In the year 1008 as reckoned in Rome on the Julian Calendar, Brother Cyryl Procopius was given a writ of Accession to take over the Parish of St. Adelbert in the Polish town of Virlun at the edge of the God-forsaken Wood of Mldawa. It was well known that the world ended at the Bug river, and that the Woods of Mldawa were the beginning of the Great Wilderness that surrounded the realm of Blessed Christendom, a place where Satan and his minions held sway out of the reach of God and his all his angels;
that no saint’s eye saw what happened on the far shore of the Bug where Virlun stood, and the people who lived there were little better than beasts, living as they did surrounded by the powers of darkness, and that they all of them lived and died in peril of losing their immortal souls.
The other monks in the seminary in Warsaw agreed that Cyryl must have done something very bad to have been given this Accession, and most thought it was from asking too many questions of the learned brothers who taught them. Questions weren’t the way to come into a knowledge of God’s grace and here was proof. What you got for asking questions was an Accession to a town under the protection of the powerful but barely civilized Baron of Swodzj near Satan’s forest where there were creatures who shat fire and pissed lightning and who had pricks for heads and cunts for mouths—cunts with great, sharp teeth in them.
But Brother Cyryl took his order and his allotment of wine of communion wafers and rode from Warsawa to Lvov to Brest, and from Brest he got a ride on a grain barge that was going upriver to Tzyrniecki and at Tzyrniecki he was met by Ojcunie Wojcik with a cast in his eye and Borslaw Holowycz who was missing his front teeth. Both rode asses and Borslaw’s idiot cousin Niedan was there with boils on his neck, and he led a broken down and dusty mare from the Baron of Swodjz’s stable for Cyryl to ride, and in this way they proceeded to Virlun, avoiding the rapids that made the Bug unnavigable this far upstream while skirting the edge of the dark and forlorn Mldawa forest with its wild animals, its devils, and its demons. It was autumn and in the drizzle and mist the forest looked dark and forbidding yet still seemed to beckon like a woman lying indolently in the warmth of a deep and soft featherbed in a dream in which you were afraid to pull back the comforter because you knew the dream was nightmare, and there was no telling what you would reveal when you pulled back the the blanket, a pile of worms or a putrid corpse.
They entered the village through a side path that took them past a stream running through a little vale filled with ferns and then past the church the original priest Father Jerek had built with his own hands and the help of the villagers, finished thirteen years ago and empty these last seven, already given over to the elements. Cyryl had expected to find it abandoned but was surprised to see that part of it had been razed, a portion of the roof removed and some of the stone blocks from the north end of the transept scattered in the tall weeds.
He got down off his horse and bent over to inspect one of the blocks. It was a sizeable piece of stone and could not have been easy to move. Someone was either very strong or very dedicated to the church’s destruction. Ojcunie and Borslaw just sat and watched him as he stood for a while beneath the dripping trees and stared at the stone with the autumn grasses still growing so lushly around it. It must have been there for some time, for green moss had a purchase on one side and made it soft and feminine when he ran his fingers over it so it was like touching a woman’s body. The thought shocked him and he quickly took his hand back. He had joined the priesthood largely to put all that behind him. He’d intended to purify himself.
He left the horse to graze and he walked through the quiet weeds and leaned in through the hole that had been made in the transept of the church. The two men watched him suspiciously while Niedan swung a stick at flowers. Rain and wind had entered the church but the sacred aura was still unaffected; Brother Cyryl could feel it. He looked inside at the sturdy walls and the smooth, flagstone floor, the confessional, the sacristy, the altar, the baptismal font, all untouched these many years. The stained glass windows had miraculously survived intact. Brother Jerek had been a stubborn man, a builder, and hadn’t been shy about using the limestone quarries that gave the town of Virlun its reason for being, or about using the villagers who owed fealty to the Baron of Swodzj. Nor had he been shy about petitioning the Baron for money and men, which is how he’d obtained the stained glass windows and brass candlesticks and the bell in the belfry, all of which had been shipped upriver and overland from Brest years ago.
Attached to the church was a fine stone house for his rectory with a kitchen with its own well and fireplaces with chimneys and four glass windows that swiveled cunningly on rods to admit fresh air, luxuries not even the Baron could boast of, and when Cyryl saw these he was deeply embarrassed by the wealth he was forced to live with.
He was shown the village and introduced to the few nervous villagers that could be found, and when he saw the hovels they lived in, huts of wattle and daub with fences of crooked sticks and floors of packed earth, he felt even more ashamed at the richness Brother Jerek had left for him. He noticed witch-signs and marks of the old gods all over the village and the people seemed frightened and resentful. There were idol-posts and offering trees tied with ribbons and streamers, no doubt for the goat god Borewit and the dark god of the forest Berstuk, and these commanded the choice spots in the peoples’ yards and the village squares, an offense to God and his martyred saints.
He was given a housekeeper, an old widow with no teeth named Toja, and Niedan as a helper, and he promised the villagers he’d say a mass the very next day, but when he returned to the church that night to clean up and get it ready, he was saddened and aggrieved. The church seemed huge and oppressive, almost as big as a cathedral, much too big for this village and this spot at the very edge of the world where there was so little God. He and Toja and Niedan set about with twig brooms and shovels cleaning out the altar, sweeping out the leaves and weeds and reconsecrating the church, but in his heart, he was troubled.
All night long he heard devils and leszys upon his roof loosening slate tiles and pitching them down into the grass, and there was even the sound of huge wings going by his glass windows. Father Cyryl knew he was a sinner and that he could not rely on God’s aid and so he hardly slept at all. In the morning, only eight people out of the village’s two hundred and forty showed up to attend mass. He had no altar boys and no one to help with the Eucharist, but Ojcunie and Borslaw did what they could, and of course Toja and Niedan were there, and the simple mass went smoothly. He felt an emptiness though, no joy or peace from the grandeur of the ceremony.
Cyryl couldn’t help but notice the most striking woman in the meager crowd. Her hair was as blonde as sunflowers and her eyes were like the eyes of a cat, wise and knowing, and as green as deep water, and even in her black village rags her body betrayed the wonders of God’s hand as she was a work of marvelous intent, as ripe as a piece of fruit hanging from the tree at harvest tide. When she looked at Cyryl as he elevated the host he felt like sunlight was pouring through the stained glass windows upon him, and like his gown had fallen away and he stood there naked before her, and he had to banish the lustful thoughts from his mind as he conducted the transubstantiation and converted the host and the wine into the holy body and blood of Jesus Christ there in his unworthy human hands.
“Who was that woman with the blonde hair?” he asked Toja after the mass as he kissed his surplice and stole and put them away.
“That? Father, that was Malodar Turek, the young widow of Drogram Turek. He was killed by a leszy in the woods not three years ago—torn to pieces we think and eaten. Never found. She’s never been the same. There are terrible things in the forest, Father.”
“I know. I heard them last night. We will have to bless these woods and drive them out. So she’s a window? Are there any children?”
