• Published 26th Feb 2018
  • 8,783 Views, 2,067 Comments

A 14th Century Friar in Celestia's Court - Antiquarian



Providence is an odd thing. Friar Jacques de Charrette, warrior monk of the Hospitallers, will learn this the hard way as a vision leads him to Equestria, where he and his newfound friends will face a diabolical threat.

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The Fire

The dungeons beneath Paris, Anno Domini 1309 …

Two men dangled from chains in the torture chamber, their skin hanging from them in shreds. The light of the brazier danced over them, casting their bloodied forms in a grim, flickering relief; a vision of the barbarism to which humanity was capable of sinking. In the dim light, the two men looked to be corpses, with only the slight rise and fall of their chests showing otherwise. Barely audible over the crackle of fire were two voices, mumbling prayers through bruised and purpled lips.

“Ave Maria, gratia plena, Dominus tecum, benedicta tu in mulieribus, et benedictus fructus ventris tui Iesus,” they prayed. Only the fire and the occasional drip of water accompanied their petition.

“Sancta Maria, Mater Dei,” continued the darker haired of the two, “ora pro nobis peccatoribus…” he trailed off as he realized that he was praying alone. “Andrew,” he croaked through parched lips. There was no response from the other man. “Andrew.

“Hm?” grunted the other, stirring. He tried to look over at his companion, but with one eye swelled shut and his blood-soaked blonde hair hanging over the other, he had some difficulty accomplishing this. “Wha?” He coughed on the acrid air of the dungeon. “Jacques?”

“You fell asleep,” replied the other knight.

“I did?” asked Andrew. Jacques tried to nod, but it was hard enough just holding his head up. Andrew snorted. “Well, we can’t have that, can we? Otherwise we’ll never finish this decade before our gracious host returns.” Jacques smiled. Andrew gave a wheezing laugh at his own joke, which swiftly turned into a cough. “Anyway, where were we?”

“Sancta Maria.”

There was a distant creak as the door down to the dungeons opened.

“Oops,” smiled Andrew. “Best hurry then.”

“Sancta Maria,” they chorused, keeping the fire of defiance alive as the sound of footsteps reached them. “Mater Dei, ora pro nobis,” three figures entered the room, “…peccatoribus…” one of them was the king, “nunc et in hora mortis nostrae, amen.”

King Philip IV of France stepped forward into the light of the brazier to glare upon the Templars. Called ‘the Fair,’ Philip was a handsome, dark-haired man, dressed in the finest robes and bearing himself like a man with the right to rule the earth, and perhaps the heavens as well. Jacques kept his face impassive as the monarch regarded them as beings beneath his contempt. “Praying for salvation?” he asked, his voice silky and refined.

Andrew somehow managed to contort his battered face into a defiant smile. “Perhaps you’d like to join us, Majesty. Avoid the rush when you face God for your crimes someday.”

One of the masked torturers cocked back a fist to punch the Englishman, but the king stopped him with an upraised hand. “Come now,” chided the king. “Be reasonable, Sir Andrew. After all, it is you Templars who are practicing devilry, heresy, and oh so many other damnable offenses.” His smile was that of a cat with a canary. “Indeed, most of your compatriots have already admitted to their crimes.”

“False confessions under torture,” rumbled Jacques. “And they recanted after.”

Philip brushed non-existent dust from his arm. “If that is true, then their heresy knows no bounds and their souls are surely lost.”

“Drop the act, Philip,” chuckled Andrew. “Not a soul down here but us. No clergymen or men of law to convict you for your crimes. Anything you say is just between us and God,” he gave a bloody smile, “and He already knows what you’ve done, you lying, thieving, greedy, murderous piece of tra—"

Philip gestured, and the torturer delivered a savage punch to Andrew’s gut. “Ghagh!” croaked Andrew, spraying blood over his tormenter. “Bastard!” he spat. “Have you so little fear for God that you’d beat a monk? You’d best find a priest for yourself and your master if you want to cheat Hell!” he warned.

The torturer answered him with another punch.

Seeing that he was getting nowhere with Andrew, Philip sighed and turned to Jacques. “And I suppose you also refuse to admit to your heresy?” he asked, sounding bored.

