Tìbald the Norman, killer of men – anxious, superstitious, and powerless to forces beyond his control. A dreamer. A ponderer. Obsessed with meaning., he infuses it into his every experience. A blowhard as well, and over his head as seigneur in Castel de Batón, his Castle of Sticks, overlooking the backwater village of Ste Cecilia en Caux. The villeins fear him . . . though not as they ought. Aile, his wife, fears him not at all. Maybe God speaks to him through her. Do her moods channel those of God?
1096 – the Millennium has passed, a thousand years since Jesu’s birth. And Jesu must return soon – in power, and glory, to separate the wheat from the chaft. Tìbald is chaft. He knows it. All are chaft. He knows this too. That he be in a state of grace when Jesu comes. What danger. In truth, Death dances all around. That very morning, a village girl was killed by a boar come out from the forest, and now he must hunt it down. The villeins demand it.
Into the woods . . . and a supernatural encounter. The hunt does not go as planned. Tìbald has a “beyond and back” experience and what he sees terrifies him.
Over the following days, powerful forces are set into play resulting in Tìbald killing an innocent pilgrim come to his village with Peter the Hermit to preach war to free Christ’s Tomb from Saracen invaders.
Tìbald and Aile take the Cross as penance, but as they journey to Jerusalem, the navel of the earth, seeking redemption for the death of one man, they murder the world.
MILES CHRISTI was a 2001 finalist in the Novel-In-Progress category in the Faulkner/Wisdom competition and a short-listed finalist for Novels in 2005. It’s been revised over and over since (I stay with my children as they grow and develop and do not isolate them in a drawer. My career failure I guess). The story is not so much historical fiction as a writing experiment. Dark, quirky, incorrect. Well, you’ll be the judge.
Its inspiration came from Bruegel “the Elder’s” THE TRIUMPH OF DEATH. I know the painting is four hundred years after the First Crusade, but the mindset not all that different as opposed to now where 2022 is light years from 1962.
What a comic and disturbing picture.
This is a mentality and not one we think in today. How often do we contemplate our mortality until something catastrophic is thrown in our face? Not much, I imagine. But you’d think from this painting, for these people, it could be every day. Death and consequence were in the reliefs of their most important buildings, churches and cathedrals, central to their lives and beliefs. And contrary to our 21st Century notions of the Church being solely about power and control, to the citizenry it was a comfort. For take away the Church, Death’s cold and grisly hand did not go away.
Notice I chose the word “consequence” over “judgment”. For consequence implies agency - our contributing hand. I see this more and more as I age - “my contributing hand”. Judgment is the consequence, I guess. Nothing wrong in that.
To be truthful, I have the hardest time with the notion of Heaven. But the concept of Hell . . . Ah, that makes infinite sense. O’ the lies we tell ourselves . . . about ourselves . . . about everyone else . . . Lies of judgment. Lies of kindness. Grand, shape-shifting lies . . . of pity . . . and tolerance, masking intolerance, assuaging guilt and holding off the Judgment Seat.
And we all have our Judgment Seat be we believers or atheists. So, I think. We’re creatures of opinion.
Herman Melville, my mentor and muse, said it best:
All visible things are but pasteboard masks. Some inscrutable yet reasoning thing puts forth the moulding of their features. The white whale tasks me. He heaps me. Yet, he is but a mask. It is the thing behind the mask I chiefly hate, the malignant thing that has plagued mankind since time began, the thing that mauls and mutilates our race, not killing us outright but letting us live on with half a heart and half a lung . . .
There I go, quoting MOBY DICK - American Scripture. So much of mankind is found in the Bible, and the other book is MOBY DICK.
Moby Dick has no face . . .
He tasks me. He heaps me.
Hell, my novels aren’t historical fiction, but therapy. They’re goddamn psychotherapy for me. And the best you are, if you can’t relate to them, is a voyeur . . .
I’ll take a voyeur any day . . . Let them come and judge and criticize . . .
I see my plight.
MILES CHRISTI is coming on June 17. Thank goodness my fiction is tighter than my posts.