It is not often that trainee monks are allowed to leave the monastery. We have no vacations, and are granted brief leave only in such extenuating circumstances as the death of a close family member, or a summons from a local lord. Once per year, however, we are allowed a glimpse of freedom — a week or so of carefully-controlled, chaperoned, and guided adventuring to some important location in Dántaine. Often, these excursions coincide with an important holiday, and are pilgrimages to historic religious sites. Today, I will tell you about my journey to one such site: Juillian’s Keep.
The Pèlerinage sur l'Eau — the Journey to the Water — is a pilgrimage undertaken mostly by the Martois, and occurs each year at the end of the month of Juillian. There is symbolic significance to this time, of course, but as for myself, I see great value in its weather; the hot season is just ending, and Juillian’s Lake is the perfect temperature for a swim.
There were fourteen of us when we visited the Keep that year, all of us the same age and in the same stage of training. We were accompanied by Pére Durec, one of the older and greyer monks at the monastery, and the journey to the coast took several days. Uncharacteristically, Pére Durec encouraged us to spend those days in leisure. We spent hours staring at the fields as they passed, the lilac and gold hues of the crops shining like pastel colors under the summer sun. The air had a different smell, too: one full of warmth; full of life; full of a buoyancy and energy that never seemed to exist in the mountains. And as the sun crept below the mountains each night, we saw the stars in the heavens mirrored by our feet -- a million fireflies twinkling across the realm in hypnotic and entrancing patterns. It was the first time I had seen fireflies in years, and, to be frank with you, it was the most magical part of the entire journey.
As I said, the trip to the coast took several days. We arrived at the north shore of Juillian’s Lake -- a mere league from the outskirts of Lamielle -- at dusk, and piled into a set of small rowboats that smelled like algae and driftwood. The ride to the island in the middle of the lake was about ten minutes, and as we approached, the Keep seemed to spring out of the darkness, looming tall and sinister over the still water.
The church has preserved this location for generations. The island is considered some sort of protected land; Pére Durec warned us that any damage to the wildlife, flora, or keep itself could be considered a crime. Nonetheless, as we explored the ruins, walking gingerly through the wooden scaffoldings that hold up its caved roof and crumbling walls, some of the other boys and I snuck off to carve our initials into the alder trees on the beach. The night was silent, the sounds of the outside world muffled and absorbed by the water around us.
You may be wondering why this ancient keep is such an important destination. In fact, it is the most important destination for Martoise monks (save, perhaps, for the fabled Lost Monastery, which may not even exist in the first place). The Book of Juillian in the Sacresante is one of the more boring sections, filled with metaphors and flowery language and long lectures about obvious things. However, its final two chapters -- the ones pertaining to Juillian’s Keep -- are completely different. Allow me to give you a brief run-down.
In the first chapter, Juillian musters an army of forty thousand men to fight the Dark Forces, and is then completely decimated by the superior enemy. He retreats with fifty surviving men to the lake, where he discovers that they have only a fraction of the incense required to commune with Ántou. No incense means no prophecy, and no way to learn how to defeat the Dark Forces. Juillian’s men ask him what to do, and he responds by instructing them to build a keep -- this keep -- on the island in the center of the lake, defensible from all sides and protected from every form of attack. Once the keep is complete, he says, he will have an answer to their uncertainty.
In the second chapter, the keep is constructed (in a single week! I have to imagine that part is embellished, for there is no possible way I can see this fortress being built in a mere seven days), and Juillian finally approaches his followers with a solution. He produces a loom (from where I do not know; as I have mentioned in previous entries, the more popular stories in the Sacresante tend to be a bit unbelievable) and lights the small remaining portion of incense for meditation. As the men defend the keep, Juillian and his loyal protegee weave the very first prophetic tapestries in Dántaine, which inform them of the weakness in the Dark Army and allow them to emerge victorious in the war. Today, their technique is still used in monasteries throughout Dántaine to predict the future through works of art.
Clearly, this story has been adapted and altered over time, but its core principles are true. Walking into the lower portion of the Keep, where a tree has sprouted out of the cracked and mossy flagstones, I could feel that there once had been prophecy in this place. I felt the unnamable presence, that unmistakable energy, that I have only felt in the Catacombs of the Monastery, where prophecy has permeated the walls just as it must have done here so many centuries ago.
These hallowed stones hold unimaginable secrets and stories. This is why we travel to the Keep; not to worship or study scripture, but to try to learn and unlock those secrets of history. Perhaps one day, with the right tools and knowledge, we will be able to crack the code and extract Juillian’s wisdom from his Keep. I hope so. For now, though, the Keep remains merely an idyllic ruin. If you ever happen to be in the area, I do recommend you visit. Perhaps you will feel the magic as I did.