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The Conversion of St. Monocarp
"Why are you doing this to me?" Twisting by the heels on a chain, the dwarf had to address the vaulting orgy of shadows and firelight on stone walls until he revolved once more toward Friedegunde. With her face upside-down, she looked unfamiliar; but, oddly, less unusual. He cried from his withered little heart: "I love you!"
"That's why," she explained as she sliced through his adam's-apple and nearly to his spine with her father's second-favorite sword, reserved for those he didn't really dislike.
What had she done? Tender-heartedness had always been her worst fault, she believed, and a wish to shorten the little man's suffering had impelled a butcher's cut. His lifeblood was supposed to have dribbled away neatly into the brazier of aromatic herbs burning beneath him while she completed the enchantment. But he was jerking, gurgling, spraying blood everywhere -- even on her gown, the horrid freak! -- and obviously within an inch of death. Was there still time?
She dropped the sword clanging and hurled herself ponderously at the stairs. She pounded upward on legs as strong, and on ankles a good deal thicker, than those of her father the graf's staunchest warriors. Fumbling among the weighty keys at the girdle often compared in length and strength to a catapult-sling, she alternately beseeched the Blessed Virgin and damned her for an obstinate Jewess until she found the right one and burst into the room, blasting out most of the tallow candles that ringed the waxen form of Brother Monocarp.
By the balls of the Apostles, he was beautiful! In dizzying contrast to the coarse brutes whose red faces forever puked andguffawed around her, he was fine and smooth and white as a peeled willow. His hair was not yellow straw, it was the sunlit silk of the barley; his eyes were not blue stones at the bottom of a cold brook, they were the sky on that one summer day she recalled from her fifth year when she had lisped, "Mummy, where is the fog?"
She kissed his lips. They were still warm, and this recalled her to her purpose. She recited with fervor the words that the wise woman of the woods had taught her.
Through an embrasure in the thick wall, she kept her eyes fixed on the moon that oozed light onto the pine-tops like juice from a squashed toadstool. She thought of Willi, dangling in the room below. Did his lifeblood still flow? The little bastard, it had damned well better!
Unless she counted her father, whose intimate interest had cooled once she had erupted into full womanhood, Little Willi was the only man who had ever loved her. She was acutely aware of the fine shades that debarred her from beauty. Her jaw, perhaps, was her least attractive feature, for it had never stopped growing. Its growth had spread her large, square teeth until anyone foolhardy enough to try it could have inserted the tip of an index finger between any two of them. This drew attention to her second-least attractive feature, a narrowness of the temples that squeezed her tiny eyes together in a squint.
She hoarded slights and could sob bitterly over any one of them. Poor Siegfried, for instance, later fallen from her father's banquet-table to die in the grip of a long fit that had hammered his heels against the back of his head, had been overheard to say that she had less nose than an old corpse, and that it sickened him to stare into nostrils like gaping grave-pits. And Gunther, tragically cut down in the prime of his vaunting heroism by some unknown coward who had waylaid him and stamped his spine to the consistency of fingernail-parings, had unfavorably compared her generous mouth to an old sow's pudendum, bristles and all.
Even her good points were cursed blessings of an evil fairy. Her hair was unparalleled in its golden voluminousness, and it served to conceal less attractive features (including ears like the oaken lids of the castle's cisterns, to quote Adolf, later attacked in the forest by a werewolf who had sorcerously induced him to strip to his skin and pile his armor neatly aside before tearing him limb from limb); but she would sometimes trip over this glorious hair, forcing her to show the temper that even she had to admit was more pungent than sweet.
Her eyebrows were fortunately fine as spiderwebs, and this drew notice from their thickness, their union over her nominal nose, and the fact that they could writhe like a convulsing caterpillar when her face, in the grip of any emotion, blotched red. Most often remarked upon with favor, even fervor, were her ponderous breasts and yard-wide buttocks, and in their cups the warriors sometimes used to grope for them, most often -- but not always -- recoiling in terror when she showed no great displeasure. Her tutors of love had been men too drunk to teach her anything beyond the variety of belches, snores and farts a sot can trumpet. Some never gave any woman this lesson again, for she would exact justice from inept teachers with the selfsame pair of scissors that Delilah had used to shear Samson, purchased from and blessed by Pope John XII himself on her late mother's pilgrimage to Rome.
But Little Willi, dying in the room below -- common, yes, crookbacked, yes, ugly, yes, no taller than her knees, yes, yes, yes! But he had loved her, he had worshipped her, and even when passably sober, he had lusted for her. Willi!
