Pagan's Scribe, p.12Catherine Jinks
I’d better get into these clothes.
‘But I can’t just leave him here.’ The Archdeacon’s mournful accents. ‘Not without saying goodbye.’
‘You’ll have to.’ Lord Jordan sounds brisk and impatient. ‘There isn’t time to go running around looking for him.’
‘Pagan. Get off your arse and move. Move! Or you’ll never catch up!’
That’s done it. He can’t argue with an order like that. He turns away from Lord Jordan, and now it’s my turn to move – move, move, move! Hurry, Isidore, hurry! Dragging on the tunic, buckling the belt. Guichard hovering beside me, breathing into my ear. ‘Give me that. And that. And that,’ he says, snatching up my surplice. ‘I’ll see you in Béziers.’ Whereupon he slinks off into the darkness, and here I am, alone, wearing strange garments and sweating like a wineskin.
How did I ever come to this? Pinning my faith on a murderer? I must be out of my head.
The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want. Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.
21 July 1209
‘Wake up, Isidore, we’re here. I’m getting down.’
What? Where am I? Whose back is this? Someone’s fumbling at my fingers . . .
‘Let go, Isidore! By the balls of Baal, are you dead?’
That’s Lord Jordan. I know him. He’s all covered in sweat and dust. Why is he moving? Why is he sliding away?
I think I’ll just lie down on this saddle . . .
Leave me alone.
‘You can’t stay up there, boy. Come on, make an effort.’
I don’t want to make an effort. I don’t want to move. Let go, you’re hurting me – help! Help!
‘It’s all right.’ Lord Jordan’s voice, booming through his chest. ‘I’ve got you. Just hold on.’
‘I can’t walk . . .’
‘Yes you can. If you lean on me, you can walk.’
‘I want to lie down.’
‘You will. As soon as we get inside.’
Inside? Inside what? I don’t know this place. It’s like the bottom of a well, all stone walls and rubbish. It’s dark, too, though not as dark as – could that be –?
‘Is it morning?’
‘Are we in Béziers?’
‘Yes, we are.’ Lord Jordan’s chest is shaking now. Is he coughing? No, he’s laughing.
‘Can I go to bed, then?’
‘Not here you can’t. No, Isidore. No. Wait till we get inside.’
‘I don’t feel well. I want to lie down.’
‘So do we all.’ He keeps nudging at me with his hip and his foot. His arm is like a rod of iron. And what’s this? I’ve got the wrong clothes on. These aren’t my clothes.
God, I feel terrible.
Who said that? That’s not Lord Jordan. My eyes are all gummed up: everything’s so murky, and my head is throbbing.
’ Oh, I see. It’s the Archdeacon. He’s all dusty, too, all sweaty and dusty.
I wish he wouldn’t shout like that.
‘You – you –’
‘Calm down, Pagan.’
‘How dare you!’
‘It wasn’t my idea.’ Lord Jordan’s voice is husky with fatigue. ‘It was his idea.’
‘Guichard? Oh, he’s around somewhere. Keeping well out of the way.’
‘You’re the lowest – you miserable –’
‘Pagan, the poor boy didn’t want to stay with your Bishop. Is that my fault?’
‘Let him go!’
‘I wouldn’t advise it –’
‘Let him go!’
Whoops! Ouch! God, it’s so good to stop moving. How cool and solid the earth feels . . .
‘See?’ Lord Jordan’s voice, way above my head somewhere. ‘I told you.’
‘What have you done to him?’
‘Oh, grow up, Pagan –’
‘He’s tired. So am I. So are you.’ The scraping of boots on gravel. ‘Why don’t you have a drink, and lie down? It might cool you off a bit.’
‘I can’t. The Viscount needs me.’ Someone’s hand, tapping my face. ‘Isidore? Are you all right? Isidore!’
Oh, go away.
‘Needs you for what?’ (Lord Jordan.) ‘What does the Viscount need you for? Where is he, anyhow?’
‘He’s gone off to meet the citizens.’
‘To tell them to stand and fight?’
‘Yes, I think so. Isidore! You’re going to regret this, my lord.’