“None, poor thing. She’s a midwife now and healer and does what she can to survive. She has the gift and second sight, though, and people pay for her services. She manages a living.”
Father Cyryl nodded and remembered again the feeling of standing naked before those remarkable eyes. He could believe she had second sight and the gift of healing. She was a remarkable woman and perhaps her mother had been touched by a spirit or a hidden saint before she’d been born as well.
“Have Niedan saddle the mare. I have to pay my respects to the Baron. I’ll leave after lunch.”
He lunched on bread, cheese, and pickled onions, washed down with fresh brown beer from a keg that Borslaw had brought over and set up in the kitchen, so that when he got on the mare he was already sleepy. He dozed in the saddle as the horse skirted the Mldawa forest and then fell entirely asleep in the drowsy afternoon.
He awoke suddenly to find himself well into the woods, the road having passed into the forest while he slept. He was passing through a little dell where the sun shone down through the sparse trees on a floor littered with ferns, viper’s bugloss, and the pale, nodding orange flowers of foxglove. He looked around wildly, suddenly certain he was being watched. He could feel eyes on him from the darkness of the woods, and even the ferns seemed menacing, their fronds curled like the hoods of snakes about to strike. He spurred the horse and galloped on, imagining the hot exhalations of a leszy on the back of his neck, the sharp points of the teeth grazing his skin, not daring to turn around. He didn’t stop until he was out of the woods and saw the Baron’s wooden castle at the head of a ravine not half a mile away.
He hailed the gate and was admitted, but he couldn’t shake off the chill and the feeling of fear and anguish. The inside of the Baron’s castle was dark and filled with smoke, a warren of close passages and tiny, messy rooms with even tinier windows, all hung with thick tapestries that made the air thick and close. The Baron was ill and had been since spring, sweating and nearly naked and lying on bear skins in his chamber, attended not by a priest but by a shaman in reindeer antlers and skins who was feeding him a broth made of mushrooms and cannabis. The air was thick with the smoke from poppy resin. His eyes were dull and shiny and he spoke as if from another world.
“You’re the new priest?” the Baron said. “You don’t belong here. There’s no God here, no Jesus Christ. The woods are filled with devils and evil spirits. They’ll eat your bones. That’s what they did with the last priest. They drove him mad. Got rid of him.”
“Lord have mercy, my liege. You don’t know what you’re saying.”
“You’d better beg your God for mercy, priest. There are witches in your village. They cursed me and now I suffer. Your village is filled with witches and monsters, damn them all!”
“You have a witch right here, my liege. You should have a priest here, not a curer.”
“What can a priest do for me? At least the curer takes away my pain. All you priests do is mumble. I spend all my gold on your fucking church, your windows, your bell, and what good did it do me? The ingrates cursed me and now there’s a sickness growing inside me and I piss blood. You should be praying for me, priest. God should listen to you after all I’ve done for his church but he doesn’t! You should be praying for me and he should answer your prayers, you fucking fake!”
“I shall pray. I shall, I shall.”
“Then go and do it and make him listen. What do you want here anyways? More gold? Haven’t I given you enough already? What do I have to show for it?”
“Nothing, my liege. I wanted to see what I could do for you.”
“Get your villagers to take their fucking curse off me, that’s what you can do! They’re killing me, I can’t even breathe, Priest. Understand? Get them to take their curse off me before I burn their whole fucking village down, because I will! Tell them that!”
“Yes, my liege.”
“Now get out of here, you worthless piece of shit.”
“Yes, my liege.”
He was glad to follow a page back out through the wooden maze and to step outside again, but he was led out a different way and stepped out through a different door onto a high battlement overlooking the woods, and the first thing he saw were the decomposing bodies of three poachers hanging in body cages from a dead tree that had been propped up in a tower. They’d been allowed to die there of exposure and two had been dead for months to judge from the looks of them, the third only a matter of weeks and he stunk.
As Cyryl stared back over the woods towards the church he could see things flying over it, large birdlike things that seemed to have the bodies of men, like bears with huge wings. They flew on long, fleshy, batlike wings, in a way that was sickening to watch, and his heart sunk in his chest when he saw them. He asked the Captain of the Guard what they were and the man just laughed at him.
Riding back along the sere and dusty road, Cyryl stopped at the entrance to the Mldawa woods and thought about trying to find a way around them, but the ground was uneven and cut with ravines. The shadows of the skeletal trees lay across the ground as sharp as battle axes, and he supposed if there were a way, it would have been found by now. He rode on the horse and let it walk, and once again the woods were forbidding and still, so beautiful it could only have been due to the presence of the Evil One, but this time the devil was more cunning and cruel. He did not appear as a monster, but assailed him as a vision of the widow Turek, so clear and fetching that it made Cyryl’s cock lift beneath his robe. He saw her standing before him on the ground, then undressing for him and lying down, caressing herself shamelessly and spreading her legs and beckoning to him, and the visions wouldn’t abate no matter how hard he closed his eyes and no matter how many Hail Mary’s he said.
Finally he could simply ride no further like that. His prick was swollen mightily, engorged with blood, and his balls were like two sacks full of gold dust, tender and aching. He had to dismount there in that accursed forest and he meant to get down on his knees and pray but the holy words wouldn’t come to his lips and instead he stood, lifted his robe and took his prick in his hand and began to stroke himself. He put his arm against a tree and leaned his head against it and masturbated and in no time he was coming, his mind aswim in lewd and filthy images of the Widow Turek sucking him and bending over and taking his cock from behind and he moaned and shuddered in self-loathing and revulsion even as he was thrusting his hips forward to send the thick streams of ejaculate splashing against the tree trunk and dripping from his own knuckles, no better than a beast. He could smell the animal smell of himself and he was deeply ashamed and humiliated, disgusted with himself and what he’d become and he quickly wiped himself off with some leaves and cast them aside onto the forest floor. But now it seemed as if the whole forest was laughing at him, the trees and the ferns and even the fallen logs and the little flowers, laughing at this pitiful priest who spilled his seed in his hand and wiped himself with leaves. He quickly mounted his horse and rode away, reaching the church just after Vespers. He saw no more sign of the flying devils.
He could not bring himself to celebrate Compline that night, and no one showed up to hear it anyhow. Nor did he want to ring the evening bell, though Niedan and Borslaw had spent all afternoon attaching a new rope and cleaning the old birds’ nests out of it. In the end, Cyryl couldn’t decline the honor without explaining what he’d done to render himself unworthy, so he rang the bell, and all the villagers came out of their huts and stared at the church in wonder and alarm. Some put their hands over their ears and some ran quickly back inside. From the Woods of Mldawa came the sounds of raucous howling and wailing and of great things slithering in the earth and leaves.
The next morning fifteen people showed up for mass, and the Widow Turek was again among them. This time she stayed to introduce herself to Brother Cyryl and looked at him directly with her large green eyes and the effect she had was not that dissimilar to the effect her image had had on him in the Woods of Mldawa. She carried herself so upright, her breasts thrust out, as if quite aware of and proud of her beauty and perfection of form. Just standing by her made Father Cyryl feel more attractive and virile himself, though he was already quite a handsome young man. Part of the reason he’d joined the priesthood was because of his uncontrollable attraction to women, an attraction he’d hoped he could overcome and put behind him.
