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A Stitch in Time, Part 2 (fic; Saiyuki)

Title: A Stitch in Time
Author: opalmatrix
Rating: PG-13 or T (very mild m/m, aftermath/retelling of violence, gore, cursing)
Warnings: painful, primitive treatment of serious injuries (not too explicit, though); AU, with some age shifting
Pairing(s): very early 585 - perhaps
Spoilers: the general outline of Hakkai and Gojyo's backstories, and Sanzo's origins
Notes: Written under the nostalgic influence of Sally Watson's YA historical romances and the Scottish portions of Dorothy Dunnett's Lymond Chronicles, and probably originally inspired by cicer's Taboo and emungere's Bless the Beasts and Children, in both of which a very young Gojyo ends up in a better place ... which got me wondering about what influences a developing child's personality, and when. Beta (multiple rounds of beta ... ) and some very good suggestions by smillaraaq .
Summary: Young Hugh Chase thinks that both his vengeful mission to Scotland and his life are about to come to a bloody end, but in fact, the story is just beginning.

Go Back & Read Part 1

It was a breathlessly hot day at the end of August. Hugh was lying on a blanket in the shade of the three pine trees between the chapel's tiny kitchen garden and the seldom-used churchyard, with its decades-old graves. Father Calum was perched on a low wooden stool beside him, a traveling desk on his lap, writing letters. His face was shining with sweat, and he had the sleeves of his robe rolled up to the elbow. Hugh crooked one arm over his face, trying to shut out the sun's glare, but that just made his face feel as though it were baking. He'd already read everything available, as Father Calum had predicted, and Govan and Rùnag were out in the hills with the sheep. Hugh felt ill and listless; even if Father Calum hadn't been writing so intently, the idea of a lesson in Latin or Greek was not appealing at all, just now.

Suddenly, he lifted his head. Footsteps sounded faintly on the track that Hugh had walked five weeks ago, and someone called the priest's name. A visitor was bad news, for no one was supposed to know Hugh was here.

"Father?"

The priest looked up from his writing and listened for a moment, but then he smiled. "'tis only Nevin Linsday come to pick up the letters. He's a good man; indeed, he already knows your tale. Nevin!"

A sunburnt young man a couple of years older than Hugh came around the side of the chapel, carrying a flat package wrapped in canvas and well-trussed in cord. He was ginger-haired and freckled beneath his tan, and he wore the breeches of a seaman beneath his patched shirt. Father Calum waved a sheaf of letters at him but then apparently remembered others he had written the previous day and went inside to fetch them. Hugh eyed the other man warily from his prone position, feeling terribly helpless and self-conscious.

"How's the belly, mo ghille?"

Hugh blinked. "You speak English?" he asked, and immediately felt the fool.

Nevin hunkered down next to him and grinned, shifting the package onto his knees. "That's the right of it. Have to sell the fish in the port nearest, don't we? Fish have no notion of borders at all."

"I'm sorry - that was rude of me. It's simply that I haven't spoken with anyone here but Father Calum and Govan, and Govan hasn't any English to speak of, although I've been trying to teach him."

"Och, at the end of the day, that one's nought but a wild, half-sidhe lad from the hills, for all he lived in Dundee for 10 years. However would he learn English?"

"Half ... what?"

Nevin flushed under his sunburn. "I should never have said it. Pay no heed. He has a good heart, and the Father trusts him. You should have no worry about him."

"He's been doing his best to keep me company, when he's not out with the sheep."

"Aye, that would be like him. It must be hard on you, to be so laid up and hidden away, but I'm guessing we'll be taking you over the sea once you're well enough to travel."

"Over -? "

Father Calum returned, his hands full of folded letters sealed with wax and thread. Nevin grinned at Hugh again and stood to take the mail from the priest, handing him the package in exchange. "I'll be off then. I hope to see you more lively next time, Hugh. Farewell, Father."

"Godspeed, Nevin, and thank you."

"Aye, I'll have just time to get back home before the weather turns wet. You'd best get under cover - can you not feel the wind shifting?"

When he was out of sight, Hugh rolled his head to stare up at the brassy bright sky. "It doesn't look like rain."

"Well, a sailor needs to know the weather, but I think you're right for now." Father Calum dropped back onto the stool and started unwrapping the package. "Look you, he's brought me three new books. This one is a translation of mythic tales from Greece, this one tales from the Decameron, and here is a book of plays."

Hugh reached out automatically and took the volume Father Calum offered him, but he laid it down on his chest after running unseeing eyes over the cover. "He said something about taking me over the sea?"

Father Calum looked at him sharply. "There's no need to worry about that just now. You don't feel well enough to read?"

Hugh closed his eyes. "In truth ... no. I'm sorry."

He felt the priest's hand on his forehead. "You're no more feverish than I am, but the heat is doing you no good, that's for certain. Can you sleep, perhaps?"

"I doubt it. Ahhhh ... I'm a sorry wretch, aren't I? I'm enough work for you without complaining as well."

"It's not as though you haven't got cause for complaint, my son."

"But it's my own fault, and given my sins ... ."

"In truth, that's between you and the Lord, but you've done your penance, Hugh. You are not the lad you were, now. Enough of that. This worrying will not soothe the pain nor make the weather any kinder. Shall I read to you?"

