"You must underftand, good sir, it is only out of Loyaltie to ye memorie of my poor Brother that I held my Silence so longge…"
"You needn't stand on such ceremony, please," sighed the dealer. He wouldn't have borne the conversation even so long as he had, were it not for the fact that the man had come to sell books, not to attempt to buy them.
"Thank you, sir," said Mr. Pulsifer, merchant first and Puritan second.
"And as for your brother," said Mr. A. Ziraphale, doffing his hat in an apparent gesture of respect, but really primarily because it itched, "I understand he died a, er, martyr to his faith."
"My brother was a man of…singular convictions."
"Oh, I think he achieved more than one, didn't he?" Aziraphale had never been quite so grateful for the Witchfinder Army's questionable bookkeeping. After all, Witchfinder General Hopkins's unfortunately dramatic demise had caused quite a flurry to make certain his records were safely lost to history.
Aziraphale had long suspected the whole lot of them made up for in madness what they lacked in honesty. Since he'd had the foresight to keep his dealings with them strictly off the books, it had to be merely his reputation as a fair dealer in the rare-book trade that had brought this supercilious relation to his door. It could be a fortunate coincidence, if he believed in coincidence, which he didn't. And fortune, well, that was better left to a certain fondly tolerated nemesis who had recently seemed to have won himself a title (now that it was fashionable to have them again) in some game of chance that didn't have much chance involved when one of, ahem, Lord Crowley's ilk was playing.
It wasn't fair that Aziraphale had to play fair and Crowley didn't. Neither of them had been terribly clear on which side they were supposed to inspire or thwart in the latest conflict, but Aziraphale still hadn't managed to completely lose his instinct to suspect the demon's involvement whenever heads were lost, metaphorically or literally.
"I do hope you're able to reach a decision soon," said Pulsifer. "Circumstances dictate I must sell everything within a fortnight."
"Headed to the Colonies, are you?" Aziraphale said. He knew the type.
"Yes, as Providence has guided me."
Aziraphale was pretty sure it wasn't so much Providence as more earthly English law enforcement, but it wouldn't be polite to mention it. "Well, it would certainly be helpful if I could view the collection."
"You have my catalog."
"Yes, but I must assess condition. Surely you understand." Ah yes, there it was. The eyedart. Perhaps the late Pulsifer brother had not been known for his scrupulous caretaking. After all, his extensive collection of daemonological texts, some decidedly unorthodox and some decidedly contraband, had been working tools for him, not museum pieces. Aziraphale suspected that a man so unhealthily enamoured of fire couldn't possibly have much patience for proper climate control.
"I understand that does have bearing on value. If you would like to schedule an appointment…it should be soon. There are other interested parties, of course."
"Mr. Ashmole, for one."
Aziraphale felt his eyes involuntarily narrow. Pulsifer smiled.
The letter that had arrived addressed to 'His Lordship A. Crowlly' was one the demon had first thought to be misdirected—a list of rare books for sale?--until he looked in depth at the scope and themes of the items offered.
The long list, smeared and more-than-usually eccentrically spelled, was mesmerizing, like the collection of an Inquisitor with a side interest in what, in another age and on another continent, might be called "Tijuana Bibles." Come to think of it, considering the fashion in Continental occult studies, there was really little difference, except in vividness of imagination. It had been a good year for the ergot.
When Crowley looked at the signature scrawl – "He-Continued-Prospering-Until-He-Became-Very-Prosperous Pulsifer"—he instantly recognized the tiny, unconvinced handwriting wiggle of one who had decided at some point in his life that what he'd been called previously just wasn't him.
Perhaps it was pity for the man having lost his brother in the service of…well, of something, though probably not what he had thought. Arguably, in the service of Crowley, for one. Best to make sure he concealed his great admiration for the equally late Goodwife Nutter, who'd demonstrated that the best kind of gunpowder plot was the kind that was really a secret (and nothing that two people knew about counted as such, in Crowley's estimation). Witchcraft was nothing compared to a good poker face and a way with explosives. Regardless, Crowley had agreed to meet with him.
