By Ailad’s Bootstraps
Short story by Kurt Kammeyer
Ailad loved working in his uncle’s printing shop. Setting the type, casting plates, inking the press and “pulling” the printed sheets fascinated him. Today, Uncle Brynmor had put him to work as his ink-boy.
“Now, make sure to ink the plate nice and even,” Brynmor said. “Don’t miss the corners, but don’t slather it on too deep, either.”
“Yes, Uncle,” Ailad replied as he daubed his leather ink-ball across the plate.
When the plate was well inked, Brynmor gave a mighty heave on the lever-arm and quickly released it. Aliad turned the crank and slid the sheet back along the bed.
Brynmor bent over and squinted at the sheet: a broadside for the Stroma Sentinel newspaper.
“Not too bad…” he mumbled. “for an apprentice, per’aps.”
Brynmor was always short on praise, so Ailwyn took this as a compliment.
Just then the front door jingled, and a very pretty young girl entered. She was carrying a wicker basket covered with a red checkered cloth. She approached Ailad and smiled.
Flustered, he stammered, “Uh, hello, Lleucu. What brings thee?”
“Why, lunch, silly,” she said, blushing. “Thinking I was, me and thee could eat by the river—that is, if not over-busy tha’ be?”
Ailad took the basket and glanced at his uncle, who nodded his approval.
“Go, but mind you, be careful! The river, ‘tis in full flood now.”
“Thanks, Uncle. I promise we’ll be careful,” Ailad replied.
Ailad and Lleucu walked down to the Spey River on the edge of town, and sat on the riverbank next to a cottonwood tree. Ailad noticed that the river was in full flood, just as his uncle had warned. Ailad wasn’t worried. He’d seen the river crest before, and now that he was fourteen turns old he knew how to avoid danger.
Lleucu opened the basket and pulled out a loaf of rye bread, some cheese, and an apple-cake. Ailad’s eyes widened, and Lleucu smiled.
“I know… ‘Tis tha’ favorite, aye?”
Ailad and Lleucu eagerly tucked into their lunch. A minute later she looked up.
“So then, Ailad, hast thou considered that which we discussed, our last time here?”
Here she goes again… Ailad thought glumly. All girls ever think about is marriage.
“Uh, sure, Lleucu… when I’m twenty-one, I promise we’ll get married, aye?” He hoped this would end the conversation.
Lleucu and Ailad’s parents had betrothed the two children to each other when they were just five turns old. Then Ailad’s parents had died. By now Ailad had lived so long with the pledge that he seldom gave it a thought—except when Lleucu mentioned it. He thought,
Twenty-one… that still gives me seven turns… who knows if we’ll still like each other by then?
Ailad jumped up. “C’mon, let’s play a game!”
Lleucu stood, shook the crumbs off her apron and said, “Well then… what game?”
Ailad thought. “I’ll be Nordish King Akamar, and tha’ll be Princess Gudrid of Menggu.”
He pointed to a small island near the riverbank. “That’s Akameria, and thou’rt in Menggu, agreed?”
She grinned at him. “Ailad… thou knowest how this tale ends, aye? Gudrid kills Akamar.”
“Not today,” he replied, picking up a branch for a sword. He challenged her in Nordish.
“Oh, very well…” she said reluctantly, and picked up another stick. She raised her sword and smiled at him.
“Gongji!” she cried as their swords met. They dueled for a time, as Ailad slowly retreated towards his little island-kingdom.
The channel between the mainland and the island was spanned by a log. Ailad had crossed the log many times before, but today it barely bridged the gap over a fork of the swollen river.
“Hah!” he cried, as he parried Lleucu’s blow and jumped back. He was now standing on the log, inching his way back.
Lleucu looked down at the rushing stream, paused and said,
“Ailad, be careful!”
He made another thrust at her.
“I be Akamar, king of Iskaldurey and Suthurl—ahh!” he cried, as he toppled backwards off the log into the rushing river. Lleucu screamed.
Ailad surfaced and gasped for air. Lleucu ran down the riverbank, knelt down and extended her sword to him, but he was too far out to reach it. Frantic, she cried,
Stunned by the freezing, roiling water, Ailad desperately tried to swim to shore, but the current quickly swept him into the main channel. Gasping and choking, he looked at Lleucu’s anguished face disappearing in the distance. His last thought was,
So, this is what it’s like to die…
“Son, fetch me my specs!”
Whenever Pa said those words, Ailad knew it was the signal for evening prayer.
“Coming, Pa,” he replied.
Ailad took the spectacles from the mantle and handed them to Pa, who hooked them over his ears. The family gathered in a circle near the fireplace.
Pa took the old hymnbook and turned to a familiar hymn. Ma and Catrin took the upper line, sister Thoetha tackled the middle part, and Pa, Hywel and Ailad sang the bottom part. At fourteen, Ailad’s voice was still changing, but he could reach most of the lower notes:
The day is past and gone,
The evening shades appear,
O may we all remember well,
The night of death draws near.
