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“So you became farmers, huh?” Alex asked when Gareth took a moment to replenish his goblet.
“We’ve always been farmers,” Gwyn replied with a smile. “When we first came to this country, we took up farming. We may take it up again someday, though we would probably have to move somewhere to the lower forty-eight. Alaska’s environment isn’t conducive to farming.”
“And the knife? How long did you hide it in the tree?” Derek asked.
“For many years actually,” Gareth spoke up. “We stayed on Beringar’s farm for about sixteen years or so. During that time, we took in a couple of young orphans, brothers, and in those days their prospects were few and far between, so they were grateful for a roof over their heads and food in their bellies. They might have gone to the monastery, but neither one felt a calling for the cloister. Beringar ended up adopting them legally and they inherited the farm after he died.”
“So you left,” Finrod said. “And where did you go and did your parents go with you?”
“Actually, they left a few years before us, ending up in Abergevenny on the coast.”
“You say the knife warned you of danger,” Glorfindel said. “When? And why only those two times when I’m sure you’ve been in dangerous situations any number of times since.”
“True, but only in the two cases where we were given warnings, the knife was in our actual presence,” Gwyn replied. “After the second time, we decided it was just too dangerous to leave around, even if hidden. Actually, we pretty much forgot about the knife during our time on Beringar’s farm. Oh, on occasion, one of us would check the tree to see that it was still there. We had to replace the velvet at one point and Gareth made a scabbard for it to keep it more protected, though as I said, I have never had to sharpen it in all the years that it has been in our possession.”
“So what happened?” Daeron asked.
Both brothers sighed almost as one. “Friday the thirteenth happened,” Gwyn said.
“Huh? What does that have to do with anything?” Derek asked in confusion.
“October the thirteenth in the year thirteen-oh-seven was a Friday. On that day, Philip of France ordered the arrest of all Templars in France. A month later, the pope issued a warrant for the arrest of all Templars in the Christian West.”
“But you weren’t Templars by then,” Glorfindel pointed out.
“No, we were not, but that didn’t mean we weren’t in danger,” Gwyn allowed. “Oh, granted, the Templars were too busy saving their own necks to worry about two deserters who disappeared so many years before, but the hunt was up and when, in the following year, Edward ordered the arrest of all the Templars in England it became a witch-hunt. Shrewsbury was not exempt from it.”
“And everyone knew that we had been on crusade,” Gareth added. “We did not hide that from anyone, but we never told them that we had once been a part of the Templar Order. And nothing would have come of it, I think, except someone dug up the old warrant that the Templars issued against us. I don’t even know why. Both Sheriff de Titteley and FitzAlan were long dead and we had little occasion to visit Shrewsbury over the years while working on the farm and even less reason to go there after our parents left.”
“We think that the sheriff at that time, John le Strange, ordered a search of all records that were related to the Templars. As High Sheriff he would be responsible for carrying out the arrest of any Templars in Shropshire and Staffordshire,” Gwyn said. “The warrant had been filed and forgotten, but when it came to light again, Le Strange decided to look into it, though it was sixteen years out of date and in the normal course of events, we might well have been dead. Certainly he had no reason to think we were living nearby.”
Gareth then spoke, addressing his words more to Gwyn than to the others. “I always thought it odd that the warrant still existed or that Le Strange would even think to look for us at Beringar’s. Looking back and knowing what we know now, I wonder if more was going on than we realized.”
“You think that the sheriff was… ah… inspired to go looking for you?” Alex asked.
“Inspired?” Gwyn asked. “Inspired by whom? Certainly not the Valar!”
“No, in that you are correct,” Finrod answered him. “But there are forces of evil and we know that they would have had an interest in the knife. If you, its guardians, were dead, then—”
“Then it would be open season,” Glorfindel interjected.
“So you’re saying the… the Enemy knew we had the knife and took the opportunity presented it when the Templars were being arrested to have us taken as well?” Gareth asked, his eyes wide with alarm.
“It’s possible, considering that the sheriff even ordered a search of the records in the first place and the warrant was found,” Glorfindel said. “After all, as you say, the warrant was at least sixteen years old. Who would have remembered it or the circumstances surrounding it?”
“The under-sheriff,” Gwyn said categorically. “He was there when we first arrived. It was he who went to summon the guards to take us. He remained at his post all during those years. He may well have retrieved the warrant and filed it after FitzAlan or whoever threw it away. Then, all those years later, Le Strange orders a search, the warrant is found and the under-sheriff perhaps begins to remember the events surrounding it and the strangeness of it all and tells the sheriff. With the Templars being accused of using black magic, it would not be a stretch for either Man to make a connection and decide that magic was used sixteen years before to affect our escape.”
