Nature’s beauty dies.
The day dawns when the nautilus is no more.
The rainbow passes, the flower fades, the mountain crumbles, the star is no more.
But beauty in mathematics – the divine proportion, the golden rectangle,
Spira mirabilis – endures for evermore.
– H. E. Huntley, The Divine Proportion
There are those who embrace religion as the expression of the life of the spirit. They recognize and accept its doctrines and practices as mere representations of that which, having no material form or function, nonetheless is an integral part of one’s being. Their participation in its disciplines has the effect of enlarging their hearts and expanding their capacity for mercy, truth, and justice. There are others, however, for whom the practice of a religion only serves to nurture a secret self. Their religion brings bondage rather than liberty and blindness rather than sight. Father Caril’s mother, Lady Irmtraud, was of the latter sort. Her Christian beliefs fed her deepest fears of unworthiness. Its practices were for her the means of relegating others to hell in the hope that it would reach its capacity and not have room for her. Elbert’s mother, the Lady Sarai, was also in the same camp as Lady Irmtraud, but it was not fear of a wrathful God that was her prime addiction to religion; it was pride. Lady Sarai hungered after a high rank in the church hierarchy—a lofty position from which she could feel justified in despising the undeserving masses.
Lady Sarai, wife of Lord Ethelred of Kent, was descended from an ancient and noble house of lords. Her father, Lord Varyk, was the king’s private counselor. It was he that had arranged her marriage to Lord Ethelred. At the time, she was but fifteen and had no knowledge of her future husband save that he was destined to be one of the ruling lords of Albion and that his heritage traced back to the first Christian ruler of Albion, Lord Ethelbert of the Jutes. Lord Ethelred’s religious ancestry weighed more heavily in his favor than the crown of Albion. She entered into the marriage with visions of ruling the Christian world by his side; alas, in this she was bitterly disappointed. Ethelred, despite his heritage, had little interest in the church and did nothing to advance his standing in it. Thwarted in her attempts to secure her husband’s position as a lay leader, Lady Sarai determined to see her ambitions realized in her son, Elbert.
Thus from an early age, Elbert was steeped in the history, the doctrines, and the practices of the Church. He knew his catechism by the time he reached the age of four and was able to read the Latin texts of the liturgy by the age of seven. When the other sons of the nobles were learning riding, swordsmanship, and heraldry, Elbert was learning about the church fathers and reading the works of Augustine of Hippo. Elbert’s father, Lord Ethelred, interfered as much as possible but it was difficult to gainsay the determined aspirations of his wife. He looked forward to the day when Prince Rhino came of age, and Elbert would be removed from Lady Sarai’s influence.
When he was very young, Elbert was fascinated with the gospels and the stories of Jesu, the Christ. He loved hearing about the miracles Jesu performed and wished that he could have been there to witness them himself. Whether it was healing the sick, giving sight to the blind, calming the storm, or even raising the dead—all were evidence of bringing order into chaos. One of his favorite passages of scripture was from the book of Isaiah the prophet:
“The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me
to preach good tidings to the poor; he has sent me to heal the brokenhearted,
to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to those who are bound.
To give them beauty for ashes, oil of joy for mourning and the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness.”
Impressionable child that he was, Elbert dreamed of a day when he, too, could work such wonders and bring beauty into the world. For this was how religion touched the heart of Elbert. He loved the Christian faith, not out of fear or pride but because it represented beauty and order. In the church, with its established liturgy, its symbolic architecture, and its prescribed disciplines, Elbert found the answer to his deepest desire for design and structure. He spent many happy hours reflecting on the number patterns he found on the altar, in the nave, on the ceiling and wall panels and in the statues. He saw in the miracles of Christ the power to bring the beauty of perfection to an imperfect world. His heart yearned to walk among the poor, the outcasts, and the needy and restore them to a well-ordered humanity. However, when Elbert tried in his childlike way to express his feelings to his mother, he met with her disapproval.
“Elbert,” she said, “it is not for someone of your position to concern yourself with the poor. They are created that way by God and must accept his divine will for their lives as you must accept it for your life.”
“But, Mother, did not Jesu himself walk and live among them? Was not he himself poor, born in a stable of animals?”
His mother was aghast. “We do not speak of such things. To think of the Son of God as a man is irreverent. He is Spirit and must be worshiped in such a manner. Now go to the chapel this instant and say the rosary for your penance.”
