The Alchemist's Door

Lisa Goldstein

This much is true: That in the 1580s King Rudolf of the Holy Roman Empire summoned astrologers and alchemists and magicians from all over Europe to his capital in Prague. That Doctor John Dee, the famous Elizabethan student of the occult, was one of the men summoned, along with his associate Edward Kelley. That Rabbi Judah Loew, the man who is credited with creating the golem, an artificial being made of clay, was already living in the Jewish quarter of the city.

It is not recorded that Dee and Loew ever met. But it is not recorded that they didn't ....

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"Tell me again," Jane Dee said, folding a shirt briskly and setting it in the trunk. "Why are we leaving England in such a hurry?"

"We're not hurrying," John Dee said. "Prince Laski wants us to go with him to Poland, nothing more."

"Then why can't we leave tomorrow, or a week from now? I have to close up the house and send off the servants, and you should arrange for money to be sent after us --"

Dee stopped in the act of folding a pair of hose and looked his wife, studying her fine reddish-blond hair, the small lines at her mouth and eyes that had appeared when their first son Arthur was born. Her gray eyes regarded him levelly.

How much could he say to her? He could not tell her the truth, how everything had gone horribly wrong; he could not ask her to share the fear that had weighed on him since that terrible evening.

"I heard something from your study a week ago," she said. "A deep awful voice. And Katherine was in there -- she's only two. What did she see?"

She had read his mind, the way partners in a long marriage do. "No harm came to Katherine, I swear," he said, quietly praying that that was true. "Kelley and I take all the precautions necessary --"

"Kelley!" Jane said. She spoke softly; his assistant Edward Kelley had been living in a spare room on the ground floor for over a year. "Why do you listen to that man?"

"We have been over and over this. Because he can hear the angels speak, and I cannot."

"He can hear your money speak, more like. Why should he be the one to hear them, and not you? You are a good, God-fearing man, and he is -- he is a man who has had his ears cut off as punishment for some crime. How can you trust him? You know why the magistrates order a man's ears clipped. For forgery, or coining. Or for necromancy."

"He is no necromancer."

"I hope, for the children's sake, that he is not."

They continued packing, folding and sorting the family's clothes, moving through the house to collect cookpots and books and pewter plates. "Is Kelley coming with us?" Jane asked, adding bits of cedar and sprigs of lavender to a trunk.

"Yes."

To her credit she did not complain about the other man again. "How will we afford all this?" she asked.

"We have money," Dee said shortly. But Jane knew as well as he did that their money would last a few months, if that. They would have to find a patron. Prince Laski might reward him, God willing....

"You should have the moneys from your lands sent after us," she said once more.

He did not reply. Jane was right, but he could not afford to take the time to arrange it. He placed the bag holding the transparent ball of crystal in the last trunk, nestling it carefully within piles of clothing, and then closed the lid. Bells rang outside, tolling three hours after noon. He had hoped to be away much earlier.

Still, he could not resist a last hurried look around. He walked through the house, taking in everything -- the beams blackened from countless hearth-fires, the scuffed wooden floors, the battered furniture -- as if for the last time. He had grown up in this house just outside of London; it fit him like a familiar piece of clothing. Finally he climbed the stair to his study, a small room perched precariously above the rest of the house, and looked at his beloved library: the orrery, the astrolabe, the books he had amassed with so much trouble.

He went downstairs and found his wife in the children's room, holding Rowland, the baby. He took Arthur and Katherine by the hands and called for their servants to carry the trunks and bundles. Kelley joined them silently on the ground floor, a small sack slung over his shoulder.

A servant led the way down to the Thames. At the dock they met Prince Adalbert Laski and his retinue. Dee's heart sank at the sight of Laski's escort, which was far too large to travel as quickly as he wanted.

They boarded a boat for Greenwich, which they reached in the dead of night. "We take rooms and wait for morning, yes?" Laski said in his peculiarly-accented English.

"Let's go now," Dee said.

"Why?"

"Because -- because the time is auspicious for traveling."

"It is middle of night now."

"Let's wait," Jane said. "The children have to sleep."

Katherine and Rowland were already asleep, but Arthur was bright-eyed and awake. "Where are we going?" Arthur asked, pleased with the sudden notice being taken of him. "What is happening?"

