56. In Prayer House, Down’s End
The priests of Down’s End passed the book around the table quietly, each one taking care not to tear the paper. The pages were so thin! How could such paper stand up to repeated use? Wendelbeorht, the albino, held the book three inches from his nearsighted eyes. “All the book is like this? Perfect letters in perfectly straight rows?”
“Aye.” Eadmar answered, unnecessarily. Wendelbeorht only stated what each man had observed for himself.
Limited daylight came through the windows of Prayer House. Four short candles in the middle of the table added to the light.
“The book has the secret name, you say.” Phytwin’s voice expressed skepticism.
“I do not say so, since I do not know the tongue,” replied Eadmar. “Lord Martin says the name Jesus occurs again and again.”
Phytwin raised his voice. “I suppose he pronounces the holy name as casually as you do.”
Eadmar did not answer. He seemed to be intent on his finger, tracing a circle on the tabletop.
Guthlaf Godcild folded his arms across his chest. “We are all sworn priests here. We may speak the name without offense.” To Eadmar: “You believe Lord Martin.”
“I do. Lord Martin read and translated large portions of the book for me. He showed me the word that he says is the holy name. That word looks very like the holy name on the parchment at Dimlic Aern, which you and I have seen. I have examined Lord Martin’s book, and the word occurs many, many times. There is hardly a page without it. And when you think about it, it seems reasonable that the holy name would appear repeatedly in God’s book.”
Phytwin objected: “Why does that seem reasonable to you? The holy name is secret! Why would the book of God display the name for anyone to see?”
The fat priest, Godbeorht, nodded vigorously. “That is my question. If an unbeliever could read this language, he would find the holy name, and the more frequently it occurs the more easily he would find it.”
Teothic, the priest of the west district, slowly twisted a strand of his red beard between thumb and forefinger. “Perhaps believers in the before time did not regard the name as forbidden.”
Phytwin shook his head. “Are you saying this book dates to a time before the demons?”
“Not this book,” said Eadmar. “Lord Martin says this is a copy of God’s book. But yes: God’s book was first written in the before time, and it has been copied and recopied ever since. The parchment at Dimlic Aern is undoubtedly a copy of a portion of God’s book, he says.”
Phytwin, enraged, began to stutter, but Guthlaf silenced him with an upraised hand. Wendelbeorht spoke for him: “You told Martin about Dimlic Aern?”
By this time Godbeorht had the Testament in his hand. He shook it at Eadmar. “You told a lord—a castle lord—about the parchment?”
Eadmar directed his answer to Guthlaf. “I told him that these things exist. I did not tell him where they are.”
The bishop’s face registered doubt. Eadmar went on: “There is a page marked in the book. It has the words of the Supper, the words of Jesus.”
“According to you! That is, according to a castle lord!” Phytwin was almost shouting.
Guthlaf slapped the table. “Brothers!” Everyone shut his mouth. The bishop let silence continue for many heartbeats. He took a deep, audible breath, letting it out slowly, and the other priests did so as well. Guthlaf reached across the table and received the book from Godbeorht. He opened the book to a page with a folded corner. “This is the passage you mentioned, Eadmar?”
Guthlaf ran his finger over the words; then he smiled and shook his head. “Naturally, we cannot read the foreign tongue.”
Eadmar spoke slowly. “I know it sounds suspicious. But when Lord Martin read that passage to me, and then translated it, I knew I was hearing the words of the Supper. Hoc est corpus meum pro vobis hoc. This is my body which is for you.”
Guthlaf looked at the windows high on the wall. “If this is the book of God, we must learn to read it. You must ask Lord Martin to teach you this tongue.”
“When you are able, you must write these words in the common tongue. If this is the book of God, we must make copies for the brothers in Cippenham, Stonebridge, Dimlic Aern, and every other place.”
“But!” Now Guthlaf’s eyes focused on Eadmar. “I and the brothers are not yet convinced this is the book of God. You are to go back between the lakes. I forbid you to enter the castle or set foot on its grounds. Additionally, you will demand that Lord Martin prove his good faith by building a Prayer House for the village Inter Lucus.”
Phytwin chuckled. “Wise demand, lord bishop. That will put the lie to the deceiver’s claims.”
Eadmar shook his head. “Really? You would be persuaded if Lord Martin builds a Prayer House? Brothers, he has already asked me, without any suggestion on my part, where we should build one.”
They were all astonished.
After the meeting and an hour of meditation facing the white pine cross in Prayer House, Eadmar walked toward the Betlicéa and the fishermen’s dock. He had been gone more than two months from Down’s End, and the ordinary sights and sounds of the city struck at his heart. Even the smells—horse shit on the street, slop from a butcher’s shop, a dyer’s shop, a leather goods store, and the fish market—reminded him of thirty years walking these streets, knowing these people. He remembered Isen’s beautiful doomed sister, Sunniva. O God, I love these people!
Shouts from nearby smashed Eadmar’s reverie. From an apartment window above a bakery came a voice unfamiliar to Eadmar: a man cursing his wife, making foul accusations. There were sounds of a fight, and a woman cried out. Eadmar looked up to see the shutters of the glassless window fly open. A man appeared, holding a screaming child.
“Damned bastard!” The man twisted his body and threw the child like the carcass of a dead animal. With pipe stem arms and legs churning the air, the boy fell on top of Eadmar, who reacted too slowly to catch him. The impact threw priest and boy to the ground. Pain shot from Eadmar’s left shoulder like a fire racing into his brain. The boy rolled off him, stood up, and screamed again.
Men and women arrived at a sprint. A man lifted Eadmar, and pain from his shoulder staggered him.
“By the gods!”
The little crowd around Eadmar scattered as the man who had thrown the boy toppled from the window, landing head first in the shallow water path on the edge of the street. The tip of a knife poked out the front of his neck; the hilt was buried in hair at the back. The body lay motionless at Eadmar’s feet. At his side, the boy stopped screaming.
Minutes later, when a sheriff arrived, men had already run into the building and brought out the wife of the dead man. She wore bruises and a fierce smile.
“Murderer!” someone shouted. “She knifed her husband!”
“The baker Paega is dead! His wife killed ’im!”
The sheriff stepped close to the woman. “What have you done, Aefre?”
“I put a knife in a pig’s neck. He hit me.”
“Man has rights over his wife,” said the sheriff. “I arrest you for murder.” He turned to the people standing near. “Will someone take care of the dead man’s child?”
“Agyfen is no pig’s child. He’s my son, mine alone!”
The sheriff turned on the woman. “This is a child of adultery?”
“He is the child of love, my child. Paega hated him, tried to kill him.”
Someone said: “The bastard child of a murderer.”
Eadmar touched the boy Agyfen with his right hand. It hurt too much to move his left arm. “The boy will come with me,” he said.
Copyright © 2013 by Philip D. Smith.
All rights reserved. International copyright secured.