Brendan awoke outside on the dew covered ground. He couldn’t recall how long he had been asleep and felt utterly chilled to the bone.
Pangur then came and nestled herself against him.
“Morning Pangur… Sorry I’ve slept so long,” Brendan said, giving her snowy white head a gentle caress before getting up and brushing himself dry.
The young monk could smell the scent of fresh fish stew coming from their hut. He recalled everything that happened the night before and wasn’t at all looking forward to confronting Aidan again.
Pangur mewed expectantly.
“Yes, Pangur… I’m coming…” Brendan sighed, and slowly followed the cat’s lead, as a sickening lump started to form inside his chest.
Brendan stepped quietly into the hut and sat down at the table. Aidan glanced at him before slowly returning back to his work at the fireplace, without saying a word. Brendan swallowed hard, his master looked just as discontent as he did.
Brendan did admit he did feel horribly guilty for saying those dreadful things to Aidan. But something deep inside him kept him from uttering any apologies to his master. Wishfully he hoped Aidan had changed his mind about their relationship and everything could go back to the way things were. But a knot in his gut kept telling Brendan that it wasn’t going to be easy to persuade him.
The older monk promptly dished out the stew and sat across from his apprentice. Brendan then noticed that the page he had been working on last night had been moved… Or worst destroyed.
“Aidan?... Where’s the page?”
The older monk glanced up at him.
“I put it away for now… We can come back to it later. Today, we’ll be working on a boarder page,” Aidan replied, before ripping off a piece of bread to soak up the broth.
Brendan wasn’t sure if he believed him. But he didn’t bother putting him up to question and ate his stew in silence. It hurt too much just thinking about Aidan destroying his work while he was gone.
Aidan took notice of the frown on his apprentice’s face and paused from his meal. He knew he couldn’t ignore it any longer.
“I know you’re upset, lad… But try to understand. I’m only doing this to protect us both. We don’t know how much hysteria folks must be having after the incident at the abbey… and we don’t know who else might be watching us,” Aidan sighed, trying his best to explain the circumstances as best as he could.
“I know…… But how long do we have to hide like this?” Brendan asked.
“Until it’s safe…”
Brendan frowned in question.
“Now don’t give me that look, lad… We can still be friends, can’t we?”
Brendan’s expression softened. He did have a point there.
“I know you won’t like it as much… But it’s still something, right? After all, we’re still living together under that same roof. Heh, think about it for a moment, it will be just like how things were between us back at Kells,” Aidan said, hoping to make a compromise somehow.
“Alright…… But how were things between us back then? How different were we then compared to now? I can’t tell the difference.” Brendan replied, growing a tad confused by his master’s suggestion.
Aidan was about to respond when he suddenly found himself being taken back by Brendan’s questions. He ended up thinking twice about what else they had done that might have crossed the line between student and master, and friend to lover. The more he thought about it the more the line began to blur, which made Aidan feel very unsure of himself too.
“I… I can’t tell either, Brendan… But, you know what I mean, don’t you? No flirtatious jokes, no suggestive gestures or embraces, no kisses, no—“
“No sex…?” Brendan muttered.
Aidan tensed up.
“Yes… Of course no sex…” He exhaled.
Brendan looked just as sorrowful as he did.
“I know, Brendan… I don’t like it either… But, lad… We never needed those things in the past, right…? We can help each other persevere, as always. You’re a strong and wonderful boy. I know you can do this… Or at least do it for me,” Aidan added, desperately incorporating what little encouraging thoughts he had left into his speech.
Brendan thought pensively, he knew it would not be an easy change to readjust to. But he somehow worked up a smile just for him and said,
“Alright… I’ll do it.”
The older monk smiled in return.
“Thank you, Brendan…” Aidan replied, as he reached across the table and his apprentice’s cheek a stroke.
Suddenly Aidan recoiled; realizing he was already breaking his own rules and tucked his hand back inside his sleeve with a guilty look on his face.
Brendan’s relatively cheerful expression had faded back into a look of remorse.
“S-Sorry, lad. I… I’m afraid this also means I’m not allowed to touch you as much as I used to,” Aidan sighed.
