LEAD Technologies Inc. V1.01

Jacques is telling it…

Crossing Mill Bridge, I peer into the weeds where I threw the bloody stole. And I tell myself that if I am predestined to eternal life, I shall come to it whatever my sins; yet if I am predestined to hell, I shall go there anyway, despite my good deeds. But what devil then possesses me? For I go straight to the elm stump and retrieve the communion chalice. I find it buried amongst the roots, its pearly rim still smeared with the priest’s blood. A precious fruit of Earth is this: a cup of gleaming gold, treasure of a dryad prince. Christ and his saints are surely sleeping. We live and breathe at mercy of Mother Church; She tithes all the increase of our seed that the fields bring forth; and She eats before Christ the tithes of our corn and wine, and of our oil; and the firstlings of our herds and flocks; so that we may learn to fear the Lord.(i) She has minted all my bones and counted the hairs of my head. But this chalice, removed bodily from her ecclesiastical fortress, is mine for the keeping. I want the maiden to have it. My only desire is to have communion with her, and her alone. How better to express my love than with this precious gift? My crime has wed us together. I hide the chalice under my cowl and head for the vill…

The Lord said: “There is nothing covered up that shall not be revealed”. So I tell you now that I feared the vill, with its street of crooked hovels, where hatred festered behind every door. For the ploughman had surely been spreading rumours. But I took comfort in the fact that he was trudging behind his oxen. As for the other churls, they were busy sowing peas or weeding carrots. But for the sick and lame, the village would be empty. And what of my milk white rose? Surely she would be making curds or tending her hens.

When I reach the street, I find blind Claude sitting by the well, piping on his flute. Hearing my steps, he stops and glares like Death:

‘Who’s there?’

‘Jacques, Monsieur.’

‘Ah, little goblin. But I’ve heard you’re not so little any more. How tall are you now?’

‘As tall as you, Monsieur.’

‘Oh? That’s five feet then. Or fifteen hands. Goblins grow fast. And uglier too? They say I’m blessed not to see your face.’

‘Blessed indeed, Monsieur.’

‘Then praise the cock that pecked out my eyes when I was in the cradle…’ He spits. ‘Now, have you come to draw water? Or look upon the milkmaid?’

‘Pardon, Monsieur?’

He grins at the sky:

‘The ploughman says you have put a spell on her.’

‘A spell Monsieur?’

‘Or has she put a spell on you?’

‘I know naught of spells. I’ve come to repair the hen house, Monsieur.’

‘I may be blind but I can hear a pin drop. And your voice is full of deceit. Everyone knows she bobbed you a curtsy. Now, why would she do a thing like that?’

‘She didn’t curtsy me Monsieur.’

‘The ploughman saw her do it. Do you know he wants her for his wife?’

‘He does?’

‘Yes. You wouldn’t want to mess with him.’

‘He doesn’t frighten me.’

‘Well he has a nasty temper. You know where the chicken got the axe. So I’d forget all about that milkmaid, if I were you.’

‘I don’t know what you mean, Monsieur.’

‘Oh, you’re cunning. Very cunning. I’ll bet my life you’ve fallen head over heals for her. Don’t deny it. Is she pretty? Like a damsel of high estate? Eh? … Ah! Your silence says it all. Poor fool. Has she drawn you in, little by little, and entangled your goblin heart? Eh? Eh? Describe her to me…’

‘I dare not.’

‘Why?’

‘Because if you knew how beautiful she was, you’d curse the cock that pecked out your eyes when you were in the cradle…’

My reply stuns him into silence. As I walk toward the parlour he calls after me:

‘Wait! They say you killed the priest. Is it true?’

‘Who says?’

‘The ploughman, for one.’

‘The ploughman is a liar.’

‘Ah, you can tell me. Blind Claude can keep a secret… So did you kill him or not?’

‘All I can say is, the priest is in hell where he belongs.’

‘The priest in hell? Yes! Ah, but how do you know little goblin? He might be in heaven, since the world is upside down.’

‘No, he’s in hell. You can be sure of that. I saw him there last night.’

Claude gasps and fumbles for his stick; then he gets up and taps after me:

‘Wait! Wait! In hell, you say? Good. Let us hope he suffers.’ He stops. ‘Did you know he took my daughter to the altar under false pretences?’

