Unn awoke and scratched at his beard. It was cold, and the embers of the fire near the cavemouth were barely glowing. He added some dry moss and attempted to blow them back into life, but his efforts were futile. He dreaded the thought of having to trudge through the snow to his brother’s dwelling to ask for fire yet again. But need prompted him to go see Urn anyway. Unn and clan’s three women that lived with Urn, watched in admiration as Urn struck stones together and sparks emerged. Urn was one bright troglodyte.
Douglas Ambrose had been gatekeeper at the estate for nearly a decade. In all that time, he had not once been summoned to the Great House. Today, however, the call had come. It’s purpose was mystifying, both literally and figuratively as he trudged through a thick mist that obscured the residence from view.
As he walked, worries and self doubts began to fill his head. Had the Squire heard of his dice playing at the tavern, or of the dispute with the green grocer where he overturned the apple cart on his exit from the merchant’s shop.
As the shadowy form of the Great House began to emerge from the cold December mist, Douglas set his path to the servants’ entrance. On arrival he was met by Will Youngblood, one of the footmen who informed him that the Squire expected him at the stable block.
Ambrose thanked him, and headed across the gravelled court to the block, where Hilton, the butler, nodded to an open stall door.
On entering, Douglas was faced by the Squire and his eldest son, Richard. Quickly doffing his cap, he mumbled “Good morning, Sirs.”
“Good morning, Ambrose. How are things at the Gatehouse?” the Squire enquired.
“Well Sir, Thank you, Sir.”
“Good – good. Now I have heard some disturbing news Ambrose,” the Squire began.
Oh my Lord, please no, Ambrose thought beginning to sweat at the brow.
“It has come to my attention that your son, Arnie is it? Has joined the Yeomanry as a trooper.”
“Yes, yes Sir. That is so.” Ambrose stumbled.
“It seems that he is taking that nine year old Mare of yours to serve the Crown with.”
“Yes, that’s the truth as well.” Ambrose stuttered.
“That will never do, Man. Here take this gelding. It’s strong, and should well serve the reputation of this house.”
“Yes – yes, take. It’s a gift. And Ambrose, Happy Christmas.”
Ali chopped a bit of salt pork and tossed it into the bubbling pot of black eyes. It would be a meagre dish but warming all the same, just as their little cabin at the edge of the forest was. As cold winter rain pelted the cedar shingles of the roof, she took a glance at the old coach clock on the mantlepiece and wondered when Jess and the boys would return. They really shouldn’t be out in weather like this, but the chores still needed doing. Just as she as pondering this, the door opened and Junior and Cole stomped mud off of their boots on the porch before entering. Jess wasn’t far behind, and soon the entire family were safe in their warm winter refuge.
Angus’ mum sent him to the shops to pick up a loaf of bread. It was much like any other Saturday morning until he turned the corner onto High Street. Little did Angus know, that he had inadvertently become the star of a Hovis advertisement.
Brother Eardwine rushed down the aisle pausing only long enough to genuflect before the altar. He had to hurry, for three sleek, high-prowed vessels had been spied just as dawn began to break. It had only been the isle’s contrary tides and the prayers of the brothers that had bought him any time at all.
Father Winfrith joined him only a moment later and the two men quick deposited the silver chalice and crucifix into an old sack. Reaching under the altar the priest retrieved a small golden casket and placed it reverently into the bag.
Leaving the chapel, the pair made their way to the scriptorium where Winfrith selected a single volume and added it to the sack. A large number of clay inkwells and similar worthless vessels were then thrust into a second sack.
“I’ll take the pottery,” Winfrith said. “You take the relics to the cave and don’t return until someone comes for you.”
“Yes Father,” the young brother replied.
Eardwine then covered his tonsure with his cowl, and headed down a narrow passageway. Meanwhile, Father Winfrith threw his sack over his shoulder and set off to draw the attention of the raiders.
By late afternoon, Eardwine could smell smoke on the breeze. He sat cowering in his little refuge for two days, but no messenger ever arrived to beckon his return. It was only hunger that in the end drew him into the open, and thus, he returned to the ruins of his monastic home.
With devotion in his heart, and Saint Matthew’s tax ledger and pen at his side, Eardwine vowed to rebuild his community. But being a pragmatic youth, he decided to take his sacred treasures inland, abandoning the island forever.
No one can alter God’s will, and the Lord had surely preserved Eardwine and the relics on this occasion. But when it came to rebuilding – well – as Saint Matthew himself wrote: “‘You shall not test the Lord, your God.”
It was perjury plain and simple, but no one was going to seriously question the crown’s witness. The entire affair, and that term is chosen advisedly, was orchestrated by the king. The queen had grown to be a liability, and there were fresher flowers to be picked at court. So the queen’s own bodyguard gave testimony, and as the lies and half truths were uttered – his words cut deeper than a knife. Deeper than a knife indeed, for soon the young queen would have a date with the Headsman.