Ian De Toffoli: Evil Eye

[About the story]
The Story So Far: A French literature student visits Luxembourg to find evidence for his theory that his friend, a Luxembourgish law student, and his entire homecountry represent the essence of Evil.
Chapter 12 - History
I checked into a pleasantly redecorated small youth hostel run by an artist couple, not far from the capital in a suburb with the quite original name of (literally translated) Valley of Bible Bashers. From there, I walked each morning for a quarter of an hour to get to the city centre. During the first two days I visited pretty much every museum there was, trying to find some indication, even the slightest hint, in the history of this small country. Their national history museum could at best be qualified as cute: two thousand years ago, the Romans had been very active in the area and, as befits a materialist country or rather a materialist country's museum, the only important and imposing thing to see (apart from a gigantic, breathtaking mosaic showing Homer and the Nine Muses) were the coins. There are coins from Caesar to the end of the Western Roman Empire, there are even some from the time of the thirty tyrants, that is to say pieces of currency with the faces of emperors who held this title for only a few short months (or even weeks), more than enough time for them to have some coins hammered out with their face on it, as if, once they had taken hold of the power, once they had been proclaimed emperor by an army somewhere in Gaul while another self-proclaimed emperor was lying somewhere in Asia and the real emperor was holding residence in Milan, their first major concern was (or so it would seem) to engrave their portrait on an enormous amount of sesterces, as if this was the best way to become immortal, to be deified (which incidentally worked quite well, as you can admire and even worship their bearded faces to this very day), as if they already knew that, some two thousand years later, money would rule unchecked over the entire world or maybe in a way become the entire world, because what would even work without money, and have they not thus, by some kind of temporal extension, by apotheosis, by metamorphosis of Man into money, and on into virtual money, become (them, with their laurel crowns and their philosophers' beards) the true masters of the world, the true principals, the true Gods?
The third and fourth day, I walked around the entire capital to see the places that I thought I recognised from my clumsy copy of the engraving: that meandering crevice which they nowadays call the Valley of Saint Peter (if I'm not mistaken) and the remains of the majestic fortress.
On the fifth day, I started rummaging through the couple of minuscule libraries scattered throughout the capital in search of ancient documents found on site and jealously kept throughout the centuries. I spent two days in these libraries, and even though there was a vast corpus of literature on the official construction of the fortress by Count Sigfried in the tenth century, on the later Middle Ages and on the time of the French Revolution, I did not discover a single document relating when or how the rocky promontory towering over this crevice first came to be occupied or fortified.
The seventh day was supposed to be a rest day and I just had wanted to quickly pop into the national library to wrap up my research, when suddenly the woman who worked behind the single counter that handed out the books recognized me (I had bought a card from this small country's national library and, on top of it, I was a foreigner, which was not likely to happen every day), took pity on me and offered to help me with my research. Of course I didn't tell her the whole truth, only that I needed, for an assignment at the faculty in Paris, old texts about legends or folk myths concerning the country, or more specifically the capital, maybe even its very first foundation. She seemed to be knowledgeable, because a few hours later she showed me a strange diary, written in Latin by an unnamed Roman legionary, who claimed to be the bodyguard of a certain centurion by the name of Tallienus, tasked with the construction of a fortress' foundations at the very spot of the present-day capital, dated (the diary, that is) to the third century, retranscribed, copied, once in the tenth century and again in the seventeenth by the monks of a very famous abbey in one of the country's small towns. It was one of the rare volumes in this ancient abbey that did not disappear when Napoleon's soldiers came to pillage the entire region, she explained to me, no one apparently having thought it of much value, and which was now mouldering away in the dusty section of rare and ancient books in a little back room in the basement of the library's small building.
I made a quick translation of it. I especially jotted down this passage in my journal, here, read it:
The sun was going down, slowly night was drawing nearer. Looking around, he noticed no change, no pause, no ceasing of the work. Men came and went, all of them dressed, it seemed, in the same rags, slaves probably, carrying over chopped wood, blocks of stone and other material on carts. The fortress walls' foundations were coming along nicely. Amid the slaves there were, as always, some legionaries, dressed in skirts, wrapping their mantles closer about their breastplates' pectoral muscles, some playing dice as usual, others leaning lazily on their lances, still others barking orders to a group of slaves who didn't work fast enough. Clothed in an old peasant's garb that he had procured for himself in one of the neighbouring villages and for which he'd had to pay top money to a farmer (whose fortune and happiness he had thus made: rags for a couple of coins that were worth a hundred times more than the garment), he didn't seem to attract much attention. He could walk around the construction site of the fortress at leisure, as if he were one of the villagers curious to know what was going on on the promontory high up on the hill (lately they'd had some of these up here), or as if he were one of these men to whom centurion Publius Accus Tallenius, who was in charge of the construction, had given the order to bring animals, wine and other foodstuff ̵ this time for a ridiculous sum ̵ once or twice a day, to feed his legionaries and sometimes also his slaves. How in the name of God was he to stop the construction? Once fortified, this promontory would be impregnable.
