Blackdragon – 04

Chapter Four

The ferryman’s boat rolled in the water as it bumped up against the jetty. The sun was low now, and almost vanished, and the landing could hardly be seen in the gloom. The ferryman threw his rope onto the jetty and clambered out, pulling the vessel against the platform, and tying it fast to the post. He gave Juliette a hand up as she stepped out onto the wooden boards, firm underfoot after the unsteady rolling of the boat. But her balance was good, and she hardly needed his hand as she stepped gracefully onto the platform.

“Thank you good sir.” She said as she palmed a coin into his open hand. He didn’t need to look at it to sense the weight was more than expected, almost double the usual price. He tipped his hat to her in gratitude and hurried to her luggage to haul them out to lie beside her. She stood firm upon the jetty and looked out at the Porch gate before her.

A smile played across her mouth as she remembered the northman who had shared part of her journey. He had not been unattractive, and in different times she may have responded more warmly to his invitations. But not only was she in a desperate hurry in truth, but it had been a long and cramped journey down the river from Grana, and she was desperate for a quiet room, and a bowl of clean water to wash herself.

The Priory of A’ia Rosacrea was not the largest Priory in Scindia, but could well be considered one of the greatest and wealthiest in the city. Five hundred years ago the blessed Rosacrea of legend had placed her staff of office upon the sanctorium flame as a symbol of her newfound obedience to the Rule and it had remained unburned, and cool to the touch when the Sanctor lifted it out. This holy relic had transformed a tiny priory hardly worthy of the name into a pilgrimage site of some importance, once Rosacrea had died and remembrance of her sanctity had passed into distant memory. The Abbey had responded to the people’s veneration of her name and declared her an Agiah of the second rank, a distinction of great holiness which declared that she had been not only Fully Obedient to the Rule, but Worthy of God. This had led to the Priory becoming an important stopping point for pilgrims on their journey to visit the great Abbey Superior in Grae.

The current Prior had once been e a good friend of Juliette’s, and she had made an effort to keep in touch with letters. They had shared much cheer and good conversation over a glass of wine in the past. She was looking forward to seeing her friend again, though their meeting would be brief, by necessity. Juliette thanked the ferryman again for his service in unloading her luggage and left the heavy bags on the jetty as she strode forward to greet the porter who was even now lighting the lanterns hanging outside the Pilgrim’s Porch.

“Aneus be with you Porter of this blessed Priory.” She cried out confidently.

“And with you, pilgrim.” The porter replied, squinting through the half-light as Juliette approached.

“I am not too late am I?” Juliette asked, “The monks have not begun to sing the hours yet?”

“No my lady, the gates are still unlocked, and the monks are but washing their hands and gathering together as we speak.”

“Just in time then. Apologies for the latest of my approach, my ship was delayed by an unfavourable wind approaching the city. I believe you are expecting me, Prior Juliette from Falcor in the north.”

“Of course, my lady, I hadn’t recognised you in this gloom. Prior Feliciente has been eagerly awaiting your arrival.”

“Then I should not disappoint her with further tardiness on my part. Let us head inside while we can still see our feet in front of us.”

They headed through the Pilgrim’s Porch, into the formal gardens. The wall that separated the Priory from the river, and the rest of the merchant city, was thick and tall, and within it, they came into a still oasis of peace and contemplation with soft branches waving lazily in the encroaching darkness, the wind sighing happily at the coolness of the night as it embraced the world. Just stepping through the gate, Juliette felt refreshed.

“Would you like to join them in the Auditorium as they sing the hours?” the porter asked.

“I could not think of anything that would please me more.” Juliette replied. It had been many weeks since she had last heard the hours sung, and she missed the familiar words, and calm contentment that always settled about her heart as the music lifted her mind to God. The Porter took her down a slighter path down the side of the Priory wall, and brought her to a small side door in the stone wall of the Auditorium. He unlocked it with an iron key at his belt and ushered her in to a cloakroom within.

“Just make your way through the door there,” he said, “it’s not locked, and you’ll be coming out within the Auditorium directly. The others should just be coming in now.”

“Thank you kindly my friend.” Juliette replied. “You may have noticed my bags on the jetty outside. If it’s not too much of an imposition…”

“Of course my lady,” the Porter replied, “I’ll have them brought to the Prior’s offices straight away, they’ll be waiting for you after the hours are sung.”

“My gratitude and my praise to you. I’m afraid I didn’t catch your name…”

“Jacques Terrare” he replied.

“Well, I hope to see you again in the morning Jacques Terrare. I am afraid I must be on my way early, straight after the first sun’s rays are sung.”

“I’ll have a ferry waiting, and your bags aboard by first light.”

“You are a credit to your profession. My sister Prior is fortunate indeed. Till tomorrow then Jacques.” She passed him a coin in thanks and he took it with a tip of his forehead and a smile.

