HENRY AND THE ESCHATON
At breakfast very early on Monday, Anthony found Bishop Jack in full flood of bonhomie in the restaurant of the Hotel Flavia, joking and laughing with the staff, who were clearly much charmed.
‘Have the full Rothenian, Tony!’
The bishop laughed. ‘Oh come on, you’ve travelled enough. The “full English”, the “full American”, the “full Irish”; somehow they’re all the same breakfast: eggs, bacon, mushrooms, sausage of whatever variety, some sort of fried potatoes. In fact, there’s nothing more international.’
Anthony smiled. Even for Bishop Jack, his boss was in a very good mood. ‘Excuse me, sir, but last night …’
Just then Bishop Jack hallooed, ‘Alun! Dear chap! Come and sit down. Elenya here will get you coffee, won’t you dear?’ In a loud aside he confided, ‘She’s a Slovak student, Tony, charming girl, absolutely charming.’ Elenya went simpering off to return promptly with a coffeepot.
Bishop Alun Lewis clearly had not had such a good night. In fact he looked dreadful, with bags under his eyes. Before he could say anything, however, the restaurant was distracted by cars and vans, their blue lights flashing and their sirens howling, which zoomed past the window on to the main street of the city.
‘Now I wonder what’s going on out there?’ speculated the bishop aloud. ‘Never mind. Tell me, Tony, when are we off this morning? Pretty early I imagine. We have to be in the capital well before midday. You’re picking up the van soon, is that right?’
‘I have to be at the office when it opens at eight.’
‘Less than an hour then. Better eat up, dear boy.’
Anthony noticed the sudden inattention of the restaurant staff and earnest whispered conversations between them. The diners were forgotten. Staff came and went from reception. Eventually Bishop Jack noticed it too. ‘Now what’s up?’
As his breakfast was brought over by a flustered Elenya, the bishop asked, ‘You seem distracted, my dear. What’s going on?’
‘You have not heard the news, sir? There has been a … a … burglary at the abbey. The whole city is in an uproar. The Black Virgin was stolen in the night!’
‘My God!’ The bishop took the Lord’s name in vain in a most unprecedented way for him.
‘Terrible, terrible! A blasphemy!’ Bishop Lewis sympathised.
‘Yes sir, the … cupboard in which it was kept was forced open by thieves. The city has been sealed off, but probably it is too late. The theft was only found out at the dawn service of the monks.’
‘My word! Anthony, do please send a message of sympathy to the abbot, poor man. He must be quite distraught.’
Somehow the mystery of Elijah, the bishop’s late-night visitor, was sidelined by the uproar over the theft of the relic and the desecration of a national shrine. The staff turned on a TV in the lounge and watched the news reports on Eastnet.
‘Sir, it’s that Atwood man.’ And there indeed was Henry Atwood chattering away in fluent Rothenian in a studio group with a variety of specialists: historians, theologians and ecclesiastics.
‘So indeed it is. Any idea what he’s saying?’
‘Sorry sir, no, the resemblances between Rothenian and German aren’t close enough for me to work out the drift of the conversation.’
‘How about you, Alun?’
‘Me, Jack? No, I don’t speak the language.’
‘How do you get on with the natives?’
‘I have staff for that.’
‘I suppose we’d better get a move on.’ He wiped his mouth with a napkin. ‘Go for the van and come back to tell me if we’ll have any problem reaching Strelzen.’ The bishop rose and disappeared upstairs.
Anthony’s mobile bleeped. He flipped it open. A foreign-accented female voice asked, ‘Hello, is that the Reverend Willis?’
‘Yes. Hi! Who is this?’
‘This is Magda Valentinij of Mr Atwood’s office at Eastnet.’
‘Yes, I’m just watching him on TV.’
‘Oh yes. The Black Virgin story. I had to get him in to the office this morning at six despite the fact he’s supposed to be on leave.’
‘Leave? Surely not. We have an interview scheduled with him this afternoon.’
‘So I believe, but he is still supposed to be on leave. I don’t quite understand how it was set up; it wasn’t through me, that’s for sure.’
