tagBDSMThe Church without a God

The Church without a God


In the year 1008 as reckoned in Rome on the Julian Calendar, Brother Cyryl Procopius was given a writ of Accession to take over the Parish of St. Adelbert in the Polish town of Virlun at the edge of the God-forsaken Wood of Mldawa. It was well known that the world ended at the Bug river, and that the Woods of Mldawa were the beginning of the Great Wilderness that surrounded the realm of Blessed Christendom, a place where Satan and his minions held sway out of the reach of God and his all his angels; that no saint's eye saw what happened on the far shore of the Bug where Virlun stood, and the people who lived there were little better than beasts, living as they did surrounded by the powers of darkness, and that they all of them lived and died in peril of losing their immortal souls.

The other monks in the seminary in Warsaw agreed that Cyryl must have done something very bad to have been given this Accession, and most thought it was from asking too many questions of the learned brothers who taught them. Questions weren't the way to come into a knowledge of God's grace and here was proof. What you got for asking questions was an Accession to a town under the protection of the powerful but barely civilized Baron of Swodzj near Satan's forest where there were creatures who shat fire and pissed lightning and who had pricks for heads and cunts for mouths—cunts with great, sharp teeth in them.

But Brother Cyryl took his order and his allotment of wine of communion wafers and rode from Warsawa to Lvov to Brest, and from Brest he got a ride on a grain barge that was going upriver to Tzyrniecki and at Tzyrniecki he was met by Ojcunie Wojcik with a cast in his eye and Borslaw Holowycz who was missing his front teeth. Both rode asses and Borslaw's idiot cousin Niedan was there with boils on his neck, and he led a broken down and dusty mare from the Baron of Swodjz's stable for Cyryl to ride, and in this way they proceeded to Virlun, avoiding the rapids that made the Bug unnavigable this far upstream while skirting the edge of the dark and forlorn Mldawa forest with its wild animals, its devils, and its demons. It was autumn and in the drizzle and mist the forest looked dark and forbidding yet still seemed to beckon like a woman lying indolently in the warmth of a deep and soft featherbed in a dream in which you were afraid to pull back the comforter because you knew the dream was nightmare, and there was no telling what you would reveal when you pulled back the the blanket, a pile of worms or a putrid corpse.

They entered the village through a side path that took them past a stream running through a little vale filled with ferns and then past the church the original priest Father Jerek had built with his own hands and the help of the villagers, finished thirteen years ago and empty these last seven, already given over to the elements. Cyryl had expected to find it abandoned but was surprised to see that part of it had been razed, a portion of the roof removed and some of the stone blocks from the north end of the transept scattered in the tall weeds.

He got down off his horse and bent over to inspect one of the blocks. It was a sizeable piece of stone and could not have been easy to move. Someone was either very strong or very dedicated to the church's destruction. Ojcunie and Borslaw just sat and watched him as he stood for a while beneath the dripping trees and stared at the stone with the autumn grasses still growing so lushly around it. It must have been there for some time, for green moss had a purchase on one side and made it soft and feminine when he ran his fingers over it so it was like touching a woman's body. The thought shocked him and he quickly took his hand back. He had joined the priesthood largely to put all that behind him. He'd intended to purify himself.

He left the horse to graze and he walked through the quiet weeds and leaned in through the hole that had been made in the transept of the church. The two men watched him suspiciously while Niedan swung a stick at flowers. Rain and wind had entered the church but the sacred aura was still unaffected; Brother Cyryl could feel it. He looked inside at the sturdy walls and the smooth, flagstone floor, the confessional, the sacristy, the altar, the baptismal font, all untouched these many years. The stained glass windows had miraculously survived intact. Brother Jerek had been a stubborn man, a builder, and hadn't been shy about using the limestone quarries that gave the town of Virlun its reason for being, or about using the villagers who owed fealty to the Baron of Swodzj. Nor had he been shy about petitioning the Baron for money and men, which is how he'd obtained the stained glass windows and brass candlesticks and the bell in the belfry, all of which had been shipped upriver and overland from Brest years ago.

