Thank you, Lord, thought Father Hugh as he finally pushed the monastery door open, the winter’s chill rushing in to fill the already-chilly halls. Thank you, Lord, for letting that be over.
Later on, he would feel guilty for the sentiment. His ordeal was the least part of it. It didn’t matter that Martin Pelles had led a full and mostly happy life. It didn’t matter if he saw five children into the world and three of them grown up. It didn’t matter that he got to dandle four grandchildren (five if you counted little Leah Brogan, which, if Martin had counted her, then so would Father Hugh) on his knees. He had left this world suddenly and without warning. He left five children, one of whom probably wouldn’t remember him, one who would have weak and indeterminate memories, and the other three who would, perhaps, remember him all too well. And he left a grieving widow, too, and all those grandchildren. Living long and well meant that you left that many more Sims to miss you when you were gone.
Memento mori. “Remember you are going to die.” It was a Reman phrase, one of the few genuine Reman phrases found in the Book of Wright. Most of it — well, the original copies, the process of translation having started, under St. Robert’s orders, soon after the first copies were completed — was written in the dialect of the Dousa Desert that was St. Robert’s mother tongue. It was a well-known Reman proverb, though, before St. Robert had snapped it out during an argument between some of his lieutenants. It was something that monks in particular were to keep in mind. “Remember you are going to die.” It tended to put things into perspective.
Except, of course, when it didn’t. “Well,” Brother Andy remarked, taking a deep breath as he shuffled in after Father Hugh, “that wasn’t so bad.”
Father Hugh froze. What in the good Lord’s name made him say that?
Maybe it hadn’t been so bad, at first. For a funeral, that is. Father Hugh had officiated over many “lovely services” and “moving remembrances,” but he had yet to see or be seen at a “good funeral.” But at first, at least, it had been no more horrible than it was usually.
It was only when most of the attendees had left, with only the close family remaining, that things started to fall apart.
Father Hugh had been just giving Lukas a parting embrace and a promise of more help, should he need it. Father Hugh had been about Lukas’s age when he lost his own father. Even if that loss had been manifestly part of the Lord’s plan, even if it had helped him in his path to the monastery, where he belonged, Father Hugh could still remember what it was like to be that young and suddenly all alone. That first night after the funeral had been the worst: sleeping, or not sleeping, in an empty house, hearing every last creak of the floorboards and whistle of the wind. Wondering what he would do if somebody broke into the shop below and tried to steal the more valuable books. Wondering what he would do if that creak wasn’t just the house settling, but was a sign of a serious roof problem or a floor problem. It had been that night that made him sure that the monastery was the place for him, if there had ever been a part of Father Hugh that doubted.
But Lukas was not alone. He has his mother — who was clearly holding herself together with fraying threads — two little brothers, and a wife due to give birth to their first child before the year’s end. Father Hugh had only been responsible for himself. Lukas’s shoulders were broad, but Father Hugh had to wonder if too much weight had suddenly piled upon them.
At least he had some help for today. The le Fays — Lady Morgan and Accolon — had not left with the other Sims who were not of the immediate family. Accolon, showing his usual talent for helping children in distress, had already attached himself to Davy.
He was getting Davy to talk, too, about his father of all subjects. But it was done in a way to make him smile. Had this been any other uncle-and-nephew pair in the kingdom, Father Hugh would have assumed that Accolon was telling Davy humorous and probably embarrassing stories from Martin’s youth. But that couldn’t be the case here. Accolon could not more remember that shared youth than he could walk with a straight back and firm stride. Out of all that Lady Morgause had stolen from Accolon, that, Father Hugh thought, had been the worst theft.
So Father Hugh couldn’t tell what was being said. All he knew was that it couldn’t be memories … and it couldn’t be “pull my finger,” either, for all of Accolon’s fingers were accounted for and intact. Lady Morgan had presumably warned him against any such games.
Lady Morgan, who was busying herself with Ella …
Strange how seeing Lady Morgan should pain him more than seeing Accolon. Maybe it was because he now had some sense of the bond between a mother and her children. How could you carry a living, growing Sim inside yourself for nine whole months and not be bonded? The twins were nearly two years old, and Father Hugh had not seen them for any appreciable length of time since they had completed their first week. But he still thought of them every day.
And Lady Morgan? He had carried Paschal and Chloe for nine months; it had been his body that provided for their every need; it had been his pain that brought them into the world. But she was the Sim they would call “Mama.” Hers was the first face they saw in the morning and the last they saw in the evening. Lady Morgan would watch over their every triumph, and she was the one who would dry their tears and kiss their hurts away.
There was no one who could kiss away the hurt Father Hugh felt over that. He had brought it, as a good monk should, to the Lord Wright, his heavenly Father. But fathers were never much good at that kind of thing.
