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

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THREE

ASCENSION

 

My steps carried me through the Scriptorium, one of the most significant chambers of our monastery.  Here, in silent contemplation, do the Brothers and Sisters of our order study the texts, contemplate the words of the Lords and the ancient men, copy the more ancient works which may be soon to crumble, and write their own treatises on scripture.  These are holy tasks, and among our most important functions.  Without our efforts in the Scriptorium, the ancient lore of the gods would fall to dust and be lost, as much of it already was, for we do not have the numbers we once did, and we cannot now keep up with the decay of the ancient world.

The Scriptorium is a high, vaulted chamber, lined with small windows, which may be shuttered in the coldest seasons.  Sconces are set lower, to provide torchlight when necessary.  Around the walls are the desks, each Journeyman Monk is provided with a desk of his or her own, to be assigned to them for as long as they remain in our order, or until they ascend to the rank of Master.  In the center of the room stand more simple wooden benches and small desks, these are the Apprentices’ domain, and are not assigned, but rather are open for Apprentices to be seated as they may.  Right now, several Journeymen occupied their desks, but few benches were occupied, as the morning hours were those in which most Apprentices attended their formal tasks or were in class in the schola, where Masters and Journeymen gave formal instruction.  They would fill the benches of the Scriptorium in the afternoon, or some would take to study and discussion outdoors.  The overarching rule of the Scriptorium (as with the Library above) was quiet.

At the end of the Scriptorium was a desk occupied by the Master of the Scriptorium and Library, a high office.  Sadly, this had been Master Hubrick’s seat.  It stung me to see the high-backed seat empty, his gavel silent (Master Hubrick did not hesitate to snatch up his gavel and rap the desk of any Apprentice so foolish as to be caught whispering or passing notes).  In his stead, for the time being, Sister Mary, one of my fellow Journeymen, though older than I, stood watch over the chamber.  I nodded as I passed her and she gave me a strange look, a frightened stare, rather than returning my nod or giving a look of familiarity.  Signs and portents, Master Timeon had said.  I wondered what Sister Mary had made of these portents, and how they affected they way she saw me.

Past the Master’s desk was a stair that led to a second level of the Scriptorium, and this level, a balcony that ran three sides of the room, held the doors to the Masters’ offices.  Where most of these were now unoccupied, two still were in use.  The Office of the Abbott, the leader and head administrator of our order, he who held absolute charge of all functions of the monastery, belonged to Master Timeon.  The office of Matron Sebelle, who directed the schola as well as the keeping of days (and was therefore my direct Master), was two doors down.  The office held by Master Paz, who had been our Combat Master, lay between them, now empty.  I am ashamed to say Paz was a man I did not miss.  His absolute adherence to and demand for the strictest discipline were infamous among the Journeymen and Apprentices, and many whispered of their intense relief at his passing.  He was a terror of a man, and it took a long time before I began to appreciate the harsh lessons he had imparted.

At each horseshoe end of the balcony were steps leading up to the library, which was above the Scriptorium, and one of the most guarded places in the monastery, because of the ancient lore kept there.  One did not pass to the library without express approval of the Master, and Apprentices were always accompanied by a Journeyman, as much to guard against childish games and foolishness as the very real possibility of fire (as the Library was windowless and always dark, candles were an unfortunate requirement).

My steps did not carry me to the Library at that moment, however, merely to the office in the center, directly past the stair: the Office of the Abbot.

I opened to the door to the small antechamber to the Office, and stepped inside.  Here, the Abbot’s page was stationed.  It was a very small, cramped space, with a small desk and two chairs (anyone beyond one petitioner would need to wait in the Scriptorium).  I have always had the impression that it was meant for some other purpose than to be for a page or for waiting petitioners, perhaps to serve simply as a place for the Abbot to hang his cloak after travel out of doors.  It seemed small enough.  Nevertheless, I took my seat in front of the desk.  The current page, a rather odd Apprentice with the face of a squirrel named Brother Fergus, looked up from his writing (as if he had not seen me enter, which was laughable).

“He’s in with Matron Sebelle,” he said, twirling his long quill as if he meant to go on writing as soon as he had dismissed me.

“Please inform him I am here,” I said.  “Thank you, Brother.”

At that, he made an audible sigh and placed the quill in its stand.  “They are likely to be in there for some time,” he said.

