Stone by Stone
How can two men build a relationship when one must tear down each stone that the other has worked hard to build?
After a misspent youth, Brother Mark is a hard working Benedictine monk working as a stone mason at Tavistock Abbey. He finds himself irrevocably drawn to one of the men sent by King Henry to audit the monasteries prior to closure. Andrew Cheyne is fascinated by the handsome young man and breaks down the monk's boundaries with an ease that neither expected. When Andrew returns four years later to finally close the Abbey, each man must come to terms with their past to attempt to plan a future they can share -- but fate plays a cruel trick on them. Or, as Mark wonders, is it God teaching him a lesson?
Attempting to forget Mark, Andrew commences a new life, but fate has more lessons in store for him yet.
Andrew was riding an anonymous man on a dirty, flea-ridden truckle bed in the back room of a tavern in Southwark, London. He grasped the man’s hips, fingers digging in as he thrust roughly into the man’s body until he climaxed. Andrew withdrew, enjoying the afterglow of satisfaction, noting the other man yawned, rolled over and slipped into sleep. Andrew didn’t bother to spare the man another glance; he’d had what he wanted. He pulled on his clothes and left without a word.
When he left the inn and gained the street outside, he became aware the satisfaction was already seeping away. As he dodged the ordure, the rotting food slops and the rats, his enjoyment disappeared completely. There was that feeling again…the one he either didn’t understand or refused to think about.
He pulled his coat tighter around him and continued to grimly trudge through the filth and stink of a narrow London street, his lips a thin line of denial.
§ § § §
He awoke in the middle of the night, a shiver still sliding over his limbs, his seed warming his belly. He lay back and let himself remember for a moment. His dream had been of being fondled by a man. He sighed. His discipline had deserted him again and the guilt infused by the Catholic Church took over.
He rose, dressed in his monk’s robe and went to matins. He knew he must fight his baser desires and try to regain a state of grace against such temptations of the flesh. Sure in the knowledge that God loved him, he knew he needed no other, except…that meant he was denying the possibility he wanted a more earthly love, the thought of which had been growing in his mind.
He needed someone to love him—a man to love him. A man he could love. God forgive him…
“Hurry up, Cheyne. I would prefer to arrive at the abbey while it is still light.” It seemed Sir Richard Louden believed everything that went wrong was Andrew’s fault, and even though Andrew Cheyne had only been assistant to Sir Richard for a few weeks, it was more than long enough to learn not to contradict the king’s commissioner.
Andrew sighed softly as he glanced at Sir Richard, who, though only maybe half a dozen years senior to Andrew’s twenty-four years, appeared older. Sir Richard was a haughty man who held himself stiffly. Even in summer he wore his black fur-trimmed cloak over his black doublet, and a black cap on his head covering his dark hair. His hard face was half hidden behind his full beard and moustache. If his intention was to intimidate, it worked very well.
“Yes, Sir Richard. I’m ready,” Andrew said, gripping the leading rein of the packhorse and geeing his mount to catch up with Sir Richard, who was determinedly riding ahead.
The horses had needed a rest before they continued their journey to Tavistock Abbey, and Sir Richard hadn’t complained when Andrew had suggested a stop by a small stand of trees. Andrew hadn’t wanted to let the opportunity slip by; it was rare enough finding such a spot sheltered by trees on the open vista of Dartmoor, where it was more common to find exposed granite tors and outcrops.
The day was hot with hardly any breeze, and Andrew had waved a hand at the annoying midges, finally swatting one on the back his neck. He had needed water as much as the horses did. After everyone’s thirst was slaked, Andrew had wiped his brow and the back of his neck with his kerchief before he’d settled himself for a short rest. Sir Richard had removed his cloak and used it as a backrest against the lone boulder hidden among the trees. Andrew had been somewhat surprised by how much he liked Devonshire, with its gentle rolling hills and especially the wildness of Dartmoor after growing up in the tranquil county of Dorsetshire and spending the last few years in the overcrowded city of London.
It had been a long trip, not so much caused by mileage, but by Sir Richard’s need to assert his authority by finding fault with his new assistant. Of course, as usual, Andrew was to blame when Sir Richard had settled himself comfortably enough to doze off, with the result that they had stayed longer than necessary.
