While this book is officially out of print, Lillian has
extra copies of the trade edition. Please contact
her for details about obtaining an autographed copy.
A tarnished saint and a polished devil sweep several ordinary people into a struggle for the holy grail, winner take the future.
When Maggie Sinclair walks into myth-haunted Glastonbury Abbey, she intends only to teach a group of students the stories of King Arthur. But she can't escape her mid-life crisis, which soon leads her to answer a spiritual call to arms that will change her world forever.
Maggie's student Rose Kildare is looking for romance and adventure. What she finds is murder and a crisis of faith. In searching for his missing father, a young Scot named Mick Dewar finds not only Rose, but his family's long-lost identity. And Ellen Sparrow thinks she's already found certainty but instead loses almost everything.
Over them all looms Robin Fitzroy. In the eleventh century he was Robert the Devil, father of William the Conqueror. Now immortal, secure in his pride, he serves Lucifer himself. Only Thomas Beckett, the great English saint, knows who Robin really is. Thomas let another man be martyred in his place in 1170. Since then he's lived as a humble scholar, seeking redemption for his sin. But now, at the end of time, he discovers that it's up to him to save the souls of mankind from Robin's clutches. He risks making allies of Maggie, Rose and Mick, even as he wonders whether not only his scholarship but his character is strong enough to meet the challenge.
"Lillian Stewart Carl's latest fantasy novel,
Lucifer's Crown, effectively combines Arthurian legend, Grail myth, and British
folkways to create a powerful novel. Ms. Carl takes the ideas of good vs. evil
quite seriously and probes deeply into the idea of redemption. She does not,
however, take her themes lightly, instead giving them a vigorous shaking down
before she's done, resulting in a gripping spiritual thriller. One could easily
call this 'in the tradition of Charles Williams (a colleague of Lewis and
Tolkien)'--which it certainly is--but it more importantly moves beyond that
master of the spiritual thriller. It succeeds where Williams always failed: it
has believable characters."
--Matthew Scott Winslow, The Green Man Review
"Carl's strongest point by far is her character creation and development. Thomas
Beckett, the sinful saint who let someone else die in his place and has lived
with this moral flaw for centuries, is simply fascinating. He is sinner and
saint, scholar and warrior, human and angelic ... all in one. The author manages
to combine all these traits into what has become one of my favorite fictional
characters ever. The plot is fascinating as well, a classical good vs. evil
story set in modern-day Britain. The author manages to include enough new ideas,
interpretations, and twist into this 'old' story that it is a joy to read it all
over again. Every page is a pleasure to read, and I could not put the book down
until I was done in one night."
--Anika Leithner, Amazon.com
"Lucifer's Crown is a densely-packed narrative of uncommon complexity and
richness. Superficially, it's contemporary fantasy, with magical elements
intruding on modern life, but it is also equal parts historical tour-de-force,
murder mystery, quest fantasy, romance, Arthurian epic and alternate history of
Wagnerian scope. Carl has taken half a dozen or more traditions and genres,
mixing them together to forge an alloyed novel of unexpected strength."
--Jayme Lynn Blaschke, SF Site
"Blending historical mystery with a touch of the supernatural, the author
creates an intriguing exploration of faith and redemption in a world that is at
once both modern and timeless."
"... uses the archetypes from many different cultures, legends, and myth to
create an original good vs. evil story line. The characters are what make this
plot so unique because all the protagonists are fatally flawed yet reject evil
again and again even when they are tempted beyond measure. Hearts will go out to
Becket, a man who has lived eight centuries and never loses faith even though he
has yet to find his own ease of heart."
-- Harriet Klausner
The gate stood open beneath its ancient stone arch. Maggie Sinclair walked through it into the grounds of Glastonbury Abbey. Turning around, she began, "When you see Salisbury . . ."
Her tiny flock was no longer at her heels. Muttering, "I’m a teacher, not a border collie," she doubled back. In the dank shadow of the archway two people passed close by her. "I’m telling you, Vivian," the middle-aged man said in a Scottish accent, "there’s no good will come of it."
The woman laughed. "Leave it, Calum. No harm in having a bit of a giggle with the group tonight. I’ll have a story for the paper."
"Ah, you and your stories for the paper," he retorted.
"I’m a journalist," the English woman said. "Writing stories is what I do."
What’s going on tonight? But the couple went on into the Abbey, leaving Maggie’s curiosity unsatisfied.
Emerging into the thin October sunlight, she looked right and left along Magdalene Street. Yeah, she thought, there were a lot of things no good would come of. This trip might be one of them. But it wasn’t that she was running away. Teaching was what she did.
