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A taste of the past on Scotland’s Iona Island

You never know when destiny raps at your door. So it was for me, a boy of 11 hanging from the cliffs of Iona, a tiny isle off Mull, itself an island off the western Caledonian mainland. I was there collecting eggs, a thrilling morning ritual that never lost its allure despite its routine. The sea was pounding at the shores, terns and gulls screaming their abuse and Seanie, my dog, was barking from the cliff ’s edge, my path too precarious for even her brave heart and sure feet. Seanie served as my most responsible parent and every day she voiced her concern, while I, foolhardy and young, dared all for a few eggs.

I knew not what events shook the world beyond these small shores. Mine was a tiny world, a neat one with clear boundaries and I knew not of kings and popes and other matters of import.And yet, even as I clung to that hard rock face, these greats who stalked the world’s lands and rode her seas were making a place for me, defining a role in their play that I would not perceive for decades.

It is many years since I have thought of those early times, how it all began and how I became involved, but just now as I sit before my fire, the flames bring back images sharper than life itself. The images I see come from my childhood, just 40 years after the fall of the millennium when many in the greater church were still poised for the end of all and the return of Christ, but in the springtime on Iona we were far from these concerns. I can just see the hut my mother lived in. It was a dank, smoky, fish-smelling hovel built of stone and the rare bits of wood we found on the beach for there were no trees on Iona. The cool cliffs, the sea birds soaring in the constant winds, the rude remnants of the monastery where my father daily wined and wenched himself into an early grave, all this comes back as clear as an October sky.

As I said earlier, I was just 11 and growing rapidly, at least that is what everyone told me, but I was largely unaware of these changes. It is not that I was obtuse or slow, but rather that I was immersed in the heroic imaginary world I lived in. In reality, I have never been a tall boy or man—even now I can just see over my pony’s back—and I am slender, but I thought myself cast in the same image as Abraham or Moses and I carried a sling hoping some Goliath would dare show himself. I was probably the best reader of all the brothers, Tulach having taught me my letters before his sudden and suspicious demise, and I read the tattered scriptures with rapt attention.

Book coverWe in the True Faith would consider my father a prior, but the Celts on Mull and the mainland called him kirk-beadle or church leader. He was a big man, but he was not tall and his size was not a predictor of health or robust vigor.He puffed at the slightest exertion, and his ruddy face was deep pale underneath the red. His eyes were odd too, the lids were always puffy and swollen, and the eyelashes were all but hidden in the folds of flesh. His eyes just barely peered out from their sockets, like some wary animal’s eyes reflecting the torch in a deep cavern.

St. Columba’s monastery fared poorly under my father’s care, but I did not realize just how poorly, for this isle and place were all I knew. Columba had come to Iona in the sixth century and he built a beacon to Christians that illumined those dark years. They were heroes like the old testament heroes of Prophecy and Law. They slept on stone, they survived on oats and berries and they kindled the flames of righteous-ness in this harsh land so that all of the ignorant could hear the Word and walk the Path of Salvation.

Because of Columba’s bones, Iona remains an important shrine for pilgrims seeking salvation or penance. All of Alba’s kings are buried here and centuries of Iona’s faithful brothers are interred under her green grasses as well. But the sanctity of these stones had been besmirched by a long line of debauched brothers, my father being the current heir to this dubious distinction. Where once the magic of St. Columba prevailed, now mundane matters took precedence, and the holiest orders I heard were: “Here, fill up my cup, and be sharp about it.” or something more suggestive served with a leer and a wink. Besides my father, there were just seven brothers, a wretched, ill-bred family more devoted to ease and drink than Christ. In my mind their names are forever linked with the seven sins. Iewan, my father, was glutton, drunk and lecher. Stephen was an ill-tempered, one-handed Irish thief banished to this remote outcropping of rock by the Bishop at Fergus’ command. Maldred, who I suspected of murdering Tulach, was probably the worst of a bad lot, but they all were undependable, shiftless and wretched. The philosopher Psellos believes that there is a certain banality, a deadly stupidity, in the devil’s work and this lot was a testament to the effectiveness of his dull smiles and shabby temptations. Despite their weaknesses, however, and their penchant for depravity, in their own way, they were still believers.When sober, they recognized their sinfulness and all posed as justifiably repentant. They were Culdees, after all, supposedly an ascetic cult and despite their current weaknesses, each bore the marks of earlier periods of penitential efforts. I can now see that they were just ignorant and weak, and lacked the strength of strong leadership, but after I read of the heroes in the scriptures, they were all repellent to me, particularly my father who I reviled as hopelessly debauched.

