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Athelstan's secret

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Athelstan avoided human contact at all costs, living in a monastery helped a lot with that. He was born with a 'gift' that, at times, could be considered a curse. He was a telepath, and any contact of human skin allowed the priest to communicate with that person, in their mind, over short distances if he needed to, although it drained his energy the further away the person he was trying to communicate with was. Having been born to five older siblings and two already poor and struggling parents who could not afford him, he was left at the monastery of Lindisfarne. His parents and his siblings were unaware of the gift he possessed. However Athelstan was aware at a very young age. He lived in the monastery with his brothers, when he was old enough he was able to travel to most of the discovered lands, spreading the word of God and connecting himself to various minds of different cultures and sometimes different religions as well, but that was rare in itself, as well as learning various languages over the years. Did Athelstan think that his gift would save his life? No, because he didn’t think his life would ever be in danger.

After Athelstan returned back to England with new perspectives, thoughts, languages and connections to other minds he was determined to be able to block other people's thought from his own. It took several months for Athelstan to train his mind and make his mental walls strong enough before he succeed; with this he was able to stop his or other people's thoughts from entering either their or his mind, however there were times when his shield couldn’t be held and snippets from the minds around him would slip in and mix with his. No one else knew about his secret, the threat of death or being cast out from the monastery was a too real threat for him.

Human contact was few and far between within the monastery, the occasional brush of hand on hand if in prayer or when fingers brushed as he reached for the same quill at time as someone else was the only skin-to-skin contact he had. Athelstan grew familiar with the calm and soothing minds of the fellow monks and he let his defences come down of he needed comfort or him being too exhausted to keep up his barriers. Sometimes it lulled him to sleep with the Lord's word in his mind or thought by those around him.

That all changed however the day that the North men attacked the monastery causing chaos and panic to erupt. Athelstan's fellow brothers knocked into him as they tried to find a place to hide and hundreds-possibly thousands-of terrified thoughts bombarded the defences Athelstan had around his mind, soon breaking them down, and flooding his mind with unvoiced pleas of mercy before the thoughts were cut short.

He ducked behind the altar to try and build up the defences around his mind as well as to hide from the men that had killed over half of the religious men in the building. Each time one left to join God in Heaven, the pain in Athelstan's head faded a little but the ache was replaced in his heart as he silently spoke the Lord's Prayer in Latin for all of his fallen brothers, wishing them well in God's kingdom before he was discovered by the North men.

He was soon dragged out by the collar of his habit and was thrown on the floor, clutching the Lord's word against his heart, earning strange looks from the other men in the room. Their voices and language rough and hard as it filled the once silent air of the room. He had heard the tongue that the men were speaking in before but only knew a few words. As he had been thrown out from behind the altar, the one with the harsh face and piercing eyes had brushed the skin around the neck of his habit, allowing Athelstan to look into the North-man’s mind and quickly find the necessary words to spare his life and to possibly find out what the men wanted and what they were doing at Lindisfarne.

“Don’t kill me.” He pleaded, clutching the gospel closer to his chest, the words feeling clumsy on his tongue as he tried to move away slightly from the tall and battle worn warriors. The word struck Athelstan almost by surprise, nearly causing him to miss the words that the North-man in front of him was speaking, able to grasp what he was saying by looking into his mind.

“You speak our language? How do you speak our language?” The North man…no Ragnar; according to the mind that Athelstan was observing, growled at him. Athelstan’s own mind trying to keep his gift a secret from Ragnar and the other North men whilst trying to think of an answer quickly mindful of the blade pressed to his throat.

“I’ve travelled.” Athelstan quickly replied, the truth escaping his lips but only ringing half true in his ears. “We are told to travel…to take the work of God. Please, don’t kill me.” The pleading note was back in his shuddering voice as he coward away from Ragnar, nervously glancing around to see what the other North men were doing before the blade was removed from his skin. He managed to find out the names of the other North-men in the room with Ragnar and himself. Leif and Erik. Leif was the one that had been talking about the North Gods whereas Erik had made the comment about the cross and his God being dead when he was hidden.