“Oh… I… I see…” Brendan’s gaze lowered sorrowfully, as he tried to finish the rest of his breakfast.
Aidan had lost his appetite.
His fists clenched as he silently started swearing at himself.
He could see Pangur sitting off to the side glaring at him out of frustration.
Well now you’ve done it, you old fool!
Look at the rubbish you’ve gotten yourselves into….
“Um… Tell you what, Brendan. Why don’t we go down to the woods today? We can drop by the seashore if you like?” Aidan suggested, hoping to brighten things up in some way.
“Uh, alright,” Brendan replied, with his voice sounding a little more encouraging.
“I figured we needed something to help lift our spirits a bit after starting the day off on such a low note. Besides, some fresh air ought to help us later when we return to our work on the book. Now finish your breakfast, lad, we’ll be heading off shortly.”
Both drank the rest of the savory broth and set forth out the door.
The morning dew had faded underneath the sultry sun, causing the woods to feel damp and steamy. Very little wildlife dared to show their faces as the master and apprentice wandered through the undergrowth.
“Well, it sure turned out sunny today.” Brendan remarked, balancing on thick tree roots as he scoured his surroundings.
“Aye, and humid too,” Aidan added, feeling his robe stick to his skin.
Pangur puffed in agreement.
Although it was nice to get out of the hut, Aidan couldn’t help but feel the air become dense and over bearing, almost like they were inside a kiln. He could tell Brendan was feeling it too; there had to be a way to cool off.
“Say lad, I found a short cut to the cove a few days ago. We can cool off there for a bit until the humidity dies down,” The older monk suggested.
“Really? That’ll be nice! This heat is killing me!” Brendan fanned himself.
“Aye, me too, lad. I’m afraid the woods will have to wait another time. Come along!”
Brendan perked up and followed Aidan down a path in the undergrowth to a river of stepping-stones. His master was already in the lead and pulling back a few branches of to clear the path. The young apprentice hastily leapt from rock to rock to catch up and exited the woods.
Just beyond the greenery was the sea. It’s shimmering cool waters graced to-and-fro down the sandy beach.
With a hop, skip, and a jump, Brendan had taken the lead and trotted to the seashore. Aidan followed not too far behind and let his feet soak in the gentle current beside him. They both breathed in the fresh sea breeze and stood there to take in the scenery around them.
All was bathed in a peaceful silence…
That is until Brendan decided to take a handful of seawater and splash it into Aidan’s face.
The older monk flinched at the sudden cool dampness, but he couldn’t help but grin.
“Pppft! Oh you little--- Take this!” Aidan laughed, before kicking a wave into Brendan.
Brendan let out a high pitched squeak as the cold wave hit him. However, it only took him a moment to recover and retaliate with a splash attack of his own.
"That all you got, Aidan?"
The old monk shook the seawater from his long silver locks and shot his gaze back at this apprentice.
"You wish!" Aidan grinned, before whooshing another wave at him.
Brendan giggled as another surge of cool water flew at him. However, before the wave could fully drench him, the spry lad sprang backwards, avoiding most of the water. Brendan then slapped the tide, spraying Aidan with a mist before running away.
"You'll have to be quicker than that, master!"
Aidan guarded his eyes from the water then darted ahead as soon as he caught sight of Brendan's fiery red hair.
"Oh no you don't! You're not getting away from me that easily!" Aidan cackled.
Brendan heard Aidan's words and the sound of his feet splashing through the shallow tide, getting closer and closer. Brendan checked over his shoulder and verified that Aidan was gaining on him. With a gasp, the young monk picked up speed and tried running as fast as he could, hoping that his youthful vigor and spirited energy would out match his master's longer legs.
The older monk saw this and could only laugh louder, as he still kept getting closer on Brendan's tail. For an old man Aidan’s age, he was a surprisingly fast runner. He was about reach for his apprentice’s cloak, when suddenly Brendan made a sharp dart to his right, and then to his left. This surprised Aidan at first, but it wasn't enough to shake him off track. This only made their game of cat and mouse more fun, Aidan thought.
“Better keep running, boy! I’m coming for ya!” The old monk cackled.
“No! No! Stay away!” The young monk squealed back.