Her students were ranged around the corner into Silver Street, taking in the signs and the shops: the Rainbow’s End Café, the King Arthur Public House, the National Federation of Spiritual Healers. The Brigit Healing Wing, Pendragon, The Goddess and the Green Man, and the Library of Avalon. The butcher, the baker, the candlestick maker. The ten-foot-tall gateway of the medieval George and Pilgrim Inn looked like a mouth shaped in an O of astonishment, mirroring the expression on the faces of the three students. "Hello?" Maggie called.
Rose Kildare, the Botticelli angel, smiled. Beefy campus jock Sean MacArthur, Rose’s shadow, looked casual. Senior citizen Anna Stern, who seemed fragile but had set the pace on their trek up Glastonbury Tor, said, "Look at the books in this window. The Holy Grail. Astrology. Standing stones and earth energy. Feminism. Ecology. Celtic Revival."
"That’s Glastonbury," said Maggie. "It’s surrounded by sacred sites dating back thousands of years. During the Middle Ages pilgrims came to see England’s most famous collection of Christian relics. Now anything goes."
"The shop owners may sell crystals and aromatherapy candles along with the crucifixes," said Rose, "but the pilgrims are still coming."
Sean shook his head. "Pilgrims? Some of these people are weird."
"Most of us," Maggie began, then amended, "many people are looking for a capital-S Story that will transcend the limits of their own lives. This is why we’re doing the legends of Arthur, right? Come on—here you take advantage of the sunshine, you don’t hide from it like we do back home in Texas."
She herded the students into the vast expanse of the Abbey grounds. Broken walls and amputated arches sliced through the smooth green lawn. A sixteenth-century manor house rose from its far rim. Medieval slate roofs made a serrated edge beyond the encircling walls. The grassy bulk of Chalice Hill closed the horizon to the east, hiding all of the Tor except for the tower of St. Michael’s church at its peak. Billows of white and gray cloud sailed overhead, trailing shadows across the ruins. The last time Maggie had been here, during the summer, tour buses belching diesel had lined up outside the gate. Now the crows, strutting across the grass like smug prelates, outnumbered the people.
She spotted the couple she’d passed in the archway. Vivian was sitting cross-legged inside the chained-off rectangle where the high altar had once been, probably meditating. A typical Glastonbury moment, both innocent and presumptuous. Calum stood nearby, so still he might have been meditating, too, although in Maggie’s experience, men were as likely to meditate as to read instruction manuals.
She said to the students, "When you see Salisbury and Canterbury cathedrals you’ll get an idea of what Glastonbury once looked like. Towers, vaults, carvings, colored glass. So much wealth and power concentrated in the hands of a not-always-holy church helped motivate the Reformation."
Pointing, she went on, "Most medieval churches were built in the shape of a cross. Here’s the nave in front of us, the long upright where the civilians hang out. There are the transepts, the two short horizontal arms. Beyond them, in the short upright, is the presbytery or chancel, which is priest territory. And the choir, where the monks sang the Office."
Anna and Rose looked toward the arches that had once supported the main tower, now tall stumps. Sean shrugged. "This was in the required reading."
"But we’re here now," said Rose. "It’s different when it’s for real."
What isn’t? Maggie called Sean’s bluff. "Okay, so what was in the north transept there, and why?"
"The chapel of St. Thomas Becket," he returned with a smirk and a sweep of his camcorder. "These buildings went up right after he was killed at Canterbury."
"All right!" said Maggie. "Go sit down in the choir and we’ll get beyond the required reading."
Jostling good-naturedly, Sean and Rose settled next to Anna against the north wall and produced paper notebooks from their backpacks. Maggie had banned individual computers, knowing the lure of chat rooms and games. They could use her laptop to check their e-mail, and their papers weren’t due until after they got home in January.
Here in the choir she didn’t hear any echo of plainchant, just the thump-thump of a boom box. The guilty party was a kid with spiked purple hair. He’d have a long wait if he was here for the yearly rock festival, known as much for mud as for music. A man with red hair and a classy leather jacket sauntered across the shadow of the south transept arch. Nice body, Maggie thought, but his walk indicated self-absorption. Was he watching Vivian? No. From the angle of his head Maggie deduced he was looking at Rose. Like any male with enough testosterone to merit the definition would not look at Rose.
Two priests in black cassocks strolled along in deep discussion, of the nature of God, perhaps, or the nature of Sunday dinner. Beneath the russet-leaved trees across the way, three figures dressed in white robes raised their arms in prayer. Neo-Druids, guessed Maggie, modern Glastonbury being nothing if not ecumenical.
