The winter frost followed us whether we travelled over land or sea. Even now from where I sit writing this, I can see it barrelling towards us in an avalanche of clouds.
When I was first given this mission by the Bishop Gaius, I hadn’t realised the journey would be so arduous. No, I didn’t even think when I accepted the task inside that stifling abbey of his that I would have to endure three months crossing the known world on foot and another in a boat that could barely stay afloat. But I suppose all pilgrims face such trials, and our mission was one blessed by the Lord.
The ocean was the worst part of our journey. The sea and sky seemed determined to sink our small craft. At times I even possessed the thought that we must have slipped over the edge of the world and were now caught in Hell’s own furies. But the Father proved merciful and soon delivered us onto this land so that we might fulfil our mission to Him.
I was not prepared for the people here, to find they would first be unyielding to our message. They are like the mountains which carve up their land – adamant and defined by the elements. I sincerely believe it was only by the Father’s own will that we were allowed into their village.
We were anomalous to them, as much a bizarre attraction that they could gawk at as they were to us. They came to our sermons out of mere curiosity, and they built this church only for the prospect of payment. Our teachings meant nothing, and the Lord was a stranger to them for they had their own gods and saw no need for ours.
But they were not all unfriendly. I talked once to an old man tending the fire in the centre of the village while those younger than himself drank and danced in the flame’s light. He taught me about the songs of old which took life from the men’s throats and the glories that they called upon. He spoke of their gods, the ancient forces that they worshipped. For them, the winds, seas and mountains each had a unique face and voice. On that night of firelight and laughter, he told me their stories.
Bishop Gaius warned me of their blasphemous ways, their veneration for deific rulers of the ocean and earth. Their prayers are etched on bones and devotions are ones of blood. They do not know how the good should live. So we continued our preaching, bringing the Lord’s words to this land that sits on the Earth’s edge.
I do not know when some began to listen. Women would loiter at the back of the church, their children sprawled at their feet. Farmers, the ones with nothing more than a scrap of land to their name, came tentatively to sit by my pulpit. We taught them how the good should live, how the servants of God lived. I watched their eyes grow more focused on my words each day.
Once a man brought a statue that he and his family had long treated with reverence. A strange item, wooden and at first so simple until I stared deeper into the etchings that marked its features. He asked what the Father wanted with such things. We told him to destroy it. He protested and argued that his father’s father had been the one to carve it. We told him that the servants of the Lord do not cling to idols. By dusk, he returned and showed us the ashes of the object. Taking it between our fingers, we marked him as one of the church.
“Thank you,” he told us. “I thank you for that.”
We shook our heads.
He dipped his gaze. “I thank the Lord.”
We nodded. We taught them all how the good should live.
Yet, I struggle to write this. These people, they are good.
One morn, while I walked through the village, I observed a dog of nothing more than bone collapse in the middle of the road. A boy came across the creature and I expected him to either ignore it or else kill the animal. But instead, he stopped and stooped to stroke the dog’s head before taking it up in his arms. The following week I saw the animal again but now it strode confidently by its master’s side.
Bishop Gaius told me that the way they lived was unholy. They are steeped in sin.
This land, it’s so unlike the cathedrals of Rome where I walked the halls of polished marble, where I have built my life upon the holy word. Bishop Gaius warned me of the barbarity that overtook those outside of God’s grace. They are monstrous, it was the purpose of our mission to save them.
Bishop Gaius told me that we were the only hope for redeeming these lands. And we have, we made them forget their false religion in favour of one that was true. That was the reason for this journey.
I do not know what I thought of that old man’s tales. They frightened me, they disgusted me, yet I found them beautiful. These people may have not had the Lord’s word, but they had their own. They had their own stories, their songs, their world, and we were sent to destroy them.
I am doing the Lord’s work and the Lord’s work is good.
The man - the one we had blessed with his own handful of ash - he brought his old mother once to join our congregation. She stopped in the doorway to the church, steadying herself with one hand on the door while her son leant down on her other side. She brushed him off and straightened to stare around our place of worship. All the while, she clutched an amulet of some sort, a stone made beautiful by the patterns that swept across it. She held it close, bound inside her fist. Her son muttered something to move her past the doorstep, again she shook him off and her voice was rough. She then stepped back, outside our church, leaving before our service had begun.
The man, her son, he continues to come every day. He tells us of the town, their festivals where the people will dance and sing, laugh and share their stories; those breeding grounds of sin, he spits. I am not entirely sure if he ever goes home anymore.
This is what we have done. I have done. This is the Lord’s work. To redeem those who sin and teach all how the good should live. How we lived in Rome.