Book I: The Devil's Son
In all this realm between heaven and hell is found both shadow and light, which wax and wane like the moon, going in and out like the tide. Ever and anon the devils scheme, and ever and anon grace brings new tidings, and men and women are found to serve both, until the judgment comes.
In ancient days there was fought a great siege of a mighty city that ruled the regions west of the Hittite Empire, which had long before been founded by Truwis and his son Wilus, great men whom the people there believed to be descended from the gods they worshipped. The Truwisans were defeated by the cunning of their foes; their city, splendid beyond imagination, was burned, and those of its people who were not slaughtered fled. Among these was a prince named Aineias, whose people settled in a land called Latium; there his son, Ascanius, founded the city of Alba Longa and married a local king's daughter, who soon was with child. As the people in that region of the world were much given to divination, Ascanius paid a diviner to read the lightning and thunder so that the future of the child might be known. The diviner consulted the storm and his books and concluded that the child would be a boy and would kill both his parents. In rage, Ascanius, thinking that the diviner was seeking to foment sedition, slew the diviner, but when the child was born, his mother died in childbirth. The child was named Brutus, and he grew strong and adventurous. But one day, seeking to refine his skills in archery, at which he excelled, the young man accidentally slew his father with an arrow and was banished from those lands.
Wandering far and valiantly, he gathered around him a band of fellows, also of Truwisan lineage. One night he fell asleep on the porch of a temple to Diana and had a dream of a fair island to the north and west. With his men, through many adventures, in Spain and Gaul and Brittany, he eventually came to the island and settled there. This island was known as Albion, and the followers of Brutus who settled there were known as Bruti, and they were founders of the British nation. Brutus divided the island among his three sons, Locrinus, Albanactus, and Camber, and his chief warrior, Corineus, whom he loved as a brother. To Corineus he gave the southwest, and it became known as Kernow. Locrinus received the south and east, which became known as Logres, and Albanactus the north, which became known as Alba, and Camber the west, which became known as Cambria. But Brutus himself settled on the river Tamesas in the southwest, and the region there was called Trinovant. These peoples prospered and grew many and fierce, for they fought among themselves but were protected from the wide world as if their island were a fortress on the sea.
But any fortress may be reached, and there came a time when a great power crossed the sea to the island and conquered the peoples there. These new people were also descended from Aineias, being themselves Latins from the land of Latin; and their chief city was Rome. Under Julius Caesar the Roman legions seized the island in a mighty grip. The strongest tribe in those days was the people of Trinovant, under the King Cassivelanus. Cassivelanus's father, Lud, had built a mighty fortress on the river Tamesas, known as Caer Lud, which the Romans called Londinium, and from this base they were able to cause great suffering to the Romans. Nonetheless, Cassivelanus was in a feud with his brother, Mandubracius Androgeus, and when the latter allied himself to the Romans, they defeated Cassivelanus. In thanks, Julius Caesar gave to Mandubracius the responsibility of collecting tribute from the tribes of Logres and Cambria. Caesar returned to Rome, and the Trinovantines grew less, but the tribes had discovered that relations with Rome made them wealthy, and they continued to give tribute in exchange for trade and self-governance, so that under Augustus the tribute received was very great.
Eventually the Romans returned to Britain, and the armies of Vespasian defeated the tribes that allied against them. The most powerful of the tribes in those days were the Cantiaci, and the region they ruled was known as Kent. They then set up over Kent a king, named Cogidubnus, who ruled the neighboring Regni tribe and had allied with them. But from those days the Romans themselves took an ever greater share of the rule of the island, eventually setting over it three military governors. The senior of these was known as Dux Britanniorum and his junior governors were known as Comes Britanniorum and Comes Littoris Saxonici per Britannia. The Romans grew weak, however, and eventually a general named Magnus Maximus took the Roman armies in Britain and invaded Rome itself. He became emperor, but the island of Britain was then little defended, and was in great disorder until God had mercy.
