1. Dolor Meus
Ireland, circa 1450 AD
Clad in a simple brown robe, the lone traveler reached Quin Abbey’s gate. His simple garment and boots were dusty from the road, but his step never faltered – he walked straight, as if neither thirst nor hunger could trouble him. In the chill of the morning, he knocked on the heavy door and, not long after, he heard footsteps approaching the gate.
“Who goes there?” The man’s voice sounded mistrustful – those were dangerous times, after all.
“It is Father Francis”, replied the traveler. For some years now, he had assumed the name of another man clad in earthen brown – another man who spoke to birds, may Eru rest his gentle soul.
As soon as he identified himself, the Abbey’s door unbolted and the face of a short, skinny friar appeared in the opening. “Father Francis! Praised be our Lord for this unexpected joy!” He held the door open for the traveler to come in, gazing at him with eyes full of wonder. “You haven’t aged a day, Father, unless my eyes trick me. Still, you must be tired; please, come inside and share our humble breakfast.”
Father Francis shook his head. “You are most kind, Brother Connor, but this can wait. Word has reached me regarding a most extraordinary guest residing among you; a stranger with the voice of an angel – or so the rumors say.”
“Brother Kano? You have heard of Brother Kano?” Suddenly, suspicion clouded the short friar’s eyes.
Father Francis smiled. “A little bird told me.” Literally - but he never voiced his thought.
Friar Connor couldn’t help but smile back, his face now deeply red. “My apologies, Father, for my indiscretion,” he said, lowering his gaze. “I did not mean to offend you with my mistrustfulness. But, you see, we fear that some people think ill of our poor brother – especially considering the circumstances of his arrival. Please, walk with me.”
As they walked through the arched hallway and into the cloister garden, myriads of birds swarmed to greet the newcomer. They chirped and chattered, flitting around his head and shoulders, welcoming Father Francis in their midst. At the same time, one of the Abbey’s cats - a large, striped tomcat - left his spot in the sun and ran purring at his feet, his tail erect and trembling. The man in the brown robe raised his hands and whispered a blessing for all of them in a long forgotten tongue – a blessing for all the creatures that flew or swam or crawled, a blessing from the time when the world took shape by song and music. The birds and the cat rejoiced, for they had never forgotten the tongue of the Firstborn – in their lullabies and their daily prayers they always recited tales of another land and another time, so the world might one day remember.
Then another voice echoed in the Abbey – a voice clear and strong, like the crystal waters of a mountain spring under the full moon. The birds ceased their chirping and the bees stopped their buzzing, so no mundane sound would interfere with that heavenly voice. The denizens of the Abbey stood in awe, as the trills of the song rose higher and higher, reaching for the skies.
“Voce mea ad Dominum clamavit - voce mea ad Dominum deprecatus sum.
Effundo in conspectu eius orationem meam - et tribulationem meam ante ipsum pronuntio”.
Then the singing ended and, in the silence that followed, the creatures of Quin Abbey came out of their trance one by one. They returned to their daily struggles, buzzing and chirping and purring, and Brother Connor turned to Father Francis, his eyes misty.
“Every time I hear Brother Kano sing,” he said, “I fear that my heart might stop, so that its crude sound will not offend the silver of his voice.” The short friar took Father Francis’ arm and gently led him toward the refectory. “I will never forget the first time I heard him sing – although what he sang could not possibly be of Christian faith.”
Father Francis stopped and turned to look at the Friar. “Oh?”
Brother Connor lowered his gaze, his face a deep pink shade. “There was something wild – something heathen – in his songs. He spoke in a strange tongue, and all we could understand of his name sounded like “Kano”. Father, I swear, that every time he sang his pagan hymns I could smell fire – fire and brimstone. And still I could not resist listening – something in my heart stirred in the sound of his voice, as if something that had been asleep for long had awoken.”
“I suppose that the Abbot was not very happy about this?”
The friar nodded. “Indeed, he was not, Father, especially considering how the poor man came to be here.” His small, green eyes darted sideways. “A fisherman found him,” he said, his voice now low. “He was washed ashore, probably the sole survivor of a shipwreck. However,” he added, his voice now barely a whisper, “rumour among the townsfolk has it that he is a selkie.”
Father Francis struggled not to smile. “A selkie?”
Brother Connor nodded. “So they say. I must confess, Father, that I too have wondered about this occasionally. Brother Kano – if this is indeed his name – bears little resemblance to the people of this region. He’s tall, and fair, and moves with rare grace – as if he is not of this world. And his voice … ah, his voice!”
They took a few more steps toward the refectory before he friar spoke again. “I taught him our psalms,” he said, pride colouring his voice. “He learns fast, especially hymns and songs. And although I suspect that he understands our speech rather well by now, he still won’t talk.”
Then the strange voice echoed once more, but this time lower – darker. All joy had vanished from the song, and a deep, heart-wrenching sorrow fell over the Abbey, summoned by the stranger’s pain. Sharp as a blade, hard as an anvil, and cruel as the storm over high waters, the words of the hymn reached out and all hearts clenched with despair over fell deeds and blood spilt.
“O vos omnes, qui transitis per viam - attendite et videte, si est dolor sicut dolor meus”.
Heartbeats later, when the stranger fell silent, Brother Connor let out a deep breath and made the sign of the cross, shaking his head. “Such sorrow…”
Father Francis placed his hand on the friar’s shoulder. “He has good reason for this sorrow,” he said, his voice calm.