Dee gave in, knowing that Jane was right, and they found rooms at an inn frequented by travelers and sailors. When everyone was asleep he opened his diary and wrote carefully, "21 Sept., 1583. Saturday." And how long, he wondered, before we get to our destination? But he wrote about the day's events with a light tone, in case anyone read what he had written.

The next day they boarded a grander ship that would take them to the continent. A gale blew up almost immediately, returning them to shore. The bad weather continued into the night, forcing them back to the inn. Dee cursed the delay and paced in the confined space; they had taken a small room to save money and he was hemmed in by Jane and the children and Kelley and all their luggage. Rain beat irregularly on the roof, adding to his frustration.

Jane bade him to be patient; they would leave when the weather permitted. He could not tell her what he feared: that the thing he tried to escape from would not let them go.

Four days later the storm finally cleared and they were able to cross the channel. On the continent they boarded yet another ship and navigated through the oppressively flat country of the Lowlands on a roundabout route to Poland. They followed the filigree and tracery of rivers and canals and tributaries so small they didn't even have names; they saw windmills in the distance, and foul-smelling marshes; strange birds shrieked to them as they passed. A chilling wind came off the water, and sometimes an unhealthy mist rose about them, obscuring the river. They passed no one but farmers and an occasional low barge carrying trade goods.

Their ship moved slowly, so slowly. And while they sailed he was forced to be idle, and his mind, used to teasing out puzzles and studying philosophical questions, began to plague him with unwelcome thoughts. He remembered a story he had once heard a Yorkshireman tell, about a kind of mischievous fairy called a Boggart. For years the Boggart had tormented a Yorkshire farmer and his family, had curdled their butter and snarled their knitting and blighted their crops and thrown their things about, until finally the family packed their possessions and made ready to move away. "So you're leaving the old house at last?" a neighbor said, and the head of the family replied, "Heigh, Johnny, I'm forced to it, for that damned Boggart torments us so." He had scarce uttered the words when a voice came from the butter churn, packed with the rest of the household goods in the cart -- "Aye, aye, here I am." "Oh, damn thee," the farmer said. "It's no use." And he pulled on the reins of his cart-horse and said to his wife, "We may as well turn back to the old house as be tormented in another that's not so convenient."

Odd how the story came back to him. He even remembered the Yorkshireman's broad dialect -- "t'ould hoose," he had said. Not so odd, really. But he had left the -- the thing, whatever it was, behind him.

He and Kelley dealt with kindly angels only. That was what he believed, and what he held to despite everything. Kelley saw them in the crystal, and Dee asked them questions. The unkindly angels, the evil angels, that is to say the demons...

No. He had left it behind. It could not come to torment him in another house. If it did, he had uprooted his family and sent them on a mad chase through Europe, all for nothing.

"Why we go this way?" Prince Laski asked once. "Travel over land is better, yes?"

"This way is just as good," Dee said. He did not mention to Laski his forlorn hope, the tale the old wives told, that demons could not pass running water.

Unlike Jane and Laski, Kelley did not question him at all. Kelley argued, as he always did, his speech a continuous litany of complaints. They should never have left England; he should not be forced to use the scrying glass so often; they should continue their search for the Philosopher's Stone instead.

Dee knew, of course, of Kelley's obsession with the Philosopher's Stone. The Stone, the goal of every alchemist, was made by the forging of opposites to create something whole, something perfect and incorruptible. Whatever the Stone touched would become perfect as well: mortal men would become immortal, impure metals would change to gold. It was for gold that Kelley pursued his experiments with potions and elixirs. He had no time for theories of perfection and imperfection; he wanted, simply and wholeheartedly, to be rich.

From the beginning Kelley had made no secret of his desires. He had first come to Dee over a year ago, in March of 1582, in the company of a friend of Dee's, a Master Clerkson. It was the day after the aurora borealis, and ever since then Dee would wonder, fancifully, if the man had blown in on the unearthly blood-red lights.

Kelley called himself Talbot then; Dee never discovered why. He had a down-turned mustache, and although he was young compared to Dee, only thirty, his yellow beard was already turning gray; the streaks made it look as if his beard were rusting. He seemed to have two expressions, one jaded and worldly-wise, with drooping eyelids, and another more forceful and alert.