A wind scented with baking bread and either incense or cider blew her hair across her forehead and impatiently she scooped it away. "The Lady Chapel there was built over the oldest church in Britain. Legend says the Virgin Mary herself was buried here. So many other people had themselves planted nearby, Glastonbury came to be called the graveyard of the saints. "The well in the crypt of the Lady Chapel may date from an ancient earth mother religion, with its stories of her dying and reviving son. Ditto Glastonbury Tor, and Chalice Well just below. Funny how this is the only spot for ten miles around that you can’t see the Tor. Makes you think the first Christians built here to hide something."
"Or from something," said Anna.
Maggie nodded. "Exactly. Legend says the Tor is the gateway to Annwn, the Underworld. Tonight, Halloween, is the old Celtic holy day of Samhain, when the gate opens, the veil between the seen and the unseen thins, and spirits walk among us." She glanced at the couple by the altar. Was Vivian’s "bit of a giggle" a Samhain ceremony staged by born-again pagans? "The fire of 1184 destroyed buildings dating back to a seventh-century Saxon church or an even earlier Celtic one. By the twelfth century Glastonbury was Roman Catholic. There was bloodshed when the Normans moved in, but that’s the Normans for you, settling arguments with swords—Becket’s martyrdom being an example. You could make a case for him getting himself killed, seeing martyrdom as a good career move."
Anna’s brows quirked. Rose grinned. Sean was looking at something behind Maggie’s back.
"When the monks were rebuilding they found what they believed was the burial place of King Arthur." She gestured toward another chain-enclosed area. "The stories about him were originally pagan, but Glastonbury claimed them about the same time the stories of the Holy Grail were grafted onto them.
"During the sixteenth century Henry VIII threw the Roman church out of Britain. His troops looted the monasteries and sold the rubble. The eighty-year-old abbot of Glastonbury and two of his monks were accused of hiding treasure and were executed up on the Tor. Religious principles in the service of avarice, or the other way around?"
The students listened, Rose mesmerized, Anna taking notes, Sean’s eyes wandering away and then returning. The afternoon faded as the clouds clotted into gray lumps. The wind went from damp and cool to wet and cold. Finally Maggie emerged from the far side of the historical thicket. "Let’s hit the museum. Then we’ll find a pub and have supper. The local cider comes from that old Celtic cauldron of inspiration—it gives you an inspiring buzz."
With enthusiastic murmurs the students pulled themselves to their feet, Sean helping Anna as well as Rose. They shouldered their packs and headed off like a hip grandmother and her polite grandkids. Good, Maggie thought. She had enough to worry about without adding group dynamics to the list.
The grounds were deserted, leaves swirling across the turf. In the metallic light the ravaged walls gleamed like tarnished silver. The place still had its dignity—and its secrets, Maggie told herself.
She laid her hand against the north vault. At first the stone was warm. Then a cold deep as time kissed her palm and sent a shiver up her arm. Gazing up the trajectory of the arch, she imagined a current flowing through flesh and stone alike, connecting earth and sky.
Tonight was All Hallow’s Eve, when the church sent its saints to sweep lingering pagan spirits under its rug. Tonight was Samhain, the pagan New Year’s Eve. In two months another New Year’s Eve would end the year 2000. For sixty days the past and the future would possess the same metaphysical space and time, just as the old and new millennia had done this entire year. And then? Maggie thought of Dante’s Inferno: "In the middle of the journey that is life, I came to myself in a dark wood where the straight way was lost." And I have miles to go before I sleep, she concluded with a grimace. Her hand wasn’t cold anymore, just gritty, as though her morsel of flesh had warmed the ancient stone.
She tucked both hands into her pockets and hurried after the others, telling herself that the only ghosts haunting the twilit ruins were her own.
Rose felt like one of those air-headed kids who couldn’t remember what socks were for. The third morning of her first trip overseas and she couldn’t find her notebook. She must have left it at the Abbey. Unless Sean had taken it. But it wasn’t her notebook he wanted.
Her steps thumped loudly in the mist. The buildings along Magdalene Street weren’t indistinct enough to be illusion, but weren’t solid enough to be real. Lighted windows made smears of pale yellow, like the haloes Rose used to paint around saints and angels. The George and Pilgrim was five hundred years old, she thought. The Abbey—the newest Abbey—was eight hundred. The oldest building in Dallas was a log cabin from the 1840s, set on a concrete plaza hot as a pancake griddle.
Here the sky seemed smaller and the horizon closer, even though the houses and shops were so little Rose felt like Gulliver in Lilliput. The air smelled different, soft, damp, hinting of smoke and mildew. Aged air, well-used. And cold. She couldn’t remember the last time she’d been cold.
Beyond the Abbey wall, the truncated towers looked like the ghosts of huge cowled monks pacing toward the choir for Matins. Maybe they were going to turn and look down at her as if she were the Lilliputian. Rose had expected Glastonbury to be a place of mystery and romance. It wasn’t disappointing her.
