I, Onfrei, have sat too long in this dank monastic cell, too long with no company save your unsmiling "attendants" outside this oaken door. You say you will provide me with quill, ink, and uncouth parchment, on condition I use these implements only to make confession; from musical notation, you forbid me, and I must write by daylight as I can no longer abide the dance of an open flame. A confession it is, then. I have no reason to shun the flame; no pyre you can kindle should burn as painfully nor as completely as my heart has burned already.
Since your eminences require a complete record, I must start from the beginning. Your agents have doubtless learnt these facts already, from others in the ambit of Azédarac, whom I divine is your true target here; I submit all this merely for the record of these proceedings. The Lord be witness over what I write that I am no heretic nor liar.
I was a foundling of no parentage, so I am told, and until entering the future bishop's service I lived all my life far from Ximes within the grey-black mures in the Périgon abbey. As an acolyte my lot was prayer, study, and communal meals. I am told that Périgon, following the rule of Saint-Benoît as it does, imposes a regimen less strict as do the Cistercian establishments; but for a youth growing to adolescence the regimen was strenuous enough. I am however grateful for the education I received, in Latin and Greek, although I was only passable in the former and remain barely literate in the latter. It is the custom in Périgon to shave a tonsure only upon writing correct Latin; I received my crown having the age of nine, later than most.
My true passion was in music. I learnt the eight Gregorian authentic and plagal modes, enough to compose some chants for the propers. I loved best the Office of Vespers, held in the dark grey chapel as the westering sun behind us cast golden highlights upon the sacred Table. In this Mass, you understand, the classes of singers may vary their tune, in polyphonic harmony. On the feast of Zenobia Martyr, the penultimate day of October, it was our custom to file out of the abbey, rustling through the falling russet leaves to the local village's church, which reveres some minor relics of that saint. Some of my compositions are perhaps still sung in that church, albeit not likely in Périgon itself.
Certain of my fellow acolytes would follow a rather more independent custom of pilgrimage to Sainte Zénobie; after Vespers especially on the "fête du Saint-Samedi", pleading your pardon. The Benedictine Rule, such has forbidden; but in Périgon some monks could be persuaded to make themselves scarce as the boys set out and returned from their nocturnal peregrinations. I suspect that the abbot himself was not blind to their excursions; this was his means to discern the sheep, called to the Rule, from the young goats, called to serve in other ways. Those advised to exit the abbey - it was rare one was expelled - were further advised to leave the environs for the cathedral city Vyônes or even Poitiers. I was not the only lad there miraculously born of a Zénobienne virgin.
On mine own first tabernal ventures alongside my peers, I hesitated to join fully in their merriments, being still very young and fearing to transgress more of the Rule than I already had. They quaffed the local golden vintages; I made do with boiled and flavoured water. I sat by the wall, near the flickering flames, to hear the chantaires. Many of their songs even some of your eminences will have heard. Of the unhappy count Gerard de Venteillon, lured into the ruins near Périgon by the will-o-wisps there and consumed. Of the fire-haired baroness Jirel de Joiry, returned from Hadean depths with a poison kiss for her despoiler.
The minstrels employed a form of parallel and oblique organum polyphony in how they played their chords. To the extent their song was like ours, and for the most part it structurally was, most tunes, I would surmise, approximated our first and fourth authentic modes. Others of their songs were in musical arrangements less easily assigned. I hasten to point out the same holds for certain of our hymns, especially the older ones. As I learnt more songcraft, in my youthful arrogance I argued with my teachers over which hymns belonged in modal form and which could be improved or, perhaps, restored.
And during my last spring at the abbey, I began furtively courting a buxom auburn-haired maiden of Sainte-Zénobie. Acolytes grinned; monks cast glances; at the last before it could become a scandal my bunk was overturned and my secrets revealed: an ode to la bénie entre toutes les femmes in that popular fourth, a version of the Magnificat in the second-plagal, several other less-finished works on the theme. Upon summoning me to his office, the abbot learnt the full truth, including the name of the maiden; it turned out that this name had been oft-repeated in the abbey, and I was apprised that the true object of my hymn was in character more like that of that other Maria.
