R amon flicks his wrist and a spray of black ink lands on the back of Bernat’s hand. Bernat raises it close to Ramon’s cheek, as if to wipe it off on his skin. Ramon shrugs. “I will only look more the scholar, with ink over my cheek.”

Bernat scrunches up his nose. “No point then.” He dabs his hand on a stained linen cloth.

Ramon abandons his lighthearted tone. “You must teach me.”

“You’re sullen today,” Bernat observes.

It is the first time in his life he has known jealousy, and it is like lying on a bed of thorns — no matter which way you turn, your skin is scratched and pricked. Bernat has mastered the letters of the Hebrew alphabet; to Ramon, they are still black scribbles and scrawls that swim before his eyes and dance beneath his eyelids as he tries to sleep. They pierce his mind with their feet and crowns and he can rub his temples again and again without finding relief from the ache that has settled over his forehead.

“How is it that you have mastered the letters and I have not?”

It is a long time since Ramon studied Greek, he realizes: They began when he was but ten years old. Latin even earlier. French earlier still, when he was just a babe, really, toddling around. “It is your mother tongue,” he had been told.

What did it mean, mother tongue? That this language somehow birthed him? He had long thought it was a strange thing to say. He had pondered it in his mind, thinking that perhaps if he mastered the language, it would bring back his father and mother.

But now. Now Bernat has mastered every single one of the alef-beit. “You must teach me,” Ramon repeats.

Bernat stands up, brushes down his robe, and pushes his books away with his elbow. He walks over to the window and looks out. “I’m no teacher. You need Friar Pere for that.”

“But how… how have you—”

“Why the surprise?” Bernat leans back as if offended. “Pray tell, do you think I am only good for singing in the choir and digging cabbages?”

“No. I think you braise a rabbit even better than Friar Pere.”

Bernat makes a face. “To praise me on my cooking is to praise you for your study.”

Ramon bites his lip. Bernat has always been a good friend: It is not his fault that Ramon is frustrated by yuds and mems and tafs. “And you are a skilled sportsman.”

Bernat’s eyes light up. It is almost comical to watch Bernat sprint across the grass, head down, intent on catching the ball. But he is good. All the novices want Bernat on their team. Once, Ramon was persuaded to be in the goalposts against him. Bernat, with his simple, open face, ran at the ball from one direction, and then, with a quick flick of his ankle — hidden under his habit — the ball flew through the air at the opposite angle. While Bernat’s team hoisted him on their shoulders, Ramon was left wondering what had happened.

“But… you are not the world’s greatest scholar.” (Excerpted from Family First, Issue 554)