The Secret Book of Sacred Things (Excerpt)

Check out Torsten Krol’s The Secret Book of Sacred Things, out now from Corvus Books:

The coming of the Great Stone destroyed almost everything that used to be. But high in one remote valley, the Church of Selene has found its way back from ruin. Sister Luka and her female converts offer sacrifices to the scarred (and very close) moon that hangs over their convent. It has been this way since the Stone hit. Among the Little Sisters of Selene is 12-year-old Aurora, respected Scribe of the church. She endlessly writes down the name of the moon to keep her in the sky where she belongs. But Aurora has a secret book she keeps hidden in her Scribe’s chamber and into this diary she pours out her hopes and desires. Upsetting this fragile equilibrium is Willa, a young tomboy whose flamboyant arrival threatens the hard-won status quo of the sisters’ community. As Aurora and Willa inch toward friendship, insurrection grows. But when an unexpected marvel occurs in the sky, it is clear that Aurora’s work as the Scribe has failed. The moon is threatening to remake the world all over again. This is the Secret Book of Sacred Things, this is Aurora’s story.

 

1

Today the sea traders came again. Last year they could not get through because a moonquake made the mountain pass they have always used collapse, blocking the trail. That was a bad year for all concerned. We got no salt fish and salt for preserving our beef, and the traders got no beef to take back to their home by the sea. We could not give salt to our herds and had to let them find natural salt licks in the forest, which we do not like to do because of the wolves. We lost two cows and three calves, and we missed eating fish, which is always a nice change from beef and goat. And that same moonquake that destroyed the trail also made the weather go strange again, with too much rain that washed away some of the corn crop, and the wheat yield was the worst anyone could remember. There was plenty of nightblaze at the same time, what they used to call aurora. I know that old word because I was called after it, but everyone calls me Rory, which used to be a boy’s name sister Luka told me, but there are no boys in our valley called that. I am the only one.

That was a very bad year with all those things happening at once, but when the traders came today there was a celebration that made everyone come running even from the furthest farms to welcome them and their horses. We have less beef to trade because of the wolves, and did not slaughter as many as usual when the air turned cold because nobody knew if the traders would come this year, but then they did and now everyone is happy. I had to leave the trading field and come do my words for the day, but I rushed through that without sacrificing penmanship which is always important with the words, and then did something I have been thinking about for a little while now. What I was thinking was how nice it would be to write down something apart from the usual, something just for me, so what I did after I finished my words was take the oldest book with the yellowest pages that has got half of them missing and use that to write in.

We have got many many of these in the room of names. The one I have been writing in for the last year or so has got ‘Accounts’ on the front. Sister Luka told me this was something that mattered in the old world farbackaway but nobody knows what it means now. So I took another Accounts book with half of it missing to write other things in it that do not have anything to do with the important task of writing down the name of Selene, which protects us ever and always against calamity and tribulation. I write her name again and again until my hand gets too tired to go on and I have to sit awhile till I can pick up my eagle feather quill again to write some more. Only this time I am not writing the name of Selene, I am writing other things. It was the coming of the traders again after all this time that made me so excited I did what I did and started a secret book with my own words inside of it.

These words are not written from sacred duty like the rest, only for me. If the traders had not come today I would have been too scared to do what I did and would not be writing these words now. At the end of the day I have to take my book of names to sister Ursula so she can count how many times I have written down the name of our lady Selene and write down a number in her own book of numbers, which gets added to the list of numbers sister Ursula is responsible for. She has got books of numbers, piles and piles of them going back forever to the beginning. All the books of names are kept in the room of names, where I do my work, and all the books of numbers keeping a strict count of all the names are kept together in the room of numbers. Both rooms are on either side of the hospice. There are some who say that a dying person taken to the hospice can feel the power of the names coming through from the room of names to ease the pain of their dying. Sometimes sister Luka lets a dying person hold one of the books of names for comfort, which makes things easier for them. I have seen this for myself so I know. When my time comes to die I will ask for one of the books of names, maybe one of my own that I wrote as a girl, and I will hold that book to my breast like they do and go easy into the place that is death. If the moon does not come crashing down and destroy us all meantime. But that will not happen and is a bad thing to be thinking, because all the namewriting of Selene is the very thing that will keep our moon sailing around and around the earth, sometimes near and sometimes far, but always she returns, and that is when the moonquakes come, when Selene fills the sky.

