A Highlander Lyric Wheel Fiction, doubly owing thanks to Amand_r, both for
this turn of the wheel and the lyrics posted thereon.
Characters from the television series Highlander belong to Panzer-Davis productions. Sister Janet is mine. Due warning: I don't think I've ever written anything quite so...off beat.

Hours
Jay Tryfanstone
March 2005

 

The concept of the sacred landscape is not modern. The native people of the Americas, the Aborginals of the Australian interior, the ancient tribal societies of the European Celtic fringe: all these adhere to a belief in the land as sanctified. That this belief is recognised by Immortals is signified by the curious lack of either Immortal individuals or observed phenomena in areas considered sacred by their native population. Even where the origins of belief are untraceable- I am thinking, for example, of the stone circles of Brittany and of Western Britain - the land itself appears to retain some measure of sanctity. That this may be recognised by the Immortal is witnessed by the lack of any conclusive immortal combat within the sacred landscape. Note, for example, the abortive challenge issued by the Immortal Lucius Sullenus to Ceirdwyn, shortly after the Iceni warrior parted company with her teacher Marcus Constantine. Ceirdwyn, almost incapacitated by a wound to the thigh, nevertheless managed to lead the fight towards the remnants of a tumulus. Although Ceirdwyn was clearly vulnerable, Lucius Sullenus found it impossible to make the killing stroke. Witnesses to the fight state that the Roman Immortal was seen shaking his head, attempting - and failing - to lift his blade.

Matins. In darkness, truth: the first hours of the new day, each day different, each complete to itself, sung together in liturgy, beads on a chain. The stone of the chapel is cold under her feet and her breath warm. As the world sleeps, so the sisters lay their hearts to the wheel of prayer.

Intriguingly, despite many recorded instances of Immortals taking refuge within the bounds of religious communities, few indeed have been recorded as inhabiting sacred landscapes. Indeed, where Immortals have ventured into such territory, they have often been seen to depart in haste. Close observation suggests disorientation and confusion, relieved only on withdrawal. Noticeably, the older the Immortal, the more attuned that individual appears to be to the resonance of the landscape, and the more able to endure the specific effects of exposure. It is possible that the effects of acclimitisation may be seen in these individuals: Col'Tec, for example, spent the years before his first death within the sacred landscape of the Navajo, and was known to retreat to the lands of his youth for long periods of time without apparent discomfort.

The quality of light, in this, the last house of her order she will inhabit, is startling clear, the heat dry and enervating, and when the bell calls from the chapel sound cuts the landscape with precision. This land is far from the green hills of her birth, but the words of the hours of the day are the same, and the God: the call to Lauds sounds as it did sixty years before, when she was young and not gentle in her faith. When the sun rises here it rises with haste, and the early mist will have gone by the time the last response of the first order of the day is made. Now, the pastel shades of light before dawn lie over the terraced lines of the vines, hiding the hills and the village in the valley: only the sound of the old jeep, carrying water and feed to the goats, breaks the silence. That and the deep rustle of her skirts, the soft shuffle of leather-soled shoes on stone.

What is also noticeable is that the ethnicity and cultural values of the Immortal appear to have no effect on the recognition of sanctity. The Immortal Scotsman Connor MacLeod, for example, training with the sorcerer Nakano, was clearly sensitive to Shintoist belief, refusing on several occasions to accompany his then teacher on excursions to the summit of Mount Niri, considered a sacred mountain both in the tradition of Shinto and in the animalistic nature-cult preceding.
It may be suggested, therefore, that there is a universal quality of the sacred landscape, detectable to the Immortal, which serves both as deterrent and protection. Unlike the conventional properties of Holy Ground, described below, this effect is insidious and not immediately recognisable to the individual. Generally speaking, only the very old or the very powerful have been known to inhabit a sacred landscape for long periods of time.

Prime. As the villagers drink their bitter black coffee, spread bread with damson preserve, as the children find school books, as out in the fields the labourers gather their tools and contemplate the season's tasks, so too the sisters lean to their books and their stillroom, and lay out the lessons of the day.

In contrast to the sacred landscape, Holy Ground, in a convention common to both Immortals and Watchers, is specific in nature to the dedicated. The abbey, the chapel, the church: the mosque, the synagogue, the temple, the ashram, the shrine: all these are Holy Ground, and subject to the constraints of their own religious order. The defiled shrine or the profaned church is not Holy Ground. The shaman's hut circle, no matter how ephemeral, remains sacred. That the Immortal is sensitive to the properties of Holy Ground is beyond question: this sensitivity is common to all Immortals regardless of the individual or the structure concerned.

Hers is not a silent order. There have always been children in the schoolroom, guests in the chapterhouse, lay brothers in the fields. The grill of the visiting parlour was rusted and laid aside long before Vatican II, and the house has always been a refuge for the ill, the broken and the needy. Time stretches to encompass the hours of the day and its minutes: the leaking boiler in the kitchen, the sudden lack of clean tablecloths, the writer who has yet another foot-note to add to a book whose printing was due six months before. There is always not enough time and too much.
My soul thirsts for you; my flesh faints for you, as in a dry and weary land where there is no water.
The bells sound for Terce, the third hour of the day.

It is difficult to discern if the general concept of Holy Ground as sanctuary arises from Immortal behaviour or has been adopted by Immortal tradition after a common precedent. However, the undeniable fact that all known Immortals react in exactly the same fashion to Holy Ground - the headache or ringing in the ears, generally signified by the hand being raised to the face, the sudden stillness of posture and mild glazing of the eyes, and the refusal to consider either issuing or accepting a challenge - would suggest a tangible constraint on Immortal behaviour exercised solely by some property of Holy Ground.

