Sunday, 25 March 2012

A helping hand: A Shadowlands excerpt

As [Jeanine] turned the next page, she found that Tenzing had quite abruptly and with little warning switched from a more didactic description of the study to illustrating what he wanted to say through the use of stories. One tale in particular found an inner resonance with her. It told of a young girl who'd been orphaned as a child and taken in by a poor family who scraped a life together fishing. She found work as a lowly servant at the king's palace, but due to the intrigues of another in the household, who had taken a dislike to her, the girl found herself accused of a crime and wrongly imprisoned in the cold dungeons of the castle by the king.

To cut a long story sort, word had soon reached her foster parents of her imprisonment and when every other means of obtaining her release had been tried, to no avail, and they were exhausted, they happened to mention their daughter's plight to an old wandering holy man, asking him to pray for the girl's release.

This master of the Way, being a holy man, was granted access to the girl to cater for her religious needs after presenting himself to the king and successfully arguing his case.

He visited her many times over the coming months until the guards became quite used to his comings and goings. At first they used to question the man, but as he always gave such an incoherent reply, the ramblings of a deranged holy man, and as he stank to high heaven, after a time the guards simply waved him through.

Then one day, the holy man failed to turn up as expected and come the evening when it was time to take the girl her bread and water, they found her lying in a corner of the cell covered by a thin blanket. When she did not respond, one of the guards pulled back the blanket. To his astonishment he discovered that it was the old holy man, naked as a jay bird, and that the girl had escaped.

And when they questioned the old man about the escape, he told them that the girl had dressed herself in his coarse woollen robes, with her hair tied back and her hood up to hide her features, and had simply walked out of the prison. The guards had become so used to his comings and goings, and his incoherent grunting, that they'd let her pass without question.

“Well,” declared the king when word of what had happened reached him. “The old man needn't think that any advantage has been gained from the escape. Lock him up in the girl's place and let him serve out her sentence. No, double the sentence.”

“In fact, throw away the ruddy key.”

But the very next day, when the guards came to check on the old man, they found that he had quietly passed away in his sleep, knowing beforehand that his time had almost come. So what had he really lost in order that the girl should gain her freedom?

Excerpted from Escape From the Shadowlands.
Painting: Porträt des Titus in Mönchkleider by Rembrandt.

• By Etienne de L'Amour ~ Google+

No comments:

Post a Comment