Fantasy Lisa Goldstein The Alchemist's Door

ISBN 13: 9780765301505

The Alchemist's Door

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9780765301505: The Alchemist's Door

Scientist, mathematician, and court astrologer to Queen Elizabeth I, John Dee is also one of the sixteenth-century's most renowned alchemists, driven by a passion to fathom the elemental secrets of the cosmos. But when his reckless assistant, Edward Kelley, succeeds in using a crystal sphere to summon angels, Dee is catapulted into an awesome struggle that may extinguish the light of reason forever.

One of the spirits invoked is a cunning demon who takes possession of Dee's young daughter, Katherine, and shows Dee a frightening vision of his own future. Terrified by what has been foretold, Dee abruptly decides to close his house in London and flee to Europe with his long-suffering wife, Jane, and their two young children.

Their desperate flight brings them at last to the city of Prague--a center of culture, knowledge, and learning, both sacred and profane, a gateway between the Eastern and Western worlds, and also, it is whispered, a door between our world and the world of the spirits.

There, in the city's ancient streets, Dee encounters the mystic Rabbi Judah Loew, who enlists his aid in the creation of a Golem--a man fashioned from the clay--to defend the city's Jewish Quarter from persecution. And he asks Dee's help to avert a impending crisis that threatens to engulf the world. For ancient legends say that the fate of the world rests on shoulders of thirty-six righteous men. And if one of those righteous men dies before his time, the world will end and dark spirits will remake it in their own image.

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About the Author:

Lisa Goldstein is the author of seven widely acclaimed novels, including The Dream Years, A Mask for the General, Strange Devices of the Sun and Moon, Tourists, Summer King, Winter Fool, and Dark Cities Underground, as well as numerous works of short fiction, recently collected in the anthology Travellers in Magic. Goldstein lives in Oakland, California.

