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The night was returning with horrific flashes of the last night’s incidents. fear hovered over the Priory and vigilance accompanied the Security Officers as they strolled the compound with fully charged flashlights in hand. Tension led the Pilgrims back to their Camp following the sudden curfew imposed by the Prior, to limit the movement around the church.
The camp was located several kilometres away from the Church. Its short fence was crowned with an electrified barbed wire, providing a maximum security for the Pilgrims. Two tall gates stood in front of the camp, serving as the entrance and exit of the camp. Inside was seven hostel like duplexes, named after different saints. A middle size church stood in the middle of the camp; saving the pilgrims the stress of walking the long kilometres to the Priory’s church. They only have to engage in the long walk when they feel like and mostly on Sundays for a mass with the Monks- a day they all look forward to.
Each group of Pilgrims upon registration were assigned to one building by Father Hysom- the camp Director. The welfare of each house was managed by the House leaders- a group of seven male and female lay faithful, examined and found worthy of such assignment. They lived in the Priory and get paid monthly for their services.
On their arrival from the Church following the curfew, the seven houses were filled with unguided speculations and rumours about why the church was shut, and why the Officers searched their camps. The House Leaders tried to assure them that it was a mere security check. But they were somehow hard to convince. When they have said their prayers and the little ones tucked to bed, the older ones broke into groups to discuss the rumour threatening the achievement of their intent to Bamako.
In the administrative block of the camp, the seven house leaders mustered in abject confusion for a brief meeting. They knew something was wrong, but they don’t know what it was. And following the training which they received upon resumption of their work, rumours were not something to rely on. So they kept their mouth shut, waiting in patience for a briefing from the Priory or Hysom.
“They think a Pilgrim took it, but it was one of them.” Moliere stamped her feet under her desk. Her blue eyes glanced at her colleagues.
They tilted their head and stared at her. Nobody expected to hear such statement, not even from a trained house leader.
“It wasn’t just a security check. Someone stole the relic last night. And Prior has been trying to recover it with the hope that it is still in the Priory and now they are harassing the poor Pilgrims while it was taken by one of them.”
“Jesus Christ, Moli shut up.” Nichols’ eyes popped out of their sockets. “How dare you make such accusing assumption? This is a very sensitive situation which we know nothing about yet.”
“I am not assuming anything.” Moliere stood from her seat. “Let us be reasonable here. How many times has there been a camp search in this Priory since we started work here?”
“So many times,” Habersham said. His grey hairs glittered in the reflection of the light in the room. He stared at his colleagues and smiled at their young and naive faces and inexperienced wits. “If I have learned anything in my sixty years of work here as a house leader, it is to mind my business and never give in to rumours and gossip. Those are the thing that terminated the journey of many people who have worked here before you all.” He turned to Moliere. “Camp search happens more often than you can imagine. Whenever we have an event as big as what we have tomorrow, a camp search is always organised at least a day to that event and it is for nothing else other than a security check.” He rotated his chair and faced the others. “We have people from different background troop in from different parts of the country. We do not know these people, neither do we know what their real intention of coming here is. It is only wise that a search like this be organized a day to an event so check if any has smuggled anything in to disrupt the upcoming event. The search done during registration is nothing.” He paused and stared at their confused faces.
The Leaders couldn’t understand why he would engage them in such a long narrative. The Priory was in perceived disarray and with the unconfirmed revelation of Moliere, something worst has happened. What they need, from an old man and old staff like him was a suggestion, or plan to tackle the coming outburst.
Nichols coughed. His fingers worked through his well-shaved bears. “Smuggled in what, Mr Haber? This is a holy place. No one comes here with an evil intention.”
Habersham scoffed at his innocence. He has always been of the mentality that no Christain would leave his comfortable house to the secluded Priory with any other intent other than to pray and worship God. So he understood why he has failed to understand that Satan has taken to church, possessing even the strongest Christians to do his bidding, without them even knowing it.
“On the seventh day of the seventh month in the year 2012.” He cut their lingering confusion. “Friends, relatives and well wishers of the seventy-three professing Brothers came from different parts of the country to witness their profession from Novitiates into Juniorate. The crowd was not close to what we have now and the normal on registration search was made. But on the day of the profession, this tall lanky and gentle looking man I registered myself turned out to be an assassin. While the Novices were marching to the altar, he stood from his chair, pulled a gun and shot the smarted Brother this Priory has ever known.”
“Holy Mother of God!” Kellebrew threw a hasty sign of the cross across his face and clasped her plump hand on her chubby bosom. “Did he die?”
“It hit his head.” Habersham rubbed his hands against each other. “Investigation revealed that he got the gun a day to the event when he went out of the Priory claiming he wanted to meet someone. And since then, Prior issued an order to have the Priory search a night before any big event.” He turned to Moliere. “And as long as I am concerned, that was what happened here this evening. Whatever you think you know is false, and until a formal statement comes from the Prior’s office, do not say this out.”
