JACQUES. My return to cloister did not go as planned. The brethren refused to accept my claim of a miracle, and my blue eyes were greeted with suspicion and fear. To disarm their distrust, I agreed to be questioned at Chapter. But to my dismay, the Janus did not appear to defend my story. The brethren were especially anxious to find the cause, and the earnest persistence with which Odo questioned me was exhausting…
Jacques is telling it…
‘Lazarus. You tell of a holy well, full of healing waters, but refuse to say where it is.’
‘I can’t remember father.’
‘Can’t remember?’ sneers Bernard. ‘Or is it that you want to keep the secret to yourself? Why don’t you share it like a good Christian. I should like to partake of this water myself. My affliction is a great burden. My cankers grow like mushrooms. Perhaps we can all be cured. Speak boy. Does the well exist or doesn’t it?’
Odo holds up his hand:
‘Be silent Bernard. Let me question him… Lazarus, I want you tell us exactly what happened after the feast.’
‘But I’ve told you already, father.’
‘Tell us again. You were feeling sick. Then what?’
‘I went to the abbot’s lodging. He had summoned me to clear his path…’
‘Clear his path?’ scoffs Hique. ‘What gibberish. They are hiding something prior. I know it. Olera spectant, lardum tollunt! [They make a show of one thing but actually do another!].’
‘Perhaps it really is a miracle,’ suggests Poufille.
‘Miracle?’ retorts Hique. ‘I see no miracle here. Only the work of the devil. How can his eyes change colour overnight? First they were pink: pætus. And now they are blue: cœruleis oculis. ’Tis contrary to the whole course of Nature!’
‘Ah, but yes!’ interjects Albert. ‘That’s exactly what a miracle is.’
‘But can you prove it?’ asks Hique. ‘How do we know this miracle comes from God, when the boy is surrounded by infernal occurrences?’
‘Alas,’ sighs Albert, ‘I cannot prove his blue eyes are the result of a miracle, any more than you can prove they are of the devil. The supernatural can only be proved by the supernatural, precisely because it operates beyond the laws of Nature—and no natural law can be used to prove it. Do you follow? We all know that the ordinary operations of Nature could not produce these blue eyes. But man can only comprehend the relations of the natural world, in so far as he has special faculties of knowledge. Man’s knowledge is always upset by miracles; for he cannot fathom the mysteries of divine providence. Why do you doubt it? Lazarus is proof of a conscious relation between man and god. He prayed for a miracle and he was healed. His eyes were red, now they are blue. These are the facts. Why must you interrogate him with such distrust? Do you not think such questioning is an affront to God? The Divine Mind is omnipotent and embraces all possibilities. Has it occurred to you, that this miracle was wrought not just for physical but moral purposes? Shall you offend Heaven further, and inquire into the mysteries of The First Great Cause? Such things are beyond the confines of the intellect, simply because they are… miraculous.’
‘Ah, but that does not mean that all miracles are proof of divine revelation,’ adds Bernard. ‘His healing could have a diabolic origin.’
‘Exactly,’ says Odo. ‘The cure is an illusion. ’Tis counterfeit and the work of unspeakable heresies.’
‘Prior!’ gasps Albert. ‘How you’ve changed your tune! Just weeks ago you were chastising us for disbelieving in your prodigy. You said so yourself: God’s ability to bestow grace is unbounded and infinite. But now you talk of counterfeit cures. What a contradiction!’
Odo looks perplexed and tightens his lips:
‘Well, I admit that Lazarus is a prodigy who is inspired by God. But I also believe, and with very good reason, that this transformation has nothing to do with God.’
‘Oh you cannot have it both ways,’ quibbles Albert. ‘What has happened here—these miraculous blue eyes we see before us—are in complete accord with the articles of our faith. ’Tis perfectly clear, that both the miracle itself and boy are inspired by God.’
Bernard shakes his fists:
‘Inspired by God? For Christ’s sake! Are you blind? You theological blockhead! This boy is not inspired by God; he’s an agent of Satan! After barely a month he became a gifted Latinist. Now he has blue eyes. What other gifts shall the devil bestow upon this base born churl? Perhaps he will become a genius Grecian: or a mathematician, philosopher and musician. Whom shall we praise, when he plays his lute with the utmost perfection after just a month of study, whilst we lower mortals, after threescore years of dedication and prayer, cannot hold a flame to his stave, nor find a single fault with his proofs, profundities, or parts of speech?’
