Tyves 27, 1013
“How many llamas can dance on the head of a pin?”
Galahad let the question fall upon the silent church, just as he had watched Brother Tuck do so many times. He took a deep breath and flashed his most nervous smile — something, admittedly, he had not seen Brother Tuck do many times. But Brother Tuck had a gift for public speech, which Galahad did not. What Brother Tuck lacked, Galahad had thought many a time, was much of substance to say. Galahad thought he had that. He just needed to get better at actually, well, saying it.
He took a deep breath and plunged into his next point.
“It’s a question that many theologians ask themselves, and each other, and it’s a question that’s gotten out among the laity. You — they — well, just about everyone who isn’t a theologian uses it to make fun of the theologians, I know that. ‘How many llamas can dance on the head of a pin? Who cares? What difference does it make? How will the answer to this question help us to better understand the Lord Wright, what He wants of us, how to lead good lives?
“And you know what?” Galahad asked. He paused again. Brother Tuck would have done it merely for effect, but Galahad needed to steel himself to go on. He couldn’t believe he was about to say this out loud.
He gulped and again flashed that nervous smile. “What — what difference does it make, how many llamas can dance on the head of a pin? You could count them all — just like you could count — count — the number of bumps and grooves on our altar here!” He gestured to the majestic carved altarpiece behind him. “But then where would you be after you were done counting? Nowhere. You wouldn’t have gained any knowledge that actually matters. And if the theologians were all that concerned about one simple number in a universe of so many numbers, then, you know what? They would be just as silly and out of touch as ordinary Sims say they are!”
Galahad beamed at the church. “So it’s a good thing for everybody,” he continued, “that they’re not!”
He hesitated. Had he said that right? His voice had been so chipper that it practically flew tweeting up into the rafters. He had a feeling that a statement like that ought to have been phrased … more gravely. Maybe? But it was too late now. There was only one way to go now: forward.
The nervous grin came out again as Galahad flipped through his notes, trying to find his place. “I mean — the theologians don’t care about the actual number. Nobody does! What the theologians are trying to determine is whether llamas are corporeal or spiritual. If they’re corporeal, like us, then only so many can dance on the head of that pin — the pin will only fit so many. If they’re pure spirits, however, then an infinite number of them can dance on the head of a pin. Things that matter to corporeal beings, like size and space, simply don’t matter to spiritual beings.
“And it’s very important to find this out,” Galahad continued, jumping headlong into what he guessed might be the most difficult part of the sermon, “because by understanding a bit more about the Lord Wright’s most holy creatures, we might begin to understand a bit more about Him.
“And isn’t that what it’s all about?” asked Galahad, beaming at the church. “Coming to know the Lord Wright? Isn’t that what we’re put on this earth for? Some might pretend that knowing the Lord is something only for the monks and nuns and theologians, but that’s just silly. True, the monks and the nuns and the theologians might have more specialized knowledge, they might be able to devote more time to studying the Lord and His works because they don’t have families to raise and crops to feed and … oh, dear, I’ve mixed that up, haven’t I? But you all understand what I mean!” He nodded eagerly at the pews, as if such a nodding would get him nods in return.
He didn’t get them. But he pressed on nonetheless, determined not to be discouraged. Well, too discouraged. “The — the point I’m trying to make is, we’re all put onto this earth in order to use our reason to get to know the Lord Wright better. Now, I know some monks and nuns might say that we’re put on earth to love the Lord Wright … and we are, sort of. I mean, that’s what the Lord wants as the end goal! But we first have to reason about him. We first have to know him. Can you love someone you don’t really know? Of course you can’t. Whatever positive feelings you might have toward this person, you can’t really love him — or her! — until you’ve gotten to know him a little better.
“And we all can get to know the Lord Wright better, even if we can’t take the time to study great works by learned men. We can get to know Him as the one who sends rain to water our crops. We can to know Him as the one who comforts us in our greatest sorrows and laughs with us at our best joys. We can get to know Him …”
He was on a roll! He was going and going! Galahad’s words tumbled out of him, pure, inspired, right. He really could do this! He was preaching a sermon — a great sermon, one for the record books!
He just wished that somebody else was around to hear it.
