LORD SCALES. And what of the brethren feasting in the frater? Did they not hear the golem roar? Did they not hear the terrible crack as he fell upon the engine? Did they not tremble at the thunder of the mighty wheel as it fell in the abyss?
KREW. Alas, they heard nothing, for they were sleeping off their revels. The wicked abbot had laced their wine with potion: the very same draught he used to drug Bernadette de Belloc, all those years ago. But three monks did not imbibe that day: Prior Odo, who never drank wine, except at Communion; Brother Belon, the fastidious precentor, who despised Bacchanalian revels of all kinds; and Brother Guillaume, the one armed giant, who was wise beyond his years, and only drank when on pilgrimage abroad.
LORD SCALES. Then let us rewind the clock and find out what happened…
Krew is telling it…
The feast is over. The casks are drained to the dregs and the candles burnt to the stubs. The brethren lie slumped over their trenchers, snoring like drunken pigs. Prior Odo creeps round tables, shaking each monk by the shoulder:
‘Wake up! Wake up you drunken curs! ’Tis time for Vespers!’
The dwarves lie snoring in the rushes, their cowls stained with the riotous spilling of wine. Odo kicks them in the haunches and bawls:
‘Get up! Up! Up! Get up this instant!’
But they do not stir. Odo leans across the table and slaps Hique in the face:
‘Hique! You lousy mongrel! I gave strict instructions to water down the wine!’
Hique twitches and slurs:
‘Slazarus did it.’
‘What do you mean, Lazarus did it?’ fumes Odo.
The cellarer rolls his eyes and mumbles:
‘Slazarus. He’s up to no good. Don’t let him turn me into an ox…’
‘Turn you into an ox?’ jibes Odo. ‘That shouldn’t be too difficult: you’re half way there already!’
Hique sniggers with mirth and falls unconscious in his platter. Odo throws up his hands in despair:
‘My god! They’re completely plastered! What a scandal! Curses! I should have watered down the wine myself; Hique is far too fond of the cup to be trusted with such a task. Water it down, I said. Is that not what I said? Did I not make my self clear? Of course I did! That deceitful oaf! Water it down? He’s thickened it with meade! I knew no good would come of this feast. Thank heavens you called me brethren. Quick, try and rouse as many as you can.’
Belon and Guillaume wander amongst the party, checking for signs of life. Belon kneels beside Fabien who gasps like landed trout, bubbles popping in his lips. But he does not stir.
Guillaume passes the pulpit where two tumblers lie sprawled on the steps, their tunics smeared with gravy. Then he goes to the steward, who lolls on his stool, groaning in torpor. He slaps him in the face and cries:
‘Awake brother! The feast is over! Awake! Steward! Can you hear me?’
His eyes open momentarily: a hideous gaze, florid with blood. But the man is insensible. The lay brethren lie paralytic around him, their bodies slumped in tangled heaps.
‘What’s on earth has been going on?’ asks Odo.
‘A fight broke out,’ replies Guillaume. ‘The steward was taking wagers. But they all keeled over and dropped like flies…’
‘My god!’ gags Odo. ‘They stink like hogs! Oh! Upon my soul! They’ve pissed in the rushes! Great Satan! They’ve turned the frater into a latrine!’
He shakes his head as he surveys the Saturnalian aftermath: an orgy of unrestrained debauchery. The monks lie strewn about the chamber like tangled polecats, their cowls ripped about their half-naked buttocks. Odo flushes with shame and says:
‘Did my sermon mean nothing? And on this, the most Holy of days! Our feast has gone from sanctity to squalor; from the glory of god, to gaming, fighting and fornication. See how they wallow in their own filth, like beasts of the field, besmeared with dung! They have turned my dias into a marl plot; my floor of verbena into a festering marsh of sodomy! What miserable sinners! I have lost all regard for these base born churls; the riches of God are nothing to them; they are a lost cause, without hope of redemption! I can forgive a man for soothing his pains with perry, and I expected a few bawdy songs, but this! They’re not fit for sackcloth, let alone the cowl. Oh! What an excrementitious, malodorous, urinous, brotherhood of dogs!’
