And the New Sun Rose

by Sue Glasgow

Vincent sat at the council table finding the moment almost surreal as Pascal explained the procedure of the vote which was about to take place. Vincent, Father, Mary, William, old Zach, and the newest council member, Jamie, waited quietly as Pascal gave each of them a small slip of paper ballots which would name the new head of the council.

Father hadn't lifted his eyes even once as he sat slumped at the table. Vincent's concern deepened. It had been four months since a stroke had clouded Father's mind, impairing his ability to govern. For the first few weeks, Vincent had convinced himself that time would restore his father's strength and judgment. Vincent had actually been angry when Catherine had gently ventured the opinion that Father might need to step down from his position as head of the council. Vincent's mind vividly recalled the shock he had felt...

"Catherine, I think you're over-reacting."

She had handed him a sheet of paper as she shook her head. "See for yourself, Vincent. Father sent this note to Peter yesterday, telling him that he would be sending up two people to help load the medical supplies." She hesitated and added after a long moment. "The note says he was sending Jeremy and Winslow." It had been over two years since Winslow's death.

Vincent had shaken his head with a defensive response. "It was an easy mistake."

"But not his first. Vincent, this is happening over and over again. What if he makes a truly dangerous mistake? He could prescribe the wrong medicine -- or make a decision that could cause somebody to be injured."

"He's just tired, Catherine. If we show him the note and caution him to be more careful... he'll see his mistake and it won't happen again."

They had shown him the note together, and Father had immediately seen the error, but rather than casually correcting himself, he had become extremely quiet and withdrawn. His silence had been more of a concern to Vincent than a loud defensive statement would have been.

As the days passed, Peter had confirmed the fears which had been whispered throughout the Tunnels. Father's disorientation and forgetfulness had intensified, and the elderly man desperately needed to rest.

For his sake and for the welfare of the tunnel society, a new leader must be chosen. Now, Vincent watched as the council members silently voted for the person they believed would best fill the void left by Father's retirement. Father was the first to lay his ballot upon the council table. As the old man pushed back his chair and took up his canes, Vincent quickly moved to steady the swaying figure. To his dismay, he felt his father pull away, pushing aside the offer of help.

Without a word, Father hobbled toward his private quarters, leaving the group behind as he parted the curtain which hung in the entrance.

After only a few moments, all the ballots had been passed to Pascal to be tallied. In solemn silence the council members watched while Pascal read the ballots one by one, laying them on the table.

"Vincent."

"Vincent."

"Vincent."

His eyes lingered on the fourth ballot, and after a brief pause he read the vote. "Abstain."

A silent glance passed between Pascal, Zach, William, and Jamie.... but neither Vincent nor Mary responded. Pascal opened the fifth slip of paper, and his shoulders straightened as he read.

"Vincent." This was the deciding vote, the necessary majority.

Numbly, Vincent stared across the table and into the space beyond. The chairmanship was his. Memories clashed with the raw reality of this moment....

Two small boys huddled beneath Father's desk, their hearts pounding as they savored the danger of spying on a closed council meeting. Eight year-old Vincent and young Pascal had carefully planned this mission, certain that they would be heroes when they gave their report to the other children. Unfortunately, they had not planned on the length of the meeting, or on the tedious discussion and debate it would involve.

Pascal had finally fallen asleep, and Vincent had sat with heavy eyes and nodding head, trapped and isolated from the children he could barely hear playing at the far end of the outer tunnel. In an effort to salvage the adventure, the two had constructed a tale of bizarre decisions and far-fetched council projects, but Devin had called their bluff. Father had finally discovered the ruse and had ordered the boys to sit in on the next three open meetings, as "juvenile representatives."

The head of the council. Since the beginning of time in the Tunnels there had been only one head of the council. To the young Vincent it had seemed that surely Father would reign forever. The tunnel society had been Father's dream, the product of his visions. And certainly it was heresy to believe that anyone but Father could guide and direct the government which he had so carefully constructed.

Vincent reached for the pair of reading glasses which still rested on the table at Father's place. Father would be hunting for them. It would be story time for the children soon, and Father would need his spectacles.

Two ballots remained. Uncertain that Vincent was listening, Pascal opened them and read the last two votes, "Vincent. And Vincent." Smoothing the folds in the paper, Pascal looked toward the averted blue eyes. "Congratulations, Vincent."

As he stood, Pascal offered a handshake, but Vincent appeared not to see, and Pascal placed his hand instead on his friend's shoulder. In a formal voice the smaller man announced, "It has been decided that Vincent will serve as head of the council. Vincent, your responsibilities begin immediately. You know you have our full support." Pascal rubbed his friend's shoulder gently. Even through the layers of wool and leather he could feel the tension.

