Buzzards, Hawks and Ravens
(Account of Six Friends' Lives in the "Dark" Ages)
RAIDO! Head-on into the Unknown
- Anzo Needs a Second Life-
The big black bear came
from the south, over the mountains. The hand-raised bear had made an escape
across the moat at a castle in Trentino, where he had been born. In order to
fight his way out of captivity, he'd had to kill the keeper
who had fostered him; who had saved him when his mother-bear had refused to
nurse him as a cub. At seven years, he was grown up, measuring about eight feet
from snout to tail. During the summer he had lost a lot of weight because of
fights with other males, vying for receptive she-bears. Now, before the winter,
he needed to fatten up and find a den for hibernation. His arrival in the small
Noticing the circling vultures above the neighboring pasture, worried herdsmen feared the worst. They were right. The men recovered the torn up body of their fellow herdsman. They hauled the carcass down to the broken-hearted widow and dispatched a delegation to the Count Matti of Veldegg, Anzo's father.
"A black ghost is beleaguering our country! He has massacred herds, torn apart our sheep and calves, murdered our chicken-flocks, turned over our beehives and now he doesn't even spare our brothers. Help us, Count!"
Count Matti had to act. He took the fear of the herdsmen seriously, however he was sure the monster was not a ghost but most likely a bear, or a pack of wolves.
"My valued subjects! My dear herdsmen! I grieve with you and the widow! I will replace the killed animals from my own pockets. But I can't replace your fellow; I can't replace the husband to his wife, nor can I replace the father to his children. First thing tomorrow, we will set out on the hunt, together with my stepbrother Menno, my most experienced huntsmen, and a pack of sleuthhounds."
Anzo was present at his father's audience with the shepherds, and as soon as the delegation had left, Anzo interjected, "You forgot about me! I am nearly thirteen years of age now, and you only recently stated that I am the best hunter of my age! I have to come along. As your heir, I must come along and not only that, but the tracking hound is my special friend!"
"You are not coming along, son! It's not a ghost, I am sure of that, but that monster is a ruthless man-eater! It's not an animal to toy with!"
Before Anzo could answer, his mother stated sternly "You are not going, my Anzo! You are my only child!" Turning her husband, "Anzo has to stay!"
Anzo was nearly positive he wouldn't be able to alter his parents' decision, but he had to try one last time, "Mother let me go along; I have to protect father!"
Up in the high pasture, the hunting party discovered huge, human-like tracks in the soft soil, but with long claws. They were those of a bear, a big bear, indeed, a monster bear. The tracking hound took up the scent and trailed it to a deserted plain at the foot of a rugged mountain.
It was already dark by the time the hunting party arrived at the gravel plain, which was studded with big boulders and shrubberies, and crossed by shelves of limestone. The Count decided on a bivouac, whereas his stepbrother preferred to continue the hunt in the dark. This resulted in a fierce discussion between the brothers.
Count Matti, Anzo's father, was about forty years old, of medium height, thin and wiry. He always behaved with integrity and discretion, was careful to obey all the laws, and did not suppress his subjects. Menno, Matti's younger stepbrother, was just the opposite. His appearance alone intimidated common people. His size was extraordinary, as was his physique. His curly, nearly black hair not only covered his head, but also most of his body. He was obtrusive and bossy. Behind his back, people called him "The Bear".
Menno had returned to Veldegg, from the campaign, badly disappointed. Not only hadn't he received the gold he had dreamed off; he even had lost all his arms and equipment. Now he was poorer than before, and was totally dependent on the charity of his stepbrother, Matti. He hated being second to anyone, but he especially hated to be dependent on his stepbrother, and to live off his handouts.
Next morning, the tracking hound trailed the scent of the monster bear to a dense wooded copse on the other end of the gravel plain and then further, to a canyon carved deeply into the bedrock. The bear had used a steep trail leading down to the bottom of the canyon, much too steep for the hunters.
The dog-handler, the oldest of the hunters, recalled a wooden hanging bridge further down. "Count Matti, when you were still a boy, your father built a bridge about half a mile downstream. Maybe we can use it to cross to the other side of the canyon!"
The swaying wooden bridge still crossed over the abyss. A small, overgrown trail descended to the head of the bridge, which was halfway down the slope of the canyon. The bridge was suspended only by two hemp-ropes. Count Matti, as the smaller of the brothers, decided to go first. Accompanied by his stepbrother, he climbed down the trail and started over the bridge. Count Matti had crossed about half of the violently swaying bridge, when one of the suspension ropes broke. He tried to hang on to the swaying bridgework and seize the good rope. He missed the rope, lost his grip, and fell with a piercing shriek head over heels into the deep canyon.
Matti's stepbrother and the hunters had to get ropes before they lowered themselves down into the canyon, one after the other. They searched the gorge, and when they reached the Count, they were horrified. His face was smashed, his abdomen was ripped open and the gut and liver torn out. A bloody track led away from the corpse, into the wild canyon.
The Countess of Veldegg, Anzo's mother, broke down after she received the terrible news. Her health had already been severely compromised since Anzo's birth. Now she fell sick and couldn't leave her bed for more than a month. She was not even able to attend her husband's funeral. In grief and despair, she decided to join a Sister's order and pray for her husband's soul till the end of her days.
Anzo was depressed at first and mourned for a fortnight. Then he got aggressive. A rumor said the broken suspension rope of the bridge had no frayed edges. The edge was straight, as if cut by a sharp dagger. His step-uncle Menno had been the only one at the bridge when his father began the crossing. To Anzo, Menno was obviously responsible for the death of his father. He was his father's murderer. People even began to spread a rumor that Menno was able to turn into the monster bear, at will. Old women even suspected him to be the man-eater.
Anzo accused Menno of the murder, at first only in front of his mother, then in front of the Count's staff, and finally, in public. "You are an assassin! You are a murderer! You killed my father; and you killed the shepherd as well! You are the man-eater; the monster!"
After Anzo's mother joined the Order of the Sister's, Menno had persuaded the Archbishop, as the liege lord, to assign him the guardianship over Anzo. This guardianship also included the regency of the county, which was just what Menno had strived for.
Being confronted with the Archbishop's decision, Anzo accused Menno, "Now, you are showing your true colors. You have not only murdered my father, and driven my mother into a monastery, you have usurped the county! You are a ruthless robber, murderer and man-eater!"
Count Menno took Anzo hostage, holding him in the donjon of his dead father's castle, riding roughshod over Anzo's accusations. With this move, Menno forestalled any possible problems and gave himself a clear track. Anzo broke down after a month in the dark and chilly dungeon, where he kept the company of murderers and burglars. The thirteen year old Anzo gave up hope and assented to becoming a novice in the Monastery of Niwenburg, in order to save his life.
