silent night

“Hodie Christus natus est…”

Brother Anselm had been singing the offices for some hours now, but there was no sign of strain in the tremulous sweetness of his voice. The Precentor’s song rang out distant and clear through the darkened Cathedral.

The place was rather more full that would be usual for such an hour, with dawn still hours away and the dimness of the stone aisles leavened only by flickering candle and roaring brazier. There were the monks of the Abbey, of course, and more than a handful of good citizens from the Foregate and the town itself, thinking on their souls through this long Christmas night.

“Hodie Salvator apparuit…”

Cadfael had not jostled for a place near one of the fires, though the night bit chill with frost. His breath steamed in the air, even within the Cathedral building, and the cold seeped through his rough habit and into his knees where they pressed against the frozen stone flags. Yet he sat motionless, hands clasped before his face, and though his aching legs reminded him that he had not treated them so well in his sixty-something years to treat them so ill now, he paid them no heed.

His order did not believe in penance, and nor did he. He was never one for the hair shirt or the scourge. Yet he kept his vigil this one night, tonsured head bowed low.

“Hodie in terra canunt Angeli, laetantur Archangelis…”

The sins of the flesh were an affront to his monastic vows, and to desire such congress with another man was a mortal sin to any. That sin was an easy one to resist – his sixty and more years an advantage for once – and the sin that can be resisted can be repented and forgiven.

But his sin had a gentler aspect too, one that made his eyes smile whenever they caught sight of his friend, which led him to seek out his company even when not called, a sin which was much harder to fight or to abandon.

“Hodie exultant justi…”

Tomorrow – today – he would leave the Abbey on this most holy of feasts, and slip down into town on pretext of concern for his godson’s soul. And he would join the family as they blithely and blasphemously mixed the ‘Welcome Yule’ with ‘The Spotless Rose’, and hung the glossy heathen holly. Aline would scold her children as they stole sweetmeats from the table, and the spiced wine would flow and Hugh’s eyes would glitter like coals in the firelight as they met his.

This gentle sin was one he cherished close to his heart.

“Dicentes, ‘Gloria in Excelsis Deo.’”

This night was a penance he paid with joy.