In the afternoon, the candles he’d bought in the village arrived in ox-cart, and the Widow Turek accompanied old Sonja with his order, carrying an armful of autumn flowers. She came to speak to Father Cyryl
“I hope you don’t mind, Father. I was just a little girl when Father Jerek left us, and I’m just so pleased to have someone back in the church after all this time. My soul rejoices.”
“No,” he said. “Not at all, Widow Turek. The flowers are lovely. Let me call Toja to get some water to put them in, and then perhaps you can tell me what you remember of Father Jerek and his disappearance. I’d like to know what he was like and what happened to him, if you remember. It’s still quite a mystery to me. No one will tell me anything”
“Oh, I remember, quite well, Father. He was a hard man and he drove everyone hard as well to build this church. In the end he went quite mad. I was very young and don’t remember everything from his early days, but I remember the last few years and they were terrible. He tried to deny the spirits of the forest, Father, and they drove him insane, absolutely insane. At the end he was braying like an ass and cursing people, and the leszys lured him to his death in the forest. One morning after a night of howling the mean of the village found the doors open and the church empty, Father Jerek’s supper standing uneaten, and they tracked his footsteps off into the woods where they just disappeared, Father, as if he’d been carried off. You can’t deny the spirits of the forest. Not out here. He angered them and they took their revenge.”
“Now, Widow Turek—”
“Please, call me Malo, Father.”
“Well thank you, Malo. But we’re Christians here, aren’t we? And we live under the grace and protection of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. We need fear no heathen spirit of the woods or ghost or devil or leszy. God is stronger then them and He protects us.”
“I’d be careful, Father. I don’t know if Our Lord Jesus reaches this far where we are. The woods of Mldawa, I think that’s where He banished all those devils to. They had to go someplace, after all, and we’ve seen them.”
Toja came in with a two clay vases for the flowers and Malo helped her arrange them on the altar. They made the church look festive but in a somber way. Autumn was here and the world was dying. Soon the harvest would be in and the family pigs would be slaughtered and people would briefly have meat again, a short, bittersweet time of celebration before the specter of winter froze everything and famine stalked forest and field. People would take sick and die.
“How did Father Jerek go mad?” Cyryl asked when Toja had left. He didn’t think the help should hear this. The autumn light of late afternoon was flooding through the stained glass windows and filling the church with shafts of red and blue and gold and it was difficult to think of anyone losing their minds when beams of heavenly perfection stained the floor with such luminous perfection.
“The spirits, Father. Their servants are in the forest, the monsters, but the gods speak to you in your mind. It’s not as though they jump out of the trees at you. The gods aren’t like that. They’re not a game for children. They begin to whisper to you under the cover of your own voice. Like this…”
She came over to him and took his arm and pulled him so he had to lean his ear down. Her breasts pressed against his shoulder, warm and full and firm.
“They whisper to you,” she said in his ear. “They tell you things you think are your own thoughts, but they’re unusual, they’re not what you usually think. They’re lustful thoughts, Father, shameful and impure thoughts, and they consume you, and slowly they take over your mind.”
Her whisper was soft yet very distinct. He could feel her breath on his ear and hear her tongue moving against her teeth and dipping like a delicate bird into the little pool of saliva in her mouth, so very intimately. The feel of her breasts against his shoulder made him weak and his heart felt like it was going much too fast.
She released him and he looked quickly into her face in time to see her long lashes closing over those sly cat eyes. She didn’t look like she was teasing. She was either entirely innocent or far more dangerous than he’d thought. She let go of his arm and backed away and her breasts rose and fell with her rapid breathing. She had a charming mole on the inside of her left breast.
“I’m sorry,” she said. “That was rude of me. I don’t know why I did that. Perhaps I’d better go. Yes, I really must get back. I can tell you more of Father Jerek another time.”
He was speechless and could only watch as she threw her shawl around her shoulders and quickly left the church and hurried down the dusty path back to the village beneath the dead and twisted trees. She seemed to glide, she moved so perfectly, a black shape upon the dry, lemon yellow landscape. He stood there stunned, the light from the windows falling in multicolored shafts on the floor behind him, showing the saints in their agonies of martyrdom, and he felt himself growing erect again, his cock raising its head like some monster from the woods.
As if in a dream he staggered to the door in the back of the church and went outside into the warm autumn sun. The woods almost swept up to the back end of the church here, the east end, and Cyryl stopped and looked into the welcoming shadows and darkness of the forest, seeing the mossy beds beneath the trees, the glades filled with soft growths of fern and cowslip. There was motion farther back in the shadows between the trees—something moving, something the size of a man or a bit smaller and thicker. It stopped his heart. It was fast and dark and didn’t move like a person. It was much too fast to be a human, running on its toes with a funny, shaking, palsied gait. It was too large to be an animal. It might be a leper, but how could a leper move so fast? And why would he be naked?
He tried to cry out but his voice wouldn’t work and his feet wouldn’t move. Not till he saw it dash away and saw the muzzle and the slanted eyes, the ears pressed flat against the lupine head, the long teeth made for slashing and its trailing forked tail did he turn and run back into the church. He threw himself down on the altar and began to pray with feverish urgency. As he prayed he prayed as well for an answer to his prayer.
The next day Father Cyryl confessed his parishioners. Only a handful came, but he was shocked. They had told him at seminary to take what he was told in confession with a grain of salt, for people liked to exaggerate their sins, and he recognized that these people hadn’t been confessed for seven years, but still, the stories of lust and depravity, of attempted murder and theft and blasphemy coming from the toothless mouths of grandmothers as well as the ripe lips of young virgins were just shocking. This was indeed a godless place to judge from what he was hearing, and confession took much longer than he’d anticipated. He’d missed his breakfast and his stomach was growling when a woman stepped into the booth and he heard Malo’s voice.
“Bless me Father for I have sinned.”
“Proceed, my child.”
“It’s been seven years since I’ve been to confession, father.”
“I understand and that’s not your fault. You’re not responsible for that.”
“But in that time I’ve done terrible things, Father. I hardly know where to begin.”
“Start with the worst. The worst will encompass the least, my child.”
“It’s my thoughts, Father. Evil, lustful thoughts that don’t let me rest. Thoughts that I hardly dare describe to you.”
“Then you don’t have to, my child. Ten hail Mary’s and—”
“But it’s only by telling you that I can rid myself of them, Father. They’re very personal, Father. They involve you in a way.”
Cyryl was quiet. He noticed now her scent. Had he noticed it before? Something like flowers, like attar of roses. Was she guilty of the sin of bathing? Of the vanity of perfumery like a whore? Her scent was delicious, not so thick as to be cloying, just enough to soften his imagination and to remind him of the feel of her breasts against his shoulder, how soft yet firm they’d been, how filled to bursting with that female [I]something[/I] that just made him want to grab her and squeeze and crush her against him.
