Easter Sunday, 1113
link to previous chapter: http://www.rhemuthcastle.com/index.php/topic,1473.msg12625.html#msg12625
If one act of submission to God, however heartfelt, was all that was needed to keep the tempter at bay, then -Duncan reflected wearily - this world would be full of saints. He had heard the bells ring for Matins but had not had the energy or the heart to make his way out of his narrow, but warm, bed.
Unlike a good few of those to be involved in the morning’s ceremonies, Duncan had thoroughly enjoyed the lengthy rehearsal for the ordination service, with the intricacies of ritual and liturgical protocol to be mastered. He had made a reasonable meal of the simple evening fare, well aware that from that point on a strict fast would be enjoined, and had retired to bed immediately after Compline, confident that, his heart now at peace, he would sleep.
But if he had ever entertained any doubts of the obduracy of the human heart, he was about to learn better. For as soon as his head touched the pillow, the questioning of the last few days again made its presence felt, the weight of it almost physical in its intensity. Aware of those sleeping - or at the least appearing to sleep - around him, he struggled to remain still and quiet in his part of the dormitory. How could he a Deryni, trammelled by law and anathematised by canon, dare to think that he could become a Priest? What arrogance had clouded his judgement?
The comfort of Hugh’s tale had been real, but it had after all been nothing more than human comfort. In the darkness of the small hours Duncan feared that he had simply allowed himself to be led into temptation by his own need for reassurance. If only he could be granted a sign which he could be sure that he could trust – but even as he silently voiced this wish to himself, he flinched at his own presumption, the besetting sin which had led him to this pass. How could he be sure that the coming day would not the one on which, as Darby had promised, “his sin would find him out.”?
He looked over at a corner of the dormitory, not sure what had drawn his attention until a dim shimmer of light appeared, in which stood a young man of about his own age, dressed in a white ordination cassock. He was of average height and medium build, with brown hair and very kind brown eyes, and he was smiling gently, looking directly at Duncan in his bed. As if he were “hearing” Mind-Speech, Duncan sensed a light tenor voice in his mind.“You do not know me, my son, but you will one day. Know that God is with you, this night, tomorrow, and always. Be blessed in the light of the Lord. Rest now,”
the figure said, raised his hand and made the sign of the Cross over Duncan, and started to fade away. Duncan reached his hand out in supplication, but his confused thought, “Wh…who are you?”
was met with a gentle shake of the head and a compassionate, even gently amused smile.
“It is not right that you should know that now, my son. Rest assured that the time will come, but when is in God’s hands. For now forget all this, except that you, and what you will do tomorrow, are blessed.”
Again he made the sign of the Cross. "Forget all this, until you see me again. Now…sleep.”
Jorian, for it was indeed he, the executed martyr whose fate had so distressed Duncan, gently touched Duncan’s forehead, and he suddenly felt the exhaustion of the last few days and nights come upon him. Unable to keep his eyes open, he fell into a restful sleep which lasted for the whole of the night. He woke with a sense of joy and peace, beyond any which he had experienced before, and which lasted with him throughout the day. He could not explain it, but somehow he knew that he could now make peace with all that warred within him. Even the reservations he would make in his heart as he knelt in allegiance and kissed Darby’s ring, he felt would be forgiven him. Somewhere in the back of his mind, unexaminable but real, there whispered the promise that one day he would be free to be heart-whole, and his whole being resonated with the Easter acclamation of triumph out of despair "Alleluia, Christ is risen
There was however, still the ordeal of his confession to be got through. He waited with the other candidates for priesting in the monastery chapel – the cathedral itself being by this time a hive of frantic preparation – before being called one by one into the novice master’s room set aside for the purpose. Spiritually, Duncan felt at peace – sure that the Lord would hear and forgive the sins that he could not voice- but he feared what his instinctive emotional reaction to kneeling before Darby might be, and he focused on keeping his shields tightly shut. As he walked into the room, however, he found that he need not have worried. Confessions were being heard, not by Darby but by the new young Auxiliary Bishop of Rhemuth, a priest by the name of Denis Arilan. He was young to be a bishop, but even at this first meeting Duncan was aware of an aura of sanctity which surrounded the man. Nevertheless, something of his nervousness must have shown, for Bishop Arilan smiled encouragingly at Duncan, “There is nothing to be worried about. I have heard good reports of you from your superiors, and I am sure that you will be blessed.” Just for a moment Duncan heard the echo of another speaker as the Bishop spoke, but then it was gone and he was kneeling, opening his heart and soul to the Lord. Again, as the words of absolution were spoken, there were other words hovering on the edge of hearing, but again as quickly gone as the Bishop graciously put forth a hand to help him to his feet.
