The wind blowing in from the Atlantic was cold. It often was on the west coast of Scotland, even in summer. The crude stone shepherd's hut where Brother Aidan and his three fellow monks sat kept the wind out for the most part, but it was far from warm and cozy.
He glanced around nervously at the three other men in the hut with them, all in their plain brown homespun robes and with heads that were shaved except for a patch of hair on the crown. This patch of hair was grown into a spectacular topknot. In the case of Brother Aidan that topknot had grown to nearly waist length.
Not for the first time, he questioned the wisdom of so many of the brothers gathering in one place. They were monks of the Celtic mission, quite possibly the last in the world. For the last four centuries, ever since the murder of Bishop Primus and the takeover of the Iona monastery by the Benedictines, their spiritual traditions had been all but wiped out. It was only due to people of the Hebrides—stubborn even by the generous standard of the Scots—and people like Brother Aidan, who continued to practice the ways of Celtic Church in secret, that the traditions begun by missionaries such as Pelagius, St. Patrick, and St. Columba lived on.
“You are sure he is trustworthy?” one of the other monks, Brother Oran, asked. “If we were to be found . . . ”
“Finlay Robinson has fed, even sheltered the men and women of our order since before you or I were born. If any man is to be trusted, it is he.” Aidan's voice held a calmness he did not feel. The Presbyterians were, if anything, even more determined to exterminate the old ways than the Roman church had been. Finlay Robinson was as tough an old man as walked God's earth, but information sometimes had a way of slipping out.
Aidan held his breath when the sheepskin he'd lashed to the hut's doorframe was pushed aside. He and the other brothers audibly exhaled when his friend entered, alone. He was something of a romantic figure in these parts, because he'd been all the way to the east coast of Scotland, having taken service with Robert Mackay as a young man. The fact that Finlay Robinson had been as far away as Edinburgh was considered remarkable. More important, from Aidan's point of view, was that he worked hard to keep the old ways alive, and the brothers had rewarded that loyalty by making Finlay the guardian of its most precious possession.
“Finlay,” said Aidan. “You surely are a sight for sore eyes. It's been a long time since we've seen each other.”
“I went to pay my respects to Robert Mackay. He's . . . not well.”
“I will remember him in my prayers. It was good that you went to see him.” Aidan knew that this was not why Finlay had been so insistent they meet, and waited for the old man to continue his story.
“He was a good man, and has led a good life. God willing, he has a little life yet left. But I also chanced to speak to Robert's son Alex. And his wife. A most unusual lass.”
“Unusual?” asked Brother Dunstan. “In what way?”
Finlay laughed. “I would say she's unusual in every way. When she wields that strange musket of hers, she might as well be Boadicea reborn. But it was the news Alex and his bride brought with them from the Germanies that I needed to give to you. I don't suppose news of the Swede's exploits have reached here?”
“Vague talk, but nothing that seems creditable,” said Aidan.
“Alex was in service to him. He says Gustavus has set up an empire for himself in the Germanies, but it is a most unusual empire. According this Alex's wife—the lass's name is Julie—her people, the Swede's allies, persuaded him not to have an official church.”
“No church?” Brother Oran sounded half-disbelieving, half-scandalized.
“None,” said Finlay firmly. Too firmly for Aidan, at least, to think he was lying. “Presbyterians live alongside Lutherans, Catholics, Jews . . . it seems every sort of belief is represented in the city of Julie's birth.”
“Then, they would accept us?” Aidan's voice came out as a faint whisper. It was as if voicing his hopes aloud would dash them.
“Alex and Julie Mackay both said yes. Robert Mackay is a tolerant man in many things, but he would not accept a lie from his son. If Alex says it is true, it is true. If you desire to go to Grantville, I will see to all the arrangements.”
Dunstan, Oran, and the third monk, Brother Colman, all looked at Aidan. He was not the oldest of the brothers, and he certainly did not consider himself the wisest of them. But though he chose not to use the title, Brother Aidan was also Bishop Aidan, chosen by his fellow monks and nuns (the few still left) in the hope that some day, he could ordain new clergy of the Celtic mission and revive their church. It also meant that the decision to stay or go was his.
