Departures by Harry Turtledove Page A

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Authors: Harry Turtledove
think so.” John hesitated, and went on anxiously, “I trust—I pray—you will be able to write down your words so those not lucky enough to have been here on this day will yet be able to hear the truth and grandeur of which you sang.”
    The monk laughed—again, he thought, as he might have at any small thing after going in unto his wife. “Have no fear mere, reverend sir. The words I recited are inscribed upon my heart. They shall not flee me.”
    “May it be as you have said,” the prior told him.
    John did not, however, sound as if he believed him. To set his mind at ease, the monk sang the new hymn again, this time not in the hot flush of creation but as one who brought out an old and long-familiar song. “You see, reverend sir,” he said when he was done. “What the Lord, the Most Bountiful One, has granted me shall not be lost.”
    “Now I have been present at two miracles,” John said, crossing himself. “Hearing your song the first time and then, a moment later, again with not one single change, not a different word, that I noticed.”
    With his mind the monk felt of the texture of his creation, comparing his first and second renditions of the hymn. “There were none,” he said confidently. “I would take oath to it before Christ the Judge of all.”
    “No need on my account. I believe you,” John said. “Still, even miracles, I suppose, may be stretched too far. Therefore I charge you, go at once to the writing chamber and do not leave it until you have written out three copies of your hymn. Keep one yourself, give me one, and give the third to any other one of the brethren you choose.”
    For the first time in his life, the monk dared protest his prior’s command. “But reverend sir, I should not waste so much time away from the work of preparing for our journey to the city.”
    “One monk’s absence will not matter so much there,” John said firmly. “Do as I tell you, and we will bring to Constantinople not only our humble selves but also a treasure for all time in your words of wisdom and prayer. That is why I bade you write out three copies: if the worst befall and the Persians overrun us, which God prevent, then one might still reach the city. And one must, I think. These words are too important to be lost.”
    The monk yielded. “It shall be as you say, then. I had not thought on why you wanted me to write out the hymn three times—I thought it was only for the sake of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.”
    To his amazement, John bowed to him. “You are most saintly, thinking only of the world of the spirit. As prior, though, I have also to reckon with this world’s concerns.”
    “You give me too much credit,” the monk protested. Under his swarthy skin he felt himself grow hot, remembering how moments ago he had been thinking, not of the world to come, but of his wife.
    “Your modesty becomes you,” was all John said to that. Theprior bowed again, discomfiting the monk even more. “Now I hope you will excuse me, for I have my work to see to. Three fair copies, mind, I expect from you. In that matter I will accept no excuses.”
    The monk made one last try. “Please, reverend sir, let me labor, too, and write later, when our safety is assured. Surely I will earn the hatred of my brethren for being idle while they put all their strength into readying us to go.”
    “You are not idle,” John said sternly. “You are in the service of the Lord, as are they. You are acting under my orders, as are they. Only vicious fools could resent that, and vicious fools will have to deal with
” The prior set his jaw.
    “They will do as you say, reverend sir,” the monk said—who could dare disobey John? “But they will do it from obedience alone, not from conviction, if you take my meaning.”
    “I know what you mean,” the prior said, chuckling. “How could I be who I am and not know it? Here, though, you are wrong. Not a man who was in the refectory and heard your hymn will bear

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