by Janea Speer
In the mid-eve moonlight of midsummer amid the mountains of Moldavia, high in the belfry of a monstrosity of a monastery, sat a family of mice munching the most marvelous Muenster cheese and musing over the daily menials of the monks below. These monks made money by maintaining milk cows, whose milk they sold to Mr. Muscovin, the village manufacturer of such mouthwatering morsels like marzipan macaroons and marmalade madeleines. Mr. Muscovin’s merchandise garnered global attention and appraisement.
The mice mused over the monks’ meal administered earlier, how each enjoyed watching the master chef’s main course served of meatballs marinaded in marchand de vin sauce, mince pie matched with veal marsala, marrow beans, and diced manzano peppers with a smidge of mustard and to complete the magnificent meal……a hardly miniscule selection of peach melba, maple bread pudding, and mint mousse covered in mocha meringue.
On this most momentous of meal occasions, the monks had been joined by Monsignor Mikhail Munson, a man reportedly rumored by some to have risen from modest means, most handsome, and well-mannered. His looks were perhaps a mixture of Mediterranean and Middle Eastern, a heritage that had remained mostly a mystery.
To his minor misfortune, Mikhail had gained the flattering yet recently rather miserable, most earnest and arduous attentions of the middle-aged humble-faced maid. In fact, even this morning, while polishing the marble tiles of the main foyer, the old maid glimpsed upon him once, twice, and three times or more. Her name was Martina and she had freely fallen madly smitten in amour. Once more, Martina was maddeningly determined in her mind to stay that way.
The mice attested that afternoon they saw her make sweets for the Monsignor. She also remembered and reminded the Monsignor of his mid-afternoon meeting. She mussed over the cleaning of his apartment quarters most methodically and that evening, Martina brought marigolds in a pot to his office. The mice mimicked and mocked her most earnest expressions, eagerly betting whether next there would be mums or minature roses and if the roses would be Mr. Lincolns or Matadors.
Despite these measures, Monsignor Munson felt most assuredly that his main focus must always be upon the monastic mission…………and yet……in his innermost thoughts and memories behind the facade of ministerial work, the marriage preparations, the many many baptisms, the myriad of confirmation ceremonies…………..behind this all, one could find a lingering and one might say even somewhat lustful mesmerizing moment………..a memory of musk from a certain town mademoiselle whom, for her part, never missed an opportunity to make a magnificent appearance in his quiet confessional after mass on the first Monday morning of each month.
These magic moments delighted the mice who managed to eagerly eavesdrop on the many woes and wiles, the guilty going-ons, the passionate pleasures of mankind as well each Monday morning after mass. They found this mannerism among these monolithic mammals…….this mournful whispering of wickedness from one human to another behind a closed curtain………the mice found this funny, rather remarkably raconteuring, and interestingly entertaining.
After a human murmured, the Monsignor generally motioned hand movements absent-mindedly. Sometimes, a man mentioned gluttonous and gargantuous meals partaken or perhaps, mean-spirited pranks performed. Sometimes, a woman stammeringly spoke of love lusted and lost only to be replaced next by another less worrisome woman with regretful racy remarks of riches reaped rather repugnantly. Run of the mill rumors and such………these were voyeuristic voyages of fun and fancy for the mildly entertained mice.
The mice often mimicked the mannerisms of the mainstays, the men and women who appeared as always mentioned the same bothersome behaviors with apologetic addiction. The mice would fall into fits of fun at the appearance of Andrei the Alcoholic with his after morning ale induced arse acoustics. There was Felina the forlorn and furry-lipped female fussing and forever fine-tuning her contrite confession or Vladislav the slovenly sleep-deprived schemer of steamy seductions. Vladislav, of his own volition, vied for the vestal, the virginal, and virtuous with a veracity quite vivacious and nearly volatile. Refusal, resistance, rejection, even running away remained out of the range of compassionate comprehension for this irreprehensible rakish rogue. Many a conquest had been conquered and cast aside by the incorrigible cad. His persistance paid off and all passionate pursuits eventually ended in ennui, resistance resultant in reluctant resignation until the next tantalizing target taunted and teased Vladislav. His confessions were concise and seeemingly not nearly contrite nor compassionate to Vlad’s victims. Rather, Monsignor realized this confession was more like a careless celebration of criminality to a confined comrade. The monks, for their part, depending upon their demeanor, were either captivated or captive to concern.
