Perhaps it was pride that nurtured my displeasure in my task to weed and dung our young crop of turnips. What I truly wanted was to labor in the library. I was a skilled calligrapher—the chancellor of the library had said so himself . . . and the abbot had said that working in the fields brought us the blessing of humility. I sighed with the realization that my pride had caused me to stray into sin, and I made a mental note for evening confession. Father, I have been guilty of prideful thoughts . . .
My wandering mind and also my work were halted by the approach of a brightly painted, horse-drawn, four-wheeled cart. The occupants inside were unseen, protected by heavy curtains that draped across the cart’s openings. The cart was escorted both before and behind by ten mailed soldiers mounted on fine horses. Each soldier bore a red cross on his doublet; the mark of the Church.
The procession halted near the entrance to the walled enclosure surrounding our monastery and one of the cart drivers quickly scooted from his perch to release the catch on a hinged door. A hand parted the curtains and a man stepped from the cart, followed by three others, Dominicans by the color of their robes.
The first man, though small, moved with grace and energy, his movements emboldened by an ornately crafted staff which he thrust out before him, an obvious emblem of his authority outdone only by the richness of his apparel.
I did not recognize our visitor, but others of my brethren working alongside me whispered, "Dimanche," and a chill coursed through my body; the name I did know.
Monsieur Vincent Dimanche was a man of some repute as Inquisitor haereticae pravitatis, or, in the language of the common folk, "inquisitor into heretical depravity."
Even here among our simple Franciscan Brotherhood, Dimanche’s warrior monks flanked him defensively; I had heard the stories of previous tragedy that had taught the Dominican inquisitors not to entrust their lives to men whose loyalty was bought by money. These men of both God and the sword would surely protect the Dominicans from all hazards—hazards which too often meant individuals who had cause to view the Inquisition unfavorably.
Dimanche summoned our Franciscan brotherhood to the covered walk of the cloister and there in the shaded protection from the heat of the summer sun he boldly declared his juridical authority as granted him by the Holy See. "In the name of the Holy Church I declare Inquisitio Generalis. In the land and villages round about you are individuals who stand accused of heresy. Some are denounced as being relapsed heretics." As he continued, he began punctuating his words with sharp gestures from his hands. His eyes and face alighted with a wildly excited expression. "Though these be lambs of God who are weak of will and spirit, the Mother Church has love for them all, and has entrusted them to my care. It is the Lord’s will that we have compassion on their souls, that we give them the Lord’s charity and bring them to repentance lest they be condemned to the fires of hell for all eternity!"
His mouth uttered words of love, charity, compassion, but his dark, wild eyes betrayed darker emotions. I was troubled by an uneasiness, deep in the belly, and hoped that Dimanche and his Dominican inquisitors would soon depart and leave us to the quiet seclusion of our monastery.
My hopes were shattered when Dimanche announced his need of Franciscan brothers to serve as scribes to record the trials.
I was chosen to serve as scribe to Dimanche himself.
* * * *
The initial citations, ordered after the written testimony of local pastors made accusations of heresy, resulted in the arrest of six people, all accused of practicing the corrupted rites of Catharism, having a belief in dual gods, a good and perfect god who reigned in heaven and an evil god who created and reigned over the material world. For most of those arrested, their fearful willingness to cooperate with the inquisitorial authorities yielded many more incriminations, and more arrests. All those arrested faced lengthy interrogation by the Dominican inquisitors. At the end of four weeks, my Franciscan brothers and myself had recorded the lengthy depositions of almost six hundred people.
Most of the accused confessed and abjured their heresy and received penance. Some were light: daily prayers, fasting, scourging. Some were required to make yearly pilgrimages to distant holy places. Some had their homes destroyed or had their property confiscated by the Church. Some were condemned to lengthy prison sentences.
There were two who would not confess. They were old, a man and a woman, widower and widow. Local church records showed that the woman was a relapsed heretic, having been convicted and completing penance years earlier.
