Sacred Cups (Seven Archangels Book 2), страница 6
Gabriel glared at her. “Do not talk to him! That demon is Mephistopheles, one of the Maskim, Satan’s high command.”
“She can talk to whomever she likes.” Mephistopheles bowed. “You’re the one shunting off the work she imposed on you, forcing her son to get his hands dirty when you could have done this—” a hand-wave, “—and it would be complete.”
The fleece was all combed. Jesus backed away from the table.
“Gabriel resists your authority without appearing to fight.” The demon kept his voice neutral, instructive. “That’s a common tactic of an angel in thrall: it’s called passive-aggressive behavior. He could have combed a hundred fleeces, and instead he diverted you while deceiving your son into doing his work. Is that the action of a trusted servant?”
Mary glanced at Uriel, who regarded Mephistopheles with narrow eyes. Inside she felt repeated urges to caution.
“I’ll offer you a trade.” Mephistopheles stepped closer. “Hand over your seal on Gabriel, and I’ll give you my loyalty.”
Mary shivered. “No.”
Mephistopheles inclined his head. “If you hand over Gabriel, I’ll make him work for you the way he knows he can.”
Her mouth went dry. She shook her head.
Mephistopheles came closer still. “He’s denying you access to his full power. Can you not know who he is? He’s the second most powerful angel in creation, beneath only Lucifer and God Himself in ability.”
Mary’s heart skipped. She turned to Gabriel, who wouldn’t look her in the eyes. Gabriel, who combed fleeces and delivered bread. Gabriel, who threw snowballs and got distracted by math. Her vision blurred.
“They call him the Prince of Heaven, and you have him delivering lunches.” Mephistopheles chuckled. “What a waste. Order him to stop the moon in its path or to turn the sun red. Have him topple the Roman Empire. Demand of him the secrets of everything in the universe, because even if he doesn’t know how something works, once you ask, he won’t stop until he does.”
Mary’s eyes were riveted to Gabriel, who began vibrating. He wasn’t protesting. If anything, he looked uncomfortable, which meant it was probably true. She was playing with power capable of far worse than leveling her house.
Mephistopheles folded his arms and shook his head. “The trouble with retaining a being quite that powerful is that eventually you’re going to falter. I guarantee a creature in thrall thinks of nothing more than what he’ll do to his keeper once he’s slipped the leash. You’re safer owning a creature like me and having me control him.” He folded his arms and tilted his head. “The last man who kept him didn’t seal him when he had the chance, and now he’s dead.”
Mary looked at Gabriel, horrified. Beside him, Raphael seemed uneasy.
Gabriel’s voice was low. “I didn’t kill him.”
She cringed backward. Gabriel. Killing.
“You were with him the moment he died.” Mephistopheles chuckled. “I noted how his guardian didn’t think highly of your presence.”
Gabriel’s eyes darkened. “I had every right.”
Mary shifted closer to Uriel, who brushed a wing against her arm.
Mephistopheles parted the hair back from his forehead the better to look Mary in the eyes. “Let me assure you, there is no way to defend yourself. No method of binding one of us is perfect, and they’ve got you believing all their lies as they act friendly, hoping you’ll get careless enough that their comrade can win free. It’s not just Gabriel you’re fighting. These others want his freedom as badly as he does. A creature of that power with allies that powerful is going to win loose unless you hand him over to someone like myself.”
Why weren’t they stopping him? Why didn’t Uriel make him go away. She looked to Gabriel, desperate for any kind of reassurance. “Would he blow the roof off my house?”
Mephistopheles snickered. “He’ll start by flaying your son alive before your face.”
Raphael blasted Mephistopheles before he’d even finished the sentence. Gabriel dove over Jesus, shielding him with his wings, and Uriel enclosed Mary, but she pushed forward to get toward her son. Mephistopheles blazed away, and Raphael scorched after him in pursuit.
“Where’s Jesus?” she shouted. “Give him to me!”
Gabriel raised his wings, and the boy bolted for his mother.
