Thursday, February 20, 2014

Castles 91

91. Near Castle Inter Lucus

            The first knock came before Eadmar expected it.  The fire in his modest fireplace was still blazing.  He hurried down the short hall to the sanctuary of Prayer House and opened the outer door.  Alfwald and Fridiswid Redwine were there, along with Lord Martin’s students who boarded with them: Besyrwen Fairfax, Ernulf Penrict, and Tayte Graham.  “It’s not dark yet,” Eadmar said.
            Alfwald opened his mouth to speak, but turned aside to sneeze violently.  He pulled a kerchief from a pocket to dry his bulbous nose.  “Aye.  But with snow clouds, dark will come early.  Are we the first?”
            Rather than answering, Eadmar motioned the visitors into Prayer House.  “I’ll return in a moment.”  He trotted back to his quarters, tamped down the fire, and changed into his cleanest brown tunic.  He lit a taper at the fire and returned to the sanctuary.  Already more people had arrived.  Eadmar expected the residents of castle Inter Lucus to come; how could they not, when Lord Martin had instigated the meeting?  But these early arrivers were people from the village: the Alymars, the Idans, the whole extended Entwine family, and others Eadmar didn’t yet know.  He had begun learning villager names during Martin’s Harvest Festival, but that was a month past and Eadmar had forgotten many.  Eadmar set about lighting candles and lamps: two candle stands with six candles each in the front of the sanctuary and three oil lamps in wall sconces on each side.
            Another knock; this time it was the castle children: Alf, Ora, Caelin, Went (not yet as pimply as Caelin, but sharing his brother’s skinny build and brown hair), and the bright-eyed Whitney.  The biggest of Martin’s sheriffs, Os Oswald, entered behind them.  Eadmar marveled yet again at Os’s sheer bulk; he filled the doorway when he came in, dimming the light from outside.  Soon after, two other sheriffs arrived along with Lord Martin, Rothulf Saeric, Mildgyd, and Agyfen.  The little boy Agyfen eagerly accepted Eadmar’s hug.  Only three sheriffs had come; Eadmar surmised that Elfric Ash was keeping watch in Inter Lucus, behind barred doors.  Martin could not leave his castle completely unguarded.
            More villagers came.  The fourteen short benches in Prayer House were lined with folk, and others stood along the walls.  Os stood like a sentry next to the door, perhaps to make sure Rothulf didn’t leave during the meeting.  Prayer House was unheated, but with so many crowded together, some people were pulling off coats and cloaks to sit on them.  Eadmar walked the aisle between the benches to face the people underneath the white pine cross, the sign of the old God.
            Eadmar had been pronouncing the holy name in the presence of ordinary folk for more than a month.  So it was no longer precisely fear he felt, yet excitement raced in him as he spoke before so many.
            “As you know, when Lord Martin came to Inter Lucus he brought with him this book.”  Eadmar held the little book high.  “Lord Martin says it is the book of God.  Some of my brothers in Down’s End will be slow to accept this, but I think it is true.  The book of God tells about Jesus, the Son of God.
            “The book of God does not tell if Jesus was born in spring, summer, fall, or winter.  Lord Martin says that no one knows—that is, only God really knows—when Jesus was born.  But the book of God says clearly that Jesus brings us light and life.  ‘In him was life, and that life was the light of men and women,’ the book says.  Because Jesus brings new life, Lord Martin says that believers in Jesus—and on Earth there are many, many believers in Jesus—celebrate Jesus’ birth at the beginning of winter, just when the days begin to lengthen.
            “I will not hide from you the truth.  My brothers in Down’s End would not be pleased that I tell you the name Jesus.  We priests have long treated the holy name as our greatest secret.  But my brothers have not read the book of God, and it says we should share the name freely. 
            “What we do tonight we do not to please Lord Martin but because this really is the book of God.”  Eadmar again held the testament aloft.  “Caelin has copied out parts of the story of Jesus in the common tongue, and I have asked Caelin Bycwine, Ora Wooddaughter, Whitney Ablendan and Lord Martin to help me.  Tonight, we will read you the story of Jesus’ birth.”
            Eadmar went to a small table by the wall, picked up several sheets of Inter Lucus paper, and laid Lord Martin’s book in their place.  Caelin, Ora, Whitney and Martin joined him at the front of Prayer House.  Eadmar distributed the papers, each reader assigned particular passages.  Ora and Whitney were visibly trembling and even Caelin, who could read as well as Eadmar or better, was obviously nervous.  The five of them had practiced together on four occasions.  Whitney couldn’t actually read, since she had been taking lessons at the castle for only two weeks, but she had quickly memorized her small part.
            Lord Martin began. 
            In the time of Herod king of Judah there was a priest named Zechariah…
            Eadmar watched the faces reflecting candle and lamplight.  Eadmar had himself first heard this marvelous story only two months before, when he had returned from Down’s End with Agyfen.  Naturally, the people of Two Moons would puzzle over many things in the story, especially references to Judea, Nazareth, Galilee and Rome, but they quickly grasped the central theme: the births of two boys, promised by God, as God’s salvation for poor ordinary folk.
            Ora’s reading picked up the story when it came to Mary: In the sixth month, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a town in Galilee, to a virgin pledged to be married to a man named Joseph…
