“Yes,” responded John Izaak. “The stairs of the tower at St. Halistan’s Church. I had been to see my friend Peter Alcuin. Among other things, we talked about Lia Fail. For reasons I won’t go into now, I felt compelled to climb the tower stairs when I left his office. I wanted to have a look at the stained-glass window above the first landing.”
“Jacob’s Ladder,” Eny interposed
He eyed her curiously. “Yes. I was standing there on the last stone step—”
“The step just below the landing!”
“—when all at once I felt very strange. Everything started spinning. The step itself began to vibrate and glow. The walls of the tower shook and cracked and expanded, and the golden ladder in the picture trembled and stretched. Up and up it soared, crashing through the roof and out into the sky. Down rolled its sparkling rungs until its feet touched the stairs.”
“And there were creatures going up and down the ladder—right?”
“There were. But not like those in the stained glass. Oh, no! They were the oddest, most terrifying, most awe-inspiring creatures I’ve ever seen in my life.”
“More like fire than living flesh.”
“With terrible wings, wings full of eyes. And their faces were the faces of men, women, eagles, oxen, lions, lambs.”
Dee fell to his knees, grasping Izaak by the remains of his coat-lapel. “The angels!” he cried. “Then thou hast seen them too!”
“Perhaps,” responded Izaak. “Though I had never pictured them looking quite like that!”
“Angels they were in sooth!” insisted the old alchemist. “I know, for they taught me the Enochian tongue!”
“Well, they didn’t speak Enochian on this occasion. I would have recognized that, because I’d been studying your Primer. No—they spoke good, plain English. And the first thing they said was, ‘Take off your shoes! You are standing upon Jacob’s Pillow-stone!’”
“So that’s how you knew!” said Eny.
“Yes. And I was pleased, for I saw that my theories had been leading me in the right direction.”
“What else did they say?”
“They said, ‘Protect the talisman that has fallen into your hands. This Stone is its Sister and its Spouse.’”
Dee nodded sagely. “Thus saith my inscription.”
“One of your inscriptions,” corrected Izaak.
“What inscriptions?” said Eny. “I don’t understand.”
“Never mind now. The last thing they told me was the most important of all: ‘Expect a small man bearing a message.’”
“A small man!”
“That’s right. And once they had said that, the vision went out like a snuffed candle. The next thing I knew, I was sitting on the front steps of my house with the sun coming up over the eastern hills. My wife wept when she saw me because she thought I’d been drinking again. But it wasn’t so.”
There was a long silence. At last Izaak continued:
“I believed I knew the small man to whom the vision referred. I had seen just such a person many times before, standing at her elbow when she came to confer with me in my study late at night. I had no idea what sort of message he might bring. I feared it with all my being. But when it came—and came it did—everything fell into place.”
Eny was breathless. “Are you going to tell us what it was?”
Izaak removed his spectacles and wiped them on his sleeve. “He met me one afternoon on the steps of the Linguistics Institute. I recognized him at once. His face and form were unforgettable—long nose, bald head, short legs, arms and hands that seemed much too large for him. He was dressed all in black and had an odd little leather bag dangling from his belt. When he saw me, he spoke no word, but grasped my sleeve, opened his bag, pulled out a bit of folded yellow paper, and pressed it into my hand. Then he was gone.”
He paused, then glanced over at Dee. “Can you guess what was at the top of the page? It was the other inscription—the one I have never been able to decipher. Perhaps you can decipher it for me now?”
Dee bowed his head and said nothing.
“You know the one I mean,” Izaak went on. “It looked like this—”
Leaning forward, he scrawled seven strange characters in the white dust on the floor:
“I’m familiar with the first word—zir, ‘I am.’ But the second—D-V-I-V—remains unknown to me. I’ve never been able to find it in any of the vocabulary lists extracted from the nineteen Enochian Calls. I don’t even know how to pronounce it. What I did know at the time was that the writing on the paper was intended as a cipher or a clue. It represented the inscription on the ‘talisman’ in my possession. That much was clear.”
“But was that all the note said?” asked Eny, drawing closer to him.
“No. It was followed by four short lines of verse:
This is the promised clue.
You know what to do.
Lira, east wing, second floor.
Keep them separate, mark the door.
“What did you do then?”
“Exactly what I believed the note was telling me to do. I took the thing of which we have been speaking—the talisman, the Spouse of Lia Fail—and hid it in the old hotel out on the Point.”
“I’ve been in that place lots of times!”
“I imagine every kid in Santa Piedra has. That’s where I left it. The Lira. Second floor. Room 247 to be exact. That was the last I ever saw of it. And unless one of you can be compelled to repeat my story, she will never find it.”
As he spoke, there came a rumble and a clatter and a jangling of keys outside the door of Eny’s cell.
“The guard!” hissed Izaak. “Quick, Dee! Back through the hole! Once we’re gone, Eny, you replace the stones and—”
Eny gripped him by the hand and looked up into his face. “No,” she said.
John Izaak screwed up his eyes. “What do you mean no?”
“I mean I’ve got another plan. I think I know how we can get out of here!”