Love conquers all.
In seventh grade, at a small souvenir stand in New York, I bought a silver bracelet with that inscription for a girl named Jenny Harlow. I thought it was, in one stroke, a portrait of the young man she wanted to date: cosmopolitan, with its Manhattan pedigree; romantic, with its poetic-sounding motto; and classy, with its understated shine. I left the bracelet anonymously in Jenny's locker on Valentine's Day, then waited all day for a response, thinking she was sure to know who'd left it.
Cosmopolitan, romantic, and classy, unfortunately, didn't form a trail of breadcrumbs leading directly back to me. An eighth grader named Julius Murphy must've had that combination of virtues in much greater supply than I did, because it was Julius who got a kiss from Jenny Harlow at the end of the day, while I was left with nothing but a dark suspicion that the family vacation to New York had been for naught.
The whole experience, like so much of childhood, was built on misunderstanding. It wouldn't occur to me until much later that the bracelet wasn't made in New York, any more than it was made of silver. But that very Valentine's night, my father explained the particular misinterpretation he found most telling, which was that the poetic-sounding motto wasn't quite as romantic as Julius, Jenny, and I thought.
You may have gotten the wrong impression from Chaucer, he began, with the smile of paternal wisdom. There's more to 'love conquers all' than just the Prioress's brooch.
I sensed that this was going to be a lot like the conversation we'd had about babies and storks a few years before: well intentioned, but based on a serious misunderstanding about what I'd been learning in school.
A long explanation followed, about Virgil's tenth eclogue and omnia vincit amor, with digressions about Sithonian snows and Ethiopian sheep, all of which mattered a lot less to me than why Jenny Harlow didn't think I was romantic, and why I'd found such a useless way of blowing twelve dollars. If love conquered all, I decided, then love had never met Julius Murphy.
But my father was a wise man in his way, and when he saw he wasn't getting through to me, he opened a book and showed me a picture that made his point for him.
Agostino Carracci made this engraving, called Love Conquers All he said. What do you see?
On the right side of the picture were two naked women. On the left side, a baby boy was beating up a much larger and more muscular satyr.
I don't know, I said, unsure which side of the picture I was supposed to be learning from.
That, my father said, pointing to the boy, is Love. He let it sink in.
He's not supposed to be on your side. You fight with him; you try to undo what he does to others. But he's too powerful. No matter how much we suffer, Virgil says, our hardships cannot move him.
I'm not sure I ever completely understood the lesson my father was imparting. I got the simplest bit of it, I think: by trying to make Jenny Harlow fall head over heels for me, I was arm-wrestling Love, which my own cheap bracelet had been telling me was futile. But I sensed, even then, that my father was only using Jenny and Julius as an object lesson. What he really wanted to offer was a piece of wisdom he'd come by the hard way, which he hoped to impress upon me while the stakes of my own failures were still small. My mother had warned me about misguided love, my father's affair with the Hypnerotomachia always in the back of her mind; and now my father was offering his counterpoint, riddled in Virgil and Chaucer. He knew exactly how she felt, he was saying; he may even have agreed. But how could he stop it, what power did he have against the force he was fighting, when Love conquered all?
I've never known which of the two of them was right. The world is a Jenny Harlow, I think; we're all just fishermen telling stories about the one that got away. But to this day, I'm not sure how Chaucer's Prioress interpreted Virgil, or how Virgil interpreted love. All that stays with me is the picture my father showed me, the part he never said a word about, where the two naked women are watching Love bully the satyr. I've always wondered why Carracci put two women in that engraving, when he only needed one. Somewhere in that is the moral I took from the story: in the geometry of love, everything is triangular. For every Tom and Jenny, there is a Julius; for every Katie and Tom, there is a Francesco Colonna; and the tongue of desire is forked, kissing two but loving one. Love draws lines between us like an astronomer plotting a constellation from stars, joining points into patterns that have no basis in nature. The butt of every triangle becomes the heart of another, until the roof of reality is a tessellation of love affairs. Taken together, they have the pattern of netting; and behind them, I think, is Love. Love is the only perfect fisherman, the one who casts the broadest net, which no fish can escape. His reward is to sit alone in the tavern of life, forever a boy among men, hoping someday to tell stories about the one that got away.
