Friday, July 3, 2009

Chapter 1: Pilgrimage to Cioina

Beauty....one of the greatest illusions through time. We are much like the sculptures in the abbeys of old. Skin exposed to the elements, souls exposed to trepidation and trials. Once when I was a girl, I made the journey to St. Cioina, far away on the Western Isles, near the cave where Dragon resides. I saw for myself the beauty carved into her walls and tresses. An army of angels, beautiful maidens, great tales of warriors all glinting with the rays of the sun setting in the west. Their ivory stone faces, soft and cool to the touch, they looked eternal in their beauty. I traveled back there many years later and they had been destroyed by the winds and rains of Cioina. Their beautiful void faces battered and staring with expressionless gazes. My tears flowed as I now had seen what became of them and reconciled that my fate was much the same.

Times seemed much simpler before the crusades and life seemed much the same. Simple. Everything seemed timeless and beautiful during the reign of the good queen. Before the death of the queen....or rather, before her murder.

As a wee babe, I had been left on the steps of the Abbey near the southern tip of the country with the good sisters of St. Ciarne. I remembered nothing but life with the sisters. They cared for my needs and in return I worked in their gardens and tended them in the infirmary. They taught me much about herbs and medicine. I am thankful, but I am more thankful for them teaching me of God's love, as it is because of that knowledge that I have persevered. The sisters had told me that they had no knowledge of who my real parents were or from whence I came. When I was dropped off at the abbey, I had been swaddled in woolen linens in a simple woven basket. They only item of interest was a carved medallion with a dragon on the front and an inscription on the back in some ancient cryptic language. The only word any of the sisters could make out was 'Cioina'. It had been decided from the beginnings of my life that I would make the pilgrimage to St Cionia when I turned 16.

As the sun turned in the sky, nearer to my 16th year, I prepared to make the long journey to St. Cioina. I packed light, only taking my prayer book, some simple food, my warmest cloak and my medallion. Two sisters were to accompany me on this journey. Sister Mary and Sister Francis, the two sisters to whom I was closest to in the abbey. It was a long journey. We had no money for horses, although Father Angus had loaned us Bess, his old mule. We had mapped our journey and figured, God willing, that it would take one month on foot and perhaps we would be fortunate enough to arrive in time for the winter solstice. As I was packing my bag, I picked up the medallion and looked closely at it's beautiful carvings on the front. The dragon was a true work of art. It was like nothing I had ever seen, almost clear, like glass, but with swirls of color that reminded me of the southern lights in summer skies.
I had long since tried to find out the material it was made from. I had taken it to the local smithy and he could not identify it, other than to say it seemed to have the properties of metal with the look of glass. I had looked it up in the libraries in the abbey and could not find any reference that mentioned the dragon and the St. Cioina in the same book. During my research, I had seen the drawings of St. Cioina. How amazing they seemed on paper and I was sure that it would be a beautiful site to behold. Commissioned during the reign of our good queens great great grandfather, King Iain the IV, it took 40 years to complete and unfortunately, the good King had died one week before its completion. It was said that it's beauty could only be compared to the beauty of the heavens, and of course the good queen's.

Two eves before we were to leave, Sister Mary came in and whispered that it was time to eat. It was a sad occasion, as this would be my last meal with the sisters. I had decided that I would pray and fast the day before we departed. I felt it necessary to cleanse my body and purge my soul before I departed. As I knew any extra weight, whether earthly or not, would surely make the long journey more treacherous.
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