Yet Kelley could see angels in the ball of crystal, and Dee could not. Dee did not know why this should be so: it seemed grossly unfair, almost -- though he shied away from the thought -- a mistake on the part of God. Kelley was sometimes recalcitrant or bad-tempered or blasphemous, or all three. But Dee's place, so far, had been only to ask the angels questions and record their answers in the book he called the Liber Mysteriorum, or the Book of Mysteries.

At Dee's urging Kelley joined their household. As the months passed, though, Dee noticed oddities about the other man, things that made him uncomfortable. And Jane, who was so level-headed, had been suspicious of Kelley from the first.

For one thing Kelley always wore a close-fitting black cap, even inside the house. Then one day he came to breakfast without it and Dee saw, shocked, that there were ragged stumps where his ears should be, that his ears had been cropped. And ten months after he moved in with them he mentioned casually, as though it was a detail of not much importance, that his name was really Kelley, not Talbot.

Once Dee opened his diary to see that Kelley had crossed out whole sections, most of them concerning Dee's secret doubts about the other man. Kelley had also added fulsome paragraphs praising his own scrying ability, paragraphs that mimicked Dee's hand perfectly. Dee remembered Kelley's clipped ears -- which, as Jane never ceased to remind him, was a punishment meted out to forgers -- and he wondered. "This is Mr. Talbot's writing in my book," he wrote, hoping to avoid confusion later, and he began to write in other languages besides English.

By this time, though, he had traveled too far along the road Kelley showed him. Kelley could see more in the glass than anyone Dee had ever known. At every session they had together Dee felt as if he traveled to another world, a wondrous world filled with angels and spirits and color and rare knowledge. Sometimes he thought that he was speaking directly to God, that he was on the verge of learning God's plan for the world. Kelley satisfied his hunger for this knowledge; it did not matter if the man had a hundred names.

On October 17 Arthur and Rowland became ill from the cold and they were forced to go ashore in Emden. Laski stopped at an inn that looked far too expensive for Dee's taste, and he and his family continued on until they found something smaller.

The innkeeper led Dee and his family upstairs and through a narrow hallway, then opened a door and ushered them inside. The room beyond was tiny, with peeling whitewash; it smelled of mold and congealed candlewax. Wind rattled the shutters and sent gusts of freezing air through cracks in the windows. The fire in the stone hearth was out and dust eddied in the corners.

The innkeeper showed Dee into the other two rooms, each as small and cold and musty as the first. Both contained a lumpy narrow bed, a chest and a chamberpot. Dee thanked the innkeeper and showed him out.

When the man had gone Dee spoke a few words. A candle on the mantelpiece blazed into light. He used it to build up the fire and kindle the other lamps. As he walked he felt as if he were still moving, still swaying to the motion of the boat.

Jane stripped the filthy linen off the beds, then sorted through their trunks until she found sheets and blankets. As she drew them out Dee smelled the cedar and lavender she had packed them in, and for a moment he was transported back to their home in England.

They settled the children in bed. Dee studied Arthur and Rowland carefully, feeling their foreheads, lifting their lids to peer into their eyes. "They need a good warm broth," he said to Jane. "And some feverfew, if you can find it."

She nodded doubtfully and left to find the kitchen. Dee went back to the front room and stood before the fire.

A moment later the door opened and he looked up, expecting Jane. Prince Laski stood there. One of the shutters flew open and banged loudly against the wall; Dee jumped at the noise and looked at the window. The forest began a mere few yards from the inn, he saw, the serrated edges of the pine trees cutting at the sky.

"The angels speak to us tonight, yes?" Laski asked in his outlandish Polish accent. Kelley's angels had promised Laski that he would become king of Poland, and the prince was eager to learn more about his fate.

Dee went to the window, staring out at the darkness of the forest. What was he looking for? The thing he feared would not show itself; he almost wished it would, wished he had something tangible to fight. "No," he said slowly. "We must not summon the angels in such a godforsaken place as this."

The minute the words were out of his mouth he wanted to call them back. The place was not godforsaken; surely God would not forsake any of them. One of his children cried from the next room and he excused himself and hurried toward the sound. Dreadful imaginings filled his mind, and he prayed under his breath as he went. Prayed quietly, so Laski would not hear him and guess that anything was wrong.

