Time present and time past
T.S. Eliot,"Burnt Norton", I
It always began the same way—celebrating Mass alone in the empty church, the chalice full of Holy Water instead of wine, the faceless man at the west doors with a sword in his hand and an epithet on his lips. And the hissing snakes leaping out to bind him in their coils, the spilled chalice crushed underfoot, and just before the sword's fall, the circle of light…
With a choked cry, Darius jolted awake, breathing hard and sick to his stomach. It was the fourth night in a row that this particular nightmare had struck, leaving him shaken and wakeful. Knowing from experience that it was useless to lie down again, he dressed and went downstairs to make a cup of hot tea.
He sat at the kitchen table and waited for the kettle to boil, resting his face in his hands, but not closing his eyes. He felt drained to the point of exhaustion, but he did not want to sleep and risk dreaming again. Lately, in the wake of the familiar nightmares, other dreams had come, dreams about other people, friends and acquaintances, dreams about their deaths.
Perhaps this is not prophecy, he thought. Perhaps I am simply going mad. Odd as it seemed, he found the idea of being insane preferable to the alternative. It did happen to Immortals sometimes, when the burden of loss, or of Immortal life became too much to bear. His friend Sean Burns had treated many Immortal patients at his private clinic near Le Havre. More than once, he had considered calling Sean to ask for something to suppress the dreams, just so that he could get some rest. But then he would have to tell Sean about the dreams, and he didn't want anyone else involved in this. It was bad enough that Enkidu knew.
Still, despite his Immortal healing abilities and enormous strength of will, the strain was beginning to show. The dreams were even starting to invade his waking hours. During the day, when he should have been concentrating on the task at hand, he found himself thinking more and more often about them, sometimes with dangerous results. Only the other day, while playing chess with Duncan MacLeod, he suddenly caught himself talking about a death-dream he had had concerning their mutual friend Thackeray, and letting slip that he had dreamt of his own death as well. He had managed to save the situation by pretending that it was all a very funny joke. And Duncan had laughed and said, "You really had me going there for a minute, Darius." But later, as he was leaving, Duncan had commented, "You're looking a bit tired, old friend. Don't work too hard."
I must be more careful, that is all. The kettle sang out, and he got up to fill the teapot. When the tea was brewed, Darius took his mug into the study. Since sleep was impossible, he might as well get some work done. There was a report for the parish council to finish, letters to answer. And with Methos coming over for dinner tonight, he would have preparations to make for that. It was good to keep busy, as the Oldest Living Immortal often said, and he should know.
We, drawn into the circle,
Rainer Maria Rilke, "Elegy."
In the guest house of the Franciscan monastery of St. Jerome, some forty miles outside Paris, Diana Connolly woke up to find herself thrashing around on the cold floor beside her bed. Damn! Not again! This was shaping up to be a rough week. Maybe she'd have to break down and ask Brother Michel, the infirmarian, for the sleeping pills again. They left her feeling groggy the next day, but less so than a sleepless night.
She disentangled herself from the twisted blankets and pulled on some sweats. Might as well forget about sleep for tonight, anyway. She staggered out onto the dew-drenched grass of the lawn. The sky was clear and very beautiful, alive with stars and burning planets. The waning moon was still bright enough to cast shadows. Taking several deep breaths, she began the slow, hypnotic movements of the longer tai-chi form. The nightmares always made her jumpy for some time afterwards, but doing tai-chi usually calmed her down.
Darius and Sean Burns had told her that she had these nightmares because she had seen Grayson kill her husband James in Paris. That was the reason Darius had wanted her to come to the monastery, so that she could recuperate in a quiet place. But Diana was not so sure they were right. Certainly, once she learned of Grayson's death in Seacouver, the dreams had subsided for a while. But now they had returned with a vengeance, stronger and more violent. After the dreams returned, her first impulse had been to go immediately to St. Julien. But what could she do there? Stake out the church armed with James' sword, waiting for phantoms? At best, Darius would think her delusional again, and look upon her with pity. At worst, he would see her as delusional and dangerous, a potential killer herself. Either way, he and Sean and Enrique would want to commit her to a mental hospital. Sometimes she found herself wondering if she really was crazy after all. But that would be better than having the dreams turn out to be true.
