Jaban 27, 1014
For the second time in a single year, the church was filled with the great and mighty of the land, all assembled to bid farewell to one of their own.
Tuck surveyed the packed church as dispassionately as he could. He had already conducted the preliminaries of the service: the initial blessings, the readings, the prayers and songs. But now came the hard part, the sermon that Tuck hadn’t had nearly enough time to work on. The sermon he wished he hadn’t had to write.
As he walked to the lectern and tried to gather his thoughts, his thoughts stole away from him and danced back to the last time he had preached a funeral sermon to a cathedral full of the greatest of Albion. That had been Lord Lot’s funeral — almost five years ago. Father Hugh had done the sermon for Lord Pellinore’s funeral. He only gave this one to Tuck because he thought it might be more fitting for a younger man to lead the service for a younger man’s funeral. That, and Tuck had to resume his duties sooner or later, and it might as well be now.
It was also, Tuck suspected, a test. Had he learned his lesson from the year prior? Or, given the least temptation, would he careen back into his old ways?
Luckily Tuck thought he had the key to passing this test.
“Brothers and sisters,” he began. “I wish I had the words that would bring comfort and succor to the many, many hurting souls before me today.”
He just had to remember that none of this was about him.
“I will not attempt to eulogize Sir Lamorak at this time,” he went on. “I do this for one single reason: his best friend, his brother-in-law, is here to take up that duty, and he will do a far better job than I ever could. He knew Sir Lamorak, he lived with him, he laughed with him, he was there through Sir Lamorak’s good times and his bad. I …” Tuck shrugged. “Not only can I not claim the honor of having been Sir Lamorak’s friend, I cannot even lay claim to the duty of having been his confessor.”
The congregation shifted and stirred in their seats. Boredom. He was losing them already. Only Sir Mordred still sat up sharply at attention.
He couldn’t worry about that. He could only speak as simply and plainly as he knew, and perhaps bring a light to their darkness.
“But … perhaps I can offer some words of advice, of wisdom gathered from the Book of Wright, something that will make the road that lies ahead of us all somewhat less hard. I will start with a phrase often mentioned at funerals: ‘mourn and celebrate.'”
They were still restive. Tuck folded his hands over his text and took a deep breath. “I want to say that I will not be using that phrase today, except to critique it.”
That got everyone to look up and sit up straighter in their seats. The old thrill of having them right where he wanted them, eating out of the palm of his hand, bubbled up the same as always. He tried to ignore it, failed, and settled for the old compromise of refusing to show it.
“It is one thing to ‘mourn and celebrate’ the passing of an old person, one who had lived his life humbly and devoutly and is surely supping with the Lord in Paradise as we speak. It is one thing to ‘mourn and celebrate’ the death of a child, innocent and pure, clearly too good for this world. It is even one thing to ‘mourn and celebrate’ the sacrifice of a soldier, his life freely given for his family, his friends, and his country. But this? A promising young life cut all too short by an act of senseless violence? My friends, even though I am sure that Sir Lamorak is in Paradise already, there is nothing to celebrate here.”
From the corner of his eye, Tuck could just see Father Hugh staring at him. He was doubtless wondering where this would go. Tuck did his best not to show that he noticed.
“And now I know what many of you are thinking. You are thinking, ‘Brother Tuck, that is but common sense.’ And that is true. So why is it so strange to hear it here?”
He looked around at the congregation. They had not reached that question on their own. But this, Tuck forced himself to remember, was no ordinary church service. It was not even a funeral like Lord Lot’s, or even Lord Pellinore’s, where the death had been expected and everyone in attendance had a chance to prepare. This death had hit like a lightning bolt from a beautifully blue sky, shattering what had been a peaceful day and throwing all into chaos. They weren’t thinking about his sermon. They weren’t trying to follow his logic or jump ahead of it. It was all they could do to listen.
So it was up to Tuck to tell them something worth hearing.
