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Everybody in this story is dead.
Well, almost everybody. At any rate, the vast majority of the people are no longer people, just characters in my story, because most of the cast died around four hundred years ago. Technically, that makes their characters ghosts, but that's alright.
Christmas, I think, is a time for ghost stories. Americans have co-opted All Saints' Eve for that purpose nowadays, I imagine so they can free up Christmas for Santa Claus and shopping malls. A few might even save a little room for celebrating the birth of their messiah.
But previous generations understood some of the real pleasures of Christmas and, in more recent times, the new year which followed it. Gathering around a fire and a tree, exchanging food and gifts to remind you of the good you felt within the community... telling stories to remind you of the fear you perceived outside it. Huddling together for warmth in the cold, dark days of the solstice. Telling stories.
This story begins in the town of Wittenberg, sometime in the early 1500s. It is either right before, or right after, or possibly even during, the dramatic disclosure of ninety-five theses by a certain Martin Luther; the church that has held sway over Europe for more than a thousand years is about to be rocked on its axis. And it is Christmastime.
In the University of Wittenberg, school of Martin Luther and a famous, if fictional, melancholy Dane, the learned professors are whispering nasty things about their colleague Georg Favolius. His classes are said to be filled with the most rank heresy, as Favolius denies the very existence of God, and conjures the shade of Helen of Troy to entice his students. He is rumored to fly by the light of the moon, to sicken cows and wither crops, to impregnate young virgins, and to summon a black devil to aid him in his misdeeds. There is already talk of bringing up witchcraft charges against him.
But Favolius knows it is too late for that. He is sequestered in his chambers, frantically trying to undo a deal he made long ago. As the clock strikes midnight, he is seized by a madness and he burns all his books. Nobody is exactly sure what happened next, for there was only one witness. Some say it was an old man who tried to make Favolius repent and save his soul; some say it was the coal-black devil, come to claim his soul and pull it down to Hell. And some say it was both.
All that is known for certain is, the next day Favolius's students opened his quarters and found his body torn to shreds, as if by demons.
THE DEVILL'S LEGACIE
by Marc Singer
An Episode in the Damnable Life and Long-Delay'd Death
of one Hannibal, Moor of London
Act I (of II)
Anne Benson and Harvey Hauptmann were standing outside Harvey's old house in Hyattsville. They had been sitting in that house on July 20, 1994, when a government agent knocked on its door and plunged Anne and Harvey into six months of dodging the law and saving the world. Now, at the end of the year, they were revisiting it.
The doors and windows had been repaired, although the scorched lawn still bore evidence of a grenade blast, and a dent in the tree marked the spot where a SIRECOM agent had died after an encounter with Harvey's fist. But the rest of the house was cleaned, fixedand sold to somebody else.
"I guess that part of my life is over," said Harvey.
"Our lives," said Anne. "C'mon, let's go home help set up for the New Year's party. There's no use living in the past."
"A sage policy," said a new voice. Anne and Harvey turned, to see former cop and new Omega Jack Russell walking up the street, along with a tall black man in a trenchcoat. The stranger was the one who had spoken.
"I had a feeling I'd find you here when I missed you at home," said Jack. "So... how've you been?"
"Pretty good," said Anne, "still readjusting. Yourself?"
"Pretty much the same." But the listless look in his eyes showed that he was at loose ends, just like Anne and Harvey were.
Harvey coughed. "So, uh, who's your friend?"
"Oh," Jack said, "he's an... old acquaintance."
"He doesn't mean we're friends," added the grinning stranger. "He means I'm an acquaintance who is very, very old. And I have a story for you."
Anne, Harvey, Jack, and Jack's acquaintancehe said they could call him Hankdecided it would be better to meet at a Denny's, rather than going back to the Benson house or standing around in the cold. Anne and Harvey were still quite suspicious of him, and even Jack didn't seem all that comfortable, so Harvey mentally suggested that Anne probe his mind. Anne shoved aside her nagging conscience, with its questions of ethics, and tried to scan Hank.