Jacques stared back in silence, refusing to speak. Andrew did for him. “Oh, sorry, Your Majesty. Is our refusal to perjure ourselves making it hard for you to get your money? Your power? Well, I’m sorry to be such a bloody hindrance to your—"

Another blow cut him off. Jacques winced. Philip rolled his eyes. “He doesn’t know how to shut up, does he?” Jacques said nothing. Philip indicated Andrew with a tilt of his head. “Will you be smarter than your friend here and tell me what I want to hear?”

Andrew looked to be about to shoot another retort and earn another blow, but Jacques cut him off with a glance. “Andrew,” he grunted. Philip’s eyes gleamed for a moment, and Jacques guessed that the king thought that he was about to perjure himself as demanded. He managed a small grin at the thought. “Cast not your pearls before swine.”

Philip’s eye twitched. Andrew blinked, then burst out into a throaty, choking laugh. Jacques, in spite of the pain in his chest, could not help but laugh with him. They continued to laugh until the torturers beat them into silence.

When they were done, Philip heaved an exhausted sigh, though as of yet he’d done nothing but deliver orders. “What a troublesome lot you Templars are,” he murmured, pinching the bridge of his nose. “I am simply at my wit's end with the two of you.” He gestured and one of the torturers brought up a steaming cauldron. Philip dipped a ladle into it and held the contents out for the two knights to see. Within its bowl sloshed liquid metal. In spite of himself, Jacques blanched. “Molten silver,” explained the king. “A technique borrowed from the infidels.” He gave a cold smile. “I imagine you’d both rather be facing them than me.” He handed the ladle to the other torturer. “Last chance, Templars. Admit to your heresy, or face the silver.”

Jacques stared at the waiting torment for a moment, then exchanged a glance with Andrew. His brother knight gave a weak smile and a nod, saying what words could not. Though parted by chains, Jacques was comforted by the fact that they could always lean on each other. Turning his eyes back to Philip and the torturers, he spoke for both Templars, even as he prayed for strength. “Ash to ash. When your time comes, may God forgive you all.”

Philip the Fair’s face turned ugly with hate. “Power is my right, you miserable monk,” he hissed, “and the strong take what is their due.” He took the ladle from the waiting torturer. “You’re a relic of a dead era, Templar.” The ladle and its vile contents were held poised over Jacques' shoulders. The knight could feel the heat. “It’s time to bow to the new age.” Philip let loose the silver.

Jacques screamed until he could not scream anymore.


Jacques landed face-down on the cold stone of his cell, so shocked by the agony of the molten silver that even the impact of the diseased floor upon his violated flesh could not elicit a further cry of pain from him. The cell door clanged shut behind him and the two torturers departed, laughing to each other. Jacques had a vague notion that they were placing bets on his surviving the night, but he lacked the mental wherewithal to care. At this point, he would not actively resist death. A martyr’s fate would release him from this torment with his soul and his honor intact. His warrior blood kept him from rushing into the embrace of the Angel of Death, but even his fighting spirit could not make him do more than breathe shallowly as he lay broken on the floor.

His thoughts, when he had them, were for his brethren. Of the men who had been taken with him from the priory, he did not know for certain that any were still alive. Andrew was, or, at least, he had been the last time he’d seen him. But the Englishmen had been unconscious as the butchers dragged him away. He’s nearly spent, thought Jacques to himself. He can’t go on like this. I need to… he didn’t know what, but he knew he could not allow his brother to suffer alone. He tried to crawl to the nearest wall to call out to his brother, hoping that, if nothing else, he would stay alive long enough to give Andrew some comfort in his final moments.

The Templar tried to brace an arm under himself to pull his ravaged body along, but he’d only pulled himself three agonizing feet before it gave out and sent him crashing helplessly to the ground. A sob escaped his lips as blood dripped from his mouth to pool on the floor. Unable to raise his head out of it, he simply let it coat his face. His body shook with the sobs, but no tears came. He’d spent too much water on blood to be able to cry. Have we truly been abandoned to this fate? Innocent men condemned for the sins of another?