‘No, Monsieur.’

‘He said it would please God if she were to know him carnally. But it didn’t please her. It didn’t please her at all. I could never take communion because of all the hatred I bore in my heart towards him. Pater, pater, pater, give to the poor. In hell, yes, that’s where he belongs… Jacques, are you still there?’

‘Yes, Monsieur.’

‘I’m glad you killed him.’

‘But Monsieur, I never said I did.’

‘But you saw him in hell, all the same?’

‘Certainly.’

‘Ah! There will be no wine and wantonness for him there. So let him feast on shit. Let Satan anoint him with boiling oil. How impure and soiled are these priests of God, who set such shining examples of squalor and sin! They are wicked with hearts of ice. Well, lightning strikes the church more often than the tavern! As you well know Jacques Vallin! Eh? Wait… Are you still there?’

‘Yes, Monsieur, I’m here.’

‘My body grows heavy with the ills of age. Soon the sun will set on me. But I shall die happy knowing the priest is in hell. Listen to me Jacques… If I were still young like you, I’d go into the woods and learn to eat roots. The end is at hand. There will soon be great catastrophes because of the birth of the Antichrist.’

‘Then I will put my soul in order.’

‘Make sure you do. Because bodies will be destroyed like cobwebs. Resurrection belongs to the soul alone. We won’t be coming back to life with this flesh and bones! What an idea! I don’t believe it!’

And with that he hobbles into his hovel.

I follow the Steward’s instructions and find new timber stacked outside the parlour. Three goats stand tethered to a trough, munching on carrots, cabbage and crusts of bread. I peer round the door into the gloomy stalls where a cow feeds lazily on hay. She nods and snorts, her breath steaming in the cold morning air. But the milkmaid is nowhere to be seen. My heart sinks.

Hoping she will appear, I begin work on the hen house. It stands on a mound of earth overlooking the parlour. The rickety coup is about ten feet long and five feet high with a steep roof of warped shingles. The hens are already strutting in the sun, kicking up dirt and making trouble with their neighbours: a garbling multitude of widely different foul – red roosters, white pullets and glossy black brooders with scruffy hatchlings.

Climbing inside, I find a narrow alley between the roosting shelves. Each nest contains various eggs; some are perfectly formed, with silken shells of brown or salmon pink; others are misshapen and marbled with mud and grit; some are not eggs at all, but flattened and creased with clefts; one is like a sausage with a pigtail end; another is oblate like the sun when it rises or sets.

At the end of the alley is an old grey hen that refuses to move. She sits there warbling, jerking her head and blinking. Her feathers are matted with blood and her wings shredded to quills. I comfort her, stroking her scrawny neck as she settles down to sleep:

‘Only the wisest and bravest hen escapes the cunning fox…’

Reynard has gnawed through the boards below and the frosty earth gleams through a gaping hole. But the repair is a simple matter of laying new wood. I should like to build a whole new house, with jointed frame and sturdy legs. I’d build it high on stilts, out of Reynard’s reach: a haven for the milkmaid’s flock. Already I am drawing up the plans… A square coup, say sixteen by thirty feet, would be better, with good room for storage and working, without all the waste of this three-foot alley. And the placing of these roosts against the north wall is surely a mistake; they need a warm backing, boarded tight against a cavity of wool. I’d build a storage room for grain, and a route for the feeder, leaving space for sunshine with pens lighted from all three sides. Yes, my hen-house would be so much more than just a simple coup…

Then my maiden appears:

‘Good morning master Jacques. What a beautiful coup you are building! There cannot be another like it in the whole kingdom. ’Tis finer than any hovel. A magnificent house on stilts, with strong walls to withstand the winter winds. I should like to live in it myself.’

‘But Mademoiselle, I have built it for us.’

‘For us? But where shall we sleep?’

‘Up here in the loft. I have made a golden bedstead carved with wooden hearts. Do you like this little window? See here… You can peek out and watch the moon as she rises.’

‘I have never seen such a beautiful bed! I might be a lady of high estate, sleeping on this feather pillow, with chaplets of gold on my head. But what’s behind that door?’

