by Heidi Kortman -
Douay Bede took two deep breaths, as Pangur Ban stretched. When the quarr turned its head and flicked its ears, Bede swallowed hard then followed the bishop and Brother Charles. He trailed three strides behind, which did nothing to avert his being the center of attention when he reached the refectory doorway. “Pangur Ban,” he whispered, as the bishop spoke the first syllables of the blessing, “do not hunt here.”
The table and its benches never seemed so long. Pangur Ban paced beside him, tail twitching. The scaled length struck Bede’s calf through his robe, as he walked behind the brothers, the manuscripts, and the other Bibles all seated beside their newly-assigned priests. Murmuring and indrawn breaths, audible beneath the bishop’s prayer, followed his steps.
Bede passed his parents, seated on the opposite side of the great table. After another eight paces, he reached the only open place. Bede hiked up his robe before stepping over the bench. When he settled on the seat, he felt the pressure of Pangur Ban’s weight on the backs of his ankles.
“Stay there,” Bede whispered. That earned him a bump from the elbow of the priest on his right.
The man to his left, his partner for this life’s mission, was shorter than Bede. The man kept his head bowed until the blessing concluded. When he reached out with his chopsticks for a curried seraph nymph, he handled them deftly despite the missing first joint of his right index finger.
“Blessed be the Lord, the God of Israel, because he has visited and wrought salvation for his people.” Douay Bede said, as he reached for some wolner-grain bread.
The priest swallowed his mouthful. “To shine on those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace,” he said.
“Father Oaku. The cook here is good.”
Bede ladled himself a serving of the chowder, and poured aniila oil into the communal plate between them. Wolner-grain bread was tasteless without it. He dipped his bread in the oil.
“When the banquet is finished, I’ll begin work on my first homily for the mission. Be ready with Acts 13, verses four through twelve.”
About to take his first bite of the meal, Bede was forced to pause. “Yes, Father Oaku. But—” A large chunk of the oil-soaked bread fell from the slice and plopped into the thick chowder. The splash spattered the sleeve of the priest at Bede’s right, earning him another poke with the man’s sharp elbow.
“What? You are Published, are you not?” Father Oaku glared at Bede.
“Yes, Father. This morning. I know the passage you need, but Bishop Guash has ordered me to speak with him after the banquet.”
The priest with sharp elbows snorted. “They’ve saddled you with a trouble maker, Oaku.”
Father Oaku Mary, his lips contracted like the top of a closed drawstring pouch, leaned away from the table. His back made a crackling sound. He sighed. “I’ll keep him too busy for much.”
Under the bench, Pangur Ban shifted his weight. Bede ducked his head. He didn’t dare whisper to the quarr again. Instead, he poked his spoon at the oil slick in his chowder. Across the table, the other priests and Bibles were enjoying their food. Bede dredged the sodden bread from the soup, and ate it.
Maybe, if he focused on the food, the others would ignore him. The clack of serving spoons and utensils echoed in the ceiling vault. Bede took another spoonful. Lukewarm now, the chowder lacked appeal. “Father Oaku,” he whispered.
The priest crunched another mouthful of curried seraph nymphs. “What is it?”
“After the bishop has finished, may I please take a few minutes to speak with my parents?” Bede glanced down the table, and caught sight of his father doubling over. The explosive coughing fit made other diners lean away. Brother Reita, the assistant infirmarian, rose from his place to help Silas leave the table.
Father Oaku laid his chopsticks across the dish. “Douay Bede, speak St. Matthew 8:22, the Word of the Lord.”
Bede closed his eyes and took a shaky breath. “‘But Jesus said to him,’” he quoted, ‘Follow me, and leave the dead to bury their own dead.’” When he opened his eyes again, his lashes were wet, and he needed to blink. His mother was still at the table, and she was dabbing her eyes with the coarsely woven napkin.
Had she heard his voice through all the other sounds in the room? Did she think him cold-hearted? Bede prepared to stand, but Pangur Ban leaned more heavily against his calves, then wrapped his tail around Bede’s ankles.
Bede subsided on the bench. The quarr’s tail weighed heavier across his insteps than such a thing should do. Brother Reita returned, pausing for a moment beside Bede’s mother before continuing around the table to his former place. “Please, Father Oaku—how else will I get word about my father?”
The priest shook his head. “The man has ash lung. You know there’s no cure.” He laid aside his chopsticks again. “You have word from the Lord, Douay Bede. Speak St. John 10:28. That’s the only thing you need to know about your father.”
Bede stared down into the bowl of chowder. It had reached the stage where it coated the spoon. “And I give them everlasting life; and they shall never perish, neither shall anyone snatch them out of my hand.” It was true, but to spend the rest of his days with a man who could cast a chill on such a promise? Bede shuddered.