Donnchadh had spent three nights on the road, carefully hiding in forests at night. He hadn’t slept well and both he and his horse were tired. At last he could see the monastery at the top of a nearby mountain. He rode to the mountain and dismounted.
The colour of sandstone, the mountain pass to the monastery was narrow and uneven. Occasionally a rock would fall away, over the side of the pass and echo it’s way as it plummeted far below. It was designed for smaller men with mules and was designed to keep out bandits and marauding armies. Donnchadh continued to make his way by counting each step. It was his way of paying full attention, a method he had learned from the druids. These are a careful people, thought Donnchadh and felt a sense of familiarity wash over him.
The path lead from the mountain side into the mountain itself, both sides were cut into the rock, at the end of which was a large wooden door which had been framed with iron. Above him on each side was a clearing. Behind the door ascended further up into the mountain. Donnchadh pounded at the door.
“Who are you stranger?” asked a man from behind. “Have you come to rob us?”
The language was getting more difficult with each passing day.
“I don’t understand,” answered Donnchadh, thinking he could make out the words, but then feeling unsure.
The man at the gate asked again changing the inflection and word order, this time Donnchadh did understand.
“My name is Donnchadh and I need somewhere to stay, to rest my horse.” Donnchadh wasn’t sure why he had come here.
“Go away,” said the man at the gate.
“I need to come in.”
There was silence. Donnchadh waited patiently for maybe 15 minutes. He pounded again. Still there was no response. Shortly another man joined the man at the gate. Donnchadh could hear them talk, but could no longer make out the words. It was a strange language, almost like they were singing to each other on the one hand, and like they were growling on the other. Then there seemed to be an agreement.
“Where are you from?” asked the first man in the language resembling Donnchadh’s.
“What are you doing here?”
“I’m travelling to see the pope.”
There was laughter from behind the door. It was hard for Donnchadh to tell whether the two men were arguing or bickering.
“There’s no pope here,” Donnchadh heard an amused voice reply.
“This is a Christian place?” enquired Donnchadh.
“Why would a celt bother with a pope?”
Donnchadh needed somewhere to stay. The truth, thought Donnchadh.
“I want to learn about Christianity,” Donnchadh replied, which he did. He was worried about it now.
A person dressed in a brown habit appeared in the clearing above him, watching. Donnchadh hadn’t seen anyone dress like this before. It was very different from how druids dressed and very different from even the common folk of his land. It was clear that this person was communicating with the two people behind the door.
“Then put your arms down and come in, but as I said there’s no pope here,” said the voice behind the door.
Donnchadh took out his knife, and put it down with his sword several feet away from the door then approached and knocked.
The person above signalled that it was acceptable to open the door. The door opened and the person, dressed identically as the man above, beckoned for Donnchadh to follow him.
“I am Martinus,” he said. “You will be safe here. We will put your arms in safe keeping until you leave, Donnchadh.”
Donnchadh followed him up the roughly hewn steps. Ahead of him Donnchadh could see the buildings more clearly now. They were made of sand coloured brick. Along the path grew herbs and flowers.
“How long will you stay?” asked Martinus.
Martinus couldn’t help let out a laugh. “You’re going to learn about Christianity in a night? How will you even speak to the pope. Did you hear us speaking at the door?”
“Yes,” answered Donnchadh.
“That’s his language. And in the papal city, no one speaks yours.”
“How long will it take?”
“To learn Latin or about Christianity? Come with me.”
Martinus lead Donnchadh into the main building. The corridor was dark but the mountain air seemed to keep it dry. When they reached the end of the corridor they went up a flight of wooden stairs to a room where the walls were lined with books, leather bound books.
“This is called a library,” said Martinus, “where we store books. Have you heard of books?” Martinus pulled out a book. He showed Donnchadh pages in the book with words and painted margins.
“Like your tattoos,” said Martinus.
“We have no need for books.”
“And I have no need for tattoos.”
“How will you talk to the pope, and what will you talk to him about?” asked Martinus who continued,
“Unfortunately, you have a need for books now. So, how long can you stay.”
“We don’t have time,” said Donnchadh.
“We have time.”
Martinus walked to the window and pointed down into the ravine below. “We pulled each brick up here into place with ropes and pulleys. It took 22 years to lift each brick and 22 days to build the monastery.”
Donnchadh paused to think. It has taken me almost a week to get this far maybe a day or two won’t matter.
“How long?” asked Donnchadh.
“If you stay here a week and practice day and night.”
“I don’t have a week.”
“You don’t not have a week.”
“Let’s begin now,” said Donnchadh
Martinus closed his eyes, pressed his palms in prayer and looked towards the cross that was on the wall.
“Our father, which art in heaven, hallowed be thy name.”
“They kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven,” continued Martinus.
Donnchadh was suddenly alert. He turned towards Martinus.
“What does this mean?”
“It means that we believe that the whole world will become Christian.”
I wonder, asked Martinus to himself. Does this mean that the armies on our border are going to start a holy war? A war with Gaul?
“Are all Christians at war,” asked Donnchadh
“At war with each other, at war with themselves, at war with other Christians. We all interpret it differently.”
“So why are you hidden away up here and not fighting?”
“It is better to conquer yourself than to win a thousand victories.”
Now Donnchadh understood, or at least he thought that he did and it became even more urgent to get to the pope.