by Flavia

Disclaimer: They are not mine, but as I am as poor as a churchmouse suing me won’t help you much. Feel free though. It’s the least I owe for the pleasure you have given me. Only my ego profits from this story, and yours.

Universe: I’m making this one up! Join in? The time is somewhere during the latter half of the Dark Ages.

Notes: Please give feedback. And flames! I can always use a good laugh.

Running, running, run! Keep running! Oh, God, they were going to… keep running! The light and voices died out behind him, and the cool darkness wrapped itself around him. The fine-clad man stumbled up to the churchyard wall, panting.

Perhaps he’d gotten away. No one seemed to be following him. Just rest a bit. He patted the secure wall. All he had to do was get over it if someone came, after all. God, it felt safe. He laughed weakly. Now he knew he’d been scared, considering a wall that didn’t even reach his shoulder a line of safety. The runner sank down in the wall’s shadow.

Just breathe a bit.

"New here?" The quiet voice caused the seated man to jump up, terrified.

"Whoa! Relax! I’m just over to see the finishing of the cathedral. You know they’ll be working all night with the last bit now." The newcomer spread his hands trying to show his harmlessness. "Look, if you want, I’ll just stay on this side of the wall, and you’ll be safe on that. Not that I’d be wanted on that side anyway." He grinned. "Scruffy stray like me on hallowed earth? Th’bishop’d freak."

The startled man tried to calm his racing heart and looked at the slim figure leaning against the outside of the wall. The light from the church behind him showed him a slender young man, simply clad in comfortable, but worn, leathers. His hair reached beyond his shoulders, and his chin had a few days stubble. A tad shabby perhaps, but clean and healthy, and probably no stray, either. Nor did he seem to carry any weapons.

The newcomer studied the well-clad man with equal interest. Clean-shaven, not much older than himself, and obviously not from the town nor the countryside. Perhaps a merchant, but the clothes were a little too well-to-do, a little too showy. Definitely no noble, he looked more like the travellers who lived on the folly of the mercenaries and wealthy, one of those whose stock-in-trade was the skill to manipulate dice and markers. And people. Yeah, he looked like a gambler.

He also looked like a blade of grass could spook him. The leather-clad man smiled friendly.

"Vin, by the way." He reached out his hand. "My father was a tanner down at the docks."

"Ezra. Of …uhm…Standish parish."

Vin grinned appreciatively. "And exactly where is that parish?"

"Oh, nowhere in particular…" The gambler smiled rakishly. "Not like anyone will dissent, anyway."

The tanner grinned, amused. "You from down south? France, maybe? Flemish?" The gambler nodded. "Looks like you found yourself some trouble. You okay?"

The gambler looked nervously towards the cathedral.

"The masons after you? Relax. They’re awful superstitious, and this is the gallows-hill on this side. They’d never follow here, ’specially after all those accidents, recently. You’ll be safe here while it’s dark, and once the dawn comes, m’friend Josiah c’n protect ya. Th’brother likes taking care of people."


"Yeah. Not mine though. You heard of the monastery that lay next to the old church here? The one that burned?"

The gambler nodded wordlessly.

"Yeah, well, about five of the monks burned with it. Then, when they decided they were building this great thing, the live ones left for the new ’stary down the river, an’ I guess the dead ones left for heaven. But Josiah stayed. Don’t know why, though he said something about a penance, once."

"But the monastery burned almost fifty years ago!" He raised a doubtful eyebrow. "Your friend must be rather old by now."

Vin looked thoughtful for a moment. "I guess he is, at that. Never really thought about it. I know he’s older than me, but beyond that….. it just never meant much." He grinned suddenly. "I bet he wouldn’t mind putting you up, though. He’s already taking care of JD."


"Yeah." Vin sobered up. "You know those accidents I talked about? JD was one. Fell off the scaffolding."

"Lord." Ezras face paled. Going through the city he had already seen several of the ’accidents’ of the building site. Crushed feet, arms and legs gone, bodies broken forever. Worse, almost, than a war, he had thought. And all in the name of God the merciful. It was enough to make a man laugh. Or perhaps cry.

"How bad was it?" he asked, reluctantly.

"Pretty bad. He landed on his back." When he saw the gambler shudder, he quickly amended; "Oh, he still gets around, and Buck and Josiah take care of him." He sighed and looked down. "Still, I thought his heart was gonna break when he realized he’d never build again. He’s so young, too." A sudden noise from the building site startled them both, and Vin smiled grimly and nodded towards it. "Bet he’s gonna hang around watching the finishing tonight, wishing he could help."

They both fell silent. It was a comfortable silence, with Vin leaning against the wall from the outside and Ezra once again seated in its shadow. The lights and distant sounds from the cathedral no longer seemed any more threatening to the gambler than the torches being lighted in the streets below the hill. At last, Vin shook himself.

"So," he said. "What happened to you?" He cocked an eyebrow at the gambler's fancy clothes. "You don’t exactly look like a stonemason, mind. Or someone who hangs out in churchyards much."

The gambler tried to laugh, but the fear put a fist of ice in his stomach. "I…..I….don’t know what happened. I just arrived." He raked his fingers through his hair. "I mean…of course I’ve lifted a few pockets in my day, and...and perhaps the dice in my purse aren’t altogether accurate in their falling." He turned terrified eyes on Vin. "But I hadn’t even used them tonight! And they didn’t try to beat me up, or drag me to the guard. They just…." He faltered.

"What did they do?" Vin's quiet drawl broke through his tremors. He reached down to rub a comforting hand on the gambler's shoulder.

The gambler sobbed. "They….they hit me over the head, and…and I woke up…at the cathedral, they….had my legs tied and they were putting me…this tiny hole…forcing me...I just had to get away…." He suddenly noticed that the hand at his shoulder had frozen. The tanner was staring down at him, eyes wide and dismayed.

