BOR. Descending the Titan shaft was like going back to the dawn of Time. My heart flew out of my mouth and I was overcome with a terrible foreboding. We fell at great speed, huddled in fear on the lambent disc. The walls of rock rushed past, glistening with jewels and flecks of gold. Looking up, I saw the funnel mouth swiftly recede, until it vanished entirely, and the pendant orb was swallowed in a gullet of darkness. Yet still we kept on falling, hurtling into a dread abyss, our torches spluttering in benthal winds. The depths were unfathomable, and far beyond the limits of human habitation. My whole earthly existence—all my days and nights—seemed to stretch away, until they belonged to another existence entirely. I cannot tell how far we fell, nor the means of that infernal flight, but when the disc finally stopped, we were lost in the overwhelming reality of another world…
Leaving the shaft, we ventured onto a basalt causeway of hexagonal pillars that shot from the deep like flutes of some titanic organ. The upper galleries were a honeycomb of vents, encrusted with curtains of scarlet flowstone; and yet further up was a florid dyke whose gaping mouth blistered with welts of ruby glass. We had entered the very ventricles of Earth. The wonders of the abyss stunned us to silence. We crept forth in awe and proceeded through an ogive into a Cyclopean temple that glimmered with ghostly light. For a great dome of krystallos spanned the giddy vault, with mighty prisms three cubits wide and thirty cubits long; they formed a radial array, their glowing terminations focused on the altar below…
We moved as in a dream, transfixed by the abominations that towered above us: seven colossal skeletons that appeared altogether human but for their prodigious size and elongated skulls. Compared to those terrible Titans, we were but minnows – petty, paltry things, without import or significance. They sat on crystal thrones over forty feet tall, yet we barely reached their knees. Each giant had double rows of fearsome teeth, with six fingers and toes. Those preadamite bones spoke of untold terrors – of forbidden gospels and preternatural knowledge of the Earth.
But one giant was more fearsome and regal than the rest. His corpse was mummified and his long shanks had a leathery reptilian flesh. Most curious of all, he held a crozier in his right hand – the pastoral staff of high office, akin to an abbot or bishop. And like a bishop, the hook of his crozier was turned outward, perhaps to signify his wide authority. The staff consisted of several pieces of ivory, jointed together with copper rings, and beneath the hook were two winged serpents, opposed and intertwined. His fingers were thick as cucumbers, and half-hidden in crumbling cuffs, but I spied great talons, as long as sickles. What was his dark ministration? The offertory of the damned? The Sanctus of Satan? Or some angelic absolution and cure of souls?
On the titan’s chest, extending from shoulder to shoulder, was a broad collar of beaten gold, adorned with segments of green feldspar, and a lotus-bud border of stained glass; at each end of the collar was a falcon’s head of white onyx, beset with an obsidian eye and beak.
I longed to discern the titan’s face but ’twas covered by the funeral mask of an Egyptian Pharaoh: a guise of solid gold, wrought with great skill. The splendour of this artefact took my breath away. A vulture’s head was emblazoned on the crown, with onyx feathers bejewelled with radiant gems. Beside it wound a sovereign silver cobra, with scales of dark blue faïence, and eyes of cloisonné, inlaid with rubies and pearls. The cobra’s hood, (which was over a foot wide), was most splendid of all, and sparkled with carnelian and turquoise stones…
I marvelled at this giant for some time, tormented by its profound mystery. What antediluvian secrets it might have told! Even in death, it appeared majestically alive, is if imbued by some supernatural force. Yet the whole chamber was pulsing with powers of the deep: the crystal vault flickered with ethereal fire—darting from the wands in scintillating hues. But despite the enchanted light, I knew this was a realm of darkness. No one could doubt my verdict: ’twas clear that Jacques Vallin was a healer not of God, but of the Devil. He was the son of a necromancer, who sought union with demons to work false miracles.
As we crossed the dais with its many sigils and signs, we were overcome with an awful solemnity. We stood as grasshoppers beneath those priests of old, whose monstrous gaze inspired dread imaginings. The grinning giants whispered of Genesis and the birth of Man. The plight of Adam tugged upon my heartstrings, and I seemed to hear His forlorn voice, crying in the deep, lamenting His fall from grace. ’Twas just the wind moaning in the vents; yet it spoke with an arcane tongue, dreary and lonely as Death. Surely, there was not one amongst us who did not secretly desire his former state…
The sudden implications of my own existence weighed heavy on my soul. Yet I dared not give myself over to conjectures of the mind. To behold the sepulchre, with all its profane mysteries, left me in a state of perpetual exhaustion. Yet most mysterious of all was the basalt plinth with its crystal hollow in the shape of a man. Despite the over-presiding fear of evil, I longed to lie in the furrow and gaze at the wands above. But no sooner had this thought struck upon my mind, than I glimpsed the Titans, glaring in contempt of my puny frame…
Inquisitor Bor is telling it…
I crane my neck and gasp in wonder:
‘Now giants were upon the earth in those days. For after the sons of God went into the daughters of men, they brought forth children; these are the mighty men of old, the men of renown…’(i)
‘Renown?’ scorns Odo. ‘The giants of Genesis were evil monsters. That’s why God destroyed them in the flood. The end of all flesh is come before me, the earth is filled with iniquity through them, and I will destroy them with the earth.(ii)’
‘You quote correctly prior, but if these are indeed the giants of Genesis, then they escaped God’s wrath. The fountains of the deep did not reach this place. See how their robes hang upon their bones: their garb is bright as the day it was spun.’
‘This is their tomb,’ says Henri. ‘The chasms of Earth hide many forbidden secrets.’
‘Look here,’ says Bernard, moving to the plinth. ‘There’s a hollow in the shape of man.’
‘What do you think it’s for?’ asks Poufille.
‘Human sacrifices,’ replies Hique. ‘We should go. This place is full of heathen darkness.’
‘Hique is right,’ scowls Odo. ‘The giants of old devoured their own children. That’s why the Lord shut them up in the bowels of the earth. They did not escape His wrath. They did not escape at all. They were imprisoned here.’
Brother Jean studies the plinth with the astute mind of a physician. He remains pensive, his brow creased in consternation. Intrigued, he strokes the hollow with his fingertips, then says:
‘The carving is flawless without a single tool mark. No doubt a rite was practised here, but not for sacrifice.’
‘How would you know?’ snubs Odo. ‘This temple is the work of the fallen ones who sought to recreate man in their own image…’
‘But how can you be so sure?’ asks Jean.
‘Instinct,’ replies Odo. ‘Have you not read the mystic Hymns of Orpheus, with the legends of Gods, demigods, and all the wondrous powers of nature?
‘You think these giants were monsters of cruelty and lust?’ rebuffs Jean. ‘I disagree. These were no brute savages. Look! Their countenance is noble, their garb bejewelled with gold and precious stones! What intricate design! You are mistaken prior. These giants were sophisticated people. Some might call them gods. This sanctum was not for sacrifice, nor internment of the dead. ’Twas built for some higher purpose. See how the walls flicker with subterranean light! Each crystal wand is focused on the plinth below. A temple of telluric power. Sacrifice? Nay prior, this altar is some salve for the soul.’
‘Salve for the soul?’ rebukes Odo. ‘I am not interested in your Hippocratic opinions. We must leave at once, lest our souls be damned.’