The uncertainty in the eyes of Aidan's fellow brothers contrasted with the fire in Finlay Robinson's. Aidan did not like the idea of leaving the place where he'd lived and ministered all his life. But if the dying embers of the Celtic Church could be once more fanned into life, however far away, perhaps Aidan's successors could return, living and preaching openly.
He embraced the old man who'd done so much for them. Finlay would not fail them in this.
“That is good enough for me, Finlay. Make the arrangements and contact us when they are complete.”
Reverend Enoch Wiley felt old. It was a hot day, and he'd done quite a bit of walking. Young Martin Riddle, who walked next to him, kept casting concerned glances his way. I'm his father's age, Wiley thought sourly. Maybe I'm a reminder that Chuck's getting old, too.
If he was being honest with himself, Enoch had to admit that he didn't feel well, and hadn't felt well for a while. Maybe it was the stress, he thought. Of all of Grantville's clergy, after the Ring of Fire only Larry Mazzare's pastoral responsibilities had increased more than his own. Between the influx of Scottish Presbyterians and Central European Calvinists, the Grantville Presbyterian Church was easily twice as large—if not more—than it had been before the Ring of Fire.
It was enough to age anyone before their time, even if they were married to someone like Inez, who seemed to have bottomless stores of energy. And the reason for this trip wasn't making Reverend Wiley terribly happy, either.
Donald Ogilvie had been a member of Grantville Presbyterian since shortly after arriving in town as a member of Mackay's troop. Ogilvie and the minister had struck up a particularly close relationship; the Scots veteran was about the age Wiley's son John Enoch would have been. John had been left up-time and while no one could ever replace him, the young Scotsman did partially fill a hole in Wiley's life. Donald had been a founding partner in the Thuringen Gardens—when Wiley first met him, he proudly proclaimed himself as the bouncer—but had cashed in that partnership to buy a small piece of land and launch a number of business ventures, none of which came to anything. When Ogilvie's money ran out, Reverend Wiley had helped him get a job as a construction foreman, where he'd done very well and allowed the young man to pay off his debts without having to sell or mortgage his land.
Tragically, Ogilvie had been killed not quite a month ago, breaking his neck after falling from his horse. The only possession he'd had worth speaking of was his land, and he'd left it to Enoch Wiley's church.
Martin was here because he did pro bono legal work for the Presbyterian church. It was something of a Riddle family tradition, as both his grandfather, Thomas Price Riddle, and his father, Chuck Riddle, had given Reverend Wiley legal assistance before the Ring of Fire. This despite the fact that the entire Riddle clan was Episcopalian. Martin's father had once said that this was what members of a community did for one another. With Thomas's health quite fragile these days, and with Chuck taking over as chief justice for Thuringia-Franconia, this job fell to Martin. He didn't seem to mind though. He said it was a nice break from his work as a public defender and gave him some experience in different areas of law.
They finally reached the spot. Lothlorien Farbenwerke was barely visible behind them.
“Here it is, Reverend Wiley,” Martin said. “Here” was several acres of scabrous trees and scrubby grass that adjoined the old Lothlorien Commune. Ogilvie's sense in buying real estate had been little better than his business sense, it seemed.
“What did Thurman Jennings say?” Jennings was the top seller of commercial real estate in the area, and had looked over the property at Martin's request.
“He said that it wouldn't generate too much interest from anyone looking to buy a farm,” the young lawyer said. “The property's too hilly and as you can see, the soil out here isn't great. And right now, it's too far from utilities to make it worth anyone's while to develop commercially. Maybe someone'll want a country seat or something. Who knows?”
“So it's basically worthless?”
“No,” Martin said slowly, marshalling his thoughts. “Given the real estate market in this county right now, no land is truly worthless. This particular piece just isn't as valuable as some. If you do want to sell it, we can see if Lothlorien's interested, but I'm sure that would have to wait until Tom and Magda get back from Italy.”