After an uncomfortable silence, Jamie pushed back her chair. "Vincent, it had to be this way. We all know that." She waited a moment, but when the maned head did not move, she continued softly. "You'll be a good leader. Father always expected that you would take over for him someday."

Very slowly, Vincent looked into her face. Then his gaze fell to the reading glasses in his hand. Pascal sighed, still rubbing the tense broad shoulder. "All things change, Vincent. It's a part of life. Eventually the years change everything, and we have to accept that."

Now Vincent's eyes went to Mary who had neither moved nor spoken. Wisps of pale hair trembled about her face as she rose to her feet. Returning Vincent's look with a weak smile, she turned to leave the chamber. Before she could climb the short flight of steps, Vincent was at her side.

"Mary, I'm sorry."

"Please don't say that." Her voice betrayed her hurt. "You know I'm the one who abstained. I'm sorry. I wanted to make it unanimous, I really did. You will make a wonderful leader...good and strong and..." Her words failed and broke. "Of course, I would choose you to lead us, but..." With tear-filled eyes she looked far up into his face. "I could not vote against him."

Vincent enclosed her in his great arms. "Mary, none of us are against him."

Gently she pulled away. "I know that." Taking a handkerchief from her apron pocket, she dabbed her eyes and shook her head slightly. "It's the years that are against us, Vincent." She shuddered and continued speaking almost to herself. "A person expects to be young and useful forever. But then one day, you look at your hands, and you see hands that once belonged to your own mother." Mary's eyes turned toward the direction where Father had exited the chamber. "And you look into the face of someone you love very much, and for the first time you see that he has grown old. And you realize that while all the children were growing tall and strong, you were losing yourself..." she put the handkerchief away, "...and it is time to pass the future on to them." Touching Vincent's arm, she sighed deeply." Perhaps it's time for me to withdraw from the council as well." Looking away, she peered across the chamber again. "There seems to be very little left for an old woman to do."

Still holding Father's spectacles, Vincent placed a huge hand on each of  Mary's narrow shoulders. "Mary, you're mistaken. First of all, Father is not leaving the council. Nothing has changed except the leadership. His vote and yours are essential. You bring years of experience and wisdom to the council." He paused and lifted her chin with one gentle finger, forcing her to look into his eyes. "Without your voice, we would be doomed to repeat the mistakes of the past. You give us balance...a foundation which can be built upon by younger generations." He smoothed a tear from her wrinkled cheek and smiled tenderly. "And besides that...for all the years I can remember, yours has been the voice on the council which consistently stood up to Father, giving him dependable support and tempering his more stubborn opinions." He embraced her once again. "If I am to lead this council, I will need that same voice...aiding me with its dependability and temperance." He murmured into her hair. "You will remain on the council. Agreed?"

She sighed, and her nod answered him.

Vincent held her briefly as he looked back toward Jamie and Pascal. "The people are waiting for your report." He drew away from Mary and looked down at her. "Now I must go to Father."

Mary nodded again as the council members joined her at the stairs and left the chamber.

Vincent stood alone in the silent study. Turning slowly, he faced the entrance to Father's bedchamber knowing that beyond its curtained threshold a broken heart waited for him, almost physically requiring his soothing presence, but hiding its pain within a shield of hurt pride and shattered dignity.  Looking down at the reading glasses in his hand, Vincent dismissed all thoughts of the council and its obligations. The task which lay before him now was the responsibility of a loving son, the only person who could gather up the bits of broken pride and dignity and return them to the aging man Vincent loved so dearly.

A pot of lukewarm tea still sat on the table. Vincent slowly filled two cups. Then, carrying the cups and spectacles, he approached the doorway to his father's private quarters. For a moment he paused there, listening, anticipating the reception which would greet him. Quietly, he shouldered the curtain aside. Only one candle burned through the darkness within. A shaft of light from behind poured over Vincent's shoulder, sending his shadow across the floor. The candle inside flickered with the motion of the swaying curtains.

Father lay fully clothed on his carefully made bed, his greying head turned toward the wall, hiding his eyes from Vincent's view. One gnarled hand held a book which Vincent recognized as Tennyson's Idylls of the King.

Both father and son waited in silence, realizing that this moment's significance would forever change their relationship. A generation had shifted. The son had assumed the mantle of authority and responsibility for the Tunnels and for his family. As Vincent confronted the beginnings of this new order, his very first concern was to preserve the value of the old. From the doorway, he quoted Tennyson softly, "With his strength the King drew in the petty princedoms under him and made a realm." He paused, waiting for Father to understand the correlation. "King Arthur had the wisdom and strength to create a better society, Father. Such men are rare."