Albert taps his staff on the flags and scorns:
‘Fool! May I remind you brother Hique, that the sin of unbelief—infidelitas—is the greatest and most perverse sin of all. You would do well to remember that.’
Joseph the ectromelus writhes in his basket then scowls with accusing eyes:
‘How can we be sure that the boy who sits before us now is even the same Lazarus? He might be an imposter, an evil twin, or any other devil.’
‘I am Lazarus: the very same churl you found in the snow.’
‘The same churl?’ scorns Hique. ‘With blue eyes? I think not!’
I glare at the fat man and say:
‘I am the same Lazarus you held in your dungeon. And whilst I was bound in chains, you told me some home truths: you said I was not the sort to get on here; you told me to go back where I came from; you offered me a horse, and told me to flee under the cover of darkness; you said you’d drink better when I’d gone. But I did not go. Because my calling is to God.’
The brethren glare and my throat turns dry.
‘There’s something fishy about him,’ grouses Anselm. ‘I don’t trust him. Ever since he arrived, things have gone from bad to worse.’
‘This miracle does not sit well with me either,’ admits Lucas. ‘It does not sit well with me at all.’
‘Me neither,’ adds Nicaise, pulling on his beard. ‘Brother Albert, I’m as faithful as any man of God. Infidelitas? No. But curious, yes. Why will you not allow us our curiosity?’
‘What curiosity?’ ask I.
Nicaise scratches his head:
‘Well, I’d like to know how much of your old pagan faith still flows in your veins. How does your soul stand in relation to the Saviour? I mean to say, who is your God?’
‘My god is the same as your god.’
Odo holds up his hand. Then he turns to me and says:
‘Lazarus, let us continue. You went to the abbot’s lodging—to clear his path, you say?’
‘That’s a lie!’ cries Hique. ‘He didn’t go to clear the path. He’s a devil I tell you! He’s in league with Father Janus. Fingunt inter se quamdam fallaciam! [They devise a cunning plan between them].’
Odo stamps his foot:
‘Hique! Do not interrupt! I am conducting this meeting, not you!’ Then he turns to me and repeats softly: ‘So, you went to the abbot’s lodging?’
‘Then what happened?’
‘We said some prayers and petitioned the Virgin for a cure. The abbot gave me something to drink. I can’t recall much after that. I was in a dark place…’
‘Ah! That explains it,’ says Odo. ‘The abbot drugged you, just like he drugged the brethren.’
Just then the door swings open and father Janus stands glowering on the threshold.
‘Ah! Look who’s here!’ sneers Odo. ‘Speak of the devil and he soon appears. Abbot Adam, how wonderful to see you! Please, do come in. I’m so glad you decided to join us. We were just asking Lazarus about his blue eyes. Perhaps you can tell us how this strange miracle came about…’
The abbot glares in fury and seethes:
‘Get off my throne! You curséd cuckoo!’
‘Your throne?’ ribs Odo. ‘You’re hardly ever here. How may times have I taken Chapter in your absence? It must be more than a hundred. Not to mention the holy office. Your rule is so lax and wretched, you come and go as you please.’
The abbot darkens, strides down the aisle, and strikes the throne with his staff. An almighty crack echoes round the hall as the rod splinters on the head of a carved lion. Odo flinches, pulls back his hand and blows on his fingers:
‘Ow! That hurt!’
‘How dare you defy me! I am lord abbot, not thee! You forget I have the power to bind and loose, and with one wave of my hand can sentence to you to spend the rest of your days in irons! That is how I deal with miscreants and felons. You shall not chirp so sweetly in my dungeon; you shall wail for mercy, with penitence and grief!’
Reluctantly, Odo dismounts and takes his place on the bench beside Guillaume. The abbot gathers his cowl then sits like a king, his gnomish face flushed with rage. A deathly hush falls upon the chamber as he stares each one of us in the eye.
‘What’s the matter with you all? Lazarus is cured by a miracle, and you interrogate him like a criminal.’
‘Ah, but we don’t believe it was a miracle,’ says Odo.
‘Then what was it prior?’ asks the abbot.
‘’Twas sorcery. What else?’
