The Obedience of Brother Odhran (IV)

Belial, am I, and I lived inside the book. Lived, because I live there no longer. I have arrived at the very edge of the world. I am free. And I am hungry for souls.

In the Beginning was the Word – and shortly thereafter, me. Seraphim, was I, and fell from Grace and from Heaven with three others of my kind.  Lucifer fell into the air and dissipated into the clouds, where he now makes thunder, sends lightning; makes hailstorms and hurricanes. Satan fell onto the surface earth, and haunts it still. He wanders, repentant, whining, hour by hour and minute by minute tormented by the beauty of God’s creation. Leviathan fell into the sea. His vast bulk stirs the waters. He it is who eats ships and sailors; he who sends tides to wipe out the settlements of man; he the molten lava that boils on the ocean bed.

And I, Belial coiled my vast, serpentine length into the caverns and passageways beneath the earth, and from there insinuated myself into the sewers of every city. I it was who sent disease and poisoned the watercourses; I who consumed rats, dead dogs, sleeping tramps and cast-off infants – anything that fell to my realm – with equal relish.

BelialFor twelve of their months this child, this boy, has been striving to translate the book I created as my disguise, into the black letters and lines of which I inserted myself, and which I caused to be thrown from the city walls. I was tired of my cramped existence in the sewers. I wished to sample the pure, fresh air of the surface – to share it, maybe, with Satan. Or to destroy that pathetic, maudlin seraph and take his place. The Siege came and, unnoticed in a sea of chaos and evil, I seized my chance.

Translation of my book would free me, and since men are curious fools I had expected that to follow swiftly. I had reckoned without the stupidity of the mercenary Zanobi. I have been trapped in this book for longer than I care to contemplate.

The boy, Odhran… I felt almost sorry for him. It surprises you to hear that? Even a fallen seraph has it in him to pity a child of such promise, so badly used. At first he resisted the task he had been allotted by that dolt Zanobi – he was strong in his resistance to that Roman fool, and he would do nothing. Hour upon hour he sat, arms folded, staring ahead of him. He would do nothing. Nothing…

But, as hope for release or some kind of escape inevitably faded, boredom got the better of him. Boredom, his old enemy. He opened the book. He looked first of all – as he was won’t to look – at the dark shapes of these foreign letters, these unknown signs and symbols. He looked – as he was won’t to look – at the white spaces between the words. These shapes fascinated him, but he knew there was no escape for him unless he translated the book itself.

He had never been interested in languages. His mind was all form, and shape and texture. The boy was an artist and sadly wasted among these dull and sheep-faced monks. For many weeks he stared at the letters, wondering where to begin. How to make sense of a language you have never seen and in which you know the significance of no single letter, no single word. Then he began to search among the books. He had been in a monastery library and books, after all, were his only resource. I had made sure to place such clues as he might need where he might find them, and it did not take him long. An admirable boy. He would make the perfect vessel – for myself.

As the symbols began to unknot themselves he became more and more absorbed in his work, his mind more and more in tune with mine, though he did not know it. Brother Silas, the mutilated, brought him food and other necessities. I observed him, this Silas, through my pages, for my book lay always open on Odhran’s desk. Another wolf in sheep’s clothing, I mused. Interesting: soul-misfits are rare and yet here were two in one monastery. His soul and Odhran’s were of equal strength.

After a while the boy ceased to eat. All he saw were the letters of me – those black spaces standing out against the cream of the vellum. As he translated he became me, and the book faded into nothing as he absorbed it – and myself – into himself. When the monk Silas, on entering the library, now imagined he saw the manuscript on the desk, but it was a simulacrum. I was free. I was Odhran now, and awaited my time to strike. Such hunger. I was ravenous, such that I could hardly contain myself.

This made me careless. Silas entered one morning with bread and ale for the boy, who sat hunched and staring ahead. Something – maybe it was pity, for he had never done it before – inspired that mutilated monk to place a gentle hand on the boy’s shoulder as he placed the trencher before him, knowing he would not eat. My shoulder, now. His human concern – his kindness – burned me, and I screamed with pain. In that moment I fully understood the torments of Satan as he walked the beauteous Earth – ‘With what delight would I have walked thee round.’

‘With what delight… ‘ This was what I had lost. This was what my rebellion had excluded me from.

I snarled and snapped at his invading flesh, and in that moment he saw the boy Odhran for what he now was – an angel become a demon.

His face a mask of fear, Silas ran for the bell-tower.

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