Saturday, January 5, 2019

Vast and Perilous Estates ~ How to Be Rich and Powerful

Picture God as saying to you, “My son, why is it that day by day you rise,
And pray, and genuflect, and even strike the ground with your forehead,
Nay sometimes to even shed tears, while you say to Me:
‘My Father, give me wealth!’”
– Saint Augustine, Bishop of Hippo

            Cecil, the Archbishop of Canterbury looked irritably at his visitor. He pawed through a stack of papers until he found the one he wanted and flung it across the table.
            “Read this,” he commanded. “Read for yourself the sorry state we are in.”
            Father Caril noted the broken seal of a high church official and silently perused the letter. It was from the Abbe Philippe de Ciel of Soissons. Father Caril was well aware of the disturbed state of mind of his superior but could find no reason for it in the letter.  Handing it back to the archbishop, he said, “I see that the monastery at Soissons is prospering and that the mission of the Church is meeting with success.”
            “Yes, yes,” said Archbishop Cecil, impatiently. “Did you happen to notice the postscript? In it the good abbot describes two new additions to his stables. His stables!  He has more than one stable and a veritable army of horses. He also has lands, estates, and his own private army. And what do I have? The Archbishop of Canterbury has two saddle horses and a single residence with a small library and an even smaller refectory.”
            Father Caril attempted to soothe his superior’s ruffled feathers while probing his mind for the cause. It had something to do with…tribute. Ah, yes. His Grace was angry and frustrated because, unlike many of his other brothers of high rank, he had yet to establish the practice whereby the church received monetary benefits in exchange for spiritual ones. In other countries, the nobility paid their monks and priests to pray for their souls in order to reduce their time in purgatory. Father Caril perceived that it rankled the archbishop considerably to see that in Normandy, Brittany, Italy, and even Ireland, their rulers filled the coffers of their clergy with coin. In Father Caril’s opinion, this was all the more reason for the Church to attain dominion once and for all over the covenant.
            “Your Grace,” he said consoling, “Those who serve the Lord are called to a life of humility and poverty. It is our chosen lot.”
            “Hmph,” Archbishop Cecil sniffed. “Our chosen lot would be a lot less destitute if we could but enforce a tribute—and I am not talking about the paltry amount we scrape by on. By Heavens, it is aggravating.  Here we are, in one of the richest countries in the civilized world, unable to appropriate even a tithe of its resources. We count ourselves fortunate to receive a brass coin now and again while our brothers elsewhere are able to extract a fortune in gold and silver. If we had the same advantage, think of what we could do in the Lord’s service.”
            “And now you come here with the upsetting news that Prince Rhino has defied you! He has not yet assumed the throne and already he is showing signs of rebellion. Our hold here on this island has always been tenuous and our presence merely tolerated; in six hundred years the most we have accomplished is insinuating ourselves into the investiture ceremony and into the Rite of Crowning. Bah! These are symbolic gestures at best. At any moment, we could be summarily dismissed from all seats of power and lose what little influence we have. What is to prevent our young prince from doing that very thing the moment he wears his father’s crown?”
            In response, Father Caril held out his hands.
            “Unfortunately, Your Grace, our hands are tied by the covenant. Such strict adherence to its doctrine makes it nearly impossible for the Church to be regarded as the final authority.”
            “Aye, you have put your finger on it. If only we could have had our way in the matter of Lord Lokinvar’s son, Alanar. That would have been the first step in overthrowing the power of the covenant. But now it is too late; we were unable to sway the king in our favor, and his son stands poised to disregard us entirely.”
            Father Caril made no response, his brow furrowed in thought, his lips pursed.  Bishop Cecil at once noticed the look.
            “What is it, Father Caril? What are you thinking?”
            “Your Grace, we must remember that Rhino and his brothers have not yet assumed their titles. They are still being trained to prove their worthiness. What if one of the brothers was shown to be unfit for his position?  If you recall, that was the reasoning of many who argued against Lokinvar’s son, Skandar. At the time, their reasons were based on speculation only. But what if there were now evidence to prove that their speculations were based on facts? What if it can be shown that Skandar is not fit to rule as Lord of Wales? We can then produce his brother, Alanar, as the rightful heir, the one chosen by the Church.”
            Archbishop Cecil seized Father Caril’s arm. “Do you think it is possible?”
            “One look at Alanar next to Skandar would leave little room for doubt of the latter’s unsuitability.”
            The archbishop released his hold and sat back down. He poured a goblet of wine for himself and for Father Caril.
            “So, how should we prepare?”
            Father Caril allowed himself a small sip of the archbishop’s excellent wine before replying.
            “Your Grace, Alanar is presently studying at the monastery at Tyne. I have been in correspondence with the abbot at Saint Peter’s and from him I have learned that Alanar is developing into an adept scribe and theologian. However, he is too far away to serve our purposes; we need him close at hand so that we may reveal him at a moment’s notice.  I recommend that messages be sent immediately ordering Alanar to the cathedral at Canterbury. We could say that his skills in reading and writing Greek and Latin are needed in the library.”
            “My secretary will send out the letters this day. Is there anything else you require?”
            Father Caril paused and then nodded his head. 
            “There is a troublesome monk who is filling the prince and his brothers’ heads with dangerous philosophies. I recommend that new orders be written for Brother Simon sending him to north to Saint Peter’s.”

