Fr. Barnard had hurried through his duties, anxious to return to the infirmary and learn how Karissa was doing. As he completed his sermon preparation, he tucked his writing materials away and stepped out of the library to breathe the clear, fresh air. He was worried about her, and yet, at the same time, he felt a distinct relief, as if a great hurdle had been passed. He looked across the courtyard and saw the new sister sitting on the stone bench, reading, her veil fluttering in the wind. Fr. Barnard approached her and asked if she’d found a room yet.
Sr. Caoilainn (Kee-lin) spoke slow and soft, the cadence of her Irish lilt singing out in low tones. “I have not. I did not know who was where and did not wish to venture where I should not,” she said.
The priest smiled. “Sr. Agatha makes those assignments, but she doesn’t seem to be around right now.” He gave her instructions on how to find a room and some history on the Abbey, but his eyes and thoughts kept going to the infirmary. “I have a patient being tended by the sisters,” he said. “I should check on her.”
“I need nothing grand, said Sr. Caoilainn. “Though something near the infirmary would be welcomed. I am sure the Abbess at the Armathwaite Abbey sent word that she was sending a medical professional nun to you.” The statement was half question in tone.
The priest sighed, somewhat embarrassed. “She probably did. I’m sure Sr. Agatha has the papers. She keeps good track of what is going on here. I’m afraid my duties have kept me a bit busy lately.”
“I must go,” the priest said quickly to Sr. Caoilainn. “Please excuse me.”
“Perhaps I should go with you to check on her,” the sister offered.
Fr. Barnard stopped in his tracks, considering. Then he nodded. “Yes, perhaps you should,” he said. But as he turned back to the door, Gus, the farmer, entered the courtyard, humming to himself. Fr. Barnard, who desperately wanted to speak to Karissa alone, took this as an opportunity to delay the good nun from going to the infirmary. He quickly made the introductions and left them chatting as he walked away.
He stepped into the stuffy infirmary with its odd smells and scrubbed floor, and saw Karissa on the bed, curled up on her side, her eyes closed. His heart went out to her. The priest knelt by her bed and took her hand in his, gently squeezing it. Karissa looked up with a weak smile on her tear stained face.
“How are you feeling?” he asked in a soft whisper.
“My head is spinning, but I’m okay, I guess. Are you okay?”
“Yes, yes, I’m fine. Don’t worry about me, Karissa, I’m fine. The mother house has sent a sister who is a nurse. She’s trained in herbs and things and will be able to help you.” He squeezed her hand. “I was so worried.”
“The Cardinal?” Karissa asked quietly. “You didn’t lose your position, did you? I won’t do anything to jeopardize your position.”
“Don’t worry, my dear,” the priest said, brushing back her hair from her forehead. “I’m fine. Everything is fine. Let me worry about the position. You just worry about getting well.” He leaned over and kissed her softly then pulled the blanket to cover her shoulders.
“I need to get back to the brothel,” she said. “I am sure there is work to be done, money to be counted and such.”
“Do I have to beg, or just tie you down?” he teased. “Let the others worry about the brothel. You stay here and rest.” She reached out to touch his cheek. “Don’t worry Karissa. Everything is going to be fine. The Cardinal is here now. We’ll protect you.”
“Who will protect you?” she asked him.
He didn’t answer but pushed himself back to standing. “I need to get out of these vestments,” he said. “I’ll be right back.” He bent and gave her another kiss, harder this time, then let her hand slip from his fingers as he turned to go. Karissa pulled the blanket over herself and closed her eyes.