“Friends — brothers — good Sims all, pray, turn your minds and hearts to today’s task. I come here to bury Lord Lot of Orkney, not to praise him.”
Tuck paused, gauging the effect on his audience. In Glasonland, the sermons of funerals of important personages usually began with a fulsome list of the deceased’s virtues (real or imagined), continued to discuss their many good deeds (again, real or imagined), and ended with assurances that surely such a virtuous and noble person must be at that moment supping with the Lord Wright in Paradise. That was how you assured that the heirs didn’t conveniently “forget” about any legacies or benefices that might have been willed to your Order. That was how you maintained your Order’s status as a sensible one, a worldly (in a good way) one, a fashionable one. That was how you kept the nobility happy.
If Father Hugh had been here, he would have stuck to the script. It was the only script Father Hugh knew. But though there might never be another monk in Albion who would ever meet or surpass Father Hugh’s talent consoling the mourning and caring for his sheep, Father Hugh was not the sort of man who would grab an opportunity like this when it presented itself. And this was an opportunity. There was no other Order of monks in Albion to supplant the Order of St. Pascal. There was no reason to be safe and sensible and fashionable. Tuck could say whatever he liked.
He intended to do just that.
“Who was Lot of Orkney?” Tuck asked. He glanced around the silent church. Only long practice kept the smirk, the rush of having every eye in the place focused on him and only on him, from showing on his face. “Many of you — all of you — knew him in some capacity or other. As a colleague, a kinsman, a soldier, perhaps a political or economic rival. But how many of you truly knew the man he was?”
Tuck gestured to his left. “His family, perhaps … certainly, they are the most likely to have known what Lord Lot of Orkney was like. Note I say most likely — for in truth, does it not often happen that we hide our true selves not from strangers, but from our nearest and dearest?”
He waited, watched the reaction. The du Lac husband and wife, he noticed, were staring at each other. He was too far away to read the more subtle expressions, but Lady Guinevere’s shrug was obvious enough. Sir Bors, sitting in the same pew, refused to meet his eye. Lord Pellinore and Lady Eilwen looked at each other, and Tuck could just make out Lord Pellinore patting his wife’s hand.
Sir Mordred, however, was within range for Tuck to see his expression. And that expression could be best termed as murderous.
Tuck lifted his chin and addressed the congregation again. “But even if Lord Lot was the most open of Sims in the world — even if he had no pretenses, was always himself in every crowd and in every company — even if he was always open and honest with everyone — no one in this room could possibly know him in the most complete way.” He thought he saw Lady Morgause smirking. “The way the Lord Wright knew him, and knows him now, and is using that knowledge to judge him.”
He was pretty sure that killed Lady Morgause’s smirk in its tracks.
“Of course, to say that the Lord Wright is judging him now is to be guilty of a bit of a misrepresentation. The Judgment takes place in eternity, outside of time. In a way, Lord Lot was always already judged, even when he was being formed in his mother’s womb, even when he was committing his most heinous sins and even when he was doing his most virtuous and noble deeds. For it is the Lord Wright who knows — truly knows, in ways no mere Sim could ever hope to know — the Lord Lot whose passing we mourn and celebrate today.”
That did it for Lord Lot’s daughter. Lady Garnet finally let a sob burst out.
Tuck hesitated — keep talking or let her calm down first? He would let her calm. And indeed, her betrothed (or close enough), Sir Lamorak, was already putting his arm around her and turning her head so that she could cry quietly against him, while Lady Dindrane scooted closer and started to rub Lady Garnet’s back. How odd, that it should be her in-laws who are comforting her, and not her own family. Tuck thought too soon, though; the King was turning around and offering a handkerchief to Sir Lamorak, who was in turn offering it to Lady Garnet.
Or perhaps he did not come to that conclusion too soon. Lady Morgause sat perfectly still, her head cocked a little to one side, as if listening to a strange sound. Then she straightened her skirt, turned her chin up, and faced forward as if Lady Garnet’s sobs were of no more account than the buzzing of a fly high in the vaulted ceiling.
