Geoff (the_g_man) wrote in a_hill_of_beans,
Geoff
the_g_man
a_hill_of_beans

The Line of Confusion

Thousands of feet above the ocean he sipped mineral water and pondered what Titus, who had once been his student, had called the Riddle of Cain.

One could be many things: a lover, a father, a poet, a philosopher, a lover of art. He was a killer. There were only so many people one could kill before it came to define a man. He had killed so many that he no longer remembered what it was to stand on the other side of that threshold. He knew, abstractly and intellectually, that to the uninitiated the act of killing was a near impossibility. Life was something utterly sacred and immovably robust. They might wield a gun or sword but a psychic dread would stay their hand. He could not even imagine such superstitious taboo. Human life was as tenuous and fragile as a curl of smoke.

And yet there is an indiscernible waystone on the killer's road. And here he must choose. Either he stops short, goes no further and indeed turns back or else he does go on and cannot return. The soldier is overwhelmed with remorse and turns back. The butcher is undermined by his contempt for those he kills. He underestimates them. And that is fatal.

The true killer learns that life is sacred and that taking it is a sacred act. He loves the one he kills as a brother. He offers him up as a Eucharist. Just as the mother who brings a soul into the world does not do so lightly or without love, so must the killer bring a soul out of it. The first sacrifice of Cain was unacceptable because it was what he could spare. His second sacrifice was what he loved most and best in all the world. And by that second sacrifice he was made both sacred and taboo.

This was the Riddle of Cain.

He drained his little plastic glass of San Pellegrino and investigated the in-flight movies. He was a little surprised to discover that they were showing Takeshi Miike's Koroshiya Ichi.

* * *

The Arcanus Ordo Sacerdotum Hierosolymis1 had been founded by the qabbalist and sorcerer, Menachem ben Baruch, in 1852. The Grammary of the Meeting of Jackals had been in their keeping since 1881 when their master's disciple and lover, Arthur St. John, had treacherously run him through the heart with an enchanted sorghum2 rod. How old Menachem the Maledictor came upon this potent grimoire is a matter of both debate and speculation. Some history is perhaps in order...

The Sefer ha-Tziyim va-Ayim3 was revealed by the fallen angel, Araqiel4, in a series of twelve night visitations to the Hebrew slave, Meriset5, a magician in the service of Pharaoh Seti I, the father of the Pharaoh of the Shemot6. The secrets that were revealed to him caused Meriset to lapse into insanity and, according to folk legend, he ran naked into the desert and remained there for seven years, howling like a dibbuq. Once his faculties were restored he was able to bind demons to carry him across the desert and the sea to the land of Uta-Napishtim7, whence he returned with an almond-leaved plant which, by chewing it, banished the need for sleep and made a man immortal8.

Given the elaborate and well documented origins of the work, it is surprising that it has remained so obscure for so much of its history. A Persian translation was perhaps ordered - according to certain rabbinic traditions - by Darius II so that he could raise an army of desert demons to fight against the phalanxes of Macedonia. And, according to another tradition, the Galilean sorcerer, Yehoshua bar Miriam, studied the Sefer ha-Tziyim va-Ayim as a hermit in the shadow of Mount Carmel and so learned the power of casting out demons, of walking on water as if it was stone and of sleeping as if one was a corpse. An Arabic translation was made in 741 AH9 by Yahya the Apostate. Having been exiled from the city of Samarkand by his elder brother, he used the secrets of the blasphemous book to afflict the city with a plague for seven years. At the end of this time, the historian records, fewer than a twelfth of the original population remained alive. In the 1482nd year of the Christian calendar, Juan Barthez produced an imperfect Latin translation - the Liber Onocentauri10. Less than a year later he was burned at the stake by the Inquisitio Haereticæ Pravitatis Sanctum Officium. The definitive Hebrew edition was compiled just over a hundred years later in 5350 anno mundi11 by Rabbi Yeshayah Rubenstern of Ingolstadt, employing Roman and Byzantine era copies and the few extant fragments of the original papyrus. Rabbi Rubenstern, for the most part, recorded only the original unaccented script but, where he was confident of his studies, supplied the requisite neqqudot12.