Hugh bit his lip. "Nevin said something else as well."

"What, then?"

"He said Govan was - half-she?"

There was a silence, and then Father Calum started to chuckle. Hugh opened his eyes to look.

"So that's what's worrying you. Ahh ha, no, Hugh, he didn't say what you thought he said. A sidhe is one of the Good Folk, the fairies. I wouldn't say it was impossible - the world is yet full of mysteries, no matter what the doctors in the universities may say - but it's likely just gossip, poor lad."

"Oh ... why do people think so?"

Father Calum stretched his legs out before him and looked thoughtful. "Govan told me, this morning, that you had asked him how he came to be with me."

"I thought he didn't understand me, when I asked him that!"

"He's understanding a fair bit now. But it's much harder to shape the words to his thoughts. I daresay you've noticed this yourself, in Latin or Greek. Well, he said he didn't care if I told you his story. And that says a great deal, for he doesn't like folk talking about him."

"Nevin said Govan had lived in Dundee for quite a while."

"Yes, but he was not born there. Now, his father, Syme Shaw, came of a seagoing family in Dundee, but he himself was apprenticed to a potter. His father was drowned and so were his three brothers, so that the family was spoken of as cursed. Syme cared little for that - he was a solitary fellow and had no use for gossip. He married his master's daughter Bess and so inherited the pottery when the old man died. They had a son two years after the marriage, a sturdy lad named Ian, and all seemed well with the household." Father Calum paused, his eyes on Hugh, and helped him settle his legs more comfortably before continuing the tale.

"Syme used to go up into the hills to search the stream valleys for fine clay every few months. He did not need to do so - his pottery was doing well, folk bought his wares eagerly - but he had a genius for finding the best clay, and he enjoyed the solitude, I imagine. One day when Ian was rising nine years old, Syme went off again - and did not come home.

"Of course Bess had men search the hills, but it was hopeless. Nearly a week later, though, a shepherd near Kirriemuir heard a small child wailing. He found a wee shieling hut with a man and a woman dead of wounds, as though from a knife, and a little red-haired lad sobbing. The priest of the church in Kirriemuir was summoned and recognized the woman: she had brought her babe to be baptized two years before, and had given the father's name as Syme Shaw, and the child's name as Govan Shaw. So news came to Dundee eventually, and Bess Shaw knew her husband was dead, and that he had been unfaithful, and that he had fathered another son."

Hugh shifted his head on the makeshift pillow of pine needles piled up beneath the blanket. "So Govan's father and mother were murdered?"

"They might have been, and the child asleep at the time," said Father Calum. "Govan could never say - he was not even three years old. But the strangest bit, perhaps, is that no one had ever seen the mother before she brought the child into Kirriemuir. They say she was also red-haired, and her name in the church registry was given as Fingula, which is an old name from Ireland.

"The whole thing was a tragedy and shock and a scandal, and perhaps it drove Bess wee bit mad. The townsfolk wondered when she insisted on taking her husband's bastard into her household. She said the child was the last she had of her husband, and she was not giving him up to be raised by strangers. But whenever she got into a temper, she beat him, and he was always short of food and clothing. Her own son she doted on, but even that went wrong: she started to address him as she had her husband and sweetheart, and people shuddered when they spoke of her and her children." The priest's face was shining with sweat; he paused to wipe his face on his sleeve before going on.

"So - Ian had been his father's apprentice in the pottery, and one of the other potters in Dundee kindly took him on. But he soon began to fear for his brother's life at their mother's hands, and by the time he would have been a journeyman potter and earning a wage, he left his master and tried to eke out a living making pots and cups and plates at his father's old place. He had come to love his little brother, and indeed, all say he was a tender-hearted young man. Bess took in laundry sometimes, but mostly she drank, and hid in her chamber. Govan says that sometimes she came out to try to cook and became angry when she dropped dishes or burnt the meal, and then she'd throw summat at him or beat him with whatever came to hand."

"None of the townsfolk tried to help?"

"Well, now, it was her own house, and she a widow who had given her husband's bastard a roof over his head. Sometimes it's easier for folk to make a pretense of knowing less than they truly do about such events. I think you've found that so yourself, have you not?"

"Yes," Hugh whispered, cold in the pit of his stomach despite the heat.

"So it was for Govan as well. There came a day when it had been raining, and he had been sent to the market to buy fish. Before he could finish his errand, some wild lads knocked him down and stole the few pennies he had. He came home with no money and no fish, tracking his muddy feet onto the kitchen floor, and his stepmother flew into a blind rage. She had porridge on the fire, and she seized the ladle and scooped up the boiling stuff and flung the ladleful at Govan, hitting him on the cheek, there -" Father Calum tapped his own face. "Ian heard his brother's screams and came in from the pottery to find the lad cowering in the corner with his hands over his face and his mother about to dash the whole potful of boiling porridge over him.

"Ian struggled with his mother for the pot, and got it away from her, and then he hit her such a blow that she fell hard against the wall, and her neck was broken. And so Ian had killed his mother because she meant to murder his half-brother. He left the house that day, and no one has seen him since." Father Calum shook his head.