Andrew kept his opinion to himself and simply said, “We should still reach Tavistock Abbey before long.”
“In plenty of time for supper, I trust,” Sir Richard replied.
“Yes, indeed, sir.” Andrew didn’t voice his thought that no abbot worth his salt would risk upsetting one of the king’s commissioners, whose main purpose was to evaluate the worth and purpose of every abbey, monastery and religious community in the country as part of the king’s Protestant Reformation. After the break from Pope Clement VII in Rome to enable King Henry to divorce Queen Catherine and marry Anne Boleyn, King Henry assumed the role of Head of the Church in England. To consolidate his position as head of the church, the king desired to destroy the hold of the Catholic Church on his people, and as a result, the Dissolution of the Monasteries continued to gain importance.
It was only mid-afternoon when they reached the abbey, but Sir Richard was still testy and snapped at the abbey’s gatekeeper for keeping them waiting. The scruffy, rather rotund man bowed and scraped, and Andrew felt some sympathy for the poor man as he confirmed he had already sent a boy to tell the abbot that important guests had arrived.
“Guest? Churl, I am no simple guest.”
“No, My Lord, of course, My Lord.” The gatekeeper bowed again. If his florid face flushed any more, Andrew thought even his bedraggled hair might turn red.
Andrew passed the reins of the horses over to a stable boy and followed Sir Richard as he was led toward the abbot’s house: an impressive two-story stone building with mullion windows set aside a little from the main abbey buildings. They were almost there when the door opened and two men hurried out. One of them was clearly Abbot Peryn, and Andrew guessed the other man was likely the prior, second-in-command to the abbot.
“Am I addressing Sir Richard Louden?” the abbot asked. His appearance didn’t quite match his position as head of such a prosperous establishment; he was short with swarthy skin and pale blue eyes. However, his gold crucifix shone where it lay against his robes of deepest black. “I was aware you were coming, My Lord, to perform the Valor Ecclesiasticus, but I hadn’t received word of when you might arrive.”
“I am indeed Sir Richard Louden, King Henry’s commissioner, Abbot Peryn, and I didn’t consider it necessary, or advisable, to give prior notice of my arrival.”
“Indeed, My Lord, it is unnecessary. We have nothing to hide here at Tavistock Abbey.” The abbot turned to his companion. “Allow me to introduce our prior, Brother Thomas.”
The prior was a complete contrast to his abbot. The man was tall, well built and with a commanding presence. His hair was almost white.
Sir Richard nodded to the prior and stated, “My assistant, Master Andrew Cheyne.”
“You must stay in my guest room, Sir Richard. I will instruct my housekeeper to arrange for your luggage to be brought and to delay our evening meal until you are settled.”
“That will be satisfactory, but I would like Master Cheyne to stay in the monk’s dorter.”
This was Sir Richard’s usual ploy—to have Andrew stay and eat with the monks. There were, of course, two purposes in such an arrangement. Sir Richard could speak privately with the abbot, and Andrew could see exactly what kind of fare the monks enjoyed and judge how they lived.
The abbot hesitated, obviously not used to such a request. He glanced at Andrew before saying, “Of course. Prior Thomas, could you arrange a room for Master Cheyne and show him to the refectory?”
The prior inclined his head. “Of course.”
Andrew turned to leave, only to be stopped by Sir Richard’s voice. “We must make an early start tomorrow, Cheyne. Report to me here immediately following breakfast.”
“Yes, Sir Richard.”
Andrew followed the prior toward the cloister where the monks’ dorter and the refectory were located. Andrew looked up at the abbey church as they passed. It was a beautiful building, with a large square bell tower dominating the entrance, and Andrew knew he would have to take an audit of it and the rest of the abbey precincts over the next few days.
“You are admiring our church, Master Cheyne?” the prior queried.
“Not so much admiring as noting,” Andrew replied in a tone of warning to the monk. Andrew was there to record everything with a dispassionate approach, but he knew he had to be careful. Sir Richard had already had cause to take him to task for his “inappropriate attitude” to some of the treasures he saw as part of his duty as the commissioner’s assistant.
