Pagan's Scribe, p.10Catherine Jinks
‘Because Berengar was an extremely experienced hunter. It seems odd that he should have planted himself right in front of a wild boar and let it tear him to pieces. Very small pieces they were, too – or so I’ve heard. And no sign of his hunting sword.’
‘I’m not saying that it was murder. I’m just saying that it could have been.’ The Archdeacon narrows his eyes, squinting into the middle distance. ‘And knowing Jordan, it probably was.’
God have mercy upon us. Could this really be true?
‘But Father –why hasn’t he been punished?’
‘Oh, it’s not a thing that anyone can prove,’ the Archdeacon replies, with a careless wave of his hand. ‘It’s just a suspicion I happen to entertain, because of certain things he’s said. And certain things he’s done. He’s a very dangerous man, is Jordan. Very dangerous, and very clever. That’s why I want you to keep away from him.’ Glancing at me. ‘Is that clear?’
‘But I don’t understand.’ This doesn’t make sense. ‘If Lord Jordan is so bad, then why is Lord Roland so good?’
‘Oh, I wouldn’t say that Jordan is all bad . . .’ The Archdeacon’s voice fades, as he becomes lost in some distant memory. But it must trouble him, because he dismisses it with a shake of his head. ‘As far as I can tell, Roland takes after his mother. She was a noble, pious woman, and Roland was her favourite. She had a great deal of influence over him.’ Another pause. ‘As for the other two boys, they followed in their father’s footsteps.’
‘Lord Galhard’s footsteps, you mean?’
‘That’s right. Lord Galhard.’ The Archdeacon scowls: in clear, ringing tones he adds, ‘Lord Galhard was the most blackhearted butcher ever to soil the earth with his bloody crimes. May his soul be condemned, and may he spend eternity in the everlasting fires of Satan’s furnace.’
‘Hear, hear!’ Lord Jordan’s voice. ‘I couldn’t have put it better myself.’
By the blood of the Lamb! Where did he spring from? The Archdeacon nearly falls off his horse. He turns, and there’s Lord Jordan, coming up from behind. He’s riding the most magnificent black stallion, and wearing the most magnificent surcoat – red damask, lined with silk. He also wears an enormous sword and a glittering mail hauberk, and altogether looks like something unleashed by the breaking of the Seven Seals in the Book of Revelations.
Oh, but he’s a glorious sight. What a glorious, glorious sight! The earth shall quake before him, and the heavens shall tremble.
‘Discussing my family, Pagan?’ he says, in a genial sort of way. ‘Please do go on.’
‘My lord, I – I –’
‘It’s a fascinating subject, isn’t it? Have you told Isidore about the number of wives that Berengar managed to kill off? Or about the time my father tried to cut your tongue out?’ He lifts his eyes and raises his voice, addressing me over the Archdeacon’s head. ‘My father didn’t like Pagan’s choice of words, so he tried to cut his tongue out. Fortunately, I was able to prevent him from doing so.’
‘And I’ll always be grateful for that, my lord. Always,’ the Archdeacon mumbles, turning quite red. Whereupon Lord Jordan addresses me again.
‘I suppose you’ve been hearing all about Roland,’ he says. ‘About how brave and pious and chivalrous he is, and what a good singer he is, and how his piss turns to pure gold the moment it leaves his body.’ A sneer lifts one side of his mouth, displaying a full complement of small, pointed teeth. ‘Boring, isn’t it?’ he says.
‘My lord –!’
‘Oh, I’m so sorry, Pagan. God forbid that I should utter the slightest criticism of Saint Roland. I’ll say three “Our Fathers”, shall I? Or perhaps I should just nail myself to the nearest church door.’
The Archdeacon looks angry now. He’s sitting very straight in the saddle, and the sparks are practically shooting from his eyes.
‘I think that Isidore may have formed his own opinions about Roland, my lord,’ he says through his teeth. ‘I don’t think your views will affect them, based as they are on ill-will and prejudice.’
‘See what happens, Isidore? We get along quite well until we touch on the topic of Roland.’ Lord Jordan is riding with one hand on his hip: he looks so elegant and graceful, in those beautiful clothes. On that beautiful horse. ‘The secret is to steer clear of Roland, and talk about other people,’ he says. ‘Now this Abbot we’re going to meet – the one who seems to be running everything – what’s he like, for instance? Does anybody know him? I hear that he was down this way a couple of years ago.’