Although the monastery had been self-sufficient for centuries, there was no wealth here anymore and most of their time was spent trying to weasel wealth away from the few pilgrims who still dared the long voyage needed to visit the site. Norse raiders had stolen the gold and silver altarpieces and destroyed the true relics and the incredible books with their magical illustrations. Consequently, these few brothers who remained at Iona preyed on the pilgrims and hawked trinkets to the unsophisticated and trusting travelers who visited these ancient and holy grounds. They would be assailed with whispered secrets, “Nails drawn from Christ’s wounds.” or they would have a bit of wool cloth and with a splash of sheep’s blood on it thrust at them with a furtively hissed, “Blood from Christ’s wounds”. Each brother specialized in his own bit of memorabilia and my father had a secret burial site he liked to show, “for a grope and a feel”, if the pilgrim was a maiden. Such was the training I had in my youth and save the intercession of Berengar, I would probably be still there like a barker in the slave mart.

On the afternoon of what was to be my last day on Iona, I found a coracle beached on the shore below the same cliffs where I found Tulach dead from the fall, and it was empty save a bught of line with some hooks and a net and an odd dance of footprints that led to the cliff. I knew my path up to follow it blindly, but it defied most men.When the Norsemen had come, they needed stout ropes to ascend, or so I was told for they never appeared in my lifetime, but as I looked up I could see these clerics had no rope. They were in a bad bit of the cliff and looked unable to go up or down.

They called out in a language I did not know and I called out to them in Gaelic, “I can’t understand you.”

The round-headed, dark-robed man called out in crude Gaelic,“Boy. Boy. Can you show us the way?”

I replied that I could, “for a coin”, because, despite my revulsion for him, I was my father’s son even then, and I scrambled up to show the way. It was a bit difficult because my route for ascension was designed to get a short eleven-year old out of the cliffs, while these fully-grown men were not quite as agile. Seanie had her own route to the top and she was there long before us, barking advice. Once we achieved the top, she danced her steps of welcome and was quite happy to see me safe from the cliffs. The men were winded, and the rotund elder man asked in his halting Gaelic who I was, what business I was at and how came I to this island. I replied to each question with the seriousness of a child and, then, given Seanie’s approval, volunteered to lead them to the monastery. Seanie was as good a character reference I needed and so I reduced my wariness about them and she trotted along with us as we ambled through the green hills of Iona. It was a walk of several miles, and, as we followed the well-trod path, the man who identified himself as Brother Gerald made continuous light-hearted talk with me while the other man stayed silent and closed.

“This is Father Berengar, boy.” Gerald said. I continued to study both men to determine their quality and reassess any danger. Gerald was round, but healthily so, and Father Berengar tall, austere and handsome. I now know that they both wore the black robes of the Benedictines, but at the time I did not have any idea that there were other sorts of Christians. Our crude practises on Iona were all I knew.

Gerald continued his conversation, “So, boy, you’ve a way with the cliffs, haven’t you? Do you know the whole isle as well?”

This appealed to my vanity for I thought myself as knowledgeable about Iona as Moses had been of Egypt and so I replied: “I know it better than these cliffs, I just gather eggs there. I go after goats and sheep all over the island, and, I know where the salmon lie in the stream by the tor and where the wildcats lay awaitin’ red grouse and the roe deer.”

