Sunday, 6 November 2016

Wicked Bibles (Bookhounds of London)

In 1631 printers Barker and Lucas committed a grievous error when they reprinted the King James Bible omitting the word 'not' from the Commandment 'thou shalt not commit adultery'. This earned them censure both ordinary and Royal, as well as a trip to the Star Chamber and a hefty fine plus loss of their license to print. Most but not all of these so-called Wicked Bibles were immediately burnt, making surviving editions increasingly scarce, and valuable.

Which brings me to Lovejoy, a gentleman I've commented on before. The books are recommended reading for Bookhounds Keepers but the TV series is fun too, and this time out I have my eye on Season 5 Episode 12 Never Judge a Book by Its Cover. In that one Lovejoy offers to evaluate a potentially valuable bible for a pair of spinsters, only to discover that it might not be the find he thought at first.

So let's talk about a Bookhounds scenario idea: The Reward of his Wickedness, a reference to Judas who died on the Field of Blood.

The scenario opens with the characters in unfamiliar surroundings: Oxford, Cambridge or similar. They are there, if the shop is Credit Rating 3 or better, because they've been asked to evaluate a library, perhaps by one of the poorer Colleges or a scholar. If less than 3, then they are there because they've found out a dead scholar's library is about to be broken up, and they hope to snap up some bargains or at least materials out of which they can make a good forgery.

While there their attention is drawn to a pair of elderly spinsters, down to their last pennies. The old dears can't afford anyone famous or accredited, so they turn to the protagonists to help them. They have only one thing of any value: a Wicked Bible. Is it the genuine article and, if so, how much is it worth?

There's a complicating factor. The sisters' cousin, a C of E vicar but lately defrocked for dubious dealings - Keeper's choice as to what - is lurking on the sidelines. He claims that the Bible is his by rights, and if it's worth anything he intends to sue for possession. He approaches the characters early on, offering them a fat commission if they tell the sisters the Bible is worthless, so he can snap it up for cheap.

He knows a little Magic, possibly Idiosyncratic, but it's his long-dead great grandfather who was, in his day, the real sorcerer and owner of the Wicked Bible. This fellow, Joshua, was a contemporary of Von Juntz, and helped translate Von Juntz's works for the Bridewell 1845 edition.  Joshua died under mysterious circumstances in 1844, less than a year before the Bridewell edition saw print. His death is one of the reasons why the Bridewell edition is so badly translated. He's supposed to have left behind him an extensive library with several important Mythos texts including proofs of the Bridewell edition, but most scholars believe this library was broken up or lost soon after his passing.

The Wicked Bible turns out to be a Nineteenth Century fake, and therefore worth much less than the sisters think. It's cleverly done, and the spend to discover this is 2 points Forgery or 1 point Forgery 1 point History. However those who make this spend also discover there is an extra page in the Bible, and that illustration - not found in the original - shows Judas dying on the field of blood or Hakeldama, in Jerusalem.

However the Field looks remarkably like Joseph's country estate, as it would have been back in the 1840s. The big difference is that one building exists in the drawing that was not there in the 1840s; a decorative folly in the northwestern portion of the estate, overlooking an artificial lake. It might have been planned, but it was never built. History, Library Use (comparing contemporary maps with the existing estate), Flattery or Reassurance (talking to the sisters or possibly the cousin) discovers this.

The estate is now owned by a noveau riche family whose papa was a big name in manufacturing, and he guards his privileges jealously since the local powers that be have snubbed him at every turn. He hates the pack of 'em, and would cheerfully shoot foxes day and night rather than let anyone on his land. Consequently he keeps a large number of foresters, none local, who set traps for poachers and discourage hunters and ramblers from coming on the property. Getting to the site of the folly wants Stealth, Outdoorsman and Sense Trouble to avoid the worst of it. Alternately they may try to come to some arrangement either with the property owner or one of his foresters. The foresters can be bribed, but the owner responds only to appeals to his business sense; an understanding of Physics, Chemistry or Bargain is the best way to win him over.

Once they get to the site of the folly they discover that there is something there; it just isn't what they were expecting. Rather than the Hellenic temple shown on the drawing, the 'folly' is a cleverly built hidden tomb. It's made to blend in with the landscape and is covered by a layer of soil and shrubs, so if you didn't know it was there you'd never be able to find it.

Inside the tomb is old Joshua's secret library, where he intended to use necromantic arts to keep himself alive for eternity. However he wasn't as clever a sorcerer as he thought, and he never returned from the grave. He did leave behind a guardian, and it's Keeper's choice as to exactly what this gruesome creature is. If the cousin hasn't already been dealt with, then perhaps his gruesome corpse is the first and only warning the protagonists get that something wicked (and tentacled) this way comes.

As to what's in the secret library, it could be anything. Original Von Juntz, perhaps, or other valuable Mythos texts. Or maybe the library wasn't as preservative as Joshua intended, and the really valuable items have been destroyed by damp. It could even be that some clever pillager got there first and took the really good stuff, leaving the rest behind for fear of the guardian.

If that happened then there should be clues as to who that pillager was; it might have been the clerical cousin, if he's been dogging the characters' heels this entire time. But it could be more interesting to lay the crime on someone else, perhaps an already established rival or some nineteenth century tomb robber whose career can then be traced, leading the protagonists to the loot by a roundabout route.

Of course by the end of all this the characters may come away with a fantastic find. They then have to prove it's genuine, which means establishing some kind of provenance. Tricky, given the circumstances in which it came to them.

But, as always in Bookhounds, the trouble with finding treasures like these isn't so much how to get them, as what to do with them once you have them ... Which leads to a different scenario altogether.


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