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    David McLeod
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Initiation at St. Anselm - 1. Story

Initiation at St. Anselm

© 2009 David McLeod

boh.translators@gmail.com

 

“Initiation is a tradition. Common experience creates a common bond.” Brian watched his father stuff his pipe with Virginia tobacco and set it afire. When the pipe was drawing to the man’s satisfaction, he continued. “Besides, it’s been years since anyone died.” Three hundred miles and two weeks later, Brian summoned his courage to face the first night of initiation. The Abbey School of St. Anselm had been created by King Henry VIII, but the abbey, itself, was said to predate even the prelate for whom it was named. Brother Sebastian, who had welcomed the New Boys, claimed that it has been established in the fifth century.

The cemetery attested to the great age of the abbey. A network of walls of brick and fieldstone, the oldest crumbled to ruin, marked the centuries of expansion of the original cemetery. Within the acres of ancient oaks that had grown up among the granite markers lay the graves of monks, abbots, nobles, parishioners, and—if legend were to believed—the graves of the boy who had been for a brief moment King Edward V, and of his brother, Richard. In its own corner was Potter’s Field, which held the graves of the poor and—if legend were to be believed—of murderers who had been executed at the crossroads and later on the gallows of the shire prison. Tonight, the cemetery was to be occupied by the living: five New Boys from Lancaster house followed their guides down the time-worn steps of the abbey, through a rusted iron gate, and into the twilight under the oaks. The boys were separated; each was led to a remote part of the cemetery.

The light was waning, and Brian found himself stumbling over sunken graves and broken gravestones. Just before the light faded entirely, Brian’s guide stopped and pointed to an upright and intact marker. “Here,” the Old Boy said. “You will sit here. Remain here until you are come for. Do not seek out your fellows of Lancaster House.” By the light of his torch, the boy walked confidently back toward the abbey. Brian sank to the ground and wrapped the cape of his student robes around himself.

A gibbous moon rose. Brian chuckled to himself. Ten o’clock, he thought. The moon would be Brian’s clock on this night.

At midnight, by Brian’s reckoning from the moon, he stood, leaned his buttocks against the headstone, and pissed. The urine sparkled in the moonlight and splashed noisily on a rock.

“Be careful where you piss,” a voice said from the darkness. “The dead might not like it.”

Brian fumbled and nearly wet his robes in his hurry to cover himself. “Who…we’re not supposed to speak to one another…”

“I’m not Lancastrian.” A face Brian did not recognize stepped from the shadows. The bright light of the moon showed a face of such ethereal beauty that Brian gasped before quickly closing his mouth.

The moon is behind me, he thought. My face is in shadow. Perhaps he didn’t notice. “What house, then?” he asked.

“York,” the boy answered. My name is Edward, Edward Plantagenet. You?”

“Brian, Brian Locksley.” He looked at Edward’s outstretched hand. “Uh, I haven’t washed my hands. I can’t, really…”

“Did you piss on yourself?” Edward asked. “I saw your haste. I am sorry I frightened you.”

“No, I didn’t piss on my hands, and I wasn’t frightened,” Brian replied, somewhat hotly. “And I still don’t think we should be talking to one another.”

Edward ignored Brian’s protests and stepped forward until he was nearly touching Brian. “I’m sure it will be all right,” he said. “You were told not to seek out your fellows from Lancaster House, were you not? I was listening, you see.”

Brian sucked in his stomach. He trembled at Edward’s closeness and his appearance. He put out his hand to grasp the headstone, glad for its solid, if icy, bulk. The moonlight gave no color to the world, and Brian knew it was his imagination that gave Edward green eyes and red hair. Brian blinked, and Edward appeared once again in comfortable and dull shades of gray. “Very well,” he said. “Um, will you sit?”

“Yes,” Edward replied. He laughed, a gentle laugh. “But on the side opposite where you pissed, if you please.” Brian’s blush was hidden by shadow.

The boys settled side-by-side, leaning against the gravestone. It no longer felt cold to Brian. “You said your family name was Locksley, as in Robin Hood?” Edward asked. Before Brian could answer, he added. “There are Locksleys in Weldon Cross; are you from there?”

“Actually, I’m from Warwickshire,” Brian said. “My grandfather was a Locksley. He attended St. Anselm. Later, he met my grandmother. She was from Warwickshire. When he was killed in battle, she took their child, my father, home to her family. My father also attended St. Anselm. It was his idea that I should come here. Make me a man, he said.”

“How are you with a sword?” Edward asked.

“Um, I’m not really into fencing,” Brian replied. “But I like archery.”

