Michael the Sorcerer

Episode Five. The Monastery

 

 

 

 

Episode 1

Episode 2

Episode 3

Episode 4

 

 

 

 

     

The dragon hunt was not a complete failure. When the monster's lair was explored, great heaps of gold, jewels and other treasure were discovered. Michael's share, as the brave soul who roused the serpent, was considerable; almost double of what he had accumulated on Achdomousreich’s raids.

A week after they returned to the castle, Theopiles summoned Michael to his chambers. After Michael expressed the usual amenities, the sorcerer said, "Michael of Eilenberg, you have acquitted yourself well on the dragon hunt. Hence, I have decided to grant your wish. I will see to it that you become immortal."

Michael crossed himself and went to one knee in homage to Theopiles. "Thank you, oh great magus."

"Do not be so quick to thank me until you've heard my terms."

"I accept them unconditionally whatever they are."

"You are impetuous, Michael. But, I suppose that is due to your youth." Theopiles sighed as though he wished he were as young as Michael. "First, you must give me all your wealth."

"Done."

Theopiles smiled and shook his head. "That was the easy part. Secondly, you must become my vassal and apprentice for ten years. During those ten years you must carry out my every command explicitly, no matter how onerous, dangerous, difficult or painful without complaint or protest. At the end of that time, if you still desire to become immortal, I will bring you to a place where your desire will be fulfilled. I shall then set you free to follow your heart."

"I must wait ten years ... as your servant, as your slave in fact?"

"Yes. That is the condition and you must swear by all that is holy to you in front of witnesses to abide by it."

Michael hesitated. Ten years of absolute slavery during which time he might die and be cheated. All he had was Theopiles' word that he could accomplish the miracle of making him immortal. For all he knew Theopiles might be a charlatan. After all, what did he really do at the dragon hunt? He found the dragon's lair, yes. But he might have used some unknown method that was not the least magical. The whole performance with the wand and the other implements might be mere puffery. Other men had told Michael of miracles performed by Theopiles, but he himself had so far seen nothing extraordinary.

On the other hand, if he did not accept Theopiles' offer, he would surely die sooner or later, as happens to the great majority of men -- perhaps all.

"I agree. I will become your vassal and servant and will swear to any oath you require. I will affix my mark to any document, if that is required. However, you must also swear an oath to do as you promised at the end of my term of service at pain of your own death if you do not fulfill your obligation."

"Agreed." Theopiles extended his hand which Michael shook vigorously. "Go now. I will prepare the oaths that we will swear before Baron Achdamousreich."

   *   *   *

A few days later, in a pompous ceremony before the throne of Achdamousreich with his knights present, a priest who could read Latin had the two men swear in the name of Jesus, the Virgin Mary, the Creator, the Holy Spirit, the saints and the angels that they would follow the provisions of their mutual contracts. Afterwards he blessed them with holy water. Since Achdamousreich and his knights used any excuse to party, there was a riotous celebration in the great hall that went on for two days.

The day after the celebration Theopiles summoned Michael. "Now that you are my apprentice, you must be educated. I am sending you to a Dominican monastery to learn to read and write Latin, Greek, Hebrew and the language of the Saracens."

Michael bowed submissively. "As you wish, Master."

    *   *   *

Michael traveled on horseback to a monastery deep in the mountain wilderness. He carried a letter of introduction from Theopiles to the abbot. When he arrived and reported, he had to surrender all his arms and garments. In return he was given a monk's cassock of rough wool, the top of his head was shaved, and he was assigned a rude cell whose only furnishings were straw pallets for sleeping, a wash bowl and a chamber pot. He shared this cell with a novice named Brother Joseph who rarely spoke.

He was required to follow all the rules of the order as though he were studying for the priesthood. These included attending all religious services, not speaking one unnecessary word until after the last meal of the day. There were only two skimpy meals altogether. Half the day were for instructions, usually boring lectures in the monastery’s great hall. The other part of the day he was assigned a menial task, outdoors during fair weather, indoors during foul. The regime was strict, and the punishment for disobedience or sloth painful, usually a whipping with a cat-o'-nine-tails or being hung by the thumbs for an hour or more. Visits by women were not allowed (although some monks went to a brothel in the nearest village on the sly when sent on errands there), and there was a rule against the consumption of wine except for the Eucharist (again, monks had bottles hidden within the straw of their bedding or in chinks in the walls of their cells).