When I was young, I had a great dislike for reminding people of my authority, especially since, as in the case of Brother Fergus, they were older than I, and I always strove to respect elder members of our order.  Occasionally, however, it became necessary.  Fergus was an Apprentice, and therefore I outranked him already, and since I was to be elevated to Master this very afternoon, I would soon outrank him and everyone else in the order, save the two individuals now consulting in this very office.  Moreover, prevailing wisdom was that I was to be the next leader of our order, and therefore would soon be occupying this office, making Brother Fergus, should I not decide to replace him (something I would be loathe to do as he had been many years in his position and knew it like the back of his hand), my own page.  I could not allow him to show such obvious disrespect, even in private, for fear it would translate to his actions in front of others.

“I will wait as long as necessary, of course,” I said, “but go and inform Master Timeon that I have arrived.  Now, Brother.”

He raised an eyebrow, but stood and did as he was bid.  He opened the right side of the double doors that entered the Abbot’s office and stepped within, closing it behind him.  I waited patiently, hands folded in my lap.  Soon, Fergus returned.

“The Abbot will see you now,” he said.

“Thank you, Brother,” I said, and stood.  He waited as I stepped into the office, and then closed the door behind me.

The office of the Abbot is a strange place as compared with the other Master’s offices.  It is a bit ostentatious for my tastes, carved into a rounded side of the mountain as it is.  The walls spread out from the great double doors, floor sloping up, into the office proper, where the floor levels off and the outer wall is near oval shaped.  The Abbot’s desk is long, made of a heavy red wood, dark and ornately carved.  A fireplace (one of the few in the entire monastery) is set in the wall behind his desk, and there are also a few shuttered windows set in the rock along the oval wall.  Thus, the office is appointed such that it may admit light and air, or shut them out and proffer heat instead.  It is unique among all the rooms in the monastery in that regard, all of the others offer one, but not all, of these comforts.  My own chambers as a Monk, as I have already described, could be opened to admit the air and morning light, but on cold nights the best I could do was close the shutter and wear the heaviest nightclothes and blankets I could find.

On this day, the Masters had the shutters closed, and candelabra, one standing on the desk itself, and two on long stands in the corners lighted the room.  It was not a cold day, by now the temperature had risen sharply from the dawn when my breath had come out in mist.  I could only speculate that they kept the shutters closed to keep out the crows, after what had happened at Morning Prayer.

Master Timeon sat in his chair, his robes hanging loosely from his thin frame.  Matron Sebelle stood at the corner of the desk, on the side facing me.  Where her hood had been up this morning, it was down now, exposing her gray hair, pulled back into a long braid.

“Masters,” I said.

“Come, Daniel, come.  Sit.” Master Timeon gestured to the chair in front of him.  I gathered my robe around my legs and sat there, bowing slightly to him.

“I trust the count is attended to,” Matron Sebelle inquired.

“Yes, Matron.  All went well.”

“All went well,” repeated Timeon.

“Yes, Master,” I said, and nodded.

“No reactions to this morning’s events? Among the Apprentices?” he asked.

Ah, I thought.  “Yes, of course, the Apprentices are very concerned, asking questions.”

“What kind of questions,” asked Sebelle.

“They asked if the Lords sent the crows and rang the bell at Morning Prayer.”

“Ahh, and what did you say?” Timeon asked, leaning forward attentively.

“I told them it was a possibility,” I said.

“A possibility?” Sebelle said with a smile.

“Yes.  I told them it was possible but it was best not to leap to conclusions without deep study and prayer.”

“Daniel,” Timeon said.  He stood, very carefully, and walked around the long desk to sit against it in front of me.  He leaned forward, putting a hand on my shoulder.  “You will lead our order.”  I was a bit taken aback, as I had heard this from many of our order but never directly from Timeon himself.  I did not wish to appear that I sought advancement over him and Sebelle.  I began to stammer an objection, but he continued over me.  “You WILL lead our order.  This is known.  Sebelle and I have discussed it on many, many occasions.”  Sebelle nodded agreement.

“I don’t know what to say.”

“In those situations, it is best to say nothing, is it not?” Sebelle asked.

I nodded, but kept silent.

