Gentlemen, please escort the Abbot and the Prior to their cells, they need some time to contemplate what they might tell me next.
“But I have important duties to attend to, I have services to officiate,” The Abbot protested.
“I’m sure the good Father can step in, and with the help of a few of the curates, they’ll see to the spiritual nurture of the flock,” Karl told him as the Abbot was prodded out the door.
“Brother Thomas Jorin, would you be so kind as to show the Magistrate the ledgers you keep, and he can help you bring them back for examination,” Karl invited.
Abel looked quite pleased, and the Steward looked as though his long years of record keeping might actually be useful. His smile reflected his mood.
“Well thank you brothers for your help and we will be speaking again,” Karl said jovially.
I started to speak, but Karl motioned for me to remain silent.
“Cleric, may I see what you’ve written?”
“I um, it’s…. I’m only supposed to show the Abbot!” The young cleric squeaked.
“I don’t think the Abbot or the Prior will have much interest in it. Let’s have a look.
Reluctantly the cleric slid the book over so that we could inspect it. He had written ten pages to my thirty. I had included notes regarding facial expressions and shouting, mostly by the Prior.
“This is meaningless gibberish, what does it say?” Karl demanded.
“I’m not a scribe lord, I keep telling the Prior that, but he thinks that since I can transcribe from books I can write while people are speaking. I can probably make some of it out, but at the speed you were talking, I was falling behind quickly,” The cleric lamented.
“What do you do for the Prior and the Abbot?”
“Filing mostly, I keep their records in order. They do the business of the monastery so all the financial records are copied out and filed in both offices,” the cleric explained.
“I see, let me explain something. You know entirely too much. It’s quite possible that someone will try to kill you. We will take you to a safe place and keep you well. Do not eat or drink anything in this place unless I or my scribe give it to you. Stay here and we’ll move you to safer quarters as soon as possible,” Karl told him. I wrote that down as well. I also thumbed through the book that the cleric was using. Most of it was empty sheets of paper, so I picked up his inkpot and quill, and put them in my satchel to show Karl later.
The paper itself was top quality. It was one of the industries the monastery excelled in. It was also why they had so much salt. It was used in the process.
I walked with Karl as he inspected first the Prior’s office and then the Abbots. There were shelves of documents. All bundled with no seeming pattern of organization. The Cleric was directed to find the ledgers and other financial documents. We were led to an ante room which held stacks of ledgers and bundles of documents. They all related to the monastery’s dealings with merchants and other commerce.
“What is your name cleric?” Karl asked.
“I am brother Martin my lord,” The young man uttered.
“Do you have knowledge of the contents of these documents?” Karl asked.
“Sadly no my lord, numbers do not reveal themselves to me. To me they are a chaste maiden refusing to reveal even the slightest nuance of affection,” brother Martin sighed.
The Abbot must have seen you as a godsend. You read like a scholar but cannot do the simplest of sums. How did you come here?”
“I was a farmer’s son sire, but he died and my sisters and I carried on for months, and kept the farm going. Then the monks came with a paper that they said entitled them to the farm, and that we would all be taken care of. I was made a novice here, my sisters were all taken to a nunnery and I know nothing of them. I was told we were all the property of god and would do as he commanded. We weren’t even Christian, we come from Sky people and we made offerings to the gods in our way.
“But your name was Skalae when I knew you, I am Edrich of the Forest clan. We often met at the fishing place. I heard of your fate, and when my father died I cleared everything off our place and sold the goats before the monks could take it all. They put a young man and his wife in the place and they are working hard,” I babbled forgetting that I wasn’t really there to share with brother Martin.
“I thought you looked like Peng, but I didn’t want to cause any trouble by asking.”
Brother Martin lifted his hair and showed the brand that identified him as Sky clan. I raised my left forelock and showed him my brand. When a boy was four years old he would receive his brand. It was usually done with a hot metal wire bent to the desired shape, and in my case the shape of Yggdrasil the world tree was branded. Skalae’s brand was three wavy lines with the sun beneath them. They were much like the runes that many still used to write their messages or prayers. Girls were not branded. They were given a bracelet or necklace woven from dyed grasses in a particular pattern that most clans could distinguish from others. Girls were married to other clans, and boys sought their mates in the same way.