That's funny, she told Harvey, he has some kind of shield around his mind.
He's an Omega? Harvey asked, not really surprised.
Not exactly, his shield is more like Allen Covenant's... magic, if you want to call it that. But Jack's surface thoughts seem to indicate that Hank is some kind of Omega as well.
Hank sipped his coffee and said, "I'm always amazed how society uses the best technology to produce the worst food." He set his cup down. "So, let us begin. When I saw your exploits on the television, I was reminded of events many years past. And once Jack filled me in on the whole story, how you prevented him from being used as a killer, we decided you might like to hear my own story. As a token of appreciation."
Anne said, "I'm not sure I understand..."
Hank grinned enigmatically. "Just listen, and you will." He cleared his throat, a sign that he was officially beginning his tale. He grinned his wide, white grin, and said "Everybody in this story is dead now..."
"My God, my God, look not so fierce upon me!" But the only person looking upon Doctor Faustus was the horned king on the mighty throne that had descended from above. The huge, gaping mouth under him began to spew forth a sulfurous smoke, and several demons emerged and tried to grab Faustus. "Adders and serpents," he cried, "let me breathe a while! Ugly hell, gape notcome not, Lucifer!" Casting his eyes around his study like a desperate, caged animal, Faustus saw his library, and screamed, "I'll burn my books!" But the black man blocked his path, and Faustus's last words before being dragged kicking and screaming into the Hellmouth were, "Ah, Mephistophilis!"
The audience clapped and cheered uproariously, perhaps to cover their own horror at what they'd just seen. John Fletcher just shook his head and tried to shove his way out of the crowd, not even staying for the final scene, in which the scholars discovered Faustus's remains and the Chorus moralized about the German scholar's "hellish fall." It was nothing he hadn't seen before. Fletcher was a little depressed; he'd heard that Christopher Marlowe was supposed to be a little more unconventional than that.
Fletcher picked his way through the crowd of groundlings and emerged from the Rose Theatre, across the river from London proper. His wasted money and evening didn't disappoint him nearly as much as his wasted hopes in the play. Alleyn was fine as Faustus, but Marlowe's writing still made him a diabolist who got rightly punished for his sins. With plays like this, Fletcher wondered if he'd ever be able to return home.
Walking through the narrow Southwark streets, Fletcher noticed a tall, dark man following him, and he realized it was a bad idea to leave the theatre apart from the crowd. He tried a few twists down odd streets, but the dark man stayed with him. Perhaps it was just Fletcher's overactive imagination, but after seeing _Doctor Faustus_, he couldn't help but notice that the man looked a lot like the Admiral's Men's conception of Mephistophilis.
It has to be my imagination, Fletcher told himself. If not, then what I'm about to do will only worsen my situation... but I have little choice. Fletcher ducked inside an alleyway, drew a bundle of arrows from his bag, and muttered a prayer.
He was followed him the alley; not by one man, but six. They were all Englishmen, carrying knives or, in some cases, swords. The dark gentleman was nowhere to be seen, and Fletcher suddenly had the more immediate problem of a half-dozen robbers coming towards him. He'd been so preoccupied with the black man, he hadn't even noticed them. When the robbers saw Fletcher facing them, holding an arrow in each of his hands, they all started laughing, and they moved in for the kill. "Mark this," said one of the swordsmen, "our man thinks he's Apollo." The other swordsman chuckled, and lunged for the attack.
Fletcher simply let go of one of the arrows; it leapt from his hand and flew across the alley in a perfect arc which culminated in the swordsman's eye. The swordsman screamed as the arrow drilled into his brain, and he fell to the ground, convulsing madly. While the other men were shocked into inaction, Fletcher let the other arrow fly; it buried itself in the neck of the burliest assailant.
The four remaining men wasted no further time, and attacked Fletcher at once. Another self-propelled arrow killed a second knifeman before he reached Fletcher, but the last three brigands fell upon him as one. The swordsman used his greater reach to knock the arrows out of Fletcher's grasp, and the two knifemen advanced for the kill.