Brother Connor looked up, his eyes wide. “You know him?”
“I know of him, and of his family. I have come to take him home.”
“Home? But -” The friar stared blankly at Father Francis, searching for the right words to oppose him. But no word came out and, finally, he lowered his gaze. “So be it, Father. Although I will miss his singing, I will pray for this poor soul to find rest among his kin.”
Father Francis blinked as his eyes slowly adjusted to the darkness of the cell. Dried straw covered the floor and a simple wooden bed stood by the wall. At the back wall, he saw a crouched form. His features were hidden behind a mass of unkempt dark hair and long, pale arms clutched his knees on his chest. Then he raised his face to the light that came from the small window above him and sang again.
“Et in pulverem mortis deduxerunt me - et super dolorem vulnerum meorum addiderunt.”
The fair face twitched; tears ran down the pale cheeks. His voice drowned in a sob and the stranger hid his face in his palms. Slowly, carefully, the man in the brown robe walked to the weeping stranger and knelt behind him. He placed one hand on the shaking shoulder and pushed back the dirty strands of hair with the other.
“Weep no more,” he said softly.
The dark-haired stranger looked up, and surprise coloured his grey gaze at the sound of the tongue of the Firstborn. He studied the robed man cautiously. “Who are you? You bear a mortal form, and yet the grace of the Valar dances around you.”
“Our Lady, the Giver of Fruits, called me Aiwendil,” the robed man said. Then he reached inside the folds of his cloth and produced a small white feather – a swan feather. “I have a message for you, Kanafinwe.”
Kanafinwe reached out to the white feather, his hand slightly shaking. His fingers barely touched the delicate item. Then, as if he had been scorched, he quickly retrieved his hand and looked away, his eyes misting anew. “No. I have blood on my hands.”
“This cannot be changed,” replied Aiwendil. “But the swans and the seagulls have carried your lament over the sea to Valinor.” He sat on the damp ground, beside Kanafinwe. “There is a time for grieving and a time for healing, my child. Your kin call you home.”
“I tried,” he replied after a while, his voice trembling. “I tried to sail West, but the waves rose, and the winds raged, and Ulmo awoke and crushed me for my insolence.” He shook his head and covered his eyes with his palm. “No, Aiwendil, the way to the West is lost for me.”
“The Shipwright thinks otherwise,” said the robed man and stood up.
“Cirdan? Cirdan is here?” Kanafinwe looked up, and, for the first time, something other than remorse echoed in his clear, strong voice: hope.
“The waves will part and the wind will softly blow the sail of the swan-ship, my child.” He offered his hand to the crouched form at his feet. “It is time to go home.”
The man in the brown robe stood at the edge of a cliff, his eyes fixed on the white sail at the horizon, as the lost child of Ilúvatar returned home. Around him, the creatures of the land had gathered to lament the passing of the last of the Firstborn. They grieved the passing of magic, of song, and music. Then Aiwendil turned his back to the sea and raised his hand, and a sparrow flew and perched on his fingers.
“One day”, he whispered and scratched the bird’s head, “the mortals will sing songs and tell tales about the fair stranger who sailed away on a swan-shaped ship.”
The songs of the Eldar had ceased. The songs of the mortals had not yet been sung.
And the sparrow chirped anew.
Quin Abbey is a real Franciscan Monastery in Ireland. Email me for more information. I took some liberties with the floor layout (poetic licence and all that).
Selkies: According to Celtic folklore, the shy Selkies are marine creatures in the shape of a seal. They can be found near the islands of Orkney and Shetland. A female can shed her skin and come ashore as a beautiful woman. When a man finds the skin, he can force the Selkie to be a good, if somewhat sad, wife. Should she ever recover the skin, she will immediately return to sea, leaving her husband behind. The male Selkies are responsible for storms and also for the sinking of ships, which is their way of avenging the hunting of seals.
(From Encyclopedia Mythica)
Aiwendil: Radagast, the Brown Wizard
Dolor Meus: My Sorrow
1. “With My voice I shouted to the Lord - with My voice I have beseeched the Lord.
I pour out in Thy sight My pleading - and My tribulation I pronounce before Him.”
(Psalm V, St. Francis of Assisi)
2. “O all you, who pass by the way - attend and see, if there is a sorrow like My sorrow.”
(Psalm VI, St. Francis of Assisi)
3. “And into the dust of death they have lead Me - and upon the sorrow of My wounds they have added sorrow.”
(Psalm VI, St. Francis of Assisi)
Last but not least: I sincerely hope I have not offended anyone by connecting, in a way, St. Francis of Assisi with Radagast, and by placing this scene in a Franciscan Monastery. Although I’m not Christian, I deeply respect St. Francis and his teachings.
This is a work of fan fiction, written because the author has an abiding love for the works of J R R Tolkien. The characters, settings, places, and languages used in this work are the property of the Tolkien Estate, Tolkien Enterprises, and possibly New Line Cinema, except for certain original characters who belong to the author of the said work. The author will not receive any money or other remuneration for presenting the work on this archive site. The work is the intellectual property of the author, is available solely for the enjoyment of Henneth Annûn Story Archive readers, and may not be copied or redistributed by any means without the explicit written consent of the author.