He approached the centurion's tent. And how could he know whether Tallenius was informed about what he was doing? The orders had probably come from high above. From Gallienus or his father, who had been dead for some years. In front of the tent, two legionaries were standing guard. They were carrying a lance, short sword and a large shield on which, strangely enough, a cut-off Medusa's head had been painted. They looked bored. But he didn't want to use brute force. And then the doubts were coming: what was he even doing here? He wanted nothing more than to travel southward to the sweeter regions of Italy, to sit down in the shade of a large tree, to look after his small vineyard, to read the verses of long-gone poets which the majority of his colleagues despised so much. It was his love for Latin culture, for a paganism on the verge of disappearing - condemned to disappear, as his colleagues would say - that had earned him this mission. No, he would not use brute force. He would not do anything at all. If Gallienus was fortifying these rocks, he would not stop him. Gallienus was an educated man, a philosopher, a disciple of Plato, he was indulgent, caring. He too knew the wisdom of the old texts, he had read Lucretius, Virgil, Seneca, and it wasn't because of an old legend that he had heard somewhere that he was building this citadel, here on this promontory. No, the Roman emperor was not a demon.
Lost in thoughts, he had not noticed that night had fallen, that the stars were already sparkling high up in the sky, that the villagers had all gone, that even the slaves had retired to their tents. The entire fortress (or in any case what was so far visible of it, that is to say some piled-up stones and the beginning of a palisade) was bathed in the dark and wavering yellow light of the lighted torches. A gloved hand, coming down on his right shoulder, pulled him out of his meditations. Then, though he had the impression that time was slowing down, everything happened very fast:
- Hey! Go back to your village. You have no business being here.
A legionary with a sombre, greasy face was standing in front of him, uttering a menace, or not even a menace, a warning. He pulled a face. He heard the words without understanding them. Or maybe he didn't even hear them. The legionary repeated:
- Come on! Go! Get lost!
And while the other man was still wondering why the legionary's mouth was moving, opening and closing in succession, swiftly, brutally, while he heard raucous sounds, words impossible to identify (and yet they were talking the same language, Latin, even if the legionary had a Northern accent), he suddenly felt himself seized by four strong hands, two on each side, and when he tried to move his head to see who the hands belonged to, he received a mighty punch right in the face, making him for a very short moment see millions of tiny stars, then all went black.
A voice brought him back:
- Who are you?
With an effort, he opened his eyes. A second later, he realized that he was in a prison cell, a sort of dungeon. His nose hurt and his clothes were soaked. A man with a large forehead and a big mane of hair was towering over him, dominating him, smiling viciously. In his left hand, he held a bucket. The voice however had been coming from the corner of the cell, where a figure was sitting in the shadows on a tripod. The voice asked once more, calmly:
- Who are you? What were you doing at the construction site tonight? Nobody knows you here. You are not from one of the neighbouring villages, I know it, so don't try to lie.
The figure stood up and stepped out of the shadows. Judging by his clothes, this must be the centurion. The latter motioned to the jailer, who retired.
- So?
Tallenius came nearer. His Latin had a Milan accent. From what he had been told, he stood under Gallienus' direct orders.
- It doesn't matter at all.
- You are not from here.
- No.
- So you did not come to the construction site by chance, tonight?
- No.
Could he talk openly to the centurion? Could he try to persuade him? How much did he know? Gingerly getting up, he looked the centurion in the eye:
- Why are you fortifying this hill, these rocks?
Tallenius looked at him, incredulous, then answered, barely able to contain his anger:
- So you are the one asking the questions now? I can see that you are no soldier, or you would have realised the prime importance of this new fort straight away.
The centurion brought his face closer - the other man could smell his putrid breath, the strong odour of old sweat and campfire smoke - and said, spelling out both words one letter after the other:
- S-t-r-a-t-e-g-i-c p-o-i-n-t.
- No, that's not it.
- What?
He looked again at the centurion, noting, maybe for the first time, the hard hairless face, the thin lips, the tense muscular arms, the body without a single gram of fat in the bright red toga, the bald head, the beady eyes, watching him nervously. Around the neck, he wore a small, ithyphallic amulet.
The order came from Gallienus, right? The emperor himself has entrusted you with this mission.
- I see you are well informed. So what? These rocks are still a strategic point for the military defense of the entire region.
- That is not why Gallienus has chosen this specific place, these rocks, this promontory.
- What are you trying to say?
Tallenius' eyes displayed a mixture of curiosity, suspicion, incredulity and ignorance (feigned or not). Did he know?
