Excerpt from Heresy by S.J. Parris, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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by S.J. Parris

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    Feb 2010, 448 pages
    Feb 2011, 448 pages

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“The sin of our first father was the desire for forbidden knowledge.” He enunciated each word carefully, running his tongue wetly over his lips. “He thought he could become like God. And this is your sin also, Fra Giordano Bruno. You are one of the most gifted young men I have encountered in all my years at San Domenico Maggiore, but your curiosity and your pride in your own cleverness prevent you from using your gifts to the glory of the Church. It is time the Father Inquisitor took the measure of you.” “No, Padre, please—I have done nothing—” I protested as he turned to leave, but just then Montalcino called out from behind me.

“Fra Vita! Here is something you should see!”

He was shining his torch into the hole of the privy, an expression of malevolent delight spreading over his thin face.

Vita blanched, but leaned in to see what the Tuscan had uncovered. Apparently satisfied, he turned to me.

“Fra Giordano—return to your cell and do not leave until I send you further instructions. This requires the immediate attention of the Father Inquisitor. Fra Montalcino—retrieve that book. We will know what heresies and necromancy our brother studies in here with a devotion I have never seen him apply to the Holy Scriptures.”

Montalcino looked from the abbot to me in horror. I had been in the privy for so long I had grown used to the stink, but the idea of plunging my hand into the pool beneath the plank made my stomach rise. I beamed at Montalcino.

“I, my lord abbot?” he asked, his voice rising.

“You, Brother—and be quick about it.” Fra Vita pulled his cloak closer around him against the chill night air.

“I can save you the trouble,” I said. “It is only Erasmus’s Commentaries— no dark magic in there.”

“The works of Erasmus are on the Inquisition’s Index of Forbidden Books, as you well know, Brother Giordano,” Vita said grimly. He fixed me again with those emotionless eyes. “But we will see for ourselves. You have played us for fools too long. It is time the purity of your faith was tested. Fra Battista!” he called to another of the monks bearing torches, who leaned in attentively. “Send word for the Father Inquisitor.”

I could have dropped to my knees then and pleaded for clemency, but there would have been no dignity in begging, and Fra Vita was a man who liked the order of due process. If he had determined I should face the Father Inquisitor, perhaps as an example to my brethren, then he would not be swayed from that course until it had been played out in full—and I feared I knew what that meant. I pulled my cowl over my head and followed the abbot and his attendants out, pausing only to cast a last glance at Montalcino as he rolled up the sleeve of his habit and prepared to fish for my lost Erasmus.

“On the bright side, Brother, you are fortunate,” I said, with a parting wink. “My shit really does smell sweeter than everyone else’s.” He looked up, his mouth twisted with either bitterness or disgust. “See if your wit survives when you have a burning poker in your arsehole, Bruno,” he said, with a marked lack of Christian charity. Outside in the cloister, the night air of Naples was crisp and I watched my breath cloud around me, grateful to be out of the confines of the privy.

On all sides the vast stone walls of the monastic buildings rose around me, the cloister swallowed up in their shadows. The great façade of the basilica loomed to my left as I walked with leaden steps toward the monks’ dormitory, and I craned my head upward to see the stars scattered above it. The Church taught, after Aristotle, that the stars were fixed in the eighth sphere beyond the earth, that they were all equidistant and moved together in orbit about the earth, like the sun and the seven planets in their respective spheres. Then there were those, like the Pole Copernicus, who dared to imagine the universe in a different form, with the sun at its centre and an earth that moved on its own orbit. Beyond this, no one had ventured, not even in imagination—no one but me, Giordano Bruno the Nolan, and this secret theory, bolder than anyone had yet dared to formulate, was known to me alone: that the universe had no fixed centre but was infinite, and each of those stars I now watched pulsating in the velvet blackness above me was its own sun, surrounded by its own innumerable worlds, on which, even now, beings just like me might also be watching the heavens, wondering if anything existed beyond the limits of their knowledge.

Excerpted from Heresy by S J Parris. Copyright © 2010 by S J Parris. Excerpted by permission of Doubleday. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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