Triton's Deep

By K.H. Rennie

Sci-Fi, Fantasy

Paperback, eBook

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683
7 mins

Chapter 1  Dolor

The day was drawing to a close. Enzo shivered slightly as he waited for his brother monk to finish inspecting the dry grasses at their feet.

‘Look, Enzo, barley is growing wild here. Such abundance is almost more than we mortals deserve. We must gather our crops while we can. They will sustain us over the long winter months.' Brother Absalom's cassock lifted gently in the breeze until it ballooned around his squat form, giving Enzo the impression that the monk might at any moment float away into the air.

Enzo pulled his own cassock closer. He had not the same abundance of flesh covering his young frame and he felt the chill as the sharp wind found its way through the coarsely woven cloth to the skin beneath. ‘We should hurry, Brother, if we are to be back in time for evening study.’

‘Of course, forgive me Enzo. I never cease to marvel at the amazing complexity of this thing we call nature. But let's get on. Tomorrow we’ll come back for more.’

And so they worked quickly, gathering neat bunches, tying them into sheaves and then into tight bundles. When each had a full load the two monks turned back across the fields towards the dark edifice of the abbey. They were near the sea now, and Enzo heard the familiar sound of waves rushing and retreating from the rocky shore. As the fields were a comfort to Brother Absalom, so the sound of the sea brought gladness to Enzo’s heart. The sea had a voice he thought he alone could hear, almost a language of its own expressed in the deep thud of heavy surf against dark cliffs, or the gentle whisper of foam on a fine calm morning. And he heard it in the sound of the birds wheeling anxiously above angry waves, their shrill cries speaking to him of windswept escarpments above desolate shores.

Brother Absalom saw the look of relief in Enzo’s eyes and watched how his footsteps quickened at the first taste of salt air. ‘Ah, you are a sea bird, Enzo. Your mother was a seal or a dolphin and you were washed up on the shore in a crib of woven seaweed. When we pulled you out you had sea flowers in your hair.’

Brother Absalom often teased Enzo in this way. It made him smile to think of it, but in fact it was not far from the uncomfortable truth. Enzo was once a foundling child who had been left at the abbey gate in a woven crib and wrapped only in a rough shawl. He brought nothing of his own into the world except a curious charm entwined in his tiny fingers. He now wore this charm on a chain around his neck. It was an odd-shaped figure carved from a pale, green stone. None of the other monks had ever seen the like of it. Some had offered to trade things of value for it, but to Enzo it was a priceless link to a past he might never know.

But if the past was dim the future was perhaps clearer. The monks had brought him up as a novice of their order, allowing him free run of the abbey and expecting nothing in return but obedience to their rules of conduct. In a few months he would reach the age that allowed participation in all their activities. Enzo would be ordained as a fellow of the grey company, sheltered and protected, and carefully tutored until he became at last a full practitioner of the New Lore.

The abbey was now quite near, but Brother Absalom did not head directly for the stairs leading to the gates. Instead, he took a wider path, skirting the edge of the village where small houses clung like a collection of molluscs to the side of the great southern wall.

Both monk and novice moved more cautiously as they drew nearer to the village. They pulled their cowls over their heads and stared fixedly at the ground. Enzo was almost overcome with curiosity about the world beyond the abbey, but he had been sternly warned not to even contemplate communicating with the people outside the walls, so he had never dared more than a swift, sidelong glance whenever he passed the village. In those brief glimpses he had seen little to feed his imagination. The people went about their business, taking no interest in the monks’ passing. The villagers rarely even stopped to stare, so accustomed were they to the silent grey figures moving along the path between the abbey and the fields.

Enzo had occasionally seen cloaked figures, some slight, others tall and powerful, but even in the heat of summer they revealed themselves hardly at all. Once he had forgotten himself and stopped to watch as a young girl loosened her bodice and bent to the well to splash water over her bare arms and shoulders. Brother Absalom had shaken him roughly and forced him to look away, but he still remembered her long fall of shining hair, and the recollection of her graceful figure often haunted his nights. He had asked Brother Absalom to explain why the abbey and its great library were isolated from the village. His reply had only raised more questions.

'There are many mysteries in our world, Enzo. There are the villagers, people just as we are, but then there are the outcasts, the Ulani. Why are they so different? We have only the books as our source of knowledge, but they tell us little. The abbot wishes to preserve what knowledge we do have, and that is the great purpose of our order, to keep all that we know intact. Our age is a dark age and Brother Abbot seeks only to keep the small light burning.'
Absalom had then bent to pick a small flower from a shrub. ‘How do we know this plant is called Ironwood? Because we have books that tell us so. How do we know that a combination of potash and a tiny red berry will soothe a painful bladder? Because it has all been written down. Who wrote these things? Where did this knowledge arise? Perhaps one day someone will come to enlighten us. But until then the knowledge must be carefully studied ... and protected.’

And so now they passed by the village, loads firmly fixed to their shoulders and heads bowed in quiet contemplation of their trudging feet. Enzo mastered his curiosity by blocking all thoughts of the village from his mind and he looked forward, instead, to the homely familiarity of his tiny cell. His living quarters were little more than a shelf carved into the abbey wall with drapes that could be drawn for privacy, but he was grateful for the small round portal that allowed him to look directly out onto the sea.

