kethni: (Matt/Mo)
[personal profile] kethni

Name: Falling – Chapter 3
Pairing: Matt/Mohinder
Rating: PG-13
Warnings: Spiritual revisionism? Angels, demons, religion, all battered and abused.
Note: Historical fiction

Father Abbot is reclining at his table when Mohinder and Luke enter the room. The general hubbub, Nathan has never seen the point of discouraging their talking, rises. The arrival of a new brother is always a matter for much discussion. There are those who most consider the fineness of his features and the excellent proportions of his body, some with substantial attention, since the suppression of natural affections only causes them to flourish, and there are those who recoil from the darkness of his skin.

‘Brother Mohinder, come sit with me,’ Nathan says expansively. ‘I hope Brother Luke has been treating you well.’

‘Are you eating swan for breakfast?’

‘Rank has its privileges. Sit down, both of you, and break your fasts.’

Some of the novices grumble and stare darkly at Luke as he joins Nathan and Mohinder at high table. Nathan has carefully fostered a complex and finely nuanced hierarchy among the monks that equals the rivalry and treachery of any royal court. Human nature demands the determination of status, even if only in their own minds, in any circumstance where two or more of them meet. The resentment that builds when that status appears subject to arbitrary and unfair whims is as potent as it is corrosive. As with the majority of Nathan’s stratagems it relies on human’s behaving according to their nature and, once established, requires a modicum of his time and effort to maintain.

‘Did you sleep well?’ Nathan asks, sipping his ale.

‘Should I remember how I slept?’

Nathan grins as a shark grins. ‘You would remember if you slept badly.’

‘Then I slept well.’ Mohinder finds a small bowl of oatmeal, ignored by the other eaters, and pulls it towards him.

‘You will find that poor fare compared to the rest of the food.’

‘You do not follow the tenets of poverty then?’ Mohinder asks acidly. ‘Would… would Our Saviour feast on swan while beggars starve in the streets?’

One of the other monks at the table puts down his dish but Brother Robert, Nathan’s constant lackey, merely looks irritated.

‘You know as well as I do, Brother, that Jesus was no stranger to roast lamb and strong wine. You know as well that Jerusalem had its share of beggars.’ Nathan shrugs expansively. ‘It was the Pharisees who lectured that others were not holy enough.’

‘You have not answered my question: have you not taken a vow of poverty?’

‘Look to the beam in your own eye,’ Nathan says serenely, ‘before regarding the straw in mine.’

Luke has to skip every few steps in order to keep pace with Mohinder.

‘How do you know where the chapel is, Brother?’ he asks breathlessly.

‘Where else would it be?’ Mohinder had not anticipated the difficulty in avoiding direct untruths. The pragmatism of the Old Testament is often overlooked yet even that would be unlikely to cover careless lies for no reason than his own thoughtlessness.

‘Have you done this manner of work before?’ Luke asks. ‘Do you think special knowledge or training is needed?’

‘I have not. Do you know much of painting?’

Luke shakes his head. ‘No Brother, I never saw any before I joined the monastery.’

‘Who are your people?’

‘Weavers,’ he says. ‘The village is not far from here. I could have been apprenticed to my father but I always was devout.’ He sighs and crosses his arms. ‘Did you always want to be a monk?’

Mohinder runs his fingers through his hair and across his tonsure. ‘My path was always clear. My belief was always central to my existence.’

Luke gestures at the ornate, large, oak doors ahead of them. ‘This is the chapel. Brother.’

Mohinder inclines his head and listens to the distant sounds of bright laughter coming from beyond the doors. ‘The artist seems in good spirits.’

The chapel is a wonderfully wide, high room, with large stained glass windows through which shafts of light, glimmer down. The ceiling is a blank canvas waiting for paint.

A young man is stood in a shaft of golden light haloed by the sunshine. He turns as Mohinder and Luke enter the chapel and smiles at them.

‘Are you the Jew artist?’ Luke asks.

‘The Jew artist! Is this how you address all of your visitors?’

‘Most of our visitors are neither Jewish nor artists,’ Luke replies.

The young man raises his eyebrows. ‘Tell me, which gives more offense?’