The rumor was that Katie had found someone else. I'd been replaced by a junior named Donald Morgan, a wiry tower of a man who wore a blazer when a simple dress shirt would do, and who was already priming himself to be Gil's successor as Ivy president. I happened on the new couple one night in late February at Small World Coffee, the same place where I'd met Paul three years earlier, and a cool exchange followed. Donald managed to say only two or three chummy, innocuous things before realizing I wasn't a potential voter in the club elections, at which point he ushered Katie out of the shop and into his old Shelby Cobra on the street.
It was death by papercut, watching him turn the engine three times before it finally roared to life. I couldn't tell whether it was for my benefit or his vanity, the way he idled in his space for another minute until the road was completely empty before pulling out. All I noticed was that Katie never looked at me, not even as they drove away; worse, she seemed to be ignoring me out of anger rather than embarrassment, as if it were my fault, not hers, that we'd come to this. The outrage of it festered until I decided there was nothing else I could do but surrender. Let her have Donald Morgan, I thought. Let her make her bed at Ivy.
Of course, Katie was right. It was my fault. I'd been struggling for weeks with the fourth riddle— What do a blind beetle, a night-owl, and a twist-beaked eagle share?—and I sensed that my luck had run dry. Animals in the intellectual world of the Renaissance were tricky subjects. In the same year Carracci made his engraving, Omnia Vincit Amor, an Italian professor named Ulisse Aldrovandi published the first of his fourteen volumes on natural history. In one of the most famous examples of his approach to classification, Aldrovandi spent only two pages identifying the various breeds of chickens, then added another three hundred pages on chicken mythology, chicken-related recipes, and even chicken-based cosmetic treatments.
Meanwhile, Pliny the Elder, the ancient world's authority on animals, placed unicorns, basilisks, and manticores on the page directly between rhinos and wolves, and offered his own accounts of how chicken eggs could foretell the sex of a pregnant woman's child. Within ten days of staring at the riddle, I felt like one of the dolphins Pliny described, enchanted by human music but unable to make any of my own. Surely Colonna had something clever in mind with this riddle of his; I was just dumb to its magic.
The first thesis deadline I missed came three days later, when I realized, half-sunk in a pile of Aldrovandi photocopies, that a draft of my final chapter on Frankenstein lay unfinished on my desk. My advisor, Dr. Montrose, a sly old English professor, saw my bloodshot look and knew I must be up to something. Never suspecting it was anyone other than Mary Shelley who'd kept me up so many nights, he let the deadline slip. The next one slipped too, and so, very quietly, began the lowest period of my senior year, a stretch of weeks when no one seemed to notice my slow withdrawal from my own life.
I slept through morning classes, and spent afternoon lectures working riddle solutions in my head. More than one night I watched Paul break from his studies early, hardly past eleven, to walk with Charlie to Hoagie Haven for a late-night sandwich. They always asked me to come along, then asked if they could bring me anything back, but I always refused, at first because I took pride in the monastic quality my life had assumed, then later because I saw something derelict in the way they seemed to be ignoring their work. The night Paul went to get ice cream with Gil instead of doing more research on the Hypnerotomachia, I imagined for the first time he wasn't pulling his own weight in our partnership.
You've lost your focus, I told him. My eyes were getting worse because I had to read in the dark, and it couldn't have come at a worse time.
I've what? Paul said, turning around before climbing to his bunk. He thought he'd misheard.
How many hours are you spending on this a day?
I don't know. Maybe eight.
I've put in ten every day this week. And you're the one going to get ice cream?
I was gone for ten minutes, Tom. And I made a lot of progress tonight. What's the problem?
It's nearly March. Our deadline is in a month.
He let the pronoun pass. I'll get an extension.
Maybe you should work harder.
It was probably the first time anyone had ever spoken those words in Paul's presence. I'd seen him angry only a handful of times, but never like that.
I am working hard. Who do you think you're talking to?
I'm close to figuring out the riddle. Where are you?
Close? Paul shook his head. You're not doing this because you're close. You're doing it because you're lost. That riddle shouldn't be taking you this long. It shouldn't be that hard. You've just lost patience.
I glared at him.