The Dominicans brought the unrepentant and forced them to kneel before Dimanche, who stood before them in all his finery and glowered at each in turn. "It is my humble task," he quietly stated, "to bring you the charity of God. Come, I offer you one last chance to come unto the Almighty. Save your souls, confess and abjure your heresy and offer penance that you might return to the fold of the Church."
Dimanche’s words seemed full of love and piety, and I could almost believe in his sincerity if I were unable to also view the harshness of his countenance and demeanor.
Bolstered, I think, by Dimanche’s obvious hostility, the old man and woman were firm in their refusal to abjure their heresy.
"Sometimes harsh measures are required to cure the sick," Dimanche stated coolly. "It is better that the unrepentant pay for their sins in the flesh, that they may be saved in spirit. The sentence is death at the stake."
The stooped, old woman awkwardly struggled to her feet. "Your evil shall not destroy my soul!" she cried. "You are proof for all to see that the god of evil created and reigns over the material world, for what perfectly loving god of heaven would allow such horrible evil as your Inquisition?"
The woman could say no more as Dimanche rushed to her and clubbed her into silence with his staff. He ceased his assault when blood flowed freely over her face from her gashed scalp. "It is God’s will," he seethed, "that you utter no further blasphemy." Dimanche’s anger quickly hardened to a stony visage. "Seek your salvation in death."
The old man and woman were burned at the stake the next day, the fiery spectacle attended by a multitude of people who lived in the region.
"See God’s justice!" Dimanche shouted over the crackle of the fires and the screams of the burning victims. "See the consuming flame of righteousness! It is great and pleasing unto God!"
* * * *
Late in the afternoon following the burning, Dimanche’s warrior monks brought before the chief inquisitor a newly accused man who lived alone in an outlying region.
He was a large, well muscled man, a simple, peasant farmer. For all his obvious strength, the man offered no resistance, only meekness, his head bowed, his eyes downcast.
Dimanche stepped closer to the large man. Unable to clearly see the face of the accused, the inquisitor placed a hand under the man’s chin and lifted his head.
I was entirely surprised by Dimanche’s response at seeing the man’s plain and unremarkable features—Dimanche abruptly stepped back, his face draining of color; he appeared afraid. Then his tense visage relaxed and a sneer slowly widened his lips. "Chain this man in manacles, hands and feet. I will conduct his interrogation myself."
The interrogation commenced in the privacy of the monastery’s chapter house, our place of official business. As in many days of the past weeks, I would be absent from afternoon service and would likely miss supper as well; Dimanche did not interrupt interrogation for the weaknesses of the body.
Strangely, there was no other of Dimanche’s staff present. Because we Franciscans were increasing required to assist the Dominican inquisitors, I had some knowledge of the proceedings of the Inquisition and new that papal law required there be at least one other of the Inquisition as witness, but my fear of Dimanche crushed all willpower to speak of it.
The name of the accused was Bertrand Callot. He tilled the soil of the local lord and worked a small plot of land that he had acquired for himself. He had no family. He refused to respond to questions concerning the accusation of heresy—no hostility, no resistance—he simply bowed his head and looked at the floor.
It was oddly out of character that Dimanche lacked the arrogant smugness he had displayed in previous interrogations. I could not surmise what it was about the gentle, soft spoken nature of Callot that made Dimanche less sure of himself.
Then the steely edge I remembered returned to Dimanche’s voice. "You are not Bertrand Callot. You are Bertrand Furet." A hint of a smile tainted by menace curled Dimanche’s lips. "We were once friends. It has been a long time, old friend." There was nothing friendly in Dimanche’s words, an observation supported by the sudden pallid color of Callot’s cheeks.
A sudden, overpowering sense washed over me—this Bertrand Callot—Furet—was going to die a horrible death. And I knew—I don’t know how—that it would not be God’s justice.
"Please—please forgive my intrusion," I stammered, hoping I might interfere in the proceedings, "but, are you not required to have another inquisitor present to witness the interrogation?"
Dimanche stared at me as if he only then realized I was present. His expression darkened, as if my apparently sudden presence angered him. Then he smiled and gestured toward Callot.