But Jean’s words strike chords of truth. Despite the awesome giants, I find the plinth most fascinating of all. The hollow of a man. What is that hollow, but the image of God in man? An image not of the body, but of the soul, which is a purely spiritual substance. I feel inextricably drawn towards it, like iron to a loadstone. My whole body aches with a strange yet familiar desire. How I long to recline in the cavity, to relinquish my life, and abandon myself to the ineffable! Without thinking, I put my palm in the hollow. The stone is warm and pulses with life; it tingles my flesh and lulls me into trance. The words come to me like a half-forgotten dream: The salve of the soul is Death. The pain of my famished soul! I must escape this fleshy prison and vacate the body forever! I must recline in the furrow! The compulsion is so strong that I have to pull myself away. I swoon momentarily and Odo grabs my arm:
‘Are you all right Monsieur?’
‘Yes, thank you prior. I am just a little dizzy after the descent.’
‘This place exerts a strange power,’ says Hique. ‘I don’t like it; I don’t like it one bit. Prior, let us leave henceforth. We’re not safe here. What if Lilith returns?’
‘But what about the healing spring?’ asks Poufille. ‘We came to be cured. We should explore further. Lazarus can’t be far away.’
‘Yes,’ adds Bernard. ‘The spring will vanquish my warts. Let us explore the tunnels.’
‘No!’ snaps Odo. ‘Beyond this chamber, there is only darkness and death. What happens when the wands go out? Have you thought of that? Without a torch, we will perish in this ungodly pit.’
Lucas raises his lamp and stares at the titan treasures; one giant holds a ruby in his right hand and a ram-headed serpent in his left. He wears glistening breeches woven from silver thread, and a tunic pinned with diamond clusters. The dwarf grins and says:
‘We should take a prize before we go.’
‘Has the lust for gold tempered your fears?’ sneers Odo.
‘No prior. But ’twould be foolish to return with naught. I could climb up there with ease. There’s some rope at the bottom of the shaft. Fetch it Henri.’
‘We will take nothing,’ replies Odo sternly.
‘But prior, look at all those rubies!’ whines Lucas. ‘Not even the king of France has jewels like that. Not even king Solomon!’
Odo raps him three times on the head:
‘Fool! Twit! Numbskull! Those jewels are tainted with darkness. Everything in this pit is an abomination to God. No part of it will return to the abbey. Do you want to bring evil into our house again? Get back to the shaft, all of you. We must return whilst we still can.’
Of course, I know that Odo is right. And yet, just like Poufille, I long to explore further. For a gaping gallery beckons beyond, with walls of crimson flowstone, gleaming like severed flesh. Water gurgles in the darkness, and within the passage I spy a wild profusion of milky decorations…
‘Leave if you must prior. But I have a heretic to catch. There’s a tunnel beyond the outer fosse. And I have enough candles for six hours. If I do not return, then give word to the bishop. Let it never be said that I flinched from duty, or was scared by the Devil and his minions.’
My soldiers look uneasy: the sight of the passage frightens them. The sergeant shakes his fist in protest:
‘Monsieur, we cannot fight that witch. She will kill us all. She has slain most of my ranks. Only Turpin and Gris remain. I see no point in spilling more blood. If you must go, then you go alone.’
‘What? You refuse to defend a vicar of Christ? You make poor warriors, to allow heretics of such import to escape God’s judgement. What shall I tell the bishop? That you disobeyed my orders?’
‘Stuff you orders,’ sneers Turpin. ‘The bishop is a cowardly dog. Tell him what you like. I’ve had enough death for one day. We should leave before the abbess returns. Who knows what demons she might conjure?’
‘Turpin is right,’ adds the sergeant. ‘We have no choice but to turn back. How long will our means of ascent remain open? Do you know what makes the disc fly?’
‘Exactly,’ rejoins Odo. ‘The motive power of the disc is beyond our comprehension. To continue is suicide. You cannot deny it Bor. You have no knowledge of what lies beyond. The pit is full of hidden dangers. Lazarus is long gone. You will never find him now.’
‘But he’s here! I know it! If that Cathar is not brought to justice, he will scatter his seeds of contagion far and wide!’
Odo puts his hand on my shoulder and says:
‘Bor, I have no doubt that your courage is equal to the peril, but your faith is no match for Lilith’s magic. Come back with us, and live to fight another day.’
I cannot hide my frustration or disappointment. But I swallow my pride and clear my throat:
‘Very well prior. But when we return, we must find a means to block that shaft forever.’
‘Agreed,’ says Odo. ‘This place is damned, and no man should ever find it.’
Brother Jean gazes wistfully at the wands and sighs:
‘A pity to leave so soon. I should still like to know purpose of this place. Methinks it holds a great mystery of the body…’
Just then, a maiden’s voice echoes in the depths—a distant melody, bright and clear; it rings through the souterraine like a bell, its happy note incongruous with the gloom.
‘’Tis a siren!’ gasps Hique.
‘A witch,’ frets Nicaise. ‘What shall we do?’
‘She’s coming this way!’ flusters Henri.
‘Be silent!’ bids Odo. ‘Listen…’
We cock our ears to the gaping void. Presently the singing stops and the maiden says:
‘I was a fool to doubt you mother. Forgive me.’
There follows a pause, then an older voice replies:
‘Be still my daughter. We are not alone.’
‘Who comes mother?’
‘We have been followed. There is great danger ahead…’
‘My god!’ gasps Odo. ‘Lilith!’
‘She brings a daughter of her sect!’ frets Bernard. ‘Two witches! As if one weren’t bad enough.’
‘They will turn us into stone!’ splutters Henri, biting on a knuckle.
‘Silence!’ bid I. ‘Make haste through the ogive and hide amid the stones! My men will wait in ambush by the disc. Then we shall rise to the surface together. Guards, be at the ready.’
But just as we scramble for cover, Lilith purrs:
‘Stop right where you are.’
We turn to see her standing in the passage, a hideous leer on her face.
‘Run for your lives!’ cries Hique.
But Lilith waves her hand and a boulder is at once discharged from the dark; it skips across the fosse, leaving the waters in foam, then bounds against the opposite wall, splintering into shards. I stop dead, quivering in my boots.
‘Why do you flee?’ asks Lilith. ‘Did you not come to be cured? This is a realm of stupendous miracles.’
‘’Tis a realm of evil!’ cries Hique.
‘Nay child. This crystal cavern holds a sacred mystery greater than the holy of holies! Believe me, the powers of these unfathomable depths are beyond your wildest dreams. I speak of miracles, like those of Christ himself! The transformation of body and soul! Brethren, this is your destiny. The Light Stream will make you whole. Superhuman. Divine. Poufille, what of your macrodactyly? Your deformed flesh is a great burden to you. Come forward that you may be healed like your brother Fabien…’
Poufille trembles on the spot and stutters:
‘I want brother Lazarus to cure me.’
‘Lazarus is gone,’ replies Lilith.
‘What have you done to him?’ asks Odo.
‘Why, cured him, of course…’
‘Then where is he?’ ask I.
‘That is a very good question,’ muses Lilith. ‘But why should I tell you, when your intention is to send him to the stake?’
‘He is a murderer and self-confessed heretic. ’Tis my duty to send him to the stake.’
