by Michael Díaz Feito
Table of Contents|
Chapters: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6,
7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14
Chapter 9: A Big Cat
Manfred of Cologne’s boat docked at Famagusta. The crew needed supplies and fresh water, and Manfred wanted to pay respects at the court of Cyprus’s six-year-old king, Hugh I, who was mourning the recent death of his Poitevin father.
“He’s a kid, sure,” Manfred said. “But he’s strong, okay? Trust me, he’s feared, respected. Many people say so.”
Fèlix and Frater Luís were not invited to little Hugh’s court. Instead, they stretched their legs on the beach and waited for Manfred’s audience to end. Fèlix walked the wetter sand, scratching bites on his wrists and cursing the lice-infested blankets of his berth.
Frater Luís stood farther from the water. He was chatting again with the galley slave, Bhaltair. In the glare of white sunlight reflected by the sand, their forms seemed indistinct to Fèlix. He eavesdropped.
“But I don’t think that’s the real mistake,” Luís said. “I mean, I’m not allowed to eat meat at the monastery, and Fèlix never does.”
“Nope. It’s not so strange.”
“Hmm. Okay, but have you heard about the big cat?” Bhaltair said. “No? The perfects meet in their hidden synagogues around midnight, and they wait in silence till a rope of human hair drops from the ceiling. A black cat — big like the size of your Fèlix — comes climbing down the rope. It sways at the center of the chamber, and as soon as they see the big cat, the perfects snuff out any candles and hum weird hymns, biting their lips in excitement.
“They crawl about in the dark, blindly feeling for their master, the big cat, and when they find him, then they’re kissing him all over. A few go tonguing his paws, but most of them go for the tail and the anus. It gets them so hot that soon they’re grabbing each other, whoever’s closest, and swiving. It’s a wild orgy, really, and also it’s their holiest ritual. It’s why they’re called Cathars.”
“Aw jeez,” Luís said. “That’s disgusting. Is it true?”
“Probably not!” Bhaltair said. He laughed. “But you get the point.”
Absurdity and obscenity, Fèlix thought. The twin loves of this false world. I’m tired of scratching at them, and tiredness breeds error. That’s the Prince of Shadows’ goal. He goads these lice into the moist cracks of our bodies to keep us surveying wrinkles for bites, and meanwhile, the soul suffers unseen, unfed, unrested.
“Let them burn, then,” Frater Luís said. “Manfred said the heretics murdered a papal legate outside Arles. What else can we do? Burn them all, I guess. They should be garroted first, though, out of mercy. I believe that. But yuck, they are disgusting.”
A dog’s slick head bobbed in the waves. It swam to the sun-bleached shore with seriousness, exhaling in rapid snorts. It eyed Fèlix, shot from the foamy breakers, and halted at his feet. It was a brindle dog with pointed ears, and its sturdy forelimbs flexed in a broad stance. It shook its coat dry, showering Fèlix with must, and unfurled a purple tongue, lolling to catch breath. It stared at Fèlix.
“From where did you come?” he said. He scanned the horizon for a boat or other source. There was none. The sea was empty, and the dog had swum from the emptiness. He felt the stare. He met the dog’s eyes. It snarled and barked ferociously.
Bhaltair yelled. Shuffling to kick up sand, he chased the dog away. As it disappeared into the distance, the dog barked and barked but happily, excited by the chase.
Bhaltair shook his head as he walked back. He grinned at Fèlix, who said, “It must be my horns,” and pointed to the twin boils on his forehead.
“Och,” Bhaltair said. He leaned in too close, dumped a heavy hand on Fèlix’s shoulder, and said, “You’ve got pimples, I’m a damn slave, and the frater’s a sister. Nobody’s perfect.”
Copyright © 2017 by Michael Díaz Feito