That's right, he said, as if he'd been waiting to say it for days. I've almost worked out the next riddle, and you're still working on the last one. But I've been trying to stay out of this. We work at our own paces, and you don't even want my help. So fine, do it alone. Just don't try turning this back on me.
We didn't speak again that night.
Had I listened, I might've learned my lesson earlier. Instead, I went out of my way to prove Paul wrong. I began working later and waking earlier, making a habit of rolling my alarm back fifteen minutes each day, hoping he would notice the steady imposition of discipline on the untended quarters of my life. Each day I found a new way to spend more time with Colonna, and each night I tallied my hours like a miser counting coins.
Eight on Monday; nine on Tuesday; ten on Wednesday and Thursday; almost twelve on Friday.
What do a blind beetle, a night-owl, and a twist-beaked eagle share? Horned beetles are hung around the necks of infants as a remedy against disease, Pliny wrote; gold beetles make a poisonous honey, and are unable to survive in a locality near Thrace called Cantha role thus; black beetles congregate in dark corners, and are found mostly in baths. But blind beetles?
I found more time by not walking out to Cloister for meals: every round trip to Prospect Avenue cost me half an hour, and eating in company, rather than alone, probably cost another half as well. I stopped working in the President's Room at Ivy, both to avoid seeing Paul and to save the minutes I would otherwise have spent in transit. I kept phone calls to a minimum, shaved and showered only as necessary, let Charlie and Gil answer the door, and made a science of the economies I could produce by giving up the humble reliables of my life.
What do a blind beetle, a night-owl, and a twist-beaked eagle share? Of creatures that can fly and are bloodless, Aristotle wrote, some are coleopterous or sheath-winged, like the beetle; of birds that fly by night, some have crooked talons, such as the night-raven and owl; and in old age the upper beak of the eagle grows gradually longer and more crooked, such that the bird slowly dies of starvation. But what do the three of them share?
Katie, I'd decided, was a lost cause. Whatever she'd been to me, she became someone else for Donald Morgan. How I saw so much of them, when I left my room so little, must've had its answer in my thoughts and dreams, where they were constantly making fools of themselves. In corners and alleys, in shadows and clouds, there they were: holding hands and kissing and making sweet talk, all of it for my benefit, flaunting the way a shallow heart is quickly broken but just as quickly fixed. There was a black bra of Katie's that she'd left in my room long ago, which I'd never remembered to return, and it became a sort of trophy to me, a symbol of the part of herself she'd left behind, which Donald couldn't have. I had visions of her standing naked in my bedroom, souvenirs of the day we'd enjoyed our own company so much that she forgot herself around me, forgot that I was someone else, and let her inhibitions go. Every detail of her shape stayed with me, every freckle on her back, every gradation of shadow beneath her breasts. She danced to the music that came over my alarm clock, running one hand through her hair, keeping one hand over the invisible microphone in front of her mouth, and I was the only audience.
What do a blind beetle, a night-owl, and a twist-beaked eagle share? They all fly-but Pliny says that beetles sometimes burrow. They all breathe-but Aristotle says that insects do not inhale. They never learn from their mistakes, for Aristotle says that many animals have memory… but no other creature except man can recall the past at will. But even men fail to learn from the past. By that yardstick, we are all of us blind beetles and night-owls.
On Thursday, the fourth of March, I reached the high-water mark of my time with the Hypnerotomachia. That day I spent fourteen hours rereading sections of six Renaissance natural historians and making twenty-one single-space pages of notes. I went to no classes, ate all three meals at my desk, and slept exactly three and a half hours that night. I hadn't seen Frankenstein in weeks. The only other thoughts that had crossed my mind were of Katie, and those just compelled me to make an even greater shambles of my life. The sheer mastery of myself was addictive. Something must've been, because I'd made almost no progress on the riddle.
Shut the books, Charlie finally said that Friday night, taking a stand. He pulled me by the collar in front of a mirror. Look at yourself.
I'm fine— I began, ignoring the lupine thing that stared back at me, all red eyes and pink nose and scruff.
But Gil stood at Charlie's side. Tom, you look like hell. He stepped into the bedroom, something he hadn't done in weeks. Listen, she wants to talk to you. Stop being so stubborn.
I'm not being stubborn. I've just got other things to do.
