Clatan 20, 1014
“One hundred one, one hundred two …”
Father Hugh’s mood was grave, his mind already wrangling over the difficult conversation he was due to have. But part of him smiled to hear Tara counting off her skips.
He paused at the top of the steps, watching her. Every monastery and nunnery ought to have children about. They saw the Lord with eyes unmarred by cynicism or worldliness. Their innocent questions forced the monks and nuns to confront, daily, what it was their lives were all about. It was too easy to get caught up in the daily grind, but a curious, “Why?” from a four-year-old was something everybody needed to hear now and again to shake themselves up. Father Hugh was coming to know that all over again now that Tor and Pasgen were living at the monastery.
All over again … he’d gone right back where he started, hadn’t he? He had first learned that when Tuck was little — after he had found on the steps of the abbey the blanket-wrapped baby that would become Tuck, after he had convinced the other monks to take the child in, after Tuck started to grow and attached himself to Father Hugh rather than any other monk. He had been like a little burr stuck to Father Hugh’s robes. For the first time, Father Hugh had thought that maybe what he had given up in order to become a monk — a chance at a family — might have been a less wise sacrifice than he’s originally assumed.
Who would have guessed, so many years ago, that things would have turned out the way they have? Tuck now Brother Tuck — a monk who was once the darling of the abbey, now its black sheep — and, if Father Hugh was right … now Brother Tuck had a burr of his own …
And she had just gotten up to one hundred and thirty in her skipping.
Father Hugh coughed and went down the steps. “Excuse me, Tara — would you mind stopping for a moment so I can talk to you?”
She spun around. “Am I in trouble, Father?” She pouted.
“No, no — certainly not. I just …” Good Lord, what he was about to do felt wrong. Although, he assured himself, he was asking just as much for Tara’s sake as he was for Brother Tuck’s. A monk who took a strong interest in a girl child needed to be checked on early and often, for both of their sakes. “I just want to ask you about your friend, Brother Tuck.”
Tara giggled. “It’s funny, you calling him my friend, Father!”
“Oh?” Father Hugh asked. He had seen Brother Tuck playing with Tara often in these past months — if by “playing with” one meant “holding dolls and pantomiming and generally dancing to a six-year-old’s tune.” “Is he not your friend, then?”
“Oh, he is,” Tara said with all the certainty of the very young, “but it’s funny to call a grown-up my friend!”
Father Hugh chuckled. “I can see why you would say that. But I think grown-ups should make friends with little ones far more often than they do.”
“You do, Father?”
“Oh yes — children and grown-ups have much learn from each other.” Tara’s eyes widened at that thought — Mother Julian must have not let hide nor hair of it escape from her. Well, Father Hugh couldn’t blame her for that. She was in the awkward position of mother and father both to her girls. Mother and Father could be many things to their young children, but “friend” was not one of them. “But that isn’t what I wa–need to talk about today. We can talk about that later, if you like, but right now I’d like to talk about Brother Tuck. When you two play together …”
Father Hugh hesitated. Brother Tuck was, as far as he knew, keeping to his order of silence — so no use asking what he said. And to ask about the state of his mind would probably be asking for the impossible; Tara was probably not old enough to make some judgements accurately. “When you two play together … what do you do?”
“We play with my dollies, mostly,” replied Tara. “I have two! Nyasha made me one for my birthday!”
Yes, Father Hugh wouldn’t be surprised to hear that. Mother Julian did not tell the children their maternity and any siblings they had among the orphans until they were about to leave the abbey, but these children were so desperate for any hint of family that they would latch onto it as soon as it was provided. Besides, Nyasha was wise to start to forge a bond with her blood-sister even before the sister knew it was there. Blood family counted for so much — too much — out there in the world.
“And what do you do, when you play with your dolls?”
Tara giggled. “Whatever I want! I told Brother Tuck I wanted him to play the mummy, while I played the daddy, and he did it!”
The way she tilted her head back when she said that, and flung her arms wide … she looked just like Tuck had when he was little … he had that ingratiating way of speaking even when he was young. How had Tuck rubbed off her so thoroughly and so fast?
Father Hugh forced himself to chuckle, lest she think that something was wrong — or, more accurately, lest she think something was wrong with her or anything she’d done. “He did? My goodness! He was very kind that day!”
“Aye, but he wasn’t very good at being a mummy. I told him the baby needed to be burped, and he tried to burp the baby upside-down! He is so silly!”
“My goodness! We had better not let Brother Tuck near any real babies!”
Tara giggled. “No, we’d better not!” Then she looked longingly at her skipping-rope. “What else do you want to know, Father?”
The child was getting impatient — and well she ought to be. “Just one more thing, Tara. How often does Brother Tuck have time to play with you?”
Tara scrunched her face up. “Um … maybe once a week? Maybe twice, if it’s a good week.”
That was about as often as Father Hugh had observed. Well, that was good to know. Nothing good came of monks playing with children anywhere other than in the full view of anyone who cared to look.
