The Strangers' Field
Note on the use of Old English pronouns. Thou is the second peson singular nominative case, Thee is the dative and accusative cases, thy or thine the possessive. You and your are second person plurals.
The rider approaching the hamlet of Vanning from the direction of Chollerton had the appearance of a man recently returned from war. His battered shield bore no arms or heraldic inscription only the simple cross of a crusader, the breastplate and greaves and chainmail tunic showed sign of rust and the woollen cloak and hose were ragged and threadbare. The man himself suited the armour well, lean and angular with a scarred face that told of many battles his pale, cold eyes were expressionless like glass under the heavy brows. This was not a man from whom one would expect a friendly greeting. Dismounting at the edge of the village square he walked to its centre with an uneven gait, the result of an old wound. In the wattle huts around the square people watched.
"Art thou the new Reeve?" A village lad asked stepping forward to take the horse's reins and receiving for his good manners a backhanded slap that knocked him down.
Two older men who had been lurking in the shadow of the roundhouse looked at each other as the lad sprawled in the mud and dung of the square.
"A mercenary doest reckon Ralf?" said one.
The other spat on the ground, "No knight or squire for sure Edwin. A gentleman would not strike a serf for no reason, they would not soil their hands." Ralf fingered resentfully the copper band that encircled his neck and whistled to his son Wat.
"Let's look about or work 'fore yon sees us," Edwin said.
The same thought occurred to others around the village square. A smith's hammer began to ring on the anvil and from behind a large hut came the thunk, thunk of an adze shaping wood.
The village was self contained most of the time, about forty people lived there in all. The road through led only to a few small farms further up the valley and a priory that belonged to the Abbey at Chollerton. Few travellers passed except for monks going to and from the priory. A few times a year the Baron's Reeve would come bringing serfs to help with harvesting and a monk to act as clerk, recording the quantities of crops and calculating the tithes and levies. Three times each year the villagers would go into Chollerton; the hiring fair took place in spring, the great fair at midsummer and the harvest fair on the feast of All Hallows. Other than that few outsiders were seen and news came to the hamlet only through contact with field workers and herdsmen who tended their animals on the commons.
It had been known for some time that there was to be a new Reeve. Villagers also knew that King Richard's adventures in the Holy Land had bankrupted the royal treasury and that King John would mercilessly tax the poor in order to buy the loyalty of his knights and nobles. The attitude of the visitor did not lighten the mood.
"Boy, come here," a harsh voice commanded the young man who had been knocked down. Wat looked pleadingly at Edwin and Ralf but his elders could do nothing, the Reeve had the authority of law. Wat moved slowly back towards the rider. "Take my horse and tether him and then help me off with my armour and chain mail."
Being a serf Wat did not think to question the command. Next the soldier turned towards the forge.
"Blacksmith; clean and oil my mail and repair this breastplate."
"Aye sir, for four pence."
A gloved fist crashed into the smith's mouth. Around the village the watchers gasped. Tom Smith was a freeman. It was common enough to see a serf or bondsman beaten but a freeman had rights.
"Thou seekest payment for payment smith? Has this village no hospitality."
"Aye sir, pardon me sir." Tom lifted his hugely muscled arm and wiped the blood from his lips, accepting the humiliation. Even though he was more heavily built and only slightly shorter he knew better than to fight this man. The visitor was no ordinary soldier, there was a threat in everything he did and not a trace of compassion in the hard eyes, he was a man who took what he wanted and revelled in his small portion of power.
"I shall put my other work aside and deal with your armour at once sir," Tom Smith muttered.
Once this scene had been played out young Wat stepped forward and began to unbuckle the armour, passing each piece to Tom.
Once out of his armour and with his horse being tended by Wat, the soldier picked up his shield and standing in the centre of the square began to bang its metal boss with the hilt of his broadsword. People emerged from the huts and pens, gathering in a rough semi-circle in front of the stranger.