"No one was accusing Govan of his stepmother's murder. How could such a scrawny child kill a grown woman - and he with the blistering burn on his face, and the porridge spattered over the floor, and Ian nowhere to be found. But folk remembered, again, the rumors of the curse on the family, and the tale of his real mother, and soon he was regarded as an unchancy creature of sidhe blood. The potter who had employed his brother kept him until his burn was healed, but when the man tried to get the price of the house and pottery turned over to him for the boy's upkeep, Bess' cousins from Perth protested. Soon the potter and his wife began to argue about keeping the lad, they having five children of their own. Govan came to fear it would all end as it had in his own household, and he ran off."

"Is that when he came to you?"

Father Calum sighed and shifted his weight on the stool. "Nay, not then. He lived on the docks, in warehouses and alleys, for the next two years. He was taken in by a young rogue who had a band of beggars and thieves there, not one of them older than 20 years, but all hardened lawbreakers already. Govan was useful to them, for he was so small and thin that he could wriggle through the narrowest spaces, and strong for all his size. But he broke with them a year and more ago, for he was getting too tall to play his old role in their schemes, and when they pressed him to violence against a woman, he refused. The leader told him that if he would not join with them, he had better leave the town. So he fled into the hills, north and west.

Hugh frowned. "He'd never hunted or anything of that sort, had he?"

"Nay, not once: he had no notion of how to find food in the wilderness, and no thoughts as to where he wished to go. Some days he was fortunate, and farmwives or shepherds gave him a bit of bread - but just as often, he was driven off, sometimes with stones. As the winter was closing in, I began to notice food disappearing from the kitchen here: a loaf one day, and some apples and cheese the next. Then, on a night of cold and sleet, I went to the chapel to check the shutters, and found a wretched scrap of a young fellow half-asleep, half-fainted on one of the pews. He was shuddering with the cold, yet I had some work to get him to come into the warmth of the kitchen. I think it was only the cold of the weeks that followed that allowed us to become properly acquainted, for he couldn't flee and perforce must learn to trust me.

"By the time spring came on, we were good friends, and he met my nearest neighbors. At first he and young Rob Lindsay were like two young dogs, suspicious of each other and looking for an excuse for a scrap, but they learned to like each other well enough to get along by Eastertide. Rob took him out with the sheep and taught him the way of the shepherd. He learned very quickly and well, so that Rob's father let him keep Rùnag - she was the runt of that spring's litter of pups. And you know the rest of the story well enough." The priest smiled faintly, his eyes warm.

"It's a strange and sad tale," said Hugh.

"That it is ... my faith, is that thunder?"

Hugh looked at the sky, dismayed. He had been so intent on the story that he had not noticed the dramatic darkening of the sky to the west. Then, as the rumbling of the thunder faded, they heard the pounding of bare feet, rushing toward them. Govan came running down the northern slope of the little dale, Rùnag chasing at his heels. There was no sign of Father Calum's little flock of sheep.

The boy thudded to a halt at Hugh's feet, clad only in his belted linen shirt, and that peeled down off his shoulders so that he was bare to the waist. Hugh saw that he was barely winded, although his tanned skin was gleaming with sweat, and strands of hair had escaped the leather cord that he'd used to tie it back at the nape of his neck.

"Where are our sheep?" asked Father Calum, sternly, in English.

"Rob - with his. More close to his ... ."

"You were closer to his sheepfold, so you left the sheep with him and his flock?"

Govan nodded. "So, to carry Hugh in."

Father Calum sighed, and then they all started as lightning flashed, followed closely by a sharper crack of thunder.

"I'd best get these books and things in first. Govan, fetch that hurdle."

Father Calum bustled off with his little desk and the new volumes. Govan dragged out the sheep hurdle that they'd been using as a stretcher and laid it beside Hugh, then knelt and eased Hugh's head and shoulders up onto his own lap, ready to shift him over when Father Calum came back to manage Hugh's legs. In the weird storm light, from the corner of his eye, Hugh could see an expanse of soft, tanned skin stretched thinly over hard muscle, and the outlines of Govan's ribs above, and feel the boy's hard, wiry strength supporting him. He could see a trickle of sweat running down, and smell it, salt and musk. He felt suddenly light-headed, and yet not ill - not in the least. He turned his head so that his cheek rested against Govan's skin, and his breath blew across the boy's belly. Govan made a surprised little sound, and then he brushed the fingers of one hand through Hugh's increasingly shaggy hair. The next moment, Rùnag stuck her nose between them, and they both started to laugh.

Father Calum came back around the corner and looked at them strangely for a moment, then shrugged and stooped to grasp Hugh's ankles. They managed to get through the kitchen door just as the first drops started to fall.

Govan was washing dishes in the tiny scullery. Hugh was drying them. The feeling of being well enough to do so made even such a mundane chore enjoyable. The sound of voices came faintly through the open windows along with the cool September evening air: Father Calum, Nevin Lindsay's elder brother Dugal, and a very nervous fellow from York named James Goodrick, who had been staying with them for the past week.

"The big bed now we get," said Govan, cheerfully.

"Yes, it will be good have our own bed back again."

"Sleep not good on the pallet, you did."