But that did not matter! Or so Galahad tried to tell himself. The Lord, surely, could hear his sermon. And the Lord had to be well pleased. At least Galahad hoped he was … he was working awfully hard at his. He preached at least one sermon a day to the empty pews, striving to get better and better at this. After all, unlike many theologians, who wrote great books that only other learned folks would ever read — if that — Galahad had everyday folks to take care of. He had living, breathing Sims in front of him. If they weren’t hanging onto his every word, they were at least paying polite attention. He could make a real difference with that.
And the first step, he thought, was dismantling all of the nonsense they had been led to believe about the world and the Lord and their place relative to both. Galahad wasn’t quite so sure how such silly ideas had been allowed to run rampant throughout the laity, but he was determined to try to fix them with his little flock. It would be a start, and the Lord would see to it that the work got finished.
But in order to do that, he needed to —
Galahad stopped talking. The door … the door was moving. Opening! He could see …
There was another person in the church!
A young one, too — a young woman, with bright reddish hair and very pale skin. She didn’t look very wealthy, to judge from her clothes, and she was walking a bit … oddly … Galahad squinted. The girl turned slightly sideways, and then Galahad understood the funny walking. She was expecting a baby! How lucky for her!
Still, he knew he mustn’t say anything about that. His mother had sat him down after a comment that, he realized later, had caused much embarrassment, and explained to him that a true gentleman was never to comment on a lady’s waistline and the probable causes for its current size. He wasn’t to make assumptions. If a lady was expecting a baby and wanted him to know about, she would tell him.
But even so, that was all the more reason to be welcoming. Galahad charged down the aisle, arms thrown out wide. “Hi!” he called. “Welcome! Is there anything I can help you with?”
The girl gasped and stood quite still, like a rabbit who had just caught sight of a hunter. Galahad stopped his headlong charge. “Er … are you all right, miss?”
The girl flushed. Maybe Galahad should have gone with “ma’am” — she was expecting, after all, and so she had earned that title. But women were supposed to like it when you underestimated their age …
Then again, Galahad thought, not for the first time, he’d probably get a lot farther if he stopped trying to think of women as a separate species, and just treated them as if they were Sims. So he put his hands behind his back, rocked on his heels, and flashed her his best smile.
The girl looked from side to side, gulped, and then did her best to smile back.
It wasn’t much of a smile. And her eyes … they looked so sad, so lost. Galahad felt himself gulp before he blurted out, stupidly, “Are you all right, miss?”
The girl flinched, took a step backward, and looked away. “Why … why would ye think I’m not, Brother?”
“I … I don’t know. You just look … very sad,” Galahad stumbled along. This was even worse than trying to figure out a sermon. At least he could tell himself, when sermons didn’t go well at first, that maybe the message would sink in later. If he didn’t get this right now …
What? What would happen? Galahad couldn’t tell. But he was afraid that, whatever it was, it wouldn’t be good.
“And,” he went on, trying to fill in the girl’s silence with some silly words of his own, “shouldn’t a young lady in your condition be awfully happy?”
Oh damn! He wasn’t supposed to say that!
The girl winced at the words, then she looked down at her stomach. “It’s … that obvious, is it?”
“Um … yes? Sorry,” he added.
She blinked at him. “Eh? What are ye sorry fer, Brother?”
“It’s — it’s not polite to bring that up to ladies. Sorry. I really do know better … but sometimes my mouth runs away with me.”
The girl tilted her head to one side. “Ladies?”
“But … I ain’t no lady.”
Galahad smiled. “We’re all equal in the sight of the Lord,” he answered. “And since that’s so, why, we all ought to treat everyone equally. It’s the least we can do, don’t you think?”
The girl didn’t answer, which was all right — Galahad wasn’t expecting an answer. Most people didn’t bother to answer when he said things like that. Instead, she asked a question. “Brother … d’ye have a minute ter spare? I …” She craned her neck up, so she wouldn’t have to meet his eye. “I’d like ter … ter take confession …”
“Of course I have a minute for that!” Galahad gasped. What could possibly be more important than taking someone’s confession? Well, maybe if the church was on fire … but in that case, the girl wouldn’t be asking for confession, she would be running out of the church! “Here, have a seat!” He gestured to the many pews. “What would you like to talk about?”
“Er … I was hopin’ we could go inter …” She gestured to the confessional boxes. “If — if that’s all right?”
“Whatever you prefer,” Galahad replied, even if he hated the confessionals. They were crammed and confining, and he couldn’t see the other Sim. It was easier to know what to say if you could see the other Sim’s face, and Galahad usually had a hard enough time knowing what to say even without that handicap.
