Wednesday, October 27, 2010

The Ostiary Book II "Silens Semper" Chapter I

Chapter 1

            “Is he dead?”
                        “I don’t know.”
            “Well check to see if he’s breathing for Christ’s sake!”
“You fucking look!  I’m not getting near that sword of his!”
The first man threw up his hands in frustrated defeat.  “Fine, I’ll fucking look.”  He took a cautious step forward and was about to bend down when something inside told him that it wasn’t a good idea.  He straightened up and took a quick look at the other man before extending his booted foot and giving the man laying on the cobblestones a gentle nudge.  He quickly retreated to the other man’s side.
They waited.
Nothing happened.
“You do it this time,” the first man whispered.
“Not for a hundred gold crowns.”
“We have to wake him soon,” the first complained.
“Wake him?  We don’t even know if he’s alive!”  The second hissed.
“Oh, he’s alive.”  The first man bent down his eyes squinting at the prostrate man.  “Nothing in heaven and earth can kill him.”
“Did you see how much wine and ale he drank last night?”  The second man shook his head.  “I’ve never seen anything like that before and I doubt I’ll ever see that again.”
The first man let out a big sigh.  “Not the first for me,” he mumbled.  “Mind you, he did overdo it a bit last night.”
“Your master’s a drunk.”
The first man reacted in a flash.  He drew his rapier from its scabbard with blinding speed and thrust the sharp edge against the other man’s throat.  “You’re my friend Rheal, but I swear if you ever say that again, I’ll cut your throat before you finish the words!”
“Okay, I’m sorry!”  Rheal put his hands up and gently, slowly, pushed the blade away.  “I’m sorry, Jonas,” he repeated, “but you are going to have to do something with him and soon.  I cannot stay here all morning.”
“We could try carrying him to the baths,” Jonas suggested.  “He might not wake up until we throw him in the water.”
Rheal paled visibly at the suggestion.  “Even if he doesn’t wake up, he’ll probably throw up all over us.”  He pointed at his uniform with a shake of his head.
Jonas looked at his friends uniform and then at his own.  Both wore the fine blue tabards with the Musketeer crosses on their left breasts and the feathered wide brimmed hats that marked them for what they were.  The King’s own body guard.
“I’ll not have his stomach all over my coat and I’ve no time to change.  I’m on duty in another hour!”
“Fine!”  Jonas sheathed his sword and looked around for something to throw.  He found a chunk of wood and hefted it, wondering if it would be enough and if it was, was it the smartest thing to do.  The sudden clanging of the church bells made the decision for him.
“I’m going to stand over here,” Rheal said quickly when he realized what his friend was going to do.  He retreated behind a stack of crates against the far wall.
“Coward,” Jonas called over his shoulder.  He gave the wood one more heft then tossed it toward the unconscious man.  He watched with some dread as the wood arced almost gracefully into the air and then fall. 
His aim was perfect.  The piece of wood fell on the man’s stomach with a dull thunking sound.
The man reacted instantly.  As the wood bounced away he drew his sword and swung with a speed and accuracy that even a fully awake and sober man would find impossible to block.  The blade sliced cleanly through the wood cutting it into two pieces before it touched the ground.
“Sweet Mary, Mother of Jesus,” Rheal breathed in awe and made the sign of the cross on his breast.
Jonas leapt back as the blade swung again, barely missing his waist.  “Peace, Master!”  He yelled frantically.  “It is Jonas!”
The man had risen to his knees and he held the blade out, the tip moving in dangerous little circles as if it were searching for a target.  The blade lowered only slightly at the sound of the young man’s voice.
“Jonas?”  The man croaked hoarsely.
“Yes, my Lord.”  Jonas answered quickly.  “And Rheal stands with me.”
“Oh fuck, you had to mention my name,” Rheal groaned from behind the crates.
“Who attacked me?  Did you see who it was?”  The man sat down, letting his sword drop from his hand.  He rubbed his eyes trying to get them into focus.
“No one attacked you,” Jonas answered.  He finally worked up the nerve to approach the man now that he was awake and sat down next to him on the cobblestones of the street.  “I had to wake you before it was too late.”
“Too late?”  The man opened an eye and cocked the matching eyebrow at the young man sitting next to him.  “Too late for what?”
“Your ascension ceremony.”  Jonas shook his head.  “You are to be risen to the rank of doorkeeper today.”
The man lowered his head into his hands and rocked back and forth.  “I haven’t forgotten.”  He raised his head and looked at the sky.  “What time is it now?”
“It is just past the tenth hour,” Jonas replied.  He waved a quick goodbye to Rheal who was still hiding behind the crates. 
The Musketeer gave a quick bow and ran from the alley.
“Who was that?”
“My friend, Rheal.  He was with us last night and I employed his service this morning in my hunt for your whereabouts.”
The man nodded and winced.  “I remember,” he groaned holding his head again.  “At least I think I remember.  I thought I told you never to let me drink that much again.”
Jonas shrugged.  “I am not your mother and besides, it was a special occasion.”
The man chuckled but there was little mirth in the sound.  He cocked the same eye at the young soldier again.  “You have no idea how special.”  He held out a hand.  “Help an old man to his feet.”
Jonas grabbed the hand and pulled.  “Old man is it?  Just how old?  Twenty-six?  Twenty-seven?”
“You know damn well I’m only twenty-five,” the man growled.
Jonas removed his feathered hat and flourished it as he bowed low.  “Forgive me Master Moreau.”
Moreau stretched to his full height of six feet and looked down at his companion.  “I guess the master part will be true enough after today.”  He looked around and found his sword.
Jonas moved quickly, his hand stretching out and grasping the hilt of Moreau’s sword.  He held it up watching the light glint off the flat revealing a pattern of swirls running the entire length.  The edges were keen and razor sharp.  “Why do you insist on hanging onto this relic?”
“That relic belonged to the very first David Moreau, my grandfather to some fucking degree and one of the original members of the Ostiary.”  Moreau grabbed the sword and checked the edge to see if it had been damaged during the night.  Satisfied that it was okay, he slid it back into its scabbard.
Jonas raised his eyebrows, impressed.  “I never knew that.”
“There’s a shitcart full of things you don’t know about me.”
“Doesn’t seem fair if you ask me.  You know almost everything about me and I know only scraps about you.”  Jonas looked at the sky and saw rain in the clouds.  “I’ve been with you for almost a year.  You would think I’d know more.”
“You would think.”  Moreau put his hands to the small of his back and stretched his body as tall as it would go, a small groan escaping his lips.  “That’s the whole idea of being an initiate.  We find out about you, not the other way around.”  He shook his arms and legs to get the feeling back into them.  The motions seemed to shake what alcohol was left in his stomach and he belched and vomited almost at the same time.  He wiped his mouth with a corner of his cape.  “My master and I needed to make sure that you were worthy and skilled enough to eventually become a full member of the Order.”
“Still,” Jonas frowned.
Moreau clapped the young Musketeer on the shoulder.  “Don’t let it rankle.  Besides, some of that was your own fault.  You are the first initiate to actually have another job.”  Moreau picked at the material of Jonas’s tabard.  “And a Musketeer no less.  You spent far too much time away from us and I had to convince my master on several occasions that you were worth keeping.”  Moreau set off along the alleyway at a brisk walk.
Jonas looked shocked at information.  “I thought Master Brendon liked me?” he asked, struggling to keep up with the long strides of his master.
“Aye, he did.”  Moreau’s brow furrowed at the memory of his late master.  “Two days,” he whispered and shook his head.
“Your Pardon?”
“It has only been two days since his death and now we race to fill his spot in the Order as if the sun herself would fall from the heavens if we did not.”
“Is this not the normal way?”
