Wednesday, 30 November 2011

The story continues: Chapter 1 The Monk

Thelonius the monk paused in the act of bending down to pick up the fallen lemons. He had just come to the small lemon grove, checking on his way on the goats grazing the sparse hillside. It was midday, the sun high in the sky and unrelenting, but here in the grove there was a little shade. But something made him pause. Something nibbling at the edge of his consciousness. He shook his head and shook away the sense that there was something about to happen. What could happen, here in this remote spot, this remote monastery. Perhaps Brother Michael would surprise them all with dinner tonight, he chuckled to himself, and continued gathering the fallen lemons into the small basket he had brought for the purpose. It was a short walk back to the main monastery building, but between here and there was the stone dairy. A small stream rose from a spring within the dairy, and the water would be cool. He would stop in there, and take a long drink of cold water to quench his thirst.

As he passed back over the hillside towards the dairy, two or three of the goats came up, and nuzzled him, affectionately. He was fond of the goats. They had some character, and individuality, not like the silly sheep. Ah well. They needed both. What little meat they had was provided to them by these affectionate goats and silly sheep.

He ducked his head low to enter the shady, whitewashed dairy building. Placing the basket of lemons on the stone shelf beside the spring, he picked up the wooden cup, and scooped cold water from the square, shallow pool built around the spring to capture the rising water. Thelonius liked this place. It was generally quiet, except just after milking. It was cool. It offered some small solitude. Strange that in such an isolated place, and with so few of them living together here in this community, he would still crave solitude.

Sighing to himself, Thelonius turned and ducked again under the low door frame to leave the dairy. As he walked away, something again pulled at his consciousness, and he turned and scanned the horizon. It was as if he could hear something in the distance, but yet there was no sound. Chiding himself for his folly, he walked on.

Just as he reached the walls of the monastery, and the small gate into the enclosed vegetable garden, he realised that he had left the basket of lemons, sitting on the shelf in the dairy. This forgetfulness was getting worse, and he gently chastised himself as he retraced his steps back to the dairy. His eyes moved almost automatically to the horizon, once more..... - and -  this time - there, in the shimmering haze of undergrowth, at the edge of the Eastern Wastelands - there was - something. A shadowy, indistinct shape. Was it an animal? Should he sound the alarm, and start gathering the scattered sheep and goats into safety? No, it loooked too vertical, almost like a person. Not a person, it was too small. Almost like a child. A child? Impossible. A child, approaching the monastery from the eastern wastelands? No.

Slowly, Thelonius began to walk towards the still distant figure, his mind racing. There were no settlements nearby, nowhere a child could have wandered away from. Not a small child, no this was a boy, he could see now. A boy not yet approaching manhood, but not a small child. He knew little of children, but this boy might be ten, or maybe twelve years of age? Still the slim shape of a child. The boy stepped forward towards him, almost as if in a daze, staring straight ahead. They were still some fifty paces apart, when the boy's striding pace faltered. As if the breath had left his body, he suddenly crumpled onto the thorny ground.

Thelonius began to run towards the shape on the ground. Reaching him, he saw that the boy carried only a pumpkin shell water bottle, and as the cork was handing on its leather thong beside the bottle, it appeared the bottle was empty. Lifting the boy, he could hear his shallow breathing, and feel the heat radiating from the small, thin body. Half walking, half running, Thelonius made his way down to the monastery gate, with the all but lifeless boy in his arms. Pushing open the gate, he saw Brother Thomas bent over in the vegetable garden. "Brother Thomas" he shouted. Thomas stood, turned, then dropped the trowel in his hand, and ran to Thelonius. His mouth opened and questions began to spill out. "Not now." Thelonius whispered. " Let's get him inside".

Together, the two elderly men carried the limp form of the boy into the shady interior. From its depths , the bell for the midday meal sounded; normal monastery life. But something extraordinary had happened. A strange boy had walked into their lives, from that wasteland to the East where nobody went.

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