No ray of divine light had ever illuminated Father Matthew's world.

No ray of divine light had ever illuminated Father Matthew’s world, however briefly. Neither great and strong wind nor still small voice had ever spoken to him; no bush had ever burned along his path; and not a single angel had ever come to dance upon the head of his proffered pin.

It was not surprising, therefore, that the heavenly voice he had followed into the chapel came from an earthly throat. Nevertheless his disappointment burned.

No ray of divine light had ever illuminated Father Matthew's world.

It was the voice of a boy, still childishly sweet and pure, singing an antiphon of Advent a month too early in the year. He stood behind the altar with as much self-​​assurance as if it had been his mother’s kitchen table, and his black silhouette blotted out the lantern that burned behind him on the tabernacle.

His black silhouette blotted out the lantern.

Matthew’s smoldering disappointment flared into annoyance. This boy did not belong here.

He strode silently out into the aisle, but he kneeled with a grand enough flourish of his dark robes that the boy noticed him at last.

The boy halted in mid-​​song with a startled, strangled sound, but then he walked calmly out before the altar and stopped. The lantern light rimmed his dark head like a halo, and he stared mutely down at Matthew as if the priest himself were the intruder.

He stared mutely down at Matthew as if the priest himself were the intruder.

For a moment Matthew began to doubt – for a moment he began to hope – but then the boy’s head turned briefly to profile and Matthew saw that it was only the King’s bull-​​nosed young squire.

Matthew stood majestically and shook his robes back with a snap of the hem.

He demanded, “Were you praying or playing?” and then snorted in satisfaction at his unwitting rhyme.

'Were you praying or playing?'

“Praying, Father,” Cedric said meekly.

“That is not a seemly sort of prayer for a young boy,” he grumbled. “Better to sit quietly on a bench and pray silently. Better still to say your prayers in your room before you go to bed, but it appears that boys nowadays do not bother to go to bed until their elders are rising for breakfast.”

'It appears that boys nowadays do not bother to go to bed.'

“I’ve already slept, Father,” Cedric said. His voice was too mild to admit even a hint of impertinence. “I woke up early and couldn’t sleep.”

“Oh, well,” Matthew said gruffly. “I suppose it may now be so late that it is early. I have not yet been to my bed.”

He walked behind the altar and had a look around the chapel. Nothing seemed to be out of order, except that pages had been turned.

He walked behind the altar and had a look around the chapel.

Cedric stood silently staring up at him all the while.

“Can I do something for you?” Matthew asked him.

“I’m sorry if it was wrong to sing,” Cedric said. “Is it a sin?”

“Well,” Matthew huffed, “I do not suppose it is, except insofar as it is irreverent for a young boy to pretend to be a priest.”

“I wasn’t pretending.”

'I wasn't pretending.'

Matthew gasped, but the boy’s face was so gravely earnest that it was impossible to believe he meant to tease.

Gravely earnest he continued staring until Matthew began to feel unnerved. He was grateful that the only light in the chapel was behind him.

“Is that all?”

“No, Father. I want to ask you… I was worried about His Grace the Duke…”

Matthew snorted and began flipping back through the pages. “His Grace is no better.”

'His Grace is no better.'

“No worse, though?”

“If he were worse, do you suppose I would be puttering around in here with you?”

Cedric smiled. Matthew had meant the statement sarcastically, but the boy seemed to have taken it as friendly banter, and Matthew smiled slightly in spite of himself.

He turned away to look over the tabernacle and hide his face, but when he turned back, he found Cedric had trespassed behind the altar again and was staring gravely at him.

Cedric was staring gravely at him again.

“Is that not all?” Matthew asked wearily.

“No, Father. Please, Father, I was waiting for you, because I wanted to ask you about something. About why I couldn’t sleep.”

“You wanted to speak with me?

“About my father.”


Suddenly the weight of Matthew's robe seemed to drag him down by the shoulders.

Suddenly the weight of Matthew’s robe seemed likely to drag him down by the shoulders. He had thought to sleep an hour or two before dawn, but then he had followed that angelic voice down the corridor. Perhaps there had been a reason for it after all. But any discussion of Lord Hingwar was bound to take a while.

“Let us take a seat,” he sighed.

Cedric hurried around to a bench, but he politely waited for Matthew to be seated before seating himself. However, it was without polite preamble that he announced, “I’m afraid my father will go to Hell.”

'I'm afraid my father will go to Hell.'

Matthew took a deep breath, but Cedric hurried on.

“Yesterday I thought for a little while that he was dead and – I thought he was in Hell. And now I can’t stop worrying about it, because I know he will die someday.

He stopped and looked hopefully up into the priest’s face. Matthew wondered what the boy was hoping he would tell him.

He stopped and looked hopefully up into the priest's face.

“You are right to worry, Cedric.”

Cedric bit his lip and looked down at his lap. Clearly that was not what he had hoped to hear.

“Your father’s sins are not due to mere weakness. He is a strong man and a deliberate and unrepentant sinner. That is my opinion. He so likes his sin that he is unwilling to trade it up in exchange for forgiveness.”

'He is a strong man and a deliberate and unrepentant sinner.'

“But what can I do, Father?” the boy pleaded.

“You can pray. That is the first thing. Pray that your father’s eyes and heart will be opened. You may also talk to him about your worries, but you can only hope to help him see. You must know that you – or even I – cannot prevent a man from damning himself if that is his desire.”

Matthew looked up at the dark window and scowled.

Matthew looked up at the dark window and scowled. He might not have spoken so harshly against another man, but he was priest of Nothelm Parish, not of Raegiming, and the Duke of Nothelm lay dying because of Lord Raegiming’s sins.

