Anselm, still soaked with sweat from bringing home the hay, decided to attend the Vespers despite he would have preferred a refreshing swim in the monasteries small pool at the far side of the rose garden. Taking a seat in the last pew he soon got goose bumps all over his back, because the rays of low standing sun shining through the colourful windowpanes were not able to heat up the air in the chapel. Nonetheless he enjoyed the Gregorian chants which luckily didn’t last too long. After the service he tried to slip out fast to return to the Guest House, but a friar caught him, urging him to attend the evening meal in the refectory.
The refectory is a large dining room, the largest room of St.Bartholomew. Along both of its long sides wooden tables and hard chairs were lined up. At the head of the small side of the room the Abbot’s table was placed below of a big crucifix. The abbot’s chair, a high rising armchair, was in the middle of two lower armchairs, reserved for special guests.
Anselm took his seat on the table for guests in front of the abbot’s table. He let his eyes wander over to the standing desk on the window side, waiting for the evening meal to begin. The reader of the week was already waiting for the beginning of the evening meal. He was stocky and the cowl tensed around his belly. He smiled at Anselm. After the table prayer recited by the prior in absence of the abbot, he opened the reading with the epistle of the day and then continued with a story about the hardship of missionaries in the Republic of Congo. Meanwhile Friar John dished out semolina pudding, the main course of the evening. When Anselm seemed to look slightly disappointed the friar poured a good serving of stewed plums on top of the pudding.
Full to the brim Anselm hardly could wait for the grace to end the evening meal because his skin was still itching from the hay. Without asking he rushed to the small swimming pool of the monastery fenced in by bushes and surrounded by a high wire-mesh fence. Lacking a swimming trunks, he jumped bare-arsed into the cold water and frolic around. Enjoying the refreshing diversion, he suddenly was alarmed by a creaking noise of the door to the pool. Hiding his lower body under the water and turning towards the little door Anselm just caught a glimpse of a black cowl closing the door. Tired as he was from the night before and the hay-making he dressed and returned to his small room in the guest house. When the bell announced the beginning of the Compline at 8 o’clock Anselm already slept like a log.
Anselm was raised out of his deep sleep by faint thunder, turning his eyes to the open window he became aware of a small figure in the old-fashioned blouse leaning against the window frame. Immediately he recognized Aenis even though his face was obscured by shadow. While Aenis’ moves were only vaguely perceptible, but his silvery voice was clear. “I was waiting for you, my brother, but you didn’t wake up therefore I asked a thunderstorm to arouse you.”His words were accompanied by a chuckle however, making Anselm confident that his new brother was neither able to command thunderclaps nor lightnings. Feeling his ways through to the window he approached his friend embraced him and planted a peck on his cheek. “I missed you throughout the whole day, dear Aenis. I missed you harvesting the hay, I missed you in the chapel during the Vespers and I missed while I was skinny dipping in the pool. I wanted you to be near me all the time, every moment! I missed you so much!”
With a chuckle in his voice Aenis replied, “I know! Brothers miss each other, always.”Then batting Anselm’s bare back, “Get dressed. I want to show you my favourite place. It’s the perfect night to show you this place!”turning his head to the open window, “Look, aren’t the streaks of lightning framing the mountaintop like a crown of diamonds frame the head of a king!”And really! The dark clouds approaching from the south had piled up above the Königsstuhl on the opposite side of the river sending showers of lightning down onto its bald peak.
Hand in hand Aenis and Anselm left St.Bartholomew ground and walked up to the wellspring of the small creek supplying the swimming pool and the trout pond of the monastery with cool water. Holding hands, the they walked slowly uphill, to the left the wide meadow with the gurgling creek to the right a beech forest climbing up the edge of the mountain. When the path entered the forest, the moonlight was blocked by the foliage of the beeches and the two walked on through the dark hands tightly entwined, till they arrived at a clearing in front of the dark cavern leading into the mountain. There was the source of the creek.
