After Vespers, in the dark, Clement walked the cloisters. His tunic was not enough to protect him from the biting cold, but he suffered it for the moment. He would begin tomorrow’s lesson time with Ignatius by introducting Aesop’s Fables and teaching the boy the basics of the ancient Greek alphabet. Then in the next hour, they would work on Latin—perhaps read some scripture or work on some grammar. Then, finally, Clement had to do something about his son’s penmanship.
Clement found himself feeling excitement, anticipating. He would teach his son all he knew. Shivering in the cold, Clement felt the warm glow of pride. Then he extinguished it. Pride, after all, was a sin.
“Sister Benedicta,” Sister Catherine said. “You’ve a visitor in the parlor.”
Benedicta turned from the pot of greens she was stirring for the midday meal.
“A visitor?” She inquired. “Who could it be?”
“Your brother.” Sister Catherine gave Sister Benedicta a knowing look. Benedicta stepped away from the pot and by touch, made sure her hair was concealed under her coif, that her veil was neat. It wasn’t vanity, but armor.
Benedicta turned from the hearth to the door. She pulled her veil around her face to shield it from the snapping wind and hurriedly walked to the nuns’ dormitory. Before stepping into the parlor, she smoothed her veil and her habit and then, face serene, entered.
The man was sitting in a chair, shoulders and back straight, but legs splayed in a rather relaxed manner. He wore fine leather boots on his legs and his hose showed off powerful legs. His doublet was brown, but the cap on his head was decorated with a fanciful gray feather.
“Brother,” Sister Benedicta said.
“Sister Benedicta,” Robert Collins drawled. “Please, sister, sit.”
Benedicta suppressed the urge to snap that she preferred to stand and sank into one of the chairs. She folded her hands in her lap and waited. Robert was her eldest sibling, the first of ten Collins children, and as a consequence, Robert was nearly twenty years Benedicta’s senior. While she still held onto a smooth-faced youthfulness, despite the Order’s plain clothes and emphasis on manual labor and deprivation, Robert’s hair and beard had shades of gray and white in it. There were lines on his face, particularly around his rather bright brown eyes.
His mobile, mocking mouth opened and Robert said, “I’ve come for a blessing. I’m to journey to Berwick on the morrow. My daughter Anne is to be wed.”
“My felicitations and congratulations,” Sister Benedicta said in a level tone. “Who is her husband?”
“A solider. Son of an administrator in Northumberland, with excellent prospects in that direction.”
“Anne has my blessing, then. I pray that your wife and other daughters are healthy and well?”
“Indeed, yes.” Robert’s eyes took on an unholy gleam. “How is your son, sister dear?”
“Well, thank you,” Benedicta replied. “He’s begun his tutelage under the monks.”
“Ah, good. I wouldn’t want my godson deprived because of his irregular parentage.” Steepling his hands together to conceal his face, Robert continued, “It’s occurred to me that I have no sons and all of my daughters, excepting little Margaret, of course, are married to men with inheritances or prospects of their own and have no need of my humble assets.”
Benedicta contained a snort. The Collins family may have begun humbly, but Robert had inherited their father’s land and subsequently bought more land around Scour. He and her other brothers had tied their fortunes together as well.
She felt rather fortunate to be shut away in the priory. At least God’s work would keep her away from her elder brother.
“There are our brothers,” she finally spoke.
“Mmm. Speaking of, Richard is now the squire of Routh village.”
“Old Squire Routh died?”
“Last week, rather suddenly. Of course, now, the squire’s house is overcrowded. Richard’s two children, and his wife has many younger sisters.” He waved the Routh daughters away, as if swatting a fly. “I should like to speak to your son someday, Alice—I mean, Sister Benedica.”
“I’d prefer you didn’t,” Benedicta said in a firm tone. “He’s being educated by a most learned monk and he’ll be fit to take his own vows for the Church or become a scholar at Oxford.”
“You wish your only son to live in penury?” Robert leaned forward, the box-shaped shoulders of his doublet intimidating.
“I wish my son to live in the light of God.”
“Hmm. Does he know yet?”
“Know what?” Benedicta dashed back, though she exactly what Robert spoke of. He was rather annoying in that way, always baiting. She could not truly hate anyone—Jesus Christ had said “Love your enemies”—but if she could hate anyone, it would be her brother Robert.
“That he’s a bastard,” Robert said slowly. “That you’re his mother. Does he know?”
“No, he does not. And he will not.”
“Oh, really?” Robert bandied back. “You know, boys of his age and a little older? Do you know what their conversation largely consists of? Farts and the begetting of children. Or, at least, the equipment to beget children. Which naturally leads to how they were brought into this world of toil. If he’s as intelligent as you say, then the boy will realize that there’s a Clement in the priory.”
“Clement keeps himself virutally locked in the library, curating,” she answered. She would not tell Robert that Clement was the boy’s new tutor. “And anyway, how will Ignatius find out?”
“He’ll have his suspcions,” Robert replied. “I must take my leave. An enlightening visit, sister.”
He left the parlor in a cat-like manner, light of foot for a large man. Benedicta sat in the empty room and ground her teeth.
I love writing Robert. Can you tell?