Attached to the church was a fine stone house for his rectory with a kitchen with its own well and fireplaces with chimneys and four glass windows that swiveled cunningly on rods to admit fresh air, luxuries not even the Baron could boast of, and when Cyryl saw these he was deeply embarrassed by the wealth he was forced to live with.

He was shown the village and introduced to the few nervous villagers that could be found, and when he saw the hovels they lived in, huts of wattle and daub with fences of crooked sticks and floors of packed earth, he felt even more ashamed at the richness Brother Jerek had left for him. He noticed witch-signs and marks of the old gods all over the village and the people seemed frightened and resentful. There were idol-posts and offering trees tied with ribbons and streamers, no doubt for the goat god Borewit and the dark god of the forest Berstuk, and these commanded the choice spots in the peoples' yards and the village squares, an offense to God and his martyred saints.

He was given a housekeeper, an old widow with no teeth named Toja, and Niedan as a helper, and he promised the villagers he'd say a mass the very next day, but when he returned to the church that night to clean up and get it ready, he was saddened and aggrieved. The church seemed huge and oppressive, almost as big as a cathedral, much too big for this village and this spot at the very edge of the world where there was so little God. He and Toja and Niedan set about with twig brooms and shovels cleaning out the altar, sweeping out the leaves and weeds and reconsecrating the church, but in his heart, he was troubled.

All night long he heard devils and leszys upon his roof loosening slate tiles and pitching them down into the grass, and there was even the sound of huge wings going by his glass windows. Father Cyryl knew he was a sinner and that he could not rely on God's aid and so he hardly slept at all. In the morning, only eight people out of the village's two hundred and forty showed up to attend mass. He had no altar boys and no one to help with the Eucharist, but Ojcunie and Borslaw did what they could, and of course Toja and Niedan were there, and the simple mass went smoothly. He felt an emptiness though, no joy or peace from the grandeur of the ceremony.

Cyryl couldn't help but notice the most striking woman in the meager crowd. Her hair was as blonde as sunflowers and her eyes were like the eyes of a cat, wise and knowing, and as green as deep water, and even in her black village rags her body betrayed the wonders of God's hand as she was a work of marvelous intent, as ripe as a piece of fruit hanging from the tree at harvest tide. When she looked at Cyryl as he elevated the host he felt like sunlight was pouring through the stained glass windows upon him, and like his gown had fallen away and he stood there naked before her, and he had to banish the lustful thoughts from his mind as he conducted the transubstantiation and converted the host and the wine into the holy body and blood of Jesus Christ there in his unworthy human hands.

"Who was that woman with the blonde hair?" he asked Toja after the mass as he kissed his surplice and stole and put them away.

"That? Father, that was Malodar Turek, the young widow of Drogram Turek. He was killed by a leszy in the woods not three years ago—torn to pieces we think and eaten. Never found. She's never been the same. There are terrible things in the forest, Father."

"I know. I heard them last night. We will have to bless these woods and drive them out. So she's a window? Are there any children?"

"None, poor thing. She's a midwife now and healer and does what she can to survive. She has the gift and second sight, though, and people pay for her services. She manages a living."

Father Cyryl nodded and remembered again the feeling of standing naked before those remarkable eyes. He could believe she had second sight and the gift of healing. She was a remarkable woman and perhaps her mother had been touched by a spirit or a hidden saint before she'd been born as well.

"Have Niedan saddle the mare. I have to pay my respects to the Baron. I'll leave after lunch."

He lunched on bread, cheese, and pickled onions, washed down with fresh brown beer from a keg that Borslaw had brought over and set up in the kitchen, so that when he got on the mare he was already sleepy. He dozed in the saddle as the horse skirted the Mldawa forest and then fell entirely asleep in the drowsy afternoon.

He awoke suddenly to find himself well into the woods, the road having passed into the forest while he slept. He was passing through a little dell where the sun shone down through the sparse trees on a floor littered with ferns, viper's bugloss, and the pale, nodding orange flowers of foxglove. He looked around wildly, suddenly certain he was being watched. He could feel eyes on him from the darkness of the woods, and even the ferns seemed menacing, their fronds curled like the hoods of snakes about to strike. He spurred the horse and galloped on, imagining the hot exhalations of a leszy on the back of his neck, the sharp points of the teeth grazing his skin, not daring to turn around. He didn't stop until he was out of the woods and saw the Baron's wooden castle at the head of a ravine not half a mile away.

