Thursday, June 13, 2013

Encoded Vellum: Part 6

by Jeff Chapman

The Abbot paused his monologue, apparently lost in some winding corridor of thought. The older brothers shared this habit of stopping in the middle of discussions to think. Sebastian found these pauses annoying. A life of prayer and contemplation no doubt diminished one’s sense of urgency.

Sebastian could suppress his curiosity no longer. “And what was that extraordinary event?”

“Your question suggests that something turned the course of his life, like an unexpected comet cutting across a ship’s course. But wouldn’t you say deciphering the Lord’s message is a type of puzzle, the greatest of all puzzles?”

Sebastian paused to consider the wording of his response, how to disagree with the Abbot. “I suppose his messages are sometimes cryptic to the uninitiated, but I don’t believe the Lord wants to hide anything from us.”

“Not hide. Not conceal. But the Lord expects us to struggle to answers and the struggle, which might last a lifetime, may be more valuable than the answer, for it is in the struggle that we find and achieve our purpose.”

Sebastian nodded, considering his own life--Christchurch, Trinity University, seminary, all of which had fallen into place. He had moved from one phase to another with the ease and certainty of a confident student following a well-lit and well-marked hallway to an exam for which he knew all the answers.

“You look pensive,” said the Abbot.

“I don’t believe I’ve encountered any such struggles. Either, forgive me for my bluntness, you are wrong or I am treading the wrong road.”

“Be patient,” said the Abbot. “You haven’t lived long enough. Now, back to the story of Brother Septimus.”

The Abbot drank several gulps from his glass of water. Depression clouded Sebastian’s judgment and he found his life’s journey wanting. How could he minister to anyone, exercise any sense of understanding and empathy? Patience did not number among his virtues.

“Like most young men, Brother Septimus was restless for adventure, eager to be part of something new. Dax and Macbane were organizing the first expeditions to Eclectia at the time. What ambitious young man would not leap at such adventure? At seventeen he had no skills, other than a quick mind and a persuasive tongue. Somehow he talked his way into a position on Macbane’s third expedition.”

“The third,” said Sebastian. “Wasn’t that...”

“Yes, the ship crashed in the vicinity of Mount Olympus during a dust storm. Septimus was one of the three who walked out of the hinterland to the coast. You might say he was the only survivor. The other two died of ash lung within months. The trek was a remarkable achievement without maps and only rudimentary knowledge of the land. I believe they were the first to discover that the bugs are edible. When Septimus returned to the Avenir, he enrolled to study for the priesthood.”

“Was he religious before his ordeal?”

“Not at all. He numbered among the young atheists, I believe.”

“What happened to him out in the desert?”

“We don’t know. The official report was lost in a core collapse and Brother Septimus wrote nothing else about it.” The Abbot turned toward the patient and the cryptic manuscript on the bedside table. “As far as we know.”

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