“Eloi,” he croaked. “Eloi! Lama sabachthanei!”

The warrior’s instincts bade him find a weapon, and rescue his brother. But, even if the cell had been unlocked, such a thing would have been impossible; he lacked the strength to move. His fingers clawed at the ground, gripping whatever straw and filth clung to the floor. My God, I beg you, take my agony as an offering. Let it soothe the wounds of others broken under the lash. Let my dying here at the whims of a wicked man not be for nothing! Let it mean something! “I have nothing left to give,” he sobbed aloud. “Nothing but my wretched life. I wish I could offer more. I wish…” his hands clawed feebly. “I wish…”

He lay in his own blood, wracked in torment, waiting for the end. He tried to pray, but he lacked the strength to do more than to mouth, “Jesus,” over and over with an ever weakening breath as his consciousness slipped away.

Then, just as the darkness closed in to take him, he heard a soft, feminine voice singing in French. At first he dismissed it as a hallucination, the last madness of a dying man, but as the song went on, his pain eased, and he saw a rising light though his closed eyelids. His heartbeat quickened, and he wondered if an angel or the Blessed Mother had come to conduct him to his final resting place.

Behind him the door to the cell was unlocked and swung open with a creak, and at the sound the agony of his wounds subsided to a dull ache. Rolling over and sitting up, he opened his eyes, expecting to see some heavenly vision.

He was not entirely disappointed, though the manner of the apparition was not entirely expected.

Standing framed in the doorway was a great winged unicorn, gleaming with such radiance that she ought to have been as blinding to look upon as the sun itself. And yet, he found that he could look at the creature without pain. He could not make out her features through the aura of light, but her mane and tail flowed with a rainbow of color, and her eyes were as twin violet flames. She sang to him in his native tongue, and at every word he felt his body mend. There was a palpable Goodness to her so profound that he almost wept anew. He thought that surely this creature must be sent from heaven, and listened with mute awe to her song of the sun and moon.

When she finished, she simply watched him, as though waiting for something.“Wha-,” he gasped, curiosity finally overriding his reverence. “What are you?”

The unicorn did not respond, but rather turned and strode down the passage. Jacques felt compelled to follow. She led him up a twisting stair out of the dungeons. Along the way they did not encounter a single living soul. It was as though the castle was deserted. At the top they entered a small room, with a bench along one wall and a door to the other. On the bench sat Methuselah, his eyes closed as he prayed the decades of the rosary, mumbling the “Ave Marias” through his flowing beard. Though still ancient, he looked younger than he had the last time Jacques had seen him. In fact, he looked as he did the day that he and Jacques had met.

Upon their entrance, Methuselah looked up, opening his eyes to reveal chocolate brown irises that lighted upon the two of them with no difficulty. The old man’s face brightened into a toothy smile. “Welcome, my son. It is good that you have come. Too long have you tarried in that dungeon.” He patted a folded Hospitaller robe that sat on the bench beside him. “Put on your travelling cloak, for you have a great journey ahead of you.” Silently, Jacques did as he was bidden, his mind left so thoroughly in the wake of events that he was not capable of questioning what was happening. He donned his habit, finding a sword girt at his waist and sandals on his feet with no memory of having them before.

Methuselah rose and walked to the door. He opened it, and beyond was darkness. The winged unicorn preceded them out the door, lighting the path with her radiance. Methuselah gestured for Jacques to follow. The warrior took a step after them, but paused. Andrew, he thought. He looked back down into the dungeons and made as if to go back, but Methuselah’s voice arrested him. “You cannot go back,” declared the old man. “That door is closed to you now.” True enough, bars of iron now covered the way down. “What is past is past, and a chaplain must attend to the living, Father de Charrette.”

With one last reluctant look back, Jacques followed.

The world outside was utterly black, save where the winged unicorn lit the path. The ground beneath their feet was dark and barren; rock, cracked and pitted. For time beyond measure they walked through the formless land. But, as they journeyed, Jacques became aware of a Voice. It was not the winged unicorn’s voice, nor was it Methuselah’s. Rather, it belonged to a Being far older than reckoning. The Voice sang as they walked, in words that Jacques did not understand, but that filled him with such passion and emotion that he felt that if he were to understand even one word of it he would die in ecstasy. At the sound of the singing, the world around them sprung to life.