I prattled on happily expounding upon my expertise in local geography while Gerald and the silent man strode on. “I know where the seals are and there’s harpies in one of the bays.Where do you come from?” “We are just pilgrims from the south, intent on seeing a holy place and perhaps finding a relic to grace our church.” The dark haired and eyed Berengar kept silent and looked hard at Gerald and Gerald caught the look, stuttered, and looked chagrined like he had just said some-thing wrong. “Wha-wha-what’s your name boy?” Gerald said, “We’re anxious to see your church, boy, and how your brothers are keeping it.”

“Anselm. My name’s Anselm and my father is kirk-beadle.” I said innocently while Gerald and Berengar exchanged meaningful glances.

Not knowing about celibacy and the divide between the Roman church and the Celtic church on such matters, I prattled on and on, condemning my father, and the whole debauched community. All this time as we walked I was giving hand signals to Seanie to go this way or that, to return to me or to bring me a stone to throw, and the men were quite amazed at her skills. They laughed that she knew both Gaelic and Latin.

When we arrived at the huddle of buildings, their worst fears must have been confirmed. The graveyard of Kings was untended—goats were nibbling at the feet of Aidan and Angus MacFergus, the herb garden was unkempt, weedy and unproductive, heaps of dung lay scattered on the walk and my father, Iewan, was drunkenly asleep with his head against a particularly fragrant pile.

“Father, father, wake up. Pilgrims—holy men—come on. They’re looking for relics.”

Father Gerald said, “Yes, Brother, arise, for we must talk with you on this fine day and wish to share the beneficence of your Christian charity. Let me give you a hand.” Gerald gave my father an arm, helped him sit upright and then propped him against a convenient stone.My father sat wearily on a square block of stone that had been a building, which long since had been robbed for some other purpose. He sat rubbing his temples, trying to see just who was visiting and glaring at me as if I had caused his discomfort.

He shouted, “Boy,” winced, rubbed his woeful head again, and fixed me with a hard look through his half-hidden eyes and then said in a hushed voice, “Anselm,” looking warily at the two priests again, “you’re to tell us when there’s pilgrims, fine folk like these, so as to make ready and treat ’em proper.”

“There’s no need of preparations. I see all I need right now.” Father Berengar spoke then for the first time in Latin. “You’re a disgrace and you dishonor Christ. On your knees and pray for your soul.” He stalked into the sacristy where chickens chased bugs and where what passed for vestments hung from shelves like rags from beggars. Berengar hissed something to Gerald in another language, and then in perfect Gaelic said to me, “Gather the others, Anselm, and bring the other brothers here.”

Iewan, groggy and shaky against the stone, still had the impulse to grope at me as I went past, but I dodged him with my usual agility and he missed with his lack of it and Seanie bounded off with me. I found Walter in the ruined stables, sleeping since there were no animals, Deiniol was cooking in the kitchen and Madog was pulling woodenlooking carrots from the vegetable garden, remnants of last year’s crop. The others were at prayer in the chapel and from the speed at which they were praying it was clear they were thinking food rather than salvation. To each person or group of people, I shouted, “Visitors, pilgrims! Come to the Sacristy. They want you” and darted out before they could grumble at me or worse. I ran back to the Sacristy with Seanie beside me in time to see my father in false remorse, balanced on his well-larded knees, tears running down his mock repentant face, and he glowered at me when he thought no one was looking.

The brothers came in a hurry and Walter and Cadwaladr had been found too. Deiniol, the most fluent brother said some stumbling phrases in what I now know was horribly parochial Latin, and Berengar smiled scathingly and said, “Please, use your own language.” At this Seanie looked from face to face, turning her head in puzzlement. Gerald whispered something to Berengar, probably, “It hurts my ears too.” Berengar went on. “We have traveled long to visit this shrine to past kings and Saint Columba and to see the relics for which you are famed. I am shocked, appalled by what I see. You are all charged with caring for one of the most blessed spots on earth and you fall like pigs into the dung that entraps you.”