‘How curious. Is that why you are ringing me, to cancel?’
‘No, no. I just want to know if you will be able to get to Strelzen in time, or do you wish to arrange a later appointment?’
‘We have another engagement at five at St Edward’s church, so there’s a little room for manoeuvre, but not much.’
‘Then I’d be grateful if you could keep me updated as to your progress.’
‘Not a problem.’
Anthony checked his party out of the hotel and left his bags in reception before hurrying off to pick up the people-carrier. He found the streets of Ranstadt full of groups talking on the corners and watching the police vehicles flash past. Some women were openly in tears. He was aware that the abbey bells were tolling, and as he paused to listen they were joined by those of the cathedral and the city's churches. Ranstadt was grieving.
Anthony took the wheel of the Volkswagen Sharan he had hired. His party occupied the seats, Boris and Gareth turning up last. Gareth grunted that he had slept late, while Boris just silently piled the bags into the rear.
‘You think we’ll be delayed, Anthony?’
‘No idea, sir.’
‘Let’s just make the best of it then.’
The van pulled away and took the A44 southward following the signs for Kesarsteijn-Strelzen. They soon encountered a tailback, in which they were delayed for an hour before coming up with the reason for it. Black-uniformed national police in flak jackets and helmets had blocked off the carriageway and were searching every car and checking papers.
The police were in large numbers and heavily armed. Bishop Jack’s usual affability was rattled by their efficient but humourless search of the van and all the baggage. Anthony was intrigued as to how they would deal with the bishop’s minders, but those two proved not to be carrying handguns after all. Gareth and Boris met the police’s efforts with phlegmatic indifference.
After that the journey was rapid and, with the help of a GPS navigator, they arrived before one o’clock at their Strelzen hotel. They pulled into the underground car-park just as Magda rang for her second update. She and Anthony agreed to put back the interview till three in the Eastnet studio in the Old City. The company would send a car and driver to pick up Bishop Jack.
Anthony went to his boss’s room to fill him in on the latest state of affairs. He found the bishop looking out on the great square of the Rodolferplaz from his fifth-floor windows at the front of the hotel.
‘What a remarkable city, Anthony. You see the palace opposite us at the north end of the square? That’s the home of Rudolf VI and Queen Harriet, the celebrity royals.’
‘You’re not a fan, then, bishop?’
‘Kingship in this age is something of an offence to me. There is only one true king … God the Prince of the World.’
‘Prince of the World, sir? I’ve not heard that name for the Almighty.’ Anthony was troubled. He knew his scriptures well enough to be aware that the title was reserved for someone other than God.
‘Kings and princes shall kneel to Him and then the age of gold will begin,’ mused the bishop.
‘Are you prophesying, sir?’
He started. ‘I suppose I am. Hoping for the best, really. Tell me, Anthony, you do believe our endeavour here will lead to the betterment of humanity and its lot, don’t you?’
‘It’s all so simple really. If the world follows God’s will then everything will be alright, and God asks for so little, just obedience. Scripture gives an infallible template to follow. It really is simple. Why do people make it so complicated?
‘The solution is that they must be obliged to obey, so they can be saved despite themselves. I see that as my ultimate mission: to bring – no, drag – humanity to salvation since it won’t help itself.’
Anthony was not quite getting the bishop’s drift. ‘But sir, surely people must call Jesus saviour and lord of their own will. You must choose the Way, not be herded down it.’
Bishop Jack was impatient. ‘It’s been tried down the ages, Tony, and with what result! No, I’m coming to think the choice the crusaders gave the Jews and the Muslims is the one we should give to the new heathens of the west.’ The man – if that was what he was – brooded for some moments, then gave a nervous laugh. ‘What am I talking about? Just stuff and nonsense.’
But Anthony was not so sure. It seemed to him he had just heard the Antichrist attempt to justify Armageddon intellectually.
Henry’s day had begun early and ominously, with his bedside phone summoning him to the Eastnet studios as soon as the news broke about the theft of the Black Virgin.
