Family is always the odds and ends of old friendships sometimes with precisely matched DNA and sometimes only a wide openness to one another’s ethnic tradition: Pagan, Roman, Republican, Islamic, Democrat, Orthodox, Zealot, Heretic … The chasm of politics and the distances we hurdle to make this all work out so we can simply eat together at the same table is the dare we accept in order to find God’s miracle through the creative chaos of it all.
The December chapter of https://Lazarus-Ink.blog visits a few morsels of Gospel “Stories in the Dark” to bring this fictional 6th Century family to the holiday table of celebration of Christmas miracle. May this little storytelling come to you as a snippet to glue into the collage of your own family’s gathering.
Ezra’s story continues. “I had no idea where to search for Enola. I called her in the dark and of course there was no answer. I asked Colleta to call too so that she would know she was welcome to come back inside and she could stay with us. Colleta called into the darkness with her own forced words of acceptance. And of course we heard no answer. Colleta told me to search the cold and damp places that I knew of because trolls and ogres live under bridges and in caves and holes.
“I reminded her
Enola is not actually a troll or an ogre. It were only rumor that made her seem
so. But when I searched behind our old cottage lot where we had dug a cave for
roots — where Eve and I had played as children — I found her. She had been
the whole night sobbing alone in that earthen hole. She was curled in a ball with tears and vomit through her
hair. I helped her wash her long hair
in the cold well water before I took her on to my cottage.
“Colleta had made
her a bed by the fire…”
she had prepared a net to cover her face.”
“So, turns out I
built the new cottage in the place where our house had been but it were Enola
who Colleta sent to live in it. My wife said she had already made a home of the
old cottage once of our neighbor’s and besides the neighbor’s cottage is larger
and better for the children who were soon to start. I made the second room of the
new building opened to the back to make a shed for an animal or two, with the
loft above for a haymow. And we planted the whole of Enola’s gardens and bees
all around that cottage so Colleta can stay a comfortable distance from Enola
and my sister can do her work in remedies as she chooses.
“So can you stay on
with us Papa? That loft over the donkey’s stall could be a fine roof and room
“Thank you. I suppose
I’ll have to. My cell at Poitiers was sealed for plague so I hear. I’m probably
not welcome back there.”
(Come back again Tuesday, December 3 for the next Chapter
“Stories in the Dark”)
Ezra’s telling me this story, but let me comment here. “I can imagine starting a marriage bringing home a sister-in-law who is the known ogre of village gossip. That would be a bit of a challenge for a new bride. I mean, you said your bride had to leave her own family behind and move into that dumpy old cottage of our neighbor’s.”
“You make me seem a
terrible husband, Papa! I fixed the cottage. And I had already promised to build
Colleta her own cottage. But you are right. You imagine what had never crossed
my mind. I hadn’t the slightest thought that taking in Enola would be a
challenge for Colleta. After all Colleta was beautiful and Enola was ugly.
Colleta was chosen and Enola assigned. I really didn’t understand.”
“I’ll bet that was a
pithy chat for a pair of newlyweds with a spare sister already at hand.”
understanding. She quietly left
and went out alone into the darkness. Colleta and I argued late into night
until we both noticed each had smothered separate hopes and fears in the same
bucket of misbegotten angry words. All either of us wanted was to hold onto
family. In the midst of our raging I produced your drawing on the rock of us as
children and suddenly Colleta took it from my hand and said she knew the girl!
Suddenly I was the only one arguing.
Eve as the hag’s assistant who came along when her own mother needed help with
the difficult birth of her baby brother. Suddenly Enola was the exact person
who could quell Colleta’s own unspoken fears of motherhood when her own mother
might be far away in the city.”
Ezra continues his story. “We are only family again because Eve was so patient in bringing me through my selfish thoughts and fears. In my mind I could tell myself the horrific visage was indeed my beautiful little sister, twisted and re-formed by hard pits of pox scars. But were I to accept her, the actual monster of the rumors as my beloved sibling I would need to dismiss my own ignorant howls of fear simply to save my honor. Others would righteously excuse me from my rebuke of her if I claimed this was no sister of mine but a cruel hoax of a demon. Throughout my thoughts of abandoning her again she simply held my hand and begged me not to look at her face while we talked. I could do that. We were alone in the garden. I didn’t have to account to anyone but her for my fears.
“And so we talked.
“It was no different
than when we had last talked in the shadows of a rainy day, two children on
straw mats lying side-by-side in the healing place where we had been delivered
to grasp onto one more thread of life.
We shared our hopes to see our father again, and even our mother if
there were a heaven and we would be there.
“Then a priest came.
He spoke to the hag outside; then she came to us and touched us each for fever
and pronounced us well. She told Eve they could only use a boy because the work
was tending vineyards. I just felt proud and chosen as I marched out of there
with the priest. I could hear Eve
crying out to me not to leave her alone, and the hag comforting her – ‘you will
be fine.’ ”
“And now here was
Eve again, Enola, all grown up and changed, but still begging me not to leave
her alone. How could I? I helped her gather the starts for her new garden and
took her with me in my cart.
