Damascus was unlike any animal Eve had ever met… she had to consider, briefly, whether or not she merely saw or became acquainted with animals? Not a limb of his moved naturally, she observed. He walked on fours, the way a person walked on twos. Very self-conscious of the stride and what that could convey, worried about stepping in something, missing a beat sometimes, because men didn’t go swiftly on two legs and then two legs more, like a puppet pulled on excellent strings. Strings of instinct, or else made by the Father…
“Why don’t you wear clothes?”
Damascus lowered his head. She saw two very long ears and his nearly smeared-clean horn from her perspective. “What’s that you’re doing? Stop it.”
“But I’m just holding on…”
“No, you’re trying to steer me, but that isn’t necessary, is it? When I know the way. I do not need to be driven. Do you see blinders on me, or a saddle across my back?”
Eve let a finger drift past her ear, to do what? Well, whatever it was she was used to doing, her tangled tresses seized upon her jagged fingernail instead. She yanked.
“Virgins don’t smell like you do. Nor do they ask such stupid questions.”
“Will you really take me to Cymen? With no guidance at all?”
“He did not send me! Why would you think he sent me?”
“Well, why do you expect all the women you find to be virgins?”
“Not every woman, but…. Well I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised that Cymen would break this vow as well as the other one. Or, tell me, was it one of his stooges who committed the offense?”
Eve blinked and shook her head woefully. “I remember little… but of one thing I am absolutely, certain-sure…”
“Oh come, treasure, tell it.” Damascus laughed at her.
“You aren’t a friend of Cymen’s at all, if you think for one moment that I am a respectable person!”
“Very bright! As well as charming, excellent catch, Damascus, you old dog. Now that’s settled, I have a favor to ask of you. When we pass through the White Wall, will you try to sit up as right as possible and not look with child at all? Or even the slightest bit distressed about doing a great and scandalous favor to the Father? It was never my intention to arouse prophecy of any kind, especially not with a… not a virgin!”
Eve was able to know it before she reached, this time. And she will ride into the holy city on an ass, face as brave as stone, intent upon doing the will of the Divine. From her womb would emerge the world’s balm and he…
Damascus stopped and then tried to kick and buck her off.
“Do you want to break all of my bones, you fiend!”
“Work any more sacrilegious spells and I will certainly try and break your bones!”
“I am not a witch…”
Damascus faced Eve. His horn twitched almost indecently as he spoke, and suddenly the whole of him was present. The little holy thing was very masculine in his own way, he didn’t lack it for being equine. Stallions were large and impressive, and that alone was enough to intimate their sex. But this creature was made to force his prowess forth, push it further than yearling, fat-white belly, and silly little legs. Damascus bore and bobbed his spectacular horn like a phallus to make up for the awkward rest of him. When Eve saw all of this she was disturbed to feel bile where a sweet taste normally stirred at the back of her throat, where kisses began, and flirts conceived. She wanted to raise her palm between her eyes and blot out wherever Damascus was pointing that thing. Never before had a creature wanting a mate so badly turned her so directly off.
Damascus chewed sideways like a goat while he looked Eve over, clearly making some similar observation.
“The greatest miracle I ever worked eclipsed that little scripture you were mumbling. Pol was amazing and I made him, where would we be without him! Now, tell me, little Eve, what have you worked that frees you from having to listen to a Unicorn?”
Eve curled her lip and shook her head furiously. “But… I don’t work miracles.”
Damascus bisected her with an invisible line between them using his elegant horn, and ended chin up and proud. “Exactly. Now, no more playing with the things written by saints. Especially when I sense that is what caused Cymen to leave you, ass lifted up, presenting to the starving, in dry leaves in the first place.”
And so they approached the great White Wall very unlike Scripture. Eve was disturbed or amazed to be so near to Damascus after that.
Eve panicked when she spied the towers beyond, the long, floating yellow banners on nearly everything laid out in perfect succession on hills above, such that the evening sky looked like it was on fire.
“But I’m not dressed for the Rapture!”
“What’s wrong with you, woman? You aren’t religious, but yet you know all these things… Calm down. Besides… we already had the Rapture and that wasn’t much.”
