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Between pages 20-21 there is an insert provided by Jennifer Heyward to Eric Husch that proves, for the first time known to anyone in modern history, that The Archer’s Tales was a book that actually existed. Until then, as Eric stated, no evidence existed to suggest that The Archer’s Tales, or Sobreiro, were anything other than figments of V. M. Straka’s imagination.

The Archer’s Tales (Los Cuentos del Arquero) was known interchangeably as The Book of S (El Libro de S). It was destroyed in a fire at a Spanish abbey known as San Tadeo de la Tejera in 1759. The abbey was located somewhere near Bilbao, Spain on the northern coast. There were 19 monks at the abbey at the time of the fire, and all but one perished. The brother who survived managed to save and transport a sack of books to the Santiago Cathedral in Bilbao, but he was unable to save The Archer’s Tales.

The name San Tadeo de la Tejera means, literally, Saint Heart of the Yew Tree (tadeo = heart, tejera = yew tree).  The yew tree has a perfect wood for creating longbows for archery. It is also prized for use in the construction of musical instruments, such as the lute.

One of the only two accounts of this story of the abbey, its fire, and the copy of The Archer’s Tales include Captain Norbert Strunk of the whaler ship known as The Imperia. In Ship of Theseus, Sola is traveling on a liner called The Imperia. The other account is from Sister Ulrike Stoecklin of Winterthur, whose name means literally Prosperous and Powerful Tree Stump (Ulrike = prosperity and power, Stoecklin = tree stump).

Exactly 100km East of Bilbao, Spain is San Sebastián. Saint Sebastián has numerous references in S.


“The Burning Word: The 1759 Fire that Destroyed San Tadeo de la Tejera and one of History’s Most Curious Libraries” by D. W. MacCarrach, Ph.D., University of Prestwick

of the brothers were skilled record-keepers, and so we must depend on Azarola’s account, flawed though it may be, to infer many of the titles that are not explicitly accounted for in Brother Ruben’s inventory.1

The volumes most frequently mentioned in the correspondence of visitors to the abbey are two illuminated works: the Lives of the Saints by Emiliano of Zaragoza (early 15th century); and a volume that Father Leopold Jäger referred to as the Albufeira Bible by Eustaquio of Sagres (early 16th century). Both are hailed as astonishing works of artistic vision and meticiulous craft. A compilation of the library’s extensive collection of psalters appears in Appendix F, breviaries in Appending G, and hymnals in Appendix H.

Several of the travelers who wrote the most extensively about San Tadeo, including Azarola, were as unnerved by the atmosphere of the abbey and the behavior of the monks as they were by the size of the collection and the beauty of many individual volumes. The monks were not a silent order, but they communicated to each other only in guttural whispers that were unintelligible to outsiders. The building was unfinished, with several passageways ending suddenly, sending inattentive walkers falling fifty feet to the rocky ground. Azarola complained about an inordinate number of birds nesting throughout the abbey, including in the kitchens and in the cells where travelers took their rest. Igorko of Bratislava wrote in his journal the he scarcely could believe the abbey existed, even though he had just passed a month within its walls.2

—1. History owns a tremendous debt of gratitude to the unidentifiable young novice who survived the blaze and walked barefoot all the way to Santiago Cathedral in Bilbao whilst toting a sack full of books he had saved from the flames. At the cathedral, he spoke with a priest, Father Ulises, who had been at work scrubbing the stone floors. All we know of the novice comes from Father Ulise’s account: the young man lamented the loss of the other eighteen brothers, but he was utterly inconsolable at having failed to preserve a particular tome, an extensive compendium of fantastic, revelatory, subversive, bawdy, and chilling tales gathered by a mythic archer in his travels across the world. (The title of the book is unclear – Father Ulise’s refers to it once as El Libro de S (“The Book of S”) and once as Los Cuentos deal Arquero (“Tales of the Archer”). As a forbidden secular text, it would not have appeared in the abbey’s written records.) The novice left the sack of books in Father Ulise’s care, accepted water and a half-loaf of bread, and continued on with his travels, of which nothing is known. It is worth noting that we have only third-hand accounts of this exchange between the two religious men, but those sources – Sister Ulrike Stoecklin of Winterthur and Capt. Norbert Strunk of the American whaler Imperia – are not, on the whole, considered unreliable.

2. Igorko’s statement was prescient, in a way. My study of official records in the area and my informal interviews of local residents suggest that hardly anyone believes the abbey ever existed.