Friday, 21 September 2012

St James' Rooster: Prologue The Second...

“I am alone. Cloth. I feel shrouded in it. It covers me from head to foot. No, not coarse, but not soft either. It’s a simple robe of sorts, made of common homespun, but clean. How could I know that? I don’t know. No, not a coffin. I’m on my knees. Wait a minute: coffin? Casket? It is cold to the touch. Yes. No…it is a tomb of some sort, there are walls around me and, I don’t know; walls again, beyond. I am enclosed in some sort of building, a church perhaps? It is not a peasant’s habit. Habit? Yes, that is exactly what it is. It is a monks’ habit, and I am a monk. My feet are encased in felt and leather strips. The air though the wool is cold, my knees are stiff, painful. But I will not move.

I will not move from here. They say he is fearful and terrible. They say he towers to the sky. They say his very breath will petrify, or scorch, like the dragons of old. I cannot say I do not fear him, for I fear for my life as would any mortal man. But I will stay by my Master. It is my sacred duty, not the duty the brothers believe I carry. This is different. A secret known only to me, passed on through the ages from one chosen to another. Now there are very few who even know of its existence.

The walls of the church around this mausoleum are etched in flame, it arches up; it grasps the sky pulling it down so hard that I do not remember if it is day on night. It has no doubt reduced the small settlement of Compostela to nothing. The townspeople and even my own monks expected nothing less from “Almanzor”: Al Mansur, the Conqueror of Córdoba. We knew he would come. We knew he was coming. Those who had possessions to save fled days ago when we first received the news. Those who had none stayed long enough to loot what was left, even chickens, tattered garments from the hedgerow left behind in the flashfire of terror of the Moor and his army. I doubt my monks were any less innocent than the others. They were after all, not the last ones to leave. What was left of their faith? It is not for me to judge them. This fear is that of the devil in whom, in my own way, I do believe.

Now there are two of us left. One is alive so far, though not likely to be for much longer. The other has been dead for six hundred years.

There is flame overhead. The rest of the roof has caught. Within the marble of this sanctuary I am safe, but not from the smoke: that surely will overcome me soon.

He comes. He is riding his horse through the door of the church heedless of the inferno above and around. He stops at the head of the chancel; he moves aside to allow his massive warhorse to drink from the holy water of the baptismal font. O sacrilege! But it matters not for it was blessed in the name of the Apostle James, and his spirit is not here. It is many leagues away in Jerusalem where they took his life so very long ago. He has never been here no matter what has been said in the name of victory and power.

Almanzor comes. It is too late. I am lost. I have one hope only…

Dear Lord of the Truth, please, save me and the earthly remains of your servant, Priscillian.

“Begone!” I say, feinting a courage I do not feel. “These are not the bones of whom you seek.”

“What nonsense is this?” 

He is not as tall as a mountain. But even though he is on horseback I can see he is taller than I by a head or more. His eyes are not those of a man crazed by bloodlust; they are calculating, cold; they are of a man who knows that he has achieved what he set out to do. Almost. Only I stand in his way. And stand I do, rising stiffly from my vigil in front of the sarcophagus, breaking my staggering only with one hand on the pale pink marble. I face him, simply Pedro, Bishop of the Shrine of Santiago de Compostela:

“If thou wilt be observant and vigilant, thou wilt see at every moment
the response to thy action. Be observant if thou wouldst have a pure
heart, for something is born to thee in consequence of every action.”

He stops. He is transfixed. From his towering place atop his horse he says:

“You know the songs of the Blackbird?”

“Abdul Hassan Ali Ibn Naf: Al Ziryab. Of course. My master Priscillian called upon us to read the sacred scriptures of all worlds. Naturally I would teach myself of the great poets of Islam also. Did not the teachings of my master come from the East, and perhaps from the same place as your own ancestors? Certainly, his great words and ideas were not so dissimilar to your own. Nor are they.”

“Who is this master of yours?” 

Almanzor had manoeuvred himself and his horse between where I stood shakily and the sarcophagus. “I will meet him. Bring him to me before this day is over.”

“Ah that I could, great one,” I said. “But your horse is currently leaning upon his body.”


No! No…wait! There is more. I must stay… NO!



No comments:

Post a Comment