[Things were settling down at the Castle of our King. It was as if the children were drinking up the sunshine, and it was having a positive effect. Those who were charged with keeping the Castle working well found their young charges happy to turn to their daily tasks, and happy workers were soon followed by happy players, for once a child’s work was done, they had leave to enjoy themselves outside. Having spent over a week outdoors, the children of the Castle were even a little bit tired of all the running and playing that they had done. In all, the Castle was prospering, and all within were content.
The Confirmation class was back in the Herbarium. Although the previous week’s experiment with a class outdoors had been successful, the old monk who taught it felt that the surprise he had for his students this week would more than make up for the pains of being within the walls of the Castle on such a lovely day. Those students who were inclined to entreat their teacher to move the class outside did not do so today, for at the front of the classroom, next to Roger’s chair, were three more chairs, and in them were two men and a lady. These people were not unknown to the students, for they all lived within the Castle or one of the nearby villages, but the children never expected to see them in a religion class; all three were not Christian. There was a fair amount of whispered conversation going on, especially among some of the students who knew the three guests well. But once the last student found a place to sit, Roger’s glare at anyone still talking slowly began to quiet the room.
“To be able to understand your faith, you must also understand the faiths of others,” began their teacher, once everyone had settled down. “I have invited our guests from the Castle and the nearby villages to give a brief talk about what they believe in, and how they differ from Christianity.” Roger paused, and then spoke sharply, “You will remember that these are our guests, and are loyal subjects of our King. You will be able to ask them questions, but if I detect ANY disrespect, that person will spend time with my friend the Blacksmith, and I assure you, you will not like it!”
Utter silence. Then Roger, looking a little sheepish, spoke again. “I’m sorry; I should not have been so hard. You have to realize, however, that not every Ruler is like our King, and not every land allows freedom of belief as ours does. As you know, our King is a Christian, but He does not require that all His subjects be so. This is not true in some other lands; elsewhere in this world you must be the religion of the king. I am sad to say that in some places the mere suspicion that someone was not the religion of their King would be enough to lose them their life, and the lives of their family and friends. We like to think that such things only happened long, long ago, but it happens to this day. Even in our own kingdom, you will hear someone call someone else that they are mad at a name implying that they are Jewish or Pagan, as if being those things were evil. Someone who believes sincerely differently than us is not evil!”
As hands started to go up amongst the students, Roger motioned for them to put their hands down. “Please wait, each guest will give a short talk about their religion, and then, after all three have spoken, you will have time to ask questions. Let us begin with Judaism, the religion that our faith sprang from, over 1700 years ago.” Roger motioned to one of the male guests, and introduced him to the young people. “Our first guest is Saul Cohen, who most of you will recognize from the carpentry shop in the village. Although Rabbi Cohen makes his living with his hands, he is learned in the teachings of his faith, and is recognized by his fellows as a wise and good teacher.” Roger bowed to his guest, and told him, “The class is yours, Rabbi.”
“I am grateful,” he began, “to have this opportunity to talk to you nice young people today. I came here, returning the favor of Father Roger.” Seeing the confused looks on the students’ faces, he went on; “When I teach my young boys who are about to become Jewish men, Father Roger comes and gives a talk to them, telling them about Christianity. He does such a wonderful job; I have to make him promise not to convert any of them!” The students laughed at this, but were startled when the Rabbi added, “And so I promise not to try and convert any of you.”
The Rabbi then began his lecture; sharing the beginnings of Judaism, and how Jews and Christians shared a common heritage until the days of Jesus. As he went on, the students were enraptured by the tales of the Old Testament prophets and teachers, and how so many had stood strong for the Lord in the face of sin and wickedness. Then the Rabbi told of what the modern-day life of a Jewish boy and a Jewish girl might be, and how they were taught to keep the faith of their ancestors in the face of a world that often was not friendly towards them. He told of the Jewish Holidays, and how some Christian celebrations grew from their Jewish forbears. The Rabbi then concluded with an old joke, about a Priest and a Rabbi who were friends. The two friends talked about how far they could advance in the hierarchy of their faith. They talked how the Rabbi could become leader of his Synagogue, then leader of the City’s Rabbis, to being Chief Rabbi of the entire country. The Priest talked of becoming a Bishop, then a Cardinal, and then the highest honor, the Pope. “You see, my friend,” said the Priest, “I could possibly become Pope, leader of all the Christians in the world!”