After that, my aspect became, I am ashamed to confess, sullen and resentful, and my studies suffered as a result; nor was I a boon companion to my fellow acolytes. So when Azédarac not-yet-bishop strode into our refectory, scanning us with his black-and-yellow eyes, and called out for an assistant for the great church in Ximes, one who could read and write Latin and could follow musical notation, more than one face turned in my direction, and the gloom on my face was lightened. And so I ended up outside the sheltering grey walls of Périgon, with my few personal effects packed, bidding farewell to my childhood home.
The roads of Averoigne are not always free of wolves, on four legs or two; so Azédarac had brought a small company of men-at-arms. As I had never ventured far from the shelter of Périgon I had much to learn about Ximes our destination. Among other things; for one, horse-riding was among those skills untaught in the abbey, so Azédarac and his men patiently instructed me in some basic horse-management as we followed our trail beneath the Averonhat oaks and pines. As we rode together, I plied my companions with questions. Azédarac not being much encumbered with the virtue of humility was more than pleased to fill a willing ear.
In the evenings, whilst the moths fluttered about our fire-lit faces, the men-at-arms led by Jehan Mauvaissoir spun tales of Averoigne. Some of these I knew from the Sainte-Zénobie tavern, like the sad end of Comte Gerard; others, like the tale of the satyr of La Frênaie, and of the gargoyles of the cathedral city, were then unknown to me, and certainly would never have been permitted in the cloister of Périgon.
The Ximes I knew from my studies was a city of many thousands of souls, the seat of a bishopric, subject to the cathedra in Vyônes. Azédarac informed me further of his master the bishop Garaille: an elderly fellow, tolerant as bishops go, inoffensive to the priesthood.
At last we scented the smoke of the charcoal-burners who live outside any notable settlement; we passed some inns; and anon we crested a rise and gazed down upon the great wooden walls of Ximes. And what a sight it was: the vermilion haze of thousands of stove-fires mingling with the vapours of the Isoile, the walls in a circle looming over the cleared fields around, and at the centre of town the great church of the bishop.
The next few days went by as if in the sepia fog from the river. Within the church grounds I was introduced to my chamber, much more splendid than the poor pallet I had as a humble acolyte, with a single bed and a desk, and shelves well-stocked with Alandalucian paper - paper! in Périgon we were still scrubbing old deerskin for palimpsests. I was also introduced to my tutors, who would be furthering my studies in Latin and Greek, and in music. Azédarac had even recruited for his bishopric a teacher of Arabic and Hebrew, a Jew having fled the Musselmans of Algrenade. I think that not even the cathedral city Vyônes was then endowed with such savants.
And there was the music. My patron had made known that here in Ximes was a market for cosmopolitan compositions, and that coin was at hand for any novelties of quality. Here in Ximes I was encouraged to attend the taverns; if only I brought my pen and paper. What contrast with Périgon! Minstrels from all Europa swarmed into the streets of this once-humble city: rough bards of the Angleterre, seductive chantaires of the Franks, gallant poets of Alandalucy. Not all were of our faith. Not all the songs I transcribed were in languages even known to Christendom. As the leaves turned, more arrived from even further afield: the peripatetic Rom from the Byzantine counties, the travellers of Eire. Some told more terrific tales, of a dark land in Abchazy, of blood-drinkers in Hungary. It seemed to me that Ximes had become a gaulois Baghdad, an auditory for a thousand and one songs.
I noticed that certain of our own trobadors were likewise taking notes; later, in less-reputable taverns, I sometimes heard the same songs applied to our native villains like du Malinbois. In my own turn, I once adapted a common tune to a lyric of Divine deliverance, but my "plagial plagiary" was obvious, such as to incur levity from my patron. His mockery then was less bearable than the worst beating I had endured at the abbey; I learnt, on that occasion, to study the style of the songs, and if referring to them directly to encapsulate them in motifs. And I learnt contempt for those of our bards who persisted in uncredited unoriginality.
