Archive for monk

The Burnishing of a Heart

Posted in Fiction, Vampirony, writing with tags , , , , on April 21, 2013 by vampirony

As my mind floated lazily up to the surface from my free dive into the depths of medically induced unconsciousness, there were creatures in the form of memories awaiting me, caught in glimpses like wisps of color in the filtered blue. Jellyfish or manta ray, puffer fish or electric eel, the nature of these creatures of reminiscing I wasn’t to know until much later.

But memories, like the things they are about, can be taken in various lights and with emotions held at bay by the pharmacological gods, can be witnessed like a short film festival in which the starring actress only reminded me a little of myself. So safe in the womb of numbness, I recalled lives not yet grasped in consciousness, threads of karma unraveling into single strands of truth.

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There was a girl, her short curly red hair stuffed into a boy’s cap, staring in awe at the shelves of books and stands of manuscripts in a small scriptorium. Her puffy cheeks were red from exertion; she had run all the way up the hill to the church as her father bade her. There had been bad men in the forest and her father had worried and sent her ahead on his horse.

When the ruckus had started, the monks had run out of the church and the side building and she had slid off the horse’s back, sprinting into the closest door, not knowing the bad men would soon follow her. She heard the boots scrap across the porch, snapping her out from her awed state.

She looked helplessly about the room, frozen and frightened, knowing that the room was too small in which to hide. After so many years of travel to dubious locations such as this, she had become an expert at being unseen. But her love and wonder at the trove had left her flat-footed. She turned toward the door as it creaked open and before her full form of her pursuer was revealed, there was a whoosh of light and she was suddenly up in the rafters, arms carefully about her and holding her, one hand over her mouth. After a few breaths in which she didn’t struggle, barely breathed, the hand over her mouth eased and she could turn her head.

The face she stared into was lit by lamp glow and was the most wondrous she’d ever seen. He raised a single finger to quiet her and then stared intently down into the room as more bad men entered, his eyes near to glowing in amber.

And as the men ransacked the room, grabbing random books and stuffing them into knapsacks, kicking over the tables and benches, the precious inks and paint spreading across the floor, she felt no fear with this man or of this man. He simply waited for them to be gone but with a rumbling quiet. It was as if she knew his mind for if he hadn’t been there, she too would’ve been angry and attacked them, kicked at their shins, berated them in as many languages as she knew for their wanton destruction.

But they found what they were looking for: the gold leaf used on the most precious of manuscripts, the illumination. That and destruction of some of the precious books seemed to be their aim as they cheered in a reckless way and stomped out of the room, crashing the door closed behind them.

The girl watched the man’s eyes drop from the door and stare into space, as if coming to some decision or capturing his will. But when he turned his head to her, he smiled pleasantly and pointed down. She nodded dumbly and in another whoosh that she couldn’t explain, she was back with her feet on the floor, standing amongst the ruin of the vellum, ink, and red. In any other place or time, she would’ve felt this sacrilege like a stab to her heart, her father’s passion and learning had become her faith.

But she was caught staring at the striking man, in his simple monk robe that looked sizes too big and hastily donned. His hair was wild and unkempt but shining bronze. He didn’t seem to notice the room much but looked as if through the door, his head tilted slightly as if listening. She didn’t need him to shush her again, her breath had been stolen. In the aura of the lamp glow, his rumpled robe cast a shadow upon the wall that made him looked like one of the winged ones.

Her eyes darted from the shadow to him, convinced he was giving himself away to her. She had read all about the djinn from her father’s people and the angels from the local ones and either way, his rescue of her spoke of the divine.

In the quiet of her breathtaking epiphany, he slowly turned to look at her. His face screwed up a moment as he considered her, then bungled over a few words in Latin as if words fell uncommonly strange from his lips.

Boni Pueri.”

The door then burst open and her father rushed in along with an old, bearded monk with a cane. How her father, who swept her up in his arms, had completely missed the man who’d just been standing there was a mystery and when her father asked how she’d escaped, she pointed to empty space where the man had been.

Only to see him standing up against the wall, now indistinguishable from his shadow. Her father’s eyes darted around the space, looking everywhere and yet still not seeing the man against the wall who smiled at her again, slowly lifting his finger to his lips. She lowered her arm and hugged her father about the neck, proclaiming she’d hid behind the shelves.