‘Only you can do it, Henry,’ the duty producer reminded him. ‘No one else understands the church perspective and the history around the relic. Can you get a panel of talking heads together? And make it quick.’
Will Vincent had been in the studios at seven-thirty, looking harassed and anxious. He cornered Henry. ‘So is the Antichrist behind this?’
‘My interviewees were talking about a raid commissioned by a kleptomaniac billionaire collector with a Byzantine-art obsession. But the theft happens the day the chief suspect arrives in Rothenia, so yes, I would say the bishop had a hand in it … and what he’s planning to do with the relic I dread to think.’
‘Keep me posted.’
Henry had recorded enough commentary and debate to leave the studio by eleven. He was at a loose end after checking with Magda about the progress of the bishop’s party towards Strelzen.
‘I’ll head out for lunch, then.’
‘Leave your mobile on, Henry. You might be needed at a moment’s notice.’
Since the Eastnet offices and studios were high on the hill of the Staramesten, Henry strolled up one of the medieval alleys that led directly on to Erchbiscofsplaz. He buttoned up his wool coat against the scything cold wind blowing westwards from the Carpathians, the thing that made winter in Rothenia something of a trial. The cathedral was tranquil that lunchtime, since the tourist season was well over. Despite Magda’s warning, Henry turned off his mobile. He wanted some peace and quiet.
He ambled along the north aisle of the tall Gothic nave. Barely noticing the tombs of the Elphberg dynasty and their court nobility, he headed instead down to the crypt to a nook below the north choir aisle where he had retreated at other times of crisis. It housed a small altar with a charming statue of St Hendrik of Esterhwicz, a lesser Rothenian saint martyred by pagan Magyar raiders in the eighth century. He had been a minor clerk of the church of Glottenberh, murdered at the age of fifteen when he put himself between the raiders and the altar they planned to desecrate.
The baroque statue showed the boy, all but nude, transfixed to a pillar by a spear. It was both touching and homoerotic. Somehow Henry was always moved not only by its testimony to the fragility of life but also by its confirmation of the abiding power of faith. After privately taking young Hendrik as his name saint, he had gone to the cathedral bookshop and purchased a devotional medal which he kept in his wallet.
‘And now it’s my turn,’ he reflected. ‘Will I meet my fate with that sort of fortitude?’ He settled down to meditate, which meant attempting to turn off the tumultuous thoughts surging uncontrollably round his brain. He quickly found he couldn’t. He was too worried about the eventual fate of Gavin, Lije and Max.
Even more worrisome was the impending interview with Bishop Jack, whose identity cloaked a being of awesome powers which were within days of being unleashed on the world. He was soon to cast off his human guise and stand revealed as an apocalyptic figure who would demand homage from the world, and in so doing cast it into chaos.
Henry’s gaze had lingered on the statue of St Hendrik. Suddenly his breath caught in his throat. He was no longer looking at a statue but at a human boy impaled through the belly on a bloody spear, his naked figure twisting in agony, his hands tugging uselessly at the instrument of his torment and … the face contorted in a silent scream was Lije’s! Henry rose and swore. What was this? A vision, or a first manifestation of the dark power of the Antichrist rising in the world? Shaken, he fled the chapel.
Time had passed faster than Henry had thought. After picking up a stiff shot of caffeine to steady his nerves for the coming ordeal, he barely made it to the studio in time for two o’clock.
Magda gave him a disapproving glare. ‘I tried to ring you. We’ve put back the interview recording till three. The bishop’s party was held up by traffic.’
‘You look stressed, Henry. You really did need the leave of absence. You should go on vacation; the Croatian coast is great even at this time of year. Rothenian Airlines do a very good car-and-hotel deal.’
‘I’ll think about it. Let me know when the bishop arrives.’
The call came at ten to three. Henry, composing himself, searched out a core of inner strength. This would either be a useful and informative glimpse into his great enemy’s mind and methods, or a catastrophic mistake which would prematurely unveil Mendamero to his nemesis.
