THOMAS & THE NECROMANCER
All Hallow’s Eve Germany 1521
Thomas Devilstone un-slung the leather satchel he was carrying and offered it to the tall, hooded figure who was standing in the shadow of the castle’s tower. Dressed in his long black cloak, Thomas’ former master looked like a giant bird of prey and he thrust his hooked nose into the bag’s contents as eagerly as a vulture feasting on carrion.
Whilst the man in the cloak examined the strange collection of objects inside the satchel, Thomas waited patiently and tried not to shiver as the cold night air chilled his bones. He did not wish to show any sign that might be mistaken for fear, even though the eerie surroundings would have unnerved the bravest of Charlemagne’s paladins. Thick, black tendrils of ivy clawed at the mouldering Castle of Zähringen like the tentacles of a monstrous beast and when the clouds parted, the moon’s ethereal light transformed the abandoned fortress into the ghostly abode of phantoms.
“The milk of a dog, the skin of a salamander, the thighbone of an ox and the heart of snow-white dove. Good, you’ve done well Thomas, and I’ve brought the final item we shall need; a candle made from the rendered fat of a hanged man,” said the hooded man.
“Just as in the days before we parted, your word has been my command My Lord,” said Thomas and though Agrippa’s onetime apprentice bowed his head in acknowledgement of the compliment, the Englishman’s deference masked his deep mistrust of his former master. Even as Agrippa began to examine each item more closely, Thomas recalled the history of their time together and not all of his memories were pleasant…
When Thomas had first met his teacher, Heinrich Cornelius Agrippa had been the most famous professor of Natural Philosophy in Western Christendom and the young English student had marvelled at the older man’s supposed mastery of the occult. Together, they had travelled the secret paths to wisdom known only to Solomon, Zosimos and Osthanes but their friendship had eventually soured thanks to Agrippa’s almost suicidal need to antagonise his fellow man.
Like Socrates challenging the citizens of Athens, Agrippa delighted in posing questions that could not be answered by even the most learned scholars and his determination to alienate powerful men had led to his dismissal from a number of prominent academic positions. Had Agrippa been more conciliatory, he might have retained his prestigious professorship at the University of Dole, or his lucrative post as the chief advocate of Metz, but Agrippa’s steadfast refusal to concede any point in any argument had brought him, and Thomas, nothing but disaster.
In Dole, his work translating the Hebrew Kabbalah into Latin had led to accusations that both he and Thomas were ‘Judaizing heretics’. Agrippa had further scandalised his critics by claiming that there was much wisdom in the writings of Jewish rabbis and the pair had been lucky to escape with their lives. Finding sanctuary in the free city of Metz, the irascible Agrippa had insisted on defending a man and a woman accused of witchcraft but this had incurred the wrath of the Inquisition.
Though Agrippa’s masterful speeches had freed the witches, once again he and Thomas had been forced to quit a comfortable living and live the life of exiles. For a while, they’d been reduced to selling amulets, physicks and other magic charms simply to have enough to eat and the strain of poverty had finally ended their friendship. Beset by the black dogs of despond, Agrippa had retired to a remote cave in the mountains, so as to commune with strange gods whose names Thomas could not pronounce let alone learn, and though the apprentice had been allowed to accompany his master, the Englishman had not been permitted to enter this subterranean refuge.
For a week, Thomas had kept guard at the entrance to Agrippa’s lonely hermitage but when the troubled sorcerer finally emerged into the light, unshaved, unwashed and as wild-eyed as the Baptist returning from the Wilderness, the pupil was astonished to hear his master declare that he had renounced the study and practice of magic forever. Though the events of that fateful night had taken place more than two years ago Thomas could still remember every word of Agrippa’s recantation, as clearly as if they’d been spoken only yesterday:
“I’ve taught you much, Thomas, but now it’s my duty to dissuade you from this path to destruction. I too was, in my youth, seduced by the deceits of devils, into practising magical vanities, exorcisms, incantations and other demoniacal works. I too dreamed of conversing with phantasms and doing such miracles that would astound the world but now I say that all those who continue with such folly shall, with Simon Magus, Jannes, Jambre and all the other magicians of old, be destined to the torments of the eternal fire," Agrippa had said but, though he’d also insisted that they should part, he did not send Thomas away empty handed. Along with his words of advice, the ex-necromancer had presented his pupil with a letter of introduction to the Swiss alchemist Paracelsus but Thomas no longer trusted his master’s judgement and had chosen an entirely different path. Instead of travelling east, to the Alpine Cantons, Thomas had headed west, into France, with the intention of continuing his studies Leonardo da Vinci.
