How do you solve a problem like Miss Xena: Xena, Gabrielle, et al. aren't mine. Just borrowing them w/ no intent to profit. I'll put them back when I'm finished. Promise. The rest is mine, however. If you don't respect my copyright, I'll send a pack of singing nuns to your door. (Or is that 'flying nuns'? Whatever.)
How do you catch a cloud and pin it down: Some violence. Forewarned is forearmed, as they say.
How do you find a word that means Miss Xena: The love that dares not speak its name is spoken of here. By nuns and wanna be PhDs, no less. If you can't handle it, please busy yourself with sewing play clothes out of old drapes and curtains. It's coming back in style, don'tcha know…
Many a thing you know you'd like to tell her: A bouquet of Leontopodium alpinum (edelweiss) goes toViv for doin' the beta thing! Sadly, she loses the award for "Best impression of a von Trapp Family Singer". On the bright side, I hear she looks quite fetching in a habit and lederhosen. Thanks also to the group of 'not quite singing', 'not exactly nuns'. To quote 'Dite, "As if…" Heh. Thanks all.
Many a thing she ought to understand: I've taken some liberties w/ historical accuracy in this fan fic. The convent, nuns, town, and castle are purely my invention. Some aspects pertaining to Languedoc and its history are based on fact, although characterizations of actual historical figures are fictional. Portrayals of the attitudes and personalities of these historical figures are based purely on imagination and speculation. Yadda yadda. Please note that there'll be an essay exam later in the semester, and I will be handing out a list of secondary sources for your reading enjoyment and edification.
But how do you make her stay and listen to all you say: Comments gladly welcome.
[first post nov 2000; final post june 21 2001]
Whew! Now, on to our story....
To be in love is to stretch toward heaven through a woman.
"And as you know, this is the convent's manuscript library. The Reverend Mother has asked me to help you in your research should you require it."
The tall figure swathed in a black habit gestured to the shelves full of leather-bound volumes and rolled parchment that lined the far wall of the small room. The movement of the nun's hand was precise, efficient, and without an accompanying flourish that one would expect of someone showing, at least to Gwenhwyfar Morrison, treasure beyond imagining.
However insignificant the gesture was, Gwenhwyfar found herself caught in it-the tiny flick of the woman's wrist, long tapered fingers extending ever so slightly to gesture to the neatly kept shelves, the strange gracefulness, the striking elegance of muscle, blood, and bone-hit her with the force of a knife in her chest, momentarily distracting her from the contents on the crowded shelves. For the love of God, Gwen, will you stop that and concentrate. The nun turned to face her. Of course, the blue eyes and radiant smile doesn't help matters, either.
The nun's eyebrow lifted under the veil of her dark habit as she studied the blonde, as if hearing Gwen's thoughts. "Are you all right, Dr. Morrison?"
Gwen smiled wanly, "I'm not a Ph.D. yet, Sister Augustine." She emphasized the tall woman's title, prodding her wandering mind to focus on the situation at hand. "Please call me Gwen. Thank you for your hospitality and offer to help."
The nun bowed slightly. "The Reverend Mother has made a special dispensation from my duties should you need assistance. A few of the other Sisters do speak English, should there be an emergency."
"You sound like you're from the States, Sister. Did you spend time in the US? Studied there?"
Sister Augustine bowed once more, a tiny smile gracing her lips, and once again, Gwen was struck with the impression of elegant movement, despite the tall, almost lanky frame, the imposing height emphasized even more by the black cloth that covered the woman from head to toe. "I was born and raised in Los Angeles before I took my orders at St. Marie d'Ormarc. It's an amazing coincidence that, as native Angelinos, we've only crossed paths at a convent near the foot of the Pyrenees."
