Chapter 3: The White Lady
The previous evening had been delightful and Lilly proved to be excellent company. She was becoming almost like a daughter to me yet with overtones of a comrade in arms perhaps there was a past life connection? We had sampled the local cuisine and had wandered around the old town after dinner. I was beginning to get a feel for the place, it had changed, yet parts seemed somehow familiar. Now it was the morning of the second day and I was ready to explore again. I knocked on Lillyâ€™s door, it was 08:00hrs.
â€œBonjour Lilly, time for breakfast!â€ I heard movement within and the door opened. Lilly was dressed in a bath robe with her hair piled up under a towel on her head. Her face looked fresh and pink.
â€œBonjour Yann, great evening, Iâ€™ll be another 10 minutes or so.â€
â€œNo rush, plenty of time, Iâ€™ll go on down and wait for you. Enjoy! This assignment is turning out to be fun with you on the case. Normally Iâ€™m on my own trying to make conversation with total strangers.â€
Lilly curtsied, â€œYes my Lord!â€ and gave me a cheeky grin.
Her actions and unusual comment sent a strange tingle down my spine. I smiled, paused, and left. â€œÃ€ bientÃ´t mon ami,â€ I said cheerfully and with a degree of automation. What was that all about? I shrugged my shoulders and made my way down to the dining room. Fifteen minutes later a glamorous warrior looking Lilly arrived dressed in a pink tee shirt, combat boots, urban disruptive grey, white and black combat trousers and a black military webbing belt with several pouches.
â€œWow, you look ready for action! Just like an action movie star,â€ I quipped.
Lilly laughed and sat down,â€ well you know us French girlsâ€™ know how to dress to impress â€“ with a chic feminine twist of course!â€
â€œYou certainly do! The buffet is over there, help yourself.â€ Lilly rose and made her way to the long table to one side of the dinning room. Returning a couple of minutes later we started planning our day whilst nibbling croissants and sipping first orange juice and then some coffee.
â€œI thought we would head for Temple Neuf down on the river and then visit St. Etienne Cathedral after which we can have lunch at La Place Jeanne dâ€™Arc behind the museums. How does that sound?â€
â€œAbsolutely fine, lots of photo opportunities and glorious weather too,â€ came the spontaneous reply.
After breakfast we started walking towards the Moselle River on the other side of the city. Some 30 minutes later we approached the slope down to the famous river. The Temple Neuf church on its small island gave a good focus to the pictures with St Etienne rising in the background above the more modern city housing along the river bank. Lilly clicked away and shot lots of pictures.
Thoughts of the oppressive dominance of religion in the middle ages flooded into my mind. The church had been all powerful and was the ultimate business machine then. Now banks and finance had taken over the world. You can always tell the priorities of a civilization by their tallest buildings. The Church did not only own the physical in the Middle Ages but they also owned the spiritual; they owned and controlled your very soul! There was no escaping the tentacles of the Church you had to work with them or face annihilation and eternal damnation if you were against them. This was usually preceded by a very public, very messy and painful death. Pain was their misguided way of driving out the Devil â€“ my God they had a lot to answer for!
I knew that a branch of my own Baillieu family had been Cathars and as a rival business system to the official Roman Catholic Church they had been exterminated ruthlessly much in the way that the Nazis had eradicated the Jews in the holocaust. Whole provinces of southern France had been laid waste in the 13th century by Pope Innocent III. In 1208 the Cathars were condemned to death by that very man, and in 1209 Simon de Montfort led a papal army of more than 30,000 soldiers against the region. The killing went on for 35 years, claiming thousands of lives of men, women and children.
Massed burnings had taken place but diaries and other evidence had been found documenting the excesses of the Dominican inquisition. Perhaps I would write about this in my article? Time for a shake up, the readership needed a shock to jolt them out of 2000 years of religious abuse and complacency. What is more the paper couldnâ€™t fire me; I was retiring, so I could say what I liked! Yes, that would give my article some decent teeth and a good deal of bite. I voiced my thoughts to Lilly who nodded her approval. She hadnâ€™t looked at it that way before, but she immediately understood my line of attack. â€œControversy is good for circulation,â€ she added gleefully.
