This is the prologue of my book: The Setting of a Second Son. It is the sequel to The Anonymous Knight, which has several chapters posted under the From the Darkest Corners of a Twisted Mind drop down menu.
Though he knew that the old man was waiting inside the church, Silas still considered eschewing the confessional in favor of the strip club next door. He would have if the thought didn’t depress him beyond words. He had entered before, had seen the lowest common denominator congregate under the cover of darkness and little else, had been among them, had been one of them, had reveled in being so low that whichever direction he looked was up. This memory wasn’t what depressed Silas, it was the realization that should he walk through those doors he would find the setting completely and irrevocably unchanged.
But the same could be said of things inside the church. Certainly the old man hadn’t changed; Silas didn’t believe that it was possible for the old man to change. The old man was an enduring fixture in the firmament, a stationary object in the landscape, a landmark for others to track their progress on their journey. He was the opposite of change; he was immutable. But that wasn’t what terrified Silas beyond reason. What terrified Silas was the possibility that should he walk through those doors, he would find that he, too, was unchanged, that he was—after all—his father’s son.
Despite his current anxiety, the first memory that leapt to Silas’ mind when he thought of his father was a calming, comforting, even happy one. They had been planting a tree in the middle of a park. It was a small tree and a small park, but his father had said it was special.
“Why is it special?” Silas had asked, running his hand along the trunk while his father shoveled some compost around the base.
“It’ll grow into a great and important tree,” his father—he looked old even in Silas’s first recollections of him—had said and then pulled out a shiny silver plaque that was embedded into a marble rock base. It looked very heavy, but his father had no problem lifting it.
“It doesn’t look very important,” Silas had said. “It looks tiny and a little sad.”
“Give it time,” his father had replied and placed the plaque in the ground and then covered it in leaves, but not before Silas could read the letters on its face: The Tree of Life. “Sometimes it takes years for something to grow up to be what it needs to be. It will be many years before this tree grows tall, and even longer for it to flower, but it will happen, Son.”
His father had put his arms around Silas then and held him close. The old man had always been much stronger than he looked, but Silas didn’t mind how firmly his father held him, at least he hadn’t at the time. They had stood there for a while, long enough for Silas to wonder why his father didn’t just make the tree grow up. Even then he knew what his father was capable of accomplishing. But his father did not do that sort of thing anymore; he wouldn’t tell Silas why.
When asked, his father would smile and say, “Sometimes, it’s more important not to do a thing than to do it.”
When his feet were beginning to get sore from standing and he felt hard pressed not to complain, his father offered him a drink of cool water. At first Silas was so grateful for the water that he didn’t notice the flask, but once he did, he couldn’t take his eyes from it. He took it from his father’s hands and held it out in front of him.
It was ornate, one side featuring a strange symbol, a rectangle bisected nearly completely by lines along the diagonals with the exception of a small circle in the very center of the rectangle into which the diagonal lines did not intrude. The other side featured the image of a smiling jackal with three horns. When Silas turned the flask in the sun and the light struck the image from a different angle it almost looked as if the jackal winked at him.
“That’s enough,” his father had said sharply and he took the flask back and put it away in his jacket pocket. Silas never saw the flask again.
A year later Silas died.
Some time after that he was born again. By then his father had retired to this church, took on the garb and manner of the cloth. The flask had been destroyed, melted down. It had already served its purpose; it had already given Silas this second life and something else, too.
If Silas tilted his head to just the right angle the blue cross on the door looked like a distended “X,” much like one would expect to mark the spot on a treasure map. And there was a kind of treasure inside, though not jewels, gold, frankincense or myrrh. Knowledge was inside and magic.
The first time Silas had walked through those doors he had been innocent of his own nature. It was a miracle that he had found his father at all, or instinct masquerading as miracle. The memories had awakened within him at an early age, visions of his first life and of his father. They had warmed him. He walked into the church with open arms and he found his father harder than he had been before.
“You are called Silas now, no?” were his father’s welcoming words.