Charlie grimaced. Like what, Paul's thesis?
I scowled, waiting for Paul to stand up for me. But he just stood there behind them, silent. For more than a week he'd hoped that an answer was just around the bend, that I was making progress against the riddle, just painful progress.
We're going to the arch sing at Blair, Gil said, meaning the Friday a cappella concert held outdoors.
All four of us, Charlie added.
Gil gently closed the book beside me. Katie's going to be there. I told her you'd come.
But when I flipped the book back open and said I wasn't going, I remember the look that crossed his face. It was one Gil had never given me before-one he'd always reserved for Parker Hassett and the occasional class clown who didn't know when to stop.
You're coming, Charlie said, stepping toward me.
But Gil waved him off. Forget it. Let's just go.
Then I was alone.
It wasn't stubbornness or pride, or even devotion to Colonna, that kept me away from Blair Arch. It was heartache, I think, and defeat. The fact is that I loved Katie, and also, in an odd way, that I loved the Hypnerotomachia, and that I'd failed to win either of them. The look on Paul's face as he left meant he knew I'd lost my chance with the riddle, whether I knew it or not; and the look on Gil's face as he left meant he knew I'd done the same with Katie. Staring at a group of woodcuts in the Hypnerotomachia—the same ones Taft would use in his lecture a month later, the ones of Cupid driving women into a forest on a burning chariot-I thought of Carracci's engraving. Here I was, being pummeled by the little boy as my two loves looked on. This was what my father meant, the lesson he'd hoped I would learn. Our hardships cannot move him, hove conquers all.
The two hardest things to contemplate in life, Richard Curry once told Paul, are failure and age; and those are one and the same. Perfection is the natural consequence of eternity: wait long enough, and anything will realize its potential. Coal becomes diamonds, sand becomes pearls, apes become men. It's simply not given to us, in one lifetime, to see those consummations, and so every failure becomes a reminder of death.
But love lost is a special kind of failure, I think. It's a reminder that some consummations, no matter how devoutly wished for, never come; that some apes will never be men, not in all the world's ages. What's a monkey to think, who with a typewriter and eternity still can't eke out Shakespeare? To hear Katie say that she wanted to make it final, that she and I were finished, would stunt all my sense of possibility. To watch her there, beneath Blair Arch, warming herself in Donald Morgan's arms, would strip the pearls and diamonds from my future.
And then it happened: just as I'd reached the full bloom of self-pity, a knock came at the door. It was followed by a turning of the knob, and the same way it had happened a hundred times before, Katie let herself in. Beneath her coat I could see she was wearing my favorite of her sweaters, the emerald-colored one that matched her eyes.
You're supposed to be at the arch sing was the first thing I managed to say, and of all the monkey-written combinations, it was probably the worst.
So are you, she said, staring me up and down.
I knew how I must look to her. The wolf Charlie had shown me in the mirror was the one Katie saw now.
Why are you here? I said, glancing at the door.
They're not coming. She forced herself back into my focus. I'm here so you can apologize.
For a second I thought Gil had put her up to this, inventing something about how bad I felt, how I just didn't know what to say. But another glance told me otherwise. She knew I had no intention of saying I was sorry.
You think this is my fault? I asked.
Do it, Tom. Apologize.
Arguing with her was only making me angrier with myself.
Fine. I love you. I wish things had worked out. I'm sorry they didn't.
If you wish things had worked out, why didn't you do anything?
Look at me, I told her. The four-day beard, the unkempt hair. This is what I did.
You did that for the book.
It's the same thing.
I'm the same as the book?
She glared at me as if I'd dug myself a hole. But she knew what I was about to say; she'd just never accepted it.
My father spent his life on the Hypnerotomachia, I told her. I've never felt more excited than when I'm working on it. I lose sleep over it, I don't eat because of it, I have dreams about it. I found myself looking around, searching for words. I don't know how else to say it. It's like going to the battlefield to see your tree. Being near it makes me feel like everything's right, like I'm not lost anymore. I kept my eyes away from her. So are you the same as the book to me? Yes. Of course you are. You're the only thing that's the same as the book to me.
I made a mistake. I thought I could have you both. I was wrong.
Why am I here, Tom?
To rub it in.
To make me apologi-
Tom. She stopped me with a look. Why am I here?
