Selewine Offeiriad Gwytherin
By birthright and by dispensation from Holy Mother Church I am, also, Selewine ap Connmhaighe, third son, and once heir, to Connmhaighe, Duke of Stor Broch (Cliff Tower), a rocky land on the west coast of Wales. My father is a good man, I have been told, but having never seen him I cannot speak to this from my own knowledge. I know not even if he still lives or if he has named another heir. Mother church has allowed me to keep my name as a birthright but now that they have allowed me my vows I will never inherit a land and a title I never wanted anyway.
You may ask how the third son became heir but that is a long tale, best told around a warm fire with a mug of good ale to hand. My father was wed twice and his first wife bore him two sons before dying of a fever and my mother, his second wife, died giving birth to me. My father was devastated by my mother’s death and he refused to see me, and refused to give me a proper name, calling me instead by a name of the hated Saxon. He would not look at me and loudly proclaimed his desire that I had died, not my mother. My grandfather sent me away to be raised by monks, and I learned to read and to write at the feet of my tutors, the monks. It was a hard life but a good one and would gladly have taken vows but my grandfather forbade it. After my grandfather’s death my father discovered that the son he had forgotten still lived and promised to continue the stipend my grandfather had paid, so long as I was sent far away and so I came to the home of St Gwenfrewy at her Holy Well and monastery in Gwytherin where I began to train as a priest. When my eldest brother died my father forbade me to take oath as priest and when my second brother also died I became, at least in name, heir. The news of my brother’s death was not followed by a summons to my father and the Abbot decided to send me on a mission to the Priory of St David despite the change in my status
My trip to St David’s was uneventful, and I settled into the priory there easily. Then came the Dane’s and my life was changed again. Taken as a slave into the Norse lands I was fortunate enough to be taken by a man who recognized I was more than a servant and I became teacher to his children. Over time his entire family came to share my faith and when the opportunity came for him to travel to Constantinople to be a part of the Varangian Guard I was brought along. I was given my freedom in Constantinople and became a priest at long last. The Guard built a new church and I became its priest and I have served here for 20 years now. My former master has long since returned to his home and this city has become mine.
I live simply, but not without some of the finer things of the world. My apartment is in back of the church and is made of stucco, with large windows and doors so that the cooling breezes may blow through. It has a flat roof and often I sleep there under a net of fine linen. I have a small garden on the roof and grow herbs for my kitchen and for medicines and some flowers because I love their beauty. I have a housekeeper, who doubles as a cook and my home is quite small so I rarely entertain visitors. I have a small study which holds my prized collection of scrolls. Much interesting literature comes from the Holy Land and the East and I have amassed a good assortment of the writings of philosophers and scholars. I am not so closely supervised that I must limit myself to those books the church endorses and some of my studies could perhaps be troublesome if investigated closely. The struggles within the Church are more than enough to keep attention elsewhere than on a simple priest, even if I be the priest to the Emperor’s bodyguards. There is a small bedroom with a raised pallet for my sleeping when it is too cool to sleep outside and an even smaller room where an occasional traveler has found a night’s rest.
I have been several times to the court of the Emperor and have even spoken with him twice. The Guard keeps the church well endowed and I am expected to reflect that fact. My robes are simple but made of the finest cottons and for Holy Days I have finely embroidered robes of silk from the east. Most of my clothing has been made for me and follow the customs of the people amongst whom I live. Fine clothing is decorated with pearls and garnets; threads of gold and silver are used everywhere and I have a fine pectoral cross strung on glass beads made for me by friends in that trade. I have been gifted with much amber, a gem precious indeed to the Norsemen who endow the church and have actually begun learning how to work this gem during my times of rest. It is soothing in these troubled times to have something to do with my hands which have never been allowed to be idle.
The city bustles and peoples from all of creation can be found here. It is said that everything passes through Constantinople and I believe this to be true. Trade is a large part of the life here and the city is wealthy beyond belief. Much is changing however. We have had many rulers in my time here, Constantine is the 4th to sit the throne since I arrived and I fear he will not sit much longer. There is word of barbarians, the Seljugs moving into our territory, and the rumblings from Rome do not bode well for peace within the Church. Perhaps it is time to leave this place. Maybe I will go to Jerusalem. Ah, not only young men have foolish dreams. It is time to rest now, I grow weary so I must bid you farewell. May the Lord bless you and keep you, may He make His face to shine upon you and give you rest.
(This is a copy of an article written for Selewine's Scribings, a regular column I wrote for the Avantgarde, newsletter of the principality of Avacal. The article was first published in May 2007.)