But even as Father Hugh sighed over his own hurts, Ella opened the next act of the funeral drama. She had rubbed her back and sent a beseeching glance at Lukas. Lukas had made some noise about needing to get Ella home. And then …
Father Hugh thought it was Joyce who started it. She had been the most stiff-lipped during the making of the arrangements, and the funeral, and the burial. Anything that stiff had to be brittle. She broke down all of a sudden, and it did not take long for Meg to join her.
But they both had husbands, men to stand by their side and try to console them. Berach especially: Father Hugh remembered how Joyce had been there for Berach at the time of his mother’s death, and then again at his father’s. If this was not what husbands and wives were meant to do for one another, one could almost say that Berach owed her one.
It was, however, what husbands and wives were meant to do for each other. And neither man seemed at all annoyed to have to do it. Yes, whatever problems both men may have had with the concept of “remaining true,” they at least had this part down.
Martin, though, had managed to get the “shoulder to lean on” part right as well as the “remaining true” part. Betsy could have used him then and there. But she did not, could not have him.
Instead, she had only her nineteen-year-old son.
And somehow, even though Father Hugh knew that Lukas would do his best, even though he knew that men younger than Lukas had borne up under burdens greater than his … it was that which managed to worry Father Hugh most of all.
And after that, that last breakdown just when Father Hugh had been certain that the worst was over, Brother Andy had the gall to say that the ordeal wasn’t so bad!
But Father Hugh said nothing, at least not at first. He only took off his cloak and collected Brother Andy’s. He hung them both before the kitchen fire to grow warm and dry. Then, before Brother Andy could get too involved in anything else, Father Hugh found him again and invited him to come into his office.
Once there, it was time to tread carefully. “Brother …” Father Hugh began. “When we came in, just a little while ago, you said something … rather interesting, I believe.”
“I did?” Brother Andy blinked, owlishly.
“You said — I believe I have this right — ‘Well, that wasn’t so bad.’ Tell me, Brother … why did you say that?”
“Because I … thought it was true?”
Father Hugh pinched the bridge of his nose and sighed. “Yes. Yes, of course.” His eyes peeked open. “Other than that?”
“I … fear I don’t understand what you mean, Father.”
“You spoke as if you expected things to be worse. I am merely wondering what your expectations were.”
“I … oh.” Brother Andy shrugged. “The death — it was so sudden. That rarely brings out the best in Sims, you know. And the delay …”
Father Hugh sighed. No, the delay had done nobody any good. They had had to wait for a warmer spell, so some of the snow could melt, and for the ground to thaw enough to dig the grave.
“And then,” Brother Andy shook his head, “there was the body …”
The body. Father Hugh barely held back a wince. Brother Tuck had been given that first unpleasant duty, that of giving the body last rites. By the time the guards had gotten to the monastery, it had been late. Brother Andy had called out for a patient, and Brother Tuck wouldn’t hear of Father Hugh going out into cold when (according to Brother Tuck) he needed his rest. All the same, Father Hugh had sat up until Brother Tuck had returned, had seen how ghastly he looked, and had heard him retching into a chamber pot long after both of them should have been asleep.
The bodies of men who had come to their end by being half-drowned and half-frozen in an icy river, who got into that river thanks to the collapse of a wooden bridge carrying a wagon full of heavy timber, rarely emerged from the experience looking as if they had only gone to sleep.
“The body was terrible, of course — but nobody asked to see the body,” Brother Andy pointed out. “I thought — I thought that was particularly fortunate.”
Father Hugh blinked. He had not considered things that way. Betsy, Meg, Joyce, Lukas — they were all broken up enough by what had happened. None of them needed to see what had happened to Martin’s fleshly form. They would be better off remembering how he had been in life than seeing in their nightmares how he had looked in death. The monks between them had seen to laying out Martin’s body themselves, and no one had argued with them. That in and of itself was a blessing.
If Brother Andy had been wiser, that would have been an end of it. Father Hugh would thanked him for that explanation and sent him about the hundreds of other duties that they both had. But of course, Brother Andy had to continue to open his mouth.
“And at the end of the day,” he opined, “Martin Pelles was an older man, a grandsire. He was also not a … a professional failure of either of us. Yes, Father, I can’t say that this was as bad as it could have been. As –“
“Brother Andy, stop.”
He blinked. “Father?”
“Come with me.”
Without another word, Father Hugh led the way out of his office, trusting that Brother Andy would follow. His trust was not in vain. He could hear Brother Andy’s sandaled feet nervously tapping after him.
Father Hugh hurried to the front door, not even bothered to go to the kitchen and get their cloaks or their sturdy winter shoes. But they wouldn’t need them. The courtyard was not that big.