Moreau shook his head, a dark cloud passing behind his bloodshot blue eyes.  “There is nothing normal about anything of the past few days.”
“What do you mean?”
“I mean the unlooked for summons of my master and me to Paris, his untimely death and this urgency to fill his position within the Order are I fear, planned events.”
The unspoken implication of what Moreau had just said stopped Jonas in his tracks.  “You think Master Brendon was murdered?”
Moreau turned as he continued to walk down the alley and put a finger to his lips.  “We are watched,” he said in the younger man’s mind.
Jonas had to jog to catch up to the tall man.  “What makes you think that?”  He whispered when he finally reached Moreau’s side.
“I don’t think,” Moreau whispered back.  “I know.”
“Who would do such a thing?”
“Ah, the ‘who’ is something we must find out.”
“But why?”
“The ‘why’ my friend is more easily answered and shall be in due course.”  Moreau sniffed at the sleeve of his cloak and grimaced.  “But first I need a bath and a change of clothing.”  He eyed the darkening sky.  “And I fear I shall have a cold one if we do not hurry.”  He quickened his pace forcing his smaller companion into a trot.
They finally broke out of the alley and into the wide cobbles of the street.
Moreau eyed his surroundings with a confused look on his face.  The tall, narrow buildings crowded together in a jumble of wood and stone.  He sniffed the air with a grimace.  “God, I hate Paris,” he grated.  “Stinks almost as bad as I do.”
A window above them opened and they both looked up in time to see a woman empty the contents of a chamber pot into the street.  Jonas stepped sideways behind his master as the contents hit the cobblestones and splattered all over Moreau.
The big man looked down at the mess.  “Putain!” “Whore!” He growled.
“That’s disgusting,” Jonas choked the words out over the stench.
“I notice you were able to spare yourself this disgrace.”
“It’s my only uniform,” Jonas explained as he checked his clothing for any spots.  “Besides, you’re going to take a bath and change.  I took a bath last week.  I’ve no wish to catch fever of the lung.”
Moreau waved the excuse away with his hand.  “Let’s just get this day over with so we can leave this shit pile they call a city.”  He started walking again.  “Where the hell are we?”
“On the Petit Pont.”  Jonas answered.  He pointed to the south.  “There’s Notre Dame in all her heavenly glory.”
Moreau turned his eyes in the same direction and took in the huge towers that dominated the landscape for miles around.  “They certainly tried to reach heaven.”  He changed directions now that he had his bearings.  “Thank God my apartments are nearby,” he breathed.
They walked on down the road until they reached a large squat building badly in need of repair.  Moreau took the steps two at a time leaving Jonas to follow in his wake.  He opened the main door and began climbing another set of stairs leading to the second floor.  He stopped at the top and reached into his vest and withdrew a large, black metal key.
Jonas reached the top and followed his master across the landing to the only door on the floor.  He waited patiently while Moreau fit the key into the lock and opened the door.  As he entered he flung his right hand in an almost absent gesture.  Five small flames sprung from his fingertips and raced in different directions around the room until each settled on the wick of a candle.
Jonas crossed himself as he watched the flames fly about the room.
“I wish you’d stop doing that,” Moreau complained as he began stripping off his cloak, vest and tunic.  He unbuckled his sword belt and leaned the sword against the bed.
“Sorry,” Jonas said a little embarrassed.  “I’m not sure I’ll ever get used to that.”
“Well you’d better.  You are after all gifted with the same power and as my apprentice I’ll be expecting you to practice.”
Jonas nodded.  “Still, it is a bit unnerving the way you casually do things.”
Moreau laughed.  “Master Brendon had the same complaint.  He felt I was too cavalier about it.”
Jonas smiled.  He saw that the candle light barely lit the room and he moved to open one of the shuttered windows.
“Leave them,” Moreau ordered.
“But it is day outside and the light in here is dim.”
“There is enough for our purposes and I have no wish for someone outside watching us.”
Jonas shrugged and sat down on the edge of the bed.  He watched as the big man began stripping off his undergarments tossing them into a pile on the floor.
“Instead of watching me strip, you could go down and fetch up that lazy landlord and his son.”
Jonas leapt to his feet and headed for the door.
“Have the boy bring water for a bath!”  Moreau called after the Musketeer.
Jonas returned a short time later and entered the room without knocking.  He waited in the open doorway with the landlord and boy at his back as he checked to see if his master was ready.
“Let them in,” Moreau said casually.  He sat naked on the end of the bed his muscled and heavily scarred arms stretched out behind him.
Jonas stepped aside and allowed the landlord and his son into the room.  The landlord was short and barrel chested with a wide girth but there was nothing fat about him.  He worked hard at his living and Moreau’s master had known the man from years before as a military campaigner and a good soldier.  He limped into the room, his eyes squinting to see in the dim light.  His son, a small skinny lad of ten or eleven followed with two wooden buckets of water.  The boy immediately went to the tub and dumped the water in and left to get more.
“Master Lapointe,” Moreau called out.  “I have some news for you and an errand.”
The landlord bowed.  “I am as always, at your service monsieur.”  He eyed the big man for a moment before asking.  “What am I to have first?  The instructions for the errand or the news?”
“The news I think.”  Moreau stood up and walked over to the only table in the room.  He picked up a small leather pouch and hefted it a couple of times in his hand.  “My master and I have always enjoyed your hospitality in the past and it was always a comfort to know that our apartments here in Paris were always at the ready should we be in the city.”
“You are kind to say, sir but your master paid me well enough to keep them empty for you.”
Moreau smiled at the man.  “I think we both know that you would rather leave your own bed empty then a room but that is just good business is it not?” 
The landlord shrugged his shoulders.
Moreau barked a laugh and tossed the small bag toward the man.  It clinked as he caught it.  “After today, my young apprentice and I will be leaving Paris.”
Lapointe took the news in due course.  “When does master Moreau intend on returning?”
“We will not.”
Jonas’s head jerked up when he heard the words but kept his silence.
Lapointe stood speechless for a bit.  “I do not understand, sir,” he finally managed.  “Have I not provided a good home for you and your recently departed master?”  He made the sign of the cross as he mentioned Moreau’s dead master.  “Perhaps there was a problem with the food?”
“There was no problem,” Moreau answered quickly.  “We will not be returning to Paris.”
“This is sore news to my ears.”  The landlord saw a chair and quickly slumped down into it. 
“You will find others to fill the apartment.”  Moreau tried to use a consoling tone but realized he had none.
“It will be harder than you think,” Lapointe complained.  “There is rumor that the King will be moving his court to Versailles soon.”  He cast an eye at Jonas for confirmation.
The young Musketeer held up his hands as if to say he had no news regarding the matter.
“You would think a King’s Musketeer would know such things.”
“You would think,” Jonas answered back.
The landlord let out a sigh.  “What is the errand?”
“Go to the tailors and pick up two packages he has for me,” Moreau said gently.  “Then go to the smithy at the end of the row and you’ll find another package there.”  He pointed at the pouch now gripped tightly in the landlord’s hand.  “There is enough money in that purse to pay both and enough left over to cover the rent on this apartment for one more year.”
The landlord’s eyes brightened a bit.  “Many thanks to you good sir.”
“You have been a loyal and trustworthy man to my master and myself these many years.  Master Brendon would want you rewarded for your troubles.”
“I was saddened at his passing.”
“We all were.”
The door opened and the landlord’s son entered carrying two more buckets of water.
