Authors: G.M. Dyrek
He cleared his voice and began, “My soul is lost in here. Surely, if God had a dwelling place on Earth, it would be in this Library.”
That did it. Even though he had his back to him, Volmar could feel the sting of Cormac's piercing gaze. He had the Librarian's undivided attention. Deliberately, he took his time slipping on the gloves. They were especially soft and supple, made from deerskin. The mask was equally soft, with leather straps to hold it over the mouth. No one was allowed to handle the manuscripts without such precautions.
Cormac pushed his paperwork to one side and rose. Who was this young intruder who spoke so well of his own sentiments? He was intrigued. “Speak up son,” Cormac said, knowing full well his hearing was impaired simply from disuse.
“Isn't it a shame that most people live and die without ever having the opportunity to set a finger on a book?” Volmar said, scratching behind his ear as he straightened up. He knew Brother Cormac's character flaws, better perhaps than his own. Cormac was a teacher rather than a thinker; a gatherer and distributor rather than one in which new ideas germinated and prospered. His bent of genius, so unlike Brother Paulus's, was in the preservation of knowledge inherited from the past, not the methodical investigation of facts for the sake of new discoveries. Volmar used this insight to his advantage and went on, deciding to come directly to his point. “I understand a book went missing ten years ago.”
“Hmm? Oh yes, the
. I haven't had it replaced, still hoping it might show up one day.” The skin exposed on the top of Cormac's skull reddened. “It was stolen by a Frenchmen disguised as a visiting brother.” Cormac's comments sounded more like a lament. “Do you know,” he went on remorsefully, creeping slowly towards the intruder and acknowledging to himself that he missed the thrill of imparting his thoughts, “that over 180 animal skins were sacrificed to produce the parchment for that single book? What a deplorable waste.”
“Surely,” Volmar continued with fresh determination, hearing the soft approach of the Librarian's leather sandals, “a monk must have spent six hours a day and several years meticulously copying page after page of that book.”
Brother Cormac stood behind the young intruder, uncharacteristically engaged. “I cannot help you, sir, if you are after the
“Ah, but I think you can. What if I told you that Brother Arnoul was killed in the clearing outside of our walls?” Volmar turned around to watch Cormac's reaction directly.
The Librarian frowned. “You are mistaken, son. His kind never receive their just rewards until they face the Almighty. His name was
stricken from all of the monastery's records, I saw to that myself. Here, now, how do you know of this wretched thief?” he asked, holding the lit candle up to the boy's face.
Volmar pulled back the hood of his cowl and smiled warmly. “It's good to see you again, Brother Cormac.”
Volmar had never seen Cormac smile. So unaccustomed was Cormac's face to such a distortion, he was sure if Cormac could manage a smile, it would seem more devious than divine. “Nonsense,” he said dismissively. “Go on, Volmar, with your ridiculous tale.”
Volmar knew better than to take the older monk's rudeness to heart. Brother Cormac had a powerful intellect but an equally scornful manner. Volmar took the calculated risk by appealing to Cormac's mind. “I have proof of Brother Arnoul's death. His desiccated body sits in an ossarium, buried not far from here.” He could tell that this mention of an ossarium was a piece of new information to Cormac.
Cormac hesitated. A response was obviously called for, but he was not quite sure what he should say. “An ossarium, you say . . . There are legends of one nearby holding the bones of our beloved Saint Disibod and his earlier followers.”
Cormac studied Volmar, staring at him with wide eyes, and asked with a little more warmth, “Have you come to return the book the Frenchman stole?”
“No, I'm afraid all I found was this.” Volmar reached into his leather pouch and produced the hand-written dummy copy of the valuable lost codex. “I came for your advice, in fact, on what I should do about all of it.”
The Librarian took from his leather pouch a small magnifying glass he had obtained during the summer months, when he journeyed throughout the region and abroad for the purpose of copying and collecting books. Volmar watched in amazement as he held this round glass piece over the calligraphy title on the cover of the dummy copy, intrigued at how the glass enlarged the lettering below.
