Gwilym was 10 miles from town, running after a galloping horse. He knew that his old enemy would beat him there by at least an hour. He whispered fervent prayers to God and sent out thought messages to the townsfolk, Father Drew and even Merlin and Grainne to protect his children. And he ran. He ran through the stitch in his side, through the shortness of breath, through the pain in his muscles. He ran to protect his children from this monster. And every so often, he caught that almond & clove scent. Palomides always coated his skin in almond oil and chewed cloves. He hadn’t smelled that for over twenty years but he remembered the smell of Palomides.
The first time he had met Palomides he had been about Bleddyn’s age and traveling with his father, Willem. Thinking of Bleddyn in the clutches of this old sodomite spurred him on to run even faster. For Palomides liked little boys, especially when they were in his power. Why had Palomides come here and was he still seeking him? It appeared so. A stranger had come into town asking about him but had not gone to Gwilym, instead he left town and met with Tarrant. Then the two of them talked to Palomides who had mentioned Huish, asked how far away and had galloped off in that direction.
What Palomides wanted was clear. To keep his mind off the pain of this run, Gwilym remembered everything about his dealings with Palomides and his family.
His father had gone to Mecca to follow up a new theory in his pursuit of the Gospel of Joseph. The thread he was following was that Jesus had started off his quest for knowledge by joining a caravan that plied its trade to the east. Joseph found out about this and decided to follow his nephew. This led him to
, one of the major caravan stops in Jesus’ time. Mecca
According to the story Gwilym’s father was pursuing, Joseph had left his Gospel in safekeeping with the head man of this trading company. The descendent of this family was Palomides father, Escalbor. Gwilym’s father entered into energetic conversations with this headman and explained his quest. Meanwhile, the twelve year old Gwilym spent time with eight year old Palomides, the sheik’s oldest son. The younger boy worshipped Gwilym. During the days they spent together, Palomides had followed Gwilym everywhere, marveling in the stories and languages and experiences of the older and taller boy. But there was something that the boy ate that stayed on his breath, making him repellent at the close quarters the younger boy always sought.
Gwilym spoke with his father at night who excitedly told his son how close he was to achieving his dream. Willem was convinced that the headman did possess the lost Gospel but he wanted to exchange something of value for it. The sheik worshipped one of the 360 local gods in the Kaaba called El Ah and he wanted to elevate the status of this god to the status of Willem’s God. He hoped that this would elevate his own status from being one of many headmen to becoming the supreme ruler of this city. He told Willem that the line he was pursuing could be ‘bent a little’ to accommodate this.
Gwilym remembered the last conversation he had with his father.
“We shall have to leave our quest and this city tomorrow,” said Willem.
“But father,” asked Gwilym. “I thought the sheik had the Gospel.”
“He has the Gospel. He showed me a few pages of it. But this sheik is not a good man. He wants to use it for evil. He wants me to bend the words of Jesus to suit his purposes. He wants to promote this El Ah as the creator god and make a new religion centered here. He even threatened to take my book from me and use it himself.”
“Why don’t you do it father? You could have the thing you always wanted.”
“No son. This man has the worst ideas of his people. He wants to create this religion to raise armies and crush others. He wants to control women, codify multiple wives, give himself power to set the laws and sentence people to be stoned to death. He is an evil man.”
“Father. We should go now. If he takes your book, he might kill you. You’ve seen how ruthless these tribes are. And he is powerful here.”
“No son. He needs me to promote his religion so he won’t kill me.”
“But when you refuse? Won’t he get angry? It isn’t safe here. We must leave while we can. Let’s climb out the window now and escape.”
Willem had refused. He hid his book as usual, then lay down next to his son and stroked the boy’s cheek to calm his fears. Gwilym had remained awake and watchful to protect his naïve father. But sometime during the night he must have fallen asleep. He woke to an empty bed and a commotion outside the window.
Looking out into the shady courtyard he saw his father’s arms held by two of the sheik’s strong men while the sheik himself raged at Willem. He menaced Willem with a huge scimitar and screamed. “One last chance, fool! Work with me or die!”
The breath in Gwilym’s lungs froze as he watched his father pronounce his own death sentence. “I will never help you achieve power, savage!”
The early morning sun flashed off the scimitar as it arced through the air at his father. At first Gwilym was relieved to see that nothing happened. His father seemed untouched! But then, one of the men holding Willem’s arms grasped his father’s hair and pulled his severed head off his shoulders, releasing a spout of blood from his neck.
The sheik turned to the window out of which Gwilym was staring and ordered his men. “Get the boy and the book.”
In the shock of this terrible moment, Gwilym had focused on three things: His father was dead and he could not bring him back; the book was well-hidden and the sheik would not be likely to find it unless he destroyed this entire room; if Gwilym stopped to retrieve the book now he would surely die.
Gwilym leapt out the door and ran down the corridor to the front door. He didn’t stop running until he was deep in the bazaar, on one of the quiet back streets away from the people, his breath ragged and his lungs bursting. Just as he was now as he reached the crossroads that indicated that he was halfway back to Huish.
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