That conversation took place ten years ago. His mother’s words came to mind as Elbert made the journey Kent with his brothers. He knew that he had changed in the nine months since he had last seen his mother, but he doubted that she had. If anything, he imagined her more set in her ways and more determined to see him elevated in rank and power. Elbert wondered what her reaction would be if she knew all that he had been doing since he left London. Working in the brine pits, feeding sheep and cattle, cleaning fish, mucking out stables, and hauling debris from the mines were not the sort of activities Lady Sarai had imagined for her son. And what would she think of his brothers? Elbert involuntarily glanced at his companion. What would his mother make of Wilfred?
Elbert found himself approaching the family estate with trepidation. Sir Arlan had made it manifestly clear that they were not yet worthy of the title of “lord.” No doubt he had another lowly and disagreeable task in mind for their further training. His father, he knew, would accept anything Sir Arlan required, having experienced it himself; it would be much more difficult for his mother to honor the dictates of a man whom she clearly thought of as a subordinate. Elbert fervently wished that she would not embarrass him in front of his brothers. He had met the other mothers—Lady Mariam, Lady Elspeth, Lady Rhowena, and Queen Ethelyn. They were so unobtrusive that Elbert had only a vague, general impression of soft voices, the rustle of dresses, wafts of perfume, and regal faces. If only Lady Sarai would be equally content to remain a quiet figure in the background!
After four days of travel, Rhino, Trevor, Skandar, Wilfred, and Elbert busied themselves exploring the castle and grounds of Lord Ethelred, Lord of Kent. That night after supper, the boys gathered in Elbert’s room.
“I say, Elbert, this is some place,” said Wilfred. “Look at the size of your room. We could have a grand battle in here.”
Wilfred waved his arms expansively, indicating the dimensions of Elbert’s apartment. Elbert blushed. His mother would see that his room was the largest. Trevor noticed Elbert’s obvious discomfort.
“Was this your room before?” he asked. “I can imagine it is rather nice to be back in your own bed after all these months. Whoever arranged this was very thoughtful. In fact, I am finding the accommodations exceed my expectations. Was this your mother’s doing? If so, we should all express our thanks.”
“I’m all for that,” said Wilfred, “especially the meals. What a feast that was!”
“We have been treated as honored guests at every home,” he said. “It makes such a contrast to the work that we have been doing. I wonder what Sir Arlan has in store for us during our stay here.”
“Well, here’s a hint of it. What is the nastiest, smelliest, most back-breaking, and bone-chilling task you can think of?” asked Skandar. “That’s what we’ll be doing.”
“Cleaning up after the pig slaughter!”
“Cleaning pig’s feet!”
“Cleaning pig’s noses!”
Each new suggestion resulted in peals of laughter.
“Teaching pigs to clean their own noses!”
The list went on. Outside the door, Lady Sarai stood listening with a frown on her face. The young heathens, she thought. She noticed that a priest had accompanied them. Lady Sarai resolved to speak with him first thing in the morning with regards to the brothers’ religious training.
The next morning, the brothers were seated in Lord Ethelred’s immense library waiting for Sir Arlan to arrive. Row upon row of books, in both scroll and codex form, were stretched from floor to ceiling. The boy’s were impressed, even Wilfred for whom reading was a non-preferred activity.
“Elbert,” he said, “havin’s all these books about makes a fellow want to read just to say he’d done it. Where did they all come from? Books are powerful rare and costly, ain’t they?”
“These books represent the work of many generations over hundreds of years.” Lord Ethelred answered, entering the room. “It has been the charge of each succeeding lord to add to the collection. I have done my duty; the task will fall to Elbert when he inherits the title and the estate.”
“If you please, my lord, how does one go about finding such treasure?” asked Rhino.
“Many of my resources are the monasteries established by the Irish monk, Columcille. Under his direction, his band of White Martyrs fanned across Ireland, Scotland, Albion, Normandy, and Brittany founding monasteries that serve as repositories of knowledge. It is of some significance that just days before Columcille died, my ancestor, Lord Ethelbert converted to Christianity. The name of Ethelbert opens many doors in the ecclesiastical world.”
The boys were prevented from asking further questions by the entrance of Sir Arlan. He strode purposefully into the library, followed by a short stout man with an enormous white beard, fierce eyebrows, and a high brow. His head was completely bald. The boys looked at him in astonishment; he was a monk! His face was weathered and wrinkled, indicating a life spent in the sun, but his hands told a different tale. Long and supple they were, crowned with delicately tapering fingers. These were not the hands of a laborer.
“Lads, this is your new instructor, Brother Simon, from the monastery at Gastonbury. He is going to teach you about art.” Sir Arlan indicated the man at his side.
Art! The silence that followed this pronouncement was filled with inward sounds of dismay, doubt, and delight.
“No pigs?” asked Wilfred hopefully.
