Table of Contents
ALSO B RAYMOND KHOURY
The Last Templar
The Templar Salvation
Published by Penguin Group (USA) Inc.
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Published by Dutton, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.
First printing, January 2012
Copyright © 2011 by Raymond Khoury All rights reserved
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The devil’s elixir / by Raymond Khoury. p. cm.
ISBN : 978-1-101-54910-0
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For my loving mom,
because I know it’ll put a smile on her face every time she sees it.
There is a lurking fear that some things are not meant to be known, that some inquiries are too dangerous for human beings to make.
Either he is making a colossal mistake, or he will be known as the Galileo of the 20th century.
Dr. Harold Lief, discussing the work of Dr. Ian Stevenson in
Journal of Nervous and Mental Disease
DURANGO, VICEROYALTY OF NEW SPAIN
lvaro de Padilla was overcome by dread as his visions dissipated and focus returned to his tired eyes.
The Jesuit priest wondered what world he was emerging into, the uncertainty of it both terrifying and, oddly, exhilarating. He could hear his throat straining against his ragged breaths and feel his strained heart pounding in his temples, and he tried to calm himself. Then his surroundings slowly took shape again and placated his spirits. He could feel the straw of the mat under his fingers, confirming to him that he was back from his journey.
He felt something odd on his cheeks and reached up to touch them, only to realize they were moist with tears. Then he realized his back was also wet, as if he’d been lying not on a dry bed, but in a puddle of water. He wondered why that was. He thought perhaps he had drenched the back of his cassock with sweat, but then he realized his thighs and his legs were also soaked, and he wasn’t sure it was sweat anymore.
He couldn’t make sense of what had just happened to him.
He tried to sit up, but felt all the strength had been drained out of his body. His head was barely off the mat when it turned to lead, and he had to recline, dropping back onto the straw bedding.
“Stay rested,” Eusebio de Salvatierra told him. “Your mind and your body need time to recover.”
Álvaro shut his eyes, but he couldn’t shut away the shock that was coursing through him.
He wouldn’t have believed it if he hadn’t experienced it himself. But he just had, and it was unnerving, terrifying, and . . . astounding. Part of him was scared to even think about it, while another was desperate to relive it, now, immediately, to venture back into the impossible. But the harsh, disciplined part of him was quick to stomp out that insane notion and set him back on the righteous path to which he had dedicated his life.
He looked at Eusebio. His fellow priest was smiling at him, his face an edifice of tranquility.
“I’ll come back in an hour or two, when you’ve regained some strength.” He gave him a slight bob of encouragement. “You did very well for a first time, old friend. Very well indeed.”
Álvaro felt the fear seep back into him. “What have you done to me?”
Eusebio studied him through beatific eyes, then his forehead wrinkled with thought. “I’m afraid I may have opened a door that you’ll never be able to close.”
t had been well over a decade since they’d traveled here, to Nueva España—the New Spain—together, ordained priests of the Society of Jesus, sent by their elders in Castile to continue what was by now a long tradition of establishing missions in uncharted territories in order to save the wretched, indigenous souls from their dark idolatry and their wicked, pagan ways.
Their task was challenging, but not unprecedented. Following on the heels of the Conquistadors, Franciscan, Dominican, and Jesuit missionaries had been venturing into the New World for more than two hundred years, and after many wars and uprisings, many indigenous tribes had been subdued by their colonizers and assimilated into the Spanish and mixed-blood
cultures. But there was still a lot of work to do, and many tribes to convert.
With the help of early converts, Álvaro and Eusebio built their mission in a lush, forested valley deep in the folds of the Sierra Madre Occidental, in the heartland of the Wixáritari people. With time, the mission grew. More and more small communities that had been living in isolation throughout the wild mountains and canyons joined them in their
. The priests formed a strong bond with their people, and together Álvaro and Eusebio had baptized thousands of natives. Unlike Franciscan reductions, where the Indians were expected to adopt European lifestyles and values, the two priests followed the Jesuit tradition of letting the Indians retain many of their precolonial cultural practices. They also taught them how to use the plow and the axe and introduced them to irrigation, new crops, and domesticated animals, all of which dramatically improved their subsistence farming lifestyle and earned their gratitude and respect.