It was the duty of every monk to obey his superiors, particularly his abbot, with the same solemnity and unquestioning humility with which he would obey an order from the Lord Wright himself. This had been impressed on Brother Andy’s soul since he was old enough to understand the words “solemnity” and “humility.” (That was what happened when you were given over as an oblate as a young child — you were taught these things when the elder monks hoped they would stick.) Brother Andy did not possess a soul that easily lent itself to humility, but all the same, obedience had never before been a problem for him.
He stared at the letter from Brother Bernard, prior of the great abbey of St. Pascal, the mother house of the order, and thus the second-highest ranked official in their whole order. Below his signature was the seal of Abbot Peter, implying that Bernard’s words had his approval. Of course, any monk with the Order of St. Pascal knew that whether Abbot Peter actually approved or not was anybody’s guess; like all good abbots of the order, Abbot Peter’s head was too far in the clouds to pay attention to mundane, earthly matters like the running of his abbey. It was the prior who ran the show, as it always had been since the day St. Pascal himself founded the order with his brother Vidcund at his side and serving as his prior.
And thus it was Bernard who was writing to Andy, ordering (in the guise of request) that upon his graduation, he not return to the great abbey on the outskirts of the university, but instead join the brothers in Albion.
Albion, thought Brother Andy. Bloody hell.
It was not Albion’s noted liberality in matters of orthodoxy, particularly those having to do with Sims whose talents ranged outside the strictly natural, that bothered Andy. Pascalians were at the head of the charge to improve the lives of supernatural Sims. They reasoned — the Pascalians always reasoned — that since children who were too young to sin, let alone contact demons and make an unholy pact with them, sometimes exhibited these supernatural powers, these powers could not come from the demons. Therefore, they must come from the Lord Wright, and since all that came from the Lord Wright was good, wizards and witches could not be inherently evil. Certainly these powers could be put to evil uses, but so could any gift or talent. Furthermore, other Pascalians, linguists and translators, were eagerly putting forth the argument that the “blessed ones” and “holy healers” mentioned in the earliest texts were witches and wizards converted to the faith. They also contested that the word of the Dousa Desert dialect that was commonly translated as “witch” actually meant “one who uses magic to harm people,” not just “one who uses magic.” Raised in this hotbed of discussion, dissent and debate, Andy could hardly greet the prospect of living side-by-side with witches and wizards with a more negative reaction than a shrug.
Albion’s noted liberality in social matters — the status of women, of commoners — did not bother him, either. Pascalians, again, reasoned. They reasoned that all Sims, not only men and noblemen, had been made in the image of Wright, and that the Lord Wright distributed talents and gifts as pleased Him, not as it might please his servants. Yes, the social order was meant to be stable and firm, but nature, the Lord Wright’s own handiwork unaltered by Sims, loved change. Nothing ever stayed the same in nature, even if it might appear so to the unobservant eye. So why should human society be always perfectly static?
No, it was none of this that bothered Andy. The prospect of moving to the chapter house in Albion bothered him because the prospect of living any longer with Albionese Pascalian monks bothered him.
Galahad — Brother Galahad, now — Galahad was a good sort in his way, a well-nigh textbook example of a Pascalian. His head, too, spent so much time in the clouds that it found the earth a strange and unfamiliar thing. Andy could deal with that, he would deal with even more of that if he went back to the great house when he graduated. But Galahad was a chatterer. Andy did not mind this; it did take all sorts. However, in the course of his chattering, Galahad had let certain things fall. Certain things like the conduct of Brother Tuck, de facto head of the monastery, and his campaign against women of ill repute. And Brother Tuck’s quest to ingratiate himself with the nobility. And the just-simmering feud between the head of Albion’s only other representative of the Church, the Sisters of St. Coral, and Brother Tuck.
