The pensive footsteps of the Prior halted with a deep sigh as he beheld Brother Alexander lying motionless on the hospital bed- eyes shut in pain. His head was wrapped in bandages and so was his right hand. His right leg was suspended in the air, with the ankle bandaged. A blood bag hanging on a drip-stand trailed his left hand, supplying blood to his cold body. His breath was enhanced by an oxygen hose covering his nose and mouth.
“How long has he been like this?” His left fist curled into his right palm.
“Since he was brought in, Prior.” Isidore checked the blood bag. “A piece of glass was pulled out of his ear and he lost so much blood. It’s a miracle he survived.”
The bell tolled. Prior’s glance caught the wall clock in Alexander’s ward and he sighed. His confused and stressed gaze fell on Isidore. “Do whatever you can, Brother, use any possible and godly means to hasten his recovery. We need him to speak, for he alone knows what really happened here last night.”
Isidore nodded, and as the Prior took one last glance at Alexander and walked out with Reatherford, he stayed back. With the duo out of sight, he paced to the pharmacy. His hands disturbed the peace of the drugs and injections arranged on the counters. After a quick but long search, he paused, admiring the injection in his hands. He took a deep breath, paced back to Alexander’s ward. He picked a new syringe from his cabinet and muttered a short prayer before dipping the syringe into the bottle and in turn into Alexander’s body.
“You have to come back to us, brother,” he said, took a piteous look on him and walked out.
With the Monks gone for the Lauds- the second prayer of the day, Christopher and Reatherford marched to his office in a pretentious harmony.
The fact that Reatherford suggested searching the Monks and the Presbytery was insulting to him. He believed that no Monk under his care would conceive such evil, talk more of executing it. But the more he tried to push Reatherford’s suggestions out of his mind, the more it kept coming back, presenting itself as the only choice. At intervals, he took in deep air, hoping to calm the tsunamic anxiety erupting in him.
Few steps close to the office block- a well built one storey building with different offices, Reatherford halted behind him.
“What is the next plan, Prior?” The question slipped out of his mouth in a soft caress. He was not ready to risk his reputation in the hands of the leader who trusted his followers to do no wrong. So if the answer he got from his question was not satisfactory, he would use his Episcopal Power.
Christopher’s feet kept pacing down the building. “We will go to my office and wait for Father Hysom.”
“You just sit and wait for him?” Reatherford boggled. “I am sorry, Prior, but if this relic was taken by a Monk…”
Christopher halted, and in a sharp turn faced Reatherford. “No Monk from my Priory would do such a thing.” He paced closer, his eyes piercing through the shocking face of Reatherford. “And for the last time, Father, stop accusing my children.”
“Was Benalis adopted?”
Christopher swallowed hard. His face fell downwards as he sighed. “No. But his faith is shaken already-the only reason we are probing him.”
Reatherford sighed and glanced at his wrist watch. The ticking of the clock sent jitters to his spine, reeling before him the shame, humiliation and embarrassment he would face same time tomorrow when the Bishops arrive for the dedication. He sighed again, lifted his face with a new found courage.
“With all due respect, Prior, I still insist we call a convergence. Alert the security men to block all exits and make a thorough search of whoever goes in or out. Search the Monks’ cells. The relic might still be in these premises and if it has left, the convergence might help expose whoever aided the theft.”
“You know nothing about monastic life, Father.” Christopher made for his office, passing different doors with different inscriptions on them. “There are ways things are done here. There are rules, orders and procedures and no matter what, those rules don’t get broken or adjusted. That is why we are different from other clergies.” He paused in front of a door with an inscription, “Prior’s Office”. He twisted a key in the knob and flung the door open. The room was small, with stainless seats arranged at the extreme right corner. A computer set and different unkempt documents were on a wooden table. Beside the table was a door, with a sticker- “Please Observe the First Monastic Rule; Time and Brevity”.
One step inside, Christopher halted. “So please, Father, let me handle this my way, please.”
“Forgive me Prior, but your way won’t get us any far.” Reatherford stepped into the office, feeding his eyes with the scattered documents. “But I will accord you that respect and chance. Three hours and I will take over.” He stopped in front of the computer set, stared at it and turned to Christopher. “I believe this is the Monastery’s data which will be needed tomorrow, right?”
“Yes, Brother Raymond will surely get it done before tomorrow.” He stood in front of the closed door, turning in a repeated manner the keys. The door opened and he stepped in.
The office was big. A big mahogany table and an executive leather chair were set steps away from the wall. On the wall, behind the table were portraits of Pope Francis, His Lordship, Bishop Emmanuel Weruha, and that of Christopher. On the right and left of the table were two long wooden shelves fully stocked with books. An iron cupboard, stood in-between these shelves. Christopher paced to the chair and sat.
“I will join the Lauds.” Reatherford made for the exit door.
He looked up at the clock on the wall opposite him. “The Lauds will soon end. And moreover, I think you should stay to hear Father Hysom’s report.”
Reatherford shrugged and stepped into the office. He pulled one of the single leather chairs positioned opposite Christopher’s desk and sat.
A knock on the door interrupted the hurting silence in the room. Christopher’s stressed voice ushered the person in without standing up from his seat. The door flung open and Yurik hastened in. He pulled off the hood of his Habit and bowed before Christopher.
“Good morning, Prior.” His hands disjointed from the sleeves of his Habit and folded behind him.
“Brother Yurik,” Christopher stood up. “What are you doing here? We are not expecting you till noon.”