Nothing is wrong, he told himself fiercely. Their first attempt across the channel, when they had been driven back to shore -- that had been perfectly natural and not the action of some supernatural force. The shadows he sometimes saw leap upward when there was no fire to make them dance -- that was his imagination. And the children's illness ... He shook his head. No, they had left the thing behind. He was certain of it.

The child was Katherine, crying in her sleep. He hurried toward her and held her. Poor Katherine, he thought. The scars on her palms had not yet healed. He studied her as he fell back to sleep; she looked peaceful enough.

Jane came into the room. "The innkeeper's wife nearly ordered me out of her kitchen," she said. "I had to beg her, to tell her our children were sick. And then she thought we carried some contagion and wanted us to leave the inn entirely." She woke Arthur gently and lifted the broth to his mouth.

Three days later the children were recovered enough to continue on. At Hamburg, on November 6, they parted company with Laski and his retinue; Laski needed to attend to some business. Borrowing money, probably, Dee thought. He had learned on the journey that the prince was nearly penniless; it was no wonder he wanted the kingship so badly. They hired wagons and drivers and transferred their household goods, and pushed on by coach to Lubeck.

There were hills now, and villages nestling among them, nearly hidden by the trees. Churches thrust up steeples sharp as daggers. The roads grew more crowded. They passed soldiers, pilgrims, wandering scholars, merchants with packtrains. Peasants dragged their two-wheeled carts to market. Twice they shared the road with a group of monks, and Dee looked at them in wonder; there had been no monks in England since bloody Queen Mary's time.

In the outskirts of Lubeck they passed an orchard, its few leaves flaring gold in the setting sun. "Oh, please, stop the coach!" Jane called out suddenly.

The driver stopped. "What is it?" Dee asked.

"There's an inn behind those trees," she said. "Let's stay there tonight."

Now he could see a spacious whitewashed building sprouting all manner of turrets and chimneys and gables. Roses climbed trellises halfway up the walls. It was the kind of inn, he knew, that would strain his meager budget. But it would be good for the family to stay somewhere pleasant for a change; they all looked pinched, anxious, even the children. He nodded and they stepped down from the coach, then began the laborious task of carrying the trunks and bundles inside.

The innkeeper, a widow, led them upstairs to a group of clean, freshly aired rooms. Jane unpacked a bit and sat down, looking with satisfaction at the plump featherbeds. But Dee's fears had not left him, not even here. They should be moving, he thought, hurrying without ceasing until they reached their destination.

They went downstairs to a supper of very good fish pie cooked with ginger, pepper and cinnamon. "May I speak with you?" Kelley whispered to him.

"Certainly," Dee said.

"I'm sorry I was so angry earlier," he said. He was always penitent after an argument; it was as if two angels struggled for his soul, one good and one evil. "I will look in the glass again for you. Tonight might be an auspicious time."

They might be able to risk it, Dee thought. He could not imagine a demon haunting them here, in this place that seemed so so ordinary, so good. Perhaps if Kelley was truly repentant the good angels would return. And Laski would expect them to resume the experiments sometime; if they started tonight, with Laski gone, at least the prince would not be there if they failed.

They went up to their rooms after supper, and he saw Jane and the children to bed. Then he took out the red silk cloth embroidered with powerful signs -- the Seal of Solomon, the names of angels, some of the hidden names of God -- and spread it on the table. On top of that he set the wax tablet, inscribed with stars and pentagrams and the symbols of the planets, and the stand for the showstone. He moved carefully, aware that one misstep might bring disaster on them all.

Finally he reached into the gray velvet bag for the showstone, a perfect sphere of transparent crystal about the size of a baby's head. He peered into the glass, still hoping after all this time to see something. There was only his reflection, upside-down, as though he had drowned. He looked older than he remembered, older than he felt. Others had found wisdom in his long face, his piercing eyes, and Jane, he knew, thought him handsome. But he saw only the harsh lines scouring his cheeks and forehead, saw that his beard and his neat cap of hair had become almost completely white. He set the ball carefully on its stand.