I feel guilty as I write because I have not asked permission to do this secret writing, but today I have already written the name of Selene as many times as I usually do, so sister Ursula will not suspect anything. I expect the guilt will go away after a while and I do not get caught. The secret book must be hidden in the room of names, not taken away somewhere else and be at risk of someone finding it. I will just slip it under another pile of empty name books and nobody will ever know. Sister Luka would most likely punish me lightly because I am the Scribe. Only one person can be that, and it is me until my death and then they will choose someone else to write the name of Selene over and over and keep our moon in the sky where she belongs. So being the Scribe is important work, and the ones who do important work get treated just a little bit different to the rest. And there is no harm done in writing down what I think. I know all the words there are to be known, so writing down some of them apart from the name of Selene is not a bad thing in my opinion, but I will keep my opinion to myself. Being the Scribe will be even more important when I start my bleeding and become a woman. There is nothing more important than that, and everyone at the church will celebrate, all the women there, and I will be one of them at last. To be a woman is the best thing in all the world and this will happen soon.

The trading field is in the village, too far away for me to hear. There is such excitement now that we have fish and salt again. Nobody here has ever been to the sea, which is a longlongway and hard travelling, the traders tell us. They have never found another place to trade with among the mountains, nor along the edge of the great water, what they call the seacoast, so there are just these two places where people live and all those mountains in between. Sister Briony told me there were more people and places in the old world but they were all destroyed because they worshipped things not meant to be worshipped, unimportant things that have no existence now and good riddance, sister Briony says. Now we only have those things that are important, like growing food and sending our prayers to Selene, which is why we were spared here in our valley. I asked her why the fish and salt traders were also spared in their village by the sea, and she explained they were also spared so they could bring us fish and salt. We could live without the fish, but not without the salt. Fish is something extra, just as our beef is something extra for the sea people, but they do not send their prayers to Selene, they offer them to a giant fish, sister Briony says, that comes swimming along past their village every year at the same time, a fish so big it would crush our village beneath it. The sea people are not bad, just ignorant, and we must not look down on them, because they come a long way each year to bring us what we need. But I am never to discuss with them anything to do with Selene and our important work here because they would not understand, and might even be angry that we do not worship their giant fish. So we are always friendly with the traders but we do not talk to them about anything but beef and fish and salt. The same wooden casks go back and forth between us every year except last year, and it will always be that way for as long as our prayers keep Selene in the sky. The traders are beholden to us for this without even knowing it, and that is as it should be.

Women have little to do with them because the traders are all menfolk. Our own men do the trading, salt fish for salt beef, and share jugs of cider from our apple orchard so everyone is happy with the trades. It has been this way from the time of our grandfathers’ grandfathers’ grandfathers. If it was not the right way to be doing things we would have been punished for it like the people in the old world were all punished for turning away from the simple things, the important things. We will never make the same mistake they made, and because we do what we do here at the church of our lady Selene, the traders are made safe also from calamity, although they do not know this as I said. We women are responsible for all the world, which is Selene above and earth below. We are between the things that would crush us to powder if they came together, so we keep them apart. All this is simple to explain among ourselves, and simple is best.

I will dedicate these pages to Selene. This way I know that what I do will be a good thing, as all things done in the name of our lady are. I can hear some of the little sisters running past my window, which has three panes of glass and one pane of wood, actually a shingle cut to size and fitted when the pane broke before I was even born. We have no way of knowing how they made glass in the old world, so we must be careful of all the panes we have left, even if they are all turning yellow like the pages in our old empty Accounts books. Most rooms have wooden window shutters that are opened in the morning and closed at night, even in the warm season. There was a farmer who kept his window open one hot night and a cougar came inside and took his baby child, but it was only a boy. Even so, nobody fails to close their shutters now when the sun goes to rest. The men have taken Sol to be their own ‘object of worship’ as sister Luka says, because they must have something of their own to be kept apart from the important business of we women, just like the traders with their giant fish that visits once a year, which they have named Fluke. The trader men have Fluke and the valley men have Sol, who warms the seeds in the earth to make them grow so we have grain for our bread and apples and berries and so forth.