“Your father is fortunate that His Grace turned his sword against himself and not him,” he blurted with more bitterness than he had known he felt. “Else he would have died in mortal sin. Adultery – and I know not what else!”

To his surprise, mild Cedric suddenly snarled in defense of his father. “He did not commit adultery with Het – with Her Grace. He did not touch her. He would not lie about that.”

'He would not lie about that.'

“Young Cedric, our Lord said, ‘whosoever looketh on a woman to lust after her hath committed adultery with her already in his heart’. I daresay – ”

“But that’s not fair!” Cedric cried aloud, his angelic voice gone as sharp as a pin. “If every time he looks at a woman…

“In lust,” Matthew reminded him.

“Well – ”

Matthew snorted. He did not suppose that Lord Hingwar knew how to look in any other way.

“But it’s not fair!” Cedric wailed. “People can’t help what they think!”

'But it's not fair!'

“Yes, they can, Cedric. That is called discipline. We are all weak sometimes, of course, and Christ knows it, but we must nevertheless choose to ask forgiveness and try to improve.”

Cedric flung himself back into the corner of the bench as if defeated. Matthew sat up straighter in victory.

“There’s one more thing, Father,” Cedric muttered.

'There's one more thing, Father.'

“What is it?”

“I think I’m going to Hell, too.”

Father Matthew himself was not prey to that particular fear, but he was nevertheless flooded with a rush of sympathy and compassion so warm as to feel almost real. He was startled into an unfamiliar gentleness.

“Why is that, Cedric?” he asked softly.

'Why is that, Cedric?'

“Because I’m just like him. I’m going to be just like him.” He sat up and said, “Sometimes I get so angry I simply want to – to hurt someone. And someday I shall surely do it. And perhaps wanting to do it is just as bad as doing it, just like adultery.”

Matthew’s sudden compassion swept away his dignity. He slung his arm over the back of the bench and crossed one leg over the other, sitting like a boy to lean closer to the boy.

He slung his arm over the back of the bench.

“Cedric…” he murmured.

“And sometimes I look at girls and I – think about – how it would be,” he snarled through clenched teeth. His dusky cheeks grew darker in the gloom, whether with the effort or the embarrassment. “So I suppose that counts as adultery, too, then,” he said grimly.


Matthew lifted his head and rubbed the stubble of his chin thoughtfully. He supposed there was a point at which innocent wondering became lust, but he was not certain he knew where to set the mark.

In the end he mumbled, “It is surely best not to think too much about that, Cedric. And as for anger, it is better to endeavor to turn the other cheek, as our Lord asked. But I do have some good news for you.”

'But I do have some good news for you.'

Cedric’s eyes were hopeful and trusting again. “What?”

“All of that depends entirely on you. You cannot prevent another man from damning himself, but you can prevent yourself.”

Once again disappointment clouded the boy’s face.

“The Lord knows you are what you are, even if you are like your father, and He wants you to succeed. So He will help you whenever you ask Him to, by prayer. And I too shall endeavor to help you whenever you ask me. By… luring me into the chapel in the middle of the night with your singing.”

'By... luring me into the chapel in the middle of the night with your singing.'

Cedric smiled ruefully. “Sorry.”

Matthew hung his wrist over the back of the bench so he could wave his hand dismissively. “Don’t be. It was very pretty singing.”

Cedric turned his face up towards the window and said a shy, “Thank you.” Still, he seemed comfortable enough to stare off without speaking, and to pull one leg up onto the bench and let the other swing freely over the edge.

He seemed comfortable enough to stare off without speaking.

Matthew felt a boyish giddiness all out of keeping with the grave situation in which his patron now found himself, though perhaps that was the cause: he had scarcely slept in two days, he was in the King’s chapel instead of his own familiar church, at an hour of the night when all the world was in bed, and he was sitting up with an unusually interesting young boy.

Matthew felt a boyish giddiness.

He carefully pulled one of his own legs up onto the bench and let his other swing freely beneath his robe, as his dignity had not allowed him to do since he was scarcely older than Cedric himself. In the dark chapel, in the middle of the night, the moment was so timeless that he might very well have been twelve again. He could scarcely even feel the robe on his shoulders.

“Father,” Cedric said dreamily, as if he were only speaking to another boy. “When did you decide to be a priest?”

'When did you decide to be a priest?'

Matthew let his leg drop again and sat up stiffly. “I always knew I would be a priest.”

“Truly?” Cedric asked. He seemed disappointed again.

'I always knew I was called.'

“I always knew I was called.” Matthew frowned. “Cedric, I hope you do not believe that the priesthood is an easy way to avoid sin and temptation. On the contrary, I believe it only makes it more difficult. You, at least, you may marry and escape the torment of lust. You may, on occasion, even be forgiven for punching a man in the face.”

Cedric’s eyes widened in shock. “Do priests want to do those things?”

'Do priests want to do those things?'

I do not, I assure you,” Matthew huffed. “That is discipline. And that is why not every man is fit to be a priest.”

In spite of his discipline, Matthew felt the embers of his annoyance blaze up again at this intrusion into his sacred little world.

“If you resemble your father as you say, I suggest you concentrate on keeping out of sin, and not look towards being a priest to save you from yourself. And especially not pretending to be a priest.”

'I wasn't pretending...'

“I wasn’t pretending…” Cedric whispered. “Anyway, I didn’t say I want to be…”

“That is just as well, Cedric, if you are so like your father. I do not think it would agree with a boy – or a man – such as you at all. We priests do not play. We only pray. Night and day.”

'We priests do not play.  We only pray.  Night and day.'