"I am Geoffrey of Malton, Reeve of this district and lieutenant of your Baron Godric de Chollerton. I will lodge here in Vanning for it suits me well, you will treat me as your Lord. "Wench,." He pointed at a good looking woman of about twenty - five who had come out of one of the larger houses, "Who art thou?"
"Hilde widow of Merrick, Piers' son sir."
"I shall lodge with thee widow."
"It would not be proper sir, my husband and father are recently dead. I have nobody to protect me, it would not be proper."
"Thinkest thou thy Reeve is not proper to protect thee woman?"
"Sir, I am a freewoman, I hold land. I am not thine to command."
"And with no man to farm it for you how wilt thou pay thy tithes."
"The village men help me sir and I pay them." She had been about to say Wat helped her but he was in enough trouble already.
"The village men do as I say now." With two strides Geoffrey closed on the woman and snatched the arm of her child. "Did I not say thou must honour me? Yet a wench of no family insults me and denies me hospitality?" He drew a dagger and held it against the child's cheek.
"Very well sir, thou shalt lodge with me tonight."
"And for as long as I please." Geoffrey roughly threw the crying child at Hilde's feet.
Seeing that nobody could help her Hilde bowed her head in acquiescence.
For the rest of the day Geoffrey toured the village and surrounding fields, taking the freeman Edwin as his guide. Wat was told to await the arrival of the cart bearing the Reeve's possessions and to move them into Hilde's house. Hilde herself had been told to provide a worthy supper. The widow was well provisioned enough to feed so demanding a guest but the other women brought her two coneys and a knuckle of mutton. To save one of their own they must feed the stranger.
Gossip buzzed among the villagers that day, why had the new Reeve chosen to live in Vanning, surely the Baron could provide lodging in Chollerton. And why had Baron Godric, a good and just master, chosen such a man, a fighting man who had no connection with he district or its people. When the cart arrived people were once more surprised. Geoffrey had few possessions, armour and weapons, the accoutrements of a travelling knight, bridlery and saddlery and a small trunk. The whole spoke of a man who had spent most of his life on horseback, probably in the service of the Plantagenet kings who had ruled England so disastrously.
That night Hilde's cries as Geoffrey took his pleasure heralded the start of a reign of terror that would bring the people of Vanning close to breaking.
The new Reeve was no less hard on the villagers and farmers around the rest of the deChollerton estate but Vanning suffered most because of his constant presence. The simple joys of life seemed to be abolished as people worked from sunrise to sunset all through the summer. Any idling, gossiping over a cup of ale or sharing a joke or a song could easily earn a beating. Geoffrey's pleasure lay in exercising his power over people and in Vanning, away from the eyes of the world that power was absolute.
Hilde was almost a slave, she was soon showing signs of pregnancy but that did not spare her the regular beatings and humiliations if her lodger was displeased with anything. Another girl, aged only twelve and just into her womanhood was also with child and told of being taken while walking back from the fields one day.
Ralf and Edwin were both in their forties, a good age for common people at the time, and though Ralf wore a serf's band he had travelled with his master and served in the wars. It was to these two the villagers would turn in times of trouble. One night in Edwin's house, safe from Geoffrey's sharp eyes, the talk centred on the villagers' misery.
"We mun do something," said Peter Shepherd, "afore yon take everything for he self and we go through the winter starving."
"Or worse kill the breeding stock and milk cows" said Tom Smith.
"Thou mun fight him Tom, thou art strongest. We'st back thee. And when un is beat we'st tell him we are not animals to be treated so."
"And he will bring bailiffs and throw me in the dungeons at Chollerton. If he don't kill me first. Yon man is a trained soldier."
"But we mun free Hilde," said Wat.
"Will you fight then Wat? Your quarter staff against the sword of a skilled fighter?"
Wat flushed with anger and beat his own forehead with clenched fist.
"We can't fight Wat," said Ralf gently to his son, "Reeve has law to protect him. But maybe there is a way if we are patient."