Anzo woke up. His body felt warm under the coarse cover but his nose tip was cold. He pulled the bedspread over his head. The bed smelt strange. He popped his head from under the blanket and tried to penetrate the darkness. He felt like he was stuck in a deep black hole with a speck of grayish sky above. He was alarmed and began to listen to the noises from outside. Slight breathing came from the left and their rhythm alternated with heavy ones on the right. Rivaling roosters were crowing in the distance. A door squeaked; scuffling steps came along and a drowsy voice sounded, "In the name of Father, Son and Holy Ghost! Wake put now brethren!...It's time for the Prime."
Now, Anzo remembered everything. Yesterday, late in the night he had been delivered to the Niwenburg monastery by his uncle Menno's mercenaries. A constable and two soldiers had turned him over to the old monk in the gate-house. After one month in the foul-smelling donjon of Veldeg, without food and only putrid water, the thirteen year old squire had been willing to accept any condition which promised release. Without a second thought, Anzo had agreed to renounce his heritage, for fear of his life. The steward has stripped him of his soiled but noble clothes, forced to dress in the habit of a poor villager, and then the constable had taken him on the four-day ride to the monastery of Niwenburg.
In the gate-house Anzo had waited, frightened about the things to come. He had turned around when the door of the small room behind him opened. Horrified, he had stared at a man who looked like Menno's twin; a big, towering and bear-like monk. But the face of the man was beardless and had smiled at him with genuine sympathy, "Welcome Anzo, your imminent arrival was announced by the Arch-bishop's envoy day's ago. I am Notker, the master of the novices...You seem tired, am I right? It's late, let's hurry to the novices' dormitory. Your bed is waiting."
Now, in the early dawn, someone drew back the curtain and a small face appeared in the opening. "Hurry up! You are the new postulant, right? Let's go. Don't delay. It's an important day for you, and for us!"
Anzo had been dead-tired from the long ride and had slept fully dressed. He just jumped out of the bed and followed the novices to the chapel. About twenty novices had gathered on the steps, in front of Notker. The other novice guided Anzo up to the head-master. Notker opened his arms invitingly. "Come closer, come closer, dear boy, and kneel down." Then he turned to the others. "We have a new brother! In the beginning he will have a hard time! He needs help and advice! Who of you will volunteer to become his tutor?"
Anzo was a surprised by this welcome. Curious, he looked around. Four or five of the twenty novices had raised their arms to announce their willingness. All were silent, but one. "Please! Please! Make me his tutor!"
Father Notker hesitated, "But you are only eleven Quintus, and our new postulant is already thirteen!"
"Then make me the tutor, together with my brother Pirmin. We have lived here in the monastery for three years and we've never been allowed to tutor because of our ages! Together we are twenty-two!"
The others started to snigger; even the head-master giggled. "If the others agree, then it's God's Will! Step forward, Quintus and Pirmin!"
Anzo had to look up at his tutors. Standing to his left and right, they towered over him. He was on knees right now, but even upright he would find that they were at least half a head bigger. But they both were spindly; thin as rakes!
"Now get on your feet, Anzo!" commanded Notker, "Let's begin with the ceremony of your investiture!"
Quintus and Pirmin were familiar with the proceeding and before Anzo was able to react, they pulled the old robe off over his head and covered his body with a white blanket. While Quintus fastened the blanket around Anzo's neck, as Pirmin pulled out a pair of scissors and started to cut his long curly hair.
Anzo protested, "No, no!" but in vain.
The novices giggled and Quintus whispered, "Pirmin will leave enough hair for your mother to recognize you!"
Soon Anzo was sorely missing his mop of hair, as the top of his head got cold in the morning breeze. The next steps followed quickly.
The head-master, towering over Anzo, announced solemnly, "Anzo from Veldegg, you are on the threshold to a new life; a life as a novice of the Order of St. Benedict! Is it your free will to enter this new part of your life?"
With closed eyes, Anzo reflected on his situation for some moments, then decided, better a novice and alive than a squire and dead, and answered: "Yes, it is my solemn will!"
"Now you have to confirm your willingness to become a novice with the profession...I will pose three questions and you have to answer all of them by announcing: I will!"
"Are you willing to vow poverty?"
"Are you willing to vow chastity?"
"Are you willing to vow obedience?"
"On threshold of your new life you will be baptized a second time and be bestowed a new name. Your new name will be "Timotheus"! This new name will indicate the importance of your decision, to God and to all of your brothers. Timotheus was a martyr! Follow his footsteps." Then he anointed Anzo, now Timotheus, with chrism, and sprinkled baptismal water over his shorn head.
Now the white blanket covering his body was removed, and he was dressed in a dark tunic; the same as all the other novices were wearing.
All the novices cheered. Then, one after the other moved closer and embraced Anzo. His two tutors took his hands and guided him into the chapel for his first service a novice.
In the afternoon, Quintus and Pirmin devoted their full attention to Anzo. Quintus' first question was, "Can we call you `Tim'? You can call us `Quint' and `Pirm', like all others do!"
Anzo agreed happily. To him, this looked like a promising start, "Sure, go ahead. I accept Tim, but I like my old name better, it's `Anzo'."
Quint and Pirm chaperoned Anzo through Niwenburg; through the whole Niwenburg complex. They showed the new novice not only the cloistral areas, but also the menial department. They went to the kitchen-house and to the bake-house, where the tutors snitched some goodies. Then Pirm pointed out the orchard. "We'll have to sneak into the garden in the twilight to get some apples. They'll soon be ripe!"
"Why in the twilight? At home I could go into the garden any time I wanted!" Anzo asked.
"During daytime, we have to ask the cellarer, and he is a miser."
They hadn't spent much of their time in the cloistral complex but had hurried on to the menial and farming areas, to show Anzo the other side of the monastic life, as Pirm called it.
In the dusk of early evening the three waited for the return of the sheep from pasture. The shepherd, a young man from the nearby village, instructed the big dogs to urge the large flock back home; the sheep-folds at the edge of the monastery.
One of the dogs, a young, nearly white male, greeted the twins, then turned to Anzo and sniffed at his front-side and licked Anzo's palms. "Snowy likes you!" remarked the young shepherd, "This dog is special; he only likes people with a pure soul!"
Anzo looked down and blushed. Hadn't he wished that his uncle kick the bucket, and go to hell, over and over again during the last weeks?
Inhaling deeply the warm and sweetish odor of the sheep, Pirm turned to Anzo, "We are from a big manor and like animals!"
Quint added, "We are the surplus of the manor, so to speak. Our father, the Esquire, has fathered more than twenty children. We were number eight and nine, twins!"
