Chapter 5

That afternoon, Azzie went to nearby Augsburg and spent the rest of the day strolling about observing its ancient churches. Demons are very interested in churches, which, though Powers of Good reside in them, can as often as not be twisted to serve evil. In the early evening he returned to the Inn of the Hanged Man in Hagenbeck, but learned from the landlord that no other persons had applied for the post he had offered.

He took out the black credit card and looked it over care­fully. It was a beautiful thing, and he had the desire to call up something that would amuse him, like dancing girls. But he decided against it. First things first. He needed a good human servitor. After that, both the work and the fun would begin.

In the evening he decided to take his dinner downstairs with the tradespeople. He had a special table for himself, cur­tained off from the crowd. But he kept a bit of the curtain drawn back so he could watch their antics.

The people ate and drank and caroused, and Azzie won­dered how they could be so light of heart. Did they not know that the Millennium was approaching? Elsewhere in Europe men knew about this, and were taking whatever precautions they could. There were Dances of the Dead being held on blasted heaths, and all manner of signs and portents. Many people were sure the end of the world was coming. Some turned to prayer. Others, deciding they were doomed, passed their time in eating and sexual activity. The Angel of Death had been sighted in a dozen places around Europe, surveying the territory and making a preliminary census of all who would be taken. In churches and cathedrals anathemas were intoned against promiscuity and license. But all this was to little or no avail. People’s spirits had been roused and frightened by the approach of the grim year when it was said the dead would rise in the streets, the figure of the Antichrist would be seen in the land, and all things would gather themselves for Apocalypse, the last great battle between the forces of Good and Evil.

Azziehimself had no need for such vulgar superstitions. He knew that mankind’s game was a long way from being played out. There would be contests like this for many thou­sands of years into the future, as there had been for thousands of years into the past, though the memory of mankind retained only the most confused memories of this.

At last Azzie grew tired and went up to the bedroom. It still lacked a half hour or so of midnight. Azzie didn’t believe either Hye or Agatha would return. They seemed not to be made of stern enough stuff. But he decided to show them the courtesy of staying up for them anyhow.

The minutes dragged by, and a hush fell over the village. This was the time Azzie loved best, the minutes approaching midnight, when the complexion of the world changed, when the dusky sanctities of evening had been forgotten, and the saving grace of dawn was still far away. It was in these hours, between midnight and dawn, that evil always felt most at peace with itself, most experimental, most in need of strangeness and sin, most in need of producing the ever-pervading perversions which needed constant renewal, and the doing of which was a delight to the evil soul.

Midnight came and passed and no one knocked at his door. Azzie was growing bored, and the big four-poster bed with its Huffy eiderdown looked exceedingly comfortable. It was a temptation, and since demons are not supposed to resist temptation, he gave in, got up on the bed, and closed his eyes. He fell into a deep sleep, and in that sleep a dream came to him. In his dream three maidens clad all in white came to him carrying holy articles in their hands. They beckoned to him, saying, “Come, Azzie, join us in our frolic.” And Azzie, looking at them, was greatly desirous of joining them, for they smiled and winked at him most enticingly. But there was something about them he didn’t like, something which said to his trained eye that they really didn’t care for evil, were merely feigning it in order to lure him into their clutches. Nevertheless, he was drawn toward them, almost against his will, even though he repeated to himself lines from the Credo of Evil: that the good is capable of assuming a pleasing form and that a demon must take care not to be seduced by that which only seems evil. The Credo didn’t help. They reached out to him. …

He never learned the outcome because he was awakened by a tapping at the door. He sat up and pulled himself together. How ridiculous it was to be afraid of being tainted by good! It was a standard fear among demons, and it gave him a turn, dreaming of it.

The tap came again.

Azzie checked his appearance in the cracked mirror. He smoothed his eyebrows, brushed back his red hair, and gave an experimental leer. Yes, he was decidedly horrific tonight, ready for any applicant who came through the door.

“Come in,” he said.

When the door opened and he beheld his visitor, he was more than a little surprised.

The person who entered was not familiar. He was a very small man with a large hump upon his back. He had on a large black cloak which was wrapped completely around him, its hood raised. His long, bony face was dead white, sepulchral. As he advanced Azzie noticed that he walked with the help of a cane.

“And who,” Azzie asked, “are you, to come calling upon me at this hour?”

“I am Frike,” the lame hunchback replied. “I have come in answer to your ad. You wanted a servant, it seems, one who would be up for anything. I put myself forth as just such a person.”

“You are not afraid to recommend yourself,” Azzie said. “But there are two applicants ahead of you. I set them a simple task and now I await their return.”

“Ah, yes,” Frike said. “I happened to meet them, the poet and the beldame. They were at the gates of the cemetery, trying to get up the courage to do what you required of them.”

“They should not have delayed so long,” Azzie said. “The time set for their appearance is already past.”

“Why, master,” Frike said, “they met with certain unfor­tunate accidents. And so I have come in their stead.”

“What accidents?” Azzie asked.

“My lord,” Frike said, “I brought the items you requested of them.”

Frike reached inside his cloak and took out a leather satchel of tanned cowhide. Opening it, he removed two packets wrapped in sackcloth. Opening one, he removed eight fingers and one thumb, neatly severed, perhaps with a razor.

“Behold,” Frike said. “The lady’s fingers.”

“These are somewhat gummy,” Azzie said, examining the fingers and nibbling one of them.

“They are the best I could provide on short notice,” Frike said.

“And why is there not a full set? A thumb is missing!”

“Your lordship might not have noticed,” Frike said, “since to notice such a thing would be beneath your dignity. But I would point out, sire, that Agatha, who aspired to the post of your servant, had a thumb missing. I do not know the story of its loss, and I’m afraid now I can’t find it out for you.”

“It is of little importance,” Azzie said. “But I also asked for a head.”

“Ah, yes,” Frike said. “The quest you set for the poet. Now you would think, sir, that his would be an easy task, since our local cemetery is full of the sort of specimens you asked for. But he walked around outside the graveyard, then finally went in and put his spade here and then changed his mind and put it there, until at last I got sick of waiting for him to complete the task. So I took the liberty, my lord, of procuring the object and eliminating my opposition in a single stroke.”

So saying, he opened the satchel and displayed the head of Hye, the poet.

“Not cleanly severed, I notice,” Azzie said, but it was just for form’s sake, for he was well pleased with the work of this applicant for the position of his helper.

“I regret there was no time to wait for the perfect stroke,” Frike said. “But since he is well known hereabouts as a bad poet, I daresay he’s missed many a clean stroke himself.”

“Frike, you have done very well. You shall enter my em­ploy at once. I think that you are a paragon among mortals. And since you have done so well at this, I’m sure you will have no problem getting me the things I need, once I have explained them and scouted out the territory.”

“I expect to serve you well, master,” Frike said.

Azzie went to his chest, opened it, and from a small deer­skin bag, extracted four golden thalers. He gave these to Frike, who louted low in gratitude.

“And now,” Azzie said, “we must go to work. Midnight is past; the time of evil is at hand. Are you up for what may come, Frike?”

“Indeed I am.”

“And what do you expect as your reward?”

“Only to continue serving you, lord,” Frike said, “after death as before.”

Thus Azzie knew that Frike knew who, or rather, what he was. He was pleased to find so intelligent a servant. He bade Frike pack the things. They would set to work at once.


Обращение к пользователям