“I think the reason why it feels so strange to be speaking plain sense in a church, at a funeral, is because so much of what the Church must do is defy common sense. If we listened only to our common sense, we would think that death was the end. We would think that it was only natural, only rational, to hoard all of our money and worldly goods to ourselves, rather than giving them away to an institution that will them to aid other people whom we have never met and may not even like if we did. We would think it was only common sense to deal falsely with other men, to lie and cheat and steal and do everything we could to secure our own advantage, fully expecting to be done to in that way as well. For kindness is not common sense. Generosity is not common sense. And heaven knows, faith is not common sense.
“So what do we do at a time like now, when in our grief and our despair, not only do our injured hearts but our injured minds rise up and cry out to the Lord, ‘How is it that You can do such terrible things to us and then say You love us?”
Tuck took a deep breath. By the uncomfortable stirring in the seats, he guessed he had struck a nerve. Good. That was what he had meant to do.
“And the answer,” Tuck said in a much softer voice, so that all would have to lean in and listen, “is that the Lord does not do such things to us. If Sir Lamorak had fallen from his horse and struck his head — then we could cry out and blame the Lord. But this is not the Lord’s fault, brothers and sisters. It is the fault of wicked, wicked men.
“However, lest anyone thing I am encouraging thoughts of revenge,” he hurried to add, “know that I am not. I refer not to the sane and just application of the law, of course,” he nodded to the King and then Sir William, who, as his luck would have it, were sitting on opposite sides of the church, “for only by justly punishing evildoers can the rest of us have a hope of walking about our daily business in safety. No, I refer to private acts of revenge, of trying to mete out evil to those who have done evil unto us. Of trying to match pain for pain. My friends, my brothers and sisters, that does not work. The Sminese even have a saying for it: ‘Before you embark on a journey of revenge, dig two graves.’ And so does the Book of Wright: ‘Vengeance is mine, saith the Lord.’
He looked especially at the family as he spoke, since he knew that nobles tended to be the ones who started vendettas and blood feuds that only ended when all of the participants were dead — including “participants” who had not been born or even conceived when the original offense was dealt. It did not matter that the half that he was able to look at was the female half. That half of the Gwynedd family included Lady Dindrane, Lady Garnet, and Lady Morgan — all of whom had had a hand in the destruction of Lady Morgause, their mother-in-law, mother, and sister respectively.
But he would give Lady Garnet and Lady Dindrane this much credit: neither seemed particularly keen on pursuing revenge at this moment. Lady Dindrane had her arms around her two older children, both of which looked ready to burst into tears at any moment. Lady Garnet scarcely looked better, and the way she stared forlornly at the coffin would break the heart of any man who looked at her too long. However, as for Lady Morgan …
Tuck almost felt sorry for the ruffians who had taken Sir Lamorak’s life, or he would, if Lady Morgan got hold of them before the law did.
He took a deep breath and looked again at the congregation as a whole. “So rest assured, brothers and sisters: those who have done this evil will be punished for their deeds. If not in this world, then in the next. However, I have no doubt that some kind of punishment will reach these cruel men in this world, even if they manage to escape conventional justice. It has been said, ‘Length of days with an evil heart is only length of misery.’ There is no doubt in my mind that those responsible for the death of Sir Lamorak already know this.
“Still, that leaves us with the question we started with: What do we do? Where do we turn? And why, why did this happen?”
Tuck waited. He watched the people lean forward in their seats. He watched the heads tilt to the side and the breaths being held. And then, when Tuck had dragged out the mood as far as it would go, when he had drummed up all the anticipation he could possibly muster, when their hearts were twisted to the breaking point —
He disappointed them.
“I do not know, brothers and sisters. We know we must take our pain to the Lord. We know He will show us what to do. But why this happened? My friends, frankly, I have no better idea than you do. But I do know this: what happened, happened for a reason. And someday, when we see Sir Lamorak again, we will look at him, and we will look at each other, and we will look to the Lord, and we will say — hard as it is to believe now! — ‘Now I see. Now I understand. And now I know that it was all truly — truly — for the best.”
