Chapter 7:

Endless Cycle

The Trials of Ilcor

Jasper soon fell into a daily routine, one where he could just autopilot and let his emotions numb. Swimming, classes, eating, swordsmanship and praying. Everyday. Nothing differed. Not even the bullying. If he did not numb he knew that he could spiral but he kept firm the promise he made for himself.

It wasn’t easy. The only activity he was able to do without a worry was swimming; too much at risk in the pool for anyone to try to sabotage him. Not because the sisters cared for him specifically during this time, but because it was considered sinful to drown someone as it would show disrespect to Muirin who had gifted humans water in order to enrich their lives rather than take it.

Every other activity however was where he would face difficulties.

The first thing kids in the monastery did in the morning was make their way to the hall of prayers, with vibrant grand and well decorated murals of the gods. They had no book or scroll to pray from, they were taught from young the words they must sing and say to the gods. These were the words they all repeated over and over to the point their meanings had long been lost to them. It mattered not what the words ment, just that they were the words needed to be said. Some of the kids who genuinely believed in the gods took it upon themselves to focus on the words, but even they struggled to hold onto the meaning after the daily chants. Jasper found himself drifting in those moments and making his own meanings of the prayers.

The prayers went through four sections; one of each of the gods and each was blessing and thanking for something different. To the god of air, the ruling god, thanking the world, for your existence and for blessing us with life. During this prayer portion Jasper thought about the sky, the breeze and how it made him feel. They were often on the inside but the few times they were allowed to wander the monastery garden were moments he held on firmly. The feeling of the sun on his skin and the wind flowing through his hair and clothes. Breathing in savouring it. These were moments he looked forward to and longed for. Moments that soothed his heart and made living okay once more. He thanked Eimhir for these moments, for giving him peace and soothing his hurt.

The next portion was dedicated to the goddess of water and intelligence; Muirin. The prayers dedicated to her thanked her for free will, for intelligence and magic. Thanked her for the lush bountiful rivers and oceans and for giving humans rain. In these moments Jasper thanked as well for the gift of intelligence. For giving him the ability to cling onto one thing he could work on for himself. He could not thank her for free will, for he felt none in his own life but the one thing he did have a will for is to learn. Even on the streets knowledge was what made one survive even if it did make one that much sadder as you understand more deeply what you have missing. For Jasper it was the key to his future and what had saved him from an even darker past. The rains too and the pool were a gift given by Muirin. The places he felt safe in, safe from the relentless and cruel children that used him as a punching bag both physically and emotionally. The only time he felt truly free was in the water, swimming through the water and feeling the droplets of water make their course down his back as they wished, no real course that they did not feel like going on. The rain gave an atmosphere to the monastery too. One of surreal calm. The mist would descend from the mountain and the waterfall was roaring from the back of the monastery. The grey of the morning and the soothing sound as he buried his head in the studies that was his one ray of hope.

The third portion was dedicated to the god of fire, Laoch. Laoch brought us warmth and the sun, the sisters taught us to be grateful for the warmth he brings and the bravery he sets in our hearts, the warriors he makes of us. The warmth of the sun he did indeed understand. The cold of the monastery was broken by the rays of warmth that would warm up his heart and make him feel safe even for a moment. The bravery to withstand the other children and to not give up.

The fourth is dedicated to Treasa, Goddess of the earth and the harvest. She gave us food and the roofs on our heads. She is also the goddess of fertility. We were born through her blessings for better or for worse. This was the goddess he struggled blessing the most. She was the goddess that did not always give him food and a roof. She was the goddess that brought him to life in an unwilling mother, fueling her hatred towards him for ruining her life despite it not being within his control. The only reason he was able to have all the things she blessed was through his own unfortunate luck and not because of anything she blessed him with. This prayer section only made him spiral with bitterness. It took him a few years before he was able to construct his own prayer to her. He thanked her for the trees and the birds, the trees whose shade and rustling put him at ease, for the birds that sometimes flew into the monastery and provided him a glimpse back out into the world he was isolated from. He thanked her for the towering mountains above the monastery that reminded him that he was part of a much larger world, one where he will eventually venture into and hopefully make himself a better life. He clang to these prayers. Had he not, he surely would've let the empty prayers bore a void within him.

