Father Makariy (Aleksei Chernozhmykh in the secular world), of the Orthodox Men’s Monastery, had been partaking of savior’s blood since morning.
   Lord help me, he thought ruefully, his heart heavy, what the hell is wrong with me? God, why are you punishing me?
   Thanks to the relatively pious monastery life, thirty-seven-year-old Father Makariy was in the prime of his life. He didn’t smoke, and though he had a small weakness in his red wine, at least it wasn’t vodka. And so while many civilians his age were drinking each other under the table and mashing fists into each other’s faces, Father Makariy looked spry and fresh and didn’t even need glasses. He would’ve looked younger than his age, if it weren’t for his beard: he hadn’t shaved once in his entire life. You might think that nobody pays much attention to looks in a monastery, especially to someone else’s looks… Be that as it may, he was rather proud of his beard.
   Currently, this healthy, well read man in his prime was suffering terribly. He wasn’t always suffering: tall, wide in the shoulders, with straight, jet black hair and a matching beard and moustache, Father Makariy was quite attractive. Were he a civilian, one of those men who lived in the outside world, the kind of men who shaved and wore good suits, he would’ve had his pick of women. But the men’s monastery didn’t care much for women. Neither did Father Makariy.
   He poured himself another glass and looked out of the ornate window of his cell, his face contorted in anguish. The warm sun of late spring lit up the dusty road that connected the refectory with the parish church. Fat pigeons with swelling chests sat atop wooden beams that rested against the church wall. Sparrows jumped nervously around them. They were waiting for the after-breakfast garbage.
   “We’re all God’s creatures,” whispered Father Makariy with quiet sadness and tipped another glass of Christ’s blood into his mouth. His chest felt too small for his heart, the cell felt too small for him. It wasn’t his wooden table, his wooden bunk, or the small cubic size of his monastic room. It was the young novice Vladimir.
   Vladimir had been transferred here from another city a month ago. He was stately and handsome. Barely twenty two, he was already well aware of his natural beauty and was not above using it to his advantage. Though maybe it was simply that he couldn’t (or didn’t want to) resist temptation. Temptations – for there were many. His face refused to produce any hair and remained smooth as a woman’s. The thick, slightly wavy chestnut hair on his head, more than made up for this.
   The holy father swallowed more wine and wondered whether the hair that covered other parts of Vladimir’s body was as beautiful.
   Why, why are you punishing me, God? he thought desperately. Everything had been going so well, before Vladimir. Now, the entire monastery was lovesick. It wasn’t enough that the young bastard had stolen the mantle of local hunk from Makariy: now, Makariy himself was falling for Vladimir. He craved the sight of the man. He wanted his chestnut boy.
   Father Makariy squeezed his eyes tight in frustration. The monastery was abuzz with gossip about the novice. Only a month here, and already abuzz. But while he could ignore the gossip if he tried hard enough, he couldn’t ignore the fact that Vladimir had become inseparable with another novice, Dimitriy. This made Father Makariy very unhappy.
   Dimitriy wasn’t particularly handsome: he was, at best, somewhat cute. Not attractive – just cute. He was average height and sickly looking. Each spring, his narrow face broke out in freckles. But he had one good feature: his ready submissiveness.
   And the sickly, freckled kid knew what he was doing. His plain looks belied a staggering experience, and with one precise flick of his tongue, he could drain all thoughts of other things – and other men – from his partner’s mind. He was well aware of his talent, and despite his meek demeanor, he had turned down plenty of lovers. But he had never turned down Father Makariy. Never – until a month ago.
   Father Makariy closed his eyes again. He looked as if he was battling nasty heartburn. He didn’t like this sudden change in the monastery’s pecking order. Didn’t like it one bit.

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