He hailed the gate and was admitted, but he couldn't shake off the chill and the feeling of fear and anguish. The inside of the Baron's castle was dark and filled with smoke, a warren of close passages and tiny, messy rooms with even tinier windows, all hung with thick tapestries that made the air thick and close. The Baron was ill and had been since spring, sweating and nearly naked and lying on bear skins in his chamber, attended not by a priest but by a shaman in reindeer antlers and skins who was feeding him a broth made of mushrooms and cannabis. The air was thick with the smoke from poppy resin. His eyes were dull and shiny and he spoke as if from another world.

"You're the new priest?" the Baron said. "You don't belong here. There's no God here, no Jesus Christ. The woods are filled with devils and evil spirits. They'll eat your bones. That's what they did with the last priest. They drove him mad. Got rid of him."

"Lord have mercy, my liege. You don't know what you're saying."

"You'd better beg your God for mercy, priest. There are witches in your village. They cursed me and now I suffer. Your village is filled with witches and monsters, damn them all!"

"You have a witch right here, my liege. You should have a priest here, not a curer."

"What can a priest do for me? At least the curer takes away my pain. All you priests do is mumble. I spend all my gold on your fucking church, your windows, your bell, and what good did it do me? The ingrates cursed me and now there's a sickness growing inside me and I piss blood. You should be praying for me, priest. God should listen to you after all I've done for his church but he doesn't! You should be praying for me and he should answer your prayers, you fucking fake!"

"I shall pray. I shall, I shall."

"Then go and do it and make him listen. What do you want here anyways? More gold? Haven't I given you enough already? What do I have to show for it?"

"Nothing, my liege. I wanted to see what I could do for you."

"Get your villagers to take their fucking curse off me, that's what you can do! They're killing me, I can't even breathe, Priest. Understand? Get them to take their curse off me before I burn their whole fucking village down, because I will! Tell them that!"

"Yes, my liege."

"Now get out of here, you worthless piece of shit."

"Yes, my liege."

He was glad to follow a page back out through the wooden maze and to step outside again, but he was led out a different way and stepped out through a different door onto a high battlement overlooking the woods, and the first thing he saw were the decomposing bodies of three poachers hanging in body cages from a dead tree that had been propped up in a tower. They'd been allowed to die there of exposure and two had been dead for months to judge from the looks of them, the third only a matter of weeks and he stunk.

As Cyryl stared back over the woods towards the church he could see things flying over it, large birdlike things that seemed to have the bodies of men, like bears with huge wings. They flew on long, fleshy, batlike wings, in a way that was sickening to watch, and his heart sunk in his chest when he saw them. He asked the Captain of the Guard what they were and the man just laughed at him.

Riding back along the sere and dusty road, Cyryl stopped at the entrance to the Mldawa woods and thought about trying to find a way around them, but the ground was uneven and cut with ravines. The shadows of the skeletal trees lay across the ground as sharp as battle axes, and he supposed if there were a way, it would have been found by now. He rode on the horse and let it walk, and once again the woods were forbidding and still, so beautiful it could only have been due to the presence of the Evil One, but this time the devil was more cunning and cruel. He did not appear as a monster, but assailed him as a vision of the widow Turek, so clear and fetching that it made Cyryl's cock lift beneath his robe. He saw her standing before him on the ground, then undressing for him and lying down, caressing herself shamelessly and spreading her legs and beckoning to him, and the visions wouldn't abate no matter how hard he closed his eyes and no matter how many Hail Mary's he said.