‘Sorcery? You should be ashamed of yourself. How could you suggest such a thing? What has become of you? Miracles are the very precepts of our faith. Is your subjective authority above the workings of God? Only last week you said Lazarus was a prodigy.’
‘Indeed he is a prodigy. But this miracle is quite unrelated,’ states Odo, flatly.
‘Unrelated?’ chaffs the abbot. ‘How is it unrelated? My son is gifted with an angelic intellect; he is endowed with mental capacities which far exceed his age, and probably even yours. This heavenly disposition has brought the supernatural into contact with his very flesh. Of course, you will understand this connection better when you have a clearer grasp of scriptural doctrine.’
‘Do not talk down to me! I know the gospels as well as thee.’
‘You might know them, but do you believe them? Would you believe what is taught by Christ, had he not been accredited with miracles? The Pharisees treated Christ just as you are treating Lazarus. Yet you deem yourself a perpetual witness to the miracles of Christ! Ye of little faith. Believe what you like prior. God, being Lord of the Universe, has no need of you, much less of a heart that refuses to believe in his works. I cannot force you to believe anything. You may doubt this miracle, but a miracle it is. A miracle to perplex the intellect and strengthen the faith. And what of you my brethren? Does your faith falter?’
Poufille looks doubtful and lost. He shakes his head and mutters:
‘I don’t know what to believe any more.’
‘My afflicted sons!’ pleads the abbot. ‘Have you forgotten God altogether? The Holy Ghost—that very same spirit which raised Christ from the dead, dwells within us all. Our wounds are mortal, our flesh corrupt, but are we so unworthy of His promises? We don the cowl because we are followers of Him who gave sight to the blind and cured the lame. Look at brother Lazarus! He has been cured by the holy grace of our Our Virgin Mother! She has infused his albinotic flesh with strength, and restored his soul with courage and vigour! Without miracles, our faith is nothing. Shall not the mangy sheep regain its strength, and the distempered recover from their disease? And brother Albert, why should a miracle contradict the natural order? Shall God contradict his own laws? I think not! A miracle is not contrary to nature – it simply rises above the sphere of mere material forces. (i) Brethren, why do you doubt like Thomas, who poked his finger in the side of Christ? You should welcome Lazarus with open arms; instead you impel him to despair; he is an outcast amongst you, and the rest of the world together.’
Odo stands and declares:
‘Do not heed his words brethen. He speaks with a forked tongue. Father Janus turns black into white, just as he clings to false doctrine. This is no miracle. The cure was brought about by magic wrought by demons. Father Janus is a necromancer. Whilst we were feasting, he was practising sorcery in the realm of the dead!’
The abbot lets out a nervous chuckle:
‘What utter nonsense.’
‘’Tis true!’ cries Belon. ‘We heard him!’
‘We?’ squints the abbot. ‘What do you mean, we? Prior, explain yourself!’
Odo leers and says:
‘Brethren, I have a confession to make. I did not drink the wine on Christmas day; neither did Belon nor Guilluame. As a result we remained sober whilst you were drugged to slumber. Be sober and watch: because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, goeth about seeking whom he may devour.(ii) And we did hear the devil roar—a terrible thunder coming from the crypt. So we decided to investigate, and ventured into the ossuary…’
‘You did what?’ gasps the abbot.
‘– And whilst hiding in the dark, we heard father Janus speaking of magic. He was carrying Lazarus on his shoulders.’
Guillaume rises in agreement:
‘Prior Odo speaks the truth. We went beyond the catacombs and into the caves. Father Janus was deep in the bowels of the earth. We heard a terrible cry: “ABBA!” ’
‘ABBA?’ reflects the abbot. ‘Pish! And brother Belon, you heard this too?’
‘I did father,’ declares Belon, standing up.
The abbot is lost for words. He looks round the chamber but is met only by accusing eyes. At length he sighs and says:
‘Well I must admit, this has all come as a great surprise. A necromancer? Me? Brethren, you’ve taken leave of your senses. As for you prior, you should know better than to fill their heads with such nonsense.’
‘The secret is out,’ says Odo. ‘You cannot deny it. You were summoning the dead: raising them in the catacombs by evil incantations. To be sure, you seek the assistance of the dead in all your infernal practices; you consult evil spirits and make pacts with demons. Your wicked art knows no bounds; you are a conjurer, an enchanter, a sorcerer and diviner—all of which is forbidden by god!’