The first thing he demanded to know was who else had expressed interest in the collection. He knew of one name already. Pulsifer was coy, but not coy enough.
"Oh, blaste yt and buggre," Agnes muttered, doodling helplessly across her page. Where she was in time was all very interesting, but it was not helping her finish the book.
THAT WAS CLEVER. I MUST ADMIRE IT, EVEN IF IT MADE MORE WORK FOR ME ON A NIGHT I'D RATHER HOPED TO STAY IN.
"How odd," said Agnes. "Why is my spelling so strange?"
YOU MAY BE DEAD BUT YOU'RE STILL A WITCH. I'D IMAGINE YOU KNOW MORE ABOUT SPELLING THAN I DO.
"Not that kind of spelling, you crusty old bones."
"Is this…why are we in the same place, devil's handmaid?"
"Because we're dead, Witchfinder. That's what this place is. It's just…dead. You thought you'd go to Heaven and I to Hell, didn't you?"
IT SEEMS TO ME THAT YOU ARE A LOT EASIER TO SURPRISE THAN SHE IS.
"There's something I wanted to show him, and this was the only way."
That was not a useful part of the future for her to be seeing now, when she was trying to write a message to one much further away. Unfortunately, part of her mind had other wool to gather.
Thou-Shalt-Not-Commit-Adultery Pulsifer had the kind of face that ought to belong to someone who spent his life poring over a previous century's customs records. One could hardly blame him for rebelling against the tyranny of physiology; one could only be amazed at his decision to devote it instead to an unfathomable obsession with nipples and pins.
Agnes, for one, thought the biggest problem with Witchfinders was that they never knew what to do with a witch when they found one. Adultery Pulsifer had the kind of eyes that had a way of sliding over a woman's skin and leaving a clammy film, like a rain of eels. It wasn't necessarily a pleasant sensation, but one couldn't help but take notice.
But Agnes Nutter wasn't young enough to be intimidated by that, nor was she old enough to refuse to feel it. She was also psychic enough to see that there were other pasts, other presents, and other futures. It's just that if there was going to be a reason for her book—and hence, herself—to exist, that present just couldn't be this one.
She had a deadline to meet, and although she already knew she would not meet it and it wouldn't matter, for Bilton and Scaggs were hardly paragons of punctuality themselves, and she knew perfectly well what the right time would be. In fact, she knew the deadline would make a lovely bit of music as it went whizzing by, never to be heard from again.
What she found she had written was something she knew would never be read.
In the lyfe of every Womanne on fome Daye comes a Manne Whom shee, thow knowyinge bettere, Feels she canne fixe.
That with her tooch of Wifdome, Wille make hym feel A lotte Better.
That with a Kisse, Hee will groe Smartyr.
For shee alone Doth underftande hyme.
It is a Lucky Mayde Who getf thys over-whyth
When shee if young.
Thou-Shalt-Not-Covet-Thy-Neighbour's-Ass Pulsifer had become very enthusiastic about Calvinism after his brother's tragic martyrdom. Some believed he took to religion out of guilt and grief, but it really had to do with the teaching that God favours whom he favours, and while it is unseemly to flaunt wealth, it might actually be true that being rich means He likes you.
Pulsifer wanted very much to be liked by God in this particular way, and the first step in expressing his faith was to change his name to something that demonstrated his willingness to suffer the indignities and anxieties of coming into a great deal of money, should the Good Lord will it.
Aziraphale was not impressed with the merchandise. Even the works of prophecy were rather standard-issue, forced rhymes and all, and there was little included he didn't already have, in rarer editions and better conditions.
