Both as a physical object and a set of ideas, a book can tie together past and present, allowing us to commune with people who lived a generation ago–or two thousand years ago. Sometimes a confrontation with the past is scary, even terrifying, or heartbreakingly sad. Sometimes it opens up a realm of fantasy, because each of us interprets the past uniquely and creatively. But it always seems worthwhile.
Brian Donaghy, Esq., Corbin Crowe’s attorney, turned out to be a large, bluff, ginger-haired man, whose mentor in the law firm had defended Crowe at trial. “Your father had a bit of inherited money, starting in the seventies,” he told Tabitha. “It’s been used to maintain the property. We mow the lawn and tend the fruit trees, remove snow, keep the furnace at a minimal temperature every winter, and give the house a cleaning and inspection once a year.”
Fearing for the manuscript, Tabitha was not as pleased to hear this news as he expected, but she thanked him and accepted the key. Palmyra was not as long a drive as Rockview. She and Rúairí drove out on a Saturday, planning to spend the night at the Palmyra Inn, which offered Jacuzzi tubs.
“How’s Porteous?” he asked on the way. “I’ve seen James, but he’s been very tight-lipped about the whole affair.”
“Galen hates the media attention,” she said. According to Laura, the death of Lester Lemke had been ruled accidental and no charges were outstanding. But the press had found the story of Lester’s fall from the rooftop irresistible, and Galen as well as Cissy had been the subject of numerous tabloid reports. The couple had left town to stay for a few weeks at their apartment in Paris. “James has been named interim editor at the Messenger. He told Galen that he wouldn’t provide any information himself, but he had to let his ‘lads’ print whatever they dug up, as long as it was accurate. Laura says it’s a bit of a strain on their friendship, but she thinks they’ll weather it.”
Corbin Crowe’s house was on the outskirts of the town. The area had once been wooded and almost rural, but now developments had spread outward, so that it was far less isolated than in the seventies. The house sat on a three-acre lot, with access via a long drive from the main road. Rúairí was at the wheel as they approached. Gazing at the exterior, Tabitha felt no sense of recognition, though her heart was pounding and her mouth was dry. She fit the key into the lock, and they stepped into the living room.
“It’s not so bad as I expected after almost four decades,” said Rúairí. “Donaghy’s done well by his client.” The rooms were chilly and unaired, but the smell was not unpleasant. In fact, the scent was familiar. She peered into the large kitchen, and opened a few cupboard doors. Pots and pans sat within. A visible layer of dust covered them.
Rúairí silently followed her lead as she moved back through the living room, with its vintage furniture, its grandfather clock, and a console containing an old turntable. In the hallway was a reinforced door with a lock, leading to the basement. It stood open. At the top of the stairs to the second floor, she knew, there was a metal gate with another lock. She began the descent to the basement. It was smaller and more dank than she remembered. There was no dehumidifier, and the scent of mildew was noticeable.
“That’s where Melinda… where my mother and I slept,” she told Rúairí, pointing at a couch against the wall. The bed had been folded back into the couch, and the linens stowed in a plastic bag with a zipper. She glanced at the corner, remembering the two Dachsunds who had been their only companions. Gladys and Abner. What happened to them? she wondered, and made a mental note to ask Melinda. An ancient television sat opposite the couch, and an antique wardrobe with two drawers at the bottom, where a few of Melinda’s ill-fitting clothes, purchased by Crowe, still lay in their allotted places. At the sight of a tie-dyed T-shirt which she remembered well, Tabitha began to cry, and Rúairí put his arms around her. “Is this too much?” he asked. “Shall we go up now, and look for the desk?”
“No. I have to see it all.” She hugged him, then resolutely went to the bathroom door. The toilet bowl was discolored by an iron stain at the water’s high point. The chain bolted to the wall had been removed, but there was an obvious patch where the area had been spackled and repainted.
They made their way up the stairs, and visited Corbin Crowe’s bedroom, which was full of heavy old oak furniture. An antique quilt covered the bed, and his clothes were in the closet, a mixture of older, formal jackets and trousers, with long narrow pant legs, and doubleknit leisure suits with the wide lapels of the seventies. The upper edges of the garments on their hangers were thick with dust. They passed into a room she remembered, where the walls were lined with books. The furniture included a child’s tiny school desk. Goodnight Moon was not on the shelf. Perhaps she had brought it with her, when they took her from this place.
At last they came to Crowe’s study, and again every available inch of wall space was lined with books on literature and linguistics. A floor lamp with a white glass bell was positioned to shed its light on the desk, but the desktop itself was empty except for a large, old-fashioned blotter pad. A faint suggestion of pipe smoke hung in the air. She opened a rosewood box on the desk, which, as she expected, contained Crowe’s straight-stemmed pipes and an ancient tobacco pouch. She sank into the chair and allowed the memories to take her for a moment, as Rúairí placed his hands lightly on her shoulders. Then she reached out instinctively for the wide, shallow drawer. It opened easily to reveal a manila envelope. Inside were three leaves in a distinctive Carolingian minuscule. Their color and feel was slightly different from the pages Galen owned, for they had aged in a far different environment, but she sensed at once that this was the other half of her hero’s tale. Glancing over the first leaf, her eye was drawn to the name Scivius.