Midday is the time for visitors, for lunch, for the reading over lunch, for conversation. The sisters eat, after Sext, with their guests and the workers of their fields. Today, there is a sculptor from Barcelona, thin and dapper in dusty black, sharp-pointed beard: a sister from an evangelical American order, vivid in a red skirt, the colour startling against the black of her own order's habits, a visiting priest from a town three miles over the pass. There are the three boys from the village who tend the grapes, and the man with the pony-tail who three months ago, had been found on the road above the convent, head tilted to one side, eyes closed, listening to the sound of the sung Nunc Dimittus.
Lord, lettest now thy servant...
They had taken him in, fed and clothed him, and in the morning he had not left. The roof of the hay-barn, the water pipes for the vines, the printing press: all these and more run smoother and cleaner and better for the touch of his workman's hands. Still, he has not left. The words of the liturgy were familiar to him, but not the dialect of the village, which he has learnt.

No Immortal has been known to challenge on holy ground, with one known exception: we are all aware, I believe, of this one instance when Immortals fought to the death on consecrated soil and the consequences thereof. However, the boundaries of Holy Ground are quite specific. Witness the death of the Immortal Lian Shan Po, killed at the gates of the Jesuit College in Tangka. Lian Shan Po was not only within five feet of Holy Ground when he died: he was also a consecrated priest of his order. It may be said with some authority therefore that even if the individual Immortal concerned is dedicated to a specific faith, that dedication does not confer protection against attack. Only the physical presence of the Immortal on Holy Ground may so do. It should be added that, as we know to our cost, Holy Ground does not offer the same protection to the mortal.

After None, the ninth hour of the day, the sisters are free to walk in the garden, to converse, to pursue their own private studies. The convent is not silent. Sister Mariette has been known to curse, politely, her aging computer as she compiles the community accounts: from the sewing room comes the chatter of novices, from the garden the sound of shuttlecock on racket. There is the sound of a car, winding slowly up the road from the village, and the sharp rattle of teacups at the door. Her hands stiffen easily, these days: she puts the pen down, and walks to the window. The bells will sound for Vespers in less than twenty minutes, but out in the fields one man works still, amongst the long, sharp-edged shadows of the evening sun.

Despite the physical constraints of the protection offered by Holy Ground, on many occasions Immortals have been known to take up residence amongst religious communities. For some Immortals this is a true calling which may last for the term of their lives. The Immortal Darius, for example, after experiencing what may well be termed a Damascene conversion, remained an ordained priest of the Catholic faith for the term of his life. For others, a period spent on Holy Ground, whatsoever faith that ground may be dedicated too, is an interval in an otherwise secular life. During these periods of retreat, some Immortals have been known to become fully part of a religious community while others remain lay brethren for the term of their stay.

There are little sugarcoated crisp biscuits, with the tea. She eats one slowly, looking out the window. There are two men, now: one, whom she knows, working with his head bent over the roots of the last tree of the row: one, bareheaded, slighter, uneasy as an Englishman abroad, walking through the vines. This one she does not know. He stops, this second man, ten feet away from her guest.
They know each other. It is apparent, from the way the stranger holds his shoulders, tense, and the duck of his head, from the way the man she does know rises, very slowly, and turns, with his hands held out. He walks forward. His face - dear God! - his face is so changed it might be a different man.
They touch, these two men, fingertip to fingertip alone, a moment too distinct to be friendship, too intimate to be anything other than fragile, and the setting sun lines their fingers with gold, the shape and spaces of their hands.
The bell sounds for Vespers.

There has never been a documented case of lover challenging beloved. On the contrary, for good or ill, Immortal partnerships have been known to last millennia and survive even periods of Gathering. The partnership of Tien and Cho Oyu, for example, survived over seven hundred years and three Gathering episodes, during which the lovers fought back to back. Although records from the period are scanty, an observation from the seventh century AD suggests that neither Tien nor Oyu succumbed to any feeling of aggression towards each other, despite the ferocious battles of the Fourth East Asian Episode. In more recent history the relationship of the Immortal couple Robert and Angelina de Valicourt has withstood two civil wars, several marriages and the current Gathering impetus.

Between Vespers and Compline, after the lamps have been lit, the door to her study is always open. She has asked for tea: she has expected that he will come, as he does, to thank her, to say that he is leaving. She smiles. She says, you have found peace, and he nods. She will not ask what peace he sought or how he found it, for she has learnt to leave these things in other hands.
When he has gone, when the last farewell has been said and the last package tucked into the car - Soeur Amelie and her biscuits! - when the last echoes of the engine fade, she takes up her pen.

I will suggest, therefore, that the Immortal lover perceives the Immortal beloved as Holy Ground.
Ladies and gentleman, my colleagues, you who like myself are drawn to these our dangerous brethren, you who like myself mourn friends lost in this most perilous calling, I leave you with this thought. Like Robert and Gina de Valicourt, like Amanda Darieux and Nick Wolfe, I hope you too can feel them touching hands before our eyes.
Admidst all this violence and grief here too may be found peace.

 

 

Tori Amos - Sister Janet

Master Shamen I have come
with my dolly from the shadow side
with a demon and an Englishman
I'm my mother
I'm my son
nobody else is slipping the blade in easy
nobody else is slipping the blade in the marmalade

All the angels all the wizards black and white
are lighting candles in our hands
can you feel them touching hands before our eyes
and I can even see sweet Maryanne

Sister Janet you have come
from the woman clothed with the sun
your veil is quietly becoming none
call the Wanderer he has gone
and all those up there are making it look so easy
with your perfect wings
a wing can cover all sorts of things