As the months went by, and as my hair grew out (Azédarac, tonsured himself, saw no purpose in baldness upon a lapsed-Benedictine assistant) I gained more of my master's trust, and was permitted to travel afield. My first such journey was in the dubious company of Azédarac's half-trained fox Jehan, on his own errand, under a raging storm inadequately shielded by the antique pines and beeches. We got as far as the Inn of Bonne Jouissance at the waypoint to the cathedral city. Of this adventure the most I need tell is that the two of us, at least, returned in one piece. Later I traveled as far as Lutèce des Parises, a more pleasant journey, wherein I read in the libraries of Our Lady's grand cathedral the books of polyphony assembled by its magisters.
So it went for more seasons'-turnings, and the time came when our good bishop Garaille went home to our Lord, AD 1166. Azédarac led the Requiem Mass at his bier. I, still only seventeen summers old, was called to conduct the elegaic hymns. In my pride I desired to add my own voice to the chorus. I had attended funerals in Périgon, and I never liked their songs about the Day Of Wrath, so I had some notions on the content and style befitting my theme. Without changing the content of the vocals nor the trochaic structure, which would cast disgrace upon me and on my patron, I endeavoured to adjust the music. Where the traditional music was sorrowful throughout, I introduced themes of communality (by polyphony) and of hope (by raising the tenor), gathering force at the end. In this task I admit I struggled, not entirely believing it myself.
The choir sang my song, such as it was. As it concluded, I glanced over to my master Azédarac. I will not say he was emotionally moved; he could not have been. But no sneer crossed his lips that moment, and during some of my cadences his eyes went unfocused and somber, which I took for compliment enough.
The late bishop Garaille was duly interred in the catacomb with his predecessors in the cloth. And it seems I had not at least disgraced my patron: a few days later, the archbishop Clément summoned Azédarac to Vyônes; Clément returned him to us as our new bishop.
Little changed in my position as Azédarac assumed the mitre. I had heard rumours that our overseer was perhaps not the holiest man in the parish; all knew then as well as you know that he was not even ordained as a priest before ascending to the episcopacy. But all allowed that no woman nor young man of the parish would speak a word against him. He had faithfully served the Church in Ximes, albeit in a secretarial capacity, without misstep. And if Azédarac seemed a student more of matters scientific or even alchemical than spiritual, at least there was no introduction of Mahometan or Byzantine heresies in the liturgy, and - dare I say - the choir was good.
Azédarac at this time involved himself less and less with the day-to-day running of his bishopric. He left secular affairs to his hound Mauvaissoir; the conduct of the Mass, he left to his priests and to myself. This left me free to bring mine own compositions to the great church.
Already we, who were charged with such duties, noticed that from Ximes and from its environs came to us fewer funerals, fewer burials of the elderly and infirm; and as I walked the town streets I observed that more than one undertaker had hung up his shingle. If I heard of someone in town who had passed away unshriven, their friends and relations would say that his or her "sun had set". Azédarac kept his own counsel and the rest of us had not yet registered this matter as serious. But then the confirmations thinned, and the baptisms were postponed, and finally even Mass attendance dropped. Such could not be ignored. The remnant Christian faithful cast aspersions upon the priests, for their sloth and gluttony; this sentiment made its way to the more daring chantaires. The priests, tightening their belts, muttered against my patron.
But we still had weddings, amongst our remnant faithful. And one damp and sleety winter I received a letter from my Madeleine of Sainte-Zénobie: she was well, had mended her ways, was improving her handwriting, was still irritated by the local yokels, wondered how her "favourite bard" was faring. My heart shuddered as a bird swooning over a volcano; my gut roiled like its magmal fires. In such a fever I wrote back to her: I was remiss for not contacting her first, I assured her I was well (and - hinting - still unattached), I threw in some wry comments about this city, I observed it was lacking in the warmth of her presence.
And flush with this emotion with no outlet, I did what any young man in my position would do: I composed a march. I had the occasion to test this my composition for the nuptial of two scions of the Ximes notables, who had seemed more pleased with their union than some other such unions I had witnessed in that city. A few days later, as if on cue, as in a February drizzle I was walking down the alley-ways, through the sunlike glow of a tavern I overheard my tune underlying a decidedly less sacramental lyric. In my vanity I ducked in; by chance I saw the young couple, gaily singing along with the ribald chorus.