But, when he created one small ripple in the fabric just to have Pulsifer exit the room to attend to the call of the privy, his hand landed on one small volume, older and dustier and less gilt-ridden than the others, and he began to tremble. It was a demonologie. And it was accurate. Or as close to nice as made very little difference, for the one page his eyes landed upon had the possibility of making things very difficult for someone he knew and would just as soon not see replaced by some other demon with an inferior disposition, and fewer millennia to have got used to Aziraphale.
He had a decision to make. He could rip out the page. But he quailed at such villainous violence.
When Pulsifer came back into the room, grinning and convinced of the superiority of his stock, Aziraphale's hands made the decision for him and committed one small, not terribly miraculous act of prestidigitation.
Once he'd got home and squirreled the book away amid the dustiest of his stock, with full intentions of, perhaps, even giving it to Crowley for dangerous-keeping, the truth was that Aziraphale never opened it again.
If he had, he might have found one long piece of grubby, smoke-smeared paper folded a ridiculous number of times and tucked into a particularly lurid section on the oversized members of familiar spirits.
My deare Lorde, delyver me from mye Dreams; There ys a most terrible Lyfe in her eys; she looks upon Me and sees my verie Bones. She walkes into ye Gaolhowse all unfrayd and Boldde, wantonne and wise, and sayeth to me, "Mine legge hath givyn Me a spot of ye Augue when it raynes, and yet your Pricke upon the spot hath healed it, so I think though you art a Foole, you art a Goode Manne," and she toucheth me.
"Fear ye Deth? I do notte."
And she toucheth me. She layeth hyr Hande upon my Cheeke, and there is a Fyre. If she does notte dye, than I sharl, and I feare for my very Soule. Be ye warned, my Brothers in ye Struggel – what a wytch does with ye Herbes and ye Charms and Spirites is nothinge to her Evill Eye, which is bright and merrye and portendes great omens like a Comette in the skye. Ye Pinne fell from mine hande, and I heard it falle with a grate Crashe.
Crowley was not impressed with the merchandise. Pulsifer's collection consisted mostly of the more lurid kind of churchmen's imaginings, the sort that brought to memory only an abortive, awkward argument with Aziraphale, who'd seemed rather put out by some of the more graphic suggestions of the sort of things demons might do with witches. (The argument had included the overly personal query, "They kiss devils where?!?" and ended with Crowley shouting, "I DID NOT HAVE SEXUAL RELATIONS WITH THOSE WOMEN," and storming out.
Really, Aziraphale should know better. The closest Crowley had come to anything like that was a brief dalliance with some bored Italian aristocrats who fancied themselves quite subversive and daring, and Crowley had wearied very quickly of being invoked out of bed at all hours just to have his arse groped.)
"Where are you? Still here? Where are you?"
Of course. Dithering in a corner though his jacket was starting to smoulder, trembling. Trying to decide on something to save. Any more dithering and it wouldn't even be himself. He was coughing horribly. His human lungs weren't liking this at all. If he'd really been human he'd have been dead already.
Angels might be afraid of fire, but Crowley wasn't. That didn't mean he didn't have a healthy respect for its viciousness.
"I can't leave, I—"
"I'll knock you over the head if I have to," yelled Crowley, turning Aziraphale roughly around and wrapping his arms around the angel's chest. With a hissing grunt full of smoke, he hefted Aziraphale's panicking weight and winced as his wings split his brocade.
He lifted them both through the convenient rent in the collapsing roof, and they rose through the black smoke, Crowley's wings struggling to get a good grip on painfully heated and unpredictable thermals, trying to keep Aziraphale from looking down at the city—one giant expanse of furious orange, of human screams and a most inhuman roaring. "Crowley, I had no idea it was so…"
"You should fly more often. You'd see more of the big picture."
There was nowhere to go but Crowley's obligatory country estate. Aziraphale was in no state to make sense, and he stumbled through the hallways shaking and mumbling. Crowley thought there was nothing for it but to offer the sooty, distraught angel the use of his wine cellar and the use of his bed (and, should the thought occur to him, the use of Crowley himself).