Even by keeping quiet, Diana knew she could not hope to conceal from Brother Enrique the fact that the dreams were troubling her again—he was too observant. Fortunately, he had been quite preoccupied of late, spending much of his time in his room doing some sort of research, and so far she had been able to escape his notice. So she spent her nights doing tai-chi, and her days working, drawing, and pretending to be cheerful. And she prayed a lot. Ironically, in the past she had never been a religious person, and had never really felt that she believed in much of anything. Strange indeed the paths that desperation led one to follow.
Diana went through the form a few more times. It would be more than an hour before the light would begin to show on the eastern horizon. Having spent many nights out here in the grounds, she had learned to tell time without a watch. She decided to take a walk around Enrique's rose garden. That would kill another half-hour or so, if she walked slowly.
But when she reached the garden, she stopped. Someone was there before her, sitting on a bench in the moonlight, still as a statue. It wasn't one of the monks—she knew them all by now. The tall, powerful figure wore a caped Australian cattleman's coat , and the pale light of the moon glanced off his silvery hair, which was as thick and curly as a sheep's pelt. A massive, shelving brow hid deepset eyes.
She wondered if he had been watching her the entire time. The bench he was sitting on was the perfect vantage point. But he certainly saw her now—he was standing up. For a long moment they looked at each other in silence. She saw there was an air of majesty in the way he carried himself, not unlike Brother Enrique. This, and the trademark long coat told her that he was probably an Immortal. She knew Brother Enrique was the only Immortal currently at the monastery, and she wondered if she should run and warn him. Or simply run.
Sensing her alarm, he held his hands out to the sides to show that they were empty. "I won't hurt you," he said quietly. "You don't have to be afraid."
"What makes you think I'm afraid?" she answered, trying to sound braver than she felt.
"I had no idea that the Franciscan monks had become so progressive," he remarked conversationally. "Has the monastery gone co-ed? The last time I was here, it was exclusively a boy's club."
"It still is," she replied in a guarded tone. "I am just a temporary anomaly, a guest of Brother Enrique. Have you come for him?" There was an edge to her voice.
"Ah!" he said, acknowledging that she had recognized him as an Immortal. "Not in the sense that you mean," he chuckled. "Enrique, as you call him, was my first teacher. He and I are very old friends. A peaceful visit was my only intention."
"You choose an odd time for a visit, whoever you are."
"I caught a ride north with a long-distance truck driver, and so my schedule was dictated by his. And my name is Daray, to answer your other question." He stepped towards her and offered his hand.
"Daray? Of St. Julien and St. Denis?" she asked, eyes widening.
"I was a monk at both St. Julien le Pauvre and the Royal Abbey for a time, and also here at St. Jerome," he replied, amused. "But that was quite a long time ago, well before you were born."
But Diana was satisfied, and took his offered hand. "I know who you are now," she said warmly. "Darius told me while I was staying with him that you had once helped my husband James just after he became Immortal. I am Diana Connolly, and I'm honored to meet you."
"I remember James well, although it has been many a year since we saw each other," he said gravely. "I was very sorry when Enrique wrote me to say that he was gone. My condolences for your loss."
"Thank you." She glanced over in the direction of the dormitory. "Would you like some coffee or something? I just saw a light go on over in the kitchen. Brother Philippe will have a pot brewing in a few minutes."
"That sounds good." He went back to the bench and picked up the duffle bag he had left there, and they walked together towards the entrance to the refectory, which was located in the basement of the stone building. "So you know Darius well, then?" he asked.
"He took care of me after James died," she said simply. "I don't know what I would have done if he hadn't. Will you be going to see him while you are in France?"