I have heard that the men believe Sol is the one we should be sending our prayers to, since he stays farfaraway and does not threaten to crush us here below like Selene, but Sol has his own ways about him that are puzzling, by which I mean his path across the daysky has been known to shift sideways a little, especially after a moonquake has set the earth to trembling when Selene returns in the closest part of her journey. The traders say that Selene when close makes the sea lift itself out of its own water and overrun the land, so their village has been built back from the shore a ways, and when the sea rises up so too do the mountains shake and groan, which the traders say is the waters beneath the earth shifting their mighty weight, and each time Selene passes closest to the earth, which is the seventh night of Selene, the earth itself turns a little further away from Sol, so his path runs a different course and one day he may never rise again to warm the earth, which would be the fault of Selene for causing this, the traders say. Our own men would not say this terrible thing out loud even if they have it in their minds. We know they agree with the traders because sometimes their wives report to sister Luka what they say, but only when their husband has been rough with them, so this keeps the men from mistreating their wives. No man would want to come up against sister Luka, who has a way of looking at them that lets them know they are close to big trouble or even banishment if they keep it up. That is what happened to my father, who killed my mother for no reason other than he was a bad man, and so he was banished from our valley and never seen again. I did ask just once when the traders were here before if my father had gone to live among them, but they said no, so the wolves and the cougars must have taken him as they rightly should for his sin against a woman.

The traders usually stay just a few days in the trading field, then go away again. We will see them again next year unless there is another landslide or even a volcano to make their path perilous. The last volcano around here poured out smoke and fire when I was very small, but I do remember it pouring all that blackness and flame into the sky way off among those other valleys where nobody lives, just wild things. Our prayers to Selene kept the wind from blowing all that terrible ash in our direction, and the Scribe before me, who was an old woman even then, wrote the sacred name over and over, more times every day than usual just to keep the wind blowing that way so all our fields and orchards stayed green and were not turned grey, which is how the volcanoes killed the old world and everyone in it. Sister Luka told all of us little sisters how everything longagofaraway was burned to cinders to remove it from the face of the earth where it did not belong. So now we have only the simple things that are important and the volcanoes have gone silent, even when Selene comes close to us on seventh night. She still makes the earth tremble, though, making landslides like the one that kept the traders away for a whole year until they found another way. They are very determined about trading with us and will not be kept at a distance. They do not know this, but our lady Selene is the one who makes them brave enough to keep finding a way through to us, because our work here is so important.

This time the traders will stay longer than usual while our men slaughter some cattle for them and pack the flesh in the new salt that has come at last. Here at the church we keep ourselves separate from them until they leave, but we are always polite to them even if they worship a silly fish, because they do not know any better. And sometimes the traders leave with more than salt beef. Sometimes they leave with a young man who wants to see what there is outside the valley, which is called adventuring. Only young men and boys feel this peculiar need to be seeing what there is between here and the sea, even if it is just more mountains and valleys and places where wildfires have come and gone over the years leaving everything behind them black and ugly until Sol makes the land green again, but that takes a very long time.

There was one boy called John who went away with the traders rather than live with his father who he did not like because of fighting in their home, and he has gone back and forth with them between the valley and the sea all his life until this time when he did not come, so I will need to ask why not when I am done writing today. John has said out loud he does not like to be in a place run by women, meaning we sisters of Selene, and he has been known to try persuading young boys to leave here and go live with the fisherfolk where men say what to do. Every time he comes back to our valley with the traders he and sister Luka have words with each other about that, but I do not think she really cares all that much so long as he does not tell girls to go away also. A boy that wants to go adventuring is best left alone to do that if he wants, because this is better than staying here where he does not want to be and making trouble for others. Sister Luka says all it takes to keep men less troublesome is to let them have what they think they want and then they take away their discontentment with them, which we do not want here. Life is hard enough with Selene tearing at the earth on seventh night, so we do not need other difficulties to do with men. Let them go where they want and take their bad temper and discontent along with them. That is the sensible way to handle them. And that is why sister Luka is our leader here, because she is the most sensible and has been alive a long time so she knows everything. I am her favourite.

