She had been coming to this place since she was a child, not old enough to understand what the place was, nor tall enough to see over the people who always sat in front of her. She had hated that then, because it blocked her view of what was happening at the front of the large room. Looking back now, she found it funny that she had so often wailed in protest when she couldn't see what was going on.
The years had passed; she was now taller and older. And yet, despite the years' passage, she still came to this place of peace, to pray, to contemplate life's mysteries, to gain understanding and wisdom. And, only recently, it was here that she had fallen in love.
He had always had had a kind word for her each time she had seen the man she loved. His touch was constantly gentle, warm and reassuring. His eyes were so stunning in their greenness that it almost hurt to look at him, but as with any hunger, she did, watching his every graceful movement after listening for the sound of his footsteps upon the flagstones. Having him near was thrilling in a way she couldn't explain. It was a feeling that shot up from what seemed to be her toes to the top of her head, before bursting into the air--both hot and cold at the same time. He had been here, in this place for what seemed an eternity--for as long as she could remember, and her parents had told her, perhaps even longer. She had shrugged off such a silly suggestion.
Parents! What did they know anyhow?
Every day, she rushed home from school so that she could complete her chores so she could attend the evening's service. She often made up excuses as to why she needed to go to confession, and, upon her arrival, would make up sins that she could tell him, just so she could listen to his softly accented voice. With each syllable he spoke, she would close her eyes and sigh softly to herself in contentment. As long as she was near him, it was enough.
Or had been, before now.
Her parents didn't mind such a pious, well-behaved child and believed that God had provided them with a daughter destined to be one of the many Brides of Christ. They never questioned her outings and offered extra prayers during Mass for her. In fact, they had begun to speak of her vocation as a part of the Church with the Holy Father, trying to find out what might lay ahead of her in the coming years.
When she first felt the churning emotions his presence brought out in her, she thought perhaps she had come down with something for she had begun to feel both faint and dizzy. The day it happened, after Mass, her knees had become weak as had her muscles as she stood by her would-be lover at the door. So much so that as she slowly collapsed, he caught her before he hit the floor and swept her upward into his arms. His eyes were filled with both concern and compassion she had noticed before she snuggled her head into the warm crook of his cowl. His arms were far stronger than she thought they would be, but one could never tell what lay underneath the cassock he wore, especially at a distance.
"Madelaine," he had informed her, "I'm taking you to my room to lie down. I'll call your parents to come for you, but until they do, I'll tend to you." His cheek pressed against her forehead, making her head spin even more at the sensation of his slight beard. It seemed to be a struggle to catch her breath while he held her and it felt as if she was dreaming. If indeed she were dreaming, then she silently prayed to God to not let it end. With ease, he had maneuvered her past the chairs that were lined up in silent testimony to those who sought out a place to pray and into his private quarters.
With great care, he had eased her onto a bed, disentangling her arms from around his neck before raising a cool hand to touch her cheeks and brow. "Does this happen often?" he gently asked after sitting onto the edge of the bed beside her. When she shook her head no, he nodded. "Perhaps you are overly tired or hungry? Have you eaten today?"
"Yes, Father Darius," she dutifully replied. A warm smile answered her, instantly making her flush red and seemingly burn from the inside out. Reaching out she pulled his hand away and closely examined it. She hadn't and didn't know how to tell him what her secret was or if he would return her ardor. She had been taught from early on that priests could not take wives, or have romances or have what Mama and Papa had in the night, whatever it was. She wasn't quite certain exactly what they did, but she knew enough about it that it somehow it must be something wonderful that was shared between two people.
Father Darius pulled his hand away and patted her softly. "Care for a drink?" Rising, he strode with purpose toward a small tray upon the desk, poured her a glass of water, before returning to her.
She nodded as she struggled to sit upright then took a look around. She hadn't ever been in a priest's room before and to her, it looked a bit stark and told him so.
The monk took a look around then slowly shook his head. "Not as much as it used to be. There used to be much less than this." He walked back to the desk, picked up the phone and began to dial. "I'm calling your parents to come and get you."
Alarmed that the time alone with the man she loved was about to be ended, she blurted out, "I love you!"
The shocked look on his face lasted only seconds before calm composure settled over his handsome features again as he placed the phone down upon its cradle again. "Madeline," the monk said quietly, "I love you too." A moment passed between them as he watched the young girl before him become more self-confident in her assertion. He could see the struggle of saying it out loud for the first time as it melted into a firm belief that she indeed did love him. "But only as God loves you," he affirmed. "I can't love you in that manner. Priests can't--"
Words flew from her with swift interruption. "It doesn't matter, you see? You said you loved me--that's what matters. We could make it work--we could! Didn't you say, didn't God say, 'Love conquers all'? It's possible!" She lunged for the foot of the bed towards him, fully recovered. She gulped hard as she watched him wrap his hands as in prayer then slowly begin to pace.
Shaking his head as he pursed his lips, he answered, "Not that kind of love. Priests are not allowed to have wives, or have any..." He paused. "...relationships of any kind like that. To do so would be a sin in both God's eyes and in Rome's."
"Then it's a sin I am willing to take!" the girl retorted. "Please love me, Father. I'd do anything for you, I'd let you do anything to me, no matter what, just as long as we are together. We can run away where no one would find us, living and loving each other till we die!" Her hands reached out to him in entreaty, as her blue eyes beseeched him to please, please love her.
He halted for a moment, looking at the child-woman in front of him, feeling the stirrings of something long hidden while tendrils of memories from fifteen centuries past plucked at him. He swallowed hard and was still.
Five minutes passed.
