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“Well, I’ll be damned,” Barahir exclaimed, interrupting the flow of the narrative.
“What?” Gwyn asked in surprise.
“That was Maelwys?” Barahir asked back. “That was the—?”
“Barry! What are you babbling about?” Glorfindel demanded.
But Barahir ignored the question and turned to Gilvegil. “That was Maelwys!” he said.
Gilvegil shrugged. “I don’t—”
“Remember you and I had business with the cloth merchants in Nottingham and we were returning home when we met that funny little priest who took one look at us and started ranting and raving about demons or some such?”
The light of remembrance brightened in Gilvegil’s eyes and he nodded. “Oh yes, now I remember. Stupid git actually threw holy water at us. I wasn’t sure what he expected us to do, burn up or something. I just know I didn’t appreciate getting wet that way.”
There were some snickers from the others.
“So let me get this straight,” Alex said, looking between Gwyn and Barahir. “You’re the ones this Maelwys character met on the road and that’s how he knew Gwyn and Gareth were Elves?”
Barahir nodded. “We were actually living in Wales at the time, in Anglesey, actually and—”
“Mam and Da often talked about moving to Anglesey,” Gareth interjected, “but they never did, we never did. Not sure why. We certainly lived all over Wales over the centuries but we never bothered to cross the Menai Strait to Anglesey. How long were you living there?”
“Oh, let’s see… we came to Britain with the Romans, hung around Londinium for some time, but when the Romans departed, we headed west into Wales to avoid the Saxons who were beginning to invade the island. I think we ended up on Anglesey around the tenth century. It was very remote, barely settled with any people, so it suited us well enough. For a time we even lived in the forests, building flets, but after a while we found ourselves feeling bored so we left the woods and settled in a mortal village on the coast and remained with them for a couple of centuries. By the time you speak of, Gwyn, we had actually moved back across the strait to Caernarvon and had set up a mercantile business, trading textiles between there and England, Nottingham, especially, which was known for its textiles at one time, especially lace, though that was later.”
“So that was Maelwys,” Gilvegil said with a sigh. “Poor man. We met him outside Tref-y-Clawdd, or Knighton, I suppose is its present-day name. We actually came upon him as we were crossing Offa’s Dyke.”
“Why were you in Knighton, though?” Gareth asked. “That’s quite a bit south of where you would want to cross into Wales to reach Caernarvon. I would’ve thought you would go through Shrewsbury or even further north and make your way along the coast.”
“And normally we would have taken the road to Shrewsbury from Birimgham,” Gilvegil acknowledged, “but for some reason that I’ve forgotten now we decided it would be easier to cross the border at Knighton. As it was, we ended up going north to Bishop’s Castle anyway and then onto Shrewsbury. From there we continued to Caernarvon.”
“A rather long detour for no particular reason,” Gwyn said.
Gilvegil shrugged. “Perhaps, but as the weather was fair and we were not expected back at Caernarvon at any particular time, we didn’t mind.”
“So do you think you were…ah… inspired to go to Knighton for the sole purpose of meeting Maelwys just so he would later recognize Gwyn and Gareth as Elves?” Alex asked.
“Now that, I don’t know,” Gilvegil said, his eyes widening at the thought and Barahir looked equally surprised. “I cannot truthfully say what made us go there. I guess, this late in the day, it hardly matters, does it?”
“So this Maelwys threw holy water at you, did he?” Derek asked, giving them a wicked grin. “And when you didn’t start smoking or anything that must have unnerved him.”
“We offered him our hospitality, as was only proper,” Barahir said with a huff, “but he seems to have been a bit narrow-minded in his views and it doesn’t look as if experience broadened it. Why was the church locked all the time? Were any services held while you were there?” This last was directed at the ap Hywels.
“I don’t think he was a very good priest,” Gwyn said judiciously and then shrugged. “It really doesn’t matter. The Man’s been dead these seven hundred years. They’re all dead. I doubt any of the children survived long enough to marry and have children of their own, or if they did, it’s unlikely their descendants still live. We never went back there at any rate.”
“It seems odd though that none of you met,” Alex said. “I mean, you seem to have crossed paths, but always too early or too late.”
“The world is wide, Alex,” Glorfindel said with a shrug, “and we did not have the advantages of instant communication that we enjoy today. We Wiseman Elves are only together now because of the internet.”
“So where were you guys when all this was going on?” Derek asked Glorfindel.
