Endskel 22, 1014
There was something peaceful, almost soothing about preaching to an empty church. The rafters and buttresses were designed all with one goal in mind: to amplify and project the Sim voice. (And to keep the roof from falling on the worshipers’ heads, but that wasn’t as important.) When Galahad spoke, his voice ballooned and filled every last nook and cranny. And when he paused, for effect or emphasis or just to remember what came next, the silence was complete.
Adding other people to that picture would have just spoiled the effect.
Then there was the magic of preaching at the hour of vespers. It was the light: golden and solemn, warring with the more homey, humble flames of the many candles. On nights when Galahad finished his practicing early, he liked to go around the church and douse the candles one by one, then stand at the door and watch the last rays of the sunset filter in through the stained windows. They would leave a mosaic of purple and magenta and red jewels on the ground — then the sun would disappear behind the castle, and the church would be clothed in darkness.
Galahad took a deep breath and heard it echo on the roof of the chapel. Tonight wouldn’t be one those nights when he finished early. Robertmas was only three days away. It was the one day when everybody, everybody came to services. He had to have his sermon perfect. Because if he didn’t get it right on the one day when he had everyone’s full and complete attention — well, what was the point?
“So, brothers and sisters,” Galahad went on, “the main message of Robertmas is forgiveness.”
“We’re fallen. We’re sinners. We know this!” Galahad flashed a nervous smile at his imaginary audience. “We don’t need to search high and low for evidence. Every person here — even the littlest child — can think of something he or she has done wrong and required forgiveness for.” Forgiveness for — was that right? Galahad squinted at his notes and wished he had remembered to bring a stylus with him. Oh well. He’d make a mental note. “And I’m not just talking about the times when we did something silly or foolish, or we just didn’t think about the consequences of our actions — but if we had thought, we would have acted differently. I’m talking about the times when we actively sought to hurt someone else, though word or deed.
“Because those times, brothers and sisters, are the real times when we’re sinning. Some people might say that thoughtlessness is a sin, that it’s a sign of selfishness. But I don’t think that’s true. We can’t know everything; we can’t perfectly anticipate everybody’s reactions and feelings. Being simply, honestly mistaken is never a sin. Having good intentions counts for something. I know some people say that the road to hell is paved with good intentions …”
Galahad heard the door open, the creak shooting up the nave of the empty cathedral. He tried not to wince. He really needed to oil those upper hinges one of these days. Maybe he’d ask his father for a ladder …
But he had a sermon to preach. Where was he? He looked again at his notes. “Some–some people say that the road to hell is paved with good intentions.” Yes. That was where he was. “But I say, so is the road to Heaven.”
Then he looked up.
She paused at the arch dividing narthex from nave. Maybe it was Galahad’s imagination, but he thought he saw her smile. It was hard to tell, in the light of sunset. It was even harder to tell with Angelique, sometimes. He remembered when they had been children, her face had been so open, so expressive. Every little feeling was drawn on it in brightly colored chalk, clear as day for all to read. Now Galahad was lucky if he could get a vague idea. It must have been the wimple. True, it didn’t cover her eyes or her lips or her nose or anything in between, but the forehead must have been a more expressive part of the face than Galahad had ever allowed.
He rounded the lectern and hurried into the nave. “Sister Angelique! Hi!”
She stopped dead and waited for him to trot up to her.
“How are you?” He gripped her arms lightly and kissed her on both cheeks. It was amazing how soft Angelique’s cheeks always were. Other nuns whom he greeted this way — Mother Julian, Sister Margery, and on the rare horrible occasion, Sister Vyn — had cheeks that were dry and rough, cracked and wrinkly. But Angelique’s were still as smooth and whole as Galahad imagined they had been when they were children.
“And what brings you to Avilion?” asked Galahad, pulling back with a grin. He hadn’t let go of Angelique’s elbows. And a part of him noticed that she hadn’t yet taken her hands from his waist.
“Oh …” She shrugged, the motion causing her veil to ripple like waves on a still lake. “This and that. Maybe I just came to see you.”