Finally he could simply ride no further like that. His prick was swollen mightily, engorged with blood, and his balls were like two sacks full of gold dust, tender and aching. He had to dismount there in that accursed forest and he meant to get down on his knees and pray but the holy words wouldn't come to his lips and instead he stood, lifted his robe and took his prick in his hand and began to stroke himself. He put his arm against a tree and leaned his head against it and masturbated and in no time he was coming, his mind aswim in lewd and filthy images of the Widow Turek sucking him and bending over and taking his cock from behind and he moaned and shuddered in self-loathing and revulsion even as he was thrusting his hips forward to send the thick streams of ejaculate splashing against the tree trunk and dripping from his own knuckles, no better than a beast. He could smell the animal smell of himself and he was deeply ashamed and humiliated, disgusted with himself and what he'd become and he quickly wiped himself off with some leaves and cast them aside onto the forest floor. But now it seemed as if the whole forest was laughing at him, the trees and the ferns and even the fallen logs and the little flowers, laughing at this pitiful priest who spilled his seed in his hand and wiped himself with leaves. He quickly mounted his horse and rode away, reaching the church just after Vespers. He saw no more sign of the flying devils.

He could not bring himself to celebrate Compline that night, and no one showed up to hear it anyhow. Nor did he want to ring the evening bell, though Niedan and Borslaw had spent all afternoon attaching a new rope and cleaning the old birds' nests out of it. In the end, Cyryl couldn't decline the honor without explaining what he'd done to render himself unworthy, so he rang the bell, and all the villagers came out of their huts and stared at the church in wonder and alarm. Some put their hands over their ears and some ran quickly back inside. From the Woods of Mldawa came the sounds of raucous howling and wailing and of great things slithering in the earth and leaves.

The next morning fifteen people showed up for mass, and the Widow Turek was again among them. This time she stayed to introduce herself to Brother Cyryl and looked at him directly with her large green eyes and the effect she had was not that dissimilar to the effect her image had had on him in the Woods of Mldawa. She carried herself so upright, her breasts thrust out, as if quite aware of and proud of her beauty and perfection of form. Just standing by her made Father Cyryl feel more attractive and virile himself, though he was already quite a handsome young man. Part of the reason he'd joined the priesthood was because of his uncontrollable attraction to women, an attraction he'd hoped he could overcome and put behind him.

In the afternoon, the candles he'd bought in the village arrived in ox-cart, and the Widow Turek accompanied old Sonja with his order, carrying an armful of autumn flowers. She came to speak to Father Cyryl

"I hope you don't mind, Father. I was just a little girl when Father Jerek left us, and I'm just so pleased to have someone back in the church after all this time. My soul rejoices."

"No," he said. "Not at all, Widow Turek. The flowers are lovely. Let me call Toja to get some water to put them in, and then perhaps you can tell me what you remember of Father Jerek and his disappearance. I'd like to know what he was like and what happened to him, if you remember. It's still quite a mystery to me. No one will tell me anything"

"Oh, I remember, quite well, Father. He was a hard man and he drove everyone hard as well to build this church. In the end he went quite mad. I was very young and don't remember everything from his early days, but I remember the last few years and they were terrible. He tried to deny the spirits of the forest, Father, and they drove him insane, absolutely insane. At the end he was braying like an ass and cursing people, and the leszys lured him to his death in the forest. One morning after a night of howling the mean of the village found the doors open and the church empty, Father Jerek's supper standing uneaten, and they tracked his footsteps off into the woods where they just disappeared, Father, as if he'd been carried off. You can't deny the spirits of the forest. Not out here. He angered them and they took their revenge."

"Now, Widow Turek—"

"Please, call me Malo, Father."

"Well thank you, Malo. But we're Christians here, aren't we? And we live under the grace and protection of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. We need fear no heathen spirit of the woods or ghost or devil or leszy. God is stronger then them and He protects us."

"I'd be careful, Father. I don't know if Our Lord Jesus reaches this far where we are. The woods of Mldawa, I think that's where He banished all those devils to. They had to go someplace, after all, and we've seen them."

Toja came in with a two clay vases for the flowers and Malo helped her arrange them on the altar. They made the church look festive but in a somber way. Autumn was here and the world was dying. Soon the harvest would be in and the family pigs would be slaughtered and people would briefly have meat again, a short, bittersweet time of celebration before the specter of winter froze everything and famine stalked forest and field. People would take sick and die.

"How did Father Jerek go mad?" Cyryl asked when Toja had left. He didn't think the help should hear this. The autumn light of late afternoon was flooding through the stained glass windows and filling the church with shafts of red and blue and gold and it was difficult to think of anyone losing their minds when beams of heavenly perfection stained the floor with such luminous perfection.

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