Five minutes later in came the Armenian Archimandrite and an aide with another Greek translator; everything would have to be relayed from English to Greek to Armenian and back again. Narin entered then, looking about her fearfully, eyes alighting on Sally and the Abbot, she sat by them, shimmering in her Byzantine robes, giving off a presence out of all proportion to her slender frame. Sally looked at her objectively for once; she would be a lovely young woman soon, that’s why Martha’s so afraid. It was her courage though that Sally found most impressive, such strength of will to survive all that had been inflicted on her, to still want to live, to love, and not to surrender.
She puts me in the shade.
The Exarch smiled at the girl reassuringly; Sally could see he was a kind man for all his status and dignity. They had been told of her, her sad history, what did she want of them? How could they help her?
Narin looked at him gravely, listening to the translation only slightly overawed, but before she could answer the Armenian aide spoke in another language, somewhat falteringly perhaps, but surprising them all, shocking Narin most of all. She replied in what must be her native tongue, her features conveying astonishment. There was a rapid conversation, two, three, minutes, no more, her face melting into smiles at what must be her own tongue, here, so far from home, so unexpected. The Armenian translated for the others and then via another interpreter: she was indeed a Kurdish Yazidi, family murdered when her village was overrun, she and her elder sister taken to serve their enslavers, separated, then she was brought to this country by one of them, as a servant, concubine, then freed by people from here, brought here, given sanctuary, friendship, love.
The translator smiled, his grandparents were Kurds, another native sect, who fled the genocide of 1915 with Armenian friends, came to the refuge, eventually converted, intermarried, but some like him learned their ancestors’ tongue.
What did she want?
He became hesitant, directing more questions at the girl who was now fully engaged, almost passionate in her response, gesticulating energetically, he was struggling to keep up in a language he knew more as a theoretical exercise than as an everyday tongue; he was flushing pink with concentration.
She wanted to stay here and would only return if Sam would go back with her. Could they find out if any of her distant relatives had survived, or even her sister? She was afraid her sufferings would bring shame on her and her community, that she might not be accepted back home: this had been the case with others. If he wanted her, her life was here. Thank heavens Martha isn’t here Sally thought: what she wanted was utterly clear. That the girl’s mind was really that of a woman was apparent now; she had had to grow up fast, and not break in the process. I hope Sam knows what’s headed his way, but, somehow, I doubt it.
The rest of the room were just looking at one another, wondering who was going to break the ice. To Sally’s complete lack of surprise, it was the Abbot.
“She,” he smiled at Narin, “has made her wishes plain, we must abide by them. I did not anticipate the fact that she might be considered shamed by her compatriots, even unwelcome, but perhaps her fears are exaggerated. Will our friends send a message to her people to find out if anyone who knows her survives, whether she can return, if only for a visit, to explain her story?”
The Exarch was nodding, as was the Armenian cleric, the translator explaining in Narin’s language for her benefit; she was smiling the broadest smile Sally had seen her give, lighting up her whole face. Yes, Sam had better watch out, but she wasn’t going to warn him, or Martha.
On the way out of the room Narin insisted on kissing the hands of all the clerics; if she had needed to convince them any further to grant her wishes, Sally could see that had sealed it. She squeezed Narin’s hand as they left the room, descending the stairs to the first-floor landing with one of the aides; she then kissed her cheek in a brief goodbye, whispering well done in her ear, then letting the aide escort the girl, no, young woman, back down to Martha and Josey in the waiting room.
Returning to the Council room she could see that the various committees were winding up, hers had dissolved entirely; people were milling around, drifting out to the dining room where food and drink were being laid out. She followed them, trying to find someone she knew well enough to talk to, feeling entirely alone until the Abbot appeared at her elbow.
“Well done, very well done! He, they, liked you and I think he quite wants to take a woman or two into the depths of the Papacy. He’s a surprising man in many ways, quite imaginative, and I think sincere. The girl too, and she also seems to know her own mind.” he chuckled, “All these strong women, such a blessing to His work. If you wish, you may leave now, meet your friends, travel back home, there is little more to do, just tiresome formalities, ceremonies, before they leave on Monday. No one will take it amiss if you should go, or stay if you prefer. They will return at the end of the Summer, September probably, to confirm progress, prepare the finer detail. You will need to attend then, and, in the meantime, meet the Council when summoned and continue to practice your languages, improve your Latin too. Oh, and I believe the Exarch is arranging with the redoubtable Theophano for you to receive some more formal robes and other items so that you are not outshone in the Vatican. As I said, he is quite imaginative, and the Armenians were a blessing, understanding the tongue of that young girl! They asked me to give you this for her, a New Testament in her own language, the translator’s own apparently, so that she may have something of her home with her here.”
“Thank you, Father. How can we repay your kindness to her and to me?”
“Just keep doing what you are doing, and having faith that your family will be restored. That letter I promised has been written and will be carried into Logres tonight for posting to him.”
With that he blessed her and turned away to join the other senior figures in the room as she hurried to get her coat and race down the stairs to join Martha and the others.
Narin appeared completely exultant, her first conversation in her own tongue for many years, shattering any remaining sense of isolation, if only temporarily. Then the gift, something of her own land, if not faith, but that didn’t seem to matter in the least. That she could read was swiftly clear, the book was old, nineteenth century probably; perhaps they didn’t have printing presses in the Armenian refuge? No, they must do; the knowledge of them must have entered with the refugees of 1915 and the years after. She was holding it tightly, saving it to study while alone, trying to converse with them, expressing her thanks to them for their kindness, the others, the Greeks, the Armenians. Her tears were running freely, moistening her smiling lips, wetting Martha’s hands as she kissed them, promising to work harder for them, learn their languages faster. Later, when they were home and it was just the two of them in the kitchen, her hostess got angry with herself for being so fearful of the girl, for having in part blamed her for Sam’s disappearance.
“Martha, you do know the Abbot is very fond of her, says she can stay here if she wants? I’m sure he wouldn’t stand in their way and I think Sam is much more likely to hurry back if she’s still here.”
“I know, I’m not being fair, you know why though…”
“I was in the meeting Martha. She was trying to find reasons to stay here, not go back. But the Abbot’s right, she must return at least for a visit, to decide whether she really wants to make a life among strangers or among her own people, only then can any decision to be here be secure, without deep regret…”
“You must let him go with her if he wants to, but he’ll be back. This is his home now; he loves you as his mother. I’m not as close to him as you, so perhaps I can see better, but it’s for the two of them to decide for themselves.”
“I know, but it’s so hard, the not knowing where he is, what he’s doing.”
“The Abbot told me he has written to that man you all seem so in awe of, asking for his help about Sam and Andy; he seemed quite confident.”
Leave her with what I have, hope.
© 1642again 2018