We mingled with the tourists, many of whom were doing exactly what we were doing. Walking into Temple Neuf Protestant church, I half expected a flashback or something of that nature, but nothing. Somewhat disappointed I contented myself by thinking and watching Lilly making notes and taking pictures. The date of the church was post medieval period, so that may have accounted for the absence of a flashback in my personal memory. Oh well, upwards and onwards. We walked back across the bridge with its modern day traffic and then along the river bank quayside, finally turning right and walking the short distance to the entrance of St Etienne Cathedral. Now this was of Gothic medieval magnificence, an oppressive statement of Church power on Earth and dedicated to the glory of a vengeful God. The sheer scale of the monumental structure was so impressive; overwhelming it would have dominated the mind and soul of the medieval onlooker.
We entered and I left Lilly to walk up a side aisle. I went into a side chapel for a few minutes of silence alone. There I lit a couple of candles and thought of my now departed family and those friends, those dear ones that I had lost on my journey through life. The energy of the site resonated within me, the material structure, harmonics and the sacred geometry of the space worked its magic as it was intended to all those years ago. The builders had used all of their skill to impress and magnify the religious experience of the masses. Part victim, part supplicant, the average medieval peasant had no chance of resisting such cunning intelligence. The Church had been the spiritual theme park of its day, complete with souvenirs and fast food. Pilgrimage had been the trend then and any church would be lucky to have some saintly relics or a piece of the original cross of Christ with which to entice the customers through the doors. It was a business. With those thoughts I continued my tour and caught up with Lilly, we finally left after an hour and made for the old town and the museum area of the city.
The MusÃ©es de Metz - La Cour d'Or was and is situated in the north east quadrant of the city and housed in the old Austrasia palace complex which is part fortress part former Royal residence. I had planned to save the museums for last day and so went continued on towards Sainte-SÃ©golÃ¨ne et la Place Jeanne-d'Arc. The very name sounded promising for our reseach for how could any article on medieval French culture not contain a mention of her name. She was after all a national heroine and a Saint. We had grown up with the story book legend of the peasant girl made good, it was an important part of the core identity of France, especially in the post war years after World War I. Was it all true though? Most people failed to question the story any further than the political spin version much as the medieval peasants had failed to question the might and power of the state and aristocracy in the Moyen Age. Itâ€™s all seems to be an exercise in power and the control of the masses. I thought for some minutes, itâ€™s always been that way, nothing changes, the faceless people of politics and power seek to dominate the citizensâ€™ mind in such a way that they become puppets of the state.
Many thoughts crowded through my busy mind as I walked the quiet streets of the old quarter of the city. Then I suddenly turned a corner into Rue Taison and became transfixed by the sight of a large red dragon suspended over the street by cables. It was totally unexpected and triggered a very deep memory. All sorts of images flashed in my mind: symbols of power, a womanâ€™s face, a crown, a white equal armed cross, a shield and a badge. They were all very personal. They were something to do with my core being, something very important to me, but what? My logical conscious mind reeled from the information overload that my subconscious had spewed forth in glorious technicolour. The shield and the badge in particular stood out; a red dragon rampant with only two legs on a sky blue field. Very distinctive, it obviously meant something, but what?
Lilly was totally unaware of my inner turmoil and continued walking at a pace uninterupted. Interesting reaction my conscious mind said quietly and I made a mental note to analyse the images later. In fact I must make a sketch of them at the first opportunity, yes that would be a good idea. My conscious mind was happy with that decision and lost its sense of urgency to commit to immediate memory.
It was fast approaching lunch time as we reached the museum area. We continued past La Cour d'Or entrance and down a side street until we reached the Place Jeanne dâ€™Arc. The little square was an oasis of quiet with its trees and neat hexagonal fountain. The water bubbled refreshingly in the midday heat and cascaded down its two ornate tiers of iron work. The whole scene presented an idyllic view. People sat chatting in the pavement cafÃ© underneath the looming vista of Sainte-SÃ©golÃ¨ne church opposite which dominated the scene. Its impressive ornate twin towers seem to pierce the sky and attract the tourist cameras.