“I will attend to your errand now.”  The landlord stood and waited for his son to empty the buckets before leaving the room.  Jonas walked to the door and closed it, making sure the latch was secure.
Moreau went over to the now full tub and stuck his right hand into the cold water.  Lines creased his forehead as he concentrated and soon the water around his hand was steaming.  “That should be enough.”  He sighed as he lowered his body into the hot water.  “Hand me some soap would you?”
Jonas found a cake of lye soap and tossed it at Moreau who caught it deftly and began rubbing the white bar over his chest.
“Is the King really moving the court to Versailles?”
Jonas nodded.  “We are not allowed to openly speak of it but within two, maybe three years the palace there will be ready.”
“That does not bode well for the denizens of Paris.”  Moreau began soaping his arms and legs.  “Why Versailles?  Last time I passed through there it was mostly forest and marshland.”
“It is partly because of the people of Paris that the King is moving.  There have been too many riots and he fears an uprising would be better dealt with at a distance.”
“There is some merit in that.”  Moreau paused to dunk his head under the water, his fingers working quickly to clean the tangled locks.  “If I know Louis, the new palace will be as grand as his ego.”
“Perhaps too grand,” Jonas muttered.  “It is said that several thousand laborers have already lost their lives preparing the land and I’ve no doubt more will follow.”
“Do I detect a hint of dissatisfaction with your King?”  Moreau cocked an eye at his companion.  “I find that strange if not treasonous coming from a King’s Musketeer.”
“He’s your king too.”
Moreau shook his head.  “No, I’m England born and my allegiance to that majesty ended with my apprenticeship as will yours after today.”
Jonas looked at his uniform and frowned.  “It is a shame,” he said quietly.  “I’ve enjoyed my time as a Musketeer and all the advantages that went with the title.”
“Don’t worry,” Moreau consoled.  “You will be able to wear the emblem of the office if not perform the duties to which they were intended.”
“I do not understand.”
“The whole idea of the Ostiary is to be invisible.  Many in the Order still hold claim to their old titles and rank as a way to move freely about the world without drawing attention to themselves or the Order.”  Moreau dunked his head one more time before rising to his feet and stepping out of the tub.  Water dripped and puddle at his feet.
“You should have asked for towels.”
Moreau smiled and as he did a flame began at his feet and worked its way up his legs to his waist.  Soon his entire body save his head was encased in a flickering blue light that died quickly leaving Moreau’s skin dry.
“I tried that once.”
Jonas’s face reddened slightly.  “My balls were itchy for a month while the hair grew back.”
“Concentration,” Moreau chuckled.  “You just need practice and you’ll get plenty of it soon enough.”
“Good.”  Jonas sat down on the chair recently vacated by the landlord and frowned.  “I was going to wait until you decided to return to the subject but I see you have no intention of it so I’ll have to bring it up.”
“What subject would that be?”
“The one where you tell me about the murder of Master Brendon.”
“Ah, that subject.”  Moreau went to the bed and unfolded a clean pair of trousers, socks and a white, long sleeve linen shirt.  “That is a long story with many winding turns and I fear is far from finished.”  He sat down and pulled the socks over his feet.  “But I promise you this my young apprentice, by tonight you will know most if not all of the story and may God give you the strength to decide if you should stay by my side.”
“That decision has already been made.  I have no intentions of leaving you.”
“Perhaps.  It will certainly be a huge test of both your strength and resolve should you stay.”  Moreau stood and first pulled the pants over his legs and then the white shirt over his head.
There was a knock and Jonas strode quietly to the door and held the latch.  “Who is there?”
“The landlord returning with your master’s packages.”  The voice of the landlord was muffled but clearly identifiable.
Jonas lifted the latch and stepped aside as he allowed the door to swing in revealing the man, his arms laden with three bundles.  He was sweating profusely from his errands.
“Thank you, Lapointe.”  Moreau pointed at the bed.  “Just place them here.”
Lapointe lumbered across the room and dumped the packages on the bed and bowed before leaving.
Moreau tied a leather rope around the top of his pants making sure they were secure before going to the bed and opening the packages.  The first he unwrapped carefully and the room filled with the light tinkling sound of fine metal.  Moreau picked the garment up by the shoulders and held it aloft at arm’s length.
Jonas let a gasp escape his lips.  Even the dim light from the candles was enough to set the steel rings glowing.
“Beautiful isn’t it?”  Moreau smiled at a distant memory.
“I’ve never seen its like.”
“It also belonged to the first Moreau.”  Moreau eyed the chain mail shirt with satisfaction.  “I’ve had the smithy shorten the body and remove the hood before dipping the whole thing in a silver wash.”  He slipped the metal garment over his head and pushed his arms into the sleeves.  When he was done the shirt fit like a second skin.
“One doesn’t see chain armor these days,” Jonas said as he eyed the silver rings admiringly.  “Are you expecting trouble today?”
Moreau nodded.  “Not only today, but in the days to follow.”  He gave the young man another appraising look.  “I’m afraid I’ve pulled you into a strange and complicated and very deadly war.”
Jonas shrugged the concern away.  “I’ve been in enough border skirmishes to know I can take care of myself.”  He smiled at his own bravado.  “Besides,” he added.  “You only need the mail if you let them get past your blade.”
“This happens often enough to be a concern for both of us.”  Moreau reached into the open package and pulled out a second mail shirt.  “Regardless of your superb and widely known skill with the sword, I’ve had one made up for you.”  He tossed the shirt to the younger man.
Jonas caught the mail and was surprised at how light it was.  He tossed his hat on the chair and quickly pulled off his tabard and put the mail over his head.  He pulled at the sleeves and body until the metal settled.  He pulled the fine Musketeer’s colors over the shirt and lifted his arms in a ‘look at me’ pose.
Moreau nodded his approval.  The big man opened another package and unfolded a fine white tabard of his own and held it high for the other to see.  At the center of the front and back was a red Maltese cross.
“I’ve seen that crest before, master but I’m not sure where.”
“It is the crest of the Knights Templar.”
Jonas made the sign of the cross with a trembling hand.  “Master,” he breathed.  “The Templars were outlawed and executed by the church.”
“The order may have come from Rome, but it was a French King who did the executing,” Moreau growled.  “A treachery so far reaching that I believe it will eventually touch us all.”
“Aye, I say true.  A whole Order of the most noble of Knights betrayed for money.”  Moreau let the garment drop over his head and settle on his shoulders.  He seemed to straighten and become even taller than his already towering six feet.  “Or almost a whole order.  One escaped and hid among the brothers of an even stronger and more secretive Order.”  He buckled the sword to his waist as he spoke.
“The Ostiary.”
Moreau nodded.  He quickly ripped open the third package and unfolded a beautiful long and hooded cloak of fine wool dyed almost black.  He tied the cloak at his throat with a silver clasp shaped like a dragon.
“Is your sword ready, young apprentice?”
Jonas bowed low.  “Ready as always my master and pledged to your side until my dying breath.”
Moreau sighed and took a last look at the room.  Their belongings had long been packed and sent ahead to another Inn on the outskirts of the city to await their arrival.  “Let us get this farce of a ceremony over with.”
Jonas strode to the door opened it and walked through.  Moreau took a deep breath and a final look around.  The pile of ruined cloths he would leave behind for the landlord to clean and sell.  He drew the Damascus blade from its sheath and turned the point to the floor and knelt down, his right hand making the sign of the cross and said a brief prayer before following his young charge out of the room.