Now they both giggled and stated simultaneously, "One woman was not enough for him, so he had several mistresses, each at every farm. We are misbegotten; bastards."
Anzo was struck with wonder. His father had a lot of manors and farms, but to his knowledge, he had only one wife and no mistress. Before he could express his surprise and his disapproval, Pirm explained, "We are lucky! The sub-prior is our uncle, father's younger brother. He liked us since we were very little. So he persuaded the Abbot to make us novices, even without a donation to the monastery."
Quint gave Pirm a dig in the ribs. A little hesitantly, Pirm asked, "Why did your parents send you to Niwenburg?"
Anzo hesitated and then answered with low voice, "My parents did not send me to the monastery! My uncle did: he insisted that I had to go. He forced me. It was the monastery or the morgue! He killed my father, and my mother went into the Sisters, so my uncle has taken over and is now the Count."
From behind them a deep voice announced, "Choosing the monastery was the right decision. Take it as God's will!"
Startled, Anzo turned abruptly, and shied away in terror. There he was again; a tall black looming bear-like. "I hate you, monster bear, go away!" yelled Anzo.
But the black monster turned up Anzo's face kindly and looked down at the boy smilingly, "Don't be scared Timotheus, I am not a bear; I am your head-master! Please trust me!...I was looking for you and your tutors since it's getting dark."
Anzo's eyes watered, and he wanted to run away, but the head-master's hand held him back. Together the four walked slowly to the novices' quarters. "It's only today that I heard of the terrible fate of your family, Timotheus. It's not the bear's fault, believe me. The Almighty has made all animals according his plans, and all his creatures are peaceful. If one of them becomes a monster, it's the fault of men."
Back in the novice quarters, Anzo went over the happenings of his first day as a novice. He didn't expect to have any problems keeping the pledge for poverty, but what about keeping the other two pledges? Being obedient was surely not his special strength. But the head-master seemed to be nice and reasonable. He probably would be able to obey him.
But chastity? Just now, as he had been sitting on the toilet, his hard pecker reminded him of his permanent problem. His little pecker wasn't little anymore; he was growing bigger month by month. He had liked playing with his tool since he was about eight. He had been introduced to this fun by his cousin and the falconer's son, who were both about two years older than Anzo. For several years his cousin was his great example. These pastimes ended suddenly, when his cousin discovered girls. Anzo liked girls, but only young girls; not big girls. The small ones were cute and funny; different from girls of his own age. Those were boring, stupid and always tattling. He hated these damsels, especially once his cousin began dating girls. Anzo liked boys better. Thinking of the watchman's youngest son, Gerson, he got a hard on, immediately. Gerson was something special; small, blond and witty. They liked to meet on top of the watchtower or on the curtain walls, and they played for hours. Their meetings always ended with each feeling up the other. Becoming chaste meant forgetting Gerson's hazel-nut sized nuts´ and his tiny prick, hard like iron. Anzo promised himself that he would forget about Gerson and all other boys. He decided to become a chaste novice.
Notker spent a sleepless night pondering Anzo's fears. Next morning, he asked him into his study, "Timotheus, all animals are alike; bears, lions or wolves, are as loveable as sheep, deer or doves. Look at this wonderful tableau. Look at it carefully. Bears love each others and bear-parents love their cubs just like humans do. I myself like being the bear-father and taking care for you and the other novices, like he does for his cubs...Please, do me a favor, and take the book and copy the picture!"
Anzo started to overcome his profound depression; he became full of life again. Was it the company of the other novices? Was it the copying of the tableau of the bear family? Who knows?! Anzo and his tutors became the nucleus of a circle of the younger novices. Its members learned together, played together, supported each other if necessary, and defended their interests against those of the bigger novices. Spontaneously they helped out in the kitchen, in the kitchen garden, and in the stables. Soon their circle seemed to be indispensable to the monastic community. They were called the "Little Ravens"!
At first the monks were suspicious about the activities of these novices, and their readiness to serve their community without being asked. But soon, many of monks evolved a new feeling towards their fosterlings. Even the prior, a very harsh monk, developed a kind of fatherly feeling towards the members of the circle and secretly began to enjoy the little escapades and monkeyshines of the novices.
Anzo wasn't the head of the circle, but was an indispensable member, because of his familiarity with the life and customs of the common people outside of the monastery. He had never been a skilled player of mob football or hockey, the favorite pastimes of the novices, who shared these preferences with the sons of the workers and farmers of the neighborhood. But due to his outgoing character Anzo was able to initiate matches between the two groups.
As winter approached the "Little Ravens" and the village boys agreed to meet for a shinney-match, a kind of ice hockey. Anzo volunteered to find the pond where the match could take place.
Down in the valley the sheet of ice on the fish-ponds was still too brittle. Therefore Anzo decided to check the thickness of the ice on the shallow pond up the hill. He slipped out the monastery without asking for permission. At the northern gate of the monastery, Snowy, the white shepherd dog, caught up. Chucking the dog under his snout, Anzo said, "Come on, Snowy, you are getting fat; let's go for a hike!" Happily, the dog agreed, wagging his tail and barking.
Walking uphill through the snow was more exhausting than expected. It was close to dark when they finally reached the pond. Anzo took a stick, tossed it onto ice of the pond and commanded "Retrieve! Get the stick back to me! Quick!" Snowy jumped upon the ice sheet and retrieved the stick. They repeated the game several times. Each time Anzo tossed the stick further. At the fifth throw the stick hit the ice sheet close to the centre. Snowy raced to retrieve it, but this time the ice cracked open and the dog broke into the cold water. He tried to scramble back onto the ice sheet, struggling madly; but in vain, as more and more chunks of ice broke away from the ice sheet. Snowy was stuck in the icy water.
Anzo had no choice. He had to get the dog out of the water. Disregarding the imminent danger, Anzo rushed to help Snowy. The ice cover broke to pieces before he even was close to the dog. Now both were caught in the icy water. Luckily the pond was not deep and the water only came up to Anzo's shoulders. The shock prevented him from feeling the cold for some moments and he managed to pull Snowy out of the water and lift him onto firm ice.
But now Anzo was in the same desperate situation as the dog was before. As soon as he tried to climb onto the ice cover, the ice broke to pieces. He started to fight his way out, breaking off one piece of the ice sheet after the other. Slowly, very slowly he came closer to the edge of the pond. Later Anzo couldn't remember how he managed to reach the bank. He must have lost consciousness and worked like an automaton.
