Friday, December 31, 2010

This is when I stopped writing narrative altogether, apparently. 
1512
“Do you know the story of St. Osana?” Brother Clement asked Ignatius.
            “She was a princess and she struck down a priest’s mistress dead.”
            “Yes,” Clement nodded. “Because the clergy, of course, are to be devoted to God only and denounce the flesh.”
            “But not all do, do they?”
            “No, not all. But that is their sin and left to square with St. Peter at the gates.”
            Iggy cleared his throat. “What else did St. Osana do?”
            “She rose from her crypt and flagellated the mistress, who sat on Osana’s tomb,” Clement said. “Osana was a Northumbrian princess before the Conquest. She’s not been canonized, but we have her cloak and this church was dedicated before the Normans came, so it still stands.”
            “She’s not a real saint?”
            “Don’t say that,” Clement chuckled. “She might rise.’
            Iggy, though normally a fearless boy, shuddered at the thought. “Do you think she might rise again?”
            Clement spread his hands apart. “I don’t know, Iggy. Things that like are…unknowable. Like miracles, yes? They don’t work on a schedule of planting, threshing and harvest.”
            The bell tolled.
            “Ah,” Clement said. “Run off, then. Tomorrow.”
            “Yes, Brother.”
            And run off Iggy did. He saw Isabel standing outside the smokehouse near the kitchen and called out to her. She stopped, waited.
            “Done with lessons, Iggy?” She asked.
            “Yes,” Iggy replied. “Where are you going?”
            “The kitchen garden. Cook wanted rosemary.”
            “I’ll go with you.”
            “All right,” Isabel replied, stepping toward the back wall enclosing the priory buildings. A postern door in the wall led to the kitchen garden. Herbs and vegetables were sprouting up now that it was summertime. With nimble steps, the little girl found the correct herbs and bent to pick some. Isabel had grown taller in the three years she had lived at the priory, her body beginning to mature into a young woman’s, and she was quite happy not being at the old house in Routh, away from Eleanor’s nagging voice. Iggy had also grown, sprouted really, Sister Benedicta lamented, as he outgrew his clothes quickly. A head taller than Isabel, Iggy had gangly arms and legs that he couldn’t maneuver gracefully as yet.
            “You’re quiet,” Isabel said, tucking the green herbs into her apron. “Thinking about whatever axiom Brother Clement puzzled you with?”
            “Of a sort,” Iggy replied distantly. “We were talking about St. Osana.”
            “Oh, aye,” Isabel said. “Rose from her coffin to whip the woman, didn’t she?”
            “Exactly so,” Iggy nodded. “Do you think she could rise again? To punish?”
            Isabel frowned. “’Tis always possible, I suppose. But hasn’t she been dead for centuries now? She hasn’t risen since before the Conquest, right? And only the once?”
            Isabel was always good for a logical talking-to.
            “Right,” Iggy mumbled. “But you think she could punish? Brother Clement mentioned Limbo as well.”
            Isabel sighed, rising, knotting her apron around the rosemary sprigs. “What’s all this theology? Are you going to study and become a monk?”
            “What? No! At least, I hadn’t thought of it.” Iggy shook his head, then exhaling, said, “If I tell you a secret, Is, will ya keep it?”
            “Course I will. It can’t be that terrible.”
            “’Tis so.”
            “Pray tell, Iggy.”
            Leaning toward her, so close he could feel the heat radiating from her body, Iggy whispered, “I know who my parents are.”
            Isabel’s eyes widened. “Who?”
            “Brother Clement and Sister Benedicta,” Iggy said. “I’ve known for a few years now. At least about Sister Benedicta.”
            “What? How?”
            “Sister Agnes’ brother Hugh? You’ve seen him in the village.”
            “I think so.”
            “He told me two winters hence. He’s my first cousin. His mother told him, he said.”
            “And his mother is Sister Benedicta’s sister,” Isabel answered. “Oh, Iggy,” she said, wrapping her arms around his shoulders. Iggy stood stiffly, unsure of what to do with the physical contact, for he’d not been embraced much in his as-yet short life.