She forced her mind firmly back to the long incantation, noting that the moon, unnoticed, had risen a full handspan above the endless forest. It now appeared decidedly green, and the mad chorus of shrieks and howls that hailed it could not be ascribed to wolves alone.
Willi had his faults. First and foremost was his hideous ugliness. Although her nausea might have been intensified by the quantities of beer she was pleased to put away each night, she would sometimes vomit at the sight and feel of him clinging to her like an enormous spider when she woke, nor were his charms enhanced by his daily being hurled to the stone floor beside her bed. Neither was he especially virile. It often took her far more time to raise his crooked little member than to lay it. But unlike other lovers, he was eager to please her by any means whatever, and he most often did.
Monocarp, the holy hermit, could not have spurned her advances more vehemently if she were a toad he had discovered in his penitential meals of thistles mashed with charcoal and horse-dung. The Christ-crazed cockroach had not just spurned them, he had denounced her as a monster of carnality, another Jezebel, a second Salome! Those ladies had undoubtedly been burning in hell for a long time now, but they'd gotten some fun out of their sins. Jezebel would never have suffered the fumbling fingers and feeble tongue of a gibbous runt. She guessed that Salome had done more than dance for Herod, and whatever his monstrous faults might have been, they surely hadn't included a penis as soft and smelly as a dog's turd, but nowhere near so big. Friedegunde's sins were a frumpish, hand-me-down gown whose train of punishments was borne along behind her by capering imps of loathing and regret.
She lowered her eyes from the disconcerting moon, which now lapped her tower with lurid tongues of fire, to gaze upon the holy man. Once he had succumbed to the potion, accepted in its foulness as the special penance he constantly sought, she had stripped him of his coarse outer garment, horse-hair shirt and girdle of briers, and bathed him lovingly. She had found nothing to displease her except his filth; even by the exacting standards of the day, it was no less than heroic. When Christ came back in five years, as everyone believed He would, she would ask Him what pleasure He derived from seeing His servants wallow in dirt and pain and self-denial. He would tell her to go to hell, of course, but she expected He would anyway, as did most everyone else. As the Millennium approached, she observed a growth of universal desperation. Her father had taken a squeaking poppet called Flosshilde to wife, and his mighty men were so quick to reach for their weapons nowadays that they hardly dared speak to one another.
The incantation neared its end. She recited with passion, for she had seen no effect beyond the curious behavior of the moon and of the putative wolves. But now a wind rose below her, although it sounded more as if all the ancient dead of her glorious tribe had arisen to groan hollowly of those few sins they had neglected to commit or failed to imagine. The remaining candles streamed in the breeze like banners, and those that had previously died spontaneously ignited. As the last word was spoken, the eyes of the saintly hermit snapped open almost audibly.
"Friede," he breathed. "I had the most horrible dream..."
"That I killed you... Willi?"
He turned his translucent face and his beautiful blue eyes toward her. "How on earth did you know, my dearest darling?"
Instead of explaining -- she still had no idea how she would do that -- she reached for the stout column of rosy-veined marble that towered between his thighs. It was a very long time before the exuberantly young and long-repressed man remembered to ask any vexing questions, and by that time she could respond only with murmurous vaporings.
* * *
His trull simpering from her perch on his mailed knee, Graf Heinrich von der Hiedlerheim strafed the open square of the table with his solitary eye. He had the look of a man who has misplaced something -- his wits, Friedegunde believed -- but can't recall what.
"My dwarf!" he cried at last.
"You mustn't call it that, Papa," Flosshilde twittered as she shifted her weight obligingly, "it's really quite large--"
"Shut up, moron. My dwarf! Where is he, that Willi? I haven't laughed in days. Remember--" he could scarcely continue, he was now laughing so hard--"remember how we used to toss him from the battlements and catch him? Remember the look on his horrible face when we failed?"
"I--" Brother Monocarp began, about to rise, but Friedegunde jerked him down.
"What is your confessor doing here?" her father demanded. "Priests should slither among the women without besmearing my sight. Someone seize that eunuch and castrate him!"
"No, Father!" Friedegunde hammered the table with her not inconsiderable fist, and those men who had jumped to obey their lord's command quickly sat down. She improvised: "The Apostle Hermann said that he who harms a priest shall be beloved of the Bulgars. At least twenty of them, he said, and without any lard."
"Some priest made that up," Heinrich grumbled, but he canceled his order with a wave. "But where is Willi, my dwarf?"
Many a steely eye locked on Friedegunde. Brother Monocarp's lip trembled, but he knew better than to say a word. Under the table, her strong hand clasped him in an intimate threat.
