“How much farther?” Plešec asked.
“It’s just over that next rise,” I answered.
“You better not be lying to us.”
“This is the place,” I said.
“If you are lying to us, I will gut you. I will cut out your intestines and throw them down the mountain.”
“This is the place,” I said again.
It is the hour of the Geh-Sarna. The Dasturs pray the verses of the Avestan Mathras over the body, to strengthen his soul and help it along its journey. After the prayers the body is carried up and into the Dakhma, where it is laid upon the stone. It is now the twelfth hour of the third day.
“Something is not right,” Rurick said. “This place, it is deserted.”
“He told me to come here.”
“Do you remember rule one?”
“He said he would be here.”
“Here,” Plešec repeated. “But where is ‘here’? What is this place?”
“It’s called a Dakhma,” I answered.
Rurick pressed his hand to his mouth. “What is that smell?”
I decided Rurick had to be first. Rurick had the gun. I dropped my hand into my jacket pocket.
Give it to Will Henry; I’ve nowhere to put it.
If you carried a smaller weapon, you could stick it in your garter.
“Something is not right here,” Plešec said. He turned to Rurick. “Something is not right.”
There is the boy in the inner circle, above the pit in which lies the dry bones and the dust of the dry bones. He is for the sun now and the flies and the birds that take his sightless eyes first. It is the first hour of the fourth day, above the pit, at the summit of the abyss.
Rurick’s eyes widened. His mouth came open. The last thing he saw before the bullet tore into his brain did not make sense. Having been a very self-assured man, he died very confused.
Plešec lunged forward; the knife blade flashed in the final, dying embers of daylight. His thrust tore into my shirt-front; the knife’s tip struck Fadil’s present that hung around my neck, the scarab to bring me good luck; and I fired point-blank into his stomach.
He fell face-first at my feet. I stumbled backward until I smacked against the white wall of the tower, and then my >knees gave out and I sank onto the stony ground with Plešec, who was not dead but bleeding badly and crawling toward me, and his blood shone wetly on the bare rock, trailing behind his jerking legs.
I raised the doctor’s revolver to the level of his eyes. I held the gun in both hands, but I still couldn’t keep it steady.
He stopped. He rolled onto his side. He clutched his bleeding stomach with one hand and reached toward me with the other. I didn’t move. He was nasu, unclean.
I looked past him, to the sea framed in the arched opening of the wall, to the line formed where the water met the sky. The world was not round, I realized. The world was a plate.
“Please,” he whispered. “Don’t.”
Unlike Rurick, Plešec did not die confused.
The boy’s spirit comes to the Chinvato-Peretu, the bridge of sighs joining the two worlds. There he meets himself in the form of a beautiful maiden, his Kainini-Keherpa, who guides him to Mithra to be judged for what he has done and what he has left undone.
I left them there for the flies and the birds and the sun and the wind. In the silence outside the Tour du Silence, I left them. Where the faceless dead faced the sky, I left them there at the center of the world.
Folio X: Tυφωεύς
Chapter Thirty-Three: “Our Only Hope for Success”
I discovered Arthur Rimbaud lounging on the front steps of the Grand Hotel De L’Univers, wearing a fresh shirt and an ironic smile.
“Well?” he asked.
“Well what?” I felt certain he could see it in my eyes, smell it rising from my being. The Zoroastrians believe the dead do not depart at first; for three days they circle around their abandoned bodies, lost and forlorn. They have been evicted, and they do not understand why.
“Has Dr. Warthrop returned?” I asked.
“Yes, but he is about to leave again—to look for you.”
“Where is he?”
“There,” he said, with a nod toward the lobby. I took the steps two at a time. “Better have something good to say. He has a few good things to say to you,” he called after me.
The monstrumologist was standing in the middle of the room surrounded by several uniformed members of the British colonial police, as well as one or two armed sepoys. Warthrop, by far the most experienced hunter in the group, spotted me first. He shoved a man out of his way and strode over to greet me with a hard slap against the side of my head.
“Where have you been, Will Henry?” he cried. His face was contorted with fury and pent-up anxiety. I’d seen him that way before. I will not suffer you to die! He grabbed my shoulders and roughly shook me. “Tell me! Why did you wander off like that? Didn’t I tell you to stay with Monsieur Rimbaud? Why didn’t you wait for me? Well? Have you nothing to say for yourself? Speak!”
“I’m sorry, sir—”
“Sorry? You are sorry?” He shook his head with wonder. Keeping one hand on my shoulder—fearing, perhaps, I might fly away unless anchored—he turned to the search party, informed them that the lost little lamb had wandered home, and thanked them for their speedy response to his call for help. He said no more until they had gone, and then he said to me, “With no further halfhearted apologies, Will Henry, please explain why you snuck off without a word to anyone.”
