A common practice among the peerage in my youth: One son to the King, one to the Church. It was my misfortune to be the second son of a nobleman. I had no desire to belong to Mother Church, but the decision was my lord father’s and I was an obedient son.
A stronger man might have railed against his fate. Better to be born third and seek one’s own path, however poor, than to be given into a life one has no temper for. I was not a stronger man. At the age of fifteen I was sent to the local Abbey to begin long years of instruction into the great mysteries of the Church.
Given my high birth, I might expect to one day be granted a bishopric. Imagine it: Eoghain O Turlough, Prince of the Church. One problem: I was born with what my Abbot called a failing, one which he swore should bar me from any but a poor monk’s stone cell on the Empty Coast. I loved other men as normal man might love women.
You would think it wouldn’t matter in an order sworn to celibacy. God gave me this challenge; the Church could be the place whereby I might live a useful life unhindered by it’s weight. I might merely confess my desires from time to time (and all men desire) and be absolved through the grace of our Lord. Temptation, after all, is not sin.
You would be wrong.
Confession is said to be a cleansing for the soul; a gift of comfort from a loving and forgiving God to all who truly desire it. Try confessing something the Abbot finds distasteful, and you’ll see how quickly God is said to do likewise.
In my 17th summer, I was to take my first holy vigil as a novitiate. Accordingly, I went to confession before my Abbot, to cleanse my soul of sin in preparation for the presence of the Divine. I heard the quick intake of breath on the other side of the curtain, when I confessed that I had gazed upon another novitiate with lust in my heart (and in my hand) but felt confident that I had done the right thing. Having what the Abbot would call “a go at myself” was a lesser sin than having one at Acolyte Guerlaine would have been.
The next morning after breakfast, I was called before the Abbot and told I was being sent to Ydessa as penance. Officially I was to be given the great honor of representing my Abbey in one of the King’s noble Crusades. The truth was that the Abbot could not abide the sight of me, and wished me gone.
To say that I was devastated understates the issue. Nevertheless, within the month I was packed up and sent East, over the sea to the deserts. I took my vows before I left. If I lost my life at the hands of the Eastern barbarians, I would at least die a man of God. I wept unashamedly, under no illusions that my Abbot sought any other outcome.
Within a day the entire company knew of my sin, thanks to the men at arms sent with me (my right as a representative of the Church and a nobleman). They forced me to ride in a supply wagon like a woman and openly called me catamite, ostracized from any fellowship. Any humiliation that could be safely visited upon me was.
I would not have survived the first night, save that even in my disgrace the Abbot would not have tolerated so gross an offense against a son of the Church. None were willing to face excommunication because of me.
Fools think far too well of themselves, and assume that the possession of that appendage makes them irresistible to men of my preferences. Most were the sort no self-respecting person of reasonable refinement would desire to lie with.
I will not bore you with a daily chronicle of that dreadful journey. I was offered no kindness by any member of that company, but in time they grew bored of tormenting me and simply ignored me. By then, to be merely ignored and shunned was as sweet as water to a parched throat. My life would have been different had that state of affairs persisted. Nevertheless, after we stopped one evening at an oasis camp to obtain supplies from a desert tribe before the final push on to Ydessa, several of the guardsmen decided to indulge in strong drink and bashing priestlings. I was accosted on my way back to my tent after making water out in the desert.
For nearly half a candle they shoved me back and forth amongst them, jeering at me, calling me names. I tried to get away but they were too many and too strong. Finally, one decided that if I wanted to be a woman than woman I shall be, and bade the others hold me as he began to unfasten his trousers.
Something inside me snapped. Years of abuse surging to the surface and rupturing like a boil, the poison of my pain lent me a fleeting strength. I managed to wrench one arm free, and grabbing a handful of the fine desert sand I flung it in my abuser’s face.
Naturally, I was beaten within an inch of my life. That sound haunted me for a good many years: The grunting of the men, the smacking of their fists impacting on my back, my shoulders, my face… while my main tormentor howled that he was blinded. One may hope.
I do not recall the end of the beating; I was beaten senseless. I was awakened later by the heat of the desert. Pain seared my every move, not only from the beating but from my skin burned red by the fierce sun. My lips were already beginning to crack from dehydration. Of the caravan there was no sign: I had been left to die.