Cyril walked along the pavers his father had lain with such care. The short path from the cottage to the abbey common road was said by others to be as smooth as the tsar’s road in the great city. It likely was. When it had become plain that Cyril’s right leg would never catch up to his left, Tato had smoothed all of the paths within the cottage’s walled enclosure. Cyril wasn’t sure he’d been done any favors, not really. The rest of the world was rutted and uneven. Still, it had been done out of love, and if Cyril didn’t miss the perfectly flat surfaces when stepping beyond the cottage grounds, he did miss his father’s love.
Cyril knew Katrin blamed him for their father’s death. As she should. He wished the priests of Talisfarne would demand penance as the priests of the lands nearby did. For the tsar’s monks, penance meant simply “repentance,” or the internal turning from what one had done. Elsewhere, it might have involved the reciting of prayers or wearing of hair shirts or flogging oneself. Anything would have been better than this gnawing at the center of Cyril’s soul.
At low moments such as this, he was more than ever grateful for the friendships he’d made in pursuit of his goal to serve a great lord. Friends provided distraction. Distraction kept him from dwelling on the unchangeable past. Yes, he had certainly made friends. Instead of being snubbed, he was now welcomed by name when he joined those who clustered around boyars’ and merchants’ sons. On a few occasions, he’d been invited to join wealthy young fellows when they gathered in secret to drink stolen altar wine or potato vodka.
Today, in fact, he’d received such an invitation. The revelry was to be carried out in broad daylight, no less. When the bells rang for afternoon prayers, he was to join the others down at the inlet leading to the Siren Sea. He had wished to share this bright bit of happiness with Katrin when he’d awoken this morning. Over a steaming cup of chai, perhaps, as they sat together in the stonecote. He might even have told her about signing the farm over to her. But he had been angry about his boots and they had quarreled and there had been no friendly conversation—much less any cheerfully sputtering and hissing samovar.
“Never mind,” he muttered under his breath. School had only been in session a week, which meant he had the rest of the year to fix things with Katrin. Eventually, the moment would be right, and then all would be well between them.
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