Tuck took one last deep breath. “My friends, that is all I can share with you today. But to remember Sir Lamorak as he ought to be remembered — as I know we will all remember him — I must ask Sir Mordred to come to the lectern, and help us in our grief.”
Sir Mordred rose and, as Tuck moved to the seat placed next to Father Hugh, made his way to the front of the church at his usual sauntering pace. He paused only to give the coffin a brisk soldier’s salute before moving forward to take his place behind the lectern.
“My friends and kinsmen,” he began, “you have no idea how much it pains me to have to be up here to somehow develop a fitting tribute to Sir Lamorak, the best brother-in-law a man could ask for, one of the best friends I ever had, and a man who has left us far too soon.”
Sir Mordred took a deep breath. “Still, I suppose I should begin by thanking Sir Aglovale for allowing me this honor.” He bowed slightly in Sir Aglovale’s direction. “Your kindness, especially in your grief, is admirable, sir. To allow a mere friend and relation by marriage to take up a mantle normally reserved to blood relations of the deceased — it speaks of a true generosity of spirit. Forgive me for being so personal in this public forum, but I do believe your father and brother, if they could see you now, would be very proud.”
Tuck would not have been human if he did not glance at Sir Aglovale to see how he took this. The young man seemed at first shocked — then a slow flush of pleasure started to creep over his translucently pale cheeks — then his gaze went to the coffin, he sighed, and all pleasure was gone.
“But I came here not to praise Sir Aglovale, but to best remember my friend Sir Lamorak. My good friend, with his open heart, winning humor, and eagerness to please everyone he met. And not only did Sir Lamorak please, he was as loyal a friend as a man could ask for. When I myself — forgive me for again being personal — was in the darkest hour of my life, when I had convinced myself that all men’s hands were against me and my hand was against all men’s, only Sir Lamorak came to me in my despair and told me that I still had friends, that I still had men who cared about me and wanted to help. And he had as much reason to be angry with me in those dark days as any man did.”
Yes, Tuck could well imagine that. He glanced sidelong at Lady Dindrane, wondering what it was she thought of her brother palling around with the man who had humiliated her before the entire kingdom. Whatever she thought, her face gave no sign.
“I must say this too: Sir Lamorak was not only kind to me, he was kind to my children. Owing to … circumstances, that, frankly, everyone in this cathedral is well-appraised of, I do not have the luxury of sharing a dwelling with my children. I cannot be there for their every triumph and disappointment, much as I would like to. But though I could not be there, Sir Lamorak was. He saw my children nearly every day, and he was a stable, dependable, strong male presence in their lives. I will never forget what transpired on my daughter’s last birthday. When I came to their home and was permitted inside, I saw that Sir Lamorak was dancing with Nimue standing on the toes of his shoes. She was smiling and laughing and enjoying herself thoroughly, just as a little girl should on her birthday. I will sum up with this: though I know the pain of missing my children, of feeling holes in my heart shaped like them, I am sure their pain of missing me was blunted much by the presence of Sir Lamorak — and I will ever be thankful for that.”
Tuck glanced at Lady Dindrane and her children, wondering how they were taking this. Lady Dindrane was stony-faced and impassive, watching her husband with a face as blank as a mask. But the children seemed only a few well- or ill-chosen words away from letting all of their grief loose. Young Gawaine was halfway there already.
“Still, there was more to Sir Lamorak than how he treated me, or my children,” Sir Mordred continued. “I have never known a more open-hearted, generous man. I have never known one of our station humbler. Sir Lamorak was a man grown when he died, a capable one and a true one. But he never hesitated to ask advice, and always sought his friends’ opinions before deciding upon any serious course of action. I cannot tell you how flattered I was that I was often one of these favored friends.
“Yet …” Sir Mordred hesitated, his voice lowering so that all had to lean close to hear. “To speak of Sir Lamorak as a friend only — when he was such a great family man — is that not shameful? I think we all know how much Sir Lamorak prized his family, what they meant to him. I was at his wedding, not two years ago, now. I was by his side when he welcomed his firstborn and — alas! — only son into the world. And I saw how Sir Lamorak always treated his mother, his sisters, and his brother — with the utmost care and affection. I saw too, how much he respected and looked up to his father, while his father was alive. And after Sir Lamorak became lord, I know how eager he was to be sure that he followed his father’s example, and was as renowned an Earl of Dyfed, someday, as Lord Pellinore had been.”
