/ Language: English / Genre:sf / Series: Saint Leibowitz

Saint Leibowitz and the Wild Horse Woman

W Miller, Jr.

It has been nearly forty years since Walter M. Miller, Jr., shocked and dazzled readers with his provocative bestseller and enduring classic, A Canticle for Leibowitz. Now, in one of the most eagerly awaited publishing events of our time, here is Miller’s masterpiece, an epic intellectual and emotional tour de force that will stand beside 1984, Brave New World, and A Canticle for Leibowitz.

In a world struggling to transcend a terrifying legacy of darkness—a world torn between love and violence, good and evil—one man undertakes an odyssey of adventure and discovery that promises to alter not only his destiny but the destiny of humankind as well….

Millennia have passed since the Flame Deluge, yet society remains fragmented, pockets of civilization besieged by barbarians. The Church is in turmoil, the exiled papacy struggling to survive in its Rocky Mountain refuge. To the south, tyranny is on the march. Imperial Texark troops, bent on conquest, are headed north into the lands of the nomads, spreading terror in their wake.

Meanwhile, isolated in Leibowitz Abbey, Brother Blacktooth St. George suffers a crisis of faith. Torn between his vows and his Nomad upbringing, between the Holy Virgin and visions of the Wild Horse Woman of his people, he stands at the brink of disgrace and expulsion from his order. But he is offered an escape—of sorts: a new assignment as a translator for Cardinal Brownpony, which will take him to the contentious election of a new pope and then on a pilgrimage to the city of New Rome. Journeying across a continent divided by nature, politics, and war, Blacktooth is drawn into Brownpony’s intrigues and conspiracies. He bears witness to rebellion, assassination, and human sacrifice. And he is introduced to the sins that monastery life has long held at bay.

This introduction comes in the form of Ædrea, a beautiful but forbidden “genny” living among the deformed and mutant castouts in Texark’s most hostile terrain. As Blacktooth encounters her again and again on his travels—in the flesh, in rumors of miraculous deeds, and in the delirium of fever—he begins to wonder if Ædrea is a she-devil, the Holy Mother, or the Wild Horse Woman herself.

Picaresque and passionate, magnificent, dark, and compellingly real, Saint Leibowitz and the Wild Horse Woman is a brutal, brilliant, thrilling tale of mystery, mysticism, and divine madness, a classic that will long endure in every reader’s memory.


Walter M. Miller, Jr.

SAINT LEIBOWITZ AND THE WILD HORSE WOMAN

For David, and all those

who sailed against the Apocalypse

The estate of Walter M. Miller, Jr.,

would like to thank Terry Bisson

for his editorial contribution to

Saint Leibowitz and the Wild Horse Woman.

NOTE

The fictional Rule of Saint Leibowitz is an adaptation of the Benedictine Rule to life in the Southwest Desert after the collapse of the Great Civilization, but it is true that the fictional monks of Leibowitz Abbey do not always conform to it as perfectly as did the monks of St. Benedict.

Permission was kindly given by the Liturgical Press, Collegeville Minnesota, to quote from the Leonard J. Doyle translation of St. Benedict’s Rule for Monasteries, Copyright 1948, by The Order of Saint Benedict.

CHAPTER 1

“Listen, my son, to your master’s precepts,

and incline the ear of your heart.”—The

First Sentence of The Rule.

“Whoever you are, therefore, who are

hastening to the heavenly homeland, fulfill

with the help of Christ this minimum Rule

which we have written for beginners; and

then at length under God’s protection, you

will attain to the loftier heights of doctrine

and virtue which we have mentioned

above.”—The Last Sentence of The Rule.

Between these two lines, written about

529 a.d. in a dark age, is Saint Benedict’s

homely prescription for a way of monastic

life that has prevailed even in the shadow of

the Magna Civitas.

AS HE SAT SHIVERING IN THE GLOOMY CORRIDOR outside the meeting hall and waited for the tribunal to finish deciding his punishment, Brother Blacktooth St. George, A.O.L., remembered the time his boss uncle had taken him to see the Wild Horse Woman at a Plains Nomad tribal ceremony, and how Deacon (“Half-Breed”) Brownpony, who was on a diplomatic mission to the Plains at the time, had tried to exorcise her priests with holy water and drive her spirit from the council lodge. There had been a riot, and an assault on the person of the young deacon, not yet a cardinal, whose shaman (“witch doctor”) attackers had been summarily executed by the newly baptized Nomad sharf. Blacktooth was seven at the time, and had not seen the Woman then, but his boss uncle insisted that she had been there in the smoke of the fire until the trouble began. He believed his boss uncle, as he might not have believed his father. Later, before he ran away from home, he had seen her twice, once by day riding bareback and naked along the crest of a ridge, and once by dim firelight when she prowled as the Night Hag through the darkness outside the settlement enclosure. He definitely remembered seeing her. Now his ties to Christianity de­manded that he remember them as childish hallucinations. One of the less plausible accusations against him was that he had confused her with the Mother of God.

The tribunal was taking its time. There was no clock in the hall, but at least an hour had passed since Blacktooth had testified in his own defense and been excused from the meeting hall, which was really the abbey’s refectory. He tried not to speculate about the cause of the delay, or the meaning of the fact that pure chance had cast that dea­con, now Cardinal (“Red Deacon”) Brownpony, in the role of amicus curiae at the hearing. The cardinal had come to the monastery from the Holy See only a week ago, and it was well known, but most cer­tainly not announced, that his purpose in being here was to discuss with the Abbot Cardinal Jarad the papal election (the third in four years) which would be called soon after the present Pope finished dying.

Blacktooth could not decide whether the eminent Half-Breed’s participation in the trial was favorable or unfavorable to his cause. As he remembered the night of the exorcism, he also remembered that in those days Brownpony had not been friendly to the Plains Nomads, either the wild or the tamed. The cardinal had been raised by sisters in the territory conquered by Texark. It had been told to him that his mother, a Nomad, had been raped by a Texark cavalryman, then had abandoned her baby to the sisters. But in recent years, the cardinal had learned to speak the Nomad tongue, and spent much time and effort forging an alliance between the wild people of the Plains and the exiled papacy in its Rocky Mountain refuge at Valana. Blacktooth himself was of pure Nomad blood, although his late parents had been displaced to the farming settlements. His mother owned no mares, and thus he had no status whatever among the wild tribes. His ethnic background had been no handicap during his life as a monk; the brethren were tolerant to a fault, except in matters of faith. But in the so-called civilized world outside, being a Nomad would be hazardous unless he lived on the Plains.

He heard raised voices from the refectory, but could not make out words. One way or another, it was all over for him but the final break, and that was proving to be the hardest thing of all.

A few paces from the bench where he was supposed to wait was a shallow alcove in the corridor wall, and within it stood a statue of Saint Leibowitz. Brother Blacktooth left the bench and went there to   pray, thus disobeying the last command given to him: Sit there, stay there. Breaking his vow of obedience was getting to be a habit. Even a dog will sit and stay, his devil reminded him.

Sancte Isaac Eduarde, ora pro me!

The kneeling rail was too close to the image for him to look up at the saint’s face, so he prayed to the saint’s bare feet, which stood on a pile of fagots. Anyway, by now he knew the wrinkled old countenance by heart.

He remembered when he first came to the abbey, the abbot of that time, Dom Gido Graneden, had already ordered the statue removed from his office, its traditional place of repose, to the corridor here where it now stood. Graneden’s predecessor had committed the sacrilege of having the fine old wood carving painted in “living color,” and Graneden, who loved it in its original condition, could neither bear to look at it, with its painted simper and impossibly upturned irises, nor put up with the smell and noise of having its restoration done in situ. Blacktooth had never seen the full paint job, for upon his arrival the head and shoulders of a man of wood emerged from what appeared to be the chest of a plaster saint. A small area at a time was being treated with a phosphate compound concocted by Brothers Pharmacist and Janitor. As soon as the paint began to blister, they painstakingly scraped it clean, trying to avoid any abrasion of the wood. The process was very slow, and he had lived a year at the abbey before the restoration was complete; by that time, a filing cabinet occupied its space in the abbot’s office, so here it still stood.

The restoration was less than complete even now, at least in the sight of those who remembered its original condition. Occasionally Brother Carpenter stopped to frown disapprovingly at it, then to work on the creases around the eyes with a dental pick, or caress between the fingers with fine sandpaper. He worried about what the paint remover might have done to the wood, so he frequently rubbed it with oil and lovingly polished it. The carving had been done nearly six centuries ago by a sculptor named Fingo, to whom the Beatus Leibowitz—not yet canonized—had appeared in a vision. A close resemblance between the statue and a death mask which Fingo had never seen was used as an argument for his canonization, because it seemed to confirm the reality of Fingo’s vision.

Saint Leibowitz was Blacktooth’s favorite saint, after the Holy Virgin, but now it was time to go. He crossed himself, arose, and returned doglike to the bench to “sit and stay.” No one had seen him at prayer except his devil, who called him a hypocrite.

Blacktooth remembered clearly the first time he had asked to be released from his final vows as a monk of the Order of Saint Leibowitz. Many things had happened that year. It was the year the news came that his mother had died. It was also the year that the Abbot Jarad had received the red hat from the Pope in Valana, and the year Filpeo Harq had been crowned as the seventh Hannegan of Texark by his uncle Urion, the archbishop of that imperial city. More to the point, perhaps, it was the third year of Blacktooth’s work (assigned to him by Dom Jarad himself) of translating all seven volumes of the Venerable Boedullus’s Liber Originum, that scholarly but highly speculative attempt to reconstruct from the evidence of later events a plausible history of the darkest of all centuries, the twenty-first—of translating it from the old monastic author’s quaint Neo-Latin into the most improbable of languages, Brother Blacktooth’s own native tongue, the Grasshopper dialect of Plains Nomadic, for which not even a suitable phonetic alphabet existed prior to the conquests (3174 and 3175 a.d.) of Hannegan II in what had once been called Texas.

Several times Blacktooth had asked to be relieved of this task before he asked what he really dreaded, to be released from his vows, but Dom Jarad found his attitude peculiarly stubborn, obtuse, and ungrateful. The abbot had conceived of a small Nomadic library he wanted created as a donation of high culture from the monastic Memorabilia of Christian civilization to the benighted tribes still wandering the northern Plains, migrant herdsmen who would one day be persuaded into literacy by formerly edible missionaries, already busy among them and no longer considered edible under the Treaty of the Sacred Mare between the hordes and the adjacent agrarian states. As the literacy rate among the free tribes of the Grasshopper and Wild-dog Hordes who ranged with their long-haired cattle north of the Nady Ann River was still less than five percent, the usefulness of such a library was a thing only dimly foreseen, even by the Lord Abbot, until Brother Blacktooth, in his initial eagerness to please his master before the work began, explained to Dom Jarad that the three major dialects of Nomadic differed less to the reader than to the listener, and that by means of a hybrid orthography and the avoidance of special tribal idioms, the translation could be made understandable even to a literate ex-Nomad subject of Hannegan VI in the South, where the Jackrabbit dialect was still spoken in the shanties, the fields, and the stables, while the Ol’zark tongue of the ruling class was spoken in the mansions, the law courts, and the police barracks. There the literacy rate for the malnourished new generation of the conquered had risen to one in four, and when Dom Jarad imagined such moppets receiving enlightenment from the likes of the great Boedullus and other notables of the Order, there was no talking him out of the project.

That the project was vain and futile was an opinion Brother Blacktooth dared not express, so for three years he protested the inadequacy of the talent he was applying to the task, and he assailed the intellectual poverty of his own work. He supposed the abbot had no way to test this claim, for, besides himself, only Brothers Wren St. Mary and Singing Cow St. Martha, his old companions, understood Nomadic well enough to read it, and he knew Dom Jarad would not ask them to. But Jarad had him make an extra copy of one chapter of the work, and he sent it to a friend in Valana, a member of the Sacred College who happened to speak excellent Jackrabbit. The friend was delighted, and he expressed a wish to read all seven volumes when the work was done. The friend was none other than the Red Deacon, Cardinal Brownpony. The abbot called the translator to his office and quoted from this letter of praise.

“And Cardinal Deacon Brownpony has been personally involved in the conversion of several prominent Nomad families to Christianity. And so, you see—” He paused as the translator began to cry. “Blacktooth, my son, I just don’t understand. You’re an educated man now, a scholar. Of course that’s incidental to your vocation as a monk, but I didn’t know you cared so little for what you’ve learned here.”

Blacktooth dried his eyes on the sleeve of his robe and tried to protest his gratitude, but Dom Jarad went on.

“Remember what you were when you came here, son. All three of you, going on fifteen and you couldn’t speak a civilized word. You couldn’t write your name. You never heard of God, although you seemed to know enough about goblins and night hags. You thought the edge of the world was just south of here, didn’t you?”

“Yes, Domne.”

“All right, now think of the hundreds, think of the thousands, of wild young fellows just like you were then. Your relatives, your friends. Now, I want to know: what could possibly be more fulfilling to you, more satisfying, than to pass along to your people some of the religion, the civilization, the culture, that you’ve found for yourself here at San Leibowitz Abbey?”

“Perhaps Father Abbot forgets,” said the monk, who had become a bony, sad-faced fellow of thirty years, and whose ferocious ancestry was in no way suggested by his mild appearance and self-conscious ways. “I was not born free, or wild. My parents were not born free or wild. My family hasn’t owned horses since the time of my great-grandmothers. We spoke Nomadic, but we were farm workers, ex-Nomads. Real Nomads would call us grass-eaters and spit on us.”

“That’s not the story you told when you came here!” Jarad said accusingly. “Abbot Graneden thought you were wild Nomads.”

Blacktooth lowered his gaze. Dom Graneden would have sent them home if he had known.

“So real Nomads would spit on you, would they?” Dom Jarad resumed thoughtfully. “Is that the reason? You’d rather not cast our pearls before such swine?”

Brother Blacktooth opened his mouth and closed it. He turned red, stiffened, crossed his arms, crossed his legs, uncrossed them rather deliberately, closed his eyes, began to frown, took a deep breath, and began to growl through his teeth. “Not pearls—”

Abbot Jarad cut him off to prevent an explosion. “You’re pessimistic about the resettled tribes. You think they have no future anyway. Well, I think they do, and the work is going to be done, and you’re the only one to do it. Remember obedience? Forget the purpose of the work, if you can’t believe in that, and find your purpose in the work. You know the saying: ‘Work is prayer.’ Think of Saint Leibowitz, think of Saint Benedict. Think of your calling.”

Blacktooth regained control of himself. “Yes, my calling,” he said bitterly. “I once thought I was called to the work of prayer—contemplative prayer. Or so I was told, Father Abbot.”

“Well, who told you contemplative monks don’t work, eh?”

“Nobody. I didn’t say—”

“Then you must think scholarship is the wrong kind of work for a contemplative, is that it? You think that scrubbing stone floors or shoveling shit from the privies would put you closer to God than translating the Venerable Boedullus? Listen, my son, if scholarship is incompatible with the contemplative way, what was the life of Saint Leibowitz all about? What have we been doing in the Southwest desert for twelve and a half centuries? What of the monks who have risen to sanctity in the very scriptorium where you’re working now?”

“But it’s not the same.”

Blacktooth gave up. He was in the abbot’s trap, and to get out of the abbot’s trap, he would have to force Jarad to acknowledge a distinction he knew Jarad was deliberately avoiding. There was a kind of “scholarship” which had come to be a form of contemplative religious practice peculiar to the Order, but it was not the head-scratching work of translating the venerable historians. Jarad, he knew, was referring to the original labor, still practiced as ritual, of preserving the Leibowitzian Memorabilia, the fragmentary and rarely comprehensible records of the Magna Civitas, the Great Civilization, records saved from the bonfires of the Simplification by the earliest followers of Isaac Edward Leibowitz, Blacktooth’s favorite saint after the Virgin. Leibowitz’s later followers, children of a time of darkness, had taken up the selfless and relatively mindless task of copying and recopying,   memorizing and even chanting in choir, these mysterious records. Such tedious work demanded a total and unthinking attention, lest the imagination add something which would make meaningful to the copyist a meaningless jungle of lines in a twentieth-century diagram of a lost idea. It demanded an immersion of the self in the work which was the prayer. When the man and the prayer were entirely merged, a sound, or a word, or the ringing of the monastery bell, might cause the man to look up in astonishment from the copy table to find that the everyday world around him was mysteriously transformed, and aglow with the divine immanence. Perhaps thousands of weary copyists had tiptoed into paradise through that illuminated sheepskin gate, but such work was not at all like the brain-racking business of bringing Boedullus to the Nomads. But Blacktooth decided not to argue.

“I want to go back to the world, Domne,” he announced firmly.

Dead silence was his answer. The abbot’s eyes became glittering slits. Blacktooth blinked and looked aside. A buzzing insect flew through the open window, circled the room twice, and alighted on Jarad’s neck; it crawled there briefly, took wing again, and flew buzzing out by the same window.

Through the closed door of the adjoining room, the faint voice of a novice or postulant reciting his assigned Memorabilium penetrated the silence without really diminishing it:

“—and the curl of the magnetic field intensity vector equals the time-rate-of-change of the electric flux density vector, added to four pi times the current density vector. But the third law states the divergence of the electric flux density vector to be—” The voice was soft, almost feminine, and fast as a monk reciting rosary, his mind pondering one of the Mysteries. The voice was familiar, but Blacktooth could not quite place its owner.

Dom Jarad sighed at last and spoke. “No, Brother Blacktooth, you won’t disown your vows. You’re thirty years old, but outside these walls, what are you still? A fourteen-year-old runaway with nowhere to go. Pfft! The good simpletons of the world would pluck you like a chicken. Your parents are dead, yes? And the land they tilled was not their own, yes?”

“How can I be released, Father Abbot?”

“Stubborn, stubborn. What have you got against Boedullus?”

“Well, for one thing, he’s contemptuous of the very Nomads—” Blacktooth stopped; he was in another trap. He had nothing against Boedullus. He liked Boedullus. For a dark-age saint, Boedullus was rational, inquisitive, inventive—and intolerant. It was the intolerance of the civilized for the barbarian, of the plantation owner for the migrant driver of herds, of Cain, indeed, for Abel. It was the same intolerance as Jarad’s. But Boedullus’s mild contempt for the Nomads was beside the point. Blacktooth hated the whole project. But there across the desk from him sat the project’s originator, giving him pained looks. Dom Jarad was as always Blacktooth’s monastic superior, but now he was more than that. Besides the abbot’s ring, now, he wore the red skullcap. As the Most Eminent Lord Jarad Cardinal Kendemin, a prince of the Church, he might as well be titled “Winner of All Arguments.”

“Is there some way I can get out, m’Lord,” he asked again.

Jarad winced. “No! Take three weeks off to clear your head, if you want to. But don’t ask that again. Don’t try to blackmail me with hints like that.”

“No hints, no blackmail.”

“Oh, no? If I don’t reassign you, you’ll go over the wall, right?”

“I didn’t say that.”

“Good! Then listen, my son. By your vow of obedience, you sacrifice your personal will. You promised to obey, and not just when you feel like obeying. Your work is a cross to you, is it? Then thank God and carry it. Offer it up, offer it up!”

Blacktooth sagged, looked at the floor, and slowly shook his head. Dom Jarad sensed victory and went on.

“Now, I don’t want to hear anything about this again, not before you’ve finished all seven volumes.” He stood up. Blacktooth stood up. The abbot shooed the copyist out of his office then, laughing as if it had been all in fun.

Brother Blacktooth passed Brother Singing Cow in the corridor on his way to Vespers. The rule of silence was in force, and neither spoke. Singing Cow grinned. Blacktooth scowled. Both of his fellow runaways from the wheat plantations knew why he had gone to see Dom Jarad, and both lacked sympathy. Both thought his job a cushy one. Singing Cow worked in the new printing shop. Wren worked in the kitchen as Brother Second Cook.

He saw Wren that night in the refectory. The second cook stood on the serving line, apportioning mush to the platters with a large wooden spoon. Each man in passing murmured, “Deo gratias,” and Wren nodded back as if to say, “You’re welcome.”

As Blacktooth approached, Wren already held a huge gob of mush on the spoon. Blacktooth held his platter to his chest and signaled too much with his fingers, but Wren turned to speak “necessary” instructions to a busboy. When Blacktooth relaxed his platter, Wren piled it on.

“Half back!” Blacktooth whispered, breaking silence. “Headache!” Wren raised his forefinger to his lips, shook his head, pointed   to a sign—sanitary rules—behind the serving line,  then pointed toward the sign at the exit, where a garbage monitor checked for waste.

Blacktooth laid the platter on the serving kettle. With his right hand he scooped up the heap of mush, with his left hand he seized the front of Wren’s robe. He pushed the mush in Wren’s face and massaged it until Wren bit his thumb.

The prior brought word directly to Blacktooth’s cell: Dom Jarad had relieved him of his job in the scriptorium for three weeks, in order that he might pray the stone-floor-scrubbing prayer for the cooks in the kitchen and dining area. And so for twenty-one days Blacktooth endured Wren’s smiling forgiveness while knee-skating on soapy stones. More than a year passed before he again raised the standing question of his work, his vocation, and his vows.

During this year, Blacktooth felt that the rest of the community had begun to watch him rather closely, and he sensed a change. Whether the change was really in the attitudes of others, or entirely within himself, its effect was loneliness. Occasionally he felt estranged. In choir, he choked on the words “One bread and one body, though many, are we.” His unity with the congregation seemed no longer taken for granted. He had spoken the words “I want out,” perhaps before he really meant them; but not only had he uttered such a thing to the abbot, he had allowed his friends to learn of the incident. Among the professed, among those who by solemn vows had committed themselves irrevocably to God and the Way of the Order, a monk with regrets was an anomaly, a source of uneasiness, a portent, a thing in need of pity. Some avoided him. Some looked at him strangely. Others were all too kind.

He found new friends among the younger members of the community, novices and postulants not yet fully committed to the Way. One of these was Torrildo, a youth of elfish charm whose first year at the abbey had already been marked many times by trouble. When Blacktooth was sent to the cooks for three weeks of floor-scrubbing penance, he found Torrildo already scrubbing there as punishment for some unannounced infraction, and he soon learned that Torrildo’s had been the muffled voice reciting a Memorabilium in the room adjacent to Dom Jarad’s during the professed monk’s unhappy interview. They differed widely in their interests, origin, character, and age, but their common penance pushed them together long enough for a bond to form.

Torrildo was glad to find an older monk who was not impeccable. Blacktooth, while not quite admitting that he envied the postulant’s relative freedom to leave, began imagining himself in Torrildo’s sandals, with Torrildo’s problems, Torrildo’s charm, and Torrildo’s talents (which evaded the notice of many). He found himself giving advice, and was flattered when Singing Cow told him sourly that Torrildo was copying his mannerisms and becoming his talk-alike. It became a brief case of father and son, but it further estranged him from the ranks of the professed, who seemed to frown on the relationship.

He was beginning to find it hard to distinguish the frown of the community from the frown of his conscience. One night he dreamed he knelt for communion in the chapel. “May the Body of Jesus Christ lead you to eternal life,” the priest repeated to each communicant; but as he came closer, Blacktooth saw that it was Torrildo, who, as he placed the wafer on Blacktooth’s tongue, leaned close and whispered, “One who eats bread with me here shall betray me.”

Blacktooth awoke choking and gagging. He was trying to spit out a living toad.

CHAPTER 2

The first degree of humility is obedience

without delay. This is the virtue of those

who hold nothing dearer to them than

Christ; who, because of the holy service they

have professed, and the fear of hell, and the

glory of life everlasting, as soon as anything

has been ordered by the Superior, receive it

as a divine command and cannot suffer any

delay in executing it.

—Saint Benedict’s Rule, Chapter 5

DURING THE TIME OF BROTHER BLACKTOOTH’S translation of the eleventh chapter of the seventh and final volume of Boedullus, and while he was working feverishly toward the end, a special messenger from Valana in the Denver Freestate arrived at the abbey with tragic news. Pope Linus VI, shrewdest if not the saintliest of recent popes, and the man most responsible for healing the postconquest schism, had fallen dead of heart failure while he stood shin deep in an icy trout stream and shook his fishing rod at a delegation from the Curia on shore. He was protesting to them that the Lord had never told Peter to stop fishing for fish when he commissioned him to fish for men. Pope Peter had indeed taken five apostles boating with him right after the Resurrection, Linus correctly pointed out. Then he paused, turned white, dropped the rod, and clutched at his chest; almost defiantly he gasped, “I go a-fishing,” and collapsed into the frigid water. It was later noticed that these last words were from John 21:3.

As soon as the message came, the Most Eminent Lord Cardinal Abbot began packing his fine regalia. He notified the Papal Way Station in Sanly Bowitts that he would need armed escorts for the trip, and he arranged with Brother Liveryman to make ready the fastest pair of horses and the lightest carriage, as if he planned a quick trip. He mixed his tears with a nervous sweat, as he alternated between bursts of grief and flurries of excitement in making ready for the journey. It was the dead Pope who had made him a cardinal. It was going to be his first papal election. The community understood his mixed feelings and stayed out of the way.

After he had eulogized Linus and offered a Mass for the dead, he spoke to the assembled monks in the refectory after supper on the night before his departure.

“Prior Olshuen will carry out my duties as abbot while I am away. Will you promise to render him the same obedience in Christ which you give to me?”

There was a murmur of assent from the congregation.

“Does anyone withhold this promise?”

There was silence, but Blacktooth felt people looking at him.

“My dear sons, it does not behoove us in this monastery to discuss the business of the Sacred College, or the politics of Church and State.” He paused, looking around at the small lake of faces by lamplight. “Nevertheless, you are entitled to know why my absence may be extended. You all know that one result of the schism was the appointment by two rival claimants to the papacy of an unprecedented number of cardinals. And that one of the terms of the settlement that ended the schism was that the new Pope, now of holy memory, would ratify the elevation of all these cardinals, no matter which claimant had made the appointments. This was done, and there are now six hundred eighteen cardinals on the continent, some of them not even bishops, a few not even priests. Since these are about equally divided between East and West, it may be very hard to arrive at the two-thirds-plus-one majority required to elect a pope. The conclave may last for some time. I hope not more than a few months, but there is no way I can predict.

“I fear you will hear gossip from time to time as travelers come and go. As long as the papal exile from New Rome continues, surrounded as it is by Texark forces, the enemies of the Valana papacy hope for a renewal of schism, and they keep all possible gossip alive. Listen to none of it, I beg of you.

“The force of the State has abated. The seventh Hannegan is not the same tyrant as the second Hannegan, who, as you know from history, used treachery and cattle plague to capture an empire from the Nomads, driving sick farm animals among the woolly Nomad herds. He sent his infantry as far west as the Bay Ghost, and his cavalry chased stragglers right past our gates. He killed the Pope’s representative, and when Pope Benedict laid Texarkana under interdict, Hannegan seized all the Churches and courts and schools. He occupied the lands adjacent to New Rome, forcing His Holiness to flee to asylum in the crumbling Denver Empire. He collected enough bishops from the east to elect an anti—or, I should say, a rival pope to sit in New Rome. And so we had sixty-five years of schism.

“But Filpeo Harq is the seventh Hannegan now. Indeed he is heir to the conqueror, but there is a difference. His predecessor was a cunning, illiterate semi-barbarian. The present ruler was raised and educated for power, and some of his teachers were educated by us. So have hope, my sons, and pray.

“If the right Hannegan sits down with the right pope, with God’s help, surely they can come to terms and end the exile. Pray that the pope we elect may return to a New Rome free of Texark hegemony. Everywhere, people have strong feelings about the occupation, but it will do no good for us to argue within the Sacred College whether the Texark troops must be withdrawn before the Pope goes home. That will be a decision for the Pope himself, when he is elected.

“Pray for the election, but not for any candidacy. Pray for the Holy Spirit to guide our choice. The Church now needs a wise and saintly pope, not an eastern pope or a western pope, but a pope worthy of that old title ‘Servant of the servants of God.’” In a lowered voice, Dom Jarad added, “Pray for me too, my brothers. What am I but an old country monk, to whom Pope Linus, in a weak moment perhaps, gave a red hat? If anybody in the College has a lower rank than I, it must be the woman—er, Her Eminence the Abbess of N’Ork, or else my young friend Deacon Brownpony, who’s still a layman. Let your prayers help keep me from folly. Not that I’m going among wolves, eh?”

Barely audible snorts and giggles caused Jarad to frown.

“As a way of showing that I am not an enemy of the Empire, I shall cross the Bay Ghost and take the route through the Province. But I m going to reschedule tomorrow’s Mass. It’s a ferial day anyway, so we’ll sing the old Mass for the Removal of Schism before I go.”

He spread his arms as if to embrace the throng, traced a great cross in the air over them, came down from the lectern, and left the hall.

Blacktooth  became  wildly  anxious.   He  sought  permission  to   speak to Dom Jarad before the abbot’s departure, but permission was denied. In near panic, he found Prior Olshuen before dawn in the cloister on his way to Matins, and he plucked at the sleeve of the prior’s robe.

“Who is it?” Olshuen asked irritably. “We’re already late.” He stopped between the shadows cast from the columns by a single torch. “Oh, Brother Blacktooth, it’s you. Speak up then, what is it?”

“Dom Jarad said he’d hear me when I finish Boedullus. I’m almost finished, but now he’s leaving.”

“He said he’d hear you? If you don’t lower your voice, he’ll hear you now. Hear you about what?”

“About changing jobs. Or about leaving the Order. And now he’ll be gone for months and months.”

“You don’t know that. Anyway, what can I do about it? And what do you mean, leave the Order?”

“Before he goes, would you remind him about me?”

“Remind him of what about you?”

“I can’t go on this way.”

“I won’t even ask. ‘What way?’ We’re late.” He began walking toward the Church with Blacktooth tagging at his side. “If Dom Jarad has a free moment this morning, and if I mention your obvious agitation, will he know what it’s all about?”

“Oh, I’m sure he will, I’m sure!”

“Now what was that about leaving the Order? Never mind, we’re holding up Matins. Come by my office in a day or two, if you like. Or I’ll send for you. Now calm down. He won’t be gone for long.”

Abbot Jarad, after he offered the Mass for the Removal of Schism, announced from the pulpit his wish that they sing a votive Mass for the election of a pope on the day appointed for the opening of the conclave, and another such Mass on the first day after any news came to the abbey from Valana, unless that news proclaimed a new pope. Afterward, he departed toward the Bay Ghost.

Two dozen or more monks, including Blacktooth and Torrildo, lined the parapet of the eastern wall and watched the plume of dust until it dwindled on the eastern horizon.

“To prove he’s no enemy of the Empire, he’s taking the way through the Province,” Blacktooth sourly echoed his master’s words. “But he takes armed guards. Why armed guards?”

“That makes you bitter?” asked Torrildo, who usually concerned himself with Blacktooth’s feelings, rarely with his thoughts.

“If he were an enemy of the Empire, things might be different for me, Torrildo.”

“How?”

“Things might be different for everybody, if nobody here had ever compromised. And he dared talk to me about pearls before swine.”

“I don’t understand you, Brother.”

“I don’t expect you would. If my own cousins Wren and Singing Cow don’t understand, how could you?” He placed his hand reassuringly over Torrildo’s where it lay on the parapet. “It’s enough that you care.”

“I care, I really do.” The postulant was looking at him with those gray-green eyes that so reminded him of his mother’s soft and searching gaze. There was something feminine about it. Embarrassed by the intensity of the moment, Blacktooth removed his hand.

“Of course you do. Let’s forget it. How is it with you and that difficult Memorabilium?”

“Maxwell’s equations, they’re called. I can say them forward and backward, but I don’t know what they are or what they mean.”

“Neither do I, but you’re not supposed to know. I can tell you this, though: their meaning has been penetrated during the past century. They’re supposed to be among the notes Thon Taddeo Pfardentrott took back to Texark with him about seventy years ago. Maxwell’s equations are among the very great Memorabilia, so I’ve heard.”

“Pfardentrott? Didn’t he invent the telegraph? And dynamite?”

“I think so.”

“Well, if the meaning has already been penetrated, why do I have to keep it memorized?”

“Tradition, I guess. No, it’s more than that. Just keep running the words through your mind, as a prayer. Keep it up long enough, and God will enlighten you, so the old-timers say.”

“If somebody’s penetrated the meaning, maybe I could find out.”

“That might spoil it for you, Brother. But you can try, if you want to. You can read what Brother Kornhoer wrote about the subject after Pfardentrott left, but I don’t think you’ll understand him.”

“Brother who?”

“Kornhoer. He invented that old electricity machine down in the vaults.”

“Which doesn’t work.”

“Oh, it worked when he built it, but it wasn’t very practical here; and for some reason, his abbot would never let him teach anyone to fix it. Have you ever seen an electric light?”

“No.”

“Neither have I, but the Palace of the Hannegans in Texark is full of them. And they’ve got some at the university there. Brother Kornhoer and Pfardentrott became friends, as I recall, but the Abbot Jerome didn’t approve. Say, why don’t you read that placard that hangs over Kornhoer’s machine?”

“I’ve seen it, but I never read it. The machine is a nuisance to keep clean. So many cracks and crannies for dust.” Torrildo was an underground janitor and warehouse clerk. “You never told me about your Memorabilium, Blacktooth.”

“Well, it’s a religious one. I don’t think it has any secret scientific value. They call it ‘Saint Leibowitz’s Grocery List.’” He tried to suppress the flush of pride he felt at being given the Founder’s Memorabilium, but Torrildo did not notice.

“Does anything special happen when you say it?”

“I wouldn’t say yes, I wouldn’t say no. Maybe I never worked at it hard enough. As Saint Leibowitz himself used to say, ‘What you see is what you get, Wysiwyg.’”

“Where is that saying recorded? What does it mean?”

Blacktooth, who loved the cryptic “Sayings of Saint Leibowitz,” was spared answering as the bell rang the hour of Sext, marking the resumption of the rule of silence, which the abbot had suspended for the morning of his departure. The monks on the parapet wall began to leave.

“Come see me in the basement, if you get a chance,” Torrildo whispered in violation of the rule.

Blacktooth’s Nomadic ancestors had always placed a high value on ecstatic magical or religious experience, and this heritage, while pagan, was not incongruent with the traditional mystical quest which he had found so attractive and natural in the life of the monastery. But as his feeling of unity with his professed brethren gradually waned, he found himself less captivated by the formal worship of the community. Processions and the chanting of psalms no longer elevated his spirits and sent them soaring. Even the reception of the Eucharist during Mass failed to entrance his heart. He felt this as a distinct loss, in spite of his doubts about his vocation to the Order. He tried to recover by his solitary devotional practice what he was losing in the public worship.

A monk’s time alone in his cell was limited to seven hours a night, of which at least an hour and a half was to be spent in meditative, affective, or contemplative prayer. Some of this prayer time was devoted to the reading of those parts of the divine office which his daily work at the abbey prevented him from singing in choir at the regular hours, but Blacktooth rarely needed more than twenty minutes to finish his breviary, and the rest of the time he gave to Jesus and Mary. In his sleep, however, his dreams were often colored by the myths of his childhood and of the Wild Horse Woman whom he had seen.

His confessor and spiritual adviser had sharply warned him, more than once, against taking seriously any seemingly supernatural manifestation that came to him during the contemplative work, such as a vision or a voice, for such things were usually either the work of the Devil or simply the spurious side effects of the intense concentration demanded by meditative or contemplative prayer. When the visions began coming to him one night in his cell, he attributed them to fever, for he had fallen ill the previous day, and was excused from the scriptorium.

He knelt on a thinly padded block of wood beside his cot and gazed unwaveringly at a small picture of the Immaculate Heart that hung on the wall. When his mind strayed, or a thought arose, he brought his attention back to the picture. The painting was undistinguished, lacking in detail, and hardly more than a symbol. The prayer was a wordless, thoughtless fixation of the mind on the image and the heart of the Virgin. He was a bit dizzy from fever, and a numbness came over him as he knelt there. Occasionally his field of vision darkened. The heart began to pulsate, and then expand. He could no longer focus his eyes on it. His mind seemed to be plunging into a dark corridor toward emptiness.

And then, there it was: a living heart suspended before him in the blackness of space, beating in cadence with his own pulse. It was complete in every detail. A puncture of the left ventricle leaked small spurts of blood. For a time he felt neither fear nor surprise, but continued to gaze in complete absorption. He knew, beyond words, that it was not the heart of Mary, but not until later reflection did this puzzle or perplex him. He simply accepted what came to him, at the time it happened.

A rap at the door dissolved the trance. His skin crawled at the sharp change in his consciousness.

“Benedicamus domino,” he answered after a moment.

“Deo gratias,” came a muffled voice from the corridor. It was Brother Jonan, arousing everyone for Matins. The footsteps receded.

He arose and made himself ready for his usual routine, but he carried the spell cast over him by the vision all that day and the next. It was very puzzling, even after his fever passed.

When Prior Olshuen had not summoned him by the third day of Dom Jarad’s absence, Blacktooth sought him out. Olshuen was an old friend; he had been Blacktooth’s teacher and confessor in the days before he was made prior, but just now the appearance of his old student at his office doorway evoked no smile of welcome.

“Oh, well, I did tell you to come see me, didn’t I?” said Olshuen. “You might as well sit down.” He returned to his chair, put his elbows on the desktop, pressed his fingertips together, and at last smiled thinly at Blacktooth. He waited.

Blacktooth sat on the edge of his chair, eyebrows raised. He also waited. The prior began flipping opposed fingertips apart, a pair at a time, and flipping them back together. Blacktooth always found this habit fascinating. His coordination was perfect.

“I came to ask—”

“Dom Jarad told me to throw you out if you came to ask for anything more than a blessing, unless you’re through with Boedullus, and I know you’re not. I don’t throw you out, because I had already invited you.” He punctuated each phrase with a pause and a flip of the fingertips. He did this only when nervous. “So what do you want, my son?”

“A blessing.”

Easily disarmed, the gentle Olshuen lowered his hands, leaned forward, and laughed his relief.

“On my petition to be released from my vows.”

The smile vanished. He leaned back, pressed fingertips together again, and said in a mild tone, “Blacktooth, my son. What a dirty rotten little Nomad kid you are!”

“You’ve obviously spoken to Dom Jarad about me, Father Prior.” Blacktooth risked a rueful grin.

“He said nothing you’d want to hear, and he said a few things you’re better off not hearing. He spent at least half a minute on the subject, talking fast. Then he told me to throw you out, and he left.”

Blacktooth stood up. “Before I get thrown, would you mind telling me how I can find out about the procedure?”

“The procedure for what, to abandon your vows?” Olshuen waited for Blacktooth’s nod, then went on: “Well, you turn right when you go out the door. You walk down the hall to the stairway, and then you take it down to the cloister. You go around to the main entrance, and on out into the courtyard. Across the courtyard is the main gate, and outside that, you go to the road. From there, you’re on your own. The way to your new future lies open before you.” He found it unnecessary to add that Blacktooth would be under excommunication, ineligible for employment in many places, deprived of all right to petition in ecclesiastical courts, cut off from the sacraments, shunned by the clergy and the pious among the laity, and readily victimized by anyone who realized that he was unable to sue in the courts.

“I meant to get out legally, of course.”

“There are books on canon law in the library.”

“Thank you, Father Prior.” Blacktooth started to leave.

“Wait,” said the prior, relenting. “Tell me, son—if, after you’ve finished Boedullus—this is hypothetical, understand?—if, then, you’re given a choice of jobs, how would you feel about the other thing?”

The monk hesitated. “I would probably think about the other thing all over again.”

“How close are you to being finished?”

“Ten chapters to go.”

Olshuen sighed and said, “Sit down again.” He rummaged through papers on his desk until he found a sealed envelope. Blacktooth could see his own name on it, written in Dom Jarad’s hand. The prior slit it open, unfolded the enclosed note, read it slowly, and looked at Blacktooth. He put his fingertips together again and began tapping them by pairs as before.

“A choice of jobs?”

“Yes—he left you a choice. When you finish The Book of Origins, you can do the same author’s Footprints of Earlier Civilizations. Unless you’re sick and tired of the Venerable Boedullus.”

“I’m sick and tired of the venerable one.”

“Then you will be assigned to translate Yogen Duren’s Perennial Ideas of Regional Sects.”

“Into Nomadic?”

“Of course.”

“Thank you, Father Prior.”

Blacktooth went down the hall to the stairway, descended to the cloister, left it by the main entrance, crossed the courtyard, and walked out to the road through the main gate. There he stood for a while, gazing uncertainly at the arid landscape. Down the trail lay the village of Sanly Bowitts, and several miles beyond the village arose the flat-topped hill called the Mesa of Last Resort. There were mountains in the distance, with a few hills in the foreground. The land was lightly covered by cactus and yucca, with sparse grass and mesquite growing in the low places. There were distant antelope, and he could see Brother Shepherd leading his flock through the pass, his dog snarling  at the heels of a straggler.

A wagon drawn by a swayback mule pulled to a stop, engulfing Blacktooth in a thin cloud of dust. “Going to town, Brother?” asked its grizzled driver from his perch atop a pile of feed sacks.

Blacktooth was tempted to go past the village and climb Last Resort. It was said to be haunted, a place monks sometimes went alone (with permission) for a kind of spiritual ordeal in the wilderness. But after a brief pause he shook his head. “Many thanks, good simpleton.”

He walked back through the main gate and headed for the basement vaults. When Saint Leibowitz had founded the Order, tradition said that there had been nothing here except an ancient military bunker or temporary ammunition dump, which he and his helpers had managed to disguise so that one might pass a stone’s throw away and never notice its existence. It was in this place that the earliest Memorabilia were preserved. According to Boedullus, no living quarters were constructed on the site until the middle of the twenty-first century. The monks had lived in scattered hermitages and came here only to deposit books and records until the fury of the Simplification had abated and the danger to the precious documents from skinheads and simplifiers had waned. Here, still underground, the ancient Memorabilia and the latter-day Commentaries awaited a destiny which had, perhaps, already come and was swiftly receding.

CHAPTER 3

Let the monks sleep clothed and girded with belts

or cords—but not with their knives at their sides

lest they cut themselves in their sleep…. The younger

brethren shall not have beds next to one another,

but among those of the older ones.

Saint Benedict’s Rule, Chapter 22

AN OIL LAMP TOO DIM FOR READING HUNG IN each alcove where books were stored. A light held by hand was needed to locate a title on the shelves. Ordinarily one then carried the book up to the clerestory reading room, but Blacktooth scanned the abstract of Duren’s De Perennibus Sententiis Sectarum Rurum, his next assigned project, by the light of a candle held close to the pages. He soon returned the book to the shelf and went to join Brother Torrildo, who was leaning against Kornhoer’s old generator of electrical essence, a rusting hulk in an alcove where no light burned.

“Let’s sit back here where nobody’ll catch us,” Torrildo muttered, and stepped into the deep shadows behind the machine. “Brother Obohl’s gone out, but I’m not sure where.”

Blacktooth hesitated. “I don’t need to hide. I have reason for being here, even if I didn’t ask permission.”

“Shhh! You don’t have to whisper, but keep it down. I’m only allowed to come in here to clean. Not that it matters much now.”

“What’s that door?” Blacktooth nodded toward the rear of the dark alcove.

“Just a closet full of junk. Parts of the machine, I think. Come on.”

The monk hesitated. The machine somehow gave him the creeps. It reminded him of the special chair in the chapel, which was really a holy relic.

With the faster travel and communication made possible by the conquests of Hannegan II, invention had become contagious in a world that was beginning to recover twelve centuries after the Magna Civitas perished in the Flame Deluge. Most inventions, of course, were reinventions, suggested by the few surviving records of that great civilization, but new devices were nonetheless cunning and needed. What was needed at Hannegan City was an efficient and humane method of capital punishment. Thus, the building of a generator of electrical essences at the Abbey of Saint Leibowitz in 3175 a.d. was followed in a few years by the building of a chair of electrical essences at Hannegan City in the Empire of Texark. The first offender to be executed by the new method was a Leibowitzian monk whose crime was carrying a cardinal abbot’s offer of sanctuary to a son of the late Thon Taddeo Pfardentrott, an enemy of the Texark state, whose work at Leibowitz Abbey had, nevertheless, made possible many new inventions that benefited the Empire, including the chair of electrical essences.

It was the first and only time the chair was used. Hannegan III had placed it on a platform in the public square, and while two teams of mules drove the electrical generator, the Mayor himself cut the ribbon that allowed a spring to close the switch. To the crowd’s delight, the voltage was low and the monk died slowly and noisily. The method was abandoned until a better generator was built. Steam power came, but the chair was never brought out of storage, because a more recent Hannegan found the best executioner on this continent in the person of Wooshin, whose ancestors came from a different continent, and who used a hatchet with such artistry and ease that a whole afternoon of severing heads left him untired and tranquil, able to sit in deep meditation for two hours before dinner.

The chair of electrical essence was eventually disassembled and smuggled across the southern Plains, then out of the Empire at the Bay Ghost frontier. It reappeared at Leibowitz Abbey, where it was placed in the Church over the crypt that contained the bones of the monk who died in it, and regularly on the day of his death, the chair was incensed, sprinkled with holy water, and venerated in his memory. Leibowitz Abbey became the only monastery on the continent with its own electric chair. Some thirty years later, the abbey inherited the now elderly executioner, Wooshin, who staggered out of a sandstorm asking for water and sanctuary. That was only three years ago.

“Are you going to stand out there until they catch me?” Torrildo asked impatiently.

Blacktooth sighed and squeezed into the dark cranny beside him. Someone had piled a number of worn sleeping pads, torn and stinking of mildew, in the shadows behind the machine. They sat in comfort.

“I never knew about this,” said Blacktooth, amused.

“Blacktooth, are you going to run away?”

The older monk was silent for a time, considering. Earlier he just wanted to run as far as Last Resort, to make a decision, and then maybe come back. Torrildo felt his thigh, as if groping for an answer. He brushed the hand away and sighed. “I just read the abstract on the Duren book. It’s a history of local cults and heresies that keep popping up and coming back in different places. God knows why Dom Jarad wants something like that translated into Nomadic. I can’t even begin to guess, until I read the whole book.”

“You aren’t going to run away?”

“How can I? I took solemn vows.”

Torrildo released a choking sob in the darkness. “I’m going to run away.”

“That’s silly. All you need to leave in good standing is Dom Jarad’s permission, and for a postulant that’s just formality.”

“But Dom Jarad is gone. I have to leave now!” His sobbing intensified. Blacktooth put a comforting arm around his shoulders. Torrildo leaned against him and cried quietly into the hollow of his neck.

“Now, what is the matter with you?” asked the older monk.

Torrildo lifted his head and put his face close to Blacktooth’s. All Blacktooth could see was an oval shadow with Torrildo’s beautiful eyes peering out of it.

“Do you really like me, Blacktooth?”

“Of course I do, Torri. What a question!”

“You’re   the   only   reason   I’ve  been   staying  here   these   past months.”

“I don’t understand.”

“Oh, you say you don’t, but you do. Now I just can’t stay here any longer. I’d just get you into trouble anyway. I’m impure. I haven’t been faithful to you.”

“What are you talking about? Faithful how?” Blacktooth shifted restlessly on the moldy mattresses.

“Oh, you’re so smart, but you’re so naive.” He took Blacktooth’s face in his soft thin hands. “I’m going. Will you kiss me goodbye?” He felt Blacktooth wince, and dropped his hands. “You won’t, then.”

“Well, sure I will, Torri.” Carefully Blacktooth offered him the kiss of peace, first a peck on the right cheek, then—

“Ohhhh,” the youth sighed, and caught him in a fierce embrace.

Blacktooth felt lips pressing his own and a tongue trying to work its way between his teeth. He tossed his head aside and leaned back, gagging. Torri fell on top of him and groped under the hem of his robe, both hands sliding up his legs. Blacktooth was first frightened, then horrified by his own erection, which the inflamed Torrildo discovered with delight.

“Torri, no!”

“You know I was meant to be a girl….”

The door of the closet burst open. A skinny arm thrust out a lantern above them. In the sudden light, Blacktooth caught a glimpse of four naked legs and two erect penes.

“Sodomites!” yelled the senior librarian, Brother Obohl. “I caught you at it. I finally caught you, you scum. Up to the prior’s office with you!” He aimed a kick at Torrildo’s bare rump, but missed. Obohl was nearsighted. Once he had owned the only pair of spectacles at the abbey, ground for him in Texark, but had given them up for religious reasons. Now he grabbed Torrildo’s arm, and yelled at Blacktooth, who was scrambling over the machine.

“Elwen! Brother Elwen! Come back here, you filthy bugger!”

Blacktooth heard ascuffle behind him as he sprinted up the stairway. He paused on the landing to compose himself, then strode quietly through the reading room into the courtyard. Outside he paused in the blinding sunlight, dazed and confused. The myopic old man had mistaken him for Brother Elwen, a novice who worked for the groundskeeper. Blacktooth had seen Torrildo and Elwen together on several occasions, but thought nothing of it. Now he seemed caught in a trap the librarian had set for another. The mistake would not endure. Across the courtyard, in plain sight, Elwen was on his hands and knees, working manure into the soil under the rosebushes. There was no honorable escape. He started to report back to the copy room, but things might become embarrassing there, when the prior sent for him. He started again toward his cell, but the sound of running footsteps made him look around. It was Torrildo, sprinting toward the main gate. Blacktooth stood waiting for a commotion to follow, but nothing happened.

He waited a full minute. After a brief prayer to Saint Leibowitz,   he made up his mind to return to the basement. At the bottom of the stairs, he met only silence in the dim light. He found the candle he had used earlier and looked behind the machine. The old librarian lay on his back. He clutched his head and rolled it side to side. There was blood on his forehead. Blacktooth bent over him.

“Who’s there?” he rasped.

“Blacktooth St. George.”

“God be praised, Brother. I need a little help.”

Blacktooth picked the old man up, edged his way around the machine, and staggered with him toward the stairs.

“Put me down. I’m too heavy for you. I’ll be all right in a moment.”

They rested briefly against the wall. Then Blacktooth draped the librarian’s arm around his neck and helped him up the stairs. Obohl was croaking and wheezing.

“It was Elwen and Torrildo. Those buggers. I knew. What they were up to back there. Just couldn’t catch them. Until today. You know, so much semen. Gets spilled. Behind that machine. They call it the seminary. Now. Now. Where did they go?” Still wheezing, he blinked around at his blurred world.

Blacktooth set him carefully on the end of a table in the reading room and made him lie down on it. Monks at the reading desks got up and quickly gathered around. One brought a drinking jug and wiped the librarian’s face. Another examined the cut on his scalp. Another asked, “What happened to you, Brother?”

“I caught them. I finally caught them. Brother Torrildo and Brother Elwen again, going at it behind the electric idol. Torrildo hit me—with something.”

“Torrildo hit you all right,” said Blacktooth. “But Elwen wasn’t there. It was me, Blacktooth St. George.”

He turned and walked away, not hurrying, and continued to his cell. He lay on his back and stared up at the picture of the Immaculate Heart of the Virgin until they came to get him.

Were it not for the fact that shoveling compost was defined as public punishment, Blacktooth might have preferred it as a career to the job of translating a monk’s-eye view of history for Nomads too proud to read. Taking the raw shit out of the privies and transporting it by wheelbarrow to the first composting bin was the smelliest part of the task. There he mixed it with thrice its volume of garden weeds, corn husks, chopped cactus, and plate scrapings from the kitchen, Each day he shoveled the stinking mixture from one bin to the next in line, allowing air to penetrate and hasten the decay. When the mixture reached the final bin, it was crumbling and had lost most of its odor. From there, he loaded it into a clean wheelbarrow and moved it out to the great pile near the garden, where it awaited the pleasure of the cultivators.

On the third day, after an interview with the prior, Brother Elwen went over the wall. Blacktooth expected relief. None came. For three weeks in full he prayed the compost-shoveling prayer, offering up each stinking shovelful on behalf of the soul of poor, poor Torrildo. That he fry in hell—is not my wish, O Lord, he managed to pray.

No one snubbed or shunned him (after he bathed), but the shame of public penance made him isolate himself. In his loneliness, in his cell by night, he sought ever more fervently the indescribable emptying of himself that seemed to occur in a kind of union with the heart of the Virgin: a heart not filled with sorrow, but made empty by sorrow, made open by sorrow, made selfless by sorrow, a heart which was a pit of loving darkness, wherein, sometimes, he glimpsed fleetingly another wounded but still beating heart.

“The Devil too has his contemplatives, they say” was his confessor’s harsh judgment upon the vision and upon Blacktooth’s private devotional practice. “The focus of contemplation must be Our Lord. Devotion to Our Lady is splendid, but too many monks turn to her only when their vows fit too tight, when obedience is hard. They call her ‘Refuge of Sinners,’ and so she is!—but there are two ways of looking at this: the Lord’s way, and the sinner’s way. Pay attention in choir, my son, and stop chasing visions at night.”

Thus Blacktooth learned not to mention the vision. He saw his confessor was made angry by it, for how could a professed monk who regretted his vows be granted any grace except that of contrition and repentance? He observed a similar attitude in Prior Olshuen, who, at the end of his three-week penance, sent him back to his regular work, but also ordered him to spend an hour a week with Brother Reconciliator for special counseling, to Blacktooth’s utmost chagrin.

Brother Reconciliator, a monk named Levion, was part-time assistant to Brother Surgeon as well as a Keeper of Memorabilia from certain ancient healing arts. He handled cases of senility, fits, depression, delusion, and—contumacy. He had also been ordained an exorcist. Olshuen, without doubting Blacktooth’s account of the incident in the basement, saw it as a manifestation of rebellious discontent, and saw the discontent as sin or madness.

Blacktooth’s devotion to the Virgin, however, continued and grew in the face of this disapproval. His old hero, Saint Leibowitz, was at least temporarily pushed aside to make more room for the Virgin. He had chosen Duren’s Perennial Ideas of Regional Sects for his next project, in preference to more Boedullus, partly because so many of Duren’s country religions were special cults of Mary, or of some local goddess who had borrowed Mary’s identity and carried Mary’s Babe on her arm. Duren even mentioned the Nomadic Day Maiden. It was a choice he would quickly regret, because of the extreme difficulty of translating theological ideas into Nomadic, but at first he was captivated by one section (“Apud Oregonenses”) which dealt with remnants of what had been called the Northwest Heresy a few centuries before. The description of the cult’s beliefs seemed to cast light on his own mystical vision.

“The Oregonians,” wrote Duren, “considered the Mother of God to be the original uterine Silence into which the Word was spoken at the creation. She was the dark Void made pregnant with light and matter when God roared ‘Fiat!’  Word and Silence were coeval, they said, and each contained the other.”

This reminded Blacktooth of the image of the darkening heart that became a pit of blackness containing another living heart. He was deeply moved.

“Thus is was impossible,” Duren wrote in a later paragraph, “for the cultist to evade the Inquisitor’s accusation that they made of the Virgin a fourth divine person, an incarnation of God’s female wisdom.”

Since no one at the abbey could read Nomadic except Wren and Singing Cow, Blacktooth felt safe in taking a few liberties with a work so resistant to understandable expression in that primitive tongue. In translating the word eculeum (“colt”), he could choose any of eleven Nomadic words that meant a young horse, and none of them were synonymous. But any one-word translation of the Latin “eternity” or “transubstantial” would only bewilder the reader. Theological terms, therefore, he left as Latin words in the Nomadic text, and tried to define them by lengthy footnotes of his own composition. But whenever he imagined himself trying to explain such matters to his late father or boss uncle, these footnotes became flavored with a facetiousness which he knew he would have to remove from the final version. Levity made the task less hateful, but strengthened his conviction that it was useless.

After an absence of two months, Abbot Jarad wrote to the prior from Valana and requested, among other things, that a votive Mass be offered weekly for the election of a pope, for he saw no quick end to a difficult election. Without a government, the Church was in confusion and turmoil. The city of Valana was too small to be a gracious host to hundreds of cardinals with their secretaries, servants, and alternates. Some were living in barns.

He wrote little about the conclave itself, except to note with obvious disgust that more than one cardinal had already gone home, leaving behind a special conclavist to cast his ballot. The practice was made possible by a canon which had been enacted for the convenience of foreign, not domestic, cardinals, but the latter took advantage of it during long periods of interregnum. The special conclavist in such cases must, if possible, be a member of the clergy of the cardinal’s titular New Roman (or Valanan) Church, and he was entitled to vote his own convictions under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, but such a proxy was always chosen for loyalty, and rarely deviated from his cardinal’s wishes until an election became obvious and he switched his vote to back a winner. The practice made compromise more difficult, as the servant was always less flexible than the master. Jarad would make no prediction as to the date of his return. The messenger who brought the letter, however, got mildly drunk in Sanly Bowitts and expressed his own opinion of the affair: either the cardinals would all appoint conclavists and go home for the winter, leaving a hopeless deadlock, or would elect an ill old man who could be expected to die before settling any real problems.

Other news and gossip trickled to the abbey from Valana by way of travelers, guardians of the papal roads, and messengers who spent the night on their way to other destinations. Abbot Jarad Cardinal Kendemin was said to have received two votes on the thirty-eighth ballot—a dubious rumor which caused a flurry of excitement and joy at the abbey and asurge of panic in the heart of Blacktooth, who needed a pope’s assent to be released from his vows, under the laws then in effect.

“You’re not making sense,” Brother Reconciliator told him at their weekly session after he listened to five minutes of Blacktooth’s nervous chatter. “You think Dom Jarad has his foot on your neck. You think he’ll never change his mind. If he comes home still the abbot, you can appeal to the Pope. But if he’s the Pope, he’ll have nothing better to do than keep his foot on your neck, eh? You’ll spend your whole life translating the Memorabilia into Nomadic. Why do you suppose Dom Jarad hates you so much?”

“I didn’t say he hated me. You’re putting words in my mouth.”

“Excuse me. He has his foot on your neck. Your father also had his foot on your neck, you said. I forgot. It was your father who hated you, yes?”

“No! I didn’t say that either, exactly.”

Levion shuffled through his notes. They were sitting in his cell, which served as his office; his role as a special counselor was not a full-time one.

“Three weeks ago, you said exactly: ‘My father hated me.’ I wrote it down.”

Blacktooth sat slouched on Levion’s cot, leaning back against the wall Suddenly he leaned forward, rested his elbows on his knees, and began wringing his hands. He spoke to the floor. “If I said it, I meant when he hated me, he was drunk. He hated the responsibility. Raising me was supposed to be my boss uncle’s job. Also, he was angry because my mother was teaching me to read a little.” Blacktooth put his hand over his mouth, betrayed by this thoughtless revelation.

“Here are two things I don’t understand, Brother St. George. First, you came here illiterate, did you not? Second, why should your uncle be responsible for you instead of your father?”

“That’s the way it is on the Plains. The mother’s brothers take responsibility for her children.” Blacktooth was increasingly restless. He eyed the door.

“Oh yes, Nomads are matriarchal. Is that right?”

“Wrong! Inheritance is matrilineal. That’s not the same.”

“Well, whatever. So your father felt put-upon, because your mother had no brother?”

“Wrong again. She had four brothers. My boss uncle was the oldest. He taught me dances and songs, took me to tribal councils, and that’s about all. I could not become a warrior. Mother owned no breeding pit, no broodmares, and we were outcasts.”

“Broodmares? What have broodmares got to do with—” He left the question unfinished, waved his hand in the air as if trying to dispel echoes. “Never mind. Nomad customs. I’ll never untangle that ball of worms. Let’s get back to the problem. You felt your father’s foot on your neck. You say your mother was teaching you to read? But you said you came here illiterate. Did you lie?”

