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Portraits part 2

March 28, 2012

“I’m very sorry about your son, my lord, very sorry indeed,” the monk said as he sat.  He and the lord were sitting in one of the private chambers of the monastery, a room with gray walls but with a lavish red rug and carved oak table with matching chairs on each side.  The wood for the desk and chairs had come from England as had the iron for the candleholders around the small room, though the carvings upon the wood and the globs of beeswax melting into puddles had been crafted at the monastery itself.  The monk’s robe was the typical frock, hiding a set of broad shoulders, stains all over it.  Stains of ink, paint, oils, and some dark, more sinister ones that the lord preferred to remain unidentifiable.  The lord sighed.

“Tell me about Connall.  I sent him here so young to be educated.  One never knows what to do with second sons since they won’t inherit,” said the lord.  He put a gloved hand over his eyes and slouched in his chair, letting his booted feet splay outward.  His auburn hair seemed darker than it was in the candlelight, contrasting with the monk’s shiny baldness.

“He kept to himself, my lord.  Well, he kept with two others.  Your Connall kept with Caibre, who is a distant relation of our abbot, though the resemblance is remarkable, and Éanna, who was an orphan from a village destroyed by Vikings.  Caibre enrolled and Éanna stumbled here around the same time as Connall.  They were all of six years.  Those three were a bit odd, especially Éanna, who was a bit out of sorts to begin with.  Nothing unnatural.”  The monk waved his hand dismissively.  “All three were belonging to God and saying their prayers, and habitually together.  In the halls, I would see them go together, in church they would kneel together, the library held their whispers together.  They were one mind with themselves and God.  Even their cells, our places of solemn individual contemplation, were next to one another and I could only think of those three doors together.”  The monk nodded at his own assessment, seeming pleased with his attempts at storytelling.  “As our God is good, I would spot them in the monastery’s garden: planting, watering, gathering, digging into the earth as I crushed and mixed colors for the Holy Word, or slaughtered our sheep for parchment.  I would be coming into the shade of the monastery’s walls with red staining my rags, and invariably all three would be there.  I don’t know why God joined them together or how He did so, but He did.”

The sound of the lord’s voice broke the monologue.  “Were they diligent in their studies?”  The lord remained unmoved.  The monk licked his lips and leaned forward, clasping his weathered hands together on the table.

  “Yes, my lord.  They were educated as best as we could with the materials at hand.  All three were very devout from the minute they arrived.  Connall was a bit forward and Éanna quiet, but Caibre was a happy medium between the two.  They could not tear their eyes from the stained glass or the Gospels.  You’d think the books were made of gold.  They cost that much at least.  Their clammy hands have fingered through the vellum I made more than enough.  They were regularly on time for prayers even when their fellows were lagging and coming with their clothes stained, faces smeared with mud or bits of hay sprinkled in their hair.  But not those three: they were so clean. I don’t know how they managed it.  Connall was interested in the glass, and how to mix colors and sculpt designs.  The other two were more interested in Scripture and the manuscripts.”  As he talked, the monk’s eyes had drifted away from the lord’s face, resting on the door from which they had come in.  The muscles around his face slackened.

“How did they die?”  The question rang in the air.  The monk shook himself and faced the lord once more.

“They were not blessed with combat skills.  They shook at the sight of any injury, much less their own.  Éanna would go white as a sheet and retreat to smelling salts to keep himself awake.  So when God had the Vikings visit us and attempt to burn us with their heathen fire, all three would lock themselves in Conall’s cell and barricade the door until I banged on it three times and yelled that the attack was over and in the name of God would they come out.  The first time it happened, when all three were twelve, our head scribe said ‘tut, tut, Brother Conn’ at me, calling them only children, and for me not to be so harsh.  He gathered them to himself like goslings when they came out the door, squawking after him with their six-feet awkward waddle, their robes slicked behind them like wings.  They were his favorites.”  Brother Conn’s eyes seemed to harden and glint in the candlelight at the memory, his mouth downturning almost into a scowl.  His eyes drifted away again towards the general space of the room.  “I did not care for how Connall’s and Caibre’s eyes became sharp, and Éanna, all innocent, eyes downcast, whispered ‘thou shall not kill’ at the following hour’s prayer.  By God, it is kill the heathen Vikings or be killed.  They would burn us down to the ground, stealing God’s treasures and the head scribe’s works for their own awful greed.  Locked doors and the king’s warriors aren’t enough to protect us.  A staff can as easily kill a man as herd sheep in my hand, and why not use the gift God gave?  Not to mention knives and axes.  This monastery needs to be protected and we need every member to be ready to defend it if we want to survive.”  Conn’s hands had gone from benevolently clasped to hard fists against the wood of the table.  “The Vikings will not show mercy.”

“So the Vikings took my son and his companions?”  

“We had another raid last week, a rather harsh one.  God testing our resolve once again.  Unfortunately, a wing of the rectory burned down since we couldn’t mobilize fast enough and our enemies are only becoming stronger.  We are still in mourning over our most recent loss.  Connall and the others disappeared the same day, maybe taken by the raiders or…”


“I’m sorry to say.  God gives and takes, my lord.  Gives and takes.”

The lord was still for only a moment longer before straightening out of the chair.  He unhooked a heavy coin purse from his belt and dropped it unceremoniously on the table in front of Conn’s hands, which unclenched themselves to grasp the bag.

“That should cover all my son’s costs and extend some way for Éanna’s.  Thank you for telling me about Connall.”  The lord paused, unsure, and in a quieter voice continued. “I never knew my son, but you have given me someone to mourn.  Thank you, Brother Conn.”

The lord turned to go but then glanced back to Conn, who was emptying the purse to count its glittering contents.

“Are you head scribe here?  In charge of the education?”

 “Indeed, I’ve been promoted to head scribe and teacher of the young ones.  It is an honor God has kindly bestowed upon me.  I’m going to convince the abbot to modify the teachings to guard against the raids.”

The lord nodded once before exiting.


From → Fiction, Thesis

  1. I really like this. It says a lot about both characters. Although, having said that, the lord remains a bit mysterious at the moment. Still, I really enjoyed it, and can’t wait to read more.

    The only thing which I don’t like about this piece (and it’s just my opinion) is that you write several sentences of speech and then say ‘said the lord’. Like below:

    — “Tell me about Connall. I sent him here so young to be educated. One never knows what to do with second sons since they won’t inherit,” said the lord.

    Whereas I think it should only be once sentence then ‘said the lord’ .. like below:

    — “Tell me about Connall,” said the lord. “I sent him here so young to be educated. One never knows what to do with second sons since they won’t inherit.”

    If you see what I mean.. it’s just my opinion 🙂

  2. Ohhhh, I get it. I’ll take that into account and if I find time to go back and edit this piece than I’ll change it. This whole story is actually up, the posts titled Portraits Part 3 and Portraits Part 4. There’s also a prequel that focuses on Brother Conn, if you’re interested in that. Thanks so much for the criticism!!! I really do need an editor.

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