The Obedience of Brother Odhran (II)

(From the journal of Abbot Franchesco Zanobi)

At this point I believe I am justified in congratulating myself on a plan successfully executed, in that I have this day taken up my post as Abbot at this chilly pig-trough of an English monastery. The holy brothers appear to have accepted, unquestioningly, the death of my predecessor – of a sudden illness whilst on a visit to their sister monastery, some fifteen leagues from here.

I admit I caught my breath on learning that a deputation of these bumpkins had appeared at the gates with a farm cart, of all things, determined upon carrying the old man home for Christian burial, and had in fact departed with the incriminating corpse some hours before. It would have been inconvenient, to say the least, if some observant Infirmarian suspicious, for example, of the blueness around the corpse’s lips, had troubled himself to consult some herball, or wise-woman book. There must surely be many such in their library. However, I could have spared myself a sleepless night for they did not. Bumpkins! 

I had nothing against the old man, of course – had never even met him before I set about poisoning him. He had to be disposed of to make room for my good Roman self. And so he was.

The Abbot’s quarters here are, if not luxurious, at least comfortable. The brothers are wary of me, which is excellent, since one of my purposes is to install a healthy fear into these rural numbskulls. The Holy Father has been told of a plot by King Henry – that portly, overdressed thug. The villain may be plotting not only to dissolve the monasteries but – and I can scarcely believe this myself – to create a new, non-Catholic church and appoint himself the head of it. Inevitably, since he appoints himself the head of everything.

My instructions are to review and amend standards of conduct in this monastery. The King, it is assumed, will avail himself of any excuse when ridding himself of monks and monasteries, including accusations of sloth and degeneracy. He shall be given no cause to act, none whatsoever. The brothers here must not only appear but be beyond reproach. It is a huge operation, this. Others such as myself, have been despatched from Rome to every Catholic community in this cold and sodden land, and with like aim. To have been trusted with such a task is a sure sign of His Holiness’s favour. More importantly to succeed in such a task, will ensure my progression to higher things.

So – my plan for tomorrow is to make an example of some poor dunce or other. Whoever it is (and I have one such in mind already, but intend to observe him further) shall be treated very, very harshly indeed for his misdemeanours. In subduing one I intend to subdue all, and with the least possible exertion. I believe in economy: economy in all things.

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