‘We are not here to exchange insults.’

‘I have not yet begun to issue insults,’ the young man says. ‘Nor do I understand that “Jewish” or “artist” are terms of insult. Jesus was Jewish, or has your church torn that page from the bible?’

Someone shifts out of the irregular shadows. Mohinder sees a man taller than the rest of them, with heavy, broad shoulders, a strong, wide chest, and long limbs. His dark hair is very straight and brushed away from his pale, fine skin: skin that has never burned in the midday sun while farming or been roughened by battle wounds. His eyes are the colour of horse-chestnuts, warm and full of laughter, while his soft lips seem anxious to slip into the smile waiting in the corner of his mouth.

‘Adam, enough,’ he says. ‘I am the artist. This boy thinking to play the wit is my apprentice.’

‘He has few manners,’ Luke says, cutting his eyes at the other young man.

‘He will learn none from you either,’ the artist says mildly.

‘Brother will you not do something?’ Luke whines.

Mohinder summons his disordered thoughts from the corners and crevices into which they have fled. ‘I am Brother Mohinder,’ he manages to say, ‘and this is Brother Luke. He is young and still learning the way of things.’

‘Matt Parkman and my apprentice, Adam,’ he says. ‘He is not Jewish but I am.’ He fixes his gaze on Mohinder. ‘Do you take issue with that?’

‘Naturally not,’ Mohinder says. His hand rests on his stomach. ‘I trust that your faith will not impede your execution of this commission.’

The waiting smile slips away. ‘I sell my skill, my work, not my faith.’

‘No offense was meant,’ Mohinder says stiffly. His belly has grown disturbed; roiling and clenching.

‘The true money and renown is in painting church buildings,’ Adam says, lolling against a pillar. ‘When I join the guild I mean to move to Rome and paint there.’

Matt rolls his eyes. ‘When? Listen to him. If, boy.’ He ruffles Adam’s hair. ‘Not all apprentices become masters.’

‘I will.’ Adam grins broadly. ‘Then you will struggle to replace me, Master.’

‘Arrogance is the way of the young,’ Mohinder says.

Matt puts his hands on his hips and appraises Mohinder frankly. ‘Is it not kin to pride and a sin to you, Brother?’

Mohinder wets his lips. ‘All things in nature have place and purpose, even pride.’

‘Does the same apply to all the brothers in your monastery?’ Matt asks. ‘Are all with place and purpose?’

Luke scowls resentfully. ‘What manner of question is that?’

‘What my master means is this, what business do you have here?’ Adam asks.

Matt cuffs the back of his. ‘Hush, boy. When I need translation I will tell you.’

Mohinder stands as tall as he might but a roiling nausea in his belly is stealing his attention. ‘I have been sent to oversee your work and I mean to do so.’

Matt allows his gaze to map the monk in front of him. His face is a thing of beauty and, although shrouded beneath the cowl, his figure is clearly slim and well formed. Matt did not fight in the crusades, has never left the country, and the darkness of Mohinder’s skin is unique in Matt’s experience: if Matt’s father had seen him then he would have spat on the floor and pronounced a long, creative, and, to a gentile, baffling malediction. But a beautiful face can quickly pall with an unpleasant manner as much as a homely face can be improved by a compassionate and kind disposition.

‘I am a master artist. I do not need a monk to hold my paintbrush,’ Matt says.

‘I would not dream of it! How dare you suggest such a thing!’

Matt raises his eyebrows. ‘I said paintbrush, Brother, whatever word you think you heard me say.’

Adam laughs lightly. ‘Be wary of looking for evil, Brother, you are sure to find it.’

‘Be quiet, no-one addressed you!’ Luke hisses.

Mohinder squeezes the bridge of his nose. ‘We must turn the other cheek, Luke.’

Matt looks at Adam and raises his eyebrows. ‘He insults me but they will turn the other cheek.’

‘Enough,’ Mohinder says. ‘We are your employers. Respect would be appropriate.’

Matt folds his arms and stares at him silently.

After a few moments Mohinder licks his lips. ‘I would like to see your preliminary sketches.’

‘For this chapel?’

‘Of course!’