A huge black man appeared, seemingly from the night sky itself, and he tackled one of the knifemen. A struggle ensued, and Fletcher could have sworn the black man was stabbed several times, but he ended up strangling the brigand instead. Fletcher was still faced with two more attackers; he concentrated, and the scattered arrows on the ground leapt into the air. They all buried themselves in the last knifeman, making him look like one of the New World porcupines, or a perverse representation of Saint Sebastian, the arrow-ridden patron saint of plague victims. Although he was technically Protestant, Fletcher winced at the accidental blasphemy and he said another prayer.
Meanwhile, the black man was finishing up his opponent, and the swordsman, realizing the odds were heavily against him, turned tail and ran. Fletcher was all too happy to let him go, as he didn't want to use his magics anymore. He whispered yet another prayernot in thanks that he was still alive. Nor did he pray for the men he'd slain, as they'd done nothing to earn his forgiveness.
John Fletcher prayed for his own soul, because he knew that every time he used his magics, he hurled his own soul that much closer to damnation. Of course, he had only been using his magic against evil men, who would've happily killed him; but Fletcher knew that even the best of intentions paved the road to Hell. Before long, Fletcher was afraid, his soul might also be claimed by a black demon...
...Much like the one who was even now standing next to him, over a dead body.
"M-Mephistophilis?" Fletcher whispered.
"The line," said the tall black man in a booming foreign accent, "is 'Ah, Mephistophilis.'" Fletcher was too terrified to even run, but the black man added, "I'm not surprised that you missed the line. You left the play rather early. Master Marlowe's rough verse was not to your liking?"
"You... you're just talking about... the play?"
"Indeed, good sir, which is why I clearly said 'the play.' Surely my accent is not so thick you cannot understand me?" The black man grinned from ear to ear, and added, "At the very least, my accent is no thicker than yours."
That shocked Fletcher back to reality. "Perhaps we should continue this discussion elsewhere. Away from prying ears."
"And," said the grinning black man, "from the civil patrol. A sage policy. Let's go to a tavern, then, young Fletcher. We can take a drink, and I might even have a story for you... or you one for me."
The Drowned Spaniard, its colorful name notwithstanding, was a decent tavern and Fletcher knew people there. Hopefully, if this strange man tried anything, Fletcher would be safe. Assuming, of course, that this strange man were just a man. Once Fletcher could see him in the light of the tavern, he noticed the stranger was just a Moor and not a demon at all... not that Moors were held in much esteem, either.
This particular Moor, however, seemed to esteem Fletcher very highly. "I'm glad you emerged from that brawl unscathed," he said. "Do you have any idea why those men attacked you?"
"They were just common street-scum," said Fletcher, "after my money and possessions, no doubt." He took a long drag of some rather warm ale. "And while I'd like to thank you for saving me, I'm afraid I don't even know your name."
"Very well. I am currently known in Venice as Annibale Iberi, because, I suspect, of my common continental origins with the ancient Carthaginian general, as well as my late arrival from Granada. This being London and not Venice, you might as well call me Hannibal Spain."
Fletcher took another sip, set down his mug on the weathered wooden table, and eyed 'Hannibal' suspiciously. "The Moors were driven out of Spain a century ago. Exactly how 'late' was your arrival from Granada supposed to be?"
Hannibal chuckled. "Once again, my rather skewed sense of scale betrays me. Very well, John, it wasn't that recent. Although I did stay in Granada later than my Muslim brethren... I had important business to conclude, and the Castilians were happy to let me remain when I converted to Christianity."
Fletcher was skeptical. "You changed your religion, just like that?"
"Why not? You Christians do it all the time. Though I do confess, the difference between Mohammed and Christ is somewhat greater than the belief in whether a small wafer actually becomes the body of the prophet upon consumption."
Fletcher nearly bolted and ran. He could not believe he was hearing such blasphemy, and he wondered if his mere association with Hannibal would damn him. Or if Hannibal really were a devil sent to collect him, just by more subtle means than Mephistophilis.