Because you feel the same way I do.
Because this was too important to leave it up to me.
What do you want? I said.
I want you to stop working on the book.
That's all? That's all?
Now, suddenly, emotion.
I'm supposed to feel sorry for you because you gave up on us to act like a slob and live in that book? You ass, I spent four days with my shades down and my door locked. Karen called my parents. My mom flew down from New Hampshire.
Shut up. It isn't your turn to talk. I went out to the battlefield to see my tree, and I couldn’t. I couldn't, because now it's our tree. I can't listen to music, because every song is something we sang in the car, or in my room, or in here. It takes me an hour to get ready for class, because I feel like I'm dazed half the time. I can't find my socks, I can't find my favorite black bra. Donald's always asking me, 'Honey, what's wrong, Honey, what's wrong?' Nothing's wrong, Donald. She pushed her wrists into her cuffs and blotted her eyes.
That's not wh— I began again.
But it still wasn't my turn.
At least with Peter I could understand. We weren't perfect together. He loved lacrosse more than he loved me; I knew that. He wanted to get me in bed, and after that he lost interest. She moved a hand through her hair, trying to push away the bangs that had gotten snarled in tears. But you. I fought for you. I waited a month before I let you kiss me the first time. I cried the night after we slept together, because I thought I was going to lose you. She stopped, galled by the thought. And now I'm losing you to a book. A book. At least tell me it's not what I think, Tom. Tell me you've been seeing a senior on the side all this time. Tell me it's because she doesn't do all the stupid things I do, she doesn't dance naked in front of you like some kind of idiot because she thinks you enjoy her singing, or wake you up at 6 a.m. to go running because she wants to make sure, every single morning, that you're still there. Tell me something.
She looked up at me, broken in a way that I know ashamed her, and I could only think of one thing. There was a night, not long after the accident, when I accused my mother of not caring for my father. If you loved him, I said to her, you would've supported his work. The look that crossed her face, which I can't begin to describe, told me there was nothing more shameful in the world than what I had just said.
I love you, I told Katie, stepping toward her so that she could press her face into my shirt and be invisible for a moment. I'm so sorry.
And that was the moment, I think, when the tide began to change. My terminal condition, the love affair I thought was in my genes, slowly started to lose its grip on me. The triangle was collapsing. In its place stood a pair of points, a binary star, separated by the smallest possible distance.
A jumble of silences followed, all the things she needed to say but knew she shouldn't have to, all the things I wanted to say but didn't know how to.
I'll tell Paul, I said, the best and most truthful thing I could, I'm going to stop working on the book.
Redemption. The realization that I wasn't putting up a fight, that I'd finally figured out what was best for my own happiness, was enough to make Katie do something I think she was saving for much later, after I was back on the wagon for sure. She kissed me. And that moment of contact, like the lightning that gave the monster his second shot at life, created a new beginning.
I didn't see Paul that night; I spent it with Katie and ended up telling him my decision the next day at Dod. He, too, seemed unsurprised. I'd been suffering so much with Colonna that he sensed I might throw in the towel at the first sign of relief. He'd been persuaded by Gil and Charlie that it was the best thing anyway, and somehow he didn't hold it against me. Maybe he guessed I'd be back. Maybe he'd come far enough to think he could finish the riddles alone. Whatever it was, when I finally told him my reasoning-the lesson of Jenny Harlow and Carracci's engraving-he seemed to agree. I could tell from his expression that he knew more about Carracci than I did, but he never once corrected me. Paul, who had more reasons than anyone to believe that some interpretations are better than others, and that the right ones make all the difference, was generous about my spin on things, the same way he'd always been. It was more than his way of showing respect, I think; it was his way of showing friendship.
It's better to love something that can love you back, he told me. It was the only thing he needed to say.
What began as Paul's thesis, then, became Paul's thesis once more. At first, it looked as if he might pull it off alone. The fourth riddle, which had taken a whip to me, came to him in three days. I suspect he'd had the idea all along, but kept it from me because he knew I wouldn't take his advice. The answer was in a book called the Hieroglyphica, by a man named Horapollo, which turned up in Renaissance Italy in the 1420s, purporting to solve the ages-old problem of interpreting Egyptian hieroglyphics. Horapollo, taken by humanists to be some kind of ancient Egyptian sage, was in fact a fifth-century scholar who wrote in Greek and probably didn't know much more about hieroglyphics than Eskimos know about summer. Some of the symbols in his Hieroglyphica involve animals that aren't even Egyptian. Still, amidst the humanist fervor over new knowledge, the text became wildly popular, at least in the small circles where wild popularity and dead languages weren't mutually exclusive.
