Egelric Wodehead began clearing the church right away. The old stone walls were mostly in good condition, but the wooden roof had, like nearly all wooden buildings in the valley, collapsed over the past century. The church was full of these rotting beams and boards, as well as a hundred years of fallen leaves and other trash. 

Egelric spent most of his days working in the church

Egelric refused the assistance of serfs that the nobles were willing to spare for the job. Feeling that if he was not the cause, he was at least the principal target of the curse, he thought he had better be the one to do the work. He didn’t know whether to call it penance for an unknown sin or rather an attempt to beat back the forces of darkness by making a proper home for the Father in the valley, but he spent most of his days working in the church, and leaving his own farmwork undone during the harvesttime.

Alwy Hogge would stop by the church to help

Every evening Alwy Hogge would stop by the church to help him move the larger beams that he had uncovered that day. Alwy wasn’t very good with words, but he wanted to help the unhappy man in some way, and work was the one thing he was good at. Egelric was too distracted with the church to notice it, but it was also Alwy who was keeping his cows fed, his fences mended, and his woodpile stocked. Alwy did all he could, as long as he could do it without risking a meeting with Elfleda.

One day in mid-​​September, Egelric stood in the aisle and surveyed what he had accomplished. 

Egelric stood in the aisle and surveyed what he had accomplished

He would still need to scrub some lichens off the stone pews, and there were a few flagstones that had been lifted by tree roots and would need to be relaid, but the beams had long since been removed and he had burned the last pile of leaves and trash that day.

He was able to really see it as a church

For the first time, he was able to really see it as a church, and not just the trash-​​filled building in which he had worked for the past month.

Of course there was nothing at the altar, and a priest would need to reconsecrate the building, but he was alone, no one would see him if he knelt to pray…

He knelt to pray

Egelric paused a moment, waiting for… an inspiration? Grace? A divine hand to lift the curse from him? 

He felt nothing. 

The floor was cold and the church was empty. Egelric was troubled. Perhaps the church wasn’t ready? Perhaps the curse prevented him from praying?

“Father!” he choked out. What could he ask for? Could a Christian believe in curses? Was it right to ask for a baby for his wife? What did he really need? Suddenly he knew he didn’t have to figure out what to ask. “Give me what I need,” he said, “to have peace. And, if I may – if it is not too much to ask – to be happy.”

He knelt there a while, waiting for something to happen, for something to change inside of him, but at last he stood up. If he was cursed, he thought, he was still cursed. There might yet be work to be done.

He waited there through the bright September afternoon, sitting on the front stairs and watching for Alwy to come down the road. He had thought of one more thing that needed to be done: there was a heavy oaken door at the far corner of the church, which had been the last area to be cleared. 

There was a heavy oaken door at the far corner of the church

The door’s hinges were rusted shut, and he would need Alwy’s help to open it, but that part of the roof was slate and a good part of it was still intact, so he didn’t expect to find much trash behind there. It was probably just an old storage room.

Once Alwy arrived, the two of them forced open the door and found to their surprise a set of stairs leading down.

They found stairs

Alwy put his foot on the top stair to see if they were still solid. “Well, I guess ‘twill hold. What do you think is down there, Egelric?”

Egelric whistled. “I bet it’s a catacomb.”

“A cat of what?” Alwy asked as he tested the second step.

“A catacomb. A place underground with lots of small rooms where they bury people.”

“Ooooh,” Alway said, stopping with his foot poised in mid-​​air above the third step. “Dead people?”

\"A cat of what?\" Alwy asked

“Of course dead people. A long time ago.”

“Oh, I guess that’s all right then, if they been dead since a long time,” Alwy said as he posed his foot on the stair.

“Wait a moment, Alwy.” Egelric was thinking. If the people here had died of the Pestilence, and if they had been buried beneath the church rather than in the ground, perhaps the disease was still in the air. He would ask the Duke before he went any farther. “I don’t think you and I should go down there, Alwy. It’s a burial place. Maybe we need a – priest or something.”

“Well, I guess you’re right,” Alwy said as he backed up the stairs. In truth, he was happy not to go down, since he didn’t much like the idea of seeing dead bodies, even ones that had been dead for a long time.