Winter of One Hundred Years
The worshipers danced around the fire. Gleaming flesh took up the light of the flames. Ecstatic expressions were molded on faces; fluidly changing, but curiously similar. Nude skin; twisting limbs and quivering genitals provided counterpoint to the monotone chant which floated above the group of men and women.
The fire burned hot and yellow-white. A dark, lithe female figure detached from the circle of worshipers. Young but ageless; female but androgynous -- all attention was captured by her the moment she moved toward the fire. The group took up a new chant.
"Earth Mother, Womb of the World... receive our love!"
The worshipers turned to one another in groups of two, three and four; male and female. They caressed each other, and some caressed their selves, in the most intimate ways. Carnal passions mounted as moans combined with joyful laughing. The pulsing rhythm became urgent as exotic tones weaved in and out among the voices of the lovers .
A disturbance began at one edge of the gathering. Shouts of alarm and the screams of pain swelled, then spread through the worshipers. Dark figures in hoods, mounted on horses clubbed everyone in reach; others walking behind the horsemen bound them hand and foot. Mounted on a white war horse, dressed in stylish silks and capped with the broad-brimmed crimson hat reserved for the Church, a sallow-faced and gaunt young man directed the capture.
The dark woman melted away into the blackness of forest. Behind her, the sibilant tones of the young nobleman were nearly drowned out by the screams and groans of the bludgeoned. She just made out his words.
"Know ye, all who are found at this gathering are now in the merciful custody of the Holy Church and ye Royal Inquisition!" Confess thou, and receive absolution."
Monseigneur, the Duc du Birtaigne presided over the Holy Investigation of the hundred prisoners he gathered in the raids on the Celts. His investiture on the first year of the fourteenth Century came with the full authority of the Church, and with the wealth and power of a restored noble family. He received his office in the fifteenth year of his life, purchased for him by his grandfather
At the age of fifteen, it was his sacred duty to supervise the extraction of confession and repentance, and he performed his duty with zeal. He scourged the mountain hollows. He returned, with the godless savages, to his Donjon.
Of the one hundred, the first twenty were permitted to be garroted, then burned. Thirty more were drawn and quartered. Their heads, men, women and children, were paraded through the streets then placed on stakes outside the Donjon wall. There were fifty more souls to convert and fifty more executions to require attention. All, in all, things were well with the adolescent Holy Father, Duc Birtaigne. Being somewhat restless, the Duc chose to ride in his forests in the morning. He would not resume his inquiry until sundown and he found the interval awkward.
The Duc was not startled, as he turned the curve in the forest path, by the site of a naked woman. As a Christian knight, he was in firm control of himself.
"Who are you, my child?" He spoke slowly, pronouncing the words in clear French. He suspected she was of the wild people, the Mountain Celts.
"I am your life-long Winter. I am pestilence and death, made large." The woman produced a stone knife.
Now, concerned, the Duc began to back his horse. "What nonsense do you speak? Are you making some sort of threat?" Chivalry, the rules by which Christian knights lived, had no instruction for him in this case, but he was illogically intimidated by her tone of voice. Discretion seemed to be in order.
The Celtic woman began to sing. Clear, sweet sounds filled the forest as she drew a flint knife from behind her. He watched with a growing revulsion as she gashed her breasts and belly with the knife.
Her voice betrayed the pain; quivering and strained, her words filled the grove, "Attend to your fate, you who defile the Mother: No Child shall be Raised ere Ten be Laid in Graves. No Crop will be Harvested, ere Ice Takes its Share; Pestilence and Poverty are Determined by Maman du Terre. Her Nature is set against Thee for One Hundred Years. To Poverty, Sickness and Famine, you are Condemned for the rest of your Days."
Horror filled him; he fled.
At the end of his life, the Duc would turn these words over in his mind. The coldest weather ever known had inflicted Europe from the very next year. The Black Death came, and returned to devastate both the lowly and the highborn repeatedly. When there was a harvest, too few serfs were found to reap and grind. The Duc had heard this was the Scourge of God.
He could not bear to remember the events of his life since that day. The House of Birtaigne suffered the full brunt of the scourging. His fourteen year-old bride, a bastard daughter of the Royal Family, died of the buboes. The Birtaigne lands were deserted as villeins fled starvation and plague. the peasant's revolts cost him his one pleasure in life; his Donjon was burned, along with the town's church. His Abbot was murdered by the entourage of the Flagellants, a heretical religious sect which proposed to end the plague by publicly whipping themselves in bloody frenzy. The Duc barely escaped capture by them.
Perhaps the Flagellants were right, he thought. Perhaps God was punishing the Church for it's excesses. Still, he could not remove the Celtic Priestess' curse from his mind. He knew not which god, or gods determined this great scourge, but if the Celt's curse truly was responsible, he held some hope for the world. He thought he would not live to see the year 1402, and the end of the curse. Not if God was merciful, he offered in silent prayer.
The woman -- who bled out her life that morning when he thought all was possible, and his future was still before him, who's blood fed the giant oak which now divided that path after seventy years -- still wore her face.
He could feel no blame for carrying out his ordained duty. Heretics and pagans were an imminent danger and must be discouraged. Yet, the gory suicide had its effect.
The Duc still wore the horror.
Robert Marcom: Writer - Researcher - Photographer - Illustrator
Author of "A Voyage Through The Cosmos" (ISBN 1-930430-03-5)