Matt shakes his head. ‘I have none. I have to be inspired.’

‘Inspired,’ Mohinder says flatly. ‘How long will that take?’

Matt takes a deep breath and turns around, looking up at the ceiling. ‘We will prepare the ceiling first. That will take several months. When that is finished I might have inspiration.

‘That is not acceptable.’

Matt shrugs easily. ‘You have epiphanies do you not? They come when they are ready.’

‘We divide up the ceiling,’ Adam says, seeing the lucrative commission slipping away. ‘There will be small panels as a border and a number of larger panels in the centre. The small panels commonly will have angels or saints depicted. If Master has been inspired already then they will be directly connected to the centrepiece paintings.’

‘How long will it take?’

Matt looks up at the ceiling again. ‘Four, perhaps five years, no more than that.’ He looks at Mohinder. ‘Although with your oversight who knows?’

‘You can be replaced,’ Luke says. ‘Artists can be bought by the copper!’

Elle shimmers in the space between the four men. ‘Mohinder, it must be this artist! Swallow your pride and offer him your other cheek, quickly.’

Mohinder tries to concentrate on something other than the pounding of his heart. ‘Luke, please show… Adam here the refectory. I would like to speak to Matt alone.’

‘Bring me back some ale and bread,’ Matt says to Adam. ‘Mind your manners with the monks. You will be no good to me scourged for misbehaviour.’ Matt winks at him. ‘I need someone to hold my paintbrush.’

Luke glowers at Adam as they scuffle their way out of the chapel.

‘I have no desire for enmity between us,’ Mohinder says, rubbing his belly. ‘We will be working in close quarters for some considerable time.’

Matt leans against one of pillars. ‘What ails you?’

‘Perhaps something I ate.’

‘The meals here are talked of near and far.’

Mohinder sits down on one of the pews. ‘I had porridge this morning.’

Matt smiles. ‘I think that unlikely to trouble you overmuch given the usual diet of swans, butter, cream, and brandy here.’


‘The worst that porridge will do is put you off luncheon,’ Matt says. ‘The best… Well you will have to tell me the best of it.’

Mohinder smiles weakly. ‘It seemed innocent enough.’

‘The things that seem innocent are generally the most dangerous.’

Mohinder straightens his back. ‘I mean no disrespect to your ability. That is not at issue.’

‘What is at issue?’

Mohinder looks for Elle but her glimmer has vanished. ‘You are not a monk. You cannot be expected to understand certain… rules and traditions that are important in the abbey. I am here to help you comply with them.’

Matt folds his arms. ‘Is that so? I thought it was your purpose to question my art in an effort to make it acceptable to your and the archabbot’s taste.’

‘I would never do that. You must paint that which your inspiration directs. I was only concerned as to the length of time.’

Matt raises his eyebrows. ‘This abbey is not known for its beauty. The abbot is the reason for that. Artists talk and patrons with no aesthetic sense are a popular topic.’

Mohinder is quite convinced that any lack of beauty in the abbey is not from any natural deficiency on Nathan’s part. His private quarters contained a number of paintings that were clearly exquisite even to Mohinder’s unpractised eye. At this time and in this part of the world the most gifted artists are using religious imagery to create breathtakingly beautiful works of art. No matter the corruption of men, and the infamy of demons, men and women found solace and inspiration and would continue to do so for as long as they existed. That Nathan would seem to prevent this abbey providing that solace and inspiration was hardly surprising.

‘This abbot is not responsible for the painting of the chapel. The archabbot is responsible and I am his voice here.’ Mohinder licks his lips. ‘I have read that creativity is aided by conflict, not peace. Perhaps you can consider my presence as an aid to your creativity.’

Matt smiles again. ‘We will see.’

‘I am sure that your knowledge of the Masorectic Text is good. How is your knowledge of the Vulgate?’

A little pink rises in Matt’s cheeks. ‘I studied my craft under a Christian master. I’m familiar with the traditions of sacral art.’

‘Traditions are for those without sufficient imagination to create. I would be happy to discuss the Vulgate with you. It might give you more material for your art.’

‘I hope you have no intention of making me your novice, Brother, or I will have to amuse myself in teaching you bad habits,’ Matt says. He looks at Mohinder with bright eyes. ‘One bad habit immediately springs to mind.’

