Ireland, AD 671. On the eve of the pagan feast of Samhain, Brother Edulf and the warrior, Aidan, discover a man murdered in an unlit pyre in the heart of Cashel. He has been dressed in the robes of a religieux and killed by the ritualistic 'three deaths'.
When a strange woman known as Brancheó appears in a raven-feather cloak foretelling of ancient gods returning to exact revenge upon the mortal world, she is quickly branded a suspect. But in their search for the killer, Sister Fidelma and Eadulf will soon discover a darker shadow looming over the fortress. For their investigation is linked to a book stolen from the Papal Secret Archives which could destroy the New Faith in the Five Kingdoms...and Fidelma herself will come up against mortal danger before the case is unravelled
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There were some who said that old Pothinus Maturis had been one of the officials of the Lateran Palace since the Emperor Constantine had given it in perpetuity to the Bishop of Rome. That was obviously not so, because the Emperor's allegiance to the New Faith and his declaration that it become the Faith of the empire was three centuries earlier to the very day that Pothinus Maturis entered service in the Lateran Palace. It had taken him twenty-five years to attain the position of Praecipuus of the Archivum Secretum of the Sacrosancta Laternensis ecclesia omnium urbis et orbis ecclesiarum mater et caput ... the palace of the Holy Father of the Universal Church of Christ.
Praecipuus Pothinus was now an elderly man. He was almost a recluse in the palace for he spoke to none and had made no friends in all the years that he had worked among the archives. He was a sober, reflective man, keeping his own counsel and guarding the archives as if they were the very Gates of Heaven.
Only the most senior officials of the papal palace were allowed into the archive, which had been constructed behind the old Basilica. Constantine himself had ordered its construction when he had the stables of the imperial horse-guard barracks demolished after the guards had not shown sufficient loyalty to their Emperor. The archives remained secure, set apart from the rest of the ecclesiastical buildings. The documents contained in the Archivum Secretum justified their place there by virtue of their controversial nature. Most had been declared heretical to the accepted theology after such ideas were overturned by one council or another. Many were gospels that were at odds with those texts chosen to constitute the main fabric of the Faith. Damasus I, as Holy Father, had ordered Eusebius Hieronymus Sophronius to translate and compile the chosen texts into a Latin standard which would be the Biblos, the sacred foundation for the faithful.
Praecipuus Pothinus was proud of his unique position of trust as keeper of the abandoned contentious works which had been rejected as divisive tools which might further split the factions of Christendom. It was because of this, on one particular day, that an astounding thing happened in the Lateran Palace. Those who knew Praecipuus Pothinus by sight could not believe the evidence of their own eyes. The elderly man was witnessed almost running through the corridors of the palace towards the office of the Nomenclator, the chief secretary to His Holiness. The awkward slap of his sandals on the shiny marble floortiles resounded along the corridors and made people stop to stare in awe and concern.
He finally reached his destination – a forbidding oak door. Apparently forgetting all sense of protocol, he did not pause to knock but grasped the brass handle and burst into the room beyond. Only then did he halt before the man seated at the desk in front of him. Praecipuus Pothinus' shoulders were heaving at the exertion of running; his breath coming in short staccato rasps.
The man at the desk glanced up, startled at the arrival. Even seated, it was obvious that he was tall, with tufts of black hair emerging from under his skullcap. His swarthy skin spoke of one who spent time in the sun of Rome and not just in the darkened interiors of the ecclesiastic buildings. His prominent, aquiline nose would have graced any Roman patrician, especially with the addition of a mouth twisted into a permanent sneer, the thin lips darkened as if artificially coloured. The hooded eyes seemed to carry no place for compassion. Even if the features did not declare his position of authority, the jewels set into the ornate silver cross that hung round his neck, the scarlet tunica of office, the udones, white stockings, and campagi, black slippers, protruding from under the desk, all proclaimed it.
It took a few seconds for him to recover from his surprise and for Praecipuus Pothinus to regain sufficient breath.
'Gone, Venerable Gelasius!' Pothinus gasped. 'It's gone!'
The Nomenclator sat back and regarded the other man coldly.