Blacktooth rested his chin on his hands and stared at his feet; he wiggled his toes and said nothing.

“Whatever you tell me stays right here in this room, Brother.”

The patient paused, then blurted, “I couldn’t read very well, or speak Rockymount very well. Wren and Singing Cow couldn’t read at all. I kept quiet because everyone thought we were real Nomads. If Abbot Graneden found out we came from the settlements, he would have sent us back.”

“I see. So that’s why you learned faster than Wren and Singing Cow. Your mother had already taught you. Where was she educated?”

“She learned what little she knew from a mission priest.”

Levion was silent for a time as he studied his occasional disciple. “Whose idea was it to run away to join the wild Nomads?”

“Singing Cow’s.”

“And when the Nomads turned you away, whose idea was it to come here?”

“Mine.”

“Tell me again. When did your mother die?”

“Year before last.”

“When did you first tell Dom Jarad you wanted to quit the Order?”

Blacktooth said nothing.

“It was right after your mother died, wasn’t it?”

“That had nothing to do with it,” he growled.

“Didn’t it? As a runaway, how did you feel when you got the news your mother had died?”

The bell rang. Blacktooth stood up with a sudden smile, unable to hide his relief.

“Well?”

“I felt very sorry, of course. Now I’ve got to go to work, Brother.”

“Of course. Next week then, we’ll talk more about this.”

Blacktooth liked these sessions less and less. He had no wish to be reconciled by Brother Reconciliator, who seemed to treat his wish to depart as a symptom of illness, if not madness. As he hurried back to the copy room, he resolved to tell Levion no more about his parents or his childhood.

Because of the man’s ignorance of Nomad life, his interviews with Brother Levion, instead of reconciling him with his calling, served instead to increase his nostalgia for that life which he had never quite inherited. He remembered his mother turning Christian, and his father, who sometimes tried to exercise an uncle’s authority over him, insisting that he prepare himself for a manhood rite which he knew at the time would never be celebrated. The Church forbade the rite which turned adolescents into fully licensed mankillers of a war cult. But he had undergone training and understood something of the spirit of the Nomad warrior and his battle frenzy. It was hard to say anything true in answer to the question: What is Nomad religion like? Everything the wild Nomad did was religiously or magically hedged. It was hard to say what his religion was not. One might add up a list of ingredients for a religion: his ceremonies, his customs, his laws, his magic, his medicine, his oracles, his dances, his occasional ritual killing, his Empty Sky and his Wild Horse Woman, and call the list his religion, but this list would omit too much of daily living. There was even a ritual for defecation.

Bending over his worktable, he read again his favorite passage from Duren’s Perennial Ideas, paused to think about his vision, and then penned a footnote to his translation of the paragraph:

This conception of the Virgin as the uterine silence wherein the Word is uttered and heard seems to accord with the mystical experience of contemplatives who have encountered the living heart of Jesus within the dark and empty heart of Mary.

He hesitated over it, neglected to add the word Translator, and thought of tearing up the page. But Brother Copymaster was standing nearby, and whenever Blacktooth tore up a page, the copymaster remarked on the cost of paper. I’ll come back to it later, he thought, for it was growing dark in the copy room, and he was not allowed more than one candle. Suppressing a sense of mortal sin, he cleaned up his table, and left the problem for tomorrow.

CHAPTER 4

And let him be punished likewise who

would presume to leave the enclosure

of the monastery and go anywhere

or do anything, however small,

without an order from the Abbot.

Saint Benedict’s Rule, Chapter 67

NEARLY A YEAR AFTER THE HEART OF POPE LINUS VI failed him in the cold trout stream, a stormy conclave elected Olavlano Cardinal Fortos, an octogenarian from south of the Brave River, who was a stargazer, a scholar learned in the subject of witch detection, and a man believed to be neutral in the perennial East-West power struggle. He chose the name Pope Alabaster II and lived long enough to issue a bull (“for a perpetual memorial of the matter”) which ordered Earth’s prime meridian from which all longitudes are measured moved from its ancient (and until recently inaccessible) location. The line of zero longitude thereafter would pass through the center of the high altar of Saint Peter’s Basilica in New Rome, and would perpetually remain there, free from the influence of what Alabaster called the Green Witch. Many representatives to the Curia from both coastlines of the continent had opposed the decree, because in this century of rapid development, great wooden ships had begun again to sail the seas; Alabaster’s bull would not only confuse navigation, but would hasten the time (previously expected to come in the fortieth century) when it would be necessary to drop a day from the calendar to keep it in step with the heavens. Both East and West suspected political motives behind the bull, somehow connecting it with the occupation of territory around New Rome by the armies of the Hannegan, and so Alabaster died of poison a few months after his election.

The subsequent interregnum lasted 211 days while hundreds of cardinals bickered, and the people of Valana threw stones at the carriages of the cardinals’ servants. Divine Providence at last moved the conclave to elect Rupez Cardinal de Lonzor, also from south of the Brave River, and the oldest, sickest man in the Sacred College. He took the name of his predecessor of holy memory, becoming Alabaster III, but immediately repealed his predecessor’s decree by a bull (also ad perpetuam rei memoriam) which restored the prime meridian to its ancient location, for scholars of the Order of Leibowitz had assured him that “Green Witch” had not been the habitation of a sorceress, but only the name of an ancient village on a distant island which had been depopulated by the Flame Deluge. Again political motives were suspected. Westerners opposed the change, and the old man died in his sleep after eating a dish of hare cooked in wine and vinegar, flavored with sautéed onions and laurel leaves.

Weary cardinals came again to Valana. This time the name of Abbot Jarad Cardinal Kendemin was placed in nomination very early in the conclave, and he, quite unwillingly, gathered the support of nearly fifteen percent of the electors before word was spread that Dom Jarad, if chosen, would utter the “Non accepto!” which had not been heard for nearly two thousand years, when Saint Petrus Murro Pope Celestin V futilely spoke them from his hermit’s cave, only to be dragged to the throne by a desperate College.

The conclave sought this time in vain for one of its own members with no suspected loyalty either to the Empire or to the Valana bureaucracy and its western allies. The name of Elia Brownpony was proposed, for the Red Deacon was professionally a lawyer and diplomat, skilled in negotiation, but his relative youth, his reputation for being manipulative, and the fact that he would have to be ordained a priest and then anointed bishop before he could accept the papacy, all weighed against him. Only Dom Jarad, never a great judge of character, offered to support his friend, but Brownpony would not accept.

The only telegraph line on the continent stretched from Hannegan City in Texark to the very southeast corner of the Denver Republic. In order to obtain metal for its construction, the previous Hannegan had confiscated all copper coinage in the Empire, all copper pots, and many Church bells. The line helped make the area of conquest in the south safer from incursion by the free Nomads of the north, but now it was being used to keep Filpeo Harq informed about the conclave, to send instructions from the capital to Archbishop Benefez and his allies in the Sacred College. Almost every day, a messenger from Benefez rode south to the terminal station to pick up the mail, while another messenger was taking mail in the other direction. No other cardinal bishop could stay in touch so easily with his home diocese.

The temper of the people of Valana grew ugly again. The Church was Valana’s only industry, and the burghers themselves were dependent on the papal exile for their livelihood. Prayers against schism were fervent within the conclave, but unpopular in the local Churches. Workers daily scrubbed the Cathedral Palace walls to remove graffiti of the previous night, painted there by the workers’ kinsmen.

There were demonstrations. The people of the city and surrounding villages assembled to propose their own candidates to the inaccessible and unyielding cardinals. The name of one holy man of some local repute as a healer and rainmaker, one Amen Specklebird, was frequently heard in the streets. He was a retired priest of the Order of Our Lady of the Desert, and not unknown to the Bishop of Denver, who had forced him to choose between retirement and a heresy trial.

But driven by the Holy Spirit, a holy fear of the mob, and the onset of a bitter winter, the conclave at last elected the Bishop of Denver himself, the Most Reverend Mariono Scullite, not a member of the College, but a man who could be counted on to make matters no worse than they were. He took the name Linus VII, which suggested that he would return to the policies of the pope who had managed to terminate open schism before he went a-fishing.

But now Linus VII too was slowly dying of a wasting illness which could not be attributed to poison (unless his sisters and nephews who acted as tasters of the pontifical diet were part of the plot). After consulting the Pope’s physician, Elia Cardinal Brownpony rented a private carriage without ecclesiastical insignia, hired a Nomad driver who apparently spoke no Rockymount (“I need to practice my Wild-dog dialect,” he explained to an aide), and quietly departed for the southwest desert to confer with Abbot Jarad Cardinal Kendemin. Actually, the Nomad driver was fluent in several languages, and they had much to talk about.

•      •      •

Brother Blacktooth had run away from the monastery again. He knew he would have to go back, but sometimes the wildness of his Nomad heritage took possession of him, and he abandoned his vows and his sanity for a few days, and he ran. He ran not from the bad food and the hard bed and the long tedious hours, but from an all-knowing, all-seeing, pride-consuming authority of his superiors. This time he had stolen coins from the prior’s desk, bought bread and a wineskin in the village. The skin he filled with water, and went wandering northward. The first day he had moved across open country, just to avoid travelers on the road; but because of the wolves he had returned to the highway at sundown to spend the night in a monk pen. It was a roofless stone enclosure three paces square and just taller than a frenzied wolf could jump. Among the graffiti, a sign in Latin welcomed all visitors and bade them defecate extra muros. Monks of his own order had built such shelters along the way, but nobody kept them clean. A trickle of water from a spring on the mountainside ran across the floor. He built a small fire and boiled some of the water in his cup, adding some roasted mesquite beans for flavor. He ate some of his biscuits and a bit of dried mutton before the stars came out. In a few days, he would begin starving. He slept shivering in a corner, but before daylight revived his fire.

Traveling parallel—as he fallibly judged by the sun—to the direction of the highway from which he had fled at dawn after sighting a party of horsemen with long rifles, he had come to the canyon and there was no way in sight to cross it. It was already late afternoon and he had nowhere to spend the night. On the highway, there was the monk pen, where he could be safe, at least, from predators of the four-legged kind. But they would look for him there. It was soon after he doused the remains of his fire at dawn that he heard the horsemen coming beyond the hill, and he scrambled up a cut from the winding road and hid in the rocks until they came into view. They were soldiers. Papal guardsmen, or Texark? He could not be sure at that distance. He huddled lower in sudden fright. As a small boy, Brother Blacktooth had been raped by soldiers, and horror of it still haunted him.

The two-legged traffic on the highway was very light, and if a man was on foot he was either a monk or a frustrated horse thief. Today there were thieves. He had seen them from afar. It was a good hour and a half before twilight, but there was no sign of a way across the abyss below him. It was already a pit of darkness in the earth. He would have to walk. There was no law in this territory but the distant law of the Church. Turning back from the canyon, he decided to climb the Mesa of Last Resort.

It was from the Mesa that Blacktooth, missing from the abbey four days, had witnessed the Red Deacon’s arrival without realizing that the passenger in the private carriage that emerged from the rooster tail of dust out of the north and hurried on through the village of Sanly Bowitts to the Abbey of Saint Leibowitz was the man who had shaped his unhappy past by admiring his translation of Boedullus and who would even more strongly influence his future.

When his water ran low, he searched Last Resort, looking for the mythical spring and the shanty once inhabited by an eremitic old Jew who had departed from the region at the time of the Texark conquest. He found the shanty in ruins, but no spring or other source of water, which could hardly have existed so far above the surrounding desert. Another myth said that the old Jew had been a rainmaker, and needed no such spring. It was a truth, he observed, that the Mesa was greener than the land below. There was a mystery here, but he sought no solution. For most of the time, until his waterskin ran dry, he prayed to the Virgin, or simply sat in the dry wind and seethed in his own evil under the sun. It was early spring, and by night he nearly froze. Having caught a terrible cold and run out of water, he knew at last that he would have to go back and plead insanity.

Now, three days after the passage of the carriage through the village, he sat shivering with a dripping nose in the gloomy hall and awaited judgment. Occasionally a monk or a novice walked quietly past, on his way to the library or workshop, but Blacktooth sat hunched over with his elbows on his knees and his face in his hands, knowing that no one would acknowledge his existence even by a nod. There was an exception. Someone strode quickly past him, then stopped at the door to the meeting room. Feeling himself being watched, Blacktooth looked up to see his former therapist, Levion the Reconciliator, gazing down at him. As their eyes met, Blacktooth inwardly cringed, but there was neither contempt nor pity in the monk’s gaze. After a slight shake of his head, he entered the meeting hall, evidently summoned as a witness. What had passed between them in Levion’s cell was supposed to be as confidential as confession, but Blacktooth trusted no one.

Cardinal Brownpony had learned almost immediately of Blacktooth’s unsanctioned absence, for soon after his arrival he asked to see the work of the young monk who had been translating Boedullus into Nomadic, and Jarad had been forced to give an account of the copyist’s growing rebellion. Worse, while admiring the Nomadic version of Boedullus, Brownpony read aloud to his Nomad driver, whose Nomad name meant Holy (Little Bear) Madness, and to his secretary, a white-bearded old priest named e’Laiden who fluently spoke Wild-doe Nomadic, read to them some of Blacktooth’s translation of Duren, and the three of them became openly contemptuous of it. “These theological ideas are completely alien to the Nomad mind,” Brownpony explained to Jarad, thus lending unwitting support to the opinion of the copyist himself, against Jarad’s view. Worse, while they were perusing the work, Dom Jarad’s attention was called to the footnote in Perennial Ideas, which Blacktooth had neither deleted nor signed as his own: “This conception of the Virgin as the uterine silence wherein the Word is uttered and heard seems to accord with the mystical experience of contemplatives…”

Brownpony translated it back into Latin for him. No witness to the scene could remember a more furious Abbot Jarad.

Outside the refectory door, Blacktooth’s fear became irrational terror when the old postulant named Wooshin came and sat quietly beside him on the bench. The man mumbled what might have been a greeting in Churchspeak with his thick Texark accent (although he refused actually to speak Texark, an Ol’zark dialect), and then he rolled a cigarette, an act requiring a special dispensation from the abbot or prior. But Wooshin was a very unusual man, one who made no claim to a religious vocation of any kind, but whose status as a political refugee from Texark, and whose consummate skill as a smithy, had made him welcome at the monastery, in spite of his gruesome past. He attended Mass and conformed to ritual, but never received the Eucharist, and nobody was sure that he was even Christian. He came originally from the west coast, and his skin was yellow, quite wrinkled now, the shape of his eyes strangely different. Behind his back, those who feared and disliked him called him Brother Axe. For six years he had been a headsman for the present Hannegan, and some years before that for the Hannegan’s predecessor, before he fell from imperial favor and fled for his life to the West.

He had lost weight and seemed to age rapidly during his three years at the abbey, but his presence on the bench outside the judgment hall aroused irrational panic in the culprit who cringed beside him. Until that moment, Blacktooth’s worst fear was excommunication, with all its civil penalties and disabilities. Now he thought of the superbly sharp cutlery for the kitchen, and the axes and scythes that Wooshin made for the gardeners. Why, why, was this professional killer summoned to my trial? It was obvious to Blacktooth that Wooshin had been called by the tribunal, but not as a witness. I barely know the man! He had always wondered if the severed head retained a moment of confused consciousness as it fell into the basket.

Wooshin touched his arm. Blacktooth started up with a gasp, but the man was only offering him a large handful of clean, cottonlike waste from his shop.

“Leak the nose.”

It took Blacktooth a moment to realize that the man was offering him a mop to wipe away the liquid snot that was running down to his chin.

“Horrid night cold on Mesa,” said Brother Axe, betraying his knowledge of the runaway’s whereabouts during the absence. So everybody knew.

Blacktooth hesitantly took the mop and used it, then formally nodded his thanks to the donor, as if he were actually observing a religious silence which, in present circumstances, seemed a bit hypocritical even to himself.

Wooshin smiled. Emboldened, Blacktooth asked, “Are you here because of me?”

“I not sure, but not probably. I think I leave here with Cardinal.”

Mildly relieved, Blacktooth resumed his former posture. It seemed strange to him that the Axe, who could speak very good Ol’zark, refused to communicate in that tongue, which his accent in Churchspeak betrayed that he spoke. It was one of several languages, besides Churchspeak, which were used with some regularity at the abbey, but when Brother Axe heard it, he usually walked away. What use, he wondered, did Elia Cardinal Brownpony or the Curia have for an executioner who hated his former employer? Was the Church departing from its ancient refusal to shed the blood of its enemies?

An hour late, the bell rang for supper. The meeting hall became a refectory again, and the tribunal adjourned for the meal. As the stream of monks filed silently down the corridor, Wooshin got up to join them. “You not eat?” he asked the defendant.

Blacktooth shook his head and remained seated.

Before the meal was finished, Levion came to the door and spoke to him: “Brother Medic says you should eat.”

“No. Too sick.”

“Stupid,” said Levion. “Stupid and lucky,” he added, more to himself than Blacktooth, as he turned back into the refectory. Lucky?   The word lingered in his mind, but he could not find an application for it.

There was a faintly audible reading by the lector; then supper ended. Except for the members of the tribunal, the monks filed silently out of the refectory. This time Blacktooth made bold to watch them go, but nobody, not even Wren or Singing Cow, looked down at him in passing. The last man out closed the door. The proceedings resumed.

Soon the door opened again. Someone stepped outside and stood there. Blacktooth looked up, saw a freckled face, graying red hair, and a splash of scarlet. Blue-green eyes were staring at him. Blacktooth arose with a gasp and tried to genuflect with a leg that had gone to sleep. Elia Cardinal Brownpony caught his arm as he stumbled.

“Your Eminence!” he croaked, and tried again to bow.

“Sit down. You’re not well yet. I want to talk to you for a moment.”

“Certainly, m’Lord.”

Blacktooth remained standing, so the cardinal himself sat on the bench and tugged at the monk’s sleeve until he sank beside him.

“I understand you have trouble with obedience.”

“That has been true, m’Lord.”

“Has it always been thus?”

“I—I’m not sure. I suppose so, yes.”

“You did begin by running away from home.”

“I was thinking of that, m’Lord. But when I came here, I tried to obey. At first.”

“But you tired of your assigned work.”

“Yes. That is no excuse, but yes.”

The cardinal shifted into Grasshopper dialect, with a Jackrabbit accent. “You speak and write well in several languages, I’m told.”

“I seem to get along fairly well, Your Eminence, except I’m weak in ancient English,” he answered in the same tongue.

“Well, you know, most of our present dialects are at least half old English,” said the cardinal, lapsing into Rockymount. “It’s just that the pronunciation has changed, and melted in with Spanish, and some think a bit of Mongolian, especially in Nomadic. Although I have my doubts about the myth of a Bayring Horde.”

Silence fell while the cardinal seemed to muse. “Do you suppose you could serve obediently as someone’s interpreter? It would not involve hunching over a copy table for hours at a time, but you would have to translate on paper as well as interpret the spoken word.”

Blacktooth mopped his face again with Wooshin’s waste and began crying. The cardinal allowed him to sob quietly until he regained control. Was this what Levion meant by “lucky”?

“Do you think you could obey me, for example?”

Blacktooth choked, “What good is a promise of mine? I broke all my vows but one.”

“Which one is that, if you don’t mind saying?”

“I have never had a woman, or a man. When I was a boy, I was had, though.” Torrildo’s accusing face came to mind as he said it, but he rejected the self-accusation.

The Red Deacon laughed. “What about solitary unchastity?” Seeing Blacktooth’s face change, he hastily added, “Forgive the joke. I’m asking you seriously whether you want to leave this place forever.”

“Forever?”

“Well, at least for a very long time, with no reason to expect the Order would take you back even if you wanted to come.”

“I have nowhere to go, m’Lord. That’s why I came back from the Mesa.”

“Your abbot will release you to come to Valana with me, but you must promise to obey, and I must believe your promise. You cannot be laicized yet. You will be my servant.”

Once more, the copyist was overwhelmed by tears.

“Well, it’s now or never,” said the cardinal.

“I promise,” he choked, “to do my best to obey you, m’Lord.”

Brownpony stood up. “I’m sorry. What is ‘your best’? You can’t be allowed to decide that for yourself. That makes it a crippled promise. No, it won’t do.” He started toward the refectory door. Blacktooth fell to the floor, crawled after him, and clutched the hem of his cassock. “I swear before God,” he gasped. “May the Holy Mother abandon me, may the saints all curse me, if I fail. I promise to obey you, m’Lord. I promise!”

The cardinal studied him contemptuously for a moment.

“All right, get up then, and come with me, Brother Groveler. Here, this way, give me your arm. Come on through the doorway. Face them, Blacktooth. Now.”

Feverish and dizzy, Blacktooth stepped into the refectory, walked a few steps toward the abbot’s table, looked at their faces, and fainted.

He was awakened by a voice saying, “Give him this when he comes to, Father.” It was Brother Surgeon.

“All right, go see your other patient,” said Prior Olshuen.

“I’m awake,” said Blacktooth, and sat up by candlelight as the only occupant of the three-bed infirmary. Brother Surgeon came back to his bedside, felt his forehead, and handed him a glass of milky green liquid.

“What is it?”

“Willow bark, tincture of hemp leaves, poppy juice, alcohol. You’re not very sick. You can go back to your cell tomorrow if you want to.”

“No,” said the prior. “You’ve got to have him well enough to leave in three days. Otherwise, we’ll be stuck with him until the next stage to Valana.” He turned to Blacktooth, his voice turning cold. “You are confined. Your meals will be brought to you. You will not speak to anyone not in authority over you. If a sick brother needs one of the other beds here, then you will return to your cell. When you leave us, you will take your breviary, your beads, your toilet articles, sandals, and a blanket, but you will exchange your habit for that of a novice. You will remain indefinitely in the custody of your benefactor, Cardinal Brownpony, without whose intercession you would be under interdict and shunned. Is that clear?”

Blacktooth looked at the man who had been his teacher and protector in his youth, and nodded.

“Do you have anything else to say to us?”

“I would like to confess.”

The prior frowned, almost shook his head, then said, “Wait until the medicine wears off. I’ll ask Dom Jarad about it.”

In a very weak voice: “May I have your blessing, then?”

Olshuen stood a moment in angry indecision, then whispered, “Benedicat te, omnipotens Deus, Pater et Filius et Spiritus Sanctus,” traced a tiny cross in the air, and departed.

CHAPTER 5

But if he is not healed even in this way,

then let the Abbot use the knife of amputation,

according to the Apostle’s words, “Expel the evil one

from your midst ... let him depart,” lest one

diseased sheep contaminate the whole flock.

Saint Benedict’s Rule, Chapter 28

UNDER THE WITHERING GAZE OF HIS FORMER brethren, Blacktooth at last left his cell with his small bundle and made his way into the sunlit courtyard where the Red Deacon’s coach was made ready for departure. While he was helping the driver lash his meager belongings to the top of the carriage, he overheard the voice of Singing Cow, just out of sight, talking to a newly arrived postulant who worked in the library.

“He tried persuasion at first, I’ll grant that,” his former comrade explained. “And when persuasion didn’t get him out, he tried violence. And when violence didn’t get him out, he tried sodomy. I heard that from a witness. But sodomy didn’t get him out either, or stealing, or running away. So he inserted a gloss into a copy of the Venerable Boedullus.”

“Without attribution?” gasped the assistant librarian.

“Despicable, isn’t it,” said Singing Cow.

“It wasn’t Boedullus!” Blacktooth howled. “It was only Duren!”

Blacktooth rode with the driver as they bumped along the north road toward the mountain passes. He never once looked back at the abbey. The Axe was with them, sometimes driving when Holy Madness rode the cardinal’s horse, sometimes riding inside the coach when the cardinal chose to be in the saddle. Both Wooshin and the Nomad treated the disgraced monk with courtesy, but he had as little intercourse as possible with Brownpony or his clerical companion.

One morning when they had been three days on the road, Wooshin said to him, “You hide from Cardinal. Why you shun? You know he saved you neck back there. Abbot wring like a chicken, except Cardinal save you. Why you afraid him?”

Blacktooth began to deny it, but heard an inner cock’s crow. Wooshin was right. To him, Brownpony represented the authority of the Church, previously wielded by Dom Jarad, and he was tired of the obedience which he had been forced to swear again to save himself. But it was necessary to separate the office from the man. After Wooshin’s remarks, he stopped shrinking from his rescuer, and exchanged polite greetings in the mornings. But the cardinal, sensing his discomfort, for the most part ignored his presence during much of the journey.

Sometimes Wooshin and the Nomad wrestled or fought for sport with staves. The Nomad called him Axe, which no one at the abbey had dared to do, and Wooshin seemed not to object to the nickname, as long as it was not prefixed by “Brother.” In spite of his age and apparent frailty, the Axe was the inevitable winner of these bouts by firelight, and made the Nomad appear so clumsy that Blacktooth once accepted an offer to try fencing the driver with staves. The driver not-so-clumsily whacked him six times and left him sitting in hot ashes while Wooshin and the cardinal laughed.

“Let Wooshin teach you,” said Brownpony. “In Valana, you may need to defend yourself. You’ve lived in a cloister, and you’re soft. In turn, you help him work on his Rockymount accent.”

Blacktooth protested politely, but the cardinal was insistent. So the fencing and language lessons began. “You ready die now?” the Brother Axe asked cheerfully at the beginning of each session, as if he had always asked it of his customers. Afterward, they talked a lot in Rockymount.

But it was with Holy (Little Bear)  Madness, the driver, that Blacktooth felt most comfortable, reckoning him to be a servant of no rank or status, and the two struck up an acquaintance. His name in Nomadic was Chür (Ösle) Høngan, and he called Blacktooth “Nimmy,” which in Nomadic approximated the word “kid,” meaning one who had not yet endured the rites of passage into manhood, Blacktooth was scarcely younger than Holy Madness, but he did not take offense. It’s true, he thought; I am a thirty-five-year-old teenager. So the abbot had reminded him. As far as experience in the world was concerned, he might as well have been in prison since childhood. But frightened of an unknowable future, he was already homesick for that prison.

Life at the monastery had not really been equal parts prayer, hard labor, and groveling, as he had told himself. He had done things there he loved to do. He loved the formal prayer of the Church. He sang well, and while he tried to merge his voice in that of the choir, his was the clear tenor that defined itself by its absence when the choir divided into two groups singing the ancient psalms in a dialogue of verse and response. The group without Blacktooth missed him. And on three occasions when there were important guests at the abbey, Blacktooth, at the abbot’s request, had sung alone for everyone—once in the Church and twice at supper. In the refectory, he had sung Nomad songs with his own embellishments affiliated to childhood memories. He refused to take pride in this, but his Satan took it anyway. While at the abbey, he had made a stringed instrument much like the one his father had given him. He hedged its Nomad origin by naming it after King David’s chitara, but pronouncing it “g’tara.” It was among the few belongings he had brought with him, and he strummed it a little during the trip, when Brownpony was away on his horse. He was averse to doing anything which might make him seem ridiculous to Brownpony, and he wondered about this aversion.

Some of the territory claimed by right of conquest as part of the Texark Province was not well defined, and the ill-defined area between the sources of the Bay Ghost and Nady Ann Rivers and the mountains to the west was a kind of no-man’s-land, where low-intensity warfare persisted at times among poor fugitive tribes of the Grasshopper who had refused to take up farming, Nomadic outlaws, also mostly Grasshopper refugees, and Texark cavalry sometimes joined by Wilddog war parties in pursuit of raiders. The cardinal’s party carefully skirted the western edge of this area, for Brownpony claimed without much explanation that the mountains, especially the moist and fertile Suckamint Range were well defended by exiles from the east, of non-Nomadic origin It was also true that Nomads were superstitious about mountains and stayed away from their heights. The trail led through the foothills, and the nights were cold. But there was much more life here than on the surrounding desert. From occasional horse-apple trees and scrub oak, the flora began proliferating and growing taller. Devoid of foliage at present, cottonwood, willow, and catalpa-bean trees flourished adjacent to creekbeds, while high upon the snowy mountainsides one could make out the trunks of mighty snow-clad conifers. There were a number of streams to ford, some flowing eastward, trickles of water edged by ice, and some were mere dry washes that would flow only during a flash flood in the foothills. The spring thaw had barely begun. All but the largest creeks would evaporate in the dry land to the east, where a small child could wade through a year’s rainfall without wetting its knees.

As they gained altitude on their northward journey, it began to snow lightly. The Nomad took the stallion and began exploring side trails. Before evening, he returned with news of some abandoned buildings less than an hour from the main road. So they turned off the papal highway and drove a few miles along a rough trail until they came to a rickety village. Several spotted children and a dog with two tails fled to their homes. Brownpony looked questions at Chür Høngan, who said, “There was nobody here when I was here a while ago.”

“They were hiding from an obvious Nomad,” the Red Deacon said, smiling.

But then a woman with one large blue eye and one small red eye came out of a hut to meet them with a pike and bared teeth. A hunchback with a musket limped rapidly after her. Blacktooth knew that the cardinal had a pistol well hidden in the upholstery, but he let it alone. He looked around at half a dozen sickly-looking people.

“Gennies!” gasped Father e’Laiden, who had just awakened from a snooze in the carriage. There was no contempt in his voice, but it was the wrong word to utter at the moment.

This was obviously a small colony of genetically handicapped, fugitives from the overpopulated Valley of the Misborn, which was now called the Watchitah Nation since its boundaries were fixed by treaty. There were pockets of such fugitives throughout the land, and they were usually at   defensive war with all strangers. The hunchback lifted his musket and aimed first at Chür Høngan, who was driving, then at Blacktooth.

“Both of you get down. And the others inside, get out!” The woman’s voice dog-whined the Valley version of the Ol’zark dialect, confirming their origins. She was as dangerous as a whipped cur, Blacktooth sensed. He could smell the fear.

Everyone obeyed except the Axe, who was freshly missing. The executioner had been riding Brownpony’s horse only moments before. At the woman’s call, a blond young girl came and searched them for weapons. She was lovely and golden, with no apparent defects, and Blacktooth blushed as her soft hands patted his body. She noticed his blush, grinned in his face, pushed close, seized and squeezed his member, then darted away with his rosary. The woman angrily called her back, but the girl was gone long enough to have hidden his beads. Blacktooth was almost certain the girl was a spook, that is, a Valley-born genny who passes for normal.

He remembered stories he had heard of ogres, perverts, homicidal maniacs among the gennies. Some of the stories were filthy jokes, and most of them were told by bigots. But, having heard the stories, he could feel the shame from them, but not forget in the face of these menacing figures that one or another of the stories came true from time to time. Anything was possible.

Brownpony stirred at last, stepped down from the carriage, and with some majesty put on his red cap. He said to them, “We are Churchmen from Valana, my children. We have no weapons. We seek refuge from the weather, and we shall pay you well for shelter and a cooking fire.”

The old woman seemed not to hear him. “Get all their belongings, from inside and on top,” the woman told the girl in the same tone.

The cardinal turned to the girl. “You know who I am, and I know who you are,” he said to her. “I am Elia Brownpony of the Secretariat.”

She shook her head.

“You never met me, but you do know of me.”

“I don’t believe you,” she said.

“Move!” said the old woman.

The girl climbed inside and began throwing out clothing and other belongings, including Blacktooth’s chitara, then thrust out her head and asked, “Books?”

“Those too.”

Brownpony’s concealed pistol would be next, Blacktooth thought, as he wondered why Brownpony insisted that he was known to the girl. He was not self-important, not an egoist who expected to be recognized everywhere. For now the cardinal shrugged and stopped protesting. Apparently, the girl never found the pistol.

Suddenly a muffled cry came from the direction of the largest hut in the cluster. The deformed woman looked around. An old man with mottled skin and white hair appeared in the doorway. Behind him stood Wooshin with his forearm against the old man’s throat. The Axe could almost make himself invisible. Having circled the village and approached from the rear, he held up his short sword for their edification. Evidently this was the chief of the village, for the woman and the hunchback immediately dropped their weapons.

“You must not rob them, Linura,” the old man scolded. “It’s one thing to take their weapons, but—” He broke off as Wooshin shook him and brandished the sword.

The woman fell to her knees. The girl ran. She came back with a pitchfork, darted behind Brownpony, and pressed the tines against his back. “My father for your priest,” she yelled to the headsman.

“Put your knife away, Wooshin,” Brownpony called, and turned to face the girl. She jabbed him lightly in the stomach and bared her gritted teeth in warning.

“Are you not the Pope’s children?” asked the cardinal, using the ancient euphemism for the misborn. He turned about, his arms spread wide, facing each of them. “Would you harm the servants of Christ and your Pope?”

“For shame, Linura, for shame, Ædrea!” hooted the old man. “You will get us all killed or driven back to the Watchitah by acting this way.” Then to the girl: “Ædrea, put that away. Also take care of their horses, then fetch us some beer. Now!”

The older woman lowered her head. “I only meant to search their baggage for arms.”

“Put your knife away, ’Shin,” the cardinal said again.

“I want my rosary and my g’tara back,” said Blacktooth to the girl, who ignored him.

The old man advanced to kiss the Red Deacon’s ring, found none, and kissed his hand instead. “I am called Shard. That is our family’s name. You will be welcome to stay in my house until the snow stops. We have not much to eat just now, after the winter, but Ædrea can perhaps kill a deer.” He turned to the old woman with his arm raised as if to cuff her. She gave the musket to the girl and hurried away.

 “We carry corn, beans, and monks’ cheese,” said Brownpony.  “We’ll share with you. Tomorrow is Ash Wednesday, so we’ll need no meat. Two of us can sleep in the carriage. We have tarpaulins to protect  it from the cold wind. We thank you, and pray the weather lets us leave soon.”

“Please forgive the rude welcome,” said the mottled man. “We are often visited by a small bands of Nomads, drunks or outlaws. Most of them are superstitious, and fear the flag.” He pointed to the yellow and green banner that flew from the gable of his home. It bore the papal keys, and a ring of seven hands. As a warning of papal protection, it had become the flag of the Watchitah Nation. “Even those who don’t fear it soon see we have nothing of value, except a girl, and leave us in peace, but my sister trusts no one. But three days ago, we were visited by Texark agents posing as priests. We knew they were sent to spy on us, so we have been very suspicious.”

“What happened?”

“They wanted to know how many of us lived in these hills. I told them just one other family a quarter-hour walk up the trail. I advised them not to go back there, that the bear boy was dangerous, but they insisted. Only two of them came back an hour later, and they were in a hurry to leave.”

“Do you really think the Hannegan would chase Valley runaways this far outside the Empire?”

“We know it. Others have been killed closer to the Province. Filpeo Harq exploits people’s hatred for gennies, and calls us criminals because we fought our way out of the Valley. Some of his guards were killed.”

While they were unhitching the horses, Blacktooth noticed two cows with shaggy coats in a pen next to the barn. They were not ordinary farm animals, and appeared to be Nomad cattle. But Nomad cows would have kicked and butted their way out through the boards of the fence by now, so he decided they must be hybrids. Or genny animals, like their genny owners. For that matter, the Nomad cattle probably descended from a few successful freaks. Sometimes, rarely, an apparent monster, whether man or beast, proved to have superior survival value.

The gennies’ hospitality improved sharply after the bad beginning. Apparently not of Shard’s family, the hunchback had disappeared. Soon Ædrea had killed a fawn; she brought a cup of its blood into the house and presented it to Chür Høngan, who looked at it in frozen silence.

The cardinal was turning red as he choked back laughter. When the Nomad looked at him, Brownpony hid his mouth. Høngan snorted at him and took the deer blood from the girl. Growling at her, he frowned mightily and downed it at a gulp. The girl stepped back as if in awe. The Red Deacon’s laughter exploded, and after a moment they were all laughing except Ædrea.

“Well, Nomads drink blood, don’t they?” she demanded. Blushing at the laughter, she went to dress the fawn.

“Some do,” said Holy Madness. “On ceremonial occasions.”

After an evening meal of veal-tender venison, black bread, peas, and mugs of cloudy home brew, they talked again, crowding around the fire in Shard’s house. Only the Nomad was missing; pretending to speak little Ol’zark, he had taken his blanket roll and gone to bed early in the carriage after losing a drawing of lots for a place in the house. The other loser was Blacktooth, who was glad to sleep away from a headsman, a cardinal, a crazy priest, and several portents, including a pretty female tease.

The common language among them was Ol’zark, but when Shard asked the Oriental a question, Wooshin replied in broken Churchspeak. After this had happened three times, Brownpony turned to him and said, “Wooshin, speak the language of our hosts. That language is Ol’zark Valleyspeak of the Watchitah Nation.”

The Axe bristled and stared at Brownpony, who gazed at him evenly. “Valleyspeak is the language of our hosts,” he repeated.

Wooshin looked down at the floor. The room was dead silent. He looked up, then, and said in flawless Texark, “Good simpleton, the answer to your question is that by profession I was a seaman and a warrior. But in my later years I cut off heads for the Mayor of Texark.”

“And how did you sink to that, Ser?” asked a thin voice from Ædrea.

Wooshin looked at her without anger.

“Not sink, not rise,” he said in bad Churchspeak, then returning to her tongue: “Death is the way of the warrior, girl. There is no honor in it, nor any dishonor, if one is just being oneself.”

“But to do it for the Hannegan?”

Wooshin’s normal expression was relaxed, alert, about-to-smile, wrinkled about the eyes, humorous, scrutinizing. But now it was as frozen as a corpse. Facing Ædrea, he arose slowly and bowed to her. Blacktooth felt his scalp crawl.

Then the Axe looked at the Red Deacon as if to say “See what you made me do!” and went to take a walk in the night. It was the last time the old manslayer ever resisted speaking Ol’zark, but Blacktooth noticed that when he did so, he always imitated Shard’s accent, and he called it Valleyspeak. He treated Ædrea with extreme courtesy during their stay. There was no mistaking the bitterness of his regret, but regret for what? Blacktooth was unsure.

After two days of intermittent light snow, they stayed at Arch Hollow, as the Shards called it, for six days, while Chür Høngan spent most his time riding out to investigate the conditions along the trail. Wooshin too was gone most of the time, but made no account of his activities, unless to the cardinal in secret. It seemed best to wait until other passing traffic began to shovel its way along in the near vicinity.

On the second night they sat around the fire in the center of Shard’s lodge. Brownpony tried to elicit the family’s story without asking too many questions. His skill in conversation soon led Shard into recounting his family’s adventures since the famine and the exodus. There had been a mass escape attempt ten years ago. At least two hundred were hunted down and killed by Texark troops as they fled through forests and up streambeds across the crest of the ridge. At least twice as many escaped the troops that were there both to protect the Watchitah people against intruders and to prevent the escape of the gennies. The Valley was more than a valley; it was a small nation which had kept the name of its place of origin until the conquest. No one had counted the population, but Shard called it a quarter of a million, causing Brownpony to raise an eyebrow. Fifty thousand was closer to popular consensus.

“The approaches to the Watchitah are well guarded by the Hannegan, but the patrols could not catch so many at one time,” said Shard. “Probably half of the dead were killed by Texark troops and the others lynched by farmers. Ædrea, of course, could have escaped by passing for normal, becoming a ‘spook.’ My daughter is very brave to remain with us. The spooks among us are the ones most hated and feared. They can marry unsuspecting normals and pass on the curse, give birth to monsters.”

“How safe are you here from the natives?” Brownpony wondered. “I think of this as outlaw country.”

“It was, and is, to some extent. The nearest town is two days away. They know we’re here. The priest visits us every month, except in winter. He and the baron govern the town. There has been no trouble. Only ’Drea goes to town. Of course she wears the green headband. We’re south of the Denver Republic, but the Church is respected here more than in the Empire. The papal highway is patrolled, of course. Still, there are occasional outlaws, but they are looking for traveling merchants. We have nothing here to invite robbery.”

“Are there more of you living near here?”

“You saw the hunchback, Cortus. His family lives next door. But the only family behind us is the one with the bear boy.”

“Shard, I am the Secretary for Extraordinary Ecclesiastical Concerns.”

The old man looked at him with suspicion. “If you really are, then you don’t need to ask such a question.”

The monk could feel a tension bordering on hostility in the room but it passed in silence. It seemed clear Shard was lying about the presence of other gennies in the region.

After the dishes had been washed outside in the snow, Linura entered and sat beside, but a little behind, her brother. Then Ædrea came in and dropped cross-legged on the floor beside Blacktooth, who stirred restlessly and almost stopped listening. He wanted his rosary back. Her girl-smell teased his nostrils. Her knees were shiny by firelight. When she noticed his gaze, she pulled a blanket over her lap, but smiled briefly into his eyes before attending the conversation again. Remembering that this coy creature had grabbed his penis at their first encounter, he nudged her.

“Rosary back!” he whispered fiercely.

She giggled and nudged back, hard.

“I’ve often wondered about life in the Valley,” the Red Deacon was saying.

“There is more death than life there, m’Lord Cardinal,” Shard answered. “Few who live there want to risk giving birth. A normal birth is rare. Most die. Others are too feeble to want life. If it were not for the influx, the Watchitah would soon be empty.”

“Influx? From where?”

“You must know, m’Lord.”

Brownpony nodded. Many people in families of registered pedigree nonetheless had accursed offspring. Lest they lose their registration with the keepers of such records, families without fear of the Church killed their malformed babies. But often there were children whose deformities could be concealed for a time, and these were sent to the Valley at a later age by the pious. Monks and nuns often brought them. People who lived near the Watchitah hated and feared the inhabitants, especially the near-normal among them. Blacktooth noticed that everyone was glancing at Ædrea.

“Forgive me, daughter,” Brownpony murmured when she met his eyes.

 “I don’t like admitting it,” Shard was saying, “but the patrols who guard the passes were as much our protectors as our jailers. But they did nothing to help us when famine came.”

“And the Church?” said the Red Deacon. “Too busy with its own schism to be of much help to anyone.”

“Well, of course we were cut off from papal protection, but the Archbishop of Texark did send in some supplies. I think he is not a cruel man, perhaps only powerless.”

“You cannot imagine how powerless is Cardinal Archbishop Benefez,” Father e’Laiden sighed.

Blacktooth glanced quickly at the priest, certain that he was being sardonic and meant the opposite of what he said. Benefez had behind him the power of the Hannegans. And e’Laiden spoke Texark like a native, which he probably was, although his command of Wild-dog Nomadic meant he had lived long on the High Plains.

“My rosary!” Blacktooth whispered angrily.

She winked at him and grinned. “I hid it in the barn. You can have it tomorrow.”

The way she looked at him brought on an eruption of horniness, and he felt his face turning red. Blacktooth feared her. Many deformities recurred, and many were genetically connected. Various writers had made lists. There was one mutation in which great physical beauty was coupled with a defect in the brain, the most notable symptom of which was the onset of criminal insanity a few years after puberty. He stole a glance at her, but she caught him at it, and flicked her tongue and smirked. She might not be crazy, but she was a she-devil. He wanted to go to the carriage and to bed, but he was ashamed to stand up at the moment. At last he prayed his erection away and mumbled good night to the others. Ædrea followed him outside, but he fled into the latrine, then climbed out the back window. He was immediately seized by the hunchback and another creature and dragged away toward another house with a lighted doorway. Nearly fainting with fright, he heard the hunchback whisper hoarsely that someone needed absolution.

“But I am not a priest!” he protested. In vain. They dragged him into the house of Shard’s neighbor.

The hunchback and his companion released Blacktooth after pushing him inside, and they stood blocking the door. The monk could only sit down on a stool pointed out to him, and from there await developments. There was firelight and a lantern. There was a wrinkled old man with a scraggly beard in the room, who said his name was Tempus. He pointed out the others. There was his wife. Irene, whose face was a permanent scar. There were Ululata, and Pustria, females both of portentous mien. The hunchback was called Cortus, and his companion Barlo. They were all siblings or cousins or half-siblings. Barlo had a terrible itch, especially in the genital area. Tempus shouted at him to stop masturbating, but the words had no effect on the creature.

God in His wisdom had given Ululata adeformed foot, although He had in all other ways given her the proportions of the divine image in His mind of God in mercy. But the foot was not something you would want to walk with. “God is thus,” said the father.

The father had given her crutches. To him, God had given seven fingers, which he displayed to the monk, a third useless eye, and four testicles with two healthy penes, all of which he exhibited. Pustria was Ululata’s half-sister, according to their faithful mother’s best memory of their conceptions under the weight of the same sire. Pustria was deformed only by blindness, and Mother Irene was partial to Pustria because Pustria could not see her mother’s face, a mask of scab of which Mother Irene was not proud. “God is thus, since the deluge of fire and ice,” said the father.

Barlo was in need of absolution, Tempus explained, in order to make him stop masturbating. Blacktooth explained that he could not absolve anybody, and that absolution would not have the effect that Tempus desired. Tempus was adamant. Blacktooth would not be allowed to leave until he performed.

“Will you let me go then, immediately?” he demanded.

Tempus nodded gravely and crossed his heart. Nimmy closed his eyes for a moment and tried to summon a little Latin.

“Labores semper tecum,” he said in the softest voice he could muster. “Igni etiam aqua interdictus tu. Semper super capitem tuum feces descendant avium.”

“Amen,” Tempus said in echo to this malediction.

Nimmy got up and left. At the moment, he was not particularly ashamed of wishing eternal suffering on the man, of pronouncing a dire sentence of exile, and calling down upon the head of Barlo a perpetual rain of birdshit; the glep who was still scratching his crotch followed him at a distance.

Chür Høngan was already asleep. Blacktooth had drawn lots with Wooshin and lost the third place indoors. He was relieved things had turned out so, especially after his escape from the clutches of the hunchback’s family. If he must sleep in the cold carriage, he preferred to sleep with the Nomad. Although, during his waking hours, he had lost his fear of the killer of hundreds, the Brother Axe still haunted his dreams. Sometimes he dreamed he himself was the executioner, chopping heads for Hannegan with a  mighty sword, but that night in the carriage, he dreamed he was Pontius Pilate, and Wooshin the headsman stood beside him as Marcus the Centurion, confronted by a pretender to the Kingdom of God among the Nomads.

Kings of the Nomads were common in those days. He crucified not one but four of them during his lucrative career in south Texas-Judea. The first case was the hardest for him, and sad; Blacktooth-Pilate was like a boy killing his first deer. Because the pretender was harmless, the case was jinxed by the scruples of his wife. He had wanted to set the first one free. It was easier to kill the ones that followed, and certainly necessary to show that kings were made by Texark and not by tribal gods. He always asked them the same question. The first one could not or would not answer, and merely stood looking at him. The second to be crucified was more talkative.

“What is truth?” asked Blacktooth.

“Truth is the essence of all true statements,” said the second King of the Nomads. “Falsehood is the essence of all false statements. Without saying anything, there is neither true nor false. I offer Your Majesty my silence.”

“Crucify him,” said Pilate, “with prejudice. And get it right this time. Wrap his arms and legs around the cross. That’s the way it shows in the Texark Procurators’ Handbook. Of course, that’s not enough for you new recruits these days. You have to know why. Well, I’ll tell you why.

“Nailing the hands to the back of the cross is sound engineering principle and sound governmental policy because when you nail the hands in front the weight of the body hangs on the nails, they tear, unless you also nail the forearm; but when you wrap the arms across the top of the cross and nail them from behind, the weight of the body hangs from the arm on the crossbar, and the nail does nothing but keep the arm in place. That way, you can smash his bones better when it’s time to go home from work. Do it the Texark way, men; the Texark way is the eternal way. Let’s carry out the sentence with some snap this time.”

“Hail to the Hannegan!” said Marcus the Axe.

“Hail Texark! Next case.”

Pontius felt better after that. Half-awake by now, he knew he was dreaming, but let the dream go on. The fellow’s silly explanation of truth probably had nothing to do with the silence of the first King of the Nomads, but it noisily invoked silence as policy and thus took some of the sting out of Pilate’s remembrance of the first one’s half-smiling gaze, which had seemed to say to him at the time nothing philosophical at all but had expressed an utterly intimate, infinite regress of “I who look at you who look at me who look at you…” His wife Ædrea had been frightened by the same look. It was perhaps sexy, and for that very reason insulting to those whose duty it was to see such scum as loathsome.

“What is truth?” said Pilate to the third King of the Nomads.

“Root for pearls, Texark pig!”

Blacktooth-Pilate had no qualms at all with that one.

He woke up thinking about Ædrea instead—and their coming assignation in a hayloft. A prank. Drowsily, he remembered hearing Brother Gimpus argue that a detachment from sexual passion was the essence of chastity, and that detachment was possible without abstinence. Brother Gimpus was caught naked with an ugly widow in the village who claimed she paid him every Wednesday for the eighth sacrament. “Rest in peace,” Blacktooth whispered against the pillow.

CHAPTER 6

Nevertheless, keeping in view the needs of

weaker brethren, we believe that a hemina

of wine a day is sufficient for each.

Saint Benedict’s Rule, Chapter 40

CHÜR HØNGAN WAS STILL ASLEEP WHEN Blacktooth started up, fully awakened by hoofbeats, which stopped near the carriage. Then he heard voices speaking softly in Grasshopper. They were talking about Shard’s cows in the pen next to the barn, until something excited them and there was another burst of hoof-beats, followed by the screams of Ædrea. The monk pulled at the edge of the tarp and peered outside. A few flakes of snow were still falling in the faint morning light. There were three horsemen, obviously Nomads. Two of them held the kicking girlsuspended by her arms between them. Shard began yelling protests from afar, and the hunchback ran out with his musket. Blacktooth turned to awaken Høngan, but he was already up and moving, putting on his wolfskins and the leather helmet with small horns and a metal ornament. He usually wore the hat only when mounted. Blacktooth thrust his hand deep into the upholstery and felt the Red Deacon’s handgun. The girl had missed it.

Chür Høngan climbed out the other door and came into their view from behind the coach, yelling at the renegades in the Wilddog of the High Plains.

“In the name of the Wilddog sharf and his mother, put her down! I command you, motherless ones! Dismount!”

Blacktooth raised the cardinal’s weapon, but his hand was shaking badly. The Nomad not involved with the girl lifted his musket, looked closely at Holy Madness, then dropped the weapon to the ground. The others eased the girl onto her feet, and she promptly ran away. The riders slowly dismounted, and the apparent leader fell to his knees before the advancing Høngan.

He spoke now in Høngan’s dialect. “O Little Bear’s kin, Sire of the Day Maiden, we meant her no harm. We saw those cows over there and thought they were ours. We were only teasing the girl.”

“Only a teasing little rape, perhaps? Apologize and leave here at once. You know those tame cows are not yours. You are motherless. You ride unbranded horses. I heard you speaking Grasshopper, so you don’t belong anywhere near here. Never bother these people; they are children of the Pope, with whom the free hordes have treaties.”

The visitors complied immediately and were gone. The incident had lasted not more than five minutes, but Blacktooth was astounded. He climbed out of the carriage. Chür Ösle Høngan leaned against the coach and gazed absently after them as they rode away toward the main trail through a sprinkle of snow.

“They’re Grasshopper outlaws, but they knew you! Who are you?” Blacktooth asked in awe.

The Nomad smiled at him. “You know my name.”

“What was that they called you?”

“‘Sire of the Day Maiden’? Have you never heard that before?”

Of course. It’s what one calls one’s sharf.”

“Or even one’s own uncle, on some occasions.”

“But motherless ones recognized you? Last night I dreamed of a king of the Nomads.”

Høngan laughed. “I’m no king, Nimmy. Not yet. It’s not me they recognized. Just this.” He touched the metal ornament on the front of his helmet. “The clan of my mother.” He smiled at Blacktooth. “Nimmy, my name is ‘Holy Madness,’ of the Little Bear motherline.  Pronounce it in Jackrabbit.”

“Cheer Honnyugan. But in Jackrabbit, it means Magic Madman.”

“Just the last name. What does it sound like?”

“Honnyugan? Hannegan?

“Just so. We’re cousins,” archly said the Nomad. “Don’t tell anybody, and don’t ever pronounce it in Jackrabbit again.”

Cardinal Brownpony was approaching from the direction of Shard’s house, and Chür Høngan went to meet him with a report of the incident. Blacktooth wondered if the Nomad was entirely teasing him. He had heard claims of the dynasty’s ultimate Nomadic origin, but since Boedullus made no mention of it, that origin must have been in recent centuries. At least he knew now that Høngan was of a powerful motherline. His own family, displaced to the farms, had no insignia, and he had never studied the heraldry of the Plains. Something else that piqued his curiosity about the Nomad was his apparent close friendship with Father e’Laiden, who called him Bearcub. The priest had often ridden beside the Nomad when he was driving, and their talks were plainly personal but private. They had known each other well on the Plains. From fragments overheard, he decided that e’Laiden was formerly the Nomad’s teacher, but no longer dared to play that role unasked, lest a grown-up and somewhat wicked student laugh in his face.

Blacktooth went to look for his rosary and g’tara in the barn, which was half buried in the side of a hill. Ædrea was not visible, but he could hear the muffled sound of strings being plucked. The floor was swept stone, and a small stream of spring water ran in a channel from beneath a closed door in the rear and out to the cattle pen outside the wall. Above the door was a hayloft. He opened the door and found himself in a root cellar, with a number of nearly empty bins containing some withered turnips, a pumpkin, and a few sprouting potatoes: the remains of last year’s crops. And there were jars of preserved fruits—where could they have grown?—on the shelves. There were three barrels, some farm implements, and a pile of straw for layering vegetables. There was no one here. He turned to go, but Ædrea slipped down from the hayloft and confronted him as he started to leave. Nimmy looked at her and backed away. In spite of the weather, she was wearing nothing but a short leather skirt, a bright grin, and his rosary as a necklace.

He backed away. “Wh-where’s the g’tara?”

“In the loft. It’s more comfortable up there. You can snuggledown in the hay. Come on.”

“The air’s warmer in here than outside.”

“All right.” She came in and closed the door behind her, leaving them in pitch darkness.

“Haven’t you a lamp or candle?”

She laughed, and he felt her hands exploring him. “Can’t you see in the dark? I can.”

“No. Please. How can you?”

Her hands withdrew. “How can I what?”

“See in the dark.”

“I’m a genny, you know. Some of us can do that. It’s not really seeing, though. I just know where I am. But I can see the halo around you. You’re one of us.”

“Us who?”

“You’re a genny with a halo.”

“I’m not—” He broke off, hearing her rustling skirt in the darkness, then the scratch of flint on steel and a spark. After several sparks, she managed to kindle a bit of tinder and used it to light a tallow taper. Nimmy relaxed slightly. She took down two clay cups from a shelf and turned the spigot on one of the barrels.

“Let’s drink a glass of berry wine.”

“I’m not really thirsty.”

“It’s not for thirst, silly. It’s for getting drunk.”

“I’m not supposed to do that.”

She handed him the cup and sat down in the straw.

My g’tara—

“Oh, all right. Wait here. I’ll get it.”

He nervously gulped the wine while she was gone. It was strong, sweet, tasted of resin, and was immediately relaxing. She came back in with his g’tara, but held it away when he reached for it.

“You have to play it for me.”

He sighed. “All right. Just once. What shall I play?”

“‘Pour Me Another Before We Do It Brother.’”

Nimmy poured another cup of wine and handed it to her.

“That’s the name of the song, silly.”

“I don’t know it.”

“Well, play anything.” She flopped down in the straw. Her skirt came up. By candlelight he could see under it. She wasn’t wearing anything there. But something was unusual. He hadn’t seen a girl that way since he was a child, but it wasn’t the way he remembered. He looked at her, the g’tara, the cup of wine in his hand, and the candle. he gulped the wine, and poured another.

“Play a love song.”

He gulped again, set the cup aside, and began plucking the  strings. He didn’t know any love songs, so he began singing the opening lines of Vergil’s fourth eclogue to music he had composed himself.

When he got to the words jam redit et Virgo, she made a little puff of wind with her lips and blew out the candle from six feet away. He stopped in fright.

“Pour another cup of wine and come here.”

Nimmy heard the liquid splashing into the cup, then realized he was doing it himself.

“You drink it,” she said.

“How do I get out of here?”

“Well, you have to find the keyhole. It’s not very big.”

He fumbled in the area of the door.

“It’s over here.”

He felt her tugging at his sleeve, gulped the wine before he spilled it, and sprawled beside her in the darkness. “Where’s the key?”

“Right here.” She grabbed what she had grabbed when first they met. He didn’t feel like resisting. They came together, but after a lot of fumbling, he said, “It won’t fit!”

“I know. The surgeon fixed me so it won’t, but it’s fun anyway, isn’t it?”

“Not much.”

She sobbed. “You don’t like me!”

“Yes I do, but it won’t fit.”

“That’s all right,” she sniffled, sliding lower in the straw. “Just come here.”

He had not been so surprised since Torrildo’s advances in the basement. Drunkenly, he feared at any moment Cardinal Brownpony would burst out of the broom closet and yell, “Aha! Caught you!” But nothing like that happened.

When he stumbled out of the barn with his virginity diminished, a smiling Ædrea (semper virgo) sat twirling his rosary, watched him from the hayloft until he crawled into the carriage and pulled down the tarp behind him. The term “against nature“ insinuated itself into his tipsy consciousness. He had never been so drunk.

“Damn that witch!” he whispered when he awoke, but recoiled from the words at once. I am my own witch! quickly replaced them. Help me, Saint Isaac Edward Leibowitz. My Patron, I looked forward to entering that barn—pray for me. I was glad she stole my things. It gave me the excuse I needed to pursue her in pretended anger. The things she stole, I should have given her. I know this now. Why couldn’t I have known it then? I wonder if I knew what I was doing with Torrildo too. I, or the devil in me. O Saint Leibowitz, intercede for me.

•      •      •

Blacktooth had fallen angrily in love. His sexuality had always been a mystery to him. He had wondered about his once deep affection for Torrildo, among others who once had been his friends at the abbey. His erotic dreams had more often involved enormous buttocks than enormous breasts, but now he was suddenly smitten by a girl there was no doubt at all in his mind that it was the most powerful love he had ever felt except his love for the heart of the Virgin, a blasphemous comparison, but true. Or was that lust too?

In spite of their tryst in the root cellar, during the days that followed Ædrea responded to his enamored gaze with a self-satisfied smirk and a shake of her pretty head. He knew what she meant. She, as a bearer of the curse, was forbidden to fornicate with anyone outside the Valley. The penalty was mutilation or death. She had taken an awful chance in seducing him. But what they had done in the barn was only passionate play, not against the basic folklaw. Against his fractured vows, surely. She knew that. At the end, she teased him about how easily she overcame his vows. He knew he was still bound by the vows, and straying once was no excuse for straying again. But without more surgery, Ædrea was physically incapable of normal coitus. Her father had it done to her when she was a child, probably afraid that someone like Cortus or Barlo would rape her. O Holy Mother, pity us.

No one had seen them in the barn, but the pulsation of sexuality that happened whenever the girl and the monk came together did not escape the cardinal’s attention. The Red Deacon caught him alone while Blacktooth was behind the coach lashing bundles in preparation for departure.

“It’s time we talk, Nimmy. Excuse me, Blacktooth. I hear Høngan calling you Nimmy, and it seems to fit. How do you want to be called?”

Blacktooth shrugged. “I’m leaving an old life behind. I might as well leave my name behind. I don’t mind.”

“All right, Brother Nimmy. Just don’t leave behind your promise of obedience. I remind you that Ædrea is a genny. Watch your step very closely here. I’ll tell you, Shard’s was not the first exodus here from the Valley. It’s been happening for years. This place is more than it seems, and Ædrea is more than she seems.”

“I had begun to suspect, m’Lord.”

“You are not to intentionally see her again. If you ever see her again in Valana, avoid her.” He commanded Blacktooth with his eyes.

