The young monk stood in the lamp lit cell and waited for the man kneeling on the stone floor to finish his prayers. At the "amen," the young monk bent and helped the older man to his feet.
"Thank you, Brother Wulfstan. I'm sure that the older you get, the harder the floor becomes." The older monk brushed his habit where his knees had gathered dust from the flagstones. "Now what can I do for you?"
"Brother Guthric, we have a new 'guest'. I have him in the infirmary at present." Wulfstan smiled and shrugged. "I need a second opinion."
"So us old ones still have our uses, eh?" Guthric opened the door of the cell. "Now whilst we walk to see this 'guest' of ours, perhaps you had better tell me more about him. A beggar, I assume?"
"I don't think that he is your usual beggar. The villagers brought him in. Apparently, he has been seen wandering around the Thornton Heath for days. The relevant point is that he has his eyes bandaged and uses a stick as a guide, but he couldn't have been blind long, as he keeps banging into things." Wulfstan opened the door of the Infirmary and continued walking toward the guest cells. "They didn't want to approach him, as whenever they got near him he took to them with a big knife. And, of course, there was also his skinny dog. I told you he had a half-starved dog?"
"No, Brother, but carry on."
"Anyway, whenever they went near him, he attacked them. And the dog went for them, too. Eventually, he collapsed. I think the villagers would have left him to die, but the dog kept on running up to them-whimpering and trying to get them to follow him back to his master. The villagers took this to be a sign from God. They picked him up and brought him here." Wulfstan stopped outside a cell door. "He is in here. I had better warn you that it looks as if he and the dog have spent the winter sleeping rough. I doubt that if, during that time, either of them have had any water near their bodies except rain." He opened the door and the two monks went in.
The old man sat on a stool jammed into the corner of the cell. His body was shaking. His clothes were ragged and torn. The animal-skin cloak he wore had large patches as bald as his head. What fur remained on the tattered cloak was matted with filth and clogged with burrs and grass seed. The man's bald head was burnt and blistered in places. Thorns lay buried and festering under the skin. When he moved, his left shoulder dropped low and sat at an awkward angle. One of his grime-encrusted hands rested in his lap with its black broken nails shining like ebony in the flickering lamp light. The other hand sat on the head of an equally filthy and skinny black hound. At the sound of the monks coming into the guest cell, the old man let his hound be and fiddled around at his back searching for something.
"If you are looking for that evil-looking knife of yours, old man, you won't find it. I have put it somewhere safe until you are ready to leave us." Wulfstan sat on the bed watching the hound warily. Guthric looked at him quizzically and the younger monk lifted the hem of his habit to reveal a set of bright red hound's-tooth marks on the calf of his leg.
Brother Guthric approached the old man and his hound. He dug in his pocket and found a small piece of stale bread which he proffered to the dog. Shuck took it and dived under the bed to devour his prize. "Now, my friend, you are at the Archbishop of Canterbury's palace at Croydon. I am Brother Guthric, the Almoner, and my young colleague is Brother Wulfstan. We are here to help you."
Godfrew nodded his head. "Croydon? I have been here before."
"Good. It is always pleasant to return to a place we know." Guthric stood at Godfrew's side and looked him over. "Well, my friend, you have a bad fever which we will have to try and bring down, but you also have something wrong with your eyes. May I?" He put his hand to the bandage that encompassed Godfrew's head. "Thank you." The monk started to unwind the filthy rag.
"Light ... I can't stand the light."
"The light hurts his right eye," explained Brother Wulfstan. "His left has a cataract on it. The cataract is well established, so it has been there for a long time."
"From birth." Shuck returned to his master's side and nudged up Godfrew's hand to be patted and fussed.
"I have the bandage off now. I will get Brother Wulfstan to shield the light, but I will need enough to see by. Please remember that we are trying to help you." Guthric gently pried open Godfrew's gummed up right eye. Apart from the pupil, it was blood red, like raw liver. Godfrew flinched and fought to close it again. "My, that is bad." Guthric turned to the other monk, "I assume that you have looked for foreign objects in it?" Wulfstan nodded. "Then it is beyond me. We will need someone more experienced than I to look at it. Meantime, we should get both our guest and his hound bathed." Brother Guthric replaced the bandage. "What worries me, young Wulfstan, is that the only one who might know what is wrong is old Brother Marcus at Lewisham. Perhaps even he won't know what to do. Getting Brother Marcus here will take three days or so. I hope the old man lasts that long. I don't like the look of that fever. We must try and get his temperature down. If we are not careful, the fever will kill him off before we can get his eye looked at!"
Godfrew patted his lap and Shuck jumped up and settled down, his head resting in the crook of Godfrew's arm. "Many have tried to kill me and they have all failed. Do you think that you can do any better than they?"
"Latin! You were right, Brother Wulfstan. He is not your usual beggar!"
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