It was an ordinary day in the abbey for Cadfael, if anything ordinary could be found in the monk. After tending to the sick brothers of their community, he went back to his quiet herbarium. Oswin had been asked by Prior Robert to help at the windmill and thus, the old monk was quite surprised to find the door ajar. Everything seemed the same, no broken bottles, no misplaced herbs, yet he was not fooled. He could sense that someone was definitely there. That is when he heard Brother Jerome’s worried calls from a distance that a smile crept upon his face. He closed the door before eyeing the small bed at the back :
“You can come out, young man. You are safe here.”
Soon enough, a small figure crawled from under the bed, clothes now dirty and wavy blond hair all over the place. He didn’t look half as apologetic as the former soldier had expected. Really his father’s son, Cadfael mused.
“If I remember correctly, you were supposed to stay in the care of Brother Jerome and his teachings of the Bible.”
“Brother Jerome is boring,” the kid, no more than five, pouted. “And he is always displeased.”
Cadfael quietly chuckled.
“I admit he may not be the most patient member of our community when it comes to children. Or anyone else for that matter...” he muttered, earning a cheeky smile from the child. “Come now, I will shelter you for a while.”
The joyous expression on the boy’s face was so that it melted Cadfael’s heart. He looked through his satchel and found the apple he was looking for. He had thought to keep it for in between the night offices; it often proved difficult to keep the growling of his stomach away during chants and prayers at that time. But what were a few sounds and a mere discomfort compared to the glee on the child’s face ?
He cut the fruit in two and handed him one half. He ate earnestly, much to the monk’s amusement. After a time of companionable silence, the boy looked at the Welsh man :
“I wish I could stay with you all day…”
“You know it is not possible,” Cadfael tenderly smiled. “ And believe me, you would find my day far more boring than Brother Jerome’s teachings.”
“Nothing is boring with you !” the child protested.
“Now young Alfred,” Cadfael looked at him with a tender benevolence “I am sure there is something interesting for you to find in your lessons. Maybe you just have not found it yet, is all.”
The young child remained unconvinced but did not say anything else. He had inherited his mother’s steady but calm nature, which was maybe for the best considering how his father tended to act quickly without thinking twice in different situations. Cadfael hid a smile taking a bite of his half of the apple. He was very fond of the boy’s father, a man he considered like a son despite all his worrisome and, at times, foolish actions. And here he was, godfather of the generation, of Alfred. The child looked very much like his father though his mother was present on his face, just in a more subtle way. He would do a fine man, the monk knew it, he already had a great sense of justice and a charity and genuine generosity for others that would put some of their brothers to shame.
“Could you tell me again the stories of when you went away to fight ?” asked the boy with an eager expression. "Please ?” he added with a gentle plea to his voice.
Cadfael squinted his eyes at him with a smile. Maybe they could make a deal out of this.
“If I tell you one story, will you go back to Brother Jerome ?”
The child fell silent for a moment, surely pondering the pros and cons.
“I will.” He declared, nodding his head once.
The former soldier smiled fondly and began retelling the tale of his journey from England to the Holy Land as a young and ignorant man, in quest of glory and gold. The time was passed with eager interest from the boy, even though he already knew the story, and laughter between godfather and nephew.
A while later, apple long eaten and story finished, Cadfael stood up and Alfred did the same without needing to be asked. He searched for Cadfael’s hand without realizing it, just as he usually did, and the monk held on tight. They found Brother Jerome who surprisingly was more relieved and happy to find his student back than angry and ready to lecture the boy. A smirk appeared on Cadfael’s face as he was walking back to his shelter. That boy just knew exactly how to warm up to anyone.
Later on, long after vesper, someone knocked on his door and Cadfael invited whoever was waiting outside in. Hugh appeared, completely worn out and dirty after a long day of duty as deputy sheriff of Shrewsbury.
“Wine ?” offered Cadfael
“That’d be much appreciated, thank you Cadfael.” His friend answered with a tired sigh.
When they both were installed at the table, mirroring the image of earlier when Alfred had occupied Hugh’s place, cups of good warm wine in hands, the younger man raised an eyebrow :
“I heard that Brother Jerome’s teachings are not really in Alfred’s heart…”
“Indeed. But he is a young boy. I am sure he’ll come to it eventually, give him time.”
Hugh nodded, then taking a sip of his wine.
“I know. But sometimes I just…” He sighed. “With Aline being away seeing her poor aunt, I feel I am doing everything wrong. Aline know how to do this. But I’m afraid my position does not give me the time he would need, or even like for that matter. Am I a bad father, Cadfael ?”
Cadfael covered Hugh’s hand with his own and squeezed it gently.
“Don’t say such nonsense, my friend. You are as present as can be for your son, which is far more than most fathers I have seen through my long years. Your boy loves you, nothing can change that.”
He smiled while he drew back his hand to take a sip from his own cup.
“Besides, being a parent is not an innate capacity, Aline could tell you. Don’t be too hard on yourself. You will learn every day, there is nothing wrong with that. I can assure you, you are a great man and great father, Hugh.” He smiled fondly
Hugh nodded once, very much like his son earlier.
“Thank you, my friend.”
They remained silent for a while, enjoying each other’s company before they resume talking of trivial thing than Hugh’s personal doubts. The Beringar men were sure a lot to deal with but oh so very worth it, Cadfael reflected as he listened to Hugh’s tale of the last enquiry he had settled and solved.