Once they reached the Chapel, Dana led them to sit on one of the benches about halfway down the aisle. Bethia sat down next to a boy with wildly curly hair and a face full of freckles. He grinned at her and seemed about to introduce himself when the boy next to him nudged him and directed his attention to the front of the Chapel where Brother Abban made his way onto the platform that the Entrants had stood upon this morning.
‘Good Evening all,’ Brother Abban began, ‘today marks the beginning of a new term here at Straith Abbey and what must be a rather exciting, if terrifying day for our newest members. I’m sure you will all remember what it was like when you first joined the Brethren and trust that you will do all that you can to ensure that their time here is as pleasant as possible.’
A quiet murmur of agreement spread through the chapel and several of the older Brethren turned and smiled encouragingly in the direction of the youngest entrants.
‘It is also the day that our previous Third Year Entrants moved into their new roles as full members of The Brethren. Some of them have stayed with us, and some of them have moved on to other Abbeys. We welcome a few new faces ourselves, and I’m sure you will give them as warm a welcome too.’
Again a quiet murmur travelled amongst the Brethren seated on the benches throughout the Chapel. Brother Abban let it continue for a few moments before continuing.
‘Midsummer is always a busy time here at the Abbey. But however special today is we must not forget the importance of this daily gathering of ours and the role it has in developing our connection with the Gods and the Service we provide to the people of our land. So let us take some time to quietly hold this in our thoughts as Brother Carwyn and Sister Avalina play the lutes.’
Silence descended once more upon the chapel and, after a few moments of rustling as various people settled themselves more comfortably, there was nothing to hear but the soft breathing of those around her and the gentle strumming of the lutes. Bethia recognised this style of reflection from the occasional services she had visited for the Feast Days back home. They would sit like this for several minutes, and it was a time for everyone to personally reflect on their lives and the roles they had chosen in life. For the Brethren it was a daily practice, something they were called to do twice each day, to ensure that their minds and hearts were prepared for the tasks ahead. Bethia wasn’t sure how she felt about this yet, but she settled herself into a a deep breathing sequence that Brother Howell had taught her and was surprised to find herself quickly slipping into a deep meditation.
Following the Evening Prayers, Bethia walked back to her room with Dana and Geneve and wished them both a good night before quickly changing into her nightdress and crawling into bed. She was so tired and had almost fallen asleep during the meditation in the Chapel, much to her embarrassment. She sighed as she let her body relax into the mattress and knew it wouldn’t be long before she drifted off to sleep.
Elsewhere in the Abbey Brother Carew walked along the corridors towards the rooms where Brother Devin resided. He was not looking forward to this meeting, for he could guess the sort of conversation they were about to have. He had never felt comfortable with the Brethren’s decision to make him a Guardian and assumed Devin wanted to know how he felt now he had met his charge. He found himself standing before Brother Devin’s door far too quickly and took a deep breath before knocking gently.
‘Come in,’ came Devin’s voice from inside the room.
Ah, Carew, you must be tired after such a busy day, can I get you a drink?’
‘Some chamomile tea would be great, thank you,’ Carew replied, sighing softly as he eased himself down into one of the overly large but very comfortable chairs. Devin was a small man by most people’s standards, which made the chairs seem even larger than they were. His predecessor had been much taller and the chairs had been made by a local tradesman for his comfort. For some reason Devin had never chosen to replace the chairs with smaller ones, and consequently anyone who dropped in to see him tended to sink so far into the seats that they struggled to get back out again. Knowing Devin, Carew thought, that’s exactly why he kept them. It was no secret that Brother Devin loved to have company. He was a highly sociable man who loved nothing more than to while away the hours discussing everything from the lives of the other Brethren right through to the latest trends in the highest social groups. It was why he was chosen to watch over the new entrants and their guardians and, more importantly, why he was placed in the land’s capital city: he was the perfect choice to make close friendships with those who lived and worked in the city and all the many travellers who passed through its gates each year. In fact, the King himself had even been known to drop by once in a while to make use of Devin’s extensive knowledge of the city’s inhabitants.
‘So, Carew, my brother,’ Devin said, startling Carew out of his reverie by placing a large mug of steaming tea in his hand, ‘how are you, my friend?’
Carew smiled at the double use of endearments Devin used, he knew that the moment had come for the conversation he dreaded and that Devin was trying to make it more comfortable for him.
‘To be honest with you, Devin, I am feeling rather out of my depth.’
‘But you know you would not have been chosen for the role of guardian if we did not think you were capable of the task. Choosing a guardian is not a decision we make easily.’
‘I know,’ Carew sighed, ‘but I just feel very anxious. What if I completely ruin Bethia’s chances of reaching her potential.’
‘Now, Carew,’ Devin said, reaching out a hand and placing it on Carew’s forearm, ‘no guardian has ever completely ruined the life of an entrant. Of course there have been rare occasions when a guardian and their entrant have not connected as well as was hoped, but it has soon been rectified. Besides,’ he continued, ‘if you start off thinking like this, what chance have you got?’
