The Name of the Artichoke (V)
Episodium V about how the very pious and bloodstained Franciscan brother Pio de Pollalonga has to get a change of clothes and the also very pious but immaculate and smarter William de Whiskey have to separate and see different things and there is certain confusion and misunderstanding and then the Great Inquisitor bishop Caraquemada arrives and believes there is lunacy and unholiness when he is welcomed by a dirty naked midget dropping from the sky and there is great pandemonium and hilarity but the bishop fails to see the fun and he is enraged
It was no challenge for always resourceful and sneaky William to sneak out of the church and join unmolested the crowd of half sleep monks tottering along the cloister to find out about the origin of the screams, mainly because my master wore a pristine habit while mine looked like a butcher’s apron. He had instructed me to take advantage of the turmoil and creep under the cover of darkness to my quarters to change clothes. I did as he said and I dashed out to my cell thus parting his protective company and custody. I could not witness the part of the events I am about to relate because at the precise moment they took place I was very busy by a tub, struggling with water and soap to wash the blood that incriminated the only piece of cloth I ever owned and that I still wear as I write these lines. But doubt not of the veracity of the account for it was related to me that same day afterwards by William de Whiskey himself and he was the most truthful witness a mortal can demand and he never lied to me but in one occasion, and even then it was only to preserve my innocence and the purity of my Christian soul. It wasn’t until many years later in his deathbed and about to give him the last rites that he admitted to me under confession that he had always been the man in the red suit who descended down the chimney to bring my Christmas gifts. I was fifty-six at the time and I felt moved for the trouble my friend had endured to bring me the same Christmas present year after year but I wished he had realized that I just needed one wooden spoon. But let not the Lord allow my mind to wander into sentimentality and nostalgia and let’s continue the narrative. I will use William’s personal account from his own diary that I kept after his demise and I still use as a pillow. These are his words and my hand shakes copying them for they remind me of my beloved lost friend, although they also shake when I write my laundry list.
Fragments from the diary of William the Whisky.
… after I left the fool God had found suited to put under my wing without bothering asking first I joined the group of lower life forms who call themselves men of God but are more like habit wearing rodents, both in appearance and in behavior. As I had expected they were all gathered in the library doing nothing but crossing themselves and murmuring prayers. After a lifetime of prayer those morons should have learned that God may listen to prayers but rarely attends them, busy as He his trying to understand His own designs that are indeed inscrutable.
Brother Marrano, that repulsive glutton, had found the body of the monk and was victim of a new fit of panic. Although he was not speaking in tongues yet, he acted like a possessed and whatever he was babbling was as incomprehensible as tongues and he moved his fat tongue so fast and so afar from the inside of his mouth that it did indeed looked like many tongues. Repulsive. I had to take matters in my own hands because panic was beginning to spread and fear is more contagious than the plague. I blessed brother Marrano with some strong blows on his head and sent him to fetch the abbot, well aware he would not find him in his quarters. I wondered what the abbot was doing at the church’s crypt. I pretended I was seeing the body for the first time but my pantomime was a waste of time because all the monks were looking to the ceiling waiting for God to come down and rescue them from their pathetic bewilderment. I snatched one of the monks by his hood and asked him if anybody knew who the dead friar inside the book was. It took some time to find a reliable witness who could identify his headless remains.
Finally a young monk recognized a mole on the corpse’s buttocks and I didn’t asked him how he knew of such a mark, his hear-piercing shriek revealed him as a despicable sodomite. The second dead monk was no other than brother Celestino, the same man who had been bathing the abbot when we arrived and who was certainly a sodomite too. During our walk to the kitchen Celestino had spoken into my ear praising in mellow hushed tones the rocky quality of my buttocks and offered to visit my cell to do penitence together, a clear indication of unnatural tendencies according to the classic philosophy treatsies on the subject, and the Greek masters knew a thing or two about sodomy both in theory and in praxis. The death of two sodomites in the same abbey in the same day had to be related somehow but nobody among the congregation knew what the monk had he been doing at library at that late hour reading a book.
Finally brutish abbot Malallet decided to show up after leaving whatever he was doing in the crypt. I noticed how he came from behind of one of the bookcases at the back of the library and I realized there had to be a secret passage connecting the crypt to the library. He was so furious when he saw me bossing around his flock as if they were sheeps that it took him some time to realize there was a headless corpse laying on the table and that sheep have more temper than his pathetic congregation of underlings.
‘ What is this monk doing with his head inside this book? ‘ He asked me, aware perhaps a reasonable answer could only be obtained from me.
‘ This man is dead brother abbot.’ I told him ‘ Somebody has crushed his head with the book lid. I think it is very likely the murderer is the same man who killed brother Panfilo because a similar method has been used in both murders.’