Mary was chalk-white, and her arms shook, but she pulled him behind her and stood between him and Gabriel.
Gabriel raised his hands. “I would never harm him.”
She didn’t move.
Uriel stroked her hair, and she flinched away.
Gabriel gathered the combed fleece and set it back in its basket, then looked over his shoulder at Mary and disappeared.
Raphael returned a moment after, flames around his eyes. The first thing he did was hug Jesus. Then he looked around. “Gabriel’s gone?”
Mary wanted them all gone – just, away. She never asked for this. She never wanted to see angels or to have demons hanging around or to have a front-row seat to the life of the Messiah. It was always enough to know God was doing these things, but her? She was just a handmaiden, an onlooker, certainly not capable of ordering around angels like a queen and chatting up creatures capable of turning the sun red.
Uriel projected something Mary couldn’t interpret, but it left Raphael’s eyes sparking. He stepped away, then paused, then looked at Jesus again, and he stopped.
Mary tried to get a grip on her emotions. “Is he still here?”
“Not Mephistopheles, but certainly the others.” Raphael looked grim. “I can’t feel them, though.”
“Why didn’t you drive him off sooner?”
Raphael looked away again. “Until he threatened Jesus, I didn’t have the authority.”
She clenched her fists and looked at her lap, breathing hard. Jesus wrapped his arms around her waist, and she crouched down to hold him. She pressed her face into his hair. “I don’t want to see you,” she whispered. “Don’t go away, but I don’t want to know you’re around.”
Gabriel returned after Mary and Jesus were asleep.
Uriel had gone filmy. “I did my best to convince her you’re legitimate.”
In the slanting moonlight, Gabriel folded his arms and tilted his head.
“No,” Raphael whispered. “The kind of brutality they aimed at her today—do you want that aimed at Jesus instead?”
Gabriel said, “But she’s terrified.”
“She knew the risks,” Raphael said.
“That’s easy for you to say,” Gabriel said. “You’re not the one they scared, and you’re not the one that scares her.”
“We do scare her,” Uriel said. “It wasn’t just you. He planted seeds of doubt in her about all of us. Think about how much skill Mephistopheles had to use to scare her like that. Cherubim don’t do that, and that means Asmodeus was hidden somewhere, helping him along.”
“People aren’t designed for this kind of interaction.” Raphael’s eyes burned. “She’s right to be terrified.”
Gabriel opened his hands. “So to diminish that—”
“You stay.” He grabbed Gabriel’s hands and brought up his wingtips to touch Gabriel’s. “I want you to stay.”
Gabriel drew back. “I want to stay too, but it’s not about what we want. It’s about what’s best for them.”
Uriel said, “Then stay because Mephistopheles’ appearing means they’re escalating, and I’d prefer to have backup.”
Mary awoke before dawn and immediately tried to track the locations of the household angels. Raphael: near Jesus. Uriel: close to herself. And then, hesitant, she felt for Gabriel. Somewhere close, but she couldn’t determine exactly where. Not close to Jesus, though. She steadied herself and got up.
She started getting ready for the day, but then she felt Gabriel much closer, as if in the room. Instead of continuing her work, she sat, waiting like a servant.
Gabriel appeared, but on the far side of the room. “Do your work. Tre
Her voice sounded tight. “Not as the Prince of Heaven?”
“It’s a title.” Gabriel shook his head. “In a hundred years they’re going to call you the Mother of God, so you have the advantage of me in that regard.”
Mother of God? Every age really was going to recognize how much God had blessed her? But no, no, Gabriel was distracting her just like the demon had said. “That’s not the point, and you know it. I’m only a woman who heard the word of God and kept it. But Mephistopheles claimed you’re the most powerful angel in Heaven, and you killed a man.”
“I have never killed except on God’s orders,” Gabriel said, “and I never knowingly did any harm to the man to whom he referred.”
That meant he’d killed at all, and that was an uncomfortable thought. Those angels in scripture: the angel of Death had taken the Egyptian firstborn, but it had never seemed like one of these angels could have done something like that.