The old man made no response as Vincent laid the reading glasses beside him. Setting both tea cups on the bedside table, Vincent pulled a chair closer and sat quietly waiting, but Father's pale eyes refused to meet his son's concerned gaze. Father could not have been reading without his glasses, but the Idylls of the King lived vividly in his memory, so Vincent was not surprised when the aging voice finally muttered into the silence, quoting, "The old order changeth, yielding place to the new."

Vincent straightened. Had Father shared his son's earlier thoughts so perfectly? Tennyson's words assumed a new and more personal meaning. Then the old man whispered, his lips forming sounds that were difficult for Vincent to hear. "It has been decided." With effort Father turned, facing his son, his eyes clear with lucid understanding.

"Yes." Vincent reached across the space between them, laying his fingers on the veined hand. Massaging it gently, he was aware of a fragile thinness in the flesh stretched across the pale knuckles.

Father murmured, "I trust it was unanimous." The grey eyes looked away again, and, for the first time, Vincent realized that Father had voted for him. He found the thought comforting.

"No." Vincent paused. "Mary abstained."

"Abstained?" Father's head lifted slightly. "Why?"

"Her loyalty to you prevented her from voting for anyone else."

Falling back to the pillow, the grey head shook. "It was irresponsible of her. She owes the council her unbiased judgment."

"Sometimes love is more important than unbiased judgment."

"No." Father shook his head again. "That may be true for some...but a good leader never allows his...personal prejudices to interfere with what he knows is best for his people."

Vincent sighed, suppressing a rueful smile. Father's prejudices had been an integral part of dozens of council decisions and activities for over thirty years. Giving a gentle squeeze to the hand below his, Vincent replied softly, "I will try to remember that, Father."

Father closed his eyes and a long silence fell between them. Vincent continued to hold the aging hand, and finally the younger man decided his father had fallen asleep. But at last Father sighed heavily, and his eyes opened. He ran his tongue over dry lips and Vincent silently handed him a cup of tea. After taking a long sip, Father placed the cup on the table. His voice, when it came, was cracked and brittle. "I think perhaps...Matthew."   The golden head tilted, caught in confusion by Father's irrelevant statement.   Father continued, "He's very young and somewhat impulsive... but he is a good man."

Vincent frowned. Father's conversation had been totally logical until this moment. With fear that his father had once more lapsed into the shadows which separated him from reality, Vincent questioned, "What about Matthew, Father?"

"You'll want to fill the...vacancy." Then Father's eyes clouded, and he turned his head away again. "I'm sorry. It isn't my place. You..." His voice broke with a shudder. After a moment, he whispered, "Of course, it is for you to..." His breath accelerated, and Vincent recognized Father's uncertain struggle with loss and rejection.

"Father," Vincent's voice was a low soothing rumble. "What is it that you would want of Matthew?"

The old man whispered hesitantly. "I just thought...with the vacancy on the council..."

Vincent straightened. "There is no vacancy on the council."

A crease formed between the aging eyes. "No vacancy?" After a confused pause, he shook his head. "But you said it was...decided."

"Yes, Father. A decision was made, but the issue at stake was the leadership of the council." He laid a hand on his father's sleeve. "It had nothing to do with your membership." Vincent repeated firmly, "There is no vacancy on the council."

The crease deepened as Father tried to assimilate this information. Vincent chided himself for not having clarified this discrepancy sooner. "Father, we still have great need of your experience and judgment." He tensed, wondering if Father would be reassured as easily as Mary had been.

"I'm sick." The withered lips formed the words, but very little sound came forth.

 "You have been, Father...but Peter says you are much improved."

Closing his eyes again, Father slowly shook his head. "No." Then, almost ignoring his son, the old man seemed to make a discovery among the volumes of passages tucked away in his memory. And again, Vincent was astonished at the mind which could not remember the present date, but which could remember entire scenes of complex and ancient literature.

In fragile breaths, the old man spoke only to himself, quoting King Arthur. "An old man's wit may wander ere he die....My end draws nigh. 'Tis time that I were gone. Make broad thy shoulders to receive my weight...I fear my wound hath taken cold...and I shall die."

Vincent reached for his father's face and turned the head toward his. "Father, listen to me. There's been a change...but this is not the end. And you are not dying." Vincent stood up, suddenly needing to pace. How could he redefine life and its values to a man who thought he had lost the central purpose of his existence? Somehow the very strength which Father had brought to that purpose all his life now made its loss even more intolerable.

Then something which Catherine had said flashed into his mind. When the vote had been called, she had sought a way to comfort Vincent. She had asked him if he believed that Father had founded the tunnel society for the purpose of becoming its leader. His answer had been, "Of course not." Now her words took on new importance. He turned to the man on the bed. "Father, how did you become the leader of the council?"

The old eyes looked at him in mild surprise. The answer was a whisper. "After John left, several of the people in the community came to me and asked me...to help organize a council."

"Did you ask to be their leader?"

