Notes: Written as a gift for Morbane, as part of the yuletide rare fandoms fan fiction exchange.
The two pilgrims were the only people in the dimly lit inn. The room was large - large enough for more than thirty hungry travelers. How strange, to see it so empty! The Nun's Priest sat toasting his hands by the fire, as he ate his stew with obvious relish. Near the window, as far from The Nun's Priest as one could possibly get, sat The Clerk. He presented a tired, preoccupied countenance, as he stared out the window.
The Nun's priest smiled.
"To think we're the only two left, and the others all gone," he called out across the room. "You'll be moving out soon, I suspect?"
If The Clerk acknowledged the other pilgrim's voice, he only showed it by stiffening, and looking ever more insistently towards the window, as The Nun's Priest shuffled over to sit by him, stew in hand.
"Trust you to find the coldest place in the room," said The Nun's Priest. "You haven't eaten either, I suppose? A modest meal would do you good, give you a clearer mind for your studies; a bit of fruit, a cock's leg, and egg or three... that's all you need, I'll say."
"Isn't it true that your party left this morning," was the Clerk's reply.
The Nun's Priest laughed. "The Prioress? Yes, she's gone, and the Nun and her other priests with her. I'll meet with them soon, but I find at times that I have a great taste for solitude."
The Nun's Priest leaned in closer to The Clerk, in his most confiding manner. "That's something you understand, I'm sure," he continued. "Don't look so glum! The Prioress and my dear Nun will chatter quite well amongst themselves without my company. That's all women ever do, you know, the holiest and the most profane alike. It's pleasant enough to hear, even sweet at times, but I shall endeavor to live without it for this one night."
The Clerk kept his dark eyes fixed firmly on the starlit sky outside. "I have met men seemingly more inclined toward idle chatter than the Prioress," he said.
"As things are, it's hideously cold. I have no taste for cold," said The Nun's Priest, heedless of the other man's lack of interest. He rubbed his hands together, blowing hot breath upon them for dramatic emphasis.
"Or rather," he continued, "I have a taste for everything, but only in moderation. This weather is not at all moderate, at least not for this time of year. Were it December, I might be more forgiving. The leaves were covered in frost this morning. When last we sat together here, they were green. We never did decide who won the contest."
"The Parson," The Clerk replied. "That was clear enough."
"Ah," The Nun's Priest countered. "but it was never a contest for him, never a game. He took no prize upon returning, and so he was not the victor. I admire his dedication, of course, but where is the fun in it? To find the goodness in every story, that's the trick. The sublime is present, even in the sublimely ridiculous. Do you know that our dear Prioress was once chased by a one legged swan?"
At that point The Host entered, carrying two large earthen mugs filled to the brim with mead. He set one down before each of the two pilgrims. Immediately The Nun's Priest took a large gulp of his. The Clerk finally turned his gaze from the window. Absently, he stirred his drink for a moment with the tip of his finger, but it was clear that those around him had finally gained a portion of his attention.
"A swan, do you say," asked The Host, with a laugh. "And how did it lose its leg?"
"In a lion's mouth for all I know!" said The Nun's Priest, perking up as chance presented him with a more lively audience for his tales. The did not stop him, however, from directing his next words at The Clerk. "Don't tell me," he said, "with all your sharp logic, that there are very few lions in England. I'm well aware of that."
"I hadn't meant to say anything," replied The Clerk.
The Host graced The Clerk with a hardy slap on the back. "That's well enough," he said. "If you were not keeping so in character I would fear that you are ill, with that dreadful pallor of yours – and look! Your hand shakes even now. Take a drink."
To The Nun's Priest he added, "And you, what happened with The Prioress and the swan?"
"I'm afraid that she is too dainty to run properly. The beast nicked her heels up well enough. I believe she was most abashed. For days all she would say was 'Alas! Alas!' and she allowed only her dogs to keep her company."
The Host laughed. "And where is the moral in that?" He asked.
"Blessed be God, our heavenly father, Amen," said The Nun's Priest, an irrepressible grin on his face.
"Were either of you changed by it?" asked The Clerk.
"Gracious yes! The Prioress shall never see swans quite the same way again, I daresay!"
"I think he means our tale telling," corrected The Host. "Isn't that so? Give us your opinion on the matter, and we shall follow."
The Clerk shook his head dismissively.
"I am less inclined, perhaps, towards games," The Clerk said. "But then, I never have relished them. If rules are laid out before me, I can follow them, but I do not search for amusement."
The Clerk stood up, nodding politely to both The Nun's Priest and The Host before leaving.
"There's no event in our lives that does not change us. There is, however, a great difference between change and revelation," said The Nun's Priest. He leaned back deeply in his chair, in the manner of one satisfied with his wisdom.
"And you experienced no revelation?" Asked The Host.
"No, not I. But I'll tell you this: I did revel in his every word."
"The Parson's you mean?"
"What do you think," asked The Host, "our Clerk does in that room by himself?
"How am I to know? He concentrates on his learning, I suppose. I wish I could know how he survives, eating as little as he does. I will tell you, I have noticed some queer smells coming from his room. It is as though he burns something, but I can not tell you what…"