Monday, September 6, 2010

The Ostiary Book I Chapter I

Chapter 1

“Any reason we can’t have a fire?”
The question was asked quietly enough but the words seemed to carry in the frost of the early morning air.
“I’ve already explained to you why we can’t light a fire.” The answer came out of the darkness.
“You realize I took a shit a little while ago and it froze before it hit the ground?”
The darkness sighed lightly at his companion’s complaints. “It will be morning soon enough.”
“And what of vespers?”
“What of it?” the deep voice asked, a hint of an edge like it was tired of answering the same question over and over again.
“Three days, Dagda. Three days we’ve not said morning prayers or evening vespers.” There was genuine worry, even fear in the voice. “And confession. We haven’t done confession for what, five, six days?”
“We haven’t had time,” Dagda responded.
“You think God cares about how much time we have?” the other snorted. “You might think you’re well hidden where we are, but not from God, my friend.”
“I’m not hiding from God.” Dagda let his voice rise slightly in an attempt to get the other man to drop his daily complaint. He raised his eyes to the east and saw what they had been waiting for. “Dawn will be here soon,” he commented at the paling of the nights sky where it touched the earth.
“Another day.” the other sighed.
“Another day,” Dagda repeated.
“If I die today, I’ll go straight to hell.”
Dagda finally turned in the direction the other voice was coming from. His eyes searched the darkness until he found the outline of the man sitting on a log. “You said that yesterday,” he said. “And the day before that and the one before that…” He would have continued but the man on the stump stopped him.
“Yes!” the other hissed. “But for the grace of God, I haven’t.” The man stood up, a slight groan escaping from his lips. He stretched out the kinks of the night. “I’m too fucking old to be wandering through forests at night.” He stamped his sandaled feet to warm them. “I could easily catch the sickness and die on the spot. Then where’d you be? Answer me that. All alone in this strange country with naught but my soul on your conscience.”
Dagda spat on the ground. “I’ll take my chances,” he said bluntly. “And need I remind you again that I didn’t twist your arm to come on this trip.” He wiped some remaining spittle with his sleeve. “As I recall you wanted to come.”
“Only because you said the trip would be useless if I didn’t.”
Dagda sighed heavily. “Today’s the last day we need to hide. After this we’ll sleep in warm beds and eat cooked food, I promise.”
The morning light had grown steadily as the two men argued and now Dagda could clearly see his companion. He looked at the grey hair that was left on the balding head and wondered if he had done the right thing by taking him. He watched silently as the older man stomped around the small clearing they had taken refuge in. “Aedan?”
The old man stopped and cocked his head. “What?”
“How old are you?”
“You ask me that now? After all these years?”
Dagda shrugged his huge shoulders. He towered over his companion at almost six and a half feet. He was always conscious of his height around others but he refused to diminish his stature by slouching. He tugged nervously at his jet black hair and equally black beard as if he was asking a very personal question. “Just curious,” he finally answered.
“You think I’m too old don’t you?” Aedan stammered accusingly. “You don’t think I can take care of myself. That I’m some feeble old cripple!”
Dagda shook his head, regretting even thinking about asking the question.
“Then why ask?” Aedan growled. “Why now?”
“I’m just curious.”
The old man turned away slowly, his irritation fading. He continued to stomp his feet not caring if he made too much noise. “I don’t know really,” he finally answered in a subdued voice.
“It’s not important, Aedan.” Dagda said kindly enough.
Aedan grunted and continued to pace around the clearing but he took greater pains now to keep from making too much noise.
The dull ‘dong’ of bells sounded off in the distance.
Aedan raised his head and grumbled. “They’ll be going to morning prayers,” he said accusingly.
Dagda just nodded, choosing to keep his words to himself for the moment.
The bells stopped and the forest was plunged into the cold silence of winter.
“I think I’m over forty.”
“What?” Dagda turned and looked at his older friend.
“Forty. I think I’m over forty.” Aedan stopped his moving about and looked sidelong at the taller man. “What year is this?”
“Year of our Lord 1157.”
“As near as I can figure, I was ten or eleven years old when I entered the monastery.”
“When was that?”
The old man scratched at his unshaven face and grumbled.
“I didn’t hear you,” Dagda pressed, his curiosity fully aroused.
“I need a shave,” Aedan snapped. He grumbled a bit more while he thought. “It was the same year that Gelasius III was pope.” He shrugged his shoulders, “What year that was I have no idea.”
“1118,” Dagda offered.
Aedan’s brow crinkled as he struggled with the numbers. He looked at Dagda for help.
“You’re forty-nine,” he offered. “That’s if you’re right about your age when you entered service.”
“Forty-nine?” Aedan looked both surprised and saddened by the news. “You sure?”
“Well the art of numbers was never a strong point of mine but it works out to that.”
“That’s pretty old isn’t it?” The old man sat down on the log and rubbed his knees.
Dagda shrugged his shoulders. He had guessed within a couple of years his friend’s age and wondered what had made him bring the subject up by asking. Silently he chastised his lack of foresight and compassion for his long time friend. Voices rose up in song from inside the Abbey and Dagda felt his own strong urge to go inside and join them.
“How old are you?” Aedan asked.
“I’m twenty-nine.”
“That’s not so old.” Aedan tossed his friend a wink of a blue eye, “But not so young either.”
Dagda chuckled. “Not so young.” He turned his attention to the building that lay just beyond the trees. The morning light had grown enough for him to make out the details of the building they had been watching the last three days. It was made from rough-hewn stone and logs cut from the forest they were hidden in. It was small and crude but served well enough as a monastery. The Catholic Priests of the Celts were isolated and had built it mostly themselves with some help from the locals. Dagda noticed that the original building had been added to many times over the years. Wings jutted out at odd angles giving way to small open courts around the perimeter. There were no defensive structures in place and Dagda wondered at this absence. Most monasteries were prone to attacks at one time or another.