"Ah, my dear Franciscan brother, there is another inquisitor among us." His smile became a sneer when he turned his gaze to Callot. "You see, Bertrand Callot, or rather, Bertrand Furet, is also an inquisitor—or was before he condemned the work of saving lost souls, denied the one true faith, and hid himself away."
Callot remained silent. His gaze did not rise from the stones at his feet.
* * * *
For three days Dimanche zealously pursued his interrogation. I found it odd that the interrogation did not follow the inquisitorial pattern. Dimanche made no mention of Callot’s failure to satisfy legal obligation to make confession to his parish priest and receive Holy Communion at least once a year at Easter-tide—indeed, it was this very failure that caused the local pastor to denounce him. Instead, I repeatedly recorded Dimanche’s command, "Confess, and return to the service of our Lord and master, and all will be well."
Poor Callot was required to stand on the same stones all day, his arms and legs bound in chains. He was allowed no food and only a cup of water each day to sustain him. He was required to sleep standing in the corner. When he slipped deeply enough into slumber that he sagged to the floor, his guards beat him until he again rose to his feet.
Near the end of the third day Dimanche became livid.
"Ah, old friend," Dimanche whispered through clenched teeth. "By your choice you bring us to judicium seculare."
As a youth I had witnessed the murder of a solitary traveler. The attack was blamed on bandits. But I had recognized some of the men. They were locals, farmers, preying on a lone stranger who could not defend himself. They had clubbed and stabbed the man repeatedly, rending his flesh and crushing his body. It was an act of dreadful wickedness. The memory brought an anxious ache to my stomach.
I dropped my quill, ignoring the ink spatter, and gaped at Callot as his bruised and exhausted body swayed back and forth. He did not lift his chin from his chest, and his swollen eyes remained closed, as if he had not even heard.
The ache in my stomach enlarged as I rose to my feet. "Monsieur—please forgive me," I said quickly, the quaver in my voice betraying my anxiety. "It is my knowledge that torture is approved by the Holy See for use only in Italy. It would not be legal—"
"My Franciscan brother," Dimanche interrupted, his words a facade of pleasantness, "you are not entirely well informed in the law. You are unaware that Church law now allows the use of torture in France as well as all other lands ministered to by God’s servants in their humble task to extirpate heresy."
Dimanche’s polite smile and flowery words did nothing to ease the tremble in my limbs or the swelling that rose in my throat.
* * * *
Callot lay before the blazing fireplace, his limbs chained, his body firmly gripped by four soldier monks while a fifth monk slathered warmed pig fat over his feet.
"The ordeal of fire can be avoided, my brother," Dimanche quietly soothed. "Confess your guilt, admit your true character. Return to the service of our Lord and master."
Callot stared at the ceiling with one half-opened eye, the closed eye bruised and swollen. He offered no reply to Dimanche, and no resistance to the monks who confined him.
"Very well," Dimanche said. Then, to the armed monks, "Proceed."
The monks dragged Callot the few feet to the blazing fire and held his feet inches from the flames.
Callot gasped, and—finally—fought against his captors. He screamed, agony etched in his contorted face as he twisted and jerked his body, but he was unable to free himself or wrench his feet from the heat of the fire. His screams were broken only by quick, sharp inhalations of breath that gave him wind to scream again. His feet turned red, blistered, then browned, literally frying as the pig fat smoked and sizzled.
I squeezed my eyelids shut and covered my ears, but was unable to free myself from the agonizing screams, from the smell, from the horror. I purged the contents of my stomach, then settled to the floor near fainting.
It was soon over. Callot had passed from consciousness.
I opened my eyes to see Dimanche looming over me. His gaze was like a bolt of fire, so hot was the anger present in his eyes. "Do you shirk your duty as scribe, my Franciscan brother?"
His voice evinced such venom that I immediately arose from the stone floor and settled into the chair that I may record in ink whatever was necessary as scribe, though my hands trembled terribly.