Tuck cleared his throat. “Aye, I said mourn and celebrate — for in truth, we must do both. We must, of course, mourn Lord Lot’s passing. I say I came here not to praise him, and I stand by my word. But all the same, there is scarcely a Sim on this earth so wretched that his passing is not mourned — I think we can look to his family, here now, to see how he is mourned. His friends, too, must mourn him. But we do not mourn Lord Lot for his own sake, or so we hope and pray. We mourn him for our sake.
“We mourn him because his company is taken away from us. We mourn him for all of his good qualities. And we mourn him because we also mourn for ourselves, because we know that the Grim Reaper always waits for us, his scythe sharper than even the King’s very sword, to cut us down in the moment of our sin if he can catch us there. I know this, because I, too, have felt this fear.” Tuck bowed his head and sighed.
He looked up. “But brothers and sisters, one of the reasons why we mourn Lord Lot is also why we must celebrate his passing. We can celebrate because Lord Lot was not cut down in the midst of his sin. He died at the end of a long illness.” A euphemism if there ever was one — and one, it seemed by Sir Mordred’s renewed glare, that was not sitting well with the family — but it couldn’t be helped. “Lord Lot had plenty of time to think on his life, his past deeds, and repent his sins. He had plenty of time to make his peace with the Lord Wright. Would we all could be so lucky!”
That woke them up. The Crown Prince sat up straight; the du Lacs stared at him in slack-jawed astonishment; Lady Dindrane was glaring daggers at him. Even Sir Bors was not nodding and grunting, as he usually did during Tuck’s sermons, but staring at him with his head tilted to one side. Good. He had them where he wanted them.
“And I say lucky, because I administered Lord Lot’s last rites,” Tuck continued, “and I could see in his eyes, though he could not speak, that Lord Lot was as at peace with his Lord, and as ready to meet his Maker, as any Sim to yet walk this earth. In times like these, we must all remember that it is not the journey that matters, but the destination. This journey is as small a time in the life of the soul as a short trip to the market is in the life of the body. While, yes, what happens along the journey is important — it determines the destination — the important thing is to reach our destination, Paradise, safe and sound. If Lord Lot is today in Heaven, and I believe he is, then this is as fit a day for celebration as any in Albion’s history.”
The King was watching at him with a raised eyebrow, as if to ask, Oh, really? And who made you the judge of that?
“For is it not a measure of true friendship to be glad for our friends and what they achieve, even when it inconveniences ourselves? The most casual acquaintance can be glad for the good fortune of another if it brings him no trouble or inconvenience. But it takes a true friend to find it in himself to be happy for a friend’s good fortune when that selfsame fortune is breaking his heart.”
Lady Morgause sighed as if to prove the truth of his words. Sir Mordred stared ahead without so much as a blink.
“You might be asking yourselves, though, ‘Why is Brother Tuck saying all of this? It is, of course, a good thing if Lord Lot is in Heaven, but why spend the whole sermon scolding us for our natural grief? And why is it that you barely mention Lord Lot, whose funeral this is?’ Brothers and sisters, I understand your confusion. I labored long and hard over this sermon. When I decided to write it the way I did, I did so for two main reasons.”
Tuck paused and took a deep breath. “The first and most important reason is that funerals, at the end of the day, are not for the dead. Brothers and sisters, Lord Lot is not here. If he is watching these proceedings from Paradise, it is only logical to assume that his bliss is such that anything that happens here will be of only cursory interest to him. If he has made a — hopefully brief — stop in Purgatory along the way, then the mere fact that we are here at all and praying for his soul will be to his benefit.” After all he had spoken about his conviction that Lord Lot was not destined for hell, Tuck would not spoil the effect by bringing up that alternative now. “So if funerals are not for the dead, then who are they for? The living.