From there his father had spoken about destiny, hardship and sacrifice. Then he had told Silas about the flask, the Grail and the role he had to play. And then his father told Silas that in his travels from one life to the next he had been given a gift and it was now his purpose to learn how to use this gift. From that moment on the man who had once been Silas’ father was always the old man and nevermore a father. And Silas had been trained to some higher purpose without a name and out of love for the man who had once planted a tree with him in the park and held him close, Silas had set aside his reservations and disappointments and learned.
In the midst of this training Silas would sometimes fail in spirit and journey to the strip club next door. There had been a girl there. She called herself Violet, but her name was Trudi. The old man had known of these trysts and had not approved, but his disapproval was cold and distant and cold and distant were poor barriers to infatuation. And so it was Silas and not the old man who ended the relationship, though inadvertently. One day, while locked in a lover’s embrace Silas’ ability finally manifested and Trudi’s eyes had grown wide before she ran from the room, the building and her old life all at once. For Silas had revealed to her both how she began and how she would end.
Silas well remembered the terror that radiated from Trudi’s eyes when they had touched and she had seen. The way she had looked at him had broken his heart. He was not an attractive man, but he had always thought Trudi had loved him all the same. She must have; she had said so.
Silas stared at his hands as they stood framed in the pale light of the church doorway. They looked the same as most every other pair of hands he had ever seen. They could belong to anyone. But sometimes they were heavy and when they were heavy and he placed them on another person, Silas saw that person emerge from the womb bloody and squalling. And then he saw them give forth their final gasp of life, heard their soul give a last high-pitched cry of release as it escaped their body. And when Silas had these visions, the person he touched sometimes saw them as well. When his hands were heavy.
His hands were heavy now in the pale light. He put them to the door, opened it and walked through.
The interior was much as Silas remembered it, though it was brighter due to the sheer volume of candles. He raised one hand to shield his eyes as he came in from the darkness and rested the other on one of the wooden stoups at the foot of the wide center aisle. When his eyes adjusted to the light he looked around. One thing that hadn’t changed was the complete and utter lack of congregants inside the church. Silas would have thought some guilty soul from the club next door would have wandered in full of sins to confess, but so far as he knew Silas was the only one who had, even though many men there would have no doubt benefited from a good confession.
The old man was in the confessional so Silas walked over to the altar. The old man prided himself on his patience and Silas was given to let him demonstrate this skill.
There was what looked to be a threadbare pale-brown throw rug resting atop the altar in a haphazard way that Silas supposed many would consider sacrilegious; he just found it vulgar. But it was there and it must be there for a reason. Whatever Silas thought of the old man, he knew too well that nothing the old man did was without a purpose.
Silas put his hand to the material and it felt like parchment, but the face of it was blank. It was strangely warm to the touch, like it had been sitting out all afternoon in the sun. He had felt something like it before; his father had once been possessed of an empty journal that felt the same way when held in the hand. Silas had once tried to write something in the journal when his father had been away, but had been unable to put pen to paper. He wondered where the journal was, whether someone had found its purpose. The last Silas had seen of it was when his father had dabbed acid to its cover to wipe away the image that was there.
But the old man hadn’t erased the image from Silas’ memory. He remembered it still and the words that were there as well. The image had been of a knight staring fiercely out at the reader, a sword held in two hands plunged down into the Earth. On one side of the knight had been a woman with an apple in her hand, whispering in his ear. On the other side of the knight had stood a bearded man with a tiny fish in his hand, whispering in the knight’s other ear. Underneath the picture, painted in ornate calligraphy, were the words Voyez le deuxième fils du dragon, French for Behold the Second Son of the Dragon. Silas had known better than to ask his father why he removed the image and the words. But his father had sensed his son’s wonder and offered a fractional explanation.
“You remember what I told you about the tree?” his father had asked and Silas had nodded. “Well, the same is true of people. Sometimes it is better not to learn a thing than to know it. Some things need longer to flower. Someday you’ll understand that.”
A month later Silas was dead.
