Nurse didn't comment
on his bead when she came in to help him get dressed a little later,
even though she was more relaxed and cheerful today than she had been
yesterday morning. Evidently, he and Briony were not required
downstairs this morning, for she'd chosen their everyday clothes. Nor
did they have to bathe today - only the usual morning face and hand
wash. He also appreciated the comfort of his ordinary shirt, hose and
tunic after the outgrown blue tunic he'd worn yesterday. Breakfast was
a happier meal this morning, than yesterday's, too. In addition to
their regular porridge, Cook had also sent up a small rasher of bacon
each for himself and Briony which was always a rare treat.
"Prrrt?" Stripes asked from her
vantage point under the table and out of the range of Nurse's vision.
Kelric struggled between his love for Stripes and his love for bacon.
Stripes mewed again, ending in an anxious squeak
as she brushed against his leg and gave him a plea with her big green
Kelric gave in and managed to drop half a slice
of his bacon on the floor while Nurse was busy filling her own bowl
with porridge. Stripes darted out at once, grabbed it and retreated
back under the table with it. She crunched the bacon so loudly, that
Kelric glanced at Nurse, wondering if she'd noticed.
Then he remembered what St Camber had said;
_sometimes I watch you and your sister as you play together in the
castle gardens_. He'd been watching yesterday morning while Kelric had
played with the honey and thought it was funny. But had he just seen
Kelric feed Stripes from the very breakfast table?
Kelric ate the other half of the slice of bacon
and considered the implications of this. The more he thought about it,
the less sure he was that he liked the idea of a saint _watching_ him
all day. Last night, Saint Camber had seemed very nice, and he hadn't
scolded Kelric as a normal adult would have done. He'd been amused
instead and Kelric almost thought the saint might have been naughty
when he himself was little. But what if it was all a sneaky kind of
test? Maybe the Saint was telling God all sorts of bad things about
him right now. Kelric felt a little quiver of fear deep down in his
stomach at that thought. Father Tagas had told him that a Ducal heir
would be held to a higher standard of behavior than other little boys.
In fact, he should be setting an example of good behavior wherever he
went. He hadn't set much of an example for anyone yesterday, Kelric
Father Tagas had also said that mortal sin meant
that the sinner could not be excused by ignorance, but had sinned with
the full knowledge of the seriousness of what he was doing. Kelric had
known that playing with the honey was forbidden when he'd first
grabbed that spoon, but he'd gone ahead and played with it anyway.
He took a spoonful of porridge and tasted the
honey that Nurse had dribbled over it for him which made his heart
thump hard with remorse. Surely God wouldn't make him go to Hell
because of honey, would He? He glanced at the Nursery fire and saw all
the glowing red coals beneath the orange flames and shivered as he
tried to imagine how much hotter it would be in Hell. People in Hell
had to live among flames and walk over coals forever according to
Father Tagas and Kelric knew he didn't want to do that. Maybe God
thinks I'm so bad, that I'll only behave if I know St. Camber is
watching, Kelric thought. He found this idea oppressive. There were so
many things he liked to do when he knew nobody was watching him. He
saw Nurse put the honey pot down on the table between his place and
hers when she'd finished spooning honey over her own porridge. Then
she gasped and pointedly plunked it down on the other side of the
table when she realized she'd put it within his reach.
"I wouldn't have done anything,
Nurse." Kelric looked at her earnestly. "The saints might be
Nurse gazed at him in outright astonishment and
gave her thick eyebrows a tremendous workout over this statement.
"Oh indeed!" she finally snorted.
"The saints might be watching, you say? I'd like to know where
they were _yesterday_ morning, so I would!"
Kelric hung his head, and felt his face go hot.
Tears made his eyes prickle.
"There now, what's done is done, and the
mess is all cleaned up, Lord Kelric," Nurse said in a much kinder
voice. "And I was the one who left the honey within your reach.
Don't fret yourself over it, cariad."
"Do you think God will make me go to
Hell?" Kelric sniffed, anxious for reassurance.
Briony looked up from her own bowl of porridge
and rolled her eyes.
"Make you go to - of course not!"
Nurse scoffed. "Not over spilled honey, He won't, anyway."
"I knew it was wrong and I did it
anyway," Kelric pressed on his voice quivering with his anxiety.
"Father Tagas said that's the condition of mortal sin."
"Oh, nonsense!" Nurse said
energetically. When Kelric looked up at her in surprise she gave him
her nicest smile and stroked his hair.
"No lovey, God won't send you to Hell
because of yesterday," Nurse consoled him, looking as if she
might laugh. "I'm guessing that you have to be far worse than a
naughty little boy and much, much older than three before God really
begins to hold your sins against you. Father Tagas is a good priest,
but I think he positively _enjoys_ being gloomy."
"But if you're still worried, go ask Bishop
McLain about it when you see him at noon. He's ever so much more
sensible than Father Tagas."
"Why at noon, Nursie?" Briony asked
"I'm to take you both down in the Great
Hall at noon according to His Grace's orders," Nurse said looking
pleased and mysterious as she took up her own bowl of porridge.
"As to the why, that's a surprise, and I'm not to tell you."
*** "No Lady Briony and no, Lord Kelric, it's not a fair, it's
not a menagerie, and it's not a tournament," Nurse sighed as she
escorted them downstairs just before noon. "It's not Michaelmas
yet either, and you both know your next birthdays aren't for months
and months. You'll just have to wait and see."
