Paul Doherty: Satan in St Mary

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Paul Doherty Satan in St Mary
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    Satan in St Mary
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Paul Doherty

Satan in St Mary's


A savage, cold wind had sprung up just after dark. It stirred and rippled the black water of the Thames, hit the moored ships and sent them moving and straining at their ropes. The decaying corpses of three river pirates twisted and twirled in the wind to the creak of the scaffold overhead. Ghostly dancers grimly turning to macabre music. The wind pierced the alleys and rutted tracks of the city, freezing the mud and ordure, driving deeper into the darkness those human predators of the shadows who might still be hunting for any unfortunate abroad on such a dark and miserable night.

The church of St. Mary Le Bow stood alone and desolate, its carved brick and woodwork open to the wind. The cemetery which surrounded it whispered and murmured with sound as leaves and branches were scornfully cast around by the wind as it bent and shook the flimsy wooden crosses of the dead. Inside the church, it was cold and dark, the wind slammed close a loose shutter and then continued to play its distant eerie music in the cracks and crevices of the crumbling masonry. The place was deserted and quiet except for the scurrying patter of the occasional rat and the slow dripping of rain water through a tear in the roof as it trickled down the mildewed wall forming a green dank puddle at its base. In the sanctuary, before the high altar, a man sat bolt upright in the Blessed Chair. His soft, plump hands clutched the carved wood as if he was reassuring himself that as long as he sat in that chair then he had found sanctuary and was protected by all the power, temporal and spiritual, of the Church. Yet he was afraid, his large protuberant eyes stared into the darkness, searching for Them, wondering if They would come. He had sinned grievously in being one of Them, he had sinned grievously in killing one of Them and They would not forget that. Nor would God. The man's fingers felt the carved letters which ran along the arms of the chair – 'Hic est terribilis locus' – this is a terrible place, the House of God where Angels walked and worshipped before the White Body of Christ. Yet here too, he had sinned, most horribly, committed an abominable act in the hope it would ease his terror and despair. He thought of the knife which had brought him here, it had slipped so easily into the soft throat of the man. Like something from a dream, he remembered it going in soft and smooth like a spoon into cream. He had not meant to do it, yet it was done, and now he was a murderer, a fugitive from the King's Justice and from something much more terrifying. He jumped as a bird or bat was driven by the wind into one of the long shuttered windows above him. He stared up deep into the dark alcove and then, hearing a faint sound from the far end of the church, he turned his head back slowly, feeling the hair on the nape of his neck rise in horror at what it might be. They had come, standing with a torch spluttering above them. They seemed to have emerged, hooded and cloaked from the darkness. They stood, a group of black evil crows in the pool of light thrown by their torches and then began to move soundlessly towards him. The man moaned in terror and sank deeper into the chair oblivious to the hot wetness between his fat thighs. His hands gripped the wood, his head fast against the back of the chair as his eyes darted to and fro. There must be, surely, he thought, some way of escape from the hell advancing towards him. He wanted to run but he could not move, perhaps the wine! If only his legs and arms were not so heavy, he could escape the terrors now approaching him.


Edward, King of England and Duke of Aquitaine, sat in the small sparse chamber of his palace at Westminster. Few people knew he was in the capital for he had only returned at the urgent insistence of his Chancellor, Robert Burnell, Bishop of Bath and Wells. Exhausted after his journey, Edward crouched over a small, fiery red brazier, his cloak wrapped about him, trying to ignore the cold wind which battered insistently on the wooden shutters. Edward eventually rose and crossed the room to ensure they were closed fast; it was dark outside, the city and river concealed by thick mists, only the moaning of the wind and the howling of some street dog cut through the eerie silence. The King shivered and jumped as a rat rustled the herb-strewn rushes. A room with too many dark corners, the King thought, hidden from the torches flickering in their sconces on the wall. "Shadows everywhere, " Edward muttered to himself and returned to crouch over the brazier and examine the shadowy ghosts who haunted his own soul. First, there was his father, Henry, pleasure-loving, aesthetic, eager to please, only concerned about his own comforts and those of his favourites: soft-skinned, soft-spoken, Henry's only interest had been the building of his precious abbey here at Westminster.

There were other more threatening figures; the de Montforts; flaxen-haired Simon and his arrogant, aggressive boys, with their smiling faces and treacherous hearts. Once Simon had been a close friend, Edward had even joined him against his own father, the King, in order to build a better Community of the Realm, but those dreams turned into nightmares. Henry was a poor king but de Montfort and the other barons were tyrants seeking their own good. Simon had been the worst, linked to Satanic covens, with their filthy, secret rites which his damnable family had picked up in the soft, luxurious provinces of southern France. Even dead, Edward morosely thought, de Montfort's hand stretched from the grave across the years to haunt him. Indeed, the King often wondered if de Montfort was really dead or still alive, leading his secret covens, organizing the assassinations which pursued Edward like some savage, well-trained hunting dogs. Edward looked down at the white furrowed scar on his right hand. "De Montfort must be dead!, " he whispered to the brazier, "Killed at Evesham years ago. " The King stared into the blazing coals, the red flames reminding him of that fiery, murderous day among the green meadows and apple-strewn fields of Evesham some twenty years before. He and his troops had advanced against Simon with banners snapping and flapping in the breeze. The summer day had quickly died as a thunderstorm suddenly swept the skies, the crashing thunder and flashes of lightning drowning the pounding hooves of his mailed cavalry as they charged the small, trapped rebel army. Edward still remembered, from all the battles he had ever fought in, the moment of impact at Evesham as he crashed through Simon's troops, drenching his sword in rebel blood. At the end Simon had stood alone, fully clothed in mail armour, he bestrode the corpses of his fallen bodyguard, taunting the royal troops to close with him. Edward had sat and watched the rebel leader being overborne. At that precise moment the storm had suddenly ended and the rays of a thin sun caught the blood seeping through the gaps of Simon's armour, making it sparkle like cascading rubies. They hacked Simon's body to bits. Edward shuddered, slightly fearful at what he had ordered in the heat of battle, for he had instructed his men to feed the battered remains of Simon's corpse to a pack of starving wolfhounds. "Yes," Edward muttered. "Simon must be dead. "

The King stared round the deserted chamber. If Simon was dead, he thought despairingly, then his followers were certainly not, organizing covens, plotting to kill him by poison, dagger, sword, mace or arrow through assassins by day or night, at home or abroad. Abroad! Edward gazed into the darkness. He remembered Acre in Palestine where, some eight years after his victory at Evesham, he and his queen, Eleanor, were on crusade trying to impose unity amongst the petty principalities of Outremer. He had thought that at least there he would be safe but the assassins struck. A Christian hermit asked for an audience and Edward had nodded his agreement, his mind on other matters. The man, grovelling and verminous like many of his kind, entered and stood in the shadows of the tent. Edward recalled seeing him take something from his sleeve and only reacted when the sharp stiletto knife came streaking for his heart. Edward had sidestepped, crying out,

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