"No, I didn't sleep so well on the pallet. Especially with Rùnag trying to crawl between us. But still, l slept better there than I did even in the big bed last month."

They heard the sound of hoofbeats moving off, then, and the kitchen door opened and closed. Father Calum appeared in the scullery doorway a moment later.

"You've been standing long enough now, Hugh. Come away to my chamber - I need to talk to you."

He vanished. Govan carefully lowered the pot he'd been scrubbing down to the drainboard, as though it were glass, and stared at Hugh. "What is?"

Hugh put the plate he'd been drying onto its shelf and hung up the dishtowel. Govan's worry was contagious. "I don't know. It can't be as bad as it sounded."

Govan dropped the dishrag into the basin and turned to squeeze Hugh's shoulders with both hands. The expression on his face was probably meant to be encouraging. Hugh was startled to realize that those ringed blue eyes were almost level with his own. The boy must have grown an inch in the six weeks past.

"Father is good. No trouble at you, sure," said Govan, earnestly.

"I won't know truly until I speak with him," Hugh gently pried the wet fingers from his borrowed shirt. "You're getting me all damp. I must go."

As he walked through the kitchen and out into the little hallway that let onto the two bedchambers and the chapel vestry, Hugh felt an uncomfortable flutter in his belly. Perhaps, as Calum said, he had been standing too long. A person never considered that the belly was involved in standing until something like this happened.

Calum's room was the smaller of the two chambers, a plain space with a narrow bed, a small clothes chest, a table holding his writing desk and books, and a tall stool as a seat. It was typical of him that the larger, more comfortable bedchamber was given to guests, "There you are, lad. Sit. Take the stool - 't will be easier than getting down and up from the bed."

Hugh eased himself onto the stool. Father Calum sat on the bed, his face grave. "Master Goodrick should be away on the morning tide, to France. I'm hoping he'll be wiser in his pamphlet-writing now, or even cease altogether. To my mind, there's no sin in trying to fathom the workings of what God has created, but that's not what those who command the souls of England think. Hugh, I believe you should take much the same journey one month hence. Talk of the killing at Pitcullen has not died away entirely. 't would be better for you to leave here before winter closes in. There are good folk there who will make it appear as though you came to France straight away after your sister was taken, were injured after you came ashore, and have been nursed there since. The trail here will grow cold. In a few years, if you wish, you should be able to return."

Hugh hunched his shoulders and stared at the floor. If he used reason, he knew that the priest was correct. But he realized now how much he had come to love this small bit of the world, with its calm daily rhythms of prayer and housework and lessons, the pleasing companionship of Father Calum and Govan, and the deep sense of peace that flowed from the priest himself. And Govan ... he was still not sure what the boy saw in him. The lad was off every morning with the sheep, but he would be back in late afternoon, often bringing with him some token of the world beyond the chapel glen: a kestrel's feather, a striped pebble, a sprig of broom. They would teach each other the words in English and in Gaelic for whatever it was, and Govan would try to widen his English by attempting to describe where he'd found the object, or spinning a tale of some slight adventure he'd had in finding it, or sometimes even repeating a bit of history about it: folk wisdom, superstitions, legends. It would be difficult for him to form the words and for Hugh to be as patient he ought to be: Govan was no scholar and would often attempt to break the lesson off with shameless pratfalls that would do a court fool proudly. But somehow the total of the many small moments, from the first days when Govan calmly helped a shamefaced, bed-bound Hugh deal with his body's needs, to this last week, when Hugh had at last been able to help him with the domestic tasks of their little household, had become a warm spot in Hugh's chilled soul.

"I ... you are wise, Father. But I don't wish to leave."

"I know you don't hold your own life in high regard. But that is not all that is at stake. You have seen some of what I am about here. It is all dependent on the hidden nature of this place: that this seems nought but a country chapel maintained by a slightly foolish priest who tends to the shepherd and the farmer and the hunter. I don't think you wish to chance exposing my work, and risking the lives of those I serve, as well as my own scrawny neck. And I think too, that you would not wish to have Govan see you dragged off as a prisoner."

Hugh found he was clutching at his gut as though it had been laid open once more. "That ... that was cruel. Why did you have to say such a thing?"

"There come times when one must be cruel to prevent worse cruelty from following. There is a season for everything, Hugh, and the season is coming for you to leave this place. For your own good, and for that of all of us. If it is any comfort, I wish it wasn't so, and Govan will be miserable to lose his companion. But there's no help for it. This is what we must bear."

"I suppose ... I deserve no better," said Hugh, his eyes on the floor again.

He was shocked to hear Father Calum chuckle gently. "Because being sent abroad to live in a wealthy man's home, and have your own chamber with a featherbed, and learn from his pet philosophers and the other great ones who visit him - is a terrible punishment indeed."

"But ... !"

"Listen to me now, Hugh. Suppose your despicable cousin had never visited, and your sister had stayed safe at home, awaiting a suitable marriage. Suppose your uncle had woken to the fact that a mind like yours should not be wasted in a dank corner of the country, and you had been sent to Oxford or Cambridge or London, or even abroad. You would have been away this same number of years, and just as alone. Would that have been so terrible?"

"I'm not the same boy I was then!"

