The abbot sat in a room that, except for the wall covered with thickly bound volumes and haphazardly secured sheaves of papers from floor to ceiling, was every bit as spare as a prison cell. In the late afternoon light of mid-October (the type of light that creates dragons out of shadow, or projects a sepia sadness over everything it touches) he squinted as he read from a vast tome—likely Spinoza or da Costa—but no less attentive—indeed, rapt—for the fading light. His study was interrupted by a soft, yet almost perfunctory, rapping on the door to the room, followed by the entrance of a knight (being a knight, he was always under the assumption that his unbidden arrival across the threshold is acceptable, even desirable) who bowing stiffly, approached the abbot.
The abbot looked up from his reading and rose to greet the knight. “So, good sir, how can I be of service this Evensong?”
“I am off, Brother Dexter, on a quest to kill the Four-Fingered Man. I seek the Lord’s blessing.”
“The Four-Fingered Man! You are certainly not the first to undertake such a quest—pray, sir, that you will be the last! But tell me, dear knight, what elevation in rank, what fair maiden’s hand, spurs you on to commence such a perilous mission?”
“I seek nothing for myself. The foul beast is pure evil, and he must be vanquished.”
At this, the old monk gave a small chuckle as he moved toward a small cupboard on the wall facing the one small window in his room, removing two dented metal cups and a bottle of wine, a product of the abbey’s own small vineyard. “Pure evil, my friend?
What a strange turn of phrase! Can evil be pure—or, for that matter, can anything be truly pure?” The abbot’s statement caused the knight’s eyebrows to involuntarily twitch into an arch—it was known that Brother Dexter had performed more charitable—indeed, saintly—acts than any other ten men in the kingdom, and that he was without fault or any trace of sin, save (it was rumored, anyway) an odd tendency to occasionally cackle loudly as he read Augustine. After pausing to take a small draught from his cup, the abbot continued on—“Let us, just for the sake of the philosopher’s argument, consider the position of the Four-Fingered Man. If he is, as you claim, purely evil, than we have to consider—indeed, accept outright—that he has no notion of good, no standard to weigh his heinous deeds against. He may be free of the malice, the realization that he enriches himself by heaping pain and degradation upon others, which is the hallmark of true malevolence. He performs these acts—blameless, in his own mind, can you imagine?—and finds himself hunted and threatened for no reason he can ascertain or comprehend. Think of it this way—a trusted canine companion (surely, you have one, good sir) can, due to injury or sickness, strike out at its master as a matter of mere reaction to pain or ill humors. Would the Lord look upon us favorably if we kick the cur?”
The abbot paused once more to drink slowly from the pock-marked goblet in front of him. “Let us consider further—please forgive me, good knight, I know the hour is late, and you would like to be on your way, but indulge a bit longer the whims of a man of thought as opposed to action—a more troubling, indeed sinister, possibility: namely, that the Four Fingered Man is fully aware of the distinction between good and evil because he knows good. Now, I grant you, that is a difficult notion to contemplate, let alone accept. We all know of the unspeakable deeds he has performed—slaughtering kob and kine for no discernible reason than sport or malice, violating any number of maidens and then devouring the subsequent offspring, unspeakable blasphemies performed on both church and churchmen—but if he has knowledge of good, can we not believe that he has not performed some act of kindness or decency, perhaps spared some blind maiden with a sick father, or even something as small as perhaps sitting in a small country parish in disguise, tossing a few shillings into an alms box as recompense for his acts? If we accept such an idea, then must not its converse be true? That, at least in some measure, do we not, in some dank corner of our soul, harbor such evil as to—“
“Forgive me, Brother Dexter, but, as you say, the light grows short, and my charge is clear. The Four-Fingered Man must die, and I intend to be the vessel of his destruction.”
The old abbot shook his had sadly, and clapped a hand upon the knight’s shoulder. “Of course, my son, of course. Forgive the nattering of an old man who has spent too many hours in his garret, and too few on the field. I believe,” he said, as he moved (indeed, since his cassock fully covered his arms and legs, seemingly floated) over to his table, “That my dear friend Suarez had something to say on the matter.” He flipped back and forth through a few pages of the heavy volume on his table, but was apparently unable to find the desired text. “Hmph! Well, no matter, good sir knight! Clearly, the Lord is on your side—there is no doubt, as you said, that this fiend must be brought to heel! May Our Savior make your steed swift and your blade sharp!” With that, he walked the knight toward the door. As they proceeded toward the door, the monk’s sleeve slid up past his wrist just slightly, and the knight could have sworn (though, most surely, it was a trick of the fading light) that there seemed to be an empty space where the abbot’s pinkie finger should have been.