boys to hold back and pushed it open.
Although candle-lit, the room he entered seemed bright by comparison. It appeared to be a sort of guardroom where three men in furs and jewelled chains, wearing breastplates and girded with swords, sat at a table drinking red wine from turned wooden goblets. They looked up and stared at Henry with dawning disbelief. One immediately stood and drew his sword, letting loose a burst of what Henry supposed was Old Rothenian. It took a while for him to realise through the obscurity of pronunciation he was being asked who he was. The question was asked in no friendly tone and the drawn sword served to emphasise the point.
The metallic scrape of the sword was enough to bring Damien barging into the room. Henry grabbed him as he entered, pulling the boy to his side. Damien scowled up at the men, who immediately backed away, crossing themselves. One of the knights yelled something which Henry’s mind slowly translated as, ‘Reverend lady countess! It’s the boy from the painting! It’s not possible!’
A few moments later Henry was aware of someone entering the room from another door. The three knights went to their knees. Henry turned to see a tall, aging woman in a nun’s garb, with a gold chain around her neck and a stick in her hand. She leaned on the stick while she stared appraisingly at him. Then she saw Damien and smiled.
‘Hullo, missis!’ grinned Damien. ‘Iss me again!’
Countess Fenice had no problem with Damien’s primitive Rothenian. ‘So it is, dear boy. You should not be here. And who’s this?’
‘This is Mendamero, me mate!’
And now the prophetess looked stunned. When Henry thought about it, that was an alarming thing. She pondered Henry silently for a moment before inviting him through the door she had just emerged from. A peremptory command to her knights brought them to their feet and into a posture of guard.
‘More young men?’ she commented. Mattie and Reggie had in the meantime appeared from the cellar stairs.
‘These are me gang, this is Mattie and this is Reggie. Lads, this is Lady Fenice.’ Mattie and Reggie introduced themselves politely.
‘What charming young pages,’ the countess greeted them gracefully. Reggie beamed.
By now they were all in the chapel. ‘See! I told yer about them paintings!’ And there, on the room’s north side, was indeed a series of murals in which several representations of Damien had pride of place.
The chapel was brightly painted and illuminated with many lamps and candles. Stalls with misericords occupied both walls. The countess however had a large carved chair in the centre of the aisle, opposite the altar. There she seated herself, indicating that Henry and the boys should take stalls.
Henry began with his main concern. ‘Lady Fenice, when Damien was brought to you earlier, did you have some … assistance in transporting him through time?’
The lady inclined her head. ‘Yes, one of God’s angels answered my prayer, although … well, I have to say he was not too pleased about the description being applied to him.’
Henry grinned. It had been Tobias. ‘What did he look like?’
‘A being of light and flame, fearfully beautiful.’
Henry absorbed this. Obviously, Tobias’s form shifted and adapted to people’s expectations. ‘Did he have something to say about how he accomplished the move through time?’
‘Only that the boy’s name was Damien, he would be a messenger to Mendamero to prepare him for his task, and would one day be the greatest hero his age would ever know.’
Eyes snapped to Damien, whose face bore a startled expression as he followed what was said. By the time he had digested those words, the countess had already moved on. ‘The angel implied that he would then be your guide, excellency.’
‘Excuse me, young man, but I assume from your bearing and calling that you are a nobleman of your day and age.’
Not wishing to attempt to elucidate for Fenice half a millennium of social change, Henry changed the subject. ‘My lady, we have come to the point in our day when the Antichrist is about to reveal himself, yet we find ourselves very much in the dark about his powers.’
She smiled. ‘So you have come to me.’
‘But you were not expecting me.’
‘No. And no doubt you are thinking that if Fenice of Tarlenheim could not predict this, either she is not the seeress common report has it, or something has gone badly wrong.’
Henry admitted it.
‘Prophecy is a strange business, Mendamero. God only allows me brief glimpses through windows which then close. There may be very many reasons why this interview was kept from me. I would not be too alarmed. Perhaps God wished me to respond to your request as I saw fit, to preserve my free will and chances of salvation.’
Reassured, Henry continued. ‘This creature, the apostate bishop, has great power to deceive and dominate. He has demonic auxiliaries to do his bidding when violence is more use than persuasion. But he has not yet engaged in a contest of power. The Guardian of the Icon and I are at a disadvantage as to what awaits us, while I presume he knows all too much about us.’
‘Enoch – he is the Guardian, I believe – and Elijah will face his first onslaught. The Antichrist will find them. Although the Icon blinds him, its situation cannot be concealed from him. His demons will not dare approach it, so he must come himself. When he does, it will be in another guise.’
