No one had been speaking when the Abbot came in.

No one had been speaking when the Abbot came in, but it seemed to Cynewulf that somehow the room had gone more silent still.

“Good morning,” the Abbot said quite softly. “I am sorry to have kept you waiting.”

“That’s perfectly all right, Father!” Cynewulf said quite loudly. “Though I was beginning to worry that you might not have time for our lessons…” He shook his head as if even the possibility of a missed Latin lesson was a grave matter.

'Oh, were you indeed?'

His father snorted. “Oh, were you indeed?”

Cynewulf grinned up at him and lifted his hand to shield a wink from the eyes of the clergy.

“There will be no lessons for you boys today,” the Abbot murmured.

Cynewulf skipped into the air and began a silent, rump-​​shaking dance of glee behind the priests’ backs. His father laughed quietly through his nose, and even sad-​​faced Flann began to smile – until Father Matthew spoke and brought Cynewulf back to earth.

'I think we shall find something equally edifying for your lordship to do this afternoon.'

“I think we shall find something equally edifying for your lordship to do this morning,” the young priest said curtly. “Far be it from me to vaunt my education before such learned men as the Abbot and His Grace your father, but I believe I am sufficiently qualified to hear a young boy recite his Latin.”

Cynewulf blanched. This, he thought, was a high price to pay for having contrived to make his father laugh. Little though he liked his Friday lessons at the Abbey, there was some fun to be had in riding through the woods to get there and in sitting in the classroom with the big boys – among them Cedric and Cubby and even Finn.

'I think we shall find something equally edifying for your lordship to do this afternoon.'

Private lessons with Father Matthew, on the other hand… Better to spend the morning playing lapdog to Hetty and her ladies and getting his curls tousled. So long as Lady Sophie was in the neighborhood, at least with the ladies there would be sweets.

“If you like to read English instead,” Osh said, “you can read to me from your Bible.” Everyone turned to him, struck dumb out of respect for his blindness. “I am told I have much to learn about being a Christian.”

'I am told I have much to learn about being a Christian.'

He smiled, but as he turned his face to no one in particular, Cynewulf could not guess whether he was teasing someone or only smiling ironically to himself.

“I am not certain a ten-​​year-​​old boy is a suitable spiritual guide,” Father Matthew grumbled.

“Certainly he is,” Paul smiled sweetly and sighed. “He taught me all about it. Remember? Those days in the barracks?”

'He taught me all about it.'

“Remember when you made the sparklies?” Cynewulf gushed.

“Old Man,” his father muttered.

“The what?” Father Matthew asked.

Everyone turned away from him and pretended to look intently at something or someone else. Cynewulf saw that he had done it again.

Cynewulf saw that he had done it again.

The castle was crowded with unhappy secrets this morning, he thought, but being only a little boy, no one ever told him anything. Their secrets hung invisible all around him, like cobwebs, and he only learned of their existence when he blundered straight into one.

“Aren’t you wanting to sit down, Father?” Cat asked the Abbot.

“The what did he make?” Father Matthew asked again.

“Will you try to do a miracle?” Cynewulf blurted.

This time his father said nothing, but his hand came down heavily upon Cynewulf’s shoulder. Still, he thought it had been worth it, for Father Matthew had been distracted.

His hand came down heavily upon Cynewulf's shoulder.

“One does not try to do miracles,” he scolded.

“I am here to pray,” the Abbot said hoarsely. “That is all I can do.”

“I know,” Cynewulf said, “but you did it once without even trying. Don’t you remember how?” He paused for a moment, but since no one spoke, he said, “It was right after you baptized him, remember?”

“No one who was there is ever forgetting it,” Flann murmured. “Ach, Father…”

'No one who was there is ever forgetting it.'

“Couldn’t you baptize Osh again?” Cynewulf suggested.

“One may not be baptized a second time!” Father Matthew said. “It were a sin for a priest to knowingly baptize a man twice.”

The Abbot hung his head so low he seemed only a pair of bony shoulders from behind. “The character imparted by baptism is ineffaceable and eternal,” he said.

Cynewulf crept out from beneath his father’s hand and to the Abbot’s side. “I know, but couldn’t you unbaptize him for a minute? Excommunicate him for a minute and baptize him again?”

'Excommunicate him for a minute and baptize him again?'

“Ex – com–municate him!” Father Matthew spluttered.

“Only for a minute!” Cynewulf squealed.

“Old Man…” his father said warningly.

“Perhaps we shall arrange more frequent lessons for your lordship,” Father Matthew said. “I believe you have plenty to learn about being a Christian as well.”

'Perhaps we shall arrange more frequent lessons for your lordship.'

Cynewulf whimpered, “Father!” and looked pleadingly at his own, but it was the Abbot who came to his rescue.

He turned his face to Matthew and said, “That is what he is attempting to do by asking his questions.” Then he turned only his profile to Cynewulf and softly explained, “Old Man, nothing a priest or even the Pope can do – not even excommunication – can undo the effect of baptism. Once baptized, a man is a Christian forever.”

“Even in Hell,” Father Matthew added.

“Even an elf,” Osh said, and he winked a blind eye towards the Abbot.

The Abbot dropped his head again and sighed, “Even an elf.”

'Could God unbaptize a person?'

“Could God unbaptize a person?” Cynewulf asked thoughtfully, wondering whether this was a question in the class of God’s hypothetical ability to create a stone so heavy even He could not lift it.

“Perhaps He could,” his father said, “but would it not be more to the point to simply pray for Him to help Osh’s eyes?”

'Perhaps He could.'

