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

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FOUR

MYSTERY BY NIGHT

 

I awoke from dreams troubled by the wings of crows.  The fear I had not felt during Morning Prayer had at last arrived, and I trembled in my bunk, despite my knowledge that this portent was no more sent by the gods than Brother Orly’s snoring from the next bunk had been.  The darkness was absolute.  You may believe you have seen darkness, in remote areas where there is no torchlight or candles, on a cloudy night.  I assure you, you have not seen true darkness until you have been inside a place carved into a mountain.  There is quite literally no light in the cloister at night that is not brought by man or woman.  I slid aside my coverlet, and slipped my feet into my shoes.  Rather than wander the halls in my nightclothes, I slipped out of them and put on my robes.  I had no fear of waking Orly, so there was no need for stealth.  Next, I found matches in the drawer of the small table between our bunks and lit a candle, which I placed in a lantern.

I felt somewhat foolish preparing a lantern for myself, as I technically had no need of it to walk the halls.  Anabel and I had crept from the cloister in absolute darkness, with nothing to light our way.  We knew our way in these halls so well that no light was needed indoors, and once in the stables the moonlight over the valley was enough to see our way.  This night, however, I had need of light, to aid in my investigation.  I am no child sneaking out of bed, I reminded myself, I am a Master here, and I have questions that need answering.

My steps carried me first to the outdoor chapel, where Morning Prayer was held.  Soft moonlight shone down on it, illuminating the lectern and stone benches.  Once the moonlight struck me, I knew I had a duty to perform.  Setting my lantern aside, I went to my knees and bent forward, touching my forehead to the cool stone.  “Lord of Night,” I whispered, “hear my prayer.”  For though the Lord of Day had brought me my vision, and aided me in discovering the secrets of my Masters, it was with the help of the Lord of Night that I now sought to fully understand them.  Darkness is not so willing to yield secrets as daylight, only with the assistance of the Lord of Night himself could I hope to have success.

When my prayer was finished, I again stood, and took up my lantern.  I gazed out across the chapel, and closed my eyes.  The first two crows landed on the inner wall, on opposite sides.  I saw them, saw the exact places where they perched.  I stepped to the inner wall, and held up my lantern, shining on the wall where the first crow had stood.  There were scrapes and scratches in the stone.  Then I walked to the opposite side, and inspected it as well, finding the same.  The third landed directly above Matron Sebelle.  The rear wall of the chapel was too high to inspect, but I reached up my hand and gently touched the place where the crow had landed.  The fourth and fifth also landed on the wall.  The sixth landed on the stone bench behind Sister Patrice.  I moved to the bench, and peered closely at the back of the bench.  Again, I found the same scratches.

I knew, of course, precisely where the seventh had landed, as it had landed directly in front of me.  I walked to the lectern and inspected it as well.  I had witnessed the last bird scraping at the lectern with its beak myself; I had no need to confirm that.  However, the wood of the lectern held a clue where the stone walls and bench had not.  There, I thought, at last finding what I had sought.  There it is.

I now knew what had happened in the chapel, and more importantly, I knew who was responsible, and it was not one of the Lords, much less all seven.  Only one riddle remained.

I took spiral steps to the belfry, holding my lantern high.  I did not lose myself and run up the stair two and three steps at a time.  This was not a place to chance falling at night.  With the Lord of Night’s blessing though, I reached the top safely.  Opening the door, I stepped into the stone circle with the rope at its center, just as I had before.

I closed my eyes. Brother Wendol came behind me.  I looked to the windows, while he…

I looked this time not to the windows, but to the floor and walls.  Opposite the door, on the other side of the circle, was a column shape that curved inward.  I walked to the column, and set my lantern aside, removing the candle from within.  The diffuse light of the lantern would not help me here; I needed the sharper light of the open flame.  I held it to the edge of the column, examining it closely, running my fingers along its edge.  Nothing.  I started to turn, when the candle flame…wavered.  I held the candle closer to the edge where the column met the wall.  All along that edge the flame wavered.  Air moves here, where my eyes see only unbroken stone.

I replaced the candle in the lantern, and put my hands on the column.  I pulled and pushed, tried different positions, different angles, but try as I might, I could not move it.  A passage lay there, I was certain of it, but I could not discern how to open the door.  Someone did know, though, the very man who had stood here with me.

