A Simple Dream
The sound of loud church bells drove Melisande from her bed in the residence cells of Mont Saint Michel. She stood up, slid her feet into her wooden sandals and opened her window to let the sun in. This day was special for her as it was one of the few really warm days in Northern France.
The sea breeze caressed her face as the gentle sound of waves crashing on the shore filled her cell. It was high tide, which meant that the abbey was completely surrounded by water. Only a small bridge in the water connected the massive building to the mainland.
Melisande was a little disappointed as she enjoyed sneaking outside of the walls to run along the sandbars and marshes when the tide was out. It appeared that she would be stuck within the abbey’s walls at the mercy of her caretakers for the day.
Ever the optimist, she shrugged it off in the hopes of seeing a ship on the horizon. It was a common occurance to see the small sail of a fishing vessel or courior on the horizon, but every now and then, she would be treated to something larger. The height of her mornings were when she caught sight of a large merchant vessel or, every once in a while, a warship.
This would not be one of those mornings as her tranquility was quickly interrupted by a harsh knock at her door, “Melisande? Melisande, are you still in bed at this hour?”
Melisande let out a startled yelp as she raced for the robe hanging next to her bed, “I’m up, I’m awake!”
A deep sigh could be heard from the other side of the door, “Have you at least made yourself decent?”
Melisande quickly tied the sash to her robe, “Yes, you may enter.”
The door burst open revealing an old nun with her arms crossed on the other side. The nun was very heavy footed and her steps could be heard throughout the abbey when she walked. Upon seeing Melisande’s appearance, her lips formed a scowl, “Young lady, it is not becoming to stay in bed all day. You have studies and chores to perform.”
Melisande frowned, “I finished my studies yesterday and this is supposed to be my day to rest. Please Sister Mary, it has been a long time since I went exploring. Might I have a few hours to myself?”
Sister Mary rolled her eyes, “I have watched over you since you were a baby, I have taken care of you, and I have put up with your nonsense. Exploration and adventure are for soldiers and sailors. What you desire is not all it appears to be, believe me. That is the path of pain and loss. You need to learn to be a lady. Find yourself a calling and perhaps a husband. Especially since you’ve decided that you did not want to join a holy order.”
“I’m sorry Sister,” Melisande replied honestly, “I am grateful for your care… but becoming a nun never had any appeal for me. I have spent my whole life thus far behind these walls. I don’t wish to be behind them forever. Something out there calls to me, I can feel its pull.”
She looked over at the two stained swords that she had mounted over her bed, “Something bigger awaits me and I need to find out what it is.”
Sister Mary followed her gaze to the swords and shook her head, “I never wanted you to receive those things, but your father insisted, and I was not about to deny someone their dying wish.”
Her gaze then returned to Melisande, “Your path is your own to choose, though you may find yourself regretting such a decision if you go searching for answers. I hope that I don’t live to see that day.”
“You don’t know that.” Melisande replied. “These swords belonged to my family… and I don’t even know who they are. I need to find answers if I’m ever to be able to live with myself.”
The elderly nun touched one of the swords near the hilt, “A few generations of your family were protected by them, this is true, but where are they now? You are the last of your family.”
Melisande stood next to Sister Mary as she looked at the swords, “But I don’t even know them… I don’t even know what my family’s name is. Will you finally tell me about them, please? Who were they, what were they like, and what is my full name?”
The nun turned away from the swords and looked Melisande in the eyes for a few moments. She saw the stormy blue eyes that never looked the same from one moment to the next. It was as though an entire sky scene passed through her pupils as she stared.
Finally the nun sighed and turned to leave the room, “I told you that I forgot your family’s name. I did not know your family well, so I can’t provide you with any information. I only met them once when they released you into my care. I’m an old woman. My memory fails sometimes”
Melisande rolled her eyes and became angry, “You’re lying. I don’t know what you think you’re protecting me from, but I deserve to know. If you truly don’t know the answrs, then you know someone that does!”
Sister Mary stopped dead in her tracks, but did not turn around, “Two demerits for your tone. It’ll be three more if you don’t begin your chores soon.”
The door closed behind her as Melisande sat down on the bed and began to sulk. She had been confined to the abbey all of her life. Often times if a ship passed by, she would try to convince one of the soldiers on guard to let her use their looking glass. Most of the time, she was successful and Melisande spent the day watching as the ships passed.
The guards didn’t make life any easier for her as they were full of stories about wars past. Melisande loved to sit and listen to the old veterans talking about past glories from long ago, even though she knew that many of them were blatantly made up or exaggerated. It made her yearn even more to free herself from the protection of the abbey walls.
