The tale of Constable Siegfried and Friar Thomas

[It was four days since the constant rain ended, and you would not believe all the activity within the King’s Castle. Once the grounds outside dried out enough to walk on safely, all of the castle’s youth wanted to be outside. To get permission from their masters and mistresses, each child was hurrying to do their chores as best they could. Daydreams of running in the grass, finding wildflowers, and playing games filled the minds of the girls, while the boys wanted to hunt, fish, and impress the girls with feats of strength and skill. With all the hustle and bustle, you would think that some great reward was being offered to the first child who appeared before their taskmaster with all of their work done.

In the class for Confirmation, the desire for a bit of sun outdoors raced in every child’s veins. When their teacher was overwhelmed by youthful supplicants, all desiring to have their next class in the meadow near the castle’s orchard, the old monk cautiously agreed, but warned that inattention would very quickly move the class “into the deepest dungeon of the castle!” So it was a happy group of young people who met Roger on a clear, cool morning. The good monk had prevailed upon the kindness of the stable master, and a makeshift chair and table were set up; giving him a place to sit while he lectured.

Upon the table were a chalice, a Bible, a paten, and all the other material needed to perform a mass. The students very quickly discovered why they were there. “We are going to talk about the mass today, and you are going to get to hear all the prayers that a priest says while consecrating the bread and the wine. As most of you have no knowledge of Latin, try as I might to school you in it, I will translate each prayer into English.”

While some of the boys had served at mass for the good monk, no one actually had ever researched what was actually said, and why. So 12 pairs of youthful ears were very diligent in listening to their teacher lecture on the different portions of the mass, and why different prayers were prayed, depending upon the season and the day of the month. As before, questions were encouraged, although Roger did ask that if he was in the middle of a prayer that they wait until he had finished before posing their question.

When it came to the consecration of the bread and wine, one of the girls asked, “Is this a real mass? Are you going to offer us Communion?”

“Certainly, this is a valid mass, even if it is being said outdoors. During times of war, it is not unusual to have a mass on the battlefield, to give thanks for victory, and to pray for the souls of the departed.”

One lad spoke up, “Do we pray for the souls of our enemies we just killed?”

Roger looked calmly at the children. “I would have thought you had learned that by now. We pray especially for the souls of those who fight us. Remember, we are told in the Gospels to love our enemies, and to do good to those who hate us. I know it is hard, but it is something we must, as Christians, try to do; we must do our best to forgive those who do wrong things to us. If you may recall, it was only a month ago that the Gospel reading on Sunday was about the Good Samaritan. We must all try to be like him.”

Roger spent extra time teaching what he called the sacrifice of the mass. “We are taught as Christians that Christ died for us all, and that we remember Him every time we take part in the mass. The Gospel teaches us in many ways about love, but makes it clear, that the greatest love is to give your life for your friend. That’s what Christ did for us, and that is what we may be called upon to do for another.”

When it finally became time to give out the Communion hosts, Roger asked the children to examine their conscience, and if they were worthy, they could receive the Communion. As the children regularly were attendant at confession, Roger was not surprised when all but one girl stood and lined up. He was, however, surprised on which girl did not stand up; Mary was a good child, and was known for her sweetness and her kindness to others. The old monk said nothing about this, however, and administered the Eucharist to the line of children. As their class finished up the final parts of the mass, they all wondered what the story they would be told would be about. They did not have long to wait.

“The story today is about what happened next to Friar Thomas and Constable Siegfried. As you may remember . . .]

. . . Constable Siegfried was busy searching the forest for any signs of the villains who had killed the poor child Helga. He was examining the land upstream from where her shoes were found, and after two days of looking thought he had located the spot where her body had actually been thrown into the stream. There were signs of a number of men, all bare of foot, and a trail that led off into the forest. As it was getting late, the good Constable determined to rest there for the night and start fresh the next morning. But during the night it started to rain, and by morning it was clear that all hopes of following the trail were lost. Though Siegfried did his best, but by midmorning realized that all signs of the trail had been washed away.

Having been relentless in his pursuit, Constable Siegfried had neglected his own comfort, but with the trail now cold, took some time to refresh himself. After breaking his fast on some dried biscuit and preserved meat, the Good Constable headed back to the Castle of Good King Henry. He was quickly led to the court of the King, where he was apprised of what had happened at the Chapel of Saint Claire. “There may be signs there that have not yet washed away; I beg leave, Sire, to resume my search there.”

