Endskel 7, 1013
Angelique had been chosen to sing in the service for Robertmas, at the very cathedral of St. Robert himself. She’d even been given a solo — a small solo, but a solo. She knew it was an honor. She knew that this was the kind of chance plenty of singers would give their right arms for. And maybe Angelique might have given her right arm for it, too, if that was what they were asking. After all, like so many other things in this world, she suspected that this too all came down to a question of price.
Because no matter how talented the singer, no matter how crystalline and pure the voice, no matter how much passion and beauty could be brought to the song … only monks and nuns were allowed to be part of the choir for the Robertmas service.
She wondered how many singers would give up their love and their freedom for the chance to sing in one measly service.
And what, perhaps, made Angelique saddest is that she knew this would be her swan song. If she were to be allowed to stay in Camford, join a community of nuns nearby, be able to sing year after year in the Robertmas service … that could be something like just compensation for what she had given up. But she knew it was not to be. Nuns were forbidden to change orders. So were monks, technically, but monks could be given a parish of their own and, to an extent, make their own rules. If nuns needed to care for a parish that couldn’t support a whole nunnery, they would send a smaller cloister of at least three nuns. Nuns could never manage to get away.
As for Angelique — what was her fate to be? She would go back to Albion. She’d live out the rest of her days as a drudge, wiping orphans’ bottoms, scrubbing floors, cooking and doing laundry and praying for people she either didn’t know or did know and didn’t care about. The one bright spot would be teaching music at the cathedral school.
And … there was the possibility of being abbess. That was why Angelique had taken her final vows, wasn’t it? So she could be powerful, a voice that would be heard, not just a nameless drudge in veil and wimple. So she could prove her father wrong. But the more that Angelique thought about it, the worse the idea seemed. First of all, Mother Julian was as healthy as a horse, so when would Angelique lead? Secondly, Abbess of one of St. Coral’s nunneries simply was not a powerful position. Clarice’s and Lynn’s letters, peppered with the news from Albion, confirmed what Angelique had sensed all along: the monks had cornered the market on Church power in Albion. She doubted even Brother Tuck’s recent scandal would change that fundamental dynamic.
So being Abbess was much like being a regular nun. There would be all the same tiresome drudgery, the same endless cycle of days just like the last. There would just be more paperwork.
She should have said no back when she was eighteen. She should have walked away then. That would have shown her father. That would have made it clear that–
Angelique looked up. “Oh … Brother Arche.”
She liked Brother Arche. They were in the same year and had seen each other from time to time in the course of Church duties. But best of all, he was another singer. He’d been an oblate from the age of six or seven and had been trained in it since he showed he could carry a tune. He’d had solo positions in the Robertmas service since the beginning of their time at Camford. His mellow baritone could somehow fill the church from nave to narthex. She’d seen his voice move grown men, warriors in Camford on pilgrimage, to tears.
“Something wrong?” he asked. “You look pensive.”
Another wonderful thing about Brother Arche was that, though he was Church-raised, he hadn’t let it get to his head.
Angelique sighed and let herself out of the stalls used for the singers. “Oh …” She shrugged at Brother Arche. “Just … wondering how I got to this place, that’s all.”
“Well, generally one walks in the door, up the aisle, and hangs a left,” replied Brother Arche cheekily.
Angelique wished she could laugh. “You know what I mean.”
“Do I?” he asked. “Don’t tell me you’ve forgotten how to get back to your abbey. If I squired you back there, I’m afraid that my impeccable reputation would be rather tarnished.”
“You know that’s not what I mean,” Angelique snorted.
“So you mean I don’t have to escort you back? Excellent. That cuts down on the odds of my meeting Sister Grace.”
Angelique snorted again, but this time it was the snort of a laugh only halfway choked off. “She graduated last year.”
“But she’s part of the Order of St. Marla! They never leave Camford!”
That was only too true. It was part of why Angelique often envied them … at least until she remembered that they had to spend the rest of their lives in each other’s company. It almost made going back to Albion and the life that awaited her there seem worth it.
“But if you know very well how to get home again, Sister Angelique,” continued Brother Arche, “then you’re going to have to help me out here. For I am but a poor obtuse man, quite unable to make hide nor hair out of the tangle of emotion and memory and forced conclusions that you women call ‘logic.'”
Angelique laughed. “You can’t even figure out men’s logic. Backstabber nearly threw a book at you!”
“I know. It’s amazing I can make it through a simple conversation,” sighed Brother Arche. “But at least I’m good at ducking.”
“He wouldn’t have actually thrown it.”
“Please.” Angelique snorted. “You are good at ducking. And you knew who was sitting behind you.”
“Ah yes — the gigglers.” Brother Arche rolled his eyes. “But all of them have papas with a lot of money, and all of their papas would be very upset to hear that their babies got a black eye from a professor. They’d probably be even more upset if they knew that Backstabber hadn’t aimed for their precious darlings.”