That morning, Lady Sarai and Father Caril were having a private a tete-a-tete. They were seated in a small parlor that Lady Sarai used for private gatherings. t was separated from the main wing of the house by the kitchen and a small cloakroom. Lady Sarai chose this place to ensure no one could overhear the conversation. Father Caril gave her a brief account of the boys’ travels from the time they left London until the present. To say that she was dismayed by what she heard would underestimate the depth of Lady Sarai’s displeasure. To think that her son would toil like a common peasant was appalling; the thought was beyond her comprehension. Her husband, Lord Ethelred, had never seen fit to share with his wife the details of the training he had undergone when he had come of age, thus she had formed a romanticized ideal of chivalry, heraldry, court manners, and lofty discussions of the Holy Scriptures. She feared her carefully taught ideals would be tossed aside in the face of practical realities.
Father Caril could easily read Lady Sarai’s fear and the source of pride that stoked it. He saw it as an opportunity to play to his advantage. Ever since their sojourn in Wales, the brothers had formed an impenetrable bond against him that thwarted every effort of his to gain entrance into their thoughts. Without knowing what they were thinking, he was operating in the dark in terms of gaining the advantage of influence. He was beginning to feel desperation at his tenuous position. In a few months, the brothers would be back in London, where his hold on them would diminish altogether. If the priest could play the mother’s pride to his advantage, perhaps the time spent in Kent would be profitable after all. For the time being, he would present a sympathetic face and speak soothing words.
“I am sure, my lady, that any rough habits acquired on their travels can be smoothed away by constant and steady devotion to the teachings of the church; that is, if it is allowed.”
At his words, Lady Sarai started and lifted her chin.
“Why do you suppose it would not be allowed? Here of all places, the teachings of the church are honored and upheld. It displeases me to hear you suggest otherwise.”
“My lady, please forgive my offense. I meant none to you or your house.” Father Caril coughed discreetly.
“If I may be so bold,” he continued, “I have not always been given adequate time with your son and his brothers for the purpose of religious instruction. It seems that Sir Arlan always has something else that takes precedence. My hope is that here, in this monument of the great Christian convert, Lord Ethelbert, the teachings of the Church will be given the preeminence.”
Lady Sarai answered, “I can assure you, Father Caril, that I will do all in my power to see that your desire is accomplished. Sir Arlan may be in charge of the young lords’ training, but he must know his place and not presume above it.”
“It was Pythagoras who first discovered the Golden Ratio one day while playing on a monochord, which is a box with a string on it (like a lute with one string.) By sliding the bridge up and down and plucking the string, he found he could create various tones. But the curious thing is, when he placed the bridge so that it divided the string into two-fifths and three-fifths, the two strings plucked together created a harmonious tone known as the perfect fifth.”
Brother Simon was lecturing as Trevor, Elbert, Skandar, Rhino, and Wilfred were laboring at the task he had assigned them: Divide a line drawn in the sand so that the ratio of the larger segment to the smaller segment was the same as the ratio of the entire line to the larger segment. As the boys sweated under the sun, drawing and redrawing the lines in the sand, there was some whispered grumbling.
(“I thought we were going to learn about art.”)
(“This is a waste of time…Trevor, watch your hand!”)
(“Just because you can’t do it…”)
(“Can we suggest working with pigs instead?”)
(“When we’re done with this, we’ll have to draw pigs.”)
There was muffled laughter. If Brother Simon heard it, he gave no indication of it as he continued his lecture.
“Pythagoras concluded that this particular ratio was inherent in all great works of musical, physical, and mathematical beauty. If you were to count the successive rows of a pinecone and take the ratio of one row to the next, you would find the ratios approach the Golden Ratio. If you were to measure the length of a person’s arm and the length of his body, the ratio of the body to the arm would approach the Golden Ratio. In fact, you can find instances of the Golden Ratio throughout all of nature. All is ratio and proportion. In our eyes, that is what gives the appearance of beauty. Well, then, let’s look at what you have done.”
Brother Simon walked about the sand pit, looking from one drawing to the next, commenting as he inspected their work.
“Nicely done, Rhino; you seem to have a fine perspective. Skandar, your divisions are a decent first attempt. Wilfred, you were instructed to divide your line into two segments, not three. Trevor…is this what you call a line? It looks more like a curve that wandered off and got lost. And what is this? Elbert, this is your work? This is approaching perfection. Have you studied art prior to this?”
“No, Brother Simon,” Elbert replied.
“But this is amazing! How, pray tell, did you accomplish it?”
Elbert looked uncomfortable, especially since by now the other boys were crowded about his drawing.
“I really don’t know,” he said. “It just seemed reasonable to make the division here, at this point.”
