Araphel is Sebastien

October 11, 1085


Intra!” Araphel barked.

Sebastien’s arms shook in spite of his damp, white-​​knuckled grip on the edge of his chair. Araphel knew Amarel would not have knocked, and he dared not hope Flann would come. It would be either a man with a knife or a man with a crucifix, and Sebastien was in such a state that he might better be able to defend himself from a knife.

But it was the crucifix.

But it was the crucifix.

“I am glad to find you here, Sebastien,” the Abbot said, though his voice was coldly void of gladness. “You’ve honor enough at least not to run from your errors.”

Araphel stood abruptly, kicking back his chair to indicate in what disdain he held it now that he had no more need of it.

“I was not aware that my honor was in question, nor that I had erred.”

'I was not aware that my honor was in question, nor that I had erred.'

“I want to know what happened last night.”

“If you ask, you already know,” Araphel sniffed.

“I know what the young woman has told me. I should like to hear your telling of the tale.”

“What did she tell you?” Araphel asked.

'What did she tell you?'

Sebastien’s voice was growing thick and shaky with dread, confounding him in his attempt at insouciance. What he feared more than anything was what Flann might have said.

“No, Sebastien,” the Abbot growled, “you shall tell me. It is my belief that the girl scarcely knows what has happened to her. Seldom have I seen a young lady in such a state of anguish and exhaustion. Her cousin Malcolm left twelve hours after she and rode as fast as he dared, and he arrived here twelve hours after she did. Do you understand me?”

'Do you understand me?'

“So, she is a good horsewoman,” Araphel muttered.

“And she was ‘married’ in the middle of the night, having scarcely slept in days, and taken to a man’s bed straightaway after, and up again at dawn when he abandoned her.”

“Very well, but I am not the man!” Araphel protested.

'No, but you aided him in her rape.'

“No, but you aided him in her rape – for I can find no other word for it!”

Araphel longed to plead with him – he had been trying to convince himself that Eithne was in love with Dantalion, or at least with what she believed him to be – but as Sebastien he could only be defiant.

He lifted his head and shook back his dark curls. “They are married,” he said coolly. “Therefore it is not rape.”

'Therefore it is not rape.'

“I tell you, it is rape,” the Abbot glowered. “By the time they arrived here, there was nothing left for her to do but marry him.”

“Then I did right!” Araphel smirked. “You say so yourself!”

“No!” Aelfden thundered as if the guest house were as wide and echoing as the chapel. “What you should have done was awoken me!”

'What you should have done was awoken me!'

Sebastien’s face was growing flushed, and his pores were prickling with sweat. “A priest is not necessary for a marriage to be valid, Lord Father. Surely you know that.”

A priest would not have married them last night at all. There was no possible urgency, unless it were the man’s lust. And that is what you aided with your little ceremony, Sebastien. That, or you wished to play priest for your own amusement, at the expense of a little girl’s innocence and peace. I do not know which revolts me more.”

Sebastien’s mouth had been sticky and dry, but it was suddenly flooded with moisture. He was five seconds’ inattention to his stomach away from vomiting.

He was five seconds' inattention to his stomach away from vomiting.

The Abbot had twice incorrectly guessed his motives, but the truth was no less sickening. He had sacrificed Flann’s sister to save Flann and Liadan for himself. If he was still able to stand and speak and live, it was only because he did not know how he could have saved her if he had tried, and because he told himself he would have tried if he had known how.

He swallowed and took a deep breath through his mouth in the hope of drying it. “It is how they wished to be married,” he said stiffly. “I believe Eithne is rather romantic a girl.”

'I believe Eithne is rather romantic a girl.'

“Romance…” the Abbot growled softly, drawing out each syllable like the closing notes of a psalm. “No, Sebastien. I will not allow you to blame her. Foolish she might have been, but that is excused by her age and her sex. You and Malo were two men who might have protected her. How will you defend your actions before her father? How will you defend them before God?”