‘ This is an abbey, there is no murderers here. It might have been an accident, maybe a gust of wind closed the lid when the monk was reading the book from too close.’ Replied the foolish abbot and I felt tempted to kick his spermatic sacks. I had to refrain myself and do so uniquely at a dialectical level.
‘ Do you really believe that a gust of wind can lift this tome’s cow leather bound lead lid? And what sort of wind is that blows inside a closed space with maybe the exception of the wind that blows inside your skull.’ I answered, for there was much enjoyment in seeing his head fuming and about to explode. ‘It is obvious that somebody came here tonight, saw brother Celestino reading this forbidden book and closed the lid over his head with all his might. Whoever the murderer was he either came here by chance or followed brother Celestino and killed him ‘
‘ Another of your wild theories brother William and I will be forced to write a letter of protest to the Vatican. You can tell about this to Inquisitor Caraquemada, he will be here soon enough to listen to your theories and pleas for mercy.’
Abbot Malallet ordered the mess to be cleaned and everybody went to morning mass because it was dawn already and nobody would catch any sleep anyway. I excused myself of attending prayers to prepare my exposition on the upcoming scholastic discussion with bishop Caraquemada. My real intentions before meeting my dimwit pupil were to interrogate the dwarf monk and find out why he had left the note that had lured us to the library in the middle of the night and whatever else he knew about the whole rotten and unholy business that seemed to be going on in that evil hole.
The day before I had overheard Malallet instructing brother Mediano to clean the abbey’s chimney in case the inquisitor needed to make a big fire and the abbot had thrown a significant glance on my direction when he mentioned fire. The midget was the only monk small enough to fit inside the chimney and I was already on the rooftop waiting for him when he came out with his naked body blackened with soot. He looked like a coal chunk with arms and suppress hilarity was a difficult task. He had undressed to avoid soiling his small clothes that were piled up by the chimney stack and smeared his body with lard to slip down the narrow funnel. He became uneasy when he saw me there and tried to sneak down again but I grabbed his ankle just in time before it disappeared down the smoke stack.
‘ What do you want? I am just an insignificant and small servant of God. I have done nothing. Whatever you think I did it wasn’t me and if I was I have an alibi. Please let me go brother! ‘ He said while kicking and screaming in a very comical manner that made a difficult not to burst into laughter and remain serene and threatening, or even to remember why I had climbed to the roof in the first place.
‘ Why did you wrote that note?’ I asked trying to control my laughter.
‘ I don’t know what you are talking about! Let me go, I am little and there is little I know, there is even little pleasure in dropping my little body into the void for I will make just a little splash. ‘ He protested.
I hold him over the roof rim that offered a commanding albeit vertiginous view of the distant courtyard’s stone floor and remarkably swiftly for a man of his size he became more collaborative.
‘ Do you remember about the note now?’ I asked him.
‘ I meant no harm. I swear. I just wanted to know about the book. ‘ He said vehemently.
‘ How did you find out about the book? Who told you?’
‘ Brother Celestino did. He came to see me after the novice was killed. They were lovers, did you know that? They liked to have me flogging them while they did sodomy and many vile things that I saw with my own little eyes. They trusted me because I like flogging big men and nobody takes seriously what small people says with their high pitched voices anyway. After brother Panfilo was found dead he came to me and told me to flog him because he had many sins to atone for and flogging always relaxed him. I did as he said and afterwards he cried and told me about the book and the numbers. I wanted to find out what it was about and I wrote them down, for my head is small and there is little space to store big numbers. I went to the library but I couldn’t reach the shelf because I am a little and harmless, in case you haven’t noticed.’
‘ Why did you left the message under my disciple’s bed? ‘ I asked.
‘I left the number under your Franciscan’s brother’s bed so I could follow you both and find out about the book. I followed him tonight and saw how you two met and broke into the library. I was about to follow you upstairs concealed under a bucket when I realized somebody else was in the library. It was brother Celestino and he had a book with him. When he had heard you forcing the lock he had hidden under the desk and waited until you were gone. He didn’t know you were upstairs looking for the same book he had just taken.’
‘ Did you see who killed brother Celestino? ‘
‘ No. I swear. I just saw a big shape in the dark appear behind him and everything happened so fast that I couldn’t see who it was. He closed the lid and brother Celestino’s head exploded and I ran for my life. ‘
‘Mmm. Why were you interested in the book? How did Celestino knew of it? ‘ I asked as I shook him causing ashes to rain down the patio.
‘ I saw Celestino and Panfilo smoke a strange black matter that made them mellow and speak strange things. They gave me some once and I spoke strange myself but I felt higher and closer to God as I never felt before. Celestino told me the book revealed the secret of the origins of the dark matter and I wanted to find out so I could get more.’
