Thursday, August 1, 2013

Prompt: Deciphering an illustrated manuscript

Thanks to Alarie for permission to use his beautiful "Of Lizards"!

The old monk climbed the turret stairs slowly, pausing every few to catch his breath and rub his sore hip. The sunset’s glorious colors had long faded, and the sky dimmed from blue to the purple that presaged the black of night. His body was old, but his mind and spirit were sharp. If only his eyes could still see the long distances they used to! Where were they? It had to be tonight, or it would be too late.

As he reached the wooden rooftop, he leaned out over the stone wall. Closing his eyes, he let his heart reach out. There! He felt them, racing through the darkening sky. He stretched out his arms, but dared not call out loud. To me! Here I am!

The dragon pair flew around the monastery, searching for danger. They soared around the turret, but sensing his caution, they didn’t cry out their greetings. Flapping their wings for lift, they gently landed on either side of the old monk and wrapped their wings and tails around him, making a sound that he could only think of as a purr. He didn’t tell them, though. They hated cats.

Quickly! He urged them. In unison, the dragons reared up and began to glow with silver light. Sparks danced on their skin and lifted up into the night air like a bonfire. The old monk leaned over the turret wall, nervously hoping no one came out into the old courtyard and saw them. The dragons shrank, smaller and smaller, their wings fading to nothing, their iridescent scales taking on a brilliant green hue, their faces changing as he watched, their bodies condensing into stubby tubes with long, delicate tails. They all watched the sparks fading into the night sky, until only one rested on the head of each dragon. The old monk watched as the last silver sparks sank into the dragons’ heads, leaving them in darkness.

He crouched, and they ran onto his open palms. Standing, he slid them into his robe’s pockets and began the long, tedious descent.

“Brother Willard, careful there! What takes you up the turret so late?” A young novice ran to the bottom of the steps and held his torch high. He climbed up to meet the old monk, who gratefully rested his hand on the boy’s shoulder for balance on the final few steps.

“I wanted to look for the comet. We should see it any night now.”

The boy nodded with enthusiasm. He was a bright student and ardent in his faith. Brother Willard wondered if he might be trustworthy with his greatest secret. He took his hand from the stairrail and reached into his pocket. The dragon there curled its tail around his fingers with such implicit trust. He withdrew his hand. He could not risk their lives, even if it cost his own.

“Shall I take you to your room, Brother Willard?” the novice asked as they reached the final steps. The old monk longed to rest in his rocking chair and pray with his rosary. Surely Mother Barta would not turn her face from him after all these years. The saviour’s blessed mother knew his heart. He shook his head with determination.

“Thank you, son. I must return to the scriptorium tonight.”

The novice raised his eyebrows. “Tonight, Brother? It is so late. Perhaps I could wake you early in the morning before matins—”

“Thank you, young Xander. Your kindness warms me.” He waved the boy away. “But you go on to your bed and say your own prayers. I will be fine.” Xander bowed and left the old monk to continue around the courtyard to the scriptorium. He lit the entrance candle and found a small lamp to carry to the other end and up the wooden stairs to his loft. As Scriptorium Master, he had a large drafting table by the window, as well as couches and floor pillows to rest while reviewing the others’ work.

He moved several dozen books from a haphazard stack, then pulled a leather portfolio from under the rest. Laying it out on the table, he slid the parchment from between the leather sleeves. It was the most elaborate manuscript page he had ever illuminated, except for the blank middle. He reached into his pockets and withdrew the two small, transformed dragons, letting them scamper onto the table to examine the parchment.

“We have one more bit of magic left tonight, my old friends. I hope it’s enough to save you.” They regarded him with unblinking eyes. He brought over a tray of inks and brushes and began his final illustration, the entwined bodies of two bright green lizards. As he painted, he spoke quietly to them, pouring out his final thoughts, the secrets in his heart.

“There. Now, it is your turn.” He motioned to the painting with his long, delicate brush. The dragons carefully walked onto the parchment and looked down at their portraits. One lay over a drawing, and as it—she—rested her head, she began to fade into the parchment, the painting itself, until only her tail remained solid. The other dragon lay on his portrait, resting his head next to hers, and wrapping his tail around hers, even as it faded into the parchment. He, too, faded into the painting until there was nothing left.

“Some day, my friends. Some day, the world will be ready to welcome you again.” The old monk threw sand over the parchment to dry the ink, then carried the lamp down the stairs and past the courtyard to his small, spare room. He blew out the lamp and clutched his rosary tight. He dreamed of Mother Barta smiling at him. The lines of pain and worry faded from his face, like ink fades from ancient parchment.

Dogs in house
Houdini, Brindle

Time writing:
60 minutes, distracted

August word count:

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