The Order of St. Pascal traditionally, in-house, divided their monks into three basic personality types. First, there were the Pascalians. They were the scholars, the theologians, the translators and the men of science. Then there were the Vidcundians, the ones who were intelligent but more importantly practical. They balanced the books and managed the lay brothers and dealt with the outside world, and most importantly they made sure the Pascalians remembered to eat and sleep and wash from time to time. Andy himself was a Vidcundian. Then there were the Lazlians. They were the ones who didn’t quite fit. Mostly they came to the Pascalians as oblates, dedicated to the monastery by parents who were wealthy, noble and well-meaning, but not wealthy or noble enough to afford a place for their son at one of the greater, more powerful houses. Sometimes they only behaved in a manner unbefitting a monk, trying to emulate the noble life they supposedly left behind within the monastery walls. Sometimes … they got ambitious, and grasped for power both in the Church and the wider world.
Brother Tuck seemed like a Lazlian. And he seemed to be getting ambitious.
But from Brother Bernard’s letter, it seemed as if it got worse. Father Hugh was staying with the great house as the last leg of his pilgrimage. Brother Bernard wrote that the Father had “a great weight on his soul,” which he had confessed to Abbot Peter, but which still weighed him down. Worse, Abbot Peter had returned to the planet for long enough to seem troubled. He had made a passing remark about perhaps sending another monk to Albion to take some of the weight off Father Hugh’s shoulders. And so Brother Bernard had written to Andy.
Andy could see the writing on the wall. He was a Vidcundian. The chapter house in Albion contained one Pascalian — soon to be two — and a Lazlian. The Lazlian was riding roughshod over the Pascalian leader. Andy was being sent to clean up the mess, and perhaps —
Hello, indeed. And in walked another reason why Andy had no desire to go Albion.
“Sister Angelique!” Galahad called out, leaping to his feet and rushing to kiss Sister Angelique’s hand, as a knight would a lady.
Brother Bernard thought the Albion chapter house was a mess, all right, but he didn’t know the half of it.
Slowly, Andy slipped his letter up his sleeve, stood, and waited.
It wasn’t just the hand-kissing. That gesture could be, and often was, completely harmless. Plenty of monks had been trained as gallant men, came to the Church late in life and never quite left off the habit. The problem with that was that … well, Galahad didn’t have a gallant bone in his body. So if he was taking it upon himself to kiss a woman’s hand …
Brother Andy crossed his arms over his chest, meandered over to them, and watched.
They had completely forgotten about his presence. He was not offended — not quite — well, perhaps he was a little offended, but the offense was the least of his concerns.
What was of far greater concern was the light that shone in Galahad’s eyes as he spoke to Sister Angelique. He was always a fast talker, but when Sister Angelique walked into the room his words spilled out while his tongue tied itself in knots trying to keep up. And he smiled a great deal. Galahad was a happy soul, so smiling was not unusual for him. But usually when he smiled, he smiled to please himself. Now he smiled the better to please his conversational partner.
Then there was Sister Angelique’s demeanor. She carried her head high and proud; a little smirk always lay on her lips. And she seemed to know just what to say — what little buttons to press, what phrases to drop, to make Galahad try to talk faster or slower or say what would please her. If the pair of them had not been Sims of the Church, Andy would have called Angelique a husband-hunter, and Galahad her hopelessly ensnared (and clueless) quarry.
But they were Sims of the Church.
“Ahem,” said Andy, clearing his throat. Both Sister Angelique and Galahad turned to him. Galahad had at least enough internal consciousness of guilt to flush. Sister Angelique only raised her eyebrows, put one hand on a shapely hip, and cocked her head to the side.
He got straight to the point. His father was a knight, but a poor one, and he was only a second son who had been sent to the monastery before his eighth birthday. He had no time for gallantry. “Does it never occur to you to knock before entering somebody else’s home?”
“Won’t ‘the door be opened for you’ anyway?” asked Sister Angelique, batting her lashes.
“The correct Word is ‘Knock, and the door shall be opened for you.’ Note that word. Knock. The Lord Wright does not approve of housebreaking.”
Sister Angelique rolled her eyes, and Galahad touched her arm. “She didn’t mean any harm, Andy.”