The two men prayed, and then Kelley bent over the glass. AI see -- it is Madimi who comes to me," he said. The child-angel Madimi was one of their most frequent visitors. "She says -- she is dancing now, she is very pleased with something."

Kelley raised his head. "Look," he said, pointing to one of the chairs. Dee looked, though he knew he would see nothing. "There she is, dancing on the back of the chair. She is wearing a gown of changeable silk, red and green."

Dee wondered for perhaps the hundredth time what it would be like to see angels everywhere. If it was true that everything in the world had its own angel -- every person and clock and book and stone -- then whatever you looked at would be incredibly alive, a constant shift and play of colors and motion. And he wondered again why this sight had been given to Kelley and not to him.

Kelley stopped. The silence in the room grew. Something moved in a dark corner. It is the fire, Dee thought. The fire is making the shadows dance.

There is no fire.

His heart kicked at his ribs. He looked quickly at Kelley. Kelley was bent over the crystal once more; he had noticed nothing. Because there is nothing to notice, Dee thought. It is your imagination, it is nothing....

Suddenly he realized how cold he was, how the cold permeated every part of him. A powerful shiver shook him like a seizure. "What -- what do you see for me?" he asked, breaking the silence.

"I see eleven noblemen in rich sable," Kelley said. "One man wears a sable cap and sits on a chair inlaid with precious stones. 'Pluck up your heart,' he says to you. 'You will become rich, and you will be able to enrich kings and help those who are needy. Were you not born to use the commodities of this world? Were not all things made for man's use?'"

Dee forced himself to relax. Most of the angels Kelley summoned spoke in convoluted metaphors and parables; this one was far more forthcoming. And he would not mind being wealthy, not for Kelley's reasons but because, with enough money, he would finally be free to pursue his studies without worry.

"What about Laski?" Dee asked. "What do you see for him?"

"He will become king. He will triumph over the Turks. His name will be spoken in every capital in Europe."

Suddenly one of the shadows seemed to detach itself from the rest. A change came over Kelley. He laughed harshly. "All gone," he said. "All gone. No hope."

Dee clutched one hand tightly with the other, only dimly aware that he was hurting himself. "What is gone?"

"Castles, swords, kingdoms, crowns," Kelley said. "His name will be spoken in every capital in Europe."

"I -- I don't understand."

"All gone. Your books. Your library. What you value most in this world."

"What happened to my books?"

Kelley laughed gleefully. "Fire, flood, destruction," he said. "Your library is gone."

"Master Kelley!" Dee said desperately. "Master Kelley, stop! Look at me."

"The queen is your enemy," Kelley said. "In England they condemn your doings and say you are a renegade because you left without the queen's permission. They say you despise your prince."

"Edward Kelley!"

Kelley looked up from the glass, his face showing confusion. "All gone," he said softly.

Dee felt hopeless, defeated even before he began. Dread weakened him like an illness. Something was about to go terribly wrong, some force was building that would destroy him and his family as easily as he crushed an insect, and he was powerless to stop it. Worse -- it had already happened, had already been set in motion, like a wave building out in the sea. He would find out what it was only when it came to shore, and by then it would be too late. By then his ill fortune would have overtaken him.

He roused himself to glance at Kelley. The other man's face looked normal enough, and his voice had not changed; he had not been taken over by the demon this time. Perhaps it was not here. Perhaps they had outrun it. But what if they hadn't?

"Master Kelley," he said. "What did you mean? Do you remember what you said?"

The confusion cleared slowly from Kelley's face. "Yes," he said. He shook himself, like a dog coming out of the water. "It was -- it was a small foolish devil, nothing more."

Dee spent the night in the bedroom, praying and pacing, sometimes both at once. Jane slept, her face clear and untroubled. Once in a while he stopped to look at her, as if to remind himself that innocence still existed in the world.

His conflicting thoughts whirled like a maelstrom. If Kelley had called up the demon then they should flee now, hurry on and hope it would not follow. But this spirit had harmed no one; it was probably not the demon. But it had taunted him maliciously. Would an angel do that? But what if they were not taunts? What if the angel was telling the truth? But if it was telling the truth that meant that his library had been destroyed.