Brendan fought desperately to stay in the lead, zigzagging left and right. However, he knew that he couldn't outrun his master forever. Aidan simply had too long of legs to outrun.
Knowing this, Brendan decided to play a little dirty.
He stopped momentarily and yelled.
With that, Brendan threw water up at Aidan's face, hoping to catch him off guard.
---And it worked!
"Gahhhh! Hey!" Aidan growled, feeling initial sting of the saltwater in his eyes.
This made the older monk stagger backwards until he wiped his eyes clean with his sleeve. There he saw Brendan had made a few strides ahead of him. But he could see the lad was having a hard time picking up speed in the deeper waters.
Aidan's wicked grin grew across his face again.
"Ohhh, so you thought you could get away with that, didn't ya, lad?!--- Well not if I can help it!" The old monk called out, charging at his apprentice at full speed.
Brendan let out a yelp as he felt Aidan slam into his back and wrap his arms around him while the old monk dragged him down, giggling, into the shallows.
"Gah! I've gotcha!" Aidan laughed, pulling Brendan close as they both landed in the water with a big splash.
Still, even on the ground, Brendan still offered playful resistance.
"Hahah! No, I shall not be caught so easily!"
However, what Brendan didn't know was that his mock struggling was putting Aidan in a tough position. The old monk could not only feel the boy laughing and writhing above him, but he could also feel Brendan's soft body grind against him through his wet clothes.
Aidan blushed and loosened his grip around his apprentice. As fun and pleasant as it was, he knew he had new rules to follow--- this had to stop!
"A-alright, lad! Alright! You can be free now," Aidan granted, and opened up his arms for Brendan to be set loose and quickly straightened himself up.
Brendan noticed his master's sudden change in behavior. Aidan had gone from smiling and laughing along with him to completely still and somber in a matter of moments. The boy was about to ask why he'd stopped when he saw Aidan's face. He knew the answer just from the look in his master's eyes.
Still, it was so rare that they got a day off like this that Brendan didn't want to ruin their time together. At that moment, the boy pulled himself out of tide and walked to the shoreline. He was completely soaked. Though the water felt good on him, Brendan knew from experience that robes soaked in seawater tended to chafe after they dried.
With that in mind, Brendan stripped off his robe and laid them flat on a dry rock away from the shoreline to dry in the sun. The lad was so preoccupied with his task and was so used to being naked with his master that he didn't give Aidan a second thought.
Aidan felt much the same way; already he felt the seawater take effect on his clothes and he wanted to get out of them as soon as possible. He tried to brush off the incident as if it was a mere slip up and nothing more, when suddenly reality struck him.
There he saw Brendan's fair form before him.
He had been used to seeing him naked, but this day felt different.
Aidan saw Brendan's perfect skin and sunset red hair glisten in the sunlight as seawater trickled down his flawlessly toned body. For a boy his age, he was indeed quite handsome and his rising maturity was enhancing it in full swing. He almost looked like one of the young Greek gods, Apollo, in this light, Aidan thought.
However, the more Aidan stared at Brendan the more he realized how the lad began affecting him... in more ways than one.
He blinked and snapped himself out of his trance.
Just as Brendan finished stripping, he noticed movement out of the corner of his eye. When he turned to look, he saw Aidan slipping his robe back into place and turning away. Concerned, the boy walked up to him with not a single ounce of shame in his nudity and confronted his master.
"I-is everything alright, Aidan? You've been acting odd since we wrestled in the tide. I didn't hurt you, did I?"
Aidan blushed even harder when he noticed Brendan had gotten closer. But he tried his best not to give anything away.
"Hm? What? Oh, no, no, lad, you didn't hurt me. It was all in good fun," Aidan replied, for once praying Brendan didn't notice anything.
Brendan's face twisted in concern as he examined Aidan's posture. Something wasn't right. His master was acting very uncomfortable, though he wasn't sure what it could be. He was once again tempted to ask Aidan what the problem was, but decided that whatever it was, Aidan would tell him when he was ready to talk about it.
"Well alright. As long as you're fine."
A small smile took Brendan's face.