Angelique did not want to think too hard about girls with overprotective fathers who would grow angry if those girls came to any kind of physical harm. Who thought of their girls as “precious darlings.” So she asked, “Do you have a minute? Want to take a walk around the gardens?”
“For you, Sister Angelique, I can make the minutes stretch into hours.”
There was something … vaguely bawdy about the way he said that. But there was also something in it that begged not to be taken seriously. Angelique shrugged to herself. She had always found Brother Arche a bit hard to read when he got into those moods. “Let’s walk, then.”
Without another word, they began the long walk down the aisle of … not Wrightendom’s oldest, and not its biggest, and perhaps not even its most spectacular cathedral, but certainly its holiest cathedral.
Even now — on a weekday, with no services being held — it was hardly empty or completely quiet. Other students and townspeople stood in the corners and alcoves, talking, joking, laughing. Some had slipped into darker corners to do … who knew what. Or they would, once it got darker. This cathedral was one filled with light and air, which made it difficult to find those darker corners.
But this was what it was like in the big cathedrals in the big cities. The cathedral was not just a place of worship: it was a meeting-place, and a market, and shelter from the rain, a place to be with one’s love … and sometimes it could be all of these things at once, even while services were going on. In Albion, because the monks had installed pews in the cathedral, most people sat down and paid attention while the service was going on. The Robertians, however, shunned pews, because they thought that sitting while worshiping was something of a sacrilege. And the result was that nobody paid attention to what they were saying while they were holding services.
But some said that the Robertians didn’t mind — as long as the money wound up in the collection plate, it was all one to them.
It was probably a good thing that that last thought crossed Angelique’s mind as she and Brother Arche stepped into the sunlight. Probably even thinking such thoughts in St. Robert’s own cathedral was enough to get her damned — or at least rack up some serious penances.
“Shall we sit?” asked Brother Arche.
Angelique hesitated. Technically monks and nuns — young, able-bodied monks and nuns — were not supposed to sit in the cloister gardens. They were supposed to walk around them, letting the beauty of nature show them the love and beauty of the Lord. Or something. Angelique had yawned through those lectures.
… Besides, they didn’t make any sense. The gardens were beautiful — but they were no more nature than a knight’s charger was a wild animal. There were certain broad similarities, yes, but at the end of the day, both the gardens and the charger were what Sims had made of them.
So, “Let’s sit,” replied Angelique.
As soon as she and Brother Arche chose a bench and seated themselves, Angelique got to business. “Brother Arche, do you ever wonder if … if maybe this isn’t the life you were meant to live?”
Brother Arche’s eyebrows went up. “I’m the third son of a baron — with two supremely healthy older brothers, may I add. If this is not the life for me … what is?”
Angelique wilted. When Brother Arche put it like that … she was the third daughter of an earl. Her father had already made two perfectly good alliances with Lynn’s marriage and Clarice’s. At the end of the day, there was simply … no point to her wishing for anything else. This was simply the way the world was ordained, how things must be.
“But,” Brother Arche continued, “I’ve been doing this since I was seven. You were …?”
“Fourteen,” Angelique murmured.
“Hmm,” Brother Arche murmured. “That’s different.”
Angelique looked up. “You think so?”
“I know so.” Brother Andy tossed his head and rolled his eyes. “Of course it’s different. When you’re seven … the Church can more easily make you into its own image. When you’re fourteen? Forget it! Especially if there’s some resistance to the idea.”
Angelique blinked. “My … my father was an oblate for a while–”
“Your father? Ooh, is this a scandal? And you never told me, Sister Angelique? Shame on you!”
“Not that kind of scandal,” Angelique snorted. “He started when he was … oh, six or so. And his parents pulled him out about two years later. There was some kind of scandal at the monastery — the Order of St. Consort — and–”
“Oh, the pederasty scandal?”
Angelique blinked. “What?”
“You–you know what the word means … right?” Brother Arche asked.
“Of course I know what the word means!” Angelique hissed. She wouldn’t lay odds on Lynn knowing it — though Clarice probably would — but Angelique had never let the knowledge that such-and-such a topic was forbidden to females stop her from seeking to learn more about it. “Are you saying my father was …?”
“I don’t know,” Brother Arche shrugged. “How old is he?”
“Forty-nine.” His birthday was only two days away — it was close enough.
“That would put him at the right age to have been there when the scandal broke …” Brother Arche stroked his beard. “But that doesn’t mean he was–you know–one of the boys affected. The Order of St. Consort was very popular in those days with the nobility. There were dozens of boys there. And only a few of them were affected.”
“… How on earth do you know so much about a scandal that happened over forty years ago?”
Brother Andy shot her a look. “Sister Angelique. Please. It was a huge scandal! Do you think the monks in my order still aren’t talking about it?”
“Forty years later?”
“Some of them were there at the time,” Brother Arche shrugged. “Your father wasn’t the only one pulled out when the scandal broke. And some of the ones who were were put into different monasteries.”
“… Oh,” Angelique murmured.