Excerpt. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

1
 
 
TELL ME AGAIN," JANE DEE SAID, FOLDING A shirt briskly and setting it in the trunk. "Why are we leaving England in such a hurry?"
"We're not hurrying," John Dee said. "Prince Laski wants us to go with him to Poland, nothing more."
"Then why can't we leave tomorrow, or a week from now? I have to close up the house and send off the servants, and you should arrange for money to be sent after us--"
Dee stopped in the act of folding a pair of hose and looked at his wife, studying her fine reddish blond hair, the small lines at her mouth and eyes that had appeared when their first son, Arthur, was born. Her gray eyes regarded him levelly.
How much could he say to her? He could not tell her the truth, how everything had gone horribly wrong; he could not ask her to share the fear that had weighed on him since that terrible evening.
"I heard something from your study a week ago," she said. "A deep awful voice. And Katherine was in there--she's only two. What did she see?"
She had read his mind, the way partners in a long marriage do. "No harm came to Katherine, I swear," he said, quietly praying that that was true. "Kelley and I take all the precautions necessary--"
"Kelley!" Jane said. She spoke softly; his assistant Edward Kelley had been living in a spare room on the ground floor for over a year. "Why do you listen to that man?"
"We have been over and over this. Because he can hear the angels speak, and I cannot."
"He can hear your money speak, more like. Why should he be the one to hear them, and not you? You are a good, God-fearing man, and he is--he is a man who has had his ears cut off as punishment for some crime. How can you trust him? You know why the magistrates order a man's ears clipped. For forgery, or coining. Or for necromancy."
"He is no necromancer."
"I hope, for the children's sake, that he is not."
They continued packing, folding and sorting the family's clothes, moving through the house to collect cookpots and books and pewter plates. "Is Kelley coming with us?" Jane asked, adding bits of cedar and sprigs of lavender to a trunk.
"Yes."
To her credit she did not complain about the other man again. "How will we afford all this?" she asked.
"We have money," Dee said shortly. But Jane knew as well as he did that their money would last a few months, if that. They would have to find a patron. Prince Laski might reward him, God willing....
"You should have the moneys from your lands sent after us," she said once more.
He did not reply. Jane was right, but he could not afford to take the time to arrange it. He placed the bag holding the transparent ball of crystal in the last trunk, nestling it carefully within piles of clothing, and then closed the lid. Bells rang outside, tolling three hours after noon. He had hoped to be away much earlier.
Still, he could not resist a last hurried look around. He walked through the house, taking in everything--the beams blackened from countless hearth-fires, the scuffed wooden floors, the battered furniture--as if for the last time. He had grown up in this house just outside of London; it fit him like a familiar piece of clothing. Finally he climbed the stair to his study, a small room perched precariously above the rest of the house, and looked at his beloved library: the orrery, the astrolabe, the books he had amassed with so much trouble.
He went downstairs and found his wife in the children's room, holding Rowland, the baby. He took Arthur and Katherine by the hands and called for their servants to carry the trunks and bundles. Kelley joined them silently on the ground floor, a small sack slung over his shoulder.
A servant led the way down to the Thames. At the dock they met Prince Adalbert Laski and his retinue. Dee's heart sank at the sight of Laski's escort, which was far too large to travel as quickly as he wanted.
They boarded a boat for Greenwich, which they reached in the dead of night. "We take rooms and wait for morning, yes?" Laski said in his peculiarly-accented English.
"Let's go now," Dee said.
"Why?"
"Because--because the time is auspicious for traveling."
"It is middle of night now."
"Let's wait," Jane said. "The children have to sleep."
Katherine and Rowland were already asleep, but Arthur was bright-eyed and awake. "Where are we going?" Arthur asked, pleased with the sudden notice being taken of him. "What is happening?"
Dee gave in, knowing that Jane was right, and they found rooms at an inn frequented by travelers and sailors. When everyone was asleep he opened his diary and wrote carefully, "21 Sept., 1583. Saturday." And how long, he wondered, before we get to our destination? But he wrote about the day's events with a light tone, in case anyone read what he had written.
The next day they boarded a grander ship that would take them to the continent. A gale blew up almost immediately, returning them to shore. The bad weather continued into the night, forcing them back to the inn. Dee cursed the delay and paced in the confined space; they had taken a small room to save money and he was hemmed in by Jane and the children and Kelley and all their luggage. Rain beat irregularly on the roof, adding to his frustration.
Jane bade him to be patient; they would leave when the weather permitted. He could not tell her what he feared: that the thing he tried to escape from would not let them go.
Four days later the storm finally cleared and they were able to cross the channel. On the continent they boarded yet another ship and navigated through the oppressively flat country of the Lowlands on a roundabout route to Poland. They followed the filigree and tracery of rivers and canals and tributaries so small they didn't even have names; they saw windmills in the distance, and foul-smelling marshes; strange birds shrieked to them as they passed. A chilling wind came off the water, and sometimes an unhealthy mist rose about them, obscuring the river. They passed no one but farmers and an occasional low barge carrying trade goods.
Their ship moved slowly, so slowly. And while they sailed he was forced to be idle, and his mind--used to teasing out puzzles and studying philosophical questions--began to plague him with unwelcome thoughts. He remembered a story he had once heard a Yorkshireman tell, about a kind of mischievous fairy called a Boggart. For years the Boggart had tormented a Yorkshire farmer and his family, had curdled their butter and snarled their knitting and blighted their crops and thrown their things about, until finally the family packed their possessions and made ready to move away. "So you're leaving the old house at last?" a neighbor said, and the head of the family replied, "Heigh, Johnny, I'm forced to it, for that damned Boggart torments us so." He had scarce uttered the words when a voice came from the butter churn, packed with the rest of the household goods in the cart--"Aye, aye, here I am." "Oh, damn thee," the farmer said. "It's no use." And he pulled on the reins of his cart-horse and said to his wife, "We may as well turn back to the old house as be tormented in another that's not so convenient."
Odd how the story came back to him. He even remembered the Yorkshireman's broad dialect--"t'ould hoose," he had said. Not so odd, really. But he had left the--the thing, whatever it was--behind him.
He and Kelley dealt with kindly angels only. That was what he believed, and what he held to despite everything. Kelley saw them in the crystal, and Dee asked them questions. The unkindly angels, the evil angels, that is to say the demons...
No. He had left it behind. It could not come to torment him in another house. If it did, he had uprooted his family and sent them on a mad chase through Europe, all for nothing.
