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The slave put a mounting stool in place and knelt, holding it in position, while Bishop Freculf came out of his saddle.
Priora Iditha dropped to her knees before the Bishop. "You cannot imagine, Sublime, what has been put upon us."
Bishop Freculf laid his hand on the Priora's head. "Then you must show me, Sorra. That is why you summoned me." He motioned her to rise, and added to his slave, "Hold my horse. And better harm should come to you than to him."
The Wendish slave nodded to show his devotion, got to his feet, and took the big roan gelding's reins in his hands. He did not look directly at the Bishop, for that affront would earn him a beating.
The convent of Santa Albegunda was a relatively small establishment on the road between Stavelot and Reims, housing 118 nuns, their 149 servants, and 175 slaves. Famous for its miraculous cures of bodily malformations, it was handsomely endowed and maintained a fisc larger than many other similar establishments. It was comprised of eleven buildings, including a barn and a stable, in addition to an herb garden, two orchards, four fields, a vineyard, and a pond, all enclosed within its stout outer walls. The Abba, Sunifred, was the daughter of the local Potente, a petty noble called Hilduin, and as such was able to command more support from the people of the region.
The Priora led the Bishop through the courtyard toward the smaller chapel, saying as she went, "We have had no guidance in this situation. We must rely on you to tell us how to proceed."
"Of course," said Bishop Freculf, tapping his short whip against his thigh as he walked. It had been a hot afternoon that was now turning to a warm night, and he was still sweating freely. "Do you think this will take long?"
"I cannot tell," said Priora Iditha, and stepped into the narthex of the chapel. "Look for yourself."
"What am I to see?" asked the Bishop, crossing himself as he glanced along the narrow aisle toward the altar.
"She is praying," said the Priora, lowering her voice slightly.
"Prostrate?" The Bishop was mildly surprised. "Is she a penitent?"
"That isn't for me to say," Priora Iditha answered. "We are in something of a quandary about her. Abba Sunifred has not been able to determine what to do about her. She has proven a difficult case, as you can understand she might. Her father-a tanner and seller of hides-brought her to us when their village priest said he could not deal with her any longer."
"Is she willful?" Bishop Freculf asked, perplexed by this continued evasion.
"Not that we can discover. Come speak to her; determine her demeanor for yourself," said the Priora, motioning to the Bishop to follow her.
The Bishop hesitated. "Should we interrupt her praying?"
"If we wait for her to finish, we may be here well past nightfall, and you will not have the banquet that your cooks are preparing for you even now," said the Priora, who knew enough about the Bishop to be certain of his evening plans. "You have musicians and jugglers at your villa, have you not?"
Bishop Freculf smiled. "I am a most fortunate man."
"May God be thanked," said the Priora.
"I do thank Him, Sorra, every morning and every night in my prayers." He smiled wolfishly. "Come, then. Let us see what has caused such an uproar in this holy place."
The Priora led him down the aisle, her attention on the figure lying prone with arms outstretched before the altar. "Gynethe Mehaut," she called. "Rise. Bishop Freculf is here."
For a moment nothing happened, and then a figure materialized in the swath of a dust-colored linen stolla belted with rope. She was pale as new curds, thin to the point of gauntness, and somewhat less than average height. Her hair was the color of ivory in a single braid down her back. She might have been a ten-year-old child if not for the rise of her breasts. As she looked up, Bishop Freculf gasped, for her eyes were red as garnets. "Sublime," she said.
Bishop Freculf stared at the young woman, then turned to the Priora. "This is most ... unusual." He contemplated the young woman, assessing her oddities and trying to determine what they might portend. "Most unusual," he added. He stroked his beard and stared at her. "Are you ill?"
"Not that I am aware of, Sublime," said Gynethe Mehaut.
"This is not the whole of it. Gynethe Mehaut, hold out your hands," the Priora said.
Turning her red eyes away, she lifted her hands, palms up, her manner suggesting distress and shame. There, against the white flesh, was blood in the center of both palms, sluggishly wet.
The Bishop stared. "What have you done?" he demanded, his face flushing with outrage. "How dare you do this?"
"I have done nothing," said Gynethe Mehaut, her voice just above a whisper. "I pray and this happens."
"How?" he demanded. "What do you do to yourself?"
"Nothing," she insisted. "I do nothing. I pray."
"Then why should you have hurts like that? They are blasphemous!" The Bishop strove to contain his growing sense of outrage.
"I don't know how I come to have the marks, Sublime, and I have prayed deeply in the hope of learning the reason for them," Gynethe Mehaut whispered, about to hide her hands in the capacious sleeves of her stolla. "God has not revealed that to me, no matter how I supplicate."
"They began when she achieved womanhood," said the Priora. "She bleeds, and not just woman's blood."
He caught her hands in his own. "You have cut yourself."
"I haven't," she murmured.
"You must have," the Bishop insisted. He glared at her, then averted his gaze, his brow knit; he was badly shaken.
"We have watched her, Sublime," said the Priora. "She has not cut herself that we have seen, and yet she bleeds."