‘Open it and see…’

‘Oh Master Jacques! Are all these dresses for me?’

‘Of course Mademoiselle. I made them myself – from silken altar cloths.’

‘How talented you are! And such pretty colours!’

‘Would you like to try one on?’

‘Oh, I want to try them all!’

She slips into a sumptuous red gown with long tight sleeves, and small slits at the wrists, closed by silver buttons. She wears a tight bodice reaching a little below her shapely waist, trimmed with ermine and pearls. I plait her golden hair, which falls down her swanlike neck, and curls across her breasts. Then I give her a white cap with two silken horns, embroidered with yellow ribbon. She is lovely as a rose on a May morning, and rustles as she goes, ephemeral, radiant, enchanting…

‘Oh but master Jacques, you are making a game of me. I could never live with a man like you.’

‘Why not Mademoiselle?’

‘I would be frightened to see you when it gets dark.’

‘A wicked Janus put a spell on me.’

‘Poor soul!’

‘I am locked in this tunic of flesh and can’t get out. But you can break this evil curse.’

‘Then how shall I help you?’

‘Let me partake of your Eucharistic sacrament. With this chalice of benediction, succour me with your bread and wine for seven moons. Then Christ, by his sacred mystery, will cure me…’

‘Very well, I will do as you ask. But if you cannot change, I cannot love you…’

So she visits each moon and I drink from her grail:

‘Take ye and eat, for this is my body…’ (ii)

These are the words of Lucifer who tempts me with transfiguration. On the seventh moon I become her, dressed in White, the colour of Virgins and Confessors…

Wake up fool! How I hate myself. What you can’t undo, you must endure. Yet the very thought stokes my soul ablaze. And now Reynard is laughing in the alley, larger than life:

‘What a mess! What a disaster! Just look at this place! I’ve been in better warrens! This is no haven for hens but a worm-ridden shack, fixed with rusty nails. Well my boy, you’d better make good use of that wood: it seems pointless patching up one corner when I might break into another. A shame about that old grey bird. I should have finished her off, instead of leaving her in that wretched state. Aged foul are easy to catch but their flesh is stringy: it gets between the teeth and irritates the gums. One bite of her and I wanted to vomit. So I went a bit crazy and plucked out her feathers. What can I say? Hens will be hens and foxes will be foxes. Well, you have to think about my predicament: I’ve got a family to feed. But I must admit, those three young pullets went down a treat! Alas, we foxes cannot help ourselves; our blood-lust is too strong. I have just been studying your plans. Ambitious but flawed. This single beam imparts eccentric loading on the post; and the joists are too thin for the loft. You’d better change them quick – unless you want your bedstead falling on the roosts. You want to protect the maiden’s flock? Then build a coup of iron… I say, you must be quite mad to give her that chalice. If you value your life, give it to me instead. I shall hide it in my den and you can fetch it next moon. I should like to drink from it myself. No? Oh well, never mind… By the way, do you know, I am in fact a vixen?’

He chuckles, raises his hat and slinks out the hole. The red-cap potion is still in my blood. A flash of faery fire. A devil in flames. Stay calm. Concentrate on the task in hand. I crawl to the corner and inspect the hole. A blast of cold air sobers me up. I inhale deep breaths until I feel sane again.

The steward has left enough timber to replace three boards, and if I use them all, I calculate the repair will take until noon. So I decide to work slowly, biding my time for the milkmaid’s return…

I place the grail in a roost then start filling the cup with the finest eggs I can find. I’m thinking of the broken yolks on the vestry floor, making them whole again, putting the world to rights. The eggs turn gold in the gilt bowl, lit by a sunbeam that glides through a hatch. An eerie vision glimmers in the metal. ’Tis Future Jack, his spectre wavering like a flame. He whispers:

‘Turn back.’

‘Why?’

‘Your grail brings death.’

‘You lie.’

‘Search your heart. If you love Maria, let her alone.’

‘Why should I heed a moonstruck fool?’

‘Because I speak the truth.’

‘Be gone Future Jack. Return to the asylum where you belong.’

He vanishes like a vapour. Good riddance.

I cover the chalice with straw then set about removing the wormy wood.