Next, Pa took his well-worn copy of the Norm and opened it to a dog-eared page that Ailad knew on sight. Pa read a familiar verse:
“A seer shall God raise up, who shall be a choice seer; him shall ye obey in all things…”
The family all knelt next to baby Llachar’s cradle, and Pa prayed:
“O God of Caerwyn, I invoke thy blessings upon my family.
“Protect us from Shaitan, and grant us slumber.
“May the Seer come quickly,
“And may we rise to meet thee at thy coming, Amen.”
After the prayer, everyone stood and hugged, and the older children climbed the ladder to the loft above the main floor of the cabin—boys to the north end, girls to the south, with a partition between them. Clywed, Gwilym and Siarl took one of the beds on the boys’ side of the partition, and Hywel and Ailad took the other.
Ailad heard a scraping sound downstairs as Ma dragged baby Llachar’s cradle over near the fireplace, next to their own bed. He looked down through the trap door and saw Ma bustling about, carrying bedding. Then he turned his head back.
“G’night, Hywel,” he said.
“G’night Ailad,” Hywel replied, and blew out the candle.
Hywel settled right down as usual, and soon Ailad heard him snoring. Ailad wasn’t very sleepy. He leaned his head against the headboard and thought for a long time. He was feeling sort of guilty for some of the foolish things he’d done lately, and for trying to cover them up.
The men had been clearing land, and Ailad had left his axe stuck in a tree-stump overnight. In the morning the axe head was all rusty, and the stump had swollen around it so he couldn’t pry the blade out. Pa got angry, and Ailad tried to blame it on his younger brother Siarl, who was supposed to collect all the tools at the end of the day. That just made Pa even more upset. He pointed at Ailad and in an angry voice said,
“Ailad, ‘tis a sin before God to lie to thy elders.”
Ailad didn’t think it was lying, exactly, just kind of passing the blame, but he knew he was in trouble.
When the chores were done, Pa took Ailad to the local church in Stroma—the Cairwyn-Eglwys—to see a Dioddefwr or “Sufferer”, to take away his sin. Ailad had been through this ritual several times before when he did something bad, and he hated it.
Pa nearly dragged Ailad into the huge rock church, and marched him down the aisle to a small booth at one side of the sanctuary. Pa shut the door of the booth behind them and they sat down together on the bench, facing a sliding panel. Pa waved his finger at Ailad and sternly said,
“Tell the truth, son. The Dioddefwr, he will know if thou’rt lying.”
Pa knocked on the panel. A moment later the panel slid up, revealing the Dioddefwr. He was dressed in a long, black robe and he wore a round cap like a pillbox, and he had a long black beard. His face was pasty white, like he didn’t see the sun much. He knitted his fingers together, smiled and said in a kindly voice,
“Please state the nature of the transgression?”
Pa nudged Ailad, and he reluctantly confessed to the incident with the axe. The Dioddefwr said,
“A minor transgression… That will be two pence.”
Pa pulled out two coins and gave them to the Dioddefwr, who dropped them in an urn. Then Ailad watched as the man’s face suddenly contorted. Tears came to his eyes, and he bowed his head and groaned and sobbed, softly beating his fists on the counter between them. This went on for about a minute as Ailad squirmed uncomfortably. Then the Dioddefwr straightened up, sighed and said,
“It is finished. I have suffered for your sins, young man. Go, and sin no more. That will be all.”
The panel slammed shut, and they exited the booth.
As they were leaving the church, Ailad turned to his Pa and said,
“The Sufferer, did he truly my sins take away, Pa?”
Pa hesitated. “I used to think so, Son, but not anymore. But I still hope tha’ didst learn thy lesson—else I be out two pence, aye?”
“Yes, Pa,” Ailad replied, scuffing his feet and looking down.
Pa went silent for a time. Ailad could tell he was gathering his thoughts. Finally he spoke.
“Ailad, my son… someday soon, tha’ll receive a visitation from… someone very important.”
“Important? Who, Pa? A kin of ours?” Ailad replied.
“Aye, a close kin… But mind thee, thou must obey his every word, understand? Every word!”
“Aye, Pa…” Ailad replied, puzzled.
Ailad had always been close to his Pa—much closer than his older brother Hywel, he imagined, and not just because he shared Pa’s name. Pa seemed to take a special interest in Ailad, and at times he could almost read Ailad’s thoughts, it seemed. It was more than just a spiritual bond. Ofttimes, as Ailad was passing someone in the street, they would pinch his cheeks and exclaim,
“My, you look just like your father, young man!”
That evening, lying in bed, Ailad was more convinced than ever that the Dioddefwr was just taking Pa’s money. He thought,
It just isn’t possible for one man to take away another man’s sins—not that I’d really sinned, exactly, just told a fib… but didn’t Pa read to us from the Norm, about how God forgives sins? And God wouldn’t charge two pence for it either, I’m certain.
He said a little prayer, asking God for forgiveness for all the foolish things he did, and right away he felt better—and not just because it was free of charge, either.