            The next day, Father Caril left for Winchester bearing two letters from the archbishop to the abbot at the monastery of Saint Peter and Saint Paul at Tyne. One was an order assigning Brother Simon to the monastery at Tyne; the other was a request that Alanar, son of Lord Lokinvar be sent to Canterbury. It was decided that Brother Simon would be the messenger and bear both letters to Saint Peter’s. Father Caril was pleased with the outcome of his visit to the archbishop. Now he had to be on the alert for any opportunity to discredit young Skandar, and if possible, break up the fellowship of the prince and his brothers.


            “Leaving! How could you be leaving?” Elbert protested. “We are not yet done with our training.” 
            “Could not the orders wait for another few weeks?” Skandar asked.
               “I agree,” said Wilfred. “What is the toe-raggin’ hurry about sendin’ you north?” 
            “And here I finally can draw a line,” said Trevor.
            Brother Simon smiled wanly at the boys’ protests. In truth, he was as much dismayed as they were by this abrupt change in assignment. He suspected that Father Caril was behind it but relayed nothing of his suspicions to Rhino and his brothers. Their dislike of the priest was all too evident.  
            “Lads,” he said, “I am very touched by your regard, but you must remember that I am a servant of the Church and must go wherever its mission demands. Our work here was nearly finished at any rate; in a few weeks you will return to London to celebrate the end of your first years’ training. I might add, knowing Skandar’s propensity for adventure, I would say that is quite an accomplishment.”

            The next day, as Brother Simon was packing his meager personal items, Rhino, Elbert, Trevor, Wilfred, and Skandar entered his room without ceremony. 
            “Oh good, you’re not done,” said Rhino. “Brother Simon, we have something for you to take to your new home. It’s so you do not forget us.”  He motioned Elbert forward who had his leather pouch in his hand.
            “Brother Simon,” he said, “I know you gave this back to me the day it was rescued from the fire. I will never forget how you and Rhino stood firm on my behalf, so I want to you have all of the drawings. I don’t need them anymore because the gift that created them still lives in my heart. The other lads made a drawing also so you can see how your work inspired them.”
            Brother Simon took the pouch and pulled out a sheaf of parchment. In addition to Elbert’s exquisite drawings, there was a picture of a line divided into the golden proportions from Trevor. There was a detailed drawing of a catapult, no doubt from Skandar. His gift from Rhino was a beautiful rendering of a road leading into a cave.  Hovering over the cave was a hexagon. Brother Simon wondered at its significance. The final drawing showed a circle with two small triangles on top spaced a distance apart.  Inside the circle at the center was a very small circle with two black dots. 
            It’s a pig!” said Wilfred.


