A minister losing touch with his faith…
A severely autistic child with no past, no present and no real future…
An evil older than time itself…
When the boy Lucian is thrown into Aaron’s life with nowhere else to go all hell breaks loose and Aaron confronts things he never actually imagined could really exist in an effort to save one small, tortured child.
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Bowen is an orphaned child in feudal England whose first appearance in this novel is having been bound hands and feet and whipped mercilessly by the monks in a monastery in an excess of bloodlust. He’s realistically of an indeterminate age but no more than about seven years old and the monks are very sadistic. He’s punished repeatedly for any number of minor and inconsequential infractions.
Bowen’s father and mother and sister are dead. His sister was the victim of a brutal rape in which she became pregnant and died shortly after giving birth though she had been returned to her parents’ home in a beaten and catatonic state. His father drowned and his mother burned to death in the family home.
Aaron is a minister in present day Midwest America who takes a short sabbatical after he has a fainting episode while experiencing the marks of the stigmata immediately preceding a sermon that he’s supposed to deliver about Faith Unending, a concept with which he’s struggling himself.
Aaron is continuously having episodes of a fugue like state or altered consciousness in which he’s catapulted back in time. He sees Bowen whipped by the monks and is compelled to take the whipping on himself which in turn leads Bowen to have to leave the monastery where the sadistic monks are calling for his death, citing devil possession.
Lucian is a severely autistic child in the present day who’s found homeless and taken to a mental health center after a fire in an abandoned building in which he’s sleeping. He’s horribly scarred and disfigured and bears a striking resemblance to Bowen and Aaron. He takes a liking of a sort to Aaron, who has eyes of the same amethyst color as his. He also bears a mark on his chest which looks like a brand and is the mark of the Celtic war god Rudianos.
Lucian has a horrible aversion to religious symbols, only speaks Welsh and then only in riddles and in a cold, hateful voice not like a child, “The guardian lives. The gate has been opened. The sins of the father borne upon the son. Vengeance thirsts for blood. The sacrifice must be made.” He also tends to say, “Bless the child, save the child.” All this starts to make sense, along with the rash of fires that follows Lucian wherever he goes when Aaron finds out that Bowen and Lucian are the same person.
Lucian/Bowen’s father awoke an ancient evil whose service he had the strong desire to use for revenge but he didn’t understand that said evil thirsts for living blood and the dead blood of the sister, whom he dug up and tried to offer as payment on a burning pyre, was simply unacceptable. Since he performed a Druid rite under the light of the full moon, each lunar cycle brings with it a fresh hell for Lucian.
Lucian/Bowen is the Guardian of that ancient evil and a perpetual child who has been severely tortured, violated and abused. He’s centuries old though physically still very young and has been left repeatedly to the whims and care of both good families in the past as well as people with sick and obscene appetites, so it was easier to retreat into his own mind where the suffering wasn’t so bad.
Aaron realizes that his compulsion to help Lucian comes from the fact that he’s a direct descendant of Lucian’s nephew, the child of the rape. This is why they bear a stunning resemblance to one another, including the black hair and amethyst eyes. Aaron also realizes that this is why he’s the only one who can help Lucian and he offers his own life to take Lucian’s place as the church they’re in burns to the ground.
When Aaron’s body is found the next morning, Lucian is curled next to him but he’s talking and able to meet peoples’ eyes. He’s judged fairly healthy all things considered and a most unlikely guardian steps forward in the form of a member of Aaron’s congregation, Philip Moran. It’s under the cooperative care of Philip and his sister that Lucian begins to obtain an education and grow up though he always remembers the sacrifice that Aaron made to help him. Lucian begins to live.
Feudal England, Exact Date Unknown
Tortured screams echoed off the cold, uncaring stone walls of the monastery and danced off into the satin black of the night. Here and there from the confines of the bordering woods, wolves howled a lonely reply to the blood curdling cry that was carried on the cooling breeze lazily weaving a whispering spell into the tops of the trees. In bare moments the screams were heard again, upsetting birds in their nests that sang a short-lived somewhat irritated song and were quiet again, falling asleep once more and awaiting dawn. Only one wolf answered this time, her response trailing off as if she were unsure from whence the call came, her ears flattening to the sides of her head in mild alarm and her sensitive nose moving delicately as she tried to identify the source of the malodor carried on the wind.