“Yes, my friend, you could,” smiled the Rabbi (in the story); “but you’ll still be taking orders from a Jew named Jesus!”
With the class all laughing, the Rabbi took his seat. When the laughter died down, Roger stood and introduced the next guest. “Mohammed Bussan is well known to all of you; he is the one who trains and takes care of our King’s horses. His family has been training horses for racing and for war for hundreds of years, and our King is very lucky to have him. Mohammed will tell you a little about being a Moslem.” With that, Mohammed stood and began his talk. He was not as eloquent as the Rabbi, but he spoke simply of his happiness serving God, who he called Allah, and how Allah was constantly helping him in his daily life. He talked about the prayers a man had to pray 5 times a day, and he spoke of how, in Arabian cities, the streets would be filled with men kneeling and praying in the direction of Mecca, one of the Holy cities of his faith. He ended with the story of his visiting Mecca, one of the requirements of an Islamic man. “I hope one day that I might have sons to help me in my work, and follow in my footsteps after I am gone. I know that as long as I am faithful to Allah the Merciful, the Compassionate, the All-Knowing, that my prayers will be heard.” And with that, he took his seat.
Roger rose one more time, and motioned to the Lady in the chair next to him. “This Lady you have all seen in my company, for she is the Village Healer, and a good friend. Megan Anderson has been studying herbs and potions since she could barely walk, and she was taught by one of my own teachers, her late mother Silvia. She is what some would call a Pagan, although in years past that term was used for all who were not Christian, it is as good a term as any. Let her have your attention now.”
Megan stood and smiled at the class. “I know some of you already. It is interesting to see, when you have the only melon patch in the village, how many young faces will show up, all offering to help harvest your crop!” The children all laughed; most of them had, at some point in their lives, been rewarded by the Herb woman for their help. The rewards for “work” always earned a sweet treat: a slice of melon, a sugared fig, or some other sweetmeat. They were told that it was for “good children who helped an old woman with her chores.” The fact that the woman was younger than their parents did not matter, she was a very well respected person, and they all tried to stay on her good side.
But today was different. Today she talked of her love for the land; how each season brought new joy, and how the cycle of life was reflected in the earth and the sky. They heard of the four winds, and what each heralded. She spoke of the trees, and their long-lived cycle of life, and how at each stage of life, they supplied us with things that were needful. She spoke of the animals of the forest, and how by living simply with them, they provided many of our other needs. She spoke of how the birds of the air ate harmful insects, and how some plants could be used to heal various illnesses. They had known of her great knowledge of things that would heal, but now the children saw her devotion to what she called the Earth Mother, and how in living in harmony with nature, one could prosper and grow without harming one another. The children’s eyes were opened to seeing what was around them in a whole new way, and each was a bit sad when Megan finally took her seat.
“Now that you have my class all wishing they were Pagans, let us go now to questions. By the way,” the old Monk added as an aside; “For those of you interested in living a life in harmony with nature, I call your attention to St. Francis of Assisi, who was said to be able to preach to the birds of the air and the animals of the field. May we have our first question?”
The first question was a bit slow in coming, but as in the past few weeks, as they started to feel more confident, they opened to the freedom of having someone here to dispel old rumor and innuendo. For some of the questions were asked about stories the children had heard in the streets of the village, told by the uneducated, but believed in spite of their utter absurdity. “Do Pagans worship the Devil?” was one put forth by one boy.
“Well, as I told you before, there are many forms of Nature worship,” answered Megan; “but one thing we ALL agree on is we do NOT worship the Christian Devil. Devil, Satan, or Lucifer are all names Christians use for the Great Evil One who rebelled against your God, millennia ago. He has nothing to do with our beliefs, and it is sad that so many Pagans have been tortured and killed by well-meaning but ignorant Christians who thought we were all evil worshipers, and they were pleasing God by killing us.”