            Four days later, Virgil welcomed Brother Simon and his fellow monk, Brother Leon, traveling by horseback from the province of Kent.  After he was comfortably settled in his room, Brother Simon removed the contents of a leather pouch and spread them across the bed. He smiled as if his heart would break. Such treasures! Of all men, he was truly blest. 
            “Enter”, he responded to a discreet knock on the door. In walked Virgil, bearing a tray with a pitcher and linens for washing. He deposited the tray on a small table by the bed; as he did so, he eyes fell upon the drawings scattered across the covers.  He raised an inquiring eyebrow.
            “Are these your works?  Some of them are very good,” he said.
            “Yes, they are mine, but I am not the artist. I was given them by five remarkable young men, brothers, whom I had the honor of teaching for a brief period of time.”
            “Brothers, you say? All of the same family?”
            “No, but brothers just the same, bound by the covenant and the deeper bonds of love. I am referring to Prince Rhino and the young lords of the four provinces:  Trevor, Wilfred, Skandar, and Elbert. Allow me to introduce you to them. These five drawings depict the miracles of the Christ.  hey are the handiwork of Elbert, son of Lord Ethelred of Kent. This picture of the divided line is from Trevor, son of Lord Vortimer of Essex.  This one containing the circles and the triangles is in fact a pig, courtesy of Wilfred, son of Lord William of Northumbria. Rhino, son of King Rheynold, is the artist who drew this one. And this is the work of Skandar…”
            “…son of Lord Lokinvar of Wales.” Virgil completed the sentence. “I know Skandar; he was a guest at the inn about a year ago while on his way to London. He met with an accident along the way and was forced to spent an extra day or two while he recovered.”  Brother Simon laughed.
            “I can well believe it. From the stories the young men told, it is a wonder they passed the year unscathed.” 
            “May I?” asked Virgil, indicating Rhino’s drawing. Brother Simon handed it to Virgil, who scrutinized it for several minutes. He pointed to the cave.
            “Did Prince Rhino mention whether this was drawn from memory or imagination? The reason I ask is because this looks very much like a place that I have seen.”
            “I cannot say. There were no such caves that we visited in Kent, and the lads made no mention of one. I confess, however, I did wonder at the figure of the hexagon placed over the cave. During the course of our studies, I discussed the pentagon and its hidden beauties, such as the golden ratio. The boys seemed to make much of it at the time; Rhino likened it to their own situation of one country and five rulers. It is therefore somewhat puzzling to me why he drew a six-sided figure rather than a five-sided one.  No doubt, he had his reason. The other boys seemed to understand but they made no comment about it.”
            Virgil regarded his guest with interest. 
            “The ‘golden ratio’, you say. I would like to hear more of this, if you are not too fatigued from your journey.”
            Brother Simon smiled.  “It would be my pleasure.”