“This has nothing to do with your vow of chastity, but let this help you keep it. They are hiding a large genny colony back there in the higher hills, but don’t let them know that you know. They’re frightened enough of us to be dangerous.”

“Yes.”

“And there’s something else, Nimmy. Chür Ösle Høngan is an important man among his people, as you found out from those outlaws, but you were not supposed to know, and it is not known in Valana. Now I have to ask for your silence. There is a need for secrecy. He is an envoy to me from the Plains, but you must not tell that to anyone. He is just a driver I hired.”

“I understand, m’Lord.”

“Father e’Laiden is another matter. I had no need to read your mind to see your curiosity about him. About him, you must also say nothing. He grew his beard for this trip, to avoid recognition. I picked him up forty miles south of Valana, and will let him off at the same place, which will make you even more curious. Not even my friend Dom Jarad knows who he is. I’ve told travelers he’s just a passenger to whom I gave a ride. You know I introduced him to Dom Jarad as my temporary secretary. No more of that. You will not mention him to anyone. If you meet him in Valana later without his beard, do not allow yourself to recognize him. His name is not e’Laiden, anyway. About these two men, you will be absolutely silent.”

“I have had much practice at being silent, m’Lord.”

“Yes, well, I took a big chance with you, Blacktooth. Nimmy. For now, your job is just to keep your mouth shut. I may find other uses for you in Valana.”

“That would please me, m’Lord. I have felt useless for years.”

Brownpony turned to look at him closely. “I am surprised to hear it. Your abbot told me you are quite religious, and seemed called to contemplation. Do you think that useless?”

“Not at all, but it’s my turn to be surprised the abbot said I was called to it. He was very angry with me.”

“Well, of course he was angry, partly at himself. Nimmy, he s sorry he made you do that silly Duren translation. He thought it would be useful.”

“I told him otherwise.”

“I know. He thought you were ducking hard work. Now he blames himself for your revolt. He’s agood man, and he’s really sorry the Order lost you. I know how humiliating it was for you at the end, but forgive him if you can.”

“I do, but he didn’t forgive me. I wasn’t even allowed to confess.”

“Not allowed by whom, Dom Jarad?”

“The prior said he would ask the abbot. I suppose he did.”

“Nobody shrived you, eh? Well, Father e’Laiden can confess you if you can’t wait until we get to Valana. I can imagine you need it by now.”

Blacktooth blushed, wondering if the remark implied a reference to Ædrea. Of course it did!

He approached the old whitebeard priest later that day, but the cleric shook his head. “His Eminence forgets something. I’m not even supposed to say Mass. You have seen me do it, but I don’t give the Eucharist, and I don’t do confessions. Saying a private Mass is my own sin if it is one — not involving others.”

A wild and sorrowful look came over the old man’s face, as if he were at war within himself. Blacktooth had seen the look before and shivered. Father e’Laiden was just a little crazy.

Strange traveling companions, he thought. A priest under interdict, a seaman-headsman-warrior, a wild but aristocratic Nomad, a disgraced monk, and a cardinal who was not more than a deacon. Brownpony, Blacktooth, and Høngan were all of Nomadic extraction, and e’Laiden obviously had lived among Nomads. Holy Madness, whose mother’s family was called Little Bear, and e’Laiden seemed old friends, and often talked of Nomad families known to both of them. Only the executioner was unrelated to the people of the Plains. Blacktooth was more puzzled than ever about the Red Deacon’s intentions. The cardinal, he had learned, was head of the Secretariat of Extraordinary Ecclesiastical Concerns, an obscure and minor office of the Curia which he had heard someone call “the bureau of trivial intrigues.”

After two days of light snow the skies cleared. There was bright sun and a breeze from the south. Three days later, the thaw was well under way. Chür Høngan was gone for half a day, then returned with an opinion that the highway was not impassable, although they might have to shovel slushy snow in a few places. Brownpony paid Shard a fair sum in coins from the papal mint, and the travelers took their leave of the village. Only the children, Shard, and Tempus watched them go. The monk’s eyes searched in vain for Ædrea. He was sure she was angry because of his mixed feelings and his avoidance of her. He wanted to let her know he blamed only himself, but there was no way.

She was gone for good.

They were still closer to Leibowitz Abbey than to Valana when they left Arch Hollow, but progress was faster as the road improved. Several days later, everyone’s breathing became labored as they approached the high passes. Something had happened to Earth’s atmosphere since the catastrophic demise of the Magna Civitas. One could only gaze upward at, not climb to, ruins of ancient buildings on mountainsides far above the present tree line. Once the air had been more breathable. And of course Earth herself had changed, sickened by the wars that long ago brought the end of a world. A new world was rising, but it could not grow as fast as the old. Rich pockets of resources had been plundered and dispersed. Now ancient cities were mined for iron. Petroleum was always going to be scarce. Hannegan had needed to plunder his people for copper. Living creatures had become extinct or changed. The wolves of the desert and plains were known to be different breeds, even by those Nomads who wore “wolfskins” but called their nation “the Wilddog Horde.” There was less forest and more grass in the world than before, but not even in the records of Leibowitz Abbey could one learn much about biology before the Flame Deluge and the great freeze that followed. The curse pronounced by God in Genesis had been renewed; Earth and Man were doubly fallen.

On the twentieth evening of their journey, Holy Madness saw Nunshån, the Night Hag. They made camp early, and Høngan had ridden ahead in the late afternoon to check the condition of the passes, and he came back ashen and babbling after sundown.

“I looked up, and there she was standing on a crag against the early stars. Ugly! I have never seen a woman so huge and ugly. There was a kind of black light around her, and I could see stars through it. The sun was behind a mountain, but the sky was still light. Then she cried out to me—a great sobbing sound, wild as a cougar.”

“Maybe it was a cougar,” said Brownpony. “This thin air can make you dizzy.”

“Cougar? No, no, a horse! She was there, and then she was a black horse and galloped away, into the very sky, it seemed!”

Brownpony was silent, busying himself with a plate of beans. Blacktooth studied Chür Høngan’s expression and found it excited but sincere. He had learned that the Nomad was at least nominally a Christian, but Nomad myths were not dispelled by baptism.

It was Father e’Laiden at last who spoke. “If you saw the Night Hag, who is dying?”

“The Pope is dying,” said the Red Deacon.

“Does the Nunshån appear for popes, m’Lord?” asked Blacktooth, almost amused.

“It could be my father dying,” the Nomad said quietly.

“God forbid,” said the cardinal. “Granduncle Brokenfoot must be elected Lord of the Three Hordes, and become the successor of the War Sharf Høngan Ös.”  He looked quickly at Blacktooth. “This is something else you must forget you heard, Nimmy.”

“I shall obey, m’Lord.”

For Blacktooth, things were falling into place. There had been no Lord of the Three Hordes since the War Sharf Høngan Ös had led his people to defeat against Hannegan the Conqueror seven decades ago, and been sacrificed by his own shamans. The Jackrabbit Horde had been completely subdued, as well as a few tribes, including Blacktooth’s, of the Grasshopper Horde, and the descendants of these either lived within the Empire as small ranchers, or on the Denver Freestate farmlands. Without the participation of electors from the Jackrabbit Horde, the military and priestly office of the kingship could not be filled. The Hannegans had prevented this from happening. Blacktooth thought of his crazy dream in which he had been Pilate crucifying would-be kings of the Nomads. He believed in the meaningfulness of dreams; such was his Nomad heritage.

Now there were stirrings of rebellion from the conquered peoples, for whom the free Nomads had in Blacktooth’s childhood years displayed only contempt. Chür Ösle Høngan, then, was a relative of Høngan Ös, and his motherline was qualified for the high kingship. Brownpony was involved (meddling?) in Nomad politics, which was the same as Nomad religion, for only the shaman class could be electors. The thought came to him now that the cardinal, the elderly priest, and the Nomad with royal family connections in the Wilddog Horde might have stopped to confer with Jackrabbit shamans before they visited Leibowitz Abbey. Several half-overheard conversations during the journey supported the idea.

He was ordered to silence, and he meant to obey. But to regard it as a matter of no concern to him would be to turn his back on his late parents and their heritage. He was grateful for Chür Høngan’s kindness toward him. One day it might be possible to become proud of his heritage, if pride were not one of the deadly sins his faith warned him against. If the two northern Hordes, the Wilddog and the unvanquished tribes of the Grasshopper, stopped showing contempt for the conquered tribes, Jackrabbit and Grasshopper, he might be able to hold his head up in the world. But he knew the Jackrabbit Horde and his own exiled people must again assert themselves before that could happen. He knew he would be glad to help if he could.

Blacktooth saw her the following morning. She was a young girl, much like Ædrea but beyond Ædrea in beauty. Naked, she stood under a ledge washing herself and dancing in a little waterfall made of new-melted ice. A stone’s throw away, she looked once at Blacktooth, who stopped and stood frozen, his scalp crawling. Her eyes left him to follow Holy Madness, himself unseeing, who rode the cardinal’s stallion. They followed him until a big wad of loose wet snow fell over the ledge and made her dart back out of sight. Seconds later a delicate white mare galloped out from under the ledge and disappeared into a thicket of snow-dripping spruce. Blacktooth shook his head. The altitude made one quite dizzy.

Later, when the Nomad stopped and waited for all to catch up, Blacktooth walked past him and said, “I saw her this morning myself. As Fujæ Go, the Day Maiden.”

“Was she young?” Chür Høngan asked.

“Very young, and beautiful.”

“Whoever he was yesterday, today he’s dead,” said the warrior. “She wants a new husband.”

“She was looking at you. Or the cardinal’s horse.”

Høngan frowned, shook his head, and laughed. “The horse. They say she copulates with stallions when there is no Lord of the Hordes. It’s this thin air, Nimmy. Works on both of us.”

Blacktooth continued to walk while the carriage caught up with the waiting Nomad. There was a trade-off somewhere behind him, and the same horse came back with a different rider.

“Why don’t you ride beside the Axe?” asked the cardinal, for the first time referring to Wooshin by that name.

“Because I have a boil on my behind, Your Eminence, but also because I need to walk.” Blacktooth had smoked some of the strong medicinal stuff the Nomad had brought down from Nebraska, and he was feeling more loquacious and less self-conscious than was his wont. Also, he had lost his fear of Brownpony, and begun to like the man.

“What’s this I hear about you and the Wild Horse Woman, Nimmy? Do you change religions often?”

“I hope, m’Lord, that my religion of today is always just a little improved over my religion of yesterday, and a vision of a maiden in an icy waterfall does wonders for my religion of today, although tomorrow I might question the vision’s reality. But did I say she was the Høngin Fujæ Vurn?”

Brownpony laughed. “You feel, then, that reality and religion might or might not have something to do with each other at this altitude?”

“At this altitude, yes and no, m’Lord.”

“Keep me informed if she turns up again,” Brownpony said lightly, and trotted on ahead.

It was a time of visions. Blacktooth had heard of miracles in the mountains, magic on the plains, and chariots in the sky. The Virgin was appearing simultaneously to small groups of her elect in three different locations on the continent. Furthermore, what her apparition said in the west, her voice in the east put to a severe test. It was almost as if she was arguing with herself. This, perhaps, was the best proof of her divinity, for in divinity opposites are always reconciled. Nunshån and Fujæ  Go, Night Hag and Day Maiden, aspects of the Høngin Fujæ Vurn. There was a third aspect; at appropriate times, she became the War Buzzard, presiding over the field of battle, the feeding ground.

It’s just the thin air, Blacktooth told himself. But why not a Wild Horse Woman? He had seen her on horseback when he was a child. He had seen her this morning under the waterfall, and she was the same young woman. The women of the Hordes own the breeding mares, and pass them to their daughters. Nomad women are wonderful breeders of horses. And no warrior rides a mare into battle. To ride a mare is to advertise one’s unreadiness to fight. So Cardinal Brownpony’s stallion is both a mount and a statement. Wild horses are forbidden, except to her betrothed, because they are hers. She is a natural projection of Nomad culture onto the Nomad consensual world, but to admit this is not to say she is wholly unreal. Christians make similar projections; so many apparitions of the Virgin! And she is an arbiter of power on the Plains; by choosing a husband, she chooses a king. It amused him to imagine her choosing a pope.

Blacktooth’s departure from the abbey had not gained him a freedom to think for himself—he had always had that. But now he didn’t have to feel guilty about it. His own religious practice was necessarily suffering because of the journey, and because of his sins, but he tried as often as he could to spend an hour silently reciting Saint Leibowitz’s Grocery List while he rode or lay awake at night: Can kraut, six bagels, bring home for Emma. Amen. Short and sweet, it kept the mind from wandering toward Ædrea. He greatly preferred it to the Maxwell’s Laws Memorabilium that had so confused Torrildo, and perhaps contributed to his delinquency.

But his anger at himself about Ædrea and his feelings kept seeking an outlet. When they camped that evening, the Axe as always asked, “You ready die now?” Blacktooth, without a negative comment, immediately kicked at the Axe’s crotch. The headsman dodged, but the blow glanced off his hip; he laughed with delight. “You very mean man tonight,” he said, and allowed Blacktooth to attack thrice more before he threw him on his face in the melting snow. It was the first time the student had ever touched the teacher, and Wooshin embraced him after helping him to his feet.

This time you ready die, yes?” That was the second night. They were gathering speed as they rode northward and downward. On the fourth night, a messenger with a lantern and a bodyguard trotting along behind delivered the news to Elia Cardinal Brownpony: the Pope was dead. He and the soldier stopped for refreshments with them, then continued southward with a summons for Abbot Jarad and other cardinals across the Brave River. More such messengers would be fanning out from Valana by all roads with the same summons for all cardinal bishops, cardinal priests, cardinal deacons, cardinal abbots and cardinal abbess (1), cardinal nephews and cronies across the continent, while the city of Valana prepared for another conclave.

That night the cardinal huddled in conference with the Nomad and the chaplain, while Blacktooth and the Axe sparred farther away from the fires. On the morrow, they availed themselves of the public baths in Pobla, the first real town they had visited. Father e’Laiden shaved his beard and was seen no more with the rest of them, although Blacktooth caught sight of him later in the company of a fair-haired man in Nomad clothing and with Nomad weapons but with manners that did not come from the Plains. Out of Pobla, Holy Madness rode eastward toward the Plains. Hence too, half an hour later, his Chaplain e’Laiden followed him, accompanied by the blond, urbane young warrior.

Brownpony hired a local driver and proceeded toward Valana with his new servants, a regular headsman and an irregular monk.

Blacktooth had been nursing an unasked question for a long time. Guilt from his encounter with Ædrea made him hesitate, but now he asked it. “M’Lord, back at Arch Hollow, when they were about to rob us, why did you expect the girl to recognize you?”

Brownpony frowned for a moment, then answered easily: “Oh, my office has had some dealings with a group of armed gennies in that general area. I assumed they were a member of the group. Apparently, I was wrong.”

Blacktooth remained curious. Wooshin and Høngan had done quite a bit of exploring in the area, but had spoken only to the cardinal about what they found. He resolved to question Brother Axe.

By early afternoon, they were passing along muddy lanes full of dogs and children through brick and stone villages with log roofs with chimneys belching smoke. There was the sound of the smithy’s forge and women’s voices haggling with vendors over the price of potatoes and goat meat. These villages were now precincts of Valana, surrounding it, having grown up during the schism and the exile, brought by and bringing new commerce and industry to the foot of the mountains whose peaks Blacktooth had seen from the distance in his youth.

But they were too close now to see the peaks, and there was only the hulking presence of the massif to the west. It was all new and dirty, and bewildering to the monk who, although he had spent the first fifteen years of his life within a few days’ ride of this place, had never been inside a city. And the city began to loom up around them as the cardinal’s coach moved deeper into the more heavily populated area, where most of the buildings were, like the abbey, two and even three stories high. And all of it was dominated by the central fortified hill, looming ahead, the hill whose walls enclosed the Holy See, and from which rose the spires of the Cathedral of Saint John-in-Exile, where the vicar of Christ on Earth offered Mass to the Father. Blacktooth was in a daze and barely heard the cardinal, who turned to address him.

“Pardon, m’Lord?”

“Did you know that the plaza in front of Saint John’s is paved with cobblestones brought here all the way across the Plains from New Rome?”

“I had been told, m’Lord, that the area around the Cathedral is New Roman territory. But all of the stones?”

“Well, not all, but Saint John-in-Exile stands on New Roman soil. Imported. That’s why the natives here contend there is no need to go back. In fact, they remind everyone that New Rome itself was built on imported soil.”

“From across the sea?”

“So the story goes.”

“The Venerable Boedullus thought otherwise.”

“Yes, I know. The theory of a schism at the time of the catastrophe. Who knows? How did it happen that Latin came back into use after it was abandoned?”

“That, m’Lord, was during the Simplification, according to Boedullus. The book burners did not destroy religious works. One way of saving precious material from the simpletons was to translate it into Latin and decorate it like a Bible, even if it was a textbook. It was also useful as a secret language….”

“Now, that building ahead of us is the Secretariat,” the cardinal interrupted. “That is where you and perhaps Wooshin will work from time to time. But first, we must find quarters for both of you.”

He leaned forward and spoke to the driver. Moments later, they turned off the stone-paved thoroughfare and onto another muddy side street overarched by branches that were beginning to bud. It was not long until Holy Week, and time to begin choosing a pope.

CHAPTER 7

Now the sacred number of seven will be

fulfilled by us if we perform the Offices

of our service at the time of the Morning Office,

of Prime, of Terce, of Sext, of None, of Vespers

and of Compline, since it was of these day Hours

that he said, “Seven times in the day I have

rendered praise to You.” For as to the Night Office

the same Prophet says, “In the middle

of the night I arose to glorify you.” Let us

therefore bring our tribute of praise to

our Creator “for the judgments of His

justice” at these times and in the

night let us arise to glorify Him.

Saint Benedict’s Rule, Chapter 16

THE WARM CHINOOK FROM THE MOUNTAINS HAD breathed on the snow, and the snow vanished. Chür Høngan skirted the poor farming communities along the bed of the Kensau River as he rode toward the northeast. In Pobla, he had armed himself with a heavy shortbow and quiver of arrows. The cardinal had given him his double-barreled handgun and bought him an unshod stallion from a Nomad trader, but he wanted to avoid trouble with Blacktooth’s people, who in season tilled the irrigated plots of potatoes, corn, wheat, and sunflowers, and who dwelled in fortified lodges of stone and sod and worked the land for its owners, among whom was the Bishop of Denver. They might mistake him for a Nomad outlaw like the ones who had visited Arch Hollow. The soil was poor here, but careful farming had enriched it. Now it was almost planting time and there were men and mules in the fields, so he avoided the rutted roads and kept to the high ground, while leaving a   trail that Father Ombroz e’Laiden and the Texark turncoat could easily follow.

There were always Texark agents traveling back and forth from the telegraph terminal southeast of Pobla, so Høngan rode alone until he was well into the short grass of Wilddog cattle country before he stopped to wait for the others. He waited in a draw, concealing his horse and himself some distance from the trail he had left until he heard them passing to the north. Still, he waited. When their voices died away, he left his horse, climbed out of the draw, and listened carefully to the wind from the southwest. He put his ear to the ground briefly, then arose and crept into the space between two boulders where he could not be seen except from the trail directly below. There were distant voices.

“Three horses have come this way, obviously.”

“But not necessarily together. Only one horse is shod.”

“That would be Captain Loyte’s.”

“Hereafter, do not call the renegade ‘Captain’! He sold his rank and honor for the cunt of a Nomad spy.”

The voices were Ol’zark. Høngan nocked an arrow and drew his bow. The first rider appeared, and fell from his horse with the arrow through his throat. Høngan leaped forth and shot the second rider while he was lifting his musket. With the second barrel, he exchanged shots with the third rider, but both men missed. The survivor turned and fled. This war between Nomad and Empire was more than seventy years old, but such battles were few and fought only when the imperial forces invaded the lands of the Mare.

Holy Madness reloaded the pistol and finished the job of killing the wounded, then went for his own mount and captured the other two horses. After searching the saddlebags and finding the proof he needed that the riders were agents, he released the animals and came back to search the bodies for more papers. He stared angrily at the tracks of the turncoat’s horse. Knowing the destination, he had previously not noticed the hoofprints because he had not been tracking.

Mounting again, he rode on with a warm wind still at his back in pursuit of the priest and his guest. His own war with Texark had begun long ago and would never end. This he had sworn in the name of hisancestor, Mad Bear, calling to witness Empty Sky and the Holy Virgin.  He followed the tracks through the afternoon and afterward by twilight. There would be no moon until morning. He ate a little jerky, and without building a fire prepared to spend the night listening to the howls and barks of the wilddogs which simpletons called wolves and greatly feared. After he had staked his horse and unfurled his bedroll, Høngan slowly walked a protective circle around the area at a distance of five or six paces and marked his sleeping territory with a trickle of his own urine every few steps. With his sleeping area thus protected, the animals would not usually molest a human sleeper unless they smelled blood or sickness about him. Only once during the night did he sense prowlers. Bursting from his blankets, he leaped to his feet and let out a roar of mock rage. There was a chorus of yelps, and several dark shapes fled by starlight from the downwind border of his realm. Having bellowed the sleep out of his head, he lay with sad thoughts about the corpses he had made that day.

Chür Høngan had killed his first man at twelve, a Texark border patrolman. Ombroz had absolved the boy at the time as he would have absolved any soldier in war, because the trooper had been on the wrong side of the river, in military uniform, and without a traveler’s flag as required by the Treaty of the Sacred Mare. As far as the Wild-dog was concerned—and the priest honored the sense of the horde— no treaty later than Sacred Mare had ever been signed with any secular powers including Texark, and the war against Texark had never become peace, it just had slowed down until it mostly stopped happening; it almost stopped because the only frontier across which the Wilddog faced the Empire was the Nady Ann River to the south, beyond which lay the occupied Jackrabbit country. There might be a time to fight there, but not until the Jackrabbit fought too. To the east, in the tall-grass country, the Grasshopper engaged the enemy when it saw fit, but it asked no help from the Wilddog while there was no Lord of the Three Hordes.

Ombroz had easily absolved him of that early killing, but gave him pure hell for honoring ancient custom as well. The boy had cut off the cavalryman’s earlobe and ate it as an honor to the slain enemy, as his Bear Spirit uncle had explained was proper. The priest called it something else. He made the boy meditate for an hour a day on the meaning of the Eucharist, and put him through parts of catechism again before he would give him communion. Høngan remembered it in the night with a grin. He never told the priest that while he was eating the earlobe he was crying for his victim. About the men he had just killed today, he could not see what Wooshin had tried to teach him to see. Something about emptiness. The Axe tried and failed to relate it to the Nomad’s Empty Sky. Something about emptiness becoming man. Or was that Christianity mixing in? There were too many ways of looking at things. A century ago, for his great-grand uncles, there had been only the one way. Høngan thought that old way might be a little like Wooshin’s way, but with more feeling and vision. The right way, his own way, was not clear to Høngan, not quite yet.

Before dawn he shook the frost from his blankets and rode on by the faint light of an old crescent moon in the east. Knowing the route the priest would take, he did not need to see their tracks to follow, and within two hours he had found them. Ombroz had rekindled their dung fire and they were drinking hot tea and eating jerky at sunrise. The chaplain hailed him, and the turncoat to whom he had not yet been introduced arose expectantly, but the Nomad went straight to their hobbled horses. He petted one of them, spoke to it gently, then cut the hobbling cord and lifted a front hoof to inspect it. Then he turned to confront them.

“Father, you’ve brought a spy among us!”

“What are you talking about, my son? This is Captain Esitt Loyte, the one Cardinal Brownpony suggested. He is married to a granddaughter of Wetok Enar, your own kin.”

“I don’t care if he married the granddaughter of the devil’s clan. He’s riding a shod horse to let them know he’s here.”

The priest frowned at the former trooper, then arose to stare toward the west.

“Don’t worry, Father. I killed two of them, and the other fled. Here are the papers.” He faced Loyte and drew his gun. The stranger spat in the fire, and said, “You might look at both sides of the horse. But thank you, if you killed my assassins.”

Høngan aimed at his abdomen. “Your assassin is right here.”

“Wait, Bearcub,” barked the priest. “Do as he says. Look at the brand.”

Reluctantly, he lowered the pistol and inspected the stranger’s mount again. “One of Grandmother Wetok’s horses,” he said in surprise. “And you had it shod in Pobla? You damn fool!”

“If they were out to kill me, why should I leave tracks for them?” Esitt Loyte began to explain, but Høngan ignored him, took tools from his bag, and began prying a shoe from a forehoof. “Give me a hand here,” he said to Ombroz.

Soon the nails were pulled and the task was done. He put the horseshoes  in  his  saddlebag.  “We’ll  have  to  show them  to  your mother-in-law,” he said to the stranger.

Imeant no…”

“Bearcub, he’s an expert in Texark cavalry tactics, and he knows their war plans. They came to kill him.”

“But now he’s useless to us, because they know he’s here.”

“From the tracks of one shod horse? It might be anybody. It might be a Churchman. It might be a trader.”

“Traitor, you mean. Before they died, they spoke his name.”

“Well, it’s done now, and the trail ends here. Loyte is right. They came to kill him. At least they must think he’s useful to us, even if you don’t.” He turned to the young former officer. “Why did you have the pony shod?”

“Before I rode into the mountains, I talked to the liveryman in Pobla and he recommended it. And I have always ridden a shod horse. It’s cavalry—”

“The trail ends here,” the priest repeated. “Bearcub, there’s nothing to worry about.”

“Mount up,” said the Nomad, and pointed toward the horizon. “Look at the dust. There’s a migration trail just to the east of us. The herds are moving north. We’ll wait there until drovers come. Then we’ll ride ahead of their cattle for a few hours, and our tracks will vanish.”

“If we do that,” Loyte protested, “we won’t be home before dark.”

“Home?” snorted Høngan.

“The hogans of his wife and her grandmother,” Ombroz said firmly. “But I agree, we’d better do as you say.”

It was midafternoon before Holy Madness was satisfied that the woolly Nomad cattle that were following them in the distant cloud of dust would erase their tracks. They changed direction then, left the cattle trail, and resumed a northeastward course.

Ombroz was still trying to make peace. “If the cardinal’s plan succeeds,” he said, “the Hannegan will have to stop these incursions into Wilddog and Grasshopper lands, at least for many years. The hordes by then will be stronger under a single king.”

Høngan was silent for a time. They both knew that the Grasshopper lands, the tall-grass prairie lands, lying to the east, would bear the brunt of any invasion. Those of Blacktooth’s people who had remained herdsmen there had become the most warlike of the hordes, because they had to be. They faced Hannegan’s armies, and the slow encroachment of farmers onto the more arable eastern fringe. And yet the Wilddog was closest to the Church in Valana, and to possible allies beyond the mountains. There was friction between the hordes, made worse by Nomadic outlaws who had departed from the matrilineal system and attracted young runaways from the conquered Jackrabbit south of the Nady Ann.

“There is the more immediate problem of paying for the goods,” Høngan said to the priest at last.

“Don’t worry about that,” put in the trooper. “His Eminence controls considerable wealth.”

“Yes, the Half-Breed owns many cattle,” said Høngan acidly.

“There are other forms of wealth than cattle,” said Captain Loyte, “and how dare you call him ‘Half-Breed,’ anyway? Aren’t you a Christian, after all?”

The priest laughed. “Go easy, Loyte, my son. The Bearcub is just practicing his tribal accent, so to speak. After all, how would ‘The Most Eminent Lord Elia Cardinal Brownpony, Deacon of Saint Masie’s’ sound in the mouth of the son of Granduncle Brokenfoot, Lord of the Three Hordes.”

“My father is lord of nothing, yet,” Chür Høngan grumbled, his sour mood persisting.

“See how churlish he turns as he gets closer to home?” said Ombroz.

“Not only is he lord of nothing,” Holy Madness went on, “I’m only his son, not his nephew.”

“You know that makes no difference,” said the priest. “In no way can that old office be inherited, in the motherline or otherwise. The old women have their eye on you, Holy Madness. When the old women look for the Qæsach dri Vørdar, they look for a magical leader, not a somebody’s nephew or son.”

“I don’t like this talk, teacher,” said Høngan. “I love and respect my father. Talk of inheritance is talk of death. And there hasn’t been a Qæsach Vørdar since Mad Bear. After seventy years, who knows how these modern women will think.”

Ombroz chuckled at the word “modern.”

“Granduncle Brokenfoot is going to live a long time,” said the former Texark officer. “I saw him only three months ago when he came to visit my brothers-in-law.”

“The turncoat has a degree in medicine too,” said the Nomad.

The officer shot him a resentful look. “Wasn’t it Magic Madman here who claimed he saw the Night Hag, Father?”

“Damn it, old priest! Did you have to tell him that?”

Father Ombroz glanced quickly at both of them. “Stop spoiling for a quarrel, you two. Or else give me your weapons, and get off your horses and fight. Right here, right now.”

“Trial by combat?” Høngan snickered. “Yes, Blacktooth told me the Church used to do that. Why didn’t you teach me that, Father? You neglected the part of the catechism about the Lord of Armies, but here you are now inviting us to submit to the judgment of God in a fistfight? And I was not looking for one. I just wanted to know, of our Texark adviser here, what other kind of wealth does the Half-Breed have besides cattle? If the turncoat says there is such a thing.”

“God damn your mouth!” said the officer, and shifted his weight hard to the left stirrup, causing his horse to stop.

Chür Høngan looked at him for a moment, shrugged, and dismounted. Ombroz spoke quickly. “1 have to warn you, Captain, Holy Madness has been practicing combat with an expert—a former headsman to the Hannegan. You may know of him.”

“Do you mean that yellow-skinned genny? Woo Shin? Listen, if you fear traitors, fear him. I wouldn’t wonder if Filpeo Harq didn’t send him to kill the cardinal. He has a cadre of hired assassins, you know. They are all clever infiltrators.”

“The Axe is not a genny, you citizen,” said the Nomad, using the word “citizen” as an insult. “Where he comes from, you look like a genny. And he hates Filpeo Harq almost as much as I hate him, city boy.”

“Bearcub, why do you do that? Captain Loyte’s on our side. He knows his business. Try not to be an asshole, my son.”

“All right, tell the bastard to stop patronizing me.” Høngan turned to remount. Loyte was not appeased, and struck him across the back with his riding whip.

Høngan whirled, grabbed the wrist that came toward him with the whip a second time, and kicked the captain in the stomach with his pointed boot.

For some minutes of semi-consciousness, it appeared that the blow might be fatal. But the priest at last revived him, and insisted that they spend the night on the spot to let Loyte recover. Ombroz prayed at them lengthily and angrily, praising God’s mercy for allowing them an undeserved time to repent. Høngan groaned at him sleepily. Loyte whimpered and swore. On the following day, Chür Høngan pulled the officer out of his blanket by the front of his jacket and dragged him to his feet. “Now listen well, pigfucker. If you’re a captain in our army, I’m your colonel. You say ‘sir’ and salute.”

He pushed the former trooper down on his rump; the jolt brought forth a yelp of pain as Loyte grabbed his stomach again.

“No, you listen to me!” Ombroz grabbed his bearcub by the arm and pulled him quickly out of earshot. “I’ve never seen you this brutal! Why? Establishing your seniority is one thing, but you may have ruptured his gut. You’ve made an enemy for life out of pure bad temper.”

“No, I haven’t.  He’s already everybody’s enemy. A criminal to his own tribe is no friend to any man. He is what he is, and he must know his place.”

“You don’t mean that. His place is the same as yours, before God.”

“Before God, of course. But his place in the ranks of a fighting force under a war sharf is what concerns me, and he has to know that his rank is low. He cannot be trusted.”

“You know this because of your great insight into character,” Ombroz said ironically. “Greater insight than that of the cardinal, who recommended him to us in the first place. I believe him when he says the agents that followed were sent not just to track him, but to kill him. And in any case, he would be living with the Wetok clan, whether he rode with us or not. They have accepted him. He wintered with them.”

“Have you seen me quarrel with anybody else lately?”

“No, Holy Madness. And I hope you’re wrong about this man. He knows too much about us for you to drive him away.”

“No danger. He has nowhere to go. We leave him with his wife’s people, no matter what the eminent cardinal said. I still want to know how he knows that Brownpony can find his part of the price of the weapons which he promised. And where do the weapons come from?”

“Elia worked hard for Pope Linus, Bearcub, and Pope Linus rewarded him well. I know that Elia owns estates on the west coast, and up in the Oregon country, but he may not need to use his own wealth. Trust him. If you pay the traders sixhundred cattle, the cardinal will arrange for somebody to pay the other two-thirds of the price. As the most powerful state on the continent, Texark has many enemies and few allies. Many of those enemies would be glad to help arm the hordes. You are being ungrateful.”

“Not at all. I like Brownpony. I know it’s his influence more than his wealth that matters. And I trust his best intentions. That doesn’t mean I trust the outcome of his intentions. If he’s wealthy, fine. But how does Loyte know?”

“He probably doesn’t. He was patronizing you. Nomad or citizen, each feels superior to the other. Nomas et civis—it’s a story old as Genesis. But as for the money, there are states west of the divide which would like to see the Hannegans’ empire stop where it is, or be driven back eastward. There is too much talk in Texark about uniting the continent, and their embassies report this talk home. One or more of them may be giving you the weapons for nothing.”

“Six hundred cattle are not nothing.”

“They are next to nothing. Cardinal Brownpony told me the real price of the merchandise. It’s more like six thousand cattle.”

“If we get the weapons at all. If the traders don’t deliver defective junk.”

“What puts you in this awful mood, Holy Madness? I half-expected you to call Loyte a grass-eater.”

Høngan laughed. “In my mother’s house, that word is still used. So at home, I might use it on him.”

“You know, you have a certain political ugliness about you, Holy Madness, that you did not learn from me.”

“Oh, but I did!”

“No, you didn’t!”

“Are you going to try to whip me too, O Teacher?”

“I have done that.”

“When I was ten and you were younger. You taught me not to hit clergy, but you’re not—” The Nomad stopped. He saw the change in Ombroz’s face, shook his head, sorry, and walked back to his horse.

By the time they had made camp for a second night under the stars, they met a messenger from the Wilddog Horde’s royal tribe. He was riding south with bad news. Granduncle Brokenfoot had suffered a stroke, had lost the use of his left leg, and was composing his death song. It was therefore deemed wise for the grandmothers and shamans to begin considering other candidates for the ancient office of the one Qæsach dri Vørdar.

The following day, they arrived at the hogans of Grandmother Wetok Enar’s clan. The old woman was weak and ailing, so it was Loyte’s wife Potear Wetok who, unaccompanied by her grandmother, bade them welcome. Her husband dismounted and went to embrace her, but she pushed him away; his “learning about our horses,” the Nomad euphemism for the breaking in of a new groom by the mothers of his new family, was not yet finished. She bowed to Father Ombroz and Chür Høngan, and invited them into the hogan of her grandmother. Out of politeness, they followed her, although both were in haste to return to Høngan’s family.

“Chür , have you heard the bad news?” asked the lovely granddaughter. “I hope I’m not the one who has to tell you.”

“We met a messenger. I know about my father.” He handed her a leather pouch containing the horseshoes. “Your husband will explain these, but later.” She looked at the pouch curiously, but left it inside the door-flap unopened as she ushered them into the hogan.

The old woman sat in a leather slingchair hung between two posts sunk in the hard dirt floor. She tried to rise, but Høngan waved her back. Nevertheless, she signed her respect for Høngan and Ombroz by making the kokai, striking her forehead with her knuckles, and bowing her head while placing her hand against her scalp palm out ward toward each of them. This politeness seemed excessive, and she did not repeat it toward Esitt Loyte. Her son-in-law she ignored; whether this was normal groom-hazing (“teaching him about our horses”) or real contempt was hard to say.

“What the Night Hag has foolishly done to your father grieves me greatly, Høngan Ösle Chür .” The utterance was fraught with portent. Ombroz noticed that Høngan was actually fidgeting before her. To attribute Brokenfoot’s illness to the Night Hag and call it foolish meant that he had been this Weejus woman’s choice for Qæsach Vørdar, and her reversal of Chür ’s name, with the matronymic placed last, meant that the rank of Brokenfoot’s son had risen in her eyes, for whatever reason. But Høngan Ösle was a diminutive for the historical Høngan Os, who lost a war and half of his people to Hannegan II.

“Will you drink blood with us tonight?” the old woman asked. “We celebrate the birth of twin colts by Potear’s best mare. And they are healthy, too—a rare and wonderful event.”

“Toast the Virgin for us, Grandmother,” said Father Ombroz. “My apologies for the haste, but Granduncle Brokenfoot needs us.”

“Yes, he will want to see his son, and from you he will want last anointing. Go then with Christ and the Lady.”

The two of them rode on, leaving Esitt Loyte behind with his bride and in-laws.

“The captain still has much to learn about the Wetok horses,” Ombroz said wryly when they were out of earshot.

Høngan laughed. “He will learn quite a bit in a hurry when Potear shows that old Weejus the horseshoes.”

The mountains had all but disappeared in a dust haze to the west when Holy Madness suddenly announced that Brokenfoot had become irascible in his illness, and that his old wife had found it necessary to appoint another as temporary head of the family.

“How do you know this?” the priest scoffed. “A vision?”

“That vision.” Høngan pointed toward the east. Carefully he raised himself in the saddle, and soon was standing on the back of his horse.

“My old eyes can’t see anything but emptiness. What is it?”       

“There is someone there, I think my uncle. It’s miles away, still!

He moves its arms and dances a message. They see our dust.”

“Ah, the Nomad semaphore language. I should have learned it when I was younger.  It always amazes me.”

“It gives us an advantage over their Texark warriors.”

•      •      •

When the hogans of the Little Bear clan hove into view on the horizon, a small cloud of dust appeared and soon a rider approached them. It was Brokenfoot’s wife’s brother, Red Buzzard, who was the nominal leader of the clan, who nevertheless deferred to his sister’s husband because she willed it so. Now during the husband’s illness, the brother resumed his rightful role. He was a thin, serious man, nearly sixty, with livid patches of skin which might have marked him as a genny except among the Nomads, where the cosmetic defect was highly regarded as a mark of Empty Sky. He spoke seriously to Holy Madness about Brokenfoot’s condition, which was disabling but apparently not getting worse at the moment.

“Some of our drovers are already back from the south,” Red Buzzard said to Ombroz, “including our Bear Spirit men. They are with him now, Father. But of course he wants to see you.”

Ombroz started to tell him about the Pope, but Red Buzzard already knew. Even in Cardinal Brownpony’s absence from Valana, his Secretariat was constantly sending and receiving messengers from the people of the Plains. When they came to the Little Bear village, the children and younger women came out to greet and be hugged by Høngan and their priest.

“Will you stay with us after you see your father?” asked his mother. “Or must you ride on to Grasshopper country?”

Holy Madness hesitated. He had not told her before. “I think Kuhaly has divorced me.” He glanced at Ombroz, who had married them, but the priest was looking away. “She said she would send for me if she wants me. Even if she does, I may not go.”

His mother’s face melted. “They blame you for having no daughters?”

“Perhaps. Also for being away too much of the time. Her brothers complain. I’ve done too little for the family. They say I am too attached to you. You know the word for that.”

“I was afraid it would be so when you married Grasshopper. Our drovers told us they had to fight Grasshopper drovers again this winter, to get pasturage.”

“Anyone killed?”

“Among ours, only wounded. Among theirs, I don’t know. It was an exchange of shots and arrows. Now, come and see your father.”

The Little Bear family shamans left the hogan while Father Ombroz administered the last anointing to his oldest convert. The priest knew they were embarrassed that some of their practices could not be reconciled with the religion he taught, and that they had accepted baptism themselves because Brokenfoot wished it so. When the old man died, their embarrassment (and envy?) might turn into hostility.

But the whole family knew that when he, Ombroz, had been forced to choose between them and his Order, when a new superior general of that Order, nominated by Archbishop Benefez, and therefore by Filpeo Harq, had called him back to New Rome, he had refused to go. He had been expelled and placed under interdict—measures which he ignored. Still, the punishment hurt him more than he cared to admit. He knew the Weejus women would be his allies in any quarrel with the Bear Spirit shamans, but he wanted to avoid the quarrel, and so far, so did they. Under his teaching, most of this Nomad family had become Christians, while he himself over the years had become a Nomad.

Ombroz was not the first teacher of the Order of Saint Ignatz to watch a favorite student whom he had taught to think for himself begin thinking otherwise than the priest had foreseen. That night he sighed heavily as he watched Chür Høngan dance the dance of the dying with the shamans in the dim and smoky light of the dung fire in front of Brokenfoot’s hogan.

The drums seemed to say: “Gruesome go, gruesome go, gruesome Mama go….”

The dance was to placate Black Wind, Empty Sky’s frightful counterpart, and to fend off the Night Hag. For a time he went wandering through the village, visiting similar fires and speaking to old “parishioners.” A minority were really Christian, but most he had baptized, and most accepted him as belonging to the shaman class. Among the unbaptized, his wisdom voice was still deemed worth hearing, when he sang in council.

Before the conquest, such villages had not existed. But more and more the Plains were dotted with hogans of stone and sod resembling those of the  farmers,  and located beside intermittent creeks and waterholes. Here the children and the elderly stayed for the winter, while the drovers moved their woolly cattle according to the seasons or best grazing and for protection from the worst of the howling blizzards which in the dead of winter swept down the Plains from the Arctic over the lands of the Great Mare and on into the conquered province which had belonged to the Jackrabbit Horde. Long ago the Jackrabbit had held the lightly forested land with deciduous trees to  the southeast, land now claimed by the Texark Imperium. The Jackrabbit had rented pasturage there, partially sheltered from the icy blasts, to the Grasshopper and the Wilddog in the winter months, and they were well paid for this in cattle and horses. As a consequence, the Jackrabbit people were the least migratory of the hordes even before the war; and only a minority fled from the south after the conquest to form the Jackrabbit diaspora in the poor farming regions, neighbors to   some of the impoverished ex-Grasshopper families who like Blacktooth’s had fled toward the mountains across the short-grass country of the Wilddog.

He could not get away from the drums. Now they seemed to say, “Freedom come, freedom come, freedom maiden come….”

After visiting nearly every dwelling, Father Ombroz went back to Brokenfoot’s hogan. He stood near the fire watching the dance for a time; then, after a pause to catch the beat, he laughed aloud and joined the dance himself, bringing an amused cheer from his Bearcub.

CHAPTER  8

The fifth degree of humility is that he

hide from his Abbot none of the evil

thoughts that enter his heart or the sins

committed in secret, but that he humbly

confess them.

Saint Benedict’s Rule, Chapter 7

THE SECRETARIAT OF EXTRAORDINARY Ecclesiastical Concerns  was located in one of the few remaining buildings near the center of the city which had been there before the Pope came west. A two-story building of stone with a basement, it had once been a military barracks for a few dozen sentries, and it stood alone amid spruce trees on an acre of land fifteen minutes’ walk from Saint John-in-Exile.

 Although  the monk and the old warrior spent the first night shivering in their blankets on cots in the Secretariat basement, within a day they were lodged with three seminary students named Aberlott, Jæsis, and Crumily in a small house Brownpony found for them near the western limit of the city. He had won the at-first-grudging consent of the students by paying half the rent on behalf of his servants, and by promisingthat they would share the housework and exercise no seniority over the much younger students, one of whom—Jæsis—was   ill. Aberlott was a chubby, good-natured clown from the northwest, whom Blacktooth immediately liked. Crumily was a long-faced Easterner, who seemed morose at first, but who proved to have a wry wit that usually twisted the tail of Aberlott’s jokes. The character of Jæsis was difficult to fathom because of his illness, but Aberlott called him a bit of a fanatic as a student for the priesthood, but did not dislike the boy, although he came from Hannegan City.

The house itself was adjacent to a brewery. A creek ran through the brewery and out behind the house. It came down the hill as pure mountain spring water in summer, but was now swollen by melted snow. Their outhouse and others in the vicinity were well above the level of the creek and probably drained into it during hard rains. Blacktooth had seen children drinking from the stream down at the ford, and he wondered about the illness of Jæsis, who, when he was not in bed, could be heard moaning in the outhouse. Blacktooth and Wooshin were to share a room in back, and come and go through a rear entrance, although they might use a common kitchen and share a space for study. So it was agreed. The newcomers had several days to inspect the city before going to work at the Secretariat.

They found the city itself rather filthy, except in local enclaves of power and wealth where street sweepers stayed busy and water arrived by aqueduct. Valana had grown up rapidly around an ancient hilltop fortress which had in earlier centuries been a bastion of defense by the mountain people against the more savage Nomads of an earlier age. Except for the ancient hilltop fortress itself, which now enclosed the center of a newer New Vatican, overshadowed in the afternoons by the spires and bell towers of the Cathedral of Saint John-in-Exile, the city was without walls. Before the exiled papacy had moved here, the city had become a sort of middle kingdom among the contiguous communities of the populated region, where merchants traded with miners for silver and pelts, with Nomads for hides and meat, and with farmers for wheat and corn. There had been two blacksmiths, a silversmith, two arrowsmiths, a fletcher, a miller, three merchants, one doctor of medicine, and one gunsmith, when the Pope had fled here from New Rome. Since then, the number of businesses had quadrupled, and there were now doctors, lawyers, and bankers. Half a dozen city governments in the region competed with Valana proper and each other for new business. It had been a growing economy, but with the coming of the head of the Church, the growth became explosive. Only one building in five was older than the beginning of the exile. Among them was the Secretariat building among the spruce trees, almost invisible from the road.

Blacktooth went to work almost immediately at the Secretaria  replacing a volunteer lay translator who spoke Nomadic better than Rockymount and who happened to be a Christian Wilddog cousin of Chür Høngan and was glad to be relieved of the job and returned to his family on the Plains. There were seventeen employees at the agency, counting a janitor, but not counting the messengers that kept coming and going between Brownpony and his many correspondents around the continent, some secret, some official. There were five translator-secretaries including Blacktooth, three copyists, three security-guard receptionists, and five men who worked in a part of the building sealed off from everyone else and accessible from the outside only through a locked iron gate and from the inside only by way of a corridor to the cardinal’s own office. Blacktooth was quick to realize that no one but the cardinal knew all the Secretariat’s purposes, and employees were isolated from each other as much as possible.

Blacktooth inherited the office space of his Nomad predecessor, which was adjacent to Brownpony’s office because the man had needed more careful supervision than others. However secretive the cardinal might be with his own employees, he was forced to confide in a nun named Sister Julian from the Secretariat of State, who was there to keep a close eye on those “extraordinary concerns” which also might affect the official diplomatic relations of the Valanan papacy. She seemed to have a certain nay-saying power, and she treated Blacktooth and Brownpony’s other people with suspicion and an attitude of superiority, although she seemed to be on good enough terms with the master. She was, however, apparently not entitled to know what went on in the sealed-off part of the building, and was denied entry there.

There was a confluence of cardinals now, continually arriving for the impending conclave. As soon as they found quarters, they changed their garments from red to the purple of mourning for the dead Pope. Anyway, purple was the color of penance, appropriate for Lent, now drawing to a close. After the period of mourning was finished, the color would change to saffron. They would not again wear cardinal red until the election of a pope.

One of the first cardinals to arrive in the city came from the most remote diocese of all Christendom, one who had, in fact, set out by sea to attend not this but the previous conclave which had elected the Bishop of Denver, now deceased. His name was Cardinal Ri, Archbishop of Hong, and he had sailed across the Pacific with a wife and two lovely younger women said by some to be his concubines. These were looked upon with horror by the local Society of Purity, but the police were warned by the Cardinal High Chamberlain and former Secretary of  State, Hilan Bleze, to keep such people from harassing the strange foreign archbishop, the existence of whose diocese had been unknown for centuries, until just three decades ago when a voyage of discovery had found Christian communities in islands far to the west. Pope Linus had been so delighted to learn there were still Oriental Christians that he made Bishop Ri a cardinal before fully investigating the traditions of his Church. The Axe now too was delighted to learn of Cardinal Ri, for other reasons, and set out immediately to meet some of his staff. He returned to relate that it was possible for him to communicate with them, barely, in his native tongue, so similar were the two dialects of an ancient language. He was also impressed by the advanced weaponry of Ri’s guards; when the Axe told Brownpony about the arms, the cardinal paid Ri a visit. He apparently asked that these weapons be kept out of sight, for the guards thereafter carried conventional cavalry pistols.

Wooshin made haste to explain to Blacktooth that the apparent concubines were nominal wives, extrasacramental, and that Ri kept them because it was expected of a man of the archbishop’s rank in the society of his home island. Nevertheless, they apparently all bedded down together at times, according to the staff. While they were indeed looked upon with horror by the cardinals of the Society, there was hardly any conclavist who was not looked upon with horror by somebody. Cardinal Ri was very rich, but of course he had brought no more wealth with him than six soldiers could guard with their lives during the voyage, and he needed credit to keep his family and retinue living in comfort. Most merchants in Valana extended him credit, since Brownpony vouched for him orally (but declined to cosign his notes).

Sorley Cardinal Nauwhat from Oregon, himself a candidate, greeted the Oriental prelate  most warmly,  and Emmery Cardinal Buldyrk, the Abbess of N’Ork, immediately befriended Ri’s extrasacramental wives and offered them the hospitality of her rented suite. This Ri reluctantly permitted, after he was told of the city’s attitude toward his extra women. He was somewhat ill anyway—his personal physician spoke of dragon’s breath from the mountains—and probably felt no need of his ladies. There were other married cardinals, of course, but most of them were laymen or deacons, and most left the wives at home.

Strangely, the most powerful prelate on the continent, Uno Cardinal Benefez, Archbishop of Texark, was late to come to the conclave, sending word by wire that he wished to celebrate Easter Mass in his own cathedral with his own people and his Hannegan.

•      •      •

Brownpony and his new servants had been in Valana for a week when Blacktooth decided to go to confession. The cardinal, always charitably helpful to the little monk in such personal matters in this strange city had gotten him an appointment with a priest whom he wanted Nimmy to meet.

The Reverend Amen Specklebird, O.D.D. (Ordo Dominae Desertarum), lived alone in what had once been a cave in the side of a hill. But somebody with rock-cutting tools had shaped the outer cavern, squared the tunnel, deepened it, filled the hole behind the living quarters with rubble and mortar, and added short walls of stone that protruded from the hill. Father Specklebird had partially reopened the hole where the cave narrowed. (It let the mountain spirits come and go through his kitchen, he explained.) A vaulted roof, also of stone, topped the walls that protruded from the hill so that the visible part of the dwelling reminded Blacktooth of the front of a Nomad hogan that had been half-swallowed by a mountain. Blacktooth learned that the wealthy owner of an ecclesiastical tailor shop had owned it a decade or more ago, and had used it as a root cellar until Cardinal Brownpony had bought it for Father Specklebird when the Bishop of Denver had forced the old priest’s retirement. Strangely, after Bishop Scullite had become Linus VII of recent memory, he had summoned Father Specklebird to his private quarters on several occasions. If rumors were true, Blacktooth might be about to confess to a confessor of the late Pope. Another rumor, which had been traced to a papal chambermaid, had it that Linus VII, on the brink of death, had named the old man cardinal in pectore, pending the next consistory, but no one could substantiate the servant’s tale.

The monk stood in the shadows under the trees, steeling himself to cross the trail and knock on the heavy pine door. A wisp of smoke arose from a chimney. Except for the light from fire that caused the smoke, it must be rather dark inside, for there were only two small windows, set high in the thick wall. Nimmy had been in a proper frame of mind and heart when he left the cottage, ready to make a good confession. But now that he was here, a kind of dread came over him.

He had left Leibowitz Abbey unshrived and stinking of guilt; moreover, on the trip to Valana from the desert he had done unspeakable deeds, and now he quaked at the prospect of confessing to a stranger, thing he had never before done. The sacrament of penance had always been administered to him by a priest of the Order, and usually once a week. There was only so much mischief a monk could accomplish in a week, even an unruly monk such as Blacktooth St. George.  Usually, it was a matter of whispering his self-accusations to his regular confessor, and hearing himself sentenced to, say, a few decades of the rosary, or at worst to make a public apology to a brother, or to flagellate himself three or five lashes with a not very painful piece of rope for solitary sins of impurity, resentful thoughts, and failures of charity or courage. Such penances always left him feeling cleansed and ready to receive the Holy Eucharist at Mass.

But now he had been sinning rather copiously for weeks on end, often neglecting his prayers, breaking his vows, and secretly disobeying his benefactor, the cardinal. It was to the cardinal, in fact, that he had mentioned his fear of confessing to a stranger; when the cardinal had suggested e’Laiden, and e’Laiden had declined, it was the cardinal again who had arranged for him to confess in Valana to a reputed holy man, none other than Amen Specklebird himself, whose name had been once or twice brought before a previous conclave as a candidate for the papacy! Blacktooth now wished he had never mentioned his problem to Brownpony. He would much rather confess anonymously to a faceless priest behind a grille at the seminary chapel than do it in the presence of a holy man, and he thought of sneaking away to do just that before the time came for his arranged interview. But Father Specklebird would ask how long since his last confession, as was customary, and would then realize that Blacktooth had circumvented him. Furthermore, he imagined, a seminary priest might be so horrified by what he heard that he would refuse to absolve him, and then he would have to tell Specklebird about that too. Even outside the abbey, being a Catholic was a very complicated business for a simple ex-Nomad recluse with little knowledge of the external world.

Suddenly the pine door was flung open, and an old black man with a cloud of white hair and great white eyebrows came out and walked straight toward him. His beard was white too, but close-cropped, as if he shaved it once a month or kept it trimmed with scissors. He wore a clean but ragged gray cassock, and sandals that appeared to be made of straw. He was gaunt, almost a skeleton with tight muscles strung along the bones, and hollow cheeks and hollow abdomen that hinted at much fasting. He walked with a lively limp, using a short cane heavy enough to be an effective club. When he came out the door, he was looking straight at Blacktooth in the shadows, and he came right toward him, wearing a thin smile and running his luminous gray-blue eyes over the small and timid figure beforehim.

“Deacon Brownpony has told me something about you, son. May I call you ‘Nimmy’? You have left the monastery for good, is that so? Why?”

“Well, I began to feel I was wearing cangue and chains, Father. But in the end, they threw me out.”

Amen Specklebird took his arm and led him across the trail toward his hermitage.

“And now you have lost your cangue and chains, yes?” They entered a room which with its bare stone walls reminded the monk of Leibowitz Abbey. There was a fire at one end and a private altar at the other.

Blacktooth thought about the priest’s question. “No. If anything, they fit tighter than ever, Father.”

“Who tightened them? Who chained you in the first place? Was it the abbot? Was it your brothers? Was it the Holy Church?”

“Of course not, Father! I know that I did it to myself.”

“Ahh.” He sat quietly. “And now you want to know how to free yourself?”

“‘Ye shall know the truth and…’” He shrugged. “One must know the truth to be free.”

“So. And what is the truth that you already know?”

“The truth was made flesh, and dwelt among us. We must cling to him alone.”

“Cling to him? Nimmy, Jesus came to be sacrificed for our sins. We offer him, immolated, on the altar. And still, you want to cling to him?” He laughed, and produced a stole. “Are you ready to confess now?”

Blacktooth delayed. “Could we talk awhile first?”

“Of course, but what would you talk about?”

He groped for a subject. Anything to postpone the moment. “Well, I don’t understand what you mean about the sacrifice.”

“To sacrifice Jesus is to give him up, of course.”

The monk started. “But I gave up everything for Jesus!”

“Oh, did you! Except Jesus, perhaps, good simpleton?”

“If I give up Jesus, I will have nothing at all!”

“Well, that might be perfect poverty, but for one thing: that nothing—you should get rid of that too, Nimmy.”

Blacktooth became bewildered. “How is it possible for a priest of Christ to talk like this?”

Specklebird pointed to his mouth and worked his jaw mockingly in silence.  Then, without anger, he lightly slapped the monk’s face. “Wake up!” he said.

Blacktooth sat down on a hard bench. He had been reciting formulas, trying to say the right thing for the old man, who was now laughing.

“You are a rich fellow,” said Specklebird. “Your riches are your cangue and chains.”

“I have nothing but the robe on my back; the g’tara which I made for myself was stolen,” the monk protested with some irritation. “I don’t even have a rosary, now. Also stolen. 1 eat other people’s food, and sleep in other people’s quarters. I don’t even piss in my own pot. I promised to be poor for Christ. If I’ve broken that vow, I don’t know how. I broke the others.”

“Are you proud of this unbroken vow?”

“Yes! I mean no! Oh, I see, I’m rich in pride, is that it?” Amen Specklebird sat down across from him. They watched each other in the dim light. The old man’s gaze was like that of a child, curious, open, pleasant, expectant. He snapped his fingers, unexpectedly loud. Blacktooth did not jump at the snap, but his gaze in turn was wary, and he looked away to the left. Specklebird continued to watch him in silence.

Still delaying, Blacktooth began to talk rapidly, about life at Leibowitz Abbey, not about his sins as sins, but about his frustrations, his loves and friendships, his devotion to the founder of his order and to the Mother of God, his vocation and how he lost it, and his homesickness for the very place he had tried so hard to escape. He kept pausing, hoping the hermit listening to his story would offer advice, but the old ordinary of Our Lady of the Desert only nodded his understanding from time to time. Blacktooth became embarrassed by his own self-pity and stopped talking. A long silence passed between them.

After a while, Specklebird began to speak softly.

“Nimmy, the only hard thing about following Christ is that you must throw away all values, even the value you place on following Christ. And to throw them away doesn’t mean sell them, or sell them out. To be truly poor in spirit, discard your loves and your hates, your good and bad taste, your preferences. Your wish to be, or not be, a monk of Christ. Get rid of it. You can’t even see the path, if you care where it goes. Free from values, you can see it plain as day. But if you have even one little wish, a wish to be sinless, or a wish to change your dirty clothes, the path vanishes. Did you ever think that maybe the cangue and chains you wear are your own precious values, Nimmy? Your vocation or lack of it? Good and evil? Ugliness and beauty? Painand pleasure? These are values, and these are heavy weights. They make you stop and consider, and that’s when you lose the way of the Lord.”

Blacktooth listened patiently, fascinated at first, but drawing himself up, becoming distraught. He felt the old man was trying to undermine everything he knew and felt about religion. Was this kind of talk the reason the bishop had forced Amen Specklebird to retire?

“The Devil!” the monk said softly.

If Specklebird heard it as an accusation, he ignored it. “Him? Throw him away, dump him in the slit trench with the excrement, throw quicklime on him.”

“Jesus!”

“Him too, oh yes, into the trench with that fucker! If he makes you rich.”

Blacktooth gasped. “Jesus? Whom do I follow? Then why follow? It’s blasphemy, what you say.”

“You know, it’s all right to pick up Christ’s cross and carry it, Nimmy, but if you think you get anything special because of it, you’re selling the cross, and you’re a rich man. The path is without reason. Just follow.”

“Without wanting to?”

“Sine cupidine.”

“Then why?”

“Your wish for a why is the cangue and chains.”

“I just don’t understand.”

“Good. Remember it, Nimmy, but don’t understand it. That spoils you.”

Blacktooth felt dizzy. Was the old man quite sane?

Amen Specklebird laughed gently. “Now for your confession, if you still want me to hear it.”

After confession, which he wanted to forget as quickly as possible, Blacktooth went home first, but the air was foul with recent vomit. Someone had washed the floor near Jæsis’ bed, where the student lay moaning. He had lost a lot of weight. Once he opened his eyes and glared wildly at the monk, who asked if he wanted a Doctor to come. “Here this morning,” Jæsis croaked. “It does no good.”

