Author's note -- This story is a sequel, or more properly, a prequel, to my other story "Archaeological Findings". For background to this tale, please read the first one. And remember, He of The Thousand Shapes is always watching you. . . . -- S.R., 1998 CE
Alexandria, 415 CE
The young clerk sat back from the desk and rubbed his eyes. The translation had been hard going. He was troubled by the letter's message. With shaking hands, he had copied the Latin words into Coptic Greek, moaning softly.
The letter was horribly blasphemous; it had only been chance that he had found it. It had been folded into a copy of Pliny's Natural Histories, which he had taken out of the library to look up a passage for Hypatia, the Library's dean. She had wanted to check the original against a new translation that had arrived from Constantinople. The letter had been put between two of the end pages, which were then glued together. Whoever had hidden the manuscript had done a good job -- if the letter's date was correct, it had been there since the reign of the Emperor Titus. His Latin was not so good, but it was good enough to tell him things that he wished he had never heard . . .
He had joined the Library as a young boy, wishing to work among the great rows of books that lined the shelves of the Library's corridors. The Library (he always capitalized it in his mind) was, to anyone's knowledge, the largest collection of human knowledge in all history. They had the latest proclamations of the city's Patriarch, Cyril (the clerk had been there when Cyril delivered them; he was a tall, dark man, with awful staring eyes that glared through one's person), and they had seven-hundred-year-old copies of Homer and Sophocles. The Library was sacrosanct; every invader of the city, every deranged mob, knew better than to put it to the torch. He was there nonstop, pausing only for meals, sleep, and to go to the cathedral on Sundays.
Like most workers there, he stood in awe of Hypatia. Seventy years old, and she still kept up a more rigorous work schedule than anyone else there. Her amazing memory kept track of most of the books in the Library (memorizing the names of all the books in the Library was a feat that was beyond even her skill). She had written several scientific treatises, which the clerk had once tried to read, but they gave him a headache. So, for all the years he had been at the Library, he had been happy and content in his work.
But not now. The Letter -- even in his mind, he capitalized it, like the Library -- had grown to obsess him every minute of the day. He could not stop thinking about it and its contents. Finally, he had decided to make an unauthorized copy of it (although that was the Golden Rule that must never, never be broken around here), to translate it into his native Coptic tongue, to spread the Letter's message to the misguided believers in the city.
The clerk was not stupid. He was well-read among the letters of Paul, James, John, and Peter, as well as the Gospels. He prayed to God every night. So why did God take it upon Himself to let the clerk find this?
The dreams had started a few nights after he discovered the Letter. The man in black with goat's hooves -- the clerk figured him to be Satan at first, but he had begun to suspect it was something far, far worse -- calling for him, the visions of the horrific city, a vision of Christ on the cross, his body wasted away, laughing unceasingly at the clerk, telling him to bow down before the One you serve.
He had gone to the priest at the church he attended, begged him to help free himself of these dreams. The priest had told him to pray to God; if God did not take away the dreams, then surely God was punishing him. The clerk had stormed out of the church in anger and fear, after that. Maybe God was punishing him. There had been that girl near the docks two or three years ago, yes, he had sinned and God was punishing hi--
He sat up with a jerk. Someone stood in the doorway of his cubicle, hands folded by his side.
"Yes, can I help you?" the clerk asked, with a quaver in his voice. He tried to shove the letter under the pile of paperwork on his desk.
"Stop," came a voice. Hypatia's voice. "What is that in your hand? Give it to me." The dean of the Library came forward into the light, the candle illuminating her grey-white hair and the features of her face.
"It is nothing, Dean," the clerk said, fidgeting in his chair. But he gave Hypatia the paper.
She said nothing as she scanned over the letter. However, a shudder ran through her body. She folded the letter in half and put it in a fold of her robes, sighing as she did so.
"I had feared someone would find evidence of this old man's story," she said in a low voice. "Come with me, Caius -- that is your name, isn't it?" she said to the clerk, and motioned with a wave of her hand.
The clerk took a candle and followed Hypatia out into the blackened corridor. It was late at night, and most of the workers at the Library were asleep.
"I was walking through the corridors when I saw you were still working," Hypatia explained as they walked through the Library. "Such dedication is . . . commendable," she continued, with a small grin on her face. She paused for a second, and the grin vanished. "But the letter you found is not a commendable matter. Let us go to my office."
"Of course, Dean," replied the clerk. He followed Hypatia to her office, which was, as usual, filled with codices and papyri that she was translating or copying. Hypatia sat down, slowly, at her desk, and motioned for the clerk to take a seat. He cleared copies of Tacitus and Suetonius off a chair and sat down.
"I am getting old," she explained. "Soon, I will have to stop working. I only wish it was before someone found this," she waved the letter in her hand. "Have you read all of it?" she asked.
