Link to previous Chapter: http://www.rhemuthcastle.com/index.php/topic,1467.msg12548.html#msg12548Good Friday
Expecting to be released from the lengthy rigours of the Good Friday observances, the students - both those to be ordained this Eastertide and those yet to complete their studies - were instead waved back down into the now vacant choir stalls which lined the sides of the cathedral chancel. They had been gathered together to pay homage to the sacrificed Lord as they, and all present, came on their knees to kiss the feet nailed to the life-size crucifix laid down on the tiles for the occasion. The choir and junior cathedral clergy were then dismissed to their meagre supper, and there had seemed nothing to delay the would-be priests from repairing to theirs. Mystified and not a little apprehensive, the young men looked at each other in silent question as two vergers hastened to bring the archbishop’s ornately carved throne from the sanctuary. With ponderous gravity Archbishop Alexander Darby, Archbishop of Rhemuth, made his obeisance to the altar and fixed those in front of him with a stern gaze before taking his seat before them.
“My sons, even on this Holy Day, the devil may yet be among us, for the tempter has many disguises. I would not have you ignorant of the danger you face, especially those of you about to be ordained, so mark well my words.”
Choosing as his text words from Revelation 21: 8, “Their place will be in the lake that burns with fire and sulphur”, the archbishop described with stomach-churning relish the fate that awaited the ungodly, with special emphasis on Deryni. But this was not just Deryni in general, not just the Last Judgement on the Dies Irae
. Duncan, if the truth be told, as with many of his fellows, had become past master at using the time allotted to homilies from his superiors as opportunities for practising meditation, not so today. He listened in desperate horror as Alexander Darby began to spell out for them in intimate detail the mental, spiritual and bodily torments meted out in recent memory to a living man, Jorian de Courcy. The details themselves were sickening enough, but what truly horrified Duncan and, he was relieved to see from their blanched faces, most of those around him, was Darby’s all too obvious warped pleasure in Jorian’s sufferings. That a man could so delight in the agony of another on the very day which commemorated the torture and death of the Lord seemed to him near to blasphemy.
Closer to home, Duncan realised that Darby’s tirade was breaking the barriers that held back his darkest fears and allowing them to range unchecked in the most vulnerable places of his being.
When he had first begun to sense the call to ordination, his cousin Alaric had spent an impassioned week trying to dissuade him. Forced by the malice of Oliver de Nore to witness the immolation of Jorian, Alaric had been urgent in his efforts to prevent his cousin and closest friend from even the possibility of such a fate, but Duncan had not allowed himself to listen. Now in remembering Alaric’s frantic distress, another thread in the weft of his certainty began to unravel. In his heart he had felt that the pull of the Lord’s calling gave him no choice, but now he saw that the cost of that calling had lain as heavily on Alaric as himself. Maybe, he thought in ruthless honesty, more heavily, although thinking thus was to twist the knife unbearably in a hitherto unacknowledged wound.
After his rejection of his cousin’s plea their relationship had never been quite the same. Duncan saw that he had accepted Alaric’s increasing busyness as he settled into his responsibilities as Duke of Corwyn and his own preoccupations as justification enough for this. But now, forced as he was to listen to the graphic details of Jorian’s death, he realised for the first time what an assault on all his senses-- Human and Deryni, emotional, physical and spiritual--Alaric must have endured, and he questioned whether what he had taken within himself to be dedication was in truth insensitivity and how far he had thereby wounded his cousin.
Once raised, his guilt raged at him – was he at least in part responsible for Alaric’s flaunting of his Deryni reputation and the sinister aura he cultivated? However, thinking of Alaric, however uncomfortably, at least served to bring him the blessing of distraction from Darby’s words; moreover, Alaric himself would have had little patience with such agonised soul-searching and Duncan grimaced inwardly as he heard in imagination his cousin’s exasperation: “The sins of the world
again? Father Duncan, would you
please go away and send back my cousin!”
