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Authors: Lev Grossman

Codex (34 page)

BOOK: Codex
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“I'm sorry, Edward.” The Artiste shook his round little head. “I can't tell you that either.”

It was pointless, like arguing with a recalcitrant voice mail system. But something was assembling itself in his mind, something that had been broken into separate pieces and scattered was being gathered up and made whole again. Isn't that what the Artiste said about e-mail, the first time they met? Scattered bits of information, gathered up and reknit into a message to be read. Chaos becomes order. Or what the Duchess said in that ridiculous letter—it was like a book being disbound, the pages scattered, and then reclaimed again and made whole. He thought of Margaret again, and the story she told him about Sir Urre. Didn't he have a bee on his coat of arms—?

Edward picked up the disc with his saved game on it and turned to the Artiste, who was suddenly standing between him and the door. Now he was ready to go, and it was the Artiste who wanted to keep him there, like a host who had suddenly remembered his manners and was making up for lost time.

“Do you know why this game is called MOMUS?” he asked, his voice calm and soft again, the way it was when Edward first walked in. They were standing face-to-face. There was no way the Artiste could physically stop him; Edward had at least a foot on him, probably more. “There's a place you can get to where you see the word ‘MOMUS' written on a wall as graffiti. No one knows who put it there, or why. But do you know who Momus was? He was a Greek god, though of a generation older than Zeus and his children. His mother was Nyx, which means Night, and his father was Erebus. Erebus was the personification of the darkness of Hades.

“Momus was the only one of the Greek gods who dared to criticize the created universe. He even suggested a few improvements. He thought that bulls should have horns on their shoulders instead of on their heads, so they could see what they were attacking better. He told Aphrodite, the goddess of beauty, that her sandals squeaked. He said that humans should have been made with doors in their chests, so you could open them and see what they were really feeling.

“Eventually the other gods got tired of listening to Momus complain, and they got together and threw him out of Olympus. I don't know what happened to him after that, but I think there's a lesson there somewhere, Edward. Maybe it's that the world is an imperfect place, but if you spend all your time looking for something better you'll only end up somewhere even worse.

“I'm sorry about the codex, Edward. I really can't tell you where it is. I've told you too much already.”

“But why not?” Edward asked, not wanting to give away more than he had to. In his mind he was already out the door. He knew where the codex was.

“Because I know you'll tell the Duchess.” The Artiste's smooth, childlike face turned grave, and his voice was urgent. “I can't let you do that. Your replacement Nicholas is right, though for all the wrong reasons. The Duchess is far better off without the codex. If she found it, she would try to use it against the Duke, and the Duke wouldn't stand for that. Anything she could do to him is nothing compared to what he would do to her. He could hurt her, Edward.”

“That's ridiculous,” Edward said shortly, feeling like the world's sole surviving voice of reason. He had to get out of here before his head exploded. He took the disc and tucked it into his shirt pocket. He was barely listening now. “It doesn't make any sense. What could he possibly do? The Duke is an invalid. He's sick. And anyway he's at some clinic in London. She's at Weymarshe. He can't do anything to her while she's there.”

He turned and walked purposefully toward the door, toward the Artiste, picking his way through the junk scattered on the carpet.

“Thanks for all the help,” Edward said, not wanting to seem ungracious. He squeezed awkwardly past him. “With the game.”

“You're wrong,” said the Artiste. He stepped aside reluctantly. “Wake up, Edward. Working for the Wents taught me something. I've been through all this before you. I found the book, and I let it go, and so should you. Forget about the Duchess. This isn't a game, Edward, this is real life. Go back to work.”

Edward didn't look back. He didn't need a lecture on real life from somebody who looked like a hobbit. He jogged down the first flight of stairs, then gave up and bombed down the rest, picking up speed, taking them three at a time, skidding wide on the turns, grabbing the banister to stay on his feet. The Artiste followed him out onto the landing, shouting down the stairwell after him.