“Well?” asked Rúairí, but he was smiling broadly, as though he already knew.
Once again, Tabitha and Rúairí were on a plane together. Rúairí was returning to Dublin to be reunited with his family, who were anxiously awaiting his arrival, and curious about the woman he was bringing home. After Dublin, they planned to continue on to London. Tabitha had contacted a surprised Portia Gentry at the British Library to inform her that she would be returning the missing fragment to its rightful owner. In the Porteous collection, meanwhile, a set of high-resolution photos of the British Library fragment was housed with Galen’s half of the manuscript. The journal Celtica was eager to receive Tabitha and Rúairí’s forthcoming publication of the full Latin text and commentary.
Galen had been pleased. She could tell he coveted the other half of the manuscript, but he was well aware that it was stolen, so he contented himself with sending her a bottle of expensive champagne and two dozen pink roses. She suspected that these had been chosen by his secretary, Glenda, or perhaps by Cissy.
Laura had been the most delighted of all. “You see?” she said, hugging Tabitha. “I knew this was the reason you had the dreams.”
“It was one of the reasons,” she agreed.
As soon as the seatbelt light was off, she handed Rúairí her transcription and translation of the new text.
Candida’s son sought out his father, having a man’s full growth but being yet seven years in age. He arrived with a company of warriors at the Citadel of Delga, and Scivius slew him, not knowing who he was. Having recognized him by the token of a ring, Scivius mourned greatly for his only son. Next he was forced to defend the King’s lands against a great army assembled by Queen Ebriatrix and her consort Pulcher, for the purpose of a cattle raid. Stricken with Aequa’s curse, King Canephilus and the other warriors of Ultonia were unable to rise from their beds. Scivius delayed the opposing forces by secret onsets at night, and fought their champions in single combat at the ford. He met with Ebriatrix, who offered her body to him in exchange for standing aside, but he refused. At last he was forced to do combat with Geminus, a comrade from Umbrosa’s school whom he loved dearly. Both were unwilling to fight, but Ebriatrix caused the intoxication of Geminus by drink and desire, thus securing his agreement. After three days of combat, Scivius killed Geminus with the spear of mortal pain, and lamented him greatly. His own wounds being grievous, he was carried insensate from the ford, leaving the revived King and his Ultonian warriors to ward off Ebriatrix.
Some years later, Scivius was enticed by Margarita, a nymph who sought him out in the form of a bird. Having shot her with a stone from his sling, he fell ill for a year and scarcely spoke. Through an oracle, he discovered her again and was healed, then followed her under the hills to fight as her champion. Margarita promised Scivius immortality, and he would have remained in the hills as her lover, but Parata stood at the entrance to the land beneath, and challenged Margarita to combat. Each woman recognized her rival’s love for the hero and each offered to release him to the other, but when Scivius professed his love for Parata, Margarita retreated into the land beneath the hills.
At last Ebriatrix formed a new army to exact vengeance on Scivius for her previous humiliation. She employed female magi who bewitched Scivius and goaded him to battle, where he made his end, one man against many. Mortally wounded, he tied himself to a pillar in order to die upon his feet. His death was avenged by his friend Praevalens, the best of the chariot-masters from the Citadel of the Plain, after Scivius himself.
He turned to her, a grave expression on his face. “Is he still alive? In your aisling?”
She nodded. “Yes, but I don’t think it will be long, before the end.”
He took her hand. “You’ll be all right?”
She feared the pain that was coming, but she also felt a core of certainty and stability which had been missing before. She leaned over to kiss him gently on the lips. “I have you now, beloved. I’ll be grand.”
Copyright 2017 by Linnet Moss
Notes: I had fun coming up with the Latin names which are equivalents to the Irish ones, based on scholarly and folk etymologies. Here they are:
Scivius- Cúchulainn (“knows-his-way”)
Candida- Aoife (“bright”)
Ebriatrix and Pulcher- Medb (“she who inebriates”) and Ailill (“handsome”)
Aequa- the goddess Macha (“level/calm” with pun on equus, “horse”)
King Canephilus- King Conchobar (“hound-lover”)
Ultonia- Ulster (this one is attested in real Latin manuscripts)
Geminus- Ferdiad (“twin”)
Umbrosa- Scáthach (“shadowy”)
Margarita- Fand (“pearl”)
Parata- Emer (“ready/resolved”)
Praevalens- Conall Cearnach (“mighty”), Cúchulainn’s best friend after Ferdiad