11th March

The Abbot

It was the savage boys watching from the cliffs who warned the Abbot that they were coming. He thanked the boys, stilled their excitement, and calmly made his preparations. To the violence that was about to be unleashed he would offer no resistance, hoping thus to neuter it. One day, he thought, the blood lust will drain from these men of war, and remorse bring them to the God of those they have butchered.

With the books, the holy relics, the silver chalices and whatever else they could carry, he sent the younger monks and the savage boys deep into the hills. Although trembling with fear, the brothers at first refused to leave him, so he explained patiently why they must. ‘When they arrive, they will need to kill. It is who they are. If you remain, they will kill you because your youth and strength make you the nearest we have to warriors. But you must survive because you are the future. By killing us old ones they kill only the present.’

He kept with him Blind Eoin, and Osseine, who was deaf and so crippled that he could not have fled anyway. The Abbot blessed the young ones and kissed them goodbye. ‘Bury us on your return,’ he said. ‘Then begin again. Rebuild what they have destroyed, restore the precious things that speak of God, and prepare for when you too must die, perhaps in the same manner. Now go.’

Later, he led Eoin and Osseine down to the beach and helped them to kneel in the sand. He placed Eoin nearest the water, since he would not see death wading towards him from the boats. Further back he placed Osseine, who would not hear Eoin’s cries. At the high-water mark, he himself knelt. He would see and hear all, and know what was coming to him. Yet to die in this beautiful place of white and blue, of solitude and storm, where he had lived a pure and penitent life, was not the worst thing. And from here, so he faithfully believed, he would go to God; to whom, as the oars and sails approached, he made one last prayer for forgiveness.

Reader: Kate Molleson
Fiddle: Aidan O'Rourke
Harmonium: Kit Downes
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