            Eadmar could not help reflecting on the story’s meaning for the people of Two Moons.  They were familiar with castle gods, castle lords, and castle magic.  Worship of the old God had survived on Two Moons because castle magic could not reach priests and believers when they hid far away in the wild.  For generations, priests and believers lived on the knife’s edge of starvation while the castle gods lavished wealth, learning (for a select few), security, medicine, and ease on those who worshiped them.
            Whitney’s turn came.  Her eyes fixed on the paper, but she spoke from memory.  Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit, and said in a loud voice: “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the child you will bear!  Why am I so favored, that the mother of my Lord should come to me?
            The castle gods went away.  No one knew why.  Castle lords claimed the gods would come back, and they continued to insist on the worship of castle gods.  But the centuries rolled on, the gods did not return, and in the growing cities worshipers of the old God found a measure of welcome and security.  Lordly favor still meant that worshipers of castle gods enjoyed advantages in trade and learning.  Even in the free cities rich people usually confessed loyalty to castle gods.  After so long a time, God’s priests on Two Moons knew their place; their call to serve the poor and powerless had been ingrained in their hearts.
            Ora read again.  And Mary said: “My soul glorifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my savior, for he has been mindful of the humble state of his servant.  From now on all generations will call me blessed…
            He has brought down rulers from their thrones but has lifted up the humble.  He has filled the hungry with good things but has sent the rich away empty.”
            Eadmar exulted again as he heard the words of Jesus’ mother Mary.  God sent his son to help poor people, people suffering under a foreign king. All over Two Moons, people worshiped castle gods for straightforward reasons of privilege, but the castle between the lakes had lost its lord and fallen into ruin.  For a century the people of Inter Lucus and Senerham had had no lord to dispense favors; they were like sheep without a shepherd.  And now the book of God had appeared, proclaiming good news for ordinary folk.
            Caelin’s turn came when the story returned to the priest Zechariah.  His father Zechariah was filled with the Holy Spirit and prophesied: “Praise be to the Lord, the God of Israel, because he has come and redeemed his people…
            “…to rescue us from the hand of our enemies, and to enable us to serve him without fear in holiness and righteousness before him all our days...
            “…to shine on those living in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the path of peace.”
            Eadmar tried to read faces.  Surely some of the folk between the lakes would link the story to their own situation.  Eadmar was thoroughly confident that Lord Martin sincerely worshiped Jesus.  Martin’s coming to Two Moons would enable many to serve God without fear.
            Finally, the reading came to Eadmar.  So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David.  He went to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child.  While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born…
            But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid.  I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people.  Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you…
            Eadmar finished his reading and handed his paper to Lord Martin.  Ora, Whitney, and Caelin also gave their texts to Martin, and people looked at the lord, expecting him to speak.  But Martin only inclined his head to Eadmar.
            Eadmar held his palms up in a gesture of openness to everyone present.  “The angel of God told shepherds that Jesus’ birth was good news for all the people.  This is a message of joy and happiness for all of us.  Tonight we celebrate the birth of God’s Son.  He was born into a world of darkness much like our world of Two Moons.  Tonight, to commemorate his birth, we will use light to symbolize his coming.”
            Martin motioned and Alf picked up a woven sack that had been on the floor at his feet.  Alf held it open and Went, Tayte, and Besyrwen helped him distribute small candles to everyone present.
            “I trust that no one will be afraid of the dark,” said Eadmar.  He took one of the candles from the candle stand on his right and nodded to Martin, who blew out the other candles on their stands one by one.  While Martin extinguished the candles, sheriff Leo and sheriff Ealdwine put out the lamps.  In a matter of seconds, the candle in Eadmar’s hand was the only light in the room.
            The crowd in Prayer House waited in profound silence.  “Jesus came as light into the world,” Eadmar said.  “A single light in the darkness seems to be a small thing.  But the light can be shared.”  Eadmar held his candle still and Ora tipped hers to light it.  “And when the light is shared, it grows brighter.”  Eadmar and Ora held their candles for others, and very soon the light passed to every person in the sanctuary.  With more than 100 candles burning, Prayer House was filled with light.
            Eadmar returned his candle to the candle stand.  “May the light of Jesus shine in your hearts.  God bless each one of you!  May peace be with you.”
            The crowd took their cue from Lord Martin, who blew out his candle and gave it into Alf’s sack.  Eadmar relit the candles on the candle stands, and Leo and Ealdwine relit the oil lamps.  Soon the people were talking together and moving out of Prayer House for the walk back to the village.  It was snowing; once outside, family groups walked quickly away, seeking the warmth of their houses.

Here ends part two of Castles.

Copyright © 2014 by Philip D. Smith.
All rights reserved.  International copyright secured.

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