Voices in my Mind, Part 1
Le Monastère dans les Montagnes
6 Mallaud, 593 Année de Paix
That was her immediate thought when she, along with a handful of other trainee nuns of a similar age, were led for the first time into the Monastery’s undercroft. That maze of passages and tunnels which extended for leagues, some said, across the land; rooms buried hundreds of meters deep in which golden treasure and magical artifacts were hidden away. Arielle Challant had never seen these for herself, and no monk or nun had ever confirmed their existence. But there had never been a denial either, and the legends had propagated like wildfire through the group of young women as, for the past year, they had waited (sometimes patiently, sometimes impatiently) for their turn to enter the mystic and mysterious passages.
Arielle did know that the undercroft contained magic. Somewhere here — and she hoped, for curiosity’s sake, that she would see it today — twenty nuns sat in a darkened room filled with incense, communing with Ántou himself. Divinity had been here, and the fact that the atmosphere had shifted so drastically from the dry warmth of the upper Monastery seemed to confirm that.
Their footsteps echoed on the worn stone floor as they passed burning braziers held by ornately carved angels. The walls, hewn directly from the rock, were covered in intricate patterns and images: saints, historical scenes, animals, vines and trees. Brick arches held up the ceiling at regular intervals, marking out borders between segments of geometric tiles and religious symbols. Here and there, tiny green plants poked through cracks in the stone, grasping at what little light and moisture they could gather from this hidden place.
And the smell. As they proceeded deeper and passageways began to branch off the main corridor, the intense, smoky scent of incense began to sear its way into Arielle’s nose. They had been taught how to make this incense a few months earlier, and she recognized the smells of certain herbs and flowers. But this smoke had a certain component that she had not noticed as she ground expensive, imported ingredients together in a mortar and pestle: an earthy, musky quality that made it feel as though the ground itself were transferring its essence into the air. It was unlike anything she had ever experienced.
The monk guiding them paused as they approached an ornate doorway. Carved, varnished oak doors betrayed the importance of the room that lay beyond, and the monk gestured towards it with a hushing signal.
He hurried past.
Arielle made to follow, but as she passed the door, her legs stopped working.
Something in the air stirred quietly. She could feel it, tingling on her skin and ringing in her eardrums and, she imagined, moving her hair with an oh-so-subtle wind. It was the feeling of the sky after a thunderstorm; the heavy lightness of excited nerves in the pit of the stomach; the uncomfortable and electric prickling on the back of the neck. After a moment, or a few minutes, or half an hour — she couldn’t tell which — she realized that it was sound: the faint but infinitely-intense noise of meditation. She held her breath. Holding deathly still so as not to feel the noise of muscles and ligaments in her body, she thought she could make out the whispers of the nuns. Whispers. Meaningless, incomprehensible — yet filled with the power of divinity, the rumble of earthquakes and brilliance of lightning, the silent and inscrutable presence of magic which enveloped her rapt mind like a shell, a blanket of throbbing energy and force. All her time on earth and in the monastery could never have prepared her for it.
Somebody grabbed her arm. The sudden movement wrenched Arielle out of the trance and she turned to look at the guilty party: a fellow trainee. “Allons-y,” hissed the girl. “We will be left behind!”
“Mais je veux écouter,” replied Arielle softly. But I want to listen. Her mind remained transfixed on the humming chant that emanated from the wooden door.
But a second, stronger tug pulled her off her feet and broke the connection, leaving only the memory of the sound seared into her mind. Far ahead down the corridor, the rest of the group was entering a room filled with looms, and the two young women hurried to catch up.
And even as they settled into rickety, ancient stools and began to weave their first tapestries to the scent of perfumes and incense, even as they brought their complex designs into life as thousands of nuns had done before them, the echoes of the chant remained in her mind, pounding like a heartbeat or like waves on the shore. The magic. The intrigue. The mystery. It was intoxicating. And she was hungry for more.