The Bishop shook his head vehemently. "No. No. Those wounds are only found in Christ Jesus. No other may have them."
"Unless they are inflicted as a punishment, when the hands are nailed so that sins may be expiated," said Priora Iditha. "But this woman has not been punished."
"Perhaps she was punished before she came here," suggested the Bishop, his indignation barely controlled.
"She has been here for many months. The marks haven't changed in all that time," said the Priora. "Tell him, Gynethe Mehaut."
"I have had them for more than five years," said the pale young woman. "I was sent here to be cured of them. I have prayed I would be cured."
Bishop Freculf shook his head. "There is something very wrong here. The prayers of the Sorrae and the water from the well should have salved your ... injuries." His eyes narrowed. "Unless you are not a child of the Church, but are sworn to old gods or to the Devil Himself."
Gynethe Mehaut drew back in horror. "No, no, Sublime. Nothing like that. I have lived within the care of the Church all my life. I have always been faithful to Christ and the King."
"It's true," said Priora Iditha. "She was taken by the Sorrae at Sant' Osmer in Rennes, just a babe. They cared for her until she was a woman, and then the Sorrae sent her back to her parents and the care of their priest. I have the account from the Abba, Serilda of Nerithe, if you wish to review it. She has a most excellent reputation for piety, and she gives a good account of Gynethe Mehaut."
"Indeed I do want to see this," said Bishop Freculf. "I will examine it at once."
"It will be given to you, along with what Patre Ermold wrote about her. We have both to show you," said Priora Iditha. "And a letter from the Bishop of Rennes, telling of his agreement in sending her here."
"And I will look at them closely, never fear," said the Bishop. "Where is Abba Sunifred? I would like to have a word with her."
"She is out hunting, Sublime, as I told you," said the Priora apologetically. "I do not expect her until sunset."
"She's with her father, no doubt," said the Bishop. "Very well. I will see these accounts; then, when the Abba is back, she and I must talk." He let go of Gynethe Mehaut. "I should have been told about this before now. Why did you wait so long?"
"We were praying for a cure for her, Sublime. That's why Patre Ermold sent her here, with his blessing, the blessings of her parents, and her Bishop. Abba Sunifred said we could not stop our prayers-"
"She wanted the glory for this convent," said the Bishop. "As well she might. Santa Albegunda is a most puissant patroness."
"I am grateful that you understand," said the Priora, turning her back on Gynethe Mehaut, who had prostrated herself before the altar once again. "Remain here. If we need you, we will summon you."
"Yes, Priora," said Gynethe Mehaut, her voice muffled by the sleeve of her stolla.
"She seems obedient," said the Bishop as he and the Priora left Gynethe Mehaut alone in the chapel.
"That she is. And devout as well. I have no doubt that she is sincere in her faith. She fasts on Sunday and Wednesday, and attends Vigil faithfully. She keeps herself before the altar for most of the night and half of the day. She claims that she has to do this for the sins of the world." Priora Iditha shook her head vehemently. "It is most troublesome to see her hands as they are."
"She is a woman, and as such, heir to all the sins of the flesh in this sinful world. It is not fitting that she should have the marks of Our Savior on her flesh, but that she does so to profane the wounds. What woman can have this honor?" The Bishop entered the largest building, the one that housed the nuns and their servants. "Where are these records?"
"If you will go to the church, I will bring them to you there. Or you may remain here, Sublime. The Sorrae are preparing for the evening meal, and so it would not be fitting for you to come any deeper into the convent." Although the Priora said it subserviently enough, it was clear that she would require the Bishop to stay in the public portions of the building.
"Perhaps I should await you in the courtyard," the Bishop murmured. "The Sorrae are not to be compromised, particularly not by a Bishop."
"No, most surely not," said the Priora with feeling.
With a gesture of dismissal, Bishop Freculf returned to the courtyard, where he ordered one of the convent's slaves to bring him a cup of wine. "Use one of those from your own kitchen," he added. "My cup is packed in my saddlebag and I do not wish to get it out."
The slave abased herself and went to do as he ordered.
Left to his own devices, Bishop Freculf drew a knife from the scabbard on his belt and began to pare his fingernails, taking care to collect all the bits when he was done so that no one could use the parings against him. He was just finishing up when the slave returned with a cup of wine, which she held up to him as she knelt before him. He dropped the bits of his nails into the wine and took the cup from her, swirling the wine in the cup and gesturing to her to leave him. He was half-finished with the wine when Priora Iditha returned, three rolled scrolls in her hand.
"Here. You may read them now, if you wish, Sublime. The Superiora would not like these reports to leave the convent, in case she may have use for them in days to come." This was more emphatic than it was proper for a nun to be, but the Priora was used to exercising her authority and did so now.
"Would the Abba allow me to take these?" Bishop Freculf asked. He knew the answer would be yes, for Sunifred was his second cousin and was bound to help her kinsman who was also her most immediate Church authority.