The abbot looks flabbergasted. He turns to Guillaume and says:
‘Guillaume, you are a monk of reason. Surely, you don’t believe that I’m a warlock. How could I summon the dead?’
Guillaume scratches his head:
‘For my part I find it hard to believe; I have seen the skeletons in the ossuary, and their mortal frames are so dissolved by death, that I do not see how they could be knit back together. Unless you have been granted some special favour by demons. For certainly, we have been haunted by terrible apparitions; not of bodies recalled from the dead, but of vague spirits which have deceived our sight. Such things are hard to believe indeed, yet neither can I deny the evidence.’
Belon nods in agreement:
‘We all heard them and smelt their stench. Little wonder, when their preferred habitation is in stinking corpses. Brethren, my firm conviction is that father abbot summoned these evil spirits. He is skilled in rabbinical magic; and I have heard him walking about his lodgings at night, reading aloud from Hebrew books in a fanatical manner. He raised the dead. No doubt about it.’
They all sit down again. A terrible hush smothers the bench and the monks glare with enmity. The abbot thinks for moment then his eyes flash brightly:
‘Raised the dead? Brethren, you are gravely mistaken. I find the entire supposition notoriously impossible. I am no worker of miracles. I can neither give sight to the blind, hearing to the deaf, nor raise the dead to life again. God alone is the sovereign ruler of life and death, and only He can restore life to a corpse. Nevertheless, I do not deny that there are some learned men who believe that demons have power to raise the dead. Needless to say, I am not one of them. God forbid! I would never consent to such heresy! But since you accuse me falsely, I might accuse you of the very same thing. Are you not guilty of necromancy, when you petition God to raise you from the dead on judgement day? You too profess to raise souls by Holy incantations. Are the psalms not spells, so that your graves might be opened and your bodies rise incorruptible from the dust of the earth? Is not prayer itself a form of sorcery? What do you intend, when you supplicate yourselves to Christ, in the hope of favours and miracles? Are you not sorcerers in kind? I ask you, is not every prayer a petition to the realm of spirit, and every “Amen” an abraxas: “so mote it be”? Come now brethren, necromancer? I have never heard such gibberish.’
Odo smoulders and his eyelids twitch:
‘Then what were you doing down there, all alone in the dark?’
‘I have already told you: visiting a holy well, full of healing waters.’
‘But who cried “ABBA” ? ’ asks Belon. ‘As God is my witness, ’twas no human cry: it made my blood run cold.’
‘The souterraine is a maze of tunnels,’ explains the abbot. ‘Its many echoes change the timbre of the voice. Ah! Of course, now I come to think of it, Lazarus did cry “ABBA” – just when the angel touched him.’
Fabien stands, tragic to behold, open sores running down his shins, his blighted flesh like a mouldy avocado:
‘Angel? Oh! Father Janus, I beg you! I should like to drink from this holy well. I am tired of looking like a fish. And my sores grieve me more than I can say. Please father, will you take me there?’
The abbot looks stuck between a rock and hard place. He squirms on his throne and says:
‘Well, I would like to take you all down there. But whilst we were returning, the earth shook and there was rock fall. We were almost buried alive. I dug Lazarus out in the dark with my bare hands. He remained unconscious for three days. Can you imagine how I felt? To think I had lost another son in so short a time? I kept vigil by his bed and prayed. By the grace of God, when he awoke, he was healed. We should all pray. We should all pray for another miracle. Our house has been beset with many strange and preternatural occurrences. Let us hope the healing angel returns.’
Fabien looks completely crushed by this reply and sits back down, trembling with grief.
Poufille takes his hand and says softly:
‘Do not despair brother. We should be cautious of this miracle; for even Satan himself can transform into an angel of Light, and the Arch Fiend can work many signs and wonders, such as none but God can do.’
‘Poufille is right,’ says Odo. ‘This so called miracle, that the abbot attributes to a divine agent, has diabolical inspiration. Twas not an angel that appeared, but a phantom, formed by the illusive power of demons, and by the force of magic.’
‘Have you no feeling?’ gasps Jean. ‘Think how Lazarus must feel, to hear you talk like that!’
Odo looks mortified. He bows his head and mutters:
‘Forgive me Lazarus.’
The dwarves mumble amongst themselves, fondling their beards and casting suspicious glances.