“We will discuss that very thing in today’s story,” added Roger; “But first let us say goodbye to these nice people for all their time and efforts. By the way,” the old monk added; “My King has told me that you are invited to stay for dinner.”
But it seemed that the three visitors all had prior commitments, so with the thanks of Roger and the class, all three made their way out of the Herbarium, and Roger had the class stand as a token of respect. When the three had left, Roger gave the class a short break, in which to eat a snack, drink some water, or take care of personal needs. When the class had finally settled back down, the old monk started the day’s story: “In the days after last weeks story . . .”]
. . . Things were coming back to normal in the Castle of Good King Henry. Constable Siegfried had, with the aid of Friar Thomas, stopped the sacrifice of a young child to the devil. Although the good Constable had been severely injured in his fight with the evil ones, he had managed to kill 4 of them, and their leader had run off, helpless and alone. The guards who had been murdered were remembered and buried, and Friar Thomas again began the task of re-sanctifying the Chapel of Saint Claire. This time, all things went well, and near the Chapel a few cottages were established, where some of the King’s guards, who were getting on in years, retired with their families to a well-earned rest. It was felt that having the old warriors near the Chapel would discourage another attempt at desecration. Still, Friar Thomas permanently moved into the little room behind the Chapel, and during the evening hours locked and bolted the doors shut.
“It is sad,” he thought to himself, “that a Chapel must be barred at any time, but as some do not respect the house of God, we must needs take precautions.”
Elsewhere in the Kingdom, it seemed that the memories of what had happened at Saint Claire’s Chapel had faded quickly. No more lost children were reported missing, and the story of poor young Helga was forgotten over the next few months. It seemed that it was as if it had never taken place, until one day . . .
It was in the King’s University, at the town of Oxenford. One of the Professors of Medicine, a man by the name of John of Gaul, was approached in an inn where he was having his mid-day meal. A gentleman, not of his acquaintance, begged leave to sit and converse, while Professor John ate. Seeing no harm, the good Professor agreed, and ordered a fresh pint of ale for his new guest.
“Thank you for the ale, good sir, it goes down well on this warm day.” The man politely thanked his host.
“How can I help you?” the Professor inquired.
“It will be me helping you, I hope,” was the response. “I don’t mean to inquire, but are you not one of those who reverence nature, and not the White Christ?”
“I’ve made no secret of my beliefs, and as the King is a good man, he allows us to believe as we will.”
“To be sure, to be sure. But do you not miss the deeper magic, the power of the blood moon on the mid-summer’s night, and the burning sacrifice and rebirth of the Green Man?”
John hid his emotions well, but inwardly he was astounded. What this stranger was talking about was not nature’s magic, but sorcery. The stranger misread the look of John’s eye, and went on. “I can see that you have thought of this before. If you are indeed interested, you need but say the word, and power that you have scarcely dreamed of can be yours. I do not expect a man such as you to answer now; take a week to think it over. If you want to hear more, before Monday next wear a green scarf around your neck. We will be in touch.” And with that, the man left the table, leaving the Professor in peace.
But an odd sort of peace it was; the Professor at first did not know where to turn. Who could he tell about this; who would be safe? Things got worse as he left the inn; there was a man who seemed to be following him. John only got one good look at him, but that was enough; wherever he went over the next two days, that man was somewhere in the background.
John was in a quandary. He needed to let the King know what was going on, but did not know whom to trust. But as he walked through the courtyard of the University, he saw two students playing a game of chess, and that gave him an idea. Every week he played chess with Albert, the University’s Chancellor, and that night he was scheduled to have dinner and then game with his friend. He could trust the Chancellor, although they were of different faiths, each knew the other as a man of good character, and the Chancellor could get word to the King about John's situation.
That night, after a nice, leisurely dinner, John asked his friend if they could move their chess game from the library to the Chancellor’s study. The study, John realized, had a lovely table in front of a window, and anyone looking at them from outside could see the two men at their chess game. As they were setting up the first game, John suggested to the Chancellor that he dismiss his servant for the night. “We can get our own wine, and there is no need for two grown men to have a hard-working man staying up just to see if we need something that we could easily get for ourselves.”
As this was not an uncommon thing, the Chancellor agreed, and soon the two men were alone.
