Saturday, January 5, 2013

To Know Evil - Excerpt

My historical-mystery, To Know Evil, is now available on Kindle. In the weeks to come I will be posting excerpts from the book on my blog. I hope you enjoy them.

To Know Evil on Amazon

To Know Evil promo on Youtube

-- Chapter One --

Brother Thomas of Worms stood upright and pressed both hands to his lower back. He grimaced slightly as he raised his narrow eyes towards heaven. His thin lips moved in silent prayer, thanking God that his back could still bend. This northern climate was not good for his joints, and secretly he yearned for warmer countries. Brother Thomas looked over the garden. He was always sad when he harvested the last of his vegetables, for it heralded the beginning of winter and colder weather. He reached back and pulled his black hood over his tonsured head.
Down at the far end of the garden Thomas saw Brother Paolo’s full form, standing over his basket. Brother Paolo did not move very fast, if he moved at all. He was sampling some of the vegetables he’d picked. Thomas wondered how many more full baskets there would be for the monastery if Brother Paolo did not help with the harvest. He eyed the other monk as he ate. May the Lord forgive him for such unkindly thoughts: the man even chewed slowly.
Brother Paolo turned and saw Thomas watching him. He bent over—though they were not standing close, Thomas could imagine the groan that accompanied the movement—and he picked up his baskets of bounty and headed in Thomas’s direction. Thomas went back to his harvest. He knew it would be some time before the other man reached him.
“It was a very good harvest this year, Brother Thomas,” Brother Paolo said convivially as he stopped nearby.
“Do you think?” Thomas responded, still bent over. There was some doubt in his words, but Brother Paolo seemed not to notice.
“The beans are quite exceptional and sweet.”
“There is something about this soil . . .” Thomas scooped up some in his hand, straightened, and proceeded to examine it. “Even the rainfall is insufficient, which is strange for this climate. I do not know what it is, but . . .”
“These are the last two baskets,” Brother Paolo said. “I could take them now . . . or do you wish for me to wait so we may go up together?” He added the last part with visible reluctance.
“No, go up now, Brother Paolo,” Thomas said, “and I will follow in time.”
Thomas watched the other walk away, waddling slightly as he went. It was better to let Brother Paolo go sooner. If they walked together Thomas would have to slow his pace considerably to match the slow gate of his rotund brother.
Thomas filled his two large baskets and straightened, wincing at the strain on his back. As he did, he spied two more filled baskets at the end of the garden where Paolo had been working. Thomas shook his head. Brother Paolo had obviously seen these two baskets, but had not wished to make another trip. That was why he had said his were the last two, and why he had not wished to wait for Thomas. He had feared Thomas would see the other baskets and suggest he come back for them. Of all the brothers in the monastery, Brother Paolo had the greatest aptness for getting out of any extra work.
Beyond the baskets Thomas saw the west road that led to the sea and the Frankish Kingdoms. Thomas turned east and to the fields where a score or more of the brothers were working. One of them saw Thomas and raised an arm in greeting. Thomas responded in kind. Like the garden, field work would soon be coming to an end.

Thomas of Worms bent down and picked up two of the four large baskets of freshly picked vegetables. He knew he would have to come back for the two remaining baskets. Under the weight of the baskets it was a slow plodding walk up the mountain path, so Brother Thomas recited the beatitudes as he walked.
Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are they that mourn: for they will be comforted.
Blessed are the meek: for they shall inherit the earth.
Blessed are they who do hunger and thirst for righteousness: for they shall be filled.
Blessed are the merciful: for they shall obtain mercy.
Blessed are the pure in heart: for they shall see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called the children of God.
Blessed are they who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Brother Thomas of Worms was dressed in the Benedictine habit, a tunic and scapular worn underneath a long full gown of heavy coarse wool tied at the waist with a cord. Attached to the gown was a cowl to cover his head. The early Benedictines had worn a habit of white, the colour of undyed wool, but some time ago the colour had been changed to black, which had garnered the Benedictine brothers the name “black monks.”
He was about half way up the mountain trail when he passed two other brothers coming down the path. Though they acknowledged one another, they did not stop to speak, as all had duties to carry out. Many saw superfluous talk as a luxury, which went against their vows.
As he approached the monastery, Brother Thomas looked up at the structure. It was solidly built, practically a fortress. The outside of the monastery was rectangular, with high walls as if built to keep the divinity inside. Or were they to keep something else out? The monastery appeared more dismal and brooding today. Thomas could not quite rationalize his feelings towards the structure, yet he felt something was not quite right. He had been to other holy places in Christendom, some not as large and grand as this, while others had been truly awe-inspiring. But this one was different. He had known it when he had come here two years ago.
Thomas gazed about the surrounding countryside. The hills stood almost sullen, like a group of cowled monks with heads bowed and shoulders stooped as if prepared to receive a rebuke. A dull sun lay hidden behind layers of grey clouds lending the landscape an unsettling air. Though birds were seen to fly overhead, none ever nested in the vicinity. Little wildlife scampered through the woods, as if their instincts foretold of an unnatural danger. Was it this moody setting that gave the monastery its gloomy appearance, or was it the other way around? At times, Brother Thomas felt as if the monastery possessed an evil unto itself.