There was a long pause as people thought about Gwyn’s words. Finally Vorondur stirred, casting them all an ironic look. “I would hate to accuse any Powers That Be with negligence or sloppy work, but—”
“My thoughts exactly, Ron,” Glorfindel said with a snort. “The warrant should have been destroyed along with any copies there may have been. Oh well, it’s water under the bridge at this point. Obviously, you two survived the situation or you wouldn’t be sitting here telling us about it.”
“So, did the sheriff go after you?” Mithrellas asked Gwyn.
“Would they really have tortured you before killing you?” Nielluin asked Gareth, looking upset.
Gareth stood and went to her, holding her tightly. “It was what it was, my love,” he said softly. “Those were brutal times, but they were the only ones we knew. The people were rife with superstition and fear. Within a few short decades the Great Mortality would strike, taking nearly fifty percent of the population of Europe with it and England was not spared.”
“So, tell us what happened,” Derek said. “Was this when the knife gave you another warning?”
“No, that was much later,” Gwyn said, “but certainly what happened to us in Shrewsbury was significant and led to decisions we normally would not have made.” He paused for a moment to take a sip of wine, his expression somewhat remote as he gathered his thoughts. Gareth resumed his seat, settling Nielluin on him so the two were cuddling with her head on his shoulder. Others, seeing this, smiled indulgently. Gwyn glanced at his brother and grinned knowingly, then addressed the others.
“About the time that all this was happening with the Templars, Gareth and I had already decided it was time to leave and join our parents,” Gwyn continued. “The two orphans, John and Andrew, were now old enough to run the farm themselves, so we had no worries on that score. So it was in the spring of thirteen-oh-eight when we made ready to leave, just after Easter. Gareth went to retrieve the knife….”
The first sign of trouble was the tremors, more felt than heard. Gareth had been reaching for the knife when he felt it and recognized it. He climbed a little further to get a better view of the surrounding area and, looking east toward Beistan, saw the cloud of dust that presaged the coming of horses, many of them. It was only when he saw the High Sheriff’s standard that he moved, stopping long enough to retrieve the knife before leaping out of the tree and running for all he was worth toward the farm. What made him think that the sheriff’s men were heading for Beringar’s farm in search of them, he didn’t stop to analyze, knowing deep in his bones that it was true.
He found everyone outside the barn where Gwyn was checking the horses while Beringar and his two adopted sons, now strapping teens, stood by, giving him their farewells. They all looked up at Gareth’s approach.
“Sheriff’s men, heading this way,” he cried. “We need to move, now,” and he threw the knife at Gwyn, who deftly caught it.
“Why would the sheriff be comin’ here, Da?” Andrew, the younger son, asked in bewilderment.
“We’ll just have to wait and see, son,” Beringar replied, giving Gwyn and Gareth a shrewd look. “Something tells me your past has caught up with you.”
“You might say that,” Gwyn said as he leapt upon his horse after securing the knife in the hidden pocket of one of the saddlebags. Gareth was also mounting. Gwyn looked down at the three Mortals. “Listen carefully. If they ask, we left a week ago. No one can dispute that, for we have not gone anywhere nor has any seen us save you three.”
“And do we tell them you went west?” Beringar asked, furrowing his brow.
“No,” Gareth said before Gwyn could answer. “Tell them we went to Birmingham on business for you and you expect us back any day now.”
“Then they’ll end up camping on my doorstep,” Beringar said with a snort, “but, aye, I’ll be telling them that while you make for the border. Off with you. They can’t be too far behind. God go with you, lads.”
“We’ll send word as soon as we can to let you know we’re safe,” Gwyn said. “Come, Brother. We’ll go through the orchard and make our way through the forest but we’ll avoid Thornbury.”
Gareth nodded and they were away. They could hear Beringar giving his sons orders. “Right then, John, Andrew, off you go to the upper field and finish the planting. Remember, if any ask, Gwyn and Gareth have been gone to Birmingham this past week and….”
They made their way through the orchard which ran westward toward the Long Forest, a trackless wood. The Roman road ran through it with Thornbury straddling it some miles away, but the brothers stayed to the north of the village, making their way to the road that would take them to Bishop’s Castle, though Gwyn had decided not to go that way.
“We’ll go toward Shrewsbury and take the western road,” he said.
Gareth did not argue, allowing his older brother to lead. They came to the Meole Brook which wended its way through the Forest. Thornbury lay just to the south. Gwyn took them in a northwesterly direction until they came to the Bishop’s Castle road. They paused to check that there were no travelers on the road before stepping out of the forest and then turned north.
“We’ll take the road that connects this one to the west road,” Gwyn said softly as the two set the horses to a canter. “We’re less likely to meet anyone.”
But that prediction proved incorrect. Just as they came to where a narrow path led away to the northwest, they saw, coming down it, a troop of mail-clad men bearing what looked to be a royal standard.
