The Priory is the beautiful setting for this week’s #writephoto from KL Caley at New2Writing.com.

Several thoughts came to mind, including “what’s the difference between a Priory, a Friary and an Abbey?” Yes, I know, priors, friars and abbots, but what else? I did spend several minutes down this rabbit hole before giving up. I think abbots are a higher ‘order’ than priors, and friars live in friaries which, if run by a prior, become priories. (And any of them might live in monasteries, which are generally cloistered, i.e. closed communities.) Don’t bother, is my advice!

a beautiful old yellow stone priory with ivy growing up the sides

I chose to make my priory less well-kept, since the idea I came up with called for it to be more ruined than the picture suggests. This 750-word story is a prequel to The Retreat. I had enough ideas to turn that into a much longer story, you’ll be pleased to know. I think it will work best if I have these vignettes follow The Retreat, and then come to a conclusion, so watch for more…

The Priory

The priory stood beyond the copse, in its own grounds. It was a haunt from her childhood: an escape from the school bullies, and a good hiding place when she needed to waste an hour or two before going home. Yes, Sonja Maleczewska had reasons to campaign against the development of the estate. 

The plans for chalets, and for restoration of the priory to a modern hotel, had been refused. The priory had gained a preservation order, and support from the Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings. They had been the key to preventing the hotel. ‘Not a sympathetic use of a valuable heritage item’. The Retreat had gone ahead in a different part of the estate, but it was only five or so minutes walk from the lovely golden sandstone ruin, provided you knew your way.

Despite the exorbitant cost, Sonja had invested in life membership of the Retreat. Better the devil you know, was her reasoning to herself. Yes, she had the thousands of pounds required. Yes, she had better, more interesting and enjoyable uses for it. But no, she didn’t think any of them were more important than keeping a watchful eye on them. Especially as, so far, she’d failed to become a trustee. She gritted her teeth as she thought of the person they’d appointed instead.

She stood at the edge of the copse, checking. Sonja wanted to leave no evidence of her interest, let alone to a member of staff. 

Once sure, she crossed the semi-rough lawn and slipped in through the front arch. Pausing in the shadow inside, she checked for observers again, and breathed more easily.

Her feet followed the familiar path she’d taken since her early teens. The further she went, the more care she took. No footprints, no scuffs. At the start that was easy enough, since the floor was smooth, almost glossy from the feet of countless inhabitants and visitors over the generations. Further round, in the monks quarters, the dust and eroded sand lay in windblown strands, cobwebs hung from ceilings, and beetles scuttled away at her approach. 

By contrast, the chapel had been cleaned recently. That would explain the neat path from the front door, the vestibule, out through the quad. Probably a wedding. She’d noted they had a licence for weddings in several of the follies, as well as at the Retreat itself. Did they do honeymoons as well? Surely a wedding breakfast of deconstructed scrambled egg on gluten-free toast was not enough for the happy bride and groom?

She slid into one of the smooth pews, polished by centuries of bums on seats. Maybe this would be the best place, if her idea came to fruition. Fewer chances of detection, easy to clean off any evidence.

Absorbing the atmosphere calmed her being, her state of mind, the tension from the hurts she was suffering. But relaxation did not cancel out alertness.

As she heard the click of feet on the floor of the vestibule, she nipped up the narrow spiral staircase carved into the corner behind the pulpit.

Voices, discussing the plans for the priory. Probably four or five people. Who’s missing?

“We already have a licence for the Chapel, and as you see we keep it ready for any occasion. It gets dressed appropriately, and in consultation with the wedding planner, of course.” 

That was Madeleine Buckley-Smith, the ‘Co-ordinating Director.’ CEO in retreat-speak.

“What about the rest of the priory?” a man’s voice, probably the investment manager, who was on the board of several damaging schemes. He’d cut his teeth on Cardiff Bay’s environmental disaster.

“The SPAB keep a close watch on what we do with it. Interfering old goats. But I think we can bring them around to our way of thinking. Tanya has a plan, don’t you? Let’s talk about it on our way back. I don’t want it minuted.”

Sonja listened as they returned the way they’d come. She’d guessed right, the trustees were getting the grand tour before their meeting this afternoon.

And she never had liked Tanya’s plans. She’d experienced plenty of them at school.

So, how could she make sure this one did not work?

Watch and wait. No, she needed to be sure of what Tanya was up to. Watch and act.

What a good thing Tanya had already arranged the date and venue for this year’s reunion.

That gave her four months. Hopefully Tanya could not wreck this place before then.

© J M Pett 2022

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The Priory | writephoto Flash Fiction
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