"If we are men before God why are we not men before the law?" Wat asked, not expecting a reply, "will the priests not give us justice. I will fight him alone if I have to."
"God works for those who pay his bishops," Ralf said, patting the his son's shoulder.
"We know you are soft on Hilde but how will it help her if you are killed. She needs her friends alive."
"Let it be" said Edwin, "you are a serf Wat and Hilde a free woman. You could not have her to wife unless you won your freedom.
"I know that" said Wat, "but we cannot do nothing."
"We will not do nothing," said Edwin, "but we have no weapons except wisdom. Vanning is away from the roads and a small unimportant village. We are unlucky Geoffrey came here but he was attracted by our isolation. Where there are no prying eyes to see what happens he can be a king. We need wise counsel."
"Why does he treat us so?" Wat begged of anybody.
"Because he can," said Ralf, "it is in the nature of such men."
Ralf looked at Edwin. "The morrow we mun go to the forest for the stray swine?"
The people of Vanning knew nothing of the plight in which King Richard had left his realm, nor of the greed and corruption of his weak, conniving brother and successor John. King John, a neurotic control freak, was losing land and revenues in the French provinces of the Plantagenet empire and his only way of propping up his regime was the merciless taxation of his English subjects. Godric de Chollerton had been one of the Barons who had opposed the accession of King John. Now he was being financially crippled by the penalties John demanded. The King had even appointed a Reeve to manage Godric's estate.
Geoffrey was the King's man; the younger son of a minor Knight of the Shire he had neither land nor property and had enlisted first as a paid soldier in Richard's crusade then as a mercenary in John's army that had fought in the French provinces.
Geoffrey's ruthlessness in torturing prisoners had brought him to John's attention. He was a man without moral fibre, totally unprincipled and self serving. The King understood such men. Now his task was to bleed dry the wealthy de Chollerton estate. The reward on offer was the hand of Alise, daughter of Baron Godric and the title once the Baron was dead. Alise was the only surviving child and under John's law a widow or daughter had to pay a fee to the crown in order to inherit an estate. All Geoffrey had to do was ensure Alise could not pay.
Baron Godric was a good man who took his duties to the poor very seriously. He would not have tolerated Geoffrey's behaviour and so the Reeve had chosen Vanning as a base from where his cruelties could be indulged.
In the crude shelter where he slept, Wat beat his fist on the packed earth floor as he tried to shut out the sound of Hilde's sobs. It was as so many other nights, Geoffrey liked to beat a woman before taking his satisfaction. Her hurt and humiliation was an aphrodisiac.
Tom Smith sat in his forge. The soft swish of a stone on a tempered blade was barely audible outside.
"What art thou at, Tom?" a woman's voice asked quietly.
"Thinking my love," was all Tom said. His anger and frustration burned hotter than the fire.
Next morning Edwin and Ralf were about their business early. They wanted to finish regular chores and be gone before Geoffrey awoke. To help their purpose Ralf, the village brewer, had sent Hilde some very strong ale to give to the Reeve. The men were long gone by the time Geoffrey was at his breakfast.
"Beg pardon master," said Wat standing at the entrance to Hilde' house.
He was waved him forward.
"Edwin say to give thee word him and Ralf gone to the forest to bring back stray swine."
"That's the swineherd's task is it not?" The question was asked sharply as if the young serf was responsible.
" It is not for me to say sire, Edwin is a freeman. Begging pardon sire, but swineherd has many beast to tend and some stays off. Twice a year sir someone has to help him. Like we all joins to get th' harvest in."
"Thou art a fighting man my master," Hilde said, "what ought thou to know of country ways when thy life has been devoted to battling bravely for the glory of our King and the One True Church? Edwin is a good man, he will take care of the pigs."
"Well spoken woman," Geoffrey said, pleased with the show of deference. "Wat, saddle my horse."