And now I will tell how I came to be the Scribe, which can only be a girl because boys are not taught their letters unless they want to be in a class with the girls, which they never do want so there are no boys that read and write. Why would they need letters if they devote their lives to growing things and not to prayer? So the Scribe is always a girl, then a woman, then an old woman like the one before me. Her name is Belinda and she could not be the Scribe any more when her eyes turned milky white with age and she could not see her pages and bottle of ink or find her quill even she was so blind. Usually the Scribe keeps on until death, but Belinda was given special permission to stop because of her eyes, but then someone else had to be chosen quickly or else Selene might not have been kept in the sky for want of her name being written down as it is supposed to be. There were three girls ready to be chosen from, myself and Irma and Eunice, and sister Luka had to make a decision before the end of the day because seventh night was just two nights away and the names had to be added to the book very soon or else we would risk calamity.

Sister Luka took us all to the creek where it opens out to make a pond, and pointed to the little insects there that are called water boatmen because they skim along the surface of the water without sinking into it. ‘Now then,’ she said, ‘who can make a water boatman carry a leaf across to the other side?’ Irma and Eunice did silly things like finding a small leaf and dropping it onto the back of a boatman, but the leaf slid off every time and the boatman went on his way without it. I knew I was much cleverer than those two so I did not bother doing what they did. Instead, I pulled a hair from my head and tied it around a leaf stem, then I captured a boatman and very carefully tied the other end of my hair around one of his tiny scrabbling legs, then put him back in the water. He dragged the leaf behind him but would not go across the creek, so I had to take off my moccasins and go into the water, which was only shallow, and direct him across to the other bank by holding my hands either side of him until he went where I wanted. When he went all the way across sister Luka clapped her hands and told me I would be the new Scribe, which is the most important job of work in the church, more important than the herb garden or the beehives or the bakery, more important even than the reading classes.

Irma gave me such a look that I knew she hated me for winning, but Eunice did not care even if I was much younger than them both and showed them up for stupids. Later on Irma chose to be a spinner and weaver and Eunice is being taught to look after the beehives by sister Frieda. That is also important to do, but being Scribe is best. Most likely those two will both leave the church when they are sixteen and take a husband. I just have that feeling about them, because not every girl can stay with the sisters forever the way I will choose to do. I do not want some man sleeping in my bed and putting babies inside me to care for while he goes outside to look after the cattle and goats and crops, doing the men things while I make meals and clothing with a baby on my breast. I do not want that, being some farmer’s wife. I would look at my husband and think him a fool for not being able to read and write. Irma and Eunice will forget how to do that once they become wives, because men do not think much of such things as churchwork and none of them like sister Luka very much. But it was men that made the old world the way it was by being in charge of it, and look what happened, so now women will make things right and help keep those things that belong in the sky to stay there and not come crashing down onto our heads like before.

And now my wrist is tired from writing.


2

 

I did go to the trading field yesterday to ask about John who left our valley, but the traders told me he was dead. He had got sick in the lungs in the year they could not get to us and died with his fisherwife looking on and crying because they had a new baby as well as a grown-up son and daughter, so we will see John no more. I did not feel sad about him, since it was his choice to leave here and live with other people faraway. But I did get a surprise when the trader pointed to a boy among them and told me, ‘That’s his, that one there belongs to John. She come with us to see where her father come from.’ So it was not a boy at all, it was a girl with short hair and boy’s clothing. I stared at her until she noticed and stared back. It was not a stare from curiosity as you might expect, it was a hard stare without blinking, her eyes looking directly into mine. People from the valley know not to stare at me that way because I am the Scribe and worthy of respect, but this one from outside was no respecter of things she did not understand, and kept right on staring at me, at my smock, so unlike her crude outfit made from leather and very filthy besides.