Blacktooth brought a cold wet towel for his head, then went back to the Secretariat, where he spent the afternoon and much of the evening translating the cardinal’s mail to and from the Plains. He was very quickly learning about Nomad politics and the important personages among the hordes. He learned that Chür Høngan had now returned to the hogans and herds of his Little Bear grandmother, that Uncle  Brokenfoot had been struck down by sudden illness, that an anti-Christian faction among the Bear Spirit men and the Weejus women of the Grasshopper Horde, some of whom feared Høngan’s   candidacy, had suddenly rallied to the name of one Hultor Bråm, a mankiller of undoubted prowess, as the most fit war sharf to reunite the Three Hordes. Bråm interested Blacktooth exactly (and only) because he was Grasshopper, and might even be a distant relative. His partisans translated his name as Kindly Light, but in Jackrabbit hultor bråm meant a bad sunburn. He also learned that his master was not entirely displeased by this development, for Bråm was possessed by a savagery that made Høngan’s temperament seem mild in comparison, and the cardinal, although alarmed by the illness of Høngan’s father, believed the majority of the grandmothers would never propose for the highest office and bridegroom of the Fujæ Go a hothead after the pattern of Mad Bear, whose reckless chieftainship had lost the Jackrabbit territory in the south to Hannegan II, and cost the Grasshopper dearly in men and cattle. The Wilddog on the High Plains had suffered the least from that old conquest.

Brownpony always left notes to help the monk avoid political pitfalls in his translations, when the wrong wording might offend certain groups, or compromise his plans if his correspondence fell into the wrong hands. The cardinal received more and longer letters than he wrote, and Blacktooth was surprised to learn that he had so many literate allies on the Plains. He knew, or had been told, that Nomad literacy was about five percent. The writers mostly belonged, he realized now, to the Christian minorities within the hordes, and most of them from powerful families. Brownpony was obviously trying to keep these three minorities in close contact with each other. With the help of certain Weejus women, he was even playing marriage broker to forge alliances between Wilddog, Grasshopper, and Jackrabbit families.

Blacktooth came to suspect that an unfortunate marriage of Chür Høngan to a Grasshopper girl was one result of such efforts. He had been doing this since the days of Pope Linus VI, with the blessing of subsequent pontiffs. While examining these files, he inadvertently encountered material from the Weejus women that related to the cardinal personally. For years his friends had been searching among the Wilddog people for some trace of the family of Brownpony’s mother or for anyone who remembered her. The information from the Weejus was transmitted by e’Laiden Ombroz: “With the help of the Bearcub’s family, I have come to the end of the search. I can only conclude, Your Eminence, that there is not, and never was, a Wilddog motherline using the name ‘Brown Pony.’ If your mother’s people are among us, that is not their name. The sisters who told you the story must have been misinformed. Perhaps it is a Grasshopper or Jackrabbit name, or perhaps it was an assumed name. I regret that I have been of no help to you.”

Embarrassed, the monk returned the file to its place without reading the rest of it, and never mentioned it to Brownpony.

Blacktooth was humbly grateful that his master trusted him enough to let him learn about these matters, even by accident, but he also knew that a few messages to and from the Plains were in code, and these were attended to by Brownpony personally. Something dangerous to Brownpony himself, or to the reputation of the Secretariat, was going on, but he found no clue in the nonsecret correspondence as to the nature of the intrigue. He was not allowed to see the cardinal’s correspondence with Oregon and the west coast, but that, of course, was not written in Nomadic. A technical civilization rivaling that of Texark had been developing in the far west for nearly a century, although distance and the mountains kept them apart and not competitive.

The monk had been watching his master pore over his correspondence, wondering why the cardinal himself was rarely mentioned as a candidate for the papacy, when Brownpony whirled suddenly to confront him.

“Nimmy, I am weary of being the target of the corner of your eye, of being the addressee of all your unasked questions. What is it you want to know about me?”

“Nothing, my Lord! It is unseemly…”

“It is unseemly to lie to your patron. Ask me a question, an impertinent question, of course.”

After a silence, Blacktooth found a small voice: “How is it that you are not a priest, m’Lord?”

“Yes, that would be first question. Explain yourself to the sometime monk, Elia Brownpony. Tell him how you were married once, and now Pope Linus was going to make you a priest before he made you cardinal, but you refused, saying that Seruna might still be alive, although you knew she was dead. She was kidnapped by outlaw Nomads like those at Arch Hollow. They don’t keep kidnapped women alive long. Well, Blacktooth, there you have the waves. Do you want the Ocean as well?”

“I’m ashamed that I presumed to ask.”

“Don’t grovel. I was called to be a lawyer, not a priest, and that’s it.    There are many priests who should have been lawyers instead, and a few lawyers who should have been priests. I say I have been called to practice law and settle disputes. I’m not so sure where calls come  from. Practicing law and negotiating disputes, this is what I do well. Plus politics and controversy. I would not be a good priest, regular or secular. I have neither the charity nor the piety for it. I can serve the Church best as the shepherd’s dog, fighting for the flock, or snapping at the heels of the flock to keep the sheep together. There is no chance that Seruna is alive. I loved her in my way, but she was not happy. And if she were alive still, she would not come back to me. But I can’t prove she’s dead.”

“You had no children?”

“I have a son in Saint Maisie’s Seminary in New Rome.”

“And you are the Cardinal Deacon of—” Blacktooth stopped and put his hand over his mouth.

Brownpony laughed. “Deacon of Saint Maisie’s Church in New Rome, yes. Nepotism? Pope Linus made the appointment. Without asking me? Of course he asked me. Now what else do you want to know?”

“I’m sorry I pried.”

“You didn’t Looking at me curiously behind my back is not prying. You are a good fellow, Nimmy. You know your place, and you work hard. I raise your salary by half.”

“Fifty percent of—” Blacktooth stopped.

“—of nothing is nothing. All right, you may increase your living expenses by that much, and I’ll tell Jaron to pay them. Now get on with these letters to the east. I’m so busy trying to keep track of who’s here for the conclave and guess at their votes, I’ve no time for my proper affairs.”

When he was not working, the monk fell into moods close to despair. It was not that the sin itself with Ædrea was so terrible, but that he was out of control. His life was reconsecrated to God every day, but if he had kept God in his heart, he would never have climbed into the hay with her. It did not matter to him that what they did together would not make a baby. That it might not even be a sin, if hewere not promised to God, but to love her was to love God less, was it not? It was not the act that he despised, but the flaw in his character that permitted it.

Did I go to a monastery to make myself morally perfect?

No, not at all.

What, then?

The monk’s ultimate goal is direct union with the Godhead, But to aim at that goal is to miss it altogether. His task is to rid himself of ego so that consciousness, once its usual discordant mental content dumped out of it through ritual prayer and meditation, may experience nonself as a living formlessness and emptiness into which God may come, if it please Him to come. So Eckhart had spoken of it two thousand years ago: “God gives birth to His Son in the soul.” Only in self-emptiness may it happen one day that Christ awaken within the monk, as I-to-I. But there was someone else awake there now, for Blacktooth, and he was very lonely, very lonely for her.

CHAPTER  9

The third degree of humility is that a person

for the love of God submits himself to his

Superior in all obedience, imitating the Lord,

of whom the Apostle says, “He became

obedient even unto death.”

Saint Benedict’s Rule, Chapter 7

PLEASED BY THE INCREASE IN HIS LIVING allowance, Blacktooth planned to change his residence as soon as the crowd left town after the election, but for the time being he was forced to continue living with the students. Wooshin would be leaving in a few days at the cardinal’s bidding.

When he came home from work on the afternoon of Holy Tuesday, the student named Aberlott called “Catch!” and tossed something to him as soon as he came through the door. Blacktooth grabbed for it, missed, and turned to pick it up when it bounced off the wall. Looking down at the object, he froze m a half-crouch.

“What’s wrong?” the student asked. “Isn’t it yours? She said it belonged to you.”

Blacktooth picked it up and turned to stare at Aberlott. “She?”  he gasped.

“The nun. My God, what is the matter? You’re white as snow.”

“Nun?”

“Sure. One of the stricter orders, I believe. Brown habit, white coif. Barefoot. Isn’t that your rosary? She said you left it in the cardinal’s coach.”

“Was she a genny?”

“A genny? Not that I could tell. She didn’t wear the headband. Of course, celibate religious don’t have to. You can’t see much of a nun except her face and hands and feet. She was rather pretty for a nun though. She didn’t look like a genny to me. You were expecting a genny?”

Blacktooth sat down on his bed and stared at the beads and the cross. The silver had been carefully cleaned of tarnish, and the beads seemed brighter than he remembered, well polished now.

“Did she say anything else?”

“No, not that I recall. We talked a little about the conclave. I was trying to flirt, I guess. She was kind, but she was distant. Oh, she did ask where you were, in an offhand way. That’s all.”

“What did you tell her?”

“I said you were usually at the Secretariat this time of day. I don’t think she was actually looking for you though. She went off in the opposite direction. Just wanted to return the rosary, I think. I wondered what she was doing in the cardinal’s carriage.”

“Looting it,” he whispered.

“What did you say?”

Blacktooth lay back on the bench and closed his eyes. After a long time, he said, “Thank you, Aberlott.”

“Don’t mention it.” The student resumed his reading.  Perhaps the nun was really a nun. Ædrea had given the rosary to a nun, that’s all. It was all right for a genny to be a nun and not wear the green headband, but for a genny to impersonate a religious in order to conceal ancestry was a crime under the laws of the Denver Republic, as everywhere. Persecution of the genetically diseased was nearly universal. They were protected only by the law of the Church, but not to the extent of allowing the impersonation of religious. And while the Church might protest against discriminatory legislation by the secular authority, she had never taken a firm stand against eugenic laws designed to prevent  intermarriage between the healthy and the children of the Pope.  Nor had she resisted laws defining the marriageability of citizens in terms of degrees of kinship to known freaks. The baptismal records of Churches were used as evidence in secular courts, and priests were required to note the pedigrees of parents on certificates of baptism. Before any couple were given a license to marry by the secular arm, both had to undress and be tested by the medical inspectors of a civil magistrate. The Nomads, of course, had their own rules, but there was no tolerance among them for deformity, hereditary or otherwise. They simply killed the deformed at birth.

He fingered the beads of his rosary and decided that Ædrea must have given it to a nun in a party of religious traveling up the papal highway. He felt shame for the fear and hope that surged within him when he turned to pick it up. Surely, it must have been a nun. What the police would do to a genny impersonating a citizen was nothing compared to what a mob would do. And surely, Ædrea herself would not have polished the beads and cleaned the crucifix so. If she had sent it back sooner, he would have escaped that horrid moment in confession about bartering it for sex, as Specklebird construed it. But why had she returned it at all, even indirectly?

“What color was her hair?” he called to the student, who was immersed in a textbook.

“Whose hair?”

“The nun.”

“Which—? Oh! Her coif hid it.” He paused. “Probably blond. She was very fair.”

Blacktooth stirred uneasily. Blondes were not plentiful, but there were probably dozens of them in Valana. The mixed ancestry of the continent’s population produced skin colors in varying shades of brown, but fair skin and black skin were both rather rare, as were red and blond hair.

He arose from the bench and went outside. There was nobody in the street but an old man and two children. The rotten smell from the creek behind the house was particularly strong this afternoon. Several neighbors had become ill lately, probably from the creek or its vapors. He decided to take a walk up the hill, in the direction away from the Secretariat.

 He walked for an hour. There were fewer and fewer houses as he  moved along. At last he came to a guard post at the fenced limits of the city. Beyond it lay only forest and a few hermitages, including the home of Amen Specklebird. He stopped to speak to the sentry.         

“How long have you been on duty, corporal?”                            

The young officer looked toward the sun, hanging low in the west. “About four hours, I guess. Why?”

“Did a young nun pass this way? Brown robe, white coif...”

The sentry immediately looked toward the woods, studied Blacktooth for a moment, and began to leer. “Oh, ho! I wondered why she was going out there alone.”

Angered by the leer, the monk turned and hiked back down the road for home. The anger turned to fear again. He knew it was fear for Ædrea, but she was probably safe at home in Arch Hollow. The nun was just a nun. And yet if nuns had a small convent farther up the hillside, would the sentry have wondered about her destination?

He dreamed that night that he was wearing a green headband and fleeing from a mob who wanted to castrate him for lying with Torrildo, who had breasts as large as Ædrea’s, or was it Ædrea with a penis as large as Torrildo’s? He was trapped in Shard’s barn, which now housed Brother Kornhoer’s old generator and the chair of electricity from the chapel. Someone was screaming. Rough hands were strapping him into the chair when somebody shook him awake. The rough hands belonged to Wooshin.

“Stop howling,” said the Axe. “You’ll wake up the whole neighborhood.”

“He already has,” Aberlott grumbled sleepily from the next room. Crumily was swearing and pounding his pillow. Jæsis had never stopped snoring and moaning.

When the others had subsided into sleep again, Blacktooth felt under his hard pillow for the rosary. He fingered the crucifix and began whispering the creed, but stopped. Cleaned and polished or not, it felt desecrated. In confession, he had tried to blame Ædrea for stealing it, but Father Specklebird had forced him to admit that he had nottaxed her again for the beads after a bout of pleasant but certainly sinful sex in the hay.

“Don’t mince words. You traded your rosary for a blow job,” the old man had said sourly, “and broke your vow of chastity. Now go on. What else have you done?”

Blacktooth was still doing the penance which Father Specklebird had assigned him. (“You shall make a list, an inventory of all your wealth, my son.”) At first he thought it a trivial penance, and that the list would be quite short. But the more he worked at it the more clearly he recognized that his riches were coextensive with, and not different from, his sins. There was more (or less) to spiritual poverty than owning nothing.

The city had not been well since the visitors had come. Down from the mountains perhaps, a fetid chinook or chill miasma had breathed upon it, sickening many of the young, the old, the frail. Food Was scarce. Wheat especially was in short supply, and rye of poor quality was imported at high prices. The inns were full to bulging, and inadequate sewers overflowed to the streets in lower elevations. A quorum of cardinals had not yet arrived, but among those already in town, several had fallen sick. The water was blamed at first. It happens every time, the visitors said; none but the locals could safely drink it. But this time was worse than before. There was sickness among the local population as well. The symptoms were various, and not always the same. There was vomiting and fever, as in the case of the student Jæsis. Others experienced dizziness, headache, depression, mania, delirium, or panic. One physician claimed there were two diseases at work and spreading. Only wealthy Valanans seemed immune, but the immunity was not due to wealth itself; visiting cardinals were not notably poor, but a number of them showed symptoms. There was an urgency to get the conclave started, and if possible, done with. Local people blamed the sickness on crowded conditions caused by visitors. Others cited the wrath of God, which would be appeased only by a swift election.

Because of the sickness and of impatience at lengthy conclaves, there were demonstrations and unrest in Valana that month. On Palm Sunday, what seemed to be a religious procession had moved toward the former fortress hilltop from the college of Saint Ston’s. As it neared Saint John-in-Exile, its character changed. New banners were unfurled, and the procession became a political parade, whose half-serious purpose was to proclaim popular support of the students of Saint Ston’s Seminary for Amen Specklebird as a candidate for the triple crown and the throne of Peter. Hearing about it, Father Specklebird did not wait to be summoned by the current Bishop of Denver, but came limping hastily into town to denounce the enterprise and scold the students. Leaders of the movement were arrested by the secular police—an action which Specklebird felt forced to condemn.

On the following day, students from the secular college staged a parody of the incident by demonstrating in favor of the candidacy of the trigamous Cardinal Ri of Hong, much to the delight of the Axe, who had made friends with Ri’s six-man bodyguard, and had learned as much as he could from them about life beyond the western ocean. Again, leaders were arrested, but the jail was already full of drunken farmers, Nomads, and pickpockets who had come to exploit the presence of the growing crowds of petitioners and lobbyists who always converged on conclaves. The student leaders were lightly flogged, the others given probation. There were also ecclesiastical penalties for attempting to influence the election.

On Tuesday of Holy Week, the Dean of the Sacred College appeared on the balcony of Saint John-in-Exile and promised a turbulent mob of jeering people that the conclave would begin as soon as 398 cardinals were present. “Probably within ten days,” he added. Since the death of Pope Linus VI, twenty-two cardinals had followed him to the grave, and the three subsequent popes had observed a moratorium on the bestowal of red hats; but still under present law two-thirds plus one of all eligible electors, excluding those who were certifiably infirm, were necessary to elect. And when no more than the necessary 398 had arrived, they would have to vote unanimously in order to elect a pope, so the Dean’s promise was an empty one and the crowd knew it. No serious voting could begin until all but the senile, the sick, and the lame had arrived in Valana.

Votes were being counted in advance, and the bookmakers of Valana were already taking bets, an excommunicating offense. There was no odds-on favorite, but one might bet two alabasters on Golopez Cardinal Onyo from Old Mexico in hopes of winning three, while fans of Urion Benefez could bet one to win three. There were somewhat similar odds on Urion’s talk-alike, Otto Cardinal e’Notto from the Great River Delta, and Chuntar Hadala, a greatly respected missionary bishop to the Valley of the Misborn, now the Watchitah Nation. Sorely Nauwhat from Oregon was given at ten-to-one, because of the persistent doctrinal problems in his territory. Abbot Jarad Kendemin was rated fifteen-to-one, because of his reluctance. Only by betting on such improbables as Elia Cardinal Brownpony or Amen Specklebird could a poor porter or housewife hope to become rich.

Holy Week was celebrated with all the pomp possible in the absence of a reigning pontiff. Masses were concelebrated with all able cardinals present, and many of the religious processions were real. But the pageantry was not a distraction to a single-minded population who wanted a pope, a western pope, and wanted him soon. Much anger was directed at the absent Cardinal Archbishop of Texark for his deliberate delay, but his advance party of legists, servants, and conclavists were already busy preparing for what would no doubt be his grand entrance upon the scene at the appropriate moment.

A preliminary meeting of electors, their assistants and conclavists, legists, other prelates, diplomats, leaders of religious orders, and eminent scholars, among them theologians, historians, and political theorists, was scheduled for the afternoon of Maundy Thursday. The announced topic was to be the changing relationship between the Church and the Secular Power in the first half of the thirty-third century. The informal and nonsacred nature of this convention was emphasized by holding it in the Great Hall of Saint Ston at the seminary, and by admitting certain categories of nonparticipants as observers.

“Are you going to this fistfight, Blacktooth?” asked Aberlott, who had put on his student’s uniform.

“Who’s doing the fighting?” asked the monk.

“Well, it’s Benefez against any challenger. Who knows, your own master might pick up the gauntlet for the west.”

Jæsis rolled over on his cot and groaned.

“Cardinal Brownpony doesn’t get into fights, and the Archbishop of Texark isn’t even in town yet.”

“Oh, but his whole staff is here. And thirteen cardinals from the Imperium. He’s going to make his move, all right.”

Jæsis yelped in his sleep, and muttered profanity.

“Mention Benefez, and Jæsis gets mad.” Aberlott nodded toward the feverish sleeper. “Or maybe it’s the Hannegan he hates.”

“You think there’ll be a squabble?”

“I know it. Father General Corvany of the Order of Saint Ignatz will be there, for one.” This woke Jæsis up, and he began swearing more coherently.

Blacktooth reached for his robe. “I know a priest of Corvany’s Order who defied him once.”

“And he’s still a priest?”

“... ‘forever, after the order of Melchisedech,’ as they say. But he’s under interdict. He wouldn’t hear my confession.”

“What’s his name?”

Blacktooth hesitated, then shook his head, regretting that he had mentioned the Ignatzian. He had learned from his work as translator at the Secretariat that Father e’Laiden, with whom he had traveled to Pobla, and Father Ombroz, the tutor and chaplain of the Little Bear clan, were the one and the same man. “I get the name mixed up with somebody else,” he said. “I must have forgotten.”

“Well, are you coming?”

“As soon as I finish dressing.”

The auditorium at Saint Ston’s had seating for two thousand. A quarter of the seats near the front had been roped off for the cardinals, but was still half empty when the campus bell tolled three. Another fourth of the seats were reserved for the cardinals’ first servants, and these were filled to capacity with priests and scribes who were obviously here to take notes and be bored. The other half of the seating was open to lesser prelates, faculty, priests, monks, and students, in that order of preference. The supply was greater than the demand. Blacktooth and Aberlott, who came early, took seats behind the cardinal’s servants, and were not asked to move to the rear. A few people drifted onto the stage. He recognized the head of the seminary, then a man in a white tunic and scapular with black cappa who had to be a prominent Dominican, probably the head of the Order from the west coast. Blacktooth suddenly slid lower in his seat. The Lord Abbot Jarad Cardinal Kendemin had come from the wings and took a seat beside the Dominican. They beamed at each other, exchanged the kiss of peace, and began a lively whispered conversation over the empty seat between them.

“What’s wrong?” asked Aberlott, looking down at Blacktooth. “Would you rather lie on the floor?”

When the clock somewhere above them dinged the quarter hour, Aberlott stood up with a straight face and said, “Here comes the judge.” Several others in the vicinity climbed to their feet.

Blacktooth grabbed his sleeve. “Sit down, you clown!”

The man who had come to the podium was the president of the seminary. He spoke brief words of welcome, then invited cardinals who wished their servants to sit beside them to call them forward, and the rest of the audience to move forward to fill empty spaces. Aberlott hitched his corpulent self one seat to the left, told an interloper that the seat between them was taken, and when the audience was quiet again, he turned to beckon Wooshin, standing in the rear, to join them, but the Axe shook his head. His presence meant that Cardinal Brownpony was nearby. The warrior had become the Red Deacon’s personal bodyguard, and expected to move soon into the servants’ quarters at the cardinal’s home.

The first speaker was the Dominican, introduced as Dom Fredain e’Gonian, Abbot of Gomar, Director General of the Order of Preachers in Oregon. “Tu es Petrus,” he predictably began, and preached a sermon which began with a stirring summons to unity, but soon became a scathing denunciation of those partisans of exile or of return whose motives were economic. He would be seen later in the day with his robe spattered with slops dumped from second-story windows in the merchant section of the city.

The president of the seminary next introduced Father General Corvany of the Order of Saint Ignatz in New Rome, a man obviously in his seventies but still handsome and trim. His graceful carriage and sympathetic persona reminded Blacktooth, to his surprise, of his employer. Like Brownpony, Corvany’s normal expression was a natural smile; when the smile disappeared, the effect was startling. He spoke only a few words of greeting to Their Eminences, then lost his smile. “Surely, there has been a mistake here,” he said. “Please bear with me for a moment.” He left the lectern then, descended the steps into the audience, and audaciously took the hand of Her Eminence, Cardinal Buldyrk, Abbess of N’Ork. “Please,” he said to her. “You have a chair on the podium.”

Her mouth agape, Buldyrk permitted herself to be escorted to the stage. There was a mutter of astonishment from the cardinals, and even a few muffled cries of outrage, for Corvany was not even a member of the Sacred College, and the expression on the face of the president of the seminary was one of complete surprise.

“See? What did I tell you,” Aberlott whispered to the monk. “I’ll bet a copper that seat was for Cardinal Ri.”

The abbess was seated between Jarad and the Dominican, to the delight of neither, and Corvany thus established himself as the most liberal and gallant of all the prelates. He resumed his beaming smile and introduced to the audience a learned member of his own Order of Saint Ignatz to speak in his stead. This was Urik Thon Yordin, S.I., who was a clergyman but also a professor of history at the secular university at Texark. He was a lean, gray, bespectacled man in his fifties, and apparently another member of Archbishop Benefez’s advance party. His manner of address was that of the lecture hall rather than the pulpit.

“What has not been well understood about the frequent condition of schism in the Church,” he said, “is that it reflects a natural schism in the continent. There have always been two Churches, if I may say so, Eminent Lords: one Church in the East, the other in the West. While that pope inhabited New Rome near the Great River, he was living as far from this region and the far west as if New Rome were on the Atlantic. Since the papacy has come here to the foot of the mountains, there has been a great healing of the Church in the West, whose problems are now better understood. This has been made plain to us by events in the Oregon area.”

Blacktooth saw two Western bishops leaning together to whisper. It was strange to hear one of Urion Benefez’s men begin by admitting the truth of an argument some Westerners used in favor of continuing the Valanan papacy. The approach seemed conciliatory at first.

“And to understand the cause of the Western problem,” Thon Yordin went on, “we have only to consider the route which messengers used to take before the establishment of peace in the Province. At the beginning of this millennium, a man foolish enough to travel alone from New Rome to the far West might take a route such as this: south through forest trails, skirting the Valley of the Misborn, then to the Gulf, and, paralleling the coast, on to the Brave River. Crossing the river, he would find the royal road leading west across the desert protected by soldiers of a king; arriving in the far West, he moved north again. A lone traveler coming eastward might make a similar detour. Why?”

He held up a sheaf of papers. “I have here a copy, dated one century and forty-eight years ago last month, of the military regulations for the Papal Guard in escorting the Pope’s legates and other ambassadors directly across the High Plains by the most direct routes at that time. Do not be alarmed. I shall not read them to you, although anyone who wishes to examine them may do so. These rules call for forty heavily armed cavalrymen under the command of a captain, and a party of twenty archers in light armor with swords, and halberds to be packed with them and carried by mule. The regulations specify certain permissible routes, all riverbeds, and regularly scheduled crossings are forbidden. When a party was ready to leave, its departure was delayed until one man, the captain of the guard, decided to go. Can you guess why?

“Now, there were occasionally men in those days foolhardy enough to make such a trip alone, or in smaller armed groups. But this was like going to sea in a rowboat. Even if no one at all had lived on that great ocean of grass—tall grass at first, as one moves west, then short grass, then desert grass in the south until one reaches the mountains—if no one at all lived there, the journey would be dangerous enough. This continent itself exists in a natural state of schism, Eminent Lords. It is divided by nature. The open plain is a place of horrid winds and torrid or frigid weather, even today. There is nothing out there but earth, sky, grass, and wind. There is nowhere to hide. Everywhere he looks, a man is surrounded by a far horizon. The grass billows in the wind. That is the great grass ocean.

“In earlier days, there dwelt there upon that grassland those cruel, piratical herdsmen with their woolly wild cattle, and they took delight in torture, and they flayed messengers alive and ate their organ meats, or made them slaves. Some of you who have just crossed the Plains in coming here, in relative safety, I might add—although I sympathize with the hardships you still endured—you have seen the descendants of those cannibals. And unless you encountered an outlaw band, you were not molested. But the forebears of these people were the reason for these extraordinary regulations I hold in my hand.

“Wild they are still, these herdsmen, and cruel, but they let you pass now without harassment. While the Church in the West has, we all admit, rendered fealty to the one true vicar of Christ who traditionally resides east of the Plains, it has always gone its independent way in matters of faith, morals, and doctrine, as we learn from the history of the Oregonians. I refer you to the works of Duren, if you have any doubts about this.”

Blacktooth looked suddenly at Abbot Jarad and regretted it immediately. His former ruler was watching him with a faint triumphant smile. Some cardinals in the abbot’s vicinity were also murmuring among themselves.

Aberlott noticed Blacktooth’s restlessness and turned toward him to whisper. “Nimmy, did you know the Oregonians used leavened bread at Easter Mass?”

“No, I didn’t,” Blacktooth whispered back. “Neither did Duren. Now hush.”

“Oh, yes. Instead of ‘Behold the Lamb of God,’ when the priest held up the bread, he would say, ‘Behold He is risen.’”

Blacktooth kicked his anklebone. His lips shaped an ooo.

“Transportation was simply too hard between the East and the West for the Pope to be in constant communication with all his flock and their bishops in those days,” the professor continued. “But now we have relative peace on the High Plains and the Prairie, except for outlaw bands. And in the South, for most of your venerable lifetimes it has been possible for a man to travel alone, or in a small unarmed party as some of you from the Southeast have just done, to come from east of the Great River here to mountains with no more danger than you might encounter on the roads in your home diocese. Why? Because the southern horde has been pacified, and the Province is well governed, and those north of the Province are, if not pacified, then at least aware that robbery, rape, and murder of us ‘grass-eaters’ will bring swift retribution. Thus with travel and communication restored, the imagined advantages to the west of a papacy here in exile are no longer real.”

Abbot Jarad had risen to his feet, but the speaker seemed not to notice at first.

“I am not a military man,” the professor continued, “but—” He stopped because the audience was looking to his right, and he glanced around to see Jarad standing. “Yes? Your Eminence?—”

“Perhaps the advantages of exile are imaginary, as you say. I pray for a return to New Rome, under the right conditions, for the exile is a scandal and an abomination. But I would remind the learned speaker that the Treaty of the Sacred Mare predates the conquest, that the military regulations which the learned speaker quotes predated that treaty, and that the treaty was negotiated peacefully with the Church as mediator, and that while crossing the High Plains is never without danger, Church messengers have been doing it for at least a century, with no help from the Texark military.” Jarad sat down, his face bright red, looking around for a murmur of approval. None came.

“Thank you. As I was saying, I am not a military man, but it has been explained to me that the mission of Texark troops which just happen to be in the vicinity of New Rome has nothing to do with New Rome or the papacy. They were sent there without any thought whatever of provoking or intimidating the Pope. The Hannegan of that time was as astonished by the Pope’s flight to Valana, as was the rest of the country. The troops were sent not to outflank the Holy City, but to protect the farmers settling in the timberlands between the Great River and the treeless prairie. The farms were threatened from the west and the north by the eastern horde, the one they call Grasshopper. The troops are there as a peacekeeping force only, as most inhabitants of New Rome now recognize. The herdsmen were penetrating the farmlands, stealing the stock, and kidnapping little boys.

“Nomads give birth to more girls than boys, you know. Something hereditary, I’m told. Anyway, the return of the papacy to New Rome would be protected, not threatened, by the troops in the—”

“Just a minute.” Cardinal Brownpony’s voice came over the room loud and clear. Blacktooth looked around, as did many others, but no one on the floor was standing. “Just a minute, if I may.”

Eyes followed the voice upward and to the rear. Brownpony was standing in the choir loft, with the Axe seated on one side and the Reverend Amen Specklebird, O.D.D., on the other. Blacktooth and Aberlott had been refused admittance to the gallery, but the guards had evidently opened it to latecomers to avoid people wandering down the main aisle after the meeting began.

“I am a descendant of these cannibals, as you call them. My mother, I was told by the sisters who raised me, bore the family name of ‘the Brown Pony.’ I never met her, but the family was Wilddog, the sisters said, and she was the young widow of a Jackrabbit husband who had escaped a Texark jail, but was killed by Texark bullets. She was raped by one of your Texark peacekeepers when she went south to visit her dead husband’s people. I am the child of that violent union. The sisters who raised me in your province let me keep the name she gave them.”

Blacktooth looked up at Wooshin with wide eyes, and his surprise was reflected by the warrior’s. Neither of them ever mentioned Brownpony’s origins to others, judging it a taboo subject. Now the Red Deacon was announcing his mysterious bastardy to the world, which already knew of it in whispers. And yet he himself knew little or nothing of it, according to the file the monk had seen at the Secretariat.

“And there is my secretary,” said Brownpony, looking down at Blacktooth. “His ancestors were Grasshopper refugees from your Texark pacification. They lost all their cattle to Hannegan’s diseased animals. His parents died without horses, farming another’s land. From him, I know something of the Grasshopper people and their history. For centuries they have pastured their animals on the land of which you speak, among their other lands. That region was called ‘Iowa’ on   the ancient maps, I believe, but it is nearly treeless, and yet fertile enough for the farmers to covet it. And the Grasshopper has always gathered wood for poles, stakes, arrows, and spears from the thinly forested lands north and south of that area. If the farmers are there now, they’ve settled there since Hannegan’s slaughter. You paint the Texark forces as protectors. You want the Pope back in New Rome, in the midst of his protectors. I too want the Pope back in New Rome, in spite of his protectors, in the midst of his enemies, among whom you have just counted yourself. You have been sent here to draw fire away from your master. Now the Cardinal Archbishop of Texark, who we all know has sent you, must either underwrite your views, or denounce your slander against the people of the Plains.”

There was an astonished silence, followed by brief applause and cheering from two Westerners. Father General Corvany ominously lost his smile again, and came to his feet. The applause quickly subsided. Brownpony sat down smiling. Cardinals were looking over their shoulders at him. On the stage, Jarad’s jaw dropped. Brownpony was known as a diplomat, always courteous, a peacemaker who rarely took sides. His tone had been calm, but he had just declared war, and it had to be premeditated.

Before Corvany could speak, a sputtering archbishop from the delta of the Great River, now part of the Texark Empire, arose in a huff to defend the speaker’s thesis concerning the protective role of past Hannegans in the Midwest, and to deplore the interruptions. He pointed a finger toward the balcony and began to say something about Brownpony, but the Dean of the Sacred College arose and roared, “God’s peace! God’s peace!”

The seminar was about to become a verbal melee, and few in the audience noticed the student who wandered down the center aisle. He was staggering slightly. Aberlott suddenly clutched Blacktooth’s arm and pointed. The man in the aisle was Jæsis, uncombed and un-shaved, his face livid but with red blotches. He stopped in the middle of the cardinals’ section and pulled something out of his half-buttoned cassock. He croaked Yordin’s name and a curse. There was an explosion and a burst of smoke. Thon Yordin put his hand to his chest, looked down, but there was no blood. Instead, one of the men seated behind the podium fell from his chair. It was the Father General of the Order of Saint Ignatz himself who lay bleeding. The assailant in the aisle waved a Texark cavalry pistol aloft, yelled again at Thon Yordin, fired the other barrel toward the ceiling, and collapsed in the aisle. The audience was on its feet and roaring.

“Assassin! Texark assassin! Hannegan’s agents!”

Blacktooth looked around for the source of this irrational voice, but saw only a fist waving in the surging crowd.

Men swarmed over the fallen student, and from the platform came cries for a physician. Blacktooth and Aberlott were seized by police as they hurried out of the building.

There followed eight hours of questioning at the Valana police barracks, but Cardinal Brownpony quickly appeared on their behalf. There had been no brutality. The police learned from the college that Jæsis was from Texark, had attended Thon Yordin’s classes at the university there, had failed his tests and then transferred to Saint Ston’s. A physician stated that even now he was delirious with fever. The police released Blacktooth and Aberlott just past midnight; they walked home by the light of the Pascal moon. Jæsis died that night in custody.

While the city slept, the Reverend Urik Thon Yordin sent a rider galloping toward the telegraph terminal at the final outpost on the road to the Province. The message he carried was addressed to Urion Cardinal Benefez and, with a copy to the Emperor, would reach Hannegan City by Good Friday’s sunrise:

FATHER CORVANY WAS KILLED TODAY BY A STUDENT ROOMMATE OF BROWNPONY’S NOMAD SECRETARY. THE SECRETARY WAS QUESTIONED BUT RELEASED AFTER BROWNPONY INTERVENED. KILLER DIED IN POLICE CUSTODY. DETAILS FOLLOW. I AWAIT FURTHER INSTRUCTIONS.

YOUR OBEDIENT SERVANT IN CHRIST, YORDIN.

CHAPTER 10

Let a man consider that God is

always looking at him from heaven,

that his actions are everywhere visible

to the divine eyes and are I constantly

being reported to God by the Angels.

Saint Benedict’s Rule, Chapter 7

IN VALANA ON SUNDAY THE 17TH OF APRIL 3244, Blacktooth arose before dawn and watched the moon, now past full, settle behind the mountains, then washed his teeth with ashes and boiled water, relieved himself in the outhouse, got dressed, and then spent in prayer the short time it took for the sun to come up. Without eating anything prior to receiving the Eucharist, he left the house. On the way to Mass in the early-morning chill, he sensed someone following him. Turning, he saw only a man talking to an open window a stone’s throw away, and someone wandering in the other direction. The window’s occupant, if any, was not visible. The man talking to the window was the same man Blacktooth had seen begging on the same street the day before Jæsis shot Corvany. Probably a denizen of the neighborhood. The feeling of being followed was an illusion caused by shame, the monk decided. He kept walking toward the Cathedral of Saint John-in-Exile. It was Easter morning.

With hundreds of cardinals participating, the Mass of the Resurrection was spectacular in the Pope’s own Church, even without a pope. Blacktooth had come early enough to be assigned a spot to stand with room enough to kneel, but most latecomers waited in crowds outside the nave and outside the cathedral itself. Getting out of the building after Mass was worse than getting in, because many of those pouring outside paused to talk to acquaintances and blocked the way. It was a perfect situation for murder. Blacktooth felt the dagger pierce his side as the arm holding it darted between two other worshipers, who immediately fell back in dismay. Blacktooth clutched his side and faced his attacker. It was the man who talked to empty windows, the beggar. Feeling people moving back, he looked around. There were three of them, dirty and shabbily dressed, two with knives, one with a chain. They fought there on the great ascent of cathedral steps which had no landings, and two of them were thrown sprawling to the bottom by a victim with unexpected skills. Someone was screaming for the constable, others for the Papal Guard. The original attacker, the beggar, now cut the monk’s face and might have gone on to kill him, but the blast of a constable’s horn sent the three of them fleeing.

His wounds were cleaned and dressed at the police station, and he was interrogated by an irritable lieutenant who insisted on believing that he, Jæsis, Aberlott, and Crumily were conspirators in some larger scheme. Blacktooth’s relationship with the cardinal provided him with a secure identity in which he dared feel immune to intimidation in the face of anything short of violence. He told the lieutenant what he needed to know and tried to ignore what he wanted to know, based on a wrong assumption.

“No common hoodlums would try to rob a poor monk.”

“They weren’t out to rob me, just kill me.”

“Exactly! and why? They must have some reason to hate you.”

“Well, they seemed to be common hoodlums, they had no reason to hate me, so they must have been hired.”

“By whom, do you think?” asked the officer.

“By some fool who thinks Jæsis planned on killing Father Corvany, and that I was involved.”

The lieutenant, who apparently thought the same thing, glowered at him and left the room for several minutes. Blacktooth prayed to Saint Leibowitz. When the lieutenant came back, his manner had changed.

“You will have to be on guard against another attempt. Stay with people you know. Stay home at night. Stay away from crowds like this morning’s. Come outside my office and sit on the bench here. Your employer will be here soon.”

“His Eminence? For me?”

“For himself. There was an attempt on his life too. Here, his own man can tell you.”

Wooshin had emerged from another interrogation room. He sat beside Blacktooth and briefly described the attack on Brownpony by two strangers armed with handguns. Brownpony was unharmed, and the attackers were dead. The police found one beheaded corpse on the scene, and a severed arm with a gun still in hand. The armless assassin had been found bleeding to death in an alley. If he said anything before he died to the constable who found him, the police were keeping it to themselves. There was no need to ask how they died. Soon an officer brought Wooshin his swords. They had been wiped, but were not quite clean of dried blood. The Axe frowned but sheathed them without complaint. Soon Brownpony emerged, and after an inquiry about Blacktooth’s wounds, they all walked together back to the Secretariat with two armed men following at a respectful distance.

“You have thought about what this means, Nimmy?”

“It means somebody made a mistake, connected me with Jæsis, for one thing. And you, m’Lord?”

“Same mistake. It is politically important to the Hannegan that gennies, Nomads, and citizens should live in mutual loathing and fear, that they might be more easily governed in their disunity. Did you know, Nimmy, did you know—Jæsis was a spook?”

“A hidden genny? Oh no, m’Lord! That’s hard to believe. I’ve seen him undressed.”

“There was an autopsy, and they found the signs. They’ve not made the fact public. There hasn’t been a pogrom in decades, and we don’t want one to start. Move your things immediately. Until the crowd leaves the city, you will live in the Secretariat’s basement. In case they try again. We may never know who hired these men, but they were amateurs.”

“Locally recruited,” the monk added. “I saw one of them before.”

“Yes, but the telegraph makes us a suburb of Texark, and words now travel faster than the sun moves over the earth. Fortunately, the conclave should begin by midweek. When Benefez, or even Corvany’s replacement, gets here, he’ll take command of their people. I don’t think Cardinal Benefez hires assassins.”

“His nephew does,” grunted the monk.

“Professionals only, Nimmy, not amateurs,” Wooshin said.

When they came to the Secretariat, a large but low building set well back among trees, Blacktooth found three basement rooms already furnished for use by occasional messengers or political fugitives, one of them now occupied by Axe. Blacktooth chose the room closer to the privy’s exit, but Axe immediately warned him: “At night, use a slop jar. Never go out that door in the dark unless I go with you.”

But no further attacks had occurred by the time the requisite number of cardinals had assembled on Wednesday of Easter week, and while people afflicted with Jæsis’ disease ran amok in the streets, stripped naked in public, or just lay in bed and howled, the attempt at a conclave began. First the cardinals assembled in the great Cathedral to offer Mass together, then left the building in procession to cross the square and enter the palace where the election was to occur. An altar was set up at one end of the great throne room, and the palace was temporarily consecrated.

Cardinal Brownpony had chosen as his conclavists Brother Blacktooth St. George and Sister Julian of the Assumption; the rule that his conclavists be clergy from Saint Maisie’s applied only in his absence, and he would not be absent. Nimmy recognized his master’s choice of the sister as an exquisitely diplomatic one, but his own selection jolted him into surprise, until he noticed that Brownpony was having frequent conversations with Jarad, and that Jarad had brought with him as one of his conclavists Brother Singing Cow. Nimmy became vaguely uneasy. Perhaps Nomad politics were to be considered by the Holy Ghost in the choice of a pope. Well, why not? But he dreaded meeting with Singing Cow or the abbot face-to-face.

No sooner had the conclave convened, however, than a cardinal from Utah fell deathly ill and had to be excused, thus forcing an adjournment for lack of a quorum. Blacktooth returned to his new basement home. Police watched the building, but there was no further attack.

During the three days the Cardinal President of the Conclave allowed the adjournment to continue, seven more electors arrived from a far northeastern province. Word came from the telegraph terminal that the Archbishop of Texark would arrive within ten days. As soon as the conclave reconvened, Cardinal Brownpony, joined by one of Benefez’s conclavists to show nonpartisanship, proposed a rule empowering the sergeant-at-arms to arrest any cardinal elector attempting to leave the city or even the building without permission from the conclave. A heated protest was made by cardinals fearing the epidemic, but Brownpony in his reply pointed grimly to the anger of the people in the streets, and what might happen to the cardinal electors if they failed to sustain the quorum. The rule was passed by a large majority, and was sent on to the Valana city government with a request for help in enforcement. The request was approved, and it became a crime for a cardinal to flee Valana. And so began the process of finding a candidate agreeable to the Holy Ghost and various earthly powers, began even before that most eminent of earthly powers, Lord Cardinal Archbishop Urion Benefez, had arrived.

The city continued to sicken.

The ancient custom of burning ballots with or without moist straw as a signal to lend white or dark color to the smoke from the chimney was observed, but the laws governing the election of a pope had changed according to the requirements of the age. In theory, the Bishop of Rome was elected by the clergy of Rome, locked in a closed building (con clave) until two-thirds reached agreement. For thousands of years, each new cardinal, wherever he might live, was assigned a Roman Church whose upkeep was his responsibility, and whose name was part of his title: Elia Cardinal Brownpony, Deacon of Saint Maisie’s in New Rome. Now there were more cardinals than there were Churches in New Rome and Valana combined.

From time to time a protest group would march across the city to gather in Saint John’s square and chant slogans before the palace. By the fifth day of the conclave, people were throwing occasional stones at the doors, and the Papal Guard, in mourning for the dead Pope, were sent out to keep order. Unwilling to shed blood, they were soon disarmed by the populace. The civil police were unable to control the crowd, short of using firearms. The crowds gathered and dispersed as they pleased. In fear, the cardinals voted for three days. When there was voting, the crowds drifted away, although there were always people who watched for white smoke.

An occasional cardinal, usually ill, tried to leave the city, was caught, and was hauled bodily back to the palace, where a room adjoining the great hall of the conclave was staffed as an infirmary. An elector in bed could vote, his ballot carried up to the altar by a conclavist helper who held it aloft so that everyone could see that no switching was done before he placed it in the chalice. While the early and indecisive balloting continued, however, citizens from outside the palace were sealing the great, bronze double doors by building wooden scaffolding against them. A blacksmith anchored the scaffolding by hammering long spikes into lead anchors set in holes drilled into the granite walls. Other men boarded up windows.

On the sixth day of confinement, a man climbed to the roof with a sledge and a crowbar and broke away clay tiles while another man, with an axe, chopped a hole in the roof deck beneath the tiles. Buckets of slops were drawn up to the roof, and a citizen cheerfully poured them through the hole. The ladies of the Valana Altar Society were prevented from bringing emergency food, since the kitchen had been closed by rioters. The water to the palace was shut off.

The cardinal with the loudest voice climbed to a broken window and yelled anathemas at the crowd, excommunicating everybody who remained in the plaza after five minutes. The crowd cheered and applauded as if he had been heard to announce good news. Actually, he was not heard at all above the din.

By late afternoon, a cardinal with diarrhea wailed that the privies were full to overflowing, for the Sanjoanini who worked outside were being prevented from emptying them. All requests from within for candles and lamp oil were refused. The palace began to smell like the local jail, with incense. The conclave was now indeed “with key.” Also with nails and timbers. There were cots enough for the cardinals, but their conclavists slept on the floor.

Blacktooth sat against the wall, alert lest his master beckon, and watched and listened and smelled and tried not to be afraid. He had gained much self-confidence in Brownpony’s employ. Also, that he could fight off attackers was a relaxing bit of knowledge to have with him in any situation. Blacktooth knew that he had not been changing, but unfolding in new dimensions. But he felt he was becoming worldly as he did so.

Brownpony waved him forward. “Talk to as many of the cardinals’ conclavists as you can. Sound them out on Cardinal Nauwhat and Abbot Jarad, especially Nauwhat.”

“Yes, m’Lord.” He looked around at a particularly loud crash of a window breaking.

“I’ve been to four conclaves and never seen anything like this,” Brownpony told him as he sent him on the vote-counting mission. “The sickness must be causing madness.”

Blacktooth began moving from cardinal to cardinal, not approaching the electors directly, but consulting the prelates’ assistants. But he came finally to Abbot Jarad. The self-confidence that had helped him with the police suddenly vanished. Brother Singing Cow was there as the abbot’s conclavist, but Blacktooth fell to his knees and kissed the abbot’s ring. Jarad pulled him gently to his feet and smiled but did not embrace him, and called him by name without calling him Brother. “You wanted to see me, my son?”

“Domne, my master asked me to solicit advice as to the possible nomination of Sorely Cardinal Nauwhat.”

“From me, or everyone?”

“From everyone, Domne.”

“Tell him that if the Holy Ghost is not against it, I’m for it.” He smiled at Blacktooth and turned away again.

“What of the nomination of Jarad Cardinal Kendemin?”

“The Holy Ghost and I are both against it. Is that all?”

“Not quite.”

“I was afraid not.”

“I would like to ask the abbot’s blessing on my release from the Order.”

Jarad looked at him remotely. “I was the minister who conferred on you the sacrament of Holy Orders, remember?”

“Of course.”

Jarad pressed his palms together, eyed the darkness above, and said to God, “Have you ever been known to take back Holy Orders?”

“Never,” said Cardinal Brownpony, joining them. “What do we have, a problem here?”

“None whatever,” exclaimed Jarad, clamping an arm around his shoulder.

“No problem with you, Nimmy?”

“Yes, a problem. When and how am I going to be laicized?”

“Well, that’s partly up to the abbot here.”

“And without his permission, it’s up to the Pope?” Blacktooth shifted his gaze toward Jarad, noticed the anger, noticed the controlling of anger, and saw Jarad’s lips move slightly in prayer while he breathed deeply and listened to Brownpony.

“Oh, it’s up to the Pope in the end anyway, but his permission is almost automatic if the abbot has given his.” Brownpony looked questioningly at Jarad. Jarad let go of his shoulder.

“And almost automatically refused if the abbot refuses?” Blacktooth also looked at Jarad.

“No,” said the Red Deacon, “probably the Pope would want to talk to you personally. In your case, I’m sure he would.”

Jarad faced Blacktooth squarely. “I suppose I owe you a hearing. Do you want to talk to me about it? Come to my quarters when all this is over.”

“I thank you, Domne!”

When he turned away, Brownpony fell in step with him. “Do you want to be laicized, or do you just want to make the whole thing a quarrel with the abbot? He’ll let you go, if you don’t make him any madder than he is now. Let it alone, Nimmy. He’s not happy with you. Don’t make it worse.”

The monk left the vicinity, his self-confidence drained. He missed the abbey. He yearned for Jarad’s blessing, or at least some evidence of forgiveness. He continued canvassing, although he knew that all Brownpony really wanted was to spread the knowledge that he was considering Sorely Nauwhat. A deception, Nimmy thought. Or maybe not. The Northwest had probably been happier when the papacy was located across the Plains. There had been less interference in the Northwest Church’s affairs from New Rome than from Valana. Nauwhat was leaning toward an immediate return, in spite of the hostility of Cardinal Benefez toward the Northwest’s independence in matters of liturgy and of Catholic teaching. Brownpony was dragging in a red herring to lead the hounds away from politics toward theology, if Blacktooth correctly understood his master’s hints. But on the other hand, Sorely Nauwhat would perhaps be a good man for the highest office.

From outside came the repeated roar: “Elect the Pope! Elect the Pope!” Occasionally, it became, “Elect the Amen! Elect the Amen!” Rumor came in from outside that Father Specklebird had left his cave and gone up the mountain, and a committee of citizens searched for his trail. Blacktooth prayed to Saint Leibowitz, and tried to keep up with his breviary, but could not pray well in the midst of havoc, as Abbot Jarad seemed able to do.

He was becoming very hungry.

Cardinal High Chamberlain Hilan Bleze tried to lead the frightened prelates in a Veni Creator Spiritus, but the hymn could scarcely be heard above the racket on the roof, the hammering of doors and windows, the splash of slop on the floor, and the babble of frightened conversation among the hundreds of electors and their conclavists.

Two hours later, perhaps in response to the invocation of the Holy Ghost, someone tossed a living bird down through the hole in the roof and covered the hole to prevent its escape. Not a dove but a vulture flapped around the Cathedral in terror and finally alighted atop the giant crucifix which hung suspended in midair by chains from a roof beam between the nave and the altar. Several cardinals were screaming about an omen, a warning from God.

Brownpony climbed up on the temporary altar itself and roared, “Silence! In the name of God, silence!”

Only the desecration of the altar could have caught their attention, and silence did at last prevail.

“What you see and hear is indeed the judgment of God on us! Now this congregation must invite Father Amen to address us. He should be one of us. We shall hear him, and hear him now. How say you?”

“Get down from there, Elia!” Abbot Jarad shouted.

“Not until you vote!”

There were dissenting murmurs among the cardinals, and a few cries of outrage, but after some muffled shouting outside the walls, the crowd fell suddenly silent. The crowd had posted reporters to listen at some of the broken windows.

“Quiet! Let the nays vote first,” Brownpony called. “They’ll be easier to count. Those who refuse to hear Father Amen, raise your hands.”

Pointing here and there, counting aloud, Brownpony said, “Seventeen!” and stopped. “Amen Specklebird shall speak to us.” He nodded and climbed down.

A face was looking in through a broken window above the choir loft. It was a Valana policeman. Brownpony and the Cardinal High Chamberlain disappeared through a doorway and soon were in the balcony talking to the officer. He shouted their words to the crowd. The hole in the roof was uncovered to allow the buzzard to escape, but the frightened bird took no notice and remained perched on the upright above the inri sign. A roar of enthusiasm went up from the mob outside.

Soon some of the windows were uncovered, but nothing was done about the doors. Within two hours, shit was being shoveled from the privies. Baskets of sour rye bread with the black specks were lowered through the roof hole, and the water pumps began working again. Screaming reerupted, however, when the buzzard suddenly descended from the cross to the floor, attracted by a smelly lump of garbage on the tiles. Three Sanjoanini were finally allowed entrance through a loft window to shoo away the bird and clean up the slops from the floor.

Chaos subsided, order returned, and the only sound in the palace was the murmur of hiccups, moans, sighs, groans from the ill, a murmur which occluded any whispered conversations drifting past and echoing in the great and temporarily sacred cavern. The light was low, near sunset. Servants were beginning to light the candles, but only a few of the cardinals were up and about. The rye bread had been consumed, and most of the water, but hunger, thirst, and fear presided over the night.

Blacktooth overheard a Texark conclavist talking to one of the abbess’s assistants:

“Everybody knows Cardinal Brownpony has taken off his gloves. Brownpony went to Leibowitz Abbey and hired himself a secretary and a bodyguard this spring. And who is this new bodyguard? A Texark runaway criminal, the former executioner Wooshin, now under a sentence of death for treason. And who is this secretary? A Texark-hating refugee from the Grasshopper Horde, brought up to despise imperial civilization but educated at the abbey, who was a friend of Corvany’s assassin. The cardinal deacon stood up and denounced our learned Thon Yordin and at the same time slandered Cardinal Benefez and all but declared war on the Texark Church. Now he wants a mountain-dwelling hermit, who barely speaks Latin and would be frightened to death by New Rome, to become the next Bishop of New Rome, in absentia again. Permanently in absentia, as Cardinal Brownpony would probably have it. However my master might otherwise have voted with respect to Amen Specklebird, Cardinal Brownpony’s support of him will cause him to abstain, of that I am certain.”

The necessary twenty votes were quietly gathered, however, and Amen Specklebird became a candidate for pope even before he appeared to speak.

CHAPTER 11

Therefore, since the spirit of silence is so important,

permission to speak should rarely be granted

even to perfect disciples, even though it be

for good, holy, edifying conversation.

Saint Benedict’s Rule, Chapter 6

AMEN SPECKLEBIRD WAS NOT STRONG ENOUGH to resist the crowd that dragged him reluctant to the Papal Palace by midmorning. And so at last, to pacify the people and the conclave, the black, old hermit priest agreed to address the cardinals. For this purpose, the dying Cardinal Ri consented to appoint the old man as his special conclavist, for Specklebird’s status as a cardinal in pectore of his former persecutor was doubted by most. He was passed in through the broken window in the balcony, and more baskets of bad bread and flagons of water were lowered through the hole in the roof.

There were scribes who were appointed to record all speeches during the conclave, subject to later editing or deletion by the speaker, but some of the few who actually listened to the old hermit through out his seemingly interminable homily later swore that some of the scribes had been asleep, and none had accurately recorded the full speech. But at first, the electors listened with intense curiosity.

Strange stories were told of Amen Specklebird by the old people of the countryside. Some said he walked silently on the mountain paths by moonlight and spoke to the antelope, the mountain spirits, and the risen Christ. Some had seen him flying above the treetops at morning twilight, and in the hole in the back of his cave he kept serpents, the mummy of an old Jew, or a wonder-working genny girl. Sometimes he visited the farms of the settlers and made it rain for them. He was a man of subtle power. He had placed a spell on Pope Linus VII, the story went, who as the Bishop of Denver had forced his retirement, and the spell made Linus call him to the Papal Palace several times during his long illness, either to have the spell removed or to treat the sickness whose cause eluded the physicians. (Blacktooth had seen him change into a cat and back, but Blacktooth would be the first to admit that his distance vision could be sharpened by spectacles, but his reason for avoiding it was not so much poverty as the fear that sharpness would ruin the clarity of his occasional hallucinatory insights into people and things.)

Heretics and holy men made pilgrimages to Amen’s cave. Children of irreligious parents threw stones at his door and called him a buggery man, and yet it was a fact that the Lord Cardinal Brownpony often came to see him, and he was confessor to prominent sinners from the city. Pregnant women came to have their bellies blessed by him, and for a small donation he would consult the mountain spirits, who controlled the weather even on the western Plains, and whom he addressed by saints’ names, about the best time for sowing or reaping or breeding sheep.

But now this dark old man with the frizzy white cloud of hair began speaking to the cardinals in conclave, and his style of address was none other than Blacktooth himself had experienced as his penitent. He was an elderly confessor most tactfully admonishing sinners and less tactfully testing their minds with paradoxes, and sometimes tortured syntax.

He embraced the audience with his long bony arms. “Fathers of the Church, Eminent Lords, there is a simpleton among us who has no rank at all and sits in the midst of us as a spy in an enemy camp. It is to him this sermon is addressed.”

The Archbishop of Appalotcha stood up and called out, “Point him out, Father. Call the sergeant-at-arms!”

“He is here without authorization, it’s true,” said Specklebird, waving the ushers back. “But please sit down, he was here among us from the beginning, and he always will be. He’s here to spy for Jesus anyway. And this conclave is the enemy camp.”

There was a murmur of righteous protest about the Holy Ghost and the apostolic succession, but it quickly died.

“The simpleton who sits in the midst of us as a spy is conscience. A conscience has no rank and no position. A conscience cannot be a cardinal’s conscience or a beggar’s conscience. It adheres to the naked man, wholly exposed. And to the naked woman.” The Abbess of N’Ork flinched, but Specklebird avoided looking at her. “In him or her, the Father gives birth to His Son.

“To this naked simpleton I speak, regardless of his office. The offices have fought each other. Rank has quarreled with rank. Regional origin argues with regional origin. Does the simpleton want a one and only pope, an everybody’s pope? Then let him put off his rank, his office, his regional origin and beg God’s grace to vote as a simpleton, a pure man.” From this rational opening, he began to wander.

At first he spoke mostly about the return of the papacy to New Rome, because he knew that this was the foremost issue, not the closest to his heart. And he made it clear from the beginning, to the complete astonishment of his Valanan supporters, the mob outside, that he favored an unconditional restoration of the New Roman Papacy in its ancient See. Brownpony, his friend, even looked shocked by this disclosure.

Only cardinals from the Denver Republic were in favor of making the exile permanent, and they too were truly shocked. They had refrained from calling the exile Exile, and proposed to change the name of Valana to “Rome.” Their motives were well rationalized, but they agreed with the rabble in the streets that the end of exile would be the end of Valana. But the Valana faction was a tiny minority in the conclave. Everyone else wanted the papacy returned to New Rome. The sharp division of opinion concerned the circumstances of that return, and the demand for a demilitarization of the surrounding terrain by the Empire.

The conclave had dragged to a standstill.

In a general way, the far East and the West were aligned against the middle. The middle was Texark and its vassal states along the Great River. There were also single-issue electors for whom the Valanan exile was not of major importance. Emmery Cardinal Buldyrk was one example. From the far northeast, she had voted with the West in two previous conclaves, but was now apparently leaning toward Benefez because of a possible softening of his position against the ordination of women. Benefez, however, was not present to confirm the inclinations of his conclavists, so the lady’s vote was not se cure. Cardinal Brownpony was doing his charming best to reconvert her, and she her charming best to seduce his feminine side.

Blacktooth himself took notes occasionally, but the old man rambled on and on. He misquoted Scripture. He belched. He improved on Scripture. He broke wind. He apologized for his frailties. He talked about his boyhood in the Northwest. He talked about barnyard matters. He talked about the wisdom of a mindless God. One passage which was faithfully recorded, and later used against him, was this:

“All this talk about the Church, the State, and the causes of schism reminds me of a story. When the priests asked Jesus whether they should pay taxes to the Hannegan of that time, Jesus borrowed a coin from them, asked them whose head was on it. ‘Hannegan’s,’ they said. So he told them, ‘Render unto Hannegan what is Hannegan’s, and to God what is God’s.’ Then he put the coin in his pocket and smiled. When the priest wanted his coin back, Jesus asked, ‘Who do you think Hannegan belongs to?’ When there was no answer, he reminded them, ‘The Earth is the Father’s and the fullness thereof, the world and they that dwell therein.’ Of course that’s just another way of saying, ‘The foxes have their dens, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.’