He cleared his throat. “Yes?”
She moved her head closer to the screen. She was covered with her shawl so he couldn’t see her face but he could hear the urgency in her voice.
“I’m a lustful woman, Father. A man’s body attracts me, the spread of his shoulders, his hands, the strength of his thighs and buttocks. I’m having visions of a man now and he tempts me. This vision tempts me. It makes me weak. I want to be his slave.”
“Hear me, Father. If I don’t confess it, I’ll repeat it. It will haunt me and I’ll go to hell! Would you have me go to hell, Father? In my visions I fall down on my knees before this man. I can’t help myself. I bite his thighs. I lick him, Father. I’m an animal, I can’t help it. I pull my dress down.”
“Father, hear me! I can’t help myself and I pull my dress down and I rub my breasts against his legs. I’m his slave. He can do anything with me he wishes, that’s how much I want him. Do you understand, Father? Have you ever needed anyone like that? Do you know what that’s like? Does a priest have any idea what that’s like to want someone that much? To feel this kind of sin?”
Father Cyryl shifted uncomfortably in his seat. He couldn’t possibly deny the erection that now sprung painfully from his lap. “God in Heaven!” he murmured
She grabbed the wooden screen with her hand, her fingers clawing through to his side in her urgency.
“Yes! I call on Him but He doesn’t help. I’m a slave for this man and I can’t help myself. On my knees before him I open my mouth, Father. I suck his cock inside! That’s what I do, like an animal! How good he feels in my mouth! So hard, so firm, so alive between my lips! Throbbing with male strength, pulsing with virility. I could faint, Father. I could swoon from the pleasure of having him in my mouth! And I know what he must think of me, what a slut he must think I am, but I can’t help myself. The feel of his cock in my mouth is more than I can bear!”
Cyryl groaned and pressed his fingers into his eyes as if to erase the vision. He couldn’t bear it either. His cock was twitching, actually jerking beneath his robes, getting ready to spit just from this hussy’s words. He had to stop her or he’d ejaculate just sitting there, but he couldn’t stop a confession. He pulled his robe up lest he come and soil his one clean garment, and the sight of his cock straining in the air, shining like a salmon leaping in a stream only made him more aroused. If she were looking she would see. She’d see what effect her words were having on him, this poor excuse for a priest!
“If my vision stopped there it would be bad enough, Father, but it doesn’t. It doesn’t!”
“Oh my God!” he groaned.
“I know,” she answered. “Just when I feel I can’t take any more, he lifts me up—my lover lifts me up and bends me over, Father. He throws my skirts up over my back and he enters me from behind like I’m a mare or a heifer in the fields. Lord Jesus, why do I dream of being taken like an animal, Father? Why?”
Father Cyryl couldn’t control himself anymore. He simply couldn’t. He was biting his knuckle but to no avail. He cock was dripping, the big drop of pre-cum that had gathered glistening at the tip in the dim light of the confessional had spilled over and run down the crown and now he grabbed the shaft of his dick and squeezed it in agony and began to pump it up and down grudgingly, moaning, tightening his ass and fucking his hips up in counterpoint to his pumping hand, intentionally making a spectacle of himself, giving himself over to his shameful disgrace. He had his eyes closed, as if by not looking he could deny what he was doing, but he knew, he knew. He knew the shame and degradation his was giving himself over to. And meanwhile his ears were open and he was listening, listening to every word Malo was saying, and she was hanging on the screen now, staring at him like an animal in a cage as he beat off for her, a slave to her words, transported by what she was saying, caught up and caressed by the vision she was painting for him with her words and the sounds of her tongue in the sinful richness of her mouth.
“He fucks me, he’s fucking me, Father, holding my hips and pulling me back hard onto his thrusting cock, and oh God! it’s good! and oh God! he’s deep! and oh my God! he’s going to make me come, Father! He’s got my tits in his hands and he’s squeezing them and twisting my nipples and I’m screaming, Father, and my juice is dripping from me because I’m just a whore for this man! I’ll do anything he wants, Father! Anything! Anything at all! Anything! Oh God, Father! Oh God, yes! Yes Father! Yes!”
“Ugh! Ugh! Ah! Ahhh! Ahhhhh!” Father Cyryl’s eyes sprang open and his balls drew up tight. He seemed to be trying to climb right up out of the confessional and then his back arched and his hips lifted off the seat and jerked forward in a series of hot, hard thrusts and he began to come, shooting hard spits of semen against the wall opposite as he grunted and moaned like a primitive man, the white seed torn from his body, flung splattering against the wooden wall of the confessional by his shame, his raw animal need.
Malo watched him ejaculate, her face pressed up against the screen, her eyes under the darkness of her shawl wide and on fire, her breasts heaving, wet tongue licking her lower lip as if she’d lick the come as it shot from his spurting prick if she could only reach it—she watched him in the throes of his shameful, lonely release, jerking, spasming like a monkey in a cage as he hissed and moaned. She watched him squeeze it all out, the first strong shots to the final dribbling stream that coursed over his fingers, then she got up and quickly exited the confessional without a word and he sat and collapsed back onto his seat, too embarrassed to move, panting like a frightened dog, watching his come drip down the wall with the stink of male musk strong in his nose. It was the smell of sin, of lust, of his bestiality of his blemished soul. He heard the door close as she left the church, and then there was a howl from the woods, the sound of a wolf, but lower, deeper, rougher and more violent. It was answered by a call from farther away. It raised the hair on the back of his neck. He felt dirty inside, debased and degraded and fouled with sin.
He ran from the confessional, ran to the door he’d heard her use. He could see her walking away in the mist. There was no other creature outside that he could see. He watched her as the mists blew in from the woods and alternately hid and revealed her form until she entered the town at the foot of the hill and he felt the come dripping from his penis and running down his thighs, and then he turned and went inside. He found a rag and cleaned himself off, then he cleaned off the confessional. He prayed and cursed himself as he washed down the walls of his own human pollution, of his sin and his need for her, of the thrill he’d felt for her flesh and her body.
There were the sound of wings, great fleshy wings flapping in the air above his head, like some horrid giant bird, and then there was a sound on the roof. Something was walking about up there on two legs, slowly, walking back in forth. Cyryl stopped and listened. The thing walked, then stopped. It began working a slate tile loose.
He looked up. Another set of wings frantically flapping as something came in for a landing, and then there were two sets of feet up there. He heard them, walking about, investigating, and then wiggling the slates back and forth, their hoofs grating on the tiles. Another slate tile slid off and he saw its shadow fall by the stained glass window and heard it thump as it landed in the tall grass. He could hear breathing, loud, stentorian breathing. Father Cyryl fell to his knees in the confessional.
“Oh Lord, bless this your house, and your servants within it—”
Another tile skidded down the sharp slope of the roof and plunged off the edge, tumbling end over end till it landed in the deep grass. He heard the sound of water hitting the roof in a stream, like urine. One of the things was urinating, urinating on the roof of the Church.