As they finished, some men and women came to the tavern. Their preternaturally lean frames were modestly cloaked in tan and yellow tunics, fastened with golden brooches each shaped like a flame. They proposed, in Rheinlander accents, to play a tune of their own. The innkeep seemed reluctant but some of his patrons recognised them and insisted. And so the troupe assumed their positions at the minstrels' seat; one brought out something like a flute, but not of any make nor even metal I had seen before. And then they performed that damnable concerto, the Song of the Flame.
Its melodies were not of the eight modes, nor of the old modes of the Mozarabes and Latins. These were perhaps not of any mode possible on Earth; the very chords seemed to defy Pythagorean geometry. The overall oeuvre was transporting to the degree no-one else spoke. As they played the flames of the hearth seemed to dance in tune with the music, like rippling Lorelei. The barmaids seemed colder to the patrons for it; even the newlyweds seemed less focused on each other than on the music. And I was swept away myself; and when they ceased the calls for them to continue were so raucous the bouncers started to clench their fists.
Something in me suggested that a minion of the bishop might not be much longer welcome, so I quickly settled my account and slipped out into the night. As I wandered home a part of me wondered about making use of the melody, to entice the lady of my thoughts should we ever meet again. Another part was jealous that mine own composition, which I had thought a good one, was now forgotten. And that night in my bed as I restlessly fidgeted I pondered if there was some threat here, at least to other chantaires and churchmen; we all serve the goodfolk in our own way, if we might not agree on much else. In my mind a guardian angel suggested I should inform my patron and bishop.
The next morning in the church offices, as I approached the bishop's oaken door, I noted the hypnotic flicker of flame-like lights along its cracks that were not like the lights of a taper. I almost had to beat the door down when, at last, it opened.
The room was bathed in a weird inconstant glow from the wall-mounted mirror, whose face instead of reflecting the contents of the chamber - or so it appeared to me - was like a glass screen over a large candlefire. This hidden flame illuminated the pages of no less than two opened codices and one partly-unrolled scroll all of a dubious and nonlatinate script. My patron's dark gaze looked more jaundiced than usual and, as it lighted upon mine, angered at the introduction. He clenched as if to strike a blow... and then sagged, as if aging decades before my eyes.
"Enter," the bishop invited me. "And shut the door behind you."
I told Azédarac of the song at tavern. And Azédarac listened, and asked me to recite the tune. When he heard what I could repeat of it, his face locked up as he considered the matter. In his silence I begged to be allowed to track down the font of this otherworldly melody. "The Cistercians are already suspicious of this whole county," I reminded him; "and the Franks have never abandoned their ambitions for imperium over the Latins and over all three parts of Gaul. If the Archbishop should cast his gaze here, we are ruined." It seemed to me as I spoke he concealed the content of his truer suspicions. But I wore him down; he charged me with finding the source of the candle-song, which might also be haunting his scrying. This time, I would be spared the wolfish company of Mauvaissoir.
For awhile I heard little enough of this strange music. I learnt little more except that it was somehow associated with the dark massif to our southwest, whence we quarry the bulk of our stone - the price of which was rising these days. This massif was, I knew, whither those of Ximes who were dying would travel; but such parties were secretive, such that I could not insinuate myself.
Meanwhile from the homes of those departed, paper documents were brought to us; from concerned Christian friends of those "sunsetted", and from those more reluctant whose tongues were loosened at my bishop's inquiries. You have read from these codices; they contain Scripture, but arranged in a peculiar order, as florilegia. We saw an abridgement of Luke and Acts; certain sections of Paul, but not in the canonical order; the anecdote of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, but not associated with the book of Daniel. And the first chapter of John's Gospel, and its Priestly Prayer, disassociated from the Evangel.
This investigation was all very frustrating; and lonely, since I as a Church creature was now being shunned by the common man of Ximes. But at least now I had the comfort of my lovely correspondent outside Ximes. I have retained some of our letters, and sometimes I cannot help but re-read them: …
But to return to my account, at last we were given to understand that certain of our healthier citizens, whose absence from Mass was being noticed as well as their abstention from the local inns, were making ready to depart our city. Azédarac took credit, in his priests' presence, for his "successful crackdown". We who were more directly involved knew that there had been no crackdown, but an inquest only; we knew enough to utter no word to contradict our master.