"God and the University work in mysterious ways," Gwen returned an amused grin as she walked toward the shelves. "Meaning no disrespect, but I suppose that should have been your line." She glanced back at the nun, whose eyes glinted in amusement. Oh, this is not good, Gwen. You're in a convent in France-practically in the middle of nowhere-on a research grant that could decide your future academic career and you're flirting with a gorgeous blue-eyed nun. Stop it. Your mother would be mortified.
"Gwen? Please forgive me, but I thought the Reverend Mother said your name was…"
The blonde nodded as she delicately took a bound volume from a shelf. She walked toward the large table that occupied the rest of the room. "Um, yes. She did introduce me as Brangein. It's actually Brangein Gwenhwyfar." She shrugged. "The name was passed down in my family. Both names, in fact. My family's always called me 'Bran', but I've always preferred 'Gwen'. I'm sure you can understand why, Sister. You can imagine all the nicknames and jokes. And believe me, I've heard every single one."
Sister Augustine hid a small grin from the scholar who gently placed the book onto the clean worktable. The nun watched as Gwen took a pair of white gloves from the leather backpack she had brought with her to the small convent. As the woman pulled the gloves over her fingers, Sister Augustine responded. "If you've need of anything else, please feel free to look for me in the convent grounds. I'll leave you to work, Gwen."
The veiled head gave a slight bow and turned towards the door at the far end of the small room. Gwen, already engrossed by the volume before her, hastily looked up at the retreating dark form.
"Thank you, Sister."
The blonde's eyes focused upon the black cloth of the nun's habit, which swayed slightly with each retreating step. Oh God, it hasn't been that long. A fine eyebrow rose towards the short locks of the blonde's head as her eyes wandered down the expanse of black cloth. She idly wondered what lay hidden underneath the shapeless fabric. Yes it has. She sighed audibly, shook her head, and tried to focus on the volume that lay open on the table. "It's going to be a long year," she said aloud into the empty room as her eyes turned to the illuminated pages.
The sound of footsteps and muffled voices outside the door of the tiny room awakened her. She sat up and peered into the space-moonlight illuminated the cell and highlighted the spare nature of the room. She blinked as her eyes began to adjust to the light entering from a small window near the modest bed. She sighed, wishing for a brief moment that she were back home, that she would have the luxury of going into her living room and turning on the television so she could drown out the thoughts now running through her mind. If only . . . She sighed once more and turned her head toward the closed door, listening as the footsteps faded.
The quiet enveloped the small cell. She peered at her watch. 3:05 AM. Don't they ever sleep? She rubbed her eyes and turned to stare at the heavy wooden door of the room. Which one was it, now? Martin? No, no . . .Matins. No, that can't be right. That's supposed to happen at midnight. I'm amazed that I didn't wake up then too. Let's see. Uh, it must be . . . Oh, let's face it, Gwen, you were too busy trying to act as nonchalantly as possible when you were asking about her life in this place, trying to make sure she didn't notice that you were STARING at her to pay attent-Lauds! That's it. It must be Lauds.
Several weeks had passed since she first arrived at the convent. Her initial survey of the contents of the library was promising, but the sheer volume of the documents seemed overwhelming. Much to her relief, the convent had kept records of when the library had acquired certain manuscripts. She spent several weeks sifting through numerous documents, eliminating texts that seemed irrelevant to the focus of her research into the literary history of twelfth and thirteenth century Languedoc.
I'd better try to get some sleep. I need to drive to town to find a line to connect the laptop so I can email my advisor to let her know what's been going on with the work . . . . .There's probably an electricity line somewhere on the grounds. They can't NOT have one. What if there was some sort of emergency or something? Jeez, Gwen. This isn't a Motel 6. The closest thing you can get to a working medieval abbey, and you're complaining about the lack of modern conveniences! This what you WANTED, remember?
Gwen lay back against the narrow bed, her eyes blinking back sleep as she stared at the shadows flitting against the ceiling of the cell.