"Record that the torture is interrupted, and will continue tomorrow morning. Mind you, scribe, record it just as I have said."
I made the entry in somewhat shaky handwriting, careful to note interrupted and continue, as I had been instructed; I was very much aware that Church law allowed the accused to be tortured only once.
* * * *
"Monsieur, I have brought water," I whispered. Callot’s eyes were closed, but I knew by the way he clenched and relaxed his fingers that he did not sleep. He was, at least, allowed to lie down, as he was no longer able to stand on his injured feet. The burns were severe. I doubted he would survive them unless the feet were amputated.
Callot opened his eyes, even the swollen one, and gazed sadly upon me.
I helped him to lift his head and shoulders enough that he could drink. From within my robe I produced a small piece of cheese and a portion of a bread loaf. "I have food, monsieur. The guards have become careless. They no longer search me when I bring water."
It was dark, late evening, but the single burning candle cast sufficient light for me to see Callot shake his head.
He wanted death. I was suddenly sure of it—I could see it in his face, even in the dim light. In my heart it felt—wrong. Would suffering and death truly serve God’s justice? Was it pride that kept him from penance? Was it sin?
"Please, monsieur, abjure!" I pleaded. "Seek penance and live!"
Callot slowly shook his head again, sadness still heavy in his features. "Abjuring will not save me from God."
"If you abjure and return to the Church—"
"No," he interrupted, laying a hand on my forearm. "Brother, you must understand this. Returning to the Church, to the Inquisition, would not save me from God’s justice. It would instead condemn me forever."
I did not understand. I had no love of the Inquisition, but that was a dark thought I kept hidden from the light of day—for who was I, a lowly sinner pledged to the simple life of a monk’s habit, that I should pass judgment on Church law—law that was ordained by the Holy See?
"Not all men who wear the robes of the Church seek to do God’s will, my Franciscan brother."
I shook my head fervently, wary of the accusation of heresy—simply failing to flee from such conversation was sufficient to draw the attentions of the Inquisition. I meant to draw away, but Callot’s hand clasped my arm firmly before I could retreat from him.
"Serve God in all the paths of your life, brother. But never walk the path that Dimanche and others like him would offer you."
Callot’s words felt . . . right. Could it be so wrong that he would chose a path other than that of the Inquisition? I was overcome with an urgent need to spare him from further molestation by Dimanche—to see that he lived. "Monsieur, I can get you out of here. Tonight. You can be hidden away until the Dominicans leave—"
Callot’s grip tightened on my arm with a strength I would not have believed he possessed. "I can not escape my fate, Franciscan, though I have feared it, hiding, waiting. Long have I tarried with little purpose, waiting for Dimanche or another like him to discover me."
Callot’s good eye widened, his expression tense. He rolled onto one shoulder and pushed himself up until supported on one elbow. "You can not help me, and you must not interfere, no matter what Dimanche does." Callot settled back to the floor, his sudden energy quickly gone, his face a mask of sadness. "You need only understand this, brother. I have caused many to suffer and to die in the name of the Inquisition. So I ask: what other penance might God accept, but for me to suffer and die by that same Inquisition?"
"You are of the Church—you know you are a child of God!" I exclaimed in a loud and energetic whisper. "You are saved by His grace! You need only repent—not suffer unto death!"
Callot closed his eyes and turned his face away. "No. There are things you do not understand, things you can not understand." He sighed, shaking his head yet again. "I am exempt from grace, even salvation. My only hope is to offer penance in death."
Incredulous, I found I could find no words. I began to fear that Callot was mad.
* * * *
In the early morning, Callot was roused from a slumber that only sheer exhaustion could provide, such was the pain he must have endured from his burned, swollen feet.
Again Dimanche demanded that Callot confess his heresy. Again Callot was unresponsive.
"It will be stivaletto, my brother," Dimanche whispered. There was sadness in his voice, but the gleam in his eyes and the slight upturn of his lips suggested anticipation. "Then we shall see if you will not confess and beg the mercy of our Lord."
