Empires rise and fall. A dynasty flourishes for a thousand years and then becomes a story told by the native children. All the while the earth turns and we look up in wonder at the moon and the sun and the stars and all that lies beyond in the land of unknowing. From “History of the Exodus”
by Andronius Caledon
Dom André Du Bourgay emerged through a narrow doorway in the north wall of the abbey of Mont Saint-Michel. He filled his lungs with the cold maritime air, held his breath, and listened intently for any sound that might signal the presence of a watcher. That is what he called them. He had never seen one, but he was certain they were about. They always accompanied the Guardian, and her arrival was not far off. He listened, but he heard only the cold, gray waters of the Atlantic lapping against the sea wall. It was March twenty-first. Twilight was turning to dusk and a dense fog was settling like a shroud over Mont Saint-Michel. Sun, moon, and earth were in precise alignment and the moon’s monthly rotation had brought it as close to earth as it would ever be. The gravitational forces were enormous, and the Atlantic Ocean was swelling beneath the fog. The tide’s front water would soon pass over the sands of the estuary at a speed faster than a man could run, and its surges would rise as high as fourteen meters. “Tide of the Century” people called it. A scientist at the Naval Hydrographic and Oceanographic Service explained that a supertide like this occurred once every 18.6 years. He said data from stations along the coast of Normandy and Brittany hinted that this tide would be higher and swifter than any on record. The scientist could not explain why. Dom Bourgay, abbot of Mont Saint-Michel, knew why. The Guardian was using the tide for her protection. He could not imagine how she did such a thing. Divine intervention he understood; he was a believer. But he knew of no prayer to call up the tide. She could do it without a prayer, without God. The whole affair was an abomination, and it galled him that he was bound by ancient contract to play a part in it. Dom Bourgay left the concealment of the deeply recessed doorway, found the trail that switchbacked down to the north shoreline, and began his descent. The shoreline would provide a refuge from the witch and her watchers. He did not want to see her. He did not want to hear her voice. Even her voice had power, power that came from neither God nor Satan. God was God, Satan was Satan. It was a polarity that matched his beliefs comfortably. Something in between did not. He pushed aside these thoughts. He had done his part. He had fulfilled the ancient agreement, passed down from abbot to abbot over the centuries. He had kept secret the hidden chamber at the top of the north tower of the abbey. He had done enough. He did not need to know by what magic they gained access to the chamber, nor did he want any part in the dark business that would be conducted there. Bourgay heard the urgent sound of water against rock as he neared the shoreline. The wet gloom was heavier here than above. He groped through it to a familiar rock platform that overlooked the sea. The water surged angrily against the wall beneath the platform. High tide usually brought the sea to a place some thirty meters below the platform, but tonight the waters were closer than thirty meters, much closer. Bourgay peered through the fog at buildings set into the steep slope below where he had left the trail. There should have been three of them, but he could only see two. The third, the one furthest down-slope, was submerged by a tide higher than any he had ever witnessed in his forty years as abbot. “Still rising, it is, Père.” Bourgay spun toward the voice that came out of the dark on the other side of the platform. He saw the vague outline of a man, in appearance a shadowy wraith blurred by drifting fog. He thought he knew the voice. “Jacques?” “No other,” said the man, advancing a few paces toward him. “I’ve never seen it like this,” the man continued. “Tide like this makes for good fishing.” Bourgay relaxed. Jacques Villedieu was an old friend who had a shop in the village below the abbey. “The tide has made an ocean around us, Jacques. Everyone has retreated to the mainland. Where will you sleep?” “My shop, if the tide don’t sink it. I’ll go upslope to the walls of the abbey if that happens. I’ve slept out before.” “Come inside the abbey. I’ll prepare a place for you.” “No, no. Old sinner like me might be struck dead in there.” Both men chuckled. “What brings you here, Father?” “Contemplation, I suppose,” Bourgay replied. He could not tell Jacques the truth. He could not tell anyone. “Ah, contemplation. The curse of the religious. I just fish. You can touch a fish, clean it, cook it, eat it. What can you do with contemplation?” “It gives nourishment to the soul.” “Fishing does that too, feeds both places.” Bourgay smiled. “Any fish?” he asked. “Oui.” Jacques held up a dirty bucket. “The tide brings them in.” “A tide such as this will do harm, I fear.” “No doubt. Me included,” Jacques replied. “God punishing the sinners.” Their conversation was interrupted by crackling and buzzing coming from the direction of the abbey. Both looked up, trying to see through the fog. A soft golden glow appeared where the abbey’s roof should have been. The glow pulsed a few seconds and then was gone. “What was that?” Jacques whispered. “I think nothing sinister,” Dom Bourgay said, smiling. “Perhaps static electricity, maybe something to do with the weather.” It wasn’t quite a lie. Everything had something to do with the weather, and static electricity could be expected with the arrivals. The meeting would soon begin. Jacques shrugged, not quite convinced by Bourgay’s weather explanation. “Better check what’s going on up there in your abbey. The devil vexes saints and sinners alike.” “I thought you didn’t believe in either, Jacques.” “Didn’t say that,” Jacques grumbled. “Good night to you, Father.” Jacques collected his fishing gear and bucket, passed behind Bourgay, and stepped off the platform. The fog enclosed him as he started up the trail. First he was a man carrying a bucket and a fishing rod, then an apparition, then nothing. Dom Bourgay gazed at the sea. It had covered the second building and was now only ten meters below the platform. Fingers of damp penetrated Bourgay’s robe. He shivered. The ancient secret envelopes me, he thought, like this fog and the tide beneath it.