Title: Aziraphale's Unpleasant Irish Adventure, Day 497/???
Author: H. Savinien
Author's Notes: The prompt I used was “Crowley and Aziraphale and medieval religion”. I hope you like it! Thanks to my SO for beta help.
The land was green, even in the highest reach of summer, as the ever-present mizzle fed the mosses and grass and damped the little crofters' gardens as well as the greater stretches of wheat and barley that would feed them bread and porridge through the winter. The woods reached about and about, fingers of trees stretching curious down into the valley, though every year they shrank at the ax and retreated for the plough. The monastery of Bogha Bríde held the highest point in the river valley, the church set upon a hill and the outbuildings, gardens, and hives huddled 'round it tidily. The whole of the monastery was enclosed in a high fitted-stone wall, for the Viking raids had only given way to the English lords' invasion and the fewer burnings of church buildings were small comfort against other depredations. In the woods, pigs rooted, and cattle and sheep grazed the slopes of the valley, tended by older children. Men and women worked the fields, cast nets in the river for eel, and set snares for small game. The town around the monastery was large enough for a smith, but they had little in the way of fine goods. A few Traveller families had camped for the week on a bit of scraggy ground outside of town, tinkers and dye merchants setting out their brightest wares, a few singers and harpists joining the locals in the evening for oíche cheoil.
Despite the worry over English incursion, the concerns of feeding and clothing and housing the town continued. The monastery went about its work much the same as the town, with the addition of the daily masses and prayers, and for one particular monk, the most important duty of all – the business of the scriptorium. That was the hall of light and color, gold leaf and precious pigment laid carefully onto the powdered vellum, where words and thoughts came to be fruitful and multiply. It was a holy place, if any were, though the powder got up one's nose and some of the paints were worryingly toxic. It was a human place, where beauty and eternity were captured in mundane materials and the grueling labor of men and women.
Brother Elias missed his rota in the monastery gardens for the second time in a week and the Abbot lost patience with all the grace of a boar in a patch of thistles.
“Bad enough,” Abbot Cerball roared, “to be saddled with an English monk, sneaking and spying as he no doubt is, but that he be a lazy and useless one besides...” The Abbot's face reddened so much that tiny, red-haired Brother Artt fluttered about, offering mint-water, and murmuring worriedly about apoplexy.
Aziraphale opened his mouth to protest and was silenced by a look so foul it would have done the Metatron proud.
“I thank you not to interrupt, Brother Elias,” the Abbot snapped. “The good Saint Benedictus gave us our way of living – ora et labora – work and pray. You understand the duties you have been given? Scraping parchment on Monday from terce to sext, leaving off only for the blessed Mass, weeding the herbs on Tuesday from none to vespers, and so on?”
Aziraphale nodded cautiously.
“You may answer,” Abbot Cerball added.
“Yes, Father Abbot. I understand.”
The Abbot mantled like an irritated hawk. “Then why do your labors remain so often neglected? You may be an exemplary copyist, but you do not ordain where your hours are spent. It is not to you to choose your time in the scriptorium over rougher tasks.”
“I forgot, Father Abbot,” Aziraphale said meekly.
“Brother Elias, you are barred from the scriptorium for a fortnight.” The Abbot shook his head. “Brother Artt, tell Sister Sétach so. She may mourn the loss of a copyist for his neglect of his other duties.”
Brother Artt bobbed nervously. Someday, perhaps, he would grow into his lanky limbs, but until then the little bow made him look like a gangling foal about to fall over. “Yes, Father Abbot.”
“Report to your other duties as given and you shall spend the time in the gardens that would have been at your manuscripts.”
Aziraphale wilted. “Yes, Father Abbot.”
Crowley giggled into her mug. “Really, angel? Really. You're in danger of being chucked out of the monastery because you haven't been doing your chores.”
Aziraphale glowered. “If I find you've interfered-”
“Not a chance,” Crowley snorted. “That's all on you. I don't think I've ever been near the Abbot. He's the skinny, frowning one, right?”
“Abbot Cerball is a bit...lanky, yes,” Aziraphale said. “Dark hair, shortish nose, looks a bit like those Pictish folk about the eyes.”
“Haven't said a word to the poor bugger. He's got enough troubles dealing with you and your lackadaisical tendencies.” She stuck the mug and dregs under the bench to be found weeks later and moulding.
Aziraphale grumped around a mouthful of oatbread. “Gardening just takes up so much time. There's still two thirds of the Johns and most of Revelations to do and I know I've got a good long run to work on them, but my first favorite illuminator died Brigid's Day last and the whole aesthetic will be quite ruined if I lose the second before we've got all the way through the Johns, at least.”