Kelric gave up. If Nurse hadn't told them by now
she never would, and there was only one more flight of stairs left
before the Great Hall. He had scarcely been more attentive at his
lessons this morning than he had yesterday for wondering what surprise
was in store at noon. Finally, Father Tagas had given up and let him
play with his alphabet blocks while he concentrated on Briony. Not
that Briony's curiousity had been any less than his own or her
concentration on her lessons any better this morning.
There were voices floating up from the Great
Hall below, and the sounds of many feet tramping back and forth.
Kelric thought he heard Mummy giving an order to a servant. But all
together,it was a happy, relaxed sound, not an impatient or urgent
one. He tugged on Nurse's hand urging her downstairs faster.
"No Lord Kelric, you hold onto my hand,
while we walk down the stairs carefully, and watch where we're
going," Nurse said. She refused to either let go of his hand or
to hurry. Kelric glowered up at her in frustration, but she was too
much bigger than he was and her hold on his hand was too firm. Never
had the last turnpike stair down to the Great Hall felt longer, or
Nurse's pace slower. She was rather plump, it was true and her pace
was almost always sedate unless there was some sort of emergency
involving himself or Briony.
And then suddenly they were down, amid a knot of
talking grownups. Nurse escorted himself and Briony over to where
Daddy stood talking to the King and Queen. Nurse made her curtsey to
the Royal pair and another slightly shallower bob to Daddy. Briony
curtsied too and Kelric hastily bowed when Nurse cleared her throat.
"Bri-o-neee," the King exclaimed,
holding out his arms to her. She ran to him at once and laughed when
he scooped her up for a hug and kiss. Kelric pouted for a moment, then
cheered when Daddy's hand came down and rumpled, then smoothed out his
**You had a long visit with the King yesterday,
Kel,** Daddy's thought came into his mind. **Today, it's Briony's
Kelric nodded, feeling a bit better. He wanted
to talk to Bishop Duncan anyway. He looked around and wrinkled his
forehead in bewilderment when he couldn't find anyone in a purple
cassock. But Bishop Duncan HAD to be around somewhere near the King
and Daddy. Kelric finally spotted him seated in the nearest window
alcove with Lord Dhugal. He wore ordinary brown leathers and well-worn
boots, and looked surprisingly like any other man but for his tonsure,
silver cross and bishop's ring.
"Why hello Kelric," Bishop Duncan
said, smiling and holding out his hand. Lord Dhugal grinned and
saluted Kelric with a wave of his ale tankard.
Kelric obediently kissed or rather wuffled
Bishop Duncan's ring, then climbed up to sit beside him.
"You're not wearing your purple robe,"
"No. A Bishop's cassock seemed too formal
for an afternoon on the beach," Bishop Duncan said smiling.
"We're going to the beach?" Kelric
crowed with delight.
"Father, you've gone and given the surprise
away!" Lord Dhugal reproved.
Kelric gave a great wriggle of pure happiness.
He loved going down to the beaches near Coroth. Even though they lived
right on the Southern coast, the days when Mummy or Daddy could spare
the time for a trip to the seashore were rare and widely spaced.
"So I have," Bishop Duncan slapped a
hand to his forehead. "But I have to say, Kelric doesn't look
like he minds."
He looked seriously down at Kelric. "But if
you do mind a day at the beach my lad, we could always stay here and
celebrate an afternoon-long Mass, instead."
Kelric stared up at him, open-mouthed in horror,
unable to articulate all the frantic protests he wanted to make.
"Father's only teasing, Kelric," Lord
Dhugal reassured him, laughing. "The King would pout if he had to
spend a day like this indoors." He waved his free hand at the
blue sky and lacy white clouds visible through the window.
"I _am_ teasing," Bishop Duncan agreed
laughing and gave Kelric a one armed hug. "I may be a Bishop, but
I daresay God will forgive me if I'd rather be outdoors than standing
in a stuffy chapel full of incense smoke, for one day out of the year.
And your father would have fifty fits if I even suggested such a thing
Kelric gave a gusty sigh to show his huge
relief. But the mention of having to spend a fine day indoors reminded
him of St. Camber's story the night before. And when he studied Bishop
Duncan's smiling face, he thought he saw a certain resemblance to the
saint's face there. Not only in the similarity of Bishop Duncan's face
to Daddy's and thus to St Camber's, but in the smile, the expression
and the calm, kindly presence he'd always felt at Bishop Duncan's
The Bishop tilted his head in question under the
intensity of Kelric's scrutiny, still smiling. It reminded Kelric of
Nurse's frequent admonitions against staring at people. He had to
think of something to say and quickly.
"Bishop Duncan have you ever had a saint
come and tell you a bedtime story?"
Lord Dhugal's mouthful of ale came fountaining
out at his shock at Kelric's question.
Bishop Duncan too was very surprised, although
he laughed rather than spat out his ale.
"Why no," he said with appropriate
seriousness when he could speak again. "But I should feel very
honored if a saint ever _had_."
"Have you ever had a saint tell you bedtime
stories, Kel?" Lord Dhugal asked after he'd wiped his mouth.
"I think so. Last night." Kelric saw
Lord Dhugal and the Bishop exchange quick astonished looks.
"What happened last night, Kelric?"
Duncan asked in his nicest, most encouraging voice.
"I woke up in the middle of the night and
somebody was standing by my bed. It wasn't Nurse," he added
quickly, seeing Dhugal's skeptical look. "I couldn't really see
who it was until he stepped out of the moonlight. He was wearing a
long grey cloak with a hood over his head. And he gave me this just
before I fell asleep." Kelric fished his shiral bead from inside
his tunic and held it up for Bishop Duncan to see.