Eve stopped clutching closed the collar of her gray dress. “It wasn’t?”
“I shall give you a clue,” went Damascus, “That bright sword Cymen whined for King Miccolangiolo to have forged? It’s never sampled a dragon’s blood. No hellions whatsoever, no prophets shouting on the cobblestone streets, or eating grasshoppers… some buildings got knocked down, that’s all, and Hell’s minions became obsessed with and attacked each other like rival alley cats, one black, one gold… all that, rather than burn the wicked—”
“Do you wish that they had?”
“It was not enough to inspire salvation. And no respectable miracle worker is going to proselytize under those conditions. If you recall, divine messengers being what they are to mortal kings.”
Eve stuffed her fingers into her armpits and glared at the dry pebbles of the road.
The great White Wall. One side was clean, the side facing the dry pebbles at the end of the road. But then, they passed beneath its lone arch and on the other side, all kinds of tents and shacks of refugees had been built to rest against it, and then, down in the valley below, nearly all the farmland was crowded with houses. They continued East, as the road turned, and it was possible to fully see how this wall met with the castle itself. Up, at the cap of the next hill was the largest chapel? Castle? That Eve had ever seen.
The church-castle, except for its main vestibule, was all open to the grass and air. Its main aisle, which should have been done in marble and covered in carpet was instead a wide field of grass. Stone steps had been placed near to where the hill crested, turning the latter half of a pilgrim’s journey—she supposed there would be pilgrims here, as had been in Brax—into an easy walk along a paved road. This ended in a something like a plateau, flanked on either side by rows of thick columns. As they approached, the shadows of the columns became apparent, they moved down hill in slashes that reminded Eve of a drawn bird’s feathers, each one wide apart, for a man to see and admire them, not like in nature, when a bird needed them close-knit together, in order to live and to fly away from… well, men.
“I’ve never seen so many alcoves…”
“Oh, so you have seen a proper Chapel before, good for you.” Damascus began to trot ahead.
Eve rubbed her head. How many stations of the cross were there? Not this many… were there as many commandments, or beatitudes? No, impossible… and every shrine which housed a statue of a saint behind these columns contained a rail on which large candles were lit—she could see their flames from here behind the glass covers, even during the daytime—there was a good monk in white at every altar, and he had a ledger, and the doors to his sacristy opened often.
When Damascus passed by them, the holy men nodded and made gestures in every cardinal direction.
“You are a monk?” Eve chewed her fingers.
“Un-virgin. Make peace with your foolish assumptions. Obviously, I am a Unicorn.”
Which, Eve realized, meant he could never take part. “But you speak as well as I do, and you use spells—”
“Bring me a woman monk!”
A matron wearing a white robe rushed from her business across the courtyard and crossed herself at Damascus.
“Ah yes, peace be with you as well, sister… break your vow a little and lend this woman your veil. We are going in the presence of King Miccolangiolo immediately.”
Eve stood there while the short woman who called herself Margarethe—Eve noticed that she was plump and very pretty to be content doing the Father’s work—leaned up and pinned her white cloth veil into place.
“Father Damascus, this child should be washed, confessed and anointed with oil, as custom dictates. King Miccolangiolo will take offense.”
“Not… if he is still sleeping?”
Sister Margarethe didn’t like it, but she bowed low, in acquiescence. “King over Kings bless you and keep you both…” then she left.
Eve rambled on about why she needed to be presentable, and why were they going to see a sleeping king, and was he handsome? Did he have a queen already? Suppose he wanted to share his wine with her, would it be appropriate to say yes and they go off a little ways…
Damascus snorted, then laughed, then laughed very hard and had to roll himself over on the ground to get it all out before they went into the enormous cathedral.
“You, urchin? And King Miccolangiolo? HAHAHA! And what is perhaps worse is that you’ve forgotten your dear Captain Ruecross so fast, though, well, I do suppose it also means you listen to directions. Now, when you enter here, speak the truth completely or else… one of mine will strike you down with lightning.”
