Saint Fire (Secret Books of Venus Series) (36 page)

BOOK: Saint Fire (Secret Books of Venus Series)
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Human beings had always hurt her. If fire itself had hurt her, she did not reason it out. It was men, not fire, who hurt. The world.

Rushes of heat began to come. They slapped upwards, soaring against her body. And then the smoke she had smelled billowed between her and everything.

It was not yet thick, but wavering and distorting—like water.

Volpa-Beatifica closed her eyes, because they smarted.

She began to leave herself behind.

It was then, on the boundary between flesh and spirit, that she heard a vast voice of brass that shook the outer places, but also the innerness to which she went.



Who—what—was it? She thought of the picture the Magister had
shown her, the man thrown among lions. She thought of the story of the burning fiery furnace, and how the angel had led the chosen ones from the fire. As she had been led from the blazing house of Ghaio.

Did the angel call to her now?

, cried the angel like a trumpet,
God’s light.

Blast their bloody filth of fire—Beatifica



Make the

Who is that walking there? said the king, Nabucco.

Into the furnace I cast three men. But there is a fourth man there with them.

In the smoke she saw, the girl, her angel. He wore the steel maculum and mail, the sword gleamed in his hand, his wings were spread, salt-white. His hair burned like white gold in the furnace. Cristiano. He said, now, softly,
Be quick. Let it be over.

She flung up her head. She felt the torrent of her own pyrotechnic burst through her, as never had she
it before.
the candle,
the altar. And to
fire, this other fire of the world—

A slave. She had obeyed.

And with her slave’s obedience, the goal of the priest, directed by her angel, she took back her power and made the world’s fire

There was an explosive thud, and flash.

Smoke, an indigo column, rushing, thrusting.

She saw herself one moment, garbed in the flames of her own fire. They were cool. They tingled. And her skull filled like a cup with brilliancy.

This was the light of God. She had been told. She knew.

She gave herself to the light. And was received.

When the center of the pyre crashed
in and she dropped to the cistern below, the Maiden was burning like a torch. When they threw water over her, shouting, the fire went out. And she lay unscathed, and fully clothed, on the weave of her hair which, for some moments, looked pale as ashes.

They picked her up, the men below, who had also risked their lives. But she slept.

“Is she gone? Is she dead?”

“No. Not a mark. Look, her heart beats in her throat, you can see.”

They carried her away through the tunnel under the arena, where, knee high, water yet rippled like snakes. They put her in a boat.

She slept.

“She’s cool. Not hot or fevered.”

They rowed her from the land, across a web of blackest sea. They rowed her to the land again.

In a columned chapel, partly ruined, that the Romans had built on the stony shore, (to Neptunus) the Maiden lay asleep.

Night ended. Morning began. Day passed. Night returned.

Then the man arrived they had been told to expect.

He had been one of the Soldiers of God, and that was on him still. But he walked as if lugged by a chain, approaching wide-eyed, not knowing why or for what.

“Signore—Bellatoro—she’s in there.”

He went by them. At the back of the chapel, where a timbered cell had been attached, a red-haired girl lay asleep.

Cristiano stood looking at her.

He did not know that Jian had been, that once, and unrecognized, her angel also. He did not know that somehow she had heard
Cristiano’s own whispered prayer.

He did not know who she was, or what the world was in which she might have survived the pyre of sainthood and oblivion.

“He’s lost. Doesn’t grasp what he’s doing.”

“Come away. Leave him privacy. This is an age of miracles. We’re favored and cursed to live in it.”

Cristiano leaned above her, and then he reached out and smoothed the flame of hair back from her forehead. As a brother might. But, till then, he had never been even a brother.

It was the first time they had touched.

Her eyes flew open. She was there. Back from a long journey, she thought. Cristiano had been on the road with her. She gazed up at him. Danielus had believed she might not know this man without the mail of Christ. But she said, “You led me from the fire. You’re my angel. Don’t go away.”

She never noticed Cristiano was no longer winged.

Nor did he.

For she had burned. But now the fire was out …

Their sleeping room was bare, only the sparse mattress on the floor, a chest, a stool. One end, however, had been divided off, making the small chamber smaller.

Beyond the curtain they kept their private altar, where a cross of carved wood was set, a copper cup, and the flowers Ermilla regularly gathered, in a white jug.

They had not fasted. They did not, now. At all times they ate sparely.

They sipped the water from the cup.