He shook himself mentally –besides, of a surety, it was largely Jehana and her histrionics that were responsible for Alaric’s attitude. No, much as he loved his cousin, his own fate was of more immediate concern.
Duncan had known in abstract that he risked death if his true ancestry were to be discovered, but to have the excruciating details lovingly told over was a completely different matter. Could he face the stake, even for his beloved Lord? He realised now that he simply did not know; all he could do at this moment was to fumble at his belt for his beads and discreetly tell them over and over: “Sancta Maria, Mater Dei, ora pro nobis peccatoribus, nunc et in hora mortis nostrae
Darby finished by speaking directly to those to be ordained – although the others remained, Darby wishing that none should miss this chance of edification - reminding them that each would be required to make his confession early on Sunday morning that they might be a ‘Pure and spotless offering to the Lord.’
“But, of course, my sons” he continued, “If any of you has anything of which you need to cleanse your conscience before then, do not be afraid to approach me as your father in God. Any hint of taint which you may fear has come near to you, any suspicion of evil, do not allow yourselves to suffer contagion when you can so easily be cleansed and receive absolution by confessing your righteous suspicion. For be sure, as Holy Scripture says, ‘there is nothing that is hidden that shall not be brought into the light’- the ‘hand of God’ will strike down the tempter in our midst as he struck down Jorian on the very steps of the altar.” His voice rising almost to a scream, Darby exulted, “I was there to witness the very wrath of God revealed: in terror and majesty, He came down upon the spawn of hell in fire and flame. Behold! God is not mocked.”
Duncan wished for nothing more than to make his escape, but to attempt to do so would be fatal. He had no idea how Jorian had been discovered, although he would have wagered his soul – he was
wagering his soul – that God had nothing to do with it, but to walk out now would be as clear an indication of guilt as any he could imagine. He might be Isaac going trustingly to be sacrificed, but he was not about to carry the kindling.
His pent up thoughts fuelled by fear beat round and round his head until finally they found a channel of release. For a few heady moments he allowed himself the glorious fantasy of kneeling before Darby with a show of due contrition. He imagined the latter’s expression; surely it would be even fuller of sanctimonious self-satisfaction than usual, and the unctuous words:
“Yes, my son, you have something to confess…”
“Bless me Father, for I have sinned… I confess …that you are about to meet the father of the lies you peddle as I blast you to hell. You know so much about the devil and his works, go and greet him for me!
Before he could luxuriate in this fantasy for too long, however, into his mind came that look of his mother’s – gentle and stern at the same time, as effective a reproof as Duncan had ever needed, and far more so than the rare occasions he had felt the sting of his father’s birch rod. He sighed inwardly, not sure whether to be angry or relieved at the gift of conscience that she had imparted to him and wondering, as he had wondered before, if the tortured history of the Deryni came not from being of the devil but from being too Christian. And that in itself was hardly an appropriate meditation for Good Friday. At least the hateful voice had stopped, although becoming aware again of the Archbishop sent more thoughts circling, even supposing he were fit to be a priest, which seemed doubtful, how could be possibly bear to have that man’s hands touch him in the rite of ordination?
All around him were rising to their feet, and Duncan’s body, trained to ceremonial gesture, followed suit. At last they were being released to break their fast, and Duncan followed blindly where the others led. As he blundered through the door of the refectory, he fought to gain control of his thoughts, aware that he must somehow get enough of a grip on himself to function normally, at least outwardly, and thankful that the silence of the pre-ordination retreat would hold until Sunday morning.
Finding a seat at the end of one of the long tables, he forced some of the tasteless boiled vegetables and coarse barley bread into his stomach, his gorge rising at every mouthful. He was again comforted to see how many of those sitting at table with him, undoubtedly fully human though they were, were having the same struggle, but he had never felt so alone. How had he managed to fool himself that they were his fellows, blind naïve fool that he was? Even the comfort of the divine presence was denied to him. He dared not make himself conspicuous by returning into the Cathedral, nor was he sure that what he had to say to God was fit for hallowed ground.
