SHORT STORIES: A CHRISTMAS MIRACLE
Other Short Stories: Corbies, Marina, A Glasgow 2050
A CHRISTMAS MIRACLE
“Very well,” said Brude, king of the Northern Picts, “if you can show me a real miracle, I’ll let you baptise me into your faith, me and all my people. Can’t say fairer than that.”
The mudstained monk before him looked thoughtful.
“What do you understand by a miracle?” he said. “There are miracles and miracles.”
“You know,” Brude replied. “Something that fills me with wonder and amazement. Oh yes, and awe. There definitely must be awe. No conjuring tricks. Cups and balls, no rubbish like that.”
“How long have I got?” said the monk. “Some miracles take planning. I’m sure even our Lord had to think a bit about the loaves and fishes.”
Brude looked cunning. “By dawn tomorrow, perhaps. How does that strike you? You’ve got a whole long night to do it in, just about the longest in the year, I’m told.”
“Very well,” said the monk. “That should be enough.”
“Splendid,” chuckled Brude, rubbing his great hands together. “See you later then. I’ll be getting back to the party.”
The drinking had almost run its course and the night was well through when the monk appeared before King Brude slumped on his bench.
“Ready for your miracles?” he asked.
Brude glowered at him blearily. “Miracles?” he queried.
“Well,” said the monk, “I think you deserve more than one. After all, it’s a whole people’s conversion we’re talking about here. I wouldn’t want to short-change you.”
“No, indeed,” said Brude. “Go ahead then.”
“Come with me,” said the monk. They went out into the night. Brude huddled himself deep into his bearskin robe. The monk shivered.
“Look up,” he commanded. Brude squinted at the clear black sky.
“What do you see?”
“Well, stars.” Brude looked puzzled.
“Yes, yes,” said the monk impatiently. “But what are they?”
Brude looked blankly at him.
“Are they just lights in the dark, set to guide travellers on land or your ships on the sea? Are they God’s candles to light the halls of His heavenly palace? Are they His angels singing a song of glory we are too deaf or gross to hear? Are they other lands lit by suns greater than ours?”
Brude stared at the monk. “Well, which are they?”
“Don’t ask me,” said the monk. “I don’t know. But they fill me with wonder and amazement. Oh yes, and awe.”
Brude was silent a few moments. “Was that it?” he said suspiciously.
“Well, it’s a start,” replied the monk. “Come with me.”
They went on towards the byres and stables.
“Listen,” said the monk. “What do you hear?” Brude strained his ears. From behind the wooden doors came a steady champing sound, an occasional whinny, a contented lowing.
“What are these creatures?” Brude was silent. The monk pressed on nervously.
“You call these beings your property, your wealth, dumb beasts that give you milk and meat and skins, that carry you to battle, that pull your ploughs. Do you know them really, what they are?”
Brude shook his head, baffled.
“Are they merely slaves in strange forms? They have all the bodily parts that men and women have. Are they any different in essence from our brothers and sisters? These noises they make, are they meaningless expulsions of breath, or are they talking, perhaps praising our and their Lord in tongues no stranger than yours would sound to Norsemen or Saxons? This is a great wonder to me. Does it not fill you with awe?”
Brude said nothing.
“Let us go inside?” said the monk. They passed into a round thatched dwelling. Brude and the monk looked pensively at the group before them, a young man suddenly kneeling, a woman nursing a baby.
“Who is this man?” asked the monk.
“He is my handyman,” answered Brude. “He fixes the roof of my hall, mends the benches and boards when they are smashed in drunken fights, makes the seats for the rowers of my ships.”
“Indeed, and does he do it for the honour and fear of you, or so that his woman and children may have food and shelter? And this woman giving the breast to her baby, why does she do that? Would she not be freer and happier laughing and gossiping with her girl-friends? Or going by night to the chamber of her lover? This baby, why does he have a gold armlet and a fine embroidered wrap? Who would have such rich gifts to bestow? Not this poor man who looks on him so tenderly and cares for him as his son, though he is not?”
Brude scowled. “You’ve been doing your homework, haven’t you?”
The monk smiled faintly. “I have my sources. And yet, what is it that binds every one of you so closely together? Is it not love? And that too is wonderful and amazing and a miracle.”
Brude turned and led the way back into his hall. He threw two logs on to the glowing fire embers. The monk knelt and warmed himself by the suddenly leaping flames.
“Very clever,” said Brude. “Yes, a kind of awe, I suppose. But I see these things every day. Where is your God in all this?”
“I haven’t started on God yet,” said the monk, “And yes, these things are around you all the time. But the miracle is no less for that. It is the looking at them as they are or might be or ought to be that is the revelation of the miracle.”
“Indeed,” Brude said thoughtfully, “you may have a point. I can see that people like you are going to cause a lot of problems to simple old pagans like me. But we’re going to need you. With your fancy words and subtle arguments you’ll be able to prove anything. Your preaching will tie the people to my laws. You and your kind will stand behind us rulers and give authority to our selfish whims. My wars will become God’s sacred work. So, very well, bring on your holy water and make me and mine Christians.”
And in that dark night of the northern winter, the monk Columba baptised Brude of the Picts, and all his people with him, into the faith of our Lord Jesus Christ. And another small miracle was accomplished for the making of a new world.