My long life devoted the to study of obscure religious matters has unfortunately giving me little chances to hold a naked midget on the top of a roof and I might have miscalculated the true weight of dwarfs because when I realized that the fingers that had been clasped around Mediano’s ankle were hardly grasping his toe it was too late. He plummeted down to the patio to certain death but at the precise moment he was about to land on the cobblestone floor a carriage entered the courtyard and his body pierced through its canvas roof. As the midget dived down I had recognized the papal coat of arms on top of the embroidered velvet rooftop and I found the wisest course of action was to made myself scarce, uninterested as I was in the pandemonium that my actions would certainly unleash.
While William de Whiskey, my respected and wise preceptor was about to toss a midget from the roof of the abbey, I was down on the courtyard witnessing the arrival of the fearsome inquisitor Caraquemada and his retinue. I had finished cleaning my habit and was impatient to reunite with my beloved teacher unaware of the fact that his actions were about to unleash further mayhem and bewildering in the abbey’s community. I never saw the plummeting midget fall but I certainly registered the great commotion that ensued. After the impact that ripped a hole through the red velvet canvas that protected the occupant of the carriage I saw a speeding diminutive black shape running away followed by the inquisitor’s retinue. At first I though that finally God has heard my prayers and sent us some help in the shape of a coal gnome to help us in our predicament but then I recognized the piercing voice of brother Mediano. He ran while trying to give explanations to the soldiers chasing him around the patio. There was much laughter and rejoicing among the witnesses, me included, because the scene was indeed comical and unusual, but there was much less laughter and even less rejoicing when the inquisitor crawled out the carriage screaming in fury and with his smashed mitre around his neck. His red mantle was soiled with black dust and the neck twisted in an awkward angle that seemed unnatural and was certainly painful. We all had to struggle to suppress our laughter for fear of ending the day on top of a heap of firewood when he began to scream in a pitched tone of voice that seemed more suited for the midget his men were chasing than for a prelate of Rome. We all humble servants of God and His Church clenched our fist and with renewed vigor struggled harder not to laugh.
Bishop Caraquemada had a reputation that preceded him and it made the black legend of the Inquisition look grey in comparison. Eustaquio Craquemada had been born into a family of small landowners in the city of Calatayud and showed an early interest in inquisition: as a child he had denounced his own mother to the inquisition . At the age of six e had accused her of witchcraft for forcing him to eat a particularly nauseating chickpea soup. He presented the soup as evidence and it was so revolting that his mother was burn in the stake after the inquisitor tried a spoonful. Seeing his predisposition for cruelty and mercilessness the inquisitor sent him to Rome where he could apply his talents to the service of God and get paid an handsome salary for something he would have done for free for it was in his nature to be cruel and vile. As inquisition apprentice young Caraquemada introduced an innovative procedure to severe the ears of the heretics in a specially painful and slow manner that is known as Caraquemada’s twister in his honour. The Great Inquisitor, always interested in new fashionable forms of investigative procedures rewarded the promising young inquisitor with a post for him in France.
France was at the time and still is a fertile ground for heresy and hence the most coveted post for any young and ambitious inquisitor wanting to fight heresy and climb the tribunal’s hierarchy. There was plenty and variety of many different unholy heresies of all classes and conditions, some of them so wild and strange that half the population were considered heretics while the other half were blasphemers in the eyes of the heretic half. These are some of the heresies inquisitor Caraquemada found and fought there:
Animalbaptists: The animalbaptist believe in the holiness of livestock and their beliefs had earned outrage among churchgoers for it was the custom of animalbaptists to baptize their animals in the churches, leaving the baptismal water turbid with mud and feces. The most radical elements of this sect believed wild animals to be feral because they are not baptized and they began a campaign to baptize all sort of beasts and pests. The Pope proscribed this practices when the bishop of Tolousse lost his arms bitten off by a bear some animalbaptists were attempting to baptize disguised as a baby.
Carpentarians: The carpentarian heretics regard wood instead of bread as the body of Christ because Jesus had made a living a carpenter at beginning of his career as professional messiah. Carpentarians celebrate a form of heretical mass in which they have communion eating hosts made of sawdust and drinking varnish. The carpentarian heretics are one of the most conspicuous sort of heretic due to their custom of wearing clothing made of wood to honor their faith and capturing them is unchallenging for even the heavier inquisitors because the weight of their garments make them very slow and easy to catch. The Inquisition devised a torment using termites specially tailored to break the will of members of this sect that proved so effective that the group disbanded and the few survivors retired to live naked on top of trees.
Indolentians: The indolentians hold the believe that the End of Days is coming and it is not worth to do anything because it will be ruined any day anyway. In accordance to their believes the activities of this movement are so scarce and far apart in time that their members are usually mistaken by common lazy vagrants. This heretics wear dirty rags and long entangled hair and their appearance is unkept and vile in general.
