|In Nomine Patris
Author: Castalia PM
An exploration of the toll war takes on a man devoted to peace: everyone's favorite priest, Father Francis Mulcahy. Note: In nomine Patris is Latin for In the name of the Father.Rated: Fiction T - English - Drama - F. Mulcahy - Chapters: 2 - Words: 2,129 - Reviews: 14 - Favs: 7 - Follows: 4 - Updated: 03-20-06 - Published: 08-31-04 - id: 2038373
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
Ch. 2 – In Hora Mortis Nostrae
Disclaimer: All characters, yadda yadda, not mine, you know the rest. I repeat, this is fanfiction.
Mulcahy stepped past the flimsy screening into the grim little patch of the compound, and felt something strangely like relief. There were seven wounded men lying on the hard-packed dirt. A small voice wondered when seeing more than half-a-dozen dying men became a good day by his standards, but he brushed it aside.
There was no time for thoughts like that.
And sadly, it often was worse than this. Judging by the relative quiet, at least tonight someone had managed to give each of the soldiers something for their pain. When the supply convoy was robbed or when the fighting was the heaviest, even that compassion and relief could not always be given to doomed men. There had been nights when even all the screens from the ward could not give privacy to the unfortunate men. There had been nights when the softhearted clergyman had spent hours surrounded by cries and moans and desperate, gasping prayers for relief.
There had been nights that almost broke him.
Yet he had not given up. There were few comprehensible things in war, but Mulcahy did understand this: he had a duty. He had a duty to the soldiers, to the Army, to God. So many men had devoted—and often lost—their lives to duty, and he owed them nothing less.
And so it began. He approached the first man and knelt beside him, his hand automatically tracing the Sign of the Cross, his lips automatically forming the syllables. Five of the seven soldiers within the makeshift room were unconscious, very close to death.
"Heavenly Father, bless these men and bring them peace. Receive the souls of Your children and forgive them their sins. Help their families to know that they are with You and be comforted; and watch over the boys still at the front. For this we pray. Amen."
It was neither a long prayer nor a traditional one, but hundreds of times it had said what he most needed to say. He had been told that the intention and purpose was what counted, and believed it with a bone-deep desperation. He rose and looked to the next task...and looked straight into the eyes of one of the soldiers still conscious.
They were filled with such glittering hatred that they drilled holes straight through his shield. He almost reeled backwards, but pulled himself together at the last moment. He had a duty. Approaching the young man, he knelt beside him.
"God's blessings, my son." It was what he always said—it would hardly have been appropriate to say "good evening"—but tonight, the look on the soldier's face nearly froze the greeting in his throat.
"Spare me your lies," the soldier snarled. With visible effort, he turned his head away. There was a pause as he recovered from the effort, then the hard, hateful sound of his voice gave way to bleakness. "God does not exist."
Ah. He sighed. Mulcahy could see now that the man—no, boy—was very young indeed, perhaps no more than eighteen, and his heart twisted despite his armor. The blanket over the soldier's chest and stomach was dark and sodden, giving off the too-familiar scent of war: the greasy smell of wet wool, choking smoke and gunpowder, all overlaid with the sharp, metallic tang of blood. The priest closed his eyes briefly as he considered his next words.
"He does exist," he insisted in a gentle voice. "It is sometimes hard to see Him, especially now. But He exists, and He loves you."
"Then why am I here?" The question was bitter. "People told me God was a kind father, that God was just. But all I've seen is death and hatred. If there was a God, one like you believe in, He wouldn't let this happen." His voice trailed off to a despairing whisper, raw with pain and emotion. "He wouldn't let so many of my buddies die. They were good men. What's just about that?"
Mulcahy had heard similar questions many, many times over the last long months, but it never got easier to answer them. "I don't have all the answers," he said. "But I believe war is a human failing, not one divine. I believe that we are souls, not just bodies; that our souls are what God loves the most. And I believe, I really believe," he paused. "We go to a better place from here." His quiet tenor trembled slightly with the force of his desire to convince and reassure the soul lying before him. He didn't have much time left.
There was a long silence. The priest laid a hand lightly on the soldier's, and, with more difficulty than before, the soldier turned his head again to look up at him. Tears shimmered on the boy's eyelashes and cut narrow tracks down the grime on his face. "I just don't know anymore," he whispered hoarsely. "I don't know."
A spasm crossed his face; he shuddered. The hand that had been lying limply beneath Mulcahy's suddenly clutched his, though there was not much strength left in the desperate grasp. "Don't leave me alone. Please." The last word came out in a gasp.
"I won't. I promise."
The boy seemed to sag, and his eyes closed. Mulcahy leaned closer hastily, but the boy was still breathing and continued to grasp the only comfort he was willing to accept, and so the cleric leaned back. He groped in his pocket with his free hand and retrieved the plain wooden rosary that always rested there. Still kneeling in the dirt, he sank fervently into the familiarity of the Latin, letting it settle and brace him for what he knew was yet to come.
"Ave Maria, gratia plena, Dominus tecum. Benedicta tu in mulieribus, et benedictus fructus ventris tui, Iesus. Sancta Maria, Mater Dei, ora pro nobis peccatoribus, nunc, et in hora mortis nostrae. Amen. Ave Maria..."
As he moved along the well-worn beads, he felt the grip on his fingers gradually slacken. He was finishing the second Our Father when the soldier opened his eyes again.
"Father..." Mulcahy let the rosary fall to his lap, once again bending nearer, this time to catch the faint question.
"Do...you really believe God exists?" The time was drawing near. There was a plea in the glazed eyes, in the shaking little whisper. And the priest knew that this was the last, most important question. He had to be completely honest. He had to let his armor go.
He looked the young man in the eyes, glad his voice was firm even if his hands shook. "Yes. I really believe."
The soldier closed his eyes, and when he opened them again, there was acceptance in them. His last words were barely audible, but each one went straight to the priest's heart.
"Then...pray for me."
He sighed one last time, and died.
The priest did not need to feel for a pulse to know. He let go of the limp hand and reached forward, carefully drawing thin silver tags from beneath the blood-stained shirt. He carefully wrote down the information he would need when he wrote a letter to the family. And last, he drew the filthy blanket over the soldier's finally tranquil face, regretting—as he always did—that he would have no better shroud.
Only once his tasks were done did he let it overwhelm him, if only for a moment. He shook violently as he lowered his face into his hands and allowed himself to weep. For Brian Reid (he suddenly realized he'd never known the soldier's name until he saw the dog tags) and for the countless others, those he'd known and those he hadn't.
As always, though, he forced himself to stop after no more than a minute, long before his sorrow could run its course. He wrenched the calm, the shield back over himself as he silently recited another Ave for the souls of the departed. He knew his grief could drown him, and he refused to let it happen.
Pray for us sinners, now, and in the hour of our death. Amen.
He had a duty.