            After supper, Virgil and Brother Simon sat by the fire where Virgil heard all about the golden ratio. He was impressed by the scope of Brother Simon’s knowledge; clearly here was a man who was unafraid to expose himself to new ideas, whatever their source. In his turn, Brother Simon commented on the aura of peace, proportion and balance that seemed to permeate the inn. It was a marked contrast to the self-conscious righteousness he so often encountered in religious communities. The two men entered into that rare state of mutual conversation in which people exchange ideas without rancor or prejudice.  Brother Simon interspersed his talk with anecdotes of the five brothers, which Virgil found highly entertaining. During the conversation, Brother Simon learned that Skandar had a brother Alanar who was currently at the monastery at Tyne.
            “You cannot mean the Abbey of Saint Peter and Saint Paul,” exclaimed Brother Simon, “for that is my destination. I have been assigned to its monastery and carry with me letters from the Archbishop of Canterbury.”
            “How is it that you have been ordered to go north? Was your work at Kent finished?”
            Brother Simon paused before he answered. He was uncertain the extent to which he should disclose his suspicions to his new acquaintance. If they proved groundless, then he would be guilty of injustice to a fellow clergy. 
            “If my questions are inappropriate, please do not consider them,” Virgil said.
            “No, no, these are the very questions I have been asking myself. As yet, I can find no satisfactory answer. Every time I go down that road it leads to deception and intrigue from a place it should not be.” Brother Simon hesitated a moment before continuing.
            “A priest—Father Caril—has been traveling with Sir Arlan and the brothers since they left London. He made it plain that he disapproved of some of the art and philosophy that I included in the boys’ lessons. About a fortnight ago, he left Winchester for Canterbury to meet with the archbishop. When he returned, he bore the letters and a note for me from his Grace informing me of my new assignment. Those are the bare circumstances. Are they enough to make one suspect that he had somewhat to do with my exile? I do not know.”
            Brother Simon noticed the look of pain that flitted over Virgil’s face.
            “Do you know him?” he asked.
            “I am acquainted with him,” said Virgil. “The association is not pleasant.”
            Virgil stood and paced in front of the hearth. He gave the appearance of one who is aware of a grave danger lurking somewhere in the dark but is uncertain of its location.         Skandar, Alanar, Lord Lokinvar, and now Brother Simon, he thought. It cannot be mere coincidence. Great Light, what is it?
            Brother Simon rose and laid his hand on Virgil’s arm.
            “Virgil, I can see that you are disturbed by my news. Is there anything I can do to help?”
            Virgil searched Brother Simon’s face. He wrestled with the extent to which he could trust this man. Brother Simon certainly showed of largeness of heart. 
            Great Light, I must trust the good.
            “I have a daughter named Amalia,” he said.
            With that, Virgil told Brother Simon about Father Caril and Sir Arlan and the incident in the common room so many months ago. He told him about Amalia’s reaction to it and its after effects. He also told him about Amalia’s gift of perception and the decision to take her to London, to learn from her uncle, Virgil’s brother. 
            Virgil related his encounter with Skandar and the circumstances that led to it and the young lord’s friendship with his daughter as a result. At this point, Brother Simon interrupted.
            “My friend, if your daughter Amalia is in London, then there is a chance she and Skandar might renew their acquaintance. If they should happen to meet with Father Caril present…” Brother Simon left the words unsaid.
            “Yes, there is cause for concern,” said Virgil.  “Amalia was quite shaken by the experience and when the priest returned for a second time, she did all she could to avoid his company. I do not know what is afoot, but my heart tells me that there is some sort of intrigue at work; the decision to send you north could be part of it. And then there is this.  In the last year, the inn has hosted more than the usual share of unique visitors. It bears consideration. Think of it!  If it were not for Skandar’s unfortunate accident, he and Amalia might have never become acquainted. It was also because of Skandar that I was made known to Lord Lokinvar, who traveled especially to the inn to express his gratitude.  During that time, Amalia and Alanar were introduced and spent significant time together.  And now you are here; having been in the company of one of Lord Lokinvar’s sons, you are on the way to meet the other one. Is there a purpose in it? What does it all mean?  It is my belief that all of these events are pieces of a pattern that has yet to reveal itself.”
            “A person of my faith would say that God had a plan and that these events are part of it.”
            “Indeed, Brother Simon. If your God has a plan that he is implementing, should we fear or rejoice? Is your God good?”
            “Virgil, my friend, my God is so good that should he slay me, I would rejoice.”


            Brother Simon and his companion left the next day for the northern country.  Virgil had seen to it that their saddlebags were filled with provisions. The innkeeper had also given the monk a great deal to ponder along the way. That Virgil had astonished Brother Simon by what he shared would be an understatement.
             Is it possible, he wondered, for a child to perceive the presence of evil in such a manner? And the source of it is a priest of the Church? Not that such an idea is impossible—the Almighty knows there are many who call themselves by His name who act like the devil himself. 
            A sigh escaped Brother Simon.
            “What is it, Brother Simon?”
            “It is the fact that we are human, Brother Leon.”

Next week: When the World Falls Apart

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