“So he gave the priest his coin back and slept under one of Hannegan’s bridges that night, along with Peter and Judas. The priest went home and paid his taxes and drew up an indictment.”

Here, Specklebird began to wander wide of his topic of New Rome and Valana.

“Why, you may ask, did Judas and Peter and Jesus sleep under a bridge,” he said, pursuing a tangent. “Judas had a good reason, you see: someone had stolen his horse, and he was too tired to walk to the inn. Peter also had a good reason: he had no money to stay at the inn. Jesus had no reason, no reason at all. Jesus was free to sleep under a bridge. Such is freedom. Such is reason. Such is rumination.”

Another tormentation of Scripture that was later bound to be used against him was this:

“‘What does it profit a man if he gains the whole world but loses his own soul?’ I spoke earlier about this world, and him to whom it belongs, but what, one might ask, is one’s own soul, which can be lost? The soul, insofar as it exists or not-exists, is the seat of suffering, when Jesus was born, he looked around at the world and said to his mother, ‘From the outermost to the innermost I alone am the suffering one.’ Cardinal Ri, whose conclavist I am, told me that. And this is the first fact of religion: I am means ‘I hurt.’ Why is it that I hurt? Is it God’s revenge on a son? No, I hurt because I, my soul, keep grasping at the world to gain it, and the world has sharp teeth. And thorns.

That is the second fact of religion. The world is slippery too, and it wiggles. Just when I think I have a grip on it, it stings me, and slips away, or part of it dies on me, and I am overcome with grief and a sense of loss—the consequence of sin. But there is a way to stop grasping at this slithery world, a way to stop hurting and hungering. That is the third fact of religion. That third fact, Venerable Fathers, can be called the ‘way of the Cross.’ It leads to Golgotha. For you among you who will be Pope, it leads to New Rome.”

His return to the topic came with brutal abruptness.

“These are elemental things. The fourth elemental fact of religion is called the ‘Stations of the Way of the Cross.’” He waved toward the paintings on the Cathedral walls.

“This, Venerable Lords, is what I say of New Rome: that the way of the Cross ends there. The last station. The Pope must go back to New Rome as to Golgotha, and be crucified. The Hannegan will have his coin of tribute, which belongs to God if you correctly understand the Lord’s irony, and Peter will have his crucifixion. When Benedict fled from New Rome in the last century, Jesus appeared to him and asked ‘Quo Vadis,’ but Benedict mistook him for a Nomad, and said ‘Ad Valanam’ and did not turn around. This I heard from one of you.” He smiled at the conclavists from Texark, whose expressions had changed throughout the speech from initial hostility, to astonishment, through outrage, to suspicious approval, for, although the premises by which he arrived at his conclusions were not flattering to their monarch, and his theology was outrageous, the conclusions were the same as their own. The papacy should go home without any concession of power from the Imperial Mayor of Texark.

Usually so silent, this bewildering man was now talking through the afternoon, and when the lamps were lit in the evening, he talked on by lamplight. Once, when Blacktooth himself nodded off, he reawakened to see a cougar in aragged cassock change to a dark brown old man with wild white hair again.

Amen Specklebird made a speech that was to become famous in the history of the Church, as written by its severest critics. Such are the quotations and misquotations as written down by the scribes.

Amen on the Fall and its aftermath: “The fruit of the tree, Eminent Lords, was rumination. Out of rumination came good and evil. The devil is a cud-chewing animal with cloven hooves. The serpent Satan ate souls and chewed the cud, and he taught rumination to the female, who taught it to the male. Whatever you do, do not ruminate. The anointed one never ruminates. He marches straight on to Hell from the tomb—and ascends to Heaven if it befall him.

“But if you should ruminate, and thus sin through fornication or rage or greed, never be ashamed of your guilt. Shame is none other than pride, pride is none other than shame. Your pride is your shame, your shame is your pride. They look in opposite directions, shame and pride, because when pride looks directly into the eye of shame and shame looks directly into the eye of pride, both instantly die. They die to the accompaniment of laughter, the laughter of the man who has foolishly kept them in his heart and kept them apart. When he feels his shame as pride and his pride as shame, he is free of them, free forever from the sin of both. Guilt, however, is not a feeling.

“When you see that you have sinned, and you repent the sin, do not wish you had not sinned. Wish instead that God in His mysterious way will turn your sin to a good end, for your sin is now already a part of the history of His ongoing creation of the world. To wish it away is to resist His will.”

Amen on truth: “The truth is God’s subtle, abominable word, Eminent Lords, subtile et enfandum is His word.”

Amen, repeating himself, on man’s place in God’s world: “Don’t you know that Jesus Christ is alone and friendless in the universe? Don’t you know that the Earth is the Creator’s, and the fullness thereof? What does that mean, Eminent Lords, except that the foxes have their dens, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head? He often sleeps under bridges.

“What is God that thou art mindful of Him, and the Son of God that thou shouldst visit Him?

“He who is close to God is in danger. It’s possible to be so enlightened that blindness follows. The light was too bright for your eyes and you never see God again.”

Amen on man, woman, and the Trinity, going on in a kind of rapture: “God lives at the center of the Son. Or Daughter.” He nodded toward the Cardinal Abbess. “His throne—it’s hotter than Hell there, you know. Even the Devil couldn’t sit down in that throne. But you can. I can. We’re in His lap, and we know what the Godhead’s like—from inside. God-at-the-center-of-the-sun-I am bigger than I am. Jesus too, am. Saint Spirit also, am. And, oh my yes, the Virgin, am. One should be embarrassed to speak of God in the third person.”

He went on openly to embrace what Blacktooth recognized as a tenet of the old Northwest Heresy, so called, although many in the audience seemed too sleepy to detect it.

“Whence came the Trinity and the Virgin? The unspeakable Godhead yawns and they emerge. The Virgin is the hymnal silence into which the Word is sung by the Father through the Holy Breath and begotten and made flesh within her flesh from the beginning. ‘Before the creation, God is not God.’ But behind this fearsome four fold God yawns the undifferentiated Godhead. To say so is false, however, Eminent Lords. To mention it at all is to lie. Godhead? To presume to name it or even allude to it is to miss it entirely while immersed in it. And yet it is to a union with this ultimate Godhead that we dare aspire. In such a union the soul is like a glass of water when poured into the great ocean. Its identity as a certain glass of water is diffused into its identity as the ocean. It loses nothing. Nor does it gain. It is home again.

“And the wages of death am sin,” he added. It seemed an afterthought.

Brother Blacktooth realized early that the audience was briefly captured by his pious enthusiasm and stopped listening carefully to words. The man had a way about him. He could just be himself in front of a crowd and the strength of his spirit prevailed upon them. But after hours of it, the cardinals began to turn to one another and even to get up and slip quietly about the throne room to whisper.

It was well into the following morning when he blessed his inattentive audience and sat down. He had talked all night. That was the first of the next Pope’s miracles. He talked seventeen hours without a glass of water and without becoming hoarse. He had talked them into weariness. Only his friend Cardinal Brownpony voiced an “Amen,” as the morning sunlight broke through the eastern windows, but that was because only a few had been listening toward the end, but among these a handful had listened intently. Many were asleep. Others were reading their breviaries, some were pairing off politically—actually wandering from throne to throne—and seated bishops whispered and giggled with neighbors, as innocent as girls in the early morning. When Brownpony said “Amen” to the speech, Specklebird stood up again and answered “Yes?”—and then, as if by a breath of the Holy Spirit, the few intent listeners started erect and answered “Amen” with such deep feeling that others were caught by it, and then there was a chorus of guilty amens from the bewildered.

And that is really all there was to it. The speech was not famous then. Like many of the great orations of human history, Specklebird’s speech seemed rather confusing to the conclave, which, in desperation, finally elected him in spite of the strange homily. Only much later would his words come alive, when men thoughtfully read the transcriptions and random notes, and either damned it as foulest heresy, or praised it as divinely inspired, a new revelation. But to Brownpony and all who knew him well, Amen Specklebird’s talk was like the twitter of birds who say in every language such things as “Bob White,” or “To Easter,” or “Whip-poor-Will.” The meaning is in the ear of the listener.

They elected him that morning, the old man, before the crowd started throwing stones at the door. Cardinal Ri lay dead on his cot. Old Otto e’Notto had gone crazy as a loon. The corridors of the palace were places of vomit and shit. More than twenty-five cardinals were in the throes of the illness, and five were with difficulty restrained by their conclavists from becoming violent. They elected him without debate before noon.

To the surprise of many, including Blacktooth, the old man actually said, “Accepto,” and called himself by his own name, Pope Amen, to the disapproval of many. It was a break with a most ancient tradition.

There were feeble protests preceding the election, of course.

“He said the anointed one marches straight into Hell!” a cardinal from the Southeast complained to the abbot.

“‘From the tomb’ he descended into Hell,” added Jarad. “And on the third day he arose again from the dead and ascended into Heaven. That’s orthodox enough.”

“If it befall him! And he called God’s word abominable.”

“A slip of the tongue,” said Brownpony. “He meant admirable.”

“‘Subtle and abominable’ is what he said. Attributes of the Devil. The serpent was the subtlest of beasts. God’s word is Satan?”

“Come, come!” said the abbot. “I think you misheard him. Verbum subtile atque infandum. It means finely woven but unutterable. Even elegant but unutterable. Truth so subtle it evades speech. The silence of Christ. And he was waving his arms around at the universe when he said it.”

At the end, the conclave unanimously agreed on one thing. If any man could return to New Rome as the head of the Church and play Peter to the Mayor’s Caesar without any compromise of fear, it was indeed this Amen (cardinal in pectore of Linus VII, as many were now willing to concede) Specklebird. But it was in compromise and fear that the conclave at last elected him, even permitting the conclavists of Archbishop Benefez to vote in his absence, which was not legal since he had not been present to instruct them. To their later chagrin, they voted for the gaunt and wild-eyed hermit.

“Gaudium magnum do vobis. Habemus Papam. Sancte Spiritu volente, Amen Cardinal Specklebird...”

The roar of the crowd drowned the rest of it, and the conclave turned within itself again as each cardinal came before the new Pope to kiss his slipper and be embraced by the new heir to Saint Peter’s keys, and heir as well—if Brownpony the lawyer was correct—to both of Saint Peter’s swords, meaning both the spiritual and the temporal power, the latter subordinate to the former. Brownpony the lawyer who knew more about the history of canon law and the papacy than anyone outside of Leibowitz Abbey had talked freely during the conclave about the ancient Theory of the Two Swords, to the dismay of conclavists of the absent Archbishop of Texark. He quoted from an ancient bull: “Porro subesse Romano Pontifici… de necessitate salutis...” “And so to be eligible for salvation everybody must be subject to the Roman Pontiff.” According to Brownpony, this never-popular decree had been aimed especially at monarchs, whether civil or Nomadic, and the Hannegans and Caesars as well, but it passed the test for infallibility defining a matter of faith and by backing it with a stated penalty, the loss of salvation, for rejecting it. Perhaps what the electors sympathetic to Texark feared most, Brownpony as Pope, was now replaced by fear of Brownpony as gray eminence. That the cardinal had been the hermit’s patron and cultivated his friendship and managed to get him restored to favor with Linus VII was well known to everyone. It had seemed a harmless relationship between a rich and lordly Churchman and a humble holy man. If one lacked a conscience, one could always pay to support one, was the cynical view. But Brownpony and Specklebird, though poles apart, had always seemed genuinely fond of each other. There was that friendship to worry about now.

There was jubilation in the streets at first, but then the people heard with outrage that their hero had reversed his initial position, which was thought to have been that the real Rome was wherever the Pope decided to settle down. A further rebuff to the city was the sentence of interdict which Pope Amen laid upon Valana until the instigators of the violence against the conclave should be brought into his presence. For three days, the population seethed. Under the interdict, Masses were forbidden to be said or confessions heard, and only the last sacraments could be offered to the dying. The city was sick, and the city knew that the punisher behind the interdict was Cardinal Brownpony. But on the fourth day, the terrorists were brought bound before the Pope. He ordered them untied, heard their common confession, and granted them absolution on condition that they repair all damage to the building under the supervision of the Cardinal Penitentiary and satisfy any other claims against them before an arbitrator. Having thus subdued the city, the Pope-elect again called together the conclave and had himself reelected in the absence of mob violence. This too was attributed to Brownpony’s influence. A vote against the Pope was a vote against an early departure from Valana; there were no such votes, and only two abstentions.

It was true that Specklebird had once said that Rome was wherever the Pope settled down, but saying that the Pope was Pope wherever he lived was not the same as saying he should live in Valana. Specklebird had never said he should, for he was Pope only by virtue of being Bishop of New Rome. The public ministry which informed and influenced popular opinion published an analysis of Specklebird’s views, and it was posted on the doors or walls of every Church in the city. Valanans, this essay concluded, had nothing to fear from Amen Specklebird’s return to New Rome, for this was his home, and while he left as spiritual conqueror, he could be expected to return every summer to Valana for the rest of his life, and permanently to establish here many institutions of the Church which were now in New Rome, such as the Ignatzian Order, in order to free them from imperial influence. Nevertheless, the angry burghers seemed intent upon preventing Pope Amen from leaving Valana until Urion Cardinal Benefez had arrived and paid homage to His Holiness.

By this time the attendant electors, cardinals of the College, had knelt before, kissed the ring of, and been embraced by His Holiness Pope Amen. Only a handful refused to do so, claiming that the election was held under duress and therefore invalid. These few had obvious Texark affiliations and their attitude was not unexpected.

It was about noon on the fateful election day that the coach bearing the Most Eminent Lord Urion Cardinal Benefez, Archbishop of Texark, arrived in the sickened city with a party of cavalry. Blacktooth caught a glimpse of the fury on the portly archbishop’s face when he learned of the forced election, and heard him rain abuse on his own conclavists for their votes, but the meaning of the fury and its portent faded almost instantly from his mind. Across the plaza from the palace stood a barefoot girl in a brown nun’s habit. It was Ædrea, looking at him in apparent shock.

He took a step toward her; then Brownpony’s voice echoed in his mind: You are not to intentionally see her again. If you ever see her in Valana, avoid her. He stopped. But she had already turned away and disappeared into the crowd.

CHAPTER 12

Idleness is the enemy of the soul. Therefore

the brethren should be occupied at certain

times in manual labor, and again at fixed

hours in sacred reading.

Saint Benedict’s Rule, Chapter 12

AS SOON AS ELIA BROWNPONY HEARD THAT HIS old friend-enemy Urion Benefez was in town, he began looking for an opportunity to escape from such ceremonies as the vesting of the new Pontiff. When he found the right moment, he insisted that Blacktooth accompany him to see the Archbishop of the Imperial City, but for what purpose the monk could not quite imagine. As they hurried to the address where Benefez had reserved a residence, Blacktooth confessed that he had seen Ædrea. There was a quaver in his voice, and the cardinal stopped smiling and looked at him sharply.

“I told you to avoid her!”

“I did not disobey you, m’Lord”—yet, his internal demon added silently.

Brownpony’s smile dimly returned. “I know. She avoided you. I talked to her myself.”

“Where?”

“At the office, while you were out. I had asked Security to send her to me the next time she brought silver from the colony. When we stopped in Arch Hollow, I told you about the group of gennies in the Suckamint Mountains. They call it New Jerusalem. There’s an old silver mine they work. She comes to town about once a month to the, uh, other wing of the building to exchange silver for currency. Their contacts are strictly with the covert wing, which keeps me informed. That’s why she didn’t know me before, although I was very surprised. We keep their secrets. They fear for their silver mine, among other things. You saw the papal flag over Shard’s house.

“I’ll tell you how our visit looked from their viewpoint, Nimmy. They’re on the edge of lawless country. The last party of Churchmen who stopped at Arch Hollow turned out to be Texark agents, and they were very suspicious of Shard’s family. One of them penetrated behind their place to the cliff trail, and he saw too much, so the guards killed him quietly and dragged him away. When the other two realized he was missing, they wanted to go looking for him. Shard said there was danger of bear attacks. The guards would have killed them both. Ædrea went to search on their behalf, and brought back a piece of an arm with teeth and claw marks on it. So they prayed over it, buried it, and went back south the way they had come. But before they left, they let Shard know they were on Texark’s side, and that all gennies should go back to the Watchitah Nation.

“Then, right after these false Texark priests left, there came a cardinal with no bishop’s ring, a monk who plays a guitar, a Nomad in a magic hat, and a swordsman who admits he had worked for the Hannegan. Furthermore, if the cardinal was who he said he was, he should know all about them, but he didn’t seem to.”

“All they’re hiding is a silver mine?”

“Not quite. The gennies in New Jerusalem are about ninety percent spooks, able to pass, relatively normal, like Ædrea. They began fleeing to those mountains generations ago. They put the gleps up front and call it Scarecrow Alley.

“Now, as for Ædrea—” He broke off and looked at the monk. “She sends her regrets.”

“For what?”

“Probably for avoiding you in the square. For teasing you too, I suppose, back at her home. How do you feel about her?”

Nimmy groped for words, but none came.

“I see. The Secretariat can have no visible contact with anyone from New Jerusalem. Do you understand that?”

“No, m’Lord.”

“Their aims are controversial. So are some of ours. They are refugees, and stand accused of killing Texark guards when they escaped the Watchitah Nation. They fear a raid from imperial forces from the Province. Stay away from the subject, and from her. She’s trouble.”

Don’t I know! he thought miserably.

“She will no longer be accepted by us as their agent,” the cardinal added sharply. “That should be the end of it.”

The coaches from Texark were still loaded with baggage and both military and civilian personnel standing around as if waiting for orders. A monsignor politely blocked the cardinal’s path and asked his name and business.

“Just tell him the Red Deacon is here.”

“May I state the purpose—”

“Tell him I came to find out why he tried to have me and my secretary assassinated.”

Shaking his head, the monsignor went through a door with the message. Half a minute later, the lecturer Urik Thon Yordin emerged, white as a sheet, looked in terror at both of them, and fled the room. The cardinal looked at Blacktooth and smiled. Nimmy now understood why he was here.

Brownpony was called inside. Blacktooth sat by the door, which was not quite shut. The Archbishop of Texark had not yet changed out of his traveling clothes. The Hannegan’s uncle was pacing in fury.

“Elia, how dare you accuse me, even jokingly, in front of my servants and visitors?” he raged.

“I was not aware you had a visitor,” the monk heard his master lie. “The fool seemed very upset. I apologize, Urion.”

“Well, yes, Yordin is a fool. When he notified us about Corvany’s killer, he associated the thing with you and one of your men. I’m sorry someone tried to kill you, but I resent your insinuation, Elia. As you no doubt resented Yordin’s.”

“I apologize again, Your Eminence. I do wonder if Yordin himself wasn’t behind it. But we’ll let this wound heal. And now, Urion, will you also heal the Church by paying homage to His Holiness? I know how you must feel, and while the election was very irregular, it’s plainly valid. Be generous! The new Pope wants to go home to New Rome, unconditionally, where the Empire wants him, without demands. You have gotten what you wanted.” There was such a stoppage of Brownpony’s breath with the word “wanted” that Blacktooth could almost hear the except the tiara which did not follow. “He makes no demand for a withdrawal of Texark troops, Urion.”

There was a long silence. “I shall consult with many other cardinals, Elia. Thank you for your advice,” the big man said at last. “I don’t like what I’m hearing, but let’s not be enemies.”

“What have you been hearing?”

“That you stirred up the city, that your agents caused the riots. Or that the, uh, hermit himself did.”

“You have been lied to. The people had to drag that ‘hermit’ to the conclave. Talk to Jarad. Talk to Bleze. Then talk to His Holiness, that hermit, for love of the Church. A love we share.”

“Oh, yes, Elia! I know you love the Church. It’s what else you may love that I wonder about. We’ll see, we’ll see.”

On his way out, Brownpony found that Blacktooth had been joined in the outer office by three frustrated electors who had come to Valana as Texark allies. One of them, however, had already knelt at the feet of Pope Amen and been embraced by His Holiness. Brownpony exchanged weather opinions with them and hurried on.

“Why did you want me to go with you there, m’Lord?” Blacktooth asked innocently.

“Because I knew Yordin was there, of course. I wanted him to fear we were going to accuse him. And frankly, I wanted to get him in trouble with the archbishop.”

“You think he hired the men?”

“If not, he knows who did, but he knows it was a mistake. I think we’ll be safe now. It just proves they’re dangerous. Now we all need a rest after the worst conclave I’ve ever seen. Take two or three days off.”

As Blacktooth was leaving the Secretariat, the receptionist guard at the entrance handed him two letters. One was a note from Ædrea. He glanced at the guard, who was watching him with an expression that made Blacktooth ask:

“Did the sender give this to you personally?”

“It was handed me by a young sister in a brown habit, Brother St. George. May it not displease Your Reverence that I did not ask her name, for she was silent herself and I did not wish to spoil it.”

“Spoil what?”

“Her silence.”

Nimmy studied him in surprise. He was a beefy man of mature years, and looked like a retired soldier. His name was Elkin. “You’ve been to a monastery, haven’t you?”

“I was at your own abbey for three years in my youth, Brother, at the same time as the cardinal. Of course, he wasn’t a cardinal then, or even a deacon. And I wasn’t yet a soldier. But we left at the same time. He had been there to study, but I was there to—” He shrugged.

“Find a calling or not,” Nimmy finished, and resolved to be amazed later by this information. “About the silent sister. Does she come here often?”

The guard’s expression blurted a yes before he caught himself and said, “You should question His Eminence about things like that, Brother St. George.”

“Of course, thank you.” He turned to go. The other letter was a note from Abbot Jarad apologizing for being unable to meet with him as promised. I am writing to His Holiness on your behalf, my son, and you may be sure I shall write only what will be favorable to your good intentions.

Whatever that means.

The note from Ædrea said: I shall leave your chitara in the crack in the ledge below the waterfall up the hill from the Pope’s old place. Blacktooth began walking in that direction. He wondered why she hadn’t left his g’tara with the guard instead of the note. It was a five-mile hike to the falls, and the climb made him dizzy. When he arrived, a white horse was drinking at the pool under the falls, and he froze for a moment; but then he saw that it was a gelding rather than a mare, and wearing a bridle but no saddle; it snorted at the sight of him and trotted out of sight around a curve in the trail. The waterfall was hardly more than a shower, and it fluttered in the wind, producing an occasional flash of rainbow. He walked around the pool, fearing and half hoping to find her behind the falls. The g’tara was there as promised. It was slightly damp from the mist of the falls, causing him to grunt irritably and wipe it against his robe. Why had she made him walk so far?

He glanced at the hoofprints in the sand as he walked around the pool again. Then he stopped. The hoofprints of the horse crossed and partly overlaid a set of human footprints, smaller than his own. Both led in the same direction away from the pool. He wrestled with himself for a moment, then followed the trail.

Her footprints led him into a wooded ravine, then under a low ledge which overhung the sandy bank of the swollen creek. He had to duck low to walk, then dropped to his knees and crawled. Then he found her. He had heard of this place, but never seen it. The small cavern under the ledge was said to have been the home of Amen Specklebird before Cardinal Brownpony bought him the remodeled cavern closer to town.

Slanting sunlight filtered through the foliage and made delicate patterns on the stones and the bare thighs of Ædrea, who was no longer wearing the nun’s robe but the leather skirt and a halter above her waist. She sat with bare flesh on bare sand. He had been following her trail on his hands and knees, and at the sight of her bare legs he paused to look. She laughed at him, and put away a handgun she had been holding in her lap.

“You might as well admire the rest of me.” She pulled up her skirt and spread her legs to let the dappled light shine on her crotch, then closed her thighs quickly. He had seen it before, dimly, in a barn. Her vagina was small as a nail hole because of the stitches, but her clitoris was as big as Nimmy’s thumb, and maybe because he loved her he could see nothing repulsive about her crotch, however embarrassing, and she could see that he was not repelled but sad and curious, and embarrassed. She smiled wickedly and patted his arm.

He sat in the soft sand beside her. “Why do you tease me?” he asked wistfully.

“Now or back home?”

“Then and now.”

“I’m sorry. There was a runaway monk from your Order who stopped at our place once. He didn’t like me, not at all. He was in love with another monk. I wondered if you were like him. And your gap was showing.”

“Gap?”

“The gap between what you are and what you try to let show. I’m a genny, remember. I see gaps. Some call me a witch, even my own father when he’s angry.”

“So what did you see in this gap?”

“I knew you weren’t just a runaway like the other, but something was wrong. You were some kind of fake. I wondered if you weren’t the cardinal’s prisoner.”

Nimmy’s laugh was remote. “Something like that. I was in disgrace.”

“Are you still in disgrace?”

“As soon as the cardinal finds out I’ve seen you, I will be.”

“I know. He ordered me out of town. That’s why I didn’t stay by the falls, so that you could go back the way you came.”

“You left me a trail.”

“You didn’t have to follow it.”

“Yes, I did.” He eyed her accusingly.

“Come back here where we can’t be seen.” She rolled over and crawled back into the cavern entrance, taking the gun with her. Nimmy followed. The rock overhead was less than ceiling height, and he could not stand up, but in the dim light from the door he could see a mattress on the floor, a saddle, a low table with a candle on it, and several wooden boxes.

“You’ve been living here!”

“Only for three days. Your employer told the sisters to turn me out. I’ve made my last trip to Valana. I’m not welcome at the Secretariat anymore. Our people will have to get somebody else. I’m going back home alone. That’s my horse you saw outside.”

“But why? His Eminence told me you trade silver for scrip, but—”

“Scrip?” She laughed. “Yes, that’s truth. Not the whole truth, but true. He doesn’t want me to handle it anymore because of you and me, and because of Jæsis. Jæsis was one of ours. And now your cardinal thinks we have a spy among us. He may be right, but it’s not me.”

“Where did you get the gun?”

“I swiped it from one of the crates in our shipment.”

“Shipment?”

“From the Secretariat to New Jerusalem, of course.”

Nimmy was incredulous. “We are giving you guns?”

“Not giving. Selling us some, depending on us to store some for the Secretary’s own arsenal. Didn’t you know? We’re bigger than you think, a nation almost. The mountains are easy to defend.”

“I don’t think I should have come here,” he said in alarm.

She caught his arm as he backed toward the door. “We won’t talk about it anymore. I thought you knew.” Her hand moved up his arm under the sleeve of his robe, caressing. “You’re nice and furry.”

He sat down again. The gun was lying on one of the packing crates. He picked it up.

“Be careful, it’s loaded. I was afraid, staying here alone. That’s the smallest model, but it shoots five times. Here, I’ll show you.” She took the weapon from him, manipulated it, and five brass objects fell one at a time out of the gun into her lap.

“If those are the bullets, where is the powder?”

She handed one of them to him. “The lead part is the bullet. The brass part contains the powder. Now watch this.” She cocked it and part of the gun rotated through a small angle. She pulled the trigger, and cocked it again, causing another rotation. “See? It shoots five times. And it’s this easy to reload.” She turned the cylinder one click at a time and dropped the cartridges back into their chambers.

“But how do you reload the cartridges?”

“You don’t, in the field. You carry a lot of cartridges with you. There’s a loading press back at your base, if you don’t lose the casings.”

“I’ve never seen anything like it.”

“Neither has the Texark cavalry. The guns come from the west coast. I think the design came from Cardinal Ri’s country, but it was probably copied from the ancients.” She put the gun away, and embraced him suddenly. “I’m not going to see you again. Let’s make love—any way we can.”

Resigned to what he had started, he did what he could to please her. They lay on the mattress, rubbing bodies and kissing. God, she is beautiful, he noticed in the faint light from the entrance. Spirit in the primordial ooze fucked the Earth, and the Earth gave birth to her, golden-haired as the new corn and laughing in the wind. O Day Maiden, thy name is Ædrea, and I love you.

“Fujæ Go!”

“What?” she whispered, squirming under him and grinning at her own pleasure.

“Fujæ Go, It is one of the names of—”

“What?”

He remained silent, watching her violet eyes search his own.

“Unspeakable?” she guessed.

“You, are, almost, awake,” he groaned in sudden orgasm.

“Oh, let me take it. Like before!” She reached down with her hand and caught his discharge.

Spent, he nevertheless started up in total surprise. She was rubbing it into herself, into that tiny orifice no larger than a buzzard-quill pen. “What are you doing?” Nimmy gasped.

Still grinning, she said, “Getting pregnant. Like last time. I’m way late for my period since we did it.”

Stunned, he sat up. It had been black as pitch in Shard’s root cellar, and he had been too drunk to be certain what happened, and he could feel it but not see it, in spite of what he said in confession to an old onetime hermit.

“Nimmy, you’re white as a sheet!”

“Why?”

“Shard had me stitched up by a surgeon, and he won’t have it undone, and he’s my father, and I love him, and I won’t defy him, but this way I can let a baby tear it open, if he won’t let a surgeon cut me.”

“Oh, my God!” He rolled over with his face in his hands.

“Nimmy, please don’t cry.” She held his shoulders and tried to keep him from shaking so. “Oh, please!—I didn’t mean to make you unhappy. I just picked you to have a baby with. You!”

Nimmy felt dizzy and sick. There seemed to be only a moment of blackness, but when he awoke and went outside, Ædrea and the white gelding were gone. He was alone in front of the tiny cavern. She had written in the sand: Goodbye, Nimmy. You really are a monk.

He saw her in town again, however, on his way home from the hills. Walking down the street, he looked over his shoulder at the sound of a horse and saw Ædrea slowly overtaking him. She shook her head quickly, but barely looked at him. He nodded understanding and kept going. She had stopped somewhere along the way, but had to come through town to go back home by the main road. Blacktooth, who was wearing his Leibowitzian novice’s robe, turned a corner and just avoided running into another man, who was skipping rope. He wore a wood and leather harness which held a harmonica up to his mouth. He played a rapid but recognizable Salve Regina while he jumped the rope; a cup on the ground at his side asked for, and had collected, a few coins. Blacktooth suppressed a sharp gasp and tried to pass behind him as quietly as possible. For there wearing a Leibowitzian postulant’s robe in the road was Torrildo playing the fool for coins. Blacktooth had gone about six paces when the music and the slapping of the rope suddenly stopped, so that he could hear the tread of hooves of his love’s mount as she too passed the excommunicated musical mendicant.

“Hey, Blacktooth. Darling!” Torri called.

Blacktooth broke into a fast trot. Behind him, he could hear them. Ædrea stopped to exchange pleasantries with Torrildo, whom she had apparently met before.

“Oh, so he was the one!” he heard her say as he fled.

The sound came from the chapel, a whishingslap followed by a moan. It was repeated every two or three seconds. His Eminence Cardinal Brownpony stopped to listen, then walked inside. After three days of absence without leave, his secretary for Nomad affairs was found at last. Blacktooth was kneeling before the altar of the Virgin in the Secretariat’s private chapel; he was flagellating himself with a scourge of thongs.

“Stop it,” the cardinal said quietly, but the sound went on. Whish, slap, moan. Pause. Whish, slap, moan. Pause.

The head of SEEC cleared his throat loudly. “Nimmy, stop it!”

Finding himself ignored, he turned toward his office, the Axe at his elbow. “Come see me as soon as you can,” he called over his shoulder as the flogging continued. “We have an audience with His Holiness early tomorrow. It’s about your petition.”

•      •      •

The audience went badly. As they walked to the Papal Palace, Blacktooth, his back sore and his guilt making him sick, said nothing to his master and his master said nothing to him. There was an alienation between them that he had never felt before. Brownpony obviously knew he had disobeyed and seen Ædrea, but he could not know, or perhaps only suspected, that she had told Blacktooth about the smuggling of guns. If they had spoken as they walked, mutual accusation might arise, and Nimmy was grateful for the strained silence.

The Pope, still looking uncomfortable in his white cassock, greeted them warmly and without formality. As Blacktooth knelt to kiss his ring, Amen nodded to the cardinal, who then disappeared, leaving the surprised monk alone with the Supreme Pontiff.

“Please get up, Nimmy. Come let us sit over here.”

Blacktooth moved as if in a dream. As he sat down, he felt as if he were resuming his role as a penitent in Specklebird’s home cavern. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Specklebird become a cougar.

“There seems to be a divine being among us,” said the cougar, smiling a thin smile.

“The divine being should shut up,” Nimmy heard himself say, and heard with pleasure the cougar’s laugh. The being was playful.

“You are going to continue in Cardinal Brownpony’s employ for some time, unless you object,” said the cougar, dissolving into an old black man with a cloud of white hair and white skullcap.

“I am surprised he still wants me.” (Nimmy again hearing himself.)

“Why do you think he chose you among his translators as a personal secretary?”

“I have wondered that myself, Holy Father. I can only think that he has become attached to the people of his unknown mother, through his frequent contacts with them. I am of the same blood.”

“It’s just ethnic nepotism? Do you really think so?”

“The alternative is to suppose that he thinks I have some particular quality or talent that he appraises rationally, and so chooses me, in spite of my disobedience, but I cannot, Holy Father, imagine what that could be. Whatever it is, it must be imaginary on his part.”

“In other words, you’re just a poor sinner who deeply loves God, but hasn’t got much to offer in the way of talent.”

Sarcasm? Blacktooth withered. He had unconsciously spoken through a mask of humility, and the cougar as Specklebird-Peter ruthlessly held up a mirror to the mask he was looking through.

Recovering after a moment, he said, reflecting the sarcasm, “All   right, let’s admit that I’m a genius in Nomadic languages, having invented the new alphabet myself, which even Saint Ston’s uses, I’m told. Not only that, I’ve learned to defend myself, understand most of my master’s affairs with the Nomads, and that’s where we’re going. So perhaps his choosing me is rational. Also, I’ve been taught how to kill a man.”

“You are to abstain from deadly violence, my son,” said the old mountain cat.

“Neither am I to covet my neighbor’s ox, Holy Father.”

The Pope laughed heartily. “You’re awake sometimes, Nimmy. I do believe it: you are called to contemplation.”

Blacktooth sighed and lowered his head. “I could be laicized and still work for the cardinal, Holy Father. And I don’t have to be a monk to contemplate.”

Specklebird returned to his subject: “In your case, I think you do. Cardinal Brownpony chose you because you are a monk, Nimmy, a real monk, and a contemplative. Why do you think he, a rich and powerful man, formed a friendship with me, a hermit and beggar, a bedraggled and much-reprimanded priest with no parish, denied access for several years to the altars of Valanan Churches? Your master wants to learn more about people like us, Nimmy. There is hope for him, just because he perceives we are different, and the perception leads him to curiosity rather than contempt. If you were not truly a man of religion, why would he choose you?—who know less about the Secretariat’s business than at least three of the others. I know him. He wonders what it is like to know God.”

“If you are being infallible, I surrender. If not, I say he made a mistake, because I am, or was, a very bad monk.”

“You bring in a load of donkey shit. That’s yours to confess if you think so, but it’s not yours to judge on the last day.”

“I’m in love with a spook, a genny girl, Holy Father.”

“Is that why you want to be laicized?”

“Not at first.” He sighed. “Maybe that’s part of it now.”

“Maybe?”

“Because she too says I’m a monk. Everybody says I’m a monk but me.”

“Smart girl. When you feel love for her, see God in her. Do not let this love lessen your love of the Lord. Passion is the other side of compassion, not its negation. You should be able to see and love God through any of His works, including a forbidden girl. But remember that you are a monk of Saint Leibowitz. Love is not a sin.”

“But consummation is.”

“For you. You yourself chose it to be so.”

“As a runaway at age fifteen.”

“Your solemn vows were taken much later, Brother St. George!”

“But I was still ignorant of the world I was undertaking to shun by my vows, from which only you can absolve me, Holy Father.”

“You have learned so much about the world lately?”

“I am in love.”

Pope Amen laughed. “Loving God through His creatures is admirable, if you know what you are doing. Now let me remind you of something. I have spoken to Abbot Jarad, and he reminded me. The Order of Saint Leibowitz was originally an order of hermits. It is possible for you to remain in the Order, but live apart from the monastery. You would live by the ancient rules of Saint Leibowitz, as he originally established them. This would be after your present employer releases you, of course. I ask you to consider the possibility, and postpone your request to be laicized until you decide.”

Blacktooth sighed deeply. He looked at the old black man; the cougar was gone. He lowered his head in submission, but a question remained: What if she is really pregnant? he thought, walking away empty from the audience. Well, not quite empty: a poor monk had talked back to a Pope. Riches, riches.

Other employees of SEEC briefed him on events during his five-day absence. Valana was still in turmoil. The external violence and internal cowardice that tainted the Conclave of 3244 were acknowledged even by the new Pope, who had astonished everyone by placing the sickened city of Valana under a sentence of interdict. The security guard Elkin recited for Blacktooth the names of the leaders of the violence, who were brought forth to undertake to repair damages to the palace. “These seventeen thugs knelt there before Pope Amen, their hero. He got from them a promise to repair all damage. Then he imposed a penance of prayer and fasting, and then absolved them.”

“But this did nothing to satisfy the Benefez people,” Nimmy guessed. Elkin nodded.

It was immediately apparent that the election of an eccentric religious ascetic of dubious orthodoxy and religious impulsiveness caused a nervous shuddering to pass through the hierarchy and the institutions of power from coast to coast. It was either an unexpected attack by the Holy Ghost upon the conclave, or the work of the Devil and the Red Deacon.

The Archbishop of Texark interviewed nearly 170 cardinals who had participated in the election before he found enough electors who willing to affirm that their votes for Amen Specklebird had been given under duress. He stayed only three days in the city, and, claiming illness, failed to come to pay homage to the elected Pope. He departed with his troops and quite a few Eastern cardinals who were healthy enough and eager to escape the sickened city. Some members of his faction announced that the Holy See was still vacant because the election was forced. They called upon the old man to admit the election was invalid, to announce another conclave to be held in New Rome, and then to step down from the throne he illegally occupied. Brownpony and others made the case for a valid election, and proposed that the faction recognize His Holiness or face ecclesiastical sanctions. Only one of the group changed his mind at this point, and the others left Valana for home. It seemed obvious that the old wound of schism had again burst its stitches.

By his will, locally drawn, Cardinal Ri left his servants to Cardinal Brownpony, an embarrassment which the Secretary for Extraordinary Ecclesiastical Concerns managed to share with His Holiness the Pope, to whom the Archbishop of Hong left his wife and lesser concubines. The lawyer who drew the will became angrily defensive when questioned about the possibility of a mix-up of the two bequests, with Brownpony supposed to get the women. The Red Deacon echoed his anger, and testified that Cardinal Ri before his death had asked him to take care of his servants afterward. He called it obvious that Ri had intended to leave the fate of his loved ones in the hands of none but the servant of the servants of God, Amen Papa Specklebird. Since the servants of Cardinal Ri were very happy to find a new master, Brownpony decided to keep all but one of them, not as bond servants, but on five-year contracts renewable only with mutual consent. The Pope granted SEEC an increase in funds to pay the expense of keeping them. They numbered six skilled warriors, two personal servants, and Ri’s confessor. This priest he released to Saint Ston’s, who wanted the former chaplain eventually to teach courses in the Oriental Rite as practiced in his land and in the language spoken there.

As for the Pope’s inheritance of the three women, Amen gave them the gold which the prelate had willed to him, plus freedom, and, if desired, he offered a choice of school, a convent, or a marriage broker.

Wooshin for his part was delighted to be in command of a squad of well-trained fighters who shared a military tradition not unlike his own. The Axe was beginning to speak Rockymount like a native, and this fact alone made it natural that he assume command of Brownpony’s private army, but he made them go through the formality of choosing him, and then swearing allegiance to him and to the Cardinal Secretary, their employer. Blacktooth wondered if Brownpony knew, as the Axe had once told him, that any one of the men of his tradition would kill anybody his employer designated, even the Pope, even themselves. Wooshin’s comparison of these fighters to Hannegan’s assassins revealed his contempt for even the professionals among the latter.

There was too much excitement in Valana for anyone yet to think of questioning what excuse the Secretariat might have for keeping an army of six professional killers on the payroll, although Blacktooth had been wondering the same thing ever since he left Leibowitz Abbey with the Axe under Brownpony’s wing. He felt he was less privy to the cardinal’s intentions than his inside job suggested. He now realized this more clearly since he had seen Ædrea’s weapon. A whole wing of the Secretariat was closed to him. A whole range of SEEC activities were invisible to him. He tried not to be curious. He was temporarily sharing Brownpony’s outer office with two other specialist secretaries, and they observed that at least once a day someone from the forbidden wing came to the office with a folder of documents, was admitted to Brownpony’s private sanctum, and departed without the folders, which were never filed by the outer office. He had no files in his sanctum, but a stove for burning papers. Together, the other two secretaries had induced an opinion that the forbidden wing dealt with intelligence and operations, and with this Blacktooth did not disagree. He said nothing to them about weapons.

CHAPTER 13

The Abbot shall see to the size of the garments,

that they be not too short for those who wear them,

but of proper fit.

Saint Benedict’s Rule, Chapter 55

IT SEEMED TO BLACKTOOTH THAT HIS MASTER had become obsessed with Nomad politics during a time of trouble for both the papacy in Valana and the Eastern Church. While he might have been in constant correspondence with Eastern cardinals who had taken part in the election of Pope Amen, he was instead inviting Hultor Bråm of the Grasshopper to enter Valana with all the guards he cared to bring in order to meet the Pope. The purpose was obvious. The cardinal stood accused of favoring the candidacy of Chür Ösle Høngan of the Wilddog Horde over that of the Grasshopper war sharf. To establish a neutral posture, Brownpony had invited Hultor Bråm to meet the Pope before he invited Høngan. He left the Pope’s immediate vicinity to ride out onto the Plains accompanied by only one meek-looking policeman instead of his usual ferocious bodyguard to meet the Grasshopper war sharf, although the Pope certainly needed him near at hand during such troubled times. Blacktooth’s admiration for his employer’s courage had grown, even while he was entertaining suspicions laced with fantasy about the Secretary’s loyalty to the Pope and his perceived guns-for-the-misborn activities. “This is the world, O Saint Isaac Edward Leibowitz, that I abandoned as your monk. And where am I now?”

He went early with Wooshin to the place Brownpony had set for their meeting upon his return from the Plains, and there they saw Ædrea’s replacement as messenger from New Jerusalem already standing there in the street. Now that Blacktooth had learned both officially from the cardinal and directly from Ædrea something about the exchanges between New Jerusalem and the covert wing of SEEC, he and the Axe had both been introduced to Ulad from the colony. Blacktooth had assumed that all spooks were normal in appearance. Ulad looked normal, if one saw him at a distance with nothing nearby for comparison. But when he stood next to another man in a crowd, he stood about a man-and-a-third high and probably weighed about two men and a half. Thrice Blacktooth had watched the giant, whose hands seemed disproportionately slender, pick the pockets of passersby before he crossed the street to warn the giant, “If you do that again, I’ll tell.”

Ulad picked him up by the head with one of those long slender hands, the thumb so crushing his temple that he almost lost consciousness from pain. Wooshin slipped behind him and did something to his knee which made him release the monk with a howl and sit down on the pavement, clutching his leg. The Axe stepped in front of him and pressed a sword to his nose, flattening it. “If you do that again, I’ll kill.”

“I didn’t recognize you at first,” the giant sang out, his voice a surprising contralto, to the tiny old warrior.

“Do you like your job?” asked the Axe.

“It’s good to be able to come to town, yes.”

“Do your people know you’re a thief?” the monk asked, picking himself up.

“It’s part of my cover. People know me hereabout. It doesn’t matter if I get arrested. The police know me. They think I’m local, and so I am, part-time. Sometimes they lock me up for a few days, but sometimes I work for them. I used to ride as a guard for Ædrea. This place is where we met before going home.”

“Does His Eminence know all this?”

“I’m supposed to meet him here. He’s coming in the Grasshopper Nomad’s coach. I hate Nomads. You look like a Nomad to me, and you called me a spook.”

Nimmy faced his glower. “Did you ever see a Nomad wearing a monk’s habit?” he scoffed. “Do you look like a spook?” He felt Wooshin touching his arm, trying to warn him, but it was too late.

Ulad growled and pulled a knife. Steel met steel, slid together, and then the edge of the short sword cut the giant’s forearm, all in one sweep of motion from the thrust of the dagger through the cut to the fall of dagger and blood on the ground. They stood frozen for a moment; then Wooshin sheathed his blade and said, “Go do something for your arm. It’s not a deep cut.”

“I think he tried to stab me, Axe.”

“You do?” Axe snickered. “Well! The cardinal warned me about Ulad, and he is very unhappy with him as Ædrea’s replacement. The man has a habit of going berserk once in a while. He’s only temporary, in my opinion; the New Jerusalemites were so infuriated by our master’s rejection of  Ædrea as persona non grata that they made Ulad her replacement. They can be arrogant.”

“Why isn’t he caged up?”

“Well, one, because the cardinal wants him to meet this Nomad he’s bringing home, and two, because he’s apparently a warrior of power and a high officer of a small army that’s supposed to be on our side.”

“Our side against whom, for the love of God? Do your one and your two make a three? Which is our side?”

“Why, our master’s side!” Wooshin snapped, glaring at him. “Your loyalty is a question in my mind, Brother St. George. Do not think I would not cut your throat if you ever betray him!”

“Whoa, please! It’s me, Blacktooth. I was just trying to understand his thinking.”

“That is not your place.”

“Are you the one to tell me my place and keep me in it, Axe? This is new.”

“I can’t tell you your place, but don’t let me catch you out of it.”

This is new —yes, and real. It was the first time he had felt real menace from the old warrior. Brownpony must be more angry than he realized. His fear of Wooshin at the abbey was founded on nervous imagination. But lately he had learned that Wooshin lived only to carry out his master’s wishes and protect his person and his welfare; this was the warrior’s highest good. Blacktooth, of a different persuasion in matters of loyalty, had disobeyed his master. Wooshin knew it, at least in a vague way, because the monk had been gone so long. Things were not the same between them, although Axe had just saved him from Ulad’s dagger. Ædrea had changed everything about his life.  Just as Ulad came back with a bandaged forearm, a coach pulled by four beautiful gray stallions appeared from the east and stopped in front of the Venison House. The standard-bearer of the totemic Grasshopper triumph pole rode up, dismounted, and stood at attention with his standard in front of the restaurant.

“Forth come the banners of the king of hell,” Blacktooth said sourly, quoting an ancient poet.

Nimmy later learned that when Brownpony met Hultor Bråm, the latter was riding in his royal coach, probably of Eastern manufacture and stolen during a raid into the Eastern timberland, and he was accompanied by sixteen well-armed horsemen, while the Prince of the Church himself had left behind even his formidable bodyguard and brought along only a meek-looking Valana policeman. Bråm seemed embarrassed when he saw that the lone Churchman was his host, and promptly sent all but two of his warriors home. Thus Brownpony rode back alone in the coach with a surprised but not yet friendly sharf. As the party dismounted, Ulad the giant strode toward the coach and presented himself to the cardinal, who frowned at him, spoke a few words, and waved him away.

“He will call you first,” the giant said to Blacktooth, and to Axe, “You shall guard the entrance.”

Ulad was plainly upset. “They should put all Nomads in jail when they come to town.”

“Then how could they do any business?”

“Their only business is to steal!”

“I see. With you, it’s a hobby, with them a business.”

Ulad growled, and Wooshin nudged the monk again.

Next to the driver sat a Nomad with a long rifle and a mean mouth. Two mounted warriors rode guard. A policeman and a Nomad got out of the coach and then helped the prelate and another Nomad get out. The second Nomad was fancier than the first. Ulad was plainly disappointed to see that the Nomads were not in custody. Three Nomads and the policeman stayed with the carriage while the fancy Nomad and the prelate went inside to eat.

The coach was dirty from crossing the Plains but was of costly design and workmanship. The horses, while obviously tired, were elegant and well-bred animals that could be sold for at least a thousand pios as a team. The door of the coach was enameled blue and gold, with a touch of red on the crest that showed through the dust on the door. Someone was talking about the crest. They stood among a small group of people who, upon passing by or coming out of the inn, saw the Nomads and the police and the well-fitted coach with its spirited team, and lingered, becoming a crowd. Blacktooth kept a wary eye on Ulad.

“I tell you it can’t be the Secretary’s,” the grocer from next door was saying. “Those aren’t his arms, nor any Churchman’s.” “What about the motto?” said a woman beside him. “It’s Latin, isn’t it?” When the grocer shrugged, she turned to a friar who had come out of the inn and was staring at the coach. “Isn’t it Latin, Father?”

“As a matter of fact, it isn’t”

“It can’t be Nomadic!” she said.

“No, it’s a Church language, all right. It’s English.”

“What does it say?”

“I’ve been out of school for twenty years,” said the cleric. He turned to go, but paused to add, “It says something about fire, though. And that’s Cardinal Brownpony inside, so you’d better leave.”

“You leave, Father! I live here.”

“Maybe the Pope’s starting his own fire department,” said a student from Saint Ston’s who turned out to be Aberlott.

Blacktooth himself put them straight. “The motto says: ‘I set fires.’ It’s the heraldry of a Grasshopper war sharf.

“See you later,” he said to his ex-roommate, left the group, and went to stand near the window.

Inside the tavern, the cardinal shared a meal with the Nomad officials. The fare was chicken cooked with herbs served with a local beer. The hungry plainsmen were polite enough not to scorn the lack of beef, but they did scrape away every trace of greenery from the meat. Bråm was continuing a monologue he had begun on the road, but the cardinal saw his secretary at the window and beckoned him inside. Blacktooth entered and found his master being theologically harassed by an offensive sharf in the crudest of terms.

“The father of the mother of God is also her son and her lover,” the Nomad was saying. He squinted toward the window and pretended not to be watching the cardinal. “That’s the way our Weejus explain it.”

The cardinal took another bite of chicken and chewed vigorously while he looked at Bråm.

“Did you hear what I said?”

“No,” Brownpony lied. “Say it again.” His Grasshopper dialect was adequate but he occasionally looked at Blacktooth for support.

“The father of the mother of God is also her son and her lover. This is the way the Grasshopper Bear Spirit sees it as well.”

“Just so.” Brownpony dipped the chicken leg in the sauce and took another bite. Hultor Bråm was trying to antagonize him in the most obvious possible way.

The sharf straightened and frowned. “‘Just so’! You agree?”

“‘Just so’ means I heard what you said, Sharf. I’m a lawyer, not a theologian. Have a piece of chicken.”

“He invites you to have a piece of chicken,” said the monk, sensing a Wilddog usage.

“If you’re a lawyer, then why don’t you have me arrested?”

“Because I’m not a theologian’s lawyer, and if I had you arrested, you would be of no use to anybody.” He looked at Blacktooth, who nodded. Only occasionally did he need to clarify what was being said.

“You’re the Pope’s lawyer.”

“Just so. The white meat is dry. Try the dark.”

“Jesus is Mary’s lover.”

Cardinal Brownpony sighed with disgust and began using his drumstick to beat on the table.

“Why do you want to pick a quarrel with me? Do I say ugly things about Empty Sky, or your Wild Horse Woman?”

“You did so once. At a holy council fire. That’s why I’m talking to you this way. You tried to drive her away, and your Christian puppet killed her priests.”

Brownpony sighed. “So I haven’t lived that down, eh? Sunovtash An was nobody’s puppet. As for me, what I did was foolish. I know that now, and I regret it. But that happened in the farming areas, not on the eastern Plains.”

“No matter, the tribe was formerly Grasshopper. You must remove the sacrilege.”

“How can I do that?”

“We have discussed it. You must go to her.”

“Where? Back to the farming area?”

“No. In the navel of the Earth, she lives: the breeding pit for her wild horses. It is a place of deadly fires, called Meldown.”

“I have heard of it. Isn’t that where Mad Bear became Lord of the Hordes before the conquest?”

“The same. Anyone nominated for the sacral kinship had to be chosen by her in that place. After election, each had to spend the night in that place by the light of the full moon. It will be so again. A new Qæsach dri Vørdar will be chosen. One of the three of us. It is also the place where we try men charged with crimes, a place of ordeal. Many never come out alive. Many come out sick, and lose their hair. Few emerge in full health. You committed a crime in the eyes of our Weejus and our Bear Spirit, Brownpony.”

“And if I submit to the ordeal?”

“There will be an alliance, if you live. And peace with the Wild-dog.”

“No matter who is elected Lord?”

Bråm shook his head, seemed puzzled.

“As Qæsach dri Vørdar,” Blacktooth put in.

“Ah, no doubt about that! The old women know best. And the Høngin Fujæ Vurn.”

The cardinal spoke to Nimmy in Rockymount. “Explain carefully and politely to the sharf that His Holiness is the high priest of all Christendom, and that diplomatic immunity, which he has been practicing on me, does not cover the crimen laesae majestatis, so tell him to curb his tongue before the Pope.”

Hultor Bråm was a powerful Nomad about Chür Høngan’s size, but perhaps leaner. His body language had few words. The predominant accent was force, a force prepared to spring at you, either for a hearty hug or to kill. All his muscles seemed drawn up that way.

Nervously, Blacktooth translated Brownpony’s message.

For a moment, the sharf glowered at him. The body language said “kill the messenger,” but then he turned to the cardinal and nodded curtly. At that moment Ulad stooped to enter the doorway and crossed, as a crouching mass of muscle, toward the table. Brownpony sent Blacktooth away in Ulad’s wake. Ulad, the monk intuitively surmised, was to discuss matters not for his ears, for Brownpony needed an interpreter more than ever, because the genny giant spoke only Valley Ol’zark and a little Rockymount. Probably Ulad was there to discuss weapons with the Grasshopper sharf, and Brownpony would have to be interpreter for both of them. Temporarily dismissed, he headed home, accompanied by Aberlott, whom he had not seen since the election.

“Listen, I heard there is going to be schism, maybe even war. What about it?”

“Takes two to make a schism or a war. Who do you have in mind for the war? And why ask me?”

“You work for the Secretary.”

“Who probably couldn’t answer your question either. Why don’t you ask a Weejus woman?”

“I don’t know any, do you?”

“Not yet.”

“When? I hear your cardinal is thinking of leaving for Nomad country.”

Blacktooth shot him a suspicious look. Everybody seemed to know more about his employer’s doings than he did. “Where did you hear that?”

“From a man who came out of the inn just before you did.”

Blacktooth worried. Brownpony was careless enough to let his conversation with Hultor Bråm be overheard by another customer who understood Nomadic. But there had been no one else visible from their table.

“A secret’s out?” asked Aberlott after a moment.

“I don’t know. I have a feeling I’m going to be fired, sooner or later.”

“By the cardinal? For what?”

“Remember the person who gave you my rosary back?”

Blacktooth said no more than that, but his friend watched his face, saw a blush, and asked no further questions. He turned away to cover a laugh with his hand, then asked, “What will happen to you then, Nimmy?”

“I don’t know. I have a big debt to pay. What the hell are you doing out of school?”

“I take no courses during the summer. I like to travel.”

“Where do you plan to go?”

“Where the horse takes me. No reins, you know. You just kick the animal when he stops to graze too often.”

“Be sure and pick the right horse, you half-wit, or it will take you to its birthplace.” He waved east toward the flatlands. Aberlott laughed and walked on alone.

It was two days before Hultor Bråm was admitted to an audience with His Holiness. During Cardinal Brownpony’s absence from the Curia, the Pope announced a date for his return to New Rome. If the head of SEEC felt miffed about being left out of the decision process, he at least had an alibi for the bad decision. The Pope planned a very early departure. There had been no communication with Texark about the matter. The Pope used his interview with Hultor Bråm to send the Apostolic Benediction to the Grasshopper Weejus and Bear Spirit people, and to ask permission to cross Grasshopper lands on his way to New Rome. Graciously the war sharf promised that one hundred warriors would escort the Pope’s party once it emerged from Wilddog country. Brownpony listened in silence to this, but made it clear to all that he would not accompany the expedition, having urgent business both on the Plains and in Texark itself.

“It is my wish to make you Vicar Apostolic to the Three Hordes,” the old black Pope told the Red Deacon the next day.

Brownpony actually gasped, Nimmy noticed, and the few members of the Curia who were present exchanged frightened glances. There was a long silence, because what the Pope just said caused a mental avalanche. First thought: to make the territory of all three hordes a Vicariate Apostolic was to abolish the de facto status of the Jackrabbit Horde as missioners of the Texark Archdiocese. It would end the archbishop’s authority in the Province, and would force him to recall his missionary priests there or let them submit to a new authority. Second thought: it would infuriate Benefez, no matter who was appointed. But Brownpony? Third thought: before Brownpony could be appointed a Vicar Apostolic, he would have to be ordained and then consecrated as bishop of an extinct ancient diocese, for he would be the equivalent of a bishop in a missionary area not yet a diocese. Blacktooth remembered the cardinal’s own words: I was called to be a lawyer, not a priest, and that’s it.

“Well, Elia? Will you do it?”

“Holy Father, I don’t think I have a calling.”

“We are calling you. Right now.” It was the first time Blacktooth had ever heard Amen use the pontifical we except in formal Latin.

With great dignity, Brownpony prostrated himself before the old man, but still he said nothing. He stayed that way until the Pope interpreted it as consent, whereas it was, as it seemed to Blacktooth, merely submission.

“Get up, Elia. We’ll have you ordained, consecrated, and on your way by next week. If we do it quietly, you can go to the convention on the Plains before Benefez hears about it.”

Later, at the cardinal’s request, Blacktooth explained the situation to Hultor Bråm before the sharf left town. “He will be the representative of the Pope to all of the hordes, and govern all Churches and missions both north and south of the Nady Ann. However, you must not speak of it before it is accomplished.”

The sharf shook his head. “He will not be accepted by the Grasshopper,” Bråm growled, commenting on the appointment, “unless your master makes his peace with the Høngin Fujæ Vurn, as he has promised. And the Bear Spirit must be consulted.”

“It seems,” said Brownpony, when Blacktooth relayed the remark to his employer, “that ever since I made the mistake of denouncing Yordin’s speech, I have been ambushed by unpleasant surprises, not all of them from my enemies. Aren’t you astonished, Nimmy?”

“Not altogether, since I provided one unpleasant surprise myself.” It was as close as he had come to an apology, but the cardinal just looked at him curiously.

The monk’s attitude toward Brownpony had been tainted by suspicion, but not to the extent of doubting that the deeds of his friend, Pope Amen Specklebird, were entirely unexpected by the cardinal. Perhaps it had been Sorely Cardinal Nauwhat or Hilan Bleze who, during Brownpony’s absence, had put Amen in mind of making all Nomadic territory an Apostolic Vicariate, to be ruled as a diocese would be, but by a bishop directly responsible to the Pope, clearly ending the de facto role of the Texark Archdiocese as missioner to the conquered province. The Churches throughout that Province were now headed by missionaries appointed by Urion Cardinal Benefez, but in no way had the Province been added to the Texarkana diocese. Most of its first priests had been military chaplains. But to create a papally dominated Vicariate out of the whole domain of the Three Hordes was to deprive Benefez of power and revenue throughout half of his nephew’s domain. Could a holy old hermit come up with such an idea without a sinister force at his elbow? The sinister force might indeed be the Holy Ghost, so far as Blacktooth could distinguish. The old man was, as Saint Leibowitz used to say, “Independent as a hog on ice.” It was an idea just crazy enough to have come from either God or Specklebird. Or as Urion Benefez might say, from either Satan or Brownpony. The very fact that the Red Deacon became an overnight archbishop made it evident, to anyone who wished to think so, that the promotion was a coup, coaxed by cunning out of a crazy old pope-contender who began to rule before he was legally elected.

