Brother Cedric by Thomas Eggenberger

The reverent peace of a monastery is disturbed when a resurrected monk decides to indulge in the pleasures of the flesh; by Thomas Eggenberger.

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Brother Cedric did not return to us the same man who had died.

We unbolted the door after the ten Hail Marys required and found him there. Not sitting quietly in wait, as had Marius. Not weeping on his knees to the Almighty, as had Gregory. No, Cedric greeted us as God had made him, though with skin more like a prune - and at full staff, engaged in vigorous onanism.

I clutched the cross at my neck and averted my gaze, as did Gavin beside me. Our eyes met, our eyebrows steepled.

"Peter," Cedric groaned at me, "I know this must look awful, but I assure you - I warmed my hand first by the fire."

With a strangled heave, his seed spattered the cobbled stone. I thought I felt it wet my toes, somehow, though I did have on my shoes. A peek confirmed the Lord had saved me this ugliness. I crossed myself in thanks.

"Unnatural!" whispered Gavin, loud enough for all to hear, and shook his head as though to drive the sight out through his ear.

"I honor the Lord God in all things," said Cedric. "He gave me iron orange with heat, and I hammered it. He gave me seed, and I spread it. He gives me fools, so I need not spare the rod."

I gasped. The audacity!

"Not orange," murmured Gavin, stealing a glance.

Cedric laughed, and at this I could no longer hold my temperance. "We have given you the gift of Lazarus, and this is how you return?" I threw a finger to the blackened bones of the babe upon the dais. "You are meant to continue your translations and bring light to the word of God!"

He waggled his flagging pestle and wiped a wet hand on a shriveled chest. "The gift of Lazarus is to be distant from God. It is no gift at all. You claim me back from Paradise to serve your cursed whims, and I should be grateful for the chore?" Cedric glowered at me a lavish moment before turning to his waiting vestments with a shiver and a sigh.

"We bring back but few," I offered as he draped roughspun wool across his skin. "It is an honor."

"It is an honor," he grouched back, "to ride in the Kingdom of Heaven, with women -" he splayed a hand out from his crotch, "- and drink, and the ever-shining wonder of God. Earthly life is naught but penance, how you live it here."

I shared an anxious glance with Gavin and spread an imploring palm. "Pride cometh before the fall, Cedric. Please, humble thyself." He was in no state to meet the abbot.

He snorted. "The fall? Shoved back in my earthly vessel with you lot, that's the fall."

"Please, brother. I cannot bring you to Josef like this."

Cedric cinched the rope at his belt and scratched himself indecently. He curtsied. "I find myself perfectly presentable. Let us go and see the old rakefire."

It would not do, of course. As we walked, he scratched like a bedraggled chicken and polished his nethers like tarnished silver.

We hurried him into the granary along the way, and locked the door behind us. It may seem impossible to fit three men in a granary, but all things are possible with God. It is also less a granary than a pantry, currently host to a modest heaping of potatoes and little else. Perhaps we sin by aggrandizing the name.

Gavin was aflush. "Josef will have our hides!" He paced relentlessly.

I shushed him to calm and signed the cross. "We will bring you to the abbot, Brother Cedric, when you remember decorum."

"I have not forgot it, Brother Peter." He threw a potato at me; I deflected it.

"Brother!" I cautioned.

He clucked at me. "You must needs catch it, brother, so I can make my point." He tossed another, slowly this time, and it thumped gently against my chest and fell into my cradled hands. "You have the reflex of a crone long at her wheel," he tittered.

I let the insult dissolve in a deep lungful of God's air. "I do. I am humble before the Lord."

"Call me what you will, brother." Cedric winked.

Gavin looked as though the man had pissed in his soup.

It reminded me to close mine own inlet. "Your point, Brother Cedric?"

He snatched up a potato of his own, scratched at the dry earth coating the surface, and displayed his filthy fingernails. "A good layer of dirt does not deny the sustenance within."

Cedric's gift in translation was given by the Almighty himself, but he had never been strong in rhetoric. "The dirt is washed away even before it is given to the pot, brother," I pointed out. "Else it makes a mud of the soup, and none will raise the spoon. The dirt is not the sustenance, it is the bar."

