The monks filed slowly from the chapel in the darkness. Silent, for that was the rule of the monastery, but Brother Eadric felt the atmosphere to be ominous, not contemplative. Head down, robe pulled tight against the night’s chill that seeped through the woolen garment, he reached his small hut. The welcome warmth of the hearth fire enveloped him, and he dressed hastily for bed. As he lay upon his pallet, blanket pulled up against his ears, a sudden gust of wind rattled the door on its leather hinges. Lord, make me to know my end, and what is the measure of my days, that I might know how frail I am. The evening’s psalm echoed in his mind, and a shiver stole up his spine.
The next day broke clear and calm. The June sunshine sparkled bright off the ocean that encircled the island monastery. But Eadric felt no comfort. He walked slowly to the scriptorium, incapable of enjoying the sun for the shadows that defined its presence.
In the scriptorium he found his fellow scribes getting ready at their desks. Across the aisle sat Caerl, whose haunted grey eyes met his own. Eadric wondered if he imagined the other’s unease, until he saw Caerl’s fingers flash the sign, “peace”. Vowed to silence, the monks nonetheless had developed a simple language of silence - hand signs that took the place of words. “Peace” was a common sign; a companionable greeting as they met each other going about their daily tasks, or a signal of comfort, when they knew one of their number was particularly troubled. Seeing Caerl’s disquiet, Eadric signed the same back to him, and then Alric entered.
Eadric settled his thoughts on his task. The Lindisfarne monks were acheiving some fame as scribes and illuminators of beautiful manuscripts. Commissions were plentiful, and increasing. Presently they were working on copies of the Scriptures for the Frankish king, for distribution among his monasteries. The work was important. Eadric could not allow idle speculation to distract him.
Alric set his manuscript in front of him, opened it to the place in 1 Peter where they had left off, and began to speak. They worked slowly and carefully, Alric reciting the verses and the monks copying the precious words onto the vellum.
Eadric knew the verses well, almost as well as the psalms and Gospels, which he knew by heart. The familiarity of both words and task, the comfortable scratching of the quills across the vellum - all soothed his recent fears.
All was well, until Alric intoned in his thin, high voice, “But the end of all things is at hand; therefore be serious and watchful in your prayers”. And Eadric was consumed with a sudden dread, so dire and full that his quill stopped its movement across the vellum, seemingly of its own accord. He stared at the verse, the hairs on the back of his neck prickling.
The words loomed large on the page, capturing his attention. At the front of the room, Alric too had paused, waiting for the monks to signal their readiness to continue. Eadric looked quickly at Caerl, and saw with a chill a similar dread written large across the other monk’s normally placid features as he gaped down at his own copy. It wasn’t just him, then. Others felt it too.
Ahead of him, Matthew’s quill snapped: a sharp sound in the quiet room. Be watchful in your prayers.... Eadric jumped as the monastery bell began to toll, mixed with numerous cries of alarm.
With the rest of the scribes, Eadric rushed outside. Pandemonium was engulfing the ordered world he had known for so long. There, pulled up at the edge of the beach, were ships disgorging fierce armed men, huge and monstrous to his eyes. He watched in horror as the invaders ran to meet the defenseless monks and fell upon them in bloodthirsty rampage.
“May God preserve us!” Caerl gasped beside him, and then, his wild eyes fixed on Eadric. “The Gospels!”
Eadric stood frozen in horror. The illuminated Gospels, the fruit of many years labour, now stood in place of honour at the altar of the church. Priceless, both in content and objective worth. There were none like it in the known world. They must be saved!
As he stumbled toward the chapel behind Caerl, gasping in fear and dread, only one thought kept running through his mind, a fevered litany: ” .......the end of all things is at hand.”
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