"Well, I still feel pretty hot. I might go swimming for a little while. Why don't you join me? You might feel better if you get out of those salty robes and cool off," The young monk offered.
Of course Aidan wanted to join him. But given his current predicament, he just couldn't. Something about it now just suddenly felt so dirty.
"Oh, thank you kindly for the offer, Brendan. But um... I'm afraid I'm a little worn out after our game of cat and mouse. I think I'll go and dry off on those rocks-- But you can still go swimming, lad. I don't want to spoil the fun for you because I got tired. So you go ahead and run along. I'll be fine..." Aidan said.
Brendan frowned in confusion.
Brendan knew how uncomfortable Aidan got in humid weather like this. Heck, he'd been the one to suggest coming to the beach in the first place. And now he was just going to sit and cook on the sunbaked rocks? That wasn't even factoring in how painful it would be once the salt dried to his skin. Why would he act like this? It was enough to make the boy let out a tired sigh.
"Well...if you say so."
At that, the young boy turned and walked toward the shallows, unintentionally giving Aidan a clear view of his supple bottom, causing the old monk to blush even harder and avert his eyes.
Soon Brendan waded into the shallow water of the coastline. The water felt good on his skin draining the heat and sweat from his body, leaving him feeling cool and refreshed. However, the relief was only momentary, for though the heat had gone, Brendan felt that he couldn't quite relax. Whatever was bothering Aidan was getting to him too.
In an effort to take his mind off of it, the young monk began swimming and splashing in the water, trying his best to have fun, anything to distract himself from Aidan's discomfort. However, the more he tried to distract himself, the more bored he became. It just wasn't as fun swimming alone.
Back on the rocks, Aidan wasn't having it any easier. The combination of the itchy burning salt on his skin, his sweaty chafed robes, sun cooked rocks, and the scorching heat was becoming truly unbearable.
However, this did make his first issue start to go away...
He slowly tried convincing himself that it was punishment for his actions.
So Aidan just sat there on the rock, gazing out into the seas horizon. He'd occasionally glance down at Brendan's general direction to check on him and make sure he was doing alright. Aidan could see Brendan swimming from a distance. Or at least wading if nothing at all... He was afraid this would happen. The lad looked so bored and lonely being all by himself like this. It made his heart cramp up inside just watching him swimming there all alone.
However, Aidan averted his eyes when he felt that same unwelcome presence growing again.
As Brendan felt his thoughts turn again to Aidan, his head soon followed, turning his gaze upon the old man. Aidan looked so uncomfortable sitting on those rocks, his face set in a grimace as sweat ran down his brow. Brendan couldn't understand why Aidan was doing this to himself. It was so unlike him.
The boy turned to once again swim in the tides. However, as he turned his head back to the sea, he saw movement at the periphery of his vision.
Aidan's head had just moved.
His master was just staring at him now. Brendan watched him like that for a moment, before turning his head to look at his master properly. The moment he did that, Aidan's head turned away from him.
That's when it hit the lad.
He was the problem…
But what had he done wrong?
Why was Aidan avoiding him now, when they were having such a good time this morning? He knew that he and Aidan couldn't be lovers anymore, but why did that affect their friendship too? Brendan couldn't find an answer. All he did was swim out a little further and avert his eyes as he felt something twist up inside him.
However, after a few minutes of aimlessly drifting, sea had completely lost its appeal. So, with a blank expression on his face and a cold, empty, feeling in his chest, the boy walked ashore, pulling himself from the tide and walking up the sand.
Aidan then heard footsteps and dared to look again. By this time, Brendan had already pulled on his robe and was slowly coming his way. He caught a hint of sadness in the boy's body language, as he got closer.
Brenan approached his master, eyes staring at the ground. It was only when he was directly in front of the rock Aidan was perched on that the boy raised his head to look at him.
"I think I'm done swimming now, Brother Aidan. Can we go home and wash this salt out?"
Aidan slid off his perch. He felt guilty their day had taken a turn for the worse on his part, but he couldn't help but feel relieved that he didn't have to sit around burning on the rocks any longer.