The Auditorium was cool after the heat of the city outside. Within the stone walls, there were no lights lit, and the demonstorium at the front was the only visible part, lit by candles on large stands. The demonstorium was empty still, a raised wooden stage, silent as the rest of the auditorium. Juliette made her way to one of the private boxes that sat in front of the platform with a full view of the space soon to be filled with monks and their music. Juliette waited in the near-darkness, she looked up and could see above the demonstorium, the novices gathering at the balcony, peering down, and then the monks filed into the candlelit space from either side.

They were dressed plainly, in simple robes, with their hoods down, uncovering their heads.  Their hair was tied back in a tight coil behind their heads, as was the custom, and wrapped in a simple white coife. These were the ordinary monks, or obedientaries, as the priory termed them. Some of the monks wore other slight insignia signifying their position as ordinaries within the Priory, senior monks. First to follow the front few obedientaries was the Ostensor, obvious with his red band about his forehead, even if he hadn’t been carrying the Holy Lantern before him with great ceremony.The lantern was closed tonight, as it always was during the singing of the hours, though the Ostensorwas the monk who had the honour of revealing the holy flame within during the public demonstrance that was performed once a week and on holy days.

Following the Ostensor was the Sanctor, the other most honoured position in the Priory, under the Prior themself. The Sanctor had no special responsibility during the singing of the hours, though during the day they were responsible for maintaining and preserving the Holy fire at the centre of the priory.

As the monks filed on, and took their positions on the demonstorium, the auditorium seemed to grow darker and more silent, as though the great space the monks stood before sucked the very sound of their breathing away. Then a single note rang out, a high-pitched cry beautiful in its simplicity, and it was joined by another, and another, until all the monks were filling the auditorium with their voices. Then one sang out clearly among them, words of deep beauty, in ancient Laeodic, harmonising with the song that each of them carried to their rafters. They harmonised their words, lifting Juliette’s spirit to God, and filling the air with His angels. And Juliette sat in quiet contemplation, luxuriating in the song that they sung. She had studied Laoedic and knew the meaning of the words, though the words themselves were unimportant, it was the message conveyed by the music that stirred her heart. Even though she knew the words, she rarely translated them in her head as they were sung, enjoying the feel of them, the harmony of the voices, the great feeling of being part of something so beautiful and transcendent, surrounded, and transported by her brothers and sisters, a great community which all over the world in every city, and town, and village, were singing the same song, and greeting the falling night with the same exquisite music.

This was the Hour of Patience, and the song told of the Prophet Sephira, the founder of the Rule. The story went that having spent many years pleading with the priests of the Temple of Anaeus to allow him into the temple to worship at the Holy Fire of God, he had fasted, and petitioned, and given his life over to many great holy works. Still the priests had refused him entrance and he had thus been sitting on a bare mat outside their gate for twenty years. In the song he remembers the eagerness and oaths of his youth, the passion and great deeds of his prime, and the dwindling energies of his middle years camped outside the temple gates. But the song ends with a great verse, sung by the Prior herself. In it Sephiros acknowledges that none of his efforts have brought him any closer to gaining entrance to the Holy Fire of God, and acknowledges that he is not worthy, and perhaps never will be. Yet still he sings that he will continue in his search for God, and only when Anaeus accepts Him will he be made worthy. This was the song of Patience, the precursor to the allowance of the priests in the story, and the great revelation of his last year.

 It was one of Juliette’s favourite hours, and she sat in silence as the song ended and the last note faded away into the night. The monks were filing out to either side when Juliette stirred herself and moved across to the stairs leading up onto the platform.

“Feliciente!” she cried as her friend saw her approach.

“Juliette.” Her friend’s face broke into a broad smile as she grabbed her by the shoulders and embraced her warmly. “You’ve arrived. I didn’t see you out there. Were you here for the whole song?”

“I wouldn’t have missed it for the world.” Juliette replied. “Your monks sing it so well, the years are lifted from me and it’s as though I were a novice girl hearing it for the first time again.”

“You jest, we are but paupers throwing stones at the stars to bring them down to earth.” Feliciente laughed. “But please, you must be exhausted after your journey. How far have you come since you last rested your head on a soft bed on dry land?”

“Far too long, my sister. But it is not a bed that I hunger for. It has been too many long days since I gazed upon the light of the holy fire.”

“Then my own cell is yours until the hour of Allowance.”

“A pilgrim’s cell would serve me just as well.”

“No, I won’t hear of it. You’ll take my own cell if I have to drag you there bodily.”

Juliette laughed. “Why, then how can I refuse?”

“You cannot. Come. We shall meditate upon the Lord, and after we’ve sung Allowance, we shall retire to my rooms, share a glass of wine, or two, and you must tell me everything of your journey.”

“A prospect that renews my spirits at the thought alone.” Juliette replied.

> Chapter Five

Chapter Three <

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