I n the hills above the priory, the shepherds collect together the sheep for shearing. Ramon stands, one hand shielding his eyes, watching the gathering sea of white, his ears assaulted by the yells and calls of the shepherd and farmer.

It has always been one of his favorite sights: the sheep losing their winter coats, ready for the new season. But today, the peace does not soothe him. He doubts that anything could soothe him.

He forces his back straight, and whips around to face his destination: the rooms of Brother Francis in the priory, below.

As if from nowhere, Bernat appears. “Where are you going?”

“Nowhere.”

“Ramon, let not deceit be on thy lips.”

Ramon looks down at his friend. “I go… I go to the underworld.”

Bernat rocks up and down on the springy turf. “Oooh, then take me along with you.”

Ramon looks up to the hills. The shepherd has made a pen of hemp rope, and the gathered sheep baa and mew. If only he could shake Bernat off. He has made his decision, and he has deliberated hard.

But Bernat is nothing if not persistent.

Ramon sets his jaw, turns to Bernat, and says, “I am going to Brother Francis.”

Bernat takes a tiny step backward. “But…”

Ramon studies his friend’s face. Bernat will judge this as the ultimate betrayal.

Perhaps it is.

No one knows how the enmity between Brother Francis and Friar Pere began, but it might well extend back to their respective cradles. Perhaps even to their fathers and grandfathers. The two men could not be more different — Friar Pere with his wide girth, Brother Francis who is all skin and bone and curled fingers. Friar Pere, with his easy laugh that works its way up from his belly and fills his large shoulders, making his head bob back and forth with glee. No one has ever seen Brother Francis laugh. At most, he grimaces, revealing a mouth full of rotting teeth. After every meal, Friar Pere grinds together pepper, mint, and rock salt and rubs it over his teeth with a linen cloth. His teeth are pearly white.1

Bernat’s face is a question that Ramon reads with his heart: Why would you go to Brother Francis? More, why would you enlist Brother Francis’s help against our friend and ally, Friar Pere?

Ramon pushes his foot against a tuft of grass. The grass is a blaze of marigolds and daisies, the buzz of honeybees drifts lazily through the still air. By tomorrow, the sheep will have shed their coats and the lambs will skip around the hills with just a short, clean layer of wool. It is his favorite season: Gone are the whistling winds of winter, the snowdrifts that gather against the priory walls, gone is the cold that seeps through skin and sinew and lodges inside bone, so you wonder if that which you touch will turn to ice.

But the wretchedness of winter remains in his heart. And it’s because of Friar Pere’s new project, this teaching of the Hebrew language.

Bernat knows this without even being told.

Partly, he admits to himself, it is the thought of Jews. There have been no Jews in their parts for years; it is five decades since they were expelled from the Kingdom of France, and though in some parts, they drifted back, these hills are unsullied. Untainted.

That is, apart from the volumes of Talmud, confiscated from homes and villages and academies, that gather dust in the storerooms of the priory.

Bernat crouches down and picks the seed head of a dandelion. He blows, and the tufts of white spin into the air. “It is not just the letters, is it? That’s not the only reason why you want to go to Brother Francis.” (Excerpted from Family First, Issue 556)