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Portraits Prequel

June 20, 2012

While I’m online, the following is a bit of a prequel to my short story-possibly-turned-thesis “Portraits.” It gives more details about Brother Conn (flesh out his character a bit), the trio, and monastic life. During the story, Brother Conn is age 30. Also, there ain’t no intro like a Shakespeare intro.

“O, beware, my lord, of jealously! It is a green-eyed monster which doth mock the meat it feeds on.”

Othello, William Shakespeare

The day began ordinarily.  The hours were sung, the bell-tower was booming correctly, the sheep skin destined to be parchment was being stretched on racks, and now it was dinner.  The refractory was full to brimming, our long tables full of the newest crowd of nobles’ sons seeking spirituality and learning.  A group of Saxon monks were also visiting us, Abbot Flann teaching them Greek himself.  As I watched, these newest members fidgeted on their benches, scratching at their clothing and the sides of their mouths twitching a bit as they ate the foreign soda bread.  They had brought us apples though.  I was thankful for them since the only vegetables yet ready for harvest in our garden were still potatoes.  Even with butter, soda bread and potatoes were a bit bland for the taste.  The Saxons did not seem so different from us more native Irish.  We both carried the same pale complexion, and I have seen Irish with equally dark brown for hair.  I leaned forward a bit at my table to see them better at the table across the room.  They, like the rest of us, were not speaking.  Head Scribe (and Brother) Ronan was spilling the Gospel of John over us, reciting it from the head table almost from memory, though the book was open before him.  The sound of it warmed my heart.  Though ten years my senior and both of us dedicated to love for all, Ronan was always…special.  He had taught me how to make parchment, and I had treasured those hours as I treasured our time in our cells individually praying.  Time to focus, time to think.  But with Ronan I was thinking with someone.  Thinking together.
Speaking of together, the unbreakable trio were sitting were sitting down the table from me.  They had come in with their usual promptness and cleanliness, sitting in a row of Connall, Éanna, and Caibre.  They had just been in the garden and God willing there were no specks of dirt on them.  While cleanliness was admirable, I preferred to keep my stains on a little longer, as badges of what I had been doing.  Ronan or Abbot Flann would see them and know I had been at my tasks.  These three could have been just whispering to each other for hours in the shed, not doing any work for our community.  Not that any of them were part of it.  They weren’t brothers, fellow monks.  At least not yet.
Ronan’s voice continued trippingly in Latin, proclaiming the Miracle of the Wedding at Cana.  I focused on the sound rather than the words themselves, letting them wash over my sore muscles.  Not that they were very sore: I’d felt much worse back at home in my father’s house.  We were part-Saxon, having come over as a group to investigate Ireland a generation previous.  Until recently, I had been happy with the aristocratic life, learning all its war and politics and pomp.  Then God called and told me it was all empty.  Ronan called and showed me how it could be full.  It was as good a thought to dwell on as John’s Gospel was and I was content until I heard a clatter of iron dish-ware to my right.  I opened my eyes to see Éanna with the palms of his hands pressed against his eyes.  He was shaking and his cup of wine had spilled.  Was he ill? Caibre had a hand on his shoulder, his face concerned and eyes beseeching.  Connall was more forceful, pulling Éanna to his chest and wrapping his arms around the small boy. Caibre silently stood and walked quickly towards the head table and past it into the kitchen.  Hopefully to get a cloth for that mess Éanna created.  What was wrong with him to interrupt Ronan with such a strange fit?
I slid down to them, hoping to either reprimand or fix the situation.  Éanna’s hands were away from his eyes now, instead fisted into his lap.  His eyes were still closed, and he seemed to taking very deliberate breaths.  Connall was just holding him and he looked at me steadily as if daring me to comment.  Bit impudent if you ask me.
Silence was the rule at dinner.  I couldn’t speak, but the monastery had adopted its own language with our bodies as tongues.  I cocked my head to the side at Connall and presented an open palm towards Éanna.  Connall just shook his head and shrugged his shoulders.  Flickers of doubt and concern bled into his eyes before his usual mask of steadfast stoicism replaced it.  Poor boy.  Trying too hard to give away nothing.  It wouldn’t work.  I leaned across the table and nudged Éanna with a hand.  Wouldn’t want him falling asleep during dinner.  Éanna sat up, one of Connall’s arms still remaining around his shoulders.  Éanna opened his eyes.
Now, Éanna’s eyes, like the usual Irish stock, were green.  A darker green than Connall’s fields for instance (my own eyes and hair are dark brown so not fit for a comparison in this instance).  But as he opened them, there was only the tiniest sliver of green, his black center almost filling his whole orb.  He took a great shuddering breath and in such a quick motion I almost did not see it, he grabbed my collar and brought our faces close.  His breathing grew rapid as he stared at me.  Was he mad?
“They’re coming.  We need to hide.  We need to get out. Get out! Get out!” He was becoming hysterical, beginning with a whisper and ending with a small yelp.  He released me and, standing, tugged at Connall’s clothes, trying to force him to move.  Ronan stopped reciting, the entire monastic community staring at the mad boy.
But before anyone could ask what was wrong, we heard a scream.  It was so loud, it seemed to reverberate on every surface of the great refractory, vibrating the expensive glass windows.  Everyone went still and more shouting was heard.  Suddenly, Caibre burst from the kitchen, towel in hand, announcing, “Vikings! They’ve come! The Vikings!”
The room was thrown into chaos.  All at once arrows were shot through the glass windows (at least they weren’t colored) and landed in people and the tables.  Everyone began talking at once, Ronan shouting above all of them and holding the Gospel to his chest.  Connall was covering Éanna physically, bringing him under the table.  Caibre tripped on his way back to them and was on the floor.  A strange man in a mail shirt was behind him and by the braids and guttural noises that were attempting refined language I’d say Viking.  Before I could think, I had picked up a knife and thrown it into his throat.