It was no secret that the ageing Italian artist had accepted a generous pension from the French king and had retired to a villa in the grounds of the royal palace at Amboise in order to enjoy his declining years. Thomas had been convinced that the greatest scholar of his age would have the keys to the doors that Agrippa had failed to unlock but in this too he was disappointed. Though Da Vinci had studied the occult in his youth, the elderly polymath had also come to see the futility of alchemy. Worse, the old man had died shortly after the Englishman’s arrival in Amboise, yet, in spite of this catastrophic blow to his ambitions, Thomas’ brief stay in France had yielded two valuable treasures.
The first was The Munich Handbook of Demonic Magic, a famous spellbook that Thomas had purloined from da Vinci’s library before leaving. This book was not particularly rare or valuable, most students of Natural Philosophy possessed a copy, but da Vinci had shown his contempt for the spells contained within its black leather covers by scrawling coded notes and fanciful sketches in every margin. Thomas had yet to decode the strange cipher that da Vinci had used to conceal his thoughts but the second item he’d been given in France was of much more immediate use.
In a secluded cloister of the royal Chateau d’Amboise Thomas had received, from her own hand, a letter written by Louise of Savoy, the mother of the French king. This epistle was addressed to Cornelius Agrippa, who’d once enjoyed high favour with the French Queen, and its honeyed words begged the great necromancer to use his unique skills to help Her Majesty resolve a matter of great personal importance.
It was well known in the courts of Europe that the widowed Queen had hoped to marry the Duke of Bourbon, himself a widower, but the powerful nobleman had arrogantly rebuffed her advances. Deeply insulted by this rejection, the Queen had vowed to summon a demon that would persuade Bourbon to change his mind… or drag the conceited aristocrat to Hell. The arrival in Amboise of a man who’d studied with Christendom’s foremost necromancer had seemed to Louise as God’s blessing on her plan and she’d lost no time in seeking Thomas out.
Whilst the rest of the palace slept, Thomas had been ushered into the presence of the forty four year old dowager queen. It had been twenty five years since her husband had died so Thomas was surprised to find Louise of Savoy still dressed entirely in black but even though she eschewed the fine silks and furs worn by other wealthy noblewomen at court, and her face had been prematurely lined by the cares of her office, he thought that the queen was still a handsome woman. Bowing low, the Englishman had pledged his sword and soul to the service of a Queen of France and the words of her reply were imprinted on his mind as indelibly as the catechism.
“You must urge your master Cornelius Agrippa, to use all his powers to right this terrible wrong done to me, for it’s not just my peace and happiness that Bourbon seeks to imperil by his insults. By his selfishness he shall plunge France into a civil war that would threaten the peace of all Europe,” the queen had said and Thomas could hardly refuse the request of a queen, especially when Louise offered to reward both him and Agrippa by appointing them as her personal physicians. With dreams of wealth and honour filling his thoughts, Thomas had gone in search of his erstwhile master and found him teaching at the university in Freiburg.
Incredibly, in the twenty four months since their parting, the mercurial Agrippa had reversed his previous apostasy and had resumed his investigations into ritual magic. What had caused this change of heart Agrippa had, at first, refused to say but he was delighted with the French Queen’s offer and immediately made plans to summon the demon Lilith, the corrupter and destroyer of men, to punish the Duke of Bourbon. The only flaw in this scheme was that neither Agrippa nor Thomas had ever summoned so much as a breath of wind using magic.
Throughout their long years of study the two sorcerers had repeatedly tried to summon demons in the hope that the fiends could be forced to reveal the mysteries of the universe. However, though they’d carefully performed the necessary rituals exactly as described in the best grimoires, all the Princes of Hell remained safely incarcerated in Satan’s Kingdom. The burden of these previous failures had always weighed heavily on Agrippa’s mind, and he was not so foolish as to venture into France until he had perfected at least one ritual, but this time he was certain he would succeed.
