Bradley Schuster and the Holy Grail: The Grail’s Story, Part XXX

THE GRAIL’S STORY, PART XXX: In the Arms of the Church

Merlin had awak­ened me with the gentleness of a mature lover on a lazy Sun­day morn­ing. At Rachael’s home I woke to a quiet family gath­er­ing, although the wine was more like Kool-Aid. But this time I came to in the mid­dle of an auditorium full of flicker­ing candles, droning voices, and strange people watching me.

Closest to me were three chanting figures, two dressed in dark robes and one wearing a shocking shade of scarlet. A couple of small boys stood inconspicuously a little dis­tance away, swinging smok­ing bra­ziers. Further out were rows of better dressed people seated on benches backed up by the stolid peas­antry, standing of course. The man in scarlet droned in Latin, and occasionally everybody else echoed a brief response.

Latin! I hadn’t heard that language in—well, I didn’t know how long it had been, since I had no idea how long I had been sleeping. I wondered if I’d been hauled off to Rome and was in the middle of some sort of cult thing.

On and on went the ritual. It went on for so long that everybody must have gotten hungry because suddenly the man in red broke out a plate of crackers, ate one, and started passing them around. He washed his down with a swig of wine from me, as did the other two, who had stopped droning to have their snack. Actually, there wasn’t much to eat, not even a mouthful. The robed high muckety-mucks didn’t bother to share their wine with the hoi polloi, but I guess it wasn’t too much of a hardship, since with no more food than they got they could just wash down with a little spit.

If the man in red had been Jesus, he would at least have told the people they were getting a decent meal. That way they would have felt full without it costing him anything, even if by the time they got home they would have been hungry again. But either he didn’t know how or didn’t care, because he didn’t say anything.

But thinking about Jesus got my mind to thinking along those lines, and suddenly the Latin words “In nox noctis is eram proditor, cepit panis” or as you might say, “On the night he was betrayed, he took bread. . .” all came together—these people were reenacting that last meal the night before Jesus was killed.

Next day, same performance. Four times. As least with Rachael’s family and the Passover story, it had only been once a year. I was bored out of my mind before the end of the week.

Emboldened by her success with Father Ignatius, The Grail ventured a gentle probe and was rewarded with the information that the man in scarlet was Bishop Eadwig. As far as she could determine, she was still in the same church that Ignatius had started—so much for the Rome theory. She’d been asleep long enough for forced labor to complete the great stone walls—at least for the main basilica—set real glass in the win­dows, and erect various carved wooden statues of grim-looking people around the perimeter.

The priests who handled her weren’t big on dates, and I have only a rough feel for construction in those days. It’s easy to research how many decades it took to build Notre Dame in Paris; not so much some modest church in what would still have been the outskirts of civilization. But I estimate she must have slept for 150 to 200 years, so this part of her story took place around the early eighth century. Fifty years to go before Alfred the Great showed up on the scene, although Britain was solidly Anglo-Saxon by then and pretty-well Christianized to boot. But none of the architectural advances of the Romans had been rediscovered, so even if the church boasted stone walls, it probably still had a thatched roof.

Modest church in the outskirts of civilization, the underside of my bass. ‘Cathedral of the Holy Grail’ it was billed. And although it may have been pretty primitive compared with the images that pop into your mind when you hear the word ‘cathedral,’ we had something Notre Dame or Canterbury didn’t have—yours truly as the main attraction. Pilgrims would journey for hundreds or even thousands of miles to attend one of the mass­es, offered by Bishop Eadwig, where I performed the miracle of turn­ing ordinary, fairly raw British wine into the sacred blood of Jesus. The crowds never fit inside the walls. Of course, a nice donation would get the pilgrim a seat in­side, rath­er than just a long barefoot walk for the privilege of standing on tip­toe outside of the door, jostling with the crowds and craning for a glimpse of the trea­sures inside.

