He was not ready for this.
As for which he, or for that matter, which this was uppermost in Father Hugh’s thoughts, even Father Hugh couldn’t say. The statement could apply equally well to either he or Galahad — Brother Galahad, Father Hugh should say. But, for all that neither for ready for the conversation that Father Hugh knew they must have, there was no point in putting it off any further.
The fact of the matter was that the flock of Avilion needed a shepherd. They could not send a nun. Even if the Sisters of St. Coral weren’t already stretched to their breaking point between the school, the orphanage, and their parish duties, it would be unthinkable to send a woman to guide a flock by herself. Father Hugh could not go himself, for he needed to be abbot here. That left him three choices: Brother Tuck, Brother Andy, and Brother Galahad.
And, as little as he liked the idea, Brother Galahad was the most suitable choice — indeed, in many ways, the only choice.
So, even though Father Hugh hated to disturb another man at his books nearly as much as he hated to be disturbed himself, he cleared his throat. “Brother Galahad. Might I have a word with you?”
Brother Galahad jumped. “Father Hugh!” Poor boy, hardly knowing what was to come, he grinned the easy, open grin he had always had for Father Hugh. “I didn’t even hear you come in!”
“I apologize for that, my son. I did not mean to startle you.”
“Oh, it’s no trouble! Is this likely to take long?”
“Then let me just put my book away.”
“Of course, of course.” As Brother Galahad suited his actions to his words, Father Hugh sat. The boy was a nobleman to the core — Father Hugh knew that from the careless way he had with most of his things, always tossing them aside or leaving them lying about. Some part of him still unconsciously expected somebody else to be following him and picking up after him. But he was never that way with books. Books were sacred to Brother Galahad. Any fool could see that by the careful way he handled them, the gentle way he stroked the spine, the precise placement of the book on the shelf, where he could easily find it later.
That boy belonged in a cloister, reading deep works, thinking deep thoughts, and writing deep works to help others think their deep thoughts. He was not a shepherd, but a dreamer instead. It was only in the silly poetry of noblemen who had never been downwind of a sheep in all their lives that shepherds got to be both. Real shepherds were too busy finding food and water, keeping track of the ewes and lambs, and fending off wolves to have time for dreams.
But there was no one else. Father Hugh reminded himself of that as the boy sat, eyes wide and guileless. “What is it you need, Father?”
Father Hugh took a deep breath and eased himself into the topic. “First, I wish to ask you something. How did you enjoy your visit home?”
“Oh, I had a wonderful time! Got to meet my niece and my nephew finally. Corey’s just like Will,” Brother Galahad remarked conversationally. “But Will refuses to see it. And Leona and I had a chance to catch up, and — oh, it was wonderful. Thank you for allowing me the opportunity.”
“Good. Good. I’m glad. Those …” Father Hugh stroked his beard. “It cannot have escaped your notice, my son, that most of us monks here have no fleshly family, or at least, no … close fleshly family.” His throat threatened to close up on the lie, but Father Hugh swallowed and forged ahead. “Brother Andy’s family remains in Glasonland, Brother Tuck … well, you know Tuck’s history, and I …”
“You’ve never talked much of your family, Father Hugh,” Brother Galahad replied.
“No-o … ah, well, it was so long ago!” Father Hugh tried to laugh. “I was a bookbinder’s son.” The son of a stubbornly illiterate bookbinder, too, a man who needed his wife to check to make sure that all the pages were in the proper direction and in the proper order, a man who was more likely to appreciate drivel enclosed in a fine cover than philosophy in worn leather. His father only saw books as leather-bound coins, worth only the craftsmanship it took to put them together. Hugh had been nothing but a disappointment to him, and when his gentle mother died, their relationship only worsened. When Hugh’s father had died, he had sold all the books that had no literary value, and had taken the cash and the rest of the books to the nearest chapter house of the Order of St. Pascal and begged them to let him in. Usually the Order of St. Pascal did not take poor boys or even middle-class boys, preferring instead oblates who were scions of noble or wealthy families, boys with relatives who would give a handsome donation to the monastery. They had made an exception for Hugh.