“I don’t see him.” Aedan grunted coming to stand next to Dagda.
Dagda looked down at the other, their closeness accentuating the differences in height. “He’ll be out soon enough.”
“And then what? We hit him on the head and plop a bag over him?”
Dagda smiled. “We’ll save that as a last resort.” He pulled at his beard in thought. “If I’m right about him and his talents, he should already be aware of us. Should have been since we arrived.”
Aedan stamped his foot. “Then why in God’s name have we been freezing our damn arses off in this bush?”
Dagda opened his mouth to talk but was cut off.
“And miss three days of vespers.” Aeden now wagged a finger in his partner’s face. “And missed daily confession!”
Dagda tried to speak again.
“Pah!” Aeden spat and waved his hand at his friend and stomped off to stand facing the trees at the far edge of the clearing.
“We needed to watch and learn,” Dagda tried to explain. “If he has the talents I think he has, we needed to see what he would do.”
“Well he’s done naught and we’ve come all this way and froze ourselves for naught!” Aeden refused to turn around, growling his words into the forest. “Your dreams have led us to a dead end, Dagda. Its time you admitted it.”
“I’ll admit it only after we talk to him.” Dagda was firm in his mind about the young monk they had come to see but his words sounded less sure.
“You’ve been wrong before.” Aeden accused.
“Not this time.” Dagda almost lost his temper and muttered a prayer under his breath for patience. “The feeling is too strong to be wrong.”
“He wont agree to come with us.”
“Maybe,” Dagda mused. “At first he might resist but I think in the end he’ll see his true path to God.”
“Or Satan,” Aeden argued. “The church, even our Celtic brethren think that we are nearer to the cursed one.” He rubbed his hands together. “We live on the edge of heresy and not a day goes by that I don’t expect to see the soldiers of Rome bearing down on us.”
“We’re safe for the moment.” Dagda pursed his lips in doubt at his own words.
“Not for much longer, Dagda,” Aeden spoke in a whisper as if the trees hid the very soldiers he feared. “Rome is moving on Ireland,” he continued. “His Holiness doesn’t like the fact that the Celtic Catholic church is separate from the constricts of the papacy.”
“I know.”
“You know,” Aeden hissed. “And yet here we are, two Celtic monks freezing over a boy who may or may not have the gifts. Who may or may not choose to come with us.”
Dagda turned a dark stare on his friend. “You’re not telling me anything I don’t know or fear, my friend.” he sighed heavily. “The soldiers are already on Irish soil and the burning and inquisitions have started.” He held his friends eyes with his own. “We are safer, freezing as we are, here, on British soil.”
Aeden’s face fell as if he had been struck a stinging and unexpected blow. “You know this?”
Dagda nodded his bearded chin. “Aye, I know this.” He turned away and began his own pacing of the clearing, his much longer legs making short work of the distance. “Our brethren at Armagh sent a runner with tidings. It seems King Henry II has received permission from the Pope to rid our dear Erin of all her evils and to return her to the fold.” Dagda spoke with disgust at what he had heard. Tortures, killings and worse had sent hundreds of his brothers fleeing for their lives. He refrained from telling his friend that the soldiers had asked for both of them by name and that many had been tortured to reveal their location. He knew Aeden would not have left the island had he known this.
Aeden’s eyes watered and his face dropped. “Can we ever return?” He asked quietly
Dagda shook his head. “No. Unless we are called to duty.” He placed a comforting hand on his friend’s shoulder. “We live in exile from this point on. Can you be content with this?”
“Do I have a choice?” Aeden asked, flashing Dagda a pained look. “I wish you would have trusted me enough to tell me this before we left.”
“I could hardly trust myself,” Dagda explained. “It was all the will I could muster to keep from going to our brethren’s aid. I would not have been able to contain the desires of both of us.”
Aeden remained silent but nodded.
The two friends stood side by side in silent prayer for their brothers as the morning light finally began filtering through the trees.
Dagda closed his eyes and breathed deeply. He had chosen to travel at the right time. Winter was over and spring newly begun. The nights and mornings would still bring a chill for a while longer but they would have several months of good weather, which they might need if they were forced to remain hidden in the woods of this strange country. His nose picked up the faint scent of wet grass and his mind flew back in time to the glen he was born in. Summers spent helping his father till the earth. Lazy afternoon’s when it was his turn to watch the sheep. The memory was faint and fleeting but it cradled and steadied him. In his heart he knew that he would always have a piece of his Island with him.
Noise from the courtyards brought him back to the present and he craned his neck to see if the boy was outside.
“He’s over by the barrow,” Aeden whispered. “Near the gate wall.”
Dagda’s eyes searched the area and found him. He was clad in the usual monk’s garb, hooded robe and sandals. He bore his Celtic heritage in his wide face and jet-black hair. The young man clearly was just out of boyhood, the skin of his face smooth and hairless and free from any blemishes or pox. His isolation had been of benefit to his appearance but Dagda knew that the years ahead of him, either at the abbey or by his side would age the boy to the point where he would be unrecognizable from the youth who now stood in the courtyard.
“Well?” Aeden asked. “Do we jump out of the bushes, rush him and drag him off?”