Father Cyryl got up and ran to the rectory where Toja was standing frozen in terror with her mouth open, Niedan not far from her.
“They’re on the roof!” she said. “I’ve never heard them in the day time!”
“Are they coming in?” Niedan asked.
“Jesus will protect us, won’t he father?”
Father Cyryl still realized he was holding the semen-soaked rag in his hand. He hid it behind his back. “I don’t know,” he said. “I don’t know.”
That night it rained and there was terrible thunder and lightning. The water came in the hole in the transept and dripped down the inside wall from the hole caused by the missing tiles in the roof, leaving a trail of chalky residue on one of the stained glass windows that showed Saint Sebastian martyred by one hundred arrows. The morning was thick and cloudy and the mists were oozing from the forest like dragon’s breath flowing from between his teeth. Father Cyryl had left Toja to clean the window and had Niedan lead him through the puddle-strewn village to the crooked fence of Malodor Turek’s cottage. He found Malo sitting outside washing the roots of foxglove plants in a leather bucket and tying them into bundles. He sent Niedan on his way.
“Father!” she said with apparent good cheer. “Come inside. I’ll make you some chamomile tea.”
Father Cyryl knew that the law of the confessional prevented him from saying anything about what had happened yesterday, but he almost hoped Malo would. He was not a shy man and the priest’s robes felt constraining in talking to a woman. He knew he desired her and she was forbidden, but he didn’t know whether he should just deny his impulse, or admit to himself his weakness and pray for strength. When she led him inside he was aware of the closeness of the cottage, of her empty bed of rushes and of the fact that no one would enter a house in which a priest was visiting a parishioner. Malo stood by the smoky fireplace, feeding it sticks, and made her back straight the way she did, bringing her breasts into prominence. When she gestured for him to sit at the rough-hewn table, she smiled a knowing smile.
“Malo, I wanted to ask about the creatures we hear at night. They are wolves, I suppose?”
“You know what they are, father. Everyone knows what they are.”
“I don’t, Malo. Tell me.”
She crumbled up chamomile flowers and dropped them into an earthenware mug. “They’re leszys, father. Forest spirits. The bodies of men and the legs of goats and the heads of wolves or bears. They have the faces of the men they killed on their chests. One of them might be Father Jerek. One of them might be my husband Drogram, but now they’re just slaves of Borewit, the Goat-legged god of the forest—”
“Hush now, Malo! You mustn’t say such things! Those are pagan gods you’re speaking of, savage gods! Devils! We live in the light of Jesus Christ the Son of God. That’s who our church is for!”
She looked at him in surprise, as if he might be mad. “Well of course we do, father. But Jesus Christ can’t keep those things off the roof of his own house.”
“There are some animals that get up there. That’s all, Malo.”
“Father, I’ve seen them. They’re not animals. They’re leszys.” She used her skirt as a potholder to take the pot from the fire and calmly poured the boiling water into the mugs. Stray smoke from the fire had gathered in the rafters of the low ceiling where it was already black from soot.
“You did not see them!” Father Cyryl exclaimed.
“Father, I did. And so did Czebor Hodak and Pim Dizinksi. Father, everyone in the village has seen these things. Many times. And you’re not going to make them go away by telling us they’re animals. They’re the servants of Borewit, and he rules the forest.”
“They’re devils!” he shouted.
“Maybe they are, but they still rule the forest and they rule our lives here.”
“How can I get rid of them, Malo? What must I do?”
“Father, I don’t know. They’re monsters.”
“Will you help me, Malo? Will you help me drive them out?”
“Father, they’re not the only ones. The woods are full of all sorts of monsters. These don’t hurt too many people if we don’t go out at night. There are others that are worse, far worse, things that live in the earth and the air. I don’t know that we should interfere…”
“That’s why people don’t come to church then? Because they’re afraid of the monsters?”
She tried to smile. “Father, people can see the monsters. They look for Jesus in heaven. All they see is clouds.”
Father Cyryl stood up and Malo pushed his tea towards him. He shook his head.
“Father Jerek had the same problem,” she said. “He had to make the people work to build his church like slaves. The Baron had guards force them. Everyone hated him. They hate the church, Father. They still remember.”
“Then I’m just wasting my time.”
Malo didn’t say anything. She toyed with the tie on her dress.
“My confession helped me more than I can say, father. For the first time in years I feel at peace. Could we arrange for another?”
He stood and bowed his head. Even standing across the table he could smell her scent—fresh, like grass and wild roses crushed under the wheels of an oxcart. His body remembered the feeling of release, of ejaculation, the feeling of flinging off an enormous, crippling weight.
“Of course,” he whispered.
[I]You are a sinner,[/I] he told himself. [I]Your flesh is weak and corrupt. You long to spill your seed in the hole of a woman and give birth to more corruption. Go ahead, admit it. Dwell in it, you sinner! Dwell in it and seethe in the stew of damnation! You seek to plunge your cock into the sheath of a woman, into the tight, pink, vagina of a woman and move it back and forth and let her flesh grip you, let her wet, slick flesh cling to you, don’t you, you disgusting son of Adam? You want to work your skin up and back as she pumps her hips against you in her own wild lust and hunger. Look at you! Naked as sin, your ass exposed between her knees, rising and falling as you drive your dick into her cunt, moaning and gasping like an animal! You’re disgusting, contemptible, odious, revolting! [/I]
“Oh Father, forgive me my venal thoughts, forgive me for my sins and for the weakness of my flesh. Chastise my spirit as I chastise my body. Teach me remorse and contrition and set my feet on the narrow path of purity…”
Kneeling in the cold stone sacristy clad only in his breeches, illuminated by the feeble light of a pair of candle stubs, Father Cyryl weighed the scourge in his hand—nine long leather lashes with sharp lead weights on the ends attached to a wooden handle. It felt good, solid, capable. He held his breath and closed his eyes and squeezed it tight, holding on to it as if it could save him, then sucked in a quick breath through his nose and whipped it up hard over his left shoulder, gritting his teeth as the thongs bit into his flesh and the weights struck his spine with bruising force. It hurt more than he remembered, or maybe he was stronger now, or his ardor more intense, or maybe it was colder now with the window screen removed and his skin prickled with goose bumps. But he wanted it to hurt more now. Never had he been so sinful—not only masturbating in the woods, but in the confessional itself, polluting a sacrament of the Holy Mother Church. He was out of control, no better than a monster himself, and he needed to be scourged till he was bloody.
His back burned with pain as he drew the scourge back and whipped it up over his right shoulder, grunting out loud as the thongs tore into his flesh. He didn’t pause, but whipped over his left again, and his right, the whip whistling in the cold air of the sacristy. The skin rose in welts on his black and although he tried to suppress his cries of pain, he couldn’t keep from groaning out loud as the leather cut into the welts and they started to bleed, the blood seeping down his back in a way that caused a maddening tickle between the hot flashes of jagged pain.