“And you don't like getting your hands mucky.” Crowley rolled her eyes and flicked a lock of dark hair out of her face. “Just be glad it's not a Columban monastery or you'd be stuck in a little pit of a room, kneeling 'til you cried.”
“Columbanus was a righteous man, to be sure,” Aziraphale said uncomfortably.
“Too much so for you. You'd never allowed out long enough for a little whine about your work with a woman of an Lucht Siúil, much less be eating with me when you almost certainly've had a meal already today. You were not made for an Irish ascetic, angel.”
A child of indeterminate gender brushed past Aziraphale, tugged on Crowley's sleeve and leant up to whisper urgently in her ear. She pulled a face. “What, now?” Crowley demanded in Pavee. The child nodded.
“Problem?” Aziraphale asked.
“The camp's been invaded,” Crowley grumbled. When Aziraphale started in alarm, she waved a hand. “Not by humans. By a herd of half-wild goats, apparently. Want to help sort it out while I point and laugh at the poor buggers trying to catch the beasts?”
Aziraphale sighed and gathered up his skirts. “I suppose it can't do any harm to the goodwill between the Travellers and the town to have a monk come to their aid.”
Crowley grinned like the snake she had been.
When two wild bucks suddenly find themselves not only in competition for a herd of does in heat, but in the middle of a chaotic obstacle course full of squalling humans, their reaction is not to escape and find a quieter place to perform their marital duties. Their aggression, on the contrary, expands to encompass not only each other, but the whole infuriating mess of their surroundings.
Aziraphale found this out the hard way.
Once a couple of the horsewomen had snared the goat-bucks, two young men wrestled does in front of each of them and led them by their noses out of the camp in opposite directions. Crowley, after recovering from her prostrations of laughter, sent a child away with a swat to fetch Aziraphale a ladder from the village.
“I can truly say I did not expect to spend time today watching your pale, scrawny legs dangle from a tree,” Crowley called up.
Aziraphale glowered, his curls draggling around his ears and a great swathe of mud slicking the front of his robe.
“Oh, cheer up,” Crowley said. “The families have added a small herd of goats to our travels, which means meat and milk and kids to sell if I can put the fear of Crowley into those bucks. It'll be an easier winter than most.” She sat on a rock, looking pleased with herself.
“Meanwhile, I've made a fool of myself and the monastery in the process,” Aziraphale grumped.
“Eh,” Crowley waved a hand. “Good intentions aren't meaningless despite which road they're said to pave. Everyone had a laugh, no one's hurt worse than your dignity, which you put too much stock in anyway.”
“No more than you, with fancy woven trim on all your hems,” Aziraphale protested.
“Yes, but I'm a demon. Pride is part of the package.”
“Pride and dignity aren't the same thing!”
Crowley cocked an eyebrow. “How much difference is there, really? They're both all about appearances and manners and what people think of you. Do you want to split hairs on that one?”
Aziraphale quieted, considering that.
“Anyway,” Crowley added. “You'll want to get down from there and back to the monastery the old-fashioned way, not wait for the child to finish the wild goose chase I sent him on.”
“I ought... what?”
“I told the wee snotty thing to ask at the house with the green door, and there isn't one,” Crowley clarified. “It'll keep me free of tagalongs for a couple of hours.”
“Crowley! No, I meant why should I get back to Bogha Bríde in such a hurry?”
The demon pursed her lips. “Well, to begin with, you were meant to be at your gardening duties about ten minutes after you started your wild goat chase.”
Aziraphale groaned and stretched to let bright gold-brown wings slide out around him, half-tangible. They were, unfortunately, tangible enough to jostle the leaves of his tree and drop another great splash of rainwater down onto his head.
“This has been a perfectly horrid day,” he informed Crowley. “I'm blaming you.”
Crowley grinned and sauntered off, waving back over her shoulder. “Don't get mistook for something edible on your way back,” she advised.
Aziraphale shivered his wings to try to get most of the damp off, then half took off, half fell out of the tree and into the air, back to the monastery to learn his fate from the most-likely enraged Abbott Cerball.
Informative notes: This story is set in Ireland c. 1250, in and around Bogha Bríde (Brigid's Cross), a fictional Benedictine monastery in one of the few areas still controlled by Irish lords rather than the English.
Aziraphale is known to the locals as Brother Elias, as his later aliases (e.g. Ezra Fell) use names that were unheard of until much later.
Crowley is a Traveller, one of the nomadic people known in Irish as an Lucht Siúil (the walking people). Their language is called Pavee.