Sunday, December 02, 2007

The Last European. Chapter Seven.

Previous: Chapter Six, Chapter Five, Chapter Four, Chapter Three, Chapter Two, Chapter One

Stern was the law which bade its vot'ries leave
At human woes with human hearts to grieve;
Stern was the law, which at the winning wile
Of frank and harmless mirth forbade to smile;
But sterner still, when high the iron rod
Of tyrant power she shook, and call'd that power of God.
--Walter Scott

Without any additions or subtractions on my part, I'll present what I saw on the screen that night.

Act 1. Scene 1.

A small medieval village, probably in the year 1350 or thereabouts. There is some kind of trial taking place in the town square. One gowned, solemn priest is presiding as a judge.

Cobbler: I think the good father will find her guilty.

Merchant: But she is so young and pretty, I would hate to see her put to the torture or burned.

Cobbler: Father Ramon will do what has to be done.

Merchant: I suppose so, but it seems a pity.

Fishwife: You men are all alike! Show you a pretty face and you're all for mercy. That hussy deserves the stake. And Father Ramon will see that she gets it. It's his duty. He won't be turned from it by a pretty-faced woman.

Father Ramon: Young woman, I have heard the witnesses and examined the evidence. I have no alternative but to pronounce you guilty of heresy and witchcraft and to sentence you to be tortured and then burned at the stake. And yet we might be merciful if you would confess your heresy and repent of your witchcraft.

Elizabeth: My lord, I do not wish to die, and the thought of torture frightens me, but I cannot confess to something I have not done. It is true I obtained a copy of the New Testament and read it to my son, but he was terribly sick and I thought the words of Our Lord might comfort him. And it is also true that I nursed him back to health without the aid of doctors, but that was no witchcraft. I simply fed him broths and garlic instead of having the doctors bleed him. I am no heretic and no witch.

Father Ramon: From your own mouth, you bear witness against yourself. We find you guilty. I sentence you to be immediately taken to the place of torture. And from there you will be taken to the stake and burned. God will not have mercy on your soul because the judgment of this court is the judgment of God. There is no higher court.

A large man, about 40 years old, steps out of the crowd and into the center of the town square.

Bulkington: I challenge the judgment of this court and demand the right, in the name of Jesus Christ, to prove this woman's innocence by trial of combat.

Father Ramon: It is a popular belief that an appeal for a trial by combat cannot be denied, but that, like all popular beliefs, is false. A trial by combat cannot be denied by the civil authority, but we of the Society of the Tridentine are a civil and an ecclesiastical authority. And the ecclesiastical authorities do not have to recognize an appeal for a trial by combat.

Bulkington: Surely the court will make an exception in this case. This woman has no husband and no son old enough to champion her cause. She has had no attorney to speak for her. It seems only fair that she be allowed a champion to prove her innocence.

Father Ramon: This woman is guilty and that is final. There can be no alteration of the verdict. However, this court will consider altering her punishment should you be willing, Sir Knight, to be put to the test, in which case this court would consider changing the woman's sentence from death to banishment.

Bulkington: I accept the conditions.

Father Ramon: I warn you the test will be severe. It might cost you your life.

Bulkington: Still, I accept.

Father Ramon: It is done then. Guards, escort that woman to the jail. Don't worry, Sir Knight, she will not be harmed until your quest ends. If you fail, she dies. If you succeed, she is banished. Now, take her away.

Elizabeth: May I be permitted one word before I'm taken to jail?

Father Ramon: Yes.

Elizabeth (to Bulkington): Thank you, sir, with all my heart.

Ramon: How touching; now take her away. Now, Sir Knight, or Sir Pilgrim, or whoever you are. I don't know where you came from nor do I care. You have rashly declared that you are willing to be put to the test. Well, this court now decrees what the test shall be. You will be escorted to the edge of the Forest of Fears. You shall then enter the Forest and proceed through it until you come to the Castle of Horrors. You will bring back the head of the Lord of that castle. No other token will be acceptable. Bring back the head, and you will have achieved the release of the woman. Now go.

Scene II.

Old Friar: What brings you to these woods, good sir? It is not often that these woods are traveled.

Bulkington: I seek the Castle of Horrors.

Old Friar: I have spent eight score years on this earth and five score years have I spent in these woods. I have seen many men pass by seeking the Castle of Horrors, but never have I seen them return. They all perish. Why would you go there?

Bulkington: I seek the Lord of the castle.

Old Friar: Why?

Bulkington: I must kill him.

Old Friar: Again, I ask you, why?

Bulkington: It will free an innocent woman.

Old Friar: I see. Now I know. Father Ramon sent you. What will you do if the Lord of the Castle is a good and true man? Will you still kill him?

Bulkington: No, I will not.

Old Friar: Then will the woman die?

Bulkington: Perhaps, but perhaps I can still save her.

Old Friar: Though not an old man, you seem old enough to know that we must all bend to Providence. There is very little we can control. Go back, give up this foolish quest and pray for the poor woman's soul; that is all you can do.