Hannibal just laughed. "Don't be so scared, John," he said. "I don't have much concern for matters of the afterlife, so I tend to not take religion very seriously. But I doubt that my words should condemn you, unless the Protestants' God is petty enough to judge guilt by association."
That was enough for Fletcher. "Sir," he said bitterly, "you have insulted my religion and exhausted my patience. What exactly do you want here?"
"Well," purred Hannibal, "I ostensibly came to London to negotiate a treaty, of sorts..."
"What, between the English and the Moors?" Fletcher took another swig of ale. "Not even the Spaniards could unite us with your kind."
"'Us,' Fletcher? Interesting choice of words. But no, that's not the sort of treaty I care to negotiate. Besides, Fletcher, what brings me here now is you."
Fletcher turned pale, and tried to think of an appropriate prayer. All of them, perhaps. He must have been too indiscriminate in his use of magics, and now Lucifer's agent had come to collect him, body and all.
Hannibal seemed to know exactly what he was thinking. "Prayers do not suit your pedigree," he said. "Your accent... you try to hide it, but you're from the electorate of Brandenburg, aren't you? And you picked up some unique twists during your time in..."
"Wittenberg," Fletcher confessed. "I attended Wittenberg. Not even for a year."
"And your name... 'Fletcher' is too appropriate for one who makes arrows fly. I assume, then, that I have the pleasure of meeting... ?"
Fletcher stared into his drink. He muttered, "Johann. Johann Faust."
"So the aldermen made the family keep the name 'Faust' after my great-uncle Georg was dead." Fletcher was now on his third mug, and he was telling Hannibal everything. "The other townspeople spat on us, even though we tried to be twice as pious as any of them. And when I went to Wittenberg for divinity school, the professors cursed my very name. It wasn't long before I felt I had to leave Germany altogether... somehow, I ended up hear in London, in the Year of Our Lord Fifteen Hundred and Ninety Three."
"Amazing," said Hannibal. "1593. Islam's is even smaller than that, but still, only 1593... I've known calendars that were far older."
Fletcher was, by now, too morose to respond to the barb, so Hannibal continued, "Did you inherit your magics from Georg Favoliusor, to eschew the Latin, Georg Faustas well?"
"I should imagine so. I say a prayer each time I use them, in hopes that the holiness thereof cancels the magics' inherent diabolism. I don't know if it's enough. My father was driven mad by his magics, and he perished in a fire which was, I am convinced, sent by God to punish him. And we both know what happened to my great-uncle. My grandfather, at least, was not cursed with this 'gift.'"
"He wasn't eh?" said Hannibal. "Yet Georg Favolius was... I must tell you of my work with green and yellow peas."
"What?" asked Fletcher, swaying slightly.
"Perhaps another time. So tell me, John, have you ever considered that your magics may not be sent by Hell?"
"All magic is, by definition, Hell-sent. And as the only real magic I have ever seen has come from my own accursed line, that only proves the church's definition."
Hannibal chuckled again. "That doesn't prove any definition, especially when the churches themselves are being redefined. It only proves that you've never seen any other magic." Hannibal began slowly untying his shirt, causing Fletcher no small amount of consternation.
Fletcher looked around the tavern, making sure nobody he knew was watching him. "What are you doing?" he hissed.
"How many times was I stabbed saving you, John?"
"Urm... none," said John.
"Seven," said Hannibal. And he had seven fading scars on his chest. To prove that they were not old ones, he drew his own knife, a curved Moorish blade, and made an eighth cut. Fletcher gasped, but the cut did not bleed and healed almost instantly. "You see," said Hannibal, "magic works for many people. And if it is Hell-sent, then my magic keeps me out of Hell's reach forever."
But Fletcher was already running, for his life and for his soul.
He didn't get too far before his legs gave out on him, and he pitched drunkenly into the embankment that ran beside the River Thames. Fletcher felt sick to his stomach, and leaned over the side to throw up, but he accidentally leaned too far, and fell down several feet into the mud that coated the riverside.
