by Saro and Merellia
"'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
"'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
"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
"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
"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
"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."