Andy stared at that hand until it returned to Galahad’s side. “Harm need not be meant to be done.” He glanced again at Sister Angelique, then forced himself to smile. “Look, Sister … I’m not saying this to be strict for the sake of being strict. I’m trying to look out for you.”
Sister Angelique tilted her head and blinked up at him. That kind of blinking must have won her all kinds of concessions out her father. Andy had no intention of falling for it. “Look out for me?”
“Most Sims … cannot understand celibacy,” he replied, picking his words with care. “To be quite blunt, that is. If they see a nun sailing repeatedly into the dormitory of a group of monks … tongues will wag, Sister, and they will wag about one thing and one thing only. There’s no more polite way to put it.”
“She’s my own cousin!” Galahad protested. It was even a sincere protest — the poor boy hadn’t the least idea he was hooked.
Sister Angelique sent him a conspiratorial smile. Then she turned back to Andy, her eyebrows inching into her wimple. “And how would knocking change their perspective, exactly?”
“It wouldn’t,” Andy admitted. “But it’s far more polite.”
“Then in the future I’ll knock — and I trust I’ll still be allowed to enter?”
“Of course!” Galahad gasped. “You’re always welcome here, Angelique.”
“Sister Angelique,” Andy corrected, glaring at Galahad. Galahad’s mouth opened, then shut as he glanced sidelong at Angelique and shuffled his feet.
“And perhaps,” he continued, as if musing his way to a conclusion when in fact he had reached this conclusion days and days ago, “it might be wiser if you were not to visit so often.”
“What?” Galahad gasped.
Andy ignored him, fixing his gaze on Sister Angelique. “Tongues, as you know, will wag. And perhaps … not entirely without justification. You two are –”
“Cousins!” Galahad protested again. Sister Angelique only crossed her arms before her and stared at Andy as levelly as a man might try to stare him down.
“Kin only in body, but brother and sister in Our Lord Wright,” retorted Andy. “However … you’re starting to seem, to eyes unacquainted with you, perhaps a little … closer than that.”
Now Sister Angelique’s eyebrows went up, and she pouted, glancing at Galahad as if to ask him whether he intended to put up with this treatment of her.
“Andy!” came the predictable attack. “You — you can’t accuse her of that!”
Accuse her. Well, at least Galahad got that much right. Pascalians did have a habit of not realizing they had turned down the path of sin until they were already halfway to the gates of hell. Usually the sin in question was a sin of thought, of the mind, but Andy supposed there was no reason why sins of the body would be any different.
“I’m not accusing her of anything,” he lied levelly. “I’m just pointing out that others might.”
“Foolish tongues will always wag!” Galahad retorted. “If good people were to stop doing what they were doing simply because gossips with nothing better to do turned it into something wrong, nobody would do anything!”
“Look, I’m not saying that you two shouldn’t see each other,” although now that he had said it, hopefully the idea might sink into one or both of their heads, “just that you, Sister, shouldn’t be spending half your time here. There are plenty of places where you could meet. The library, the cafes …” And hopefully Sister Angelique would behave herself in public. Galahad wouldn’t be able to help wriggling like a hooked fish, but as long as she seemed to be not leading him on … well, monks had made fools of themselves over pretty women before. Barring castration, there was no way of stopping them.
“Well!” Sister Angelique huffed. “I guess I can see when I’m not wanted. Thank you, Brother Andy, for your sage advice — don’t doubt that I won’t hesitate to follow it in the future.” And out she sailed, head held higher than a Queen’s.
“Angelique! Wait, don’t –” Thud! went the door as Sister Angelique departed, probably in a raging temper. If the campus wasn’t still buzzing with the news of Lady Morgause’s trial and its obsessive watching of Lady Morgause’s daughter, there would probably be rumors of a lover’s quarrel by this time tomorrow.
As it was …
“Why did you chase her away?” Galahad asked plaintively.
Oh, Lord, give me strength.
