Anno Domini 1222.
I first became fully conscious of my new situation when the cold morning air hit me after the overpowering warmth of the large underground room I had just quit.
My work was now mostly finished, but it had been an unsatisfying labor... not one of love, but one of utter, all-consuming hatred.
I would be forever damned after that, but I didn't care.
(It was not until many years later that I became aware of just ‘how’, I was damned.)
The anger faded slowly, having been assuaged to some degree by what I'd done, but the anguish and the sorrow that the Chambertins had left me with, over loss of my own family, would never die.
I also knew the worst was yet to come. The Church; my church, did not like to fail, and it had failed. It did not forget, and it had a long arm.
However, like these Chambertins, those in the church would assume that I’d been killed on the road to St. Denis after I’d received a letter to report to the monastery there. By that act, the church had admitted to being complicit in what happened to me and to my family.
The plot to kill me and my family had been some time in the making, and the Chambertins had had help.
The man sent to kill me, with his henchmen, had made but the one mistake.
After they’d cut me down on the road, they’d not made sure I was dead before they cast me into that ravine before others came along.
I survived. I lived long enough to bury my own family, with the help of some friends, and then I’d brought an end to theirs, even as they’d watched in terror, each of them knowing what their fate was to be, at my vengeful hands.
To help, I had a charcoal brazier, and more instruments of torture than any man or woman would ever desire to become familiar with. I knew where they’d been kept, awaiting the next visit of the Holy Inquisition.
As a youth, I had been made to watch their use, so I knew more than anyone should ever know, who expected to sleep easily again.
Too many innocent men and women had encountered them for what must have seemed like an interminable moment of testing them and their faith, and none of it had ever been of their choosing. They had often sought to avoid it... itself a mistake, as the testing then became even more pointed and painful... often to the point of great disfigurement, and even death.
The screams of those under torture still rang in my head.
“They are the screams of the complaining demons within them”, was the way it was explained to me, as a boy.
More than once, those who had been subjected to such horrific torture in the name of God, had been well known to me and to my family. I had always known only good things of them. It caused me to think, rather than to blindly believe.
I began to doubt.
Doubt... the first step to perdition.
The words of the priests had rung inside my head after the slap I had been given to smarten me up.
I began to question that this could truly be the work of a kind and forgiving God.
Questioning one’s faith... the second step.
Followed by another slap.
Slowly I began to turn away from the church, but only in my thoughts.
I learned to keep my doubts and questionings to myself. I saw what happened to those who questioned the teachings... or had been said to have questioned their teachings, whether they had or not.
There was no way of avoiding or evading the church, with its tentacles through every aspect of my life, so one soon learned to stay quiet.
I was a favored ‘son’, and as such, the church seemed to be on my side, helping me; benefitting me. I did not need to lose that favor.
It was sometimes dangerous to speak out, even within the supposed safety of one’s family. A careless word here, or there, was all it could take.
I kept my thoughts to myself. I never let anyone see my doubts, or my concerns, or my fears.
I learned total and blind compliance with what I was taught, and I became a model of what the church wanted of me. Unquestioning acceptance; blind faith. I obeyed everything. I followed all of the rules.
In my naivete, I was determined that I would rise to the highest ranks open to me, and that I would undo this cruelty; make whatever changes I could, to bring the church and its teachings, to the people in a kinder way.
They had been the dreams of childhood. Dreams of justice, of honor, of fairness, where the weak, rose up and prevailed.
One's enemies are always ready to block such ambitions, and I had enemies I did not even know about.
I told you I was naive.
But the church was self-centered, selfish, self-serving, viciously cruel; protective of its corridors of power, and it knew nothing of those virtues, not wanting to know of them. Absolute power, and absolute subservience, was what they demanded, and got.
I do not know what led them to question me at first, but rumor and the incessant drip, drip, drip, of doubt of my commitment had come from somewhere. The Chambertins had spread that rumor that had seen my family murdered. I knew that now. I’d heard that on the road after they’d cut me down and had left me for dead.
What they, and the church, could not achieve in the open, they achieved by treachery. The ax had fallen on my family that one fateful day because of that.
For whatever reason, my own Church had turned on me, and had conspired and contrived with that rival family to see my family murdered.
I spent all of that first and second days after that grisly discovery that no one should ever see, recovering slowly, burying my family; two, sometimes three bodies of related family members to a single grave. There were twenty bodies in all. I buried them with help from friends in the village, whom I swore to secrecy, and who’d risked their own lives in helping me.
We concealed the graves after that, but I marked them in a way I would remember.
As far as those who helped me were concerned, I was dead, and I must remain that way.
After that, and recovering my strength, my anger had only grown....
Two servants of that Chambertin family came to my home barely a day after that, almost as an afterthought, to burn everything down and to hide what that family had done.
They died, instead. They were left to rot where they fell from my crossbow, and for the wild animals to drag away.
That family would be made to pay the price for this, and I had started on that, with those who’d sought to destroy me by using the church against me... the Chambertins, who had long been our not so silent enemy. They had been jealous, vindictive, waiting for an opportunity.
They had found it, starting with me. I told you how it started, with them murdering me one day on the road to St. Denis. At least, they thought they'd murdered me. It was a mistake that would cost them, and the church, very dearly over the coming years.
I awoke fully then, seeing the church for what it had become. Through that dreaded, Holy Inquisition (nothing ‘holy’ about it), they had been doing the work of the devil for him, and had claimed it to be the work of god.
I do not know what they had accused me of to wish me dead. It no longer mattered, the church and I were at war. I had become as bad as them.
The questioners of the Inquisition had never been gentle in their questioning, or their testing of faith, but I fear I may have put them to shame by what I did. I allowed no confessions. I had no questions to ask. I cared nothing about being saved by faith. I showed no mercy.
The males of that Chambertin family told me anyway, of this Faustian bargain they had agreed to with the Church that would see their star rise, as ours had fallen. They confessed everything to me without even being asked. Oh, how they talked when they saw their deaths galloping up on them, and as the hot irons came close, and touched their tender bodies! A man will confess to anything at a time like that.
I took note. I remembered everything.
An extreme, unreasoning anger had driven me every step of the way. When you tried to kill the king, you had better not fail. I was no king. I was much more powerful than that. Unlike a king, I had nothing to lose. Nothing. And furthermore, I was believed to be dead.
Those men had not believed what I intended at first... until I dragged one of them; the youngest; Robert; my would-be murderer, to the middle of the room and pinioned him into that torture rack. They threatened me at first. Empty threats, with them tied along the wall where they would see everything I did.