There was a sound from the confessional. Was the old man getting impatient? Had he ever been impatient before? Silas searched his memory.
Silas had run back into the church after he had been unable to find Trudi in the blackening gray of twilight. She was gone, already faded into the ebony tapestry of memory. And it seemed the old man had abandoned him as well. The church was empty and dark and somehow terrible.
Silas retreated to the living quarters in the back of the church, entered a small room he had for himself. There weren’t any creature comforts inside, just four walls and a bed, but the bed offered the prospect of sleep, which was something. But inside sleep was a dream and inside that dream was his death.
Silas woke up in a cold sweat to see the old man standing above him, looking like the Angel of Death come down to judge him.
“It happened,” the old man said and when Silas didn’t reply he continued. “Your ability manifested. What is it? Tell me.”
But Silas was struck dumb. It was as if all the words he had ever known had been taken from him and he was left as verbally artless as a newborn babe.
“Tell me,” the old man exclaimed, his voice urgent, pressing, but Silas still couldn’t speak.
The old man left in a hurry, his stride angry and violent.
Silas had only seen him in such a state once before. He had asked his father about his mother and his father had shaken his head.
“Your mother is gone, Son,” his father said, quietly. “And you are better for it. She is not a good person.”
“Where is she?” Silas had asked, figuring it was a small thing to ask for, a small thing for his father to give him.
But his father had raged at the question. He had erupted to his feet, his face red and full of fury. He had charged at Silas and grabbed him so hard by the shoulders that Silas was sure he would be bruised.
“Never ask me that again,” his father had said, aspects of the old man he would become beginning even then to manifest. “You will promise me never to ask that again.”
“I promise,” Silas replied and when his father searched his eyes and was satisfied the promise was sincere, he had let him go.
The next day, Silas died.
It was eerie how completely the dream captured the spirit of that death. If anything it was more specific than Silas remembered it, the details enhanced, the colors more evocative, the expressions more emotive, the pains more agonizing.
He woke up feeling heavy and hot, knowing something was wrong. His arms and legs seemed twice as big as they had the night before and ten times as heavy. His face was flushed and he was out of breath. Somehow he managed to make it out of bed, though Silas could sense that this had been a minor miracle.
He had made his way slowly, ponderously slowly, to his father. His father had powers. He knew it. He could tell Silas what was wrong. He could fix it. And when Silas had made it to his father and his father had smiled to see him, Silas had known that everything was going to be all right. He was wrong.
“Father,” Silas had said, wondering at his father’s strange expression.
“Son,” his father said and came forward, put his hand to Silas’ forehead. “You’re burning up.”
Silas had not been able to say anything more; he was so heavy. He fell forward in his father’s arms, struggled to breathe. His father held him firmly and whispered in his ear.
“Soon the pain will go away, Isaac,” his father’s voice was raw with emotion. “Remember I love you.”
And then Silas had died.
But that had been long ago. Before this church. Before his father became the old man full time. He would never say such words to Silas now. He hadn’t when Silas had come back the first time, when Silas had first had his death dream, when Silas had chased down his father and grabbed hold of him and seen how the old man ended. That had been the last thing Silas had done before he went away, the first thing he had done after the enhanced perception of his death dream had allowed him to understand that his death was unnatural, that he had been poisoned.
He opened the door to the confessional gently, entered quietly. He knelt down like a proper penitent, though he wasn’t.
“I knew you would come back,” the old man said, his voice betraying the same self-satisfaction that had always aggravated Silas.
“Funny,” Silas replied, closing his eyes. “It was never my intention.”
“Intentions are funny things,” the old man agreed. “And they never seem to emerge victorious in their struggle against destiny.”
Destiny. How the old man loved to talk about destiny. But didn’t destiny require a little assistance now and again?
“Where is my mother?” Silas asked.
“You promised never to ask that,” the old man replied.
“A child promised you that,” Silas insisted. “A child named Isaac. He died. I am not beholden to promises he made.”
“You are still the same soul,” the old man asserted. “You may wear a different face, but you’re the same boy that I raised inside. You haven’t changed.”