“Galahad,” Andy sighed, “I didn’t –”
“She might not come back now!”
If only he could be so lucky. “You can still see each other. Just … perhaps, not as much.” Andy turned to glance at him. “Galahad, you’ve lived in the world. Me, I’ve been out of it since I was a child. Surely you know –”
“The good do not stop what they are doing merely because of gossips!”
His voice echoed over the stone walls, the tiled ceiling, the books and parchments and ink — even the cushioned couches and pillows. (When you did as much reading as a Pascalian did it paid to be comfortable.) Andy’s eyebrow arched even as he crossed his arms over his chest.
Galahad, meanwhile, looked around the room as if he half-expected to see his shout coming back to him. “Well … they don’t,” he murmured.
“Galahad,” Andy reasoned, “what is it about you and Sister Angelique seeing each other that is particularly ‘good’?”
“Well, she’s … lonely,” Galahad admitted. “You don’t understand … there aren’t any other Sisters of St. Coral here. Angelique has to stay at a house for the Sisters of St. Marla, and she doesn’t have much in common with them.”
Andy could believe that much — sort of. It did not surprise him that Angelique was the only Sister of St. Coral on campus. There wasn’t a woman on earth who needed a college education to be changing diapers all her life. The only reason he supposed Sister Angelique was there because of the feud the Mother of that house was running with Brother Tuck. She was trying to claw out more prestige for her order in Albion, no doubt, instead of contenting herself with her order’s established mission.
Maybe, too, he could believe that she had little in common with the Sister of St. Marla. Those sisters were a decent, studious lot, with their noses so far into their books they often forgot to eat. They were great translators (of works by Church fathers and other theologians — they were not bold enough, mostly, to attempt the great Book of Wright), psalm-writers, and some of them even dabbled in medicine and other arts. No, Sister Angelique would have little enough in common with them.
But the rest? “I doubt she’s that lonely. Doesn’t she have a sister — a bodily sister — here? And are there not other young ladies of Albion?”
“Well, yes, but — but she’s not so close to them. She was terribly isolated from everybody after she went to the convent. Her father –”
“Is it not meet and fitting that those of the Church should withdraw from the world? We can be in the world, if the occasion calls for it, but not of it.”
“But I was the only one who would visit her! She — Angelique isn’t like that. She needs other Sims. Outside Sims. Otherwise she … she’s like a flower. A rose! A rose that doesn’t get enough sun. She’ll … wither away and die if she can’t be with people.”
Comparing her to a rose? Good Lord, this was bad. “Galahad, is that what you truly believe?”
“Of course. I’ve known her my whole life –”
“That she’s like a rose, I mean.”
“Oh!” Galahad paused and frowned. Then he smiled — a slow, sweet smile that would have set many a young woman’s heart pitter-pattering. “I … I suppose she is. She is, isn’t she?”
He would not answer that. “Do you hear what you’re saying?”
“Listen to yourself,” Andy urged him. “The words you’re using, the way you look–the way you feel when you say them. Do you think this is how a monk discusses a Bride of Wright?”
Galahad’s mouth opened, then shut. Then he stared at his sandal-clad feet.
“I — I — I can’t help how I feel,” he murmured. “But I — I want to be her friend. She needs a friend. That — that can’t be wrong, can it?”
“I will not presume to answer that,” Andy replied. “But think about this. You know tongues are going to wag. Don’t you think a true friend would stay away from her, and spare her that?”
The expression on Galahad’s face would have melted a heart of stone — and Andy had not get achieved that enviable state.
“Think about it, Galahad.” Andy clapped him on the shoulder. “That’s all I’m saying. Think about what’s best — not for you — but for her. Then you will be the best friend she could possibly ask for. Now if you’ll excuse me … I have a letter to write, and you should probably go back to your studying.”
He left Galahad wilting himself behind him as he went back to his desk and shook the letter out of his sleeve. Then he gathered a pot of ink, a quill, and a sheaf of parchment.
There was a mess in Albion — and it would take a Vidcundian to clean it up.