The coup is cramped with barely enough room to turn. After pulling the rotten boards my back aches from stooping. The scratching floor is encrusted with dung that stirs into acrid motes, making me sneeze and gag. I scrape the droppings into a heap – a teeming mound of beetles, mites and lice, then shovel it through the hole. Returning outside, I cut new wood to size, then butt the ends of each board over a joist, making sure to stagger the joins. Time flies and by noon the nails are fixed and the hole made good. But the maiden evades me and all I get are sweaty armpits and splintered hands. So I wait another hour, crouched in the coup, expecting to catch her. There follows an indeterminate gap of horrible time. Then three churls trudge past, dragging their spades and hoes. The peasants have returned from the fields. I watch them wander up the street and vanish in their hovels. There follows a cacophony of barking dogs, wailing babes, and scolding wives. Then silence. I wait another hour, praying for reprieve. But the maiden is absent. Fate has thwarted my plans. My world darkens with despair. But then I hear singing:

‘Grain-o, grain-o, grain-o!’

How strange the music of her voice! Every note captures my heart. I scramble to a hatch and spy her on the mound. She floats like blossom, immaculate against the blue sky, her apron blowing in the breeze.

‘Grain-o, grain-o, come and get your grain-o!’

A purse of golden corn hangs about her hips as she scatters the seed like spiritual graces. Jesus Christ! How I long to be delivered into her hands! But I am so alien, full of disgrace, hoary, dirty and rough. The hens run to her, weaving in frenzied arcs as they seek the grain. She scolds a white cockerel:

‘Luke, don’t be greedy! Give Isabel a turn…’

She nudges Luke aside with her foot and Isabel tucks in. She knows them all by name. Yet still I don’t know hers. Dipping in her purse, she scatters more grain for the chicks:

‘For you my little ones… Cluck! Cluck! Cluck!’

Then she brushes her hands together then vanishes in the parlour. My chance has come! How many nights have I dreamt of this moment? How oft’ have I flown beneath the silvery moon, longing for her kiss, and poured out my love to the trees and stars? But the moon always laughed: “She will never love you!” And the trees always sighed: “Fool! Go home!” Yet still I wandered in haunted sleep, delirious with lunacy, to linger upon this very spot for some forbidden union… No. This is madness, I tell myself. But still I fetch the grail of eggs and prepare my presentation…

I wait at the parlour door as she pours a pail into a vat. Her soft white skin glows in the gloom like alabaster. I will fight for her, die for her, be cleaved in two for her. But she does not know my mad flame of desire. She jumps when she sees me:

‘Jacques!’

I stand there trembling, fool for Satan, holding the grail in my outstretched arms. She steps back. How dare I offer this cup of heresy to one so pure? My senses reel and a terrible dread seizes my heart: that she will refuse my golden grail; that such a gift, from one so vile, will make her want to scoff or scream. The chalice frightens her:

‘Where did you get that? You must take it back!’

‘But Mademoiselle, I brought it for you…’

She looks down, as if picking her way through the straw; then her eyes wander towards my feet, up my legs and fix upon the grail. I feel myself tongue-tied. We stand in silence with only the cow chomping the cud.

‘For you, Mademoiselle. For you…’

Her dark eyes hold me rapt and send great ripples stirring through my soul. My heart beats fast; I grow hot and weak; I’m melting like wax, draining away through the soles of my boots. She pours me out like milk and curdles me like cheese; I become the product of her hands, formed into new flesh; she clothes me with new skin, and puts me together with sinew and bone.(iii) Yet I remain rooted to the spot, the chalice shaking in my grasp. She steps toward me and puts her hand on mine. Her palm is warm and soft:

‘Don’t be frightened Jacques.’

Her touch strikes lightning through my body. Great Lucifer, my dream is coming true…

But then a gruff voice startles us:

‘Get back from her, you filth!’

The ploughman looms in the threshold, an axe clasped in his mighty fists.

‘Monsieur!’ cries the maid, ‘He meant no harm!’

‘Meant no harm? This devil killed the priest and stole the chalice!’

‘No Monsieur! I found it by the river!’

‘Liar!’