Anzo struggled to open his eyes. Finally he succeeded in opening the eyelids a small crack. Red flames were flickering around him. In terror, he shut his eyes again, but the red blaze still hurt the back of his eyes. Hundreds of hornets were stinging him in his toes, his feet and legs with their sharp barbs. His arms and fingers were numb, his ears on fire, scalding hot water surrounded his body. He wanted to rise, to jump out of the water, but hands were holding him immersed. A comforting voice penetrated the cloud around his head, "Calm down, Timotheus, you are safe now! Calm down, stay in the water, your body needs to warm up!" He lost consciousness again.
Anzo woke up much later. The light from a small candle was dancing against the walls of a strange and overheated room. He was bedded onto a soft mattress, covered by soft blankets and someone was holding him tightly and lovingly. Who was it? Was it his cousin? It felt like years ago since he had spooned with his beloved cousin. He couldn't turn. He could hardly move, because his body was wrapped up in a wet pack like in a suit of armor. Anzo touched the hands holding him; they were small and soft.
He must have fallen asleep again. He woke up because faint daylight came through the shutters. His bedfellow was gone. Friar Ambrose, the infirmarian, was sitting beside the bed checking his temperature and his pulse. He spoke to someone standing at the door. "You did the right thing in order to keep Anzo warm and alive tonight. Don't worry too much, since boys his age are strong. In just a few days he'll be alive and kicking again." Then Friar Ambrose renewed the warm wet pack.
"What happened? I can't remember what happened yesterday. I tried to save Snowy from drowning, and then everything went blurry!"
"Ask later. Now sleep! You have to stay in bed for a week or so."
Anzo checked out Friar Ambrose's hands while the infirmarian was treating him. His hands were old and gnarly, and were definitely not the hands that had been holding him the night before.
Anzo was weak and he dozed the whole day. He slept, woke up and fell to sleep again. Friar Ambrose's young helper entered the room as the bell announced the end of the Compline. "I'll stay with Anzo all night, Friar Ambrose. You don't need to stay up yourself. You need your rest. I'll watch over Anzo's sleep again."
Anzo awoke to the sound of a church bell announcing the prayers, the Nocturns. Someone was holding him tight and warm again. He turned his head cautiously. In the soft candle light he recognized the assistant to the infirmarian, Friar Benedict. The sub-infirmarian was deep in sleep.
The next night Friar Benedict again held Anzo in his arms. When the sound of the morning bells aroused the recovering novice, he turned to the young infirmarian, smiled and planted a soft kiss on Benedict's cheek. He whispered, "Thank-you so much. I love you!"
Anzo's accident and his fast recovery was great news in and around the monastery. All his friends came to see him, even the young shepherd. He brought along Snowy, who immediately started to lick Anzo's hand. "You saved me a good dog, Timotheus, and Snowy repaid his debt by alerting the Little Ravens. But the miracle of bringing you back to life belongs to Friar Benedict. Nobody knows how, but he saved your life!"
Anzo was happy to be back in the novices´ quarters after a week in the infirmary. He had questioned everybody about the miracle, first the shepherd, then his tutors, Quint and Pirm, then Notker, the headmaster of the novices, in fact, nearly everyone he met. He couldn't ask Benedict, because the sub-infirmarian was on a sick-call to a farmer far off in the mountains.
Anzo was still weak and had a bad, long-lasting cold. He needed time to regain his former strength. The process of his recovery was slow-going, and the main reason for this was his uncertainty about the "miracle". Anzo had to know more about it. He had to ask Friar Benedict and he needed to thank him. Berrit came back on a Saturday night, and Anzo waylaid him at the door, but sadly, he had no chance to talk to him in private. This made Anzo quite unhappy.
At bedtime, Anzo curled up in his cold bed, like a cub in a bear's den. The dark dormitory was busy with the noises produced by boys just before dropping of to sleep; the whispering from bed to bed, the heavy breathing, and slight snoring. Anzo felt cold, and he longingly remembered the soft embrace of Friar Benedict during his first three nights in the infirmary. Spooning! Spooning! A thought hit him. Why hadn't he thought of giving a present like this before! He only needed two spoons and a piece of thread.
Due to his accident, Anzo still had a jester's freedom next day. While the others attended the Sext, he slipped into the still deserted main refectory. He searched for two spoons, fitting them to each other like he and Friar Benedict had fitted together in his sickbed. He entwined the two spoons with a soft cord of red and white silk and placed this present to the right of Benedict's bowl, on the table together with the knife. Sitting at the same side of the table, Anzo was not able to keep close tabs on Benedict's reaction to his present; he could observe Friar Benedict's struggle with the spoons. During Recreation the silk cord adorned the sub-infirmarians's left wrist. Anzo was happy, but again he had no chance to talk to him, as Friar Ambrose and his helper had to attend a sick-call.
The next week, Anzo was once again busy with the tasks assigned to novices. In the times between the lessons and services he tried to encounter Benedict, but in vain. The sub-infirmarian seemed to avoid him. Employing himself with his favorite pastime, the drawing and painting of miniatures, Anzo decided to give a copy of the miniature of the bear's family-life to Friar Benedict. His drawing was not as fancy as the original, because he didn't have the gold to adorn the background however the bears playing in the shrub studded meadow looked nearly alive.
Next Sunday, the monks and novices had dinner together again. In the refectory, Anzo stashed the folded up drawing under Friar Benedict's bowl. He switched his seat with another novice and therefore was able to watch Benedict's every move. At first, Friar Benedict avoided looking at the suspicious parchment. Later, he cautiously pulled it closer like a piece of poison hemlock, but after the last prayer, he slipped it into the cuff of his wide sleeve.
Anzo was not able to see the surprised and happy smiles of Friar Benedict, after the latter had unfurled the present in his study. Anxiously, Anzo waited for a reaction from the sub-infirmarian; for a sign of recognition. He got restless and impatient.
Quint and Pirm sensed Anzo's uneasiness, his tension. "What's the matter with you? Last week you behaved like newborn colt, happy and full of energy. This week you are unmindful and blue! Can we help you somehow?"
Anzo's was so distracted that he dropped his bowl after the Wednesday evening meal. The clay bowl broke neatly into two halves. To his surprise, the bowl looked like new as he held the two fragments together. His brain began to spin. He had to try a last time to get the attention of Friar Benedict.
His last treasure was a little silver coin he had smuggled into the monastery hidden in his left shoe. He decided to split it in into halves and give one of the halves to Friar Benedict. The coin was more solid than the bowl. Anzo couldn't bite it into two pieces with his teeth, nor was he able to cut it with his knife. He needed to go the blacksmith for help.
The blacksmith was a big, friendly man. Anzo had met him before, because two of his five sons played on the village football team. Noticing Anzo at the door of his smoky workroom, the blacksmith greeted him politely, "Glad to see you healthy again Tim! We were all praying for you, even Mat, who got a black eye by crashing into you at the last game! You are a lucky boy! Now what can I do for you?"