The times were very dark and shadowed. Tribe fought against tribe, and brother against brother. Foreign peoples raided the coasts of the land. The greatest scourge of all, however, was the Saxons, for there came a time when a usurping king of Kent, named Vortigern, invited a large band of Saxon mercenaries to settle in his kingdom in order to shore up his support.
As those days drew near, the prince of demons, seeing that the shadow was great upon all lands, and wishing to seize again the world which Christ had saved, took counsel with his demons and determined to bring about the kingdom of Antichrist.
There was in Brittany, in northern Gaul, in a region near to the forest of Broceliande, which is said to stand on the border of all worlds, a wealthy baron who owned many cattle and whose wife did traffic with the fiends. Upon a day the demons came to her and asked her how he might rule the soul of her husband.
"That is no great mystery," said the woman. "There is nothing on this earth for which he cares more than his wealth. Destroy his cattle and he will surely sin."
Then the devil caused a terrible sickness to fall upon the herds, and men marveled to see the cattle drop dead in the fields. The wealthy baron grew furious and took out his anger on one and all. Then the devil caused another illness to take the baron's horses, and, delighted in the wrath this caused, continued to work to destroy him. In the dark of the night, as everyone was sleeping, he strangled the baron's infant son, and the next day, as all the house was in anguish, he whispered in the ear of the baron's wife until she went out to the barn; she tied a cord around a beam and the other end around her neck and hanged herself. Then in great grief the wealthy baron grew ill, and in great anger he refused confession, unction, and viaticum, and he died and was delivered unto the lands of hell, leaving behind him three daughters.
But the devils, like the wicked, spare nothing that they are able to devour, and the fiend turned his thought to the destruction of the three young women. He knew of a young man in town, dissolute in ways and half of the devil's party already, and he whispered in the young man's ears until he came to one of the three sisters and spoke the enticing words that the devil put in his heart, seducing her. Then the devil whispered again in his ear, so that he boasted all over town of his deeds. But soon the matter came to the attention of the magistrates, for in those days in that land it was the law that a woman guilty of fornication should be put to death unless she was a prostitute for hire. Then the young man, fearing that he too would be put to death, fled in cowardice, and the young woman was brought before the bench and condemned to be put to death by being buried alive.
Then a hermit in the forest, a young man whose name was Blasius or Blaise, hearing of these things, came to the two sisters who remained. They told him all their tale and then one of the sisters said, "And thus, you see, good sir, that the gods hate us."
But Blaise replied, "There is but one God, and God hates no creature; such things can only be the malice of the devil." Then he advised them to keep themselves free from evil deeds, lest they give an opening to their devour, and to pray that they might be delivered. They did not understand him, and so he taught to them creed and catechism. The elder of the two sisters heard him well, and studied in the Christian way, and learned from him how to love and fear God. Then Blaise, having given much thought to the problem, said to her, "In these matters we are outmatched, but, regardless of the devil's doing, I will not leave you without such help and counsel as I can give."
Then the fiend, ill-pleased, whispered in the ear of a woman in the town, who then came to the younger sister and said, "Does your sister love you as she ought? For a woman such as you, who has seen such hard things, surely deserves more joy than is shown in your face."
And the younger sister said nothing, but on a later day the woman asked her again the same question, and she sighed.
"Alas," she said, "my sister and I used to be quite close, but ever since the death of our father she has given all her time to the holy man, Blaise."
"Ah," said the woman, with the devil in her ear, "I know well what this is about, for a woman who has a man has great joy, and a woman without one has none. One as fair in body and face as you could have any man she pleased."
"How can you speak this way," said the young woman, marveling, "seeing that my sister was killed for such things?"
"But your sister had neither counsel nor friend," said the other woman, "and that is all. Listen to me, and you will have delight without penalty. But mark my words: a woman is made for no other end than to have the fellowship and comfort of a man."
And they spoke no more of these matters that day, but the sister thought of them. After a week she asked the other woman about it again.
