KEEPER OF DAYS I: The Book of Day and Night – Prologue

PROLOGUE

 

Before we begin, there are things you must know.

When I was a child, I climbed compulsively the mountains which surround our cloister. I did not use climbing gear; there were no ropes or other such apparatus to ensure I did not fall. I did not imagine, child as I was, that I had any need of such things. During one such climb, I lost my footing, I cannot say how. I hung there, suspended by one handhold, from the rock face, and I looked down. I saw the whole of the valley there below me, like a strange green world suspended in space. I looked back up, at my left hand, which still grasped the cliff, and thereby held the entirety of my life, and I considered. I did not ponder the fall, or my death. I did not tremble or sweat. I did not bargain with the gods that if they spared me I would never again be so foolish. I did none of the things I believe most would consider normal. Rather, I considered how best to re-secure my footing and begin again my ascent.

Never in that moment did it occur to me that I was in peril; that is what I wish you to understand.

I lifted a foot, carefully testing the feel of my boot against the ridge of a crevice running along the rock face. I swung my other arm up to catch another outcropping. I then began to pull myself up until my right foot too could find purchase. It was a slow, deliberate process, and in the end, my strength and determination won out, and I was again in control of my ascent up the mountain.

Later, safe and warm in my bed, I realized the danger in which I had been. I suddenly knew that I could, perhaps should, have died, and I trembled and shook under my coverlet and did not sleep for hours. What sleep I had was tormented by bad dreams of falling from the cliff.

So I do know fear, I understand what it is and its affect on the mind and body. But I do not feel it as others do. I do not feel it in the moment of peril, and I never have.

As a youth I befriended a girl in our order. Our order does admit women, something I am given to understand other monastic orders do not. I have always found this strange, as the women among us are some of the brightest and most knowledgeable of the texts, but that is neither here nor there. The girl I spoke of was named Anabel, and she and I were inseparable.

One night, Anabel and I snuck out of our beds and met outside, behind the stables. We crept quietly into the valley west of our cloister, the one I had hung suspended over during my nearly fatal climb, and went down to the base of the waterfall, where the noise of the crashing water would cover our talk. It was very cool, almost cold, and there was a brisk wind, not typical in our valley, which is surrounded by high mountains: the very mountains from which our cloister was carved so long ago.

There, under the light of the full moon, we showed each other our genitals, as children do. We did not think to touch each other, we were only satisfying the beginnings of our childish sexual curiosity. Once we had seen what lay under each other’s clothes, we sat in the grass and talked of childish things, foolish games and gossip about the other adepts. Anabel was the first to say I was the brightest of our class, and that one day I should lead our order. I will never forget that, though I was to hear it many times as an adept and journeyman. She was very bright herself, and kind, and not so observably different from others as I find myself to be.

Anabel and I continued to be close for some time, until, four winters later, she contracted an illness. It was a very contagious infection, which nearly everyone in our order caught, and it took several of us, old and young. She became very sick, so sick that she did not know herself or those around her. She spoke in mutters, and was cold and wet to the touch. Brother Kellen, who so knows the ways of physic that he is near to mastery of their order as well as ours, tended to Anabel as well as the other sick brethren and sistren, but he could do little more than ease their suffering. His medicines did not prove curative to this illness.

I was assigned to help him. In that duty, I brought Anabel water and cool wet cloths for her face. I helped change her clothes and her bedding when they became soiled. I cleaned her when she had vomited up all that she had inside her and held her when she heaved and nothing was left inside. I sang songs to her, the songs we had learned as children. I prayed to the Lord of Storm, in whose dominion we resided, to bring her safely though the ravages of this disease and allow her life beyond the passage. The god did not grant this prayer, but I believe he heard me, and he did mitigate Anabel’s suffering and let her go to the next world quickly, where none ever suffer and none are lost.

I found Anabel dead when I went to check on her before dawn the next morning. She lay in her soiled bedclothes, mouth and eyes open. I brushed her hair from her face with my fingers, closed her eyes, and just looked at her for a time. Then I carried her to the washtubs where I could bathe her and clean her hair, fetched clean towels to dry her and clean linen to dress her for her grave. I know she met the gods with a kind heart, she could do no less, and I could do no less than to prepare her properly for them.

At the service we held, not only for Anabel but also for the six others who had perished, I assisted my brethren in lowering them into the earth, in covering them, and in placing their markers. I spoke about her and how close we had been, and how kind she was. My voice did not tremble as some did, and I shed no tears. I smiled to remember her chasing butterflies and the furrow in her brow as she read a particularly troublesome passage in the texts. The imitation I made of the exasperated way she rolled her eyes at me when I said something she found silly drew quite a laugh from those assembled.

However, later that night I snuck out of bed, went by way of the stables, and crept down into the valley and to the base of the waterfall, and under cover of the noise of crashing water I howled to the Lord of Storm and any other god in the heavens above who might hear me. I cried out all my sadness and loss, and railed at them for taking her from my side, even the Lord of Storm himself, whom I believe heard my prayer and answered it in his own way. I raged to the dark sky as hot tears spilled down my cheeks.  I tore the wet grass from the ground and shredded it, and threw rocks at the rippling water.

And though my rage was directed at the gods above, they knew, and I tell you now with no doubt in my mind whatsoever, that its true target was myself.  Only now, that she is gone, do I know that I loved Anabel, truly and so deep that her death tore a hole in my heart that never mended proper again. Only once she was gone did I know all the things I should have said to her in all the times we were together. Only now did I understand the need to hold her hand, and kiss her lips, and whisper in her ear of my love. Only when she was gone, never when she was alive and there beside me. So my anger was and is not with the gods and is ever and always with myself, that though I know love, I did not feel it in its right season.

Such it is with all the feelings that seem so ordinary to everyone else, and I could relay a thousand anecdotes, but I would not wish to do so. I know what it is to feel fear, and love, and hate, and joy. But I do not feel them as you do, nor have I ever. I only know them when it is too late for them to serve any just purpose in life.

You must understand this, if you are to understand anything of the story I now tell.

My name is Daniel. I am the Master of my order, which keeps the count of days and the ages of the world, as set down for us by the gods themselves. I write this by the light of a single candle, which sits on the tiny desk in my room. I must work quickly, for I have little time, and I have waited too long to set down this story.

Far too long.

NEXT: PORTENTS AT MORNING PRAYER

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(c)opyright 2013 by J. David Clarke

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