Tuesday, March 22, 2016

The King, the Bishop, the Abbot and the Bear

After a very vivid dream of Father Corbinian, the Bear awakes to find himself in a cage. It turns out, however, that he was in protective custody, and his friends have amazing news.

The Bear first tried to bite the bars, but they were too hard. Then he tried to bend them, but they were too strong. He thought of digging, but the floor was hard, shiny stone. So he paced back and forth. Soon it would be Easter, and he would miss his baptism. When his visit with King Liutprand was over, this is where they had taken him. Off his guard, and in the dark, he had not realized the danger until the door had clanged shut behind him.

A finely dressed and clean-shaven man entered into the room beyond the bars. He rubbed his chin thoughtfully. "Look at us, friend," he said in Frankish. "Lombards have become Romans, and bears hairy men. Like Lombards used to be." He watched the Bear pace back and forth as it ignored him. The man reached into a large bowl of fresh fish and offered one to the Bear. The Bear paused in its pacing, then resumed.

"No? Perhaps later," the man said, wiping his hands on the hem of his tunic after replacing the fish. "King Liutprand put you here. Not directly, perhaps, but you are here on account of what you mean to him."

"Bear wants to see the king," the Bear said.

"I am sure he wants to see you, too! But his wishes will be deflected by gentle excuses and distractions. He will want to get back to Pavia soon, well before Easter. No doubt he has beguiled you as he beguiles everybody. I confess to admiring him myself. But he would drag you from campaign to campaign on a golden chain. You would strengthen his armies and confer divine legitimacy; a living relic. However," the man said after a pause, "you will learn that Liutprand may be king, but Turin is my city. I am Agilulf, Duke of Turin. Are you sure you will not have a fish?"

At that moment, the door burst open and in walked a group of clerics led by a fierce-looking man dressed in a tunic the color of rich earth, and a cloak of lighter brown that was intricately embroidered. He wore a purple cap, and carried a simple shepherd's crook. "So this is the abomination," he spat. "Why have you not yet killed it, it, Duke Agilulf?"                                                                                                                                                                                                                 "His Excellency Claudius is an iconoclast," Agilulf explained. "Our bishop is the last of a dying breed. He thinks holy pictures are an abomination. Germans are ever a thorn in Holy Mother Church's side. It is an ill wind that blows from Constantinople, destroying what people venerate"

"And did King Liutprand really reverence this animal?" the Bishop asked, ignoring Agilulf's commentary. "He has traded the glory of God for the image of a beast!"

"The people scattered rose petals at his feet," Agilulf observed.

"Hardly spontaneous," the Bishop growled. "Sheer paganism."

"Even so, the people's will must be taken into account. In fact, I have heard rumors that a mob is forming at this very moment to demand the return of their art to the cathedral. If you leave now, Claudius, you might be able to save yourself and ride to Rome. There you can explain to Gregory III the merits of an iconoclastic bishop."

The Bishop, trembling with anger, hissed, "Treachery," then whirled and stormed out the door with his clerics retinue behind him.

"I don't know how much of that you understood," said Agluilf, "but I have saved you from the king, and I have saved you from the bishop."

"Who will save Bear from you?" the Bear wondered aloud.

Agilulf laughed. Then he switched to the German that was most familiar to the Bear's ears. "You may survive among the Lombards after all! But perhaps your salvation is nearer than you think." He opened a side door to the room, and in walked Prior William, Brother Gunther and, lastly, Angest.

Angest, however, had undergone a transformation. He wore a white tunic with two vertical green stripes worked in gold thread. Hie trousers were also white, criss-crossed below the knee with leather straps from his soft shoes. His face was shaved and his hair cut short. He removed a large key that hung on a chain around his neck and opened the door of the cage. "Greetings, Captain Bear." he said with one of his wide grins.

The Bear immediately left the cage, looking excitedly from one companion to the other. "It is so good to see you again!" he finally said. "And thanks to you Angest, my faithful Lieutenant."

"I shall always be your friend," Angest said. "but I am afraid I cannot be your lieutenant, Captain Bear. I am Angest, king of Italy! And, since the See of Turin appears to be vacant, I shall appoint Prior William Bishop of Turin. It so happens that the Bishop of Spoleto shall arrive today or tomorrow to ordain and consecrate Prior William."