Dagda didn’t answer right away. He was watching the boy who had now left the shadow of the wall and walked into the cleared area between the abbey wall and the trees that hid the two monks. He stopped a few strides from the edge of the forest and bowed slightly.
“God be with you.” His voice was soft but deep like a mans’ and strong. Dagda felt the strength of that voice and knew immediately that his dream had not been false.
Aeden and Dagda exchanged looks of surprise.
“And also with you,” Dagda responded, pushing his way through the thick underbrush until he stood in the clearing facing the youth. It took a little longer and several mumbled curses before Aeden joined them.
The young man regarded the two with a mixture of satisfaction and surprise. Dagda towered over him like a giant from children’s stories and his dress leaned more to that of a travelling warrior than monk. The young monk’s eyes took in the man who had answered his blessing. The huge frame was wrapped by a dark, weather stained cloak of heavy wool and underneath he wore a dark brown leather jerkin over a wool shirt. Both were belted with a wide, studded leather belt and on his left hip hung a scabbard holding a long dagger. The man’s tree-trunk like legs were encased in black wool and bound with leather. The soft, sheepskin boots he wore looked big enough for two men to fit their feet in.
“The Lord’s blessing be upon you this day,” Aeden managed between gasps of breath.
“Thank you,” the young man responded, a smile playing on his lips. At least this one looked more like a monk he thought.
“We are both brethren,” Dagda spoke as if reading the young man’s mind.
The young man took a quick step back and looked hard at the tall monk. “It is you who have invaded my dreams of late,” he said quickly. “Although I must admit I had not expected one who could actually touch the heavens.” The smile he wore turned sly. “Tell me my brother. Do you also converse with the birds of the air?”
Aeden hissed violently. “Mock him at your peril, boy.”
“I doubt it not that he could easily crush me.” The crooked smile had not left his lips.
The blow that came resounded in the courtyard and the boy shook his head. His look had changed to hurt at being struck and genuine surprise at where the blow had come.
Aeden had moved faster than an eye could track and struck the boy a solid slap on the side of his head.
The young man held a palm up to the side of his head for a moment before collecting his wits. “I offer both of you my apology.” His voice had lost much of its bravado and he hung his head.
“You are forgiven for my part,” Aeden said tersely
“And for mine,” Dagda added.
The young man raised his head again and held out his hand. “My name is Brennus.”
“I am called Dagda and this,” Dagda gestured to his friend, “is Brother Aeden.”
“Brennus?” Aeden repeated with a lift of an eyebrow. “Of the elder Celtic Lords?”
The young man nodded. “The same who sacked Rome in a time long past.”
“Long past but not forgotten it would seem.” Dagda interjected. “Why did your father choose this name?”
“My mother told me that when I was born I was not breathing. The woman attending her cried that I was still born. It was then that a raven flew in to our hut and landed on the bed. My father could not make the creature leave until it had heard me cry my first breath.” The young monk smiled at the memory. “Brennus is ancient Celtic for raven.”
Aeden threw a look at Dagda. “It would seem he is well chosen.”
“We are all well chosen, my friend.” Dagda opened his arms in greeting and benediction. “Gloria Patri, et Filio, et Spiritui Sancto. Glory Be to the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost. We are all well met on this day.”
“Amen,” Aeden and Brennus answered in unison.
“Then the only question is why have we met on this day?” Brennus asked.
As if in response, a cloud passed before the sun and the world darkened around the three men.
“A sign from God,” breathed Aeden, making the sign of the cross.
Dagda shook his head and looked up at the sky. “It’s a fucking cloud.” He growled in irritation at his friend.
“It’s God’s fucking cloud.” Aeden corrected.
“It would seem that you two have travelled far together,” Brennus interjected as if to try and stave off an argument. “We’ve already taken morning bread but travellers are always welcome and meals are served in their honour.”
A sigh escaped Aeden’s lips before he licked them. “Would that be a hot meal?”
Brennus nodded his head. “Porridge,” he said bluntly. “A meagre meal but the bread is fresh and the butter churned this very morn by yours truly.”
“A king’s feast to such as us,” Dagda said.
A shadow passed over the young monk’s face and he hesitated. “I would ask something of you Brothers before we go on.”
“Ask,” Dagda and Aeden said in unison, their mouths watering and bellies grumbling at the thought of food.
“The world,” the young monk began. His brow furrowed as if searching for the correct words. “I have dreamed of a terrible thing for almost two years now. Lately, the dream has come more often to my sleep as if there is a deep urgency.”
Dagda remained silent, his head only nodding slightly.
“It would seem to me that the world is torn,” Brennus almost whispered. “Somewhere, there is or will be a tear that will bring ruination to life.”
Both Dagda and Aeden stiffened at the monk’s statement. Dagda cocked an eyebrow at the young monk. “You dream true, I fear,” he said at last.
“Then is this the end of times? Are we to prepare to meet our Lord?” Brennus asked the questions in a voice that was strangely mixed with fear and anticipation.
Dagda stroked his black beard while he considered what to say in answer. It was Aeden who decided for both of them what to say.
“No, Brother it is not that end as written in the revelations of John.” Aeden glanced quickly to the larger monk as if looking for permission to continue. Dagda nodded quickly.
“But it may be that should we fail, then that which was prophesied could indeed come to pass.” Aeden made the sign of the cross and became silent.
Brennus looked at the older monk then to Dagda. “Then what is to happen?”
Dagda reached out and grabbed the young monk firmly by the shoulders. “It is because of your dreams that we have searched you out my young Brother. With God’s help and yours, we intend to prevent this tear from happening.” His stomach made a loud noise. “Now what about our breakfast?”