“Hmm… let’s see, we went to Constantinople and then worked our way north into Europe. Around the time Gwyn and Gareth were looking for their parents, we were in Rome and pretty much remained in Italy through the next few centuries, moving about from time to time. Got involved with the Guelphs and the Ghibellines for a time, but that was later. Right now, I’m more interested in Gwyn’s story. Why did you have Gareth bring the knife into the church?”
“I really have no idea,” Gwyn admitted. “It just seemed the right thing to do at the time. Frankly, I was nervous with it and even hidden away I always felt… I don’t know, unsettled. More than once I silently cursed Gareth for stealing it in the first place and I cursed myself even more for not insisting we drop it into the Mediterranean and be done with it.”
“Sorry,” Gareth said morosely. “I always seem to screw up. It was because of me that we ended up being captured by the Saracens. We could’ve made our escape, but—”
“Water under the bridge, bro,” Gwyn said. “I never blamed you for what happened. I blamed myself because I should’ve been looking out for you more than I did. Well, we’re getting off track and Alex and Derek are fighting to stay awake so I’d best get on with the story, hadn’t I?”
“Yeah, that would be nice,” Glorfindel said with a grin, “Derek’s not the only one in need of his beauty sleep.”
Several people chuckled and Gwyn grinned and after taking a sip or two of wine he resumed his narrative. “Okay, so I herded that stupid git of a priest into the church and didn’t even bother with blessing myself or anything as I headed straight for the statue of St. Michael. Gareth joined us a few minutes later, carrying the knife wrapped in velvet….
Gwyn pushed Maelwys against the wall on the left side of the niche where the statue of St. Michael stood and then ignored the Man as he studied the statue. Gareth came in and joined them, standing to one side.
“So where do you think they hid the message?” he asked Gwyn, speaking now in Sindarin. Gwyn vaguely noticed Maelwys’ eyes widening, but whether in shock or joy or something else, he didn’t know and didn’t care. The Man was unimportant at the moment. All that mattered was that they learn where their parents had gone so they could follow.
“It cannot be anywhere obvious,” Gwyn said, also speaking Sindarin. “The statue would’ve been dusted on occasion and the candles replaced, the sand renewed.”
“And the knife?” Gareth asked. “Why did you want me to bring it? Do you think it wise to reveal it where the Man can see it? I do not trust him.”
“Nor I,” Gwyn averred. “As for the knife, just hold on to it for now while I check out the statue.” He reached out and took the three lit votive candles and placed them carefully on the floor to one side, then removed all the other candles, thus freeing the space directly before the statue. Then he pushed himself up to stand before the statue. Maelwys made a sound of protest but Gareth put a finger to his lips and the Man stilled, looking decidedly ill.
“You desecrate holy ground,” the priest hissed.
“I very much doubt you really care, priest,” Gwyn said with a sneer as he carefully examined the statue before him. It was life size, which was unusual but it made it easier for Gwyn for the niche was large enough to accommodate the statue and he was not forced to stoop. Michael was dressed in a hauberk with a cloak around his shoulders, wings half furled to accommodate the space. He held the sword before him with the point down, his hands clasping the pommel in a state of readiness. The angel stood on a plinth and from the unfinished look of its feet it was obvious that it had been carved from a single block of stone. There was no moving the statue to examine its back but there was space enough, however tight, to get around it.
He crouched down for a better look at the niche, trying to imagine his parents standing or perhaps kneeling before this very statue deciding where best to leave a message that their sons would be able to find yet would remain hidden from the sight of the Mortals.
“The Woman said that they told him,” he muttered in Sindarin, more to himself than to Gareth.
“Surely they did not mean that literally,” Gareth said in the same language.
Gwyn shrugged, brushing the sand before him to expose the stonework underneath. “Where could they leave a message where they thought we could find it easily enough if we ever came here yet it would not be found by the Mortals and destroyed?”
“It’s all stonework,” Gareth pointed out. “Not too many places to hide anything.”
“Unless they made their own hiding place,” Gwyn said. “The old priest was dead and I suspect that Ada and Nana had already made plans to be away, knowing that whoever was sent would not necessarily welcome their presence. They knew that any letter they sent to us might not reach us, given the precarious situation in the Holy Land, so they devised a way to leave a message that they were sure would not be lost, stolen or forgotten by any Mortal, though I suspect they also sent us a letter which we never received.”
“Hey, Gwyn, there’s writing carved here below the statue.”
