This was is written in response to a prompt from LK Caley, who can be found at https://new2writing.wordpress.com/2022/06/09/writephoto-draft/#respond
The curly-haired boy peeked in the door of the old St. Edmund’s Priory, whose stone walls glowed a rich yellow in the setting sun. Often when he passed by, he had heard chanting coming from within, but today he dared to see where it came from. The sound was so mellow and soothing, so different from the harsh tones of his father. There was nothing the boy could do to please him. Every chore he was given, even feeding the chickens, he couldn’t seem to do the way his father wished, and each time, he received a cuff to the head and occasionally a beating.
Gianni had dreamed of an escape from his father’s farm many times. He often did escape, to the memories of his mother’s hand stroking his curls and to the softness of her words, which calmed him in the face of his father’s anger. She’d been dead from the plague nearly a year now, and his survival only seemed to irritate his father, as if he were to blame.
The boy cautiously slipped inside the door of the priory and followed the chanting across the dusty courtyard to a chapel on the far side. The sounds grew louder and seemed to penetrate his very being, drawing him into the chapel, where he sat down on a bench at the back. The light from the dying sun came through the windows on one side, illuminated motes of dust dancing in the air. The chanting continued. He closed his eyes.
“Who is that?” asked Friar Benedict. “Is he from the village?”
“I know him. He’s the son of Stefan, the farmer,” replied Prior Joseph.
“Well, he’s clearly tired. And he’s also starving. There’s no skin on his bones. And look at those bruises! He’s been thrashed.” Friar Andrew, the priory’s victualler, spoke in an angry tone
Gianni opened his eyes and startled at the sight of the three priory members looming over him. “I…I’m sorry. I know I shouldn’t be here. But the chanting, it was so lovely. I’ll go. Please don’t tell my father.”
“Of course, we won’t,” said Joseph, “but first we want to offer you some food.”
“But I’ll be late. I was supposed to purchase some bread in the village, and now it’s too late.” The boy hung his head, clearly despairing.
“I tell you what,” said Andrew. “If you will eat with us, we will give you a loaf of our bread to take to your father.”
“Really?” The boy face lit up at the kindness.
“Yes, really,” chuckled Benedict.
“What is your name, boy?” asked Joseph.
The boy ate his fill for the first time in months and happily headed home with the loaf of bread. He wanted nothing more than to live in that priory, chant with the occupants, and have something to eat every day. Not surprisingly, he got another beating for being late.
The next evening, Prior Joseph appeared at the door of the hut Gianni called home. “Farmer Stefan!”
“What do you want?” Stefan emerged from the darkness of the hut, snarling at his visitor. “Haven’t you interfered with my family enough?”
“I, we, the members of the priory, have a proposition for you. We have a need for a dogsbody to work at the priory. We would like to hire your son, and we will pay you for his work.”
Stefan’s eyes glittered with greed at the prospect of money. “But who will help me here with my farm?”
“We can see that he’s not a good worker and that you are displeased with what he does.”
Stefan’s brain barely registered the implied criticism or how they knew the boy was useless.
“We will pay him enough to allow you to hire someone more competent and still have some of his wages left over.”
Gianni, who was pressed against the wall inside the hut, listened to every word with increasing excitement. Could this really be happening to him?
Stefan asked how much his son would be paid, then made the pretense of thinking about it, during which time he snorted and spat a blob of phlegm at the Father’s feet. “I’ll let you have him for a week. That way you can find out if he’s as much a lazy do-nothing as he is here, while I look for a more suitable farm hand. But I want payment in advance.”
“We thought so.” Joseph reached into the pocket of his habit and brought out some coins. Stefan grabbed them and yelled for his son. The boy slipped around his father and stood in front of the priest.
Well, then,” said Joseph. “Come along.”
After a final whack on the head from his father, along with a stern warning to work hard, Gianni floated along behind Prior Joseph, suspended by his relief and excitement. He didn’t look back.
Two decades passed. Then, at the death of Joseph, the most beloved member of the community, a tall, curly-haired friar named Edmond, became Prior.