Many years had passed since, one morning, before opening his eyes, a pagan thought had flashed through his mind. Rising, he crossed himself. In the light of the votive lamp, he opened the Scriptures at random : “I, even I, am the Lord ; and beside me there is no saviour.”
An ill omen. He at once tried to busy himself with everyday concerns – and a monk has many – but far from regaining his composure, by evening, he was all the more frightened. “Because of Jesus, I have lost God !”
A few days later, the fear vanished as suddenly as it had come.
The monk knew what he had to do. He had to change the course of the world.
On the Island, there were no beggars, invalids or brigands. Those who, from the age of sixteen, were incapable of earning a living took their own lives. They knew that, otherwise, they would be smeared with pitch and burnt ; there was no escape. The crippled were drowned at birth ; thieves – the last had been caught more than ten years previously – had their arms amputated ; whoever was found offering them a drop of water or a morsel of food underwent the same. The old folk were cared for by the community ; from an excess of civic sentiment, some hurled themselves from the cliffs into the ocean. The Governor ruled over a community such as there had probably never been before. To a certain extent, the inhabitants bore a likeness to the Spartans, except that the Spartans had not cultivated the arts and had been too much drawn to weapons. They had displayed no refinement even in the preparation of food.
A mixture of peoples : Iberians, Moors, Jews, and Celts ; there were also some Franks and Greeks, a few Macedonians and Abyssinians ; perhaps there may also have been folk of other stock, among the newcomers. Few were those who still bore in their veins the pure blood of the tribe from which they descended. Some, formerly blonde, were almost albino, a sign of too close and protracted a kinship ; a few dozen.
All of them submitted, out of conviction, to the will of the Governor. In his absence, to his right hand man, to the Commander. Left hand man, after the coming of the Mentor.
The ship that brought the Mentor came into port at dusk. He was greeted by the Governor himself, who had formerly been his novice monk. Six years together in the same abbey ; a further three as travelling companions, during a desperate flight, in fact. The Mentor is what he who now ruled the Island called his former tutor, when he spoke of him to others. When they were alone, he called him Rabbi, although neither of them were Jewish. Or else, perhaps they both were ; descendants of the first Christianised Jews, a fact many of them concealed, for greater safety. Nowhere in the world was a converted Jew looked upon kindly.
Rabbi. Thus named for the way in which he mastered the Old Testament, the Talmud and the Kabbalah. And, as would later be revealed, also the New Testament : even more so than would have been proper. Perhaps this is why, once, towards daybreak, that pagan thought, which had certainly not been his own, had crossed his mind. Long ago, the Mentor had revealed to his disciple the secret of reading between the lines. The Books of Moses, in particular, seemed limpid only at first sight. However, they contained hidden meanings. The Mentor evinced unusual opinions when he spoke to him about their contents. The other monks would have found these dangerous if they had found out, whereas the Prior would undoubtedly have driven out the one who had troubled their minds. Perhaps something even worse might have taken place.
In fact, the sayings of the Mentor were not at all blasphemous ; on the contrary, they all the more brought to light the boundless power of God. He knew, or sometimes merely boasted, that he had cognisance of things revealed on the Mountain to Moses and which the latter had not revealed to the people – so as not to make them unruly – but only to a few dozen wise men. The Mentor had penetrated profound mysteries during the years he had once spent in Alexandria ; he was capable of much. The Governor knew this well. Both were skilled in the use of arms ; the abbey that had sheltered them was part of an order that defended the cross with the sword. An order other than that of the Templars. So obscure that it did not even have a name : its servants, more knights than monks, recognised each other by a sign, a kind of seal, or by a word, it has never been known for sure ; it was, perhaps, merely a case of a gesture. The Templars had been burnt alive ; hanged ; they had lost their heads and their wealth. Those that remained had dispersed : a disaster. The powerful almost always come to no good. In time, this caused the almost unknown defenders of Jesus to exchange the sword for the dagger ; the girdle had long become a tourniquet. Because they had sent a few undesirables straight to hell, the pair, mentor and disciple, had been pursued from land to land, for years at a time. Saint George, of yore, had also slain. Before slaying the dragon, he had been a soldier. Cain, the first man to be born, not created, had murdered his brother. Christians slaughtered each other in all kinds of wars. Murder upon murder : but rarely was it named thus.
The guilt of the two fugitives – in fact, that of the Mentor, to whom even the Holy See ascribed grave sins – went beyond any forgiveness. Many killers of men had been absolved of their deeds, and even sanctified, but their sins had, it goes without saying, been lesser.