“I doubt Mother Julian would let you out just for that,” Galahad chuckled.
Angelique flinched and stepped back.
“I–what?” Galahad asked. “An–Sister Angelique?”
“Nothing — nothing.” She shook her head. But something in her voice suggested that whatever it was upsetting her, it sure was something. Still, if she didn’t want him to pry … “And for heaven’s sake, when it’s just the two of us — call me Angelique. Just Angelique.”
“If you like,” Galahad grinned. “So–”
“Wait–that’s it?” Angelique interrupted.
“You just …” Angelique stared at him, then pressed a hand to her head and shook it slowly. Galahad bit back his next inquiry, of whether she had a headache. “You just … went along with that …”
“Well, why not?” Galahad shrugged. “‘Sister’ is just a title, isn’t it? The same as Lady or Lord or Sir. And if you’re with people you know well, that you’re close to … well, you drop the title, don’t you?”
“Mother Julian barely lets me get away with that with my real sisters …”
Her real sisters. Galahad frowned. It wasn’t that she saw a difference between her sisters in Wright and her sisters by blood — heaven knew that Galahad would never, ever confuse his fellow Pascalian brothers and Will. But different did not mean unequal. Mere difference did not justify an implied heaping of scorn thrown upon the other group; it did not explain the scoff in her voice that Angelique seemed to reserve for her fellow Coralites. Why did she see them as so much lesser? Why did she roll her eyes at the mere idea of calling them sisters?
“Well …” Galahad shrugged, realizing he had to say something. And he blurted out the first thing that came to mind. “Mother Julian isn’t here, is she?”
Angelique looked up, eyes glittering. He never thought that plain brown eyes could be jewel-like unless he was looking at Angelique. But then again, he could never manage to describe Angelique’s eyes as “plain brown.”
“No-o …” Angelique mused, as if this was the first time that had occurred to her. Galahad couldn’t see how that could be the case, but that was par for the course with him and Angelique. “But–but you were busy, Galahad. I wouldn’t want you to let me interrupt if it was … important …”
Ten minutes ago he would have happily asserted that this was his most important duty of the day. Now, somehow, that thought didn’t occur. “Oh, I was just practicing my Robertmas sermon. It’s nothing that can’t wait.”
“Your sermon. Of course.”
“Are you singing?” Galahad asked. “At the cathedral, I mean.”
Angelique nodded. “And the Royal Chapel, too, for the vigil service.”
“Oh, I wish I could go!” Galahad sighed.
“Why don’t you?” asked Angelique. “You’re not holding a vigil here, are you?”
“Well … no …”
“Then why don’t you come?” She grabbed his hand and squeezed it. “You could stay with the Brothers, then come back early for your services here.”
“Oh, no, I couldn’t do that! My service is at Terce!” Galahad shook his head. “I’d barely get any sleep the night before — and you know I have to be well-rested before Robertmas service!”
“Of course you do,” Angelique sighed.
“Right!” Galahad replied. He filed away the mystery of her sighing for another time. “It’s the one day a year when everybody will show up!”
“Everybody?” asked Angelique, one eyebrow lifting up. “Surely your family will be going to services in the capital? That’s why we shan’t be having them until noon … so everybody can get there …”
“I don’t think so. Mum invited me to spend all of Robertmas day with them after service, and I think she would have mentioned if we were going to the capital. Besides, they’ll all be going up the day after, for the King’s birthday feast. I don’t think they’d want to do that two days in a row.”
“They used to,” Angelique pointed out. “Before you got your chapel here. Remember?”
“Well, certainly,” Galahad agreed. “But nobody had a chapel here then.”
“I … suppose that’s true …” Angelique stared at Galahad a moment, then shook her head. “Is your sister coming, too?”
“Of course!” Galahad gasped. “Mum wanted a family Robertmas! That means everybody!”
“For your services, too?”
“She and Gino are staying the night of the twenty-fourth at the Joyous Garde so they don’t have to travel in the morning,” Galahad grinned. “And they won’t go back home until we all go to the capital on the twenty-sixth! Mum is thrilled!”