“I am sorry my lord, it was Martin’s tale that drove me back to the forest where you found me sire,” I apologized.
Karl placed a hand on each of our shoulders and told us no harm was done but we should not discuss it with others beyond the small group of novices.
“The novices will find it hard to speak to you about their life here. It isn’t good what they do to them. Most of the monks are good men who seek only solace and separation from the world. We have some who are soldiers whose consciences bother them for all the killing they have done. Others have suffered great tragedies. But a few are nothing more than bandits in the monks habit. They abuse the younger novices. I can help you talk to them and assure them of your good intentions,” Martin told us.
“What of the master of novices, does he abuse them as well?”
“Yes, he will take three or four boys to his cell of a night. He makes them do things that boys should only do with other boys.
In our culture, boys who were of the age would often enjoy each other physically. They formed attachments that lasted for many years. It was an accepted fact of life. Once a boy reached marrying age this sort of thing abated, and most girls were pregnant when they were wed. But boys engaged in the usual forms of male to male sex. They didn’t do it openly but would build huts in the forest for their assignations. It was how I learned to build a hut myself. Leyva and I lived quite a way from each other, but we met during the fishing parlay and got along very well. He introduced me to sex and I really liked it. We spent most of our free days together. We met to gather eggs at one pond or another and let nature take its course.
At the fishing parlay, everyone was nude when fishing. The water was cold and when you had caught enough, you came to the bank and dressed again in your warm dry clothes. It was just practical. We all donated a part of our catch to the old and feeble who could no longer fish for themselves. The same was done when the deer were hunted.
During the fishing parlay and other gatherings, things were negotiated. Boys were inspected for marriage prospects. Women had gatherings where woolen yarn was traded and daughters assessed for their value as a future wife. These were important occasions and much was made of them. They served a good purpose and made for healthy babies.
I followed Karl and Martin back to the young novices and watched in silence as he pulled the master up by his cowl and flung him to the floor.
“Take this man to his cell and keep him there, No….take him to the Prior’s cell and have him stay there. I can’t have the entire watch overseeing individual cells. Brother Martin, is there a place where all these men can stay with their bedding?
We have a disused strongroom, it is in the cellars and gets awfully damp but there is a door which bolts and can be locked from the outside.
“Well then, the Prior and the Master can share a room tonight and tomorrow we will move the rest to the temporary stockade room. I suspect it will be full by the time we’re done here. Fourteen frightened boys faced us when the Master was taken away. Anticipation was etched on their faces.
“Are all of you forest clan children?” Karl asked.
“All but one my lord, a boy named Bederich answered. I am sky clan like Martin but the rest are mountain and forest clan.
I lifted my forelock and eight of the boys ran to embrace me. Bederich hugged me too and then clasped my wrist in our fashion of greeting between clans.
“And what of you young man?”
“I’m a bastard, the miller made me with my mother who was his maid. The miller’s wife sent me here when I made my tenth winter,” Edgar informed him.
“I see, and are the rest of you orphans?”
No my lord, I came to the village to buy salt for my family. I bought the salt from the merchant and started to run back to our home and a monk knocked me down with his staff and accused me of stealing the salt. I told him where I bought it, but even after the merchant said that I had bought the salt he still called me a thief. He brought me here and told me I was a novice until my parents paid my fine, or the magistrate had me hanged as a thief. My parents couldn’t afford the ransom so I remain here. That was a winter and a half ago my lord,”
“Anyone else here that wasn’t orphaned?”
No one answered so we went on.
“What has happened to you here is a travesty, and to prevent any of the men who tormented you from escaping punishment we need you to tell us who the men were that abused you. I will ask you to tell Peng each of their names, and he will write them down.
I wrote down the same seven names over and over except in Edgar’s case. There was only one name and it was the Prior. The prior considered Edgar his personal property.
When I heard this I clutched at the dagger on my arm. I wanted to remove his staff with the blunt ornamental dagger at my side or at least his balls.
Protestants ran the village and they had very singular views on this sort of thing. These men would all be castrated and some would be hanged.
