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The church bells tolled, deep and thunderous over the city in the early gray of dawn. Gavon slowly opened his eyes, looking up at the familiar rough, open beams of his small room. He could see the first rays of sun peeking in through his window and hitting his threadbare blanket. In a few seconds he knew Alder would be in to bring him is morning meal, and sure enough he could barely make out the soft padding of the monk's feet in the corridor seconds before he heard a light tap on the door.
"Yes, you may come in," Gavon groggily replied as he sat up on his elbows.
The door of his room slowly creaked open and his friend walked in with his morning meal of dried fruit, bread, and a watery soup that had little more than broth to fill it.
"Good morning Gavon, how are you doing today?" Alder asked when the bells had stopped.
"Not much better I must say. My legs feel worse if anything and my head still throbs a bit," he answered dully.
"I can go get some more medicine if you would like," he said kindly as he set the tray of food down by Gavon's bedside.
"No, I'll be fine. It hasn't been helping much lately anyways."
"Very well then," Alder said compassionately as he sat at the end of the small, hard bed.
"Oh, I'm sorry; they must have given you a fork instead of a spoon. Alder commented as he saw the boy's confused expression. "Let me go and fetch a spoon for you."
Alder came back hurriedly from the kitchen and switched the utensils.
"Your hands move quite quickly," commented Gavon absently.
"Yes, well you know, comes with the trade I suppose..." the monk mumbled something inaudible and coughed a little before he looked away.
Alder watched as Gavon slowly brought the spoon to his lips and took tiny sips of the soup and small nibbles at the bread. He thought the boy was looking better. He seemed to be growing a little stronger every day, a little less fragile.
Gavon had gone through much for a lad so young. His parents had kicked the boy out when he was naught but six because of he was a cripple, a misfit. Gavon was fortunate enough to have been taken in by the kind monk instead of having to live in the dirty streets. Alder had become his one and only friend, the only person that cared about him.
Alder looked around the old room as Gavon continued to eat. There were musty old books in crumbling shelves lining two of the walls, a small window set above Gavon's bed, which was on the back wall across from the thin wooden door. There were various toys scattered around the room, things the boy tinkered with as he idled away the hours in his small room.
"Are you nearly finished?" Alder inquired, playing with his Rosary beads as he turned back around to see the young boy's tray.
Gavon nodded a response, his dirty blond hair swaying a little.
"Have you any idea as to what you would like to do today?" Alder asked as he gathered the remainder of the boy's meal.
"Read some more I should think. And probably a lot of day dreaming and the like. There isn't much to do in one's own bed," he said with a sad attempt at a smile.
Alder looked at him with his kind dark eyes. "Well I have been noticing that your leg muscles seem to be developing much more these days, which show definite signs of improvement. Alas, I must go now. I will be back with some of your studies in a little while."
"Yes, yes that sounds fine. I won't be going anywhere soon," he said with a hint of bitterness in his voice.
Alder stood up quietly and turned around to leave. He stopped with his hand on the door handle and twisted his neck around to look at the sad boy lying with a deformed leg on the small cot. He was staring despondently out of his small window at the slowly rising sun. Gavon turned to look at his one and only friend and weakly attempted a smile that turned to became more of a grimace. Alder smiled sadly back at him then glanced down at the floor and sighed. He turned the handle and walked silently out of the room while the boy turned his head back towards the window.
Alder started to walk down the hallway, the first few minutes of the conversation he had just had running through his mind. How could you have let that slip out? Do you want to get caught? Yes, the boy is a cripple, but that does not make him stupid, or mute. You must be more careful around him.
Gavon was a good boy Alder knew, he had just been hardened by his circumstances. The poor boy didn't know what do with himself, didn't know how to act or operate like a normal child. He could not run, could not play outside. He had been cooped up in the small monastery’s extra room for just over 7 years, with nothing but books and a very few trinkets to comfort him. Of course Alder was there to help him whenever he could, but that did not make up for the absence of other boys his age to consort with.
Alder continued to past the other living quarters, past the few storage rooms, along the back wall of the chapel, through a small number of hallways and into the kitchen, where he deposited the few dishes from Gavon's breakfast. He nodded briefly to the other monk who was washing the dishes, then headed back out to the chapel.
A few other monks were already getting ready for the morning choir practice. The choir leader soon joined the group and got them in order. They started at the beginning of a piece, the notes swelling and growing and then finally breaking at their climax into smaller bits and pieces of interwoven melodies and harmonies. The sound of the monk's voices was a deep, resonant sound that reverberated through the monastery. This was Gavon's favorite part of the day. He loved to hear the deep bass notes of the men's voices slowly leak through his thin door. The songs comforted him, somehow made him forget about his troubles. He leaned over the bedside to pick up an old, beaten copy of his favorite book. He read for a few minutes, sighed, then closed the book and put it down on the floor before he picked up his favorite toy soldier to play with. He started re-enacting the ancient battle of Cannae for the hundredth time while he waited for his friend to come back.
Alder walked out of the chapel and swiftly headed for the library. There was some more Latin that he had for Gavon to translate. Even if the boy could not make a life in a trade like a smithy or a stableman because of his foot, he should still be educated the monk reasoned. He hated the idea of the boy being crippled, physically and intellectually. He hoped that one day he could teach the lad to be well educated, and possibly useful in someway. He walked to the boy's room, nodding at the occasional Brother that he passed. He tapped lightly on the door before he entered.
Gavon looked up from the book he was reading onto the kind face of Alder.
