Chapter 10.5

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"Why does he look like – that?" Slops said.

"The Brotherhood commissioned art of this kind. They wanted to frighten people with this story. And there was a tradition that The Seven Sleepers were demons."

"But you never see anything like this," Carmen said. "Not even in the Temple."

"A picture like this would have been very convincing three hundred years ago," Snapper said. "But the world has changed. It would only make the Brotherhood look silly these days, don't you think? Not long after this woodcut was produced a movement began within the Brotherhood to humanise Hattoism. They removed anything in their teachings that was contradictory or fantastical and demoted it to the Metaphorical Canon, where it would only be seen by Hattoist scholars. They abolished or destroyed images like this, which is why they're so rare. You wouldn't believe me if I told you how much it's worth." His eyes narrowed. "But you never saw it," he said, and whisked it away, returning it to the cupboard and locking the door.

"I never saw nothing," Mildew said. She seemed an old hand at not seeing things.

"We were wondering if you knew about another David Nassar," Carmen said. "That maybe died not so long ago. Or who's still alive."

"There's no other David Nassar," Snapper said. "Think about it. Who on earth would take such a name? What do you think the Brotherhood would do to that person?"

Ward decided to take a chance. "We heard that David Nassar owned the Oliphant."

Snapper reacted in a completely unexpected way to this. He burst out laughing. "Oh he did. Him, and everyone else."

Confused looks all round. Snapper gave them each a fatherly smile, one by one.

"Allow me to explain. See, it was only when Hatto died that his cult really took off. His followers, the original Brothers, would arrive in a small town, tell Hatto's story, and build a temple. One or two would remain there as missionaries; the rest would move on to the next town.

"Now let's jump forward a couple of hundred years. Suppose there's a Brother who is the descendant of one of the original followers of Hatto. He has an old walking stick that has been passed down through the family. Why, Hatto was often described in the Biblia Magna as leaning upon a staff of wood. Could this not be the same staff? Yes, it must be. In his fervour he becomes certain of it. Before long people are rushing in from all over the countryside to see the fabled Staff of Hatto and to be allowed to touch it and have some of its power and luck pass onto them. The temple in the next town hears of this. By some marvellous coincidence they find the silver bullet Hatto's own son used to shoot him. Travelling merchants catch on. Suddenly there are dozens of walking sticks appearing all over the countryside, each purported to be the original Staff of Hatto. The market for relics explodes.

"Not only are sacred relics traded, but occult ones too. A finger bone said to belong to one of the Seven Sleepers; a strange, sealed canister covered in the Old Language and thought to contain the blood of the Dark Traveller itself. And of course, the Oliphant: the fabled horn purported to wake the Seven Sleepers and release the Dark Traveller from Eden at the End of Days. Why, I must have seen twenty Oliphants in my lifetime, each as unlikely as the next to be the original horn, assuming it ever existed – which it probably did not.

"And there you have it," he said, clapping his hands, "a history of the relic trade, so your trip wasn't altogether wasted. For, as my Grandmother Avril Snapper would say, young people should be filled with knowledge like a goose is stuffed, making them fat with facts, to be spewed out involuntarily."


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