Bulkington: Is that what five score years of prayer and fasting has taught you? Well, I can't accept that. I know the victory belongs to God, but it seems to me, at least every drop of my blood tells me so, that we are enjoined to give battle.

Old Friar: Those are the words of a child. That woman's life, be she innocent or guilty, is but a speck in this vast universe. It is of no consequence. Nothing is of any consequence except His will. And all is going according to plan.

Bulkington: I suppose that passes for wisdom amongst your fellow friars, but I hear only nonsense. When you talk about the lord, to whom are you referring?

Old Friar: To the Lord of the Universe, to Jesus Christ.

Bulkington: I'm not sure I'm familiar with your Christ. The one I know cares about his children, each and every speck.

Old Friar: There is a force behind the universe that binds even our Lord. We must all bow to it. Father Ramon and the holy fathers of the Tridentine know this; you do not.

Bulkington: If, as you say, there is a force more powerful than Christ, is it to Christ you pray or to the force?

Old Friar: I pray to Christ because he is the intermediary. He carries out the will of the force.

Bulkington: Is this force a benevolent force?

Old Friar: This force is neither benevolent nor malevolent; it is simply the force.

Bulkington: Could you point the way, now, to the Castle of Horrors?

Old Friar: After all I have told you, do you still wish to go to the Castle of Horrors?

Bulkington: Yes, Old Friar, I do, because I do not worship the force.

Old Friar: Well, if you must go, against my advice, please take this magic talisman. It will aid you in your quest and keep you free from harm.

Bulkington: I want no talisman from you, Old Friar. Just point the way to the Castle of Horrors.

Old Friar: Foolish man! If you refuse my help, then go to your doom. There, beyond the stream is a valley. Go down that valley and up to the other side of the hill. Then you will see the Castle of Horrors. And may God have mercy on your soul.

Bulkington: And on yours, blasphemous Friar.

Scene III.

Chorus: Now the intrepid Bulkington has reached the valley that the good, old friar has directed him to. It's quite a descent. In the valley is the cottage of the lovely lady. Maybe she can be of some assistance to the Quixotic Bulkington. We shall see.

Bulkington knocks on the door of the cottage and is admitted.

Lovely Lady: Please enter. You must be tired and hungry.

Bulkington: No, I am seeking directions. I'm looking for the Castle of Horrors.

Lovely Lady: Oh heavens! Why would you seek such a place?

Bulkington: An innocent woman's life is at stake. I must get to the Castle of Horrors.

Lovely Lady: Oh, you men! You always must be seeking something. And what you seek never pleases you when you find it. Stay with me here. In this cottage is all that a man needs.

Bulkington: I need to find the Castle of Horrors.

Lovely Lady: Why? So you can kill? Yes, I know what you have been sent to do. Many men have passed through this valley to the Castle of Horrors. And they all have died.

Bulkington: Who kills them?

Lovely Lady: Some perish in the ascent to the castle, and the rest perish when they meet the Lord of the castle.

Bulkington: And who is the Lord of the Castle?

Lovely Lady: A very great man and a very evil man. This valley once contained a village. Now, only I remain. The women, at least the young ones, he took to his castle. The men he killed. It was a horrible time.

Bulkington: Why are you allowed to remain here unmolested?

Lovely Lady: That I do not know. Perhaps Our Lord preserved my life so I could warn travelers of the dangers of the Castle of Horrors.

Bulkington: No, I don't think that is the reason. I think you are here to aid the Lord of the Castle. Your beauty is too ethereal; it is unreal. I think when a man kisses you, he dies. And many men have died here, have they not?

Lovely Lady: This is raving, complete madness. My kisses cure, they do not kill. Come, I'll prove it to you.

Bulkington: Stand back, or this dagger enters your heart.

Lovely Lady: Fool, go then and meet your doom in the swamps.

Chorus: So Bulkington proceeds to the swamps. If he had had stayed in the cottage, he would have seen the lovely lady return to her true shape and form, that of an old hag.

If you look closely you can see Bulkington in the distance, wading through the swamp. Look! A crocodile is gliding, unseen, toward Bulkington. At the last possible moment, he turns and faces the reptile. The crocodile's initial thrust dislodges the dagger from Bulkington's hand. He is weaponless. The mighty jaws of the crocodile are now open and set to close on Bulkington…

Well, you saw the same thing I did. Bulkington grabbed the crocodile's jaws and forced them to open and open and open, until they broke. The crocodile is dead, and Bulkington has reached the edge of the swamp safely. Now he will ascend the mountain that leads to the Castle of Horrors.

Scene IV. The Castle of Horrors.

A giant stands in front of the castle entrance.

Giant: Stop right there, little man. No one goes into the castle unless I let him go in.

Bulkington: Then stand aside. I have business with the Lord of the Castle.

Giant: I stand aside for no one. You go back to where you came from or die.

Bulkington: I give you fair warning – stand aside or you die.

Giant: Who are you to challenge me?

Bulkington: I am Welsh; I have the blood of Corineus, the giant killer, in my veins. If we fight, you will die.

Giant: We shall see.

Chorus: All the world knows of Corineus's great struggle with the giant Gogmagog. Will this battle equal that one? Let us see.

