Webmistress's Drawing of a Sculpture.  Artist Unknown.
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Chapter 7

The Saint's Gift

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 eyes.

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 knew.

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 watching."

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 with interest.

"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 hair.

**You had a long visit with the King yesterday, Kel,** Daddy's thought came into his mind. **Today, it's Briony's turn.**

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," he said.

"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 right now."

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 side.

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.



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