Reading progress update: I've read 257 out of 311 pages.

Die Pendragon Legende - Antal Szerb

That's the trouble with prophets: they're so volatile.

“It’s the Pied Piper of Hamlyn and his retinue of children,” Lene suggested.

“No,” exclaimed Osborne. “Look, it’s Pierce Gwyn Mawr, the old prophet Habakkuk. My, he does look in a bad way.”

We quickened our pace to meet him, and now I too could make him out quite clearly. The poor man was even more prophet-like than before. His appearance was exactly what you would have expected of John the Baptist, clad in the traditional attire of one crying out in the wilderness. Except for a rag around his loins he was stark naked—not something you expect to see in broad daylight in these islands. The stout branch in his hand served as a walking stick; the grey shock of his beard and hair flew in every direction.

It was a disturbing, fantastic, strangely threatening sight, complete with the obligatory wisps of straw in the hair that every self-respecting lunatic in Britain has sported since the days of King Lear.

He was followed by a procession of village children. But this was not mockery: they were really frightened, ready to take to their heels at the first hostile gesture from the prophet.

   Osborne called out to him: “Hey there, Pierce Gwyn Mawr. What’s new in the world?”

The prophet gave no reply. Though he looked towards us, I don’t think he saw us. His eyes were flickering and ecstatic; they also seemed, to me, to be filled with a supernatural fear, the universal fear felt by children and madmen of a world possessed by demons.

   I can’t say this for certain of course, being no expert in the reading of eyes.

Then, when Cynthia said something to him in Welsh, he stopped, appeared to recognise her, and a very specific terror seemed to engulf him. But he still made no reply. She repeated her question. He spun round and, with astonishing nimbleness, sprinted towards the village with the children at his heels.

“For Heaven’s sake, Cynthia,” I asked, “what did you say to frighten him so badly?” “Nothing,” she said, clearly shaken. “I only asked if he was hungry.”