â€œPerfect Lilly, shall we lunch here?â€
â€œYes, why not, how about the cafÃ© Jeanne dâ€™Arc just over there?â€
â€œSounds just the place considering our quest. I wonder why itâ€™s called that. Perhaps its proximity to the church is a clue?â€ I said quizzically.
â€œWho knowâ€™s itâ€™s certainly intruiging,â€ Lilly puzzled, â€œI can understand Reims, Orleans or even Rouen having a cafÃ© Jeanne dâ€™Arc, but why here? I donâ€™t remember any connection with Metz being mentioned in my school history lessons?â€
â€œI sense a story here Lilly, we will have to dig a bit to find some answers but it could make for a point of interest in the article. I havenâ€™t seen much else to make exciting headlines yet.â€
I was finding Metz a bit too modern for my liking. It had been besieged, raised and rebuilt too many times to leave much of its medieval past. Its geographical location made it a major bastion against German invasion, for not much else stood between here and Paris. Perhaps Jean our editor would send us to other more overtly medieval cities in due course to make our job easier? I suppose in fairness though the idea was to contrast the different regions and their local histories against the overall historical backdrop. Intuitive thoughts danced and played in my mind, there was something compelling about this place, something undiscovered. You must look beyond the everyday modern reality to get to the heart of what lies buried beneath hidden in the layers of time. My conscious mind kept reiterating that point for some reason? Like a dog with a bone, it just wouldnâ€™t let it go.
We sat at a cafÃ© table in the little square and within minutes a waiter appeared dressed in black and white with a pristine starched apron and black leather money belt. His black bow tie added a sense of formality to the proceedings and courtesies over he readied himself to take our order. The menu was comprehensive with several interesting gourmet options avaiable on the lunchtime menu.
â€œA most impressive menu for a small cafÃ©. Iâ€™ll have an Absinthe and water as an apÃ©ritif please and Lilly what would you like?â€
â€œMmmm, Iâ€™ll just have a verre de vin blanc s'il vous plaÃ®t. I see you have a taste for la fÃ©e verte â€“ the Green Fairy! You are an unusual man, Yann Baillieu.â€ Lilly sounded knowledgeable, â€œI thought the authorities had banned that in 1915?â€
â€œTrue, but itâ€™s been reintroduced since 2000 and is now quite de rigueur! It has a delicious sense of being slightly anti-authority, which is why I occasionally drink it.â€ A little of the rebel rose to the surface of my psyche as I answered Lillyâ€™s question with a cheeky smile.
The waiter reappeared with our drinks and I went on to order the main course. Lilly was fascinated by the sugar cube on a silver spoon that hovered over the green absinthe in its specialised glass. A small carafe of iced water stood next to the glass. The whole table started to take on the appearance of a chemical experiment.
â€œLa truite avec les haricots et avec nicoaise de pommes de terre de crÃ¨me s'il vous plaÃ®tâ€ I said reading from the menu. The official looking waiter wrote silently on his note pad and then looked at Lilly.
â€œSounds nice make that two!â€ Lilly obviously shared the same taste for fish as me.
The waiter repeated the action, smiled and returned to the cafÃ© building.
While we waited for lunch to appear, I grabbed some white paper napkins and drew what I had seen in my minds eye. My focus was partcularly drawn to the rampant winged red dragon with only two legs. It seemed very familiar indeed. I was obsessed with its lack of four feet as it looked wrong, but it was aesthetically pleasing in composition; almost like a red sea horse in shape. I knew it was very important so I scribbled away furiously until I had captured its likeness exactly and my subconscious was satisfied. Lilly watched with fascination, â€œI didnâ€™t know you were an artist Yann?â€ She picked up two of the sketches and gave an admiring glance to the tonal quality and rendering. â€œYou are very talented!â€
â€œItâ€™s nothing Lilly, I have always drawn, painted and constructed objet dâ€™art ever since I was a small boy. Our family over the centuries has had quite a number of artists so I suppose it is in my DNA. Iâ€™m a very visual personâ€
We discussed the Impressionists and how they contrasted with the pre-Raphaelites before them. Our conversation moved to the 19th century obsession with all things Gothic and medieval including the legends of King Arthur and the Knights of the round table. Lilly proved again extremely knowledgeable which made our discussion all the more interesting. After dessert, which was a light lemon sorbet to refresh the palette, we gathered up our belongings and headed towards Sainte-SÃ©golÃ¨ne church opposite. The middle open door, between the lofty twin towers with their impressive Gothic spires, had been beckoning us to enter throughout lunch. Now it was time and within a couple of short minutes we had walked up the stone steps and disappeared inside, the gaping void of the Nave swallowed us whole.
