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“So you guys became monks?” Derek asked.
“Lay brothers,” Gwyn corrected. “We took no vows or the tonsure.”
“What about Cenred and the two boys? Did you ever see them again?” Glorfindel asked.
“The abbot allowed us to send word to them and to our parents,” Gwyn replied. “Cenred came to the abbey a few times over the years to see us and when word came that he was dying, we were permitted to go to his bedside. John and Andrew inherited the farm and continued working it until the end. John never married, though Andrew did and two children were added to his house.”
“So how long did you stay there?” Alex asked. “It sounds as if you were there for quite some time.”
“We ended up remaining there for over forty years,” Gwyn replied.
Both Mortals whistled in surprise. “But why so long?” Derek asked.
“For any number of reasons,” Gwyn replied, “not the least being that, looking back and understanding things a bit more, I suspect that we were meant to remain there for as long as we did. Why? I’m still not sure, for unlike Acre there was no treasure for us to unearth.”
“So what did you do for forty years?” Thandir asked.
“We did what we were told,” Gwyn answered shortly. “William assigned us to the abbey herbalist when he learned that we were both knowledgeable about medicine and medicinal herbs and such. We acted as apprentices and then eventually took over those particular duties. We also helped out in the infirmary and we each of us spent a few years caring for the lepers at St. Giles, which lies just to the east of the abbey.”
“And so you remained behind the cloister walls for forty years,” Glorfindel said. “Sounds boring.” He gave them a knowing grin.
Both brothers shrugged. “It was what it was and we were used to it from our time with the Templars. Of course, you wouldn’t understand—”
“Would I not?” Glorfindel said with a lift of an eyebrow. He turned to look at Daeron. “How long were we in Lindisfarne among the monks there? Had to have been close to twenty years.”
“About that,” Daeron said with a nod. “You became a deft hand at illumination, as I recall, spending most of your days in the Scriptorium while the Twins helped you in copying out some older texts when they were not working in the infirmary caring for the sick.”
“What were you doing?” Alphwen asked.
“Working in the kitchen,” Daeron said. “So, you see, some things never change.”
There was much chuckling at that. “So what were you all doing in Lindisfarne?” Gareth asked.
“Hiding, what else?” Daeron replied with a smile.
“Hiding? Hiding from what or from whom?” Cennanion asked.
“Hiding,” Glorfindel answered shortly. “That’s all you need to know.”
“Okay, okay, whatever,” Cennanion rejoined good-naturedly. “Getting back to Gwyn and Gareth, you stayed there for at least another forty years, which, if I’m not mistaken, would bring us up to the time of the Black Death.”
“Yes,” Gwyn said, “and that is where the knife played a role as you will see.”
“So, tell us,” Glorfindel demanded.
Gwyn nodded. “Abbot William was dead and Adam of Cleobury was the abbot when the plague struck. It reached England around thirteen-forty-eight and by the next year southern England and the whole of Wales was affected, and while the death-toll was not nearly as high as it was in Europe, London still lost half its population and neither city nor countryside was spared. Shrewsbury was no exception…”
The first signs of plague in Shrewsbury appeared just after the New Year. There had been rumors spreading westward from London for months and fear was in the air. The High Sheriff even went so far as to bar the city gates to any strangers coming from the east, but it was a futile gesture, for it was a local merchant returning from Birmingham who unknowingly brought the plague with him. Within a week of his return, he and his entire household was dead and panic ensued throughout the city.
The monks of the abbey met in chapter to discuss what they would do. Gwyn and Gareth joined them as a matter of course, but unless spoken to directly, they never offered their own thoughts on any particular topic under discussion. Over the years, they had become a fixture of the abbey and most forgot how they came to be there, especially as the older monks began to die off and the brothers’ presence was never explained to any who came to the abbey in later years.
Abbot Adam, for instance, was unaware of the brothers’ true nature at first. When he first came to the abbey to take over after William passed on, he interviewed them along with everyone else so he would have a better idea of what their duties were, but beyond that, he paid scant attention to them. As long as they did nothing to draw attention to themselves, he was happy enough to leave them and all the other inhabitants of the abbey alone. It was only as the years progressed and he noticed that neither brother seemed to age or suffer any of the ills that beset humanity that he wondered. Yet, the previous abbot had left no document or letter for his successor to explain the brothers’ presence and a diligent search of the abbey records showed nothing, only their names listed among those of the other lay brothers in the abbey rolls but there was no listing of the date on which they were admitted into the Order as was the case with everyone else and that alone was curious.