“My dear boy, however it came about, it is impressive. I think you are ready for the next task. Draw a square and then draw a line inside and parallel to one side of the square to form a large and a small rectangle. Then draw a line through smaller rectangle and perpendicular to the first line. The size of the square is irrelevant. However, the lines must be drawn so that the ratio of the dimensions of two smaller rectangles is the same as the ratio of the dimensions of the larger rectangle. You two (indicating Rhino and Skandar) may do so also.”
So Elbert, Rhino, and Skandar began the second task. Trevor and Wilfred were instructed to continue their work on the line. After a while, Brother Simon was satisfied with the day’s work and called for an end. Before he dismissed them, he gave them a final task.
“Lads, I want you to look for patterns of numbers in the things you see around you—the leaves on a tree, the veins in a leaf, the petals in a flower, the pebbles in a stream, the spiral in a sea shell, to name a few. Study your face, your eyes, your nose, your mouth, and your ears. Look at spatial differences and see whether there is a pattern. If something catches your eye as beautiful, ask yourself why and look for evidence of the Golden Ratio. All is ratio and proportion.”
Back in the privacy of his room, Elbert locked his door and then went to the wall behind his bed. He knelt on the floor and with a small knife prised off one of the panels, revealing a small cubbyhole. He reached inside and pulled out a leather case. Carefully opening its cover, Elbert removed a sheaf of parchment. As he looked over the pieces of parchment, one by one, his eyes filled with tears. Here was beauty and structure. It was inside him all this time, and he never knew what it was. His heart blessed Brother Simon for opening his eyes to the Golden Ratio and to the beauty it contained.
Elbert sat there for a while, bent over the precious drawings. No one knew about them, not even his mother. His heart wrestled with idea of showing them to his brothers, but his mind quickly dispensed with the idea. This was his very soul; he dare not risk exposing it to those who might handle it lightly. With a sigh, Elbert put the sheaf back into the leather case and slid the case back into the recess in the wall. He replaced the panel and knelt to say his prayers. Tomorrow was going to be a wonderful day.
The brothers worked hard at their training. The days were now filled with art appreciation and drawing, in addition to the usual activities of riding, swimming, running, and martial arts. They also devoted many hours to reading and analyzing manuscripts, writing all manner of prose and poetry, and discussing philosophy and mathematics. Father Caril insisted on his share of the boys’ attention for catechism. Lady Sarai had a word with Sir Arlan about relegating more time for religious instruction, intimating that he was to serve at her pleasure. Sir Arlan said nothing but kept to his schedule. When Lady Sarai appealed to Lord Ethelred, she was informed that he had no say in the matter. Her unfortunate servants bore the consequences of her displeasure.
After three weeks of studying the rudiments of ratio and proportion, Brother Simon took the brothers to a hill overlooking the castle and town of Winchester. He was giving them an exercise in perspective.
“Look down here at the road that leads to the gates of the city,” he said. “Notice its width. Now follow its path with your eye until you see where it passes through the gates. What do you notice about how wide it looks?”
Rhino spoke first. “The road is not as wide at the gates as it is below the hill.”
“So, has the road changed somehow? It is the same road we traveled on when we left this morning. How do you account for the varying widths?”
Elbert answered. “The road from the hill and the road at the gates are different distances from our eyes. It changes how we view it.”
Brother Simon beamed. “Well spoken, Elbert. There is a name for the phenomenon that you just described. It is called ‘perspective.’ It all depends on our viewpoint. Now suppose that the town and everything in it is no longer there, so that all you see is the road. What would eventually happen to the width of the road if your eye continued to follow it?”
“It would disappear!” shouted Rhino and Elbert in unison.
“Yes, lads, it would eventually disappear or seem to vanish. Every object we perceive with our eyes grows smaller as the distance between it and our eyes increases. Yet the objects themselves remain their same physical size. When we draw a picture of something, we attempt to recreate a three-dimensional effect on a two-dimensional canvas. Using perspective and vanishing point are two strategies for doing this. All is ratio and proportion. So now let us return to the castle so you may work with what you have learned.”
When they were back in library, Brother Simon produced a set of wooden rectangles, roughly one square foot in size.
“I had these made especially for the five of you”, he said. “With these you can practice drawing and reuse it over and over as needed.”
As he handed each boy one of the rectangles, they could see that the rectangles had a wooden back and the sides were raised one inch, forming a shallow tray. Inside the tray was a layer of smooth clay.
“You draw with the stylus and erase with your finger or some other flat object. The clay is a better medium than sand,” he said.