‘Yes, he was.’ The Archdeacon jumps at this opportunity to change the subject. ‘He came down here with the preaching mission. I met him several times.’
‘And what did you think?’
The Archdeacon makes a wry face. ‘Nothing very encouraging, my lord,’ he says. ‘Arnaud Amaury is a powerful man. He’s a cousin of the Viscount of Narbonne –’
‘Really? I didn’t know that.’
‘– and he was Abbot of Grandselve before he was appointed Abbot of Citeaux. Of course, Citeaux is one of the leading Cistercian monasteries, so Arnaud always has to have the last word.’ A sigh. ‘He tends to favour the fire-and–blood school of preaching.’
‘‘And the Lord will insert burning coals into your testicles, and roll them down into the Bottomless Pit’?’ Lord Jordan suggests, whereupon the Archdeacon giggles behind his hand.
‘Something like that,’ he agrees. ‘ ‘Repent, or thou shalt be smitten with the Boil and the Ear-worm.’’
‘And what about this papal legate?’ Lord Jordan raises an eyebrow. ‘Do we know anything about him?’
‘Nothing, I’m afraid. Except that he’s called Milo.’
‘Like the tribune who killed Clodius, and was defended by Cicero.’ I can’t help saying it: they both look at me as if I’m a giant mushroom growing out of the saddle.
‘Ye-e-es,’ the Archdeacon finally remarks, and turns back to Lord Jordan. ‘We must pray that this Milo is a reasonable man, because I tell you now that we can’t expect any moderation from Arnaud Amaury. He’s as vain as Venus, that fellow. Can’t bear to be defeated in anything. His preaching mission was a resounding failure, so he comes back here with half the population of Europe, to kick a few heads in. He’s a pushy, puerile, self-centred bully.’
‘Well, of course he is,’ Lord Jordan rejoins. ‘He’s a cleric, isn’t he?’
Lord God of my salvation! What a terrible thing to say! I hope the Archdeacon doesn’t let him get away with that.
But the Archdeacon just screws up his nose impatiently, as if he’s heard it all before.
‘So you’re going to start insulting me again –’
‘I simply want to point out that this is yet another example of what the Church so often produces. In fact I’ve developed a bit of a theory about it. I’ve been thinking that the tonsures might be to blame: they might be exposing the heads of young clerics to far too much sun. It’s addling their brains, you see.’
‘Ha ha ha.’
‘But I’m serious, Pagan! If God had meant us to wear tonsures, he would have made us bald from birth –’ Lord Jordan’s gaze has been wandering: suddenly he stops short, and bursts into a loud peal of laughter. ‘Oh, oh!’ he cries. ‘By the balls of Baal, will you look at that face? Have you ever seen anything so formidable?’ And he’s pointing at me.
He’s laughing at me!
How dare you! How dare you laugh! May you be delivered unto the famine and the pestilence, and may they bury you with the burial of an ass!
‘Don’t you approve of me, Isidore? No, don’t look away. Look me straight in the eye and tell me what you think.’ (He’s still laughing, the soulless murderer.) ‘Do you think I’m being too harsh on your Brothers in Christ?’
‘Leave him alone, Jordan.’
‘Or has Pagan been telling you tales, perhaps? Warning you about my vicious propensities?’
‘That’s enough, Jordan!’
‘Speaking of dogs –’ the Archdeacon begins angrily, but Lord Jordan doesn’t let him finish.
‘I know, I know, I’m a dog,’ he says. ‘A real boar-baiter.’
‘You’re a wasp!’ the Archdeacon splutters. ‘A hornet! Why don’t you go and bother someone else for a change?’
‘Because I enjoy your company.’ Lord Jordan has a devil’s smile: I can see that now. It’s sly and wolfish and full of malice, but when he turns it on the Archdeacon it’s full of something else, as well – something akin to sympathy. ‘You don’t know how much pleasure I get from bothering you, Pagan,’ he says. ‘It’s exactly the same pleasure as I get from pulling the wings off flies.’