Adam, however, was a cautious man and he bided his time, keeping an eye on the brothers with the faces of angels who worked and prayed quietly and humbly alongside the other brothers. He had spoken to some of the older monks who admitted remembering the brothers coming to the abbey when they themselves were novices, but beyond that, they could offer no true tale as to who they were and why they were there. He hesitated to confront them directly until he was assured of his facts about them.
And then the plague came to Shrewsbury and the mystery surrounding the brothers was forgotten as the abbot and the other monks sat in chapter to discuss their strategy in dealing with the situation. Some of the monks were advocating shutting the abbey doors to all comers, refusing even to allow the laity entrance to the church.
“They can go pray elsewhere,” one querulous monk said.
“The people deserve the comfort of the mass in these times,” another monk said mildly. He was the prior of Morville which was part of the abbey demesne.
“They’re not likely to receive any comfort if we’re all dead,” the other monk shot back and there were murmurs among the others.
“Peace,” Abbot Adam said, raising a hand. “We will not bar the church. The people are in need of spiritual comfort in these dark times and if it be God’s will that we all suffer from the plague in fulfilling our avowed duties to the people of Shrewsbury, then so be it.”
Gwyn and Gareth, sitting in a dark corner, glanced at one another. Gareth leaned over to whisper in his brother’s ear. “And what happens if they all become plague victims? What happens to us?”
Gwyn shrugged. “I guess we’ll find out.”
“Should we not leave while we can?” Gareth suggested. “We should have left when Abbot William died but we stayed. Why? Why have you not sought to escape this life?”
“There is a reason for our being here,” Gwyn whispered back. “What that reason is, I do not know, but until we are given a clear sign that we may leave, we will remain.”
Gareth sighed and turned his attention back to the discussion at hand. The abbot was issuing orders, letting it be known that their routine would not be disturbed because of the plague. “We will continue as we have for as long as God wills it,” he said. “I suspect that many will flock to the church seeking St. Winifred’s aid against the plague. We will need to ensure that they do so in an orderly fashion.”
At that, and to the surprise of all, Gwyn stood, stepping out from the shadows and bowing to the abbot. “With your leave, Father, my brother and I offer our services to help keep order with the pilgrims.”
For a long moment, Adam stared at Gwyn who stood serenely before him, neither subservient nor arrogant in his stance, meeting his gaze with a cool one of his own. Adam nodded. “So be it. You and Brother Gareth may attend to the pilgrims. I will release you from your other duties.”
Gwyn bowed and resumed his seat. Gareth gave him a puzzled look. “Why have you volunteered us for this when we have been careful not to make ourselves noticed?” he whispered.
“My heart warns me that this is meant to be,” Gwyn whispered back.
Gareth sighed, shaking his head. Shortly thereafter, the meeting broke up. As the brothers made to leave, the abbot called to them and they stayed where they were until the chapter house was empty save for the three of them.
“I would know who you really are,” the abbot said without preamble. “How came you here and why?”
The brothers traded glances and Gwyn scowled slightly as he addressed the Man. “You have known us these sixteen years, Father Abbot, and never in that time have you questioned us as to the reason for our being here. Why now?”
“I have searched the records,” Adam said. “There is no mention of either of you other than your names listed among the other lay brothers, most of whom have gone to their heavenly reward, yet you are still here, young and vigorous as the day I first laid eyes upon you. Who are you? What do you want here?”
“We want nothing, Abbot Adam,” Gwyn replied coldly, “other than our freedom.”
“Your freedom!” Adam exclaimed. “What do you mean by that? Did you not enter these walls freely?”
“No,” Gwyn said shortly. “We did not, but we have remained here in obedience to our vows to Abbot William who accepted us when we sought sanctuary here.”
The abbot started to speak but the door of the chapter house flew open and one of the lay brothers was there. “Forgive me, Father Abbot, but Prior Samuel sent me to warn you that the Foregate is full of townspeople demanding entrance into the church to pray to St. Winifred. He has barred the doors for the moment until he has heard from you.”
Adam grimaced. “Go,” he said to the brothers. “You volunteered to oversee those seeking the blessed saint’s aid. Do as you promised. Keep the people in line. I will not have any rioting in the church.”
Both brothers bowed and left, followed by the lay brother who shook his head. “I doubt anyone will be able to keep the people in line for long. I saw them before we closed the doors. They were scared and angry and when people are scared and angry, they do terrible things.”
“Yes, they do, Brother Giles,” Gwyn said. “So we must ensure that they do nothing other than offer prayers to St. Winifred.”
