Brother Benjamin was a monk.
He belonged to an order of monks at St Druid's monastery that believed in duty, prayer and more prayer, and if that seems much of a muchness the duty actually involved prayer too.
The prayers sometimes made him weep. He got so involved in his god, so face-to-face with the deity he was communing with on the deepest possible level, that tears streamed down his face. And those tears were made of love. Pure, unsullied, undiluted love. He would, as he wept, do anything for his God, and he sometimes did.
Anything is a vague description, but it accurately defines the range of actions he was prepared to undertake, if ordered.
The orders came to him in visions rather than directly through prayer. Visions was how his God replied to his hours of whispered supplication. After all, if that mighty power put words into his head there were people, evil people, who might suggest that he was merely hearing things. That he was, in a way, insane – and Brother Benjamin knew that of all conditions he might be insanity wasn’t one of them. He was, he knew, as sane as the next man and the only thing that distinguished him from the masses was his devotion.
They had their toys, did those masses. They played their games, improper games sometimes, with women. They drank strong ales in vast excess and did stupid things as a consequence. They cursed in loud voices and sometimes raged at this or that imposition on their mundane lives. And most of them were unbelievers. He knew that much because if they were believers they would also be penitents in his monastery, and spend their lives deep in wonderful, fulfilling prayer. But the Masses did nothing of the sort: the ale houses were testament to that!
Brother Benjamin, on the other hand, could do no wrong because everything he did was predetermined by his God. If that deity, in a vision at night as he slept, gave him an order, then that order had to be obeyed down to the last dotted “i” and crossed “t”.
He loved his visions, did Brother Benjamin. They refreshed him, reinforced his faith and gave him a position on the hierarchy of holiness. All the greats had been guided by visions, all his heroes in the olden times, all the men (no women) who had forged a way in the world so that evil and Satanic forces could be defeated. If blood had to be spilt then a vision had guided them – maybe several visions bearing in mind that some of the truly greats had been more subject to visionary guidance than had others.
Brother Benjamin might have been no more than a name in the history of St Druid Monastery, a few inked characters on a long, long list, had it not been for one mighty powerful vision.
His sleep was interrupted by an appearance. In a ball of fire with sparkles and spittles all over it and shooting out of it came the now familiar voice of his deity. He shivered at the sound of it. In his head he rose onto his knees and banged the palms of his hands onto his cot until they hurt. Tears streamed down his face, and the voice, from a million miles away, hummed at him, there is evil, my son, on the Earth, and it is women, curse them for the garden and the apple and its dire consequences, who are behind it … you must go forth come dawn and punish them, as many as you can before matins, for they and they alone are responsible for the fall of man and the rise of my big enemy...
Then the voice faded away, retreated to the Heaven whence it had come, and without waiting for dawn Brother Benjamin rose from his bitter-smelling palliasse and, like the shadow he'd never been, made his silent way out of St Druid's grounds.
“I am ready to do your duty, my holy lord,” he jabbered, and drifted like the spirit of the dead down the long trail that led, he knew to a village of tiny one-room hovels where the local lord's slaves and servants slept when they weren't toiling in the fields and forests.
But he did not have to walk all the way. He came whilst he was on his way upon an old woman, nodding asleep in a hunched position at the side of the track he was on. He stood and stared at her. Here was a crone, a feeble, evil and foul-mouthed creature who had soiled the world since she had been born into it. So he kicked her.
He kicked her hard enough to make her yelp in her sleep, and then wake up.
“You are a woman!” he hissed at her. “You are a foul creature of Satan, a thread of evil life that has done no good thing in all her life! And my Lord has issued an order … all who are female, all who are not beautiful like men are beautiful, must die horrible deaths in his holy and sacred name!”
“What are you jabbering about, laddie?” she asked, rubbing her leg where he had bruised her. “What is it that irks you so?”
“The very existence of vermin like you … your living … on this Earth, on the fair land we monks treasure … it is an offence to our God!” he replied, trying to muster anger in order to reinforce his slowly diminishing memory of a stark vision.
“What are you going to do, reverence?” whined the woman, alert, it seemed, to some danger from the fearsome black-cowled monk and his dread words.
“I have my orders from on high...” he began, then, more strongly, “my Lord came to me in a great vision and announced as only his Mightiness can that all women are evil and must be punished! They are of the line of Eve, and their flesh and any that spring from it must be returned to the dust and ashes from whence they came...”
He reached one hand into the coppiced hedgerow and tugged at a branch of young timber.
“What are you going to do, young sir?” she asked, her feeble voice wavering with combination of fear and age.
“I am to thrash you!” he announced, blinking owlishly. “And when you have been smitten then I will search out others of your flesh and smite them likewise...”
“Ah, Benjamin,” she whispered, “you are so like your dear father … he was strong of limb and weak of mind too...”
“What are you saying, hag?” he demanded.
“You don't know?” she sighed, “is it so long since you suckled at my breast? Is it so long since you came from my flesh into the world and cried your first cry? And all of my flesh, you say? All who have come from it? Then you'd best set about it, as quickly as maybe, for matins will be on you and you'll still have your own back to flog to death … son.”
©Peter Rogerson 05.03.14