“It'll keep, I suppose,” Reverend Wiley said. "We'd better get back to town; Inez will kill me if she thinks I'm overdoing it.”
Martin nodded, and the two of them started walking back to Lothlorien, where they hoped to get a ride into town.
The ride back into Grantville was mostly silent, for which Enoch Wiley was grateful. Inez had been gently chiding him about his dark mood these last few weeks, reminding him that he was no fit company like this. He was trying to shake it off, but without success. This inner bleakness was even starting to creep into his sermons. He found he had to make a great effort to cut back on gloom, doom, fire and brimstone.
Donald Ogilvie's death brought out into the open a sadness that had been growing inside Enoch Wiley for months now, ever since he and Inez had agreed to act as guardians for Idelette Cavriani during her stay in Grantville. Idelette was not the cause, however, merely the catalyst. She was staying in their son John's old room, which had accumulated a number of books and other things Enoch did not use much but didn't want to get rid of. At Inez's tireless prodding, he finally sorted through all the boxes. Except for one box, now in his study, that he refused to open. He knew what was in there, and avoided confronting the feelings he knew it would bring. With the death of young Ogilvie, however, those feelings could no longer be held at bay.
Enoch forced his thoughts back to the present, to a pleasant and sunny summer afternoon. Martin Riddle was absorbed in case notes and Angus Gunn, who drove the cart they were riding in, seemed lost in his own thoughts. He'd had business at Lothlorien and had offered Enoch and Martin a ride back to town. The burly Scotsman was an enigma to Enoch Wiley. He was quite friendly and outgoing, and attended services at Wiley's church regularly. He didn't have a steady job, but managed to make enough for a small room and to have free time to spend outdoors. Angus was an artist of some talent, Enoch understood, especially when it came to drawing things like buildings, natural formations, or fortifications, a talent he'd developed as a scout in Gustavus Adolphus's army. He was quick to do favors for people, as evidenced by giving them a ride back into town from Lothlorien, but despite all that, Enoch sensed that there was a part of Angus Gunn that was closed off. Something spiritual, since his attempts to initiate spiritual discussions with Angus generally went nowhere.
Martin got dropped off first, his offices being closest to the dye works. Angus then dropped Enoch off at his home. Today was Monday, and the church offices were closed. Inez gave him a hug when he walked in.
“You look like you got a little sun today. You need to be careful, as easily as you burn.”
Enoch smiled at his wife and sat down. “I don't know what we'll do with that land. It's not exactly prime real estate, from what Martin says.”
“Well, that's not surprising. Donnie was a hard worker but not overly blessed with practical sense,” Inez said. “He'd never gotten that share in the Gardens if he hadn't been able to speak German.”
“True. But I don't know what the church will do with it.”
“Trust God, Enoch. He'll bring the right opportunity at the right time. You know He will.”
“True enough, dear.” Enoch heaved himself up with a sigh. “I think I'll go to the study for a while.” Inez gave him a look that spoke volumes. “What?”
“Enoch Wiley, you know what. You need to go talk to someone. You keep promising me you'll get out of this mood you're in, but I don't see any signs of it. It's not good for you.”
“I will, when I have time.”
“You need to make time.”
“I'll see what I can do, dear,” he said, studiously ignoring Inez's disapproving frown and climbing the stairs to his study.
He closed the door behind him and went to the box he'd been avoiding opening for so long, and opened it. On top was a book entitled The Whole Earth Shall Cry Glory, written by George MacLeod, a prominent Scottish theologian and moderator of the Church of Scotland in the 1950's. The book had been a gift from his son, John Enoch Wiley. Enoch's eyes went from the book to the picture on his desk, a picture taken less than two months before the Ring of Fire. John stood proudly in his black habit. Inez, standing on her son's right, smiled just as proudly but Enoch couldn't help but remember how strained his own smile had been when that picture was taken. It was then that John had given him George MacLeod's book, one more attempt to bridge the gap that had grown up between them, one more attempt by the son to help his father understand the path he'd chosen.