Karl had the unpleasant duty of examining each boy as I took notes of his observations. They had been whipped or caned in addition to the sodomy. The herbalist was summoned and the boys were treated with the best ointments he had to offer.
After all the questions were asked and evidence gathered, warrants were written by the magistrate, and the arrests began. The seven were all captured unawares in the monastery except for one called brother Toller and he tried to best four members of the watch. He shot one with a crossbow and stabbed at others before being subdued. The bolt from the crossbow missed its mark and the watchman survived without severe injury.
Toller however didn’t fare as well. His balls were so swollen that they looked like those of a bullock. It was of no consequence, he would be castrated in a few days, and then hanged for bearing arms against the king’s men.
After examination, the private ledgers of the Abbot and Prior condemned them for massive theft. They were both enticed with a lesser punishment if they revealed where the treasure was hidden. Only one swallowed the bait. The spoils were found in an ancient ossuary beneath the monastery. It was enough to supply an extravagant king for three lifetimes. It was all confiscated to pay for reparations to the village and the victims of the tyrannical activities by some of the monks.
The trials went quickly. The juries listened carefully, and returned verdicts swiftly.
Of the seven men who tormented children all were castrated and Toller, Bergan and Haffsa were hanged. They were already condemned men when they joined the monks. But Haffsa and Bergan were found to have loot from robberies that occurred on the roads around Haluken. Toller hadn’t healed much when his sentence was carried out and he screamed like a pig as they cut off his balls. Bergan and Haffsa likewise.
The master now called Teod, was castrated and banished. He was found in the river later on, and there were no other wounds on his body. The others received the same treatment and were sent on their way. They were never seen again.
Before his trial the Abbot took the bargain and told where he and the Prior had hidden their money. The Prior didn’t know this and tried to negotiate his own agreement. His trial was first and the verdict was rendered quickly. He was found guilty of sodomy and theft from an institution of god.
He was castrated the same day, and executed by hanging the next. His body was buried in an unconsecrated grave in a paupers cemetery like the others.
“When the Abbot came to trial, he was found guilty of countenance of sodomy, theft from an institution of god and several lesser charges plus evading the king’s tax, illegally collecting taxes and tithes forcibly.
“Although countenance of sodomy carries the same punishment as sodomy itself, you are relieved from that burden,” The magistrate announced. Instead you will only be hanged by the neck. But through the efforts of Lord Karl of Ikast, you will be buried in the monastery’s cemetery and therefore plead your case with your god directly. The Abbot fainted. He was hanged the next day and Father Michael the interim Abbot presided over the small funeral. The former Abbot was buried in consecrated ground, although I don’t think that was his impression of avoiding more severe punishment.
Death was not done with Haluken yet though. None of the boys wanted to return to the monastery to stay, although some went back and said goodbye to friends. The magistrate took Martin on as a clerk, and worked to get the rest either reconnected with their clan and family, or find them a new family with a farmer who needed a boy child to learn the trade. Only Edgar remained in the village, and he only wanted one thing. He wanted to see his mother and show her the fat purse he received as reparation for the stolen years of his life and the abuse he suffered. He hoped they could buy a cottage, and he could apprentice to a tradesman.
On market day the village was full and we waited near the stalls for Edgar’s mother to arrive. Edgar spied her and ran to embrace her. But the woman’s mistress was walking ahead of her and screamed at the boy. “I thought we had seen the last of you, you miserable cur,” The millers wife spat. She raised her walking stick and brought it down on Edgar’s head, crushing his skull. He died with his love for his mother foremost in his mind. I tore at my sleeve and pulled my dagger. But I was too far away to do anything. Edgar’s mother screamed an oath at the miller’s wife, tore open a bundle of knives and stabbed the old woman to death leaving the knife stuck in her throat. She knelt by Edgar’s body and said a prayer as she stroked his blood matted locks. Then she stabbed herself in the heart with another kitchen knife and toppled over Edgars body. They were buried side by side in the village cemetery. The miller’s wife was buried in unconsecrated ground without ceremony. The maid was adjudicated after death and a verdict of justifiable homicide was recorded. Thus allowing her to be buried properly alongside her son. Karl picked me up at some point and carried me back to the inn.