"No, you aren't. For one thing, I believe truly you are born anew, since that black night when I thought for certain you had died. But that doesn't mean you must spend another 19 years to become old enough to go out into the world. Take heart, Hugh. Perhaps this is exile, but it's not prison."

Hugh shook his head, although he knew it was no use. Father Calum raised his eyebrows and nodded once, firmly.

"Enough. It won't be for weeks yet. Go think on it, in the chapel, and when you've thought enough for the night, say your prayers. Go on, now."

Hugh dragged himself out of the room, through the hall and the vestry and into the chapel. Two tapers still flickered on the lectern, and the faintest remnants of daylight still lit the clearest parts of the two stained glass panels in the windows at the back of the sanctuary proper, showing him the Holy Mother smiling kindly down on the one side, the Child in her arms, and St. Martin sharing his cloak with the beggar on the other. Hugh slid into the pew at the front where he'd attended service with Govan since he was well enough to walk again, and then shifted himself cautiously onto his knees on the battered leather hassock there, bowing his head on his hands at the rail. It seemed to him that he and his troubles were very small in the scheme of things, but the thought brought him no comfort.

He had no notion of how long he had knelt there when he suddenly felt the familiar warmth of another person beside him. Govan's hair, no longer tied back, hid his face, but Hugh could see how his fingers dug into the backs of his clasped hands. "He told you, then," Hugh whispered.

"Ist! I need pray also."

Hugh leaned against him, just a little. After a few moments, he heard Govan mutter " ... agus a' glòir, gu siorraidh. Amen." The boy crossed himself and then shifted up and back to sit on the pew properly. Hugh started to join him but was so stiff that he sagged back against the railing. Govan slid an arm around him and eased him into the seat.

"Thank you," said Hugh quietly. "It's getting cold in here." Govan settled against him more firmly.

"Father said," he whispered. "I said, I go too. I said, if he say no - I run off." His face was impish in the dim light.

"What ... what did he say to that?"

"He said, 'Govan, you said no vow to stay. You stay here because you want. Go if you must.'" Govan looked very pleased with himself. Hugh was surprised to feel a rush of uneasiness. He thought of what Father Calum had told him of Govan's last years in Dundee. If Govan left Father Calum's tutelage and the wholesome, plain life here in the hills, it would be Hugh's responsibility to keep him from such things.

"Govan, why do you care for me? How can you want to go with me? I'm a terrible man! I murdered nearly 30 people!"

It came out horridly loud. Govan looked shocked, and then, glancing at the altar, uneasy. He slid from the pew, pulling Hugh with him. "Come you away out," he whispered.

They crept out together through the nave between the rows of pews. Govan stopped just before the main door and rummaged in the corner, coming up with an ancient and ragged plaid that someone must have left behind on a warm day. They went on out to the soft duff under the pines. Govan eased Hugh down and wrapped the plaid around his shoulders, then whistled softly between his teeth. Rùnag came running from the direction of the kitchen door, and Govan made her settle on Hugh's far side, so that he was pressed between them. Govan wrapped an arm around Hugh's shoulders for good measure. Hugh sighed.

"You take such care of me. Why? I don't deserve it. You're happy here. You shouldn't go abroad with me. "

Govan kicked gently at the pine needles with one foot, digging a little hollow. "Hugh ... when you come that night, and I find you up there - all blood - I know you. Never before I seen you - but I know you."

"Father Calum said something about that. Govan ... I felt like I knew you too. But that makes no sense. The pain must have made me imagine it."

Govan thumped his fist gently on Hugh's shoulder. "No imagine. Truth. Listen. Three nights after, and Father Calum said you go die. He to pray go - with you, let me stay. I go to sleep, your hand with mine. Then we come to another place. And then I give you ... leigheas."

Hugh shook his head, frustrated by the lack of common language, but a strange feeling was stirring, a memory almost entirely forgotten in the weeks of pain. "Try again - what did you give me?"

"A drink. From a black bottle, I spill it into a tall cup of ... a mhairg! Hugh, stuff like the church window. How is it said?"

Hugh felt a strange stillness inside. "A tall cup of glass."

"Yes! That - I bring it to you. A drink for you to rest and become better. You drink it and go to sleep ."

"You dreamed that you gave me ... ."

"Hugh!" Govan thumped him again, harder. "You go to sleep, and then you wake, and you are better. No dream! Father Calum - he said 'Look at that!' Right?"

Hugh stared out into the quiet night, another night in his mind's eye. The strange room. The man named Gojyo, who looked like Govan grown to be Hugh's own age. The bitter drink, the taste of which was still in his mouth when he woke the next day. "Things like that don't happen to real people."

Govan wound his fingers in Hugh's hair and tugged sharply.

"Ow! Stop that!"

"Feel real to me, Hugh. You also?"

"You little b... beast!"

Govan snickered. "Real! I go to France with you. No one stop me."

"You shouldn't! You should stay with Father Calum. He can take much better care of you!"

"I be sixteen years in two months. Not a bairn. I take care of you."

"Govan - !"

Govan clamped one hand over Hugh's mouth. Rùnag helpfully jumped up and started licking what she could of his face.

"Ist! No more. Listen. Hugh, you sinner?"

