Gerardo, formerly Bishop of the city of Nessuna in medieval Italy, writes his memoirs as he listens to the muezzin's call to prayer in the city of Lamakan. Exiled by his boyhood friend, Pietro, who has risen to power in Nessuna, Gerardo knows details of too many things that Pietro would sooner remain hidden.
Gerardo's friends tell him of the arrival of an angel in Lamakan, expecting him to be overjoyed, but he fears for his life, believing the angel to be Azrael, the messenger of death. The truth is even stranger.
It has been many months, verging on many years now, since the events I
write of here transpired.
I swore to myself that I would never tell a soul about them, but here,
living unknown as I am in this far-off land, I feel free to commit my
memories to paper, safe in the knowledge that any casual reader who is
an inhabitant of this city will be unable to recognise those persons and
places I describe.
And when I have finished, what then? Will I read through the pages of my
notes, reopen the old wounds, and then, with a sigh of relief, consign
my writing to the flames, hoping against all hope that my memories will
likewise disappear as the words turn to ashes in the grate? Or will I
seal them in a box, buried deep in the garden underneath the persimmon
tree, for future generations to discover? Or perhaps, if I am feeling
playful, I will wrap my work in brown paper, seal the package, and
address it to my old friend and adversary, Signor Pietro del Murano.
But since you are reading this, you know which of these options I have
chosen. I cannot have burned it, and Pietro would never have allowed it
to escape his hands, if I carry out my intention of writing down the
full story of his crimes, which has so far escaped the notice of
It may be that in a hundred years or more there will be further evidence
of what he has done, and the man often seen now as the saviour of the
city may well be reviled in history books as a traitor or a monster. But
who knows what the future will bring? Only you, my reader, know my
future, and the future of these words I write now.
The muezzin calls – I almost, but not quite, face Mecca and prostrate
myself in prayer. My servants, good Muslims that they are, are already
doing so. I believe they see me as a good infidel. I speak no ill of the
Prophet (peace be upon him!), but on the contrary, have come to respect
him and his teachings, and proclaim as much to those who will listen.
The local imam, whose Latin is at least as good as my own (learned, he
told me once, from a visiting Dominican who was making his way through
here to Cathay), regards me as being a lost child, but one who will find
his way home in the end.
Without kneeling, I repeat, my lips moving soundlessly, the eternal
prayer: “In the name of God, the Merciful and the Compassionate...”
Strange words to be uttered, you may say, by one whose mouth daily spoke
the words “Hoc ist enim corpus meum”. And yet not so strange as if I
were to venture further to the East, where men believe in a bewildering
variety of deities, with a multitude of strange shapes, clusters of
limbs, and heads of oliphaunts. Or those who believe in the sanctity of
nothingness, and believe our lives are to be lived time and time again
until we attain a pure state of not-being. At least, this is what I have
been told, but I have yet to meet any followers of this strange cult.
Needless to say, the concept of the Trinity seems equally bizarre and
blasphemous to many Muslims. I have attempted to explain it several
times to Ali and Fatima, but they remain unconvinced by my explanations.
The Imam, on the other hand, seems to comprehend the idea of the
Three-in-One in an intellectual fashion, but shakes his head sadly when
he explains that he cannot admit the worship of God in such a manner.
And so here I am, sitting, a glass of sherbet by my elbow, in the shade
of a date palm, dressed in a style that few would recognise at home,
rambling on as older men will, remembering those things which would best
be forgotten, if truth be told.
Excerpted from "Angels Unawares" by Hugh Ashton. Copyright © 2017 by Hugh Ashton. Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher. Excerpts are provided solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.