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Previous Challenge Entry (Level 3 – Advanced)
Topic: Easter (05/30/05)

TITLE: The Eyes of God
By Val Clark


The knock on the door was loud. The voice imperious. ‘Oswald of Canterbury!’

I turned, a harsh rebuke on my lips, but knelt instead. ‘Your majesty.’

‘Stand up, man!’

He dropped a small coin pouch on the work bench. Coppers only, by the sound of it.

‘Five sovereigns on completion of the work.’ He slapped fine leather gauntlets together. ‘I want a life size, life like, crucifix painted for the abbey’s alter, Master Craftsman. Installed by Good Friday, if you value your life.’

When the sound of horses hooves had faded I shouted, ‘Out, you cowardly lot!’

My apprentices appeared from behind barrels, propped up oak boards and the thread bare tapestry.

‘A masterpiece in under forty days! Ethelred, cut and glue the boards. See they’re properly cured, mind. No skimping on the application of chalk and rabbit skin glue.’ I pulled a quarter penny out of the king’s purse and tossed it a Stephen. ‘To the market – we need ermine tail hairs for new brushes and three fresh eggs.’ Stephen’s eyes lit up. ‘Not to eat boy! It’s Lent, remember. Pray that we have enough dried herrings to keep us alive, because the king’s pennies won’t!’

Felix sighed as I led him to a workbench. He was the only one I trusted to the precise grinding and combining of poisonous substances, before they were mixed with the egg yolk binder to obtain the coloured paints I required.

Their tasks were easy compared to mine. I pulled a three legged stool out into the courtyard and sat in a sheltered corner, enjoying the meager warmth of the winter sun.

Abandoned on the doorsteps of a monastery, illustrating manuscripts had become my first language, Latin a close second. Until I’d run away and, by a great miracle, become apprenticed to Master Craftsman Odell. But I didn’t remember much about the crucifixion. How could I paint the likeness of one I’d never met? Worse one who was dead. And a Jew! What did a Jew look like? What colour hair did he have? What tone was his skin? Would he be dead or alive? Eyes opened or closed?

My apprentices moaned when I woke them early the next morning.

‘It’s not the Sabbath, Master. Why must we go to the abbey?’ Ethelred whined. ‘You’re not going to make us go nine times a day are you?’

‘Just to Prime, boy. It’ll keep your mind off being hungry. Be grateful I don’t have you going nine times and scrubbing the floor.’

It was perhaps a little unfair of me. They couldn’t understand a word that was said or sung, but I was reluctant to leave them unsupervised in my workshop. I wished I’d paid more attention as a child. I needed to understand this man. Listening to the liturgies each day would surely teach me something, but I hesitated to declare myself to the monks I’d abandoned.

Each day we rose before sunrise and walked to the abbey, Stephen’s stomach complaining loudly. The one Lenten meal was at sunset; herrings again. Each day I listened as the liturgy followed its well worn path through the Gospel of Matthew to the crucifixion.

Once I started painting, I was immensely happy with the progress. It was as if God himself guided the intelligent use of my gifts – until I came to paint the eyes.

That was the morning the Abbot read ‘autem eorum longe est a me.’ (1)

All work on the painting ceased. I could not eat. Water barely passed my lips. If the painting was not installed in time we were all dead men and it would be my fault. In desperation I sought out the Abbot.

‘So, young Oswald, you return to us a successful man of the world. And entrusted with a great commission, I understand.’

He listened as I poured out my fears. When I finished he reached for his breviary and read the troubling words. ‘Translate for me, please.’

I bowed my head. ‘Their heart is far from me.’

‘What did the centurion at the foot of the cross say, Oswald?’

‘Truly this was the son of God.’ I mumbled.

‘Perhaps you fear that when you paint the Saviour’s eyes you will see who he really is. It is now for you to decide.’

On the day before Good Friday I braced myself, breathed deeply and painted the eyes of the dying Christ. Open. In agony. In love. In love with me.

Truly this is the son of God.

(1)Latin translation of Matthew 15:8 taken from http://noshadow.cnc.net/matthew/15.shtml
Matthew 15:8 KJV

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This article has been read 1474 times
Member Comments
Member Date
Kyle Chezum06/06/05
This has got to be one of my favorite pieces! Good job, and keep on writing! You've got talent!
Karri Compton06/06/05
Very interesting - I liked the historicity.
Suzanne R06/07/05
This piece literally leaves me with shivers up my spine and goosebumps on my arms as I read the last line. I love historical fiction at any time, and this piece even beats Brother Cadfael's adventures, for two reasons. First, your writing is just as good as Ellis Peters (who wrote lots of Brother Cadfael books) and second and most importantly, it has a real and meaningful message that strikes a chord in me. Thanks for sharing it with us, your fellow Faithwriters!
Anthony Tophoney06/07/05
Not every day we see the name Ethelred used outside the history books. Thanks for a well crafted journey back in time!
Sally Hanan06/07/05
Impressive work here! Congratulations on something so unique and beautifully written.
dub W06/08/05
So very well done. This is an exceptional piece. Thank you.
Debbie OConnor06/09/05
Excellent in every way. It gave me the chills. Painting the eyes of God, open, in agony, in love with me. Awesome! A very well-written, powerful piece.
Amy Michelle Wiley 06/09/05
That was great! I love the unique angle you took on the topic. I found the part about ‘autem eorum longe est a me.’ a bit confusing--but it was mostly very well written!
Shari Armstrong 06/09/05
A nice historical portrait (pun intended ;) Makes me want to see the painting that was created in your story.
Linda Germain 06/09/05
Outstanding. Takes my breath away. May God Bless your talent in every way.
darlene hight06/10/05
Awesome! I too found the Latin without the translation a break in the flow but it Wowed me overall,especially the end. This is an incredible entry. Loved it!
Maxx .06/10/05
very very strong. I liked the Latin bit... I think it added texture and believability. A top 8 finisher in my eyes.
Delores Baber06/10/05
Wonderfully written short story. But with your gift and talent it will only be a matter of time when publishers will be requesting novels from you. And I anticipate reading them.
Joanne Malley06/11/05
Creative journey back in time. Written beautifully with a wonderful ending that didn't disappoint. Well done.
Sandra Petersen 06/11/05
I agree with Suzanne...every bit as good as Ellis Peters' Cadfael mysteries! Very good research into painting techniques of that time. I thoroughly enjoyed this!
Pat Guy 06/11/05
I enjoyed every word. Loved this piece - maybe because I like the Cadfael series also but I loved your ending and could imagine trying to draw and paint His eyes. Well done.
Lois Jennison Tribble06/14/05
Wow! Great depiction of the ultimate confrontation. . . the Eyes of God. "Every knee shall bow". Thank you, Val -- God has gifted you: keep blessing us with your writing!
Linda Watson Owen06/15/05
Val, I was totally enthralled! Would love to read more of these characters!
Christine Sparrow07/23/05
It is obvious to me from this excelent piece of literature that you are just as good a reader as you are a writer. Your mind has collected detail and atmosphere which are essential for the transportation of the reader. I was transported. You spent your time well on this one Val.