The Abbot opened the door to the two visitors to the monastry. They were an odd pair, one in black jeans, and black T-shirt, the other with his hair in dread-locks, and black skin. He looked familiar, but the Abbot couldn’t place him.
“Can I help you gentlemen?” The abbot asked.
“He’s ‘ere for de fighting trainin'” said the man with dreadlocks in a thick Jamacian accent.
“I’m sorry, I think you’ve got the wrong place.”
“I doon’t tink so Abbot. Dis here de place where dem what needs get trained to fight de things that go bump in de night.”
The abbot surveyed the man. “The training is long, and intense, it will take years. ”
“You got tree monts”
“I’ll need at least a year”
The man in black watched the two of them, impassive. His young face warn with lines that showed sights that no one needs to have seen. The Abbot turned to him, “Well, Accolyte, it seems that you have much work ahead of you.” The acolyte reached for a ruck-sack that the black man was carrying. “You’ll have no need of that here. Your needs will be provided for. Follow me”. The accolyte and his friends exchanged shrugs, and the Accolyte fell in behind the Abbot. The accolyte said nothing when he was shown his quaters, and continued to say nothing when the Abbot explained about the monk’s habbit. The silence became deafaning when the Abbot explained about the lack of underware. The abbot then left him alone to get aquainted with the monastry.
The accolytes first duty was to fetch the water. The monastry had had a tank built on the roof during victorian times and had an internal water system put in. It was indeed a luxury, but as the monks here have always been elderly it seemed fitting. The tank was designed to be filled by the rain, or, when the monastry had one, an accolyte. Being old, the tank leaked. A full tank would serve the monastry for a week, but with the leak, it would need to be filled often. The abbot stood at his window and watched the accolyte strugle up the narrow wooden stairs with two buckets. At some point the accolyte will realise that the tank leaked, and then one of two things will happen. Either he will decide to fix the tank, which he will have to do in his spare time, or he will decide that his spare time is his own, and will simply resign himself to filling the tank every day. At the end of about a month, the Accolyte will expect some words of wisdom. The Abbot stirred his tea, and throught about this. There was no right or wrong choice. Ideally of course, the monastry could do with having the tanks fixed, the donations are not what they once were, but that would not in anyway invalidate his training. Should he choose to fix the tank in his own time, the Abbot will say something about giving up one’s time for the good of the world, even if they don’t know what you’ve done. Should he choose to continue to fill the tank every day, the Abbot will say something about accepting the things that one cannot change. Probably wordier, probably with a few verses from an ancient text. Perhaps, the abbot mused draining his cup, with some long story as an example.
At the end of the first month, the Abbot had watched the accolyte learn the easy lessons. It was a few days before the Accolyte was forced to ask for help for the chaffing. Men used to waring trousers are often undaware of the chaffing that the rubbing of legs together cause. Eventually, of course, the skin will toughen, but untill it does it is painful. The accolyte quickly found the monk who was profficient in herbs. Not that it was difficult, he spent most of hit time in the grounds, or in his shed. Unusually, however, this accolyte chose to learn how to make the balm. A good start, normally it takes untill the middle of the second month, and some prodding. The accolyte had also got to know the monks, in some form or an other and was doing some of their more physically-demanding chores. The Abbot would probably need some words of wisdom about that as well. Of course, the real lesson was that all of this work was improving the Accolytes generall fitness. The Abbot would probably have to start doing some actuall training work with the Accolyte. He seemed to have the right temperment, and from all accounts he seemed to be worth training. It would start soon, just as soon as the accolyte had finished the repairs to the railings.
“This is Bessy” The Abbot said, patting the die of the cow. The accolyte nodded. “She’s not very well, it will be your job to look after her. Day and night. She’s a very precious asset to this monastry. You will have to move into the barn to clean her out on a regular basis. In addition to your other chores.” The accolyte said nothing, but smiled cheerfully. “We are also moving into a holy period, we will be praying the hours”. “Yes, Sir” said the accolyte.
The following month was grueling for the accolyte. His duties continued, but he was woken up every four hours for prayer. He was also begning his training proper. This was mostly being hit with sticks, because there is no point knowing how to throw a punch if you don’t know how to take one. In most fights it is the lucky punch, or the lucky move that wins. It is far more important therefore that your opponents lucky punch not be the one that hands the fight over. The accolyte had something to say about this. Quite a bit, in fact. Using language that the Abbot hadn’t heard since his younger days. As the days progressed, the monks chose to add a few to the young accolytes volcabulary. By the end of the second month, the accolyte was bruised, and very tired. The accolyte was still trying to complete all his chores, at some point he was going to learn that he was going to need to catch sleep whenever he could, as well as using the herbal remedies that he had on offer. Considering the accolytes promising progress so far, the abbot was mildly surprised by the sudden streak of stubborness. The accolyte had also started talking to the cow, and pausing as though the cow was listening. The abbot, long used to this strange routine had taken to sleeping during his free time, and occasionally when he was meant to be doing non-essential paperwork. The Abbot watched the accolyte brush down the cow, talking to the cow, and laughing at the cow’s funny reply.