In the clearing where the great, imposing monolith stood was also a village and though no lights shone in the darkness from the direction of the cottages, the silvery light from the glory of the full moon that spilled in through crudely cut windows showed some of the villagers quickly crossing themselves before they hurried back to their beds to rest and await the coming dawn.
From inside the hulking stone leviathan of the monastery came another agonized bellow and the flames on the torches situated in the wall sconces mounted at regular intervals flickered and bowed forlornly in deference as well as the wind that softly blew unchecked through the halls.
In a small secreted windowless room situated off the library and secured by a massive and imposing oaken door that was in turn hidden behind a rather large and ornate hanging tapestry gathered a circle of perhaps twenty friars repeating a low and nearly indistinguishable prayer in perfect unison that had taken on the quality of a hypnotic chant. Their foreheads were furrowed with the concentration required to continue voicing their supplication in harmony and sweat beaded their brows as one friar drew back his arm to reveal a vicious looking whip which he brought down again with a resounding crack on the back of the child bound and quaking in their midst who wailed in response. Malicious glee and a thirst for blood colored his countenance in sickly opposition to the piety of the chant that droned in unanimity reverberantly all around him.
“Bless the child…Save the child…”
The chant was repeated as a litany and in tandem with the fall of the whip so that each time it was repeated the crack of the lash sounded again and the child shrieked once more, his back marked by previous beatings too numerous to count.
Again the whip fell and the child, with an accompanying guttural groan of purest agony collapsed at their feet and lapsed into unconsciousness.
One among the friars was charged with the keeping of a chalice of holy water which he held aloft for a moment and poured it onto the face of the child to rouse him after the child was rolled over so that he was laying on his back.
The child coughed and sputtered and then levered himself into a kneeling position and, with every muscle in his body straining, he struggled to stand. Holding himself upright by nothing more than sheer dint of will, he faced the circle of friars with all the proud defiance he could muster.
The hate burning in the eyes of the friars which he faced gained intensity and he steeled himself for the blow he already knew was coming.
He didn’t have to wait long. He saw the shadow that fell on the wall as the friar standing behind him raised his arm and brought it down and the boy shouted again as fire touched his back. He felt keenly the sticky warmth of the blood that began to drip down his back as this time, the lash laid it open. At least the gash didn’t hurt as badly as the burning welts, the boy reflected dimly and somewhat dazedly as the lash fell once again and his hoarse keen of pain was all but drowned out by exultant roar of the one who wielded the whip.
Trembling and nauseous, the child fought the urge to faint away as colors floated malevolently in front of his eyes. To faint again would bring only greater punishment at a later time the boy knew and so he fought with every fiber of his being the black void that crept into the periphery of his vision and he was rewarded for his steadfast effort as the urge to vomit got stronger and the excruciating, razor edged agony that pulsed in the flesh of his back grew and throbbed increasingly with each beat of his heart, but he did not pass out.
Rage welled from deep within the core of his very being and the boy nursed it tenderly and solicitously as he had begun to understand long before, the fury kept him alive. He worked desperately and with a singular focus to force the pain into a dark corner of his mind, to lock it away so that he would feel the searing hurt though he would no longer acknowledge it.
The chant rose to a crescendo in his ears and the lash fell another time. Gritting his teeth and battling with the need to cry out, the boy bore his whipping stoically. By his count, that was thirteen lashes, two more to go. The pious friars, he reflected with a poignant bitterness, never forced a whipping on him that exceeded fifteen lashes though they also lashed him no less than every other night so that the welts would have just begun to heal when they beat him again but the cuts would be laid open once more to add to the multitude of scars that now crossed his back.
The whip sounded and fire touched his back once more. Tears that he couldn’t control and yet fought to contain welled in his eyes and he bit his lip until he tasted his own blood. The tears would make the brothers happy he knew however he also knew that they would in turn feed the self-righteous bloodlust that seethed just beneath the surface of each of their carefully cultivated faithful mannerisms, and the very thought of satisfying or feeding the twisted need for pain and power that all the friars studiously disguised sickened him. Lifting his eyes to the ceiling, he refused to blink because he knew from experience that if he did not blink, the tears would not fall.