“… Of course she is,” Angelique murmured.
“Huh?” Galahad asked.
“It’s — it’s nothing.”
“Is it?” Galahad asked, cocking his head to the side. “You can tell me …”
Angelique ground her teeth — then she looked sidelong at Galahad. She tossed her head. “Well–last year I had a solo in St. Robert’s Cathedral, for their Robertmas service. A solo, Galahad! And — and none of my family came for that. Not one. And don’t tell me,” Angelique raised a hand, “that it was just because of the masque, or the borders, or because of the way the King went off on the Robertians last year. Maybe those made for good excuse. But even if nothing had been going on, even if the Robertians would have been thrilled to see them, they wouldn’t have come to see me sing.”
“That–that can’t be true, Angelique. It must have been the masque. And the–diplomacy. Or lack of it. But the masque — you know they were planning that for months! Even before you got the solo, surely–”
“No — no, that’s not it, Galahad.” Angelique shook her head. “Trust me. I know my family. They wouldn’t have come.” Her voice dropped to almost a whisper. “They wouldn’t have cared. And here — here your sister, who is due in, what, two months? She’s packing herself and her husband up and coming to Avilion, and your parents and your brother are all staying right here, just to listen to you preach.”
He wanted to say that that wasn’t the case — it wasn’t just to hear him preach, surely. It was because they wanted to be together, to be a family on the most holy day of the year. Hearing him preach — that was a bonus, wasn’t it?
And even it wasn’t …
“Well, isn’t that what families do?” Galahad asked, mystified.
Angelique’s hands dropped. “What families do.”
“Er … yes?”
“Mine never did.”
“No, Angelique, don’t–”
“They didn’t, Galahad. Your family — your parents treated you all the same. Loved you all the same. In my family — if you were Elyan, or maybe Lynn once Prince Tom started chasing her, you were important. You mattered. If you weren’t — you didn’t.”
“No, Angelique! That can’t be true. Surely–all right, your father is awful, but your mother — and your sisters! They would always be there for you!”
“There for me how?” asked Angelique. “Telling me that all I need to be happy is to get a hobby? Or trying to put me on a diet to put my humors back in order? Maybe they mean well, Galahad; I might give them that much. But you can’t be there for another person unless you actually know how to help them, and trust me, my sisters have no idea how to help me.”
Galahad turned his head a little to one side, watching. Angelique’s cheeks were flushed, and even in the shapeless (or nearly so) black dress, he could see her bosom heaving. There was something she was holding back. Maybe it was rage, maybe it was sadness. Maybe it was both. Or maybe … maybe it was her real cry for help.
“… Angelique?” Galahad asked softly.
“Have you ever told them?”
“Told them what?”
“How they can help you,” Galahad replied. “They — I know they care about you. A lot. They want to help you, I’m sure of it. But maybe they don’t know how. Maybe they don’t know … how you’re hurting …”
He stepped forward and stroked her cheek. He wasn’t sure why. It just … felt right.
Her cheeks were just as soft to his fingers as they had been to his lips. Galahad let his hand linger there for a moment. Just a moment …
Angelique reached up, her fingers lightly dancing across his hand. She gripped his wrist. She smiled.
When was the last time he had seen her smile like that?
A long time ago, Galahad decided. Such a long time ago …
For some reason, he thought back to Will and Jessie’s wedding. To that kiss by the fountain. Those kisses. Galahad could still remember how his lips felt the day after, bruised and battered and raw. And he remembered confused thoughts about never washing again, too.
But … but that wasn’t what that night had been about, had it? Not on Angelique’s end. He saw it all so clearly now, almost five years later. She’d been desperately groping in the dark for something — help, maybe? And Galahad had offered her a listening ear, and she had leaned in and taken that ear … and more.
He didn’t mind. It had been willingly given. But that wasn’t what she needed.
