A Story of Monks [Short Story]

A monastery high up in the mountains has to face the change coming from the lands below.
[Short Story, 8 pages, 2700 words]


A Story of Monks

Deep in the mountains, far off civilization, thousands of meters high, where the winters are harsh and snowy and the summers hot and melting, there was a small town. Only few people were living here and even less during the winter. Many descended further down the mountain and came back once the snow started to melt.

But it was a simple life, one that was demanding but rewarding. While the rest of the world started to lose its mind about the small details, people here were too disconnected to understand or care.

The small town was not the only thing that made this mountain range special. A bit further up the mountain, up a rocky and small path, a small monastery. It had been there for centuries. Build and maintained by the monks living inside it. It was fairly large for the only ten or so monks living in it. Build into the mountain, it looked like an extension of it, but still distinct with its walls made out of brick and wood.

The monks lived in symbiosis with the inhabitants of the small town. The monks gave emotional and spiritual support and shared their knowledge, while the people in the town made sure the monks were properly fed. The monks never expected anything for their services, but the people regularly brought baskets with food to the monastery.

The inside of the monastery was truly remarkable. While it was straightforward and minimalistic and only had very few statues and insignias, the monks had collected hundreds, if not thousands of books. They were filling all the rooms and even ended up in the kitchen under pots and pans. The books ranged from century-old writings to newer books brought by visitors but also encompassed their own writing. There were many walls full of paper writings. All the knowledge they had collected over centuries was contained in these. Monks that had passed long ago were still present in these words.

All of the monks had contributed to the treasure of knowledge in some way or another. They all wrote their own books and notes and copied old books or papers about to decay. They were mindful and shared the knowledge with the people in the cities below. None of the books were of any value if no one would read them.

If any visitors would come by, they would be invited for a meal and could read through all the monastery writings. They even prepared rooms for them to stay. There were rarely any visitors, and if there were, they would either search for something specific and would be gone the day after they had found it, or they would stay for months, or sometimes for the rest of their lives.

But now there was a change in the lands below the mountain. The country was at war, the king had been killed, and the monkeys fought each other over pieces of the land. Thousands of brothers had been killed, thousands of sisters raped, and thousands of children murdered. All of this was far away from our little town and the monastery, but they were not unaffected by it. The first notice came from people in the cities below; The king was killed, and people were scared and confused. The second notice about an ongoing war came after it had already been raging for months. The visitor who brought the news became the first refugee in the town, and many would follow.

Over the following months, more refugees were coming from all over the country, displaced and confused families that had lost loved ones. They were cared for by the people in town and the monks. All of them grew closer together over that time. The people were happy to share their food and shelter, even though it would become a harsh winter.

No more refugees came to the town once the first snow arrived. The roads were blocked and unpassable without cattle. While the winter was hard on all of them, they enjoyed the time together and made it through.

The spring came quicker than usual, and with it, the town came to life. Completely separated from the rest of the land, they had lived in peace.

The first visitor after the winter was a young woman. She was malnourished and looked more dead than alive. She was a messenger for all of them. While the winter had separated them from the rest of the land, the land had been changing. The war was over, and one side had conquered and killed the other. The land could finally start to rebuild, but the fallout from the war was far from over. The remaining soldiers roamed the lands and killed everyone who was not on their side or did not support their ideology. This included the families of dead soldiers and every other religious or spiritual place.

The young woman seemed like she would recover, but died a few days after she had arrived.

The atmosphere in the town changed. The people became worried and scared. What if the soldiers would make their way up the mountain? Would they start to kill everyone? What should they do? Should they flee?

The only ones who stayed peaceful were the monks. They accepted the impending doom that was lingering above the town. They had already a long time ago. The wholesome winter had to follow a harsh summer. It was hard for the people to understand, even though they had lived and learned from the monks all their lives. Now, as all their knowledge was put to the test, it felt very different. Understanding and transcending were two separate things. You could read books all you want, but it could never replace the experience of practice.

They all lived on as if nothing had changed, first in fear, then in acceptance. They did their work, shared their food, and learned from each other. Over time, people accepted the death of their loved ones and their own. Nothing had changed after all. Death was always a possibility, no matter the circumstances. Being aware of it gave them energy and focus. If these were their last days, weeks, months, they wanted to make them count. Turn them into the best for all of them.

If the winter already seemed like a wholesome time, the spring was many magnitudes stronger. Even the monks were happier and more open than usual. They were so cheerful; one could think that they could not be monks.

After the spring, summer, and with it, the soldiers.

The peaceful morning was disrupted by smoke in the sky. It was coming from the towns below. It was too far away to see the villages, but the smoke was visible from far away. Shortly after noon, a young man arrived at the town. His face and clothes were black from all the smoke and fire. He could only warn the first people he saw about the oncoming soldiers before he collapsed.

The small town had prepared for this moment. The town entrance had been reinforced over the winter, and the main gate was replaced by sturdy iron. It would take a few more days until the soldiers would ascend towards them, but everyone was ready. They did not want to give up without defending themselves. They had only essential farming tools as weapons, but they would fight to the end if they had to. The monks could understand their motivation, but they tried to show them a peaceful way. No one had to be unnecessary killed, not even the soldiers. There might be a way to make the soldiers understand. The people listened, but deep down, they did not believe the soldiers would stop.