‘Oh, I already have. Several times.’ Soft laughter: something pokes me in the ribs. ‘This has been the worst ride of my long and varied existence. Come on, Isidore, up you get.’
‘No! Leave him!’
‘Pagan.’ A quick, impatient sigh. ‘If I leave him, he’ll be sleeping right here, on a bed of horse-dung. Is that what you want?’
‘I’ll take care of him myself.’
‘And the Viscount? What about the Viscount?’ (Drawling sarcastically.) ‘Shall I tell him that you’re occupied?’
Pause. There’s a fly on my lip – I can feel it there – but I don’t have the strength to flap it away. I don’t have the strength to move at all.
I’m going to stay here for ever.
‘Don’t worry,’ Lord Jordan continues. ‘I’ll put him to bed. He can have my blanket.’
‘Be careful. He’s not strong.’
‘You’re telling me.’
A grunt. A sigh. Somebody’s knees crack like nutshells. No! What are you doing?
‘Let go . . .!’
‘Sorry, Isidore.’ It’s Lord Jordan again. ‘You can’t stay here, you’ll get stepped on.’
‘It’s all right, Isidore.’ (The Archdeacon.) ‘I’ll be back soon.’
‘Lord Jordan will put you to bed. Just get some sleep, and we’ll discuss this later.’
Discuss what? The ground is lurching again – no, it’s me – no, it’s my stomach. If you don’t put me down, Lord Jordan, I’m going to be sick.
‘I’m going to be sick.’
Oaagh. Yurk. Retching. Heaving. God – O God, I am poured out like water, and all my bones are out of joint. My heart is like wax, it is melted in the midst of my bowels.
‘Guichard! Thank Christ. Get some water, quick!’
My strength is dried up like a potsherd, and my tongue cleaveth to my jaws, and thou hast brought me into the dust of death, O God . . .
‘Finished, now?’ A damp cloth, wiping my face. ‘By the balls of Baal, you’re a delightful travelling companion. No wonder Pagan wanted to leave you with the Bishop.’
‘I’m sorry, my lord.’
‘So am I. Come on, up you get. Not much further. Guichard, take his other arm.’
Are we inside? Yes, we are inside. There’s a stone floor, and stone steps – one step, two steps, three steps, four – and a window, and more steps . . .
Someone brushes past, going in the opposite direction.
‘They’re putting down straw in the chapel,’ Guichard observes. ‘In the chapel and the kitchen and the guardroom. I heard the steward say so.’
‘Then I’m sure we can find a place.’
‘How long will we be here, my lord?’
‘At a guess, about as long as it takes the Viscount to persuade this city that it’s on its own.’
‘You don’t think he’ll stay here? To fight the crusaders?’
‘I’d be astonished if he did. Carcassonne is by far the biggest prize in his possession. If Béziers falls, there’s always Carcassonne. But if Carcassonne falls . . . we’re finished.’ Lord Jordan sigh
A grunt from Guichard. This is all so confusing. Where are we now? The stairs have ended, but the corridors seem to go on for ever: corridors smelling of smoke and urine, full of people curled up on the floor. My throat is burning. I need a drink.
‘I need a drink . . .’
‘You’ll get one. Be patient. Jesus, I’m lost –’
‘This way, my lord.’
A long, high room with an altar at one end. Candlesticks. A font. The four beasts of the Apocalypse, painted above a window in red and blue and gold.
People strewn all over the place, like bundles.
‘There you go.’ The supports are withdrawn – my knees can’t take it – suddenly I’m down again; down, down, down. Straw prickling my face, blanket across my shoulders.
Bliss. What bliss.
‘Right!’ (Lord Jordan’s voice.) ‘I’m going to find myself something to eat. What did you do with the horses, Guichard?’
‘I left them with that steward –’
‘Then I’ll go and make sure he’s looking after them. Meanwhile, you’d better see if you can scare up a drink for this poor little puppy.’
‘I’m not a puppy.’
‘Shut up, Isidore. And maybe some milk, or some broth. Something that’s easy to swallow.’
‘Yes, my lord.’
‘I’ll come and get you when it’s time to leave for Carcassonne.’
