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"A-men..." The voices held onto the last note until it filled the entire chapel, almost as if it took on a life of its own. One hand raised in blessing, making a cross in mid-air as the monk uttered the final blessing before he nodded at his small congregation. "Peace be with you all tonight, the night of the Christ child's birth." A beauteous smile brightened the monk's features as the congregation began to slip away. He followed them, mingling in the throng, providing both blessings and comfort for those who needed it tonight for one reason or another.

Finally, the last person was out the door and with a heavy sound, the door was closed behind them against the chilly and snowy night air. The monk leaned his head upon door's heavy planking that was worn smooth from centuries of those who had come to worship and pray, and perhaps gain the grace of God from the simply designed church. "Holy Father, may you bless them all on this night," he whispered to the still air that surrounded him. "Keep them safe from harm, and warm by their fires. Save them from hardship; teach them kindness and love, not hatred or cruelty as so many already know." He swallowed down the emotion-laden lump in his throat that had risen as it always did on this night as he finished his prayer with a heartfelt and solemn, "Amen."

Upon opening his eyes, he turned to idly watch the hundreds of candles flicker in the small nave as well as the chapel, creating brilliant flashes of color from the richly colored vestments on the statues of the Holy Mother and on St. Julien. The shadows caused by the candles danced wildly about the walls, making the stained glass windows seem to shimmer in a rainbow of rubies, sapphires, emeralds, ambers and a wealth of other colors as well as causing the dark corners to emphasize it all. He genuflected, crossing himself as he did so then rose just as the bells from all over Paris burst out in celebration of Christ's birth. Even the bells of his own church tolled its bells, joining in the cacophony of the night, with each church, cathedral and chapel, having a distinct tonal quality to add to the night air.

After a few moments more, the bells stopped ringing and all was relatively quiet again. The monk walked about the rows of chairs, straightening and cleaning them as he went until all was in order again. Once his task was done, he sat down on one of the low steps that led to the small alter and closed his eyes, remembering as he did, all the years and all the Christmases he had seen during his time as a man of God.

"Excuse me," a small voice said in his direction. "May I have your attention, please?"

Darius' eyes jerked open and searched about looking for the person that had said the words he had just heard. He hadn't heard the door open and close as usual when someone came into the church; as far as he knew, he was alone. With a caution born over a thousand years before, he spoke to the chapel. "Who's there? Show yourself."

"Who's there? It's me, down here--look below you!" replied the voice.

The monk glanced downwards and saw at his feet a small brown mouse with whiskers quivering and bright black coals for eyes. Startled at the sight, he abruptly stood upright and took a step backwards, away from the mouse.

"Pleasse!" the mouse squeaked at him. "Don't step on me or hurt me! I come in peace to speak to you, if you are Darius." A moment passed then the mouse inquired, "Are you he?"

The monk looked about covertly then knelt to peer closer at the mouse. "Are you talking to me?"

The mouse countered, "Are you Darius?"

A slow nod came in answer to the query. "But how--?"

The mouse raised up until it stood on its back legs, and waved a furry foot at the man who towered above him. "Long, long ago, we animals were given the blessing of understandable speech, just as you. But, when this particular blessing was bestowed upon us by the One over all, he only allowed it to occur once a year in celebration of a very special birth."

Darius lowered him down to sit on the flagstones of the church. "The legend…" he began to say in wonder and awe. "The legend is true then."

"Many legends are true, Darius. You should know that since you yourself are one." The mouse lowered itself down so that all four paws were upon the ground again then it scurried up the length of Darius' simple robe and perched on his knee.

"Some legends are only that--a legend. Some are only partially true. Some are outright lies!" Darius said to his small companion as he held his hand out so that the mouse could crawl upon it; it did just that. "Why do you come to speak to me? Why me? Why now?"

"My kind and others of many other species of animals as well as the insects know your secrets, as much as we know the rest of mankind's secrets. We know of their hopes, dreams, their fears and doubts, their cruelty and aggression, their need to dominate, rather than share everything with all things, including we, the animals."

"How do you know this?" Darius said as he raised the mouse to eye level and looked it over in curiosity as well as delight.

"We are the watchers of your kind, Darius. We have watched you since you first appeared upon this earth. We hear everything you say and do, we see you at your finest and at your worst. We can be anywhere that you cannot be, and be privy to things that you can only dream of. We can do it most of the time unnoticed because we are so small, but often there is a great risk involved to our kind. You kill us and, in turn, we have the means to kill you through disease. In the end, there can be only one left on this planet." The mouse bared its teeth at Darius. "But we are willing to share it with you, if you are willing to try and do the same."

Darius frowned and looked around then did a double take.

All around his feet on the floor, on the walls, even hanging from the rafters were animals. Big and small, feathered or smooth, scales or shelled, hanging by a silken thread or by their feet, all of them were watching the monk in silent anticipation of his answer.

"But how?" he asked again of the animals. "How can I help? I'm only a simple man of God. I have no influence, no power…no means to help you."

"But you have one thing many of your kind do not have, Darius," replied a great owl who had perched on the alter and stared at him.

Darius stared at the owl, trying to tell himself that this wasn't a dream that this was reality and indeed he was talking to animals and they with him. "What do I have, that other men do not?" he asked the owl.

"Faith. Have faith and an answer will come to you as to how to help all of us, including your kind."

"Faith?" The monk replied in astonishment at the owl's pronouncement.

"Faith." With a quick flutter of wings, the owl lifted up from its makeshift perch and sailed back to the church's rafters again. As he did so, the rest of animals faded away back into the darkness from which they had come. Only the mouse remained in Darius' palm, calm and relaxed as it groomed its long whiskers but when finished scurried down the man's long robes again, stopping only to pause and look at him a long time before it too melted back into the dark shadows of the church.

Darius sadly watched it go then locked his hands in prayer for all of God's creatures, man and beast alike. All the while, the owl's words to him whirled about in his head.

"Have Faith and the answer will come to you."

Faith…


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Author's notes:
There is a belief in some countries, in France in particular (IIRC) that all animals are given the gift of speech at midnight as Christmas Eve turns into Christmas and that the animals retain that power until the dawn. After that, they become mute again, only to make whatever sounds their individual species makes until the next Christmas comes once more... (If I am wrong as to the country, I apologize but it is a belief/legend in some parts of the world.)


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(This page last updated 09/21/2002)


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