The truth was, while he believed in the Reformation and the changes that could be wrought through the English Protestant faith, it was sometimes hard to let go of his past beliefs, of learning about God and the Catholic Church at his mother’s knee. He had grown up with an appreciation of the symbols of his childhood faith, both the buildings and the treasures they contained. It posed something of a personal dilemma for Andrew who wanted an end to the corruption of the church, even as he couldn’t help but regret the possible destruction of things he had once admired.
“Perhaps you would like to see inside?” the prior asked. “There is time before you would need to repair to the refectory.”
Andrew frowned a second, then shrugged. “Why not? If I can leave my panniers in my cell?”
“Of course. This way.”
They walked on to the dorter and it wasn’t long before the prior stopped at a narrow door. “This cell is currently vacant,” he said, as he opened the door.
Inside were a narrow bed and a chest against one wall below a small window. The only other items in the room were a candle in a plain holder on the chest and a carved wooden cross hanging on the wall above the bed. “The refectory is over there,” the prior continued, pointing to a pair of double doors across the cloister yard. “You will hear the bell.”
The prior nodded and then left him.
Andrew sighed and dropped his panniers on the bed. It had only been in the last few years that he had left his old life behind and, as poor as he had been then, his life had never seemed as depressing as a monk’s cell was. He closed the door and headed for the abbey church, noting the worn paving beneath his feet, the result of the tread of hundreds of monks across the centuries.
The inside of the church was just as impressive as Andrew had expected. He walked down the wide aisle to the centre of the nave and stared around him at the opulence of the church. Everywhere he looked he saw carvings in wood, stone and alabaster. Statues were painted to look almost lifelike. Huge stained glass windows portrayed many scenes from the bible; a large, gold, leaf-encrusted copy of which was displayed on the altar. He heard a sound echoing off to the side, the strike of a hammer on metal he thought. He turned to investigate and heard someone speak in a low voice, the words indistinct.
“Hello,” Andrew said.
“Oh my,” a voice answered, “I thought I was alone.” A monk appeared around a column. “I let my frustrations out too easily.” The monk approached, a slight frown marring his features.
Andrew found himself staring at the man’s face with its almost perfect proportions, spoiled only his nose, perhaps a little too long, and his mouth, a tad too full, but as a whole, it was breathtaking.
“I’m sorry. I thought you were a brother monk.” His full sleeves were rolled above his elbows; his hands and lower arms were coated in a fine layer of stone dust.
“I am Andrew Cheyne, assistant to the king’s commissioner.”
The monk’s expression relaxed. “Ah, Master Cheyne, I had no idea the commissioner had arrived. I am Brother Mark of Lydford.”
“We have only just arrived. I wanted to see inside the church.”
Brother Mark smiled, and Andrew thought he had never seen anyone so beautiful. It put the beauty of the church to shame. Andrew chided himself for allowing such musings. He had tried to stop thinking of men in such terms, but it was difficult when confronted with such a vision.
“What were you doing back there?” Andrew asked to get his mind on another subject.
“Oh, I’m an apprentice stonemason. I’m repairing part of a column.” Brother Mark paused and he regarded Andrew. “Are you really interested or is this merely part of your job as an assistant commissioner?”
Meeting his gaze, Andrew said, “I came in here as a man who can appreciate fine work, even if some of the content is somewhat ostentatious. Which is not to say that when I come in here tomorrow with Sir Richard I won’t be doing my job, noting everything I see.”
“That’s honest and very understandable.” Brother Mark said. “Would you like to see what I’m working on?”
Andrew regarded the monk for a moment, before he said, “Please.”
Andrew followed as Brother Mark led him deeper into the church, his eyes drifting over the monk’s form as he did so. Brother Mark’s Benedictine habit made it hard for Andrew to see what kind of figure lurked under the long black garment. As the sleeves of his habit were rolled up, the monk’s well-formed muscles were evident, and Andrew couldn’t help but wonder what the rest of his body was like. Brother Mark was of medium height, and thus a couple of inches shorter than Andrew. He had thick brown hair that even the tonsure did not detract from.