There was a fifth prayer that they would do once a week; on Sundays which signify the start of a new week. The order of Ilcor believed that humans were created through a joint effort of the four gods. Eimhir gave humans breath and lungs. The first birth from a newborn was said to be a gift to every child Eimhir provides personally. Muiring gifted humans intelligence and the portion of our bodies made of water, Loach provided us blood and warmth, a heart that beats steadily and the ability to provide warmth to others and Treasa created our bodies, the vessel in which the rest of the gods inserted their gifts as well as the ability to reproduce. Jasper found this particular prayer offputting.

If humans were made by the gods in equal manner, why is there a hierarchy amongst them as if one’s contribution was more important than the other? Without Treasa there would be nowhere for the intelligence, warmth and breath to go into and without Eimhir one could not breathe life. One could not go on without the other and yet one is seen above the other?

There was not a time he understood it, however he knew he had to accept it. What difference would these thoughts make other than to make him bitter?

Other than that prayer, bitterness would set in as the children around him would try their best to disrupt his prayer and focus in order to get him in trouble; throwing paper at him and kicking him from under the hard wooden bench. Disrupting prayers would mean spending your breakfast time mopping and cleaning the toilets rather than eating, and oftentimes that was indeed what he was forced to do from being blamed for the other children’s misdeeds onto him.

Even if he did make it to breakfast, there he would be shoved out of line and would often be last to eat, maybe missing what little food they had set aside for that morning and anything warm was no longer warm. After the food, he would have trouble finding a spot in the benches he would be allowed to sit on. Even if there was an empty area, it would not be long before one of the older boys would force him out of it and onto the floor. It was better to start on the floor than to end up there with a bruise and a spilt breakfast.

After breakfast was the morning classes which he did his best to focus and work hard in, despite the harassment from the other students and the sister’s obvious ignorance. He knew not to bother asking questions or raising his hand for answers. They would not call on him nor acknowledge him. He would have to study on his own and figure things out without their help. He liked to think this helped him retain his street smarts and sense, the knowledge there was no one but himself he could rely on. Maybe in the future he could use this skill, or so he hoped. If not then what was all this for? To make up for what he missed out in class he would spend his free time in the monastery library, reading and studying on his own while the other kids played together outside.

After class there was swimming, the only time he could just focus on his task without feeling in danger. He excelled here. This only made the other kids more spiteful. Knowing that the street rat could swim faster and more skillfully than them was off putting. The only thing that saved him, for better or worse, was the swimming instructor’s stubborn resistance to praise him or acknowledge his skills. Had he shown him the attention he would have had a harder time in the monastery so he was grateful at least at the respite the neglect gave him.

After swimming was swordsmanship. Out of all the activities in the day he had to go through, this was the one he struggled with the most. From the very start, unknown to him, his instructor had been teaching him flawed swordsmanship while yelling abuse at him. This was the class that broke him several times, despite his best efforts to numb the pain and emotion, he was still a young child. He could only watch as the tears fell and the other kids watched him with mockery. Skipping was not an option either. He once had tried to skip the class by hiding in the lavatory only to be forced back to the training grounds and used as the sparring the much more skilled boys his age who were relentless and unforgiving. He was so bruised and beaten by the end of it he had been bedridden in the infirmary for two days.

It was frustrating. Not knowing why he was unable to improve like the rest of the boys, made to feel incompetent for it and breaking over and over. It went on for so many years the sisters forced him into a private lesson with the swordmaster since he was so behind the other boys. The one bliss from these sessions was that they were private, no more humiliation. Just … relentless drills that would leave his muscles worn out and make him often too exhausted to focus on the later tasks for that day.

Lunch was after swordsmanship and he would hobble in only to once again go through the isolation of breakfast and once again at dinner after the evening classes and free time after lunch. The moment he hit his pillow he was out. Exhausted physically and mentally. The nights when he was too hurting to sleep were the worst. Sobbing at the base of his window and mind swirling. He sometimes found himself chanting the prayers, trying to bring himself back to a mindset of knowledge that bitterness would get him nowhere and he should be thankful for what he had and what could have if he just held on for a few more years. He really tried. These nights often led him to falling asleep there as he was and waking up sore and wounded. Spiritually more than physically. The days that followed these episodes were the worst days, the hardest to go through and often the days where swordsmanship training would break him down further. Despite all of this he had no choice but to keep on going. The loop, the routine, the hurt. The more years that passed the number he forced himself to feel. By the time the next trial came he had successfully isolated his emotions almost as well as the monastery had isolated him for the past five years. All that was left was to do his best in this next trial and hopefully escape from the cycle that had almost drowned him in despair. 

N. D. Skordilis