He kicks the grail from my hands; it flies through the air and clangs on the flags, the eggs breaking like suns. Then he turns to the maid and says:

‘A crumb of counsel: you cannot drink from the chalice of Christ and from the chalice of devils.’(iv)

I stand in shame, head bowed, watching the yolks seep in the dung. But I’ve had enough of shame. Did I not warn him to stay away? So I tear off my cowl and step toward him. The ploughman gasps and raises his axe:

‘Come near me goblin, and I’ll cut your ugly head off!’

‘Oh! Don’t hurt him, Monsieur. He’s only a child. Can’t you see he’s sick? Just look at the poor creature!’

Creature. She called me creature. What is left to do but die? So I charge at the ploughman head first… His axe hangs in the air, its keen blade glinting against the lintel. I watch it descend, as if by slow degrees, happy it should strike me down. But the maid lunges forward and thrusts me aside. The falling blade cuts square across her chest. ’Tis a clean blow, with all the weight of the ploughman behind it. We fall against a stall and she grapples for a trough. A look of horror dawns upon her face. Then her entire forearm cleaves from the elbow and topples in the manger. Her scream rips the world apart. Jets of blood spurt up the walls and spray through the air. We fall beside the chalice, her severed arm twitching in the straw. The ploughman drops his axe and backs away, clasping his head in anguish. Horrified, he points at me and shrieks:

‘You… you… you!’

Then he staggers out the door and wails:

‘Oh! Oh! My god! My god! Jacques has slain Maria!’

Maria. Her name is Maria. Finally, I have her in my arms. But mine is an embrace of Death – a bloody sunder and cruel dismemberment. I weep scolding tears, blinded with grief, that my grail should cause her murderous end. I feel cursed by a malevolent force, destined to destroy all that I love. Ave Maria! Oh that I might have perished in the womb! Before I was cut from the belly! Maria, Maria, Maria… She writhes in agony, blood gushing from her side. Her chest is cloven, her ribs cut in two. My dream has turned to nightmare. And the ploughman bawls in street:

‘Murder! Murder! The goblin has slain Maria!’

I lift her up but she totters amongst the pails, curdling the milk with scarlet spouts. I try stemming the flow with my hands, squeezing on a gory mass of vessels and nerves; she curses and screams, flinging her body, striking my face with her stump. We stumble back in the manger, blood-soaked clowns in a bed of straw. She grapples at my shirt, imploring me to save her. But I can’t stem the flow.

‘Don’t die Mademoiselle! Don’t die!’

Her life drains fast away. Her face grows deathly pale and she jolts with every dying pulse. I prize her up but she’s too weak to stand. Her knees buckle and we fall amid the broken eggs. Distraught, I kneel beside her, wailing for help. But no one comes. She begins to shiver and her lips turn blue. She whispers:

‘Jacques, the world grows dark.’

My maiden is fading like the moon. I panic and gather her together: legs, skirts, apron, hips. I bury myself in her hair – a torment to be so close, and all for naught. Oh master Jacques, you are making a game of me… Then she expires with a guttural rasp. Her once beautific face is frozen in a grisly grimace. Maria. I shake her by shoulders:

‘Come back Mademoiselle! Come back!’

I’m drowning, caught in a dark undertow. And wherever she’s gone, I want to follow. I fall into the very crypt of Death, howling against her breasts. Her divinity clings about her body like a fine mist, dispersed by the winter chill that creeps over the flags. I cry unto the depths:

‘Oh Christ, not her! Take me!’

And the depths respond…

The floor begins to vibrate as plumes of dust fall from the rafters. I sense a parting veil. Is this the world of men I now inhabit? For what do I see reflected in the grail? The Cyclops. He looms above, his majestic eye turning in rainbow gyres. He speaks in breaking waves:

‘Prepare to receive the Lord…’

There comes a sound from heaven, as of a mighty wind. The cow starts and bolts, skidding on her hooves. Pails rattle, knives jangle and every piece of iron rings out. I watch confounded as two milk stools skitter across the floor. Then stillness. A crack in time…

There appears a tongue of Holy fire descending from the roof; it dances on my crown(v) and leaps about my horns. An incandescent stream courses through my veins: a telluric current rising from subterranean realms.