Melisande had often dreamt of a life at sea, but that life was restricted to men. However she was certain that she could make it work if only she could get away from the abbey. Such things were little more than pipe dreams as she knew that she was kept there for a reason. If she tried to escape on foot, the guards would catch her in no time.
Still, in many ways, Melisande could hear the sea calling to her. It was as though an unseen spirit of the sea was pulling at her arms, but Mont Saint Michel would not release her feet. She balled a fist and hit the stone wall as tears formed in her eyes. She could barely stand it anymore.
It took Melisande an hour to get cleaned up and get ready for her chores. She brushed her long blonde hair back behind her left ear and allowed the right bangs hang down to her cheek. Her hair flowed half way down her back as she worked. When she was finished tending to her appearance, she left her room and made her way down the tower’s winding staircase. She then proceeded through the abbey to the main kitchen as the residents and clergy finished their meals and began to clear out.
Melisande was seated over in the far corner and given a small bowl of wheat. She ate it down slowly, resenting the flavorless mush. She never sat with anyone and was mostly ignored by the other people in the room. When she was certain that no one was looking in her direction, she dumped the wheat into a nearby bucket that she would later use for cleaning.
Sister Mary came over to her a few minutes later with an emotionless expression on her face, “Well Melisande, I am glad that you are finally up and about. Are you ready to begin your chores?”
Melisande nodded unenthusiastically, “Yes sister, I finished breakfast, so I’ll get started.”
“Good,” she replied, “I believe Mr. Clement could use some help in the kitchen. You’ll start there today.”
“Yes sister,” Melisande replied respectfully.
Without another word to the old nun, she obediently turned and entered the kitchen at the back of the room. The kitchen was little more than a stone closet with a single oven carved into the back wall. Two tables were the only furniture and they were covered with dirty utensils.
Amidst the chaos, the cook looked up and smiled at Melisande as she began her work, “Top of the morning to you, Messy.”
Melisande smiled as she picked up the water bucket next to the fireplace, “Good morning, Papi.”
Papi was a stout man that, despite his imposing size, held himself the way a soldier would. Though he never talked about his past, Melisande was certain that he’d been a military man at some point. She didn’t know his real name and always referred to him as Papi or Papi Clement.
Though Papi was somewhat of an enigma to her, she still looked at him as a father figure. He was also the only man who got away with calling her by the nickname ‘Messy,’ which he gave her as a joke about how she cleaned. It always seemed to get a rise out of her which was something he enjoyed greatly.
Melisande’s attachment to him went back to when she was three years old and he would set aside some dough to make a cookie for her whenever he was cooking. As the years passed, she would periodically sneak off to the kitchen to see him whenever Sister Mary’s back was turned. He always enjoyed the company.
Papi was not a priest or a clergyman, but he was the best cook in town and was often hired at the abbey. He also had a reputation for disappearing for a few months at a time. His absence was always upsetting to Melisande and each time, she wondered if she would ever see him again.
Papi watched Melisande as she got down on her knees to clean the floors and noticed the sad look on her face, “What troubles you, Messy, why the sour look?”
Melisande stopped for a moment, “Have you ever felt that you were destined for more then you are, or ever asked the question whether or not this is all that’s out there for you?”
The chef chuckled as he thought back to his younger years, “Oh when I was younger, sure. We all have those feelings at one point or another. Fortunately, in my time, I have seen much of the world and had my share of adventure. After all that, a little peace and quiet is a welcomed change.”
“That’s what I want!” She blurted out. “I’ve often thought about getting out of here and seeing the world. I want adventure, but moreover, I want to know who I am and where I come from.”
She touched her cheek right below her eyes, “I know I’m different, I just would like to know how and why.”
“Different?” Papi asked. “What would make you think so?”
Melisande chose her words carefully as she responded, not wanting to cause alarm, “Well my eyes for one. I’ve not seen another pair quite like them in my years, and…”
Melisande stopped for a moment, wondering if he should tell Papi this part. She trusted him, but it was quite personal. Still, he had never given her a reason not to believe that he would keep her words quiet, “When I close my eyes at night, I see things.”
The old cook stopped tending to the mess, “Things, Messy? What sort of things?”
“I… I don’t know…” She replied. “I think they might be angels. I close my eyes and I see these beautiful people dressed in white robes, dresses, or in silvery armored plates. They all have wings, but many are different shapes and sizes. Other times, it’s just one angel with her eyes bandaged.”
