A Fool's Discipleby Donald C. Lee
In the course of his odyssey, the young hero will encounter fortune-telling gypsies and a distressed damsel, battle a ferocious beast, duel
Unknown enemies are pursuing Anthony, a 16-year-old novice monk. He sets out to identify those enemies and learn what they want of him. This quest leads to the search for his true identity and his rightful place in the world.
In the course of his odyssey, the young hero will encounter fortune-telling gypsies and a distressed damsel, battle a ferocious beast, duel with jealous and vengeful knights, undergo quasi-supernatural experiences, endure imprisonment in a dungeon, and repel the machinations of a treacherous nobleman.
The evil our protagonist witnesses, combined with his exposure to Cathari beliefs, causes him to question some of the precepts he learned in the monastery and reconsider age-old questions: What is the Nature of God? Why is there evil in the world? Which religious doctrine is true? Do we have the knowledge to judge the infinite?
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Read an Excerpt
It was late Spring in the year of our Lord, 1209, when a pack of mercenaries broke down the monastery doors in the dark of night and drove Anthony upon his quest.
The sixteen-year old novice monk knelt in the dark on the cold stone floor in front of the wooden cross over his bed. He had been praying for the health of the young blacksmith's son, who had burned his hand upon his father's forge, and the old peasant woman to whom he had taken Brother Anselm's healing herbs that day. The shriveled white-haired woman had writhed in pain, wild-eyed and feverish, upon her foul-smelling pile of rags and straw. She had clutched Anthony's arm in her bony hand as he fed her a broth of willow bark. His eyes filled with tears at the thought that she would die soon, and he was helpless to prevent it. The fear and loneliness in her face still haunted him. Anthony prayed aloud, "I will take my vows tomorrow and learn everything about healing that Brother Anselm can teach me. Dear Lord, help me ease the sufferings of these poor people."
He rubbed the hairless spot on the top of his head. He already felt like a monk now that Brother Thomas had tonsured his crown bald after vespers this evening in preparation for the taking of vows. The old monk had even shaved his first scraggly blond hairs that had threatened to become a beard. Anthony remembered how his light brown curls had fallen about his feet like the tattered shreds of his childhood.
Brother Thomas had asked him, "Do I see doubt in those green eyes?"
It had bothered Anthony, for he did not want to admit his doubts even to himself. He curled under his blanket on the hard planks that served as his bed anddreamt that he played hide and seek with his younger brother in the oak grove near the castle that was his childhood home. He wanted to hold on to his dream, but voices shattered it.
He awoke afraid. He opened his eyes and saw the faces of his fellow monks, Melchoir and Luke, distorted by the flickering light of the torches they held.
Melchoir shook him roughly. "Wake up! You must flee at once! Soldiers have forced their way into the monastery and are beating our brothers." Luke trembled. "They're torturing the old Abbot."
"But it's you they're after." Melchoir tore the blanket off Anthony. "The soldiers are searching everywhere."
"They'll be here soon!" Luke's voice broke. "You must leave the monastery and hide. You have no time to lose!"
"Do you jest?" Anthony thought that this must be another test of his fitness to take holy vows, "What could soldiers want with..."
Luke put a finger to Anthony's lips. The looks of alarm on his friends' faces made Anthony shiver with fear. Now he, too, could hear the shouts and foul oaths of soldiers down the hall, and the voices of monks as they pleaded for mercy.
Anthony leapt from his bed and ran to the door of his room. He opened it slowly and peeked around the corner. Twenty feet down the hall, three soldiers pummeled a squirming brown shape with their spear butts.
"Where is the novice named Anthony? Tell us or we will make your silence permanent."
A soldier kicked the brown shape and it rolled. Anthony saw the face of the elderly and arthritic Brother Sebastian. Blood ran from his mouth. Sebastian's eyes met Anthony's. The old man's arm shook as he raised it and pointed away from Anthony, toward a stairway down to the refectory.
Anthony wanted to protect the old man--to leap on the back of the nearest soldier and grab his sword from its sheath--but Melchoir jerked him back into his cell. Luke quietly closed the door.
"Anthony! The window! You must jump!" Melchoir pulled Anthony's bed under the window so that Anthony could climb up to the high, narrow opening. He pulled back the wooden shutter and the icy air of the late spring night flowed into the small room. Anthony shivered.
"What do they want with me?"
Luke shrugged. "I don't know, but I fear that your life is in danger.'
It was a twenty-five foot drop to the stream, and Anthony was not sure whether the water was deep enough to break his fall. Could he jump out far enough to miss the bank? He didn't know how to swim. And the water would be frigid.
"Must I do this? Why could they be after me? It must be a mistake."
He slipped into sandals and pulled his woolen cowl over his head. Melchoir thrust a small bag of coins into his hands and helped him tuck it securely under his belt.
"Old Anselm commanded me to tell you that you must stay far away from the Monastery. He'll meet you in Wainsmarket this Sunday. He'll instruct you what to do next. Meanwhile," he crossed himself, "you are released from the rules of the Order until you can rejoin us." Melchoir gripped Anthony's shoulders hard with both hands and drew him into an embrace. "Now jump, my friend, and God be with you."
