The Prior, Father Andrew, was fond of diluting harsher well-known expressions for monastic use, but the sentiment remained largely the same. He was an unconverted Glaswegian tamed by excessive education, but shades of the street fighter were apt to break out when grappling with the more unusual community problems.
"It was abolished ages ago. He can't be serious."
"Well, he is," said Anselm.
"When did he come out with that one?"
"This morning, when Wilf asked him to leave."
The Prior scowled. "I suppose he declined to oblige?"
"Yes. And he told Wilf there's nowhere he can go."
The two monks were sitting on a wooden bench on the south transept lawn of the Old Abbey ruin. It was Anselm's favourite spot at Larkwood. Facing them, on the South Walk cloister wall, were the remnants of the night stairs from the now vanished dorter. He liked to sit here and muse upon his thirteenth-century ancestors, cowled and silent, making their way down for the night hours. The lawn, eaten by moss, spread away, undulating towards the enclosure fencing and, beyond that, to the bluebell path which led to the convent. It was a sharp morning. The Prior had just come back from a trip to London, having managed to miss the main item on all news bulletins. He'd returned home to find a gaggle of reporters and television crews camped on his doorstep.
"Give it to me again, in order," said the Prior. He always insisted upon accurate chronologies.
"The story broke in a local newspaper of all places. By the time the nationals had got to his home he was here, claiming the protection of the Church."
"What did Wilf say?"
"Words to the effect that the police wouldn't pay any heed to Clement III."
"Who was Clement III?"
"The Pope who granted the Order the right of sanctuary."
"Trust Wilf to know that." Disconcerted, he added, "How did you know?"
"I had to ask as well."
"That's all right then." He returned to his mental listing. "Go on, then what?"
"Wilf rang the police. The first I knew about anything was when the media were at the gates. I had a few words with them, batting back daft questions."
Father Andrew examined his nails, flicking his thumb upon each finger. "But why claim sanctuary? Where did he get the idea from?"
Anselm shifted uncomfortably. He would answer that question at the right moment, not now. It was one of the first lessons Anselm had learnt after he'd placed himself subject to Holy Obedience: there's a time and a place for honesty, and it is the privilege of the servant to choose the moment of abasement with his master.
The Prior stood and paced the ground, his arms concealed beneath his scapular. He said, "We are on the two horns of one dilemma."
They looked at each other, silently acknowledging the delicacy of the situation. The Prior spoke for them both:
"If he goes, there'll be international coverage of an old man protesting his innocence being handed over to the police; if he stays, we'll be damned for supporting a Nazi. Either way, to lapse into the vernacular, we're shafted."
The Prior leaned on a sill beneath an open arcade in the south transept wall, reflectively brushing loose lichen with the back of his hand. Anselm joined him.
"Father, I think one horn is shorter than the other and more comfortably straddled."
"The sooner he leaves the better. Otherwise we risk protracted public fascination with why he came here in the first place."
By a tilt of the head the Prior drew Anselm away, leading him towards the stile gate and the bluebell path. "I'm going to find out what the sisters think. They had a Chapter this morning."
From Chapter One of The 6th Lamentation by William Brodrick. Copyright William Brodrick. All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced in any form without written prior permission from both the copyright owner and the publisher, Viking Penguin.
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