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100 words, or sometimes more

Man Of Letters

So, been quiet for a while.

It’s not that I haven’t been writing – I’ve been writing a lot – the problem is that none of it’s been fiction.

Still, I was asked to do a story about the other saint associated with February 14th, and I’ve just about got it done in time. It’s a bit more than 100 words.

Man Of Letters

In his time of dying, the monk tried to learn the language of God.

“I fear this may be blasphemy,” the abbot said, and shivered. It was a sunny day for January, and Cyril had chosen to work in the orangery rather than the scriptorium.

It was, however, still January, the trees green but bare of fruit. In the ten minutes they had been speaking, Cyril had been wracked by coughs twice, and the parchment he studied was flecked with blood.

“I believe if God does not wish his tongue to be found, he will have left no clues for us to find.”

“I will pray for guidance.”

“While you’re there, could you ask for some early oranges?”

The abbot’s lips tightened, but he said nothing. No other monk would dare speak to him in this way, but this was Cyril. He who had discussed the Holy Trinity with the Arabs, and he who had, after centuries, succeeded in converting the Moravians.

He who knew he would be dead inside three weeks.

“There is talk in Rome of your being made a saint.”

“Is that so?”

“It is a great honour.”

“Indeed, and I pray to be judged worthy by His Holiness and council.”

“Then why do you risk it with…” the abbot gestured to the texts, one from every language in the monastery’s library. “With this?”

“How long had the Moravians been heathens before I entered their country?”

“Hundreds of years. Thousands.”

“And why did they accept me, when so many others had failed before?”

The abbot sighed. “Because you gave them their letters. Because you recited the liturgy in their own tongue, not the Latin of Rome. I know, Cyril. But the language of Moravia is an invention of men. It is not the tongue of angels, which men were never meant to speak.”

There was a pause, sharpened with frost.

Cyril coughed again, scattering parchment as his body doubled over. The abbot bent to help him pick up the scrolls, and both men trod the awkward silence like water.

“In the Caliphate,” Cyril said, finally. “When I was there, I met a man from the eastern desert. It was his first time in Beirut, and… and he had no word for sea. He had never encountered such a thing, in his country it didn’t exist, so… so he had no word for it.”

It sounded like it was meant to be an explanation.

The abbot shook his head. “I will see you at mass, Cyril.”

Alone among the trees, Cyril looked to the sky. If there had been clouds, maybe he would have looked for a sign. But blue skies don’t talk.

Talking. So many orders vowed silence, but what did silence accomplish? To change a mind, you needed words. To understand what formed peoples’ worlds, you needed their words.

The abbot had no need to worry. Cyril knew he was like to be in heaven before he understood the language of it.

But he could, perhaps, discover if the angels had a word for ‘oranges’.


You can find out more about Saint Cyril here. He really did discuss the Holy Trinity with the Caliphate, and he really did convert the Moravians. I do not, however, know his position on oranges.

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