First were the lights in the sky. A brilliant golden orb drifted across the heavens, illuminating an empty world of fog and rock. It was followed shortly after by a white orb of softer light. At their passing, plants sprang up. Flower, tree, and shrub brought color to the land, and streams of water burbled through the once dry land. From the woods came the chirps of birds and the cries of animals. The music increased in volume, and the fog lifted, revealing a mountain in the distance. Though the lands around it looked different and there were no buildings, Jacques still knew that it was the same mountain where he’d seen the towers of ivory and gold.

After what may have been an instant or a millennia, they reached the summit of the mountain, where the winged unicorn and Methuselah stopped and inclined their gazes heavenward. Not knowing what else to do, Jacques did the same.

At first, he saw nothing, though with each passing moment the music rose in majesty. Then, at first in ones and twos and then in great companies, beings of light and spirit drifted down from the clouds. Some resembled the winged unicorn that had been his guide, though they were brighter than her and lacked bodies of flesh and bone. Others resembled griffons, and still others minotaurs, rams, hippogriffs, zebras, and more. As they descended, they sang in chorus. But they were not the origin of the Voice.

Jacques gasped when that figure arrived. It stepped down from the heavens as though on stairs, clad in both flesh and spirit, with white body, red hair, and eyes of fire. Power emanated from it to such a degree that it would have been kinder to compare a grain of dust to a sandstorm than to compare the winged unicorn beside him to the Voice’s origin. And yet, no matter how long he gazed upon it, Jacques could not discern its exact form. At one moment it appeared to be a winged unicorn; at others a horse; at others a lion or a minotaur. In fact, with each passing moment it appeared to be each of the passing spirits, and yet to Jacques it was as though all its many forms were simultaneously visible to him without contradicting each other. Had he been asked, Jacques would not have been able to describe truly what it looked like. But, somehow, he knew what it was.

The Source.

The Source of Goodness. The Source of Love. The Source of Harmony.

As soon as the Source reached the ground, the singing stopped. For a time, the land was silent. Then, the Source began a new song, one deeper than the last. And from the greenery around them emerged figures of flesh and blood. Ponies of three kinds, multicolored and full of glee, were among the first to emerge, followed shortly by other equines, by griffons and hippogriffs, by dogs, by minotaurs, and soon the Source was surrounded by so many creatures that Jacques could not name more than a handful.

Each race was beckoned forward by the Source and presented with a gift, which came as a multicolored light that flowed from the kiss of the Source and infused the recipient. Jacques perceived that each race saw the Source as looking like they did, while he was able to see all the Source’s forms.

In time, each of the races had received a gift from the Source. The ponies which resembled unicorns moved the celestial bodies and touched the world around them with their minds. The winged ponies controlled the weather. Even the ordinary looking ponies wielded power, as they moved the earth and that which grew upon it. The griffons carried with them prosperity, the zebras an innate wisdom, and the minotaurs boldness. For an instant, Jacques thought he caught sight of a creature of mismatched limbs and body that flitted about as though dancing to the whims of chance, but it was gone too quickly for him to be sure. Satisfied, the Source departed for distant lands, continuing to sing.

At first, there was harmony amongst the creatures after the Source left. The gifts of the many races were used in concert, and there was peace and love in the innocent new world. The lights that flew above watched over the creatures with benevolent eyes, and there was no suffering.

But the peaceful vision did not last.

It began with the lights that flew above. All had been singing in harmony with each other and the world below, carrying on the melody of the Source. But then one sang a note that was not a part of the harmony, not even a part of the unpredictability of chance and change. It was a note born not of the love of creation or its maker, but rather of a selfish desire to increase the singer’s own station, even at the expense of the other musicians. Soon, another joined it. Then another.

In time, a multitude of the shimmering host began to sing on their own, a song without harmony or love, but only selfishness and hate. And the longer they sang, the less they gleamed, until in time they fell into shadow and darkness. There were grave consequences for the disharmony; earthquakes and volcanoes and hurricanes which crushed and burned and drowned the innocent inhabitants of the earth. With each passing corruption of the melody, the world grew crueler.