During his time in Freiburg, Agrippa had befriended the magistrate charged with supervising the city’s executions and by a judicious mix of blackmail and a great deal of gold he’d recently obtained a candle made from the fat of a hanged man. Never before had Agrippa managed to acquire such a powerful charm and he was certain that this omission had been responsible for the failure of all his previous rites. Obtaining the candle had renewed Agrippa’s faith in magic and the French Queen’s plot to ensnare Bourbon provided the perfect opportunity to test its efficacy.
Even with the candle safely procured, it had taken several days to prepare the astrological charts that would reveal the time and place where the ritual to summon Lilith had to be performed and it was not until All Hallow’s Eve, six weeks after Thomas’ arrival in Freiburg, that the stars were in their proper positions. Once the moon had risen over the city, Thomas and Agrippa had slipped out of the confines of the university and climbed the steep, wooded hill to the ruined Castle of Zähringen.
In truth, this dilapidated fortress was little more than a watchtower surrounded by a high wall that enclosed a small courtyard but it was well suited to the magicians’ purpose. Since its abandonment more than a century ago, few people visited the castle and, even more importantly, Agrippa had believed that the redundant stronghold had been built on the site of a Roman temple to Mercury. This was the best omen of all and as the two men climbed the moss-covered stairs that led to the top of the castle’s single tower, he’d said a prayer to Hermes Trismegistus, patron of all sorcerers.
Come unto me, Lord Hermes, O thou of many names, who knowest the secrets hidden both beneath the poles of heaven and underneath the earth!
Come unto me, Lord Hermes, thou benefactor, who doest good to all the world!
Hear me, O Hermes, doer of good deeds, inventor of all incantations!
Hear me, O Hermes, for I have done all things for thy black dog-ape, lord of the nether ones!
Preserve me evermore for eternity from spells, deceits and witchery of every kind, from evil tongues, from every check and every enmity of gods and men!
Give unto me grace, victory, success, and satisfaction!
For thou art I, and I am thou; thy Name is mine, and mine is thine; for that I am thy likeness.
Whatever shall befall me in this year, or month, or day, or hour,—it shall befall the Mighty God, whose symbol is upon the holy vessel’s prow.
By the time the prayer was finished Agrippa and Thomas had reached the top of the tower whereupon the clouds had parted and the entire castle was briefly bathed in moonlight. Glancing over the battlements, Thomas looked out over the surrounding forest and felt like poor Lazarus who was shown a vision of hell. The trees’ leafless branches stretched skywards like the skeletal hands of the damned praying for salvation and the wind howled like a chorus of tortured souls pleading to be released from their torment.
Though his face was hidden by the hood of his cloak, Agrippa seemed chastened by the thought of what he was about to do but if he had new doubts about the wisdom of trying to commune with a devil he kept them to himself. Instead, he instructed his reinstated apprentice to begin the first part of the ritual and so, with a nod, Thomas took a stick of charcoal from his pocket. Dropping to his knees he began drawing the magic sigil, which necromancers called The Black Mirror of Lilith, on the dusty stones of the turret’s floor.
If constructed properly, this complex design was guaranteed to protect a magus during his interview with a demon so Thomas took great care as he sketched the different lines and symbols. Unless the sigil was reproduced with absolutely accuracy or the spell would not work so Thomas referred constantly to his copy of The Munich Handbook of Demonic Magic. By another twist of fate, the very grimoire he’d stolen from da Vinci contained the perfect spell for Agrippa’s purpose so, in the flickering light of his lantern, Thomas drew two concentric lines in the shape of triangular shield and between these lines he wrote, in Latin, the five honorifics of God:
Deus Sanctus, Deus Omnipotens, Deus Fortis, Deus Immortalis, Pater Futuri Saeculi
(God the Holy, God the All Powerful, God the Strong, God the Immortal, Father of the Age to Come)
Between each of these divine titles, Thomas drew the alchemical symbol for air, earth, fire, water and quintessence, the fifth element that bound all the others to the will of the magician. Once he’d done this, Thomas placed each of the objects from the satchel on its proper symbol: the dove’s heart for air, the ox bone for earth, the dog’s milk for water and the skin of the salamander for fire. Finally he placed the candle made from the fat of a hanged man on the hieroglyph that represented the fifth element.
The moon was now in its appointed place in the sky so Thomas lit the obscene candle, which burned with a sickly acrid smell, and drew a five pointed star, called the Seal of Solomon, in each of the shield’s three corners. Finally he wrote the name of the demon Lilith in the centre of the shield. If all went according to plan, the first wife of Adam would appear inside The Black Mirror and answer all of Agrippa’s questions.