Hugh pried Govan's fingers away from his mouth. "Yes, damn you!" He pushed the dog away.

"Rùnag, shios! Now - sinner know what God think?"

Hugh made a rude, exasperated sound and wiped his face on his sleeve. "Probably not!"

"But Father Calum know. Right?"

"Maybe." But Hugh knew that his voice lacked conviction. Father Calum probably came as close to knowing that as any man living.

"So - he say you new now, and no sinner now. Fine, that! So - I care for you, and I go with you when you go. There - end!"

"Don't think yourself so clever. The way you're arguing, if I'm not a sinner, then I can know God's thoughts."

"But still - not a sinner! So I go with you."

Hugh sighed and let his head rest on Govan's shoulder. "It's still a terrible idea. But fine, you can go with me."

A brilliant sunset was painting the sky behind them, telling of the rainy day just past and the good weather to come. The five of them - Father Calum, Govan, Hugh, and Nevin and Dugal Lindsay- were on the wooded banks of a small inlet on the coast, where a brook flowed into the sea. They were waiting for the tide to turn, so that Govan and Hugh could be taken out to the ship waiting just off the coast to take them to France. The little boat, tied to a tree stump, rocked gently at the end of her mooring line, already loaded with their scanty baggage. Hugh drew a deep breath, relishing the fact that it hardly hurt at all to do so, and listened attentively as Father Calum dispensed last-minute advice about their journey.

"Now, remember, the Count has some wild young men in his household, and they'll no doubt be at you to go to Paris with them. But not now - not this time. Work on your French, the both of you, and anything else he sets you to."

Govan was almost unrecognizable in the new breeches, jerkin, and hose that had showed up a week ago, save for his flaming hair - and even that was tied back neatly. He was wild with excitement at the idea of traveling with Hugh. "How many until the tide goes?"

"'How long until the tide goes out,'" corrected Hugh, automatically. Nevin and Dugal chuckled. Govan scowled at them. "Teirmeasg ... . No - damn to you, whore-sons!"

There was a moment's stunned silence. Then both brothers burst out laughing. Father Calum looked startled, "Hugh, what have you been teaching him?"

"I? I'd never ... !"

Dugal stopped laughing and looked thoughtfully at his younger brother, who was still chortling. Then he cuffed Nevin across the head. "That's a fine thing to be teaching the priest's lad, you wicked fellow!"

Govan, red in the face, was only slightly pacified by his new teacher's punishment. "Nevin Lindsay, you be a -"

Hugh grabbed his shoulders and swung him around. "Govan, you can't say things like that! We're going to be serving a gentleman!"

Father Calum nodded. "Govan, Hugh speaks wisely. Don't make me keep you here, while he sails to France."

At this, Govan appeared positively stricken. He clutched one of Hugh's arms and looked pleadingly at the priest. Father Calum looked gravely back at him.

"Now, Father, it was Nevin's fault," said Dugal, kindly. "Lad, the tide will turn soon enough, and I'll wager you'll be tired of boats and ships before three days are out. Stretch your legs while you still can."

Father Calum eyed the poor wretch a moment longer before giving him a gentle smile. "Even so. Govan, run over and look across the mouth of the burn, to make sure no one is about. Quietly, now, and quickly."

Govan nodded and ran off, lithe and agile. Hugh turned to watch him go, wondering how he was going to deal with their new life, where he couldn't spend half the day running wild in the hills. He turned back to find the others watching him thoughtfully.

"This a great responsibility, Hugh," said Father Calum. "He has a good heart, but he is impulsive."

"I know. It's going to be hard for him to behave. But I'm glad he's coming with me."

"Well, then. It's to be hoped you can keep each other out of trouble."

"Halloo-oo!"

Govan was waving frantically to them from the shore where brook met sea, and pointing upstream. He called back something in Gaelic, then looked back at the burn himself and kicked off his new leather brogues.

"He said something about ... a babe?" said Dugal, puzzled.

Govan disappeared from sight, apparently heading for the water. Hugh frowned. "He can't swim!"

The brothers looked at each other, then turned and raced toward the spot where Govan had disappeared. Hugh started after them, but Calum grabbed his shoulder. "Slowly. You shouldn't run that distance yet. They'll get him out, if he's come to grief."

It was hard to pace himself. He heard shouts in Gaelic. The Lindsays were telling Govan to be careful, as far as he could understand it. As Hugh and Calum came up, they heard the wail of a baby, or maybe a very small child.

Govan, damp halfway up his thighs, was carefully pulling a small coracle woven of reeds to shore. Dugal grabbed the other end of it when it came into reach, and between them they hoisted it out and set it firmly on dry land. Govan crouched down, murmuring in the tone he used on lambs and sheepdog puppies, and pulled out a baby.

Hugh had little knowledge of children this young, although he'd taught a number of his cousins their letters and numbers once they were old enough for schooling. The child did not look old enough to walk or talk, but it had a thick head of golden hair. It was wailing in short, angry bursts that ended as Govan cradled it close to his chest. Nevin grinned: "There's a bonnie wee thing!"

His older brother frowned. "Well, someone wasn't pleased with him, and he not as much as a year old. I wonder whose he is?"