“Thank’ee, Brother,” she answered, shoulders sagging with what looked like relief, as she turned around and made for one of the boxes.
“Wait!” Galahad called, putting a hand on her elbow to stay her. She gasped and flinched, but turned around. “What’s — what’s your name? So I have something to call you,” he added, smiling a little desperately, since he could see that the girl was still gasping and staring at him with what looked like wide-eyed fear.
“Another G name!” Galahad kept that wide grin in place. “I’m Brother Galahad, you see.”
“Ah,” Glenna replied. That was all she said until they were both in the confessional. Galahad kept the curtain on his side open. There was nobody outside to see, and he wasn’t going to be stuffed-up and confined if he didn’t have to be.
They went through the opening sections of the ritual: the prescribed questions and responses, finding out how long it had been since her last confession, etc. Galahad was already getting good enough to do this part in his sleep. It was the next part that was going to be the hard part. “So … Glenna, what would you like to confess?”
Silence. Then, “Brother … I …” Galahad heard a thunk, like a head hitting wood. “This baby,” she finally said. “It … weren’t conceived in marriage.”
“Fornication?” Galahad asked. That wasn’t good.
She moaned. Galahad sat up. He tried to see through the wooden screen placed in the middle of the confessional, but it was no use: he couldn’t see her face. “Glenna?” he asked.
“I didn’t mean ter …” Glenna finally whispered, so softly that Galahad could only just hear her.
“Conceive the child?” he asked, scratching his bald pate. Didn’t most fornicators not mean to conceive a child? Wasn’t that sort of the whole point?
Glenna moaned again. “I didn’t want ter! I couldn’t stop ‘im! I tried! I tried, Brother, honest!”
Wait … she had tried to stop the man who was with her? But if she had tried to stop him …
“You were raped?” Galahad gasped.
Glenna said nothing. But Galahad thought he heard a hint of a gasp.
Once again, the slow, sad reply: “I didn’t mean ter …”
“He f-forced me!” came the cry. “Held me down an’ — an’ — he killed me pa when he tried ter help me! S-stabbed him …”
Galahad’s jaw fell as Glenna continued to speak. The story was jumbled and confusing, half of it lost in sobs and gasps. But he thought he got the gist of it. An attack on Glenna’s old village in Glasonland. Glenna herself, away doing the washing. The soldiers. The attack. The murder of her father. And then — the rape.
What he didn’t understand was what it was that Glenna was trying to confess.
He must have been missing something crucial, for in between the sobs and the stammered story were a hundred verses of contrition, a hundred vows that she was so sorry and she would never, never do this again. But do what, Galahad wondered. The washing? That couldn’t be it. Despite what some of the … stranger ascetics might have said and done in the early days of the faith, Galahad was certain that washing was not a sin.
“S-s-so,” Glenna finally asked, “what’s–what’s me penance, Brother?”
Oh, damn. “Er …”
“Oh, Lord, is it that bad?” Glenna gasped.
“I … don’t know,” Galahad finally admitted. “Glenna … in all of this, what sin did you commit?”
“I’m not trying to play a riddle-game with you, Glenna, I just … I’m puzzled,” Galahad admitted. Perhaps it would have been more truthful to say he was confused, but even a monk ought to be allowed his pride. “What … what happened to you … well, it all happened to you, didn’t it? It wasn’t because of anything you did.”
“But, Brother … I ain’t … I ain’t a maiden no more …”
“What’s that got to do with anything?”
He heard a gasp. “Brother — Brother Mortimer always says that — that the worst sin a girl can commit is ter give up her maidenhead afore she’s married.”
Galahad snorted. “That’s the silliest thing I ever heard! What, he thinks a little bit of fornication is worse than stealing? Than murder?”
“Our … our maidenhead is our greatest treasure, he said … we weren’t ter give it up ter no one but our husband …”
That got Galahad to thinking.
“Glenna, can I ask you to … to hear a story I’m about to tell, and tell me what you think at the very end?”
“Er … aye.”
Galahad grinned, even though he knew the girl couldn’t see him. “Excellent! Now, imagine that there was a church — a very wealthy church. And they had a relic of — of St. Robert himself! This was the church’s greatest treasure, and they took very good care of it. They always kept it in the church, except when they were displaying it to the people. Every night, they locked it up very securely, and the key was underneath the abbot’s own pillow. They prayed over it, and they kept the church locked … they did everything that they should.