"At once sire, he is groomed already." Wat made a small bow and turning, caught Hilde's eye and smiled quickly, acknowledging that she had saved him a beating. The glance lingered a fraction of a second too long.
"Thou makest eyes at my woman, whelp?"
The first blow sent Wat tumbling into a pen where Hilde kept her young chickens. A strong hand grabbed the serf's tunic and jerked him up. "I asked doest thou make eyes at my woman?" The fist drew back.
"N - no sire, I - I"
"Master it was nothing. I have known Wat since he was a babe." Hilde restrained the arm and earned herself a slap.
"Speak when I permit, woman," Geoffrey growled before returning to his vassal. By the time the Reeve left the village with Wat trotting behind the big bay horse the young man's face was bruised and bleeding and he held one arm to his side to try to stop the hurt in his ribs.
Tom Smith spat into the forge as several village women ran to help Hilde. Edwin and Ralf had better do something or Tom knew he would have to challenge this violent bully.
Once Edwin and Ralf reached woodland it did not take long to find a forester. These people lived wild lives outside the law. They famed pigs in the clearings and grew corn and vegetables, hunted the Baron's game and gathered the produce of the forest. Some had been born into bondage and were runaways, some came from families that had been in the forest for generations. All of them hated the French speaking nobles that had come with the Conqueror a century and a half before. Within or outside the law, life was brutal and often short for the common people.
"Hail Brand Tewson," Edwin called.
"Hail Edwin Fletcher. Hast thou fled t' new Reeve."
"Thou hast heard talk on un?" Ralf asked
"Everybody in the shire talks of him. Even the bailiffs who work for him call him a devil."
"We have not fled to the forest, Brand. We seek Ambrosius the Hermit. He will help us be rid of this canker that has come amongst us."
"Brand, who had emerged completely from the bushes where he had observed their coming, shook his head, "Bother Ambrosius answers the summons of no man but I will put out word of your plight."
"Tell Ambrosius we do not summon, rather we beg."
"He is often among the foresters at this time of year," Brand said, "he will hear of your plea. Now what is your business in the forest?"
"I have brought arrows but we must take some pigs back to satisfy Geoffrey." Both villagers unslung the bundles they carried. Brand examined the arrows, their slender shafts of Ash, copper heads and flights made from Goose feather. The foresters could make their own arrows but by comparison with the work of a tradesman the product was crude and did not fly true .
Brother Ambrosius always wore the cowled habit of a friar and most people thought of him as a monk who had left his order for a life of contemplative solitude in the woodlands. Sometimes he was no seen for months, years even; at others, particularly in troubled periods he seemed to be everywhere among the people, healing and encouraging. Foresters had more freedom of movement than the peasants and as Ambrosius showed no desire to be among the nobles and bourgeois gentlefolk it was among the foresters he was most often found.
When Edwin's message was passed on by Brand Tewson it took only a week to reach the hermit. Ambrosius was in a large ham on the other side of the shire where an outbreak of fever was causing mayhem. His herbs and brews healed some, protected some and his wise and kind words comforted the dying and those they would leave behind.
Word of the new Reeve of the Chollerton estates had spread and Ambrosius was not surprised to learn that the people of Vanning were suffering under the tyranny of this bully the hermit promised he would visit them to offer his advice for what it was worth.
In Vanning a dark mood had settled on the villagers. Even though it was high summer the sound of whistle or pipe never pleased the ear, people did not gather at the well or in the roundhouse. Wat grew more angry at Geoffrey's violations of his beloved Hilde. Geoffrey delighted in his ability to taunt Wat and Hilde's humiliations became more public. Tom Smith grew more taciturn as his impotence festered within him. Most people tried to stay out of the way of he bully but a few preferred to court favour with obsequiousness. Either way Geoffrey ruled their lives, he occupied their waking thoughts and was the shadow that haunted their darkness. Weeks passed.
One day Peter the Shepherd returned from the common with his flock and some news he could hardly contain as he ran to seek Edwin.