The old man pursed his lips in proud reflection, and nodded, curt. "You are wise, Brother Peter. Lead on, then. I will trouble you not."

Abbot Josef listened with what seemed patience, but I knew Gavin had the right of it. He would have our hides - and that was before we brought in our reborn brother.

Cedric presented meek as a rabbit, hands clasped afront - but he slowly, steadily rubbed at a bulge in his robes, with the smile of a cuddled cat. At least I had thought to wipe the earth from his hands.

"Brother Cedric," said the abbot, pointedly averting his eyes, "welcome back to the house of God."

"Is this your doing, Josef?" Cedric retired a moment from his fondling and looked at the creaky elder - elder even to Cedric himself, north of seventy though he was - with a falcon stare.

"All that happens here is under my watch," said Josef.

"Not 'under the eyes of God'?"

"That too, Brother Cedric. That too." He shifted his hips in his stark wooden chair and moaned at a sharp bone crack that seemed to surprise as much as pain him.

"It is my contrivance that did the deed," I offered.

"And mine," piped up Gavin.

Cedric turned his sharp eyes to me. "How does it function? Not for the babe, but for me."

My tongue stuck in my mouth. Did he want to know the rites, the placement of the bodies, the calls to Heaven? I had been forbidden to speak of such.

"I am not immortal, surely? How long is a new life worth?"

I felt my shoulders roll limp. "We do not yet know, brother, but it is measured in years. A gift, indeed."

Cedric rubbed his chin. "Truly a boon. I could do with a spell from the eternal glory of God. I did pine for my quills and ink."

"It will help the flock, Brother Cedric," I pointed out. "We all must do our part."

"I am sure the mother of that squalling babe said much the same."

I looked to Gavin. He looked away. The abbot cast his eyes upon the floor.

"As I divined," said Cedric. His voice was gravel.

"We baptized the child," I protested, feeling the weakness in mine own speech. "It was delivered up to God."

We all blinked askance at what came next - even the wizened abbot, slumping forward in his chair: Cedric hunched to the floor and let roll silent tears.

"Brother?" I asked from above. "Sympathy is a fine thing, but the child had no father - it could ask no better end. It was a candle to your flame."

"I weep only for myself," said Cedric, morose as an old rat-catcher. "It did not go to God. I did not go to God. There is no God."

"Blasphemy!" croaked Josef, stabbing out an accusing digit as he staggered to his feet. "Blasphemy most foul! I'll have you out for this, Cedric! Excomm -" He coughed and could not regain his breath.

Cedric rose smooth as a youngling and shoved the abbot hard into his chair. "I was dead, was I not? I saw no Peter, no Jesus, no Heaven, no God."

"Hell, then," said Gavin. "Denied the presence of God."

"Nothing," said Cedric, wiping at his cheeks. "Nothing at all. I remember my last moments, a cauldron in my chest. I remember waking on the dais. There was naught between."

I shook my head, rousing from my surprise. "It cannot be, brother," I said, with a calm I did not feel. "Without God, we are not here."

"I'm no fool. And I've the vim of a young cock since I am returned - not a doddering old fop." He looked to the abbot.

"Blas-" coughed Josef.

"A test of faith, then," I said, "to take your memories when you wake." All of life was a test. Why should this not be the same?

"Ach, an eternal test."

"For an eternal reward, brother," I said, feeling my passions rise. "Is it not the sign of a just and loving God?"

"Or the eternal dream," he spat, "of a hare-brained fool."

I bit back my ardor. Cedric was glowering as though he meant to use his fists.

"Or," said Gavin, waving an errant finger, eyes bright as a child's, "the corporeal body cannot hold the spiritual memory. Surely you don't remember your soul's journey to your own birth?" I loved him and detested him for that childish sincerity.

"Blasphemy!" called the abbot, hoarse from his coughing but regaining his air. "Heresy!"

Cedric seemed to slump away from his anger. He drew a deep breath and looked each one of us in the eye in turn as he said, "We are nothing but mumblecrusts, begging to an empty bowl."