"Why we go this way?" Prince Laski asked once. "Travel over land is better, yes?"
"This way is just as good," Dee said. He did not mention to Laski his forlorn hope, the tale the old wives told, that demons could not pass running water.
Unlike Jane and Laski, Kelley did not question him at all. Kelley argued, as he always did, his speech a continuous litany of complaints: they should never have left England, he should not be forced to use the scrying glass so often, they should continue their search for the Philosopher's Stone instead.
Dee knew, of course, of Kelley's obsession with the Philosopher's Stone. The Stone, the goal of every alchemist, was made by the forging of opposites to create something whole, something perfect and incorruptible. Whatever the Stone touched would become perfect as well: mortal men would become immortal, impure metals would change to gold. It was for gold that Kelley pursued his experiments with potions and elixirs. He had no time for theories of perfection and imperfection; he wanted, simply and wholeheartedly, to be rich.
From the beginning Kelley had made no secret of his desires. He had first come to Dee over a year ago, in March of 1582, in the company of a friend of Dee's, a Master Clerkson. It was the day after the aurora borealis, and ever since then Dee would wonder, fancifully, if the man had blown in on the unearthly blood red lights.
Kelley called himself Talbot then; Dee never discovered why. He had a down-turned mustache, and although he was young compared to Dee, only thirty, his yellow beard was already turning gray; the streaks made it look as if his beard were rusting. He seemed to have two expressions, one jaded and worldly-wise, with drooping eyelids, and another more forceful and alert.
Yet Kelley could see angels in the ball of crystal, and Dee could not. Dee did not know why this should be so: it seemed grossly unfair, almost--though he shied away from the thought--a mistake on the part of God. Kelley was sometimes recalcitrant or bad-tempered or blasphemous, or all three. But Dee's place, so far, had been only to ask the angels questions and record their answers in the book he called the Liber Mysteriorum, or the Book of Mysteries.
At Dee's urging Kelley joined their household. As the months passed, though, Dee noticed oddities about the other man, things that made him uncomfortable. And Jane, who was so level-headed, had been suspicious of Kelley from the first.
For one thing, Kelley always wore a close-fitting black cap, even inside the house. Then one day he came to breakfast without it and Dee saw, shocked, that there were ragged stumps where his ears should be, that his ears had been cropped. And ten months after he moved in with them he mentioned casually, as though it was a detail of not much importance, that his name was really Kelley, not Talbot.
Once Dee opened his diary to see that Kelley had crossed out whole sections, most of them concerning Dee's secret doubts about the other man. Kelley had also added fulsome paragraphs praising his own scrying ability, paragraphs that mimicked Dee's hand perfectly. Dee remembered Kelley's clipped ears--which, as Jane never ceased to remind him, was a punishment meted out to forgers--and he wondered. "This is Mr. Talbot's writing in my book," he wrote, hoping to avoid confusion later, and he began to write in other languages besides English.
By this time, though, he had traveled too far along the road Kelley showed him. Kelley could see more in the glass than anyone Dee had ever known. At every session they had together Dee felt as if he traveled to another world, a wondrous world filled with angels and spirits and color and rare knowledge. Sometimes he thought that he was speaking directly to God, that he was on the verge of learning God's plan for the world. Kelley satisfied his hunger for this knowledge; it did not matter if the man had a hundred names.
On October seventeenth Arthur and Rowland became ill from the cold and they were forced to go ashore in Emden. Laski stopped at an inn that looked far too expensive for Dee's taste, and he and his family continued on until they found something smaller.
The innkeeper led Dee and his family upstairs and through a narrow hallway, then opened a door and ushered them inside. The room beyond was tiny, with peeling whitewash; it smelled of mold and congealed candlewax. Wind rattled the shutters and sent gusts of freezing air through cracks in the windows. The fire in the stone hearth was out and dust eddied in the corners.
The innkeeper showed Dee into the other two rooms, each as small and cold and musty as the first. Both contained a lumpy narrow bed, a chest and a chamberpot. Dee thanked the innkeeper and showed him out.
When the man had gone Dee spoke a few words. A candle on the mantelpiece blazed into light. He used it to build up the fire and kindle the other lamps. As he walked he felt as if he were still moving, still swaying to the motion of the boat.
Jane stripped the filthy linen off the beds, then sorted through their trunks until she found sheets and blankets. As she drew them out Dee smelled the cedar and lavender she had packed them in, and for a moment he was transported back to their home in England.
They settled the children in bed. Dee studied Arthur and Rowland carefully, feeling their foreheads, lifting their lids to peer into their eyes. "They need a good warm broth," he said to Jane. "And some feverfew, if you can find it."
She nodded doubtfully and left to find the kitchen. Dee went back to the front room and stood before the fire.
A moment later the door opened and he looked up, expecting Jane. Prince Laski stood there. One of the shutters flew open and banged loudly against the wall; Dee jumped at the noise and looked at the window. The forest began a mere few yards from the inn, he saw, the serrated edges of the pine trees cutting at the sky.
"The angels speak to us tonight, yes?" Laski asked in his outlandish Polish accent. Kelley's angels had promised Laski that he would become king of Poland, and the prince was eager to learn more about his fate.
Dee went to the window, staring out at the darkness of the forest. What was he looking for? The thing he feared would not show itself; he almost wished it would, wished he had something tangible to fight. "No," he said slowly. "We must not summon the angels in such a godforsaken place as this."
The minute the words were out of his mouth he wanted to call them back. The place was not godforsaken; surely God would not forsake any of them. One of his children cried from the next room and he excused himself and hurried toward the sound. Dreadful imaginings filled his mind, and he prayed under his breath as he went. Prayed quietly, so Laski would not hear him and guess that anything was wrong.
Nothing is wrong, he told himself fiercely. Their first attempt across the channel, when they had been driven back to shore-that had been perfectly natural and not the action of some supernatural force. The shadows he sometimes saw leap upward when there was no fire to make them dance--that was his imagination. And the children's illness...He shook his head. No, they had left the thing behind. He was certain of it.
The child was Katherine, crying in her sleep. He hurried toward her and held her. Poor Katherine, he thought. The scars on her palms had not yet healed. He studied her as she fell back to sleep; she looked peaceful enough.
Jane came into the room. "The innkeeper's wife nearly ordered me out of her kitchen," she said. "I h...

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