Ailad was lying there, feeling pretty good about himself, when he noticed that the room was getting lighter.
Is it morning already? he thought, looking around.
He sat up, nearly bumping his head on the rafters, and looked to the side of the bed. Just then a brilliant shaft of light appeared right next to the trap door. In the center of the light a man was standing, not on the floor, but in the air. He was wearing a white robe that reached to just below his knees. His hair was white too, and his eyes seemed to drill right through Ailad. He had brought a young boy with him, about Ailad’s age.
The man spoke.
His voice was like listening to a rushing stream, and it sent a thrill through Ailad’s body. He looked back at the man and said in a timid little voice,
“Who art thou?”
“I am a Messenger from God. Ailad, he wants thee to know that thy sins are forgiven thee.”
That was a huge relief to Ailad. He’d been worrying right then about dying and having to face God. He thought,
So, I was right… it is God who forgives sins.
The Messenger continued. “Ailad, God has an important work for thee here on Edom.”
Me? Important? he thought. I’ve never amounted to much in my fourteen turns on Edom, and my family isn’t much to brag about, either. We’re honest and hardworking, but important?
The Messenger instructed Ailad about this “work” he was to do. He informed him that the Sixth Eon was about to open on Edom, and that Ailad would be the one to open it. He warned Ailad that the Evil One would try to tempt him, and that all Sheol would soon break loose on him, but that God would protect him. Then he held out his hand to him.
“Come, Ailad,” he said.
“Where?” Ailad replied nervously.
“Follow me and see,” he said, pointing upwards.
Ailad stood up and hesitantly approached the column of light. The closer he got, the more overwhelming it felt. He reached out his hand to the light and felt a glow race through his whole body.
The young boy who had accompanied the Messenger smiled at Ailad, stepped out of the column of light, and sat down on the bed.
The Messenger locked hands with Ailad, and they rose up the pillar of light.
Ailad found himself standing in a very strange but wonderful place. He looked up and saw the night sky, black as ink, with countless stars shining brilliantly. The stars passed overhead at a tremendous rate. Periodically, a brilliant sun passed across the sky—but it was a sun of such size and magnitude that Ailad felt as if it would consume him with its brightness.
The ground he was standing on was clear, like an ocean of glass. It glowed in fantastic shades and colors that he’d never seen before, and a myriad of images quickly appeared and vanished, then reappeared some distance away. The most beautiful, ethereal music was playing in time to the images.
I don’t think I’m in Edom anymore, Ailad thought.
Overwhelmed, he turned to the Messenger and said in a tremulous voice,
“Where be this place? Am I dead?”
The Messenger laughed. “No, thou art most certainly not dead, Ailad. This is the Bosom of Eternity, the place where all things are revealed—past, present, and future. Thou art at the very center of the Great River of stars, near to the place where God himself dwells.”
He pointed. “That bright star is named Kolab.”
“Is this heaven?” Ailad said, looking around.
“Not quite, but very near to it,” the Messenger replied. “Time has no meaning here. A thousand turns are as a day to God.”
“Why’st thou brought me here?” Ailad said. “And who was that boy thou didst leave in my room?”
“Why, that was thee, Ailad.”
Confused, Ailad said, “Me? But… I’m here, not down there. How can I be in two places at the same time?”
The Messenger replied, “As I said, time has no meaning here. When thou returnest to Edom, thou wilt see what I mean.”
“Why was I not told all this before?” Ailad asked.
The Messenger smiled. “Line upon line, Ailad. Thou canst not bear all things at one time. Now, I must reveal to thee the difference between good and evil, so that thou art never again inclined to do the latter. If thou wilt turn thy attention upward, here…”
Ailad looked up at the sky overhead, and suddenly the music and lights went out. A swirling black hole rose above the horizon, ringed with fire. Ailad realized that the hole was an exact twin of the star Kolab, only in reverse. He watched as the blackness spread like a pool of ink—only it was a blackness that he had never experienced before. He could feel the blackness approaching, and an awful dread came over him. Now he could see and feel a legion of even deeper blacknesses swirling and drifting in the void. They seemed to be aware of him. He tried to look away, but the awful vision followed him wherever he gazed.
“Behold the gates of Sheol,” the Messenger said, pointing.
Horrified, Ailad looked into the void and felt himself drawn towards it. Now he was surrounded by the evil beings, and he felt the life being drained out of him. Frantically he cried out in terror,
“Oh God, save me!”
The Messenger seized Ailad by the hand, and in an instant he was standing on the sea of glass again. Then the Messenger placed his hands on Ailad’s shoulders and looked in his eyes.
“Never, ever give in to the Evil One, Ailad. He can have no power over thee, except thou permit it. Remember this, and God will be thy protection throughout thy life.”
“Yes, sir…” Ailad said, panting for breath.
The Messenger took Ailad by the hand. “And now, we must return.”