"Excommunication," whined Josef, rubbing his throat.

"Do it, if you must," said Cedric, turning on the abbot. "I may yet decide to go on my own. But I shan't be close-mouthed on the devilry that brought me back, if I am cast out. Not to the bishop, and not to the hedge-born with fire and scythe."

That clapped shut the abbot's trap.

"'Twas you that brought me back," said Cedric, looking to me.

"And Gavin," I pointed out. Gavin had been half the magic and was not fond of being left out.


"To translate." It felt hollow to mine own ears.

"Why?" Cedric took a step closer. He was shorter and thin, but his eyes threatened the strength of ten burly men. Had I found that less inviting, I should have stepped back at equal pace.

"For the glory of God," I said.

"Why?" He abutted my chest and thrust his light through mine own eyes.

I found the well of honesty, then; I found humility in the face of the Lord; I found strength in speaking the depths of my own sin. "Because it pleases me to wield the power of Christ. Because I lack the humility before God that I demand of my brothers. Because I am mudded with original sin, and my soul wallows in it."

Cedric held me with his bright, slate gaze. "For this you bring me to suffer, and die a second death?"

I dropped my head, shame hot at my cheeks. Under my robes, I itched and sweated. I could not remember when last I had been ashamed - I had forgot the pleasure in it. I had stepped back afront of my own hearth, stone walls close and windows bolted shut. My chains were where I had left them, every comfortable inch.

"Who else?" he asked quietly.

My tongue wetted dry lips. I could not speak.

"Marius," called Gavin, "and Gregory. They were far more glad of it than you."

Still I could not take my gaze from the cobbled stones, but Cedric seemed to weigh this long. "Marius?" he finally said. "Gregory? I had no inkling they had passed."

"None did," I whispered, "save God."

"And you, and the abbot."

"And I as well," said Gavin. I bit my tongue to save a laugh.

"And the stones, and the po-ta-toes." Cedric chuckled. "Then I am saved from the prying eye, am I not?"

"You are," I assured him.

"Not from God's eye," grumbled Josef from his chair. "Heretic."

Cedric thumbed up my chin, and licked my face with his eyes, breath a cool feather. He abruptly let me fall and turned back to the mumbling abbot. "I will not go out into the cold," he announced. "I am poorly made for life without these walls. I shall stay and do as I please, or you shall know the cost."

What pleased him in early days was a furious prayer to Onan. He used his nethers as a rosary while he supped; he called to God from the confines of his cell, in rapturous complaint; he rubbed himself meditatively at prayer, under his robe with what he perhaps thought was decorum, tongue tasting the Lord's realm but mind clearly elsewhere.

I offered to remove from him the shackles of daily prayer, to bring his bodily nourishment to his cell so he might... dine with privacy - under the auspices of the abbot, with the pretense he was aswim in God's word.

Cedric eyed me down as he gripped himself, parted his lips and shook his head. "These men, therefore, I brought back perforce to the ships, weeping, and dragged them beneath the benches and bound them fast in the hollow ships."

"Leviticus?" I could not place the text.

"Homer," he said, "the land of the lotus eaters," and pointed to the door.

It would have been a pretext too thinly spun to ward many eyes. Our brothers were not blind. The abbot took complaints; rumors and disquiet came to mine ears. I listened with care and only quietly opined that perhaps he had not fully convalesced from his recent illness, and perhaps God was testing the depths of our compassion.

Within a week, the grumbles fell away. Sin becomes the order of life in quick measure.

Cedric stayed to his schedule of self-kneading for nigh on a month, and then abruptly fell still. I left him to his own devices but kept a watchful eye, and noticed that he began to fill his belly more and more. Any extra bits of turnip, any crust of bread unconsumed, any dregs of porridge that sat a bowl were pulled to and thrown down - but he did not seem glad or it, nor of any particular hunger.

"Gluttony is a sin, brother Cedric," I reminded him one eve, tucked safely away in his small cell.

"So is lack of a subtle tongue, I hope." He rubbed his nose. "You've found me out, brother."