At first Michael found the Spartan life daunting. Nonetheless, he endured it patiently and threw himself into his studies, knowing that the sooner he completed the course proscribed by Theopiles, the sooner he could leave that prison. He had little trouble learning to read and write Latin which he spoke fluently. Greek and Hebrew were more difficult. The language of the Saracens was the worst of all; when written it resembled a swarm of snakes as a child would draw them across the parchment.

In addition to learning languages, he was required to study the ancients, Greek and Roman philosophers, ancient history, mathematics, chess and the Bible, both in Hebrew and Greek. He learned other lessons that were not part of the formal curriculum, patience, obedience, respect, endurance. 

For two years Michael remained in the monastery. He was much esteemed by his instructors and the brothers for his ability to assimilate knowledge, his elephantine memory and his quickness. After a while he felt as one with the other monks as though he would be among them forever.

Nonetheless, one day Theopiles galloped up to the monastery. He came to Michael's cell early in the afternoon during a period set aside for meditation. Many monks would nap at this time, others meditated or prayed. Michael usually spent the time studying or reading the ancients, which he found fascinating, especially tales of heroes and gods.

"The abbot tells me you have done well here, Michael."

"He is kind."

"Are you ready to do some traveling?"

Michael grinned. He was being released from the monastery. "Yes, Master."        

"I have brought your garments and arms. Dress and we will be off."

   *   *   *

It was a strange life that Theopiles and Michael pursued. They journeyed from kingdom to kingdom where Theopiles would act as a physician, advisor, astrologer, psychic and sometimes entertainer of kings, counts, barons and even townsmen in the villages and cities they traveled through. Sometimes he was asked to place curses on enemies; sometimes to remove curses that had been placed on his clients by enemies, witches or other wizards. At times he would place a curse on someone, and later be called by the cursed person to remove it.

Michael's own role was as Theopiles' bodyguard, apprentice, assistant and general all around servant. Once a year they returned to Achdamousreich's castle during dragon hunting season. Nonetheless, in all the time that Michael was with Theopiles, they never again encountered another of the monsters.

Michael enjoyed the life they led, despite being a bondsman. They abided outdoors much of the time and were always on the move. When they arrived at a town or a castle, they were treated as visiting royalty. He learned many different languages and dialects, customs, histories, religious beliefs and folkways. He always had plenty to eat and drink and his choice of beautiful women wherever they went.

Michael watched Theopiles carefully for he wanted to learn sorcery himself. Once his bondage was complete he planned to make it his career, for it seemed quite lucrative, at least for Theopiles. Men paid well for magical arts. In some ways, however, Michael was disappointed by the magic he had seen Theopiles perform. His healing abilities seemed to be simply a great deal of knowledge about nostrums, herbs and remedies. Some of his most miraculous cures were on people whose symptoms were self-induced. Some things that Theopiles did, Michael felt, actually made the patient worse, such as bleeding and the administration of certain all-purpose medicines.

As far astrology and other methods for foreseeing the future, although Theopiles spent much time studying the stars and making charts, his predictions were more like advise than prophesy. Other times his forecasts of events were so vague that whatever happened, it could be said that he had foretold it.

The only time Michael saw Theopiles do anything miraculous was when he entertained. Sometimes as guests of a high noble, churchman or king, their host would prevail on the sorcerer to amuse the court with demonstrations of magic. At these affairs, Michael saw him do what seemed to be real magic. He made doves and fire appear from nowhere, pull yards and yards of silk from his previously empty hand, tell what someone in the audience was holding in his hand while blindfolded and change a mess of flour, eggs and milk poured into his cap into a rabbit. Michael thought these marvels fine and quite mysterious, but rather trivial. And after a while he learned that many were simply sleight-of-hand or other conjuring tricks. For example, the blindfolded mind reading was done using a secret code in which Michael identified the object by saying certain words.

Once, after a sumptuous dinner as he and Theopiles shared a bottle of wine and the sorcerer was in a mellow mood, Michael said, "Master, I have been your apprentice for seven years now. When are you going to teach me magic?"

"Michael, Michael, you have learned much already. Do you not know which herbs are used to treat which diseases, how to lance boils and how to bleed a patient? Have I not shown you how to prepare the astrology charts from people's time of birth?"

"But not how to interpret them."

"Ah, that you can only learn from experience and knowledge of the person whose horoscope you are preparing. Michael, magic, real magic, is more than the ability to perform the mysterious and the miraculous. It is a way of life. As a sorcerer, you must wish to conquer the universe. To do that requires patience and a keen eye, logic and a good ear for what is behind what people tell you."

