Monday, May 27, 2013

Encoded Vellum: Part 5

by Jeff Chapman -

Brother Peter stopped in the doorway. “Would a glass of water refresh you, Brother Anthony? I’m afraid Brother Sebastian is in for a very long story.”

“Not as long as you think,” said the Abbot. “But, yes, a glass of water would be most kind.”

“I live to serve.” The director dipped his head in a bow so shallow and quick that only a member of the order would have remarked it. Displays of humility permeated the daily life of the order. One could tell a novice, the brothers joked, by the depth of his bow.

The Abbot lowered his head as he twisted his neck to look at the patient. The movement puffed out the Abbot’s jowls, adding another curve to the roundness of his corpulent form. The stubble from black and white whiskers peppered his chin and neck which sheened with sweat. His lips moved in silent prayer.

Much of the literature brought from Earth on the Avenir had been lost in the core collapses, with one particularly notable exception: a folder of English stories including Robinson Crusoe; Moll Flanders; A Journal of the Plague Year; King Lear; Macbeth; fragments of A Midsummer Night’s Dream; and a number of other works. Sebastian had read them all again and again and marvelled that such an alien world had ever existed except in man’s fancy. Among those literary castaways survived the story of Robin Hood. Friar Tuck came to mind whenever Sebastian passed the Abbot clicking through the halls with his staff. Friar Tuck wielded his stout stick as a weapon. Could Abbot Anthony do the same? Sebastian grinned.

“You are amused, Brother Sebastian?”

“No.” The medico resumed the stony countenance he thought befitting a monk and physician. His work bore grave consequences, and the more serious his demeanour, the more confidence patients would place in his pronouncements.  “I was thinking of something else.”

“Hmm. We shall see.”

Another reproach or no? To Sebastian, the Abbot seemed to talk on some elevated plane within a context Sebastian only vaguely understood. He found the Abbot’s occasional homilies impossible to follow though others talked for days of their brilliant subtlety.

The Abbot inhaled three times, each breath deeper than the last, filling up his lungs, it appeared, as a balloon, in preparation for a long talk. His cheeks trembled with each exhalation. The younger brothers considered the Abbot’s longevity a miracle, and Sebastian tended to agree.

“What I know,” began the Abbot, “is only hearsay from brothers long dead.” He crossed himself, blessing their souls. Sebastian did likewise. “Our lives are not worthy of veneration except our works of charity and devotion in service to God and others. Even the portraits of the former abbots are cause for debate.”

Sebastian nodded in agreement.

“But I think some connection to the past is necessary or we are lost, adrift on a river of which we know not the source.”

Sebastian found himself again nodding, agreeing with the opposite view and feeling a fool.

Brother Peter entered bearing the Abbot’s water. “The meeting is arranged immediately prior to evening prayers. We may push back the start of dinner to accommodate.”

“Very good, Peter.”

“Abbot Anthony is a font of wisdom,” said the director to Sebastian. “Take note and listen carefully.” Brother Peter looked back and winked as he passed out of the room. Whether he winked at the Abbot or Sebastian, Sebastian could not tell.

“Brother Septimus was a very bright young man,” said the Abbot. “Extremely fond of puzzles. As a teenager he twice won the Avenir’s crossword competition and excelled at mathematics and cryptography. He might have been a so-called wizard. I see you nodding. Yes.” The Abbot glanced at the manuscript on the bedside table. “He has left us a puzzle to solve.”

“Something extraordinary must have happened to him,” said Sebastian. “To draw him to our life.”

“As with all of us,” answered the Abbot.

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