The room went dead. Their eyes flashed from one to another, emitting a confused and shaking belief. What Habersham said could be true, just as Moliere’s words. They did not know which to believe, and as much as they want to believe something, a rumour was not an option. The other three who found the situation too sacred to make a statement about it walked out of the room, gently. A peaceful and tension free stay of the Pilgrims in their houses was more important than a careless rumour aimed at destroying that peace. And as trained leaders, they should in time like this help calm the people placed under their care down. The other four exchanged a glance, wondering what the others were up to. With no one to read their minds, they sighed and walked out of the room back to their houses.
Habersham picked his eyeglasses and made for the door. Few steps away from the exit door, he halted a the call from Kellebrew.
“What did they do to the man, the one that killed the brother?” She wobbled close to him.
“He was handed over to the Police and was charged to court. He is currently in jail and the Priory visits him twice every month.”
“What?” She wriggled her nose. She did not understand why a murder could be spared and even be visited by the very people he murdered their brother. Wages of sin is death, and unless that verse has been erased from the Bible, the murder deserved nothing but a painful and long death. “Why would they do such? He killed a Monk!”
“Forgiveness. That is the only thing humanity needs to survive.”
She stared at him for some time, shook her head and walked out, bruising his shoulder. Habersham chuckled at her angry steps and stepped out. She was new, employed the same month Moliere was employed. She sure has gained no transformation working with the Monks. So he didn’t bother at her reaction, it was a matter of time and she would be transformed if at all she didn’t go like the others.
Christopher stepped into the Clinic to meet three Monks lying unconsciously on the bed. He stared at them in puzzlement. His fingers caressing the folded Stole in his hands. He was there in the morning and the ward was empty. He swayed to Reatherford who shrugged in ignorance. He walked to their bed and laid hands on each of them, muttering a short prayer to Saint Raphael for a quick recovery.
“What does that look like?” His voice cracked along the lonely hallway leading to the Intensive Care Unit, interrupting his hasty steps.
“We have to meet Brother Isidore. He alone can tell what happened to them.” Reatherford shrugged.
Christopher heaved a sigh and resumed his pattering steps towards the unit. He opened the door and beheld Isidore staring at Alexander, confused and distressed. “I have done everything I could, Prior.” He turned and lowered his head.
“I have done everything I could, Prior.” He turned and lowered his head. “We need to take him to town for a brain scan. Maybe his brain is…”
“It’s late, brother.” Christopher stepped closer. “Whatever we need to do must wait till tomorrow morning.”
“That means he won’t be able to tell us who attacked him,” Reatherford said.
Christopher and Isidore stared at him, in disapproval. They couldn’t understand why he was so bothered about the Relic than a life.
“Not that I don’t care about him. Brother Alexander is a good man, but something worse is about to happen and he alone can save us from that.”
“When I said to come here, Father.” Christopher stepped away from the bed. His scowled stare fell on Reatherford. “I didn’t mean to come talk about the Relic. I meant to come check on my son who suffered to save us all. So for once, let us focus on getting him back on his feet. Like you said, he is a good man and I am not ready to lose a good man to a bad man.”
Reatherford swallowed hard, lowered his head and stepped backwards.
Christopher nodded and turned to Isidore. “Tomorrow morning won’t be late, right?”
“It will be late, but not too late.”
“Get him prepared. You will leave one hour before the Matin.”
Isidore nodded. Christopher walked back to the bed. His compassionate eyes befell Alexander. His sleeping face was so quiet, calm and void of any worry. He smiled as his jovial and ever smiling face reeled before him. He placed his Stole on Alexander’s head and stretched out his left hand to the duo. “Let us pray.”
Isidore joined his hand with his and connected with Reatherford’s.
“Our help is in the name of the Lord.”
“Who made heaven and earth.”
“Heavenly Father.” He shut his eyes as he committed Alexander into God’s hand. His prayer has linen of Thanksgiving and submission to God’s will around it. He poured out his confusion at the current situation of Priory to God. Few minutes into the prayer, it dawned on him that for the eleven hours the Relic has gone missing, he has not halted his human efforts to seek God’s will and direction in the situation. He cried out for forgiveness, for abandoning God and trying to solve the problem by his own power. He asked God to assist him, direct and help him solve the mystery and return the Relic, if it was His will. He committed Yurik and Randan with every other Officer going to town with them into God’s hands. He concluded by inviting the Holy Spirit to take over and encourage the Brothers, guiding them against the temptation of disbelief and shaking faith. “We ask these through Christ our Lord.”
“Amen!” Isidore and Reatherford chorused. Their hands disembarked and they stepped backwards.
Christopher inhaled and opened his eyes. He felt different. He felt a new and light. He felt joyful and full of hopes. A divine strength engulfed him as he lifted the Stole off Alexander’s face. He turned and smiled at them. “What about the three brothers in the ward?”
“They were brought in few hours after Hysom’s rumour broke. They are just in shock. They will be fine.”
He nodded and bowed at Isidore who reciprocated. He glanced at Reatherford and both made their way out of the Clinic.
….The story continues…..
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