Walking by the church outside, Malo saw the light coming from the sacristy window and came over and peered inside, saw Father Cyryl on his knees by candlelight, his body shining with sweat, his head bowed and brows furrowed in terrible concentration against the pain as he brought the whip up over his shoulders and whistling down to flay the naked flesh of his own innocent back. She stared at the priest as he whipped himself and knew instinctively that he was doing it because of her, because of his need for her, because of the way he’d fallen and transgressed for her, and she watched him with fire in her eyes, her breasts rising and falling as her breathing accelerated, studying every detail of him, feeling every lash of the whip herself. Her eyes locked on his groin, where his cock was erect. Father Cyryl, martyring his body before God, whipping himself till the blood ran, had an enormous erection, such was his zeal for the glory of the Son of Man and his desire to erase the sin he felt for her.
She hurried around to the front of the church and found the south door closed and bolted. The north door was open, though, and she let herself in and ran through the church beneath the gaze of the night-darkened stained glass windows and blind saints. There was a howling from outside, a hungry wailing from out in the woods as she ran across the transept and past the altar and the sanctuary. She could hear the angry lashing of the scourge even through the door of the sacristy as she stood outside and pounded upon the door with the flat of her hand.
“Father Cyryl! Father Cyryl! It’s Malo! Please open the door! I must speak to you! Please!”
The whipping sound stopped. At last came his voice from behind the door. “What is it Malo? Can’t it wait?”
“Father, it’s important! It’s about the leszys I came up her to tell you. It’s about getting rid of them. There might be a way.”
There was a long silence. He must be in terrible pain. His voice when it came sounded beaten and exhausted. “Yes? Then wait. Wait, my child. I’ll be with you in a moment. Just give me a moment.”
The door opened and Father Cyryl stood there disheveled, his surplice on crooked from donning it so hurriedly, his eyes and lips puffy as if he’d been sleeping or making love.
“Yes, yes? What is it, Malo? What can you tell me?”
“Father,” she said rushing in and putting her hands against his chest. “Father forgive me, I didn’t mean to spy but I couldn’t help but see what you were doing. You were chastising yourself.” She spoke hurriedly, pushing him back, not giving him time to reply. “You were using a scourge, and seeing that reminded me, it made me remember—they’re attracted to that. They’re attracted to human suffering, to anguish and grief and pain. It calls then and they can’t resist. We can call them, father. We can call them the same way, with the scourge, and archers can kill them. They’re just as mortal as normal animals, father. Archers can kill them and we’ll be done with them, father. Archers and men with spears. We’ll kill them and be free of them, father. It’s as easy as that. Give me your scourge.”
“What?” He looked at her.
“Give me your scourge, father. I want to show you. I want to demonstrate. Give it to me!”
He reached into his sleeve and put the whip into her hand.
“Lift up your robe and lean across the table.”
“Father! I saw what you were doing. This is a chastisement of the flesh, is it not? Lift up your robe!”
She pushed him down and gathered up his robe to reveal his red and striped back and Father Cyryl leaned across the rough boards of the sacristy table.
“Malo, this isn’t right!”
“Father, I can do this! And do it better than you!”
She put her small white hand against his skin as he leaned on his arms and raised the scourge and brought it down with a sizzling hiss across his back and Cyryl cried out, the stripes landing at right angles to the others. She raised his robe higher and gave him another stroke, this time the fall from the scourge wrapped around his ribs and the ends of the thongs reached as far as his nipple and the Priest gasped in pain. She reared back and gave him another, and another, and with each one he froze as if the pain temporarily paralyzed him, or was so good it had to be savored without moving.
“Yes, father? Yes?” she asked him, grabbing his hair and pulling his head up to whisper hotly in his ear.
“Oh yes, Malo! Yes! More! In the name of the Father, the Son, the—”
“Holy Ghost!” she completed, bringing the scourge down with a vicious snap across his back.
Cyryl arched, the muscles in his shoulders tightening as his shadow danced against the stone walls from the flickering candles, and Malo leaned forward, pressing her breasts against the welts on his back.
“Malo,” he moaned, panting for breath. “Malo, my God!”
She ripped open the ties on the bodice of her dress and opened it, and her breasts spilled out in the candlelit chamber. She leaned forward, rubbing her nipples in the blood that was oozing from the cuts on his back as Cyryl leaned on his arms beneath her, shuddering with the chill of uncontrollable lust, then she reared back, the blood on her breasts looked black in the candle light and she whipped him again, her face grim and beautiful—two three, four times, back and forth, whipping him as if he were nothing more than a plow horse, a stud beast for her pleasure, and Cyryl arched beneath her blows like a cat, offering the muscles of his back to her whip.
The pain bit into him and made him free, purged him of his sin and spoke directly to the nerves of his body. Under her lash he hand nothing with which to refuse her. Her will replaced his own, her lust became his God, and his search for light was replaced by her darkness, a darkness he could embrace as her passion filled him like a chalice.
There was again the howl from the forest but much closer this time, as if the beasts could smell the scent of blood, and it was answered by another, from the other side of the church. Malo had a grip on his tonsured hair, pulling his head up, her breasts were pressed against his back.
“You see?” she whispered. “:You see how they come? How they love your pain, father? Pain and lust, they love any strong emotion. It attracts them like honey attracts flies! Let me show you. Let me show you how they come! How they come, how they love to come!”
She reached down to his breeches and found his cock, big, swollen and hard. Cyryl groaned, his hips thrusting forward in automatic reflex. His balls were heavy and aching and Malo’s fingers slid inside his breeches and scratched along the bottoms of his gravid testicles, teasing and arousing them, then closed on his thick and massive tool and squeezed. Cyryl’s eyes closed heavily and his mouth fell open as he moaned like a beast. He felt the ejaculatory spasms in his prostate and his anus and he thought he was finished right there, but she quickly let him go, stepped back and, untying the sash of her dress, let it slide from her body. She stepped out of it and as she did the moon suddenly came out from behind the clouds and moonlight spilled in through the window, splashing down into the room and painting her naked body in silvery gold—her breasts, the tight flare of her hips and the shaped columns of her thighs.
“No,” Father Cyryl said, staring at her open-mouthed. “Malo. I’m a priest. You mustn’t do this. It means my immortal soul! Please!”
She pushed him back so his bottom was resting against the split-log table and she climbed up onto it like a cat. Squatting down over him, she took his cock in her hand and used it to part her wet and glistening folds, then, holding onto him with one hand behind his neck and pulling his resisting head to her breast, she lowered herself onto his prick, his hard shaft parting and stretching her tight and greedy little sheath.
“Ah! Jesu!” she moaned. He felt like a hot sword spearing into her. She was all snug, muscled and slick, dripping like honey down the column of his dick.
“God, no!” He murmured around the tit he was sucking, his fingers clawing into the table. His cock didn’t care what he thought, though, and jerked with excitement as it was swallowed in the crease of her cunt, her labia folding in as it penetrated her and her clit following in blind obeisance to the crude invasion of his master shaft.