Or is it? asked a voice in his mind. It wasn’t his. It was a woman’s, clear as a bell with the soft sweetness of a flute. Normally even Galahad might have been alarmed to hear a woman’s voice speaking in his mind, but somehow to be alarmed did not occur to him. The voice felt too right, too safe.
Still, he did not properly appreciate the question. “Angelique … if you need help, if you need …”
There was something else she needed, but Galahad couldn’t put his finger on it. He stumbled on. “Anything … you have to ask for it. Nobody –” He flung his arms wide. He watched Angelique stare at the hand that had been touching her, her jaw fallen. “Nobody can help if they don’t know what’s wrong!”
Angelique’s eyes went from his hand to his face. “It’s not that simple.”
“Sure it is! You have to–”
“No. Galahad. You — you have a way with words. You — understand words. And how to put things into them –”
“I stick my foot in my mouth all the time!”
“But it’s not because you say something other than what you mean,” Angelique continued doggedly. “You always say exactly what you mean, and you always mean exactly what you say. And you always know exactly what you mean and what you want to say. When you put your foot in your mouth, it’s because you said whatever it was at the wrong time or to the wrong person — not because you said the wrong thing.”
“Trust me,” Angelique hissed. “You always know what to say. Some of us don’t.”
But that wasn’t true, he wanted to protest. He didn’t know what to say now. There were words, he knew it, that would open her, like a magic key fitting perfectly into its lock. There had to be something he could say that would get her to finally just spit it out, whatever it was — all that it was — that was troubling her. That had been troubling her, Galahad realized somewhere in the depths of his soul, for years.
Maybe the problem was that he didn’t know what she needed. Yes. It was help, of course, but it wasn’t just that. There were so many different kinds of help that you could need. A burning man needed help in the form of a bucket of water, but giving that to a drowning man would only make things worse. So if he could figure out what kind of help she needed —
It was that woman’s voice again. This time Galahad answered. “Yes?”
He saw Angelique blinking at him. He heard her say his name. But both her face, and her voice, seemed to come from far away when the woman spoke again.
What is the Lord?
Galahad opened his mouth, every possible definition and description he’d heard springing to his tongue —
One word answer. And only one. What is the Lord?
There was only one possible way to answer that. “Love,” Galahad whispered.
Galahad stared at Angelique. It was all so clear now. So beautifully, wonderfully clear. “That’s what you need, isn’t it? It’s what you never got — or at least, never enough of it. Love.”
“Galahad? I’m not sure –”
He didn’t listen to the rest. He knew what he had to do.
He stepped forward and laid his lips on hers.
Yes! This was it! What she needed, what she desired. Galahad knew this, understood it at a level so deep that “knowing” was not even the right word for it. “Knowing” was something you did with your mind. This — this came straight from the heart. Or maybe the soul.
And had Galahad needed confirmation, he got it when Angelique responded to his kiss not with polite acquiescence, or a gasp and a slap — but by grabbing him and pushing against him, her whole body sinuously sliding into the gaps and hollow places of his own, her chest pressed to his chest and their hearts beating as one.
Love. That was what it was all about, wasn’t it? It was all anyone needed. But it was what Angelique needed more than anyone. He could see it all so clearly now.
And love was something that Galahad knew he had a lot to give. Especially for Angelique. Always for Angelique. There was something about her — nature abhors a vacuum, somebody had once said that, hadn’t they? Inside of her was a deep hole, black and dark, where she ought to have kept the love she’d been given over the years. But she’d never been given enough to fill it, and now, what little she had been given was such a small amount, and it was lonely and scared, swishing around at the bottom of the hole. So far from the surface that the light was only a pin-prick, a single star in a vast sky of cloud.
But Galahad … Galahad could fix that … Galahad could fill that … for now at least …
And when the morning came, as morning would come — her problems would not be gone. Galahad knew this. But he would always be here. And love was the gift that kept on giving. Whenever she needed it — there he would be. It was as simple as that.
And even if there were consequences … even if there was a price to be paid … right here, right now, they had each other.
Right here, right now, that was all that mattered.