Tuesday, December 28, 2010

In the spirit of taking a day off, here's another post

The midday meal was the largest one taken at the priory. The nuns sat in their refectory and the monks in their own, taking their meals in silence except for a reader, but the priory staff and the children took their meals in the orphanage’s rather grandiosely-named Great Hall.
            Two long trestle tables lined the narrow space, one for boys, the other for girls. One nun and one brother would keep watch on the children while the staff took their meal together at another table, separate.
            Iggy and Tom ate their midday stew and bread, Tom’s eyes darting toward the smaller table in the front where the supervising monk and nun sat, eating, scanning the room for any sign of disorder. Sister Mary Joseph was a bewhiskered old woman, hunched over into her bowl, but Brother Clement was still young and sat erect and alert.
            “Like a brick wall, he is,” Tom said between mouthfuls of bread.
            Iggy drank some ale. He had not spent much time with Brother Clement, none at all, in fact, but the monk’s reputation had him as a well-mannered, intellectual man, sincere in his devotion to God and his brusqueness with man. Clement wore brown robes instead of the Cistercian white and what hair he still had, for the crown of his head was visible in a tonsure, was brown and straight. His face was thin and lined, his thin nose and thin lips looked more inclined toward sneers than any other expression, and his slate-blue eyes focused on his bowl.
            Iggy did the same, shoving more of the thick beef stew into his mouth.
            “You know,” Tom began, “you look a bit like him.”
            “Like who?”
            “Like Brother Clement. Just a bit.” Tom took another healthy bite of his stew. “You’re being quiet.”
            Iggy wrinkled his nose at Tom, who spoke with his mouth full. “Nervous. I liked being taught by the nuns.”
            “Oh, aye,” Tom replied. “But they’re women. There are things they don’t know.”
            Iggy peered at Clement again. Perhaps the cold veneer held amazing secrets within.

