THE EMERALD CIRCUS by Jane Yolen preview: “The Quiet Monk”
In celebration of the release of Jane Yolen’s THE EMERALD CIRCUS, Tachyon presents glimpses from some of the volume’s magnificent tales.
by Jane Yolen
Abbey, in the year of Our Lord 1191
was a tall man, and his shoulders looked broad even under the
shapeless disguise of the brown sacking. The hood hid the color of
his hair and, when he pushed the hood back, the tonsure was so close
cropped, he might have been a blonde or a redhead or gray. It was his
eyes that held one’s interest most. They were the kind of blue that
I had only seen on midsummer skies, with the whites the color of
bleached muslin. He was a handsome man, with a strong, thin nose and
a mouth that would make all the women in the parish sure to shake
their heads with the waste of it. They were a lusty lot, the parish
dames, so I had been warned.
was to be his guide as I was the spriest of the brothers, even with
my twisted leg, for I was that much younger than the rest, being
newly come to my vocation, one of the few infant oblates who actually
joined that convocation of saints. Most left to go into trade, though
a few, it must be admitted, joined the army, safe in their hearts for
a peaceful death.
Joseph said I was not to call the small community “saints,” for
sainthood must be earned not conferred, but my birth father told me,
before he gave me to the abbey, that by living in such close quarters
with saintly men I could become one. And that he, by gifting me,
would win a place on high. I am not sure if all this was truly
accomplished, for my father died of a disease his third wife brought
to their marriage bed, a strange wedding portion indeed. And mostly
my time in the abbey was taken up not in prayer side by side with
saints but on my knees cleaning the abbot’s room, the long dark
halls, and the dortoir.
Still, it was better than being back at home in Meade’s Hall where
I was the butt of every joke, no matter I was the son of the lord.
His eighth son, born twisted ankle to thigh, the murderer of his own
mother at the hard birthing. At least in Glastonbury Abbey I was
needed, if not exactly loved.
when the tall wanderer knocked on the door late that Sunday night,
and I was the watcher at the gate, Brother Sanctus being abed with a
shaking fever, I got to see the quiet monk first.
is wrong, I know, to love another man in that way. It is wrong to
worship a fellow human even above God. It is the one great warning
dunned into infant oblates from the start. For a boy’s heart is a
natural altar and many strange deities ask for sacrifice there. But I
loved him when first I saw him for the hope I saw imprinted on his
face and the mask of sorrow over it.
did not ask to come in; he demanded it. But he never raised his voice
nor spoke other than quietly. That is why we dubbed him the Quiet
Monk and rarely used his name. Yet he owned a voice with more
authority than even Abbot Giraldus could command, for he
is a shouter. Until I met the Quiet Monk, I had
quaked at the abbot’s bluster. Now I know it for what it truly is:
fear masquerading as power.
seek a quiet corner of your abbey and a word with your abbot after
his morning prayers and ablutions,” the Quiet Monk said.
opened the gate, conscious of the squawking lock and the cries of the
wood as it moved. Unlike many abbeys, we had no rooms ready for
visitors. Indeed we never entertained guests anymore. We could scarce
feed ourselves these days. But I did not tell him
that. I led him to my own room, identical to all
the others save the abbot’s, which was even meaner, as Abbot
Giraldus reminded us daily. The Quiet Monk did not seem to notice,
but nodded silently and eased himself onto my thin pallet, falling
asleep at once. Only soldiers and monks have such a facility. My
father, who once led a cavalry, had it. And I, since coming to the
abbey, had it, too. I covered him gently with my one thin blanket and
crept from the room.
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Cover design by Elizabeth Story