I immediately started to get dÃ©jÃ vu sensations. The most noticeable feeling was the sudden drop in temperature and the sense of being in familiar surroundings but in another time and space. Unknowingly I was in the exact same spot as I had been 600 years ago? My consious mind had no knowledge but my subconscious was obviously heading for overdrive and jumping up and down to get attention. I could feel it stirring. My pulse quickened, I became clammy and a tingling sensation went up and down my spine giving me goosebumps.
Then it happened! I walked into a particular hot spot in front of the altar rail and POW! It was instant time travel. The modern internal vista of the church disappeared from view and I was instantaneously surrounded by much brighter colours and light. Medieval heraldic banners hung from the pillars of the Nave and the church was suddenly full of people dressed in muted medieval coloured clothing: dull greens, browns, blues, together with mulberry and straw yellow pervaded the scene. Then the smell hit me! It was so different to the world I knew, it was that distinctive farmyard odour mixed with incense, not quite as strong as the previous incident at the porte des allemands but just as distinctive and pungent.
Interestingly, I wasnâ€™t caught off guard or traumatised this time, in fact I was quite relaxed. I seemed to be the focus of attention as I stood waiting by the altar rail. I looked down at my apparel, I was dressed in finely polished black armour with a hand and a half sword by my side. I recoiled at the thought of wearing a weapon in church but then noticed that several noble looking gentlemen in the congregation were wearing theirs. I reasoned that it was a status symbol as were the knightly spurs that chinked when I shifted stance. What was I waiting for? I looked for clues, the church was festooned with flowers and I suddenly guessed why! Oh my God itâ€™s a wedding and Iâ€™m the groom! An electric shock jolted through my body as I realised the enormity of the event. I looked at my squire a young boy of 11 or so dressed in black with a sky blue surcoat emblazoned with a two legged Red Dragon. It was the same heraldic device that I had been drawing in the cafÃ© not a half hour previous. In truth I had lost track of all time, it could have been several hours ago for all I knew? The boy held my shield with the same device proudly displayed for all to see. It matched the sky blue cloak that draped over the pauldrons of the plate armour that covered my shoulders.
The great and the good were gathered in the front pews and my gaze was drawn to a regal looking lady dressed in a fine fur trimmed gown with the most elaborate hair beautifully pinned and mounted up underneath her medieval horn shaped headdress. She wore the arms of the Duke of Luxembourg cojoined with her own family. She smiled, I somehow knew her, her husband was absent which puzzled me but I felt she was very close to me. The thought came into my head; she is my Liege Lady I am sworn to defend and protect her unto death. Now she was sat here in Metz to see me married, but to whom?
A beautiful young maid sat to her immediate left, she turned and revealed her face, oh my God it was Lilly! As large as life she sat there in the position of the eldest child of the House of Luxembourg, to her immediate left sat two angelic children, a younger sister with curly long pre-Raphaelite blonde hair and a slightly younger brother with the same hair but shorter. The whole family were dressed in their utmost finery.
I glanced back at the priest, a jolly bald man of large girth and the altar seemed to aid my focus as I tried to make sense of everything that I was experiencing. I canâ€™t be marrying Lilly she is far too young!
Just then a trumpet fanfare resounded from outside the church at the entrance to the main square. The congregation stood and all eyes turned to the great door.