“Where?” Gwyn turned from examining the statue’s sword to see Gareth pointing at something and jumped lightly down to see what it was. There, carved into the stone beneath the niche was what appeared to be a Latin text in two uneven rows. Sunlight, streaming in from a nearby window illuminated part of it.
“How did we miss it when we were here yesterday?” Gareth asked.
“It was dark because of the rain. There was no sun, remember?” Gwyn reminded him as he examined the words closely. They were shallow, more like scratches and difficult to read. He found himself tracing the letters with his fingers. “N… o… nos. Hmm… the next two letters I think are i… n… and then I think it’s d… u…”
“Inducas?” Gareth offered. “But then shouldn’t it be ne nos inducas as in the Pater Noster?”
Gwyn looked up at Maelwys standing there glaring at them. “Well, priest? What is carved here, do you know?”
“I do not. I have never noticed it. No one has or they would have mentioned it.”
“Hmm… well, you’re right, Brother. The next word is inducas but the rest is not from any prayer I know. Let’s see… the next word is ad, so we have nos inducas ad ‘lead us to’.”
“Lead us to where?” Gareth asked.
“Patience, Brother,” Gwyn said. “This next line of text is even shallower than the first and I can’t make out all the letters. Let’s see… m…u…n…hmm… muni… munitum… I can’t quite make out the next word. I think there is an ‘n’ and a ‘d’ in the middle. The last word is l…o…c…locum. “
“Munitum something locum,” Gareth mused. “That middle word has to be inde.”
“Nos inducas ad munitum inde locum!” Gwyn exclaimed, standing up. “That’s got to be it. ‘Lead us to the fortified place’.”
“The fortified place?” Gareth said, sounding frustrated. “What does that mean? There are plenty of fortified places throughout Wales and England.”
“Yes, but think, Gareth. How do you translate munitum inde locum as an actual place name in Welsh?”
Gareth shrugged. “Amwythig…” He gave his brother a surprised look. “Shrewsbury?”
Gwyn grinned. “Yes, I think that’s what they meant. It’s obvious this text is not part of the statue, but was carved in much later and hurriedly. Notice how uneven the letters are with some being deeper than others and the entire text is not really at eye level when one is kneeling but a bit lower.”
“You think Da did this?” Gareth asked.
“But surely others would have noticed that suddenly there was text where there never was before,” Gareth objected.
Gwyn shrugged. “Perhaps, but except for Maelwys, I doubt anyone else in the village is literate. They may have simply thought that the scratches were the work of children being naughty. The letters are deep enough for the most part that you would have to do quite a bit of sanding to erase them.”
“So, Shrewsbury,” Gareth said contemplatively. “Do we leave now or wait until morning?”
“We leave now while we have daylight. Knighton is not far. We can easily reach it before the curfew bell is wrung, but even if we do not, I much prefer camping out in the wilds than remaining in this village another night.”
Gareth nodded and the brothers started back up the nave, the priest forgotten. They had only taken a half a dozen steps when Gareth suddenly felt a great warmth emanating from the knife in his hands. “Gwyn, something is happening,” he said softly in Sindarin, coming to a stop. “The knife has become warm, almost hot. Can you not feel the heat?”
“What can it mean?” Gwyn asked, standing in such a way that the priest would not be able to see.
Gareth shook his head. “I know not, but it has never done this before.”
“Unwrap it,” Gwyn ordered and after a moment’s hesitation, Gareth complied and soon the knife was exposed. They both flinched at the light that blazed forth and Maelwys screamed. There was the sound of something heavy hitting the stone floor. The brothers turned to see the Mortal standing behind them, clawing at his eyes. One of the heavy silver candleholder s that graced the door of the rood screen lay at his feet and it was obvious to them that the Man had meant to strike them down with it. Gwyn glanced at the knife in Gareth’s hand and saw the jewel glowing brightly. He stared down at the priest who had fallen to his knees, moaning in pain, and felt nothing for him, neither anger nor compassion. He looked at Gareth who was staring down at the knife, his expression one of awe and trepidation.
“Let’s go,” he said and without another word, he turned and headed for the door. A moment later, Gareth joined him and the two made their way to the barn. Twenty minutes later they were ahorse and on their way east toward Tref-y-Clawdd, known as Knighton to the English.
“So, the jewel glows and the knife becomes hot when danger threatens?” Alex asked somewhat skeptically.