The night-owl, according to Horapollo, is a symbol of death, for the night-owl suddenly descends upon the young of the crow in the flight, as death comes upon a man suddenly. An eagle with a twisted beak, Horapollo wrote, signifies an old man dying of hunger, for when the eagle grows old, he twists his beak and dies of hunger. The blind beetle, finally, is a glyph that means a man has died from sunstroke, for a beetle dies when blinded by the sun. Cryptic as Horapollo's reasoning was, Paul knew immediately that he'd fixed on the right source. And he saw very quickly what the three animals had in common: death. Applying the Latin word for it, mors, as his cipher, he produced Colonna's fourth message.
You who have come so far are joined by the philosophers of my day, who in your time are perhaps the dust of ages, but who in mine were the giants of mankind. 1 am soon to put upon you the burden of what remains, for there is much to tell and I grow fearful that my secret is too easily spread. But first, out of deference to your accomplishment, I will offer you the beginnings of my story, so that you will know I have not led you this far in vain.
There is a preacher in the land of my brethren who has brought a great pestilence upon the lovers of knowledge. We have battled him with all our wit and influence, but this single man raises our countrymen against us. He thunders in the squares and from the pulpits, and the common men of all nations take up arms to do us harm. Just as God, out of jealousy, brought to nothing the tower in the plain of Shinar, which men built toward the heavens, so He raises His fist against us, who attempt the very same. I did long ago hope that men wished to be delivered from ignorance, just as slaves wish to be freed from bondage. It is a condition unbecoming our dignity, and contrary to our nature. Yet I find now that the race of men is a cowardly thing, a perversion like the owl of my riddle, which though it might enjoy sunlight, prefers darkness. You will hear no more of me, reader, upon the completion of my crypt. To be a prince to such people as this, is to be a castled kind of beggar. This book will be my only child; may it live long, and serve you well.
Paul hardly paused to contemplate it; he pushed on to the fifth and final riddle, which he'd found while I struggled with the fourth: Where do blood and spirit meet?
It's the oldest philosophical question in the book, he told me, while I puttered around the room, preparing for a night with Katie.
The intersection of mind and body, the flesh-spirit duality. You see it in Augustine, in contra Manichaeos. You see it in modern philosophy. Descartes thought he could pinpoint the soul somewhere near the pineal gland in the brain.
He continued that way, paging through a book from Firestone and sputtering philosophy, while I packed.
What are you reading? I asked, pulling my copy of Paradise Lost off the shelf to bring with me.
Galen, Paul said.
The second father of western medicine, after Hippocrates.
I remembered. Charlie had studied Galen in a history of science class. By Renaissance standards, though, Galen was no spring chick: he died thirteen hundred years before the Hypnerotomachia was published.
Why? I asked.
I think the riddle is about anatomy. Francesco must've believed there was an actual organ in the body where blood and spirit met.
Charlie appeared in the doorway with the remains of an apple in his hand. What are you amateurs talking about? he said, hearing talk of things medical.
An organ like this, Paul said, ignoring him. The rete mirabile. He pointed to a diagram in the book. A network of nerves and vessels at the base of the brain. Galen thought this is where vital spirits turned into animal ones.
What's wrong with it? I asked, checking my watch.
I don't know. It doesn't work as a cipher.
That's because it doesn't exist in humans, Charlie said.
What do you mean?
Charlie looked up and took a last nibble from his apple. Galen only dissected animals. The rete mirabile's something he found in an ox or a sheep.
Paul's expression faded.
He also made a meal of cardiac anatomy, Charlie continued.
There's no septum? Paul said, as if he knew what Charlie meant.
There is. There just aren't any pores in it.
What's a septum? I asked.
The wall of tissue between the two sides of the heart. Charlie walked over to Paul's book and flipped through it to find a diagram of the circulatory system. Galen got it all wrong. He said there were little holes in the septum where blood passed between the chambers.