Govan carried the babe up the slope to Father Calum. As he grew near, Hugh could see that the child had extraordinary eyes, large and blue-violet. Its expression was sulky, but as it noticed Calum, the babe's eyes grew even wider and a shadow of a smile appeared. Father Calum held out his arms, and Govan surrendered his charge.

"There now," said the priest, fondly. "You're a braw little lad, are you not?"

"How do you know it's a boy, Father?"

"Oh, perhaps he's not. But I think I'm right. He's fairly dry, so I'll not strip him down in this chill to see." The infant was gazing at Calum's face with an expression that looked like rapture to Hugh. Govan grinned.

"Och, the bairn's aye foolish for you, Father." He reached out to pat the child's cheek, and the babe turned to look at him crossly, then spit up extravagantly over the sleeve of Govan's new coat. Govan snatched his hand away just the least bit too late.

"Ah, you wee cur! You shitty-arsed -"

Dugal clapped one hand over his mouth, and he and Nevin grabbed the lad by his arms and hauled him off to the shore again, where they sponged off his coat.

"Someone must have felt they couldn't raise him," murmured Father Calum, rocking the child. "I cannot condone what was done - he might have drowned. But sometimes even that fate must seem kinder ... you recall Govan's tale."

Hugh shuddered and nodded. "Will you seek his parents?"

"Aye. But I daresay they'll not be found."

"And then what?"

"Well, I've a fancy to raise him myself. With you lads gone, I have the room, after all. And already Sorcha and Rob will be helping with the sheep and the housekeeping. It should be no hardship."

Hugh couldn't imagine why the priest would want to deal with a squalling infant, but his own life was evidence of the man's strength in nurturing and nursing. Still, he found himself shaking his head. Calum chuckled at him. "You'll keep me young, won't you, mo chridhe?" he said to the babe.

"Seall!"

It was Nevin, pointing past the mouth of the burn to the estuary. "See the slack water there - we need to get the lads into the boat!"

Dugal was already running, and Govan after him, his shoes in his hands. "Shouldn't Govan change to dry clothes?" asked Hugh. "He's wet to the skin."

"No time, and he's aye tough enough for it," said Nevin. "What d' you think he used to do, on a rainy day out wi' the sheep in the winter? He was wetter than this, I can tell you, and in worse weather."

"That's the truth," said Father Calum. "No need to worry for him, Hugh. You two must be off, now."

They followed the others to the boat. Govan was already sitting on the middle of the thwart near the stern, and the rope had been untied and stowed. "Look to what you're at, young Hugh," said Dugal. "You need to sit right up against the lad, to keep the boat trimmed."

Hugh climbed in cautiously. The boat swayed and dipped alarmingly, despite his care and the brothers' hold on it, but he managed to get seated against Govan, who moved away from the center at just the right moment. "That's the lad," said Dugal, approvingly. He took his place at the oars, and Nevin climbed into the small space behind the prow, to watch out and direct his brother.

"Fare ye well, lads!" called Father Calum. "Write me, Hugh, as soon as you can!"

He turned away, and Dugal's oars swept out and bit into the water. The boat lurched away from the shore, then glided as Dugal found his stroke. For a few moments, Hugh huddled against Govan, feeling cut adrift himself. Govan shivered against him.

"Govan, are you chilled?"

He shook his head.

"Seasick, then?"

Govan looked at him, puzzled. "'Seasick' is ... ?"

Hugh mimed vomiting over the side. Perhaps he was a little too vivid in his acting, because now Govan did look a bit ill. "No!" he said, stubbornly.

Hugh put an arm around his shoulders. Dugal grinned at them. Govan turned to look behind, and Hugh did the same: Father Calum was already barely visible against the darkening trees. Govan sighed and turned back. "The wee kirk - all empty now. The bairn is a good for him - true? And for Rùnag."

"Yes, I'm sure it will be," agreed Hugh, not bothering to correct him, or speculate about the child's parents being found.

Nevin looked at them over his shoulder and chuckled. "It's a fine time you'll be having getting yourselves along in France, with the two of you knowing no more than ten words of French between you, and this one with his English in bits and patches."

To Hugh's surprise, Govan didn't flare up, but simply turned to look his friend in the eyes for a long moment. Hugh remembered that gaze, that kind soul looking at him on the stony slope above the chapel, then again in the dark night when he found himself somewhere else, and once more as he knelt desolate in the chapel, and how he had been given exactly what he needed each time. He tightened his grip around Govan's bony shoulders.

"Oh, I don't know about that. We understand each other pretty well, you know."

Read Notes

 

Comments

( 16 comments — Leave a comment )
freeradical9
Oct. 17th, 2009 03:42 am (UTC)
Lovely, lovely. :D The setting is just gorgeous, and there are an impressive number of canon threads woven into the story. I recognized the three main characters listed in the story's tags, and am wondering if I missed some others. Were Dugal and Nevin OC's?

Anyway, I enjoyed the historical aspect of this a great deal. I think my favorite scene was actually the one after the first section break, where Gojyo appears. It had a dreamy, unreal quality that was really quite lovely. And cheers also for the couple of flickers of Kenren that appeared here and there. :D

I know this has been a real project, and all the hard work really shows. I have a little bit of mixed feelings about Koumyou, who seemed a bit more talkative than I generally imagine him to be--but then this situation is also very different from canon, with different interpersonal dynamics. I applaud the originality involved in setting up a space of time where these particular characters could have a unique chance to interact.