In the end it was the fact that Kelley's voice had not changed that decided him. Kelley had not been able to summon the good angels, he thought, but this one had not been the demon he feared. AA very foolish devil," Dee wrote with relief in his book. Still, he began to record the angels' speech in Greek to hide their conversations from the malign spirit, though he knew it for a vain hope even as he did it. Angels spoke all the tongues of the world.

They pushed on, slowed by snow and ice. On Christmas morning they came to Stettin. Dee was never more desirous of going to church, but he saw only a Catholic cathedral, its stained glass windows lit like a vision from another world.

He thought long and hard about worshiping there: in England he would be arrested as a heretic if he were found at a Catholic service. But it hadn't been so long ago that Queen Mary had enforced the Catholic religion, and then everyone had gone to a cathedral like this one. All worship was the same thing, really, he thought suddenly, and then understood to his surprise that he had always thought so, and that it was only away from England that such a foreign idea could become clear.

He led his family into the cathedral. The old sonorous Latin phrases sounded like a secret language from his childhood, familiar and mysterious at the same time.

Laski and his retinue rejoined them at the beginning of January. Heavy snowfall turned the road as white as unmarked paper, and the trees to either side were sere and bare; their branches knocked boldly against the coach like spirits seeking entrance.

On February 3rd Laski, who was riding on horseback next to Dee's coach, suddenly called out. "There it is," he said. "That is my tower, over there. My tower, from my castle."

Dee looked out the window, hardly daring to believe it. They had reached their goal, the prince's estate at Lask.

He had hoped that Laski would give them rooms on the estate, but instead the prince directed them to lodgings in town. His first sight of the estate was a confusion of outbuildings and people and a great castle on a hill, all of it covered in a fresh dusting of snow.

A soft dusk had fallen by the time they got to their inn, but enough light remained for Dee to see that it stood near a church. He took that as a good omen. He gave orders for the baggage, helped Jane prepare the children for sleep, and then collapsed on one of the beds with weariness. Safe, he thought as his dreams began to gather around him. We'll be safe here.

As time passed the feeling of safety grew, and over the next few days he began to allow himself to remember that terrible evening, the memories he had forced away for so long. The afternoon session had gone well that day, and Dee, excited by the progress he and Kelley had made, had urged Kelley back upstairs to his study after supper.

He had built up the fire against the chill September air. The cloth, the wax tablet, the showstone, all had been set out that afternoon, and they needed only to pray before beginning. Kelley bent his head over the glass.

"The angel Madimi comes to me," Kelley said. "She is dancing in her frock of changeable colors."

"Why has she come?" Dee asked.

"She wants to see you."

"And I want to see her." Suddenly Dee felt all his loneliness and frustration and desire, and he asked, "Why can't I? Will I ever be able to?"

"She says, 'Your sight is more perfect than his,'" Kelley said.

"More perfect than whose?"

"Mine. She is pointing toward me."

Dee's heart leapt. "But when will I be able to see her?" he asked again.

Kelley ignored him. "Will you, Madimi, lend me a hundred pounds for a fortnight?" he asked.

"Master Kelley!" Dee said, horrified. "You cannot ask the spirits for money. God will give us what is necessary."

Kelley fell silent. "Go on, man," Dee said. "What does she say? What do you see?"

"Nothing. I see nothing."

Dee sighed. Kelley frequently stopped in the middle of his visions, out of weariness or frustration or just sheer stubbornness. "Ask her when I can see her," Dee urged. "Please."

Kelley hesitated a moment and then said, "I know a spell ...."

"What?"

"Remember I told you I found an old alchemical manuscript buried in Glastonbury? It contains a spell for summoning angels."

"And this spell -- will it allow me to see them?"

In response Kelley began to recite, a gibberish of English and Latin and nonsense syllables. Suddenly the table shook violently. The showstone jerked and rolled toward the edge; Dee made a grab for it and by a miracle managed to catch it before it smashed to the ground.

A smell filled the room, something unpleasant, like a noxious chemical. A loud babel of voices spoke, then stopped, then spoke again.

Then suddenly the room was silent, the table steady. Was it over? "Can I see angels now?" Dee whispered.

"Hush!" Kelley said. "What is the price for knowledge?"

"What do you mean?"

"What is the price for knowledge?" Kelley said again, much louder this time. "How much will you pay? Anything?"