Elia Brownpony’s ordination as a priest and consecration as Bishop of Palermo were conducted in secret ceremonies to which no one was admitted except the participants, nor did Blacktooth’s master change his manner of dress or wear a bishop’s ring until he was ready to leave the city for the Plains, somewhat in advance of the Pope’s own departure for New Rome. It was clear that Filpeo Harq and Urion Benefez were to remain in ignorance of Brownpony’s new rank and office until his acceptance by the Nomads of all three hordes as the spiritual leader of Christians on the Plains and in the Province had been established.

“There’s no doubt they’ll hear about it, Nimmy,” the cardinal told him. “But only the Pope will inform them officially, and when he’s ready to tell them. Now I have a new task for you. You will find your predecessor has taken over your office for the time being. I am going to visit first Chür Høngan, then Hultor Bråm.

“Deliver my written message to Mayor Dion in New Jerusalem; among other things, it introduces you. Tell them that Sorely Cardinal Nauwhat will, for the time being, be in charge of the Secretariat. Tell them that Ulad is out of control and must be replaced. If they insist on knowing why I refused to deal with Ædrea, I suppose you’ll have to say she became too intimate with clergy.”

“I am ashamed, m’Lord.”

“How about contrite? Never mind. Do your best to mollify them. Learn as much as you need to know about New Jerusalem. Along the Way, let Wooshin brief you on what is going to happen. These things are secret for the present, although they are becoming less secret every day. You may, or may not, continue working at the Secretariat—for Cardinal Nauwhat. You may report back to him, if you wish. If he finds no use for you, he will tell you where to find me, or you may go back to your girlfriend in Arch Hollow and perhaps find a home in the colony. Or you may go beg them to take you back at the abbey, or become a hermit. I do not want to see you again unless and until this attachment is behind you.”

“I expected to be dismissed, m’Lord. I did not obey.”

“We’ll see how it goes with you.”

“And Axe is coming with me?”

“Along with all six of Cardinal Ri’s men, and someone from the other wing—Elkin, I believe you know him.”

“I didn’t know he was from the other wing. I thought he was just a receptionist.”

“Top security, and also a fighter almost in Wooshin’s class. He was at Leibowitz Abbey once. You’ll have a lot of expensive baggage with you, a twelve-mule train, but that will be Ulad’s and Elkin’s responsibility. When it’s safe, they may let you and Ulad and Axe ride on ahead of the train and shorten your journey. Pack your habit and wear something else on the trail. You can put your habit back on when you arrive. Nimmy, I’m trusting you with new secrets.”

“I’ll be careful. And you, m’Lord?”

“I go to the convention of all the shamans of the hordes, all the Weejus and Bear Spirit people. I hope, with help from Holy Madness and Father e’Laiden, to be admitted as a Christian shaman observer and explain my new role.”

“Hultor Bråm will try to keep you out.”

“Of course, but the Jackrabbit will want to hear what I have to say, because they will be most affected by the transition. Bråm can’t put together a majority. His grandmother might be able to do it, but she won’t Depending on what happens, I may go on to New Rome after the Pope, or even to Texark. Goodbye now, Nimmy. I would bless you, but you have heard me say I have no calling, yet here I am, a pretender.”

“M’Lord, I know from history that once upon a time in a much earlier Church, a vocation to the priesthood meant a call from the bishop, not necessarily a call from God. And I heard the Bishop of Rome himself call you to be that which you have now become by ordination and consecration.”

The cardinal smiled. “Thank you, Nimmy. Bless you, then, until tomorrow.”

Blacktooth bent to kiss his ring, but the cardinal avoided his lips, squeezed his hand, said, “We’ll say goodbye again tomorrow,” and was gone.

Nimmy found himself near tears, and began to pray as he walked toward the nearest Church. Brownpony had been to him like a kindly Nomad father who was never drunk, while Abbot Jarad had been like a sterner Nomad uncle, always judging and finding fault. But he had missed the latter; he knew he would miss the former more. He knew too that loving people was a way of loving God, but to be attached to the one loved was not proper for a poor monk, and evidence of worldliness or delusion. Not wrong to love, but wrong to be attached to the one loved, for always came the anguish of tearing loose from all impermanent things.

By the morrow, he had sufficiently recovered from his lapse of anxious worldliness to think of his former roommate and then confidently cajole his beloved (and possibly bedamned) cardinal into interviewing Aberlott, who as a friend of the late Jæsis could serve well as an emissary from SEEC to the dead student’s family and help convince the ruling council that nobody had exposed Jæsis as a spook until the police learned of it after his death. There was suspicion at both ends, in the relationship between the colony and the Secretariat, which would now be managed temporarily by Sorely Cardinal Nauwhat, and Brownpony agreed that some gesture of reconciliation was advisable.

“But that would be one more person who knows about the armaments, Nimmy. So I think not.” It was the first time Brownpony had mentioned the subject of the guns to him. And he would not have mentioned it now without a realization that the monk already knew through his forbidden contact with Ædrea.

“Do you really believe the secret is safe from Texark, m’Lord?”

“No, it’s only possible to minimize their knowledge. They know the genny colony is there. They know it is well armed, and that I have been helping them. I hope that’s all they know. I only pray the secret, as you call it, is temporarily safe from the Pope.”

The remark caused the monk some surprise. In the first place, nothing was safe from Amen Specklebird, but his surprise was more due to a smell of betrayal about the words. The surprise was duly suppressed, and after some further discussion, the cardinal agreed to see the student, and so Blacktooth departed to seek him out before he began another journey.

“They say the mountains there are wonderfully cool in summer.  You get to ride a free horse. You’ll meet the family of Jæsis. You’ll learn a brand-new skill.”

“Like what?”

“Keeping your mouth shut?”

“What use is that?”

“You’ll live longer as a secret agent.”

Aberlott walked with him to the Secretariat. Brownpony was marching out the main entrance. He greeted his assistant, and his young friend by saying to Aberlott, “Student at the college, I’m told. And what do you think of our city and its young ladies?”

Aberlott answered fast, and the monk felt his face grow hot. “Well, when Blacktooth and I walked down past the police station last month, we saw a corpse hung there feet-in-your-face high, with a sign tied to his ankles. Blacktooth read the sign. ‘For coitus interruptus’ is what it said. I’m afraid of young ladies here.”

Brownpony eyed him in mock dismay. “Do you think the Valana police force is a branch of the papacy?”

“Theology is not my strong point, Your Eminence.”

“Or is the papacy a part of the police, perhaps?”

“Certainly I had no such idea in mind, m’Lord!” Aberlott was beginning to turn white.

“Of course you did, and you still do. In Texark, the mayorality is part of the police. The cities are quite different in that regard.”

Aberlott had flirted with danger and was becoming scared. Brownpony had crowded him into a corner and was pressing him for comment. The joking student was, after all, talking to a Prince of the Church.

“Actually, I think the sign said, ‘Hanged for impudence to a prelate.’ I beg your pardon, m’Lord.”

“I don’t have your pardon. Get your own.” Brownpony smiled a consoling smile at him, then shook his head at Blacktooth. “Do you really think this man can be trusted?”

“Of course, Your Eminence.”

“Everything you need for the journey is ready at the stable. Pick up your papers at the office. Wear mufti until you get to the colony. After Ulad is replaced, and the council is satisfied, your ties to the Secretariat continue only if Cardinal Nauwhat needs you. I am going east to meet Chür Høngan, Hultor Bråm, and a Jackrabbit sharf who is still a stranger to me. No telling how long I’ll be away.”

“Then what, m’Lord?”

“You are free until you hear from me or Cardinal Nauwhat. Or your abbot. Goodbye, Nimmy. God love you.”

Blacktooth thought about it later. He had expected to be fired. What astonished the monk most was not his master’s tolerance of impudence, or even his offhand approval of Aberlott, but that Aberlott had looked at this one cardinal among cardinals and felt safe in being impudent. The student usually had a good instinct for audience. Aberlott had picked up the aura of Brownpony’s nonhostile personality; his personality showed through the red cloth. Blacktooth had seen it before, and knew the aura was deceptive. Brownpony wasted no hostility when he struck. He was never hostile, except for show. He seemed to be anticipating the now of things just a moment before they happened, and anticipating with the best expectations. When he expected the best, many people hated not giving it to him.

Others who gave him the worst usually regretted it, without much effort on the cardinal’s part. He moved easily among a herd of people, but he seemed more a friendly undercover sheepdog than one of the sheep, even among cardinals most of whom had far outranked him before his consecration. He made himself a safe man, approachable from above or below, or from straight and level.

“What a pope he would make!” was Aberlott’s only comment. He looked at Nimmy for confirmation, but the monk was pointedly silent.

CHAPTER 14

Likewise those who have been sent on a journey

shall not let the appointed Hours pass by,

but shall say the Office by them-selves

as well as they can, and not neglect

to render the task of their service.

Saint Benedict’s Rule, Chapter 50

THE WESTERN ROUTE TO NEW JERUSALEM FROM Valana was less clearly defined and proved more difficult to traverse with wheeled vehicles than was the Pope’s road to the east, which Blacktooth and Wooshin had traveled with the cardinal in early spring. There were only four wagons, besides the pack mules, but their wheels had to be spoke-levered to help the animals at every draw, especially after a late summer rain. Annual rainfall was sparse, but this was the season for it, and flash floods often rushed through the desert’s low places. The eastern road would have been so much easier and faster if the travelers had no reason to avoid other wayfarers. The reason was “security.” While they forded a stream, one of the tarp-covered boxes fell from a wagon and broke open. Blacktooth watched Wooshin and Ri’s guards scramble to retrieve rifles from the shallow water, while they furtively looked around as if for spies in the juniper scrub. Later, he was unable to avoid learning about handguns and ammunition in the mule packs. When he asked, Elkin told him it was a comparatively small shipment. The receptionist guard at SEEC seemed to be in charge of the expedition, and he let Nimmy know that he came from the covert wing. The party included several mule drivers, Wooshin, Aberlott, Ulad, and the six warriors from the party of late Cardinal Ri.

Ri’s men were already skilled as weaponless warriors. By firelight they sparred with each other, and with Wooshin, who was hard-pressed to cope with the foreman among them, his junior by thirty years. They were speaking their own language among themselves, and Wooshin was laughing. “O Axe, please do remind them,” Blacktooth called, “that they’re supposed to be practicing either ‘Mount or Church.”

The Axe grunted at them, and they tried haltingly to continue their conversation in Churchspeak. Nimmy suddenly realized they had been talking about him, because he was an exception to what they saw to be the rule here, that monks don’t fight, or can’t, or won’t Whereas they themselves were Christians with vows, although one of them had a wife back home. When Wooshin explained this to Blacktooth, the monk was astonished.

Ri’s guards were a puzzle to him at first. Wooshin had fallen right in with them, and they seemed to understand each other’s language well enough when words were accompanied by frenetic gesticulation. On the third day, Blacktooth dared to remind Wooshin again that he was tasked with teaching Churchspeak to the “Yellow Guard,” as they had begun to be called around Valana. Wooshin glowered at the reminder, but after a moment explained, not without embarrassment, that Cardinal Ri’s men had been trying to convert him to Christianity.

The monk looked at him incredulously.

Axe laughed at his expression. “I don’t think you want to hear that argument in Churchspeak. Have you forgotten that they were Cardinal Ri’s men?”

“I assumed they were Christian, and I’ve heard them chanting, but—”

“But you wouldn’t expect soldiers to be very religious?” Nimmy thought about it for a while. His mind caught a chilling glimpse of remembered warriors, his boyhood rapists, in action. “I suppose I’m prejudiced, Axe. The soldiers I’ve met are often pious, but I never met any warrior except you who seemed to have a spiritual dimension.”

“Except me? Do I have aspiritual dimension, Nimmy?”

“You may laugh, but I’ve thought so. All I really know about you is what you want me to know. Isn’t it so, Axe?”

“Well, where these men come from, all monks, even Christians, have aweaponless warrior tradition.”

“They’re not weaponless now! Are you saying they are monks?”

“Yes, I think you can call them monks. As for the weapons, Ri dispensed them from that rule, and our master extended the dispensation. The order they belong to is Asiatic, and it isn’t recognized here. When either Cardinal Brownpony or the Pope understands that they do have religious vows, they will lose their freedom until the Church can decide what to do with them. They are not anxious to go home, but their vows are similar to yours. They want to be free to form a community, but they’ve been afraid to ask. That’s why they want and need to learn Churchspeak as soon as possible. You don’t need to nag us about that. I suggested to the cardinal they stay awhile at Leibowitz Abbey. There, they could wear their habits and learn your liturgy. Would they be welcome?”

“I am not the one to speak for Abbot Jarad Cardinal Kendemin.” He fought bitterness for a moment, but went on: “You’ve read the Rule of Saint Benedict, Axe. The Brothers of Leibowitz still honor most of that rule, which means that they must offer hospitality to anybody who comes to them, as if he were Christ wandering in from the desert. But I’m not suggesting that Ri’s men take advantage of that rule.”

“No, of course you wouldn’t want the abbot to know you suggested it by suggesting against it,” Wooshin said sourly. “But you’re right about their learning Churchspeak. I’ll drill them more. If they go to Leibowitz Abbey, it will not be at your suggestion, but the cardinal’s which he already made.”

“All right. I hereby forget it, although I would like to know about their Order.”

“They know that I taught you to fight a little, and they want to know if other monks of your Order would be allowed to learn weaponless combat, or would it be against rules?”

“Well, there is no rule, as long as it’s for sport or exercise. We have occasional ball games outside the walls, those of us whose jobs don’t involve physical labor.” He laughed. “But if you can imagine getting the Lord Abbot’s permission to train fighters!”

“I know. It’s too bad. Their Order has an interesting tradition. If they are to remain there, they would like to form a community, or merge with one.”

Later he confessed to Blacktooth, “You know, Nimmy, my people out on the coast were refugees from these Asian Christians several generations ago. Cardinal Ri was a super-Benefez in his own country. These Christians were conquerors. My people were the losers, and crossed the ocean.”

Nimmy looked at the executioner as if seeing him for the first time. “Mine were the losers too,” he said. “We should be spiritual brothers.”

A sharp glance from Axe told him this intimacy was getting too thick. He wheeled his mount around and rode back toward the guards and the wagon. Once again, Nimmy realized that Axe did not fully trust him since he had disobeyed the cardinal.

Wooshin had become strange to him again, but he knew the estrangement lay within himself. The news, conveyed by a possibly ironic Wooshin, that the Yellow Guard was trying to convert him to their Christianity—that news discomfited him. Why had he and his fellow monks ignored Wooshin’s religion, if he had any? Axe had come to Mass habitually, but never received communion. His dedication and loyalty had a spiritual quality, as did his attitude toward death. He would have made a good monk, Nimmy thought. But the Albertian Order of Leibowitz was never devoted to the conversion of the heathen. That was why. It was against the rules. Monks were free to answer a guest’s religious questions, but the Axe never asked any. Now these strange men wanted to bring him into their religious brotherhood. The Order of Leibowitz had missed its chance to have, besides its electric chair, a warrior monk and executioner.

Wooshin’s new friends in the Yellow Guard had learned of his years as a headsman for the Hannegans, Filpeo Harq and his predecessor. Nimmy had heard them talking, understood very little of their mixed dialect except when they practiced Churchspeak, but could tell that the aliens were both sympathetic and amused, and he sensed that the Axe came away from the conversation both irritated and relieved. It seemed to Nimmy that Wooshin had succumbed to an attack of almost Christian guilt about his old job, and the warriors were apparently trying to cure him of it by conversion. The Axe obviously missed the cardinal as Blacktooth did; and the monk wondered who was now acting as Brownpony’s bodyguard after the attempted assassination. Ri’s men had all been loaned by the new Vicar Apostolic to SEEC’s clandestine wing, once they had learned to communicate a little in Rockymount, but here they were: far from their new master, and as lost as Nimmy himself.

The monk tried to make religion his only concern again, at least for the duration of the trip, but the effort gradually failed, and the effect of the failure was that he became so irritable he went for three days without even attempting to pray, meditate, or read the canonical hours. His mind, affected by periods of heat exhaustion, kept reaching out to grasp at Jarad, Brownpony, Ædrea, Holy Madness, or the Pope, and to rehearse imaginary dialogues with them, to shake sense into them. Especially Ædrea. This was self-indulgence, self-absorption, vanity, and ego. Because he could not pacify his mind internally, he finally turned outward and tried to stay busy and available for conversation with even Aberlott.

The group of travelers had taken on an almost military structure of command under Elkin, with Wooshin and Ulad as lieutenants. By the route they were to take, there was danger neither from Texark agents nor from motherless Nomads, although drifting outlaws of every stripe occasionally wandered through the arid land, and there was always the possibility of hostile confrontation. The terrain was rougher than that which Blacktooth had encountered on his first visit to Valana. There was no fixed road; only passes through mountainous areas were clearly defined. The group carried conventional arms, besides those carried by pack mules and in the wagons, but they met no one except a wizened old man who joined them one night after sundown, having wandered in behind them from the direction of Valana. The advent of the old man was the occasion of an argument among those concerned with secrecy and security, but the old fellow seemed half dead, and he was headed toward New Jerusalem anyway. Ulad claimed that he had seen him before. “He’s been to New Jerusalem,” said the giant. “Magister Dion hired him once, so he knows about us.”

“Hired him? For what?”

“He can make it rain, for silver.”

“Is he any good?”

“It rained, but not much. Dion paid him, but not much.”

“He knows the town, then, but does he know about our baggage?” Elkin wondered. “He’s already seen us, so he must come with us. If he behaves himself, he’s a guest. If he tries to leave, he’s a prisoner, until we get where we’re going.”

Nevertheless, the old man refused to join them at first, and might have been arrested and bound to one of the wagons if he had not changed his mind upon learning that Blacktooth was a monk of Saint Leibowitz, a fact that seemed to amuse him greatly. He teased the monk about not wearing a habit while still wearing his rosary around his waist. Nimmy tried to avoid conversation with the old man, who seemed to know more about Leibowitz Abbey than seemed probable. The ancient stranger, after a few attempts to talk, shrugged at the monk’s reticence, perhaps attributing it to religious silence, but he continued to snipe at him occasionally as if to keep in practice.

He called himself a pilgrim but not a Christian. He wore tattered garments of hemp, coarsely woven, and he carried his belongings in a bag tied to the end of his staff. He protected his pate from the sun with a curiously embroidered skullcap which he called a “yarmulke.” Although defensive and suspicious at first, he seemed harmless enough and became talkative after the first day. Nimmy could not believe that Brownpony’s enemies would send such a decrepit fellow as a spy. Elkin seemed to agree, for besides allowing him to ride an extra mule, the security man put him on one of the wagons after he complained of being saddle sore, even though he had to sit on a crate of weapons.

He told them he was a Jew and a tentmaker among other things. He was obviously one of those wanderers who peddled his skills as a rainmaker in areas of low rainfall. This old Jew had several useful skills and thus several sources of income. For fifteen pios, he would pull a tooth; for eight, he would scrape the incrustation from the rest of your teeth and scrub them well with talc. Root canals were negotiable. He contracted as a rainmaker, and if he made no rain in a week, he got no pay beyond his week’s room and board; if rain came, he received whatever the petitioners could, in his opinion, afford. His advice in every imaginable matter was freely given to whoever would listen to him, and sometimes imposed upon whoever would not.

Blacktooth tried to use the journey for privacy and silence, insofar as his wish to be polite survived its many trials. But the old Jew would not let him be, and he asked all sorts of questions about an Abbot Jerome, who, to the best of Nimmy’s recollection, had died seventy years ago at an advanced age, and yet this old man claimed he had been Jerome’s friend, Benjamin.

“You must be nearly a hundred years old,” Nimmy said skeptically. “Or maybe even more.”

“Hmm-hnn! I would have to be, wouldn’t I?”

Claims to extraordinary longevity arose in the Valley of the Misborn, but the old pilgrim was not an obvious glep. Still, he had been admitted to the secret nation in the Suckamints, had been allowed to leave again, and was not going back. Magister Dion must have looked into his background. But if he was a spook himself, Ulad should know. Ulad, however, seemed to regard the old Jew as disreputable, at least as a rainmaker. That the Suckamint Mountains were a refuge for the misborn was widely known within the Church, but the nature of the heart of the colony as a nation of spooks was obscured by the fact that gleps like Shard and his family inhabited the surrounding foothills, not admitted to full citizenship, but protected by the well-armed central colony from outlaws, loose Nomads, and Texark agents. Wanderers usually shied away from the area, as they shied away from Misborn Valley, and those who did try to enter were killed or driven away.

“And what business would a monk of Saint Leibowitz have in New Babel,” the old man asked. “Especially a monk in disgrace.”

“Who told you that?” Nimmy looked at him sharply, surprised that gossip had already passed on to this total stranger. Who in the party knew of his status? Well, they all did. Wooshin, Elkin, Aberlott, everybody. Nevertheless, he was embarrassed that his private life was open knowledge.

“I am merely the bearer of a message from a cardinal to the community. Why do you call it New Babel?”

“Why do you call it New Jerusalem?”

“It is theirs to name, and they named it so. Where did you come from on your way to New Babel?”

“From Valana, the same as you.”

“And what were you doing in Valana, praying for rain?”

“I went to see my old friend Amen Specklebird, but they would not let me in, and besides—he’s not the One.”

“Which one is that?”

The old Jew shrugged. “Who knows?” was all that he said.

Ulad the giant, whom Blacktooth had first assessed as a dangerous brute and a lunatic, became almost a playful child during the expedition to the Suckamint Mountains. The ugly side of his character apparently arose from his initial mistrust of any human being except a genny, but the mistrust subsided as they all became better acquainted during the long ride south.

On the journey, Nimmy lost his temper once, but not with the old pilgrim. It was only Aberlott, thank God. But, then, he lost it again! with the Abbot Jarad Cardinal Kendemin, in absentia, and really in a daydream. There was something beautiful about the mental image of his own hands grasping Jarad’s throat, thumbs against the windpipe, although he always stopped the strangulation before the old geezer lost consciousness. Evil could be lovely, just lovely. This he knew. It was hard to try to tell a confessor how good sin can feel; it made the priest angry, as if the penitent were trying to force him to enjoy such putrid blackguardy. He felt his mind was slipping away from reality of late, and Wooshin caught him muttering blasphemously to himself as they rode the trail. He almost started out of the saddle when Axe whacked him on the back to bring him out of it. So much had happened to him in so few months, and none of it seemed real, and sometimes he felt he was going mad. He daydreamed, when he should be praying, then swore at himself under his breath.

“Stay busy, Brother” was the Axe’s advice.

Staying busy was not very hard. Making and breaking camp every day took time and work. The ideal day involved eleven hours of traveling through the pitiless lands in summer, then thirteen hours packing, unpacking, seeing to the animals, hunting, cooking, eating, cleaning up, mending, repairing, and finally sleeping. Eleven hours traveling, with luck. Most days it was only ten.

On the seventh day, Ulad, Wooshin, and Elkin conferred and decided that the train with its valuable cargo would be just as well protected without Blacktooth, Aberlott, Ulad, and Elkin, who could ride on ahead of the baggage and be in New Jerusalem in half the time. Wooshin and Ri’s warriors would stay with the mule drivers to fight off any outlaws or desert drifters. The only question was about the safety of the party riding ahead, but Ulad and Elkin were soldiers, and Blacktooth had been taught to fight by Wooshin.

The old Jew was allowed to come with the advance riders, and so was Aberlott, for both were useless if a need arose to defend the ordnance against seizure by enemies or outlaws. Aberlott attributed Blacktooth’s recent black moods to madness. “I think you’re going crazy,” the student said to him the first morning as they emerged from their bedrolls. “You talked all night in your sleep, although you won’t talk to anybody else by daylight.”

“What did I talk about?”

“A girl with a very small hole.”

“What girl?”

“One with a very small hole. You called it a hole in the universe. You’re going crazy, Nimmy.”

“Holes? Did I call you an asshole, perhaps?” But he saw that Aberlott was serious, and he added, “Well, I was dreaming. But maybe I am going a little crazy. I’ve failed at two jobs. I guess I need somebody to tell me what to do. I don’t know how to get along without an uncle or an abbot or a cardinal.”

“Or a pope? Once you mentioned Amen Specklebird in your sleep.”

At last the advance party of five came to the western slopes of the Suckamint Mountains. Elkin was convinced they had gained three days on the remainder of the party with the pack mules and wagons. The slopes were steeper here than on the east side of the range near Shard’s place, and they had hardly begun to climb before a volley of arrows and stones struck the ground only a few paces ahead. They stopped immediately. Three gleps with bows and one with a musket stood atop the cliff, glaring down at them in the noonday sun. Ulad swore blasphemies at them and identified himself and their mission. The gleps withdrew.

“Scarecrow Alley,” the old Jew scoffed. “They would be better off and safer back home in the Valley.”

“Perhaps. There are people in the Valley who believe Christ will come again as one of them,” Ulad told them as they rode up the rocky trail.

“You mean he will be born as one of them?” Blacktooth asked.

“Yes.”

“But that’s not the way it’s supposed to happen,” said Aberlott. “He will be seen coming on the clouds.”

“But he has to be born again before he is seen coming.”

“That’s not what it says.”

“Does it say otherwise?”

“I guess not.”

Blacktooth remained silent. The old Jew laughed scornfully at them all.

When they came to a small plateau, Elkin asked Ulad how many hours’ journey remained until they reached the heart of the community.

“At least eight hours,” the giant said.

The road leading into the mountains at that place was flanked by a deep ravine on the north and on the south by a few flat acres at the foot of a mesa. As darkness was approaching, Elkin decided to make camp here, a decision which Ulad resisted first by describing the land as haunted, then as populated by cougars. A vote was taken, and the giant was overruled.

“Just stay away from those woods, then,” Ulad insisted.

They passed a peaceful night, with each man taking his turn at being awake to keep the fire burning. There were neither cougars nor ghosts. It fell to Blacktooth to take the last shift, and the sky became luminous with dawn as the shift ended.

Before waking the others, he descended into the wooded ravine for a bucket of water. Beyond the trees, he found himself on a beach in a boneyard. There was a ten-pace width of sand beside the creek where floodwaters visited the place every spring, and the sand was full of small human bones washed here from some upstream disposal site. New Jerusalem produced its share of monsters, then, and its claim of returning such children to the Watchitah Nation was a lie. Not all the bones were those of newborns. One half-buried skull seemed that of a child of five. Dead kids, a blight inherited from the Great Civilization. There were places like that on the Plains. Nimmy was not shocked, but decided against filling his bucket. There was still drinking water in the canteens. Shaving and washing could wait.

Halfway up the slope, he met somebody coming down very fast. Ulad skidded to a stop, spraying the monk with dirt and gravel.

“What were you doing down there?” he demanded.

“Nothing, as it turns out.” Nimmy patted the empty bucket. Ulad grabbed his arm.

“There was an epidemic two years ago,” he said. “Many children died.”

“I understand,” Nimmy said evenly and managed to detach his arm from the other’s grip. Ulad let him go. What Nimmy understood was that communities all over the continent fell victim to such epidemics every few years. Often all the victims died in the same week, and all were incredibly glep or worse. When Nimmy later mentioned it to the old Jew, the pilgrim named the epidemic disease “Genny Passover.”

“So much for what you said about New Jerusalem and its policy of returning gleps to the Valley,” said Aberlott.

Blacktooth shrugged. What he knew of New Jerusalem, he had heard from Ædrea. Dead babies downstream of a village was more of a rule than an exception. That was just it. New Jerusalem was supposed to be the exception.

The climb into the mountains carried them into long U-turns around the sides of a valley or a mountain, and in places the trail was obscured by landslides which the drivers of the mule train would have to remove to gain passage. Great conifers rose above them on the mountainsides. Soon there were new signs of habitation, but the people who came out to eye the travelers were apparently normal. The few glep families lived on the periphery of the sprawling colony, as Shard and Tempus lived on the eastern slope of the same mountain range. But here there were real farms, although the guardian gleps inhabited the less fertile land. The mountain peaks attracted rain and snow, and the streams flowed continuously after the thaw. In the passes and valleys, beside the streams grew orchards of apples, cherries, pears, and peaches. The crops were ripe now in late summer, and peddlers hawked their produce from donkey carts parked in the community centers, of which there were several. Whole carcasses of beef, mutton, and venison were hung from poles and were cut to order for women shopping. Dusty men with faces darkened by soot and blasting powder walked home from the mines in the late afternoon.

The capitol, so called, was a three-story building of stone and mortar with, on the ground floor, a kitchen and communal dining hall divided into a large room for dirty miners and a smaller one for government workers and guests. The second floor, Nimmy was told, housed Mayor Dion’s office and a council room where a small body of legislators met weekly to approve or disapprove administrative decisions. There were only a dozen or so buildings in the center of town, while residences and barns—mostly log structures built on stone foundations—were scattered throughout the mountains.

Blacktooth’s perception of the country was colored by what Ædrea had told him, but the baby boneyard had aroused his suspicions. He was relieved when Ulad, who had ridden ahead into the heart of the community, rejoined them to say that Mayor Dion was away in another part of the mountains, and would not return until the next afternoon. Aberlott’s meeting with the family of Jæsis was also postponed until tomorrow. He, with Blacktooth, Elkin, and the old Jew, would spend the night in a guesthouse, which already housed one visitor from outside the colony, who came out to meet them with a wide smile. Blacktooth, who first gasped in surprise, knelt to kiss the ring of Chuntar Cardinal Hadala, Vicar Apostolic to the Watchitah Nation.

“And how is Cardinal Brownpony?” asked the Bishop of the Misborn.

“Well when I saw him last, Your Eminence. I believe he is with Chür Høngan and the other Nomad leaders on the Plains.”

“Yes, I knew of his plans. I suppose you are quite surprised that I am here?”

“Yes, but I should have realized that you would have a special relationship with New Jerusalem, which was colonized from your diocese.”

“Vicariate,” Hadala corrected him. “Well, you have come just in time to unpack and wash up for dinner. I’ll see you then.”

They followed Ulad to their assigned quarters. Hadala’s presence reawakened Nimmy’s shame for his disobedience to his own cardinal, but he weighed it against his recent perception of Brownpony as subverting the papacy, as disloyal to Papa Specklebird, and if not the author of the conspiracy then a promoter of an earlier plan. The plan was obviously to assure the Valanan Church some military power independent of Nomad alliances. Blacktooth decided nothing was necessarily wrong with this, except that the plan involved concealment from the Pope. Would Amen Specklebird necessarily disapprove the ownership by the Church of arms? Probably, was Nimmy’s guess. Was it his duty to tell? He tried to think of a way to determine whether Chuntar Cardinal Hadala was already privy to the secret, but decided he had only to watch the cardinal carefully when Axe and the Yellow Guard arrived with the weapons.

That night at dinner, however, the cardinal invited Ulad and Elkin to share his table, well across the room from where Blacktooth, Aberlott, and the old Jew dined with several clerks from Mayor Dion’s office. Watching the cardinal carefully would be a waste of time. That he used dinner for consultations with Ulad and SEEC’s covert agent told him enough. He decided to enjoy the venison, potatoes, and fresh fruit, while trying to understand the colony better by listening to Aberlott banter with the clerks. He learned little that he did not know. They described how New Jerusalem had grown by immigration from the Valley.

Watchit-Ol’zarkia, the name claimed by the mountainous region which, north of Texark, had grown into a ghetto nation from the original Valley of the Misborn, was surrounded by frontier guards of both Church and State, but the border was a sieve by night for escapees traveling without baggage, and escape by spooks was commonplace. Some escapes were mere escapades, and the fugitives returned to their homes after a few days or weeks abroad, and of course they usually came back richer than they left. Men left their mountain homes to steal or work at temporary jobs in the city. Women left for the same reasons, but also sometimes to get pregnant by farmboys with supposedly healthy genes. However, some escapees never came back, and while there were a few small colonies of spooks in the east, the isolation of New Jerusalem in the Suckamint Range, its resources and natural defenses, made it the largest congregation of genetically dubious persons outside the Valley, and most appealing as a sanctuary for permanent fugitives. Especially in the years since the conquest, the population had grown rapidly because under imperial dominance the Jackrabbit Horde was no longer a threat to travelers through the Province, and it was only necessary to evade Texark outposts and local militia.

“We can defend our mountains,” the chief clerk explained after dinner, when he walked Blacktooth back to his quarters, “but against Texark we have no offensive weapon except terror. Spooks become good at infiltration. We have people in the army and the Church in Texark. We have people in Valana as well as New Rome. If they abuse our people in Watchitah, we respond with terror.”

Nimmy paused and looked around. No one was observing or listening, and the chief clerk seemed more inclined to talk outside the dining hall.

“Was it your men who tried to kill the cardinal and me?” the monk asked.

The official sighed. “I cannot be sure. The order did not come from here. Our people denied it, naturally. Rational men sometimes go crazy under cover.”

“Jæsis was to become a priest, before he failed at the university. We have others. Terror is possible. When the time comes, we may use it, although the Church will condemn us, including our friend Brownpony, for all I know. I know no more about Cardinal Brownpony’s plans than you do. Cardinal Hadala probably knows, but it may be that there is no long-range plan. I have watched Magister Dion play chess with your cardinal when Dion was in Valana. He won as many games as he lost. He looks ahead a few moves, but there can be no long-range plan in chess. He piles up arms here, for us and for others. We can’t know who the others are, but we presume there will be Nomads. He makes alliances with all nations who fear Texark. He has allies east of the Great River and south of the Brave River. He seems to me like a man playing for territory in chess. He does not take any pieces yet. He piles up power.”

Nimmy found the clerk’s openness surprising. Perhaps Brownpony was not as well liked here as he had supposed. The colony had its agenda, and Brownpony had his own. The monk changed the subject: “Can you tell me the whereabouts of your former agent to Valana?”

“And who would that be?”

“Her name is Ædrea, daughter of Shard.”

The clerk opened his mouth, then snapped it closed, frowned at Blacktooth, and replied in a hesitant voice, “I have said too much. Here are your quarters. I have to go now.” He turned on his heels and walked back toward the stone building.

That night Blacktooth dreamed he was back at the monastery. No one looked at or spoke to him, and he wondered if this were part of excommunication, this being shunned. But “shunned” was not quite the word for it. He stood directly in Prior Olshuen’s path, head slightly bowed, waiting. When the prior’s sandals advanced rapidly into his vision, he leaped aside to evade a collision. Olshuen would have walked right into him. Or through him, as if he were a ghost. He went outside to the cemetery and stood by the open grave.

It was the same open grave, and in the same place, as when he left in early spring. There was always an open grave at the Monastery of Saint Leibowitz in the Desert, even if no one was ill. No one had died, then, since the saintly Brother Mulestar. It still awaited its next occupant. The lip of the hole was protected by thatch all around, pointing inward so that drops of rain would follow the straws and drip into the hole instead of eroding the lip. When necessary, a monk would descend into the grave with a shovel and remove any earth which had fallen since the last cleaning. There were seven penitential occasions every year when the Brothers formed a procession that led to the grave. There they stood looking down for some time while the sun moved westward into the shadows of that yellowish adobe hole. A not-thing was that hole, like the soul itself, a not-thing at the center of the all. Blacktooth did not like this hole or this ceremony of meditation, although some Brothers found it to leave the mind wonderfully focused for at least the rest of that day.

Now the straw thatch appeared damp. As he watched, the grave stopped looking like a grave. As he stared, he saw that the straw was pubic straw, and the hole was not a grave. He shook his head, and, thinking of Ædrea, started to go see the abbot, to tell him that the grave was now a cunt, but then he heard a baby crying. There was a baby in the hole, and he went to look. It was covered with patches of fur, and had no hands: obviously misborn. A genny. His own son?

He heard himself making strangling sounds, then felt a sharp slap on the back of his neck. He came out of the dream-trance and Aberlott was sitting beside him. The student had stayed quite aware of the change in Blacktooth’s state of mind and body since the departure from Valana. His daylight fantasies had begun to acquire the quality of nightmare. “The Devil is on my back,” Nimmy said.

Blacktooth’s sense that the world is a weird place was stirred again when he met a Nomad, Önmu Kun, who returned with Mayor Dion and his party the following day. It was not until he spoke Ol’zark with an accent that Nimmy recognized him as a Nomad. That he was Jackrabbit was apparent from his clothing, which was cloth, his legs, which were not bowed by growing up in the saddle, and his skin color, which was not much burned by the sun. Because of diet, the present generation of Jackrabbit Nomads were shorter than both their ancestors and the wild Nomads of today. It was obvious Kun was present as an unofficial spokesman for his horde to this Parva Civitas of New Jerusalem, which was evidently becoming an arsenal for all the children of Empty Sky and the Wild Horse Woman. Nimmy approached him and spoke Nomadic, shifting to a Southern dialect. Kun grinned broadly and they exchanged pleasantries and bits of life histories. They discussed the meeting on the Plains of the Weejus and Bear Spirit people from all the hordes, and Nimmy surprised and delighted him with the news that Cardinal Brownpony was now Vicar Apostolic to the Plains, including the south, pervaded as it was by clergy from Texark. When the monk asked Önmu Kun about his business in New Jerusalem, the monk was gruffly told to mind his own. The Nomad shrugged off his apologies.

“Perhaps your position as the cardinal’s former secretary entitles you to ask, but I am unable to answer.” To soften the rejection, he then told a dirty Jackrabbit joke about a Weejus woman, the Bishop of Texark, and a long-sought erection.

Aberlott was sent to see the family of Jæsis, and Blacktooth did not see him again in New Jerusalem. No one would talk to him about Ædrea, or even admit an acquaintance with her. As for the Mayor, he did not send for the monk until the day after the party of warriors arrived with mules, wagons, and guns, and a transaction was completed between Elkin and the Civitas. Every night the monk dreamed wild dreams about the blond and blue-eyed imp with an impassable gateway. The dreams frightened him.

The dreams also prepared him for the first meeting with Mayor Dion, who came directly to the point. “We know why you are here, Brother St. George,” he said gently. “We took insult when the Secretary refused to deal with the agents we designated. We suspected that the killing of our Jæsis was a betrayal, too. But then we were persuaded by Shard’s Ædrea that we had been mistaken. She took full responsibility. You need not explain or apologize. A new representative will hereafter contact the Secretariat for us. You will meet him later today. Now do you have any other messages for us?”

Blacktooth looked down for a moment, then up into Dion’s gray eyes. “Only my own apology, Magister. Ædrea is not at fault. The fault was mine. Even the cardinal knows that. Ædrea is innocent. Where is she, and may I see her?”

The gray eyes watched him closely. Finally the Magister said, “I must tell you that Shard’s Ædrea is dead.” He watched the monk again for a moment, then beckoned a guard. “You! Don’t let him fall!” then said to another, “Get the monk some brandy, the peach is strongest.”

Blacktooth lowered his face into his hands. “How did she die?” he asked at last.

“There was a miscarriage. Something went wrong. As you know, they live way down by the Pope’s highway, and by the time our physician got there, she had lost too much blood. So I am told.”

The Magister briefly watched his grief, then quietly left the room, after whispering to Elkin, “We’ll meet again here tomorrow.”

When he had gone through all the motions, and his duties as an emissary were ended, Blacktooth went to confession at the local Church, and fasted for three days in constant prayer for his love and her lost child. To cherish grief was as bad as to cherish anything: lust, triumph, or, as Specklebird would say, as bad as cherishing Jesus. He then spent several days in the city’s library. When grief overwhelmed him, he paused in his study of the history of the colony, and studied the grief, pressing it firmly down into his abdomen from the diaphragm, then continued to peruse some of the private correspondence between early colonists and their relatives in the Watchitah Nation. He was looking for anything that would tell him about Shard’s people, or their ancestors. Evidently, they were latecomers, as they claimed to be, and of no historical interest to the beautiful inhabitants of these mountains, bristling with guns, and surrounded by their ugly first line of defense. Why did not the glep Helots of those scarecrow alleys rebel against the well-armed Spartan spooks? Perhaps because those Spartans were relatives of men like Shard, and Shard was proud of his Ædrea. There was segregation here, but no visible repression. Only the glep’s genes were unwanted.

He found out that the penalty for sexual union between a citizen of the Res Publica Jerusalem Nova and a glep was death for the citizen and the offspring, if any. There were people in New Jerusalem with special talents. Marriages were made by contract between families, and ratified by the Magisterium. People were bred like animals, but people throughout recorded history had bred not only slaves, but sons and daughters like animals. The only thing new here was the criteria by which the genetic potential of such unions was judged, whereas the historical matchmaker was usually interested in combinations of wealth. Nimmy felt vaguely that the criteria were not very different from what the Mayor of Texark would have chosen. But here you grew up a healthy citizen, with special talents, or went to the boneyard of infants, the one they had passed the morning after that night in the foothills. Maybe some glep children of citizens were returned to the Watchitah Nation, as Ædrea had said, but it was a long dangerous trip back to the Valley.

Having given much thought to his doubtful future, he decided that upon completion of his rather unimportant mission here, he would return to the world through Leibowitz Abbey because Ri’s yellow monastic warriors wanted to go there, while Wooshin himself had been ordered back to Valana. Nimmy had his own reasons for going as a guide for the warriors. First, he suspected Brownpony had sent him here to get rid of him, and he no longer trusted Cardinals Brownpony, Nauwhat, and Hadala. He wanted to stay clear of any conspiracy, and a conspiracy was anything to which Pope Amen was not privy. His conscience and his relations with God were in need of repair as well. He wanted to confess to Jarad, and Jarad owed him a hearing. He would not be thrown out, but he knew he would not be welcome to stay beyond necessity. He intended that nobody think he was there as a suppliant, but Jarad would try to make him feel like one.

When Blacktooth and the party of warriors were packing gear and saddling horses for the trip, they were joined by Önmu Kun, who was driving a wagon, obviously loaded with arms.

“You can’t take that to the abbey,” Nimmy told him.

“Who said I’m going to the abbey?” said the Jackrabbit Nomad, and followed the party of riders eastward. The old Jew who called himself Benjamin followed them for a short distance, but changed his mind. “Tell the abbot I shall visit him before winter.”

Nimmy promised to deliver the message.

He badly wanted to visit Arch Hollow on the way out of the mountains, despite the Mayor’s warning, but as soon as Shard saw him, he ran for a gun. The guards fired a warning shot over Shard’s head; then one of them popped the rump of Blacktooth’s mount with his crop, and yelled, pointing a direction of retreat. They galloped past the homestead and down the road which led east to the papal highway. Nimmy was not allowed to weep at her grave.

As soon as they came to the Pope’s Highway, the Jackrabbit Nomad bade Blacktooth farewell, and announced his intention to leave the trail and travel cross-country to the southeast. This would take him into a kind of no-man’s-land where the border of the imperial province was in dispute.

“Aren’t you worried about Texark agents?” Nimmy asked.

“I’ll be meeting my customers tonight,” Önmu Kun said with a grin. “They will then go home, and I back to New Jerusalem.”

They parted after exchanging the Jackrabbit peace sign. Nimmy decided that Kun was simply a gunrunner for his captive horde. But he had seen the weapons in the wagon and noticed that they were not of the most advanced design—a precaution against their possible seizure by imperial forces.

On the trip to the abbey, the Yellow Guard’s Foreman, whose name was Jing-U-Wan, cautiously questioned Blacktooth about the Order of Leibowitz, and then explained his own.

“The Order of Saint Peter’s Sword has two traditions. One is purely Christian. Our creed is not much different from yours. Our canonical prayers are not identical, but quite similar. We use less from the Psalms, and there is more silent meditation. In our work, people expected us to do what non-Christian monks had always done in that country. Outside the chapter house we work in the fields and we beg only when we travel. We maintain a weaponless warrior tradition, because the Tanters monks had always done so. It was a necessity. In our history, the unarmed victim of a robbery was considered negligent for going about without a gun, and he had to pay for any police action against the robber. Unarmed monks had to be skillful with feet and fist.”

“But you carry arms now.”

“The rule is dispensed when a monk’s job requires it. When the master died, we talked about going unarmed, but the master is at the edge of war.”

It took Blacktooth a moment to realize that second master the man referred to was Cardinal Brownpony. “What makes you say he is at the edge of war?” he asked.

The man paused. Being cautious. “In a sense, we are always at war.” It was a generality to get rid of the subject.

Nimmy did not pursue it.

He had dreamed about the open grave at the abbey, and it was the first place they visited after exchanging greetings with the gatekeeper, because the gatekeeper pointed them toward it without breaking his silence. To Nimmy’s surprise, the open grave had been moved. The old one was recently filled, and a new wooden cross bore the name of the grave’s occupant:

HIC JACET JARADUS CARDINALIS  KENDEMIN, ABBAS.

The  date  of death was two weeks old.

“Brother St. George,” a familiar voice called out to him.

He turned to see Prior Olshuen approaching. He was looking with astonishment at the Yellow Guard, which bristled with swords. The prior was in mourning. The whole monastery was in mourning. Blacktooth went to the chapel to pray sterile prayers for his mistakes, but it felt like self-indulgence. After a while, he went with mounting dread to seek a conference with the prior.

•      •      •

It was a truly massive hemorrhage. While offering Mass on a Wednesday morning, Abbot Jarad, having consecrated the bread and the wine, turned to his community in choir and began to say the “Ecce agnus dei” when he turned white, emitted a strangled yowl, and fell down the sanctuary steps with a great crash and a ringing of brass chalice and paten on the stone floor. “Body and blood all over the pavement,” said Brother Wren. The Cardinal Abbot of Saint Leibowitz died without regaining consciousness.

•      •      •

CHAPTER 15

And let the Abbot be sure that any lack of

profit the master of the house may find in

the sheep will be laid to the blame of the

shepherd.

Saint Benedict’s Rule. Chapter 2

BY THE TIME NEWS OF ABBOT JARAD’S DEATH reached Valana from the Texark telegraph terminal, the Holy See and most of the Curia had already departed in the direction of New Rome, while Cardinal Brownpony had taken the more northerly route to the sacred meeting place for the Weejus and Bear Spirit shamans. The message went first, of course, to the Sacred Congregation for Religious, whose presiding cardinal had gone with the Pope. His vicar promptly notified SEEC and the Secretariat of State. Cardinal Nauwhat at SEEC was one of the few cardinals who lingered in Valana, and he promptly sent messengers to chase after Brownpony and the Pope, but they had been gone for some days and would not be easy to find on trackless grasslands. Had Nauwhat sent the message with a Nomad skilled in distance signaling, it might have arrived before those to whom it was addressed, but Nauwhat had not inherited Brownpony’s Nomad connections with Brownpony’s office, and the messengers would have to wander for a time.

The 6th of September 3244 was a Tuesday. The moon was five days beyond first quarter, and arose well before sundown. The Wild-dog’s lookouts who watched from the boundaries of the settlement at the “Navel of the World,” the breeding pit of the Høngin Fujæ Vurn, saw at last a tiny plume of dust on the horizon. A lone rider waved his arms in a Nomad signal meaning “Church,” and repeated it until he knew he had been seen, and was therefore recognized as the expected guest from Valana. But alone?

Father Ombroz was astonished, for he had expected the cardinal to be accompanied by his young secretary and at least one familiar bodyguard. He immediately sent for Oxsho, his young acolyte and most recent student, a warrior who was remotely related to Chür Høngan, and who had served at the priest’s Masses for three years now.

“I can’t go to meet him, because of the funeral,” he told the young man. “I want you to stop him before he gets much closer, and warn him of the news. Treat him as you would treat a great uncle, with utmost respect. But you must tell him things he will not want to hear. Hurry, before he gets too close to camp. Try to stay on low ground, or behind a rise. Enemies will be watching. Remember to mention what is said of his mother, whether it is true or not.”

“Certainly, Father,” said Oxsho, and immediately rode out of the encampment. The youth was as surprised as his master to see that the new Vicar Apostolic had come alone, with a bedroll and a musket, wearing only a red skullcap—easily concealable—to distinguish himself from any other citizen trespassing on Nomad land. The young acolyte had too many things to say to give the cardinal an opening through an exchange of pleasantries. Still staring straight at Brownpony’s apostolic ring after kissing it, he began listing the items in the Wilddog news. He seemed ill at ease, and did not directly meet the cardinal’s curious gaze.

“Bearcub’s father died last night. The sharf is dead. The Mare here is a widow again. The funeral is tonight. It was a ritual death.” His glance flickered up to Brownpony’s face to make sure he understood the word “ritual” in this context. A slight wince from the cardinal revealed his comprehension. “But there was much argument among the Bear Spirit and the Weejus. The slaughtering festival would be on Friday, when the moon is full.”

“Would be? What does that mean?”

 “They postponed it. It lasts several days, and it was about to begin. A postponement of so holy a celebration is without precedent, but it was inappropriate for the Great Uncle to be, uh, to die, while cattle are being slaughtered. And, uh, you know, the feast.”

“I see. Go on.”

“The funeral will be tonight. Much has happened, m’Lord. A representative from the Church in Texark is here: Monsignor Sanual. An observer from Benefez, but also a spokesman. He ordered Father Ombroz on behalf of the Archbishop to return to his order in New Rome ...”

Brownpony laughed. “I can imagine how the good father responded. Well, as his new Vicar Apostolic, I shall order him to stay. I am very sorry to know that Granduncle Brokenfoot is dead. Your teacher gave him the last sacrament, of course?”

Ombroz’s acolyte stared at him for a moment, as if not comprehending, and resumed his list. “The Lord Chür Høngan thinks he has located your mother. He said to tell you she is on her way to this place. He cannot be sure. For that and various other reasons, the desire of Kindly Light, the Grasshopper sharf, to see you spend the night in the devil-woman’s breeding pit is probably going to be frustrated. His arrogance does not sit well with the Weejus.”

“I may very well spend a night there anyway, whether Hultor Bråm wants it or not.”

The young Nomad seemed alarmed. “It is a terrible place, m’Lord. Many have died there.”

“Men do die, everywhere.”

“She slays anyone she rejects.”

“Are you not a Christian?”

“Yes, but she is not!”

“Perhaps I can convert her.”

Oxsho showed great consternation. “The Høngin Fujæ Vurn—”

Brownpony cut him off. “Of course I would not try. But how else would I prove my right to rule over your Churches? Monsignor Sanual may join me, if he pleases.”

The young Nomad giggled. “I think he would wet his cassock.”

“Tell me, what makes Holy Madness think my mother is alive?”

“I know only what Father Ombroz said—that the Sisters who raised you spoke only the Jackrabbit dialect, and wrongly translated her family name.”

“So I am perhaps not a brown pony?”

“There is a Wilddog family name that means a ‘sorrel colt.’ But in Jackrabbit—” He shrugged.

“What do you know about her?”

“Only gossip, m’Lord. She has royal blood, but her small family is neither wealthy nor distinguished. She is old enough to be your mother, but she has never married. She lives with another woman as husband, and is said to hate men. Perhaps I should not tell you this. But it is not an uncommon thing among us.”

Ombroz met them at the edge of camp, his shaved pate shining in the sun. It was dotted with scars where skin tumors had been removed. Looking at him, the cardinal realized that his name in Wild-dog sounded a lot like “shaved bear,” although the priest claimed he used the razor to mark himself as different from the typical shaman. When the cardinal told him that Amen Specklebird had canceled his suspension from the Order of Saint Ignatz, and was considering his appointment as Father General of the Order, Ombroz laughed sadly.

“That will carry as much weight in New Rome as your recent promotion, m’Lord.”

“Well, yes, but the Pope must assert all of his rights and prerogatives as if no one doubted the legitimacy of his election. He must act the Pope in every way.”

“I understand that, but of course the Order will ignore my reinstatement. What about you, Eminence?”

“Well, at the very least, I shall invest you as a pastor of a Church in my Vicariate.”

Ombroz laughed again. “My Church is in my saddlebags. Your couriers bring my wafers and my wine along with my mail.”

“Even in saddlebags, a wandering Church needs a name.”

“It has a name. Our Lady of the Desert.”

Brownpony smiled. “The same name as the Pope’s old Order? Ordo Dominae Desertarum. Very well, and you would no doubt be happier if you changed orders?”

“If His Holiness consents. The Order of Saint Ignatz has been disloyal to the popes of the exile, and they haven’t made a move to recognize Pope Amen. I am on their list of their God’s enemies. So if His Holiness permits it?”

“Why not? He’ll agree, I’m sure.” The cardinal looked toward the crowded area. “Now, what’s going on? Where is Holy Madness?”

“He is in mourning. As you know, Your Eminence has arrived just in time for his father’s funeral.”

“His death was expected, was it not?”

“Yes, even planned.”

“Human sacrifice again?”

“It was a ritual killing, yes, but I prefer to think of it as euthanasia in his case. Still forbidden to Catholics, of course.”

“Did Chür Høngan assent to this?”

“No, he was excluded by the Bear Spirit shamans, because of his religion.”

“A religion his father shared.”

“Brokenfoot was out of his mind. He did not understand.”

“They are not going to—”

“Honor him? I’m afraid so. Tonight.”

“I wish I had come a day later.”

“I am amazed that you came alone! Where is Brother Blacktooth? Where is Wooshin and the Yellow Guard?”

“In New Jerusalem.”

“With the guns?”

“With the guns. You must know that the Pope is crossing the Plains to the south of us, probably camped for the night by now.”

“I know. I hope they let him pass. Eminence, there is a legate from Texark here. From Benefez. I would say you have arrived just in time.”

“Your young man told me. Who is Monsignor Sanual, and what does he want?”

“He is simply here to meet with the Bear Spirit, the Weejus, and the sharfs. Benefez has never condescended to this before. I wonder if he’ll be fool enough to proselytize. I dare say the Grasshopper sharf would have killed him as a spy, if he had tried to attend a meeting in the Grasshopper realm. But he is a guest of Chür Høngan’s bereaved family. I counseled Bearcub to play host to the fellow, because otherwise the Jackrabbit delegates would have been forced to accommodate him.”

“And thus either make him seem their protector or their ally. Very good, my friend. This will work out better than you could have known.”

“No, I knew that all the Jackrabbit Churches in the Province have been made subject to you. If you can win them over.”

“I cannot take the Churches or their pastors by force, but perhaps I can take their congregations away from them—with the help of enough priests loyal to the Pope. Of course, the priests have to speak Jackrabbit.”

“There are many in the Province already, m’Lord, and they are just the ones who will be loyal to the Holy Father, even though they were taught by the Archbishop of Texark. The Nomadic-speaking priests are mostly converted Nomads. They embraced the Mayor’s uncle’s religion, but not the Mayor or his uncle.”

“I’m glad to hear you affirm what I thought was true.”

“I also know about Kindly Light’s threat to have you atone to the Wild Mare Woman by spending the night in the Navel of the World, as they call it. Hultor Bråm will never be nominated, and he can’t make you do it. However, the Bearcub and I have hatched a plan. May I tell you now, or later?”

“Later, please. We are being observed, are we not?”

“Yes, and it’s a mistake not to be seen laughing together more than speaking seriously like this. Let me take you to the leading grandmothers and their spouses. Or do you need rest first?”

“Rest, please. And a bath, if that is possible.”

The cardinal slept for a few hours. When he awoke, it was dark except for the flicker of many fires. The Nomads were already celebrating the royal funeral, and there was chanting and dancing. He could smell the cooked sacrament even from inside his tent. When he came out into the firelight he was immediately joined by Oxsho, who pointed and said, “There’s your Father Ombroz.”

“Mine?” Brownpony eyed him curiously. “Holy Madness told me you were baptized. Is he not your pastor?”

Sheepish, the warrior shrugged. “Sometimes, but he shaves.”

“It sets him apart. It saves wearing his collar backward.”

“Bear Spirit men do not shave, but sometimes he acts as a Bear Spirit man, as right now. I like him, as we all do, but I do not understand him very well. You want to talk to him now?”

“I should, but I hesitate to interrupt his, uh, meal. He seems to be, if you know the word, zonked.”

“He has been smoking Nebraska keneb with the others.” Brownpony approached him. The unfrocked old priest of the Ignatz Order, whom Amen wanted to be its Father General, sat there on a heap of dried cow hides and gnawed with his good front teeth at the well-roasted remains of a human hand. He dropped the hand back in the bowl as Brownpony approached, but looked up at the cardinal brightly and without shame. Oxsho hung behind. Brownpony could see that he was not drunk but in an extraordinary state of mind from the Nomad sacramental mixture of potions he had consumed. After participating in tribal rites, he seemed a changed man to the cardinal, but Ombroz smiled at him lovingly. Brownpony met his smile with a gaze that seemed to come from a thousand miles away. I do not know this man, this old friend.

Ombroz was first to break the silence. “The old sharf willed me his right hand—an honor!—and an insult to refuse.”

The Vicar Apostolic remained silent, watching him.

“Sometimes,” Ombroz said, picking up the gristly hand of Granduncle Brokenfoot, “I take a piece of bread and consecrate it as the true body of Christ. And sometimes I take the true body of Christ and consecrate it as a piece of bread. Do you understand?”

“Ahh!” It was a surprised grunt from Oxsho. Brownpony looked at him curiously. Oxsho was smiling slightly, as if he did suddenly understand.

The cardinal, still from a thousand miles away, said, “You really do wish to join the Pope’s old Order, Father?”

Ombroz e’Laiden, not so far gone as to miss the hint of sarcasm, answered, “Tell His Holiness that illness forces me to remain as I am, m’Lord. I cannot return to my Order, but I am too old to change.”

“Very well. I’ll tell him.” Brownpony turned and walked away. Oxsho hesitated, and patted the old priest’s shoulder before following. Ombroz grinned at the young man, and resumed his sacramental meal. Oxsho followed Brownpony.

“So much for the Order of Saint Ignatz,” said the cardinal.

“Does it disappoint you that he is one of us now?” asked the warrior.

“No, I’m sorry for Ombroz e’Laiden, the man.”

“Because he has become a Nomad himself?”

“No, but outside the Church there is no salvation,” murmured the cardinal, quoting an ancient claim. The answer seemed to puzzle Oxsho; he had heard of the cardinal from Ombroz, who admired and called him liberal. It was an uncharacteristic remark for such a man to make. But he was a priest now, and a bishop too.

“M’Lord, who is to say who stands outside the Church?”

“Why, the Pope says, and the law itself says, Oxsho.”

“Does not God decide?”

“Father Ombroz is an enlightened man,” said Holy Madness, who had overtaken them. Both of them looked at him strangely, waiting for Høngan to continue, but he only yawned, shook his head. “The woman who may be your mother has come, m’Lord.”

Brownpony looked at the moon and changed the subject. “The Pope is taking a walk tonight. He always walks under a bright moon and sings to the Virgin, her sister. The Pope that would give the Church away to the poor, if Nauwhat and I would let him.” My God, what are we going to do?

“Your Eminence, do you not want to see the woman? She is of royal blood, a distant cousin of mine. Which would make you my cousin too.” He laughed, perhaps with a trace of bitterness.

“The family name is Urdon Go, not Avdek Gole,” he said, after the cardinal’s silence. “Not a brown pony, but a sorrel colt.”

“Oxsho told me. But my God!” Brownpony whispered, his face draining. “After all these years. The Sisters spoke Jackrabbit, of course.”

“Your mother, if that’s what she is, is there. She is that old woman sitting on the blankets by the door of the hogan there. I would be very careful. She can be as violent as the Nunshån.”

“Of course. Thank you.” Brownpony walked quickly toward her, then stopped a few paces away. The woman’s eyes were white with cataracts. But she had perceived his approach with her ears, her wrinkled mask facing him. “You are Texark?” she asked suspiciously.