This reply confused Michael. Nonetheless, he asked another question. "Why did you become a sorcerer, Master?"

"When I started out I was like you. I desired wealth, youth, longevity and power. Now I merely seek wisdom. And to do that, you must make yourself master of everything -- evil as well as good, cruelty as well as mercy, pain as well as pleasure. In the order of the universe everything has its place and function. The complete sorcerer is he who has experienced and mastered all things."

"But how do I begin?"

1 "To achieve the mastery you seek, you must follow the twenty-two paths. Someday I will tell you what they are. Each path has many pitfalls. You must be careful not to lose your soul in your eagerness to reach your final goal. To become a master adept may take an entire lifetime, perhaps several lifetimes, and a certain amount of genius."  

   *   *   *

Near the end of Michael's ninth year with Theopiles, the sorcerer said, "For the next few months we will be traveling in the land of the Saracens. You must brush up on their language and dress in these once we cross in their lands." He handed Michael a voluminous robe and showed him how to wear the traditional Bedouin headgear.

It was a long journey. They started by crossing the Alps into Italy. Michael loved the mountains. As they crossed the great passes where eagles flew, he felt as one with them as he surveyed the land from a thousand foot overlook. Once through the passes they journeyed across the peninsula to the seaport city of Genoa. 

In Genoa they rested. Michael took advantage of this respite to explore this crossroads of the world. There was much to see and do. Narrow winding streets were crowded with busy scurrying people, many of whom were from faraway exotic lands and wore outlandish clothes. Their conversation was in even more outlandish languages, some of which sounded like children's nonsense songs. Even their skin coloring, hair and faces were different from people in his native Saxony. In the market place, stalls sold food of every sort; exotic fruits, meats raw and cooked and vegetables of tremendous variety. Wines were available that would not disappoint the most exacting connoisseur. Other products for sale in the bazaar were colorful silks from the far east, exotic spices from the Orient and strange drugs and nostrums. Exotic pleasures awaited the sensually inclined in dim, hidden rooms. Genoa was also a meeting place of sorcerers, and his master disappeared for days at a time on secret rendezvous, leaving Michael to his own devices.

When Genoa had sated Theopiles, they bought passage to the island of Corsica. A longer sea voyage brought them to Barcelona, a dangerous passage because this part of the Mediterranean swarmed with pirates and storms. Twice they were harried by cutthroats. When they were tossed about by a great blow, Michael was sure that he was going to die -- not from the boat capsizing or being washed overboard, but from seasickness.  

They rested again in Barcelona for a few days where Michael bought supplies for the long overland journey to Cordoba. Although Barcelona was also a seaport, there was not such a variety of amusements as in Genoa. The prelate of the city ruled as sinful much of what had been common practice in Genoa and therefore unlawful. Four days in this arid town was enough for Michael. He was glad when Theopiles said that they would be moving on.

The overland journey into the land of the Saracens was long, hot and dusty. They traveled with a merchant caravan on the backs of camels. Luckily, at this time there was an uneasy peace between the Moslems and Christians that shared the Hibernian peninsula. Although they were harassed by bandits, they gained their destination in one piece.

Cordoba was a city of learning. Theopiles consulted with many wise men, including the great Avicenna known as the Prince of Physicians. Hence they stayed for several weeks. Michael took advantage of this time to browse the university libraries. While he was at the monastery he had become addicted to the search for knowledge as deep as some men's addiction for heroin, cocaine or wine. It was the first time he had ever seen so many scrolls written by the ancients in one place. Nevertheless, he was told that there were greater libraries in Alexandria, Damascus, Cairo and Baghdad. Also while in Cordoba, he learned the Saracen method of mathematics which was a great improvement over the Roman method he had been taught at the monastery. In it, every digit from one to nine had its own symbol; there was even a symbol for zero. He also learned an entire new branch of mathematics called algebra in which one could do calculations he would have thought impossible earlier.

All in all Michael learned that these Saracens, whom he had previously dismissed as barbarians and heretics, were more advanced than Christians in many arts such as physics, astronomy, medicine and alchemy. They were also master craftsmen in metals, glass, pottery and leather and were experts in farming and horticulture. They made sugar from cane and brewed fine wines.