There was a hint of smile on his father’s lips, so Cynewulf threw back his curly head and laughed aloud. But there was only so much he could do if, as it seemed, his father was trying not to laugh and not to smile. There was a hint of red in his eyes, too. Perhaps his father was simply trying not to cry.

The Abbot waited until Cynewulf’s giggles had calmed before saying, “We shall pray.”

Unlike his restless, twitching, trembling hands, his voice was grave and firm, and it brought the attention of everyone in the room together, as when he paused for a breathless moment during a Mass and announced, “Oremus.

His voice was grave and firm.

“We shall ask, if it be the will of the Lord, that Osh be restored his sight, for his comfort, and for the benefit of his family and those who love and depend on him, and for the glory of God. However – ”

He paused again, as he did after his “Oremus” before beginning a prayer.

He lowered his head and croaked, “I am only an ordinary, humble, sinful man myself, and no miracle-​​worker.”

Father Matthew folded his hands beneath his robes and nodded his head as if he quite agreed. Sometimes Father Matthew made Cynewulf long to balance a raw or even rotten egg atop every door in the chapel.

Father Matthew folded his hands beneath his robes and nodded his head.

“It is only natural to hope,” the Abbot said, laying a long stress upon the word. “But – Old Man, what happened in the garden of Gethsemane?”

“That’s where our Lord went in His last night,” Cynewulf answered quickly, “and Judas found Him and betrayed Him.” He peeked up at Father Matthew, hoping to have appeased the priest’s eagerness for lessons, but Matthew was looking unimpressed.

“Before that?” the Abbot asked softly. “Our Lord went off alone, and despaired, and even He hoped that He would be spared His suffering. And He prayed, ‘O Father, let this cup from pass from me. And nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will.’ What does that mean?”

Father Matthew was staring down his nose at Cynewulf with all the scrutiny of his green eyes. Cynewulf knew that if he said something foolish, he would be confined to a classroom far more often than Friday mornings – and not with the big boys.

“It means… Jesus didn’t want to die, but He said if that’s what His father wanted, He would do it.”

'It means... Jesus didn't want to die.'

Cynewulf looked uneasily up at his father, for the mere mention of death and “what his father wanted” made him feel a little sick inside, as if he were speaking a secret that everyone knew and no one told.

“He submitted to the will of God,” the Abbot said. “In struggling against it He was weak, as is all flesh, and in submitting to it He was made strong. I cannot promise you any miracle, Osh, but… However…”

Between his breathless pauses his voice was creaking and cracking like a bent branch about to snap. Cynewulf saw that the Abbot too was trying not to cry.

Suddenly he grabbed Osh’s wrists and brought Osh’s clasped hands to his face. He pressed them against his cheek and forehead, gasping and whispering tearfully, “Forgive me! My vanity!”

He even kissed Osh's hands as men sometimes kissed his own.

He even kissed Osh’s hands as men sometimes kissed his own, but Osh seemed to find this shocking, for he yelped and jerked his hands away.

Then they stared at one another, shocked or startled – or at least Osh seemed to stare. But as Cynewulf crept closer, he saw that his eyes were intent on the Abbot’s, and they sparkled as they had not when they were blind and dead, with the rapid, almost imperceptible movement of eyes scanning over a nearby face.

Cynewulf looked up and right and back.

Cynewulf looked up and right and back, but though everyone stared at the same thing, no one spoke, as if none dared tell the secret everyone already knew.

But Cynewulf was only a little boy, and if he did not understand, neither would he be told. He would have to find out for himself, in his little boy way. His father would surely scold with a warning “Old Man…” – or even his name – and Father Matthew would surely condemn him to a week’s worth of morning lessons, but he had to know whether Osh could see, and preferably before everyone suffocated from holding their breath.

Therefore he leapt behind the Abbot’s chair, where Osh would be certain to see him if Osh could see, and launched into the most ridiculous dance he knew: kicking his ankles up to the side, shaking his hips, whirling his arms, and performing every antic he and the boys had dreamt up to forever cure the girls of their insatiable desire to be danced with.

He launched into the most ridiculous dance he knew.

No one laughed, no one spoke, no one scolded him; and amidst his mute, invisible gyrations he began to have a chilling feeling of immateriality. He was trying to be silent, but the room was so still he could hear the gasps of his breath as he leapt, and his soft-​​soled shoes scuffing on the floor. And yet it seemed no one heard.

Lately he had often tried to imagine how it would feel to be dead, and for the first time he thought he knew.

For the first time he thought he knew.

He let himself spin down and turned towards his father, forgetting Osh for the moment. A great gulf seemed to stretch between the two of them, and it mattered not at all that Cynewulf was now the one on the dead side.

Now it was Cynewulf who was trying not to cry – but Osh saved him with his jolly laughter.

“Look out, Father!” he hooted. “When your back is turned someone is dancing during Advent! A very small someone, with black curls and green shirt and crossed eyes!”

'Look out, Father!'

“Did you see?” Cynewulf squealed.

The ladies squealed likewise, but Father Matthew squawked more loudly than they: “Dan–cing! During Ad–vent!”

Cynewulf felt his father’s strong hand close over his shoulder and pull him close. For an instant he thought the scolding was about to begin, and though he had been expecting it, still he thought this was one cup he would rather passed from him – especially with Father Matthew as witness.

For an instant he thought the scolding was about to begin.

However, it seemed his old, funny father was with him again, both on the same side.

“I shall overlook Osh’s error,” he said, “on account of his foreignness, but I cannot explain yours, Father. Nothing that I have witnessed here will I allow – on the part of any son of mine – to go by the proud name of dancing!

'I cannot explain yours, Father.'