“Only half,” he said in Wilddog. “Only half, Mother.” Calling her “mother” was a polite form of address; she did not need to take it literally.

But she stood. She spat on his face and his cassock. She was chewing a quid of herbs. Perhaps her aim was bad. She was nearly blind. Surely it was unintentional? But they had told him about her. Had they told her nothing about him?

The cardinal retreated. It was no good. He could not tell her that the man she faced without eyes was what had been planted in her by force and ripped unwelcome from her thighs, and that his hair was red. He knew she would not want to know him. She was a simple woman, but bitter. He could see the family, while royal, was not wealthy. But now that it was known to Chür Høngan and the chieftains that he was her son, the news would come back to her that he was here, if she did not already know. Surely she was expecting it. There was nothing he could do about that but tell the Nomad sharfs that he was willing to come to her if she called. He felt certain she would never call. Though depressed, he was glad he had seen her, and glad to think she did not know for certain.

“Your Eminence, please!” The voice calling to him from the doorway of a tent was that of Monsignor Sanual, the Texark Archbishop’s legate. The chubby diplomat seemed distraught. “Come in, please, Eminence, come in a moment.”

Although Sanual had nearly snubbed him earlier in the day, Brownpony silently complied, stooping to enter a lantern-lighted space, stuffy with earth odors and the smell of spilled sacramental wine. The wine too was on Sanual’s breath as he grasped the cardinal’s arm.

“They’re eating the old chief! I thought you would be staying in your tent tonight!”

“And miss the show?” He carefully recovered his arm from Sanual’s grasp. “The Archbishop’s legate may sulk in his tent if he chooses. The Pope’s legate may not.”

Sanual drew back. Both knew they were vying for the favor of the wild tribes and the new Christian chief who might soon unite the Three Hordes.

“You’d do anything!” said Sanual. “If His Holiness knew…”

“Look at it this way. My mother was a Nomad. The dead chief was a cousin of mine. The new chief is also a cousin. Remote, of course. But I’m not going to shun the last rites of my own people. Now what did you want to see me about?”

“Just that. Your relationship.” Sanual was sneering. “Ombroz told me you’ve been chosen to be in the kingship ritual!”

“I just saw Ombroz. He said nothing to me about it. Besides, you always turn your back on the man. I don’t believe you, Father. You’ve been drinking.”

“He shouted it at me! And that cackling laugh of his. Of course, he’s senile and quite mad, but I believe him. It’s so, isn’t it?”

“I have only been informed that, as a son of the royal mother-line, I am entitled to be honored during the celebration. The honor is personal, and has nothing to do with my office or my mission.”

“Then for the honor of God, Your Eminence, take off the vestments of your office when the time comes.”

“Are you here to express Texark’s disapproval of the Nomads’ pagan ritual, or are you here to honor the inauguration by them of a Christian chief?”

“I was hoping to do both, but I hadn’t counted on your willingness to take the Devil to your bosom. We ought to be together on this. For the love of God, Cardinal, tolerance has to stop someplace.”

“I was never a priest, Father, until just recently. I’m just a lawyer to whom my late lord the Pope Linus Sixth gave a red hat, and Pope Amen just made a bishop. Fine points of theology are not in my repertory.”

“Cannibalism is a fine point, Your Eminence?”

“I take note of your objections, Messér. I’ll mention them in my report to the Pope, as I am sure you’ll mention them in your report to your Archbishop. Is that all you wanted to see me about?”

“Not quite. There is a rumor that you were sent to assert a pretended episcopal authority over Churches in our missionary territory. Is this true?”

“Your missionary territory is not your missionary territory except by right of conquest, and no right of conquest exists except when a war is a just and defensive war. Pope Amen has made me Vicar Apostolic to the Three Hordes, if that’s what you mean, and it has nothing to do with your masters, either of them.”

“Damn! There is no pope! We agree on nothing! Not on common decency. Not even on saving the Church from schism!” Sanual turned his back. Brownpony left the legate’s tent at once, strode toward the main bonfires, briefly observed the orgy, and then retired.

But that night the blind old woman came and tried to kill him in his sleep. At his outcry, Oxsho leaped from his sleeping bag, grappled with her briefly, forced the knife from her hand, and led her away.

“She cannot be your mother,” the warrior said upon returning.

“She is. She just proved it.”

Cardinal Brownpony spent the rest of the night staring at the drifting patch of stars framed by the smoke hole in the top of the tent. He thought of Seruna, his wife. He thought of the Sisters who raised him, of the Church and the Virgin, and the Høngin Fujæ Vurn to whom the nearby pit was sacred. He knew now that he must indeed accept the ordeal of courting the Wild Horse Woman in her place of ancient fire. If he was to become the highest Christian shaman in the eyes of the People, he must become a Nomad as fully as Father Ombroz. The drunken words came back to him: Sometimes I take a piece of bread and consecrate it as the true body of Christ. Sometimes I take the true body of Christ and consecrate it as…

Somehow it sounded like a thing Amen Specklebird might say.

The moon had almost set when a dark shadow filled the doorway. Not his mother again! Oxsho was snoring. But it was Holy Madness who called softly to him: “Dress quickly, m’Lord. I want to show you the pit.”

Brownpony obeyed, but when they were outside, he asked, “Couldn’t we see it better by day?”

“No. If you must face the test, you must face it at night. Even full moonlight obscures the glow of the poison.”

They mounted the two horses Høngan had brought and rode quietly out of camp. The orange moon was just touching the horizon and there was little light, but the horses knew the terrain. The rim of the crater was a half hour’s ride from the camp. A sentry gave them a sleepy challenge as they passed the outskirts, but he recognized a grunt from his sharf and sat down.

When they came near the edge of the pit, the moon was down and there was scarcely a hint of morning twilight in the east. The pit was a lake of blackness, and they approached cautiously on foot. Holy Madness grasped the cardinal’s arm.

“Damn!” he said after a moment.

“What’s wrong?”

“The fire comes and goes. Tonight I can’t even see it.”

“I don’t even know where to look.”

“Look at the sky. Find the brightest star in the Thief and then bring your eyes straight down. There should be a tiny red spot near the center.”

“The Thief is a Nomad constellation.”

Høngan pointed. Brownpony sighted along his arm. “I think we call that Perseus. Yes, and that star must be Mirfak.”

They both sat at the rim of the crater and watched in silence. The only sound was the wind and the distant howling of the wilddogs. Occasionally Chür Høngan swore under his breath.

“Does it really matter?” the cardinal asked. “Can’t you show me by daylight?” He glanced east. The sky was brightening.

“It does matter. You should see it glow. You must take note of the wind, and stay out of its lee. Some nights you can see a trail of vapor, as well as the hole it comes from.”

“Isn’t it better if the fire is inactive?”

“Yes, but the whole pit is somewhat contaminated. The only vegetation in it is on the weather side of the average wind here. You should stay where the weeds grow, except when the wind is wrong. You can see what I mean in a few minutes.”

Their vigil lasted until the sun cleared the hill. The pit did seem lifeless, except for a little vegetation at the foot of a cliff. At the moment, the breeze was blowing away from it.

On the following day, the leaders of the Bear Spirit and Weejus met to consider Brownpony’s wish to pay court to the Høngin Fujæ Vurn in the Navel of the World and face the hidden fires of Meldown. The cardinal himself was excluded, but twice Chür Høngan emerged from the council lodge to ask a question.

The first question: “Will you treat the Great Mare with the same reverence as the Holy Virgin?”

“Yes, if I may say my usual prayers to her.”

An hour later came the second question: “You realize that if she rejects you, you will not be accepted as having any authority over Christian Nomads of any horde. Will you resign the office the Pope gave you?”

“If I live long enough to resign, yes.”

Høngan gave him a hard look and returned to the meeting. When it was over, the Wilddog sharf announced that the cardinal would spend Thursday night in the pit. Friday the Wilddog sharf Holy Madness would pay court to the Wild Horse Woman, and the Saturday’s vigil was for the Grasshopper sharf Kindly Light. The Grasshopper’s complaint was that of the three of them, only Høngan would have a full moon from dusk to dawn, but Holy Madness explained to him privately: “If you are familiar with the pit, so that you do not stumble into trouble in the dark, the moon is not your friend. You cannot see the hellfire by bright moonlight, and as you know, sometimes not even by dark. Clouds may cover the moon. Spend the day studying her breeding pit from every angle. When the wind changes, you will have to move.”

The following night he spent in the pit. Oxsho led him to the place of descent. The moon, nearly full, was in the east at sundown. He carried a blanket but no bedroll. Sleep would be dangerous, but a chill would settle over the area after midnight.

“My teacher wishes me to spend the night on the clifftop and keep a fire burning,” the young warrior told him. “I’ll hold up a torch when the wind is changing. Watch for the torch. Sometimes a light breeze may be hard to feel down there.”

“Is this permitted?”

Oxsho paused. “I won’t start it until everyone’s asleep, and behind this rock nobody’ll see it. And only Sharf Bråm might object. God and the Mare keep you, m’Lord.”

A wind that swooped down from the lip of the crater carried wisps of dust that dimmed the stars, but it was the dust of the prairie, not the pit. He chose aresting place in the sparse clump of vegetation where the dust of the devil’s hole would blow away from him. He was still very sad because of the encounter with the bitter woman whose womb had borne him against her will. He had been a son of violence and hate before his adoption by the Sisters, but his memory of the Sisters was tinged with resentment, except for Sister Magdalen (“Cries-a-River”), a former Jackrabbit Nomad who told him stories and made his education her special concern. Seruna, when he married, had reminded him of Magdalen. Now both were dead. When he passed through Jackrabbit territory to visit some of his Churches, would he visit the orphanage? And was it nostalgia or resentment that made him think of it? Better not, he decided. Neither emotion would benefit his ecclesiastical and political project.

After a while the cardinal began to pray, saying his rosary at first, and letting his eyes linger around the patch of darkness that marked the cave entrance under the moonlit ledge of rock. He spoke softly to the patch of darkness, but he still felt the sting of his real mother’s spit like acid in his face. He spoke now to that other mother of myriad names: Regina Mundi, Domina Rerum, Mater Dei, Høngin Fujæ Vurn, even the War Buzzard. Her manifestations were always associated with a place: Bethlehem, Lourdes, Guadalupe, and here at the Navel of the World.

“I was born in the south end of your realm, Mother, and I know your paths. Even there, where the People are servants of those who took your land, I have seen your ways. Miriam, mother of Jesus, pray for me.”

Oxsho held up his torch when a cloud covered the moon near the zenith. He could at last see a kind of luminosity above and about the hole at the center of the pit, and he moved a hundred paces away from the direction pointed out by the flame.

“Lord, have mercy. Kyrie eleison.”

Fortunately, the wind was at his back again.

“My mother was a woman of the Wilddog tribes, Mother; my father did evil to her, and to your people. Let him be dead, as she is now dead for me. Let me not find him, lest I kill him. Long ago, before I knew she was dead to me, her spirit told me to come here. I have not done as she wished. I have left the People. I have taken the religion the Sisters taught me. But at last I am before you, Mother.”

The wind was shifting a lot that night. He kept moving.

“Christ, have mercy. Christe eleison.”

He moved again to keep the wind at his back, taking his cue from the occasional torchlight, but he went on talking softly in the direction of the cave.

“My hair is red. His was red, she told them. The Sisters who took her in. The Sisters raised me. Miriam, Mother of Jesus, pray for me. If he were living, I would kill him. Ora pro me, Wild Horse Woman. Kyrie eleison.”

Once during the night, he actually saw her: a woman’s figure, black against the glow from the fire pit. Her arms were raised like wings. The Nunshån? No, the figure was young; the Night Hag was old. Because of the wings, she had to be the Burregun, the War Buzzard. But when he stood, she vanished.

Amen Specklebird spoke of her as if she were a fourth member of the Holy Trinity, and that was one of the excuses of the Benefez faction for refusing him recognition. A pope who could utter heresy was no pope. But he had not been pope when he said it. Would he say it still? No. Surprising to Brownpony was the ease with which the old man shifted into his papal role. A doubter would call it hypocrisy. A believer would call it the work of the Holy Ghost, protecting the flock against error.

How many popes were in Hell? he wondered. Dante had named a few, but the list was incomplete. The last pope before the Flame Deluge was surely one of them.

On that thought, he lapsed into slumber, for the moon had sunk below the rim of the pit. It was the brightness of the sky and the shouting of Oxsho that woke him. The wind had gone wrong. He grabbed the blanket and trotted as fast as he could toward the path leading upward. For better or worse, his trial was over.

“If you are sick within the week, you will die,” was the matter-of-fact first prognosis of the Weejus who talked to him. “If you do not die soon, you can expect a shorter lifetime. They told you this beforehand?”

“Of course, Grandmother.”

She questioned him closely. He told her about seeing the woman with upraised arms he had seen against the glow of the hellfire. She stared at him. After a long pause, she asked, “Do you know of the Buzzard of Battle?”

“I have heard of the Burregun.”

“The Buzzard of Battle is red in the sky.”

“She was not in the sky.”

The old woman nodded, and that was the end of the interview. She took her opinions with her into the council lodge. Later that day, Chür Høngan came to tell him that the Bear Spirit accepted him conditionally as Christian shaman. The condition was that he not fall ill anytime soon.

Brownpony saw little cause to celebrate. A messenger came from Valana to report that Jarad Cardinal Kendemin, Abbot of Saint Leibowitz, had gone to meet the Judge. A report also came that the Pope and his party were encamped in the no-man’s-land between Wilddog and Grasshopper domains. Holy Madness graciously offered to swap his appointment with the Høngin Fujæ Vurn for Kindly Light’s, so that Hultor Bråm could leave with his escort party of warriors on Saturday morning to meet Amen Specklebird and lead him to the frontiers of the Empire.

Brownpony decided to ride south with the warriors. Bråm, fresh from his encounter with the Mare, offered no objection.

Early Saturday morning, an hour before their departure, Cardinal Brownpony borrowed bread, wine, a missal, and a portable altar from Father Ombroz. It was his wish to celebrate a pontifical High Mass; it would be good politics and showmanship, but he could not sing well, and had said no more than a dozen Masses since his ordination. Monsignor Sanual stiffly declined his request to serve either as co-celebrant or acolyte. The Red Deacon looked at Ombroz.

“Will you hear my confession first?” asked the old Ignatzian.

“You have something recent to confess?”

Ombroz took his meaning, and shook his head in annoyance. He called instead for Oxsho, his own altar boy. Between them, they rounded up all Christians and invited all the Weejus and Bear Spirit people who wished to attend. The Vicar Apostolic to the Three Hordes offered a simple Mass there on the high prairie with the smoke of dung fires in the breeze and a congregation of wild Nomads circling the altar at a safe distance. Probably more people came forward to receive the Eucharist than there were Christians in the encampment, but he questioned no one. Those who looked surprised at the bland flavor of the Body of Christ were probably pagan shamans. Neither Sanual nor Ombroz came forward to receive. After the Ite, missa est, a cheer arose from the crowd, but he could not be sure who incited it. Obviously, he was accepted as the Christian high shaman of the People.

Monsignor Sanual was drinking again. He came out to watch them ride away, and called out to the cardinal that he was following a loser, that the false Pope would never enter New Rome, and that grief for the whole Church would follow.

“Thanks for your blessings, Messér,” the cardinal answered.

Hultor Bråm was not yet prepared to be a friend to a friend of his rival, but he had suffered a bad Friday night in the pit, and he knew that his report to the Bear Spirit council afterward had not been well received. Plainly, the Weejus had already made up their minds. He conceded to his warriors that unless Holy Madness experienced an even worse Saturday night in the Navel of the World, the office of Qæsach dri Vørdar would fall to the Wilddog sharf. At least the ancient office would be restored, reuniting the Three Hordes.

He noticed that Cardinal Brownpony had heard his remarks, and he gruffly asked the cardinal about his experience with the Mare.

“Were you accepted as her stallion the other night?” he wanted to know. “Did you see her at all?”

The cardinal hesitated. “I’m not sure what I saw. You spend hours staring at patches of darkness, you begin to see, but it isn’t there.”

“What is it that wasn’t there?”

“There seemed to be a woman between me and the patch of dim light. I can’t describe her. She faced me, and her arms were raised. Then she disappeared.”

“Like the Buzzard of Battle?”

“They told you that’s what I saw. I never said it.”

Bråm nodded. “If I had seen it, I would be Qæsach dri Vørdar now. But I am going to die soon.”

“Are you ill?”

“You saw the Buzzard of Battle. That is your future. They say I saw mine.” Bråm laughed and rode away. Later one of the warriors told the cardinal that the Weejus had decided that the Grasshopper sharf had met the Night Hag in the pit, although, the man said, the Weejus had prejudged the contest in favor of Holy Madness, provided he survived the pit, and that he personally did not believe that Bråm would die as a result of the pit.

The warriors were feeling playful. Bråm had promised them they would be well paid by the Church for performing this escort duty. Brownpony grew more uneasy about the promise each time it was mentioned. He had not spoken of money to the Grasshopper sharf. Perhaps someone else in the Curia had made the offer, or even Papa Specklebird.

He watched the warriors gamboling on the grasslands under the September sun. A man stood up on horseback. Another stood up, and chased the first rider so closely that he had to sit down fast or fall. There was whooping laughter. One warrior could slide down his stallion’s flank and crawl under his belly and up the other side. After he had done this three times, the horse began to have an erection. He crawled down a fourth time, took a look, and crawled back up. Somebody yelled a merry insult at him, and in a moment both were on the ground in a knife fight. Hultor Bråm came riding back, watched the deadly dance for a moment, then adjusted his tall leather helmet with his grandmother’s crest and the badge of a war sharf..

There was a splatter of blood, not a deep cut, but it brought an order to drop the weapons. “Finish it with your hands and feet,” Sharf Hultor barked, “or stop it right now. Hear me well! No killing! Not among ourselves. If you have a grudge against a comrade, save it until this war party gets back home.”

“Why does he call it a war party?” Brownpony asked the man who rode beside him. “It was meant to be an honor guard.”

“The Grasshopper is always at war,” declared the rider, and spurred his horse to distance himself from this farmer and red-hat Christian.

CHAPTER 16

The beds, moreover, are to be examined

frequently by the Abbot, to see if any private

property be found in them. If anyone should be

found to have something that he did not receive

from the Abbot, let him undergo the most severe discipline.

Saint Benedict’s Rule, Chapter 55

IT WAS A TROOP OF FOOLS, THOUGHT THE commander of the police guard. Thirty-seven cardinals rode horseback along with the Pope while another twenty-four bounced along in the beds of wagons dragged across the roadless grasslands by mules. Thirty Denver mounted police and thirty Wilddog warriors escorted the party, although this force would turn back when the party reached Grasshopper country and met the riders of Sharf Bråm.

When they reached the boundary, they pitched camp and waited for the warriors of the Grasshopper.

Amen Specklebird had waited more patiently than the others. The tents provided by their Wilddog escorts were comfortable enough, and the Pope insisted that the cardinals join him each day in singing Lauds, the Mass, and Vespers, and to pray the other canonical prayers in common. Most of them were accustomed to muttering the first few lines of each psalm; they called it reciting the breviary.

The camp of the itinerant Curia was surrounded by curious women and children of both Wilddog and Grasshopper families whose herds or breeding pits were located nearby, but the escorting warriors kept them at a distance to prevent thievery. Everyone was relieved, except perhaps the warriors themselves, when the Grasshopper riders appeared on the crest of the hill, not gamboling or quarreling now, but riding in a typical Grasshopper battle formation, a line of advance that surged alternately here and fell back there, making the order of battle difficult for the enemy to portray. The Wilddog scouts, outnumbered, grabbed their lances and sidearms and moved to mount their stallions, but Hultor Bråm called a halt and cried out, “Peace! In the name of the Fujæ Go.”

The Curia watched as Cardinal Brownpony left their fierce ranks and rode forward. Amen Specklebird advanced to meet him, and raised him up when he fell to the ground to kiss the fisherman’s ring.

“We have heard, Elia, that Jarad is with Christ, not yet risen.”

That was a curious way of putting it, but the cardinal answered, “I knew that would be the first thing you mentioned, Holy Father. If you will excuse me from your presence, I should like to travel now to Leibowitz Abbey and join their mourning.”

The old black panther seemed surprised. “I thought you would be going on south of the Nady Ann to visit your Churches in the Province.”

“That too, Holy Father. But the Texark forces will be expecting me to cross the Nady Ann, not the Bay Ghost. If I come in from the west, I may not be arrested. And it should only take a day or two to pay my respects at the abbey.”

“We shall excommunicate anyone who dares lay a finger on you in the Province. I’ll put that in writing. You are ordered to go to Leibowitz Abbey, and then east to Jackrabbit country.”

“Thank you. I wish to go on to Hannegan City afterward, Holy Father.”

“Then you go as my legate. The wax on your orders will be sealed by my ring. I’ll send the papers by messenger to the abbey.”

“Forgive me, but that may not impress the Archbishop or his nephew.”

“You do not have my permission to be a martyr, Elia.”

“Do I need it?”

Amen smiled and changed the subject. “How are our friends among the Weejus and the Bear Spirit? And how was that cave of theirs? You were in it one night?”

“Breeding pit, Holy Father. To be frank, I think its reputation is highly exaggerated by myth and storytelling. It must have been a dangerous place centuries ago, but unless some ill befell Holy Madness, I believe its devil has lost her cunning.” He spoke these words three weeks before an attack of nausea and lethargy came over him at Leibowitz Abbey.

When he parted from the Pope and the Curia, he went to thank Hultor Bråm for his courtesy. Bråm complained that no money was forthcoming. The cardinal merely denied any knowledge of the problem, and left it in the hands of the weary prelates of the Pope’s company.

Pope Amen’s last words to him were “See about Leibowitz Abbey, Elia. Tell them to elect their new abbot, and you impart to him my confirmation. Cardinal Onyo here will be a witness that I so instructed you, if there is any later question.”

A quick embrace ended it. He looked back at the Grasshopper escort. The Wilddog warriors and the Valana police gave them wide berth. The Wilddog mounted, and rode west-northwest, while the policemen lingered for a time.

Later historians were to suggest that the war which destroyed the papacy began when Amen Specklebird accepted the ninety-nine Grasshopper warriors who had been recruited by Hultor Bråm, separated from their families by Hultor Bråm, trained, drilled, and indoctrinated by Hultor Bråm, but not paid by Hultor Bråm, because the Grasshopper sharf was angry with Cardinal Brownpony, and extended his anger to Brownpony’s master. After the comptroller with the Pope’s party told him there was no gold with the train, the commander of the police guard explained the situation to the Pope.

The papacy in Valana had signed a contract with certain Wilddog and Grasshopper families to furnish for hire fresh horses to Church messengers at relay stations so that crossing the Plains from the Denver Republic to the marginal farmlands of the East could be accomplished in less than ten days. One enterprising Wilddog family and one Grasshopper undertook to carry mail across the Plains, competing with Church messenger service, but not with Hannegan’s telegraph. These families were given certain immunities in both written and horde law. It was too early to say that a new class of Nomad entrepreneur was immediately coming into being, but certain grandmothers were accumulating an embarrassment of riches from providing services to the enemy: to civilization. Nomad society had always followed the wild, unfenced cattle, and a wealth of possessions made one’s village less portable. But it was under the terms of this contract, as construed by Bråm, that payment was expected.

“Promise to pay them later” was all Pope Amen could say.

After a promise was made to Bråm, the Pope and the Curia proceeded east with these tutelary demons on horseback. Because of the weariness of old men, the journey took four days instead of two. The Pope was fond of chatting with ordinary people, and he spoke frequently to members of the Grasshopper escort along the way, whenever an opportunity arose.

“Our tribes are angry,” one of them told him. “We are angry because the Wilddog has allowed Churchmen to be guests at the sacred meeting of the hordes. Not only is Cardinal Brownpony there, but so is an emissary from Archbishop Benefez. And Brownpony favors Ösle Høngan Chür over Hultor Bråm.”

The Pope took note of the warrior’s polite reversal of Holy Madness’ name. Angry or not, he accepted the grandmothers’ political will, their favoritism for the Wilddog sharf, as legitimately governing the electoral situation on the Plains. But his resentment of Brownpony was extended to Brownpony’s master, the Pope, and thus wages had been requested in advance.

Amen tried to reassure him that the men would be paid, but the list of complaints was not ended.

“Furthermore, the Wilddog offered Monsignor Sanual food and shelter.”

“I would have thought Benefez’s man would stay with the Jackrabbit delegates,” Specklebird remarked.

“Oh, yes, he wanted to. There are Christian priests among the Jackrabbit Bear Spirit delegates. The Jackrabbit delegates are in danger of seeming to be puppets of the Texark Church.”

“There is only one Church, my son.”

And so went the journey.

According to the Treaty of the Sacred Mare, any farmer or soldier of the Empire who entered Grasshopper territory while bearing arms could expect attack, and any armed Nomad within musket range of the Empire’s frontier could be fired upon. Thus, when the Pope’s party crossed the hill overlooking the frontier checkpoint, Hultor Bråm and his men halted. The warriors were still grumbling to their sharf about not being paid, but the sharf was watching the confrontation at the border crossing.

“One way or another, you’ll all be paid,” he insisted, “maybe sooner than you think.”

As the procession of prelates approached the gate, Amen Specklebird descended from his coach and brushed the dust of the Plains from his white cassock. He approached the officer who stood with folded arms in the center of the road. Flanking him were two soldiers with double-barreled weapons, probably loaded with buckshot.

“By orders of the Hannegan, you cannot pass,” the officer announced. “If you try, you will be arrested.”

“Do not bar the way, my son. Bow to God’s will.”

“Show me God’s will.”

“Pick up your right foot, and look.”

The officer obeyed, and reddened.

“I see my right foot’s shadow,” he said, ignoring the horseshit with his footprint in it.

“His will is already done,” said Specklebird. “Too bad.”

“Such a smartass! They call it your ‘wisdom,’ don’t they? Forgive me, but it is a pain in the butt to me, Your, uh, Holiness. I don’t think the Lord Mayor will find it a pleasure, either. Why don’t you say something new, in plain Ol’zark?”

Amen grinned at him and pointed to the sun while squinting. The colonel’s eyes may have flickered, but he resisted looking and said, “Nice try, old man. There are good frauds and bad frauds, I guess. You’re pretty good, aren’t you?”

“I never thought of it that way, my son, but my office requires it of me, doesn’t it?”

“I don’t know whether to spit on you or kneel to you, old fool. But make it easy for yourself and go home.”

“Colonel, why trap yourself in dualism that way?”

“What are you calling dualism?”

“Spitting God or kneeling God.”

“I have my orders from the Hannegan himself. Get back in your coach, turn around, and go back to Valana, or you will find yourself in Hannegan City, facing a heresy trial. Say another word, and I’ll testify to everything you say here.”

“Bless you, my son, and thank you.”

The colonel snorted, spoke in an aside to a captain, then mounted and rode away in a huff. The captain pointed a cavalry pistol at the Pope’s thin black face. Two cardinals caught the Pope’s arms and a third pushed him back toward the train.

Thus was the road to New Rome closed to New Rome’s bishop.

The Grasshopper warriors parted to allow them to pass, but made no move to escort them back, even when Golopez Cardinal Onyo beckoned to Bråm. Bråm frowned and shook his head. His warriors stood there watching until they became a patch of dust in the west. Wearily, Amen’s party (a good part of the Sacred College) turned to remake the long journey. From far behind came the faint sound of shouting and gunfire, but there was nothing the prelates could do about it, and Pope Amen was a little hard of hearing. From the patches of forest at the east, through scrub and tall grass, through open grassland, through blistering days and chilly nights in the near-desert, some of it irrigated at last, and finally to the mountains they passed. Along the way, they accepted Nomad charity, and they were intercepted at one point by a delegation from the breeding pit.

Chür Ösle Høngan had married the Fujæ Go. The new Qæsach dri Vørdar, Lord of the Three Hordes, whose wife was the Day Maiden, knelt to kiss the Pope’s ring and swore allegiance to His Holiness forever, in the name of God and His Virgin.

Before they parted, Golopez Cardinal Onyo called Holy Madness aside and told him about the behavior of Sharf Hultor Bråm after they had been turned back by the border guard. “They did not return with us, and I heard gunfire and shouting. I cannot be sure, but I think there was fighting.”

The Lord of the Three Hordes sat astride his stallion and gathered a slow frown. “If he did what I’m afraid he did, I’ll have his head.”

“The Pope knows nothing,” Onyo told him.

“I’ll send to find something out immediately.” He grunted an order to a subordinate, then rode away with his party back toward the breeding pit. The subordinate rode east.

There was something to find out. At the border that day, the Grasshopper escort, standing half a mile distant from all events at the gate, began to move. As soon as the dust of the Pope’s party had dwindled beyond the hills, War Sharf Hultor Bråm ordered his ninety-nine elite fighters to take the road to Rome by a feat of arms. They circled south, and cut the road to Hannegan City toward which the colonel who had defied the Pope was riding homeward. He was among the first of many troops to die that day.

They turned north again. The road to Rome was swiftly taken, but only on a very temporary basis. These born-in-the-saddle man-animals cut through the Texark Light Horse, leaving other men and animals full of arrows and spear wounds on the ground. Slow firearms fell back before rapid and accurate bows. Many Grasshoppers used captured sidearms, but only as backup weapons. The Nomad horses were faster and better, and together with their fighters they became for the unseasoned troopers truly the riders of the Apocalypse, ninety-nine of them and a leader with a demonic attitude. They had not been paid, for nobody had brought the papal treasury. They cut the troopers to pieces, killed 146 farmers, raped their wives, daughters, sisters, mothers, sons, and then cut their way back to the frontier through fresh but green reinforcements—cut their way back, yes, all thirty-three of them, adrenaline-drunk, exhausted, including aleader with a brooding attitude and a bad leg. But their saddlebags bulged, and once on the Plains again, they made travois to carry some of the loot. Now they had been paid.

The foray had been just a hell of a good party for the survivors, who came back to their grateful and waiting wives, some of whose hearts and crotches quivered with anxiety and hope, with mostly overworked and limp male members! It took amatory ingenuity on a warrior’s part that night to convince a wife that he came home from battle with a real lust for her sexual candy, but most pleaded combat fatigue and went to bed alone.

Being at war was more fun—no doubt about that: even with the odds at two to one you’d die before you got to rape, steal, and burn barns full of newly baled hay.

There was both celebration and mourning that night in late September in the encampment of the sharf’s own mother clan. The war cries almost drowned the sound of women crying.

I set fires! I set fires!”

It was the royal motto on the flag of Hultor Bråm. And no one doubted that it was a deliberate slap in the face of the new Lord of the Hordes, whose emissaries would arrive within two days. On the morning after the celebration, several new widows brought their complaints to the Grasshopper Weejus and Bear Spirit. Bråm was summoned before the council. He listened to the accusations in silence and made no defense.

The incursion to the very walls of High New Rome seemed of a devilish inspiration, because it fractured the Treaty of the Sacred Mare, and resumed a state of war between Texark and the Grasshopper. But everybody had fun except the dead, the raped, and the permanently maimed. In war, God is thus! old Tempus might have said.

Helped by telegraph, the news of Hultor Bråm’s raid arrived in Valana long before the Pope did, the Pope who knew nothing of what was happening a few miles behind him, except that his Nomad escort had vanished and some shouting and shooting was heard. At home, he found himself facing accusations from Texark that he or the Secretariat of State had ordered the Nomad attack.

•      •      •

Subsequently in Valana the short, unhappy pontificate of Pope Amen Specklebird produced more important legislation for its duration than had the pontificate of any pope since the schism of the previous century. This was not surprising. The lack of participation by Texark’s allies meant that the Curia could approach unanimous consent to proposals by the Pope’s new advisers, who were led by Sorely Nauwhat, since Elia Brownpony was on the road. Sorely was in many ways Brownpony’s talk-alike. In no way, however, was Amen Specklebird ruled by the Curia. He spoke of resigning, but first there would be legislation.

In a bull named Unica ex Adam Orta Progenies, after its opening words, the Pope again affirmed that no one of human ancestry should be regarded as less than human, and that the misborn must not be denied equal rights under the laws of the Church or of the nations. Nor were the Pope’s children to be confined by law to a special domain, such as the Valley. He specifically outlawed their use as virtual slaves in the lumbering camps of the Ol’zarks. There was nothing new in the bull, except that the Pope denounced the practice within the Church of noting family pedigrees on baptismal certificates, since the lack of such documentation was used prejudicially by many states; a stranger might be required to prove that he was not a spook trying to pass as normal. “Rulers who, for political gain, exploit the people’s fear of those with hereditary defects, and who sin against them through unjust laws and by stirring up mob violence, shall be held accountable for these evils. Sentences of ipso facto excommunication passed by Our Predecessors against any who, God forbid, do violence to the so-called Pope’s children, are by these presents reaffirmed.” The bull ended with a punitive clause, defining penalties for the violation of its letter and spirit, and extending the penalties to include violence done under the pretense of law. The language was that of a lawyer, but the message was clearly Amen Specklebird’s.

With no help from the Curia, he originated a Motu Proprio (strictly by the Pope’s own doing) in his own spidery calligraphy, deploring a drift in the Church away from proper liturgical reverence toward the theotokos (Mother of God). He did not need to mention which areas of the Church’s spiritual domain needed reform in this area. The bishops of patriarchal societies were given to denouncing the Mariolatry of the Northwest, which Amen Specklebird had indirectly endorsed in a speech to the conclave before (emphasis by his supporters) his elevation to the papacy lent infallibility to his ex cathedra pronouncements. The Motu Proprio, however, lacked the defining and punitive clauses which were expected of infallible utterances by any pope; it was hardly more than a tut tut to his most vocal critics, and a poetic tribute to the Mother of All.

A law governing papal resignation, an event which had hitherto occurred about once per millennium, was ordered revised by the Pope. He decreed that such a resignation must come from the man himself, not from a Pope. A man who had been Pope would rise from the throne, remove all his vestments, and declare that sede vacante by saying, “The Pope is no more,” and walk away as if the Holy Spirit had departed from him. He would not be admired for quitting, but he would not be punished for it either, unless he tried to change his mind. Specklebird insisted on this change in the existing law, and Hilan Cardinal Bleze tried to sell the others. It did seem to put an end to an ancient argument to the effect that papal resignation was impossible.

“He’s planning his own departure,” said Nauwhat, but still gave his assent to the law.

Kindly Light was marked for death. He had been so marked when the Weejus told him that what he had seen in the pit was the Night Hag. He had predicted his death to Cardinal Brownpony. Within two weeks of the ordeal at the Navel of the World, he fell ill. When the Wilddog shamans came to confer with their Grasshopper counterparts, he knew what the decision would be. He offered to submit voluntarily to a sacrificial death, provided that his younger brother, Eltür Bråm (Demon Light), be made Grasshopper war sharf in his place. Otherwise, he would take his own life. The Weejus of both hordes conferred, and all the grandmothers were consulted. Eltür was a warrior of considerable renown, but he had not been a member of the raiding party, and was known to be even-tempered, unlike his surly brother. The grandmothers in turn questioned their sons and nephews as to their willingness to follow Eltür. The battle frenzy had died out in the Grasshopper camp, and even the thirty-three warriors who survived the raid understood that Hultor Bråm had committed treason against the Qæsach dri Vørdar. They were commanded to purge themselves by ritual fasting for seven days, but were not otherwise punished for obeying their sharf.

It was decided that Hultor Bråm would not be honored by a ritual funeral such as had been conducted for Wilddog Granduncle Brokenfoot. Because of his heavy losses in battle, most of the grandmothers were quite angry with him. One of them said, “There is a wild stallion in my pit which I am about to release.”

All of them looked at her, and the manner of Hultor’s dying was immediately decided.

To prevent too much inbreeding the Weejus sometimes mated their mares with wild stallions, which men were forbidden to touch. The Weejus had her own way of stalking a wild stallion. Sometimes it took weeks, even months. A woman gradually introduced herself to a wild herd by staying far upwind. She worked her way closer, bit by bit, until the lead stallion first noticed her. Then she calmly but swiftly went away. The horses begin to tolerate her as a part of the terrain. One day a warrior of her family would bring the Weejus a jar of urine from a rutting mare of her own remuda. She smeared herself with it and approached as usual. When the lead stallion perked up and started to approach, she retreated again. This was repeated, with and without the scent, until the woman could actually walk in among the grazing mustangs. Eventually she would choose her animal, feed him tidbits, hang a rope on him, calm and cajole him, entice him, and lead him away to mate with her mares, and then be released. This was a way they had of keeping their own herds from too much inbreeding, but always, the wild ones were respected. When the Weejus seduced him, she did it without riding or breaking him. The only problem was that the stallion, no longer as wary of humans, might now be subject to capture by the motherless ones.

To make this stallion wild and wary again, the former war sharf of the Grasshopper Horde was sacrificed to the Owner of all wild horses, dragged to death by the released animal at the end of a long rope.

CHAPTER 17

Before all things and above all things,

care must be taken of the sick, so that they will,

be served as if they were Christ in person;

for He Himself said, “I was sick, and you visited me.”

Saint Benedict’s Rule, Chapter 361

ABIQUIU OLSHUEN, ALTHOUGH HIS ELECTION AS abbot after a decent period of mourning was assumed by everyone, limited his decisions to small ones and exerted no more than his usual authority as prior until such elections might take place. He therefore assigned both Blacktooth and the Yellow Guard to visitors’ quarters, invited them all to participate in the usual four or five hours a day of manual labor, and told Nimmy himself to join the other monks in choir in the liturgy, but not to receive the Eucharist without specific permission from a confessor, meaning himself.

When Blacktooth told him that the alien guardsmen were not only Christian but had taken religious vows, Olshuen was perplexed. He called Levion the Reconciliator for advice, and with Blacktooth the status of the foreigners was discussed at length. Olshuen and Levion were both uncomfortable with the idea of professional killers with religious vows, and Nimmy knew really very little about their creed and practice. He did know, and reminded Olshuen, that many centuries ago the monks of Saint Leibowitz had defended the monastery by force of arms, as evidenced by the parapet walls and the rusty iron weapons in a locked basement armory, to which only Olshuen now had the key.

Blacktooth found himself distracted by Levion’s garments. The monk had become a priest. Although he did not dislike the man, Blacktooth imagined that having the Reconciliator as his confessor might be one of the pangs of his own personal hell, if both of them went there. Blacktooth had not changed a lot since leaving the abbey, but one minor change that had come from serving Cardinal Brownpony and studying warrior’s arts under the Axe was a reduction of his fear of people such as these. It shocked him to realize that the ability to kill was a great tranquilizer, even among people he liked and respected.

“Why don’t you talk to them instead of to me?” he said to Father Levion, his old shrink.

“I tried to, Brother St. George, but I can hardly understand them. Can’t you?”

Not wishing to be stuck with the role of interpreter, Nimmy shook his head. “They are learning Churchspeak, Father. It would be kind of you to help them by communicating. I’m sure you are much better at it than I.”

Afterward he tried not to indulge a temptation to feel smug. The alien Christians were soon invited to join the brethren of Saint Leibowitz at prayer; the reception of the Eucharist, however, would be delayed until their understanding of this continent’s form of Catholic Christianity could be tested by catechists and confessors. Not elected abbot yet, Olshuen feared Valana’s disapproval, and knew little about the character of either Amen Specklebird or the members of this yellow-skinned war band of the late Cardinal Ri.

He put Nimmy to work washing dishes and scrubbing floors in the kitchen. The errant monk was not respected by former friends, and he tried to avoid their charity. Apparently Abbot Jarad had told them little or nothing about his work for Cardinal Brownpony, and only Olshuen seemed aware of it but not much impressed. If Brother Singing Cow had told anyone that Blacktooth was one of Brownpony’s conclavists when Pope Amen was elected, no one was interested. The business of the abbey was prayer and preservation of a heritage. Interest in the outside world was deliberately kept to a minimum. Nimmy was grateful that nobody sneered in his face or spoke of him loudly enough to be overheard.

•      •      •

Leibowitz Abbey had many visitors that season, and there were only a dozen furnished cells in the guesthouse. When Blacktooth came back from Vespers in the evening, he noticed a lamp burning in a cell which had been empty that morning. He glanced through the small door-window and froze at what he saw. Elia Cardinal Brown-pony, looking pale and drawn, was lying in bed, propped up by pillows. Blacktooth pressed his forehead against the grille, the better to stare at the ailing prelate, his once and future master.

“Is that you, Nimmy? I wondered where you were hiding. Come in, come in.”

“Nobody told me you were here, m’Lord.” Blacktooth fell to his knees and kissed Brownpony’s ring. He felt the cardinal flinch, and resolved not to kiss his ring again.

Two days later, Önmu Kun arrived at the abbey. Nimmy thought it a weird coincidence, but then saw that the Jackrabbit outlaw was taken directly to meet the ailing cardinal without even a visit to the prior. They had talked for several hours when Nimmy brought their dinners from the kitchen. Önmu was friendly, but their conversation stopped dead when Blacktooth entered, and did not resume until he departed. The Jackrabbit smuggler was on his way from the Province to New Jerusalem again, but he stayed until Brownpony was ready to depart, and then stayed some more.

There was no doubt from the beginning that Prior Olshuen would be elected abbot, spiritual father and ruler of the Order of Saint Leibowitz, but Brownpony let him worry about the power of confirmation which had been delegated to the cardinal by the Pope and it apparently came to Olshuen’s mind that restoring the cardinal’s health must be a paramount concern at the abbey.

For a time, the Red Deacon was afflicted by nausea and fatigue. He had no appetite. Attempts to vomit after picking at the cook’s food usually resulted in the dry heaves. He was dizzy whenever he left his bed. He was short of breath, and his heartbeat quickened when he stood. Blacktooth asked to be relieved of his floor-scrubbing duties in the kitchen in order to consult the Venerable Boedullus again, for that respected author had written of Meldown, the breeding pit, and the illnesses that sometimes resulted from exposure to radiation there. He had even recorded a recipe called summonabisch stew, thought by the ancient Plains dwellers to be helpful in its treatment.

Prior Olshuen at first refused to release Blacktooth from the kitchen, for Brother Medic wanted no assistance from the likes of him. But when Brownpony learned that the prior had assigned the most menial of chores to the errant monk, he called the prior to his sickroom and showed symptoms of bad temper. The cardinal even raised the question of his approval of Olshuen’s election, if he were so persistent in Jarad’s error.

“What error is that, Your Eminence?”

“Keeping your foot on Nimmy’s neck, you damn fool!”

“Why, we all do manual labor, and I thought…” He desisted, seeing that the Red Deacon was about to explode.

Brother Blacktooth was relieved of his kitchen assignment, and placed at the cardinal’s disposal.

Nimmy read Boedullus again, and consulted with Brother Medic and the cooks. The cardinal allowed himself to be placed on a strict diet formulated by these consultants. Twice a day he must eat an apple into which iron nails had been driven and left for three days. The summonabisch recipe called for organ meats only. “Whatever the dogs won’t eat,” said a grouchy cook, quite incorrectly, according to the shepherds, whose dogs would eat every part of an animal but horns and hooves, if permitted to do so. The recipe called for wild onions and tiny wild peppers. The smelly wild onions grew only along riverbanks, and there were none near the abbey. The cook used onions from the garden, and although the shepherds found a few chiltepins while tending their flocks, hot peppers from the garden were deemed an acceptable substitute; the curative power was thought to reside mostly in the combination of tongue, liver, heart, brains, sweetbreads, kidneys, and tripe, all finely chopped. These were to be simmered in an iron pot with a splash of red wine or vinegar. The original recipe called for a calf, not a lamb, but none of the abbey’s few milk cows had calved this year. Since about two young sheep a week were sacrificed for their organ meats, the monks were allowed, even encouraged, to eat mutton stew, although the Leibowitzian diet normally eschewed red meat. The very religious among them preferred to fast when it was served, but most novices ate it with relish (pepper and garlic relish) and in good conscience.

During the second week, the cardinal’s appetite improved. “You know, Nimmy, this stew is actually quite delicious. Ask the cook what’s in it, will you?”

“I doubt if you really want to know, m’Lord.”

“No? And why are there holes and brown streaks in these apples? And why do they keep feeding me pumpkin seeds?”

“Iron nails in the apples. The Venerable Boedullus thought it’s good for the blood. This is October and the pumpkins are ripe.”

“But seeds only? Boedullus, eh? He’s the one to whom you added a footnote, wasn’t he? But not about pumpkin seeds.”

“Apparently, I’ll never live that down.”

“Don’t look so downcast. It’s nothing to me. Tell me about your stay in New Jerusalem.”

“She is dead, m’Lord.”

“Ædrea? I’m very sorry to hear that. She was a bright young lady. A bundle of mischief, of course. Do you think you will recover from her?”

“I’ll never forget.”

“You learned something?”

“Yes.”

“Then you have a choice of coming east with me, or staying here with your Order.”

“I’ll come, m’Lord. And thank you. This place has become an occasion of sin for me. I feel too much unjust anger here.”

“Save your thanks. It’s likely to be dangerous. And cold. It will be winter before we reach Hannegan City. Do you think you can induce one of Cardinal Ri’s guard to come with us?”

“Induce? I don’t understand. They regard you as their master, and even their owner.”

“I know. That’s why I won’t tell them to do anything, until they get over that idea of ownership.”

Nimmy had no trouble recruiting a bodyguard for the cardinal. They all wanted to come.

“We can’t have that,” he told them. “We’ll be traveling with forged papers. Whoever comes will have to hide his weapons in a bedroll and wear a cassock.”

Wooshin had told him Qum-Do was the best warrior among them, but he chose Weh-Geh, the smallest, whose skin was almost light brown. Only his eyes distinguished him from the local population.

By the time the cardinal’s sealed papers and a letter from the Pope arrived, Brownpony was ready to leave the monastery and travel east to the Province and then to Hannegan City. The letter told him very little about Hultor’s raid, except that it had happened and the Pope was being blamed. The cardinal penned a reply, begging the Pope not to think of abandoning the papacy until Brownpony returned from the Imperial Court. The message was posted in Sanly Bowitts, along with the abbey’s mail, which was picked up by a messenger every ten days.

Then the three men, dressed as monks, left for the Province.

Soon after their departure, two more travelers arrived at Leibowitz Abbey. One was an old Jew on his way to the Mesa of Last Resort; he was leading two young nanny goats with blue heads, full udders, and swollen abdomens. Accompanying him was a young woman with bright blond hair, only a little less pregnant than the goats. The old Jew would accept no hospitality beyond a drink of water, a few biscuits, and some cold young mutton. The girl had escaped from captivity by her family, and demanded to see the father of her unborn child.

“They left two days ago. He told the cardinal you were dead,” said Olshuen.

“He thinks I’m dead, but the cardinal knows better.”

The abbot gritted his teeth and offered grudging hospitality, although the guesthouse was half full of alien warriors and a gunrunner; there were no separate facilities for women, and the monk she was seeking had departed.

“You can stay in a locked cell,” he told her, “with a night pot. You’ll be safe enough.”

“Who keeps the key?”

Olshuen thought for a moment. Might she not come out and molest the men, as well as the other way around?

“Oh, well, I’ll keep it myself,” he said at last.

“Locked in by you?” She glanced up at three monks regarding her curiously from the top of the parapet wall. Grinning wickedly, she pulled up the front of her leather skirt to waist level. Under it she wore nothing. With her swollen abdomen and her bright blond beaver, she did a bump and grind just for a horrified abbot, dropped the skirt, turned on her heel, and marched away with a wiggling ass toward Sanly Bowitts. Someone cheered. The abbot glared up at the parapet, but the three monks had vanished. Soon a man with a mule and a wagonload of sheep manure stopped to give her a ride. Some minutes later he picked up the old Jew, and went on with the goats tied behind the tailgate.

“Blacktooth, Blacktooth,” Olshuen muttered in disgust, and retired to the chapel, where he fell on his knees and tested his pulse before praying. A monk who began to pray, without first quieting heart and mind, prayed badly. He said a rapid paternoster with a rapid pulse and went back to his office.

The journey from Leibowitz Abbey to the eastern boundary of Jackrabbit territory would take nearly two months. Önmu Kun had provided the cardinal with a list of Churches whose pastors and their flocks were of mostly Nomad ancestry, and to whom Kun had sold guns. Some of them were also on the cardinal’s list of correspondents with SEEC. As long as they visited only such Churches, their identity was secure. But the cardinal wanted to pass through settlements close to the telegraph line, so that he might pick up news from Valana and Hannegan City. They traveled far enough north so that the Bay Ghost River could be forded without swimming the horses, and also without passing an imperial checkpoint. Their journey thereafter was plotted on a map from Church to Church, settlement to settlement. It was grim dry land, for they traveled mostly to the north of fertile hill country.

It was at one such settlement at the old town of Yellow that Brownpony learned the extent of the offenses of War Sharf Bråm against the Qæsach dri Vørdar, and of the former’s ritual death. He had never met Eltür Bråm (Demon Light), who was said to be Hultor’s fraternal twin, younger by two hours. A Jackrabbit priest named Steps-on-Snake who knew the Grasshopper family told the cardinal that Eltür was less belligerent, less impulsive, but perhaps more cunning than his twin, whom he had worshiped. His election by the grandmothers surprised Steps-on-Snake, who said Eltür would certainly avenge his brother.

From the Grasshopper, Filpeo Harq had demanded the surrender as criminals of all warriors involved in the massacre, and the surrender too of fifty Grasshopper children to be held as hostages insuring against future raids, and the payment of half the Grasshopper’s total wealth in cattle and horses. The alternative was said to be total war. But the Imperial Mayor’s forces at present lacked logistics to support a dug-in infantry force on the open Plains, although Texark was working on it. Filpeo could only send out his cavalry to harass and be decimated. He would be ready to fight when he could occupy and hold territory. It was his continued occupation and holding of Grasshopper lands that left him little to spare for enlarging his lands in the west. If Texark’s fighters had lost sixty-six out of ninety-nine men in a battle, the survivors would not celebrate. “It took dirty, heathen Nomads to act thus,” the priest said wryly. For the foreseeable future the war against the Grasshopper was going to be fitful and opportunistic, but cruel.

The Province south of the Nady Ann was ruled by a proconsul commanding an army of police whose obvious and age-old job was to protect the property of the rich from the greed of the Jackrabbit poor. Blacktooth thought of the guns Önmu Kun was bringing into the territory. Lest some of them fall into Texark hands, they were not the most advanced weapons in the New Jerusalem arsenal, and it seemed to him doubtful that the Jackrabbit was yet capable of revolution, although he had heard talk in Yellow of Jackrabbit bandits, motherless ones, in the hill country far to the south. “Bandit” was a Texark political term.

One fact to Filpeo’s advantage was that the Lord of the Three Hordes, Holy Little Bear Madness, was pressing the new Grasshopper sharf to avoid battle. The only permissible attack was a counterattack. Whether Demon Light was more loyal to his lord, the Sharf of Sharfs, than his brother had been was an open question. News of Bråm’s raid had caused exultation in the Province, coupled with rage at the Grasshopper grandmothers for his ritual death.

All these things Brownpony learned from the Jackrabbit priest at Yellow, where there was an interesting crater nearly as large as Meldown, but inhabited by living things. Steps-on-Snake was in close touch with a Grasshopper Nomad who lived nearby with the family of his Jackrabbit wife. News from his own family and the horde this husband picked up from a man who lived on the Nady Ann and watched Grasshopper and Wilddog signalmen on hilltops beyond the river. The signals were whole-body movements, many rhythmic, and the movements included those of his closely reined mount; such signals were broad enough to be seen and understood at great distance. After such a broadcast, Grasshopper news took several days to reach Yellow.

And so Brownpony’s host, Father Steps-on-Snake, was in touch with the Grasshopper, and also with a Texark sergeant who overheard all the official news at a nearby telegraph terminal, and apparently decided for himself as to the sensitivity of information.

“How can you trust the sergeant?” the cardinal wondered.

“His girlfriend is one of my parishioners, and she brings him to my Church every Sunday. I trust her because she likes him less than he likes her. He is too simple to dissemble. But no, I am not prepared to believe him always and every time.”

“Is there any way you can get a message to the Pope in Valana?”

“No,” said Steps-on-Snake, but hesitated. “It would be a dangerous thing to try.”

“I need to try dangerous things.”

“It would put a parishioner in danger.”

“The girl?”

“Yes, and the corporal, and myself.”

“But you know a way?”

“She sent a message once to a relative in the west by coding it and getting the boyfriend to inject it anonymously into the stream of traffic.”

“And she could do it again?”

“Don’t press me about it tonight,” Father Steps-on-Snake answered crossly. “I’ll see what can be done.”

“The Pope must be persuaded not to resign.”

“And a message from Your Eminence would persuade him?”

“I can’t promise it.”

“Neither can I, but I’ll talk to her.”

In three days, the message was sent. Although it said only, “Do nothing until I see Filpeo Harq,” this tiny nugget was concealed somehow in a few hundred words of schoolgirl correspondence, and Brownpony had no idea how the addressee was identified or what the method of delivery would be.

“All I can say is that it’s better than not trying” was all he could say.

He was reluctant to hurry away from the town of Yellow, because this was as close as their journey would take them to the Nady Ann River, across which came news of events on the Plains to the north. Father Steps-on-Snake was a man knowledgeable about the ongoing interaction between civilization and the Nomadic societies of the great grasslands. He had been born during the conquest, and remembered when his father had gone to join rebels in the hill country to the south. When his father was killed, he, like Brownpony more than a generation later, found himself in the custody of nuns for schooling. Later, as a young man, he had gone north with a Wilddog friend, but he lacked the talents of warrior and herdsman, and thus found no family willing to adopt him. He considered joining a band of the motherless ones, but the nuns had given him a sense of sin, so he returned to the Province and became a priest.

Now he was delighted to accept Cardinal Brownpony as his spiritual leader instead of Cardinal Benefez, and his sense of sin did not object to allowing his parishioners to acquire forbidden firearms from Önmu Kun. He even promised to encourage the development of a secret local militia among those he knew to be loyal both to the Church and to a Nomad heritage.

Probably he knew little more about Nomad culture than did Blacktooth and Brownpony, but he was seventy-five years old and saw things from a different viewpoint, which seemed global and almost detached from the passion of his Jackrabbit loyalty.

Father Steps-on-Snake had the most comprehensive view of the Nomad situation any of his three guests had ever heard. Much of it they already knew, in fragments. But the septuagenarian pastor put the fragments together in a larger picture. He was very disturbed by the raid of Hultor Bråm, and not just for the moral reasons of a priest.

The dead sharf was not stupid. He had believed in his own imminent death, for the Weejus had prophesied it to him after his ordeal in the pit. His raid, according to this Jackrabbit priest, was a message to none other than Cardinal Brownpony himself, right here in this rectory, to Brownpony whom Bråm had recognized as the significant figure of power in the Church at Valana.

The cardinal shook his head in apparent discomfort with the idea, but Nimmy noticed he made no denial. “The Grasshopper is always at war,” he murmured instead.

“What do you mean by that?”

“It’s just something one of his warriors said to me when we rode south from Meldown to meet the Pope.”

Steps-on-Snake insisted that Bråm took the war party all the way to the gates of Rome to show the cardinal (and, of course, the Pope) that the brunt of any war would be borne by the Grasshopper, not the Wilddog, and that the Valana papacy was wasting its energy in courting Chür Ösle Høngan. The “success” of the raid was also a demonstration to Filpeo Harq that his opening to the west was more apparent than real, given certain advantages possessed by the Grasshopper. As he listened to this provincial Jackrabbit father, Blacktooth began to admire the late Grasshopper sharf for his bravery and steadfastness of purpose, in spite of his murderous bent. Again, Nimmy wondered if Bråm might be his remote relative.

Steps-on-Snake summarized the military, cultural, and historical situation as he saw it:

One advantage which the Nomad warrior had over the Texark cavalryman was that, as everyone knew, the warrior had grown up on horseback. It is commonplace that a tribe with no previous experience of horses, upon first seeing mounted warriors of an alien nation, see the horse and rider together as a single strange animal. Then they learn to see the phenomenon as two. But if the warriors of the alien nation happened to be Plains Nomads, the first impression would be the correct one. The Nomad horse and the Nomad rider together are one. When at work or at war, a mounted man is not called by his own name, but by the name of his horse, and on formal occasions by the name of his horse and the name of his horse’s breeder, often the man’s wife’s mother. The man was, after all, only the controller of the horse, in war or at work with cattle.

Among the things one first noticed about a Nomad encampment, temporary or permanent, was that there were more females to be seen than males, unless one happened to come on a feast day when most of the warrior herdsmen returned from the open plains, where they usually lived with the half-wild cattle. When the herdsmen came home, they appeared almost as wild strangers in their own camp or village, where the old men, young boys, the maimed or disabled lived and sometimes worked with the women. At least the boys worked. Older boys became horse wranglers. Younger boys tended the remuda and tried to ride the partly broken horses. The old men tended to feel that their deeds of past glory entitled them to nonproductive retirement in comfort while the boys and women cooked, cleaned, carried water, mended, made clay pots, and tended the horses. Occasionally, a Weejus woman would use her supernatural powers to induce a retired old warrior to work, as long as the task was not demeaning, but the veterans were a lazy lot, usually protected in their retirement by multiple affiliations to the Bear Spirit. Sometimes they redeemed themselves by offering bursts of healing wisdom when the young men were split in angry controversy.

The average herdsman-warrior north of the Nady Ann was still illiterate, and spoke only the dialect of his horde, but his mother was Weejus, or his grandmother, and was probably learning to read herself, and might even be teaching his younger brothers and sisters. Although lacking in letters or a second language, the average Nomad now imagined in his mind a much larger world than his great-granduncle had imagined. He knew that the Earth did not drop off beyond the mountains, and that there were people who lived beyond the Great River to the east, and that they were just as dangerous and despicable as the human herbivores that lived on this side of the river. He even suspected that the great breeding pit of the Wild Horse Woman was not really the Navel of the World at all, and that his own grandmother’s breeding pit, if she had one, was not necessarily lethal to a male human who dared enter it, although staying out of it was probably better for one’s luck. He was not quite as much a Nomadic purist as his oldest uncles. He used the tools of citizens, wore citizen’s cloth, drank citizen’s liquor, and often ate the citizen’s beans and corn if he didn’t have to grow his own, as Steps-on-Snake remarked with a chuckle.

The Earth was made for growing grass, for cattle and deer and antelope and rabbits and prairie dogs and horses to live on, in turn to be lived on by men and wilddogs and several kinds of cats and buzzards. The animal hierarchy of the Plains was ruled by three overlords in a predatory partnership: men, horses, and dogs. Also by their women, mares, and bitches. Things were much simpler on the Plains than in the country of the growers of corn and beans. One might feel sorrow for farmers, as one felt sorrow for one’s own prey, for the Nomad could see that the farmers were actually the prey of other men: soldiers, police, priests, and tax collectors. They were bound to one piece of land, while the Nomad owned the whole world beneath Empty Sky. That indeed was one of the Nomad’s ancient names for himself: the Nephew of the Empty Sky. Empty Sky, of course, was a person, but also he was just-look-up-at-it: empty sky. Nowhere but on the Plains from the back of a horse can a man see the Earth’s vastness, unless it be from the masthead of an ocean schooner, but the Nomad was not sure he believed in oceans. He knew things came in opposites, so where he was surrounded by a semi-arid ocean of grass, to imagine an ocean of water was just a natural thought. But not all natural thoughts were real. Since his defeat of his great uncles by the second Hannegan’s soldiers and the Hannegan’s diseased cattle, this new Nomad had become a skeptic. He did not believe everything his uncles or his Weejus woman told him, unless he was getting ready to be a Bear Spirit man. But the average Nomad did not become a Bear Spirit man, and was skeptical of their powers. Among the Wilddog Horde, it was not a rare occurrence for a sick Nomad to visit a mountain town to find a doctor of a different tradition, especially for surgery. Usually the sick ones were young, but sometimes a half-willing older patient would be dragged to a mountain doctor by her younger kin. More than a few Bear Spirit men had worked for a time in the hospitals of the Church or the Empire, learning as much as they could of this different kind of healing. They learned to wash their hands. They learned which drugs to steal for use at home.