With the blessing of the King still ringing in his ears, the Constable quickly re-provisioned himself and set off for the Chapel. When he got there, he found the workmen busily repairing the Chapel, and Friar Thomas washing the stone floor. “Did you save me anything to look at, that could aid me in finding the girl’s killers?”

“I’m sorry,” replied the good Friar; “When I first got here, I did not know of the child’s murder, and thought the mess was caused by animals seeking shelter from the weather, and using the altar cloths as bedding. I did not realize the blood was anything but the remains of an animal meal. I am truly sorry for making your task harder.”

“There is no way you could have known,” the good Constable answered; “do not blame yourself. The Lord is good, and He will direct my efforts. We will find these evil ones, and put a stop to their vile acts!”

With that said, Siegfried went out to search for any signs of the criminals. The ground surrounding the Chapel was covered with footprints, but all were well shod, and he knew that the evil ones had been barefoot near the stream. After a few hours searching, he discovered a few footprints along one of the paths into the surrounding forest that showed signs of bare feet having passed that way. Leaving his horse by the Chapel, he followed the faint trail back into the woods, and by his skill and efforts was able to discover the trail left by the girl’s murderers. It was a very difficult task, and there were a number of spots where the skilled woodsman had to backup and explore another path, before he found signs that he was still on the right trail.

Finally the trail led him to a village. Siegfried went to the village church, and asked the Priest if he had seen any signs of the evil ones. “I am sorry, Milord, but this is the first that I have heard about this horrible crime. You say the girl was murdered?”

Siegfried told the Priest the whole story of the girl going missing at the fair, the finding of her shoes by the stream, locating her body downstream, and the discovery that it was not an accident, but murder. Siegfried finished his tale with, “The King has sent me out to find the evil ones who could commit such a crime; and so I ask you, have you seen or heard anything that might help me in my quest?”

“I fear I can not aid you in this matter, my flock here are good, honest freemen, and no one I know would ever do anything like what you have told me. I suggest you might follow the road to the next village, perhaps the Priest there may have some knowledge of this evil.”

Not wanting to walk all the way to the next village, the Constable retraced his tracks back to the Chapel of Saint Claire to reclaim his horse. When he got there, it was dusk, and Friar Thomas prevailed upon him to take his rest that night at the Chapel, and start out fresh in the morning. The workers had finished their tasks that afternoon and had headed home, and the two guards that the King had provided were glad to share their cooking fire with the Constable and the Friar. Over dinner the men talked about their lives, and their dreams of the future. “I want to travel to the Holy City of Jerusalem” spoke the Good Friar; “I would like to travel the Holy Land, where our Lord walked and taught.”

“My wife is expecting our first child,” said one of the guards. “I just pray the child is healthy, and that everything goes well with her confinement.”

After the other three men congratulated the guard on his good fortune, Siegfried spoke of his dreams. “I pray that the Good Lord allows me to wed the Lady whom I love. Melissa is the daughter of one of King Henry’s most noble Knights, and there is not one maiden in all the land who is gentler or more courteous. All who know her speak of her beauty, and moreover of the kindness she shows to those of every estate. Although I am of humble birth, she says that this is no obstacle to our union, and so come midsummer I hope to kneel with her on the steps of the cathedral, and join her in holy wedlock.”

With this, the others all agreed to pray for the success of the good Constable’s suit. As it was quite late, they all decided to turn to their bedrolls, except for the one guard who would watch through the night.

The next morning, Constable Siegfried decided to ride back to the King’s Castle and report all he had learned to the King. When he arrived at the castle, however, he found it in quite an uproar. “Another child has gone missing from a village in the north” he was told by the Chamberlain; “The King begs you to ride out and search for him.”

Quickly getting directions on where the village was located, the Constable rode off into the north. Within a day, he arrived at the village, and quickly realized that it was the one he had visited not three days ago. The Priest greeted him and quickly told him of their plight. “The day after you left one of the farmers to the west came, and told me that his son had not returned home from his chores, and had the boy come to the village? I told him that I had not seen him, and a check through the village did not turn up anyone who knew where the boy was. I remembered what you had spoken about, and sent word to the King that another child has gone missing. The villagers have gone searching, but no one has seen any trace of the boy.”

