Stealing Heaven: The Love Story of Heloise and Abelard
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by Marion Meade
Category: Historical Fiction/Romance
Description: In twelfth-century France, two of Europe's greatest minds met and fell in love. It was a love forbidden by the world around them and eventually they were torn apart from each other. But, the spark of it remained smoldering inside the lovers until their death and beyond. Heloise and her tutor, Peter Abelard, share a devotion passionate in its depth and beautiful in its thoughtfulness. They marry, and Heloise bears a son whom she names Astrolabe. However, all of this must be done in secret, for Abelard is forbidden to wed by the church which considers him a cleric. When the truth of their relationship is exposed, they are separated and punished both in body and soul. Marion Meade weaves history and fiction together in STEALING HEAVEN, an epic story of one of history's most tragic love affairs. With facts pulled from Heloise's actual love letters, Meade creates a poetic and sensual tapestry of France in the 12th century. Heloise and Abelard lived beyond their punishment in quiet contemplation of life and God--Abelard as a monk and Heloise as a nun and the founder of a convent. Her story is one of a brilliant woman, trapped within the confines of her society. But, it is also the story of an inspiring love that has lived on throughout history.
eBook Publisher: E-Reads/E-Reads, 1979
eBookwise Release Date: December 2010
1 Reader Ratings:
Available eBook Formats: OEBFF Format (IMP) [715 KB]
Reading time: 448-627 min.
"Historic fiction of epic proportion...one of hte most famous love stories in European history." - Los Angeles Times
May 16, 1163
* * * *
"Open the shutters, will you?"
The bowed head next to her bed snapped erect and she heard the sound of rosary beads clattering to the floor. "My lady--?"
"The shutters. Open them, please." Through the small, high window, she could see a sliver of moon glinting hard and clear; the sky was drenched silver with stars. Staring, she felt the crystalline drops draw close enough to touch, their phosphorescence blinding her. She blinked feebly, and when she looked again they had retreated, playful and aloof, beyond her grasp once more.
How long had she lain there? Weeks? Perhaps only days. She did not know, nor did she care enough to ask. Earlier this evening, after vespers, the nun who sat by her bed had suddenly gasped and run to fetch the board and stick. She had heard her race into the cloister, furiously beating the death board, and soon the infirmary had begun to fill with women, ready to start the litany. But Sister Claude had come and bustled them away, briskly sending them back to their suppers and muttering in gentle reproof to the precipitate sister still clutching the splintered board. Heloise had laughed to herself. She was not ready; she would not be hurried. For so long she had hungered to embrace this moment, prayed for it, ached with anticipation, and now that the time had arrived, she felt, perversely, no need to hurry. Only our beginnings and endings are truly worthy of the name mystery; one cannot be conscious of birth, but death, if one desires, may be lived. She wished to savor her end, or at least experience it. She would not permit them to hurry her into darkness.
A balmy night breeze from the river streamed through the window and eddied along the plain stone walls. In the corner, a blue flame trembled convulsively beneath a crucifix. Eyes half closed, she listened to the rustling murmur of the water nearby, its sonorous ripples racing in time with her breathing. A choir of frogs chanted ecstatic plainsong from among the tangled reeds.
"My lady abbess," a voice murmured, "a sip of gruel." Arms lifted her head. Obedient, she strained to open her mouth, but the greasy liquid flowed down her chin, and finally they rested her head against the pillow again.
Her body felt strangely weightless, as insubstantial as the configuration of smoke; she could feel neither her legs nor the stabbing pain in her belly that had tormented her these many months. I shall not be unhappy to abandon this body, she thought; it has mocked and destroyed me.
She sighed and closed her eyes. Behind her lids immediately danced a ghostly face: a pair of great, lustrous eyes the color of heliotrope framed in a cloud of pale hair, roseate mouth sensually crooning, "Bunny, sweet bunny." It was that elusive, unknown face she had sought so determinedly for sixty years, always rearranging the features into different patterns, always uncertain that she had fitted them together correctly. Ah, she thought, so that is what you looked like; I remember now. The woman faded, and in her place marched a slow procession of familiar figures, long dead, each moving into the center of her vision for a few moments, then sweeping aside to make way for the next. A lean woman in black, in her hand a switch raised menacingly. A grimy child, merry-eyed and hilarious, holding aloft a half-eaten honey bun in sticky fingers. A marble-faced man, thin lips drawn tautly together, who embraced her fiercely and then thrust her away in disgust. A sleeping newborn infant, fretted blue veins etched on the vellum lids, his smile trailing clouds from other realms. And lastly a prancing skull-faced man, his lipless mouth stretching into a terrible grin, feet executing an obscene dance on skeleton toes. In his outstretched hands he held a knife dripping red streamers and a wrinkled mound of bloody flesh. First gracious, then insistent, he pressed on her his monstrous gifts. A scream ripped through her throat. "Aristotle!"