"Search our domains for the malingering ingrate," the graf ordered, "and when you find him, feed him to the dogs."
His giant hounds frisked to their feet around him with a great clanking of chains and stared speculatively at one after another of the knights and ladies, the squires and singers and slaves, for they had come to understand what those last words meant.
"May I have a confessor, Papa?" the baggage squeaked.
"What sins could you possibly confess, pet?"
"Oh, nothing really, but last week a girl snagged a knot in my hair. While she was combing it? And while I held her down in the hearthfire she bit my foot, and I thoughtlessly took Our Blessed Savior's name in vain."
When he could control his indulgent chuckling, Heinrich said, "All right, my dear, you may share that weasely manling with my daughter."
* * *
Christ could come tomorrow, for Friedegunde had known heaven. The seepage of Willi's mind had boiled against his twisted little body; the juices of Brother Monocarp's body had boiled against his twisted little mind. Now both brews had combined in one glorious bath for her senses. Neither Jezebel nor Salome had known a man like the one who mounted her whenever he saw her and left her whimpering. She grew slim enough to squeeze frontward through most doors. Her red blotches glowed. That she was always very sore in several ways seemed no price at all to pay.
"You've done something to me, haven't you?" her lover asked.
"Why, what do you mean?"
"My body," Willi said, looking down almost in anguish at his straight limbs.
"Don't you like it?" To distract him, she lowered herself to her massive knees and did that which he loved best.
"Yes, but... It's not mine, do you understand? I feel like a fish playing at bird."
"So, swim and chirp."
Willi pondered, or at least fell silent, while she labored. At length he said, "It's odd, isn't it? That Flosshilde should be so thin, and yet have breasts as large as yours?"
* * *
As the slaves were now afraid to do it, Friedegunde had volunteered to plait the horror's hair. On an ancient crone this silver hair would have been acceptable, but on a child whose skin was luminously smooth, it was grotesque. Those breasts, too, that Willi had dared to praise -- yes, they were large, they were almost as large as her own, but unlike hers they flaunted themselves sinfully upright. The nipples were like the pink noses of disgusting kittens, while her own were tastefully and aristocratically brown and knobby.
"Where is Brother Monocarp?" the slut piped.
"He is recovering from an excess of devotion. He wanted to mortify his most sinful part, and -- well, somehow he managed to bite it."
The thing had the audacity to titter. "I certainly wouldn't bite it."
"The Apostle Horst said that she who even thinks of lying with a priest shall be ravished by scaly serpents for all eternity."
"That might be fun. Oh, you filthy fat cow, you've pulled my hair!"
* * *
"Drink this, dear Stepmother," Friedegunde said when Flosshilde recovered consciousness the next day.
"What...? Did I faint? Ow, my chin hurts!"
"This will help." She had some of the wise woman's black potion left, and she tilted the chalice against those foul, flower-petal lips.
Not even the ghastliest of grimaces could wrench the beauty from her face, Friedegunde grudgingly admitted. As might have been expected, her last words were a stupid question: "Oh, Daughter, have you stolen my life?"
"Look on it from your vantage point in the lowest pit of hell, when your eyelashes turn to wasp-stings, when your hair becomes wires that grow inward, when you give birth to a myriad vipers every hour, when your piss boils and your shit sprouts spikes, when Satan himself gags at the sight of you and slams the lid on your pit with a shudder, look on it then, dear Stepmother, as a loan."
Having wiped the chalice clean, disordered her hair and gown, and taken some of the poppet's tears to streak her own cheeks, Friedegunde staggered from the room, howling: "Horror! Madness! Joy -- I mean, despair!"
* * *
"She looks more beautiful than ever," Willi said when he had pried up the coffin-lid.
"You mustn't say things like that, especially not with a pathetic catch in your voice, when you are standing in a grave and I am standing over you with--" she tapped his tonsure--"a shovel."
Willi staggered back to his feet, or to the shapely feet of Brother Monocarp, and wiped the blood from his eyes. "Can't I even admire her as one would admire a -- a beautiful tree?"
"Only as a dog would, you offspring of a sodomite and a carrot! You -- but take heart, dear Willi. She shall be yours, all yours, but she will burn with the very same love I bear for you."
Willi lifted Flosshilde from the coffin and laid her at the graveside with such reverence that Friedegunde's eyeballs seemed about to burst. She restrained an itch to kick the thing back into the grave, dead or not, and shovel the dirt over it.
She dropped to her knees beside it. No: despite all appearances, despite the opinion of her distracted father and his physician (whose flayed body, hanging from the highest rampart, still seemed to twitch when the ravens tore it), the detestable object was palpably warm. Every other few minutes or so, the ghost of a breath crept from its sickeningly pert nose. Left to itself, the creature would bounce back to the state it fancied to be consciousness before the cock crowed.
