Fox_British_Wildlife_Centre_small

Jacques is telling it…

The following morn I wander about in a morose stupor, grieving for my spirit body and the realm of faerie-fire. The barren fields are lifeless and a persistent gloom hangs over the land. How I long for those sweet meadows of delight! The secret intimations of another existence have left me bereft. I call for Krew but only the coppice chatters in reply. I feel desolate and empty, like a discarded pot in the furrows. What is the point of a higher state if we cannot summon it at will? And what was all that talk of the Great Invisibles, Rulers and Archons? In the cold light of day, it all seems like the dream of a woodcock. The end of the world? I wish it would come, and I am sick of Christ’s procrastination.

I curse myself for drinking the magic potion. When I close my eyes I am tormented by sickening visions: the Janus whoring at the sabbat, his naked acolytes steeped in blood and wine; the priest devouring me in Hell like some hideous worm; and the evil gnome who led me astray into the bowels of earth. But what disturbs me most is Future Jack. That I am destined to return as one so mad, beggared and deprived, fills me with abject horror. Are all my trails for naught? What of my afflictions? Shall I not be recompensed for all this earthly suffering? How I hate that Future Jack! The very sight of him makes me wretch; his poxy face and bulbous nose; his mooncalf eyes and sooty lashes; his shaven head and hoary neck; his shabby gown, all soiled with broth and shit; his hairy shanks and shackled boots. What future fleshy tunic! That such privation of body should leave me so moonstruck and destitute, without sufficient means to correct myself, my entire existence an absurdity of mythic proportions, is enough to snuff out my soul.

My only consolation is the milkmaid. I follow her about like a love-sick fool, but always at a distance, and never so close as to draw attention to myself. Day after day I go to the well in the hope of spying her. When I do, my day passes in vague contentment, but if she evades me, an intolerable pain gnaws at my soul and I yearn for the morrow, with just my dreams for comfort.

But even a love sick fool must work. When not ploughing the abbot’s lands, his steward calls me to labour and I perform other tasks such as felling trees, sawing logs or mending byres and fences. But the milkmaid is always on my mind. Between seeing her, I loose my appetite. Margot frets I have a wasting sickness, and scolds me when I refuse my pottage. But she too is hard at work, gathering seeds, grinding cures and bottling potions.

The milkmaid is just as busy; she has hens to feed, eggs to gather, cows to milk and curds to strain. No wonder she ignores me standing at the well. But one frosty morn, fate conspires to bring us together. For it happens that when I am chopping logs, the steward comes walking by:

‘The men are digging drains for the abbot.’

‘Yes Monsieur. I’ll get my spade.’

‘No. I have another task for you. The hen-house needs repair. A fox broke in last night and killed three pullets.’

‘Old Reynard is cunning.’

‘He gnawed through the rotten floor.’

‘Shall I build a new one?’

‘No. Just replace the wormy wood. It must be made good before the snows come. Can you do it?’

‘Why, of course Monsieur!’

He furrows his brow:

‘You seem very keen.’

‘Well, I’m a good carpenter.’

‘I see.’

‘I made that stool over there.’

‘Did you? That’s very good. And have you made your own cross?’

‘Monsieur?’

‘The devilish heretics insist that Christ made his own cross.’

‘Did he?’

‘I earnestly pray that you believe no such thing.’

‘No Monsieur.’

‘Jesus was a carpenter perhaps, but we are not told who made His cross.’

‘No Monsieur.’

‘If I had lived in the time of Christ, I would have slit the measly throat of the unbeliever that carved it, whether he was Roman, Jew, Turk or Tartar.’

‘They killed our precious Saviour, Monsieur.’

‘To think that Pilate delivered Him into the hands of the Gentiles, to be mocked, scourged and crucified…’

‘The wicked Jews Monsieur.’

‘Wicked indeed. Christ is as filth to the Jews, just as he was to Herod, the Jewish Sanhedrin. Alas, this world is governed principally by the Jews. They are the merchants and Changers.’

‘Changers?’

‘Money-dealers. Professional financiers who prosper by exchanging coinage. Old Reynard is cunning. But the Jews more so. They have the whole world in their pockets. Ever since the days of Rome, the Jewish race has been steeped in lucre. They practice commerce on a vast scale, and their transactions involve great sums of gold. But the Jews have prospered too much in France. Take the Changers of Lombardy, who are called Lombards. They exploited France to her ruin. That is why the king seized their property from one end of the land to the other.(i) Did you know that?’

‘No Monsieur.’

‘Before that time, the Jews were entrusted with the collection of taxes, and they were granted every favour that might gratify their heathen creed. When I was a boy, this land was overrun with Jews. They enjoyed rights and privileges from which good Christians were excluded; they could speak freely and the weekly markets were postponed until Sunday so that they could keep their Sabbath. They lived among Christians and learnt the Latin tongue, not that they might know and love Christ, but that they might insult and mock Him. They built Synagogues throughout the kingdom, where they prayed to a god who cannot save. Yet they hated Christians who adored the crucifix. They held land and pasture, with great herds and flocks; they planted vineyards and built mills – all in perfect freedom and security. And at every court, they were welcomed with distinction by noble and prelate alike. The Jewish merchants flaunted their wives about the towns; you could always spot a Jewess in the motley throng by her silken apparel… ’Tis good they are gone. The Jews are dangerous adversaries. Never trust a Jew. I know the gospels inside out, and the Jews are incontestably condemned. Ask a Jew if he believes that the Virgin Mary, who bore God in her womb, was a virgin and the Mother of God, and he will answer no. Yet still we Christians do business with them! Believe me Jacques, the Jews care only for themselves; they will steal and pilfer from you without remorse. The ruin of Christians is their unholy business. Just as they nailed our Saviour to a cross. Pierced him. The ungodly Jews believe not in the Resurrection, and like other heathen think only of Christ as dead. Alas, such thoughts can drive a man stark raving mad. I sometimes wonder if there was a cross at all. For Peter said that Christ was nailed to a tree.(ii) Either way, we must not be scandalized by our Lord’s disgraceful death.’ (iii)

‘No Monsieur.’