            “How do you know about Brother Clement?”
            “Sister Benedicta has lived in this priory most of her life,” he said, beginning to like the feeling of Isabel’s small hands on his back. “And my surname is FitzClement. Plus, do I not resemble Brother Clement a little?”
            Isabel pulled away and examined him. “I’ve not seen him much, I’ll confess. Or studied him well. But I suppose you have the general appearance of pale skin and blue eyes and light-colored hair.”
            “And thinness.”           
            “It’s hard to be a fat monk,” Isabel said. They both laughed. “I’d best return to the kitchen. Cook will be wondering where the rosemary got off to.”
            “Yes. Go on.”
            “What will you do? Will you tell someone? Perhaps you should confess it Saturday next, if it’s troubling you.”
            “Do you think I could be right?” Iggy said, biting his lower lip. “I don’t…I don’t want to bring it up with anyone else. It’s quite a serious…accusation.”
            “You’re not accusing anyone, really,” Isabel said, picking her way through the garden. “Everybody has got a mam and a pa somewhere. You think they may be yours is all. Brother Clement is your tutor. Ask him during your lessons, if you must.”
            They stepped back into the priory yard.
            “But St. Osana…”
            “Is not buried here, Iggy,” Isabel pointed out. “Don’t fear and don’t fret.” She left him with those words, running back toward the kitchens, her knotted apron bouncing with her steps.
            Upon Saturday next, Iggy crept into the church, where two confessionals were in use by the villagers and the residents of the priory. He knelt, crossed himself, and waited his turn. His eyes traveled over the columns in the aisle, a stormy dark gray, as it was cloudy and likely to thunder outside.
            The stained glass windows: the colors were muted because of the darkness out of doors, but still vibrant. The Passion of the Christ was illustrated on one side. The other side’s windows showed saints and apostles.
            There was one window showing a stone crypt and a woman sitting up in it, while another woman, arms outstretched, mouth open in panic, sat upon the tomb. There was  a fury in the risen-from-the-dead woman’s face. St. Osana, the righteous Northumbrian princess. St. Osana, punisher of priest’s concubines, had straight blond hair. The concubine wore a veil.
            No other saint story quite terrified him like St. Osana’s story. Most saints became saints because of a miracle, because of their devotion to Christ or martyrdom or such like. Osana was a frightening entity, rising from the dead.
            And she punished a woman for the same crime that Sister Benedicta committed. Except it was worse because Sister Benedicta was a nun, also pledged to chastity.
            It came his turn. Iggy stepped into the confessional booth and opened the grill between him and the priest. He knew from the voice that it was the prior hearing confession. Iggy recited Latin, then added in English, “It’s been one week since my last confession.”
            “What sins have you committed, my child?”
            “I have suspicions against someone of great importance in this community, Father. My thoughts could be poisonous and dangerous.”
            “Are they impure thoughts?”
            “No!” Iggy exclaimed. “I…I think two people in this order are my parents.”
            “You do?”
            “Yes. But I’m not sure what to do.”
            “Pray over it, my son. Anything else to confess?”
            Iggy confessed to sundry sings *lol I turned Spellcheck off during NaNo: taking the Lord’s name in vain, pride, and moodiness over his decision regarding his parents. His penance was light and he performed it, kneeling in the church.
            He had had his suspicions for the last several years. With the fire of adolescence upon him, it was now time to do something about it. He stood up after saying the Pater Nos four times. Whether St. Osana’s spirit roamed the earth or not, whether or not real problems would emerge, he had to confront one of his parents.
            Iggy headed toward the library, where Clement was most likely to be. He found the monk at a scarred table, engrossed in a book that looked like ancient Greek.
            “Oh, hello, Ignatius,” Clement said in his unflappable way.
            “I’ve something I need to talk about,” Iggy said.
            “Did you already give your Confession?” Clement asked.
            “Yes, yes. I…I know who my parents are.”
            Clement snapped his gaze away from the text, which had been written by hand, and to Iggy. The certainty grew within Iggy. He and Brother Clement did look much alike. And was that fear in the eyes of the learned, ever-calm monk?