She grunted, piglike, satisfied, then began to move up and down on him, bouncing her pussy as if she were on a horse, riding him, rude and hard, squeezing, twisting, and Cyryl’s head fell back, the sweat steaming on his body in the chill air, his balls rolling in their sac. He quickly surrendered, surrendered his cock, his body, and his immortal soul if that’s what she wanted. He fell back on the table and reached up for her rich tits, grabbed them and filled his hands with them.
“Oh!” she moaned. “Oh, yes! Oh!” Her cunt came down on him again and again, her skin sticking to him and pumping him, drawing the seed out of him.
She spread her hands out on the broad muscles of his chest and rode him, rode him fast and hard, a greedy mistress, demanding he give her what she wanted, everything that she wanted. She took his hand and showed him where to touch her. Showed him just where to put his thumb, and then she rode him like the devil and his army from hell was after her, she rode him and cried out as she came and Cyryl cried out too as his body jerked in its shameful, sinful release, spewing his hot seed deep into her, deep into the Widow Turek’s womb, corruption to corruption and sin to sin.
In the forest, the howling reached a fever pitch, loud enough to wake the devil. Claws scratched at the doors of the church.
There were only seven people the next night at Compline. Malo came in with a shawl over her head but Father Cyryl paid her no special attention. Jesus knew what he’d done. Jesus knew what he would do. Everything was in the hands of Jesus. If Jesus couldn’t reach this far to help Father Cyryl or answer his prayers for aid, then what was Father Cyryl supposed to do? The monsters were on the roof of the church during the service. The people heard them walking about with impunity on the roof of the Lord’s house. Roof tiles began to fall. A winged shadow passed between the moon and a stained glass window and those who looked at it felt ill, then all the monsters launched themselves into the air and they heard the beating of many heavy wings as they flew away.
They heard much howling in the forest. The earth was being given back to devils, the forest was closing in. One day they’d awaken to darkness and Borewit would be king over their village. Bats would fill the air and wolves and leszys would pad through the streets with human children in their mouths. What could they do?
The people all left in a group except for Malo, who Father Cyryl asked to stay.
He sent Toja and Niedan out and locked the church. He took Malo in his arms and kissed her and crushed her breasts in his hands. “Come with me,” he said to her.
He led her to the altar in the front of the church where he snuffed out all but one candelabrum and took off his stole and surplice and handed her the scourge.
“What is this, father?” she asked.
“You know what it is.”
“This is the church, father Cyryl.”
“This is no place. It’s an empty shell. Do what you did to me last night.” He lay down on his stomach on the altar
“I’m the priest here and my word is law. You don’t know anything.. Wasn’t that the way it was when Father Jerek was here?”
“I don’t know, Father.”
“My word is law. Do what I say. Do what you did last night.”
“Father, your back—”
“Whip my ass, then. Go ahead. Whip it.” He got up on his knees and stripped down his breeches to expose his backside. His cock was already beginning to rise. “Do as I say, Malo. Now we’ll see who suffers for whom or if He cares at all.”
She looked around inside the darkened church. The shadows were thick and black and she couldn’t see into the corners. The stained glass windows gleamed dully, the agony of the saints was invisible in the gloom. Father Cyryl’s cock was standing out erect.
She drew the scourge back and slashed him across the buttocks, the whip sounding harsh and cruel as the thongs raised welts in the tender skin of his ass. Malo’s fear had translated into more strength than she’d intended and Father Cyryl cried out.
“I’m sorry!” she said quickly.
He tightened his buttocks and grimaced as the thongs burned his flesh and the lead weights cut him and made him bleed. He looked like he’d been struck with a bunch of red-hot wires across his bottom, yet even as he was reflexively thrusting his hips forward his cock was so hard it was arching its back like a leaping fish, a drop of pre-cum already drooling from the tip belying his excitement.
“More,” he gasped.
Kneeling on the altar, his ass was almost at chest level, so Malo took up a position directly behind him and began to lash him back and forth, forehand and backhand, holding the scourge with two hands, the wicked swoop and slash of the thongs along with Father Cyryl’s grunts and moans of pain and pleasure filling the deserted church.
From the woods came the sudden cry of the leszys, close by and seemingly howling for blood. Cyryl ignored them, swept up in an ecstasy of pain and contrition, bleeding now, his cock jerking with every lash, his face transfigured into a mask of rapture and suffering, his blood spattered upon the altar. He reached back behind him and grabbed Malo by the hair and pulled her around in front of him, plunged both hands into her thick gold hair, and pulling her face to him, thrust his hips forward and rammed his prick into her mouth, impaling her.
“Oh! Jesus God! Take it! Take it!”
She sputtered at first, choking on the massive mouthful of meat, but quickly regained her poise and began to breathe through her nose and suck hard at his cock. Father Cyryl reacted as though the pleasure of her mouth had punched him in the stomach, his body folding almost in half, then he began to fuck her mouth with savage intensity, rocking up ferociously from his knees, thrusting the whole of his cock into her face, his lazy balls rolling with sinister intent in their sac, the thick shaft emerging from her mouth shining with saliva like an evil snake. Malo gasped and choked and the saliva spilled from her mouth. Outside, the creatures howled.
“Come here,” he said, pulling her head off his cock. “Come here!”
“What? What, Father? What?” She was delirious for him, her lips bruised and thick, swollen with lust.
He grabbed at her dress and pulled it up over her head , that rag that hid such a magnificent treasure. He jumped down from the altar, wincing as he put weight on his legs, then took her and pushed her and arranged her till she was standing up, her chest lying across the altar and he entered her from behind, his cock gliding into the tight clutch of her pussy with a thick, viscous sound as Malo arched for him, his face twisted into an insidious mask of lust. He grabbed her hair and started fucking her, hard, hard, pumping into her with complete abandon, his loins slapping against her ass with a thick, wet sound. The howling came again, so close as to come through the hole in the transept.
“Oh God, they’re close! They’re close!”
“You can call them, Malo, can’t you? You can!”
“No! They obey no one!”
“Your husband is one. He knows you!”
“Father! They’re monsters. They’re monsters of the forest!”
“You’re lying, Malo! You’re a witch! You’re a witch and you call them, don’t you? They always come when you’re around! They follow you when you’re around. You fuck them, don’t you? At night, you fuck them and do unspeakable things with them! You suck their cocks and they tell you their infernal secrets and then you come here and you beat a Father of the Church, you whore! You slut! You cocksucker!”
“No, Father! No!”
“Don’t lie to me Malo! Because I don’t care anymore! Now tell me the truth! You’re a witch, aren’t you?”
“Yes! Yes! I’m a witch! I’m a witch but so what? Fuck me! Fuck me you bastard! Fuck me with your holy prick! I’m a witch! I worship the devil, you son of a bitch because he’s the only one who cares! Your Jesus doesn’t care. Your God doesn’t care, so what should I do? Now fuck me and shoot your holy come inside me, you fucking hypocrite because you don’t care either! Shoot it in me before those things tear you to pieces! Your Father Jerek is one of them and soon you’ll be too!”