Was it evil, he wondered? Brother Domitian had often spoken of evil. Though he would never admit it, Thomas did not believe in evil as a tangible force, an independent thing. He believed the writings of St. Paul implied that evil existed in man’s heart, forever locked in a constant struggle with goodness, and it was up to man to guard against it, to see that the evil did not win. Thomas could not share these thoughts with his brothers, of course—they could be grounds for heresy. He shook off his musings as he entered the monastery through the main gate on the western wall.
Brother Thomas passed through a pair of large oak double doors that hung on heavy ornate iron hinges. Though the two baskets were a burden, they did not slow him down. Unlike most of the monks, who took slow contemplative steps, Thomas walked with long determined strides as if he were constantly late for something. He strode across the wide spacious open courtyard, surrounded by a pillared and arched cloister, to the kitchen directly opposite the main gate. He entered the kitchen and was met by a melding of odours. In a large open hearth that could easily accommodate a grown man, coals burned, and over the coals hung a black iron cauldron, suspended in a hinged stand, in which brewed what some in the monastery referred to as soup. Standing by the pot and stirring it with a large wooden spoon stood Brother Bernard, with his sad, petulant face, tired eyes, and crooked nose.
Wordlessly Brother Thomas approached the cook and proudly displayed his baskets of bounty. Brother Bernard regarded the food almost contemptuously and motioned for Thomas to place the baskets on the table. Leaning sideways over the soup, Brother Thomas took in a long audible breath through his nostrils and smiled approvingly at the cook who stared blankly back. Thomas gave a slight shrug of his shoulders and put the baskets down on the table. He exited the kitchen, dreading whatever unpalatable concoction Bernard would make out of his vegetables.
Thomas walked through the western gate and stood for a moment before heading down the mountain to fetch the last two baskets of vegetables from his garden. From atop the mountain he could see the surrounding countryside. The mountain dwarfed the surrounding hills. It was a lonely, desolate spot, just the kind of place a man might come to find God and salvation. As his gaze shifted to the west, Thomas saw the approach of a lone traveler. Even from far off, Thomas could see the grey habit of a fellow ascetic, and he hastened down the mountain to meet him.
Thomas stood waiting on the edge of the garden with his laden baskets at his feet for the stranger to approach. The monk was perhaps several years older than Thomas, was heavily bearded, and carried a small travelling pack. The features on his sober face were dark, and from what Thomas could observe, he deduced the man was from the East.
“Greetings,” Thomas called out in a friendly fashion. He did not forget his Hebrews: Be not forgetful to entertain strangers: for thereby some have entertained angels unawares. The stranger’s appearance and manner were anything but angelic, yet if the devil could assume an appealing disguise, then why not angels the reverse? Whether the stranger be angel, demon, or man, Brother Thomas met him openly.

The stranger did not answer or acknowledge Thomas in any way until he approached and stood close. Since the Rule called for every guest to the monastery to be treated as Christ himself, Thomas waited to greet the man with a holy kiss or a brotherly embrace. But the man made no attempt at even the slightest contact, except to ask curtly, “This is the monastery of St. Benedict?”
Thomas was taken aback at the man’s brusque manner.
“Yes,” he replied, “this is the monastery of St. Benedict. Welcome.”
Without a word or gesture the man turned and began his ascent of the mountain. Thomas snatched up his vegetables and escorted him matching the stranger stride for stride.
“I am Brother Thomas of Worms,” he said, and waited for a reply.
After a moment, it was reluctantly given. “Brother Lazarus.” The man’s voice was low and coarse, and Thomas detected an eastern accent.
“You have come a far way, I see, Brother Lazarus,” Thomas said as they plodded up the mountain path. The man did not speak, but this did not daunt Thomas in any way. “I trust you had a safe and comfortable sea voyage.”
The man stopped and regarded Thomas suspiciously. “How do you know I came by sea?”
“Though you came by the western road I see by your manner of speech and dress that you are from the East, for I have travelled to the East myself,” Thomas said. “I would conclude that you are from Constantinople. Therefore, undoubtedly, you travelled by ship and were put ashore at the coastal village of Lerici, or perhaps La Spezia, and from there came on by foot.”
“I may have been journeying eastward by land from a country west of here,” the stranger proposed. “How do you know I arrived by ship?”
“You have the smell of the sea on you,” Thomas said simply. “I find it interesting, though, that you have come so far expressly to visit our monastery.”
The man regarded Thomas with hostility. He clearly did not appreciate the black monk’s ability to divine so much of his affairs.
“Who said I came here for such a purpose?” Brother Lazarus demanded, his dark, deep-set eyes narrowing.
“When we met, you inquired about the monastery, and you referred to it by name as if it were your destination. It would be remarkable if you had heard of this monastery from such a distance. You have not come across us by chance, but for a singular purpose.”
Brother Lazarus stared at Thomas openmouthed. He studied the black monk’s light green eyes as if searching for a hint of intent.
“Your order does not call for a vow of silence, I see,” Brother Lazarus observed

No comments:

Post a Comment