The daylight hours at the abbey were taken up with work, and his only access to the sea came during the early mornings. He would leave his cell before daybreak and climb quickly down the cliff face to the beach. Once there he would throw off his habit and dive joyfully into the waves, feeling the cold water at first as sharp pain, but then gradually adjusting until he was as one with the element. He could swim for a full hour until the bell rang, then he must hurry back to take his place among the line of silent grey figures moving to the great hall. If anyone suspected his morning absences they had not questioned why he was often the last in line and had to push past others to his place. His habitual lateness was put down to the shortcomings of youth and the need to spend as much time asleep as was permitted.

‘Ah, home at last.’ Brother Absalom relaxed as they approached a series of stone steps that would lead them through the abbey gardens and into the cloister by a hidden gate. ‘There is safety here, Enzo, and the security of work. Work is what holds the spirit together. Good work that will be of great benefit to all our kind.’

‘And perhaps others not of our kind,’ he added as an afterthought. ‘Perhaps even the Ulani, and others who live beyond the limits of our known world, if so they be, might one day benefit from our labours.’

When safely inside the great gates Enzo joined a group of brother monks who had gathered at the well to wash before the evening meal. He was conscious of some tension among the brothers who now leaned together in small groups of two or three and spoke in whispers, looking around frequently to see if they were observed. When Enzo approached they immediately became silent and turned back to the washing troughs. Enzo had learned to take no offence at this behaviour. Although he had spent most of his life in the company of the brothers, until he was finally ordained he accepted that he would not be privy to many things, especially gossip or intrigue.

The evening meal in the refectory was subdued. Talking was permitted at meal times and there was usually a quiet hum of conversation. The monks spoke mainly about their studies and the often strange information they found in the books given to them for copying, but this evening the tension Enzo had sensed at the well persisted. He looked to Brother Absalom sitting opposite. His face showed nothing but quiet appreciation of the bowl of soup he was so diligently attending to. Despite himself, Enzo found his curiosity growing and he allowed his mind to settle on each solemn figure in turn until impressions came to him of each brother’s emotions, some troubled, some angry, some merely sad.

There was one, however, whose thoughts caused Enzo to withdraw and quickly drop his eyes towards his plate. Never had he sensed such a tumult of emotion. Brother Ozwald, always so correct in his manners and so careful of the lore, was now oblivious to all around him. Enzo saw the spare, balding monk hunched over his meal and isolated now from his brothers, a lone figure surrounded by shadows. The thoughts Enzo had intercepted were chaotic, moving swiftly in bright streams of fear followed by an immense yearning, then quickly displaced by repugnance and self-loathing. But back they swung again always to the central core of desperate, shining, desire.
-I must go to her
-no no it is forbidden
-her body comes alive when I touch her
-we will be alone again tonight – she waits on the shore

To Enzo’s young and inexperienced mind the tumult of thoughts he sensed were shocking in the extreme. Again he looked to Brother Absalom, but there was no sign that the jovial monk, or indeed any others, shared his capacity to see into the minds of those around him. As a child Enzo had quickly learned that if any of his unusual abilities were suspected he would be instantly regarded with suspicion and fear; he learned to pull a screen across his mind and use the faculties he possessed only sparingly. He regretted now that he had intruded on Brother Ozwald’s privacy. Whatever was happening here was no business of his. Plainly, Brother Ozwald was the cause of the gloom and consternation that had descended on the refectory, but Enzo would wait patiently for the outcome, as he had learned to do many times before.

****
Apart from the daily routines of copying texts and cleaning the abbey until the ancient, worn stones shone like marble there was yet another aspect to the training of a novice monk; from an early age Enzo had been forced to participate in the gruelling physical practices that all monks were required to follow, the art of swordsmanship.

Enzo spent many hours in the abbey courtyard learning the art of swift movement and feeling the weight and balance of the long practice sword. His sword had only a dull edge, but it was balanced to perfection, and although he was still growing in strength and height he would soon graduate to a real sword.

Brother Bernardus was the most proficient in the practice of swordsmanship and Enzo never missed an opportunity to watch him train. Other monks were also expert at wielding the sword, but when Bernardus practiced the thrust and parry was like poetry, the long slim knife sweeping in great arcs, the elegant swing of the wide skirted robe, the movements a study in pure concentration. Enzo hoped one day to match this standard of skill, but he knew it would take time and long hours of dedicated practice to perfect the art of movement and powerful grace.

Brother Gerontius the Elder had once questioned him about his plans for future study. 'What would you do, Enzo, when you are a fully ordained monk? What will be your special mastery here?'

Enzo did not hesitate. 'I would be like Brother Bernardus. I would be master of the sword.'
'The sword? You surprise me. I had not thought you so taken with swordsmanship. Would not study of the book be more suitable to your nature?'

'With respect Brother Gerontius, book study is for older monks. I would develop my skills to defend the abbey against invaders. I would learn the passion that drives the sword of Brother Bernardus.'

'Passion is it that drives Brother Bernardus? Perhaps it is so.' Brother Gerontius was thoughtful, but then turned back to his copying task with a dismissive wave. 'Many have mastered the sword, Enzo, but few are masters of themselves. That is a skill not so easily learnt.'



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