Part Two - The Road - Chapter Nine
Part 7: The Road
A vast column – the combined armies of Northern France and England, a tremendous army – Normans and Bretons, the Northern French; the English, the Cornish, the Welsh, the occasional Caledonian. And all manner of languages; common Normans spoke Norman French, the more educated, Latin. Some with a smattering of Greek. Those from the isle, a variety of Anglish with dialects indiscernible between villages only miles apart. Strangers. Tribes. Clandestine. With one thing in common – fighting men with zeal for God. The Church their common language. The Eucharist their common meal. What man knows Christ but through Church teaching or experience Him but through sacramental grace? What heretic distort Him if not through the same? The body of Christ is one.
The body of Christ is fractured.
They march to save Jerusalem. They march to save Byzantium as well – Constantinople, the Christendom of the East broken away from the Papal See not fifty years hence. Filoque, the controversy – dogma – how proceedith The Holy Ghost in the Creed– from both Father and Son – consubstantial? Or as the Greeks say, the Son through the Father, and the Holy Ghost through the Son . . . The Great Schism over the very nature of God and His earthly authority. Dogma versus dogma.
Angels on the head of a pin you say and dogma a dirty word . . . The ills it has caused. Why would nation slaughter nation for an ethereal foundation? Truth? Power? . . . Must everything be over Power? Is not Truth the highest virtue? The one to die for? The world’s convulsed with God one way or another . . . Then throw Him and His Truth out. Be done with it. How the world will rejoice! And then peace . . . Till the nonbelievers with their beliefs rise . . . And they do rise. They have . . . and convulse . . . Dogma does not die . . .
But the Greek empire was crumbling, its territories gobbled up as infidel after infidel nation attacked on all fronts. Racked by civil wars, even the Franks snipped at its heels for land. Pope Urban would win them back in the form of his pilgrim armies as much as free Christ’s tomb. Afterall, the Byzantine emperor, Alexius Commenus, had petitioned Urban for military aid – send a contingent of knights to bolster his imperial army. Indeed, Urban sent him all of Christendom.
Four great armies: Robert Curthose in the north; Raymond of Toulouse along with his grace, Adhemar de la Puy, Urban’s appointed legate, in the south; Guy de Bouillon, Duke of Lorraine with his ten thousand from the northeaster border of France; Bohemond of Taranto with his Italian Normans from Sicily on the Mediterranean who had experience in fighting both Saracen and Byzantine. And then the People’s Army of Little Peter, cutting its way east (cutting indeed – marauding) through the holy Roman Empire.
Military aid – as if the world’s crust slid to drop in every fighting man – bowmen, spearmen, swordsmen in their thousands. For the past month Robert’s army had gathered in Lyons along with those of Robert II, Count of Flanders, Stephen, Count of Blois, Curthose’s brother-in-law.
They set out that morning, a great wriggling worm. ‘Crux Crucis Gero’ they called themselves for the scarlet cross upon the right breast – an army of flowers in the noonday sun, marching through the Rhone Valley awash in color.
How beautiful the Rhone, cutting through the vineyard slopes with its wide and easy turns. Rows and rows of heavy grapes holding promise. That a seigneur should renege his vow to linger, then laze in breathless intoxication. For close should be winsome maids who, like the vine, eager for pressing. Such a place – heresy should spring here. Such a place to sneak. No wonder God inhabits arid spaces. And Tìbald, at the end of the column, saw it all.
Look at us, he thought, riding at the end of the Norman procession. So many penitents, my sin so bad? Different lands. Different tongues. One faith. One cause. Going down to the center of the world.
Come to Jerusalem.
He held the lance upright, its burnished point against the cobalt sky. On his left hip, a sword, an axe on his right – his one, two, three. And beneath him, at sixteen hands, his equine killer – foul, nasty, and ready to charge. The complete miles – that God be pleased. How red the lance point, a holy thing, even as Apollonia’s tooth; he had touched the point to Rainald’s forehead before putting him into the ground. That it give his soul a blessing. O’ for the miracle of Christ to steady Tìbald as opposed to his up and down, up and down, always a battle – that it bead on him like morning dew – that life be fresh without wear and heat. That it be magic . . .
The Blood is out, he mused. And Sainte Cecilia, a memory. A box in a box in another life. So too him, new, with the scent of an infant warm from the belly where it kicked and writhed and pushed to get out. And he’s out. They’re all out. Genuine and on a mission . . .
Common faces about him.