- These rocks are harbouring something else beside your legionaries and your slaves. Why, do you think, has Gallienus ordered you to paint the head of the Gorgon on your shields? You are building your walls on something dark, something very ancient and very dangerous. At the bottom of the valley, deep down in this gigantic crevice, this wound of the earth, close to the little river and its rocky wall, there lies, hidden, hewn into the rocks, a rudimentary stairway descending even deeper, into a subterranean labyrinth, into the depths of Earth itself.
- What is the meaning of all this? Where does this stairway you are talking about lead to?
- Ad umbras (to the shadows) nihilumque (and to nothingness).
- Non intellego (I do not understand). What lies at the bottom of this stairway?
- Chaos (Chaos, the eternal void, Hell).
And thus it came about that in the year of the Lord 265, Centurion Publius Accus Tallenius, having sent a letter to Milan where the Emperor Gallienus had his residence, and having received a prompt response, visibly paling when he read the note, had an unknown man of unknown origin crucified, high up on the construction site that was to become, a few years later, an imposing fortress, on the pretext that he had wanted to prevent its completion.
I remember briefly lifting my head, a short moment, just long enough to throw a critical glance at what I was reading, a third-century fiction, so the stories of man have not really changed at all these last two millennia, I said to myself, it's always the same thing, always the same subject matter, the eternal Lake Avernus, the eternal promontory of Taenarum, the eternal terror of the Beyond, the anguish, the fear of the dark and always this eternal descent along a stairway hewn into the rock by a rich Gallo-Roman merchant who believed that at the end of the cavern there was a legendary treasure, only that nowadays we are toying with this awful young-yuppie-writer kind of symbolism which has the katabasis transformed into an evening steeped in slightly too much alcohol, the Sibyl turned into a young girl looking for love or carnal desire, her prophetic words not so much the words of a god who has taken possession of her, but rather those of bad drugs or ecstasy, and the golden bough is now ... believe me, you don't want to know, and then I, sitting in this small, dusty library (if you can even call it that), busy fighting the encroaching darkness, trying to give some sense to my actions and some foundation to my thoughts, having the impression that the more I fight, the less I see through it all, and in the end feeling so dizzy that I just want to give up and leave it all be...
This is how I think it all went on (it had to have something to do with an old monastery, gloomy monks with emaciated faces and, like in these noir novels, a dark misty backdrop with two or three skeletal trees and the outline of a haunted old fortress...):
In the year 381, the Emperor Gratian and his court left Trier and took up residence in Milan, probably due to multiple invasions by the Germans, the Franks or the Huns (who were some sort of catalyst for massive invasions) whom the Romans did no longer manage to hold at bay. The fortress on top of its promontory was probably soon taken, possibly won back later on, and once again assaulted by Barbarian hordes and so on and so forth. Maybe, after the Germans and the others had sacked and pillaged the place, tortured and raped its inhabitants, it remained empty and unoccupied for years. That's what they think in our time. Maybe the Romans had neither the strength nor the means to face the regular assaults and therefore completely abandoned this fortress, and yet the latter was reputed to be easily defendable. Maybe what made the Romans flee so quickly was something else entirely. A strange feeling of malaise. Of anguish. A sucking sensation. As if something were pulling the weight of their bodies downward. Maybe the Romans left the fortress willingly to their enemies. "Good riddance." A strange feeling of heaviness. As if gravity were stronger around the fort (even if at the time they didn't have the same concept of gravity as we do nowadays). Maybe they abandoned it before the enemies ever arrived? Maybe. How are we to know?
In the year 741, the year of his death, Charles Martel finally agreed to hand the little fortress over to St. Maximin's Abbey in Trier. Eighteen years earlier, he had given them (the monks) most of his large properties in the area (which nowadays constitutes this small European country), but he had kept a little promontory and its neighbouring villages. Rumour had it that the run-down, abandoned small fort towering on its summit went back to the time of the heathen Roman emperors. Rumour also had it that it was haunted and that, come nighttime, strange creatures roamed there (it probably served as shelter to some unfortunate beings). Sadly, his numerous wars had not left Charles Martel any time to take a closer interest in this fortress. He had some minor renovations done, without bothering to look after the affair himself. Strangely, each time he was in Trier or in a neighbouring town, a delegation of monks from St. Maximin came to see him, begging him to give up the promontory. Even after he had left them the entire area, the monks remained stubborn, unrelenting, pretending that this promontory was the ideal place to build a new abbey, that in the name of his dedication to the Church he could... but he remained suspicious, intrigued (what was it about these old stones, these steep rocks, that made them so special?), until one day, realizing that his health had become ever more precarious, during an anticipated visit by two old monks, their faces dark and serious, he declared that he had finally decided to give them the promontory. He could tell by their expressions that they were relieved and when he asked them why this fort, why these ruins, they answered (a bit too quickly) that their superior had had a vision, that God had ordered them to build an abbey on these rocks that were a holy place.