Although it was getting dark, Siegfried had no thought of stopping for the night. He had a horrible thought about where the boy might be, and he quickly took the path in the woods that had first led him to the village. As he approached the Chapel of Saint Claire, he saw lights on in the Chapel, but saw no sign of the guards or the Friar. Tying his horse to a tree, he made his way on foot to the rear of the Chapel, where the room of the Friar was, and found the two guards, both with their throats cut. Seeing no activity in the Friar’s room, he cautiously entered, and found Thomas tied up and laying on his bed. Siegfried cut the bonds of his friend, and motioned for the Friar to join him outside the Chapel.

“They surprised me while I was praying; I did not hear them come up behind me, and I quickly found myself bound and gagged. There were five of them, all in black robes, and one with a devil’s mask. He was their leader, and he gave orders to his followers to ‘Save me for later’, and prepare the boy as their sacrifice on the altar. I don’t know what happened to the guards.”

The Constable told Thomas how he had found the bodies of the guards, and the Friar said a short prayer for their souls. “We needs must put our prayers for their souls in abeyance,” whispered Siegfried; we must act now to save the life of the boy.”

The two men quickly worked out a plan of action. “You go to the front door of the Chapel,” spoke Siegfried, “and yell that you are going off to get the King’s guard. I will wait here in your room, and when they follow after you, I will enter the Chapel, and cut the boy loose. You hide in the woods, and the boy and I will meet you where my horse is tied.” With a brief prayer for their success, the two men carried out their plan.

It almost worked.

Siegfried made his way back into the Priest’s room, and stood at the inner door that led into the Chapel. He waited until he heard the Friar cry out; “I must run and fetch the Guard!” and when he heard the leader yell, “Get him!” he listened for the sounds of the evil ones leaving the Chapel.

He opened the door of the Chapel, and saw the last of the vile ones exiting the front door. Running to the altar, he cut the bonds that held the lad to the altar. Then he heard the leader of the evil ones cry out, “It’s a trick! Someone is taking the boy!” Siegfried paled as he heard the sounds of the evil ones reenter the Chapel. “Run!” he told the boy, and pushed him headlong through the back door. Then, closing the door, he drew his sword, and faced the evil ones. “Which one of you wants to die first?” he yelled at his adversaries.

While the Constable was facing his foes, the good Friar had run around to the back of the Chapel, and he saw the boy stagger out. Remembering what Siegfried had told him, he picked up the boy and ran for the path that led to the boy’s village. Finding the Constable’s horse, he put the child on the saddle, and mounting himself, started to ride back to the Chapel. But as he drew near the front of the Chapel, he heard the Constable yell “Ride to the King’s Castle, and get aid!” The Friar was torn between wanting to help his friend, and wanting to save the boy, and in the end realized that without a weapon he was no good in a fight, and besides the boy’s life would be put back in jeopardy if he tried and failed. So with great reluctance Thomas rode straightway to the Castle of the King.

“Constable Siegfried is fighting the evil ones!” He yelled as he entered the Castle’s gate. “He needs aid quickly!”

The sergeant of the guard acted swiftly. Calling for a squad of men, he told the hostlers to prepare four mounts for the men-at-arms. Meanwhile Friar Thomas took the boy to the Castle’s healer, and gave his care to those who were best equipped to heal him.

“What is going on?” the voice of Good King Henry sounded in the night; “What has happened?”

Breathless, it took the Friar a moment to respond. “Sire, the evil ones attacked the Chapel of Saint Claire again! Your guards were killed, and I was captured. Constable Siegfried released me, and worked out a way to rescue the child, but something went wrong and he never made it out of the Chapel. He was still fighting when the boy and I rode to safety. I would have stayed and fought, but I had no weapon, and Constable Siegfried told me to ride on.”

“You did the right thing,” said the King; “you had the life of the boy to think about, and there was no way you could have helped the Constable without a weapon.”

“But WE HAVE WEAPONS!” shouted the King; “Onward into the night!” While the first four men-at-arms rode straightway to aid the Constable, a larger war party was quickly assembled. Riding with torches held high, the miles to the Chapel melted away, and soon they were before the door of the Chapel. Inside they found the bodies of four of the evil ones, and that of the Constable.

“Is he dead?” asked the King to one of his men.

“No, Sire, but he is very weak,” was the response.

The King himself went to the Constable, and in examining his body, saw that although he had many cuts, not any of them looked fatal. Taking off his own shirt, the King tore it to ribbons, and used them to bind the Constable’s wounds. Then, he had a litter prepared, and arranged for the Constable to be brought back to the Castle. The King had his men search the woods surrounding the Chapel, but not a sign of the fifth evil one, the one who wore the mask, was to be found.

