Like a resuscitated patient, the Monks resumed the hymn again. But not without a raised distraction and concern about who broke the greatest rule of the Priory.
“Lord, fill this day with your radiance,” Brother Raymond started as the hymn ended. And as he ended the prayer and waited for the chorus from the Monks, nothing came. He looked up to find them engrossed from the little whispers emitting from the sacristy door holes. Those who were not close to the door fixed their gaze on Patrick, hoping to see the explanation of the morning’s strangeness on his face.
“Who else knows this?” The Prior asked, pacing around the Sacristy with his left fist hitting his right palm.
Brother Samuel’s head remained bent, his eyes squinting at the troubled Prior. He knew he did the right thing but seeing the Prior that troubled and disorganised, he wished he never told him. “Just me and Brother Patrick, Prior.”
“Good” Christopher paused his pacing. His authoritative voice laced with fear and anger. “Say no word about it and instruct Patrick to do so. Now go call Brother Alexander, I need to know what really happened here last night.”
Without a word, Brother Samuel bowed and made for the exit door. He collided with Brother Isidore, bowed at him and hurried off. Isidore glanced at his evanescing back for a while, shrugged and walked to the shelves. He saw Christopher’s scorned face, glanced at him for some time and for the second time, shrugged and picked a Breviary and made to leave.
Samuel reappeared with a more distressed look. He approached Christopher and bowed. “Brother Alexander is not in the church, Prior.”
Isidore gaped at Samuel. The level of the never he has to speak to the Prior inside the sacristy during the Summum Silentium flustered him. But the atmosphere of the sacristy and the urgent presence of Brother Alexander surpassed his fluster. He stared at Christopher, waiting for a reprimand from him to Samuel but rather saw him shrink into a shadow of himself, pacing around the room in an obvious kerfuffle. He sighed. It was obvious that whatever put Alexander in his present condition left another worrisome mark on the walls of the Priory. He coughed, still not sure if he would vent his opinion on the discussion or just go. His cough disturbed the peaceful worrying of the Prior. He halted. His right fist glued to his left palm as he stared at Isidore.
“Forgive me Prior,” Isidore bowed. “I don’t really know what happened or if I should even speak knowing that it is against the rule of this Priory but if you permit me to…”
“Do you know where Alexander is?”
“He is lying unconscious on the clinic’s bed.”
Christopher’s mouth opened, giving out an inaudible wail.
Samuel side walked to Isidore, glanced at him till their eyes met. “What happened to him?”
“Nobody knows. Two security men brought him in last night after the power failure. His head is severely injured.”
Samuel boggled. His doubt on whose blood he mopped off the church’s floor has been cleared. Brother Alexander must have confronted the thief and the thief, in turn, broke his head with the Reliquary.
“What is going on?” Isidore said. His voice a little bit above a whisper.
Samuel stared at him for some time, shook his head and side walked back to where he was. He was not going to tell what the Prior asked him to keep a secret few minutes ago. Isidore looked at him, and at the confused Prior.
“What exactly is this about, Prior?”
“The relic is stolen,” Christopher said, his hands shaking in devastation.
Isidore boggled. The Breviary in his hand fell on the tiled floor, making a quacking sound. Samuel rushed and picked the Breviary, dusting it like it has fallen into a mud while squinting at the confused duo.
“So you need to tell me all that the security men told you.”
“They told me nothing Prior. They only said they saw him staggering outside the church and when they approached, he swooped and didn’t move again. They then brought…”
“Why didn’t you report this?” Christopher said.
“Forgive my ignorance Prior but I was during the Summum Silentium and I didn’t know I could…”
“Laws are made for man, not man for the law. Now let’s go, I need to see him.” Prior stormed out of the sacristy. Isidore paced behind him, wondering if the Prior did not hear him say Alexander was unconscious.
Like a hurt centipede, Samuel strolled back into the church, clutching the Breviary to his chest. As he pushed open the Sacristy door and stepped into the church, the stare from the Monks sent a shiver to his spine. He paused for while, catching his disappearing breath and courage. He paced to Father Eustice, whispered to him and then moved to Patrick. He sat beside him, drew his head beneath the pews and whispered into his ear. Patrick raised his head and kept a straight face, ignoring the curious and piercing stares of the Monks.
“Let’s rise for the entrance hymn,” Raymond said.