“Bless the child…Save the child…”
The litany sounded again and the boy braced himself. Taking in the brothers that stood before him in a single, swift glance he saw that they had noticed the tears that he tried not to shed. Victory burned fiercely in their eyes and one gave the barest nod to the friar behind him, who brought the whip down on his back with a reverberant crack and, unable to help it any longer, the boy crumpled amid the circle of friars with a pathetic whimper of unendurable hurt.
Trembling with fury and sweating from exertion, the friar cast the whip aside and signaled that the child be taken away. His hands and feet still bound and his head hanging and shudders racking his body, the boy was grasped cruelly by the arms and hauled upright with no regard for the bruises, welts, gaping wounds, and brutally reopened scars that bled freely and gleamed wetly in the firelight.
They dragged the boy, who could not stand on his own, down a series of halls and passageways to his room and there they untied the leather straps that had held one small boy helpless captive and crudely laid him on his pallet on the floor, draping a single wool blanket over him and watching with no small degree of triumph as he winced and murmured a soft plea for relief. Blood had already seeped through the wool of the blanket when one of the friars knelt beside the child and, in a last bid to indulge his sadism rubbed the boys’ back and smiled with hateful glee when the boy gasped and tensed whispering in the child’s ear, “Peace be with you and may God Almighty keep you, my child.” And then he left, his footsteps falling with nary a sound on the stone floor.
Dizzy with the stinging discomfort that pulsed in his back, the child levered himself upright far enough to move about six inches to his left and in the bowl placed next to his pallet that served as a chamber pot, he threw up as quietly as he could manage before he collapsed back onto his bedding and passed out, oblivion caressing him gently and offering him an escape from the agony that he had neither the strength nor the will to refuse.
Feudal England 16 Months Later, Exact Date Unknown
The smell of imminent death permeated the air, sickly sweet and nauseating at the same time and the boy, who sat quietly at the bedside of the fatally ill friar, offered the bowl that he held at the ready so the brother that lay on the bed might struggle as far into a sitting position as he was able and, for the fourth time in as many hours, vomit copious amounts of blood.
When the friar had finished, he fell weakly back onto the bed and winced as the action brought with it a spasm of coughing that rattled wetly in his throat and strained his body to the breaking point, already laid waste in the months since he had become ill.
The boy, who had been charged with the friar’s care and keeping, could not help the feeling of satisfaction and the pure, unadulterated loathing that coursed through his body at the sight of the emaciated friar whose once robust health was now little more than a sad memory. The man was now a shell of his former self and the putrid odor that rose from his body, courtesy of both his illness and the fact that he had been too weak for the space of several weeks to bathe, had cost him most of the care of the other occupants of the monastery. The man had been unable to hold even the smallest bite of food in his rebelling stomach for nigh three months and starvation starkly marked his countenance and now where once he had been strong if not muscular, he was little more than skin and bone the former of which hung on him loosely and the latter protruding prominently as he lay there, every breath weaker than the last. His face, which had so little time ago it seemed been bright and beatific if not open and honest with rosy undertones and sharp observant eyes, was now ashen and sweat soaked and graying with ill health, his eyes dull and glazed with fatigue and pain pled fruitlessly for a release which death would not yet bring.
The friar saw the rage that lit the boys’ eyes which the child could not disguise and though he tried to call for help, being at the mercy of a boy he had tortured cruelly in the not too distant past, he could force no more than a whisper and a blood soaked gurgle beyond his throat. Then he tried to plead with the boy as best he could, pathetically murmuring as he tried to drift off to sleep an empty justification that did no more to assuage his heavy heart than it did to still the hate that fluttered madly in the boys’ breast, “Always tried to do right by you, Lucien.”
The boy leaned close to the friars’ ear and uttered the phrase the man had spoken to him in the cold watches of the night though his voice was cold and flat and lacked conviction, “Peace be with you and may God Almighty keep you, friar.” And then he moved back from the monk a space lest the fetid odor of death and decay become overpowering smiling a black, dead kind of smile that never reached his eyes.