"Aye lad, let's go home… Heh, or else we'll be turned to ruby red lobsters at this rate," Aidan cracked a smile, remarking on the noticeable shade of sunburnt pink on their skin. "But don't worry, we'll get this salt off once we get to the river back home... No sense in adding extra seasoning I suppose."
The older monk found himself crossing his fingers, hoping the least he could do was make Brendan laugh after their lousy time at the beach.
Brendan on the other hand was so lost in thought that it took him a moment to register what Aidan had said. When the words came to him, Brendan gave a small, and a hollow chuckle. They both knew that it was humorless, simply a courtesy for his master’s attempt.
With that Brendan turned and began making his way back to the tree line, his head still boiling in confusion. Truth be told, Aidan's attempt at humor, though commendable, had simply left the boy feeling more confused. One moment, they’re playing in the water, the next; Aidan tries to get as far away from him as possible. And then, when he comes back, Aidan is acting like his old self. It made the boy audibly sigh in frustration as he felt his masters gaze on his back.
Aidan's smile quickly diminished and he kept quiet to himself as he followed Brendan back into the woods.
Pangur arose from her spot in the shade when she spotted her owners coming near, both were slow and withdrawn as they walked on by. Pangur’s ears sank with worry as she joined them.
The road through the woods back home was shrouded in silence. Neither of them could bring themselves to break it with their thoughts consuming their minds in endless struggles.
Pangur could sense something wasn't right between her owners. It was almost to a point where she could smell it off them.
She let out a low yowl to her master. But much to her disbelief Aidan seemed to pay no mind to her meowing.
The cat tried again, this time brushing into his legs. But Aidan only gave her a small brush from his hand to avoid stepping on her as he continued to walk down the path.
She knew she got his attention-- though briefly, she knew had had to get him to start talking somehow. Even if it meant using harsher methods.
Without warning, Pangur Ban, lunged at Aidan's foot and bit into his ankle.
"Aaaghhhhh!!" Aidan screamed, feeling her fangs sink into his skin.
Brendan turned when he heard his master's cry, his inner conflict momentarily replaced by worry as he whirled about to see what was the matter.
There, he saw Aidan doubled over in pain, examining his ankle, which had four small red holes in it.
"Are you alright, Brother Aidan!? What happened?"
"Gah! Bloody hell! Pangur bit me!" Aidan winced, rubbing the angry bite mark on his leg.
Pangur sat, swatting her tail back and forth.
She didn't want resort to hurting her master, but she knew it would loosen his tongue a bit.
Aidan then picked her up under her front legs and brought her to his face.
"What was that for? Hm!?" Aidan frowned at the feline.
Pangur Ban's ears sank low, but she was relieved he set her back down after that and nothing more. But she still felt very unnerved after being yelled at.
Brendan sighed as he looked at the small white cat as she crawled away from Aidan and slide against his leg.
What was going on today? First Aidan started acting strange, and now Pangur Ban.
Turning his gaze from Pangur, Brendan knelt down to examine the wound on Aidan's foot. The indents her fangs left were starting to bleed down his heel.
"Can you walk?" Brendan asked.
"Of course I can walk, boy. It's just a scratch," Aidan sighed.
The old monk stood up fine with only a minor limp in his stride.
Brendan closed his eyes as he stood up also. As horrible as it was, he'd been hoping that Aidan would have needed his help. It would have felt nice to be that close to him again, and helping him might have taken his mind off of...whatever happened at the beach.
"Well, as long as you’re alright. I-I just don't want you to get hurt.” At that the boy resumed walking, only to be a few steps behind his master.
Aidan couldn't help but smile a little.
But as soon as he heard the melancholic tone in Brendan's voice he slowed his stride down so Brendan could walk beside him. There he caught the same sad longing expression on Brendan's face.
Aidan knew he couldn't keep this hidden from him any longer.
He swallowed and finally spoke.
"Oh lad... You're still thinking about what happened down at the beach, aren't you?"
"W-what happened, Aidan? We were having so much fun, and then.... and then it was like you were afraid of me."
As Brendan said this, he tried to look up into Aidan's eyes. But no matter how hard he tried he couldn't seem to lock gazes. It was like he was afraid to see that same look of discomfort and shame he had seen at the beach.
Aidan felt a lump grow inside his chest.