‘The angel was real,’ insists the abbot. ‘Why do you doubt the possibility of such divine apparitions? Did not an angel appear to Saint Pierre, and unlock the gates of his prison?’
‘Er, where was this rock fall?’ asks Bernard. ‘Take us there. We shall clear the way together. Then Poufille can take the waters, and so can I. God willing, I might be cured of my cankers.’
‘Yes, we could all take the waters,’ affirms Jean.
‘Take the waters?’ frets the abbot. ‘Oh I fear not brother. The passage is completely blocked. How I found the way back in the pitch dark was a miracle in itself.’
‘I don’t believe you,’ says Bernard. ‘I don’t believe a word of it. You’re hiding something.’
‘We heard him talk of magic,’ adds Belon. ‘We heard Our Material Father talking of the Essence and the forbidden secrets of life. And what is more, Our Material Father is a woman!’
‘A woman?’ scoffs Lucas.
‘Yes, a woman,’ asserts Odo. ‘A woman called Lilith.’
Bernard turns white as chalk then springs up, shaking his fists at the abbot:
‘You filthy unclean monster! Your twin is a woman? How is this possible? How can you deceive us for so many years? Our Material Father. Let me speak with it!’
At this, the abbot rises from this throne and lowers his cowl. Then he slowly turns, and reveals his conjoined twin to the whole chamber. Lilith rolls her glassy eyes and fixes each monk with a black gaze. Her cheeks puff like hairy bladders as she flexes her jaw to speak, but her mouth is stopped by a bloody wad.
‘Oh, put her away,’ pleads Odo. ‘Must you subject us to that horrible sight?’
‘No, I want to speak with it,’ snaps Bernard.
‘As you wish,’ says the abbot.
Then, reaching behind his head, the abbot unplugs the roachy mouth. At once Lilith chirps:
‘Good morning brethren. Pleased to meet you all at last. Sluck! How are you on this fine morn?’
The brethren wince and retract in their cowls like repulsed tortoises. Not one of them dares look Lilith in the eye – except brother Jean, who nods nervously in acknowledgement and says:
‘We are very well, thank you Lilith. And how are you?’
She smiles and purrs:
‘I am in fine fettle brother Jean. Very fine fettle indeed. Sluck! In fact, I have never felt better. Adam partook of some Holy water, which has refreshed my spirits. But unfortunately for him, I’m still here. Ha! ha! Methinks he drank in vain. Sluck! God would exhaust all his power trying to cure Adam of me. Sluck! But no matter, I shall soon be rid of him. Well, brother Bernard, what do you wish to speak about?’
Bernard is shocked to silence. He swallows the lump in his throat, wrings his hands, then says:
‘You are a woman?’
‘Of course I’m a woman!’ screams Lilith, in her shrill little voice.
Bernard flinches as if her tongue just lashed his face. She purrs:
‘Do I disgust you brother Bernard? Methinks you walk in evil and truth together. You understand the scriptures and teachings of Christ, yet your loves and cravings are altogether earthly. Last night you dreamt of a spinster. And what obscenities you did together!’
Bernard gasps and turns a ghastly shade of pale. His bottom lip trembles as he looks nervously round the chamber:
‘Brethren, do not listen to her: she’s lying. Truly, I don’t know what she’s talking about.’
‘How is it that your minds can be in Heaven, but your hearts remain in hell? Lazarus was healed by the ministration of angels. And now you all want a cure for your flesh. But who amongst you is worthy of regeneration? And if the body be saved, what of the soul?’
The abbot gags her, reinserting the wad as her teeth snap on his cuticles. When she is mute, Bernard seethes:
‘That thing is a freak of nature! A spawn of the devil! It should be killed at once; it ought not to exist! ’Tis a blight on maternity! A canker on Christendom! An outrage to God! Our Material Mother! What is she but an abomination in a holy place? Your conjoined twin is an evil witch!’
‘Silence!’ bawls the abbot. ‘What the devil? Have you no pity? You always step aside when I draw near, as if I am an unclean thing, and wish me to disappear. Never do you approach me, or offer me solace, despite my terrible affliction. What has become of you? Where is your charity? Why do you hate me? Tam te dilago quam meipsum! [I love thee as well as myself!] Must I carry about this accursed twin ’til the end of my days? Should I meekly accept the flaws of Nature, and make no attempt to better my condition?’