"What haste, Peter," said the fletcher.
"Ambrosius is come. He rests in the coppice. After darkness falls he will come to the your house. All who are with us mun be there, but he says they must be with us to death."
"Then say nothing to any other Peter, if anybody has seen thee with Ambrosius tell them it is a travelling friar who would pass this night in the coppice."
Edwin found Ralf and they began to tell the others who were willing to act; Wat, Peter Harelip the cowherd, Tom Smith, Jan of Netherton, Erik the cartwright and Leofwin the swineherd who had been called from the fields. They would gather that night with Peter Shepherd and Huw the carpenter who was at the market.
Geoffrey was not happy when Wilfrydda, Tom Smith's wife and Guthrun, wife of Edwin asked Hilde to join the other wives as they talked of the Harvest Fair. When the Reeve said sardonically that when the tithe and the Baron's levy had been paid and his own share taken the villagers would have little to live on without wasting good produce on God, Wylfridda had challenged him.
"All the villages on Baron Chollerton's estate make a show at their church for harvest, sire. Vanning is noted for its harvest shows. The produce is distributed to the poor, it is a time for rejoicing in the harvest," the woman said.
"Let the good brothers donate their tithe to the poor, you shall all stay here and work for your worldly lord's prosperity." The though of people being happy seemed to offend Geoffrey.
Guthrun spoke then, addressing the Reeve as an equal as was her right. He was neither a Knight nor a Gentleman, "Good sir, you are new to the district. If I may give you advice, it is expected that the village a Reeve makes his own will bring a goodly portion to the harvest fair. How will people respect thee if they see thy village is poor?"
"What do I care for people's respect so long as they fear me," Geoffrey snapped.
Guthrun and Wylfridda stood their ground however and eventually Hilde was granted leave to meet with the other wives. To show her gratitude she served supper with generous measures of Ralf's best brew, enriched this time with herbs brought by Peter Shepherd from Ambrosius.
Only minutes after the last of the men had entered Edwin's house the crude door swung open once again and the firelight framed a gaunt figure in a monk's cloak. All the gathered man stood as Edwin greeted the visitor and the two foresters who followed him in.
"Welcome Ambrosius, I am grateful you heard our plea."
"That stew smells appetising Edwin of Vanning," Ambrosius stepped towards the fire. Edwin nudged his son Robin to serve stew, bread and ale to the newcomers hospitality was customary.
Seating himself Ambrosius spoke again. "Are we thirteen?"
"Aye," said Edwin, " young Robin is a boy yet, he is not part of our council. Having served the food and drink Robin dutifully left the hut.
While Ambrosius and the foresters ate, the village men told of Geoffrey's malevolence and injustices. When all had aired their grievances Ambrosius cleaned his bowl with a sop of bread, took a draught of Ralf's ale and looked at each one in turn.
"Men of Vanning, what would you have me do? Geoffrey is a trained soldier, a fighting man in his prime who kills without remorse. I am an aged hermit who seeks only the solitude of the woods and the company of the creatures that live there. Would you pit me against a man all of you dare not fight?"
"Doest not know a potion Hilde can put in Geoffrey's supper, some forest plant that would rid us of him?"
"There are many such things but if I commit murder for you would you have me hang for you too?"
"I will fight him with a sword for all of us?" Wat burst out, "soldier or no, he is a savage."
"So you will not help us?" Edwin said, his voice heavy with defeat.
Ambrosius raised a hand to command attention. "I did not say that I will not or cannot help you, but know this; should I, should anybody rid you of Geoffrey another would come in his place and another after that. I can only help if you will help yourselves. I will not do murder in defiance of the king's and the church's law. All laws made by men are subordinate to a higher law,"
"God's own law?" Jan interrupted.
