The angel did not descend as a golden hawk burning with glory. Its voice did not sound from the hallow depths of the world. The angel did not come. Only the musk of the incense and the echoes of unanswered prayers. The man rose slowly. He had abased himself three times a day for sixteen months; he had shunned the company of mankind, and lived alone in a small cave near his crude oratory, deep in the wilderness. The oratory was a makeshift chamber dedicated to his sacred task. It looked like a tent, a piece of canvas stretched over a few branches and secured to the side of the mountain. Within was a rug, once costly and beautiful, now a sweat stained scrap of cloth, a flat stone served as an altar, and his tarnished brass censer rested upon it.
He turned and stumbled away without looking back. So close this time. He had heard the diving shriek and the beating of wings, his heart had burned with holy exaltation as he prayed. Finally the fires had surged upward, pouring from the back of his skull, out of his bowed head and into the heavens as a pillar of flame. The soul-deep ache of his longing had finally eclipsed all of his doubts and shown forth in a blazing column of prayer that pierced the unseen veil. It must have been like a beacon fire, a great and terrible light calling his purpose into the void. But still the angel did not come.
He collapsed in the cave, the cool damp floor pressed against his face, a welcome relief to the fever that wracked him. Recently he had lost track of when dreams should come. They came to him now, as he lay there, his eyes open and staring into the darkness of the autumn twilight. The storm. Black waves crashing over him. Over his ships. How many dead? All the rum and sugar and fine white lace. All of it taken by the storm, snatched from him by the dark hands that reached down from the sky. The four princes. They spoke but he could not hear their words, their faces were dark, their eyes red. They stood on all sides of him, filling the cave, statues of hatred and perfect evil. Blood dripped from their hands. It ran into his eyes. He touched the cut on his temple. The rose and lily were broken in half, a porcelain cup lay shattered at his feet. Reaching to pick it up. Another cup, this one bearing a black orchid and dove, smashed into the wall behind him. Rebecca. Did he still love her? She picked up a third cup, his grandmother’s, the design faded and muddy. What had she called him then? She was almost crying as she threw it. An angry fist hammered at their door.
A crash woke him. He struggled to his feet and staggered out of the cave. A boulder had fallen from higher up the mountain and smashed his oratory. He tried to lift it. Collapsed. He lay over the rock, his arms spread, clutching at it feebly. The morning’s first light touched his face as the sun rose over the horizon. It was time. His voice rasped, he struggled to stop the spinning in his head, to say the words one last time.
“Tiruvel, Tiruvel, Tiruvel…. Holy angel, blessed spirit whose station is higher than the sun, who knows the council of the Most High, be with me now. Instruct me in the sacred mysteries, teach me the ancient spells of my forefathers, stand behind me as I bind the four princes of the world…O boundless god, all knowing, all seeing, and eternal. Though I am unworthy, send thy angel unto me. Allow me this gnosis, allow us to speak together at last…in this time…descend in…please.”
A soft hand touched his right shoulder. He turned his head; the angel had come at last. It spoke in a gentle voice, “As you say, you are indeed unworthy. I want you to know how much I hate you and all that you have failed to do in my name. Your children starve, your wife debases her soul by selling herself each night to keep them fed, and often your brother beats her and spends her earnings on wine. Your prayers offend God so long as they suffer. As you have abandoned them, so I forsake you now. I will never come again.”