The other lights attempted to stop them, to restore the joyous harmony, but the fallen lights would not be dissuaded. As their works grew yet more twisted, they lost their unique forms, becoming shapeless, nameless shadows of their former selves.

These shadows, in time, fell to the earth. There they saw the creatures who bore forms like those they had lost, and the shadows grew hateful and jealous. So when the creatures that lived upon the earth encountered them, the shadows called out to them, tempting them with promises that they could have the gifts of the other races for themselves, without needing to share their own gifts. Thus were the seeds of disharmony sown, and the fruit they bore was bitter indeed.

To the griffons came violent greed, and to the minotaurs brutishness. The zebras devised every concoction they could conceive, with no regard for the consequences. Even the pony races, once the most joyous of the creatures, fell into fear, mistrust, and hate. And the black tendrils of the shadows curled around them and twisted them, chaining them in their misery and dividing them from their sibling races. The disparate peoples swiftly fell to war and bloodshed, and the evils they committed fueled the Fell monstrosities.

With their new power, these Fell ones invented new forms for themselves, twisted imitations of the shapes they had lost. Ponies of shadow; hulking giants of rage; skittering, spider-like horrors; even horses of cloud and storm that rode upon the very winds, sowing hatred and mistrust. And Jacques could not help but weep for what was lost.

The beings of spirit which had not fallen fought the shadows, wielding their light and harmony as weapons. And they burned away much of the darkness and prevented a great many calamities. But the shadows drew strength from the creatures they had misled, and clung to them with their chains and snares. With every passing evil, the minds of these slaves sustained the shadows. And so the lights, though stronger than the shadows, could not destroy them. It looked to Jacques as though the creation before him might be unmade.

Then the Source returned. Coming to the top of the mountain the Source spoke to the shadows, adjuring them to release their chains on the creatures of the world. In return, they would be allowed to chain the Source. With cackling glee, the shadows set upon the Source, binding their hateful chains until not even the fire and the light could be seen beneath. Thinking to take the Source’s power for their own, they made a great pyre and burned their captive. As the flames rose higher, the light of the world dimmed. A great cry went up from the Source as the flames reached their peak. The cry ended, and the world was blanketed in total darkness.

Cackling filled the air as the shadows celebrated, thinking their enemy slain. But their celebration was short-lived. There was a roaring as of the thunder of a thousand storms, and a light far brighter than any Jacques had seen before burst forth, shattering the chains as the Source rose, phoenix-like, from the sundered constructs of shadow. The Source was clad in flames as a cloak, a rainbow-hued inferno that burned away the shadows and cast light into every dark corner of the world. The Fell ones fled in terror before the cleansing light. All across the land, chains fell away and creatures blinked as though awakening from a dream. One by one, beginning with the ponies, creatures began making their way back towards the Source.

Individual hearts of flame shot forth from the Source; to each creature that returned one of the hearts went, granting insight and council. And, where two or three gathered together in harmony, their joined flames were enough to drive back even the Fell which still lurked in and about the creatures.

Appearing satisfied, the Source strode up into the heavens, and to Jacques it seemed as though the form of the winged unicorn had come to stand out above the others. At each hoofstep, sparks shot forth, and new fires drifted downwards. Where they were taken up, they brought virtue and blessings. Strength and bravery; hope and beauty; healing and knowledge; and many more besides. The seeds sown by these first fruits of the Fire proved a fertile ground for even more harmonious elements to follow. And, with this Fire, the land and its inhabitants began to mend what had been broken.