"Yes, Dean," replied the clerk. "Frankly, I wish I hadn't."
"Yes, I understand your fear," said Hypatia. "I remember when old Simon picked me as his successor to the Deanship, around thirty years ago, now. After the public celebration, he took me to his office -- my office, now -- and explained to me the story of our eminent friend Thaddeus, who had a brother named Yeushua . . ." Her voice did not contain a hint of sarcasm.
"Thaddeus was Dean of the Library for a while, you know," she continued in a didactic tone. "Before he died, though, he repeated this story to Pliny the Elder, who wrote it down and made copies -- one of which is what you found. The story was passed down from Dean to Dean of the Library, but the copy that Thaddeus gave to the library could not be found -- well, until now. Look closely, Caius, that letter was written by Pliny himself. Marvelous, don't you think?"
The clerk smiled nervously. Hypatia nodded and smiled. "Are you a Christian, by any chance, Caius?" she asked.
"Yes," replied the clerk, "but I am not so sure, now . . ."
"I understand," said Hypatia. "I, of course, was an atheist before I figured out the meaning of the term. But when I heard Thaddeus's story, I too dismissed it as the ravings of a man on his deathbed. It did not seem possible that the entire Christian religion was founded . . ." (she seemed to be shaking slightly, the clerk noticed) "founded by Him . . . He of the Thousand Shapes . . ." she muttered in a low voice. "You don't know of the secret volumes the Library holds, Caius. I have read things that have given me nightmares for years . . ."
The clerk spoke up. "Did the black man with goat's hooves call to you, too?" he asked.
"Why, yes," replied Hypatia, her eyes wide (with surprise or fear, wondered the clerk). "Although I do not wish to bring the subject up. I fear that we are both privy to knowledge that someone or something wishes to keep secret. I did not wish to endanger your life, but it appears that He has targeted both of us. He does not want His secrets loosed."
"What must we do?" asked the clerk.
Hypatia began to reply, but suddenly motioned for quiet. She stood up. "What in God's name is going on . . ." she began to mutter.
The clerk could hear something as well. It sounded like trampings of boots, shouts, exclamations . . . and cracklings of fire.
Hypatia moved around her desk with a speed that belied her age. She let out a small moan. "No," she muttered, clenching her hands into fists, "No! Cyril, you fool, you fool . . . don't do this
. . ."
The clerk moved to her side. "What?" he asked. "What is happening."
"Cyril, the Patriarch!" Hypatia said. "He is carrying through with that promise he made! That blind, Christian fool!" she shouted. Hypatia turned to the clerk, who had a look of puzzlement on his face. "Caius, a few weeks ago, Cyril came to the Library to see me alone. He spoke to me, told me to burn the 'pagan idolatries' of the Library -- by which he meant all non-Christian and 'heretical' literature. I told him to his face that he was a fool and a madman and to leave immediately. He did, but not before promising that if I did not stop the Library's 'atheistic attack on God,' he would do so himself."
"Cyril's going to . . . burn the Library?" asked the shocked clerk.
"Yes, Caius," said Hypatia. "All of this, no doubt, to His pleasure." The clerk thought at first that she meant Cyril, but then he realized. . . . "We must make sure that Thaddeus's letter survives, no matter what," said Hypatia. "We must seal it up in an amphora, or something. Quickly!"
With those words, she took a decorative amphora from one side of her office and upended it. Flowers and water spilled out. "Get the stone plug for the jar, or something else to plug this up, quickly, damn you!" she shouted at the clerk. He brought over the stone plug for the amphora, which had sat beside it.
"It's still wet inside," Hypatia said, "but it will have to do." She put the original of the letter and the clerk's copy inside, and then, with the clerk's help, they jammed the plug into the amphora, sealing it up.
"Now, we've got to get this to a wine cellar --" Hypatia began, but was cut off when another clerk entered the room.
"Dean Hypatia," he said in a quaking voice. "The mob outside is calling for you. Cyril demands to talk to you. They've killed the Imperial Prefect. The city is in chaos. He will kill everyone inside the Library if you do not."
Hypatia stood silent for a moment, then walked forward. "I will come and talk to Cyril, even if it does mean I will probably die," she said. "Come with me, Caius," she continued, motioning for the clerk to follow her.
They walked at a brisk pace through the Library's corridors. What had been a scene of quiet study was now a frenetic madhouse. Clerks ran through the halls, clutching volumes and papyri, taking them to the deepest of the Library's archives. Few noticed the Library's Dean and a clerk with a sealed amphora, if any.
They came to the massive front doors of the Library, across the polished floor of the lobby, with its murals of the Muses. A few clerks stood there, looking at the mob outside with frightened glances.