‘My intention is only to aid in your commission! You may keep your faith with my blessing. You may keep your bad habits also.’

Matt laughs and shrugs easily. ‘Fetch your book if you must, or better yet tell me all the stories you have. I will enjoy the sound of your voice.’

Luke looks mournfully at the meagre scraps of food that he has been given. Adam rolls his eyes at his haul.

‘You are a monk. You are supposed to be poor, Brother, and if you going to be poor you should be better at begging than that.’ Adam sidles over to the brother in charge of the kitchen and gives him a florid bow. ‘Good morning gracious Brother, might a humble servant beg a moment of your time?’

‘If that’s all you want,’ the brother says suspiciously. ‘I am not made of food.’

Looking at the vast outlying areas of the man in front of him, Adam privately is unsure of this. ‘Naturally not Brother… I’m sorry but I have not been told your name.’

‘Brother Eric. They never tell anyone my name. Why would they tell anyone my name? All I do is cook.’

‘Where would they be without your food, Brother Eric?’ Adam asks, shaking his head. ‘It is the same in all of life, we do all of the work, and they receive all of the benefit.’

Brother Eric slams a cleaver into a joint of beef on the table. ‘True enough; and then some boy with a pretty face fancies himself charming. Who are you, boy? You’re not a novice.’

Adam keeps smiling. ‘My master is painting the chapel. We have not broken our fast this morning and he asked me to beg a few scraps.’

Brother Eric leers at Adam. ‘He should take better care of you. A young lad can come to harm on his own.’

Adam bats his eyes. ‘In a monastery, Brother?’

‘This is an abbey, boy, a monastery is a fraction of the size and has little but cells to sleep in.’ Brother Eric licks thick, rubbery lips. ‘We have all kinds of facilities and lots of cells for sleeping… and whatever else is needed.’

Adam smiles sweetly. ‘That is indeed important information. Sadly, my master is waiting and I have no food for him.’

Brother Eric waves a hand at a selection of large earthenware bins. ‘There are leftovers in there, and you may have as many apples and as much cheese as you want.’ He licks his lips again. ‘There’s some ale over there. If you want something stronger come and see me tonight after compline.’

‘If my master gives me permission I shall.’

‘You ought not to have spoken to the brother in that manner,’ Luke hisses as they carry their haul back to the chapel.

‘I’m no novice to bow and scrape to a cook,’ Adam laughs.

Luke shivers as they pass through a freezing corridor. ‘All the novices are warned to stay away from him.’

Adam hoists his jar of food up into his arms. ‘Many boys of the villages here are warned from the monks.’ He smiles at Luke. ‘I think your Brother Mohinder more likely to be the recipient of unwanted affections.’

‘Not to Brother Eric,’ Luke says darkly.

Adam shrugs easily. ‘I shall use my master as excuse not to visit after compline.’

‘What if your master finds out?’ Luke asks, aghast.

‘I will tell him.’ Adam grins. ‘If at risk of exposure always speak first and speak the truth. You gain goodwill and remove the element of surprise from your enemy’s attack.’

Luke skirts around two heavyset monks tipsy and dyspeptic even at this early hour. ‘Won’t he be very angry?’

‘My master is slow to temper,’ Adam says complacently, ‘and easy to placate.’

Luke’s face flushes deep scarlet. ‘I don’t know you mean.’

‘I believe you do.’ Adam raises his eyebrows. ‘Is your brother easily placated?’

‘I have no idea! I only met him yesterday and… and I don’t know!’

Adam trails his fingertips along the wall. ‘Think monk, this abbey will be here decades after we have gone to dust. The art that my master paints will speak generations after our voices have gone quiet.’

Luke shivers and hunches his shoulders. ‘That is not a pleasant thing to consider.’

‘It is a kind of immortality to leave your mark. I mean to carve my name upon the world in words a hundred feet tall,’ Adam boasts.

Luke opens the door to the chapel. ‘That is a dangerous ambition. Do you mean to invite in the devil!’

‘I think I should be safe from the devil in here.’