After two months Theopiles was again ready to move on. They traveled to the southern coast of Hiberia and took a ship to an island formed from a single rock. On a clear day from the top of this rock both Hiberia and Africa could be seen at the same time. After crossing into Africa, they traveled along the coast for many leagues to the city of Alexandria at the mouth of the great Nile River. They stayed a while in Alexandria visiting the great library Michael had been told about in Cordoba. From there they sailed down the Nile by barge to Cairo.

It was in Cairo that Michael reminded Theopiles of his obligation. "Master," he said, "my term of service has but a few more months to go. Should we not be returning to Bavaria so that you can perform whatever magic is necessary to make me immortal?"

"So, you are still determined to become immortal."

  "More than ever."

"Well then we must journey yet further. It is not in Bavaria that such magic can be performed, but only in lands so ancient no one knows how long they have been in existence."

"Where are these lands? Do we have a long way to travel yet?"

"You will see. Still the impatient youth, eh Michael?"

They sojourned in Cairo for a while and journeyed further down the Nile. They left the barge at a place that seemed but windswept empty desert with sand so fine and white that it resembled sugar. They mounted camels and a Saracen guide led them to a place called the City of the Dead. There were great wonders there, blocks of stone heaped upon each other in pyramidal shapes to enormous heights. There was several of these structures, the largest taller than any cathedral or castle Michael had ever seen. He thought of them as man made hills, practically small mountains. Among them was an enormous statue of a creature with the face of a man and the body of a lion. 

Michael gazed at them with amazement. "What are they? Who built them? And why?"

"They are thousands of years old and built by the ancient pharaohs of Egypt."

"You mean a pharaoh such as the one who would not allow the Jews to leave Egypt, as written in the Holy Scriptures in the Book of Moses?"

"His ancient ancestors built them a thousand years before he was born."

"But what is their purpose?"

"They are tombs. Deep within them lie ancient kings, preserved all these thousands of years by a method of embalming lost in antiquity. These kings were buried with much gold and artistic artifacts, for their priests have said that some day they will arise again from the dead and have need of these things. Alas, grave robbers have stolen much of it." 

Michael suddenly had a thought that made him furious. "Is that why you've brought me here? Is this how I'm to be cheated? Have you discovered the method these ancient people have used to make their dead never decay? And then you intend to kill me and preserve my body so that it lasts forever, thus fulfilling the letter of our agreement without the spirit?"

"Oh don't be a ridiculous fool, Michael. I brought you here because it was on the way to our real destination, and I thought you might enjoy seeing such a marvelous sight. Besides, I wish to consult the Sphinx."

"The Sphinx?"

"Yes, that statue in the midst of the pyramids. It can foretell the future. However, the answers it gives to questions are in the form of riddles that must be deciphered to learn their true meaning."

"I am truly sorry for my outburst, Master. I became mad for an instant. Perhaps it is the arid atmosphere and heat in this vast desert. I have known you almost ten years now and know that you are a good and true man whom I can trust implicitly."

"I forgive you, my son." 

"Master?"

"Yes?"

"Will you show me how to consult this Sphinx? I have a question that I would ask it."

"It is simple. After nightfall when the moon is high, stand before it and pray to it as you would to Our Lord. If you concentrate hard enough and are sincere in wanting the answer, it will reply. However, as I have said, the reply will be in the form of a riddle which you might not understand."

   *   *   *

That evening after a crescent moon was well above the horizon, Michael gazed into the inscrutable face of the marvelous statue. During the day it seemed to have a bland expression, but by moonlight it smiled enigmatically. He raised his head, clasped his hands together, looking directly into the Sphinx's eyes. He chanted, "Oh Great Sphinx of this desert wilderness, Lord of the Pyramids, please hear my entreaty and tell me whether I will in truth become immortal."

He repeated this several times. Suddenly the wind picked up, pelting him with particles of sand and whistling around the monstrous carving. It seemed to have a voice like the loud whisper actors use so that the audience can hear all that they say, although they pretend to be imparting a secret. At first he could make nothing of it. Then some Saracen words became clear. By listening closely, he finally discerned a complete message. But as Theopiles had warned him, it made little sense.

In translation the message was: He whose greatest desires are foolish will live to regret them. Good advice perhaps, but what had it to do with his question. Oh well, he thought, I may figure it out before we reach wherever it is that Theopiles is taking me. One other thing puzzled him; the voice of the sphinx sounded remarkably like the voice of Theopiles.


 

 

 

that impeded progress. Titans poured gasoline on the heaps of bodies and lit them. The stench of burning human flesh m

If you're enjoying this serial, you may want to read my novels and short story anthologies.

 

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