“There are rumours, claims that the relic has been stolen. Brother Ukena asked that I come back and check what is happening.”
Christopher’s right fist punched into his left palm. “I told Brother Samuel to keep his mouth shut.”
“It was the security guards that took Brother Alexander to the hospital.What has been done and what can I do?” His face for the first time lifted up. He glanced at Christopher and turned to Reatherford. “Forgive me Father; I don’t think we have met.”
Reatherford smiled. “I am Father Reatherford Romere. I am here on the Bishop’s order to see to the success of the dedication.”
“You are welcome. I have been in camp with the Postulants who…”
“The Prior told me. I wish we met on a better circumstance, but all the same, we need to find the relic before this time tomorrow.”
Yurik turned to Christopher. “Prior?”
“I sent Father Hysom to check on Brother Benalis. He has not returned.”
“Is Brother Benalis still in solitary?”
“Fine, I will go check on him myself.” Yurik bowed and made for the door.
Reatherford smiled, happy that at least someone with the same mindset as his has finally come.
The outside door flung open. Raymond walked in, carrying his Breviary. He walked straight to the table at the front office, sat and powered the Computer. He took in a deep breath and arranged the documents. He relaxed on his seat and start uploading the information in the system. The Prior’s door opened and Christopher stepped out. Raymond staggered in his seat and stood up.
“Good morning, Prior. I didn’t know you are in.”
“Why are you still working on that database? This work was given to you last three weeks.” Christopher strolled closer to him.
“Forgive me, Prior. Brother Yurik assigned me to work at the farm last week.”
“Again?” Christopher boggled. His eyes landed on Raymond’s fidgeting fingers and he exhaled. “I will tell him to exclude you of such task. You are slacking in your work in this office. The Bishops need to see a complete and well-arranged database tomorrow.”
“I will get it done today, Prior. I promise.”
“And please, there is no need asking Brother Yurik to exclude me from going to the farm. I can handle both.”
“Get that done before tomorrow.” He pointed at the documents on the table and walked back inside.
Reatherford was standing before the shelves, feeding his eyes with the variety of books it inhabited. As the door closed behind Christopher, he turned. “I must confess, your library is well stocked, way above mine.”
Christopher smirked and walked to his seat. “Books are wisdom in form of ripe apples waiting to be harvested. Fortunately for me, I am a good harvester.” He sat down and glanced at Reatherford- he was smiling. He knew what he was trying to do but his mood was not changing anytime soon. Reatherford’s incessant suspicious of his monks dreaded him more than the missing relic. If the relic was not found, it wouldn’t only amount to a halt in the dedication of the church and making the Priory an Abby. But if it was indeed one of the monks that stole it, his reputation and that of the Priory will never remain clean till eternity. He sighed, plunging back to his anxiety again.
Reatherford saw the despair and stress on his face. “Look Prior, I know you are worried and devastated and I know I haven’t been helpful in calming you down, but please understand me. My reputation is on the line here. I have foreseen five dedications, and nothing like this has ever happened. I don’t want the Bishop to think these scanty grey hairs means I am not competent again. So understand me, please.”
Christopher smiled and sighed. “We are fighting for the same thing, Father and…”
The door flung open, ushering in Yurik, disturbed and confused. “Brother Benalis is not in the solitary and Father Hysom is nowhere to be found.” His hands curled behind him. His eyes flashed at Christopher and then at Reatherford, trying to decipher the root of the silence Valley they both dived into at the same time.
Christopher sighed. “Brother Benalis broke out?”
“No. He walked out. Someone with an access to the keys helped him out.” He released his hands behind him and curled them below his abdomen. “I don’t understand, Prior, what is going on, really?”
“The Lauds is over. Did you ask the Brothers about Father Hysom’s whereabouts?”
“I did. No one has seen him since he walked out during the Matin.”
Reatherford glanced at Christopher and their eyes met. Christopher shook his head in a strong disapproval. “Do not think that. Father Hysom would never do something like that.”
“And what about Brother Benalis?” Reatherford moved back to his seat. “Or is it every day that someone escapes from the solitary with some Peter and Paul prison challenge?”
“There is an explanation to this. Someone has to know where Father Hysom is.”
“I do,” Raymond said, standing at the entrance of the office. His hands were hidden in the sleeves of his Habit and his head bent downwards. The chorus of ‘what’ shuddered his shaky legs. He squinted at them and repeated his statement.
“Okay, Brother Raymond.” Yurik moved towards him. “You shouldn’t be here. Go back to your work.”
“No.” Christopher moved out his seat. He glanced at Reatherford. “You said we shouldn’t leave any stone unturned, right? We have to turn this one too.”
Reatherford shrugged. Christopher inhaled and turned to Raymond. “Where is Father Hysom?”
Raymond’s lips shook, like a flag waving to the rhythm of a heavy wind. His heart skipped and his stomach churned. He swallowed dry saliva and opened his mouth. “God knows our secret thoughts and he alone knows right now that I am neither lying nor bearing false witness.” He inhaled. “While standing at the altar during the Lauds, I saw a figure brisk across. I looked. That was when Father Hysom hastened across towards the gate with a swollen pouch.”
His words brought a shocking silence in the room. A silence engineered by disappointment, the bruise of ego and pain of negligence. Christopher avoided the piercing stare of Reatherford and stumbled back to his chair. He slumped down and shut his eyes.
***the story continues…
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