'How will you defend them before God?'

Araphel could not. His grief and remorse had so wrung him all afternoon that he had not had the time to decide by what blithe defiance Sebastien would excuse his behavior. Lacking that, he had no choice but to look away from the Abbot’s deep-​​seeing eyes.

He had no choice but to look away from the Abbot's far-seeing eyes.

“It was all a prank to you, wasn’t it?” Aelfden murmured. He took a step closer to him, stalking him slowly like a spider. “Such as students like to play after an evening of drinking. You even came sneaking into my office and entered the marriage in the register to leave proof of your daring for the ages. But I am not your professor, Sebastien. This is not Rome. You were not carving your initials into my desk, but condemning that young lady to one sort of sorrow or another for the rest of her life.”

“He will return,” Araphel said weakly.

“I hope he does. I and several other men wish to speak with him.”

“Lord Father, your rancor is unbecoming a priest,” Araphel smiled.

'Lord Father, your rancor is unbecoming a priest.'

It was a meager insult, but he hoped he would gain a few seconds’ time to think with it. He should have known the Abbot would not meet it with a meager defense.

“Your activities of this past night notwithstanding, I doubt you are qualified to pronounce judgement on what a priest should be. I have been a priest nearly as long as you have been alive, Sebastien, and I have seen every manner of human ugliness, but if there is one that tries my forbearance more than any other, it is precisely your sort of prideful lack of remorse – as if your own brilliance sanctifies your every action.”

'It is precisely your sort of prideful lack of remorse.'

Araphel turned abruptly away – another word and he would have been lost to his longing to justify himself. The Abbot had described the ugliness of Dantalion and his brothers – not his. And yet it was because Aelfden’s mercy and compassion were most sorely tried by this sort of ugliness that Sebastien had to be what he was.

It was because Aeldfen's mercy and compassion were most sorely tried by this sort of ugliness that Sebastien had to be what he was.

“It is Cian who wronged her!” he snarled to hide his gasping sobs. “I have done – nothing wrong!”

The Abbot came silently to stand behind his shoulder. “The sins are not my concern. Only the sinner is.”

'The sins are not my concern.'

His voice had softened, proving that he knew Sebastien was crying. It was too late, then. Araphel stumbled away to the candle.

Sebastien was unbearable. With his quick blushes and queasy stomach and nervous fingers had also come an unsettling tendency to burst into tears. For months now – and especially since that morning’s disastrous conversation with Flann – Araphel had wished he could abandon this body for another and start over, though he now feared Flann would never again trust a man with gray eyes.

It was for Aelfden that Sebastien had to be what he was.

But it was for Aelfden that Sebastien had to be what he was.

Laissez-​​moi!” he hissed when Aelfden’s gentle fingertips settled on his arm.

“If I leave you, I shall only go away and pray for you,” Aelfden threatened softly in his careful, psalmodic French.

“Go away and rot!”

'Go away and rot!'

Araphel felt an arm wrap itself around him, strangely strong despite being so stringy, and gracefully bowed, as if it had been fashioned to fit over a man’s shoulders.

“Or go away and pray, and I shall undo your good work with curses!”

Aelfden shook his head close to Araphel’s own and sighed.

Araphel was trying to undo his own bad work of letting Sebastien’s arrogant impassivity fail before the Abbot, but it seemed the damage had been done, and at last he let himself sob.

At last he let himself sob.

He was achingly lonely, despite being near his brother Amarel; and lost and frightened, despite knowing where he was. Nothing was going according to plan – not his, not the world’s, perhaps not even God’s.

Aelfden was the one person to whom he absolutely could not admit the true source of his sorrow, but with Aelfden one scarcely needed to admit anything. Araphel would never again say that there was nothing new under the sun: now the earth had seen a saint wipe away an angel’s tears.

Now the earth had seen a saint wipe away an angel's tears.