"How is it, to be a glutton of stale bread and cold porridge?"

Cedric sighed. "As round a delight as you have guessed, brother Peter. Tell me, where are the plump hens, the suckling pigs, the pudding of the season?"

"As imagined as they ever were, brother. I recommend a gluttony of ale, if you are wont to sin - of that, at least, there is plenty." I knew the Devil had moved my tongue. I willed back my words on the wings of angels, to swallow them whole again.

Cedric spoke with a smirk and an approving grin. "Brother Peter, you honor me with your piety."

I took the ironic twist of his tone, and turned for the door lest I say more.

And so he turned to drink.

Ale, in just amounts, builds bridges to God. Man forgets his squalid self, his writhing in the dirt, his original sin, and floats on the aether to feast upon the warmth of his brothers and the light-drenched otherness of the Divine. But ale to a glutton is a key to the Devil's door: he abuses his brothers, he loses sight of the Divine, he wallows in his sin.

Gavin and I took shifts as his keeper, as he mewled in his cups and wandered in rages and wept on shoulders perplexed. Gavin proclaimed it his duty to care for his brother, but I knew by his need this was false. We feared an untoward word might bring sour eyes to our prayer of Lazarus.

It was beyond us to fix our gaze on Cedric at all times, however. We had our own prayers and duties to attend, our meals to sup, our games of Quoits. He drank his fill and talked with whom he pleased.

One eve, I was interrupted at silent prayer within my cell by a pounding at my door. On lifting the latch, I was beset upon by a jug-bitten Cedric, Gavin abashed at his heels.

"I stumbled upon an old stout," whispered Gavin. He crossed himself. "The devil's hand through me."

"Divine providence!" yawped Cedric. His eyes were wet. He shouldered past, bringing me with him as he swerved and crashed upon my cot.

I disentangled myself and took again my feet. Gavin made us three, solid oak betwixt us and the abbey, and sat the chair at my huddled desk. Cedric rained muffled tears on my straw and linen. The stone walls thrust us atop one another in this meager space of mine; the window, blanketed with night, was no aid.

Cedric did not speak, though I harrumphed loudly thrice. I met eyes with Gavin and meted out my befuddlement. He shrugged.

"Providence is the country of the faithful," I said with vigor, puncturing brother Cedric's sobs.

It was a lingering moment as the seas calmed. The promontory of his nose crested my woolen blanket; the moist glow of a knowing orb cracked the air. "Yes," he groaned. "I believe." He turned his face to me, and opened a mouth webbed with phlegm. "I believe in myself. I believe in you." Cedric tried to push himself to sit, failing with a scrabble and slip. "The Divine is in all of us."

"God is everywhere," said Gavin. "God is in all things."

Cedric rose with more success. He propped himself against the wall and swaddled himself in my blanket. Bright sparks danced in the depths of his eyes. "Yes," he nodded, "but God is not outside us. The Divine is in us because we are God - all of us, together."

I could not hold back my sigh. The stout moved his lips without sense. He would make me late to finish my prayers, and it had been a long day besides. "We did not birth ourselves, brother. Nor do we perform miracles like Christ. You may milk our tolerance as you know our sins, but this is simply impolite."

Cedric pled with voice cracking, hands dancing, slurring his words. "It is not nonsense, Peter. It is not! The scales have fallen from my eyes. We did not birth ourselves - the Devil birthed us. That is our original sin! But we have seeds of the Divine within us. When we come together, when we are kind and righteous to our fellows, we become God. The Holy Spirit rises from us.

"Heaven is here, Peter. Here! Not a distant land beyond the veil of death. We make the choice each morn to inhabit it or not, by coming together with our brothers and following the word of Christ. We are, we can..." His mouth worked without sound.

I had never heard such rubbish in all my life - and I had been informed of Copernicus' rantings. No blackmail was worth such heresy. I needed a breath to clear my head.

Gavin stepped in, quietly, and stole the wind from afore my sails. "If that is so," he asked, "to where does the soul return?" I turned my eyes on him, sure they expressed my bewilderment in full, but he did not take notice - or did not care.