The monk, though he had shamelessly and rather openly hated Lucien for the longest time, still sought refuge in his twisted, misguided faith and with his voice fairly dripping woeful remorse, whispered hoarsely, “Forgive me, child.”
Lucien leaned forward and spoke again, fury adding force and finality to his voice when he answered the friar, “Ask your God for forgiveness, monk, for you will not receive any from me, as I have none to give.”
The friar heard the words and their portent and gasped weakly in pathetic outrage which brought on another agonizing spasm of coughing, though this time he would not recover. When the spasm subsided, he could not catch his breath and with a rattling wheeze, the monk breathed his last and Lucien watched quietly. When several minutes had passed in which the friar did not breathe and the light left his now open and lifeless eyes and to the accompaniment of the smell of the now dead monk, Lucien quickly left the bedchamber to fetch a priest that he might give the last rites.
Lucien knew he would be whipped for letting the friar die though it was not within his scope to heal the man but try as he might, he could not regret it. He had months ago become if not immune, then used to the pain of the beatings he was dealt and much to the fury of the monks at the monastery he took each lash of the whip with neither tears nor so much as a whimper or whine of pain. This prompted the monks to increase the number of lashes that he was given to nightly beatings at twenty lashes each time though it did no good. Lucien would lock himself into the corner of his mind and smile a carefully cultivated, emotionless smile while his eyes opened wide and he stared coldly at each monk in turn and when they had begun to fear him their punishments had become more virulent and they began to seek any small superficial excuse to whip the devil out of him, as they stated it. Once he recalled, he had been set to scrubbing the floors and one among the monks had decided that the stones had taken too long to dry and Lucien was summarily whipped for lack of diligence in applying himself to his work.
Now the friar he had been charged to care for was dead and though the rest of the monks had known it was inevitable, Lucien would be punished anyway. They whipped him time and again in the name of God and though they spoke among themselves of the infinite mercies of a loving God, Lucien had yet to see evidence of it. He hated their God as virulently as he hated the monks that lived in this monastery.
He pushed these thoughts by the wayside however, as he arrived at the door to the chapel and quietly opened it only to come face to face not with one of the monks but with a young traveling priest who had been passing through the area and had stopped at the monastery recently pleading hospitality and rest.
Father Jacob was not like the others, Lucien had noticed immediately upon his introduction to the priest as with a kindness and generosity that had taken him completely aback when Lucien had prostrated himself in front of Father Jacob as he had been taught to do, the priest had laughed softly and insisted on helping Lucien to his feet. When Lucien had looked at Father Jacob askance he had seen the warm light of kindness in the Father’s eyes and had smiled his first unsure smile in what must have been months followed immediately by ducking his head forlornly and awaiting his chastisement for daring to look upon the visage of the priest.
The stinging blow to the head that he expected never fell though he gritted his teeth and clenched his eyes shut and nearly asked the father to get it over with. Once Lucien gathered his courage and chanced a look at the priest, since for what reason he could not fathom he had taken an immediate liking to the Father and wanted to please him, he saw no anger on the face of the man. He found instead an honesty and a curiosity that matched his own. The priest looked down at Lucien with a gentle question in his eyes that he did not voice and that Lucien dared not answer instead the child bowed low with as much pomp and flourish as he was capable and reverently took Father Jacob’s hand in both of his own that he might kiss it and murmured, “Greetings Father, I trust you will find the accommodations and the hospitality to your liking?”
The priest’s slow smile had begun at his lips and traveled to his eyes to light them up and crease the corners as he had also bowed his head in acknowledgement of Lucien and said with the greatest possible gravity, “I find myself most pleased with the hospitality, my child. You have my thanks.”
It had been at that point that one of the monks had interjected with a serenely spoken statement that nevertheless carried with it an unmistakable threat when he’d said, “Pay no attention to the child, Father. He is naught but an orphan and a ghastly devil of a child.” And then he’d turned to Lucien and said, “On about your work, boy.”
Lucien had felt the force of the friar’s gaze boring into the top of his head with the certainty of the pronounced punishment that would follow quickly and he murmured, “Yes, friar, in all haste.” And he had turned to walk away, eyes downcast and heart pounding.
He had not walked away quickly enough however, and he had overheard the priest telling the monk, “Delightful child, is he not?”