Father Hugh always suspected that it was the books that had gotten him in.
“Besides, I was an orphan by the time I joined the Church. No siblings, either. Not much to talk of there,” Father Hugh shrugged. “But you … obviously, you are different. And I feel, quite strongly, that those of us who are … blessed enough to still have a fleshly family ought to take full advantage of the fact. That is why I hope you will see the good in the difficult thing I am about to ask of you, not just the ill.”
“Aye. For … what I am about to ask you is … will be, I think, difficult. But there is no one else.”
“Er … all right?”
Father Hugh smiled ruefully. Men like Brother Galahad could talk about theological puzzles for hours … but when it came to the real world, they wished one would get to the point quickly, so that they could leave the real world and go someplace more interesting. Father Hugh had once been such a man himself. “I would like you to head the church at Avilion.”
Poor Brother Galahad’s eyes bulged. “M-me?”
“Aye, Brother, you.”
“B-but — I don’t know anything about running a church! I only studied theology! And philosophy! And — and –”
“Nothing like management, or leadership, or politics or economics or anything of that nature. I understand, Brother; believe me, I do. I was no more prepared to be leading a flock when the good Lord thrust that duty on me than you are now.”
“But …” Brother Galahad scratched his scalp. “Are you sure I’m the only one? Brother Tuck would be so much better at it!”
“Brother Tuck is needed here.” Father Hugh’s ears burned — that was not, perhaps, precisely true. What was true was that Father Hugh wanted Brother Tuck in the capital with him. He wanted Brother Tuck someplace where he could keep an eye on him. Perhaps a parish of his own, with all of its attendant duties and cares, would be just the thing to keep Brother Tuck out of trouble. Or, Father Hugh was afraid, a parish, and the freedom to do and say as he liked in it, might be just the thing to get Brother Tuck into trouble.
If the need for a parish was in Sarras, headed by Sir Bors, or Port Finessa, headed by Richard Ferreira, Father Hugh would have taken that gamble. But he would not put Brother Tuck in Avilion, right across the road — literally! — from the du Lacs. The male du Lacs were King’s men, both of them, and the royal family would know of the first erring step Brother Tuck took, and every step thereafter. And the female du Lacs were every bit as formidable. They might choose to take on Brother Tuck themselves if something he did earned their ire. No, Father Hugh could not risk sending Brother Tuck.
“Oh. Well, what about Brother Andy?” Brother Galahad wheedled.
“His medical practice requires him to stay here — within easy reach of any who might have a medical emergency.” At least, that was the story and everyone was sticking to it.
“Oh.” Brother Galahad’s brows knit. “Are you … certain?”
“Am I certain?”
“Well …” Brother Galahad rubbed the back of his neck. “It’s just that, with Clarice in Port Finessa, and you here, and Brother Andy in Avilion, you’d have a doctor in the south, one in the north, and one in the middle. And one in the east and one in the west as well. Might that not work better?”
Father Hugh blinked. “I … never thought of it that way.” He stroked his beard again. Perhaps …
Then he shook his head. “No, I fear that will not do. If I were five, ten years younger — yes, yes, that would be a brilliant idea. But I can’t be riding out at all hours anymore, Brother Galahad. Those days are … past.” He sighed. “Long past.”
Brother Galahad’s shoulders slumped. “Then … I guess there’s nothing for it, then?”
“You seem rather disappointed, Brother Galahad.” Father Hugh had not been expecting this. Surprise — shock — unease, yes, all of that. But disappointment? Brother Galahad had already seen what this would mean for him? “Is there a reason why you would rather have this cup pass from you?”
