Departures by Harry Turtledove Page B

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Authors: Harry Turtledove
you any but the kindest of wills. All will be as eager as I am to have it preserved.”
    “I hope you are right,” the monk said.
    John laughed again. “How could I be wrong? After all, I am the prior.” He thumped the monk on the back. “Now go on and prove it for yourself.”
    With more than a little trepidation, the monk did as he had been ordered. He was surprised to find John right. Though he sat alone in the writing chamber, from time to time monks bustling past paused a moment to lean their burdens against the wall, stick their heads in the doorway, and encourage him to get his song down on papyrus.
    The words flowed effortlessly from his pen—as he’d told the prior, they truly were inscribed upon his heart. He took that to be another sign of God’s speaking directly through him with this hymn. He sometimes found writing a barrier; the words that sang in his mind seemed much less fine when written out. And other times his pen could not find the right words at all, and what came from it was not the fine thing he had conceived but only a clumsy makeshift.
    Not today. When he finished the first copy, the crucial one, he compared it to what he had sung. It was as if he had seen the words of the hymn before him as he wrote. Here they were again, as pure and perfect as when the Lord had given them to him. He bent his head in thanksgiving.
    He took more papyrus and began the second and third copies. Usually when he was copying, his eyes went back to the original every few words. Now he hardly glanced at it. He had no need, not today.
    He was no fine calligrapher, but his hand was clear enough. After so long at Ir-Ruhaiyeh, writing from left to right had even begun to seem natural to him.
    The bell rang for evening prayer. The monk noticed, startled, that the light streaming in through the window was ruddy with sunset. Had his task taken any longer, he would have had to light a lamp to finish it. He rubbed his eyes, felt for the first time how tired they were. Maybe he should have lit a lamp. He did not worry about it. Even if the light of the world was failing, the light of the Holy Spirit had sustained him while he wrote.
    He took the three copies of the hymn with him as he headed for the chapel. John, he knew, would be pleased that he had finished writing in a single afternoon. So much still remained to be done before the monks left Ir-Ruhaiyeh.
    Donkeys brayed. Horses snorted. Camels groaned, as if in torment. Isaac knew they would have done the same had their loads been a single straw rather than the bales and panniers lashed to their backs. The abbot stood outside the monastery gates, watching monks and beasts of burden file past.
    The leave-taking made him feel the full weight of his years. He rarely felt them, but Ir-Ruhaiyeh had been his home all his adult life. One does not abandon half a century and more of roots without second thoughts.
    Isaac turned to John, who stood, as he so often did, at the abbot’s right hand. “May it come to pass one day,” Isaac said, “that the Persians be driven back to their homeland so our brethren may return here in peace.”
    “And may you lead that return, Father Abbot, singing songs of rejoicing in the Lord,” John said. The prior’s eyes never wandered from the gateway. As each animal and man came by, he made another check mark on the long roll of papyrus he held.
    Isaac shook his head. “I am too old a tree to transplant. All other soil will seem alien to me; I shall not flourish elsewhere.”
    “Foolishness,” John said. For all his effort, though, his voice lacked conviction. Not only was he uneasy about reproving the abbot in any way, he also feared that Isaac knew whereof he spoke. He prayed both he and his superior were wrong.
    “As you will.” The abbot sounded reassuring—deliberatelyso, John thought. Isaac knew John had enough to worry about right now.
    The procession continued. At last it came to an end: almost three hundred monks were trudging west

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