She steps forward and replies:
‘The inquisitor is boastful as he is ignorant. He considers himself the right hand of God. But how is it that this avenger of Christ is always the first to usurp His laws? How many innocents has he condemned to the pyre? As if Cathar heresy was more evil than the crimes of his office! Did Christ not command us to love one another?’
‘Love? You are a witch and necromancer!’
‘Necromancer? Me? You purblind fool!’
‘This infernal realm is where you draw your powers! This temple of abominations! These giants were the offspring of fallen angels, whose crimes provoked God to destroy the earth with a flood!’
‘Brethren, do not listen to him. The inquisitor is woefully misguided. I use my powers for good—to heal and restore the sick. As I shall restore the abbey and mend all the misfortunes you have suffered under abbot Adam’s rule. Come forward Poufille, lie on the crystal plinth, and all shall be well…’
‘No,’ defies Poufille. ‘I want Lazarus to do it.’
‘My dear Poufille, Lazarus is a gifted healer, but after curing Fabien he is much fatigued and his powers have waned. ’Twill take many moons before he can perform such a fantastic miracle again. But the power of the Light Stream is infinite. There is nothing to fear. Come hither and lie beneath the crystal wands. For they shall baptise you in the Light of the living God.’
‘Do not listen to her!’ rage I. ‘She lies! Her magic will surely kill you!’
Lilith bares her teeth and snarls:
‘Silence Bor! You have done enough harm already. Even in the presence of the Light, your heart is twisted with fear. This is a temple of the Gods! Behold the crystal plinth! I speak the truth: whosoever lies on this foundation will stand for all eternity, and shall not be destroyed nor set asunder by mortal hands! Here is our last end, our principium et fundamentum. For these words express the whole nature of the Light Stream. Our last end, our Principle, the supreme maxim of God, who is our natural end, our soul’s Foundation, as creatures returning to Him, filled with the purity of His Light, and transformed by it…’
‘Transformed into what?’ ask I. ‘A two-faced devil like thee?’
‘All men have an instinctive abhorrence of my conjoined condition. But am I to blame for my bicephalic curse? I was born a rude chimera; a flaw of Nature; an inter-sexual freak. My ancestral line is full of such monstrosities. The seed of Adam corrupts from one generation to the next. We live in the grand phantasmagoria of the corporeal world. But there is a higher realm, which is the cause of all exterior appearances. The Light Stream corrects these imperfections of matter. Brethren, look at me! Am I not better than I was? Soon my transformation will be complete, and all vestige of the old Adam will be gone.’
‘You are full of deceit,’ say I.
‘What a hypocrite thou art! ’Tis thee who is full of deceit! You are naught but a heathen who tortures in the name of God! You do not believe in the resurrection of The Christ! Yet your one overwhelming desire is to conquer death! How you long to lie upon the crystal plinth! Do not deny it Inquisitor! I can read you like a book. What are you afraid of? Come forth and witness the glory of God…’
‘Whose God?’ ask I.
‘My god is the same as your God… Oh! The arrogant self-sufficiency of the scholarly man! You, with your foggy jumble of logic and erudite quotes! But by the devil’s horns, you’re as faithless as a flea! And what of you brethren? Methinks you all lack faith—even you brother Jean. Forget your learned ways. For you dwell in the moonshine of speculation and sophistry. All your petty preconceptions are about to be undone. Not one of your beliefs can stand before the transformation of the Light! Allow me to expose and refute your errors…’
I step back, Jean to my left, Odo to my right. Hique cowers behind the dais, the dwarves behind him, whilst Poufille scurries amid the stalagmites.
‘Do something,’ hisses Odo.
‘I signal my soldiers but they remain rooted to the spot, paralysed in fear. Lilith chuckles with amusement:
‘You cannot fight me, Bor: I possess a power that makes men pliable as wax. What are you waiting for? Come hither, for this is your predestined hour…’
She beckons with a crooked finger. Then, to my utter horror, she draws me forth like a puppet. I start walking toward her, my legs moving by her dark volition. No matter how hard I try, I cannot resist nor turn away. Slowly, I climb the basalt steps, and jerk towards the plinth. Inch by inch, my body sinks into the hollow. I watch helpless as the wands begin to spark. A mysterious fire flickers round the dome and the shards pulse with light. Directly above my head is the central terminator, whose ruby shaft hangs like the sword of Damocles. The mighty prism begins to glow, its facets shining like setting suns. Then a bolt of light shoots from the tip and envelops the plinth…
My soul instantly departs my body. I experience a great splendour of becoming. Before me is a long tunnel that stretches away to a realm of Light; yet behind me is a loathsome pit of darkness, from which I long to escape. No sooner have I thought this, than I fly toward the Light at great speed. The effulgence pulls me in, enfolds my soul, and draws me into unity. I behold a glittering and multitudinous host, rising in endless tiers that circle empyrean skies. A thousand shining angels, clothed in raiments of Light! I meet a myriad of souls, glowing in the void. Somehow they understand my life, and I understand all theirs. We are connected throughout centuries of Time. The relations of many lives, past, present and future. And during this angelic commune, I am consumed by a loving force that absolves everything unto itself. My soul and God seem to rush together like jets of dazzling water. In that instant, I know He is the one true reality. Everything else is illusion and emptiness. I float, buoyed on lucid waves, surrounded by curtains of Light which billow and shimmer like sunlit seas. The potency of the Light enthrals me, and every question that pops into my mind is answered at once. The mystery of the Cosmos is revealed in turning gyres that stretch away into infinity. And as I hear the harmony of the Spheres, I come to an understanding of all things. ’Tis then I sense my own potential and the mystery of what I might become. Why did I not see it before? I am so much more than what I thought! The final destiny of Man is revealed in a whisper. I feel the tender kiss of Divine mercy and my will is changed at once. But then I am overcome with a terrible foreboding. For a golden orb appears before my eyes, and within its rippling walls, I behold many maidens burning at the stake. And to my shame, I refuse to make an open and candid confession. Instead, I turn away, convinced my sins were directed to extirpate crimes against the faith. Suddenly the Light recedes to a pinprick. I hear a roaring wind and I’m carried away into a bottomless void. The air is thick with wailing and palls of sulphurous smoke. Then I realise that I have been condemned to hell-fire, just I sentenced others. Unspeakable spiders bind me to a stake, cocooning my body with cords of silk which they draw from glowing abdomens. At once I am consumed by a horde of blazing devils. The searing heat strips the flesh from my bones – but this is spiritual flesh in spiritual fire, and it cannot be destroyed. The crazing pain does not relent, but renews ad-infinitum. When I plead for pity, I plummet like a smouldering sod, and land on the plinth with a thud. My soul reels in severance and I howl:
‘Lord, have mercy!’
Lilith glares down and gravely shakes her head:
‘The joys of heaven are forbidden to men like you.’
Distraught, I gaze in longing at the crystal wands:
‘I saw the face of God!’
‘You did indeed,’ nods Lilith.
‘But you snatched it from my grasp.’
‘You are mistaken, Inquisitor. Your sins are incompatible with the Light Stream. Did you really think that a man who tortures in the name of God would find peace in His presence? Your destiny is here—amongst the husks of earth—with the beetles and grubs of the grave. What shall be left of you in the end? That which the palmer-worm hath left, hath the locust eaten; and that which the locust hath left, hath the canker-worm eaten, and that which the canker-worm hath left, hath the caterpillar eaten…(iii) You shall not enter the Light Stream again. The Host will not allow it.’