Was this part of Kelley's ritual? Would he pay anything? To know, to finally see the angels....

Another part of his mind told him to stop, to say nothing. There was something wrong with Kelley's question, something he would understand if only he had time to think.... But Kelley importuned him again. "What price?"

"Anything," Dee said quickly, before he could change his mind.

"Good," Kelley said. "The angel comes to me. You will see him soon."

Kelley's voice changed, grew deeper. That had never happened before. "It is all useless," he said. "Hopeless. Nothing you do can make any difference. You cannot protect them."

"Protect whom?"

"Anyone. Anyone you love."

"Master Kelley!"

The door to the study opened, and his two-year-old daughter Katherine came in. She took small uncertain steps to the middle of the room. "Katherine, please," Dee said. "You must --"

He never finished. The voice, whatever it was, left Kelley and entered Katherine. She began to laugh, in the same deep tones Kelley had used. It sounded terrible, coming from a child. "You cannot protect, for example, your daughter," she said.

As Dee watched, terrified, she tottered toward the window. She slammed her tiny hands against the glass, over and over, until the window shattered outward. She grasped the windowsill and pulled herself upward, ignoring the shards of glass lacerating her palms.

She was going to jump. They were three floors from the ground. Dee cried out and leapt toward her. "You cannot stop me," Katherine said in the horrible voice. "I will kill your daughter. I cannot be stopped. You can only run away."

He grabbed her by her middle and pulled her back. She laughed again, but now Dee noticed that there was a look of torment on her face, as though she were trying to escape whatever had hold of her. He held her tightly. She slumped in his arms and her eyes closed.

"Katherine," he said. "Katherine, are you all right?"

She opened her eyes and began to cry. Was she still possessed? Her cries, at least, sounded normal. What had that -- that thing been? Not an angel, that much was certain. A demon.

He tried not to shudder, tried not to tear himself away from her. She cried out something in the baby-talk that he could not understand, though Jane could, and he relaxed a little.

In the days that followed, though, he began to think that the demon was still with them. Sometimes he smelled its foul odor, or saw something move out of the corner of his eye. Objects fell to the floor with no one near them, and once, terrifyingly, a pewter mug flew across the room and hit the opposite wall.

After a while he realized that these things only happened when Katherine was present. Sometimes she would jump at the loud noises, or burst into tears, but at other times she did not seem to notice the confusion around her. Dee did not know which would be worse, to know that a demon stalked you or to be taken over by it unaware.

He reread his diary and discovered to his horror a passage he had forgotten, from his very first session with Kelley on March 10, 1582. The angel Uriel had warned him of an evil spirit who, he said, "haunts your house, and seeks the destruction of your daughter." They must exorcize him with brimstone, Uriel said; Dee could not remember if he had done so or not.

Now he filled the house with the dreadful smell. He read books, consulted friends, recited incantations. He brought all his knowledge, all his reading, to bear. Nothing he did helped. He asked Kelley, many times, what he thought had happened in the study, but the other man claimed to know no more than he did.

Then one morning he saw Katherine wander through the house, muttering in an impossibly deep voice. He took her by the arm and shook her. She turned to him, empty-eyed; he had the idea he could see her soul guttering out. "It is over," she said in that eerie voice. "All gone. All gone wrong."

Almost without thinking he had left the house, saddled his horse and ridden as fast as he could toward Prince Laski's lodgings. He would not stand by, powerless, and watch his daughter tormented. The demon had said that they could run away, and finally he realized that that was the only choice left to him.

Prince Adalbert Laski, a Polish nobleman visiting London, had invited Dee to go to Poland with him. Dee had never even considered the offer; he was happy in England, reading his books and doing his experiments. But when he reached the prince's lodgings he blurted out his acceptance, seizing on it as a sinner takes a holy relic.

Now, back in Poland, he and Kelley rode out to Laski's estate a good deal, their horses moving stolidly through the flurries of snow. Dee's first, hurried glimpse had not told the whole story; several of the outbuildings stood abandoned and one entire wing of the castle had been closed off and allowed to fall into ruin. There were few servants, and several times Laski had to wander through his hallways, calling out, before he found someone to serve them supper or build up the fire.