"No."

"Would you have been unhappy if they had chosen someone else, like Pascal's father or old Elijah?"

Father looked at him dully. Then his voice cracked softly, "I remember being afraid."

Vincent waited for Father to continue, then he was suddenly aware that Catherine was approaching just beyond the curtain. She stepped through the drapes and moved to Vincent's side, taking his extended hand. A quick glance into her eyes told him that she had spoken with the council.

She knew. Vincent gave her a gentle squeeze, then turned back to his father.

"Afraid of what, Father?" he asked.

"The responsibility...all the endless decisions."

Catherine leaned forward, her eyes sparkling in the candlelight. "You carried the responsibility well, Father. For all these years you have made the right decisions."

Vincent was not surprised when the aging voice muttered into the silence, quoting Tennyson again. "I think that we shall never more...at any future time...delight our souls with talk of knightly deeds."

"Father," Catherine shook her head. "There'll be more time now than you have ever had before...to tell the stories. The children -- all of us-- need to hear your stories, your talk of knightly deeds. I've been thinking about this. I believe you could dictate a book, a formal history of your people."

The elderly grey eyes looked into hers. "I'm just so tired. I don't want to have to make decisions anymore."

Sitting in the chair at his side, Catherine smiled and touched his cheek. "You don't have to, Father. It's okay to let Vincent take the responsibility now. You can trust him." She glanced at the man beside her. "But he'll need your wisdom. He'll be coming to you for advice and guidance."

Slowly, Father's fingers came up to cover Catherine's, and his thumb stroked the back of her hand. His lips barely moved as he whispered to her, "I voted for him, Catherine."

"I know you did. Pascal told me." She smiled. "It was another wise decision you made."

Vincent watched the two people he most dearly loved. Something was changing in Father. The bitter defeat was slowly being replaced by a quiet acceptance.

Catherine waited silently, watching the emotions play upon the old man's face.

At last, Father's forehead knitted in a puzzled wrinkle. "A book, you say?"

She nodded. "That's right. A history. Maybe even several books. A history, a text outlining your governing procedures, a collection of your stories...something to go with Elizabeth's pictures so their stories will never be lost."

He shook his head slightly. "I don't see well...since my...illness. My hand shakes...and I get so tired."

She took his hand in both of hers. "Let me be your eyes and your hands, Father. You tell me the words, and I'll put them on paper."

"But it would take so much time..."

"We'll make the time together." She glanced up at Vincent. "We'll let Vincent govern the tunnels. You and I will write their story."

He sighed once, pulling his hand from hers. Lifting the Tennyson book from his chest, he placed it into Catherine's hands. "I think I'd like to sleep now." With unexpected clarity, he looked at Vincent. "It will soon be time for the children's story time. You do it, Vincent. You tell them the stories." Vincent nodded.

Catherine stood quietly. "Will you think about the book, Father?"

With a second sigh, he reached for the crumpled shawl at his side. Vincent took up the wrap and tucked it around his father's shoulders. The aged voice muttered sleepily, "Perhaps." He looked again at the young woman. "Catherine, did you know...that King Arthur never really died?"

With a smile she answered. "I know. He's just waiting somewhere, until he's needed again."

"It's...very important. Being needed." The old voice faltered.

Vincent murmured, "We will always need you, Father. Sleep now. We'll talk more when you've rested." The old man rolled to his side and was almost immediately asleep.

As Vincent led Catherine from the chamber, he put an arm around her shoulders and stopped in the outer room to look down into her face. Gently he stroked away a single tear that shown upon her cheek. "Thank you, Catherine. I had no idea what to say to him. I believe you've given him peace."

She smiled sadly. "Maybe the very beginnings of peace. He's a strong- willed man. here'll be difficult times ahead before he'll truly accept the changes that have to be made."

"But I think he knows now that eventually he will accept them."

"And you, Vincent?" She put her arm around him and pulled herself into his embrace." He said he never chose the leadership. You didn't choose it either. Will you be all right?" "You promised to help Father."

His tender smile softened his features. "Will you also be here to help me?"

"Always, Vincent." Twining her hand in his hair, she lifted her face, gently pulling his head to hers. "Always."

"Catherine." He paused for a moment, searching her eyes. Then his words were lost as her lips touched his, and the promise of new things to come was born in their kiss.

 

As the King's barge sailed on into the horizon.....

Then once more Sir Bedivere moved about, and clomb

Even to the highest he could climb, and saw,

Straining his eyes beneath an arch of hand,

Or thought he saw, the speck that bare the King,

Down that long water opening on the deep

Somewhere far off, pass on and on, and go

From less to less, and vanish into light,

And the new sun rose bringing the new year.

Sir Alfred, Lord Tennyson

The Passing of Arthur  
Idylls of the King