“Soon, a new Age will dawn,” Timeon said, “and this order needs someone to lead it into that new Age.  I am too old.  I am a child of the Age of Storm, I cannot lead children of a new Age in a world I was not made for.  I have already called for the Selection, you know this.  Everyone knows it.  Everyone also knows you are to be elevated this afternoon, therefore you will be a candidate.”

“But, perhaps they will choose Matron Sebelle, she has more experience,” I said.

Sebelle laughed.  “I have no desire to be stuck behind this desk, seeing to the accounts of the Abbey,” she said.  “I have the schola, that’s all I have ever wanted, to educate the Monks in the learning of the ancients.”

“I thought perhaps to take the place of Master Hubrick, or Master Paz,” I said, someone disingenuously, as I knew neither of these stations suitable for me.

“I will take the Scriptorium and Library, for what time I have left,” Timeon said.  “And Brother Justin, who has been filling the role of Combat Master, will take the place of Paz.  He will be elevated soon, perhaps the first Master elevated in the New Age.”

I nodded.  Justin was one of my peers, and had filled in admirably instructing the arts of combat.  He would indeed make a fine Master.

“You will lead our order, Daniel, and you will lead it well.”  His withered hand applied a mild squeeze to my shoulder.  “You are the brightest, so we have said since you were a child, do you know this?”

I remained silent.

“Yes, then,” he said with a wink. “We have long said it, and we said it because it is true: you are the brightest of us all.  But at times, I fear you may be too smart for your own good.  In the matter of these signs and portents, you must be careful not to outsmart yourself.

“I don’t understand.”

“Daniel, we believe these signs were to mark your ascension,” Sebelle said.

I considered this.

Timeon looked down his nose at me.  “Think hard, Daniel.  You are to ascend today, and you are to lead our order into the new age. It is you who will make the pilgrimage, you who will stand at the Eye of Stone and observe the signs, you who will be the very first to know the Lords choice in the Godsmoot, something which has not happened for a thousand years.”

I nodded, silently.

“When the seven crows landed, and the seven chimes rang, and you stood in front of all the rest, marked by the Lords themselves, all in our order knew: you will lead us into a new Age.  You have been chosen, even before you have been chosen.”  Timeon stood, and walked back to his chair.

“When the Apprentices ask, tell them, Daniel,” Sebelle said.  “Signs and portents must not go ignored.”

I had the distinct feeling I was being dismissed, so I stood.  “Yes, Matron,” I said, keeping my reservations to myself.

“Take an early midday meal today, Daniel,” Sebelle said.  “Then remain in secluded prayer in one of the naves until it is time.”

“Will the Ascension take place there?” I asked.

“No!” Timeon said, sounding perturbed.  “No, it will take place in the second chapel.” By this he meant the largest of the indoor chapels. “All of our order must be there, to witness you become a Master.  Then tomorrow, all will see you off at the gate to the hidden road.  Every member of this order must know they are seeing the making of destiny.”

I was not entirely comfortable with these terms, but I bowed.  “Yes, Master.”

I turned and left, but continued to consider their words long after I had gone.  You have been chosen, even before you have been chosen.  Signs and portents must not go ignored.

I had a glimmer of understanding of Master Timeon’s words when I attempted to request only a small simple plate for my mid-day meal.  I asked the young initiate cook for something simple, expecting a crust of bread, perhaps some butter, a few small potatoes at the most.  I had thought to take a small plate back to my chambers and eat it in silence before proceeding to the nave.  Instead, Brother Ben, the enormous Lay Brother who headed the kitchen staff emerged from the kitchen with a meal the likes of which I had never before eaten: piled high with legumes, carrots, potatoes, and several rolls of bread.  I could not have eaten all that in one meal, even had I wanted it in the first place.  Further, in the center of all this was something even more unexpected: a portion of salted meat, something we did not consume except on special occasions.  Ben then insisted that I sit in the refectory where he could personally oversee my meal and make sure all was satisfactory, and attend to my needs should I have any, which I can assure you I did not.

It was in my nature to decline this extravagant treatment, I cannot recall a time when any of the Masters was treated in this manner, only once can I recall such a thing: when a visitor came to our monastery from a nearby city, a dignitary of some sort.  I was only a boy, but I can still recall my mouth watering at the sight of the roasted lamb he was served.  I was no dignitary, I was only a Journeyman of our order, and it felt wrong to me to be served more food than most in our order will ever eat.  But as I looked at the faces of Brother Ben and the other Lay Brothers of the kitchens, as well as the few Monks who had come to the refectory for an early midday meal as I had, I saw the truth of Master Timeon’s words.  They had seen the hand of the Lords in the events of this morning, and saw me as some kind of figure of destiny, the one to lead them into a new Age.  Signs and portents must not go ignored.