The bishop was in a side office with another clergyman, whom Henry recognised from his visit in Cranwell as Anthony Willis. He scrutinised the chaplain, aware that Willis did not know him as anything other than a journalist. Willis was tall and a little chunky, a very English-looking blond. Somehow you could tell he would look much the same as he did now well into his fifties, although perhaps plumper. Henry shook the proferred hand, deliberately resisting the temptation to probe the chaplain’s thoughts. Then he half-reluctantly turned to the bishop and confronted him with as calm a mind as he could muster.
Bishop Jack, all affability, had a definite air of genuine cheeriness about him. As with Henry himself, there might have been a certain relief in the bishop that the final battle was at hand. He wrung Henry’s hand like an old friend, projecting a charm so palpable that in an instant Henry knew he was safe. The bishop was working him as if he were just another influential media personality who needed to be won over. The charm indeed was too palpable, evidently one of the bishop’s weapons to attain ascendancy over important minds. He did not know Henry for Mendamero!
After outlining the upcoming interview in general terms, Henry passed a list of specific questions to Anthony Willis for discussion, then left the two men with a big cafetière of French roast, hot milk and mugs. He breathed out a sigh of relief and went to consult with his friend Tomas Weissman, the senior producer of Eastnet. Henry, uncertain of the interview’s outcome, had talked him into taking the console.
Eventually Henry called the pair out of the office and directed Willis to the production box. He sat the bishop in a studio chair opposite him, remarking brightly that he imagined Bishop James had no nerves as he was so used to the experience.
Not at all, smiled the bishop, the day he failed to be nervous before the cameras would be the day he knew he had lost it; adrenalin gave one an edge.
Henry quite agreed, all the while feeling round the fringes of the other's mind. It was by no means a safe thing to do, but why else had he got himself into this situation? He was aware of the power emanating from the figure opposite him as if from a great engine idling.
The bishop’s real attention was obviously elsewhere. Like Henry, he could cast his mind at a distance, and was doing so at that moment while apparently giving his full attention to his interviewer. What was he concentrating on? Henry delicately followed the indications and sensed a distant limestone tower in the northern mountains, from which a radiance shot out as if from a lighthouse in a storm. So the bishop knew about Biscofshalch already and was trying to probe its defences.
The Icon was causing the bishop trouble, so much was evident. It engaged a considerable amount of his strength simply to hold his place and shape, Henry could tell. No wonder he had no time to explore the mind of the journalist opposite him. The Icon was shielding Henry, who breathed a mental sigh of relief.
Nonetheless, the bishop gave all the appearance of bending his whole attention on the interview, something Henry found impressive. He fielded Henry’s interrogation on the scandals associated with the Conservative Coalition with practised ease. He was acute and informed while sketching out his perceptions of modern Catholicity and its problems in Rothenia.
Bishop Jack came more into focus when Henry asked him, ‘I have heard, bishop, that you see the world’s present problems as indicating the end is nigh. Is that simplifying your standpoint?’
The bishop shot him a sharp glance, and for a moment Henry had to make his mind mirror-smooth as it briefly felt the weight of the bishop’s full attention. It glanced off him.
‘The expectation of the Eschaton – I mean the end of all things – has been a component of the faith from its earliest days. Indeed, Christianity inherited it from Judaism and earlier religions.’
‘But of course it hasn’t come.’
‘Which does not mean that it won’t come.’
‘I could think of several answers for you, but let’s try this. Humanity has broken through so many barriers in the past century and mastered its environment in ways never dreamed of. But has this brought justice, peace or happiness? No, chaos and horrific violence have been the principal results. And it can only get worse. If God is to intervene in the universe, now would seem the logical time. Order is needed, and spiritual renewal. Humanity’s souls must be given a chance to catch up with their minds.’
‘The Eschaton doesn’t seem a bad thing, viewed like that.’
‘Indeed. Why should it be? It could be seen as a father’s stern word to his erring children, done in love, however painful it might be in passing. Pain is not all bad.’
