The mute

poster copy BW no words

– Tell me: how does a man without a tongue confess his sins?

– We pray for him

I have a tongue, but I don’t speak. Should I open my mouth I’d scream, or go mad. Perhaps I’d return to the sea to let the ocean swallow me up. I can’t speak, I won’t do it, not until the very end. Indeed, it is a very pleasant thing to have good people praying for me. Raymond has always had the skill to read any situation on the spot. To know people. I thought, a long time ago, that I could do it also, but I was wrong. I thought I knew him. I trusted him, although only in the very beginning of our acquittance. I even thought, waiting to embark in Venice, that we were alike, but we are not. Otherwise he’d also scream, or bit his tongue. He would, if he believed. Although all the things that I have seen I still believe in God. How can, a man like me? I don’t know. I stand on my knees for hours, and I let Friar Ciàran prayers fall upon me. He has also seen the evil, he’s hold the sword but nevertheless, he can speak. Because he has not done what I did. What would they all think of me? Would young Diarmuid still tell me about the soul of the razor-shell if he knew that once I plucked a babe by the legs as he plucked that mollusc and dashed his brains off against a wall while his mother screamed just as long as it took Raymond to cut her throat? A family of Genovese merchants. Theirs was the only house still intact in the centre of Constantinople.

I’ve tried to justify the deed, afterwards. We were hungry, pillage was the only way to get the money we were promised. I was confused. During the siege of the city the food was scarce and I cheated hunger chewing a sticky paste. One of the many Syrian merchants that fluttered around our camp had a reputation for obtaining the impossible. I asked him to find ašīš; I saw the Nizaris transformed by it during the other crusade. I swallowed all I had left when the walls of the city collapsed. I’d not need it any more. But I forgot everything. It was Raymond who made me remember. Two weeks later. We were playing dice, I was winning all the games.

“Your luck will be over soon, you bastard babe slayer” – he said in his bad English with Norman “r”s. I think I got pale. As pale as could become my face burned by the Eastern sun. I knew he was right as soon as he said it.

“You forgot?” – he continued, turning his head, looking innocently at me. I remember his blue eyes, that smirk and that false expression of candid innocence. “Apologies, Englishman. But I must say that you scared me that night”. He lifted the tiny wooden barrel containing the dice. He threw. “Double six! Bon, my luck is changing, finally”. The last sound I heard leaving that tavern was his laughter.

I cursed Raymond for reminding me of the babe. He knew that my mind had wiped out everything, but he kept it for himself until the appropriate moment arrived. I could not stand his company as much as I did before, in Venice, or during the siege. He was trying desperately to make as much money as he could, he repeated that he needed it to pay a group of armed men of his own, that he would need them back in Ireland. He disappeared for days with a strange-looking priest, searching for gold. He commerced with false relics, sold prisoners as slaves. I always reputed myself better than he, nobler, braver. He could not stand my haughty looks, my contempt towards him and he revenged the best way he could: putting me in front of the evidence. I wasn’t better than he.

The following days I tried to make terms with that part of me, and I made my living as a hired sword. When there’s a king to depose there’re many feuds to settle. It was necessary to wipe out the followers of the old usurper. I am good at killing, I made that for years. Those days it gave a new thrill to me. I took a certain pleasure to take away the life of someone that could defend himself: beat, thrust, slash, and then the next. One night the subject in my list escaped, and I chased him near the harbour. He entered a small house, I could hear him hiding in a tiny room, trying his best to conceal his breath, speaking to someone. I stormed into: a woman cried, she was holding a child in her arms, and I froze. It could have been easy for me to kill the man and let the woman go. Even when he took the baby from her arms and threatened to kill it.

“As if that would stop me” – I said. I left the room, the house and the city. I embarked in the first ship to Europe and after two months in Venice I returned to England. I still talked, those days, but very little. And when I opened my mouth it was to say that king Richard Lion Heart was alive and that he would return from the East to claim his kingdom. I knew it was a lie but people would believe anything they wanted. The friars that what we are carrying in that coffer burns infidels. I knew it was the lighting during the storm that made the reliquary hot. And that the water of that small river was not haunted by a bad fairy. When I returned to England people wanted king Richard, and I gave them that illusion. But some dreams do not last long. I was imprisoned by king John’s orders, my atonement finally began. I thanked every whiplash, every punch. When there was very little left of me they didn’t know if I was telling the truth about Richard. I never confessed. Therefore the king, afraid that his brother may return, and knowing that I was close to him during the third crusade, decided to let me live… If I survived the ocean, the hunger and the thirst.

I look different now. In Constantinople my nose was straight, my hair short and I shaved whenever I could; but I know that Raymond and Dougald had recognised me. Every time they look at me, and after what he has told me after cutting the hands of the poachers, I’m beginning to understand why I’m here. And why God has crossed our paths again. I just have to wait, I’m sure that Raymond will offer me the chance to make His will. My will.

I wrote in my Pilgrimage review that I’d have liked to learn more about Raymond and the mute. I have placed this monologue of the mute, in the film timeline, right after Raymond faces the mute for the first time. I’ve written in a previous post not to write fiction in English any more. But this came to my head in English. My apologies for the mistakes.

6 thoughts on “The mute

  1. Loved reading this, Barsine, because after seeing the film tonight the lack of backstory for the Mute is troubling me. I still haven’t pieced together what they said to each other at the end of the film.

    1. Thank you!
      Indeed the main issue with this film is that it’s too short and left many things untold. I’ve read in several interviews that the actors asked Hannigan the back story of their characters. Very important info is delivered sometimes with just one line. I realised during a third viewing that Friar Ciaran himself was a crusader (Fra Geraldus whispers that besides the fire) I only can imagine how many e-mails Richard sent him asking details! Such a pity, because the characters of Raymond and the Mute had an enormous potential.
      Their last lines have not much sense, really. If Raymond knew who the mute was it has no sense asking where does he come from. Perhaps a “why were you with them?” and the mute replying “for justice” would have had more sense for those two after the back story I’ve imagined for them.

  2. Great piece, loved the backstory you created, and I could almost “see” what you described.
    I agree the movie is only half cooked, I understand the money troubles, but it’s the story that is somehow flawed. Characters are only a draft and they wasted a lot of screen time in close ups of monks, mute, friar during the travel, while they should have told about Raymond and the Mute. Also, I understand the Novice is the “hero” but he is a very empty and boring character, the pure of heart, like Bilbo or Frodo (TH poor acting doesn’t help). What a bore. At least they provide a backstory for Geraldus, but nothing for Raymond and Mute. Without such backstories, we only have “categories” characters with all the limits of a generalization. It’s a pity, the central idea was good.

    1. Thank you very much!

      indeed it’s a pity to focus the story in the weakiest character of them all. Friar Ciaran also (and the absolutely marvellous interpretation of John Lynch) would fill alone half movie. I was about to say that we can hope for a major studio version of the story but I think that we would miss this film, including its flaws. 🙂

      1. Oh yes, agree, we would miss this Pilgrimage, flaws and all 😉
        John Lynch is wonderful. He can tell so much with just his eyes. Probably the best performance. Time to watch that little jewel Holy Water is again 😉

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