Then she entered, the lady in white, she stood, strong, proud and noble in the doorway. Her radiant persona pulsed visibly and the crowed congregation let out a muffled gasp of awe in wonder. About her luxurious dark brown hair was a simple garland of wild flowers, her samite white dress clung exquistely to her athletic figure and glinted with the interwoven fine silver thread that caught the available light. About her waist she wore a narrow gold belt in the feminine tradition that highlighted the shape of her inner thighs and boyish hips. She was broad of shoulder yet narrow of waist but the most distinctive feature was her sky blue sword belt, scabbard and the long sword with cross hilt that it contained. Beneath her samite dress could be discerned shiny silver greaves and sabatons with spurs such as a knight would wear; she was every inch a warrior! Enigmatic, beautiful, strong, noble and proud, but who was she? This was no ordinary lady; she was a magnificient magical being.
Next to her was a finely dressed powerful man in black with many gold chains and an elaborate medieval hat like head dress. He supported her arm and wore the heraldic arms of Luxembourg enamelled on his gold collar plate; it was the Duke himself! It was the husband of the grand lady in the front pew whom I had sworn to serve until death. He was going to give the white lady away. Was she his daughter?
Just then the lady in white drew her sword and the congregation gasped with an audible sharp intake of breath. She held it aloft and then reversed the hilt so that it took the form of the holy cross of our Lord. She knelt and kissed the hilt then fell into prayer. The congregation hushed. Rising after some minutes in which the audience held its collective breath, she handed her precious sword to a page and adjusted her clothing. The man in black nodded to the trumpeters. Another fanfare shattered the silence of the congregation and catching my eye she smiled at me. With the reverberating echo of the fanfare still audible within the church the choir and organ took over with a medieval Ars Nova chanson by Philippe de Vitry. I recognised the music as one of my favourite pieces from the 1340s, as I gazed lost in awe, the lady in white began to walk in a stately manner towards the altar with her train following.
I swallowed despite my mouth being dry, this was a big occasion, a very big occasion. Emotion welled up inside of me, I felt love this woman, she was equal in spirit and determination, yet the marriage was arranged for some other purpose. I realised what was about to happen, I was about to wed the white ladyâ€¦
The seconds seemed like hours as she made her way regally to my side in front of the altar. I could see every detail of her natural beauty. Her aristocratic high cheek bones, her flawless complexion with deep blue eyes and her immaculate swan like neck. She smiled with that knowing smile of recognition between two souls that have danced together through eternity. It was the most beautiful timeless moment â€¦â€¦
ZAP! The lights went out! The whole scene folded and collapsed in an instant and all I could feel was my body being shaken physically. Slowly as my senses came back into play I could hear Lillyâ€™s distant voice getting louder and nearer, â€œYann, Yann are you alright? Speak to me, speak to me.â€
My conscious mind engaged and I began to recognise the now familiar face of Lilly Chevalier in front of me. She had hold of both of my shoulders and was gently but firmly shaking me back into the here and now. As she came into focus, I smiled and simply uttered a monosyllabic, â€œWOW!â€
â€œYou were really out of it! You started to worry me. It was like you were transfixed. The lights were on but nobody was home. That was really spooky!â€
â€œIâ€™m fine. Iâ€™m fine. It was nothing dangerous. I was time travelling. It was amazing, truly amazing.â€ I swayed as I continued to adjust to my here and now surroundings.
â€œWell never mind that, I think you should sit down for a while and get your bearings. We sat in the front pews with Lilly in the exact same position I had seen her in the timeslip. Her visage and demeanour caused me to double take a breath which she noticed.
â€œTell me what happened?â€ What did you see?â€ Lilly was excited to find out what had happened.
â€œSo much to take in Lilly it will take some time,â€ I started to relate my experience to her. She sat spell bound as I poured out the details to her why they were still vivid. â€œYou were there Lilly, you were there, plain as day!â€ I reiterated the point several times during the course of the story.
Lilly smiled, â€œI knew we had been together before! I just had that feeling from the first time I stepped into your office and we met. Call it feminine intuition!â€ and she laughed.
â€œBut who was the Lady in White? That is the million Euro question Lilly! I wonder if we will ever find out?â€ On that note we gathered up our belongings and made our way back to the cafÃ© Jeanne dâ€™Arc.