The whole attacked took hours. I only remember bits of it.  I protected many people as per the direction of Abbot Flann.  The first fallen Viking carried an axe of good quality and manageability for someone my size.  I used it.  It wasn’t the whole Viking army attacking, but a smaller group looking for an easy pillage.  I remember Ronan had made a dash to the library to save books, and Vikings pouring into the refractory just after most of us had locked ourselves in the Cathedral.  I remember staying behind with some others and beat the force back into our garden, seeing how they’d trampled our growing plants.  I remember blood everywhere on me.  I remember cutting the arm off one Viking, the look of shock on his face.  It was self-defense.  I remember searching for survivors.  Some Vikings had merely been wounded and I swiftly dispatched them.  They would only attack us again.  One of them even seemed to be begging, but the Vikings have no concept of mercy, do they?  They would have killed me, would have killed Brother Ronan if given the chance.  Decapitation was messy, the dead’s expression of shock or pleading stuck on their face eternally.  But their eyes turned to glass almost.  Every time.
Nothing from the rest of the day really stands out to me except when we found the trio again.  I still had my axe and must have looked like a ghoul to my brothers.  My robes were weighed down with the amount of lifeblood they had absorbed.  But we were safe, weren’t we?  Nothing had been stolen and only the refractory’s windows had been shattered.  Those were easily replaceable.  The state of the garden was regrettable, but also manageable with a little arm-twisting from our lords for funds.  In any case, I’d found the trio locked in Connall’s cell, and they had barricaded the door.  The very young Brother Kevin had sent for Brother Ronan to help me with the problem.  I also wanted to see Ronan, just to check on him, see what he thought of how well I’d done.

As Ronan appeared in the hallway, I called, “Brother! How fares you this afternoon?”
Instead of smiling like I was, Ronan looked grim.  “Not well, Brother Conn.”
I faltered.  Was he not pleased?  What if…“Did they hurt you? Are the books alright?” Perhaps I had miscalculated.

“No, no. I am physically well.  What have we here?”  He had reached Connall’s door and was looking it up and down instead of me.

I smiled in attempt to regain his humor.  “They’ve barricaded the door.  I’ve shouted for them three times and they refuse to come out, the silly boys.”

Again, my attempts at cheer were rebuffed.  “They’re not so silly,” he muttered and then shouted to be heard through the wall. “Caibre!”

There was a scuffling.  “Yes, Brother Ronan?”

“It truly is safe now.  You three can come out.”

More scuffling and a groaning of moving wooden furniture was heard.  Connall opened the door a crack and peered out.  He then opened the door wider and led the other two out.  Caibre was holding Éanna’s hand, whose face paled even more when he saw my stained frock.  He looked from me to Brother Ronan.

Brother Ronan reassured, “It’s alright, Éanna.  We really are safe.  Have some courage, boy.”  I had been thinking the same thing.  They had forsaken the community for what they perceived as their own safety.  It was against monastic law.  They had not helped others, only each other.  Ronan should scold them.

But then he reached out and ruffled Éanna’s hair and patted the other two on the head.  And then he smiled.  For them.  And not for me. When they had done nothing.

“Tut, tut, Brother Conn.  Be gentler with these three next time.  They are only children.  Come with me to prayers, you three.”

The three babes’ expressions softened and Ronan, still without looking at me, turned around.  They followed him like goslings to a mother goose.

How, how dare Ronan?  I had saved the monastery!  Protected everyone!  And not one word of thanks, not one kind glance, not one nod of approval!  Instead he favors, those, those, those irresponsible children!  One a bastard of our abbot and another a low-class thief who eats our bread without paying, surviving on our good will and hospitality.  At least Connall came from a good Irish family, but his Christianity mixes with foul pagans and druids!  Mere superstition and witchcraft!  How can he do this?  We were together, thinking.  Him teaching me.  I–

I wished for another Viking to kill.

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From → Fiction, Thesis

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