To that, Damascus didn’t laugh. He stood before the twin doors, and trumpets announced,
“Highest Archbishop Damascus of GAFE, maker of Pol, avatar and champion of the King Over Kings—”
“Shush.” He swatted the overlong pig’s tail at her face.
“And Lady Eve, witness to the downfall of Captain Cymen Ruecross who is the second founder of the Kingdom of the Grand and Frivolous Effort. All kneel.”
Eve looked for Cymen but she could not find him. There was a stage built up, behind all of it was an altar, and more grand stairs to an incredible studded door guilded in gold flora and fauna of every kind, clouds, and stars…
“Swear on the book.” A lady monk took Eve by the hand and had her stand behind the chapel railing that separated the ordained from the humbled, while Damascus spoke. He had gone to stand before a chair—he wasn’t fool enough to try and sit in it—and altar servers beside him dished incense from a boat, and sent the burner swinging.
Eve did swear, though she was shocked to find that all of Scripture really did fit in one large book. “Where is Cymen?”
“The candidate for excommunication?” Damascus snorted. “Bring him forth, why not. This should be as dramatic as possible.”
Unshaved, followed by six other men, all burdened at wrists and by their ankles by gold chains, and escorted by men who—at first, Eve had assumed were they, for these guard were dressed and muscled as finely as the Knights of the Harmonic Gold Order had once been.
Cymen would not look at her.
“At last, Captain Ruecross, we have the witness to all of your sins, retrieved at the eleventh hour. How interesting, that you declared Lady Eve was dead, or worse, or else impossible to find and bring to White Wall. I went and found her in under a fortnight, lying prey to those who would harm her. Why would a Captain of the King over King’s guard lie and say such terrible things, unless he truly is incapable?”
Eve moved her dry mouth in an effort to remember. “We weren’t… I fell, I think. And what does excommunication mean?”
“Ah but I was not asking you, un-virgin.” Damascus announced. “Answer the question, Captain Ruecross.”
Cymen lifted his wrists and then shook his head. “Eve, excommunication is when someone who deeply loves the Father, and who would die for the King Over Kings, is told that he is no longer worthy to serve, not as a good monk, or a Captain, or a Bishop… not even as a penitent. And so they kick him out. Out of White Wall, out of the world, even. And he can never enter another Chapel again, or even pray and beg forgiveness in peace, with such a curse upon his soul.”
“Not her question.” Damascus brayed at Cymen. “Why, Cymen Ruecross, did you abandon this woman that you and your men had taken vows to protect and never violate, for the rest of her life?”
Cymen chewed his lip and rattled his chains. He looked as empty as a vagrant, not for lack of money or good things… but for lack of hope.
“Because, Archbishop, we discovered that Eve was trying to kill us. All along, every danger we came across, every misfortune… she orchestrated all of it, our faith was mere sport to her. And that was the limit of my forgiveness.”
Eve pinched herself all over her arms. “Eve, you silly goose, wake up!”
Damascus snorted at her. “We knew that already, the miracle workers warned you as much, in blaring obvious flame, no doubt. And your course then should have been clear, when all her pawns came out from under the trees and the earthworks to spy the bidding of their mistress—”
“I didn’t do that!”
Cymen shouted over Eve. “Yes, you did.”
Damascus wagged his tail, once. “We are not concerned, here, with this woman’s sin. What this gathering of the faithful deserves to know of their King’s right hand man,” and this with teeth clipping and long ears pointed spade at his adversary, “Is why would he willingly turn his back on his King, and all of us here have ever worked for?”
Cymen looked angry, and moved his mouth in such a way, Damascus dared him to repeat it. “The Knights of the Harmonic Gold Order are more important than GAFE!”
“The Grand and Frivolous Effort is King Miccolangiolo’s creation, he is the war-angel, and this is the last bastion of sacredness and sense in this entire world. Tell me, please, that you aren’t still caught up in semantics all this time, Cymen Ruecross?”
“Call this all what you must, but my Knights are separate. They are of a better time, and I wouldn’t have them sacrifice themselves needlessly for someone who did not want or deserve redemption, or even for… a king who is asleep right now! How could he be, when I am his needy servant?”