“Quickly!” Gwyn urged. “Continue north.” He urged his own horse to a gallop and Gareth was right behind him.
“Who are they?” Gareth shouted.
“I do not know, but they were carrying the standard of Lord Gruffyd de la Pole of Powys.”
“What is Powys doing here? If they mean to reach Shrewsbury they’re taking the long way to get there.”
“You are asking questions for which I have no answers, Gareth. Now hush. We’re almost leaving the forest.” He slowed his horse to a walk and Gareth followed suit. “When we get to the juncture, we’ll go west. Stay at a ambling pace as if you have no care in the world.”
Gareth nodded but did not speak. Soon they were reaching the west road within sight of the Severn with the walls of Shrewsbury rising behind the river. There was more traffic on this road. To the east they saw a small group of travelers coming from Shrewsbury. Most were on foot, though there were a couple of richly dressed merchants who rode. Looking west, though, they saw a large armed troop heading toward them at a fast canter, though they were some distance away and would not reach them quickly.
“That’s impossible!” Gareth exclaimed. “It cannot be the same troop.”
“Impossible or not, we need to get out of here,” Gwyn said.
“But why should we fear them, Gwyn? They have no knowledge of us. They surely cannot be looking for us.”
“I do not know, but my heart warns me that we must not meet with them. Quickly! We’ll make our way to the Foregate and see if we cannot go around to the north. If we have to, we’ll head for Oswestry and cross the border there and make for Llangollen.”
Gareth nodded and the brothers turned east, keeping to a walk so as not to arouse suspicion. They greeted those whom they met cheerfully enough, wishing them a fair journey. The traffic of people and animals became heavier the closer they came to where all the roads met at the Foregate. Yet, even as they came to the bridge that would take them across the Meole Brook, Gwyn looked southward down the road that led to Beistan and Beringar’s farm and saw in the near distance the sheriff’s men coming at a fast pace. Looking westward he could see the Welsh troop had nearly caught up with them.
“What is happening?” Gareth demanded, for he saw what his brother saw and understood its implications. “How did the sheriff’s men get here so quickly?”
“I do not know,” Gwyn shouted in frustration. “Come. We need to get out of here.” He urged his horse forward and they crossed the bridge.
“And how far can we go before they catch up with us?” Gareth retorted.
Gwyn shook his head. “There is something strange at work here….”
“Yeah, that’s pretty weird,” Derek said and more than one person sighed in obvious frustration at the interruption. Derek ignored them, focusing on Gwyn. “Why were you afraid of those Welsh guys anyway? The sheriff’s men, I can see, but the others? That makes no sense.”
“I cannot explain,” Gwyn said, “other than to say that when I saw them, I knew that they were a danger to us. How or why, to this day I cannot say. I can only tell you what I felt at the time. It was… it was as if we were being herded.”
“Herded?” Glorfindel said, frowning. “Herded where?”
“And that’s the strange part of it,” Gwyn said. “Our options were few. Shrewsbury was closed to us. We could not head west as we had planned and south was barred to us because of the sheriff’s men. Going east or north were our only options, but we knew that we could never outrun either the sheriff or the Welsh troop. There was only one place we could go and be assured a safe haven.”
“The Abbey,” Barahir said with a nod, giving the two brothers a shrewd look.
“The Abbey,” Gwyn echoed with a nod.
“I’m not sure I follow,” Finrod said and several others originally from Valinor nodded in agreement.
“Sanctuary,” Glorfindel replied. “In that time, anyone who was being sought on suspicion of having committed a crime could claim sanctuary from the Church. They only had to reach the altar and ask for it. The secular law did not like it but they respected it.”
“And what would be gained by seeking sanctuary?” Finrod asked. “Would not the accused still have to stand trial eventually?”
“Time,” Glorfindel answered. “Sanctuary was temporary at best, but the idea was that it gave everyone time to rethink. Sometimes accusations were made against someone without real proof of guilt. If the accused managed to reach sanctuary, this gave them time to make sure that no injustice was being done against the person. It was not a perfect system, but it was a safeguard. The Church was very powerful back then, more so than it is now, and feared to some extent, for it held the keys of salvation and few would risk their immortal souls by defying Church law. The custom of sanctuary was the Church’s attempt to mitigate the harshness of secular law as best it could.”
Silence followed for a time as people contemplated what Glorfindel had said. Finally, Finrod looked at Gwyn and Gareth. “So you decided to seek sanctuary at this… this abbey?”
Both brothers nodded. “Shrewsbury Abbey was just outside the city on the south side of the Abbey Foregate. We needed to reach the gatehouse where we could enter the church. There was an outside entrance to the church beside the gatehouse so we wouldn’t have to enter the monastery itself….”
“The abbey,” Gwyn exclaimed as he urged his horse forward. “It’s our only hope.”