And as always, there was the mysterious mesmerizing mademoiselle, the yen of secret and seductive yearning for Monsignor Mikhail who sat upright most rigidly and abruptly aware upon her arrival, clumsily clearing a cumbersome cough.
If you queried one of the riveted rodentia in the room, he would delightfully detail and descrive the mademoiselle, the maiden, in these terms: hair the color of Camembert, skin silky soft like baked Brie, cheeks colorful as cheddar cheese wheel wax, eyes green as Gorgonzola, elegant eyelashes as brown as Brunost, luscious lips lovely as Port Wine and Pate. She was both breathtaking and quite breathless, speaking softly and sensuously in her eager yet innocent enticement of the Monsignor Mikhail, leaning lightly towards love engagingly and entreatingly. The witty and willing wordplay witnessed by the mice combined with the uncomfortable concealment of obvious obsession amused the mice most avidly who also leaned in, hushed and hungry for humor and hilarity.
Monsignor Munson had a friendly following, a female fan club among the mice. These foppish foolish femme fatales were also quite taken with the tempestuous trampish tales of voracious Vladislav. They often giggled gayfully and grinned at each other while gazing over the ledge of the hole above, eagerly entertained by the events transpiring on the tiled floors below. The scenes seen there played out persistently like a salacious soap opera.
Other monks of the monastery amused the mice as well. The blustery and bold butcher, the cheerful crew of chefs cooking in the kitchen with their agile associates, the apprentices. Then, there was the gaggle of gregorian gardeners who tended turnips and tomatoes. They labored lovingly over leeks, lettuces, lovely lumps of potatoes, parsley, parsnip, corn and cucumbers, broccoli, and butternut squash. The elder exploratory monks also gathered wild woodland items. In the forest, they forraged for fruits, fished the field streams, picked pine nuts, or hunted and harvested mushrooms in the marvelous middays of March through middle May.
Meanwhile, inside the monastery every morning, amid legions of ledgers labored Jurgson, the meticulous mindful manager of money, accounting for all assets, listing and labeling liabilities, examining expenditures, preparing payments for purchases, and as almost always accruing active above-par profits. By each breakfast, this brilliant bookkeeper could be found buried in budgets or balances, busily bearing oversight to this oft overlooked occupation with diligent degree of duty. Jurgson was the journalistic juggernaut, the cornerstone, the cog in the wheel, always writing up, writing down, or writing off……the unsinkable, unflappable, unstoppable, unleveraged, under no conditions under the weather underwriter. Jurgson was the masked master of the monastery, the manager of most everything. Simple and succinctly spoken, Jurgson was the money man. Without his lofty leadership, all labor would be lost, liquidated.
Joyless Jurgson witnessed the whimsical workmanship of the writers in the adjacent wing with a slight sum of sinful inevitable envy. Those monks did meaningful and masterful work manufacturing illustrious illuminations on manuscripts for individuals at an almost indescribably extravegently exuberantly even outrageously over-the-top price. These monks’ detail work was delicate, delightful, and dedicated, earning the ears of the attentive aristocracy. Lords and ladies placed purchase orders frequently for their handsome handiwork, gracious gifts for baptisms and births, communions and christenings, marriages or ministry work.
A portion of these priests penned proverbial pamphlets. Some paperwork prohibited passionate premarital propositions. Others championed the choices of charity, chastity, and Christianity. A cursory consideration of the combined contents would reveal that tithing proved to be the truly treasured topic.
There was here, Theodore, the thoughtful scribbler of scriptural studies. His wealth of writings wittingly reflected the theological thoughts and theories of Thomas Aquinas. His essays were entirely devoted to divinity of the Trinity and tributes to the triumphant Triumvirate.