Book coverA certain predatory gleam had come to my father’s eyes when he heard the words, “relics” and he became smooth and oily in his speech.

“Oh good fathers, pray forgive me, but me and these humble brothers have fallen from our usual serene routines because our cow, Buttercup, has just died and we are despairing of milk, our usual drink.We’ve had to drink wine when our poor bodies are unused to such heady potions.”

In truth,my father had killed the cow after she kicked him one morning when he nearly pulled her teat off to keep from falling as he was drunkenly trying to milk her.

“She’s a brae beast, our Buttercup,” he went on, tears in his wary eyes and the other brothers nodded in agreement, abject despair showing on each depraved face.

“Oh, aye, she’s a beauty,” Deiniol chimed in, as if on cue,“and we’ve lost our Nest, too.”Nest was the pig they had butchered before Buttercup. There was a chorus of “Oh aye, lost Nest too, we have,” and “There’ll never be another Buttercup, that’s certain.”

Gerald made sympathetic noises, but it was clear, even to me, that Berengar was hard and a shrewd assessor of human weakness. He quickly changed the subject, “Tell us about the relics in your shrine here.What are they, where did you get them and how do you protect them?”

My father was simple, slothful, sinful, and he was clearly out of his depth with Berengar, but he was not without guile. He recognized the sharpness of Berengar, the concealed zeal and his eyes narrowed speculatively. I knew my father was plotting and the other brothers hung on his next move, because their role in this predation was largely support, to back up and worry like Seanie with the sheep, to dissuade and confuse, to aver and sympathize or to cut out a prey from the herd.

My father chose to divide and conquer. “We ‘ave so few,” my father said, “and such poor things,Walter, Deinol, show Brother Gerald where the Norse breached the wall and stole the book.”

Berengar recognized the tactic, smiled slightly and nodded to Gerald, and Walter and Gerald strolled down to the dilapidated perimeter wall with Walter and Deinol talking nonstop about the Norse horror, the exquisite beauty of the illustrated manuscript, its holiness and other such nonsense. It was nonsense because they had never seen it, they could not read it even if they had it there before them and either would have traded it for a warm place to eat and a soft place to sleep on a snowy evening.

“Boy, see to the sheep, and Madog, see to our supper. There will be two extra plates and let’s make it a celebration.” ‘Sheep’ , ‘Supper’ and ‘Celebration’ were code words, of course, to set into play a preplanned scheme to separate Pilgrims from their gold. See to the sheep meant I was to depart and not return until the pilgrims had left, and Madog’s orders meant he was to prepare the first “relic”.

I left, as commanded, but I did not go far and I grabbed my father’s staff on the way out. I was angry with his imperious decree. I wanted to listen to the two men of God who were obviously learned and important men. In truth, I was impressed with them. They looked like men from the scriptures. They looked like the heroes I had read about in the tattered parchments that passed as our texts. More than angry though, I was ashamed. I could see my father more clearly than ever for the rude opportunist that he was and as I darted away, I was primed to disobey.

I could see and hear Walter and Deinol practicing their patter with Gerald whose face held a dignified, quiet and patient repose. I recognized qualities in these men I had not seen before: calm, patience and quiet in Gerald; knowledge and decisiveness in Berengar.

I had never been in the stone cairn that lay at the base of the big stone cross—no one within living memory had—but I had certainly nosed around it thoroughly. The cairn emerged from the ground like a buried log, turf growing across one end and an immense red stone covered the entrance. The cross was a huge and terrible Pictish cross some 20 feet high. On the front was a wheel-shaped head that interfaced with the arms of the cross. On the back were four panels of horsemen and foot soldiers and below were beheaded bodies writhing in the agony of death. The brothers had universally warned against the tomb’s dark and forbidding entrance. That huge red stone sealed the cairn with certainty and thus far had proven far beyond human power to move. The stone brooded like a festering scar on the tomb. I had worried at it for much of my life despite the prohibitions against it, pouring water into cracks and hearing the drip and whisper of hidden things within. Several days ago I noticed a crack, a new boy-sized fissure that appeared one hot day after a particularly cold night—I had actually hear the stone crack—and I had been waiting for a moment to do the forbidden. That moment was now. Naturally, I was afraid of the cross and tomb, but I was also angry and my anger overcame my fear. Besides the enormous red capstone, the roof was formed of large stone slabs of local origin, and it was one of these that had fractured. I bent and pulled at the stone, but no luck. Then I slipped the end of Iewan’s staff into the crack and pried at it until the staff broke with a loud crack, but no one noticed. The fragment had come loose enough for me to pull it from the tomb. I slipped down the hole like a weasel and still I was undetected—I could just peek out over the herb garden and see Father Berengar and my father fencing with words, my father like a hound with a stolen delicacy and Berengar like a cat waiting to pounce.