After the first move, John started to speak to his friend, without looking up from the chessboard. “I don’t want you to move your head, or look up at me, but I have a problem, and you must know about it.”
The Chancellor did not arrive at his position by being foolish, and he realized at once that someone might be observing them. “What is the matter, my friend?” he spoke in a soft voice, as he moved a pawn on the board.
“I can not talk and play chess,” John said, “but pretend that we are playing. Something happened to me two days ago that has me frightened, and I did not know whom to turn to.”
“You know I will do whatever I can,” replied his friend; “but why all the secrecy? Are you sure that we are being watched?”
John told Albert what had happened to him two days ago, and then told him what he feared was going to happen. “I suspect that this man represents a group of adepts who mean no good. They have contacted me, hoping that I have a desire for power over others. Such things are anathema to me and my friends, but they do not know that. They, being evil themselves, believe that others are as evil as they are. The King must be warned of this, but I dare not make a move myself. I fear for my own life when they realize that I will never aid their wicked plans.”
“There is a rider going to the King’s Castle tomorrow.” Albert told his friend. “I shall send a message to our King, asking for help. If the rider goes with all speed, he could be back before you have to give them your answer.”
The two men talked into the night, pushing chess pieces across the board, so that anyone watching would know only that the men played their usual friendly games. The only item that was mentioned by Albert that frightened John all the more was when he suggested that this had something to do with the ones who had captured and killed the child at the fair a few months ago. “Do you really think it could be the same people?” asked John; “They performed their evil within a church; no one of my skills and knowledge would ever do such a thing!”
“You keep your beliefs private, my friend,” said the Chancellor. “And as you are active in the debates about religious freedoms, someone might think that you wish for freedom to practice arts you do not do in public. No, I know better!” assured Albert, seeing consternation on his friend's face. “No one who really knows you would believe that of you. But that is the point: these people do not know you. Their greed for power shows them potential companions who in reality abhor them and their wickedness.”
“So what do I do when I turn them down? Will my life be safe?”
“Let us put this before the King; He and his advisors will know what to do. If nothing else, you could move in with me; the University Chancellery is as stout building, and the University Guards are well-trained; you would be safe here.”
Soon after this, the two men stood, and shook hands, just as they did each week. Anyone watching from the outside would have seen nothing unusual, and when the Professor resumed his usual activities on the next day, nothing seemed amiss. The Chancellor sent a sealed message to the Crown, and bade the messenger to ride with all speed. “We are asking the King for more funds, so as to expand the University.” The messenger was told. “Be quick to get this to the King’s Chancellor, and wait for a reply, so we may start our plans.”
The rider rode hard and fast. Within 48 hours, the Chancellor’s message was before Good King Henry, and he wasted no time gathering his chief advisors. In addition, He asked Constable Siegfried to attend, for although he was no longer able to track and capture the evil ones, his mind was still as quick and as sharp as it ever was. When they had all gathered in the King’s private chamber, the King’s Chancellor read the message that John had asked Albert to send.
“What is to be done, your Majesty?” the Chancellor asked his King. “If we capture the man who is following the Professor, we may be able to get him to lead us to their chief.”
“And perhaps he will know nothing, and we lose our chance to capture the entire group,” replied the King. “If we can, we must ask this Professor if he will place himself in harm’s way, for the good of my kingdom.”
“If this is a man of stout heart,” spoke up Siegfried, “He can do a great good. With someone hearing their plans, we can find out when and where they plan to strike next, and this time capture them all.”
“I can not ask him to do this in a letter,” said the King. “I must needs go to him, and ask him this myself. Prepare me a horse, not one of my own, but one used by a man-at-arms. I shall ride as a common messenger, and meet this Professor.”
And so it was done. The King was given a set of clothing from one of his guards, which fit him tolerably well, and prepared to ride out at first light. No one was told of where the King was, it was just casually mentioned that the King “felt a little bit under the weather” and so was chambered in his own rooms, the better to recover his strength.
Before the sun had risen, the King was on horseback, and riding out towards Oxenford. Not having the youth of the messenger he was replacing, the King did not ride through the night, but found an inn to sleep for a while. But still, by the third morning, he rode into the courtyard of the Chancellor’s residence, and showing the seal of a King’s messenger, was led straightway to the Chancellor.