Distraught, I drop from the plinth and pule:
‘Do not speak of God! You are warlock who has usurped the laws of heaven!’
‘My crimes are small compared with thine; you butchered men with godless zeal, and celebrated your sins with horrible joy. You are damned Bor—damned to the lakes of hell-fire.’
‘Don’t say that! Don’t say it!’
‘My poor child. Is the pain of your loss not even tempered by hope? Perhaps you are in hell already—for those in hell have no hope.’
Destitute, I crawl away, grovelling in the dust, my joints wracked with pain. But when I reach the steps, I manage to stoop as one with palsy. I turn to Lilith and drool:
‘Your Light Stream is of the devil—Satan, who arraigns himself as an angel of Light.’
She scorns with derision:
‘Do not pretend to take cognizance of what you saw! Yours is the gibberish of a fool, who remains ignorant, even when the Truth is given.’
‘Are you such a keen searcher of hearts? Do you know a man’s mind at a distance? You tool of Antichrist!’
She points in accusation:
‘Your severance from the Light inflicts a grief which far exceed the pains of this earthly life. The apprehension of your own evil is more than you can stand. So piercingly did the Light Stream penetrate your soul! It cut you like a scimitar! The purity of God’s truth revealed all your ugliness and sordid imperfections. You dare not approach Him again—for your heinous sins are incompatible with that beatific vision. Yet how you yearn for His boundless intensity! To be replenished from the Fountain of Life; to be sanctified by Him who is all love and perfection! But even now, your feeble human nature is in denial. You think that prayer will bring you Paradise? You are gravely mistaken. Until you submit yourself to the same fiery ordeal you inflicted on others, you shall never find union with the Godhead.’
‘Those are fine words for a witch. And the moral laws of the universe do not apply to you? You are no professor of Christ’s law. You who commit infanticide and squash men like flies…’
‘You kill in the name of God, but I kill with divine permission.’
‘She’s completely insane,’ mutters Odo, aghast.’
‘Nay prior, my wits are sound. I see things quite clearly now. You tried to snatch the abbey from my grasp, and conspired with bishop Tolus against me…’
‘Is that true, prior?’ asks Jean, aghast.
‘Do not listen to her,’ frets Odo. ‘She’s lying. She has made a pact with the Devil.’
‘Nay prior, ’tis thee who made a pact with the Devil, not I. You were a fool to believe a man like Bishop Tolus. His holocaust of lambs will be your undoing. Even as we speak, the shepherds are storming the abbey walls. What a knavish monk thou art, to tithe lambs on the bishop’s behalf. And all for such worldly gains as fame, power and money.’
‘The old Adam is still in you, Lilith!’ seethes Odo. ‘Yet I know not who is more evil—you, or the mad abbot, who conspired with demons and brought our house to the brink of ruin!’
‘Clam yourself. I will restore your fortunes if you will accept me as your abbess.’
‘Never!’ cries Odo. ‘I will see you in hell in first!’
‘You would be wise to obey me prior. You shall not leave this place without my blessing: only I know the secret of the flying disc.’
Nicaise begins to weep. His sobs echo round the Titans like the lament of Adam cast out of Eden. He falls to his knees and pules with remorse:
‘Oh Lord! Forgive my foolish heart! I should never have come here!’
Lilith steps forward:
‘Brethren, calm yourselves. Truly, I mean you no harm. Have faith in my powers. For I have unlocked the secrets of the deep. Heed my words! Verily, I have found the Philosophers Stone. All your privations are at an end! Your pains and afflictions shall be no more. Henceforth our house shall prosper. We shall be rich and live in plenty!’
‘Don’t listen to her!’ warns Odo. ‘She has honey on her lips but the tongue of the asp! All her cures are given by demonic compact. Her alchemy will only bring more suffering. Her lust for gold knows no bounds.’
Lilith scoffs and tosses back her hair.
‘Pah! That I might change leaden pots into golden cauldrons! What folly, to think that alchemy is directed to transmuting metals! The radiant rose is naught to do with metallic gold—for gold is far less precious than grass. How vain to assume that the quest for the philosopher’s stone is but a worldly ambition for wealth and kingdoms!’
Her voice drops an octave as Adam adds:
‘–If you had been wise enough to know this prior, you would have revered my magic and purified your mind with respect to my philosophy. Instead you cheapened my works by parading the subject before the ignorant! You were a fool to summon the inquisition to our gates. The ruin of this house is on your shoulders, not mine!’
Lilith glares with contempt and a deathly silence falls upon the chamber. The Titans look down, their ghastly grins full of dark expectation. Then Lilith says softly:
‘Brethren, you have shown much courage in finding the pit. I desired to keep this place a secret from you a little while longer. But now that you are here, let it be to your advantage. For within this Titan sepulchre is the secret of life itself: the Philosophers’ Stone. Behold the ancient Titans who dwelt in Paradise with God!(iv) They were born amid the crystals of fire! Every precious stone was their covering: the sardius, the topaz, the jasper, chrysolite, and onyx; the beryl, sapphire, carbuncle, and the emerald!(v) Behold their sacred wands! Their finely wrought gold and the altar of krystallos! Brother Jean was right: this occult chamber is no sepulchre of Death – ’tis a salve for the soul! These crystal wands are so arranged to glorify the body of Man. Here, the Cherubim descended into mortal life; and upon this plinth mere mortals were raised to the eternal power of Gods! Let us make man to our image!(vi) And so it shall be with thee! Come forth Poufille; I offer you nothing less than deliverance from Death and the torments of the flesh. Your body is of the old Adam, corrupt and full of sin. Tear Satan’s net asunder and recline in the crystal hollow—here, within the matrix of Adam Kadmon. The second Adam! Verily, you shall be restored in the twinkling of an eye. Be not afraid. Come forward my son, and be a good example for your brethren.’
Poufille edges toward the plinth, his giant hand dragging in the dust behind him…
‘Don’t go!’ pleads Odo. ‘Her promise of eternal Life is contrary to the will of God. Think about what she offers: corporeal perpetuity in a fallen realm of flesh. A perfect body, but darker than a dungeon. That is nothing less than Death itself. Only Christ can grant eternal Life! Yeshua HaMashiach! Jesus Christ, the anointed one! He is the real Philosophers’ Stone! He alone conquered Death, and by his stripes we are promised eternity in Paradise…’
‘Do you really believe that?’ sneers Lilith.
‘I do,’ retorts Odo. ‘With all my heart. In God the father there is no change or imperfection of any kind. He alone is all perfect, pure, eternal and immutable. This world of matter shall not persist. All flesh is finite and corrupt. As if your black art could undo the sins of Adam, and restore our fallen state! As we are sparks of God, so we shall be raised from the grave to dwell with Him. We do not need your alchemical salve.’
She looks abashed and mutters:
‘No, no, no. That’s not right. That’s not right at all. You’ve got it all wrong.’
‘Where’s Lazarus?’ ask I. ‘What have you done with that heretic they call Jacques Vallin? Where is the Book of Death?’
‘Cathars are like wild eels—the more firmly they are grasped, the more easily do they slip away. You shall not find Jacques Vallin. He is gone forever.’
‘You killed him?’ gasps Odo.
‘Nay, saved him.’
‘Then where is he?’ asks Jean. ‘Bring him to us.’