According to the secret lore of the ancients, it was Lilith not Eve, who had been created as the first woman but she had been cast out of Eden for failing to submit to her husband. Like Lucifer, Lilith had been punished for her pride by being hurled into The Abyss and here she’d coupled with Samael, the Angel of Death. Their unholy union had spawned a race of evil witches that tempted men into sin but though Lilith was a Great Queen of Hell, she could be bound to a necromancer’s will and commanded to answer any question by speaking the proper spell.
This evil spirit would know why the Duke of Bourbon had failed to succumb to the French queen’s advances, and reveal the correct charms that would change the duke’s mind, but summoning any demon was fraught with danger. The kings and queens of Hell were hungry for souls to swell the ranks of their armies so, if the sorcerer was weak, any demon he released would drag him into The Inferno where he’d spend all eternity drowning in an ocean of pain. However, though the Black Mirror would safely cage Lilith during her time on earth, nothing could save Thomas or Agrippa if any human witnessed what they were about to do.
The Holy Mother Church taught that all those who attempted to unleash the Forces of Darkness, whatever their motives, must be condemned for practising witchcraft and Freiburg’s inquisitors were always happy to give those accused of necromancy a taste of the hellish fires that awaited them after death. Whether Agrippa feared men, angels or demons the most, Thomas did not know but he noticed that his master’s hand was shaking as he began the incantation:
I conjure you, Lilith, and your companions,
By Alpha and Omega,
By the first and the very last, Abiel, Rotbons, Cafre,
O God, O suffering Christ most renowned, On, Eli, Elion, Messias, Sabaoth, Adonai, Emmanuel;
I conjure you likewise, Lilith, and your companions,
By the annunciation of our Lord Jesus Christ,
And by His nativity,
And by the coming of the Holy Spirit, the Paraclete,
That in whatever hour I call you, you shall appear to me in this mirror with your companions,
And show me truly a response or sign of that thing which I shall wish to know.
As Agrippa finished the words he stretched out his hand and pointed at the centre of the Black Mirror but though the night air seemed laden with promise nothing happened. For several seconds Agrippa stood motionless, as if exhausted by the effort of anticipation, but there was only silence. The gate to The Abyss remained firmly closed, Lilith remained seated in infernal splendour in the furthest depths of the Hell and even the wind ceased to blow.
Faced once again with proof his own failure to harness the unholy powers, the doubts that had driven Agrippa to renounce magic returned and the man who’d dreamed of mastering the secrets of the occult let out a howl of rage. This unearthly noise echoed around the castle’s walls and the wooded hills beyond like the mournful cry of a wolf but this was just the beginning of Agrippa’s madness. As his wits deserted him, he cursed the name of Hermes, kicked the magical charms from off their hieroglyphs and hurled the candle made from a criminal’s corpse over the battlements. The wick continued to burn as the candle flew through the air, so it looked like a tiny shooting star, but the moment it was lost in the darkness there was a chorus of loud shouts from the forest.
“Hurry! The witches are escaping… guard the track to the river… but take care for our enemies are skilled sorcerers… with the power to unleash all the demons of Hell…”
“My Lord we’re discovered, we must flee!” Thomas gasped but Agrippa did not need to be told twice. He’d been hunted too many times to forget that discretion was the better part of a scholar’s valour and the brief madness of anger left him as quickly as it had arrived. With a flourish of his cloak the necromancer disappeared down the steps that led to the ruined baily and for a moment Thomas was left alone in the turret. Pausing only to place The Munich Handbook in the pouch that hung from his belt, Thomas followed Agrippa into the courtyard but here the master rounded on his pupil.
“Get thee behind me Judas!” Agrippa cried and the fury of hatred was burning brightly in eyes, “I see it all now, you want the positon with the French Queen for yourself alone and so you have betrayed me to my enemies! Once I warned you that the left hand path leads only to destruction and I shall not be responsible for what happens if you refuse to heed my advice!”
With that, Agrippa scrambled through a hole in the castle’s wall and disappeared into the night. Once again Thomas was left alone but the shouting from the trees meant he would not remain so for long. Cursing the perfidy of learned men, Thomas resolved to travel in the opposite direction to Agrippa and so he directed his steps towards the ridge of hills that stretched away to the north. The forest path he’d chosen was littered with rocks and fallen branches but Thomas was young and athletic. He hurdled every barrier with the agility of a stag but, after a quarter of a mile, he spotted the glint of moonlight shining on metal.