The boys were duly impressed. Soon each one was bending over his clay canvas, attempting to represent the concept of perspective and vanishing point. For a while, the only sound that could be heard was the faint scratching of the stylus through the clay, accompanied by occasional grunts and groans from Wilfred. After a while, Rhino put his canvas aside and looked at the monk.
“Brother Simon, when you say all is ratio and proportion, does that apply only to art or can it be found in other things as well?” asked Rhino. “What I mean is, I was thinking about the covenant of Albion. It decrees that Albion is to be ruled by one high king and four high lords—five altogether. Well, I was looking at my hand yesterday and I noticed it has four fingers and one thumb which all work together. Isn’t this sort of like my brothers and me? The hand is a model of Albion and its rulers.”
“Does that make you the thumb?” teased Wilfred. The boys laughed but Brother Simon looked pleased.
“Rhino, that is a very astute analogy; even to your being the thumb. Think about it, lads. Which digit is central to all that the hands can do? Would you rather lose your thumb or one of your fingers?”
Skandar answered excitedly, “We almost did lose the thumb. Remember, lads? Remember when we lost Rhino in the snow? At the time we would have preferred it was one of us fingers.”
Trevor rubbed his chin thoughtfully. “I see what Rhino is getting at,” he said. “It’s similar to your foot having one great toe and four smaller toes. The head, the arms, and the legs make another pattern of five. Do you think there is something special about the number five? Do you think the holy sisters knew that when they created the covenant?”
Father Caril happened to be passing by the library when he heard Trevor’s question. Curious about what the monk would say, he stationed himself quietly outside the door where he could listen unseen.
Brother Simon smiled broadly. “I do not know whether the holy sisters knew all the mysteries of the number five, but they certainly must have had an intuitive understanding about it. To answer your question, Trevor: Yes, the number five has unique properties, many of which were discovered and revered by Pythagoras. If I may,” he said, holding out his hand for Skandar’s clay canvas.
He smoothed the clay and then drew on it a five-pointed star. The boys crowded around.
“See this star? If you draw a segment from one point to another, you form a five-sided figure the Greeks called a ‘pentagon’. Inside the star is another pentagon that is exactly proportional to the outside one. Now look. I can draw another five-sided star inside the smaller pentagon, forming an even smaller pentagon in which could be drawn an even smaller five-sided star and so on. You see…”
“Brother Simon,” interrupted Father Caril, hastening into the room. “May I have a word with you—in private?”
“Of course, Father Caril; our lesson is nearly over.”
“I would like to speak with you now on a matter of utmost importance,” insisted the priest.
Brother Simon frowned. “Is there an emergency? Is someone of the household injured or stricken ill? Are we under attack?”
“No, not exactly.”
“Then our conference will wait until the lesson is over.”
With that, Brother Simon turned back to the boys, who were goggle-eyed at what they had just witnessed. Father Caril felt the dismissal and made his exit, seething with anger. Lady Sarai would be informed about this! This monk, this so-called man of God, was teaching the prince and his brothers about Pythagoras. It was unsupportable! It was bad enough that the boys were being exposed to Art, especially that of the pagan Greeks, but to expose them to the very devil himself was sacrilege.
Father Caril paced with impatience outside the library until he heard the sounds of the lesson ending. Drawing back into a recess, he waited until the boys trouped by, and then he passed into the library.
“Father Caril, I will be with you in a moment. I just want to put away these canvasses.”
There was no hint of embarrassment or discomfort in Brother Simon’s manner. With an effort Father Caril restrained his temper as the monk tidied the remnants of the lesson to his satisfaction.
“Now, then,” he said, wiping his hands on a cloth, “How may I serve you? You said there was a matter of import to discuss.”
Father Caril took a deep breath and gently probed the monk’s mind for guidance on how to proceed. He perceived thoughts of patience, equanimity, and stern resolve—not what he had hoped for.
“Brother Simon, as pleased as I am that you have been engaged to train the young lord, I must express my concern for what that training entails. If they need to learn to appreciate art, then let them learn about the beautiful expressions of in the Church. Why would you expose them to the art and philosophy of heathens? —in particular, Pythagoras, who we all know formed a secret cult of idol worshipers and practiced dark arts with forms, music, and numbers. I must protest that this is beyond what is expected and required. I am sure that Lord Ethelred and Lady Sarai would join me in my objections.”
Brother Simon sighed inwardly. So few people understood.
Why is it so often that those who know the least feel compelled to say the most? He thought. Feeling it was a hopeless cause, the monk nonetheless attempted to enlighten the priest.
