From the beach, the Mad Monk passed as a shadow over many miles of dunes, the pampas blades bowing backwards to admit him through. And in the sky dark clouds began to rally – and in the wings of his nose came the scent of storm. So he abandoned the plains of dunes in favour of a seashore cave, a humble shelter for his noble head. And in this cave he resided for some short duration of days, as the rain came down to drench the land, and the wet of the weather to welcome him. And in that cave he built from some logs and branches a fire for himself, one that he lit from a spark of some stones he scraped, and the warmth it lent, and the light at night it gave, were pleasing to his senses. And for food he fed on some crabs that ambled naively into that cave, lured by the firelight. He cooked their flesh in the flame, and ate heartily, relishing the crunch of their crabby shells under his iron canines. And for dessert he dined on an earthworm, seasoned with sea salt, made juicier through liberal sprinkling of the silvery slime of snail (it was his custom to collect such slime). And when he was not eating or sleeping or surveying the storm’s progress, he would doodle on the walls of the cave, anointing his fingertips with pigments of his own produce, and making bold strokes on the flatter sections of stone. He drew dragons and demons, visions of the otherworld and of paradise, sometimes even attempting the beloved face of Watt once known. And sometimes he took stabs at sketching his own self, though through lack of a mirror, the results were mediocre. Still and all, he found it a pleasant pastime, and he reckoned he would improve, through dint of sheer persistence.

And one day there came into the cave a darting Hare, whom the Mad Monk caught easily, and would have killed and cooked and eaten, had not the Hare, who possessed great powers of persuasion, made a moving appeal for his life to be spared. He was young, and his whole life lay before him. What is more, he knew the Mad Monk of old, so he claimed, for when a baby he remembered having been introduced to that same worthy gentleman by his father, one of the pillars of the haring community, who had dealt with fairies and druids and shamans and suchlike singular folk, of whom the Mad Monk was one of the more colourful. His father had hailed the Mad Monk a hero such as might redeem the world from the ruin with which it flirted, and he made it plain to his impressionable son that such was the sort of chap he would have him try in his own little life to live up to, and strive to emulate, for all he never could nor would. And as long as he lived the young Hare would never forget the words of his father apropos that paragon of all earthly creatures, that glory of the world and God in man.

So thus did the loquacious Hare plead his case and charm the Mad Monk through flattery and flowery words and cloying compliments, and though outwardly the Mad Monk affected to disdain the praise, within he was secretly delighted. And when the pageant of praise was winding down, the Mad Monk bade the Hare be quiet, and run along like a good fellow and leave him alone – ‘for my appetite that once yearned foryour flesh is dissipated and quenched, so well wrought your roguish ruse of waffle’.

But the Hare, getting cocky, would not leave. He had come to the cave with a specific purpose, to seek advice from a man known far and wide to be wise.

‘Hang on now, my hopping hare of bandy bow legs! Leaving aside whether or not I do be wise, how is it that you came to know that advice such as you seek would be readily found from one such as me in this particular godforsaken cave of all caves on the coast?’

The Hare smiled, knowing something the Mad Monk didn’t, and elaborated. The Mad Monk’s coming was no secret among the learned. For months prior to his landing, the advent of his return had been much spoken of. It all began when a ghost was seen wandering the hills, caressing the goats, murmuring sweet nothings in their ears and babbling unto them prophetic gobbledygook to make their hairs stand on end. This ghost took the shape of a bald old man with a very long beard and glowing eyes, who spoke in lofty language, foretelling his brother’s impending arrival to redeem the wretched.

The Mad Monk started at the employment of the word ‘brother’ with reference to this prophet, and felt a chill to his heart. For he recognized in the description the person of his own dead brother Elijah, who knew all, and of what he knew told only a little, and that little whenever and to whomsoever few he chose. And he felt a quiet horror then.

Books and Roses