“I loved her too, Edward!” he called down. The Artiste's voice boomed and echoed off the marble steps. “Work is God's curse on us! Remember that, Edward! Don't ever try to escape it!”

Then Edward was outside on the sidewalk, running.

20

I
N THE CAB ON THE WAY
over Edward left yet another quixotic message on Margaret's answering machine, trying to infuse it with a sense of the urgency of the situation. He hadn't been to the Wents' building for two weeks, and there was a new doorman out front, though he wore what looked like the same shabby suit that the old one had. Edward wondered what had happened to him. The new doorman was a stocky man, with the bland pink face and thinning white hair of an accountant, and unlike his predecessor he spoke excellent English when he stopped Edward on the way in. To Edward's surprise his name was still on the Wents' list. Even more surprisingly, he saw Margaret's name on it, too. The Duchess must have managed to have her added.

He blundered into the darkened lobby, and there she was. It was as if the sight of her name on the doorman's battered clipboard had summoned her into being. She was waiting for him in the lobby, sitting in a cracked brown leather chair, cool and unruffled as a stone nymph. She stood up when she saw him, her large leather bag slung over her hip. He half expected her to still show signs of the disaster at the Chenoweth—dark circles under her eyes from sleepless nights, unwashed hair, a shadow of her former self—but she looked exactly the same as when he'd first met her: demurely, almost frumpily dressed in a skirt and cardigan, with her dark hair chopped off severely at chin-level. She had the same resigned, indifferent expression on her pale oval face, the same perfectly straight-backed posture.

He wrapped her in a bear hug which she neither invited nor avoided, pinning her arms against her sides. He clung to her, his eyes shut tight against the tears that unexpectedly prickled in them. He said nothing, just held her, not caring whether the emotion was in any way requited. His faith in something, he didn't know what, had been on the verge of crumbling, and her unexpected presence had instantly restored it intact as if it had never flagged. He felt like he'd been wandering in a mist without her, without any expectation of being rescued, and she had appeared out of the fog to lead him back to safety.

“I missed you,” he said finally, into her hair. He released her. “I missed you. Where have you been?”

“I was away.” She dropped her eyes. “I'm sorry. I didn't want to see you.”

“I thought you'd abandoned me.”

He'd forgotten how pretty she could look, with her long, serious face, her extravagant swoop of a nose. How could he ever not have seen that?

They walked over to the elevators and rode up together. The
ping
of the passing floors was deafening in the silence. Inside, the apartment was deserted, and they made no real attempt to conceal their presence. It was clear that the Wents were already gone. They must be selling up, he thought. The big oriental rug in the front room had been rolled up and stood in a corner; a slight bend in the middle made it bow politely to them as they passed it. A fine haze of plaster dust hung in the late-afternoon light that filtered in through the windows, left over from the commotion of the movers. They passed Laura Crowlyk's office on the way to the staircase. It was bare except for a couple of bright yellow plastic moving crates with descriptions of their contents scribbled on the side in black Magic Marker. A sense of imminent and drastic change permeated the air.

“I hope they didn't take the books,” Edward said. The absence of rugs or curtains had subtly changed the acoustics, making it sound like he was addressing an empty concert hall.

But the books were still there. When Edward hauled open the heavy metal door at the top of the spiral staircase, the library was waiting for them, apparently undisturbed since the last time they were there. Heavy curtains still muffled the tall windows.

“Have you been back here?” he asked. “Since we got back from the Annex, I mean?” Despite his best efforts he felt himself blushing in the darkness. He groped around for the standing lamp, his arms held out in front of him like a sleepwalker.

“Once,” Margaret said. She indicated the old suitcase that had contained the books they'd liberated from the Chenoweth. It was empty; she'd already reshelved them.

“Do you realize how many times I called you?” Suddenly all the anger he'd been nursing came rushing back. He glared at her. “Why didn't you answer me?”

She shook her head.

“I'm sorry, Edward, I just—I'm sorry. I thought it was over. I thought the codex was gone, and I just—I wanted to move on. I wanted to forget about it.”