But that wasn’t true. Silas was different. His fear at the door of the church had been unfounded. He was profoundly different than he had been before. He was certain of it, and he would prove it to the old man as well.
“It is our time, Silas,” the old man continued on as if Silas had never spoken of his mother. “Merlin is dead. Arthur has been freed from Avalon. Excalibur is again under his stewardship. He will need our help, as will the other. You remember the boy I told you about?”
“I remember,” Silas said, though he didn’t, at least not any talk about any boy. Camelot, Arthur and Excalibur had been the favorite subjects of his childhood stories, stories his father had told with passion. It had seemed much more significant before than it did now. It had all seemed magical. But then he had learned the cost of being magical.
His hands had been very heavy when he had touched the old man’s shoulder and he had seen his birth. Hundreds were gathered in a circle in the darkness and there were men in dark robes. They spoke in a language Silas hadn’t understood. But he wasn’t interested in how the old man began. That was history. He was interested in how the old man ended, if he could end. And Silas had seen the old man in a confessional, with a bullet hole in the front of his head. And then he had walked away.
“The Anonymous Knight has come,” the old man continued on, his voice hurried and excited. “And the Anonymous Night has passed. And you have come back, Silas, just in time to take part in the quest, in what may prove to be the end of human history.”
“I didn’t come back for any quest,” Silas said.
“No? Then why?”
The old man didn’t know everything. Hadn’t he once said that to Silas? Back during the training, he must have. Especially now. Silas remembered that, the old man saying that after the Anonymous Night he would be blind to the future. So, there was no way he could see what was going to happen next.
“I came to see you, Father,” Silas said. “To ask for your forgiveness.”
“For what?” the old man turned to the screen for the first time and looked in Silas’ eyes. Silas wondered what the old man saw there, if he saw anything at all. It didn’t matter. As the old man looked into his eyes, Silas pulled out the gun he was carrying and aimed.
As Silas pulled the trigger he felt the force of the bullet shooting forward through the cylinder, heard the sigh of it traveling through the silencer, piercing the thin screen that separated the confessor from the false priest, exploding through the front and then the back of the old man’s skull, sounding for all the world like a hammer stroke against a watermelon. The deed was done.
The old man was dead.
“Forgive me, Father, for I have sinned,” Silas said, putting the gun back in his pocket. “I have killed you.”
Silas let out a deep breath and shuddered. He took one last look at the old man. He looked just as he had in the vision Silas had seen long ago.
As he left the confessional Silas was overcome with regret. Not at the deed itself—the old man was evil—but that he hadn’t been able to pump the old man for information. A lot of wisdom died with the old man, was now lost forever. The world would have to learn to do without it, discover it again for themselves.
Silas walked over to the votive candles and lit one for himself. He looked at the slender flame dance back and forth, seemingly engaged in a tango with his hurried breath. It was beautiful. Silas put out his hand to touch it, but the flame blew out before his hand could reach it. That was strange. So was the sudden sensation Silas had that he was not alone. He turned and a dead man was looking back at him.
The flesh of his temple had already knit itself back together, leaving not a hint of an entry wound or scar. A cloud of blood, skull and brain matter hovered in a swirling mass behind the old man’s head, trailing the head wound like a pool of mosquitoes around a torch in the darkness. Piece by piece the matter behind the skull moved back into place, returning to the home they had known for centuries before being temporarily dislodged by Silas’ bullet.
It was all Silas could do not to reach for the gun again, to make another futile gesture. Instead he fell to his knees, like a supplicant before his god. The old man walked over to him, rested a hand gently on Silas’ shoulder. Silas closed his eyes and breathed deeply, a calm came over him as he accepted that he had failed, that his vision was false. It was almost a relief.
“I hope you’ve gotten that out of your system, now,” his father spoke, the words slightly slurred, as if some of the brain matter still fitting itself back together through the hole in the back of the old man’s skull were responsible for coherent speech, “because we have a lot of work to do.”