Ezra continues his story.“I was moving all the things of a bride and a dream from my wife’s father’s home in the area of Tours down to my cottage in the Liger valley, and the journey took me right by the garden of the hag.
It were a dreary
day, brightened with a thought to stop and dig out some of the herb-starts to
put into our own garden in the place where Eve and I were once children. I
thought my sister would take notice of it the next time she brought flowers and
she would realize I had been the one to plant the garden because of the
plantings I was choosing. Then she would come seeking me as I have been seeking
“That must have
worked as there is also a garden now.”
“Oh that it were so
“That morning was a
blustery day and add foreboding weather to the rumors I’d been trying to
un-imagine of trolls and goblins haunting the earth, or worse yet, the spirits
of evil seeking revenge for all the healing that had happened in this pagan
place. I had to muster my courage. I know those stories are just superstitious
threats spun to garner holy obedience but they were hanging in the air that
day. I started to sing what Eve and I would sing in the scary times. ‘Though I walk through the valley of
“You remembered that
“Of course, Papa. I
was singing it loud and slow and suddenly I was not singing alone. Eve’s beautiful voice was singing like
a bird above my song. I was completely washed of my fears, headlong into joy as
I turned to see the woman standing, singing next to me. Then from deep in my
gut I let loose a most horrific howl! There where Eve’s beautiful face would be
framed in black hair was the face of a true ogre. I was shivering with fright.
She took my hand in hers, and turned her face from my sight and said, ‘Lazarus,
I have been so alone.’ And all I
could do was to tell her I was called Ezra now.”
“It must have been
devastating for her.”
“I wasn’t even thinking
of her, only myself. But then she told me not to call her Eve, but call her
Enola – alone, backwards and forwards and always alone.”
“It is a long ride.”
He observed, “So I will make a long story of the short one.
“When I was first tending vineyards near Tours I started my search for her. That was near where we were taken to the Hag of Healing. Do you remember the charcoal drawing you made when the twins were wee little babies?”
“Of course I
remember. I marked a rock as a gift for your mother.”
“I have that rock in
our cottage even to this day. I carried it in my search and showed it to anyone
who would listen. I was searching for the beautiful child with long black hair
named Eve. No one had a whisper to share.
“Then years after
the hag died of pox and her cottage had been demolished, I was working again in
vineyards for the owner of the idle lands and I noticed the hag’s gardens for
healing were being tended. I
thought of Eve, and couldn’t let go my search. This time I was asking about the
gardens and not the child. I heard rumors of demons and trolls, since, of
course the hag was pagan. It was well-known by Christians that whatever was
happening there could only be omen of evil. So there I was, seeking a woman
named for the Original Sinner among the pagans and trolls.”
“She was not named
for the sin, but for the Creation.”
“Sure Papa. All the
while, I was gaining coin with work so I choose to make myself a landowner. I
read that if I paid the taxes owed on abandoned property it would be mine to
farm, but I would also have to take on the neighbor’s burden of tax as well and
that had a house and fields ready to till. I believed I were a rich man. Even
with my lame leg a strong and beautiful wife would be mine simply because I had
land. Everything was amazing. Then I went up on the hill of graves behind our
old farm to meet with the angels and shout my gratitude for such a good life and
there I saw the bouquet of flowers. I believed Eve was nearby.”
“So you found her
“No. Were it only
that simple. And now I learn it wasn’t even her that left the flowers.”
Bright November morning
sun – cold and crispy all blaring golden.
I have so many questions for my newly found son. There is so much I want to know.
“So, you have a wife
“Yes, Papa you are a
grandfather. Celeste is the oldest. She is seven years old and Daniel, he is
five. Margey is still a suckling babe. And we had another who was born too soon
and we laid him on the hill next to his grandmother and the others of my
brothers and baby sister.”
“Oh, that was the
new grave I saw there. I visit that hill to place flowers when I’m nearby in my
travels. On my first visit back, when I had a hope of finding some one of us I
saw our house was torn down and buried.
So I was no longer searching. I was only grieving. Then these years
later I saw a new cottage where ours had been; there was a vineyard, the fields
were being tended and children were at play so I thought our neighbors must
have a new generation of family in their cottage which was the same. It is a
wonder for me now to realize I was seeing my own grandchildren. I thought it
was my crazy wishes that made the little girl appear to have your mother’s eyes
and her smile. And now I realize I wasn’t imagining.
does resemble her grandmother. That is such a gift. Yes Papa. I have had that
“I have always kept a secret hope that the monk I met would have heard my plea on that terrible day when I passed into death and he would have come immediately down from Civitas Turonorum, or Tours as you say, and find you all alive and able to mend to healing. And I would understand if you wanted no part of a father who would abandon his children when they were sick and most in need. Really all I wanted was to believe there was a way for you to be cared for. I could do nothing but to try to find someone to help you.”
“Was it you that
left yellow flowers on Mother’s grave?”
“Yes, I did place yellow
flowers when I was nearby in a season when the yellow flowers bloomed.”
“I thought it was
Enola. So when I saw the flowers I felt sure I could find her nearby. I didn’t
know what had happened to her but I kept searching.”