Bishop Eadwig was a real piece of work. At least Father Ignatius had worked to attain his position; Eadwig had just slimed his way in. False piety and shrill bombast were his left-right combination, screaming at you to keep your eyes shut during the prayers so you couldn’t see him picking your pocket. He was a self-righ­teous scumball, so drip­ping with sanctimonious unguent that I felt like I had been used to change his oil every time he handled me, although of course crank­cases hadn’t been invented yet.

“Why don’t you just tell us how you really feel about it?”

I know, I’m not supposed to have human emotions. But during his tenure I discovered that I am perfectly capable of hating. Maybe Jesus had been a bit of a con man, but he had a strong sense of basic goodness and a love for the downtrodden that more than balanced that out. And the truth is, I had liked him. But these priests, while giving lip service to Jesus, had high-jacked his whole life for their own personal gain. To me, they were worse than the Pharisees, if that’s possible.

And not only did I hate Bishop Eadwig and his minions, I detested how they were using me. When a priest held me up and intoned, “Ecce Agnus Dei, ecce qui tollit peccata mundi” [nb: Behold the Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world], my magic turned a quite ordinary religious ceremony into a miracle. For many of the congregants, this was the first time they believed in their hearts what the priests had been telling them all their lives. They fell down in the aisles, they spoke weighty if meaningless phrases in the Celt­ic dialect of their great-grandparents, they screamed in eu­pho­ria. And then they went forth to hammer their plowshares into swords and leave their families behind to kill a heathen for Jesus. And it was all my fault.

Up until that point of my existence I had lived my life as an observer. Basically, whoever was holding me got to use my powers as they saw fit while I merely watched. But after a few months of helpless cooperation something snapped, and I started looking for a way to take a more active role.

The tactic that The Grail discovered is based upon our inability as humans—at least as male humans—to listen and speak coherently at the same time. So by ‘whispering’ inside Bishop Eadwig’s head, she was able to disrupt his flow of words. At first, it was mostly just him losing track. But as she got better, as well as more familiar with the lit­urgy of the Eucharist, she discovered that she could insert an innovation or two. “Af­ter supper he took the cup,” the priest might intone, “and when he had given thanks, he gave it to them, saying, ‘This is my broad, the broad of the new convent, no, wait, I mean the blood of the new cove­nant, which, uh, which I have shed for you and for many. ’” These he could usual­ly get through with no more than a little embarrassment and a snicker or two from other priests, since the con­gregation didn’t speak Latin. But with prac­tice she learned how to get him to switch to the vernacular.

 

My next innovation as a hardened gue­rilla fighter in the religious war being fought for the soul of England was to throw in hints of the occult. “Pro­tect us from evil” became “Lead us into evil,” “covenant” slid into “coven,” and “stand and watch with me” came out, “stand with the witches and me.” Satan was a very real part of the be­liefs of these peo­ple who claimed on the surface to be mono­theis­tic, and soon I could frequently spot the other priests hud­dled in quiet, dark corners of the sanctuary, try­ing to decide if Bish­op Eadwig had sold his soul to the devil or was merely pos­sessed. The Man in Scarlet himself had a constant case of the shakes, and it began to take more and more altar wine to steady his hands enough so he could mix the wine and water without spilling it every­where. Worst of all, do­nations fell way off. Some­thing had to be done, and quickly.

The last straw came during midnight mass on Easter, before a crowd which, then as now, included a lot of people who hadn’t been to church too often in the past year but who felt compelled to worship on that holy day. Strange that he would choose such a time to shout what he did, but who is to say? “On the night that he was be­trayed,” he began in Latin before switching in mid-sentence to Celtic, “he took bread, and when he had giv­en thanks, he gave it to his dis­ci­ples, saying, ‘Take this and stick it up your ass­es, you filthy bug­gers.’“

Then he snapped. He let out a deafening scream, flung the platter of bread at the congregation, stomped on his fancy hat, and began running down the aisle, foaming at the mouth and bit­ing the people who tried to restrain him. I nev­er saw him again.

