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The papers shook in rhythm to Christopher’s shivering hand. His eye glasses dangled, following the twitching of his face. He has read the papers more than five times, yet he still didn’t believe it. He removed his eye glasses, wiped the lens with the sleeves of his Habit and wore it back. He studied the papers, again. He shook his head, disbelieving the contents. He pulled out his glasses and glanced at them one after the other.
“An invitation to an artefact fair?” His lips shook, allowing the words to slip out in a low tone. It was a question, but he didn’t expect an answer, for the answer was right in the branches of his hand, shaking in doubts. He dropped the documents on the table and looked at Mr Randan. “How did you get in possession of these?”
“My team found it in his cell during the search. It was inside the box on top of his wardrobe.”
He sighed. His gaze shifted to Reatherford. “Any idea where this Emerald Galleria is?”
Reatherford shook his head. “But there is an address on the papers.”
Christopher returned to the papers, shocked. In his previous several revisions, he sure did not come across any address. He picked his glasses and studied the papers, again. The address was there, written in bold, under the name of the Galleria, followed by Hysom’s full name, excluding his priestly and theological titles. He pulled off his glasses and looked at Yurik.
“I don’t know what to say.” Yurik lowered his head.
“The Officers at the first gate confirmed him leaving in a hurry with a small swollen black bag just before my message got to them,” Randan said.
Raymond glanced at Christopher from where he was standing. That was what he saw him with, and that was what he reported.
“Prior.” Reatherford pulled a chair and sat. “Unless these Emerald people sent a means for him, chances are that he is still walking the lonely road to the town by now. And if we go now, we might get him and return the relic before night fall.”
Christopher glanced at the wall clock facing him. It was twenty minutes past four. “Okay.” He nodded. A sudden courage and strength befell on him. He turned to Yurik. “Go with Randan. And by every means possible, bring back the relic, even if it means hurting Hysom.”
Yurik boggled. “Prior?”
“Just a little. Now go.”
“Father Reatherford should go.” Yurik swallowed hard. “This is a very sensitive matter, Prior and I might not perform as expected when facing father Hysom. He is my friend.”
“Not anymore, brother.” Christopher’s eyes turned reddish brown. A sizeable amount of anger enveloped him. “Hysom has declared himself an enemy of the church by desecrating the holy Relic of Saint Benedict. He should be treated as such and if he ever gets back here, I will personally hand him over to the authorities for proper prosecution.”
Yurik’s heart skipped. For his twenty-five years in that Priory, he has never seen the Prior in such anger. He stepped backwards, lowered his head and made for the door.
“I will go in his stead, Prior,” Reatherford said.
“No!” Christopher’s voice shook the ground. He sighed, taking in a deep air. He turned to Reatherford, his eyes mellowed and piteous. “I need you here, Father. There are many things to do pertaining the dedication and if the Relic is found and those things are not done, we still would be in trouble.” He turned at Yurik. “You would go with Randan and bring back the Relic. Remember, the fate of this Priory lies in your hands.”
“Perhaps I should go then,” Raymond said. “I have finished every work on my side. Let me go with him, Prior.”
Christopher looked at him and shook his head. For some reason, he couldn’t fathom why he didn’t want Raymond to confront Hysom in such situation. Either because the duo never got along, or he was scared of letting Raymond out of his sight. Whatever it was, he denied that request. “I need you here.” The words were few. The voice subtle. The sternness of the message declared, and Raymond got it, so did Yurik. He lowered his head and stepped aside. Yurik did same and walked after Randan who already was out of the office. Raymond bowed and walked out.
Christopher squinted at Reatherford. The rage in his eyes gave way to a mixed feeling. His saggy lips coiled into his mouth. He heaved a sigh and shook his head. Pushed back his seat and stood up.
“They will find him, Prior.” Reatherford ambled close to him. “We still have like seventeen hours and I believe God would not let his people down.”
He stared at him, shook his head, harder. “What if we are making a mistake? What if we are chasing the shadow while the object is getting away?”
“I don’t understand. You saw the papers and the Officers confirmed he left with a bag, in a hurry.”
“Nobody knows the content of the bag. It could be anything.”
“It is the Relic. Otherwise, why would he disappear only when you asked him to check on Benalis? It’s been nines hours and he is still not back. There is no doubt in this. Our only mistake is not searching the Presbytery earlier.”
Christopher lost balance and staggered to the shelf behind him.
Reatherford hurried and caught him. He helped him to the seat and made him sit. “You are hurting yourself, Prior. What did the bible say about worry? That no one by it can add a cubic of hair to his head. Let us pray more and worry less.”