“Father Caril, your concern for the well being of the lads is creditable, and I do intend to include the works of Christian artists. However, I wish them to know from whence comes all art and beauty; it is the handiwork of God. The Lord God said, ‘Let there be Light.’ And so it was. God is the source of all enlightenment and knowledge. It is God who invented mathematical patterns and numbers. Even the ‘heathens’, as you call them, can recognize the hand of God in the cosmos. Should we decide one of God’s creations no longer has merit merely because someone outside the faith has appropriated it? Have we not done the same with the crucifix, turning a symbol of Roman torture and death into a revered object?”
“I hardly think the comparison is appropriate,” replied Father Caril. “We of the Christian faith know the truth, the only truth. To imply that the unbaptized know God is unthinkable. If we admit that there is anything worthy to be found in pagan beliefs, then we undermine our entire religious foundation. Therefore, I most fervently ask that you desist your teaching about anything other than the accepted Church doctrine regarding art.”
Brother Simon shook his head. “I am sorry that I cannot honor your request. I must continue my present course and teach that for which my services were engaged. If you still continue uneasy, I recommend that you bring the matter up with Sir Arlan for he is the one to whom I am accountable for the present curriculum.”
To this Father Caril made no reply. Instead he turned on his heel and left the room. He reckoned it would be no use to appeal to Sir Arlan; while a good enough knight, the man was clearly an unbeliever. However, he knew he could count on Lady Sarai for a sympathetic ear. It was to her that he would apply to assist him in his cause. In the meantime, Father Caril would make the most of the brothers’ catechism to override Brother Simon’s heretical teaching
“Beware the wisdom of the world; it is a snare and a trap set for those who seek to be wise in their own eyes. Did not Saint Paul the apostle warn us when he said that God would destroy the wisdom of the world and bring to nothing the understanding of the prudent? And I quote: ‘The Jews request a sign and the Greeks seek wisdom’—but God has chosen the base and weak and foolish things of the world to confound the wise.”
Father Caril was in rare form. It seemed to him that the words fell inspired from his lips. If the windows of heaven were opened to human eyes, no doubt, he would see the hosts of angels leaning over the gates of pearl and listening to his every word with awe. Spurred by his recent unfruitful encounter with Brother Simon, Father Caril poured forth all of his pent-up frustration and wrath into his sermon. If no one else recognized the purpose of the message, it was not lost on Brother Simon. He knew that he was its target, but the thought did not pain him. He considered Father Caril young and somewhat foolish and therefore took pity on him. He occupied his mind with more edifying thoughts until the chapel service was over.
That evening Brother Simon had just retired to his study when he was surprised to hear a soft knock on his door. He opened it and was even more surprised to see Elbert standing before him with a leather pouch under his arm and a pleading look on his face.
“Brother Simon, I would like to speak with you, if you please.” Elbert spoke with quiet urgency.
“Of course, dear boy, do come in.” Brother Simon checked outside the door to see if anyone else was with him; then he shut the door and turned to find Elbert standing in the middle of the room, trembling. Brother Simon was instantly full of concern.
“Elbert, what is the matter? You do not look well. Perhaps I should send for a physician.”
“No! Please! Wait a bit; I’ll be alright.” Elbert gasped. “I just need a minute.”
“Very well, take your time. Would you like to be seated?”
Elbert shook his head. “I want to show you something.” He opened the leather pouch and pulled out some pieces of parchment. “Would you please look at these?”
He handed them to Brother Simon and then walked over to the window, gazing up at the night sky. Brother Simon sat down at his writing table and began looking at the parchments in his hand. They looked like…yes, they were. They were drawings done in ink. They were beautiful, powerful, and even poignant. In a few masterful brush strokes, the artist had conveyed insight and sensitivity to his subject.
“Elbert, are these your works?” Brother Simon asked, not taking his eyes off the drawings. Silence. Brother Simon felt rather than saw Elbert shifting nervously from one foot to the other and took that for a yes. He continued to study each drawing, commenting to himself as if unaware of Elbert’s presence.
“If I am not mistaken, this drawing depicts Christ feeding the multitude. See here is the boy offering his loaves and fishes. And this one—this looks like Christ healing the leper. What a magnificent use of ratio and proportion! One can almost hear the words of gratitude pouring forth from the beggar’s lips. Now here is one, let’s see, in this one it appears that Christ is restoring sight to the blind man. The blind man’s visage fairly glows with the beatific vision. Hmm,I notice that in all of these drawings the face of Christ is turned away from the viewer; instead, the artist has reflected his face in the features of those beholding it. What an extraordinary concept, to show the miracles and ministry of Jesu, the Christ as seen through the eyes of others. Elbert, whatever inspired you so?”