            Stepping into the library building, Iggy glanced up at the vaulted stone ceiling and sighed. There was a hushed reverence in this place of leather-backed books, some from ancient scribes who wrote each book out by hand and illuminated the manuscripts into works of art. He’d heard about those books from the Sisters.
            Stepping further into the room, lit by ceramic lamps and the natural, but weak, sunlight emanating from large windows on three sides, Iggy saw the monk he sought. Brother Clement stood in front of a shelf, speaking quietly to a younger man, one of the novice monks.
            Iggy waited until their conversation seemed to be over and approached. Clement looked down and acknowledged Iggy’s presence with a subtle sniff of his thin nose. There was something oddly familiar about the cast of Clement’s features. It stirred within Iggy. The priory owned large tracts of farmland and a variety of sheep, horses, cows and chickens. Being a country boy, Iggy knew how animals reproduced and there was already snickering amongst boys slightly older than he about the analogous act humans indulged themselves in.
Ummm....I'm trying to drag this out this "who are my parents?" thing. 
No one had ever told Iggy where his surname came from. It was Norman, to use “Fitz,” meaning “son of.” That much he knew.
            FitzClement. Son of Clement. But monks were supposed to be…I despise ellipses. 
            Iggy remembered himself and bowed, neatly but still with awkwardness.
            “Ignatius,” Brother Clement said. “Very good. Follow me.” The monk walked silently through the library and then into a small room. Gesturing Iggy to a chair in front of an oak table, Clement closed the door behind him.
            “I trust you are well?” Brother Clement began seating himself at the table on the opposite side. For the first time, Iggy noticed writing implements, several good quills, paper and a few books lying on Clement’s side of the table.
            “Yes, Brother.”
            “Sister Benedicta tells me you are quite the scholar. She says you have an aptitude for languages, that you took to French easily.”
            Ignatius merely stared in the return.
            “I will do my utmost to educate you, for either further study at a university or perhaps for the Church, if you wish it and God calls upon you,” Clement went on. “You’ve learned some Greek?”
            “Some, Brother,” Iggy agreed. “Latin, too. But only some.”
            “Very well. We will expand upon the good foundations that our Sisters have given you. Every day, excepting Sundays, of course, between the midday meal and None*, we shall have lessons, then another hour after None. I wish you to spend the time afterwards, when not engaged in chores or errands, to read some material I give you or work on some translations we may not finish during lesson time. Is that understood?”
            “Yes, Brother.”
            “It may seem challenging and tedious, but one cannot learn without either. Now, then,” Clement spread paper out and dipped a quill in ink. “Write your name for me, in your neatest hand.”
            Iggy was right-handed. He scratched his name in a childish cursive, the letters bunching together in spots and then spread too far at others.
            “Ignatius FitzClement,” Brother Clement read. “Probably after Ignatius of Antioch. Now, write the Lord’s Prayer. You do know how to write that in Latin, I presume?”
            “Yes, Brother,” Iggy answered as he forced the quill to glide over the paper, as the Latin that the Sistesr had, at times, beat into him, appeared on the page. He labored to make the Latin neater than his name.
            The bells tolled for None and Clement felt that that was enough for the first day of lessons. He dismissed the boy, who had proven that he was good at letters: the child had learned well and Benedicta had taught him well, for he could write English and some Latin in a wobbly hand.
            Clement rose, wiping his inky fingers on his plain habit, and walked toward the church. He often skipped None and some of the other lesser services, but today he felt a need to hear the psalms—to be there in Church, for it felt otherwordly to be at table with his flesh and blood, his son, and to be his tutor for the next several years.
            As Clement shuffled out of the library and toward one of the paths that led out of the priory walls, he thought about the boy, Ignatius. He’d not seen much of him, a glimpse here or there, a word of news from one of the monks or nuns. On the occasions that Clement saw the lad, the monk had not felt a tug of his heartstrings at the sight of his son. The boy, however, was definitely his, for Ignatius bore the stamp of Clement and his father before him: thin features, pale skin, and pale blue eyes. He wasn’t precisely an ugly boy, but rather an awkward one, for his lips were women’s lips, too big for his skinny face, and his light brown hair seemed determined to thrawt any sense of discipline.
            Clement followed a few of his fellow monks toward the side door of St. Osana’s Church.
            This year, anno domini 1510, would mark a dozen years in this priory. He had joined a community in his native Northumberland as a novice before deciding to move further south, to a place both more and less secluded. Scour, the village that surrounded St. Osana’s, was small, but near to other hamlets—and it lay on the River Hull.
            ‘Twas really the church that attracted him here. Clement stood on the paved stones in the nave, with his other monks, the nuns on the other side, and the more devout parishioners behind them. The sacrist read the psalms and led the prayers. Clement answered with half his mind, for he was analyzing the church.
            It had been built during the Anarchy and finished in the time of Richard the Lionheart. The nave was high and wide with gray flagstones below and a great stone vault, an improvement from the original plans, above. Clement traced the ceiling’s ribs with his eyes for a moment. God surely heard the prayers in such a beautiful chuch.
            St. Osana was a small church to have such a vaulted ceiling, for most small churches did not. It was little more than a parish church. Clement knew St. Osana did not have the majesty of Beverley Minster, for instance, or the prestige of York Minster, but St. Osana was beautiful. The priory had been founded before the Conqueror arrived, by a small community of Cluniac monks, before the wooden buildings burned down and then it was reborn. The church and priory were then taken over by Norman Cistercians. Built on a low hill by Cistercians from Normandy, the sanctuary was proportional, the nave as long as the building was tall. Two aisles flanked either side. Clement glanced to the columns that separated the aisle from the nave. Stained glass windows let in light.
            Belatedly, Clement crossed himself. None was over.
            As he exited the church, he crossed himself again. St. Osana’s relics were in the Low Countries, but this church had some of the saint’s cloak, under glass, in a side chapel. As he passed the relic, Clement saw Sister Benedicta, in profile.
            He paused by her side. “He’s a good lad,” he said in a low voice. “He’ll be an eager pupil.”
            “Aye,” Benedicta said. “He soaks up knowledge like soft bread sops up stew. Much like you, I suppose.” With a soft, cat-like movement—she crossed herself—the nun slithered away.
            And Clement wondered what had made him break his vows that one time and make love to such a frigid piece of humanity. Indeed, for he had never felt temptation before or after that moment, he wondered why he had succumbed.** Bad sentence. 
            As he left the church and went on with the rest of his day in the library, Clement thought that Benedicta had not been entirely correct. Iggy was young and would soak up knowledge, true, and Clement had much to teach him and the process would be valuable to both father and son.
            But Clement remembered a younger, softer Sister Benedicta, when she’d been a novice and still called by her Christian name, Alice. She had thirsted for knowledge as well.
 *None is another service

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