The Archdeacon snorts. ‘Well, you’re not pulling the wings off this fly,’ he declares, and drums his heels on his horse’s flanks. ‘Come on, Isidore,’ he adds, as he surges forward. ‘I’ve got things to discuss with the Viscount. Important things. Can’t loll around here all day.’
Loll? Loll? If this is lolling, Father, I’d hate to see what you’d call a quick sprint.
Oh Lord, how tired I am. How very, very tired. My knees ache. My backside is numb. My spine feels as if it’s going to split down the middle. And we’ve only been riding a day!
How on earth am I going to last all the way to Montpellier?
20 July 1209
‘My lords. Although I appreciate the limitations of my natural ability, I cannot deny that my experience as an orator has been considerable. And whatever benefit can be extracted from any or all of my qualifications, I feel in duty bound to place it at the disposal of Lord Raymond Roger Trencavel.’
A good beginning. Modest and dignified, yet with just the right touch of authority. How does he manage to sound so confident? He looks very small, standing out there in the middle of all that space: a tiny black figure on a vast expanse of red-and-yellow tiles, dwarfed by the graceful pillars holding up the chapter-house roof. And what a chapter-house! How rich the cathedral of Montpellier must be! Stained glass in the windows. Vivid paintings on the walls. Tier upon tier of stone seats, all packed with people. I’ve never seen anything so magnificent. So impressive.
‘My lords,’ the Archdeacon continues, pointing at Lord Raymond, ‘I have known this young man since he was a tender child, so young and innocent that he could not tell the good from the bad. I was present when his father’s death laid the burden of manhood prematurely upon him; when the childish playthings were struck from his hands, and replaced by the sword of temporal authority. And I pitied, from the bottom of my heart, this virtuous boy, ardent in his pursuit of God’s holy word, yet abandoned to the care of wicked counsellors, false friends whose ways were slippery ways in the darkness. I mourned as I witnessed the snares they laid for him, the lies they told him. I mourned, but I blamed him not – for who can blame a child for the actions of those in whose care God has placed him?’
Lord Raymond is staring at the floor. He’s all dressed up in his finest clothes, blue and gold and purple: beside him, the Bishop of Carcassonne looks rather like a reliquary, so studded with precious stones that it’s a wonder he can move around. And there’s Lord Jordan, resplendent in jade-green silk, as proudly impassive as a stone prophet on a church doorway. He catches my eye, and winks.
‘My lords,’ the Archdeacon declares, ‘it was Jesus Christ, our lord and king, who said that a son is not guilty of the sins of his father – and if he said it, then we must agree, and anyone who condemns this doctrine must be in error. My lords, the Viscount played Jonathan to his father’s Saul: for as Saul pursued David, so this man’s father pursued the good Catholics of Carcassonne. And just as Jonathan said to David: ‘Fear not, for the hand of Saul my father shall not find thee’, so this man, since he became a man, has made his house safe for the true children of God.’
A rumble of disagreement from the Abbot of Citeaux. He’s a fine, big man, somewhat heavy around the middle, but still quick and active: he has iron-grey hair and a red face, made even redder by the white Cistercian robe he wears. His hands are enormous.
‘Archdeacon,’ he growls, ‘I think you have been misled. Lord Raymond’s sympathy for heretics is well known, and widely discussed. His lands are a refuge for every kind of depraved doctrine.’
‘Yes, now that’s very true, Archdeacon.’ The legate Milo is smaller and softer than the Abbot: even his voice is softer. His skin is sallow, and there are great dark circles under his eyes. ‘We’ve received many reports back in Rome,’ he says. ‘And when the preaching mission was sent to Carcassonne, two years back –’
‘My lords, if you doubt me, go to his house!’ The Archdeacon throws out his hands in a forceful, urgent gesture. ‘Search the rooms, empty the pots, uncover the beds!’ he cries. ‘Seek out the sons of Baal – the vessels of Satan – the foul brood of the Seven-headed Beast! You will not find them. Never, since his coming of age, has this man shared a word, a hearth or a meal with a heretic; never was a true pilgrim, engaged in a holy voyage, ever maltreated or robbed by him, or attacked by his followers. As a man, this man has not sinned. Who amongst you would dare to accuse him and claim that, although he has not sinned, he must lose land, rent and dues?’