She pursed her lips.

“I went home for a while.”

“Well.” He wasn't going to say he forgave her. But. “I'm glad you're back now.”

An hour ago Edward had been burning to tell her everything he'd just learned, but now that she was actually here he felt tongue-tied. In the end it was Margaret who spoke first.

“I've been reading Richard de Bury,” she said quietly. “You've probably never heard of him. He was Bishop of Durham in the fourteenth century and an advisor to Edward III. He was also the first great English book collector. He was ruthless about it, he'd ruin a noble family just for its library, and after he died he left behind several lists of books that he had intended to acquire. One of them sounds like it might have been our codex.
A Viage to a Fer Lond,
one volume, no author, from the library at Bowmry. But his papers don't say whether or not he ever managed to get it.

“There's also something in the papers of a John Leland, keeper of the king's library under Henry VIII. He was charged with creating a register of England's historical artifacts, books included, but he went mad before he could complete it. His papers are in—”

“Margaret. Wait.” He put a hand on her arm to slow her down. “There's something very important I have to tell you.”

He took a deep breath and forged ahead. He started by telling her about his breakfast with Fabrikant. He found himself picking and choosing the truth carefully, not wanting to tell her more than she needed to know. He explained the Duchess's theory about the steganogram, as the Duke's representative had described it, but he skated around the question of what it might mean, or why the Duchess wanted it.

When he finished Margaret was looking up at the ceiling, her lips moving silently.

“A steganogram,” she said to herself softly. “A steganogram. What a ridiculous idea.” She was thinking out loud. “Trithemius's
Steganographia
was later than Gervase, much later. Though Bacon's
Nullity of Magic
was a hundred years earlier—Roger Bacon, not Francis. And the coded section of Chaucer's
Equatorie of the Planetis
would have been a close contemporary. If it was really Chaucer who wrote it.”

She sat down at the worktable.

“To tell you the truth, I don't think it's absolutely impossible,” she said finally, shaking her head. “Technically speaking. But it is very, very unlikely. No, it's preposterous. It's outrageous! And what does it say? And why does the Duchess want it? And why did they tell us to stop looking for it?”

Edward sighed. “I don't know.”

“What do you think she would do with it? If it were real?”

“I don't know,” Edward said again, with a guilty pang. He was a bad liar, but she didn't even seem that curious. Margaret looked down at the little silver watch on her wrist, toying with it.

“Well, it doesn't matter, does it?” she said bitterly. She sat down on the creaky old office chair and crossed her legs. “We're still no closer than we were.”

“But we are.” He paused for a second, selling the line. “Margaret, I think I know where the codex is.”

She flinched, physically, as if he'd just thrown a drink in her face.

“You found it? Where is it?” She gripped the seat of the chair, leaning forward.

“Not me,” he said, talking quickly. “Somebody else found it, or he says he did. Somebody who didn't want it. He didn't tell me where it was, but he did give me a clue. If I'm right, it's in this room.”

She looked around nervously as if the book might be lurking in a dark corner, ready to jump out at her.

“All right,” she said, settling herself with an effort. “Tell me your theory.”

Edward was enjoying his big moment. He paced, his footsteps echoing in the large, empty space.

“You once told me that some of what we know about Gervase comes from documents that were reused in the bindings of other books. Books that were disbound to recover the original papers.”

“Yes,” she said slowly, “that is true. Although such cases are relatively rare.”

“Well, what if the same thing happened to the codex? What if somebody used it to make the binding of another book?”

“Why would anyone want to do that?” Margaret looked scornful, a professional scolding the bumblings of an amateur. “The procedure you're talking about was for waste paper. The codex would have been written on parchment. There's a big difference. Parchment is essentially very fine leather—it was expensive, and it has very different physical properties from—”

“But listen.” Edward cut her off. “Just listen. What if they did it as a way of hiding the codex?”

BOOK: Codex
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