He was barely aware of his surroundings as those to be ordained gathered with their juniors in seminary to be assisted to vest, though it was perhaps as well for his peace of mind that he was unaware of the approval with which Archbishop Darby noted his joyful abstraction. Robes were twitched into place for the last time, the thurifers fussed with the lighting of their thuribles and eyed the young boat boys carrying the brass containers of incense with a stern gaze, the last misplaced place- marker was found for the precious calf-bound ordinal made of finest vellum, and the last wandering itinerant bishop, unused to such pomp and ceremony, firmly escorted to his proper place in the line. Duncan was oblivious to it all but allowed his feet to follow as the great procession wound its way through the cloisters and into the Cathedral. Earthbound reality intruded but the once, when he saw the King flanked by two of his dukes, Alaric of Corwyn and Jared of Cassan, who also happened to be two of those closest in love to Duncan. But could any love truly be called earthbound? And thinking thus, Duncan allowed his gaze briefly to fall upon Vera, Kevin and Bronwyn.
But mostly his thoughts were far from the Cathedral and even from himself. As the Archbishop laid his hands upon Duncan’s head so that the precious inheritance given once to the Apostles might be transmitted to him, as his hands were anointed so that he might be worthy to handle the Holy Gifts he would offer, Duncan for a brief moment knew that he had left time and was partaking of eternity. Human, Deryni – even mortal or angelic spirit, what mattered it, save to be in the service of the Most High? And to know that that service, unworthy though it was, was accepted. He wanted to say, “Domine, non sum dignus”, but somehow he knew that the Lord was not interested in his unworthiness, undoubted though that was, but only in his love.
The bliss of that moment would never leave him, though he was learning that the liturgy was there not only to raise one to heaven, but also to bring one back down to earth where there was work to be done. As his white ordination stole, worn deacon-wise across his chest, was untied and placed across his shoulders as a sign of the yoke of Christ it was to be his duty and joy to bear, he knew that this was what he had been born to do. The rest of the service came and went to his awareness; there were times when he was conscious of himself, and others when he was caught up in the worship not only of this time and place but of Heaven.
Times of especial joy shone out as painted images on a window: the moment when he was handed the cup to drink by Bishop Arilan, and Duncan was moved to see how much the joy in the other’s eyes matched his own and by the passionate intensity of the episcopal words, “Drink of this, my brother, this is the cup of salvation”. The giving to him of the ciborium with its sacred Hosts to share with the hungry faithful; the awe of his father kneeling before him, the king by his side, that they might be ministered to by son and subject; the loving glance his mother gave to him in defiance of propriety, but so precious; then Kevin and Bronwyn in their turn, together with a few of the faithful folk from Culdi, representing the many who would long to be there.
The one moment of sadness came as he marked the absence of Alaric at the rail, and Duncan’s heart ached that he had not come forward to share in this moment. Nothing in this world, he reflected sadly, is ever totally as it should be, but he could not, in gratitude to God, allow even this to cloud his joy for long. Then, as the last worshippers approached, he saw him, head bowed as if reluctant, come to kneel before him. As the deacon held the paten under Alaric’s chin and Duncan raised the Host to make the sign of the cross over his cousin’s head, Alaric glanced upwards and Duncan saw that his eyes were full of tears. As their eyes met, however, Duncan thought he caught just a glimmer of the old mischief before Alaric rose, genuflected before the altar, and turned to go back to his place.
Slowly Duncan moved back down the Cathedral from the great west door, where he and the other new priests had gathered at the end of the service to greet their well-wishers. Again Alaric had been missing and Duncan grieved at the conflict that must always be in his cousin’s heart. How hard it must be to belong to a Church which regarded you as a begrudged outcast at best, and Duncan fully understood why Alaric kept his distance. At least he understood with his mind, but his heart protested the necessity.
As he passed one of the many side altars, King Brion moved out of the shadows and motioned Duncan to join him inside the tiny chapel. Mystified but obedient – it might be his ordination day, but the king was still the king – Duncan followed with a bow and a muttered “Sire?” As he turned towards the candles burning on the altar, he saw a figure kneeling at the prie-dieu who rose and turned as the king spoke.