‘I guess you’re right. But Bethia has so much potential, she already has so much enthusiasm for our work, that much is obvious as soon as you meet her. Her care is an awful lot to put on a guardian who is unsure of his ability to guide her.’
‘Why are you so unsure of yourself?,’ Devin asked, looking at him carefully. ‘You are an incredibly strong Brother and have excellent control over your connection to the Mother and Father. Only you doubt yourself, why is that?’
‘You know I didn’t have the easiest start here, Devin,’ Carew said, remembering the times he had spent in this very office, sharing his troubles with the older Brother. ‘If it hadn’t been for my own guardian I might never have completed my training.’
‘Not because you were incapable, Carew, you know that. Your only problem was your own lack of confidence. It is a hard life to choose, the Life of Service, when you find social situations difficult.’
‘Exactly,’ Carew exclaimed, slightly louder than he had meant to, ‘if I have to work so hard to overcome my own difficulties, how can I possibly help somebody else overcome theirs?’
‘You aren’t giving yourself enough credit,’ Devin sighed, heaving himself out of his chair and walking over to his desk, ‘you overcame your difficulties long ago, otherwise you would not have been deemed fit to progress to full membership into the Brethren.’
‘But I still find it difficult with those I don’t know. You should have seen me over lunch. I could tell I was making her uncomfortable.’ Carew grimaced as he remembered the nervous looks she kept giving him when she thought he wasn’t looking.
‘Give it time, Carew. You have made many friends here at the abbey and within the city over the past few years, and I have no doubt that you will do so with Bethia too,’ Devin said, rifling through the papers on his desk. ‘Ah, here it is,’ he said as he found what he was looking for. He walked back over to Carew and handed him the sheet to look over.
‘This is the report that Brother Howell sent regarding her previous study with him. It was a large part of why we chose you as her Guardian. He says she that she has a great natural ability to connect with and comfort others, and that her interest in healing work has been building for years. However, having been brought up in a small village so far from any of the larger cities in our land, she is likely to find the social rules of our lives here rather difficult to master. You were chosen to guide her, not just because of your strength in healing but also because of your intimate knowledge of these social circles.’
‘But I hated them, you know that. It’s one of the main reasons I chose to come into this life, to get away from the requirements of someone from my background.’ Carew shuddered whenever he thought of the social graces he was taught to respect as a child growing up in one of the highest families living in the capital. He was much happier living the simpler life of the Brethren.
‘I know that all too well,’ Devin replied, chuckling to himself, ‘you spent many an evening lamenting about them during your training. However, your very dislike for those rules of behaviour will be invaluable in helping Bethia to understand them, as I’m pretty sure she won’t be a huge fan of them either.’
‘How can I teach her to respect something that I hate just as much as she does?’ Carew asked, completely baffled by the direction this conversation was heading.
‘Because you will understand her frustrations far more than anyone else will. You also know what life can be like if you don’t act in the right way around certain people. There will be many occasions when she will be humiliated by her lack of knowledge, even ridiculed by some for her country background. The city is a harsh place to be if you don’t know its rules.’
‘Then why send her here?’ Carew demanded, ‘isn’t that rather cruel?’
‘Now, now, Carew,’ Devin replied, a hint of rebuke entering his tone, ‘you know that the training for the Life of Service is far from easy. You yourself were placed here at Straith Abbey because it meant you had to overcome your fear of facing those you knew as a member of Brethren, rather than the man they had wanted you to become. Trust me,’ he said, his voice softening, ‘you were ideally chosen to guide young Bethia. You have come to a certain peace with it all, and you will help her to do so as well.’
‘I guess I don’t have any choice but to trust you,’ Carew said, slumping further back into his chair and finishing the last of his tea.
‘No, you don’t,’ Devin said with a chuckle, ‘and don’t forget, a guardian’s charge can often teach the guardian some invaluable skills as well. I’ve no doubt that the coming months will be difficult for both you and Bethia, but I am also sure that you will come out much stronger for it.’
‘That’s what you always say,’ Carew said, a smile finally creeping onto his face.
‘And I’m always right, too, aren’t I?’
‘Well… not always,’ Carew laughed, ‘what about that time you…’
‘Don’t,’ Devin laughed too, ‘I don’t want to hear it, as I’m sure you’ve chosen one of my less than finer moments. Tell me about your latest experiment with the healing draughts instead: that would be far more interesting, I’m sure. Or,’ he said, with a hint of mischief creeping into his voice, ‘must I go and chase some of the other healers to find out what you have been up to?’
‘You will do no such thing,’ Carew retorted in disgust. ‘You know that the other healers find it difficult to make sense of my scribbled notes: they would only tell you I had discovered something I had not.’
‘Then please begin,’ Devin said, sitting back in his chair and listening as Carew launched into a detailed description of the experiments he had recently been involved in.