Monday, 11 September 2017
The Ajar door
There were days like this, believe it or not, where some people knew in which direction their lives lay, even though there were no signposts. This is not a story about those people.
But it was at one such crossroads where two men, who were very different in purpose but not in outlook, met by happenstance. One was pure, though his heart hung sometimes heavy; the other had done and seen too much to turn back though he longed for sometimes more.
“Well met, my son. What ails you? You look in pain.”
“Well; I wouldn’t normally admit to such a thing –for it wouldn’t do well in my line of work to admit to a weakness- but for some reason I know that I can trust you. So yes; I must admit that I am in some pain –the people from my last employment did not take too kindly to the conclusion of the job and they refused to pay me… what’s more, they tried to take my life and almost succeeded.”
“And is this the norm for you?”
“Hazards of the job, though it’s rare to suffer such a close call –I must be slipping.”
“I think it prudent that I don’t ask about your particular line of business.”
“Ignorance is sometimes bliss, Father.”
“Am I that obvious, my Son?”
“Not to those who have not learned to read people.”
“As you can imagine, it’s not always wise to flaunt the cloth. There are too many people that see a man of God as an easy target, often suffering from the misconception that we have rich coffers straining under the weight of justly given gold.”
“Your secret is safe with me, Father.”
“I thank you. Still I can see that you are in need of some healing, and I would be remiss if I did not oblige.”
And with that the man of wisdom and sadness placed his hands on the other man’s shoulders and stood behind him for some time. When at last he was finished both were of one mind and knew that they were far closer in spirit than they had at first thought.
“It’s rare that I can relax with others, Father; and for that alone I thank you. But for the other I am clearly in your debt.”
“There are no checks and balances here, my Son. There are things that I could ask of you in return which would be impossible for you to promise in your current circumstances.”
“But I will not forget the deed, nor the kindness that you have shown me.” The other man spoke. “Where are you going, if I may be so bold.”
“I am going to Slaughly; I hear they are in need of a lay preacher, so I was dispatched.”
“Just know that you are going to Slaughley, and not the other way to Crawlin; which is where I am headed. They are not the sort of company you would benefit from, nor would they from you. It is foul business that brings me there and you would best be away.”
So the preacher followed the assassin’s heed and took the left hand path until he reached the village. When he spied the ruin of the church his heart broke and he wondered what the Lord was asking from him. He found a cross amongst the ruins and propped it on the wreck of the altar before changing into his robes.
“We were told that you had your quirks, Sirrah; but we never thought that they ran this far.”
“I beg your pardon?!”
“You were sent here…”
“By the order.”
“To take care of certain problems…” The men that now surrounded him were brusque, bearded with cold eyes; hardened like dull steel.
“Yes; well – I am here to provide council to those in need.”
“We are all of need here, Father; but not of the type that you can offer us. I can see now that you are not the man we were expecting. No matter; one man is as good as another where killing is concerned.”
“I beg your pardon?”
“We would ask of you to take one of your own that step closer to God.”
“You know what you ask of me and why I can not and will not. I am a man of the cloth.”
“Think of this as another Crusade, Father; of a more personal nature where the stakes are far higher for you.”
“If this person is not.. gathered unto himself than your life will be forfeit.”
“You know what you are saying and what the ramifications will surely be.”
“Look around you, Father. Do we really look like God fearing people?” At this the men laughed. “The Innkeep is not one of us; yet he is of powerful family that if one of us killed him then there would be repercussions. However, by you being here all that will surely be alleviated.”
“I will not do your dirty work for you.”
“Then you will die and we will find someone else. This way you can at least give him absolution.” The men laughed again and walked out. “You have three days, Father.”
The priest wept then, asking the Lord what to do.
On the first day he prayed, sought to make penance for his previous sins –which must have been great and many to have ended up in such a place- but he did not leave the sanctuary of the Church.
One the second day he visited the Inn. He wanted to see the soul of the man he had been called to end. He needed to understand why.
The Innkeeper took one look at the man of cloth and laughed. “I am glad that my prayers have been listened to, but it is not my soul that needs saving but my body. My BEAUTIFUL body!” And with that he plonked down a flagon of mead in front of the preacher.
“What am I to do with this?”
“I could think of many things, but you might be offended by them.”
“How dare you!”
“You really are a man of faith! I’m surprised to see you in such a place. Maybe some habits are hard to break. If it’s not a drink that you’re after, then maybe a young boy?”
The man truly was despicable; he was bull chested with no discernable neck or manners. His face was badly scarred and pock marked, yet the women fawned over him; more from fear than anything. His temper was fierce, fists flying over the slightest provocation –and there were many.
During the time he spent there the Priest witnessed much that churned his gut; he had never met such a loathsome creature but did that mean he deserved to die? Would not that deed make them equals?
And what set the Innkeeper aside from the others? Simply that he was not ‘one of them’, despite them all seemingly cut from the same; and the Priest knew that he could not follow through on his deed. When he left the establishment he was accosted by the same villagers from the day before.
“Vile, is he not? Over ripe for pruning, surely?”
“Never before have I met such a creature.”
“So you will do the deed?”
“You can not even say the words. You wish me to murder him in cold blood.”
“He has done far worse.”
“And that justifies it? But so have you all, and if I were to start with him and killed all those who warranted it then you would surely be next; all of you; and I would not be far behind.”
“So that’s a no then, ‘good Father’”
“That is a firm and definite no.”
“Even though tomorrow your life is forfeit.”
“I can not justify his life for mine.”
“You have one more day. Tomorrow we will find out which life you value more: his or yours.”
On the third day he rose from a dreamless sleep. His prayers were unanswered, and he was no closer to understanding why he had been brought here. All he knew was that he would be dead by days end.
There were times when he had become weak and had contemplated ending the Innkeepers life, but he had remained resolute and strong. There were other times he had wanted to run but he knew that he would never have been allowed to leave. There were no alternatives but to accept the day.
In amongst the angst he felt he was also becoming aware of a stillness, a silence that held peace. He had accepted his self and knew that regardless of the consequences he had made up his mind.
There was a strength that he felt now and he knew that he would not die afraid. It was then that he heard someone enter the church. It was his time. He looked up into the eyes of the man he had met at the crossroads.
“Father, please forgive me.”
“Dare I ask what you’ve done now?” Despite all he had felt he now found himself smiling.
“I should not have tarried so long at the other village, but I have never been accepted in such a fashion. They never thought to judge me, or even want to know about my past. They only sought to see the best in me. I have been naught but a vagrant for most of my life and never wanted to settle down, but I could easily have done so there.”
“What made you leave?”
“When I realised just what it would cost you, Father. And that I could not have lived with. I owe you and now I owe you double for you have shown me another way of being.”
“So, what are you saying?”
“Leave, Father. Leave this place and never come back. I am here to fulfil the contract as I was supposed to. You will be allowed to leave unmolested –they know that they will have me to deal with if they try to stop you.”
“And so you will kill this man.”
“And though it means that you will be taking another persons life.”
“It is either his life or yours. To me there is no equation to fulfil, nothing to balance. And though it will lead me further away from my ultimate destination; thanks to you I now know that there can be peace of mind for me.”
“Know that there will be a place for you in our village. Your way will be hard for there will be much penance for you to pay. Although you believe you are doing this for the right reasons you are still consciously taking another person’s life and that is still a sin…”
“But the way will be worth it.”
“Yes; your way will ultimately be worth it.”
“Until we meet again, Father.”“And we will, for I know you to be a man of your word. And I will await you, our door always ajar.”