The Man gave them a sardonic look. “Good luck with that, brother Gwyn. You will need it.” With that, he left them to attend to his own duties while the two brothers continued through the cloister and into the church where they found Prior Samuel and a few other monks and lay brothers manning the two entrances into the church from the Foregate. As they passed through the south transept they could hear the shouting from outside even through the thick stone walls and there was pounding on the doors.
“Prior Samuel,” Gwyn called out as he approached the western door, “Father Abbot has commanded us to deal with the townspeople and any pilgrims who come to pray to St. Winifred.”
“And what can you two possibly do that the rest of us cannot,” Samuel asked in curiosity. He was a blunt Man, more forceful in his manner than the abbot, but he had always treated the brothers fairly, having known them for most of his life, for he had been a young novice when they first came to the abbey. In fact, Gareth had tutored him and the other youngsters in Latin at one time when the brother in charge of the novices fell ill of the ague one winter.
“Well, as to that, child, we will just have to see, won’t we?” Gwyn said with a bright smile and more than one of the brothers listening started at the term of address, though Samuel did not seem to take offense. Instead he just nodded and gave his own instructions to the other brothers.
“Keep the north door locked. It will be easier to keep them under control if they have to enter and leave through a single entrance.” He turned back to Gwyn and Gareth, giving them a measuring look. “Will you need assistance?”
“Hmm… it might be wise to have a couple of the burlier lay brothers stay with us, solely for intimidation purposes, you understand. Brother Edgar and Brother Wilfred might do.” He glanced over at the two Men named. Both were young, in their mid-twenties, their flaxen hair and blue eyes announcing their Saxon blood. Both were taller than average and both were muscular, for they worked in the smithy. “Do you think you two can look… tough?” he asked them and Wilfred’s smile was beatific while Edgar just snorted in amusement, for these two were the gentlest of souls, soft-spoken and mild of temper.
Samuel just nodded. “Do whatever Brother Gwyn tells you,” he ordered and the two young Men straightened and gave the prior respectful bows. Samuel looked at Gwyn and Gareth. “I do not envy you this task,” he said sincerely.
“Frankly, Prior Samuel, neither do I,” Gwyn retorted.
“Why has the sheriff not come though and dispersed the crowds?” Gareth asked.
“He has too few men and they may well be busy inside the town gates to bother with what is happening outside them,” Gwyn said with a shrug, then he turned to the two smiths. “Try to look like you would like nothing better than to smash a few heads together. Do you think you can manage that?”
“We will try,” Edgar said, speaking for them both, “but I fear we are not the best choice for this. Brother Novitiate would be a better choice. You know how mean he is.”
“Only to you, Edgar,” Wilfred said with a smirk. “He was always nice to me.”
“He is also gray-haired and rather fat,” Gwyn retorted good-naturedly. “I doubt he could muster up enough meanness to help. Now, let us open these doors, for I fear if we do not, in their panic, those good people outside will do terrible things.”
Samuel nodded. “Yes, I agree. What about the rest of us? Should we stay or go?”
“The other brothers could certainly return to their own duties I would think,” Gwyn said as he moved back from the door to stand between the nearest pillars that lined the nave. “You may do as you wish, Brother Prior, as is your right. Gareth, stand here beside me. Edgar, you stand on my left and Wilfred next to Gareth.” Then he switched to Sindarin, the one language he knew that none of the Mortals would understand. “When the doors open, show forth your power. We must awe them into submission.”
Gareth nodded, though he did not look happy about it. Gwyn squeezed his shoulder. “It will be well. Trust me.”
“As I always have,” Gareth said simply in the same language.
“Open the doors, if you will, Brother Prior,” Gwyn called out in English and, with a nod from the prior, a couple of the brothers lifted the bar and removed it, putting it aside while two others began pulling the doors open. Almost at once a number of people forced their way in and the shouting was loud and full of anger and fear. Gwyn stared at them coldly, allowing his power to manifest, his unearthly beauty more evident as a nimbus of light surrounded him. Gareth followed his lead and the two stood there, still as statues. Edgar and Wilfred stared at them in awe and stepped away, quite forgetting their roles in this. Samuel and the other monks who were still there crossed themselves and one or two even went to their knees.
At the same time, the first of the townspeople to push their way into the church stood rooted to the spot while others attempted to enter, streaming to the right or left, their shouted demands to pray to St. Winifred dying on their lips as they spied the brothers. Silence fell upon them. Gwyn waited another moment until he knew he had their full attention.
