Departures

Departures by Harry Turtledove

Book: Departures by Harry Turtledove Read Free Book Online
Authors: Harry Turtledove
days he did not often think of anymore, the idea washed over him in the full guttural splendor of his birth speech.
    Sometimes he crafted a hymn line by line, word by word, fighting against stubborn ink and papyrus until the song had the shape he wanted. He was proud of the songs he shaped that way. They were truly his.
    Sometimes, though, it was as if he saw the entire shape of a hymn complete at once. Then the praises to the Lord seemed almost to write themselves, his pen racing over the page not as an instrument of his own intelligence but rather as a channel through which God spoke for Himself. Those hymns were the ones for which the monk had gained a reputation that reached beyond Syria. He often wondered if he had earned it. God deserved more credit than he did. But then, he would remind himself, that was true in all things.
    This idea he had now was of the second sort, a flash of inspiration so blinding that he staggered and almost fell, unable to bear up under its impact. For a moment he did not even know—or care—where he was. The words, the glorious words reverberating in his mind, were all that mattered.
    And yet, because the inspiration came to him in his native language, his intelligence was also engaged. How could he put his thoughts into words his fellows here and folk all through the empire would understand? He knew he had to; God would never forgive him, nor he forgive himself, if he failed here.
    The refectory was dark but, since it was filled with summer air and sweating monks, not cool. The monk took a loaf and a cup of wine. He ate without tasting what he had eaten. His comrades spoke to him; he did not answer. His gaze was inward, fixed on something he alone could see.
    Suddenly he rose and burst out, “There is no God but the Lord, and Christ is His Son!” That said what he wanted to say, and said it in good Greek, though without the almost hypnotic intensity the phrase had in his native tongue. Still, he saw, it served his purpose: several monks glanced his way, and a couple, having heard only the bare beginning of the song, made the sacred sign of the cross.
    He noticed the others in the refectory only peripherally. Only later would he realize he had heard John say in awe to the abbot Isaac, “The holy fit has taken him again.”
    For the prior was right. The fit had taken him, and more strongly than ever before. Words poured from somewhere deep within him: “He is the Kindly, the Merciful, Who gave His only-begotten Son that man might live. The Lord will abide forever in glory, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Which of the Lord’s blessings would you deny?”
    On and on he sang. The tiny part of him not engaged in singing thanked God for granting him what almost amounted to the gift of tongues. His spoken Greek, especially when dealing with things of the world, was sometimes halting. Yet again and again now he found the words he needed. That had happened before, but never like this.
    “There is no God but the Lord, and Christ is His Son!” Ending as he had begun, the monk paused, looking around for a moment as he slowly came back to himself. His knees failed him; he sank back to his bench. He felt drained but triumphant. The only comparison he knew was most unmonastic: he felt as he had just after a woman.
    He rarely thought these days of the wife he had left with all else when he had given over the world for the monastery. He wondered if she still lived; she was a good deal older than he. With very human vanity, he wondered if she ever thought of him. With his own characteristic honesty, he doubted it. The marriage had been arranged. It was not her first. Probably it would not have been her last, either.
    The touch of the prior’s hand on his arm brought him fully back to the confines he had chosen as his own. “That was most marvelous,” John said. “I count myself fortunate to have heard it.”
    The monk dipped his head in humility. “You are too kind, reverend sir.”
    “I do not

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