“I’m sorry, my boy. I didn’t mean to make you feel this way… I…. I’m afraid I had sinned back there…” He confessed.
Brendan blinked in utter confusion.
“Sinned? What do you mean?”
“You know perfectly well what I mean… I--- I got aroused by you, lad!”
Brendan’s face looked up sympathetically at his master, begging for more answers.
“B-but you didn’t do anything wrong. How was playing in the water with me a sin?” Brendan asked again.
“I was tempted, lad! Don’t you see?” Aidan replied, turning his gaze back at him.
“But, Aidan… You’d never hurt me.”
“I know that; you know that… But somebody else won’t. Brendan, if someone caught me in that state around you… Just think of the consequences.”
Brendan sighed in response.
He knew his master had a point. However, that didn’t change how he felt about their situation.
“So what must we do now?”
“For our safety, Brendan, I think it’s best we don’t swim or bathe together in the future.”
“But Brother Aidan!” Brendan cried out.
“I’m sorry, lad, but it’s too risky! I don’t want something like this to happen again. We need to have more self-control. These rules are meant to keep me in place, to protect you.” Aidan affirmed.
“Protect me from what!? From you!?” He replied in frustration.
“…Yes... Now come on, let’s go home,” He replied, feeling a lump get caught in his throat.
“But Brother Aidan!?”
“Brendan! I… I don’t want to talk about this right now. Now keep up,” The old monk responded sharply to his apprentice before walking ahead.
Brendan was stunned once again by his master’s actions. This didn’t feel like the Aidan he knew. But at this point Brendan was too beat down to proceed with anymore questions. He merely hung his head low and tried to catch up to Aidan and Pangur.
After they had a chance to take turns bathing and washing their robes in the river, Aidan insisted they’d get back to working on the book.
Once Brendan was all cleaned up he managed to put most of the events of the beach and woods out of his mind. By the time he and Aidan got back to illustrating the book, things felt normal. He almost felt like nothing was wrong. But he knew at the back of his mind things were not perfect.
Behind the smiles and insightful critiques, Aidan could sense the apprehension coming from his apprentice. He honestly had no plan behind his set of rules, but he knew in due time the rules would become clearer to Brendan and continued with his tasks.
Despite their inner conflicts between one another, Brendan and Aidan poured what little inspiration they had left in the boarder page. The two monks tried their hardest to make things worthwhile as they worked to avoid further issues with their new lifestyle.
Before long the page was inked with an array of colors and interact knots. All this hard work had rendered both master and apprentice exhausted for the night. Without even giving a second thought, Brendan crawled into Aidan’s bed and curled under the covers.
Aidan took notice and walked over to his side.
“I’m sorry lad, but you can’t sleep in my bed anymore,” He sighed.
The young apprentice sat up abruptly.
“Please Brother Aidan, just one last time. I slept outside last night. I promise I wouldn’t do anything! I won’t even touch you! … Just let me stay with you for one last time,” Brendan pleaded with his master.
Aidan’s heart ached just listening to his apprentice beg. He hated having to deny Brendan so much today, but he knew this is how it had to be.
“I’m sorry, lad… The answer is still no.”
The last shred of hope in Brendan’s eyes diminished as he got out of his master’s bed and walked across to his own vacant cot on the other side.
Aidan couldn’t stand seeing Brendan look so sad. He knew how much Brendan loved sharing a bed with him. Even he had to admit, it was one of his favorite parts of the evening and he was going to miss it dreadfully too.
Aidan then strolled over and patted Brendan’s shoulder.
“Here, the least I can do is help tuck you in.”
Brendan gave him a small smile and nodded.
“Alright... I’d like that.” He mumbled.
Aidan smiled back.
There he lifted up the covers for Brendan to slip right in and tucked the fur blanket over his shoulders. But as Aidan helped Brendan settle in, he still noticed a hint of melancholy in his apprentice’s expression.
“There’s no need to look so miserable, lad. It’s not like I’m leaving you for good. Beside I’ll only be across from you,” Aidan said, trying his best to sound reassuring. “And look on the bright side, there are plenty perks to having your own bed again. Like um-- well you’ll more room for one thing, some form of privacy, and you won’t have to put up my snoring quite as much.”