“Do you mean to say that you feel King Miccolangiolo is always asleep? Even when he is awake… that is, irresponsible? Unworthy of giving us counsel? His miraculous works in the hearts of men a waste of time? Your vows lacking value, or your gifted life purpose? And your opinion of how things should be, is much higher than that of the ordained, or of Heaven, even?”
Eve already knew the answer. “Please… just lie. Cymen, for once in your life, commit a damned venial sin!”
Damascus tossed head and long hair from over an eye. “You may be seated.”
Movement as all the people in pews got up from their knees and sat back on the dark polished wood.
Monks moved in files before and behind the large altar, it took Eve this long to realize that is what the gargantuan structure was behind them. They unfolded, using many hands, a large cloth, and had that thrown over the altar with weights, anchors, and pulled on ropes. Others passed beneath it with incense, and trays of bread, wine…
“Captain Ruecross, I do hope you enjoy your last communion.”
“But I didn’t try to kill him! Why would I do such a thing? Not when he saved me so many times, not when I… well I am very attached to Cymen. And he loves you all and this more than you even deserve, don’t.”
Damascus said, “Eve don’t speak to the Master of the Caste as if I don’t know what you are. Are you really this dense?”
Cymen was sitting on the floor with the others. “I never told her, because I wanted it to be her choice to believe.”
“Baptize babies fast or else they’ll be stuck with their original sin, be lost and think they don’t have to be a follower of the Father, that’s the rule. No, Eve, I will tell you whose and why you are. A grade five miracle worker, that’s halfway to ten—count your fingers dear—adept at Incarnation, Wrath, Compassion, and Visions… oh, you don’t think I can classify you, on-sight? I trained every miracle-worker here. Now, I can tell you immediately that you’d be better if you actually could read the Scripture someone beat into you, but no, you resent even the saints and prophets, so seduce a Knight of the Harmonic Golden Order—with miracle, tempt King Richard’s army across war-lines–with miracle, frightened villagers into a frenzy during the dragon-raid season–with miracle, and maybe even the mythical dragon of Axz… perhaps you can juggle those three, but you shall never be able to make people actually believein the Divine–with your sacrilegious miracles.”
“But I don’t want to… I…” then, Eve remembered. They fled from the valley, thrown over the precipice, broke their falls on the immortal horses, who were stuck stabbed in trees… still? Oh, I hope not still.” Then, “…But there was no Cymen. They searched everywhere, and he would say nothing to Eve when they met again. Eve had cried, she remembered that she cried… and then they needed to get across the Sea, so that Cymen could get healed, but they had no horses, no money… and Commodore Jarshaun laughed at Eve when she confessed that she had been the mermaid, more nonsense… and then she remembered smelling wood and tasting it in her mouth, and stale biscuits… Skun, Arth, and Clay squeaking with disapproval…
“Oh!” Eve stood. “I turned you into mice? I’ve never been able to do that before.”
Damascus sounded bored. “Yes, incarnation, as I said. But not smart enough to be eagles and just fly here.”
Cymen remained reverent and quiet, focused on the sacred mass.
Now a monk climbed up spiraling stairs of one of the altar-columns and stood on the roof of it. He lifted his hands over the bread and wine there, began to pray…
Eve closed her eyes. The Commodore found her, somehow… and then it was clear that she could be a mer-woman as well as a mouse. A silly chase ensued, with Cymen demanding she remain chaste, and there was laughter, because she wasn’t… and they jumped from the ship, and swam, naked, hungry, terrified, made it to Brax alive. And Eve regretted now, and she realized it had been then too, that she had not slept with the lusty Commodore.
“I am not a virgin. But that was my choice.” She stood and announced.
Cymen knelt on hands and knees and buried his face into the cold floor.
Damascus growled at her. “We are having mass—”
“Cymen is still a virgin too, we never… I never got to…”
Baron Braximus and all his black horses came riding down out of the mountain and she had fled. Cymen turned to make a stand, but Eve ran and never came back. He, once again, was overwhelmed, and Braximus bellowed that he was not done horsewhipping his fiancée…
“And Braximus took me as a child. I… Cymen, I couldn’t be re-captured by the Baron, I just couldn’t.”