"I need your help! Can you cut this coin into halves? If so, please do it neatly!"
"Have you run into gambling debts? I didn't know novices were allowed to gamble!"
Anzo shook his head, "Not at all. I am not doing any gambling!"
"So, you got yourself a girl friend! Mat's got one. He asked me to split a coin and gave one half to his girl and kept the other."
Anzo blushed, lowered his head, and stammered with low voice, "Novices are not allowed to have girl friends!"
The blacksmith burst out laughing! "Is it a boy: another novice?...You don't have to answer, boy! Love is love! I will try my best to cut your coin perfectly into two halves!"
Next Sunday Anzo had an excellent chance to place the half coin in Friar Benedict's bowl, because he was one of the novices in charge of serving the meal. Carefully, he stashed away the half coins in the cuff of the sleeve of his tunic. He started fill the bowls with soup at the head of the table and made his way slowly down to the places of the novices. Arriving at Friar Benedict, he took the bowl and let one of the half coins slip into it. The click-clack of the coin in the clay bowl was drowned by the loud voice of the lecturer reciting the Rules of Benedict. He put an extra spoonful of soup into the blow filling it close to the edge. Secretly he crossed himself and went to the next novice down the line.
Keeping an eye on Friar Benedict, Anzo was at hand as Friar Benedict coughed, then spat something onto the table, and then took it into his right hand. He looked at the object while still coughing. Anzo patted the back of the young infirmarian, who was trying in vain to stop his coughing. Bending forward, Anzo let the other half of the coin slip into Friar Benedict's hand and whispered, hardly audible, "Here, that's the missing half...wait for me in the chapel after dark!"
Friar Benedict looked back in surprise, nearly tossing over his chair. This earned both the novices another condemning glace by the Abbot. Friar Benedict blushed and Anzo tried to hide behind him out of fear.
Anzo was tense all afternoon. He even refused to take part at his favorite pastime, the hockey game, and stayed inside, copying the miniature of the bear family for a second time. Anxiously he waited for the evening to come and then for the end of the Compline. He nearly said something carelessly when the headmaster asked him after the service to bring back some books to the library.
It was pitch-dark when Anzo finally could slip into the chapel. He opened the door slightly and waited to accustom his eyes to the dim red light emitted from the sanctuary lamp. Frightened but steeling his nerve, he whispered, "Are you still here, Benedict?" He jerked back when a hand touched him unexpectedly on the shoulder. "Who...who are you?" he stammered "Please, let go my hand!"
"Do you want your coin back? ... I'll bet you do!" and the excited voice whispered, "I thought you never would come!" without expecting an answer. Anzo slipped his hand onto Berrit's, who then pulled Anzo through a small door to go to the infirmary, "Its cold in the chapel, come along!"
"Are you Friar Benedict?" Anzo had still not been able to clearly see whose hand he was holding, but it felt small, like that of Benedict.
"Hush, everyone in the infirmary is sleeping already." With that, Anzo was reassured as he was pulled into a small study, scarcely lit by the flickering light of an oil lamp.
At first Anzo was blinded by the light but his immediate impression was the scent of herbs and elixirs. Then he discerned a big table covered with books and instruments, shelves on the wall stuffed with all kinds boxes and pouches, and finally a small bed at the left wall. He turned to his host and recognized the smiling face of Friar Benedict, shedding his coat.
"Shed your coat and sit on the bed. It's the most comfortable place I can offer."
Both reclined on the bed side by side, staring in the small light. The time seemed to stretch forever. Then both began to speak simultaneously, "I ... " and both stopped at once, both wanting to leave the first sentence to the other. Then Friar Benedict started laughing and asked, "Did you make me these surprise-presents, the silk cord with the spoons, the drawing of the bear family and today, the two half coins? You did, didn't you? Why?"
These questions broke the tension and now the words came gushing out of Anzo's mouth, "Do you like my presents? ... They are my little paybacks for saving my life. Everybody told me that without your help I would have died! I wanted to thank you, but I never had a chance to meet you! You were always gone when I looked for you, for long weeks! I ambushed you, but you always escaped...Did you run away from me? I wanted to pay you back for my life! ... Do you like my presents? They are so humble, I am ashamed I have nothing more!"
Friar Benedict pulled back the left sleeve of his tunic, "Look here, what do you think? I wear your wristband day and night!" Then Friar Benedict went over to the table, got the light and the parchment. "I am so proud of the picture you bestowed on me. I want to be a bear and hold my friend like he does." Placing the oil-lamp back on the table, he continued, "But we have to share the coin. I will keep half and you will keep a half of the coin, always!"
All uncertainty had left Anzo. He beamed. He took both halves, each in a different hand, hid the hands behind his back, and invited the young infirmarian, "Make your choice!"
Friar Benedict bent over to do so, and while he made his choice by touching Anzo's hand, Anzo planted a quick kiss on the young infirmarians's cheek.
"Don't do that!" Berrit said, being cautious.
But Anzo smiled, "That's already the second kiss you got from me. I already kissed you, during that third night in the infirmary, while you where sleeping!"
"That kiss doesn't count! I was asleep; you raped me!" and both laughed, knowing that stolen kiss was far from being a rape. "My Christian name is `Berrit'!"
"And mine is `Anzo', please call me `Anzo' whenever we meet. I always wanted a boyfr ... " Anzo halted in surprise and then continued, blushing "I always wanted a brother, a big brother, ever since I was small! I love you Berrit, my big brother!"
Berrit and Anzo talked about their lives for hours. They parted when the faint sound of the bell called for the Matins.
"Hey, you look tired this morning, are you still feeling sick?" head-master Notker looked at Anzo with eagle eyes. "You should go to and ask the infirmarian to check you over!"
"No, no! I`m not sick, I'm tired, but happy! ... Look!" and he tried to impress Notker with his health by flexing his biceps. "Can I ask you a favor, Headmaster Notker? ... Please let me go to the infirmary after the None and help Ber...ah, Friar Benedict with his folio on medical plants."
"I thought you like drawing, not writing. Have you changed your hobbies?"
"I haven't. The writing is done by Friar Ambrose and Friar Benedict. I will do the drawings of medical flowers and the herbs. Benedict asked me, because he is really bad in drawing and admires my drawing of the bear family."
"You can, but I agree only if you promise to do all your other assignments perfectly!"
Anzo was happy. He completed all his duties and assignment to Notker's full satisfaction and his spare time was partly taken up in the matches played with the "Little Ravens" and partly in illustrating the book.
His feelings towards Berrit changed as puberty hit him. He was attracted to his "Big Brother" to such an extent that he preferred his company to that of his former tutors, Quint and Pirm. When he began to skip the matches and spent the time with Benedict, the two called him "traitor", at first mockingly, later, seriously.
