Recent Posts

Sunday, 13 July 2014

Everildis Part Two of a Short Novella

“Check your sources, check your sources…”  Emily sat up suddenly. She looked about her and for a second, forgot where she was. She was in the middle of the country near old York somewhere, in a large house similar to a long house, but more snug and homey.  Ah, the monastery…Emily felt extremely hungry. To her surprise, Mary Wuldreda, the older of the two sisters, was actually cooking meat over the open fire. Emily looked carefully and noticed a large jug of some type of frothy liquid on the trestle table. Mary Wuldreda looked up and smiled at Emily. “Are you hungry? We noticed that you slept well, and not in a fever, a healthy sleep. And look at you, pink cheeks.”

Emily laughed quietly. Language has not changed much, she thought. Mary Wuldreda brought a large goblet of the frothy ale to her. Emily looked at it and wondered if she could drink this without getting drunk. She decided to sip the ale. It tasted like scrumpy.

“Mary Bega will be back. She is napping with the Abbess’ permission.”  Mary Wuldreda turned back to the meat. “It is venison, as I can tell you are wondering. Have you had venison, my dear?”

Emily answered in the affirmative. The nun opened a small basket and took out some rye bread. The nun took a small knife off her belt and cut the bread. Emily thought that it was dangerous carrying a knife about one’s waste, but then, Emily saw something which took her breath away. The handle of the knife looked like solid silver, carved with two dogs facing each other-the ancient pattern of the Celtic hounds.

How wonderful to see something which would end up in the British Museum as it was at the time of its creation. Emily then began to cry, as it hit her where she was and when. She felt homesick.

“Now, dear, do not cry. You are well and Lady Abbess will help you. She told me that God had put you here for a reason. I believe that as well. Do you, now?”

Emily looked at the sunny, but wrinkled face. Mary Wuldreda did not resemble Lady Abbess at all. This nun was short and stocky, not tall and graceful. And her coloring was strangely dark. Emily suddenly had an inspiration. “Sister, are you from a Roman family?”

Mary Bega smile was so big that the entire room seemed wrapped in sunlight. “Why yes, my dear. My ancestors settled in the West Country, now the place of the West Saxons. My father’s people were tin merchants and my mother’s family was of the patrician class, from Rome. Even my name has Roman, or rather, Latin roots-my name is Wuldreda in religion, but Rufina by baptism. “

Emily smiled as well. Here in the wilds of what would be Yorkshire, a small, Roman ancestor told of her ancient family with pride and interest. Just then, Mary Bega entered the room as silently as possible.

“Our guest may go out tomorrow, Lady Abbess indicated. We can take her for a walk about the monastery and the hills.”

Emily felt excited but nervous at the same time. She did not know how she would feel looking at the countryside which became her town. She really did not know if she could cope. But, deep down, she really wanted to see what this part of England, before England existed as a united nation, looked.

“I would love to go out. I feel a bit, but, she struggled for a Latin word describing claustrophobia, a word which did not exist in the 7th century.

Mary Bega whispered something to Mary Wuldreda. Then, the two came over by the bed where Emily was sitting straight up.

“Would it be proper, I mean, could we look at your Christian symbols? We would like to see something from another world which is of our faith. It is truly exciting.”

Emily smiled again. These two women were like curious children. She took the Benedictine cross on the steel chain, which she had bought in Malta in 2013, and the silver scapular from around her neck, and placed these in her hand. Mary Wulfreda took the Benedictine Cross and carefully examined it. Green enamel filled in the back and the Corpus was bronze.

Mary Bega looked at the tiny replica of the brown scapular made out of silver. It was so small and so fine. She turned it around and noticed the wording on the back, so small, so tiny. “Italy”.

There was no Italy, and there was Malta shrouded in mystery at this time.

Emily wondered at how she could explain these items. Then she turned the cross around to the back.

“On the back of this one, there are tiny letters which read ‘Rome’-Rome the same now as it will be until Christ comes again.” All three became silent. Rome, how long would Rome last?

Mary Wuldreda sighed and gave the cross back to Emily. “Would you be able to keep these, “Emily almost whispered? She wanted these two servant-hearts to have these medals. If and when Emily returned to her world, she would buy duplicates.

“We take a vow of poverty, my dear. No, you keep these.”

Emily put the necklaces back on and took the plate of meat and bread from Mary Wuldreda. The meat proved to be delicious, with some herbs cooked in with a strange sauce. Then Emily recognized the ale taste in the gravy. She would learn to like this ale.

The next morning, after a small breakfast of ale and bread, Emily found her shoes, clean placed next to her bed. Her 21st century clothes had not yet appeared. Emily was given new underthings, like a long, linen shift, but nothing else. Then, a heavy brown and green nubby gown was pulled over her head. The nuns then insisted that Emily wear a green and partly red scarf, which tied tightly around her forehead and was fastened in the back with a pin.

“These clothes come from the dowry of Lady Abbess herself, from her kinfolk. These are the clothes of a princess. Emily stood up and felt a bit light-headed. She was not use to ale for breakfast.

The nuns stood on either side of her and brought her through the room to a door Emily had not noticed before now. This door opened into a long hallway, dark, without windows, except for two or three slits high up in the roof. The nuns guided Emily down the hallway to another door, and then to the outside. There, in the morning sun, Emily could see miles around, as the monastery had been built on a hill. Beyond this hill, were several other hills. The green of the grass astounded Emily. She saw a forest in the distance to the west. And, to the east, she thought she could smell cut hay. Nothing seemed familiar to her.

The nuns took her by the hands and walked behind the monastery, where a small park-like circle of trees and a bed of flowers greeted her.  The birds singing in the trees sang like it was the first day of creation. Emily had never heard as many birds as she did on this day. Her heart swelled in thanksgiving for this experience alone.

After walking down a little path, the nuns showed Emily a tiny chapel at the end of the dirt road. The shrine was about a mile from the monastery. There, in the gloom of a copse of trees, in a stone building, was a small icon of Mary and Jesus. The icon looked as if it were made out of oak. Emily gasped. She moved away from the nuns’ arms and knelt down. Here, in the earliest days of Christianity, was an icon of Our Lady of Tenderness. Emily wept. Despite the fading colors, this icon was almost exactly like a modern reproduction of one she had in her room at home. Her room at home….where would her home be? Which hills remained and which had disappeared in the years of building and decay of her town?

The nuns stepped forward. “We must take you back. This walk, was perhaps, too difficult for you. Let us go back.” Mary Wuldreda helped Emily back to her feet. The little Romano-British nun had great strength.

Back in her small, kitchen like room, Emily did feel tired. She felt emotionally drained. She needed to sleep. Mary Began brought Emily another herbal drink and in minutes, Emily was sound asleep.

Mary Wuldreda opened the door and a small white dog walked into the room. Mary Bega gave the dog some scraps. Mary Bega sat down and began to pray, and Mary Wuldreda joined her. If Emily was awake, she would have noticed that the nuns managed to pray the exact words of Evening Prayer and Night Prayer without books. The art of memorizing formed a large part of the training of the nuns. They chanted the psalms in a strange combination of Gregorian chant and Celtic chant. Emily slept well, beyond the voices of the nuns.

To be continued…