After the Dedication Ceremony was over, the new Entrants and their families went to the dining hall so they could get to know their Guardians over the midday meal. The dining hall was a much smaller space than the Chapel, but still large enough to seat all 120 residents of the Abbey at once. However Brother Howell explained that this rarely happened, as members of the Brethren were often kept from keeping regular meal times due to responsibilities elsewhere.
‘I imagine you have often missed a meal, Brother Carew,’ he said, smiling at Bethia’s new Guardian, ‘with your work in the Healing Wing.’
‘My speciality is actually in creating herbal medicines, so I spend a lot of time working in the stores and am better able to keep to a schedule than a lot of the other Healers,’ Brother Carew replied. ‘But you are right, of course, there are times when my work with a patient keeps me from mealtimes or Evening Prayers.’
He sat next to Brother Howell, across the table from Bethia and her father, keeping his eyes mostly focused on the plate in front of him. He’d look up whenever someone spoke to him, his eyes flicking nervously from one person to the next, but as soon as he’d answered his eyes shot straight back to his plate again. It was starting to make Bethia feel really nervous, especially as without Brother Howell’s natural exuberance their conversation would have stalled within the first five minutes of sitting down. How was she supposed to spend time with him every night if he couldn’t even look at her? And why couldn’t he look at her? What was wrong?
‘Well that’s good to hear,’ Brother Howell continued, seemingly oblivious to the discomfort that both Bethia and Brother Carew were experiencing. ‘Bethia, you’ll be able to learn so much about herbal medicine, you’ve always loved making teas and tonics, haven’t you?’
At that Brother Carew lifted his gaze to look at her more intently than he had done all day. She wasn’t sure what was worse, his inability to look at her for more than a few seconds or being studied like this. She resisted the urge to look away and held his gaze as steadily as she could. But she could feel the heat rising on her cheeks as the seconds continued to pass.
‘You like making herbal tonics?’ he asked her, after what felt like an eternity.
‘Yes,’ she replied, her voice squeaking slightly with surprise. She cleared her throat gently and continued, ‘Brother Howell taught me to make mixtures for some of the most common illnesses, things like coughs and colds.’
‘She’d help me grow the herbs needed, harvest and store them, and then make up the teas and tonics whenever needed,’ Brother Howell said, his face glowing with pride. ‘All I had to do was strengthen them with my power when necessary. I’m really going to miss having her around, it’s been years since I had to keep on top of my stores myself.’ Brother Howell chuckled as he said this and winked at Bethia, making her smile fondly back at him. She was going to miss him too. He had been such a good teacher throughout her life, always willing to listen to whatever problems she had while they worked side by side in his healing room in Terran.
‘You’ll have to tell me which tonics you can already make,’ Brother Carew said, tapping his fingers on the table beside his plate. ‘I don’t want to waste time teaching you something you already know.’
‘Well Brother Howell taught me how to use things like peppermint, sage, thyme, and honey to make a range of teas for coughs, colds, and hayfever. And we used lavender, chamomile, and feverfew for things like headaches and insomnia.’
‘Don’t forget the warming spices we added during the Winter months,’ Brother Howell added. ‘We didn’t have access to them all year round,’ he continued, turning to look at Brother Carew. ‘They were too expensive and hard to source for a small village so far from the main trading routes, but we had a small supply for the harsher months when they made the most difference.’
Brother Carew frowned slightly before nodding his head once in acknowledgement and returning to look at his plate once more. Bethia’s stomach clenched at his reaction, wondering if she’d ever be able to hold his attention for more than a few seconds.
‘Excuse me, Brother Carew?’ Bethia and her dining companions all looked up at the girl who was standing beside their table. She was wearing pale green Entrants’ robes, and had long auburn hair that was braided around her head. ‘I’ve been assigned to show some of the First Years around this week, and Bethia is one of them. I wondered if you were nearly finished with your lunch?’
Brother Carew looked around the table to check and then turned back to the other girl. ‘Yes Dana, I think we are. Are you ready to go now?’
Dana nodded and pointed behind her. ‘Yes, Bryana and Geneve are just saying goodbye to their families and are going to meet me over by the door.’ She turned back to smile at Bethia, ‘when you’re ready, why don’t you join us?’
‘I will, thank you,’ Bethia replied smiling back at her. She wasn’t looking forward to saying goodbye to her father and Brother Howell, but at least Dana seemed friendly and cheerful. She had been worried about being left alone with Brother Carew when they left. She watched as Dana wandered over towards the door and turned to her father.
‘Well, I guess this is it then,’ he said to her, his eyes watering slightly with unshed tears. ‘Time to say goodbye.’
She felt her own eyes tearing up as she leaned forward to hug him. He wrapped his arms around her and held her tight, as he whispered into her ear, ‘I’m going to miss you, pumpkin.’
‘I’m going to miss you too, Pa.’
‘Don’t you worry about your old Pa,’ Brother Howell said, coming around the table to also hug her goodbye. ‘You know we’ll all keep an eye on him, especially your Aunt Moya.’
Bethia laughed at that, turning to hug Brother Howell tightly too. Her Aunt Moya was her father’s older sister, and she had been a constant source of comfort for them both ever since Bethia’s mother died when she was young. In the early years she had taken care of Bethia alongside her own children, whilst her father worked in the fields, and had taken it upon herself to ensure that neither of them felt the gaping hole of loss too deeply. And they both loved her for that. But sometimes her father grumbled that his sister didn’t seem to think he could do anything to care for himself, regularly turning up to feed him and make sure he had clean clothes, as if he simply couldn’t survive without a woman in his life. Bethia had no doubt that her efforts would be doubled now that she had left home and he was all alone, and whilst that gave her comfort it also amused her to think of her father dealing with it.
‘Well Bethia,’ Brother Howell said, placing his hands on her shoulders and holding her at arms’ length to look her over. ‘It has been a pleasure guiding you all these years, and I have no doubt you are going to do so well in your studies here at the Abbey. You be sure to write home and tell us all about it, yes?’
‘I promise.’ She smiled at him and then turned to look at Brother Carew. ‘I guess I’ll be seeing you later?’
‘Hmmm?’ he said, as if she’d startled him. ‘Yes, we’ll have our first lesson together tomorrow before Evening Prayers. Dana will show you where my room is.’ He looked towards the door where Dana was standing with two other girls in pale green Entrants’ robes. ‘It looks like they are waiting for you.’
Bethia felt like she had been dismissed, and so she turned to give her father one last kiss goodbye and then walked over to the other girls, trying not to cry at the sudden feeling of loss as she realised she wouldn’t see them again for a very long time.