(10-22-19 post 1.4) 561 C.E. Gaul – October Chapter – “Scars”

It takes a heavy foot on the spade to pierce this rock and dry clay. A good rain before the frost would do us well. But no sweet smell of change – the winter is already breathing down on us from the north.

         “How come they sent you up here, my man? I thought they only asked us with the scars.”

         His deep brown eyes are for me, a journey into the long cavern of time.

          “They didn’t send me. I came up here because my family once lived near this valley before the plague. I have scars too. I came because I grieve, still.”

         His playful eyes dance a most beautiful remembrance in my heart. Even his raggedy brows rise and dip for the dance with a wisdom that seems to relish in the knowing.

         “It’s been neigh on twenty years since the plague visited this valley.” He continues to argue my presence here.  “So you had to be a child then if you even had the scars. I don’t see your scars so I don’t think you should be up here.”

         “Nineteen years ago you yourself must have been a child my friend.” He didn’t answer me.

         “How deep must we dig?” I ask.

         “When the dead are brought up it won’t matter how deep these graves, death will pour out of this earth and chase down any who didn’t already live beyond the plague in another time.

         “When the horror came down on us those years passed I was barely ten years old and then I was nearly left alone.”

         “So you lost your whole family to the contagion?”

         “Brothers and parents gone in the whisper of an angel and a demon’s moan. First it lit on the neighbors who took in soldiers. My mother was gone off to help until she took the fever and the buboes were at her throat. My papa saw her spirit off to heaven with his prayers then took her in his arms and buried her bones himself on the hill above our farm. He dug himself a grave by her side and came back down and tucked in each child of us. His own fevered tears fell onto our faces before he left us to go for help. Only one sister and I still lingered in that stench frothing up from Hell.

         I had to ask him, “Did someone ever come down from Civitas Turonorum to help you?”

(Continues tomorrow)

(10-17-19 Post 1.3)

561 C.E. Gaul — October Chapter — “Scars”

“My brother has already gone to them to dig the graves. You will find him there on the hill with the donkey cart.”

         I follow the road to the village of Saumur with the bag of remedies and a particular whisper goading my imagination.

         Why would she mention her brother? Does she think I would  know him?         Now I am letting my idle wishes stir a dream of hopeful sillies. How would I know any person here? It was nineteen years ago and I was the last to leave that place alive.

         Dear God, help me keep my thoughts on purpose for this mission and not to wonder the wishes and dreams that should be kept tucked-in under my tears hiding deep in my grief. Amen.

         The bag I have flung over my shoulder is filled with whatever we may call remedies. But it seems too light for the need.  What is there that can answer plague after these two decades of knowing? The doctors of the ancient sciences, Hippocrates and Galen — they knew nothing of this plague. They would have had an answer for us had it happened in the older times for knowing all things of science. Yet now it comes on us like raiding hordes landing in their monster-eyed ships sneaking into our homes in the night to steal not just the children and the weak but even the strongest of us. Outbreaks are here and there and they just keep on snatching up whole families moaning and raving in fits of fever then into death. One reaches to help and she too is ravaged. What use can there be in these fragrant salves and herbs but to nurture empty hopes?

         I arrive in Saumur with the precious sack of possible “amens” all handed on to the priest.

(Story continues Tuesday, October 22)

561 C.E. Gaul. October Chapter “Scars” (10-16-19 post 1.2)

[Note: The quotation used in this artwork is from Storl, W.D. (2017) The Untold History of Healing: Plant lore and medicinal magic from the stone age to present. Berkley: North Atlantic Books.]

It’s the full morning light when I wake and my mission to take remedies to the sick in Saumur is no less urgent.

         The woman working in this garden sees me briefly then scurries into the cottage. I knock at the closed door and call after her that I need to gather some remedies for plague.

         “Wait in the garden. I will get what is needed in a bit.”

         “Very well. But there is an urgency and I have already spent a night.”