Hypatia opened the door. The chanting of the mob outside grew stronger. A speaker, Cyril probably, was shouting something. Before she went outside she put her hand on the clerk's shoulders and whispered: "Find a safe place for the amphora, Caius. Do not let the tale of Thaddeus be lost forever." She looked around at the Library. "All this knowledge," she continued. "To be consigned to the flames. How tragic." She seemed utterly detached from the situation. Then she went outside.
The clerk watched what happened next, all the while clutching the amphora in his hands. The crowd fell silent as Hypatia approached the place was Cyril was shouting at the crowd. He turned and stared at her, his eyes glittering with the light of the torches the mob carried. A smirk appeared on his face.
"I give you," he shouted at the crowd, "the leader of these filthy, perverted pagans! She rejected my missive of Jesus's dominance over these atheists! For that, she must die, and we must utterly burn this storehouse of idolatry to the ground! It is God's Will!!" He seemed hysterical to the point of madness. "Do you wish to confess your sins before you die, Dean Hypatia?" Cyril continued, his voice sarcastic.
"You are a fool, Cyril," said Hypatia, as the crowd murmured in anger and surprise. "You are a fool," she repeated. "You have been blinded by your god and your faith. Don't you know that he will destroy you, too, just as you will destroy me? He is only using you as a tool . . . a tool to further his only desire -- the death of all mankind. Once he is finished with you, you will be cast aside. That is that."
Cyril stood, eyes blazing, as Hypatia finished. Then he spoke. "I have had enough of this atheist's blasphemy!" he shouted. "She must die! Kill her now!" With those words, he grabbed a club from another person and swung it in a wide arc, connecting with Hypatia's head. For a single, perfect, second, time seemed to stop for the clerk as he watched Hypatia's blood splash against the paving stones.
Time started again.
Hypatia crumpled to her feet as the mob stormed upwards towards the doors, Cyril leading on. The clerk took one look at the mob, and he and the others immediately abandoned their positions at the door. He ran for all his worth, searching for a deep archive of the Library to store the amphora with its horrific missive inside.
As he ran down the corridor, he looked back. The lobby was now filled with screaming people, some dying, some killing. Fire leapt up as the precious, oh so precious volumes of the Library were put to the torch. The mob streamed into the Library, burning, looting, and killing as it went.
He reached a staircase and fled down it, leaving the sounds of the mob behind for a second. He went down as far as he could and into a storeroom for some of the older volumes the Library held. The coolness of the ground helped preserve them, and, the clerk thought, hopefully it will preserve the amphora. He found a small closet, filled with tattered volumes, and decided that this would be the best place to store the amphora. The sounds of the mob and the fire were growing closer. He had to hurry.
Quickly, he tossed the old volumes out. It grieved his scholar's mind to damage these irreplaceable works, but necessity demanded that he do so. Finally, he emptied the closet and put the amphora inside, as far back as he could go. Then, he shut the door and barred it with an empty bookcase. There, he said to himself. It is finished.
"Now," he muttered, "if only I can find a way out."
He walked back toward the door. As he began to open it, it was flung open for him, catching him on the jaw. He fell backwards as two men of the city entered with torches and swords drawn, dripping with blood. Cyril, the Patriarch of Alexandria, stood behind them, his club now drenched with much more than Hypatia's blood.
The clerk tried to speak, but a brutal backhand from one of the men sent him sprawling back onto the floor.
"You, clerk," said Cyril in a commanding tone of voice. "Where is the Missive of Thaddeus? God Himself has commanded me to find it and destroy it."
The clerk went cold inside. A cool, calm voice, which sounded sort of like Hypatia's, said: Lie to the Patriarch. Do not let him find the letter. "I do not know, Your Grace," he said nervously. "Perhaps upstairs . . . in a place you haven't burned?" He offered a weak smile.
Cyril's face twisted with anger. "You'll pay for that insolence. Kill him." Then: "The missive is not here. Let us go to that whore Hypatia's quarters. It is probably there."
As Cyril spoke, one of the men swung his sword in an almost casual manner towards the clerk. He felt it pierce his side and slice through him, a burning bar of coldness. Then, as he collapsed to the floor, he saw, through dimming vision, the two men and Cyril exit the room, setting fire to the books as they left.
It is safe, thought the clerk as he lay on the floor, his blood spilling out around him. My work is done. Thaddeus's tale shall survive. The sound and smell of the fire and the mob grew faint. Then everything went dark.
A figure appeared. A black man, with goat's hooves, and a smile on his face . . . Behind him stood two others. One was Hypatia. The other was an old man (Thaddeus? thought the clerk). They both had looks of fright on their faces.
"You willl pay for trying to expose my secret, human," said the black man, in an utterly evil voice. "You will join those two fools for eternity. I will make you suffer for that."
"Nooooo . . ." moaned the clerk.
"Yes," replied the man, without any emotion at all.
Created: July 1, 1998; Updated: August 9, 2004