Elbert made no response. Brother Simon looked over at him and saw his body shaking with silent sobs. The monk’s heart was filled with compassion born of understanding. He recognized and honored the great risk Elbert had taken in showing his work to him. He knew that it takes a great deal of courage to expose the vulnerable places in the heart. Brother Simon walked over to Elbert and slipped a comforting arm about his shoulders.
“Come,” he said, “sit here by the fire and tell me how you came by this wonderful gift.”
Some time later, Elbert slipped quietly from Brother Simon’s study. He was empty-handed; he had left his precious drawings with Brother Simon at the latter’s request. Brother Simon had suggested that Elbert show his artwork to his brothers, but Elbert blanched at the very thought. What if they laughed or disparaged it? Or even worse, what if they were indifferent? Brother Simon said no more on the subject save to express his opinion that the brothers were very supportive of one another and would take delight in Elbert’s artistic ability. Elbert would commit to nothing more than a promise to consider his teacher’s suggestion.
All was still in the castle, and Elbert gained entrance to his room without encountering anyone who might ask awkward questions. He failed to account for the inquisitiveness of his brothers. When he opened the door to his room, there were Trevor, Wilfred, Rhino, and Skandar.
“Now where you would be wandrin’ off to by yourself at this hour?” asked Wilfred. “You skedaddled early enough from the supper table and a hair o’ you ain’t been seen since. We ain’t leavin’ til you tell us.” To emphasize his words, Wilfred plumped himself down on Elbert’s bed. Rhino, Trevor, and Skandar followed suit. Together they presented a formidable group.
Elbert stammered that he had question he wanted to ask Brother Simon about the day’s lesson.
“What kind of question takes hours to answer?” asked Rhino. “What is so important that the answer cannot wait until morning when we meet with Brother Simon all together?” Elbert merely blushed and hung his head guiltily. The others started badgering and teasing Elbert with their own questions—all except Trevor, who rose and walked over to Elbert.
“I think I know,” he said quietly. “It’s about art, isn’t it?” Turning to face the others, Trevor said, “Don’t you see, lads? While the rest of us are muddling along trying to wrap our pea brains around ratio, proportion, perspective, and pentagons, Elbert is experiencing it with all his heart. Isn’t that right, Elbert?” Elbert merely stared at the floor. “You see, it’s like me with music and Skandar with machines.”
Skandar spoke up. “Or it’s like Wilfred and food, (“Hey, I heard that!”), or Rhino and archery, riding, swordplay, running, wrestling, climbing…OOF! Stop that!” Skandar last words were muffled as Rhino sat on his head.
“I’ll save you, Skandar,” cried Trevor, flinging himself on Rhino.
“Trevor, you dolt, you’re goin’ to break your arm and then where will you be?” Wilfred punctuated his words with a flying leap at the boys. The four of them rolled off the bed and onto the floor, a wriggling, straining, laughing pile of arms and legs.
Elbert took in the scene with his mouth agape.
And Brother Simon wants me to show my precious artwork to these…these ruffians! These uncouth, undignified, unsanctified heathen?
He thought for a minute; then it came to him. Of course, he would! Then he whooped uproariously. Without restraint or reservation, great torrents of laughter bellowed forth from the serious, decorous, always-correct Elbert as a wellspring of joy sprung up in his soul.
“Lads! Lads! Hold up a minute,” he said. The others stopped wrestling and untangled themselves.
“Well,” panted Rhino, trying to catch his breath. “What is it? Are you going to confess, or do we have to add you to the pile?”
“Lads, if you can trust me and wait until the morning, I promise I will answer all of your questions. I have something to show you, but not tonight. Will that do, Rhino?”
Rhino looked at the others and then nodded.
“It sounds fair. We’ll meet in the morning and you will enlighten us about the nocturnal wanderings of Elbert, son of Lord Ethelred. Oh, and Wilfred, would you let go of Trevor?”
The next morning, Elbert intercepted Brother Simon on his way to the library and whispered a few hasty words. The monk nodded and headed back to his room. A few moments later, Brother Simon emerged with a leather pouch under him and a pleased look on his face.
“Lads, I have something special to show you,” he said. With that, he opened up the pouch and removed the drawings. One by one, he laid them out on the tables. Trevor, Skandar, Rhino, and Wilfred all gathered around to see. Elbert stood off to one side, in a veritable sweat of nerves.
“I say,” said Rhino, “These are very good.”
“Good? I’d wager they’re the best we’ve seen so far,” asserted Wilfred. “And I should know ‘cause I don’t know nothin’ about art.”
Trevor said nothing but looked over at Elbert and grinned. “I wonder who drew these beautiful pictures. Have you any idea, Elbert?”