A brilliant column of light appeared next to them. They stepped into the light, and an instant later they were standing in the attic again. Ailad looked through the column of light and saw his other self sitting up in bed. Ailad smiled.
I understand, now—a little.
Ailad watched and waited as the Messenger gave the same message as the first time—or is it the second time? he thought. Then the Messenger warned the other Ailad that the Evil One would try to tempt him, and that all Sheol would soon break loose on him, but that God would protect him. Then he held out his hand to the other Ailad.
“Come, Ailad,” he said.
“Where?” the other Ailad replied nervously.
“Follow me, and see,” he said.
The first Ailad stepped out of the light and his other self passed by and ascended with the Messenger. Ailad retreated to his bed and sat down, overwhelmed.
A minute later, the room began to fill with light again.
“No, not again…” he groaned. By now, he felt limp and exhausted from these heavenly visitations.
This time the Messenger was alone. Ailad looked up at him and said,
“Where is the other me? What hast thou done with me—er, him?”
The Messenger smiled at him and said,
“He has already returned to Edom, but in another place and time.”
Ailad had been wondering who he might share this vision with—if anyone. The Messenger read his thoughts.
“Thou mayest reveal this vision to thy father—he will understand. Goodbye, Ailad.”
The light gathered around the Messenger, and instantly he vanished. Ailad collapsed back onto his bed, exhausted.
A moment later Ailad heard a rooster crowing. He sat up again.
So, the Messenger and I must have spent the whole night together, he thought, marveling. Or was it all just a really strange dream?
“Ailad, Hywel, boys! Time t’ get up! There be work to do!”
It was Pa shouting up from below.
Ailad tried to stand, but his head started spinning and he nearly tumbled down through the trap door. He braced himself against the rafters and closed his eyes.
“Ailad, art thou ill?” said Hywel as he hitched up his suspenders.
“Nay, just a bit tired, is all,” Ailad replied. In fact, he felt limp as a dishrag.
Ailad followed Hywel down the ladder to the ground floor. He sat down heavily at the kitchen table, and Ma looked at him with concern.
“Ailad my son, what ails thee?” she said, feeling his brow. “Art thou feverish? Thou’rt pale as a ghost!”
Ailad hesitated. He had learned his lesson about lying, but it didn’t feel right just yet for him to open up about the night before.
“I, ah, slept poorly, Ma. I’ll be fine.”
Ailad noticed Pa’s eyes drilling into him, which made him feel even more uncomfortable. Then the family all tucked into their bacon and beans and the conversation was over, to Ailad’s relief.
Ailad gradually felt his strength returning. After breakfast Pa and the boys returned to the field they’d been laboring to clear. The tough old beech and oak trees were now gone, but the field was still studded with huge stumps. Pa was using black powder to loosen the stumps, and a team of horses to drag them away.
All the way to the field Ailad had noticed Pa eyeing him from time to time. Now Pa put Hywel in charge of the stump clearing, and took Ailad aside. They sat down together on a stump and Pa gazed at Ailad.
“Son, what is it? What is gnawing at thee?”
Ailad remembered what the Messenger had said, that he was allowed to tell Pa about his vision. He took a deep breath and rehearsed the whole night’s experience to Pa. It was still so vivid in his mind that he could remember every detail.
When he was finished, Pa embraced him and wept. Ailad had never in his life seen Pa cry before, and it startled him.
“Pa, what’s wrong?” he said as his Pa hugged him.
“I knew this day would come, son. I’ve waited for it for nigh onto twenty turns now, but I couldn’t speak to a soul about it. Knowest thou how happy this makes me?”
The other Ailad walked past his former self. Just as he was about to ascend with the Messenger, he looked down and saw his Pa gazing up through the trap door. Then he rose up the column of light with the Messenger. He found himself standing in a very strange but wonderful place. He looked up and saw the night sky, black as ink, with countless stars shining brilliantly. The ground he was standing on was clear, like an ocean of glass. It glowed in fantastic shades and colors that he’d never seen before. The most beautiful, ethereal music was playing in time to the images. He thought,
I don’t think I’m in Edom anymore.
Overwhelmed, Ailad turned to the Messenger and said in a tremulous voice,
“Where be this place? Am I dead?”
The Messenger laughed. “No, thou art most certainly not dead, Ailad. This is the Bosom of Eternity, the place where all things are revealed—past, present, and future. Thou art at the very center of the Great River, near to the place where God himself dwells.”
“Why’st thou brought me here?” Ailad said. “And who was that boy thou didst leave in my room?”
“Why, that was thee, Ailad,” he replied.
Confused, Ailad said, “Me? But… I’m here, not down there. How can I be in two places at the same time?”
The Messenger replied, “As I said, time has no meaning here.”
The Messenger turned and faced Ailad.
“Ailad, when thou returnest to Edom, thou art forbidden to speak of this event, or of thy sacred calling.”
Ailad swallowed hard. “Calling? Aye, I promise.”