"It’s the grimm. It’s the last night of stonework, they were after the grimm. God, I can’t believe I forgot. I can’t believe they did it. Fucking superstitious maniacs."

"The grimm?" the gambler asked. "What…is a grimm?"

The tanner clenched his jaw furiously. "It’s a fucking luck-charm! Those idiots of the mason guild, they think they have to protect the church with a bloody sacrifice!" He spit at the ground, taking care not to hit the church wall. "The last day of building, they capture some creature and mortar him up inside the wall. Alive! They think they’ve tied his soul to the church to protect it if he suffocates in there. Small churches, it’s usually a cat or a dog, even a rat will do. Anything with a bit of soul in it." He paused grimly. "But I guess with a church this big, they thought they needed a man."

The gambler shot him a horrified look. Vin looked down on the shivering man, carefully weighing his exterior. His fingers, scraped bleeding, were wrapped around slender knees, stained with mortar. His well-cut hair, his just a tad too fine clothes marking him as a traveller, without family or guild, no one's man. He’d never had a chance. Poor bastard.

He reached down to soothe the man again. "You know, you aren’t exactly the first that got caught by those thick-headed morons."

"I….I’m not?" The answer was weak, but the tanner felt encouraged. He rubbed the shoulder beneath him gently and shook his head.

"Nope. See that house over there? Or perhaps I should say, that place where there used to be a house?"

The gambler looked at the sooty ruins below the building site and nodded.

"That’s Chris’s house. Or used to be. He was the last architect here on the building." Vin shrugged. "I think he was good, but the mason-guild hated him. He kept insisting on safetylines and no people below the pulleys. Guess they thought he cramped their style. ’Bout three years back, they started to try to force him away. Kept dropping things on him from the scaffolding, cutting his climbing lines, stuff like that. Almost killed him once or twice." The tanner chuckled for himself. "Could have told them that never would work. Only made him more bloody-minded." He sobered up. "So one night someone set his house on fire." He nodded grimly at the gambler shocked face.

"I don’t think Chris would have minded if they just burned the house down over him, but his wife and his five-year-old son, Adam, was in that house. They were his whole family."

He nodded at Ezra's pained grimace; "Yeah, Chris was boiling. He’s got no intention to leave. Says he’s hanging around until he finds the bastards and sees them dead, too." The tanner shook his head thoughtfully. "Think he’ll do it, too."

"And then there was Nate." Vin made a face.


"Yeah, that was two years ago. Lucky for him that Chris and Buck were there. Nathan’s one of them Christian Moors from Spain. He’s a wood-cutter, and the king sent for him to carve the altar. The Guilds went berserk. After they stopped using safety-lines, of course they had more accidents, so everyone was talking about bad luck, and curses. And then they were asked to let a heathen foreigner into 'their' cathedral." He spit again. "Bet Nathan weren’t so happy the gallows are next to the church-yard."

"You mean…" The gambler was aghast.

The tanner nodded grimly. "As I said, it was good Chris and Buck were there." He smiled affectionately. "Buck could make ya feel better if you were drawn and quartered." He bent his head to hide his grin. "Unless of course he happens to see a pretty woman. Then you’re on your own."

He explained to the gambler's inquiring look; "Buck’s Chris’s friend. He’s still here ’cause he feels guilty; he thinks he should have been there that night. But, well, there was this tavern-girl, and then there was this bar-brawl, and, well," Vin grinned. "things happened. He tried to be there for Chris afterwards, but he still feels bad." He snickered. "Started to mother JD real good, too."

The gambler shook his head, grinning. "You have odd friends."

The tanner smiled. "But good ones. ’Sides, beggars can’t be choosers. I’m not exactly a well respected man." He grinned. "I messed up a few years back, I was just a kid. I got into this fight down the docks, and the Alderman's son was killed. Lord knows who actually did it, but three witnesses remembered me, so I took the fall." He shrugged at that. "Got lucky, and managed to get outside the walls before they caught me, but it just about killed my father when they put a prize on my head. Kept to the woods with the other lawless, but early this year, I got word my mother was dying. I sneaked in to see her. After all, it’s been years. I figured perhaps no one was watching for me."

"They were?"

"Yeah. Waited for me to come. Never had much chance, though I did break an arm or two, and cracked the skull of the guard captain. Not that it did me much good, killing the guard is a hanging offence ’round these parts."

"Jesus! Why on earth are you still here!?"

He turned his head and smiled crookedly at the gambler. "I was innocent."

And the light from the workteam putting the last stone of the cathedral in place fell square on the ropemarks around his neck.


Comments to:

50 years between the beginning and ending of building a cathedral might seem much, but was fairly normal back then. All stone had to be brought by ship and carts, all lifting had to be done by hand or with pulleys. And as the masons finished, the wood-carvers, metal-workers, glass-fitters and painters moved in. JD might have to wait another 15 years to see the end of the construction. Still, the cathedrals built then are still standing, half a millenia later. Will ours?

All the stories hinted at here are ghost-stories from my childhood. Together they cover most of the reasons for hauntings; vengeance, unfinished business, guilt, habit, violent death and burial in unhallowed ground (which is what happened to hanged criminals and suicides in those days). I did not make any of these stories up. Including the grimm.

Several old church-yards in Sweden are said to have small, resident non-human ghosts, and the great cathedrals in Lund and Uppsala have legends of the poor bastards said to be walled in somewhere inside them. As well, archeological excavations of medieval churches have found the remains of cats and other small animals hidden in the walls.

In my childhood, these were the stories that gave me nightmares. Can you imagine dying like that? Fingers scraped bloody, suffocating in the dark? Unfortunately, I can.