She kept staring until a man came between us with a cask of salt, and when I saw her again she was looking at something else going on across the field, some kind of wrestling match, a farmer and a trader with too much cider in them, but it was a friendly fight with lots of shouting and laughter from their friends, just exactly the kind of thing men do with each other when they have nothing better to occupy themselves with. The girl who looked like a boy had turned her back on me to watch them. No girl from the valley would do any such thing or the men would think her a hussy. There are some like that here, and they are forever causing disruption among the men and their wives. There was one girl sister Briony told me about who was ordered to find a husband before murder was committed because of her arousing jealous passions among the unmarried men. That one had been a poor learner and was taken from the reading and prayer classes because it was clear she had no mind for higher things, the matters of importance that concern our lady. She has four young children now and is not often away from them and her hearth.

This fishergirl appeared to be just a year or two older than me. I could not tell if she was a hussy, with her eyes staring at the wrestlers, or if she was maybe different some other way. After all, what kind of girl would want to go journeying with traders like this? But it is no matter to me what kind she might be since she will be leaving with the men who brought her. The fisherfolk must be without rules to have allowed her to come with them so far from home, as if she was the boy she so much wanted to seem like with her pants and jerkin and wide-footed way of standing there, hands on hips to watch the men wrestle, all the while keeping her back turned to me. It was enough to make me want to slap her, although that is forbidden by Selene, whose desire it is to witness no acts of disorder among us.

I walked away from the field and went to my duties in the room of names, where I spent all morning writing down the name of our lady, covering page after page with SeleneSeleneSeleneSeleneSelene until I grew tired of that and have brought out from hiding my secret book to set down the things that happened at the trading field. It was a good thing the traders came back to visit us, but I know I will be wanting them to leave again. They are not like us, can never be like us. When I am head of the church, after sister Luka has gone to the sacred gardens of the moon to walk with Selene and look down upon the earth, I will not allow the traders to come into our village. No, they must wait by the mountain pass and send one man to tell us they have arrived, and then we will take our trade goods to them there. They only come to trade, so there is no need for them to be among us so much as today. That trader girl has been raised in ignorance like all from outside the valley, unless her father John told her about our way of life here.

Life almost stopped in the farbackaway because men could not control their appetite for dominance and slaughter, all those kings and presidents and ministers directing their armies to kill and destroy so they could take what other people had instead of cooperating and exchanging things peacefully like we do with the traders. They will take away beef and honey and hides from the tannery and we will have their salt and fish and shells that some of our women like to wear as a necklace, but only one strand, anything more is hussiness in the making and not allowed for that reason.

Men and women must live together so there will be more people to populate our valley and continue our good work, but they must be married by sister Luka. In time it will be me who conducts the ceremony, binding the hands of the man and woman with grass and instructing them to walk together in the name of Selene who wishes them happiness and fruitfulness. That is when the male surrenders his family name for that of the female as proof of his love. I will be calm and serious like sister Luka to make the binding meaningful for the bride and groom, so they stay together for the children that will come. When a girl reaches sixteen she can marry and have children, but I will become a sister instead, like sister Briony and sister Ursula and sister Mattie who teaches prayer. And after a long time I will be the High Sister like sister Luka and be responsible for everything until I die. I will be sister Rory, easier to say than sister Aurora. It all seems so far away still, years and years, but I must be patient. There will be more people in the valley then, so my duties will be greater than those of sister Luka.