Brother Mark had reached the area where he was working. A bucket containing various tools sat on the ground next to the column, which was surrounded by dust and small chips of stone. The monk was explaining what he was trying to do, but Andrew found it hard to concentrate on the words because he was so caught up in staring at the man.
Mark’s eyes were deep blue and seemed to be forever darting about in his excitement about his work. His lips were full and red and when suddenly his tongue came out to lick at them, Andrew’s own mouth went dry, his gaze drawn by the tempting sight.
“Master Cheyne?” Brother Mark said, breaking the spell. “Are you well?”
“Well? Yes, I am well, just distracted by the pleasure you show in your work, Brother.” Andrew couldn’t help but smile.
Mark ducked his head slightly. “Yes, the master mason says he has never had such an enthusiastic student.” Mark laughed, his eyes glittering. “Master Fulke says he never expected to find a monk as keen as I am.” He shrugged. “I have never quite understood why. After all, turning blocks of stone into something beautiful is just another way of showing the miracles God allows man to perform.”
Andrew frowned. “Miracles that man performs?”
“Miracles that God allows man to perform. Every day man demonstrates the glory of God just by living. Planting seeds to grow food or to display nature’s beauty in the petals of a flower. Planting his seed in a woman and seeing the miracle of birth. Some men illuminate books to show the glory of God’s words. Others paint portraits or sculpt figures of the saints. What is different about wishing to carve beauty of a different kind from the backbone of God’s earth?”
Andrew stared at him and then smiled, saying, “I have no answer for that.”
Brother Mark cocked his head on one side, raising an eyebrow. “Too complicated for a reformer?”
“No, Brother,” Andrew said sharply. “I’m pleased to see a staunch Catholic admit man’s work can help to enhance God’s miracles.”
Brother Mark frowned. “Admitting man’s contribution does not negate the miracle, sir. It only proves God’s wisdom.”
Andrew laughed. “We are never going to agree, but I think I like you, Brother Mark.”
Brother Mark’s eyebrow lifted again and he smiled.
The bell sounded and Brother Mark looked surprised. “It is later than I thought, sir. Are you to take supper with the abbot?”
“No, Brother. I am sleeping in the dorter and will take my meals with my brothers.”
Brother Mark smiled. “Then allow me to show you the way.”
§ § § §
Brother Mark led Andrew into the refectory and to the prior, who was already seated at the top table, along the other obedentiaries of the abbey. Brother Mark gave a slight bow and then backed away, Andrew guessed to take his seat at the lower table. The prior acknowledged Andrew with an incline of his head indicating the empty seat next to him.
“I would wish to take a seat among the ordinary monks, Prior,” Andrew said firmly.
The prior raised an eyebrow, but nodded his assent.
Andrew stepped down from the dais with its group of senior Benedictines and moved to the long table set at right angles from the top table. Brother Mark was about to take his seat when he saw Andrew approaching. He remained standing.
“May I?” Andrew said with a slight smile.
“If it is your wish, Master Cheyne.” Brother Mark whispered something to one of the monks, who then swiftly slid along the bench, leaving enough room for Mark and Andrew to sit side by side.
Andrew noted the many glances thrown his way by the others taking their seats around the long table, but he also noted a few were sent Brother Mark’s way. Andrew wondered what the monks were thinking about his choice to sit among them and beside Brother Mark. Had he made a mistake? It would have been noted Brother Mark had brought him into the refectory, but that meant nothing. It was only Andrew’s own inappropriate leanings that led his thoughts along such uncomfortable paths.
Even as he had the thought, he glanced up at Brother Mark to find himself caught by a pair of deep blue eyes. He noted the way the skin crinkled up at the corners as Mark smiled and Andrew couldn’t help the heat flooding his belly.
One of the monks walked over to the lectern in the corner of the room. He said grace and as the others started to eat, he began to read from the large bible, speaking the words in English. It was one of the most important innovations as far as Andrew was concerned…that any man with the ability could read the holy book without having to rely on a priest intoning the words in Latin from the pulpit. Imagine having the bible in one’s own home to read as one wished. Such freedom!