‘That is quite impossible,’ replies Lilith.’
‘What have you done to him?’ ask I. ‘Turned him into a toad?’
‘Not a toad,’ comes a resolute reply.
There appears in the tunnel a radiant maiden with flaxen hair. She glows with ethereal light, her entire body surrounded by a shimmering blue aura.
‘A witch!’ cries Lucas.
Truly, she is a woman of great beauty and dressed in splendid garb, embroidered with silver and gold. I am smitten by her alabaster complexion, her luscious eyes and ruby lips, her graceful curves and long shapely legs. She might be Aphrodite, or Helen of Troy, or even the Faery Queen. Her supernatural splendour is an aureole of glory, shining steady, bright and clear. Despite my misgivings, she appears to be a woman of great virtue, like the Blessed Virgin herself. She steps forth and draws beside Lilith.
‘Avert your eyes!’ cries Bernard ‘Or she will bewitch you with her beauty!’
‘Brethren I mean you no harm,’ says the maid.
Her voice is like shingle under breaking waves. She turns to brother Jean and says:
‘Good brother Jean, you know well the true purpose of this chamber. For the crystal plinth is indeed a salve for the soul. You too have come to be healed, and so you shall. Come forth and lie beneath the crystal wands…’
‘Who are you?’ asks Jean, perplexed. ‘How do you know my name?’
‘How shall you know me, when I am out of the body?’ replies the maid. ‘Prior Odo, what shall you call me, when I put on my Father’s garment? Shall you even recognize me?’
‘Proserpina!’ cries Lucas. ‘A she devil! Femina intemperiis acta! Furore percita! Lymphatica!’
‘Tell us who you are!’ demands Odo. ‘And by what means you know us.’
I draw my sword and cry:
‘Be silent! To speak with her is to flirt with damnation!’
The maiden looks me in the eye and purrs:
‘Oh Monsieur, you overestimate yourself. Methinks you are damned already.’
There follows a tense silence. I perceive her through the mists of lambent flame. A sweet effluvia drifts from her garb. The dwarves shield their faces, peeping between their fingers as Light dances on the maiden’s crown.
‘She’s a witch if ever there was one!’ whispers Nicaise.
‘She smells of roses,’ mutters Henri, smitten by her radiance.
‘Frankincense,’ replies Jean in wonder. ‘She has the odour of sanctity.’
‘The odour of sanctity?’ scoff I. ‘These whores? Are you mad? They are diabolic!’
But God forgive me, I cannot behold the maiden without weeping tears of adoration. She has the countenance of a seraph and hardly seems mortal at all. My heart is moved to deepest devotion. Yet I am greatly ashamed, for I threaten her in the gravest manner:
‘You will burn at the stake! What have you done with Jacques Vallin? Where is he concealed? Tell me witch, or my soldiers will run you through.’
But the maiden just smiles in defiance:
‘No, they will not.’
‘Where is your coven?’ asks Lucas, waving his knife.
‘We have no coven,’ replies the maid. ‘Fear not brother Lucas. Sheath your blade. I mean no harm. Come forth and be healed.’
‘Don’t listen to her!’ cries Bernard. ‘Their coven is in hiding. This is where they summon the Devil—at the feet of the Titans—the fallen angels of Satan Gadreel!’
‘We are all fallen,’ replies Lilith. ‘But my art is pure and holy. See what a beauty I have made: behold my wondrous daughter! I conjured her anew, “by all the Names of God, and by all His marvellous works; by the heavens; by the earth; by the sea; by the depth of the Abyss, and by that firmament which the very Spirit of God hath moved; by the sun and by the stars; by the waters and by the seas, and all which they contain; by the winds, the whirlwinds, and the tempests; by the virtue of all herbs, plants, and stones; by all which is in the heavens, upon the earth, and in all the Abysses of the Shades”(vii) ’
‘Your sorcery is an abomination!’ cries Odo. ‘The Spirit manifestly says that in the last days men shall depart from the faith, and give heed to spirits of error and the doctrines of devils.’(viii)
‘All things are permissible below ground,’ rebuts Lilith. ‘God neither knows nor punishes any sins that are committed beneath the earth. Judge us not, and you shall not be judged. Brethren, search your hearts. Why have you come? What do you seek? What is your desire when you fast and pray? You are all confronted by one overriding fear: Death. This anxiety is the essence of your entire existence. For you are creatures contingent upon forces you cannot control: the decay and dissolution of the body. Man is ruled by the hammers of Nature. He cannot create life nor extend the span of His allotted days. And that is your profoundest problem. You are finite. This limitation eats away at your soul like an insidious worm. None of you know when Death will come; you may cease to exist at any moment. Are you so temporary and accidental? Why has God endowed you with knowledge of the infinite, when you are fettered by three score years and ten? Was that His cruel intention, when he formed you from the dust? No! For He made Adam so perfect that the soles of his feet shone brighter than the sun! But Man has fallen from grace since Adam ate the forbidden fruit. We are all corrupted by the sins of Eve. But I can change your vile bodies, and fashion them unto His glorious body! Yes! Then your mortal, corruptible form will become perfect, beautiful and immortal! Look upon the titans of old: they built this chamber for Man’s salvation. Our ancestral lines are tainted with corruption and disease; the monsters in the ossuary are testament to that. Why do you hesitate? Come forward! You think your deformity is a curse from God? I have the power to correct your defects. But such power is not given: it must be taken. Take it! Who amongst you has the courage to be? The new Adam awaits. If you want eternal life and abundant health, come forth. If not, then return to the abbey and continue with your prayers in vain. But know this: if you leave now, you shall never enter the pit again, nor taste the glory of the Light Stream…’
‘Our salvation is with God!’ cries Odo in defiance.
‘Then why has he abandoned you?’ asks Lilith.
The prior remains silent and glowers with contempt. A rage boils up inside him, then he yells, shaking his fists with rage:
‘We do not need your magic. We are perfected in Death. For Christ shall reconstitute our dust! All blemishes and deformities are left in the grave.’
‘Be silent!’ spits Lilith. ‘Enough of your religious pox! Let the brethren speak for themselves. You do not suffer as they suffer. Poufille, do you wish to be cured like your brother? If so, be not afraid. Come forth and lie on the plinth…’
‘Stay where you are!’ I cry. ‘’Tis a trick!’
The brethren edge away.
‘Fools!’ sneers Lilith. ‘I offer eternal life in mind, body and soul. Within this crystal hollow is the image of the Second Adam! Adam Kadmon! Why do you reject Him? Here is your redemption, long talked of, long prayed for, and contemplated with eager anticipation, but never understood!’
‘God damn you!’ rages Odo. ‘God damn you! Where is Lazarus? What have you done to him?’
The maiden looks him in the eye and says softly:
‘Fear not father Odo. Mors per Hevam, vita per Mariam.’ [Death through Eve, Life through Mary].
Odo gasps in dread recognition; then he clasps his head and mutters:
‘Who are you woman? asks Jean, perplexed.
‘They once called me Lazarus – but now I am truly risen from the grave. My name is Jacqueline… And you are brother Jean—a kind physician, with balms for frostbite and burns.’
‘Lazarus…’ whispers Jean, astonished. ‘It cannot be…’
‘Why not?’ grins Lilith. ‘Light and matter are two different forms of one and the same thing. By the dissociation of atoms, matter is resolved back into Light; that is to say, it dematerializes. And so the Light Stream turned Jacques into Jacqueline. She was cleansed, as Christ cleansed the leper. Is she not perfect?’