I was afraid, of course. The cairn had a cold and ominous feel to it, and the brothers were universal in their condemnation of the place. They talked of boys missing and bones found at the entrance after a full moon and Iewan said he had spied several small dark men lifting at the entrance stone late one evening during the spring equinox, but I was angry and determined and besides, he had been particularly drunk that night and I did not believe him. I did not mean to enter completely; I just wanted to hide while I peeked out and listened to conversations.

But, as I wiggled and turned on the tips of my toes, trying to get a better look, a stone came loose, a block slid out, and I fell inside completely. I did not cry out. I learned early on the merits of silence. The wind had been knocked clear out of me. Once I regained my breath, I noticed that it was not completely dark, as I had imagined, but rather sunlight filtered down throughout the cracks between roof stones and I could see rather well. Too well, for it was clear that this was a burial vault and panic rose in me as I noted the bones lying on the ledges that lined the trench that I lay in. I had been standing on bones as I perched half in—half out of the roof and the bones I had stood on had tumbled to the floor.

It was a long rectangular cellar about 15 feet long with banks about shoulder high along the aisle onto which the bones were laid. The stone over my head just touched my head so it was about four feet high and perhaps seven or eight feet wide. I was right beneath the entrance stone, and I forgot about my father and Berengar. The skulls looked at me with a horrible concentration and my throat felt like it had a mouse in it the size of a fist, but I overcame my fright and walked down the aisle, touching nothing, careful and silent. All the bones were bare save one who looked like he had died there. It was curious. He was still in his robe, and as I looked at his garb, his hand caught my eye, for one digit was missing. I looked closer and under him and the flagstone that supported his bones, from the side of the aisle where only a boy would notice, I could see a gap and something shining through. Carefully, I pushed a stone that formed the aisle wall to see better, and the wall came tumbling down. Bones were on top of me, around me, grasping at me, and I yelled and screamed until, Gerald and Walter called down to me. Then, as I regained my boyish courage and what was left of my dignity, I noticed that there had been a hole underneath the flagstone that formed the shelf and in it lay a dark leather bundle, thick and tied with now disintegrated leather straps.

I opened it and inside was a small bundle of cloth carefully wound around several objects I could feel and bound with leather thongs. This find was quite astounding to me. I had been at the monastery for four years and I thought I had seen everything, but now this new secret just fell out. I picked up the box, lifted it and a gem sparkled under the box.

I palmed it and then ran to where Gerald and the other brothers looked down through the crack and pushed the box out. They grabbed for the box, grappled for it, and then dropped it. I scrambled out. I had intended the box for Gerald and said as much.Walter swung at me with a backhand that would have broken bones and after I spun clear of it, Gerald grabbed and twisted his left hand and commanded, “Enough, leave the boy alone.” Iewan and Berengar, in the mean time, had run over to see what the tumult was all about.

It was quite a stir. Everyone was talking excitedly, Madog kept grabbing the package from Gerald who was answering with surprising vigor, “No, No confound you!” and suddenly, a loud commanding voice said, “HOLD, HOLD in Christ’s name!” It was Berengar and his voice had an authority which all recognized immediately. “Put the box down, Gerald.” commanded Berengar and all the brothers, myself, Gerald and Berengar stood silently in a circle, looking at the box at our feet. I still held the gem in my clenched hand, but all attention was on the box and I surreptitiously slipped it into my hose, feigning a flea bite that demanded attention.

