High upon the towering crags by the sea, a monk was moving through the monastery. The wiry figure went through old wooden galleries, up and down steps of worn stone, and along rows of lancet windows. Other monks were working or praying beside the way that bright morning, but he went right past them. They heard the footsteps as his sandals tread by, the ruffle of his habit and the rattle of his beads, but not even a glance came from him. He did not look around. He kept his eyes downward cast, his arms folded within the grey-dark sleeves of his habit. No distraction would he tolerate, no talk of news or chat. It was not that he was unkind. Brother Zadoc was an elder monk and was headed for an urgent message on the other side of the monastery.
The maze of passages and twisting stairs in Whitehaven Abbey is nothing easily memorized. It requires a thoughtful navigation even for a monk of many winters. White-bearded Zadoc had seen many winters, and also had a situation on his hands. He could no longer wager that things would somehow work themselves out: a monk had gone missing.
Some of the brothers had detected the absence a few days ago. In the rows of pointed hoods at prayer there appeared an empty space. Considering the number of monks and typical absences that regularly occur for various reasons, it was not unusual. Several hours later some brethren noticed again at noon prayer. At first no one said anything. It could, after all, be something altogether minor. When the monk failed to appear a third time, at Vespers, his fellow novices became concerned as to the whereabouts of their companion. They alerted Brother Zadoc.
They went and checked the monk’s cell. It was vacant. When the monk did not even return for Lauds the following morning, a quiet search was made through all the monastic labyrinth. He was not in the infirmary nor anywhere in that lofty monastery. The next day the search widened. He was not lingering in the Caves of Penitence and no one had seen him in the town below. The missing monk, although confessed by all to be a star novice, must have traveled off somewhere.
Word got to the superiors. This was about to become serious for Abbot Cromna. If they did not find the monk, he would have to account for it before both God and King.
Abbot was stretched out on the alban tile, prostrate before the altar, his face to the floor. Being overseer and spiritual father, he suspected that it must be his own fault. He was a good Abbot, never neglecting duty, but somehow, with all the feast day preparations, the empty space had slipped his notice. When he at last found out, he at once ordered all monks to pray.
A cloud of incense was floating through the air. It had lingered from earlier in the morning. The fragrance of it was etherial and unearthly, not sweet and flowery.
It came to rest over Abbot.
He grabbed his crutches and set them upright, and began to pull himself from the floor. It took some strength, but he was middle-aged and his arms were in good shape.
Zadoc, the white-haired monk, arrived and entered the chapel. He went up and steadied the struggling abbot. At last when Abbot was standing firm he nodded and thanked him.
“Faith, Zadoc, tell me something, old friend: if our monks are dedicated, even perfect in service: feeding the poor, teaching, or copying ancient manuscripts, does it profit without earnest prayer? I would say little does it profit. What say the ancient ones?”
“All is vanity without asking the favor of the Most High, Abbot. Monks must join devotion to all their endeavors. It is your burden to shepherd them.”
“Then we have done right, I hope, to command them pray more and work less. I have spent hours praying for the missing monk. But just now I was offering a prayer of thanksgiving. The Good Shepherd has heard us. He brought back the lost lamb already. Did you know that just last night before dinner we intercepted the lad? He was attempting to return unnoticed, as if the escapade were nothing. Monks cannot just come and go as they please. We shall hear his answers. For now be at hand and help me. We must learn if he still has a mind submitted to our Rule. If he does, you will let him in on our secret. It may turn his curiosity back here instead of out there.”
Abbot gripped his crutches. He began to work his way beneath the ten Maurobic arches. CLICK-clock went the shafts that struck against the merciless stone tiles. Altitudes of crenelated ceiling and pine gables echoed the sound.
Brother Zadoc went along. A monk of peculiar sagacity, his face was worn and wrinkled. Time had not managed to taint his reasoning power however. The theological tracts of his had become famous throughout all Whitehawk. His hair was white as snow and he glanced about with sharp glances like some far-sighted eagle.
“Novice Jacob!” he called out in his raspy voice. “Abbot will speak with you now...!”