‘Look prior!’ gasps Belon. ‘This man has six nipples!’
They gloat at the porcine brute, who whimpers in a puddle of vomit, his cowl torn about his hairy chest, his beard strewn with half digested meat. Others sprawl about him, twitching and frothing at the mouths.
‘They’re bewitched,’ whispers Belon.
Guillaume takes a goblet and sniffs:
‘Not bewitched: drugged.’
‘Drugged?’ gasps Odo. ‘How so?’
‘It smells of almonds.’
Odo takes the goblet and sniffs:
‘Yes, I believe you’re right. Almonds. How very interesting… Did you drink the wine?’
‘No father,’ replies Guillaume.
‘Me neither,’ adds Belon.
‘Then you are monks after my own heart. For we only drink the blood of Christ; we remain sober and alert at all times.’
A sudden thunder purls in the depths.
Belon shrieks and jumps out of his skin:
‘Oh prior! The demon has returned!’
The floor shakes with a terrible boom; plumes of dust fall form the rafters and the tankards rattle on the tables. Guillaume kneels down and puts his ear to the flags.
‘What are you doing?’ hisses Odo.
‘’Tis coming from the crypt. We must go and investigate.’
‘No!’ snaps Odo. ‘I expressly forbid it.’
‘But prior, is it not obvious that father Janus is at the bottom of this?’
‘Do you take me for fool?’ piques Odo. ‘Do you think I don’t know that?’
‘But Prior, whatever he’s up to, we must catch him in the act.’
‘Guillaume, do not ask me to venture down into that godforsaken hole. That place is a death-trap. The souterraine is a labyrinth of treacherous tunnels. Many a man has gone in and never come out.’
‘But I thought you knew the way,’ retorts Guillaume, rising to his feet.
‘Aye. But ’tis many years since I visited the dead. My memory is not what it once was. Those catacombs are full of untold horrors. We should stay up here.’
‘Yes, we should stay here,’ adds Belon. ‘We must leave that infernal place alone. What’s the point in putting ourselves in harm’s way?’
‘Exactly,’ says Odo. ‘We are safer in church.’
‘But prior, unless we know what we’re up against, how will we defend ourselves?’ asks Guillaume.
‘We shall pray,’ replies Odo resolutely.
‘Pray?’ scoffs Guillaume. ‘Do you not realise that this sacrilegious banquet was planned as a distraction?’
Odo shakes a fist:
‘Do you take me for a numbskull? I am well aware of the situation!’
‘I fear the situation is graver than you think,’ warns Guillaume. ‘Some of the lay-brethren are sick. They might never awake.’
Odo stamps his foot:
‘Of course they’ll wake!’
‘When?’ asks Guillaume. ‘Tonight? On the morrow? Epiphany? Think: we might have been poisoned too. What shall we tell the bishop when he visits in Spring? That we stood by and did nothing to help our dying brethren?’
Odo thinks anxiously for a moment, then says:
‘Oh very well, if you insist. We’ll check the crypt. But if father Janus is absent, we come straight back. I do not want us getting lost.’
‘You go,’ says Belon. ‘I’ll keep watch up here.’
A sudden wind moans in the cloister and the door rattles on its hinges.
‘Oh Christ!’ gibbers Belon. ‘On second thoughts, perhaps we should stick together.’
‘Agreed,’ says Odo. ‘There’s safety in numbers. Besides, the more witnesses we have to the abbot’s heresy, the better. Come, let us find out what the old devil is up to…’
Leaving the frater, they exit into the cloister where the north wind moans about the arcades. The sky is overcast and the distant peaks flanked with cloud; heavy sleet wafts down the alleys, smothering the flags in layers of ice. The brethren struggle toward the church, their cowls billowing like sails. Immune to the cold, I sit amid the gargoyles and watch, poking my tongue and pulling lewd faces.