The next day the King got the bad news. “Constable Siegfried has awoken, sire, and although he feels a little pain in the wounds on his arms and torso, he can not feel anything in his legs.”

“Isn’t that good news?” asked the King.

“It would be, Sire, if that were all, but he can’t feel anything in his legs. He can’t move so much as a toe, and a knifepoint held to his foot elicits no response.”

“Let us wait,” said the King; “Mayhap it is only temporary, and will pass as his wounds heal.”

But it did not pass. As the days went on, most of the wounds closed and healed normally, but there was a cut on his back, near his spine, that festered, and refused to heal. Finally, the Priest came and washed the wound with Holy water, and then, and only then did the cut start to close. But the sensation in the man’s legs never came back.

“I am grateful for my life,” said Siegfried. “I am not sure what my future holds, but no matter what; I do not regret it. If we had not acted, that boy would surely have been killed.”

“You have no cause to worry about your future, “Henry told his vassal; “You shall live here in my Castle and teach my squires their marshal arts. You can still hold a sword, and your head is still working.”

“And you will have to settle down now,” spoke up Lady Melissa; “I no longer have to worry about you riding off and never returning. We shall be married in the summer!”

As Siegfried started to protest that he was no fit candidate for marriage, his King spoke gently; “Better not fuss about it, my friend; you will find that your Lady, like mine, will not argue, she will demure and give way, until you end up giving her what she wants. You can not win that battle!”

And so it was so; that summer, on midsummer’s day, there was a marriage on the steps of the Cathedral, and if Siegfried instead of kneeling rode in a special chair made for him, with wheels from a small cart, no one made mention of it. And although the four men he slew were never identified, no more children went missing, and it was thought that the evil ones were stopped.

But they never found the one who wore the mask.

[. . . and so things were quiet again in the kingdom of Good King Henry. For awhile,” added their teacher. “Now, who can tell me of the sacrifice in the story?”

“Constable Siegfried sacrificed his life, to save the boy,” spoke up one girl. “He was a true hero!”

“I thought that the Friar also sacrificed in the story; he gave up what he wanted to do, to protect the boy.”

“Yes, Thomas, I think that is true, too. But was it a true sacrifice? After all, Siegfried did live.”

“But he didn’t know that he would. He was going to fight five men, and did not know the outcome.”

“Very good, Gail! Yes, it was his willingness to die that was important. Okay,” Roger turned to the rest of the class. “I am happy with the progress of the class. Next week, we shall talk about some of the other things we are expected to do as Adult Christians.”

But then Roger asked, "Wait a moment; we left out something. What about the two guards who were killed? Did their deaths constitute a sacrifice?"

"Yes," spoke up one child; "To give your life in the doing of your duty is still a sacrifice. I just hope it is never asked of me." She added in a soft voice.

"As do I, responded Roger; "as do I."

As the children gathered their things, Mary hung back, and asked Roger if she might speak with him.

“Is this about why you did not receive Communion? We will have Confessions on Saturday, you know.”

The maid broke into tears. “This is something much worse,” she cried; “I’m not fit to be confirmed!”

Roger looked surprised. “Whatever makes you think that?”

Still sobbing, the girl continued, “I could never give my life; I’m too afraid! I don’t want to die!”

“Oh. Oh, dear. Child,” the old monk responded, “remember that God will never test you more than you are able. God loves you, and knows you better than you know yourself. Do you think that Siegfried sat and thought about dying for that little boy? Of course not! He did what he knew was right, and trusted God to take care of him. That means,” continued Roger, “that if he were to die, then so be it, he would die, and go to be with the Father in heaven. But I doubt that you will ever face that need."

"But if you do,” spoke the monk, “God will give you the strength to face it with courage and calmness of spirit.”

As the girl quieted down, the old monk added, “Now that you see you are not really living a lie, would you like to receive Communion?”

“Could I?”

Roger lifted the Paten, and removed a wafer. “Mary, this is the Body of Christ, who died for you because He loves you. Remember that He will be with you always, no matter what happens.” And placing the wafer on her tongue, they both had a moment of silent prayer, that God give them the strength to do His will.]

To Be Continued. . .



By
Roger of Belden Abbey
Copyright © 2006, Daniel A. Thompson, Jr.

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