I gaze into the mighty eye: a dazzling diamond, whose facets shine with blazing suns and skeins of soaring geese. I hear their hissing wings:

‘Unloose the bonds of Death. Heal the emanations of Adam. Magnify the Lord. For thou hast received Him unto thyself…’

I am engulfed in coronas of Light. I become stout of heart in the Light, and a pure Light in the Light-stream; it infuses my body, which had no Light, but now shimmers with the Light of the heights. I have become a pure Light Power…(vi)

Iridescent beams bursts forth from my hands: they flood the parlour, punching through the wattle, bright as The Resurrection. For this purpose I am made: the healing grace of the Holy Spirit… Instinctively, I hold the severed arm upon its bloody stump. I sense great heat effusing the wound as bone knits bone and flesh knits flesh. The wound is closing, the fingers moving, as the arm grafts like a sapling.

A choir of Seraphs crescendos in the loft.

I must be dreaming.

‘Raise her up!’ bids Krew.

I place my palms upon her cloven chest. The viscera of her subtle body glisten with faery fire; the tissues are in flux, shifting, re-arranging, sealing by accord of the Light. She becomes as glass unto my eyes. I see into her bowels, a plexus of numerous ducts and branching canals; they writhe like worms, joining end to end, as the wound enfolds. The ducts unite in a series of arches, and the process repeats, forming a second series, and a third, and a fourth. Then from these terminal ends, larger vessels arise, swelling with new blood. Soon her innards are hemmed in, en-sheathed by new fascia.

Her tunic of flesh is restored to glory. A perfect body, uncorrupted, undefiled, and without a spot before the Lord. I dare not reason how. For to reason is to question. And to question is to doubt. The kingdom of God is not in words but Power…

The Light fades. The parted veil is shut. Slowly, she opens her eyes and draws a long ecstatic breath. For the Light of the living God has entered her. She whispers:

‘Jesus.’

She will live. She will go on. And every day of her life she will remember how she broke the bonds of Death. Forgive me Christ for aping you but my diamon bade it. Yet Krew has vanished into thin air.

Dazed, I wander out, a corpse of hope amid a fearful crowd.

‘What was that light?’ asks one.

‘Keep back!’ warns another, jabbing his hoe.

‘’Tis a bloody devil, to be sure!’

‘What have you done, goblin?’ ask Othon.

‘He murdered Maria!’ cries the ploughman. ‘I caught him bewitching her with the communion chalice. And when she failed to fall under his wicked spell, he took an axe to her body!’

The churls close in with pitchforks, rakes and spades, the curse of Adam writ in their dirty faces. I want the earth to swallow me up. For the Light of Lights has gone and I am naught without it.

But then Maria emerges from the parlour, weeping and rubbing her arm. When the ploughman sees her miraculous restoration he falls to his knees and mutters:

‘Impossible!’

He crosses himself as she goes amid the crowd, beating her chest in earnest and crying tears of joy:

‘I was cloven! I was dead! Look! My arm! By the Virgin, ’twas severed in the dirt! By the rood, the ploughman cut it off! I was dead. Dead I tell you! But Jacques raised me up! He made me whole! ’Tis a miracle! A miracle!’

The crowd is astounded. Blind Claude is there. He takes off his hat and kneels, pleading with open arms:

‘Oh heal me Jacques! Give me sight! I want to see the sun!’

The crowd falls silent and stoops in reverence. Satan himself could not have expected the realization of so perverse a scene; a horned devil, once the object of so much hatred and scorn, now worshipped like a God.

‘Heal my hump!’ cries a cripple.

‘My boils!’ cries another.

‘My twisted foot!’

‘My withered hand!’

‘My swollen joints!’

I stumble, as if surrounded by clouds of Stygian smoke. A boundless throng of sickness and disease crowds in around me. My body buckles beneath the burden of their pains: a terrible deadly weight that pulls me to the ground. Christ whispers:

‘In my name!’

I panic and flee into the woods.

Copyright © Nicholas Shea 2007

i. Deuteronomy 14:22.

ii. Matthew 26:26.

iii. Job, 10:10 to 10:11.

iv. I Corinthians 10:21.

v. Acts 2:2, 2:3.

vi. Pistis Sophia.