And by then our moon Selene may be closer, more deadly than now. We do not know if the wide swing she takes away from the earth goes further out than before, which makes it come back closer than ever on seventh night, or if that makes no difference. What makes the difference, of course, are our prayers, which can move the spirit of Selene to spare us. It was Selene after all who placed herself between the earth and the great stone flung at us from the stars as punishment for the violence and selfishness of men throughout those longwaygone centuries of misrule. It came from outer darkness like a plunging hawk and struck a glancing blow upon our poor moon that sacrificed a part of herself to spare us below. Then the stone continued on, slower than before and broken into pieces by contact with Selene, and fell down with a terrible roaring that was heard by all the thousands and thousands of people that lived on the earth then, and struck us mightily for the sins of men. All the lands of the earth erupted with smoke and fire, and those parts of the great rock that fell into the sea made waves high as mountains to sweep away villages along the coast as a wind will sweep away chaff and dead leaves. The earth was in tumult and disorder, sister Mattie says, for years and years. The sky was filled with smoke as the forests burned and the ground shook as the waters beneath the earth sloshed and spilled like water from a dropped bucket and mountainsides slid down to cover villages forever. It was the end of everything that ever had been, and the only reason it could have happened was the god of the stars was not pleased by the evil done to everyone by men. So the time of rule by men was ended, and the time of rule by women began, right here in our valley that was spared because one woman called sister Winona had been granted a vision by Selene and took all her fellow sisters with her to a place of safety before the great stone came to destroy ninety-nine of the earth’s one hundred parts, blessed be the name of sister Winona.

We are taught that Selene sent men to the valley for the creation of more people and to establish the new way of doing things. These men came to the sisters and wanted to tell them what to do. They carried the ancient weapons that have always been the cause of murder and outrage upon women, and sister Winona would only let the men stay if they would destroy their weapons and agree to be led by her. Their leader was called Ranger and he did not want to do that, so sister Winona took him to the end of the valley where the badlands begin and ordered him to leave, and he did. He left all his men behind. When they were told Ranger had gone they did not know what to do until sister Winona told them they had to live without weapons foreverafter, and if they did this they would be presented to the sisters for selection as husbands. The men agreed to this rather than follow Ranger into the badlands, and they set their weapons down and did not pick them up again. They were not allowed to choose wives from among the women because the sisters would be doing the choosing from now on, to set things straight with no more nonsense about men being the leaders. That was all over and done with, and good riddance. And that is how life in the valley was started in the name of Selene who saved us all. I will be taught more later on.

And now I will say the most important thing of all. Because the moon may be coming closer than before and filling us with fear, and because the sun has been changing his path across the sky for reasons we do not know, something new has to happen to make us understand all of this. Sister Luka has said this to sister Briony who told it to sister Mattie who whispered it to me as a secret thing because I have been helping her in the evenings with preparing her lessons for the next day. The new thing that must happen is a mystery even to sister Luka, but she has been praying for guidance to keep us all from calamity. ‘This is our time of peril,’ sister Mattie said to me, ‘and the answer will be revealed by our lady Selene at exactly the right time, so we must all pray hard like never before.’ It is known that the Scribe is spared regular prayers because her writing is itself a prayer made with a quill and written words instead of spoken words, so this new thing will not make any difference to me except one way, which is my own secret to keep, except for writing it down here, like talking to myself about all of this. It is so hard to explain, but the very moment sister Mattie told me about the new mystery and peril I knew it had something to do with me. Yes, I knew this in such a strong way it made the blood hum in my ears as sister Mattie’s words poured into them. Somehow I will make it happen, this new mysterious answer. I do not know how and I do not know when, but it will be me who makes the difference and saves all of us. If it was not true I would not feel this way. My blood runs faster as I write this, remembering the feeling. I am certain sure. It is the biggest secret in the world and even I only know a small part of it, the part about me. It is like I know ahead of all the rest that I will be the one, but it must not be spoken of or there will be envy and spite because the answer can only be revealed to just one person, not to everyone, not even to sister Luka. Only to me. So now I am waiting.