“Brothers and sisters, as the good Book of Wright says, ‘in the midst of life, we are in death.’ As I said before, this journey of life is short; it is transitory. But all the same, given the vital importance of our destination, from time to time we must pause in our journey. We must take stock. We must as ourselves, ‘If the Grim Reaper were to come for me next month, next week, tomorrow, today, would I be ready? Am I prepared to go to my judgment, my final destination?’ There is no better time to do that than when one of our dear friends has been called to his judgment. It must serve as a reminder to all of us. We must be ready. The summons can come at any moment. We may be lucky enough to get the warning Lord Lot got — we may not. We must live our lives, each day, as if we might not live to see the night.” And before anybody — like the Crown Prince, to judge by his smirk — could get any inappropriate ideas, Tuck added, “We must live in charity and humility, always in awareness of our sin and frailty and in constant penitence.”
He waited for that to sink in, and to judge by the sighs and shifting in seats, it soon did. “There is another reason why I refused to sing the praises of Lord Lot in this sermon. There is in our celebration today someone who is far better able to do so, and to give our dearly departed friend his due. I refer, of course, to Lord Lot’s eldest son, Sir Mordred.” Tuck took a step back and gestured to the lectern. “Sir Mordred?”
Sir Mordred did not move for a moment, though he ought to have known that he would be called upon to speak — this was, after all, the tradition in Glasonland. But soon enough, before Tuck had fully withdrawn to his seat on the other side of the altar, Sir Mordred rose and began to walk to the steps.
Though he had to pass the coffin, he did not look at it once.
Sir Mordred’s boots clumped and clattered as he made his slow way up those stairs. They scuffed the fine tiles and bumped against the stone lectern. Then they stopped.
Sir Mordred looked out at the crowd. “My friends and kinsmen,” he began.
“Brother Tuck said that throughout his sermon, he would not praise my father. I think we can all agree that was, in fact, the case. In fact, he barely mentioned my father at all. I will not insult the good monk, who is doubtless doing his best to lead his whole flock. But I must admit — to my discredit, in all probability — that it flitted across my mind once or twice that it mattered not that it was my father who had died. Any one of us might have served just as well as the subject of Brother Tuck’s sermon. An impious thought, to be sure, but I suppose in some cases, one kind of piety — the respect of a son for his father — must supersede the another.”
Impious, indeed, Tuck thought, doing his best to look shocked and surprised — and not at all like he had been working on a version of this sermon for months, in case he should ever have need of it, and that all he had to do when Lord Lot passed was fill in a few blanks.
A lesser man might have looked at Brother Tuck to see if he reacted to this accusation. Sir Mordred continued to stare down the rest of the congregation. “Someone else, a stranger to our shores, might even think that Brother Tuck did not know my father and that he was instead merely using his death to advance some sort of faith-building agenda. But of course, we all know that none of this could possibly be true.”
Tuck thought it would be to his advantage then to appear deep in prayer — it would give him an excuse to meet no one’s eyes.
“The truth, I think, is that Brother Tuck simply stepped up to this lectern to do one thing, and I step up to it to do another. Brother Tuck’s duty, once he has said his prayers and recited the burial rites, is no longer concerned with my father. He doubtless knows that I have already sent orders to the Order of the Holy Picasos back in Glasonland to have services said for my father. Brother Tuck’s duty is toward the living, to constantly remind us of our own duties and to keep our faith. My duty is simpler. It is to my father.
“I thought long and hard as to how to best eulogize my father. It is not enough to say that he was good general, though he was. It is not enough to say that he was a good and fair lord, though he was. It is not enough to say that he was a shrewd counselor to King Arthur, though he was. Those were all merely his roles in society. None of them manage to capture who he truly was.”
Tuck’s prayers stopped. What is he saying?
“My father was a patient man. I think, the more I ponder it, that that was his chief virtue. I thought it mainly came out when he was performing his roles as general and as lord. My father could listen to a peasant talk for hours, if that was how long it took for him to get the information he needed. If his men did not master their maneuvers the first time, then my father would be out until nightfall drilling them. He would continue the argument in Council until he carried the day, or until the best possible decision was reached.