No, Paul snapped, beginning to sound as if he'd been working on this longer than I thought. But Mondino made the same mistake about the septum. Vesalius and Servetus figured it out, but not until the mid-1500s. Leonardo followed Galen. Harvey didn't describe the circulatory system until the 1600s. This riddle is from the late 1400s, Charlie. It has to be the rete mirabile or the septum. No one knew that air mixed with blood in the lungs.
Charlie chuckled. No one in the West. The Arabs figured it out two hundred years before your guy wrote his book.
Paul began rifling through his papers. Thinking the matter was settled, I turned to go. I gotta run. I'll see you guys later.
But just as I moved toward the hallway, Paul found what he'd been looking for: the Latin he'd translated weeks earlier, the text of Colonna's third message.
The Arab doctor, he said. Was his name Ibn al-Nafis?
Charlie nodded. That's the one.
Paul was all excitement. Francesco must've gotten the text from Andrea Alpago.
The man he mentions in the message. Disciple of the venerable Ibn al-Nafis. Before either of us could speak, Paul was talking to himself. What's Latin for lung? Pulmo?
I made for the door.
You're not going to wait to see what it says? he asked, looking up.
I'm supposed to be at Katie's in ten minutes.
This'll only take fifteen. Maybe thirty.
I think it occurred to him only at that moment how much things had changed.
I'll see you guys in the morning, I said.
Charlie, who understood, smiled and wished me luck.
It was a signal night for Paul, I think. He realized he'd lost me for good. He also sensed that no matter what Colonna's final message was, it couldn't possibly contain the man's entire secret, when so little had been revealed in the first four parts. The second half of the Hypnerotomachia, which we had
always assumed was filler, must in reality contain more ciphered text. And whatever consolation Paul took in Charlie's medical knowledge, or in having solved the fifth riddle, it dissipated quickly when he saw Colonna's message and realized that he was right.
I fear for you, reader, as I fear for myself. As you have perceived, it was my intention at the beginning of this text to betray to you my meanings, no matter how deeply I wrapped them in codes. I have wished for you to find ¦what you seek, and have acted as your guide.
Now, however, I find that I have not faith enough in my own creation to continue in this manner. Perhaps I cannot judge the true difficulty of the riddles here contained, even if their creators assure me none but a true philosopher could solve them. Perhaps these wise men, too, are jealous of my secret, and have misled me so that they may steal what is rightfully ours. He is clever indeed, this preacher, with followers in every camp; I fear he turns my soldiers against me.
It is as a defense to you then, reader, that I pursue my present course. Where you have become accustomed to finding a riddle within my chapters, you will henceforth find no riddles at all, and no solutions to lead you. I will employ only my Rule of Four for the duration of Poliphilos journey, but I will offer you no suggestion of its nature. Only your intellect will guide you now. May God and genius, friend, shepherd you aright.
It was confidence alone, I think, that prevented Paul from sensing his abandonment until many days had passed. I had left him; Colonna had left him; now he navigated alone. He tried, at first, to reinvolve me in the process. We had solved so much together that he thought it would be selfish to let me absent myself in the eleventh hour. We were so close, he thought; we had so little left to do.
Then a week passed, and another. I was beginning again with Katie, re-learning her, loving her alone. So much had happened in the weeks we'd been apart that I was more than occupied trying to catch up. We alternated meals at Cloister and at Ivy. She had new friends; we had new routines. There were family matters of hers I began to take an interest in. 1 sensed that once I'd won her trust back completely, she had things she wanted to tell me.
Everything Paul had learned about Colonna's riddles, meanwhile, began to fail him. Like a body of work slowly decaying in function, the Hypnerotomachia resisted all his trusted medicines. The Rule of Four was elusive; Colonna had given no indication of its origin. Charlie, the hero of the fifth riddle, stayed up with Paul some nights, worrying about the effect my departure was having. He never asked me to help, knowing what the book had done to me once, but I saw the way he hovered over Paul, like a doctor eyeing a patient he fears is trending badly. A darkness was setting in, a book lover's heartbreak, and Paul was helpless against it. He would suffer, without my help, until Easter weekend.