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The Relic-Mongers

by Michael Díaz Feito

Table of Contents

Table of Contents
Chapters: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6,
7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14

Chapter 1: Greenness

Abbatissa Antía was heavy with words. She burned incense at lauds and inhaled the Lord, sinking his words into a wax tablet. Her stylus swooned from syllable to syllable. Morning light filtered into the smoky cell and warmed her hands.

Her right hand was sinewy, a healthy womb, while her left hand was withered, because she held it cramped in sympathy with the writing hand. Her hands were the mortal body and the immortal soul and, like all creation, they could reveal what God is and is not. When I die, she thought, they should keep my hands in a gold case shaped like a hand, so I can continue signing the earth with spirit.

She urinated over the chamber pot. Invisibilia enim ipsius a creatura mundi per ea quae facta sunt intellecta conspiciuntur. She emptied the pot out the window and went to fill a cup of milk.

It began to rain. A steady drizzle, the molla bobos that feeds Galicia is like the sea flooding the sky. Antía paused in the cloister. She reached into the rain. She sifted through the subaqueous gray of the garden, curious to find a greenness there.

“Mater, the others are in the oratory,” Soror Liuve said. She shifted baskets in the kitchen. She was a young sister. Her nobly plump face was wet from the rain. Drops slid to her blonde eyebrows.

“Go,” Antía said. “Let me drink my dang milk.”

Liuve nodded, started to speak and stopped herself. She nodded again and suddenly said, “Her udders were soft today, so ready. That’s a good sign, no? Oh! and Xosé of Lugo left this donation of dates last night. He has instructive stories from traveling. You were right, Mater. There are prodigies among the heretics of Provence. Xosé says yes, without a doubt.

“They’ve adopted Saracen law, you know. He says once they buried a dead man wrongly, and this same corpse climbed up at night and stalked the town, calling out people by name. Within three days the people the corpse called had yellowed and died. A good lesson for them, isn’t it? Try the dates.”

Antía waved her away. Alone again, she reached into the basket of dates. The chewy sweet clung to her palate. It evoked a memory of Jerusalem. The city around which the world spins, the umbilicus mundi. Now, sad to tell, captive to Saladin’s cult, strangled by the shawl of Termagant, the pagans’ god, and forgetting her Latin.

Antía and her father had made the pilgrimage to Jerusalem when she was a child. They stopped at a market stall. Chewing some dates, little Antía looked above the city walls into the sun. She saw heat smudging the sky, the blur of the sphere whirling around its axis, and she collapsed. It was her first vision.

Antía’s jaw now clenched. Her tongue rolled, swelled. Pain tickled her throat, stinging like sparks.

“Nonne flammam viridem vides?”

The kitchen was on fire. Sprouting flames were green as new beech shoots. At each flowery jolt, Antía screamed, silently because she heard nothing, not even the halt and lurch of her breathing. As in many fiery rooms before, this sudden eruption overwhelmed her without heat. It did not burn furniture or blacken walls. The vision was no less terrifying for its familiarity.

A young woman emerged from eddies of the green fire variegated with silver air. She was wearing rags. She spewed sand. She said, “Deus vult!” Her voice, the same voice that had preceded the fire, pealed at a high pitch, as if a choir of sparrows chirped from her throat.

The visitor called herself Eustochium, Paula’s daughter. Mentored by Saint Jerome himself, together she and her mother had rejected the City of Man and become the desert mothers of Bethlehem: Eustochium picking the flowers of virginity, and Paula scrubbing the threshing-floor of widowhood. They surpassed womanhood.

And yet, the visitor moaned, their holy sepulcher was abandoned. Cowards had left it to the Saracens who raped Palestine. They begged to be rescued. Their dry bodies thirsted for the honeyed touch of true Christians. “In tuum hortum vivum,” she said, “transplantemur.”

Antía said, “We want you! Yes, we want...”

Soror Liuve found the abbess unconscious. She was curled up on the kitchen floor. Her mouth drooped. Blood washed her teeth. Her right hand reached out and relaxed, budding slowly, to reveal a sticky mash of dates.

Proceed to Chapter 2...

Copyright © 2017 by Michael Díaz Feito

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