The Rarest Flower
       Part One

Nicole Van Zyl

© Copyright 2016 by Nicole Van Zyl


Image of an Edelweiss on a mountainside.

Somewhere in Salzburg, Austria, high on the Untersburg mountain, a young girl was walking among the trees. It had been a lovely warm summer's day. The sky was bright blue with white fluffy clouds. The grass was green and the flowers were fragrant and in full bloom. She would always lose herself on this mountain, not realising that she had been gone for most of the day. By the time she returned to the Abbey, it was too late. Her absence had already been noticed. 

Maria Förstner grew up on this mountain. Both of her parents had died by the time she was six years old, and she was sent to live with her aunt and uncle, who were nothing but unkind to each other – and to her. They would fight constantly, and her uncle would often strike her aunt, especially when he had been pouring gin down his throat. 

After Maria’s aunt died, her uncle's drinking became even more frequent and heavy, and he began to hit her. Sometimes he would use a whip and sometimes he would use his bare hand. She would often run away from his wrath, bare foot, through the wood's, until he calmed down, only to have the cycle repeat itself the next day. 

Maria was not even twenty when she finally ran away from her uncle. She made her way to Nonnberg Abbey, informing the Reverend Mother that she had no living relatives. The Reverend Mother felt compassion for the young woman and took her in, with the firm belief that the Lord placed Maria in her care for a reason. As time passed she noticed that the young woman had an enthusiasm for life, a compassionate spirit, and a very vivid imagination. 

However, she also noticed that Maria needed discipline. She was not sure if it was her free spirit that needed taming, or if it needed to be set free. The Reverend Mother needed to know if Maria had the right qualities to become a nun, and if she would be able to live with all the restrictions that would be imposed upon her, if she decided to devote her life to the cloister. 

Maria was  a beautiful woman. She had strawberry-blond hair, which had been cut when she entered the Abbey. She was tall and slender, had high cheek bones and sea-blue eyes that seemed to compliment her features. 

She often found comfort and peace on her mountain, coming up here to escape from her uncle's wrath before he moved them out of Salzburg. It was this mountain that encouraged her to join the Abbey. Once she come back to Salzburg after escaping from her uncle, she immediately came to the mountain that had meant so much to her since she was a little girl. Peace flooded through her, and she knew she was safe. She had heard the bells pealing in the distance and, ever curious, Maria went down the mountain and climbed a tree. She looked over the Abbey wall and saw the sisters singing on their way to vespers, and she knew that was where she belonged. 

Nonnberg had always been one of the most important and prestigious Benedictine convents in Europe. You could not just walk in there and announce at the top of your voice that you would like to be a part of their fraternity. Postulants usually arrived by recommendations from another equally distinguished convent. 

Maria ignored all that – she just rang their doorbell and said simply that she wanted to speak to the Reverend Mother because she wanted to join their Abbey. She did not have any references, nor any family to speak for her – she was alone in the world. 

She had arrived in Salzburg with not a penny in her pocket, only having enough to buy a train ticket. 

The sisters had tried to send her away, of course, but the girl had stubbornly refused to leave. 

“I have nowhere else to go. You must let me stay,” Maria had pleaded. “Please, don’t send me away. I don’t know what will become of me if you do.” 

Sister Anne’s tender heart had ached for the girl, so she immediately ran to the Reverend Mothers office, and informed her that they had a situation at the main gate. 

“She is a brave and bold girl,” Sister Anne had said, after she finished her tale, adding that the girl was so thin, it looked as if she hadn’t eaten in days. 

“She’s so young, and all alone in the world,” stated the Reverend Mother. “We simply cannot let her walk away without, at least, giving her a bite to eat. We have to do something for her. It would be against all the vows we took to be here if we didn’t even try.” 

“But Reverend Mother, Sister Norma…” Sister Anne began, but the Reverend Mother did not give her a chance to continue. 

“…is not a very good judge of character, I’m afraid. But this girl, judging from what you told me, reminds me of myself when I was her age. I have a feeing I’m going to like her, whether or not she is an asset to this Abbey. Please, send her in,” the Reverend Mother said. 

The younger nun silently left, and less than ten minutes later, Maria walked in. One hour later, she was admitted as a postulant to Nonnberg Abbey. The few clothes and personal belongings that she carried with her were given to the poor. 

The young girls desperation had been evident. “My only options were to buy a meal or buy a train ticket to Salzburg. I chose Salzburg – and Nonnberg. Salzburg has always been my home, and I knew the good Lord would provide for me somehow.” 

After the Reverend Mother had summoned the Mistress of Postulants, Maria was taken to the robing room to received her postulant attire, and then she had been properly fed. 

Maria proved to be much more trouble than they had asked for. The nuns honestly believed, at first, that she would eventually stop talking after the excitement of being admitted to Nonnberg wore off. 

That never happened. Not a day seemed to go by that the Reverend Mother didn’t hear what Maria had been up to. Apparently, obeying even the slightest rule was proving to be too difficult for the girl. 

She was completely unable to do something as simple as going up or down a stairway without finding her own unique way of accomplishing the task. She made a unique adventure of every task she had to perform, and, although, it was her duty to admonish, or even punish her, the Reverend Mother couldn’t help but be secretly amused. She had grown fond of Maria, even though she hadn't been there long. 

Maria had been lying down on her back, watching the sun as it set over the mountains, when she was startled out of her daydream by the church bells at Nonnberg Abbey. She gasped and quickly jumped to her feet. Grabbing her wimple, she ran down the mountain and towards the Abbey, silently praying that the nuns did not notice her absence. 

As Maria approached the Abbey, she decided that it was best to sneak inside to prevent being caught. She went around to the side and climbed up a tall tree, and over the wall, only to drop to her feet right in front of Sister Augusta and Sister Eleanora. 

After looking at them for a few silent seconds, she bowed down, then turned and ran away, only to bump right into a man who had come to speak to the Reverend Mother about some business matter or other.

Blushing, she murmured her apologies, before turning and running to her room. She wondered what he had to talk to the Reverend Mother about, as men were usually not allowed inside the Abbey.

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