Her father praised Allah as she did too, with a little prayer to Yahweh thrown in for good measure. When her gaze looked up at the elderly monk, he seemed to be staring behind her, right at the space where her very own savior had stood. She gasped, ready to explain but when she looked, the man was gone, just wafts of smoke taking up the space but the memory forever burned in her mind.

The damage done to the monastery in total was isolated to the scriptorium and when her father’s fear for the daughter he hid in plain sight as a boy has passed, he mourned the very manuscripts he’d come to examine. Even if his patron, the Duke of Durazzo, had not settled a great sum of money upon him to travel afar for the potential of uncovering great works of astronomy and philosophy, he would’ve felt robbed of such fine works.

That night, the other monks kept their dubious distance from the newcomers as if harbingers of doom and it was much later when the last prayers had been said and a stillness of anticipation settled like darkness over the monastery, the old bearded monk, the rubricator, the one called Imperius, settled her father down with an ale of the monk’s own brew in the ruins of the scriptorium.

“So much destruction, so much knowledge lost,” her father despaired, ignoring the cup beside him. “And yet your monks seem so calm, as if this is a passing storm.”

“My friend, it is God’s will that we be tested.” Imperius folded his hands in his lap, easing back in his chair. He recognized the father’s words were not just limited to this most recent episode.

“Is there no rest for the wicked, no peace even high in the forest?” Imperius remained silent, letting her father settle into troubled thoughts before admitting the turn of his concern. “We were to go back to Sofia and as far as Bucharest before returning home.”

“Your daughter will be safe here if you remain until day after next.”

Her father blanched at the monk. “Daughter?”

Imperius fought the tug of a chuckle but knew in the face of this father’s despair over what was now deemed a horrible decision it would not be taken well. Instead he rubbed the grizzled beard over his chin to cover the smile. “Perhaps the other monks have been long divorced from the real world not to recognize, but it will soon become impossible to hide her in boy’s clothes. She will be quite a beauty.”

Her father glanced over to the pallet on the floor where she lay on her stomach, arms crossed under her head, by all appearances sleeping and to all thoughts to the contrary, much more able to translate the Greek they used for their discourse than even her father knew. She kept her eyes shut as her father sighed.

“I thought to teach her to use her mind, her intellect to survive. To be a master of languages and customs like myself. But her mother was a Circasssian…I fear I will have to strike a terrible bargain some day to keep her safe.”

Imperius understood well and hoped the girl would heed the words she overheard. There would not always be a golden demigod to save her. He listened to the wind in the woods. There would be no blood tonight, no terror in the forest whose sounds would echo up to the monastery.

“No bargain is needed this night,” Imperius spoke, standing. He took up the cup left untouched by this scholastic pilgrim and drank some of it down. “This place was just a copy room; we’ve learned to store all our valuable work in a safe place nearby. Tomorrow I will show you and the following day, one of our…ur…order will travel with myself to escort you to Sofia where I’ll take you to the library there.”

Her eyes flew open and she saw her father’s stunned face staring up at the monk. “These were…copies?”

“Yes, Idris, there are many secrets in this place.” Imperius threw his eyes to the girl faking sleep on the floor. “Some more wondrous than manuscripts.”

Heart beating in her chest, she hoped fervently that she would see the golden monk again and proceeded to succumb to the fatigue of a full day’s travel and horrible consequence of the day, not even noticing the shadow of wings the firelight cast above her.

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“You’ll not pursue them tonight.”

It was a command, not a request. One he found odd coming from the monk. Still, he felt the weight of it even though it made little difference to him. He scratched the gray-brown wolf under his chin and watched the fire dying.

“The sounds in the forest would be too much, I think, for our gentile visitors,” Imperius continued, throwing a short log onto the fire and taking a long draught from the cup he’d once offered the pilgrim.

His brows drew together. The boy. Maybe it had been a mistake to reveal himself to the lad but he couldn’t let the intruders take a victim. He’d already felt pained that the scriptorium had been desecrated, even if it wasn’t the valuable work. He’d wandered far afield with his wolves, appeasement that seemed to bring with it a price.