But the prince had enough money to agree to become Dee's patron. "Thank God," Jane said when Dee told her the news. She had not complained, but Dee knew that she had been worried at how quickly their money disappeared on the journey.

A month later the angels were still telling Laski that he would be king, but there was no further news for him. The prince grew impatient, even angry, and once or twice he shouted at Kelley when the angels refused to tell them anything more. By this time Dee had discovered he needed certain books for his research, and he decided to move on to Cracow with his family and consult the university there. At the back of his mind was the slightly unworthy thought that in Cracow he and Kelley would not have to see Laski as often.

Cracow was a jumble of buildings old and new: Gothic churches, sculptured Italian facades, the university, a fortress. Dee barely saw the city, barely ventured outside the house they had rented, not even to go to the university as he had planned. For once Kelley was in a good humor, and Dee hastened to take advantage of it, spending hours closeted with the other man, both of them bent over the showstone.

They received only good advice; Dee became certain that they had left the demon behind. The angels assured them once again that Laski would become king, and gave Kelley cryptic instructions for making the Philosopher's Stone, and told Dee what herbs he should take for the winter illnesses that had not yet left him.

In fact there was good news wherever he looked. Jane took him aside and whispered that she was with child again. If the child was a boy he vowed to name him Michael, after one of the angels who appeared to Kelley in the glass.

Spring came, and then summer. Dee hardly noticed. He felt renewed, felt the same excitement as when Kelley had first come to his door. They spoke with the little girl Madimi; Michael, the spirit of wisdom; Nalvage with his curling yellow hair. Then, on a night in late summer, Kelley looked into the glass and told Dee that he saw Jane lying dead, with her face battered in.

"What?" Dee said. "No."

"Yes. Your wife is dead."

"No -- don't be foolish. I can hear her downstairs."

"She will die, then. And so will your servant Mary, drowned in a pool of water."

"No," Dee said, unable to raise his voice above a whisper.

"Yes." Kelley's voice grew harsher, deeper. He laughed. "And your friend in England, Henry Sidney. Dead, all dead."

"No!" Dee said. "Stop it!"

"And your library burned --"

Dee slapped his hand over the crystal. Kelley wrenched his gaze away. He stared at Dee, his eyes unfocused. After a long time he said, "What? Where --"

"You are with me in Poland," Dee told him.

Kelley nodded slowly. "And I said -- oh, my God. I said your wife would die." He looked genuinely shocked.

"We must leave now. Quickly."

"Why?"

"The demon. It's followed us."

"How do you know?"

"Your voice changed. It was horrible. The demon's found us again."

"God. What do we do now?"

"I don't know. Try once more to outrun it."

"Can we? It found us here --"

"That's the only thing I can think of. We must -- we must hurry, though --"

"But where can we go?"

Dee hadn't thought. "Prague," he said suddenly. "Emperor Rudolf invited me there once. He invited many people -- scientists, astrologers, alchemists, mathematicians. The Alchemical King, they call him."

"Alchemy," Kelley said thoughtfully. "Then he too searches for the Philosopher's Stone."

"So they say."

"Good," Kelley said. "Let's go."

Dee went into the bedroom. It was not late, but Jane was sleeping; her pregnancy had begun to tire her. How could she possibly travel now? But there was no help for it.

Jane stirred and looked at him sleepily.

"I must leave again," he said.

She woke fully and sat up, gazing at his with her level gray eyes. "Leave? But I cannot travel quickly in my condition --"

"It has found us again," Dee said.

"What has found you? You never told me what happened that night."

"I called something up --"

"You said we were safe --"

"Hush. I said you and the children are safe. I'm the one it wants."

"This is because of Kelley, isn't it? He's the one who summons those things, isn't he? I warned you about him from the start --"

"Listen," Dee said urgently. "You'll be safe here. It wants me -- it comes only when I am present. Stay and continue on when you're ready. I will write you from Prague."

"Prague!" Jane said. "Are we going to Prague now?"

Dee looked at his wife. What had Kelley seen? He studied her features as if memorizing them, the reddish-blond hair, the gray eyes. Kelley had said that her face ...

No. She was fine; nothing had happened to her. Nor ever would, he thought fiercely.

"It seems so," he said.

The Alchemist's Door is available at Powell's Bookstore

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