The Messenger continued. “Upon thy return, thou wilt discover that events have… changed for thee. Do not be alarmed, there is a purpose in all of this concerning thee and thy posterity. Accept it and learn from it.”
Ailad swallowed again. “A purpose? what purpose? …what posterity?”
“There has been… an incident, shall we say,” the Messenger replied. “Thy bloodline must be maintained. Thou hast a great work to do in spreading God’s sacred word throughout Edom. It will all be revealed to thee in God’s time and place. Remember that! Art thou prepared to carry out this mission?”
Overwhelmed, Ailad replied,
“Aye, as prepared as I can be, I suppose…”
“It is well! Farewell, Ailad.”
When the second Ailad awoke, he sat up and looked around. Instantly he recognized his surroundings. He was sitting on a small cot, in a back bedroom on the upper floor of Uncle Brynmor’s print shop in Stroma. On several occasions he had spent the night here.
That was the most vivid dream I ever had in my life, he thought.
When he stood up, the room immediately started spinning. Quickly he sat down again. Dizzy and exhausted, he thought,
Or was it more than a dream? I went to sleep last night at my folk’s cabin. How did I get here?
Just then the door opened. It was his Uncle Brynmor.
“Ah, good morning Ailad! I trust, a good night’s sleep thou didst have?”
“Fair to middling…” Ailad mumbled, while holding his head. He had to fight to see just one Uncle Brynmor, not two.
“Good, good!” Brynmor replied cheerfully. “There be much work this day. As my ink-boy, I want thee full-up to the task!”
“Ink-boy?” Ailad replied hesitantly.
Brynmor clapped Ailad on the shoulder.
“My apprentice! Or hast thou forgotten? Come, breakfast awaits!”
Ailad realized that he was famished. He hitched up his suspenders and followed Uncle Brynmor to the front room of the upper floor, where he saw that Aunt Tegwyn had prepared a hearty breakfast: Rye bread, sausage, and beans. She smiled tenderly at Ailad and said,
“Croeso, Ailad. Dewch, bwyta.” Welcome, Ailad. Come, eat.
Ailad was used to hearing his aunt speak in the old Yngling dialect. He politely replied,
“Diolch i chi, Modryb Tegwyn.” Thank you, Aunt Tegwyn.
He sat down and eagerly dug into his breakfast. His aunt and uncle ate in silence, but occasionally they stole glances at him and at each other. Ailad’s mind was still spinning.
The Messenger… he told me I would accomplish something important. Then I went to heaven, and he said things would be different when I got back, but not to let it flummox me. He was right—this sure is different.
Still casting about to get his bearings, Ailad said between bites,
“So… once I’ve finished here as an, ah, ink-boy, when can I return home to my parents?”
Brynmor and Tegwyn both stopped in mid-bite. Tegwyn looked at Ailad, and in a shocked tone said,
“Parents? Why Ailad, art thou barmy? Thou knowest, an orphan thou be, aye? ‘Tis not a thing to make light of, now then.” She clucked in disapproval.
Ailad sat with his mouth hanging open.
An orphan? That caps it—this is all just one long dream that I’ll soon wake up from, right?
Brynmor stood. “Come, Nephew, there be work to do.”
Ailad followed his uncle down to the main floor. He had fond memories of prior visits to his uncle’s shop, and he already knew some of the printer’s skills: typesetting, inking the press, and “pulling” sheets from the press. In fact, he had spoken to his uncle several times about becoming a pressman some day.
Looks like I somehow got my wish, he thought. When will this dream end?
Brynmor put Ailad to work cleaning and sorting used type. This was a very messy, dirty task. Ailad removed the sticks of type from the printing plate and dumped the thousands of tiny lead slugs into a bucket of warm, soapy water, and let them soak to loosen the black, tarry ink residue. Next he rinsed the slugs, dried them and carefully brushed off any remaining residue. Last of all, he sorted the various typefaces and placed each tiny letter into its appropriate bin in the type cabinet.
As he worked, Ailad’s thoughts wandered.
This all seems so real, and yet—nothing here makes sense. I know who my parents are, and my brothers and sisters. Are my aunt and uncle playing some kind of joke with me?
When the messy task was completed, Ailad’s arms were black clear up to his elbows. Just then the front door jingled, and a very pretty young girl entered. She was about Ailad’s age, he estimated. She was carrying a basket covered with a checkered cloth. She approached Ailad, smiled and shyly held out the basket to him.
Flustered, he replied, “What’s this?”
“Why, lunch, silly,” she said, blushing. “Thinking I was, me and thee could sit by the river and eat…” Her voice trailed off as she noticed his blank stare.
Ailad glanced at his filthy hands and arms and stammered,
“Uh, maybe later… just set it on the table over there.”
Now clearly embarrassed, the girl complied, and then quickly headed for the door. She glanced back over her shoulder and scowled at Ailad; then she left the building and slammed the door behind her.
Uncle Brynmor had watched the whole awkward scene.
“Ailad! Hast thou thy manners forgotten? A simple thank’e would’a helped, now then.”