            “How so, my boy?” Clement asked with forced patience and cheer.
            “Someone told me who my mother was,” Iggy said. “A village boy. His mother is my mother’s sister.”
            “Who did this boy say your mother was?” Clement’s voice sounded tight.
            “Sister Benedicta, Brother,” Iggy exhaled, then added, “I think you’re my father.”
            “That’s flattering, Iggy, but…”
            “You deny it, Brother? ‘FitzClement?’” His chest puffed out as his heart beat against its walls like a drum. Iggy was surprised it didn’t toll like the church bells. “We look much alike.”
            “Iggy, blue eyes and brown hair are common enough in English…”
            “Please don’t,” Iggy said. “You may not be my father then, since you won’t acknowledge me, but Sister Benedicta is my mother. What shall I do?”
            “What can you do?” Brother Clement said, his ears turning red. “Your mother is pledged to the church. She sinned by having you. ‘Tis a minor miracle she wasn’t disgraced and outright, bodily thrown out of the order!”
            “I understand,” Iggy said. “But…she’s my mother. I’ve been told my entire life that I have no parents. Why does the silversmith’s son know who my mother is and I don’t?”
            Clement breathed through his teeth. “Aye, the silversmith’s wife is Sister Benedicta’s sister.”
            “So you’re my father.”
            “Who told you that? Sister Benedicta?”
            “I’ve not told her anything, Brother.” Iggy bowed. “Good day. I shall have those statements of logic ready for lessons on Monday.”
           
            After Vespers, Clement strode off his tension in the cloisters. The boy knew. They boy had been told and guessed the other half of the truth. What to do, what to do? For indeed, there was nothing to be done. It was enough, more than enough, that Iggy lived at the priory under the care of his natural mother, tutored by his natural father. That long-ago mistake had been swept under the proverbial rug, had it not?
            It was an open secret, for most of the nuns and monks remembered when quiet Alice Collins had slipped off to live at her brother’s home not two miles away, what used to be a farmhouse and now called Collins Hall. Clement had taken a vow of silence for the remaining months of her pregnancy to contemplate his sins. Alice had given birth to the boy, whom she named Ignatius, before returning to take her full vows as a nun.
            The child had lived in Collins Hall before becoming part of the orphanage. And life went on at St. Osana’s, for Ignatius was not the only child born to a nun or a young unwed woman who entered the priory after the fact. What one did in the Yorkshire countryside could be easily hidden and forgotten from higher authorities. They often had bigger fish to fry.
            He walked a halfway around the cloisters and saw Sister Benedicta, slow in step, holding her rosary clasped in both hands. Clement quickened his step. She looked up in surprise.
            “Brother,” she murmured.
            “Did you tell Ignatius that I’m his father?” Clement hissed.
            Her eyes widened and her grip on the rosary tightened. “No!”
            “No?”
            “No!” She exclaimed, voice firm and absolute. She really had perfected the firm nun tone over the years. *snark giggle snark*
            “He came to me today after making his confession to say that he knew we were his parents. Your sister’s son told him!”
            “My sister’s—“ She stopped, hand going toward her throat. “Cecily’s son? Told him?”
            “Just so. I suppose it was a casual remark from one boy to another, but he knows, Alice.”
            She shut her eyes tightly. “I feared this.”
            “Did you insinuate that I am his father?”
            “No, of course not! I don’t want him to know about his parentage any more than you do! He’s better off thinking he’s an orphan with a chance than a miss-begotten bastard, a result of a grave sin!”
            “Calm yourself. What shall we do now?”
            “Pray to Our Lady of the Assumption for guidance and St. Osana for forgiveness,” Benedicta replied.
            “Alice, what shall we do in practical terms? In the here and now?” *Clement is delightfully practical for a monastic monk
            “You were always a peculiar monk,” she replied, as snappish as her serene nun’s tone ever became. “Should you wish to acknowledge him? He will gain nothing by it.”
            “We may confess our sin and impress upon him the gravity of it,” Clement said thoughtfully. “But that is all. We have no material goods to pass on.” He sighed. “He’s getting to that age, nearly a man.”