Callot appeared as if he had not even heard. But I knew he had, knew that he was resigned to whatever Dimanche did to him, even unto death.
The armed monks brought rope and four thick, sturdy boards and tightly bound them along the sides of one of Callot’s legs, two boards on each side. Then they drove iron wedges between two of the boards; the pressure on the cords was such that they cut into flesh.
Callot closed his eyes, his jaw clamped shut by firm muscles.
"More," Dimanche quietly ordered.
Wedges were driven between the other two boards, increasing the pressure on bone and flesh. As the monks hammered at the wedges, blood flowed from split flesh and puddled under Callot’s leg, slowly running along the cracks between the floor stones.
Callot gasped, then moaned, his clenched and trembling fists jangling the chains that bound them.
Dimanche grasped the mallet and tugged it from the hand of the monk who held it. "Everyone is to leave. I will complete this task alone."
Dimanche’s demeanor frightened me. The wildness I had seen when the heretics were burned was back in his eyes, made more menacing by the curl of his lips. He would soon bring about Callot’s death, I was sure of it. And Callot would do nothing to stop it.
"Monsieur, you can not do that," I said. I tried to sound firm, but my words were hardly more than a whisper. "The law forbids inquisitors from applying torture with their own hands. You can not—"
"Do not be concerned, my Franciscan brother. I will be absolved for my humble service."
Dimanche did not even look at me as he spoke. His eyes, his wide, wild eyes were locked onto the pitiful, pained form of Callot.
The monks wordlessly left the chapter house, the sound of their booted feet and the clinking of their accoutrements fading as they traversed the hallway leading to the parlor.
I could not leave. The law required witnesses to all inquisitorial proceedings. There were none. The law required a record kept of all proceedings. There would be none if I turned away. I closed the heavy wooden door, then stood quietly in the shadows.
Dimanche settled to his knees next to Callot’s head. "My old friend, you are not Bertrand Callot. You are not even Bertrand Furet. Claim the form that was given you by our master. Come with me, offer your penance to him."
Callot opened his swollen, tired eyes and slowly turned them to gaze at Dimanche. "No. I serve him no more. I have denied myself his form. I will not give him power over me."
I was confused by the words, but could not doubt the sadness, the suffering, that accompanied them.
Dimanche reached out to touch the many bruises on Callot’s face and arms.
"You will soon die if you condemn yourself to the weak and puny flesh of men."
Callot again closed his eyes. "Perhaps then I will be accepted by—"
"By their God?" Dimanche shouted. "You are a fool!"
Dimanche rose and stepped to Callot’s tortured leg. "Oh, my old friend, you are shatan, and always will be. There is no escape from what you are, no escape from him whom we serve. In time you will learn this."
I wanted to cry out, beg mercy, do something, as Dimanche set an iron wedge between the boards, but I could not. It was as if some terrifying force or power bound my body inert, bound my tongue to silence.
Dimanche pounded at one wedge, then another.
Callot clenched his fists and arched his back, but his trembling form remained silent. At the third wedge he began screaming.
I heard a sound, like the muffled crack of a heavy limb breaking from a tree trunk; it was the bone in Callot’s leg splintering under the great pressure.
Callot’s head shot back and he screamed, horrible, pain wracked. The scream altered, deeper in tone, louder, and became a roar like that of a wild beast.
The candles that lit the chapter house were suddenly doused as if by a great wind though there was no movement of air—even the faint light from the small windows seemed to dim.
Bile rose in my throat, and I wanted to cry out, to run, to hide my face from the terrible apparitions that suddenly appeared before me. But still I could not move.
Dimanche and Callot were gone.
My eyes beheld two lizard-like creatures, charcoal in color with hints of crimson, with long, scaly tails and great wings folded along the sides of their long, sinewy bodies. They clutched and tore at each other with wickedly curved claws and snapped at each other with jaws filled with rows of long, sharp teeth.
Demons—demons! I silently screamed in my head, but no sound would issue from my bound throat.