“Alaric, look who I’ve managed to find. He’s back down to earth at last. He’s all yours.” And with that, to Duncan’s bewilderment, the king brushed past pushing him firmly into the chapel. Then he knelt down in the entrance with his back to the body of the cathedral and bowed his head as if in prayer.
Duncan waited for his cousin to offer an explanation, but the silence lengthened, and eventually he himself spoke, although he was not sure whether to be touched or offended. “Alaric, I don’t need the king’s command to want to speak to you. I’m still Duncan to you, and you’re welcome at any time.”
“To you, yes, but not to most of your brethren.”
Duncan could scarcely argue the point as it was just what he himself had been thinking, and another silence fell which, though not precisely awkward, was hardly comfortable. Again, it would clearly have to be he who broke it.
“It upset me when I thought you were not coming to Communion, you are very precious to me, you know.” As he spoke he half expected a sardonic jest in reply; but instead Alaric spoke in a low voice whose sincerity could not be doubted.
“I nearly didn’t. Oh, I can go through the motions easily enough most times, with the half of me that’s not beyond redemption, that is. But not with you, I had to be sure that it would be for real when it was you. And it was.”
Duncan was wise enough not to probe further. And moved though he was by this rare glimpse into Alaric’s vulnerable soul, nevertheless he doubted that the king had offered his services as a door keeper just for this. Turning away from Duncan, Alaric reached down to the book rest of the prie-dieu and picked something up in his hands.
“I’ve brought you a gift – entirely suitable, don’t worry.” A crooked smile, then, in remembrance of the less than suitable gifts offered to a certain young and embarrassed ordinand on his birthday. “I know you’ve got a whole set, and very splendid they are too….” Again the crooked smile in remembrance of the teasing he had handed out to Duncan at the magnificence of the vestments Vera and Jared had commissioned for their son. “We’ll need to be careful or we could be taken for each other -- me in solemn black, you in lordly splendour!
” Then all trace of levity vanished from his face and he continued, “…but this is a bit special.”
Dumbstruck, Duncan put out his hands to receive a simple purple stole. Made of linen, not silk, and marked only with crosses cut out of a darker hue of the same stuff and sewn on at centre and ends. The neat stitches, workmanlike and evenly spaced, caused tears to well in Duncan’s own eyes, and he did not dare to meet the gaze of his cousin lest he break down entirely. He knew well who had made those stitches, from the days when as pages and squires they had been taught to mend their own harness.
“Bronwyn bought the fabric and cut it out for me – would you put it on, please?”
“Put it on?”
“Please! For once in my life, I want to make a true confession – I know it should have been before I came to Communion, but that sin, at least, I think He’ll forgive. I had it with me in the Cathedral, so it’s been blessed – well at least after a fashion.”
“Alaric, I…” Duncan’s voice trailed to a halt. He was deeply touched, but also embarrassed and unsure – yes, he’d just been given authority to absolve others from their sins, but he hardly expected his skills in the confessional to be put to the test so soon and so personally. What if he failed Alaric? What if he failed God? Most likely he’d fail both! Worse still, he was sure to be missed soon. What if someone from the Archbishop’s staff were sent to find him? Oh, he was doing nothing wrong, but Alaric would be treated with cold disdain if not ignored completely. Duncan felt that his cousin’s faith hung by the faintest of threads, and the fear lay on his own heart that one day Alaric would turn his back on God completely. Please God, not today
, he prayed.
His uncertain glance into the Cathedral must have betrayed at least some of his thoughts, for raising his head the King spoke. “It’s quite safe, Duncan. The Archbishop may have little personal liking for me as a man, but I doubt even he would step over his kneeling king to find out where you’d got to. Just make sure that he only confesses to you what he can’t share with anyone else; my joints aren’t supple enough to kneel here for all his sins!”
Suddenly Duncan’s thoughts turned themselves around, and what had seemed a challenge, a temptation even, became for him the gift that Alaric intended it to be, and beyond that, he dared to think, in the mysterious providence of God even another divine affirmation of his priesthood. Moved beyond words Duncan removed his sumptuously embroidered ordination stole, and bringing to his lips the infinitely more precious plain purple one that Alaric continued to hold out, he placed it around his neck.
Biting his lip to retain his composure, he bowed his head to listen as Alaric sank to his knees before him: “Bless me, Father, for I have sinned…”