Father Eustice mounted the altar, robed in the five vestments of a priest ready to celebrate the holy mass. Father Reatherford and Father Hysom exchanged a suspicious glance and walked out of the church, sending more confusion to the Monks. They scurried out through the sacristy door and saw the Prior hurrying towards the clinic while Isidore paced behind him. They halted and glanced at each other. Like in a cue, they ran towards them, holding their sultan to avoid stepping on it.
Christopher saw them and stopped. The priests approached and bowed at him. For some seconds they stared at each other, wondering if it was okay to break the silence.
“I want to believe that this conundrum has nothing to do with the relic not being in its place, Prior?” Reatherford asked. He was a visiting priest, sent to oversee the process of the dedication, so if he broke the law, he might be pardoned.
“Maybe, that is what I am trying to figure out,” Christopher said, looking at Hysom with a confused curiosity.
“If the relic has been stolen, Prior, I need to know.”
Another hunting silence enveloped them, recounting in Christopher’s head the shame and embarrassment he has to face if the relic was not found. The Priory would be closed, sending hundred and seventy-eight monks to another priory where they have to stay for months before adapting. And he, the head of the Prior under whose leadership a holy relic from Rome was stolen would have a dented record, one fused with an attempted theft as no one would believe he has nothing to do with the stealing.
“We think it might have been stolen.” His voice shook.
That great silence came again, hurting the reputation of Father Reatherford- the reputation that made his Bishop send him on that mission, the reputation that saw him through the dedication o five parishes. Although Saint Benedict’s Priory would be his first work at a Priory, he didn’t think his reputation couldn’t handle it. He stood, mopping at the trio like a scammed man. He couldn’t believe the very object which he suffered to get from Rome has been stolen right under his nose. His head spun as he tried to find his way around the situation. What would he tell his Bishop when he arrives in 24 hours for the dedication ceremony? How on earth was the relic even stolen the very night of its arrival? He inhaled, recalling himself back from the daunting reverie he sunk into.
“Call off the Matin and have a head count of the Monks and search their cells.”
“What? Are you saying a brother did this? That’s ridiculous.” Hysom said.
“The missing of the relic, Father, is even more ridiculous. But I believe that someone amongst us aided that burglary. The outsiders know that a relic would come here for the dedication but only the Monks knew it has come and also its position.”
Christopher shook his head. He didn’t believe a Monk under his care would do something that evil. Not after the strict and thought provoking sermon, he fed them with every day. He shook his head again.
Reatherford sighed. It was not just the Priory’s name that was at risk, his reputation also was at a greater risk and he would do anything to contain the disgrace before it breaks out. He inhaled. If Christopher did nothing in the next ten minutes, he might have to use the Episcopal power given to him by his Local Ordinary and that would put Christopher under him, like a mere acolyte. He stood, beside Father Hysom watching Christopher took a step towards the clinic.
“Wait,” Christopher reverted. “Brother Benalis, did he sleep in the solitary last night?”
“Yes, Prior,” Hysom said. “I made sure of that.”
“Would you please check on him, while I see what I can get from Alexander?”
“With all due respect Prior, there is no point going to see Brother Alexander. He has been unconscious since he was brought in.”
“What would you have me do?” Christopher’s voice rose, sending fear and confusion in the air. Her hands shivered. Boils of sweat gathered on his face, dropping on the ground in a noiseless echo. He pulled out a white handkerchief from his Habit and wiped them off. Then he turned to Hysom. “Go check on Brother Benalis. This might be his doing to spite us for keeping him in solitary.”
Father Hysom bowed in reluctance and paced towards the presbytery. Christopher sighed and made towards the clinic.
“Who is brother Benalis?” Reatherford drew Isidore back.
“He is a Novitiate,” Isidore said. “And since his Postulancy has refused to stop biting his fingers. So last three days, he let a Ciborium slip off his hands while biting his finger, shattering the Blessed Eucharist. So the Prior sent him to solitary for proper mediation.”
Reatherford scoffed. He did not believe someone could be so addicted to biting his finger to the extent of letting a Ciborium fall- not even one filled with the blessed Eucharist. It sounded more like a like a myth, a legend told to children to scare them from the irritating habit of biting their fingers. He sighed and marched towards the clinic, hoping that the finger-biting Monk was responsible for the theft.
….the story continues….