Papi looked nervously at her, “Messy, I’d be very careful about who you tell about those dreams, especially here.”
“I know,” she said with a nod, “don’t worry, I am not so naive that I don’t know what they might think.”
Papi turned back to cleaning off his table, “So what do you think these dreams mean?”
Melisande shrugged, “If only I knew, but I think it has to do with who I am. These dreams don’t feel like dreams at all. They’re more like what you’d expect from memories, if that even makes sense.”
She looked over at the small window which had been cut into the wall, “I want to find out, but I can’t do that as long as I’m stuck here.”
“You are probably better off not knowing.” Papi replied. “The world out there is a treacherous place. Even the strongest have trouble just getting by.”
Melisande glumly nodded continued her work, “Yes, that’s what everyone says. It’s too dangerous… I should just stay here and become a nun… forever… You sound like Sister Mary.”
Papi bit his lip as he looked at her, “Messy, I have some bad news for you.”
Melisande usually knew what this meant. Papi was going to be disappearing again. She closed her eyes as she responded, “You’re leaving again, aren’t you?”
Papi nodded, “Yeah, tomorrow.”
“For how long?” She asked.
“I can’t say.” Papi replied. “Hopefully not for too long.”
Melisande frowned, “I’ll miss you…”
“I’ll miss you too, little Messy,” Papi replied, “but no more frowning. I’ll be back!”
“You promise?” She demanded.
“Have I ever lied to you before?” Papi asked. “Of course I promise.”
“You better.” Melisande replied.
Melisande was meticulous in her cleaning. She made sure that no crack in the floor went unattended to. An hour went by as Papi and Melisande worked. They were just finishing wiping everything dry when Sister Mary appeared at the door and looked around.
Melisande smiled, “I’ve finished cleaning, what do you think?”
Sister Mary surveyed the room, as usual, without a hint of emotion and nodded, “Satisfactory work… ok, you have done your chores for the day.”
“Satisfactory?” Melisande scoffed with a surprised expression. “I scrubbed everything until it was spotless.”
Papi nodded, “I saw how hard she was working, madam, she scrubbed the entire kitchen down.”
Sister Mary gave Papi a stern look before turning back to Melisande, “Don’t ask one’s opinion, if you don’t honestly want it. Now be gone with you.”
An exasperated Melisande stared at her for a moment in disbelief. The nun returned her stare and clapped her hands, “Come now, move it!”
Still in disbelief, Melisande shook her head and stormed past the old nun up the stone steps, heading back to her room. She was angry, upset, and frustrated all at once. It never seemed like anything she did was good enough. Just once, a’ good job,’ or a ‘thank you for working so hard,’ would be appreciated. She thought to herself. Not from Sister Mary, no way, that would be too much to ask!
Melisande was years ahead of other people in her studies and she always did a good job on her chores. Though she credited being so far ahead in studies with the fact that she simply had nothing better to do with her time. In her heart, she would have made the trade to have experienced some of what the outside world offered.
Papi shook his head as Melisande disappeared. Sister Mary turned back to him, “You disapprove of the way I’ve raised Melisande, do you?”
“Not at all madam,” he replied, “she’s a strong-willed, but polite and hard working young woman. You’ve done as fine a job with her. As good as anyone could hope to.”
Sister Mary’s stoic expression didn’t change, “Don’t hold back. Say what’s on your mind, Mr. Clement.”
Papi looked at the stone stairs where Melisande had been standing, “However, I don’t know about how you treat her sometimes. It seems a little cold. I may not know much about her case, but she is still young. I doubt her being here is her own fault.”
Sister Mary glared at him once again, “You think I’m hard on her because I blame her for being here?”
“I can only judge based on what I’ve seen.” Papi replied. “It does look like you’re hard on her for something even she doesn’t understand.”
“Then perhaps you should watch more closely.” Sister Mary hissed. “It has been my charge to care for her since she was born. I have raised her within the church and protected her.”
“Protected her?” Papi said suspiciously, “Protected her from what?”
Sister Mary turned to leave the kitchen, “You are paid to cook, not investigate. Keep your opinions to yourself and let me decide what is best for her.”
Papi shook his head with a slight grin, “Don’t ask one’s opinion, if you don’t honestly want it.”
Sister Mary paused for a moment before turning and giving the cook an angry stare as she walked away. She didn’t appreciate her words being used against her.
Papi smiled, knowing that this was one of those rare times where he actually won an argument against her.
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