‘What, by practising sorcery?’ sneers Odo. ‘You think a miraculous cure will procure admission into heaven?’
‘Hold your tongue prior. The simple truth of the matter, is that you cannot accept the miracle, simply because your beloved prodigy loves me more than he loves you.’
The abbot has hit a raw nerve.
‘Oh! That’s preposterous!’ exclaims Odo, throwing back his head like an effeminate.
The abbot continues:
‘Remember prior, you are not his father, I am. You once confessed to me, many years ago, that you wished for a son of your own. Well Lazarus isn’t he.’
Odo looks completely humiliated. He glances my way but I refuse his gaze and bow my head. He bristles in defence and declares:
‘You are simply using this miracle to re-establish your waning authority. But you will not succeed. When the bishop comes in spring, we will have you deposed.’
‘You forget, that as White Monks, we owe allegiance to no temporal master—and that includes the bishop, by order of the Pope. This house is abbatia nullius — an abbey belonging to no one.’
‘No one but you, that is.’
The abbots leers with pride, sure he has conquered the hall, but his eyes are met with resentful glares from every monk. He pinches the smile from his lips and says:
‘Since you all doubt this miracle, and refuse to accept my son as he now appears, Lazarus shall come and live with me in my lodgings.’
I stand slowly, wary of my tenuous position:
‘If it’s all the same with you father, I would rather stay with prior Odo and sleep in the dorter with my brethren.’
Odo beams with affection:
‘Yes, Lazarus, of course. You are welcome with us.’
‘Oh no he’s not,’ retorts Hique. ‘Lazarus isn’t one of us: he never was. I refuse to sleep under the same roof. If his blue-eyes are the work of God, then why does he still bear the horns of the devil?’
‘That’s a very good question,’ states Lucas.
‘He should go and live with the lay-brethren,’ grumbles Bernard. ‘That’s where he belonged in the first place. If he sleeps with us, I’ll abscond.’
Brother Jean stands and protests:
‘Brethren. Listen to yourselves! What are you so afraid of? Lazarus has shown his loyalty and love. We are his brethren. Why do you reject him? He loves us!’
‘Loves us?’ scoffs Bernard. ‘Sicut sus amaracimum! [As the devil loves holy water!]’
‘Why do you hate him so?’ asks Odo.
‘Because he is surrounded by evil,’ replies Belon. ‘Ever since his coming, we have been troubled by hauntings and spirits. Lazarus is a moonwalker.’
‘Moonwalker? Whatever are you talking about?’ asks Jean.
‘He rises from his bed in the middle of the night,’ says Belon. ‘Then he walks about with half closed eyes. A noctambulist. I once caught him standing at the lancet, gazing fixedly at the moon; he went outside into the cloister and stood staring at the heavens. But the next morn, when I asked about the event, he had no recollection of it.’
Odo looks bemused and asks:
‘Is this true Lazarus?’
‘How long has this been going on?’
‘Ever since I was a child, father.’
‘And you recall nothing of these episodes?’
‘Sometimes father. They are holy ecstasies.’
Belon shakes his head:
‘Alas his moonwalking is nothing of the kind. ’Tis a diabolic trance, succeeded by possession; a complete and ignorant surrender of the will to infernal intelligences. Such loss of consciousness has naught to do with God nor the ecstasy of saints. What of the orbs that haunt the abbey? Did he not summon them here? Surely, those aerial bodies are witches in flight!’
A deathly hush falls on hall and the brethren smoulder with malice. Then Guillaume shakes his head and muses:
‘Witches? No, I think not. The orbs of fire have naught to do with witches.’
‘Oh? Then what are they?’ asks Joseph, peering from his basket.
‘Souls,’ replies Guillaume.
‘Souls?’ sneers Hique. ‘The souls of what? Devils! That’s what!’
‘Not devils,’ retorts Guillaume.
‘Then what?’ asks Odo.
‘I am not entirely sure father,’ replies Guillaume. ‘But I know in my heart that they are souls. Perhaps they are the souls of mountains; the souls of trees; the souls of lakes and streams; for all things have soul – even the sods and stones.’
‘You sound like a pagan,’ scorns Odo. ‘I think you have read too much Pythagoras. Perhaps you should join our abbot in his auguries, oracles, and divinations. Then you can conjure up souls of the dead, after they have gone a long round in the bodies of other animals!’