In his fright, Anthony could not be sure whether he jumped or was pushed, for he did not suppose himself to have had the courage to jump. He lost his breath as he hit the icy water. The shock of the cold sent him into a panic. His arms and legs flailed violently and uselessly. He felt slippery stones under his feet. When he tried to stand, the current pushed him, and he slipped forward, inhaled water, felt suffocated, and gagged. Again he found stones under his feet, and again the stream pushed him, this time into a shallow area where he scraped his shin on a jagged rock.
Anthony crawled onto the bank and coughed and shivered. "I didn't drown. Thank You, Lord," he whispered. He looked up at the Monastery silhouetted in the dim moonlight across the water. It had seemed like he was swept miles through the water, but he had ended only thirty feet downstream from his cell. His robe, soaked and muddy and ice-cold, clung to his body. Exhausted, he fell into the bushes and coughed. He hurt everywhere from the bruises and scratches, and his legs stung. When he touched his shin with his finger, it was sticky with blood.
Voices from the Monastery drifted to his ears. A soldier leaned out the window of the little room that had been his cell, holding a torch. He threw his torch across the stream. For an instant, the bank directly in front of Anthony was illuminated. He drew back into the underbrush. A soldier with another torch peered out over the shoulder of the first.
"He must have jumped from this window," the first soldier's voice carried in the still night.
"Then he'll drown and be eaten by fish and we'll not get our rewards."
"Perhaps he's learned to swim."
"Not likely. Few in these inland parts can swim, and even if he could, he wouldn't get far in that icy water. We must get more torches and search both sides of the stream. We'll find him, corpse or quick." "Aye, for should we not, we'll feel our lord's wrath on our backs. These monks will be sorry they lied and let him escape...."
Their voices faded as they disappeared from the window. Anthony's stomach shook as much from fear as from cold. I wonder who it might be that's so eager to capture me, he thought. He turned upstream, since the soldiers would begin by searching downstream where a body would be carried. He stumbled over rocks and logs in the dark, and scratched himself again on clinging branches, but his dread of the soldiers pushed him on through dark woods along the stream bank. Light from a crescent moon shone intermittently through broken clouds. Great trees arched their branches above, and cast confusing web-like shadows over the ground. Anthony felt like a poor insect who knew that the spider was coming and was struggling to escape the spider's web. Noises of the night were strange and unfamiliar. Cracking sounds, like someone stepping on fallen twigs, startled him. Could it be wolves, or a bear, or perhaps the soldiers close behind?
Anthony stumbled through thick wet grass. He brushed against chilly moist ferns and mossy damp tree trunks. The frosty night air and frigid raindrops that dripped from the trees penetrated his soaked robe and made him shiver violently.
He staggered on through the rain puddles and mud. A deep desire to stretch out on the soggy earth and grass crept over him. But he was not ready to let the cold worms have their inevitable feast.
He had always feared the cold, the black winter night, the melting winter snow, the chills of illness; yes, especially illness. He had always thought of Hell as a place; not of flames, but of ice and slush. The Devil he pictured as colorless as glass. His horns were icicles and he glowed with a stolen light. Anthony was in his imagined Hell.
A Hell with heat would be no Hell at all. He longed for the caress of sunlight on his skin. He dreamed of bright yellow flowers in a field bathed in sunshine. Was it his mother who held him in her warm arms? That would be Heaven enough. He shook himself awake and pushed himself away from the tree he had been leaning against.
He no longer knew where the stream was when he climbed a slope and walked into a wide field. He looked back. Startled, he saw flames in the distance, beyond the forest through which he had staggered. Were the soldiers burning the Monastery in anger? His stomach knotted at the thought that his friends might suffer because of him. Would they lose their home and their years of labor at translating holy books? Had they been killed? He shouted into the darkness.
"Dear God, no! No! Let it not be."
He tripped into a haystack just as it began to pour rain, an icy rain. He dug a hole in the mound and put his hands inside. The sweet yellow hay smell and heat radiated out like steam off a cow's back. He clawed and burrowed like a mouse, dug a tunnel into the hay, and crawled in as far as he could. He shivered and shivered in the slimy warmth deep in the hay. Straw filled his mouth and he spit it out. His rough wool cowl rubbed his cuts and scrapes, and stalks of straw poked his back. He squirmed. But as the glowing yellowness of the hay warmed him, the tension in his stomach relaxed and he breathed more slowly. If he were back in the Monastery it might be time for matins now. But he remembered the flames. He folded his hands in prayer for the safety of his fellow monks. He gave in to his weariness and fell asleep.
Meet the Author
Born in San Francisco in 1936, Donald C. Lee received his BA in History and Philosophy at Pomona College. He was a Fullbright Scholar at the University of Tuebingen, Germany. After serving as a Marine Corps Officer and studying French at the University of Geneva, Switzerland, he earned a Masters Degree in Philosophy at Berkely, and a P.h.D. in Philosophy at the University of California, San Diego. He taught Philosophy at the University of Mexico for 25 years, and at Shaanxi Teacher's University in Xian, China, the year ending in the Tiananmen Square incident in 1989. Author of an academic book, many articles and reviews, he turned to fiction in his retirement years. He enjoys snorkeling, travel, hiking, and lives with Irene and their cat, Torrey in La Jolla, California.
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