Gabriel glanced toward the room where Jesus slept. “I’ll tell you more later. Raphael doesn’t like to hear about my interaction with that man.”
After the sun rose and Jesus went out to tend the sheep, Mary took out her spinning. A question came into her mind: was it okay if Gabriel appeared?
In case the demons were nearby, she murmured, “Show yourself.”
Gabriel appeared sitting before her. “Could you teach me to spin?”
Of all the things Gabriel might have led off with, that was the last she expected. “You don’t know how?”
“I didn’t get a chance to learn. I understand the mechanics, but clearly there’s more to it than mechanics.”
She handed him her spindle. He studied it until he produced an identical one in his other hand. Using her own, she showed him how to wind on the yarn, which he copied exactly, and then she showed him how to twirl and drop the spindle so the fleece twisted into yarn.
Close beside her, Gabriel studied her as she fed in the fleece. He imitated what she was doing, and a moment after, her spindle was still going, and his yarn had snapped and his spindle was on the ground.
“Second try,” he said.
Mary gave him pointers, but as it turned out, there were many different mistakes to be made with spinning: overspinning, underspinning, allowing the spindle to backspin, and getting the yarn twisted through the drafting triangle.
“You don’t realize what you’re doing.” Gabriel looked intrigued. “You’ve extended your senses out into the spindle. Normally you’ve got your senses firmly seated in the body, but you’ve made the spindle an extension of your hand, and you’re feeling it through the yarn as it moves.”
Mary said, “Isn’t that just…feeling?”
“It’s a body-sense,” Gabriel said. “I’m in a subtle body so you can see me, but it’s not as finely-tuned as your physical body has to be.”
He didn’t give up, and he didn’t appear as frustrated as Mary would have expected. Every time something went wrong, he would analyze why it had happened and repeat the process to eliminate the problem.
“You wanted to know about the man I worked for,” Gabriel said at one point, the spindle out at arm’s length and spinning evenly while he fed in the fleece. “I’m Guarding the house so demons can’t hear us speaking, so feel free to say whatever you want. Do you remember Tobias, from the Book of Tobit?” When she nodded, he said, “It was him, about forty years later.”
The yarn snapped and the spindle fell.
Mary squinted. “That’s why Raphael doesn’t want to hear about it? Because Tobias was under his protection?”
“I was never a danger to Tobias.” Gabriel retrieved the spindle, then wound on the yarn and spun it again. “I told you about my getting disciplined by God for an infraction, and that’s what Raphael’s disgusted to hear about. I never asked him specifically if it galls him that Tobias helped me when I didn’t help him with Tobias. Yet another wrong I can’t repay.” Gabriel looked momentarily grim. “I ended up working in Tobias’s household for six months, but it wasn’t a magic situation. I approached him in human form asking to be hired.”
Mary said, “What kind of work did you do?”
“Farming. I combed a lot of fleece.” He chuckled. “By hand. And he had me teach the children Hebrew.”
Mary said, “Did he know how powerful you are?”
Gabriel frowned. “I’ve wondered that myself. He didn’t ask me to make it rain or to help his crops grow, although in the next years I made sure I did. He died five years after my stay, and Mephistopheles is right that I was there, but not to punish him. Asmodeus had a vendetta against him, and I wanted to ensure he stayed protected.”
Mary said, “That’s kind of you.”
Gabriel lowered his eyes. “He thought I was teaching the children, but I learned more from him than he realized.”
Mary straightened. “But he was just a man.”
“He had a very clear perception of what mattered.” Gabriel twirled the spindle again. “If he did know what I was, then he must have thought he was taking me in at great personal risk to his family. But being there transformed me. He’s now in Sheol, safe.”
The yarn snapped. Gabriel’s spindle hit the ground and started rolling away until he called it back to his hand.
“I took two seeds and a cutting from one of his trees.” Gabriel looked at the spindle and the newly-spun yarn. “I found a place in Heaven to build a library, and I planted them. It’s a reminder.”