"No doubt she would," said Priora Iditha. "If you care to wait to ask her, I will have the slaves bring you bread and cheese. It is not as fine as what you will have at your banquet, but it will be what the Sorrae are having." It was an obvious ploy, yet it worked.
"No. I do not want to wait so long, or to impose upon you." He did not have to add that he much preferred the banquet awaiting him at his villa than the simple fare of the nuns.
"As you wish, Sublime. I will have a brazier brought, to give you better light," she said, and clapped to summon a slave. "The Bishop would like some light."
The slave pulled at her forelock and hurried away.
"Do you have to beat her much? She's very obedient," said the Bishop.
"Not too much. She is devoted," said the Priora. "Why would we keep a disobedient slave?"
There was a silence between them; then the Bishop said, "You have been diligent in maintaining the convent. I hope the Superiora is as careful in supervising the nuns."
"With God's Grace," said the Priora. She prepared to leave, but she stopped. "How long will you need to read?"
"I'll summon you when I am finished. It will not be long," said the Bishop, and sat down on the widest bench along the wall. When the slave brought a brazier, set it near him, and lit it, he unrolled the largest scroll and scanned its contents, murmuring as he read.
The Vespers bell was ringing when Bishop Freculf rolled the second scroll closed and called for a slave. "Bring the Priora," he ordered, and paced the courtyard until Priora Iditha returned. "I have read two of these," he told her, holding out the scrolls to her. "A most interesting account, both of them. One day I will read the third. I will consider what they say, and I'll let you know my judgment on this matter." He put his empty cup aside.
"I will tell the Abba when she returns," said the Priora. "And we will pray for you."
Knowing he was entitled to this, the Bishop merely nodded. "I'll address her on the matter shortly. No more than a week." He held out his hand so that the Priora could kiss his episcopal ring.
"Very good, Sublime," said Priora Iditha, kneeling to kiss the ring, then rose. "We will guard her."
Bishop Freculf knew that she meant Gynethe Mehaut. "Do so. But bear in mind, you may have a ravening wolf in your midst. Keep her close, and do not hesitate to confine her if she requires it. It would not be prudent to have such a one as she walking abroad."
"We will take care of her, Sublime," said the Priora, moving away from the Bishop to answer the bell's summons to prayer.
Excerpted from Night Blooming by Chelsea Quinn Yarbro Copyright ©2002 by Chelsea Quinn Yarbro. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Posted December 9, 2008
In 796 Gaul, Karl-lo-Magne (Charlemagne) has summoned Europe¿s finest minds to attend him in an attempt to resurrect the Roman Empire. Karl-lo-Magne discusses rare maps with one of the scholars, Rakoczy, whose vast knowledge and strange practices makes His Highness question what the Count is, but he still bestows favors and property on the "foreigner". Nearby at about the same time, albino Gynethe Mehaut visits a convent seeking help with her constant bleeding palms. The local church is divided between her representing divine benediction and the Antichrist. Proving his leadership ability by placing the monkey on someone else¿s shoulders, Karl-lo-Magne dispatches Rakoczy to escort Gynethe to the Vatican so Pope Leo III will have to deal with the problem. As the duo travels south avoiding sunlight for different reasons, they form a deep passion for one another, but to save her life, Rakoczy must defy the two most powerful mortals in the world: the monarch and the pope. As expected with a Count Rakoczy novel, the astute historical background provides a powerful opportunity for the audience to luxuriate in a bygone era. The story line is typical of the long running series yet grips the audience with the feel of the battle for supremacy between the monarch and the pope mostly through the perceptions of the traveling couple. Fans of Chelsea Quinn Yarbro and those newcomers who delight in a historical compassionate vampire tale will want to read NIGHT BLOOMING, a robust end of the Dark Ages tale that showcases Rakoczy in top form because his companion brings out the best in him. Harriet KlausnerWas this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted November 8, 2002
This is another great book by Ms. Yarbro. I became a fan of the Counts quite a few years ago, and have been thoroughly impressed by each novel since. It was hard to find a lot of the earlier, out-of-print stories (before the internet, kids), and I am so glad to see that she has found a distributor who will reissue Hotel Transylvania and beyond, so that others can get up to speed on this remarkable character. Some of the books are a little slow (and this one is at times), but it's worth the slower pace to be able to step into a period in time (long long ago and far far away, usually) and feel like you are there! The Count is such a well-fleshed out character, as are his consorts Roger, Olivia, and Madeleine, that it's not hard to visualize each scene, each emotion, each drama. I have also been able to get my hands on some of Ms. Yarbro's other works, and can say that the excellent writing is not just limited to this series. "Ariosto" and "Godforsaken" were very imaginative and very well-written, and "Taji's Syndrome" was in-line with something Michael Crichton might have some up with (that's a complement, if anyone's wondering). For the new reader, start with "Hotel Trans." and work your way forward, but don't try to do a time-line with the series. Just enjoy the trip and a character who has not aged either in fiction or in our fascination with him. Hopefully Ms. Yarbro will keep the good Count hopping for years to come. Perhaps a story in modern-day? Could be interesting to see him deal with the information-age.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.