The Vision of Robert
The Cherinians meet a god, in some distant Universe and the god, wishing to learn their true nature, causes all Cherinians, of every race, throughout all their galaxies, to each have a vision.
This is the vision-story of Robert.
He looked around to make certain nobody else was working this late, grinned and pulling out leather strips he tied his sleeves back to his elbows to prevent them smudging the wet ink and paint. He was in a good mood, for he was confident that his work could stand comparison against the best of any monk in Italy or Switzerland and he believed the book, when completed, would fetch a princely sum, enough to fund the monastery for the next year, with additional funds coming in if his work can earn the patronage of some lord or other.
He had been working on the book for just over four years and each page was a miniature gem of beautifully formed letters and illustrated with bright, almost metallic colours. He had been forced to learn so much. How to treat the paper; how to create the colours he wanted; how to make his own brushes for the most delicate of work; how to press the leather of the cover; the stitching of the pages. At times it had seemed to be a never-ending struggle to achieve what he had seen in his visions, made doubly difficult because of the required secrecy. He felt that if he should die, just the existence of this manuscript would justify the life he’d been given. He was aware that if anyone could hear his thoughts he would be accused of vanity and pride, but if he could help save the monastery from closure, surely his small sin would be forgiven?
Months went by and the book began to take its final form. The last days were lived with a fever that boiled his blood. At last it was ready and he indulged himself with one last study of every page, though even should he find a flaw it was too late for corrections. He wrapped the heavy manuscript in cloth, ready for the next morning, after prayers and their simple break fast.
At the end of the meal Abbot Edward passed among the monks on his way to his office. Robert stood, placing himself in the aisle. The abbot stopped, his look mild but curious. Robert asked for permission to speak in private and he was told he could have a few minutes once the vegetable garden has been watered.
Abbot Edward never used the ploy of pretending to read documents, only glancing up as if reluctantly sparing a few moments of his precious time. Robert liked him because of his simplicity and lack of airs, as he’d seen in other priests and abbots. The eyes of Abbot Edward fixed on the cloth covered parcel, but he waited for brother Robert to explain.
Robert placed the bundle on the desk, but left it wrapped. “Five years ago I was asked to collate and pack away notes regarding the finances of our abbey. Because I had been handed the accounts of the entire year, I was able to understand that each month sees us poorer than the last. I grew to fear the day would come when we would have to close. I was born in York and even as a child I loved the abbey and I love my brother monks and would not wish to see such an end to our lives here. I could not think of what these hands could do to save all I love, but you may recall that close to that time the archbishop visited while on his way to Newcastle on Tyne. He had with him a manuscript from a monastery in Switzerland and he asked if any had skills for repairing some water damage to a few pages. I volunteered and spend two nights working on it and a man from the archbishop’s entourage remained by my side throughout. At times we talked and he mentioned the sum a trader paid for the manuscript, so as to gain the blessing of the archbishop for the wedding of his only son. The amount amazed me and he explained that manuscripts from Switzerland and Italy command high prices, some of the rarer ones enough to buy an entire town.”
The abbot nodded. “Those are not casually offered to any but the Church or to the King, for it is the name of the monk whose signature adds value.”
Robert bowed his head a moment. “I have secretly worked for nearly these last five years at night, creating a manuscript I hope can earn both money and a name for our abbey, so that there is interest in providing us with the coin needed for us to continue our good work for the Lord.” His hands tenderly unwrapped the cloth and the abbot’s eyes widened as he saw the manuscript. Robert turned it around and gently placed it before the abbot.
The old hands trembled as they carefully and very slowly turned the pages and Robert was gratified by these signs of appreciation of his work.
For two days brother Robert heard nothing, but the entire monastery was tense with rumours - which no one thought to share with him. By the change in their attitude, especially those little signs of respect he’d never experienced before, Robert assumed the abbot was planning something big. He was struggling to hide his glee at these signs that he had succeeded and would be responsible for saving the abbey, so, to keep himself humble in appearance, he spent entire days hoeing the vegetable patch and when that was done he checked whether it was the right season for pruning the fruit trees. On the fifth day he was asked to visit the abbot.
“You are to accompany us on our trip to the archbishop in London. Ask brother Vincent to provide you with a new habit.”
“The archbishop is to guide us in the sale of the manuscript?”
Abbot Edward sharply raised his head. “We are to gift the manuscript to him and he is certain to want to thank you personally.”
There was no longer any joy in brother Robert.
First, it was the shock that numbed him, for he had never imagined the manuscript being gifted when the abbey is in such desperate straits. Then, a tiny fireball of anger grew until it raged within him and he could not eat or sleep. He cursed the years of work and dedication and his love for the abbey turned into hate. Finally, on the night before they were to begin travelling, Robert entered the chapel a few hours before departure, his eyes red and crazed as he unbound the book and opened it to the first page. He stared at it with tears falling onto the page as his dreams collapsed into the ash of a great despair and then, with a cry of anguish, he ripped out the page. Methodically he tore page after page and halfway through his knees gave way and he remained huddled and leaning against the table until the first monks entered at dawn. They saw what he had done and sent one to run to the abbot.
Abbot Edward, trembling from his emotions, knelt by Robert and gently asked, “Why brother Robert?”
He looked up at him and the kind soul the abbot knew so well no longer looked out at him from the eyes of brother Robert. “Because you took my dream and killed it so as to make your own dream come true.”
Abbot Edward paled even further. “Of what are you speaking? What dream of mine?”
“You sacrificed the abbey and all us monks for your dream, your ambition, to have the glory of saying you, Abbot Edward of York, gifted the archbishop something so rare and valuable.”
Grief filled the eyes of Abbot Edward. “Brother Robert, you know not what you have done! Yes, I was to gift the manuscript to the archbishop, for we do not sell our works to our own archbishop. In return, to show the gratitude of the Church, he would have gifted us with far more than you had hoped to earn by a direct sale. Truly we are done for…”
Brother Robert felt everything swirl around and he lost consciousness.
- posted: 21st Oct, 2020