“Who was she?” Ailad said, while thinking, What else could I have done?
“Why, Lleucu, thy troth she be, young man! Ach, ‘tis just as well—the river’s in full flood, and dangerous to boot.”
That corks it, Ailad thought. Lleucu is my mother’s name. I’m either having a bad dream, or I’m going mad.
Gradually, Ailad found his place in this strange new world. As time passed, his new life became ever more real to him, and his old life faded into memories.
Ailad learned to his surprise that besides working as his uncle’s apprentice, he was apparently an acolyte in the Cairwyn-Eglwys in Stroma. His task was to assist the Pregethwr or Preacher in preparing his sermons from the sacred text of the Norm.
The Norm was a huge, black book of verse which was chained to the pulpit. Only a Pregethwr was permitted to read from the Norm, on pain of punishment. It was written in the ancient Yngling dialect, so the common people were not expected to understand it.
Pregethwr Iefan kept a copy of the Norm in a locked drawer in his office. Once a week, Ailad would unlock the drawer and select one of the fifty-six large pages that were used for the weekly reading. After the sermon, the sheet was returned to the drawer. Every thirteen months, the cycle would repeat.
As Ailad sat at dinner with Uncle Brynmor and Aunt Tegwyn one evening, he thought,
I remember sitting by the fireplace with my Pa, reading from the Norm—or do I?
“Uncle Brynmor… why do they chain the Norm to the pulpit? Why don’t they just let everyone read it?”
Brynmor put down his knife and smiled. “At one time long ago ‘twas permitted, Ailad. But then the church, they decided that the common people were too ignorant to interpret the holy words, so they chained it to the pulpit and appointed the Pregethwr to interpret it.”
“And be that proper, thinkest thou?” Ailad said.
Brynmor scowled. “No! Truth be told, there is something that I and thee can do about that, Ailad.”
“Do?” said Ailad, puzzled.
Brynmor leaned forward. “Ailad, I have been waiting long for this moment. ‘Tis my greatest desire to spread the words of the Norm to every corner of Edom! But I need thy assistance.”
“My assistance…?” Ailad said hesitantly.
“Ailad, I wish thee to bring me the Pregethwr’s copy of the Norm—but quietly, aye? One sheet a week should suffice.”
Ailad began trembling. “But why, Uncle? Thou knowest the penalty for profaning the Norm. What if I be caught?”
“I know it as well as anyone, Nephew,” said Brynmor. “But this be more important than thou knowest. I intend to begin a reformation of the church in Edom that will reverberate down to the end of time. The people, they must learn the Norm for themselves.”
“But how, Uncle?”
“By printing the Norm, my boy, and spreading it to every corner of this land!”
Ailad drew in his breath. The Messenger, he spoke to me of this…
Brynmor looked off into the distance.
“I shall cause the boy that driveth the plow to know more of the Scriptures than Pregethwr Ifan, or any other man who stands in the way of God’s inspiration!”
Ailad began his surreptitious work. Every week, when he selected the reading for seventh-day, he also removed another page and smuggled it out of the church under his robe. Then he assisted Brynmor with the typesetting and printing.
Each week Ailad watched in awe as Brynmor effortlessly translated the text from Yngling to Common-speak while setting each stick of type. Brynmor’s fingers flew at an incredible speed as he drew letters from the type case, inserted them into the stick, and locked them down in the plate bed. When the type was set for all four pages on a sheet, they inserted the plate in the press and set to work “pulling” printed sheets from the press—five thousand of them for each section of pages.
Every day Lleucu brought lunch to the printing shop. Ailad found himself warming up to this kind, generous girl, and he admitted to himself that she wasn’t bad looking, either.
As the printing proceeded, Brynmor often instructed Ailad in the deeper meaning of the sacred text of the Norm. Ailad learned about the five Eons that had already taken place on Edom, and their Seers: Ahten, Hanoch, Shemyah, Abdiel, and Haganiel.
Ailad continued as Pregethwr Iefan’s acolyte, but his heart was no longer in it. He soon realized that he was far more knowledgeable about the Norm than Iefan, after having watched Uncle Brynmor painstakingly typeset every letter of the book.
At the end of a year the printing and binding was complete, and Pregethwr Iefan still did not suspect anything. Brynmor and Ailad gazed proudly at the five thousand copies of the Norm in their black leather bindings, and Brynmor said,
“Now… all that be left to do is distribute these books. I warn thee, Ailad, when word of this gets out, all Sheol will break upon our heads. But by then, ‘twill be too late for the Pregethwr to complain, aye?”
The next morning Ailad looked out the front window and noticed five pony carts lined up in the street. Just then Brynmor came bounding down the stairs and out the front door, rubbing his hands together. He embraced the five drivers, turned to Ailad and said,
“These five men have graciously volunteered to deliver our books all about this land. Ailad, I should like to introduce thee to my old Haganah friends from long ago.”
The five drivers each took their allotment of books and silently departed.
