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Roy Edwards

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Dominic If
By Roy Edwards
Thursday, March 20, 2008

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John Fieldhand and his wife Martha decided that the only way they could ensure their son survived to reach manhood was to sell him to the Benedictines who owned the land he and his wife worked from sunup to sundown to earn a bare bones living. It wasn’t that the land did not produce or that John was an indifferent field hand, it was the tithe they paid to farm their field that was inexorably starving them to death. Two thirds of the entire years produce. The remaining third was his to eat or trade for goods in kind, only it wasn’t enough and when the wee bairn came along he wept, not for joy but for sorrow and tightened his belt.

Dominic If
Kingsbridge AD 1326
John Fieldhand and his wife Martha decided that the only way they could ensure their son survived to reach manhood was to sell him to the Benedictines who owned the land he and his wife worked from sunup to sundown to earn a bare bones living. It wasn’t that the land did not produce or that John was an indifferent field hand, it was the tithe they paid to farm their field that was inexorably starving them to death. Two thirds of the entire years produce. The remaining third was his to eat or trade for goods in kind, only it wasn’t enough and when the wee bairn came along he wept, not for joy but for sorrow and tightened his belt.
He did the best he could. Now and again he held back some of the produce but it did no good. It just wasn’t enough and the guilt of the crime of stealing punishable by death on the gallows pole weighed him down. Seven years later Martha, at twenty three years of age, was a skeletal, toothless old woman. John fared little better, though he did by a miracle somehow retain his strength and his teeth. He was twenty six years of age. Come spring the lad turned seven years and John and Martha knew he would not live to see his eighth.
So they decided to sell him. Weeping inconsolably Martha said through her tears “and don’t you be selling him for nowt but a handful of silver pennies or a purse stuffed with worthless brass farthings. He’s our lad he’s worth more’n that.” “Aye he is” John answered sombre voiced. “I’ll do the best I can lass I’ll get life tenure an more you can count on it. The boys clever in his mind, the monks know it and they’ll pay a fair price. They ain’t thieves,” he added in a small voice. Truth was the boy was no good for him; too weak to work in the field too clever in his head to want to.
John Fieldhand sold his son to the monks of Kingsbridge Abbey in the Year of Our Lord 1324. In return he was granted life tenure to farm the ten acre field and the right to sow what crops he chose along with the right to build an enclosure to breed pigs. Of pigs and produce it was stated in writing that John Fieldhand on the 26th day of May Anno Domini 1324 was entitled to keep a full two thirds of all produce for as long as he was able to work the land. John couldn’t read or write but he nonetheless hung on to the document that somehow survived the ravage of time. In return the monks promised to hold the boy in service to the holy mother church to feed, house, clothe and educate him if so it was deemed possible to do so. John Fieldhand also received six silver pennies and ten near worthless brass farthings.
Martha worked herself to death and died age thirty two. John Fieldhand fared better and lived to the ripe old age of forty nine.
Ten Years Later – Whitby Abbey, Yorkshire AD 1336
Brother Dominic was clever, everyone knew that. It was rumoured that he was the son of field hands who, when he was seven years of age, sold him to the monks of Kingsbridge. Of course no one believed the story; he was too clever to be the son of illiterate peasants. The more readily believable story was the one that said he was the bastard son of the late Earl of York, who out of the goodness of his heart along with a costly gift of gold and silver coins, fostered him out to the monks of Kingsbridge which was far enough away from York to ensure the Earl and his family would not be embarrassed or otherwise discomforted by his presence.
Dominic wasn’t just clever, anyone can be clever; rather Dominic possessed an inquiring mind along with the intelligence to use it. Though viewed somewhat askance at the time as being of little worth, he studied science and then dropped it to study medicine, logic and reason. His faith was immutable. It was thought by many that he was destined for great things, a bishopric; perhaps one day the very bishopric of York. The Earl, his supposed father would surely countenance such elevation in service to the divine.
The stranger did not arrive the humble penitent nor yet was he loud. Prior William said “he has presence.” In exchange for a twelve inch high cross of solid silver set with sapphire, amethyst, rose crystal and pearl the good prior said “the stranger may guest amongst us for as long as he may.”
No one knew his name not even the prior, he was simply milord. A fighting man, so the gossip flowed, a puissant knight recently returned from crusade in the Holy Land in need of cleansing prayer, healing meditation and the revitalising nourishment of plain good food in the house of the Lord.”Amen” the gossips whispered.
Whitby Abbey in the flower and colour of early summer glowed like a jewel beneath heaven’s blue. Distant heath moorland and field smothered in a soft golden haze. Milord brought good weather with him, it was remarked and so it continued. Days of liquid gold melting down into warm, dusky blue evenings redolent with the rich moist smell of fresh turned earth, crushed mint and lavender: A rising summer moon floating like a golden ball in the deep and the black swimming with stars. And then one evening between prayer and bed the stranger spoke to Dominic who was too clever to work in the fields and was sold for a purse of silver pennies.
Milord said “the pillars of the earth are crumbling Brother Dominic, prayers in stone abandoned and lost. Et Arcadia.” he said, “in Arcadia where ancient Akkad once stood I fought with the devil and lost. And so began my journey in the Holy Land and beyond, and when I reached journey’s end I was the same in a different way. I am told you are clever Brother Dominic but are you clever enough to riddle me this, because wouldn’t you just know sometimes logic and reason break down leaving you with nowhere to go. A boundary of limitation you need to break through to view the other side.