'Gather yourself, Pothinus. Gather yourself and then tell me carefully and explicitly ... what has gone that you bring yourself unannounced before me in such an unseemly fashion?'
Praecipuus Pothinus sucked in a few more breaths until he was confident that he could express himself clearly.
'The Sefer Ya'akov,' he finally managed. 'It has gone from the archive.'
The Venerable Gelasius frowned. 'I am no scholar of the Hebrews, Pothinus. What has gone missing?'
'The Biblos Iakobos.' The man translated to the Greek before adding, 'It has gone and —'
The Venerable Gelasius held up a thin, almost delicate hand and glanced around him as if seeking any potential eavesdroppers. 'We would not want any heretical expression to be overheard by the wrong ears.'
Pothinus waved a hand as if it was of no consequence.
'The point is that during the night, someone forced an entrance to the archive, got in and stole it. When I came to the archive this morning, I could see an open window and knew that it had been closed when I left. So I began to check the manuscripts and the archives. It did not take me long to see that the section of works in Hebrew and Aramaic had been tampered with. I immediately checked each one against my index and found that the Biblos Iakobos was missing. Of all the books in the archive, that one is the most dangerous to the Faith. What shall we do?' He began to wring his hands.
'What shall we do, Praecipuus Pothinus?' the Venerable Gelasius asked icily. 'For the factions of heretics who deny the divine birth, that book would be of tremendous support in advancing their cause. It is already hard to suppress all the works that refer to Iakobos as the brother of ...' He halted and shrugged. 'If I recall correctly, this work was purportedly written by Iakobos, or Iacomus as we call him, before he met his death at the hands of the Sanhedrin. The Nazarenes, whom Iacomus led, are still in existence, claiming they are merely part of the Jewish Faith and that Jesus was just a Rabbi.'
'But what are we to do?' Praecipuus Pothinus' voice was almost a wail.
'You have not spoken of this to anyone?' the Nomenclator demanded.
'Not to report the loss of the book. I did question one of the custodes, Licinius.' The custodes were the military guards of the Lateran Palace. 'He was on duty last night outside the archives. I simply asked him if he knew whether there had been any suspicious or untoward activity around the building during the night.'
'Are you sure you did not tell him about the loss of the book?' Venerable Gelasius insisted.
'I did not. However, the custodes told me that he had encountered two pilgrims, the worse for our good Italian wine, outside the building. He remonstrated with them on their indecorous behaviour and they eventually left for their hostel.'
'You speak as though they were foreigners.'
'They were. Licinius said they were barbarians. He identified them as coming from that western island that gives the Holy Father such problems with the date of the Paschal ceremony, with rites and ritual and even the way religious should dress. They refuse to accept the changes to these matters that the councils of Rome have declared as the more accurate and appropriate. You know – those strange, wild people who prefer their own interpretations of the Faith to the wisdom that Rome can offer them.'
'You mean the Five Kingdoms of Éire?' The Venerable Gelasius almost smiled in recollection. 'I learned much about that country from a woman who was a lawyer of that peculiar race.'
Praecipuus Pothinus looked shocked. 'A woman? A lawyer?'
'She had a good deductive mind,' admitted the Nomenclator thoughtfully.
'Well, if those barbarians were involved in the theft then they have already fled Rome,' declared the Praecipuus.
'How do you know that?' the Venerable Gelasius asked sharply.
'Custodes Licinius told me that he had asked these barbarians where they were staying. Their leader told Licinius that they had been celebrating their last night in Rome before beginning the journey back to their godforsaken island.'
Venerable Gelasius shook his head reprovingly at him. 'No island on this earth is godforsaken, Pothinus. Did this custodes obtain the names of these barbarians?'
'He tried, but they had strange, foreign names which he did not understand so took no note of. They merely admitted that they were from this western island and the custodes observed that they were not as abstemious as are most pilgrims to our city.'
'So you believe that they have probably already left Rome?'
'I would say so. What makes me suspicious is that the custodes observed that the leader carried a book satchel. It is an odd thing to carry when one is out celebrating.'