And the use of his library, such as it was. Aziraphale just wouldn't be Aziraphale again without a collection to be collecting. In so much as angels could be said to have auras, Aziraphale's was larger than usual and bookshelf-shaped.
"Here we go," said Crowley, presenting a surviving-trauma gift by way of mollification, much the same way a dentist will give a child who has just been screaming like a damned soul a bit of candy just to see him smile (and to bring him back with fresh cavities later).
"Oh Crowley," said Aziraphale. "A copy of the 'Wicked Bible'? For me?"
"From Pulsifer," Crowley said. "Only worthwhile thing he had. A keepsake of Adultery's no doubt. People like to read about themselves."
So the bookshop was burning. Which tyme? T
his was not quite what she was meant to focus on. Two Poweres, rising through the smoke.
No. Two Spirits.
Not those two, still in their bodies that aren't really them.
These two, just human, freed from their bodies that once were themselves and now are no longer. Until the end that is to come.
For all over London, books will be burning. Including many copies of the one Agnes will have written. The words will crackle and twist in the flames; the paper will turn as black as the ink, and the ashes will rise, lighter than the heavy air and glowing at the edges.
For all that history will remember, it might as well also burn the books Agnes will not have written.
For example, the one in which she remains in the present, with a toss of her handsome head that catches his glance and does not set it free with disdain.
The one in which the Fyres are now. In which in this moment, she takes just one thing from the future and keeps it for herself.
Anathema will not know what she would miss, and therefore couldn't be said to miss it. If there would even be an Anathema.
It's a lot to ask of this one aging witch, a lot of responsibility. No wonder she set a deadline she knew she'd muff. It's a small rebellion that stands out among her countless big ones.
No. If it's the real thing, it can wait. Even more than three hundred years. The villagers will blow away like burning leaves, on their own spiraling courses into eternity.
Two spirits will rise through the fire, felt as far away as the Halifax which was not Halifax yet as well as the one that was. Two spirits will argue with hissing gas and embers. And there will be forgiveness, of a sort. And there will be an accounting.
YOU CAN'T POSSIBLY EXPECT ME TO MEDIATE A DISPUTE LIKE THIS.
"Of corse notte. Have you anie mistletoe?"
"God save me from your heathen adornments and your satanic rites."
"All ways winter and nevre Christ-mass with ye."
She will pass the buck. The book she is writing is the one she will have always planned to write, not the one that leads to this dead-end of time. She will pass it to her son. The mob will come to her door (tardie). The threads will wind out until she comes through the world again, behind Anathema's eyes.
"I will see thee thenne, you olde foole."
She has no idea what a computer engineer is, or isn't. But she knows Witchfinders, oh yes. She has no need of his nail clippings or a lock of his hair. She has all eternity before her. She will remember his eyes by the torchlight.
As it happens, Prosperous Pulsifer made a small fortune for himself in exorbitant prices for an inferior strain of Virginia tobacco, and was rumoured to have been seen later on in New Amsterdam sporting a different name that was vaguely Dutch. Some say he lost all his money in the fur trade—which was difficult to do at that time—others say he married an Indian princess and went to live with her tribe, and others say he died while strolling drunkenly on a frozen river, while still others say he got religion for real and renounced everything there was to renounce, including food, clothing, and shelter. He may have been a minor character in one of Washington Irving's rough drafts (or was that H.P. Lovecraft's?).
He may or may not have bitterly regretted having nothing to read on the long New England nights when the wind howled like uneasy spirits and the sails of his ships flapped like pages, and the money he'd made turned to dried leaves in his hands the way that payment from other worlds always does.
There were no confirmed descendants from his line. Adultery had married, though. He'd left a few.
Folks represented the soul pretty literally in cemeteries in those days – a stern-faced wingéd head carved on cold stone. But the soul is really more like an ash flown free from a fire – devouring a lifetime of words, leaving a glowing trail behind it, spreading its heat, looking forward…
Other Fyres than Myne.