“This place was different when I first arrived. The entrance into the cave where the water of the creek seeps out of the rocks was sheltered by a sky-high oak with sweeping branches making the trees around looking like pygmy trees. Then, however, on a night like this, with high rising clouds closing in over the valley, with clouds full of thunder bolts and lightnings, the oak just vanished. Only this clearing was left, covered with ferns, mosses and flowers.”Anselm reflected Aenis’ account and after a while he dared to ask, “Why hadn’t the forest reclaimed the clearing? This event took place about 900 years ago. That’s a long time even for forests!””No one knows, but it is told this place was once a pilgrimage site of the heathens. This may be true because the water of the spring unfolds a miraculous power, however only in one single night each year. The date of this night changes from year to year, therefore nobody can foretell the night when the water works miracles!”
Suddenly extreme loud thunderclaps drowned out the voice of Aenis followed by gusts of wind shaking the trees around the clearing, blowing leaves from shaking branches and then a rainstorm was following. Not a gentle steady rain, no, curtains of rain blocked the friends view and they were not able to see the trees on the other side of the clearing. In a heartbeat both were wet like cats rescued from a river. Aenis took Anselm by the hand and dragged him into the entrance of the spring-cave. Shaking with cold they went down on their haunches and waited for the terrible summer storm to calm down. But soon they had to stand upright as the small creek became a raging brook. Clinging to Aenis Anselm waited for the things to come, when the pagan jongen suddenly cleared his throat and began to tell the next part of his live story.
Aenis’ tale of the Shipbreuk at the Coast of Sicily as Recalled by Anselm:
“It was on night like this.”Aenis pointed to the torrent of rain beating down outside the cave. “No, that night was even worse. It was the most terrible night I experienced since the days the bloodthirsty crusaders seized Jerusalem, the Golden Town. Sky-scraping waves were rocking our small sailing boat like a leaf in a thunderstorm. The sirocco had already broken the boat’s mast and torn the triangular sail to shreds while polishing the deck-planks with rough grains of sand from the African dessert. The Venetian captain had gone overboard, while trying to steer the cockleshell straight to north. Now not one of the crew members was able to hold the ship’s course. The frightened war-horses in the ship’s belly were running riot. The heavy creatures pounded with their hoofs the planks, while their fearful neighing was drowned out by the howling of the tempest.”
“I was clinging to the railing, seasick, puking out my guts, utterly helpless. I felt lost as lost as in the blazing house of my parents back in the Golden City. Holding onto the railing I shouted for my life. I shouted for Zeki, for Lethalde, for just anybody. But my feeble voice was drowned out the storm. When Lethalde finally came aware of my desperate situation, he made it hand over hand to me on a life-line and tried to calm me.”
Even before Anselm had digested the terrible news, Aenis commenced, “A week before the ship had left the small harbour of Akkon on the Palestinian shore and crossed the Mediterranean Sea to Cyprus. The sea was calm as we rolled from the Kyrenia towards Sicily. But out of the blue a desert storm hit our cockleshell of a boat offshore Sicily. Unexpectedly the small single-masted sailing boat was caught in the Scirocco carrying along tons and tons of red sand from the Libyan dessert. Sky-high waves were jerking and knocking about the boat for three days. All the time the Scirocco had neither slowed down, nor lost force. In the gray morning light of the third day the raging hurricane blew our boat northward, suddenly out of the sky-high waves serrated rocks of a cape of Sicily’s shore emerged in the twilight. The churning sea tossed our small boat against the rocks. It broke to parts. The war horses came free from the ships hold and were carried away by the waves. Lethalde was able to take hold of me and we were was washed ashore. I was whimpering like a baby. I was not able to think straight anymore.”