The first and only English translation of the Sefer ha-Tziyim va-Ayim was made in 1722 AD by the occultist and astrologer, Comfort Blessing13. According to popular myth, Comfort was assisted in certain matters of translation by the President of the Royal Society at the time, one Isaac Newton. It was called the Gramarye of the Meeting of Jackals and the print-run ran to a round sixty copies, bound in soft bull's leather (pig-skin was deemed inappropriate for such an Israelite work). Of these, forty are known to have been totally destroyed and, including that of the Arcanus Ordo Sacerdotum Hierosolymis, only eight are known to be extant and complete.

The librarian of the Arcanus Ordo Sacerdotum Hierosolymis was over ninety years old. He had a fatal stroke when he had seen the catastrophic damage wreaked by the fire on the Ordo's priceless and irreplaceable collection of books. It fell to his deputy to sort through the ashes. The fire damage was terrible and rendered just about every tome unusable - for theirs was an art that hinged on the exact pronunciation of each syllable of the secret names of those spirits they invoked. Although the books were scorched beyond use, they were still all identifiable if one had a familiarity with such things and knew what one was about. And the librarian's apprentice most certainly did.

And the crown of the collection - the Grammary of the Meeting of Jackals - was not there. It had been removed from the library before the flames had ever been kindled.

* * *

"Do you ever get that feeling something really, really bad is about to 'appen, Rick?"

"Some days."

And Helen reflected that Rick's "days" were as an ambiguous a quantity of time as was allowed for in the interpretation of the first book of Moses - the Bereshit - according to some rabbis.

* * *

"As best we are able to determine, O Kohen Gadol, the assault we made on the Betrayer's sanctuary was intended by him all along. He intended to draw us out and for us to leave our own affairs unwatched. Our lack of vigilance and our eagerness to avenge the Fundator's treacherous slaughter were an opportunity he did not miss. He was able to break our wards and gain access to our library and steal a small number of our most precious grimoires and ignite a fire to destroy the rest. I shudder to say it, but the seventeen Fratres who were exalted to glory in Ha-Shem in the course of battle with the Betrayer's demon servitors not only were exalted in vain but were exalted in the service of the Betrayer's ends."

The high priest was impassive. It was not so much that he was expecting sugar for the pill, but that it was inconceivable that such ill news would be brought to him without a palliative. Not if the Frater bringing it were in any way wedded to the idea of continuing to draw breath into his lungs.

"O Kohen Gadol, we believe that, for the time being, the Betrayer is in a state of weakness. We have dispatched one after him who will kill him and return the stolen books."

"Frater, who is this one?"

"O Kohen Gadol, he is called 'the Waveman'."

"I have not heard of this demon."

"He is not a demon, O Kohen Gadol, but a man. But there is not his equal in one of the four worlds." And the new librarian thought, O Kohen Gadol, your ignorance is telling. It will not now long before the Aheret ha-Kohanim rests upon my brow.

* * *

The tires of the aeroplane's undercarriage struck the runway with a screech.

Helen awoke bolt upright from deep sleep with a whisper upon her lips: "Yoshio!"

Fuyukage had come to the City.


1 In the lingua anglorum, "The Secret Order of Jerusalem Priests".
2 Sorghum has a ritual significance in the sacred dramas of the Italian benandanti.
3 "The Book of the Tziyim and Ayim" a reference to Isaiah 34:14 - "The wild beasts of the desert shall also meet the wild beasts of the island..." (KJV) - suggesting a later provenance than the folklore surrounding the book suggests. Tziyim means roughly 'desert beasts' and Ayim, roughly, means 'howling beasts'.
4 According to the Book of Enoch, Araqiel taught mankind 'the signs of the earth'.
5 This is actually an Egyptian name, meaning "the beloved of Set".
6 The Book of Exodus. Seti's son was Ramesses II.
7 The Sumerian cognate of Noah, who was granted immortality and dwelled in a land across the western ocean, according to the Epic of Gilgamesh.
8 Perhaps erythroxylum coca?
9 1340 in the Christian Era.
10 Literally, "The Book of the Mule-Demon", but referring to the Vulgate translation of Ayim.
111590 in the Christian Era.
12 Hebrew vowel marks.
13 Intriguingly, the cognate in Hebrew is Menachem Baruch.

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