“You were quick, my friend; what message do you have for me?” the Chancellor asked the disguised King.
“I carry no message, Albert; I am the message. How quickly can you arrange a meeting between me and your friend John?”
The startled Chancellor looked at the messenger’s face, and started to drop to his knees.
“Don’t do that!” spoke the King. “You must treat me as you would any other messenger.”
The words of the King gave Albert an idea. “Then, your Majesty, may I send you to John, as I would any other messenger?”
“That would be fine, under other circumstances, but I do not want it known that a royal messenger was seen visiting John’s home or study.”
“Then go as one in my livery, it will look as if I were sending him a set of documents, which I have cause to do every other week or so. In fact,” the Chancellor added with a smile, “I have a few things that need his attention now. Would you be willing to try this, Sire?”
“If what you say is true, than that should work fine. Will anyone wonder if the messenger stays with the Professor for more than a few moments?”
“Not at all; frequently my messengers are called upon to wait for John to draft a reply.”
“Then please prepare the documents for travel. Do I need to borrow some of your messenger’s garb, or can I wear what I have on?”
“My messengers wear a tabard with the Chancellor’s seal upon the front and back. With one of these” the Chancellor took a tabard from off a shelf, “you can go anywhere in the University.”
Placing the tabard over his head, the King prepared to leave the Chancellor’s study. “Do you want a meal?” the Chancellor asked his monarch. “It is usual for a messenger to be given a meal before he is sent back out. But I fear,” the Chancellor again smiled,” that you must be served it in the Kitchen.”
“That will be good,” the King responded; “I find the food in the kitchen frequently is hotter and fresher than that served on the dais.” And with a polite bow, the King went off to find the kitchen, while the Chancellor prepared a packet of papers for the Professor.
As he was finishing up his meal, the Chancellor’s secretary found him in the kitchen, and presented the King with the prepared packet. “Please wait for the Professor to prepare an answer for my master.” The King was politely told. After the King asked directions to the Professor’s study, King Henry took his leave of the secretary, and started on his way. It took the messenger King less time than he had estimated, and so soon he was at the door of John of Gaul’s study.
“Enter,” the Professor answered, when the King knocked at his door. The King found the Professor’s study to be filled with so many books, it was hard to see how a man could move between the piles without knocking over a tower or two of them. As he maneuvered his way into the study, the King saw that John was a large man of middle age, with a beard frosted with silver, and a receding hairline.
“You have some papers for me, young man?” asked the Professor.
“I do,” the King replied, “but I would appreciate a chance to sit down, first.”
“Why, certainly.” The Professor said, a bit startled. He was not used to messengers making such an odd request, but the man seemed pleasant, and as he was coming from his friend the Chancellor, he saw no reason not to be polite. “Might I offer you a glass of wine?” he said jokingly, knowing that something was amiss here, but willing to play along.
“That would be lovely; do you have any of the Chardonnay that I sent to the University last Yule? “
“Chardonnay? Your Majesty?!” John was not sure if he should kneel or stand.
“Keep your voice down!” the King admonished the Professor. “We don’t know who might be listening! I think we had better skip the wine, and get down to business. Now tell me what has been going on.”
Regaining his composure, the Professor began to tell his tale to his King. He spoke of being followed, and of all the care he had taken to make sure that his daily habits had not changed. As he spoke of what the man had offered him, one thing in particular had caught John's attention: "He used the phrase 'sacrifice of the Green Man.' But the Green Man, in my belief, is not sacrificed at all. Now Julius Caesar wrote of ancient people performing human sacrifice, by putting some poor unfortunate in a Wicker Man-shaped basket and burning it. No evidence of this has ever been found. I suspect that he has no real knowledge of my beliefs, but has listened to rumor and gossip. Human sacrifice is against everything I and others like me believe in. We reverence all life."
As he finished, the King saw in John’s face no fear, but a concern. He asked the Professor what was disturbing him.
“Your Majesty, I am worried about what this might mean. If I don’t agree to join them, they may go to someone else, who out of fear will allow him or herself to be used by these fiends. But if I do agree to help them, might I be caught up with some evil that I may have no power to thwart?”