We took Avard back to his family with a huge bag of salt and a purse full of coins. The money could have bought several farms, the monastery was responsible for the harm done to these people and would pay dearly for it. Besides it was money confiscated from the Abbot and Prior.
Father Michael had pledged to reach out to the village and buy supplies from them. The price of salt was dropped to cost, which was a tremendous boon for everyone who lived in and around Haluken. The miller didn’t get off easy either. Karl seized the mill in the king’s name, and leased it back to the apprentice for one skilling per year for five years. The miller sold his cottage and moved to another place and disappeared. The apprentice was warned not to gouge the public when selling flour or grinding grain for farmers.
With the last of the boys returned to their homes or people at least, it was time for Karl to return to Halla and report to the regent.
When he asked me to join him for the journey, and become an apprentice I was completely knocked over. I almost fell off the donkey.
“But what of my hut and possessions?” I asked.
“You may pack what you think you might need or you can use that fat purse to replace them. Is there anything there that you wish to keep?”
“A few things, things that my mother and father had. I would like those to stay with me. Can we visit there once more before we go north?”
“Certainly, we have a deed and reparations to deliver to your old farm,” Karl smiled.
“Hello, I am Hakkan, I work this land, how may I help you.
“Greetings Hakkan, I bring news from the Monastery at Haluken,” Karl announced.
“Hakkan who are these people, what do they want?” a blond young woman inquired.
“I am Karl of Ikast, Marshall to the Regent, and the King’s ears and voice in this land. I am here to tell Hakkan that he paid the wrong price for this land.
“But I gave them nearly everything I had,” Hakkan exclaimed.
“Yes, I know. And you were robbed. This is the deed to this land. And this is a refund of everything you paid the monks,” Karl said holding up a fat leather purse.
“I don’t know what to say, would you care to come in and take dinner with us?” Ijla asked.
“How could we refuse,” Karl replied and we followed them inside.
“It looks different,” I said quietly.
“You’ve been here before?” Ijla asked.
“Yes, I used to live here, the monks took the place after my father died. But I took everything I could carry to my hut in the woods. May I go and visit my parent’s graves?”
“Of course, we haven’t disturbed them except to keep them neat. Are you clan or Christian?”
“I am Forest Clan,” I replied.
“So am I little brother, Ijla is Mountain Clan but she finds the flat land less tiring,” Hakkan told me as we walked to the place where my parents lay. I smiled to see that they weren’t overgrown with weeds and all the stones were still in place.
Hakkan excused himself so I could speak to my parents. I told them what I had been doing, and how much fun it had been to destroy the monastery’s hold on the village. I told them about Edgar, and to look out for him if they see him. I told them where I was going next and, about the new people that were working the land. Finally I said goodbye, and that I didn’t know if I would be back this way, but I would see them in the next life.
Hakkan and his wife fed us duck and it was delicious. They invited us to stay the night, but we opted to sleep outside since it was a warm night. We met their son Hurkar, he was just a baby but happy and robust. In the morning I invited Hakkan to come to my hut and see if he wanted any of the tools in my shed. I couldn’t carry them all on our journey but I kept papa’s knife and mama’s jewelry. There wasn’t much else I wanted from the place. I dug up my money purse and took it with me.
“Thank you little brother, I hope wherever you go, Yggdrasil and the light of the world follows you,” Hakkan said. We walked back and said our goodbyes to Ijla and Hurkar, and we were off. It would be a long ride, but it held a lot of promise for me.
Karl and I rode out and traveled the road to the north and Halla.
All the gold coins seized from the monastery had been taken under guard to Halla already. Eight men of the watch and a heavy cart drawn by four donkeys took the money to the Regent’s keep and signed it over to the Halla watch. They returned with the cart full of gifts for the village of Haluken. Things like new tools that the black smith could duplicate, a set of new law books for the magistrate and a list of the rules a council must follow when governing the area. Also included was a letter from the regent declaring that Haluken and its surroundings were free of tax for five years. That was a tremendous boon for everyone in Haluken.
The trip was interesting, I saw hamlets a fair distance from Haluken, and several more dotted the road as we proceeded northwest.