Venerable Gelasius frowned thoughtfully for a few moments, drumming his fingers on his desk top.
'Tell no one of this loss until I give you leave. We must not admit it publicly, especially not about so dangerous a document. The contents and the name of its author could destroy all that we have built over the years and call Christendom.'
'What shall I do then?' the Praecipuus asked weakly.
'Forget the entire matter. You may leave it to me to deal with. The loss of the book and this conversation never happened. If you have indexed the book, expunge it. It does not exist. It has never existed.'
The Venerable Gelasius sat for a while in silence after Praecipuus Pothinus had left. It was only a dry cough from the doorway of the adjoining chamber that made him swing around in his chair.
A tall young man, handsome and with a permanent expression of amusement on his features, stood almost lounging in the doorway.
'You heard all that?' asked the Nomenclator.
'Well, Brother Lucidus, it seems your warning that there might be an attempt on certain manuscripts in our archives was correct, although I did not suspect that it would happen so soon. But it is logical, I suppose. If ever a manuscript could do harm to the theological decisions of the councils over the last centuries, it is that one. It seems that the custodes have identified your countrymen as the suspects. Do you know who these men are?'
'That I do not. I only heard a rumour yesterday that a plan was afoot to remove a Nazarene item from the archives, which is why I have come to see you this morning. The trouble is that the streets of Rome are thronging with pilgrims from the western islands.'
'We must find these thieves!'
The young man chuckled sourly. 'You and your poor Praecipuus cannot even admit that the book existed, let alone that it has been stolen. All your guard saw was two of my countrymen being a little drunk and raucous outside the library building.'
'We must find out who they are and whether they have taken the book,' pressed the Nomenclator.
'Pothinus was astute in observing that it is not often that a pilgrim, celebrating in the fashion that the custodes reported, would be carrying a tiag luibhair, a book satchel, as we call them. I think it is safe to say that they were responsible – and that the missing book was in the satchel.'
'From what Pothinus says, they could now be on their way to one of our seaports to start their journey back to your homeland. We must retrieve that book, because in the wrong hands it could fuel a movement that might overturn the Faith throughout the whole of Christendom.'
'You have said so before – and I know it. Unfortunately, it will be hard to track them down among the teeming hordes of pilgrims who come and go from this city, even though we know the land whence they came.'
The Venerable Gelasius began drumming his fingers on his desk again. 'Already, your island is of great concern to Rome; our advocates make slow progress against the differences of Faith that stand between us. We may have won the debates at the councils in Streonshalh and in Autun, but we have not yet won the hearts and minds of your people. Most of them stick rigidly to their insular traditions – except for the abbot of a place called Ard Macha. He has declared that he will accept the authority of Rome, but only if we recognise him as the Chief Bishop of the entire island.'
Brother Lucidus grimaced. 'There are many difficulties with that claim – namely, that there are numerous other claimants. The Abbot of Imleach, for instance, who is declared Chief Bishop in the south of the island, has similar claim – and half the island supports it. There are several others. The Blessed Fiacc's Abbey of Sléibhte, for example, claims to be the oldest abbey in the island. Several other abbeys have put forward good arguments for their claims to be the primacy of the Faith in my country.'
'Well, that is not my concern at this moment. The task of trying to bring the various churches in your island under the control of Rome is one that can wait. The fact is, this ancient text could do that cause irreparable damage. It must be recovered.'
Brother Lucidus smiled thinly. 'So you continually point out. However, I shall have to be the one to retrieve it for you.'
'How do you intend to accomplish it?'
'I shall track down these two Irish pilgrims and identify them. If they have already left for the Five Kingdoms with the book, I shall follow and get it back – or I shall destroy it.'
'You sound very confident,' the Venerable Gelasius observed, 'but can you accomplish that much? First you will have to discover who the thieves are. What if you cannot do so? And how will you find the ancient text? Surely, there are many hiding places in your island.'