This morning before I came to the room of names I went to the long meadow called the field of Selene, which is where we keep the sacred herd. When sister Winona came here with her friends she brought chickens with her for their eggs and flesh, and seven llamas with her to make clothing from their wool. The herd grew larger over time, but not too large for our needs. We do not eat their flesh because they are the special creatures of Selene, not like the cattle that came wandering into our valley after the coming of the stone, and goats came too from somewhere and were bred for eating. I am especially fond of the llamas and love to touch their woolly sides and stroke their soft noses and watch them chew their cud. They are gentle but they will spit in your face if you annoy them, but none has ever spat in mine because they know I love them. Even when they die from old age the llamas are not eaten. They would be too tough in the flesh by then anyway, so they are burned like we are. I have one special favourite among them, called Brindle on account of her brown and grey coat. She saw me by the fence and came over to have her nose rubbed and her long shapely ears stroked. I am allowed to give her a carrot from the kitchen garden because I am the Scribe.

Watching Brindle eat, I saw Chad coming along the road into the village with his bow over his shoulder and dragging a dead wolf by the tail so everyone could see he has killed another one. Chad is our wolfkiller and allowed to carry a weapon to do his duty. Twice he has killed cougars, which are more ferocious than wolves. When he brings in a kill he has it skinned at the tannery and when the skins are ready he makes clothing from them with the hair still on. That makes him look like an animal himself, but I think he likes that. Chad has been without a wife since his own died in childbirth despite everything sister Rose could do for her. Sister Rose is the birthing sister that has brought most of us younger ones into the world, but with Chad’s wife and baby she failed. He did not ask sister Luka for permission to marry again and did not care for his farm properly, so that was taken from him and given to another. All of our land that is good for growing things must be worked for the benefit of all, so nobody was surprised when Chad’s portion was taken away, and he did not seem to mind about that anyway, going off into the forest by himself for a long time, gone peculiar in the head by sorrow over his wife and baby, which was a girl. We did not see him for the longest time, then he came back to the village with his first wolf and he has not stopped killing them since then. They say he has a special gift for hunting wild things because he has become a wild thing himself all covered in fur and his hair uncut and filled with twigs. They say he has not spoken a single word since his wife and child left him, and most likely never will again. After he has been given some supplies he will go back into the silence of the forest to hunt down the beasts of prey there. Chad moves amongst us like a ghost and the small children fear him because he is so strange, but he does good work for the benefit of all so he is allowed to go his own way. Sister Luka told me the valley can hold all kinds and not everyone is the same as his neighbour. The one thing not allowed is for someone to do nothing, not contribute to the village somehow.

My own contribution is the opposite of Chad’s or any of the farmers or the blacksmith. What I do is more important than just feeding people or making things for us to use like the potter does. As sister Ursula said, the Scribe spends her time scratching away with her quill ‘to keep the sky off our backs’. What she meant was, keeping Selene off our backs, but she will not say it that way because some might see that as disrespect for our lady. She can be very outspoken sometimes but does not go too far. One time sister Ursula tripped over her own feet and fell onto the healing herbs she had just planted next to the sundial and swore very loud with all the old words, fuck and shit that sister Luka does not like to hear. Of course I said nothing because it is a small thing and nobody should fuss over those. I did notice that sister Ursula gave me a look after she fell and realized I had heard the bad words, so I gave her a smile to let her know I would not say anything, but then she got angry and asked me if I thought an old woman falling over was funny, which I did not. So it goes to show that the way you think people see you is not really the way they see you. I was very hurt that she said that to me, getting it all wrong, but I did take away a lesson from that, and the lesson is, you can keep people from seeing who you really are just by not telling them. They will think they know you but they do not, and this is an interesting thing to know. Most surely they do not know me here because I do not tell them what I know about myself. We are supposed to share everything, but I do not think this is wise or even possible. For example, nobody knows that I know I have a special task to perform soon, or that I know I will take over from sister Luka when she dies, which will not be a long time because she is old like sister Ursula. Sometimes secret things are more real than real things. But nothing is secret from our lady.

And now I have to take my pages to sister Ursula to have her count up the names of Selene and enter them in her book of numbers. I asked her once how many times the name of our lady had been written down now since the beginning, but she would not tell me. Only sister Ursula and sister Luka know how many times.

 

The Secret Book of Sacred Things © Torsten Krol 2012. Published by Corvus Books, distributed by Trafalgar Square Publishing.

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