Thursday, September 2, 2010

First Chapter of "The Camera Guy"

The Camera Guy
The following is an excerpt from The Camera Guy
By Richard W. Goodship
Copywrite © 2003

"The other shape,
If shape it might be call'd, that shape had none,
Distinguishable in member, joint, or limb;
Or substance might be call'd that shadow seem'd;
For each seem'd either; black it stood as night,
Fierce as ten furies, terrible as Hell,
And shook a dreadful dart; what seem'd his head
The likeness of a kingly crown had on.
Satan was now at hand; and from his seat
The monster, moving onward, came as fast
With horrid strides; Hell trembled as he strode."

-- John Milton

Chapter 1

He looked down and saw only his shadow stretching across the asphalt to her body.
He closed his eyes and images of the night sky and the cold grey of the street began pin-wheeling in his mind, again and again, his stomach clenching in anticipation as the street moved closer with each turn.
Then it stopped and he was standing over her body again. He turned his head and saw her faint, ghostly outline standing next to him, the moonlight shining through the remnants of her life illuminating only her death.
What was left stood silently waiting, her sad eyes staring at him, into him, past him into the night. He always wondered what it was they could see that he couldn’t. Was it a shining white light or a red glow like in the movies that drew her gaze through him or was it a vast nothing that waited to swallow her spirit erasing her from both life and death.
How many times had he asked them and always they remained silent leaving him to take whatever came after on faith. A faith he had tossed aside years ago and had no desire to renew. He looked down at the camera in his hands and at the body at his feet. This was the only faith he knew to be true.
People died.
And when they died it was his job to photograph their death. He had become good at it.
Very good.
He would never stand alongside the likes of Ansel Adams or Annie Leibovitz but then they photographed the things that people wanted to see. Or admit they wanted to see. How many times had he seen horror and disgust on the faces of jurors as they viewed his works and how many times had he seen those same people reluctant to pass the photograph on. No, he would never be an Adams but people saw his work and their lives were changed just as much. And those other people, the ones who photographed the living and captured the mysteries of life would eventually pose before his lens.
He closed his eyes again and waited.