One of the beasts, the larger one, was hampered by injuries to a scaly, muscled hind leg.
With increasing horror and disbelief I looked around the cluttered stone floor. Everything I feared was there: the broken chains and manacles, the wooden boards and snapped rope, the scattered iron wedges.
The nightmare beasts were Dimanche and Callot.
The terrible creatures traded blows as they clashed, smashing tables and shelves and strewing their contents across the floor. Their arcing claws slashed each other’s flesh and scattered great drops of dark colored blood that sizzled and burned whatever it touched.
The long, scaly tail of the Dimanche-beast lashed out toward me. Still I could not move. I was lifted into the air with the force of a great blow. I instinctively raised my arm to protect my face, but still my head, as well as my body slammed into the stones of the wall next to the door.
I believe it was only a moment before my senses returned. There was a warm wetness over my eyes and a sting when I opened them; blood, an apparent injury from striking the stone wall. My arm ached and sent sharp pains to the shoulder with each movement, but I had use of it, apparently unbroken.
The beasts were still locked in struggle. They howled and growled at each other, then, grappled in each other’s clawed grip, they rolled along the floor toward me.
Whatever force had bound me was gone. With my regained freedom I rolled to my hands and feet and scurried to a corner of the room, that being the only shelter I could get to.
The reality of the hellish scene—this great evil that had exploded upon my awareness—washed hotly over me like wind over a burning flame. The Callot-beast, debilitated by days of hardship and torture, was weakening; it appeared to me that the demonic struggle would soon end with Dimanche the victor. Evil was about to triumph.
It could not be—must not be! I rose to my feet and dashed from the safety of the corner. A weapon—no weapons! A club—I rushed to pick up one of the boards used in Callot’s torture, then charged at the smaller demon’s back. I did not hesitate—dared not hesitate for fear that I would cower back to the corner, but raised the club over my head and smashed it down onto the neck of the terrible beast. It splintered, broken and shattered, driving a splinter deep into the flesh between the thumb and forefinger of my hand.
Though the demons were locked in a bloody embrace, the Dimanche-beast was able to turn its head to me.
Terror raged through my quivering flesh as the snarling, demonic visage glared at me, but still I had wit to action; I drove the shattered but sharply pointed board at the face of the horror.
The demon attempted to whip his head back, but, hampered by the clutch of the Callot-beast, he could not move out of reach of my blow and the sharp point pierced deeply into the large, black orb of its eye and—I prayed—into its brain.
A soul-rending screech assaulted my ears, and suddenly I smashed into the massive shelves of books. I fell stunned to the floor, heavy books falling on and around me. It had to be the tail; I hadn’t even felt the blow.
Heat and flame washed over me, singing my hair and burning the exposed flesh of my face and hands. I would quickly have been consumed in the inferno had it not abated abruptly.
I opened my eyes and shook the darkness from my vision. There, in the middle of the room, the carcass of a demonic form was quickly being consumed by the waning flames. Soon, the carcass was entirely consumed, with no leavings of ash or bone, but only the blackened stones and the small, scattered fires of burning parchments and shattered furniture to mark its passing.
He was still there. Bertrand Callot lay amid the shattered remnant of the table. Not a demon, but a man.
I dragged my half-responding body toward him, slowed by the sharp pains that stabbed at me from hand, ribs, and shoulder.
Callot’s body was horribly lacerated and burned. The tattered remnant of burnt cloth that draped from his shoulders had offered little protection from the searing flames.
I gingerly touched his shoulder, fearing him dead.
He opened his eyelids just slightly—he was alive!—and his eyes focused on mine. The edges of his blistered lips turned up in a weak smile. He whispered, "I had not the strength to return to the form of a man." The smile widened just slightly. "Penance, my brother. I have penance."
The light of life faded from Bertrand Callot’s eyes as his last breath quit his lungs.
The smile was the last to fade.
Copyright © 2003 by James Brian King
Bio:James Brian King lives in Pasco Washington and was publisher of the now defunct "Voyages SF," an adventure gaming magazine.
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