Having spent his childhood years in the lawless country that marked England’s border with Scotland, Thomas’ sensed an ambushed, so he stopped and silently drew his sword. However, before he could find another path through the trees, a figure appeared from the shadows. The man was short, but powerfully built, and though he was armed with a hunter’s long spear, his quarry was not wild boar.
“Surrender witch!” the man cried and he pointed his weapon at Thomas’ chest. To protect himself from the forces of evil, the hunter had hung garlands fashioned from wild garlic around his neck but this rustic charm had no power against the wrath of an Englishman armed with a falchion.
“Surrender to a mule-faced dullard who stinks like a French pisspot? Never!” Thomas replied and he swung his heavy axe-like sword at his opponent. The hunter, who was used to facing enraged wild animals, ignored the insult and used the lugs below his spear’s blade to catch and turn Thomas’ blow. Such was the huntsman’s skill, he managed to launch his counterthrust before Thomas could recover and his aim was true. The spear’s long, leaf-shaped blade caught Thomas’ sword arm, opening a deep gash just below his shoulder, but the pain only fed the Englishman’s rage.
Howling like a banshee, Thomas launched a series of bone-shattering blows at the hunter that were so powerful the peasant was forced to retreat. It took every measure of the hunter’s ability to block the onslaught and though the length of his spear gave him a small advantage, the weapon was not designed to be used in a battle. There were no long metal tangs to protect the wooden shaft from sword cuts and one of Thomas slashes sent the spearhead spinning into the bushes.
The hunter was now armed with nothing more dangerous than a quarterstaff and there could be only one outcome to the unequal fight. Though he fought valiantly Thomas whittled away at the man’s harmless length of wood before plunging his sword deep into the hunter’s chest. The man screamed as the Angel of Death ripped his soul from his body, then fell dead at Thomas’ feet, but the victor felt no elation in his victory. With his opponent dead, the hot humours of war quickly cooled and in their stead Thomas suddenly felt the agonising pain in his lacerated sword arm.
Though the cut made by the huntsman’s spear was not a mortal wound, Thomas could feel his sleeve was now soaked with his own blood and his damaged muscles were beginning to stiffen. There could be no doubt that there were more enemies in the forest and even as he wrapped a strip of cloth torn from his shirt around his arm to staunch the blood, the shouts of the hue and cry began anew. The screams from the dying huntsman had set the pack on his trail so, once his wound was bandaged, Thomas took to his heels once more.
The Englishman may have had a head start but the blood pushed around his body by his thumping heart quickly soaked through the crude bandage and Thomas felt drops of his own gore fall from his fingertips. He knew he was leaving a trail that a blind man could follow but he dare not stop to retie the dressing. Instead, he turned off the track he was following and ran through the undergrowth in a desperate attempt to confound his pursuers. Panting like a lustful bishop, Thomas continued his headlong flight through the tangle of alders, birch and hazel trees but the moment he allowed himself to believe that he might outdistance his pursuers, a tree root grabbed his ankle.
Like an acrobat at a St Stephen’s Day feast, Thomas went cartwheeling through the air and landed in a patch of brambles but this tangle of thorns did nothing to slow his wild career. The sprawling bush was growing above a steep slope so, far from coming to rest, Thomas plunged through the knot of briars and rolled down the stony bank below. For a brief moment, the Englishman thought he would continue to fall all the way to Hell but a large rock at the bottom of the slope smashed the breath from his body and the wits from his head.
It was the smell that restored his senses. The reek of rotting meat worked better than a burnt feather at waking Thomas from his dreamless sleep but when he opened his eyes he screamed. Staring back at him were the empty eye sockets of a bestial skull, so Thomas thought that he had indeed stumbled through the entrance to Hades and was now looking into the face of Cerberus, the monstrous hell-hound that guarded the dead.
By the time he realised that the skull belonged to an all too mortal animal, it was too late. His cries of terror had alerted his trackers and he could hear the sound of men crashing through the forest to surround him. Cursing his own foolishness Thomas tried to draw his sword and cut his way out of the closing net but the torn muscles of his arm were now extremely painful to move. The cold hand of fear now gripped Thomas’ soul. If he couldn’t fight or run, he faced certain capture and, like most illiterate peasants, the burghers of Freiburg had a mortal fear of witches.