Yes, the Blood’s out – God in us all, Jēsu in disguise. Who’s He now? Ugo? Fulk? Joceran? Is He Aile? . . . That He not be Aile. Wouldn’t that take it – He’d speak to Tìbald through Aile---
He noticed Père Marin.
Not him. Why’d he come anyway? To be fed? What indolence. Assiduous indolence.
Tìbald turned once more at Aile – comely Aile on a gray mule beside him in iron. He dared not stare too long, she thinking him to judge her . . .Yet, she donned it all the same for all to see . . . That the priests do not see. But maybe, just maybe, she’d pass as a man – the coif hid her hair and the hauberk flattened her. Who could tell if they not knew? But, no, her heart beamed with a great womanly swell as only they can do. That, and the puttees betrayed the curve of her leg . . . And the hips – you can’t disguise the hips. It’s the hips that make the woman, not the duckies. Hips hold the truth no matter a gravel voice or strong chin. Hips – the essence of womanhood – the chamber. And then to portray as a man – outrageous and as much Tìbald’s sin to permit it . . .
“It’s not sin,” she’d instructed him that morning. “I do not disguise as a man, but a Christian wearing armor. It’s between God and me. Let them howl. I care not for their sensibilities.”
God and her? Mother Church is between God and her, as it should be, he thought. As Jēsu said it is . . . Tìbald would not order her to take it off. She’d not allow it. That too his failing . . .
She’s reborn in armor, he thought. It both frees and contains her. He’d not seen her like this in years. How pretty her face – that bump on the bridge of her nose, Her sharp cheeks . . . He must concede and enjoy her youth before it’s over, before she becomes a crone . . . And she will become a crone – all bile and bitter. O’, the bitterness now in doses. And yet, last night, as they slept on their ticking on the open ground, she lifted up in the dark and gazed at him. He awoke, and she laid herself across his chest to sleep again.
Her side-glance as she rode. “You’re looking at me.”
Tìbald’s warhorse’s ears flattened.
From somewhere in the column, an ensuing voice in song:
“Vexilla regis prodeunt;
fulget Crucis mysterium,
quo carne carnis conditor
suspensus est patibulo”
“Abroad the regal banners fly,
now shines the Cross’s mystery:
upon it Life did death endure,
and yet by death did life procure.”
Another voice. Another. Another still, until the entire column filled with song. One voice – commoners and nobles. Tìbald intoned the words though his throat tightened. He forced himself. A surrender – to be on the Road. Repentance. Redemption . . .
Aile sang too – Sainte Cecilia behind and ahead something new. Mountains. She’d never seen mountains. They pulled her breath. The plain rose to the rolling hills and then to the great stone giants. ‘That the mountains cover us’ the Scripture said – she never knew the meaning. Something more terrible than these? Even the clouds could not ascend them. God’s footstool. No marshes or fens. She could not breathe. God atop a mountain in Sinai – no wonder. Truly, He is a terrible thing. And what of la Forêt? An impish, sniggling evil. A beard to be cut away. But here, with such majesty, is God. And Aile amazed. There must be God! The fields and the foothills shimmering with color. Fingerlings of snow above the tree line as she tipped back her head to view the tops. The Virgin is kindness, but God is power. She sucked a breath.
“Confixa clavis viscera
tendens manus, vestigia,
hic immolata est hostia.”
The warhorses pranced. Twenty thousand footfalls on the road. A dust cloud rose, enveloping them and muting the sunshine to soft copper. In a fire-like aura, they glowed. Christ in their midst – about them, through them, a mystical thread, and Jerusalem over the next hill.
Père Marin clung to Esmé as they walked along – Esmé the pig girl in name no longer, but out in the open – thick and stolid and set on the ground. A prop. Neither sang. They walked in a bubble, the ecstasy about them. What danger in ecstasy. Marin braced himself with eyes glazed. The crowd with its thinking. In his nose, the smell of blood. And Esmé bared him up, not seeing what he was seeing. He wiped his arms to get whatever off.
“Look at me,” she said to him as he wrung his hands in a washing motion. She took them. “Look at me.” And gave him a wineskin. He shook as he drank. She brushed his hair as a goodwife. He sputtered on the wine, forcing it to its duty, and pressed his eyelids tight. “Look at me,” she said. The ritual. He sniffled and she pinched his cheek. “Open your eyes.” About them singing pilgrims marching by. “What do you see?”
“I see you.” And closed his eyes again.
“No!” She shook him. “What do you see?”
“Quo vulneratus insuper
mucrone diro lanceae,
ut nos lavaret crimine,
manavit unda et sanguine.”