The outlaws had parted in order for all trace of them to be lost. This does not mean that they had not, during almost quarter of a century, known of each other ; they had still seen one another. When the hideout in the Pyranees had become unsafe, the pupil had been sent to the Island and, at the appropriate time, was elevated to the rank of Governor. Sometimes messengers came here from the continent.
The Mentor had not arrived alone ; behind him had disembarked two youths in monkish garb. They had immediately pulled up their hoods. If he had known what things would come to pass, the Governor would have closed the port that very night ; he would have burnt the vessel even before it could approach the shore. The Island had long had a defensive system similar to the Greek fire.
Almost a century ago, an almost rotten ship, bearing no flag, had entered the port. The albinos had been waiting for it, generation after generation, for hundreds of years. A thousand. Even more. Their ancestors had also come by ship, long ago. It was a kind of reunion. One that spanned centuries, one that was inevitable, as is the case only when there are bonds of blood. There came a voice. Then, time after time, until it rotted away, the ship disembarked a few dozen people more ; yet another, larger ship brought ashore others, more than a hundred, in three trips : vigorous men and young women, children apt for work ; none of them elderly. They brought with them tools and rolls of papyrus, vellum, sheepskin, all inscribed. They swiftly built wooden houses, for the northern part of the Island was forested. And they found stone aplenty for the foundations. As if by agreement, they practised no religion ; rather they concealed one. They had come to a safe place. The Island did not figure on any maps. Those who knew the way were few and had no reason to reveal it to others. The Mentor knew very well how things had stood, how they still stood. It was not by chance that his former pupil had reached the position of Governor, absolute master of the Island – until he himself came, the older brother ; the father.
Perhaps the Mentor might have continued to count rosary beads in a cell until the end of his days, if, all of a sudden, one morning, it had not crossed his mind : “Because of Jesus, I have lost God !” For almost thirty years, he strove to restore the world to the Creator. More accurately, he was preparing : such a thing could not be left to the will of chance. Since – of this he was sure – the myth he had to unravel had not been woven at random. The Mentor felt himself destined to rectify what other people had ruined. Otherwise, how was it that precisely he – until then never having thought against things holy – who had had such a thought ? HE had spoken to him ! Or else, perhaps, the devil ; he had even been fearful of this, but had not found any proof.
...For almost thirty years, he raised the two Jesuses. Twins, of Syrian stock. Rather, a mixture of races ; the village where he had bought them was at a crossroads. Forever pillaged and reborn, enslaved and then freed, burnt down and built anew, it had once almost been a town. There were still remnants. The twins were spoils of war ; those who had conquered the place, after a three-day battle, were selling the prisoners at auction. The twins, old enough to stand, gazed at the Mentor from a pen. Then, his idea became whole.
The Mentor was nearing sixty, or perhaps he had even passed sixty, on his coming to the Island. Moderation in life and the rigours of monasticism made him look about fifty. Bony, powerful, ugly ; sometimes pleasing, during prayer. When he laughed – which happened rarely – he seemed even younger. His green, slightly watery eyes took on extra colour at daybreak ; some one, exaggerating of course, said that on moonless nights they were phosphorescent.
For more than ten years, he dwelled with the twins at the edge of the wilderness ; he hired a woman. On the one side, nothing but burning sand and stone ; on the other, fig trees, a constantly flowing brook and a dozen houses. The folk in that place thought that the twins were his children, the woman they reckoned his wife ; Joseph and Mary. The boys – both of them – were called Jesus, an oddity to which the neighbours did not pay much mind ; in any case, they could not tell them apart.
“God granted us them late in life,” the new Joseph told the curious. “My woman had a dream, from on High... Thus the Virgin too, when she conceived a Son, was announced that a miracle was to take place... That is why we call the boys Jesus...”
The locals had recently received a new faith – born in other places, some time ago ; they were forever speaking of Mohammed, of Allah, they would prostrate themselves many times a day, facing Mecca. The learned uttered verses ; others, more knowledgeable still, had long ago gathered the wisdom of the Prophet in a book.
Joseph and his family read from the Laws ; they placed before them rolls of parchment covered with signs unknown to the villagers and murmured unintelligible words. They got on well with the people in that place, who thought them Jews ; from their books, both the former and the latter knew that they were cousins. So it was, since two of the parents of the peoples from whom they had descended were brothers. Isaac and Ishmael.
Translated by Alistair Ian Blyth