He pushed the great door to the chapel open and led the way up the aisle. Even in the middle of the day on a weekday, the chapel was still well-lit and clean, freshly swept and scented with incense. Mother Julian had always put her charges to good work, the work of cleaning the chapel. It not only kept their little hands busy (and the chapel clean), it gave them good skills for when they grew older and would be forced to make their own way in the world. Any girl who had been cleaning a chapel once or twice a week since she was four would easily find work as a maid.
But now was not the time to reflect on the cleanliness, only to use it. Father Hugh hurried up the cold chapel, only stopping some distance from the altar. Brother Andy stopped by his side. “There,” Father Hugh said, gesturing. “Do you see that?”
“Father …” Brother Andy sighed, shaking his head. “I see this every day.”
“Not necessarily, Brother Andy. Oh, He might be in your field of vision every day. You may even look at Him every day. But tell me — do you see Him?”
Brother Andy frowned. “I try to keep Him in sight every day, in every thing I do.”
Father Hugh barely bit back a sigh. That was either the perfect answer to get, an answer that should by rights close the conversation … or it was an answer designed to be the perfect answer, and so would need to be discussed and investigated all the more closely.
“Then, let us pray that your efforts have borne fruit, Brother Andy. Tell me — do you think He would approve of the remarks you just made regarding the funeral we just performed?”
Brother Andy winced. “Perhaps … not.”
“Perhaps not,” Father Hugh repeated. “Why not? Which remarks do you think He might object to most?”
“I can’t imagine the remark about a professional failure could have gone over well,” Brother Andy murmured. “Or perhaps it would have. He, after all, knows what is in my heart, even if my foolish tongue cannot properly express the sentiments.”
“Oh? You think He would excuse you, then?”
“I hope and pray so,” Brother Andy replied. “For I was … I was thinking of the funeral of Aileen Brogan. You remember her — the little child –?”
“I remember,” Father Hugh answered, his voice dropping a full octave.
“She was scarcely a year old,” Brother Andy murmured. “And I had treated her, and failed to save her. It was not professional pride that made me speak so, Father. It was compassion. There is nothing more painful than watching the faces of the bereaved and knowing that if one was, perhaps, a bit better at one professes to do, they would not be bereaved.”
“What you profess to do, Brother Andy, is be a monk. Your healing practice is meant to only assist you in your quest to reach holiness. It is not an end in itself.” Father Hugh hesitated. “You know,” he murmured, “I always found it a bit … comforting, that. If I did not succeed as a doctor, then perhaps I succeeded as a monk, in shepherding a soul to Heaven.”
“I tried to take comfort in that,” Brother Andy answered.
Brother Andy sighed. “Tell me this, Father Hugh. How much comfort was that thought for you when you presided over the funeral of a one-year-old child that you think you could have kept alive, if only you were a bit better at what you try to do?”
“You could not have kept that child alive, Brother Andy.”
“Father! If you were at all familiar with the case –“
“No. No, Brother Andy. That does not matter. Clearly, it was the Lord’s will that young Aileen Brogan be called to her reward that day. Perhaps you made her passing easier on her. Perhaps you made it easier on her family. Perhaps you only witnessed it. But you could not have prevented it, Brother Andy … any more than He could have prevented His own suffering and death.”
Father Hugh paused, and both men gazed at the statue of St. Robert crucified.
“And He tried, you know,” Father Hugh continued softly. “You remember the story of the garden.”
“I remember,” Brother Andy replied. “I was always taught, though, that the lesson we should draw from it is that St. Robert submitted to Wright’s Will.”
“That is indeed the lesson we should draw from it, Brother Andy. We must submit. And then we must make the best of things.” Father Hugh gazed again at the statue, at the painted blood escaping from the wound in the side. “But we must always submit first.”
Brother Andy took a deep breath, but he nodded. He, too, continued to gaze at the statue.”
And then, without warning, he spoke. “Father?”
“You told me,” Brother Andy began, pointing. “You told me, months ago, something about my mission here. That, in effect, it was not Brother Tuck I was sent to watch over, but you.”
Father Hugh sighed. “Brother …”
“Please let me finish, Father. Now, I have, as per your implied orders, been watching over you these past months. But do you know what I have found, Father?”
Father Hugh waited.
“Nothing,” Brother Andy replied. “Not a maiden who fancied herself in love, or any dereliction of duties, or even so much as a clipped copper missing from the collection plate! Tell me, Father — was I truly sent to watch you, or are you merely protecting … someone?”
Brother Tuck, they both thought.
Father Hugh sighed. “Brother Andy …”
“I think I deserve at least this much, Father.”
“What I said to you,” Father Hugh replied, “was all true. On that I swear. But for the details …”
The old monk sighed. “Those, my son, will have to wait until another day.”