“Who, wounded with a direful spear,
did purposely to wash us clear
from the stain of sin, pour out a flood
of precious water mixed with blood.”
The Sainte Cecilia men passed him by – Tìbald atop his warhorse, Aile on her mule, Ugo and Fulk leading the pack animals. The beasts bobbed their heads. The Norman centuries in adulation. Faces to the sky. The mountains echoing. They’re coming. The East does not know. They’re coming – the Tìbalds, the Ailes, the Ugos and Fulks – in a copper cloud, in the bubble, singing of God, and Love, and Battle---Battle, it always turns to Battle--
“La foire à moi suis la presse de protections . . .
Fair to me is the press of bucklers . . .
Great pleasure have I to see armed seigneurs
To make people and livestock flee,
And charge against them with all of my might . . .
Nothing has more savour for me –
Not eating or drinking than to hear someone cry:
‘Help! Help! I am dying!’
– with stumps of lances staked in their sides . . .”
A gust of wind. It took them like drink. They ached to use their arms. Ached to feel the violence rising. Violence is life. To kill is life. Marin bowed his head, bracing. Resolve did not banish it. It swept him away despite his intent . . .
There are just wars, the great Sainte Augustan said. And the joy of one’s power in the test of arms. It enlivens. It relieves. An act of creation – a cutting away for something new. What war does not bring something new? That, itself, glory. Augustan’s Just War – a seigneur’s highest calling. Aggression, unchecked must not stand and war the act to end it. Violence halts violence. Any fool knows that. We slaughter pigs and chickens. We separate kid from mother and cut it into bits. Is it not terrified? Does it not feel pain? It dies so we may live. So, all religions say – all religions, even those without deity. But the Church, Christ’s Church, would make them milky and twist them into cheese. All this ‘peace’ – the Peace of God, the Truce of God – trying to make the world into something it’s not. The Kingdom of God maybe present, but Paradise is another world and heresy to think different. This world is one of suffering – forever suffering – even more when a Christian does not act . . .
“Pour une grand guerre tourniquet vouloir
dire seigneur en une genrous une . . .
For a great war turns a mean lord
into a generous one . . .”
Marin’s was not the only reaction – Tìbald’s warhorse, its sclera flashing, strained against the bit. No friends, no enemies, but objects to trample down – distrusting meanness except for him on its back – dumb brute and dumb beast, melded into a single creature, taunted by the singing, detecting in each other what they could not detect themselves.
Song led to song till mouths went dry. Hours passed, but their spirits unyielding – to fight God’s fight. There must be an enemy close by. Maybe some Jews. Yes, kill some Jews. Who better than the murders of Christ? But they did not think it. Not Tìbald or Aile. Not the bishops nor the duke. A cordial people, the Jews, in Rouen with their own community and a trade in the lending houses, though a few roughed up the other night . . . Why England would not now be England without the Jews – least not Norman England; they’re under the king’s protection. What would the world be without Jews? And Jēsu, Himself, a Jew, until they killed Him. “Father forgive them, for they know not what they do” . . .
Though conditional. They could be us if they’d accept the truth, a subconscious yearning, none more by the Church. They’d be more than us. Better than us. They’re the shoulders we stand upon – the Psalms, the Prophets, Moses, Elijah, Daniel and David. We keep them ‘round. And cash. What do we do when needing cash? . . . Said the great Augustan: “Slay them not.”
The killing began in Germanic Worms, Treves, Speyer, and Mainz. Why journey across the world when the enemies of Christ dwell in in our midst? But this was not Urban’s will. This not the War of Repentance nor the Princes . . . Yet to the folk in Germanic provinces, nay. No ban lay on the invading villein forces commanded by rogue knights over a rogue army under Little Peter’s auspices, as if he had control. Heretics, no mere infidels – Jēsu first came to them and they rejected Him and killed Him. Ah, Jews they remain in Christendom’s eye, but Israel no more. Till they come to Him, they are Heretics for they know better. Indeed, they are not even the Jews of His Day. Bastard Jewry, whose sole form is in opposition to us. What Other can be so other? In fact, the only Other the Franks knew.
Tumult in the gut. A conundrum of blessing – that Jews should have such wealth, not just money – scientists, statesmen, mathematicians, philosophers, artists, tradesmen. Categories, not men – communities, constellations – the good Jew, the poor Jew, the conniving Jew. They are not us. We are not them.