The boy had unsettled him and in truth, he had already planned to wait a day and then seek out the defilers to take his revenge. Such an innocent face looking up at him as if he were something…he couldn’t place the thought.

“What is it, my son?”

He struggled with his words and when he was troubled, as much as it eased him to find the right words, his vocabulary was still limited and the effort to bring his thoughts to sound an honorable fight against his mouth’s own strangeness.

The good boy sleeps?”

“The good boy?” Imperius didn’t stop the smile filling his face. Well, apparently, his nature boy had been fooled as well as all the other monks. “Yes, dreams laden in gold, surely.” His reply went with understanding or reply. “Thank you for seeing the youth spared.”

This caused him to turn his head, trying to understand the look of expectation on the monk’s face. When no words further passed between them, he returned his eyes to the fire, not seeing anything but light green eyes wide and awed staring up at him, painting him as something he was not.

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The Animal of War

Posted in Fiction, Vampirony with tags , , , , , on January 6, 2013 by vampirony

He was trying to wake but his head kept smacking against rose marbled stone and the intensity of his earlier emotions of fear, panic, loathing, and triumph shocked the present from his mind with each blow, leaving a void of clarity. In the absence, the past reared up and caught him in its fiery claws. It was the truth unseen, hidden underneath everything he’d known, everything he’d built on top of the ruins when his sparkling kingdom had crumbled. She’d been gnawing at the rebuilt parts and now she demanded full awareness. Just an inkling of affection for her and the briefest touch of the book holding the pages where he had bared his soul were forcing him to remember. Recollection all the way back to places she couldn’t recall as of yet and he had fought so hard to forget. Back to the origin of their story and the beginning of his ruin. 

Back to the forest where he was still wandering but this time not so alone. Two wolves trotted along his left side, one on his right, all converted to his cause. And this time, they were the hunters not the hunted. The old pack that had harried him for weeks had lost three of their own, two of which were the strongest, best hunters.  They no longer craved his flesh; they protected it. Somewhere in it all, in their heightened senses, their increased endurance, their rapid healing, they had made a bargain with him, one forged in flesh and blood.

And that had turned the odds. He’d wounded the wolves so many times fighting them off that when he’d noticed how quickly some of them healed, he had learned a new sense of dread. But instead of pushing their favor, it had seemed to make them more docile, almost reverent. Who was this man whose flesh they feasted on nightly who grew back each day? As he had gained aggression and will, they reevaluated their prey. And for the two most ardent in his pursuit and consumption, the switch came easily. Almost with a mighty yawn, two had sought him out, followed him, allowed him to pet them, and then finally offered their furry backs to keep him warm at night.

When the pack would again take up pursuit, they would swing their fierce jaws at their old family, and snap and claw. Stay away, they warned. Elba had been the first, a bigger male who was littermate brother to the Alpha male. Then Vega, second only to her Alpha sister, followed. It was Volta who had a different turning. He’d been injured protecting the Alpha female from a vicious counterassault by Vega. She’d latched her jaws deep into the fur about his neck and tore.

As much as Elba and Vega had fought off the pack, the man had still suffered critical wounds; a flowing gash in his thigh, punctures to his throat. Volta’s scream had been enough to convince the others that Vega and Elba were deadly serious in their new alliance and the pack had left the youngster behind to limp and pant and whimper to a protracted end.

But the man took pity, knowing that this young wolf had only sought to protect his Alpha so he weakly picked him up and carried him to a peaceful place under an old tree, alongside a brook. With Volta in his lap, he stroked the wolf fondly, such suffering causing his eyes to tear. He knew by now that his pain would flow through him and in the morning, he would be whole again but this poor wolf would pant and then gasp and then shudder to an untimely end with no such promise.

He leaned his head down over the wolf’s muzzle and murmured penitent words to which Volta, with what strength he had left, raised his head and licked the man’s streaming face as if offering absolution. Elba and Vega even sensed the pathos as they snuggled on either side of the man and licked Volta’s fur clean. The more the man cried out for the life lost, the endless suffering, the sheer emptiness of meaning and purpose, the more Volta licked his face until they both bled out and their bodies stilled together against the ground.

