T C Southwell writes fantasy and science-fiction books, e-books, and novels. Discover epic fantasy series by a South African author.
The twelve monks sat in a circle on a polished stone floor whose worn surface had seen centuries of constant use and extensive cleaning. Warm light poured in through the monastery’s high, lead-paned windows to pattern the dull tiles with bright splashes of gold. The hushed atmosphere seemed to press on Jadan’s ears, yet, after thirty years of it, he should be used to it, he mused. Somehow, one never did become used to the endless quiet, no matter how long one endured it. Each monk took the vow of silence when he entered the monastery’s gilded gates, and did not speak again for the duration of his lifetime. It went further than that, though. Even the slightest sigh or sneeze had to be stifled behind cloths or hands, and, at mealtimes, no spoon was allowed to scrape on a plate, nor ladle clatter on a pot.
All sound was forbidden. The monks communicated with sign language, the forests had been cleared for kilometres around to ensure that no birdsong reached them, and anything the wind might play with had long since been removed. In the utter stillness, the monks bowed their heads in prayer. Their sole purpose on this world was to pray for the sins of the multitudes, so the wrath of the gods did not fall upon their heads. This could only be achieved in complete quietude, so scripture taught, and, to that end, silence was enforced.
The tall stone monastery occupied a hilltop some hundred and seventy kilometres from the nearest metropolis, where sleek vehicles filled the air with foul fumes and noxious noise. The souls who dwelt there required endless prayer to keep them safe from their numerous sins, for the city was a hotbed of debauchery and defilement. When the first vast settler ships had arrived at Parthis, seven centuries ago, the newfound planet had been a gentle place filled with goodness and light, bright landscapes and unsullied oceans burgeoning with marine creatures. Mankind, of course, had plundered it to satisfy corporate greed, and millions had come to the new paradise.
Fearing reprisals from whatever gods guarded this world, the church had instituted its Perpetual Prayer Policy, combined with the soul-destroying silence. From that day forth, three centuries ago, every family that produced an unwanted son was required to give him to the church, so he would grow up to pray for their sins and protect them from their depravity. The unfortunate boys were indoctrinated from an early age, taught that a life of celibacy and poverty would assure their place in Heaven, even though most of the populace did not believe in it any more. Church leaders struggled to keep the institution going in a society where no one cared about deities, determined to cling to some remnants of power. In this, they had succeeded, as politicians paid lip service to religion and the populace supported it, just in case. It was also a convenient way for families to get rid of unwanted children, a boon in a society where teenage girls often fell pregnant. The church only rejected deaf boys, since they tended to make noise unwittingly.
Monks who snored were silenced with strange, uncomfortable masks, and Jadan was glad he was not one of them. He had been raised in a group home, taught by monks until the age of eighteen, when he had taken his vow and entered the monastery. He often dreamt about what his life might have been like, had he refused. He might have become a space farer, and captained one of the explorer ships that went out into the unknown, searching for more worlds for mankind to plunder. Then again, he would more likely have ended up a beggar or busker, eking a living from the charity of others. It was too late now, anyway, since the sedentary lifestyle had caused his midriff to expand and his legs to grow thin. Most of his hair had also fallen out, but, since mirrors were forbidden, along with vanity, his appearance was of no import to him, or anyone else. It certainly served no purpose when the nearest women were a hundred and seventy kilometres away.
Everyone jumped as a loud, rude rasp broke the hush. All the monks’ cowled heads jerked up, and eyes darted in glum faces as each glanced at his neighbour in horrified suspicion. Someone had broken centuries of silence in the worst possible way, and the culprit would face a flogging, if found. No one was about to admit, however, that he had shot the bunny that had broken the monastery’s sanctity of silence. Nevertheless, someone had done the unforgivable, and sullied the silence with the unspeakable act of farting aloud. Since no one was about to volunteer an admission of guilt, the perpetrator of the forbidden flatulence had to be tracked down by other means. Nostrils flared in solemn faces as the monks sought the source of the stink that would betray the flatulent brother. Jadan recalled that beans had been served at supper the night before, and hardly thought it fair that one of their number would suffer a horrible fate for farting after that. Beans should be forbidden too, he reflected. The only thing he was sure of was that he had not been the one who shot the momentous bunny.
The monks turned to each other afresh, sniffing the air, and Jadan detected the slight scent of sour beans from his neighbour. He turned to the portly priest whose guilt was written all over his plump, ashen face, and toyed with the idea of revealing the identity of the forbidden farter, breaker of the sacred silence and soon to be very sorry he had ever been born. It all seemed rather beyond the pale, however, and, after thirty years of soundlessness, that loud, rude rasp had been almost a welcome relief. Instead of pointing an accusing finger, Jadan turned to sniff his other neighbour, as if he had scented nothing from the portly Porryn. Without his complicity, he doubted Porryn would be found out, and the perpetrator of the forbidden fart would go unpunished. Judging by Porryn’s guilt-stricken face, he would be more likely to explode from accumulated gas than ever fart again.
With a soundless sigh, Jadan bowed his head and continued his prayers, the now-powerful redolence whose source could not be found making his eyes water. It would be better, in his opinion, to forbid smell than sound, since it could be so much more objectionable. At least there would be no arguments about who did it, but now he knew what silence smelt like, and liked it even less. If smell had a colour, this one was not pretty. For all its vaunted goodness and godliness, the colour of silence was brown.
Copyright © 2011 T C Southwell