“But there was more to his patience than that. I cannot remember how many times he would go over a trick with sword or shield or lance with me. He would keep practicing it with me until I got it right. If there was some concept or idea in my studies that I did not understand, he would help me through it until I got it. And more than that, my father was always the rock of our family. No matter what storms might be crashing over his head, he always stood in the fray, staunch and upright until the problems could be solved.”
Lady Morgause turned for the first time and looked at her daughter, one eyebrow raised. Lady Garnet looked away.
“I will admit, when I was younger, I thought my father too patient — stubborn, even! In fact, I thought he was torturing me, making me practice and practice and practice those painful tricks with the sword and dull mathematical and logical problems. Indeed, even in more recent years, once the reason for my studies was readily apparent to me, I thought my father was too patient. Would it not be better, I thought, for him to put his foot down and demand that the incessant, senseless arguments stop?”
Now Lady Morgause turned to the front again, her eyebrow raised at Mordred.
“I thought all these things. I will admit it. Then, something happened to change my mind.” Sir Mordred took a deep breath. “I became a father myself.”
Sir Mordred pursed his lips together. “I … I do not think I am capable of explaining what it was that changed my mind as to the utility of my father’s patience. Those of you who have experienced it will understand when I name what happened, those of you who have not … will not understand it until and unless you do. I refer, of course, to the moment when my firstborn son was placed in my arms.”
Why did Lady Dindrane’s head snap up, and why did her eyes glare not daggers, but broadswords?
“I knew, at that moment, that as long as I could protect this boy from the worst of the slings and arrows of the world that awaited him — as long as I could bring him up to endure the worst Fortune had to throw at him — nothing else could possibly matter. This was my purpose, my only reason for being. If I could not do that, I was worse than useless. And in that same moment, I saw all the pointed barbs and poisoned arrows Fortune could throw at my boy. I was never more afraid. You need patience to get you past a feeling like that. Patience with the world, patience with your son for not understanding all that you seek to tell him, and most importantly, patience with yourself.”
There was a stirring in the pews. Those fathers who had their sons with them — which was to say, every male congregant over the age of twenty-five, barring Sir Lancelot — were squirming in their seats, catching their sons’ eyes, and smiling or winking or nodding according to their temperament. Sir Lancelot was left to smile only to himself.
“And then, of course, there is the matter of what a man feels when his newborn daughter is first given to him. Suddenly, all those problems that you tried so hard to ignore beforehand — famine, war, brutality — suddenly those all matter, because you understand what those problems can do to women. And someday your daughter will be a woman. There is only thing that stands between your beautiful baby girl and those ills, and that is you. You realize once again just how inadequate you are. It takes, again, patience to get yourself past that. You need to forgive your own flaws enough to understand that though you may be inadequate, you are all you — and your children — have, so you have to try.
“My father taught me that patience. I don’t think he ever meant to. I don’t think it ever occurred to him that this was the most important thing he had to teach me, because he never said much of a word about it. He just went about his business in his normal way, and led by example. It is, I think, the most effective teaching method known to man. I hope I might someday gain the strength to teach this patience, this fortitude, to my own sons and to my younger brother Agravaine.”
Why did that make Lady Dindrane shake and seemingly only calm herself with deep-drawn breaths?
Without another word, though, Sir Mordred walked past the lectern. Now his boots did not clump and hesitate — the echo of their hard soles rang through the cathedral as he made his way down the steps.
He stopped before the coffin, his back to the congregation. “So farewell, Father. Farewell, and thank you. Thank you for your protection, your hard work, and your guidance. But thank you most of all for your patience. There are not many men who could do what you did. There are not many men who could ride out the storms you rode out with such nonchalance. If there is any one thing we remember you for, let it be that.”
Sir Mordred took a deep breath. His voice was soft when he spoke again — could anyone other than Tuck even hear him? “And if there could only be but one thing, Father, that I were allowed to miss you for, it would be that.”
One thing, though, was certain. Even if everyone else in the building could hear Sir Mordred’s words … there was only one Sim who could see his face, and that was Tuck.