Watching in awe as the Source ascended into the heavens, Jacques was startled when the Source stopped and turned. For an instant, Jacques gazed into the fiery eyes of the Source, and in that moment he saw a human man. At the sight he felt a flame within him, one that had long burned there and been tended carefully through many years. The Fire that was sent by the Source came to Jacques, and reached out to touch the flame within him. Jacques gasped as the little flame expanded and grew, licking outwards to touch all that surrounded him as it blazed into a towering white inferno. The pain ought to have been indescribable, but instead he felt alive. He cast his gaze to Methuselah, seeking explanation. But the old man simply chuckled and indicated the winged unicorn beside him. Jacques reached out to her. It was instinct rather than rational thought, a half-formed idea that if he but touched her his questions would be answered. His flesh met the soft fur of the creature’s muzzle and—

Jacques found himself lying half-naked on a bed, his hand resting on the nose of a winged unicorn with a white coat, a shimmering rainbow mane, a golden crown, lavender eyes, and a frankly startled expression on her face. “Um,” she blinked, “hello.”

Author's Note:

Antiquarian opened the door of his study to find that an angry mob had somehow contrived to pack itself into the building without him hearing the clatter of hooves on tile or smelling the smoke of the torches. He knew why they’d come, of course. Indeed, he’d brought it upon himself. But he still felt the need to justify himself, if for no other reason than to give himself time to plan an exit strategy.

“So,” he began, adjusting his tie with a twist of his magic. “How’d you all like the new chapter?”

The mob stared unblinkingly back.

He smiled ingratiatingly, sweating beneath his tweed jacket. “Are you…ahm… here to congratulate me for posting a new one so quickly rather than making you wait another week?”

Silence.

He ran a hoof through his disheveled mane. “Listen, I can understand your frustration, but if you’ll recall, my specific promise was that this chapter Jacques would wake up.” He reached a hoof beneath his jacket for his get-out-of-comeuppance-free-card. “I never promised that he’d say anything—

A mare in the front row leveled a pitchfork at his chest. “BURN THE HERETIC!”

Antiquarian dashed the smoke-bomb against the floor just as the mob surged forward. In the ensuing confusion he sprinted back into his office past his startled secretary.

MissAurapleasecancelmyafternoonappointmentsthankyou!” he shouted, diving through the window without a backward glance.

***

In all seriousness, though, I actually do have something important to address. A number of people have commented that they appreciate 14th Century Friar because it discusses religion without being preachy. And I’m happy for that, as that is precisely what I was trying to accomplish. However, that is a very narrow rope to walk, and now I’ve gone and made a chapter exploring the metaphysics of this world. So I’m going to lay out quickly what I want this chapter to accomplish, and then, perhaps more importantly, what I don’t want it to accomplish.

To provide clarity:

This chapter is the first stepping stone to ensuring that this fic doesn’t turn into a 60 chapter exploration of theology. In order to feel at home in this world, it is necessary for Jacques to believe that he doesn’t feel that his faith is threatened or that his soul is in danger. Writing a creation story that enables him to interpret Equestria as being a land beholden to his God but that knows that God by a different name (Narnia-style) lets the story progress without needing to devote an inordinate amount of time to his acceptance of the new world. This means that we can enjoy humorous scenes of him trying to explain certain quirks of Christian faith (like why an instrument of torturous execution is a holy symbol) without getting side-tracked by a full scale theological debate that no one wants. Thus, Jacques wins, the ponies win, I win, and you, the audience win. The only people who don’t win are the villains; they would prefer that Jacques be side-tracked with the Mane 6 instead of uniting with them to kick flank.

To not stifle creativity:

Jacques will interpret what he has seen in a certain way (and, bluntly, I intend it a certain way), but that doesn’t mean that you aren’t free to draw your own conclusions. Once again, I want this chapter to lay the groundwork to put Jacques legitimately at ease without getting overly technical with theology. He’ll have his own interpretation, but, just like in the real world, there is nothing to stop you from disagreeing or taking a different interpretation. In fact, I’m actually curious to see what different ways people will (and won’t) read into this chapter. At the end of the day, I want anybody to be able to read this chapter and have fun with this story, regardless of the conclusions they take from it, and to be free to compare theories in the comments.

And, rest assured, next time we’ll actually get some bloody dialogue from poor Jacques while he’s awake and coherent. Please don’t kill me. :fluttershyouch:

Edit: Since no one has drawn attention to it yet, I'll note that there is something significant about the timing of Philip's arrival and the part of the prayer that Jacques and Andrew were on, if you know the Latin.

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