 

The silence became awkward. More to fill it than for any other reason, Brian blurted. “The first time I saw you, I thought you had green eyes and red hair … I know that’s impossible…I mean, not that you have them, but not in the moonlight … I mean, I couldn’t have seen …”

Edward laughed. It was a smooth and melodic laugh. Brian did not feel as if he were being laughed at, but rather warm, comfortable. “You may have seen green eyes and red hair,” Edward said. “They are a family trait.” He paused, and then said, “But few boys would notice, and even fewer would mention it.”

There followed a silence so still that Brian could hear the blood rushing past his eardrums, the faint clicks and louder thumps of his heart valves and chambers—opening, closing, filling, and emptying. Suddenly, Brian was not in the cemetery. He was on the top of a mountain. Black sky, pierced with unfamiliar stars surrounded him. Steep, U-shaped valleys separated by sharp ridges fell away on all sides. He was at a cusp, a point of no return, a place where he could not stay, a place from which he could step up into infinity or from which he could fall to destruction. After a timeless eternity, he spoke. “I’m not like most boys,” he said. The quiver he heard in the first few words disappeared, and his voice became firm, bold. “I’m homosexual.”

“Yes,” Edward said. “I thought so. Is that why your father sent you to St. Anselm? To ‘make you a man,’ as you said?”

Brian paled. “God, I hope not. I don’t think he knows.”

“I didn’t really know my father,” Edward said. “I was reared by my uncles…my mother’s brothers. My father was…occupied with other things.”

“Was?” Brian said. “You mean he’s…”

“Dead.” Edward’s voice was bitter. “Consumption. His brother became my guardian until he was killed. A family friend took us in, then. My brother and I. I was sent here. My brother is in Scotland.”

 

The boy’s conversation continued while the moon continued its arc across the sky. They did not mention sexual orientation again, but talked comfortably and easily about the sky, the stars, archery and swordsmanship, the weather, horses. Brian sensed a hidden wisdom in Edward, as if he knew things he shouldn’t…or couldn’t have known.

“You said the dead might not like it if I pissed on them. You don’t really think—”

Edward interrupted Brian’s words. “That the dead don’t have feelings? That they don’t care what happens to their bodies? That they have no desires? No yearnings?” Brian recoiled from Edward’s intensity and the fury he felt in the boy’s voice. Edward felt Brian’s movement, and paused. He took a deep breath and let it out. “I’m sorry,” Edward said. “It’s just that it’s something…very personal…”

Again, Brian found himself on a cusp. The stars tugged at him, urged him upward; the abyss beckoned, below. He reached for the stars, and put his arm around Edward’s shoulder. “Don’t be sorry,” he said, and then pulled Edward toward him until their shoulders touched.

Edward turned toward Brian. His hand, pale in the moonlight, touched Brian’s cheek “I have waited so very long for someone to touch me, to hold me like this.” Green eyes, black in the moonlight, stared at Brian with a force that was palpable. Edward moved his face closer to Brian’s. Brian closed his eyes. Fear, desire, guilt, and fascination fought for supremacy in his mind. Will Edward kiss me? he wondered.

“Uh, oh!” Edward said. “Torches! The Old Boys will be searching for you.” He stood, pushing on Brian’s shoulder when he tried to rise. “Meet me here, Sunday evening, after vespers.”

“Perhaps we could meet at the school, in the library…” Brian began.

“Impossible,” Edward replied.

“But…” Brian began.

“You’re not afraid, are you?” Edward asked. Brian shook his head. Edward took two steps into the darkness and disappeared.

 

Sunday evening arrived. Brian did not attend the vespers service. Nearly invisible in his black student robes, he found his way through the twilight to the gravestone where he had met Edward. Edward held a torch which guided Brian the last dozen yards or so.

“There is no House of York; you lied to me,” Brian said.

“No, York is my family name. You assumed I was a student.”

Brian looked at his feet, disappointed with his own stupidity. Then he gasped.

Edward’s torch revealed the name on the gravestone: Edward Plantagenet, House of York. Edward, understanding what Brian had seen, lowered the torch so that Brian could read the dates carved on the stone: November 4, 1470—January 22, 1483.

Brian turned to Edward. He gulped. “You…you…?”

“Yeah, it scared the piss out of me the first time I saw it,” Edward said. “He was my great-great-great-something uncle. Come on,” he waved the electric torch toward the trees. “My motorbike is in the lane just beyond the trees, and the pub’s open. Fancy a pint?”

 

© 2009 David McLeod

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Copyright © 2010 David McLeod; All Rights Reserved.
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That was fun. You had me utterly convinced that Edward was a ghost. Everything fit - and then you turned it upside down. Wouldm't mind reading a sequel.

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