"I had planned to make St. Julien my next port of call," he assured her. "He and Enkidu… sorry, Enrique… are my two dearest friends."
Diana had a sudden thought. She stopped just as they reached the refectory door, and looked up at the tall Immortal. "I would like to ask you to do something for me when you visit Darius."
His eyebrows went up. "And what might that be?"
"Stay with him," she said, her face very serious. "He needs your help."
"Darius? My help? What do you mean?" he asked.
"I can't explain," she answered. "You wouldn't believe me even if I did. But when you see him, you will understand." She opened the door to the refectory and went in, calling out, "Brother Philippe! Is there any coffee yet?"
Daray followed her, a puzzled expression on his face. Understand what? he wondered. Why is it that women always assume that men can read minds? He shook his head, having learned long ago that some questions simply had no answers.
"This place hasn't changed much," Daray commented as Enkidu showed him to a guest room on the top floor of the monks' dormitory.
"Not on the surface," Enkidu agreed. "But there have been changes, nevertheless. Even the most traditional of us recognize we can hardly serve others if we do not maintain a connection with the modern world. And we must remain a viable institution financially. So change comes slowly, but it comes. We even have a presence on the Web, a monastery homepage which we use to provide information about the order, and even to sell some of our products."
"WWW-Dot-Monks-R-Us-Dot-Com?" Daray joked.
"Something like that," Enkidu chuckled. "It was inevitable, I suppose. How long could we hold out, when even the Vatican has a website these days?"
"And what does Father Benedict think of all this?" Daray asked, stowing his duffle bag in the tiny closet and wandering over to the window.
"Until very recently, he showed no interest whatsoever, but Diana Connelly changed that. She started him surfing all the other Franciscan pages and the Catholic Supersite, and sending e-mail to the Vatican, and he was hooked. Suddenly he decided we needed our own page so that we could 'expand our ministry'. Diana worked with one of the novices to design it, with Father Benedict hanging over both their shoulders—no mean feat. She has also been teaching Father Benedict tai-chi, which I must admit has done wonders for his mobility and general health."
"I saw her practicing on the lawn in the middle of the night when I arrived, and we talked," Daray said. "She said something rather odd--that Darius needed my help, and I should go to see him. Do you know of any reason for this? Is something wrong at St. Julien?'
The Akkadian hesitated, remembering his promise to Darius. "You must ask him yourself," he replied.
"What sort of answer is that?" Daray wanted to know. "Is he in trouble or not?"
"I know nothing definite," Enkidu said truthfully. "I can only repeat, ask Darius."
"You know something, but he has made you promise to keep silent," Daray surmised. "That sounds like Darius. He always was secretive, and never wanted anyone worrying about him, even if there was good reason."
"I cannot speak for him," Enkidu said quietly, giving his friend a significant glance. "But I believe he would always welcome a chance to talk to an old friend. You were always closer to him than I, Daray. You have known him since he first entered the religious life—from the day he took the Holy Man's Quickening. Perhaps he will open his heart to you."
Daray looked at his former teacher. If Enkidu was dropping such broad hints, there must be something serious going on. "I had originally planned to spend a couple of weeks here with you, but perhaps I should go on to Paris tomorrow. If all is well, I can come back. Who knows? Maybe I can persuade Darius to take a little vacation time and return with me."
Enkidu laughed. "I have extended countless invitations, but it has been over ten years since I have been able to talk him away from St. Julien. I wish you better luck."
"Thanks," Daray answered, fervently hoping he wouldn't need it.
A bell rang somewhere on the monastery grounds. "There is the bell for morning prayers. You are welcome to join us in chapel, if you like, or if you prefer to rest, I will wake you later when it is time for lunch."
"I think I will join you for prayers, if you don't mind." Together they went downstairs and walked over to the small chapel, where the rest of the monks were gathering. It was almost like old times.
|The Book of Darius
(This page last updated 02/28/2002)