The Archdeacon’s voice is so strong, so compelling, that I wish I could see his face. But his movements are very expressive: every line of his body seems to emphasise the message he’s delivering. I wonder if those heartfelt gestures are simply part of his technique? I wonder if they’re the sort of thing that Cicero would have used?
‘Whether Lord Raymond is a heretic or not is of no concern to us,’ the Abbot announces. ‘What concerns us is his territory. Carcassonne is a pest-hole of heretics. And Pope Lucius, may he rest in peace, declared many years ago that all receivers and defenders of heretics shall be subjected to the same punishment as heretics.’
‘My lord, you are unjust!’ The Archdeacon’s voice is like a crack of thunder. ‘I call upon you to prove your claims against the Viscount!’
‘I’m sorry, Archdeacon, but this is not a court,’ Milo interrupts. (He sounds very mild and calm and reasonable.) ‘We don’t have to prove anything here. Our Holy Father is quite satisfied that Lord Raymond is a sinner.’
‘And if he is a sinner – for are we not all sinners? – if he is a sinner, then surely it is our Holy Father’s duty to forgive his sin?’ The Archdeacon clasps his hands together: he adopts a pleading tone. ‘Was not the prodigal son forgiven? Did not Christ command us to forgive our brother, not seven times, but seventy times seven?’
Good point. That’s a very good point. But the Abbot waves it aside.
‘All priests forgive sin, in the name of God,’ he says. ‘But that doesn’t prevent them from chastising a sinner. Penances must be exacted, Archdeacon.’
And that’s true, too. What can be said against that?
The Archdeacon takes a deep breath, and ploughs on.
‘My lords, I am a priest myself,’ he declares. ‘I too have imposed penances upon many sinners. But never, never have my penances involved war and bloodshed. Are we not the shepherds of our Lord’s flock? Are we not spiritual descendents of the Apostles? And did not John of Salisbury, in his great book Policraticus, remind us that ‘he who is greater is to diminish himself voluntarily, and is to claim for himself the duties of ministry in preference to others, solely according to the law of peace, dissociated from power and conflict’?’
Oh yes. Oh yes, that’s so true. I can feel it in my heart, and I know it’s right. We are men of God, not men of war. How can anyone argue against such a holy truth?
The Abbot scowls terribly, and glares at the Archdeacon from beneath his bushy grey eyebrows.
‘Do you question our Holy Father?’ he growls.
But the Archdeacon has turned towards Milo. He lowers his voice, as if he wants only Milo to hear.
‘My lord,’ he says, ‘it seems to me that the Holy Father has been led astray by counsellors more concerned with their own worldly advancement than with the spiritual health of Christendom. The blessed Bernard of Clairvaux, in his De consideratione, gave good advice to Pope Eugenius when he said: ‘Tell me which seems to you the greater honour and greater power: to forgive sins or to divide estates? But there is no comparison. These base, worldly concerns have their own judges, the kings and princes of this world.’’ (A deep breath; a cough; a brief, quivering silence. The Archdeacon clenches his fists, and drives them into his chest by way of emphasis.) ‘My lord, Saint Peter himself – the Rock on which our Church was founded – thirsted for blood with fleshly desire, yet Christ bade him sheathe his sword. Should Peter’s successor unsheathe it?’
‘Who is more sinful than the man who casts the ministry of peace into quarrels and torment? What is the point of such great savagery? Does it lead to life? No, for its end is destruction. Does it lead to glory? No, for the glory of the men who unleash it is lost in confusion. Does it lead to this end: that they may be ennobled in flesh and blood? No, for flesh and blood will not possess the Kingdom of God!’
By the blood of the Lamb, what a great speaker he is. What a great, great orator. I never knew – I can hardly believe – he seems transformed, so much taller and nobler, so passionate and wise . . . Can this be his true self? Is this what’s hidden beneath those crude jokes, that swaggering disrespect? Oh, if only he were always like this! If he were always like this, I would follow him as I would follow a lighted candle. I would follow him gladly, for he would lead me in the paths of righteousness.
Pagan's Scribe by Catherine Jinks / Young Adult / Fantasy have rating 4 out of 5 / Based on32 votes