Historical setting: A dark age in Gaul
With God thought to be on a distant shore we light the watch-fires on the fortress towers. Maybe any passing pirates will see our torches and fires and the moored dromon and know that this is a night for rest not war. There is a serene darkness over these waters that yearns peace.
Looking for small talk I pick up the conversation. “Wouldn’t you suppose they would have more use for Roman ships in the waters near Constantinople now that Justinian has made a place over there to please God?”
“I don’t seek God in the glorious buildings.”
Maybe it’s my haircut, but I seem to emit some kind of holy judgment, so I try to ease acceptance for Nic’s likely pagan leaning, “So are you one who goes looking for God, or would you prefer avoiding the watchful eye?”
He offers his silence. Perhaps I shouldn’t coax our chat to politics or religion. We walk without words all the way to the corner tower before we turn to the right for the next wall’s length.
He answers now. “Brother Lazarus, all those years ago I wanted to enter a monastery, be tonsured as a monk and speak the vows aloud that are in my heart. I was naïve then. I believed promises to God were sacred as my childhood prayers. Then I learned about the politics of it all, so I followed my mother’s wishes for me. I took up arms — the very arms my father left for me.
“Before I was born he fought for our tribe, then our chieftain yielded and joined with Frankish-Christians we knew as enemy. In war both the winners and the losers die. This same shirt of mail I wear hardly saved my father when he was wounded. It did let him live long enough that he could return to my mother and die in her arms. Soon after I was born and his name, his armor, his sword, his helmet, even the Frankish Roman shield and cloak were all mine. But I never saw soldiering as my dream. I never even tried on this iron shirt until the day I was turned away at the monastery of the Saint. Then I dressed for war and left.
“I hoped for a fatal wound, but what I got was twenty-six years at the oars. And now that I’m too old to sign on for another tour, I will soon be released with my wage.”
(Continues Tuesday, May 19)