“Yes, my son, this has
been a very long journey for you.”
“A day it has been
and into night and now it will be that back to day again.”
“If the donkey is
tired you must be exhausted. Let’s
stop by the river and rest. I’ll take coals from the foot warmer and fan a
watch fire. I will keep watch while you sleep and we allow rest for the donkey
Dear God, thank you
for keeping this watch with me. Thank you for bringing me to know again this
beloved son of mine. Amen.
So here I am with a
fire and a river and my son whom I thought would never be mine to know as an
adult — all great blessings of this night. The privilege of long life is only gifted through healing –
changing, learning, growing in spirit and mind and often in loosing and
grieving. What seems the constancy of life into age is really an endurance made
up of many little healings day by day.
And yet my waking
this night, with the visage of the abbot masked to shield him from an imagined
fear of stench still riles my rath. The plague is horrific. Just the fear of
plague sends us clinging to guesses at cures and blames for causes, trampling
out any human instincts of compassion and transforming us into creatures who
can only answer evil with greater evil. And he said it was I who was
Of course, it may
have actually been a kindness that he sent me out before my cell was sealed
with the heavy fear of plague. Milan seems less afflicted by plague so everyone
looks there for the cure. We have heard rumor from Milan that when plague
visits a house the doors and windows of the house are bricked up with both the
sick and well still inside. What had been a place for a family’s life with all
of the daily encounters – meals, prayers, births, deaths, celebrations, joys,
struggles – all sealed in, dark and stagnate with those who were nearest death
suffering the least. Surely if my cell had been sealed I would have starved
slowly and my son would be sent back alone this night.
He stirs. I cover
him with the blanket. How many years have I longed for this?
No stars, no moon — the
stillness of dark has no dimension – no goodness, no evil just void.
Dear God were it
only true that the one who gathers the dead had come for me this night. Stay
near me. I would rather not be discarded alone. Amen.
“There you are
Papa! I was waiting for you at the
front gate. I should have guessed
they would send you out a hidden door to the churchyard. My wagon is just
beyond the wall. Are you well? Can
you walk with me?”
“I am well. Didn’t I
tell you I wasn’t in danger from this plague?”
“You did say that,
but your story were so strange I choose to think otherwise.”
“So you came all the
way down here to find me as a dead man?”
“I came to take you
back in whatever way I could find you.
I wagered with Enola, who still thinks you a ghost, that you would have
plague by now. I bet her I would find you suffering or dead. But now I’m so
glad I lost the bet, even though I still think you are a flesh and blood mortal
man and not a ghost.”
“I am that, as I
If there were any
hint of light this night it falls on the pale coat of the donkey waiting
outside the wall. The cart is filled with blankets and straw with a large
bundle of fragrant herbs.
“Enola promised me I
would find you well, as I have, and yet she filled my wagon with comforts for
you ailing so perhaps she also didn’t believe her own wager.”
“It was kind of you
both. I truly wanted to see you again. And perhaps Eve or as you say Enola will
shed her bee nets that I may lay my eyes on her beautiful face as she is now
“She has no more
beautiful face, Papa. That’s why she wears the nets and why she chooses to see
no one. The plague only left her with two scars on her neck, but the pox
disfigured her monstrously.
“My wife can’t even
bear to look upon her though my children are accustomed.”
“However I see her
will be better than never seeing her.
“This road seems
longer at night behind a slow donkey, is it not?”
“It is a long road.
We won’t be there before dawn.”
“Wake Lazarus; you must go
now! The one who gathers the dead of plague has come for you. Go quickly so you
don’t bring plague down on all of us here.”
The abbot has his
face covered in a cloth as though I bore the stench.
“I’m not ill Father
Mark. I assure you, I am not bringing the plague down on this place. Really the
one who comes for the dead of plague – he is my family and he has likely just
come to take me to see my daughter.”
and belligerent disobedience are the first signs. Go now or we will seal you
with this cell!”
“Very well. I will just gather my work from the
scriptorium and ready my horse.”
“There is no time.
This cell is to be sealed now.”
I can only take the
few things I brought with me and go away into the dark of this night. Surely I
can understand the fear of the plague that sucks up any Christian vows of love
for one another.
Nineteen years ago a
small battalion of soldiers from Constantinople arrived by ship and came up the
valley of the Liger reaching only as far as the cluster of cottages by my farm
before some of the soldiers were overtaken with plague. My wife went to tend
the sick and it was soon after that she, herself, sickened and died, then it
came down on all of us. Plague must be a natural turning because surely the
judgment of God could not be so harsh and misplaced.
It was not like the
pox with scars that stay to mark the safe ones. The scars of plague are hidden
under hoods or tunic or they last on only as a limp or a lisp. We knew nothing
of this sickness before it took so many. People from the important cities, they
already knew — a hag from Milan – the missionaries who traveled the roads –
they knew; and now in all these nineteen years it is well known everywhere. It
rises up here or there with reasons only in guesses and the cures must be in
I can understand why
I am sent away only on rumor.
I walk out into the
darkness of this wretched night.