“Tarin, hold still,” Alynn muttered through clenched teeth. She yanked the comb through Tarin’s tangled hair again, and he jumped.
“It would hurt less if you’d stop movin’!”
“No fightin’ on Sabbath,” Rowan said. He looked very nice with good tunic and well-combed hair, but he seemed rather out-of-place. At least his forest green and navy blue plaid was draped over his left arm as it always was.
Alynn had a Sunday dress, too, but any confidence it gave her was stolen by the plain rope she had for a belt. She’d just as soon wrap herself in a bedsheet and hide in the rafters.
Tarin looked like he’d been washed, dried, and starched. “Is this a fancy church, Da?” he asked.
“It looks fierce nice, so ye’ll have to be on yer best behavior,” Rowan said. His eyes were sharper than any threat of a whipping, so Alynn and Tarin both nodded with an obedient “We will, sir.”
Alynn secretly dreaded the first time she went to a new church. There were always the sideways glances, the murmurs of “I wonder where their mother is,” and the upturned noses at the patched and threadbare clothes. The services were usually stuffy, with Latin prayers and just enough kneeling, sitting, and standing to keep people from falling asleep.
Alynn ran the comb through Tarin’s hair again before they left for St. Paul’s. The church-bells began tolling just as they walked up the grand stone steps, and Alynn was caught up in a rush of people and fancy clothes.
Every time she entered a new church, Alynn marveled at it. She would gaze at the stained-glass windows and the high ceilings that didn’t leak. She’d join Tarin in staring at the statues of saints. And finally, right as the opening prayers were being said, Rowan would hustle them into the sanctuary, and there would be whole new sights to look at.
There were more stained-glass windows, and a grand pulpit that could only be reached by a flight of stairs. The pews gleamed, as if their wood had been oiled as well as sanded. Everything about St. Paul’s was rich and beautiful. Alynn wished she could hold her breath so she wouldn’t spoil anything.
“Lynder, what are they saying?” Tarin whispered after the second Latin hymn. Alynn shrugged and looked at Rowan.
“I’ll tell ye once we’re home,” he promised. “Now, whisht.”
Alynn bowed her head in silence and listened to the rest of the service. There were lectors who stood and read Scriptures that no one could understand, and the priest gave a short sermon. It was the only part of the service that was in Gaelic.
As soon as the service was over, the derision began.
The McNeils were often the last to leave church. It was better than spending the whole afternoon in their hovel. Rowan would often speak with the monks, or with someone who had children roughly Alynn’s and Tarin’s ages. Today, Rowan fell into a conversation with an elderly man. Alynn and Tarin stood in a corner, waiting for disparaging comments.
“Poor little church mice,” one woman said.
“Take a gawk at those culchies over there,” a boy said to his brother. “The girl isn’t even wearin’ a decent belt!”
“State of them,” the brother sniffed.
Alynn longed for the day she could endure comments like Rowan. He’d always listen to them with his arms crossed, then politely ask them to mind their own business. Or else he’d ignore them. He was very good at ignoring things.
Alynn looked up to see Fiona. She looked beautiful in her Sabbath dress, even if it did look like a hand-me-down from an older cousin. “How are you gettin’ on, Fiona?” Alynn asked.
Fiona grinned. “I’m grand. This church is wonderful, isn’t it? Da says it’s been here for a hundred years. And there’s so many statues. Do ye want to see them all?”
“I do!” Tarin cried. “Is there one of St. Thomas and his spear?”
“There is, he’s right next to St. Mark with his Bible.”
Tarin’s eyes lit up, and he took Alynn’s hand as he pranced after Fiona.
The three went all over St. Paul’s, gazing at the candles and the windows and the vaulted ceilings. There were statues everywhere—mostly of the Apostles, and of course Mary with the infant Jesus. And afterwards, Fiona suggested they see if any food had been left out in the kitchen.
“But isn’t it stealin’?” Alynn asked.
Fiona stopped and thought, her face distorted in ways that made Tarin giggle. “Well, they just said in the sermon that it’s more blessed to give than to receive, didn’t they?”
“Then the church will be blessed if they give us their food.” And with that, Fiona popped into the kitchen and came back with a smirk on her face and a loaf of bread in her hand.
“It won’t be missed!” she said. “Here, take some!”
A pang of guilt struck Alynn, but when she watched Fiona and Tarin eating, she decided it must have been alright. So she quickly took a bite. It was worth it.
M. J. Piazza is a Jesus-loving, dog-walking country girl who just so happens to write books.