Lady Eilwen sighed, her bent shoulders slumping even more forward. Tuck could not watch her for long. His eyes instead alighted on Lady Dindrane — Lady Dindrane, whose eyes were narrowed at Sir Mordred, whose lips were pulled into a frown that was more thoughtful and puzzled than sad.
“But why, my friends, kinsmen, and countrymen, am I telling you this?” Sir Mordred asked. “There is no one in this room that does not know it. We all knew Sir Lamorak. We all respected him. We all, I daresay, loved him. So instead of telling you things you already know — I must ask — what can I say that will make my message worthwhile, worth hearing? What are the few, perfect words I can use to sum up Sir Lamorak that will enable us to all hold his memory dear in our hearts, from now until we meet again?”
The congregation stirred, turning their gazes, their hearts, to Sir Mordred. Tuck knew that look. He’d fed off it many times. With luck, Sir Mordred would —
They weren’t turning their hearts over to Sir Mordred. There was something being held back, from Lady Dindrane — and even her children! — to the King. Only those who did not know Sir Mordred very well seemed to fall under his spell. And even some of them, some whom Tuck would not have named as Sir Mordred’s known and close associates, seemed to be holding themselves aloof from his words.
Still, Sir Mordred went on as if he held those hearts in the palm of his had, crushed as easily as making a fist. “It is this: Sir Lamorak knew, the best of any man I ever met, how to love.”
That was it for Lady Garnet. A sob escaped her, and she buried her head in her hands. Lady Morgan wrapped an arm around her shoulders and tried to pull her closer, and she came, burying her face against her aunt’s shoulder.
Still, even muffled by cloth and flesh, Lady Garnet’s sobs rang through the church. Sir Mordred talked over them. “Love — that was what Sir Lamorak had to give, and that was what he gave so freely. He gave it even to those who did not deserve it. He gave more and more of it — and like a magic bucket that goes again and again to the well, it always came up full to the brim. Sir Lamorak was a good man, my friends and kinsmen. There is no other man I knew who better fits that description, plain and simple as it might be.
“And perhaps …” Sir Mordred let his voice trail off, made the congregation lean forward to hear his next words. “Perhaps … it is only fitting that he was taken from us so early. We have all heard the phrase, ‘Nothing gold can stay.’ My friends, Sir Lamorak had a heart of gold. It is no wonder, as much as it is a grief, that the Lord took it back so soon.”
No, thought Tuck. Put like that … it was no wonder at all …
“So,” Sir Mordred said, stepping away from the lectern, and to the very edge of the altar, “I salute you, Sir Lamorak. I salute you not for your courage or your valor, though I know you had both. I salute you not for your wealth and connections, that too often pass for virtue in this world. Instead I salute you for those qualities, so humble and prosaic, that we knights often try to forget about them and use them little. I salute you for your kindness, your loyalty, and above all, your love.”
Sir Mordred once again raised his fist and pounded it to his chest in a stiff soldier’s salute.
“And I thank you, Sir Lamorak. I thank you for being the man you were. Thank you for lighting our lives as long as you could. And now that you are gone … let us, all of us, thank you for all that you have done by doing something for you. Let us take care of your infant son. Let us nurture the estate you so recently inherited, and let it grow to become something great. Let us help your widow — and above all, let us thank you by remembering you for the man you were.”
A good tribute, Tuck decided. This perhaps was not as moving a speech as the one Sir Mordred had made when his father died, but perhaps that kind of eloquence only reached a man once. Though, as Tuck watched Sir Mordred, he remembered something. When Sir Mordred had given his final salute to his father’s coffin, he had made sure his back faced the congregation, and only Tuck could read his face. Now … it was the opposite.
How odd, thought Brother Tuck. How very, very odd.
But more than that, he could not think.