Gareth did not argue with him but urged his own horse to greater speed, sparing a brief glance behind where he saw the sheriff’s men now coming at a gallop as if they meant to overtake them. Luckily, the traffic had thinned a bit as they reached the Foregate and turned east. Gareth could see the walls of the abbey and the gatehouse ahead. They had passed the millpond on their right when there was shouting from behind and looking back, they saw both the sheriff’s men and the Welsh troop racing for them.
“Hurry! Hurry!” Gareth screamed and they set their horses to as fast a gallop as they could manage. The gatehouse was only a few yards away. The sound of thundering hooves grew louder but neither ellon spared another glance behind, concentrating instead on reaching the gatehouse.
“Grab our bags!” Gwyn shouted as he leapt from his horse and ran to the church door. Gareth drew out a knife and simply cut the ropes holding his bag to the saddle, grabbing it as he, too, leapt down, stopping just long enough to grab Gwyn’s bag as well. He spared a quick look and saw that the pursuers were only yards away. “Yah!” he shouted as he slapped the rumps of the horses, sending them rushing toward the troop, hoping to delay the Men in their confusion in trying to avoid the fleeing horses and ran for the door which Gwyn had opened. Without bothering to stop to close it, they ran down the nave for the altar, suddenly aware of the sound of singing.
It was the monks of the abbey singing the office, for the hour was terce. As the brothers raced toward the altar, several men entered, shouting for them to halt. The monks ceased their singing and some of them exclaimed in shock while others sounded more affronted at the interruption.
“Sanctuary!” Gwyn cried out as he and Gareth reached the apse and continued toward the altar. “In the name of God, I plead sanctuary for myself and my brother!” Even as he said this, he reached out with his left hand and grabbed Gareth, holding him tightly as he extended his right hand and touched the altar.
Gwyn and Gareth turned around to see who had spoken. It was not any of the pursuers but one of the monks and he was facing down the nave, his right hand raised. “Come no further,” the Man commanded and surprisingly the troop stopped. “Turn back now for these men have pleaded for sanctuary and it is granted to them.”
“They are wanted for questioning as Templar spies,” the leader of the sheriff’s men said.
“Indeed?” the monk said. “Well, even Templar spies have the right to sanctuary. Go now. Tell the sheriff that he will have to hunt elsewhere for his spies.”
The men scowled and grumbled but with a sharp word from their leader they dutifully filed out, closing the door behind them. For a long moment no one moved or spoke. Gwyn and Gareth remained standing before the altar waiting to know their fate. Finally, the monk turned and walked toward them, giving them a shrewd look. He was perhaps reaching forty, but he was still strong of body and his eyes showed intelligence and an iron will.
“Well now,” he said. “I really don’t appreciate having my day upset in this manner, you know. So, why don’t you two sit here on the steps and we’ll deal with you after we have completed the office.”
“May I ask, sir, who are you?” Gwyn said respectfully.
The Man raised an eyebrow. “I would think that was obvious, my son. I am Abbot William and while you may fear dealing with the likes of John le Strange I assure you, you will fear me even more.” He gave them a smile that did nothing to comfort them and then resumed his place in the choir. “We will start from the beginning,” he said quietly and nodded to another of the monks who bowed in acquiescence and began singing.
“Deus in adiutorium meum intende…” The monks signed themselves with the sign of the Cross and Gwyn and Gareth followed suit out of habit.
“Domine, ad adiuvandum me festina…” the rest of the monks intoned.
“Gloria patri, et Filio, et Spiritui Sancto…”
By the time the other monks were singing the response to the Gloria, Gwyn and Gareth had joined in.
Words are Latin:
Deus in adiutorium meum intende, Domine, ad adiuvandum me festina: ‘O God, come to my assistance, O Lord be swift to my aid’.
Gloria patri, et Filio, et Spiritui Sancto: ‘Glory be to the Father, and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit’.
1. John le Strange was High Sheriff of Shropshire and Staffordshire from 1308 to 1309.
2. The Great Mortality is what the medievals called the Black Death which began, in Europe, around 1346 and continued to 1353. By 1349 it had reached England and Wales. The term ‘Black Death’ was not coined until the 17th century.
3. Gruffydd de la Pole (d. 1309) was the grandson of Gruffyd ap Gwynwynwyn (d. 1286), the last prince of Powys Wenwynwyn (present-day Montgomeryshire). The principality ceased to exist when Gruffyd ap Gwynwynwyn’s son, Owein (d. 1293), surrendered the principality to Edward I at the Parliament of Shrewsbury in 1283 on his father’s behalf. Thereafter, the rulers of Powys Wenwynwyn were known as Marcher-Lords until that title was abolished in the 16th century.
4. William of Muckley was the abbot of Shrewsbury Abbey from 1292 to 1333.
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