Still kissing the marble floor, “Revenge does not justify your need to chase, confuse, and ruin men, because one man, once upon a time ago, ruined you.”
And then the monk came and stood over Cymen, and lifted up the thin disc of bread. Eve saw her champion stand but the monk moved and it was not clear if Cymen had taken communion or not.
The whole Chapel was moving with people lining up to get a bite of the bread, and Eve felt ready to cry.
She grabbed the wrist of a monk who passed by her with a cup of hosts. “I’m hungry. I haven’t eaten in days.”
“You must confess your sins first, madam.”
She tried to climb over the communion-rail. “I’m sorry, then! But don’t take my wrongdoings out on him. Cymen is a good person—”
“And this is his last mass, my lady, I hope you can respect that.”
“I can’t! I don’t have any respect for this or anything at all… but I am hungry, won’t you give me something to eat?! There is food all around here… I want bread, and I want justice for my friend. Don’t hurt him like this.”
Damscus arrived by the monk’s side and freed him from Eve with a well-placed horn to re-mark the line between rail and the ordained. “Murderess. This is my Chapel now. And don’t you worry, your sins will be addressed in short order after Captain Ruecross’s transgressions are made final.”
“What would you do to me? Kick me out of a faith that I don’t ascribe to? That won’t hurt me.”
“Where is that damned lightning, already. Someone, strike this woman—”
Cymen struggled forth in his chains. “Damascus, you son of a dam. You wouldn’t dare—”
A boom. The ground shook. Eve screamed and crouched on the floor. The worshippers whispered, but Damascus told them to be quiet. Cymen was in the Unicorn’s face now, his guards hesitated to cross the rail too.
“Eve, you aren’t struck. Here, get up.”
She grabbed Cymen’s chained hand and kissed it, sucked the fingers. “Oh, Eve, don’t…”
Damascus had turned to the altar, and watched the doors behind them. “Resume. And get this man back with the others, the King was only stretching, I suspect.”
Another crash. A yawn that sounded like a roar, and then a satisfied breath at the end. Tantalizingly masculine. Eve perked up. “The King?”
“He’s not waking up.” Damascus asserted. “Finish the mass already, say the final prayer, go on!”
The large door opened. A great light emerged, a man as tall as the frame, gargantuan, majestic, though, a little sloppily dressed in toga, stepped out and looked down over them all. He stretched up, casually, and his bright skin shone and flashed with real feathered wings that suddenly opened and arced ahead. Then, Miccolangiolo took the stairs two at a time, diminishing as they diminished, each one smaller than the next, though this was not easy to sense at first from such a distance, until finally he was small enough to pass beneath the altar like all the amazed monks.
“Linten incense during the Summer? And the saddest communion lines I’ve ever seen, we’re sort of slim, aren’t we Damascus? You’re frightening too many of my little ones away from the confessionals again. I thought it was going to be such a nice nap too. Ah, and Cymen.”
The peaceful guise of a righteous man. Damascus scowled, and then King Miccolangiolo reached up and righted, not a crown, but a halo over his head. That was when the Unicorn bent down on two knees, and so did everyone else in that place. All except for Eve.
“You are an angel.” She said to Miccolangiolo.
“That I am, Eve… oh don’t be frightened. I know the names of all the baptized. And Damascus, you were wrong, this is at least a grade nine Incarnate. How deliciously interesting.”
The Unicorn stamped a hoof. “Interesting, maybe, but I don’t how in Hell it goes anywhere near delicious–”
“I digress. Eve, you must have come with Cymen. Lucky boy.” Handsome, perfect smile.
Cymen got up from his knees. “Yes, my King. I was grateful to find another miracle worker in my journeys, for Gafe.”
Miccolangiolo had not stopped smiling, but he brightened at the corners of his mouth, and light warmed all along his skin, when he observed Eve. “A well-seasoned incarnate and natural damsel. Now I see everything. You broke your vow of protection on this one.”
“And for that I am deeply sorry.”
