THE GRAIL’S STORY, PART XXIX: Archbishop Ignatius
Father Ignatius had fully expected Mordred to win the Battle of Camlan. They had superior numbers, but more importantly, God was on their side. A victory would have earned him a place as an advisor of the court, albeit subject to the whims of another temporal power that he had only modest control over. At least he’d finally have possession of The Holy Grail.
What he ended up with was far beyond his wildest dreams—vast wealth and nobody to tell him what he could or couldn’t do with his money.
Greatness often consists of nothing more than being in the right place at the right time, but Ignatius definitely Carpe Diem’d. He rounded up a handful of unsavory characters, commissioned them as Knights of the Holy Order of Forage, gave them whatever horses they could find wandering near the battlefield, and sent them out to locate a suitable headquarters for their fraternity. When one returned to report a farm house complete with a large barn no more than a mile away, Ignatius lead his band there, killed the owner and his family—must have been apostates, since they weren’t displaying crosses prominently—and moved in.
The next few days were a bustle of activity from daybreak to dark as impressed work gangs of Celtic farmers, supervised by the newly-dubbed knights, stripped the dead and hauled the booty back to the barn. Fine weapons and armor, worthy of the greatest of Britain’s nobility, lay scattered on mounds of hay. Gems from dead fingers, heirloom broaches, and Roman coins filled a manger to overflowing. And all this in an economy where the plainest of swords cost half a year’s wages of the average peasant. A couple of the laborers caught slipping a bauble or two into their own pockets were killed in rather messy fashion. And thus the new Church of England—the New Roman Catholic Church of England, not the later Anglicanized version—ended up with almost all of the loot from the battlefield. Later on Ignatius’ band raided Caerleon, adding to the treasury.
With the matter of funding settled, what Ignatius needed next were soldiers, loyal men-at-arms to provide the muscle for the Christianization of Britain. Not all that many would be required—the Battle of Camlan had wiped out the heart of the opposition. And the solution was right there at hand. It turned out to be no trouble to recruit a couple of hundred young Saxon warriors who swore fealty to Ignatius in exchange for the promise of a plot of Arthur’s land.
With ambition, money, and a supply of hardy soldiers, the Church was practically founded. Saint-to-be Ignatius’ Edict Number One established Christianity as the true religion of the land, with Ignatius as its Archbishop subject only to the Pope, and outlawed the practice of any other religion. Edict Number Two legalized a tithe from every inhabitant of the land. Only stonemasons were exempt from this tax; from these he required instead one year’s servitude to help build a great cathedral to house the Holy Grail that God’s hand had rescued from the Forces of Evil.
The one thing that The Grail and I were never able to quite determine was where this all took place. She was certain that he had not returned to Camelot. Nor was it Caerleon—at least, it wasn’t Arthur’s stronghold. They did travel, but it was several days rather than weeks or months. My research has not turned up any evidence of a Cathedral established in the first quarter of the sixth century other than places like Canterbury, and we can be reasonably sure that wasn’t it. Considering the standards of architecture and construction of the time, my assumption is that Archbishop Ignatius’ ‘Cathedral’ didn’t stand very long—or very tall.
* * * * *
I stayed mostly locked away in a chest in Ignatius’ chambers. But Ignatius was not a man of serene humility. On Saturday evenings, when the work for the week was done, he would take me out of my cloister just to hold me and dream and gloat, or occasionally make a speech for a pretend audience who stood and applauded his efforts.
I grieved over the destruction of Arthur’s kingdom for a while. But I had been mostly on my own since Merlin’s demise, and my natural pragmatism quickly took over. There’s no use crying over spilt blood, as the saying goes.
My experience with Drysi had made me wary of probing his mind for fear that he would realize what I was doing. The last thing I needed was for him to get even a hint that I could make him more powerful than he already was. I had been possessed by ambitious humans before, Razuni and Jesus and Morgause most notably. But Razuni’s ambition was to be wealthy, until that was displaced by lust—not an unusual state for humans. And Jesus’ goal of being the ‘best goddamned Messiah’ that the world had known was tempered by a sense of basic goodness, not to mention an antagonism toward the excesses of the religious establishment. Ignatius craved power without anything positive to temper his craving.
It was evident during these sessions that Ignatius regarded me as an object worthy of great reverence. But regardless of my holiness, I ranked far below his own self-esteem. I might be the very cup that his personal deity drank from on the night that he was killed, but compared with the opportunity to be the dictatorial head of a very large, wealthy, and powerful organization I might as well have been a jelly glass.
The one thing that he did not do during the entire time we were together was to put any wine in my bowl. And thus, as the walls of the Great Cathedral began to rise, my own interest in the proceedings shrank. And as he wrapped his ever more corpulent frame in fancier tunicles and chasubles and covered his graying hair with more outlandish mitres, I just got dreamier. For the first time in my life, I had no regrets as I lost consciousness.
THE GRAIL’S STORY, PART XXIX: OUTTAKES
“So would you say this is the period of your life where you got your strongest prejudice against religion?”
As if the Pharisees hadn’t been enough. But wait—it gets even worse before this chapter ends.
* * *
“Wonder why he didn’t go back to Camelot?”
I have no clue, of course. But I do have a favorite fantasy about that. Many of the stories tell that after the death of Arthur, Lancelot returned from France and ruled in his stead. Some even say he took Guinevere from her convent and set her up as his queen. So I’m going with that. She didn’t need to be punished any more than she had already.
“But she committed treason! The penalty for that has always been death.”
You forget that you can’t fool me when you’re holding me, dear. What she committed was adultery, a much more mundane sin. If that brought certain death, there would be no human race.