The monks had reinforced the monastery entrance and were making room for all the ones who did not wish to fight and would be secure inside. But one monk had his own plans. It was a young monk, once a visitor of the monastery. He had worked on a plan that hopefully would secure the survival of the place. He could not bear the possibility of all the work collected over centuries, to be destroyed, gone as if it never existed. The wall of the mountain that led up to the monastery was very brittle. With a bit of force, the wall would collapse and make the road impassable. He had built himself a small explosive with the knowledge of the old books he had read. It was a miracle that he had found all the ingredients, although he had to improvise a lot. When the soldiers would come, he would blow the charge in a small shaft of the mountain, and the wall would collapse. Or so he hoped. He had to do it while standing in the shaft, which means that he would die in the process. But he had made his decision. This was the only way he saw, in which the knowledge could be preserved.

Two more days passed, in which all of them gathered. They sang, danced, ate. They told each other stories, laughed, and cried. Then the third day came around.

The soldiers were way more than anyone had expected. They were on foot, on horse, and had cattle; it was an entire battalion. Everyone had thought that it would be lone soldiers, roaming aimlessly around the lands, but these soldiers were prepared. They had all kinds of weapons and tools. They were not out for revenge; they were out for extinction. They had planned this moment.

Seeing the long road to the town fill with more and more soldiers was frightening. What were they expecting to be up here? A stronghold of the opposition? The more soldiers were visible; the more people decided to take refuge in the monastery.

The commander on his horse came in sight of the gate, surrounded by his soldiers. The men that were standing on top of the gate tried to talk to him. They were trying to convince the soldiers from sparing their lives. None of the people were involved in the war, nor had they done anything wrong. They were simple farmers, living a simple life.

The commander looked down from his horse to one of his soldiers. The soldier smiled, and they exchanged a few words. Then they moved back a bit down the road. It was not visible from the gate what was going on, but the soldiers were holding position. After a few minutes, the soldiers made space, and four horses came in sight. They were towing two large carriages behind them. They got as close to the gate as the commander had been before. It came to view what they had towed up the mountain. Two small cannons were now standing on the road, directed at the gate. Once the men on the gate understood, they shouted and waved, trying to stop the soldiers loading the canon, and warning the people waiting behind the gate. Everyone was moving away in panic.

The two men still standing on the gate went flying when the first cannon hit. It damaged the gate with a deep hole and made the whole structure wobble dangerously. The second cannon completely busted it. Wood and metal were flying through the air. Once the dust settled, the soldiers moved in.

It wasn’t a fight; it was a slaughter. Injured from the destroyed gate, many were trying to escape into the monastery. They would get trampled over by the soldiers on horses, then killed by the soldiers on foot. Men, women, children. They stabbed them, grabbed them by their hair, then slit their throats up to their spine. They did not even bother to rape the women; they just wanted them dead. No one made it back to the monastery.

Once the soldiers confirmed that all of the people were dead, they set the houses on fire and regrouped on the path to the monastery.

The young monk, who had witnessed the slaughter from the roof of the monastery, made haste. He had to quickly blow up the wall before they could come any closer. If only a few soldiers got through, it would mean the end. The gate was about to close as he ran outside. The monks were shouting after him till he disappeared in the small shaft.

He got two small stones out of his pocket and hit them on each other next to the small bomb he had built. He was sweating immensely. Two hits, three hits, four hits. The stones would not spark, and he could hear the soldiers moving closer. Six, seven, eight. The spark lighted up the shaft and lit up the powder. The monk exhaled, relieved, then the shaft exploded, and the wall started to tumble.

The wall collapsed along the path. Some soldiers would have gotten buried under the rocks, had they not fallen back at the moment of the explosion. Stones now blocked the small road. There was no way the soldiers could get over it. The people who had seen the blast from the monastery were screaming out in relief and hope. Maybe this would stop the soldiers. But deep down they knew, that it only delayed the inevitable.

The soldiers regrouped and slowly, one by one carried the stones away. Either with their hands or with the help of the cattle and horses they had brought along. It took several hours; then they had made a small path. A few hours more and the first soldiers were on the other side of the road.

It was late afternoon when the soldiers arrived at the monastery. The monks came onto the roof and tried to talk to them, but none would listen. They brought out the cannons and started to shoot the large door. It took them eight shots till the door began to bend. A few more till it sprung open.

The soldiers killed everyone inside. The injured, the woman and children, and the monks. They roamed the building and the garden behind it, till they were sure that they had killed everyone. Blood was flowing all over the floors of the monastery. Then they started to destroy the statues and boards filled with books. All the books and writings filled themselves with blood. Once the soldiers had poured oil all over the floors, they returned outside again. The commander was the last person inside the monastery. He was reading a scripture many centuries old. It was a lesson about acceptance. He let it fall on the ground, and it soaked itself with blood and oil. On the way out, he dropped a match and lit everything on fire.

When the soldiers passed the village on their way back down the mountain, the monastery lit up their path. The sun had set, but the books and scriptures were showing them the way.

 

 

ABOUT THIS SHORT STORY

This story was originated in a dream of mine many years ago. Around 2013, maybe earlier. I dreamed of a place high up in the mountains, containing wisdom and knowledge set aflame on purpose. I never wrote the dream down till many years later and even then, only with the title “The Story of Monks”. I still remembered it vividly, but finally decided to write it down. Although it is not a long story, it contains some thoughtful events that have already happened in our past and probably will happen again in the future.

My theme with this story was acceptance; Of our inevitable death and that everything we do will at some point fade and cease to exist. Many more points can and should be taken from this story, but I leave them for you to find. Thanks for reading.