He grabbed her hair and pulled so that she arched her back and cried out in pain and he fucked into her with all his strength, trying to kill her with his cock, trying to rip her and make her bleed. He grabbed her and threw her down onto her knees on the flagstones and jumped on her again and stabbed her with his prick and began to batter her, biting her shoulders and squeezing her tits, a wild man, filled with the violent empty hatred of a man who has nothing left, not God, not love, not even hope. The howling of the beasts was loud now, so loud they might have stepped through the hole in the transept and torn him from her back and devoured him, hard cock and all. Malo was weeping out loud as orgasm took Father Cyryl, orgasm took him and rushed over him like a wall of fire and he felt like he was shooting acid into her, like his balls were filled with death, hatred and ruin, the silence of God, the disgust of Jesus and his refusal to even listen or look at him.
Father Cyryl pulled out of her. He pulled out of her and staggered away and sat down heavily on the floor of the church, his back against the confessional. There were more of the leszys howling now. The seemed to have picked up on his despair and were mocking him, howling and wailing, and Father Cyryl grabbed his cock in his hand and squeezed out the last drops of come and began to howl too. He put back his head and began to wail. Malo got to her knees and crawled to the shadows of a near corner, frightened witless, and Father Cyryl sat on the floor on and howled with the monsters of the woods, alone, bereft, surrounded by death and doom.
Borslaw arranged for Father Cyryl to buy honey mead from Ninorad Liska, which required Father Cyryl to empty out the collection box of the few coins there were in there and take the money he’d received to say masses for the dead. He didn’t mind. They wouldn’t need it, and if he were to say masses, it was more important he stay drunk. In the dim light of day there was the sound of snuffling from the woods and he saw things slithering in the forest. In the morning through his glass window he saw great red chicken feet lifting off from a tree and he wondered now if these things were the people from the village who changed their shape, come to harass him and do him evil. The earth was corrupt and there was nothing he could do about it. God had abandoned him and left him prey to whores and monsters that it was not in his power to deflect or refuse. He was no St. Anthony to pull his penis off with his own hands in the wilderness to foil the Tempter and bleed to death in Glory for Christ. There was nothing he could do but fight for no good reason, for no reward, a pitiful, doomed, laughable figure.
He drank mead with Ninorad. He drank so much he started seeing double and had to sit down. The clouds were low outside, the mist crawling through the trees like silent, evil vipers, the air bitter and cold and thick with the threat of rain. He was not far from Malo’s cottage. He thought maybe he would stop there on the way back along the muddy road and apologize for his behavior in the church and give her one of the jars of mead that were strapped to the horse. When he heard the sound, he thought it was thunder. He could walk by then and he got up and went outside, hoping to get to Malo’s before the rain.
It wasn’t thunder. It was horses. Archers and soldiers from the Baron of Swodjz, carrying torches and bows, and with them the Bailiff on a piebald charger. They churned up the mud and the men looked mean and sullen. The people were just coming in from the fields as the Bailiff gathered them together and read from a dirty scrap of linen:
“Whereas the village of Virlun is home to many witches and worshippers of Satan and his devils and monsters who wish His Most Excellent Sire, the Baron of Swodjz evil and bring sickness down upon him; and whereas witches and devils and monsters hate the cleansing power of fire and the righteous power of the bow and arrow; then the Baron decrees that every tenth house in the village of Virlun be put to the torch and if its occupants try to flee they do thereby demonstrate their guilt in the crime of witchcraft and shall therefore be slain by the bow and arrow for all to see, that they may thereby be an example for all the people of Virlun who may thus stop their mischief and evil works against His Most Excellent Sire, the Baron of Swodjz. So be it. Commence!”
And the men with the torches rode to one end of the village and started burning huts, counting every tenth one on their fingers, and counting none too accurately either, for they all were stupid and drunk, and as the people ran from the houses, men with steel helmets sat on their horses and killed them with bows and arrows, shot them down as they ran, men, women, old folks and children, left them writhing in the dirt where spear men came over and stabbed them easily in the throat or chest like animals, except for some women whom they raped, or some men whom they toyed with, spearing them in the rectum and balls and leaving them to suffer for their amusement.
Father Cyryl was drunk too, but he ran out and remonstrated with the soldiers, and was slapped in the face and pushed in the mud and thrown down and almost speared for his trouble. He was laughed at and despised, and once again God looked away and Jesus turned his back in contempt and he despised them back. He despised them with a hatred that was stronger than the love he once felt for them.
The soldiers passed Malo’s house and torched the old lady’s house two houses down and killed her with an arrow through the eye when she tried to escape. Then they got on their horses and rode away back to the Baron’s castle.
When Malo came to the church that night, Cyryl didn’t say a word. He pulled her inside and he kissed her desperately. He bit her mouth and he clutched her breasts as if he’d rip them off. He squeezed her to him as if he’d crush her to death, and tears rolled down his cheeks.
“Malo!” he said. “Malo! Malo!” It was all he could say. “The whip. Get the whip!”
The howling was already sounding in the forest. They could hear the slithering of vast bodies tunneling through the leaves.
“Take me outside. I want to go outside.”
“Father Cyryl, no! No! The monsters are out there tonight!”
“But you’re a witch. You know how to call them.”
“But I can’t control them, Father! I don’t know what they’ll do!”
He stripped off her clothes and gave her the whip, then took off his own clothes, gabbed her wrist and pulled her out the door in the transept and out into the weeds behind the church where the moonlight played through the trees in the woods.
“Where do you call them, Malo? Show me. I know you call them.”
“Oh my God, Father. It’s over there. Just in that clearing. By those two trees.”
“How long have you been a witch, Malo? How long?”
“All my life, Father. All my life. My mother was a witch before me.”
“Will they take me?”
“I don’t know Father. Father, they’re monsters! There’s no telling what they’ll do!”
He held her wrist and pulled her across the clearing towards the two saplings. He could see now the trees had ropes tied around them at chest height; old, frayed ropes, much used.
“What must you do, Malo?”
She was weeping now. “I tie you Father, and whip you. And they come.”
“Then do it!”
“Oh God no, Father! For the love of Jesus—!”
“Do it! Damn you to hell! Do as I say!”
She could hardly see the ropes she was crying so hard but she got his wrists tied to the saplings so his arms were out to the sides. They were naked, both of them, as naked as Adam and Eve in the moonlit clearing and Malo couldn’t stop crying, the snot and tears running down her face. Father Cyryl stood with his arms outstretched as if he were being crucified, and she got behind him and whipped him, whipped his back and whipped his ass and the sound of the scourge was sharp and clear in the moonlit clearing.
The howling started and there was the sound of wings in the trees and branches breaking. The howling got closer and with it came a darkness. Malo screamed and dropped the whip and ran back for the church, naked, running, and the wings came closer. Father Cyryl screamed when he first saw them but then he didn’t scream anymore.