“We’re on the winning side,” Brother Aubrey reminded his fellow-toiler, their hands and the hems of their white habits stained with the haying.
“God is on our side,” Brother Willem agreed, and sighed, leaning on the creamery wall. “Only I could wish His Will were less bloody. I cannot think that He meant the horrors of St. Bartholomew’s Day, no matter how intransigent the Huguenots are in clinging to their heresies.”
“They’ll think you a sympathizer,” Aubrey warned him. “Hush, now. Let’s get back to work.”
The sun had heeled over the zenith by now and was descending, its afternoon angle perfect for lighting the deep niches of the scriptorium. The Cistercian Order favored manual toil, but no monastery was without its library, its scriptorium, its output. Willem washed his hands, patted them dry with a ball of rosin, and set himself to the task of copying out the book of medicine.
It was an honor, he supposed, to have such a task: the fine drawings of plant and animal to reproduce, the delicate balance of humors to describe. There was even a section on judicial astrology, marking the connection between planets and humors.
Choleric, the hot and dry humor, which surely must govern Queen Catherine with her sharp and fickle nature. She had been born under the Ram, ruled by Mars, and the moderation which had marked her early years had taken a sharp turn to-
Willem marked the alchemical sign for iron, sketched a marginal doodle over an ink smear before the Abbot could walk behind him. The gall bladder, surrounded by cavorting monkeys.
“A fine book,” the Abbot smiled, patting Willem’s shoulder. His hand was cold as silver, cold as the Moon which ruled the brain. If his own brain had been in better order, Willem thought, he might not have such a problem to solve. But he had been ruled by the sun, rather, and his heart, unsurprising for his August birthday. Still, he could wish the Lion in his nature had not led him deep beneath the abbey a week prior.
Willem stared at his pen, which had misspelled “priory” – added the y, and a quick sketch of a monk in a scriptorium, to be filled in later. Instead of brick, he laid behind the monk an elaborate diaper of checquers and dots.
It had been a Friday, he remembered, the day ruled by Venus. The alchemical symbol for copper flowed from his pen, and he blotted at it with the rosin-sack. Friday he had been taking the cheeses down to the cellars to cure, when he had heard the noise.
In the margin, beneath the description of the melancholic humor, cold and dry like the cellars, a sketch of a monk in his white robes and cannula followed a sketch of three running men in ordinary hose and trunks. He had stored them there like cheeses, he supposed, and told them which they might nibble at without arousing suspicion. The three men turned into three mice on the next page, chasing each other through an ornate capital letter S, the sanguine humor, happy but unreliable.
He meant to be reliable. The Abbot considered him reliable. Even Brother Aubrey, who was inclined to speak sharply to him over matters of harvest and curing, did not consider him unreliable.
A reliable Catholic, a good Cistercian, would turn three fugitive Huguenots over to his Abbot.
Even if he did not, Willem thought guiltily, the men could hardly hide in an abbey cellar forever. The year was drawing down to its phlegmatic conclusion, and they would take ill, or starve, or be found. Without a reliable map, the three were doomed.
Willem flipped back to the sketch of the monk, drew a moon in the window behind him. Lunacy, what he was thinking. He began to work on the background again, laying in more dots. The diapering looked innocent enough, if one did not tip it just-so, if one did not know that the blue squares marked the back way through the woods, where no-one went this close to harvest but the deer, and it was not yet time to hunt deer.
With a glance behind him, Willem raked his quill-knife down the center of the quire, severing the page. He would say, if anyone saw, that he had ruined it.
“It’s very nice,” the ragged man said politely. “But I don’t read, brother.”
“You don’t need to,” Willem said. “Just look behind the monk.”
“Behind him? There’s nothing behind him but pattern.” The man glared suspiciously. “Is it meant for a code? What did you put in that diaper?”
“Your way home.”
I found her by the pond, as useless a mermaid as any. Piecemeal I bound her: finger-bones to fiddle-pegs, breastbone to sound post. I strung my bow with her hair. The wedding-march has begun: all that remains is to hear her sing. Her sister must have missed her voice.
Dawn breaks over the city like an eggshell and for a moment the
languorous creaking machinery of humanity draws to a halt.
Veins of concrete;
Elevated trains; all
Recuse themselves from motion, a frozen
automaton one wind from sprung.
Now is poised between
exaltation. I open my hand.
It is, as always, not quite midnight when I unweave myself from the tangle of Anna’s unbound hair over our shared pillow and take the spare blanket. If our days apart are marked by the predictions of a clockwork orrery, so our nights together have the congruity of a metronome and my ramblings are no more than the program of an automaton after all. Continue reading
I walked among the myrtle trees
when all the barren sky was flame.
When on the sand there stirred no breeze
beneath my tongue I held your name.
I swallowed air and bitter dust
and wondered once more why I came
to where the stones had turned to rust.
Beneath my tongue I held your name.
The taste of salt and honeyed wine
still filled my mouth, and just the same
as in the days when you were mine:
beneath my tongue I held your name.