“Well … I know I should have spoken to you about this first, Father, but I was speaking with Mother Julian … she said that she would be happy to let me teach at the school if it was all right with you. But if I’m going to be in Avilion …”
“Oh!” Stupid, stupid! Mother Julian had already spoken to him of this — practically threatened him with bodily harm if he didn’t let Brother Galahad teach and take some burden from her shoulders. “Actually, Mother Julian and I have already discussed that. If you would like, you might teach a couple of days a week. Since there are … oh, about half a dozen children in Avilion who attend the school five days a week, you could certainly manage to teach a few days. Tuesdays and Thursdays, perhaps,” Father Hugh suggested.
“Truly?” asked Brother Galahad, eager as one of the students he would be teaching.
“Of course. But you would have to work out the details with Mother Julian,” Father Hugh said hurriedly, lest Brother Galahad start hurling idea after idea at his poor gray head. “Still, I am certain you could come to some arrangement.” Mother Julian already knew of his plans, so she would be sure to not give Brother Galahad more than he could safely handle.
“Oh, I’m sure we could!” Brother Galahad replied. “And Mother Julian said that she would only need me a couple of days a week anyway. So that will all work out all right.” His smile, formerly beatific, suddenly began to wobble. “But, Father …”
“Are … are you sure … do you think I can … handle it? I’m not … much for other Sims.”
Poor boy. At least he knew his weaknesses, which was more than many could say … but it was a hard weakness for a pastor to bear. “Brother Galahad … allow me to, perhaps, give you some of the wisdom it took me so many years to win?”
“You …” He pondered. “Brother, I hear you when you say you are not ‘much for other Sims.’ I understand that you are not fully at your ease when dealing with your brothers and sisters? Your spiritual ones, that is.”
Brother Galahad shook his head.
“But you are a good listener, are you not? No — do not answer that. I know you are.”
“I … suppose.”
“You are. Trust me. And let me tell you something, my son. Some men … men, perhaps, like Brother Tuck … might tell you that a good pastor is a good speaker. But that is not so. In my opinion — and grant that I might know as much about this as Brother Tuck — the best pastor is the man who is best able to listen.”
“He … is?”
“Of course. Your flock will come to you with their cares, their toils and troubles, Brother Galahad. Do not delude yourself that you will be able to solve them all. You can try — you will try! — but there are many things that are not given to us to solve. There will be many times that you will only be able to offer soothing words, and you must leave the rest of it to the Lord.” Brother Galahad’s mouth opened, but Father Hugh held up a finger. “Easy, Brother. I am not finished.
“You see, those times … those times when you have only words, and prayers, of course, those are the times when no skill in oratory will be enough. There will be nothing that you can say that will be enough. And as for your prayers, well, the Lord answers all prayers — but the answer is not always the one we crave. So you will feel helpless, and perhaps useless. But remember this, Brother. The man who can listen, truly listen, to his fellow Sims’ troubles and toils, that is the man who can help, even when most would say there is nothing he can do.”
“Truly — truly, Father?”
Brother Galahad grinned. And Father Hugh got up — Brother Galahad rose with him — and Father Hugh kissed him on both cheeks. “I have nothing but the highest hopes for you, my son. You will do splendidly. And if you need any assistance, you know you will only have to ask it.”
“Thank you, Father!”
“You are most welcome.” He patted Brother Galahad’s arm. “Now, go back to your book, my son. You are not the only monk with whom I must speak this afternoon.”
Brother Galahad was only too eager to do as Father Hugh asked, but as for the other monk …
As Father Hugh crossed the chilly courtyard to the chapel, he had reason to fear that the other monk would not be as happy with him as Brother Galahad was.
Yes, Brother Andy was in here. Father Hugh indulged himself with guilt for a moment. It had been so long since he had prayed the hours as a regular thing, his brief sojourn to the mother house notwithstanding. There was so much to do in a given day, it scarcely left time for devoted, sustained prayer. In the thick of it, Father Hugh tried to pretend that the thousand little prayers he sent up during the day somehow were enough, but how could they be? Was not the first duty of a monk to pray?