“What is that you have in your hand?” Was the next question to be spoken by Ragnar as he straightened.

“The book. The gospel of St. John. I-I wanted to save it…” He took a shuddering breath as the gospel was ripped from his hands and roughly man-handled by Ragnar as he tried to find something in it.

“Of all the treasures I see in this place, you chose to save this?”

“Yes.”

Ragnar hummed before asking the trembling monk why and waiting for a few seconds as Athelstan’s mind rushed to supply an answer, the breath knocked out of him slightly and a twinge of pain in his lower back as he was shoved against the alter. “Why?” Ragnar asked again, gipping the monk’s habit tightly in his hand.

“Because without the Word of God, there is only darkness.” Athelstan spoke, his fear stronger than ever, however determination started to edge its way into his eyes unknowingly, relaxing as Ragnar let go of him and turned around to see the new man enter the room they were in. Athelstan quickly adjusted his clothing, paying close attention to Ragnar’s thoughts of the man that walked closer to them.

Rollo: Older brother. Frustration; annoyance; calm; family; familiar and home. Was all that Athelstan could pick up from Ragnar’s mind as Rollo wandered closer commenting on the lack of woman in the monetary and that he found the monks strange.

Hearing the word priest come from Ragnar’s mouth made the only monk in the room look up, fear settling stronger in Athelstan’s stomach then before. Hearing Ragnar talk about how the other North men could take what they will and Rollo saying that they came to Lindisfarne to steal the gifts to God made him want to speak up but he wisely kept himself quiet, letting the flow of the remaining monks calm him slightly whilst he kept an eye on Ragnar’s mind.

Rollo’s voice broke Athelstan’s thoughts at the mention of him being killed, relaxing slightly and curious as Ragnar said that he was worth more alive before the word slave sent his thoughts into despair, he had seen slaves during his travels and not all were treated well, he was unsure of how the North slaves were treated, he only hoped it was better than how some of the Eastern slaves were treated.

However Rollo seemed desperate to kill him. ‘Why does he want me dead so much?’ The telepath wondered as he gazed over Ragnar’s shoulder. However hearing that there was no room on the boat made him scared for his life, Rollo’s hard gaze focused on him as he tried to push past his younger brother but was stopped. He quickly prayed for his life, somehow finding strength in Ragnar’s mind. It was calm yet powerful as he reasoned with his brother over whether or not Athelstan lived, only to feel relief when he was allowed to live as Rollo stormed away.

Only to flinch as the wooden Christ on the Cross was axed to pieces by Rollo before being grabbed by the older brother, their hands brushing only slightly as Rollo sneered into his face, his mind sharp with anger at Ragnar and himself and having been denied his right to kill and spill blood in order to please the Gods that he worshiped, making Athelstan cower away from him even more, having never encountered a mind filled with such anger and frustration frightened Athelstan.

He tried desperately to throw up his shields but he was too scared and his mind stayed linked with Rollo as he stormed out, causing the monk to sob as Ragnar was happy about saving Athelstan, chuckling a little at Leif’s exasperated look upwards before he was dragged out and pushed into the crowd of kneeling and cowering monks, finding strength in their familiar thoughts and prayers before they were bound and lead away from their home, forced to follow the North men or be dragged.

The trip to the boat was a blur, the only clear moments for Athelstan was when he saw his home nearly engulfed in smoke as the monastery was burnt down and when Rollo almost drowned a fellow monk because he tried to swim away. Rollo’s mind was still connected to his and he felt Rollo’s joy as he was given another opportunity to be violent before sending the monk back to them.

Most of the journey back was a blur as well, although they spent days out at sea, returning to the North men’s home, he familiarised himself with Ragnar’s, Rollo’s, Erik’s (touched when brushing past him), Leif’s (handing him a small amount of food and their hands accidentally touching) and even Floki the boat maker’s (the touch accompanied with a curious glance and an insane look in his eye) minds as the left England further behind; Scandinavia getting closer to them with every stroke of the boat’s oars.

The rocking of the boat, the spray and the cold were the most constant thing on the boat as they sailed onwards until they reached calmer weather but not necessarily warmer temperatures.