‘Blasphemy!’ snarls Bernard. ‘Is that how you cure our diseases? By turning us into women?’
‘Sometimes, maleness itself is a disease,’ replies the maid. ‘I was a most wretched and hopeless case, for Nature did not complete her task in me. So I took completion into my own hands. And what of you brother Bernard? Do you not long to be rid of your warts and cankers?’
‘Never!’ snarls Bernard. ‘I would rather remain deformed, than be cured by a witch!’
‘’Tis a trick,’ says Lucas. ‘That maiden is not Lazarus. She can’t be. That’s impossible. Impossible! She can’t be him! She can’t be Lazarus! Not in a million years!’
‘Quite true,’ replies the maid. ‘I am not Lazarus—and never was. Nor even Jacques Vallin for that matter. I was always Jacqueline, from the very hour I was born. But until this moment in time, I was completely invisible.’
‘She speaks the truth,’ says Lilith.
‘I believe she does,’ adds Jean, astonished.
‘What are you saying?’ asks Odo, aghast. ‘These witches have beguiled you! Lilith seeks our destruction. She has usurped God’s prerogative by meddling with dark forces. All her knowledge is deformed. She has perverted God’s will. Look at her! She stands so twisted, that her head and body face in opposite directions! She walks backwards, with reversed hands and feet! What kind of a cure is that? This self-appointed Abbess, who promises holy miracles, still has the bones of our former Abbot! Does that sound like the work of God to you?’
Lilith darkens under a cloud of shame; she examines her gnarled hands, muttering curses as she shuffles about on her thick hairy ankles:
‘My cure is not complete. Not at all. There is much to do. Yes, yes, much to be attained. But this reversal of body is but a temporary malediction. For I have yet to return to the Light Stream. Rest assured, that when I do, my transformation will be complete. And then I shall be more beautiful than anything you can imagine…’
‘If that is so,’ says Odo, ‘then why don’t you lie down upon the crystal plinth?’
‘Yes,’ cries Bernard. ‘Prove it. Let us see this transformation with our own eyes. If your magic is the work of demons, it will come to no good end; but if it be the work of God, nothing shall overthrow it.’
Lilith looks unsure; she hesitates for a moment then says:
‘But brethren, ’tis not safe for me to enter the Light Stream again so soon. Is my beautiful daughter not proof enough?’
The prior shakes his head in dismay:
‘Alas, we have no reason to believe or trust a word you say. Do you take us all for fools? The mouth of a strange woman is a deep pit: and he whom the Lord is angry with, shall fall into it.(ix) As abbot you broke your vows and breached your oaths, and always excused your actions by your vile affliction. Now Adam has waned and Lilith is in ascendency. Why then, should we believe you any more than the old Adam? Man or woman, you are as deceitful now, as you always were. Too long you have bewitched us with your mad schemes. You are as odious as you are absurd. As for this maiden, she is simply one of your coven – a witch from the wood. Come brethren, let us leave this infernal place. Lazarus is lost to the abyss. We shall not venture here again. Eternal life lies not in this forbidden pit, but in the empyrean heights of heaven…’
Disheartened, the brethren bow their heads and turn to go. But Lilith cries:
‘Wait! Wait! Very well, I will do as you say. I will prove there is nothing to fear. You falsely believe this sacred place is a temple of the heathen. But these Titans of old kept the keys of Heaven before Saint Peter himself. They built this crystal sanctum for the transformation of Mankind. Stand fast and watch as I submit my twisted body to the Light Stream. Be witness to my transformation, and behold the Holy Ray of God, that absolves all things unto itself…’
And with these words, Lilith drops her cowl. The brethren wince and cower in disgust. For she has the body of a senile sow, with hermaphrodite paps, that teem with grey hairs. Between her legs is another supernumerary limb, about as long as her arm. This third leg looks entirely boneless, the foot being almost absent but for a single large toe. The appendage is attached to her groin without a joint, and at the junction of the inner thigh is a large mammary with a hairy teat. Whilst her face glows with perfection, her riven flesh bears all the traits of some Satanic disease. She has the rib cage of a man, with a hoary back and spine; her aged buttocks hang down in pleats, and her crooked feet are cloven with long twisted toes.
We remain transfixed, for this Gorgon has petrified us all. ’Tis then I spy Jacqueline skulking off like a cat. I watch as she creeps down a passage and vanishes in the gloom. I long to give chase, but I am rapt by the abbess, whose vile body roots me to the spot. And what is more, I long to witness her miraculous transformation…
Lilith crosses herself and reclines naked in the hollow of Adam Kadmon. We wait with baited breath as the Titans look down, their flinty orbits fixed on the plinth. The crystal wands begin to pulse with light. We crouch amid the stalagmites, peering through our fingers as the temple flickers with rainbow coruscations: rosy orbs dart about the walls and tendrils of flame shimmer in the vault. Suddenly the central wand flares with ruby splendour and a great shaft of light hits Lilith on the crown. A majestic orb descends through the vault and envelops the entire plinth. Lilith floats within, her body bathed in dazzling light. Her flesh begins to blaze in a crucible of ethereal fire. I can’t believe my eyes, for the old Adam is dissolving like a muddy pot. The head jolts and twists as Lilith assumes her proper orientation. Then her maleness melts away, like ice in the sun. The supernumerary limb withers into a dishevelled leaf that shatters into dust. Then the orb contracts as the Light Stream fades, and the crystal wands dim one by one. The impossible transformation is complete. Lilith stands to face us, yet even more bewitching than her daughter. She cries in ecstasy:
‘Behold! I am cured! The old Adam is dead! Gone! My appendage has been excised by the hands of the living God!’
She proffers her hands in welcome:
‘Brethren, be not afraid! Did you not come to be healed also?’
‘We did not!’ cries Odo. ‘We came to exorcise you!’
And with these words, he hurls a flask of holy water. The phial spins through the air and breaks on Lilith’s crown. She recoils and grins in mockery:
‘Ooo! Holy water. What shall I do? Curl up and die?’
But then her face suddenly darkens as the wands flicker into life. My sight is gravely afflicted, for it seems the entire chamber is now rendered in a negative light. What was yellow is now blue; what was green is red; and what was once dark is now bright. Then a black beam shoots forth from the central wand. It hits Lilith on the head and she falls upon the plinth, shrieking in agony. Her back arches high and she thrashes about like a spider on a hot stone. Her skin puckers as her bones mutate, swelling her joints into monstrous carbuncles. Her limbs crackle and creak as they inflate like bladders, beset with barbs and hideous granulations. Then her head swells like a rotten sow and her face blisters into boils. She lets out a shrill scream as a deep cleft forms down the middle of her skull, splaying her cheekbones into two. All at once, the black ray retreats and the crystal wands resume their positive aspect, flickering with rainbow light. There follows a long terrible silence. Then Lilith lets out a hideous wail and drops from the plinth like some protean mantis. Slowly, she quivers to her feet – a terrifying chimera of monstrous proportion. She shudders and pules:
‘I am undone!’
‘’Tis an abomination,’ cries Hique. ‘Do something Monsieur. Before it kills us all!’
I turn to my sergeant and cry.
‘Kill it! Stick her like a pig!’