In the morning, a heavy panting sound awoke the man. As he stirred, tongues lapped at his face until he rose up, his arms trying to guard against the canine bath. As he opened his eyes, he saw the younger wolf Volta, his ruddy-grey coat gleaming, laying just beside him. Elba and Vega then left him as they often did in the morning to go hunting or patrol but every morning since, Volta had stayed close by his side, having made his new pact with this man.

The wolf pack had followed him for miles, for what seemed like seasons, far away from where he had first encountered them in the snow, deep in the primeval forest of fir and oak.  After the change in allegiance, the main pack, now down to seven, left him and his three wolves alone, understanding that the numbers had evened up and any damage done would be summarily repaired on only one side of the battle.

The man suspected the wolves were not far, a sense confirmed at night when Elba and Vega called to their brothers and sisters in the wild and he’d hear the calls back. He even believed that their morning jaunts were to join with the old pack to hunt and provide but always they returned and were never gone long. He felt relieved that they had all found some sort of peaceful coexistence in the wilds after so many, many tormented nights.

The détente enabled him time to reflect on the scrawny nature of his being. He hadn’t eaten well for seasons, it seemed but the wolves were good about that. They led him to the bounty of their hunts which he only mildly appreciated. He found all the blood mildly revolting after all the pain and torture he’d endured. Sensing it, the wolves followed their noses and led him to where the fare would be more palatable to him. 

His first bites of human food were attained out of a rucksack stolen from some unfortunate soul. He retched up what he’d tried and the wolves, misinterpreting his actions, thought him all the better for sharing. They didn’t particularly favor the crusty bread or the jerky, but the fruit or cheeses were quite a nice change. He himself continued to try, keeping some down after awhile, finding the bread helped a lot.

Somehow he knew he’d need to get his body to learn to tolerate such sustenance, not just what they could hunt or he could forage.  This led them closer to other humans and the wolves watched and wondered why their human seemed more wary of his own kind than they did. Perhaps it was the question of the why that he searched for, why he wandered.

As foraging, hunting, and stealing eased the burden of eating and the man grew strong again, his thin but capable frame well-exercised from sparring with his companions, the man’s thoughts finally turned to the answers for his very being. He soon found what else ailed in these forests. 

The wolves followed him as he wandered to the edge of towns where torches and arrows guarded the night. He seemed to know where to go, back along the banks of a river that followed the base of the mountains. He retraced steps that he somehow recalled taking many moons ago, searching for familiarity, searching for memories and ultimately the answers to his unmaking. Somewhere, he had been a part of this civilized world and he wanted to remember where. But the journey became more perilous as the forests and hills filled with another kind of violence.

Men had come into the forest, men with weapons and horses, guarding caravans of destruction and war. Normally, he stayed hidden from the sounds of people, made uneasy by the words they made. But he also felt drawn, mostly to their songs and chants, specifically amongst them those robed and not carrying any weapons. They congregated in places that gave him peace, simple dwellings of stone. When he stumbled upon such a place, he would sit just within earshot and listen to their male voices harmonized in song, especially right at sundown. It filled him with calm.

As he continued to travel, he would often follow a lone monk making his way with a humble donkey to some simple place, his only ornament a wooden cross. From how the people treated such a man and how he treated them, the man begun to know this talisman as a sign of goodness and piety. But as the forest filled with more men carrying swords and spears, the simple robed folk seemed less and less. It didn’t take long for him to see the cross borne by men with swords, men who argued from up on horseback with simple folk with little to give, stealing all their cattle, forcing the males from boy to elder to leave their villages, to take up arms, and then began poisoning the waters, burning down homes, farms, scorching the earth, forcing all to flee the destruction.

It made him angry. He knew what it was like to be powerless, to have your will stripped away, to have everything you were laid bare and defenseless. He couldn’t fathom what faith would allow such reckless treatment of home, hearth, and land. But even in his anger, it didn’t lead him to action. He had his wolves to think about, to keep safe.

He’d surreptitiously leave food for some of the survivors or steal a waterskin from a soldier’s horse and secure it to a lowly donkey, some poor wretch’s only property left. It was what little he would do.

