Chapter 3 Rafael Leaves the Monastery

This is a continuation of a longer story. For those not familiar with the story so far, please read the posts:

 "The Start" at,
Chapter 1, "Thelonius The Monk",
Chapter  1 continued "The Monk",
and Chapter 2 "Tom's Journey"

Chapter 3 – Rafael Leaves the Monastery

Day followed day, and slowly, Rafael’s health improved. He began to grow familiar with the strange, slow routines of monastery life. And slowly, he began to grow familiar with Thelonius too. As the boy’s strength returned, he started to follow the monk around as he undertook his daily tasks. They spoke little, but gradually, an ease developed between them, between the man who had lived in this isolated spot for so many years, and the boy who remembered nothing outside the beautiful palace.

Rafael began to grow comfortable – but he knew he could not stay here. The dreams were back, reminding him that he must travel west, must find the other boy. It sounded too crazy to speak of this, though, so for many days, he simply lived and grew strong again inside the slow rhythms and silences of the monastery.
Finally, a day came when he felt he must speak to Thelonius, tell him of these strange dreams and the strange pull to the west. They were in the garden, Thelonius digging a fresh bed, Rafael sitting in the shade of a small tree. Rafael was unsure how to start.

“I want to talk to you about something”, he said eventually. “Something important.” Thelonius looked up at him, and then bent again to his digging. “It is part of the rule that we do not speak between mealtimes. But sometimes, I think, the rule was made to be broken. In any event, I think I shall be listening more than speaking. So go ahead”.

Taking a deep breath, Rafael began. “All I know is the palace. I don’t remember a life before the palace, although the cook told me I was brought there as a young child, maybe three or four years old? I’m a slave. I WAS a slave. That sounds terrible, but actually, you know, it wasn’t so bad. The palace is a beautiful place. You cannot begin to imagine how beautiful the courtyard is in the early morning sun, with the birds in their cages beginning to sing. The palace is the only home I know.” Rafael stopped speaking, as, to his surprise; he found a lump forming in his throat. Thelonius glanced up at him, and then again bent his head to his digging. “It must feel strange to not be there anymore” he commented. “Yes.” Rafael replied. “Strange. I don’t really believe it in a way. Nobody leaves the palace. Nobody. Well, no slaves, anyway. People come, new slaves arrive, but nobody leaves.” He paused again. “Anyway, I started to have dreams. The same dreams, over and over. In them, in these dreams, there is a boy; he lives somewhere very different, in a dark city, a grey city. The buildings in this place are all black and grey, not pink like my palace. I don’t know who he is, or where this place is, but in my dreams, I know that I must find him, that there is something we must do together.”

Rafael stopped, feeling foolish. Now that he had spoken the words out loud, they seemed to make no sense. He had been staring at the ground in front of his feet; now he looked towards the monk. Thelonius was still, slowly and methodically, turning the soil. He said nothing. He said nothing for several minutes. Then he said. “Perhaps later, we can go to the library. There are many old books there. Maybe we can try to find a picture of the place you dream of”.

Rafael took a deep breath. “That’s not all. I also dream of a hot place, with small bushes and trees, and goats grazing, and stones standing on a hill. The stones were put there long ago. I know that’s where I have to go.”

Neither said anything for a long time. When the bell rang for the midday meal, they silently went inside, and silently ate the simple meal of soup and bread.

After lunch, Thelonius approached the librarian, Brother Jacob, and quietly asked permission to bring the boy to the library. The library was the monastery’s greatest treasure. Gathered here, a treasury of books, some illustrated, others not. With some suspicion, Brother Jacob grudgingly gave the key to the room to Thelonius, and the monk and the boy made their way deep into the heart of the monastery, where the library lay, protected from any potential dangers.

Rafael had never seen books before. He could not read. But Thelonius patiently opened one illustrated book after another, hoping there may be something in them that the boy recognised. As he turned pages of books showing the geography of the world, and its people, Rafael’s head span. He had not realised how big this world was. His imagination had been unable to go past first the palace and the Western wastelands, and now this monastery and collection of silent men. Tears formed in his eyes, and he raised his head, eyes glistening, to Thelonius. “The world is too big. I can’t do this. I don’t know what I’m doing, or why. Please – can you forget I spoke? Can I just stay here with you? I can work in the garden, I can work in the fields, I can tend the animals. Please. Forget I said anything.”

Thelonius sighed deeply. He had grown more than fond of this boy, and would love nothing better than for Rafael to stay here, to join them in the order, join the slow rhythm of monastery life. He also knew he had grown attached to the boy, and attachment was against the Rule. “No more for today”, he said. “But I believe in your dreams, and believe you have a task to do. We’ll speak again, when you feel stronger.”

Looking stricken and rejected, Rafael nodded quickly, swallowed his tears, and followed Thelonius out of the room. Carefully, Thelonius locked the door; the two then found Brother Jacob and returned the key to his safekeeping.
They had just returned to their work in the garden, Rafael sitting under the tree, Thelonius stooping and digging. In the distance, a low rumbling began. Thelonius glanced at the sky. Thunder? No, no sign of a storm. He stood and walked to the gate and passing through the gate, up to the top of the low rise, from where he would have a better view in all directions. The rumble came from the North. Far on the horizon, at the base of the foothills, a cloud of dust was rising. Panic rose in Thelonius throat with the dust. Panic and fear. Horsemen from the north were never good news. They swept through, leaving destruction in their waking, taking what they wanted, slaying anyone in their path. As if in slow motion, he began to run, shouting to the boy, “run, run, run”. Together, they ran back into the garden, stopping to bolt the gate behind them. It wouldn’t hold long, but might buy them a minute or two.
“Brothers, horsemen from the north” Thelonius screamed at the top of his voice. “Run, hide, run”. The monks scattered to their various hiding places. Raids like this were few and far between, once every ten years perhaps. But they were so terrible, so devastating, every monk had his place to hide; some would survive, some would be found and slaughtered. Thelonius reached the door to the cellar, and pushed Rafael down the steps, locking him in and pocketing the key. Then he ran to his own hiding place, a concealed shelf at the back of the pantry. He listened, trying to control his ragged, panicked breathing, as the Northmen stormed through the kitchens, gathering all they could, and destroying all they could not take. He listened as they swung their axes into the cellar door, and ran down the steps in their heavy boots. He listened to the boy’s terrified cries as they found him, and pulled him up the steps. He listened, heart thudding, to their cruel laughter, as they pushed and touched the boy, deciding what to do with him. Finally, he listened in horror as they dragged the weeping boy out of the kitchens. Hanging his head in shame, he wished he were a brave man, that he had the courage to leap out of his hiding place and defend the boy, try, however uselessly, to save him. They hadn’t killed him. That was something. They had taken him, though. They had taken him. Rafael was gone.