The fellow in question was sitting in meditation. Under his monk’s cowl he kept himself hooded. He hoped to remain unnoticed. It did not work.
Abbot and Brother Zadoc reached the aisle. Zadoc genuflected but Abbot did not. He could not, even with crutches. The injury in his knees prevented him. Instead he bowed a deep bow, with slow and careful manner.
The young monk maneuvered out of the choir stall and hurried over to them. He doffed his cowl and bowed. The gesture of respect revealed something. Bruises decorated his tonsured head on account of the recent misadventure.
Abbot noticed that, but said nothing.
The three monks stood there before the sanctuary: Abbot Comna, Brother Zadoc, and the wayward novice. Somewhere far above in intricate stonework of the ceiling galleries pigeons were cooing.
“Lord Jacob, your brothers have been looking for you.” Abbot said. “May God who is All-knowing grant you help. We should discuss things, you and I. We will not today however, but do stick around, will you? You may speak with your Abbot and with Brother Zadoc here in a free manner.”
Abbot leaned on his crutches. He gazed a ponderous gaze up into the spaces above.
Jacob lowered his eyes.
“. . . Master”
“Whatever it was that you were doing in the woods, my son, it is something you will explain to us. As for that, it will be done all, but later, not now. The mind of a monk should always return to God first. Do you understand?”
“I understand, Lord Abbot.”
“Therefore return your thoughts with us. Although you are far from perfect, admittably you are accomplished in learning for your age. Therefore Brother Zadoc and I would know your mind on something...a bit of a mental puzzle that we have been pondering lately... A young monk with fresh mind like yours might be of assistance, wouldn’t you agree Brother Zadoc?”
“Even saplings have been known to yield worthy fruit, my lord,” Zadoc said, “...on occasion.”
Abbot took a deep breath. “We propose this: that most folk do not accept anything “far-fetched,” especially what they cannot see, that is, see with their own eyes.”
“—what I saw in the woods...the brothers must be calling it far-fetched, but —”
“Keep focused...Jacob. Whatever went on out there will be addressed later. Put it aside for now. We have, in strict, a philosophical inquiry that is critical. I think it is something that will interest you. Consider it a kind of in promptu quiz. Are you ready?”
“May I prove ready, master...by the grace of God.”
“Then here it is. Question: do the majority of people need to see something with their own eyes in order to believe it...especially something that they can else in no wise imagine?”
“-do the majority? I can only guess. Most of my days, and now for my final submission-years, I have been only here, up on these cliffs, with these monks.”
“Well, Jacob, monks are drawn from the ranks of men. So take an example: even monks use the expression: “When I see it with my own eyes, I’ll believe it...”
The novice pondered a moment.
“See it...all earthly glory and splendor of the world? Shouldn’t a true monk be happy enough to read of it in books..? That’s what must have thrown me off, desire to see the world, with my own eyes...all the mundane things that will vanish away. Have I prefered passing glories to THE glory everlasting? A knavish thing, what I did, going off like that...abandoning all the brothers. Permit me to remain a monk, I beg. Let me make up for my offense by the lowest chores and penance.”
“Yes. . .you remain a monk...and we’ll see that you make up for it soon, be assured. But you are slow to follow my instruction. I repeat: it has nothing to do with you. Right now something of high import vexes us. So answer us clearly: do most folk, even monks, rely too much on visible things, as they say, “seeing it with their own eyes?”
Jacob paused, suspended in thought for a moment.
“You are seeking an answer from me, master? If you are, forgive me, for I have come up with something already...”
“Then divulge it, but remember humility.”
“Yes, that is the case. How insightful the race of men –and how NOT so! Most of us trust in what we see right front of us...and that only. Many see nothing beyond that, nothing of what truly abides. Recently the old purblind hermit reminded me of something: what’s most valuable in life human eyes cannot see.”
Rightly spoke that old raven...” Abbot said, “Heaven has a crystalline wisdom...and a contradiction:
Blessed are they who have NOT seen, and have believed.
Do you fathom the meaning? They are the words of the Lord himself. Physical sight is a lesser prize. Faith is the blessed way.”