A heated sneer. “No you are not. Do not lie to me, Cymen.” Micco considered briefly and then his violent mood faded. “But yours is not a crime. All of you mortals and immortals here, come and look.”
All around the Chapel, people rose from their seats and walked over to see Eve. She fussed with her hair and came back with a nail caught again. Micco was much taller than anyone, even in this smaller form. “This woman is a real-life hellion. No fear, no guilt, and impossible for them to mourn the dead. Interminably lusty. But Eve, that is not your fault.”
She smiled through tears “It isn’t?”
Cymen was annoyed. “How can it not be? And I can’t forgive her trying to intentionally kill us, my King.”
“You can forgive anything if you try hard enough,” Micco rolled his eyes. And even the whites of his eyes were soft, free of veins, and brilliant. “Humanity is despairing and becoming something far less than what it once was. So much of Eve’s misbehavior was out of her control. This has been happening ever since the Rapture. Today, I am sure of my suspicions. But it can be reversed.”
“I don’t need saving.” Eve sounded unsure.
King Miccolangiolo went on one knee—the reason not being immediately clear—until he kissed Eve. It was a very long and tender kiss that made everyone look so uncomfortable with mass not even finished.
“My King!” Everyone looked to Cymen yelling at their angel all of a sudden. “Well, she’s disgusting, look at her… she stinks, she’s got fleas—I caught some of her fleas… but not in that way, it’s because she wouldn’t leave me alone. She’s desperate, she’s vicious, almost rabid—I beg you put her down, and all of us put her back with the rest beyond our white wall immediately.”
“Cymen, how rude and unkind. You were a fool not to bed this woman. It’s all she needed, really, to become manageable. I think that she even said as much. It was the last I heard, anyways, before I took my nap. There now, we can start taming the rest.”
And Micco nuzzled into Eve’s hair, smelled how incredibly dirty it was, then wondered at what smeared onto his white fingers. He laughed that he should be smudged at all, when a woman monk rushed forward and cleaned his hand off in her apron. Eve stood still and stunned.
“I… don’t understand, my King.”
“Love. It is complex, isn’t it? But also simple, like everything that comes from Heaven. Perfectly perfect, truly intangible for mortals. My meaning is that she was suffering, and that kindness would have meant the world to her. And, that would not have broken your Harmonic Gold Order, or angered your men. Perhaps you seven could have even shared her—”
“You’ve exclaimed enough at me, I think. The vows are meant to protect you from death, but a soldier cannot fight if he is always hiding behind his shield. Really, Cymen, what areyou saving it for? Not even to save another person’s soul?”
“I am saving it for my wife.”
“But you don’t have a wife. And you’re never going to get one until I have my Grail. Do you see? Come, now where is it?”
“Damascus took it from me.”
King Miccolangiolo put his hands on well-muscled hips and stared down at Damascus. “You silly goat… always taking things that don’t belong to you. Eating books that you don’t like.”
“It’s a waste to throw old books out—”
“And put your collar back on. I shall become cross with you if someone outside these walls tries to hunt you again. We don’t need yet another war to make Unicorns extinct. And dearest Eve…”
“May I come to your bed, King Miccolangiolo?”
The crowd was amazed and worried. Cymen flushed and reached to hold her back, even shackled.
“Not when my kiss should have been enough to sate you for a century. Are you saying that you need another one? It is hard for me to believe that, though, true, I have not kissed a woman in over a hundred years…”
And they all watched as their angel king knelt and kissed the sinner, the dirty woman, the non-virgin. It was agreed that was the greater miracle, than King Micco forgiving at once, every single person in the room for holding an excommunication mass.
Damascus snorted, and loudly asked the altar boys to go fetch some holy water for washing out the King-over-King’s mouth.
1 Tie Me to the Tree :: 2 But First, a Snack of Strawberries :: 3 Five Love Stories :: 4 Robin in the Hood :: 5 Even Crispy Children :: 6 A Good GAFE :: 7 Last Chance Through the Flames :: 8 On the Rogue, Damascus :: 9 White Wall :: 10 Saint-Makers and Uniform Wearers