Saturday, March 20, 2010

The Monk, the Troll and the 'Coward'

A long time ago, a Monk set out on his travels accompanied by his assistant, a Troll. Night was falling when Troll scurried on ahead to find room and board for the night. Troll searched the dark forest until he found a small cottage, next to a brook. A young lad lived in the hovel. Troll recognized Lad as a former novice from the monastery.

"You coward!" Troll said. "How dare you abandon your vocation from all eternity when poor Abbot needed medicine to heal his stomach pains."

Lad explained that Abbot had been an evil sorcerer disguising himself as a man of God. While cleaning Abbot's study one day, Lad discovered a piece of parchment hidden in Abbot's desk. It was a contract with the Devil and it was written in Abbot's blood.

The Devil promised Abbot all human riches, worldly power and fleshly pleasure he desired in life. In exchange Abbot promised the Devil three things: 1) He would teach his monks to push a poor peasant's cow over a cliff every Sunday and Holy Day of Obligation; 2) Come the full moon, when unholy hunger gnawed inside Abbot's stomach, he would renew his contract with the Devil through the blood of a young novice; and 3) If ever Abbot was caught going about the Devil's business, he would blame Carthusians from the monastery founded by St. Bruno across the river. (The Devil was still angry with St. Bruno for tying his tail to a blessed statue of St. Michael whenever the fallen angel tried to sneak into La Grand Chartreuse. This is where St. Bruno and his Carthusians went about the Lord's work in prayer.)

"I tried to warn the other monks," said Lad. "But they accused me of being in league with the Carthusians. So I fled to both the Bishop and the Baron. Yet they too had been seduced by Abbot's sorcery. He bewitched them by boiling expensive hams in evil potions."

"You're lying," said Troll. The creature's dark mind could not bear the light of truth. The same was true with Troll's brother, an apprentice to Abbot named Brother Jonathan Edward Foxtongue. The apprentice possessed a magical voice that made mothers and maidens swoon. But this is another story for another day.

"Even if what you say is true, you're still a coward," said Troll.

"In the name of St. Bruno and all that is holy," said Lad as he waived a letter sent to him personally by Benedict the Bavarian Bishop. "I swear every word I spoke is true."

At the sound of the truth (and St. Bruno's name!), Troll fled into the forest. Branches snapped and leaves rustled until Troll was lost in the moonless night. Lad returned inside his cottage. There he spent his evenings painting holy prayer cards to St. Joseph, which he donated to the fatherless children living in the forest.

About an hour later, as Lad dipped his brush in golden paint to finish St. Joseph's halo, Monk knocked at his door. "Have you seen Troll?" Monk asked. "He's about my height, speaks with wizened tongue, and his big blue nose juts out like a schooner."

By this time Lad's candle had burned to a stub and he did not recognize Monk in the pale light. Lad pointed to a path between a couple of trees. "Troll took off through there."

Monk continue into the forest until he stumbled across a stone cottage. It belonged to Lieutenant Roch Cannoneer, recently retired from the King's royal field artillery. Like any good cannoneer, Lieutenant Roch kept a statue of St. Barbara in his window for protection. The whole forest knew he mistrusted Abbot and his monks.

"Yes I seen yer silly Troll," said Lieutenant Roch. "I threatened to stuff him in me 15-pounder and blast his blue nose into the mountainside. He called Lad a coward."

"How horrid!" said Monk. "Shame on you for your lack of charity. Troll is a faithful servant of the monastery. He speaks only hard truths that most people cannot bear to hear. You should be grateful to Troll for correcting all you ignorant peasants from the crazed imagination of a 'former novice'. Do you honestly believe that Abbot 'signed' a 'pact' with 'Devil' in 'blood'?"

"Yes, I do," said the cannoneer.

But Monk cut him off. For Monk's interest was in lecturing, not listening. "I've never heard such unholy blarney in my life. It's no different than those ridiculous tales of monks pushing cows over cliffs. You spread more heat than light by repeating such unfounded allegations."

"Ye'd be about the size of a leprechaun," said Lieutenant Roch. "And ye head is as thick as an iron pot. But it's full o' fool's gold. How about I stuff ye in me 15-pound cannon, light the fuse, and by the heat of St. Barbara's thunder see if the luck o' the Irish carries you over the rainbow?"

"Such negative thinking is unbecoming of a cannoneer," said Monk. "You need to think more positively. Can I interest you in one of my illuminated manuscripts? I wrote it in the monastery."

"Begone with your illuminated manuscripts," cried Lieutenant Roch, rushing toward Monk and wielding a torch.

Monk fled into the forest. About half an hour later he came to the next cottage, which belonged to Mother Mannon Red Hood. Mother Mannon was a godly woman who knit red riding hoods for all of the forest's orphans. She also brewed a mean cup of tea.

Like any good mother, God had blessed Mother Mannon with common sense. She found herself a wee bit suspicious when Monk knocked at her door. What was a strange monk doing in the forest, in the middle of the night, looking for trolls?

"Should you not be chanting Night Prayer like St. Bruno and his Carthusians?" said Mother Mannon.

"Of course not," said Monk. "Benedict the Bavarian Bishop has secretly dispensed us from praying, as it inflames Abbot's indigestion. Between you and me, that's the secret to Abbot's holiness: By not talking to God, God does not talk back to him. So Abbot never says 'no' to God."

Now Mother Mannon was sleepy from knitting red riding hoods all day. Her tea had yet to kick in. She did not follow the logic of Monk's argument. But her Christian sense told her that monks should pray, and that monks who did not pray were not doing the Lord's work. So she slammed the door in Monk's face.

"Such gross lack of charity!" cried Monk. "Don't you know that God writes straight with crooked lines?"

"There's something crooked about your argument," said Mother Mannon. "And it sounds like Abbot is feeding you a line about why he does not pray. By the blessing of St. Bruno, go away. There will be none of your devilry here."

"Such uncharitable words are beyond the pale," said Monk. "Can I interest you in one of my illuminated manuscripts?"

"Go away before I impale you and your manuscripts on my knitting needles. They're nice and straight and they were blessed by St. Bruno," said Mother Mannon.

At the second mention of St. Bruno and prayer, Monk fled. He knew Abbot's stomach pains increased whenever Monk was unfaithful to Abbot's charism. And by praying to God, God might talk back to him, thus bypassing Abbot. Yet providing instruction through Abbot had been God's vocation from all of eternity. Thus praying to God directly might tempt God to sin, Monk reasoned. So Monk continued on his way.

About an hour later Monk came to a third cottage nestled in the forest. This cottage belonged to Mouse. Like most motherly mice she had a habit of peppering Abbot's monks with gnawing questions concerning their troll companions. Especially when trolls started nasty rumors about Lad and other friends of St. Bruno.

"You are way too suspicious," said Monk. "Lad's story is not proven. Abbot is not an evil sorcerer in league with the Devil. And even if he was, have you not heard that God draws good out of evil? You have my word that I will not leave your cottage until you think of something good to say to me, my fellow monks and our troll companions."

After giving it careful thought, Mouse said: "Good-bye!"

And Monk was turned away a third time, but not before trying to sell Mouse one of his illuminated manuscripts.


  1. Another gem -- thank you!

  2. A wonderful tale! It makes me think of an old liar and his legion....