It would not matter that the Magister was in the house. He would sleep soundly. Sunrise always brought them back, as it woke them on other
summer days, blooming through the unglazed and unshuttered window. Better than a bell, the Auroria of mountain dawn.

They did not exchange a word, he or she. Alone, they did not ever speak at great length. Having no need.

Kneeling, they faced each other, by the altar.

In the warmth of the summer they were naked.

As in the Garden, before nakedness became the mark of disobedient knowledge and the stigma of the Fall.

(Outside, soft noises. An owl across the fields. The stirring of animals. Stars turning in sky. The moon, singing, as it sailed its nacre boat.)

Cristiano reached out his hands, and Beatifica reached out her hands. Their hands joined.

The last image each beheld, as always, at this instant, the eyes of the other, silver, gold. And then the wave of eternal radiance, the light of God, swept down and spun them upward.

It came always the same. At the touch.

Together, one thing, they would enter the sphere of ecstasy so otherwise unimaginable, and otherwise so ungovernable. The foretaste of Heaven, and the immortal state. Beyond any physical pleasure, impossible in its wonder and effulgence. Yet always achievable. Always.

To this, mere sexual union—which they had never known, nor ever attempted, nor ever would attempt—like the fires of the world—was

In a glory above all delight, they hung together in the firmament. Would hang there like stars all night, until the dawn reclaimed them.

Across the wooden places of the house, Danielus, lying yet awake, might dream his waking dream. The Council had not been overthrown, inhuman lies still ruled the City, and the earth. He had lost the sword of flame. But oh, if they, the
warrior-visionary, the priestess-saint, if they might produce, from their innocent lust, a child—what might that child not be? What true miracle might that child not work?

Alas, Magister, you must dream in vain.

They are virgins, these lovers, and will be till their death. And from their rare and soaring love, no child can ever be created—unless it is an angel.

For nine further years the mystical Heart of the Maiden Beatifica continued to work miracles in the City of Ve Nera. As belief in these wonders swelled, it became a common cause that the Maiden should be recognized as one of God’s saints. At length the Council of the Lamb, eager to end this—as they perceived it—opposing cult, outlawed the idea of Beatifica, and threatened death by burning to her adherents. On this signal, the City revolted against them. And from Rome came the ultimate edict that the Brothers of the Lamb had exceeded their authority.

The Council was overthrown, and most of its members, so the story went, secretly murdered by Ve Nera’s princes.

In that year too, the name of Ve Nera was altered by her Ducem, Joffri, to
. This after the goddess of love, who also, like the City, had been born from the sea. The Maiden Beatifica was never officially canonized. One hundred years later, the golden casket, which contained her Heart, vanished without trace.

In heaven’s luminous land, in
splendour rising,

You, O living Aten, maker of life!

When once you have dawned in the east,

The country of the light,

You brim all places with your beauty.

You, the beautiful, mighty and aflame,

Upon the pinnacle of every land,

Your rays kiss the world

To the boundaries of creation.

From the hymn of the P

To his one true God, the Sun.

“Tanith Lee is an elegant, ironic stylist … one of our very best authors.”—




Starting with the premise of a series of novels based on the phases of alchemy and the four primal elements, Tanith Lee created an evocative fantastical alternate to the historical Italy in her Secret Books of Venus quartet. The first volume,
Faces Under Water
, was set against a backdrop drenched with atmosphere and water in a parallel Venice.

Saint Fire,
the chilling second volume of the series, Volpa is a strangely beautiful servant girl who glows with an inhuman inner fire. When her master, an abusive wood seller, is mysteriously incinerated, Volpa begins to discover her power of fire. Church leaders, who see her as a mighty weapon in their holy wars, notice her gift and, unable to determine whether her powers are heavenly or demonic, are nonetheless determined to have Volpa on their side. This gripping fantasy of a mysteriously gifted Joan of Arc figure is stunning from beginning to end.

“Few fantasy writers today can match the sheer beauty and inventiveness of Tanith Lee’s writing … Lee raises challenging questions about faith, justice, and truth in this moving Joan of Arc story.”

Millennium Science Fiction and Fantasy

Tanith Lee
is one of the leading fantasy authors writing today. She has written more than fifty novels and short story collections, among them the bestselling Flat Earth series. She is also the author of another Overlook fantasy series, The Secret Books of Paradys, as well as
Mortal Suns
. She has won the World Fantasy Award numerous times as well as the August Derleth Award.

BOOK: Saint Fire (Secret Books of Venus Series)
9.95Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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