Chapter Two: Inquiring minds want to know
Copyright © 2016 by Brian Bixby
There are many famous chroniclers of English history, from the Venerable Bede and Geoffrey of Monmouth to Winston Churchill and on to the present. Thomas the Cuckold is not usually numbered among them. Such is his obscurity that there is no entry for him in the Dictionary of National Biography.
Still, he was a favorite of Calpurnia’s, as much for his own history as the history he had written. Thomas had been a country lad when he married his first wife, Ann, who almost immediately put horns on his head by sleeping with his older brother. This disgrace sent Thomas into a Norfolk monastery, where he learned a great deal of local history and how to write Latin in a style that combined the worst of medieval changes to the language with Thomas’s own attempts to make it resemble early modern English. When his monastery was dissolved under Henry VIII, Thomas had married again, only to have his second wife, Susan, immediately start an affair with Thomas’s former Father Superior. Stunned by this regrettable development, Thomas began pursuing a course in support of Catholic restoration which tragically ended with his martyrdom under Elizabeth.
Thomas the Cuckold’s claim to fame, such as it was, was the Later East Anglian Chronicle (technically The Chronicle of the True Faith, its Rise, Development, and Temporary Eclipse under the Heathen Monarchs Henry, Edward, and Elizabeth, the Last Two being Bastards, and a Vision of its Restoration under the Glorious Rule of Mary Stuart, etc. for another 201 words). Written in Thomas’s uniquely wretched style, the Chronicle contains much matter preserved nowhere else. This has led many scholars to suspect Thomas made most of it up, especially the story of migrating eyeballs on church towers. Calpurnia, while inclined to believe that Thomas had not been entirely sober while writing the Chronicle, thought that Thomas had drawn on authentic stories and records that had otherwise perished. She had seen the migrating eyeballs once herself, though she had been on LSD at the time, so even she admitted her testimony on the subject might not be reliable.
Calpurnia knew his account of 1397 well, and relied on her memory in her explanation to Geoff. “In 1397, a pair of major storms altered the beach along this coast, temporarily blocking the estuary of the Yare River before cutting it a new channel at Gorelach, which is why Gorelach disappeared, as it was swept into the sea. So most histories tell us.
“But one chronicler spins a different account. According to him, a ‘great wyrm’ rose out of the waters and attacked people near where the Roman channel had been, gradually moving down the coast until it finally went ashore at Gorelach, smashing its way through the town, killing at least one of its bailiffs and toppling the new Church of St. Thomas before making it to the sea. It then reversed course, and dug a tunnel under Gorelach, which collapsed after its passage, destroying the rest of the town and reconnecting the river to the sea. The waters subsided, and the ‘great wyrm’ was put down, never to be seen again.”
Geoff waited for the rest, and when it was not forthcoming, he asked, “Any description of how they put down the wyrm, or where?”
Calpurnia frowned. She did remember what Thomas had said. That was the problem. So she began, “Well, Thomas, the chronicler in question, said . . .” And then she had second thoughts. “Well, it’s nonsense.” She looked down into her tea cup, realizing how lame that sounded.
Geoff hated to be teased about knowledge. On the other hand, he’d read enough medieval chronicles to understand just what the problem was here. So he only gently chided Calpurnia. “We’re talking about a creature that’s not supposed to exist. That’s nonsense enough. What does this chronicler say?”
Calpurnia decided to look at Geoff’s neck as she spoke. That way she wouldn’t have to see his look of incredulity. “Thomas says that a virgin dressed it according to its kind and sang to it in the old tongue and covered its head, whereupon it went back to sleep in its traditional home.” She raised her eyes up to Geoff’s and with an apologetic look on her face added, “Thomas the Cuckold’s narrative sometimes reads as if he’s had one too many. But he did know about the wyrm.”
That remark brought a twinkle to Geoff’s eyes and a smile to his face. Shaking his head, he repeated incredulously, “Thomas the Cuckold?”
In a dead level voice, Calpurnia replied, “Well, Thomas-whose-wives-cheated-with-his-brother-and-his-former-Father-Superior was a bit long for a nickname.”
The two of them stared at each other, and then both broke down laughing.
Just as they had finished laughing, a woman approached their table with a camera in her hands. Addressing Calpurnia, she said, “Excuse me, my name is Jacintha Lowell. I’m a photographer, well, a nature photographer here on assignment. I couldn’t help but notice how you two look sitting here in the filtered light. I think it might be a great composition in black and white. Would it be all right if I took a picture of you both?”
Calpurnia looked her over. American, curly-haired brunette, and that was definitely a pro’s SLR in her hands, as Calpurnia had dabbled a lot in photography herself while she was ill. Calpurnia hated having her photograph taken, but figured that since this was an American, she’d never see it. She looked over to Geoff and shrugged, telepathically adding, Seems fine.
Geoff tried to keep a poker face while thinking about this. He did not want his photograph taken while he was here unofficially. But to make a fuss might be even more revealing.
And there was something Calpurnia had missed, but Geoff did not: this photographer was a magician herself. That was suspicious. Geoff poked a bit magically at her and relaxed. She seemed to be a very weak one (though not as weak as Maggie, he added to himself), not formally trained at all. What harm could she do? he thought. So he nodded back to Calpurnia.
It took much longer than Geoff expected, about ten minutes, while the photographer had them pose in a variety of positions and attitudes. But the photographer used no magic, and Geoff was relieved. Once it was over, the photographer went back to her own table looking satisfied. Geoff paid the bill and took Calpurnia off into the rain. No point in sticking around with the photographer still in the room, however innocent she might be.
Geoff had made a mistake. Jacintha wasn’t quite as innocent as she appeared to be.
Jacintha had told Geoff and Calpurnia the truth. She was indeed in Britain on an assignment to photograph coastal birds for a book coming out next year. And she had actually thought the way the light played on Geoff and Calpurnia was interesting.
However, the real reason she had wanted to photograph the two of them was that she recognized Geoff’s face. Photographers by their very nature pay careful attention to images. Jacintha was certain that she had seen Geoff’s face before. She just couldn’t figure out who he was. Getting his photograph would help her remember, she hoped.
And then when she had got close to their table, she had almost dropped her camera in surprise. Weak magician though she was, she was neither blind to her own nature nor lacking in some skills. And one of those skills was the ability to detect other magicians. She’d immediately realized she was outclassed by both of the two people at the table, and had played stupid.
Now that they were gone and she was sitting at her table by herself, she looked at the photographs in her camera’s LCD screen and she pondered just what was going on. She realized that it could just be a meeting of two friends. But that man! If she could only put a name to that face.
And then she had it! How could she have forgotten! The man’s name was Jeremy McAppin.
Who Jeremy McAppin was, she didn’t recall. But he was someone famous for some reasons, and he was a magician. Jacintha had a friend back in the United States who would be very interested. She quickly gathered her things, paid her bill, and exited the shop. Only once she was out the door did it occur to her that she should look to make sure that no one was watching her. There weren’t many people on the street, thanks to the rain. After a quick glance, Jacintha turned her steps toward her bed-and-breakfast.
Once she was out of sight, Calpurnia emerged out of a narrow alley Jacintha hadn’t noticed. Sometimes it does help to be a local expert, she thought, as she was fairly certain the photographer hadn’t seen her. She set off to trail the photographer, smiling to herself. For magicians have an advantage in trailing people: they don’t need to stay in sight.
Geoff blind to danger! Calpurnia on the hunt! Jacintha trying to keep rain off her camera equipment! It’s a tense situation, and we will find out more about it, next week!