“This is why I have come to see you myself. If you are willing, you could pretend to join with them, and by doing so help us both prevent the evil from happening, and more important aid us to capture these evil ones once and for all. It will be very dangerous; you know that you might die in a horrible way.”
“Death is merely moving on in the cycle of life, I do not fear it. But I do fear what might happen if these evil ones are allowed to flourish. With your Majesty's permission, I beg you to let me try and stop them.”
“You beg me?” the King was himself startled. He had seen bravery and valor on the battlefield, but this was something new for him. “If you do this, I and my Kingdom will be deeply in your debt. I thank you for your courage. Let us now figure out how best to support you, without letting the enemy get any idea of what is going on.”
Between the two of them, they worked out a plan. The King would let it be known that He and the Queen decided to expand the University, and would be sending messages back and forth from the Royal Castle each week, to keep up with progress and needs. Meanwhile, the Professor and the Chancellor would increase their chess games to twice a week, giving the Professor a way to pass information to the Crown. And in case of danger, a few signals were set up, so that both the Chancellor and the Professor could notify the other that something was amiss.
“Are you sure you are willing to do this?” the King asked his new friend; “I can not guarantee that we can reach you in time, if there is trouble.”
“Why not establish a ‘Training’ program for Officers of the King’s Guards? This way you can have a small company of your men at the University, separate from me, but available if the need arises?”
“That is an excellent idea!” his monarch exclaimed. And then, pausing for a moment, the King asked a very hard question: “Why are you willing to do this? What has the Kingdom done for you?”
“Your Majesty, you may not remember it, but 5 years ago, I was living in a small seacoast village. The villagers were distrustful of me, for I would not give in to their superstitions, and they sent a group of men to your Majesty to request my arrest for witchcraft. Instead of sending guards, you sent your Queen, who looked at the situation, and arranged for me to live here in Oxenford, where I can both teach and study, and discuss with men and women of fine minds philosophy and metaphysics. I owe my life to your Majesties, and I could never not pay that debt.”
“So you are that John; I wondered if that might be the case. My friend, you owe me no debt, for my Queen only did what was right.”
“Yes, your Majesty, and so I, too, wish to only do what is right.”
They finished up their discussion with a hand clasp. The King went back to the Chancellor, and told him of what He and the Professor had agreed to do. The new additions to the University were announced, and on the next Monday, John wore a bright green kerchief around his neck.
[ . . . I must end the story here, but you will hear the end of it, and the end of our classes next week,” the old monk said with a sigh. Now, as for your question this week: Was the King correct by putting the Professor, a non-Christian, in a position where he might lose his immortal soul?
The class was silent. This was a question that they had not anticipated. But after an embarrassing amount of silence, one child asked the old Monk “Was the Professor a non-Christian by choice?”
“Yes” was the simple reply.
Another child spoke up; “Could the King make John a Christian against his will?”
“It is not our place to make someone a Christian who does not want to be one,” said Thomas; “We are only to tell people about who Christ was.”
“That is not all we are to do,” prompted their teacher.
“I know! We are to live lives that would make Christ proud of us! People want to be Christian, when they see us being good ones.”
The old monk smiled. “That is correct, Jason, very good! Yes, many people who would never enter into a Church come to be Christians by seeing how other Christians let the Lord work in their lives.” He paused for a moment, and then continued; “You, as adult Christians, have to re-focus your vision. You are no longer children, who need to watch what you are doing for fear of doing wrong. You must be concerned about doing what is right. That’s what the Queen did in the story, and so that’s what John wanted to do, too. And that’s what you all must be doing, every day. It will not be easy, it may not be fun. But you will know if it is the right thing to do, and you must do it.”
One of the smaller children spoke up; “But what if we are not sure if it is the right thing to do?”
And before Roger could reply, one of the other children quickly said; “That’s simple, Roger will tell us!”
With a resigned wave, Roger dismissed the children, but try though he might; he could not keep a smile from forming on his face.]
Roger of Belden Abbey
Daniel A. Thompson, Jr
415 SE 153rd Avenue
Portland, Oregon 97233
Roger of Belden Abbey