Anzo began to spend most of his spare-time in Berrit's company, either helping in the infirmary, the small pharmacy, or in caring for the plants in the medical garden.
One early morning Friar Ambrose warned Anzo, "I need your help. I have patients to care for in the sick-house and I am a little sick myself. I've got a serious backache and can hardly move. In my place, Benedict will need to go on a sick-call to Niwenburg castle. The old castellan is ailing. I don't think Friar Benedict should go alone on this trip and the Prior doesn't want him to go alone either. He needs a companion, and I think it should be you!"
Anzo was excited. He hadn't been on horseback since his uncle had imprisoned him in the monastery. "Are we walking or using horses?"
"It's a two day trip, at least, but you will not use a horse. Monks use mules on such occasions."
Anzo was in high spirits at prospect of the trip and especially of being alone with Berrit. But since he was actually a Count he was slightly disappointed, because they had to use mules. On the trip he was definitely going to be surprised, because mules are strong, tireless and have excellent footing on steep mountain trails.
The tour began shortly after the Prime. As soon as the monastery was out off sight, Berrit became outgoing. He pointed out the landscape, named the different mountains, told stories about the people in the hamlets and farms they passed, and at raced Anzo to a roadhouse.
"Hi, Irma!" he greeted the landlord's cute daughter.
She blushed, made a curtsey and beamed fondly at the friars. "Is this your friend, Novice Timotheus? The one you told me about every time you came around?"
Now it was Berrit's turn to blush and Anzo had to hide his red face behind his hood.
During supper, both enjoyed the girl's company. When they left, she gave both a peck on the cheek, "I am glad Timotheus is with you!" she smiled, "That food should be enough for two hungry lads, because I doubt you will reach my uncle's house today. You will have to stay in the hay-stack at the foot of the pass."
"Does she always kiss you, Berrit?" Anzo asked, using his Christian name.
"No, she never did before. I'll bet she fell in love with you at first sight, Anzo!"
"I don't care! I didn't look at Irma at all during the meal. The whole time, I had my eyes on someone else; all the time!"
"Who was it? We were the only three in the taproom!" Berrit grinned.
Anzo blushed and spurred his mule.
Irma was right. It got dark
before they reached the old
When Anzo woke up at dawn, Berrit had him in a bear-hug. He enjoyed the tight embrace so much that he squeezed himself even closer to Berrit. Anzo felt his friend's morning wood pressing against his buttocks despite the heavy tunics. Instinctively he began to wiggle his bum and soon he started to shoot. The wiggles didn't arouse Berrit, but he began to moan too, and finally woke up with a heavy and satisfied grunt and dreamy eyes.
Leaving their warm burrow in the haystack, they didn't dare look each other fully in the face. "Let's have a quick bath in the creek, to wash away the mess!" Berrit suggested meekly.
Anzo grinned and bowed to the necessity, "Sure. We shouldn't smell like boars when we meet our patient!"
Anzo's smiles made Berrit uneasy, "Please, Anzo, don't tell anyone else about our little accidents."
But the younger novice just took the older one into his arms, "I swear! I pledge by the Three Virgins of the Fourteen Holy Helpers never to tell anybody!" and he started to recite:
All ye Holy Helpers,
pray for us!
Saint Margaret, valiant champion of the Faith,
pray for us!
Saint Catherine, victorious defender of the Faith and of purity,
pray for us!
Saint Barbara, mighty patroness of the dying,
pray for us!
At Castle Niwenburg, they cared for the frail castellan. He was in charge of the drafty estate, ever since the last of the counts of Niwenburg had left home. The young Count had left to sing of courtly love at the princely castles and for adventures in unknown countries, half a century ago.
From that time on, Berrit and Anzo used every opportunity to go on sick-calls. They visited Irma's ailing uncle two more times that same year and three times in the next. Anzo always delayed their departure from the monastery till after the Prime in order to have a good reason for spending the night in their warm den in the haystack. They enjoyed their small sanctuary even in January, when the whole country was covered with snow and ice. And very single time they had enough reasons to pray to the Holy Helpers.
Things changed dramatically, when Anzo turned fifteen and Berrit eighteen. Raffy and Mary came with little Berrit. Berrit, that is Friar Benedict, was as proud as if he was the father. But the same could be said for Anzo, because he had to hold little Berrit over the baptismal font. And little Berrit liked Anzo; he even seemed to prefer him over Raffy. Anzo only had only to pick up the baby and the little boy smiled and fell asleep.
Mary teased him, "Little Berrit likes you. He accepts you as his nurse. The little varmint would probably even accept you as his mother if you could breast-feed!"
Anzo grinned and blushed. He liked the compliment, "I've liked babies ever since I was a little boy myself, and one day I would like to have a little boy of my own."
At that moment he didn't give the least thought about the impossibility of that dream. He loved Berrit, the big Berrit, and he was sure his friend loved him too. But his friend never dared to show affection, with exception at their little den in the haystack.
Soon after marriage of Raffy and Marry, and the christening of little Berrit, a heavily armed unit of soldiers knocked impatiently at the gate of the monastery late one evening. They wanted to speak the Abbot immediately and delivered a sealed letter from the Duke, Berrit's father. The message from the benefactor and patron of the monastery stated plainly: "My heir and follower, Count Ivain, has been fatally wounded by assassins. Now Berrit has to bear the responsibility for the duchy and will be appointed my follower. Release him from the obligations of the Holy Order, give him back his name Berrit, and send him back to Quentisburry at once."
This message caused a decisive and sudden change in regards to Berrit and Anzo in several unexpected ways. Berrit, already in his dress as a Duke, rushed to the novice quarters and dragged the surprised Anzo into the chapel.
Bolting the door to exclude all onlookers, Berrit took Anzo's hand in his. Kneeling down on the steps of the altar he asked: "Do you love me Anzo, like I love you?"
Anzo nodded in surprise, "You know I do, Berrit! I am yours forever!"
Berrit kissed Anzo. "I knew you were mine since that first night after your accident on the pond!...Wait for my message! I have to return home this very moment."
Then Berrit left on horseback, guarded by a heavily armed escort. And night closed in on Niwenburg monastery.
Berrit's companionship had alienated Anzo from the other novices. Quint and Pirm, his former tutors were still around. They had grown a lot, and their interests had changed from playing games, to working in the agricultural department. They specialized in rising sheep and cattle, and now they had to care for another newcomer. They tutored a lanky novice, called Elias, who looked exactly like the twins had looked three years ago. The tutors and the small novice loved each other like brothers, and probably actually were brothers.