The brethren enter the church and cross the cavernous transept. They dart behind a golden screen and into the choir. Then Odo takes three lamps from the vestry which he lights with an altar candle:
‘Guard your flame with your life: ’tis black as hell down there. If our lamps go out, not even the light of faith will save us.’
Taking the lamps, they stride down the aisle to a small door in the south wall of the nave:
‘Stick close at all times,’ warns Odo. ‘And on no account, wander off alone. The ossuary is a maze of horrors and harbours deformities of all kinds, not to mention demonic follies.’
‘Demonic follies?’ frets Belon.
‘Mythical creations,’ replies Odo. ‘Some stand over ten feet tall. So if you see a harpy, construed from oxen bones, keep your mouth firmly shut. We must not alert the abbot to our presence.’
‘What’s a harpy?’ asks Belon.
‘Don’t you know?’ frowns Guillaume. ‘The harpies had the bodies of birds with long drawn claws, and the faces of hags, pale with hunger.’
‘Quite,’ rejoins Odo. ‘But the harpies in the ossuary are far more terrible than the monsters who tormented Phineus on Salmydessus. Our harpies stand over twelve feet tall, with bovine hips and equine skulls. There are many other chimeras, all ghastly to behold. You have been warned.’
‘Perhaps I should stay here after all,’ flusters Belon. ‘I will guard the door with my lamp in case you get lost.’
‘Brother Belon, I would be most glad of your company,’ says Guillaume. ‘Let Odo lead the way. You follow and I shall take up the rear.’
Odo unlocks the door and a dank wind tugs at his hair. He hesitates for a moment, peering down a foreboding tunnel which twists into darkness. Then he raises his lamp and ventures inside…
The narrow passage descends steeply and runs in a straight line due south. Guillaume stoops double, his one arm stretched out before him. They proceed in this manner for a hundred yards, their lamps pushing back the darkness. After descending a flight of mouldy steps, Odo stops at a small iron gate and grapples with a key.
‘The lock is rusted,’ he whispers. ‘’Tis stuck fast.’
‘Let me try,’ says Guillaume. ‘Belon, move aside; let me through.’
The giant elbows his way to the front, forcing Belon flat against the wall; the little man squirms as a spider scurries down his neck, then he bursts with indignation:
‘Thank you! Thank you very much Guillaume! Now I’ve got cobwebs in my hair. And look, you’ve marked my cowl!’
‘Hush!’ bades Odo.
The prior steps aside and lets Guillaume at the gate. But no sooner has the giant turned the key than it snaps off in the lock.
‘Useless,’ tuts Odo. ‘There’s nothing for it: we’ll have to turn back.’
‘Not so hasty,’ says Guillaume.
He grabs the gate in his mighty fist and rams his shoulder against the bars. Then, with a single tug, he pulls the entire frame clean off its hinges. Putting it to one side he quips with a grin:
The prior scowls:
‘Did you have to do that?’
‘After you,’ grins Guillaume.
Reluctantly, Odo raises his lamp and surveys the gloom:
‘Be watchful brethren: multa tibi circumspicienda sunt, ne quid offendas. [You must look well about you, if you would not stumble].’
After descending another flight of steps, they enter the catacombs of deformity. They find themselves in a corridor of bones, stacked from floor to vault. For countless minutes, they wander amid the distempered dead, shuffling down avenues of grinning skulls. The path wends left and right, but no egress can be found. At length, Guillaume says:
‘We’ve been this way before. We’re going round in circles.’
‘We’re lost,’ frets Belon. ‘Oh! Oh! This cursed place! We should never have come!’
Odo thrusts his lamp into the void:
‘This labyrinth is most deceptive and would tax the wits of Theseus. But fear not: I have counted the turns, and by my reckoning we should come to a fork…’
Sure enough, after several yards, the path divides. Before them are two black orifices that wend like veins.