It wouldn't be such an inconvenience if you stayed in town LIKE YOU'RE SUPPOSED TO instead of staying at the convent for the past few nights. And let's face facts, here. You know why you chose to stay here instead of at the inn . . .. You must be some sort of masochist. Bad enough that you're practically falling at her feet during the hours you do spend together . . .. On the other hand, her help has probably cut down your research time by at least two or three weeks. You can actually start focusing on what you're supposed to be doing here . . . And dammit, Gwen, it's not mooning over someone you can't possibly have.
"So that castle a few miles from Ormarc is actually a hotel?"
Sister Augustine turned from the shelves, a volume in her gloved hand. "Yes. Several years ago, it was the family seat of the Lord and Lady d'Ormarc. It became too expensive for the family to keep financially, so instead of letting the castle go to ruin, it was renovated into a hotel. Of course, most of the land in this area still belongs to Lady Thisbe Hippolyta d'Ormarc. Much of it, as you know, is farmland or grazing land for sheep and goats."
The scholar nodded, having had the experience of her small car surrounded by a flock of sheep on the only road to the town of Ormarc. She would arrive at the convent hours after, profusely apologizing to the grave yet kindly Reverend Mother for her lateness. The magical phrase "sheep on the road" had absolved her of her sins.
"So the area does get its fair share of tourists, then? I would think that if the town was closer to the pilgrim route to Santiago de Compostela or maybe if it had a cathedral, more people would know about it. But I guess there's enough interest in the area to merit a hotel. The town even has that small inn."
"Its beauty is considered to be a hidden treasure. Most people who travel to the south tend to visit Marseilles or Montpellier and don't venture any further west than Toulouse. It's not as busy as most, but Ormarc does attract its share of adventuresome tourists."
"And curious literary-slash-cultural historian types."
The nun hid a small smile, and Gwen repressed the urge to stare as the woman turned back toward the shelves. Is that some sort of rule? Thou shalt not smile except in the presence of outsiders and medievalists in search of God knows what; when thou dost smile, hide thy mouth before thy hands clasped in the attitude of prayer, lest they think you strange, ephemeral, vain, mad, or aloof. She looked down, her hands slowly curling into fists against the wood of the worktable. This no time for sarcasm, Brangein Gwenhwyfar. No teasing the good Sister, if only in your thoughts.
Much to her surprise, the sight of the nun's mouth upturned in joy and amusement affected her in much the same way as it had weeks earlier. Her first sight of the woman's smile -- minutes after the nun had gestured to the library shelves at their first meeting -- had surprised her with its sheer unexpectedness. She remembered being slightly overwhelmed and credited her own reactions to the sight of the documents that lined the shelves of the small room. As the weeks passed and she spent more time with the veiled woman, she began to doubt her own assertions. Over the small span of time that she had spent at the convent, Gwen realized that the imposing woman rarely smiled outside the presence of her company. She seemed single-mindedly dedicated to her sacred orders, her manner purposeful, sober, and sure.
The nun showed that same sense of dedication as she helped the scholar with documenting and sorting the library's vast collection, but Gwen felt a lightness and an odd playful shyness to the woman's demeanor during their hours together. She revealed little about her past life, but answered the blonde's questions concerning the convent and its nearest neighbor, the small town of Ormarc.
She's a mystery wrapped in an enigma. I wonder why she left LA. Why go thousands of miles to an isolated French nunnery? Was she running away from something?
"Well, what we've found so far has wildly exceeded my imagination, even though most don't fall in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries. Some of the texts seem to be copies of manuscripts that I've seen at the Bibliothèque Nationale. I am inclined to wonder whether there are differences from the MS volumes that I've seen here and in Paris-regional differences, and so forth." The blonde chuckled. "I know several people who would give their eye teeth to see what I've seen so far."
The nun bowed slightly. "I'm pleased that I've been a help to you and that the books found here won't languish in obscurity."