Mary spoke with her voice just as soft as Gabriel’s. “You cared a lot about him.”
“He helped me when I needed it.” Gabriel looked up. “What Mephistopheles said would be true of a demon in your power. But you don’t need to worry. We’re here because God sent us.”
After Jesus had gone to bed and while Joseph sat outside whittling, Mary went over the preparations for the festival trip to Jerusalem. They had food, money, blankets, clothing, wine, and water. There were lamps and oil. She recalculated how much they would need for the trip and made sure there would be a little extra. Sometimes they met a less fortunate traveler. Sometimes one of their own companions planned poorly.
Mary double-checked the house, which would be left empty. As she checked the food stores to make sure everything was sealed, she found a wineskin with only a very little wine left, no more than a swallow. She sighed. It wouldn’t have killed Joseph to just take that last little bit instead of putting back almost nothing. Who on earth would want no more than a mouthful of wine?
She giggled. Who indeed?
Mary took the wineskin to the table, then found the nicest of their wine cups. She laid out a linen cloth and set the cup in the middle. She lit a lamp on the table near the wine, fighting a grin.
It was all kind of silly, and she wondered what else she could do to make it more over-the-top: incense? Music?
She sat before the table for, praying, Dear Lord, Lord of the Vine, please bless this cup. Father of Angels, please bless him when he arrives. I think he’ll like this.
Well, either he’d like it or else he’d be insulted that she thought he’d finish her leftovers.
Mary steadied herself. “Gabriel?”
Gabriel appeared immediately.
He took in the scene, and without a word he sat opposite her.
She lifted the nearly-empty wineskin. “I trust you remember the first favor you asked of me.”
Gabriel appeared puzzled but then brightened. Good, he’d realized. Mary looked down to hide her smile as she poured the wine into the cup. “Raphael warned you about me, but there’s no warning necessary this time.”
In darkness lit only by the flame, Gabriel still said nothing.
She raised the cup in her hands and presented it to him. “Take this.”
The night felt thicker suddenly, clumsier. As Gabriel reached forward, his eyes glinted. “That will be satisfactory.”
“Belior!” Gabriel exclaimed, and abruptly he was gone too.
Mary sat in the dark, her hands hot from where the demon’s fingers had brushed her own. “Raphael!” she called. “Uriel!” Her voice shook, and not knowing what else to do, she prayed.
Belior reappeared alongside the Lake of Fire with the cup against his chest, Guarding the wine from sloshing over the sides. Laughing madly, he streaked along the shore, Gabriel at his back. Three, two, one—
Belior zoomed beneath an archway. Gabriel had gotten close enough to nab him, then all at once slammed into a Guard woven by Mephistopheles and Beelzebub. Gabriel pulled backward only to find himself entangled in the Guard’s other side.
Asmodeus appeared at Belior’s side. “A cup of wine for a seal? How quaint.”
“Who cares if it’s quaint?” Belior said. “If it enthralled Gabriel, I’d drink my own blood.”
Gabriel vibrated, and Asmodeus had enough time to call a warning. Gabriel detonated a concussion blast strong enough to shatter the archway to which the Guard was mounted, but he hadn’t broken the guard
“Enchain him,” Asmodeus shouted at Beelzebub. “Do it now before you lose him!”
Mephistopheles let go of the Guard long enough to pin Gabriel with his will, then drew on Beelzebub’s will to strengthen his hold. Their will solidified as chains encircling his wrists, his waist, his ankles, and spider-webbing him to the spot. Gabriel hung in the air, unable to move as long as the bonded pair focused their entire will trained on keeping him motionless.
Belior frowned into the wine. He couldn’t detect any kind of power. No magic, no prayer. There was nothing special about the cup itself. So what had that woman done in order to enthrall Gabriel? And yet clearly it had to be the cup or the wine. A woman alone at night, setting a sacred space, summoning an angel, speaking to him of their past meeting and a favor Gabriel had asked of her, and then presenting him with the cup: what else could it mean other than she had been renewing their covenant?