Sleep comes easily that night for once, and is almost dreamless. I wake briefly at six and decide it’s far too early to get up and let myself doze off again. Now I dream, of strange symbols that twine around each other and group together. As they link up I hear a man’s voice saying something in German; he sounds authoritative and certain, and the symbols seem to stand to attention and obey him. Then suddenly I can see myself standing in the midst of the symbols, looking around open-mouthed with wonder, my hands reaching out to touch them. I want to shout out and stop myself, but the German-speaker says something and my throat feels like it’s blocked; no sounds will come out. A shadow falls across some of the symbols from somewhere and my skin starts to crawl as though icy ants were making trails on it. A caduceus appears with chicken-headed snakes, held in a bandaged hand and without knowing why I am certain that I do not want to see the hand unwrapped.
I sit bolt upright in bed.
I think about the dream while I’m copying out the snakeskin pages; there are only four of them, but copying the diagrams is taxing, and checking and rechecking the foreign-language sections of the text is almost as bad. The symbols there on the page are the ones from my dream and it doesn’t take a Sigmund Freud to see why they were there. I can’t remember enough of what was said to try translating any of it, and words in dreams have a habit of being meaningless except inside the dream, in the same way that signs and books change their contents every time they’re looked at. The caduceus and the bandaged hand though are symbols of the Black Pharaoh and so I conclude that my dream was just inspired by these pages coming into my possession.
I wonder for a little while what has become of Leif and Guldtronen, but deep down I know I don’t want to find out. I’m not even sure I want Leif back. With a start I realise that I never asked him if he found the Sampo while he was living in the Ilmatu city.
When the pages are copied I lock the copies in my glass-fronted bookcase and put the originals back in their envelope, and give Bark a call to tell him I’m on my way. He sounds slightly surprised, but tells me to ask for him when I arrive; he’s at work.
I wait until we’re in the reading room to show him the envelope. He looks through the pages, turning them this way and that to see how the light catches them. They shimmer and scintillate, casting purple and crimson diamonds of colour onto the walls. He leaves, and comes back a few minutes later with a woman who doesn’t smile at me and puts latex gloves on before picking the pages up. As she does so, my fingers start to itch.
“This is my colleague,” says Bark, with just a fractional amount of emphasis on colleague. I nod to tell him I’ve understood, and watch her as she studies the pages under the light. She’s heavy-set, and probably in her fifties, her facial hair could do with bleaching and her skin looks weathered like she’s spent a lot of time outdoors. She frowns as she peers closely at the pages, and then looks at me and Bark.
“Have you translated this yet?” Her voice is gentle and unexpected. “I think you should ask Maria.”
“Do you think it’s genuine then?” Bark is standing up even as he speaks, but he pauses at the door to let him colleague finish.
“Yes. The pages look right, the writing looks right. But if it is from Stauffer’s copy--” She stops abruptly, and I know it’s because I’m there, listening. I ask her about it when Bark leaves the room, but she looks straight through me and doesn’t respond. We remain like that until Bark returns with another woman, this one maybe a decade younger but fatter still and with blonde hair tied into pigtails. She too puts latex gloves on before she takes the first page and looks at it.
Studying the document takes hours, and Bark tells me not to leave until they’re done.
“I’m very glad you brought this to us,” he says. “It looks like pages from the Valgran Codex, it might be an appendix.”
“From Stauffer’s copy of it?” I’m fed up with no-one telling me anything.
“Possibly.” Bark’s tone is neutral, and his hands wave away my questions.
“If it is,” I persist, “then does it tell us how he put the symbols on the guitar. Or the violin?”
“Do you take milk and sugar in your coffee?” And that’s the last attention paid to me until the three of them put the pages back in the envelope, gather up their scruffy but copious notes, and look at me.
“We’ll be in touch,” says Bark. “But I think you’ll get DeeDee back.”
As I leave, I worry about what he means by that.