by Michael A. Ponzio
available on Amazon
Pons entered the scriptorium. For several years I have been the sacrist of the copy room to oversee the library and the monks copying the old manuscripts and Bibles. No one would question why I work late hours, but dear Lord, forgive me for my curiosity. I am again drawn to a manuscript that may be a prohibited, unholy text! Parchments were expensive, and documents considered unworthy to copy were commonly scraped bare and reused for new books. So as Pons read, in case someone entered the scriptorium, he held a penknife, as if he was cleaning the unholy parchment. He pushed his sleeves up, which had always been too long. More than once he had thought of cutting them shorter, but then the winter would come, and he was glad of the extra length to warm his hands.
Pons sat at his desk and read the cover of the codex he had been poring over the last few nights after Matins: “The History of Rome” by Titus Livius. Last night I read how the Roman messenger Pontius Cominius stole pass the enemy lines to reach the besieged Roman Senate on Capitoline Hill. I am fascinated that the messenger’s name, Pontius, is identical to mine, as written in Latin. Pons read, murmuring the words aloud, knowing all his brothers were asleep in the dormitory.
“The Gauls silently ascended the cliff and did not even wake the dogs, animals sensitive to nocturnal sounds. But they did not escape the notice of the geese, which were sacred to Juno. The clamor and the noise of their wings roused Manlius, a distinguished Roman soldier, who ran to call the rest to arms and they repelled the Gauls.”
Pons whispered to himself, “Geese sounded the alarm?” That reminds me.My favorite quill pen is nearly spent. I will need new quills for copying, and the gander’s flight wings make the best ones. I wonder if it is time for Cicero to molt? Pons read on about the sacred geese of Juno, but soon his eyelids became heavy and his head sank onto the Roman manuscript. He slumped against the desktop, having fallen asleep.
Several minutes later, an uproar penetrated his dreams. Why are the geese honking this late at night? It cannot be a fox again. It’s the wrong time of year, there are no goslings, and the flock attacked the last raiding fox, who ran terrified, never to return. No, it’s the barbarians from Gaul! They are climbing over the wall! Brothers! Come to my aid, I will vanquish their leader with my sword!
Pons swung wildly with his penknife and fell, crashing onto the floor. He woke up and spoke to himself. “What? Oh, it was a dream!”
But the loud honking outside continued. The geese are in danger! Cicero!
Pons rushed to one of the tall windows that lined the scriptorium, blew out his candle, then cracked open a shutter and peered into the night. Nothing was visible in the pitch dark. He knew the layout of the scriptorium well enough to make it to the door at the stairs, where a tinderbox was stored in a wall niche. In the dark, he found the box which contained the p-shaped firesteel and a flint and then remembered, There is no charcloth! I meant to replace it several days ago. The ends of his sleeves were frayed, and he used the penknife hanging around his neck to cut off loose threads and rolled them into a small lump. He struck the steel and stone together lighting the threads, then tilted the candlewick into the tiny flames. Hurrying down the stairs his flight almost doused the candle. But he continued as fast as his woolen habit allowed to the bottom of the stairs, across the cloister, and around the back of the dormitory. There between the monks’ sleeping lodge and the city wall were vegetable gardens, pens of fowl raised for consumption, and the barn which housed several milk cows and a handful of mules. The flock of geese usually ranged throughout the yard and were kept solely for a supply of quills, not for food.
The honks of frenzied geese echoed amid the stone fortifications and marble-faced building. Pons blew out his candle. There was no moon and as he burst into the court he could hear the geese madly flapping their wings, and he could feel the down flying in all directions.
Then as his eyes became more accustomed to the dark, Pons could barely make out two figures hurrying about the courtyard chasing geese. He shouted, “Thieves! The geese are not yours. You are blazing a path to Hell with your actions.” Suddenly he became afraid for his own safety. He pulled up his hood, covering most of his face.
The two figures stopped. Pons stood motionless in his gray habit, almost invisible in the pitch dark. One of the robbers said, “Who said that? I don’t see nobody!”
“Nobody said it,” said a second voice.
“I mean —do-do you think God said it?”
“Don’t be stupid, there is no God. You’re makin’ me hear things, you cretin. Get the birds!”
Pons stepped toward the thieves and stumbled over the still body of a goose. I hope it’s not Cicero! Where is that gander? My grandfather, the Count of Toulouse, donated this flock to the abbey. The geese are very dear to me. With these thoughts, his temper began to rise. The grey Tolosa geese, the best for making the quills, they are sacred; sacred to the abbey, like the geese of Juno in the story of ancient Rome! Pons stumbled over another dead goose. The discovery fed his anger.
The thieves moved toward their prizes, still unaware of the monk. Pons, now only a few feet away, flung back his hood and exposed his beardless face, capped by a tonsure of dark hair. “Leave now and God will forgive you.”
“What?” The thief recovered and laughed. “You dolt! Get over here! See who you thought was God!”
“You do not have to steal!” said Pons. “Both of you may come by the monastery any day and have a meal.”
“Yeah, weak porridge. You’re no different than them nobles, saving all the good food for yourselves! And your kitchen don’t serve juicy goose!”
The monk placed his foot on a carcass. “Leave now!” Torchlight suddenly illuminated the courtyard. Pons saw a flash of metal in the thief’s hand, but he dared not look behind. The thief held a bloody knife, bold evidence he had used it to slaughter the geese. He slashed at Pons’s face, and the monk instinctively raised his hand, shrouded by the long woolen sleeve. The blade glanced off without harm and the thief escalated his attack, slicing back and forth at Pons’s face. The monk responded with a wild flurry of hands. It appeared as if he was swatting a swarm of mosquitoes as his loose sleeves flapped about and parried the knife attacks.
Suddenly the bandit grabbed Pons and spun him around to face a group of monks. In the forefront of the brethren was Abbott Richard. Pons was immobilized as the thief gripped his sleeve and held the knife at his throat. “Stay there or I’ll slit his throat like them gooses.”
In the light Pons saw before him another butchered goose. They killed my Cicero! He grew hot with rage.
Richard’s size alone blocked several of the monks, but he spread his arms wide to hold back the brothers. “We have no weapons. Monks will not shed blood! And you! Thou shall not kill a man!” He looked down and saw the dead birds. “Take the geese. You will be forgiven, but do not take a man’s life!”
Pons considered the scene. Richard is remarkably agile for a man his size. He could crush this thief in a blink. Why is he holding back?
The armed man started to back away and pressed the knife to Pons’s throat, forcing him to follow. “Pick up them birds!” he shouted to his partner.
“I’m leavin’ with your monk,” he yelled to the abbot. “Don’t follow! Don’t move or he’s dead!”
As the pair shuffled backwards, greed overcame the thief. He reached down for a slain goose, and the blade sliced across Pons’s neck. The monk threw up his left hand and pushed the blade away. The robber pulled the knife toward his neck again as the men struggled. Pons was strong, having worked long hours in the fields, the thief was tough and frantic with energy, and for a few moments, neither could overcome his foe. Then the monk weakened, and his vital spirit faded. I am lost! Sweet Jesus!
A moment later his mind cleared. But what? I am still alive?My neck was not slashed a second time? His sleeve of thick wool was wrapped around the knife. Pons realized that his penknife still hung on the cord around his neck. He brandished his small weapon and tried to stab his abductor.
The abbot lurched forward and bellowed, “Stop, do not shed blood!”
Pons ignored his superior. But that thief killed Cicero! He stabbed over his shoulder again and again, and then fell to the ground.
action & adventure