According to their agreement, exactly on the Feast of St. Andrew the First-Called, in the afternoon, the builder called John Damascene, brought to Lord Nikolich of Rudna the plans for the palace, which was to be built on the Nikolich estate near the River Tisa, at a suitable spot where only one wind blew. Bent over the drawings in the dining-room of the Nikolich family were Attilia, her father and Damascene, wearing his white scarves, and having left his sword and knife in the entrance hall. According to the plans the palace was to have four pillars in front, which would support the frieze, then a large hall with an open fireplace, and two particularly attractive rooms were a large square dining-room and a bedchamber.
- You've designed that very well, my child - said Attilia to John Damascene and went into the room with the piano and the borzoi. At the door, she turned and added:
- We'll see if you live up to our expectations. And you know, my son, what those expectations are. I told you last time. A house like a love letter.
Then she showed the palm of her left hand with two rings whose stones were turned inward and she flashed the stones at him like two blue eyes. As if casting a spell....
Thereafter, every Saturday, Attilia would order Yagoda to harness the horses and, with or without her father, she would go off to the river Tisa. The palace was coming on well. But Damascene was scarcely ever at the building-site. The walls had already risen higher than a man with upstretched arms, and Attilia had not managed more than once or twice to exchange a few words with her stonemason. It was as if he was avoiding them. On one occasion, however, matters took an about turn. Damascene called Lord Nikolich to come quickly to the Tisa. While digging the foundations for the palace, he had uncovered a female marble statue in the soil. Her hair and eyes were green, and her body brown, almost black. With a bent forefinger, the girl seemed to be beckoning to someone. Damascene suggested to Nikolich that the statue be placed in the entrance hall of the palace.
- What, an ugly object like that!? - said Nikolich, barely giving the statue a glance.
Then Damascene took a hammer and knocked off the statue's arm. A red liquid spurted out, like water full of iron. And the stone revealed veins, muscles and bones like in a living being, but all executed in pure marble... When she heard what had happened, Attilia felt like murdering her father, but it was too late. Damascene had already removed the statue from the estate. This incident seemed to be a harbinger of misfortune. Attilia never again managed to meet "her child," John Damascene, by the Tisa. And not long after Yagoda brought unbelievably bad news. The coachman erupted in words:
- Now it's all clear. No wonder Damascene constantly carried a saber with him. They say he had many affairs with women and that the abandoned lovers, fiancés and husbands swore revenge and tried to kill him. Though to be fair, he did put a roof on the palace these past days, and even furnished it, but the very first night he wanted to sleep there, he was attacked and wounded. The unknown attacker crept silently up to his bed and would have killed him, but for a quite unexpected mistake, if you can call it that. Before the attack, the attacker had not eaten, in the way duellists avoid eating on the eve of a duel. But for this very reason, there in the dark, the stranger's stomach suddenly rumbled very loudly. This awakened the Damascene from sleep at the last moment and saved his life. He dodged the saber thrust, grabbed his knife and in the short struggle that followed received a blow to the head, but succeeded in cutting off the attacker's forefinger. The intruder ran off minus a finger, and they found John lying bleeding on his pillow....
At this news Attilia and her father rushed off immediately to the Tisa, but Damascene was gone. The unplastered palace stood in the huge park and round it stood Damascene's workmen.
- Where's Damascene? - asked Attilia, frightened.
- Where's Damascene? - asked Nikolich, furious.
- They've taken him away. He's wounded. He told us to come and find you to be paid. We've completed the work of three years in twelve months, and you only paid us a year in advance.
At these words, Nikolich lost his senses.
- Now you listen to me carefully and you can spit in my mouth if I lie! You'll get no money until the building is finished!
Then he went home. In situations such as these Lord Nikolich never saw fit to talk to the person whose conduct had displeased him. He did not seek out his wounded builder John the Damascene, but instead summoned his rival John the Ladder, the churchbuilder, and asked him to explain in detail who Damascene was and what kind of a man.
- Like the sainted father of Damascus, whose name he shares, your builder John uses holy mathematics, which differs from the earthly sort. At least as much as Origen's world of linguistics differs from our earthly grammar...
- Could you be a bit more concrete about this Damascene? - Nikolich interrupted his masterbuilder at this point.
- As you wish. Damascene has one great skill. He knows how to sleep. He rises before dawn, sees to his horses, inspects the building site and has a bite to eat. Then, leaning against the house he is building, he dozes off for a few moments, on his feet. The second time, after lunch, asleep again, he runs around his memories, crouching in the shadow of some wall. The third time, after dinner, he stretches out and slumbers away his share of the night.... Oh, I almost forgot - said the builder concluding his account - Damascene asked me to tell you that he won't be building for you anymore and he sends you this box.
When Lord Nikolich of Rudna opened the box, in it lay a bloody forefinger.
(If you have not read the chapter The Third Church, do so now. If you have, go on to the Second Fork)