Previous Challenge Entry (Level 2 – Intermediate)
Topic: Write in the HISTORICAL genre (05/03/07)
By David Butler
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He looked down from his high bred destrier, fixing suspicious and contemptuous eyes on the unassuming cloaked and hooded figure before him.
At a jerk of his head, two of his men-at-arms sprang from their horses and approached the solitary cleric from each side, cutting off any attempted escape into the bushes at the side of the road.
Villagers who had come to investigate the incident hastily went about their business.
The cornered cleric glanced nervously up at the rather intimidating interlocutor before him and cleared his throat.
“I .. er .. God save thee, good my lord! I but verily am about the good Lord’s business!”
“The good Lord’s or peradventure the Devil’s?” came the sardonic reply.
His glance fell upon the bag at the holy man’s waist.
“Avoid to me thy script!” he commanded curtly.
The hapless man’s hand trembled as he fumbled with the catch at his waist. One of the soldiers stepped forward as the captain made an impatient gesture, and ripped it open. Papers, parchment and half-eaten cheese fell and scattered into the mud at the horse’s feet.
Delaware held out an imperious gloved hand. The soldier delivered up the cleanest of the documents with a smirk of triumph.
Rapidly scanning through them, the captain’s eyes alighted on one particularly damning phrase.
“Ha! By the faith! Can I not smell an heretic from a league hence?”
He almost gloated over his discovery.
“’Tis the damnable work of that man of sin, John Wycliffe! Thou’rt a curst Lollard!”
He leaned forward and shook the documents under the trembling man’s nose.
“Fool-priest!” he hissed. “Wist thou not that men have burned at the stake for such as this?”
His quarry could not answer. His throat had become dry. He was merely a lowly scholar from Oxford with a heart for the spiritual welfare of ordinary people. He did not feel like a hero at all. His eyes fell before the blazing condemnation in the arrogant face above him.
Satisfied that he had thoroughly cowed his victim, Delaware sat back in his saddle.
“Natheless, a merciful man am I!”
The malevolence in his suddenly silken tones did not encourage his victim to hope for much mercy.
“L-Lawrence Martinhoe, good my lord!” he stammered.
“Well then, Brother Martinhoe, we shall haul thee back from thine error, and into the fold of Holy Church once more! Shall we not?”
He leaned forward and shoved the wad of papers in the accused heretic’s hands.
“Mark this, good Brother Martinhoe!” he continued with the same soft mockery in his voice. “Thou shalt return unto the village with these thine evil writings, and shalt gather all of the same that thou’st given to these poor, trusting folk. Then shall we build thee a goodly fire here, good Brother Martinhoe, where thou shalt burn all this filth before us. Furthermore, holy man, thou shalt recant and denounce all these evil works before the people, that they may fear the wrath of Holy Church ere they be also led astray! Is’t understood, good Brother Martinhoe?”
He was momentarily surprised. The man before him had stiffened and looked up defiantly.
“For if thou shalt not do so, brother preacher, verily thou shalt burn along with thy papers!” There was a hard edge to his voice now.
What Delaware hadn’t realized, however, was that a fire had already been lit in Lawrence’s soul - a flame that had overcome fear many times in the past.
To burn the translations that he and his colleagues had laboured for so long to produce?
To publicly reject the precious salvation that Christ had won for him on the cross?
To spit in His glorious face? God forbid!
The threat before him roused his courage and faith like a trumpet call.
“With respect, my lord,” he replied with humble dignity and calm conviction, “Rather would I burn than I recant of the grace and truth of my Lord Jesu, and the works that good Doctor Wycliffe hath writ! God aiding me!”
A startled look of mingled wrath and grudging respect came over the captain’s face.
“So be it, obdurate fool! Thou’st rung thine own death knell! Seize him!”
Lawrence fell to his knees in desperate prayer.
Suddenly, a faint, familiar war-cry was heard: “Caritas et Veritas!”
He heard galloping horses approaching. Hope awoke in him.
“Lollard Knights?” he whispered.
Copyright © 2007
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