In the spacious room in De la Cava's villa, the four men sat on low stools and listened with grim faces. Richard paced back and forth between the enormous casement windows. At each pass of the room he knocked his knuckles on the surface of the large table that dominated the center.
"Forgeries? The book is written in many different hands. There is no way to say, ‘I recognize this scribe's writing so this must be the correct book.' Will I know we have the right one? How will you know, if you see it?"
Marcus frowned. "I would recognize the cover."
"No. Many books have similar covers. We need to find any copies of it that have been made." Richard paused in his stride. "Copies may have no cover, or be unbound."
Alisdair said, "I know the first page is in Hebrew, the second in Moorish script."
Richard shook his head. "Not good enough. There are many, as I said. They may have been copied or bound out of order, anyway."
"What do you suggest?" Montrose leaned back against the plaster wall and stretched his legs. "I can bring you any number of books. Will you be able to remember which one is the one you want?"
Richard turned to his brother.
"You make a good argument. I saw the book yesterday…I remember the distinctive bird and flower script…the fascinating directions to ‘the water's edge'." He glanced at the table where his writing box lay.
"I could write all that down, make copies and give them to you. When you find a book you each could match the symbols to what you see..."
"My lord, " Marcus interrupted, "and if we are stopped and searched? Those papers would be taken. I do not relish an encounter with the Inquisitors."
John laughed sharply. "No. I will not carry a copy on my person unless my lord Montrose gives the order."
"Nor I," Alisdair agreed. "'Tis as good as death to ask that of a man, my lord."
"You will not condemn my men with a manuscript," Montrose said to Richard.
"Certes," Richard mumbled, his hand over his eyes. "I cannot ask you to do this."
"Let us take what we have and leave for Wittenberg. This heat oppresses me." Montrose loosened the ties around his neck and pulled at his tunic. "I want to leave this place and go north."
"In time, little Robbie. I have so much, yet this one book escapes me…"
Montrose glared at him.
"Call me ‘little Robbie again, big brother, and I will take you down to the floor and keep you there until you cry ‘yield'," he growled. "You know you cannot have the damned book. You saw Father Valentine offer an ungodly sum to the duke for it. An ungodly sum for an ungodly book. Why do we stay in this infernal place? One of the boys has the flux…the water here is filthy, the women are hairy, the food burns the mouth, the…"
"Stop!" Richard put his hands up in a gesture of defeat. "I am well aware of your displeasure. We all are. I promise you I will set our path to Wittenberg. Soon. But first…"
"First nothing. Now. Tomorrow."
Richard pulled up a stool close to his brother and sat facing him.
"This one is worth all the others combined." He turned to the other men who were all staring at him intently.
"I do not endanger my friends for greed. Tell me you know this?" His eyes pleaded with them. "This book is special. Priceless. In the right hands it is bestows the treasures of Paradise to the seekers of Truth. In the wrong hands it brings Hell to all."
Marcus gave a slight nod, though his eyes reflected his doubt.
"This one is not just a book. It has no stories or poems or prayers. It is not a history." Richard paused, wondering how much to tell. His face showed the strain of trying to relate the glimmer of magic he had seen to men who had no concept of the power of the written word. With a deep frown he made an attempt.
"The priests say that only the will of God can direct the affairs of men." He studied each face in turn. "This book promises that the secret of God's will can be learned by men…by a man. Think of what a man can do with that power, what I could do with that knowledge."
Montrose looked at him with disgust. In a quiet voice that signaled his deep disbelief he said, "Surely you do not believe such a deception. No man can know the mind of God."
Richard raised his hands and lifted his eyes to the rafters in frustration. "Your mind is like a brick! I cannot show you what I mean…" Richard paused. The men shifted uncomfortably on their stools. He tried again.
"Trust me to tell you the truth. With this book I would know where to find sweet water as we travel. I would know which road is the safest. I could tell you, brother, if bandits waited at the crossroads ahead of us. I would know if the morrow brought rain or snow or blinding sun." Richard's eyes pleaded with them. "Trust me. I saw this and more when I had this book in my hands. I could even enter the mind of another man and know his unspoken thoughts."
Marcus stood up and walked to the casement. He pushed open the shutter and leaned out, breathing deeply.
Alisdair coughed quietly into his fist.
Montrose shook his head slowly. "It is not about the truth of the matter. Even if these things you say are merely rumor, it speaks to me of how eagerly this book is being hunted. It disquiets me that you believe such foolishness."
Richard gave a deep sigh and sank down onto his stool again, head in hands. "So be it," he said softly. "I cannot convince you." He raised his head. "But I want it. I will have it."
John scowled. "The priests want it too. Anyone found with that book is doomed, and this place is crawling with priests. They unman me with their stares. I see the auto da fe in their eyes. Every time they look at me, my stones try to squeeze up inside me."
Alistair gave a short laugh. "I wondered why the whores have none of your coin."
"Check my purse," John answered, his eyes now merry. "They have had plenty of my coin. Their eyes have the fire of passion, my friend, not the fires of the stake."
"And your privates will soon burn with their disease," Montrose grumbled. "Hairy women. I can't abide this ajo they put in everything, their whores smell of it. The ones from the east paint their hands and feet with henna and put it in their hair. The stink of it puts me off my food."
Richard waved a hand.
"This is serious. Must everything turn to drink and food and whores?" He pressed his palms to his eyes in frustration.
Marcus turned from the window and leaned back on the sill. "I hear you, my lord. What do you want us to do?" The other men stopped laughing.
"I need to write these symbols down. I need a record of them." He looked at his brother. "Did you say ‘henna'?"
"Aye. Filthy whores painted like savages."
"Bah," Alisdair said. "The German ones smell of cabbage."
"But they are warm and soft when the winter is cold and hard," John smiled. "And I like cabbage."
"Enough!" Richard stood again and resumed his pacing. "Can you get me some henna? Who here knows where it can be bought?"
"Souk…" Marcus shrugged. "Everything can be bought there."
"Get me some tomorrow. And a brush."
"Very well, my lord." Marcus started to unbuckle his baldric. "At first light, then. I will bring them to you. Now I will sleep."
"What will you do with the henna, Richard? Do you plan to paint yourself like a savage?" Montrose stood and began to disarm himself for sleep as well.
Richard did not answer, but squeezed Marcus' shoulder before retiring to his bed.