Anzo had grown away from his former tutors and from the other novices his own age. He was not needed therefore he devoted his time entirely to the work in the infirmary, as if Berrit were still present. The failing Friar Ambrose enjoyed his help, but Anzo couldn't replace Berrit neither in the infirmary, nor in the infirmarians's heart.
Every day Anzo went to the gate expecting news from the Duke's court at Quentisburry. He waited for Berrit to show up at the monastery, or for a letter, or at least for a tiny scrap of news. The first week he was happy and full of expectancy; the second week restless and thin-skinned; and in the third week in low spirits and sad.
While in this poor condition Anzo was called into his office by Friar Notker, who was still headmaster of the novices and loved Anzo dearly. "Dear Timotheus, you have developed into a valuable member of the Order of Saint Benedict. No one expected this from the boy you were at your arrival. You have developed into an excellent illustrator of codices, a perfect helper to the infirmarian and you are loved by all sick and ailing monks."
Anzo was surprised by this praise, "You know, Friar Notker, I just lived up to my preferences; to my hobbies. I like painting; I like caring for people. That's not to my credit; God created me this way."
"You have to be thankful to God indeed. Soon you will get your chance to devote your life to our Creator forever. You will be sixteen soon and then it will be time to take the solemn Profession."
"I have already taken the three vows. I pledged poverty, chastity and obedience."
"Yes, I know, and you have lived up to those, but in addition, you have to vow stabilitas loci; that is that you will stay in Niwenburg, forever, and you have to vow conversio morum; that is that you will live only for Jesus and his gospel, forever."
Anzo already looked sick, but now he turned as pale as a shroud. Thinking about his pledge to follow Berrit to the last frontier, he stammered, "No, I can't. I can't stay in Niwenburg forever!" He turned and hurried out of the office, in extreme mental pain.
Harelip pushed Anzo rudely over the door sill and into the Abbot's office. There, Anzo jerked to a halt with chattering teeth, staring at the Abbot who was sitting on his throne like a graven image in the shine of flickering candles. The novice was scared because the dreaded Harelip, the Abbot's personal servant, had fetched him, without warning, from the infirmary.
Harelip was the Abbot's right hand, his body guard, his spy, his jailor and headsman. Harelip was about half of the Abbot's age. Seen from behind, if they stood side by side, they looked like twins. In that position, no-one could distinguish the Abbot from his menial because they even wore similar dress. Harelip wore the Abbot's rundown habits and shaved his hair to imitate his master's baldness. People became aware of their dissimilarities by comparing their faces and their fronts. The hare lip of the servant caught everyone's eye, as did the soiled front his tunic; because of the never ceasing spit that flowed from the servant's deformed mouth. Their voices were also different. While the Abbot's was squeaky and scratchy but unctuous, Harelip's was hissing and he rambled.
Anzo waited anxiously. He was ignored by the Abbot for a long time, while the head of the monastery used a low voice to discuss different matters with his counsels. The time dragged on and on, and Anzo got cramps in his stomach.
Dismissing the counsels, the Abbot beckoned Anzo and his hare lipped guard to his throne. "Notker tells me, you have refused to vow stabilitas loci? This hurt my feelings and insulted all members of this monastery; of this order! Tell me the reason for your refusal!"
Anzo stayed silent. His head was empty, he couldn't think of an answer.
"Are you refusing to answer? ... Well, I do not need one! I know the reason! ... Look! Is this the letter you are waiting for! Is this the reason you are hanging around the gate all the time? ... Are you still refusing to answer? ... I read the letter! Shame on you! Shame on you; you ungodly sinner! Shame on you, spawn of hell!"
Anzo wanted to attack the Abbot and tear the letter out of his hands; his letter, the letter sent to him by Berrit. But Harelip's hands pinned him down.
"Watch out, Novice Timotheus! Repent your affection for Benedict!...Repent your affection and you will survive. If not, you will be delivered to eternal hellfire!"
Harelip, the Abbot's virtual slave, took hold of Anzo, hit him on the head with his fist and then dragged the half-conscious boy away.
Anzo came to his senses again in a grey and cold cell, hardly bigger than the cubicle for his bedstead in the dormitory. Dim light entered the room through a small hole in the floor, together with the stench of shit and muck of the moat. He looked around for a place to sit down, for a seat, a mattress or some straw. But there was only the dusty floor. He crouched into a corner, his head between his knees and cried in desperation.
Anzo woke up from the slamming of the door. A jug full of water and a dish with cold porridge was all he found on the floor. No spoon. Harelip had taken away his spoon and stripped him of his knife. He had to eat with his dirty fingers. He went into a cold daze, for hours. He woke up from cramps in his stomach. He tried to relief himself using the hole in the floor. The cramps only got worse. He banged at the door, but nobody came. Now he realized; he was in the monk's jail, a prisoner of the Abbot. This prison was at the far end of the monastic complex, in a part of the monastery hardly visited by monks, and never shown to visitors.
Anzo waited. Water and porridge were exchanged for the empty dish and jug five times. Always this replacement took place when Anzo was sleeping. During those periods when he was wake, Anzo agonized over his situation, over the possible content of Berrit's letter, over ways to break out of the prison. The letter must have given away their love, their determination to capture the world together, the desire to stay lovers for a lifetime. Anzo was desperate. Was there a way out?
On the sixth night Harelip entered the cell, shook Anzo rudely awake and mumbled, "The Abbot wants to see you! Immediately! Hurry up!" On the way to the Abbot's house he kicked the weak boy as often as possible.
It was the dead period between the Nocturns and the Matins, and nobody was outside their houses. Harelip shooed the exhausted Anzo through dark alleys and along rat runs to the back entrance of the Abbot's house.
A dark shadow waited in the scarcely lit hallway. With a screeching razor-sharp voice, the Abbot demanded, "Down on your knees, you wicked sinner! Have you repented your blatant aberrancy; your animal-like desires?...Confess your misdeeds before me, your Abbot; in front of God the Almighty!"
Anzo was unable to respond the way the Abbot wanted. He dropped to his knees but stayed silent.
The Abbot accused Anzo with a thundering voice, "Your body reeks from the sins you have committed. You beguiled an innocent novice into sinning. You seduced the Duke's son! Confess! You buggerer!"
This final comment provoked Anzo into speaking. He responded with a trembling voice, "We are not sinners, neither Berrit, nor I. We love each other! We love each other the way Jesus loved his Disciples. We never committed sodomy!"
But the Abbot had closed his ears and his heart, long ago. He just wanted to hear what he wanted to hear, "You are an insult to mankind; you are an insult to God; you are an insult to our Savior, you tool of the devil!...The devil will summon you into the eternal flames!"