Fletcher's body felt it was best to remain there, and Fletcher was in no mood to disagree. He laid in the mud for several minutes, listening intently to the sound of footsteps approaching the embankment, hopping over it, landing lightly alongside him.
Hannibal's face loomed over Fletcher's. "Are you alright?" said the heretical Christian Moor.
Fletcher coughed, and drool trickled out of his mouth. "My body, only I punished. The blame for my soul"
"Yes, yes, your poor damned soul and all that." Hannibal shook Fletcher's head. "Listen to me," he said, falling into a thicker accent that mingled Italian with Spanish and African elements. "Your magic did not come from Hell. I have it, others have itothers right here in this country, some of whom hold the highest and holiest offices. It isn't sent by any power, John. I think it passes through the blood and issue of humanity."
"You mean," Fletcher gasped, "like kingship?"
"Er... something like that, yes. Your powers do not damn you, John." He glanced around the river, around London. "Only other men can do that. I would advise youare you listening to me?"
Fletcher gurgled and shut his eyes, but nodded his head yes.
"I would advise you to seek help from other men. This Marlowe, he is not as prejudiced against your... great-uncle as you might think. And he knows men of power. You'll need his help, John."
"Why?" asked John.
"Because, poor boy, why would any 'common street-scum' know enough Classical mythology to compare you to Apollo?"
"Hannibal? What do you mean?" But Hannibal was silent.
Fletcher opened his eyes. Lifting his head, which caused no end of pain, Fletcher looked around the riverside.
Hannibal had disappeared, leaving behind not a tracenot even footprints in the mud. Fletcher just flopped back down onto the lifeless shore, alone and abandoned.
The next afternoonvery late the next afternoonJohn Fletcher once again journeyed across the Thames to visit the Rose Theatre. Although one member of the troupe was watching the entrance, Fletcher covertly sent a rock whizzing past him, making a noise which sent the young boy investigating in the opposite direction. While the boy was occupied, Fletcher said a prayer and slipped into the theatre.
The Admiral's Men were rehearsing the final, climactic scene. Lucifer's throne had descended from the theatre's "heaven" surely an ironic name in this case, and the goat-headed font of all evil watched as Edward Alleyn screamed for a reprieve, surrounded by the men who played devils and demons. None of the actors were in costume, the stagehands were not producing any smoke effects, and the Hellmouth hadn't been rolled out on stage, but the scene still carried a tremendous power. Alleyn's screams were just as horrifying as they'd been the night before.
Fletcher asked a nearby stagehand if Marlowe was around, and the boy pointed up to the stage. Lucifer stood up, spread his arms dramatically, and shouted "Do it right this time, gentlemen!" Lucifer removed his horned mask, revealing a handsome young man underneath, a man who could not even be thirty. He gave all of his actors long directions, and then announced a ten-minute break.
When Lucifer leapt down from the stage to the courtyard, Fletcher approached him. "Christopher Marlowe?" he asked.
Marlowe was mopping sweat from his foreheadthis May was unseasonably hot, and the Lucifer outfit didn't look comfortable. "I am when I go unhorned," he replied. "And exactly who are you?"
"I go by John Fletcher, Master Marlowe, and"
"Are we in the halls of Cambridge?" Marlowe asked, spinning around in a circle so his arms took in the whole dusty, empty Rose Theatre. "Are we two scholars debating theology?"
"Then do not call me 'Master.' And kindly do not disturb my rehearsals, Fletcher." Marlowe prepared to put his mask back on.
But Fletcher grabbed it first. He pulled himself closer to the playwright, and said in a rasp whisper, "I only go by the name Fletcher, Marlowe. My real name is Faust." The mask lifted itself out of their hands, circled Marlowe once, and attached itself to his head. "And I think you will want to speak with me after all."
Lucifer himself seemed terrified. He turned to the rest of his company, and announced that he would be taking his afternoon break a little early.
"You could see all the stars, if the sun's majesty did not now eclipse them," said Thomas Harriot, proud of his invention. "Of course, it is meant for scrying at night. You see, I've charted the stars here..."