A strange spectacle met Sigfried's eyes when he first visited what would become, in the year 963, the main stronghold of his county. Some two hundred years ago, monks from St. Maximin's Abbey in Trier had settled on this rocky promontory, people had told him. But all he could see now was a poorly maintained small church with crumbling walls and a dusty wooden floor, and a couple of stone buildings, run-down and dilapidated, and reeking of mould. Only nine monks lived here, the abbot told him, a thin man with sunken cheeks and a large forehead. He watched Sigfried, who was a good head taller than him, with haggard, feverish eyes burning from under his hood, without so much as lifting his gaze. He looked at him from below, a bit like a frightened dog would, but his face showed a deep repulsion. Sigfried knew that the abbot did not have the power to refuse the exchange of lands that he had just concluded with the abbey in Trier, that the man would bow to the orders of his superior, it was just that... it seemed like the monks had wilfully destroyed all that was left of the old fort, as if, since their arrival, along with them the putrefaction, the decomposition, the dilapidation, the mouldiness had also taken possession of these small buildings, these walls. The renovations would have to be a lot more substantial than he had planned. Later, his men, who had gone up to let the monks know that there had been a change in ownership, told him that these people had behaved most bizarrely. Their eyes had been red and burning from lack of sleep, their oftentimes scrofulous skin the colour of cold ash. Not one of them had said a word. They had shown no emotion, no regret, no happiness at the thought of leaving. All of them had been skinny and with the dirty rags hanging loosely from their emaciated frames, the bones you could almost hear rattling in their empty carcasses, they looked more like a small bundle of twigs, dead branches ready to go up in flames at the tiniest of sparks, than human beings.
A few days later, Sigfried and his court moved into the place and in no time at all transformed it into a majestic citadel surrounded by houses, workshops, stables, forges. Life was blossoming. Sigfried, count of L., did not die until the year 998, at the age of eighty years. Impossible, you say? Yes, I do know that Sigfried had reached double the age that a vigorous man could hope for in these dark times. Yes, I know. Do you know what a summoning is? Do you really think Sigfried had never heard the legends surrounding this rocky promontory? Yes, I also know that Sigfried is nowadays considered the country's founding father and I'm somewhat familiar with the charming folk tales on his behalf, the one with the mermaid for instance whom he fell in love with, but unfortunately we have to consider that this founding hero, this medieval Aeneas, may have had a much darker, much more secret and a lot less heroic life than people think, that his longevity, his strength, all his achievements may have been owed less to his merits and exceptional virtues, but rather to the immeasurable darkness incessantly hovering behind his head.
A summoning goes a bit like this (believe me, I've done my homework):
All around a circle, drawn upon the floor, you write: "I forbid you, Lucifer, by the name that you fear, to enter this circle." If you want, you can draw the symbol of Baphomet, an inversed pentagram, into the circle, with one letter of the Hebrew word Leviathan on each point. You can also hang the symbol on the western wall of the conjuring room. You need to don a long black robe and be careful not to wear any metal on your body. After the summoning ritual (the reading of demonic names, the bells at the beginning and at the end, the chalice, the wine, the handling of various symbolic objects), when the demon appears, you should throw him a silver or gold coin wrapped in white paper. He will bow down to pick it up and at that moment, you have to chant the following formula: "I summon you, Lucifer, by the ineffable names, On, Alpha, Ya, Rey, Sol, Messias, Ingodum, that you must without harming me fulfill my wish, namely that I shall have the strength and the wisdom and the longevity of two men united instead of a single one."
And what is left at the end of such a story, what is left but some vague recollections, what details can we base our story on, and incidentally, what is History itself based on, what does it consist of, if not of letters, words, sentences, symbols, hieroglyphs, signs put in a specific order, making some sense for those who can read them, decipher them, and what is left of Gallo-Roman civilisation other than Caesar's texts, how many myths, how many stories are lost, and what is left of the history of the small capital I am telling you of, except of course that which you just heard, what I related to you, what I faithfully transcribed (or invented?), and then what will be left for you of this crazy adventure of mine, whose ending here, with you, is only a direct consequence, I guess, only these few words that I hand over to you, trying to stick to a certain chronology, to give them a certain coherence, while everything in my head is slowly beginning to dissolve to jumble to blend to overlap to fade, like clothes washed too often or washed at too high a temperature or washed with other clothes that took away their colour by accident, to become vague and imprecise from being brought back to memory and so now you are asking me why I did not go see that cavern, why did I not go down there myself, why did I not verify for myself all these childish legends, well, I will tell you straight out, and even if you think I'm crazy, that I was actually afraid to discover that it did not exist, that it had never existed, that I had made it all up, that nothing had been real, which would have meant at the same time, would have constituted irrefutable proof of my own disturbed mind. At the time, that would have been inconceivable.