“What manner of rabble do I see before me?” he said in a voice that was cold as ice, drawing upon all the haughtiness of his race that he could muster. He recalled the tales of the Elves of the First Age — the sons of Fëanor, Fingolfin, Fingon and especially Finrod — and imagined what their reactions would be if faced with this crowd. “Is this how ye reverence the House of God, children? Have ye sunk so low as to come here like ravaging wolves? Ye will kneel and ask pardon for your ill manners before ye are permitted to approach the blessed Winifred.” He paused for a moment. “Kneel, I say!” he shouted and most of the Mortals did just that, pulling down those who were still standing.
“Prior Samuel, perhaps thou wouldst lead these good people in prayer to Our Lady,” Gwyn said, never taking his eyes off those who knelt before him and Gareth.
Samuel swallowed a couple of times and then crossed himself and everyone else, save Gwyn and Gareth, did the same. “In nomine Patris, et Fili, et Spiritu Sancti. Ave Maria, gratia plena, Dominus tecum….”
When the people finished praying, Gwyn remained silent for a little longer than was comfortable, staring relentlessly at the crowd. “Ye may approach the blessed St. Winifred four at a time,” he finally said. “Ye will line up quietly and with meekness of heart along the north transept. Brothers Edgar and Wilfred will direct you. Ye will be given the time ye need to pray. If any wish to pray in the Lady Chapel instead, ye may do so. Just let the brothers know.” He pointed toward his right. “Go to the north door and wait your turn,” he directed and after a moment of hesitation, the people stood and made their way around.
They whispered amongst themselves of angels, stealing glances at the brothers who remained where they were as the people filed in. Many of those who had been outside the church stopped in stupefaction and awe at the sight of the brothers standing there before the nave still glowing, their expressions cold and unearthly. Then a couple of richly dressed men, burghers of the town, began pushing aside the people in front of them in an attempt to go straight down the nave to the altar where St. Winifred’s shrine was. Gareth, without waiting for Gwyn to order him, moved to block their way, looking upon them coldly.
“Do ye think that ye are more deserving of Winifred’s time than these others?” he asked quietly.
One of the burghers, an oily, fat Man in a rich burgundy velvet cotte glared at him. “We have the right—!”
“Thou hast nothing, Mortal!” Gareth hissed, though all could hear him. “Get thee back and wait thy turn.”
“How dare you!” the Man shouted in affront, though Gareth could see the fear in the back of the Man’s eyes. “Do you know who I am?”
“Other than a fat Mortal, no, nor do I particularly care,” Gareth answered scathingly and then before the Man could offer a retort, the ellon grabbed him by the front of his cotte and lifted him one-handed, exhibiting little strain. The Man gurgled a yell of surprise and attempted to free himself to no avail as Gareth calmly strode back to the doors, the people moving out of his way, staring at him in wonder and fear. He set the Man down and pointed a finger at him. “Do not move until I tell thee, Mortal,” and as softly spoken as his words were they held the promise of pain if he was disobeyed.
Gareth returned to stand beside his brother who gave him a brief smile. “Nicely done,” he whispered in Sindarin and Gareth tried not to blush.
Prior Samuel stepped over to them, his expression full of awe mingled with doubt. “I have known you for most of my life,” he whispered, “but now I find I know you not at all.”
Gwyn looked upon the Man with tenderness. “We are still the same brothers you have ever known, Samuel. We tended your childish scrapes and nursed you when you were ill, taught you your prayers and comforted you when you were feeling lonely and unloved. None of that has changed.”
“What are you though?” Samuel insisted. “Are you angels come to punish us?”
“Now why would we do that?” Gareth asked.
“Is not of our doing,” Gwyn hastily assured him. “Nor is it a judgment from God, I promise thee. It simply is.”
“Does the abbot know who you are?” Samuel asked worriedly.
“Well, if he didn’t before, he does now,” Gwyn said with a wry smile. “I am sure the good brothers who were here and witnessed our… power are even now importuning Father Abbot with tales.”
“I had better go and speak with him,” Samuel said, once again the Prior of the abbey. The brothers gave him respectful bows and he left.
Word came to them from the abbot some time later that the doors were to be shut and the people sent away whenever the monks were due to come and sing the Office but would be open in between those times. The townspeople naturally resented this and not a few shouted complaints, calling upon heaven to curse the monks for denying them access to St. Winifred.
“We cannot possibly control them,” Gareth said to Gwyn while Edgar and Wilfred and other brothers attempted to convince the people to leave the church. “Their fear will overcome their awe of us and then we will be in great danger.”
“I agree,” Gwyn said. “I think the abbot does not appreciate the mood of the townspeople and—”
Whatever he meant to say died on his lips, for even as they were discussing the matter between them there was a disturbance outside and now people who had been trying to force their way inside were scattering in fear. There was the sound of hooves and the clang of armor and they could see several horsemen wearing the High Sheriff’s livery charging down the Foregate, dispersing the crowd before them, using the flats of their swords to encourage people to leave.