Overall a very good read. Thanks for sharing this! :D
opalmatrix
Oct. 20th, 2009 02:30 am (UTC)

Aww, I'm so glad you liked it!

Yes, the Lindsay brothers were OCs. Once I realized that I needed to go back and put more in the middle, they got a little more personality.

I can't say I'm surprised that you like the un-dream - it really is the core of the story and almost the first bit that was written, although smilla helped me fine-tune it. I'm not as happy with the rest, but I needed it to move them out of harm's way, as it were.

I'm sorry that Calum is rather talky - it's what he seemed to want to do! I guess Ibun will help crystallize his personality a little more in canon, and I can learn how far off I was.

jinxaire
Oct. 17th, 2009 08:38 pm (UTC)
I really liked this story. All of the little details were so nice, like the bits of Gaelic tossed in here and there and the entire setting. I loved how accepting but realistic Father Calum was about Hugh - very much how I picture Koumyou would have been.

And the appearance of Sanzo there at the end, too cute!

Hope you don't mind that I'm friending you to better stalk you, hee hee. I know I have probably read all of your fics when I first came into the fandom earlier this year but like the sorry sack I am I don't think I commented on any of them! Anyways, they're such jewels that I'll be sure to reread them and I'll be sure to plop my little unhelpful comments on those, too, lol.

opalmatrix
Oct. 20th, 2009 02:37 am (UTC)

Well, I very much appreciate comments! I write to connect with people - I'm not interested in writing for my own sake, really. I'm curious as to which of the other stories you like best.

I certainly don't mind your friending me. This is only my fic journal, though. If you have any interest in manga reviews, memes, meta, or anything like that, I'll friend you from my main LJ (which is also what I use when commenting on things other people have written ... ). But if that's not your thing, don't worry about it.

Hee! Yes, the Koryuu bits in canon have convinced me that Sanzo was one of those very serious babies, and probably not any more appreciative of friendly liberties than the adult Sanzo is.

Thanks for reading - and commenting!

jinxaire
Oct. 21st, 2009 02:24 am (UTC)
Thank you! Sure, I'd love to get to know you better so please do friend me from your main account if you would like to. ^_^

You have so many great fics but a few of my faves are "Growing Season," "Flesh of My Flesh," and the heartrending saga "Down from the Red Hills." I'd try to give you a little detail on those but my brain's totally fried from a hair-raising day at work, haha. I promise to leave something more thoughtful on the next read. ;-)

opalmatrix
Oct. 22nd, 2009 02:22 am (UTC)

Friending = done.

I wrote "Growing Season" while I was on travel and feeling a bit lonely and mushy ... I'm furious with myself that I never answered the comments on it. "Flesh of My Flesh" and "Red Hills" both have their explanations attached!

jinxaire
Oct. 23rd, 2009 06:00 am (UTC)
What's the username? I didn't see a request come across.

Being lonely and far away from from home sucks, I know. I'm not generally able to funnel those types of feelings into creative things, though.

I never really realized the setting of "Down from the Red Hills." I live in Phoenix, AZ and have visited Sedona once (very different from Phx). It was gorgeous but I didn't have the chance to really look around much. Maybe next summer I'll escape the heat up north for a while and try to explore. Those pics are lovely. I love the attention to detail with your notes and setting information.
pfmoi
Oct. 18th, 2009 07:23 pm (UTC)
This was......incroyable. Just fantastic. I love the way things were so interwoven and the appearance of Sanzo at the end(With his immediate dislike of Gojyo, lmao) was just awesome.
opalmatrix
Oct. 20th, 2009 02:50 am (UTC)

I'm so happy you liked it!

I think Sanzo was probably one of those babies who's introverted from the start, and Govan's immediate touchy-feely reaction was probably completely wrong!

lawless523
Oct. 19th, 2009 05:39 pm (UTC)
Thank you for sharing this and its unique perspective.
opalmatrix
Oct. 20th, 2009 02:51 am (UTC)

Thank you for reading!

meobnal
Oct. 20th, 2009 07:29 pm (UTC)
I loved the setting and especially father Callum!
opalmatrix
Oct. 22nd, 2009 02:14 am (UTC)

Father Calum just sort of took over, you know?   XD

I'm really glad you enjoyed it!

(Deleted comment)
opalmatrix
Oct. 22nd, 2009 02:19 am (UTC)

I'm really touched and happy that you liked it well enough to print it out! I had lots of worries while working on it. In particular, smilla was very patient about nursing me through Calum's Tale of Govan so that it wasn't just a big infodump, but there were times when I had grave doubts that anyone would want to read it but the two of us.

I've got ideas for at least one sequel, but I've got such stacks of bunnies-in-storage that I don't know whether it will ever see the light of day. It would be in Paris, three or so years later ... .

smillaraaq
Oct. 22nd, 2009 06:42 pm (UTC)
You're going to break my heart if you never write that Govan/Hugh first time! *puppy eyes*
( 16 comments — Leave a comment )

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