“Besides, I’m part of the Order of St. Kent, remember?” Brother Arche poked Angelique’s side. “A daughter house of the Order of St. Consort if there ever was one. And if you think the Consortians are a magnet for younger sons who otherwise would just be a drain on the family fortunes, you should see the Kentians!”
“Our order has plenty of lands and plenty of money, so as long as we copy some manuscripts from time to time and show up to services, we can gossip as much as we please in the meantime.”
“Oh …” Angelique glanced through her lashes at Brother Arche. “Are–are many orders like that?”
“Enough,” Brother Arche shrugged. “You have to put the excess sons and daughters of the nobility somewhere.”
Angelique nodded and looked away.
“You probably should have been sent to one of those houses,” Brother Arche added, softly. “I–I can’t imagine what your father was thinking, making you a Coralite. That’s no place for a girl with noble blood. That’s no place for anyone without a vocation.”
Angelique’s gaze snapped back to Brother Arche. “What? We’re all supposed to have a vocation.”
Brother Arche laughed. “Please, Sister–don’t be naive! Of course we don’t all have a vocation. Why, if the Church actually closed its doors to anyone who didn’t have a vocation, they’d lose at least half their manpower!”
As soon as Brother Arche said that, it was like the sun came out from behind a cloud. She wasn’t the only one without a vocation? She wasn’t the only one who wasn’t abjectly grateful for the chance to spend her life on her knees, praying for other people to be forgiven so she never had time to go out and commit interesting sins herself? She wasn’t the only person who had been forced into this life when she was too young to defend herself and now knew of no way to get out?
“In the orders like the Kentians, they teach you–well, how to … deal with this life. The Coralites just expect you to work and be grateful for the opportunity. It’s an order for widows who will starve otherwise, that one. Not for noble ladies.”
Had all the birds in the town just burst into song, or was that only Angelique’s heart?
“Could you …” Angelique hesitated. “Could you maybe … give me some hints? Something to take home with me, when I go back to Albion?”
“Will I give you some hints? Sister, do you think I would have brought it up if I wasn’t going to tell you something? Oh, Sister Angelique …” He shook his head. “What kind of a horrible person do you think I am?”
It was a good question. Angelique waited.
And waited. But finally Brother Arche spoke. “There–there’s a lot you learn,” he said quietly. “But … I think the first and most important is … everybody sins.”
Everybody sins? Really? That was the best Brother Arche could come up with?
“And not–not in the way you think, either,” Brother Arche added. “That is–we learn that not so we get … prideful in our humility, the way a lot of monks and nuns do. No. We learn that because … because being a monk is hard. And we’re going to screw up. It’s inevitable.”
Angelique cocked her head to one side. “Do you mean …”
“I mean that the only person who actually followed all the bloody scriptures and precepts we have to follow was St. Robert himself — and I’m pretty sure there’s some debate about that.”
“So …” Angelique bit her lip. “It’s all right to … sin … to mess up — as long as you get forgiveness afterward?”
“Ah, but you must be careful how you do that,” Brother Arche wagged his finger in Angelique’s face. “One must manage one’s penances. Sure, some people can wear a hair shirt all day and all night, and some people positively enjoy flogging themselves … but the rest of us … have to play the game.”
“Isn’t …” Angelique bit her lip. “Isn’t that–risky? What if you died with some terrible sin unconfessed?”
“Life’s a risk,” Brother Arche waved his hand. “You can’t let fear of damnation stop you from living. Though don’t tell the laity I said that.”
Angelique laughed. “Your secret is safe with me. But what did you mean about–”
She was cut off by the bells from the cathedral. At this distance, there was no talking over them. And they were ringing for None.
“Drat,” Angelique sighed. “I need to get back.”
“Me too, my dear, me too.”
They both rose. But Angelique couldn’t just let their conversation end on that note. “It’s almost too bad you’re a monk, Brother Arche,” she said, stepping forward, one hand reaching for his cheek. “If you were a –”
“Er,” Brother Arche stepped back. “I didn’t mean to give you the wrong idea, Sister Angelique.”
Angelique blinked. “But … but you just said …”
Everything he said about sin. And penance. Surely–surely that included this as well? Surely that meant she could have at least a little freedom, a little room to breathe? Or was this the one non-negotiable, the one that all monks and nuns followed, no matter what?
If it was … if Angelique had misunderstood everything …
“Oh, don’t take it personally!” Brother Andy rushed to — reassure her? “It’s not you. It’s just …” He leaned a little closer. “I prefer Sims with more on bottom than up top — if you know what I mean?”
He was gesturing near his chest, cupping his hands as if he were holding up …
“Oh!” Angelique whispered. “You–prefer the company of gentlemen?”
“Aye, let’s go with that.”
“Understood,” Angelique replied. And it was amazing how much better she felt, to hear that. “But … what you were saying earlier … it does apply to …?”
“The C-vow?” Brother Arche asked. “Honey–if it didn’t apply to that–what on earth would it apply to?”
It was a good question. One that Angelique didn’t have an answer to.
And she hoped she would never, never need one.