“Visible proof: something for the physical sciences and mundane learning. Its not what Heaven rewards.”
“Right... Now then; check this proposition: recall the individuals whom our Lord first called, who sojourned with him. They were men of faith...no? They were blessed in faith, but we wonder if less so than commonly imagined. We propose this: they had faith, but not so great as we monks.”
“ Master, do you speak in riddles? The Apostles walked with God himself, and He lived in their midst.”
“We know that,” he answered. “...but hear me out: take something that is visible: any particular action that is a visible action. Men view it and know what is going on. Does such viewing require anything of faith? Not at all; nothing special there. The same is true for those who actually saw the Christ and his miraculous works, back in the days when He walked the earth. Was great faith necessary for them? No, they saw miracles and they accepted what revelation teaches. We, on the other hand, we have NOT seen such things in our time; but we believe nevertheless. So then: were the Apostles themselves, although blessed, more blessed than we monks, today in this last age of the world? Not at all! We have not seen. Blessed are they who have NOT seen. That’s us! We possess a more blessed faith than they! How can that be? We have learned to walk by faith, not by sight. The insight, I fear, leads to something of a paradox.”
“Yes, my Lord Abbot... a paradox: defiance of common wisdom. In this case, it goes against the typical seeing is better than believing. However, may I dispute with you on the Apostles? I say this: they also must have had greater faith than supposed. For they saw a man, outwardly a typical carpenter who eats bread, toils, sleeps, and all the rest, but they were informed that the same human was in fact the one true God: the invisible become visible. The incarnation must have seemed ludicrous to most folk in those days. Even in our time it is “a mystery.” Wouldn’t such a thing, seeing God in the flesh, take just as much faith, if not more? The Apostles were at least equal to us in faith.”
“How true...well said...but careful, boy...with monks you are safe. However the great clerics would take insult at such gainsaying. Better to feign ignorance with them. You match them even with that little mercury in you. Pray ernestly lest you pride yourself on it. We wish to use your monkhood. Hold those thoughts, and turn now with us to another matter:
Monks and all servants of the Lamb should not esteem miracles without some caution. Many wonders do arise that cause people’s eyes to widen; the visible miracles men often claim to witness, all the commonly known and famous ones:
impossible rescues, complete and permanent healings,
levitations and invulnerabilities, telepathy and bilocations, solar and lunar phenomena, future visions and apocalypses, and many others.
Monks in due time accept and recognize them ...provided that the Soothfold does not object. Correct?”
The novice did not respond. Why did the Abbot treat on these things, being so obvious an instruction?
“Abbot himself has become privy to amazing news, Jacob.” old brother Zadoc declared. “—news of a great miracle.”
Brother Zadoc, wrinkle-faced with many winters, wore a faded habit, but his starry eyes were stabbed with wisdom. Abbot nodded to him, giving the go-ahead. The old mercury fixed his gaze upon Jacob.
“Ready your mind again, Jacob. You may tell no one of this. Hear it: raising the dead is no longer something we may dismiss for saints of legend...” A sudden flapping of pigeons rushing off somewhere above was heard. “Mirabile dictu, a simple priest has found the power in his hands!”
“A priest...raising the dead?”
Abbot now spoke in a whisper, as one who wonders. “With chosen prayers, with incantations long forgotten, this priest performed a resurrection; ex monumentis. Through his hands Heaven restored someone who had been in the tomb over a year!”
“Were it a trick of some sort,” remarked Zadoc, “our experts would have detected it.”
“—nothing else can explain it!” said Abbot. “Other resurrections were done as well, everything in the presence of infallible witnesses. They have testified to what they saw.”
“By the saints, a priest can do that?” Jacob asked. “Which priest? Is he one of ours?”
There came no immediate answer, only a reluctant pause. Abbot glanced over his shoulder. He was nervous about something. “The priest remains anonymous. We admit he is prudent to do so. He has shown his work to few others, to the Soothfold in strict.”
“My lord Abbot...that one of our Ammouric priests can raise the dead...I need to see it to believe it. He must be a holy priest indeed.”