Anselm’s heart was beating with fear and compassion. Aenis’ report were far off the stories in newspapers he liked to devour and far off of a robisonades he liked. Now his heart was hammering against his rib-cage afraid of the next news. He dared to ask, “You survived? Lethalde survived? But Zeki, you brother, did he survive also?”While tonights thunderstorm slowly ebbed away, Aenis continued talking with closed eyes, “Wait, brother, wait! In gray morning hours Lethalde searched the beach for survivors. Stuck between rocks he found Zeki, unconscious but alive and without a single bone broken. Dragging him up the small beach he was able to reanimate him.”Aenis smiled slightly remembering the time and strengthened bis embrace around Anselm. “At noon in the pale light of an enshrouded sky we three became aware of our desperate situation. We seemed to be the only survivors. Nothing was left of the boat, not a plank, not a piece of the cargo. All the wealth Lethalde had stored in the boat’s hold was gone, all the loot he had collected at the fall of Jerusalem was drowned in the raging sea. The only ray of hope was a single war horses we found grazing upcountry.”
Slightly trembling from the memory rattling his brain, Aenis continued. “Walking inland we were arrested by a troop of lansquenets of Roger Bosso, the Great Count of Sicily. The troop of fourteen horsemen and their commander, a rough looking man, accused us of being Muslims, committing espionage for the Sultan and stealing one of the count’s valuable war horses. Without asking, they took us captive, shackled us and forced us to walk further inland. In the evening at the campfire Lethalde tried convince the captain of our innocents but without avail. One of the horsemen however remembered a drawing of Lethalde he had seen after the capture of Jerusalem by the crusaders. “Aren’t you Lethalde de Tournay,”he asked, “the Flemish knight entering Jerusalem as the first of the defender of our saviour?”When Lethalde affirmed his identity the captain of the troop didn’t believe him and asked for a single combat. The captain lost in the fight; despite he the fact that he used a long sword while my new father had a thick club to defend his honour. This profoundly convinced horsemen from Lethalde’s identity and made him their new leader.”
Now Aenis relaxed like the torrent. The lightning weakened, thunderclaps fell silent and the curtains of rain turned into a slight trickle. “After some days we and the troop of lansquenets arrived at the war camp of Roger the Count of Sicily. He had wrestled Sicily from the Muslims and slowly replaced the Muslim-Greek rulers by his Norman and Lombard followers and implemented the Latin Christianity. Proud to host the famous knight, who had as the first crusader stepped into Jerusalem, he offered Lethalde to become Captain in his army. Considering the situation my new father decided to take service with the Count of Sicily and serve him. Zeki became his squire and I was allowed to become the apprentice of the Rogers feldsher, a famous scholar of Muslim creed.
Lethalde favored this arrangement as Roger’s army consisted of a motley group of Norman, Lombard and Muslim fighters. This pleased Zeki and me also as we were not forced to convert to the Christian creed. And Lethalde? He didn’t mind having the Saracen Pagan Jongens as his adopted sons.”
Jumping from one dry spot of the trail to the other Aenis and Anselm made it back to St. Bartholomew and as the paths between the flowerbeds were soaked as well, we decided to stay for the rest of the night in my small room. Sitting side by side on my bed snuggled up to one another Anselm and Aenis waited for the sunrise. They didn’t talk just enjoyed the closeness of each other dreaming up a future. At least Anselm was dreaming up a future with Aenis, he dreamed of journeys to Sicily, to Cyprus, to Jerusalem, visiting all these places together as friends, as brothers as lovers. Closing his eyes, he began to imaginable the sky-high walls of Jerusalem before the Crusaders’ broke breaks into the fortress ring and molested the town and their inhabitants. From photos he knew that there was no city wall surrounding Jerusalem today, but! But in his imagination, he was in the past about 900 years ago. Aenis’ tale had spurred his imagination and he couldn’t tell presence from the past.