'If the thieves are taking the book back to my country for the purpose of spreading the heresy it contains, then there are only a few places to which it could be taken. I have a very good friend, a great scholar, Brother Sionnach of the Abbey of Corcach Mór. His knowledge and contacts cover the Five Kingdoms. The island is not so big that I shall be unable to track it down. Indeed, the news of the acquisition of such a book to one or other abbey will be signalled throughout the island like a blazing beacon. The fraternity of scholars will hear of it almost immediately.'
'Do you know of Fidelma of Cashel?' the Nomenclator suddenly asked. 'She was the woman lawyer of your country that I mentioned to Praecipuus Pothinus a moment ago.'
The young man drawled, 'Who, in the Five Kingdoms, has not heard of Fidelma of Cashel or of her companion, the Saxon Brother Eadulf? I have certainly heard of her but never met her.'
'She might be of some help to you in your mission to recover the book. I will send her a message by one of the monks departing for that kingdom tomorrow, as I don't wish to delay you now. I will say nothing of your task, apart from the fact that a book has been stolen and that you are authorised by me to retrieve it. Should you need her assistance, I shall tell her that you will identify yourself as Lucidus and give my name as your authority.'
'I will contact her only if necessary,' replied Brother Lucidus confidently. 'And I shall not be using the name Lucidus after I reach the Five Kingdoms. I will use my native name while I am there. But, if I need the help of Fidelma or anyone else, I will use Lucidus and its meaning as a password. I am sure, however, that I can accomplish this mission without involving her.'
'Then the sooner you depart, the sooner this may be accomplished, Brother Lucidus. May God go with you.'
The young man inclined his head towards the Nomenclator and said with a cynical smile, 'Amen to that, Venerable Gelasius. But this is a task, I believe, that I can accomplish alone, without even His help – or that of Fidelma of Cashel.'(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Night of the Lightbringer"
Copyright © 2018 Peter Tremayne.
Excerpted by permission of Severn House Publishers Limited.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Thank you, Peter Tremayne, for your excellent tale of intrigue. Definitely a mystery, with a complex enough story to entertain even the most accomplished detectives among your readers.
The latest Irish mystery with Fidelma of Cashel! Peter Tremayne, aka Peter Berresford Ellis, is a mystery writer and a historian. His tales of Fidelma of Cashel, formerly Sister Fidelma of Kildare, are both delightful mysteries and insights into the church history of Ireland. The stories date back to the 600’s when a battle was being fought between the Irish Church and the Roman Church. Tremayne presents the story of that battle. Tremayne states that the “New Religion” had come to the British Isles by the word of famous religious men such as Saint Patrick and Saint Columba. The churches they founded were later in disagreement with Rome over such doctrines as celibacy, the Virgin Mary, the dating of Easter, the church’s place with regard to the law, and even the tonsure favored by the brothers. Where the Roman Church pushed celibacy, the Irish Church had joint houses where married couples raised their children in the faith. The Irish Church recognized the law of the land, but the Roman Church felt that the bishops, abbots, etc should rule in cases of criminal conduct. They push things like self-flogging, hair shirts, and other things to mortify the flesh. They held that the death penalty was justified, and carried out by church leaders. The Irish Church fought these changes, often against abbeys and church leaders in their own locals. The Irish Church was eventually annexed by Roman Churches and married clergy outlawed and all religious houses separating men and women. These stories take place within that battle. In the many churches and kingdoms of Ireland, murders seem to be not that uncommon. Fidelma is assisted by Brother Eadulf, a Saxon who met her during a church doctrine meeting, later her husband. In his home country, Eadulf had been what could be termed a law officer, and he has the same detective senses that Fidelma possesses. While she is his superior in deduction, he often displays insight that helps to solve the crime. Fidelma is a dàlaigh, or lawyer of the Irish court. She ranks one level below the top and can serve as both lawyer and judge if necessary. She is also a princess, sister to King Colgù of Cashel, and by the time of this book has forsaken the religious life. Nevertheless, she is consulted when a man in a religious robe is discovered dead in the unlit Samhain bonfire. Another person has been asked to check with Fidelma on the theft of a book from the forbidden library in the Vatican. And with Fidelma, two mysteries often become one… I give the book five stars, for both the mystery and the historical information! Please do not stop writing, Mr. Tremayne! Quoth the Raven…