Link to previous chapter: http://www.rhemuthcastle.com/index.php/topic,1470.msg12574.html#msg12574Holy Saturday
Duncan listened to the sound of footsteps crunching through the wood, and his preoccupation with his own misery disappeared as he tried to focus on the immediate need to explain his behaviour, most likely to a superior, without arousing suspicion. When the approaching figure came into view, it was with relief, tinged with just a little of the previous evening's anxiety, that Duncan saw who it was.
“Duncan …I…you… I saw you leave …I’ve brought you these.”
It was Hugh, bearing in his hands a cloak and a piece of bread. Duncan though, made no move to take the offering, shaken by what he saw in the other’s face, with its outward concern failing to conceal the inward fear, even to human senses.
Duncan began to be really afraid. Hugh would not be the first betrayer to come with offerings of false friendship. Maybe the decision was about to be taken out of his hands in any case.
“I’m not breaking silence and God knows how many other rules for you to stand there gawping at me! Here, Duncan, take the blasted things!”
Hugh’s obvious irritation reassured Duncan – a betrayer might coming bearing gifts and seek to entrap his victim by feigned kindness, but he was surely unlikely to sound so genuinely annoyed? – and taking the cloak he wrapped it gratefully around him, lifting the hood to shield his hair. Though his hunger remained, he could not manage to do more than take the bread from Hugh’s impatient hands as the other clearly struggled to speak.
“Duncan…I…have to tell you something…” Hugh had turned away refusing to look at Duncan’s face and the latter’s fear began to return, only to flood in like surging ice-melt when Hugh finally managed to get his next sentence out.
“I felt for you yesterday; how you managed to sit there I don’t know! It was pretty awful for all of us, but for you, having to listen to those details, being who you are, it must have been terrible!”
Duncan felt the colour drain from his face, his body became ice-cold yet he was drenched with sweat. Somehow, sometime he had betrayed himself. And yet – there was nothing of hate-filled triumph in Hugh’s tone, only concern overlaid with fear. Was this perhaps a warning, a chance to make his escape? Very, very tentatively he cast his senses outwards seeking for the archiepiscopal guards that a betrayer would have brought with him, and was instead hit with a wave of remorse and devastated embarrassment.
“Oh God, Duncan! You must have thought… forgive me, I’m a blundering fool!” Obviously utterly mortified, Hugh struggled to continue, “You look like death, and no wonder. You must have thought that I was accusing you of being D-Der…” – but he was unable quite to get the word out –“Duncan, I’m so sorry!”
Shaken to the core by the realisation that he had all but accused a fellow ordinand of both mortal sin and capital heresy, Hugh backed away from Duncan and turned his face away in shame. If anyone in authority had heard, what would the consequences have been for both of them? Even though, Hugh was utterly convinced that Duncan was as free from Deryni taint as he himself, would that have been enough?
Hugh had mistaken his reaction for outrage. That much was obvious, though in the conflict of his own churning emotions Duncan could not focus well enough on Hugh’s incoherencies to make any sense of what he had been trying to say. Abruptly and uncharacteristically, anger rushed in where fear had been, and he reached out and none too gently shook the other’s shoulder.
“Hugh, will you stop blethering. If you’re not accusing me of being Deryni – yes, say the word, dammit! - What the hell are you trying to say?
As Hugh visibly struggled to get himself together, Duncan started to move his hand. Before he did so, he dared again to extend his senses and very gently read something of the other’s thoughts which lay open to him in Hugh’s guileless turmoil. What he read there both surprised and humbled him. Beneath the awkwardness, the anxious desire to please, the rather fussy precision, lay shining integrity and compassion. Here was a man who would risk a great deal to do what he saw to be right.
But what was he trying to say? Much more gently Duncan spoke again, this time his focus on Hugh’s need, and from his own desire to comfort a troubled soul.
“Hugh, stop apologizing… or at least wait until tomorrow when I can absolve you.”
The humour, ill-timed though it perhaps was, served its purpose and Hugh began to speak directly to Duncan although still avoiding his gaze.
“I only meant it must have been especially difficult for you because of your cousin. Everyone knows he’s Deryni, they even call him “the Deryni Duke”, - and it must change how you feel. But Duncan I never would have meant…”
“It’s all right, Hugh.” Duncan interrupted before there could be another wave of penitence for him to endure and by now thoroughly embarrassed by Hugh’s shame. If only the poor man knew. Well, please God, one day there would be no need for deception and it would not be the well-intentioned, like Hugh, who were put to shame.
“Sorry. I’ll get it out.” Hugh smiled faintly and continued, “There is something you should know.” He broke off to say, “Please eat that bread, it’ll be easier for me if you’re doing something while I talk.”
Duncan at least managed to tear off a piece of the bread but was barely able to chew, let alone swallow, as he wondered what it was that had led this good, authority-fearing man to take such a risk. That touch yesterday had been no accident then.
Too preoccupied to really notice, Hugh went on,
“I couldn’t fail to realise how upset you must have been. I think most of us were, to be honest. But I’d like you to know why I was.”