"Hello again," Gavon said, attempting to sound cheerful.
"Hello lad," Alder replied as he shut the door behind him and walked into the room. He handed Gavon a smaller addition of the Vulgate. "I have some more Latin for you. I'm sorry if you find it dull, but you must learn it to be at least moderately successful."
"Ha, myself and success do not seem to be very good friends. Nay, we do not even seem to be remotely acquainted, unless you call this cursed, deformed foot of mine a success" he muttered a bit darkly," But thank you for bringing the book all the same, I know you are just trying to help," he sighed .
"Yes, well always remember that you make your own success. Others may frown upon your ways of doing so, but all the same, it is yours."
He looked away before he could see the curious look on Gavon's face.
"I cannot talk for long because I must go say my prayers, but I will be back to check on you and to bring you your dinner," Alder continued
"Thank you, kind friend. I'll try to at least do some of this Latin."
"There, there now, good lad. I'll be back before you know it," Alder smiled warmly as he headed out the door once again.
Sometime that evening the monk came back with Gavon's dinner and an extra blanket for the night was becoming unusually cold.
"Here you are, I have some warm soup and an extra blanket for you. It is turning strangely chilly and I thought you might be in needing of one," Alder said as he laid the blanket over the boy. He noticed that the boy was looking sallow, just a bit more sickly than usual.
"I was actually getting quite cold. You are such a good friend," he commented sadly.
"Could I ask you something Alder?" Gavon asked after a slight pause.
"Why yes, of course. What is it you would like to know?" he replied.
"What were you before you were a monk?"
"Before I was a monk?" he repeated as he leaned back a bit," Well I was in the jewelry business as a matter of fact. Specialized in gold."
"Gold? Really? Did you make it, or just sell it?"
"Well, you could say that I made it," he said, fidgeting a bit nervously with the black Rosary beads hanging around his neck," But I do not was to talk about my past, it is much too boring," he continued hurriedly with a nervous smile," you need your rest."
"Yes, I suppose I do. I will see you in the morning then?"
"Of course my boy, of course," Alder said assuredly as he blew out the candle and padded out of the room.
Later that night, Alder sat in the old chair in the corner of Gavon's room. The monastery was asleep and quiet, except for Alder. He came in his young friend's room to speak to him, ease his own troubled mind. He could not admit his faults to the other priests, yet he could not contain it. He whispered restlessly at the boy quietly sleeping in his small cot. How many nights had he sat here like this, telling all of his troubles, all of his sins and faults, this unyielding desire, to a boy that could not even hear him? He had told the sleeping boy everything, even where, and how, he hid the gold. He had come in the lad's room, always late at night, almost every night for years, sat in only chair that was in the room, and repeated his stories, his tricks, his methods. Everything to a boy that could not hear him through his own unconscious ears.
"I can't control it. The desire, the need. It consumes me. The exhilaration; knowing that I could be caught at any moment, and all the while knowing that I won't, I can’t. All those late nights sitting by the hot fire, molding small little spheres, shaping the stolen gold, painting it a holy black, hiding it in such an incredibly obvious place, around my own neck. I stopped at 36, I do not know why. It just seemed right. No one would suspect a humble monk would they? No, not someone as lowly as myself. The irony of it all? A thief monk....impossible. Surely not me, not me. I'm safe. No one could ever find out. No one but you," he smiled kindly and looked at the boy's serene face," and even you don't know it. "
Three months later:
Alder paced restlessly by Gavon's bed. Ever since that night one week ago, Gavon had gotten deathly ill. When Alder had come in the room that morning, the boy had had a definite sickly yellow color to his complexion, his toes had started to turn an ugly bruised color, and he was freezing cold to the touch. When the doctor had come, they didn't know what to do. They told the monks to wait it out awhile. The next day his forehead was at a scalding temperature and his eyes fluttered restlessly. He would not wake up when anyone shook him, but sometimes when he did wake up he would start screaming, clutching at his throat and gasping for air. The next few days got even worse. The bruised color of his toes had spread up his legs past his knees, which Alder noticed had more muscle than a crippled boy should, and his eyes had swollen completely shut, and small boils were beginning to form on his forearms. When the doctor had come in this time, he shook his head sadly after examining the young cripple, and told Alder he had no hope of survival. The most horrifying part of his sickness had developed just yesterday when the boy and started coughing up blood, his boils pussing profusely, his lips chapped and huge, his eyes large bulges on his unrecognizable face, and the bruised look of his legs had spread up to his chest. Alder knew there was absolutely no hope of him surviving, but he stayed and tried to make him as comfortable as he could.
Then, while the monk had been pacing, Gavon whispered something, so small a sound that the monk almost could not hear it. Alder rushed over to the bed and inclined his ear close to the boy’s mouth so he could hear him better.
"Wait, please. I could not hear you. Try to repeat it," the monk whispered quickly, pleadingly.
Gavon coughed a few times, blood starting to trickle out of his nose and mouth.
"Look. Behind the bookshelf," he whispered in a weak, frail voice.
"The book shelf?" Alder whispered out loud as he glanced back curiously. He walked over quickly and pushed it aside. Behind the bookshelf was a large hole in the wall, and in this hole lay 36 sets of solid gold Rosary beads. Alder whipped around wide- eyed just in time to see Gavon's eyes barely squinting open, a small, cruel smile on face, and realized with a sudden, horrifying revelation what the boy was about to say in his dying breath.
"Alder, I was always awake."