Brother Llwyd bundled the dry sticks together and wrapped them with a thin strip of leather.
“Good work, Koun. Two bales of kindling. Let’s go back.”
The lad hoisted one of the awkward sheaves onto his back and waited politely for Brother Llwyd to burden himself likewise. They began the trek back to the monastery.
“What will we have for supper, Brother Llwyd? Bread and peas again?” Koun asked.
“Something for which we’ll be thankful.”
Koun was silent as he followed Brother Llwyd, remembering mutton, potatoes, carrots and apples, foods he’d enjoyed at his mother’s hearth before he’d come to Lindisfarne, fulfilling his father’s promise of giving a son to God. But why him, not dim-eyed Faelinn?
“St. Cuthbert preserve us! Make haste, Koun. Into the bush with you.”
Llwyd dropped his kindling and urged Koun ahead, pushing him into the nearby thicket.
“What is it, Brother Llwyd?” Koun resisted Llwyd’s insistent hands, trying to see what had frightened him so.
“Dragon boats. Northmen. From across the sea.”
Llwyd and Koun stared as the longboats glided soundlessly onto the beach below Koun and Brother Llwyd’s vantage point. Tall men scrambled from the boats, bearing weapons and shields, spreading out and advancing on the monastery and unsuspecting monks.
“I must warn our brothers.”
“Don’t leave.” Koun grabbed Llwyd’s tunic.
Brother Llwyd disappeared behind a hillock, and Koun shivered in fear. Who were these men? What was happening? He crawled out from behind the bush, the better to see.
Suddenly, a hand was slapped over his mouth, and he was shoved back. Brother Llwyd!
“I told you to hide. It has started! God have mercy.”
Sounds of chaos and turmoil. Cries of pain and fear.
Koun peered through the branches. Brother Caircil came running up the hill, panting. Behind him strode a towering northman, laughing and swinging a battle axe. Then the northman stopped, a look of enraged fury clouding his ruddy face. He heaved the axe and felled Brother Caircil, whose body arched around the weapon, then slumped to the ground.
Koun flinched and sprang up, breathing hard. Llwyd grabbed his arm, shaking his head vigorously. Koun glared in grief and horror.
The northman retrieved his axe, sauntered around Brother Caircil’s lifeless form, checking him for valuables. Once, he stared into the thicket, and Koun could see the red rage in his eyes.
Koun and Brother Llwyd watched helplessly as their brothers attempted to escape the relentless axes and hungry blades of the invaders, but were cut down one by one. Several of the red-haired men came out of the chapel bearing ivory and gold reliquaries, dumping out the relics, crushing them beneath their heels. One man brandished the silver pyx that contained the Host. He tasted the Host, spat it out, then upended the small box, flinging the contents into the dirt. Another draped himself in a precious tapestry. Brother Llwyd groaned.
As suddenly as they’d come, the men left, pushing their loaded longboats into the sea.
Koun and Brother Llwyd cautiously left their hiding place. They crept past Brother Caircil lying face down, the hideous wound gaping.
Toward the monastery, past their brothers lying where they’d been struck down, some looking as if they were merely sleeping, some with fearful grimaces. Past the trampled holy relics and the defiled Host.
They slipped into the silent chapel, where the flickering light of a single candle cast confounding shadows.
Everywhere, the smell of blood. Crimson, cloying.
Brother Faolan lay in the aisle, a macabre grin gashed across his throat. At the front, beloved Father Morfran gazed heavenward, his blood spattered across the altar.
“Why, Brother Llwyd, why?” whispered Koun.
“It is God’s will. Perhaps, we’ve been disobedient, and God is angry.”
“Then, I don’t want to be a monk. I shall be a soldier and fight them. I must, if God does not defend His own.” Koun clenched his fists and trembled, his jaw set.
“Their pagan ways do not follow the path of Christ. You must forgive, Koun.”
Brother Llwyd closed Father Morfran’s eyes.
“Forgive God. And ourselves.”
Koun gave a sob, then, and Llwyd sighed with relief. So, tomorrow, they’d begin the harrowing job of returning their brothers to the earth from which they’d been made. For now, he and Koun would eat their bread and peas and thank God for all things.
The sea was calm, empty, and the waves washed the keel marks from the sand.
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