After a good long pause Berengar began, “Brother Iewan, I recognize your right to this bundle of relics.” Another long pause stretched out before us as each man struggled inwardly for the strongest position and the right words to defend it. Finally Berengar continued, “I am better qualified to open and care for these relics, if that is what they are, than anyone here. Brother Gerald will vouch that I’ve handled hundreds of such things.” At this Brother Gerald looked non-plussed, as if asked to aver to something he could not, so Berengar quickly continued. “Relics are often frail, in fragile condition, and the documents that accompany such packages often reveal critical elements of the relic’s age and value.

I read and write Greek, and Latin, and speak many of the vulgar tongues such as Gaelic, Norse and French. You do not know me, but I believe that in the brief moments of conversation that we have had, Brother Iewan, you should know me for the honest and forthright man that I am. I come in Christ’s name. I will not steal this box and the things it conceals.”He paused again, took a breath, judged his moment and said, “Let us now take it into the sacristy and I will carefully unwrap the box and discover its contents.”

So, the haughty, arrogant Berengar who had earlier judged my father and his monks as hopelessly corrupt was suddenly contrite and had offered some small dignity to my father in his words. Even I, ever naive and gullible, recognized the change of tactics.

By this change, Berengar now extended a difficult offer to my father and one replete with hazard. Of course, Iewan immediately recognized Berengar’s change from an authoritarian figure thundering condemnation to this reasonable contrite expert. Iewan had based his whole life on the premise that all men are dishonest cheats who manipulate for pleasure and that the only course to hold against them was to beat them at their own game. Of course, this attitude eventually corrupted him to the point where he could trust no one—He even preached this premise to me, “Trust no one, Anselm, not your brother, not your wife, not even yourself, and you’ll not be disappointed.” I absorbed this lesson from my father as no other, and while true, it has proven to be another of the great paradoxes. As I look back on my life, I realize that you will never get into heaven without trusting all. Trust is the glue that binds us all together.Where the glue fails, there is no hope. No hope, no heart. No heart, no God. This is the lesson I struggle with still.

And so, we stood awkwardly, each man thinking his own thoughts, while Iewan ran the potentials of gain and theft through his drinkaddled head and finally he cleared his throat and said, “Scripture’s my guide;”At this I scoffed inwardly while he continued, “an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth, I say.My motto: Never forget; never forget a friend, never forget an enemy. Cheat me and you’ll regret it. Take it to the sacristy.” Of course, this was calculated blarney. Iewan lived by whatever cup or skirt was in front of him now and he never kept a commitment longer than a fleeting thought, but it was an excellent notion anyway and Berengar solemnly guaranteed to pay for whatever treasure he took and to certify that the relics contained in the wrappings were to be attributed to the Iona colony each time they were shown.

Berengar knelt, and carefully picked up the bundle. He carried it into the sacristy and then called, “Your knife Gerald.” and Gerald brought out a small dagger from somewhere in his black robes. Berengar began cutting away the rotting leather straps, then gently folded back the leather wrapper. The leather broke away as he folded it back and a small, cloth-wrapped package was revealed. Again, even more carefully, Berengar folded back the cloth and inside was a book, seven tiny silver cups, a hanging bowl, a silver spoon, some parchment (with writings on it) and, wrapped in a piece of vellum, a severed and now mummified finger.

I could see Iewan was disappointed—he wanted gold—but Gerald’s face carried a look of excitement while Berengar’s was unreadable.

“Well what is it?” I asked after a few moments of silence. “Is it a relic? Whose finger is that? Why did they cut it off?”

Berengar spread the papers on the crude bench, read them for an agonizingly long space of time, smiling now and then, and finally he began to tell us a tale.