I avoided his eyes. “I went to look for you, sir.”
“I tried to get Monsieur Rimbaud to come with me, but he said he was tired and wanted to take a nap.”
“And the reason you took it into your head to look for me?”
“I thought…” The words would not come.
“Yes, I am interested in hearing those—your thoughts. What were you thinking? And if you were thinking some ill fate had befallen me, why did you go off by yourself? Did it not occur to you to wake Rimbaud from his nap and at least tell him where you were going?”
“No, sir, it didn’t.”
“Hmmm.” Some of the anger had drained from his face. “Well,” he said, relaxing a bit. “The day seems to have been a success all around, Will Henry, for you have found me and I have found us passage to Socotra. We leave at first light for the Isle of Blood.”
We were both tired and hungry, but the doctor insisted on walking down to the telegraph office before anything else, where he sent off a wire to von Helrung:
LEAVING TOMORROW FINAL
There was a message waiting for him. He read it and then slipped it into his pocket without showing it to me. I deduced from his concerned expression that it had not come from Venice. He was very quiet on the walk back.
We took a room at the hotel for the night, changed quickly for dinner—we were both ravenously hungry—and ended up sharing our table with Rimbaud, who kept mum about our sightseeing foray into the Shamsan Mountains above Crater. Instead he talked about his early days in Aden and the coffeehouse where he oversaw a “harem” of women workers preparing the beans for shipment to Europe. The doctor listened politely but spoke little. His mind was elsewhere.
Later that evening I woke from a light sleep to find myself alone. A shadow moved outside the window. I peeked between the wooden slats onto the veranda. Silhouetted against the silvery sea was the form of the monstrumologist facing east, looking toward Socotra.
He turned suddenly and peered down the beach toward the quay, his body stiffening, his right hand dropping into his coat pocket, searching for his revolver. He would not find it, I knew.
Tell him, a voice whispered inside my head. You must tell him.
I got out of bed and dressed in the semidarkness, shivering, though it was not cold. I’d never hidden anything from him—had never tried, because my faith in his ability to see through any lie was insurmountable.
I was pulling on my shoes when the floor creaked outside the door. In a panic—apparently my quick thinking was done for the night—I jumped back into bed and yanked the covers up to my chin.
Through half-open eyes I watched him cross the room to the chair where I had carelessly thrown my jacket. If he checked the revolver’s chamber, I was done for. But what did it matter? I was going to confess, wasn’t I?
He went to the same window through which I had spied on him and stood for a long while with his back to me before saying, “Will Henry.” And again, with a sigh, “Will Henry, I know you are awake. Your nightshirt is on the floor and your shoes have gone missing.”
I opened my eyes fully. “I saw you outside and—”
“And when you heard me coming back, you jumped into bed fully dressed.”
“Do you think such behavior might strike someone as odd?” he asked.
“I didn’t know what to do.”
“So the most reasonable thing that occurred to you was jumping into bed and pretending to sleep?”
He turned to me and said, “I know why you left this afternoon.”
I swallowed hard. My faith in his powers was not misplaced. He did not need my confession. He knew.
“Do you trust me, Will Henry?”
“Your actions today give lie to your words. Why did you think I wouldn’t come back for you? I told you I would, and yet you left to look for me. And just now, finding me gone, you threw on your clothes to chase after me. It’s New York, isn’t it? You remember New York and you fear at any moment I may abandon you. Perhaps I need to point out the difference between New York and this afternoon. I made no promise in New York.”
I was wrong. The monstrumologist had not discerned the truth. I felt the burden settle back upon my shoulders.
“I don’t know what we will find on Socotra, Will Henry. Kearns and the Russians have beaten us to the treasure, and there is a possibility that once again the grail has slipped from our grasp. I hope not. I pray it is not too late. If it is not, then you and I must shoulder a burden greater than most men can carry. Our only hope for success lies not in the force of arms or in numbers, or even much in our wits. No, this is what will save us.” He pulled my left hand into his a squeezed hard. “It saved you in America and it saved me in England, the thing in which I must now put absolute faith—the one thing I do not begin to understand! The thing that frightens me more than the abominations I pursue—the monster whose face I cannot bring myself to turn and face. We have been—we are—we must be—indispensable to each other, Will Henry, or both of us will fall. Do you understand what I mean?”
He let go of my wounded hand, rose, turned away.
“On the night you were born, your father drew me aside and with great solemnity—and tears in his eyes—told me your name would be Pellinore. He did not, I think, expect my reaction to this flattering gesture, of which I’m sure your mother was unaware. I unreservedly upbraided him, disavowing him of any notion that I was honored by the choice. My own anger confounded me. I did not understand why it enraged me, the thought of you carrying on my name. So many times we express our fear as anger, Will Henry, and now I think I wasn’t angry at all but afraid. Terribly, terribly afraid.”