‘That’s enough prior!’ cries the abbot. ‘Why do you mock what you cannot understand? Guillaume speaks good sense. ’Tis entirely possible that the orbs are souls of the earth – which makes them very ancient souls indeed.’
‘My mother said they were faeries,’ say I.
The brethren brood with menace. Then then dwarves start muttering amongst themselves. Presently, Lucas says:
‘We think it would be best if Lazarus joined the conversi.’
‘No!’ snaps the abbot. ‘I expressly forbid it. Those lay-dogs will tear him apart. If his moonwalking troubles you so much, then Lazarus can come and live with me in my lodgings.’
‘Fear not father,’ say I. ‘’Tis quite obvious I have caused enough trouble. I will be happy to join the conversi. But I will miss my lessons with prior Odo.’
Odo grins sheepishly.
‘Let us take a vote on it,’ suggests Hique. ‘All those in favour of Lazarus remaining a choir monk, raise their hands.’
Three hands go up: Odo’s, Jean’s and Albert’s.
‘– And all those in favour of Lazarus joining the conversi…’
Hique’s hand shoots up like an arrow; so does Bernard’s and Belon’s. Brother Guillaume follows suit, as do the dwarves. Remy and Feliz who have been silent until now, consult each other then nod in confirmation. Remy raises a foot, and Feliz a hand. On seeing this, Anselm shrugs, flaps a withered hand and says:
‘Forgive me brother Lazarus, but you leave me no choice. Lucas is right. The house will be better served if you join the lay-brethren.’
But Fabien abstains and Poufille says:
‘In dubio est animus [I am unresolved].’
Hique looks about the hall and leers in triumph:
‘That’s settled then. Two abstentions, and six to three against. Lazarus will join the conversi. Let him serve amongst their ranks for a year; and when he has proved the sincerity of his humility, we shall consider his future again.’
The Janus roars and storms out the hall.
One by one, the brethren rise and leave in silence. Only prior Odo remains, his eyes wet with tears:
‘Forgive me Lazarus. I never wanted things to turn out this way. There is naught I can do. The vote is cast.’
‘Do not feel bad. I only ever had one true father – and he is standing right in front of me: the man who taught me to read and write.’
Odo kisses my cheek then bursts into tears and strides to the door. Before leaving, he stops in the threshold and says:
‘Cura, ut valeas. [Take care that you preserve your health]. Those blue eyes suit you.
I remain alone for a while, gazing at the regal splendour which I am about to leave behind; the patterned tiles with the serpent winding up the pillars; the happy satyrs, leaping across the vault. It seems barely a moment since I escaped the dung of the furrows and the briars of the wastes. But soon I will return to the fields as a slave of the steward, shovelling sods and weaving willows. ’Tis not a prospect I relish.
On entering the cloister, I find brother Fabien sobbing against a pillar; he looks like a carp in a cowl, his bony spine poking through his habit. The boils on his shins have wept yellow tears in the snow. He pules with bloodshot eyes:
‘Oh Lazarus! If only the angel would cure me! I am so tired. I am so tired of suffering for Christ. The office is a great burden. How can I intone the antiphon when I am so wretched? There was a time when I loved singing psalms. They said I had the voice of a nightingale. But now grief has stolen my song!’
How I long to take away his pains. How I long to lay my hands on his scaly flesh and vanquish all his sorrows! Wind moans through the arcades and Christ whispers:
‘Resurrexi, et adhuc tecum sum!’ [I arose and am still with Thee] (iii).
I take Fabien by the hand and say:
‘You shall be cured. I swear it. The angel will come again, clothed in white, a herald of great joy and healing. As God is my witness, I speak the truth. Have faith brother. I am certain, that on Easter day, the Lord will lift your bodily afflictions, and transform your flesh into his perfect image. Weep no more, but go to choir and pray.’
He gasps and stares in wonderment. Then he flickers with a smile and shuffles off to church.
i. I am unable to locate the source for the text in italics. I recall reading it somewhere, possibly from Fleetwood, ‘Essay Upon Miracles’ (1701), which is no longer in my possession.
ii. 1 Peter, 5:8.
iii. Psalm 138.
Copyright © Nicholas Shea 2013.