A story of a young man coming to grips with the treachery of his older brother.
|The Warring Monk
The Warring Monk
“He is free, as all are free. His spirit not tethered to mine.” She said these words with all the conviction of her being, somehow vacantly proud, amazed that any would consider not believing her. I believed her. After all, I had met him and I had been privy to all the others who claimed as she claimed, a woman, held as a concubine, in love with a man who could not love her. As far as I was concerned, his spirit had never been tethered to anyone’s. He could not love.
He walked amongst us almost inhuman for his size and ready smile. As quickly as smoke though, the smile could turn to a frown, then a sneer, and finally return only with someone crying out in physical pain or mental anguish. Usually a smaller felt the spiritual assault and an elder felt a mind twisted into physical pain by an intellect not unlike barbed wire.
We often scurried from the room when we felt the house shake as the door slammed below us and the windows rattled above. At any day or any time, we expected the very beams of the house to come showering upon us, physically or imaginatively didn’t seem to matter. God clearly had no pity and blinked no tears away in our direction. The flameless ashes about us would be the same as dirt if they sifted about us looking for our crushed bones. The devil lived in the dust and in his heart.
When he said he was entering the church to spread the word of the Almighty, it was difficult to hide our glee amongst our anguish at the unleashing of his being about the unsuspecting hoards of nubile believers. But compassion is rarely a match for unadulterated hope as it glimpses the light shining about the edges of perpetual darkness. We helped him to pack and prayed some church far away would take him as their liege. Our mother looked timidly up from her apron as she imagined having enough food for the rest of us, now that the bottomless pit of endless amazement was exiting our echoing cabinetry. I imagined a small morsel of bread expanding the aching shrunken walls of a recalcitrant belly that refused to swell and hide the outlines of skeletal ribs and gristle held together by papery thin skin absent a padded layering of fat.
I looked many years younger than actual, as the clothes I refused to outgrow lay draped across exposed chicken wing arms and knobby knees. I looked forward to weight enough to ply me to the ground as the merciless wind whipped me to and fro. Somehow the idea of standing firm against invisible forces promised a new and much-sought-after experience. I merely needed to get through the next few days without my brother’s voice shattering the small core of resolve I had left. It wasn’t as though he hadn’t promised departure in the past.
The first time he had threatened deliverance, we later found out he had broken the leg of a barren mare as she lay on her side confused into thinking she had a foal. We never could figure out how or why he had broken its leg. He claimed it an act of God that he had witnessed from afar and some poor fools believed him, but not those of us with eyes, a mind, and knowledge of his prior deeds. There had been war advanced upon our dogs, several cats, and a myriad of wild creatures that dared to cross his path in shear ignorance and bliss; the more bliss, the more anguished their demise.
The last time we prayed for deliverance, he had been promising to leave because the last plain girl left in our town had spurned his advances. Surely, no one could blame her for imagining a life of spinsterhood more tolerable than a life spent genuflecting at the throne of a tyrant, no matter how angelic the prose that fell from his lips. I couldn’t even be angry with her, especially since I was the one who forewarned her of his approaching advances. How could I not? He was the one whose arrogance blinded his eyes and deafened his ears to the wanton deceit of others. No one could knowingly help him, not even to rip a virtuous cluster of grapes destined to wither to raisons on the vine. Even raisons can be tasty to someone who knows they’re eating them.
It was clear since birth; my brother had no appreciation for flavor and no appreciation for the time necessary for a delicate fruit to ripen on the vine or to fall happily to the ground and rot. Denial would be the fruit of this lesson in life. I was happy to help him learn it, not that I told him at any point in my life or his.
He had scarcely been gone two months, actually two months and three days, when the father of the plain girl came to speak to my widowed mother. His comments fell upon the ringing ears of a blind woman when he professed the dastardly act of one who had run off to become a monk. Apparently, my brother had spoiled the plain girl who spurned him and now she was with bastard child and no prospects of a husband.
The poor man sat in anguish with my mother, as they both wrung their hands and racked their minds with what to do. There were both surprised with my suggestion to hogtie my brother and bring him back for the requisite marriage. The mere thought of it caused both of them to cringe, as I realized my mother was wont to do this to the defiled man’s family and he was wont to cut his daughter’s throat. Instead, they settled on my imminent marriage to the nondescript girl and acknowledged the unspoken desire to never make the child’s paternity known. They swore a blood-oath and I choked on my bile. I was barely sixteen and my future was now cast in stone. As I thought to cry, I thought maybe God had once again spoken His word against deceit, even deceit against one that deserved it.
It had been ten quiet years since my marriage and as many since I had felt the thundering presence of my older brother. So, it was with some distaste that I saw his mighty frame dressed in black darkening the countryside at the far edge of my property. My wife and child were away in town visiting her relatives just to the west of the coming holidays. It was an attempt to discourage the vast majority of them from feeling a need to come visit. Of course, close family was gladly welcomed, just not too closely and not too gladly. Since my mother had passed, I had seriously considered few of my siblings as family, and the nearing one was the least seriously considered.
His put out his mighty paw, crushed mine, and pulled me near to him, as though close is how we should be. We had never knowingly been close before and this abrupt nearness repelled me. I held my piece and hoped a mere sermon of God-fearing was all he would deliver. Any other tale, I was not prepared to digest. I doubted he would tell me of the love of a son, since he had managed to miss our mother’s funeral due to some urgent mission to save souls elsewhere and an inability to be in this country and amongst his own anytime within the year. Maybe, he felt Mother’s soul needed no such guarantee of saving.
Again, as he neared me, I could feel the tension rise in my stomach as though it had never left me. I was angry. Perhaps, because I had thought he was forever gone, but more likely because he now proved me a failure once more. I can hear his sermon of how a life without the word of God spoken from the mouth of his chosen, is a life spent with the devil in silence. I choked as the spawn of the devil himself now enfolded my callused hand in softened ones reminiscent of freshly kneaded dough, all cold and sticky without life, but the promised righteousness wrung out in lies.
I fell to the ground in a fractured genuflect as the blood was squeezed from my hand and replaced with excruciating pain. I had forgotten to wrest a few fingers free and the remembrance of past humiliation replaced by rage was all that kept me from touching knee to newly tilled soil. That and the move so quick as lightening as I wrapped my hand around his ankle as my shoulder drove into his shins and toppled him to the ground where a sharpened tilling fork produced next to his windpipe pricked his imagination and managed to wipe the smirk from his face.
Telling me he had seen my wife and daughter in town was probably the only sound that saved him from a quick and painless dispatch. I laughed and he laughed with me, though both sounded hollow, forced, and unlikely to tinkle with genuine mirth. I did not like him and repentance could not make me just, though he remarked on the beauty of my wife and daughter, and the unmistakable resemblance of my daughter to me. I was only too happy to know that I was the true father to my child as his seed had earlier been barred from her womb. He would go to his grave quite possibly thinking he was the father, a deceit I allowed for the love of my wife.
Indeed, my blossomed wife and hauntingly beautiful daughter were both angelic, and the remembrance of my wife’s noble sacrifice to me allowed a kinder thought to flourish. I would let him pass, and thank the Lord for all I had.
I would not see him again until this day, and draped in his coffin, I never felt more at peace. He would war no more upon this earth and I dared not think where he would.