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Peter Tremayne

The Haunted Abbot

Do not stand at my grave and weep.

I am not there, I do not sleep.

I am a thousand winds that blow,

I am the diamond glints on snow.

I am the sunlight on ripened grain,

I am the gentle autumn’s rain.

When you awaken in the morning’s hush,

I am the swift uplifting rush

Of quiet birds in circled flight.

I am the stars that shine at night.

Do not stand at my grave and cry,

I am not there, I did not die …

Anon.

Chapter One

‘Please close the door, Brother. The wind is blowing the snow in here and it is already cold enough.’

Brother Eadulf turned from where he had been peering in disgust through the half-open door of the inn, out into the dusk at the whirling snowstorm. He reluctantly pushed the door shut and fastened the wooden latch before facing the small, stocky innkeeper. The man, with balding head and cheeks so red that they seemed polished, was regarding him with some sympathy.

‘Are you absolutely sure that there is no available transport to Aldred’s Abbey?’ Eadulf had asked the question several times before. What was the innkeeper’s name? Cynric? Yes, that was it.

The innkeeper stood, wiping his hands against the leather apron that covered his corpulent form.

‘As I have already told you, Brother, you and your companion were lucky to have made it this far before the storm started in earnest. If you had missed this tavern, there is no shelter between here and the River Aide.’

‘The snow was nowhere near as bad as this when we left the river at Mael’s Tun and began to walk here,’ Eadulf agreed, moving away from the door into the warmer interior of the inn.

‘So you came up to Mael’s Tun by the river then?’ the innkeeper asked with that interest all hosts have in the comings and goings of their guests.

‘Aye. We came by barge from the mouth of the Deben. Only after we had left Mael’s Tun did the wind get up and the snow start to fall like a white sheet. It was so dense that you could scarcely see a hand in front of your eyes. By then we were far enough away from the settlement not to contemplate turning back.’

‘Well, you were lucky to strike on my little tavern,’ the innkeeper repeated. ‘The marshlands to the north and east ofhere are no place to be wandering unless you can see the path before you.’

‘But the abbey is no more than four of five miles from here,’ Brother Eadulf pointed out. ‘We’d be there easily enough if we had a horse.’

‘If you had a horse,’ the innkeeper replied with emphasis. ‘I have one mule and that I need, Brother. And you’d be very lucky to find the abbey even if you had such an animal to transport you. There is no one else on the roads this evening. Look at the snow outside. It is drifting in the valleys and against the hedgerows. The wind is bitter and from the east. No one in their right minds would attempt to travel these roads on such a night.’

Brother Eadulf made a clicking sound with his tongue to express his irritation. The innkeeper continued to regard him with sympathy.

‘Why not seat yourself by the fire? Your companion should join you shortly and I will bring you some refreshment,’ he suggested cheerfully.

Brother Eadulf still hesitated.

‘Tomorrow, the storm may abate and the roads to the abbey may be easier to negotiate,’ the innkeeper added persuasively.

‘I need to be at the abbey this evening because …’ Brother Eadulf hesitated and then shook his head. Why should he explain his reasons to the innkeeper? ‘It is essential that I reach the abbey before midnight.’

‘Well, Brother, you will never make it on foot, even if you knew the roads. What could be so important that the difference of a day might count?’

Brother Eadulf’s brows came together in annoyance.

‘I have my reasons,’ he said stubbornly.

Cynric shook his head sadly. ‘You outlanders are all the same. Hurry, hurry, hurry. Well, you will have to bend before the wind this night for you have no other option.’

‘I am not a stranger in this land, my friend,’ protested Eadulf, irritated at the other’s use of the word ‘outlander’. ‘I am Eadulf of Seaxmund’s Ham and was the hereditary gerefa of that place before I took the tonsure of St Peter.’

The innkeeper’s eyes widened. A gerefa was a man of local importance, holding the rank of a magistrate.

‘Forgive me, Brother. I thought that you spoke our language too well. But I had assumed, as you travelled in the company of an Irish religieuse, that you were of that nation.’

Eadulf was defensive. ‘I have been in foreign lands for a while. But, Deo adiuvante, with God’s help, I will see Seaxmund’s Ham, my native place, in time for Christ’s Mass.’

‘Four days to go then, Brother. But why stop at Aldred’s Abbey? Why not wait until the storm clears and then go straight on to Seaxmund’s Ham which is only a little distance beyond?’

‘Because … because I have my reasons for doing so,’ Eadulf replied tersely.

The innkeeper pursed his lips at Eadulf’s agitated reticence. He shrugged and went to the fire. The inn was deserted. No one else had managed to make their way to the snowbound crossroads where it was situated. The innkeeper bent to a pile of logs and lifted one, balancing it in his arms for a moment before dumping it on the fire.

‘You will find many things altered in this land, Brother,’ he said as he turned from the hearth. ‘In fact, you have been lucky to reach here in safety.’

‘I’ve seen snows before and travelled through blizzards that would put this’ — Eadulf gestured with his hand towards the door — ‘to shame. What threat in that?’

‘I was not thinking so much of the weather. Man is often more cruel than nature’s elements, my friend. In many places now, the Christian communities are under siege and attack. There is much animosity towards the new faith.’

‘Under siege and attack? From whom?’ demanded Eadulf, reluctantly taking a seat at the side of the fire, while the innkeeper went to draw a tankard of cider from a wooden barrel.

‘From those who have returned to the worship of Woden, who else? In the kingdom of the East Saxons there is civil war between Sigehere, the King, and his own cousin, the Prince Sebbi. Not only do they fight for the kingship, but each represents one of the two beliefs. Surely you must have travelled through the land of the East Saxons to get here? You must have seen something of the conflict?’

Eadulf shook his head and reached forward to take the tankardfrom Cynric’s hand. He sipped at it cautiously.

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