"The error your sister made was in taking comfort in only one man," said the woman, "for one man may always leave you. But who does not select one, may have many, and comfort and protection at all times, and wealth in great store; and under the law of this land, one who has many men cannot be put to death." With this and other such things, the townswoman persuaded her, and she began to work for the townswoman by giving herself to many men.
All of this was done in secret, and the eldest sister did not yet know anything of it, but such things cannot be kept secret. The rumors eventually reached her ears, and, confronting her sister, learned that it was true. Then she was greatly grieved and told the tale to Blaise, who was astonished, and said, "The devil is busy about you; may God keep you!"
"May he indeed," said the eldest sister, "but how may I protect myself from so great an adversary?"
The Blaise said, "Pray often during the day. As for the night, we are told that the devil hates light, so look always to have a light when you sleep."
And for two years after, she followed Blaise's advice, and the devil did not approach. But he had not ceased to work for her torment, and he whispered in the ear of her sister, until one day the younger sister came to her and they argued, and the younger sister beat her older sister with her hands in wrath. Afterward, the elder sister fell weeping onto her bed with great anger in her heart, and she did not pray and she did not set a light. Then the devil raped her in the night and by devilish art made her to conceive, although she had been a virgin. And the child in her womb was conceived by the devil with the destiny to be the Antichrist.
And the young women on waking, and realize in horror and distress that she had been raped, prayed to the holy Virgin for aid, looked for the man who had done it. Every door in the house, every window in the house, was locked, and no one could have entered anywhere. Then she went at once to Blaise her confessor, who said, "What is the trouble? For you seem greatly afraid." And she told him all her story and asked for penance.
Blaise listened to her, but could not give credence to what she said, for it was something of which he had never heard, and he said, "How can I give absolution if you will not confess honestly?" But she swore the she spoke of truth, and Blaise, baffled, took thought about what to do. Then finally he said, "Whatever may be the case, the only sin on your part which you have told me is that you let anger master you so as to give the devil entrance, for which your penance for that shall be to avoid meat on Saturdays. I understand nothing of this, but my promise holds; whatsoever the devil may do, I will not fail to give you such help and counsel as I can."
Then she accepted her penance, and he blessed her with holy water, and she went home. But from that time Blaise began to have dreams of death and destruction.
It soon became clear to the people of the town that she was with child, and they asked her who the father was. When she did not know, for she had never known a man, they took her for a fool. Then she went to Blaise again and told him of what had happened, and she was so earnest that he marveled. Then he asked her again to tell her whole story, and he wrote it down, including the day and hour at which everything had occurred, and said, "When the child is born we shall know better the truth of these things. But we must beware, for the law of this land is harsh and unyielding. If you are taken captive by the magistrates, send for me and I will give what help I can."
And in a few weeks, as Blaise had said, the judges brought her before the court to answer. Then Blaise came before the court and argued that she should not be judged at all until the child was delivered. This they agreed, but wished her to be held in a strong tower until that time.
"Then let her have two strong women as companions, to help with the delivery, and that she not be worried with anything until she is strong enough again to go about on her own."
So they took her to the tower. But the town was currently receiving refugees fleeing from wars, and among them was a man not right in the head, and they passed him sitting on the side of the road. When he saw her, he gave a great shout, saying, "Do none of you see? She bears the desolation of all things. She bears the Antichrist." And Blaise would ponder this often in the days to come.
Before the young woman was locked in the tower, he said to her, "Do not be afraid, but trust to God. When the child is born, send for me immediately for baptism."
She then lived in the tower until she delivered a son, and Blaise came. And when he entered the room, the infant, not even a day old, spoke, saying, "And are you not the hermit Blaise who will set down in letters the feats that I will do in raising a great kingdom?" Both Blaise and the mother were greatly afraid, and it came to Blaise's thought that if this child was the Antichrist, many would be saved if the child were drowned.
Then Blaise took the child, carrying him down to the river nearby. There he baptized him in the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Ghost, and then prayed, "Lord God, if this child is indeed given a destiny by the devil, I ask that he will by your grace instead undo the devil's work."
