made of the departure of the contingent and a boat would be waiting for their arrival in Portsmouth to carry them across the Narrow Sea to Portugal.

When d’Arderon reached the casement he turned and gave Bascot a direct look. “Master Berard also deals with another matter in his missive. Another knight must be chosen to fill the office of draper and your name has been suggested for the post.” He paused for a moment, his eyes searching Bascot’s countenance for the younger knight’s reaction. “Master Berard can command you to the position,” d’Arderon said finally, “but he would rather you took up the duty with a willing heart. What say you?”

Bascot was taken aback. He had fully expected to leave for Portugal shortly after they had returned from Temple Bruer. Now his mind whirled with the implications of the unexpected offer. To be awarded the post of draper was an honour that was not to be lightly decried, but it would mean that he would, for the foreseeable future at least, not be considered for active duty. He was not sure how to respond.

D’Arderon saw the younger knight’s confusion and sought a way to ease it. “I know it is a difficult decision to make, Bascot, and one that requires certainty of commitment. Perhaps you would like to spend some time in prayer to aid your reflection.”

“I would, Preceptor,” Bascot replied thankfully.

“So be it,” d’Arderon replied understandingly. “The contingent will leave at first light tomorrow. You have until then to give me your answer.”

After the rest of the enclave had retired to their pallets, Bascot spent the hours between Compline and Matins in the preceptory chapel praying for guidance. After Emilius’s interment, Bascot had consoled himself with the thought that he would soon go to Portugal and take up the fight for Christendom in the draper’s stead. Emilius had often spoken of his time there and how he wished that he was still fit enough to stand by his brethren in Tomar as they waged an ongoing battle to rid the Iberian peninsula of the Moorish invaders. If Bascot accepted the draper’s post and stayed in Lincoln, that goal would not be realised. But was not the work that Emilius had done here in the preceptory just as critical for the defence of Portugal as his time on active duty? Without a constant supply of trained men and arms, the defence of the land around Tomar and Almourol would be impossible. Was Bascot putting his own selfish desires before the needs of his brethren?

Above him the candle on the altar burned brightly, casting shadows from the pillars that encircled the interior of the church. To one side was a life-size image of the Virgin Mary cradling the infant Jesus in her arms, and the faint aroma of incense filled the air. Nearby was the door to the vestry where the body of Elfreda had been found and where Emilius had kept the clothing for which he was responsible. The post of draper was an important one and Bascot knew that his education made him suitable for the responsibilities. But was it truly God’s will for him to take up the post, or was he being influenced by the awareness that if he stayed in Lincoln, he would remain in close proximity to Gianni, the boy he loved so dearly? He had to admit that when d’Arderon had told him of the appointment, that had been the first thought that had flashed through his mind. Was he letting his affection for the boy cloud his judgement?

He brought up his hands to clasp them before him as he once again bowed his head in prayer and, as he did so, his fingers brushed the small leather scrip he wore at his belt. Other than the few silver pennies each brother was allowed to carry in case of emergencies, it also contained a small piece of Lincolnshire stone. He remembered well the night he had picked it up. It had been a few months before, just after the time of Christ’s Mass, when he had been standing alone on the top step of the forebuilding of the keep in Lincoln castle and pondering his return to the Order in a few months time. The piece of stone must have become dislodged from the facade of the keep and fallen onto the ground near his feet. His purpose in keeping it had been because he had thought that no matter how far away he travelled from the town he had come to regard as home, and from the young lad he loved like a son, he would always carry a piece of solid remembrance with him. Now he took the stone out of his scrip and held it up to the radiance of the candle. The fragment was about the size of the palm of his hand, flat and smooth on the side where it had fractured from a much larger piece, the surface covered with tiny wavering striations in different shades of light and dark grey. The uneven lines reminded him of how difficult the passage of a man’s life could be and that, as so often happens, it could undulate from confident resolution to dithering uncertainty in a matter of moments.

Still holding the stone in his hand, he turned his gaze to the crucifix above the altar and realised he had found the answer to his dilemma. It was not God who made life-altering decisions difficult, but man himself. God’s ways were simple and direct. If His intention had been otherwise, the offer of the draper’s post would not have been made. Bascot rose from his knees and went into the vestry, then opened the chest where the knights’ surcoats were kept. Carefully lifting out the piles of clothing that Emilius had folded so neatly, he laid them to one side and placed the piece of stone on the bottom of the coffer. Then he repacked the garments with the same care that Emilius would have taken and closed the lid.

Leaving the vestry he genuflected in front of the altar and went out into the compound to give d’Arderon his answer. Until, and unless, Our Lord decreed otherwise, he would remain in Lincoln.

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