“How did he lose his faith?” Christopher stared into space. His hands formed a pseudo pillar supporting his jaw. “Hysom was the most spiritual Father this Priory has ever seen. He was a disciplinarian and a perfectionist. He always talked about how he wants nothing but to live a holy life worthy of emulation after he has gone. How did he come to this?”
Reatherford stared at his perplexed self for some time. He pulled a chair close to him and sat. He knew he was supposed to say something, but he didn’t know what to say. If somebody as spiritual as a Prior of a monastery didn’t know how to handle a situation such as this, how could he, a mere Priest know? He swallowed hard, taking courage in the words of Christ which said that the secrets of God’s kingdom is revealed to the little ones, and hidden from the wise and old. He coughed, clearing the self-doubt that clogged his throat. “In every human heart lives a Dove alongside a Wolf. And our actions depend on the animals we feed more at each particular time. Father Hysom at this time is feeding his Wolf and there is no way his Dove would manifest. You need to understand that.”
Christopher tilted his gaze to look at him, making sure he was still sitting with Reatherford and not the Pontiff. He scoffed. Such wisdom from a younger priest marvelled him. He smiled.
“We will find the relic, okay?”
He nodded, and with the nod came the tolling of the bell. He glanced at the clock- it was six pm. He sighed. “It’s time for the Vespers.”
“Good.” Reatherford stood. “Let’s go cast our entire burdens unto God.”
He smiled, picked his eye glasses and Breviary and both made for the door.
The serenity of the church was not just because of the prayers going on. The fear of not getting the relic back shut the monks’ mouth more than the need to pray. The papers found in Hysom’s cell remained a puzzle to them, especially the brothers under Observership. He was their director. They stayed almost all their days with him, either on a general or private counselling. They loved him and believed in his spirit lifting teaching. But now, they didn’t know what or who to trust or believe anymore.
As Raymond clambered the pulpit and tuned to popular What a Friend we Have in Jesus hymn, they sang with the whole of their hearts. Each relating to God how the missing Relic would put a distressed halt to his spiritual journey. Some of the Novitiates who would profess into Juniorate dropped a tear or two as the daunting picture of not being able to profess hit them.
Christopher stood by the altar, eyes closed as he held out his hymn book, reciting the hymn from the deepest of his heart. The soft and melodious yet sad tone produced by the keyboard stirred an emotional tank in him. The angelic voices of the monks, hanging on the thin line between sorrow and delight pushed a tear out of his eyes. He felt the pains in their voices. The sadness in their looks. He felt a scratch on his eyes, he raised his left index finger and it got wet. He snivelled and looked around. His gaze met with Reatherford’s and he sighed. With the Amen that followed the last line of the hymn, a divine reassurance shrouded him. Reatherford was right. Pray more and worry less. He looked up at the huge crucifix hanging up at the altar and smiled. On it he saw the salvation and redemption of mankind hung with an open and welcoming arms, ready to draw all souls to himself. He muttered an ejaculatory prayer, commending the soul of Hysom to Jesus and asked that he finds salvation just as the Good Thief. The shrill voice of Raymond as he led the intercessory prayers joggled his mind. He inhaled and looked at the pulpit.
“We pray for ourselves, that our hearts may be purified to sing your praises in the communion of saints.” Raymond read the last lines. “And may we be reunited with our deceased brothers and sisters, whom we commit to your loving kindness.”
“Son of the living God, bless your people,” the monks chorused.
“Gathering our prayers and praises into one, let us offer the prayer Christ himself taught us.” He closed his Breviary as he joined the Monks in reciting Our Lord’s prayer.
Reatherford stepped to the altar at the end of the recitation. Robed in a green Stole on top his white cassock, he raised his hands and blessed the monks, bringing the Vespers to an end. He stepped down from the altar, giving room for Christopher who mounted the Pulpit for an announcement. He cleared his throat and confirmed the rumours making around that Father Hysom was truly the burglar and has gone to sell the relic. The Monks gasped. Some made a quick sign of the cross, others called the name of Jesus and Mary for mercy and intercession, while others stood, gazing at the altar with a broken heart.
“As for now, our Security team and Father Yurik has gone to intercept him and bring back the relic. So do not panic. Go about your activities as usual. But should anyone see him or have any other relevant information on him, do not hesitate to bring it to me.” He concluded his speech with the words of Reatherford, cautioning the Monks to be mindful of the animal which they feed more in their heart.
It was a parable, yet the meaning was gotten by all. Like on a road to a cemetery, they formed a single line out of the church towards the Presbytery. Their hands hid in the sleeves of their Habits and their hood covered their head. Their dinner that night would sure have many left overs as almost all of them have little or no appetite.
“We should go check on Brother Alexander,” Christopher said as they stepped into the chapel.
“Alright.” Reatherford nodded and they both moseyed towards the clinic.
…the story continues…
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