Having learned all he thought he ought, Father Hugh blessed Tara and sent her on her way. Then he steeled himself for the hard part of today.
Opening the door of the chapel — and talking to Brother Tuck.
He was praying — he had taken over most of Brother Andy’s insistence on praying the hours. Not being allowed to speak resulted in Brother Tuck being confined to the monastery much more than he had previously. He could still do a great deal of the administrative work of the abbey — record-keeping, book-balancing and such — but beyond that, he was stymied. So he prayed. The Lord, after all, did not require a prayer to be spoken aloud in order to hear it.
Father Hugh just prayed that Brother Tuck was also using his time to reflect. “Brother?” he said, speaking into the echoing quiet of the small chapel. “Do you have a moment?”
Brother Tuck looked up, eyes wide. He nodded eagerly. Without the power of speech to make his thoughts known — or make known those that he wanted others to think were his thoughts — Brother Tuck often gestured wildly to compensate. It was almost pitiful to behold.
But Father Hugh must not allow himself to feel pity. He must not allow himself to be soft, to be indulgent. He was doing this for Brother Tuck’s own good as much as he was for the good of the abbey, and aye, the kingdom. For Brother Tuck had gone too far — too far in meddling with other Sims’ lives, and too far in that he nearly put his own in danger.
“Excellent. We shall sit.” Father Hugh made his way up the side aisle to the front pew. Brother Tuck had to do little more than lean back.
And as Father Hugh sat, he paused for a moment — just a moment — to collect his thoughts.
Then he took a deep breath. “We need to talk, Brother. And for that purpose … I release you from your silence for the space of this conversation.” Before Brother Tuck could do more than let his jaw fall, Father Hugh asked, “Do you know what today is, Brother?”
“Eh–er …” Brother Tuck cleared his throat a few times. Even that sounded thin and rusty from disuse. Although not as thin and rusty as it might have been. According to Brother Andy, Brother Tuck often talked in his sleep — often about pancakes, of all things.
He finished clearing his throat and started to speak. “It’s … the twentieth of Clatan, Father. The feast of –”
“Never mind the feast,” replied Father Hugh, holding up his hand. “I only care about the significance of this date to you and to me.” He paused before adding, “The significance is of quite recent vintage, for what it’s worth.”
“Recent …” Brother Tuck coughed. “It … well … it was six months ago today that … that my silence began …”
Just as Father Hugh had suspected. He had been keeping track of the days, probably hoping with every significant anniversary — one week, one month, two months, three — that Father Hugh would initiate this very conversation. He had always been so, even as a child.
“Quite right,” Father Hugh replied. He hesitated, then decided — why not? — to go for it. “And what have you learned in these past months, Brother?”
“What have I learned?” Brother Tuck’s hand went to his heart. “I have learned–”
“The truth, Tuck,” Father Hugh interrupted. “You’ve got the mind of a silver-tongued rhetorician. It would take more than a vow of silence to make that silver tarnish.” And if Father Hugh needed more than intuition to make that case, he had in this: throughout the past six months, Brother Tuck had been … not writing, but revising and improving Brother Andy’s sermons. And since Father Hugh insisted on vetting them before Brother Andy was allowed to preach them, he knew that Brother Tuck’s wit had not dulled.
Brother Tuck’s eyes fell. “I wouldn’t lie to you, Father …”
“Perhaps not. But I want the truth, plain and unvarnished. Don’t tell me what you think I want to hear. Tell me what you’ve learned.”
Brother Tuck looked away. “I … I …”
Father Hugh waited.
“I … never thought I had so much to say … until I was not allowed to say it anymore.” So soft, so hesitant — almost ashamed that that was the best he could come up with. Yes, Father Hugh knew that, too. Tuck had always been sensitive about his lessons, having the right answer that would win him praise and attention, and not the wrong one that would get him sent back to the library with nothing more than a single harsh word. No wonder he had gotten so good at speaking, telling others what they wanted to hear.
“That is a good start, Brother. What else?”
“I — I also learned … it is very easy to lose the good opinion of others.” Yes, that must have been a bitter pill for him to swallow. “Especially … when you cannot speak in your own defense.”
Father Hugh would not tell him that there was no defense for what he had done. He knew too well the defenses available. Brother Tuck could say he was looking out for the best interests of those children. He could say that their mothers had fallen so deeply into sin that it was impossible for them to raise a child correctly. He could point out the truth of his own life: somebody had left him on the steps of a monastery, and look at how well he had ended up.
“Yes. It is,” Father Hugh replied. “And … do you think, perhaps, that there was a reason that I enjoined you to silence?”
Brother Tuck bowed his head. “You … you did not want to talk to me, that day. You did not want to hear what I had to say.”
Father Hugh winced. Yes, that had been the original impetus behind the penance, hadn’t it? There had also been a bit of fitting the punishment to the crime. Brother Tuck had landed them all in trouble thanks to his mouth, very well, let him not use it for a while and see how he liked that.