So I too went out from the walls of Ximes on foot and ventured west under the pines and oaks into the shadowed hills. Along the way I passed others - men and women of Ximes traveling on my way, singing the Siren song, like pilgrims; and on the way back, men and women of the hills, not singing, like apostles. As I already knew the latter would look upon my person with distrust or even menace I deemed it wise to stash my rosary and other Christly accoutrements in my luggage.
I fell in with one group of travellers to the southwest. Many were old and sick, such that they were carried in carts. They were vague about what they sought; they did not fully know, themselves. They had heard that in the hills was a way to "consolation". The pilgrims hoped to discover it, and it they found it to be deemed worthy of consolement. There were some, they told me, whom Paradise deemed less than worthy; such the Paradise returned to the world of mortals. Some such bore a small golden pin in the shape of a flame - like that which those minstrels in town had borne - but none of these people were with us (that I knew); they had merely directed the group to the road we traveled. I asked, have there been other men whom Paradise deemed unworthy, and what was their fate; this, they would not tell me, but were visibly uncomfortable, and altered the course of our conversation.
Other paths merged into ours, and other groups of pilgrims joined with ours. And at last we came to the crossroad to Périgon and Sainte-Zénobie; and thence, leading a group of about five, came my auburn-haired Madeleine. And she remembered me!
We fell in together to discuss the past few years; she was eager to learn more of Ximes, I to catch up on events in Périgon and Sainte-Zénobie. Later we spoke of matters more personal. Whilst I was away my Madeleine had wearied of the sneers and advances of the townsfolk and even of certain monks; grown heartsick of the lovers after Vespers who did not tarry for the Lauds. It was her intention to be washed clean, as Saint John had prophesied, in a medium other than water. That evening by the camp's main fire she announced to everyone that I, Onfrei, was "the finest songwright in the county" and she begged me to entertain our companions of the road. Blushing I gathered some musicians, and I led them to sing my wedding-song, altered toward that bawdy variant I'd heard in the Ximes tavern, which was now spreading like spring leaves among the chanteurs. This being a success, we moved on to other songs, to wide approval, but my Madeleine's firelit eyes radiated upon me sufficient approval.
Our swollen throng crested a rise and I witnessed the pilgrims' destination: a rectangular town, walled around, which looked recently and hastily built. It was built of pine, but many of its habitants - all very thin - were rebuilding the larger establishments by means of the dark local basalts. The usual city of our type, you recall, is circular; this settlement had more the character of a Roman camp.
At its centre was a great building likewise rectangular, red and tall, like a candle in the gloom; with a colossal porte barred by stout doors of a yellow wood I could not recognise. On closer look the building proved unpainted. Its stone did not look like the surrounding Massif basalts nor like the granites of our Alps, nor yet as the marbles of the Lusitaine. The blocks did not even look like Averonhat make, nor Roman nor of any style of which I am familiar. Later I would recall an illustrated Pausanias in Azédarac's office, depicting the lion-guarded gate of Mycènes, the walls around which they say the Cyclopes built.
As soon as we entered the town-camp's walls we were lodged in a humble, barracks-like inn with no tavern. Prominent on one wall was a strange painting, of a vast field of some alien lavender studded with immense standing stones, in the midst of which arose a red stone city, all below an orange sky with no sun. It needed no urging for us to understand that we had alighted upon a sacred site, with limited space for such revelry as we had enjoyed on the road.
On wakening, the centurions of this strange new settlement set us tasks to earn our keep. Our valuables were confiscated, to be held in common; anyone who objected was politely sent on their way out of camp. Most of us who stayed were asked to help with construction or quarrying, replacing the wooden buildings with the local stone. Those with more specialised skills, like medicine, were assigned to the relevant stations, or reassigned if other duties needed them more. For my part I, as a literate man, but not entrusted with secretarial secrets, was assigned some basic scribal work including the copying and translation of Biblical florilegia. It worried me that I was contributing to the dissemination of possibly-heretical literature. But there was nothing in there, yet, which could attract the attention of a Cistercian.