(The chorus remains silent for one hour.)

Chorus: Well, you saw it. At first it seemed as if the giant would squeeze the life out of Bulkington in no time at all, but he didn't. Bulkington escaped from his grasp and made a series of attacks to the body of the great giant. Many times it seemed like the giant would prevail by crushing Bulkington with one fatal blow. And Bulkington did receive many a blow. His face is covered with blood. But in the end, it was Bulkington who picked the giant up and hurled him off the cliff. He is worthy of his ancestor.

Now, he faces the Castle of Horrors. He cries out to the men of the castle to let down the drawbridge. This they do and Bulkington is allowed to enter the castle. He proceeds, unmolested, to the throne-room. There he meets the Lord of the Castle. The Lord is a portly, cherubic-looking man of about forty-five years of age.

Lord of the Castle: You look a mess, Mr. Bulkington. Let me have one of the servants tend to your wounds.

Bulkington: That's not necessary.

Lord of the Castle: Oh, I see. You do not want to accept the hospitality of a man whom you are about to kill. But I am not worried in the slightest. Why? Yes, I see that question on your face. Because I am innocent. Oh, don't mistake me, I'm not innocent as the newborn is innocent, but I am innocent of the crimes that are attributed to me. I am not a fiend. I do not sacrifice virgins nor do I indulge in wizardry or witchcraft. If you kill me, innocent blood will be on your hands. And a man who goes through what you have in order to spare an innocent life will not take a life to spare a life.

Bulkington: Are you the Lord of this castle?

Lord of the Castle: No, Father Ramon is the lord of this castle. He is the lord of this land. Long ago he decided he needed a Castle of Horrors to send "difficult" men to. The witch in the valley, the swamp, and the giant were all placed there by Father Ramon.

Bulkington: Have others come to the castle to kill you then?

Lord of the Castle: Hundreds have been sent, but you are the first that ever made it to the castle.

Bulkington: Why do you allow Father Ramon to use you as a figurehead?

Lord of the Castle: Because I am a weak man. I did not want to be put to torture. Even though he is my brother – yes, I said my brother – he would kill me if I opposed his will. I am not an intense man. Good food, good music, that is all I crave. I am not an obsessive man like my brother or like you.

Bulkington: You liken me to your brother?

Lord of the Castle: Yes, in one way. In other ways, no. You are like him in that you are both obsessed with God. But you are obsessed with two different visions of God. Your God is, for want of a better word, a cavalier. Honor, love, bravery and all that. My brother Ramon's God is a majestic God, above love, above human honor codes; he is simply the Almighty.

Bulkington: And which vision of God do you believe in?

Lord of the Castle: Oh, I don't believe or disbelieve. I don't think we can ever know about God one way or another. But I will tell you something in confidence: if there is a God, I hope he is like your vision and not my brother's.

Bulkington: Well, you are right about one thing; I can't kill you.

Lord of the Castle: I knew you wouldn't be able to. And I know you feel terrible about that young woman's fate. But there is really nothing I can do to help you.

Bulkington: Will you explain something to me?

Lord of the Castle: Of course, if I can.

Bulkington: Why does Father Ramon send men to kill you?

Lord of the Castle: The men he sends are men that he finds troublesome and wants to dispose of. Since they have committed no crime for which he can execute them, he sends them on a quest that he is sure they will never return from. His pretense for the quest varies but the result is always the same – death.

Bulkington: Then Father Ramon sent me on this quest hoping that I would be killed?

Lord of the Castle: No, in your case, it was different. You see I have my spies too. I have a few friends in my dear brother Ramon's camp. For some reason that I can't quite fathom, my brother Ramon wanted you to succeed. He wanted you to kill me, which makes no sense to me. I do him no harm. In fact, I provide a useful service for him. Nor does he care a fig for the life of the young woman. So, I am confused. Why, this time, did he hope that you would succeed?

Bulkington: This world you live in, what do you call it?

Lord of the Castle: Whatever do you mean? It is earth; there is no other place for mortals.

Bulkington: But there are different parts of this earth and different planes of existence. But let that pass. Apparently the Council of the Tridentine has long tentacles. I think your life was to be a pawn in a cruel chess game meant to bring about my disgrace, though it is hard to believe that men so learned could be so foolish. Did they really think I would simply march in here and cut your head off without trying to find out whether you were an evil or just man?

Lord of the Castle: I think I see a little light. Yes, that much is clear. My death was to bring about your disgrace. And as for their blindness; that's easy to explain. A horse with blinders on sees only what the blinders allow him to see. My brother and the men like him have blinders on their hearts. They could never see what you see or feel what you feel.

Bulkington: You are talking like a man of faith.

Lord of the Castle: No, I am not that. But I will tell you this. When I go into my bedroom tonight I will kneel and pray to the God who may or may not exist, and this is what I will say to that God: "God, please, if you exist, help me to feel what that man Bulkington feels and see what that man Bulkington sees."

Bulkington: You are a better man than you know. God bless you. Now, I must go back and see this brother of yours.

Lord of the Castle: And God bless you.
Continue to Chapter Eight.