‘Which way, father?’ asks Guillaume.
‘Let me think!’ flusters Odo.
Belon squints at the dark where a grisly monster looms in the distance; it stands over fifteen feet tall, its bony wings spread high in the vault:
‘Prior!’ he gasps. Look yonder!’
‘That’s it!’ exclaims Odo. ‘Follow the harpy!’
I fly before them, darting amid scapular chandeliers where ancient candles drip like stalactites. Belon looks right through me and mutters:
‘So many dead; our entire abbey is built on bones.’
‘The entire world is built on bones,’ adds Odo, grimly.
Belon begins to tremble. I see into his mind. All the pomps of his worldly life are crushed to pieces; the pride of his position; his vanity of dress; the cut of his tonsure; his fastidious regard for the rule. How desolate he feels; how he clings to the glory of summer; the bees and the birds; the blooming meadows; the steadfast heaven of ever unfurling clouds. But all the beauties of Life are levelled flat by this never ending chain of bones that circles above and below.
Guillaume raises his lamp and studies a wall of skulls. The grisly colonnade is built with great skill and precision; slotted between each cranium is a femur, which serves to lock each course together and stop it falling down.
‘They cannot all be monks,’ reasons Guillaume. ‘There must be more than ten-thousand buried here.’
‘’Tis a mystery who they are or where they come from,’ confesses Odo. ‘Perhaps they were warriors from a long lost battle; or victims of plague.’
Belon lifts his lamp and gasps:
They are shocked to silence by a tragic teratology: looming before them is the skeleton of a man whose monstrous bones have been wired together as record of his earthly state. The skull is swollen twice its natural size and has the appearance of a diseased gourd, riven with concretions and cankers; the gargantuan jaw speaks of insufferable pains, with an overbite of bovine incisors; whilst the twisted spine is fused with strange accumulations of bone, as if melted like wax. The prodigious hips have an elephantine gait, the neck of each femur being at least one foot in circumference. Above this macabre exhibit is a sign which reads:
Ejecitque Adam: et collocavit ante paradisum voluptatis cherubim, et flammeum gladium, atque versatilem, ad custodiendam viam ligni vitæ. [And he cast out Adam: and placed before the paradise of pleasure Cherubims, and a flaming sword, turning every way, to keep the way of the tree of life]
‘I don’t like it, prior,’ frets Belon. ‘We should leave this infernal society. The abbot is not here. What if a demon snuffs out our lamps?’
‘Do the dead frighten you?’ asks Guillaume. ‘Do not be disturbed by a pile of old bones. Where is your faith?’
Belon swallows hard:
‘But what if we meet a vengeful spirit?’
‘The dead look happy enough to me,’ quips Guillaume. ‘See how the bones of all men bare a certain resemblance. Even the deformed. This skull has fine teeth; but perhaps his flesh was gnarled and hairy. Look at this twisted fellow; was his speech full of hatred toward god, and his tongue forked with poison? This wretch has cankers of the orbits, like corals of the sea; no doubt his face was just as foul, and disfigured with ulcers. Yet these are only the outward deformities; there are other deformities we cannot see—deformities on the inside. Afflictions of soul and wits. Methinks they are the worst. Infernal society? Why? Do you think they deserved such twisted garments of flesh? Are these misshapen bones in accord with their sins? I find that a monstrous supposition. What say you? Are these the images of earthly purgatory? And what of your body Belon? You are perfectly formed, with no semblance of disease. Does Christ dwell in you? Did Satan dwell in them? Saint Paul said: if Christ be in you, the body is dead, because of sin: but the spirit liveth, because of justification.[i] Do you imagine their earthbound spirits watch us still? Or have they been raised up into the glorious body of Christ, who has filled their rusty orbits with the liquid eyes of youth? What form have they now, these fallen Venuses and Apollos? Well? I’m asking you, Belon. What do you think?’