‘Gentlemen,’ Nathan says, smiling at them. ‘Did I startle you?’

‘Brother Mohinder asked us to go to the refectory and get food!’

Nathan smiles brightly at both of them. ‘This young man would be who?’

Adam adjusts his load. ‘Adam Monroe.’

‘He’s nobody, Father Abbott. Merely the apprentice of the artist,’ Luke babbles.

Adam raises his eyebrows. ‘I am an apprentice now. I shan’t be apprentice forever, but you will be monk until your dying day.’

‘Luke is refreshingly free of ambition,’ Nathan says. ‘Ambition suits artists more than monks. I hope your master encourages yours.’

‘He says I’m too confident.’

Nathan squeezes Adam’s shoulder. ‘You and I should speak. Discuss your future plans.’

Mohinder licks his lips as Matt slots together wooden poles and panels. The sharp scent of pine tints the air but Mohinder’s attention is drawn to the dance of muscles in Matt’s arms.

‘What are you doing?’

‘Building a scaffold to reach the ceiling.’ Matt pauses and looks at Mohinder. ‘Unless you know some other way I can reach the heavens without dying first?’

Mohinder looks away. ‘You believe in a heavenly afterlife do you?’

Matt grins easily. ‘I’m unsure what form Gan Eden will take. The Tanakh’s more interested with how we should behave now than what will happen after.’

‘Too often a hope for the afterlife is used to convince the oppressed to accept their lot rather than fight to improve it,’ Mohinder says, drawing himself up. ‘That was never the intent.’ He meets Matt’s warm brown eyes and feels heady, dazed, and drowning. ‘What will you do then?’

Matt frowns for a moment and then folds his arms; drawing Mohinder’s attention to the light sheen of sweat. ‘When the scaffolding is done?’

‘Yes.’ Mohinder licks his lips. ‘You have made it very clear that you won’t be painting for some considerable while.’

‘I have to see the ceiling. Feel the stone. See what repairs and preparation are needed.’

Mohinder looks up at the ceiling. Humans alone among creation build for generations, not a season. They dream of inking their names indelibly across the world. The architect who built this chapel made his bid for immortality in stone and marble. Their lives are so short; barely spanning the blink of an eye, is it any wonder that their minds turn to ways of fixing themselves in common memory? When every moment is filled with so many tastes and scents, when every voice is an orchestra in waiting, and when every inch of skin waits for touch, is it any wonder that they burn so bright and end so quickly?

‘You do that yourself?’ Mohinder asks, returning his gaze to Matt.

‘It’s my canvas. I need to know it… intimately,’ Matt says, looking Mohinder up and down. ‘You understand an artist’s need for a thorough understanding of all his tools and materials. It’s the same with your work, I’m sure. If you will go sculpting with men’s hearts, it’s best to know the material you’re working with.’

Mohinder feels an unwelcome warmth suffuse his face. Matt’s manner, if not his words, is discomfortingly familiar and only adds to Mohinder’s uneasiness. ‘I do not appreciate your intimations.’

‘I didn’t know I was making any.’

‘Only with every other word you speak.’

Matt looks across as the door to the chapel opens. ‘Best be quick, Brother, your fellow needs saving from my words.’

‘Father Abbot has taken your apprentice,’ Luke whines as he creeps across the chapel to them. ‘He said he wished for them to discuss your apprentice’s future.’

Matt dashes down a piece of wood. ‘Does he mean to make a monk of Adam? The man sets his sights low.’

‘The Abbot isn’t to be trusted with your apprentice,’ Mohinder says.

‘Adam isn’t to be trusted with your Abbot,’ Matt says easily. ‘But he’s indentured to me.’

Mohinder frowns but takes the small basket of food from Luke. ‘You feel no sense of responsibility for him?’

Matt takes the basket and helps himself to a hunk of cheese and bread. ‘He’s no innocent but no villain either. What do you imagine an elderly monk will do to him?’

‘Nathan is not an elderly monk,’ Mohinder says firmly. ‘Whatever purpose he has in speaking with your apprentice, believe that it is not for Adam’s benefit.’

Matt swallows a mouthful of food. ‘Why would I think otherwise?’



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December 2012

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