"Very impressive, Thomas," said Hannibal as he folded up the telescope. He didn't have the heart to say that he'd known Arab doctors who had done the same or better centuries ago. "But I'd like to get straight to business."
As they retreated inside his Greenwich chambers, Thomas Harriot, the foremost mathematician and astronomer of his nation, said, "Of course, I understand that you and your fellows will need to visit English soil from time to time. Perhaps one of your kind may even emerge from our island. But we can't have too many... gifted men roaming unsupervised in our nation, especially foreigners." Harriot stared coldly at Hannibal. "Especially foreigners with reputations for diabolism."
Hannibal would not be outstared, or outwilled. "Diabolism? Thomas, do they not say that you have a reputation for atheism, and doesn't that deny the supremacy of God as well? Do they not whisper that Doctor Dee, the Queen's own astrologer, once conjured a scarab as large as two grown men for the revels at Cambridge. Do they not call Henry Percy "the Wizard Earl of Northumberland," and"
"Yes, Hannibal, that is precisely why it would be bad if word got out that an actual diabolist were at loose in England." He stepped into a small antechamber, where he began removing his clothes. Hannibal followed him in and, out of respect for custom, did the same. "If the commoners learn that Faust is here, and one of us, they they'll call for all our blood."
Hannibal countered, "How much of that is because you paint his line so unsympathetically? Hasn't Walsingham's own pet poet written a play condemning old Georg to eternal infamy?"
"Georg and Werner Faust both got what they deserved. Now Johann is nosing around... but at least we can stop him before he produces any more hellish progeny." Harriot donned a robe covered in arcane symbols, astrological signs, and most prominently, certain letters of the Greek alphabet.
"I don't deny the Invisible College's right to monitor all of the gifted people in England," said Hannibal, "but at least spare this one boy. Let him get out of the country."
Harriot feigned a smile, and said, "If it were solely my choice, Hannibal, I'd do it. But the word came from on high. The German wing wants the Faust line extinguished, and Milady Herself has told us to assist them. So that England might become more of a player on the international scene." Harriot led Hannibal into the next chamber, which had a tile floor with a map of the world painted on it. Harriot himself had designed it, adding the outlines of the new continents from his own unique methods of exploration. "He's just one boy, Hannibal," said Harriot. "You've seen thousands of his kind come and go, yes? Let this one go a little early. Or the treaty is off, and the Vitalongae will be expelled from our nation and our union."
Hannibal was standing with one foot on England and one on Tunis, straddling Europe and the Mediterranean like a gigantic replication of the Colossus of Rhodes. But for all his power, real or cartographic, there was nothing he could do to gain forgiveness for Johann Faust.
The Swan Inn was Marlowe's turf, not Fletcher's, and that made Fletcher slightly uncomfortable. However, that might have been more because Fletcher belatedly realized the inn catered to men, exclusively to men, men who, not to put too fine a point on it, themselves catered exclusively to other men. Fletcher, being a former divinity student and not a theatrical type like many of the men there, felt both nervous and embarrassed. Not because there were no homosexuals at the University of Wittenbergquite the oppositebut because according to doctrine, all the men in the Swan were condemned to perdition for their crime against nature. It seemed that ever since he'd met Hannibal, ever since seeing _Faustus_ really, Fletcher had been in the company of the damned. At least he would see a few familiar faces in Hell.
If Fletcher were uncomfortable in the Swan, Marlowe was positively fearful around Fletcher. At first, he seemed to think Fletcher was the Faustus in his play, and straightening that out calmed him slightly. Then Fletcher explained that he was displeased with the portrayal of his great-uncle in the play, and Marlowe became afraid all over againand also downright offended.
"Faustus is a hero," explained Marlowe. "Not a villain. His struggle for knowledge, his refusal to abide by dogma, these things make him a true tragic figure... did you see the play, man?"
"Of course I did," answered Fletcher. "I saw Faustus make a deal with the devil and get pulled into Hell for his sins. Where's the heroism in that?"
