The Dream-speaker of Africa
As I endured the rough comforts of sleeping in the common room of The Lamb at Torkertown, that night brought me a second most remarkable dream.
From a normal dream of boyhood exploration I found myself in a cave, and then the dream changed such that I was my adult self in another cave sitting at a camp fire with my five new travelling companions, Tremayne, York, Kato, Hat, and de Winkler.
Before us sat a wizened being, the which appeared to be a man of indeterminable age with skin weathered like ancient parchment but black as night, and with eyes more alive than those of any person I have ever encountered. But in this his dream none of us had any power of speech to ask questions of him.
“Evil comes,” he said sadly, tracing a wiggling line in the dirt of the cave floor. “Children of Abraham know it as Satan, but this only one name. When Egypt was young, it was Apep. To Northmen it was World Serpent. In the land where sun sleeps, it Feathered Serpent. All men know of it, but none know it.
“It has no name. N’Longa know it from old days as Great Serpent, Mother of Evil, and it grow big. Ancient magics held it, but they now gone.
“Only one way to find where it sleeps and kill it. Find the six gems of power. Long hidden they are, masked by evil from N’Longa’s gaze. Search the world, listen to talk of evil and strike against darkness. One lies in the Old World, one in my homeland of Africa, two in the New World, and one in the lands of Cathay. Search the world.
“N’Longa dream-speak you again when he knows more.”
After meeting in Lincolneshire and after having “struck against darkness” (to use the words of this ‘N’Longa’) it had been marvel enow that we six had each dreamed of Solomon Kane. But we now found that each of our dreamings had come to the same scene, which had played out identically in every detail.
We had no doubt that this great being was the one who had drawn each of us by divers means into the group which he now directed, though we could not fathom his selection. Kato and I both misgave the circumstances that removed our previous commitments, if they were of N’Longa’s making, and Tremayne and I engaged in quite some speculation as to his possible nature.
Naturally I was familiar with many syncretistic aspects of Satan, such as the “Apep” or Apophis of the Ægyptians and Iormungand the Midgard Serpent of Snorri Sturluson, though the black wizard referred to others unknown to me. And in the matter of his charge to seek the six gems of power (of which I noted that he had mentioned only five), I humbly expressed my surprise not ever to have read of any such tradition. I suggested that our best course would be to take ship to London where I should be able to consult the library of Lord Percy at Syon House. For so high a calling as ours, the earl might even arrange an introduction to Dr. John Dee, owner of the greatest library of arcane works in England. Mayhap the famous Doctor and I were to meet at last.1
Sam York approved of my notion and, with the unselfconscious air that his approval ended the discussion, announced that he must needs ride on business of his own and would join us in London. For sake of a ‘rendez-vous’ I suggested that both parties attend the Mermaid Tavern off Cheapside at sunset each day. By some agreement best known only to those two, Nick Hat also took horse with the deep-pocketed York.
Having risen late, a triumphant Jonas de Winkler bustled into The Lamb to join us, brandishing a package newly arrived for him care of the vicarage. He made a great show of breaking the elaborate wax seal and to everyone’s immense surprise produced a paper confirming his appointment as Bishop of Bath and Wells. This letter detailed his considerable stipend, the duties and responsibilities associated with that post, and some special dispensation whereby he was not required to take up residence in the diocese forthwith. The package also contained three episcopal rings and a roll of 30 golden nobles, a sum of fully £15.
Our staggerment at the bearing out of the Right Reverend Jonas’ previous claims to said bishopric was only slightly allayed when, in plain contradiction to the word of this letter, he proceeded to describe himself in the third person pretentious as the Archbishop of &c. Whilst lording it in Wells Cathedral clearly appealed, on hearing our plan he was equally pleased to go to London and pay a visit to, as he said, “the other Archbishop”.
But to leave Torkertown immediately were to be hasty. Squire Hardwicke had promised to delve through the old records of his court proceedings for any note upon Solomon Kane and the landlord at The Lamb sent word to the former proprietor who now dwelt a day or more thence, asking whether he might recall anything of value to us.
Hardwicke was unable over two full days to unearth anything. I confess that my own efforts to assist were of little avail and my disdain at his disordered record-keeping may have deterred the man from giving the matter his full attention.
But at length word came back to The Lamb that the old landlord still vividly remembered the dour figure of Kane despite all the intervening years, and recalled him saying that after the horrible deaths in Torkertown back then, he was to leave England and to make for the Holy Roman Empire by way of the port of Kiel in the Germanies.
We took the moor road out of Torkertown, to return to the port of Exeter and take ship for London. Overnighting at the inn in the midst of the dismal moor we heard men new come from Exeter telling of horrible murders on the docks of that port. Truly we four, like Solomon Kane himself, wished to leave Devonshire as soon as we might.
1 And yet sadly not. Branston’s information is out of date. History records that in 1602-3, John Dee is at Christ’s College in Manchester, the famous library in his house at Mortlake having already been plundered during his time overseas.