In his mind’s eye Thomas could see his own broken body begging for death as the inquisitors tried to force a confession from his screaming lips. During his studies, he had read the Malleus Maleficarum and he knew that, such were the deceits of Satan, witchfinders would only trust an admission of guilt extracted under the most extreme torture. Those accused of witchcraft were therefore forced to sit on spiked chairs and have their flesh torn from their bones with red hot pincers before they were dragged to the stake.
“You’re the lucky one, death took you quickly and you have no immortal soul to suffer unimaginable torments until the end of time,” Thomas whispered to the dead animal lying at his feet but the grinning skull made no reply.
Now he was fully in control of his sense he could see that the pile of fur and maggoty flesh had once been a wolf. A crossbow bolt still protruded from the beast’s flank and Thomas guessed that it had crawled into the thicket to die. How long the corpse had been there he did not know but some quirk of nature had preserved the greater part of the wolf’s pelt. Had it not been for the dreadful stench, the wolf skin would have fetched a handsome sum in Freiburg’s market but Thomas suddenly realised that the worm-eaten hide was, to him, the most valuable thing in the world.
The shouts of pursuit now seemed to come from all parts of the forest, and they were getting closer, so Thomas drew his sword with his uninjured left hand and began to cut away the worst of the rotten meat from the pelt. The faster he worked, the louder the noise of his pursuers became and soon the thicket where Thomas was hiding was surrounded by a wall of flickering torchlight.
“He must be here… the trail of blood leads here… “ cried a voice.
“Cage the monster with prayer,” called another who began to recite the 23rd Psalm as his colleagues began to slash at the thicket with a variety of agricultural implements. The peasants’ sharpened spades, billhooks and sickles hacked away at the foliage but as the last branch was cut away Thomas leapt from his hiding place and screamed at his persecutors
“Hear me O feeble-witted sons of the soil, I am Marquis Marchosias, a great prince of Hell who commands thirty legions of demons, leave this place or suffer the fate of all those who deny Satan’s power!” Thomas cried but his words had less effect than his garb. The Englishman was not only smeared with blood and filth, he had dressed himself in the putrescent pelt of the dead wolf.
“The wizard has turned himself into werewolf!” cried a red faced swineherd armed with a pitchfork.
“Flee, for his bite will infect us all with the damnable poison of lycanthropy, I will protect us with a prayer to St Hubert!” gasped the psalm-sayer who was armed with nothing more lethal than a copy of the bible, and Thomas was quick to direct his attention at the weakest link in the chain.
“Your feeble prayers have no power against those who serve the Prince of Darkness,” Thomas hissed and he howled before hurling his sword at the psalm-sayer. The falchion flashed through the air and struck the peasant squarely in the chest with such force, the keen edge sliced through the man’s muscles and bones as easily as a butcher’s cleaver cutting chops. The man staggered backwards, staring at the sword protruding from his ribcage, and with his last breath he tried to curse the werewolf, but his mouth had filled with his own blood and he was dead before he fell to the ground.
In truth, Thomas’ strategy was risky, as he’d disarmed himself, but the peasants’ courage evaporated with the death of their preacher and they fled into the forest like frightened roebucks. Thomas sent them on their way with another demonic howl before falling to his knees as the feelings of pain, relief and exhaustion competed for competed for control of his body. For the next hour Thomas could nothing but curse the mother who bore him and the God that created such suffering in the bodies of men but at last the tide of agony receded and Thomas was able to renew his journey.
Slowly, Thomas turned his eyes to the north. Though there were many in his homeland who wished him dead, he felt certain that he could win the King of England’s favour with The Munich Handbook of Demonic Magic. As the night’s events had proved, the spells contained in its pages may be no more use than a chessboard in a brothel but the book’s margins and endpapers contained Da Vinci’s sketches for strange weapons of war. The Italian’s skill as an engineer was equal to his talents as an artist and Thomas had no doubt that building these engines of death for King Henry would ensure his own fame and fortune.
All Thomas had to do, was to make his way back to London and unravel the strange cypher that the Italian had used to encrypt the notes that accompanied his sketches but solving the riddle of the Da Vinci code was the least of Thomas’ worries. He would have to pass through five hundred miles of bandit-infested forest before he reached the safety of England’s shores and all he had to help him were his sword, his wits and a rotten wolf skin…