Somehow the meal dragged to its end, and Duncan stumbled to his feet, his body again automatically rising in concert with those around him as the novice master pronounced the closing grace. Though his mind and soul were far from obedient, as his superior made his way to the door his body bowed in trained reflex – only to be jerked upright at a sharp jab in the ribs. A voice hissed in his ear “Duncan, the bowls” and Edrich, two years his junior in seminary although a year or two older in age, the owner of both elbow and voice, rolled his eyes at him and mimed a scrubbing action. It was the task of those seated at the ends of the tables to take bowls and spoons to the serving tables for the kitchen staff then to remove; this menial task, customary in Seminary, had continued to be required in this pre-ordination retreat – a reminder, as Darby had piously intoned that they were yet Deacons and therefore servants.
The penance for shirking meal-time duties was to be obliged to scrub the floor of the refectory on hands and knees at the next mealtime while the senior seminary staff ate, it being all too possible that they would be joined on this auspicious occasion by the Archbishop. This was a humiliating penance at any time, and Duncan had no intention of being forced to so abase himself before Darby. Despite the blackness of his mood, therefore, he managed a smile of gratitude for Edrich before hastening to turn to his task. He gathered a stack of bowls and joined the queue behind others similarly laden. Reaching the trestle table, he leant forward to place his stack in the wicker baskets and in so doing felt a hand brush his arm. Looking up, he saw that Hugh de Berry, a fellow ordinand who had obviously been similarly unfortunate in his choice of seat, was just turning away from the table and was continuing to walk away as though the contact had been purely accidental. Duncan could have sworn that the touch, brief though it had been, had been intended to convey both sympathy and compassion, but he did not dare extend his senses to verify the impression.
If he had meant to reassure Duncan, then he had singularly failed – for a moment Duncan knew what it meant to say that the “cold hand of fear had clutched his heart”. Had he been so obvious? Otherwise why would Hugh -punctilious, nervous Hugh who had never been known to break a rule or attract any censure for disobedience- risk penance for that moment of forbidden physical contact? Please God, Duncan prayed, he had given no reason for anyone to suspect that Darby’s tirade had touched him personally.
Then reason again reasserted itself. Hugh, tall, gangly and with already thinning hair, was by far the clumsiest of the ordinands and could be guaranteed to bump into anyone or drop anything. He had once disarmingly suggested to the priest who was teaching them how to conduct the Eucharist that he was living proof of the presence of the Lord in the gifts of the altar, never having been known to fumble the sacred vessels. Reaching for what little severity lay in his nature, Father Aidan had sharply told Hugh that he had best never repeat that remark, “Unless you have a yearning for a week of bread and water and most likely a striped back to accompany them”. But gentle, kindly man that he was, he had then smiled at Hugh and remarked that the Lord’s mercy revealed itself in many strange ways. Remembering this, Duncan thought it was no wonder that Father Aidan had not been trusted to instruct them on the Deryni.
He fixed on that memory and forced himself to allay his fear. His nerves were overwrought that was all. Hugh jostled people on a daily basis, and the concern he had picked up was simply part of the man’s developing pastoral skills. Or so Duncan told himself. Nevertheless he slept but little that night.
The ordinands were housed in one of the dormitories belonging to the monastery attached to the Cathedral, the individual cells being separated by lath and plaster screens which reached only just above head height with no other concession made to privacy. Duncan dared not toss and turn too much for fear of his neighbours’ concern, and even had real sleep seemed possible, he was fearful of nightmares. The sheer horror of what the Archbishop had described was beginning to fade, but with every hour of darkness the whole idea of ordination seemed more and more of a charade. He would not, could not, kneel before such a man as Alexander Darby and promise obedience.
Link to Chapter Two: http://www.rhemuthcastle.com/index.php/topic,1470.msg12574.html#msg12574