Voices in my Mind, Part 2
Le Monastère dans les Montagnes
18 Mallaud, 593 Année de Paix
The pallid moon had just begun to rise over the mountaintops when she crept out of bed, pulling off the linen sheets and casting them aside on the rough mattress. If caught, she would claim she needed to relieve herself; it was not an unreasonable excuse, but she walked carefully just the same. The stone floor felt icy cold against her bare feet, and the wind rustled through the folds of her nightdress. But she was undeterred.
Just two weeks ago, she had visited the undercroft of the monastery for the first time -- and since that day she had been unable to push the sound of the chanting from her mind. The sound of monks communing with Ántou. The sound of prophecy.
When she was young, Arielle’s world had no limits. The realm was her playground, its inhabitants her servants; and as the daughter of the Comte, her desire was reality. Her limits were the laws of physics and her own imagination. Paradise? Perhaps, but to her it had seemed to be the natural way of life. She’d taken it for granted.
Arielle did not take things for granted anymore.
Two years at the monastery had taught her how life was meant to be, how it was lived by the countless ordinary folks across Martoise who did not have the same idyllic childhood as she. To be fair, the experience of a trainee nun was hardly representative of the general populace of the realm. But, in counterpoint, she supposed that ‘Comte’s daughter’ and ‘trainee nun’ were opposite ends of the paradigm. Perhaps if she averaged the two she would come up with some approximation of a normal life.
But some spark of her childhood remained. It was some flame, some unquenchable determination to follow her dreams and desires that burned from time to time in her heart. And though she tried to repress it, it was a futile exercise. Her soul called her to the prophecy, and so to the prophecy she would go.
Arielle wandered the halls of the monastery at night often enough that she had learned to navigate most of the secret passages and to avoid being caught past curfew. Listening for distant echoes of footsteps had become second-nature, and she could even predict where many monks would be on a given day. Père Durec, for instance, was fond of midnight trips to the gardens. Mère Elisse liked to visit the lake on weekends. She knew her timing was solid, and she was confident in her ability to evade detection. What would be more complicated, however, was getting into the undercroft. Fortunately, Arielle was very good at planning ahead.
Over the past week, she had observed the entrance to the undercroft often enough to discover the shape of the key used to open it. Using several twigs and pins of varying sizes and shapes, she hoped to be able to pick the lock with minimal effort.
A typical person might have had second thoughts when finally reaching that heavy oak door, but not Arielle. Not the daughter of the Comte. As she had expected, it took barely two minutes to break into the staircase that led deep down into the labyrinthine undercroft of the monastery. It was only now that she paused, taking a deep breath and surveying her surroundings. The change in atmosphere was tangible, though hard to place. Cooler, damper, full of the rich scent of dirt and moss and flora. The echo of a distant trickle of water reached her ears. The air moved through her hair like it was alive.
She remembered the first time she had been here like it was yesterday. The feeling of electric magic in the air, the all-encompassing power of Ántou. It tugged on her heart. Moving quickly but quietly, she headed down the ancient corridor towards the sound of whispered chanting. The rhythm spoke to her, building, swelling and then subsiding like waves upon the shore. As she approached the door to the prophecy room, she slowed down and steeled her nerves.
And she listened.
The whispers were like the rustling of leaves. Each individual voice: meaningless and irrelevant. Together: filled with memories and connotations, and full of body. They rattled like dust as the torchlight in the hallway flickered, as the air slowly moved back and forth. The voices were a song. The chanting was filled with harmonies and discords, with euphony and lyricism and hidden meaning that suddenly revealed itself and then, just as quickly, unraveled. Arielle struggled to understand the song.
The voices were the sounds of pebbles on an ancient, worn path. They were the sounds of a thousand years of history, imprinted upon the immortal earth by the feet of a thousand men and read by only a select few. She was among their number.
The chants were raindrops falling on the rooftop, or perhaps on the open sea. They were stars in the deepest, darkest night sky, innumerable and inconceivable to the mortal eye and yet still eternally, enduringly mesmerizing. They were the rustling of leaves on a windy day, and the flicker of flames in a roaring fire, and the noise of lavender fields swaying in the breeze.
And the sound changed. The voices began — imperceptibly at first, but then faster and faster — to grow in power. It was not so much that their volume increased, but that the tingling on Arielle’s spine and the tug on her soul — the magic — became that much stronger. And still the voices grew. They were the rumble of distant thunder and the heat of a wildfire; the pouring flood of rain during a storm and the force of a gale. The voices grew. The lightning flashed and mountains crumbled, and the very ocean leapt upon the shores to bring its fury crashing down upon the land. The earth seemed to thrum with energy, and that energy mirrored itself within her. And then, as the voices seemed to come to a crescendo, that energy fell silent. It remained, electrifying the air and soil around her, but lay deathly still — as a string held taut or as the calm mirror of the ocean just before a great storm.
Her ears rang with the silence.
And then the nuns in the room spoke. Their voices, still whispers, now melded together into words Arielle could understand, and in their unison their volume worked its way into her head so that it felt as though her bones vibrated.
Où le soleil se couche
Et les branches pendent
Et les étoiles tombent dans la mer
Regarde au fond de toi,
Mon ami aux beaux yeux -
Le cœur de pierre chante :
Callert, Callert, rentre chez moi.
Un monticule d'étincelles d'amande étincelle la couronne
Sans fin comme les nuages.
Nous dansons jusqu'à ce que la lune se lève
Mais caché au plus profond de la joie
Une obscurité est sous les pieds.
Attention, jeune. Attention encore.
Quelque chose se cache dans les bois.
As soon as the prophecy had ended, the magic seemed to drain out of the undercroft, leaving it dull and barren. The nuns continued to chant, but their words had lost the wonder they had once had. They were meaningless. The moment had passed.
Arielle, still in awe, wandered back up the corridor. Her mind seemed to alternate between blank confusion and racing thought. For a moment, she wondered whether she ought to write the prophecy down. But no. It would remain etched in her mind forever. She could not forget it if she tried.
The magic was gone, but she thought she could feel it lingering as a tingle in her fingers and a static in her hair and clothing. That feeling would pass. But, for as long as she lived, she would never forget the feel of the magic in her heart. Intoxication was the wrong word. It was a purpose.