‘Or at least not if one has an anaesthetic available.’
‘A rather flip comment, if I may say. I could think of all sorts of analogies, but forget them. All the indications of prophecy and expectation say that the Eschaton is at hand.’
‘And how will it happen?’
‘Scripture gives a highly coloured vision of the End Time. But its truth can’t be doubted. There will be war and plague, during which a great figure will arise to bring order and hope.’
‘The Second Coming?’
‘Eventually no doubt, but first there will be a kingdom established over mankind. Its king or prince will have the rule of the world and justice will be established.’
‘And when will this happen?’
‘Why, it may already have started.’
‘And Judgement Day?’
‘Will doubtless be part of it, but at a distance in time.’
‘First the kingdom.’
‘Yes, as I said.’
‘And not all will be saved?’
‘Scripture says not.’
‘So who will be saved?’
‘Those who confess God in their hearts and on their lips. Scripture is quite clear on this. All sinners will be saved – if they repent, of course.’
‘Pardon me?’ The bishop’s full attention snapped once again to Henry.
‘Well, if they don’t consider what they do and how they love as a sin, how can they repent of it?’
‘I think I’ve made all this pretty clear in the past. Scripture says homosexuality is a sin and it must be repented of.’
‘So gays and lesbians are damned at the end?’
‘It’s their choice. Adulterers, murderers, thieves all have a choice.’
‘I don’t think you can compare a thief’s choice to steal with a gay man’s choice to follow the orientation God gave him.’ Henry was becoming aware that he was pushing too hard, but also curiously that the bishop wasn’t entirely focussed on him, but on … yes … the chaplain next door, a gay man. Reverend Willis was being given a message.
‘Have we time to go into all the varied arguments about the source of sexuality?’
Henry backed off and wrapped up. ‘No, we don’t really. Thank you, bishop, for coming to Eastnet and offering us such a cogent and informed perspective on current religion. I have to compliment you on the intelligence and depth of your responses.’
‘Thank you, Mr Atwood. I might say the same of your questioning. I do hope we meet again.’
Henry gave a quirky grin at the Antichrist. ‘I’m sure we will.’
‘So what was he like?’
‘Exactly what you’d expect, Harry.’ Henry was making a farewell call to the queen before rejoining her husband at Belvoir. He had taken his car up to the studios that morning before he had woken up properly and realised he had a far quicker way to travel. So he had driven it back down to the palace to leave it in the stable-yard.
‘Damn this pregnancy!’ Harry swore. She looked unusually frustrated.
‘You don’t mean that.’
‘I sure as hell do! How worse-timed could it be? I should be with you all at Belvoir. Why does my brother have all the fun? He’s only half as tough as I am.’
Henry laughed at the sudden comical expression on her face. ‘I believe you, sweetheart, I really do. But the young crown prince needs his mum.’
She sighed as her mood shifted again. ‘I know, I know. Oh Henry, this is all so maddening. There you are fighting evil and I can do nothing more than sit around being grossly swollen and reading magazines. I can’t even concentrate on proper books.’
‘Excuse my being flip, but what you’re doing is every bit as important as anything we are. You’re carrying the future of this country and its dynasty; we’re just trying to make certain the sun will come up tomorrow.’
‘I’m not sure I entirely follow that, but anyway, tell me what happened at the studio.’ Henry obliged, then noted the pensive look on Harry’s face as she commented, ‘Very interesting. He seems to be running with a handicap. The Icon slows him down, even though it can’t help revealing itself to him. Yet it has no impact on you, and protects the boys out at Biscofshalch.’
‘That’s why he must destroy it. Only then will he be able to take down Gavin and Lije and discover who Mendamero is.’
‘And the boy Max Jamroziak?’
‘He’s still a great mystery to us all. Gavin thinks he’s very important, because there are some strange things that happen when the two of them are together. But no one has a clue what his part will be in the final struggle.
‘Harry, I have to go. Sorry to be so abrupt.’ They kissed and hugged. ‘Er … don’t get alarmed; I’m only going to vanish into thin air. Any message to Rudi?’