“My cousin, Ingwion, has a ruby ring that darkens when danger is near, brightening again when the danger has passed. It cannot protect you from the danger; it can only warn,” Finrod said before anyone else could comment.
“Yes, I remember that,” Glorfindel said. “It’s a good thing you followed your instincts, Gwyn, else I think you or Gareth might have been seriously injured even unto death.”
“So we thought as well,” Gwyn replied. “We talked about it on the road to Shrewsbury, though we came to no ready conclusions. We knew too little about such things. I think it was one of the few times when I wished there were other, older Elves to whom we could turn for counsel. We grew up with the stories, both Elven and Mortal, of talismans and such, but it’s one thing to listen to such tales, it’s another to find oneself in one, or so it seemed to me at the time.”
“Whatever happened to the priest?” Derek asked.
“I do not know, nor do I particularly care.”
“A rather cold attitude,” Derek said with a frown. “You didn’t even check to see if he was okay?”
“The villagers could do that easily enough,” Gwyn said with a shrug. “All I wished was to be gone from the blasted place. I did not care for it. There was something dark and ugly about that village and its inhabitants. If Maelwys was blinded, it only served him right, and if it meant having a different priest come, it could only have been an improvement. In the end, it really doesn’t matter, Derek. As far as I know the village still exists and the church still stands. For all I know the inscription is still visible. I’m sure it is a pretty puzzle for the historians.”
“Do you-all feel the same way?” Alex asked, looking about.
Several of the Elves shrugged, but none offered a reply. Both Mortals sighed almost as one, their expressions troubled.
“They’re dead, Alex, Derek,” Glorfindel said quietly. “They have all been dead for a very long time. Whatever their failings, whatever their griefs, they have passed beyond the Circles of the World and sorrows touch them no longer. I know that Gwyn’s attitude troubles you. You want us to be saints, to somehow be better than Mortals in all things, more merciful, more caring. I wish we were, but we are no more or less than you. Do not put us up on a pedestal. We neither deserve it nor want it.”
“I know,” Alex said. “I do. I guess I wanted you Elves to be above the pettiness and sordidness of our lives. I doubt I would’ve acted any differently if I’d been in the same or similar situation. In fact, more than likely, I would’ve made sure the bastard never harmed another soul. That village would have been minus a priest. You at least showed him enough mercy to just leave.”
“I doubt he saw it that way,” Gwyn said with a sardonic twist of his lips. “He probably cursed us to his dying day and perhaps even beyond. Well, it’s in the past. Let it remain there.”
“So, that was rather clever of your folks to leave you a message in that way,” Ercassë said. “Were they often in the habit of defacing church property to let you know where to follow them?”
Both Gwyn and Gareth laughed. “Hardly, or if they did, we never learned of it. I’ll have to remember to ask them the next time we Skype them.”
“So, did you find them in Shrewsbury, such an odd name, or had they already fled to somewhere else?” Thandir asked.
“Ah, well, as to that, perhaps we should save it for later,” Gwyn said. “Derek hasn’t stopped yawning for the last five minutes and Alex is struggling to keep his eyes open. Why don’t we stop for now and let them and anyone else who desires it get some sleep and we’ll pick up the tale later. I warned you that this tale is long. I think it will take more than one day to tell it properly.”
“That sounds like a good idea,” Glorfindel said. “Let’s clean up. The sky is already lightening. It’ll be dawn in another hour or so. Derek, Alex, go to bed. I promise Gwyn will not continue the story until after dinner, okay? You should be awake by then.”
“Yeah, okay,” Alex said around a yawn. “We’ll see you later. C’mon, Derek.”
“I’m right behind you,” Derek said and the Elves wished them pleasant dreams.
“Well, why don’t I go and throw some breakfast together for any who want it,” Daeron suggested.
“I’ll give you a hand,” Glorfindel said.
“As will I,” Finrod added.
The three left while the others began cleaning up the area, retrieving goblets and wine bottles, dousing the bonfire. A few were content to remain in the clearing and some wandered away into the woods but the others made their way back to the mansion to enjoy breakfast.
And all the while Glorfindel pondered what he had heard so far of the brothers’ tale and wished that the day would hurry on so that they could hear the rest of it.
1. Pater Noster, or the Lord’s Prayer. In Latin, ‘And lead us not into temptation’ is rendered as Et ne nos inducas in tentationem.
2. The Welsh name for Shrewsbury is Amwithig, which means ‘the fortified place’.
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