Weak, she opened her eyes. In the milky light, cowled shadows bent over her, comforting, stroking, pressing a cool towel against her forehead. Their voices tumbled softly above her. "She speaks of Aristotle now!" "Shhh" "Jesu, mercy--Jesu, have mercy on her soul--"
"Where is Aristotle? Call the naughty girl. Ceci, look under the bed."
The nuns exchanged glances. They were silent a moment, and then one of them said, "Sister Cecilia is not here, lady."
Shutting out the hum of the voices, she moved her eyes to the flame and then slowly upward to the crucifix with the man's slack body glued to the cross. The flame stirred and heaved, its glow throwing up arms of vivid citron and azure and amber around the crucifix. The stone walls were bathed in mute lilac shadows. She looked away from the corner and saw clearly the walls of the room, stark, gray, ugly, and listened to the distant rustle of the nuns' skirts. The earliest things she could remember were stony walls and black-robed women murmuring in whispers. The peace of the sepulcher, she mused. For only a few short years had she been reprieved, thrust innocent and naked out of that immuring grayness into the blazing white light of the world.
Once she had tasted freedom, or the illusion of it, but then his invisible hand had reached out and pulled the fugitive back. Oh God! thou who made this world and all that is in it, why did thou condemn me to gray walls and an existence I always loathed? What lessons did thou mean to teach me and why did 1, who greedily absorbed all human wisdom, learn so late to discern thine?
Somehow she had lived through sixty-three summers, playing her tedious roles, forever smiling and dissembling, never allowing the world to glimpse the real woman. Quickly, she corrected herself. To him she had revealed her true self. Sometimes. But even he could not accept her. The letters, those shameless shreds dredged from the bottom of her soul, those offerings of truth delivered up to his aghast silence; her hands clutched the coverlet in stinging memory. Ah, my very sweet friend, she thought, you didn't understand my love. In the end, you learned to love God, even, in your own way, to love me. But it had taken so long.
The years rolled back, and she could hear the melodious ring of that voice that had hypnotized so many adoring thousands. And she could hear her own voice, high-spirited and reckless, the diamond-sharp voice of a young girl who gloried in rebellion and who did not care if the world ended tomorrow as long as she had her lover. They were lying in a grassy meadow on the road to Saint-Victor. It was an afternoon in midsummer, and they had crossed the Petit Pont and followed the vineyard-bordered Rue de Garlande, carrying with them a skin of good red claret and a basket of flaky pasties filled with soft cheese and eel. Along the road, they had picked wild raspberries and gathered poppies and yellow buttercups. In the rippling grass, she had strewn the blossoms into the shape of a gold and scarlet bed, and then they had pulled off their clothes and thrown themselves, flushed and naked, atop the flowers. Afterward, they had fed each other berries, laughing softly at their carmine-stained mouths and listening to the sawing of the grasshoppers in the green-latticed sunlight.
You will never reach paradise, he had teased. And she, wanting no more of paradise than she possessed that afternoon, had answered, amused and defiant, that heaven did not mean a peppercorn to her. She had declared, I don't care to go there unless I have you, my dearest friend whom I love so much. Do you know who goes to paradise? I'll tell you, my honey sweet. There go priests and old cripples and the maimed and ugly who are shriveled in body and soul, those who crouch day and night before altars and ancient crypts, who are naked and shoeless and covered with hideous running sores, who die of hunger and wretchedness. These people go to heaven, but I want nothing to do with them. I'm willing to go to hell, because to hell go the famous scholars--yes, it's true--and the courteous knights who die in tourneys and glorious crusades. With them I'll gladly go. And there go the fair ladies who have lovers besides their lords. And do you know who else goes there? The harpers and jongleurs and lute players and the great kings and queens of Christendom. With all these will I go, if only I have for company my own love with the black curls, my Abelard. And when she had finished, he clasped her in his arms and pressed his greedy mouth to her eyes and her mouth and her forehead and throat.
Faintly, she could hear the rising and flickering sound of someone praying.
"Lady, you have a visitor. Father William is here and he--lady?"
When Heloise did not open her eyes, the sister broke off and backed away from the bed. She heard a man speaking, and then the prayers resumed, this time with the heavier counterpoint of the priest's droning voice. Curdled with irritation, she bit down on her urge to scream at them. She refused to allow these sisters and brothers of death to escort her to the edge. No, she would go skipping and dancing to the melody of a lute with a summer breeze floating her hair behind her like an angel's wings.
She swallowed and opened her mouth to speak. She said, Leave me alone. But the words whistled vainly through her teeth, and she did not try again. Once more the jeweled visions tumbled and somersaulted through her mind, and she hurried to chase after them before they escaped. If only she might catch them, she would be young again. Her hair would be the color of wild wheat and she would wear a blue gown girdled with a rope of damascene gold. She would not fear Death's crushing claw; she would not even acknowledge its existence, because between her and Death swirled a thousand rainbows, ten thousand pink-tinted dawns heralding days of sunlight and music. She was more than a child but not yet a woman, and life beckoned.