            “He’s only twelve, Clement. That’s hardly a man.”
            “Perhaps not, but he thinks like a man, somewhat, and thinks he is a man. I fear boys become rather fraught at this age.”
            “I know. That’s why the elder boys are sent to be made apprentices,” she said. She shook her head. “I do not want that for our son. He’s clever, is he not?”
            “Very much so.”
            “And kind and gentle toward his friends and others. He dotes on little Isabel Routh.”
            “You’re his mother. You’ve reared him as near as a mother would. You must have hopes for him,” Clement said.
            “I do. The Church would be a good choice for him, as it has for you. Or perhaps he has a chance as a layman, to study at university and rise.”
            “Lofty ambitions.”
            “I am prideful in my son,” Benedicta replied. “He is a much better specimen than I thought when he left my womb. I was consumed by my sin then, the enormity of it.”
            For the first time in thirteen years, Clement reached out to touch Benedicta—Alice, always, in his mind—placing his hand on her hand.
            “We must confirm his suspicions. ‘Twould be a shame for him to be consumed by all this: a sin we committed.”
            She bowed her head. “You’re right. I will tell him tonight, before Compline." She stepped backward two steps, before turning her back on him to walk back to the nuns’ dormitory. “Good night, Clement. I trust you’ll sleep well.”
            Clement did not answer. He watched Benedicta step into the nuns’ door. He was alone in the cloisters and remembering. Oh, yes, he remembered what occurred that night. It had been after Compline, but before Matins in the middle of the night. It was summertime—the end of July, the beginning of August—and he and Alice had been close friends, for she was a volunteer in the library, one who read English quite well, and had bright blue eyes that made him smile.
            She had felt despair because she didn’t feel God when she prayed or performed service. This was not her calling, but her brother, her guardian, refused to take her out of the priory.
            It had been stupid to come out to meet her that night, but there had been a seductive warmth in the air and the cloisters had been peaceful and quiet. They had settled into one of the niches, behind the latticed black gates, and done the deed. What drove them to do that still eluded Clement.
            He turned back to return to his cell in the monks’ building. But whether he’d sleep well or at all, without the intrusion of impure memories, was still a mystery.
            The next day, before the children dispersed to chores, Sister Benedicta approached Ignatius. He was standing with Tom and Isabel.
            “Ignatius, may I speak to you?” She asked. The three children eyed each other. Tom clapped Iggy on the back and headed toward the door and most probably, the stables, while Isabel flashed Iggy a sweet smile and drifted off to speak to a group of girls.
            “Yes, Sister?” Iggy said. Benedicta wondered if she imagined it, but she swore the boy held his breath. He was already as tall as she was, Benedicta realized.
            “Come,” she said, gesturing into the now-empty study room. Iggy followed. “I’ve something I need to confess to you.”
            Eyes almost bulging in appearance, Iggy exhaled and interrupted, saying, “I apologize, Sister Benedicta, but…” His lips shook, but no sound escaped. “Are you…?”
            “Your natural mother? Yes, I am,” she said and surprised herself by feeling tears in her eyes. “You see, I have not completely abandoned you.”
            “Yes,” he said, sounding overcome with emotion. “And is Brother Clement my father?”
            “Yes,” she replied. “I knew he was most clever and entrusted your education to him. We have tried our best under the circumstances to be your parents, but it has not been easy. It will not be easy for you. We have no goods to leave you when we are gone.”
            “I’m a bastard,” Iggy said.
            “Aye,” Sister Benedicta said. “My dearest son, I fear I am not equipped to be your mother.”
            “No matter,” Iggy said. “I know you cannot be my mother as other boys have mothers.” He chuckled. “I feared that you’d be punished by St. Osana.”
            “I feared she’d punish me after death,” Benedicta said. “She might still. But I’m hardly the first nun to have a child out of wedlock.” Bowing her head as if in prayer, she said, “Is your curiosity satisfied?”
            “Yes. Thank you.” Something about "Yes, thank you" makes me laugh. 



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