Books were very expensive, though, and it was a luxury beyond most men. Of course, the majority of the poor could not even read, but Andrew believed the time would come when all men would be able to read the holy word. Andrew recalled his own determination to learn to read when he was taken into Sir John’s household. Without being able to read, Andrew would never have risen to the role of trust and responsibility he held now.
Andrew was not surprised to find the meal set before them by a small army of servants was not the simple fare Benedictine monks were expected to consume. There were various kinds of meat and poultry, thick slices of bread served with creamy butter. There were fresh vegetables and a wheel of cheese, and to drink there was ale or small beer. A bottle of wine was placed before the prior and after he poured himself a glass, he sent the bottle to Andrew with a servant.
“Prior Thomas thought you might appreciate wine with your meal, sir,” the servant said.
“Thank the prior,” Andrew replied, “but I prefer to partake of a small beer.”
The servant bowed and returned the bottle of wine to the prior. Andrew couldn’t help but notice the prior seemed to be enjoying his meal very much if the way he attacked his plate was any indication. Andrew realized he should have taken the opportunity to sit at the head table and question the prior about the farms that provided the food upon the table, but he didn’t regret his choice to sit beside Brother Mark at the long table. He knew he could find out all he wanted from the abbot’s papers. He doubted, even with the kind of table the abbey provided for the monks, that there wasn’t a fair surplus of produce to send to the market. No, Andrew much preferred to speak to Brother Mark, who seemed more than happy to converse with Andrew in preference to stuffing his face. Mark ate but sparingly, taking a little of everything and only a small mug of beer.
It seemed Brother Mark was being as cautious as Andrew in what they talked about, steering the conversation into more personal areas, away from the thorny subject of religion. In their relatively short acquaintance, they had managed to keep on an even keel regarding the subject, and Andrew, for one, had no wish to spoil things. Mark chose to talk about his work.
“I cannot put into words how pleased I was to be given the chance to learn how to work stone. I was surprised to find that I had an affinity for working with my hands.” He lifted his hands and stared at them as he twisted them in front of his face. He smiled. “And to what better use can I put my training than to show my devotion to the Lord?”
Ah, Andrew thought, maybe not quite as determined as I thought to keeping off difficult subjects.
Mark looked at him. “Master Cheyne,” Mark said quietly, and Andrew thought he didn’t wish anyone else at the table to hear, “I am working on a piece now. Would you be interested in knowing more about it?”
Andrew met his gaze. “Yes, Brother, I think I would,” he replied just as softly.
“Have you finished eating?”
Brother Mark stood and faced the prior. “Brother Prior, Master Cheyne has expressed a wish for me to show him the library. With your leave?”
The prior looked up from his plate just long enough to give a distracted smile to Andrew and say to Mark, “Of course, Brother. Show Master Cheyne the bibles newly translated into English we have been working on.”
“Of course, Prior.”
When they had left the refectory and were out of earshot of the other monks and the servants, Andrew asked, “Do you really want to show me the books?”
Mark looked over his shoulder, smiled and answered, “Among other things. There are some remarkable books in the abbey library, Master Cheyne.”
“Won’t you please call me Andrew?”
Mark inclined his head. “I would be honoured.”
“So I will see these remarkable books and some of your handiwork?”
Andrew sighed. He ought to have known he was reading more into Brother Mark’s interest than was reasonable.
Andrew realized his sigh had been louder than he thought when Mark slowed and turned to him. “You do not wish to visit the library?”
“Yes, of course. I would very much like to see the books and I’m very interested in what you are working on.” Andrew smiled and was unaccountably relieved when Mark smiled back.
It was only a minute or so later when Mark halted at a pair of heavy wooden doors. Grasping the handles, he pushed them open. A dim flickering light, which Andrew realized came from a tall, lit candle in a wall sconce, greeted them. Mark picked it up, lit a branch of candles from it and then led the way inside. Andrew was aware the abbey library had some old rare books and they also had some very new ones. Tavistock Abbey was one of the very first places in England to have a printing press and some of the newly produced bibles in English were being created here.