Brother Wendol awoke the moment I placed a hand on his shoulder.  By the light of the lantern, he saw my face.

“Wha- Daniel?” He wiped his eyes.  “What is it?  Is something wrong?”

“Very wrong, Brother.  I need you to come with me.”

Wendol glanced at the shuttered window, and saw no light creeping around the edges there.  “Can it wait until morning, Brother?”

I stood straight.  “Master. And no, it cannot. Put on your robe and come with me now, Brother.”

We made our way back to the belfry.  Once inside, I held the lantern to the column.  “Open it, Brother.”

“What are you talking about, Daniel?  Gods, it’s cold in the belfry at night.”

“When we came this morning, I was so busy looking out of the windows that I didn’t notice, but you passed behind me, in this very room.  You were checking to make sure he had closed the door solidly behind himself, concealing the passage.  Which he had, quite effectively.”

Wendol was silent.

“This belfry has been your sole domain for many years, Brother.  I have heard of secret passages through the stone, but until now I never knew they really existed.  You did know, however, and he had arranged this very scene with your help.”

“Daniel…”

“I am your Master now, Brother, and I order you to open the passage.”

“He never told me to lie,” Wendol said.  “He just said not to tell anyone.”

I nodded.

Brother Wendol went not for the column, but for the ropes.  He grasped both together and pulled down on both at once.  Each side would have rang the bell, but both at once?  There was an audible click, and the column moved, revealing a slim crack of blackness on the right edge of the column, where the stone had seemed to meet flawlessly.

I reached my fingers into the crevice, and widened it, turning the column to the left.  Holding my lantern up, I peered into the darkness, and saw a small stair leading down into the mountain.

“Come, Brother, and close the passage behind us.”

Wendol did as he was bid, following behind me.

“Where does it lead?” I asked, as we followed the small, thin stair.  It wound around a strange, irregular cut passage through the stone, angling down and down, deep into the mountain.

“The catacombs,” he said.

From our highest point to our lowest, I thought.  Interesting.

Down the stairway went, and still further down, until finally we arrived at a wooden door, with a small iron wheel set it its center.  I turned the wheel, and a latch lifted, allowing the door to open.  Lifting my lantern into the darkness beyond, I saw that Brother Wendol had indeed spoken true: these were the catacombs, where the Abbots and other Masters of old had been entombed, those closest to the divine and most initiated into the mysteries of our order.  I stepped out of the stairway, followed by Wendol, and closed the door behind him.

From here, the pieces fell together, for there were only two exits (three, I now knew) to the catacombs: the main entrance, which lay in the courtyard, and a small rear exit in the cloister, not far from where the spiral stair to the belfry began.

“He would have exited in the cloister,” I said.

Wendol nodded.  “This way,” he said, pointing down the tunnel to my left.

We proceeded, passing through the catacombs and the grooves cut into the stone walls, where Monks from prior ages lay resting.  Brass plates were mounted beneath each cubby, stamped with the name of the Monk within.  They say all of our names come from the names of these ancient men and women, but as I passed, I saw only strange names as always: Invictus, Theophilus, Dysenia, Caledon.  I had visited the catacombs many times, and had never seen a Daniel, look as I might.  Perhaps that is for the best.

As I followed Wendol, I thought I heard light footfalls behind me.  Once, I felt a breath on my shoulder.   I stopped, and turned the lantern behind; the tunnel was empty.

“Daniel,” Wendol called. I had left him in darkness.  He returned to my side.  “What are you doing?”

“I heard footfalls behind.”

“Gods, Daniel, don’t talk like that.  No one is here at this hour, except us.”

“We walk in the domain of the Lord of Night by his sufferance, and I have asked for his help.  He is with us.”

Wendol made the sign of the seven suns on his chest.

I turned back.  “Carry on,”

Wendol started, then stopped.  “Daniel? Master Daniel, I mean.”

“Yes?”

“Where the Lords walk, we cannot hear their steps.”

I nodded.

Wendol walked on, and I followed.

We came to the exit, and stepped into the cloister proper.  By comparison to the catacombs, these smooth cut walls of stone with their sconces and worn floors were a comfort indeed.  I closed the door behind us, but not before gazing into the darkness with my lantern one last time.  Wendol was right.

It was no god’s footfalls I heard that night.

NEXT: BLOOD AND METAL

http://wp.me/p2bQsE-54

(c)opyright 2013 by J. David Clarke

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