The Journey's of Brother William
Thirty-four years earlier
The Journeys of Brother William 1492
I became most curious when I discovered that the province of Esienberg is home to the famed Abbey of Saint Hildegard the Virgin. The abbey had been built before Germanic settlement and had been carved into the rock face by the ancient folk of that valley.
It is said that it was Hildegard, a woman, who first brought the word of God to the savage pagans then living in the valley. The local chief said he would be baptised if Hildegard would marry him, but the saint told the chief that she had promised herself to God. The chief became so enraged with her answer that he locked her in a tower. But God heard the saint’s prayers and changed her into a wild goose so she could flee. A feather of this wondrous goose is said to be held by the sisters of the Abbey.
Wishing to inquire further I took leave of the count and took the South Road into the mountains. On arrival, however, I was refused entry on account of being a man. Not being turned easily off something once I have set my mind upon it, I took lodging in a nearby village and waited for Fortune to put something in my path. And blessed I was in that I did not have to wait too long.
Though the good nuns of the Abby include among their number bullish specimens of the weak sex and are for the most part not in need of the strength of men, there are some tasks for which the nuns do allow in small numbers of men. Yet so that these men may not threaten the honour of the nuns or be tempted by the youthful girls among their number, only those who suffer from blindness are given work. I therefore endeavoured to disguise myself as a blind pilgrim and seek access to the abbey through trickery.
I must confess that as a blind man I did not make a very able labourer. I therefore covered my eyes with gauze through which I could observe some of my surroundings and yet have my eyes remain unseen. It was in this fashion that I both acquitted myself as an able labourer, and made the observation that the sisters were quite unconstrained in their interest in the blind men. I also became quite aware of the comeliness of some of those good women who were both well fed and in the flower of their youth.
My usefulness caused me to be used for more particular work than the chopping of firewood. And the lifting of ale barrels. I began to be employed in carrying candleholders. It was when bringing one such holder for a certain chaste sister, who enjoyed writing at night, that my lips first touched the lips of one of those earthly angels. In the weeks that followed I became the happiest man on earth. As rumour of my dalliance spread so more ladies sought my assistance. I stopped being employed as a candle carrier and began work as a Gardner. I was given lodgings in a small cottage in a wild part of the abbey grounds. My duties were to keep this garden as wild as possible, with a number of very pleasant alcoves among the soft heather and long grass. The sisters would visit me at various times of the day and night. They brought with them dainties from the kitchen and mugs of warm spiced ale. I do not know how it was done but their visits were so timed that they were never interrupted. And so months passed in the most perfect contentment imaginable. For a year I lived in the garden and never once did I tire of the sisters’ company.
It was in spring, when I met the abbess. She confronted me, alone, when I was watching a wild falcon. Beautiful is it not? spake she. Beyond compare, I responded. You have quite the eye for a blind man, were her words and I realised I was speaking with the ruler of this Godly domain. Though the bloom of her youth was behind her the abbess was still a beauty, with as finer intellect as many a theologian of Paris. The abbess took me into the heart of the abbey, carved out of the very mountain itself. Here was their treasury. There were books and scrolls in their hundreds, holy relics which any prince or bishop would have coveted. There was silver and gold stamped with the head of an emperor of antiquity. There was wine, spices and dates. But sadly, though, I did not then know it, my life in that house of God was drawing to an end.