The blonde smiled and lightly tapped the cover of the text the nun had placed before her. "I'm surprised that researchers don't flock here the world over. Your collections are amazing. It would probably take several lifetimes to make a real dent into what's truly here. What I've-what we've uncovered here is incredible. I'm more than grateful for the help you've provided over past few weeks."
Sister Augustine bowed once again, her cheeks suffused with a slight reddish tint as she tried to hide a small smile between her clasped hands. She turned to the shelves once more.
You shouldn't hide that smile of yours, Sister. Kingdoms would fall at your feet with that smile. Knights would pledge their lives to you and troubadours would sing your praises throughout Languedoc.
The veiled woman's face was turned from the blonde-her features profiled and illuminated by the light coming from a nearby window. Her eyes scanned the numerous volumes, a copy of a list of manuscripts that the scholar had identified as "a good lead" in her hand, oblivious to the blonde's furtive glances.
Look at that profile. Alabaster cheeks, a perfect Roman nose, piercing blue eyes, beautiful rose-tipped mouth. A classic, beautiful, medieval face. I wish I knew her before this place. I wish we met before all this. We could have been-I could have--
She felt a touch against her arm and looked up to find the nun standing by her side, eyes clouded with concern. The tall woman bowed slightly, her face inching closer to the blonde. "Forgive me, but are you all right? You seem a bit-"
Startled, Gwenhwyfar turned her head, her free hand suddenly gesturing to the surrounding walls. Her voice cracked and her words came out in a rush as she tried to avoid the nun's gaze. "T-the convent-wh-when did you say it was built?"
Sister Augustine's eyebrow rose under her dark veil, surprised at what she saw in the blonde's eyes before the woman had abruptly turned from her gaze. Her own mind became troubled, recognizing something in that brief glance; it was a look that she knew, a recognition, an acknowledgement that she understood. She knew it would trouble her peace of mind in the weeks to come. She was about to respond when Gwen gave a shaky laugh.
"I-I'm sorry Sister. I guess it struck me as odd that, uh, I- I'm assuming that the town and the convent sprung up around the castle as it was built, right? I don't know why it never occurred to me to ask if the exact date is known. Or as close as you can get to an exact date-being that most of the manuscripts here seem to date after 1400."
The scholar shook her head, her mind latching onto the abstract problem, pushing aside any other thought from her mind. "But there seems to be numerous documents from an earlier century in this tiny library too. The convent seems to be too remote, almost too inaccessible to be a central depository. Toulouse seems to be the logical place for such a thing. W-was there more to this place? Some sort of minor depository or a scriptorium where documents were actually produced or preserved? I-I-" She sighed softly. "I'm sorry, Sister Augustine. I guess I'm just thinking out loud." Gwen looked down at the volume before her.
The dark woman looked at the blonde. The scholar had a slight frown on her face as she stared at the manuscript. She looks like a little child puzzling out a sentence. The light makes her hair look like spun gold. She blew a soft breath and tried to concentrate on the woman's question. Her head nodded slightly and a flourish of dark cloth rustled softly as she turned to regard the walls of the convent library. Her eyes closed briefly as she tried to quell the thoughts now crowding her mind. "The convent was founded by a behest of the d'Ormarc family almost seven hundred years ago."
Seven hundred? "SEVEN hundred?" the blonde repeated.
The nun nodded, turning to regard the blonde scholar. "Yes. The convent was founded in the 1300s. The castle structure was rebuilt over several generations, but the final incarnation of it was finished about the same time as the convent."
Gwen leaned forward against the table, her own private realizations about the nun standing a few feet from her forgotten as she absorbed what was said seconds earlier. Her eyes traced over the page, a puzzled look etched on her face, "So St. Marie was built after the Cathari heresies?"
"Yes. According to the records of this parish."
"Then why have I just found a legal title that's dated 1129 from the bishopric at Toulouse granting a request from En Chrétien d'Ormarc to build a cathedral and an adjoining convent? It says that the cathedral would house the veil of The Holy Mother that was recovered in the Crusade of 1095."