‘What do I think?’ fumes Belon. ‘I think this place is profane, that’s what I think! ’Tis full of polluted and forbidden things! There is something perverse and unnatural in such obscene displays of deformity! And whatever convulsions of death I suffer, I would prefer to be buried in the pagan wastes, than rest amongst these unhallowed bones!’
‘You find them unclean?’
‘Silence!’ bades Odo. ‘Silence, the pair of you. ‘This is not the time for philosophical argument! We came here to find the abbot…’
‘But prior!’ whispers Belon. ‘You said it yourself: the Janus is a necromancer. Think of the implications. He summons spirits of darkness; he calls upon the powers of hell and brings the dead to life. He reconstitutes all members of their flesh! What shall we do if he reanimates this monstrous horde of bones?’
The prior begins to tremble. He turns to Guillaume and says:
‘Belon is right. We’re not safe down here. ’Twas foolish to come. We should turn back at once.’
Guillaume ignores him and examines the muddy ground with his lamp:
‘Look here—footprints. They lead that way…’
He points toward a tunnel that gapes like a dogs mouth. Then a sudden cry sounds from the depths—a most grievous and piercing lament:
‘A B B A!’
It echoes through the souterraine, wafting up shaft and vent, rebounding from rock to rock, like the forsaken cry of Christ, purling through the depths of hell. They stand frozen in fear as the echoes fade away, fainter and fainter, until they finally cease.
‘Ohhh!’ gibbers Belon. ‘What was that?’
‘It came from over there,’ whispers Guillaume. ‘Down that tunnel.’ And he strides off into the gloom.
‘Wait!’ cries Odo. ‘We don’t know what’s down there!’
But Guillaume ignores him and marches out of sight. The others follow, cursing under their breath as they slip and slide in the mud. After crossing a shallow fosse, they ascend a limestone pavement and enter the tunnel mouth. Before them is a precarious arch that spans an impossible abyss.
‘We must cross to the other side,’ says Guillame, staring over the chasm.
The prior draws up beside him:
‘Why did you run ahead? I told you to stick together!’
‘Hush!’ whispers Belon. ‘I hear voices…’
They cock their ears and listen. Sure enough, a faint mumbling echoes from beyond.
‘If I’m not mistaken, that’s father Janus,’ says Guillaume.
As if to confirm his suspicion, there comes a grievous cry:
‘Oh Lazarus, my son! Don’t die!’
The prior gasps:
‘Lazarus? Lazarus is with him!’
‘I knew it!’ seethes Belon. ‘Hique was right all along. The devil and his son! Rem istam possem persentisc?re ni essem lapis! [I might have smoked out that affair if I had a grain of sense].’
‘We must go and help,’ says Odo. ‘Lazarus is all alone, at the mercy of that mad warlock!’
‘No,’ warns Belon. ‘There’s no telling what the Janus will do. He might kill us with his magic.’
Odo holds up his hand:
‘Listen: footsteps. He’s coming this way! Quick, find a place to hide.’
‘Hide?’ frets Belon. ‘Where? He will see our lamps!’
‘Then we must put them out,’ replies Guillaume.
Belon guards his flame:
‘Oh no, no, I’m not putting out my light, not for all the gold in Rome. Just how will we find our way back? You blithering twit!’
‘Did you not bring a flint?’ asks Guillaume.
‘No brother, did you?’
Guillaume turns to the prior and whispers:
‘What do you propose father?’
‘Hush! Let me think a moment…’
Odo blinks repeatedly, running his tongue between his lips. Then he says:
‘We must hide our lamps in a hollow…’
‘Good idea,’ says Guillaume. ‘I will secrete them in the fosse; there’s a crevice yonder. I shall cover them with rocks.’
‘And then what?’ rants Belon. ‘Then what? We just sit in the dark and wait? This is madness!’