“Why, it’s Elbert, o’ course. Who else could do such a eye-poppin’ job?” Wilfred shook Elbert’s hand and clapped him on the shoulder. “Well done, lad, well done. This was your big secret, wasn’t it?”
“Yes, it was,” said Elbert. Wilfred whacked him on the side of the head.
“What was that for?” asked Elbert.
“That’s for keepin’ it a secret, you great oaf.”
“What is a secret?”
Lady Sarai came into the room, followed by Father Caril. She smiled sweetly at the boys. “We were passing by the door of the library and I heard something about a secret. Do we have secrets here?”
At her words, the room fell silent. Rhino and Skandar looked at Elbert, who had turned pale. Trevor stepped on Wilfred’s foot as a warning. All seemed suspended in tension. It was Brother Simon who took charge of the situation.
“Lady Sarai,” he said amicably, “God be with you this morning. The lads were just about to begin their lesson for the day. Would you care to join us? There are no secrets here.”
Lady Sarai walked over to one of the tables on which were displayed Elbert’s drawings. “And what are these? Are these drawings part of the lesson? They have a look about them that I do not care for. The subject matter is disagreeable—peasants and beggars, from the look of it. What purpose do they serve? Who is the artist?”
“These are depictions of the miracles of Christ, a most worthy subject as ever represented. And the gifted artist is your own son, Elbert.”
“Elbert.” Lady Sarai tittered. “I declare, son, that your drawings are so realistic one can almost smell them.” She wrinkled her nose. “Whatever do you mean by it? Father Caril, may we know your opinion?”
As she was speaking, Father Caril had been idly looking at the drawings. There was one that arrested his attention. It depicted a woman, and by the other figures holding stones in their hands, it appeared to be the one caught in adultery. Father Caril examined it more closely. he face of the woman looked familiar. It was remarkably like…
“Blasphemy!” cried Father Caril, dropping the parchment as if it burned him. “’Thou shalt make no graven images.’ The Lord’s command is very clear. These abominations are the works of the devil and must be destroyed immediately!” He made a move toward the table to gather the drawings; Brother Simon interposed.
“Father Caril, these are wonderful works of art; there is nothing evil about them.” He looked in amazement at the priest who was pale and shaking.
“I beg you, brother, compose yourself. There is no cause for alarm,” he said.
“You ask me to compose myself in the face of such sacrilege? I will not, brother, and demand you relegate those works of evil to the flames!”
Father Caril moved once again to the table but before he could lay hold of the drawings, he felt a restraining hand on his arm. It was Rhino.
“No,” he said quietly. “Leave them be.”
It was but a few words but they were spoken with authority and power. Father Caril waved his hands feebly.
“I leave it to your conscience then,” he said, as he hastened out of the room, leaving behind Lady Sarai with a puzzled look on her face.
“Father Caril?” But he was gone.
On the way to his room, Father Caril grabbed hold of a servant.
“Wine,” he said. “Bring it to my room immediately.”
He stumbled his way back to his room and shut the door behind him. Beads of sweat appeared on his brow. It cannot be, he thought. How could it be? A discreet knock on the door produced a servant bearing a tray with a decanter of wine and a glass. Father Caril dismissed him and poured himself a large goblet that he drained in one breath. As the warmth of the wine began coursing through his veins, Father Caril flung himself into a chair by the fire. Ceridwen. How long had it been since he had even breathed her name? Twelve, thirteen years, perhaps? A lifetime ago? And yet there she was looking at him with the same wondering glance out of an ink drawing.
It is merely coincidence that the picture is so like. It must be. How long has it been? I thought I had forgotten her face—such a lovely face, so sweet, so intelligent.
“No!” he cried, flinging the goblet into the hearth. The shattered glass mirrored his inner turmoil. Father Caril sat with his head in his hands. So undone was he, it took him several minutes to realize what had occurred in the library. Rhino had defied him!
Father Caril caught his breath. Rhino had said “no” to him; Rhino had gainsaid his will. Any semblance of self-composure Father Caril achieved from the wine disintegrated in the face of this new reality. He felt panic. The situation was unraveling before him.
Stop, he told himself, and think. Things look desperate but all is not lost. I just need time and counsel. Yes, that is what I need…counsel and reassurance. After all, I have been carrying on the battle myself these many months. It is small wonder I should feel under attack, with my resources drained. I need refreshment and encouragement.
For some time, his thoughts ran this direction until at length he came to a decision. He would ask leave from Lord Ethelred to meet with his superior, the Archbishop, on a matter of urgency. He was confident of Sir Arlan would also grant permission. Father Caril finished the wine. Tomorrow he would leave for Canterbury.
Next Week: How to Get Rich and Powerful