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How Luther Laughed at the Devil

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No one noticed at first when the esteemed Professor in Mathematics started speaking in tongues; his proofs were quite difficult enough to follow in German, interspersed as they were with bits of Latin and Greek. Eventually, however, one of his sharper senior students had the discretion to point out that "Asmodai" was not a proper geometric term, and by this stage the unfortunate Herr Boehm had irretrievably ruined at least seven young men's formal educations. They would forever refer to the long edge of a right triangle as an "Adramelech," their eyes bleeding gently onto their sextants, and there was simply nothing to be done about it.

The divinity school was in an uproar, of course. The whole business of exorcism felt uncomfortably Catholic, and Wittenberg was Luther's bastion even though privately the professors still sneered at him a bit. Enthusiastic, they called him, anachronistically. "We just can't bring in a priest," said Doktor Kuester, with a note like a dirge in his voice. "We can't. We'll be the laughingstock of the Protestant world. The deacons will all laugh at us. We'll have to wear cloaks to hide our faces."

Prince Hamlet carefully restrained the urge to beat his head against the wall. The divinity school at Wittenberg had come highly recommended, in Denmark; he had since decided that this was because Denmark hadn't the first fucking idea what constituted a decent divinity school. "We could bring in Doktor Faustus," he offered. "He does work with demons, doesn't he?"

"Doktor Johann Faustus," explained Doktor Kuester patiently, "Is a loon of the first order."

"And a demonologist."

"Daemon," said Doktor Kuester, as though the prince were particularly stupid and not at all versed in Greek. "Logos. We are not interested in having a chat with the creature; we are interested in eradicating it."

Prince Hamlet privately decided that the divinity school was interested in nothing more significant than covering its rather emaciated arse, and thus he gave the good doctor a respectful bow. "I'm sure you're right," he said. "If you'll excuse me, I've just remembered that I have a thing. A Danish thing. Absolutely can't wait."

"Oh, no doubt. Danish things can never wait," agreed Doktor Kuester absently. "Toddle off, my boy. Be princely."

"That I will, sir."

Abandoning the doctor's rooms and the continued game of arse-protection therein, Hamlet nipped down the hall to Doktor Faustus's office.

* * *

The door of Doktor Faustus's office swung open at barely a touch. For a moment, Hamlet took stock of his surroundings. Standard collection of dusty books bound in suspicious leathers; standard stuffed crocodile hanging from the ceiling, its tail occasionally nudging a suspended astrolabe when a breeze caught it.

There was a large cauldron of greenish slop simmering gently on a little burner on Doktor Faustus's counter, which was itself surrounded with diced mandrake roots and pots of lamb's ears--the plant, and not the actual ovine organs. Closer inspection revealed dozens of lumps like very tiny eyeballs within the viscous green brew.

Still closer inspection revealed that those lumps were peas. "Ah," said Hamlet, rather stupidly. "Pea soup."

"Lunch," said Doktor Faustus, with a pleasant sort of smile. "How can I help you, Your Majesty?"

"It's Herr Boehm, in mathematics," he said. "Normally I wouldn't care whether he's gotten himself possessed, but Guildenstern is convinced he'll fail his logic exam, and Horatio starts crying blood whenever he mentions a hypotenuse, and the divinity school--"

"Oh, dear God beneath us, the divinity school," laughed Doktor Faustus. "Well, you've come to the right place, my boy! Let's see if we can't put things in order, eh?"

"Of course." Hamlet adopted a serious expression. "What ought I to do?"

"Have you figured out what the demon's name is? If we have his name, we can summon him, and it follows logically that if we summon him here then he will cease to be in Herr Boehm. That follows, yes?"

"It follows," Hamlet agreed. "And what will we do with him when we've summoned him here? How does one dispatch a devil?"

Doktor Faustus examined him for a long moment that (slowly, excruciatingly) became several long moments. Hamlet felt slightly as though he had a bit of parsley stuck in his teeth. "Dispatch!" said Faustus at last, in a wondering sort of voice. "Oh, my dear boy, we aren't about to dispatch the creature! We're going to enslave it! Why, think of all we could get done with a mathematically trained demon at our beck and call! Ooh, Valdes and Wagner will be positively green with envy--"

"Ah," said Hamlet. It felt decidedly less stupid this time. "Well. I think that's a capital plan. And we'll start just as soon as I finish a Danish thing that I have to go do immediately."

"Of course, of course," agreed Doktor Faustus. "You run off and finish your Danish thing; I'll start drawing the pentagram!"

* * *

"I really don't think it's right to leave him like that," said Horatio.

"Shut up."

"I mean," Horatio went on, as though he hadn't heard, "I don't think it's at all Christian to leave him like that, whatever Luther said about laughing at devils. And definitely not scholastically sound. And probably a bit perverse."

"Shut up!"

"Xezbeth, bat melech," said Herr Boehm, still struggling gamely on with his lesson. He held up an abacus and tipped three beads from one side to the other as though he wasn't inhabited by a member of the demonic host. "Nachash, bat melech--"

At the back of the room, Doktor Faustus and Doktor Kuester eyed one another suspiciously. The tension between them very nearly crackled; they looked ready to break out into a duel at any moment, their violence held in abeyance only by the rules of decorum. Doktor Faustus even appeared to have brought a wand, on the off chance that the rules of decorum might decide to bend a bit.

Hamlet turned back to Horatio and their shared abacus. "Trust me," he said in an undertone. "The alternatives are far, far worse."