But it didn’t settle his growing unease. His wolves seemed happy enough; there were plenty of fresh corpses about to make need for their hunting skills rare. But none of the devastation he saw urged him out of the complacency of the shadows. And the invaders that carried a different talisman and spoke with different words were just more of the same. He couldn’t tell what was worse, the lengths these armies would go to capture land or the breadth of devastation wrought in their efforts to spoil it if it couldn’t be captured.

As the unrest in the valley bearing a strategic town grew unbearable, he and his wolves retreated further up into the mountains, to a place he’d been before, where the sounds of pious men scratching against thin paper filled the days and voices raised to heaven ended each night. It was a most tranquil of places, even though the site had been razed and rebuilt many times during conflicts. There were efforts underway to create a new place of worship, just beside a tower that had stood watch over the domed mountain and provide comfort to the souls of the villagers in the town just below.

But even this place was threatened, a place that humble folk only sought to strengthen as a symbol of their faith, random bandits smelling food stole and terrorized.   And he could no longer let that pass. He couldn’t bear to hear those voices he knew from calm, melodic song raised in terror and fear.

One night after a band had grabbed their fill and headed back down the mountain, he pursued, anger shaking every fiber of his being. And where he went, his wolves followed. The sounds of struggle, gnashing of teeth, yips and growls of the hunt, the shouts and then screams that followed, and finally in the end, a lone just barely human howl of rage caused the monks to huddle together and mumble their praise to their god that they had somehow served Him well and might continue to do so.

But in the morning, through the veil of low clouds, the monks found most of what had been stolen the night before returned, lying neatly stacked on the ground.  Even the food, minus a few choice morsels, had been returned. And all around the moist ground, fresh paw prints over those of boots. The local people soon heard the story and revered the wolves, although their holy book often spoke against the creatures. But here, the monks and the villagers, aching for some goodness in the dark days began to see the wolves in a different light.

When the winds swung providence in either direction, nights with bitter cold and no shelter to be found below the mountain or days of plenty where the smell of fresh bread and roasted meat drew the curious or the cunningly opportunistic, those were the times when the monks and villagers would hear the howls of the wolves and be surprised by a new horse, saddlebags full of coin, or rich objects from some ransacked home far away.

The people spread the word that this place was sacred and safe to only the penitent, under the protection of the wolves. The stories spread but with the tumult in the region, it didn’t stem the flow of new bandits of every order, trying to take what was not theirs in order to fight some perceived evil. There seemed to be an endless supply of these men, bearing symbols of different faiths.

And the rage heard on the wind grew ever more bitter for it.

That’s when I, Marcus Tertius Regulus, known after an age simply as Imperius, entered this story and decided my days dedicated to silence and seeking absolution for my past sins had come to an end. Here was emotion I knew how to sooth and a sign was revealed to me like a break in the morning fog in which I first spotted him.

He looked like nothing that could be saved, wild, disgusted, worry upon his dirty brow. He wore nothing, carried nothing, but stood there staring as my fellow monks gathered what had been left for us after a troubling night of screams. We would pray for the souls of the bodiless men but knew that God worked in mysterious ways, allowing us to continue our work.  As the others turned and hurried inside, the morning chill companion to the underlying fear of this wild pack that provided our protection, I held back, smelling him in all his mystery and ancient blood.

I was used to the older bloodlines, having served one for so many years after my purported death in Rome during the last age of the Empire. My master had been one of the oldest ever known, keeper of a bloodline that I had dated back into the beginning of recorded time. With that blood flowed power that boiled to conquer, to claim, and to protect its own. My master shared some of that power with me through the years, taking me down the dark path of damnation which kept me forever seeking salvation but never able to attain it.

I knew the special scent of immortality and this man, this creature who stood impervious to the elements and immutable to the ways of the world, reeked of old blood. Somewhere in his veins flowed some of the same power that flowed in me and that reawakened my troth. But something else bubbled closer to the surface, something even older and glimmering. An aura was about him that no stain of retribution and vehemence could tarnish. He had my old master’s rage but some other benefactor’s gifts.

As his hazel eyes met mine in a moment of human recognition, I turned my head slowly away, as one might a dog one wishes to greet. One does not stare into the eye of the newly met; one must let the frightened thing, with all its hopes and fears come to you.

I limped along back into the small shack I kept with the others next to the still forming new church, a smile crawling over my face. Sometimes all it took was patience. And the right offering.