And thank God the Jews say. What damage Jēsu did and in turn his wretched followers. We are not the Jews of his day. And are different because of his day – there is not one Torah, but two, so the likes of Jēsu will never again come . . . Ha Shem. Ha Shem. There is no God but ha Shem. We will die than betray ha Shem. Ha Shem – the Name. What is in a name? . . . Everything. Temple sacrifice is long gone. So much has changed – the Name so Holy, Jews forbidden to speak it.
And here a notion dawned – on Peter, his men as it seeped into all Frankish Christendom. Jewry was not stagnant nor a vestige of Jēsu’s time – it didn’t die. It was thriving. How could that be? What now is a Jew, they thought both loving and hating, in rejection and acceptance, but of the Devil? They hate the Eucharist and were its worst enemy, and the Christians to them – Esau’s heirs – how now the new Israel? . . .
But Rome would not have it – “slay them not” its traditional protection. Until “slay them not” became “not just yet” that they might convert . . .
But Little Peter knew – the Jews and their magic. His forces needed no armor. What need for they with hauberks and bucklers? Beside each pilgrim an invisible saint, so if the pilgrim died, he’s ushered into Heaven. Free Christ’s tomb. For such a cause, no man dies meanly. What value is life compared to this? Of any life? Christian? Saracen? Jew? . . . Again, the Jew. So convenient . . .
Convenient, indeed. Would they all not butcher us if they’d a chance? Or murder themselves if no escape, for belief is the supreme meaning. Madness . . . Madness in many forms . . . Without forms. Without dogmas . . . The world was Mad, but death didn’t make it so. An illusion – death – as the enemy . . . Passion is the enemy – the fount of Madness. Just so, the Passion of Unbelief . . . But there is truly no Unbelief. All Believe, even in Nothing . . . From this, violence springs.
Emicho, Count of Leiningen, a minor Germanic seigneur of apocalyptic visions – remember it – as much a caricature as a man – a man who represents men.
The worst of the massacres occurred in Mainz, largest of the Jewish communities in the largest of the cities. Emicho with his brawling forces concentrated there. After he’d wiped the Jews out, he’d catch up to Little Peter and combined, they’d reach the Holy Land together.
The Jews, of course, saw what was coming. They conferred with Emicho to pay. Surely such a force would need cash to keep on course for Christ’s Tomb. He took their money, God’s gift, and days later preceded to force the Mainz city gates. The Bishop of Mainz, Ruthard, wouldn’t have it and gathered up the Jews in his palace courtyard. A supporter of Pope Urban, damn Emicho to Hell – him and his visions. Ruthard dispatched his personal guard to the Mainz gates with orders to lop off the hands of Emicho’s men if they touched them. How the appendages fell . . . Until the mob overwhelmed them – an anti-Jewish riot both in and out of the city. Though a number of Christians sheltered their Jews. Some out of greed. Many out of charity. Jēsu would command they do it. Still others because they could not help but do it. Some because they’re brave. Others because they’re cowards – in guilt, in their faux nobility.
Their Jews, for in their minds, Jews did not belong anywhere. Come to us! Come to us, please! Do we not in our secret hearts long to be you? Do we not cherish you as cousins, as brothers even more? Embrace Jēsu and fully dwell among us. What are you now after all? Do you know? One of a hundred things, but with a single bond – hate of Jēsu and we are dogs to you!
All are dogs.
The bishop of Mainz harbored them in his palace courtyard. Emicho’s forces broke in. The bishop fled and there the Jews in the slaughter pen. Slaughter them Emicho did along with any guard who resisted. They brought it on themselves. Convert or be slain. Most resisted. Some took their own lives and the lives of their screaming children – mothers cutting infants throats then cuddling their dead babes to await the mob’s destruction.
It took two days to kill a thousand. The Rhine and the Moselle’s wine was blood, and all for the love and the hate of Jēsu . . . For the love and hate of what is true . . . Of what is thought to be true . . . Of what should be true – the Son of God or the son of a Whore.
Murdering Jews – not Urban’s war. Christendom in love with swords. The world in love with swords. To possess one demanded use. And the seigneurs loved their trade. Practiced it daily. Celebrated it with pageantry. Sung of it in romantic tales. To be buried with an honored sword – that it had been used for God’s glory . . . But no songs of innocents lynched, or of children spitted from buttock to head, or of captured priests dismembered for ransom. Their bloody, bloody business. Denied the sacraments. Denied Heaven. They’d not be curbed. Oh, some might repent for a fortnight, maybe a year, but then back like a drunkard to his drink making new orphans without care. What was Urban to do, cast all Christendom from the fold? . . .
There, my darling, stay. Break the rule, I will not kill thee . . .