Zadoc interjected to make a correction on that point: “Dutiful...he is known as dutiful...but holiness of a noteworthy sort his superiors never reported. Heaven-above knows why the power is granted him. Why should so obscure a cleric be chosen for so famous a miracle?”
No answer was offered. Abbot gazed off somewhere to interior distances. The pigeons cooed a soft cooing.
“There is something else,” Abbot said, furling his eyebrows and frowning. “There has been a proposal. It is something strange, something...diabolical!”
He leaned in close to Jacob. “Listen to me, Brother Jacob. You have heard of the Friars of Whigg across the sea, have you not?”
“I have, master, they are our brothers in Christ.”
“Indeed they are Jacob, but they are also proud and bitter rivals. May God shed his mercy on them. Some of them have unhealthy obsessions. They say this priest; that he should use his miracle to help the endangered realms of the world. The Friars say: let him raise certain deceased personages, men who can draw upon mysterious power. Let him raise men of famous repute.”
“...famous men...you mean; from long ago, from a previous age?”
“Yes, but particular men, powerful lords: they want him to use his miraculous hands on the wisemen and wizards of Nystol!”
At that exclamation the whole flock of pigeons in the dome above was stirred to a panic of flapping flight.
“What? I doubt that Heaven would ever approve that! Raise up wizards long extinct?” Jacob exclaimed. “Nystol’s many towers were desolated. Flames consumed them all, their libraries and all magic scrolls. It was Divine Justice!”
Abbot and Brother Zadoc exchanged uneasy glances.
“—not all wizards...and not every scroll did
the fires destroy.” Zadoc warned.
Some shadow just then passed over the three.
Was it a cloud drifting over?
Jacob looked, but could not determine the source.
Abbot hesitated. “This priest—” He turned and whispered to Zadoc. The elder nodded back. A theologian’s mind was needed on such matters:
“...it is written,” Zadoc said in his dreamy yet precision-voice, “both the righteous and the wicked will rise at the Resurrection. That’s right, the wicked also shall rise. You see, Jacob... there are certain gifts, that, when Heaven bestows them upon frail mankind, no conditions against their usage are decreed. Heaven freely gives them. Freely may they be used, be it either in wisdom or in folly. A priest may, with this power given, restore whomsoever he wishes. He could wake the wizards from their pagan sepulchres, the sweet incense of Heaven drifting across their boney nostrils.”
“—ushering them back from the abyss!” Abbot turned away so as not to show consternation.
“Unto what possible end...?” Zadoc said. “Yes, you are wondering.” His eyes flashed a stare that penetrates souls. “It would be this: with their powerful spells the wizards could not only restore civilization but also push back the troll-horde. Once and for all they could overthrow the creature of the North, the deathless master of the black realm.”
“You mean all that heresay about the ghost-creature in Nzul?” It was no mere halfling’s fable. The Dire of Melancholy, a powerful Archdruid, ruled the distant feudatory of Nzul upon Northernmost Whitehawk. He was the dark lord of our time. The ancient wizards had countered him, and though they had driven him back, he had proved impossible to destroy. Rumour had it that he slept in his impregnable fortress, but the wise knew that he slept not.
Abbot was searching Heaven with his eyes. He glanced around in suspicion as if his words were too loud.
“Several high level prelates have agreed to the plan. It sounds reasonable, but I warn you, there is something profoundly unwise with this sort of “practical” thinking. I am amazed at how many monks and clerics have consented. How can they even think of abusing a power that the only Lord can give? If He gives power to raise the dead, would He not also grant the authority to banish that apostate creature, and drive him back to his exile without resorting to ancient magic?”
“The Friars do not realize,” Zadoc added, “how awakening long-extinct wizards of the hopeless epoch would be...catastrophic... achieving much worse than that creature of Melancholy could ever himself do in the world.”
Abbot declared: “As Godmouth and Eldane of every Whitehawk Kingdom and all the Furthlands beyond, I must act.” He paused in the carefulness of a grave command. “You Jacob, will be our voice. We bid you write a philosophical tract; use all your first-hand knowledge. Spare no precise language, nor couch cozy words. Spill as much ink as you need, tearing into the demented theologies of those Friars.”