Marlowe heatedly, immediately replied, "But I had no" Then he stopped, sat back on his bench, and said, "I see what the problem is here. I see. My patron requested a few... elements in this play. Faustus's defeat is one of them, his hellish consortment another."
"Whether you chose to put them in or not, you still put them in. Everyone still thinks my great-uncle made a pact with demons."
"And you know that he didn't?"
"My great-uncle died well before I was born. But my grandmother was sure of his innocence." Fletcher closed his eyes and took a long drinkonly water for him today. "MastMarlowe, I just want my name cleared. This play of yours will only set me back."
Marlowe smiled. "With all due respect, Fletcher, you can do magics. I assume your great-uncle could as well. So I'm not lying too much, now, am I?"
"You think that my powers really do come from Hell, then?"
Marlowe laughed, and said, "I don't believe in Hell," and Fletcher felt like bolting out of the Swan and away from this man. Here he was, meeting with yet another heretic. Marlowe noticed his reaction, and placed a calming hand on Fletcher. "Neither does Faustus," said the playwright. "That's why he makes a bet against damnation. He thinks there is no Hell to damn him. And indeed, there is no Heaven to save him." Marlowe sighed. "And if I could write the play I wished, there really would be no damnation in the end. But I have to content myself with little asides, double meanings, hidden intentions."
"I'm sorry," said Fletcher, "but I didn't see any of that. I just saw Faustus being evil, yet again."
"Ever the playwright's curse," said Marlowe, lifting his eyes tragically heavenwards. "I still don't know who's worse, those who see nothing at all, or those who see too much. I'm sorry, Fletcher, but that meaning of mine is there, and it's the best I can do." Marlowe stood up, and prepared to leave.
Fletcher wasn't sure if an atheist play that denied the existence of Heaven or Hell would really help his family name any, but he decided to push for anything he could get. "Do you cave in that easily, Marlowe? Why not let your patron dictate all your works? Why not make Tamburlaine the Great a slave, and the Jew of Malta a Christian?"
"Watch your tongue, Fletcher"
Fletcher rose his voice instead, attracting the attention of the entire common room. "Watch my tongue, Marlowe? My tongue rests firmly in my mouth! Where is yours, in your patron's pocket? I thought Christopher Marlowe had a better reputation than that, but I guess London and Hannibal were both wrong!"
Marlowe's hand flew to his sword, but two things stopped it there: the arrow in Fletcher's hand, and the last words he'd spoken. "You know Hannibal?" the poet asked, beginning to calm down.
"You know Hannibal?" said Fletcher, lowering his voice.
Marlowe did not answer directly, but instead recited, "Not marching in the fields of Trasimene, where Mars did mate the warlike Carthagens..."
"That's the opening of _Faustus_!" exclaimed Fletcher.
"And also a reference to our mutual friend," said Marlowe. "Or, ah, at least his ancient namesake," he quickly added. "So he sent you my way?"
"You reason quickly... yes, he did. And now I begin to see why." Fletcher, not normally accustomed to asking others for help, timidly said, "He also mentioned that you knew powerful men... you see, some men attacked me, and I'm no longer sure it was a random crime."
Marlowe's eyes widened. "Now I see the old Moor's design... I feel like a priest who gazes at the night sky and sees his Creator's hand."
The flowery speech was lost on Fletcher, who looked at him questioningly. "What I mean," explained Marlowe, "is that Hannibal probably sent you to me because my patron is Thomas Walsingham, brother to Sir Francis Walsingham, the Queen's Secretary and director of her more quiet assets."
"And because you do not really believe my great-uncle was a diabolist?"
"Because I believe there is no devil for him to worship." Fletcher paled at that thought, but Marlowe said, "You have little choice in allies, Fletcher. Take my help while you still can."
An atheist, a heretic Moor, and the great-nephew of Europe's most infamous blasphemer. At least they would all burn together. Fletcher took Marlowe's hand, and the two men left the Swan together.