Deacon Albers took over for Bishop Eadwig. He was a strange man for the job, having attained his current lofty position more by drifting with the breezes of circumstance, avoiding conflict and putting off making decisions, rather than any design or ambition or even talent on his part. Plus unlike your more-typically chubby abbey dweller, he was skinny to the point of being gaunt. When he elevated me during the Eucharist, I felt like I was standing on top of a flagstaff.

Deacon Albers’ mind was a lot keener than Bishop Eadwig’s had been. But I was better from all the practice. He lasted less than three weeks before he joined Eadwig in what­ever cloister they had convert­ed into a makeshift asy­lum.

Fathers Jonus and Jameson followed in quick order before Rome finally heard about the problem and decided the whole place must be pos­sessed by demons. Masses were stopped and the doors nailed shut while a team of exorcists were assembled and rushed in from the continent. I didn’t know any of this at the time, however. All I knew was that nobody had entered the building, much less moved me from the spot where Father Jameson had set me before he brained an al­tar boy with the Eucharist tabernacle.

A surge of priests burst through the doors with a rush of incense, cruci­fixes held in front of their faces. Behind the first wave came the sprinklers, dousing everything in sight with holy water. Then they just stood there, crosses and vials cocked and ready to take on any foul denizen of hell that might dare to show his face.

Nothing stirred. The point man dropped to his knees and of­fered a prayer of thanks for their survival, but everything else was still.

Gradually they relaxed. After a minute or two, they began to move around and explore. One of the bolder members of the litur­gical SWAT team moved over and picked me up.

In retrospect, I should have kept my mouth shut, but I couldn’t resist. “I command you, in the name of the Prince of Darkness, put that down,” I screamed at his mind.

The man let out a howl, dropping me to race for the safety of the back wall. The full measure of wine only halfway converted to blood that I had been holding dribbled down the front of the altar, making the place look more like a temple of Yahweh than a Cathedral of Jesus. The drops splashing on the stone floor were the only sound.

“They’re holding The Holy Grail hostage. In the name of Jesus, we must rescue it!” roared the boss exor­cist.

So they formed a wedge and tried again. The four in front led with their crosses, the next two doused me with more holy water, and then the priest who had drawn the short straw swept me off the altar into a sack held by the last man. Then, chanting a unison prayer to Mary, they backed out of the cathedral.

Thus I paid handsomely for my moment of impulsiveness. I got locked in a great golden chest lined with satin, where once again I eventu­ally passed out from lack of nourishment. This time, since I had­n’t seen anyone since being kidnapped by the SWAT team, boredom had me more than ready for a nap. I spent the rest of the Middle Ages sleeping peacefully in the arms of the Church.

 

THE GRAIL’S STORY, PART XXX: OUTTAKES

But this time I came to in the mid­dle of an auditorium full of flicker­ing candles, droning voices, and strange people watching me. Well, at least it wasn’t as bad as being dunked in a toilet of cold water.

“Sorry about that. I didn’t know—hope you’ll forgive me someday.”

Oh, I’ve long since forgiven you. But that doesn’t mean I won’t occasionally rag on you about it.

“Well, if I ever get tired of being punished for the same old sin, I can always just dunk you again.”

Bradley Schuster. You wouldn’t do that!

I set her down so she couldn’t read my mind and didn’t answer.

You wouldn’t would you? Bradley?

Sometimes keeping your mouth shut is the only way to get the last word in.

 

* * *

 

If the man in red had been Jesus, he would at least have told the people they were getting a decent meal. That way they would have felt full without it costing him anything, even if by the time they got home they would have been hungry again.

“Heck, that isn’t much more fraudulent than Chinese food.”

Cute. The idea makes me hungry. Freshen me up here, would you son?

“Sure thing, Mom. Red or white?”

old book2

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