         She is probably afraid of me because she saw me and knows I’m shorn as a monk or a Christian mourner on these days while my work has me at the scriptorium at Poitiers and likely she is not a Christian. In these times when Barbarian Pagans and Roman Christians are barely touching toes with one another starring into same faces to assess differences, each is accusing the other of false faith and superstition though both are so much alike. A hag is called upon when Christian prayers seem too ethereal for earthy things like plague. Concoctions of herbs and egg and feathery creature seem to be of earth. But then so was Jesus of earth. Christians and Pagans alike are earthbound creatures as surely plague reminds us. Like all the beauty of this garden and like all the people of earth we are also of the Holy Creation. 

         Thank you God for beauty.

         In silence she walks in the garden passing by me as though I’m invisible. She is wearing a broad hat and covered head to toe in bee netting. There are skeps for hives here. I’m sure she keeps bees. But I also think she chooses to hide herself.

         She is not what I would expect of one called a “hag.” Lean and straight, agile in the form of a younger woman who has neither birthed nor suckled children. In veils and silence she bears the mystery of a virgin and none of a hag’s wear of age.

         She gathers bundles of herbs filling a large sack. Then with the same intention she applies to rosemary stems she comes close to me, face-to-netting, to deliver the bag with instructions. Her voice is gentle, clear with purpose and I understand the instructions for the remedies.

         “Do you know the direction to the village?” she offers.

         “I know this road as well.”

         “My brother has already gone to them to dig the graves. You will find him there on the hill with the donkey cart.”

(Continues tomorrow)

Devotional Stories told as Historical Fiction

561 C.E. Gaul — October Chapter — “Scars” (10-15-19 post 1.1)

            “…because it was not the season for figs…”  The nib is dry; the ink is spent. The sharp edges of afternoon shadows steal the light. There is longer darkness reaching into each day and now in dimming light the abbot brings news from the village of Saumur. The priest of them sent word so many deaths there are of plague. Someone must go now to the hag of healing to collect what remedies there may be to take to them. If I leave now a good part of my ride will be in the dark but I’m familiar with the way and I can reach the garden of remedies by dawn.

         I know this road well. Nineteen years ago in the time when Justinian was Emperor and these shadows were muffed in optimism and glittering hopes for Rome to endure, the first plague came up with the soldiers and visited this valley. So many died. I had to leave my own children untended in their sickbed when I could do nothing more because I myself had become ill.  I spent my waning breath walking the road from our farm to Civitas Turonorum to find help for them. When I was healing from the death and plague I went back hoping for a sign of them. There was nothing and no one. The graves I dug were not marked. The house was gone and the place was covered over in grass.

         Still when I am nearby I place flowers where I buried my wife even though unkempt grasses try to smother memory of it.

         Blessing or curse this strange variety of healing once bestowed on me by my dear friend Jesus allows my times of healing to continue always — even after death. So it is that from that death of plague my earthen self has healed. My spiritual self just is as it is always and forever in love with the invisible Creator God and always and forever collecting so many griefs for each earthen person I love with touch and senses. So many are gone.

         These directions put this garden of remedies on the very land as once was mine. Here is a new clay cottage with a shed attached at one end, and a garden with lots of varieties of herbs.

         These hours of darkness left before the sun and after the moon would be best spent in sleep. I nap in the mow of the shed before I wake the hag to gather remedies to take to the sick.

Premise of these tales told by Lazarus the Bible Guy

         Was it blessing or curse that Jesus bestowed onto me, his Bethany best friend? Either way I was intended as a sign. I am the poetry on parchment, the physical metaphor of the spiritual resurrection. (John 11) So take me now as myth or message, I am simply an ever thirty-something-year-old man born into a first century Jewish family then bestowed with an odd physical condition of always healing into life even from death, into the perfection of earthbound human form.

         My memory is the fullness of these 561 years of griefs and creative whims, of loves and wives and children, of prayers and joys and friendships, songs and always new dances —- and I am still showing up for the wedding party where the water turns to wine. Come with me my new friend, clogging, slogging, blogging in your own joyful mornings.

         These days I’m in Gaul mostly occupied by Rome. And the faith of my friend and teacher is also, mostly occupied by Rome in these days; but I know I am not alone in knowing Jesus and the teachings despite the order and organization of religion. Please come along with me into an on-going story.