‘Keep your voice down!’ snaps Odo. ‘Do you want us to be discovered?’
Guillaume scowls and says:
‘Look, we can go back, or hide. But make your minds up. The abbot is coming this way.’
‘We stay put,’ bids Odo, passing his lamp.
Reluctantly, Belon follows suit, and Guillaume conceals the lamps under a ledge several yards away. Removing his scapular, he covers the hollow and weighs it down with rocks, so that barely a chink of light escapes.
‘Hurry!’ hisses Odo. ‘He’s coming!’
Guillaume fumbles his way back along the fosse and rejoins the prior. Just then, a shrill voice echoes across the chasm:
‘You monastic donkey! We’re lost in the dark!’
The abbot cries:
‘Be silent you old trot! I know the way!’
‘Know the way? Know the way? You know nothing! Sluck! Nothing! What a disaster! What a calamity. Your magic failed. Failed! Your titanic talisman was nothing but a curse! A curse! Well, do not say I didn’t warn you. You half-baked necromancer! You mistranslated the text!’
‘Silence Lilith! Let me get my bearings!’
‘Did you hear that? He called it Lilith! Our Material Father is a woman!’
‘Hush!’ seethes Odo.
I swoop across the span, observing all with my nocturnal eye. The abbot shunts forward, his staff tapping the rocks; he stoops like a hunchback with Jacques slumped across his broad shoulders. I hover between his horns and try to rouse him. But Lilith shrieks:
‘Cyclops! I see a Cyclops!’
‘Cyclops?’ scoffs the abbot. ‘Be silent, you mad mooncalf. Do you want us to fall over the edge and join poor Ricon in the depths? Cyclops? What utter rot! There’s no one here but us. The dark is playing tricks on you.’
‘But I did! Sluck! I saw one: a Cyclops with a flashing eye!’
‘Where is it now?’ asks Adam.
‘It has flown away.’
The abbot stops in his tracks and baulks:
‘Flown away? Since when did Cyclopeans fly? Don’t you know anything? If there was a Cyclops here, I’d know about it.’
‘You cannot see in the dark like me. My visual spirits are subtle and clear as fire; they can illuminate the external air.’
‘Then what do you suggest I do? Walk backwards and let you lead the way? Oh no, you would drive us into the abyss.’
‘Lazarus is dead. You have killed your seventh son. Sluck!’
‘No. Lazarus lives. I hear him breathing.’
‘He might as well be buried with Ricon. Sluck! His soul is smothered in darkness, and it shall abide there for eternity, and never see the light.’
‘Damn you Lilith!’
‘Damn me? You are damned eternally. Do you think God does not see what you have done? Sluck! You have repealed the eternal Essence which was preserved in heaven! Unlocked the secrets of Life, which all men strive to learn! What miracles I saw on the Titan plinth! ’Twas the image of a Seraph! But now that body is fallen and corrupt. Lazarus shall awake in sorrow, making pleas to the gates of Heaven.’
‘Hold your poisonous tongue!’
‘Do not presume to order me! Sluck! Soon you shall do my bidding. The crystal wands have made me strong. Sluck!’
‘God willing, on the next attempt, I shall be rid of you for ever. And Lazarus will be made whole again.’
‘You cistercian ass! You summoned the Watchers who left the high heaven, the eternal place of God; the angels who fell to earth and defiled themselves with women! Sluck! Their crystal wands shall not heal you, but me. I shall preside over your destruction. I shall transform like a caterpillar into a beautiful butterfly, whilst you become a lowly worm. And you shall lament, and make supplications unto me for all eternity, but mercy and peace ye shall not attain!’
Lilith lets out a shrill cackle that echoes in the pit like a horde of mocking hyenas. Then Adam bawls:
‘Silence fiend! You know naught of the flesh! You know naught of my suffering! Being chained to a monster like you all my life! ’Tis no wonder I haven’t lost my mind! What a cursed conjunction! Conjoined to a twin as unnatural and devilish as thee! What crime did I commit to deserve this Earthly state? Now, listen to me you vile vixen, if you don’t shut your filthy mouth, I’ll cut out your measly little tongue and eat it for my supper! Is that clear?’