Like most everyone else, Andrew was very impressed with the idea of books being printed. It was remarkable how swiftly a new book could be ready when compared to the old method whereby each book had needed to be laboriously copied out by hand. However, neither could he deny the beautiful work produced by generations of monks. Andrew had a love of such things—he was proud to have collected a small number of books himself—and it was very hard to think many of the books he admired for their aesthetic beauty would have to be destroyed because of their religious content. He knew he would have to steel himself to such things, however, because he did truly believe that the Catholic bible in Latin was anathema and the people would be better served with an honest, open bible in English.
Brother Mark led the way through the shadowy passageways towards the large windows in the opposite wall. They passed many shelves of books of all shapes and sizes, some so large it was difficult to believe a man could lift them, let alone be able to read them. The room was redolent with the smell of leather and parchment. As they moved deeper inside, Andrew saw different shaped shelves with narrower, deeper openings and he realized they were filled with scrolls, some of which were very ancient and obviously made of parchment, though there were also some examples on paper, which had been produced during the last couple of centuries.
Brother Mark had obviously followed his gaze. “They are remarkable, aren’t they? Our librarian is very proud of the collection.”
Andrew met his gaze. “They will have to be inspected. Sir Richard needs a complete record of everything here.”
Mark nodded. “I know, and I fear what may happen in the future,” he said sadly. “I try to cling to the belief God has purpose in everything he does, but this is difficult.”
For the first time, Andrew wished he didn’t have to be part of this. Part of destroying this man’s private little world—until his own thoughts registered and he acknowledged it was exactly this kind of existence that was at the heart of the problem. These men, and many hundreds like them, existed apart from the reality of life. Supported and served by those whose lives were much more difficult and all too real. Brother Mark may be an honest, sincere monk, but Andrew knew there were many others who lived a life of luxury with no regard for their fellow men. Where was their God in that?
“What did you want to show me, Mark?” Andrew asked, aware his tone of voice was much different from earlier, hard and cold.
Mark glanced at him, a slight frown marring his features. “Why are you angry with me, Andrew? Have I offended you? Please, I had no intent.”
Andrew sighed. “I’m not angry with you, Mark. I allowed myself to forget, for a short time, that we are on opposing sides. I should not have done so. It does neither of us any good.”
“Andrew,” Mark said, his tone soft, beguiling, “we have differing points of view on more than one subject, but surely it doesn’t have to make us enemies. I have already seen you have a taste for the aesthetic, as do I. I did not mistake your pleasure at the stonework or your interest in these books. That is at least two points of view we share. Can we not just share the similarities and try to forget our differences?” Mark stepped closer. “I felt an affinity with you when we met. This is rare for me, and I don’t wish to lose it if I can help it. Will you allow me to be your friend, Andrew?”
Andrew stared at this man, who he now acknowledged could so easily mean more to him than Mark could possibly know, or accept if he did know. Mark might be talking about friendship, but Andrew’s reaction was much more personal, as his stiffening cock could attest. But, like Mark, it was rare for Andrew to feel such an acceptance of another being with such speed or ease. He knew he likely wanted more than was possible, but he was willing to take whatever he could have. He could take himself to task later.
“Yes, Mark,” Andrew said. “I would like that.”
Mark smiled. “Let me show what I am trying to create. Master Fulke thinks I have taken on more than I can chew. I’m already working on repairing the rood screen and taking on more work, too. He may be right, but I will not give up.”
Andrew smiled at the determination in Brother Mark’s voice. Mark led him down a short corridor into another section of the library.
“This architecture looks older,” Andrew commented, as he turned in a full circle, trying to take in everything. More light would have helped.
“You are correct, though you can see better in daylight,” Mark conceded. “I should probably have waited, but I wanted to speak to you and it was too difficult in the refectory. I felt the prior’s eyes on us the whole time we were talking.”
Andrew lifted an eyebrow. He hadn’t been aware of that, but then his whole attention had been on Mark. He must be more careful. He had dismissed the prior far too easily.
“But come, look at this.” Mark sounded excited as he took down one of the old volumes from the shelf and placed it on the narrow table nearby.
Andrew moved nearer as Mark placed the candle branch so it would illuminate the book. Mark opened it at a marked page and that’s when Andrew understood Mark wanted to show him some type of religious drawings. They were interesting, but Andrew didn’t quite understand their significance.