And the infant said, "The destiny you ask for me is a lonely prison." But Blaise shushed him and carried him back to the mother, who named the boy Merlin.
The young woman sought to stay in the tower as long as she could, but in ten months it was clear that her time for judgment drew near. Then she took her child in her arms and wept, saying, "Fair son, alas, our time will soon be over, and I will be put to death for your sake. I do not deserve it, but I have no defense, because only God knows the truth."
Then the child, who had not spoken since his baptism, looked long at her and said, "Mother, you will not die because of me." And she was so startled by his speech that she dropped him and he cried. Then the women attending her came running, and when they heard her story, they tried to get the child to speak, but he continued to cry.
She said to them, "Tell him that I will be burned because of my sins."
And when they did, the child stopped crying and said, "You are lying, and you should repent, for you have more sins than my mother, for you are gossips and rumormongers." Then the women went out and told the story everywhere. The mother of Merlin was summoned before the magistrates, and she asked for Blaise, who came. She came weeping, but the child Merlin was merry and laughing as he came to court. Many people also came, out of curiosity.
"Hush, child," said the women, "for your mother will be put to death for you."
"No one in all the kingdoms of all the world can harm her," he said.
The magistrates then asked the child many questions in private, but he gave no answer, merely laughing at them. And the mother, wearing a smock and a mantle, took the young child in her arms and stood in the court awaiting the word of the judges. They questioned her again and refused to believe her, for no woman can have a child without the fellowship of a man, and they passed the sentence of death and began to debate the means.
But at this, Merlin leaped from his mother's arms, and angrily said to the judges, "Her death is not deserved, for she has done nothing wrong, and if you were to put to death even those in this courtroom who are guilty of adultery and fornication, there would be no end of killings. Ask the hermit Blaise if my mother is innocent."
Then Blaise, astonished, told the whole story as he knew it. Then Merlin said, "You have written the very day and hour of all these things happening; bring it forth." Then Blaise brought his writing forth into evidence. Nonetheless, the judges were reluctant to set her free, for it seemed to strange to them.
Then Merlin in anger said to the chief judge, "I know who my father is better than you know who your father is, and your mother knows better the one who is your father than my mother knows the one who is mine." Then, when the judge called him an insolent child, Merlin continued, "By your laws, your mother deserves death more than my mother, for you were the bastard child of a man with whom your mother committed adultery." And the judge grew very wrathful, and demanded that both mother and child be burned, and the other judges did not say nay.
"You shall accomplish nothing," said Merlin, "for you have no power."
Then Merlin and his mother were set in prison for five days. When they were brought before the judges again, this time for false accusation, the chief judge mocked him, saying, "It seems we do have power over her. Now you must apologize for dishonoring a good woman."
"You are not so wise as you think," said the child. "By law, those accused of false accusation may be allowed a test to prove that it was not false. Bring your mother forth and go with her into the final chamber, and I will take counsel with my mother along with God and the hermit." Then, before the judge could speak, he turned to the crowd gathered, and said, "If I deliver my mother from this judge, will you seek any further harm against her?"
Then the crowd, astonished, shouted, "Nay!" And the judges, taken at surprise, had no choice but to allow the test.
Then in a private chamber, the judge asked his own mother who his father might be, and she replied, "Who else could be your father than the one I have said, my husband, who died so long ago?"
Then Merlin said to her, "You shall tell the truth, and not these lies, for I know that his father is still alive."
And she was abashed, and replied with anger, "Who, then, could it be?"
Then Merlin said, "No sooner had the one who begat this judge lain with you than you, teasing him, said that you were perhaps with child. Then he said you should never give birth to his child, for he feared that you were trying to pass off another man's child as his own, and he set down in writing the day and time for future reference. Is this not true? But if you will not acknowledge it, I have many worse things to say." But she would not acknowledge it, so he continued. "At the time that these things happened, you were estranged from your husband, and so to hide the fact of your adultery, you made peace with him. But you continued to lay with the other man, and you were with him just this past night, and he brough you part of the way here."