The leaders of this castra were Electi - those so dignified preferred Latin or Greek for the title. These, we found out, had endured the fasts and entered the scarlet building, and returned. We sometimes passed Electi by this structure - they would gaze at its yellow porte, as if listening for a music the rest of us could not hear. On their faces was the haunted look of Adam and Eve outside Eden, facing the angelic guards and their flaming swords. We learnt that only at the end of their natural lives would the Electi be permitted back through its gates. As such it was always with heavy hearts that they ever left the compound on official business.
We others were provincially labeled Auzidors, because our lot was to pay heed and to learn. We celebrated no Mass (each night I prayed forgiveness for this, in secret); we instead attended lessons, as did the first disciples of Christ before the Paschal Supper. The Latin Church, they instructed us, was at best a waypoint like - directing this mainly to us from Ximes - the Bonne Jouissance en route to the cathedral city. Except that the true seat of God was in a place not in this world and unknown to Catholics.
Between the sexes the camp was roughly divided between male and female. The Electi conducted no sacrament nor even ceremony for what we know as marriage. They did preside and mediate over pairings of the sexes, or even - I beg your pardons - of the same. The only rule was that no issue could flower from such passions. Several Electi, mostly male, wooed Auzidors; as I was a musician I too attracted the notice of our superiors.
But I had eyes only for the lady of my thoughts, and all my music was composed for her ears. The camp afforded no place for marriage-songs, so I turned to more secular tropes of tragic love: of Paul and Thecla, of Olivier du Montoir and Adèle de la Frênaie, of Blaise Reynard and Nicolette Villom.
Whether Auzidor or Elect those of us most near to death - and I was beginning to envy them - were taken into the great red building, which the Electi called the Martyrion. Such went there in pomp, in a solemn joy heralded with song, wholly unlike our funerals and more like our weddings. We Auzidors were not informed of their destination when they did not return to us. We had one, however - an Elect - who had collapsed and died before he could make this journey. His luckless corpse was bourne to a crematorium outside the camp, and a service was performed there more familiar to Christians. I wondered to myself why, to the Electi, a soul was assured of Heaven in the Martyrion but could only be prayed for outside it. I could conjure no reason that was not grossly heretical, to the point of Mahometan, or worse. I could only count my beads in secret and collect the information my bishop had required. At least, when not thinking of my lady.
On one evening it was announced to us that the time of Consolation was at hand. The gates to the village, or camp, were to be closed to all but the Electi - who wore the golden flames - and to those in most dire need. Those who desired to be baptised anôthen - in the Greek - were to made perfect, by fasting. This would be a forty-day endurance like that of Lent. Volunteering was not precisely encouraged; the Electi warned us that the fast was so strenuous we might not all survive it. We all had learnt by now the fate of those who failed to enter the Martyrion. I was one of those who stayed apart. Still, many rose to the task, among whom was my flame haired Madeleine of Sainte-Zénobie.
This endurance was the hardest to bear, as the once-buxom lady of my thoughts wasted away before me. And as we were warned, among the fasters were those too weak to endure: some broke the fast, many just collapsed and of those who did, the doctors ruled some be taken at once to the Martyrion. One couple was caught right in the refectory pantry, surrounded with half-eaten food and clad shamefully only in oil and syrup (these two were expelled in disgrace, and I can only imagine the songs that are sung of them). For my part, over these weeks my songs grew ever more ardent and desperate for my Madeleine. Despite that I was not officially fasting I had not eaten much more than she had.
On the last night we stole out under the stars, alone, and took the assais together, although I shall spare your most pious ears the details, except that we passed it and that I, as a monk, still had not broken my vows. As we held each other afterward, we gazed on the spinning constellations and discussed everything except our likely parting on the morrow. This left unspoken, there was nothing left for us but to return to camp, to catch what sleep we could.
On the next morn, we assembled at the gate of the red Martyrion, looming over us like a sanguine Punic temple. The Perfecti, who had taken the endura, were clad in white robes. I saw my pale Madeleine there, having survived both the fast and the assais, her bone-thin frame holding up her robes like a mast holding a fluttering sail.
One of the Electi then delivered a sermon, making reference to a Scripture at once familiar and exotic. The mind-numbing content of this sermon may have been part of its intent; I cannot recite it all. But I remember most of the end; perhaps one of your eminences might make more of this.