“It’s warmer with you…”
Aidan’s smile began to falter.
“Yes… But lad, you--“
“We keep each other company, tell stories to help us fall asleep, and cuddle whenever we have nightmares… It’s not so cold and lonely when we’re together,” Brendan stated.
Aidan sighed in defeat.
“Well, I’m afraid you have me there, lad…”
“It’s just not the same this way…”
“No… It’s not the same.”
Aidan then caught a glimpse of tears glistening in Brendan’s eyes. He knew there was no point in trying to fool him any longer. This was painful enough for him already.
With that, Aidan then knelt down and kissed Brendan’s brow.
The young monk’s glazed eyes widened.
“I know this is hard for you… It’s hard for me too. And I know it’ll take some time before we can fully adjust. It may not be the same as before, but… We’ll be alright, you and I. You’ve been very good today, lad. Very patient and strong, I couldn’t ask for more,” Aidan said, caressing Brendan’s cheek, knowing full well this was breaking a few rules.
Brendan put his hand against Aidan’s, unable to stop a few tears from falling. Against his better judgment he even dared to sit up and kiss Aidan on the cheek.
“I’ll keep trying to be patient and strong for you… Master,” Brendan whispered.
Aidan was slightly stunned at first, but soon gave a bittersweet smile and nuzzled him in return before standing up.
“I know you will… Goodnight, Brendan.”
The young apprentice brushed his tears with his sleeve.
“Goodnight, Brother Aidan…”
The older monk nodded and soon blew out the last candle in the cell before retiring to his own bed as well.
Once settled down under the covers, Aidan did admit it did feel strange not having someone sleeping by his side. He tried to ignore the feeling and curled up under the fur blanket, yet he couldn’t bring himself to relax. The old monk found himself tossing and turning from side to side, trying to find a good position.
He glanced across the hut to find Brendan doing the same thing. Only this time he could make out him shivering and rubbing his arms to get warm.
Just then Pangur hoped from her perch on the desk and curled up with him. Brendan gave her a thankful smile and petted her in return. He paused when he caught Aidan looking at them.
The older monk gave an inquisitive look, wordlessly asking if he was going to be warm enough?
Brendan nodded, trying to put a positive front for his master.
Aidan gave a small smile and nodded back, feeling a little more at ease and began staring up at the stone ceiling.
But as time went on, he could see Brendan staring up at the ceiling too. It became very clear to Aidan at this rate neither of them would sleep very well tonight.
As time dragged on through the week, things felt rather stilted between the two monks. Both Aidan and Brendan couldn’t feel like they could act like themselves around one another without breaking a rule. On occasions Brendan would slip up, and Aidan would try to remind him with a lecture and brush it off. The only ounce of enjoyment they were getting was whenever they’d work on the book together. As long as they distracted themselves with their work, their problem at times would almost feel nonexistent… Or so they liked to believe.
For by the time nightfall would come, their energy was well spent. Brendan and Aidan grew tired and irritable towards each other, and as a result they’d go to bed and lie in their cots for hours, too restless to sleep or even mediate. During this time, they’d usually act more intimate with each other to relax and bond. But without it, they both felt bored and discontent. It didn’t help the fact they still had problems sleeping. Whenever one of them had nightmares or grew cold, they just had to just lay there in their beds and tough it out, leaving the other to lay and watch in anguish on the other side of the hut. All Aidan and Brendan could do was reflect on old memories and pray this problem would pass over them, like a bad dream.
Moonlight cast its ghostly light upon the valley one evening, while deep dark clouds swirled in the stormy night sky.
A streak of quicksilver lightning cut through and struck the top of the mountain side, sending cracks of rumbling thunder in its wake.
Yet the rain never came and remained imprisoned in the night clouds, like restrained tears.
Aidan jolted awake and bolted upright in his bed. Sweat dripped from his brow, as he took heavy breathes and surveyed the hut.
All remained in order, Brendan was still in his bed, and Pangur was nestled deep into his pillow.
“…Just a dream… They’re safe…… They’re alright…” Aidan exhaled and turned onto his side, keeping his gaze fixed on the boy and his cat.