Fletcher was quite oblivious to the winks and smiles of Marlowe's friends as they saw the two men leaving. He was also oblivious to the considerably grimmer face of one friend of Marlowe's, who sat in the back of the room. Of course, Ingram Frizer had positioned himself in a space where Fletcher wouldn't see him; it wouldn't do to be recognized as the one surviving attacker.
Frizer got up, paid his bill, and left to make his report.
Walsingham's City residence was, thank God, not in the Cityor even in its outskirts. The rich and the powerful could afford the luxury of living well away from the crime and grime and plague of London, even as they ruled over it. And few were richer or more powerful than the Walsinghams.
Ingram Frizer was standing before a Walsingham at this very moment, having just finished his report. Frizer was facing a large window that looked out onto a large portico that looked out towards London; Walsingham, who "had no desire to gaze on that pestilence- filled dunghill" anymore, was sitting in a high-backed wooden chair that faced Frizer. The older man was clutching a large book to his lap, face- down so Frizer couldn't see it. But Frizer could clearly see Walsingham's furrowed brow, and hear his bitter curses. His master hadn't liked hearing that Marlowe, the family's pet poet, had befriended Fletcher; but the real bad news was Frizer's report of the Moor who'd saved Fletcher the night before.
"That accursed black bastard is forming an allegiance with my brother and his damned Invisible College," Walsingham spat. "Even worse, he has more lives than the Wandering Jew."
"The Wandering Jew only has one life," Frizer saidthen he tried to choke it back, because Walsingham fired a look that said the hired help should never presume to correct him.
"I know that," Walsingham said maliciously, "but you see, that one life is so damnably long." He sighed. "Ah, well, this one will have to be done delicately, lest the College decides to intervene. First we'll have to remove the Faust brat's allies."
Frizer grinned. "You want me to take care of Marlowe, sir?"
"Not just yet. I think we'll finally hit him with that heresy charge we've had brewing. Blasted Unitarian sodomite." Walsingham's mood finally brightened at the thought of punishing people. Especially that flaming poet, whose behavior was not exactly bringing glory to the house of his patron. "As for the Faustling, more direct methods might be in order. Round up some more men, and for God's sake, don't fuck up this time." Frizer blushed, bowed, and departed immediately.
Walsingham finally turned around, and stared at London. He could see Frizer riding back towards the City. Frizer was a good sword, but Walsingham knew his effectiveness would be limited because he was only doing it for the money. Walsingham had a higher cause.
He flipped the book overa Bible, in real Latin, none of those vulgar translations. Walsingham knew that he wouldn't live forever, and his riches and power wouldn't carry over into the next life. So the nobleman decided he'd need another sort of advantage in Heaven. Walsingham has spent his whole life currying favor with the royal powers that be, and he thinks he's found a way to earn the favor of the highest Power there is.
After all, does not His own book say, "Thou shalt not suffer a witch?"
As a token of unity, the College allowed Hannibal to participate in their ritual after they negotiated the treatyhe took the place of some member who was unable to attend. The learned and powerful men gathered in a circle around the world map and began chanting. Although Hannibal knew the chanting was purely for show, he also knew that such theatrical displays could have real power. If nothing else, they lulled those who truly provided the power into more receptive states.
Doctor John Dee stepped into the middle of the circle, standing on England. Another member, a junior initiate who Hannibal didn't recognize, stepped into the middle and stood on Egypt. Dee began chanting in a counterpoint to the others, and slowly circling around the initiate until he'd faced all four of the compass directions. Then, completing his chant, Dee spread his arms wide and looked upwards in supplication. The initiate screamed and collapsed to the floor.
Slowly, beautifully, a giant scarab shimmered into existence over the College. And Hannibal knew that John Fletcher, Johann Faust, no matter who else he was, was a dead man.
TO BE CONTINUED...
The Devill's Legacie will conclude next issue!
This very different sort of Omega tale was brought to you by Marc Singer. Let me know, either here on RACC or at firstname.lastname@example.org, if you'd like to see more such excursions into the Omega universe's history!
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