And now Father Hugh had steered another monk away from that duty — but there was no help for it. Somebody had to see to the spiritual needs of the people.
Still, with that in mind, he was even more respectful than usual. He closed the door behind him with only a whisper and slipped into the nearest pew, sending up a few prayers of his own while he waited for Brother Andy to finish.
It did not take him long. And as soon as Brother Andy had stood, so did Father Hugh. “Father,” Brother Andy said.
“Brother Andy,” Father Hugh replied. “I have done as you asked. I have asked Brother Galahad to take the parish of Avilion, and he has accepted.”
“He has?” asked Brother Andy, clasping his hands together in eagerness.
“That is wonderful news, Father! But not just for me, of course — for you as well. Was he not the man who you wanted to head the parish?”
“No,” Father Hugh replied. “Frankly, I wanted you to do it. But since that is not to be, Brother Galahad was the next best choice.”
“He has a fine mind, Brother Andy. If I were truly to do what was best by him, I would send him to the mother house and let him grow and thrive there. However, we are stretched too thin here for me to think only of what is best for one monk. Instead, I must consider the needs of the whole.”
“Of — of course, Father.” Poor boy, so confused. Father Hugh indulged himself with another moment of guilt. But he had to push past it if he was to get through this conversation. “But,” Brother Andy continued, “but surely that would not be different if this were a bigger monastery, and we had more souls among which to divide the work?”
“True, true. But I would have, perhaps, more flexibility if I had more souls. But I do not — and that is why I acceded to your request and will send Brother Galahad to Avilion, and not you.”
“Thank you –”
“I am not finished. I am doing this because I care for the good not just of this Order, but of this whole country. And I am doing this because I know exactly why you are here, Brother Andy.”
“You … you …” Brother Andy cringed and looked away.
“You were sent here, essentially, as a spy, Brother Andy. You were sent here because the mother house knows that all is not … not as the Church would wish in Albion. You need not say anything. Frankly, I doubt that the proposition was put to you in those terms. But you are a Pascalian, Brother Andy, and if there is one thing we Pascalians are good at, it is reading between the lines.”
“I am a Vidcundian,” Brother Andy murmured.
“We are all Pascalians here, Brother. Even those of who are Vidcundians, or Lazlians.”
“Ah.” Brother Andy tossed his head back, allowed himself a rueful smile. “You must admit, Father, that when Abbot Peter and Brother Bernard heard of Brother Tuck–”
“I must admit nothing, Brother Andy. You were not sent here to watch over Brother Tuck. You were sent here to watch over me.”
Brother Andy’s jaw fell. “What? No, Father! That’s impossible! You –”
“I made a great error, and it has had grave consequences. I have done everything — at great personal cost, mind — to limit those consequences to the smallest number of Sims I can. Few even know of the error. If more did — trust me on this, mind — there would be hell to pay.”
“But — but Brother Bernard didn’t sayanything about you–”
“That is because he is not one of those who know of the error.” Father Hugh permitted himself a rueful smile as Brother Andy’s jaw dropped. “Only two other Sims in the Church know of it — Father Peter, who was told under the seal of the confessional, and Brother Tuck.”
“Brother Tuck? You trusted him?”
“I would trust him with my life, Brother Andy. And indeed, I have. He has kept silence.”
“But — but –” Brother Andy pressed a hand to his head in bewilderment. “What could you have done?”
“That is none of your concern. What is your concern is that I have taken care of it as best as I am able. I can do no more. And what is also your concern is that you are a monk of Albion now, and thus the safety of the souls of Albion — and the bodies as well — are in your hands as well as mine. Think on that, Brother Andy. Think on that long and hard ere you go digging to hard, and unearth something that could be the bane of all of us.”
And as Father Hugh left him without a further word, he could only pray that Brother Andy would think on that.
For the consequences of him doing otherwise did not bear thinking on.