What’s that noise? It sounds like a wood-saw. No, it’s a dog. No, it’s somebody snoring. How strange it is: all these people, going to bed at sunrise. Everyone else will be getting up now. They’ll be getting up at Merioc – Mengarde will be stoking the fire, and Father Fulbert will be washing his face. How far away it seems. Years and years and years ago . . . Ernoul’s hair . . . ringing the bell . . . vegetables left on the front steps . . .
Leering faces and pointing fingers.
‘Isidore.’ Somebody’s poking me. ‘Isidore.’
‘Do you want a drink, or don’t you?’
A drink! Where? It’s Guichard, and he’s got a wineskin. Praise ye the Lord!
‘Take it easy – you’ll spill it.’
Praise ye the Lord for wine that maketh glad the heart of man. Oh, my throat. Oh, that’s good. Lord Jordan has disappeared; Guichard is shaking his head at me.
‘God, but you’re a mess. Look at what you’ve done to my tunic.’
‘Thank you. Thank you, Guichard.’
‘Don’t thank me. I didn’t bring you here.’ He sticks the rag back into the wineskin. ‘Speaking of which, you want to watch yourself, my friend. His majesty doesn’t do favours for nothing, you know.’
Aaah. That’s better. I can go to sleep now.
‘Isidore? Are you listening?’ (Ouch! Don’t poke me like that!) ‘A word in your ear, chum. You want to mind Lord Jordan: he’s a Ganymede. And it shows, sometimes. Especially when he’s drunk.’
‘Hnnn . . .’
‘Just don’t say I didn’t warn you. All right?’
Warn me. Yes. You warn me . . . tomorrow . . . get up . . . I’m here . . .
22 July 1209
Hallelujah! The walls of Carcassonne! I thought we’d never make it. I can’t believe we’re here. Blessed be the Lord my strength; my goodness and my fortress; my high tower and my deliverer; my shield and he in whom I trust. Lift up your hands in the sanctuary, and bless the Lord.
All around us, murmurs of joy and thanksgiving. Even from the Cathars. Even from the Jews. At least, I suppose that’s what the Jews are saying: I don’t know their language, so I can only judge from their smiles, and from the way they move their hands. It’s the first time they’ve smiled since we left Béziers – I suppose they must be sad to leave their homes behind.
Still, they should be used to it by now. Didn’t God condemn them to wander in the wilderness? They’re like the harts that find no pasture. (‘O ye children of Benjamin, gather yourselves to flee out of the midst of Jerusalem.’) I’ve never seen a Jew before. They’re not quite what I expected. I thought they’d be bigger, somehow: bigger and louder and more richly dressed. Somebody once told me that Jews smell bad, but these ones seem to smell just like ordinary people.
Even so, it would be easy to spot them in a crowd. I suppose that’s why the Viscount brought them along: to get them out of Béziers before the crusaders arrive. If the crusaders are trying to kill all the heretics, then they’ll probably try to kill the Jews as well. In fact they might even mistake the Jews for heretics.
I would have done that myself, if Lord Jordan hadn’t corrected me.
‘Aaagh, Jesus.’ He’s shifting in the saddle. I can feel his bones grinding as he stretches and flexes and straightens his spine. ‘I’m too old for this sort of thing. I should have stayed at home, with my granddaughter.’
No response from the Archdeacon. He looks very tired. I wish he’d say something – even something sarcastic. It feels so wrong, to have spent half the day beside him without exchanging a single word. He must be sick. Either sick or angry.
I hope he’s not angry. That would be awful. But he wasn’t angry last night . . . at least, I don’t think he was. I don’t seem to remember much about last night, except that the Archdeacon brought me some milk and dumplings. He wouldn’t have done that if he was angry, would he? Oh, if only his horse was strong enough to support us both! It’s impossible to talk to him from way up here, behind Lord Jordan. Because I know he doesn’t trust Lord Jordan. And I know that he must be angry – of course he must – but is he very angry, or just a little bit cross? I wish I could tell. I wish he would say something.
