A Selection From Book Four of Set All Afire: A Novel about Saint Francis Xavier | Louis de Wohl | Ignatius Insight | Part One | Part Two
The names of the villages they passed were of the same ilk. Alantalai, Periytalai, Tiruchendur, Talambuli, Virapandianpatnam, Punaikayal, Palayakayal, Kayalpamam and Kombuturé.
He did not stick to his original idea, to start working only when he had reached Tuticorin. He could not wait. It was bitter to see the shrines and temples on the way, with obscene gods of stone performing obscene actions on temple friezes, with phallic symbols abounding; bitter to see trembling villagers watching overfed cows eating all their food without daring to disturb the sacred animals; bitter to hear that the pearl fishers paid a good percentage of their catch to sorcerers for spells and talismans against the bite of sharks, and paid still more for mantrams against any other kind of danger, trouble and illness.
At Kombuturé they told him about a woman who had been three days in labor and was dying, although her husband had paid the sorcerer for all the aid he could give and the house was full of mantrams of all kinds.
Coelho shook his head sadly. "The demons are more powerful than the sorcerer and the mantrams", he murmured.
Francis exploded. "Where is that house?" he asked.
Coelho and the other two students tried to hold him back, but they might as well have tried to stop the monsoon with their hands.
Francis stalked into the house.
The sorcerer, with two apprentices, was squatting on the floor; all three of them were drumming on some kind of musical instruments and chanting invocations at the top of their voices. They had put a kettle on the floor, filled with some burning substance that sent up clouds of stinking smoke. In a corner of the room the husband and at least half a dozen youngsters of all ages were crouching, moaning and rolling their eyes in abject fear.
A grotesque figure of clay and half a dozen mantrams were tied to the body of the suffering woman.
Francis took one look. Then he seized the kettle and swung it at the sorcerer and his helpers. They did not wait for what might happen next, but jumped up and raced out. Francis threw the kettle after them, untied the idol and the mantrams and threw them out as well.
A midwife, sitting at the feet of the woman, looked up at him as if she were seeing a demon. The woman herself kept her eyes closed. Now that the noise had subsided, Francis could hear her moaning softly.