‘If we are to be worthy of Christ, we must deny ourselves, take up our cross and follow him.’ (iv)

‘Yes Monsieur.’

‘And I know your cross is heavy. ’Tis a wretched business to be sure. If you ask me, you would be better off in a cowl than a sack.’

Why is he being so candid and understanding? He has never bothered with me before. He folds his arms under his habit and glares with knowing eyes. I grow uneasy and glance away at the pond. The silence is broken by a jumping fish. I want to unburden myself to him…

‘Monsieur, I once saw a monk like me.’

‘Perhaps you did.’

‘So there are others with my affliction? Living in the abbey?’

‘Aye Jacques, there are many like you in the cloisters of Belloc. The White Monks suffer terrible afflictions of all kinds. There is one amongst them who has no limbs at all; yet another with a giant hand, bigger than a ploughshare. His twin has the semblance of a fish, with scaly weeping skin. The flesh is a terrible thing. Such bodily disease can drive a man insane. Or even to the Devil. But the White Monks are devout and holy men, who have turned their backs on the world.’

‘No wonder they hide themselves away. The world despises deformity.’

‘God created you in spite of the world.’

‘People hate nothing so much as me. They think I’m a goblin.’

‘Well, I have more wits than that.’

‘Monsieur, I once heard God calling me to cloister…’

‘You did? Shall I speak with the abbot? There’s always room for men like you in our fold.’

‘No. I mean, thank you Monsieur. But I must tend to my mother: she is old and cannot sow a bean. Without me she would starve.’

‘Very well. We shall leave it at that. Now you have your task to do. But keep covered up. I don’t want you scaring the others.’

‘No Monsieur.’

‘And keep away from the tavern. There’s an indulgence monger about.’

‘A what Monsieur?’

‘An indulgence monger. He offers remission of sins for money – and gives letters of pardon sanctioned by the Pope.’

‘Then when I am rich, I shall sin all I like.’

‘You have sharp wits for a young man. I like that. But mind that tongue of yours: it will get you into trouble.’

‘Yes Monsieur.’

‘Simony is a grave sin.’

‘Monsieur?’

‘– The purchase of something spiritual with something temporal. Simon of Samaria was a magus who offered money for the powers of the Holy Ghost… As if such power could be bought with gold.’

‘Yes Monsieur.’

‘Besides, this friar is not a holy man; he is a rogue and imposter, who wanders the country offering indulgences for a draught of wine, or the hire of a harlot, or even as a stake in a game of dice… Needless to say, the abbot wants him dead…’

‘I’ll look out for him.’

‘Good. To work then. You will find new timber and nails outside the parlour. I will check on you later. But if I’m not back before sunset, you can return home.’

‘Shall I wait up for you?’

‘What?’

‘Shall I wait up for you, Monsieur?’

‘Wait up for me? Are you mad boy? Why on earth would you do that?’

‘I don’t know Monsieur.’

‘You don’t know much, do you boy?’

‘No Monsieur. But I know how to mend hen-houses.’

‘Do you wait up often?’

‘How do you mean, Monsieur?’

‘Do you sit up by the fire, these long winter nights?’

‘Well…’

‘Because that can lead to eating and drinking. Do you understand me? You would be better off in bed, giving that food to your cow. Cattle are hard to fatten. And tallow is four times the price of meat. ’Tis a sin to waste good food, sitting up by the fire – when you can break your fast at dawn and start work early…’

And with that, he marches off down the lane. After some distance he stops and cries:

‘Do not let a crone come between you and the Lord! He shall come again! The Last Judgement is imminent, I have no doubt. The world is old and the Gospel trodden underfoot… Have you seen the state of the church since the priest was killed? Defiled. Now wickedness runs riot… Our saviour’s prophecy is being fulfilled as I speak. Iniquity abounds and the love of many waxes cold… So think about your calling Jacques… Unhappy is the man who refuses God!’

The trees sigh in a chill breeze. I raise a hand as he turns away amid the falling leaves. Look at him, the poor fool, slipping on the icy puddles, habit flapping round his bandy legs. As much as I despise Mother Church, I almost pity him. But his hatred of the Jews says more about him than it does that noble race. If Christ was truly the son of God, why didn’t he come down from the cross? Wickedness runs riot. And tallow is four times the price of meat. How rich. Little does he know my plans. My path to cloister is clear. All I need do is confess my calling in earnest and the Steward will take care of the rest. My hoarded vengeance cannot wait. “Yes Monsieur, no Monsieur, three bags full Monsieur…”

I feel fated. How fortuitous my task! For the hen-house stands right beside the parlour. Satan has delivered me to the milkmaid’s door! She might even come to words with me. As I set off down the lane, I praise Cunning Reynard for killing the hens. And I wonder about predestination – of what God permits in his creatures of free will. And I think of all I might become…

Copyright © Nicholas Shea 2008

i. One day in 1306, all the Jews in France were arrested and their property and account-books seized from one end of the kingdom to the other; they were expelled in a body and there was a rigorous recovery of their debts to the advantage of Philippe le Bel and his government.

ii. I Peter Chapter 2:24

iii. Matthew 11:6

iv. Matthew 16:24