A long time ago, Volmar recognized Cormac for who he was. Cormac had made his peace with the passions that were for other men a great hindrance to the monastic life. Socially, he was inept, but mentally, he was on fire. The old monk reserved all of his obsessions for his collection. In here, he was arrested by the words of others safely
inscribed on the pages of books, not vigorously spoken or insinuated in face-to-face conversation.
“Ah ha! With this tool, details unseen by our own eyes are suddenly visible,” Cormac said, handing to Volmar his remarkable magnifying glass.
Volmar took it and held it over the cover of the dummy codex.
“No, no, no . . . you must close your other eye and hold it close to your stronger eye,” Cormac instructed with little patience.
The effect was certainly mesmerizing. Volmar held the marvelous glass steady, seeing for the first time the details his eyes normally missed. Could this be one of the realities that Hildegard had hinted at that were part of the invisible world?
“See here, Volmar,” Cormac went on impatiently, “how the letter âT' is crossed with two strokes, not one, and how the “E” is shorter than all the other letters? One's style of writing is as individual and telling as one's choice of words.”
“Can you tell me who wrote this?” Volmar asked in disbelief.
“Humph, never liked the man myself . . .” Cormac mumbled, searching through his vast store of memories, forgetting for a moment that he had an audience. “Thought he was better than everyone else, he did. Come along, I'll show you his work and you can tell me if it resembles this preposterous facsimile
Cormac led Volmar down a long corridor past rows and rows of bookshelves, explaining as he walked. “You see, Volmar, my objective as a Librarian is to obtain one copy of every important text ever written. I'd like to have here representative works from every civilized culture that has ever existed. When a book is stolen, as with the
, a hole is left behind that injures the entire collection. Ah, here we are,” Cormac said, reaching for one of the works under the category of General History of the Roman Empire. “What one enjoys reading tells you also volumes about the nature of one's soul. This particular young scribe had a fascination with powerful emperors, relishing especially their methods of torturing Christians.” He handed over the book to Volmar's gloved hands. “You tell me, Volmar, if it is not the same style of writing.”
Volmar walked the book back over to the table where the light was the strongest, slipped on his mask, and used Cormac's magnifying tool to make the critical comparisons. “
by Eusebius of Caesarea,” he read aloud.
“Eusebius was a prolific writer of that time,” Cormac explained. “This is perhaps his most important work covering the history of Christianity from the time of Jesus Christ to the time of Emperor Constantine. I believe this book contains those parts which deal with the ten persecutions.”
As Volmar listened, he went back and forth leveling the magnifying glass onto one page after another, carefully comparing each letter with its corresponding match. “This is truly amazing,” Volmar said swallowing hard. “There are remarkable similarities between both writings. See how in both the copied book and the phony facsimile, the letter “U” is drawn with a peculiar tail that goes up? One would expect it should go down. It does the same here,” he sighed, looking up. “Do you know who was the scribe who copied this book by Eusebius?”
Cormac spoke after a moment, looking over Volmar's shoulder. His manner was as aloof as his reputation. “At the time, he was a novitiate and if my memory serves me well, his name was Judas. Unfortunately, he's no longer here, son, I'm sure of it. He'd always set his sights on Rome.”
This was disappointing. Volmar turned in confusion to Cormac, who stared back with a hint of contemptuousness and grimaced. “There's something about human nature. You always seem to remember those who troubled you the most.”
Infirmary at Disibodenberg Monastery
Harvest Festival, Late the Same Evening
Sophie sat beside her grandfather and listened to his breathing keeping time with the distinct rhythmic chant of the masons chiseling stones nearby. During the storm the masons had rested, but now they were back at work on the Anchorage. She then
heard the sound of muddy boots being scraped outside the Infirmary's door and the unfastening of the door clasp. Brother Paulus, she thought, must be returning early from Vespers. She watched as Paulus entered, nodded a greeting, then silently took the lantern from the hook, wandering off, muttering to himself. Certain monks like the Infirmarian, she understood, were released from the burden of attending all of the daily Offices of Prayers
. They could choose which times were convenient to attend.
