"'The ss-sayings of King Le…mu…ehl. . Le-mu-el. Lem-uel'" Maxwell listened to the boy as he formed each word aloud, carefully experimenting with the accents on the name, and smiled. He didn't know what instruction the boy might have had in reading before he ended up on the streets, but he took to it now more like someone who'd been taught and forgotten than a child learning for the first time. The priest waited in the door way as he continued, "A… an oracle his mother taught him:
"'O my son, O son of my womb-bh,'" the boy sped up as he found his rhythm, then paused and asked "What the hell is a wombh?" He shrugged before reading more. "O son of my vows,
"'Do not spend your streng-th on women, your vig-vih-gor on those who ruin kings.'"
"Vigor," Maxwell whispered almost inaudibly, wanting to prompt Duo on, but also reluctant to show himself.
"'It is not for kings, O Lemuel.'" That name again, and that particular pronunciation. "'Not for kings to drink wine, not for rulers to crave beer.'" He was doing better now. Maxwell was getting used to being impressed by the boy. When he had first joined them at the church, Duo had only been able to identify street names by memory. "'Lest they drink and forget what the law decrees, and deprive the oppressed of their rights.'…who talks like this?"
The boy huffed, but he kept reading, doggedly. "'Give beer to those who are perishing, wine to those in ang-u-ish…'" Duo's brow furrowed as he tripped over the unfamiliar word, his face scrunching up. " 'Let them drink and forget their po-pove-erty…poverty and remember their misery no more.
"'Speak up for those who… can't, er, cannot speak for themselves, for the ri-gits—rights!—of all who are des.. destitud…desti…' Oh goddammit."
"Duo," Maxwell spoke up. "What have I told you about using that kind of language?"
The boy jumped guiltily, his face flushing an embarrassed pink; whether because of his language, of because he'd been caught practicing his reading wasn't clear. "Not to," he replied a little sullenly.
"It's pronounced 'destitute,'" the priest said, allowing the smile he'd been holding back to grow as he took a seat beside Duo. "Keep going. You were almost done anyway."
Duo's blush deepened, and he started again, hesitant now that he had an audience. "'Ss-speak up and jud-ge… judge fairly; defend the rights of the poor and needy.'"
"Very good," Maxwell said, clapping softly. "Now, what do you think of it?"
Duo blinked, confusion written in his wide blue eyes. "What do I think o' what?"
"What you just read," he told the boy, cocking his eyebrow. "Are you going to tell me you read all that and didn't pay attention to what you were saying? What would the point of that be?"
Duo looked back at the book in his lap, his eyes tracing the lines he'd read, his lips moving slowly as he reminded himself what he'd already said. "It means kings shouldn't act like poor people," he said at last. "They should be better 'n us."
Hearing Duo say it that way, his tone belligerent, Maxwell felt a tightening in his chest. That was probably what most of his congregation would take from that Proverb. Pushing away the familiar pang of sadness, he asked, "Is that really what you think?"
"What else would it mean?"
Maxwell shrugged. "I don't know. You tell me."
The boy huffed and pushed his braid over his shoulder, chewing on his lower lip as he thought. "It coulda meant that a king shouldn't distract himself," he said. "That poor people can."
"It could have meant that, too," Maxwell agreed. "Now, what do you think of that?"
"I don' know," Duo said after a moment. "I mean, I… I guess a good king shouldn't be drunk all the time. And it would definitely be better if someone was speakin' for us, y'know?"
"But?" he prompted when the child stopped.
"But…" A rakish grin, older than should have been on such a small face, flashed as he paused. "It seems weird for the bible to tell people it's okay to get plowed as long as your life sucks."
"Is that what it's saying?"
"Seems like it to me," Duo replied quickly.
Maxwell nodded as he conceded, "I suppose it could seem like it's saying that. I prefer to interpret it differently, though. Why were you reading that?"
"Someone'd marked the page," the boy said, and Maxwell noticed for the first time that wedged into the spine of the book was a saint's card. St. Jean Kim was written across the top of it, and bellow was a faded picture of a colony and the story of the only space-born saint. The priest knew it very well, even though he'd never told it himself: Jean Kim, a First Generation French Korean from L1, had joined the effort to construct colonies at the second LaGrange point after completing the seminary. He'd saved a team of construction workers when a bolt sheered off and the scaffolding it supported collapsed. It was said at the time that the power of his prayers had held the scaffolding up long enough for the crew to escape, though Jean Kim himself was killed.
Later on, they had a different word for people who could do that.
"That's an old book mark," Maxwell said slowly, watching Duo as his eyes moved over the story. His lips didn't move this time.
"What do you think of that?" the boy asked, using his own words on him.
"I think," the priest responded slowly, "that he was a very brave person."
"He ain't a saint, though. He was just a freak."
Maxwell wasn't sure how to respond to that. Duo didn't say that the same way most people did. He said it with fear and anger, but it was different. "Maybe he was both," he suggested. "Who am I to judge?"
"But he's not a saint anymore. He was just a newtype all along."
"I still hear people invoke St. Zhonkim," he told the boy, inflecting it the way most people did, slurring the names into one. "I think, maybe, sainthood is harder to take away than that. God could have guided him there, and could have granted him the power to save people's lives. Or he could have had them all along, and been in the right place at the right time. Either way, he was still a brave man."
Duo nodded slowly, though Maxwell couldn't see if he accepted the answer or not. Then, suddenly, he smiled the way a boy his age should smile, and he closed the bible with a loud slap. "I still don't think it was a miracle, Padre."
"Who can say?" he said philosophically, taking the book from Duo. "Maybe it was a miracle, and maybe it didn't have to be."
"That doesn't really make sense." The child's attention followed the bible. Maxwell fingered the cover thoughtfully—it was soft in the way of artificial leather that had seen years of use, and the gilt had flaked off the lettering, leaving rough indentations. After a moment, the boy asked, "What do you think of it? What I read, I mean."
The priest smiled. Duo would ask that; not everyone would. "I think it's about responsibility," he explained honestly. "A king should be responsible for his kingdom, so he can't act the same way as someone without responsibilities. He can't afford to do the same things that they might. It's like saying an adult can't behave like a child..." He trailed off. That was, perhaps, not the best explanation under the circumstances. After a moment's pause, he tried again. "If people look up to you, and expect you to take care of them, when you let yourself be distracted, you run the risk of hurting them."
The boy nodded slowly. He shouldn't have to understand that. Young as he was, he shouldn't have to understand what it was like to be responsible for other people. But Maxwell could see that he did.
"Your reading has improved," he told Duo, changing the subject and patting him on the shoulder. "It's pronounced Lem-u-el, by the way."
"Don't matter, he's dead anyway," the boy remarked, hoping onto his feet. "A name's just something other people call you, anyway. If he doesn't like it, he can haunt me."