“But one night some wicked men broke into the abbey. They set everything into confusion, and they killed the abbot when he tried to fight against them. Then they stole the key to the reliquary, broke into the church, stole the relic and made off with it.”
“That — that would be awful, Brother!”
“I know. But my question to you, Glenna, is — what sin did the abbot and the other brothers commit?”
“Sin?” Glenna asked. “Ye … ye said they did everythin’ that they should.”
“Were … were they bad monks?”
“No,” Galahad made up on the spot. “They were perfectly ordinary monks.”
“Then … then I don’t see what sin … what did they do, Brother?”
“Nothing,” Galahad replied.
“Nothing,” he repeated.
“Then … then why did ye axe me what sin they done?”
“Because …” Damn, here came the part where he had to explain himself. “Well, Glenna — don’t you see the similarities between my story and what happened to you?”
Silence. Then, softly, “Me … me greatest treasure …”
“Exactly!” Although Galahad thought that framing mere virginity as anybody’s greatest treasure was silly, that was a battle that could wait for another day.
“But …” Glenna’s voice cracked. “But then … if I didn’t do nothin’ wrong … then why? Why’d the Lord make that happen ter me?”
Galahad’s jaw fell. When she put it like that …
No. No. That was the wrong way to put it, wasn’t it?
“The Lord didn’t make that happen to you,” Galahad replied. “He never makes Sims behave badly — the man who did that to you, I mean,” he added before he would have to teach his lesson all over again. “He … maybe He let it happen to you, which is …” He stopped, and finished, lamely, “Different.”
“Why is it different, or –”
“Why — why did it let it happen ter me?”
There was only one way Galahad could answer that honestly, and he figured honesty ought to be the rule on both sides of the confessional. “I don’t know.”
He heard a whimper.
“But — but I believe,” he continued, “that — that He wouldn’t have let that happen to you if He couldn’t make some greater good come out of it. If He didn’t know that you could make some greater good come out of it.”
“Like … like what?” she asked.
“Well, there’s the baby, isn’t there?”
He heard a gasp and the confessional trembled — like Glenna was physically recoiling. “With — with a father like that?”
“Oh, you’d be amazed at how well children can turn out, no matter what the father is like. You should meet Lynn and Clarice and Angelique de Ganis! They’re the nicest ladies you’ll ever meet — and their father is awful!” Galahad stopped. Then again, perhaps Sir Bors wasn’t the best comparison to make here …
Or perhaps he was. He was awful. Not worse than whoever hurt Glenna was — but he had had the raising of his daughters, while Glenna’s baby’s father would, Wright willing, never get near his child. Her child.
“Besides,” Galahad went on, “the baby is yours, too, isn’t it? And aren’t you a good person? Why shouldn’t the baby be like you?”
“I … I don’t know.”
“I think it will be. You’ll raise him — or her. Not that … that monster.”
“But … but what can I do, that, that would make the baby … special?”
“Well, for starters … that baby will know that girls who suffer what you suffered didn’t do anything wrong. And they shouldn’t be punished for it. And they shouldn’t feel badly about it. Well,” Galahad added, “I mean — they shouldn’t feel guilty for it. Of course they’ll feel … bad. But — but the more people in the world who know that … I think that will make it a better world.”
“Ye … ye really mean that, don’t ye? That I didn’t do nothin’ wrong?”
There was a creak of wood, then a rustle of cloth. “Brother — Brother Galahad?” asked Glenna, from outside the confessional. Galahad quickly stood to face her.
“Brother …” She bit her lip. “Can ye — can ye do somethin’ fer me?”
“I hope so!”
“… Can … can ye say that again?”
Galahad blinked. “I hope so?”
“No — no.” Glenna smiled, and she — chuckled? “No. I mean — that I didn’t do nothin’ wrong.”
“Oh! Oh. You didn’t do anything wrong. This … this certainly wasn’t your fault!”
“An’ — an’ again?”
“This wasn’t your fault. You didn’t do anything wrong.”
“An’ …” She blushed and stared at her feet. “… Once more?”
Galahad shrugged. “Why not? You did nothing wrong. You didn’t sin. What happened wasn’t your fault.”
Glenna took a deep breath — then, eyes closed, she lurched forward and hugged him. “Thank — thank ye.”
Galahad awkwardly embraced her and patted her back. “You’re — you’re welcome. I suppose. After all …” He tried to shrug, without much success. “What else is the Church here for?”