However, as Aidan adjusted himself in his bed, he then noticed something warm and sticky suddenly become glued to his thighs.
His violet eyes widened in horror.
“Oh dear God… Please no!” Aidan shuddered, praying it was sweat and nothing more as he cautiously felt around underneath his robe.
Hesitantly, he brought the substance on his fingers to the moonlight to look.
Ghostly pale as the moon itself…
Aidan felt his heart sink as shivers ran up his spine.
Without giving a second thought, he darted out of his bed and sprinted for the river. The older monk feverishly tore off his robes and leapt into the stream, scrubbing his body franticly with his hands. Trying his hardest to get clean at all costs, all the while ignoring the freezing cold temperatures of the water itself.
But no matter how hard Aidan washed; he knew deep down he never would be fully cleansed.
A part of him felt so tainted, it disgusted him.
“Oh why did this have to happen? If I had never left finger on Brendan this would have never happened! If I never saw him that way!!-- Oh lord, WHY?!” He began ranting to himself. “It’s been getting worse every day… I can feel it… I’m probably no better than those men after all! OH GOD!!”
It had gotten to a point to where he scrubbed himself raw with his nails. One sharp cut to his inner thigh was enough to finally bring Aidan to a stop. It all felt so hopeless. All Aidan could do was hold his head in his heads in shame.
“We would have been so much better off if we hadn’t made love… It wouldn’t have had to turn out like this…”
He loved Brendan, that’s why he did it. Because he loved him back… Was that so wrong?
But he knew perfectly well about the rules as he did back then. Being a man of the cloth, those precious thoughts, pleasures, and feelings were not meant to be for him. He had known that for years. He was Brendan’s master and guardian; he should have known better! Not fall into temptation so easily like some lovesick fool! And to lie with another man-- nonetheless a boy-- was not only a grave sin but also an action punishable by death!
Aidan removed his hands from his face and stared down at his reflection in the water.
Yet he had to ask himself… Even after all this.
Did he regret loving Brendan?
Deep down he still loved him, even now.
Slowly, he returned to cleaning himself, only more gently this time as he let his hands wander.
Aidan could remember the events in his dream very clearly like a drawing. How Brendan’s smooth hands touched and caressed him, how the lad planted kisses on every scar he found on his body, and how tranquil he felt having Brendan lying inside his warm embrace.
What he would give to feel that with him again.
“However…” Aidan thought to himself. “…Because I don’t regret loving him, shouldn’t I feel worse for doing so?”
He paused from his cleansing, as he recalled what happened next.
Men and women came. They tore him and Brendan from their bed, exposing their shame to the world. Aidan shuddered as he remembered the mob beating them with clubs and lashing them with whips until their skin bled. How they tied ropes around their necks and hanged them in an oak tree. He remembered how scared Brendan looked, and how the crowd drowned out his cries.
But the worst was yet to come. As they both struggled with their legs kicking franticly in the air, gasping for desperately for breath, an old woman appeared from the crowd. The very same one Aidan saw on his way back home all those days ago. She carried a torch and a bucket of oil. The old hag splashed their naked bodies with the coppery fluid and yelled proudly to them.
“It’s men like you who deserve to burn!”
There she struck their legs with the torch and set them ablaze. The pain was indescribable as the flames consumed them. Their screams fell upon deaf ears as the crowd cheered at their death.
Just remembering that alone brought tears to Aidan’s eyes.
He pulled himself from the river and got dressed. The older monk returned to his hut and glanced down at his sleeping apprentice.
For once he looked peaceful tonight.
Quietly Aidan approached him and ran his hand through Brendan’s red hair.
“I’m never going to let that happen to you, Brendan… Not now… Not ever…… Even if it means giving up my love for you.” Aidan whispered longingly.
Brendan stirred in his sleep, smiling to Aidan’s gentle touch, but didn’t awake.
Aidan couldn’t help but smile too.
Silently he leaned in and kissed Brendan’s brow, fearing it would be his last.
The older monk then parted and climbed back into his bed to nestle in for the night.
“Whatever happens, Brendan… I swear will always keep you safe… I promise.”