"Laws and Gods are both made by men. I speak of a law that will make a bond between us all and through that bond give you justice, the law of The One. The One is in all of us and in all things. The One is in us all, within it the dead and the unborn live side by side, The One contains all within it and yet its whole is contained within all things, even the very smallest of things. The One will judge those who stand in judgement and binds all those who seek it. If you come together, make yourselves one within The One, you may defeat Geoffrey."
When Ambrosius arrived he had looked old, but now there was a compelling energy in him that obliterated the signs of his great age and compelled the attention of those who listened. Nobody could have doubted this stooped old man was stronger than Tom Smith and swifter that Wat who won the running races at the summer fair. Nobody would have doubted that he could stay the river's flow with his hand, call down rain from the clouds or command the flowers to bloom in winter. And so, in the long silence that followed his speech the men of Vanning held their tongues, waiting for their visitor to continue.
When Ambrosius was sure he carried them all with him he spoke again. "Long ago when the lawgivers came from the sea bringing the gifts of learning, healing, music and poetry; teaching the craftsmen their skills and showing the farmers how to work the land, all of which raised humans above the animals. Even then some men clung to the idea that strength could overwhelm justice and power was greater than law. such war lords would come among a community as strangers and by force impose their will. Such action is as abhorrent to the one as to kill another creature for any reason other than in defence or from need. Before they left us the lawgivers decreed thus; that if an outsider insults the conventions of a community or defiles its members he also insults The One. Then the stranger has forfeited his right to natural justice and the people may make their own justice. The laws of men protect the strong for they are made by the strong and so justice must be done away from the eyes of the law. People would take the stranger to a far field and there make themselves free of the oppressor forever. All must strike a blow or make a thrust and then under they laws of men all are equally guilty and so they are bound to each other for none may further his own interests by accusing he others. All will hang if any one speaks.
I tell you this, men of Vanning, be brethren in The One, together you are strong. When people turn away from each other evil will rule."
In the days after Ambrosius had spoken to them the village men made plans. They would wait for Samhuinn when the final harvest was gathered. Days were short then and the autumn mists deterred prying eyes.
On the morning of the appointed day Wat managed to find a few moments with Hilde.
"I am sorry for the way Geoffrey treats thee Wat, it is my fault for looking on thee but somehow thy smile makes my misery bearable."
"If Geoffrey did not beat me for that he would find reason. But he beats thee for nothing Hilde, why doest accept that?"
"Because I am a woman, try to understand, I fear for my children more than I suffer from his blows."
"Thou art a free woman,"
"What does freedom mean to Geoffrey, none here has the strength to fight him and he cares for nothing except power. In Vanning now his sword is the only law."
"I vow to thee Hilde, I will end this misery and suffering, one day soon I will free thee."
"Hush Wat, such talk will get the killed. We women know something is afoot, we know Ambrosius came here. It is safer for me if I know nothing of the plan. But promise me, good Wat, do not try to fight Geoffrey alone. I need you here not in the earth."
"I know thou mayest never be mine Hilde, I am a serf and thee a freewoman but I would love thee more than my own life. Were it possible I would even be a father to this bastard thou bearest." He placed his hand upon the woman's swelling belly.
Hilde stayed him. " The child shames me Wat, I pray each day that God takes it from me."
Wat took her hand in both of his, "Precious Hilde, do not lose hope."
She smiled and for a second the sadness left her eyes. "Wat, I am an old woman, I have five years on thee. Stop this nonsense. " Slapping his shoulder playfully she walked away before they were seen.
Later in the village Geoffrey asked a peasant named Gyrd and his wife if they had seen Hilde. They told of her meeting in the fields that morning an earned themselves a beating for it. Gyrd was one of the two men not included in the conspiracy, his wife was a sharp tongued scold and the man dared not oppose her. She had demanded they earn the Reeve's favour in order to gain advantage and so the other villagers were pleased by their misfortune.
The lightening of the mood did not last long. Geoffrey greeted Hilde with a heavy blow which knocked her to the ground where she received a kick in the stomach. The beating that followed was merciless. Only when satisfied that Hilde would not defy him again Geoffrey went in search of Wat.