I stood on the edge of a vast open plain. I did not want to fight anymore; my companions all dead lay piled up in reaving drifts, terror gripped me. I stood alone and the most frightening thing was I couldn’t remember how I got there. We had been fighting all day, but the enemy outnumbered us ten to one. They were relentless. The noise, the confusion the stench and the heat and the cries of the wounded I remember that. I remember my horse being cut from under me, of fighting on foot and then I stood on the edge of a vast, desolate plain reaching out before me towards forever. I remember the cool night air, voices in the wind and light streaming through the void between the stars visions. I saw a broken winged angel plummet down through the sky clasping the lost gospel of Thomas crying out ‘we come in light and in light we depart’ and then suddenly the angel was engulfed in a moving pillar of fire. I could hear the crackle of flames the terrible shriek of its burning. The fiery pillar moved on. A small night wind cooled my heated flesh. I stood in the stillness of absolute silence. The image of my fallen companions the sheer bloody carnage of the battle fading from my mind: And in that quietude, in the calm that held me transfixed, a warm yet cool trace of blue pierced me through. The ethereal shimmering translucency fading ere I sensed its presence. And then it was gone leaving me all a tremble, my very senses spinning, reaching out toward something that has no name. A vast benign ineffable presence – the universe I thought – the lilting song of creation and then ----
Knowledge streams through my head in a river of light. I am my own awareness; the connectivity of all things to all things; the streaming consciousness that survives death and moves on. I knew then that the Greeks and before them the Egyptians were right when they said those things they call atoms (atomism) make up the flesh and when one day flesh decays the atoms break down and disperse but “I” the streaming consciousness does not. Knowledge Brother Dominic streaked before my eyes. Perceptions of reality shifting like the wind, the objectivity and subjectivity of reason and logic fragmenting, blurring, melding. There is no difference I thought; the unmaking of words, the reconstruction of self in that indefinable moment of pure innocence. It was all there Brother Dominic in a river of streaming light. We warp and cripple the very thought of ‘self’ and enslave the idea because we can. I give you but a scratch of what befell me, of what I came to know: As for what I am to do with all that now resides in my head; apparently nothing. Seemingly we all come to the light of knowing in our own peculiar way, individualistically you might say. It just takes some a little longer than others to get there; they carry a heavier burden so to speak.
To unmake words, Brother Dominic, in the discipline of the idea that binds is to bathe in knowledge, in a river of streaming light, what say you? You are clever Brother Dominic everyone knows that. So clever in fact your own Prior informed me that the Bishopric of York is not out of the question. So what say you Brother Dominic? Do you denounce me, heretic and burn me at the stake, or do you allow, in your wisdom, that no one owns the constantly shifting perception of thought, and reality of any kind is never set in stone? And please Brother Dominic do not use that oh so spurious argument brewing in your head. Yes, the one that dictates that if I do not agree with you it’s because I don’t understand your view (persuasion, discipline etc). Such argument is not worthy of you brother. It abrogates the right of anyone not of your persuasion to form their own opinion. After all Brother Dominic heresy simply means to choose, implying one is free to do so. What say you?”
When milord began to speak I held my counsel and heard him out. Indeed what else was I to do? It was like listening to the ravings of a madman. No doubt the butchery of the failed crusade had turned his mind. But why here in Whitby, why me? For a titled man of wealth there were far better alternatives, Glastonbury for one, Chartres for another if so the French allow. Had the devil hiked to Whitby? Am I being tested? Who was this Man? The night had drawn in, the stars thin points of light in the brilliant wash of the now high, white moon. Moonlight leached the colour from his face, lending it the ashen look of the recently dead. His eyes smouldered as if some inner fire burned behind his eyes. Was he dangerous? I didn’t think so but madmen were notional ergo I must tread with care, measure my words to elicit favourable response. What did he mean, I suddenly thought, what are shifting realities? I shivered for all the air was mild; he would burn if others heard such devil’s talk, madman or no. I should denounce him I thought fleetingly. Atoms streaming consciousness what is that? What does he mean, a river of light, and what was all that about the lost gospel of Thomas and his ‘we come in light and depart in light’. I thought much but said not a word and he just stood there his eyes burning through me waiting for my reply. Well, he would have a long wait because I had no intention of uttering a single word. Debate with this man would lead us both straight to the stake. Sweet Jesus what am I doing even standing here. Suddenly his raptor like gaze gave way to a look of infinite sadness as though a long held bright expectation had somehow failed its promise. He turned away with a small, sad smile and trudged off towards his quarters, head bowed, shoulders slumped in defeat. He was mad of course he was but ------- !
I am clever I told myself, and it is not unthinkable that one day I should succeed to the Bishop’s mitre, Bishop of York no less. Milord is mad, unhinged by his terrible experience in the desert where not even the King of the Franks could prevail. I forgive him, I told myself, I forgive the rancour of his devil spittern talk but ----- what did he mean when he said you need to unmake words how can you unmake words in the discipline of the idea, how can you bathe in knowledge, a streaming river of light he said. Dear God, I admonished myself, what am I doing even thinking about what he said? I know I am clever. I know one day the Bishopric will be mine. I live to serve God, but what if --- ! Pallid ghosts rose within. A sudden chilling vision rendered me blind to the looming presence of the abbey to the stars above me and the solid feel of the earth beneath my feet as image after image assaulted my senses in a burst of silent white light feathered in a shimmering trace of blue. Fear spasmed my gut. What calm I had somehow managed to maintain in the face of milord’s spavined ravings shattered like a thin sheet of winter ice beneath the journeyman’s booted heel. Then suddenly the vision blinked out leaving me breathless and giddy. It cannot be, I thought helplessly, it simply cannot be. I refuse the vision, I gasped out, I cast out the portent.
I am clever, I almost sobbed and one day I will stand mitred, the Bishop of York. My head spun, thoughts clashed and sparked ----- what if----- I wailed soundlessly ----- what if ----- !

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