“By order of the High Sheriff,” one of the horsemen shouted, “this crowd is to disperse. Go back to your homes and your businesses. Leave the good monks to their holy Office. Hear ye not the Angelus bells being rung throughout the city? Go or we will be forced to arrest you all for disturbing the King’s Peace.”
There were dark mutterings among the townspeople but most did as they were told and began to make their way back across the bridge into the town. The deputy, meanwhile, dismounted and came to the church doors. “We would have been here sooner, good brothers,” he said, “but we were occupied with matters in the town.”
Gwyn stepped forward and the deputy visibly gulped at the sight of him. Gwyn was long used to such reactions from Mortals and ignored it. “Thank you,” he said sincerely. “We appreciate your help. I fear we are not equipped to handle such a crowd.”
“Ah… the sheriff suggests very strongly that you open the church to the people only in the mornings. He is setting an earlier curfew to discourage riots and the looting of the houses of those struck down by the plague.”
“Fools,” Gwyn said with a shake of his head. “The looting will do them little good if they contract the plague themselves.”
“So the sheriff has said as well,” the Man replied with a sour grin. He gave Gwyn a searching look. “Rumors have spread that angels guard the shrine of St. Winifred. Some of the townspeople speak of two young men of great beauty dressed as monks glowing with the light of heaven.”
“People will see what they wish to see, sir,” Gwyn said with a diffident shrug, “especially in times of fear and uncertainty.”
The Man gave him a skeptical look but otherwise did not pursue the matter further. “The sheriff has ordered me to leave a couple of the men here for a time to see that you are not further importuned,” he said briskly.
“And on behalf of the abbot and the rest of the brothers of the abbey, I thank you again… er…”
“Richard,” the Man introduced himself, giving them a brief bow. “Richard Beringar.”
“Beringar!” Gwyn exclaimed, then gave the Man a searching look. “Is your father Andrew Beringar by any chance?”
The Man gave him a surprised look. “Why yes, he is, but how—?”
“I knew your father when he was a lad,” Gwyn said. “I trust he is still well. And your mother?”
“But that cannot be possible,” Beringar insisted. “You are no older than I, I think, and I have just passed my twenty-fourth year.”
“I am far older than I look, I assure you,” Gwyn said wistfully. “Please greet your father for me when next you see him.”
“And what name should I give him?” Richard asked.
“Gwyn! But I have heard him make mention of you,” Richard said in wonder. “And he often speaks of another… Gareth.”
Gwyn nodded. “There he is.” He pointed to where Gareth was helping an elderly Woman down the steps of the church. Gareth looked up at that moment, giving them a quizzical look when he saw them staring at him. He turned the Woman over to one of her neighbors and joined them.
“This is Richard Beringar, Gareth,” Gwyn said. “You will remember his father, Andrew.”
“Oh yes!” Gareth said with delight. “Is he still fond of cherry tarts? He always had a weakness for those. Used to badger poor Gwyn to make them even when cherries were out of season.”
Richard just stared at them. “I do not understand. How can you be the Gwyn and Gareth of whom my father and uncle speak so fondly? You left the farm nigh on forty years ago to hear tell.”
“As I said, we’re older than we look, but I would not trouble yourself over it,” Gwyn said soothingly. “You had best get back to your duties. I see your men are waiting for you.”
Beringar turned to see the other deputies still mounted and nodded. “Yes. I need to return to the town. Please tell Abbot Adam that the sheriff will call upon him this evening before compline to discuss matters pertaining to the plague.”
“I will do so,” Gwyn assured him.
Beringar mounted his horse, issuing orders for two of his men to remain at the abbey, and then he was riding away without a backward glance, the rest of his men following. For a long moment Gwyn and Gareth remained there before the doors watching as the horsemen crossed the bridge and disappeared behind the walls of the town.
“Come,” Gwyn said quietly, turning away and entering the church. “Let us join our brethren in prayer.” Gareth followed silently as Edgar and Wilfred closed the doors behind them, barring them from the outside world once again.
Words are Latin:
In nomine Patris, et Fili, et Spiritu Sancti. Ave Maria, gratia plena, Dominus tecum…: ‘In the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with thee…’.
1. William of Muckley (d. 1333) was succeeded as abbot by Adam of Cleobury (d. 1355).
2. Unfortunately, records are incomplete for Shropshire and the name of the sheriff in 1349 is not known. By this time, however, the office of the High Sheriff had been split once again and there were separate sheriffs for Shropshire (Shrewsbury) and Staffordshire.
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