And the songs continued, song to song to song, in the Latin shared by all though with little understanding. Mouths went dry and foot falls lost their snap.
As the sun set behind them, they collapsed in camp dizzy and spent.
Aile could not move as the puers set up her tent; she leaned upon Ysobel as if she was a post. “Hurry,” she moaned while the boys raised the canvas on the poles.
Ugo glared and Fulk said under his breath, “If she wants to play a man, take it to completion. Think she wears a prick?”
Ugo, remembered her naked – “Aye, if she dons a prick, she can feck herself with it.”
“What did you say?” Aile snapped.
“Dómina,” Ugo replied, hammering in the pegs. “We were speaking of Rainald, wishing he was here.”
She nodded, the hauberk weighing on her. “Good enough,” she said and took off her helm and coif to reveal wound locks about her ears. It was then two priests from Bayeux, both young and old, pale and thin, happened by the entrance.
“Who is this woman?” they demanded of the puers as Aile undressed in the tent.
“She’s the wife of our seigneur,” Ugo said warily.
“Who’s your master?” demanded a beetle-nosed friar with spidery fingers who grabbed Ugo’s ear.
“I am,” Tìbald said, approaching with Père Marin.
At the sight of Marin, the priests reddened.
“Let go of my escuie’s ear, priest, or he will hit you.”
Spider fingers pointed at the tent. “Is that your wife?”
Aile pushed back the inner flap, the straps of her hauberk half unbuckled.
“She is,” Tìbald said.
“You allow this?”
“He allows nothing,” Aile said.
The priests stop dead.
“Who are you two?” Tìbald asked.
“Curates to Bishop Odo,” Père Marin interjected.
“Why is he with you?” spider fingers asked of Marin.
“He’s my pastor.”
“There’s the source of it!” the younger said. “What can you expect from a fool?”
“Why are you in my camp? Yours is across the field,” Tìbald said.
“We’re walking the camps and glorying in this great task,” replied the younger. “This holy army.”
“A good thing we passed,” spider fingers said. “God must have put us in your way for your own good. Your apostasy is uncovered.”
“Apostasy?” Aile spouted.
Spider fingers blinked. “Would you usher us back to the old religion?”
“The old religion? . . .”
“How hard the Church has fought to bring our grandfathers out of darkness.”
“I fight for Christ,” Aile said.
The younger blinked again. “Is this ignorance or heresy?”
“She breaks no law,” Tìbald said.
The color drained from Aile’s cheeks. “I do no wrong.”
“You do great wrong, daughter,” spider fingers said. “But just not to you.” And he gestured to the sprawling camp. “Them. No sin is private. And they are fragile children. How easily the Devil can steer them away. What then? How much more can we be divided – anti-pope in Rome, the Greeks in Constantinople, the heretics of Languedoc?”
“Ridiculous,” Aile said. “How does this undo the faith?”
“It’s an opening,” the younger said. “An innocent opening.”
“You’ve no authority here,” Tìbald said. “Our priest does not see any harm. Only the bishop can make us submit.”
“You will see the bishop,” spider fingers said. “I promise.” He glared at Père Marin. “Yours is the greater sin for you are the shepherd.” Then back to Aile. “You’re one of these angry women. I see it in your eyes. The world’s not the way you want it. You would tear it down and make God your servant, and when all is gone, you are left with yourself because there’s no one to flail at. That, daughter, will be your Purgatory.”
“Go,” Tìbald said to them and followed Aile into the tent. “Pay no mind to them,” he said, touching her shoulder.
She hadn’t the energy to lift her head. “I cannot move. I cannot eat. I ache too much too sleep. How far have we come? It feels like the far side of the world.”
“They’ll not harm you.”
“Take this thing off,” Aile commanded Ysobel.
“I will do it,” Tìbald said.
Ysobel flashed. The priests were correct – a burgeoning sin.
Tìbald pulled off her hauberk, placing it on a T-bar pole. Unstrapped her gambeson and let it fall. She stood soaked in her linen shirt. Tìbald unwrapped her puttees. She watched him in his metal skin, the great sword belted to his waist. His hands on her calves through the woolen trousers; they lingered.
“Now the shoes,” she said.
He looked up, the wet shirt plastered against her. The trousers slumped to her knees. She kicked them off. He brushed his finger up the back of her leg to where it met her rump. Tuesday – they may feck on a Tuesday in Ordinary Time – no feast day or fast day to restrict them. When did it ever restrict them? Only she would restrict them.
She touched his cheek---