Tricrhromatics: The trichromatics hold the heretic believe that the Holy Trinity is just one God painted with three different color coatings. Members of the trichromatic faith are easily recognized for their custom of repeating every action and word three times. Listening to them speaking is amusing at first but becomes boring after a while and soon any good Christian feels compelled to throw them into a fire to save their wicked soul and his own sanity.
Fornicarians: The unholy fornicarian heresy claims that human souls belong to God but the flesh is entitled to as much enjoyment and fornication as it can take. The fornicarian is probably the most dangerous heresy in the Vatican list of heresies because most people find more enthralling three minutes of copulation than three hours listening to a man speaking Latin. Fornicarians communicate among them using their tongues in a repugnant manner, shaking them far out their open mouths and rolling their eyes. Men and women of this sect fornicate in abominable manners an their vices turn their flesh putrid and vile but they seem to enjoy their belifs so much that they never give it up.
Morons: The heretic sect of the Moron Brethren are the followers of a disgruntled dumb serf who claims he was visited by angel Moroni who told him that God’s only source of amusement is watching mortals behave in an erratic and comical manner. According to Moronic teachings only the most laughable and amusing followers will achieve salvation and be allowed into heaven to amuse God with their moronic behavior. Morons are recognizable by the strange ways they exhibit in public and private although caution must be exercised as they can be easily mistaken by common imbeciles.
Iconoplasts: The iconoplasts are a dangerous band of heretic vandals who are against religious icons, particularly against depictions of the uglier saints. They travel across Europe carrying a buckets of lime and applying a coat of plaster on religious art they dislike or find offensive to their beliefs.
All these and many more heresies were found by Caraquemada in France and everywhere he went. He also had extensive experience dealing necromancy and black magic but none of these experiences had prepared his neck to withstand the landing of a blackened midget on his head and he was visibly disturbed when he emerged from his carriage. He barked orders to his guard to catch brother Mediano who had vanished into the orchard and who, due to his size, could have be hiding anywhere. It was probably only the timely appearance of William what spared brother Mediano from spending that evening laying on burning coals. William appeared from one side door of the abbey and walked leisurely along the courtyard pretending to admire the architecture of the abbey as if he didn’t know what had happened. When inquisitor Caraquemada saw him coming he summoned his guard to form around him and to protect his spermatic sacks with their shields, spears ready. Caraquemada watched every movement of William from a safe distance as my beloved mentor approached me and greeted me in a very pious manner instead of with the customary slap on my head.
‘ Oh! What is going on?’ Said William in a very effective rendition of surprise when he reached my side pretending absolute dettachment from the pandemonium unraveling around us. He gazed towards bishop Carquemada who was trying to regain his composture assisted by his bodyguards and I could see William’s face twitching to supress his giggling, then he spoke to me.
‘ His eminency has arrived althought it seems he had run in some trouble with his headwear. We must go and greet him, we are all men of God after all.’ That said William walked towards the party gathered on the centre of the courtyard with me on his tail. My devotion for my mentor dragged my humble body through the invisible wall of fear the infamous inquisitor inspired on me while I prayed to God he would not ask impertinent questions about my damp habit. Such a prayer did not went unanswered because when the startled Caraquemada recognized William he locked his vengeful stare on him and I became invisible to him. Caraquemada motioned the guards to protect his groin with their shields and to stay at readiness at both his flanks but William paced straight to him with slow long strides, hands folded inside the wide sleeves and a beatific smile on his face.
‘ Stand where you are brother William de Whiskey, I still don’t know what just happened, but I am sure is not coincidence finding you here.’ Said Caraquemada leveling his crooked staff in William’s direction.
‘ There is no coincidences His Eminence, only God’s whimsical will. I am sorry, lately it seems to be His divine will to befall upon you only calamities and misfortunes. I just wanted to greet His Eminence on His Eminence’s arrival’
‘ Cut that unholy crap brother William. I am here because you have failed in your task, the new Pope has sent me to unravel this unholy mess and find out who is staeling his cheese. His Holiness has promised to make me Cardinal if I find why the supply of the holy cheese is being jeopardized. ‘
‘ What about the dead monks? ‘ Asked William.
‘ What dead monks? ‘ Said the bishop his hangered expression turning into perplexity.
‘ Since we arrived here two monks had been killed: the first in the most cheesy fashion and the second literally smashed by literature. I haver reasons to believe both murders are related to the stolen cheese. ‘
‘ I have not time for riddles and wordplay brother William. I have a running nose and my back is killing me. Since the last possession I succesfully exortized by burning the possessed I have been feeling bad in my stomach. I can hardly take second servings. I will have the abbott brief me in thiese matters and if there is any discrepancy between your ramblings and his account I will glady include your wild depositions in my investigations. I will retire to rest now. Be ready tomorrow morning because we’ll start the hearings. It’s Inquisition time!’ Said Carquemada and then left still shielded by the impenetrable rows of armed guards.