The screech of metal against stone echoed from the semi-circle of darkness that was the Abbey gate. Good—the custodian was opening up. She plunged past him, saying, "I left something here yesterday, I’ll be right back." "Right you are, Miss," he returned, startled.
The window of the museum gleamed like obsidian to Rose’s left. Beneath her feet the cobblestone walk gave way to grass, swallowing the sound of her steps.
Yesterday the ruins had seemed as romantic as a lyric poem. She’d sat against the sun-warmed choir wall, watching a woman do yoga poses on the site of the altar and wondering if that was eccentricity or sacrilege. She’d listened as Maggie’s crisp voice softened until she was almost chanting the tales of Joseph of Arimathea and the precious blood of Christ, King Arthur and the Isle of Avalon, the mother goddess and the mother of God.
Now the ruined walls were illegible lines half-erased by the mist. Skeletal tree branches hung motionless overhead. Magdalene Street was quiet, but this shrouded expanse was deathly silent. The sun was rising above the fog, but this gloom was neither daylight or dark. By the calendar it was All Saints’ Day, but here it was still Halloween. The cold filtered through Rose’s shoes and up her legs, raising goose bumps on her denim-clad thighs. This wasn’t the campus, was it, with spotlighted security phones every few steps.
Inhaling the smoke-flavored air, she looked toward the roofless shell of the Lady Chapel, its empty windows opening onto darkness. She imagined light, stained-glass windows, gold reliquaries, candles—and a choir dressed in blue robes, the Blessed Virgin’s color, singing the Stabat Mater or the Regina Caeli. Or the Magnificat, her favorite.
She imagined Mary sitting in her bedroom—Rose saw her own room with its posters and books—when suddenly the archangel Gabriel appeared and announced she was going to give birth to the Son of God. Rose would’ve said, "Wait a minute, how’s this going to work?"
But Mary said, "Be it unto me according to thy word." And, "My soul doth magnify the Lord, and my spirit doth rejoice in God my savior, for he hath regarded the low estate of his handmaiden; for behold, from henceforth all generations shall call me blessed."
Not that Rose had any aspirations to sainthood. Or to being anyone’s handmaiden, either. It was that her Stories had a soundtrack. She began to sing beneath her breath, "Magnificat anima mea Dominum . . ." Then she stopped. Talk about whistling past a graveyard!
But who’s watching, anyway? she asked herself. And with a sudden jerk of her heart answered, he is.
A human figure stood between the north transept and the site of Arthur’s tomb, veiled by the mist. Except for two glints, eyes catching the light like a cat’s, Rose saw only a blur for a face . . . It—he—turned toward the darkness, took two strides, and was gone. A cloak or loose coat billowed behind him, radiance shimmering along the floating cloth like the last fiery rim of a bonfire.
She blinked. She really had seen him. And he’d seen her. So she’d been standing there singing, that wasn’t any weirder than doing yoga on the altar. Why was he out here so early?
She heard only the slow drip of water in the crypt. The steam of her own breath added to the mist. The back of her neck prickled, but she wasn’t going to go back to the hostel and tell everyone she was too scared to get her book. Up the nave she hurried, glancing warily toward the north transept beneath its broken vault. Of the church proper only St. Thomas’s chapel still had its original walls, making an alcove that this morning was deep in shadow. That’s where the man had been standing, next to something . . . Rose peered into the dark chapel and stopped dead. A long white shape lay on the grass, a shape as still and silent as the stones around it.
Oh God. The prickle in Rose’s neck merged with the goose bumps on her legs. She forced her feet to carry her forward. The lines of the woman’s naked body were as smooth as those of a marble effigy. She lay on her back, one hand at her side, the other on her breast, fingers curled as though holding an invisible object. Her chalky face and the dark hollows of her eyes looked up to where the sky should have been but wasn’t.
It was the yoga woman. I don’t believe this. It isn’t happening. "Hello?" Rose croaked. But the woman’s marble-like chest didn’t move. From her body emanated not the odor of sanctity, the sweet scent of a saint’s incorruptible body, but the stench of mortality and death.
Outside the chapel something moved. Rose spun around with a gasp. A shape and a quick flutter—it must be a bird, one of those big crows they’d seen yesterday. If it was the man he’d be trying to help the—the dead woman. Wouldn’t he? This was a nightmare, yes, but it wasn’t a dream. Rose felt the blood drain from her face. Her head spun. All Saints’ Day sacrilege pray for us sinners now and at the hour of our death go for help . . .
She sprinted toward the gate and the lighted windows of the custodian’s lodge.