“Brother Gilbert was a scribe here at Iona. He’d made two copies of a manuscript, one surreptitiously for himself and he ferreted this one away here thinking he’d be able to spirit it off and sell it for riches. Unfortunately, he almost immediately was stricken blind. He recognized that this illness was God’s hand on his shoulder and decided that he would take this second illicit manuscript to Gloucester as a penance for his sin of pride and deceit. Just as he made this decision, word of Northmen came and he hurried to find a hiding place for the manuscript. Anselm fell into that hiding place.”

“But what about the finger?”How did it get there?” I hurriedly asked.

Berengar went on, “Look here, one of the last thing’s this poor sinner wrote.” he said pointing to the bottom of the page. “He writes that this is true, swears to it in the Lord’s name, and then marked with his ring to verify the identity of the writer.”

“But where’s the ring?” I asked again. “He has no ring.” I picked up the mummified finger and, indeed, it had no ring, but the imprint of a ring clearly showed around the finger still. “And why’d he leave his finger anyway?”

Berengar nodded to Gerald and Gerald searched through the inner folds of his robe until he brought out a silver ring, inscribed with the exact same pattern that was inked at the bottom of the parchment. “He wanted to show us that he did indeed write the passage. No doubt he was just planning on leaving the box with the parchment, but perhaps he felt the end was near, or perhaps, he wanted to show penance. I don’t know his reasons, but it’s clear he intended to leave the finger, and escape himself. He must have been wounded and crawled back in the tomb after the attack.”

I should have asked where the ring came from and no one else thought to query, so intrigued were we all with the contents of the box.

“So what happened to him?” I asked.

Book coverBerengar answered, “There’s no telling for sure, but in all probability, he was killed in the raid, before he could make his pilgrimage to Gloucester to deliver his penance. Luckily, Gerald and I are headed just there.We can deliver his gift.”

“Hold.” commanded Iewan, “This may be a gift to you, but it’s our property, and I’ll no be stolen from.”

“Brother, this book is not the treasure you think. Gilbert was not an illustrator of note.” and here he opened the pages carefully to show the plainness of the text and the lack of color and rich ornamentation, “Gerald and I would do this out of respect for the dead that he might escape from the prison of purgatory where he certainly resides, given his cunning and deceit. You have no library, and this text has only slight importance. Keep the cups certainly. They are yours and you are the richer for them, but do not condemn this poor scribe when he wanted to gain his salvation by bringing the text to Gloucester.” I sensed something false in Berengar’s discourse, but perhaps I was to accustomed to the company of rogues. Regardless I could see nothing wrong with Berengar’s explanation of this book and treasure and Iewan and the others seemed satisfied by his talk.

I could see a shadow of disapproval on Gerald’s face as this discussion was underway, but I kept clear of the inevitable bartering that my father would do to get the best price and keep as much as possible of the silver.

We searched the tomb thoroughly before supper, finding nothing more but bones, and in the end, I was proud of my accomplishments. Both Berengar and Iewan thought he had done well and after they toasted each other that afternoon and stuffed themselves with the remains of Nest, I felt I had done well, too, for both my father and Berengar.

I was abed early immediately after Compline, in fact, and was sleeping the sleep of the dead, when I was rousted from my straw pallet for Matins in the deep night. We had never in my memory arisen for Matins. I sleep very soundly, and when awakened, I seldom really wake, so I was not fully aware of the implication of the service, but I did notice seven brothers with severe and abjectly repentant demeanors. We celebrated Lauds too which ended at dawn, another first, and we then broke our fast.

Gerald was the one who told me. “Anselm, you are coming with us to Gloucester. Your father has agreed to forgo full payment for the book, and he’s sent the silver spoon and four of the cups to oil the wheels for your education under our tutelage. You’re a lucky boy.” he concluded lamely and with some difficulty. The brothers were silent and their faces were downcast.

“What do you mean?” I asked, “Go with you? What does that mean?”

“We’ll leave after Terce.” Berengar said.

Learn more about Scotland’s history by reading the rest of Andrew Schultz’s very excellent book.

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