"As the Saviour said to James, brother of the Lord: 'Therefore, trust in me, my brethren; understand what the great light is. The Father has no need of me, - for a father does not need a son, but it is the son who needs the father - though I go to him. For the Father of the Son has no need of you.' The Church imagines it holds the key to the kingdom of God; the Musselmans pretend to have the keys to the Garden. Even the Albi nation fasts and prays and seeks to work their congregants' way to Heaven. Nay! of them, our Saviour demands to know - 'Or do you perhaps think that the Father is a lover of mankind, or that he is won over without prayers, or that he grants remission to one on another's behalf, or that he bears with one who asks?'"
The great doors opened, and we saw in the halls beyond the otherworldly, wavering lights of an unseen red Toffète. We, starved out, or cored out from watching our loves starve, groaned and swayed before their cold bright reflection. The red walls of the Martyrion seemed to grow before us, to bend in our direction, or orthogonally to any direction, in defiance of all laws of Euclid or Archimedes.
The Elect went on preaching, beneath or through this abomination of space and time: "And granted unto James, brother of the Lord, as he wrote it in his book - 'Therefore, become seekers for death, like the dead who seek for life; for that which they seek is revealed to them. And what is there to trouble them? As for you, when you examine death, it will teach you election. Verily, I say unto you, none of those who fear death will be saved; for the kingdom belongs to those who put themselves to death. Become better than I; make yourselves like the son of the Holy Spirit!'"
And now reached out to us from beyond those towering yellow doors, as if to conduct that infernal shimmer, the rumour of an eldritch symphony, whose melodies the chanteurs of the Elect could only hint to us before. And the preacher modulated his voice with Molech's lambent piping, so each bolstered the other: "As for James, 'And when we had passed beyond that place, we sent our mind farther upwards, and saw with our eyes and heard with our ears hymns, and angelic benedictions, and angelic rejoicing. And heavenly majesties were singing praise, and we, too, rejoiced.'"
But of course only the Perfecti could join those celestial majesties. The Electi arranged them in a line; their chief rolled out a scroll and recited their names, one by one. And each one entered those gates of fire, and none returned.
As the Electi called out the lady of my thoughts, she docilely took one step toward the hungry red-gold flame behind those terrific crimson gates, and faltered. She turned her eyes to me, seemed about to speak – but I did nothing. She then smiled at me, sadly, and turned back to the gate. As she passed the threshold someone screamed out - there was a tussle in the crowd - I cannot remember. Except that then I was outside the camp and the gates were being shut and locked in my face. And I was the one screaming, still screaming, my voice cracking.
I remember some of what I was shouting then: "you would have your flame consume us all! what kind of gods demand a world without humanity? what kind of love is this without even children?" But nothing I could argue before the pitiless wooden walls would budge them. At the end I hurled myself against them like a beast and pounded on them, also to no avail. I fell to the ground. I wept. I lay there like a stone for hours - and I think some of the people inside those walls looked down upon me, as if in judgement. And then I … my back and stu…ed down … to Xi –
Eds. note: This account has been translated from a Latin manuscript hand-copied in, we think, the sixteenth century. It is mostly intact, save at the end (partially burned), although we suspect that a copyist has abridged sections he deemed irrelevant (viz. of a risqué nature) and has inlined some glosses ("penultimate day of October").
To protect our sources we cannot divulge how we acquired a fax of this text.
Of most interest to philologers and historians, so we expect, will be its quotes from a pretended book by Saint James. These are strikingly close to passages from the Apocryphon unearthed at Nag Hammadi. The parallels are so close that, for the sake of this reproduction, we deferred to the Francis Williams translation at the online Gnostic Society Library:
This text would also be of use to musical theorists… were the MS less damaged. It appears that Onfrei disobeyed the command not to pen any musical notes, because the MS clearly once bore such; here and there on the margins, and more fully at the end. But some later hand has blotted over the marginal notes and even attempted to burn the ending; and we find occasional stains whose nature we hesitate to consider.
It is a pity that we too could not listen to the music which so bewitched our author and those around him. Assuredly a more modern ear could not succumb so readily to nothing more than a hypnotic tune!