To Madeline, it seemed like it was forever.
Finally the holy brother asked, "How old are you?"
Immediately came the answer. "Sixteen."
"Sixteen?" The man slowly sank into a chair next to a chess set and bowed his head. So young, so inexperienced, so utterly enticing, he found himself thinking. Taking a deep breath then releasing it slowly, he nodded. "Let me tell you a story."
Madeline sat back on the bed, with eyes narrowed and waited. She had always enjoyed Father Darius' stories--he had always told them in such a way that one could almost believe he had been in the time and place his stories took place in. One more story wouldn't hurt. Just one more, before they'd leave to start their lives together--somewhere they couldn't be found.
"Long ago, centuries ago, lived a man, a great general. His armies had conquered most of the then-civilized world, not once, but several times over the course of several years."
"I thought Rome did that." Despite herself, the girl was intrigued.
"They did," came the reply. "But even Rome was not as mighty as the general's armies. After awhile, Rome also fell to the general and his conquering horde. You see, the general loved his power, the bloodshed, the thrill of war. His men as well as himself plundered, robbed and ravaged the countryside that they went through. Women, girls, and young boys were collected and herded like cattle to be used by the men as they saw fit. Those who did not surrender themselves willingly, were taken by force."
A gasp slipped from the child-woman's mouth. "By force?"
The monk closed his eyes as he nodded. "Yes. Raped." His eyes opened to meet hers. "Even the general took great pleasure in the taking of the women--he always had the best ones reserved for him. Many of the women tried to kill themselves rather than face a soldier's pleasuring upon her." He paused again. "Most never were able to. The soldiers took them before they had a chance to do so. Some soldiers even took those who had managed to escape them by suicide in death."
A long, heavy silence seemed to fill the air until the holy man continued. "All throughout what is now Europe, the land was laid waste, the women and children raped, the spoils and riches of those peoples they conquered, plundered. The general was very good at what he did--he was a master at determining the hearts and souls of his men and how best to have them serve him. His armies pushed onwards to the sea until something happened."
Madeline pulled her thumb away from her mouth and inspected her freshly chewed nail. With eyes wide, she nervously inquired, "What?"
"Just outside of what was then the homeland of the Parisii, not too far from where we are now, he met a old woman. She told him things about himself that she had no way of knowing for they had never met, yet all that she said was true."
"It had been a long march; the general wanted to take this bit of land for his own as well as all the other lands he had already conquered. It stood in the way of his march to the sea and he was determined that no one would prevent him from obtaining his goal." The monk shrugged slightly. "The old woman refused to let him pass into the gates of the city and refused to allow the conquering general passage to the sea." His eyes looked upwards towards the simple crucifix on the wall as if he were remembering something in the distant past. "The old soldier became enraged at the woman's presumption that she could stop him as well as his thousands of men, just by saying a few simple words he didn't understand."
Madeline crawled closer to the end of the bed, fascinated yet enthralled at the look on the man's face before her. The calm composure had slipped from the man's face, having been replaced by a jaw set in steely determination and flashing eyes. All mannerisms of a peaceful, harmonious lifestyle seemed to have disappeared from his demeanor that had been there only minutes before.
The man who sat in simple robes before her swallowed hard, glanced back at the crucifix then crossed himself. In a slightly hoarse voice he went on. "He removed her legs with one swift swipe of his sword, so that the old woman couldn't run away from his wrath. She didn't cry out, only prayed for the man. Then he took her by force in as many demeaning ways as he could; she continued to pray louder for him throughout it all. Next, he took her hands, so that she couldn't defend herself and once that was done, took her voice." His voice shook. "Still she managed to pray in such a way that he knew that that was what she was doing."
"She didn't die?" The young girl had pulled her fist from her mouth long enough to ask her question then replaced it as she waited for the answer."
"Not then. She prayed for the general with her eyes once she no longer could speak so he took those from her too. Her last words before he took her voice had been, 'Peace be with you.' Then he took her heart to render her faith from her and her vow to not let him pass through the gates of the Parisii homeland. Finally, he took her head."
Madeline cringed with tears in her eyes at the vivid image she could see in her mind from his words. "OH!" she exclaimed, then began to sob. "The old woman! How could he!"
"It was war," came the simple reply. "Things happen in war. I hope you never experience in your lifetime. Things beyond imagination, things that happen that make you suspend your beliefs because it is too horrifying to think of, especially when you know that it is true."
"What happened to the general? Did he ever get to the sea?"
"He never left the gates of the Parisii homeland ever again in his lifetime. You see, faith and God's love changed him. He swore off pleasures of the flesh after the old woman died, too ashamed of his actions against her and all the thousands of others who he had crossed paths with in his lifetime. His personal atonement for his actions was to ensure that peace comes to the world, one small action at a time. It will take time, but someday, it will come true." In two rapid strides, he swooped downwards, forcing a long, hot and lingering kiss upon the girl. "Speak of God's love, Madeline and not that of the flesh. I can't love you. I made a vow a very long time ago and I intend to keep it."
Dazed and confused, with fingertips delicately touching her bruised lips, the girl squirmed out of his grasp and jumped out of the bed, sobbing as she made her way to the door. She paused as she jerked the door open then looked back over at the man she thought she loved. He wasn't who she thought he was. Not at all. The realization made her cry all the harder. As she slammed the door shut, the familiar, yet now haunting voice followed her out.
"Peace be with you." When the robed man heard the chapel door slam, he dropped to his knees in front of the crucifix, quietly remarking to his God, "Father, forgive me for I have sinned..."
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|The Book of Darius
(This page last updated 10/12/2002)