But once Father Hugh had calmed down, he had come to see that this really was the best punishment available. The Lord must have worked through his anger to inspire him.
“Yes. There was that. I will not deny it, Brother. But … there is a reason why I let it stretch this long. Can you guess what it might be?”
Brother Tuck hesitated — but after a moment, he shook his head. Amazing. Had he even learned some humility?
Perhaps this would complete the lesson. “Brother … what are the women you persecuted, if not silenced?”
Brother Tuck’s jaw fell. “Father!”
“I’m not –” He tried to raise his voice, but after so many months, it wouldn’t comply. He coughed and almost choked — Father Hugh patted him on the back — and when he finally spoke, it was perforce in a more reasonable tone. “I am not like them! I am not a si–”
“We are all sinners, Brother.”
“But not–like–that! They had no good reason to do what they did — what they do!”
“Keeping body and soul together is not a good reason?”
“N-no! There are other ways, Father!”
“Perhaps. I have not walked long enough in these women’s shoes to know the truth of what you say, Brother. But I will say this: there were other ways to do what you attempted to do, Brother — getting those children into …” Father Hugh hesitated. “Homes that are stable, and loving, and not open to malign influences.”
“By approaching their mothers in the spirit of charity and brotherhood, not spite and hatred,” replied Father Hugh.
Brother Tuck’s shoulders deflated. “I never … hated them …”
“Did you love them?” Brother Tuck jumped at the question, so Father Hugh strove to explain himself. “Remember the root of the word charity, brother.”
“Caritas,” Brother Tuck whispered.
“Love,” Father Hugh agreed. “It’s not a loving action to stand in front of a congregation full of people, point your finger at a fellow Sim — a sister in Wright — and say, ‘You have gone beyond the pale, you have sinned in the eyes of the Lord. Brothers and sisters — let us scorn this person!'”
“But … you let me …”
“Yes. I did. And that is my sin.” Father Hugh sighed. “But you should have known enough to stop yourself.”
“I thought …” Brother Tuck bowed his head. “I thought …”
Father Hugh waited for Brother Tuck to say what he had thought.
“I thought the people would love me better if …”
Oh, no. But Father Hugh clung to this much: at least Brother Tuck was being honest. Would he have been this honest six months ago?
“They did not love you better, Tuck. They liked you better. People will always will, if you encourage them in their worst instincts. But — was it lasting, Brother Tuck? Was it real? Or did they turn on you the second that an opportunity to do so came along?”
Brother Tuck winced. That told Father Hugh all he needed to hear.
“However, if you encourage them to be their best selves …”
Brother Tuck looked up, hope in his eyes.
“They will not like you for it. They may even hate you for it. But if they do — that is a good sign, Brother. Hate is but a stepping-stone on the path that leads to love.”
“Father — that doesn’t even …”
“Make sense? Of course it doesn’t, Brother. It’s love. Love never does make sense.”
Brother Tuck smiled slightly. “I thought it was amor that did not make sense, not caritas.”
“My son — if caritas made sense, monks like you and me would not have to work so hard to bring it into this world, day in and day out.”
Brother Tuck looked away. “I … suppose that’s true.”
There was no supposing about it. But for Brother Tuck to even suppose — that was progress. That was a sign for hope.
That was a sign that while Brother Tuck was not quite ready to return to the speaking world, he was getting much closer.
Slowly, Father Hugh rose. “Well — I think you are making good progress, Brother. You have done much thinking over these past months. That much is clear.”
“So — so I am speak again?”
“Not … yet. But we will talk …” When would they talk next? “Every three days from now on. And … you must sp–you must request a certain book from Brother Galahad. It’s gotten itself lost in that library of his, but no doubt he’ll know just where to find it if you mention it to him. It’s the Showings of Natasha of Una.”
“The Show–Father! That book was one vote away from being declared heresy!”
“And that one vote was inspired by the Lord, I believe,” replied Father Hugh. “She has some very interesting and instructive things to say on the subject of love.”
“But … but half the book is about sandwiches …”
Father Hugh hesitated — but he owed it to Brother Tuck to hold nothing back. “To be honest … I never quite understood what she was getting at with the sandwiches, either. You may feel free to skip over those parts.”
He looked up — Brother Andy was ringing the bells of the great cathedral. “And now I really must go, T–Brother Tuck. You know how it is. The boys will be wanting their supper soon, and–”
“Wait!” Brother Tuck called out.
Father Hugh waited.
“Do you forgive me?”
“Can you ever forgive me?”
Ever forgive him? “Oh, Tuck …” Father Hugh took a deep breath — then, smiling, waggled his finger at the worried face somewhere at the height of his waist. It was a gesture he had made many times before.
“Tuck–it is not my forgiveness you should be seeking. It was not me whom you wronged. But I will say this, since it worries you: if you think that I cannot or will not forgive you … that only shows how much you have yet to learn of love.”