She was tempted to bury it again and let that happen, to sit placidly at breakfast and savor the picture of her stepmother shredding her fingers down to the bone against splintery planks as she shrieked beneath the muffling tonnage of the earth; but one couldn't have everything. A glimpse of the longing in Willi's newly beautiful eyes as he lifted the body convinced her that she had no other choice. Willi wanted the wanton who wanted Willi, and she would be blown aside by the power of that rune. She had no choice but to sacrifice her own sturdy and comfortable body to her lover's whim. Since Flosshilde's was younger, and hers was becoming very sore indeed, it seemed a small sacrifice.
"Do you remember the incantation?" she demanded.
"Of course," he said, and she believed him: hot irons are miraculous mnemonic aids. He said, "But how will I... explain her?"
"You're a holy man, clown! You raised her from the dead by prayer and purity. My father will buy you a bishopric, and all good Christians will wade through blood to pay for the privilege of kissing your saintly foot. While I, in my new body, as bishop's mistress--"
"You'll have to sleep with your father, won't you?"
"Even that will I do for you, Willi. But that prosing ancient fought beside the great Otto at Augsberg, and he has crept a good five years beyond the half-century mark. A pillow can now do what a dozen Wendish lances once couldn't. Would it be a sin to help him totter on his way to his eternal reward?"
She made no comment at the tender care with which he arranged Flosshilde over his shoulder. She showed saintly restraint in saying nothing when she caught him surreptitiously fondling her buttocks, which, after all, would presently be her own. But she could no longer contain herself when he revealed the emptiness of the head that crowned his glorious body by asking, not for the first time, "How can I explain your death? They'll blame me, they'll put me to torture--"
"Whoever heard of anyone being murdered inside a locked room?"
"Yes. I'll show them the key--"
"No, Willi, I'll have the key."
"Are you sure that's how it works?"
"Willi... My body will rot in unhallowed ground. My name will be a rebuke and a hissing to babes unborn. I will break the heart of my poor, dear father by taking my life in the prime of my youth and beauty. I dare all this for you, for you, dear dwarf. All you have to do is what I tell you to do."
"And if something should go wrong," he mused, "I can tell them that I was only following orders."
She said nothing, but she was awed by his creative brilliance. She knew she had seen something greater in him than wormish lust.
* * *
Hanging by her heels above the smoldering brazier of herbs, Friedegunde thought it would be appropriate to linger awhile and recall the treasures of her life: the beloved doll whose arms and legs she had pulled off when she understood that it was prettier than she would ever be; the look on her mother's face when she had tripped her off the parapet, her mother's evil mind having misconstrued the innocent game involving forfeits of clothing and various services that she played with her father. But the smoke of the herbs made her sneeze, her position was uncomfortable, and she cut short her reminiscences with a stroke of the sword. The smoke became even less bearable as the herbs fizzed and popped in the drizzle of her blood.
The cut was more painful than she had imagined, and the blood blurred her vision. Blinking and shaking her head whenever the appropriate window swung into view, she saw nothing odd whatever about the plain, pale moon. She heard no howling of wolves, only the dull croaking and chirping of lesser creatures and the distant song of drunken warriors in the great hall.
Further straining her ears, she heard no impassioned recitation of witchly runes -- and why were her father's warriors singing about all men being brothers, when not one of them believed that for a minute? But she had often noticed before that music made more sense than words, and the tune was lovely. She nearly forgot pain and danger as she drifted on the virile chorus.
Twisting in the steam of her dripping blood, she forced herself to concentrate hard on the room upstairs. She heard nothing -- no, she heard a thumping sound, as of someone pounding a straw mattress. Try as she would, she couldn't shake the image this evoked of a nasty dwarf using his fine new body to have his way with a drugged and defenseless nitwit.
She thought of screaming a protest, but it was so much easier to revolve on a stately axis and enjoy the music.
She found herself humming along.
Copyright © 2000 by Brian McNaughton
Table of Contents
|The Conversion of St. Monocarp||7|
|Nothing But the Best||15|
|Fantasia on 'Little Red Riding Hood'||31|
|Water and the Spirit||52|
|Why We Fear the Dark||63|
|The Disposal of Uncle Dave||65|
|Getting It All Back||67|
|Child of the Night||78|
|The Dunwich Lodger||86|
|Many Happy Returns||107|
|La Fille Aux Yeux D'email||109|
|To My Dear Friend, Hommy-Beg||134|