Clearly, however, his companion, Janus, was best described as a dreamer. He wandered through his days most willingly in wild worlds of wonder and innocent imagination. His half-hearted help was easily distracted by daydreams. Often times, on many an occasion, hidden underneath his handiwork sat a secret story scribbled in stolen ink. Thoughts of thespians and powerful playwrights overpowered his senseless senses…..the spectacle of the stage lingered loftily in his cloudy circuitry. Hindered by his humble guard in appearance alone, he often fled to the fairy world, to the Twilight Realm of regal Titania. He imagined the heroics of Herculus verses Hydra, of pernicious Puck, of Phoenix the firebird, of Pegasus riding the romantic winds on widespread wings. He loved the legends of the Lemures haunting amid hidden Roman ruins. He thought of Turks traveling across treacherous tides journeying to the Jinns, ancients arisen before Adam, earthly entities essenced with enlightenment. He considered the ceaseless castigation of Cain pursued and persecuted by the relentless raven that quote with neverending “nevermore.” He dreamed of dragons amid darkness of distant depths, sea serpents arising from the abyss to shipwreck sailors, and guessed at the gravelly gruff voice of the Gryphon. These forages through fantasies filled the youth’s yonder days beyond the drudgery of duplicating designs delegated to drawing table. If one glimpsed or glanced, perusing into his private paperwork beneath the pile of diligent designs, you would foray into his foremost fascination for the moment, the mythological mysteries of exotic Egypt.
You see…..sadly, our secret Shakespeare, Janis was juggling between dreams and drudgery dutifully due to following his father. The framework of his future had been forecast. As the second son in a series of sufficient senatorial statesmen that were perfectly political polished, the younger brother was bound and buried under the woeful weight of the family reputation. This stoic self-sacrifice was suspiciously expected of the earnest lad who loved the theater thoroughly. His forays into fancy would be repressed most rigidly by a father for whom libidinous lasciviousness among the ladies was legendary.
On the day of poor Janis’ departure to the dreary and dark path of disciplined monstacism, his dear mother, a woman wearily well-hardened to weeping, was witnessed mourning most wimperingly. Her eldest son would follow most fool-hardedly in the father’s footsteps and she feared that the future of her free-spirited Janis would forever be stifled and stymied in stern studies of scripture.
So it was with good motherly guidance and generous gifts of gold that Janis found himself arriving in the artistic arena of the most Medieval monastery of Moldavia. His mother assumed this would be an affiable arangement, this avenue of artistic expression for her most beloved and blessed son of sons. On his first day, amid mounds of illuminated manuscripts, Janis sat stupified by the mastery of it all. Apprenticed quickly, he adhered to the arts and arose most rapidly through the ranks to an illustrious illustrator position. He was mentored by his fellow named Frederick.
Janis found a fast friend in Frederick and another artist, Jorge. Frederick designed with delicate fingers. He labored long and lovingly over each line, adding details at his desk and showing the simple boy how to brandish a feathertip freely. Jorge, on the other hand, was gregarious, good-natured, and given to generous gulps of grape wine tasting resulting in an equally generous waistline. He was generally a jolly fellow unless harried by hangovers which he had half-often. With great gusto, he could call together comrades from cell within cell of the medieval monastery to partake in a mere parlay, a performance of jests, jokes, and jigs. He favored this frolicking fun and frowned with less fondness for the enduring of engaging yet endless activities of artwork.
At this point in the story, I am apt to point out the pivotal protagonist of the play. You may ask, “Is he not mindful Mikhail, the man mired by mysterious amour? And what of wandering and whimsical Janis or dearly dedicated and diligently determined Jurgson? Are not their tender turmoils and lingering longings prompting to purposeful prose? Alas, although arguably they are agreeable additions to this silly story, these characters’ fortunes are not fated to be forecast for tonight.
No, not at all. The one who occupies center-stage quite unceremoniously, the central cortex to this cloistral comedie, is none other than a negligible and not nearly noteworthy, nine year old orphan new today to the most medieval monastery of Moldavia. His name is Nigel.