“These are some original drawings from the twelfth century, designs created for four wall plaques, which used to adorn the central room in the library.”
“Used to?” Andrew queried, as he studied the four rather faded drawings.
“Yes, they were damaged and the abbot wants new ones created. I asked Master Fulke if I could possibly do the carving. Under his aegis, of course.”
“And he agreed?”
“Not at first,” Mark admitted. “But when I told him I wanted to do a much simpler rendition of the themes of the panels, he was intrigued. As you can see from those, the originals are somewhat complicated—”
“Somewhat?” Andrew interrupted. It was difficult to work out what exactly the first panel was supposed to be, it was so crowded with characters. It was only when Andrew realized the central piece was actually supposed to represent a baby being rocked in its cradle that he understood it was supposed to represent the nativity.
Mark smiled. “You can understand why Master Fulke wanted to know what I had in mind. He asked me to put my ideas onto paper and let him see.”
Andrew regarded the monk, smiling. “Will you let me see?”
“That’s why I brought you here.”
“The only reason?” Andrew murmured, not sure he wanted Mark to hear his words.
However, Mark did hear and he glanced at Andrew, opened his mouth as if he was about to speak, but no words were forthcoming. Mark turned to another shelf nearby, one of the narrow, deep openings, from which he took a rolled sheaf of papers tied with red cord. Andrew saw Mark’s name scrawled along the edge. Mark unrolled them and placed the sheets on the table before Andrew.
“Can you bring the light closer?”
Mark complied, and Andrew looked closely at the sheaf of drawings, first one and then another, and another.
“You did these?” Andrew asked, glancing at Mark, who simply smiled. “You certainly have talent.” Andrew’s finger traced the delicate figure of the Virgin Mary holding the baby Jesus.
“Thank you,” Mark said softly. “Though I have to point out that my rendition is much simpler than the original.” He smiled. “I never could have produced, either on parchment or in stone, the detail of the originals.”
“That doesn’t make your design less impressive,” Andrew commented. He switched his gaze back to the originals. “I find such excessive representations offensive,” he added.
Mark glanced at him, but said nothing.
The next sheet showed two figures, one kneeling in front of the other, head bowed, while the standing man’s hands were upturned just above the kneeling man’s head. The expression on the standing man’s face was rapturous as he gazed towards heaven. Andrew stared at the scene for a moment, “The baptism?” he asked.
“Yes,” said Mark, grinning a little as he added, “I’m so pleased you recognised it.”
Andrew cocked his head to one side. “It would be hard not to. Your work is strikingly simple, yet so revealing.” Mark almost looked embarrassed, but he smiled. The other two drawings were of the raising of Lazarus and Christ on his cross. “These will take you quite some time,” Andrew ventured.
“What better use for my time and the talent given to me by God?” Mark shrugged. “Of course, I will still have to help work on the necessary stonework around the abbey, too, so I will only be able to work on this for a portion of my daily labour, but I don’t mind giving of my own time whenever I am able.”
“Your own time? I’m surprised you have any time to yourself with your five hours of physical labour each day and the many prayers you must perform.”
Mark frowned a little. “I am young and strong. I can always find a way to give of my time in the service of God.”
“Hmm. I understand you feel some kind of commitment to your calling, even if I don’t fully understand it.” He smiled at the monk, glancing at the table again. “What other drawings have you to show me?”
Mark eyes widened and he rolled up the rest of the drawings. A faint flush rose up his cheeks as he said, “Oh, those are only some earlier drafts, not worth looking at now you have seen…”
Something niggled at Andrew and he couldn’t help his suspicion over Mark’s nervous reaction. Abruptly, Andrew grabbed the roll of papers from Mark, who cried, “No! Give them back.”
Andrew frowned. “I won’t damage them, you know.”
“They’re mine,” Mark said pettishly. “Give them back.” He held out a hand.
Needing to know, Andrew ignored Mark. “What else do we have here? Could it be there is something here that Sir Richard ought to be informed of?”
“No, please.” Mark gasped as Andrew laid them on the table and unrolled them. Mark took a step back, and Andrew felt the monk’s eyes boring into him as he looked through them, putting aside those he had already seen.