The Abbot and Zadoc disclosed other things to Jacob as well, things that most novices would not comprehend. I cannot here divulge all of it. Suffice it to know that I was to write out a detailed argument against the folly. I was the right pick, eventhough I had left the monastery and come back. You see, among all the monks, I alone had encountered an actual wizard of Nystol.
“Get to work on it; that will keep you out of trouble.” Abbot abruptly turned away. With the theologian he made way back across the grand chapel, crutches clicking as he went.
The pigeons were no longer cooing.
Within days I completed the tract in Latin and submitted the pages to Brother Zadoc. He looked it over for errors. It was published the week I left for Hordingbay; my first and only divine treatise: Jacob of Whitehaven: De Resurrectione Magorum. Two years have since passed.
The wool-frocked Friars of Whigg, our theological adversaries, got a hold of it. They have opposed my admonition as a quarrelsome display, scratching out angrily in writing that I am a heretic. These brothers profess that there is nothing at all wrong with disturbing the dead...not if its for a good cause. They are quite out of their depth. Do honest people imagine that such an ingenious and evil spirit may be overcome with a little magic?
The ancestors titled him “the Dire” for a reason, you know. True, many tales men have told on that ghostly druid who sits upon the Throne of Melancholy, but does anyone know the real story on him? Contrary to the presumption of the Friars, against him not even the wizards of Nystol ever dared, not as far as the histories indicate, and that was back when their magic was at full measure.
Let the wizards remain condemned to oblivion; their restless sleep beneath desolated Nystol.
We who are believers need not their magic.
Could we ourselves not move mountains with but a mustard seed of faith? I myself went against that mirthless lord of Melancholy, and without magic. Not only have I been to his court, but I have returned to tell of it. The Friars, the “great intellects” of Whigg, sit all safe in their own library of the seven ivory parapets fattened on sumptuous fare, reminiscing holy poverty in woolen frocks. They have never actually espied that unholy minion, nor the troll horde.
They have no clue what’s out there.
Months away and miles across unforgiving wildernesses and icy wastelands, there is a place accursed, where civilization’s exiles stalk the night
beneath the aegis of an infernal archon. It is the frigid region beyond the Northern forests, where is bounded the not-very-hospitable principality of Nzul. There, overlooking all, stands the impregnable fortress, the dreadnought known as the Arc du Baffay. To get there, you must traverse the outlands that “forgive no traveler.” The trees of that forest are tall and magnificent. Their primordial form hint that they are from a time beyond human knowledge. You can even see the swaying tops from here, not so far from the monastery. They are the entrance to a vast and true wilderness.
From of old the expanse was called “the Lokken,” a name that has persisted in several languages even to this late age of the world. Its forested hills of pine are “The Timberhills.” They extend even to the remote Northshores of the island. So before I tell of the hellish dungeons of that villainous overlord, or speak on the long-robed wizards of Nystol, let me admonish the monks who are new. Go not into that forest. Take it from someone who knows. Seek no familiarity with the charm of the woods. Do not think to be going in a just little ways. It is no place for a monk’s meditation, only his doom.
Doom found me, my friends, doom that is worse than death. We monks, more than anyone, know that there are things worse than death. Doom was the price I paid for my folly, a folly begotten by Pride. To have left this monastery, without permission, was indeed Pride. To go where angels fear to tread was folly, and to journey blind across tangled horizons was doom.
The truth entire I dare present to you, brothers, be it with or without your pardon, omitting nothing; knowing full well that I could burn at the stake for what I am about to divulge. But it is the best way to furnish you some peace of mind, for lingering doubts over me must certainly remain.
My mode is plain, not flowery or embellished with fancy words and high rhetoric, or with clever descriptions of sunsets and landscapes. This is how the words of a monk should be; unadorned, just like the simple habit and mere rope. He is one who views all created things as of less worth. I exhort you therefore in telling of these things to weigh not only our common weakness, but the sad end of all things unless we monks, each one of us, accomplish some worthy reparation for this world so forgetful of God. So it is with due warning and remembrance of Heaven’s mercy that I now tell the tale...