He ordered Harelip, "Take him to the dungeon; throw that wretched, stinking scum of the earth into the crypt! May darkness and hunger overcome his obdurate soul!"
Harelip dragged Anzo through the dark alleys of the inner part of the monastic complex to the graveyard behind the high church. In the farthest corner, obscured by shrubs, was a trapdoor kept shut by a heavy rock. The steep staircase behind the door led down to the crypt of the former church of the monastery, pulled down centuries ago.
Harelip pushed Anzo down the staircase into the crypt and sparked an oil-lamp. The subterranean catacomb was nearly circular. In its walls were burial niches, like cells in a honeycomb. But while the cells of a honeycomb were filled with honey and pollen, the burial niches in the walls were used for the remnants of monks. Some of the niches were open and empty; some still closed with stone lids. These probably contained the bones of monks who had died centuries ago.
On the opposite side of the staircase was an ossuary, separated by bars from the circular room. It was filled with skulls pilled up like apples in a marked stall, with stacks of bones from arms and legs and piles of shoulder blades and hipbones. Harelip set down the oil-lamp in the center of the catacomb, then left the crypt barring the trapdoor with the heavy rock.
Anzo had been down in the abandoned crypt about two years before, during one of his illegal explorations with Quint and Pirm. They had all left the allegedly haunted place equally disappointed. They hadn't seen a ghost downstairs and no bad spirits had visited them in their dreams. Because of this, Anzo wasn't afraid, but it was cold down there and a never-ending draught from the ossuary to the staircase made him shiver. He cuddled up close to the ossuary and fell asleep. In a dream he huddled against Berrit in their comfortable cave in the haystack. He felt his friend's arms around his body and his warm breath on his neck.
When he awoke several hours later, the oil lamp had gone out. He supposed it was daytime, because light was shining through the small cracks between the door case and the trapdoor. The thin rays bathed the catacomb in gray light. Anzo began to search the room for signs of former prisoners, but in vain. The only remnant of a former visitor was a slightly broken bowl.
Anzo looked for a tool to break the door or for something he could use for a weapon to fight Harelip. He tried to break a bar from the fence separating the crypt from the ossuary, but in vain! He fished for one of the long thighbones in the ossuary. He got one, but it broke to pieces when he tried its strength by hitting it against the wall. He fetched a second, but that was brittle too. He saved the two longest splinters. The edges were sharp. He thought he might be able to use them as daggers to defend his life.
Anzo waited. He had nothing to do but to wait and to pray, to wait and to imagine his reunion with Berrit, to wait and imagine his death. He prayed the Paternoster, the Ave Maria, the Litany of the Saints, he prayed to St. Sebastian and all the holy martyrs. He didn't pray to St. Benedict!
Night came and with the night, hunger and thirst. The air down in the crypt was dry and clouds of dust rose when he moved. His lips burned, his throat was dry. He waited for his tormentor to arrive with some water and porridge. He waited the whole night. It was easy to follow the time, because the church bells continued to announce the prayer times.
There was still no water and food when Anzo woke up the next day and there wasn't any water and food when he woke up the day after. His throat was dry and raspy and the skin of his lips dry and ruptured.
He pissed into the broken bowl found days before and wetted his lips with piss to relieve the pain, but the broken lips burned even more. Anzo rolled up like a baby on the cold floor. Totally despondent, he was sure the Abbot had condemned him to die of thirst and of hunger.
All this time he had been listening for someone to walk by. But all he could perceive was the sounds of birds singing in the shrubs in the churchyard or the mooing of cows, and whinnying of horses in the distance. He recalled what he had said to Friar Notker on his first day in the monastery. He had said: "I had to decide between monastery or morgue." Now he had to modify that sentence only a little bit to correspond to his new situation. Now it was monastery and morgue! After a while Anzo was too weak to stay awake.
He wasn't delirious but completely worn out, when a noise scared him out of his dozy state. The trapdoor opened and the heavy figure of Harelip filled the entrance. "Rise boy, your time has come!"
Harelip's voice sounded like a death sentence to Anzo. Anzo took a bone splinter in each hand and darted against his jailor. But a blow to the head felled him. Harelip tied Anzo's hands and blindfolded him. After a long walk over muddy rat runs, they left the silent monastery through a back-door, where a horse was waiting.
Leaving the monastery, Anzo was seated on the horse, in front of Harelip, the warder's rotten breath fouling his neck. On the way downhill, the noise of the swift flowing stream became louder. Anzo was pretty sure they were riding down to the river, because the noise became more intense with every step. They crossed the bridge and took the road to the gorge.
At the entrance to the gorge Anzo was removed from the horse. The earsplitting noise of the water shooting down the gorge drowned out every other noise. Anzo was frightened to death. By now, he was sure the Abbot had commanded Harelip to kill him by drowning him in the cataract, like a surplus dog.
Waiting for the deadly push into the roaring water of the cataract a strange voice penetrated his fear, "Thank the Abbot for the prisoner! Here is the promised reward! ... And now, Monkie: Mount this horse, quick! Daylight is close!" Seeing Anzo was not able to do so, being tied and blindfolded, someone lifted him onto a horse, as another voice demanded, "Hurry up! Subito! Subito!"
The party, consisting of Anzo and his new wardens, stopped at the riverside, as soon as the roaring of the cataract had fallen away behind them. One of the strangers rode up to Anzo and took his arm, "You are our prisoner now, Monk. I will remove your blindfold now and the ties around your hands, provided you promise not to take flight!"
Anzo was relieved,
but only for a moment. Dismounted and free of the blindfold, Anzo recognized at
once the colors of the two soldiers' uniforms. They were mercenaries for his step-uncle
Menno, the usurper of the
The two mercenaries embarked on a heated discussion in a strange language. The younger one, a clean-shaved giant, seemed to oppose the decision of the other one, an old, grey haired corporal. Finally the corporal turned to Anzo, "We have strict orders to bring your head to the Count of Veldeg. He didn't mention your body! Get it? ... Your head is enough to get us the reward. So don't try to run off, if you want to stay alive! We are allowed to kill you, if you are not with us at all times!"
Anzo's body and brain was too desiccated to process the full meaning of those words. He was thirsty; he hadn't had a drink of water for more than four days and was close to dying. The riverbank was close. Without a single thought about the consequences he turned and took off for the river. In the shallow water he fell to his knees and began to gulp the water like an animal. He disregarded the shouting corporal and didn't even feel the pain as the sharp point of a crossbow bolt grazed his left arm.
I would like to express my special thanks to Paul and to B. for doing a great job by correcting all the wrong expressions and the punctuation used by a non native English writer.
Comments, reviews, questions and complaints are welcomed. Please send them to Ruwen Rouhs. And I would like to add, thanks for reading.
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