Brynmor kept several hundred books to distribute from his own shop. He gave the very first copy to his apprentice. As Ailad reverently thumbed the new pages and hefted the book, Brynmor said,
“We have done well. ‘Tis an inspired translation, my boy. Knowest thou the pain and sufferings of the five seers who gave thee this book? Most of them sacrificed their lives for it! Hoping I do, that thou wilt remember that as thou readest it.”
“I will, Uncle,” Ailad humbly replied.
As soon as the publication of the Norm was announced, “all Sheol” did break loose on Brynmor and Ailad, just as the Messenger had warned.
A few days later Pregethwr Iefan came to the shop with an armed guard. He did not bother knocking, but barged into the printing shop and confronted Brynmor.
“Ah, Pregethwr, I be honored! What brings thee here this day?” Brynmor said cheerily.
Just then, Ailad and his Aunt Tegwyn descended the stairs. Ailad looked at the intruders and said, fearfully,
“Uncle, what is this about?”
Brynmor motioned Ailad to silence.
The Pregethwr handed a writ to Brynmor and said,
“By order of the Council of the Cairwyn-Eglwys, you are hereby charged with sedition, blasphemy, and public disorder. You are ordered to yield up all copies of your blasphemous publication for burning! And you, Brynmor, are under arrest! Seize him!”
The Captain of the Guard signaled to his men, who bound Brynmor’s hands behind him. Then they began demolishing the printing press. They seized all the printing plates and threw them into the street, scattering type in every direction. They attacked the press with sledges and axes until it was reduced to kindling, which they also threw into the street. Then one of the soldiers applied a torch to the pile.
By now, a large crowd had gathered. Ailad recognized many of them as Brynmor’s close friends, to whom he had given copies of the Norm.
When the flames had died down, Pregethwr Iefan approached Brynmor and slapped him hard in the face.
At this, Aunt Tegwyn’s demeanor suddenly changed.
“Rydych melltigedig domen!” she cried. She struck the Pregethwr hard on the shoulders and swept his feet out from under him. Ailad watched in amazement as his tiny aunt, who could not weigh more than eight stone, he figured, knelt and thrust her fist against the now-prostrate Pregethwr’s throat.
“Tegwyn! Atal!” Brynmor cried, as the Bœnder’s guards pulled her away from the Pregethwr.
“I must defend the Defender of God,” she softly replied, looking down at the Pregethwr in contempt. “As I have ever done.”
Pregethwr Iefan stood up and dusted himself off.
Brynmor grinned at the Pregethwr. “It’s too late, Iefan,” he replied. “By now, there are five thousand copies of the Norm scattered all across this land. You cannot stop the truth from spreading!”
“We’ll see about that,” Iefan replied. “Take them away!”
The next day, Brynmor and Ailad were called before the Council of the Cairwyn-Eglwys to answer charges. The seven church counselors sat on a raised platform just in front of the high pulpit, dressed in their black robes. Ailad stood next to Brynmor at the foot of the pulpit, with his hands bound.
Pregethwr Iefan looked down from his pulpit and thundered at them.
“Brynmor and Ailad, you stand before God and this council, accused of desecrating God’s holy writ, the sacred Norm! How say you?”
Brynmor glanced sideways at Ailad, looked up and firmly declared,
“Would you add lying to the list of charges against you, man? We have the evidence here!”
Pregethwr Iefan held up a copy of the Norm from Brynmor’s shop, and shuddered.
“I feel the very heat of Sheol emanating from this wicked book, as if it would burst into flame of its own accord! Will you still deny your guilt, man?” Iefan roared.
“I admit that I published this book,” Brynmor replied. “But as to the charge of desecration, I am innocent. How can I desecrate the holy word of God, by teaching the people in their own tongue?”
“Do you hear him?” Iefan thundered. “How can we permit such blasphemy?”
Brynmor thundered back at the Pregethwr. His voice seemed to shake the very pillars of the church.
“How dare you sit in Caerwyn’s chair and call yourself a Pregethwr! You have ordained that no man but the Pregethwr shall look on the Scriptures, unless he be muzzled as an acolyte in heathen learning eight or nine years, and armed with false principles, until he be clean shut out of the understanding of the Scripture!”
Ailad felt a thrill pass through him as his uncle faced down the Pregethwr. He thought,
I was that acolyte, but I understand the truth now. The truth has set me free…
“How dare you—” Iefan fumed, red-faced. He realized that he had met his match for oratory, but he was not about to back down. He pounded the pulpit and scanned the congregation.
“How many of you have copies of this vile book? I demand that you bring them here to be burned! Those who refuse shall receive the interdict!”
Ailad scanned the congregants. Many of them were glancing around. Then he watched as about half of them silently left the church.
“There, you see?” Iefan sneered down at Brynmor. “My sheep hear my voice.”
Brynmor smiled back. “We shall see, Iefan…”
“We have heard enough!” Iefan snapped. “The accused has admitted his guilt! What say you, counselors?”