“What the hell is he doing?”
“Shhh.,” the Sergeant whispered to the young constable, irritated that he had been startled. “Wait for it.”
“Wait for what?” The young face, barely old enough to grow a half decent beard, turned to the older man next to him. “He’s just standing there!”
“He’s doing it,” the other whispered. The Sergeant looked around at the night and shivered. He wasn’t cold. It was midsummer and the night air was warm and thick with dew. If he had been anywhere but where he was, the night would have been perfect for sitting outside on his porch enjoying a cold beer. But he wasn’t somewhere else and the craving in his mouth for a cold one wasn’t from the pleasant evening. It was the man standing there in the middle of the street that caused the sudden chill to race along his skin and the saliva in his mouth to evaporate.
The constable shook his head at what he was seeing. When a couple of minutes had ticked by with nothing happening, he spoke again. “I heard the stories about this guy at the Police College.” he raised a finger to the side of his head and circled it slowly. “Loony as a tooney, they say.”
The Sergeant turned on his young charge, his eyes bristling with anger. “Who says?” He demanded.
“Everyone,” the officer answered, unaware that he had angered his mentor. “They say he talks to them, the dead people.” He grunted a laugh. “They said his brain went hamburger after an incident when he was still in his rookie year.”
The Sergeant sighed heavily. He had heard the same stories; everyone on the department had heard the stories. “Do the stories also say that he has a perfect record for solves and convictions?” He snapped back, knowing they did, but only as an afterthought. A brilliant career reduced to a footnote.
The Sergeant returned to watching the lone figure and shivered again. He had known the man since his cadet years and at one time they had been close friends but nothing stays the same and the incident the young constable so casually referred to had changed everything and the man became solitary, closed to everyone around him. And something changed inside the man. Something that spawned a hundred rumors and now, even after all these years the sight of the detective on a scene unnerved him.
“Hey, I didn’t say he was stupid, just nuts,” the officer whispered with a smirk.
The Sergeant decided he’d had his fill of the snot-nose. “Take out your notebook,” he ordered.
The officer scrambled to remove his black leather bound book from the breast pocket of his jacket. He flipped to the blank pages near the end and held it ready, pen in hand.
The Sergeant looked at the officer, then at the notebook. “How long have you been on platoon?”
“A week today.”
“And you’ve almost filled your first notebook?”
“Second!” The officer announced, a broad grin splitting his face.
“Jesus,” the Sergeant groaned. He placed a strong hand on the rookie’s shoulder. “This is important so get it down right.” He felt the other’s shoulder tense in anticipation. “Ready?”
“Coffee, black.”
The officer looked up at the Sergeant. “Huh?”
“You’re talking and not writing. I said, coffee, black.”
The rookie frowned and scribbled the words into his notebook.
“Very good,” the Sergeant offered. “Now go around and get everyone else’s order and make sure you get each one right.”
The officer pursed his lips, “Yes, Sergeant!” He looked across the street at the silent figure standing on the pavement. The man still hadn’t moved. The young constable took a step towards him and was suddenly yanked back by his coat collar.
“He takes cream only,” the Sergeant warned. The officer disappeared, grumbling in the other direction.
The Sergeant returned to his study of the silent figure on the roadway. Suddenly, the man moved towards a yellow plastic blanket near the gutter. The Sergeant knew what was beneath it. He had placed it over the young woman’s body himself. He waited.
The man’s hands were busy pulling on surgical gloves as he walked the motions smooth and practiced. He stopped at the edge of the blanket and squatted down, his right hand lifting the blanket at the closest edge.
The Sergeant waited patiently. He wasn’t in any rush to go over.
The man’s head turned as he scanned the body from head to foot then lifted his face to stare into space across the blanket. The Sergeant thought he could see the man’s head nod slightly as if talking to someone on the other side of the corpse. Even in the dim lighting and at his distance, he could see that no one was there. The Sergeant waited.
The man dropped the sheet and rose to his feet signaling that he was ready to talk to whoever was in charge of the scene. The Sergeant began walking towards the other who noticed him immediately and moved to close the distance.
“Tony,” the man called out as he recognized the face. His eyes dropped to the coat sleeve. “Sergeant Rowneda,” he corrected himself. “Congrats on the hooks,” he offered, pointing to the still white chevrons adorning the man’s sleeves.
“Hi Bill. Thanks. Only took eighteen years, but hey, looks good for the pension.” The Sergeant held out his hand and Bill grasped it warmly.
“I’m curious,” the Sergeant commented.
“About what?”
“Why you’re here. I thought they saved you for the serious stuff.” The Sergeant reddened slightly at the callousness of his words and glanced over at the blanket. “Not that this isn’t serious, I just thought you were saved for the “who dunnits”.”
“Slow night,” Bill said.
“What does the driver say?” Bill asked. He pulled his own notebook out of his pocket and began making notes.
“Not much. He’s drunk. They’ve taken him to the detachment for a breathalyzer.” The Sergeant shook his head. “My guess is, he’ll blow one fifty easy.” He looked back at the yellow sheet. “What a waste!”
“He didn’t kill her.”
The frank statement brought the Sergeant’s eyebrows up sharply. “Maybe I’m getting rusty. Should I call the paramedics back?”
A faint smile flashed across Bill’s unshaven face then faded as if the muscles had forgotten how to hold onto one; or had nothing left to really smile about. “No, she’s dead but the driver didn’t kill her.”
“I’m all ears.”
“The woman was dead long before the car struck her.” Bill motioned for Tony to follow him through the scene, narrating as he went. “There’s a long, narrow contusion leading from her left temple, down along her left cheek.” He pointed to an area of the sidewalk, “Looks like it was caused from striking the edge of the sidewalk here.” He took out a small flashlight and shined it on the area.
The Sergeant could see a darkened section of concrete at the sidewalk edge. “She died from striking that?”
Bill shook his head. He had seen the images in his mind. Images of hands around her throat slowly squeezing her life out and dressing her lifeless body afterward, dragging her through rooms and into the night air. “No, she was dead before that.” He lifted the light up the side of the building bordering the sidewalk. “You I.D. her yet?”
The Sergeant nodded. He felt another chill run along his back.
Bill shifted the flashlight and the beam illuminated a balcony four floors above them. He let the light linger a moment. “She lives there.”
Tony moved away from the man. Jesus, he thought. It hadn’t been a question, just a statement of fact. This was why there were rumors about the man. He fought down an urge to be somewhere else. “I got two men up there now talking with the husband.” He held his breath for a second. “Should I be telling them anything?”
Bill raised his hand, “Give me a minute and I’ll show you.” He went to the blanket and lifted it high enough to reveal the entire body. The Sergeant followed. “Had she been alive when the car hit her, I’d expect to see an impact injury and a lot more blood. This,” he pointed at the dark stain on the asphalt, “this is seepage.” He pointed at the woman’s legs. The nylons she had been wearing had torn in several places and across her left thigh; the Sergeant could see what looked like a tire mark. “The car ran over her, no question about it but she was already lying dead in the street.”
“What about her striking the sidewalk?” the Sergeant asked bending down to get a closer look at the wound on her face.
“See the broken skin?” Bill asked. He continued when he saw Tony nod; “Had she been alive, there would be blood from the wound both on her face and on the sidewalk. My guess is her corpse was tossed from that balcony.” He pointed his chin towards the woman’s feet. “What do you see?”
The Sergeant’s gaze moved down the body for a closer look. Brown, low-heeled shoes, nothing fancy. He bent closer trying to see what the other saw. He shook his head and stepped back. Then he saw it. “They’re on the wrong feet!”
Bill nodded. “Very good. You should have gone into forensics.”
Tony shook his head vigorously and stood up. “No. Not for me,” and the words were out of his mouth before he could stop them. “You camera guys give me the creeps.” He looked at the man wishing he had kept his mouth shut and wishing there was some way they could pretend he hadn’t said it. He took one last look at the woman, “I’ll call in a team. What about the husband?”
“Keep your boys talking to him, no statements though. Just talk. Call one of the detectives and give him what I just told you and he can put a warrant together.”
Bill lowered the blanket slowly, reverently the Sergeant thought. “I’ll get my flash and start taking pictures.” He turned and started walking toward his van. “Bill?” He stopped and turned back to the Sergeant. “Yeah?”
“Sorry about the creeps’ thing.” Tony said.
Bill shook it off. “Don’t worry about it, Tony. I give myself the creeps all the time.” He went to the van.
The woman was standing next to the side door. Bill could see her clearly. In the dim light, her skin had a pale glow to it, making it translucent. He could see the history of her life beneath the surface. Bruises upon bruises dotted and overlapped her arms, legs and face. He held her eyes for a moment. “I’ll get him,” he told her under his breath. She nodded and turned away from him and walked out into the night air, dissolving as she went.
Bill watched her go then opened the door and began preparing his equipment. “I’ll get him,” he repeated to himself.