by Heidi Kortman -
Bede waited. He had yet to meet anyone who took the presence of a quarr as something ordinary. His teacher’s eyes widened slightly, and his adam’s apple bobbed.
“A most unusual creature,” Brother Charles said. He lifted one hand, then let it drop, and took a half-step away. “I’m not sure I like the way it’s looking at me.” He shook his head. “Come this way,” he gestured across the gallery. “There’s a banquet in the refectory tonight.”
“Always up for a bit of tucker, I am,” said Douay Bede’s father. “The quarr won’t hurt ye, he’s been tamed. Ruben’s been good at that since he was a little ’un.”
“Silas, it’s Douay Bede now.”
“Yes, Myrna. Come along.” He reached back, to wrap his arm around her waist and steer her along as they walked.
Just inside an arch, a stocky figure waited—Bishop Guash. The bishop’s crucifix glittered in the gallery lights as he rushed toward them.
“Brother Charles. What is that creature, and how did it get here?”
The bishop’s tone so matched his habitual bulldog scowl that if he weren’t a dangerous man to cross, Brother Charles would have broken out in laughter. Instead he made a quick gesture. Douay Bede stopped beside him. “We might as well get this out of the way.”
On the Bible’s shoulder, the quarr crouched and flattened his ears. Douay Bede reached up and tapped its muzzle. “No,” he whispered. The creature shifted, then yawned.
Ordinarily, Bishop Guash started his arguments nearly nose-to-nose with his targets, but this time he halted sooner. “What is that?”
Brother Charles drew breath. He opened his mouth, but the honorific stuck. “Your Grace,”—he forced the words out—“this is a quarr, Douay Bede’s publication gift to the Order.”
The bishop snorted. “Outrageous. Who thought that would be appropriate?”
Douay Bede’s father stepped forward, his face flushed. Instead of speaking, the man began a fit of the distinctive ash lung coughing. Douay Bede went pale, but squared his shoulders.
“Bishop Guash—Your Grace—my father is a bugherd. This quarr is the most valuable thing he could find to give. My father trapped him on the west range of the property he works.”
“Why should the Order value such a beast?”
“Pangur Ban eats spiders and their eggs. All quarr do.”
“Broken your vows already, Bede.” The bishop turned his left palm up, then clenched his fist. “You had no right to name what belongs to the Order, as though it was your possession. Bibles own nothing.”
“You don’t understand,” Myrna said, as she struggled to support her sagging husband. Brother Charles moved behind Douay Bede to help her.
Guash glared at her. “Quiet, woman.”
“Your Grace.” Douay Bede swallowed hard. “I had to name the quarr to domesticate him. If I had not, he would be uncontrollable.”
“Domesticated, eh?” The bishop stretched his short neck, and stared at the quarr’s head. “Can’t say I like looking at those mismatched eyes. Eats spiders?”
“Yes, Your Grace.” Douay Bede shifted his weight to his other foot as his stomach rumbled. Pangur Ban bumped Bede’s left ear, then leaped down, and stalked into the darkness under one of the stone benches.
He thrummed. After some scrabbling and one solid thump, Pangur Ban emerged head and tail high, to drop a dead metallic blue spider almost on top of Douay Bede’s sandal.
Bishop Guash staggered back. Bede sighed. “Pangur Ban, I’m not that hungry. Eat it yourself.”
The quarr blinked once before disposing of the carcass in three bites.
“Let us not forget the banquet,” Brother Charles said. Well-prepared food tended to distract Bishop Guash from his arguments. “Silas, the refectory is down the corridor and to the right. If I help, do you think you can make it?”
Silas nodded, trembling as he fought to repress the cough.
Brother Charles and Douay Bede’s parents passed the bishop, who continued to scowl and stand in Bede’s path.
“Bibles own nothing,” Guash repeated. “Tomorrow you embark for Avenir. You must leave the creature behind with me.” He shuddered.
“Forgive me, Your Grace, but it won’t work that way. Pangur Ban won’t obey you.” If this confrontation lasted much longer, he wouldn’t have another chance to speak with his parents. He wouldn’t be seated near them at the banquet. How much time did Da have?
“You said the beast was domesticated.” The bishop’s scowl deepened.
“He obeys me because during domestication, he heard my voice alone. The process only works before the first growth spurt, Your Grace.”
Brother Charles returned. “Bishop Guash, the brothers are waiting for you to bless the meal.”
The bishop made a shooing gesture. “Douay Bede and I are not finished.”
“Your Grace, the dermestid chowder will congeal if you delay much longer. Brother Trout has also prepared a dish of curried seraph nymphs. Please—” Brother Charles reached out to tug the bishop’s sleeve.
“Douay Bede, I expect to see you, and that creature, here in the Gallery after the banquet.” The bishop turned on his heel, toward the corridor and refectory.