During the eleventh century, King William of England commissioned a comprehensive survey of his kingdom. The results were recorded in a great volume titled the Domesday Book. It is one of the most detailed accounts of medieval life during that time. Most historians accept that this grand accounting was done as a means to gather a proper tax from the populace, though this is not certain. Many mysteries still surround this survey, like why it was ordered so swiftly and why some towns were inexplicably marked with a single word in Latin meaning “wasted.” Furthermore, the strangeness of this census and its exacting detail earned the tome a disturbing nickname by the people of its time. It became known as the “Doomsday Book.”
During the twelfth century, an Irish Catholic priest named Máel Máedóc, who would eventually be named Saint Malachy, had a vision while on a pilgrimage to Rome. In that ecstatic trance, he was given knowledge of all the popes who would come until the end of the world. This grand accounting—a cryptic description of 112 popes—was recorded and safeguarded in the Vatican archives, but the book vanished, only to resurface again during the sixteenth century. Some historians believe that this recovered book was most likely a forgery. Either way, over the intervening centuries, the descriptions of each pope in that book have proved to be oddly accurate—up to and including the current head of the Catholic Church, Pope Benedict XVI. In Saint Malachy’s prophecy, the current pope is listed as De Gloria Olivae, the Glory of the Olives. And the Benedictine order, from which the pope took his name, does indeed bear the olive branch as its symbol. But most disturbing of all, Pope Benedict XVI is the 111th pope. And according to this oddly accurate prophecy, the world ends with the very next one.
NOTE FROM THE SCIENTIFIC RECORD
During the years 2006 to 2008, one-third of all honeybees in the United States (and much of Europe and Canada) vanished. Thriving hives were suddenly found empty, as if the bees simply flew away and never returned. The condition earned the name Colony Collapse Disorder. This massive and mysterious loss generated sensational headlines and fears. So what truly happened to the bees?
Within the pages of this novel lies an answer…Most frightening of all, it’s true.
The ravens were the first sign.
As the horse-drawn wagon traveled down the rutted track between rolling fields of barley, a flock of ravens rose up in a black wash. They hurled themselves into the blue of the morning and swept high in a panicked rout, but this was more than the usual startled flight. The ravens wheeled and swooped, tumbled and flapped. Over the road, they crashed into each other and rained down out of the skies. Small bodies struck the road, breaking wing and beak. They twitched in the ruts. Wings fluttered weakly.
But most disturbing was the silence of it all.
No caws, no screams.
Just the frantic beat of wing—then the soft impact of feathered bodies on the hard dirt and broken stone.
The wagon’s driver crossed himself and slowed the cart. His heavy-lidded eyes watched the skies. The horse tossed its head and huffed into the chill of the morning.
“Keep going,” said the traveler sharing the wagon. Martin Borr was the youngest of the royal coroners, ordered here upon a secret edict from King William himself.
As Martin huddled deeper into his heavy cloak, he remembered the note secured by wax and imprinted by the great royal seal. Burdened by the cost of war, King William had sent scores of royal commissioners out into the countryside to amass a great accounting of the lands and properties of his kingdom. The immense tally was being recorded in a mammoth volume called the Domesday Book, collected together by a single scholar and written in a cryptic form of Latin. The accounting was all done as a means of measuring the proper tax owed to the crown.
Or so it was said.
Some grew to suspect there was another reason for such a grand survey of all the lands. They compared the book to the Bible’s description of the Last Judgment, where God kept an accounting of all mankind’s deeds in the Book of Life. Whispers and rumors began calling the result of this great survey the Doomsday Book.
These last were closer to the truth than anyone suspected.
Martin had read the wax-sealed letter. He’d observed that lone scribe painstakingly recording the results of the royal commissioners in the great book, and at the end, he’d watched the scholar scratch a single word in Latin, in red ink.
Many regions were marked with this word, indicating lands that had been laid waste by war or pillage. But two entries had been inscribed entirely in crimson ink. One described a desolate island that lay between the coast of Ireland and the English shore. Martin approached the other place now, ordered here to investigate at the behest of the king. He had been sworn to secrecy and given three men to assist him. They trailed behind the wagon on their own horses.
At Martin’s side, the driver twitched the reins and encouraged the draft horse, a monstrously huge chestnut, to a faster clop. As they continued forward, the wheels of the wagon drove over the twitching bodies of the ravens, crushing bones and splattering blood.
Finally, the cart topped a rise and revealed the breadth of the rich valley beyond. A small village lay nestled below, flanked by a stone manor house at one end and a steepled church on the other. A score of thatched cottages and longhouses made up the rest of the hamlet, along with a smattering of wooden sheepfolds and small dovecotes.
“’Tis a cursed place, milord,” the driver said. “Mark my words. It were no pox that has blasted this place.”
“That is what we’ve come to discern.”
A league behind them, the steep road had been closed off by the king’s army. None were allowed forward, but that did not stop rumors of the strange deaths from spreading to the neighboring villages and farmsteads.
“Cursed,” the man mumbled again as he set his cart down the road toward the village. “I heard tell that these lands once belonged to the heathen Celts. Said to be sacred to their pagan ways. Their stones can still be found in the forests off in the highlands up yonder.”
His withered arm pointed toward the woods fringing the high hills that climbed heavenward. Mists clung to those forests, turning the green wood into murky shades of gray and black.
“They’ve cursed this place, I tell you straight. Bringing doom upon those who bear the cross.”
Martin Borr dismissed such superstitions. At thirty-two years of age, he had studied with master scholars from Rome to Britannia. He had come with experts to discover the truth here.