Absorbed in his thought Anselm had fallen asleep leaning against the headboard of his small bed. When the jingling of the church bell aroused him from a deep sleep it was already the time for the Terce and to his horror he had missed the Vigils as well as the Lauds. With rumbling stomach, he scurried to the window of kitchen to ask for a late breakfast. Friar John was preparing the dinner already. Slightly surprised by Anselms request for a late breakfast first wrinkled his forehead and wagged his forefinger, but then grinned and prepared a slice of bread thickly with sliced ham. While offering him the slice of bread he whispered conspiratorially, “The whole night active again, meeting the BOY?”he asked, “Be careful! The Abbot is back. He is a stern man and is following the papal orders strictly. Also, he does not believe in apparitions.”
Following the Sext and the dinner in the refectory Anselm was asked to come to the Abbot’s cell. When he knocked at the door of cell Anselm’s nerves fluttered and he got soft knees. Gathering all his courage he entered room anticipating a good scolding. In contrast to his expectation the abbot’s cell was nearly as spacious as the refectory directly below. Sun rays streaming through the open window nearly blinded him. Not till his eyes were used to the brightness he caught sight of Abbot Albertus sitting behind a big writing desk. “Laudetur Jesus Christus!”he was greeted and recalling the time as an altar boy he answered with a slight stutter and a deep bow “Praised be Jesus Christ!”Waiting for the scolding he took a stand opposite the abbot hanging his head.
“Awaiting chastisement?”the abbot began the interrogation with a light smirk. “You sure deserve a good scanning for braking into the crypt, however…”Albertus paused a moment, “however how could I give a scanning to a boy whose was rewarded for his wrongdoing with a face to face encounter with the mystic healer of St. Bartholomew?”
Waiting for the impact of his speech to settle the abbot continued pointing on a chair in front of the desk, “Calm down and sit down!”Meditation for a long time he asked, “What shall I call you? What shall I do with you? Why did the Lord decide that I his simple servant have to decide about a such complicated question?”Anselm knew the abbot wasn’t addressing him but then an idea hit him,”Are you calling Aenis a mystic healer? I do not know if he his mystic, for me he is real. I do not know if he is a healer, for me he is my brother!”When Abbot Albertus furrowed his brow, Anselm clarified, “Aenis, that’s his name, the mystics boy’s name. Aenis calls me his brother. He told me he likes me like his real brother, like Zeki. Mostly he does not even use my Christian name, he calls me Zeki.”When the abbots didn’t seem not to know Aenis’ story of life, Anselm began to repeat part of the narrative he had given the Friars. Being more careful however he omitted the bloodcurdling details of the capture of the Golden Town by the crusaders. While the abbot seemed to be deeply interested in his report Anselm wasn’t sure he was convinced. Therefore, he played his trump card. “You believe in God, I am right? Have you seen him face by face? Have you touched him? Have you hugged him, and has he hugged you?”he paused a moment and continued, “For two nights now I was face to face with Aenis, I was touching him, holding hands hugging one another.”Taking a deep breath, “I was with him, in my room, in the rose garden, at the spring of the creek feeding the fish pond and the pool. I enjoyed his presence in the sweet air of the rose garden and the freezing cold air of the tempest last night.”When the abbot seemed to be at loss, Anselm played his last card. “Have you been in love as a boy, as a teen, as a teen in my age?”Anselm fixed the Abbot Albertus, who was at least fifty years older or even sixty. “Have you been in love with a girl or a boy, when you have been in my age? No?”Figuring that this was a question Abbot Albertus would never answer voluntarily, Anselm decided to give away his secrets, “I have a boyfriend since kindergarten and I also have had a girlfriend once. I exchanges kisses with both, however all the kisses we exchanged can not be compared to the ones Aenis and I exchange. Previously I have never experienced feelings like these before.”Anselm’s eyes suddenly watered. Streaks of tear began running down his cheeks. Pretending to be strong, he tried to hold back his sobbing and with stiffing voice he tried to explain the inexplainable, “Aenis will leave, I know he will leave, the first day he already warned me.”While a spasmodic sobbing shook Anselm’s body, he blurted out to Abbot Albertus, he told “I have to return to the yonder world, the third world, to the blue, to the dark, as soon as you are whole again!”With a last effort Anselm implored, “Can you help me! You are a holy man!”
