The War of the Seven Heavens
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All night Michaele could not sleep. Nor did he want to. His body had gone from condemned to the cross, and then eternal damnation; to being whisked away to Padua in just a few short hours. He did what anyone in his position would have… he prayed great prayers of gratitude.
His few things were packed in a burlap sack by the door of his room. His prayers finished, he started looking out of the window, probably for the last time, of his homeland.
“How the hills roll, how the clouds fly!” Michaele smiled to himself. “God is great”
“At first light,” the Archbishop had commanded, “you are to take an ass from my stable. It will be waiting on you with a servant, and food for your journey. You will go directly to Padua taking the road to the North. You are not to deviate from this.” Michaele understood, and was now awaiting dawn’s first light. He found the Morning Star, and his thoughts drifted to the Archbishop himself. He was not long for this world, and that was a shame. “A man such as he, forgiving… loving… kind, there should be more men like that here.” He was not long for this world because Michaele’s uncle Allesandro had had those bloody eyes too. The once deep brown eyes gave way to a thinner color, and the veins in his eyes gave signal that he was to go to Heaven soon… he did within two months gasping for air as he slapped his back, and screamed prayers at him.
“Grazie lei Il mio Padre…”
The first rays of sunlight were glancing over the abbey’s vineyards. Streaking the smoky morning blue with sharp orange, making the olive trees glisten. Michaele breathed the salty Genoan air in deeply, closed the window, then the door to his room, and made his way quietly to the stables. As was said there was a donkey and rations were provided, along with Papal Orders. The donkey was agreeable enough, for a donkey.
“If it was good enough for my Lord it will do splendidly for me.” Michaele thought as he patted the animal. Then he looked back to the Abbey for one last time. In the topmost window in the corner of the living quarters, the Abbot’s old room was the Archbishop, smiling. He made the sign of the cross toward Michaele, then waved goodbye. Michaele turned back around, and found the road North to Padua.
Many thoughts were running through Michaele’s mind, among which was the odd emphasis the Archbishop put on the words “road through Milano to the North… from there to Padova”. “Perhaps he wanted me to see what fate my body has avoided by his generosity.” The road north was also the Road of Perdition. The sides of this road were for the sinners that did not repent, even after discussing their sins with Dominicans and Jesuits. It was a grim sight, this road. A macabre architecture of matching crosses on each side, like so many overhanging arches. Some occupied, some not. Michaele looked upon their bloodied faces. Some missing parts, like ears or eyes. All had a look of horror on their faces. Like the new artists’ etchings of Hell, and of demons. They also had signs above their heads identifying the corpse stuck there to rot in the sun, along with their trespasses. Most were covered only by a loincloth “like this poor fell…”
Michaele’s hand jerked, but he did not will it to, and the donkey bucked him to the ground with a solid thud. The fall knocked the wind out of him, and as he lay there gasping for breath, he looked up to the body nailed to the cross before him. He read.
“Antonio Nessuno… Blasphemy”
Frantically gasping and coughing from inhaling the road dust, Michaele’s mind was trying to grasp that Brother Antonio’s family name was not Nessuno… “They were not nobody!” In fact Brother Antonio had much in common with Michaele. He too was the son that was to enter the Church’s service, and he too was from a powerful family.
“How?” Michaele remembered the somber words of the Archbishop when he’d asked about Antonio. Though he’d never mentioned the actual sin of the Brother, but it was very grave from the looks of it.
Michaele began to breathe heavily, gathering his wits, and looking for the donkey, and it hadn’t run very far from him. He rose to his feet, staring at the Brother trying to see eyes so he might catch a glimpse of an explanation. There was nothing but blood and loosely hanging flesh. Grotesque as it was Michaele lingered. He’d managed a prayer, and while he was doing it he forced his mind to not see the body before him, but the cheerful handsome friend he’d known in the Abbey. His concentration was broken by the birds. It was too much for Michaele when one landed on the Brother’s head, and began pecking. He saw the bird working hard, pulling flesh from the skull. Michaele turned and threw up.
He looked up, and said thanks to God. Thankful that He was merciful, but mainly he gave thanks that he was Franciscan. He could not do such things to people for he did not have the heart to cause another pain. Then his mind returned to the Abbot…
“Yes Michaele… yes you do… murderer!” The mindvoice gave a hissing emphasis on the last word, which made it sting all the more. The sun shone a little darker now. The world was not as happy as it had been when the sun first rose this morning. He hung his head, like he did when he was envisioning the birds watching the bird-man Jesus rising to the Heavens, and was then rebuked for not listening.
He got back on the donkey, and did not look back to the Brother. He closed his ice blue eyes, and said a mental goodbye to his friend. He looked up to the road to Padua. It was a long journey, but he would arrive on time, as was expected, and word would be sent to the Archbishop of his safe arrival.
In the early morning the Italian roads were not dusty yet. The moisture of the morning dew kept what the dust from rising. The morning sun was growing higher and hotter, burning the night’s water from the grasses and trees. Passing by small towns and hovels, he noticed that everywhere were crosses. Some on top of Churches, some by the roads… occupied. He saw many things on the road to Padua. The ladder of Penance was one such sight. It was a simple domed Church, a country Church really. This one seemed relatively new, the brick still intact, the ivy not overgrown. It was more like a chapel but for the steps leading to it. This country chapel stood on a hill off from the road, and the steps to the chapel were littered with people kneeling, some chanting, some crying, some praying, others walking down to the bottom to begin again. Near the bottom of the stair was a line of country folk leading to a table. Seated at the table were priests. Michaele knew what this was. The priests were selling indulgences to sinners. The country folk in line were to confess their sins, be absolved by the resident priests, after they paid money, and then carry out the penance proscribed by the priests. The monies collected were to pay for the new cathedral in Rome. Established by Papal Bull, it was to be the greatest house of God on all the Earth. Michaele did not like the practice of indulgences, but he was no one to question the wisdom of the person of God on Earth. If the Pope said it was good, then it was. Besides, Michaele the Murderer had to remove the log from his own eye before he would try to remove the splinter from another’s. So he bowed his head, made the sign of the cross as he passed, and rode onward.
He knew that scribing was hard work. If one was to simply write, the task would not be so daunting. Yet, to write the book, and have the script befit the text, one had to take one’s time. Michaele was just happy to have the opportunity to help more in this world until it was his time to be judged. He was grateful to the Archbishop for granting him the mercy no one else in this lonely world wanted to.