januari 03, 2005

A desperate measure

The priest liked the young man, and his stories had, as I said, reminded him of his own childhood in the forests and on the lakes; this was what had lulled him and stopped him from warning Gille to watch himself and not to speak about such things in his presence.

There were many who did not believe in the creatures which people claimed to have seen in the wild, but the priest was not among them. Still, it was one thing to believe that they existed and another to accept their help and assistance, as this fisherman had done. They were evil by nature, and any venture with them would certainly end badly. That was what the church knew; that was why it forbad all commerce with these spirits. The would bring tragedy to Gille Folkesson, too, if the priest were unable to free him from the shackles of superstition.

The priest had heard a thousand stories of these creatures' ways. They all ended the same way: whoever had once enjoyed their favour and kindnesses would see, when he had come to trust them, that they hurled themselves upon him and destroyed him. Trickery, cunning, and evil were all they knew. They belonged among the subterraneans, and their only goal was to drag humans down into their darkness.

Now the priest could see clearly that this was their aim with the fisherman. He was drowsy with security; he believed in their friendly expressions. No warning had the power to frighten him any longer, and soon he would fall into the net which had been spread for him from the day of his birth. This was inevitable, unless the priest rescued him.

The priest twisted turned the problem in his thoughts. There was one thing that Gille based all his confidence on; and this was that he had never drunk water from the lake where he laid out his lines and nets. But what kind of a refuge was that belief? It was a delusion, which would snare him that very night, for the priest had heard that they were waiting for Gille in the depths. It was a rotten plank, that could not carry him; and if he continued to trust in it, he would be undone.

The priest saw clearly that this plank must be pulled from under Gille Folkesson before it was too late. If only he no longer had that to believe in, he would no longer have faith in the sea trolls and the Kelpie, but in the living God instead. Without his false hopes, he could be saved, body and soul, and come happily home to his young wife.

There was no one in his whole congregation whom he had found as attractive as this Gille Folkesson. He could not condemn him, as he should, for his connection with the unclean spirits; but he felt a great longing to rescue the young man from their power. His heart seared inside him when he looked at the man who sat in front of him, young, beautiful and carefree, and doomed to die that very night.

The priest saw one way to save him. He'd seen it from the very beginning but he did not know whether it was a sin and a desecration. But could there be any greater sin than to leave a human being body and soul in the clutches of the evil power? Perhaps it was permitted in such a case to take this way out? It tempted him, and repelled him. It was truly repulsive. He was in a terrible anguish. He needed a sign from God.

If the man in front of him could be free of his faith in the broken plank, free in a way that would give him new strength, and new hope? If he could be liberated, blessed, assured, without feeling any danger, wouldn't this be the greatest kindness anyone could show him?

The priest was suddenly roused from his thoughts. The fisherman had tired of waiting and rose from his chair. At once the priest found his decision made. He could not let the fisherman walk to his doom. He must prevent it. He must do whatever he could to prevent him.

"I see you want to go, Gille", he said. He rose himself, and Gille moved quickly towards the door as if he was prepared for flight. "Gille, you mustn't think I'm planning to keep you here by force, even though I might want to. You're free to go wherever you want, and that will be across the lake so far as I can see."

"That's how it is, Vicar. I'll get home, in any case."

"But, Gille, you have to understand that when I let you go back across the lake, as you want to, for me that's like sending you to your death. I am just as certain, Gille, that you will never see tomorrow's morning if you go out on the ice tonight, as I would be if there were a gang of murderers in ambush for outside the door. So, Gille, please, I want to prepare you for death just as if you lay on your deathbed. I want to administer communion to you."

At this, Gille grabbed the door handle. He wanted to escape. But the priest called him back.

"You may not go, Gille!" he cried in a powerful voice breaking with emotion. "I have the care of your soul, and I must do my duty towards you, or else I cannot face Him who is Lord of both you and me."

The fisherman seemed to be dragged back against his will by this wave of emotion: he stood where he was, bound by reverence for the priest, who started his preparations as soon as he realised that Gille would obey him. He took out the cup and paten which he used when he was called out to a deathbed, robed himself, and lit another candle.

There was no wine in the bottle which he kept next to the chalice, but he did not send anyone to the cellar to have it filled. "May God have mercy on me!" he thought. "I will fill the chalice with the liquid which is precious enough for His second sacrament."

He had Gille kneel on one knee in front of a chair, forgave him his sins, read the words of consecration, gave him the bread, and touched the chalice to his lips.

The fisherman stumbled to his feet at once, pale with horror. "What have you given me in the chalice, priest?" he roared and gripped the arm that had held it. "I have given you the one thing you never dared taste in your pagan credulity", said the priest. "I have given you the water of Church Bay, but I have blessed it and consecrated it. Now it has crossed your lips, not as water, but as the blood of Christ. May it triumph over the natural power of water! May it free your soul from ...."

He came no further. Gille Folkesson could not hear him. "Water from Church Bay!" he shouted, as if his flesh had been gouged. "Water from Church Bay!"

In a moment he was out of the room, and rushing through the porch into the grounds. The priest hurried after but Gille ran like a lunatic and it was impossible to catch up with him. While he ran, he shouted with a voice as terrible as the one the priest had heard coming from the depths of the lake that afternoon . "The hour has come! Here is the man!".

Posted by andrewb at januari 3, 2005 05:28 EM