‘Only that he’s to make me even prouder of him than I already am.’
Henry nodded, and was gone.
‘Did you think that went well, sir?’
‘Those media types are easy to manage, though Atwood had done more research than is usual for his type … but of course his father is a clergyman, isn’t he? Now I come to think about it, the False Episcopalians are appointing him their bishop in Rothenia, the Czech and Slovak republics and Austria – or so Alun was saying.’
‘So I’d heard too. We’ve still got an hour before we're expected at St Edwards, bishop. I have the route sorted. It’s down in what they call the New City. Is Boris with us?’
‘I wouldn’t go anywhere without my security. There should be two more of them waiting for us at the church.’
‘And the other three, sir?’
‘I believe Gareth has them following up leads on Colin’s disappearance.’
They left the Eastnet premises and found the car, Boris still sitting sullenly in the rear. Anthony drove off down towards the New City, his sat-nav instructing him in the way to go. They pulled into the cobbled parking space beside the Victorian church with plenty of time, to find an anxious, eager man awaiting their arrival. He was easy for Anthony to classify as middle-class, English and evangelical. His gushing began almost immediately.
The bishop was used to it. He smiled and nodded at the man, who introduced himself as Gerry Wilmot. Bishop Jack moved to cut him off. ‘Bishop Alun has told me all about you, Gerry – you and Ann.’
‘He looks on you as a tower of strength in Rothenia. He mentioned you had hopes of ordination.’
‘Oh … well … yes, if it’s God’s will.’
‘And the church here is without a pastor.’
‘Yes, indeed. It’s our life’s ambition to testify to how the Spirit has transformed our lives – he and your books, bishop. Can I call you, Jack?’
‘By all means, Gerry. You do that. Now let’s get inside.’
‘Yes, yes. Though I have to tell you that the congregation is pretty much unregenerate here. They resist changes: too many loyal to the last chaplain.’
‘Yes, an apostate of the worst sort, Jack.’
‘His son’s a friend of mine.’
Gerry Wilmot’s face fell as he realised he’d staggered into a gaffe. He went bright red. ‘Er … Henry Atwood, the journalist?’
‘The very man. We’ve just been chatting on the TV.’ Anthony couldn’t help but notice a secret smile on the bishop’s face. ‘Is Bishop Alun here?’
‘Er … yes. He’s just been finishing up a difficult meeting with the wardens. He’s had to inhibit them from their offices.’
‘Oh? And who will look after St Edward’s in the meantime?’
‘Myself and my wife Ann.’
‘Good faithful Christians both, I don’t doubt. You pop along inside, Gerry, there’s a good fellow. We’ll be just a moment. I need to talk to my aides.’
When the man had disappeared, Bishop Jack rolled his eyes. ‘Of such is the kingdom of heaven, Anthony.’
Anthony gave the dutiful laugh required, pondering again how it was that the bishop’s cause attracted such people. Even the bishop seemed to despise them.
‘So what’s today’s event?’
‘A Seminar of the Spirit.’
‘Prophesying, interpreting, speaking in tongues?’
‘I imagine so, sir. I think Bishop Lewis and the Wilmots want to rally the faithful here in Strelzen.’
‘It takes me back to the beginnings of our movement, Anthony: small gatherings in cold church halls. Yet look at us now, a power in the world which presidents and premiers dare not ignore. Rothenia needs more of this, but its populace is difficult to reach, weighed down with generations of papist superstition. Now let’s go inspire the faithful.’
The church’s north aisle had a group of about twenty of the congregation waiting expectantly for Bishop Jack, craning round to see him as he entered the church. There was polite applause when Bishop Lewis introduced him.
Meanwhile, Anthony took a seat at the back of the church. Boris and two other of Gareth’s black-suited myrmidons sat impassively in front of him, obscuring his view of his boss.