The monk had all but snorted sarcastically at that question and stated flatly, “He’s an atrocious liar, that one. Don’t believe even one word that passes his lips. To do so is to consort with the devil himself.”
Father Jacob’s voice had taken on a cold challenging edge when he had calmly returned, “Do not the words of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ state plainly that we are to love the children for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven, friar?”
The monk had been cowed. Mumbling a hasty, “Indeed those are His words. I must away Father, I have my own work that must needs be done.” And with that he had beat a hasty retreat but the scowl on his face had lingered there for the remainder of the day.
Now Father Jacob lightly cleared his throat and snapped Lucien back to the present and the boy stammered out, “Please come quickly Father, the brother Francis has died.” And then Lucien turned to lead the way to the room Francis had occupied for all the years that he’d been in residence at the monastery, but which now smelled of death and hung heavy with the weighted pall of the dearly departed.
The Father wasted no time performing the last rites over the dead monk though his face had blanched noticeably even in the gloom of the chamber when he’d been assaulted by the putrescence that greeted him. He’d coughed lightly, broken into a sweat and finished his duty and left quickly looking distinctly nauseated.
When he exited the chamber, closing the door firmly behind him and turning to leave he took one step before he halted and cast his eyes upon the boy staying quietly in the shadows and trying not to draw attention to himself. Looking down at Lucien, Father Jacob said quietly, “Come child, walk with me. I must speak with you.”
Swallowing his curiosity and trepidation with an effort, if the monks saw him walking with the priest, a beating would surely follow he nonetheless did as he was bidden and fell into step beside Father Jacob. Just because he was used to the agony of the lashings he was dealt with casual cruelty didn’t necessarily mean that he looked forward to them but he pushed his angst by the wayside and concentrated on what the Father said, “It occurs to me, child, that it would be to your benefit if I told the monks that Francis died in my company. Wouldn’t you agree?”
Lucien was so startled by the statement he tripped over his own foot, dropping to his knee and bruising it painfully on the stone of the floor. “Father?” He asked softly, not sure he had heard right.
Kneeling to help the child right himself, Father Jacob nonetheless patiently explained, “I know ‘tis a lie, and a nasty one at that though I know not what it changes. Brother Francis will still be dead and though he will be sorely grieved by all save one little boy, I think, I have reason to think that it is all in the will of God that I tell the monks that he passed whilst in my presence bare minutes after I had performed the last rites for him as he had felt they were needed and sent you to fetch me.” And then the Father’s head cocked slightly to one side as he studied Lucien and asked lightly, “Are you set to trip over my foot now, or do you plan to fall over your own jaw child. Close your mouth.”
Lucien’s jaw snapped closed and on a breathless moment of stark hilarity he realized that twice he had come face to face with Father Jacob only to have to be picked up when he’d found himself face to face with the floor. Biting his lip to keep from laughing which would be a hopeless blunder for him inside the walls of the monastery he nonetheless answered sincerely to the priests questioning look, “If you feel it is the will of God Almighty, Father, I will certainly do as you have bidden me.” Had the Father heard the crack of the whip in the weeks since he had been here? Lucien wondered at that quietly even as he also wondered if Father Jacob had seen the cold disregard with which the monks treated him and sought only to ease the burden on the slight shoulders of an orphaned child.
“See that you do, my child.” Father Jacob answered quietly with a slight smile at the readiness of Lucien’s agreement. Then with a mild frown of consternation when he noticed that Lucien had become keenly absorbed in the look of his own toes, he asked softly, “What troubles you child?”
Fearing a cold rebuke that followed so closely on the heels of what Lucien could only describe as an act of supreme kindness and generosity, he nonetheless cleared his throat and spoke softly, “I have chores to see to, Father. Begging your forgiveness.”
“Go, my child,” answered Father Jacob as understanding dawned in his eyes and then he added, “Peace be with you.”
Humbled and enormously relieved, Lucien grinned at the priest and spoke the words though they held a hard edge with all that he had experienced at the hands of the monks, “And also with you, Father.” And then he turned and ran to see to his work, leaving Father Jacob to watch thoughtfully after his small retreating back, a speculative frown furrowing his brow.