The guards hurl their pikes but Lilith snatches them mid-flight and cuts them like twigs in her lethal claws. Then, with a wave of her arm, she sends me flying through the air. I fall in a heap beside Poufille who crawls off, sobbing in the shadows.
Lilith snarls and drools, her teeth gnashing in a horrible yellow foam. Blood oozes from her ears, eyes and nose. Her limbs begin to dislocate and twist in all directions until she crawls round the font like crab. Then her body rises of its own accord and floats above the plinth. She starts speaking in tongues, seething and growling and spitting. When I call the name of Jesus, she makes a reply of such derision that I dare not set it down…
She spasms in ferocious fits. Her body shakes with such rage that her teeth rattle and unearthly grunts are forced from her throat. Between these frenzies, her face is completely unrecognisable. A fire glows in her eyes and her tongue becomes prodigiously long and black, dangling from her mouth like a snake, gnarled, bitten and bloody. She stammers and lisps, then a thunderous voice comes from her chest, denouncing God in grave, grandiloquent terms.
Odo stammers a Pater Noster but Lilith jeers with satanic bursts of laughter:
‘Our mother, who art in Earth, hallowed be thy name!’
At once the lamps fly through the air, as if snatched by invisible hands; they shatter on the walls in explosive pops, their pools of light devoured by a horrible blackness. Only the ethereal glow of the wands remains, pulsing in sickly shades of green.
‘Be afraid of the dark!’ chatters Lilith. ‘For the cords of Hell encompass you; the shadow of Death is wrapped about you. No man shall escape the pit without first bowing down to me!’
Three times I charge against her, and strive to cut her down; but three times she flings me back with supernatural force. Odo hurls another phial and cries:
‘Be gone! In the name of Christ, I dispel you!’
She falls instantly, her body bent like a bow. She writhes upon the ground, screaming and clawing the font. She makes diabolic howlings that pierce the ears. A vile stench fills the air as she vomits clots of blood; a ball of hair; some copper nails – and half-digested beetles. A moment later she assumes the appearance of Death, her limbs stretched out stiff and cold. Then she gives up the ghost and parodies the Christ:
‘My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?’
Suddenly the wands begin to fade. One by one the crystals dim and shadows creep around the chamber.
‘To the disc!’ cries Odo.
‘But what of Jacques Vallin?’ ask I.
‘What of him?’ seethes Odo. ‘Him, her, it, whatever it was. In a few moments this whole place will be black as hell. To the disc! Or we are all dead men!’
We flee towards the ogive but just as we pass beneath, the entire pit is plunged into darkness. We fumble amid the stalagmites, groping for a way.
‘We have been abandoned by God,’ weeps Poufille. ‘We shall perish in the pit! Oh! We are condemned with the Titans, without reprieve or hope of salvation! Oh! Oh! We have transgressed and usurped the Creator’s will!’
‘Father Odo, I’m afraid,’ whimpers Lucas.
‘The disc is this way,’ mutters Bernard. ‘I’m sure of it…’
We follow his voice, groping in the mud, cursing and weeping.
‘Stay put!’ warns Jean. ‘To wander is suicide!’
‘I’ve lost my tinder,’ frets Odo. ‘I had a candle too, but that witch threw it away. Christ, we’re doomed…’
‘God willing, Lazarus will return and save us…’ says Jean.
‘Lazarus?’ seethes Hique. ‘What? You mean that evil witch? Save us? Save us? Are you mad? Fool! Don’t you see? ’Twas just a trap all along! You and your stupid balms! You should have left that devil to die in the snow. I warned you prior. I warned you! But you didn’t listen. I said Lazarus had the mark of Satan upon him. I said he was steeped in evil. His coming was our destruction!’
‘Enough!’ bawls Odo. ‘Hold your tongue Hique, or God help me, I’ll cut it out myself!’
His rage echoes down perpetual shafts. We fall silent and contemplate our fate. The cavern drips and drones with benthal winds.
‘We are lost forever!’ laments Poufille. ‘What did I do to deserve such an ungodly end? I always prayed for good, but now a great evil is come upon me… Oh! I should never have come down here!’
At length Nicaise whispers:
‘Be quiet. Listen…’
‘What is it?’ asks Odo.
‘Someone comes,’ replies Nicaise.
I cock an ear to the void. The monk is right: the faint sound of muffled footsteps echoes from afar.
‘Be still!’ warns Jean. ‘It might be Lilith.’
‘Nay, Lilith is dead,’ say I. ‘Dead.’
‘Perhaps she has risen again,’ whispers Jean.
‘Risen? Don’t be so absurd. I saw her corrupt flesh expire on the plinth.’
‘What are you saying?’ asks Jean. ‘That you believe it impossible for a dead body to rise again?’
‘That was different.’
‘How was it different?’ asks Jean. ‘There are cosmic forces at work. Titanic secrets. Do you pretend to know the extent of all preternatural wonders?’
‘There is naught but evil in this unhallowed pit. How can you compare the resurrection of Christ with that chimera? You saw what the Light Stream did to her!’
‘Silence!’ seethes Odo. ‘Silence all of you!’
The steps draw nearer, rising from abyssal depths with a slow measured pace. We remain huddled in a hollow, like animals in a ditch when a storm is raging. I feel the shoulder of a dwarf tremble against mine, his teeth chattering like cogs. So I wrap my arm about his head and clamp his jaw tight:
A dim light shimmers on the walls. We peer into the gloom as a distant flame leaps beyond the outer fosse. Rays poke between the stalactites, drawing the cavern into relief. I stand and beckon the others behind a bulwark. Stealthily, we draw our knives and wait in ambush. Then who should come round the corner but the maiden, singing:
There went out in the dawning light
The fairest mountain maiden;
Her flock so white, her staff so slight,
With fleecy new wool laden!
Small is the flock, and there you’ll see
The she-ass and the wether;
This goat’s a he, and that’s a she,
The bull-calf and the heifer!
She looked upon the green sward, where
A shepherd lay at leisure:
“What do you there, young sir, so fair?”
“Come, play with me, my treasure!” x
But before the maid is within striking distance, she stops and says:
‘I know you’re there Inquisitor. Do not try anything foolish, or I will leave you to die in the pit. Father Odo, you come out first…’
The prior steps forward and stutters:
‘What do you want with us?’
‘Fear not father Odo. I mean you no harm. Don’t you remember me?’
‘That’s not Lazarus’ seethes Bernard. ‘’Tis a witch from the dark wood! A whore of the black arts!’
The maiden turns away:
‘Very well. If you do not want my help, I will abandon you to darkness…’
‘Wait!’ cries Jean. ‘Shall you leave us to die in this bottomless hole? We have no lamp, not even a flint! Have pity. The Lazarus I knew would not leave his brethren to perish in Hades…’
‘Lazarus?’ scoffs Hique. ‘She claims she was Lazarus. But I do not believe that such a miraculous change can be accomplished in the gross kingdom of Nature. Not without demonic intervention…’
‘Be silent!’ snaps Jean. ‘Jacqueline came to help us!’
‘Indeed, I did brother Jean. Permit me to return you to the abbey. As for Hique and the inquisitor, they must remain here until I am safe.’
‘You can’t order me about!’ snaps Hique. ‘I’m going with the others. My god! I should have done you at the start, when I found you in the snow…’
‘What are you waiting for?’ ask I. ‘Kill her!’