Then the woman was visibly distraught. Then the judge, seeing this, said, "Mother, whoever my father may be, I am your son, and I will act as your son; only tell me whether what this devil-boy says is true." Then she, weeping, acknowledged it.
Then the judge turned to Merlin and asked who his father was.
"My father is a prince of the powers of the air," said Merlin, "as you yourself have thought, and because of this I know your mother's works, because I can know anything done, anything said, anything that has passed. But the good Lord had wish to save me from my mother's true penance and the absolution of this priest by the authority of the Church, and because of this I know things that are to come. And that you may know this, I tell you that the man with whom your mother has lain will, on hearing this, flee for his life, and the devil, whom he has always served, will lead him to water to be drowned."
Then they came forth from the chamber, and the judge told the people that the child had saved the mother by good argument. Then all things happened afterward as Merlin had said, and the judge marveled.
And Blaise wondered at all this, and asked Merlin many questions, until the boy laughed and said, "You may ask and I will answer, but at least believe what I say; for I shall teach you the love of Christ and life everlasting, by stories that you shall remember."
"It seems clear that you are indeed the devil's son," said Blaise, "and thus I worry that you are a deceiver."
"By providence, good and evil are mixed in this world," said Merlin, "light intermingled with shadow, and I am the devil's son, but I am christened. And the devil purposed that Antichrist should come; but God has set me as a wall to prevent it, for as long as I shall live. By nature I know the designs of the devil; therefore by grace I may prevent them. Grace I do indeed have, for my mother is a good woman and sacraments I shall have from you. But you must do something for me."
Then Blaise said, "If it is worthy, I will do it."
Merlin replied, "You must then write all that I shall tell you in a book. I shall tell you such things as none others know, and those who read shall learn the ways of God."
"I will gladly write it," said Blaise. "But I adjure you in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, that you never at any point deceive me, or require of me anything against the laws of God."
"This I promise," said Merlin. "And let us begin it, for this shall be important."
Then Blaise gathered his writing materials, and Merlin began. "In the days of Augustus, Jesus Christ was born to the holy Virgin Mary for to the east in the holy country of Judea, which was ruled by Herod as a client of the Romans. Recognizing that his time drew near, he gathered with his disciples in an upper room for Passover meal. Taking the bread, he blessed and broke it, saying, 'This is my body, given to you; do this in memory of me.' Then, taking the cup after the meal, he said, 'This cup is the new covenant in my blood; do this, as often as you drink of it, in memory of me.' Betrayed by Judas Iscariot into the hands of his enemies, he was crucified under Pontius Pilate and was buried in a tomb provided by a rabbi, named Joseph of Arimathea. Christ rose from the dead, and after his resurrection appeared in a great flash of light to Joseph as he was praying on the sabbath. And Joseph fell to the ground, trembling, but was lifted up.
"'Are you the rabbi Elijah?' he asked.
"But Christ said to him, 'I am not Elijah.' And when Joseph asked him who he then was, Christ replied, 'I am Jesus, whose body you asked of Pilate, whose body you wrapped in clean linen, whose body who laid in your own tomb. Peace to you! I give to you a gift in thanks of your kindness.'
"Then Christ gave to Joseph of Arimathea the cup he had blessed at the supper before his betrayal. He became devout follower of Jesus, and was imprisoned; but the cup of Christ sustained him throughout his imprisonment. Eventually, approaching the end of his life, Joseph gave the cup to his son, also named Joseph, and this Joseph became a companion of St. Aristobulus, who on one of his journeys came to the island of Britain, to a region known as Avalon, and there founded a monastery and a shrine for the cup, which became known as the Holy Grail. But the regions all around were heathen, and therefore it was kept in secret from generation to generation."
And he spoke of many more marvels, both things that were and things that were yet to come. Then Merlin said, "This book shall be long in the making, for I have many more things that I must tell you. Men shall seek me out to slay me, but shall not, and you shall go to Avalon, where hides the Holy Grail. And there you shall continue to write the things that I shall bring you."
to be continued