"The men are gone to the near wood to harvest nuts," one of the village boys told him. Geoffrey mounted his horse and set off.
Edwin was attacking a Walnut tree with a strong staff to shake down the nuts when he became aware of the Reeve's approach. He ceased and walked slowly to greet the rider.
"Where is Wat, I shall teach him that a serf does not lay eyes upon the woman I took for myself."
"Yes, took sire, thou imposed thyself on her and now thou treatest her as thy serf. It is not right, she is a freewoman with no father or brother to speak for her. She mun be allowed to make her own choices." All around the copse the sound of staffs striking branches became quite threatening.
"Darest thou tell me what is right peasant?" Geoffrey raised his hand but something in Edwin's stare made him check.
"Aye sire, I do dare, for here all men are equal and all of us are of the same mind. Thou mun pay for the wrongs done to us."
Suddenly Geoffrey was aware that the other men had closed a circle around him. "I will make you pay," he said, but the great battlesword was only half drawn when a quarter staff swung by Wat felled him with a blow to the kidneys. Tom Smith stepped forward and smashed both kneecaps with a cudgel.
"Please," Geoffrey whimpered through his pain, "I had to satisfy the Baron who demanded more taxes. My legs are broken, have pity."
"Thou begs pity who showed none," said Peter Shepherd, "Baron Godric was always a fair man." The Shepherd's foot crashed down onto Geoffrey's crotch. The beating went on, as thorough as any Geoffrey had administered. He was still conscious though a bloody mass when Wat knelt beside his former master.
"This is for Hilde," he spat in Geoffrey's face.
The wounded tyrant switched from pleading to threats.
"So this is because of the woman, you would hang for a woman you can never have serf? All of you will hang."
"Who will bear witness," a sonorous voice said.
Wat slapped both the Reeve's bloody cheeks, "and that is for me."
"Thou mayest have Hilde, when I am married to Lady Alise and am thy lord, Wat. Who will want her then with a bastard child? Let me go and she is yours."
"To offer Hilde in exchange for mercy insults her once more." Wat cried in fury as he plunged a knife into Geoffrey's chest.
"You must all strike a blow," said Ambrosius stepping among them.
The men fell on Geoffrey's dying body, eager to plunge their own blades into the flesh.
"And now you a free, but none must ever speak of this, not even among yourselves." The ancient man waved and Brand stepped out of the shadows with another forester. The pair loaded the body onto a litter of branches. "We will bury him deep, in a grove of Beech Trees where the swine will forage for nuts. By the morrow there will be no trace of a grave." Brand said.
"You will always be welcome in Vanning," said Edwin.
The men turned to express their thanks to Ambrosius but he said "what have I done? All of you have found within you the strength of The One and learned to use it. Do not forget this lesson. Blessed be." He took Wat's arm and drew him away.
"Thy crime, Wat, was greater because it was born out of anger. Thou must pay a higher price."
"Shall I give myself up to the bailiff's?"
"And confess all under torture? No Wat, the justice of The One is kinder than the justice of men, thoull not hang. Often it is to one's benefit to pay the price. To redeem thyself thou must use Geoffrey's silver to buy freedom and then be Hilde's protector. Her wound are deep and they chafe at her soul. Such wounds take long to heal. Thou art a good man, care for her well."
Wat grinned, delighted with his punishment, "Thank you Friar Ambrose."
"I am no Friar, lad. I serve an older God," Ambrosius said.
"We are told there is but one God."
"So it is, but that being does not dwell in churches, it can only be found in the hearts of good people. Be true to yourself Wat, and good to others and you serve The One. But go to church and pay your tithes and always remember the punishments of men are more harsh."
Ambrosius touched each member of the group on the forehead and then was gone.
FOOTNOTE: Ambrosius was the Roman's name for Merlin.
Copyright (c) Ian Thorpe, 2003