Sophie rose and stretched. Slowly, she traced with her long fingers the raised bumps and deep crevices of the carved mantle over the oak hearth, a simple design of leaves and acorns. She felt restless and couldn't sleep, though she was very tired. She thought back to how her days had seemed more complete when she was working alongside her Grandda. Perhaps, she might find at the quarry a discarded stone or even a piece of wood she could take up to carve in order to fill these long, agonizingly empty hours of waiting for her Grandda's health to improve.
For the moment, he was resting peacefully. She guessed the tonic Brother Paulus had prepared for him must have had a sleeping potion in it. It was disconcerting to see how normal Grandda appeared once he lost consciousness; the lines on his face had softened and he seemed much younger, more like she remembered him.
“Drink . . .” weakly mumbled her Grandda. “I need . . . drink.”
Sophie took the mug next to his bed and helped him sit up to take a swallow. His lips were cracked and still swollen from the fall. She then took a rag, rinsed it in the nearby basin and rested it back on Silas's forehead. “There, there, that should feel better,” she said, fussing with the collar of his tunic.
He smiled gratefully for her kindness, the wrinkles around his eyes moistened, as if he were remembering all the horrible things he had said to her earlier. “Forgive me, my dear,” he murmured before closing his eyelids, welcoming, she knew, the blissful oblivion of sleep's comforting embrace.
Sophie leaned forward and kissed his cheek, so cold against her lips. “No matter, Grandda, it's forgotten.” Silently she stood and stoked the fire, trying to warm the sudden chill in the air. She listened to the familiar strains of music being played outside in the fields surrounding the monastery. The rains must not have dampened everyone's spirits, she thought, throwing open the window and leaning out on its ledge. A cooler breeze caught her hair and tugged at her imagination. She could still hear the excitement of the festival. Surely while her Grandda was resting comfortably, it wouldn't be wrong to go exploring.
Sophie tip-toed past what she knew now to be the laboratory of Brother Paulus, noticing how the scent of the room was both pungent and aromatic due to the bundles of herbs drying neatly in rows on racks. She peered in. Paulus had settled comfortably on a high stool, intent upon what appeared to be a small crucible
bubbling over a candle's flame. A scroll was half-unwound beside him on the stone table and a glass of ale rested in his hand. He sat the glass down and picked up some tongs and pushed the crucible he was tending deeper into the flames. What was it exactly that frightened her about Brother Paulus? The answer came to Sophie as she departed from the Infirmary. He had control over her future. That must be it. Her grandfather's future rested in his knowledgeable yet fragile hands. How she hated to let go and allow a stranger to determine her chance for happiness. Is this what it means to become an adult, she wondered, permitting outsiders, not loved ones, to determine your fortune?
Unknown to Sophie, not one, but two souls passed under the threshold of the Infirmary's door. One soul was young and determined; the other, old and protective. One soul was still held prisoner within its frail body; the other soul was free at last from all constraints governing the living, except perhaps love.
The Festival Grounds at Disibodenberg Monastery
Harvest Festival, Late Evening of the Same Day
The rainstorm had left in its wake a chilly wind, so Sophie wrapped the warmest part of her torn cape around her head and neck and set off down the slimy cobbled road. She was determined to satisfy her curiosity and see if the stone quarry had any promising stones or wood to work with before it got to be too dark.
The monastery's bell chimed loudly, announcing Compline
. Sophie stood motionless for a moment, watching, by the light of a rising full moon, the monks moving in unison to the cloister with their black cowls covering their heads. To her, they were like mystical travelers moving effortlessly between two distinctively different worlds, one of chaos and one of order. In less than an hour, she knew, the monks would retire for rest and would sleep until the bells of Matins
. There was comfort in such disciplined rituals, she thought straightening up, comfort and timeliness.