‘Not as you see him now. He probably has no true shape – truth being alien to his nature – but adapts it to circumstance. When he comes to fight, it will be as a warrior that he appears.’
‘Will he be armed?’
‘Yes, he will express his power with weapons.’
‘How can he be countered?’
‘He must be fought. All have some ability to resist him, you know. Humans who recognise him for what he is and reject him do weaken him. His power ultimately depends on the belief that humanity has in him. That is why he seeks the adoration of the masses and associates with the great of his age. He wishes the homage of the world and in that way he will triumph. For if he declares himself and sets up his throne, the obeisance of one good man towards it will make his victory complete.’
‘And can I save Enoch and Elijah?’
The countess looked at Henry sharply. ‘You know and love them?’
‘Yes, I do. Enoch …’
‘Was once your lover. Yes, I am aware that you are a man who loves other men, Mendamero. You stand on the border between worlds, a fact that is reflected in all aspects of your life. But to answer your question, no, they cannot be saved from their fate. They must perish, though in dying they may help bring new life and hope.’
Tears started in Henry’s eyes; he had hoped for more from Fenice. His voice quavered as he asked, ‘And there is nothing I can do to stop this?’
‘There is not. It must happen, though …’
‘There are so many ways they might perish, and some are worse than others.’
‘That brings me poor comfort, my lady.’
‘I’m sorry, Mendamero. You are a student of the past, I know. You are aware that battles leave casualties who are often the noblest on the field. It cannot be helped. Trust in God.’
‘It just seems so unfair.’ He pondered for a while. ‘I need to know what I will face from the Antichrist when I stand up to him.’
‘He will fight with red fire and red weapons.’
‘I’ve seen the fire … but red weapons?’
‘Red is his heraldry, the colour of blood and lust.’
‘Symbols seem to mean a lot to him.’
‘So they do. He is a creature born of an ancient world outside reality, a place far older than our Earth, a place where the mind expresses itself by shape and symbol. I think you have been there.’
‘What?’ Henry was startled and then realised something. ‘It was where Tobias … the seraph … took me for my first lesson. Where my mind made things.’
‘Yes. It was the place where the Antichrist grew out of the basest lusts a mind can express.’
‘So he’s not God’s creation?’
‘I believe not, though he lives in God’s purposes, as do we all.’
‘And what is the ultimate purpose of everything we are doing? Will time and the world we know end with the death of Enoch and Elijah, and the rise of the Antichrist?’
‘The prophecies are not as specific as many assume. Your opponent's actions – and your own even more so – are not limited by the boundaries of this world. They are thus beyond any foresight I and others may possess, which is constrained by the limits of our human understanding. But the world will certainly change, and humanity must change with it as a result.’
‘Thank you, my lady. That seems to be the last of my questions. I am grateful to you for answering them.’
‘My dear boy, I am pleased to have met you. Take courage. You have great strength, far more than you know, and not least a part of it is the strength you derive from the love others have for you. You are the opposite in every way of the thing you must fight, whose power is all about domination, deceit and fear.’
She rose, and Henry and the boys stood with her. ‘I need to return then to fulfil my fate,’ he declared resolutely.
She bowed, then did a thing which struck Henry most uncomfortably. She knelt and indicated that the boys should kneel too. ‘Your blessing, warrior of God.’
Henry, caught by surprise, paused before pronouncing the Kungliche Pozechnen, which the king of Rothenia delivered to his people. It struck him as more appropriate than the ecclesiastical forms of words he had heard his father say in church.
She rose, thanked him, and took Damien’s hand. Chatting, she led the boy into the dark courtyard of the castle, her household knights following the group. They climbed the outside steps of the mound of the keep and the spiral stair back to her high chamber.
‘Now, before you go, may I offer you some wine? I feel deficient as a hostess.’
‘No, lady, I don’t think their parents would like the boys drinking wine.’
‘Really? It is a drink for boys their age here.’
‘Wouldn’t mind,’ wheedled Damien.
‘We must get you back, babes,’ Henry informed them decidedly. ‘So back in your box.’
After hesitating for a moment, Damien went for a kiss from the lady. She smiled and obliged, then kissed the two other boys as well. They returned to their chest and waving got inside.
Henry sat on the lid, smiled at the lady and concentrated. His concentration soon turned to alarm. The time-shadow of the chest was no longer to be discerned. It was dead or at least dormant.
There was no worm hole to follow back to the twenty-first century!