Then there were the myths of origin, of the birth of this grassy Earth and its true People, out of an ancient cataclysm.

During the primordial time of the great death, there was fire and ice. A few animals and a few men arose out of that terrible death. Then, after that primordial time, came the Old Time. In the Old Time, there arose a conspiracy among man, dog, and horse to rule the furry, ungoverned cattle that ranged freely on the Plains, that holy country of Empty Sky and the Sacred Mare. The alliance, the Man-Horse-Dog-Thing, controlled the furry herd to the herd’s advantage, usually against the herd’s will, driving them to where men knew the grass grew greener. The cattle got something from their predators in return for their flesh and hide and bone; they got Man-Horse-Dog’s protection against wolves and large cats, but they remained Man-Horse-Dog’s freely running prey, shot down from horseback, and the horses were superior horses.

“Today, the herds of cattle often no longer run,” said Steps-on-Snake. All around the fringes of the Plains, fences were going up. These were attempts by some tribes to stay in one place year-round, building permanent houses, culling their herds (now flocks, even) in the fall, first picking out the breeding stock, then slaughtering whatever animals could be used, eaten now or preserved for winter, and finally selling the rest or trading with the farmers for grain. To the true People’s ultimate disgust, some of them even raised hogs.

The hordes at first considered these fence-line Nomads as outcasts, as despicable as ex-Nomads who farmed as Blacktooth’s family did, except that Blacktooth’s kin farmed another man’s land. But the old women of the High Plains, these gaunt old grandmothers with leather fists, grinning eyes, and Weejus powers, they took up the cause of the fringe-area people, and they besieged the ears of husband, brother, son, and father with warnings about the Night Hag, who called to her dark bosom those chiefs who wronged their own realms or hurt the beings that lived therein. Not only that, but if these settled herdsmen were alienated by the roving herdsmen, they could only become allies of the farmers and of Texark.

When people began seeing the Hag, the nervous chieftains began to agree that Nomads who settled down behind fences should not be pillaged and killed, but wooed back to the common life of the horde if possible. This tolerance was reserved for haciendas adjacent to existing fences, however. There were a few families on the Plains who had dared to fence off choice areas for themselves, far from any other fences. To these the leaders of the hordes sent warriors to tear the fence down. They forced such people to choose between returning to the common life or leaving the common land. Those foolish enough to stay were killed by outlaws, who could be counted on to save the tribes the trouble and the blood-guilt. The hordes of course joined with the Church in condemning these murderous motherless ones. Things had changed since the time of Høngan Ös, when Hannegan II had spread cattle plague as a weapon of war by driving his infected herds among those of the hordes.

The future was revealed to the tribal seers. It was foreseeable that the open Plains would shrink, and the people and the cattle on it would either perish or change. They had been changing continuously through three generations since the Conquest, and what characterized the present population was youth. The prolific grandmothers and mothers had doubled the population in a very short time. Every Nomad warrior believed that his women’s ability to produce babies fast, running even to twins and triplets, rose and fell according to the nation’s need. For whatever reason, the Great Plains were shrinking, while their population had been growing fast of late. Was this not the chief cause of war? It usually happened when men settled down in one place with their women and had a lot of sex and babies, too many children to fit into the local scheme of things. Teenage gangs become the first warriors in this process, and because they start trouble with other neighborhoods, it is necessary to put the gangs under the chief’s command and give them violent things to do against people who are not enjoying the chief’s favor. War is caused by agriculture, in the Nomad opinion. It was, after all, a herdsman killed by a farmer when Cain slew Abel, so Christians said.

The tribes were restless, anxious, angry. They all had compromised; even the wildest among them used the tools and the weapons that were manufactured in the towns and cities to the east and in the mountains. They brought their beef, hides, artwork, wolfskins, bear grease, and surplus ponies to a trading post, and then rode back to Grandmotherland leading a pack mule loaded with tools, gunpowder, musket balls, fabric, beans, and enough distilled spirits for at least the elders to get sloshed. They sang the old songs and danced the old rituals, honored the Wild People, and moved their dwellings and their herds according to the season. Each horde owned a sacred path, and sacred places along it to pitch camp for a season. They navigated the grasslands by the doings in the night sky as much as by landmarks. The sky told them when to move south. It was the middle of the thirty-third century, and Polaris traced a larger circle in the north sky than it did in the time of Leibowitz, but the hordes called themselves the people of the Polestar when they wandered. When they camped in summer, they were the people of Empty Sky and the Day Maiden. When they huddled down for winter, they were sons of the Wolf and the Hag.

Blacktooth knew much about the tradition, even though he had never lived it. But things were changing. He could see the change now; he had missed it as a boy. Power on the Plains among the warrior herdsmen was out of control, and the old women worried about it. Some leaders were chosen by men without due process of consultation with the grandmothers, the Weejus women, and the Bear Spirit men. War threatened the horses and the sacred bloodlines, and it killed grandsons. The women were usually against any war, except when necessary to curb intertribal horse theft.

When Empty Sky was dying in the presence of his Seventeen Crazy Warriors, he promised them he would come back from the dead in their time of need if each and all seventeen of them would in time of need utter his magic name of seventeen syllables. Empty Sky as part of his last will and testament taught the name to these warrior-Priests who had served him best in battle, leaving to each man a different secret syllable which could be spoken only once—to speak it twice permanently paralyzed the tongue. A dying man could leave his syllable only to his eldest son, or if the son were unfit, to another chosen by the Bear Spirit shamans. Empty Sky promised to come whenever they spoke his name correctly, but to pronounce the name each man would have to utter his syllable in correct order.

What was the correct order?

They had been crowded around his couch at the time, and while most of them agreed as to who owned the first and last syllables, nobody had been counting the ones between; for example, there was a spearman who said Empty Sky had spoken in the ears of at least ten men before him, but not more than twelve. Inevitably, a skeptic who inherited his syllable from his father spoke it aloud, tried to speak it again, and was immediately struck dumb. Others heard him speak the syllable, but now doubt arose. Would it be effective if spoken in the correct order by a man other than its original custodian? And if a man spoke his own syllable, would he be able to repeat the orphan syllable as well, or would dumbness grasp his throat? But one day, about a century ago, they all got together, all except the speechless skeptic, and decided to try to call Empty Sky, because times were getting bad for the people.

When they spoke the syllables, nothing dramatic happened. They deemed it a failure, until they heard the cry of a newborn baby from the adjacent tent. The baby was the son of a mother of the royal tribe, and she was prevailed upon to name him Empty Sky, although at the time of his rite of passage to manhood, he was given the name of Høngan Ös, Mad Bear, who grew up to become the Qæsach dri Vørdar who led the hordes into horrible disaster. Obviously, the holy name had been misspoken.

They were fascinated by Step-on-Snake’s storytelling. Nevertheless, it was necessary to go on, and to cross one branch of the Red River to the southeast, then make haste toward Hannegan City.

On the edge of town, following such a heading, they stopped at the rim of Yellow’s crater. There was a small lake in the center, and the ground around it was fertile and green. Two wild horses were grazing, and somebody was fishing in the lake.

“I’m told,” said Brownpony, “that this was a Jackrabbit breeding pit before the conquest.”

“Is it like Meldown?” Blacktooth asked.

“No, it is not like the breeding pit of the Wild Horse Woman.”

“I see there is a stone marker ahead. The place has a name.”

“What is it called?”

“Lake Blessdassurance,” Blacktooth read, and looked up atBrownpony, who was staring at the other side of the marker.

“Does it say something on the back side, m’Lord?”

“It says, ‘Boedullus was here.’”

“Wh-a-at?” Nimmy took a look. “Paint! Recent paint. It’s a joke. It has to be. Or else—” He paused. “Did you know, m’Lord, the Venerable Boedullus died in an explosion at an archaeological site he was investigating? There’s a legend about a lake with a giant catfish named Bodolos that later came to live in the crater where the bomb went off.”

“So it’s a joke with a theory behind it. It has to be a Leibowitzian joke. Who outside your Order knows about the Venerable Boedullus?”

“Almost nobody, m’Lord, unless Nomads have been reading my translations.”

“It seems to be signed with initials: BRT. I’d hate to lose time by going back to ask Father Steps-on-Snake about it.”

“Let’s ask that Jackrabbit farmer instead,” Nimmy suggested, watching a man riding a mule toward them down the road.

The farmer laughed heartily. “My great-granduncle caught that old Bodolos nearly a century ago. He fed the whole village with it. Whoever painted the sign on the back last month couldn’t spell. He was wearing the same robes as you, though.”

Brownpony and Blacktooth exchanged glances. Nobody at the abbey had told them of a monk of the Order who had recently departed for the Province.

“Well, at least one Jackrabbit farmer learned to read,” Brownpony later observed.

“There was a small Church school at Yellow, you know.”

“I’m sure there are many Nomads in the Province who can read a book but cannot ride a horse, especially in battle.”

“How fast can they learn to march and shoot?” asked the usually silent Weh-Geh.

The question was considered by the monk and the prelate, but not answered.

They crossed the Red River and headed east across the grasslands. In all, they stopped at twenty-three Churches, and secured the loyalty of seventeen Jackrabbit pastors, but many nights they slept in farmers’ barns or found natural shelter along creekbeds. Twice they rented rooms from Texark landlords, but there were too many prying questions. The cardinal disliked lying and decided against doing it again, although it became a very cold winter during their trip; freezing rain did not usually come until January in these parts. The cardinal was still not quite well. He began to believe the Weejus’ promise that he would have a shorter lifetime as a result of the ordeal. Blacktooth fed him a lot of apples into which nails had been pressed, but he seemed to be losing some of his graying red hair as well as his energy. Such was the curse of Meldown.

CHAPTER 18

The fourth kind of monks are those called

Gyrovagues. These spend their whole lives

tramping from province to province, staying

as guests in different monasteries for three

or four days at a time. ... Of the miserable

conduct of such men it is better to be silent

than to speak.

Saint Benedict’s Rule, Chapter 1

THEY REACHED THE OUTSKIRTS OF HANNEGAN City by early evening, and the cardinal decided to rent rooms and spend the night at an inn outside the city limits. There was the possibility of learning recent news from the innkeeper or fellow travelers; there was the inevitability of reading the government bulletin boards to learn of the response of the bureaucrats to the same recent news. There was a need to change from a monk’s habit to red and black. Weh-Geh would need new clothes altogether, and could again wear his weapons as the cardinal’s bodyguard. All Blacktooth needed was a bath and a change of habit. They had grown beards during the journey, but only Weh-Geh decided to shave. His whiskers were rather thin and added an alien touch to his appearance. Brownpony’s beard was redder than his thinning hair. Blacktooth had more gray on his chin than on his pate, which badly needed reshaving. Weh-Geh barbered Nimmy’s tonsure with a short sword, grasping the blade with both hands and drawing it smoothly under the soapy hair. Blacktooth complained that the swordsman was leaning on him too hard.

“Only to hold you still. If you prefer, I could shave you just as easily standing back here,” Weh-Geh said to the lathered monk. Blacktooth looked at him with affected fright. The guardsman held the sword drawn back past his right shoulder, as if to deliver a roundhouse cut to the scalp’s long stubble.

“Stop boasting. Lean on me if you need to.” He was surprised, because it was the first time Weh-Geh made a joke, a sinister joke besides, and one of the few times he spoke at all. In Jackrabbit country, only once did a need arise to draw his long sword and Brownpony’s pistol, when a group of young bullies had decided to pick on three itinerant mendicant monks for fun. Both Nimmy and the cardinal missed Wooshin. Blacktooth wondered if they had, without meaning to, resented Weh-Geh as a poor substitute for the Axe, on whose head there was a price in this realm. But Weh-Geh had no wish to be a substitute for anyone. Nimmy resolved to befriend him, if there was still time.

By midafternoon of a cold and sunny day, they were standing on the steps of the Cathedral of Holy Michael, the Angel of Battle, talking to its Cardinal Archbishop. At the Archbishop’s left and rear stood an attractive young acolyte wearing a long surplice with lacework and crocheted borders. Torrildo smiled happily at Blacktooth on first seeing him, but then misinterpreted Nimmy’s expression and cast his eyes on the ground. The monk was less shocked that Benefex had hired the pretty fugitive than surprised by a sudden realization that the letters BRT beneath the painted “Boedullus was here” legend at Yellow’s crater lake stood for “Br. Torrildo,” who had been traveling from Valana to Hannegan City.

Weh-Geh seemed ill-at-ease, for Benefez kept glancing at him, until finally the cardinal asked, “Young man, where have I seen you before?”

Brownpony answered for him, “In Valana, Urion. Weh-Geh was in Cardinal Ri’s employ. Now he is in mine.”

“Ah, yes, there were five or six of them, weren’t there? Where are the others?”

Brownpony shook his head and shrugged. “I’ve been on the road for two months.” The evasion was almost a lie, Blacktooth noticed.

“Of course,” Benefez said, then returned to their previous conversation: “Elia, mmm, Your Eminence, of canon law, I too have been a scholar. Before the Flame Deluge there had been only two papal resignations. One Pope, so-called, was a great sinner, one was a great saint. The former sold the papacy, the latter fled from it in holy terror. But the question arises whether either of these men was a legitimate pope. So can a real pope resign? I think not. If he resigns, he was never elected by the Holy Ghost in the first place. This may be against the majority opinion, but it is my opinion. A poet of his own time put him in Hell, but that poet was a bitter man. I think the old fellow was really hallowed, but I doubt the legitimacy of his election in the first place. If he were Pope, he would not and could not resign, and would not be talking about resignation.”

“Are we talking about San Pietro of Mount Murrone, or Pope Amen Specklebird?” Brownpony asked.

“Aren’t they two of a kind?”

“No, Urion, they are not.” He hesitated. “Well, how can I say? Amen Specklebird I have known. I know San Pietro only from a book at Leibowitz Abbey. The writer thought he was a saintly clown.”

“Doesn’t this describe Amen Specklebird? In a charitable way?”

Brownpony paused. He seemed to be leaving himself open on all sides. Blacktooth tried to remember Wooshin’s word for it. Happu biraki, he thought. In a fight, it was usually a deadly invitation to be foolhardy.

Brownpony closed in. “If so, then this saintly clown, Pope Amen, His Holiness, is disposed to absolve you, Urion, of any penalty of excommunication you may have incurred, crimine ipso laesae majestatis facto, or any other act of rebellion you may have committed in thought, word, or deed. I am here to announce this.”

Blacktooth noticed that the purple in the face of Benefez was not merely reflected light from his purple vestments (it had been a day for burying the dead). He did not sputter, however, but purred, “How utterly wonderful of him, Elia. From so generous a man, I’ll bet the penance I have to do is only kiss his ring.”

“I doubt he would allow you to do that, Urion. He is an honest man. There are no conditions, and no penance unless I choose to impose one.”

“You?”

“The Pope sent a plenipotentiary in this case. Me.”

“You!”

“And I unbind you, Urion, without condition, in nomine Patris Filiique Spiritusque Sancti.”

Blacktooth saw the Archbishop’s right hand twitch toward mirroring the sign of the cross Brownpony made over him, but it was only the twitch of habit.

“Your credentials are as good as your Latin, Elia. Go home and stop being my gadfly.”

“I am also empowered to offer you control over those Churches in the Province where the parishioners are mostly settlers or soldiers whose native tongue is Ol’zark.”

“Oh, I see. It’s not a matter of geography, then.”

“Geography is boundaries and fences. These don’t mean much to a Nomad.”

“Yes, we had a recent demonstration of that just west of New Rome. Human life doesn’t mean much to them either, and they eat men’s flesh.”

“Only men they honor. It is a funeral rite, or a tribute to a brave dead enemy.”

“You defend this evil thing!”

“No, I merely describe it.”

Someone was yelling “Make way! Make way!” in the distance, and Cardinal Benefez looked up the street.

“Apparently my nephew is coming down the road,” he said to Brownpony. “Do you want to step inside?”

“You mean do I want to hide? No, Urion, thank you. I must see him in order to deliver this.” He showed Benefez the sealed papers which he had received at the abbey from Valana. “I must go to the palace to request an audience, unless he sees us and stops.”

The Emperor was in ahurry as usual, and ordered his driver to wield the whip. He waved in a friendly way to his subjects in the streets who bowed or curtsied as the royal coach hurried on, preceded by two mounted guards whose costumes were more elegant than that of their ruler. Filpeo wanted to be seen as a man of frugal habits, generous to his subjects, and devoted to the economic interests of the Empire. He sought to distance himself in public from the ferocity of some of his predecessors, and had shortened the list of crimes for which the penalty was death. His own ferocity was carefully contained. He had secretly, on several occasions, insisted on administering the supreme penalty himself, but few men knew about this. One who had known it was named Wooshin, and it was the Hannegan’s personal fascination with death by the art of the headsman which had, in fact, cost him his best executioner. The fellow had been repelled by his own art when practiced by his master. And Harq had let him get away! It was one of his few mistakes in judging men.

Filpeo Harq was a Hannegan only on his mother’s side, and some considered this inheritance of the throne through the motherline supremely ironic, given the masculine, patrilineal, and certainly patriarchal cast of the Texark civilization, which in its origins was a reaction to the matriline culture of the Plains. The original Hannegan (or Høngan with a Jackrabbit pronunciation), the conqueror of the city, had been leader of a band of Nomad “outlaws,” and his acquisition of the mayorality of the small town and trading post called Texark had been by conquest. The term “outlaws” was a farmer’s word; Nomads, who despised them but feared them less, called them “motherless ones,” a term which was applied to those wanderers of the Prairie who either evaded family ties because of hostility, or found themselves unwanted by any woman of the horde, and these men formed homosexual (not necessarily in the erotic sense) war bands, taking their women by violence when they felt the urge and saw the chance, and keeping them, if at all, as servants.

From the point of view of the civis, every nomas was an outlaw, but in the Nomad view, the motherless ones had deviated so far from the Nomad cultural norm that they were loathed by the people of the Plains more than they were by the farmers along the eastern fringe whom they sometimes plundered. As is usually the case, a completely alien enemy is less to be despised than a deviant brother. The motherless ones who originally conquered Texark had been driven there by the right-thinking orthodox Nomads of the several hordes. It was an infusion of fresh blood and new ideas for the sleepy trading community and the surrounding farmers, and Texark began to grow and to be fortified. It was located in a place where, exposed on both flanks, in order to grow at all it was forced to conquer or perish. However, after five generations the mutation of barbarian outlaw into civilized aristocrat was nearly complete, and Filpeo was a popular ruler except in the conquered territories.

The town of Texark itself, or Texarkana improperly so-called in the Latin of the Church, was not located at the site (now lost) of the ancient city of that name. Now called Hannegan City, it did lie on the Red River, and it grew up at the vague boundary between forest and plain, where it was originally a minor center of commerce between the two areas, the sown and the treeless wild. The relatively peaceful Jack-rabbit people had come here to trade surplus cattle, horses, and hides for wood, metal, spirits, medicinal herbs, products of the blacksmith’s art, and whatever trinkets the merchants could show that caught the Nomad fancy. Among the merchants, however, there were a few panderers who took advantage of the sexual hungers of the motherless ones, and actually sold them brides, or rented them for a while. That was the beginning of it. When the price of brides went up, the bandits killed the merchants, took what they wanted, and settled down, but they themselves, not their captive wives, kept and managed the horses—and every other kind of property. In one generation, a way of life was turned on its head.

Filpeo Harq himself was a student of this local and family history, which was not so well known to the residents of his realm. He had taken a personal interest in the writings of historians at the collegium, now a thriving university, and he who wanted tenure and royal favor wrote to please the monarch. He who wrote otherwise was rarely published, and failed to thrive. To put it mildly.

In passing his uncle’s Church, the Monarch suddenly signaled his driver to go slow. He pointed at a group of clergy, including his uncle Urion, standing on the steps in the morning sun. Cardinal Benefez seemed to be arguing warmly with another man in a red zucchetto whose back was toward the coach.

“Who is that man?” Filpeo asked sharply.

“Which one, Your Imperial Honor?”

The cardinal with his back toward the coach suddenly looked over his shoulder. The Mayor’s head disappeared inside the window and he knocked for the driver to hurry on. Beside the second cardinal stood one man in the robes of the Albertian Order of Leibowitz, and another man-at-arms who was probably a bodyguard. He thought he knew who one of them might be. The armed man was too alien in appearance to be the cardinal’s secretary. And Uncle Urion appeared to have acquired another pretty young man as acolyte.

“Drive on, drive on.”

The manufacturer’s representative had already arrived at the War College when the imperial coach discharged its royal passenger and his courtiers, but he and the officers in charge were not yet ready for the demonstration. Irritated by the delay, but determined to make use of every idle moment, Filpeo called an immediate meeting of staff to discuss long-term strategy on the Plains. It was disquieting to the officers to be quizzed by the Monarch on such an impromptu basis with no preparation, and Filpeo always enjoyed putting them in such a situation. He learned a lot from the practice, and it helped him weed out the fools. The commanders of Infantry and Corps of Engineers were out of the city on maneuvers, however, and their seconds were summarily yanked out of their offices and hauled to the conference room.

Admiral e’Fondolai was there in person, and so was General Goldæm, Chief of Staff, and Major General Alvasson of the Cavalry.

Infantry and Engineers were represented by Colonels Holofot and Blindermen. Not as a joke, but in a joking manner, Filpeo Harq himself collared Colonel Pottscar, S.I., in the corridor while the Ignatzian Chief Chaplain was returning from Mass and pulled him along to the meeting. “Someone may need your services here, Father,” said the Monarch to the astonished Pottscar. “It may even be me. Did you know that Cardinal Brownpony and probably his troublesome monk-secretary are in town.”

Colonel Father Pottscar nodded. “I just heard about it as I left the Church. By now, he must have requested an audience with Your Honor, no?”

“No! Not that I have been told about.”

“I’m sure he will, but naturally he would see the Archbishop first.”

“By God, I should have him arrested. If Urion knew he was coming, he would have told me. What the hell is going on?”

“I would guess, Your Honor, that he has come to plead the cause of the man he calls Pope.”

“Hah! The man who sent the Grasshopper Horde to smash its way to New Rome! By God, they killed two-thirds of the Nomads, and we chased that bastard Curia back to Valana with their Specklebird, all right. But they left a lot of dead men and raped women and burned buildings. There hasn’t been an atrocity like that before the second Hannegan’s conquest. And now we’ve got trouble with the Grasshopper all along the frontier, mainly because of him!”

“Who, Brownpony? Sire, you have been misinformed. He was not even with the Curia, so-called, at that time. He was with Monsignor Sanual at the Nomad election. Sanual told me that. He was quite shocked by Brownpony. Says the man is a pagan. But although he rode south with the Grasshopper to meet the Pope, he did not join the others but continued south. Your Honor, according to one of my chaplains in the area of conflict, the, uh, pretender Pope turned back with his whole retinue when the guards refused to let them cross the border. This priest says the Nomad escort attacked only after they were separated from the Valanan cardinals. It’s not at all clear that they were acting under Valana’s instruction. I know the Archbishop had received a message from this crazy Specklebird. It probably told him Brownpony was coming.”

“I wonder that the guards let him cross the border!”

“I doubt that he came through the skirmishing zone, Sire. He probably crossed from the Province.”

“By way of Leibowitz Abbey, I dare say, for he was with a monk of theirs. Right now, I want you to send one of your chaplains to bring Brownpony to me. Let a military policeman go with him. Let them not take no for an answer. Bring that monk along too.”

Colonel Father Pottscar hurried away. The Hannegan glanced curiously at Admiral e’Fondolai and asked, “I don’t remember calling you here. Do we need the Navy to fight Nomads on the Plains? Not that you aren’t welcome—”

“I asked him to come,” explained General Goldæm. “Brownpony inherited six alien warriors from a cardinal who died in conclave, and Carpy here knows something about their race and nation. We might need to know.”

The admiral frowned. Carpios Robbery had been e’Fondolai’s nom de guerre in his pirate days, when he had become the second man since antiquity to circumnavigate the globe, but he hated to be called “Carpy,” especially in the presence of his Hannegan.

They entered the conference room. First, the Emperor asked about the status of the forces protecting new farming lands, and any further encounters with the Grasshopper people. Told they had drawn back defensively, Filpeo ordered there be no punitive raids by Texark forces until he so commanded. He then stated, “If I were a Grasshopper war sharf, I would make an alliance with the Wilddog to strike the Province. I would cut the telegraph line in several places. The Wilddog will cut the Province in half, while Grasshopper strikes toward Texark. What is your response?”

Colonel Father Pottscar entered the room and nodded to Filpeo.

Colonel Holofot spoke. “They can destroy, but they cannot hold. Such an invasion can be no more than a massive cavalry raid. Our forts would remain secure. They might massacre the Jackrabbit settlers and the colonists, but they would quickly exhaust themselves and be driven back, as in the Grasshopper raid.”

General Goldæm looked levelly at his ruler and shook his head. “Your scenario is improbable, Sire. When they began establishing winter quarters after the war, they became vulnerable. If they attacked the south, they know our cavalry would strike in the north at their family settlements, which would not be well defended. When the hordes were entirely mobile, they could retreat forever. They could lead pursuers to exhaustion. Now they have fixed property. It’s vulnerable. They have no infantry to take or hold ground.”

“Suppose the Jackrabbit revolted and joined the invaders?”

“We have kept them disarmed,” said the engineer, Colonel Holofot. “What will they fight with, pitchforks?”

“No, but if they could provide the invaders with food, water, shelter, and places to hide,” said the general. “The question is: would they? The Jackrabbit has bitter memories of the Northerners, for the wild hordes were contemptuous of the Jacks. Frankly, to me it seems a tossup whether they hate us more, or the Northerners. But even with Jackrabbit support, Colonel Holofot is right. A mass cavalry attack would exhaust itself in the south, and the northern underbelly would be exposed. They would be more likely to strike the farmlands north of the Valley, uh, north of the Watchitah Nation, and that is what we are not well prepared for yet. But we are preparing fast, and the whole border will be fortified in two years. The surviving farmers there are well armed now, and since the raid, they have a lot of hate for Nomads. We have the troops to back them up, but not to attack prematurely, because we have the same problem in the north as they in the south.”

“And that is?”

“We can attack and kill, but we don’t have the men or the logistics to occupy Grasshopper territory. Unless, of course, we weaken our forces in the Province.”

Filpeo became thoughtful. “I wonder,” he said, “why is it that these farms on the eastern fringe, which get more rain, are not as productive as the refugee lands at the foot of the Rockies, where the land is said to be nearly a desert?”

There was a brief silence. The Hannegan’s remarks seemed almost idle, having nothing to do with the Nomad as a military problem.

“Sire, that question is outside my field,” said the commanding general. “But it may have something to do with discipline. As you know, ours are free peasants, and they work mostly for themselves. When you say ‘productive,’ you mean it in terms of commercial crops. The ex-Nomads are sharecroppers, working for landowners, especially the Bishop of Denver. They are forced to work, and they grow only a few crops.”

“I think that is not an explanation,” said Father Colonel Pottscar. “And it’s not quite true. The ex-Nomads learned from the mountaineers, who have been dry-farming for centuries. And as for the rainfall—there is a monastery in the hills north of Valana where the monks keep records of events in the heavens, waiting for the coming of the Lord. One of the things they keep track of is rain, because they pray for the weather. They say the rainfall on the western side of the mountains is now nearly twice what it was eight hundred years ago. That, and that alone, is your miracle of the ex-Nomad farms. Of course, the monks think it’s their miracle, answering eight centuries of prayer. But the runoff for irrigation is better than in ancient times, miracle or no.”

“Well, doesn’t the increase apply to the whole Plains?” asked the Monarch.

“Their records are local. I can’t say. Thon Graycol points out that there are no very old trees in the edges of our forests where the prairie begins looking eastward. That suggests our tree line has been moving slowly westward for a few centuries, but nobody is sure. The Nomads may have cut the older trees for wood.”

“Well,” said General Goldæm, “if nature is closing in on them from the east and the west, they’re going to lose their precious desert anyway. We’ll just give nature a hand in their extinction.”

“Extinction? I don’t want to hear that word again, General,” Filpeo Harq said sharply. “Pacification and containment are the goals, not extermination. We have achieved that in the south. The Jackrabbit population is stable.”

“Except that their young men keep running away to join outlaw bands.”

“The northern Nomads kill most of those. One way, maybe the only way, to secure the area between the forests and the western mountains is to colonize.”

“How, Sire? Except along the eastern fringe, the land is poor, the water scarce, and the weather horrid. Who could, who would live there but wild herdsmen?”

“Tame herdsmen, and a tamer breed of cattle,” said Filpeo Harq. “Fenced ranches, as in the south. Some places down there, they use yellowwood trees for fences. If you plant them a foot apart and keep them pruned, they make hedges dense enough and thorny enough to keep cattle in. There may not be enough water for agriculture, but wells can be dug to water stock. Some land can be fenced, farther north where the cold kills yellowwood. We hold much forested land in the east. Enough timber can be shipped to settlers, and they’ll pay with beef and hides. And I’m not so sure agriculture is impossible either. The university is studying that problem. Until civilized men can live there, the Plains will remain an obstacle. The Pope might as well be living on the moon, and there is no way to unify the continent.”

“But who in hell would want to live there?”

Harq the Hannegan thought for a moment. “The Jackrabbit itself has settled down in the south. That’s why I won’t stand for talk of extermination.”

“But they were always half-settled anyway, Sire. The Wilddog and the Grasshopper would prefer to die in battle than give up their ways. To farm or to ranch is hard work. To the Nomad, work is slavery.”

“The ex-Nomads learned to work when they lost their horses. You merely predict their choice. We must not allow them to have such a choice. There is no need to colonize the Plains if we can civilize the wild tribes themselves. I want Urion to send missions to the northern  hordes.”

“Cardinal Urion sent Monsignor Sanual to them, and he came back empty-handed, and I think empty-headed. The Christians among them are already tied to Valana, Sire, and there is a rumor this Pope in Valana means to take the Jackrabbit Churches away from our Archbishop,” said the chaplain.

“There is no Pope in Valana, and until there is a Pope in New  Rome, they are tied to nobody. And Urion hopes to be the next Pope. If not, we’ll see whether Urion or some antipope offers them sweeter salvation. Especially to the Grasshopper, after we punish them. The time is ripe for change. The papacy is up for grabs. The new Lord of the Hordes is a Wilddog, not a Grasshopper. We have to influence both.

“Please understand,” continued the Hannegan, after a pause, “that what I ask of you is to tell me what you think would happen if we do this, or we do that, even if I would never do either. To show you what I mean, I ask General Goldæm what he thinks would happen if we undertook a war to simply wipe out the Nomad population of the northern Plains.”

He spoke again after a silence. “Well, General?”

“Sire, I did not really mean to suggest—”

“Very well, I realize you were just making bellicose noises to exercise your military gland, but go ahead. Answer my question: What would happen if we undertook to wipe out the Grasshopper and the Wilddog?”

The general reddened, and after a few seconds said, “I think we I would fail. We’re stretched out. We occupy and police the Jackrabbit country below the Nady Ann. If we try to hit the Grasshopper hard, he can pull back until our supply wagons can’t supply our forces.”

“The Nomad can live on carrion and crickets. Why can’t you?” “I can, but we can’t fight without powder and shot.”

“Good enough. You have now taken charge of your military gland. However, you can put it to work again and organize a battalion of a special strike force. I want men trained to out-Nomad the Nomads. Take the biggest, toughest, meanest men you can find, both from our own ranks and from any motherless outlaws you can recruit. Teach them to live on the land, speak Nomadic, and learn their way of signaling.”

“And what exactly is the battalion’s mission, Sire? Not to hold ground, surely.”

“Of course not. The mission is to surprise, kill, destroy, and run. Punitive strikes, in case there’s another attack on the farmlands. As for weapons, be sure they have the new biologicals from the university. Draft Thon Hilbert, if you have to.”

Goldæm looked at Carpios, made a sour mouth, and winked. He did not believe that biologicals were the wave of the military future and he hoped Carpy agreed; but the pirate admiral merely shrugged.

Filpeo turned to the chaplain.

“Colonel Pottscar, suppose my uncle the Archbishop had unlimited funds to spend on the conversion of the Grasshopper Horde. What would happen?”

“Well, if he didn’t spend it on young boys, he would waste it sending people like Monsignor Sanual.”

The Mayor seemed to suppress a giggle. “How would he spend it on young boys? Charitably?”

“Oh, of course. I was only thinking about how he just last week took in a refugee from Leibowitz Abbey. He hired a young Brother Torrildo as his assistant and acolyte. He’s always thinking of the welfare of young boys.”

“I’m acquainted with my uncle, Father Colonel Pottscar. My question is: do you think spending money to Christianize the Nomads would be a wise investment?”

“No.”

“Why?”

“Because the Nomads would be baptized, take the money, ignore the priests, and do as they have always done.”

“Just so. Well, look at the clock! Let us go inspect the wares of the gunsmiths, gentlemen.”

“Wait a moment, Sire,” said Goldæm. “I think Carp… uh, the admiral might have something to say first.”

“Go right ahead, Carp,” said the Hannegan.

The admiral winced slightly, but said, “The guns the alien warriors brought with them disappeared soon after they met Brownpony.”

“How do you know that? And if true, what does it mean?”

“I heard it from Esitt Loyte, Sire. Their homeland has firearms superior to our own, and such guns are now being made on the west coast.” He took out a small pistol, only to have it snatched from his hand by one of Filpeo’s bodyguards. The guard seemed to have trouble determining if the gun was loaded. The admiral assured him that it was not.

“Where did you get that thing?” Filpeo asked.

“About fifty-eight hundred nautical miles from here, Sire. On a great circle course, almost northwest, I’d guess. Or sixty-three hundred miles, by rhumb line course, nearly due west. That’s my best guess without looking at the charts.”

“Across the ocean? Not our west coast?”

“No, but they’re in production on our west coast by now.”

“Show me how it works, Admiral,” said Filpeo.

Carpios Robbery pulled five cartridges out of his pocket, loaded the revolver, walked to the nearest window, aimed at the sky, and shocked their eardrums by holding down the trigger and rapidly fanning the hammer five times with the edge of his hand. When he turned around, Filpeo looked pale.

“My God! Is that what’s been piling up in the Suckamint Mountains?”

“I have no way of knowing that, Sire. But this special battalion you want Goldy to organize should have a lot of firepower.”

“Give me the weapon. Let’s go see the gunsmiths.”

The admiral released the pistol with obvious reluctance.

According to the gunsmiths’ salesmen, the prototype of a similar weapon was already on the drawing board and might be ready in two years, but they were alarmed to see a competitive firearm already in production.

“Would your possession of this gun hasten production?”

“That is very likely, Sire.”

Carpios Robbery winced again.

“I’ll let you have it before you leave the city,” Filpeo said, then looked at his admiral’s expression and added, “Of course, you must send it back to its owner here when you’re done with it.”

“Certainly, Sire.”

Brownpony’s interview with His Imperial Majesty Filpeo Harq, Mayor Hannegan VII, happened in City Hall, also called the Imperial Palace, on Thursday, the 5th of January, thus giving the lie to a Jack-rabbit rumor extant in the Province which held that Filpeo Harq always had himself locked up in his private quarters for three days about the time of the full moon, and would see no one. That Thursday the moon was full, and after opening the sealed papers from Pope Amen, the Monarch flew into such a rage that Blacktooth wished the rumor were true. He and Weh-Geh were made to sit on a bench in the corridor outside the mayoral throne room, and they could hear only muffled shouting without being able to understand much of it. None of the shouting was done by the cardinal.

Presently a priest with a monsignor’s bellyband came down the hall and spoke to the guards. One of them knocked hard, opened the door, and shouted, “Monsignor Sanual, in obedience to the Lord Mayor’s summons,” and pushed him inside, then followed him and closed the door. There was a lull in the shouting.

Blacktooth had never seen Sanual before, but had heard enough about him from both his master and Father Steps-on-Snake to know that he would be anything but a friendly witness, and that Brownpony’s actions at the funeral festival on the Plains and his participation in the affair with the Wild Horse Woman were on the court’s agenda. He exchanged a glance with Weh-Geh, and saw that both of them were aware of this.

The guard who took Sanual inside now opened the door and spoke to the other guard. “Seize them,” he said, and again closed the door.

The guard had no way to seize them, but he pointed his gun at Weh-Geh and told him to throw his swords aside. Two seconds later, he was flat on his back with a sword point at his throat.

“Get his weapon, Brother?” It was a suggestion, not a command.

“No,” said Blacktooth. “That was a mistake, Weh-Geh. Remember the cardinal.”

Weh-Geh looked at the door. Then he booted the fallen guard in the stomach. Having taken the wind out of the man, he grabbed the gun and burst through the door. Nimmy observed the startled Monarch sitting on his throne. Brownpony had been forced to his knees, and the guard was holding a pistol to his head. Weh-Geh aimed at Filpeo Harq, and barked, “Let my master go!”

Nimmy leaped away from the door, for the Mayor was flanked by two more guards with raised muskets. The man gasping for breath crawled toward Nimmy, who leaped over him to avoid a fight.

There were three distinct explosions, then silence, followed by Filpeo Harq’s voice: “Take him and the one in the hall away.”

Blacktooth looked inside again. Weh-Geh lay in a growing pool of blood. One of the musketeers was down, but the Mayor himself was holding a pistol. It looked like the one Ædrea had showed to him in the cave. It was impossible to guess who had killed Weh-Geh. All weapons were still pointed at his body. When the Hannegan saw Nimmy standing white-faced in the door, he raised his pistol again, but the monk leaped aside. He made no attempt to escape. A frightened and humiliated Cardinal Brownpony was still kneeling there.

One of the jails at Hannegan City was part of the public zoo, where interesting prisoners were exhibited in cages not unlike those used for cougars, true wolves, and monkeys. On the way in, they passed an open area girded by a heavy fence on which there was a sign saying camelus dromedarius, africa, contrib. admiral e’fondolai.

“Guard, what are those things?” Brownpony asked.

“It says right there,” snapped the jail guard. “Don’t stop to gawk.”

“They’re domesticated!”

“How astute of you. Otherwise, the boy wouldn’t be riding on the animal’s back, eh?”

“Are they useful?”

“They can go for longer periods without water than horses. The admiral says they are used in desert warfare where he got them.”

“Are there more of them?”

“Not as far as I know, but there soon will be.” He pointed to a female with a large belly. “But they’re the only camels in captivity on this continent, as far as I know. The admiral brought them in the hold of a giant schooner. Now move along, move along!”

They were escorted past cells full of lesser animals, and then cells full of human prisoners. On each cell was posted the name of the occupant species. The humans were mostly murderers: a Homo sicarius, a Homo matricidus, but two Homines seditiosi, and one child rapist. All of them jeered as the two clerics were locked into the third cell on the left. The jailer unwrapped a sign and posted it above the door of the cage, out of sight and out of reach. The man in the cell across the roofless corridor from theirs looked at it, entered a whispered conversation with the man in the adjacent cell, and fell silent, watching them as if in awe. His own cage was labeled not Homo but Gryllus (Grasshopper), and his crimes were war crimes. His jeering had been limited to Nomad grunts, so when the jailer was gone Blacktooth spoke to the man in his native tongue.

“What does our sign say?” he asked.

The man did not answer. He and Brownpony were staring at each other. “I know you,” the cardinal said in Wilddog. “You were with Hultor Bråm.”

The Nomad nodded. “Yes,” he answered in his own dialect. “We took you south to meet your Pope. You asked me why the Lord Sharf called us a ‘war party.’ Now you know. I was the only captive, to my great shame. But Pforft here says that you tried to murder the Hannegan.”

“Is that all our sign says?” Nimmy asked.

Evidently the Nomad could not read. He conversed again with the man named Pforft, then shook his head. “I don’t know what all those words mean.”

Pforft, himself a pederast, spoke to them: “It says heresy, simony, the crime of wounding majesty, as well as attempted regicide.”

Fortunately, the hour was late and the zoo was closed for the day. Although the other prisoners wore uniforms, none were furnished for the cardinal and his secretary. Each of them received three blankets against the January cold. The cage was open to the weather on the south side. At least they would get sun during part of the day.

The cardinal still had not fully recovered from the curse of Meldown. “My Lady of the Buzzards had a buzzard’s breath, it seems,” he told Blacktooth, when he was feeling almost hysterically cheerful. “When Urion’s Angel of Battle fights my Buzzard of Battle, which do you bet on to win?”

“M’Lord, doesn’t that old prayer go: ‘Holy Michael Archangel, deliver us from battle’?”

“No, it doesn’t, Brother Monk. It’s ‘defend us in battle,’ but ‘deliver us from the snares of the devil.’ As you well know. But what would you bet right now on either prayer being answered?”

“Nothing. If I remember the Nomad myth right, your Burregun, since you claim her, always mourns as she eats the fallen warriors, the children of her sister the Day Maiden. She doesn’t want war either.”

“You are right, we must pray for peace while girding for war. Of course you are right, Nimmy, you’re always right.”

Nimmy hung his head and frowned. But Brownpony was not being just sarcastic. To avoid being understood by other prisoners, they were speaking neo-Latin, and the cardinal’s speech was unguarded.

“I mean it. You were right to leave the abbey, although you are a monk of Leibowitz. You were right to fall in love with a girl like Ædrea. You are right to disapprove of my importing and selling west-coast weapons without telling His Holiness.” Blacktooth looked at him in surprise. Brownpony noticed the look and went on: “Pope Linus Six, who gave red hats to your late abbot and me, was the man who assigned me the task, in a letter which I still have in Valana. Linus told me not to show it to anyone unless I got caught, and then only to a pope. Frankly, Nimmy, I have almost wanted to get caught.”

“Oh.” Blacktooth thought it over. It was certainly true that Brownpony had not been cautious, allowing even Aberlott the Mouth to learn of his activities. But he would probably rather be caught by Amen Specklebird. Suddenly the cardinal seemed less sinister, an unwell man with a hump on his back and an uneasy conscience.

Fortunately, during visitor’s hours, when children would spit at them through the bars of their cages, the human animals were fed raw beef and raw potatoes for the amusement of the crowd. No one was watching when they ate cornmeal mush for breakfast. Nimmy remembered from Boedullus that eating raw meat, or better still, drinking fresh blood as the Nomads sometimes did, was “good for the patient’s own blood,” and he persuaded Brownpony to eat some of the meat. Nimmy liked flesh raw, if fresh, but sometimes the jail meat tasted like coyote kill, and raw potatoes gave them both a stomachache. Filpeo’s government did provide enough mush to keep the zoo’s display specimens from looking starved. During their stay at the prison, three inmates were led from their death cells to the chopping block. From fellow prisoners, they learned that Wooshin had been replaced with a chopping machine, not another electric chair. The electric dynamo, an expensive affair, could be put to more productive use than frying felons.

The moon phase had waned from full to new. Then one afternoon past visitors’ hours, a man in a lacy surplice came and stood looking in at them.

“Torrildo!”

The former brother winked at Nimmy but remained silent.

“What do you want, man?” Brownpony snapped.

“My Lord the Archbishop wonders if you would like the Eucharist brought to you here.”

“I would like bread and wine with which to offer Mass myself.”

“I’ll ask,” said Torrildo, and departed.

“Find out if the Pope knows we’re in jail!” Blacktooth called after him.

“Nimmy!” hissed the cardinal.

But Torrildo had stopped. Without looking back, he said, “He knows,” and resumed his departure.

“Damn! It’s all over.” Brownpony was angry and downcast.

Blacktooth decided to let him alone. He rolled up in his blankets and took a nap in the icy wind.

Three days later Torrildo came back. This time Blacktooth winked at him. Torrildo blushed. “I never saw a sarcastic wink before,” he said.

“What about the bread and wine?” the cardinal asked.

“Your Eminence will not have time to say Mass.” He produced a letter from a sleeve and a key from his pocket. “I am to let you go when you read this and promise to obey these instructions.”

Brownpony accepted the papers and began reading, handing each page to Blacktooth as he finished.

“Damn! It’s all over,” the cardinal repeated, again downcast but without anger.

“I thought every cardinal had a Church in New Rome,” Nimmy remarked as soon as he read the first lines.

“There is a Saint Michael’s in New Rome,” Brownpony told him. “And it’s Urion’s Church, but there he is not called the Angel of Battle.”

They read in silence while Torrildo watched and impatiently drummed the key in his palm. The first page was thus.

To His Eminence Elia Cardinal Brownpony, Deacon of Saint Maisie’s.

From Urion Cardinal Benefez, Archbishop of Saint Michael the Archangel.

Inasmuch as the pretended Pope, one Amen Specklebird, has by trying to resign the papacy, admitted that he was never Pope, it has pleased His Imperial Grace the Mayor of Texark to pardon all of your crimes except attempted regicide, for which you and your servant Blacktooth St. George are under suspended sentences of death. You are to be expelled from the Empire as personae non gratae. By countersigning this letter in the place indicated below, you enter a plea to the remaining charge against you of nolo contendere, which His Grace is persuaded to accept, and you agree to be escorted under guard as swiftly as possible to a crossing point of your choosing on the Bay Ghost River, and promise never to return except by order of a reigning Pontiff, a General Council, or a Conclave, and only for the purpose of direct passage to or from New Rome from the nearest border crossing.

There was a place for their signatures below a statement acknowledging the charges with a plea of no contest, and agreeing to obey a decree of permanent banishment.

The other pages were a more or less personal plea from Benefez to Brownpony and other Valanan cardinals to accept New Rome as the proper place for an immediate conclave to elect a pope. When Brownpony finished reading, he looked up at Torrildo. The acolyte was holding a metal pen and a phial of ink out to him through the bars. They quickly signed, and the key turned in the lock.

Their trip back to the Bay Ghost by coach on the main military highway west was a fast, rough ride, taking less than ten days. Before they left the Province, the guards permitted Brownpony to buy two horses from a Jackrabbit farmer. The moon was full again, allowing them to ride sometimes by night. When they came at last to Leibowitz Abbey, an excited Abbot Olshuen knelt to kiss the cardinal’s ring and tell him that he, Brownpony, was now Pope-Elect, chosen by an angry conclave of Valanan cardinals, called by Pope Amen before his resignation. The cardinals were eagerly awaiting his accepto.

“Who brought this crazy message?” Brownpony demanded.

“Why, it was an old guest of ours, who went to New Rome with you. Namely, Wooshin. Cardinal Nauwhat sent him with the letter from the Curia—it’s in my office—and an oral message from Sorely.”

“What was the oral message?”

“That he had opposed the conclave, but hoped you would accept the election anyway.”

“He knows it isn’t legal” was the Red Deacon’s immediate comment. “Of course I won’t accept.”

“You have a more immediate problem,” said Olshuen, recovering from his initial awe of the cardinal.

“And what is that, Dom Abiquiu?”

“Have you told Brother St. George about his young lady? She came for him while you were gone. He thought she had died. She said you knew she was alive.”

Brownpony was suddenly nervous. “We’ll talk about that. Let’s go to your office. I need to read the letter from the Curia.”

CHAPTER 19

Let all guests who arrive be received

as Christ, for He is going to say,

“I came as a guest, and you received me.”

Saint Benedict’s Rule, Chapter 53

THEY HAD ARRIVED AT LEIBOWITZ ABBEY DURING the recreational hour in the late afternoon of Ash Wednesday. The Yellow Guard presided over several kick-boxing matches between novices, and even the professed Brothers Wren and Singing Cow were sparring clumsily. Blacktooth observed that the style of fighting differed in some respects from that of Wooshin—although the Axe would never admit to having a “style”. However, Foreman Jing, who had fenced with Wooshin, called it the “way of the homeless sword,” and a “style of no-style.”

Brownpony’s first duty was to confer with Abbot Olshuen.

Blacktooth’s was to bring bad news to the Yellow Guard. First he established himself in the guest room.

“You’re still here!” he exclaimed upon entering.

“No, no,” said Önmu Kun, the Jackrabbit gun smuggler. “I’m back for the second time since you left.” He was full of wine and the urge to talk. “The Jackrabbit Weejus and Bear Spirit have chosen me as sharf, did you know that?”

Nimmy doubted it, but didn’t much care. By looking around at their war gear, Nimmy knew the comrades of the late Weh-Geh, although they were working hard around the abbey, participating in the liturgy, and teaching weaponless fighting to novices, were still staying in the guesthouse along with Önmu Kun. This to Nimmy meant that Olshuen was not about to take them on as postulants or novices without permission from on high.

They greeted him with smiles and handclasps as they returned from the bouts in the courtyard, but Önmu was still talking and laughing about his adventures in the Province, and the warriors were a polite lot. Only their eyes questioned him (“Weh-Geh? Where?”), but they waited for the smuggler to finish.

Brownpony’s flirtations with Churches in the Province had made it easier for Önmu to sell guns, he said. He had only to ask a pastor whether he had seen Cardinal Brownpony on his way toward Hannegan City. If the priest said that he had not, Önmu hurried away. If he had seen him, and showed the slightest enthusiasm, it meant there existed a group of local partisans wanting arms. One cadre which called itself the Knights of Empty Sky was a charity organization. He had supplied them not only with infantry weapons, but made a special trip to bring them three cannon that fired either a peach-size ball or a load of heavy buckshot, for those badly in need of charity. According to “Sharf” Önmu, the Knights anointed each cannon with oil, placed it in a well-caulked box, dug a shallow grave in the Churchyard, and buried it by night.

Blacktooth murmured politely in reply, but finally turned his back toward the tipsy smuggler, and faced the five warriors who watched him expectantly with those dark eyes with uncreased lids. He was ashamed of his failure to befriend an alien in a strange land for no better reason than that he was not Wooshin.

“Brother Weh-Geh was killed while defending his master,” he told them—rather loudly to silence Önmu. “I heard it happen, but I did not see it. There were three shots. There were four men holding guns pointed at him when I looked through the door, and he was already down. He had taken a gun he took from one of our guards. If he fired it, he must have missed. I am very sorry. Whether it was a mistake or not, he was living out his duty. He was a better monk than I.”

“Was it a mistake?” asked Jing-U-Wan, the Foreman.

“Who were those four men?” Gai-See wanted to know.

“Did he have last rites?” asked Woosoh-Loh. “A proper funeral?”

“Dare we ask Abbot Olshuen to say a Mass for him?”

Nimmy tried to answer some of their questions and apologize for his inability to answer others. He finished his talk with them by promising to see Olshuen about a Mass for the repose of souls on behalf of Weh-Geh, and he went at once to the abbot’s office. The door was open, and Brownpony was sitting at the abbot’s desk and talking while Olshuen sat on a stool.

“It’s a shame the Hannegan has a monopoly on the telegraph,” the cardinal complained as he finished writing a letter which Nimmy was certain was addressed to the Valanan Curia. He turned sideways at the desk to look at the abbot who owned the desk and he saw Nimmy in the doorway, beckoned him in, and continued. “The Church has the money to hire Filpeo’s technicians. We could build aline from here to Valana, and perhaps from Valana to the Oregonians.”

The abbot said, “Money enough, yes. But what about the copper? I heard Hannegan had to confiscate coinage, pots, and Church bells. Buy it, you might. But who has it to sell?”

“I’m told silver conducts electrical essence even better than copper. And I’m not sure it’s practical, but we have a source of silver.”

“Oh? Where is that?”

Brownpony changed the subject. He handed Olshuen a letter and asked, “What do you think of this? Come in, Nimmy, come in.”

The abbot took it and studied for a bit, holding it so that Blacktooth might read it as well if he wanted to:

To Sorely Cardinal Nauwhat, Secretary of Extraordinary Ecclesiastical Concerns.

From Elia Cardinal Brownpony, Vicar Apostolic to the Hordes.

Non accepto!

You know it is not possible to hold a conclave without notification of every cardinal on the continent. The Curia must have recommended to His Holiness that he clarify the law on both resignations and conclaves, and I cannot believe that he made legal a conclave such as the one the Curia has apparently conducted. You know it, and I know it. You must have been a minority in an angry Sacred College.

My imprisonment by the Hannegan forced His Holiness to offer his resignation. But I am free now, and I pray that he reconsider. He is not bound by anything he did under pressure of blackmail; let him renounce his resignation saying that it was forced. If he will not do that, then you must summon every cardinal (including me here at the abbey) to Valana to choose another successor of Saint Peter, complying in every way with existing legislation.

Although I appreciate the irony of electing a Pope that Hannegan just released from jail in a trade-off of this kind, I have to say again, non accepto, as you, Sorely, knew I would.

I await instructions from my sovereign Pontiff, Pope Amen, and when they come, it would please me greatly if you can spare Wooshin to bring them here.

“You ask me what I think? How should I know?” Olshuen said while shaking his head. “In the name of God, m’Lord, I am only a monk of Leibowitz. I am not Abbot Jarad. My only vocation is here, my God is here, and although I am a servant of Holy Mother Church…”

“Oh, bother. Stop, stop, please! I’m sorry I showed it to you. Jarad should have refused the red hat, but the seventh Linus insisted. I know that, and you probably do too.”

“I’m trying to remember if an abbot here ever refused a Pope’s request, m’Lord.”

“Maybe not, but if Amen Specklebird made you a cardinal, what would you say?”

Olshuen hesitated before he said, “No, not even from him.” It was plain that even those who knew him only by hearsay adored the old priest-hermit-magician Pope. But among lovers of power, only Brownpony seemed to feel a deep affection for him.

Nimmy presented his petition on behalf of Jing-U-Wan’s men and their deceased brother, and Olshuen promised a Mass. The next morning Brownpony sent Blacktooth to Sanly Bowitts with the message and gold enough to hire a courier with two horses to carry it quickly to Valana. The messenger promised to ride from dawn to dusk, and by night when the moon permitted, and to wait in Valana for a reply, unless Wooshin replaced him.

While he was returning to the abbey, he met Gai-See riding toward the village. They exchanged greetings and paused for a moment. Nimmy asked why he was going to town, and Gai-See said, “After you left, the cardinal decided to send another message. I have it with me.”

“Another letter to Valana?”

“No. New Jerusalem.” He frowned at himself. “You have a right to ask that?”

“Probably not. I’ll try to forget it.”

They went their opposite directions. Nimmy knew well what the cardinal had to say to Mayor Dion. Somehow a small weapon from their west-coast arsenal had found its way into the hand of Filpeo Harq. Both master and servant had seen it. There seemed to be no other possibility than that New Jerusalem had been infiltrated by the Hannegan’s agent. But he would not ask Brownpony about it, lest he make trouble for Gai-See, who told him the letter’s destination.

While Nimmy in October had found unfriendly attitudes in the atmosphere at the monastery, he now found them downright hostile in early March. He was being shunned again by the professed. On the other hand, some novices seemed to find him much more interesting than before. He tried to find out what had happened since, but “unexpected visitors” was the only mumbled answer he could get to his questions.

The three novices who were in the abbot’s waiting room overheard a shouting match between the abbot and Cardinal Brownpony—or “Pope Brownpony,” as one of them called him—and mentioned it to Nimmy. Very little of the shouting was understandable, but that it was about Blacktooth, they were certain.

Blacktooth decided to confront the cardinal, but upon finding him kneeling before the lady altar praying to the Virgin, he merely knelt beside him and waited. Brownpony stirred, and Nimmy sensed his discomfort. The Red Deacon crossed himself and arose. The monk waited a few seconds and did the same. Brownpony was pacing toward the door. Nimmy shuffled behind him. Hearing the shuffle, the Red Deacon turned.

“Do you want something, Brother St. George?”

“Only to know what’s going on.”

They walked outside and stopped.

“I knew she might be alive. But I did not want to arouse false hopes. Go climb the Mesa of Last Resort. The man who saw her last may be living there now.” The cardinal started walking away.

“She? Who?” Nimmy called after him.

Brownpony looked back at him without answering.

“Ædrea!”

“Go to the Mesa. I’ll tell the abbot I sent you. He wanted to send you himself. But it was my responsibility. I let you down.”

Pale as a ghost, Nimmy hurried toward the kitchen to beg some hard biscuits and water for the journey. From the cook, who was in a good humor, he received the biscuits, some cheese, and a wineskin filled with a mixture of wine and water. Then he went to the guesthouse to pack a bedroll; it was too late to leave that day, so he slept and left before daylight while his brethren were being called to Lauds. It was a long hike to Last Resort, and the first thing he saw when he arrived at the usual way of ascent was a recent grave with two sticks lashed together for a cross. Its meaning eluded him. After the slow climb, the sun was sinking behind distant mountains. He went straight to the ramshackle shelter he had discovered the previous year and found it rebuilt, but no one was home. He was reluctant to try the door.

After shouting a few times and hearing no answer, he sat on his bedroll to wait. The light was becoming too dim for reading Compline, so he said his rosary, sometimes contemplating the mystery of each decade and sometimes contemplating the beautiful waif who had stolen it from him. The grave at the foot of the Mesa kept coming to mind. He shook his head impatiently and resumed contemplation of the fifth glorious mystery, which was the coronation in Heaven of the Mother by the Son, after her bodily assumption. But there was no before or after, according to Amen Specklebird, for whom the coronation of the Virgin was an event belonging to eternity. The Virgin’s face became Ædrea’s, and he finished the last decade as quickly as possible. When he looked up, a gaunt silhouette with a club raised on high stood over him against the twilight sky.

It croaked: “Don’t get up! Who are you? What are you doing here?”

“I am Brother Blacktooth St. George, and my master Cardinal Brownpony sent me.”

“Oh, I remember you now,” said the old Jew, squinting in the twilight. “On the road to New Jerusalem, you asked too many questions.”

“Did you make rain for them?”

“Still asking too many questions. Your master sent you with a message? For me?”

“No, he sent me with a question. What can you tell me about Ædrea? You saw her. Where did she go?”

The old Jew was silent for several seconds. “I happened to be of some assistance to her when she fled from her father. She came here with me, after the abbey turned her away. She had her babies. She went away.”

“Babies!”

“Twin boys. They were not alike, though. She left them with me, because they were not perfect. Her father would have killed them. And she had nowhere else to go but home. She knows too much about affairs in New Jerusalem to risk getting caught on the way east to the Valley.”

“Where are the children?”

“The milk of my goat did not agree with them. I took them to Sanly Bowitts. I left them with a woman who promised to take care of them until they were sent for.”

“By whom?”

“Hmm-nnn. How should I know? Someone from the Valley. Or you, the father, probably.”

“Ædrea told you that I am the father?”

“She is a talkative young woman. She was here for, hmm-nnn, seven or eight weeks. She was always singing or talking. I miss her singing, not her talking.” He groped in his bag and handed Nimmy pieces of flint and steel. “That’s the hearth, there in the shadow. Light the tinder. The wood is stacked.”

“Was it ahard birth?”

“Very hard. I had to cut. She lost a lot of blood.”

“Cut? You are a physician?”

“I am all things.”

Nimmy got the fire started at last. Following the old hermit’s instructions, he found in the hut a box of crumbled dry meal, dumped two double handfuls to a pot with a bail, and added water from a great jug by the door.

“Hang it from the tripod. Stir it with a clean stick.”