"I do not know," said Cedric. "Truly, I do not. There was nothing, I swear to you on Christ! A terrifying void. Perhaps if we are Godly in this life, we can only hope to escape suffering in the next. Perhaps we only escape the torment of returning to the Devil in Hell. But this life is - this life is the gift."

He wept now, sobbing. My words died on my tongue.

"I was blind to it," he mewled. I winced as slobber draped my woolen blanket. "I awoke feeling my prior life had been a waste. I buried myself in temptations, in the selfishness of the flesh. There was no satisfaction in it. I sinned against you, my brothers! I was the Devil's own wretch! Mea culpa, mea culpa."

I was rooted to the stone, watching him wheedle his mea culpas and dribble on my cot. I murmured a prayer for clarity of purpose.

Gavin was the swifter. He narrowed the gap to our sodden brother, crossed himself, and laid a gentle hand atop Cedric's head. "You are forgiven, brother," he said.

He gripped my shoulder with iron and walked with me from the cell.

I returned next day to the stink of vomit - though, praise the Lord, there was none to be found. My blanket, damp but otherwise sound, sat neatly folded atop my cot. The memory of Cedric laid low, feverish and gibbering, sat upon my mind.

I took to sleeping on the floor, rats be damned.

Cedric was the very ideal of a monk from that day. When he prayed, it was with silent fervor; when he cooked, it was with brotherhood and joy; when he cleaned, it was with unflagging diligence and a smile. He returned to his translations, and it was as though the angels sang. The abbot forgot all talk of heresy. With all my brothers he was great friends.

I faded from him. Since he was now everywhere, I withdrew to my cell. Gavin made a mummery of concern but came to me less and less.

My mind would not quiet. I went to Marius.

"Is it of Brother Cedric?" he creaked, jowls drooping as he pulled his face from the parchment and turned upon me with narrowed eyes. It was yet early; our brothers breakfasted.

Marius noted my silent surprise with a grunt unfit for the Lord's ears. "Worry not, brother. It is only evident to we who have returned ourselves. Few things can shake faith such as falling from God's country to man's."

I sat the bench beside him and leaned in with a whisper close. "You have seen it, then? God's country?"

Marius tugged at an earlobe and extracted his quill from the ink. He traced so long an initial D that I grew misgivings as to his fitness. "The soul has the soul's memory, does it not?" he finally groaned, seeming to fight the words through unwilling lips.

I heard another in his voice. "Did you speak of this with Brother Gavin?"

"Brother Gavin is not wrong." Marius dipped his quill without care, and spattered ink as he went back without mind to his D, fattening the lines. "I do not recall my birth. Do you suggest it did not happen?"

"It is not the same, Brother Marius. The proof of your birth sits astride this bench."

Marius did not look at me, and did not stop his scratching on the vellum. "Then, I suppose," he said, with a tone of ponderous melancholy, "in other things we must have faith."


  1. This piece of fiction had a substantial amount of quite excellent dialogue, struck in the vernacular of religious personages. Well done. The first part of the story was funny, with Cedric noting no admonition to “spare the rod.” Such one liners garnered a giggle from me. But then the story went on to address religious issues of some gravity, which I appreciated. I liked the somewhat arcane phraseology one might suppose is apt to a religious order, i.e., the “…bottle-bitten Cedric…” and “Ale….builds bridges to God…” I don’t know if “Brother Cedric” answered any of my religious conundrums, but it was definitely a pleasant ride. Nice one, Thomas.

    1. Thank you, Bill! Very happy to hear that you enjoyed it.

  2. Excellent story. I much enjoyed the humor, use of language and vernacular and the philosophical musings. Really well done.
    — David Henson

  3. This has quite the, "half life," as I found myself returning to this story after a few read a few times. The imagery is exceptionally vivid and I think the narrator is well-suited here in terms of their recounting of all of the events, the personalities. I think the overall atmosphere is really the star here - because once you're enveloped in the vernacular you're really transported to a different time and setting, and the story is just part of the journey.

  4. I loved how the story directly delves into the "sinful" and is not just another one about how and why exactly a monk looses his innocence.