Witnessing Anselm’s pain, the wheels in Abbot Albertus brain set in to spin. Closing his eyes, he remembered Carrot, he remembered the boy nicknamed Carrot because of the color of his hair. The Abbot remembered Carrots eyes with the green chips in the brown iris, with the pale skin spangled with reddish freckles. His mind returned to their nightly hikes up the hills, the knuckles of their fists touching every now and then and the bolts of fire he felt the moment their knuckles came in contact with each other. He had never confessed his love to Carrot till it was too late.
Carrot left town due to a student exchange program overseas. He left town for a country high school student married immediately after graduation. Carrot returned presenting him a book of poems by his favorite songwriter and announcing the same moment, “I met a girl over there, Violet is her name, we will get married in two weeks!”The abbot still did feel the immediate shock he had suffered. In an instant his heart was broken and from that moment on he devoted himself exclusively to his vocation and became a monk. Returning from his dream to the presence it became clear to him, he would never meet a Carrot again.
Trying to answer Anselm’s distressed cry for help, the abbot opened his eyes, but Anselm was gone, clouds covered the sun and his cell went gloomy.
Anselm needed fresh air. Not that the air in the abbot’s room was stifling hot, no, the air in the room was cool and refreshing like in the other rooms of St. Bartholomew. He needed to clear his brain. Considering his options either looking for the always happy Friar Pius in the barn or going for a swim, he decided for the latter. However, he didn’t reckon without Father John, the cook. Crossing the dark floor in front of the kitchen he called on him. “Hey Anselm, do you like strawberry preserves? Get in here. I need your help cleaning the strawberries. The chore has been done before the Compline starts at eight o’clock. As a reward you can eat as much strawberries you want.”Anselm hesitated, not because he did mind the chore or to gobble down strawberries but because of Father John. The tall, ascetic friar seemed to be the most mysterious of all the members of the convent. Even when he was smiling Anselm couldn’t figure out what it meant. Reluctantly he entered the kitchen, took the apron John offered him and began to remove the green from the berries. “Did you meet the BOY?”he wanted to know, emphasizing boy. When Anselm didn’t answer, he repeated, “Did you meet the BOY from the other world?”John insisted. At first Anselm wanted to deny the contact, then however he decided to affirm it answering, “Aenis?”He nearly was singing the name. “Yes! I met Aenis!”hesitating a short moment he added, “Yes! I met Aenis and if you want to know!”He hesitated, “I am in love with Aenis! Aenis is my brother!”With not interpretable look Father John inquired, “What do you expect Aenis to be? A figure out of your dreams? An apparition? A holy apparition?”When Anselm seem not to fathom the question, Father John began to exemplify, “You sure have heard of our Lady of Lourdes and of the girl who claimed to have experienced the apparitions of a maiden dressed in white and with a blue belt around her waist, the apparition of the Virgin Mary?”When Anselm confirmed his knowledge by nodding his head, Father John continued, “This apparition is proved by miracles, by the healing power of the water of the Holy Spring. So far, your Aenis is just an imagination, a dream figure or,”Father Johannes lowered his voice, “or an evil prompting of a demon,”and after a deep-drawn sigh, crossed himself he spit out “or of Satanas!”
These words shocked Anselm and without hesitating he turned and fled the kitchen. Throwing down the apron he vowed never to set a foot into the kitchen again and not to eat anything prepared by Father John. The rest of the day he hiked aimlessly in the wooded valley behind the monastery considering these accusations. Finally, he ended up where Aenis and he had taken shelter from the thunderstorm the night before. Reflecting the days and nights before a last time he decided to write a letter to Father John.
Back in the guestroom he ripped out a page from his pocketbook and wrote,
I would like to express my special thanks to TSL for doing a great job correcting the writing mistakes especially in use of commas.
Thanks for reading
Berlin, Germany, 2019
As always, comments and suggestions are gladly accepted at Ruwen Rouhs