Sunday, 2 November 2008

Chapter Three

Brother Alonso felt an impetuous madness overtake him.

He knew that if he stopped to consider his actions, his natural caution would stop him from doing anything. If he was going to do anything, he had to let his instincts guide him and hope that fortune would be on his side. He reflected that at one time he would have prayed for guidance and knowledge of the correct course to take, but that particular resource now seemed to be closed to him. He was on his own, and he would take responsibility for himself.

He made his way to the kitchens, knowing that the rest of the brothers would be busy in their devotions. He still moved with caution, but the routine of life in the monastery was as immutable as the mountains themselves. The schedule of devotions ran as smoothly as the clockwork mechanisms that drove the large clock on the church tower in the market square. He could predict with a high degree of certainty exactly who would be where at any particular time, and also what they would be doing. The regularity of life in the monastery had at one time been a source of great comfort to Alonso, but now he was on the brink of breaking away from it, he realised quite how stifling and restrictive it had been.

In the kitchen he carefully removed a smouldering piece of wood from the fire in the large stone grate that had been banked down for the night. He made his way out of the back door of the kitchen to the courtyard where there was a large stack of split cords of firewood, neatly piled up under a shelter to keep them dry. He found some small pieces of kindling and blew on the ember in his hand, breathing life into it until the flames started to catch and burn the dry wood. He had no intention or wish to cause a major blaze - the objective was to cause a panic - so his next action was to pick up a large armful of wet leaf mould and kitchen waste from the compost heap that was next to the fire wood. He smothered the nascent blaze, and immediately large clouds of choking, acrid smoke began to billow upwards and into the open windows on the upper floors.

There was a large brass bell by the side of the kitchen door and he sounded it three times, the signal for a fire or other emergency, and then made his way through crowds of brothers milling in the rapidly thickening clouds of smoke. He climbed the stairs to the bedroom of the old man and gently roused him from his sleep.

"If you can understand me, please don't scream. I mean you no harm, but I am going to try and get us both out of this place. Now, please put this robe on and follow me. Keep your face covered, and don't say a word".

Alonso handed the old man a dark brown robe, identical to his own, and was gratified as comprehension began to dawn on the old man's ragged features and hope started to dawn in his eyes for the first time in months.

They were going to escape!

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