All Souls Day

Entry by: macdonald

6th November 2015
After Nones I stayed in the Abbey. on the right side of the nave, sitting beneath the mosaic of Noah and his Ark, lost in thought. An afternoon sun hung outside the clerestory windows and several hazy, golden beams had dropped into the choir. A column of smoke from an incense burner rose in the air, mixing with the sun's rays.
A voice broke the silence and I was puzzled to see a ark haired youth kneeling before the altar, his long back toward me, his face lowered. His words came in bursts as my own prayers always had. The youth stood and stepped toward the centre aisle. He appeared familiar, maybe an old friend from years past, but he was young and boisterous and I old and weary. A ring with a ruby, the colour of pigeon's blood, swung from a chain around his neck.
My ring!
The hairs on my nape rose, my heart lurching in my chest as he came closer. I shrank against the wall. The unmarked face and clear, inquisitive eyes, shining with such brilliant light; the energy of youth; his whole life ahead and no doubt in those eyes that youth's magic fuel would last forever. I recognised what I once had been.
It was me!
The air froze in my throat as our eyes met. A questioned formed on his lips, but he was in a hurry and left it unasked. By the time he'd reached the side portal I had recovered enough to follow him.
'Good luck, Raymond!' I called but he'd gone.
I fingered the ruby, still safe on my finger, and stepped out into the cloister. A cool wind was blowing and two circuits helped calm the troubled waters of my mind.
At Vespers I joined the procession entering the Abbey and settled to listen to a reading of the Rule. Along the row of my companions sat King Richard himself, dressed in a monk's habit, hands invisibly joined in the folds of his sleeves. He was peering at me and I turned from his gaze, my heart racing, my thought's muddled again.
How could this be?
It was the eve of All Saints and the light months of the year were over, the dark months just begun. Had the veil separating our world from the next been lifted and the dead allowed to walk on the earth again for a day?
I'd seen Richard interred in a tomb at Fontevrault over forty years before. Now he was cast up and young again, chanting prayers and psalms by my side. A moment before the candle was snuffed, his eyes were fixed on me still, his countenance creased in puzzlement. The Abbot's stick tapped twice on the pavement and we stood and filed out of the dark church.
Stepping in behind a man I knew to be dead, I followed him into the cloister, keeping my eyes on his back. Alongside the column of St George, I reached forward and tapped his shoulder. He spun round, pulling back his hood.
'Are you well Brother Raymond?' he asked. Staggering back, I would have fallen but for the support of the column. It was Lucas, not Richard, before me. Presently he bade me a restful night, his bald pate gleaming in the moonlight as he departed.
Throughout today's festival of All Saints, I pondered these illusions and after Sext, Prior Geoffrey approached me and told me of the arrival of three English soldiers. They were in the kitchen, two sitting on the bench under the window slurping the remnants of the vegetable stew we had recently also dined on. The third was on the far side of the room, bent over the jars and baskets lined up there. He was inspecting a cabbage as f it were the most exotic object he had ever seen.
'Welcome, Gentlemen. I am Brother Raymond and I will see to your needs during your visit.' I said. The youngest and largest of the three sniggered without looking up from his plate.
'Forgive my friend , father' said the group's captain as he slapped the youth's head. 'He lost his manners a while back and has given up looking for them.'
'When you are ready, there is a warm fire upstairs and we have wine and fruit,' I said.
'We appreciate the hospitality, father,' the captain replied. 'We also hope hope to confess and have a prayer said for us.' The third soldier lay the cabbage on the floor and rejoined the others on the bench, resting his head on the captain's shoulder as if about to sleep, though his eyes remained open and staring. A healing scar ran from his left ear lobe to his chin, where it tugged at the flesh of his lower lip.
I soon established they were mercenaries in the employ of Frederick, still besieging the Saracen castle at San Giuseppe Jato.
The captain enquired of St Thomas of Canterbury and I led them into the Abbey and down to the apse, where they all knelt and muttered a prayer to the illustrious English Bishop.
After their confessions were done, we sat together in the refectory, talking of the siege and their plans for the future.
'Perhaps another Campaign for the Cross, father?'
'Oncein a lifetime is enough for any man,' I said. In the cloister and Abbey the captain's coat had offered him protection from the chilly air, butwarmed by the refectory fire, he'd let if fall open. Three red lions were stitched over the heart, to the left of the cross. I stared at the emblem, my mouth open, lost for words.
'Have you been on campaign, father? Surely not. A holy man such as yourself?'
'I was young once. Strong! Committed! Ready to fight and die for Christ. I fought with King Richard. The three lions.....' I pointed at his tunic badge but hesitated. They would never believe a story I hardly believed myself. 'I know why you have three lions now.'
' You knew King Richard?' The plump young soldier scoffed and eyed the others in jest. I stood to leave, but then a quick anger ran like fire in my blood and I bent over the table thrusting my face at the youth.
'In this place we speak the truth with heart and mouth! To bear false witness would be a great sin.' I hesitated again.
'Please go on Father. I believe you,' said the captain. I sat again, gasping for air, staring at the flames of the blazing fire.
'Was Richard as brave as is told,' said the captain.
'He had the heart of a lion, bursting with courage, but a lion's cruelty also. If you stay this evening I will tell you my story and all I knew of him.'
'The lions, Father?' The young soldier now gripped his own tunic, inspecting the emblem as if he'd just noticed it. 'Why three?'
'The first came from his great grandfather, the first Harry of England. The second was more leopard than lion, but two lions were the emblem of his Norman forefathers.'
'And the ?' the youth persevered, pointing a plump finger at the lowest lion on his badge.
The sounds came first. The whistle and thud of crossbow bolts, clashing steel, the screaming of a wounded man. Through closed eyes I saw the eye of a panicked horse, a cloud of fat flies hovering over bloodied flesh. The captain gripped my shoulder and the clamour faded. I heard a whispered reply to the youth's question
'For me.' It was my voice but the words came from a faraway time and place. @It was for me,' the voice said again. 'he added it for
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