Saddleback Monk

Brother Jacob leaned heavily on his staff as he watched the morning sun break over the horizon. He leg gave him a great deal of pain this morning.  The cold. The dampness.  He longed for the warmth of his home abbey but he had been called here.  Brother Jacob was more than six feet tall.  His staff was a thick as a horses leg and it’s blunt end had brought more than one conflict to a quick close. His shoulders were broad beneath his robe. His hood was pulled up shielding him from the morning rain. The only thing missing from his silhouette on the hill this morning was his ever present leather bag in which he carried his cross, his holy book, and the few modest coins that would buy him a bed and a meal.

 In another time...not time...in another life Brother Jacob had been a soldier’s soldier. He had lead men into battle, fought knee deep in blood and mud, and silently assassinated generals in their beds.  When an arrow sunk deep into his thigh taking most of the muscle with it, his time in the army came to a end.  It was a monk named Lawrence who came to him in the hospital.  It was the monk who sat by his bed while he raged in his fever.  It was the monk who blessed him, gave him the sacraments, and eventually...in the name of God...offered forgiveness.  When he could stand again Jacob followed the monk to his abbey and worked in the kitchens to repay the debt he thought he ode.  Jacob had more than once rode along as a sort of security guard on delivery. Even with his leg held together by a metal frame Jacob could fight better than any ten grown men.  When he saved the life of fat brother Talbot, the old monk took Jacob on as a student.

 The Village of Saddleback had been besieged by an ogre for nearly eleven months.  Finally after repeated letters from the village elders the church had sent Brother Jacob to investigate.  Brother Jacob had a...let’s just say a talent for these things.  Things that attacked the villages usually came in words like “horde” or “legion” or “swarm”.  The things that attacked the villages often came from the sky or “spewed up” from caves.

Brother Jacob was very good about sending them home...or to hell.

 The monk leaned on his staff and waited.  The ogre had been punctual. They were creatures of habit and usually incredibly stupid. They were all brawn often 13 or 14 feet tall.  Jacob had once heard of one topping twenty feet but he dismissed this as village lore and empty wineskin.  This particular ogre had no name that he knew of and no reason for his sudden needs as far as Jacob could tell.  He simply started coming into the village at the first sunrise after the first full moon, grabbing the first young woman that struck his fancy and running with her back into the woods.  After two months the villagers began hiding in their homes. When the ogre began kicking down doors and killing families to get a girl the village began hiding in the cellar beneath the chapel.  When ogre burned the church the village elders decided to hold a lottery. All the young women of the village would participate. One would trade her all for the life of her village.  It was then the old priest began to write his letters begging the church for help.

 The ogre bounded out of the thick woods and ran across the field as he did each month.   He swung his own staff (actually the trunk of a small tree) as if it were a blade of grass.  He made guttural noises that sounded like a child on his way to get a sweet.  Brother Jacob held still and waited for the beast to see him.  It did.  The ogre stopped and stared and then wiped his eyes as if the morning light were trying to trick him. He saw the monk standing in the field and ran over to scare the priest away.  He liked it when the priests ran.  They often got tangle in their robes and fell.

 The ogre lumbered over and stood six feet from the priest who still had not moved. Standing there facing each other the ogre drew back and then screamed at the top of his massive lungs.  Spit and bits of the ogre’s last meal flecked the monks face who still had not moved. Hanging from the ogre’s belt the priest saw more than a dozen long haired braids of the girls he had taken away.  Some of them looked as though they had been there a long time.  Perhaps this village was not the only village the ogre visited.

 The ogre stood up again. He cocked his head. Why had this one not run away?  They all ran away.  This one stayed.  The ogre reasoned, as best as ogres can reason, that this monk wasn’t real and was made of straw, like the straw men in the village corn fields.  He raised his staff to swipe it away when the monk said, “HOLD.”

 The ogre stopped.  It was real.  No priest had ever yelled at him. No priest had never not run away to the village.  Then the priest did something the ogre had never seen any priest do.  The priest did something he had never seen anyone do...any one...ever.  The priest smiled.

 The priest started to sing and wave his hands in the air as if it were a show for the ogre’s entertainment.  When he finished the ogre clapped loudly and then once again raised the staff to smite the monk.  But he monk said, “HOLD” again.

 The ogre stopped.  This time the funny priest began to twirl his staff in the air. He spun it around his body in the back and the front.  He tossed it into the air where it spun around like the leaves in the fall and then came back down where the priest caught it.  The priest smiled.  The ogre smiled and clapped his hands. This time priest said, “Your turn.”

 The ogre looked at him quizzically. The priest spun his staff a few times and then pointed at the ogres staff and said, “DO.”

 The ogre smiled a filthy smile delighted at this new game. He spun the staff clumsily around his body and his head, striking his one shins several times and then slamming the end of the staff into the ground as if he had just done something amazing.  The priest smiled broadly and then clapped for the ogre.

 Brother Jacob reached into his pocket and came up with a rock.  At one time fat brother Talbot had been a magician and during their many travels had taught Brother Jacob much of his slight of hand.  If front of the ogre’s face Brother Jacob made the rock disappear and then pulled from the ogre’s ear.  The ogre was astonished and delighted. He stuck a finger in his hear to see if there were any more rocks but he only came back with finger of green wax which he sniffed and then flung away.  Brother Jacob repeated the trick several times.  The ogre had completely forgotten about his needs in the village. Finally the priest handed the rock to the ogre and said “DO.”

 The ogre attempted to make the rock disappear just as the priest had done without success.  Looking coyly at the monk he pointed at village behind the monk’s shoulder.  When Jacob turned away the ogre flung the rock back in the direction of the woods. When Jacob turned around again the ogre showed him his hands were empty. He was smiling.  Jacob smiled and clapped again.  Then he looked at the ogre as if he were trying to think of his next trick.  The ogre waited.

 Jacob reached into the pocket of his long robe and pulled out a very large knife. The ogre’s eyes widened and he made a sound like a child. “Ooooooooooo.”

 Jacob reached into his other pocket and found a ball of string and a sewing needle. The ogre jumped up and down excited to see a new trick.  Jacob set his staff down on the ground wincing at the pain in his leg. He opened the his robe showed the ogre his bare stomach. The ogre looked puzzled.  

 Jacob then jammed the knife through the base of the leather bag he had cut apart the night before.  The bag was made skillfully with only a few pieces of smooth tan leather. Jacob had fastened the bag around his midsection and tied it behind his back. Now with his robe open he cut a wide swatch through what appeared to be his belly and then swiftly sewed it closed.  

 He smiled broadly and handed the knife over the ogre and said, “DO.”  The ogre was hesitant and first but Brother Jacob showed him the stitching under his own robe. He tickled it with his own hand and smiled.  The ogre smiled too, for a moment at least. 

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 Brother Jacob stayed in the village of Saddleback for a few more days and offered help to the families of the girl’s whose hair had hung from the ogre’s belt. Their only remains buried with full services in the cemetery.  The ogres massive staff was posted in the center of the town square where it was spat upon several times daily by all who passed by. (School children sometimes take field trip picnics to go and spit on the post,)  Brother Jacob refused all attempts and compensation for his services.  He did, however, accept a new leather bag from the town tanner before returning to his abbey in places warmer.

 

 

 

 

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