Anthony was next to the display table and scanned its contents instead. He was impressed by the activity represented there: reading groups, gospel choir, children’s choirs and groups, social action group, and Bible study, all signs of a busy and enterprising church in action. Suddenly it occurred to him that this had all been set up not by the Wilmots but by the journalist Atwood’s father, the one whom Bishop Lewis had ousted, whom he had called an apostate. Anthony began to hate the smug, bearded figure at Bishop Jack’s elbow: self-righteous, hypocritical and ignorant. Anthony’s whole person revolted from his association with the man. He had a powerful urge just to stand up, leave and find a taxi to the airport. But he knew he couldn’t. Not only was he paid to do a job, he was beginning to doubt he would be allowed to resign it in any case.
Bishop Jack was hitting his stride down at the front. He had his audience in the palm of his hand, as usual. Anthony tuned in. The bishop was in apocalyptic mode. ‘This is the day! This is the final age! And here is where the battle will be!’ The bishop seemed to swell and the visions came pouring into Anthony’s mind as they tended to in the flood of his words. This time he saw a storm-beset tower amongst mountains struck by lightning. Vast marching hordes trampled the land, though the nature of the soldiers was obscured by the darkness between lightning flashes. A red-clad warrior urged his hosts on to assault the tower, from which radiated great menace.
Anthony shook his head to clear it and checked his watch. Half an hour had passed in a moment. The bishop was wrapping up, extolling the virtues of the Wilmots and Bishop Lewis. Suddenly the church door banged and Gareth appeared. His three associates stood as one, forcing Anthony to get up and move from his seat if he were to see anything.
Gareth walked straight to the front of the church and talked with unusual urgency in Bishop Jack’s ear. The bishop was glad-handing at this point. He nodded abstractedly as Gareth briefed him, then broke away from the group to came directly towards Anthony. ‘Gareth has a lead in the hunt for Colin. We’re leaving Strelzen now for the north of the country.’
‘But sir! We have an engagement tomorrow at the university.’
‘Cancel, Tony. This is too important.’
‘And Bishop Lewis, sir?’
‘He’ll have to come too. We’re leaving right now.’
‘But, bishop! We have no hotel reservations or … anything.’
Bishop Jack gave a strange little laugh. ‘Then welcome to the realm of Chaos, Tony. We’ll see what turns up.’
He spun on his heel, forcing Anthony to follow on dutifully. He left it to Gareth to break the news of the change of plan to the other bishop.
So three hours later Anthony was driving in the dark winter night along a road whose signs showed PIOTRESHRAD-CZECHIA. Gareth was beside him craning to look out into the blackness as if he could penetrate it. In the back were the bishop and the three other security men. Gerry and Ann Wilmot had volunteered to tail after them in their own car with Bishop Lewis, who had acceded to the change of plan with very bad grace.
Gareth gave a grunt. ‘It’s here on the left.’
‘Are you sure?’
‘Do as he says,’ instructed the bishop.
Anthony slowed and swung the van on to a forestry track that appeared in his headlights. The Volkswagen fishtailed slightly, found the rutted core of the track and cautiously moved forward. The way was in fact quite level, apart from the odd puddle that splashed as they lurched into it. The Wilmots’ car bounced after them.
The road climbed steadily through trees. Every now and then the white shape of an owl swooped disconcertingly in front of them. Eyes of wild beasts occasionally reflected their headlights from the undergrowth between the trunks.
Slowly a feeling of deep reluctance began to grow on Anthony, to the extent that he lifted his foot off the accelerator pedal involuntarily and the car almost stopped.
‘Do you feel it, Anthony?’ the bishop’s voice hissed in his ear.
‘The presence of pure evil, dear boy. It beats upon us. I shall pray.’
Whether the bishop’s intercession worked or not, the feeling of pressure on Anthony relaxed, though the edge of foreboding did not leave him.
The vehicles broke out of the trees on to moorland, where the track ended. Anthony pulled up. By the light of the newly risen moon, he saw they were in a mountain valley. Ahead of them, perhaps a mile away, was the spike of a tower, the one he had seen in his vision at St Edwards.
‘Biscofshalch,’ the bishop stated, with an expectant smile.