Even so, I protested in my own way, asking that the boys and girls from the kitchen sit with me, and share in what I could not eat.  Brother Ben made an attempt at refusal, but I overcame it and insisted.  Being a figure of destiny must be worth something, after all.  And so I sat to my midday meal in the refectory, surrounded by children who were used to cleaning cups and plates and fetching water from the well.  We said a prayer to the Seven Lords, and then we laughed and told stories to each other and shared the enormous feast together.  In the end, I got exactly what I wanted: a crust of bread, a bit of butter, and a few potatoes.  In the smiles of those children, I got far more than one man could ever want in a lifetime.  This was the end of my life as a Journeyman Monk, and as endings go, it is the best for which I could have hoped.

I spent the next few hours in silent prayer in one of the naves.  These are very small, carved out of one of the deeper mountain areas of the monastery, with just enough room to light a candle, and kneel before the shrine, and pray.  There are shrines to each of the Seven Lords within our monastery, and on impulse I knelt before the shrine to the Lord of Day, feeling that perhaps the light he sent me at dawn had been a sign, that his light would shine down on the secrets of this day, and bring them into the open.

Sometime during my prayer, I received a vision.

My eyes were closed, head bent in obeisance to the Lord of Day, when I saw again the chapel, the Brothers and Sisters, the posts in the inner wall.  I saw Matron Sebelle as she greeted me, and then the Apprentices.  I saw Master Timeon take his place by the door to the courtyard.  I saw the black wings of the crows, heard the sound as they scraped the bench and walls with their beaks.  I saw the eyes of the last crow as it flapped down to land before me.  I heard the chime of the bell, the flapping of their wings as the startled birds took flight.  I saw again the look on Sebelle’s face, the surprise there.  Then, something I had not seen before, just to her left: I saw an empty seat next to her at the wall.

My eyes opened, and I knew.

“Thank you, my Lord,” I said, and blew out the candle.

“Brother Daniel,” said a voice.  It was Brother Fergus, come to fetch me.  “It’s time,” he said.

“Thank you, Brother.”

I followed Fergus to the second chapel, a fairly large indoor chapel carved on the same level as the other chapels and naves.  People lined the halls, as there was not enough room to fit everyone in the indoor chapels.  The room was packed wall to wall, but I made my way down a thin passage which the Brothers and Sisters made, opening the way to me.  The wooden lectern had been removed, and there stood Timeon and Sebelle, waiting for me.  I felt several claps on the back as I passed, the hardest from Brother Orly.  “Well done, Daniel!  Well done,” he said, for which I took his hand and thanked him.  His was a kind soul, which I try to remember at least as often as I think of the chore I had rousing him from slumber every morning.  Finally, I took my place with the Masters.

I will not recite the entire ceremony; that would only serve to bore you.  Suffice it to say that Timeon spoke eloquently of my time in the order and my service to the Lords.  Sebelle, too, had much to say of my knowledge and attentive service to the keeping of the days.  It went on a little too long, in my opinion, but eventually they came round to the matter at hand.  A string of beads was produced, the symbol of Mastery, from which hung the pendant that represented our order: the circle of the New World, with an eye at its center, surrounded by seven suns.  I bowed, and Timeon placed the beads around my neck.  The Monks applauded then, quite surprisingly, a sound which to be quite honest I do not believe I have ever heard, before or since.  I smiled, but no emotion reached me in that moment, to my eternal shame.  The quiet tears I wept later at the gift of their magnanimity should have been shared with them.

My thoughts at the time were of Master Timeon and Matron Sebelle, standing next to me, beaming with pride.  My Masters had lied to me; I knew that now.  They had somehow engineered their “signs and portents”.  Now I was their equal, a Master myself, and with the help of the Lords of Day and Night, I intended to learn how they had done it.

I had one night to do so, for tomorrow I must leave my home, and walk the many leagues to the Eye of Stone.

NEXT: MYSTERY BY NIGHT

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(c)opyright 2013 by J. David Clarke

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