Over the last three months I’ve moved from the relative comfort of the infirmary to living as a full time member of the Order of the Sea. The bed keeping me prisoner is uncomfortable and the food is delicious but simple and inadequate in portion. This cage is less gilded than the palace, but hard as life is I think of Ursula, and I know I don’t have the ability to look after myself.
A gong echoes through the monastery. The brethren of The Order of the Sea chant. Stupid o’clock – I hate this. It’s still dark. No mortal should be woken before the sun has risen. I roll off my sleeping pallet. Gorse growls a little and crawls into the space I’ve vacated. He goes straight back to sleep.
“Right now I wish I was a wolf-squirrel and not a mortal.”
His only response is a snore.
In a daze, I pull on my white robe. It’s supposed to be floor length but only comes to my calves. My attempts to wash, using the bowl provided in the corner of my room, are frustrated by a layer of ice over the top of the water. Even whacking it with my boot doesn’t work. I hate wearing the boots but the stone floors are too cold to go barefoot. Outside the cell, I join the brethren on their orderly march to the courtyard.
My stomach rumbles but before breakfast there is prayers, religious study and exercise. Wind bites through my thin robe. I've not been warm since I left the infirmary. Permanent ice hangs in the air biting at every bit of my body but snow doesn’t fall. Icicles hang from the arches and the early embers of the rising sun make them sparkle.
My master informs me that the constant freezing of the young is to build their character. Whilst my classmates accept it without question, I’m concerned my heart will stop if the temperature drops much further. Their family wanted them to come here, and for them it’s a great honour. I don’t have a choice. I’ve swapped a gilded cage for a less comfortable option made of ice and stone. We troop into the courtyard and take our designated places in line.
Behind the white-robed novitiates is a sea of blue and green robed older brethren. Scholars, undergraduates, graduates, workers, academics they all have different shades of robe. Among the bright cherry-red heads and the black-boot-polish haired brethren, my ginger is dull. I’m half-a-foot taller than most of them. I’m dressed like them, they call me Novice Angus, but I stick out like a proverbial thumb.
Up on the tower in the corner of the courtyard, stands The Holy Father, Father-Abbot Alexander Brown Kazuto, and behind him is Prior Shun with his head bowed. They are both dressed in dark green velvet robes, trimmed with fur. Clearly they don’t need toughening up or their character improving.
The Holy Father drips with so much bling that even Robbie Albatross, lead singer of the Skuas, would consider it vulgar. His rings and bracelets jingle when he raises his arms to the heavens. “Brethren. We call upon the Universal Father to bring light and energy into our lives and chase away the darkness of the night.”
All around me the others raise their fists and they chant, “May he also be with you, The Holiest of Fathers.”
As they speak the white, sparkling energy streams make their way out of the ground and out through the crystalline dome that encrusts our planet. Every morning at dawn they leave the planet and at dusk orange streams return. They light up the sky like a firework display.
I don’t join in. Sometimes they ignore me and other times I’m beaten for my transgressions. About the only thing my grandfather taught me was how to endure a beating. I’m not sucking up to a god or a priest I don’t believe in.
“That may be the Universal Father’s servants of the sea and work in harmony with the other elements to balance him.” He jangles and raises his eyes to the skies.
They respond with, “May you also be in harmony with the Universal Father and with your brethren, The Holiest of Fathers.”
“As we work to increase his glory may the Universal Father pour his glory upon us.” His voice gets louder.
“May you be glorified, The Holiest of Fathers.” All of them raise their fists again.
“Go about your daily business my brethren with the Universal Father in your heart and a will to better our order.”
They punch the air and this response has a fervour about it, “May Our Holy Father and Our Universal Father be exalted by our actions and watch over us.” They lower themselves to the ground and bow their heads forward.
This I do otherwise I feel like a prick stood there on my own. I’m an expert at obeisance as I had to practice it daily in front of my grandfather. It makes me cry, quietly or I’ll be punished, as I remember Soc. Soc and Dad did this bow with such elegance and perfection that they made the rest of the court look like clowns.
The brethren spend the time in silent prayer. For them it’s a moment to recharge and reconnect with their god, but for myself it’s time to worry about my dad and brother. There are elements of this life that remind me of living with my grandfather, but there is no Soc and no dad to protect me from the worst of it.
A gong sounds and in unison we rise to our feet. I’m cold, sore and stiff but we are required to stand at attention until the holy father has left. He goes back inside and Prior Shun steps forwards. “Brethren dismissed.”
We file out and the cloisters become less orderly as everyone goes about their day.
A shove. A foot catches my ankle at the same moment. A laugh goes up from the other novices. I’m flat on my face – again. The bastards.
Prior Shun appears from nowhere and everyone melts away. He offers me a hand. “Are you all right?”
I’m grazed physically, mentally and emotionally. I respond with a nod.
“Do you know who did this? I will punish them if you wish?”
I shake my head. “It’ll make things worse. Strange how the holy father is never around when I’m being attacked but he shows up with the whip when I fight back. He’s a...” I shake my fist as I search for an adjective strong and vile enough to describe the abbot of the Order of the Sea.
Shun places his hand on my shoulder. “Angus, don’t talk about him. He can hear everything you say. Many of them come from families who were persecuted by your grandfather. They see this as revenge.”
I pull away from his touch and hug myself tight, glaring at him. “And who do you think bore some of his most vicious acts of cruelty? Dad, Soc and me. That’s who.” I’m close to tears and I don’t want him to see that, so I turn away. “We couldn’t hide or escape.”
“I understand. Believe me I understand how difficult it is to be the son of the man in charge. There’s nobody to complain to and nowhere to go. The Holy Father expects more from me than any of the other brethren. I’m never good enough.”
When I first came out of the infirmary he continued to care for me in my cell. I’ve seen the scars on his back when he changed at night, but I’m not ready to trust any of the brethren, especially one who has such hatred for Nate. “I’d better get to class before I’m late again. I’d like to go a day unbeaten.” I attempt to brush away the damp and mud from the fall. It makes it worse and I march down the corridor to get away from him.
“Tell Master Kai I detained you and have dealt with the state of your robe,” Shun states.
His act of kindness causes the tears I’ve been holding back to fall, especially as he could have called me back for my disrespect. By the time I get to the nondescript wooden door of my classroom against the back wall of the cloisters, I’ve found my dignity and determination. When I enter, I will be King Lorenzo II’s son. I will be Prince Angus of Covesea Island, and bear whatever they throw at me.
“Novice Angus. Late again. Your robe is in a mess.” Master Kai stands on the dais behind his raised desk. His hand reaches towards his whip.
I bow my head to him as required. “Prior Shun detained me after the Aurora Call, Master Kai. He says to tell you he’ll be dealing with the state of my robe.” As I say that I look at Novice Rin who I am sure is the one that tripped me. He studies the book in front of him.
“Very well.” Master Kai sounds disappointed that he won’t be beating me today. “Take your seat.”
“Master Kai.” I bow again and comply with his command.
The class snigger as I make my way between the rows of wooden desks to my seat by the window. Master Kai does nothing to stop the bullying. I sit down with difficulty, because the desks are not made for someone of my size. The cold and grey, rough sea stretches to the horizon but I’m too miserable to appreciate it any more. From the desk, I take out the religious text we’re required to study at this time and pretend to read the crap.
Updated Thursday - I've changed the days round to fit a change in lifestyle since the start of a new school year. Even though we don't do school it still affects us.