The seven counselors conferred for a few minutes; then they handed a slip of paper to Pregethwr Iefan. He glanced at the paper, smiled and announced,
“The verdict is unanimous! Brynmor, by order of the Council of the Cairwyn-Eglwys and of myself, you are placed under interdict and banished from the Cairwyn-Eglwys! Ailad, I hereby strip you of your calling as an acolyte, and pronounce the interdict upon you as well! May your souls rot in Sheol for your wickedness!”
Ailad, Brynmor and Tegwyn made their way home to the demolished printing shop. When they arrived, they found Lleucu sifting through the rubble. Tegwyn scanned the ruined building and staunchly declared,
“Well, ‘tis not so bad after all… You can always rebuild, aye, Ailad?”
Puzzled, Ailad replied, “Rebuild, Modryb Tegwyn? Me? What dost thou mean?”
“Our work here is complete, Ailad,” said Brynmor. “The shop, it is thine now. Farewell.”
He grasped Tegwyn’s hand, and instantly they disappeared.
Lleucu gasped. “What did become of them, Ailad?”
Baffled, Ailad sat down next to Lleucu on the stairs and thought.
“Aunt Tegwyn called him the ‘Defender of God’,” he said softly. “Haganiel, in the ancient Edomic language. Lleucu, hast thou heard of the Five Seers?”
“Aye, Ailad, but…?” She gasped again.
“Thy uncle, he was a Seer? Why did he not tell us?”
“Well… He once told me that the Seers work very quietly to accomplish God’s work on Edom.”
“Aye, that he did, now then…” she whispered. “Shall we ever them see again?”
He hugged her. “I hope so, Lleucu—I surely hope so.”
The Caerwyn-Eglwys was taken over by a group of believers calling themselves the “Reformers”. The church council was abolished, and the Reformers gradually developed an informal seventh-day service centered around the reading of the Norm.
Ailad converted the printing shop into a weaving mill for Lleucu’s use. As time passed, life slowly returned to normal in Stroma. Six years later Ailad and Lleucu were wed in the Caerwyn-Eglwys.
By now, the Norm was the best-selling book on the continent of Melek, and all sorts of factions had split off from the Church of Cairwyn.
Shortly after their wedding, Ailad took Lleucu with him to a field outside of Stroma, near a fine stand of beech and oak trees. He gazed at the beautiful setting and declared,
“Yes, it was right about here… This would be a fine place to build a cabin, would it not?”
“But why here?” said Lleucu. “Why not closer to town, now then?”
Ailad smiled. “Let’s just say… I be drawn to this place, my dear.”
She hugged him. “Aye, ‘twill be splendid, Ailad. We shall raise a fine large brood of babanod in thy snug new cabin here.”
Ailad went to work, and soon he had a solid log cabin built, with a half-story attic and three glass windows. When all was completed to his satisfaction, he brought Lleucu from the printing shop to the new cabin.
“Now, close thine eyes,” he said as the wagon drew up near the cabin. She played along as he helped her down from the wagon.
“Look,” he said.
Lleucu opened her eyes and gasped. “Oh, ‘tis beautiful, Pa!” she cried. “Mindest thou, that I call thee Pa? Thou knowest I be carrying our first babanod, aye?”
“No, I mind not at all,” he replied with a smile.
Ailad was struck by the cabin’s remarkable resemblance to his parent’s cabin, but of course he could say nothing of that. He had planned it that way.
He helped Lleucu unload their sparse furnishings from the wagon. Then he showed her the attic floor. As he opened the trap door and stuck his head up through the opening, a flood of memories came back to him.
It was exactly like this, he thought. My last view of my old life, so long ago…
A few months later they had their first son. As Ailad held him for the first time he said,
“He shall be named Hywel.”
“Why Hywel?” said Lleucu.
“‘Tis an old family name,” Ailad replied.
In quick succession, they were blessed with daughter Thoetha, sons Ailad, Clywed, and Gwilym; daughter Catrin and son Siarl, and daughter Llachar.
As they approached their twentieth year on the property, Ailad looked back with satisfaction. His family was his life now, and he seldom gave thought to the life of his youth, so long ago.
One evening he took his well-worn copy of the Norm and opened it to a dog-eared page. He read a familiar verse:
“A seer shall God raise up, who shall be a choice seer; him shall ye obey in all things; and he shall be called after the name of his father.”
The family all knelt, and he prayed. Then everyone stood and hugged, and the older children climbed the ladder to the loft above the main floor of the cabin. Lleucu dragged baby Llachar’s cradle over near the fireplace, next to their own bed.
A few minutes later he called up to the attic.
“Hywel, Ailad, boys! Time for bed!”
He blew out the candle and settled into bed alongside Lleucu.
Soon he noticed a light coming down through the trap door. He got up, crept to the foot of the ladder, and gazed upwards.
Just then he saw young Ailad step into a column of light and disappear.
Now I understand perfectly, he thought, smiling.
Guest Post by Kurt Kammeyer