Her fingers found the small opening at the end of the needle and expertly pushed a loop of thread through it. She secured it with the deft, assured skill that comes from countless repetitions, daily practice over too many years. Necessary skill now that her eyes were too weak to see more than light and dark shapes. None of the shapes shifting against the greater darkness paid her any notice as her fingers felt for the edge of the cloth before dropping something into the seam and quickly sewing it shut.
The brilliant summers when she rode in noble finery beside her husband and Lord of the land were distant memories now. None else who now lived remembered her so. To them she had no more presence than the timeworn scraps of clothing she found and stitched together into something useful, a cape or a warm bed cover for when the cold wind howled across the battlements and insinuated itself through the arrow loops, chasing the heat from the fires back deep into the hearths.
Daily they brought her enough scraps of food to keep her dry stringy flesh clinging to her bones. Daily they brought her scraps of cloth to assemble into something useful.
“They think that’s all I’m useful for,” she mused as another coin was sewn into the seam of the cloak she was making. “They would have preferred that I retired to the convent when my husband died. But I always felt God had other plans for me than becoming an Abbess. And now I know why He needed me here. They deceive themselves if they think this blind old woman can’t see what they are up to!”
Daily with the scraps of food and scraps of cloth they also brought scraps of unwitting information. Talk of heresy here, rooting it out there, Lollard here, Brother John there.
Brother John, the twinkle in whose eye she felt if she could no longer see , he of the kind heart and gentle hands, of honey sweet voice singing a simple song of the love of God in Christ for all.
Brother John’s Jesus strode directly out of Mr. Wycliffe’s Bible in the people’s own tongue, not shrouded in Latin words floating in incense, and welcomed all into His presence. He boldly ignored the bishops, who with jewel encrusted hands stroked their ornate crucifixes and swished their richly dyed garments as they busied themselves currying favors and amassing wealth.
The Jesus Brother John made so real invited all, from the lowest baseborn swineherd, to a Lady such as she, to enter joyfully into His Kingdom now and for eternity. Of late that Jesus and those who preached Him were making powerful people uneasy and evil was brewing. She heard the archbishop in the chamber, discussing the crisis with the Lord of the castle. A sullen boy, her great grandson was, and now a sullen man, weak and easily brought to heel by his advisors. Now he was under the spell of that serpent of a man. The sibilant hissing of his whispers laid bare, rather than disguised, his plot. If the fire did not compel his repentance and purge Brother John of his heresy , it would usher him into the eternal fires of hell and Maundy Thursday would be appropriate.” Didn’t Judas hang himself that day?”
Their sudden silence announced his approach. They recoiled as he walked by them.
“Edith, dear woman, Christ loves you.”
“Brother John, I wish to make confession.” She laid her frail arm on his and he led her to the chapel. “A gift I offer you, dear one,” she said, offering him the cloak she had finished just as he had come in.
“Too fine a garment for me,” he said, the smile obvious in his voice.
“A few scraps I put together into something useful.” She told him. “Feel the seams.”
She heard the surprise in the quick intake of his breath as his fingers closed over a well-concealed gold coin. “There are forty of them sewn into the garment,” she explained. “I’ve kept them safe all these years. They will keep you safe in Scotland for the now. A scrap here, a scrap there, gathered up and sewn together. Their plot is to kill you Thursday. Your voice is too good to be silenced so early. Go in the peace of Christ.”
“A scrap here and a scrap there,” she smiled. “Perhaps I am of use after all.”
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