"Bear is confused. His lieutenant king, his prior bishop?"

"And Brother Gunther abbot," Prior William said.

"Lombard politics," added Brother Gunther. "You will go mad if you try to figure them out."

"No, they are simple, are they not, Angest?" said the Bear. "Can I eat you or can you eat me? I bet Angest knows that game." The Bear's eyes strayed to the bowl of fish.

"Indeed, Captain Bear. And right now, we are not yet the ones who eat. This happy ending depends on defeating Liutprand. I would gladly have your help, just as Liutprand wanted, but I will only take it as a free gift. As long as I am king, you will never feel the muzzle or chain."

"For you, and all my friends, Bear will help." Then his resistance collapsed and he went over to the bowl of fish. "Now if Bear only had honey."


  1. This is rather complicated now. Maybe we need a little map? I like it a lot though!

    1. Was that a little map, or a little nap ?

  2. Ha! No, a map--trying to keep track of Turin, and Pavia, and Rome, and what Italy looks like at that time....

  3. If you are confused, then share the Bear's confusion at this point, in a strange land at a chaotic point in history. I could make a map like out of Lord of the Rings :-) And I hope I'm not putting anyone quite to sleep, EM.

    It's not that hard. Turin is in the northwest of Italy, and a natural first stop after traversing the western (lower) passes of the Alps. Pavia is the Italian capital close to Turin eastwards. Rome is on the western coast, about halfway down the Italian boot. Ravenna is on the other side of the boot, but quite a bit further north. Ravenna is the seat of the Exarchy, or the presence of the (Eastern) Roman Empire. It's there for historical interest, but probably won't play a role.

    Rome is in a sad state off disrepair at this time, but it was recently given what would become The Papal States. Pope St. Gregory III rules, but I'm not going to play my cards on this interesting fellow. Liutprand is King of Italy, and just has he was exactly described. Definitely the greatest Lombard king. Don't imagine barbarians at this point. As I had Agilulf muse, the fierce Lombards have adopted Roman dress and customs. The Lombards are at their high-water mark. It's pretty much downhill from after Liutprand.

    A growing power to the north are the Franks. Charles Martel, the Mayor of the Palace of Paris, has defeated the Muslim army on the outskirts of Paris. He is frequently the hoped-for decisive aid for any two given two sides in Italy, but he has only months to live now. Charlemagne is two generations down the line.

    The weakness of the Lombard system is that Italy is governed through dukes who control vast territories. Even Liutprand never managed to quite make it work. Algiluilf is a good example of the typical ambitious, backstabbing Lombard duke. Algilulf and, apparently, whoever is in control of duchies of Spoleto and Beneventum, see our old friend Angest as an opportunity. (The dukes of these two cities are currently hiding out in Rome with Pope Gregory, which really made Liutprand see red.) Angest's coup d'tat is not at all implausible. And Duke Agilulf takes advantage of the situation to swap a bishop whom everyone will enjoy seeing the last of for the much more pliable Prior William.

    The stake had not yet been quite driven through the heart of heart of the iconoclastic heresy, and this was a bone of contention between the Pope and the (Eastern) Emperor. You could probably find a few Arians around, especially among the Germans. They were first evangelized by Arians, and had to be re-evangelized by saints like Corbinian and Boniface.

    Some would say Germans still aren't entirely Catholic.

    There will likely be only two more stories, as this project has pretty much slit my ephemeris' throat when it comes to readership. I concede that 8th century Italian history might not be appealing to some, but a mighty river of plot has been required to bring the Bear and his party to their fates. It was also necessary to separate the Bear from St. Corbinian, even though there were some charming stories back then. We don't get a living saint to instruct us every day, and neither should the Bear. (Plus my pitiful treasury of Lenten wisdom was exhausted.)

    And, finally, this is how it all happened, according to the Bear's memory.

    1. I love this series! I even researched Liutprand yesterday to find more background information. (I tried to research Angest but failed to find anything about him, though I could find his father.)

    2. Angest has been lost to history. His father was king, and is said to have drowned after losing a battle, trying to get away with his treasure. It is Liutprand that casts a long shadow over the Italy of the Lombards.


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