'Exaudi Domine vocem meam qua clamavi ad te.'

Exaudi Domine vocem meam qua clamavi ad te; miserere mei et exaudi me–Ah!”

Abbot Aelfden was not accustomed to his prayers being answered so materially as by a knock on his door.

After a moment’s confusion, he realized it was surely only someone come to warn him of another imminent death. He no longer had the responsibility of a parish, but so many babies and young children had died in the last days that Father Brude and Father Brandt were overwhelmed.

“What is it?” he called.

'What is it?'

“It is Brude.”

“Enter, please.”

“Pardon the interruption, Lord Father,” Brude murmured and stepped into the far corner. “Finish your prayer.”

'Finish your prayer.'

Half of the monks were Gaels, so Aelfden was well familiar with the accent by now. But Father Brude, an Irishman among Scots, had something more than a trill in his voice. It was golden and sweet as honey, warm as milk, and when he spoke, it surrounded his listeners like the odor of cakes baking.

That “something more” summoned up memories of a happy childhood Aelfden had never had, and evoked a mother Aelfden had never known. If the Lord meant to send him comfort on this night, Father Brude seemed the most obvious bearer.

“What is it, Father? Or who is it, rather?”

'What is it, Father?'

“I have been with Lady Maire. Little Eilidh is gone. You said you wanted to know.”

Aelfden sighed. “I shall go to her tomorrow.”

“Father Brandt is with the Countess. He does not think their baby will last the night.”

Aelfden lifted his arms and let them drop in despair. “In brachio suo congregabit agnos.

Aelfden lifted his arms and let them drop in despair.

“You have been with the Queen?” Brude asked.

“I did not stay long. What need of a priest have they,” he asked bitterly, “when Brother Myrddin is nigh?”


“She does not seem to have noticed the coincidence, but that – monk – said nearly the same thing he said to me when she conceived the child: ‘She hadn’t prayed with Brother Myrddin before’. Insolent – !”

Aelfden stopped before he shamed himself.


“To whom did he say it?” Brude asked calmly.

“To me only.” Aelfden turned to the priest. “Do you suppose he truly believes he saved the child?”

“I cannot say.”

“What is it about him?” he snarled. Aelfden realized his hands were clenching the air as if he held the monk’s throat between them, and he flung them apart. “God help me,” he whispered.

'God help me.'

“He does.”

“What can I do, Father?” he pleaded. “What must I do? May I send him away?”

“You are abbot.”

“Would it be the right thing?”

“You are abbot.”

'You are abbot.'

Aelfden caught his head between his hands and groaned low in his throat. “That is no help to me! What is he, Father?”

“Do you suppose he is mad?” Brude suggested mildly.

“I don’t know! I wonder.” Aelfden lifted his head and looked warily at Brude. “Do you…”

Brude cocked his head.

“Do you suppose he…”

'Do you suppose he...'

He had carried this idea for so long that he knew the length and breadth and weight of it perfectly. And yet, like his cousin the King when he took up his own old and beloved sword, he still hefted it, still sought the center of it, still tested it before making use of it. And now he would at last strike out with it.

“Do you suppose he is possessed?” he whispered.

Father Brude did not appear stunned. However, the blade seemed to bounce right off his hide, for he only answered, “Do you?”

“He has taken the sacrament from my own hand,” Aelfden said, arguing with himself.

“Might not a demon contrive to fool the minister?”

Brude leaned closer to him, and Aelfden could not help but lean away.

Brude leaned closer to him, and Aelfden could not help but lean away.

Brude whispered, “Might there not be ways only to give the appearance of receiving it?”

Aelfden felt sick and dizzy, as when he bled too much. His idea had sprung back and sliced into him. He wished he had said nothing. He wished he had only told Brude that the baby Prince fared well, and asked him whether he needed assistance in the morning.

“I suppose there might,” Aelfden whispered in reply.

Brude nodded. “That would make matters difficult for you, Lord Father.”

Aelfden’s sob tore through the tightness in his throat. “I can’t do it! I can’t do this! I was never meant to be more than a monk!”

'I was never meant to be more than a monk!'

“That is not for you to say.”

“Who am I? Why me? Why me?”

“Was not our Lord a carpenter?” Brude smiled. “He knows how to choose His tools.”

“It was the Church that chose me.”


“What do they know about me? Because I wrote a few books!” Aelfden swung his fist back and slammed it against the bookcase behind him.

Brude leaned towards him again, as if they were sharing secrets. “The Church knows everything about you, Lord Father,” he murmured.

'The Church knows everything about you, Lord Father.'

Aelfden took a step back. “What do you mean… ‘everything’?”

“Everything. Do not be afraid. They may know more about you than you know about yourself.”

Aelfden chewed his lip a moment before he dared ask. “Do they know about… what… happened at Lund?”

He recoiled from his own words, but Brude did not flinch.



Aelfden could not long bear the gaze of those all-​​knowing eyes, and he turned away to the wall, to the only eyes he could allow to look down into his soul.

What he knew about himself was already frightening enough.

He turned away to the wall.

“You are the man the Church needs here now,” Brude said.

Aelfden did not answer. He was trying, trying to find the words of some prayer to prop him up, but the unfamiliar height and breadth and weight of these ideas were crowding even the simplest supplications from his mind, leaving only a cry of untutored surrender: “Hear me, hear me, O Lord: have mercy on me!” He could not even pray.

The warm and golden honey of Brude’s voice came trickling down into his despair. “Let us go down and pray together. It is almost midnight, and the brothers are rising for Matins.”

After a moment’s reflection, Aelfden said, “These are the last minutes of the last day of the year.”

“We shall pray for the strength to get us through the next.”

We shall pray for the strength to get us through the next.