About half-way through the third month, the Abbot was forced to assign a monk to watch the Accolyte. Stubbornness had meant that the accolyte was still trying to everything, and missing out on his sleep. Twice he had been found leaning on tank, asleep. The abbot was worried that the accolyte may fall asleep in an unfortunate place, and join those that rest forever. The Abbot would give it until the end of the month, and see how the accolyte was then. He didn’t have to wait much longer, by the end of the week the accolyte had started doing his chores in his spare time so that he could sleep during the time for chores giving him almost enough time for sleep. At the end of the third month, the Abbot called off the praying, and allowed everyone to sleep in. The accolyte slept for two days, with the other monks sharing out his duties, picking up the slack. The abbot relaxed in his chair. Sometimes it was good when object lessons were learned by everyone.
Month four and five were of course full of fighting. Each monk lending a little something different. Welding of a sword, or axe, or even the use of a chair or tree as an improptue wepon. Bessy was getting worse, which seemed to pray on his mind. Though his trainers would always punish the moments of distraction. By the end of the fourth month the accolyte was improving his concentration. The Accolyte’s focus was also improving elsewhere. Bessy’s illness had led him to find the library, and start hunting for a cure. Somehow, his love for Bessy, and his quiet search had pulled others into helping him. Long hours were spent in the library hunting for a cure. It appears that the Accolyte was not willing to give up.
The finall month was spent cramming. There was not enough time to show the accolyte everything, but then, the monastry had been accumalating knowledge on this for over a thousand years. What they were trying to do was to make him aware of what there was, and that even they didn’t have everything. The weaving, and meshing of everything that the Accolyte had read or seen, the way that a little bit of truth hid in all the smoke and ledgends, how the world that he walked contained all the things that his nightmares warned him about, and very little of what he saw in his dreams, how it was the little things that made the difference. The accolyte nodded at all of it, as though he was making mental notes. Yet after everything, he would return to the library, or to the small shed to brew something else that he had found. The final day, the abbot called the accolyte out into the field, and asked him to bring Bessy with him.
“She’s really not well Abbot”.
“Bring her anyway.”
Soon the three of them were standing on the monastries lawn. The cow standing unsteadily on her feet, making soft mooing noises, with the Accolyte stroking her neck. The cow rested it’s head on the Accolyte’s chest, while the Abbot watched.
“You only have six months here. Today is your last day. We have done what we can.”
“I can’t leave, Bessy’s not well…..”
“I made a deal with your friend. Six months. ”
“What are we to do with her? There is no medicine that can make her better.”
“No medicine that I have found.”
“And do you think you can find something that will cure her?”
“I… I have to try”
“Bessy is old, perhaps all you can do is to make her comfortable.”
The accolyte stroked her neck, and looked into her large brown eyes. “She’s dying” he said softly. The Abbot stayed quiet, while the wind blew their habbits around their legs. Moments passed.
“The one thing we’ve not taught you is how to kill. We’ve taught you the methods, but not how. The movements, where to place your hands, but the thing about taking a life is that finall moment, and those that follow it. Each life is precious, no matter how far it has sunk. No matter what path it has taken. When you take a life, you have chosen to end that path. We do not make that decision. We do not do it coldly, but we must know the price. There will be times when there is no choice. When those that have walked a path that we havn’t seen, try to end our path, we have no choice. Yet each time, each time it is a weight that we carry.”
The wind blew colder, and the Accolyte looked down into the cow’s eyes. “Not many people know, but the reason we’re so fond of cows is because of their big eyes. The way they always look sad, and curious.” The accolyte wasn’t talking to anyone in particular, but the Abbot nodded anyway. “Bessy has cancer, which has caused multiple organ failure. She’s not in pain at the moment, but eventually the medicine will have to get stronger, and then the medicince will stop working.” A tear rolled unchecked down the face of the Accolyte. “I read the book, “Of mice and men” when I was at school. The only line I can remember was “I aught not have let no-one else shot my dog”.” Another tear, the wind blew this one over his cheek. He moved his hands around the neck of the cow. “It’s going to be okay Bessy. I’m going to make everything okay.” The practiced hands of the accolyte moved quickly, there was a dull snap, and the body of the cow collapsed. The Abbot knew that the accolyte was expecting something. Expecting the world to notice his deed. For there to be rain, a peel of thunder, or a strike of lightning. Something. The abbot was the realisation cross the face of the accolyte, and then the tears began to roll. It was not just for the cow. People killed cows for food ever day. The tears were for a life that the accolyte was never going to have. A life that had been cut off. All the people that had already been taken from him, and all the people that he would take from this world. All the times when he would need to grieve in the future but would never have the time. This was the pause. This was the time to cry for all of them. The abbot watched as the accolyte sank down next to the cow, sobbing into it’s cooling flank. The Abbot closed his eyes and prayed. After a long time, the sobbing slowed, and the Abbot moved to sit next to the accolyte, gathering him up into his fatherly arms, stroking his hair and whispering softly “I’m here”. The Accolyte clung to him, and the tears flowed more.
They sat together until the sun left only a small amount of light on the field, and the flashes of light and clank of metal against metal roused the accolyte from his mire. The monks had brought shovels and lanterns. Wordlessly, the accolyte took the offered shovel and began to dig. After a while, they all joined in, monks and Abbot.
The following morning, the blank van pulled up the driveway of the monastry, and picked up it’s now black-clad passenger, his right-hand holding a corse hand-made bag. With a glance backwards at the closing door, the accolyte climbed into the van.