“Karl had engaged the local harness maker to make a saddle for the donkey. The animal didn’t like it at first but compared to my boney butt we both warmed to the idea. It was mostly the belly band he didn’t like, but Karl had it lined with sheep’s wool and the donkey settled down.
We took our time, ate in small hamlets and exchanged stories with the people there. We never spoke of the business at the monastery to them, though Karl and I spoke of it often. There were times when the image of Edgar’s lifeless body would visit my mind, and it made me weep. Karl would hold me and soothe as best he could. My father would have scolded me but Karl was kind. He delighted in watching children play and sometimes tossed out hard candies to them as we passed.
Boys saluted and girls waved and threw flowers. I now had three sets of clothes plus new things called drawers. They replaced my loin cloth and were more comfortable.
When we slept out we made a small fire for cooking, and slept under the stars. If I got cold Karl had me sleep in his bedding. He was very warm and I always felt safe and comfy in his arms.
As we neared Halla, small villages became more common as did traffic on the road. One morning we crossed a stone bridge. All the bridges I had seen up til then had been wooden. There were uniformed men at both ends of the bridge and they saluted Karl with their swords.
We rode on to a stately house. Here the streets were cobblestone, Halla was a true city. The house was impressive. Three levels of windows could be seen from the street. Many had balconies and all had heavy looking shutters. Snow and wind don’t care if you are rich or poor.
On many of the streets we had traveled the houses were right on the street with a narrow pavement for people to walk past. The big houses all had connections to a sewer under the street. The lesser houses still had privy’s behind the house. During the winter you would use a chamber pot and then carry the waste to the privy. In the warmer seasons you used the privy and shoveled in a bit of lime every week. Urine however was collected in buckets or large jars, and the tannery would send a wagon through the streets to collect it.
Karl’s house was huge by comparison and was set back from the road with a cobbled forecourt and a carriage house to the side of the main house. To me it looked like a castle.
As we entered the drive, a man came out and waved at us.
“Greetings My Lord, it is good to see you returning in such robust health,” the man said.
“Greetings Edvard, I am happy to be home. How are my boys faring?”
“The horses or the apprentices?” Edvard laughed.
“Children first then horses,” Karl chuckled.
“Well, Magda hasn’t killed any of them yet. They try her patience but they are boys. They behave well, but Magda seems to think they are slaves and not apprentices. She will probably complain that I took her caning stick away from her, and broke in front of the boys. I did not think you would countenance that sort of punishment so I intervened,” Edvard told Karl.
“I think Magda has need of a new position, I plan to marry soon and Ingrid will bring her own staff with her. I will send Magda to cook for the presbytery, where she will not have to deal with children. She may not like priests any better, but they can whip her in return if she is immoderate,” Karl laughed.
At that moment the door of the house opened and four boys scrambled out to embrace Karl.
Three blond like me and a fourth dark haired like Edgar had been. Most of them were about my age and size but the fourth was two or three years younger.
The smallest boy received his hug and a kiss on the cheek and then walked over to me and smiled.
“Hello, I am Bolly but that’s not my real name. My brother and I are apprenticed to the master. Did the master apprentice you?”
“Yes, I helped him with some of his business and he offered me a chance to learn a trade,” I replied.
My brother Olaf did the same, and we have both been apprenticed here. Welcome new brother. Olaf and I are Forest Clan but the others are Sky and River clan.
Bolly hugged me, and then Olaf did the same.
“I see you have met my brother, the master says you are joining us so welcome, what clan are you?” Olaf asked.
I lifted my forelock and showed my brand. Olaf grinned and showed me his.
“Welcome brother. Kiva is of the Sky clan and Rilla is of the River clan.
“I am Edrich son of Jan of the Forest Clan, I come from Haluken, and I was able to help the master complete his work there.
“Were you a novice?” Olaf asked.
“No I was a farmer, my parents died, and I moved away from the farm to escape the monks,” I told them. By then Rilla and Kiva had joined us and offered hugs and kisses. “Welcome brother,” they each said.
Edrich is my given name, but you may call me Peng as the master does.
Alright boys, go help the stablemaster unload the donkeys, and show Peng where he will sleep.