Hique needs no encouragement; he draws his knife and snarls:
‘Prepare to die witch. I’m going to slice you up, just like your wretched weasel!’
‘Put that knife down!’ yells Odo. ‘You will condemn us all to death!’
Alas, the fat man is in no mood for reason; he seethes in fury, eyes scorching with hate as he lunges forward, slashing the air with his blade. But the maiden simply steps aside, and with a flick of her wrist, sends him high into the air. He hangs suspended for a moment, swimming in the dark, his vast bulk floating like a feather. Then the maiden rolls her eyes toward the vault. Immediately, Hique shoots up and is skewered like a sausage on a stalactite. The lance of stone cuts his spine in two, then bursts through his belly, gouging his innards and ripping his cowl. (I had witnessed many horrors in my time, and I myself had been the cause of great suffering. But for some inexplicable reason, I found it a pitiful sight to see him disembowelled like a hog). Hique gurgles a fountain of blood as his bulk falls from the lance and drops in the dust. He writhes in his gore then expires with a rattle, his bloodshot eyes fixed on the maiden.
‘The Lord has broken you to pieces: He hath struck you with his lance; He hath wounded your loins, and hath poured out your bowels upon the earth.’(xi)
Bernard grows pale and trembling; perspiration beads on his forehead; his breath comes in short sharp gasps; he pulls at his beard in anguish and cries:
‘She killed him! My poor brother Hique! She killed him!’
Terrified, we back towards the causeway where the disc drones in the shaft. But the maiden raises her hand and commands:
‘Halt. Only I control the disc. You shall not return to the surface without my blessing. Brethren, you have nothing else to fear. By the Virgin, I shall not harm a hair on your heads. But if I am to deliver you in safety, Inquisitor Bor must remain here.’
‘Here?’ ask I. ‘In this godforsaken pit? No! You cannot leave me! Guards, seize her!’
But the guards just scowl in contempt. The maid approaches and says softly:
‘I would lend you a rope, so that you might slip the noose over your miserable head, and die without the shame of an executioner—but even the gallows are too good for the likes of thee…’
‘I beg you! Don’t leave me alone in the pit! Have mercy! I’m afraid of the dark!’
She scowls and shakes her head:
‘Brethren, I pray you all bear witness that Inquisitor Bor meets his fate like a brave man. He has condemned young girls to the pyre—good Cathars, who died with more courage and faith in their little fingers than this cowardly Christian has in his whole body! … Have faith Bor: perhaps your men will return for you when I am gone.’
‘Return? How shall they return, when only you know the secret of the disk?’
She tosses her head and says to Odo:
‘All I ask is some food for my journey.’
‘Where will you go?’ asks he.
‘You needn’t concern yourself with my whereabouts. I am going far away from here.’
The thought of her escape makes my blood boil. I have searched high and low for this heretic. What shall the pope say of me, if I let her go? Once again, I turn to my guards and cry:
‘Seize her! Or face the wrath of Mother Church!’
But the sergeant refuses my order and signals Turpin and Gris to stand fast. The maiden leers:
‘Your soldiers show great sense. For if you kill me, you will all perish in the pit.’
Then she bids:
‘Bind him tight.’
To my utter dismay the guards obey, lashing my wrists with rope.
‘You fools!’ seethe I. ‘You cannot trust this agent of Satan: she will deceive you all!’
‘We have no choice,’ says Turpin. ‘Her magic is too great. Must we all be skewered like suckling pigs?’
‘I beg you! Please don’t leave me!’
‘We will return later,’ adds Gris. ‘When the witch has fled.’
‘Later? Do you expect me to believe that?’
The maiden grins:
‘Show some courage Inquisitor. What’s the matter? Do you not trust your own men to save you?’
‘I trust no man. Only God!’
‘You are lost to God,’ spits the maid.
She kicks me in the groin and I fall to my knees, eyes smarting with pain. She glares with malice, her face shimmering in a cold blue flame:
‘The Lord has suffered too long with your perversity. You profess to be Holy, but Satan is your master. The whole Inquisition is under His jurisdiction. Pride and cruelty reign supreme in your heart. God abhors your infernal sins. Men cannot see Heaven for the smoke of your pyres! But the thousands you condemned to hell-fire are now at peace with Christ. Poor fool. Did you really believe you would enter paradise, and dwell with the innocents you tortured and burnt? Where shall you wend at your last breath? Shall you ascend with songs of gladness into the city of God? Nay, you are doomed to Hell, because all your life, you were absorbed in trials of torture.’
Her words cannot be denied and the brethren know it. They glare in hate as I struggle in the mud:
‘Release me! You cannot condemn me to die!’
The maiden snorts with derision:
‘You condemned yourself. May you dwell in darkness the rest of your days. There is much treasure here—riches beyond your wildest dreams: veins of gold and chambers of precious gems that shine like the sun. Much use they will do you. You have always lived well – better than any churl could possibly desire. Well now you are richer than Solomon himself. What a pity that you shall spend your final days like a worm, crawling in the darkness. On the morrow, when I am far away, riding away over the green hills, with the sun upon my face, I shall think of you far below, lost, without a single ray of hope. Such a proud man. Your reputation is ruined. As far as the world is concerned, you are a coward who deserted his office, and left his men to die. No man shall know your fate. No part of your flesh shall escape this pit, save what the beetles carry away in their claws. But as you await your end, think of the maidens you burnt at the stake. Mon Dieu! I would set you aflame here and now, but Krew forbids it.’
She turns and leads the brethren away.
‘Come back!’ I cry. ‘You Cyclopean whore! Come back! Come back I say!’
The monks hurry at her heels, too concerned for their lives to heed my distress. My sergeant grins as he walks backward in the mud:
‘I must bid you farewell Monsieur. But do not expect me to return. If truth be told, I never liked you. Too many good people died on account of your vanity. Besides, if it wasn’t for you, none of us would have gotten into this mess…’
‘Come back! Come back you curs! Do not leave me to die in the dark! God will curse you all!’
But my words fall on deaf ears, and all I can do is watch as they wend toward the Titan shaft. I call Odo three times, threatening excommunication, but he ignores my plight and follows the maiden like a dog. Moments later, a flash of blue light flickers through the ogive. The disc drones as it gathers power, its sound quickly fading as it bolts toward the surface.
A blast of wind recoils down the shaft. Then the last crystal wand flickers out. Darkness engulfs the pit. And so I am orphaned in Tartarus with the Titans of the deep…
Copyright © Nicholas Shea 2010.
i. Genesis, 6:4.
ii. Genesis, 6:13.
iii. Joel, 2:4.
iv. Ezechiel, 28:13.
v. Ibid. The text of Ezechiel here refers to the king of Tyre, who by his natural perfection bore a resemblance to God. But this passage is commonly understood to mean Lucifer, the king of the angels of pride.
vi. Genesis, 1:26. God spoke in the plural number, to insinuate the plurality of the Deity.
vii. Lilith is quoting from ‘The Key of Solomon the King’. Section 1: ‘The Conjuration.’
viii. 1 Timothy, 4:1.
ix. Proverbs, 22:14.
x. Old French pastoral, circa 1300.
xi. Job, 16:13-15.
Note: all biblical references and spellings are from the Douey Rheims version.
Krystallos image montage by Nicholas Shea (from public domain sources).