‘As soon as I get back, I’m going to light a candle,’ Lord Jordan observes. ‘I’m going to light a candle to the patron saint of horses – whoever that might be.’
‘Thank you, Isidore. I’m going to light a candle to Saint Hippolytus, in gratitude for the strength of my beautiful Michelet.’ He strokes his horse’s neck. ‘I really wondered if this would be his last ride, but he’s borne it like a rock. Like a rock in a storm.’
Still not a word from the Archdeacon. He’s peering ahead, at the towering walls of Carcassonne, as we advance into their long, cool shadow. Jagged battlements rear up against the sunset; smoke rises from a thousand kitchen fires. A shepherd by the roadside stops and stares, dazzled by the procession of flags and swords and horses, which is loose and straggling, now, strung out along the road for quite some distance. And of course I’m stuck right at the very end, because Michelet is overloaded. I can’t even see the Viscount from back here: only Guichard’s hunched shoulders, jolting along in front of us, and the bald-headed Jew who’s riding in front of him.
Guichard. He said something to me yesterday. Something about Lord Jordan being a Ganymede. I wonder what he meant by that? Ganymede was Zeus’s cup-bearer in Olympus, but I don’t see what he’s got to do with Lord Jordan. Unless it’s a vulgarism? Perhaps ‘Ganymede’ is another word for ‘drunkard’. That could be it. The way you’d say ‘he’s an Achilles’ when you want to say ‘he’s very brave’.
I’ll have to refer it to the Archdeacon.
‘God, but I could do with a drink,’ Lord Jordan mutters. ‘A drink and a sleep and a good, solid meal.’ He yawns until his jaw cracks. ‘What about you, Pagan? Care to empty a cask this evening? It’s been a long time since we did that.’
‘I’m busy,’ the Archdeacon replies. Praise be to God! He actually spoke! But he doesn’t sound too cheerful. Lord Jordan makes an impatient noise.
‘Busy?’ he says. ‘Doing what?’
The Archdeacon turns his head. His eyes are bloodshot, his beard untrimmed. He squin
‘Is that your job?’
‘Of course it is! I’m the Bishop’s deputy. And the Bishop isn’t with us any more.’
‘Ah. Of course he isn’t.’ Lord Jordan’s voice becomes smoother and slower, the way it always does when he’s amused. I can’t see his face, but I’m sure he’s smiling. ‘What a fine chance this is for you, Pagan,’ he says. ‘It hadn’t occurred to me before. Will you be moving into the Bishop’s palace?’
‘Don’t be ridiculous.’
‘Oh, but you should, you really should. Think of the cellars there. Think of the kitchens. Think of all your faithful friends –’
‘I’ve got far more important things to think about!’ the Archdeacon snaps. And suddenly, here’s the gate – the Aude Gate – and we’re surrounded by hordes of people. Where did they come from? What are they doing here? All kinds of people, men and women, pushing and shouting and snatching at our feet, tugging at our clothes, straining to catch our attention. The noise is thunderous.
‘My lord! My lord, what news?’
‘Are they coming?’
‘God help us!’
So many voices, wailing like dragons and mourning like owls. So many faces, as desolate as the waters of Nimrim. Lord Jordan kicks off a clinging hand and urges his mount forward: he’s cursing to himself, under his breath.
‘Friends, have courage!’ It’s the Archdeacon. He sounds tired and hoarse, but authoritative. ‘The northerners are far away. Béziers stands between them and this city. Your Viscount is a brave warrior, with many valorous subjects. Be calm, and return to your homes.’
A surge of noise: questions and pleas and protests. Oh, why don’t they listen to him? He frowns, and tries again.
‘Return to your homes!’ he cries. ‘Are you men and women, or feeble children? Arm yourselves with hope, and strength, and trust in God, for the Scriptures tell us that the just man, fearless as a lion, shall be without dread.’ He points, suddenly, and his words cut the air like a knife. ‘Take that woman away!’ he orders. ‘She’ll miscarry, if you keep pushing her about like that! Haven’t you people any sense?’
Pagan's Scribe by Catherine Jinks / Young Adult / Fantasy have rating 4 out of 5 / Based on32 votes