“About five years ago, we got a new young priest in our Parish at home; Father Oriolt’s his name. The thing is, he trained with Jorian, and was ordained alongside him. Duncan, it wasn’t like the Archbishop said yesterday. There was no fire from heaven, no thunder. The ordination was everything it should have been, all we are dreaming of for tomorrow. Father said that they were all shining with the joy of it, Jorian especially, until after they had received the Communion cup. Then all that happened was that Jorian was taken suddenly ill, as though he had had some sort of seizure or fainting fit. Father Oriolt helped him into the sacristy and helped him out of his vestments to make him more comfortable. Then abruptly he was ordered out, but before he closed the door he saw Archbishop De Nore – he was conducting the ordinations - take up Jorian’s stole and say something to him. He couldn’t hear the words, but he said there was none of the compassion or reassurance he would have expected in the tone. Then of course, there was the announcement that Jorian was Deryni– God, how terrible that must have been. Imagine it, Duncan!”
Duncan thought he could imagine it all too well, had indeed been imagining little else for the past hours, though not in any way Hugh intended. He was grateful for the cloak’s hood to hide something of his face, although once started the other was paying him little attention.
“He described having to watch him die. He told me he couldn’t get over that, that Jorian was a good, godly man who would have made a wonderful priest. Unlike some of the others he had never worried about what he was giving up, just longed to be serving God. And he was treated as less than a man. Father Oriolt said that it didn’t feel like God’s justice at all, that it stank of man’s hatred and vengeance.”
“Hugh, he was taking a terrible risk in talking to you like this. Why?”
“Because when I came here to seminary and thought about what we were taught about the Deryni, I realised that I had never once heard him preach against them or even use any of the set prayers of condemnation. You’ve heard the pastoral letters that Darby sent out warning of the dangers of Deryni corruption; they’ve been read to us in seminary. To the best of my knowledge Father Oriolt’s never read one to the people back home. So one day I plucked up courage and asked him why.”
Hugh smiled, meeting Duncan’s eyes for the first time, and despite himself Duncan could not help but smile back.
“I know, blundering in again where angels fear to tread. I’ll get myself into trouble one day. I fully expected to be blasted for my impertinence but instead he looked very serious, sat me down and swore me to secrecy – not the seal of the confessional, don’t worry - and told me what I have just told you.”
“So why have you told me all this?” Try as he would, Duncan could not entirely prevent that from coming out as an accusation.
“Because you must know that not all Deryni are devils. Your cousin has come to chapel at Grecotha with your father and brother; I’m assuming he’ll be there tomorrow. He’s blessed himself with holy water, he’s taken the Sacrament. Duncan, I’m a simple soul, I believe what I’m taught and do what I’m told, but this doesn’t make sense. Listening to the Archbishop yesterday and remembering Father Oriolt’s distress, I … don’t know what to think anymore. And when I saw you leave the Cathedral this morning I realised you must still be upset, so I came to find you. I thought you might understand, that’s all.”
Duncan felt overwhelmed – here was grace indeed – and again he felt humbled by Hugh’s courage and integrity. Hugh could not have known for certain that it was safe to say such things to him, and he felt an aching hurt that he must continue to lie to him. But he must find a way to reassure him without giving himself away.
“You’re a brave man Hugh, thank you. And I was
very distressed thinking of my cousin yesterday.” That much at least was true. “It wasn’t easy at all, but you’ve comforted me.” And that was far truer than the other could know. "You have nothing to fear from me for your honesty. Bless you.”
“Not yet, Father, save that for my confession tomorrow!”
And they both smiled taking refuge in the somewhat arch humour with which they and the other seminarians had learnt to diffuse emotional situations.
“I’ll go back in now” Hugh said. “Don’t stay out here too much longer. I know we’re allowed free range of the grounds to meditate but Mass is at noon and they’ll be counting us in. And there’s an afternoon of rehearsals to look forward to.” He sighed before adding, “But you enjoy all that stuff, don’t you?”
And without another word or glance, Hugh turned and walked back through the spinney in the direction of the Cathedral.
Duncan watched Hugh walk between the trees until he disappeared but remained staring after him for many minutes afterwards. Surely Hugh’s words, words of comfort spoken when he had so desperately needed comfort, were an answer to prayer.
Although that in itself made him more than a little uncomfortable, for he still had no answer as to why God would listen to prayers from a rebellious heart, bellowed at him with anger and scurrilous invective, when he had failed to hear the surely desperate cries of the faithful and godly Jorian.
Unless…unless… A new and aweing thought came to Duncan. Maybe, just maybe, Jorian’s death would have the opposite effect of that intended by his persecutors – as evidenced both by Hugh’s tale of Father Oriolt and the revulsion amongst his human colleagues that Duncan had sensed yesterday. In which case God had not abandoned his faithful servant to destruction or had refused to hear his prayers, but had given him the same answer that Our Lord had received in Gethsemane.
Duncan suddenly knew that his thoughts were entering upon holy ground. Utterly unselfconsciously, he lowered the hood from his head and knelt in humble surrender on the wet earth, his hands held palm to palm in front of him in the time honoured gesture which signified both prayer and homage. He could not seek sacramental absolution for his anger or for the deception which he would have to live but he trusted in God s forgiveness and that his Lord would know that his offering of loving service was made with all his heart and soul and mind and strength.
As he knelt with bowed head, finally mirrored by the submission of his heart, he even found a measure of peace that it would be Alexander Darby who ordained him. Who was he to demand righteousness in others? The validity of the Sacrament did not depend upon the worth of the instrument. It could not or where would any mortal be, human or Deryni?
Eventually he roused himself and mindful of Hugh’s warning went to dry and warm himself before entering the Cathedral for the mid-day Mass.
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