Tivil July 1933
‘Is she there?’
Rafik shook his head. ‘No.’
‘Is she close?’
‘She’s close to death.’
‘Can you save her?’
A sigh like the moon’s breath whispered round the walls of the chamber. Three faces grew pale.
‘I cannot. I am losing her down a labyrinth.’
Blood, like wine, was poured into a copper bowl.
‘She is too far from me. I cannot disentangle the shadows.’
White flesh, like bread, was crumbled into the blood.
‘She is alone and beyond my reach.’
Herbs, bitter as pain, were scattered on the glistening surface.
‘How can we protect her, tell us how?’
‘I need greater power.’
‘Drink the blood.’
‘Eat the flesh.’
‘Swallow the herbs.’
Rafik drank and looked at the faces gazing at him. ‘It’s not enough.’
The priest swept into the room, red hair ablaze, eyes bright with belief. His beard gleamed like a breastplate of fire.
‘Your strength is needed.’
‘My strength is the strength of the Lord God Almighty.’
Rafik rose to his feet, ghostly in his white robe. ‘The girl is in an abyss.’
‘All are in peril of the Bottomless Pit, all who worship the image of the Beast. It is written in God’s Word.’
‘Help us, Priest.’
‘Gypsy, if what you are doing provides food for the Devil, the smoke of your torment will be never-ending and you shall have no rest by day or by night.’
‘We need her, I tell you this. She is rich in power.’
‘What are riches? God in His infinite wisdom tells us this: that it is when we think we are rich that we are at our most wretched and miserable and poor and blind and naked. And as surely as night follows day, His wrath shall come to smite the scorpions of this earth.’
‘Priest,’ Rafik’s voice rang out clearly, ‘this village knows too well that it is poor and wretched. Will you join with us?’
‘God will curse you, Rafik.’
‘Will you watch Tivil bleed to death?’
‘Sorcerers are condemned to dwell outside the City of God and you are a sorcerer.’
‘Rafik.’ It was the blacksmith, his darkened fingers pointing at the gypsy’s chest. ‘Tell the priest.’
‘Tell me what?’
The light seemed to flicker and dart across the copper bowl as Rafik spoke slowly. ‘The girl has a stone, a White Stone. It has drawn help to her side already.’
Priest Logvinov’s face grew pale as his long fingers sought the cross that hung on his chest and clung to it. ‘Do not blaspheme.’
‘I do not.’
The priest shook his fiery locks. ‘The Lord says in the last Book of His Holy Word, “To him that overcometh will I give to eat of the hidden manna and will give him a white stone and in the stone a new name is written which no man knoweth saving he that receiveth it.”
‘She has the stone.’