Lilith falls silent.
Adam proceeds with great effort, his legs buckling under the heavy load, his staff tapping in the darkness. Jacques does not stir, but whimpers softly as one asleep:
‘Kýrie, eléison. Christe eléison.’ [Lord, have mercy on us. Christ, have mercy on us].
Thrice the abbot strays near the edge, but I steer him back each time, putting in his mind an image of the way. At length, he crosses the chasm and stops by the fosse to catch his breath:
‘Praise be to god! We have cleared the abyss. The worst is over. In a short while we shall be safe in my camera.’
Odo and his brethren are crouched just six feet away but remain hidden by curtains of darkness. They shiver in the fosse, their hearts pounding, their minds reeling in consternation and dread.
‘Someone is here,’ whispers Lilith.
‘No, we are alone,’ retorts Adam.
‘But I smell incense.’
The abbot sniffs the air:
‘Incense? ’Tis from the church above; a back-draught from the nave.’
‘No! Someone’s here, I tell you! I smell burning wicks. Lamp oil.’
‘You are imagining things, Lilith. There’s no one here but us. Only prior Odo knows of this place. But he’s far too much of an old maid to venture down here alone.’
‘But he’s here!’ insists Lilith. ‘I can smell him! What a pure and perfumed soul he has…’
‘I’ve told you already: frankincense – a back draft from the nave.’
‘You witless worm! He’s here I tell you!’
‘Where? In what direction?’
‘I know not. Sluck! But I sense him. Methinks he’s hiding in the fosse.’
‘Oh no, I know that trick. You would have me wander off into the darkness and loose my way.’
‘You lost your way many years ago. Your magic will not save you. Sluck! Already your life is dwindling. But mine grows stronger by the minute. Sluck! Why do you doubt my second sight? If I say the prior is here, then he’s here.’
‘Not Odo. He’s too much of a coward to walk amongst these curséd bones. The last time he entered the ossuary was over thirty years ago. He was missing for three days. I was the one who found him. When we returned to the nave, he was so afraid, he knelt before the altar and swore to God never to step foot in this place again. No, Odo would never visit the dead; and certainly not alone.’
‘He’s not alone, you Cistercian ass! There are others with him!’
‘Others? You lie. The other brethren are fast asleep: intoxicated by my potion. Enough of your wicked games.’
‘You blind beetle! Sluck! He’s in the fosse! Listen to what I say, you monastic mophead! You proselyte! You rabbinical rat!’
‘Silence, you cock-eyed strix! I will not be insulted by your filthy mouth! Must I sever your tongue and put it the pot? Show some pity for once in your wretched life! Lazarus needs our help. We must make haste: my old back won’t hold up much longer…’
And with that, the Janus shuffles away, grunting under the weight of his seventh son, his staff tapping in threes. And all the while, Lazarus moans:
‘Kýrie, eléison. Christe eléison.’
Soon the sound grows faint as they climb back to the abbot’s camera. Then Lilith begins to sing, her harpy tongue babbling through the catacombs:
‘Round and round we go, up and up, higher and higher! Sluck! Are you dizzy Lazarus? These steps wind so high! Look at us, going round and round, up and up, higher and higher! We go so high, it makes me giddy! Sluck! Round and round, higher and higher… All the way to the gates of Heaven! … Oh! what wretched men of clay!’
Odo remains crouched in the fosse, his crown bathed in darkness, pondering on the Watchers and the mysteries of the deep. At length, he stands and mutters:
‘Come brethren, let us return to the abbey. We have all the evidence we need. Abbot Adam is damned. His fate is sealed. The bishop will send him to the stake.’
i. Romans, 8:10.
Copyright © Nicholas Shea 2013